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5 Signs You Dated A Dangerous Sociopath (And Didn’t Even Know It)

“The dangerous personalities among us harm us behind closed doors at home, at church, at school, and in the office, often preying in secrecy on the unsuspecting or the trusting —and for the most part, no one finds out until it’s too late.” – Joe Navarro, Dangerous Personalities: An FBI Profiler Shows You How To Identify and Protect Yourself from Harmful People

The aftermath of being bamboozled by a sociopathic or narcissistic dating partner can leave even the most self-aware of victims confounded. That’s because sociopathic predators can fly under the radar for quite some time before we’ve had a chance to figure them out. By the time we have, they leave in their wake a trail of devastation and chaos. Their victims feel traumatized, terrorized, and depleted, and rightfully so.

This predator has not only destroyed the victim’s illusion of the partner they thought they knew, they’ve also (even if just momentarily) shattered their worldview. Trusting in someone we’ve invested in and having them betray us creates a trauma bond like no other.  No longer do victims of sociopaths feel safe, lest another conniving predator comes along, dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Getting Involved With A Sociopath Can Be Dangerous

In the most extreme cases, getting involved with a sociopath unknowingly can be deadly. Seemingly “nice guy” Chris Watts, who some experts have called a psychopath, murdered his wife, her unborn child and their two children, dumping their bodies in oil wells with little to no remorse. He even had multiple affairs while she was pregnant and attempted to blame Shannan for the murders of their children before pleading guilty to all the murders. Much like Scott Peterson, who murdered his pregnant wife Laci Peterson and their unborn child, no one suspected him of being dangerous. To outsiders, Chris Watts appeared like a doting dad and husband.

This is why these types can be so dangerous. Although many sociopaths are not violent, some can escalate into violence if given the “right” circumstances in their distorted perspective. Both Chris Watts and Scott Peterson decided family annihilation was a more convenient route to escape their marriages than divorce.

Why? Because sociopaths and psychopaths seek ultimate dominance, power, and control over others. They believe they “own” their partners and see everyone as an extension of themselves. Every person is a piece of property to manipulate, con, provoke and destroy – nothing more. It is their skewed, conscienceless view of the rest of humanity that puts us at risk if we end up getting involved with such a type.

Yet even if a sociopath isn’t violent, the emotional and psychological harm they cause makes them dangerous if they are willing to abuse and exploit others for their own gain.

What Is A Sociopath?

“Sociopath” and “psychopath” are commonly used laymen’s terms for what the DSM-5 calls Antisocial Personality Disorder. It is said that while sociopaths are produced by their environment, psychopaths are born, rather than “made.” Yet whether you’re dealing with a sociopath or psychopath, they have many overlapping characteristics. Someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder may exhibit the following traits and behaviors:

  • A pattern of disregard and violation of the rights of others.
  • Failure to conform to social norms.
  • Irritability and aggressiveness.
  • Deceitfulness.
  • Impulsivity.
  • Reckless disregard for the safety of others and one’s own safety.
  • Consistent irresponsibility.
  • Lack of remorse.

Although Antisocial Personality Disorder cannot be diagnosed in anyone under the age of eighteen, usually someone with ASPD is diagnosed with Conduct Disorder by the age of fifteen – which means they might also have a troubling childhood history of these behaviors. As therapist Bill Eddy writes, “This could include behaviors such as: torturing or killing small animals or pets, stealing from family and strangers, fire-starting and a serious pattern of lying.”

To add to our understanding of the sociopath or psychopath, Dr. Robert Hare also lists these characteristics in his psychopathy checklist:

  • Glibness and superficial charm.
  • Pathological lying.
  • Parasitic lifestyle.
  • Cunning and manipulative.
  • Impulsivity.
  • Callousness and lack of empathy.
  • Shallow emotions.
  • Need for stimulation.
  • Shallow affect.
  • Irresponsibility.
  • Failure to take responsibility for their behavior.
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals.
  • Sexual promiscuity.
  • Prone to boredom.
  • Early behavioral problems or juvenile delinquency.
  • A number of short-term, marital relationships.
  • Criminal versatility.
  • Grandiose sense of self.

