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.

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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).

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


The Psychopath’s Relationship Cycle: Idealize, Devalue and Discard

Because they suffer from incurable personality disorders, psychopaths repeat over and over the same relationship cycle, no matter whom they’re dating or for how long. Relationships with them are always castles–or, sometimes, marriages–built on sand. Today I’ll describe the entire process of psychopathic seduction, from its seemingly ideal beginning to its invariably bitter end.

In their book on psychopaths in the workplace, entitled Snakes in Suits, Babiak and Hare state that the psychopathic bond follows certain predictable stages: idealize, devalue and discard. This process may take several years or only a few hours. It all depends on what the psychopath wants from you and whether or not you present a challenge to him. If the psychopath wants the semblance of respectability–a screen behind which he can hide his perverse nature and appear harmless and normal–he may establish a long-term partnership with you or even marry you. If all he wants is to have some fun, it will be over within a couple of hours. If he wants the stimulation and diversion of an affair, he may stay with you for as long as you excite him. Despite the differences in timeline, what remains constant is this: eventually, sooner or later, you’ll be discarded (or be led by the psychopath’s bad behavior to discard him) as soon as you no longer serve his needs.

Babiak and Hare explain that although psychopaths are highly manipulative, the process of idealize, devalue and discard is a natural outgrowth of their personalities. In other words, it’s not necessarily calculated at every moment in the relationship. Overall, however, whether consciously or not, psychopaths assess and drain the use-value out of their romantic partners. (Snakes in Suits, 42) During the assessment phase, psychopaths interact closely with their targets to see what makes them tick. They ask probing questions, to discover their unfulfilled needs and weaknesses. They also commonly lure their targets with promises to offer them whatever’s been missing from their lives. If you’re recovering from a recent divorce, they offer you friendship and an exciting new romantic relationship. If you’ve suffered a death in the family, they appear to be sympathetic friends. If you’re going through financial difficulties, they lend you money to seem generous.

During the manipulation phase, Babiak and Hare go on to explain, psychopaths construct the “psychopathic fiction.” They pour on the charm to hook their victims emotionally and gain their trust. They present themselves as kind-hearted individuals. Of course, in order to do so, psychopaths resort to outrageous lies since, in reality, they’re just the opposite. In romantic relationships in particular, they depict themselves as not only compatible with you, but also as your soul mate. While seeming your complement, they also present themselves as your mirror image. They claim to share your interests and sensibilities. Babiak and Hare observe: “This psychological bond capitalizes on your inner personality, holding out the promise of greater depth and possibly intimacy, and offering a relationship that is special, unique, equal–forever.” (Snakes in Suits, 78)

Because psychopaths are great manipulators and convincing liars, as we’ve seen, many of their victims don’t heed the warning signals. During the early phases of a romantic relationship, people in general tend to be too blinded by the euphoria of falling in love to focus on noticing red flags. Also, during this period, the psychopaths themselves are on their best behavior. Yet, generally speaking, they get bored too easily to be able to maintain their mask of sanity consistently for very long. The honeymoon phase of the relationship usually lasts until the psychopath intuitively senses that he’s got you on the hook or until he’s gotten bored by the relationship and moved on to other targets. He shows his true colors when he’s got no incentive left to pretend anymore. As Babiak and Hare note, “Once psychopaths have drained all the value from a victim—that is, when the victim is no longer useful—they abandon the victim and move on to someone else.” (Snakes in Suits, 53)

This raises the question of why a psychopath idealizes his targets in the first place. Why do psychopaths invest so much effort, time and energy into giving the illusion of intimacy and meaning in a relationship, given that they never really bond with other human beings in the first place? One obvious response would be that they do it for the sport of it. They enjoy both the chase and the kill; the seduction and the betrayal. They relish creating the illusion that they’re something they’re not. They also enjoy observing how they dupe others into believing this fiction. Moreover, whenever a psychopath expresses admiration, flattery or enthusiasm for someone, it’s always because he wants something from that person. I think, however, that this explanation is somewhat reductive. Many psychopaths experience powerful obsessions that resemble intense passions. Besides, this explanation doesn’t distinguish conmen, who fake their credentials and interest in a person, from psychopaths “in love,” who are pursuing their targets for what initially seems even to them as “romantic” reasons.

