How do psychopathic individuals choose their victims?

Many individuals with psychopathic features are opportunists who seek to take whatever they can from those around them, viewing others as merely a source of “supply.”  If they detect something in someone they find interesting or that can help them achieve their agenda in some way, that person has the potential to become a victim.  However, it is likely  that there are some people whom they view as having more or less “potential” than others.

Those with psychopathic features often seem to have an uncanny ability to home into basic human vulnerabilities.  This often puts them in unique positions, where they are able to gain the upper hand.  Uninhibited by conscience, they initially assess the utility of those around them freely and equally.  They then tend to narrow their choices to those they find unusually trusting or vulnerable. Sometimes, simply having normal personality traits qualifies an individual as vulnerable.  Other times, they sense that an individual may be susceptible to their advances due to hardship or an unfulfilled need.  Some psychopaths are predatory in nature and can quickly evaluate who might be willing and able to help them achieve what they are looking to accomplish.  They can identify a potential victim’s “Achilles Heel” and capitalize on it.

Individuals who are openly trusting or generally seek to find the good in others are more apt to find themselves targeted than those who tend to challenge others to “prove” themselves.  However, most people tend to attempt to see the good in others.  As a result, this natural inclination to respect and trust often leads people to rationalize or minimize the odd or unusual behavior that does occur in exchanges with psychopathic individuals.  This makes almost everyone fair game.

Psychopaths often try to present themselves as “saviors” to those they view as potential victims, offering “support,” relating to their plights and misfortune, or telling their own tales of woe and victimization (which may be distorted or entirely fabricated).  Those on the receiving end often believe what the psychopath tells them, which can lead to sympathy, which in turn, contributes to feelings of intense connection.  Though red flags may be present, many potential victims lack the ability to listen to or interpret their gut reactions.  Many people may genuinely feel that the psychopath is sincerely interested in them.

At this point, an individual who is being targeted is usually unaware of the psychopath’s true intentions.  In addition to any possible vulnerabilities potential victims may have that can  make them more receptive to their advances, psychopaths also look for those who will “invest” in relationships with them.  Often things may feel wrong.  However, in the absence of any solid reasons or evidence as to why things do not feel right, the relationships, whether romantic, business, or otherwise, often continue.  The simple passage of time can further deepen the connections and perceived obligations to the psychopath.  It may seem that victims are weak, but this is not the case.  Normal human vulnerability should not be confused with weakness.  Anyone has the potential to be targeted.  Psychopathic individuals do not appear to care whom or what they use or ultimately destroy.

Although interactions with individuals with psychopathic traits can often be conflictual, even when things are considered “good,” most psychopaths are easily bored, like excitement, and steadily move through victims.  It is common for them to leave trails of destruction as they go.  Often, psychopathic individuals simply decide to leave a situation, partnership, or relationship unexpectedly.  At any point, they tend to have disdain for anyone they see as threatening to their position and will very likely attempt to disarm those individuals who they consider to be threatening.  This stage may present further challenges for the victim.    Many with psychopathic traits do not like to be questioned.  Often, at this point, the victim searches for answers.  It is not uncommon for people to seek answers from those with whom they are involved.  In these cases, doing so can often lead to conflict and meet with further retaliation and  victimization.  Unfortunately, even though they are ready to move on to another situation or relationship, they may enjoy watching a victim’s distress.  Sometimes, they even enjoy the challenge of a fight.

Again, victims usually do not understand what is occurring until it is too late.  The psychopath may have already launched smear campaigns, taken unfounded legal action, and manipulated those the victim cares about, simply for sport.  Once the victims begin sharing their stories with others, the people to whom they tell these stories, often cannot believe what they are hearing.  It is common for others to be in disbelief, either because they perceive the victim as an unlikely candidate for targeting or abuse, or because the stories can seem so inherently unlikely that it may be difficult, at first, to believe they are true.

It is important to remember that some psychopaths appear to easily “become” whatever it is their potential victim wants them to be, morphing into “ideal” mates, business partners, or  friends.  Some of them seem to choose their victims based on a combination of opportunity and their perceived ability to manipulate the targeted individuals.  While it is likely that no one is immune from victimization, some may be better candidates for victimization than others, often simply by being decent, trusting people.

Written By:  Linda and the Aftermath Volunteers

Note:  This FAQ was written based on the experiences of victims and survivors.

Hare, R. D. (1999).  Without conscience:  the disturbing world of the psychopaths among us.          New York:  Guilford Press.

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