Here are five signs you dated a dangerous sociopath and may not have known it:

Sign #1: Initially, they are the most loving, affectionate, charming and “nicest” person you’ve ever known. Then, they “switch” and reveal themselves to be cruel, callous, contemptuous and conscienceless.

As survivor Maria tells me, “When we were just friends, I really thought of him as a nice guy. Then suddenly, when we are in a relationship, he became a monster and I didn’t even recognize him anymore.”

The most dangerous sociopaths aren’t always the ones found in prison – they are the ones who can pass as very “nice” people, as pillars of their community, all while inflicting harm behind closed doors. They can turn on the charm and sweep you into a whirlwind romance; their charisma is magnetic and disarming.

This sudden “switch” of personality or character transplant when the sociopath’s goal has been achieved or thwarted (usually after a sufficient amount of investment from the victim) is very common among survivor stories. What once appeared to be a charming, sweet, seemingly loving and generous partner can transform into a person we don’t recognize when the mask has finally slipped.

This will appear like an abrupt and dramatic “change” (but in reality, it unmasks the true nature of who they are) in their character which cannot be explained by outside events.

You might bear witness to a cold, callous self when a sociopathic partner decides that they are no longer willing to pull out all the stops to impress you or keep you. For example, you might go on a few dates with a sociopathic partner who dotes on you, bonds with you, and shares their life stories with you. They make an effort to assure you that they’re looking for a long-term relationship. Yet, when you refuse to sleep with them on their timetable, they might go into a rage or abandon you in a cruel manner, acting as if you did not exist.

Or, you might be a few months in what you think is one of the most loving relationships of your life, when you’re suddenly and abruptly given the silent treatment. Then, your sociopathic partner may disappear for days without a word and return with no explanation. When you “dare” to call them out or ask them for a reason, they may stonewall you and discard you without a single word, or escalate into violence for “daring” to question them about their “devotion” to you.

These examples are not normal behavior: it indicates a person who acts without empathy, remorse and with high levels of deceitfulness – someone who is attempting to meet his or her agenda, whatever it may be, and does so without regard to the rights, emotions, or welfare of others. Those who misrepresent their intentions or character while punishing their victims for not catering to their needs are undoubtedly among some of the most conscienceless people on this planet.

Sign #2: They lead a double life and engage in pathological lying, despite grandstanding about a deceptive “moral” value system.

As I’ve discussed in a previous article, malignant narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths are pathological liars. They chronically lie as a way to maintain power and control over their victim’s reality as well as their choices. After all, if your partner is lying to you about sleeping with multiple people behind your back, you are unable to protect yourself both physically or emotionally. You might stay in the relationship without knowing the level of infidelity they’re committing or how much risk they’re putting you in.

Survivor Relle describes to me how the startling duplicity of her sociopathic partner extended to his choice of an affair partner. She says, “I had no idea he was living a separate life after grooming and establishing a relationship with the very same young girl who got the job he believed he was entitled to. He told me he would destroy her life and her career. I had no idea the last six months with him was what is defined as the discard. It was pure hell on earth as he tried to destroy me to the point of suicide. I found out he was with this specific girl months after I escaped. She is in so much danger and she doesn’t have a clue.”

In the infamous case of Mary Jo Buttafuoco, her sociopathic husband was able to hide his chronic deception and affair even after his mistress decided to physically show up on Mary’s doorstep and shoot her in the head. Mary thankfully survived, and as she writes in her book, Getting It Through My Thick Skull: Why I Stayed, What I Learned, And What Millions of People Involved With Sociopaths Need to Know:

“To the rest of the world, it might have looked obvious, but no one close to us believed for a minute that Joe had had an affair with her. His denials were extremely convincing; his arguments completely justifiable…

Joey was absolutely hysterical in his denials. It was a very persuasive portrayal of a wrongly accused man. “Show me a statement! Play me a tape where I said that! They won’t because they don’t have one! They are making this up.”

