Learn to spot a psychopath and keep yourself safe
It was a bone-chilling conversation that I will never forget. The tiny hairs on my neck stood as I watched his hands fondle his whiskey glass. “So, how does a guy make you love him?” He stared at me with dilated pupils, black, unblinking, watching my throat. Earlier, he had claimed how easy he could make my life, peppered with questions about my financial wherewithal and knowledge about me that extended beyond a simple Google search.
At first, Johnny claimed that he was a successful businessman with multiple properties, that he had not found the right woman, and that he was working on the perfect deal. After two dates, he swore he could fall in love with me, and we would travel the world together. On the third date, he brought me to a ridiculously expensive restaurant and regaled me with stories about his life.
Terrifying stories on how he duped border agents, housing authorities, and ex-girlfriends. Smuggling money across the border. Owning a strip club. Bragging about the machetes in his truck and guns in his homes. With an intense predatory stare, he kept asking me if anyone knew I was out with him that night or waiting for me at home.
Despite being introduced by a matchmaker, I was positive I was dealing with a psychopath.
Separated, lonely, and in a contentious divorce with public filings available at the courthouse, I was the perfect target.
Since toxic people are driven by personal gain and use exploitation, not connection, to maneuver their relationships, they seek:
- Partners who have something they want: money, sex, power, contacts, or a place to live.
- Partners who will never question the discrepancies in their stories, backgrounds, or families.
- Partners who are vulnerable such as someone who is divorced, widowed, separated, or deserted without support or means to protect themselves — psychologically, emotionally, physically or financially.
- Partners who are intelligent, loyal, compassionate, empathetic, honest, and competent. In other words, partners that a psychopath can brag about conning.
When you meet a Cluster B personality — psychopath, sociopath, or narcissist — you will immediately notice their exuberant charm and possibly a fleeting moment of kindness and generosity, which they will use to control the relationship and disguise their motives. Yet shortly thereafter, you will discover their lack of emotional depth or empathy and their utter joy in duping others to prove their superiority.
Psychopaths have reduced connections between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), the part of the brain responsible for sentiments such as empathy and guilt, and the amygdala, which mediates fear and anxiety. In other words, a psychopath has low activity in the frontal lobe, where our conscience lies. Although they know what right and wrong are, they can’t feel it, and they don’t care.
So what are the top traits of a psychopath?
- Charm — A superficial charm that seduces his or her audience, tailoring their conversations to appear as likable as possible so they can control you. When they meet you, they will quickly turn the conversation to you, complimenting you and feigning interest and attention. They reach out to touch you briefly, a moment too fleeting to think it means something. But it does. It is conscious manipulation, and they touch people in casual conversation more than you think.
- Hates boredom — “A psychopath’s nervous system is wired, so they need to keep doing exciting things to feel normal and reach normal levels of arousal,” says Robert Schug, Ph.D., a neuro-criminologist and clinical psychologist. They seek constant stimulation and avoid dull routines. Because of this, they will put their partners, families, companies, and even themselves in danger just to feel an adrenaline rush.
- Sexually promiscuous — Psychopaths have multiple sexual partners and never stop looking for more. They love the power play and thrill of seduction. They use sex to bind their partners to them. How? During an orgasm, a person receives a blast of dopamine which in brain scans resembles a heroin rush. Oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” is released in the bloodstream during sex, the same hormone that is responsible for creating the bond between mother and child. Highly sexed psychopaths and sociopaths use that intense bond to keep their lovers bound to them despite the psychological and physical torture their victims experience. Furthermore, psychopaths, both male and female, have extremely high testosterone levels, which some researchers believe causes their faulty brain circuitry. Testosterone also leads to impulsivity, risky behavior, and a high sex drive.
- Deception — Unlike pathological liars, they lie for their own personal gain. They enjoy manipulating others to achieve their goals of power, money, sex, or anything else they want. It is the game, the chase, that they are interested in.
- Grandiosity — Psychopaths are entitled and self-important. They believe laws and rules do not apply to them and that their desires, wishes, and whims take precedence over everyone else. Their inflated view of themselves makes them ignore and eventually attack anyone who disagrees with them.
- Appearances — Be wary of successful appearances or grandiose statements which could be false. It is easy to lease a BMW, rent a penthouse, and buy discounted designer clothes. It is also easy to write your bio on Wikipedia, boost your online profile, and charm others to help you, especially if you’re psychopathic. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it is. So verify everything more than once. Put their name in quotation marks on www.Isearchfrom.com. Use LexisNexis to search for past and present lawsuits. Use Spokeo to verify addresses. Dig up past newspaper articles. It’s not foolproof, but it will expose any social predator who has not used a professional service to whitewash their online presence.
