Stringing Women Along: The Psychopath as Puppet Master

Since, as we’ve seen in previous discussions, psychopaths enjoy sex and power–especially when the two are combined–they’re great jugglers of women. They especially relish creating rivalry and jealousy among their partners. They instigate feelings of mutual disrespect and even hatred. Watching several women fight over them validates their ego. It also offers priceless entertainment. To offer one notable example of a famous psychopath, Pablo Picasso unabashedly confesses to his partner, Françoise Gilot, his delight in having women assault each other over him. He recounts how Marie-Thérèse and Dora Maar had an altercation over  who was his real girlfriend. Instead of diffusing the tension, he encouraged them to escalate from a verbal to a physical fight. Picasso tells Gilot, “’I told them they’d have to fight it out themselves. So they began to wrestle. It’s one of my choicest memories.’” (Life with Picasso, 211)

Jealous fights, as well as mutual insults and devaluation, offer an amusing spectator sport for psychopaths. It makes them feel in charge: like they’re the puppet masters manipulating all these women’s emotions. This rivalry also has the additional advantage of creating artificial barriers among the victims. The women’s aggression turns against one another rather than towards their real enemy, the psychopath who is using and mistreating them both, plus several others that they may not even know about.

Psychopaths tend to select trusting and trustworthy women whom they can manipulate and taint. They enjoy the thrill of getting them to collude in their lies and machinations against others, including family members and friends. They resort to emotional blackmail to get their victims, who are often decent human beings, to cooperate. This establishes a link of complicity in the psychopathic bond: something along the lines of, you lied to your family (or my family, or our friends, or your spouse) too, so therefore you’re just as bad and deceitful as I am. Furthermore, psychopaths need to have their sense of power over you constantly reaffirmed. Since they’re at core malicious human beings, the way you help confirm their power best is by colluding with their projects to deceive and hurt others.

By turning “their” women against one another, psychopaths make each of them simultaneously their co-conspirator and their dupe, the deceiver and the deceived. When she deflects her negative emotions towards other women, the psychopath’s wife or girlfriend remains blind to the real threat posed by her own partner. Emotionally, this perspective may be easier to accept than the truth: namely, that your supposed soul mate wants to destroy you and is using you as a weapon to hurt others and vice versa. Only when you’re strong enough to open your eyes and face reality do you begin to see the machinations of the psychopath as puppet master.

Françoise Gilot describes this strategy with incredible lucidity. She compares Picasso’s habit of stringing several women along to a Bluebeard complex and to a bullfight. Although these analogies may seem radically different, they describe the same phenomenon. In this process, the real enemy–the one who gores you in the end–is the man generating all the drama and rivalries among women in the first place:

“Pablo’s many stories and reminiscences about Olga and Marie-Thérèse  and Dora Maar, as well as their continuing presence just off stage in our life together, gradually made me realize that he had a kind of Bluebeard complex that made him want to cut off the heads of all the women he had collected in his little private museum. But he didn’t cut the heads entirely off. He preferred to have life go on and to have all those women who had shared his life at one moment or another still letting out little peeps and cries of joy or pain and making a few gestures like disjointed dolls, just to prove there was some life left in them, that it hung by a thread, and that he held the other end of the thread. Even though he no longer had any feeling for this one or that one, he could not bear the idea that any of his women should ever again have a life of her own. And so each had to be maintained, with the minimum gift of himself, inside his orbit and not outside. As I thought about it, I realized that in Pablo’s life things went on just about the way they do in a bullfight. Pablo was the toreador and he waved the red flag, the muleta. For a picture dealer, the muleta was another picture dealer; for a woman, another woman. The result was, the person playing the bull stuck his horns into the red flag instead of goring the real adversary–Pablo. And that is why Pablo was always able, at the right moment, to have his sword free to stick you where it hurt. I came to be very suspicious of this tactic and any time I saw a big red flag waiving around me, I would look to one side of it. There, I always found Pablo.” (Life with Picasso, 242-3)

Psychopaths have an uncanny ability to turn even people who don’t know one another against each other through their egregious lies and smear campaigns. After slandering their ex partners to their new partners and vice versa, psychopaths sit back and enjoy the show. Aside from the entertainment value and the sense of being in charge, the psychopath gets something else out of generating conflict among his targets. He also gets back-ups to his back-ups. Given that he’s bound to mistreat every woman he’s involved with, he certainly needs them. It seems as if psychopaths know, through both intuition and experience, that the honeymoon phase won’t last long no matter how exciting and promising a given relationship may seem in the beginning.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


Review of Sarah Strudwick’s Dark Souls

If you’ve been involved with someone who seemed to be your dream come true, but turned out to suck all the energy,  financial resources and happiness out of you, then Sarah Strudwick‘s new book, Dark Souls: Healing and Recovering from Toxic  Relationships is worth reading. This book, written by a very well-informed survivor of a toxic relationship with a narcissistic  sociopath, offers a wealth of information about the key symptoms of sociopathy and malignant narcissism; an inspiring tale of the author’s
personal journey of coping with a hellish relationship and her survival; information about other helpful books and resources that can help victims;  and, last but not least, a dab of wry British humor to entertain you.

Dark Souls gets to the essence of what makes personality disordered individuals so predatory, ruthless and dangerous. It exposes  their luring techniques, when such individuals seem to be perfect and adapt to your ideals. It reveals why this is only a mask to hide  these social predators’ real motives, which is to use and abuse others for their personal gain and amusement.  It explains the physiological and psychological manifestations of sociopathy and narcissism, exploring the reasons behind their shallowness of emotions  that leads these predators to con, deceive, beguile, torment and sometimes physically harm others.

The book also examines, in an introspective and highly informative manner, the profile of their chosen targets: whom social predators tend to select  and why. Although nobody is immune from victimization by sociopaths and narcissists, Strudwick indicates that these predators tend to pick  the emphatic, vulnerable and needy out of the herd. She traces the root of this vulnerability to childhood upbringing, using her own life as an example.  This doesn’t mean, however, that their chosen victims are weak. The author also goes on to explain that sociopaths tend to target strong and principled victims.  They prefer individuals whom they initially regard as a challenge, later use as a false front and, when  they are finally unmasked, who won’t behave towards them as unscrupulously as they do (by lying, cheating and/or defrauding others).

While there are quite a few informative books on narcissism and sociopathy, Dark Souls still manages to bring a lot to the literature on the subject  through its wit and spiritual perspective. This book uses the metaphor of the “dark soul” and the concept of spiritual energy to explain how psychopaths and  narcissists drain our emotional energy as well as to point to a road of recovery and personal flourishing once we end these toxic relationships.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Why Sociopaths Win By Losing

In The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout raises the following excellent question: “If sociopaths are so focused on their goals and so driven to win, then why do they not win all the time?” She goes on to explain that, basically, sociopaths are losers: “For they do not [win or succeed in life]. Instead, most of them are obscure people, and limited to dominating their young children, or a depressed spouse, or perhaps a few employees or coworkers… Having never made much of a mark on the world, the majority are on a downward life course, and by late middle age will be burned out completely. They can rob and torment us temporarily, yes, but they are, in effect, failed lives.” (The Sociopath Next Door, 188)

I think that Martha Stout, Robert Hare, Steve Becker and many other experts on sociopathy are right to say that sociopaths play games in life and aim to win.  They’re also right to observe that sociopaths generally don’t win because they tend to sabotage every relationship and endeavor by cheating, lying and engaging in other destructive behavior. But all this assumes that psychopaths have the same conception of “winning” that normal people have. It’s true that psychopaths lose in life by normal standards. But, as we well know, psychopaths lack normal standards and perspectives in pretty much all areas of life. They don’t view “winning” in the positive sense of achieving success–be it successful long-term relationships or professional endeavors–but rather as causing others to lose.

To offer one noteworthy example, from a normal perspective, Hitler and Stalin are the Big Losers of history. They’re evil dictators who trampled over countless human lives in their march to absolute power. But keep in mind that their goal was not governing strong nations in general, as was arguably Napoleon’s goal. These two totalitarian rulers wanted to achieve total control over several nations: and the entire world, if possible. Total control can’t be achieved without the subjugation, and even the annihilation, of any dissenting voice; without the inculcation of fear; without violence.

Sociopaths would rather win by becoming notorious for their crimes rather than famous for their achievements. How else can one describe the motivations of serial killers like Ted Bundy and so many others, who take pride in violent crimes and the ability to get away with them (at least for awhile)? Fortunately for the rest of humanity, most sociopaths aren’t world dictators or serial killers. However, looking at these prominent examples helps us understand better the distorted logic of sociopathy. It’s an “I win if you lose” mentality. In their own warped perspectives, sociopaths win by destroying other human beings and their social institutions, regardless if that enables them to achieve anything in life or lands them straight in prison.

