Recently the translator of my psychopathy blog in Italian, Relazioni Pericolose (www.relazionipericoloseblog.wordpress.com), has conveyed to me some of the questions that Italian readers have about psychopathy. Since I think that these questions are equally relevant to English-speaking readers, I’m including below their questions and my answers:
QUESTIONS/ANSWERS ABOUT RELAZIONI PERICOLOSE/DANGEROUS LIAISONS by Claudia Moscovici
- Has the psychopath a sort of addiction from emotions? Is his obsession for his prey similar to the obsession that a victim experiences toward him?
Yes and no. The psychopath is, above all, an emotional predator. He (or she, if the psychopath is a woman) gets high on the sense of power that controlling others, and seeing them addicted to him, creates. He also becomes obsessed with hooking new victims, and can invest a lot of energy in getting them to believe the fictions he creates: that he loves them, cares about them, and will give them everything that they want (be it happiness, love, wealth, etc.). However, the psychopath’s emotions are at the same time very shallow. A psychopath is incapable of forming real, caring and deep attachments to others. So even his obsessions—and thus the “highs” he experiences when he hooks new victims–tend to be shallow and fleeting. He moves from one victim from another; from one high to another.
- What determines boredom?
A psychopath’s boredom is created by the fact he (or she) has no emotional depth. He can’t care much about others; he has no enduring bonds that aren’t based on mutual interest, or mutual using. Every human contact for the psychopath is a power game, one that he plans to win. Normal people avoid boredom by finding meaning in their personal relationships, caring about those close to them, caring about their jobs and endeavors. Nothing of the sort can root a psychopath, so he’s constantly looking for new relationships, new jobs and places, new sources of diversion and pleasure. But sooner or later they all bore him.
- What determines the duration of the three different phases of the relation?
There are many variables in how the process of idealize, devalue and discard plays out in a relationship with a psychopath: such as whether the psychopath is charismatic enough to find many victims; whether the victim proves a challenge to him or is easy to get; for how long the victim is useful to the psychopath; and how much a victim accepts the eventual mistreatment. Some victims never leave the psychopath no matter how much he abuses them. The toxic bond becomes too strong; their self-esteem has been worn down; they feel like they are nothing without the psychopath. There are also some victims who begin to adopt psychopathic traits (lack of empathy, shallowness of emotions, pleasure in hurting others) either because they had such tendencies or because the psychopath encourages such behavior.
- Can he feel happiness? What does it mean for him?
If happiness implies depth of emotion, caring about others, then no, the psychopath can’t feel that. But a psychopath often feels emotional thrills or highs when he gets his way, succeeds at a new conquest or endeavor, or wins some kind of battle with someone.
- Why do psychopaths repeat the same mistakes relationship after relationship and why don’t they ever learn from them?
Psychopaths never learn because they don’t want to learn from their mistakes. They don’t consider them to be mistakes. Psychopaths are highly narcissistic and amoral individuals who take no responsibility for their wrongdoing. If something goes wrong, they blame it on others. If they hurt their victims, they blame their victims. Often they take great pleasure in hurting others. Sometimes psychopaths do go to therapy to “improve” a relationship, but that occurs only when it’s in their perceived self-interest to stay in that relationship and it’s always a ruse (they fool their partners, the therapist, their family into believing they can and want to change for the better).
- Do psychopaths remember their protoemotions after the end of the relation or are they able to delete them completely?
Psychopaths may recall the sense of the excitement they felt at the beginning of a relationship, but they don’t feel any real, deeper attachment for the person who provoked it. In other words, they remember fondly their excitement, not their partner or relationship. This is why psychopaths tend to search for a new person or, more likely, persons, that can provoke in them the same excitement while forgetting about the past person or persons they felt excitement with.
- You’re always talking about psychopaths. Are there deep differences between them and malignant narcissists?
There are differences between psychopaths and narcissists in that all psychopaths are narcissistic (self-absorbed, selfish) but not all narcissists are psychopathic (engage in game-like behavior, are pathological liars, etc.). However, malignant narcissists have such high narcissism that they’re very close to psychopaths on the psychological spectrum.
- What does a psychopath feel after his prey escapes?
Very often, anger. Rage. This is why the most dangerous period of time for a victim is right after she’s escaped from a psychopath or any kind of abuser, when he’s likely to be very angry that his possession, or someone he controlled, has dared to leave him.
- When he’s hovering is he always in bad faith? Does he hope to change?
