Why Psychopaths are Insatiable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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Review of Sarah Strudwick’s Dark Souls

If you’ve been involved with someone who seemed to be your dream come true, but turned out to suck all the energy,  financial resources and happiness out of you, then Sarah Strudwick‘s new book, Dark Souls: Healing and Recovering from Toxic  Relationships is worth reading. This book, written by a very well-informed survivor of a toxic relationship with a narcissistic  sociopath, offers a wealth of information about the key symptoms of sociopathy and malignant narcissism; an inspiring tale of the author’s
personal journey of coping with a hellish relationship and her survival; information about other helpful books and resources that can help victims;  and, last but not least, a dab of wry British humor to entertain you.

Dark Souls gets to the essence of what makes personality disordered individuals so predatory, ruthless and dangerous. It exposes  their luring techniques, when such individuals seem to be perfect and adapt to your ideals. It reveals why this is only a mask to hide  these social predators’ real motives, which is to use and abuse others for their personal gain and amusement.  It explains the physiological and psychological manifestations of sociopathy and narcissism, exploring the reasons behind their shallowness of emotions  that leads these predators to con, deceive, beguile, torment and sometimes physically harm others.

The book also examines, in an introspective and highly informative manner, the profile of their chosen targets: whom social predators tend to select  and why. Although nobody is immune from victimization by sociopaths and narcissists, Strudwick indicates that these predators tend to pick  the emphatic, vulnerable and needy out of the herd. She traces the root of this vulnerability to childhood upbringing, using her own life as an example.  This doesn’t mean, however, that their chosen victims are weak. The author also goes on to explain that sociopaths tend to target strong and principled victims.  They prefer individuals whom they initially regard as a challenge, later use as a false front and, when  they are finally unmasked, who won’t behave towards them as unscrupulously as they do (by lying, cheating and/or defrauding others).

While there are quite a few informative books on narcissism and sociopathy, Dark Souls still manages to bring a lot to the literature on the subject  through its wit and spiritual perspective. This book uses the metaphor of the “dark soul” and the concept of spiritual energy to explain how psychopaths and  narcissists drain our emotional energy as well as to point to a road of recovery and personal flourishing once we end these toxic relationships.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Why Sociopaths Win By Losing

In The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout raises the following excellent question: “If sociopaths are so focused on their goals and so driven to win, then why do they not win all the time?” She goes on to explain that, basically, sociopaths are losers: “For they do not [win or succeed in life]. Instead, most of them are obscure people, and limited to dominating their young children, or a depressed spouse, or perhaps a few employees or coworkers… Having never made much of a mark on the world, the majority are on a downward life course, and by late middle age will be burned out completely. They can rob and torment us temporarily, yes, but they are, in effect, failed lives.” (The Sociopath Next Door, 188)

I think that Martha Stout, Robert Hare, Steve Becker and many other experts on sociopathy are right to say that sociopaths play games in life and aim to win.  They’re also right to observe that sociopaths generally don’t win because they tend to sabotage every relationship and endeavor by cheating, lying and engaging in other destructive behavior. But all this assumes that psychopaths have the same conception of “winning” that normal people have. It’s true that psychopaths lose in life by normal standards. But, as we well know, psychopaths lack normal standards and perspectives in pretty much all areas of life. They don’t view “winning” in the positive sense of achieving success–be it successful long-term relationships or professional endeavors–but rather as causing others to lose.

To offer one noteworthy example, from a normal perspective, Hitler and Stalin are the Big Losers of history. They’re evil dictators who trampled over countless human lives in their march to absolute power. But keep in mind that their goal was not governing strong nations in general, as was arguably Napoleon’s goal. These two totalitarian rulers wanted to achieve total control over several nations: and the entire world, if possible. Total control can’t be achieved without the subjugation, and even the annihilation, of any dissenting voice; without the inculcation of fear; without violence.

Sociopaths would rather win by becoming notorious for their crimes rather than famous for their achievements. How else can one describe the motivations of serial killers like Ted Bundy and so many others, who take pride in violent crimes and the ability to get away with them (at least for awhile)? Fortunately for the rest of humanity, most sociopaths aren’t world dictators or serial killers. However, looking at these prominent examples helps us understand better the distorted logic of sociopathy. It’s an “I win if you lose” mentality. In their own warped perspectives, sociopaths win by destroying other human beings and their social institutions, regardless if that enables them to achieve anything in life or lands them straight in prison.