One of the most prominent and telling traits of many sociopaths is their fantastic ability to manipulate others and lie for profit, to avoid punishment, or seemingly just for fun. As someone who faced a firestorm of public anger, disapproval, and just plain incomprehension over the years from those who asked, “How could she stay with him after that?” all I can say is that if you haven’t ever been under a sociopath’s spell, be grateful. They can charm the birds out of the trees and tell you black is white, and have you believing it.”

Another survivor, Lisa, relays to me how her sociopathic partner managed to grandstand moral values he did not possess in order to mask the true nature of his character:

“In the early part of our relationship he talked all of the time about integrity and his interest in Buddhism, it made me feel like I was getting involved with someone honest and gentle. What I actually had was a full-blown pathological liar that undercut me at every chance he had, constant belittling, gaslighting, and double standards. I was so convinced I had a great man in the beginning that I stayed for 3 years looking for that guy to come back. Turned out my guy that claimed ‘integrity’ and said he’d never cheat because it had happened to him prior and was ‘so painful’ had also been cheating on me with his 20 years younger employee.”

Sign #3: They have a shady relationship history which they attempt to cover up with projections, toxic triangulation, smear campaigns or pity ploys.

According to Dr. Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, a sure sign you’re dealing with a sociopath is the use of the pity ploy after they’ve hurt you time and time again. Sociopaths know that preying on our sympathy and empathy as human beings is the quickest way to make us vulnerable to their manipulation and exploitation. After all, if we’re prone to feeling sorry for someone, we’re less likely to suspect they have unsavory motives. Feeling pity for a predator awakens in us the instinct to protect – not to detect or inspect the true nature of their crimes.

One of the ways sociopaths use the pity ploy is by depicting their relationship history as one littered by “crazy” exes. They may talk at length about how a “controlling and clingy” ex tried to micromanage them and was “obsessed” with them. Some abusers may talk about how their ex got a restraining order against them “for no reason.” Of course, they may leave out the part where they covertly abused their ex and drove them to emotional instability with their numerous betrayals and lies. Or, they might conveniently omit how they stalked and harassed their ex years after the breakup. If someone is preemptively striking by talking about their ex like this on a first or second date, be wary.

Most people who’ve actually been in toxic or abusive relationships are quite reserved about revealing this at such an early stage of dating (unless they’re raw and prone to oversharing), so this can be a huge red flag. And remember, err on the side of neutrality whenever you hear about someone’s “crazy” ex: even the most level-headed person can be driven over the edge after multiple provocations, so chances are, if they are calling their exes “crazy,” the person you’re dating probably drove them there.

Projection is another way they hide their nefarious deeds. A narcissistic sociopath is likely to talk about how they were cheated on as a sob story, all while they were ones doing the cheating. They may bemoan terrible things their ex-spouse did, only for you to discover that they are the ones who engage in these same behaviors. They may talk about numerous divorces all of which were the fault of their exes.

Chronic triangulation is also a common tell. If they aren’t smearing their exes as pathological, they might be idealizing their past relationship partners or others to make you jealous. They may still be leaving clues of their emotional unavailability, insatiable need for attention, and penchant for manipulation by manufacturing love triangles (known as triangulation).

Sociopaths are prone to introducing the threat of other romantic interests by talking excessively about those they are attracted to, those who admire them, or those they had intimate relationships with. They may go so far as to flirt with others in front of you to provoke your jealousy. It’s not uncommon for sociopathic and narcissistic people to boast about how people regularly “throw themselves” at them. They may stress how “loyal” yet “in-demand” they are to provoke their victims into competing for their attention. These are all ways to remind you that you can easily be replaced, at any time.

The shady nature of their commitments is revealing. Be wary if a dating partner tells you about having numerous short-term marriages, a history of long-distance relationships or a long-distance relationship they just can’t seem to let go of. Long-distance relationships are the perfect cover for both commitmentphobes and malignant narcissists. Long-distance relationships allow conniving predators to maintain a steady source of narcissistic supply from a primary partner who never “bores” them because they’re rarely around to ruin the fantasy of being the “ideal” man or woman. Meanwhile, the predator can engage in numerous affairs without the primary partner knowing. Or, the sociopathic predator may have an absence of long-term committed relationships aside from college and high school – that too can be a red flag of their inability and unwillingness to commit long-term.

