A Better and Stronger You: Leaving the Psychopath for Good

Many of the women who love psychopaths intuitively know that they’re dealing with a sick man. Yet they feel like they have invested far too much for far too long into the relationship to give up on him. Their self-confidence and sense of reality have been severely undermined. They may tell themselves, hoping against hope, that their love and patience will fix the dangerous man. Or that after spending fifteen years with him, they can’t throw away the entirety of their youth, as if those years together were all for nothing.

As Sandra Brown M.A. puts it in Women Who Love Psychopaths, nobody escapes completely unscathed from such a toxic relationship. However, the harm is not linear: in other words, it’s not necessarily true that the longer you are with a psychopath the more you are harmed. Even short-term relationships with a disordered man can be very harmful. Conversely, even women who have spent 20 years with a psychopath can escape those toxic bonds and emerge better and stronger from them.

However, the damage seems to get worse from the time you realize you’re with a psychopath or disordered man and come to accept his abuse: the pathological lying, the gaslighting, the cheating, the putdowns, the threats and the relentless chipping away at your self-esteem. Women who stay with known psychopaths, or with men they know to be very bad, adapt to increasing dosages of harm. This can severely damage their own personalities and the way they interact with others, sometimes beyond repair.

On the positive side, even if you’ve spent many years with a psychopath, you can escape this toxic relationship. Chances are, you used to be a strong person. In previous posts we’ve seen that psychopaths prefer to seduce extraverted, accomplished and confident women. They could easily prey upon passive and weak women. But they prefer the challenge of destroying a strong person instead. We’ve seen how psychopaths use their partners’ strengths against them. They use women’s trust to deceive and cheat on them as well as, more generally, to play mind games. They isolate previously sociable women. They undermine the confidence of women with high self-esteem by focusing on their real or imaginary weaknesses. It’s not unusual to develop neuroses, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders while involved with a psychopath. He will even cultivate those maladies, and lead you to focus obsessively on them rather than on your strengths and achievements, to keep you under his thumb.

We’ve seen how psychopaths use women’s capacity to love and their tenacity–their high emotional investment in the relationship–to keep them on the hook. They lure them with strategic withdrawals and empty promises to improve, which are belied by consistent, though often hidden, abuse. They dangle whatever women want most in life before their eyes–true love, fidelity, commitment, a happy life together, returning to the romantic and exciting honeymoon phase of the relationship–only to make conditional demands, that erode their partners’ dignity and self-respect.

To counteract these strategies and reclaim your life, you need to reassert your agency, your strength and your boundaries. You need to recognize that you’re not just a passive victim of the psychopath’s control, even if you were, indeed, victimized by him. You have agency. You willingly began the relationship with the psychopath. You willingly stayed with him despite seeing red flags early on in the relationship. You may have willingly taken him back after discovering that he repeatedly cheated and lied. You may have also engaged in some immoral behavior to keep him in your life. You may have hurt or neglected those who loved you for his sake. Each step you took as a couple was not just his own doing. It was also yours. Sandra Brown points out that seeing yourself as an agent in your life decisions doesn’t imply denying the fact that the psychopath has hurt you or minimize the extent of your pain. It just shows you that you have the power to determine your life choices. Just as you chose to become involved and stay with a psychopath, you also have the power to disengage from him for good. (How to spot a dangerous man,  32)

To understand why you made such poor and self-defeating choices, you need to assess realistically both your strengths and your weaknesses. In earlier posts, I identified some of the potential weaknesses of women who get involved with psychopaths, which led them down a self-destructive path. The main one is an unrealistic and dichotomous view of themselves, which is narcissistically inflated (as better than other women) in some ways, and too weak (as less than other women) in others. You don’t need a psychopath to identify your qualities and flaws. You don’t need his manipulative criticisms that undermine your self-confidence. You don’t need his fake and conditional flattery to feel good about yourself. You know who you are. And, deep inside, after so much mistreatment at his hands, you also know that it’s clearly in your best interest to leave the dangerous man and end the sick relationship with him. Your self-preservation, not just your self-esteem, is at stake.

Exercising your agency also implies reasserting your strength and your boundaries. If you stayed with a psychopathic partner it’s because he undermined the strength that he originally admired in you and that drew him to you, like a parasite to its host, to destroy you. You can find that inner strength again to live your life free of him. The longer you will be away from his noxious influence, the stronger you will grow.