Perhaps a sociopath’s only fear is being unmasked as evil, because that exposes the nature of his game. As Harrison Koehli eloquently puts it, “[Psychopaths] hang on to their masks with such conviction because they are predators, and without them, they cannot survive… To let down that facade would reveal that they are little more than unfeeling intraspecies predators that feed off the pain and suffering of others and thus destroy their chances of feeding. Even a psychopath is aware of the consequences of such a revelation. His ‘dreams’ of a boot forever stomping on the face of humanity are crushed.” Unfortunately, for as long as there will be people protecting, colluding with, and covering for sociopaths, these parasites will continue to feed on us, even if it means the destruction of both predator and prey. Sociopaths play a very dangerous game, whereby they win by losing. 

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


Do Psychopaths Fall in Love?

Victims often wonder: do psychopaths fall in love? So far I have explained that psychopaths can’t love in the normal sense of having genuine empathy for others. But they can, and do, fall in love. Now I’d like to delve more deeply into the subject of how they fall in love and with whom. As we’ve seen, because of their ability to charm people, their seductive skills, their penchant for pleasure and their intense focus on their most desired targets, psychopaths can be (for a short while) extraordinarily passionate lovers. Their passion, however, finds itself in a constant race against time. The time usually runs out when the balance of power in the romantic relationship shifts dramatically in the psychopath’s favor.   Picasso describes this process quite poetically when he tells his mistress, Francoise Gilot:

“We mustn’t see each other too often. If the wings of the butterfly are to keep their sheen, you mustn’t touch them. We mustn’t abuse something which is to bring light into both of our lives. Everything else in my life only weighs me down and shuts out the light. This thing with you seems to me like a window that is opening up. I want it to remain open. We must see each other but not too often. When you want to see me, you call me and tell me so.” (My Life with Picasso, 53-4).

Basically, in a relationship with a psychopath, the sheen wears off when you’re dominated by him. When you accept to engage in demeaning sexual (or any other kind of) acts or behavior. When you readily buy into his lies because they preserve the rosier, yet false, version of reality you want to believe. When you accept unfair double standards, where he enjoys important privileges you do not. When you need or want him far more than he needs or wants you. Psychopaths may begin romantic relationships on an equal footing with their partners. But, ultimately, they aim to end up on top. For themselves, they tend to adopt a pseudo-Nietzschean attitude towards conventional morality. They violate, with an air of entitlement and superiority, all moral principles. At the same time, they generally expect an almost fundamentalist prurience from their main partners.

Even those psychopaths who enjoy demeaning their partners by asking them to violate moral and sexual values—such as by dressing or acting like a “slut”—do so only on their terms. If a psychopath’s partner cheats on him out of her own volition with someone she cares about or desires, he’s likely to explode in self-righteous indignation and defile her public image.  At the same time, however, he will proudly proclaim his right to fall in love with and date whomever he wants. He will lack the self-awareness to see the inconsistency of his attitude towards conventional morality and the emotional depth to care about its unfairness to others. You can’t be above the moral norms of good and evil yourself while demanding that those you interact with abide by them. That’s called hypocrisy, not transcending conventional values or being independent. Also keep in mind that even if a psychopath appears to respect his partner while regarding and treating other women as “hoes,” his attitude reflects a deep underlying misogyny that touches every woman he encounters.

As mentioned, sometimes a psychopath may prefer to humiliate his own partner by “sharing” her with others: but, once again, only at his bidding and on his terms. By way of contrast to the scenario where she cheats on him by choosing her romantic partners, this kind of violation of conventional values is likely to be acceptable (and even highly desirable) to a psychopath. He enjoys her degradation. Of course, abiding by such grossly unfair double standards can only lead to humiliation and disaster for the victim. “Pimping” one’s wife or girlfriend, as it’s crudely but accurately called, represents the very opposite of granting a woman sexual freedom. Moreover, such self-abasement can never achieve the desired effect of winning the psychopath’s interest and affection. For, as we’ve seen, although psychopaths enjoy dominance, easily dominated individuals don’t attract them for long.

So then what kind of person can keep the sheen on the wings of the butterfly for a longer period of time (to borrow Picasso’s metaphor)? Only a person who does not agree to demeaning or unfair conditions in the relationship and only for as long as she does not accept them. As the study conducted by Sandra L. Brown, M.A. in Women Who Love Psychopaths reveals, like most people, psychopaths tend to fall in love with individuals who manifest self-respect not only in their professional conduct and with acquaintances, but also–and most importantly–in the context of the romantic relationship itself.  That is where one invests most time and emotional energy. Consequently, that is also where one’s true character is tested and revealed. This applies to romantic relationships in general, not just to psychopathic bonds. It stands to reason that if you don’t see yourself as equal to your partner, he won’t regard you as an equal or give you the respect you deserve.

To be more specific, I’ll offer two examples. As we know, psychopaths derive great pleasure from brief sexual liaisons. But those are not likely to spark their passion for two main reasons. The first one is that an unending series of sexual encounters make the psychopath himself jaded to physical and psychological pleasure. Sexual addiction resembles other addictions. Any kind of addiction, which necessarily implies excess and sheer volume (of a substance or number of partners), dulls one’s sensibilities, including the sensory and aesthetic ones to which sensual individuals are so highly attuned. Sex addicts become increasingly jaded to both sexual activities and partners. Contrary to the modern connotations of the term “hedonism,” the ancient hedonists practiced moderation, to better savor their pleasures. Recall how poignant even a simple kiss can be with a person you desire and respect. I’m not making a moral argument here, but an aesthetic and psychological observation, which is quite obvious. Thousands of sexually explicit images and acts can’t replace the stimulation offered by real chemistry with a single person, which you cultivate, focus upon and appreciate.  When you disperse your sexual energy and attention on numerous partners, you also reduce the chances of experiencing a more lasting and exciting pleasure in any of those so-called “romantic” relationships. Since sexual addiction is so central to psychopathic behavior, I will explore this subject further in the next section.

The second reason has to do with the partners psychopaths are likely to encounter in promiscuous settings. Because our culture remains “sexist” in the sense that promiscuous women are looked down upon more so than promiscuous men, the kind of women one casually hooks up with on adult websites, clubs and bars are unlikely to establish the balance of power that even psychopathic passion depends upon. Some truisms are true. If you don’t treat yourself and your body with respect, chances are, neither will anyone else.

As one would expect, the issue of a balance of power is even more pertinent in long-term relationships. Any wife, girlfriend or lover who accepts glaring double standards in the relationship–relating to important issues such as fidelity, honesty and trust–is not going to hold a psychopath’s interest for long. The relationship will turn into a toxic attachment that combines a strong psychological enmeshment, mutual utility and convenience. The dominated partner will oscillate between false hope, intense neediness, despair and resentment at the unfair conditions. The dominant partner will fall back upon a sense of entitlement that quickly turns into boredom. He’s also likely to play catch and release games with his partner–essentially, engage in a series of break-ups and reconciliations–depending on whether he’s more bored with her and their family life or with his other girlfriends at any given moment.

Ideally, in a loving relationship, passion entails a deeper bond that comes from being both physically and emotionally excited by each other’s personalities and having an enduring mutual respect. In a psychopathic bond, however, passion translates into an intense physical attraction, an equally strong attraction to each other’s personalities and–in lieu of any genuine empathy and mutual respect–a balance of power. Without these components, even physical pleasures become bland for the psychopath. In turn, life for his partner turns into a series of humiliating concessions that can’t bring her happiness or reignite his interest.  When you give up your pride and self-esteem for somebody else, you also lose your power and sense of identity. And, needless to say, any man who expects you to violate your self-respect and values for him doesn’t really love you and never will.

I suppose this is one way of saying that even psychopathic passion requires more than just physical attraction to last more than a few days. It also depends upon chemistry, balance and equality in the relationship, for as long as these can be sustained. In a psychopathic bond, however, they can’t last long. A psychopath needs to dominate, dupe and demean even the women he initially desires and admires. Once these elements are gone, as Picasso eloquently states, the window that used to allow light into the relationship closes for good.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


The Death of a Deadly Psychopath: Osama bin Laden’s Personality Profile

Now that Osama bin Laden has finally been killed, there’s a momentary celebration around the world that one of the most dangerous and reviled men in recent history can no longer harm the innocent. Of course, there’s no shortage of people like him, nor of his followers, ready to avenge his death. In the article below, Aubrey Immelman paints a psychological profile of Osama Bin Laden. This profile is one of a psychopath, with paranoid tendencies, similar to another notorious psychopath who attained great influence and power, Joseph Stalin.

