These are just a few of the more well-known sociopaths from famous television shows and films in recent years, and while some of these characters may come across as endearing at first glance, anyone who’s been in a relationship with a real-life sociopath knows it can be unfulfilling, frustrating, and even emotionally scarring.
According to Aimee Daramus, a licensed clinical psychologist, sociopaths are excellent at reading people and thrive off excitement, so dating them can actually be really fun (early on, at least). Due to their inherent charm and charisma, it can be extremely difficult to tell there’s something wrong.
RELATED: Red Flags in a Relationship
“Sociopaths will dazzle you with their apparent flirty charm and aura of confidence,” adds Dr. Sherrie Campbell, a licensed psychologist. “They give the appearance of unlimited energy, abundance, and romance.”
That’s why it’s super important to tune into your gut instincts, all while keeping a lookout for the following red flags.1. They Came on Strong, But Then Became Inconsistent
AccordingCampbell, “love bombing” — a popular strategy for narcissists — is the sociopath’s way of luring you in at the beginning of the relationship. Maybe they took you on extravagant getaways, laid the PDA on thick, surprised you with frequent gifts, or just showered you with compliments.
While it might’ve felt good at the time, the problem with these acts is that there’s nothing genuine at the root of them. Instead of it being about you feeling good, it’s actually about power.
“The sociopath uses these extreme demonstrations of attention and affection to gain control over you,” explains Campbell.
They’ll likely only uphold this whole act until they know they’ve got you. Sociopaths will often switch back and forth between laying on the charm and trying to intimidate you to get what they want.
2. They Avoid Responsibilities
Whether they’re neglecting to pay the rent or can’t hold a steady job, a partner who repeatedly fails to fulfill basic obligations with no remorse may be a sociopath.
“There will be evidence of a lack of responsibility as you get deeper into knowing this person,” says Campbell. “Sociopaths feel above the rules and laws regarding ethics and money.”
And according to Daramus, many sociopaths have the attitude that “it’s only wrong if you get caught.” it’s this same blatant disregard for social constructs, combined with their lack of empathy and remorse, that makes them more likely to cheat.
3. Everything in the Relationship Feels Extreme
Sociopaths are known for being fast talkers with seemingly endless energy. They also tend to make big promises they can’t keep.
Daramus notes that many sociopaths are also insatiable risk takers. They become bored fast, which is why a relationship with them might feel like a rollercoaster ride that always keeps you guessing. When they’re praising you, they’ll lay it on absurdly thick, and when they’re criticizing you, they’ll resort to extremely negative language. You may feel like there’s no in between.
According to Campbell, you might even notice that they dramatize things when they’re talking about themselves.
“Everything they say about themselves is over-exaggerated,” notes Campbell. “There is no normalcy.”
4. They Jump From Addiction to Addiction
Not all addicts are sociopaths, and not all sociopaths are addicts. That said, as sociopaths tend to be impulsive by nature, some can often abuse alcohol or drugs.
“They are not able to feel feelings of satisfaction, which creates the chronic search for happiness and feeling good — a permanent quest that is somewhat fulfilled by various substances in the short term,” says Campbell.
If a sociopath gives up one dependency — like sex addiction — they might replace it with something like alcohol. It becomes an endless and impossible cycle of trying to fill a void. Without being able to care about the consequences of their behavior, seeing the damage that their addiction is doing to your relationship will never motivate them to quit.
5. You Always End Up Being the Villain
Even if your partner is the one who lost their temper or got caught in one of their lies, somehow, it always feels like it’s your fault.
“It’s easy for a sociopath to get you to feel sorry for them because any time they are confronted they make you the villain and themselves the victim,” explains Campbell. “The unwritten rule is you are not allowed to confront them.”
Sociopaths are immensely manipulative, and can easily find ways to convince you that any issue is somehow your fault. If your partner is frequently shifting the blame, twisting situations around on you, that’s a pattern worth paying attention to.
6. They’re Cold When You Need Them Most
A mentally stable partner will be able to learn your triggers, knowing how to respond appropriately when you feel hurt, whether or not it’s as a result of their actions. But sociopaths just aren’t capable of empathy, which means if you get upset, not only will they fail to understand where you’re coming from, but they probably won’t know how to apologize, comfort you, or otherwise make you feel better.
As a result, you may always feel a lingering emotional disconnect with them. In fact, they might even intentionally mess with your feelings.
“Sociopaths only care about one person: themselves,” says Campbell. “They see other people as emotional toys for them to provoke and play with.”
One emotion they don’t seem to have any problem expressing is anger, but as Daramus explains, that’s often just a manipulation tactic.
“The anger may be a strategy they use to get their way instead of a genuine emotion,” she tells AskMen.
Also, take note of how your partner behaves and reacts when you cry or show any sign of fragility.
“A sociopath will show disrespect for weakness and feel entitled to exploit it because they’re stronger,” adds Daramus. “Because of this, being vulnerable with them won’t build closeness the way it would with someone else. Empathy is crucial to relationships, and sociopaths are bad at it, though they can fake it for a while. There are specific brain cells called mirror neurons that help you empathize, and theirs simply don’t work as well as other people’s.”
All that said, sociopathy exists on a spectrum. It comes down to whether or not they are willing and invested in changing, and most true sociopaths may not be capable of that. No matter how persuasive a sociopathic partner might be in rationalizing their behavior, any form of abuse is unacceptable — and the only way to end the cycle is to swiftly head for the exit.