Genuine Attraction, Manipulation or Something More? Dr. Rhonda Freeman Explains


Yesterday I found a nice surprise in my inbox—a comment from Rhonda Freeman, PhD, clinical neuropsychologist and psychopathy expert. She had come to answer a reader’s question, clarifying and expanding on information I quoted from her website, NeuroInstincts, which I’d included in the Love Bombing post. What she had to say is fascinating and gives greater insight into the workings of the psychopathic mind. What’s really going on in their head when they pursue a new target, and later when they devalue her or him? You may be surprised.

First, this is from the Love bombing post:

“Some experts believe that not all behavior in the beginning of a relationship with a psychopathic or narcissistic personality type is grooming, although grooming (which is intentionally manipulative) will be part of it. According to Dr. Rhonda Freeman, “the emotional high they demonstrate is quite likely genuine. Many are significantly stimulated and intrigued by their new partner. However, in addition to this ‘high’ there also tends to be manipulation… In his or her ‘game’ the psychopathic or narcissistic individual has the advantage. There will be pain for the unsuspecting trusting target… This is the nature of these disorders. No one is bonded to, appreciated or valued.”

Freeman goes on to say, “Unlike the excitement they have for their new target, the grooming component of their relationships is intentional. It is tailored to set the victim up for future use.” She adds that “grooming is purposeful manipulation with an end goal of taking advantage of the target,” and that grooming “facilitates an impression that the psychopathic individual is safe, generous and trustworthy.”

This created some confusion, as evidenced by reader Klarissa’s comment:

“It is hard for me to understand how the emotional high they have can be genuine but also manipulative at the same time. The giddy excitement when he would see me; he would actually blush! So, that can be real but yet they are also self aware and know they are manipulating us? Know they truly can’t feel or attach? He really seemed to believe he was the nice, humble, kind person he portrayed but there were times, looking back, I could sense his delight in duping me or manipulating me.”

Dr. Freeman responded to Klarissa’s question:


I wanted to explain what I meant by the emotional high of a psychopath being “genuine,” while the grooming on the other hand is intentional manipulation.

What is happening is two simultaneous processes. They absolutely have the ability to feel excited and stimulated by people and things — it the reward system of the brain. And it works almost too well for those with psychopathy!

In fact, research has found that their reward system is more sensitive than that of a normal person. Hence the reason why they (more than the rest of us) start off their relationships with intensity. It is genuine and they really are feeling that excited about you.

(The reward system is the system of the brain that kicks into gear when we are newly in love or attracted to someone. It makes us hyperfocus on people, crave them, think of them all the time and get butterflies at the thought/ sight of them. This is very natural and a system that we all have and have all felt it in action. Psychopaths have this system too of course, but the dial of theirs is set at a 10 (arbitrary number), while everyone else is a let’s say … 5)

Although psychopaths have this system that drives them to have this intense attraction and desire for their new target, their brain is also built to be a natural manipulator.

Because they cannot be exposed to something without taking advantage of it – they ‘fatten up their goose’ to eat later. They groom her. They let her know (in a manipulative way) what is expected of her, how this relationship will go and how he wants the experience for him to be when his excitement ends.

Most of the time, they do not know they are going to completely lose interest and hate their current mate (crash from their dopamine high – their reward system is over it — it’s not new anymore) – Many of them are of the genuine belief that they have truly met “the one.” They blame her when ‘their’ brain disconnects from the relationship. This is a dangerous time (emotional or physical or both) for the former object of his affection.

Because of this disorder, psychopaths are operating on two tracks when they are with a new partner:

Intentional manipulator AND their (involuntary) reward system.

Klarissa – The short answer to your question is: Yes – if he is a psychopath then it is highly probable that he felt very stimulated, attracted, and interested – it was genuine. That part was not a dupe.

However, if the person has strong psychopathic traits, then there was likely grooming mixed in there as well.

Hope that clarifies what I meant in the article.

