| November 14, 2013

When you hear the word "psychopath" images of Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s "Psycho" may come to mind.  And, while many think psychopaths are dangerous criminals, most are not. In fact, you could be dating one.

This personality disorder is comprised of a specific cluster of traits and characteristics, detailed in the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.  While both men and women can exhibit the behaviors, it is more common in men. In fact, it is estimated that one out of every one hundred men are psychopaths, according to Senior FBI criminal profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole.

“Psychopaths lack emotions and a conscience. In a relationship, they don’t really care about you, but they’ll tell you what you want to hear to get what they want,” she says.

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One of the common characteristics of a psychopath is that they typically come across as very charming and charismatic. However, they’re pathological liars and have no guilt deceiving people to get what they want.

Psychopaths prey on a person who is desperate, needy or naive, says psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig. “They are looking for someone to take advantage of, and basically view people as tools to be used.” And, the more loyal you are, the easier they can manipulate you.

Psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere says psychopaths exhibit very narcissistic personalities and a sense of entitlement. “They have a grandiose sense of self-worth, often obsessing about fantasies of unlimited wealth, power and love.” They’re also thrill seekers and easily become disinterested and disconnected from people and events, Gardere adds.

Don’t ever expect an apology from this type of person, unless they are trying to manipulate you. Psychopaths lack empathy and remorse and are incapable of feeling shame or even love. “Because empathy connects us to other people, it is impossible for them to bond to anyone and have normal relationships,” adds O’Toole.

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Their loyal victims will often blame themselves for all the problems in the relationship, while the psychopaths get a sense of power and pleasure rather than regret or concern.

In some cases, these individuals can become violent. “If the psychopath has no use for you anymore, or they experience you as getting in the way of their needs, this can trigger a dangerous rage in them,” adds Ludwig.

In any relationship, O’Toole advises people observe and listen to their partner in multiple contexts. “Because their emotional attachment is very superficial, see how they treat people in different settings. How do they act around family and friends? Do their actions match their words?”

And listen to how they describe past relationships. A psychopath will never take blame for a relationship that went bad. Also, pay attention to inconsistencies and contradictions in their stories. Psychopaths will lie about anything because they know they can get away with it.

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If you think you may be dating a psychopath, the best thing to do is get out of that relationship, advises O’Toole. “Since personality traits are hardwired in individuals by the late twenties, it is naive to think you can change that person. You need to walk away.”