I bet you’ve seen the movie Psycho. If not, then you’ve definitely seen either Dexter or The Following. Silence of the Lambs ring a bell? What these movies and TV shows have in common is that they feature psychopaths as their main characters. Psychopaths have been the subject of movies and television for decades. They’ve graced the small and big screen alike. Our fascination with psychopaths is insatiable. They intrigue us. The latest string of TV shows based on real-life killers and crimes is a testament to this. Even Dr. Oz has caught the psycho bug with his latest segment, “True Crime Tuesdays”. We can all name at least one psychopath, either fictional or in the flesh. Joe Carroll, Dexter Morgan, Hannibal Lecter, Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer are just a few that come to mind.
Many of us find ourselves wanting to know how a person becomes a psychopath, and why psychopaths behave the way that they do. Psychopathy appears to be a sinister combination of Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It’s sometimes called malignant narcissism. But how can we spot a psychopath amongst us? Psychologists have been preoccupied with this question for centuries. Today, most psychologists use the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (or PCL-R for short). This checklist contains 20 items related to psychopathic behaviour. It covers areas such as interpersonal relationships, social deviance, lifestyle, and emotional responses. A person who scores 30 or above might be diagnosed with psychopathy. If you notice your date exhibiting any of the following behaviours, then consider filling out a PCL-R for them.
15. Your date is disturbingly charming
Checklist item number one relates to glib and superficial charm. You might find your date’s ability to talk in an easy manner attractive. You might admire how your date always seems to have words at the ready to answer any question that you ask. If I were you, I would pay close attention to those words. Have you noticed that your date’s statements are mostly superficial? Do your date’s answers seem thoughtless to you, or even insincere, on second inspection? A psychopath uses charm to distract you from examining what they’re saying too closely. “Appearance over substance” is their motto. “Leave this date behind” should be yours.
14. Your date brags about himself/herself constantly
The second checklist item to concern yourself with is a grandiose estimation of self. Psychopaths think of themselves very highly. Too highly, in fact. To say that they have a God complex is an understatement. If you’re on a dinner date with someone who talks incessantly about himself/herself and his/her achievements without letting you get a word in edgewise, then you can be sure of two things: (1) You’re dating a narcissist, and (2) You’ve put yourself at risk of being targeted by a psychopath. Either way, you should seriously consider never seeing this person again. Don’t just walk; run.
13. Every other word out of your date’s mouth is a lie
A third sign of psychopathy is pathological lying. Psychopaths lie about everything, from their age to their criminal history. They even lie about things that people wouldn’t normally lie about, innocuous things like what they ate for breakfast or where they went shopping. Unless they ate their victim’s flesh for breakfast or went shopping for weapons, they shouldn’t need to lie. It might be hard to tell at first that a psychopath is lying. They’re generally very convincing; even lie detectors rarely catch them in a lie. Eventually, though, you’ll notice some inconsistencies in their stories. As they let their guard down around you, they might become careless and allow themselves to be caught in a lie.
12. You feel manipulated by your date
Have you ever been on a date and felt coerced into doing something? Perhaps you were wooed by pretty compliments into doing small favours for your date. Cunning and manipulativeness are trademarks of psychopathy. They come with the disorder. Psychopaths have a knack for getting what they want, and they’re not above using manipulation to get it. At first, the manipulation will be so subtle that you won’t even notice it. Psychopaths are convincing and eloquent. They can influence you to do something for them while making you believe that it was your idea in the first place. Their methods are so devious they boggle the mind.
11. Your date doesn’t feel bad when he/she does something wrong
Lack of remorse or guilt is another item on the PCL-R to watch out for. Unless your date behaves badly, it might be difficult to tell at first whether he/she is capable of feeling empathy for other people. How can you tell that your date lacks remorse or guilt? Consider the following scenarios: (1) Your date hits a parked car and drives off as if nothing happened; (2) Your date stands you up and doesn’t apologize or even offer an explanation as to why; (3) Your date “borrows” some of your money without asking and doesn’t offer to pay you back. If any of these scenarios apply to your date, or if your date is involved in a similar scenario, then he/she might be a psychopath.
10. Your date makes you pay for everything
You might be thinking, “Doesn’t my date making me pay for everything just make my date cheap?” Yes, your date is definitely cheap, but this cheapness might be a result of psychopathic tendencies. A lesser known sign of psychopathy is a parasitic lifestyle. Psychopaths often leech off others to survive. They might make their dates pay for everything from dinner to movie tickets. They might still be financially dependent on their parents. A parasitic lifestyle doesn’t just entail spending someone else’s money. It can also mean living in someone else’s house rather than buying their own, or eating someone else’s food, or driving someone else’s car. Look out for a lack of independence from your date.
