We have already covered how to spot a psychopath in daily life, but what is the recommended response if you suspect someone in your life is a psychopath?
The standard advice from most people with experience dealing with psychopaths is to get them out of your life completely once you realize who they are. However, it is important to take one’s time in making the diagnosis, making sure you are seeing a consistent set of psychopathic traits in the person over time.
Psychopaths cannot be diagnosed on a whim and you should consult multiple resources before coming to a decision. However, once you are confident you are dealing with one, then realizing that they will never change their behavior makes the next step of getting away from them very clear.
Most people get confused dealing with psychopaths since they don’t fully understand what they are dealing with. Reading up on them and understanding their nature makes getting away from them much easier, since you now know what you are up against. Let’s look at the issue in more detail.
Some experts discuss the nature of psychopaths in daily life
Take Your Time Making the Diagnosis
Firstly, it is very important to read up on psychopathy and personality disorders if you think you are dealing with a toxic person, but never to rush to hasty diagnoses regarding psychopathy or other conditions.
Our Resources page has some excellent books and videos to get the reader started on this. However, it is a good idea to really go into detail in studying psychopathy and not just one or two sources before coming to any conclusions.
You may also want to seek the help of a qualfied therapist. You may actually be dealing with a narcissist or borderline personality, or some other disorder, and it can be very important to discuss behavior patterns you are seeing with someone trained in the field so you identify what you are actually dealing with.
A psychopath can only be spotted over time and almost never on first impressions. Even the experts who have spend their entire careers studying, profiling and interviewing psychopaths admit that they cannot spot them right away. World renowned expert Robert Hare put it like this:
“People might assume that because I’ve been working on this concept of psychopathy for so long, that I can spot them from 100 paces and the answer is that I can’t. I’m no better at it than most other people.
You cannot determine to what extent someone might be psychopathic simply by looking at them, even talking with this person for 5, 10 or 20 minutes. Sometimes it may take 6 months or a year. The problem……. is that we continue to evaluate people the way they appear to us”
Dr Robert Hare
Similarly, it is important not to fall into the trap of making the diagnosis of psychopathy on just a few unpleasant traits, or them being in a bad mood some days. People can be abrasive, difficult, narcissistic and selfish but it doesn’t mean they are psychopathic.
True psychopathy runs deeper than someone being a bit abrasive and moody at times. It is a state of wilfull malevolence and fully conscious and intentional manipulation of others for their own ends.
To make the diagnosis of full psychopathy in professional studies, there needs to be a clustering of psychopathic traits, not just one or a few. The Hare Psychopathy Checklist is the definitive resource on this. Just because a person has some psychopathic traits, doesn’t mean they are a full blown psychopath.
Therefore it is important to make sure you are observing multiple, persistent psychopathic traits in the person over time to be sure you are dealing with one. See our own checklist for some traits to look out for, like dishonesty, lack of empathy, glib charm and so on. They can be great actors but will always give themselves away over time by displaying a predictable set of character traits which never leave them.
Seeing toxic sides to their character which are at odds with the charming persona they initially bombarded you with, and also finding out things about their past which don’t match up with what they have been telling you, are two huge red flags here. Projection of blame and gas-lighting are two more patterns which start to show up once the honeymoon phase is over.
Whilst it is important to take your time making the diagnosis, it is equally important to make a decision once you have seen enough evidence to be sure you are dealing with a seriously toxic person here. It is about finding a balance between observing the person’s behavior for long enough but also trusting your own judgement and instinct once you have seen enough from them.
This can be the tricky part for many victims, since psychopaths are masters of manipulation and confusion, and can turn any situation around to blame the other person and get themselves off the hook.
They start to gaslight the person into thinking nothing is wrong, and over time the person becomes so accustomed to the twisted reality the psychopath has trapped them in that they start to think it’s normal. They can’t see the forest for the trees anymore.
This is why it is important to seek outside support and advice if you are really enmeshed with a psychopath and have been for a while. You may have a feeling inside you that something is seriously wrong but have been so gaslighted and invalidated for so long that you don’t have any belief in your own perception anymore.
Our Resources page also has some good books and videos to help you out here. Just reading some literature on the subject and realizing there are names for some of the abusive dynamics psychopaths engage in, like gaslighting and identity erosion, can be extremely cathartic and validating.
Do Not Try to Change Them
Absolutely top of the list of traps to avoid with psychopaths is to never waste time or energy trying to reason with them and get them to change their ways. This is completely futile and only enmeshes you with them further psychologically. They know full well what they are doing and are doing it on purpose.
They are able to fake sincerity and warmth very well. They can put on a terrific performance to seem genuine and tug on your heartstrings. Do not be taken in by it. They are just acting for you, observing your weaknesses to use against you later on.
Some psychopaths never admit wrongdoing and straight away try to gas-light their victim into believing nothing is wrong or they are the ones at fault, not the psychopath. Others fake sincerity and contrition for something, but only as a part of a game they are playing with the victim to gain their trust.
They may seem as though they are listening to you, taking on board what you have to say, acknowledging how their behaviour is unacceptable. Internally though, they are smirking, just acting their way through the situation with a cool detachment.
Sometimes this smirking will will even leak out externally – see our article on duping delight. They couldn’t care less about anything you might be upset about. It’s all a game to them.
The more observant psychopath can understand intellectually that other people consider certain things right or wrong, like stealing, cheating, lying and so on. But they don’t actually have this moral barometer inside themselves. Acting morally and ethically is entirely optional for them. They will do it if a serves a purpose but couldn’t care less about being a good person for it’s own sake.
Once people who are caught up with a psychopath in their life realize this fundamental truth about them, it becomes much easier to stop trying to change them and “drop” them psychologically and move on. This is absolutely necessary for the sanity of the victim as trying to change a psychopath just leads to more hurt.
An experience with a psychopath can be a brutal wake up call for people for those of us who previously believed all people were basically good. We learn that some people are not wired normally like the rest of humanity and are uncurably stuck the way they are.
Although learning this lesson is painful, we move out into the world with our eyes open from then on that incurably toxic people do exist among us. We are more observant and sharper in the way we judge people’s character and integrity. We don’t fall for the glib, superficial charm so common in psychopaths anymore. We look past the surface more in people we meet.
This follows on from the last conclusion, but still needs stating explicitly. Since a psychopath is never going to change their behavior, victims caught in the midst of them need to get away as soon as possible and stay away.
This means taking steps to exit personal relationships with them, and seeking a new job if the psychopath is in your work environment. Do not hang around thinking the psychopath is suddenly going to have a wake up call and change their ways. They will just carry on the way they are.
Therefore the victim needs to exit these toxic relationships as quickly as possible, since staying in them only guarantees their self esteem and identity are going to be chipped away at further. The sooner they get away, the sooner they can start to recover.
People caught up in these relationships can find it difficult to find the motivation to get out, especially if depression and low self esteem have started to hit with all the psychopath’s covert and overt abuse. It becomes difficult to muster the motivation to do anything in our spare time. Getting out can just feel too overwhelming.
However, if the person wants to return to any kind of sanity and balance, they have to make a concerted effort to get the psychopath out of their life, however gradually. Seek some kind of external support and break the exit down into tiny gradual steps if this is what you need to do.
Of course if children or financial commitments are involved then the situation can be more tricky, but any other situation where you don’t have to be around this person and there is nothing holding you back from leaving, then you must leave. Move out, break off all contact. Send your CV out to other companies. Keep taking steps every day, however small, to get them out of your life.
But always be working towards an exit with a psychopath since we already know they will not change. You need to be realistic in your perceptions and expectations in order to make the right choices here. The behavior you have been seeing from them is only going to continue or get worse; never better.
It is totally possible to recover from psychopathic abuse, but never while they are still in your life. The sooner you can cut them off, the sooner you can start to re-ground yourself and rebuild your self esteem and identity. Getting away is the crucial first step to recovery once you realize you have a psychopath in you life.