A psychopath may feel that it’s in his immediate interest to make some changes to please his spouse, his family, his friends, etc. But those changes are momentary, and always based on short-term, perceived self-interest. They’re not other-regarding in any way. So my answer is that psychopaths won’t make any positive difference for the sake of others in an enduring manner.
- During the idealization stage is he aware of the dramatic end of the relationship for his fault or could he hope to have found Mrs. Right?
Psychopaths have only fleeting feelings, so at some moments a psychopath may feel so excited by a partner that he may feel he found “Mrs. Right.” But, at the same time, psychopaths are always strategic and manipulative and their feelings are always very shallow. So the “Mrs. Right” of one day, or one month, or one year isn’t going to be the same one as the next day, month or year. The concept of “Mrs. Right” or “true love” has no real meaning for a psychopath because he can’t really love.
- What is the exposure effect? What does he feel when a girlfriend expose him?
Anger and derision. In fact, often a psychopath will preemptively smear his victim—try to destroy her reputation to acquaintances and friends—so that when the victim exposes his behavior to others they won’t believe her.
- The Italian blog Relazioni Pericolose has reached almost 20.000 hits in one month. It seems that Italian women need advice and counseling. Why is psychopathy is so little known?
Psychopathy is a big problem—affecting tens of millions of lives—all over the world. Although psychopaths constitute a small percentage of the human population—between 1 to 4 percent, depending which statistics you rely on—they are very sociable and promiscuous and therefore touch (and destroy) many lives. The popular perception about psychopaths is that they’re serial killers or murderers. So most people feel relatively safe, like they won’t run into a psychopath. The reality is that few psychopaths murder. So most people don’t realize that they have very high chances of interacting with more “ordinary” psychopaths: serial cheaters, serial frauds and serial liars, rather than serial killers. The blogs on psychopathy that are informed by research, such as this one, and now the blog in Italian translation, Relazioni Pericolose (www.relazionipericoloseblog.wordpress.com), can reach millions of readers because they bring the reality of psychopathy home. Pathological relationships can touch your life. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship, it may have been with a psychopath. Few people are immune from harmful relationships. Information can help all of us to identify dangerous relationships, or as the name of my book on psychopathy indicates, Dangerous Liaisons. Because, let’s face it, the most toxic relationships are romantic relationships with predatory individuals. They can cause unbelievable harm, but with knowledge we can heal and move on with our lives.
- Today Italian Blog Relazioni Pericolose is one month old. We have already had thousands and thousands of visits. It seems like Italian women need help, through therapy, specific books and finding each other on recovery forums on the Internet. What is your first advice for a fast and safe healing?
My advice to Italian women is first of all to find well-researched information on abusive relationships, psychopathy and narcissism, in reliable blogs and books. Without such information it’s easy to “normalize” abuse. In the case of charismatic psychopaths, it’s easy to remember the excitement of the honeymoon phase, attribute it to “romantic love”, and then find reasons for its dissipation and later abuse in themselves instead of their disordered partners. In Latin cultures, such as Italy, France and my native country Romania, it’s easy to mistake even negative traits, such as jealousy, possessiveness and the controlling nature of psychopaths, for passion. But Don Juan is appealing only in opera and fiction. In real life, such personalities spell disaster. Accepting that the romantic phase of a pathological relationship was never about love or even passion, but about conquest, dupery and a new thrill for the psychopath is very important. Then, once victims seek information and establish that they’ve been roped in by a pathological partner, escape and go “no contact”. Each contact with a psychopath offers him an opportunity for him to rope you in, manipulate you and harm you again, usually even worse than before. This doesn’t mean living in fear of him. It means leaving him behind and never engaging again with others that share his personality traits. Finding forums with others who have been through such a painful experience can be very helpful, but even here I would advise caution. After a period of time, there’s the danger of “spinning” or “rumination”: going over and over, day after day, month after month and even year after year, the same bad past experience as you share it and commiserate with other victims. It’s important to find people who lived through this trauma, but it’s also important to try to cultivate other aspects of your life and not get stuck in your head in a traumatic past. After all, you don’t want that bad experience to define your present and your future. Granted, victims heal at different rates, in different ways. Many factors are at play: their childhood histories; their personalities; their support system; how much the psychopath managed to isolate and harm them. But let’s keep in mind that, ultimately, our goal is to heal and flourish, not revolve our lives around a terrible experience.
Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness
Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction