Psychopaths spend their lives learning how to mimic normal human emotions, but they don’t actually experience things like compassion and love.
Psychopaths make up about 4% of the general population (as in, not in a mental institution or jail) and most of them aren’t serial killers. They’re your conniving co-worker who somehow seems to get away with everything. They’re that “perfect” ex who ran off with someone else. Or maybe they’re just the totally normal guy who served you coffee this morning.
Psychopaths look like you and me, but there’s one big difference: they don’t have a conscience. They can harm others with absolutely no sense of remorse or guilt. They spend their lives learning how to mimic normal human emotions, but they don’t actually experience any of those feelings. Things like compassion, love, trust, and forgiveness — all just convenient vulnerabilities to be exploited.
To any onlooker, a psychopath will slip through life unnoticed. They’re likable, friendly, and charming (not at all over-the-top). But to those who are unfortunate enough to become close to a psychopath, a nightmare will begin to unfold. What starts as a fairy tale slowly transforms into an incomprehensible mess of mind games and chaos.
Wondering if you might know (or even be in a relationship with) a psychopath? Here are the top 10 warning signs:
1. They reel you in with idealization, love-bombing, and flattery.
When you first meet a psychopath, things move extremely fast. They tell you how much they have in common with you — how perfect you are for them. Like a chameleon, they mirror your hopes, dreams, and insecurities to form an immediate bond of trust and excitement. They constantly initiate communication and seem to be fascinated with you on every level. If you have a Facebook page, they might plaster it with songs, compliments, poems, and inside jokes.
2. They prey on your emotions with pity plays and sympathy stories.
You’ll quickly find a soft spot in your heart for them. They often seem cute and innocent at first (forget your television idea of the arrogant narcissist with a flashy car). They’ll probably mention their abusive ex who’s still in love with them. They say that all they’ve ever wanted is some peace and quiet. They hate drama — and yet, you’ll soon come to notice there’s more drama surrounding them than anyone you’ve ever known.
3. They involve you in their own versions of “love triangles.”
Once you’re hooked, the triangulation sets in. They surround themselves with former lovers, potential mates, and anyone else who provides them with added attention. This includes people that the psychopath may have previously denounced and declared you superior to. This makes you feel confused and creates the perception that the psychopath is in high demand at all times.
4. They constantly rewrite reality and exhibit other crazy-making behavior.
They blatantly deny their own manipulative behavior and ignore evidence when confronted with it. They become dismissive and critical if you attempt to disprove their fabrications with facts. Instead of them actually addressing their inappropriate behavior, somehow it always becomes your fault for being “sensitive” and “crazy.” Toxic people condition you to believe that the problem isn’t the abuse itself, but instead your reactions to their abuse.
5. They accuse you of feeling emotions that they are intentionally provoking.
They call you jealous after blatantly flirting with an ex — often done over social networking for the entire world to see. They call you needy after intentionally ignoring you for days on end. They use your manufactured reactions to garner sympathy from other targets, trying to prove how “hysterical” you’ve become. You probably once considered yourself to be an exceptionally easygoing person, but an encounter with a psychopath will (temporarily) turn that notion upside down.
6. You’ve noticed them pathologically lying and making excuses.
There is always an excuse for everything, even things that don’t require excusing. They make up lies faster than you can question them. They constantly blame others — it is never their fault. They spend more time rationalizing their behavior than improving it. Even when caught in a lie, they express no remorse or embarrassment. Oftentimes, it almost seems as if they Wanted you to catch them.
7. They provoke jealousy and rivalries while maintaining their cover of innocence.
They once directed all of their attention to you, which makes it especially confusing when they begin to withdraw and focus on other people. They do things that constantly make you doubt your place in their heart. If they’re active on social media, they’ll bait previously denounced exes with old songs, photos, and inside jokes. They attend to the “competition’s” activity and ignore yours.
8. They withhold attention and undermine your self-esteem.
After once showering you with nonstop attention and admiration, they suddenly seem completely bored by you. They treat you with silence and become very annoyed that you’re interested in continuing the passionate relationship that They created. You begin to feel like a chore to them.
9. They exhibit selfishness and a crippling thirst for attention.
They drain the energy from you and consume your entire life. Their demand for adoration is insatiable. You thought you were the only one who could make them happy, but now you feel that anyone with a beating pulse could fit the role. However, the truth is: no one can fill the void of a psychopath’s soul.
