He Treats Me Terribly, But I’m Drawn to Him; Is He a Sociopath?

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Reader’s Question

I am involved with a man whose behavior is extremely abnormal, yet I have a hard time cutting ties. This man is a musician and an interim worship leader at a local church. His spirituality is what drew me to him, but he eventually revealed a sinister personality. The first thing I noticed was his selfishness. He also holds irrational beliefs, and displays no mature thinking about his current status or future.

He seems to have no tact and is extremely narcissistic. When we were getting to know each other, he shared facts about himself and things he has done with women that no one in their right mind would have shared. I should have run away then. Out of the blue, he says very hurtful things and responds with “I’m just kidding,” Some of the things he says are completely vile and disrespectful. He is never complimentary at all. If I am crying in front of him because of something he said, he will sit beside me with a smirk on his face, or even laugh. It is very scary, as it seems he is almost evil.

He spends money foolishly and becomes obsessed with one project or interest after another. His personality changes like the wind. When I threaten to leave the relationship or refuse to talk to him, he becomes obsessed with phone calls, texts and emails professing his love for me. In one day my phone recorded over 93 phone calls. However, the moment I allow contact again, he is back to treating me terribly. He has even gone as far as to stalk me, yet he doesn’t really want me.

He has never spent money on me for any type of gift, but encourages me to buy him very expensive things. He has no interest in my personal life. He is not loving or affectionate with me, but he is very perverse and sexual. Once his needs are met, he ignores me completely. He is not a compassionate person either; he makes fun of older people in his church and refers to his church disparagingly.

Seven days after presenting me with an engagement ring, I caught him in a bar with a strange woman at 3 am with his hands all over her legs. I tried to confide his behavior to others, but he has gone out of his way to do damage control and everyone thinks that he is this perfect, godly man. His behavior is unethical and abnormal; he believes that he does nothing wrong and it’s everyone else’s fault. He also believes that God speaks to him through dreams and tells him that he’s special.

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I wonder what exactly is wrong with him. It’s obviously a mental disorder, or several combined. It’s confusing and very hurtful. His control and strange behavior have left me completely drained, both physically and emotionally. Have I described a sociopath?

Psychologist’s Reply

Have you described a sociopath? No. Have you described a psychopath? Yes. Whether the two terms are interchangeable is an area of controversy within the field of psychology. Some believe that there is no difference between the two while others think they aren’t really the same thing. I am in the camp with those who believe that psychopathy is innate while sociopathy is due more to environmental factors, like poverty and neglectful parenting. Other differences I see between the two terms include the idea that sociopaths can feel attachment, empathy, guilt and shame for harming the individuals they love, while psychopaths cannot. Moreover, it seems like psychopaths present themselves differently. Unlike sociopaths, psychopaths tend to be charming, can mimic feelings that are ‘normal,’ and are aware that what they are doing is wrong but don’t care. Sociopaths try to avoid hurting the few people they care about and will feel guilty if their loved ones are hurt.

According to the Psychopathy Checklist — Revised, the man you described exhibits a number of psychopathic characteristics, including (but not limited to) superficial charm, a grandiose sense of self-worth, manipulative behavior, lack of empathy, impulsivity, shallow affect, failure to accept responsibility, and a lack of realistic long-term goals. So yes, it does seem as though his behavior would be scary and destructive for you.

However, the big question is not what is wrong with him but rather, why you have stayed with him. Throughout your description of the man who may be your fiancĂ© (you didn’t mention whether you accepted his proposal, but I assume that you did), you used the words “sinister,” “narcissistic,” “unethical” and “evil.” You also stated that he never compliments you, cares nothing about your needs, is not loving or affectionate, hurts your feelings, and has no interest in you personally. Given this portrayal, I have to wonder what benefit you find in this relationship.

If it is true that psychopaths are born, not made, then it is extremely unlikely that this man will change. If the hope that he will one day be the man you want him to be is what keeps you with him, then you may want to rethink your decision. Unlike him, you can change and I would suggest starting this process by seeking assistance from a licensed mental health professional. She or he could assist you in discovering why you have difficulty letting go of someone who is clearly not good for you, and perhaps help you find someone who is.

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