Best to you all,
Dr. Freeman”


A big thank you to Dr. Freeman for stopping by and explaining this psychopathic phenomenon to all of us! Be sure to take a look at her website, NeuroInstincts; the goal of the site is “to empower victims of emotional and physical abuse and to expand their understanding of the dynamics behind these toxic relationships, often from a neuropsychological angle.” There is much information on healing in the aftermath and a Men’s Corner as well, with plenty of info on female psychopaths.

Dr. Freeman also writes for Safe Relationships Magazine and the Aftermath website, an organization providing information and support for victims of psychopathy founded by Drs. Hare, Babiak, Kosson and others.

♥ Thank you for reading.

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24 thoughts on “Genuine Attraction, Manipulation or Something More? Dr. Rhonda Freeman Explains”

  1. Kitty

    I have such a better understanding. My ex is most def a covert narc psychopath so from what I’m reading and understanding is in the beginning stage the narc/psychopath is true in how he is feeling towards his new supply (victim) it’s like he is on a high? And when his brain registers that his supply is no longer needed he then discards him/her

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Hi, Kitty. I’m not sure what happens with narcissists; I know their behavior is similar, but their motivations are different. Psychopaths are often genuinely interested at the start; they become intensely fascinated or enamored with a person, which gives them the dopamine rush they need. The problem is they become bored very easily—they require intense stimulation to get their dopamine high, and when someone isn’t a shiny new object anymore, they’re simply not stimulating enough for the psychopath (and since they aren’t capable of attachment, or an emotional bond, when the intense newness of the relationship wears off there’s nothing left). Psychopaths are not happy when their dopamine high ends and they feel bored, and they blame their partner for it and even despise them because of it, which results in their devaluation. Boredom drives the whole cycle (which they must repeat again and again): Idealize, devalue, discard. Their lives are a continual, relentless pursuit of intense stimulation to relieve their boredom (need for dopamine) which is intolerable to them.

  2. Broken

    Thanks so much for sharing… I know posts help me understand & make sense of my, or best I say, the monster & what Iv experienced…
    My journey of seeking answers started with a phone call from cold case detectives… I was told,just before his release from prison,”he” had been criminally profiled Serial Psychopathic Violent Rapist and at that moment,just like putting a jigsaw together, everything fell into place… I came to believe it was more then domestic violence but could never put my finger on it… I believed for many years that drug & alcohol would send his mind crazy evil & therefore bound/gag/ torture/rape me… Being an ‘alcoholic’ , each day I never knew if it would be my last… At some stage tho ,with an attempted escape failed me, I was surprised to hear ‘him’ tell police what ‘happened’ & although ‘he’ lied,’he’ did mention certain things that made me think – ‘he’ knows dam well what he was doing… As time went by I realised this is who ‘ he’ IS, but couldn’t work out if he schitso…
    Anyway, my journey for understanding & healing has began and it’s thanks to this site that’s enabling it…
    Once again…. Thank you!

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I’m so sorry to hear of your horrifying ordeal! Such a nightmare to go through, but here you are—proof positive that you’re an incredibly strong and resilient person. I certainly hope he’s still behind bars! If anyone deserves to be, it is him and others like him. I hope you have the help and support you need, and glad this site is helping you figure things out. All the best to you as you heal xo

  3. Klarissa

    It was such a great surprise in my inbox too, Adelyn! So appreciative that Dr. Freeman took the time to explain further. They truly are wired completely different from us and that knowledge helps me to accept it and put the entire horrid experience behind me!
    Thank you!

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Understanding how their minds work goes a long way in helping us heal. I’m so glad it helped you, Klarissa!

  4. Michael K.

    Maybe what the psychopath feels isn’t the same as what neurologically normal individuals feel, but it’s important to recall that it’s real to them. Too often psychopathy is wrongfully defined with an overly- large dollop of sadism thrown in for flavor; this should not be. Psychopaths seek a deep connection, sometimes almost manically; how sad it is that they are unable to acquire such connections!

