Subtle Signs You’re Dating A Sociopath, According To A PhD

When you think of a sociopath, you’re probably picturing a chainsaw-wielding, bloodthirsty murderer who would run over your dog without remorse. Wrong! Martha Stout Ph.D., author of The Sociopath Next Door, claims that sociopaths are much more anonymous—and common—than that. In fact, you may very well be dating one and not even know it. Here are some of the subtler signs.

  1. He’s a little too charming. Just because he’s charming doesn’t mean he’s a sociopath (thank God), but using charm is often how sociopaths get what they want. If he wants to use you, he’ll know how to charm his way into your life: flirty late-night text messages and spontaneous, secret kisses in your family’s living room. He’s all charm and no real love. It can be difficult to tell the difference but do your best to figure it out.
  2. He’s a bad boy. This might be the most attractive quality of a sociopath. Because they have little regard for social norms, you’ll often find them driving a little too fast, being a little too forward, or lingering a little too long. Sometimes it is a part of their charm, but it’s ultimately more dangerous than just a motorcycle ride through the city. They legitimately have little regard for authority. In their minds, they are the authority.
  3. He sometimes makes you feel like the crazy one. You’ll probably only see this one in retrospect. Has he ever told you gossip he’s heard about you only to put doubts in your head? Has he ever turned your concerns about his reckless behavior into groundless insecurities? The sociopath is a master manipulator. He can make even his greatest failure somehow become your fault. He’ll make you doubt yourself, all the while justifying his every word and action.
  4. He doesn’t really seem to care about anyone else’s feelings. When he insults your mother’s chicken salad in front of her, sending her to the kitchen all teary-eyed, he just doesn’t feel that bad about it. You try to make him see how rude and insensitive he’s being but he just shrugs and says she overreacted. You might want to brush this off as “strong-willed” or “independent” but there’s a fine line between being defensive and having no remorse. His other attributes could be excusable, but this one—whether he’s a certified sociopath or not—should make you reconsider letting him in.
  5. He tries to control you. This one can be subtle. It’s not exactly the in your face, “give me the keys to your car” kind of control. It can be more like trying to isolate you from your friends, constantly asking you where you are and what you’re doing, or always dictating what happens in the bedroom. Even though you might be tempted to call this one “leadership,” remember: a good leader will support, not dominate.
  6. He’s not good at comforting you. He might be able to rub your back or agree with you when you complain about that nasty co-worker but without the ability to empathize, it’s very difficult for a sociopath to really comfort you. Not only do they often feel like your suffering means more success for them, but it can also feed their need for control.
  7. He thinks life is a game. And losing is not an option. Winning means being on top and he’ll use whatever means necessary to get there. This is where his charm comes in handy. In short, the sociopath uses people. You know someone like this. They love you when you can do something for them (like make them feel superior) and they’re indifferent when you can’t. Even though it may seem like he’s ambitious or driven, he really just wants to beat everyone around him, no matter how trustworthy he may seem at first.
  8. He’s otherwise pretty normal. According to Stout, 1 in 25 in the US is secretly sociopathic and hiding in plain site. They may seem charming, rebellious, tough, or determined, but on the inside, they lack a conscience. They don’t have that feeling inside that tells you when you’ve gone too far. In the end, it’s up to you to know what real love is and what is just an act. Whether he’s really a bad apple or just a little off, remember to follow your gut.
I'm a soon-to-be graduate of the English Lit and Writing Program at the University of Northwestern - St. Paul. I have a soon-to-be husband who I love very much as well as an affinity for soft blankets, mashed potatoes, and powerlifting.