The 5 Reasons You (Accidentally) Fell In Love With A Psychopath

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In my last article, I shared a list of obstacles to a successful relationship when there is psychopathy. The piece generated some interesting comments. One of the themes I found common among some readers was the following:

"Why would anyone need a list to know the downside of a psychopathic relationship. They're a psychopath. No list is needed!"

I get their point. It does seem unusual to think that someone would need a list to understand the disadvantages of trusting your heart to someone prone to callousness and manipulation.

But herein lies the problem. Most people who end up loving a psychopath had no idea they were connecting with a person who might cause them harm. I've yet to encounter a patient or friend who had an awareness that they were embarking on a psychopathic (or narcissistic) romance.

Therefore, offering a list that gives clues to typical behavior patterns is helpful to those who are or were victimized. So, how might one find themselves in a relationship of this type?

1. Individuals with strong elements of this condition tend to move fast and intensely in the early stages of their relationships.


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2. Most spouses and mates were unaware a personality disorder was present because many with psychopathy can hide the darkest components.

It is not uncommon for a woman or man involved in such a relationship to report their mate was socially attractive and fun in the beginning.  

3. Society's perception of what psychopathy is can easily cloud one's ability to recognize that they are intimately involved in one of these relationships.


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Many with psychopathy are nothing like what we might imagine (i.e., the socially awkward loner, disengaged from society, plotting to do harm, emitting darkness). In actuality, they often have attractive traits that we tend to think would exclude the presence of psychopathology. 

4. To understand psychopathy is to recognize that the condition is not only on a spectrum but that the symptoms include both dark (negative) and positive character elements. 

Some with this condition are extremely talented and have admirable accomplishments (i.e., corporation owners, politicians, law enforcement professionals, entertainers). However, the intimate relationships of individuals with psychopathy often disintegrate due to problems associated with the functioning of their brain. Certain antisocial behavior patterns will be demonstrated involuntarily. Their partners are often exposed to deception, aggression, arrogance, dominance, manipulation, gaslighting, and a lack of compassion or understanding. 

5. Their true character is often only fully revealed after their target has bonded. For some, this can be a period of several months before these darker characteristics begin to dominate their interactions.


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After their darker traits are apparent, can their mate then recognize that symptoms of psychopathy are present? I would lean toward the answer no.

Detecting personality disorders in others can be complicated. It is, of course, easier for a specialist, but for the woman or man without a background of this magnitude, making sense of what they are experiencing and observing in their partner is challenging, to say the least.

Psychopathy expert Dr. Robert Hare disclosed that spotting a psychopath is tough at times, even for him. It is much more important for an individual who finds themselves in this position to focus on how they are made to feel in the relationship, rather than labeling the symptom profile. 

It is rare that a person would view someone who is confident, charming, entertaining, "speaks her mind," and financially successful as disordered. But this is precisely the case for many with psychopathy.

Intact cognition (i.e., thinking) does not necessarily mean emotional and psychological functioning will be intact as well. Therefore, a person can be accomplished, with indicators of high intelligence, yet, demonstrate symptoms of psychopathy. 

How? This is because brain regions that manage cognition are often different from the areas that regulate and generate emotions and personality.

Although psychopathy is not a disorder associated with thought, we often find that there are thought patterns and beliefs that reflect their brain's faulty access to intact emotional regions.  For example, it is not uncommon to hear viewpoints laced with hate, anger, the desire to oppress others, agreement with the antisocial acts/ thoughts of others, filtering information through the lens of winner vs. loser or powerful vs. weak, insensitivity, and an inability to relate to the reasoning of someone who relied on both emotional and cognitive processing to arrive at a decision. 

Some with psychopathy have areas of significant success in their lives. Therefore, a new potential partner would reasonably not assume that someone with such status could have a condition that impairs their ability to bond or think without input from the brain's emotional system.

After these relationships, lovers and spouses learn that the presence of confidence, charm, quick decision-making and lack of anxiety does not automatically mean there is no potential for a serious personality problem

Is a romantic relationship with an individual with strong psychopathic traits such a bad thing? I cannot answer that question with an absolute yes or no. However, we suspect that people who are trusting, empathic, sensitive, and forgiving tend to fair worse in these connections and are often traumatized by the experience. 

Through the relationship, some partners are exposed to abuse and disrespect (either tolerated or not tolerated by their partner). While other individuals are severely harmed and unable to move past the relationship (e.g., murdered spouses). 

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Rhonda Freeman, PhD | Clinical Neuropsychologist. Visit NeuroInstincts for more information.

This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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