Charming Predators

Psychopaths are charming predators. If you’re expecting bad individuals to look or even act dangerous as soon as you meet them, you won’t be on your guard towards the most dangerous individuals of the human species. One of the main experts on psychopathy,  Hervey Cleckley, observes: “More often than not, the typical psychopath will seem particularly agreeable and make a distinctly positive impression when he is first encountered. Alert and friendly in his attitude, he is easy to talk with and seems to have a good many genuine interests. There is nothing at all odd or queer about him, and in every respect he tends to embody the concept of a well-adjusted, happy person. Nor does he, on the other hand, seem to be artificially exerting himself like one who is covering up or who wants to sell you a bill of goods. He would seldom be confused with the professional backslapper or someone who is trying to ingratiate himself for a concealed purpose. Signs of affectation or excessive affability are not characteristic. He looks like the real thing.” (The Mask of Sanity, 339)

Because they appear to be easy-going, friendly and genuine, psychopaths attract quite easily many potential partners. They tend to be great conversationalists, orienting the subjects of discussion around each of their targets’ personal interests. Scott Peterson, Mark Hacking and Neil Entwistle seemed true gentlemen and fun-loving guys not only to their wives, but also to their in-laws and friends. Generally speaking, they behaved appropriately for the circumstances before committing their gruesome crimes. They knew how to open the car door for their partners, how to engage in polite conversation with their in-laws and how to joke around with their buddies.

Not only do psychopaths tend to be extraordinarily charismatic, but also they can appear to be rational, levelheaded individuals. They usually talk in a way that shows common sense and good judgment. Above all, they seem perfectly normal in superficial contact. “Very often indications of good sense and sound reasoning will emerge and one is likely to feel soon after meeting him that this normal and pleasant person is also one with high abilities,” Cleckley continues. (338) Psychopaths generally present themselves as responsible men. They seem to be in charge of their lives, their families and their careers. As we’ve seen, for several years Mark Hacking led his wife and her family to believe that he was a college graduate on his way to medical school. Only members of his own family knew (and hid) the truth. Similarly, Neil Entwistle convinced his entire family that he was a successful computer entrepreneur. In actuality, he was a bankrupt spammer. He also led Rachel to believe that he was a faithful, loving husband while actively seeking promiscuous liaisons on adult dating websites.

Although most psychopaths tend to fail at their endeavors, it’s usually not due to a lack of natural intelligence. Cleckley notes, “Psychometric tests also very frequently show him of superior intelligence. More than the average person, he is likely to seem free from social or emotional impediments, from the minor distortions, peculiarities, and awkwardness so common even among the successful.” (338) Psychopaths succeed so often in fooling others not just because of what they say, but also because of how they say it. Their demeanor tends to be self-assured, cool, silky smooth and collected. Even though, at core, they’re more disturbed than individuals diagnosed with severe mental illnesses, such as psychotics or schizophrenics, their personality disorder doesn’t show through. The fact that psychopathy tends to be well concealed beneath a veneer of normalcy makes it all the more dangerous to others:  “Although the psychopath’s inner emotional deviations and deficiencies may be comparable with the inner status of the masked schizophrenic,” Cleckley goes on, “he outwardly shows nothing brittle or strange. Everything about him is likely to suggest desirable and superior human qualities, a robust mental health.” (339) It’s only once you get to know them over time that psychopaths begin to show their true colors. By then, however, you’ve probably already been burned. It’s very important to spread information about psychopathy to the general public so that we can be aware of psychopathic qualities before being significantly hurt by these social predators.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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Be Worried! Why Psychopathy is Everyone’s Problem

We worry about psychopaths the way we worry about death: as a form of entertainment (true crime movies and books are the equivalent of Halloween thrillers) and as an abstraction (death and misfortune happen, but there’s no point worrying about it until it happens to me or my loved ones). Death and disease are unavoidable parts of the human condition. However, contact with evil persons who can harm and perhaps even destroy our lives is, for the most part, avoidable. In dealing with such individuals, who often mask their malicious intent and nature, ignorance is our greatest weak spot. A basic knowledge of psychopathy and other personality disorders can save us from years of psychological and financial damage. And yet, few people are willing to inform themselves about psychopathy until they or their loved ones are significantly harmed. Why?

