But within weeks, maybe months, something is off. He becomes distant, controlling or starts using you for money or favors. You discover he’s been lying to you — almost constantly. Maybe you discover a secret life of drugs, other women, addiction, debt, maybe even a whole second family you knew nothing about. If you’re involved with a psychopath, sociopath or narcissist, you’ll probably uncover a whole other person — someone completely the opposite of what he originally presented.
How did this happen to you?
Getting involved with someone who has a personality disorder can happen to anyone, so don’t blame yourself. Psychopaths are not usually serial killers. They are people who wreak havoc in their personal relationships because they have little to no empathy or regard for others, have no guilt and very little or no conscience, and do not fear repercussions like others do.
But they can also play into every fantasy that women tend to have about instantly finding a soulmate who completes them in every way. Society primes women for such fantasies — and unfortunately those fantasies can explode into a very slimy reality.
There are certain traits that a woman can have that make her more attractive as a target for a psychopath. And they may not be traits you would have thought of, for they are generally traits that women aspire to — positive traits that unfortunately, in the hands of a psychopath or other antisocial individual, are turned against her.
1. High empath
Those with antisocial disorders (psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists) are low empaths — in other words, they don’t care about anyone except themselves. It leaves no imprint on their conscience to use and abuse. Conversely, their victims are often high empaths or emotionally sensitive people. Women like this truly care and hurt when others are in trouble or pain. They may cry easily at heart-tugging commercials. They are often in helping industries such as nursing or social work.
Psychopaths love these types of women because their inherent caring makes them not give up easily, especially after the psychopath begins exhibiting disturbing behavior. While someone who is not so sensitive may run from a man who starts to show signs of addiction, aggression or lying, a highly empathetic woman will instead think that she can save or help the psychopath. Thus she doesn’t leave the relationship early and becomes even more bonded and involved with the psychopath, and even more convinced her help is needed, despite escalating troubling behavior on his part.
"I’ve asked men like this how they pick their targets and they say they’ll tell a sad story about early childhood abuse to see someone’s reaction," says Sandra L. Brown, MA, author of Women Who Love Psychopaths. "They’re looking for someone very compassionate who is willing to problem solve, who will be all ‘oh that’s terrible, oh my god, you should get some help,’ because that woman has to get hooked into their storyline and be willing to rescue their ass over and over again. The woman who says ‘good luck with that’ — he’s not going to be chasing her into a corner."
Women who are codependent tend to be reliable, emotionally mature and take charge. She is the woman who perhaps grew up taking care of alcoholic parents, and who now bears the majority of the burden of raising her kids, or she rescues animals, or she volunteers to help refugees or orphans. They are often people pleasers. These are not inherently bad qualities, in fact, they are great ones. But in the wrong hands, they can keep a woman tied to a toxic relationship.
Codependents often need to be needed. They will find themselves more attracted to men who are more like little boys, spontaneous and irresponsible, so they can step in and straighten everything out. Women like this don’t feel quite alive without someone to care for. They are often susceptible to one of a psychopath’s favorite weapons — gaslighting. If the psychopath is arrested for drunk driving, he might say, "If you hadn’t started that argument with me, I wouldn’t have been drinking." If the psychopath is physically abusive, he might say, "If you hadn’t flirted with that guy, I wouldn’t have gotten so angry."
Since the codependent feels responsible for other people’s happiness, she may not spot the manipulation in these proclamations, and instead become more convinced that if only she did a, b or c, his destructive behavior will stop.
While the stereotype of a woman who gets involved with a psychopath might be that of a mousy, quiet woman who doesn’t know how to stand up for herself, the opposite is often true, says Donna Andersen, founder of LoveFraud, a site that educates people about sociopaths. "The fact that a woman who is a go-getter, ambitious and has a powerful job can get involved with a psychopath is surprising for people, but those are the women who ‘regular’ men are often intimidated by and won’t approach. Sociopaths, however, are magnetic and charismatic and he’s not afraid of someone like that. An extroverted woman may feel like she’s met her match. She may view a ‘regular’ guy as kind of wimpy."
