Another common question people have when they start studying psychopathic personalities is whether these people can even have friends and relationships, romantic or otherwise? Are these people able to sustain friendships and intimate relationships? Are they people who can be relied and depended on?
The short answer to this is that psychopaths are not able to maintain friendships, intimate relationships, or any kind of mutually appreciative, long term connection with others. Any relationships a psychopath enters are purely shallow, self serving and usually short term. They are incapable of valuing people for themselves and so cannot be depended on as a friend to help out in times of need.
A psychopath can appear to have some friendships and relationships, but if you look closer beneath the surface, you will find these relationships are not built on any kind of genuine connection or mutual trust, but are only being kept afloat because they are either very shallow and undemanding emotionally, or because they somehow serve the psychopath’s narcissistic needs.
If ever one of those two factors were to change, you would find the psychopath disengaging and detaching from these so called relationships just as quickly as they attached. Psychopaths do not truly connect with anyone and can very coldly, abruptly and ruthlessly drop anyone in their life who they deem is of no use to them anyone and is no longer feeding their ego.
Let’s look in more detail at the psychological features that typify psychopaths which make them incapable of forming and maintaining any true friendships or relationships.
Psychopaths Are Incapable of Empathy or True Connection
The psychopath’s lack of empathy is the first real barrier towards forming any kind of authentic connection or relationship. Put simply, this means they cannot put themselves in the emotional shoes of another and see things from their perspective.
Having this quality is self evidently fundamental to forming any kind of lasting friendship or relationship. If you can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes, how can you possibly respect their boundaries, meet their needs, and be a good friend or partner?
And indeed this is what people find who get tangled up with psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists and other personality disordered people. They are chronically self absorbed and interested only in meeting their own needs and not anyone else’s. If the two happen to temporarily coincide, then great, but the psychopath couldn’t care less about meeting someone else’s needs for the sake of kindness and courtesy.
As a caveat, psychopaths are capable of putting on the facade of caring about someone and empathizing with them when they first meet them, especially in romantic relationships, but this is entirely an act to draw someone in and get them hooked.
The psychopath isn’t really empathizing with the person, but is robotically going through the motions of telling someone what they want to hear and creating a manufactured soulmate, viewing the process with a cool, calculating detachment.
The entire process of creating the psychopathic bond is entirely fake and there is no genuine engagement from the psychopath. The entire act is for show and not real.
The lack of any real empathy in the psychopath means that sooner or later they start to turn from the idealize phase of a relationship (playing the perfect match) to the devalue and discard phases, where they start digging into the person’s boundaries, eroding their identity and self esteem with progressively more outrageous behaviour, before discarding the (often emotionally shattered) person and moving onto the next target.
This is when a relationship with a psychopath starts to diverge radically from a relationship with a normal person with normal qualities like empathy, conscience, guilt and remorse. The person caught up with the psychopath will start to on some level realize that something is seriously wrong, and they are feeling things they would not feel in a relationship with a normal person.
The psychopath will often continue to gas-light the victim into thinking nothing is wrong, or they themselves are at fault, before finally getting bored and dropping the target cold, before starting the whole process again with someone else.
Thus psychopaths can enter into relationships which appear authentic at first, and which the victim often treats as authentic, but which the psychopath themself is actually treating like a game.
They observe the entire process with a cool, amused detachment, able to build a synthetic fiction of love, empathy, trust and connection, but never actually emotionally participating in the process in a genuine way.
They are just robotically going through the motions of building a “relationship”, since they are coldly detached, master manipulators and know exactly what to do or say to get someone hooked on them, since they have usually done this process many times before with others. They know what works in reeling overly trusting and innocent people in.
Psychopaths Do Not Value People For Themselves
Another crucial aspect of the psychopathic and narcissistic personality which makes them incapable of forming real relationships or friendships is an offshoot from what we just mentioned regarding empathy.
Psychopaths view other people not as human beings, with wants and needs, but as objects to be manipulated for their own ends. They do not and cannot value people for themselves.
The way this most often shows up in relationships with psychopaths is that they will exit from a “friendship” or “relationship” very coldly and abruptly as soon as they are no longer getting out of it whatever benefit or stimulation they were getting.
They don’t care about the person themselves; they only care about material or psychological benefits they get out of being around the person.
Hence the psychopath is entering a friendship not because they value the person intrinsically for themselves, for their virtues, talents and morality, but because they see an opportunity to either get these traits for themselves, get something off the person, or else just to manipulate and destroy them out of envy.
Here are some thing a psychopath might value in a relationship:
- Getting a “buzz”, “vibe” or “energy” off the person.
- Being constantly entertained
- Constant back and forward emailing and messaging of silly banter, humor, inside jokes, funny pictures and memes and other nonsense to provide constant entertainment to the psychopath or narcissist.
- Having the good times constantly rolling, with no downsides or reality checks.
- Monetary gains, in a personal or business context
- Some trait in the person they want to have – popularity, fame, vibrancy
- A flying high sense of “OK-ness” that covers up their internal feeling of emptiness.
- An implicit agreement or understand that the other person will never confront the psychopath on their shallow, self absorbed behavior, toxic treatment of others or any of their other psychological abnormalities.
- With the psychopath or narcissist, of any of these things end, so does the “relationship”.
However, whenever any of these things the psychopath was getting out of the relationship stops for whatever reason, either intentionally or unintentionally on the part of the other person, the psychopath will quickly and coldly exit the relationship, with no remorse or guilt at all. “You’ve got nothing for me anymore, so I’m gone!” is their way of seeing it.
The excellent Unslaved Podcast on psychopaths provides a brilliant quote which sums up exactly this dynamic that demonstrates the shallowness and hedonism of the psychopathic personality. As soon as the good times stop, they’re gone in a flash:
If for whatever reason you are met with some legitimate suffering in your life, something in your family, or something is bringing you down…..you will definitely not be met with any sense of care or support from a psychopathic character.
