Sociopaths are known for their lack of empathy. When they form relationships with others, they usually have a self-serving motivation for it. Spotting sociopathic tendencies right away isn't easy. In fact, sociopathy is often viewed as a spectrum, so the dynamic will be slightly different for every individual. However, according to experts, there are some behaviors and phrases sociopaths may commonly use on the people in their lives, even people they “love” — which begs the question, can sociopaths fall in love?
Despite what you may initially think, sociopaths can experience love. “While sociopath is not a diagnosis (psychologists tend to diagnose antisocial personality disorder, which shares some commonalities), it is possible that sociopaths can love in a relationship — in their own way,” Dr. Judy Ho, Ph.D., a clinical and forensic neuropsychologist, explains to Bustle. Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is a mental health condition characterized by irrational behavior and a difficulty maintaining relationships with others. Experts believe it affects between 1% and 4% of people in the U.S.
When sociopaths or people with ASDP do get close to someone, they show their love in unconventional ways. “This usually involves loving someone who helps them to feel better about themselves (someone of a high status, for example, or someone who adores them and will do anything for them),” Dr. Ho says. “It may also involve loving someone for the sake of transaction or a goal. They will get into a relationship with someone and say they love the person, but really it’s to get at their bank accounts or some other thing that helps the sociopath reach one of their goals.”
The answer to “can sociopaths love?” is a nuanced one, because the love they experience looks and feels different than what most others understand as love. As Dr. Darrel Turner, president of Turner Psychology, tells Bustle, "For the sociopath, the experience of love is much more shallow and less meaningful." They view relationships in "self-serving terms," so they're more likely to see their partner as a "trophy" rather than someone they love and are committed to.
More often than not, their partner will describe a relationship with them as "cold" or "distant." When a sociopath is in a relationship, they may use certain phrases that will help them to control or manipulate their partner. "Sociopaths are innately manipulative; they cannot help themselves," Dr. Turner says. "In some cases this is deliberate on their part, but very often it is an unconscious act — almost a reflex. They can’t help but be destructive to their partners, and in many instances they enjoy the challenge of ‘breaking’ the other person. The stronger and more independent that person is, the better." Basically, it can be a game for them.
Often sociopaths can seem totally nice, charming, and otherwise like anybody else at first, so it can make it difficult to spot the red flags. But according to experts, here are some common phrases sociopaths are likely to use on the people they love.
Keep in mind that these phrases and behaviors were provided by experts who have studied and observed sociopathic tendencies through their work. If someone you know uses these phrases, it doesn't necessarily mean they're a sociopath. Context matters. It really depends on their motivation behind saying it, among other things. Nonetheless, it's always a good idea to have this information so you can be aware of the warning signs. If you are worried that someone close to you is exhibiting manipulative behaviors, it may help to talk to a licensed mental health professional who can help you understand how to set the boundaries you need.
Dr. Judy Ho, Ph.D., clinical and forensic neuropsychologist