Women like this often feel like they have the situation under control even as her Mr. Perfect starts to unravel into something far from perfect, keeping her in the relationship longer than she should be. No matter how smart, powerful or together a woman like this is, she will never win with a psychopath.
4. Older women
By the time a woman gets to be somewhat older, mid-30s and upwards, she’s probably amassed some assets like a car, a house, savings or even just good credit. She may have a good job and a pension coming to her. Never underestimate the psychopath’s ability to mine a woman’s assets, whether financial or emotional. Additionally, an older woman might feel that the psychopath, especially when he turns on the charm, is her second chance at love after a divorce or death of a spouse. If she wants children and is nearing the end of her childbearing years, she may override her instincts or good sense in order to cling on to her last chance at being a mother or wife, no matter how undesirable that last-chance guy is starting to look.
If she’s been cocooned in a happy marriage for decades before meeting the psychopath, she probably has no idea that psychopaths can be charming, well-educated and well-dressed, as her exposure to psychopathy is limited to hearing about serial killers on the news.
"It’s a big problem for mature women because by [the time a woman is older] they probably have some assets and have a lot to offer the men. In the meantime, the men at that age have perfected their scam and they know exactly what to say to a woman to reel her in," says Andersen.
Being well-off financially, being eager to find love before she is too old and being unaware of what a psychopath is and what the red flags are all combine to make older women a prime target.
5. Having a great relationship with your father
We tend to think of women who get involved with toxic men as having come from dysfunctional families where they never learned what a healthy relationship is — and no doubt that can be true. But, surprisingly, having a healthy, loving relationship with your father can leave you vulnerable to a psychopath.
If you grew up with a dad who was always there for you, you may have a hard time believing that there are bad men out there. Donna Andersen, who wrote a memoir about her marriage to a man she considers a psychopath, and who also is close with her father, says: "I was clueless. I had no idea that this type of bad person existed unless they looked like a criminal. When a guy comes along wearing a sport jacket, a cravat and is talking about business things… I just had no clue somebody like that could be disordered." Andersen’s husband ended up bilking her out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. She also found out he was lying about nearly every aspect of his life, and even had a baby with another woman while they were married.
6. Committed to the relationship
While being committed to your relationship is a good thing, women who commit to a relationship over their own emotional health can be ripe targets for a psychopath. Andersen and her coauthor Dr. Leann Leedom, a psychiatrist, surveyed 1,300 people who were involved with disordered personalities and being committed to the relationship was one of the top three traits those people had. "The problem is, those people are committed to the sociopath over themselves," says Andersen.
7. You could be hardwired
Brown says that women who have the supertraits that may make them more susceptible to psychopaths could have been born that way. They tend to be women who have high levels of trust, compassion, tolerance, attachment and low levels of harm avoidance. They simply do not see the red flags that others might, until it’s too late. Once a woman like this gets involved with someone, no matter how toxic the person turns out to be, it’s very difficult for her to disengage. Women with high levels of trust will often give all-encompassing trust to a man before it’s earned. “Most people think when they meet someone new, 'I don’t know you from Adam, you’re going to earn my trust and that is built over time,' but women with supertraits will start out by thinking, 'I don’t know you from Adam, but you are probably just like me.' They won’t withdraw their trust until it’s violated over and over. That kind of blind trust is dangerous.”
Some good ways to psychopath-proof yourself: Set firm boundaries and don’t let anyone cross them no matter how much he is guilting you; listen to your gut and don’t override your instincts out of an eagerness to please or to have your last chance at love; do not dismiss or minimize red flags such as lying, cheating or abusive behavior; do not take responsibility for someone else’s actions, even if that person is doing his best to blame you. And most importantly, realize you can’t change anyone, and that your mental, physical and emotional health is more important than keeping a relationship together no matter what.
And you'll see personalized content just for you whenever you click the My Feed .
SheKnows is making some changes!