Sociopaths aren't exactly known for being the best type of partners. They tend to focus more on themselves than anyone else. Many are impulsive, lack empathy, and have no issues manipulating those closest to them. Sociopaths are also good at hiding who they truly are. When it comes to commitment, experts say sociopaths in relationships have some pretty unexpected habits to be aware of.
"While 'sociopath' is not a formal diagnosis, sociopaths typically have some (or all) of the characteristics of antisocial personality disorder and/or narcissistic personality disorder," licensed mental health counselor Erin Parisi tells Bustle.
When dealing with people, Parisi says sociopaths tend to use others for their own personal gain. They don't feel like rules or even laws apply to them, and they often put themselves first and may not feel genuine empathy. Once they've received whatever it is they need or want from a person, they move on. Gaslighting is also another tactic sociopaths know how to do very well in relationships.
"Sociopaths can take many forms, depending on what it is they're looking to gain from the relationship," she says. "Spotting a sociopath is difficult because they’re often skilled chameleons." They're basically masters at manipulation and know how to act around someone in order to stay undetected.
As Parisi says, spotting them can be challenging. So here are some unexpected habits sociopaths may have in relationships, according to experts.
1. They Communicate A Lot In The Beginning
Sociopaths may lack empathy, but they're excellent observers. "They have an intuitive sense of others’ vulnerabilities and they use that knowledge to manipulate others," Dan Neuharth, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. This can be seen at any stage of a relationship. But you'll see it happen a lot in the earlier stages of your relationship when they're still trying to win you over.
As Lucio Buffalmano, relationship coach and founder of ThePowerMoves.com, tells Bustle, "Sociopaths often follow a typical three-wave phase in a relationship: idealize, devalue, and discard." At the beginning of a relationship, a sociopath may do what they can to make their partner feel like they really want them. They want their partner to feel like they're excited about getting to know them and will try to stay in constant communication by texting or calling them first. Whereas this can be the marker of a good relationship in some cases, in a relationship with a sociopath this type of attention can quickly fade.
2. They Stay Friends With Their Exes
It's common for a sociopath to badmouth their ex or people who they were once close with. As Tiffany Toombs, relationship coach and founder of Blue Lotus Mind, tells Bustle, "This type of behavior goes beyond not liking the other person anymore. They may attempt to destroy the person and their reputation at every turn."
However, they will keep an ex around if it's beneficial to them. A 2017 study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that people who have "dark" personality traits such as narcissism, duality, and psychopathy try to keep their exes around. As you would guess, these people tend to stay friends with exes for self-serving reasons including a desire for love, status, information, money, or sex. For a sociopath, it's fairly easy to get back in their ex's good graces. "It’s easy for the sociopath to figure out what someone needs to hear," Parisi says. "They can easily say it and continue on doing whatever it is they want to do."
3. They Have A Person Who's Well-Liked In Their Corner
"Sociopaths see people as either potential targets, rivals, or predators," Dr. Neuharth says. They don't see long-term connections, intimacy or growth in any of their relationships. Usually, they'll stay as long as they're getting what they want. Nothing is off limits and they nearly always have a justification, excuse, or reason for doing what they do.
Because of that, sociopaths usually look to form relationships with people who are well-liked and have good character. In doing so, Grace W. Wroldson, author of So You Love an...Alcoholic? : Lessons for a Codependent, tells Bustle, a high-functioning sociopath will feel like they have credibility or status just by being associated with this well-liked person. "Look for who they are using," she says. While it is one thing for someone to have popular friends, a sociopath will use these friends for personal gain.
4. They Like Spontaneous, Thrilling Dates
Sociopaths are known for being impulsive. As Dr. Neuharth says, "They want what they want when they want it. Period." They may seek gratification without considering the consequences, especially when it comes to other people. They also get bored very easily. So an excessive need for thrill and stimulation could be signs of a sociopath. "While this can often be mistaken for ‘spontaneity’, sociopaths are constantly looking for novel thrills and risks due to their low self-discipline and boredom," Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. This need for excess stimulation could be a result from trauma in the past. As studies have found, some sociopaths do have a reduced response to fear especially if they experienced major stress and trauma in their life.
5. They Keep It Cool During Extremely Hard Times
"Sociopaths have tendencies to stay serene in even the most absurd circumstances," Backe says. Although it's good to be around people who can stay calm during challenges or stressful situations, it's a little different with sociopaths. According to Backe, for them it's "more like a super-human untouchable power, like they couldn’t care less about what happens." A lack of empathy may be to blame for this.
Empathy is having the ability to feel what another person is feeling. "Sociopaths don’t possess this," Dr. Neuharth says. They're "emotionally walled off" from this kind of connection, so it's hard for them to show compassion or relate to others when they're going through a hard time.
6. They Want To Know Everything About Their Partner, But Will Share Little About Themselves
Unlike narcissists, Backe says a sociopath will rarely turn the attention to themselves. "You will find yourself walking away feeling somewhat vulnerable as they know everything about you," he says. Unfortunately the same couldn't be said for the someone getting to know them. A sociopath will give someone just enough information to feel like they're in the know, but in reality, it's rarely anything deep or personal.
According to Dr. Neuharth, sociopaths tend to be vague about their childhood, or paint a false but rosy picture of their family. Some do this because they come from extremely dysfunctional and abusive childhoods. Talking about it would only bring up pain that would make them feel small or weak, like they felt as a child. "That would feel intolerable," he says. Some sociopaths may even talk about a fantasy version of their childhood in order to disarm others or make them seem more trustworthy.
7. They Overwhelm Their Partners With Affection, Then Take It Away
In relationships, sociopaths may be overly nice in order to keep their partner off balance. As licensed psychotherapist Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW, tells Bustle, they're likely to love bomb a partner, meaning they'll shower them with attention and then take it away out of nowhere. "If it’s to a sociopath’s advantage to be sweet, kind, loving, and nice, [they] will be," Koenig says. They like to keep their partners hooked. Love bombing is a way to keep someone under their control, and it is often another tactic used to manipulate a person.
While some of these things may not seem insidious at first, any levels of security or love sociopaths have established with their partner will eventually fade, and be used as a means to manipulate their partners. These are the characteristics of sociopaths in relationships most often observed by experts.
This post was originally published on September 14, 2018 . It was updated on June 5, 2019.
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