Psychopathic Seduction: The Case of Drew Peterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction



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Why Go NO CONTACT With The Psychopath

Nearly every expert on psychopathy advises former victims, if at all possible, to break all contact with the psychopath. What does NO CONTACT mean? It means:

1. NO DIRECT, or active, communication with the psychopath: be it in the form of emails, letters, phone calls, texting, Facebook posts, or seeing him in person.

2. It also means NO INDIRECT, or passive, communication either: don’t read his emails, don’t look at his Facebook, don’t read his texts, don’t seek or listen to information about him through any intermediaries, don’t google him to find out what he’s up to lately.

Why go NO CONTACT? There are plenty of great reasons for that. Here are some of them:

1. Any contact with a psychopath can make you prone to his manipulation and control over you.

2. Any contact with a psychopath can put your well-being, and even safety, in danger.

3. Any contact with a psychopath will keep the wounds from the relationship raw and the pain still fresh and intense.

4. Any contact with a psychopath will keep you obsessing about him and your past together.

5. Any contact with a psychopath will introduce doubts in your mind, so that you’re second-guessing yourself and your past behavior.

6. Any contact with a psychopath will, therefore, entrap you in a dangerous relationship with a fundamentally bad human being.

The difference between taking three months or three years to heal from the psychopathic bond–and, sometimes, the difference between life and death–depends in large part upon implementing this NO CONTACT rule. The only way to heal from the harm inflicted by the psychopath is to go NO CONTACT with him or her for life: particularly if you don’t share custody of kids or have any legal reason to see, hear or read about that toxic person ever again.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

When You Love Your Abuser: Stockholm Syndrome and Trauma Bonds

They say that when you get burned by fire you don’t put your hand in the hot oven again. But that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes, it’s the fact of being burned that emotionally bonds you to an abuser. In fact, studies show that emotional abuse intermixed with small acts of kindness can bond some victims to their abusers even more than consistent good treatment can. So far I’ve used the word “victim” to describe the women (or men) who suffer at the hands of psychopaths. Yet I don’t really like this word for several reasons. It tends to imply a certain passivity, as if the woman herself had nothing to do with the decision to get involved with the psychopath or, worse yet, to stay with him even once his mask of sanity started to slip. It’s rare that a psychopath physically coerces a woman to get involved with him or to stay with him. Although he intimidates and brainwashes her, generally the victim cooperates.

This isn’t to imply, at the opposite end of the spectrum, that the women who get involved with psychopaths are “guilty” or deserve the mistreatment. In fact, that’s the other main reason why I don’t like the term “victim.” It evokes certain notions of moral purity that put the victim on trial. There used to be a conventional prejudice, for example, that if a victim of rape dressed in a provocative manner or walked around alone at night, then she wasn’t really “innocent” and somehow “asked for it.”

We realize now that this perception is false and prejudicial. Women can be targeted and abused without being perfect angels themselves. Analogously, one shouldn’t have to have to prove one’s perfection in the court of public opinion to gain sympathy for being used and abused by a psychopathic partner. Nobody capable of empathy and love deserves the kind of brainwashing, intimidation, lying, cheating, manipulation and distortion of reality to which a psychopath routinely subjects his partner. Despite the fact that I don’t like some of the connotations of the word “victim,” however, I use it because I believe that the women who become involved with and stay with psychopaths of their own free will are, in some respects, being victimized. To illustrate how you can be victimized while colluding in your own victimization, I’ll rely upon Dr. Joseph Carver’s explanation of Stockholm Syndrome in his article “Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser.” (drjoecarver.com)

Carver states that he commonly runs in his practice into women involved with psychopathic partners who say something to the effect of, “I know it’s hard for others to understand, but despite everything he’s done, I still love him.” While cultivating feelings of love for a partner who repeatedly mistreats you may seem irrational, it’s unfortunately quite common. Psychological studies show that molested children, battered women, prisoners of war, cult members and hostages often bond with their abusers. Sometimes they even go so far as to defend them to their families and friends, to the media, to the police and in court when their crimes are brought to justice.

