Signs you could be dating a psychopath
(Updated 2020) | © 2015 Rhonda Freeman, PhD
Could you be dating a psychopath? In the beginning it can be nearly impossible to tell. However, as time wears on, there are often many red flags and signs of psychopathy.
The psychopathic partner introduces elements to an intimate relationship that should never be demonstrated toward anyone – not even those we do not like.
The behaviors tend to be heavily laced in immorality, power, control, and narcissism.
These relationships are not normal and usually leave the non-psychopathic individual in tremendous pain. Some will be traumatized and require professional mental health services in the aftermath.
• [Take a look at the video below where I go over 5 major warning signs.]
16 Red Flags
You could be dating a psychopath
• “You are beneath me. You need to get that clear right now.”
They intentionally set the stage for their partners to feel inferior, less than, and worthless. They convey (overtly or covertly) that they think little of their mate (“You’re stupid,” “too emotional,” “clingy,” “worthless”, “insecure,” “always holding on to the past,” “paranoid,” “crazy.”)
• Several relationships
There is a tendency toward many short-term intimate relationships. Individuals with psychopathy are very easily bored. They get ‘over’ you very quickly – even if they told you they can’t live without you yesterday. It is not uncommon for someone with psychopathy to tire of one partner and immediately seek out another relationship. There is often overlap between their mates. Many will juggle several partners simultaneously, often returning to mates they have thrown away in the past. Exes are typically “good friends” (code for controlled ex-partner who does not hold them accountable for the abuse) or “crazy” (code for an ex-partner they traumatized who wants closure, revenge, or to hold them accountable for the psychological harm they inflicted).
• “It’s your fault – everything.”
They have an immature response set to interpersonal problems and interactions (e.g., blame shifting/ deception). They are incapable of genuinely believing they are at fault for the relationship problems.
• “Shhh … What she (he) doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” – Secrets
They tell lies and keep secrets. They are very deceptive and manipulative, tending to withhold information that should never be concealed, reflecting poor morality (e.g., secret children, current marriage or mate, an identity that is not true). They lie, often by omission, however, there are also pure confabulations that are placed as baits to test their new partner’s empathy level (e.g., “I had cancer, but fought hard … I’m a survivor.”)
Their superficial interactions are often stellar and far exceed their capacity for deep relationships. (e.g., They will treat a stranger better than their spouse if it makes them look powerful and a source of envy).
• Extremely Hypersensitive (toward self) | Extremely Insensitive (toward others)
Although they usually come across as powerful, arrogant, confident and callous. It is often surprising to others when they witness the extreme hypersensitivity psychopaths demonstrate when they feel slighted, criticized or challenged. They are intolerant of their weaknesses being highlighted or anyone speaking to them in a manner that implies they are inferior. Many with psychopathic traits will attack anyone they feel committed such an infraction. Many victims have stated: “They can dish it out, but they can’t take it.”
• Playing victim. Poor me
This is an excellent form of manipulation when your target is empathic and caring. When we feel sorry for someone or have compassion for them, we can easily excuse their violations and transgressions. We tend to see the “good in” them and adopt the stance of “hurt people, hurt people” so we forgive their harmful actions. Individuals with psychopathy use this mode of manipulation for precisely this reason. It lets them off the hook for behavior they intentionally engaged in for selfish reasons.
• Treads boundaries | Diminishes the true authority or power of others.
Your wants and desires will take a backseat within the relationship (particularly after the honeymoon stage is over). Basic boundaries will not be respected. However, there will be absolutely no tolerance for the reverse. Partners of psychopaths often find that even when they engage in normal inquiries regarding their absence or requests to discontinue their rudeness and aggression, the disordered partner will lash out. This treading of boundaries is often seen across most of their relationships (even professional ones).
For example, it would not be uncommon for someone with this condition to refer to their doctor or attorney, they are meeting for the first time, by their first name. Even if the doctor introduced himself as “Hi, I’m Dr. X.” To respond back with “Hi Jason” would be in line with their personality style. Their intent is usually to immediately remove any possible power differential they feel between themselves and others. They have very little tolerance for a secondary position within their relationships. Even if this was a person they sought out for their expertise, training and licensure (e.g., physician/ specialist).
• Poor Morals.
They demonstrate a longstanding pattern of poor morals, that includes (but not limited to) lying, cheating, stealing, copyright infringement, harassment, punishing/ destroying anyone that stands in the way of their goals. It is about what pleases them, brings them pleasure, or gets them ahead. To step on, use, and harm others is acceptable to them. For many, it is a pleasurable experience.
• “You’re so pathetic … LOL”
They enjoy degrading, humiliating, dominating, damaging, and belittling others. However, most will not tolerate those traits being pointed out to them. This could easily result in an aggressive reaction (rage) and punishment.
Most psychopaths in intimate relationships will have a grooming stage. This is different from the typical excitement and flood of attention that non-disordered partners give to a new relationship. Grooming is intentional manipulation. At some point, they expect you to pay up for whatever gifts that were provided (e.g., attention, time, money, presents, trips). That payment could be in the form of submission, compliance, acceptance of abuse, or payment for control (“I helped you when you were down, and this is how you treat me!”) Nothing’s for free in their relationships.
New partners may find themselves in competition with old partners. “My ex-girlfriend was crazy … but her body was amazing!”
• “You lose | I win. Just in case you forgot … YOU LOSE!”
For individuals with psychopathy, there has to be a winner and a loser. They will never accept being the loser, regardless of how minute the situation. Many with psychopathy always keep mental score. This black and white/ primitive dichotomous style of thinking extends to many areas of their life.
• [Yawn] “OK … I’m bored!”
After the honeymoon stage, they are often disinterested, disrespectful and/or abusive. Some will introduce their partner to a roller-coaster style relationship (break up, and then reunite – repeat). For many involved with a psychopath, the disrespect immediately shifts into abuse and creates a traumatic relationship for their victim. Given that the brain has a reaction and can be changed by trauma and abuse, many of their partners are left with depression, anxiety, substance use, alcoholism, and/or PTSD. Sadly, some individuals have resorted to suicide after these relationships.
• Requires lessons in basic social skills regarding kindness, trust & respect.
You find yourself telling him or her the bare basics of human kindness, fairness and how to treat you. (e.g., “Don’t speak to me that way.” | “You don’t have to lie.” | “Why do you have to be so harsh with me?” | “How could you hide that you’ve been seeing call girls, what about my health and safety – I trusted you!” | “I can’t believe you tried to sleep with my best friend – you don’t do that to someone you love!”) If a person has empathy and an absence of psychopathology, we do not need to do this type of ‘teaching’ for anyone over 7 years old.
• Source of stress, anxiety and pain
Their presence, treatment, and observed behavior can change you. Stress levels can become high. Some targets will even transform physically. One may not look as attractive as when they first met their psychopathic partner (e.g., face shows the wear of constant stress, tension in the eyes, a drastic change in weight, health problems). Some non-psychopathic partners will have persistent anxiety, deep feelings of loneliness, sadness, insecurity, and self-blame.
• Your thinking abilities (cognition) and confidence weakens.
You might feel less efficient overall, such that concentration, organization, motivation, and memory feel compromised. It can become more difficult to focus and function as well as before. Many who have been in these relationships report that they begin to have difficulty recognizing themselves (“What happened to the old me?”) Often partners within a psychopathic relationship have to walk on eggshells in anticipation of problems to try to prevent them.
(#17 – a bonus)
• “It’s you, you, you.” Nothing you do is right. Even the good stuff
They make accusations regarding your sensitivity, lack of understanding, intrusiveness, or unworthiness as a supportive partner. Your normal concern and acceptable ‘checking in’ that is common between couples (associated with respect and love) are reframed as attempts at control. (“You want to control me!” | “Why are you always asking questions … you don’t trust me?”)
Video: 5 Signs You May be Dating a Psychopath
[This list is not a diagnostic tool. It is to offer information regarding common behaviors displayed within their romantic relationships. The diagnosis of psychopathy should only be made by a licensed specialist].
© 2015 Rhonda Freeman, PhD (Updated 2020)