The Empathy Trap: Understanding The Sociopath-Empath-Apath Triad

The Empathy Trap: Understanding The Sociopath-Empath-Apath Triad

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.

But this prime spot comes at a price for, in what we call the “sociopathic transaction”, the apath makes an unspoken Faustian pact with the sociopath, then passively or otherwise participates in the cruel sport.

Read The Effects of Gaslighting in Narcissistic Victim Syndrome

Sociopath-empath-apath triad

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 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.

‘Steve and Robin’ were microbiologists at a prestigious university, collaborating on an important vaccine trial. The department head, Ben, hoped to gain substantially; success could see his status in his field rise and prove the catalyst for a glittering career.

His colleagues worked relentlessly collecting data, then Ben drafted a paper for submission to a respected journal. He decided that the outcome didn’t look tantalizing, so falsified key results in order to present findings in the best light. On completing the draft, he sent the paper for comment to his colleagues. Steve replied by email that he was happy with the manuscript; he used the opportunity to suck up to his boss. But Robin was aghast, noting colossal errors. With great urgency, he rattled off an email to Ben.

Receiving no response to this or a phone call, Robin went to find Ben in person, discovering him in the cafeteria with Steve. But he was too late. Ben had poisoned Steve’s mind, saying that Robin had challenged him over the accuracy of the results, due to a longstanding grudge. Ben said he had to pull Robin up about his own work several months back. Steve was different, Ben implied. He intimated Steve would be on course for promotion “especially if we get this paper out and secure funding for the next-stage trials”.

By the time Ben joined them, Steve, though initially shocked, had been won over by Ben’s swift flattery and insinuations

Robin crossed the cafeteria to them. “Hi, you two got a moment?” Briefly there was an awkward silence. Steve exchanged a look with Ben, who gave a slight conspiratorial smile, now that the transaction was done and the sport underway. “Yes, we were just talking about the paper. By the way, I did see your email, but if you look at the paper thoroughly, I think you’ll find that everything is correct.” Steve replied with a smug look that “I’m with Ben on this one”. Robin was floored. “You can’t be serious? You’re happy for it to go off to be reviewed with all these serious errors? Our reputations will be left in ruins.”

He decided to make a stand. He asked for his name to be removed as a co-author but was exasperated to learn that it was sent off to the journal anyway. More frustratingly, it was published. Meanwhile, the workplace became a source of stress for Robin as he struggled to cope with the backlash from colleagues who saw his intervention as an attempt to sabotage their work. People avoided him and, when they did talk to him, the conversation was stilted.

36 thoughts on “The Empathy Trap: Understanding The Sociopath-Empath-Apath Triad”

  1. Holy crap…I am the empath, swimming upstream and constantly fighting a seemingly losing battle. Other family members are apaths…just wanting to go with the flow, not create waves, and unconditionally love the disordered person simply because HE is ‘family’..even tho he has never felt like family to any of us…HE is a sociopath…

  2. Does anyone know if there are cases where a person can have a split personality with one personality being a sociopath and the other not???? Maybe I’m just desperate for reassurance that part of him actually was the man I thought he was.

  3. I can relate….didn’t know about sociopaths, narcissists, etc. or I could have known why things were gettin’ weird a little bit sooner. Every time I read something like this, more and more memories are released that corroborate my suspicions. As I look back on things, the red flags were there all along.

  4. This article had really helped me. Due to my experience with a sociopath and an apath I’ve since avoided getting close to other people. They destroyed my life, my confidence and my ability to be happy. For fun.
    The sociopath was abusing her son (under 5) and gradually allowed me to become aware of it. She really thought she had me completely under her control. So did not like it when I confided in my childhood best friend that I knew about it, and had to report it.
    Unfortunately for me my friend had already become the sociopaths apath, so she breached my confidence. All hell broke loose.
    From then it seemed that no one but me could see that this was actually about a child’s safety. A child’s childhood and development. It became about every little thing I’d ever been less than perfect in, and many nasty lies about me, mixed in together. She even went to so far as to cause physical injuries to another child to try to make out i had done it. I think she intended to blame every injury the child had experienced on me! At least that part of her plan didn’t play out.
    I was harrassed and beaten repeatedly by both of them for months. The police helped protect me. Social services tried to help the child. But i was their evidence gatherer and unfortunately i could no longer help the child.
    I had to just walk away. It was heartbreaking.
    12 years later i found the child in question. At age 7 his sociopath mother had stabbed him and he was raised by the care system. The lad’s a but messed up, but working towards being a good person. i still have nightmares.
    Thanks to this article i now know its a personality type (sociopath) and maybe i won’t be so scared of making friends any more.

  5. Part of personal growth is learning to set firm boundary’s on what you WILL and WILL NOT allow to effect/affect your daily life. Sociopaths produce a very unique energy field read. That should be every empaths giant red flag.

    1. I was attempting to keep it as a ‘singular’ as opposed to the multiples as each person is solely in charge of it. Pardon the mis-use but if that is all you can take from it, then you are probably correct. This page would not be for you.

  6. I've been gaslighted too many times to count. In the past I have been devastated and have felt exhausted much of my adult life, tho today, I am working hard on rebuilding. My question is, what are the warning signs of either sociopath or narcissist or both? My most recent gf was all about her. In ever way and it was if I simply didn't exist. It was crazy. I stayed only long enough to try to figure it out. After awhile tho, I realized that there was no figuring that out. It is time for me to make better choices.

  7. Strangely, when in High School I met a sociopath in training. He was a basketball player and charismatic. He was attracted to my being empathic, yet not as a victim, he sort of adopted me at seconds of our encounter. He probably collected me as one of his specimens wanted in his collection of people. He is still many, many years later a sociopath, only grown, in his 50s. We reconnected some years ago and by then he has become a fully grown and skilled emotional demon. Now, I am relieved he did not turn his budding skills towards me when I was a young empathic and so relieved now that I am also grown, I can deflect and eventually sever ties with him. Solid protection.

  8. Yeah. I've read about it. It's incredibly scary how right on all of it was. Now, that I'm aware, I'll never fall into this trap again. I know what to look for and I'll never blind myself to these particular warning signs again. Thanks for posting this. ❤️

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top