The psychopath has strung you along by eroding your boundaries: your moral sense of right and wrong, your sexual boundaries and your empathy. When you draw the line and say no more and mean it, the psychopath loses and you win. By way of contrast, each time you do what he tells you, each time you override your intuition to believe his lies, each time you violate your sense of right and wrong, each time you neglect or hurt those who care about you, each time you engage in perverse sexual acts just to please him, he wins and you lose.

The women who stay with psychopaths may be strong women, as Brown’s research indicates. Yet many of them lack sufficiently strong boundaries. They may be strong in other areas of life. But they become weak as far as their personal relations with the psychopath are concerned. These, unfortunately, become the fulcrum of their existence. Staying with a psychopath indicates that they’re willing to compromise their values, their relationships and their standards just to keep and please a disordered man.

To reclaim your autonomy and your strength, you need to reassert your boundaries. The negative experience with the psychopath has no doubt made you more aware than ever of what you stand for since you were repeatedly pressured by him to lower your standards and to violate your principles. Each time you did that it hurt because you lost not only part of your values, but also–and more importantly–part of yourself.

Asserting the limits of the person you are and of what you stand for constitutes an essential step towards rejecting the psychopath. Most likely, he won’t even stay with you if you assert yourself and don’t give in a single inch to him anymore. As a narcissist, he can’t tolerate any real equality in a romantic relationship. He has to be “top dog.” He constantly reaffirms this status through the power he exercises over you, his family and his acquaintances. Because he doesn’t regard you (or anyone else) as his equal, the psychopath can’t offer you genuine respect for your values, your activities, your needs and your identity. His fake charm, his controlling and possessive attention, his disingenuous and manipulative flattery and the empty romantic gestures he made (mostly in the beginning of the relationship) are not the same thing as genuine love, mutual caring and respect.

As we’ve seen, a psychopath is incapable of having a caring and equal relationship with anyone. For this reason, psychopaths seek women who are strong but exceedingly flexible; women whose boundaries they can erode and whose identities they can distort. If you regain your sense of identity and boundaries, you become much less vulnerable to psychopathic seduction and control. Psychopaths are parasites who want to suck the lifeblood–the emotions, the confidence and the strength–out of you. They violate your sense of self, through what psychologists call “enmeshment.” As your identity blends into his, your whole life revolves around meeting his ever-changing needs. The more you violate what you stand for and who you are to please the psychopath, the more you dissolve into the dangerous relationship with him. As Sandra Brown states,

“Boundaries are indicators of where we start and end, and where other people start and end. We set limits–or boundaries–in relationships to protect our bodily selves and dignity… Drawing your identity from a dangerous man… can have disastrous outcomes.” (How to spot a dangerous man, 201).

Not every misfortunate experience has a silver lining. Some, like fatal illnesses, may be purely tragic. Fortunately, overcoming a relationship with a dangerous man is one of those life experiences that does have a silver lining. After having been involved with a psychopath, for whom “love” means conquest, ownership and dominance, a normal relationship with a decent, respectful and honest partner will seem almost miraculous by comparison. Nothing about healthy human bonds can ever be taken for granted again after one has experienced the worst life has to offer.

Clearly, in choosing a psychopath you lost part of yourself and wasted part of your life. Such a destructive relationship came at a cost. Fortunately, you still have the power of choice as to how your life will continue. You don’t have to throw away the rest of your life to him. This experience may have weakened you in some respects.  But if you utilize it the right way, it can also make you a much stronger person. Whatever time, energy and emotion you spent on the psychopath weren’t completely wasted. They have taught you how to know and defend the limits of your identity and values. They have taught you who to appreciate and love in life and who to reject and keep out. They have revealed your strengths and your limitations. They have made you more independent, since you’ve seen how flattery and criticism by others can function as a form of mind control.

It’s now up to you to decide if you will allow the psychopath to continue to undermine your dignity and the quality of your life or if you will rely upon your strengths and true love bonds with others to live the kind of moral, honest and fulfilling life that you deserve. The psychopath has kept you under his control by narrowing and intensifying the range of your experiences. You consequently focused only on him and on how to twist yourself, like a fish on a hook, to please him.

You can reverse this process. You can broaden the sphere of your existence by expanding your interests and focusing on those who deserve your affection. In fact, you can do more than that by helping inform others suffering at the hands of psychopathic partners about this dangerous and camouflaged predator. Making a clinical diagnosis of personality disorders is, of course, only up to experts. But identifying potentially dangerous traits isn’t just for experts. Any of us can be adversely affected when we allow disordered individuals into our lives. Knowledge is the most essential form of self-defense.