    1. Adelyn Birch

      The thing is, Michael, they don’t cry when they don’t find the connection they were hoping for. They don’t maniacally seek a connection—they maniacally seek intensity. They aren’t capable of having an emotional connection—the connection they seek is one that is ongoingly and sufficiently intense to keep the dopamine flowing. When the newness and intensity wear off, there’s nothing left for them because no emotional bond was formed. When that happens they become bored and frustrated, and take it out on us with devaluation and abuse.

      While I agree that none of this is really their fault—they have a serious neurological disorder, after all—it’s hard to muster up much compassion for them; they don’t suffer because of their disorder; we’re the ones who do, because of the way it makes them act toward us.

      You say, “how sad it is”—but it’s not sad for a psychopath, it’s sad for YOU thinking of how YOU would feel in their place if it were YOU, but don’t forget that “sadness” isn’t on their menu, along with a lot of other things.

      1. Michael K.

        Surely one ought to feel compassion for a blind man, even if he has never used his eyes.
        I understand the emotional response to individuals who are so cold, so clearly capable of such great evils. Are other abnormal psychopathologies any less capable of the same? What of neurologically normal individuals? Are they incapable of the same acts?
        I do agree that it is wise to be on guard against these types of individuals – there are many, and they are manipulative, and they often are destructive. But the trend appears to be misconstruing them as something nearly subhuman. As hurt as normal individuals may be by this action, I disagree that demonization is an appropriate response.

        However, I surely am not as expert in the subject as I wish to be, and so will yield to your position.

        1. Adelyn Birch

          I’m sorry to inform you that your attempts to shame and induce a guilt trip aren’t working; they rarely do when not based on some semblance of reality.

          I think your agenda would be better served elsewhere. Nowhere on this website have I ever said psychopaths are subhuman nor are there any “dollops of sadism.” The only sadism is in the descriptions of how psychopaths treated us; there’s plenty of it there.

          While every type of human may be capable of “great evils,” only one type of person is built for it: the psychopath. If you know anything at all about the disorder—which I’m sure you do—surely you’re aware of the basics: no conscience, no morality, no ability to empathize or to bond with others, manipulative, grandiose, predatory, remorseless. Do any of those facts things ring a bell? Psychopathy has been studied more than any other mental disorder; there is no confusion that these characteristics are what define psychopathy. Yet you think you can create doubt with a couple of baseless comments meant to override logic with emotion? Look at where you are; if you do, you might realize you’re in a place where that doesn’t work.

          “Surely one ought to feel compassion for a blind man, even if he has never used his eyes.” To present that as a fitting analogy is illogical and blatantly ridiculous. To believe anyone would fall for it is doubly so.

          Compassion? No. Pity? Yes, plenty of it.

          1. luxxy

            First and foremost, thank you for saving my life, I don’t think I’d be alive if I hadn’t found this sanctuary when I 7th year of being targeted by a sexually sadistic psychopath. Even after visiting this site for months I was intent on ending my life which landed me in the ER recently. Coming here is slowly but surely saving my “sanity” thru validation. Without that I would have no desire to keep fighting. Which has become a full time job. I’m in the thick of things, trying to escape has him working overtime to keep (me). Related to this post perhaps..the me not being me at all. His “toy”. I was granted a harassment order yesterday and I have no idea what lies ahead. Here I am with my insomnia seeking the dose of clarity I always find when I visit.
            Who would fall for the blind man analogy? Me. I agree. It’s illogical and doubly ridiculous. But even after everything I read it and heartstrings were tugged. If I had read it someplace else I’d be stuck in mourning what never was. I don’t know that Micheal meant any harm, but my longing to finding meaning or empathic naivety has kept me a prisoner. First to him and then to grief. Thank you for all the times I’ve seen you respond to comments by people who don’t quite “get it”, yet. Non victims may never understand but victims like myself who don’t get it entirely will undoubtedly see everything very clearly if they continue to use this as a tool for knowledge and understand while they begin to heal.
            My friend who is helping me with court stuff has listened to me ramble about psychopaths and what I’ve learned. She hasn’t said much in response, although she took me to ER and has done so many things. All she said in response to my ramblings was ‘don’t use the word psychopath when talking to (police,judges,attorney)’
            I know what she meant. Even though I don’t like feeling like that’s a word I can only use here.
            Thanks for defending us, I can’t imagine how draining that must be! Defending myself made me feel like the loneliest person on Earth.
            I should just say thanks for everything. To you and all who come here.

