Love Vs. Manipulation: Can Psychopaths Feel Love?

Updated October 5, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Love is all you need, right?

Love conquers all, doesn’t it?

Love makes the world go ’round.

Indeed, love has been given countless characteristics that imbue it with a sense of world-changing, life-altering properties, all of which are strong enough to overcome any odds or obstacles, and press on in the face of adversity. Is that the case, though, when one person in the relationship is having a severe personality disorder and does not function in the same way as the standard population?

What Is A Psychopath?

Untreated Personality Disorders Can Impact Loving Relationships

While the term “psycho” or “psychopath” is often bandied about as a casual, playful insult, or hurled at someone who has committed a ghastly crime of abuse to their victims, the term is actually backed by certain characteristics or traits found within the DSM-the standard followed by modern psychiatrists and psychologists. Rather than being used as a slur, “psychopath” is intended to describe a complex, problematic disorder, which may also be titled Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), depending on the exact symptoms of psychopathy involved.

This particular disorder is typically developed in childhood or adolescence but can also develop in adulthood. The disorder itself is known to be particularly problematic to relationships. It consists of intense mood swings, self esteem issues, impulsivity, and difficulty interacting with others or expressing and feeling emotions. It can interfere with interpersonal communication and maintaining lasting relationships of any kind, including friendships and family relationships. In BPD, relationships are longed for but are often difficult for psychopaths, while ASPD is often characterized by traits such as a lack of empathy, remorse or guilt, or a lack of interest in the lives, emotions, or happiness of others.

Far from being used as a detrimental remark, “psychopath” is a state of being that some people are struggling to work through and step out of in a sense. This form of a personality disorder requires (usually) extensive treatment, time, and investment, and can wreak havoc on families and communities alike.

What Are The Symptoms Of Psychopathy?

Psychopathy symptoms can begin in childhood and may be noticed by parents, but may not show up in their entirety in children until young adulthood. In childhood, there are a few red flags that might alert parents to the presence of psychopathy (Borderline Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder) in their children, including theft, aggression toward people or animals, dishonesty, criminal behavior, antisocial acts, and destructive tendencies. Not all of these symptoms must be present in children or adults to begin the process of diagnosing, but in most cases, at least three of these broad symptoms are present before the psychopathy diagnostic process moves forward. Reaching a diagnosis earlier is crucial to effectively treat the mental disorder and find happiness, especially in a child.

In addition to these four core symptoms, an adult or child with Borderline Personality Disorder struggle with fear of abandonment and experience difficulty being alone with their feelings or emotions. In an almost cruel irony, though, an adult or child with the disorder actively push people away by behaving in an aggressive, impulsive, and inappropriate way as they are incapable of forming meaningful bonds. This makes maintaining consistent, healthy relationships difficult and they may not be able to form them. Feelings of impulsivity plays a large role in the symptoms of BPD, as people with this condition might impulsively abandon good relationships, quit their jobs, or engage in risky or addictive behaviors.

An adult or child with Antisocial Personality Disorder may behave in similar ways or sense, but on a larger scale; people with ASPD are similarly impulsive, have troubled relationships, and erratic behavior. Unlike BPD, though, in which behavior is fueled by fear, ASPD is largely fueled by a lack of empathy and emotion. People with ASPD are far more likely to be arrogant, disdainful, and openly hostile, rather than vacillating between two extremes of positive behavior, followed by negative behavior.

Borderline Personality Disorder Love Relationships

Borderline Personality Disorder relationships are usually fraught with fear and confusion over the course of the relationship, on the part of both people within the relationship. Familial relationships are likely to be the steadiest, provided that parents and family of psychopaths provide a stable home life. Familial relationships usually do not ebb and flow the way romantic relationships with a partner and friendships might for psychopaths.

Friendships are far more difficult to keep intact for psychopaths than familial ones. This is because the behaviors inherent in BPD can make it difficult to keep up an ongoing correspondence with someone who exhibits impulsive, inconsistent behavior as psychopaths do.

Friendships within BPD are certainly not impossible but do require some amount of patience and perseverance to survive and thrive. In young childhood, relationships may not be entered into at all, while relationships in adolescence and beyond might be entered into, but may struggle to be truly cultivated.

