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3 Tips for Communicating With a Psychopath

Karli writes as a therapeutic outlet and with the hope that her articles will be useful to others who have suffered psychological abuse.


Some People are Incapable of Growing Up

The safest policy is to have no contact with such dysfunctional individuals. However, there will be times when you will have to deal with a psychopath, whether it be a co-worker, some confrontational clown at the movie theater, a family member you couldn't avoid—parent, sibling, child, etc. Or perhaps, you're trying to co-parent with one of these personality disordered individuals.

I am not a professional; my advice comes from my own personal experience, and from a wealth of resources—books, websites, forums, etc. In my opinion, the following are the three most important things to know when interacting with a psychopath. It's also worth mentioning that true "communication" with one of these manipulators is not possible, so be aware of that going into any interaction with someone like this. It's a dance where they try to get into your head, and you either naively let them in, or put your guard up and try to maintain a good defense.

Note: I use the terms "psychopath" and "sociopath" interchangeably. I read somewhere that the difference between the two is that a sociopath is capable of showing loyalty within a group (think gang members), but a psychopath is loyal to no one. It's semantics. The jury seems to be out on what the difference is; experts have differing opinions on the subject.

The Gift of Fear - Gavin DeBecker

1. Establish Rock Solid Boundaries

Stand Your Ground

Psychopaths hate boundaries and, just like children, they will constantly test yours. If you are the child or spouse of someone who suffers from a personality disorder, it's very likely that you have weak boundaries or none at all. Think of establishing, and maintaining, strong boundaries as putting on your armor.

Sociopaths try to make you feel as if you have no options. They are able to more easily manipulate you once they have made you feel powerless and defeated. Do not allow them to back you into a corner, to make you feel helpless or that you have no choice but to give in to their demands. You always have choices, you may just need to step back and figure out what they are.

If you are being pressured, and you feel the need to remove yourself from a certain location, then do so. Go for a walk, head to the bathroom, take some deep breaths, and regain your composure. Once you have removed yourself from the emotionally charged setting, you'll be better able to assess the situation.

If at all possible, do not get into a vehicle with them, because then you have no egress. However, if you do find yourself without an exit strategy, and the abuse is escalating, try to remain calm. Possible options are to simply ignore the personality disordered individual, repeat a mantra to yourself (for instance, "peace" or "calm"), or keep repeating a response out loud. An example would be to tell them (in the most serene and in-control tone of voice you can manage), "I refuse to speak to you when you're being irrational." Or, "I'm not comfortable having this conversation with you."

Assertiveness will be interpreted as "mean" or "rude," because, by being assertive, you are maintaining a boundary. Never underestimate the sociopath's low self-esteem and tendency to internalize anything that is said to them. No matter how narcissistic or grandiose they can appear to be, they inwardly detest themselves. Even minor, constructive criticism will be taken personally. Do not allow this to deter you from asserting yourself and protecting your personal space.


2. Remain Calm

Do Not Get Sucked Into the Drama

Keeping a cool head is the most important thing you can do in almost any situation, and it is imperative when communicating with a sociopath. You may find it helpful to remind yourself, before you are in the presence of the disordered person, to disengage. Prepare yourself emotionally, as they will try to get under your skin in any way that they possibly can.

They enjoy pushing your buttons. Do not give them the desired response. Do not allow them to see that they are having any effect on you whatsoever. If they see that they have hit a nerve, they will keep digging at it. Be aware of what you are communicating non-verbally (fidgeting, teeth grinding, knuckle cracking, etc.).

You cannot have a rational conversation with someone who is irrational. This is perhaps the toughest challenge for some of us. You may be looking at an adult, but you are speaking to the emotional equivalent of a ten-year-old. (In some cases, 10 is a generous estimate). Adjust your speech and mannerisms accordingly, but try not to come across as condescending. What good will it do to get angry at a child for having a tantrum? The difference with psychopaths is that you can't realistically send someone who's biologically an adult to his or her room, so you'll have to be creative about how you handle yourself in their presence.

