The Empathy Trap Book Review – Superb Recovery Resource

The Empathy Trap

We feel one book in particular on recovery from psychopathic abuse needs it’s own review on this site. This is The Empathy Trap by British psychologists Jane and Tim McGregor.

The reason for this is that this book more than any other moved the bar the most in this writer’s recovery from psychopathic abuse. The topics the books covers, as well as the format and style of the content is perfectly suited for recovering survivors of toxic abuse.

Jackson MacKenzie’s book Psychopath Free is also is also another book that many people report to have moved the bar for them in recovery. Click here to view that book on online. Perhaps the first book a survivor reads is always the most impactful, since a good resource on the topic will give you many of the initial answers you are seeking as to what happened to you.

The Empathy Trap covers so many important aspects of psychopathic and sociopathic abuse, including definitions, character traits, patterns of abuse and recovery options. Note that in this book the authors tend to use the word sociopath instead of psychopath. We tend to use the word psychopath on this site.

For recovery purposes this difference is largely symbolic and semantic. Whilst psychopaths and sociopaths motives and personality may slightly differ but the bottom line is they adopt roughly the same toxic abuse tactics and inflict the same kind of damage on their victims. The terms psychopath and sociopath are interchangeable for the purposes of this article. They are both evil character types.

The book is comparatively small at just over 100 pages and the sections are all clearly written, bitesize chunks of information which make them perfect for people in recovery from toxic abuse because it can be difficult to find motivation and focus to do things for prolonged periods.

This book gives you the tonnes of useful information in small, easily read sections which means you can dip in and out of it as and when it suits.

Most importantly for us the book provides important vindication and explanations for recovering victims in the form of the conceptual frameworks it gives to help understand patterns of psychopathic abuse, most notably in the form of the sociopath-empath-apath triad or SEAT for short. We will cover this in a later section.

This is crucial in providing the answers and justification that so many people need who are seeking explanations in the early stages of recovery from psychopathic abuse. Their models and frameworks accurately put labels and terms onto the psychopath’s behaviour and describes the predictable patterns of abuse they engaged in with the victim.

The Empathy Trap is a great resource on recovery with concrete, digestible, definitions, concepts and examples which the reader can easily absorb.

Drs. Jane and Tim McGregor have written the book in a way that the reader feels they have someone on their side, empathizing with them in a way the psychopath and apathetic onlookers did not when the abuse was happening.

For this reason we want to recommend it as an essential resource for people recovering from psychopathic or sociopathic abuse, or other toxic relationships at work or in the home. Let’s look at some of the more standout qualities of the book in more detail.

Dr Tim McGregor on The Empathy Trap

Apologies for poor video quality

Click here to view The Empathy Trap on The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery).

Excellent Profile of the Psychopath or Sociopath

The book starts off with a very concise, well written guide to the common personality traits of the sociopath. Again for the purposes of this post the terms sociopath and psychopath can be considered equivalent. We will use the term sociopath for the rest of this article since this is the term used in the book.

Here are some of the more common traits of the sociopath which are all concisely defined in the early sections of the book:

  • The superficial charm that sociopaths often have, where they are able to take in others with a funny guy act or some other means of distraction from their real character.
  • The constant need for stimulation that sociopaths have due to an endless sense of boredom they feel inside. They have no inner life and so are constantly needing some form of outer stimulation. They often engage in their abuse of others to relieve this boredom.
  • Sociopaths have an extremely limited emotional range or in some cases no emotions at all.
  • Sociopaths have a constant tendency towards mind games and manipulation.
  • Sociopaths are parasitic individuals, constantly feeding off the energy or success of others.
  • Sociopaths often force a faked sense of victimization, self pity, withholding and faking illness to try and elicit pity and sympathy and throw others off the scent of who they really are. The more general concept of malingering also covers this manipulative tactic.
  • The constant tendency for the manipulation of others, often through positive and negative reinforcement, rewarding submissive behavior and punishing any attempt to resist their control. “Gas-lighting” is also covered as a key manipulative tactic.
  • The chronic and compulsive lying that often characterizes sociopaths.
  • The lack of remorse for their treatment of others.

All these characteristics are concisely explained and given concrete examples and case studies that will be very revealing and vindicating especially for those just starting out on the journey of recovering from sociopathic abuse.

The Empathy Trap provides an excellent introduction for the key terms and characteristics all survivors will need to define what they experienced.

Sociopathy Checklist

The Empathy Trap gives you a clear, concise list of character traits and behaviours which will help you to identify sociopaths who have been in your life and spot them more readily in the future as well.

An Excellent Analysis of Abusive Dynamics

The Empathy Trap also contains an excellent overview and framework of how sociopaths manipulate others, most specifically in it’s description of the Sociopath-Empath-Apath Triad, or SEAT for short. See also our article, where we go into more detail on this.

This is a trick sociopaths and psychopaths will play time and time again and one which victims of toxic abuse will immediately recognize once they go back over their experiences with the sociopath and have a framework such as the SEAT dynamic which which to define it and pin it down.

The dynamic starts when the empath, or high quality individual, confronts the sociopath on something unacceptable they have said or done. The sociopath responds by using manipulative tactics such as denial, lying, blame shifting or flattery to throw others off the scent or direct attention back towards the empath and make them out to be the problem.

