Much is written about the relationship psychopaths have to emotion, if any. See our own article on the topic. However, lets narrow this down to a specific emotional question – is it ever possible for psychopaths to fall in love with someone? Can they love someone in the way normal people do?
The short answer to this question is that psychopaths cannot fall in love or love someone in the way normal people do. Their limited or absent emotional range, lack of empathy and self absorbed personality make this impossible. They are however able to temporarily mimic and simulate love and loving relationships as a way of concealing themselves and manipulating others.
Another reason why psychopaths are incapable of entering true loving relationships is that they are unable to value people for themselves, but only for the feelings, energy, or excitement they can get off them. Whenever the fun stops for a psychopath, the relationship ends, since there is nothing else they can get out of it.
This is why psychopaths are known for dropping people in relationships coldly and suddenly, and very quickly and easily moving onto someone else without any emotional hangups. The psychopath only ever sees people as objects to be manipulated and used for their own gratification, and can never value or love people for their intrinsic qualities and virtues.
Let’s look in more detail as the different aspects of the psychopathic personality which make them utterly incapable of ever truly falling in love or loving someone else.
Psychopaths Have a Limited or Absent Emotional Range
The main barrier to a psychopath falling in love is simply that they struggle to feel any authentic emotions, including love. They have a severely limited – and in the more extreme cases completely absent – emotional range, which simply means they do not feel normal emotions like love, happiness, or sadness like the rest of us.
A psychopath also has no ability to empathize, which is a crucial aspect of any authentic loving relationship. They cannot feel another person’s feelings or put themself in another’s shoes, which along with their other characteristics like glibness, shallowness, deceptiveness and manipulativeness, means they are simply not built for long term intimate relationships.
This is why psychopaths often do all they can to hide their past from others, since if one does delve into it deeper, you will often find a long list of short and catastrophic relationships, as they bumble on from one person to the next, hiding in each relationship as long as they can before they are inevitably “found out” and have to move on.
Psychopaths Can Simulate Love And Other Emotions
However, that does not mean that a psychopath cannot temporarily fool someone into thinking they are in a loving relationship. They are actually very good at this. They are master manipulators and can very quickly sniff out someone’s likes, dislikes, weaknesses, vanities, annoyances and so on.
This means they can very quickly say all the right things to get a person to think there is a loving relationship there. They can very quickly find out, not just the right things to say, but the right things to say for you individually, to get you hooked and enchanted, thinking you have found the perfect match.
Jackson Mackenzie describes this process as the creation of a manufactured soulmate – see our Resources section for links to his excellent books. The psychopath is robotically creating an image or persona of just the right person you wanted to meet, the perfect partner that no one can match.
They will walk and talk in rhythm with you, finish your sentences, read your mind, play the perfect match. It will seem like you’ve found “the one”. It is important to realize the psychopath is not feeling any of this back, but is merely treating the whole process like a game, since they have practised this method so many times before it has become second nature.
This is known in the recovery space as the idealize phase of a toxic relationship, where the psychopath or narcissist is playing the role they need to gain your trust, setting you up for the devalue and discard stages further down the line.
Creating Fake Love With The Psychopathic Bond
Just because a psychopath cannot truly fall in love with someone, it does mean that an unsuspecting victim cannot fall in love the fake image a psychopath has projected to reel them in. This happens plenty of times, and in fact is exactly the game a psychopath loves to play, getting a person hooked on the idea of an image of them and a relationship “bliss” which is entirely fake and does not exist.
Psychopaths use a combination of glib charm, guaging and feeling people out, telling them what they want to hear, and playing the perfect match, to create a strong psychopathic bond with their victims.
The target may have fallen head over heels for this carefully projected image of the psychopath, but the psychopath is never really in love with them, and views the entire process with a cool, amused detachment, as a game they are playing with the latest victim.
Psychologist Paul Babiak perfectly sums up this dynamic of a psychopath creating the illusion of a two way, mutually loving relationship which is actually only ever one way and which the psychopath simply sees as a game. They are masters at creating powerful bonds which people find addictive, but which are entirely fake and synthetic:
“Once you’re in the psychopathic bond, you don’t want to break it. And it often amazes the friends who are watching from outside. “You’re still with him?”. Or “Can’t you see?” is very common. And they really can’t see, because of the strength of the bond that’s been built.
Now when the psychopath is done with you, they leave. They’ve never had a bond with you, it’s all been a game. And so they just stop playing and move on to the next target. You’re left with all these open wounds, because you thought you had a relationship with this person……
And that’s the psychological and emotional abuse of a psychopath – feeling no empathy, no remorse or no guilt, just moves on to the next target.”
Paul Babiak, psychologist – see here
This quote perfectly describes just why these relationships with psychopaths can be so damaging. The victim has to come to terms with some brutal realities, like the fact that what they thought was a loving relationship was just a fake game the psychopath was playing, that the psychopath never loved them, and the image of the person that they fell in love with was a completely simulated fraud which had no basis in reality.
These are some very difficult things to come to terms with, and this is one reason why these kind of relationships can take so long to get over for victims.
A psychopath’s inability to really love can also destroy other people’s ability to love, trust and feel happiness, as survivors can take years to recover their self respect and get their ability to trust and love back. The psychopath’s toxicity literally infects the lives of everyone they come into contact with on a regular basis like a virus.
Psychopaths Only Value Experiences and Stimulation, Not People
Another huge barrier to a psychopath ever truly and authentically falling in love is simply that they are incapable of valuing people for themselves, and only instead values the feelings, experiences and “buzz” they get when they are around people. Psychopaths are empty and dead inside and therefore constantly need human contact; they need the world to turn them on to feel any kind of stimulation.
This is what psychopaths are looking for in human interaction, not true love, where someone is valued for their positive traits or virtues. A psychopath couldn’t care less about this. They want to get the party started, get the “buzz” going, have constant stimulation and immersion in life to cover up their emptiness.
This may seem to go slightly against what we said earlier about psychopaths not feeling emotions, but we should emphasize that some psychopaths can feel, but only to a very limited and narrow degree. Their emotional range is stunted and narrow at best, and so they need constant top ups of “buzz”, “vibe” and “energy” from others to feel any sense of aliveness. They are unable to give meaning to their own existence.
Conversely, this also means that in any relationship where for whatever reason the supply of this stimulation stops, you will find they very quickly disengage and detach with no apparent remorse, guilt or sadness.
This is because they were never in love with the person; they were only in love with whatever feelings and excitement they could get out of the relationship when they were around the person.
This relates to what we said above about the psychopathic bond, and again explains why relationships with them can end so abruptly and painfully. The psychopath wasn’t getting the buzz and vibe they wanted off the other person anymore; therefore the other person was no longer any use to them and it was time to move on.
The painful discard comes, where the psychopath drops them cold and moves on to the next target, often flaunting the new person in the old person’s face to rub it in.
The unsuspecting victim thought they were in a real relationship and valued the psychopath; the psychopath only valued the feelings and buzz they could get out of the relationship and never cared about the person for themselves.
As soon as the buzz ended, they were gone in a flash, leaving the other person with all these questions and wounds, as they thought there was mutual valuing and respect there.
This is why to avoid getting tangled up with these types of people, we strongly recommend people find ways to test for this fundamental difference between a person valuing you for yourself, or only for the feelings and “buzz” they can get when they are around you. There is a huge difference there and being able to discern between the two will allow you to spot authentic relationships from inauthentic ones.
See our article on what psychopaths value in a relationship for more on this.