Close call with evil: a sociopath in the family



I always hesitate to use the word “evil”. What many people may call evil are actually just human emotions, traits and motivations: aggression, jealousy, greed, anger… These human traits and emotions we can address and learn how to deal with. We can learn from them, transform them and bring their root causes to a higher level.


When I use the word “evil,”, I don’t mean those human things. What I mean with the word “evil” is the cold, calculated presence of beings who have no heart, no empathy, no conscience. I’m talking about true sociopaths.


Now, normally you would not go in for relationships with beings that have no heart. That manipulate, steal and deceive without batting an eyelid. Beings that would as soon murder you as charm you to get what they want. But what if these beings incarnate as your own flesh and blood? What if they are born into your own family?

Good and evil

It’s one of the most devastating – and potentially transformative – things to have a sociopath in the family. It brings the polarity of ‘’good’’ and ‘’evil’’ right to our doorstep, no, even directly into the heart of our home. It can kill us psychologically and spiritually – or even physically. It can also bring our understanding of true love, true humanity and self-empowerment to a higher level.


And just as I hesitate to use the world ‘’evil’’, for the same reason I hesitate to use the word ‘’good’’. With good I don’t mean blindly following the rules of some ‘’higher power’’ or teaching. I don’t mean the strict adherence to a society’s norms. With ‘’good’’ I mean being someone who has a conscience, even if they don’t always listen to it – to err is after all, human. With ‘’good’’ I mean having empathy, integrity, being able to have the normal range of human emotions – best of all, having the ability to love unconditionally and operate from the heart.


Sociopaths have and do none of those things – they can’t – and they don’t want to. For beings that do have empathy, a heart and a conscience, it is unimaginable that someone who looks like a human being and talks like a human being, would have no heart at all. No true emotions – only feigned ones. No joy – only taking pleasure in other people’s pain. No conscience – yes, knowing the difference between ‘’right’’ and ‘’wrong’’, but not caring about the difference one iota.

Blood ties

Even more so, it is utterly unimaginable that such a cold being would live inside the body of a brother, a sister, a father, a mother. The ties of blood are strong. Instinct and millennia of evolution move us to see family as our ‘’own’’. So it’s not that we don’t want to see the signs that someone is actually a true sociopath, we truly can’t – at first, that is.


True sociopaths can go for years, decades, pretending to be normal human beings – they are masters of manipulation and pretense. They waste no time on normal human emotions and experiences so they have all the time in the world to spend on devising strategies, using manipulation, lies, mind games and other sociopath pastimes. They love to pit people against each other by telling different stories to different people.


Meanwhile, their family live under the mistaken notion that they are dealing with normal people – although, of course often from a young age there are signs something is terribly wrong.  When I think of young sociopaths I think of the four year-old who came into the mental health centre I was working at years ago because she tried to flush a kitten down the toilet and push her mother down the stairs. Or the cute little blond five year-old who was manhandling a rabbit. When I told her: ‘’Don’t do that sweetie, it’s hurting the bunny,’’ she looked up at me with the coldest eyes and said: ‘’So?’’


So, what is the challenge of having a sociopath in the family? Because I always want to turn a ‘’problem’’ into a ‘’challenge’’ – a challenge means we can learn, grow and move forward. When we choose to see even the hardest lesson (and having to deal with a sociopath is one of the hardest lessons of all) into a challenge, we can only win in the end. Well, it depends on our particular soul lessons we are dealing with at the time. There are, however some general lessons that might be helpful to point out here.

1. Appearances are deceptive -even when it comes to family

Sociopaths come in all shapes and sizes, and they can be very attractive. A surprising number of sociopaths can turn on the charm like it’s nothing – they know what to do and say to make others believe they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. They can make people feel they are special because the sociopath has turned their charm on them. Especially people who have low self-esteem can fall for their tricks – it’s too seductive.
They’re also masters of the sob story when it suits them – getting others to do the work for them and take care of them. However, when you look closer, you will start noticing that there is no real feeling there at all. There is no compassion. They don’t really care about you as a person – only about how they can use you. When things don’t go their way, they can start acting ugly very fast.

Especially with members of the family, they tend to get lazy and not turn on the charm at all – they will just make use of the fact that mothers don’t abandon their children: they want to see them happy and will go through enormous lengths to make them happy. Older sisters and brothers want to take care of the younger ones. Fathers feel responsible and want to protect their own. That the child, adolescent or grown family member they are protecting is devoid of human feelings at all, and just using them and their familial, maternal or paternal instincts is just unimaginable – until things get really bad.

2. Trust what you see, not what you want to see

Sociopaths may look or act charming or pitiful, but the proof of their true nature is in their behaviour – and they will not be able to hide that for long. Children will be caught secretly abusing animals, pulling their sisters’ hair, smothering their brothers with a pillow (yes, it happens) and stealing from others or destroying their toys. Older children and adults will seldom follow up on their promises but try and use and abuse others for their own benefit. They will lie, steal and cheat for the heck of it – or because it will make them look good and the other look bad. That is why it is important to pay attention. Is what they do and say in accordance with one another? Are they being accountable? It can be hard to see the truth when it’s not something you wish to see… but you had better, when you are dealing with a sociopath.

3. Trust your instincts, feelings and intuition

Living with a sociopath family member means being exposed to deceit every day – so really, it’s a lesson in discerning the truth. Even if they tell you what you want to hear, or refuse to tell you anything at all, what does your gut feeling tell you? What does your body say? What does your intuition tell you? What do your eyes tell you? If their behaviour doesn’t match up to their words, be aware. If you feel unsafe, belittled, used or abused, be aware. If being in their presence drains you and leaves you feeling empty, worthless and small, be aware.

4. It’s okay to say “No” – even when it means saying “No” to family

It is one of the last taboos in this society: saying NO to family. But what if that “family” member is devoid of humanity? What if the being inhabiting the body you birthed, or tried to love as a parent or sibling has no love for you at all? What if they are hurting you, deceiving you, threatening you, abusing you? It’s okay to draw the line and cut ties with people who pretend to be family but are really not – ‘’family’’ means people you have a close bond with. They don’t have to be blood. They can even be a different species. All of our earthly cousins are family. Animals can be loyal to a fault, even beyond death. We are all children of Earth. We share DNA with trees and molecules with the stars.

Family means unconditional love. Family means trust and being trustworthy. Family is the best – and it doesn’t have to come in a physical package that is genetically similar. Maybe that’s the most import lesson sociopaths can teach us of all.


If you want to read more about sociopathy, I would recommend the book ‘’The sociopath next door’’ by Martha Stout, PhD. There are also a lot of websites you can visit for more insight, information and help.

© Wendy Gillissen, M.A. 2019
This article is protected by copyright. No part may be used without written permission of the author. If you want to share it, please contact me or use the social media buttons below. Thank you for respecting my work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s