Perhaps a sociopath’s only fear is being unmasked as evil, because that exposes the nature of his game. As Harrison Koehli eloquently puts it, “[Psychopaths] hang on to their masks with such conviction because they are predators, and without them, they cannot survive… To let down that facade would reveal that they are little more than unfeeling intraspecies predators that feed off the pain and suffering of others and thus destroy their chances of feeding. Even a psychopath is aware of the consequences of such a revelation. His ‘dreams’ of a boot forever stomping on the face of humanity are crushed.” Unfortunately, for as long as there will be people protecting, colluding with, and covering for sociopaths, these parasites will continue to feed on us, even if it means the destruction of both predator and prey. Sociopaths play a very dangerous game, whereby they win by losing. 

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Do Psychopaths Fall in Love?

Victims often wonder: do psychopaths fall in love? So far I have explained that psychopaths can’t love in the normal sense of having genuine empathy for others. But they can, and do, fall in love. Now I’d like to delve more deeply into the subject of how they fall in love and with whom. As we’ve seen, because of their ability to charm people, their seductive skills, their penchant for pleasure and their intense focus on their most desired targets, psychopaths can be (for a short while) extraordinarily passionate lovers. Their passion, however, finds itself in a constant race against time. The time usually runs out when the balance of power in the romantic relationship shifts dramatically in the psychopath’s favor.   Picasso describes this process quite poetically when he tells his mistress, Francoise Gilot:

“We mustn’t see each other too often. If the wings of the butterfly are to keep their sheen, you mustn’t touch them. We mustn’t abuse something which is to bring light into both of our lives. Everything else in my life only weighs me down and shuts out the light. This thing with you seems to me like a window that is opening up. I want it to remain open. We must see each other but not too often. When you want to see me, you call me and tell me so.” (My Life with Picasso, 53-4).

Basically, in a relationship with a psychopath, the sheen wears off when you’re dominated by him. When you accept to engage in demeaning sexual (or any other kind of) acts or behavior. When you readily buy into his lies because they preserve the rosier, yet false, version of reality you want to believe. When you accept unfair double standards, where he enjoys important privileges you do not. When you need or want him far more than he needs or wants you. Psychopaths may begin romantic relationships on an equal footing with their partners. But, ultimately, they aim to end up on top. For themselves, they tend to adopt a pseudo-Nietzschean attitude towards conventional morality. They violate, with an air of entitlement and superiority, all moral principles. At the same time, they generally expect an almost fundamentalist prurience from their main partners.

Even those psychopaths who enjoy demeaning their partners by asking them to violate moral and sexual values—such as by dressing or acting like a “slut”—do so only on their terms. If a psychopath’s partner cheats on him out of her own volition with someone she cares about or desires, he’s likely to explode in self-righteous indignation and defile her public image.  At the same time, however, he will proudly proclaim his right to fall in love with and date whomever he wants. He will lack the self-awareness to see the inconsistency of his attitude towards conventional morality and the emotional depth to care about its unfairness to others. You can’t be above the moral norms of good and evil yourself while demanding that those you interact with abide by them. That’s called hypocrisy, not transcending conventional values or being independent. Also keep in mind that even if a psychopath appears to respect his partner while regarding and treating other women as “hoes,” his attitude reflects a deep underlying misogyny that touches every woman he encounters.

As mentioned, sometimes a psychopath may prefer to humiliate his own partner by “sharing” her with others: but, once again, only at his bidding and on his terms. By way of contrast to the scenario where she cheats on him by choosing her romantic partners, this kind of violation of conventional values is likely to be acceptable (and even highly desirable) to a psychopath. He enjoys her degradation. Of course, abiding by such grossly unfair double standards can only lead to humiliation and disaster for the victim. “Pimping” one’s wife or girlfriend, as it’s crudely but accurately called, represents the very opposite of granting a woman sexual freedom. Moreover, such self-abasement can never achieve the desired effect of winning the psychopath’s interest and affection. For, as we’ve seen, although psychopaths enjoy dominance, easily dominated individuals don’t attract them for long.