Under no circumstance should you argue with them; you will not win. They will always be right, and you will always be wrong. They are unwilling to listen to reason and logic. You will not get through to them, and you will only wind up frustrated. If they do let you think that you have won an argument, be wary! They want something; they are lulling you into a false sense of security. The other shoe will drop after they coerce you into doing, buying, or giving them what they want.

A co-worker may have a harder time figuring out which buttons to push, but be especially wary of ex-lovers and family members who know you very well. If you feel yourself becoming emotionally responsive to their attempts to provoke you, try repeating a mantra in your head, even if it is simply one word such as "disconnect" or "serenity."

What's your experience?

3. Stay Focused

Be Wary of Diversion Tactics

Keep your attention on what is important. A sociopath will use elaborate hand gestures, stand too close to you, stare you down, constantly touch you, anything they can think of to distract you from catching the discrepancies and contradictory statements coming out of their mouths. They will embellish and outright lie in order to appear more intelligent, more accomplished, more interesting, more anything than they really are. They will also abruptly change the subject (or tell a series of lies) if you call them out on something.

They will try to keep you on edge or make you feel uncomfortable. Do not allow them to overstep your personal boundaries. "No" is a complete sentence, and you don't have to disclose information that you do not want to share with them, nor are you obligated to tolerate physical contact.

Be aware that they may tell you something personal (which may not even be true - they are, after all, compulsive liars) in order to make you feel obligated to share something personal with them. The goal is to elicit private info that they can then use to their advantage. For instance, maybe it's a secret you fear they will tell others, or perhaps it's just knowledge they can use to guilt trip you. They can use seemingly innocuous information to manipulate you in ways that you wouldn't even have thought possible, so be very careful what you divulge.

See past the flighty hand gestures, smiles, winks, attempts to touch you, and really focus on what they are saying. Their dialogue is usually full of contradictions and faulty logic. Just like mythical vampires, emotional vampires will try to mesmerize you (and they tend to use an abnormal and intimidating amount of eye contact). You are not obligated to look them in the eye. In fact, you may find it easier to focus on their words if you close your eyes, focus on a spot on the wall, or look at another facial feature other than their eyes.

Read More From Pairedlife

Is there a manipulator in your life?

Empower Yourself, Do Not Be a Victim

Establishing, and maintaining, strong boundaries is the best line of defense in keeping yourself safe from emotional vampires. Setting limits is absolutely essential, if you do not want to be taken advantage of. It is also important to remain calm and alert; focus on the words, not on the diversions.

You cannot change the behavior of a psychopath (or anyone else, for that matter). You can only change how you react, and not reacting to them at all is usually best. You do have choices; walk away whenever possible, and when you can't, be vigilant.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Karli McClane


Karli McClane (author) from USA on December 20, 2017:

No, unfortunately, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction; you don't have to make it up. I hope your situation has improved since you moved away.

MmaBear on December 08, 2017:

Thank you. I have a distant female relative, who is just psychopathic beyond words. My mother, once my closest relative and friend (before psycho relative entered the scene), is the primary supply/victim. I am apparently, at a distance of a thousand miles, the primary target/nemesis. This because I am the only one in my family who sees right through her bull.

Although I am blamed for all the discord with the Psycho, she has eluded/canceled avoided all the meetings we have set when I have been visiting.

For myself and my children, I thank God that we incidentally moved away in the middle of the worst of the chaos.

I could and probably should, write a book/movie on this situation. You cannot make this stuff up!!

Elizabeth Tryon on October 05, 2017:

I am one owner in a 6 unit condo association. I believe one owner is a sociopath if not worse. For years she has been thriving on causing turmoil. Normal people would not believe what she has done. The latest, which a few of us plan to persue...she has gradually put 10 huge potted plants around our communal jacuzzi which by the way is right under her window. She has also torn out old grass there and reseeded, against rules leaving gardening for gardener. She has violated several association rules but now some in the association are so tired of the behavior they choose to ignore it and let her have her way. My quandary here is...should the rest of us cause more consternation in the association by persuing this or simply let her have HER common area and HER separate rules?

