“It’s their eyes that are the most remarkable feature. How they drill into you.”
Dr. Robert Hare, psychopathy expert
Do a psychopath’s eyes give them away? Are they a reliable sign we can use to identify and avoid them?
The answer might just be “yes.” But nothing is foolproof, of course. If you don’t see the signs in someone’s eyes, it doesn’t mean they’re not psychopathic. Many of us have seen firsthand or read descriptions of psychopaths having an intense gaze, a predatory or reptilian stare, or eyes that are lifeless, dead, emotionless, cold, icy, flat, black, or empty.
I’ve gotten many comments from readers who describe the phenomenon:
I have noticed that sometimes his eyes looked completely without expression, like glass…
I couldn’t even look him in his eyes because I felt a shiver running through me. I thought it was because I was in love.
My nickname for him was Devil Eyes…
As the relationship progressed I saw his eyes change to evil, soulless tools and it was frightening and perplexing.
I saw that serpent look in the eyes…
I saw a picture of me and him the first day we hung out. It was like staring at the eyes of the devil…
Once you look into those cold, dead eyes, you aren’t the same..
I have one very eerie photo taken on a holiday where he is looking directly at me through the lens. His eyes appear to be flashing with hatred and contempt.
My two year anniversary is Sunday and I looked at our wedding pictures, just to see if his eyes were as dead then as they are now. I was horrified. They were.
“Pod Person,” that’s what I call him. The lifelessness, lack of light or soul behind his eyes is chilling. His eyeballs appear as if they are made of stones.
It’s eerie indeed, as I recall my psychopath’s lifeless expressions, lizard eyes…
I have not a doubt that I was hypnotized by him and I believe I know when. And it was when he told me to “look into my eyes” which I did and his response was, “I love when you look into my eyes.” By the next day, I woke up and thought about him immediately and couldn’t stop…
My psychopath had a lined face but the eyes were bright and he tended to act as if he was in his twenties (going on 60 in physical terms!). It can be a very sexy combination.
Sometimes during sex, mine would stare directly into my eyes for up to twenty minutes at a time. His eyes would not waver…
I remember thinking how his eyes were like that of a lizard, alive but somehow dead, at odds with the rest of his face.
What do the experts have to say about the psychopath’s eyes?
Some have compared the psychopath’s gaze to an intense narrow-beam searchlight. When they lose interest and look away, it feels as if a light was suddenly switched off.
Many believe the psychopath is unconsciously projecting an “annihilatory stare,” meaning he or she isn’t seeing the other person as a human being, but coldly assessing them as an object he can use, manipulate or destroy.
The psychopath’s fixated, intense stare is sometimes referred to as scoptophilia: the sexualization of looking; predatory staring. It is visual predation.
Experts also call it a “reptilian stare,” and that might be more than just a colorful description. Dr. Reid Meloy’s Reptilian State Theory hypothesizes that psychopaths are more like reptiles than mammals. The brain structure of the reptile supports the behaviors of establishment and defense of territory, hunting, feeding, mating, dominance, aggression, and imitation. Psychopaths and reptiles are missing behaviors that are products of the emotion-generating limbic system, which is absent in reptiles and markedly underactive in psychopaths.
It is widely understood that psychopaths can’t attach to, or bond with, others.
“The ‘house of psychopath’ is constructed on a foundation of no attachment, underarousal, and minimal anxiety. These appear to be necessary, related, but insufficient characteristics that provide certain biological predispositions for the development of the psychopathic character. Attachment is a biologically-based, species-specific behavioral system which serves the survival of the infant by maintaining the closeness of the caretaker. It is deeply rooted in mammals, but absent in reptiles.” ~ A Psychoanalytic View of the Psychopath, J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D., San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute
Now I understand where the book “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work” really got its title.
Dr Robert Hare says the intensity of the psychopath’s gaze is “similar to the concentration with which a predator stalks its prey.” They are totally focused and their rapt attention does not waver. In his book Without Conscience, Hare wrote, “Many people find it difficult to deal with intense, emotionless, or “predatory” stare of the psychopath. Normal people maintain close eye contact with others for a variety of reasons, but the fixated stare of the psychopath is more prelude to self-gratification and the exercise of power than simple interest or empathetic caring.”