The Hunt for Bin Laden: America’s “Second Intelligence Failure”?

Aubrey Immelman

Reprinted from the March 2002 issue 
of Clio’s Psyche (Journal of the Psychohistory Forum)

From the first moment I paid serious attention to Osama bin Laden—September 11, 2001—the man did not strike me as someone likely to martyr himself. Six days after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I posted my initial impressions on the website of the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics: that the mastermind likely fit Otto Kernberg syndrome of malignant narcissism, with its core elements of pathological narcissism, antisocial features, paranoid traits, and unconstrainedaggression (see http://www.csbsju.edu/uspp/Research/MalignantLeadership.html).

More systematic analysis of biographical source materials in the ensuing months, using my standard psychodiagnostic procedure, produced a more nuanced portrait, compatible but more fine-grained than Kernberg’s syndrome. In the nomenclature of my Millonian approach (cf. Theodore Millon, Disorders of Personality: DSM‑IV and Beyond, 1996), Bin Laden emerged as a primarily Ambitious/exploitative (narcissistic), Dauntless/dissenting (antisocial) personality, with secondary Distrusting/suspicious (paranoid), Dominant/controlling (sadistic), and some Conscientious/dutiful (obsessive-compulsive) features.

Ambitious individuals are bold, competitive, and self-assured; they easily assume leadership roles, expect others to recognize their special qualities, and often act as though entitled. Dauntless individuals are bold, courageous, and tough; minimally constrained by the norms of society; routinely engage in high-risk activities; not overly concerned about the welfare of others; skilled in the art of social influence; and adept at surviving on the strength of their particular talents, ingenuity, and wits.

Bin Laden’s blend of Ambitious and Dauntless personality patterns suggests the presence of Millon’s unprincipled narcissist (or narcissistic psychopath) syndrome. This composite character complex combines the narcissist’s arrogant sense of self-worth, exploitative indifference to the welfare of others, and grandiose expectation of special recognition with the antisocial personality’s self-aggrandizement, deficient social conscience, and disregard for the rights of others (see Millon, cited above, pp. 409–410).

From the perspective of the so-called “hunt for Bin Laden,” the major implication of these findings is that, unlike hijack linchpin Mohamed Atta, Bin Laden does not fit the profile of the highly conscientious, closed-minded religious fundamentalist, nor that of the religious martyr who combines these qualities with devout, self-sacrificing features. Rather, Bin Laden’s profile suggests that he is cunningly artful in exploiting Islamic fundamentalism in the service of his own ambition and personal dreams of glory.

Theodore Millon and Roger Davis (“Ten Subtypes of Psychopathy” in Millon et al., Eds., Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal, and Violent Behavior, pp. 161–170) explain that this psychopathic subtype—effectively devoid of a superego—is prevalent among society’s con artists. Akin to these charlatans and swindlers, Bin Laden likely harbors an arrogant, vengeful vindictiveness and contempt for his victims.

Far from directing operations and taking a last stand with his most loyal acolytes at Tora Bora, relationships for narcissistic psychopaths survive only as long as they have something to gain—and for these grandiose, self-enhancing personalities there is naught to be gained from martyrdom. What does, however, command their full measure of devotion is humiliating their adversaries in a high-stakes game of wit, and relishing their frustration, anger, and dismay.

In short, the extent to which U.S. intelligence and military operations against Bin Laden were framed as a hunt for a devout, dedicated religious fundamentalist might serve as a rough measure of the extent to which the failure thus far to kill or capture Bin Laden could be considered an intelligence failure.

•••

Aubrey Immelman, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Minnesota’s St. John’s University. He authored the chapter “Personality in Political Psychology” in the forthcoming Handbook of Psychology (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003).

Investigating Psychopaths

Since psychopaths are pathological liars and their every interaction with others is self-serving and strategic, even seasoned investigators and forensic psychologists have great difficulty dealing with them. Basically, they’re always faced with the liar’s paradox yet still need to get useful and true information from them.

Katherine Ramsland (from trutv.com) wrote an excellent article about how investigators deal with the inevitable obstacles and difficulties they encounter when attempting to retrieve true information from psychopaths about their crimes. I’m pasting part of her article below:

 

It’s not easy to know when to trust someone who has already exploited trust as a route to torture, rape and murder. Psychopathic killers view their victims as objects, useful only as pawns in their own personal game, and they thus have this advantage: they feel no remorse. They’re callous, manipulative and resistant to therapy, and when they choose to communicate, they have their own agendas, formed in self-interest and calculation. What we may accept as a “confession,” they may view as bait. Their motives take shape within a framework that has no equivalent in the normal world. That’s why we can’t just accept what they say at face value.
Gary Leon Ridgway 

Gary Leon Ridgway

A special agent from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit interviewed Gary Ridgway, who had initially confessed to 71 before settling on the official toll of 48. She had this to say: “I can’t think of any behavior on its own merit that would indicate that someone is telling the truth or exaggerating. It’s not that I wouldn’t believe them, but I’d like to get basic verification first. In my opinion, many of these people have an egotistical need to control and manipulate, and some like to be bigger and badder than the other guy.”

She points out that not only might they lie to exaggerate or dupe investigators, but, paradoxically, they might also conceal murders they committed. They don’t want anyone to know about their early feeble, halting attempts or the mistakes they made. If they lose a potential victim, they claim they intended to.

It’s hazardous to be gullible, especially for investigators hoping to close a case. They might inadvertently reveal details, allowing offenders to play them for fools. As well, they may expend limited resources. However, there are hazards in dismissing these offenders, too, notably that they may stop providing details that can solve crimes. The bottom line is this: even skilled investigators may not spot a clever liar with a selfish agenda. Detecting deception takes time, patience, a bit of sleuthing, and the corroboration of facts. Above all, it requires the ability to avoid a rush to judgment that may result in mistakes, such as those made with Lucas.

While psychopaths appear to use the same language as normal individuals, they have their own inner logic. They calculate the world around them in terms of self-gain. They are society’s vampires. They may be intoxicated rather than repulsed by the idea of targeting humans and picking them off, because it makes them feel powerful. Their agendas have no analogues in the normal world. That means developing a careful mode of communication. In this person’s perception, almost any response could be the “wrong” one.

John Wayne Gacy 

John Wayne Gacy

Former FBI profilers John Douglas and Gregg McCrary have conducted prison interviews with psychopaths such as John Wayne Gacy, who killed 33 young men and buried them under his house, and Mark Hoffmann, a brilliant forger who tried to escape debt by killing people with bombs. These criminals have no sense of the damage they’ve caused. To urge them to express regret is pointless. They might do so, but only as a manipulative tactic.

There are three important things to keep in mind when talking with psychopaths: clear goals, firm boundaries, and awareness of their triggers. In other words, keep your purpose in such communications up front, while also watching for the psychopath’s manipulative tactics (charm, deception, deal-making) and for what will keep him (or her) talking as opposed to shutting down. It’s tricky, and getting it right generally requires extensive exposure to the person. No matter how many letters Hess or others write to a killer like Browne, only those who have lived with him on a daily basis know him well, and even they can be fooled.

You can view the rest of Katherine’s article on the link below:

http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/predators/robert_charles_browne/10.html


Psychopathic Seduction: The Case of Drew Peterson

It may seem strange that I’m choosing to open my discussion of psychopaths as lovers and, more generally, of the process of psychopathic seduction itself, by revisiting the case of Drew Peterson. By now we’ve seen and heard enough about—and from—Drew Peterson to strongly suspect that he murdered two of his wives. Despite his reputation as a contemporary Bluebeard—or perhaps because of it—he’s engaged to be married to yet another much younger woman.

Drew Peterson offers a case in point in how psychopaths manage to seduce numerous desirable women in spite of their dubious reputations. Although the evidence suggests that he mistreated his partners, Peterson obviously has great ease in reeling them in to begin with. Psychopaths tend to be very seductive—and extraordinarily dangerous—lovers.  I’ll rely upon Hoda Kotb’s interview with Drew Peterson to use his case as a point of departure for describing how psychopaths use charm, deceit, money, gifts, emotional blackmail and eventually intimidation and abuse to ensnare women into their sometimes fatal nets. I’ll also make use of Robert Hare and Paul Babiak’s insights elaborated in Snakes in Suits to outline the process of psychopathic seduction, from the initial idealization, to the inevitable devaluation, to the (sometimes literal) discarding of the women they target.