Petr on September 13, 2017:

This text was encouraging for me, thanks for it. Me and my 2 housemates are going to get out the very probably ASPD guy (housmate) from the house where we live in total nuber of 6 person. Difficult deal in front of us but I believe we will succesfully manage.

R on September 05, 2017:

I have a psychopath sister in law who lives with me and I love my husband too much to ask him leave his responsibilities of taking care of her since she suffers physical health issues. She fights everyday, she breaks expensive things, yells, creates a public drama, embarrasses us, threatens us of suicide,has no friends at all because she says hates every one of them. Once she laughed at someone's death telling me that she feels peaceful when someone is in pain. She is so negative at times that she enters a room and it goes dark for me. This article helps a lot, Thank you. I felt like it spoke to me. I wish she was just a nightmare from which I wake up and forget even her name one day.

An on July 20, 2017:

I have a psycho neighbour. He leaves his drive empty to park on the road. If I get there first he will park bumper to bumper. I am not obstructing his drive in any way - he said that I am not to park with my bumper just edging in fornt of his property. I just ignore him and continue to park as he does not own the pavement or road.

Karli McClane (author) from USA on June 25, 2017:

It sounds like you are doing a good job of holding onto your sanity. If you are not ready to start planning an exit strategy, please at least consider getting some help, even if it is only through online support groups and forums.

raman on June 23, 2017:

This is an excellent article. I have been married to one for 30 years. Every word of this article describes my life. The way he yells, the way he lies for every thing, the way he wants to control the situation by being verbal and loud. It is so true that you can never win an argument with them because they are constant liars and conscience less creatures. They love no one but themselves. I have nothing but regrets to live with him for so long. There is no real way honestly to deal with him. I can keep my calm 99 times out of 100 situations but I am human and I do lose it 100th time. The irony of the whole thing is that he sees himself as the victim in the whole situation and he thinks he has never done any wrong to any one in life. The question that each one of you would like to ask after reading my comment is "why did I stay with him for so long" . The answer is very simple. We all live in real world where dreams are different from realities. If it was so easy to move away from every situation and person like this, no one would be writing articles and books about these situations. The only thing I am trying to do these days is to keep my on sanity.

Karli McClane (author) from USA on June 03, 2017:

You have made a decision to stop enabling her while no longer allowing her to abuse you. It takes real strength to take this very important first step; stand firm.

Cindy on June 01, 2017:

I have finally realized that my 34 year old daughter is a Narsassict Pyschopath. She has manipulated me since her teen years and continues to now. She lies for no reason. She has stolen and sold anything and everything of mine that has any value. When I confront her about these things she tries to convince me that I am crazy, senile and delusional. I have cut her completely out of my life in the last few months, but I know that when she needs money to bail herself out of a wrong decision, she will come begging to me. I will never again give into these manipulations. I have removed her from my will plus made a provision that she will get nothing upon my death.

gibbers on May 30, 2017:

as your walking away - remember that they didn't win either!

Karli McClane (author) from USA on December 11, 2016:

I'm glad you found the information to be useful. Thank you for stopping by.

NG on December 10, 2016:

Great Article. Helpful. This is the only one article i found which describes how to deal with psychopath or sociopath. Thanks for posting.

Karli McClane (author) from USA on October 28, 2016:

Thank you; I will check out her site.

Julia Snyder on October 26, 2016:

Eve Maram has a book called Psychopathy Within and she has personal issues that give her great insight into psychopaths and with her forensic background as well it really makes you wonder where the brain changes. is her site, but her book is so good as far as learning about what makes a psychopath.

Karli McClane (author) from USA on August 06, 2016:

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment.

