7 Signs You're Dating a Sociopath, According to a Therapist
A therapist breaks down what the term really means — and why you should run for the hills if this sounds familiar.
DEAR DR. JENN,
I have been with my guy for a few months and I think he is the love of my life. He is charming, smart, and hot as hell. But if I'm being honest, there are some things that concern me. I have caught him in a few lies — and when I do he totally doubles down on them. He also just doesn't have a lot of empathy for others and seems to even get off on the pain other people suffer. (He actually enjoys those YouTube videos where people get hurt and laughs it off but I am horrified!) My bestie thinks he might actually be a sociopath, but I know my boyfriend isn't a Ted Bundy or Joe from You... at least I think?! What is a sociopath really — and how do I know if he is one? —Alarmed
A true sociopath is rare. Only 6% of the male and 2% of the female population meet the diagnostic criteria. According to the research, this personality disorder is at least three times more common in men than women, but it is still quite unusual to encounter a true sociopath. In 30 years of being a therapist, I have only encountered one or two in my office.
But first, let's clear things up. Sociopathy is actually the colloquial term for 'antisocial personality disorder' (ASPD) — a mental disorder that can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) that shrinks like me use to diagnose patients. Generally speaking, those with antisocial personality disorder (aka sociopathy) show no regard for right and wrong and "tend to antagonize, manipulate or treat others harshly or with callous indifference," per the Mayo Clinic. They also tend to show no guilt or remorse for their behavior.
ASPD occurs on a continuum — some people may only have a few traits — but even those on the lower end of the spectrum of this personality disorder are not the type of people with who you want to have a romantic relationship. (And yes, when it comes to Joe Goldberg from the Netflix show You, therapists have pointed out that he did indeed show some hallmark traits of antisocial personality disorder, as well as narcissistic personality disorder.)
Similar to a narcissist, 'sociopaths' tend to be extremely charming. They are like chameleons and are able to figure out exactly what you want and need in a relationship. They will seduce you and then ultimately hurt you and take advantage of you. Word to the wise: Someone with this kind of personality disorder is always on the hunt for new victims and people to take advantage of. Don't be surprised if your grandmother's ring is missing from your apartment, money is withdrawn from your bank account or you just found yourself paying for everything in your partner's life.
Their ability to lie is off the charts — and the entire history that they have presented to you may not even be true. I once met a sociopath that not only lied about his entire family history, where he came from, and his socioeconomic background, but he even claimed to speak French, when he couldn't speak a word of the language. If you catch them in a lie, they are likely to go into a rage and blame you. They will often become aggressive and hostile or just disappear.
While we tend to throw around the word 'sociopath' casually — and again, a true sociopath is rare — if three or more of the following list applies to your guy, I'd cut things off ASAP. This isn't something to mess around with.
7 Signs You're Dating a Sociopath
- They lie and con others. They are deceitful and take advantage of other people for their own financial gain or enjoyment. This could be anything from a small lie about where they were when they didn't answer their phone to having a full-blown other life and family in another state. Be careful that you are not taken advantage of by them.
- They are impulsive. They do not plan ahead and will frequently change their minds based on mood, temptation, or feelings.
- They have anger problems. Most people like this have a history of getting into physical fights or assaults. They tend to be irritable and aggressive. They are quick to take things personally. You are likely to find yourself walking on egg shells because they are so easily agitated. This can lead to emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
- They are risk takers and don't care about safety. They tend to be reckless about their own safety and the safety of others. This could be anything from reckless speeding to full-blown criminal behavior. Don't get pressured into doing anything that scares you or makes you feel unsafe.
- They are irresponsible. They have trouble holding down a job, honoring financial obligations and keeping commitments. Eventually they will hit you up for money, a roof over their head, food on their plate or anything they need. They will push for unprotected sex or high-risk behaviors in the bedroom, regardless of your comfort level. Because they are charming and entitled, they will talk you into it before you even realize what is going on.
- They do not follow the law. People with antisocial personality disorder don't tend to believe that the rules or laws of society apply to them. They typically have a long history of arrests.
- They have no remorse. They have no ability to feel empathy if they have hurt, mistreated, taken advantage of or stolen from another person.
Clearly, the list of reasons why a healthy romantic relationship with someone like this isn't possible is long. To put things bluntly, they are exploitative human beings with no conscience or ability to feel bad about the harm they have inflicted. They are unable or unwilling to self-reflect when they are wrong and they typically find a way to blame their partner for their own faults or problems. Obviously, this can create a lot of tension and unhappiness in a relationship. To make matters worse, those with sociopathy rarely go to therapy since they don't believe there's anything wrong with them to fix, meaning this is not a very treatable personality disorder.
True sociopaths get off from the pain and suffering of others. I'm not talking about schadenfreude. I'm talking about people who enjoy their partner experiencing pain during sex and even enjoy watching videos of people being harmed or tortured. The more extreme antisocials will actually torture animals, rape, or kill people. This is the stuff that serial killers are made of — and clearly, it's nothing to take lightly.
Clearly, you most definitely want to avoid dating someone with this kind of disposition. My advice: Run for the hills!
In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions every week — unjudged and unfiltered.