9. Your date’s middle name is “impulsive”
Impulsivity is another item on the PCL-R that’s endorsed by psychopaths. Psychopaths do stupid things on impulse. They might steal a car on impulse. Or punch someone at a bar on impulse. If your date rushes into things without thinking, or gets a crazy idea and pursues it immediately, then you might have a psychopath on your hands. That, or you’re dating someone with ADHD. Impulsivity is a common symptom of many mental disorders. If your date says to you, “Let’s stab that guy across the street!” and then proceeds to stab the guy across the street, well, then you’ll be wishing all that your date had was ADHD.
8. Your date is a sensation seeker
Sensation seeking alone doesn’t a psychopath make, but a need for stimulation is a sign of psychopathy. Psychopaths aren’t bothered or made anxious by stressful situations. In fact, they seek these situations out. Arousal is what they’re looking for. You might be dating a psychopath if your date needs to get an adrenaline rush every time that you go out. You should be concerned if all of your dates involve extreme sports or roller coaster rides. Psychopaths’ arousal mechanism doesn’t seem to work as it should. Consequently, they aren’t stimulated by things that would normally excite us. This is one reason why they’re attracted to alcohol and drugs, and are more at risk of developing an addiction.
7. Your date sleeps around
Sexual promiscuity is a common sign of psychopathy. It’s connected to several other signs of psychopathy. Sex can be a means of stimulation for a psychopath, for example. Sleeping with many different partners can likewise be the result of impulsivity gone unchecked. It’s also easier to sleep around when you don’t feel empathy for other people, or remorse, or guilt. Sex itself is insignificant to psychopaths; consequently, their sex lives are shallow. When the topic of past lovers comes up with your date, pay close attention to the number of hookups your date reports. Your date might lie, of course, a fact not to be discounted when dating a psychopath. If your date’s number is high considering age and time span, however, then consider yourself warned.
6. Your date has been married several times
Psychopaths often fall in and out of marriage. Indeed, one item on the PCL-R is having many short-term marital relationships. Even though psychopaths can seem cordial and affectionate, they have trouble forming enduring relationships. It’s not surprising that psychopaths can’t keep their marriages alive, given the behaviours I’ve just described. Lying, sexual promiscuity, parasitism; all of these behaviours can contribute to the destruction of a marriage. The question is: why would psychopaths want to get married in the first place? To mooch off of another person is one reason. To cover their tracks is another.
5. Your date has a criminal record
Psychopaths are no strangers to crime. Remember when I said that psychopaths do stupid things? That’s more the rule than the exception. Only the best ones successfully get away with murder, so to speak. Their crimes can range from petty theft to arson to aggravated assault. It’s common for psychopaths to have a record of juvenile delinquency, or to have had their conditional release revoked. What makes psychopaths so vulnerable to committing crimes? One explanation is that they don’t learn from negative experiences. They don’t respond to punishment like the rest of us do. This explains why psychopaths are at risk of reoffending. They also don’t respond to warnings of negative consequences to come. Don’t fool yourselves, though. Psychopaths know right from wrong; they just don’t care.
4. Your date is irresponsible
Irresponsibility is another item on the PCL-R, along with a failure to accept responsibility for your own actions. Psychopaths will fail to show up on time for a date. They’ll drive without their seat belts on. They won’t keep their appointments. On the surface, psychopaths appear reliable. They say all of the right things; they just don’t do them. They gravitate towards situations of delayed punishment. “I’ll worry about it later” is a psychopath’s motto. Be on the watch for irresponsible behavior from your date. Is your date late to work every day? Does your date forget to water the plants? Any one of these small signs could be an indicator of psychopathy.
3. Your date lacks realistic long-term goals
A lack of realistic long-term goals can be a harbinger of psychopathy. The long-term goals that many of us have, like getting married, having children, or buying a home, aren’t shared by psychopaths. Psychopaths seem to think in the short-term. It might be why they select conditions of delayed punishment so often. It’s not that psychopaths don’t have any long-term goals. They might have some, but they’re likely to be unrealistic. If your date tells you that he/she plans on being a rock star but doesn’t have any musical talent to speak of, then check off the lack of realistic long-term goals on your PCL-R.
2. Your date’s emotions are shallow
Shallow affect, or superficial emotional responsiveness, is another item on the PCL-R. What is shallow affect, you might ask? It consists of short-lived emotions of low intensity. For example, if one of your date’s family members dies and your date barely responds emotionally, then your date would be displaying shallow affect. Shallow affect applies equally to positive and negative emotions. If your date smiles weakly after winning the lottery, then your date would also be displaying shallow affect. Some people with a shallow affect seem dead to emotion altogether. If your date has never shown you any intense or long-lasting emotional response, then you could be dating a psychopath.
1. Your date misbehaved as a child
Early behaviour problems are one of the most common signs of psychopathy. Most psychopaths show evidence of deviant behaviour during childhood. Psychopathy is one part Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is often preceded by Conduct Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. These last two disorders affect children and adolescents. Ask your date how he/she was as a kid. Better yet, ask his/her parents and teachers. If you hear any stories of microwaving frogs or burning a sister’s Barbies, then you should seriously consider enrolling in the Witness Protection Program. I can’t stress this enough. Bad kids make the worse adults. This is your final warning.
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