This psychological phenomenon is so common that it acquired its own label: “Stockholm Syndrome,” named after an incident that occurred in Stockholm, Sweden. On August 23rd, 1974, two men carrying machine guns entered a bank. They held three women and one man hostage for several days. By the end of this ordeal, surprisingly, the victims took the side of their captors. They also defended them to the media and to the police. One woman even became engaged to one of the bank robbers. Another spent a lot of money for the legal defense of one of the criminals. Those who suffer from Stockholm Syndrome develop an unhealthy positive attachment to their abusers. They come to accept the abuser’s lies and rationalizations for his bad behavior. They sometimes also assist the abuser in harming others. This psychological condition makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the victims to engage in behaviors that facilitate detachment from the abuser, such as turning him in, exposing his misconduct or leaving him.

This unhealthy bonding solidifies when the abuser alternates between the carrot and the stick conditioning, as we’ve seen in the case of Drew and Stacy Peterson. He interlaces the abuse–the lying, the cheating, the implicit or explicit threats and insults, and even physical assault–with acts of “small kindness,” such as gifts, romantic cards, taking her out on a date to a nice restaurant, apologies and occasional compliments. Needless to say, in any rational person’s mind, a cute card or a nice compliment couldn’t erase years of abusive behavior. Yet for a woman whose independent judgment and autonomy have been severely impaired by extended intimate contact with a psychopath, it can and often does. Such a woman takes each gift, hollow promise and act of kindness as a positive sign. She mistakenly believes that her abusive partner is committed to changing his ways. She hopes that he has learned to love and appreciate her as she deserves. She wants to believe him even when the pattern of abuse is repeated over and over again, no matter how many times she forgives him. This is what trauma bonding is all about.

A victim of Stockholm Syndrome irrationally clings to the notion that if only she tries hard enough and loves him unconditionally, the abuser will eventually see the light. He, in turn, encourages her false hope for as long as he desires to string her along. Seeing that he can sometimes behave well, the victim blames herself for the times when he mistreats her. Because her life has been reduced to one goal and one dimension which subsumes everything else–she dresses, works, cooks and makes love in ways that please the psychopath–her self-esteem becomes exclusively dependent upon his approval and hypersensitive to his disapproval.

As we know, however, psychopaths and narcissists can’t be pleased. Relationships with them are always about control, never about mutual love. Consequently, the more psychopaths get from their partners, the more they demand from them. Any woman who makes it her life objective to satisfy a psychopathic partner is therefore bound to eventually suffer from a lowered self-esteem. After years of mistreatment, she may feel too discouraged and depressed to leave her abuser. The psychopath may have damaged her self-esteem to the point where she feels that she wouldn’t be attractive to any other man. Carver calls this distorted perception of reality a “cognitive dissonance,” which psychopaths commonly inculcate in their victims. He elaborates:

“The combination of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘cognitive dissonance’ produces a victim who firmly believes the relationship is not only acceptable, but also desperately needed for their survival. The victim feels they would mentally collapse if the relationship ended. In long-term relationships, the victims have invested everything and ‘placed all their eggs in one basket.’ The relationship now decides their level of self-esteem, self-worth, and emotional health.” (drjoecarver.com)

I stated earlier that the only way to escape this dangerous dependency upon a psychopath is to remove yourself permanently from his influence. Any contact with him keeps you trapped in his web of manipulation and deceit. In some respects, however, this is a circular proposition. If you have the strength to leave a psychopath and the lucidity to reconsider your relationship with him, then you’re probably not suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. You may have been temporarily lost in the fog of the psychopathic bond, as I was. But those who suffer from Stockholm Syndrome find themselves lost in a dark tunnel. They don’t know which way to turn anymore. They probably need outside help to see the light and save themselves. So what can family and friends do for them?

Liane Leedom addresses this question in an article called “How Can I Get My X Away From the Psychopathic Con Artist?” (lovefraud.com, September 7, 2007). She advises a subtle intervention rather than clobbering the victim with accusations against her abuser, which may put her on the defensive. As we recall, psychopaths establish control of their victims BITE by BITE, like emotional vampires. Once again, “BITE” stands for “behavior, information, thoughts and emotions.” Psychopaths attempt to control all aspects of their partners’ experience of reality.

