Exploiters seek partners who dread to displease them

It is no accident that narcissistic and sociopathic personalities will seek, and often successfully attract, partners who have their own issue: a tendency to dread the idea of disappointing or displeasing them.

This is admittedly a generality, but it’s a pattern I’ve observed in my clinical experience, and it makes sense. The exploiter, who regards others as existing principally to satisfy his or her wants on a continual basis, must by definition find in a mate someone who is highly motivated—and especially, highly afraid not—to satisfy him or her.

Thus one often finds the pairing of an exploiter complemented by a partner who is prone, perhaps compulsively, to look inward to himself or herself as the cause of the exploiter’s dissatisfaction.

Clinically the goal is to encourage the over-accountable, overresponsible partner to examine this aspect of himself or herself. This is necessary given the fair assumption that sociopaths and narcissists are unlikely to genuinely reform their characteristically manipulative, selfish ways.

I’m often surprised in my work by the tenacious investment exploited partners make in solving the needs and complaints of their self-centered mates. Of course they’ll never succeed, but as long as they continue owning the exploiter’s blame for the latters’ discontent, they can keep trying, keep striving to be a better mate—to become, finally, the good-enough mate the exploiter has claimed to deserve all along.

Let us emphasize the futility of this scenario—the exploiter really doesn’t want a satisfying or, for that matter, even a perfect, partner; rather what he or she wants is a partner who, in his or her insecurity, will continue to accept on some level blame for the exploiter’s unending, habitual exploitation.

The exploiter, in other words, is looking much less for the perfect partner than the perfect scapegoat. For this reason the sociopath and many narcissists will recruit these qualities in a partner—qualities, for instance, of high self-doubt, high guilt, high fear of incurring others’ wrath or displeasure, and a strong tendency to self-blame.

Moreover individuals possessing these qualities will tend to be drawn to individuals who seem to be their counterpart in many ways—for instance confident, self-assured, powerful-seeming, unself-doubting, and perhaps unself-reflective. They may harbor the fantasy that the latters’ seeming strength and confidently entitled attitudes may prove a salutary complement to their self-questioning, self-doubting natures.

And this is certainly possible—this complementarity can theoretically work—in situations uncomplicated by sociopathy or narcissistic personality.

But when the more confident partner is a sociopath, or narcissist, this complementarity of personalities becomes a set-up. The less confident partner, whose tendency is to self-destructively accept the exploiter’s blame for the latter’s rages, discontent, abuse and general misery, becomes the perfect foil, the perfect dupe, for the sociopathic or narcissistic partner, who has it made, so to speak.

Again and again I encounter wonderful, thoughtful, emotionally generous individuals who are trapped less by their exploitative partners than the intolerable idea of themselves as failed mates. The result is their often intensified efforts to be found satisfactory by, and to obtain validation from, the exploiter.

The exploiter is, of course, incapable of appreciating his or her partner’s devotion. But even if not, he or she would intentionally withhold such recognition anyway; his or her object, remember, rather than to uplift his or her partner, is calculatingly the opposite—to engender hopelessness and depression in him or her.

On and on the cycle goes, until the vulnerable partner, just as the exploiter has sought, finally feels so low, incompetent and disempowered that he or she can’t seriously imagine a different future.

By now a form of despair has set in—the despair of expecting to be found just as wanting in future relationships as the present. Dangerous resignation follows this hopelessness—again, exactly the outcome the exploiter wants.

(This article is copyrighted (c) 2008 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)

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677 Comments on "Exploiters seek partners who dread to displease them"

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Wow very profund it makes alot of sence.

It does make sense, my ex had so many issues and i tried to support her through all of them which had an effect on me and made me feel depressed, i think that she wanted to bring me down and get me under her control more, she would always be negative about my character and say that everyone thought bad things about me etc. . . All i wanted and strived for was her happiness and i felt like i was stepping on egg shells alot of the time, she used to flip into rage really easily over the smallest thing.

It was like living on a constant rollercoaster. I was beautiful and sexy one minute and then when I “displeased” him he was mean and nasty towards me the next.The more tired and depressed I got the worse it got. At some point I remember I just sat there when he’d start up with me and cried about it later.