A broader explanation, which would include both kinds of psychopaths, might look something like this: as research confirms, all psychopaths suffer from a shallowness of emotion that makes their bonding ephemeral and superficial, at best. When they want something–or someone–they pursue that goal with all their might. They concentrate all of their energies upon it. When that goal is your money or a job or something outside of yourself, their pursuit may appear somewhat fake. You’re a means to an end. You were never idealized for yourself, but for something else. But when their goal is actually you–seducing you or even marrying you–then their pursuit feels like an idealization. Temporarily, you represent the object of their desire, the answer to their needs, the love of their life and the key to their happiness. But this feeling of euphoria doesn’t last long because it’s empty to the core. As we’ve observed, once psychopaths feel they have you in their grasp—once your identity, hopes and expectations are pinned on them—they get bored with you and move on to new sources of pleasure and diversion. We’ve also seen in Cleckley’s study that the same logic applies to their other goals as well. Psychopaths tire rather quickly of their jobs, their geographic location, their hobbies and their educational endeavors. But it hurts so much more, and it feels so much more personal, when what they get tired of is you, yourself.

Their loss of interest appears as a devaluation. From the center of their life, you suddenly become just an obstacle to their next pursuit. Since psychopaths are intuitively skilled at “dosing,” or giving you just enough validation and attention to keep you on the hook, you may not immediately notice the devaluation. It’s as if the psychopath intuitively knows when to be charming again (in order not to lose you) and when to push your boundaries, further and lower. Your devaluation occurs gradually yet steadily. One day you finally notice it and wonder how you have allowed yourself to sink so low. Occasionally, he throws you a bone–takes you out, plans a romantic evening, says kind and loving things—to lead you to dismiss your healthy intuitions that you’re being mistreated. If the psychopath allows himself to treat you worse and worse it’s not only because you’re much less exciting in his eyes. It’s also because he’s conditioned you to think less highly of yourself and to accept his dubious behavior. Because you want to hold on to the fantasy of the ideal relationship he cultivated, you go into denial. You accept his implausible excuses. You put up with your growing fears and doubts. You rationalize his inexplicable absences, his increasingly frequent emotional withdrawals, his curt and icy replies, his petty and mean-spirited ways of “punishing” you for asserting your needs or for not bending to his will.

But at some point, when he sinks to a new low or when you catch him in yet another lie, you slip out of the willful denial which has been your way of adjusting to the toxic relationship. Because he has lowered your self-esteem, you ask yourself why this has happened and what you did wrong. If he cheated on you, you blame the other woman or women involved. The psychopath encourages you to pursue such false leads. In fact, he encourages anything that deflects attention from his responsibility in whatever goes wrong with your relationship. He leads you to blame yourself. He also inculpates the other women. He implies that you were not good enough for him. He claims that the other women tempted or pursued him. But that’s only a diversionary tactic. You have flaws and you made mistakes, but at least you were honest and real. The other women involved may have been decent human beings, the scum of the Earth or anything in between. Think about it. Does it really matter who and what they were? You are not involved with the other women. They are not your life partners, your spouses, your lovers or your friends. What matters to you most is how your own partner behaves. He is primarily accountable for his actions. Not you, not the other women.

Also, keep in mind that psychopaths twist the truth to fit their momentary goals and to play mind games. When you actually pay attention to what they say instead of being impressed by how sincere they may appear, their narratives often sound inconsistent and implausible. What they say about other women, both past and present, is most likely a distortion too. Psychopaths commonly project their own flaws upon others. If they tell you they were seduced, it was most likely the other way around. If they tell you that their previous girlfriends mistreated them, cheated on them, got bored with them, abandoned them, listen carefully, since that’s probably what they did to those women. Their lies serve a dual function. They help establish credibility with you as well as giving them the extra thrill of deceiving you yet again.

So why were you discarded? you may wonder. You were devalued and discarded because you were never really valued for yourself. As we’ve seen, for psychopaths relationships are temporary deals, or rather, scams. Analogously, for them, other human beings represent objects of diversion and control. The most flattering and pleasant phase of their control, the only one that feels euphoric and magical, is the seduction/idealization phase. That’s when they pour on the charm and do everything they possibly can to convince you that you are the only one for them and that they’re perfect for you. It’s very easy to mistake this phase for true love or passion. However, what inevitably follows in any intimate relationship with a psychopath is neither pleasant nor flattering. Once they get bored with you because the spell of the initial conquest has worn off, the way they maintain control of you is through deception, isolation, abuse, gaslighting and undermining your self-confidence.