Many of us followed on the news the story of Stacy Peterson’s disappearance on October 28, 2007. Stacy was Drew’s fourth wife. His third wife had died under mysterious circumstances a few years earlier. The more investigators probed into the details of Drew Peterson’s personal life–particularly his turbulent relationships with women–the more they suspected that Stacy met with foul play at the hands of her husband. In fact, Drew was recently arrested and charged with the murder of his third wife, Kathy Savio. During the past few years, he welcomed the news coverage. He basked in the public attention, even though it was negative. He also enjoyed playing cat and mouse games with the police. In his interview with Kotb, Drew stated that he believed that Stacy, who was starting to express dissatisfaction with their marriage, had run off with another man. He placed his hand to his chest and declared, “I’m still in love with Stacy and I miss her so.”

Yet his subsequent actions belied this statement. His so-called grieving period for the disappearance of his fourth wife was rather brief. Only a short while later, he became involved with and eventually got engaged to another young woman. Although Stacy’s family, the police and the media believed that Drew Peterson murdered his wife, he vehemently denied any wrongdoing.  In fact, Drew described himself as a victim of the media. “I’m really being portrayed as a monster here. Nobody’s defending me. Nobody’s stepping up to say, ‘No, he’s a decent guy. He helps people. He does this. He does that.’ So somebody’s got to say something.” That somebody was none other than Peterson himself, who tooted his own horn.  During the interview with Kotb, he not only proclaimed his innocence but also waxed poetic about the honeymoon period with his fourth wife. He claimed that the seduction was mutual: in fact, that Stacy pursued him. “But I–she was beautiful. And it was exciting having a young, beautiful woman interested in me. And I pursued the relationship… Every time I tried to get out of the relationship, she would pursue me. Leaving little roses and notes on my car and stuff. So it was like it was exciting.”  According to Drew, they met while he was still married to his third wife. In his own words, their affair moved “Pretty quick. Pretty quick.”

Tellingly, Drew focused on his wife’s difficult upbringing. He told the journalist that Stacy was one of five children, two of whom had died young. Stacy’s mother was, as he puts it, “in and out of trouble with the law.” He emphasized that as an older, seasoned man with a good career and decent income, he appeared to the young woman like a knight in shinning armor. Stacy hoped that he would rescue her from a troubled life and poverty. Drew also stated that he was attracted not only to Stacy’s youthful vulnerability, but also to her kind, trusting and loving nature. Stacy’s friend, Pam Bosco, also describes her as “a darling. Bubbly, warm caretaker, you know. Just very, very, very sweet. Very much a family girl. Someone who wanted a family and wanted to be part of a family.”

Drew Peterson’s buddy, Steve Carcerano, offers an equally glowing description of Peterson himself. “Drew’s a nice guy. He’s a happy guy. Happy go lucky. A jokester type of guy.” Drew’s charm, sense of humor and superficially happy disposition impressed not only his buddies, but also Stacy herself. Initially, they also inspired her trust. Members of her family stated that the nice policeman who showered her with attention and promised her security seemed like a dream come true to her. Drew had a good job and a house in the suburbs. By Stacy’s standards, he was wealthy. In the beginning of their affair, he didn’t hesitate to share some of that wealth with her. Kerry Simmons, Stacy’s stepsister, stated in an interview that Drew bought Stacy a car, furnished her apartment and bought her jewelry and other gifts that a young woman would appreciate. “And she’s 17 years old so–it looked good to her. It looked good. It felt good. It was good.  She was head over heels over him. She really did like him,” Simmons added. By all accounts, Drew seemed to reciprocate Stacy’s feelings. Steve Carcerano stated, “When he met Stacy, it seemed like he had a glow in his eye. You know, she’s young. She’s attractive. He seemed very happy with her.”

Yet in the eyes of many, this May-December romance fell short of the ideal. First of all, Drew was already married, which, to Stacy’s family, wasn’t exactly a detail. Not only did he already have a wife, but also she was his third wife. They didn’t find this pattern particularly reassuring. He also had four children, including two young sons who lived with him. Stacy’s family believed that she was much too young to marry Drew Peterson. Yet Stacy felt too much in love, or too attracted to what she perceived as a golden opportunity, to heed her family’s warnings. She stayed with Drew. In 2003, he divorced his third wife–who, incidentally, had also been his mistress–to marry her. Drew admitted during his interview with Kotb that he was very persistent with Stacy. He stated, “I proposed to her on several occasions. Just asked her to marry me. First couple times she said no. Third time she said yes.” When they married in a Bolingbrook Field on October 2003, Stacy was only nineteen. She had already given birth to their first child. The second child, a girl, followed shortly thereafter. The couple also lived with Drew’s younger sons from his previous marriage.

According to her family and friends, Stacy enjoyed motherhood. Kerry Simmons stated that she “Never saw her upset with those kids. I mean she loved those kids so much. Those were like–they were her life. And I think she really wanted to give those kids the life that she felt she didn’t have, or the opportunities that she didn’t have growing up. She did birthday parties, marshmallow roasts, and backyard barbeques.” Before her disappearance, Stacy told her friend that she was looking forward to her daughter’s first trick-or-treating outing. She never got that opportunity, however. Three days before Halloween, Drew reported his wife missing. Stacy’s family, friends and volunteer groups formed search parties to look for her. Drew, however, refused to participate. He speculated that his young wife had run away with another man.

But Stacy’s family didn’t buy his story. They knew enough about their marriage and about Drew’s behavior from what Stacy herself had told them to suspect that her husband had murdered her. Stacy had confided in her stepsister, Kerry Simmons, in particular. During her interview, Simmons stated that initially the couple “seemed to be doing well. They looked happy, they acted happy and they looked, you know they looked fine.” But after awhile, slowly but surely, their marriage started to deteriorate. Family and friends told investigators that the couple was fighting frequently. Furthermore, whereas in the beginning of their relationship Drew had been very polite and flattering towards Stacy, after they got married he began to criticize her. As a result, they claimed, Stacy became insecure about her appearance. She had several plastic surgeries. Kerry Simmons also alleges that Drew’s abusive behavior escalated to physical violence. “He threw her down the stairs. There was an instance where he had knocked her into the TV. I think one time he actually picked her up and threw her across the room. I mean she’s small. She’s 100 pounds.” At that point, Stacy’s family and friends urged her to leave her husband. She confessed that she was too afraid of him. She feared that he’d  kill her.

Given Drew’s behavior, Stacy had sound basis for her fears. During the course of their four-year marriage, he became increasingly controlling, to the point of stalking her. Their neighbor, Sharon Bychowskyi, stated during her interview that Drew “would check in at home like clockwork throughout his shift. So he would go in at five, he would do his roll call, he’d come back. He would eat here in uniform, then he’d go back out on the beat. He’d stay an hour or so. Come back.” Stacy’s family told investigators that Drew followed his wife around in his car even when she went out to meet her sisters. He grew increasingly jealous and wanted to make sure that Stacy wasn’t seeing another man. Not that he had been above that kind of behavior himself. In fact, each time he divorced it was because of infidelity. Each time he married his newest girlfriend. Moreover, in each marriage, Drew had numerous affairs. But this time he had married a much younger and attractive woman. The tables were turned. He was the one worried about Stacy’s infidelity rather than the other way around.

In his interview, Peterson put an entirely different spin on the facts presented by Stacy’s family, friends and neighbors. He denied that their marriage was going as badly as they maintained. He also denied engaging in any kind of domestic abuse, be it verbal or physical. As for the claim that he fostered Stacy’s insecurity through criticism, thus leading her to get several plastic surgeries, he turned that statement around. He maintained that if his wife sought to improve her appearance, it’s because he indulged her vanity and catered to her every whim: “Stacy was spoiled. I pampered her. It’s–a lot of that’s my fault. Stacy wanted it, she got it. High-end jewelry. Name it. She got it.” Peterson asserted that it’s because he pampered his wife, giving her everything she asked for, that she had so many cosmetic surgeries. “Stacy wanted it she got it. I mean she wanted a boob job, I got her a boob job. She wanted a tummy tuck, she got that. She wanted braces, Lasik surgery, hair removal, anything. Stacy loved male attention.”