“For this reason the sociopath and many narcissists will recruit these qualities in a partner—qualities, for instance, of high self-doubt, high guilt, high fear of incurring others’ wrath or displeasure, and a strong tendency to self-blame.”

One book I read tries to explain this in a way by using that fact that some of us (partners) live in different realties. Patricia Evans writes about how some relationship that exist one partner lives in Reality 1 (Power Over) which would be the narcissistic and sociopathic personalities while the other lives in Reality 2 which is (Personal Power) i.e. mutuality co-creation. But the person sometimes who live in Reality 2 doesn’t have a good healthy dose of self-esteem which is what the S and P see in them which allow them to control and manipulate the partner who live in Reality 2. This also explain why it is so hard for them to understand each other because they don’t share the same Reality. One other different between these two Realities is that Reality 1 has build themselves from the outside in while Reality 2 has build him/her self from the inside out. After reading both of Patricia Evans book dealing with this issue did it become clear to me why I couldn’t get thru to my ex P. We both lived in different Realities and saw the world in completely different ways. Too really be happy and safe in Reality 2 that person needs must have a healthy significant amount of self-esteem. Without it they will be high self-doubter, full of guilt and shame as well as being depended on others to fulfill that which they should do for themselves. In short I believe this is why they pick them that lack self-esteem but do in fact have other qualities that they see like compassion empathy and the ability to love and share. All which is part of the Reality 2 reality i.e. mutuality co-creation.

My (it) only had one 1 thing going for (it) LOOKS

This was the exact dynamic in the relationship with the ex-S. I saw him misplace blame on others when he was responsible. For some deluded reason, I didn’t think that it would ever be me, because I did exactly what he wanted me to do. But he always found a way to turn problems that he had, or things that he dropped the ball on, into my fault.

Double standard; (it) had no rules

Me all the RULES applied ten fold

It seems everyone else is to blame. He was big on blaming “The Man”. Come on! This is someone who choses to be white or black from one day to the next. I’m drinking and out sleeping around because YOU are stressing me on top of the stress I’m already under. You wait tables – how on earth are you stressed?

Another thing I learned just recently is the different between guilt and shame (yes of course another book I read LOL)

Guilt is what we have done like stealing something but shame is who we are. Shame is taught to us very early in life and we live with shame all our lives. Only with we understand what it is we are ashamed of then sometimes can we accept it and learn to live with it. Why is this important? Because shame can hinder our personal grow and power. Many times we will hide our shame deep inside of ourselves and try (this never works) to forget about it or deny it. When in fact we should embrace our shame and learn from it and then expel it or learn how to live with it.


Interesting that we ever we “blame” someone or something (event) else we take no responsibility of that action or event. We void ourselves from it and let others carry the load of burden i.e. accountability. Also “blame” is a type of projection insomuch that they can’t feel or carry that anxiety in themselves so that they will “blame” someone else to carry it for them. In people who suffer from a personality disorder you will always find this type of “blame game” scenario.


One thing I remember telling my ex P all the time was that:

“There is always someone to blame isn’t there D?”

Of course she never gave me a reply and believe she never could. Oh well..



Oh Indigo! Guess whose father is from Guyana?

There is a Difference in Selfawareness ! Accepting one’s Condition and Makeing the CHOICE to Deal APPROPRITLY w/(the mental illness/inbalance) the condition ! OR Mastering One’s Technique to FURTHER the Satisfaction of SELF ! MANIPULATEING one’s Envirment to Survive at the EXPENCE/REGARDLESS of the Others/the damage done!


Good see now I am in control of the blog and I cant type worth a sh*t hunt and peck

: )

Indigo – Nope! The Ex-S.

(it) its name is LEGIONS


Jesus did’nt have a Scrib following behind him with a lap top

The author uses a Quanity of his day At that time

He could have and might have said its name is many

but this author wrote Legions

World Population ???

x 1% or 4% = ?????????????????? LEGIONS

Firstly, I love you lot. Secondly, Steve Becker, a great article, right on the nail. That is part of the unpicking of our life story and their story, what made us such willing mirrors to them. We cant change them, they will continue in their chaos, but we cant change our story.- that is the growth.