The toxic dynamic is completed when apathetic or unsupportive onlookers, defined as the apaths, corroborate the sociopath’s view on the situation and fail to back up or support the empath on confronting the sociopath.

They “sell out” and go along to get along, either because they don’t want to get in the sociopath’s bad books or because they lack integrity are easily taken in and manipulated by them.

The empath is then left undermined, isolated and often angry that the situation has somehow been turned on them when they were the one calling out the sociopath on their unacceptable behaviour. The sociopath often walks away from the scenario scot free.

The sociopath realizes how easily manipulated most people are and they will use this manipulative tactic time and time again. This is why the SEAT dynamic is such an important addition to the literature, since virtually all victims of sociopathic abuse will recognize this once it is laid out in a conceptual framework and explained.

The Empathy Trap explains this dynamic very well and also provides a few case study examples to see how it can play out, particularly in a work environment, where sociopaths play people off against an empath who is on to their behavior, often isolating or even forcing them out of jobs for their own ends with no remorse or empathy.

This writer for one can remember how cathartic it was to read these sections and find in them a perfect description of how situations were turned on their head by a manipulative sociopath in my own life and how apathetic bystanders were only too happy to collude in the process.

Vindication and Confirmation For Victims

Following on from this point about the S-E-A-T, this is one of many ways in which the book is a deeply cathartic and empathic resource for recovering victims of sociopathic and psychopathic abuse, since it validates and vindicates them in clearly explaining and confirming what happened to them.

By placing such an emphasis on clear, concise definitions and articulately explained conceptual frameworks for understanding patterns of sociopathic abuse, the book allows the reader to lock down and define exactly what happened to them. Having a specific name for different experiences you went through is often extremely relieving and cathartic.

You have an explanation, a term in the literature that you and others can point to, that clearly defines and explains what you suffered at the hands of the sociopath. It allows the reader to see “Yes, I’m not going mad, I did go through these experiences and someone else knows that this pattern of abuse exists!”. The Empathy Trap is brilliant at providing this comfort and vindication to recovering victims.

It also provides a kind of vindication to the anger that many survivors feel not just at the abuse the sociopath themself inflicted, but also the fact that any number of apathetic onlookers (the apaths) stood by whilst this happened, not coming to the victim’s defense and even sometimes siding with the sociopath.

The SEAT dynamic explicitly acknowledges this role of the apath, again providing a kind of relief to the empath who may start to think that something must be wrong with them, since no one seems to be supporting or backing up their view on the sociopath’s toxic behaviour.

The realisation that these apaths form the majority of people is angering and frustrating for the empath but at least this book vindicates and confirms this view and allows a framework on which you can better decide the kind of people you want in your life moving forward from this experience.

Lightbulb Eureka Moments

Reading The Empathy Trap will likely give many people just starting recovery a lot of lightbulb “eureka” moments as they will now have a name and an explanation for what happened to them.

Great Recovery Resources

The Empathy Trap also features a fantastic array of bitesize suggestions and resources for recovery, all presented in small, manageable chunks that will not seem too daunting for the reader. They can dip in and out of the different sections and try different things at their own pace.

Again the authors are fully empathizing with recovering victims not just in the information they are presenting but how they are presenting it. They seemingly realize that finding motivation can be difficult after suffering from prolonged sociopathic abuse and so they are presenting information in bitesize chunks which can be easily followed up on and don’t feel too overwhelming.

The first thing they encourage is to recognize the abuse for the trauma that it was. Victims of psychopaths and sociopaths often report PTSD style symptoms such as numbness, depression, emptiness, lack of motivation, withdrawal, flashbacks and so on and the authors are very clear on acknowledging and vindicating the trauma the sociopath inflicted.

They offer a concise, well defined roadmap through the different psychological and emotional states people often go through in recovery, such as grieving, anger and acceptance, again providing validation for the people going through these predictable emotions following the abuse.

They also provide excellent resources and advice on managing the negative emotional aftermath which can often follow the abuse, with tips on managing stress, anxiety, flashbacks, anger and rumination which victims often suffer for some time afterwards.

Clear procedures are defined to help identify when these things are happening and manage or deal with them effectively. Therapeutic resources such as EMDR are also recommended for more extreme cases of anxiety, stress and traumatic memories.

See our detailed article on how EMDR may help in recovery from sociopathic abuse.

They also some other excellent advice regarding making new connections, learning to set boundaries and self care following the abuse, as well as emphasizing the importance of acceptance in fully moving on.

By this they mean not forgiving the sociopath but realizing that they cannot undo the abuse and go back to the way their life was before it happened. Accepting a new reality and a new life is crucial to moving on.

They back these excellent resources up with several well written case studies of recovering victims, showing that full recovery is possible and that survivors often go on to live a life fuller and better than it was before. The experience, however traumatic, taught them things about themselves and others and allowed them to build a better life with better people around them than they had before the abuse.

The Empathy Trap is a superb resource on recovery from psychopathic and sociopathic abuse, providing clear concise terminology and definitions for patterns of toxic abuse and a workable, practical roadmap to recovery with loads of useful tips and resources. We recommend it unconditionally to all people recovering from toxic relationships.

Click to view on Amazon


See also our Resources page for links to more books on recovery from psychopathic and sociopathic abuse.


I like to draw on my personal experience and research to write and raise awareness about pathological personalities in the modern world

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