Widespread information about physical and emotional abuse has saved millions of people from domestic violence. Spreading information about psychopathy may help save millions of additional lives from harm. Ironically, the disordered man who wanted to destroy you both morally and emotionally can give your life a higher, more other-regarding purpose. In the past, you may have relegated too many of your decisions to the psychopath. But, ultimately, the power of choice in what you do with the rest of your life lies in your hands, not his. May the new year bring you peace and happiness, free of the toxic relationship with a psychopath.

Happy New Year!

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


Why Psychopaths are Insatiable

Many of the women who have been romantically involved with psychopaths describe their partners’ appetite for sex, pleasure and power as insatiable. In the beginning of the relationship, the psychopath’s penchant for pleasure may seem exciting, fun and even romantic. You may feel very special to have encountered a man who can’t keep his hands off of you. The problem is that psychopaths usually can’t keep their hands off other women and men too. Once you discover the depth of his deceit and the frequency and quantity of their infidelities, you may ask yourself: Why couldn’t I satisfy him? Why wasn’t I enough?

The answer is that nobody and nothing can satisfy a psychopath. There are emotional reasons for this insatiability which I’ve gone over in previous posts. Because they lack emotional depth and the capacity to bond to others, psychopaths don’t care about the harm they inflict. On the contrary, they relish seeing people in pain and the idea that they’ve duped them. This emotional shallowness also leads psychopaths to attach quickly to their targets and detach just as easily. The lack of love, coupled with the propensity to do harm and low impulse control, propels psychopaths to move quickly from one relationship to the next, in a desperate search for the next dupe, the next pawn, the next conquest, the next rush.

Clinical studies also reveal that just as psychopaths can’t bond emotionally to others, the pleasures they experience are also shallow. Like the mythical character Tantalus, psychopaths are cursed to consume more drink, more drugs, more sex in a desperate search for an unattainable physical satisfaction. To offer an example from pop culture, the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie featured cursed pirates whose punishment for stealing forbidden treasure was to become insatiable. Drink poured into them as through a bottomless cup without making them any happier or  more light-hearted. Food passed through them without being able to really savor it. They indulged their sexual appetites with as many partners as they could find, but none gave them enough stimulation or pleasure.

Psychopaths resemble those cursed pirates. The more they indulge their addictions and appetites, the more jaded and dissatisfied they become, the more quantity of sex, partners, positions, drugs or alcohol they need to get their next fix. Every new activity, place and person quickly becomes boring to them. The only constant satisfaction psychopaths experience is the sadistic pleasure to use, hurt and deceive other human beings.

So what do psychopaths feel in lieu of emotional attachment and sensual pleasure? Their desire resembles that of a voracious animal fixated on its prey. It’s focused yet impersonal, targeting whomever they perceive as vulnerable out of the herd. To lure some victims some psychopaths may invest a lot of energy and time in appearing loving, caring, nice, committed and faithful. But that mask usually cracks as soon as they believe they got whatever they needed from that particular victim. This is why so many victims describe the sudden 180 degree change in the psychopath’s attitude and behavior as soon as they got married, or as soon as they committed to their relationship. Before giving in, they were exposed to the psychopath’s mask, which he used to lure them. Afterwards, they saw the real psychopath.

As strange as it may seem, even something as visceral as the psychopath’s sensuality is as much of an illusion as his capacity to love. Psychopaths can be very sensual and affectionate. But this behavior is learned from victims, not natural to them. They see that women are attracted to and beguiled by romantic words and gestures, so they mimic them: but only for as long as they pursue a target or want something from her. Afterwards, the affection and attention suddenly evaporates.

As Skylar, a regular contributor to lovefraud.com eloquently states, a psychopath “is like a ghost, a shadow or a vapor. A complete hallucination created out of DNA. There is nothing real about him, and that is what so hard to take, because you know that there are so many like him: walking shadows. It’s frightening, but we have to lose our innocence at some point.”

Our innocence consists of anthropomorphizing psychopaths by attributing normal human motivations or desires to them. Because their brains are wired differently, psychopaths think, feel and behave differently than the vast majority of human beings. For them, desire is a predatory drive which can never be satisfied by anyone and anything for long. Emotion consists of  dominance. That, too,  is never enough no matter how many victims the psychopath collects or how much he controls and humiliates each one. Communication becomes reduced to a web of manipulation and deceit. As for love, well, that’s the biggest illusion of them all. It’s the fatal trap that slowly sucks the life out of so many victims: often slowly and painfully, until they have no energy left to escape.