So then what kind of person can keep the sheen on the wings of the butterfly for a longer period of time (to borrow Picasso’s metaphor)? Only a person who does not agree to demeaning or unfair conditions in the relationship and only for as long as she does not accept them. As the study conducted by Sandra L. Brown, M.A. in Women Who Love Psychopaths reveals, like most people, psychopaths tend to fall in love with individuals who manifest self-respect not only in their professional conduct and with acquaintances, but also–and most importantly–in the context of the romantic relationship itself.  That is where one invests most time and emotional energy. Consequently, that is also where one’s true character is tested and revealed. This applies to romantic relationships in general, not just to psychopathic bonds. It stands to reason that if you don’t see yourself as equal to your partner, he won’t regard you as an equal or give you the respect you deserve.

To be more specific, I’ll offer two examples. As we know, psychopaths derive great pleasure from brief sexual liaisons. But those are not likely to spark their passion for two main reasons. The first one is that an unending series of sexual encounters make the psychopath himself jaded to physical and psychological pleasure. Sexual addiction resembles other addictions. Any kind of addiction, which necessarily implies excess and sheer volume (of a substance or number of partners), dulls one’s sensibilities, including the sensory and aesthetic ones to which sensual individuals are so highly attuned. Sex addicts become increasingly jaded to both sexual activities and partners. Contrary to the modern connotations of the term “hedonism,” the ancient hedonists practiced moderation, to better savor their pleasures. Recall how poignant even a simple kiss can be with a person you desire and respect. I’m not making a moral argument here, but an aesthetic and psychological observation, which is quite obvious. Thousands of sexually explicit images and acts can’t replace the stimulation offered by real chemistry with a single person, which you cultivate, focus upon and appreciate.  When you disperse your sexual energy and attention on numerous partners, you also reduce the chances of experiencing a more lasting and exciting pleasure in any of those so-called “romantic” relationships. Since sexual addiction is so central to psychopathic behavior, I will explore this subject further in the next section.

The second reason has to do with the partners psychopaths are likely to encounter in promiscuous settings. Because our culture remains “sexist” in the sense that promiscuous women are looked down upon more so than promiscuous men, the kind of women one casually hooks up with on adult websites, clubs and bars are unlikely to establish the balance of power that even psychopathic passion depends upon. Some truisms are true. If you don’t treat yourself and your body with respect, chances are, neither will anyone else.

As one would expect, the issue of a balance of power is even more pertinent in long-term relationships. Any wife, girlfriend or lover who accepts glaring double standards in the relationship–relating to important issues such as fidelity, honesty and trust–is not going to hold a psychopath’s interest for long. The relationship will turn into a toxic attachment that combines a strong psychological enmeshment, mutual utility and convenience. The dominated partner will oscillate between false hope, intense neediness, despair and resentment at the unfair conditions. The dominant partner will fall back upon a sense of entitlement that quickly turns into boredom. He’s also likely to play catch and release games with his partner–essentially, engage in a series of break-ups and reconciliations–depending on whether he’s more bored with her and their family life or with his other girlfriends at any given moment.

Ideally, in a loving relationship, passion entails a deeper bond that comes from being both physically and emotionally excited by each other’s personalities and having an enduring mutual respect. In a psychopathic bond, however, passion translates into an intense physical attraction, an equally strong attraction to each other’s personalities and–in lieu of any genuine empathy and mutual respect–a balance of power. Without these components, even physical pleasures become bland for the psychopath. In turn, life for his partner turns into a series of humiliating concessions that can’t bring her happiness or reignite his interest.  When you give up your pride and self-esteem for somebody else, you also lose your power and sense of identity. And, needless to say, any man who expects you to violate your self-respect and values for him doesn’t really love you and never will.

