Psychopaths engage in a whole host of toxic behaviors, but one of the more common patterns in work and personal relationships is an attempt to isolate someone they see as a target. But exactly how do this do this, and even more importantly, why do they do this?
Psychopaths isolate their victims through a combination of using selective empathy and charm with others (but not their victim), smear tactics and malicious gossip, and distancing a person from any support systems including friends and family. In this way they lessen the support and backup a person has against the psychopath’s psychological abuse.
By removing support systems in personal relationships, and gossiping and scheming to undermine someone’s credibility and reputation in a work environment, psychopaths do their best to ensure someone they have targeted is seen badly by others and has little or no connections other than with the psychopath themselves.
This increases the control the psychopath has over them, and also sets up situations where reality is flipped on it’s head and good people are discarded and left with nothing in relationships, or else forced out of jobs or fired, such has their reputation been damaged by the relentless smearing.
The psychopath or sociopath unfortunately enjoys creating this kind of distress for others, both for the sense of control and power it gives them and also out of an intentional desire to cause harm to others that characterizes the psychopathic mindset.
Let’s look at this issue in more detail, firstly at the main tactics psychopaths use to isolate others, and then at the reasons why they engage in such toxic behavior.
How Psychopaths Isolate Their Victims
Here are some of the main tactics psychopaths use to isolate their victims from others. We have tried to take into account that psychopathic abuse can take place in different contexts – work and personal relationships – and have tried to cover common patterns of abuse in both environments.
1. Selective Empathy & Kindness – The psychopath will bombard others in a group scenario with a glib, superficial charm, warmth and empathy, whilst being hostile and indifferent towards one specific target or scapegoat.
Again this can be very subtle. The psychopath will be very charming and receptive to others, but even if the victim attempts to replicate the same friendly rapport with the psychopath, they will deliberately withhold this warmth from the victim (and only them).
Done systematically, this will isolate the victim over time in workplace scenarios especially. It is carefully planned and premeditated by the psychopath; therefore victims should avoid falling into the trap of thinking there is something they are doing or not doing that is making the psychopath behave this way.
There is nothing they can do; the psychopath has carefully planned this and will continue to play the same game no matter what they do. The only solution is to get away from the scenario as quickly as possible if there is no support coming from onlookers.
Trying harder to please the psychopath just toxically bonds you to them even more and makes your self esteem even more dependant on their approval.
Another way this can manifest is in the psychopath using their glib charm to manufacture “fun” and “good times” humor with the people around them, laughing and joking, whilst deliberately excluding their target from this fun, again making them feel distanced from those around them.
An important thing to remember here is that the psychopath often doesn’t really even like the people they are co-opting into these kind of mind games; they are just creating a fake kind of bond between themselves and apathetic onlookers as a way of isolating a scapegoat.
They also couldn’t care less about the bystanders they draw into their game, seeing them as “useful idiots”, but are happy to at least pretend to like them as a way of isolating and undermining someone they have decided to target.
See our article on psychopaths and selective empathy for more on this.
“It’s called the smear campaign and it started even before your breakup or the blow-up in a work situation…What they’re doing is provoking reactions from you and then sneaking around sharing those reactions with people to slowly show this person is going “crazy”….
That smear campaign is about turning people against you, even your own friends, so you have no support after it’s done”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here
2. Smear Tactics – This is a very common one among workplace psychopaths and is emphasized by the blockquote from Jackson Mackenzie just above. Psychopaths are masters at provoking people until they react and then spreading rumors about those reactions to others to undermine and isolate their target.
The specific goal of this tactic is to isolate you and damage or smear your reputation to work colleagues, painting you out as the “crazy” one who is losing it, whilst they walk away with their hands up playing the innocent victim.
Psychopathic managers also like to bad mouth you to senior managers as well as colleagues, painting you out to be a troublemaker or manufacturing other issues, stories and false narratives about you.
The idea here is a that if something does blow up at work – some kind of argument or disagreement with another staff member or customer – you have no support as the psychopath has manipulated everyone into thinking you are the problem.
3. Turning Others Against You – This can include the smear tactics we mentioned above, but is also in general involves a concerted effort by the psychopath to undermine you in the eyes of others, in a sense to get rid of any support you have.
Again this is particularly common in work settings and can involve a number of things. Here are some of the more common ones:
- Bad mouthing you to colleagues, trying to damage your reputation or make you out to a troublemaker when in fact they are the ones causing trouble.
- Charming their way in with senior managers and again painting you out to be a problem.
- Simply telling flat out lies about your work or personal life. The psychopath has no qualms about simply lying to people and can easily do so with a totally straight face.
- Pouncing on tiny little issues, mistakes or disagreements and exaggerating them to colleagues or senior managers to make you out to be somehow “awkward” or “difficult”.
