Psychopaths aren't all serial killers. They could be your conniving co-worker who somehow seems to get away with everything, or maybe they're just the totally normal guy who served you coffee this morning. Psychopaths look like you and me, but there's one big difference: They don't have a conscience. They can harm others with absolutely no sense of remorse or guilt. To any onlooker, a psychopath will slip through life unnoticed. They're likable, friendly, and charming (and not at all over-the-top). But for those who are unfortunate enough to become close to a psychopath, a nightmare will begin to unfold. What starts as a fairy tale slowly transforms into an incomprehensible mess of mind games and chaos. Here are some signs that you're dating a psychopath and what psychopaths behave like in relationships, according to thousands of survivors surveyed in the Psychopath Free online support community:
1. They reel you in with idealization, love-bombing, and flattery.
One way to know if your partner is a psychopath is how the relationship starts. When you first meet a psychopath, things move extremely fast. They tell you how much they have in common with you—how perfect you are for them. Like a chameleon, they mirror your hopes, dreams, and insecurities to form an immediate bond of trust and excitement. They constantly initiate communication and seem to be fascinated with you on every level. If you have a Facebook page, they might plaster it with songs, compliments, poems, and inside jokes.
2. They prey on your emotions with pity plays and sympathy stories.
An abundance of sob stories can sometimes be a sign you're dating a psychopath. The thing is, you'll quickly find a soft spot in your heart for them. They often seem cute and innocent at first (forget your television idea of the arrogant narcissist with a flashy car). They'll probably mention their abusive ex who's still in love with them. They say that all they've ever wanted is some peace and quiet. They hate drama—and yet, you'll soon come to notice there's more drama surrounding them than anyone you've ever known.
3. They involve you in their own versions of "love triangles."
Once you're hooked, the triangulation sets in. They surround themselves with former lovers, potential mates, and anyone else who provides them with added attention. This includes people that the psychopath may have previously denounced and declared you superior to. This makes you feel confused and creates the perception that the psychopath is in high demand at all times. When you're dating a psychopath, confusion and power games are the norm.
4. They constantly rewrite reality.
Dating a psychopath often involves being subjected to a lot of manipulation. They blatantly deny their own manipulative behavior and ignore evidence when confronted with it. They become dismissive and critical if you attempt to disprove their fabrications with facts. Instead of them actually addressing their inappropriate behavior, somehow it always becomes your fault for being "sensitive" and "crazy." Toxic people condition you to believe that the problem isn't the abuse itself, but instead your reactions to their abuse. (For more on this, here are a few things psychopaths say that will distort your perception of reality.)
5. They accuse you of feeling emotions that they are intentionally provoking.
They call you jealous after blatantly flirting with an ex—often done over social networking for the entire world to see. They call you needy after intentionally ignoring you for days on end. They use your manufactured reactions to garner sympathy from other targets, trying to prove how "hysterical" you've become. You probably once considered yourself to be an exceptionally easygoing person, but dating a psychopath will (temporarily) turn that notion upside down.
6. You've noticed them pathologically lying and making excuses.
Another clear clue that your partner might be a psychopath is constant lying. There is always an excuse for everything, even things that don't require excusing. They make up lies faster than you can question them. They constantly blame others—it is never their fault. They spend more time rationalizing their behavior than improving it. Even when caught in a lie, they express no remorse or embarrassment. Oftentimes, it almost seems as if they wanted you to catch them.
7. They provoke jealousy and rivalries while maintaining their cover of innocence.
Your psychopath partner once directed all of their attention to you, which makes it especially confusing when they begin to withdraw and focus on other people. They do things that constantly make you doubt your place in their heart. If they're active on social media, they'll bait previously denounced exes with old songs, photos, and inside jokes. They attend to the "competition's" activity and ignore yours.
8. They withhold attention and undermine your self-esteem.
After once showering you with nonstop attention and admiration, psychopathic partners suddenly seem completely bored by you. They treat you with silence and become very annoyed that you're interested in continuing the passionate relationship that they created. You begin to feel like a chore to them.
9. They exhibit selfishness and a crippling thirst for attention.
When you're in a relationship with a psychopath, they drain the energy from you and consume your entire life. Their demand for adoration is insatiable. You thought you were the only one who could make them happy, but now you feel that anyone with a beating pulse could fit the role. However, the truth is, no one can fill the void of a psychopath's soul.
10. You don't recognize your own feelings.
You know you're dating a psychopath when your natural love and compassion have transformed into overwhelming panic and anxiety. You apologize and cry more than you ever have in your life. You barely sleep, and you wake up every morning feeling anxious and unhinged. You have no idea what happened to your old relaxed, fun, easygoing self. After dating a psychopath or even just a brief romantic encounter with one, you will feel insane, exhausted, drained, shocked, and empty. You tear apart your entire life—spending money, ending friendships, and searching for some sort of reason behind it all.
What to do if you realize you're dating a psychopath.
These relationships leave long-lasting damage, with feelings and doubts that you'll never be good enough. Relationships with psychopaths are like drowning in a black hole because no matter how much they hurt you, it'll still be your fault. They ignore your best qualities and provoke your insecurities until your entire personality becomes unrecognizable.
Fortunately, there is always hope for healing. After you leave your abusive relationship, the first step is to employ the no-contact rule, which means absolutely no texts, emails, or social media contact with your psychopath ex. It'll feel impossible at first but easier with time. You'll slowly find your sanity returns, and the chaos dissipates. Eventually this experience will become an incredible opportunity to discover self-respect and make healthy boundaries that will serve you for the rest of your life.
Jackson MacKenzie is the author of Whole Again and Psychopath Free, and co-founder of PsychopathFree.com, an online support community that reaches millions of abuse survivors each month. He has his bachelor’s in computer and information sciences from Northeastern University and is based in Boston. Driven by personal experience, MacKenzie's mission is to spread awareness and give survivors a safe place to validate their experiences, so that every empathetic person can find happiness and love after abuse.