That’s when you realize that the devaluation phase has set in. You do whatever you can to regain privileged status. You try to recapture the excitement and sweetness of the idealization phase. You want to reclaim your rightful throne as the queen you thought you were in his eyes. But that’s an impossible goal, an ever-receding horizon. Every women’s shelter tells victims of domestic violence that abuse usually gets worse, not better, over time. For abusers, power is addictive. It works like a drug. The dosage needs to be constantly increased to achieve the same effect. Control over others, especially sexual control, gives psychopaths pleasure and meaning in life. To get the same rush from controlling you, over time, they need to tighten the screws. Increase the domination. Increase the manipulation. Isolate you further from those who care about you. Undermine your confidence and boundaries more, so that you’re left weaker and less prepared to stand up for yourself. The more you struggle to meet a psychopath’s demands, the more he’ll ask of you. Until you have nothing left to give. Because you have pushed your moral boundaries as low as they can go. You have alienated your family and friends, at the psychopath’s subtle manipulation or overt urging. You have done everything you could to satisfy him. Yet, after the initial idealization phase, nothing you did was ever good enough for him.

It turns out that he’s completely forgotten about the qualities he once saw in you. If and when he talks about you to others, it’s as if he were ashamed of you. That’s not only because he lost interest in you. It’s also the instinctive yet strategic move of a predator. If your family, his family, your mutual friends have all lost respect for you–if you’re alone with him in the world–he can control you so much easier than if you have external sources of validation and emotional support. Psychopaths construct an “us versus them” worldview. They initially depict your relationship as privileged and better than the ordinary love bonds normal people form. This is of course always a fiction. In fact, the opposite holds true. An intimate relationship with a psychopath is far inferior to any normal human relationship, where both people care about each other. Such a relationship is necessarily one-sided and distorted. It’s a sham on both sides. Being a consummate narcissist, he loves no one but himself and cares about nothing but his selfish desires.

If and when he does something nice, it’s always instrumental: a means to his ends or to bolster his artificial good image. Dr. Jekyll is, in fact, always Mr. Hyde on the inside. And even though you may be capable of love, you’re not in love with the real him–the cheater, the liar, the manipulator, the player, the hollow, heartless being that he is–but with the charming illusion he created, which you initially believed but which becomes increasingly implausible over time. From beginning to end, all this phony relationship can offer you is a toxic combination of fake love and real abuse. He constructs the psychopathic bond through deception and manipulation. You maintain it through self-sacrifice and denial.

But pretty soon, when you find yourself alone with the psychopath, you see it’s not us versus them, your couple above and against everyone else. It’s him versus you. He will act like your worst enemy, which is what he really is, not as the best friend and adoring partner he claimed to be. If he criticizes you to others–or, more subtly, fosters antagonisms between you and family members and friends–it’s to further wear you down and undermine your social bonds. Once he tires of you, he induces others to see you the same way that he does: as someone not worthy of him; as someone to use, demean and discard. Before you were beautiful and no woman could compare to you. Now you’re at best plain in his eyes. Before you were cultured and intelligent. Now you’re the dupe who got played by him. Before you were dignified and confident. Now you’re isolated and abject. In fact, right at the point when you feel that you should be rewarded for your sacrifice of your values, needs, desires and human bonds–all for him–the psychopath discards you.

He’s had enough. He’s gotten everything he wanted out of you. Bent you out of shape. Taken away, demand by demand, concession by concession, your dignity and happiness. As it turns out, the reward you get for all your devotion and efforts is being nearly destroyed by him. Ignoring your own needs and fulfilling only his–or fulfilling yours to gain his approval–has transformed you into a mere shadow of the lively, confident human being you once were.

He uses your weaknesses against you. He also turns your qualities into faults. If you are faithful, he sees your fidelity as a weakness, a sign you weren’t desirable enough to cheat. Nobody else really wanted you. If you are virtuous, he exploits your honesty while he lies and cheats on you. If you are passionate, he uses your sensuality to seduce you, to entrap you through your own desires, emotions, hopes and dreams. If you are reserved and modest, he describes you as asocial and cold-blooded. If you are confident and outgoing, he views you as flirtatious and untrustworthy. If you are hard working, unless he depends on your money, he depicts you as a workhorse exploited by your boss. If you are artistic and cultured, he undermines your merit. He makes you feel like everything you create is worthless and cannot possibly interest others. You’re lucky that it ever interested him. After the idealization phase is over, there’s no way to please a psychopath. Heads you lose, tails he wins. But remember that his criticisms are even less true than his initial exaggerated flattery. When all is said and done, the only truth that remains is that the whole relationship was a fraud.

