When you hear the term “psychopath,” you may think of the stereotype presented in movies and books. Psychopaths comprise one percent of the general population, but the overwhelming majority of them are not serial killers. Instead, they are manipulators who are willing to cause intentional harm to others, with no sense of remorse or responsibility.
Psychopaths are brilliant social chameleons, expert at adjusting their identities so they can get what they want from other people. That may be money or sex, or simply attention. To normal people, psychopaths often seem innocent, charming, and fun to be around. But they have another side.
A psychopath’s true personality emerges when he or she is feeling threatened or bored. They are experts at drawing people into intense arguments. The fights usually begin with something hurtful or inappropriate he, or she, said or did, but if you are on the receiving end of the interaction, you may soon yourself in the position of defending yourself. During that kind of heated exchange, you may begin to feel you’re in a situation of “good cop, bad cop, demented cop, stalker cop, scary cop, baby cop.”
Here are some warning signs that you may be dealing with a psychopath. If you are, move away quickly.
1. Psychopaths tell lies and make excuses.
Most people offer an excuse occasionally, but psychopaths rely on excuses in every situation, and rarely follow through on their promises. Their words are rarely backed up by actions, and they lie so often you are constantly disappointed. They actually condition the people who care for them to be grateful for even mediocre treatment.
2. Psychopaths use a tone that is condescending and patronizing.
During an argument, psychopaths are usually calm and collected. Their attitude may be slightly mocking as they try to push your buttons. When they get an emotional reaction from you, they may raise their eyebrows, smirk, or tell you you are overreacting and need to calm down.
3. Psychopaths are huge hypocrites.
When an argument heats up, psychopaths often use a technique that looks like projection (in which people unconsciously project their personal traits onto others), but is much more intentional. Psychopaths are trying to confuse you by accusing you of their own flaws. They are seeking to get a reaction from you that will make you look “crazy” to people outside the situation.
4. Psychopaths often present multiple personalities.
Psychopaths will use a variety of techniques to manipulate you and throw you off balance during a disagreement. They may change quickly from aggressive to whining, from seeming powerful to seeming helpless. If you start to detach, they may begin to apologize and try to flatter you. You are left hurt and confused.
5. Psychopaths play the part of the victim.
Psychopaths will tell you about their abusive childhoods, or crazy ex-spouse, or stories of persecution at work. They want you to feel bad for them, even when they are clearly in the wrong. Once they have succeeded in diverting your attention, they turn on you again.
6. Psychopaths make you feel the need to explain basic human emotions to them.
Faced with their lack of empathy and kindness, you may try to explain to a psychopath why you are hurt, hoping he will understand and stop. You want to see the good in them, because there is good in you and you have faith in human nature. But psychopaths operate outside normal behavior. They want to hurt you.
There is only one defense against this kind of behavior. You have to disengage. Thinking of logical points of argument, trying to elicit their understanding, hoping for a change are all hopeless. As long as you remain available, they will continue to set you up and knock you down.
Psychopaths are consistently crazy, and their game is to make you crazy, as well. You may encounter them in business, at school, or in social or romantic relationships. Wherever you connect, however long you may have taken to identify them, once you do, walk away. Nothing you do will change their patterns of behavior.