It’s easy to feel like you’re in a romance novel when you meet a new love interest. Being super smitten might even lead to a swift engagement, but you might also find you’re starting to feel something is wrong. Has your once perfect love interest changed for the worse? Maybe your best friend even joked that they seemed a little psychopathic.
Though you may hear jokes about being in a relationship with a psychopath, it’s no laughing matter, says Dr. Paul DePompo, psychologist and author of The Other Woman’s Affair. “A psychopath and a sociopath are just common terms for someone who has antisocial personality disorder, a very real and scary diagnosis,” DePompo told The Cheat Sheet. “Not for the person who has it, but for the ones who come into contact with them.”
To lean more, we spoke with some other mental health experts. Here’s what we learned about being a psychopath as well some signs you might be dating one.
Psychopath or sociopath?
While there are people who qualify as psychopaths, Ce Anderson, therapist and author of Love TAPS, says you’re more likely to come in contact with a sociopath. “A sociopath is an individual who has been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, which is why we in the field refer to such individuals as sociopaths,” Anderson said. “The term psychopath refers to sociopaths who exhibit psychotic features or reality breaks which can be associated with schizophrenia and even bipolar disorder. Film and television have made the two synonymous, when in reality, studies show that we are more likely to come in contact with a sociopath at work and in our daily lives.”
To further complicate things, psychopathy can be difficult to detect because these people are skilled at hiding their condition underneath a veneer of charm. This is partly because they have excellent social skills and are at ease in social situations, says clinical neuropsychologist Rhonda Freeman. “Many with psychopathy are nothing like what we might imagine (i.e., the socially awkward loner, disengaged from society, plotting to do harm, emitting darkness). In actuality, they often have attractive traits that we tend to think would exclude the presence of psychopathology,” Freeman writes in her Psychology Today column.