Well said Beverly, well said. Better to grow from a setback than to wallow in it and then be swallowed up.

Focus on the positives in life … and you will get back to or better than you were before. “They” are just learning lessons in life. It’s what we do with that knowledge … is how we put our lives back together… step by step … and we will get there.


hi bev and wini This is a great article or thread – too sum it up they take control – make us crazy – and keep control…until we are laying in the floor in a fetal position – then they kick us in the teeth and leave and say Thanks for nothing~~~!! And then we start to heal and learn and thrive again…..

I remember my ethics professor telling me that people do evil because they don’t see the entire picture of what is happening … he said they see what is happening from a myopic viewpoint. He then went on with the following explanation:

A team of horseman were out in the country side being followed by the enemy. They made camp and were sitting around the fire site, fed the horse, pitched their tents, starting cooking for the meal of that day.

All of a sudden, one of the lookout people noticed the enemy on a hilltop and came back to the camp to tell the others. The majority in the party immediately panicked and started putting their gear back on their horses, kicking the camp fire out, running around the campsite backing things together.

The leader of the group asked what they were doing. In fear they said, getting ourselves ready to go.

The leader said … the hilltop that the enemy was spotted on will take 2 days of riding to get to where we are right now!

Everyone stopped what they were doing and listened to the logic of the bigger picture.


This is almost a bit scary to read, because I could have written the exact same words! I wonder if Steve Becker is a mind reader of some sort. 🙂

Anyway, this reminds me of the excellent quote from Martha Stout’s book “the sociopath next door”: “Good people always question themselves and their motives”.

This is why, when a psychopath says “good people are always so sure about themselves”, he/she performs a manipulation technique.

Almost 6 months out of this relationship and my positives have been 1) That I got him the hell out of my life/home, etc. 2) I got a new job 2 1/2 months later. Problems is I’m still having trouble focusing on those positives. I’m still angry and raw and hurt. I have read Sandra’s book “Women Who Love Psychopaths”, bought the hypnosis cd, tried to get out with friends more, scheduled my appt w/ my therapist, a reiki session, had my house “cleansed” and I still keep thinking about it.

gemini getting them out of our homes was difficult – getting them out of our minds is harder than we ever thought it would be. 7 months NC for me and I am so much better he is still camping in my head but it doesnt hurt kike it did… i think why we think about them so much is we didnt know what we were living with when they were with us but now we do and it is SHOCK and frightening to accept what they were…. you will get there…..just focus on the positives

I said to my friend tonight, that taking the ‘higher platform’ is stepping out of the chaos, let the dust settle, and then see what the picture really is.

Hi Wini, I loved your story – in my world that bigger picture is the higher platoform same thing. Peace and Love to you Wini

Hi Bev: Yes, taking the higher platform is easy for us … it’s just one more wrung up the ladder … wrung by wrung (or in the Bible, step by step) … same difference.

Hope all is well with you.

Peace and hugs.

This was the best article I think I have read thus far! What a great explanation/perspective! I always took his blame, and he is soooo overly confident, (he DID say, “I’m 30 and I’m a stud.”) BARF! so I needed his confidence to boost up my esteem. If someone ‘who is sooo amazing’ says something, it just must be true. I’m pathetic, in his eyes. And boy, when someone you care about tells you that you are a loser and worthless and to blame for everything, it is (easy) to believe! I always wanted to please him-I would do pretty much anything for him, and looking back, I was acting like someone else just to show him/PROVE to him, that I was worth SOMETHING! I can’t even remember the last time he did anything for ME. I was always somthing like his slave.
And now that i don’t have someone to give and give and give to, I am lost and I have no idea who I am or what makes ME happy.
I am going to re-read this article, until it sinks in. This really was the best explanation yet! Why couldn’t I see it before??!?!?

Henry: I think you are a major “Protector” type … always wanting to ensure everyone is OK.

You need to give those worries about your EX up to God. He’ll handle it. Knowing God will handle your request will set you free so you can move forward … faster healing process.

First thing I did when I found out the truth of my EX … was to pray to God to handle all that I knew I’d be going through …. to ensure it was a quick journey, pray for him and my bosses that they can find their way back to God … and for God to protect them all.

Now I didn’t have to focus on worrying about him … I knew my prayer were answered and I could focus on healing myself.


It makes sooooo much sense now.

Dear Wini, Taking the highest platform, takes experience and humility and a whole host of other attributes and strengths, – I realised. I am still here Wini, by the good hand of the Lord, who I now realised guides and supports all of us. We just need time and experience to realise that – well, some people any way need more time than others to realise that. We are all divine in essence, it is a lifetimes work to realise it and not have to earn it. – I think.

Wow Wini, that was a really nice beautiful thing to say to Henry – he certainly has a beautiful tender quality about him. Wow.


Yes, for me, after all my ravings, words, woe and complaints, I have to take stock and accept that I fitted in to him like the perfect jigsaw puzzle – then, when i have come to that realisation, I can move forward and unpick the knots of my past, on which that was built.

Thank you Wini and you too Beverly – I have let go of the anger – I volunteered to be his victim unknowingly – it was a big mistake – I can’t undo it – just learn from it and learn more about me. I can improve myself – not do this again – so a lesson was learned….next!!~~!!

There has to be a deep mystical -hard to undo – knot in the whole scenario – and I feel Steve Becker (in his article) has got really close to that truth.

But Henry, I dont know if you felt this with Mike, but I felt like the sacrificial lamb, did you having that feeling? But at the very end, I remember thinking, he has worn me through – it is him or me – and it has to be me.

Yes Henry, I feel where you are at. This is a spiritual experience – an energetic experience that will last with us till the end, but to our benefit. Yes, Henry, we sense you are a kind loving being to be treasured.

beverly you took those words right out of my mouth – i knew regardless of what was going on with mike and I – it was not healthy – and I knew I had to save myself – at the time I felt like I was to blame for every thing – just like the above article says —–but after he was gone – slowly and painfully I saw the truth and was set free…..

No, No. Henry, in spiritual terms, you did not unknowingly become his victim. You both synchronised, fused, sizzled, because there was more to be learnt through your union. If there is anything more to be learnt, we have to keep digging, keep asking what the lessons are – then we know there was gold in the pain.

Yes, Henry, I understand what you say, but if you look at your relationship in that way, it is a one dimensional cardboard cutout (can I be bold please?). You were just as powerful and I want you to realise and reclaim the power that you went into that scenario with. You can do it.

You can only reclaim your power – when you accept and embrace responsibility. Nothing less.

yes i accept responsibility and i have regrets i should not of done what i did – i think i have learned from this – i know i have learned – i dont want to break my own heart or someone else’s – the question is did Mike learn anything from this???

We only felt powerless, because we were coming from a place of hurt, which made us feel weak. That place, being, perhaps our upbringing, the protectors that we thought we looking out for our best, had their own problems. We have to be looking outward beyond, at (as Wini puts it the whole picture) to realise that our weakness was tapped into. Love and Peace.

Henry, dont have regrets. Embrace the whole lot of it. You really loved him – I know and i can feel it and that is real, you cannot deny that, that is the loving and real part of you. You, like me, have been held back by weakness from the dysfunctional family. Repair that and all will be well my friend.

I never love people by mistake. I really loved Steve, probably as much as you loved Mike – and that is a good thing. There was no mistake about that – you are a loving person, just that Mike is on a difficult path to feel it.

Thing is, Henry, as you grow through the experience, you will always have a tender place in your heart for Mike (I feel it), but your perception will be so much broader and will encompass your own wellbeing and the people you draw to you. Love to you Henry.

Henry, you are a loving person and you did your best.

Henry, realising that we have to let go of Mike and his learning. Your life path is yours – and his is his – you cannot be responsible for his development. I think what you are asking me, is whether he really loved you. I have asked myself that many times, and I can only feel the answer rather than think it. I think he did love you, but your time and his time were in different places and I think you will both evolve in different spaces, but there will always be a thread of love between you. If you want my honest opinion.

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