- Risky behavior — Numerous studies show that criminal behavior in childhood, such as hurting or killing animals, incessant lying, putting others in danger, and disregarding established social norms, predicted psychopathic tendencies later in life. Johnny’s stories of putting his 10-year-old cousin in the hospital and stomping on a baby bird, because it would die anyway, were blatant red flags of psychopathic behavior to me.
- Winning is everything — Psychopathy is associated with a desire for power and dominance (Glenn et al., 2017; Palmen et al., 2021), which might explain why individuals high in psychopathy often hold leadership positions (Landay et al., 2019; Schyns et al., 2019). They are seductive listeners, storing any information you share to be used later against you. Think of Elizabeth Holmes or Bernie Madoff. They did anything and everything to win, control, and dominate others at all costs.
- Chaos — If you are in the presence of a pathological personality, chaos is never far. Chaos takes the focus from the psychopath and his illicit or questionable activities. A psychopath will also provoke chaos so they can play the victim, blaming everyone else for their troubles. In other words, the psychopath will work hard to antagonize you; then, when you legitimately react, he will act innocent, telling you you’re too emotional to have a rational conversation with him. His goal is to make you look crazy in front of others and diminish your credibility. Psychopaths also thrive in chaotic environments. They never panic in a crisis. They possess a calmness and a clear focus during calamities due to how their brain is wired.
- Rage — Although they will use their charm to disguise their outbursts, a real psychopath has excessive narcissistic rage, no matter what. It can surface in seconds as road rage, verbal abuse, getting into arguments, or yelling at employees or family members.
- Love bombing — When a psychopath is courting you, watch out for the lavish gifts and expensive travel; non-stop texts and phone calls; the need for your undivided attention; unrelenting charm; non-stop promises of a beautiful life; constant sex, and claims that you are his one and only soul mate. Once they think they have you, all of this will fade. Relationships with Cluster B personalities are transactional. You are only there because you have something they want. Once they have taken everything you can give them, they will leave without regret.
- Playing the victim — Psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists will play the pity card without fail. In fact, it’s brilliant because it makes you look bad if you don’t help them. If they seek to gain your sympathy and trust through pity, leave the situation immediately. It is the primary ploy they use to manipulate people and to deny or minimize their culpability in harming others.
- Flat emotional responses — Studies have shown that these people simply lack the neural capability for empathy. Because of the broken connection between the brain’s amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, psychopaths are not affected by fear. They do not feel guilt and have an abnormally low startle response when confronted with adverse stimuli. Neither their thought processes nor their decision-making is driven by emotions. Watch videos on Youtube of psychopaths describing the murders of their victims, completely emotionless. Much research has shown individuals with psychopathy exhibit a reduced ability to process emotions and recognize the emotions of others. But sometimes they can. If you are in a relationship with one, they may ask you to explain the emotional landscape of a situation if they don’t understand people’s reactions. This is a major red flag. Why? They are awkward around strong emotions and lack the appropriate displays of emotion which cannot be faked. They often miss social cues that are obvious to you and me.
- Using therapy — Psychopaths and sociopaths use therapists to show them what society expects from them. By working on their “shortcomings,” they can disguise their true nature. They learn what emotional responses are correct, how far they can indulge their impulsivity and egotism with others, and how to get these professionals to give them what they want in manipulating co-workers or family members without their knowledge. There is no bigger thrill for them than to dupe a psychiatrist or therapist.
- A long list of victims — Psychopaths have multiple lives, multiple sex partners, and live in multiple locales. Once their shenanigans are discovered, they have no remorse and move to another area in search of others to manipulate because this validates their self-worth. Beware of people who do not have roots in a place, travel for months at a time or suddenly leave a country for suspicious reasons. Their hard-wired urge to destroy is barely hidden beneath their “gentility.”
- Their lives will fall apart — Because psychopaths are impulsive, risk-takers who hate boredom and enjoy exploiting others, their lives tend to blow up more than once. They will be fired or caught doing a crime or exposed for hurting someone. Do your due diligence and take nothing at face value.
But one trait that only criminal investigators seem to discuss is the psychopath’s bragging.
Although psychopaths rarely announce their intentions to do bad, there is a thrill to doing the forbidden, to perform the perfect crime without being caught. Johnny enjoyed telling these stories of duping the authorities, sleeping with numerous women, and hurting people. I have found that Cluster B personalities will reveal this in the first few meetings. Their bragging and stories are a way to test your boundaries and see what behaviors you will or will not accept. So if a new acquaintance brags about any wrongdoing or criminal activity, RUN.
As Johnny spoke, I knew I would never see him again. I had already ordered an Uber. In fact, I was trying not to shake while sipping my wine.
When he asked, “If I had ever loved anyone and how did they make me love them,” I suddenly understood. His typical ploys didn’t work on me, and he wanted me to tell him what worked and how he could seduce me.
I stared at him incredulously and lied. “I guess I never loved anybody.”
He chuckled. “You’re just like me.”
But as one detective told me, “Never show fear to a psychopath.”
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