            1. Adelyn Birch

              Luxxy, to say that I’m happy that I saved your life is an understatement. This is a cause for celebration, because your life is a cause for celebration! Validation is vital, and I’m so glad you found it here. Thank you for letting me know. This sadistic psychopath who targeted you was never worth a moment of your time, let alone losing your life over. That would be a tragedy.

              I’m not drained at all by having this site or by talking with readers. In fact, I find it energizing and rewarding. To have been broken by a P and then turn that experience into this site, which helps others in the same predicament, is the best outcome I could ever imagine (not to mention probably the best “revenge” ever ;) Like wise, you can go on to make gains–like valuing yourself more, fully realizing your worth, and becoming stronger and wiser than ever– despite what happened.

              I bought a little rosebush a few weeks ago, and it’s growing and blooming like mad. I am going to dedicate it to you. Every time I see a new bloom, I will send warm wishes your way for you to be doing the same. All the best to you xx

              PS I agree with not calling him a psychopath to police, lawyers and judges, because many of them are psychopaths themselves, and the ones who aren’t probably won’t understand or believe it. Just stick with the facts—describing his actions, and how they affect you.

      2. Michael K.

        In any event, I claim wholeheartedly that the lack of emotional depth is as painful to the psychopath as it is to the people whose lives are negatively affected.

        1. Adelyn Birch

          It’s news to me, and it would be interesting to know how you came to this conclusion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  5. lola

    This sheds so much light. I remember the first dates, he was so eager and chomping at the bit, almost salivating. He wanted to consume me. Many of his friends and family were so happy for him. He was giddy! Imagine how lucky he was to have found someone he was so crazy about, so soon after his wife left him. Now that I think about it, the euphoria was all about his ego. Capturing and seducing me was the goal, but it didn’t fill him up in any meaningful way. It was about proving to himself and to the world what a prize he was! His behavior was like a lion savoring a kill and at the same time like a boy who got a prized toy at Christmas. Because I didn’t know then what I know now, I felt flattered.
    It wasn’t too long that I sensed he was bored and I’d get glimpses of that same excited look when he flirted with other women. If I said anything, he’d accuse me of being jealous, possessive and controlling. In the early days, he made sure to tell me all the things that caused tension in his 2nd marriage. The ex was possessive, controlling and jealous. I can see now, how he groomed me to not show such emotions and accept his bad behavior.
    I agree that psychopaths are genuinely excited and thrilled in the beginning, but it’s not for any other reason than rewarding themselves. It’s always all about them.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Giddy! And the sad part is that we believed it was real, and responded by falling in love with them.

      Mine did exactly the same thing, Lola—he’d look excited and enamored flirting with other women, and then tell me I had a problem with jealousy and insecurity (while making it known through his disgusted facial expressions that he despised those things). It made me much less likely to say anything about it.

      Their “genuine interest” is all about them getting the reward (the exhilaration of dopamine), but they don’t know that. When we’re not new (and not stimulating enough) anymore, they believe we’re the ones who let them down. Imagine that. Since we’ve disappointed them so badly (not really, but they think so), it makes us deserving of all kinds of manipulation and ill treatment.

  6. Judith

    Thank you for your wonderful, enlightening website. My husband was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome 10 years ago. He fits precisely into everything that’s been said here to varying levels. I’m beginning to believe high functioning autism (Asperger’s) can have behaviour which fit all those terms such as narcissism, psychopath, sociopath in varying degrees of severity, from his coldly ignoring me when I cry, to becoming aggressive when I ask him to interrupt his set routine.