In Without Conscience, a victim described the predatory stare: “I found it difficult to look at his eyes because they confused me. I didn’t know what was behind them and they didn’t tell me what he was thinking or what his intentions were.”
A psychopath’s strange, unsettling gazes are not constant – they can be momentary, lasting for a very short time.
In my own experience, the psychopath I knew had lambent eyes — brilliantly playful, softly bright, luminous. They twinkled with warmth when he smiled, or so I thought. It was actually the twinkle of amusement as he manipulated me. A few times I saw the light go out in his eyes, and in those moments they became flat and dead. He had a transfixing, steady gaze and could lock my eyes onto his for long periods. It was as if there were a connection between our eyes that made it impossible to look away. I become completely absorbed in it and oblivious to the world around me. I mistook the psychopath’s predatory focus for the gaze of someone who was enamored with me. He smiled and said all the right things, but his gaze was actually the focus of a predator on his prey. Literally.
Nothing is foolproof. If you don’t see the signs in someone’s eyes, it doesn’t mean they’re not psychopathic. And depending on their particular gaze, there may not seem to be anything amiss until after the fact. For example, while a gaze that comes across as “reptilian” would be disconcerting and arouse suspicion, a gaze that’s simply “intense” could easily be misread.
Don’t ignore the signs that you might be looking into a psychopath’s eyes. If you do, remember this:
“When one gazes upon the psychopath, there is less there than meets the eye.”
~ Reid Meloy, PhD., International Handbook on Psychopathic Disorders and the Law, Volume 1, p. 341
In a catalytic act:
♥ Thank you for reading.
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“Wonderful read. Such a great gem. If you’re wondering if you are encountering a psychopath, read this book and you will know without a doubt.”
“Quite relevant and helpful, written in a useful down-to-earth-style which emphasizes the practical. Obviously written from direct experience.”
“The truth shall make you free… the description of typical behavior and common reaction to that behavior was more helpful to me in freeing myself than all the books on what a psychopath, sociopath or narcissist is”
35 thoughts on “Psychopathy: Is It In Their Eyes?”
Gleeful! That was how his eyes looked. Cold but gleeful. I thought at first it was good humor, joy. I came to realize that it was amusement as he watched me come under his spell. They were the eyes of a predator about to pounce, and when I was enchanted his eyes went cold, and the devaluation began. I saw the transformation. It was terrifying. I realized that I had been entrapped and that I was in danger. I left him then. I can still see those soulless eyes, smiling with a terrible glee.
GLEE — exactly! It’s also known as “contemptuous delight,” and it can reach hysteria levels. It’s the delight of putting one over on someone. Duping delight. That’s what sets their eyes atwinkle!
Thank you for the brilliant poem, Linda!
I am always honored when you use one of my poems here. Thank you Adelyn! x
Wow! Yes it is in the eyes. Mine had dull, boring eyes that stared. He often commented about my eyes- the colour, my gaze. He professed his love for me after the first date when I told him I wasn’t interested in a relationship. He convinced me to see him on a second date, when he stared and stared at me. Then he looked at me and said “I can see the look of love in your eyes”. That’s what he wanted, for me to fall in love with him.
Like the above post, his eyes were dead, incapable of showing any love or emotion, except rage. His glare at me was horrifying when he was enraged. Which was often.
The one I knew kept pulling small stunts to get me to notice him. I really had no interest when I first met him, but somehow he won me over, big time. I never saw any rage; I only heard it when he discarded me viciously over the phone. I’m glad I didn’t have to be anywhere near him during his rage. It must have been awful to deal with that on a regular basis.
I have so many photos in which he stares at me. I thought it was the true love I was so longing to have… but it was a glare that manipulated me even deeper into his world. Hypnosis. Plus a smile that ensures you’re doing the right thing, to trust him even more. Phew, so hard to resist! Thanks for the post, I needed this – tomorrow he might be staring at the court, the divorce is finally moving on (slow paperwork and court system!).
