Dr. Kevin Dutton is the author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success. Dutton is a research psychologist at the Calleva Research Centre for Evolution and Human Science, Magdalen College, University of Oxford.
Kevin Dutton: Some of you may be wondering whether you’re actually in a relationship with a psychopath or whether you might have fallen for a psychopath in the past, and, if you are in a relationship with a psychopath, what you can do about that. Now, psychopaths do have certain characteristics, certain tells, to use a poker analogy, that they display in relationships.
They tend to play on our pity a lot, okay? So they tend to excuse their misdemeanors and bad behaviors through something that was beyond their control. They couldn’t help doing it because something had happened, and there’s always an excuse for it. And although psychopaths don’t feel emotions like us, they are masters at pushing those emotional hot buttons that elicit emotions in others, in us. Sympathy being one of the major, major motivators. Psychopaths often play on our pity. They excuse their own behavior because they were somehow hard done by.
Psychopaths also tend to be very narcissistic. They tend to think that the world centers around them. They’re not really attuned to your feelings. They don’t really care about your feelings. Really, ultimately, the world surrounds them.
Psychopaths are also very charming. They’re very manipulative, especially when they’re in a crowd, especially when they’re in company. But behind the scenes when they’re alone with you, they can be very, very controlling. Sometimes, but not always, aggressive, but psychologically controlling as well.
So if you’re worried about the fact that – that you're in a relationship with a psychopath, what can you do about that? What might be some certain things to look out for?
Well, first of all, the absolute first thing to do is to not go on face value, to not fall for the smoke screen. A number one rule of thumb is to don’t judge a person on what they say, but judge a person on what they do. So that’s the very first thing. Look at the evidence of their behavior and try to judge it objectively, rather than subjectively. Not an easy thing to do, I admit, if you’re in a relationship with someone.
Secondly, if you suspect that your partner is a psychopath, why don’t you get a second opinion from one of your friends? Why don’t you confide in your friends: I think my partner’s a psychopath or I think these are the certain characteristics? Give me an honest opinion. What do you really think about my partner? And a second opinion - two heads are often better than one in this kind of case.
Thirdly, a golden rule is don’t cover for them. If they start getting into serious trouble and they want you to somehow front up for them or be an alibi or somehow make excuses or whatever, whatever. Don’t get tangled up into covering up for them because as soon as that starts happening, it’s called the “foot in the door” technique; a very, very common persuasive technique. Once you’ve done something for someone, you’re more likely to do other follow-up things for them. And before you know it, you’re in up to your neck. Okay?
And the fourth thing I would say is, buy my book because all the signs and all the tricks of the trade are in there. And forewarned is definitely forearmed when you’re dealing with psychopaths.
Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
Would you kill a baby if you knew he would grow up to be Hitler? Psychologist and author Kevin Dutton explores the mindset of psychopaths as a window into this fascinating ethical question.