The process of the psychopathic bond is programmatic. It’s astonishingly elegant and simple given the complexity of human behavior. Idealize, devalue and discard. Each step makes sense once you grasp the psychological profile of a psychopath, of an (in)human being who lives for the pleasure of controlling and harming others. 1) Idealize: not you, but whatever he wanted from you and only for however long he wanted it. 2) Devalue: once he has you in his clutches, the boredom sets in and he loses interest. 3) Discard: after he’s gotten everything he wanted from you and has probably secured other targets.

For you, this process is excruciatingly personal. It may have cost you your time, your heart, your friends, your family, your self-esteem or your finances. You may have put everything you had and given everything you could to that relationship. It may have become your entire life. For the psychopath, however, the whole process isn’t really personal. He could have done the same thing to just about anyone who allowed him into her intimate life. He will do it again and again to everyone he seduces. It’s not about you. It’s not about the other woman or women who were set against you to compete for him, to validate his ego, to give him pleasure, to meet his fickle needs. He wasn’t with them because they’re superior to you. He was with them for the same reason that he was with you. To use them, perhaps for different purposes than he used you, but with the same devastating effect. He will invariably treat others in a similar way to how he treated you. Idealize, devalue and discard. Rinse and repeat. This process was, is and will always be only about the psychopath for as long as you stay with him.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


The Seducer: A Novel About Psychopathic Seduction

Nonfiction books about psychopaths, their victims and the process of psychopathic seduction are very helpful. They arm people with information about this dangerous personality disorder necessary to defend themselves from social predators. Such books also give some victims the strength to recover from toxic relationships and move on with their lives.

Fiction about psychopathic seduction can take the healing process one step further. It puts readers into the twisted mindset of psychopaths, so that they can understand what makes them tick, from the inside. Such fiction also shows how they lure their victims and how different kinds of women respond to psychopathic men.

Yesterday I wrote a post about being a victim or being a survivor of a toxic relationship with a dangerous man. Today I’d like to let you know about my new novel, The Seducer, which shows the whole process of psychopathic seduction, from start to finish. This novel sketches the devastating effects of a psychopath upon two women who fall into his clutches: one who clings to him in spite of everything; the other who tries to escape him.

Please find below a description of The Seducer:

My native country, Romania, is best known for a fictional character, Dracula, which is only loosely based on a historical fact: the infamous legend of Vlad Tepes. Novels that draw upon this legend—ranging from Anne Rice’s genre fiction, to the popular Twilight series, to Elizabeth Kostova’s erudite The Historian–continue to be best sellers. Yet, ultimately, no matter how much they may thrill us, the “undead” vampires we encounter in novels are harmless fictional characters that play upon our fascination with evil. However, real-life vampires, or individuals who relish destroying the lives of others, do exist. We see them constantly featured in the news and, if we don’t know how to recognize them, sometimes we even welcome them into our lives.

What do O. J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, Neil Entwistle and the timeless seducers of literature epitomized by the figures of Don Juan and Casanova have in common? They are charming, charismatic, glib and seductive men who also embody some of the most dangerous human qualities: a breathtaking callousness, shallowness of emotion and the fundamental incapacity to love. To such men, other people, including their own family members, friends and lovers, are mere objects or pawns to be used for their own gratification and sometimes quite literally discarded when no longer useful and exciting. In other words, these men are psychopaths.

My novel, The Seducer, shows both the hypnotic appeal and the deadly danger of psychopathic seduction. It traces the downfall of a married woman, Ana, who, feeling alienated from her husband and trapped in a lackluster marriage, has a torrid affair with Michael, a man who initially seems to be caring, passionate and charismatic; her soul mate and her dream come true. Although initially torn between love for her family and her passion for Michael, Ana eventually gives in to her lover’s pressure and asks her husband for divorce. That’s when Michael’s “mask of sanity” unpeels to reveal the monstrously selfish psychopath underneath, transforming what seemed to be the perfect love story into a psychological nightmare. Ana discovers that whatever seemed good about her lover was only a facade intended to attract her, win her trust and foster her dependency. His love was nothing more than lust for power, fueled by an incurable sex addiction. His declarations of love were nothing but a fraud; a string of empty phrases borrowed from the genuine feelings of others. Fidelity turned out to be a one-way street, as Michael secretly prowled around for innumerable other sexual conquests.

