Another characteristic which often stands out in many psychopaths is an invasive and intrusive aspect to their personality. Many of them can have very little respect for the privacy and space of others, being both psychologically and sometimes physically intrusive in the lives of the people around them.
This tendency comes both from a need for power and control over others and also their own internal disorder and chaos. Psychopaths ultimately have no respect for themselves or their own privacy within and so they also have no respect for the privacy of others. Their outer behaviour is simply a reflection of their inner psyche in this regard.
Psychopaths can for sure be physically invasive and intrusive, sometimes having no respect for others in a very literal and real way, busting into rooms without knocking and perhaps touching or otherwise invading people’s physical space inappropriately. This kind of invasiveness is more easily identifiable and boundaries can be more clearly set in this regard.
However, in this article we will focus more on the psychological intrusiveness that many psychopaths have, where perhaps they have realized that physical intrusiveness is frowned upon and punished, so they move their pernicious behavior to the psychological sphere, invading people’s privacy with relentless questioning and “nosying” into their personal lives.
This tendency can give some psychopaths this “slimy” quality many people report, where they sense that something is wrong with them but can’t quite put their finger on it. They are acting invasively but doing so in a more covert sneaky way, asking a series of seemingly innocent questions to wriggle their way into a person’s life and find out information about them they may be able to use later.
Invasive Behavior as a Power Game
One way of looking at this tendency many psychopaths have is that it is a form of power and control over their targets. Psychopaths are disciples of power and control over their own environment and others, and if they cannot control someone physically they will try to do so mentally.
In other words, by constantly asking invasive questions, they are playing a kind of power game. They are trying to find out as much as possible about you and prying for weaknesses and secrets. Remember there are no agenda-free, innocent interactions with a psychopath. They are always up to something.
It can be difficult to fend this kind of questioning off though, since almost everyone asks questions about the lives of others when they are getting to know them. For normal people this questioning is perfectly innocent and simply a way of connecting and making conversation. How are we to differentiate the motives of a person asking questions about our lives?
This is not always straightforward but can be discerned if you pay attention to their questioning and to their broader character and behavior as a whole. Here are some simple rules to follow:
- What kind of questions are they asking? Are they reasonable, curious questions about your life and just making conversation or are they unnecessarily intrusive?
- How frequently are they asking questions? Is it every now and then or a relentless barrage of questions about all areas of your life, like they are trying to gather information on you?
- Watch out especially for a relentless barrage of pointless follow up questions when you answer the first question (eg. what time did you go to……, , which…… did you go to?, why did you go to…….,? which …..did you get?, Just nonsense micro-detail stuff that they don’t even need to know, but they’re just constantly pushing your boundaries and eroding your privacy. See the video below for a good example of this – very common with toxic, invasive people.
- What is your overall gut feel of this person? Do they seem like a reasonable, decent person with integrity or is there something not quite right there? Do you trust this person? Do you sense an agenda to their questions?
- These last few bullet point about oversharing and “gut feel” often overlap. You don’t want to reveal to someone what you did yesterday/weekend etc, precisely because you sense you are not at all on the same wavelength and don’t want to share more spiritual/private/vocational things you get up to with someone you know and can sense on some level is toxic and un-worked, and/or who you don’t trust. Yet they keep pressing for information. You feel stuck in a dilemma situation – damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Only way around this is to find a way to set boundaries – see sections below.
- Watch carefully their general behavior for signs of other psychopathic characteristics. See our Checklist page for resources on this. Some people are just nosy, but invasiveness in conjunction with other psychopathic traits is a red flag.
I found a good clip from an otherwise pretty ropey film that actually portrays this intrusive questioning style that sociopaths/narcs often engage in quite well. Constantly asking questions and then pointless follow up questions to keep eroding your boundaries. Find your own way of shutting this invasive nonsense down:
Invasive/Intrusive Example – Questions, Question, Questions
When you’re dealing with not just nosey but pathological personalities like sociopaths/narcs, I believe this relentless pattern of intrusive questioning is also a deliberate tactic to get you in the pattern of giving out to them any information they ask for, whenever they ask for it, however ridiculous and unnecessary it is. In other words, they’re constantly eroding your boundaries and privacy and conditioning you to accept unacceptable intrusion, because that’s what these personality types have to do unfortunately (power and control fixated).
As with so many experiences with a psychopath it is about getting back in touch with and learning to trust your intuition and gut feel about people. We all have this radar within us to spot when something is “off” with a person in terms of their behavior and the questions they are asking us; it is just that some people lose touch with this ability and become easier to manipulate.
Toxic people often invade your privacy by bombarding you with relentless questions about your life
A fantastic summary of the pernicious effects of this intrusiveness over time is given in the Unslaved Podcast on psychopathy with this brilliant quote:
“These people have no sense of privacy within, and so they don’t respect your privacy….They’re extremely invasive people a lot of the time…Where that person will intrude into every aspect of your life…They’re pathologically into your space and over a period of months and years, you’ll find you have no privacy yourself because they’re there…every minute of every day like a pest”.