For a fictionalized representation of a psychopathic sexual predator, check out my new novel, The Seducer, previewed on the links below:

Review of Donna Andersen’s Love Fraud: The Book and the Website

In December 2007, I was reeling from a mixture of pain, confusion and relief that I had barely escaped an unmitigated disaster. I had nearly left a wonderful husband of 15 years for a man who initially seemed to be my dream come true–charming, sensual, romantic, cultured, caring and attentive–but turned out to be a social predator. There were plenty of red flags in my year-long relationship with him: such as the confession that he had been a sex addict many years earlier; the puzzling fact that he had lied for years to his parents about working at an escort service when in reality he had an honorable job; the unsettling fact that he relished telling me about his previous lies and sexual exploits and how much he had cheated on his fiancée (who later became his wife); the ease with which I witnessed him lie to his wife on the phone with elaborate stories that he made up on the spot. Rather than being embarrassed by lying, strangely, he appeared to relish the deception.

But, then again, obviously I wasn’t perfect either.  I chose to violate my own marriage vows and to overlook all these disturbing details to focus instead on this man’s constant declarations of love; his reassurances that he was no longer in love with his wife and that I was the true love of his life; and his over-the-top affection and plans for our happy future together which, of course, included my two kids. But even these plans were a subject of contention between us, since from the beginning my lover pressured me to divorce my husband to marry him. Despite being in love with him, I had serious reservations about breaking up my marriage with a husband I still cared about for someone I knew only in the context of a long distance affair who had already admitted to me that hadn’t been faithful to any other woman in his life.  To dispel my doubts, he kept reassuring me that I was special: the woman he had been looking for his entire adult life and his soul mate.

Everything began to unravel between us once I relented to his constant pressure and asked my husband for a divorce. Then my lover instantly cut out the pretense of being a caring, cajoling and romantic partner. His behavior became demanding, controlling and, quite frankly, bizarre. After pressuring me for a year to marry him, as soon as I gave in, he began to withdraw his commitment. At one point, he brazenly suggested that we post ourselves on a dating website. It then became clear to me that the hot pursuit was only a game for him and that juggling women, under the pretense of offering true love, was how he occupied his time and entertained himself. I realized that this guy was not simply promiscuous, but also a pathological liar and predatory in his designs. Destroying women and, as an added bonus, also their families was how he got his jollies. His wife and family may have accepted and even idolized this man for how he was, but I wasn’t about to put up with such flagrant mistreatment. I promptly ended the relationship with him. My husband and I began the process of rebuilding our marriage and family life, which had been damaged but not destroyed by the affair.

My first step in recovering was to google the symptoms manifested by my lover: including pathological lying, manipulation and sex addiction. I found that they all related to the same two terms: sociopath or psychopath, which appeared to be used interchangeably. I clicked on a website called lovefraud.com, started by Donna Andersen, and found a wealth of information: the symptoms of psychopathy; example cases (including details about Donna’s devastating experience with the sociopath she married , James Montgomery); resources for victims; articles from the key specialists on psychopathy and narcissism, and a forum for women like me to share their experiences with other victims of  social predators. Each person who speaks out on lovefraud.com not only helps heal those who are on it and themselves, but also spreads the word about this website and its helpful information to others. The format of lovefraud is somewhat similar to the Wikipedia or The Huffington Post: it’s reader generated and regulated, with structural limits and some expert input. If you want to reach and help a wide community of readers internationally, I believe this is the most effective way to do it.  Hopefully, lovefraud.com will continue to grow exponentially, drawing strength and numbers from each victim who, in turn, informs others.

While most people can’t relate to the degree of malicious deception and harm inflicted by sociopaths, these women did, since they had experienced it. Moreover, since they had willingly joined the lovefraud community, they weren’t willing to turn a blind eye to the harm caused by the sociopaths, accept it, rationalize it, justify it, or collude with it in any way. In other words, like me, they didn’t want to play the victim role.

On lovefraud.com and from reading other psychology websites and books, I learned that sociopaths constitute between 1 and 4 percent of the population: which means that there are millions of them in the U.S. alone. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of sociopaths are not serial murderers: although since they lack conscience, many of them are quite capable of murder. Initially, they come across as charismatic and flattering, which is how they attract their targets. As I had witnessed myself, they’re great pathological liars, which is how they dupe, manipulate and con people into doing what they want, even when it’s against their interests. They have no conscience or remorse for hurting others, which is why they can be so callous even to their family members. In fact, sociopaths usually prey upon those who love them. They can’t be fixed by either therapy or drugs because they don’t want to change, because they consider themselves superior to others and, above all, because their personality disorder is deeply engrained in their brain wiring and character.