Sign #4: A propensity for cruelty, provocation, and using your traumas against you.

Malignant narcissists gain pleasure from provoking others, toying with them, and inflicting pain; many on the higher end of the spectrum are sadistic in nature. If they possess elements of the Dark Triad (Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy) they have the cognitive empathy to assess your weaknesses, and lack the affective empathy to truly care that they’re causing harm – in fact, they may even enjoy causing harm (Wai and Tiliopoulos, 2012).

A quick way to figure out if someone is sociopathic? Reveal a trauma, insecurity or vulnerability to them (even if it’s not true). A manipulator is always looking to collect information about you early on to use against you as ammunition later. For example, if you reveal that you have an insecurity about your weight, the sociopathic predator may reassure you of how beautiful you are, only to later scrutinize your body months later.

If you talk about a traumatic incident where an ex did something specifically to hurt you, lo and behold, don’t be surprised if this same predator pulls out all the stops to reenact the same exact trauma. The most sadistic of sociopaths will actually incorporate the exact, specific details from the traumatic incident into their actions to make you relive the experience, all over again. For them, this is a sadistic game, power play, and display of dominance, nothing more. You are nothing but a doll to play with, terrorize, and discard once they’re ready to move onto the next new shiny toy.

Sign #5: Hypersexuality, sexually coercive behavior, and a constant need for stimulation.

Dr. Robert Hare notes in his Psychopathy Checklist that psychopaths usually demonstrate sexual promiscuity and have a constant need for stimulation. Psychopathy is also a significant predictor of sexual violence (Kiehl and Hoffman, 2011). Psychopaths are also very prone to boredom, which causes them to always seek excitement outside of their significant relationships in ways that can be dangerous. Although not all sociopaths are alike, many do have a hypersexual side which is usually not revealed to their primary partner until it’s too late. They are notorious for having numerous affairs, living double lives, and having indiscriminate, risky sexual encounters with anyone and everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.

Malignant narcissists and sociopaths can also be sexually coercive. Because they do not have any regard for the rights of others and are excessively entitled, some pressure or even force their partners into sexual acts they are not comfortable with. They may also punish their unwilling partners by discarding or devaluing them if their victims try to put up sexual boundaries. They are not above crossing these sexual boundaries to get what they want.

Don’t Fall For The Trap: How To Protect Yourself

There are plenty of red flags which can clue you in on who you may be dealing with. However, there are times when you may feel at such ease with a predator that you give them the benefit of the doubt and do not get out until it’s too late. Victims can fall prey to sociopaths easily, especially if they are at a particularly vulnerable stage of their lives.

If you’ve been victimized, it is not your fault. Even the experts can be duped. Conscienceless manipulators are very good at what they do – that’s how they get away with their crimes for so long. However, there are measures you can take to protect yourself and hopefully reduce the amount of harm that can be done if you run into one of these toxic types.

Don’t date during vulnerable periods – or if you do, take things very slowly. Some victims may be feeling particularly lonely and longing for a relationship when they come into contact with this type of charismatic predator. When they do, they may mistake their love-bombing for actual love and disregard the warning signs more readily. Other victims may be grieving a loss or recovering from a traumatic event, which causes them to latch onto any perceived safety net that could help them during this difficult time. Sociopaths are always on the prowl for these vulnerabilities, because they provide the entryway for which they can morph into the “savior” you’ve always dreamed of and hook you.

When Shannan Watts met her husband and murderer, Chris Watts, she had been diagnosed with lupus and was experiencing one of the darkest periods in her life. She stated in one of her videos that Chris was the “best thing that ever happened to {her}.” When looking to fill a void of any sort, we can be very susceptible to what the sociopath appears to offer us: whether it be love, attention, support, validation, a stable family life, or all of the above. We are far more willing to overlook red flags when we have these voids or struggles in our lives. The key to protecting yourself is to take things very slowly, and if possible, not to date at all if you find yourself in such a vulnerable state.

 Avoid dating if there are major issues in other aspects of your life or if you’re still wounded. Instead, find ways to fulfill yourself in healthy ways rather than giving into the urge of trying to seek a partner who will complete or “heal” you. Build your financial independence, get your own home, find a good social circle, work on your education, and pursue a career or passion that gives your life meaning outside of a partner; these will help ensure that you are never dependent on someone else to give you what you need in terms of basic needs. Grieving trauma or a loss is best done with a therapist, a healthy support system, and an appreciation for everything in your life, not just romantic relationships. This is not to say that accomplishing all of this will protect you from ever encountering a predator, but they will help you to leave and detach sooner if you realize who you’re dealing with is dangerous.

Don’t underestimate any red flags, especially at the beginning. Remember that people are likely to be on their “best behavior” during first dates, so take every grand romantic gesture and promises for the future with a grain of salt. At the same time, take every red flag very seriously – even if they appear to be small. If you get a sense that something is “off” about your new dating partner’s attitude, his or her propensity for rage, callous attitude or tone regardless of how nicely they present themselves, pay attention to them. It is these “tiny terrors” which we rationalize, minimize or deny that often escalate into horrific acts of cruelty later on.

Avoid excessive emotional or physical intimacy in the first few dates; don’t do more or disclose more than what you’re comfortable with. Remember, this is a stranger you do not know yet. If someone tries to fast-forward intimacy (either emotional or physical), let them know you’re interested in slowing down. If they withdraw or abruptly abandon you as a result, you have your answer: they were never interested in getting to know you. Partners who are truly interested in forming a real relationship know there is no rush in having sex or sharing personal stories – they know they will get there when a certain level of trust has already been established.

Trust actions over words, and patterns over singular actions. It’s common for sociopaths and malignant narcissists to boast about moral qualities they do not possess. They may disparage others who cheat and lie, all while committing the same acts themselves. They are very convincing. This level of deception takes a sort of conscienceless mastery. That’s why you must trust their behavioral patterns over time rather than their empty words or even a one-time action.

Sociopaths aren’t nice because they love you, like you or respect you; they are nice because they have an agenda.  As Stout writes, “Being nice would not necessarily be conscience, either. For brief periods, any reasonably clever sociopath can act with saintlike niceness for his {or her} own manipulative purposes.”

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th edition). Washington, DC.

Buttafuoco, M. J., & McCarron, J. (2009). Getting it through my thick skull: Why I stayed, what I learned, and what millions of people involved with sociopaths need to know. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.

Eddy, B. (2018, March 15). How to Spot a Sociopath in 3 Steps. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/5-types-people-who-can-ruin-your-life/201803/how-spot-sociopath-in-3-steps

Hare, R. D. (1999). Without conscience: The disturbing world of the psychopaths among us. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Kiehl, K. A., & Hoffman, M. B. (2011). The criminal psychopath: history, neuroscience, treatment, and economics. Jurimetrics, 51, 355-397.

Navarro, J., & Poynter, T. S. (2017). Dangerous personalities: An FBI profiler shows how to identify and protect yourself from harmful people. Emmaus, PA: Rodale.

Stout, M. (2006). The sociopath next door. New York: Broadway Books.

Wai, M., & Tiliopoulos, N. (2012). The affective and cognitive empathic nature of the dark triad of personality. Personality and Individual Differences,52(7), 794-799. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2012.01.008

Featured image licensed via Shutterstock.

5 Signs You Dated A Dangerous Sociopath (And Didn’t Even Know It)

Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent book, POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology. She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.


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APA Reference
Arabi, S. (2019). 5 Signs You Dated A Dangerous Sociopath (And Didn’t Even Know It). Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/recovering-narcissist/2018/12/5-signs-you-dated-a-dangerous-sociopath-or-psychopath/

 

Last updated: 3 Jan 2019
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Jan 2019
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.