UPDATED FOR 2022. Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part inquiry that Lovefraud recently received from a reader whom we’ll call “Carlotta.” She asks important questions about the signs of a sociopath.
I recently met and “dated” a man who turned out to be a sociopath. When I first met him I used your list of 10 signs of a sociopath to help me determine what I needed to do to protect myself if he should turn out to be a sociopath or worse.
I wasn’t too worried about him, because initially I noticed he had only 3 of the 10 traits. The notation with your list says if they have most or all of the traits they may be a sociopath. He turned out to be a sociopath so now I wonder if the specific traits they have are more telling than the number of traits they have.
In the case of the man I was dating, it was immediately apparent the following applied to him:
#2. Sudden Soul Mates
#4. Love Bombing
#8 Moves Fast to Hookup
However, it wasn’t apparent to me until dating him 6 days out of 7 that the following also applied:
#6. Lies and Gaps in the Story.
I feel lucky that I had your list to refer to because I was able to keep my emotional distance while getting to “know” him (if such a thing is possible with sociopaths). I checked his court records online and they were quite telling once I realized he was telling lies and leaving gaps. After I asked a few pointed questions he discontinued contact with me. I feel that a blessing since I didn’t need to initiate the disconnect myself.
I’m a little concerned that in describing your list, you state that if the person has most or all of the traits. Initially I saw only 3 traits and after a week only one more. I don’t know how long it would have taken for any other traits to show up or if there are more traits that fit him. I don’t want any other women to think that they’re safe because the person they’re dating only has 3 or 4 of the traits that show up within a week.
Is it possible you could add clarification to your list about which traits show up first or how long it may take to see some of the traits? Could you possibly list which traits are more telling or are they all equally telling?
Donna Andersen responds
Carlotta, thank you so much for your questions. First of all, for the benefit of all Lovefraud readers, here is the complete list of the Red Flags of Love Fraud:
- Charisma and charm. They’re smooth talkers, always have an answer, never miss a beat. They seem to be very exciting.
- Sudden soul mates. They figure out what you want, make themselves into that person, then tell you that your relationship was “meant to be.”
- Sexual magnetism. If you feel intense attraction, if your physical relationship is unbelievable, it may be their excess testosterone.
- Love bombing. You’re showered with attention and adoration. They want to be with you all the time. They call, text and e-mail constantly.
- Blames others for everything. Nothing is ever their fault. They always have an excuse. Someone else causes their problems.
- Lies and gaps in the story. You ask questions, and the answers are vague. They tell stupid lies. They tell outrageous lies. They lie when they’d make out better telling the truth.
- Intense eye contact. Call it the predatory stare. If you get a chill down your spine when they look at you, pay attention.
- Moves fast to hook up. It’s a whirlwind romance. They quickly proclaim their true love. They want to move in together or get married quickly.
- Pity play. They appeal to your sympathy. They want you to feel sorry for their abusive childhood, psychotic ex, incurable disease or financial setbacks.
- Jekyll and Hyde personality. One minute they love you; the next minute they hate you. Their personality changes like flipping a switch.
Seeing the signs may take time
You alluded to one of the important points about spotting a sociopath: You may not see all the signs right away.
Sociopaths are sometimes able to maintain the charade of an attentive lover for quite a long time — especially while they are reeling in a target. So let’s take a look at the list to determine what you are likely to see first.
As research for my book, Red Flags of Love Fraud — 10 signs you’re dating a sociopath, I conducted an Internet survey that was completed by more than 1,300 people. According to the results, the Number One Red Flag, seen by 91.5% of respondents, was:
1. Charisma and charm
This is something you are likely to see immediately. That’s often why the person catches your attention in the first place and seems so appealing — he or she is so charismatic and charming.
However, just because a person is charismatic and charming, it doesn’t mean he or she is a sociopath. Plenty of people who have these traits are also able to love authentically.
You also spotted three other Red Flags that likely to appear quickly:
2. Sudden soul mates
4. Love bombing
8. Moves fast to hook up
The problem with the traits that we’ve discussed so far is that there is nothing inherently wrong with them. In fact, who wouldn’t want to find a romantic partner who was charismatic, shared values and interests, was crazy about you, and wants to be with you all the time?
These traits could describe love at first sight. And love at first sight is a real, albeit rare, phenomenon — I personally know of several couples who met, immediately fell in love, married, and stayed happily married for a very long time.
That’s why the following traits are so important:
5. Blames others for everything
9. Pity play
Even while someone is showering you with attention and trying to spend as much time with you as possible, he or she may exhibit these negative traits. They may have an excuse for all of their problems — usually that someone else screwed up or did them wrong. And, they may tell you sob stories, trying to get you to feel sorry for them.
These traits, therefore, may be the first clues that the person may be disordered.
Two of the traits on the list are on physical in nature:
4. Sexual magnetism
7. Intense eye contact
Fully 78% of my survey respondents said that sexual magnetism was a characteristic of their involvement with a sociopath. Many, many people have told me that the sex they had with the sociopath was the best they ever experienced.
Intense eye contact was not as prevalent — it was noted by 59% of respondents. But this is an important sign, because it is the only physical characteristic that you may be able to observe.
This is the critical warning sign:
6. Lies and gaps in the story
All sociopaths lie. They tell big lies, little lies, stupid lies. They sometimes lie when they are better off telling the truth.
But the whole point about lying is that you don’t know it is happening. Research shows that people can spot a lie only about 54% of the time — not much better than flipping a coin.
Many people have told me that it took them years to figure out that the sociopath was lying. Why? Because sociopaths lie so convincingly. Then they lie to cover up their previous lies. And many of them can keep all the lies straight.
So although lying is the cardinal sign of a sociopath, this behavior can be difficult to spot.
Finally, here’s the last trait:
10. Jekyll and Hyde personality
Some sociopaths can fly into a sudden rage over something that you feel is a minor misunderstanding, or over nothing at all. And then, after the sociopath viciously lashes out at you, he or she acts like nothing happened.
It is unlikely that you’ll see this trait right away. When sociopaths are reeling you in, they’re on their best behavior. If you see this trait at all, it will probably be directed towards someone else, not you.
But one day, if you stay involved with this person, it will be directed toward you. So I view this trait as final confirmation. If you’ve seen the other Red Flags, but you’re still not sure about the individual, having the person turn on you should help you make up your mind.
Real or faked
So why do I say that you need to see all of the Red Flags to suspect that someone is a sociopath? Because I don’t want you to be suspicious of every charming, sexy, potential partner who shares your interests and seems to be crazy about you. There are authentic people out there, and maybe you have, in fact, found a keeper.
The problem, of course, is that sociopaths have learned how to imitate a smitten lover. So your challenge is to discern whether the head-over-heels affection you’re seeing is real or fake.
That’s where the other signs come it. If you are also seeing the negative traits, be careful.
Another point to keep in mind is that sociopathy is both a syndrome and a continuum.
A syndrome is a collection of traits of behaviors that tend to be seen together. Any particular sociopath may have some of the traits of the disorder, but not all of them.
Sociopathy is also a continuum. This means that a particular sociopath may have any of the traits to greater or lesser degrees.
The bottom line is that sociopaths are not all the same, they may have different combinations of traits, and some are more disordered than others. Some people may only be partially affected — not disordered enough that a clinician would diagnose a personality disorder.
However, if a person has some of the negative traits of the disorder, but is not a full-blown, diagnosable sociopath, you still do not want this individual as a romantic partner.
Three steps to staying safe
Here’s how to protect yourself:
- Know that sociopaths exist. If you’re reading Lovefraud, you have this one covered.
- Know the Red Flags of Love Fraud. I hope that this article has helped you.
- Trust your instincts. This is the best thing you can do to protect yourself. If you ever get a gut feeling, intuition or instinct that there is something wrong with an individual, pay attention.
Your instincts are designed to keep you out of danger. Listen to them.
More information is available in my book, Red Flags of Love Fraud 10 signs you’re dating a sociopath.
Tomorrow Part 2 of Carlotta’s inquiry: “Are sociopaths opportunists?”
Lovefraud originally posted this story on July 13, 2015.