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How to Protect Yourself from a Psychopath

Three Parts:Ending a Relationship with a PsychopathDealing with a PsychopathUnderstanding the Mind of a Psychopath

A psychopath is someone who suffers from a personality disorder called psychopathy. This personality disorder is characterized by a lack of empathy, fearlessness, and uninhibited behavior. A psychopath is unable to understand the emotions of others, or place themselves in another person’s point of view. They also do not react normally to fear or anxiety like normal individuals. This results in someone who doesn’t care about others. In order to defend against people like this, you will need healthy levels of skepticism, understand the disorder, and know what to do if you are in a current relationship with a psychopath. To start protecting yourself, begin with Step 1 below.

Part 1
Ending a Relationship with a Psychopath

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    If you’re in any kind of relationship with a psychopath, end it. One of the best things you can do for yourself is terminate the relationship with this person. This may seem harsh, but keep in mind that psychopaths rarely have friends for the sake of friendship. If terminating the relationship is not an option, try to begin distancing yourself from the relationship. This can be done by being busy when called or simply not doing as many activities with this person as you used to.
    • Think of this as cutting your losses. The psychopath may succeed in breaking you down emotionally but you don’t have to keep them in your life – there are ways out. Your emotional and physical survival may require that you take charge of your life by closing off contact with this person.
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    If you are in a romantic relationship, be careful when ending things. Suddenly breaking off the relationship could send your partner into a rage, making them turn to violence. For breaking up with a psychopath, it’s best to do it over the phone or Internet. In this case a less personal break up could save your life or prevent bodily harm.
    • Get your friends involved. Make sure that they know you are having trouble in your relationship, are trying to leave, and that your partner has a proclivity towards violence. Keep them close by or on speed dial so that you can make a quick escape if needed.
    • Don't succumb to guilt. Breaking off a relationship with someone is never easy. When in a relationship with a psychopath, minimize the relationship and its importance to yourself. Realize that you are not abandoning them in their time of need; you are just protecting yourself.
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    Listen to your instincts. Fear is a natural instinct that you should listen to. This emotion is a protective human response that can save you from life threatening situations. Listen to your body especially when fearful; this will allow you to get out of or avoid dangerous situations. It doesn't make you a coward or make you unwilling to try – it means you're being intuitive and smart.
    • Trust your gut. How does this relationship make you feel? Odds are it makes you feel fearful and like you're walking on eggshells – for good reason. Listen to this feeling. No relationship should make you afraid. If the idea of interacting with this person fills you with dread, this is a signal from your brain to get out. This person is hurting you. Never second guess what your mind and body are trying to tell you.
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    Don’t blame yourself. Whatever your reasons for involvement with a psychopath, it is important that you don’t accept blame for their attitudes and behavior. They are very charming individuals that know how to get exactly what they want. They are willing to weave a web of lies to get everyone – not just you – thinking and doing what they want. Realize that you had no way of knowing. If it weren't you, it'd be someone else. This has everything to do with them and their egregious behavior and nothing to do with you.
    • Cutting this person off in your life may make you feel like you're being unnecessarily harsh. Remind yourself that leaving them, not making an effort in the relationship, is nothing you should feel guilty for. You have to protect yourself, first and foremost. Realize that there is no blaming for being with this person or for leaving them, either.
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    Seek out a strong support system. By the time your suspicions lead you to seek a diagnosis, you have likely been with this person for a while. Make sure you have all the support you can get from family and friends and seek out support groups that are devoted to helping victims of crime. Talk to your loved ones for support and keep them close. You’ll need strength to get through this tumultuous time.
    • There are many websites out there about psychopaths that even track their locations and behavior. You have resources at your disposal. There are entire communities dedicated to the same thing you are fighting.