I suppose this is one way of saying that even psychopathic passion requires more than just physical attraction to last more than a few days. It also depends upon chemistry, balance and equality in the relationship, for as long as these can be sustained. In a psychopathic bond, however, they can’t last long. A psychopath needs to dominate, dupe and demean even the women he initially desires and admires. Once these elements are gone, as Picasso eloquently states, the window that used to allow light into the relationship closes for good.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


The Death of a Deadly Psychopath: Osama bin Laden’s Personality Profile

Now that Osama bin Laden has finally been killed, there’s a momentary celebration around the world that one of the most dangerous and reviled men in recent history can no longer harm the innocent. Of course, there’s no shortage of people like him, nor of his followers, ready to avenge his death. In the article below, Aubrey Immelman paints a psychological profile of Osama Bin Laden. This profile is one of a psychopath, with paranoid tendencies, similar to another notorious psychopath who attained great influence and power, Joseph Stalin.

The Hunt for Bin Laden: America’s “Second Intelligence Failure”?

Aubrey Immelman

Reprinted from the March 2002 issue 
of Clio’s Psyche (Journal of the Psychohistory Forum)

From the first moment I paid serious attention to Osama bin Laden—September 11, 2001—the man did not strike me as someone likely to martyr himself. Six days after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I posted my initial impressions on the website of the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics: that the mastermind likely fit Otto Kernberg syndrome of malignant narcissism, with its core elements of pathological narcissism, antisocial features, paranoid traits, and unconstrainedaggression (see http://www.csbsju.edu/uspp/Research/MalignantLeadership.html).

More systematic analysis of biographical source materials in the ensuing months, using my standard psychodiagnostic procedure, produced a more nuanced portrait, compatible but more fine-grained than Kernberg’s syndrome. In the nomenclature of my Millonian approach (cf. Theodore Millon, Disorders of Personality: DSM‑IV and Beyond, 1996), Bin Laden emerged as a primarily Ambitious/exploitative (narcissistic), Dauntless/dissenting (antisocial) personality, with secondary Distrusting/suspicious (paranoid), Dominant/controlling (sadistic), and some Conscientious/dutiful (obsessive-compulsive) features.

Ambitious individuals are bold, competitive, and self-assured; they easily assume leadership roles, expect others to recognize their special qualities, and often act as though entitled. Dauntless individuals are bold, courageous, and tough; minimally constrained by the norms of society; routinely engage in high-risk activities; not overly concerned about the welfare of others; skilled in the art of social influence; and adept at surviving on the strength of their particular talents, ingenuity, and wits.

Bin Laden’s blend of Ambitious and Dauntless personality patterns suggests the presence of Millon’s unprincipled narcissist (or narcissistic psychopath) syndrome. This composite character complex combines the narcissist’s arrogant sense of self-worth, exploitative indifference to the welfare of others, and grandiose expectation of special recognition with the antisocial personality’s self-aggrandizement, deficient social conscience, and disregard for the rights of others (see Millon, cited above, pp. 409–410).

From the perspective of the so-called “hunt for Bin Laden,” the major implication of these findings is that, unlike hijack linchpin Mohamed Atta, Bin Laden does not fit the profile of the highly conscientious, closed-minded religious fundamentalist, nor that of the religious martyr who combines these qualities with devout, self-sacrificing features. Rather, Bin Laden’s profile suggests that he is cunningly artful in exploiting Islamic fundamentalism in the service of his own ambition and personal dreams of glory.

Theodore Millon and Roger Davis (“Ten Subtypes of Psychopathy” in Millon et al., Eds., Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal, and Violent Behavior, pp. 161–170) explain that this psychopathic subtype—effectively devoid of a superego—is prevalent among society’s con artists. Akin to these charlatans and swindlers, Bin Laden likely harbors an arrogant, vengeful vindictiveness and contempt for his victims.

Far from directing operations and taking a last stand with his most loyal acolytes at Tora Bora, relationships for narcissistic psychopaths survive only as long as they have something to gain—and for these grandiose, self-enhancing personalities there is naught to be gained from martyrdom. What does, however, command their full measure of devotion is humiliating their adversaries in a high-stakes game of wit, and relishing their frustration, anger, and dismay.

In short, the extent to which U.S. intelligence and military operations against Bin Laden were framed as a hunt for a devout, dedicated religious fundamentalist might serve as a rough measure of the extent to which the failure thus far to kill or capture Bin Laden could be considered an intelligence failure.

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Aubrey Immelman, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Minnesota’s St. John’s University. He authored the chapter “Personality in Political Psychology” in the forthcoming Handbook of Psychology (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003).