Perhaps because they’re so dangerous and destructive—the closest approximation to metaphysical evil that human beings can embody–the general public has a morbid fascination with psychopaths. We see them featured frequently on the news. The media seems to be intrigued by men like Scott Peterson and Neil Entwistle, who remorselessly murder their wives so that they can fool around more easily with other women, or by women like Casey Anthony, who (most likely) kill their children so that they can party harder. The public eats up this sordid information. True crime books about psychopathic killers tend to be best sellers. Similarly, biographical works about Hitler and Stalin continue to sell well. Yet, paradoxically, as fascinated as the general public may be with psychopaths and their evil deeds, they’re far less interested in what makes these people tick and how to recognize and avoid them in real life. As mentioned, there are a few highly informative studies of psychopathy, some of which–Stout’s The sociopath next door, Babiak and Hare’s Snakes in Suits and Brown and Leedom’s The women who love psychopaths–are written for a general audience. These books describe clearly and without unnecessary jargon the psychology of evil individuals. Unfortunately, however, such informative works tend to be less popular than the dramatic news coverage of psychopathic killers or the horror stories we read in true crime and thrillers. Why so?

The first answer I’ll offer is in the form of an analogy. When I (and probably most other people too) shop for a car, I don’t need someone to explain to me in great detail the mechanics behind how the car functions. I may readConsumer Reports online to see how the car’s rated in various relevant categories, such as overall quality, safety and gas mileage. Then I look at it in person, to see if I like it and if it’s the right size to suit my family’s needs. In other words, a superficial knowledge of the car suffices for me. That’s how most people feel about the psychopaths featured on the news, in history or true crime books and in the movies. They grasp the phenomenon superficially: that evil people exist and do horrible things to others. But they don’t feel like they need to understand these people on a deeper psychological level. Which brings me to my second reason. We tend to view psychopaths as a form of titillating, if morbid, entertainment. We may disapprove of their horrific crimes, but their capacity for evil fascinates us. Third, and perhaps most importantly, we hold psychopaths at arm’s length, so to speak, in our own minds. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard people interviewed on the news about a violent murder say that they can’t believe it happened to their families or in their neighborhood. We believe that the great misfortune of being the victim of a psychopathic killer, rapist, conman, spouse or lover only befalls others. Somehow, we assume that our families and we are immune to such terrible things happening to us. Perhaps we believe that we’re too wise, too well educated and live in too good of a neighborhood to fall into the hands of social predators.

If you think about it rationally, however, you come to realize that this belief rests upon an illusion. It may be true that you and your loved ones are not statistically likely to fall prey to a psychopathic serial killer. Experts estimate that there are only about 50 to 100 serial killers circulating in the country at any given moment. It’s therefore rational not to live your life in the fear that you’ll be attacked by one of them. But it’s not statistically likely that you’ll avoid any intimate involvement with a psychopath for the rest of your life. As mentioned, psychopaths constitute roughly 1 percent of the population. This is significant, given the number of lives they touch and the kind of damage they can inflict. Psychopaths are exceedingly sociable, highly promiscuous, have many children, move from location to location and, generally speaking, they get around. Their malady is technically called “antisocial personality disorder” not “asocial personality disorder.” An asocial person avoids human contact. An antisocial person, on the contrary, seeks others in order to use, con, deceive, manipulate, betray and ultimately destroy them. That’s what psychopaths do. They feed, like parasites, upon our lives. They live for the thrill of damaging healthier, more productive and more caring human beings.

Statistically speaking, there are decent chances that you have a psychopath in your extended family. There are even better odds that at some point you ran across one or will encounter one in your life. Perhaps it was a boyfriend who seemed perfect at first but turned out to be an abusive sex addict. It may be a difficult boss who makes work unbearable for his employees. Or maybe it was a manipulative professor who became a minor despot in the department. Perhaps it was a teacher who got too chummy with his students and even seduced some of them. Or perhaps it was a friend who appeared to be kind and loving, only to repeatedly backstab you. Maybe it was a conartist who took your elderly mother’s life savings, or a portion of her hard-earned money, and vanished into thin air. Moreover, any psychopath can cause you physical harm and endanger your life. It doesn’t have to be one predisposed to rape and murder. Scott Peterson and Neil Entwistle were not sadistic serial killers. They were your garden variety charismatic psychopaths who found marriage a bit too inconvenient and incompatible with the new, wilder paths they wanted to pursue in life. Their incapacity to regard others as fellow human beings renders all psychopaths extremely dangerous. As psychotherapist Steve Becker explains,