To her dismay, Ana finds that building a romantic relationship with a psychopathic partner is like building a house on a foundation of quicksand. Everything shifts and sinks in a relatively short period of time. Seemingly caring, and often flattering, attention gradually turns into jealousy, domination and control. Enjoying time together becomes isolation from others. Romantic gifts are replaced with requests, then with demands. Apparent selflessness and other-regarding gestures turn into the most brutal selfishness one can possibly imagine. Confidential exchanges and apparent honesty turn out to be filled with lies about everything: the past, the present, as well as the invariably hollow promises for the future. The niceness that initially seemed to be a part of the seducer’s character is exposed as strategic and manipulative, conditional upon acts of submission to his will. Tenderness diminishes and is eventually displaced by perversion that hints at an underlying, and menacing, sadism. Mutuality, equality and respect—everything she thought the relationship was founded upon—become gradually replaced with hierarchies and double standards in his favor. As the relationship with the psychopath unfolds, Dr. Jekyll morphs into Mr. Hyde.

The Seducer relies upon the insights of modern psychology and sensational media stories to demystify the theme of seduction we find in classic literary fiction. In its plot and structure, my novel deliberately echoes elements of the nineteenth-century classic, Anna Karenina. In its style and content, it fits in with contemporary mainstream psychological fiction such as Anna Quindlen’s Black and Blue and Wally Lamb’s I know this much is true. As much a cautionary tale as a story about the value of real caring, forgiveness and redemption, The Seducer shows that true love can be found in our ordinary lives and relationships rather than in flimsy fantasies masquerading as great passions.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness



Oscillating Between Victim and Survivor

It’s not simple being involved with a psychopath because you never know where you stand. It’s never on firm ground since the foundation of the entire relationship rests upon lies and illusion. The process of getting over a psychopath, however, is every bit as disorienting and unstable as being with him. Some victims move on with their lives without ever looking back. But most don’t. Most oscillate between being a victim and being a survivor.

These dichotomies mirror the dichotomies of the psychopath himself: between his loving false façade and his true evil self. The memories of the false persona–the romantic dinners, the trips, the gifts, his loving words and the aura of passion–can linger. They’re not always immediately effaced by the revelation of his bad actions and the realization of who the psychopath really is, at core. The women involved with psychopaths often cling to the illusion of the psychopath’s good façade because the sad reality can be shattering.

Below, I sketch some of the oscillations between the victim and the survivor within each person involved with a psychopath. The victim always finds excuses and makes rationalizations for why the psychopath needs to stay in her life. She clings to him and to their good memories together. The survivor accepts reality and finds the strength to move on.

1. The Survivor: He cheated and  lied to me. I deserve better than that. I’m over him.

The Victim: It’s not his fault. Besides, many men do that. Those women tempted him. They seduced him, not the other way around. It’s their fault.

2. The Survivor. But ultimately, he’s my partner, not them. I don’t care how those women acted or what they are. He’s responsible for how he acts towards me. I will move on and find a man who loves me and whom I can trust.

The Victim: I hate the other women for doing this to me, to us. If they hadn’t been around, he would be faithful.

3. The Survivor: I can’t love a man who is so unethical. That’s not real love, honest and healthy. It’s my own neediness. I’m clinging to what I wanted him to be. I’m clinging to my own dreams, not to reality. I need to open my eyes and see how much more there is to life than my relationship with him.

The Victim: How can I move on when every place in this town reminds me of our memories together? When I have spent so many years with him? To move on means to erase my past and everything I have invested in our love. I can’t move on. I need to do whatever it takes to make our relationship work. Giving up on him means failing. I can’t fail at what matters to me most: our love.

4. The Survivor: We’ve been through this over and over again. I’ve given him dozens of chances. We started from scratch more times than I can remember only to end up in the same spot. He lies to me. He cheats on me. He humiliates me. He takes me for granted. He trivializes our relationship. I don’t know when we’re together and when he’ll leave me again for a new temporary partner. How many times will I be cast aside and wait for his return?

The Victim: Yes, but you must admit: he always comes back. He gets tired of the other women or they leave him. It doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is that he always returns to me, to us. We’re stronger than all the other relationships. They don’t matter. He loves me so much more than he loves the other women. This gives me the strength to hold on.

5. The Survivor: Holding on is my weakness. And what am I holding on to? A dream? If he loved me more, he would show it by treating me with the respect I deserve. Consistently, not just when he gets bored with his newest flings. He wouldn’t toss me aside like an old sock. He wouldn’t play with my feelings and hopes like a yo-yo, back and forth, leaving and returning, as if I were his loyal servant. I deserve better. I must move on.