To counteract their dangerous influence, you need to BITE back. Give the victim a true perception of reality and real emotional support. If and when she complains about her psychopathic partner, don’t rush to join her in criticism. She’s likely to start defending the psychopath again. Instead, be a good listener. Draw out calmly and rationally the implications of the actions which upset her. Show her that you understand and support her. This way she’ll have a standard of comparison between her partner’s abusive behavior and your genuine caring. As we’ve seen, a psychopath is bound to make his partner feel insecure and pathologically dependent on him. Encourage the victim to find other sources of satisfaction in her life, which are not motivated by the desire to please him.

The issue of motivation is key. Psychopaths’ partners commonly lose weight, dress better, find better employment, pursue more interesting hobbies, all of which may appear to be positive signs. But they’re not if these self-improvements remain motivated by the desire to gain the psychopath’s approval or avoid his disapproval. The quest for his validation keeps the victim–and her self-esteem–enchained to a disordered human being whom she can never satisfy and who doesn’t have her best interest at heart. Above all, Leedom suggests that family and friends of the victim should make it clear that they will be there for her once she disengages from the psychopath. She won’t find herself lost, unloved and alone, as the psychopath probably leads her to fear in order to keep her under his control.

Sometimes, family and friends of the victims notice similar behavior from the victim as from the psychopath himself. Both, for instance, may lie. Leedom and other psychologists state that, sadly, this phenomenon is also quite common. We’ve seen that contact with a psychopath tends to be contagious and destructive, like a virus. It distorts your perception of reality, corrupts your moral values and diminishes your empathy for others. According to Leedom,

“This is what happens when you have any association with a psychopath, no matter how you know them and whether or not you live with them. This is why I strongly encourage family members to cut the psychopath off. Psychopaths’ whole way of relating to the world is about power and control. This need for power and control is very personal. They do it one person at a time, one victim at a time. They do it very systematically with malice and forethought. When they succeed in hurting someone or getting another person to hurt him/herself or others, they step back, revel in it and say ‘I did it again, shit, I’m great!’ (they use a lot of foul language also).” (lovefraud.com)

Just as most people experience a visceral pleasure in making love, or eating chocolate, or seeing their children’s team win a game, so psychopaths experience great pleasure when they hurt others. They enjoy corrupting their partners so that they too become manipulative, deceptive and callous like them. For a psychopath, destroying his partner from the inside/out–her human, moral core, not just her daily life–represents a personal triumph. Psychopaths identify, pursue, isolate, corrupt, devalue and eventually discard one victim at a time. By this I don’t mean to suggest, of course, that they’re faithful to anyone. But they focus their energy in a single-minded fashion on destroying one life at a time, one person at a time. Women seduced by psychopaths enter what psychologists call a “hypnotic state.” They shut out any aspects of reality that would reveal the truth. They focus instead only on the parts of reality that conform to the distorted perspectives presented by their partner. This logic often applies to the psychopath’s family members as well. I’ve already mentioned that Neil Entwistle’s parents supported their son even after he was convicted of murder. Parents who behave this way, Leedom explains, “want to have the perfect family as much as anyone else. They therefore normalize and justify all of the psychopath’s hurtful controlling behavior.” (lovefraud.com) Of course, when parents go so far as to either ignore or justify murder, their behavior crosses the line into pathology.

Yet no matter how much love and support you may offer the victim of a psychopath, like individuals who suffer from other kinds of addictions, she can only save herself. Ultimately, it’s up to her to find the inner strength to confront the truth about the psychopath. Psychologists state that, generally speaking, the longer a woman stays with the psychopath, the less likely she is to recover from that harmful relationship. Her tortured love for him may last for the rest of her life. But it’s highly unlikely that the psychopath will stick around for that long. If you don’t leave a psychopath, chances are that he’ll eventually leave you to mine for new opportunities elsewhere. Leedom adds, “The question here is whether this will take so long to run its course that the victim will lose herself completely. When that happens there is great risk of suicide when the relationship falls apart.” (lovefraud.com) Hopefully, the more information we spread about psychopathy, the easier and sooner victims will recognize the symptoms of this personality disorder. This information can give them the strength to escape psychopathic seduction and control before it’s too late.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


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

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction