A warning it is well-worth hearing about is what Dr Jane & Tim McGregor of Nottingham University call in a recent study: “sociopaths” and “apaths” – and their danger to people who are sensitive on the spiritual path or in spiritual groups or centres.
I recently did a posting about the danger of getting hooked into a ‘Power Stealer. This posting is about the danger of tangling with a ‘sociopath’ – or their ‘apath’ side-kicks. For Power Stealers, see: https://starwheel.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/the-need-to-have-and-hold-your-own-personal-power-on-the-spiritual-path/
As so much modern spirituality is transmitted through spiritual groups and centres, sensitive people are getting hurt by falling into the trap of these people.
People need to be aware of the danger.
The authors call the trap: ‘the empathy trap’. They warn that healers, therapists and counsellors almost by definition are empathic, but this quality can mean they may be targeted by sociopaths, aided by their ‘side kicks’ whom Dr Jane & Tim McGregor call “apaths” in their book (see below).
The empath: Sensitive people who are fist sucked in to be targeted by a sociopath, often respond with self-deprecating comments like “I was stupid”, “what was I thinking of” or “I should’ve listened to my gut instinct”. But being involved with a sociopath is like being brainwashed.
The sociopath: The sociopath’s superficial charm is usually the means by which s/he conditions people. They distract them. They offer them tea etc.
On initial contact, a sociopath will often test other people’s empathy, so questions geared towards discovering if you are highly empathic or not, should ring alarm bells. People with a highly empathic disposition are often targeted. Those with lower levels of empathy are often passed over, though they can be drawn in and used by sociopaths as part of their cruel entertainment.
The post is a warning and may help people survive the harm they cause.
Sometimes the victim of the sociopath has had difficult childhood wounds. Much further up the scale of those who fall victim to sociopaths are chronically traumatized people who often exhibit hyper-vigilant, anxious and agitated behavior, symptoms such as tension headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, abdominal pain, back pain, tremors and nausea. Typically the victims may have ME or ‘be getting over a nervous breakdown’. Exposure to and interaction with a sociopath in childhood can leave lifelong scars (especially if it’s the parent or carer).
Many sociopaths wreak havoc in a covert way, so that their underlying condition remains hidden for years. They can possess a superficial charm, and this diverts attention from disturbing aspects of their nature.
Gaslighting: The book illustrates how people can be systematically targeted until they feel they can barely trust their own sense of reality – what we call “gaslighting”. Sociopathic abuse is targeted abuse. It can wreck lives. Victims can become survivors, but at huge cost.
The authors write that to deal with sociopaths effectively, you first need to open your eyes: see the story of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ by Hans Christian Anderson.
The Apath: They write: Unremitting abuse of other people is an activity of the sociopath that stands out. To win their games, sociopaths enlist the help of hangers-on: apaths. Of the ‘apath’ they write: In this situation, it means a lack of concern or being indifferent to the targeted person. The apath is someone who is willing to be blind: i.e., not to see that the emperor/empress is naked.
Apaths are an integral part of the sociopath’s arsenal and contribute to sociopathic abuse. Sociopaths have an uncanny knack of knowing who will assist them in bringing down the person they are targeting. It is not necessarily easy to identify an apath; in other circumstances, an apath can show ample empathy and concern for others – just not in this case. The one attribute an apath must have is a link to the target.
How apaths, who might otherwise be fair-minded people, become involved in such destructive business is not hard to understand, but it can be hard to accept. The main qualifying attribute is poor judgment resulting from lack of insight. They might be jealous of or angry at the target, and thus have something to gain from the evolving situation.
At other times, the apath might not want to see the ‘bad’ in someone, particularly if the sociopath is useful. Or they might choose not to see because they have enough on their plate and do not possess the wherewithal or moral courage to help the targeted person at that time. Usually, be it active or passive involvement, the apath’s conscience appears to fall asleep. It is this scenario that causes people blindly to follow leaders motivated only by self-interest.
Apaths are often fearful people. Again they can often suffer from ME or be ‘getting over a nervous breakdown or meltdown’ etc. They are the ones most likely to go with the flow, to agree that the emperor/empress is wearing new clothes. They might also fail to perceive the threat: a danger is of no importance if you deny its existence.
An apath’s response to a sociopath’s call to arms can then result from a state of ‘learned helplessness’. Apaths behave defencelessly because they want to avoid unpleasant or harmful circumstances [including the sociopath turning on them]. Apathy is an avoidance strategy.
The empath target. Often, the person targeted by the sociopath is an empath. People are often attracted to empaths because of their compassionate nature. A particular attribute is that they are sensitive to the emotional distress of others. Conversely, they have trouble comprehending a closed mind and lack of compassion in others.
Very highly empathic people can find themselves helping others at the expense of their own needs, which can lead them to withdraw from the world at times.
It is odd. Most of us enjoy watching films and reading books about heroes who refuse to go along with the crowd, which suggests there is something admirable about people who make a bold stand.
But in real life, watching someone raise their head above the parapet often makes the rest of us feel queasy. Most – the 60% majority – prefer the easy life. It is interesting how often people see empaths in problematical terms.
Problems arise for empaths, however, when there are apaths in the vicinity. Empaths can be brought down, distressed and forced into the position of the lone fighter by the inaction of more apathetic types round them.
Often empaths are targeted by sociopaths because they pose the greatest threat. The empath is usually the first to detect that something is not right and express what s/he senses.
As a consequence, the empath is both the sociopath’s number one foe and a source of attraction; the empath’s responses and actions provide excellent entertainment for sociopaths, who use and abuse people for sport.
The world of the empath is not for the faint-hearted. In the context we are discussing, empaths often find themselves up against not only the sociopath but often a flock of apaths as well. Apaths are afforded pole position in the sociopath’s intrigues.
The usual set-up goes like this: the empath is forced to make a stand on seeing the sociopath say or do something underhand. The empath challenges the sociopath, who straight away throws others off the scent and shifts the blame on to the empath. The empath becomes an object of abuse when the apath corroborates the sociopath’s perspective.
The situation usually ends badly for the empath and sometimes also for the apath, if their conscience returns to haunt them or they later become an object of abuse themselves. But, frustratingly, the sociopath often goes scot free.
Sociopaths rarely vary this tried-and-tested formula because it virtually guarantees them success.
Sociopaths draw in their apaths by various means: flattery, bribery, disorienting them with lies. A sociopath will go to any lengths to win her game. The best way to illustrate the interplay, and the ease with which apaths are pulled in, is by another short story.
The Sociopath’s trap: The authors quote psychotherapist Christine Louise de Canonville who describes different phases that the abuser leads the relationship through:
the idealisation stage, where the sociopath shows herself in the best possible light – but this phase is an illusion, to draw her target in
the devaluation stage begins gradually so the target is not alert to the sociopath’s transformation to being cold and unfeeling, but will begin to feel devalued at every turn; the more distressed the target becomes, the more the sociopath enjoys her power, and her abuse can become more extreme
the discarding stage – the target is reduced to an object to which the sociopath is indifferent, seeing the game as won; the sociopath rejects any connection, moving on to the next target. NOTE sociopaths usually have quite a trail of empath victims, one after the other.
Gaslighting does not happen all at once so, if you suspect in the early stages of a relationship that you are being gaslighted, you can protect yourself by walking away.
See: The Empathy Trap: Understanding antisocial personalities by Dr Jane and Tim McGregor (Sheldon Press, ISBN 978-1847092762)