Why Bad Looks Good

The Psychology of Attraction

Why Bad Looks Good

Understanding the psychology of attraction

We have all met them. Handsome, successful manipulators who are are able to cajole us into giving them what they want through a captivating blend of flattery, charm, and charisma. When we finally awake from our euphoric haze, we can’t believe we fell for it. We ask ourselves, how did they get away with that?

On the other hand, we all know honest, ordinary people who identify and take advantage of extraordinary opportunities. Whether it is a wonderful partner or an exceptional job, they are living life to the fullest. We ask ourselves the same question—how did they pull it off?

For both the manipulative and the authentic, the answer is the same. They are attractive because they are able to spot and fulfill the needs and desires of other people. Whether its love, respect, admiration, security, or positive attention, people who are able to detect and fulfill the needs of others can provide a sense of satisfaction and gratification.

The difference is in intention. Manipulative people exploit human vulnerabilities; authentic people enhance the lives of others. What these two groups of people have in common, however, is that from the outside, everything looks good. All lights are green. Why? Not necessarily because of they way they look or behave. But because of the way they make us feel.

Red Flags in the Rearview Mirror

Once our rose colored glasses have been knocked off, we behave the same way we do the morning after a night after alcohol intoxication - we cringe as we survey the damage. Yep, we got involved with a manipulator who used us to get ahead, broke our hearts, or talked us into doing something we now regret—hopefully not in front of a smart phone camera or other recording device.

Frustrated with our own naiveté, we ask ourselves—where were the red flags? Oh, they were there. Your best friend or mother would likely have seen them had they been around. But not you. You were under the spell of a bad person who looked good.

With nearly two decades of experience dealing with manipulative criminals as well as the people they seduce, I will share with you the practical reasons why we miss signs of danger and deception when bad looks good.

Emotional Intoxication

As a prosecutor I am used to describing intoxication as a bad thing. But that is not always the case. We often find ourselves under the influence of positive emotions—love, infatuation, anticipation - which can dull our senses just as much if not more than illegal substances. In fact, when we are under the influence of strong positive emotions we sometimes make even worse decisions or suffer from more lapses in judgment than we would if we had a couple of drinks.

These feelings are fantastic if they are aroused by a well-meaning, authentic partner. However, when they are aroused by someone with ulterior motives, they can function like a blindfold— which leads to the explanation of how bad people get away with as much as they do.

Bad looks good because bad feels good. Who doesn’t love the natural euphoria created by endorphins, sexual arousal, or excitement? Haven’t we all had butterflies in our stomachs as we get ready for a date with the partner of our dreams? Who wants to think about looking for red flags when you are feeling like this?

But this is the most dangerous emotional state you can have when the object of your desire has ulterior motives. It has been heartbreaking to watch a career’s worth of wolves in sheep’s clothing exploit the vulnerabilities of the people who love, adore, and admire them—with often devastating consequences. These people get away with murder—sometimes literally.

How then, do we protect ourselves? By understanding how and why we are fooled. As explained in my book Using the Psychology of Attraction, knowledge is power. Understanding how dangerous and deceptive people capitalize on our ability to be seduced emotionally is the first step to protecting ourselves and our loved ones from being exploited, victimized, or taken advantage of.

In these posts I will illustrate through real life practical examples how the psychology of attraction is at work in all of your relationships at all times. But most importantly, I will share practical tips designed to help you trade in your rose colored glasses for reading glasses in order to regain objectivity.

Wendy L. Patrick, Ph.D. is a career trial attorney and an expert in criminal law. She is co-author of the New York Times bestseller, "Reading People."

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