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

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

Eventually Robin arranged a meeting with Ben to have it out once and for all. But Ben took control of the agenda. “Robin, I have to be honest with you, many of your colleagues are unhappy about the way you handled things and some have made complaints. They don’t trust you to conduct yourself professionally after you attempted to sabotage their hard work. Mercifully the reviewers saw what a fine trial we’d conducted and didn’t get wind of your attempted slur.

“We can’t afford to have a saboteur on the team. So I’ve discussed this with the dean and he agrees there is no future for you here, and there’s no other way to deal with this. You’ve got to go.”

Any phase of this story sound familiar?

The gaslighting effect

In the story above, the actions of Ben and Steve have a ‘gaslighting’ effect on Robin. Gaslighting is a systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality.

The syndrome gets its name from the play and films of the same name in which a murderer strives to make his wife doubt her sanity and get others to disbelieve her.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented in such a way as to make the target doubt his/her memory and perception. Psychologists call this “the sociopath’s dance”. It could involve denial or staging of strange events.

This is Machiavellian behaviour of the worst kind. And anyone can become a victim of the sociopath’s gaslighting moves: parent and child, in-laws, friends, groups of people including work colleagues.

Psychotherapist Christine Louise de Canonville describes different phases that the abuser leads the relationship through:

1. The Idealisation Stage, where the sociopath shows herself in the best possible light – but this phase is an illusion, to draw her target in

2. 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

3. 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.

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.

To learn more, including how to recover from exposure to a prolonged sociopathic transaction, buy The Empathy Trap: Understanding antisocial personalities by Dr Jane and Tim McGregor (Sheldon Press, ISBN 978-1847092762).


About the authors

Dr. Jane McGregor is a freelance trainer and lecturer at the Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham. She holds a Ph.D. in public health and worked in the NHS and voluntary sector, mostly in the field of addiction treatment.

Tim McGregor is a freelance consultant and trainer, and a mental-health practitioner of many years’ standing. He has worked in the NHS and voluntary sector, most recently as a commissioning adviser.

Thanks to Scott for this article

Empathic People Are Natural Targets For Sociopaths – Protect Yourself
The Empathy Trap: Empathic People Are Natural Targets For Sociopaths
The Empathy Trap: Understanding The Sociopath-Empath-Apath Triad
The Empathy Trap: Understanding The Sociopath-Empath-Apath Triad

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. ❤️

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