Stacy’s family, neighbors and friends, however, offer a different interpretation of Drew’s so-called generosity. They believe his gifts to Stacy functioned as bribes, to persuade her to stay with him despite the abuse. They see Drew as alternating between the carrot and the stick. The physical violence, intimidation, stalking and threats were obviously the stick. The gifts represented the carrot. Sharon Bychowski observed: “Most recently he bought her a motorcycle to ask her if it would buy him three more months with her.” Apparently, however, neither the carrot nor the stick worked anymore. Stacy’s family and friends told investigators that by the time she disappeared, the young woman was determined to leave her husband. Stacy had told them that she didn’t want to end up like Kathy Savio, the previous Mrs. Peterson.

Drew had also wooed Kathy very romantically at first, when she had also been his mistress. Initially, their marriage also appeared to be the very picture of happiness. Steve Carcerano stated, “My first impression of Drew and Kathy was a happy couple when they first moved there. Drew says he met Kathy Savio on a blind date in 1992.”  Moreover, Kathy was also significantly younger than Drew, in her late twenties, when they became involved.  He swept her off her feet, seducing her with his charm, sense of humor, flattery, gifts and promises of a happy future together. Even Kathy’s sister, Sue Doman, felt initially impressed with the jovial policeman. In an interview she stated, “He was funny. He talked–you know, he would joke around, got along with everybody. Went out of his way to meet people.” Not only was Drew outgoing, but also he came on strong. He acted extremely affectionate with his girlfriend, even in public. Doman recalled that he told her, “‘Hey, you know, I love your sister.’ Would hug her and kiss her in front of us. Just a very happy person, joking around.” Shortly thereafter, Peterson proposed to her. Unlike Stacy, Kathy said “yes” on the first try.

The couple married in 1992 and had two sons together. The pattern that would emerge in Drew’s fourth marriage was already present in his third. Although he had been highly flattering at first, once they married Drew began criticizing Kathy’s looks. The constant put-downs led her to feel increasingly insecure about her physical appearance. He started cheating on her as well, as he had on his previous two wives. As a result, the couple fought. Characteristically, Peterson blamed their altercations solely on his wife’s hot temper.  He told Koeb, “Our relationship started deteriorating. She was more–she was easy–easily agitated and more demanding. She would snap quickly.”

Sue Doman, however, remembers it differently. She asserted in her interview that Peterson was the one abusing his wife, not the other way around. “He would call her names… Horrible, swearing names. ‘Bitch,’ ‘whore.’ ‘You look like a dog.’ She needed to go to Jenny Craig. She needed to do anything to make herself look better because she was looking horrible.” She also stated that Peterson beat his wife. Hospital records confirm that Kathy went to the emergency room, following one of their fights. Sue Doman elaborated on this incident: “He took her head and took her hair, she had long hair, and he beat her against a wooden table. He was angry with her… She had a laceration on her head. She became dazed. She had black and blue marks all over her.” But even physical violence didn’t persuade Kathy to divorce her husband. An anonymous letter that informed her about his affair with Stacy did, however. Although Drew denied the romantic relationship, and even attacked his wife for voicing such suspicions, there was overwhelming evidence that he was being unfaithful to her.

Kathy finally filed for divorce. At the same time, however, she felt apprehensive. She feared that her husband would kill her. She expressed her anxiety to family members and friends. As their relationship deteriorated further while his relationship with Stacy progressed, Drew launched a smear campaign against his ex-wife. Sue Doman described it as follows: “He convinced everyone and anyone that she was absolutely crazy, mentally ill.” Shortly after their 2004 divorce, Drew found Kathy dead in the bathtub. Her death was officially declared an “accidental drowning.” But following Stacy’s disappearance, investigators reopened Kathy Savio’s case. Certain facts didn’t fit this description. For one thing, the bathtub had been empty. Also, Kathy had bruises and a gash on her body, which suggested physical assault. In addition, Stacy’s own mysterious disappearance established an unsettling pattern.

How does Drew Peterson explain the fact that out of four wives one ended up dead and another missing without a trace? “I guess this is bad luck,” he told Hoda Koeb. Not bad enough, apparently, since shortly thereafter he ended up courting another attractive young woman.  She agreed to marry him despite the fact that her family, along with the general public, saw a disturbing pattern in Drew Peterson’s pursuit and treatment of women.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness



How to Recognize Emotional Abuse

We usually recognize physical abuse because it often leaves external marks: bruises, broken bones, wounds, gashes or disfiguration. Because such abuse tends to be objectively identifiable, we’re not only likely to recognize its signs, but also to sympathize with the victims. Some of the great novels of modern and contemporary literature focus on victims of (statutory) rape, battery and other forms of physical abuse. I’m thinking, above all, of Nabokov’s incomparable Lolita which, without any trace of sentimentality or moralism, offers a multidimensional characterization of the victim as well as a realistic portrayal of the remorseless pedophile. Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone and Anna Quindlen’s Black and Blue, two of my favorite contemporary novels, give a compassionate portrayal of the victims. If readers readily sympathize with the heroines of these novels, it’s partly because the victims are as innocent as it gets and partly because their physical abuse (rape in one case, battery in another) is obvious. Yet, as I’ve tried to convey here, in many situations in real life the abused isn’t as morally pure (because she colludes with the abuser) and her abuse isn’t necessarily so obvious (because it may be emotional rather than physical in nature). Some psychopaths, especially those who also suffer from borderline personality disorder, may, indeed, spin out of control and engage in acts of physical violence. But many are subtler in the damage they inflict upon others.

As we’ve seen, charismatic psychopaths present to the outside world and even to their partners an impeccable image of self-control, sanity, kindness and charm. Such psychopaths sometimes pose a greater danger than those who engage in overt acts of physical violence because their personality disorder is better camouflaged. Unfortunately, so are the symptoms of their abuse. Which brings me to my main point here. Just as outsiders may fail to identify and sympathize with the signs emotional abuse, the victims may as well. In her article “How Can I Get My X Away from the Psychopathic Con Artist?” Liane Leedom explains that psychopaths escalate their control over their partners gradually, BITE (behavior, information, thoughts, emotions) by BITE. (lovefraud.com, September 7, 2007) Psychopaths intuitively tighten the screws at the moment when they feel they can get away with it. Over time, the victim becomes used to each new form of abuse as well as to the on-going manipulation and deceit. Charismatic psychopaths poison you softly, while pretending to love you and act in your best interest.

To offer an analogy, I’ve watched several episodes of Forensic Files where a man has poisoned his wife by introducing small doses of a toxic chemical into her food. She eventually died after months of gruesome suffering. Most psychopaths don’t literally poison their spouses. But they achieve a similarly toxic effect on a psychological level. They introduce tiny doses of emotional poison into their partners’ daily lives.

Your life with a psychopath can turn into a constant state of anxiety and self-doubt. You may develop neurotic habits, eating disorders and depression. Furthermore, the abuse can be so underhanded that you may not even realize that the person causing you all these negative symptoms is your own partner, the supposed love of your life. Consequently, saving yourself from a charismatic psychopath entails, first and foremost, recognizing his pattern of emotional abuse. After all, you can’t fix a problem until you identify its cause.

Definition: Emotional abuse constitutes a pattern of behavior over time that is designed to control another human being through the use of manipulation, deceit, threats, intimidation, emotional blackmail, verbal abuse, insults, gaslighting, coercion or humiliation. Even normal people occasionally engage in some of these behaviors. But the key term here is a “pattern” of such behavior over time. Emotional abuse functions as a form of brainwashing. The strategies I will describe below are commonly used in prisons, labor camps, by the Secret Police of totalitarian regimes and cult leaders. They’re extremely effective and very destructive. They can reduce a healthy and strong human being to the mere shadow of her former self.

1. Abusive Expectations. Emotional abuse occurs in asymmetrical relationships, where one partner strives to meet the expectations of the other, while he constantly raises the bar. In a healthy relationship, expectations are reasonable, fair and balanced. Both partners strive to please each other and treat each other with mutual respect.

2. Threats. A psychopath maintains control of a relationship through the use of implicit or explicit threats and the inculcation of fear or anxiety. He may tell his wife that she needs to lose weight, or move to another state with him, or change her interests and habits, or leave her job in order to keep him. Otherwise, he implies, he’ll cheat on her or even divorce her. A sword hangs over the victim’s head if she doesn’t meet the psychopath’s incessant demands and unreasonable expectations. However, even when she meets his demands he still cheats, lies and actively seeks other opportunities. Meeting a psychopath’s demands accomplishes nothing constructive. It only weakens the victim and places her further under his control.