Best of luck tomorrow, Brightie!
The P I knew had very sad, innocent looking eyes in person, his eyes were light blue but when I took some photos of him his eyes looked JET BLACK and evil. It was strangest thing, at the time I thought that maybe it was just the lighting, but now I’m thinking that the camera captured something that cannot be detected in person.
And now, the photo he has as his facebook profile pic his eyes just look batshit crazy.
How creepy! Black eyes and batshit crazy? It sounds like this guy doesn’t photograph too well. It’s interesting that his eyes were so different in person.
He enjoyed having his picture taken and could produce a smile from ear to ear but it was rehearsed and his eyes focused on something just beyond the lens. Dull, lifeless eyes unless he was in a rage or I happened to notice him staring at me with pure contempt. As I look back, I noticed I had a very difficult time looking directly into his eyes. If I made any eye contact during an argument or difference of opinion he would spiral into a rage. Much like an animal I felt threatened and fearful and needed to defer to him or risk his rage.
I have since met a young woman who is very engaging and friendly towards me but quickly noticed, during a recent conversation, she was glaring at me with hate and contempt when she thought I was not looking. Very scary and I moved on quickly.
I’m glad you moved on. I know all about those contemptuous looks! They mean only one thing — run.
Very interesting post about the eyes, and so true. One more tool to help defend ourselves against further pain and abuse. Thanks Adeline, you keep making us smarter and wiser!
My P’s eyes were / are always twinkling and full of ‘warmth’ – what I now know to be amusement since that same amusement was in his eyes when he hoovered me after I went NC. For years I thought the twinkling eyes were benign until the mask slipped again and again and again. It took me 6 months of being stabbed in the back to realize that the person I thought I knew didn’t exist – I gave him every chance I could think of, thinking that he was young and just making mistakes, or emotionally all over the place, but after 6 months of disbelief and grieving. I grieved because I used to think he was the nicest person on the planet and I REALLY missed the ‘old’ him who I thought I knew) I finally accepted that he wasn’t what he seemed.
Then I had to figure out what he was and after another few months I remembered the film ‘The talented Mr. Ripley’ (which I watched years and years ago) and that set me on the right path. I started hunting around to find out WHAT Ripley was, thinking there must be some diagnosis or description for him, then came across the term ‘socialised psychopath’, eventually came across your ‘Red flags of a psychopath’ article that described my P exactly (thank you! It’s written in human terms, not science-speak and gave me a confidence boost), then somehow came across ‘Snakes in Suits’ and finally devoured (and am still devouring) everything I could find out about Ps.
As for the eyes – they’re incredibly steady and unblinking. His focus, concentration and level unblinking eyes are symptomatic of being a P and those particular qualities of fearlessness and total lack of anxiety.
Once I figured out he was a P and that his eyes that were so full of ‘love’ and ‘warmth’ would disarm and charm me (we’re both male but I thought I’d found someone on my wavelength who saw the world through my eyes, Ps are so GOOD at that!) and that his intense gaze would tune in to me and figure out what buttons to press I put up my defences. Slow-witted me. I soft-focussed behind his head whilst looking at the bridge of his nose, or I just simply looked straight ahead. At the same time I shut down all signals that I gave off – I went into dispassionate mode. Neutral. Neutral comments, neutral replies, neutral thoughts, total disinterest. Give nothing away. His immediate reaction was to up the ante, to get excited and lively, presumably because from past experience with other people he must have figured out that that drew a response. By the next week after he didn’t bother with that approach – he just kept it neutral too.
So – for the eyes – people say that P’s eyes are reptilian, hypnotic. That threw me because I haven’t seen them like that, though I’ve experienced extremely intimidating and threatening body language. Once, as an example, he started coming towards me for a few paces, tracking my evasions at a distance as I tried to get out of the way, and that was very scary indeed.
I take my safety VERY seriously – won’t phsycially go anywhere near him and if I sense anything ‘off’ I slip away. I even intuit if it’s a good day to turn up – whether the vibes feel ‘bad’ when I wake. The best self-defence is never to be there when there’s trouble.
But back to the eyes – steady, unblinking, level are the descriptions I would have previously used for my P. It’s funny how just a few words, a slight nuance, can throw us off track. Hypnotic, reptilian – no. ‘Intense’ – somehow my mind wouldn’t accept that description in the past, maybe because it would have meant acknowledging that there was something ‘wrong’ and my cognitive dissonance before the mask slipped wouldn’t allow it. But I would definitely say intense now!
Unfortunately, warm, twinkling eyes aren’t always what they seem to be. Either is an intense gaze. It’s easy to misread those. Had they been reptilian, they would have come across as odd and unsettling. Ps are everywhere. everywhere. Their numbers are small, but the damage they cause is disproportionately large.
I’m still there, but the joy and sparkle are gone. I dread turning up sometimes. I know for a fact he’s driven one person away (he love-bombed her) and he’s stalking another – he just won’t ‘let go’ and so she’s taken to turning up once month to try and shake him off. Like you say, they’re everywhere. Education is the only answer.
Ty for sharing, I to noticed the eyes of my npds eyes empty look. Also last night I read the no gender about the psychopaths which I was questioning to. So thank you for as sharing ur information.
You’re welcome. I’m glad it helps you, Angie!
I can remember feeling as though I was under some kind of trance and even joked with him once that he was exerting some kind of mind control over me. Initially, I thought his intense stare was sexy in a way, made me feel as though he was really into me. But, I also noticed that his eyes seemed to change color from blue to black when he was intensely staring at me and he would often chuckle. I’d ask him why but never got an answer.
So, so creepy now that I understand what it actually was.
You can read more about trance here: Hocus-Pocus: It’s All In the Focus
I remember being lectured one time by ‘malignant mum’ on how the smile was supposed to crinkle the eyes. She thought it was something I needed to know.
Interesting that your “malignant mum” felt you needed instructions in how to smile! A genuine smile has a name. It’s called the “Duchenne smile,” which “involves both voluntary and involuntary contraction from two muscles: the zygomatic major (raising the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi (raising the cheeks and producing crow’s feet around the eyes).” A fake smile only involves the mouth muscles. A genuine smile is controlled by the limbic system, which is underactive in psychopaths. BUT there are some people who can “fake” a Duchenne smile… and these people happen to be the ones who can put on convincing displays of false emotion in everyday life. http://nuweb9.neu.edu/socialinteractionlab/wp-content/uploads/gunnery.etal_.20121.pdf
Interesting and this certainly makes a lot of sense. I used to look at him and think to myself: “Who are you?” He went through all of the motions, but there wasn’t much substance, just empty actions and empty words. For the longest time, I thought it was me and my silly expectations, but now I can see it was him!. He always left me in a state of wanting more!
There’s a reason people say that the eyes are the windows of the soul. The psychopath gives you an empty stare because they lack a soul and they certainly have no heart. I too remember feeling that I was in a trance while in his company. It felt like mind control because I didn’t want the time to end. The hours would fly by in which I neglected everything else in my life to be with him. That has to be a “red flag” because in a normal healthy relationship you don’t feel anxiety when your partner is away from you.
I agree; needing to spend every moment with someone and having “separation anxiety” isn’t normal and it’s a huge clue that something’s seriously wrong.
I wanted to comment regarding your section on the psychopath stare. The eyes of the psychopath I dated would be different each time I walked in his door for the first dozen dates. Once I said unknowingly “your eyes look so dark sometimes” to which he replied “yes I stare in the mirror at them.” He was well aware he was fixating on his victim. He was also born with a tail bone. I saw his mask fall which was beyond any nightmare or scary film one could ever see – beyond comprehension and totally earth shattering.
I believe that narcissists, who are not born psychopaths, have been greatly harmed as a child by a psychopath parent, uncle or brother (etc.). They are in an extreme cope mode necessary to block out the pain and function. Others who were harmed may become a hoarder to fill the emotional gap, turn to drugs to dull the pain but the narcissist built a wall to function in our world to bury the emotional, physical & mental pain they were dealt. I think seeing this may create more understanding of what they sustained as a child to become what they are. Sadly they are victims too.
