According to the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, up to 3% of the U.S. population meets the criterion for antisocial personality disorder — meaning we’ve likely all had the unfortunate experience of meeting a high-functioning sociopath.
Dating and falling in love with a person whose personality traits turn out to be so truly twisted as to raise suspicions that they might have antisocial personality disorder will leave your self-esteem and ability to trust deeply damaged, possibly even causing you to doubt your own perceptions of reality.
What is a sociopath?
As defined in the Merck Manual, “Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for consequences and for the rights of others.” Those who embody at least three of the seven antisocial personality traits can be classified as sociopaths.
While most of us come across men and women on the sociopathic spectrum at some point in their lives, those who end up deeply involved in romantic relationships with these people are never the same again.
Attempting to forge a cooperative connection — i.e., a healthy relationship, be it a professional or personal — is a futile endeavor because sociopaths never cooperate. They may appear to be cooperating, of course, but if you look closely, I assure you, they are not.
People who are naturally inclined to be empathic easily become drawn into quests to help these strategically smooth manipulators, so it’s wise to protect yourself by knowing which warning signs to look for early on. The more effort you put into attempts to cooperate with a sociopath, the more depleted you will become over time.
Here are 3 predominant personality traits of a high-functioning sociopath.
These are warning signs to watch out for if you think the person you’re falling in love with might be a high-functioning sociopath.
1. Extremely charming
High functioning sociopaths can quickly read your emotional needs and focus on you in a way that appears to deeply gratify those needs. They make you feel special, understood, and wanted very quickly!
Sure, some portion of those feelings should be present in a healthy relationship. But the difference is that a high-functioning sociopath has a way of turning your attention away from them and from the kind of healthy conversation where there’s a balanced flow back and forth. As a consequence, you don’t really get to know them.
Unfortunately, it’s not until much later that you find out they expect things to be all about them and never about you at all!
A healthy person will make you feel special while also allowing you to get to know them, and they won’t make you feel so special that you’re floating way too high above on cloud nine.
Keep your feet on the ground! If it feels too good to be true, it just might be.
2. Lacking a sense of accountability
After they’ve successfully made you feel so very special in their efforts to draw you in, high functioning sociopaths will switch it all up so they suddenly become framed as the victim of everyone and everything.
The better they are at this, the more likely a reasonable person will feel even more deeply drawn toward helping and supporting them, because it truly seems as though they are victims of difficult, unfair circumstances.
If you happen to point out something they might bear some responsibility for, rather than own it they will attempt to make you feel even more sorry for them, or they will shame you for having the nerve to hurt them.
Healthy people accept accountability and gladly look for their own contribution to problems. They want to work toward solutions when things are tough, rather than sit back and capitalize on being in the “one down” position in order to get others to do all of the work for them.
High functioning sociopaths want you all to themselves, isolated within their carefully managed world, so they can retain full control over your feelings and perceptions.
Subtly at first, and then gradually becoming more obvious and insistent, they will drive a wedge between you and your closest relationships with your friends and family members. They will speak badly to you about the people you care about most, make you feel guilty for spending time with anyone else, and call into doubt the trustworthiness of people you rely on.
Dr. Perrin Elisha is a psychologist, psychoanalyst, author, and teacher who helps clients get to the root of and heal their relational difficulties.