The Victim: Move on where? And for what? How many decent men are out there? At least he’s a known evil. The unknown ones are scarier. And what about our past? Our house? Our families? Their expectations of our marriage? Our children together? I can run anywhere I want on Earth, but he defines who I was, who I am and who I will be. I’m stuck with him.

6. The Survivor: I have a choice in this matter. I don’t have to remain enslaved to this hollow relationship, which will never fulfill me.  I used to be so independent. Other people considered me a pillar of strength. They used to ask me for advice. Now they see the way he treats me and feel sorry for me. They may say encouraging things, but I can tell from how they look at me their real feelings. They see me as weak and dependent on him. I can do better. I can be better. This year I can prove to myself and to all those I love that I can make it on my own. I will become again the person I used to be before meeting him.

I hope that this imaginary internal monologue can help you make the transition from victim to survivor.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


What Kind of Person Stays with a Psychopath or Narcissist?

So far I’ve tried to explain that just about any person can be initially fooled by a psychopath’s mask of sanity and become involved with such a disordered individual. However, while any of us can become ensnared by a psychopath during the initial, luring phase when he does his best to appear better than normal individuals, fewer people actually STAY with a psychopath or narcissist once his mask of sanity slips and they come to see his real, malicious, disordered and abusive self.

Today I’m pasting below an article by Sam Vaknin, an expert on narcissism and psychopathy, from his website and book “Malignant Self-Love”.  This article sketches the psychological profile of the kind of person who stays with a psychopath or narcissist long after the luring and honeymoon phases are gone and Dr. Jekyll has morphed into the real Mr. Hyde. If you recognize yourself in the victim profile, perhaps this New Year’s resolution could be to find the inner strength–and seek the external support–to ditch the psychopath or narcissist in your life. Don’t allow an evil individual to abuse and control you for the rest of your life. You deserve better than that.  At any rate, I hope that this information will help.

On the face of it, there is no (emotional) partner or mate, who typically “binds” with a sociopathic narcissist. They come in all shapes and sizes. The initial phases of attraction, infatuation and falling in love are pretty normal. The sociopathic narcissist puts on his best face – the other party is blinded by budding love. A natural selection process occurs only much later, as the relationship develops, the sociopath shows his true colors and the relationship is put to the test.

Living with a sociopathic narcissist can be exhilarating, is always onerous, often harrowing. Surviving a relationship with a sociopathic narcissist indicates, therefore, the parameters of the personality of the survivor. She (or, more rarely, he) is molded by the relationship into The Typical Sociopathic narcissistic Mate/Partner/Spouse.

First and foremost, the sociopathic narcissist’s partner must have a deficient grasp of her self and of reality. Otherwise, she (or he) is bound to abandon the sociopathic narcissist’s ship after the honeymoon phase is over. The cognitive distortion is likely to consist of belittling and demeaning herself – while aggrandising and adoring the sociopathic narcissist. The partner is, thus, placing himself in the position of the eternal victim: undeserving, punishable, a scapegoat. Sometimes, it is very important to the partner to appear moral, sacrificial and victimised. At other times, she is not even aware of this predicament. The sociopathic narcissist is perceived by the partner to be a person in the position to demand these sacrifices from his partner, being superior to her in many ways (intellectually, emotionally, morally, financially).

The status of professional victim sits well with the partner’s tendency to punish herself, namely: with her masochistic streak. The tormented life with the sociopathic narcissist is, as far as the partner is aware, a just punitive measure.

In this respect, the partner is the mirror image of the sociopathic narcissist. By maintaining a symbiotic relationship with him, by being totally dependent upon the source of masochistic supply (which the sociopathic narcissist most reliably constitutes and most amply provides) – the partner enhances certain traits and encourages certain behaviours, which are at the very core of narcissism.

The sociopathic narcissist is never whole without an adoring, submissive, available, self-denigrating partner. His very sense of superiority, indeed his False Self, depends on it. His sadistic Superego switches its attentions from the sociopathic narcissist (in whom it often provokes suicidal ideation) to the partner, thus finally obtaining an alternative source of sadistic satisfaction.