In fact you’ll be met with the sound of bags being packed and taxis pulling up outside and ‘adios amigo’……..They don’t value you; they value the feelings that are awakened in them when they are in your presence…….You’ll find they’ll be gone from your life faster than the Roadrunner, the moment (these positive feelings they are getting off you) starts to head south.
The other person is then often left with a whole host of questions and emotional wounds, since they often were invested in the relationship emotionally, assuming there was a mutual bond there of trust and respect.
They are brought crashing back to earth as they realize the psychopath was never feeling any of these things back, but was only in the relationship for what they could selfishly get out of it and was treating the whole thing like a game.
Psychopaths Are Not Built For Long Term Relationships
Everything we have said so far of course points to the conclusion that psychopaths are not built for long term, intimate relationships. Their personalities are too shallow and self serving, and their emotional qualities too limited, to hold up any kind of genuine intimate relationship except in the most superficial, detached and unromantic of contexts.
Hence we find that psychopaths typically don’t hold up in long term relationships, in fact often bumbling from one disastrous failed relationship to another, as they either get bored or get found out and have to move on to a new target to keep the buzz going or start their emotional abuse cycle all over again.
This is so often the reason why psychopaths do their very best to isolate any new victims from anyone else from their past who may be able to contradict the false narratives and life histories they so often paint.
When more curious people do start to investigate the psychopath, they often find a trail of destruction, deception, fraud and abuse in their past which they had cleverly tried to conceal with their glib charm and smooth talking deceptiveness.
Even if they do manage to wriggle their way into a marriage for example, sooner or later the unsuspecting other half will start to realize something is off, since they will be able to sense, if not always articulate and verbalize, all the emotional deficits in the person that we have already described.
Here are some of the things we could imagine someone caught up in a long term intimate relationship or partnership of some kind with a psychopath will start to notice sooner or later:
- “This person is seriously tuned out to other people, including me. He doesn’t “get” people; he can’t put themselves in their shoes” (lack of empathy).
- “He just takes care of himself basically. He doesn’t really care about me as a person” (shallow, self absorbed, narcissistic personality).
- I’ve lent hundreds or thousands of dollars to this guy for all these “projects” he’s meant to be working on and I haven’t seen any of it back. This relationship is draining me financially”
- “I gave this guy a part of my business to look after. He was saying all the right things, seemed interested and eager. Before it was doing great, now he’s been in charge 6 months, it’s all gone completely downhill”.
- “She can sometimes tell me what I want to hear, but I can feel on some level they don’t really mean it. They’re just saying the words for the effect they’ll have” (Insincerity and glibness).
- “This guy was really charming at first, but now he’s turned. He’s digging into my boundaries in a way I’m not happy with”. (idealize-devalue-discard cycle).
- “My body is so agitated and irritated in a way it wasn’t before I met this person. I’m full of stress, anxiety and anger” (emotional abuse really stepping up)
- “I’m on constant high alert with all the drama this person creates. Something is seriously wrong here” (same as above)
- “I thought this guy was good fun at first, but he’s 35 years old and I’m starting to see that’s all he has to him. There’s nothing else there, no substance, no growth, no change. He’s just a man-child.” (Immaturity and hedonism).
- “This guy really flips and turns toxic as soon as I burst the bubble of ‘fun times’ or confront him in the slightest way” (shallowness and hedonism).
- “He’s never there to comfort or support me when I’m down. He’s only interested when the good times are rolling” (same as above)
Psychopaths May Maintain Shallow Friendships & Relationships
All this said, it is possible in some narrow circumstances for psychopaths to maintain relationships which appear to be authentic and stable over time. In general, they have to operate in such a way that they never challenge any of the psychopath’s fundamental psychological and emotional deficits.
In this sense they could be seen more as acquaintances than real friendships, since there needs to be a superficiality to the “relationship” that is sufficient for the psychopath to not see it as any kind of threat to their sense of power and control, or that the relationship is strictly hedonistic and keeps the fun times rolling.
Here are some contexts in which psychopaths could appear to sustain some kind of “friendship” or “relationship” over time:
- Relationships purely based on casual sex with no deeper commitment or demands made.
- Occasional acquaintance style relationships, with only sporadic social contact eg. meeting up twice a week for a pool team, or something similar.
- Other relationships where the psychopath is simply not around other people for long enough stretches for them to really see what they are like.
- Relationships which are purely hedonistic and based on “good times” only eg. drinking buddy. Again usually sporadic contact.
- A “hangers on” or “sycophants” dynamic, where certain gullible and easily influenced people are fully taken in by the psychopath’s glib charm and think he’s some kind of “cool dude”, constantly striving to be around them. The psychopath will tolerate these people as long as they are also worshipping them like chumps and never challenge them.
- Any other relationship dynamic which has a purely narcissistic, shallow, materialistic and hedonistic basis.
- Relationships with a hard edge to them, where there is a basis of nastiness and power games interspersed with a seemingly “pally” rapport between them. This confusing and contradictory dynamic can sometimes be seen between psychopaths and sociopaths.
Note that in all these dynamics, the psychopath again does not value the people for themselves, but only for whatever feelings, buzz, vibe or other benefit they can get out of being around the person.
If this were to change, the psychopath would drop the “friend” in an instant and move onto someone else as if nothing had happened. They don’t value people or relationships for themselves.
This in a nutshell is why psychopaths are not built for genuine, authentic, lasting friendships or intimate relationships. Any relationships which do appear to last will be very shallow and undemanding on the psychopath, and their continuance of any of these relationships is still dependent on them getting whatever benefits they demand from it.