How do you argue with a psychopath?

What is a psychopath?

A psychopath is someone who has an antisocial personality disorder characterized by a lack of empathy, remorse, and regard for others. Psychopaths tend to be manipulative, impulsive, and may engage in criminal or aggressive behavior. Some key characteristics of psychopaths include:

  • Lack of empathy and remorse
  • Poor behavioral controls and impulsivity
  • Superficial charm and charisma
  • Dishonesty and insincerity
  • Irresponsibility and blaming others
  • Lack of emotional depth
  • Egocentricity and grandiose sense of self-worth

It’s estimated that about 1% of the general population meets the criteria for psychopathy, with higher concentrations found in prisons. While the causes are not fully understood, a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors are believed to play a role.

Why is it difficult to argue with a psychopath?

Arguing with a psychopath can be incredibly frustrating and ultimately futile for several reasons:

They lack empathy

One of the hallmark traits of psychopaths is a lack of empathy and inability to understand emotions in others. When trying to make an argument based on reason, ethics, or appealing to empathy, it will likely fall on deaf ears with a psychopath. They simply don’t have the capacity to relate on an emotional level.

They are master manipulators

Psychopaths are skilled at using charm, lies, feigned emotions, and other tactics to manipulate a situation to their advantage. Even if you make a rational, well-reasoned argument, a psychopath will try to circumvent it by manipulating you and the facts.

They don’t feel remorse

Normal people feel some level of remorse when they’ve done something wrong. Psychopaths lack that sense of conscience and remorse. So even if you prove without a doubt that they were in the wrong, a psychopath will be unlikely to have any regrets about their actions.

They deflect blame

When confronted with their bad behavior, psychopaths tend to deflect blame onto others rather than take responsibility. A psychopath will find ways to justify their actions, often blaming the other person. Taking responsibility or admitting fault is extremely rare.

They thrive on conflict

Arguing and debating with a psychopath may actually provide them enjoyment and satisfaction. They often have an inflated sense of self-worth and ego, so outsmarting an opponent in a verbal battle can be thrilling. The more frustrated the other person gets, the more the psychopath is likely to enjoy it.

How psychopaths argue

When psychopaths do engage in arguments or debates, they tend to employ certain tactics and strategies:


This involves the psychopath manipulating someone into doubting their own perceptions, memories, or sanity. For example, they may insist that an event never happened or that they never said something, making the person question their own reality.

Straw man arguments

Here the psychopath exaggerates, misrepresents, or just completely fabricates the other person’s argument in order to easily knock it down. They argue against a “straw man” rather than the actual issue.

Ad hominem attacks

When unable to refute an argument on merit, psychopaths may turn to attacking the person making the argument rather than the substance of the debate. Name-calling, ridicule, and criticism of the person are used to undermine their position.

Word salad

This involves the psychopath using a confusing, unintelligible barrage of words that sound meaningful but lack any logic or consistency. It leaves the other person baffled and unable to find any real meaning to argue against.


Psychopaths may project their own malignant motives, flaws, or actions onto their opponent. For example, they may call someone else selfish, abusive, or dishonest when those traits better describe the psychopath.

Why you should avoid arguing with psychopaths

In most cases, trying to engage a psychopath in meaningful debate or argument is simply not worth the effort. Here’s why it’s generally not advisable:

  • It’s unlikely to accomplish anything. Their lack of empathy, remorse, and capacity for manipulation means they aren’t likely to be positively influenced.
  • They may become aggressive or abusive when challenged. Psychopaths often see conflict as a game to win at any cost.
  • You may be providing narcissistic supply. Their ego may revel in the battle of wits, seeing your frustration as proof of their superiority.
  • It can undermine your own sense of reality. Their gaslighting and distortions can leave you confused and doubting yourself.
  • They feel emboldened when winning arguments. Outsmarting you may reinforce their sense of power.
  • Your emotions and logic will be wasted. Reasoned arguments mean little to someone unable to feel empathy or remorse.

In many cases, the psychopath may be a toxic person you cannot avoid, like an abusive partner or manipulative boss. But when possible, refrain from prolonged interactions and arguments which serve their needs more than yours.

When you have to argue with a psychopath

In some cases, you may find yourself forced to engage in some way with a psychopath, whether it’s a work colleague, difficult family member, or abusive partner. When arguments are unavoidable, consider the following strategies:

Remain calm and collected

Psychopaths want to provoke an emotional reaction. By staying calm and rational, you counter their attempts at manipulation. Showing anger, frustration, or indignation only satisfies their ego.