It is through self-denial that the partner survives. She denies her wishes, hopes, dreams, aspirations, sexual, psychological and material needs, and much else besides. She perceives her needs as threatening because they might engender the wrath of the sociopathic narcissist’s God-like supreme figure. The sociopathic narcissist is rendered in her eyes even more superior through and because of this self-denial. Self-denial undertaken to facilitate and ease the life of a “great man” is more palatable. The “greater” the man (=the sociopathic narcissist), the easier it is for the partner to ignore her own self, to dwindle, to degenerate, to turn into an appendix of the sociopathic narcissist and, finally, to become nothing but an extension, to merge with the sociopathic narcissist to the point of oblivion and of dim memories of one’s self.

The two collaborate in this macabre dance. The sociopathic narcissist is formed by his partner inasmuch as he forms her. Submission breeds superiority and masochism breeds sadism. The relationships are characterised by rampant emergentism: roles are allocated almost from the start and any deviation meets with an aggressive, even violent reaction.

The predominant state of the partner’s mind is utter confusion. Even the most basic relationships – with husband, children, or parents – remain bafflingly obscured by the giant shadow cast by the intensive interaction with the sociopathic narcissist. A suspension of judgement is part and parcel of a suspension of individuality, which is both a prerequisite to and the result of living with a sociopathic narcissist. The partner no longer knows what is true and right and what is wrong and forbidden.

The sociopathic narcissist recreates for the partner the sort of emotional ambience that led to his own formation in the first place: capriciousness, fickleness, arbitrariness, emotional (and physical or sexual) abandonment. The world becomes uncertain and frightening and the partner has only one thing to cling to: the sociopathic narcissist.

And cling she does. If there is anything which can safely be said about those who emotionally team up with sociopathic narcissists, it is that they are overtly and overly dependent.

The partner doesn’t know what to do – and this is only too natural in the mayhem that is the relationship with the sociopathic narcissist. But the typical partner also does not know what she wants and, to a large extent, who she is and what she wants to become.

These unanswered questions hamper the partner’s ability to gauge reality, evaluate and appraise it for what it is. Her primordial sin is that she fell in love with an image, not with a real person. It is the voiding of the image that is mourned when the relationship ends.

The break-up of a relationship with a sociopathic narcissist is, therefore, very emotionally charged. It is the culmination of a long chain of humiliations and of subjugation. It is the rebellion of the functioning and healthy parts of the partner’s personality against the tyranny of the sociopathic narcissist.

The partner is liable to have totally misread and misinterpreted the whole interaction (I hesitate to call it a relationship). This lack of proper interface with reality might be (erroneously) labelled “pathological”.

Why is it that the partner seeks to prolong her pain? What is the source and purpose of this masochistic streak? Upon the break-up of the relationship, the partner (and the sociopathic narcissist) engage in a tortuous and drawn out post mortem. But the question who really did what to whom (and even why) is irrelevant. What is relevant is to stop mourning oneself (this is what the parties are really mourning), start smiling again and love in a less subservient, hopeless, and pain-inflicting manner.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness



“The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off”

Gloria Steinem, the famous Women’s Rights activist, once said “The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.” Nothing applies better to the women (or family members) who love psychopaths. It’s tough to accept the sad truth about a person in whom you have invested so much of your time, energy and emotions. It’s tough to accept that you were never loved by the psychopath because psychopaths can’t love anyone. It’s tough to accept that what you believed was a real relationship, based on mutual caring, is nothing but a fraud built upon a mountain of self-serving lies, which you may never uncover in its entirety. Finally, it’s tough to accept that pure evil exists, because we want to believe that all human beings are capable of remorse, caring, bonding, self-improvement and redemption.

Unfortunately, everything that is difficult to accept about a psychopath is nonetheless true. Only when you confront this reality can you recover from the damage and pick up the pieces of your life. All of the psychological defense mechanisms that enable us to adapt to an abnormal life with a psychopath–denial, self-deception, double-think, guilt, repression, wishful thinking, idealism, fear, loneliness, vanity and fantasy–need to be faced courageously, head-on. Most of these social predators take cooperating victims. This doesn’t mean that you deserved the bad treatment you got. But it does mean that you have the power to end it. The battle against a psychopath is above all the battle against everything in you that is–or ever was–invested in a life with him.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


Dating Jekyll and Hyde Personalities

Almost every expert or victim who writes about psychopaths mentions their Jekyll and Hyde personalities. The Jekyll side usually diminishes over time. The Hyde side reveals itself when you discover what he’s been doing behind your back. Those discoveries are usually just the tip of the iceberg, since psychopaths are excellent at hiding their bad deeds and, when caught, lying about them. The Hyde side also rears its ugly head in disagreements, which sometimes take a violent turn, or in what the psychopath tells others about you and those you care about. Psychopaths are master manipulators and run excellent smear campaigns. Equally commonly, the Hyde side shows up in the implicit or explicit threats: if you don’t do x, y and z to bend to the psychopath’s will, he will replace you with other women or abandon you.