“Commonly, the psychopath is upheld as the incarnation of the murderous bogeyman. While it’s true than many cold-blooded killers are psychopaths, most psychopaths are not killers. The majority of psychopaths would find a messy murder too inconvenient and personally unpleasant a task to assume. This—the personal inconvenience and unpleasantness, not empathy for the slaughtered victim—explains why a great many more psychopaths than not, with chilling non-compunction, are more likely to target your life’s savings than butcher you, and dispose of your remains in several industrial-strength Hefty bags. This doesn’t make the non-murderous psychopath ‘less psychopathic,’ or ‘more sensitive’ than the murderous psychopath; it merely reflects the calculus psychopaths apply in their decision-making: how can I get, or take what I want, for maximum instant gain, at minimum personal inconvenience?” (powercommunicating.com)

Since empathy, moral principles and the capacity to love don’t play a role in any psychopath’s decision-making process, the transition from sub-criminal to criminal psychopath can be fluid and unpredictable.  Just about any psychopath could easily engage in violent behavior. My main point here is the following: learning about psychopathy is not a matter of technical psychology research or of abstract theories that are largely irrelevant to the general public. This information is highly pertinent to all of us. It’s far more useful than learning all the technical details about how your car works, to return to the analogy I offered earlier. You will never need to rebuild your car from scratch. At most, you may need to learn how to change a spare tire. But it’s likely that you’ll need to defend yourself, at least emotionally and psychologically, from a psychopath who touches your life and aims to undermine your wellbeing. A basic knowledge of psychopathy can save you years of heartache at the hands of a spouse or lover whom you can never please, who never stops lying and cheating on you and who keeps you dangling on the hook. It can spare you a lifetime of struggles to save an incorrigibly bad child from his or her own misdeeds. It can help you avoid being scammed by con artists who are great at their game. It can give you the strength to move on from a job where your boss keeps everyone in terror by constantly oscillating between sugar-sweetness and abuse.

Obviously, such knowledge can’t protect you from all harm caused by evil individuals. Even if you’re informed about psychopathy, you may still have the misfortune of becoming the victim of a random crime or of being part of a society ruled by a psychopathic dictator. But at least a basic knowledge of psychopathy can help those of us who are fortunate enough to live in free societies determine that which lies largely within our control: whom we choose to associate with and whom we choose to avoid or leave. It can help us recognize the symptoms of this dangerous personality disorder so that we don’t invite a bad person into our lives with open arms. It can give us the strength to end a toxic relationship with an emotional predator for good, once his disorder becomes obvious to us. In other words, knowledge about psychopathy constitutes the best defense that the general public, not just those who have been personally harmed, can have against evil human beings: to avoid them whenever possible and to escape them whenever we become ensnared into their webs. Needless to say, even those of us who become well informed about psychopathy won’t be qualified to clinically diagnose them, unless we acquire professional training in this domain.  But we can become capable of recognizing them well enough in real life to want to get away from them. For all practical purposes, that’s what matters most.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

Relationship Boomerang: Why It’s Hard to Get Rid of a Psychopath

Relationships with a psychopath are usually like a boomerang. Even after you toss him as far away as possible, he may still swing back into your life. Years after breaking up with a psychopath, women commonly report that they’re still cyber-stalked or somehow harassed by him, or that he’s still testing the waters to see if he can worm his way back into their lives. So the question is: Why is it so hard to get rid of a psychopath?

Psychopaths are hoarders of women, even those they tired of and cast aside. They break up easily with their partners, of course. Psychopaths throw away old relationships with as little emotion or regret as normal people toss away their old shoes. But they rarely completely disappear from the radar, even years after the relationship with them is over. As they’re pursuing their newest flames, psychopaths continue to keep tabs on their former girlfriends, sink their claws deeper into the current ones, put a few more women, which are on their way out, on the back-burner as they slowly simmer, wondering what they did to lose their attention and love. Hoarders accumulate junk; psychopaths accumulate broken relationships. Since possessing women (and men) reminds psychopaths of their dominance, the more ex-partners, current partners and potential future partners they can juggle, the more powerful they feel.

In her phenomenal study, Women who love psychopaths, Dr. Sandra L. Brown describes the relationship cycle of psychopaths, as they juggle multiple partners in their tireless pursuit of their top goals: pleasure, dominance and entertainment.