Stick to the facts

Don’t get dragged into emotional appeals, defending yourself, or reacting to insults. Present factual information related to the topic at hand and don’t stray from what can be concretely proven.

Set firm boundaries

State any non-negotiable rules clearly, and stick to them. For example, if the psychopath starts yelling, state that you will only speak to them when they talk in a calm, respectful manner. Then disengage if they become abusive.

Know when to walk away

If the psychopath becomes irrational, belligerent, or bullying, you have full permission to walk away. You do not need to engage in indefinite debate; leave when it’s clear the interaction has turned toxic.

Document interactions when possible

Record conversations, keep emails, and take notes after the fact. This creates a record of what was said in case the psychopath later attempts to deny or distort events.

Get support from others

Validate your own experiences with trusted friends, relatives or professionals. This can combat gaslighting and reassure you that your perceptions of events are grounded in reality.

When to get professional help

In cases of severe manipulation, abuse or workplace disruption, getting professional assistance may become necessary. This can include:

  • Filing a complaint of harassment or abuse through proper workplace channels
  • Speaking to a counselor or therapist if the relationship is causing you psychological strain
  • Consulting an attorney if the psychopath’s actions have broken laws regarding stalking, threats, or violence
  • Contacting the authorities if you are being physically or sexually abused
  • Obtaining a restraining order through the legal system if the psychopath will not leave you alone
  • Seeking the help of a mental health professional trained in managing psychopathic personality disorders

The most unstable and dangerous psychopaths cannot be reasoned with. Put your health and safety first, and seek qualified third-party help as needed.


Arguing with a psychopath is rarely productive and can even be harmful to your mental health. Their manipulative nature means they cannot be engaged in honest, good faith debate. When possible, avoid prolonged interactions, but if you must argue with a psychopath, remain calm, stick to the facts, set boundaries, and know when to walk away. Seek outside support to validate your experiences and take legal action if the situation escalates to abuse, threats, or violence. With professional help, you can mitigate the damage psychopaths try to inflict and make rational choices to protect yourself.


Key Sources on Psychopathic Behavior

  • Hare, R. D. (1999). Without conscience: The disturbing world of the psychopaths among us. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Babiak, P., & Hare, R. D. (2006). Snakes in suits: When psychopaths go to work. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Stout, M. (2005). The sociopath next door. New York: Broadway Books.
  • Fallon, J. (2013). The psychopath inside: A neuroscientist’s personal journey into the dark side of the brain. New York: Current.
  • Ronson, J. (2011). The psychopath test: A journey through the madness industry. New York: Riverhead Books.

Articles on Engaging with Psychopaths

  • Hart, S. D., & Logan, C. (2011). Formulation of violence risk using evidence-based assessments: The structured professional judgment approach. In P. Sturmey & M. McMurran (Eds.), Forensic case formulation. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • DeShong, H. L., & Kurtz, J. E. (2013). Four factors of psychopathy and workplace bullying: The impact of psychopathy on perceived abuse from co-workers. Personality and Individual Differences, 55(3), 327-332.
  • Boddy, C. R. (2011). Corporate psychopaths, bullying and unfair supervision in the workplace. Journal of Business Ethics, 100(3), 367-379.
  • Peterson, C., DeGue, S., Florence, C., & Lokey, C. N. (2017). Lifetime Economic Burden of Rape Among U.S. Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 52(6), 691–701.

Table 1: Comparing Healthy Debate vs Arguing with Psychopath

Healthy Debate Arguing with Psychopath
Goal is mutual understanding Goal is winning at any cost
Uses logic and reason Uses manipulation and distortion
Remains respectful Resorts to insults and aggression
Considers alternate views Unwilling to see other perspectives
Facts are critiqued fairly Straw mans arguments
Admits errors Deflects blame; never wrong
Ethics matter No remorse for unethical behavior
Values truth Lies and deceives

Table 2: Strategies for Arguing with a Psychopath

Useful Strategies Ineffective Strategies
Remain calm and unemotional Reacting with anger or frustration
Focus on facts Making emotional pleas
Set firm boundaries Expecting empathy or remorse
Know when to walk away Trying to get the last word in
Record interactions if possible Engaging in protracted debates
Get support from others Allowing gaslighting and misdirection
Consult professionals if needed Thinking you can alter their behavior

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