When you hear the word "psychopath," you might think of Hannibal Lecter or Ted Bundy, but through research for my book, it's become clear to me that most psychopaths are actually nonviolent and non-incarcerated members of society. In fact, there's a good chance they'll seem exceptionally altruistic and innocent to the average onlooker.
Psychopaths are, first and foremost, social predators. With no conscience to check their behavior, they use charm and manipulation liberally to get what they want from others. No one is exempt from this. They’ll prey with equal recklessness on family, friends, lovers, co-workers, or even turn their skills to cults or politics. They modify their personalities to become exactly the person they think you want them to be. And they’re good at it.
You will likely find a psychopath in your life incredibly thoughtful, sympathetic, and feel an unusually deep connection with them — until they no longer need anything from you. That's when the crazy-making behavior begins.
Here are some common phrases you'll hear from a psychopath who's trying to make you doubt your sanity — and how they serve to undermine your independence.
While saying one or more of these things doesn’t necessarily mean someone is a psychopath, statements like these should be seen as red flags and occasion a deeper look into whether or not your relationship is actually healthy.
1. "You overanalyze everything.”
Of course there are people who read too much into situations. The way to find out if this is intended to be manipulative or not is to keep track of whether or not your concerns turn out to be well-founded in retrospect.
Psychopaths will intentionally do things to make you feel on-edge or paranoid, like flirt with a once-denounced ex over social media for the whole world to see. When you question them, they accuse you of overanalyzing the situation. But then a month later, you discover they were actually cheating with that person. Psychopaths aim to make you doubt your intuition by constantly planting hints to make you feel anxious and then blaming you for having that anxiety.
2. "I hate drama.”
And yet, you’ll soon come to discover there’s more drama surrounding them than anyone you’ve ever known. Psychopaths will first idealize you above everyone else, praising you for your perfect, easygoing nature. But because they are perpetually bored, this never lasts long. They are pathological liars, serial cheaters, and eternal victims.
Before long, these qualities inevitably start to surface and cause you overwhelming confusion. Anytime you mention your concerns or frustration, they’ll declare their hatred of drama and make you feel bad for reacting to their horrible behavior (instead of addressing the behavior itself).
3. “You're so sensitive.”
Psychopaths manufacture emotions in others — it’s what they do. After constantly showering you with praise and flattery, they’ll ignore you for days on end and wait for you to react. When you finally do, they’ll accuse you of being sensitive or needy. They’ll insult, belittle, and criticize you (usually in a teasing/joking manner), pushing your boundaries until you finally speak up.
Then, they’ll turn your manufactured reactions against you in order to make you seem crazy. Within weeks, psychopaths can turn an exceptionally easygoing person into an unrecognizable mess of insecurities and self-doubt.
4. “You misunderstood me.”
Sure, healthy couples have misunderstandings and miscommunications all the time. But psychopaths will intentionally say things they know will provoke you. When you react, they’ll turn the tables and blame you for misunderstanding. Often, they’ll even deny that they ever said it.
This is called gaslighting — blatantly doing or saying something, and then blaming the other party for misinterpreting it (or denying that it even took place). The fact is, you understood what they said perfectly fine. They’re just trying to make you doubt your sanity.
5. “You're crazy/bipolar/jealous/bitter/in love with me.”
The name-calling usually starts when things are going downhill fast. According to a psychopath, all of their ex-lovers, colleagues, and friends are crazy, bipolar, jealous, bitter, or in love with them. This becomes very confusing when they start reaching out to those very same people they once denounced to you, using them to triangulate and cause chaos (making the psychopath appear in high demand at all times). Then they toss you in that very same “crazy” bucket, continuing their never-ending cycle of idealizing and devaluing anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path.
I deeply believe that the only way out of this destructive dynamic is to go “no contact.” This means no texts, calls, emails, or even Facebook friendships. Otherwise, you can guarantee they’ll do anything and everything in their power to make you feel crazy.
The good news is that when a psychopath tries to make you doubt your intuition, it means your intuition was causing them trouble. Psychopaths seek to psychologically destroy anyone who might threaten their illusion of normalcy to the world. So when they begin playing mind games with you, it’s actually a warped, indirect tribute to your ability to notice that something was “off” about them.
If you think you might be dealing with a psychopath, this quick quiz can help you determine one way or the other.
You can also check out this video from #revitalize2016, where Positive psychologist Dr. Samantha Boardman reveals how to tell if someone is a psychopath, sociopath, or narcissist.