Unlike people who suffer from mental deficiencies, however, psychopaths are usually highly intelligent and use their minds to cause harm to others. Donna Andersen’s website, lovefraud.com, provided not only a wealth of information, but also healing and motivation. It helped me recover from my devastating experience and motivated me to use my research and writing skills to inform others about psychopathy, so that I too can help victims the way Donna’s website helped me.

In 2010 Donna Andersen published Love Fraud: How Marriage to a Sociopath Fulfilled My Spiritual Plan, an autobiographical book about her experience of being used by, lied to and conned out of a staggering $ 223,000 by her ex-husband, James Montgomery. For the past three years I had done so much psychology research on psychopathy, started my own blog (http://psychopathyawareness.wordpress.com) and written two books–a novel called The Seducer (previewed on the link http://www.neatorama.com/bitlit/category/the-seducer/) and the upcoming nonfiction book called Dangerous Liasions about it already. I didn’t think that I could learn much more about the subject, but Donna’s book proved me wrong.

From the moment I opened her book, I couldn’t put it down. Love Fraud offers the details of how her sociopathic ex-husband James Montgomery conned her and dozens of other women into giving him their life savings, credit cards and other resources. After bleeding them dry, he abandoned them to move on to the next victim. His entire life Montgomery pursued business ventures that never panned out, lying to the women who funded his grandiose schemes about business deals that didn’t exist and credentials that he didn’t have. But, ultimately, Love Fraud is not a victim’s tale, but a survivor’s story. It shows how despite all the havoc this sociopath caused in her life, Donna Andersen recovered from it, found true love again with the man who is now her husband (Terry Kelly), established ties with fellow victims of sociopathic predators, and used her experience to start a website, lovefraud.com, which has approximately 3000 visitors a day and helps tens of thousands of women, worldwide.

In her book, Donna describes how she found inner strength from a spiritual journey that encouraged her to view herself as a survivor, not just a victim, of her sociopathic husband. This spiritual growth was as necessary as the rational pursuits of the truth about Montgomery’s deception and fraud. Sociopaths suck out the joy out of life and the spiritual strength of their victims. Like parasites in the natural world, they destroy their targets, inside and out. To regain control of your life and assert your identity again, you need not just helpful resources and information, but also spiritual courage and strength. And Donna found plenty of both!

The road from victim to survivor she outlines in her book entails, first of all, acceptance and knowledge. Without understanding what sociopaths are, you risk remaining subject to their twisted manipulations, gaslighting and lies. It also entails belief in yourself: realizing that you are far more, and deserve far better in life, than being a disordered man’s dupe and possession, to be held in reserve for him, for when he wants to use you again. It also entails establishing social links with others, who are healthy human beings and who care about you. Psychopaths isolate their targets from their loved ones and friends because they don’t want healthy perspectives and true love to interfere with their evil designs.

Donna counteracted this by having the courage to date again, despite her horrible experience with James Montgomery, and by establishing contact with the other women her husband conned. She even worked closely with one of them to expose James Montgomery and recover her money, or at least drive him into bankruptcy, the way he did her and so many other victims. She also expanded her social network in other activities, such as rowing, and in business networking in writing and marketing–her areas of specialization–to recover socially and financially as well.

Last but not least, her writing is so engaging and entertaining–and sometimes so ironic, humorous and touching–that at times, despite the sad subject, you’ll laugh out loud. If you’re like me, an animal lover, you’ll become fond of her entire menagerie of pets, especially Beau, the loyal dog who provided so much emotional support throughout this harrowing experience. Donna Andersen is an exquisite story teller– and boy does she have a story to tell! This book has it all: sex, lies, videotapes, theft, retribution, ineffectual law enforcement, a struggle between good and evil, the triumph of truth and, as she wittily puts it, romance with a happy ending with her loving new husband and business partner, Terry Kelly. In establishing lovefraud the website and writing Love Fraud the book, Donna Andersen become not just a survivor but also a success. She’s the voice and inspiration for tens of thousands of  women in similar positions, with similar stories to tell. Donna has already appeared on a popular Investigation Discovery show, called “Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?” and given an interview about Love Fraud on Amerika Now. We’re eagerly awaiting the movie!

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Playing With Fire: Narcissists and Psychopaths as Players

Many of you have dated them: cocky men who seem to attract women like flies and change partners as frequently as normal people change underwear. They can be smooth, sexy, exciting and fun. Initially, they may seem harmless enough: just normal men looking for a good time. If you’re not seeking a serious relationship, you may even see them as a welcome escape when normal life presents so many challenges and entails so many responsibilities. But players are often not as harmless as they seem. They may be suffering from a serious and incurable personality disorder, of which their sexual addiction is only a symptom, or the tip of the iceberg.