10. You don’t recognize your own feelings.
Your natural love and compassion has transformed into overwhelming panic and anxiety. You apologize and cry more than you ever have in your life. You barely sleep, and you wake up every morning feeling anxious and unhinged. You have no idea what happened to your old relaxed, fun, easygoing self. After a run-in with a psychopath, you will feel insane, exhausted, drained, shocked, and empty. You tear apart your entire life — spending money, ending friendships, and searching for some sort of reason behind it all.
These relationships leave long-lasting damage, with feelings and doubts that you’ll never be good enough. Encounters with psychopaths are like drowning in a black hole, because no matter how much they hurt you, it’ll still be your fault. They ignore your best qualities and provoke your insecurities until your entire personality becomes unrecognizable.
Fortunately, there is always hope for healing. The first step is going “No Contact” (that includes texts, emails, and even Facebook peeking). It’ll feel impossible at first, but easier with time. You’ll slowly find your sanity returns and the chaos dissipates. Eventually, this experience will become an incredible opportunity to discover self-respect and make healthy boundaries that will serve you for the rest of your life.
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These are the red flags Jen Waite wishes she knew when she first met her ex.
The word “psychopath” sounds scary. It conjures images of Hannibal Lecter wearing a muzzle, and Lizzy Borden swinging an ax. But even more chilling? Most psychopaths appear just like you and me—only they’re especially charismatic. I know. I was married to the “perfect” man … until I found out he was leading a double life right after the birth of our daughter.
Since then, I’ve made it my mission to help others who find themselves in a similar situation. (I’ve written a memoir about my marriage, and plan to attend graduate school to become a licensed therapist, specializing in recovery from psychopathic relationships.) People are often surprised to learn that not all psychopaths are murderers. But they do destroy—lives and families. And they do it slowly, often while acting out the role of the Prince (or Princess) Charming you’ve been waiting for entire whole life. My Prince Charming was the most charming of them all. Until he wasn’t.
The good news is that there are red flags that can help you identify a psychopath early on in a relationship. Based on my experience, these are 10 signs your partner may not be who you think.
Does it feel like after years of living in black and white, you suddenly see the world in bursting color? Does your other half make everything seem exciting and fresh—All the time? When a psychopath is pursuing a new relationship, she puts you up on a pedestal and turns on massive amounts of charm, enough to leave you breathless. But that stage doesn’t last: In an article for Psychology Today, clinical neuropsychologist Rhonda Freeman, PhD, noted that psychopaths exhibit a “predictable cyclical style” of relationships: “They idealize, devalue, and then discard their partners, with no concern for the pain they leave behind.”
There’s nothing to argue about because he agrees with you on everything, from life goals to takeout orders. This feels amazing, so of course you want it to be normal. But it is not. Two non-psychopathic human beings will, once in a while, disagree and even fight. And that’s ok. Because it’s natural to have different opinions, emotions, likes, and dislikes.
Ahhh, l’amour. When two become one, right? Wrong. Psychopaths use a tactic called “mirroring” to reflect back to you exactly what you want in a mate. As Adelyn Birch, author of Psychopaths and Love, describes it, “psychopaths are able to so perfectly mirror you and figure out your needs and desires that they appear to be the perfect person for you.” Seems totally romantic until you realize it’s totally creepy.
Has your boo had the worst luck? Has his romantic life been a series of horrid breakups and crazy exes?
Everyone has a past, but if he often diverts your attention from his bad behavior with sob stories, consider it a warning sign. This is called the “pity play” and, according to Martha Stout, author of the Sociopath Next Door, it’s potentially the single biggest red flag. In her book, Stout writes that if “you find yourself often pitying someone who consistently hurts you or other people, and who actively campaigns for your sympathy, the chances are close to 100% that you are dealing with a sociopath.”
Is your partner’s past somewhat murky? Do you find it a bit odd that she doesn’t seem to have any childhood friends? A psychopath life hops. In other words, once she has burned a bridge (which happens often), she sheds that life and moves on. She isn’t able to maintain long-term relationships because eventually, she exploits everyone who crosses her path.
Did your affair start out as an emotional rollercoaster, hot and heavy with a tinge of danger? Did the danger have to do with some form of competition? A psychopath will try to play you off someone else in his life—whether it’s his wife, an ex, or even a family member—to make himself seem more desirable.
This is called triangulation. In his book The Art of Seduction, Robert Green explains how psychopaths “manufacture the illusion of popularity by surrounding themselves with members of the opposite sex: friends, former lovers, and your eventual replacement.” Then, they manipulate you by creating “triangles that simulate rivalry and raise their perceived value.”
Hanging with your soul mate is always an adventure. But there’s a big difference between a woman who makes your heart flutter and a psychopath with a lack of impulse control and regard for consequences. Impulsivity is one of the key traits used to diagnose psychopathy As Robert Hare, PhD, writes in his book, Without Conscience, “[t]he most obvious expressions of psychopathy—but not the only ones—involve the flagrant violation of society’s rules. Not surprisingly, many psychopaths are criminals, but many others manage to remain out of prison, using their charm and chameleon-like coloration to cut a wide swathe through society, leaving a wake of ruined lives behind them.”
A bit of spontaneity can be a great thing, but repeated reckless behavior is a sign that something’s amiss.
Has your tragic Prince Charming ever gazed at you with puppy dog eyes and told you he never thought he’d find happiness because he’s just too damaged? After the swelling music fades into the background, let’s think about this for a second. Do you really want to be with someone that you need to save, or change? A healthy relationship consists of two adults coming together as already whole beings and complementing each other.
In an interview with the Associated Press, psychologist Sue Stone, PsyD, explained that “[Psychopaths] have a parasitic lifestyle—they live off people.” If you feel like you’re giving a lot of yourself to your partner, it could be that he’s sucking the life from you.
Have you watched her lie to another human being—even if it was just a white lie—without blinking, and cool as a cucumber? If so, stop right there. If you notice your partner unflinchingly and convincingly distorting the truth, it’s only a matter of time before she starts deceiving you, too.
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It feels nice to be showered with positive attention. But does your boyfriend seem a little carried away? Being idealized by a psychopath is infatuation on steroids. Psychopaths “love-bomb” their targets to manufacture a false sense of intensity and intimacy. In Psychopath Free, Jackson MacKenzie explains the tactic: “[Love-bombing] quickly breaks down your guard, unlocks your heart, and modifies your brain chemicals to become addicted to the pleasure centers firing away. The excessive flattery and compliments play on your deepest vanities and insecurities—qualities you likely don’t even know you possess.”
We want the fantasy to be true, so we ignore that tiny warning voice in our heads. But fast and furious is not a real way to get to know someone.
It is disturbing and frightening that psychopaths share so many traits with the popular notion of a “perfect” man, as I painfully discovered. But the good news is that there are always red flags. And if you know what to look for, you can keep yourself safe.
Jen Waite is the author of the new book A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal.
If your new romantic interest exhibits all or most of the following behaviors, be careful. He or she might be a sociopath.
1. Charisma and charm. They’re smooth talkers, always have an answer, never miss a beat. They seem to be very exciting.
2. Enormous ego. They act like the smartest, richest or most successful people around. They may actually come out and tell you that.
3. Overly attentive. They call, text and e-mail constantly. They want to be with you every moment. They resent time you spend with your family and friends.
4. Jekyll and Hyde personality. One minute they love you; the next minute they hate you. Their personality changes like flipping a switch.
5. Blame others. Nothing is ever their fault. They always have an excuse. Someone else causes their problems.
6. Lies and gaps in the story. You ask questions, and the answers are vague. They tell stupid lies. They tell outrageous lies. They lie when they’d make out better telling the truth.
7. Intense eye contact. Call it the predatory stare. If you get a chill down your spine when they look at you, pay attention.
8. Move fast. They quickly proclaim that you’re their true love and soul mate. They want to move in together or get married quickly.
9. Pity play. They appeal to your sympathy. They want you to feel sorry for their abusive childhood, psychotic ex, incurable disease or financial setbacks.
10. Sexual magnetism. If you feel intense attraction, if your physical relationship is unbelievable, it may be their excess testosterone.
1523 Comments on “10 Signs that you’re dating a sociopath”
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“2. Enormous ego. They act like the smartest, richest or most successful people around. They may actually come out and tell you that.”
Mine acts like the most humble person.
Did anyone ever experience this too?
I think those seemingly “social” sociopaths are even harder to spot.
Spaths do whatever they think will get them whatever they want. They use different tactics on different targets depending on what they think will work. My ex psychopath feigned humility because it made him look even better than the smartest richest most successful person if he was humble on top of all that. It’s all about impression management.
I am new to the site and feel so many things run true in the craziness of the narcissist, we all share the pain of finding out the monster we gave our love to is not normal at all. My Narcissist was in fact 68 yrs old I am 53 yrs old. He was Charming, loving attentive and I thought I had in fact found my soulmate. We had a long distance relationship and saw eachother every weekend. I must admit there were times when I felt things were Off but his explanations sounded believable with his phone being unreachable for a whole day and night. He blamed his mobile provider! His new phone was having teething problems and wasnt connecting properly. I believed every single word! Fast forward to December 2018 he took me on holiday to Malta for a week. For 2 days before our flight he was complaining of backache and we couldnt make love. We arrived in Malta and still his backache was troublesome, he also said dont use my towel which he hung behind the bathroom door in the holiday apartment, he said he was just getting over a cold, again believable. He kept looking for the toilet if out and about, and I thought it odd. I thought it must be due to his back pain. Day 3 and he was still up and down to the toilet during the night and I could barely sleep. He said he needed to see a Doctor on the Island and we went off to find one, which he kept saying he wanted to see in Private. Fair enough I thought, its his right to have Privacy seeing a doctor. I waited outside, 10 minutes later he came out with a prescription for tablets for back pain and a rash for his sensitive skin, he said the doctor ruled out Shingles, so it wasnt that. I was puzzled. We went to the Pharmacy and he got 5 boxes of tablets I remember thinking that is alot for back pain. The Pharmacist looked at him with a serious face and said You Must Finish the Course. I was still unsuspicious. What happened next was something I will Never forget! I knocked on the bathroom door at after 4am to ask if he was ok? He didnt answer, I asked him to please open the door. He unlocked the door he was sat on the toilet seat with a Blanket wrapped around his shoulders, he got up and walked past me, I dont know what it was but I felt I needed to take the blanket away, which I did and he tried to pull it back. Then I had the shock of my life! His Genitals were covered in Sores and Blisters red raw! I said What is That?? He didnt answer. I realised he was hiding an STD from me, and cried and howled with shock!! He then said “I caught it from you” I went mad and chased him he ran into the bathroom and locked the door. I scrambled for the tablets which were hiding in his suitcase, I read the Instructions, Genital Herpes and Shingles. I cried my eyes out! So this was what he was hiding for days! Even before we left the UK for our Holiday. The Backache was Genital Herpes! I found his phone and looked through that for answers? Something I never did before. His ex was in his phone, and ALL his Call Logs and Texts had been DELETED! I thought Oh my God what the hell has he been up to in Worcester while I have been unsuspicious in Wales! I realised quickly that he must of been cheating on me to HIDE the Herpes from me so damn well. I told him through my tears to come out the bathroom get his things and get another hotel, which he did without a WORD! Amazing! I told him I Hate you for this, still he didnt speak just packed. That happened 5 weeks ago now and I was engaged to this monster. 68 years old and like a child in an adults body Crazy! So any ladies who think that an older man is more mature and may not be a Narcissist/Sociopath Please Think Again. 68 yrs old! They NEVER CHANGE. I have had the Hoovering but have Blocked him from my Life. Thank you for letting me share what happened to me but there where so many other Chaotic things that I thought were ODD before this. Love and Hugs to You All xx
Sounds like you did a great job protecting yourself by ending the relationship and going no contact as soon as you recognized he is a liar who exploited you. You have experienced a loss and you may experience grief as well as anger at his betrayal of you.
Thank you for your post AnnettePK I do feel angry and grief but I am getting there. So many lovely empathic people have suffered far worse. I have had a very Lucky Escape! There are obviously other women who have yet to suffer the consequences of the monster. Hoping you are keeping Strong also xx
Dear Selena and others, My suggestion is never to have a long distance relationship. These online dating sites send out tempting descriptions who live in a whole other country. In my case, I live in a city of over a million people. I figured that out of the adult male population, surely there would be at least ONE man that would be right for me. I never budged from that position, and finally have a good man who lives in my city.
Mainly because I don’t want to meet sociopaths.
I’m a goddam loser when it comes to dating and I’m proud of it. I figure being one protects me from them. Though I guess there are some that might misinterpret it as desperation. Hah.