suit-673697_640Dole or Chiquita? Either way, this guy’s bananas.

Is he or isn’t he? That is the question.

Or is it?

“We had a fight, and I can see that he is genuinely feeling awful from the pics he posts of himself on FB. I know there are different levels of psychopathy, but if he were a psychopath he wouldn’t be able to feel awful, right? During this relationship I have become very unwell, I have internalized everything as my fault, I never feel ‘good enough’ and I my self-esteem and confidence are gone. I tell him I am sorry all the time. But I just want to know the EXACT diagnosis. What if I’m wrong and I leave him, but he’s not really a psychopath?” ~ message from a reader

Even if you’re wrong, it’ll be the best mistake you ever made. When someone blames you for everything and leaves you without self-esteem and feeling “unwell,” their diagnosis is irrelevant.

I get many letters like the one above from readers who aren’t absolutely certain if their partner is a psychopath or not, and they want help figuring it out. Often, part of my response is “You’re asking for relationship advice on a website about psychopaths. That, in and of itself, indicates there’s something seriously wrong.”

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Is that raspberry or strawberry jelly on his tie? It’s a mess, no matter what.

“It’s easy to get obsessed with, fixated on, “labels” and diagnostic categories like sociopath, psychopath, malignant narcissist, narcissist, etc… Does it really matter what precise label — accurate or not — you affix to an individual when he’s proven to be emotionally unavailable, or a compulsive liar, or an abusive personality, or a chronically selfish, self-centered partner, or a chronic, comfortable manipulator and deceiver?”

~ Steve Becker, LCSW, Lovefraud

People can be manipulators, liars, cheaters and crazymakers, but not be psychopaths. Maybe he or she is a narcissist or borderline. And since psychopathy is a spectrum disorder that can exist in varying intensities and degrees, your partner could have some psychopathic traits, but not all of them. What really matters is whether or not the person is capable of having a healthy relationship, and for anyone with the disorders just mentioned, the answer is no. What’s important is this: What effect has being in a relationship with this person had on you?

A lot of people get hung up on analyzing their partner, when all they need ever do is take a look at their own psychological and emotional state.

Easier said than done, I know, when you have invested love, time, and yourself in a relationship and are trying to save it. I can only say this having come out the other side and able now to look back and see things clearly.

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Is it really all your fault she dropped her ice cream?

Many of us have gotten stuck in the quicksand of ‘is he or isn’t he a psychopath?’ but the basic question should be, “Is he or she damaging me, my sanity, my self worth, my life, my well-being, my peace of mind?”

Of course it’s not always easy to answer that question accurately after being manipulated and blamed for all the problems, and this is one of the main reasons we try to diagnose them. If we can’t, we may be left with lingering doubt and wondering if we really were to blame.

“After years of being manipulated it’s easy to get into the habit of doubting yourself… Still, as hard as it might be, one of the most important tasks any recovering person has before them is to end the destructive cycle of self-doubt and blame.”

~George Simon, PhD, Life After a Manipulator

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Who is he, really? If you have to ask, the answer isn’t going to be pretty.

A reader wrote,

“I can’t figure out who he really is, and it’s driving me crazy. On the one hand, he treats me like a goddess and he loves me, but on the other, he rejects me and treats me like he doesn’t care at all, and he cheats on me. I don’t know how he really feels about me.”

When we can’t decide who someone “really” is, that’s a Big Red Flag. Ideally, if we can’t figure out if someone is Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, we wouldn’t waste any time trying. We’d see it for what it is, and head for the nearest exit. And not knowing where you stand with someone (and dealing with the anxiety and uncertainty that goes with it) is another red flag.

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A lemon by any other name is still a very bitter fruit.

Granted, victims of psychopaths (and other cluster B’s) suffer great harm from the extreme manipulation they’ve been subjected to, and that needs to be addressed so lasting harm doesn’t result. A diagnosis could help define what you’ve experienced. But whether you’re certain of a diagnosis or not, the harm is the same. It makes no difference if that harm was caused by a “psychopath” or by an extremely manipulative, callous and self-centered person who was deceitful and untrustworthy and who lacked empathy, compassion, and the ability to love. It’s exactly the same thing, only without the label.

All photos courtesy of  Ryan McGuire of Ithaca, NY

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