A couple of years ago, I was working as a private investigator when I got a call from a distraught woman, who I’ll call “Jane,” about her “perfect” boyfriend.
Jane woke up one morning up to find that “John,” a struggling musician who had moved into her condo after a whirlwind three-week romance, had fled in the night, leaving behind nothing but a lame good-bye note and a huge credit-card bill.
Once I began to dig into his past, I quickly discovered that John’s boyish good looks and charm covered a sinister secret life involving a string of brokenhearted women, bad debt, and domestic-violence charges. His MO was to charm his conquests and move in fast, and then open their mail and add his name to their credit-card accounts.
Each “perfect romance” lasted about 30 days, or one billing cycle.
Jane began to wonder if her Prince Charming could be a psychopath. But she wasn’t alone: Mothers, fathers, friends, and romantic partners often ask themselves the same question when their loved one exhibits antisocial behavior, lack of empathy and narcissism.
Below are five of the most common signs that you may be living with a psychopath.
- He is superficially charming. Let’s face it: Being friends with, or dating, a psychopath can be fun — at first. And we’re not being sexist. While some women are psychopaths, rates of male psychopaths are up to 20 times higher. For the first three months, Jane’s boyfriend took her on a whirlwind of adventures including bungee jumping and an expensive ski trip (all on her credit card, of course!). Like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, everything appears to be perfect on the surface. They have the ability to fool smart and perceptive people: Author Ann Rule worked for years with serial killer Ted Bundy, and Dennis Rader (“BTK“) and John Wayne Gacy both appeared to be active and happy members of their community.
2. He enjoys deceiving and manipulating. Psychopaths are skilled at pushing emotional buttons to get what they want, and when they are caught in lies rarely show remorse. In his book Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, author Paul Babiak describes their “three-phase behavior pattern” that consists of assessment, manipulation, and abandonment. In a business or social setting, psychopaths immediately size people up to figure how useful they can be to them — and, when the usefulness (or money) has run out, they have no problem dropping their victims like hot potatoes. When they are caught in lies, they rarely show remorse.
3. He lacks empathy. Psychopaths may be deficient in the paralimbic region of the brain, which regulates emotional connection, so they are far less sensitive to emotions like fear. But many of them are great mimics, and can do a very convincing impression of a caring person. And if you call them out on their behavior, it’s not uncommon for a psychopath to tell you that he can change, if only you give him your unconditional love and support. Understanding what makes them tick won’t protect you, but may help you identify and avoid them. Much like a shark, instinct tells them to go for the kill when they smell blood. But you don’t negotiate with sharks; you jump out of the water!
4. He is quick to aggression. Psychopaths’ behavior problems often start at around 10 years of age, with aggressive outbursts and impulsive behavior. At first, their outbursts can seem totally out of character and lead the friend, lover, or coworker who has seen the 180-degree change to ask themselves, “What did I do to provoke this?” Psychopaths are master manipulators, and often use their outbursts to play the victim and make people feel sorry for them.
5. He has a grandiose sense of self. Psychopaths are opportunistic. They pursue what benefits them, even if it breaks the law. Experts say that psychopaths make up around 25 percent of criminals. In the case of John and Jane, John believed that he was special and wanted to become an instant rock star without taking years to develop his talent or work hard for it. I finally caught up with him three weeks later, when I went undercover as a talent scout and he proudly showed off the tattoo and new leather pants paid for by Jane’s AmEx. When she last spoke to him, John told Jane that he “told her what she wanted to hear” and that she should consider herself lucky for the time they spent together. In the end, she was able to get some of the charges reversed, and got a civil judgment against him for the rest. So far, he has paid her nothing — and she’s not holding her breath. In the end, after seeing the damage that psychopaths can do to the lives of the people who love them — and John’s rap sheet — she believed that getting out and losing only a few thousand dollars was a lucky escape.
To learn more about the warning signs of living with a psychopath, watch Investigation Discovery’s original series EVIL LIVES HERE, which explores the true, heart-stopping stories of people who shared a home and a life with a loved one who would become a killer. Episodes air Sunday at 10/9c.
Main image: Psychopath statistics [Investigation Discovery]