“Almost every day, people who join our forum, they say ‘why did I stay in this for so long? How could I have been so stupid?’
The way that emotional abuse works is that it targets our most vulnerable human emotions in a way that – unless you’re aware what’s happening when you’re in the cycles of it – all it does is make a more and more intense bond ”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here.
The psychopathic bond is a term you will sometimes hear in the research and recovery literature. It refers to the powerful emotional connection and bond psychopaths are often able to elicit from their victims. How do they create this bond and what makes it so powerful?
Psychopaths are very adept at bombarding people with charm and giving them exactly what they want psychologically when they first meet them. They are able to present themselves to you as the perfect friend, lover, employee or business partner and by putting on this act they often draw victims into an bond they don’t want to leave despite clear evidence they should.
The crucial thing for people to realize in this regard is that the relationship and the bond is only ever one way, from the victim to the psychopath and never vice versa. Psychopaths are incapable of truly connecting with anyone and see relationships merely as a game or an opportunity to get something for themselves.
Psychopaths can offer a kind of synthetic bliss or perfection in relationships as a way of taking people in and gaining their trust, but this is always fake and victims sooner or later will see this mask of sanity slip and the darker sides of their character will come out and demonstrate this person is not the perfect partner they presented themselves to be.
Crucial to breaking free of these psychopathic bonds and removing the psychopath from your life is realizing them for what they are and absorbing as much information as possible on the subject of psychopathic personalities.
There are now clear terms and concepts in the recovery literature that can help people stuck in these relationships and stepping back and “seeing the wood for the trees” is the crucial first step in untangling from toxic relationships. Let’s look at the issue in more detail below.
Psychologist Paul Babiak discusses the psychopathic bond.
How The Psychopathic Bond is Created
Psychopaths create this powerful bond in their victims through the same way they achieve most of their other goals in life – through manipulation. One good framework through which to look at this dynamic is the idealize-devalue-discard pattern that most psychopathic relationships follow. See Jackson Mackenzie’s book Psychopath Free on Amazon for a good breakdown of this dynamic.
The idealize phase is the most relevant here is describing how the psychopathic bond is created. In this phase the psychopath is showering you with warmth, charm and affection. “Love bombing” is also another phrase that is used in the context of romantic relationships. They just seem like the perfect friend or partner who can do no wrong.
What the psychopath is actually doing is creating a manufactured soulmate, or a synthetic clone of the perfect friend or partner. They will walk and talk in step with you, mirror your every move, finish your sentences and it will seem as though you have found someone who “understands” you perfectly.
In this stage of the relationship it will seem like you are “flying high” and there is no one better for you in the world. The psychopath is seemingly in tune with everything you do and say and this is where the psychopathic bond is created. In fact all the psychopath is doing is observing you, following a set pattern of manipulation they have used before on others to create this illusion of perfection in the relationship.
The Addictive Nature of the Psychopathic Bond
Another way of looking at how psychopaths form this bond is that they can give you something a little bit extra that you cannot find in a normal relationship. They can create an initial sense of bliss and perfection that you cannot get, at least not immediately, from a relationship that is actually built on more solid, authentic ground.
This can take a number of different forms, but the general underlying principle is that they can amplify and supercharge the initial positive feelings positive feelings you get from the relationship in the early stages. The constant motif is the sense of a little bit more, or a little bit extra of something they can provide. A couple of examples could be:
- If a normal person exudes warmth or charm towards a person they are growing to like, a psychopath will give you more warmth or charm, that little bit extra.
- If you feel OK or good in yourself when around normal people, a psychopath can make you feel perfect, 10 feet tall, again that little bit extra.
- A normal person may start to become somewhat attuned to you as you start to click and “vibe” in a relationship or friendship. A psychopath will perfectly attune to you, walk and talk in step with you and seem to be the perfect partner or friend. They seem to do this very quickly.
The sense here is that they are giving you something a little bit extra that you cannot get from a normal, healthy relationship. They are supercharging the positive feelings you get and it is this aspect which can make the psychopathic bond they are forming with you so powerful and addictive. They are providing a kind of “counterfeit gold” psychologically that you can’t get from most other relationships.
This explains why so many people caught in psychopathic relationships are strangely addicted to them despite the obvious downsides and can find it very difficult to leave. They have become hooked on this “little bit extra” that the psychopath provides them. Psychologist Paul Babiak explains this dynamic very well in the embedded documentary above, see the 16 minute mark:
“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.
It is the second part of this quote that brings people back to down to earth and acts as a reality check regarding this sense of perfection the psychopath is able to create with this bond. Whenever it suits, they will drop the person and move on to someone else. The entire process is fake and manufactured by the psychopath and has no authenticity to it.
This is the devalue and discard stages of the toxic relationship, where the psychopath starts to emotionally abuse and undermine the target, and then discards them and moves on to someone else. The victim is often left with a whole host of emotional problems as a result but the psychopath couldn’t care less. They were never invested in the person for themselves and the whole relationship was a fraud.
In some psychopaths this may be a carefully planned and pre-meditated process; in others it may just symptomatic of their tendency to get easily bored since no person or thing can actually ever make them happy inside themselves.
They project their own internal inadequacies and misery onto the other person and believe it must be their fault they are chronically unhappy, and so move on to find someone else.
It is important to slow down and take a step back if you are getting a “flying high” feeling from someone you have only just met. Often this is a deliverate tactic a psychopath will use to get you to lower your guard.
Intensifying the Bond With Mean-Sweet Cycles
Another way of looking at the dynamics of emotional abuse psychopaths engage in to understand the idea of “mean-sweet” cycles of treatment they often engage in. This can be seen as another way of restating what we have already said about reeling someone in and slowly withdrawing emotionally, but the mean-sweet term can be another way of posing the dynamics of toxic abuse.
As the relationship turns toxic later on, the psychopath often likes to alternate between really kind, sweet treatment and really cruel, harsh or cold treatment. They do this with increasing regularity and severity. The idea is to wear down your self esteem and emotional resilience as you start to think there is something wrong with you, when in fact the psychopath had planned these “flips” all along
The volatile, alternating pattern of it starts to become distressing for the victim, but can also make the bond you have with them more intense if you are not aware of the tactic, hence the quote we put in at the top of the post.
Breaking the Psychopathic Bond
The powerful and addictive nature of the psychopathic bond means it is often very difficult to break. Psychopaths are extremely manipulative and often very clever and predatory people, and they know exactly how to lock a person in psychologically to a relationship.
Their manipulative nature means they know exactly what to do or say to you individually to reel you in. The same goes for the next person they move onto, and the one after that as well. They can customize and tailor the act they put on for each new person very well, since they are very good at picking up “cues” from a person very quickly, learning what their strengths, weaknesses and vanities are.
The first step is to arm oneself with as much knowledge as possible about psychopaths and the manipulative tactics they use. Our Resources page offers links to some fantastic books and videos on the subject that will provide you with everything you need to spot and deal with psychopaths.
This is an important step since victims of psychopaths caught up in this bond will often sense that something is wrong, but can’t quite define it or put their finger on it. There is often a conflict or dissonance inside them since they are hooked on the highs the psychopath gives them but are also starting to see the lows of the unpleasant behaviour and the emotional abuse tactics.
Having concrete phrases and terms that the literature now provides on all the manipulative tactics psychopaths use, such as gas-lighting, identity erosion, idealize-devalue-discard, love bombing, manufactured soulmate, mean-sweet cycles and so on can be very helpful in allowing the victim to stand back and clearly see and define what is actually going on.
It allows them to actually lock down, and put into words something that may have only been a growing sense of unease about the relationship they couldn’t quite pin down or define until now. Having explanations, terms and concepts can be very comforting and cathartic and the first step in seeing past the marsipan topping and seeing the psychopath for who they really are.
Another important thing for potential victims to take responsibility for is making sure they have a realistic view on relationships and what to expect out of them. Of course the psychopath themself is 100% responsible for the evil they commit towards others but the rest of us must still be realistic and not be seduced by the initial barrage of charm and charisma a psychopath can fool people with.
If you are getting this kind of feeling out of a relationship it is important to take a step back, especially if this is someone you have only just recently met. Real, authentic relationships take time to build and a lot of work to maintain and so if someone seems to be selling you a kind of “counterfeit gold” or shortcut to a perfect relationship without you seeming to need to put in any work then it is important to not be taken in by this.
As the saying goes “If it looks (or feels) too good to be true, then it probably is”. Some people can of course can be naturally vibrant and charming but the important thing is to slow down if you are getting this “flying high” feeling and observe the person’s broader character traits and behaviour over time.
That way you can distinguish from genuine people who are charismatic and charming from manipulative psychopaths who are out to con and deceive others. Our Checklist page is a good place to start on this in terms of certain traits and patterns to look out for. The Unslaved Podcast on the topic is also a brilliant resource in juxtaposing the traits of strong, virtuous, authentic people against those of the psychopath.
Jackson Mackenzie’s Psychopath Free is an excellent resource on abusive relationship dynamics, as it The Empathy Trap by Jane and Tim McGregor. For psychopaths in the work place, the definitive resource is Robert Hare and Paul Babiak’s Snakes in Suits. See our Resources page for links to all these books as well as more excellent resources on being able to spot psychopaths and identify and break free from toxic relationships.