A Tendency to Conceal as a Response to Invasive Questioning
One pattern that can emerge in this kind of scenario is a tendency to lie and conceal on the part of the victim. Something in them senses the psychopath’s questioning isn’t quite right and is invasive and intrusive, but the questions seem on the surface to be harmless enough questions.
It therefore feels unreasonable for them to object to the person asking these questions. They are afraid to create what they think would be a “scene” by confronting the person on their invasiveness, so they settle for a kind of compromise by either lying or otherwise concealing information in the answers they give to the psychopath.
They don’t like the relentless questioning and feel their privacy is being invaded but also don’t want to kick up a fuss and object to it so they give wrong answers or make something up instead as a compromise.
This is an understandable response of someone who feels someone is invading into their privacy too much with relentless questioning, but is ultimately counterproductive since it hands power over to the psychopath in a couple of ways.
Firstly, going down the path of lying and concealing makes it likely these lies will later be uncovered, especially since the psychopath will continue to keep asking more and more questions and eventually probably spot contradictions in what you have told them. As the saying goes: “If you lie to too many people you forget what you’ve told them”.
You run the risk of having to create a convoluted twisted web of lies to mesh with the initial lies, and then more lies to mesh with these, and the whole process just gets exhausting as the psychopath’s questioning just continues on and on. You are just playing into their predatory tendencies to try and probe for weaknesses.
Secondly, by starting down this path of lying and concealing, even with good intentions to protect your privacy, are you not moving over into the world of the psychopath? One thing that characterizes them is a constant tendency to lie and conceal and by doing the same thing you are becoming more like them, which is most definitely not what you want.
You are getting a taster of what their life is like all day, every day, where they are constantly having to lie and act their way through life to conceal their true nature from people. See Hervey Cleckley’s The Mask of Sanity on Amazon for a brilliant depiction of this mask they must constantly wear. This is definitely not a direction you want to be going in yourself.
Far better than going down this path of concealment is to push through the fear so many people have and learn again how to set boundaries, finding ways to confront or otherwise cancel out the psychopath’s intrusive behavior. Let’s look at how we can do this in the next section.
Reclaiming Your Boundaries Against Invasive People
The first step to take in reclaiming your boundaries when dealing with this is to look at the issue of psychopaths and invasiveness from a completely different angle. The tendency to conceal is putting the person on the defensive when they should actively be the ones setting the boundaries so there needs to be a “reset” in their perception of this. Here is a good starting point:
The fact is that relentlessly intrusive and invasive questions about every little detail of one’s life IS a violation of their boundaries and no one is by any means required to put up with it. If it keeps happening it is important to confront the psychopath or otherwise toxic person and tell them to stop.
You must never be afraid of “creating a scene” or upsetting them. Your boundaries come before anything else even if it turns out the person is not a psychopath but simply a habitually nosy person who is anxious about making conversation. It is still your perfect right to call out invasive questioning about your life and put a stop to it.
Of course it is wise to cross reference for other psychopathic personality traits and not be too hasty to make a diagnosis. Some people will not mean any harm and just have a tendency to ask a lot of questions. However, some people are deliberately intrusive into the lives of others and do ask questions with an agenda to find out things they can possibly use against someone.
It may turn out that your initial gut instinct about their invasiveness was totally correct; it is just that the far better response is to set boundaries to stop it rather than feeling the need to conceal and cover up. Do not however feel you have to defend yourself for their relentless “nosying” into your personal life.
There are a number of ways to do this. Often it is simply a case of pushing through this resistance so many of us have to conflict and offending people or “causing a scene”. Indeed psychopaths often play on this weakness in a lot of people and this is precisely why they get away with so much.
Some ways of confronting them could be:
- “What does it matter?” when asking those stupid, pointless follow up questions intrusive people often ask that they don’t even need to know at all (see embedded video above for good example).
- OR cut them off with “It doesn’t matter, does it?” when they ask those pointless follow up details, and then control the conversation from there yourself.
- “Why do you keep asking me all these questions about my life?”
- “It’s not your business every little detail of my life history”
- It’s not your business every little detail of where I’m going, what I’m doing, or what I did at the weekend. Stop asking me all these questions”
- “You don’t seem to have much respect for the privacy of other people. You’re very invasive with all the questions that you ask”
- Another tactic is to anticipate and interrupt them every time they are about to ask another invasive question. Over time you will get to learn their patterns and you will know when a question is coming. Simply cut them off before they can ask it and control the conversation from there.
These steps may seem daunting at first, especially for those not prone to conflict or arguments. However in the midst of a toxic person it is sometimes necessary and no one needs to apologize for setting boundaries with others in any context, and definitely not with psychopaths and other toxic characters.
Charles Whitfield’s Boundaries and Relationships, available on Amazon, is an excellent resource about setting boundaries and it’s subtitle “Knowing, Protecting and Enjoying the Self” is perfectly apt in the context of this article in explaining why boundaries are so important in protecting against psychopaths and other toxic people. His book is full of practical advice and resources on setting boundaries in different areas of your life.
See also our Resources page for books and videos on the subject of psychopathy.