1. The Pre-stage. During the early phases, a psychopath trolls for potential partners everywhere: at work, at clubs and bars, on the internet, in the neighborhood, anywhere where he can meet sexual partners. Just because he has a wife, several girlfriends and a few casual relationships on the side doesn’t mean the psychopath has stopped looking for other victims. Whatever his actual job may be, pursuing new and exciting partners (or “opportunities”) is a psychopath’s main occupation. He reads everyone’s signal: from eye contact, attitude and what they verbally reveal about their lives. He zeroes in on those who express neediness, vulnerability, or just plain sexual willingness.

2. The Early Stage. A psychopath commonly has multiple email addresses (most of them using aliases), several cell phones, various means to juggle several partners and effectively hide that fact from his more “serious” pursuits. He tests the waters with dozens of individuals, but focuses his energies most on those whom he believes he can take to the next level.

3. The Middle Stage. He chooses to have full-blown relationships with multiple women and men (even psychopaths who claim to be straight commonly experiment with homosexual relationships, for variety). During this stage he woes more seriously the most promising targets: with romance, dinners out, exciting sex, loving words, etc. Many of these women believe they found their soul-mate in him, the love of their lives. But while wooing and duping them, the psychopath keeps very busy. He still maintains a firm hold on a few relationships he’s thinking about ending; keeps an eye out for fresh prospects; plus has innumerable sexual encounters on the side. Because your typical psychopath juggles so many relationships simultaneously, even during the honeymoon period women start to experience some doubts. The psychopath may get calls from other girlfriends in the middle of their dates. He may be late to appointments or leave, inexplicably, for unaccounted periods of times. Usually, however, the wooing phase with a psychopath is so intense, fast-paced, sexually-charged, flattering and romantic that women don’t stop to think about those red flags or prefer to accept the psychopath’s rationalizations and lies.

4. The End Stage. Once the excitement of the honeymoon period and the novelty of the conquest is over, the psychopath usually no longer invests much time and energy into a given relationship. He ends  several relationships at the same time, just as he pursues multiple new ones simultaneously. Relationships with a psychopath typically end when the initial excitement and fun diminish; when the woman begins to see cracks in his mask of sanity and their fantasy love; when the relationship becomes too high-maintenance and requires too much time and energy to sustain; or simply when he’s found new relationships which are momentarily more exciting and entertaining. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the psychopath moves on and out of your life forever!

5. The Post++ Stage. Because psychopaths can’t relinquish power over anybody, they usually keep tabs on former girlfriends and periodically circle around them, like vultures, long after the relationships are dead. Even in the cases where they don’t maintain physical contact, they may still send you nasty emails thinly disguised as spam or other unwanted communication. As Dr. Brown puts it, “Given both his boredom and excitement seeking, women must know that they, nor any other lover, ever really flies off his radar–for long.” (201)

This is why it’s so hard to get rid of a psychopath, long after you leave him. Because he’s egotistical and controlling, a psychopath can’t get dumped by his girlfriends and move on, the way any normal, self-respecting man would. In fact, to maintain dominance, he usually lies to others about past relationships as easily as he deceives them about current ones. He may falsely claim that he initiated breakups or portray his ex-girlfriends as disturbed. The web of lies woven by the psychopath embraces everything and everyone in his life, past, present and future. And so the relationship cycle repeats itself, as the psychopath continually trolls for new partners, tires of current relationships, ends some of them, begins others, only to find his way back, like an unwanted boomerang, into his ex-girlfriends’ lives.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


Psychopathy and the Story of Coraline

So far we’ve seen that a psychopath’s positive qualities are fake. As the psychologist Hervey Cleckley explains,  the psychopath relies on a mask of sanity to pretend being fully human:

“However quick and rational a person may be and however subtle and articulate his teacher, he cannot be taught awareness of significance which he fails to feel. He can learn to use the ordinary words and, if he is very clever, even extraordinarily vivid and eloquent words which signify these matters to other people. He will also learn to reproduce appropriately all the pantomime of feeling; but, as Sherrington said of the decerebrated animal, the feeling itself does not come to pass.” (The Mask of Sanity, 375)

When reality is missing all you’re left with is illusion. This is precisely the message of Coraline, a popular children’s book and movie that even adults have a lot to learn from.  Coraline is a little girl who has an average family life. Like most tweens, she finds many things wrong with her parents. Her mom can’t cook and her dad’s cooking leaves much to be desired. Both parents are too busy with their jobs to give her all the attention she craves, even though they love her. One day, as she’s exploring around her new house, Coraline discovers a little secret door in the wall. Once she opens it and steps inside, she inhabits an alternate universe, with seemingly perfect versions of her parents. In this parallel household, everything revolves only around Coraline’s needs and appeals to her tastes. Her new mom prepares only the dishes that the little girl prefers. Her new dad plays the piano just for her and plants a beautiful garden that, from above, resembles Coraline’s face. The neighbors entertain her with a spectacular circus performance.