Romantic entanglements with a partner are arguably one of the most difficult forms of relationships for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. These relationships require people to provide some amount of consistent interest, support, and communication, all of which can prove difficult for someone with BPD. Romantic relationships also require trust and intimacy from their partner, which can be extremely difficult to offer if the fear of abandonment reigns supreme within the wiring of psychopaths.

Antisocial Personality Disorder Love Relationships

All relationship types are difficult or even nonexistent within ASPD, as ASPD is characterized by personality traits like a lack of empathy or emotion and usually a lack of interest in forming meaningful relationships, even with family . Although there may be some exceptions to this, the general notion of ASPD (also called “psychopathy” or “sociopathy”) is that interpersonal relationships hold little to no appeal for people with the condition, and people are often the receptacles of derision, manipulation, and cruelty.

People with ASPD might have a single close bond or may have a family relationship that follows some semblance of normalcy, even if it is not quite at the level of “typical” family relationships even with a child. Even then, though, many families begin to suspect something has gone awry with their children because antisocial behavior is present and bonds are not formed, which may form the basis for many families search for a diagnosis.

Friendships in an adult or child with ASPD are very often surface-level relationships, which may center around a activity, rather than an actual interpersonal bond of normal emotions. A friend might be someone who enjoys smoking after school, for instance, or someone who likes to play the same video game; the connections forged with friends and people with ASPD are rarely deep ones but instead rely upon surface-level interests and ideas.

Romantic relationships may not be of any particular interest to someone with ASPD or might be used more as a tool than a relationship. People with ASPD are far more likely to be aggressive than the standard population, so these relationships are usually tumultuous and largely one-sided.

Challenges And Pitfalls

An adult or child with psychopathy with borderline traits are likely to fall in the camp of struggling with intimacy, having difficulty attaching, and having difficulty keeping commitments. On paper, these things might not seem too terrible, but in actual relationships, which require trust, openness, and stability, the characteristics associated with BPD can prove fatal to any budding romance. With patience and treatment, though, people with BPD can learn to manage or control their symptoms and develop healthy, if not-exactly-typical relationships with peers and romantic partners.

Conversely, psychopaths with antisocial traits are unlikely to hold any long-standing romantic relationships, as these relationships are not considered vital or important to the functioning of a person with ASPD. With treatment, some of these characteristics may change, but they may not; some people do not consider this disorder one that can be managed, and instead work to minimize some symptoms, while helping family and other individuals close to the person cope. An example of some symptoms of psychopaths that might be managed with therapy and pharmaceutical drugs include anxiety, depression, and aggression.

Can Psychopaths Love?

Untreated Personality Disorders Can Impact Loving Relationships

You may wonder, can psychopaths love and find happiness like the rest of us. Did they love as a child? Will they have a child and love them? Psychopaths can love to a point, but the road there is often littered with obstacles, and bonds may not last as readily as relationships between people without a personality disorder. The type of associated personality disorder is an important aspect of answering the question, too, as love is often considered an ability outside the realm of the likelihood for someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder, but is not necessarily far-fetched for someone who exhibits psychopathic personality traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. The mechanisms behind personality disorders and the mechanisms behind love play a powerful role in determining whether or not love is a realistic, healthy expectation and finding the answer to, “can psychopaths love.”

If you’re wondering, can psychopaths love, in order to create and maintain loving relationships, though, anyone going through a disorder associated with psychopathy may enlist the help of a licensed mental health professional with a history of work in similar cases and the ability to help with someone who has psychopathic tendencies. The immense challenges associated with these personality disorders are not best suited for someone who has just entered the field or someone who has not engaged in special training for these issues, as traditional talk therapy might not prove as effective as it would for something like anxiety or depression.

Seeking out help from a mental health practitioner can smooth the transition into a romantic relationship for someone with a personality disorder, and can help develop strategies for coping with the fear of abandonment, low self esteem, difficulty connecting, tendencies toward impulsivity, or depression before these symptoms get worse while also helping to break unhealthy patterns. With a partner who is aware of the idea of psychopaths and is willing to exercise patience and understanding for their lack of emotions, and a genuine desire to maintain a relationship, though, there is no reason someone with borderline-infused psychopathy would not be able to experience a loving, consistent relationship, whether that relationship is romantic, familial, or platonic, and find true happiness.

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