Even armed with knowledge about what a psychopath really is; it can be hard to spot them because they are so good at appearing charming, “normal” and in love. Many individuals on the psychopathy spectrum get married to people who have no idea about their true natures.
Psychopaths process the world differently — they have a hard time switching behaviors even after negative consequences outweigh the positives. Their actions are innate and include manipulation, lying and taking advantage of other people. There are signs that can help distinguish if your partner is a psychopath, but the trouble is that people with psychopathy can be very charming and good at disguising their underlying behaviors.
One of the telltale signs is that they will over-the-top woo their partners in the honeymoon stage: flowers, odes of love, gifts. This is known as grooming, which is courtship with the intent that the person being courted now owes them. They aren’t giving gifts or compliments because they are compelled to, it is for the long game of what they will be owed. Following the grooming period, psychopaths commonly lose interest in their partners and begin to disengage. Usually, they will begin to look for someone new, as once the excitement has worn off, they can no longer bond.
What motivates them to find relationships, given that they don’t really feel love?
Well, what motivates anyone? According to Schwartz’s Value Theory, which describes these basic world recognized values:
These values can then be compiled into four groups:
- Openness to change (self-direction and stimulation)
- Self-enhancement (hedonism, power, achievement)
- Conservation (conformity, tradition, security)
- Self-transcendence (benevolence and universalism)
Psychopaths only seem concerned with self-enhancement, their end game is focused on the pursuit of pleasure and their outward station in society. While you would think someone like that would be a terrible partner, they are excellent at hiding those motivations. Often, psychopaths will choose someone who is in a vulnerable state and therefore especially ripe for grooming.
Psychopaths still seek and form relationships — instead of love as the goal, the motivation falls on the fact that their relationships allow them to seek pleasure while flying under people’s radars.
Take the case of Dr. Axton Betz-Hamilton, whose identity was stolen along with her parents’ when she was 11. Though her parents’ identity theft was discovered immediately, she didn’t realize until moving out on her own at the age of 19. Her credit score was a low 308 because someone had racked up over $500,000 of credit card debt under her name. When she cried about it to her mother, Pamela Betz, she was told that nothing could be done and that she should find a way to move on. Kind of cold, but Betz-Hamilton tried. Years later, after she had become a recognized, award-winning child identity theft activist, her mother passed away and the family discovered that the thief had been her mother all along. Her father discovered a maxed credit card statement was in a locked box that also contained his daughter’s birth certificate. Betz-Hamilton, by then an adult and prominent child identity theft advocate, began to dig into her mother’s past. She discovered that Betz had potentially been living a second life under her maiden name and more financial discrepancies continued to be unearthed. The podcast Criminal — covering this case in episode “Money Tree” — interviews Betz-Hamilton, who suggests that her mother might have been a psychopath all along.
There was no deathbed confession, no secret guilt, her mother lived and died as though she’d done nothing wrong. The fact that her mother could have stood by her side and supported her work as an identity theft advocate after stealing from her own husband and child for 19 + years shows a serious ability to disconnect. When asked about this, Betz-Hamilton explained:
“I looked into what psychological disorders have lack of guilt as a core feature. There was one answer: psychopathy. Psychopaths are motivated by power and, for a lot of people, money is a form of power…My mom was…a low-grade psychopath. They are world-class manipulators. I was telling her everything I was doing to find the person who was stealing my identity, so she was always one step ahead.”
This is what makes psychopaths frightening as a concept, that it’s so easy to find yourself in their presence and not know it. Their skills are trained on keeping up appearances.
Jen Waite has made it her mission to describe the experience of being romantically involved with a psychopath. Soon after giving birth to their daughter, she discovered that her husband had been having an affair throughout their relationship and she contends that he used his paid paternity leave to spend time with his lover. Waite suggests that, though psychopaths can and do exist among us, there are some big red flags to watch out for:
Sign 1: “Love bombing” (Waite’s term for grooming)
Sign 2: Perpetual woe-is-me-sob-stories that are pulled out whenever you call them on bad behavior
How do you communicate with the psychopath in your life?
You can’t always escape dealing with someone who is part of the Dark Triad (a spooky-sounding psychology term that encompasses narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.)
- Find ways to interact with them online as much as possible.
People with these characteristics aren’t as capable of destructive behavior over the internet. Once you remove non-verbal cues such as body language from the equation, the ability to smoke out narcissists and psychopaths becomes easier. It seemed to be that the negotiating tactics of psychopaths, without their face-to-face charisma, came across as aggressive and hostile.
Psychopaths love drama so, when dealing with psychopathic individuals try to stay boring to lose their interest.