Jon Ronson said in his book “The Psychopath Test” that all the harm in the world is due to psychopaths. Just imagine what this world would be without them.
When you see a psychopath without their mask, you realize just how much of a mask it really is!
That is an interesting observation L.Lister regarding the affect these psychopaths have on children. I am observing my own children, now I am free from him. They are each unique, their own personalities, but how much have they been affected/infected by his contact? He favoured some, he targeted others. He use ‘play’ staring games with the children, making their eyes water. He had protruding eyes, a most beautiful shade of blue, twinkling at me. He’d put on his confused, little boy look, all the better for me to try and understand him, I tried so hard to understand, how ever could I??? And that upward curl of his lips, like a dog, about to attack, and the eyes, that look, dead inside. Black holes that we fill for them. I’m with Jon Ronson, they destroy all that is good in this world, for their benefit, they are parasites, feeding from our humanness. How long can the world endure?
Black holes that we fill for them
So true, Totallybel! If our brains didn’t fill in the blanks, they would have been nothing.
My father is a psychopath, he harmed us both but NOTHING compared to the people I know who had psychopathic mothers. Our mother was a narcissist and damaged us (borderline/narcissist kids) but I thank god she was not psychopathic or my brother and I would have been psychopathic too. My father’s mother was too busy and so gave my father to his two sisters to care for the minue she was home from the hospital, so he did not bond with his mother. My ex-GF who is a severely psychopathic sexual predator of the worst kind had an anorexic mother who just talked the whole day TO her little baby, but never listened. She put her int he hospital with skull fractures twice before they gave her to her father the third time. She is one dangerous woman. I feel grateful today after discovering what i did today.. she was a prostitute the entire time we dated… her mask was ‘intellectual’ she mirrored me i guess i dunno.. anyhow she would tell me she was staying home to watch online conferences in french… she was leaving for the night to work at an escort agency.. I feel like throwing up….excuse me the world is spinning in a bad way.
Yes, your ex is horrible and I’m sorry for you and for all the others that will have a similar fate. The thought of a child with a psychopathic mother makes me very sad, as does your history of a psychopathic father and narcissistic mother. May your life be free of them in the future, Norm. Knowledge is power.
Before we even went on our first date I caught him starring at me often. I thought it was a tell-tale sign that he really liked me. Even then, the stare seemed too intense and somewhat weird but I didn’t think too much into it. On our first date I remember feeling inadequate because I couldn’t maintain unwavering eye contact for as long as him. As we began to “fall in love” I would catch him starring at me while smiling and I thought it was a sign that he truly love me, how sweet! As the situation turned and the manipulative shift happened I saw his stare turn evil on a least three occasions. I once woke up to find he was starring with the most evil eyes at me! He said nothing, just stared. He used them other times to try to control me. He once used the evil stare to try and make me have sex with him which I refused to do. I suffered pretty extreme cognitive dissonance but his reptilian eyes were a feature I could never excuse. They said it all!
I hope you’re only looked upon with loving kindness from now on, Asheley. That’s my wish for all of us.
Sheesh.. I feel like linking to my ex’es photos on her dating profile open in my other browser window, but i won’t… her eyes are 100% black.. intense.. and contempt? Lordy lordy i don’t know how I did not see it. I think its hard to accept the eyes until you’ve seen the evidence. I was in denial for years.. even though I knew she was a psychopath.. it was only today I realized her entire plan for me from the minute she saw me.. I was used by her 100%.. she put me at great risk.. she is truly without conscience.. not just me.. she stole her best friend’s boyfriend then dumped him two weeks later and told them both she just did it for the fun. Now a strong couple is broken. Everyone in their 40s. Even her father is a victim. I could have seriously gotten in trouble. I walked in SO blind.
We all walked in so blind! Well, we’re not blind any more. As Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I’m sorry to hear you had to deal with all of this, and that it spread to your friends. I wish you all the best, Norm.
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