Yet, as it turns out, this magical world is completely fake, the opposite of what it initially appears to be. It’s the creation of an evil witch who lures people in by preying upon their dissatisfactions with reality and promising them an ideal life. In actuality, she wants to suck the living soul out of them. Why? Because she loves controlling others and playing mind games. Does this sound familiar? Since everything generally ends on a happy note in children’s movies, however, Coraline escapes just in time to save herself and her parents. She realizes that the imperfections of a real life with loving individuals are far preferable to any illusory ideals created by those who want to control and destroy you.

As Coraline also illustrates, psychopaths don’t just lie through omission and commission. More fundamentally, they lie about who they are and what they intend to do with you once you become emotionally attached to them and invested in whatever they originally promised you. Their whole identity is a lie and so are their good intentions. Their every relationship is based on fundamental deceit. They attract you with the illusion of love and compatibility only to repeatedly stab you in the back. They act as if they support your goals in life, while covertly undermining them or openly discouraging you from their pursuit. They act as if they care about your family and friends, only to isolate you from them. They fake interest in your interests, only to narrow the range of your activities to a complete, and servile, focus on them. When you deal with human nature, remember the age-old adage so thoroughly elucidated by Cleckley in The Mask of Sanity and so entertainingly expressed by Coraline: what seems too good to be true usually is.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


Smooth Player or Sex Addict? Jersey Shore’s “The Situation”

Mike, a.k.a “The Situation” is one of the most popular cast members of the spectacularly popular MTV reality show, Jersey Shore. But he’s also known for having a Jekyll/Hyde personality: he comes across as a player with a soft side. The Jekyll side usually dominates. For example, Mike takes care of his buddies when they go out clubbing and cooks Sunday night dinners for the whole Jersey Shore gang.  But the Hyde side of Mike rears its ugly head whenever things don’t go his way. It’s especially obvious when the women he tries to hook up with are not “DTF”. That’s when The Situation’s claws come out. He gazes at women with a predatory stare and “pulls a robbery” on Vinny’s girlfriend, Ramona. Even the affable Snooki bore the brunt of Mike’s controlling nature one night, when he attempted to literally haul her and her best friend out of a club because he couldn’t find any willing partners there.

Perhaps even more disturbing than Mike’s lack of loyalty towards his buddy Vinny and sometimes aggressive behavior are his manipulation skills. Angelina may be known as the official trouble-maker of Jersey Shore, but it’s Mike who, behind the scenes, instigates most disputes. He sets his friends against one another to  watch them flip out “like pancakes,” as he once put it. Finally, Mike is not your average player. His impulse to seduce women every night–sometimes several women a night–appears to be the symptom of a rather severe sexual addiction.

Compulsive seducers tend to be extremely narcissistic. They use their conquests as mirrors to reflect back to them an aggrandized image of their own desirability. Just as rape is about violence and power, so compulsive seduction is about conquest and control. Dr. Steve Becker distinguishes, however, between the motives of narcissists and psychopaths. Of the two, he suggests that psychopaths present a greater danger to others. He explains that all psychopaths are narcissistic. But the converse isn’t true. Not all narcissists are psychopathic, in the sense of living for the thrill of duping and harming others. In his essay, “Sociopath versus Narcissist,” Becker argues that both narcissistic and psychopathic seducers share a tendency to treat others as objects. He states, “Welcome to the world of the narcissist and psychopath. Theirs is a mindset of immediate, demanded gratification, with a view of others as expected—indeed existing—to serve their agendas. Frustrate their agendas, and you can expect repercussions, ranging from the disruptive to ruinous.” (powercommunicating.com)

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

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

Just as they eventually tire of each game piece—be it a long-term girlfriend, a casual lover or a spouse—psychopaths also tire of each kind of game. Even promiscuous sex gets boring for them. Perhaps this explains why Mike needs to make a play for other men’s girlfriends or to instigate  fights among his Jersey Shore friends. No doubt, Jersey Shore Season 3 will continue to reveal the two sides of Mike, smooth player or sociopathic sex addict, depending upon how you want to look at “The Situation”.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness