It may sound like a scene straight out of a horror movie, but statistically you are not that unlikely to end up on a date with a psychopath.
It is estimated that about 1 in 100 people are psychopaths – similar to the number of people who are teachers.
And while we may associate psychopaths with horrifying criminals such as the American serial killer, rapist and necrophile Ted Bundy, the majority of psychopaths aren’t actually criminals, but live fairly ordinary lives in our midst.
It is estimated that about 1 in 100 people are psychopaths – similar to the number of people who are teachers. Psychopathy involves persistent antisocial behaviour, impaired empathy and remorse, boldness, emotional resiliency, meanness, impulsivity and extremely egotistical traits.
THE WARNING SIGNS TO LOOK OUT FOR
Pathological lying: Psychopaths are likely to repeatedly attempt to deceive their partners
Crushing your self esteem: A psychopath partner may set out to crush your self esteem in order to have more control over you
Tantrums and ‘Puppy eyes’: Psychopaths will often throw a toddler’s tantrum and ‘pity puppy eyes’ as a final attempt to make you feel sorry for them and give in to their wishes.
Embarrassing you in public: may be rude to their partner’s colleagues or embarrass them at a party
So how do you know if you happen to be dating a psychopath and what should you expect? Luckily, there’s research on the topic.
Despite this type of personality disorder being well established and researched, there is some controversy around exactly how it should be diagnosed.
However, researchers do agree that psychopathy involves persistent antisocial behaviour, impaired empathy and remorse, boldness, emotional resiliency, meanness, impulsivity and extremely egotistical traits.
Psychopaths also have certain positive traits, however, such as paying attention to detail, being good at reading people and engaging in conversation with ease.
Their ability to be precise and creative means psychopaths can be successful professionals.
The first trait that might become apparent when dating a psychopath is pathological lying.
Psychopaths are likely to repeatedly attempt to deceive their partners and will lie about anything under any circumstances in order to conceal their behaviour and achieve their goals – whatever they may be.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to catch a psychopath lying as they often strategically plan deceitful stories.
They often also tend to have a superficial charm that may have got their partner addicted in the first place – this could make their other half doubt their suspicions.
Their perception of self worth is typically extremely high. Even if you are a successful, confident professional, you are likely to feel worthless in comparison. And if you don’t, a psychopath partner may set out to crush your self esteem in order to have more control over you.
Research shows that psychopaths often use a technique called gas lighting in order to achieve this – gradually eroding a ‘victim’s’ confidence and sense of reality by confusing, misdirecting, deceiving and persuading them – leading to extreme self doubt.
The reason psychopaths are good at manipulating is that they typically study people’s behaviour and skilfully use it to control them.
If you are in a relationship with a psychopath and manage to resist their manipulation, they will often throw a toddler’s tantrum full of frustration, anger, nagging or repetitive conversations – and of course the pity puppy eyes as a final attempt – to make you feel sorry for them and give in to their wishes.
WHAT IS THE ‘DARK TRIAD’?
The dark triad is a name given to three personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism
The dark triad is a name given to three personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.
When all three traits are found in a single person, it implies a malevolent personality.
All three dark triad traits are conceptually distinct, but have been shown to have an overlap.
Narcissism is characterised by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy.
Machiavellianism is characterised by manipulation and exploitation of others. It is also often linked to a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and deception.
Psychopathy is characterised by continuing antisocial behaviour, impulsivity, selfishness, callousness, and remorselessness.
The lack of guilt or remorse is particularly hard to deal with. But don’t expect it to change – research suggests the brains of psychopaths are wired in this way.
A recent brain scanning study of psychopaths in prison showed that the higher levels of psychopathy people had, the more likely they were to cheat – and not feel bad about it.
This was associated with reduced activity of the anterior cingulate cortex, which is thought to play a role in morality, impulse control and emotion among other things.
Other studies have discovered that psychopaths have structural and functional differences in several brain areas, including the prefrontal cortex, which plays a crucial role in personality development and planning.
It is clearly also exhausting to be in a relationship with someone who struggles to feel empathy. However, some studies have indicated that psychopaths may actually have the ability to feel empathy – both on an intellectual and emotional level – but can choose to disregard it, as if they have an emotional off switch.
