Millions of sociopaths live among us — can you spot them?

By Donna Andersen
Author of Lovefraud.com

I married a con man. My ex-husband took $227,000 from me, cheated with at least six women during our two-year relationship, had a child with one of the women, and then married the mother of the child. It was the second time he committed bigamy.

When I met him, I was a 40-year-old college graduate, trained as a journalist, and working as an independent copywriter. Yet I didn’t know what hit me.

I am not alone.

Because of my experience, in 2005 I launched Lovefraud.com to teach people how to recognize and recover from sociopaths. (My ex-husband was later professionally diagnosed.) Since then, I’ve collected more than 5,000 stories like mine. I’ve spoken to hundreds of people who told me, “I didn’t know people like this existed.”

This includes therapists. Many counselors have contacted me, embarrassed to admit that, even with their training, they did not realize they were involved with a disordered individual — until they suffered significant damage.

It seems that many therapists only learn how people with antisocial, narcissistic or borderline personality disorder, or psychopathy, behave in relationships by encountering them in their own lives. (I have suggested on Lovefraud.com that the word “sociopath,” which is no longer a clinical diagnosis, be used as a generic umbrella term to refer to all manipulators and exploiters.)

When people find themselves in abusive relationships and seek therapy, this becomes a problem. Many survivors have told me that counselors didn’t understand what they were talking about, and didn’t have any advice to offer.

In fact, my colleagues and I recently conducted a therapy satisfaction survey to explore this very point. Of the respondents who sought therapy due to abusive relationships, 30% of those in individual therapy, and 45% of those in couples therapy, said the counselor did not have prior knowledge of how sociopathy or psychopathy affected partners and family members. (A scientific paper about the survey results is underway.)

Depending on which expert estimates are considered, antisocials and psychopaths make up 1% to 4% of the population, narcissists are 1% to 6%, and borderlines are 1% to 5.9%. So nearly 16% of the population may have serious personality disorders. That’s 38 million people in the United States. But most of us, even those who have studied psychology, don’t know what they look like.

For years, Lovefraud.com has helped people identify the disordered people in their lives through written articles. Now, we are also offering online education. Our webinars are for the public — whether you’ve already encountered a sociopath or not — and for mental health professionals.

Lovefraud Continuing Education courses explain the realities of relationships with disordered individuals and how to recover from them. All instructors are experts on personality disorders, through research, personal experience, or both. The courses for therapists are approved by the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers.

Sociopaths are not always serial killers — that’s a fiction created by the media. In reality, they can be found in all walks of life. Everyone needs to understand the warning signs.

I wish I’d known about them before I learned the hard way. I hope you will educate yourself.

Donna Andersen bio

Donna Andersen is author of Lovefraud.com, a website that teaches people to recognize and recover from sociopaths. She is also author of Red Flags of Love Fraud—10 signs you’re dating a sociopath and the Red Flags of Love Fraud Workbook.

Donna learned about sociopaths the hard way—by marrying one. She tells the whole outrageous story in her first book, Love Fraud—How marriage to a sociopath fulfilled my spiritual plan.

Donna has collected more than 5,000 cases of people targeted by sociopaths. She has presented research on sociopaths to the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy. She is the program administrator for Lovefraud Continuing Education, which offers continuing education about personality disorders for survivors and mental health professionals.

Donna has appeared on television shows including ABC News 20/20, Who the Bleep Did I Marry?, My Life is a Lifetime Movie, Handsome Devils, Urban Legends and The Ricki Lake Show. She has been interviewed for radio shows, print articles and web posts.

Many Lovefraud readers thank Donna for saving their lives.