3 Tips for Dealing with a Psychopath

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Help protect yourself from psychopaths with these three tips, starting with hearing and heeding the charm alarm.

I’ve written several articles on psychopathy and devote a lot of attention to the topic in my books. But because of their high level of skill in manipulation and impression management, and despite all the information out there about psychopaths, all too many folks find out what kind of severely disturbed character they’ve been dealing with only after much damage has already been done. While it’s still possible for even the most informed and alert person to be duped, there are some things you can be especially on the lookout for that can help prevent you from getting involved with someone who might very well make your life a nightmare. Here are some tips for better self-protection:

Be sure you hear and heed the charm alarm.
Individuals with psychopathic traits can be most alluring. They know how to charm, seduce and captivate. To be sure, we all like to be flattered and there’s certainly nothing wrong with a little sweet talk. Not everyone who exudes charm and tries to seduce is a psychopath. But the charm psychopaths display is superficial and can be recognized as such when you examine it closely. Charming and seducing are just some of the tactics they use to get want they want from you. Sometimes the way they seduce is subtle, playing on your deepest needs. Sometimes, they pour it on pretty thickly, convinced their wiles will simply overwhelm and overpower you. If you don’t hear the charm alarm going off, you’re likely to end up like putty in their hands. Only when they have you firmly in their grasp are you likely to become more aware that you’re really nothing more than prey. And only when they’ve sufficiently used and exploited you will you know what you really mean to them. For psychopaths it’s always about conquest. They typically look for “trophies” they can feel superior to or possess, or for those they sense are naive or weak enough in various ways that they can toy with.
Beware of empathy gaps.
Psychopaths can appear to care about you and your welfare. But research has shown that their ability to care is severely limited, often absent altogether. They can’t hide this lack of empathy very well, so if you’re mindful about things, you can see the warning signs. Sometimes these folks can’t help revealing their disdain for certain individuals and groups (e.g., tearing them down without hesitation or mercy). The chilling coldness with which they might show their disgust can stand in marked contrast to the affection and care they may seem to show toward you. The disdain they sometimes let show through reflects a malignant form of narcissism. It’s a haughtiness that goes far beyond just thinking a lot of oneself to thinking of oneself as both superior and therefore entitled to prey on those perceived as less worthy. It’s this malignant narcissism that really impairs empathy development. Some psychopaths are simply devoid of empathy and the care they seem to show at times is nothing more than an act. But others, while having at least some capacity for empathy, have the uncanny ability to “compartmentalize” any feeling, especially when they’re out to use or abuse someone. When you sense the person you’re with has a limited ability to care, or an uncanny ability to selectively discard care and mercilessly demean others, consider yourself forewarned.
Remember, it’s not always cool to be “cool.”
Psychopaths have a superficiality to them that comes across as both glibness and nonchalance. They can appear as “cool as a cucumber,” never seeming to let anything bother or faze them. They can appear as happy go lucky sorts who are both confident and unshakable. They trust in their ability to con, manipulate, and worm their way out of jams. This sort of “cool” is definitely not cool. In fact, it’s a sign that they don’t have much respect for the norms, rules, and concerns that make most of us socially conscientious and they have little compunction about violating the norms most of us try to heed. Sometimes, a person lacking in self confidence or self esteem or who tends to be a somewhat anxious sort can be really drawn to someone who seems so calm, cool, and collected. That inevitably spells high risk. Psychopaths know your insecurities, and they know how drawn you might be to their apparent quiet confidence. Psychopaths also often have the capacity for wittiness and fast talk. They have the “gift of gab” and always seem have an answer. They easily roll with the punches. This makes it look like they “have their act together,” so to speak, and if you don’t look beneath the superficiality of this facility, you could find yourself taken in by them before you know it.

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As I’ve mentioned before, full-blown psychopaths are a rare breed. That doesn’t mean that folks with only a few psychopathic features in their personality are safe to get involved with. Just as we have come to realize about a host of other psychological conditions, character disturbance exists along a continuum. While true psychopaths lie at the extreme end of the continuum, there are many disturbed characters out there who fall somewhere close to an extreme on the continuum and who pose equally problematic concerns for a relationship. So, if you see any of the warning signs mentioned above, it’s best to proceed with a great deal of caution. If you see them all, it’s probably best to completely steer clear: you could well be dealing with a psychopath.

Here’s a selection of several of my other articles, plus two books, which explore some of these areas in more detail:

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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