While in the beginning of romantic relationships psychopaths tend to be mostly polished, charming Dr. Jekylls, after about six months to a year they disclose more and more their inner Hyde. In fact, the vast difference between the honeymoon phase and the harsh reality is one the most unsettling aspects of being romantically involved with a psychopath. It’s also what tends to scar victims most, because eventually they realize that the entire relationship, from start to finish, was a fraud. It’s like coming crashing down from great (but artificial) heights to unbelievable (and very real) lows. That really hurts!

This is why vast inconsistencies in your partner’s behavior should be taken seriously, early on. They’re an obvious red flag in any romantic relationship. Somebody who treats you nicely but speaks badly of other women or, worse yet, mistreats other women will eventually mistreat and disrespect you as well. That’s not just because past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior, as they say. It’s also because bad behavior towards previous partners reflects bad character.

Generally speaking, psychopaths tend to be great at putting up a front, or a mask, of normal behavior: often of  better than normal behavior, in fact! We’ve seen that they’re charming, sociable, friendly, funny, loads of fun: particularly in superficial contact. But because deep inside they have malicious natures and bad intentions, they usually can’t maintain that kind of charismatic front in long-term relationships, consistently, over time. This is why their true nature tends to show up most in their intimate relationships with their wives, families or long-term lovers.

To be clear: a psychopath is not, in fact, a Jekyll and Hyde personality. He does not have a good side and a bad side. For a psychopath, Dr. Jekyll is only a mask of sanity; Mr. Hyde is who he really is, inside. This is why over time you begin to see inconsistencies in behavior, or oscillations between the real Hyde nature and the Dr. Jekyll front. As Sandra Brown and Liane Leedom explain:

“What really occurs is that the women fall in love with a life-size cardboard cut out which is a ‘look-a-like’ of a real man. These are the cardboard cutouts of life-size people you see in Blockbuster Video. The psychopath and the stage of luring are as shallow and phony as the cut out. With a complete straight face, he can say one thing and do another, do something and say the opposite, or say and do the opposite of what he did last week. These dichotomies produce serious distress in the women because of the chronic instability in the relationship. As they try to align themselves with his belief system, he shifts. As they try to align with his behavior or promises, these shift.” (Women Who Love Psychopaths, 119)

Dr. Jekyll usually comes out to play with buddies, co-workers, employees, students, etc: people with whom the psychopath maintains relatively superficial relationships. Dr. Jekyll  also becomes Don Juan–an incredibly seductive lover–in the beginning of some romantic relationships, when a psychopath wants to put on the best possible image in order to conquer a woman, heart, body and soul. But since his positive image is only an illusion, he can’t maintain it over time, in intimate relationships. The real psychopath–a person who is domineering, deceptive, manipulative and cold–reveals itself more and more over time. This transformation from the phony Dr. Jekyll to the real Mr. Hyde occurs in the psychopathic bond for four main reasons:

a) the positive traits are not real parts of a psychopath’s true character

b) as the romantic relationship deepens it also loses its novelty and excitement, so the psychopath invests less and less energy in putting up a front of romance and charm and keeping straight the tangled web of lies

c) psychopaths enter romantic relationships to dominate others, which in turn leads them to engage in increasingly abusive and controlling behavior with their partners

d) to control you, psychopaths engage in Pavlovian conditioning: the carrot and the stick. At first, to lure you and gain your trust you see a lot of carrot. The more control they gain over you, the more they no longer feel the need to reward your “good” behavior (i.e., complying to their will) and resort to giving you the stick (all sorts of punishments, ranging from threats, to cheating, to criticism, to periods of abandonment or emotional withdrawal followed by reconciliations, to physical violence). In other words, they will dish out whatever you will put up with.

The realization that Dr. Jekyll was, in reality, always Mr. Hyde is very difficult to accept. It means coming to terms with the fact that the past was an illusion. It means accepting that even the good memories are lies. It means understanding that some human beings have no real qualities: that they are  irredeemably bad. But only once you face this harsh reality–rather than focusing on the positive memories of the Dr. Jekyll facade and struggling to get the psychopath to be nice to you again–can you become strong enough to move on with your life.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


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