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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My ex-p-path used a lot of trance and hypnotic suggestion on me.

One of his most successful was this:
“You love to please me. You really, truly love to please me.”
And it was true.

There’s nothing wrong with loving to please someone (as long as they love to please you, too)…but HIM? Why did I love to please this jackass who gave me mere crumbs, when he was in a generous mood?

I chalk it up to the trance induction. But I’ll bolster my boundaries at the same time.

How “mental states” are easy access and to create in others.

Watch the video below.

What is happening is the guy is accessing the “mental state” where the person goes blank and can’t remeber something they know they know. We have all done this. It’s right on the tip of my tongue stuff. So the guy gets the person to remember when they couldn’t remember then he anchors it. Then he fires the anchor and the person can not [mental block] remember the card which they just saw.

The point of this is we have many “states” that can be anchored and a trigger can be hooked to it. The time with the spath there has been many of these created.

What Arianna brings up trance induction is another form of this. The one in the video is an NLP thing. The “trance induction” creates a “state” within the person that can be triggered.

As Arianna not a bad thing if it’s a give-give thing. But the way it is used here is not so good. He was hooking those good feeling to him. Same when they would use the door. Saying things in the negative about you, the relationship and always ending with looking at the door. Taps into the abandonment issues.

These are the triggers that need to be destroyed.


Hi Sky,

I didn’t have contact with my mother for 13 years. She is NOT a spath. She is, on the grand scale of narcissism, about a 4-6 out of 10. She is not a predator. But she is OBTUSE, beyond!

I got all the guilt trips too, when I went no contact. But, truly Sky, it was THE best move I made.

I do have a limited relationship with her now. But she lives in another state, and I don’t ask her for ANYTHING.

These are your ORIGINAL abusers Sky. You owe them nothing. Anyone can make babies… is in the loving and caring and giving that they are owed respect as PARENTS.

It was not loving that they knew exspath was out for your $. I KNOW you can come up with a million moments of recollection of when they were out and out uncaring and mean.

Why bother with them? Why, just because they gave birth to you, do you assign them special treatment? You wouldn’t let yourself hang out with any other spathy people, or do favors for them, or ask them to watch your cats.

Do you think you have not been able to access your anger and outrage toward them? (real question). I know I had to get good and mad to disconnect from my mother.

Protect your sweet heart Skylar…it is precious to all of us here.


((Slim)) thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot to me.

Yes, our parents are our original abusers. There is no doubt that they were the ones who taught us what “normal” was. For me, the uber spath seemed kinda normal. He was selfish, he picked fights and he never really “saw” me or my needs. That’s normal right? 🙁

I do want to disconnect from the trauma bond of my parents and so I’ve gone mostly NC. But it hasn’t helped very much. I still feel that hole they left in my heart. I don’t want to be angry with them, but I am.

They have admitted that they did a terrible job at raising us, but they have not done anything to change their behavior. At this point, I don’t expect them to. All I can do is change me, so that’s what I’m working on.

Sky, (((hugs)))) Yes, the lack of a nurturing mother leaves a “hole” in our hearts where we wish they had been…but the exercise that Darwin’s mom gave the other night about thinking about when someone did X for you…combed your hair, hugged you, stroked your fevered brow, encouraged you, and so on, any nurturing good thing.

I had thought that I did have a miserable child hood, and in some ways I did, but in others there were people who encouraged me, nurtured me…maybe not my egg donor, but others. My grandmother, my grandfather, my step father, my teachers, my friend’s mom, etc. and if you think back about those good times, those encouraging times, it brings back GOOD memories and warm feelings and so we can focus on the good times, even if they were RARE, there are still a few at least.

It warmed my heart to remember those good times.

I don’t have those memories. I had 2 girl friends who were true friends in high school. Both ended up spath food. One of them committed suicide. The other is a drug addict living with a spath.

I guess that’s the sign of innocence, you end up spath food.


irregardless of what their lives turned out to be… those 2 friends gave you love the right way and they are your memories still. You can value that, without intellectually throwing it out as worthless because of what has become of them.

We’ve all been spath food, obviously, or we wouldn’t be here. That doesn’t mean we love in a wrong way, but that our genuine love was abused by the wrong people for their selfish gains, and they managed that because they fooled us with misconceptions we had about people loving us. It’s not how we love that we need to alter. It’s who we nurture and care for that we need to change. But our nurting and caring ways themselves must be genuine and proper love, or spaths wouldn’t line up for it to abuse it. And we can discover who is worth loving and who isn’t through the memories of the people who loved us and nurtured us and showed us that WE were worth loving, in spite of the many who wanted us to believe the opposite.

Oxy, grasped the treasure in the exercise i gave – it doesn’t undo the fact that the one person who ought to have been nurturing and supportive to her, never was that… but it made her more aware of others doing it in her egg donor’s place for her. Those two friends in school did it for you then, and that is a valuable treasure. You would feel it if you recalled moments of nurture by them, instead of reminded yourself what happened to them later on in life.

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