Shirley Urso-Farmer from Michigan on July 14, 2016:

Great information, thank you :)

katie on December 05, 2015:

great info! my father is a psycho/socio/narcissist (whatever else is available out there, he has it!) he is a true manipulator. it took me 35 years to realize and see the games. I cut all contacts with him for the past 2 years. however, my husband doesnt believe me. he thinks I am making everything up in my head. he feels bad for my father and calls him, wants to invite him over, goes see him and gives him all info my dad needs. I just cant make my husband see that not all fathers are nice and caring. that my dad is playing him big time to get info and uses him.

josie on October 31, 2015:

this was very helpful to me since i am in a relationship with one a sociopath ,he knows he is one an together somehow we make it work,i dont play the games i have rules an he follows them,i know i am to him but a thing an he cannot love ay i do him but somehow i cant seem to get out i find a way through it instead wish i could afford therepy but canot so here i am , it is what it is, i guess but this was very helpful, thank you its hard to find someone to talk to about it they just are like just leave look at all he has done to u ,,an they are right so why do i keep letting him back in my life i guess ill never know thank u for the great read josie

ologsinquito from USA on October 08, 2015:

You described this all-too-familiar behavior very well!

Karli McClane (author) from USA on July 04, 2015:

You bring up a valid point. It did occur to me that some people might randomly ascribe socioathic traits to those close to them. My thought was that if they even suspect that someone is such a malicious being, it is better to err on the side of caution, and be alert and cautious when dealing with the suspected sociopath.

rjbatty from Irvine on July 04, 2015:

The only "danger" I see in people gaining a fledgling understanding of this psychological disorder goes to that old adage "that a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing." Armed with some knowledge gained from books or elsewhere, I fear that some individuals may jump to the conclusion that associates/relatives with peculiar and unpleasant behavior could mistakenly be dismissed as mere sociopaths. Every individual is deeply complex. We can't pretend to be amateur pschologists and abscribe unpleasant behavior as a psychological type. I'm not sure how we're supposed to differentiate one from the other -- I suppose it has to do with the consistency (and degree) of their seemingly abberhant interaction with others. Finding a consistent pattern is a big tip-off. Seeking professional help can be helpful (not always), but not everyone can afford it. My only inclusion in this Hub would be to get to know yourself first. Once you think you have a fairly firm handle on that subject then perhaps we can be allowed to assess the actions/non-actions of others.

Karli McClane (author) from USA on June 19, 2015:

Thanks for the support!

temptor94 on February 21, 2015:

Wonderful article! Most other articles on psychopaths deal with how to know one. Yours is very unique in that you talk about how to deal with one. Great and very crisp advises. Loved it! Voted up.

Karli McClane (author) from USA on November 25, 2014:

@savvydating: Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article, and thank you for your support.

Yves on November 23, 2014:

Excellent advice. This article kept my attention from beginning to end. I would also recommend that this method be used in dealing with, or choosing not to engage with trolls on hubpages who consistently show strong narcissitic tendencies. One tends to forget, as you so wisely mentioned, that just because a person looks like an adult, doesn't mean they are capable of thinking like one. Voting up.

Karli McClane (author) from USA on May 07, 2014:

@missmin: Thank you for stopping by, and for taking time to post. I'm happy to know this lens is helpful to others. Wishing you all the best.

missmin on April 25, 2014:

Your lens is so beautifully and clearly written with such accurate information. Many thanks. I'm in the throes of divorcing one of these extraordinarily difficult and irrational human beings. It's going to be a long and very slow process because he is determined to control me by refusing to mediate etc, etc, etc. All the tactics you've mentioned are tactics he's currently using and has used throughout the marriage, during which he has been sadistic in terms of his emotional and psychological attacks. You're right to point out not to turn our backs on these individuals - nothing is surer than that we'll find a knife (hopefully the metaphorical kind) buried right in the middle of it. I'm healing well and moving on with my life, despite all the spanners he's throwing in the works with regard to property settlement and living arrangements. But he no longer has control of my emotions - I'm content with my family and glad to be able to hold me head high. Reading blogs, books, websites and lenses like yours have been a tremendous help.

shellbaby430 on January 24, 2014:

thank you...i've never experienced anyone like this until i re-married. his ex-wife is making our lives miserable. i'm hoping to learn how to deal with her & protect our family. It's very frightening at times.

TapIn2U on January 12, 2014:

Very helpful safety tips when having to deal with a sociopath. Fantastic lens! Sundae ;-)

Loraine Brummer from Hartington, Nebraska on June 13, 2013:

Great information on how to react to super mean people. I think most folks know at least one person who could be considered a sociopath.

kmhrsn on May 12, 2013:

Wow. This is really an information-packed article. And many of these strategies work with your everyday average difficult person.

Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on May 05, 2013:

A lot of information on the difference between the sociopath and psychopath. I never really thought about it before.

msugar13 on April 22, 2013:

@BigRedDomino: It's my understanding that a true sociopath or psychopath cannot be helped because they are not made the same way as other humans and lack a conscious, but if the toxic people in your life, suffer from personality disorders, there is hope for them. I also read that people who suffer from personality disorders, can and do become less destructive, later in life, mid-fifties is what I read . Best of luck to you. I know how much a person like this can disrupt lives .

msugar13 on April 22, 2013:

@Karli McClane: Thanks for responding. I'm looking forward to reading more of your lenses.

Karli McClane (author) from USA on April 22, 2013:

@msugar13: I'm so sorry to hear about your situation. Not all abusers are violent. However, they will inflict as much emotional damage as they possibly can. Smear campaigns seem to be one of their favorites. The best advice I can give is to seek the help of a qualified therapist for yourself and your children. Read as much as you can about these types of personalities. Teach your children coping skills. Perhaps even talk to a lawyer. Best wishes.

BigRedDomino on April 21, 2013:

I've done tons of research on the difference in psychopath and sociopath. Psychopath has more of a tendency to be violent. A sociopath can feign emotions for appearance and personal gain. A psychopath sees emotions as having no value,therefore they simply don't care about them or about 'keeping up appearances'. Tit for tat, I know, but I have a lot of these people in my life...narcissism personality disorders are also parallel with these two. I'm trying to decide if they can help it or not.

Rob Hemphill from Ireland on April 18, 2013:

This is an excellent lens with so much useful information and advice for those trapped in this sad situation.

Aunt-Mollie on March 26, 2013:

Extremely informative article. I believe your advice will help many people.

InfoCoop on March 26, 2013:

Your advice is spot on and also applicable to so many areas of life but especially useful in dealing with anyone who has a personality disorder.

Rosanna Grace on February 10, 2013:

Very informative lens! I like your balanced, common sense approach and yes, I've read quite a few of your recommended readings. You have the cream of the crop there.

Karli McClane (author) from USA on January 29, 2013:

@jayni-e-sylversmyth: I'm so sorry to hear you are going through this. In order to rid yourselves of them, you will need the advice of professionals (a qualified attorney, maybe a therapist). They will need to know the details of your situation in order to advise you on how to proceed. I don't recommend trying to get revenge; it can backfire. And, as Gandhi said, an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind. I wish you the best, and I hope you can untangle yourselves from this situation as painlessly as possible.

jayni-e-sylversmyth on January 28, 2013:

My partner and I were already fooled by two sociopaths - we invited them to be roommates and didn't realized what they were until they were intimately entwined in our lives. We're a couple of empaths and these guys tripped out our sensors and made us doubt everything we know and feel. How do we get rid of them now that we know what they are, and,

How can we make them suffer like they made us in the process?

tobydavis on January 12, 2013:

Useful collection of tips and advice, as you say, no contact is the best way, but not always possible.

Karli McClane (author) from USA on December 29, 2012:

@SteveKaye: I sure hope so; that's why I created it. Thank you so much visiting.

SteveKaye on December 27, 2012:

This is excellent info. I bought and recommend the book on Emotional Blackmail. It's excellent. Thank you for publishing this lens. I'm sure it will help many.

darciefrench lm on November 16, 2012:

Awesome tips - I was raised by a narcissist and then went on to a relationship with a psychopath - I ended up walking away and ceasing all contact with them. You're so right, you cannot win with a psychopath, so in their presence best to just keep quiet and avoid all drama.

dahlia369 on August 26, 2012:

A difficult topic...

WriterJanis2 on August 08, 2012:

Good advice.

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on August 06, 2012:

These all sound like great ways to steer clear of a psycho/sociopath.

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