Similarly, it seems psychopaths are often aware of the wrongfulness in their negative behaviour, but act in that way in any case due to their lack of self control.
Romantic partners of psychopaths will therefore soon realise it is hard work to keep up with their partners’ continuous need for stimulation and unrealistic long-term goals.
Their lack of self control can also get partners in trouble. For example, a psychopath may be rude to their partner’s colleagues or embarrass them at a party.
Psychopaths also tend to show traits of sociopathy and narcissism, and both traits have been been correlated with infidelity. A recent study that examined how psychopathic traits play out in romantic relationships also found that manipulation to gain sex may be a common approach.
While many of these traits are off-putting, men and women seem to struggle with different things when living with a psychopathic partner. Women are more likely to resent their partner’s behaviour and gradually end the relationship, while men are more likely to experience an increased fear of rejection due to their partner’s impulsive behaviour.
WOULD YOU KNOW HOW TO SPOT A PSYCHOPATH?
Psychopaths display different traits depending on their disorder.
Common signs include superficial charm, a grandiose notion of self-worth, the need for stimulation and impulsiveness, pathological lying, the ability to manipulate others and a lack of remorse and empathy.
But despite the popular association, not all psychopaths become killers.
Experts claim people usually find psychopaths intriguing, but can’t put their finger on why.
This is down to incongruous behaviour because psychopaths tend to do a lot of acting to deceive, or mimic normal reactions, sometimes changing their views and reactions quickly.
For example, Self-professed psychopath Jacob Wells said that upon meeting someone, he tries to become ‘the most interesting person they know’ and presumably adopts suitable interests and responses to do this.
His response also gives away another common trait – a grandiose notion of self-worth – in that he can be the most interesting person in the room.
Psychopaths occasionally tend to exhibit unconvincing emotional responses, with slip-ups including tone of voice or body language.
This may be because they are unable to understand emotions such as fear and love, but can mimic them.
Psychopaths display different traits depending on their disorder, but common signs include superficial charm and the ability to manipulate others. Despite the popular association, not all psychopaths become killers (stock image)
Generally psychopaths’ ’emotions’ are shallow and short-lived and there is a manipulative ulterior motive to showing them.
For example, Mr Wells said he offers to do favours and tells false secrets to people to gain their complete trust.
He also displays insincere charm – another trait associated with psychopaths.
He says: ‘I keep secrets, and tell them fake secrets to further gain their trust, and once they trust me enough, I ask for favours, reminding them of the favours I did them. I can get literally anything from them, which is incredibly useful.’
Psychopaths typically display an incredible ability to manipulate others and sometimes take pleasure in doing so.
Psychopaths often have an air of superiority about them, perhaps shown by Mr Wells’ belief he can spot other psychopaths
Even expert Dr Hare, who came up with the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) used as a diagnostic tool to determine where someone lies on the psychopathy spectrum, warns that anyone can be duped during a short interaction with a psychopath.
People who find the strength to get unhooked from a romantic relationship with a psychopath may find that their other half actually feels sorry – but that’s most likely to be because they are no longer able to own, control and use them anymore.
And if you dump a psychopath and later try to get them back you are unlikely to be successful. Their lack of empathy means that they will take no responsibility for what went wrong in the relationship and offer to change going forward.
From sadism to psychopathy and even spitefulness, the traits that show the more sinister sides of humanity all share a common ‘dark core.’ And, if you have one of these tendencies, you just might have some of the others, too
Instead, they will most likelyblame the outcome on you or anyone else but themselves.
This attitude comes from their belief that, if you are feeling hurt, then it is your responsibility and your problem – in other words, you let this happen to you.
However, if their next romantic partner is not as challenging, interesting and fruitful as they hoped for, they might come right back to you full of deceitful apologies and new-found meaning in your relationship – along with promises of love.
That is because psychopaths tend to live a parasitic lifestyle, feeding off others and taking more than they give. That means they may want to have your friends, resources and even your financial status back as their own.
That said, psychopaths do appreciate their relationships in their own way. They do suffer pain, feel loneliness, have desires and feel sadness if they do not receive affection. Clearly dating a psychopath is not for everyone.
But some people can see beyond the negative traits and accept a psychopath partner as they are – ultimately having greater chance of seeing the relationship succeed.