Compulsive seducers tend to be extremely narcissistic. They use their conquests as mirrors to reflect back to them an aggrandized image of their own desirability. Steve Becker, a therapist specializing in psychopathy and narcissism and consultant for lovefraud.com, distinguishes, however, between the motives of narcissists and psychopaths. Of the two, he suggests that psychopaths present a greater danger to others. He explains that all psychopaths are highly narcissistic. But the converse isn’t true. Not all narcissists are psychopathic, in the sense of living for the thrill of duping and harming others.

In his essay, “Sociopath versus Narcissist,” Becker argues that both narcissistic and psychopathic seducers share a tendency to treat others as objects. He states, “Welcome to the world of the narcissist and psychopath. Theirs is a mindset of immediate, demanded gratification, with a view of others as expected—indeed existing—to serve their agendas. Frustrate their agendas, and you can expect repercussions, ranging from the disruptive to ruinous.” (powercommunicating.com)

Psychopaths and narcissists, however, have different motivations for why they seduce. Narcissists need an endless supply of validation. The more women they seduce, the more they feel reassured in their sex appeal. By way of contrast, a psychopath does it primarily for the pleasure of playing a game. The women he seduces, whether he’s involved with them for one evening or several years, represent nothing more than pawns, to be used for his personal pleasure and amusement. Becker elaborates:

The psychopath is less obsessed than the narcissist with validation. Indeed, his inner world seems to lack much of anything to validate: it is barren, with nothing in it that would even be responsive to validation. An emotional cipher, the psychopath’s exploitation of others is more predatory than the narcissist’s. For the psychopath, who may be paranoid, the world is something like a gigantic hunt, populated by personified-objects to be mined to his advantage.” (powercommunicating.com)

Just as they eventually tire of each game piece—be it a long-term girlfriend, casual lover or spouse—psychopaths also tire of each kind of game. Even promiscuous sex gets boring for them. Which is why they often feel the need to engage in acts of physical violence for additional thrills. However, their boredom is only temporarily relieved by each new addiction, transgression and act of depravity. For this reason, psychopaths sometimes move from promiscuity to rape (or worse).

The quest for validation leads a narcissist in an insatiable search for his narcissistic supply: new conquests, be they merely sexual or romantic, mean new sources of praise and validation for him. More dangerously, the quest for entertainment and domination–or pleasure through victimization–leads a psychopath to explore new and increasingly sadistic ways of hurting others. No matter how flattering and romantic such men may seem initially, playing with compulsive seducers–be they narcissists or psychopaths–is playing with fire. You will get burned. The only question is: how bad and for how long.

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


Poisoned Love: How A Psychopath Conditions His Victims

In previous posts I have shown how psychopaths camouflage their real evil identities and bad intentions, to appear normal and even better than normal partners to their victims. What may seem surprising to those who have not experienced personally the psychopathic bond is why their victims put up with it once the bait and switch occurs and Mr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde. There’s no simple answer to this question, since the motivations and personalities of the victims themselves vary. Some stay out of fear, others out of extreme emotional dependency and love addiction, others because they, themselves, suffer from a personality disorder that bonds them to a psychopath. Today I’d like to delve into the question of why even relatively normal and healthy women can stay with psychopathic men after the initial luring phase is over and the relationship becomes overtly toxic.

Psychopaths are extremely skilled not just at pretending to be decent men, but also at dosing. As early as the luring phase of the relationship, when they appear to be loving and normal partners, they make deviant requests, under the guise of romantic love. For instance, they isolate their new partners from those who care about them–family and friends–by claiming that they’re so in love with them that they wish to spend as much time as possible together. If the psychopath’s partner wishes to go out with friends, he spreads gossip about those individuals, claiming that they were critical of her or of their relationship. Or the psychopath may state that he’s so much in love with his partner that he can’t bear to spend time apart from her.

Couched in these positive terms, many women allow their other, healthy, social relationships with family members and friends to slowly but surely deteriorate. The less support they have from others, the more such women invest themselves wholeheartedly in the psychopathic bond. Once he senses his power over her, the psychopath becomes more openly possessive and controlling. Psychopaths have an intuitive relationship barometer that tells them when they have achieved dominance over others and can demand more (and more and more…) from them.

