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How Psychopaths Gain Your Confidence

Four messages the psychopath continuously conveys.

According to psychopathy researchers Paul Babiak and Robert Hare, the psychopath penetrates a victim’s vulnerability by projecting four “messages.”1 The first is: “I like who you are.” The second: “I am just like you.” The third: “Your secrets are safe with me.” The fourth: “I am the perfect friend for you.”

When you meet a psychopath, you will generally never know it. Their true self is well hidden from those they manipulate and thus remains invisible. A person with a very discerning eye may be able to ferret out a psychopath, but as Dr. Hare has written, “Everyone is vulnerable to a psychopath.”2

They will size you up faster than you will size them up. As Professor Jacqueline Helfgott has noted, “Psychopaths… spend their entire lives learning and perfecting their skills in figuring other people out, learning their weaknesses, and using people’s insecurities as a tool to gain control.”3

Message One: I Like You

The psychopath begins with flattery, which makes the person feel appreciated. They may pay you compliments to start their process of manipulation. As a victim of two psychopaths, my mother and sister, I saw how they used this tactic with others they wanted to exploit. They would effusively say such things as: “Oh, I love your house!” “You have such great taste in furniture!” "Your children are absolutely wonderful!” They played into the person’s vanity, knowing which buttons to push to put their target into the right frame of mind.

Message Two: I Am Just Like You

People like it when they meet others who are like them. It is not always easy to find someone who shares the same interests, values and beliefs, or has the same tastes … so when you meet someone like this, it adds an element of excitement to a relationship. Words such as, “we are so much alike” have an allure that can be enticing. The psychopath uses many techniques to project this. These could include exclamatory tones of approval; childhood memories that were strikingly similar; and echoing back your experience as their own.

Yaroslav Shuraev/Pexels
Source: Yaroslav Shuraev/Pexels

Message Three: Your Secrets Are Safe With Me

Conveying this message creates an aura of confidentiality and closeness. The target believes they have met a real friend in the psychopath. The psychopath is so convincing that she will even “swear on her own mother” in her utmost allegiance to you. Her expressions and gesticulations demonstrate that you can put your trust and faith in her.

Message Four: I Am The Perfect Friend For You

Now that you feel comfortable enough to let your guard down, you open up to the psychopath who “carefully assesses your persona.”4 The psychopath now has you in her clutches. What can the psychopath get out of you? How will you be used? How will you serve her? She sees you are good-natured and generous. She has you on the hook.

After being victimized, you may never learn that the person was a psychopath. But you do know there was something about her that you could not put your finger on. You may be in denial or disbelief. As British psychoanalyst Symington Neville puts it: “One of the most evident signs of psychopathy is the presence of confusion and bad feeling. One person is set against another and suspicion is rife, but the cause is never rooted out.”

Hopefully, by keeping in mind the four messages that a psychopath projects when targeting a victim, we may be better equipped to avoid becoming one of those victims.


1. Babiak, Paul & Hare, Robert D. (2006). Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work. New York: Harper Collins. 74-78.

2. Hare, Robert D. (1993). Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us. New York: Guilford Press. 216.

3. Helfgott, Jacqueline B. (2019). No Remorse: Psychopathy and Criminal Justice. Santa Barbara: Praeger. 221.

4. Babiak & Hare. 74.

5. Symington, Neville. (1980). "The Response Aroused by the Psychopath" in J.R. Meloy. (Ed.) (2001) The Mark of Cain: Psychoanalytic Insight and the Psychopath. 290. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.

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Primary psychopathy is characterized by hostility, extraversion, self-confidence, impulsivity, aggression, and mild-to-moderate anxiety.