4. “Making the bullets for others to fire” – Often common if the psychopath themself has developed a reputation for causing trouble. They’ll won’t confront you directly but will put ideas in other people’s heads about you, in the hope that they’ll decide to have a problem with you instead.
Once conflict is created between you and someone else, they sit back and watch the show, happy that they have caused some more trouble for you.
5. Isolating You in Personal Settings – Many of these tactics are more common in the work sphere. In personal relationships, psychopaths will also do their best to isolate targets from any support systems who might back them up or see through the psychopath’s behaviour and encourage the person to get away.
They often do this by finding a way to drive rifts between you and close friends and family members. That way, when they decide to “flip” and turn from the idealize to devalue and discard stages, again you have no support.
The psychopath has often cleverly made sure you have been distanced from anyone who may back you up and confirm your growing sense that something is wrong with this person.
Here are some ways they do this, as well as signs to look out for:
- Comments disparaging close friends and family – “Ahh, do you really want to go and see her tonight, I don’t think she’s that good for you you know” or something similar.
- Outright controlling behaviors, checking texts, emails, browsing history, physical mail, demanding to know where you are going and where you’ve been etc.
- In more extreme cases they may even physically or verbally forbid you from seeing certain people.
- Sometimes picking fights and insulting close friends and family directly to their face.
- Covertly and sneakily causing trouble between people close to you through lies, half truths and other malicious gossip, trying to manufactures fallouts. “He said-she said” nonsense, but ramped up and sprinkled with lies and exaggeration to try and cause rifts.
- Also being hostile and disparaging towards any potential new friends you may meet, always putting them down and finding an excuse for you to not develop a friendship with them.
- The general message with these tactics is “You don’t need these other people; you just need me. I’m better than anyone else you might have around, so why do you need anyone else except me?”
- They try to create an “Us two against the world” narrative. They may make out they are trying to protect you from these “nasty people”.
- You find conflict and drama between you and close friends and family increasing since a certain person entered your life.
In general, if you step back from the situation and notice that since you met this person, you seem to have lost a lot of good people who had been close to you for many months or years before, you should start asking questions. Were these justified fallouts, or manufactured ones by the psychopath?
The aim here is to send the general message to the victim: “You’re all alone. I’m chipping away at you, you know it, I know it, but no one else is going to back you up or come to your aid. I’ve got them covered; they’re on my side, not yours. I win. Ha!”
It is all part of the mind games psychopaths love to play with their victims. It is also about controlling you, not caring for you. People who care for you don’t try to control your every move or violate your boundaries.
Again, with psychopaths and sociopaths, it is important to look past all the excuses and word salad nonsense and step back to see the forest for the trees again. Have you lost crucial support systems since you met this person? Is there in controlling and invasive aspect to their behavior. If so, watch out?
Why Psychopaths Isolate Their Victims
“Our default understanding of humanity is gonna be that everybody has some good in them. The research that Dr Robert Hare and Dr Martha Stout have done have really turned that around to say that 4% of human beings don’t have a conscience, they have no remorse for their behavior, and they actually look for opportunities to cause harm to others”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here
The simple general answer for this is given in the quote just above. As bizarre as it sounds to normal people with some kind of morality and conscience, there is a small percentage of the population (psychopaths and sociopaths) who actively seek to cause harm to others, and get pleasure out of doing so.
This includes inflicting psychological as well as physical harm towards others. As we have covered elsewhere, most psychopaths are actually not violent serial killers as the pop culture stereotype portrays, but in fact look for more sneaky and covert ways to cause harm to others; ways we can’t call the police on.
This means that many of them move their destructiveness more into the area of psychological mind games, identity erosion, gas-lighting and other forms of emotional abuse, aimed to slowly chip away at their victims psychologically.
Another reason for these isolating tactics is that it is far easier to gas-light someone who is feeling isolated and has no one else coming to their defence.
Invalidation works far more effectively if there is literally no one who is backing up the victim’s viewpoint; they are all either apathetic onlookers or actively siding with the psychopath or sociopath. Setting up the person to be isolated helps the psychopath play their game so much more easily.
A key part of this is isolating people in group scenarios. This tactic is especially common in workplace scenarios. By turning co-workers against someone, the psychopath can make their victim’s life at work a living nightmare, and often force them out of jobs altogether whilst they carry on as normal as if nothing had happened.
Another way of looking at this is that for the psychopath, it is all about having power and control over others. They feel powerful inside when they deny power to others by having them under their total control.
The Lovefraud website puts this controlling tendency brilliantly like this: “Isolation takes away your support system. When your contact with other people is limited, it enables the sociopaths to control the information you receive. And the more control they exercise, the more you lose your sense of self”.