Another way in which psychopaths condition their partners to accept a toxic relationship is by gradually pushing the envelope of deviant requests. Since psychopaths are easily bored and need constant thrills, they may initially ask  their targets to make out in public, under the pretense that they’re so attracted to them that they can’t keep his hands off of them. In reality, however, psychopaths are not as attracted to their partners, even at the beginning of the relationship, as to the thrill of crossing the boundaries of public decency and demeaning their partners. Recall from my previous post that psychopaths are extreme narcissists who derive most pleasure from the dominance and victimization of others.

As soon as the victim complies with one perverse request, it becomes normative. After a short while, the psychopath will demand more indecent behavior from her, once again pretending that it stems from their great and special passion. Pretty soon, the victim finds herself complicit with his abnormal behavior, sometimes even addicted to it. Not surprisingly, this technique is often used by pimps to create loyalty and submission in the women and girls they ensnare into prostitution. What begins under the guise of romantic love and passion–something that most women yearn for–ends up being what it always was in reality and in the psychopath’s evil design: a form of sexual slavery.

Even partners who refuse to engage in the psychopath’s transgressive behavior–be it his scams, lies or sexual perversion–are inevitably poisoned by the toxic relationship if they continue to stay with him. The most common way in which a psychopath poisons his partner is to condition her to accept his abusive behavior as normal. This doesn’t have to be under the form of physical violence, although it can be. More commonly, however, any person who stays with a psychopath becomes gradually used to bigger and bigger doses of emotional abuse. When she catches the psychopath cheating on her for the first time, she may have a normal reaction and break up with him. But if she doesn’t have the strength to move on and later returns to him–since after bouts of promiscuity, a psychopath is likely to act repentant and romantic to lure back his main partner(s)–then the next times she discovers evidence of his cheating (or lying, or fraud), she puts up with it, or pretends she doesn’t know about it.

Denial becomes the shield that absorbs most of the emotional impact of his hurtful behavior. When denial is no longer possible, because his wrongdoings become too frequent and flagrant, she displaces her anger and resentment towards the other women in order to maintain the “integrity” of her relationship with him. If he cheated and lied, it’s the other women’s fault rather than his. She also blames those who point out the psychopath’s pathology rather than him for mistreating her. They’re the bearers of bad news, who expose the hollowness of the life she leads with him: a truth she can no longer face, after becoming so dependent on him. At some point, she becomes more invested in the false image of strength and of a wonderful relationship she has with the psychopath than in facing the dire reality and moving on, to achieve real strength in life and have the chance of having a non-pathological romantic relationship.

Eventually, after a long series of discoveries of infidelities and other kinds of bad behavior, she becomes used to it and finds some solace in the assumption that those flings mean nothing to him. In spite of his consistently unloving behavior, she convinces herself that the psychopath loves her and that she’s the most important woman in his life. His infidelity then becomes open and normative: what he used to do behind her back he does openly, before her eyes. What’s more, since psychopaths are sadists, he relishes seeing her suffer from a combination of jealousy, wounded pride and helpless love.

As Sandra L. Brown, M.A. explains in Women Who Love Psychopaths, any person intimately involved with a psychopath will be harmed. To offer an analogy, the cancer cells that are most dangerous are the few that resist the chemotherapy and multiply quickly in the body, to kill it. Psychologically, the most dangerous aspects of any victim of psychopathic seduction are the ones that survive and adapt to his mistreatment. Once she becomes inured to the constant lies, verbal abuse, cheating, etc, she allows those vices to multiply in the relationship and take over her life.

Just as the most pathological elements of a society adapt to and rise to the top of totalitarian regimes, and just as the most pathological individuals thrive in the life of crime of gangs, so the most pathological parts of a person adapt to and embrace the disorder of a psychopath. A psychopath trains his victim gradually into a form of submission–or acceptance of his deviant behavior–that annihilates everything that’s healthy about her personality and existence. Eventually, if she doesn’t find the strength to leave him, she’s reduced by the psychopath’s gradual poison to the shadow of the strong and healthy person she once was.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Confessions of an Incorrigible Sex Addict

Couple the fact that psychopaths are very impulsive and hedonistic with the fact that they seek to maximize their dominance over women and what you often get is sexual addiction. Sex is a psychopath’s preferred method of combining pleasure, deception, conquest and dominance. This is why, as we’ve seen in my previous post on the relationship boomerang, psychopaths tend to rotate and recycle women. They shift energy and prioritize one, then another; they return to former girlfriends once they get bored with the new ones. In a popular article, Dr. Gail Saltz responded to a letter from a married man who bragged about his duplicity and manipulation of countless women. He writes:

“Dear Dr. Saltz, I can’t get enough of women. I have to look at every woman who walks by. I watch porn, I flirt, I keep in touch with past girlfriends, I make new ones, I browse for women online. I get up to 30 e-mails a day from women. Once I have seduced them online, they are dying to meet me and usually sleep with me on the first date. Then I find the simplest flaw and use that against them to break it off. They are devastated. They feel I have used them sexually, and they are right. The kicker is that I am married. My wife is great, beautiful, intelligent and we have a good sex life. I am 41. We have been together for 25 years. I, however, still have a constant rotation of new women. I just can’t stop seducing other women and having sex with them. Nor do I want to, because I am having the time of my life.”