    Is it possible the neurological-developmental disorder of autism encompasses the wide variety of these behaviours? I said to others that my husband “groomed and selected me very carefully” many years ago when I was asked why I married him.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Hi, Judith. I’m so glad to hear you like the website; thank you. I’m sorry to hear of what you’ve been going through with your husband. The traits of psychopathy do overlap with those of AS–such as egocentricity and behaving in a way that indicates a lack of empathy–but they happen for different reasons (*although the reason won’t make a difference in how you’re impacted).

      Psychopaths are socially skilled, while people with AS are socially disabled. Psychopaths don’t have an impairment in theory of mind (cognitive empathy), as people with AS do. In fact, a psychopath’s ability for cognitive empathy–being able to infer what others are thinking and feeling–is what makes them successful manipulators, while their lack of emotional empathy makes it impossible for them to care. Psychopaths don’t resonate with other people’s emotions, but those with AS have difficulty with perspective-taking and are often unaware of what others are feeling.

      OK, I just came across an article that basically says the same thing. Here’s the abstract:

      BACKGROUND: There is an overlap between the symptoms of psychopathy and autism spectrum disorders.

      AIM: To contribute to an adequate differential diagnosis of these disorders.

      RESULTS: Empathic deficit is a core symptom of both disorders. In psychopathy there are signs of an emotional empathic deficit, an inability to feel along with another person (insensitivity). Research into autism spectrum disorders points to a cognitive empathic deficit, an inability to take the perspective of another person (innocence). The antisocial behaviour that can accompany both disorders might be due to the type of empathic deficit. In psychopathy the antisocial behavior often involves insensitive manipulation and exploitation of another person. In autism spectrum disorders there is sometimes antisocial behaviour which could be caused partly by incorrect evaluation of social situations. In both psychopathy and autism spectrum disorders dysfunctioning of the orbitoftontal cortex and the amygdala is often mentioned as a possible cause of empathic deficit.

      CONCLUSION: An accurate diagnosis of the type of empathic deficit involved could help to differentiate psychopathy from autism spectrum disorders. Good diagnostic tools are not yet available.

      Tijdschr Psychiatr. 2006;48(8):627-36.
      [Differential diagnosis of psychopathy and autism spectrum disorders in adults. Empathic deficit as a core symptom]

      Being treated with an apparent lack of empathy is a difficult thing to deal with on an ongoing basis; it’s surely affecting you, and I hope you have the support you need, Judith xx

  7. Klarissa

    Your comments really spoke to me, Amy. I grew up in a very dysfunctional environment. My father had severe PTSD from the military and I believe my mother is an N.
    I was not allowed to have any emotion or thoughts apart from her without being ridiculed. To this day, she cannot accept me for a unique individual, cannot accept my boundaries.
    Both my parents would rage and I remember being so frightened as a child. Even while everyone thought we had such a wonderful family life.
    I do think I have blocked out a lot of my childhood as I don’t have a good memory for that time.
    I still struggle in my relationship with them, and have found myself creating more distance as the years go by. Sadly, I feel better that way.
    Getting involved with the P was probably a symptom of these childhood wounds and I guess had it not been for the experience, I would have left them all buried.
    Ive learned a lot about myself and the strength of the human spirit. Happy to be on the other side and working on getting stronger every day!
    Thanks for your comments and all the best to you.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Sounds like you are doing well, Klarissa! That’s wonderful!

  8. Anjulene

    Thank you for helping me to understand what has happened to me in the last 19 years. I spent many years looking for ways to help him attach to me emotionally. I now know, attachment was not possible. He married another 7 days after their first meeting, he proposed to her in their first hour. He has told all “friends” that he has cancer, and is now away. The new wife is still in his home. The predator has probably found new prey, plus many are sorry for him, two birds with one stone.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I’m glad it helps you understand, Anjulene, and I wish you all the very best of everything as you move forward in your life xx

  9. Sweetescape

    A truly interesting and clearly written article which helps no end to put clarity on this very complicated and disturbing issue. A great help to me, in being able to further understand this aspect of a truly shocking disorder.
    Thank you to Rhonda and Adelyn for enlightening and supporting those of us in need.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Thank you so much, Sweetscape! I’m so happy this article was such a help to you!

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