Part 2
Dealing with a Psychopath

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    Be skeptical of everything the psychopath says and does. Psychopaths lie, manipulate, lack empathy, and use others to get what they want. When dealing with this person, never take what they're saying or doing at face value. Skepticism can be maintained by not believing everything you are told, read, or even see; they're probably doing it for their own benefit. When dealing with someone you suspect as being a psychopath, examine all their behavior through this lens.
    • Consider the source of your information. Is this person trustworthy? Does the story line up with their conclusions? Is the information being given taken out of context? These are all questions you can ask yourself when concerned about the validity of information or even the person themselves.
    • Think about this person coming to you with juicy gossip. Examine why the person might tell you this information and what they may gain by spreading this gossip. What's in it for them? With psychopaths, there's always something.
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    Always double-check their story. Whenever possible, grab a friend, coworker, or do a quick Internet search to verify what you're being told. Even if the tale is believable, the lying tendencies of a psychopath make room for plausible doubt. Think of the details: are there are any timing “coincidences?” Does the person have any motivation to lie? Are words possibly being twisted? When you can, find another source to verify the information to see if it all adds up.
    • When you don't have the opportunity to double-check, listen to your gut. Does the story seem likely? Is it possible the story, or a part of it, is a lie? Psychopaths often don’t have any concerns about lying to others, whether it be white lies or tall tales.
    • This skepticism is also important to use because psychopaths tend to use people as a means to an end. They may need (or want) money and lie in order to get you to loan them money or otherwise fulfill their wishes. They'll feed off the guilt you feel for not being loving and helpful if you don't comply.
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    Be on the lookout for power struggles. Psychopaths have a strong need for psychological and physical control over others. They must be in charge and will use charm, intimidation, manipulation, and violence to maintain power. In a power struggle, a psychopath will usually focus on winning no matter the cost. This means that standing up for your rights will be difficult and risk serious emotional or physical trauma. When you see it coming, don't engage. Look the other way to let this person know you're not willing to play this game.
    • Set firm ground rules to avoid being taken advantage of. This can make life easier if you absolutely must interact with this person on a regular basis. This could, for example, mean not bailing the individual out of trouble in the future. They must know there are consequences to their behavior and there are things you will not tolerate.
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    Don’t lend anything to this person. If this person asks you for something, try to make a reasonable excuse without making them angry. Otherwise, they will likely look for a chance to harm you (not necessarily physically) for not obeying them. Convince them you are not able to fulfill their demands.
    • Psychopaths are notoriously bad for having debts. They often fail to pay back them, making little to no effort. Because of this, never lend a psychopath money unless you realize you are giving it to them for good.
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    Be incredibly tolerant and patient. If you’re in a situation where a psychopath is in your life for good, in order to keep yourself protected, you need to have an extraordinary amount of tolerance and patience. You will have to compromise a hundred times over in every situation. Standing up to this person and fighting with their opinions and beliefs will do you no good. Avoid them as much as possible. When you can’t avoid them, pay their words little mind.
    • The psychopath is incredibly self-centered. They only think about their own benefits. They only give importance to their own ideas. Even if they take all your money, it won’t occur to them that they are ruining you financially. In dealing with them, you’ll need to realize that they are like a child, not realizing the outer world exists.
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    Don’t be fooled by their charm. One of the primary characteristics of psychopathy is that they are very charismatic and likable on the surface. Often, psychopaths draw people in by being likeable on the surface, masking their true intentions. However, psychopaths are notorious for lying and being unreliable. As the friendship moves forward, you may notice that you can’t depend on the suspected psychopath. Understand that this charm and likability is what they often use to lure people to them.
    • Concentrate on seeing through this charm to the individual underneath. What are they like when they’re not “on?” How does their lying and lack of reliability reflect on their supposed “charm?” Who are they really when you get down to brass tacks?
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    Keep your own weakness hidden. This allows you to safeguard emotional areas that may come under attack when in a relationship with a psychopath. There will be areas of your life that you do not want to expose to a psychopath in order to avoid manipulation. They can latch onto these weaknesses and never let go. Everyone has them; knowing this, the psychopath relies on them to manipulate those around him. Don't give him this advantage by being self-aware and strong.
    • Say you’re incredibly insecure about your weight. If a psychopath knows this, they can use this to their advantage. If they want you to stay home with them on a Friday night instead of going out with your friends, they’ll say something like, “Oh, but you’ll just end up eating junk all night and feeling terrible about yourself because you feel fat.” You wind up staying in, being depressed about it, and they get what they want.

Part 3
Understanding the Mind of a Psychopath

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    Be confident you’re dealing with a psychopath. In order to technically be a psychopath, this person needs to be an adult. However, some symptoms might become evident around the age of 15. Look for the following signs or symptoms:
    • Fraudulence
    • Irresponsible work behavior
    • Manipulating others for personal benefits
    • Aggression to people
    • Destruction of property
    • Violation of rules
    • Malingering
    • Lacking empathy
    • Repeatedly telling lies with no shame
    • Impulsivity
    • Negligence towards their own child and family
    • Little or no remorse on the consequences of their behavior
    • Superficial rationalization for their acts
    • Financial irresponsibility
    • May harm themselves and others
    • Arrogant self-appraisal
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    Know that to a psychopath, all relationships are a means to an end. They rarely have friends for the social enrichment of their life. There is usually something they want, need, or are getting out of the relationship. If you provide no use to them, they will not seek out a friendship or relationship with you.
    • This has nothing to do with your worth and everything to do with how they view the entire world. They don’t see people as valuable humans who can make life better. They see others as objects to be used, manipulated, and enjoyed.
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    Keep in mind that psychopaths have a tremendous capacity for anger and violence. They may often overreact to daily annoyances and can sometimes become violent. To a psychopath, a friendship, kinship, or any type of relationship does not mean the same thing as it means to others. Even those who profess their love for someone can turn around and hurt them emotionally or violently.
    • Their caring is not based in love, but more in the possession of having a relationship. For a psychopath, love is not experienced in the same way as most of us experience it. Love to them just means strong feelings of attachment and this results in relationships being superficial or possessive in nature.
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    Know what you are dealing with. This is easier said than done; psychopaths are masters at manipulation. Psychopaths are found in every segment of society and there is a good chance that eventually you will have an encounter with one. Your best defense is to understand the nature of this condition.
    • Don’t expect dramatic changes. The personalities of psychopaths are relatively stable and attempts at treatment in adulthood have not been very successful. This person is likely going to be this way for the rest of his or her life.
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    Know that psychopaths are not evil. Many people believe that someone who does such terrible things must be evil. However, in reality the world is never so cut and dry. Psychopaths do bad things because they do not interpret right and wrong the same way you do. They conceptually understand what society says is right and wrong but internally they do not feel that those bad things deemed by society are actually wrong.
    • It’s also important to understand that they may not mean to hurt you. As discussed earlier, many psychopaths use people as a way to get things. Despite wanting to take all your money they may not realize that could financially ruin you. It’s about them – they don’t understand or care what will happen to you. However, this does not mean they are not responsible for their behavior and that it’s something you have to put up with. It’s still not right.
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    Know that not all psychopaths are violent. While there is potential for violence as stated earlier, there are successful psychopaths who are able to live and function in mainstream society. They will often exhibit their personality in different ways, like being especially ruthless at work. These psychopaths should still be dealt with incredibly carefully. Just because they're not physically violent doesn't mean they don't have the potential for mental or emotional damage to others.
    • In the end, every person's condition manifests in different ways. No two psychopaths will be exactly alike. However, they all have manipulative tendencies and can be incredibly ruthless when it comes to dealing with others. Always, regardless, proceed with caution.


  • People belonging to very high and very low socioeconomic class may have this disorder because of having only positive and only negative response respectively.

Sources & Citations

  • Comer, J. R. (2008). “Abnormal psychology”. (7th Ed.) Princeton University Press, pp.518-523.
  • Taylor, S. E. (2006). “Health Psychology” (6th Ed.), New York; Mc Graw Hill.
  • "The Handbook of Psychopathy" edited by Chris Patrick
  • "Without a Conscience" by Dr. Robert Hare
  • "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin De Becker
  • "The Mask of Sanity" by Dr. Hervey Cleckley

Article Info

Categories: Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions | Personality Disorders