The only thing that bothers this man turns out to be the inconvenience it poses for his job. He claims that he takes three hours a day to write women. He also calls those “higher on the rotation.” He emails women again for three hours at night, after his wife goes to bed. Then he hunts on the Internet for new targets. Needless to say, he doesn’t feel guilty towards his wife or any of the other women he misleads. Nor does he believe that he has a problem or sex addiction. His reasoning is quite impressive: consuming what you enjoy can’t possibly be an addiction. He boasts:

“I have slept with an untold number of women. I would not call it an addiction because I like it so much and it makes me happy to meet them, seduce them, sleep with them and, yes, even break up with them. This week I will hit my all-time record of sleeping with 13 different women. They are all beautiful, intelligent and successful, and they all think we will live happily ever after. They have no idea that I am sleeping with so many other women, let alone married. I know hurting them emotionally is bad. I just can’t stop. To me it is all fair game as long as it is consensual.”

This man’s definition of addiction is only outdone by his impressive moral reasoning. According to him, lying to, misleading and cheating on women can’t possibly be wrong as long as it’s “consensual.” One wonders how many of those women “consented” to being used and deceived by him. Imagine your boyfriend kissing you, then looking into your eyes and telling you how much he loves you and that you’re the only woman for him. It sounds very nice and fills you with feelings of love and devotion. Then imagine him doing exactly the same thing with another woman an hour before meeting with you and with a third woman an hour afterwards. Somehow, his kisses and vows of love no longer seem quite as meaningful. In fact, once you see the whole picture of the psychopath’s behavior, all the so-called “positive” aspects of the relationship lose meaning.

Unfortunately, women involved with psychopaths don’t usually get to see the whole picture. Like the man in this scenario, their husbands or boyfriends carry on behind their backs and routinely deceive them. Yet, to return to my previous point, wouldn’t “consent” imply knowing all the relevant facts to reach an informed decision? Apparently, not according to this self-professed Don Juan. The only thing that matters him is the fact that he enjoys seducing, deceiving and dumping women. He elaborates:

“For me, it is not simply the sex, it is the seduction, and the mental games and pleasure I receive from this. To seduce a women to the point where she really wants to have sex with me is very stimulating to me. It is like I have scored a touchdown in the last few seconds of the Superbowl. I have gotten so good at the aftergame as well that I make only one call or e-mail. You are not what I was looking for, please don’t write me anymore. I never hear from them again. I find myself so manipulative it scares me sometimes. Can you please give me some insight into what is going on?”

Dr. Saltz hits the nail on the head when she responds:

“I think you are a sex addict and a sociopath. What you describe is sexual addiction. Like any addict, you have a feedback loop that provides you with positive reinforcement every time you make a conquest—hence your comparison to a winning touchdown in the big game… What is so very disturbing is your complete lack of guilt, remorse or empathy for the other parties involved. You know intellectually that this is bad behavior, because you are aware you are betraying your spouse and hurting all the other woman you deal with. Yet it seems that you understand this only on a purely observational level. It sounds as though you have no capacity for emotion. You lack any ability to hold yourself morally accountable for your dishonest and harmful actions. You are easily able to rationalize hurting and mistreating others, whether they are strangers or relatives. In fact, you take pleasure in it. Hence, I also think you are a sociopath, with an utter lack of concern and regard for others.”

I’m not sure what or if the psychopath answered her back. I suspect, however, that he couldn’t care less about her diagnosis or anyone else’s assessment of him, at least in so far as it’s negative. But I think it’s important to be aware of the whole picture: the lure of the psychopath as well as his pathetic reality. The bait he offers women is a picture of perfect romance, ideal love and happiness. A psychopath can be charming, fun, romantic, spontaneous, passionate and sweet in the beginning of a relationship. The reality, however, is a relationship without any genuine feelings–at least on the psychopath’s side–founded on deceit and plagued by countless lies and infidelities.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

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