3. Verbal Aggression. This includes name-calling, blaming or commanding. Psychopaths rely upon such tactics to assert dominance. Verbal abuse transforms what should be an equal and mutually respectful relationship into one where the psychopath is on top. His partner fears to disappoint him or do anything that might trigger his anger.

4. Condescending Attitude. Charismatic psychopaths often couch their aggression in a condescending attitude towards their partners. For instance, a psychopath may act as his partner’s spiritual guide or life coach. He may pretend to alleviate the symptoms of the psychological problems that he, himself, has caused her. If she develops anxiety attacks, insomnia or an eating disorder because of his ongoing deception, manipulation and mind games, he might paternalistically act as her guide, as if to help alleviate these negative symptoms. The underlying assumption in such a relationship is that the psychopath is healthier, more sane and superior to his partner. She should strive to approximate his level of mental, physical and emotional health. This cultivates her dependency on him and fosters a sense of helplessness. More importantly, it masks the underlying source of her psychological problems, which is him and his harmful behavior. It’s kind of like the husband who puts poison in his wife’s soup while pretending to be loving and concerned. When you get rid of the psychopath in your life, who’s poisoning your existence, you also alleviate the symptoms of whatever psychological and physical ailments you developed while being involved with him.

5. State of Uncertainty/Emotional Chaos. A psychopath derails his partner by keeping her in a perpetual state of uncertainty. She doesn’t know what to do to please him. She constantly struggles to keep him from engaging in various misdeeds or abandoning her. Psychopaths who also have borderline personality disorder transform daily life into a battlefield with occasional truces. A charismatic psychopath, however, poses a more hidden threat. He preserves the external appearance of being calm, collected and loving while periodically hinting that the perfect picture of the relationship you struggle so hard to preserve is highly precarious. Anything you might do–or fail to do–can destroy it. In reality, of course, nothing you do or refrain from doing meaningfully affects his behavior. I’ve never read about (or met) a psychopath who didn’t do exactly what he wanted.

6. Denying your Needs. Being completely narcissistic, a psychopath won’t prioritize your needs unless they coincide perfectly with his or cultivate your dependency on him. Consequently, he’s bound to discourage you from any pursuits that solidify your bonds with others or make you stronger, more successful and more independent. His motive is clear. The less self-confidence and meaningful contact with others you have, the more he has you under his thumb and can mistreat you however he wishes. Moreover, if you dare complain that he doesn’t satisfy your basic emotional need for caring or communication, he’s likely to become dismissive, sarcastic, derisive or even aggressive. In his mind, everything and everyone should revolve around him.

7. Domination. Psychopaths establish control over their partners through a ratchet. They automatically get their way on everything when their will is not contested. When you challenge them and express your own needs, they may sometimes compromise with you, to appear fair. This image of equality is misleading, however. When you look at the whole picture of your relationship over time, you notice that it’s systematically determined by the desires of the psychopath. Such an asymmetry constitutes a form of domination, which should be unacceptable to any woman who considers herself equal to her partner and worthy of the same consideration and respect as him.

8. Invalidation. To psychopaths, what other people think, want and feel is, to use the vernacular, “bull crap” (they commonly use such vulgar language). If you disagree with a psychopath, he’s likely to invalidate your arguments and insult you. Psychopaths tend to be stubborn and persistent. Even when a psychopath momentarily relents, in the long run he returns to the same issue to “win” the match by getting his way. If your partner consistently dismisses what you know, feel, want or believe, it’s obviously a very bad sign. It means that he doesn’t have any genuine respect or love for you.

9. Minimizing and Gaslighting. If you tell a psychopath that you’re hurt by his actions–such as his constant lying and cheating–he’ll either deny that behavior (i.e., lie to you yet again) or minimize it by saying that you’re being hypersensitive or paranoid. He’ll argue that you misinterpreted the matter, or that you’re exaggerating, or that it’s just a misunderstanding, or that you’re being a drama queen. If he calls you “crazy” and tells you that you’re imagining things when you accuse him of the bad deeds he’s actually done, then he’s also gaslighting you.

10. Arbitrary Reactions. Psychopaths and narcissists commonly use arbitrary reactions to establish dominance over others. If you can’t anticipate how your partner will react, then you’re always on edge, trying to figure out what to do or say to please him. In addition, if you care about his opinion, your moods and self-esteem will oscillate like a yo-yo, depending upon his approval or disapproval. A psychopath can keep his partner completely focused on his needs by toying with her emotions in this seemingly arbitrary fashion. This despotic behavior leads his partner to feel unhinged, anxious, depressed and powerless.

11. Sarcasm, Irony and Humiliation. Because they prefer to cultivate a nice external image, charismatic psychopaths may not verbally abuse their partners in a blatant fashion. They may opt for more subtle techniques—such as sarcasm, irony and humiliation–to make the victims feel bad about themselves. If you’re involved with a psychopath, you may have noticed that while he makes fun of you and others, any joke or wry comment about him is unwelcome and not considered amusing. Psychopaths establish double standards in practically all aspects of their lives: fidelity, honesty, freedom and even the hidden weapons of sarcasm and humor. While they routinely humiliate their partners to weaken their self-esteem, they demand nothing but the utmost respect for themselves.

The only way to reclaim your dignity when you’ve suffered the pattern of emotional abuse I’ve just described is to go straight to the source. Uproot the psychopath from your life. If you stay with him, he’ll continue to mistreat you and undermine your self-esteem as he’s done so far.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


Psychopaths and Boredom

Given that psychopaths tend to be relatively bright individuals who have the ability to focus intensely on their goals, one wonders why they’re not more successful. Because, as Martha Stout explains in the The Sociopath Next Door, psychopaths rarely achieve anything in life. They tend to be short-distance runners. They sprint really fast at first, but lose steam rather quickly. They also change direction frequently, which leads them nowhere.

Many start out showing a lot of promise as children. However, once they reach adulthood, most have little or nothing to show for it. They pass through life leaving behind a trail of failure: broken relationships, dysfunctional marriages, children they don’t care about or take care of (if they have any), an education they don’t bother to complete, jobs they don’t pursue long enough to thrive in them. Basically, psychopaths end up disappointing the expectations of all those who care about them. If they had any sense of shame, they’d be disappointed in themselves as well. The principal reason for their failure is not their devious and manipulative nature—since, after all, many bad people succeed–but their boredom.

I’m grouping together two of Hervey Cleckley’s (penultimate) symptoms of psychopathy–boredom and the failure to follow any life plan—since they’re closely related. If psychopaths generally fail to bring to fruition their life objectives, it’s because they’re so easily bored that they give up on them or move on to something new. Cleckley observes,  “The psychopath shows a striking inability to follow any sort of life plan consistently, whether it be one regarded as good or evil. He does not maintain an effort toward any far goal at all. This is entirely applicable to the full psychopath. On the contrary, he seems to go out of his way to make a failure of life.” (365)

Sometimes a psychopath will put on a mask of success. Neil Entwistle appeared to be a successful computer programmer, but in fact he wasn’t. Mark Hacking appeared to be a future doctor, but in fact he wasn’t. They both appeared to be loving husbands involved in happy marriages, but in fact they weren’t. For a psychopath, false image replaces real identity just as lies replace truth.  Going to medical school, maintaining a good job, nourishing a relationship, all take hard work, which may not always be exciting. Psychopaths prefer instant gratification and effortless results.

As we’ve seen, they also crave novelty and transgression. Which is why even when they do succeed in their work, they usually sabotage it. For instance, they may embezzle money from their company or engage in sexual harassment or some other kind of shady behavior at the peak of their careers.  “By some incomprehensible and untempting piece of folly or buffoonery,” Cleckley explains, the psychopath “eventually cuts short any activity in which he is succeeding, no matter whether it is crime or honest endeavor. At the behest of trivial impulses he repeatedly addresses himself directly to folly. In the more seriously affected examples, it is impossible for wealthy, influential, and devoted relatives to place the psychopath in any position, however ingeniously it may be chosen, where he will no succeed eventually in failing with spectacular and bizarre splendor.” (365)

This logic also applies to a psychopath’s personal relationships. Just when he was about to start a happy new family life in a lovely home with a doting wife and their beautiful baby, Neil Entwistle murdered his family and got himself life in prison. Love, duty and empathy motivate most people to be caring and loyal to their families. Psychopaths, as we know, lack such feelings. A sense of satisfaction for a job well done—as well as financial responsibilities—motivate most people to be honest and dependable in their jobs. Psychopaths don’t care about that either. Therefore, Cleckley reasons,

“If, as we maintain, the big rewards of love, of the hard job well done, of faith kept despite sacrifices, do not enter significantly in the equation, it is not difficult to see that the psychopath is likely to be bored. Being bored, he will seek to cut up more than the ordinary person to relieve the tedium of his unrewarding existence… Apparently blocked from fulfillment at deep levels, the psychopath is unnaturally pushed toward some sort of divertissement…  What he believes he needs to protest against turns out to be no small group, no particular institution or set of ideologies, but human life itself. In it he seems to find nothing deeply meaningful or persistently stimulating, but only some transient and relatively petty pleasant caprices, a terribly repetitious series of minor frustrations, and ennui.” (The Mask of Sanity, 392)

As we’ve seen, psychopaths attempt to alleviate their boredom by relentlessly pursuing a series of short-lived thrills. They move from one affair to another, one place to another, one job to another, one endeavor to another, one hobby to another and one vacation to another. Life, to them, represents a series of what any normal person would consider senseless activities, most of which are geared to dupe, con and harm others. Martha Stout notes that in viewing life as a game, psychopaths often sabotage themselves as well. They leave behind, like hurricanes, a trail of devastation.

