The word ‘sociopath’ tends to bring to mind someone who is so self-absorbed and exploitative of other people—someone you probably would never want to date.
But sociopaths can be charismatic and some symptoms of their condition, like being impulsive and persuasive and shunning social norms, can be attractive in some situations.
A quick primer: A sociopath is someone who has antisocial personality disorder—a condition that causes them to lack empathy, be exploitative in close relationships, indifferent to the needs of others, entitled, and lack remorse for the bad things they do and say—according to clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?. “There is little humanity there,” she says. “They tend to only focus on your needs and wants when it is convenient for them.”
For the record, being a sociopath isn’t something you can fix on your own. Antisocial personality disorder is often hard to treat, and sociopaths usually don’t think they need help.
It’s easy to assume that you’d never start a relationship with someone who has these characteristics, but it happens. Here are some of the biggest tip-offs that you’re in a relationship with a sociopath.
They just don’t care
Sure, everyone has their off days, but sociopaths can have trouble caring about anyone, at any point—and that’s not good news for you. “A healthy relationship involves empathy and mutual consideration,” says licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago and author of You Are Not Crazy: Letters from Your Therapist. “Being in a relationship with someone who has antisocial personality disorder could be challenging in that the central feature of mutual care and consideration in a relationship may not be possible.”
They don’t follow the rules
While that can be attractive at first, it can cause some serious issues down the road, especially if it involves criminal behaviour. It can also put you in harm’s way (think: recklessly speeding through streets while you’re in the car.) “Clearly they do not care about the give and take of any relationship, whether it’s with an individual or with society,” Durvasula says.
Boasting about how fast the can run, having a constant swagger, and giving off a vibe that they think they’re better than everyone else are all things sociopaths do. Dealing with this in a relationship “can feel invalidating, negating, abusive, and very uncomfortable,” Durvasula says.
They lie—a lot
Lying isn’t great under any circumstances, but sociopaths will regularly do it to get their way, with seemingly zero regrets. “Since the foundation of an intimate relationship is trust, this undercuts that,” Durvasula says.
Sociopaths have trouble forming and maintaining any kind of relationship with others. “A sociopath is someone with a personality disorder that includes extreme antisocial behaviour,” Klow says. If you find that you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t seem to have any friends (in the area or outside of it), it’s worth thinking about that.
They con people
We’re not just talking about convincing you to crack open that pricey bottle of wine you were saving for a special occasion (although that stinks, too). Sociopaths “are exploitative by nature—not just in their close intimate relationships, but with everyone,” Durvasula explains.
They don’t seem to think about the consequences
Doing things on impulse can be exciting at first (impromptu trip to Tahiti? Sign us up!), but sociopaths regularly engage in impulsive behaviour without a second thought. “This can be dangerous or risky not only for you and others, but it can also put a family at financial risk,” Durvasula says. “It can also result in decision making in a relationship that can be hurtful.”
Sociopaths can be very irritable and easily agitated—and that’s no way to live. Not only that, it can escalate to verbal abuse, Durvasula says, leaving you anxious and nervous that you’re going to upset them.
They refuse to change
Most people understand that there are consequences for poor behaviour, learn from their mistakes, and do better next time. Sociopaths don’t. “They do not change—and the relationship will always be challenging,” Durvasula says. “It means that no matter what consequences or standards they are held to, they will keep violating that.”
They can’t hold down a job
Sociopaths regularly struggle to stay employed and will often have a string of unemployment stories. “This can result in financial difficulties for the family, which can put everyone in the family at risk through healthcare and housing,” Durvasula says.
If you suspect you’re in a relationship with a sociopath, try to leave it ASAP. “Get out. Get therapy. Safeguard those close to you (e.g children or other dependents),” Durvasula says. “A relationship with a sociopath is rarely if ever going to succeed.”
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.
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