In college, psychopaths are much more likely to pursue a lot of women rather than focus on their education. Their marriages are usually short-lived or one-sided because they get bored with their partners. When they last, it’s usually due to the gargantuan and self-defeating efforts of their spouses.  As we noted, psychopaths aren’t willing to work on improving their relationships and are incapable of any genuine self-sacrifice. They  prefer to deal with problems in their relationships by assigning blame to their partners and by diverting themselves through manipulating, lying and cheating on them. In addition, psychopaths don’t succeed in any positive sense of the term because their goals themselves are destructive.

For instance, a psychopath may “work” for years to persuade his wife to move far away from her family and leave her job and home, all under the pretext that he’s going to offer her a better and happier life elsewhere. Then, as soon as she agrees to do so or actually moves to that location with him, he leaves her for another woman or, at any rate, loses interest in her. That’s because his goal never was to build a better life together, as it would be for any normal person who wants a solid marriage. Instead, the psychopath wanted to isolate his wife from her family and job in order to get her under his thumb. Once he achieved this goal, he felt like he had “won” the match and moved on to a new challenge.

To offer a second example, let’s say a psychopath who engages in an extramarital affair asks his girlfriend to divorce her husband for his sake so that they can live happily together. Once she gives in to his pressure and asks her husband for divorce, however, the psychopath suddenly loses interest in her. His mask of “love” falls off and their relationship quickly disintegrates. To a normal person, he’s failed because the relationship itself has failed. In the psychopath’s mind, however, he “won” because he succeeded in isolating his girlfriend, bending her to his will, conquering her from her husband and perhaps even destroying her marriage. These were his real goals all along.

Whatever constitutes “success” for any normal person–a good, stable and lasting romantic relationship, love for one’s children and grandchildren, close friendships and professional achievements–isn’t likely to entertain a psychopath for long. Anytime the going gets tough in any aspect of their lives, psychopaths get going. They usually choose the path of least resistance and, above all, of most pleasure at other people’s expense.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


The Psychopath’s Emotions: What Does He Feel?

So far I’ve asked you to imagine a person who lacks empathy for others and the capacity to feel any emotion deeply. I’ve asked you to imagine a person who is plagued by restlessness and boredom and finds sole satisfaction in duping, manipulating and controlling others. A person who may simulate respect or politeness, but who fundamentally regards others with contempt, as objects to be used for his temporary diversion or satisfaction. A person who suffers from an incurable and absolute egocentrism.

But even this doesn’t even begin to give you a full picture of the extent of a psychopath’s emotional poverty. It may describe what a psychopath can’t feel, but to understand how and why the psychopath is driven to harm others, you need to also get a sense of what a psychopath does feel. Psychopaths can’t tolerate loneliness. Just as all human beings can’t survive physically without food and water, psychopaths can’t survive emotionally without victims.

Of course, psychopaths regard love with contempt. They view loving and loyal couples as an ugly, undifferentiated blob. Because they can’t experience or even understand love and loyalty, they see moral individuals as weak. They have nothing but disdain for the emotions that normal human beings feel. But at the same time, psychopaths can’t live without feeding upon the real and deeper emotions of people who care about them, of individuals who can love: in other words of the people they use, abuse, toy with, lie to and hurt.

Psychopaths are often sexual predators. But even more often, and certainly more fundamentally, they’re emotional predators. What they want from their victims is far more than possessing their bodies or sex. They need to feed their insatiable appetite for harm, as well as sustain their sense of superiority,  by possessing and destroying others inside and out, body and soul. A psychopath’s emotional framework is like a vacuum that needs to suck out the emotional energy from healthy individuals in order to survive. This is why I have called psychopaths real-life vampires, that we need to understand and worry about far more than their fictional counterparts.

A psychopath lacks much more than empathy for others in his emotional repertoire. He also lacks the capacity to experience any kind of emotion that requires deeper insight and psychological awareness. He experiences only proto-emotions, which are as short-lived as they’re intense. That doesn’t make them any less dangerous, however.  The evidence points to the fact that Scott Peterson and Neil Entwistle preplanned their murders weeks in advance. But Mark Hacking seems to have acted more or less on impulse, after having fought with his wife. If we believe his confession to his brothers, Mark was in the process of packing up his things, ran across a revolver and shot Lori while she was asleep.

When angry or frustrated, a psychopath is capable of anything, even if his anger will dissipate a few minutes later. As Hervey Cleckley observes, “In addition to his incapacity for object love, the psychopath always shows general poverty of affect. Although it is true that be sometimes becomes excited and shouts as if in rage or seems to exult in enthusiasm and again weeps in what appear to be bitter tears or speaks eloquent and mournful words about his misfortunes or his follies, the conviction dawns on those who observe him carefully that here we deal with a readiness of expression rather than a strength of feeling.” (The Mask of Sanity, 349)

The proto-emotions experienced by a psychopath tie in, once again, to the satisfaction or frustration of his immediate desires: “Vexation, spite, quick and labile flashes of quasi-affection, peevish resentment, shallow moods of self-pity, puerile attitudes of vanity, and absurd and showy poses of indignation are all within his emotional scale and are freely sounded as the circumstances of life play upon him. But mature, wholehearted anger, true or consistent indignation, honest, solid grief, sustaining pride, deep joy, and genuine despair are reactions not likely to be found within this scale.” (The Mask of Sanity, 349)

For this reason, psychopaths don’t feel distress even when they land in jail. Even there they take pleasure in manipulating their fellow inmates and the prison staff. Even from there they write letters to people outside to use them for money, amusement and possibly even sex. Nothing ruffles a psychopath’s feathers for long. The same emotional shallowness that leads him to be unresponsive to the needs of others and to experience no remorse when he hurts them also enables him to feel little or no distress when he, himself gets hurt. So far, I’ve covered the emotions psychopaths can’t feel. I’ve also had the opportunity to witness up-close and personal the emotions a psychopath can feel, however. That’s what I’ll describe next.

The Psychopath’s Emotions: What Does He Feel?

1) Glee. A psychopath feels elation or glee whenever he gets his way or pulls a fast one on somebody. I can still recall O.J. Simpson’s reaction to getting away with murder (at least in my own opinion and that of a lot of other people who watched the trial, if not in the eyes of the jury): his celebratory glee at pulling a fast one on the American public, on the system of justice and especially on the victims and their families.

2) Anger. Robert Hare notes in Without Conscience that since psychopaths have low impulse control, they’re much more easily angered than normal people. A psychopath’s displays of anger tend to be cold, sudden, short-lived and arbitrary. Generally you can’t predict what exactly will trigger his anger since this emotion, like his charm, is used to control those around him. It’s not necessarily motivated by something you’ve done or by his circumstances. A psychopath may blow up over something minor, but remain completely cool and collected about a more serious matter. Displays of anger represent yet another way for a psychopath to demonstrate that he’s in charge. When psychopaths scream, insult, hit, or even wound and kill other individuals, they’re aware of their behavior even if they act opportunistically, in the heat of the moment. They know that they’re harming others and, what’s more, they enjoy it.

3) Frustration. This emotion is tied to their displays of anger but isn’t necessarily channeled against a particular person, but against an obstacle or situation. A psychopath may feel frustrated, for example, when his girlfriend doesn’t want to leave her current partner for him. Yet he may be too infatuated with her at the moment to channel his negative emotions against her. He may also believe that his anger would alienate her before he’s gotten a chance to hook her emotionally. In such circumstances, he may become frustrated with the situation itself: with the obstacles that her partner or her family or society in general pose between them. Psychopaths generally experience frustration when they face impersonal barriers between themselves and their current goals or targets. But that’s also what often engages them even more obstinately in a given pursuit. After all, for them, overcoming minor challenges in life is part of the fun.

4) Consternation. As we’ve seen so far, psychopaths don’t create love bonds with others. They establish dominance bonds instead. When those controlled by a psychopath disapprove of his actions or sever the relationship, sometimes he’ll experience anger. But his immediate reaction is more likely to be surprise or consternation. Psychopaths can’t believe that their bad actions, which they always consider justifiable and appropriate, could ever cause another human being who was previously under their spell to disapprove of their behavior and reject them. Even if they cheat, lie, use, manipulate or isolate others, they don’t feel like they deserve any repercussions as a result of that behavior. In addition, psychopaths rationalize their bad actions as being in the best interest of their victims.

For instance, if a psychopath isolates his partner from her family and persuades her to quit her job and then, once she’s all alone with him, abandons her to pursue other women, he feels fully justified in his conduct. In his mind, she deserved to be left since she didn’t satisfy all of his needs or was somehow inadequate as a mate. In fact, given his sense of entitlement, the psychopath might even feel like he did her a favor to remove her from her family and friends and to leave her alone in the middle of nowhere, like a wreck displaced by a tornado. Thanks to him, she can start her life anew and become more independent.

To put it bluntly, a psychopath will kick you in the teeth and expect you to say “Thank you.” Being shameless and self-absorbed, he assumes that all those close to him will buy his false image of goodness and excuse his despicable actions just as he does. In fact, he expects that even the women he’s used and discarded continue to idealize him as a perfect partner and eagerly await his return. That way he can continue to use them for sex, money, control, his image or any other services if, when and for however long he chooses to return into their lives.

When those women don’t feel particularly grateful—when, in fact, they feel only contempt for him–the psychopath will be initially stunned that they have such a low opinion of him. He will also feel betrayed by these women, or by family members and friends who disapprove of his reprehensible behavior. Although he, himself, feels no love and loyalty to anyone, a psychopath expects unconditional love and loyalty from all those over whom he’s established a dominance bond.

This mindset also explains psychopaths’ behavior in court. Both Scott Peterson and Neil Entwistle seemed outraged that the jury found them guilty of murder. Psychopaths believe that those whom they have hurt, and society in general, should not hold them accountable for their misdeeds. After all, in their own minds, they’re superior to other human beings and therefore above the law. How dare anybody hold them accountable and punish them for their crimes!

5) Boredom. This is probably the only feeling that gives psychopaths a nagging sense of discomfort. They try to alleviate it, as we’ve seen, by pursuing cheap thrills, harming others and engaging in transgressive behavior. Nothing, however, can relieve for long the psychopath’s fundamental ennui. He gets quickly used to, and thus also bored with, each new person and activity.

6) Histrionic flashes. I’m not sure if this is an emotion, but I know for sure that the psychopath’s dramatic displays of love, remorse and empathy lack any meaning and depth. If you watch the murder trials on the news or on Court TV, you’ll notice that some psychopaths convicted of murder often put on shows of grief, sadness or remorse in front of the jury. The next moment, however, they’re joking around and laughing with their attorneys or instructing them in a calm and deliberate manner about what to do and say on their behalf. The displays of emotion psychopaths commonly engage in are, of course, fake. They’re tools of manipulation–to provoke sympathy or gain trust–as well as yet another way of “winning” by fooling those around them.

I’ve already mentioned that Neil Entwistle engaged in such histrionic behavior. If you’ve followed crime features on the news, you may have noticed that Casey Anthony, the young woman accused of killing her toddler, behaves similarly. She was observed going out to dance and party at clubs with friends the day after her daughter, Caylee, disappeared. Casey’s lack of concern for her missing child doesn’t necessarily prove that she murdered her. But it reveals highly suspicious and callous behavior. It also casts doubt upon the brief and dramatic displays of grief or concern that she sometimes puts on in front of the media and for her parents.

7) Infatuation. When they identify someone as a good potential target, psychopaths can become obsessed with that particular person. In Without Conscience, Hare compares the psychopath’s focused attention upon his chosen target to a powerful beam of light that illuminates only one spot at a time. He also likens it to a predator stalking its prey. Because psychopaths tend to ignore other responsibilities (such as their jobs and their families) and have no conscience whatsoever, they can focus on pursuing a given target more intensely than multi-dimensional, loving men could. This is especially the case if their target presents an exciting challenge, such as if she’s rich or famous, or if she’s married to another man, which triggers their competitive drive. This single-minded infatuation, however, like all of their proto-emotions, is superficial and short-lived. Because for psychopaths such obsessions don’t lead to any genuine friendship, caring or love, they dissipate as soon as they get whatever they wanted from that person, which may be only the conquest itself.

8) Self-love (sort of). Since psychopaths only care about themselves, one would think that self-love would be the one emotion they could experience more deeply. In a sense that’s true, since their whole lives revolve around the single-minded pursuit of selfish goals. But this is also what makes psychopaths’ self-love as shallow as the rest of their emotions. Just as they’re incapable of considering anyone else’s long-term interest, they’re incapable of considering their own. By pursuing fleeting pleasures and momentary whims, psychopaths sabotage their own lives as well. Rarely do they end up happy or successful. They spend their whole lives hurting and betraying those who loved and trusted them, using and discarding their partners, disappointing the expectations of their families, friends, bosses and colleagues and moving from one meaningless diversion to another. At the end of the road, most of them end up empty-handed and alone.

9) CONTEMPT. I’ve capitalized this word because this is the emotion that dominates a psychopath’s whole identity and way of looking at other human beings. No matter how charming, other-regarding and friendly they may appear to be on the outside, all psychopaths are misanthropes on the inside. A psychopath’s core emotion is contempt for the individuals he fools, uses and abuses and for humanity in general. You can identify the psychopath’s underlying contempt much more easily once he no longer needs you or once his mask of sanity shatters. As we’ve seen, psychopaths hold themselves in high regard and others in low regard. To describe the hierarchies they construct, I’ll use an analogy from my literary studies. I was trained in Comparative Literature during they heyday of Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction as it was being applied to pretty much everything: cultural studies, gender hierarchies, race relations, post-colonialism and the kitchen sink.

Although looking at life in general in terms of “indeterminate” binary hierarchies hasn’t proved particularly useful, this polarized worldview describes rather well the mindset of psychopaths. For such disordered, narcissistic and unprincipled individuals, the world is divided into superiors (themselves) and inferiors (all others); predators (themselves) and prey (their targets); dupers (themselves) and duped (the suckers). Of course, only giving psychopaths a lobotomy would turn these binary hierarchies upside down in their minds. This is where the applicability of Derrida’s deconstructive model stops. Although psychopaths consider themselves superior to others, they distinguish among levels of inferiority in the people they use, manipulate and dupe.

The biggest dupes in their eyes are those individuals who believe whole-heartedly that the psychopaths are the kind, honest, other-regarding individuals they appear to be. As the saying goes, if you buy that, I have some oceanfront property in Kansas to sell you. Such individuals don’t present much of a challenge for psychopaths. They’re usually quickly used up and discarded by them. The second tier of dupes consists of individuals who are lucid only when it comes to the psychopath’s mistreatment of others, not themselves.  Wives and girlfriends who are clever enough to see how the psychopath cheats on, lies to, uses and manipulates other people in his life, but vain or blind enough to believe that they’re the only exception to this rule form the bulk of this group.

This brings to mind an episode of a popular court show I watched recently. A woman testified on behalf of the integrity and honesty of her boyfriend. As it turns out, he had cheated on his wife with her (and other women as well). But his girlfriend nonetheless staunchly defended his character. She maintained that even though she knew that her lover was a cheater and a liar, because she herself was such a great catch and because they had such a special and unique relationship, he was completely faithful and honest to her. The judge laughed out loud and added, “…that you know of!”

Women who are cynical enough to see the psychopath’s mistreatment of others yet gullible enough not to see that’s exactly what he’s doing to them constitute his preferred targets. Such women are not so naive as to present no challenge whatsoever for the psychopath. But they’re definitely blind enough to fall for his manipulation and lies. A psychopath will wrap several such women around his little finger. Those who finally see the psychopath’s mistreatment as a sign of his malicious and corrupt nature occupy the third rung of the hierarchy. They’re usually women who have been burned so badly by the psychopath that they don’t wish to put their hands into the fire again.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


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