Psychopaths and Psychological Torture

Psychopaths don’t just hurt those around them. They build them up first, so that the fall will be more painful and, preferably, shatter them. The higher a psychopath takes you during the idealization phase of the relationship (when he showers you with flattery, gifts and declarations of eternal love), the lower you can expect to fall in his eyes during the devaluation phase, when he isolates you from loved ones, undermines your confidence and criticizes you both to your face and to others.

I’ll offer an analogy to illustrate the underlying cruelty of psychopathic behavior.  Imagine the following scenario: a boy who gets a puppy for Christmas. He pets him, feeds him, cuddles him, plays with him and even sleeps next to him at night. Then, six months later, after the puppy has bonded most with him and expects only nurture and affection from him, the boy takes a knife and slaughters him just for fun. That’s exactly what a psychopath does, at the very least on a psychological level, to every person who becomes intimately involved with him. He carefully nurtures expectations of mutual honesty and love. Then he sticks a knife into her back through a pattern of intentional deception and abuse.

Let me now offer a second, even more poignant, example. I remember many years ago being horrified when I read in the news about the rapes of Bosnian women by ethnically Serbian men. What troubled me most was a true story about a Serbian soldier who “saved” a Bosnian girl from gang rape by fellow Serbs. He removed her from the dangerous situation, fed her, protected her and talked to her reassuringly and tenderly for several days. Once he secured her trust, gratitude and devotion, he raped and killed her himself. Afterwards, he boasted about his exploits on the international news.

This degree of psychological sadism exceeds that of the brutes who raped and killed women without initially faking niceness and caring. What he did to her was more insidious, duplicitous and perverse. All psychopaths behave this way towards their partners, at the very least on an emotional level. They gain your love and trust only to  take sadistic pleasure in harming you. Each time you forgive their behavior and take them back, they enjoy the thrill of having regained your confidence so that they can hurt you again. Psychopaths engage in psychological torture for the same reason that totalitarian regimes do: to crush you body and spirit; to have you entirely at their mercy and under their control.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction



  1. I wish I had known this before I got involved, or was at least able to see the signes, I did fall hard, I’m still realing from the fact that he does not care, 4 years of constant compaionship and then nothing…not a word, and is living with another women. The shock is uncanny. Knowing that this is a mental illness, gives me compfort


  2. Zaire, that’s how psychopaths operate. They attach quickly and take you for a spin on a whirlwind
    romance. All the while they keep many other partners and flings on the hook or on the back-burner.
    They also test the waters with new partners as well. When they feel they found another very promising
    target, they move on as quickly as they attached to you. Just be grateful the relationship is over; it was never real. Claudia

  3. Claudia,

    Your blog has been a lifesaver for me as I work through the aftermath of a relationship with a psychopath that ended a few months ago. You are a wonderful writer and have the best insights on these extremely dangerous individuals and I eagerly await every one of your posts. Do you have any insight on whether it is possible for a psychopath to be in a long-term marriage(over 24 years) with three children? He is very successful business owner. Is it possible that a psychopath CAN be good to certain people, but not to others?

  4. Absolutely! A psychopath can fake niceness or goodness best in superficial rapports, like with acquaintances, buddies
    and some colleagues. That’s because it’s relatively easier to maintain a mask of sanity in superficial relationships which
    are mostly about casual interaction and image. So yes, it is possible and happens often. The real test of a psychopath
    or narcissist is how those individuals behave in close relationships over time, where one’s true nature is revealed.
    In those relationships psychopaths are usually emotionally abusive, domineering, pathologically deceptive and
    extremely manipulative. This is why they’re often described as Jekyll and Hyde personalities: Jekyll with people who don’t
    know them well, Hyde with those who do. In fact these two facets, the Jekyll being the false mask of sanity and
    the Hyde being the real evil person, is the biggest red flag that you’re dealing with a psychopath. Claudia

  5. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Can you erase my name from your reply, though? I should have mentioned I would like to keep this confidential.

    But would it be possible for a P to maintain a “Mr. Perfect Guy/Devoted Father” persona with his wife and kids for that many years, if he felt he was getting social status from it? Wouldn’t it be hard to maintain that nice mask of sanity for so long? His kids genuinely seem to be fooled and his wife as well.

  6. Lesley, I just erased your email address, as you requested. Yes, it is very possible for a psychopath to fool his wife and kids for a very long time.
    Jekyll and Hyde personalities, which is what all psychopaths are, comparmentalize exceptionally well. They always show their ugly side
    to someone, but it doesn’t have to be the wife and kids. To offer an extreme example, the Green River serial killer, for example, who raped and murdered
    at least 48 women, seemed like Prince Charming to his wife. She stated in an interview that he was always calm, nice and never abusive to her.
    Other psychopaths are domestic abusers, but appear perfect professionals. It all depends where a psychopath desires to comparmentalize
    and what he has to gain from the people he shows his false “good” side to. If he cares about maintaining a good image of husband/father,
    then he spends a lot of energy hiding his evil exploits in other domains or with other people. But there’s no psychopath that has a genuinely
    good side. It is always a fake mask of sanity: a ruse based on hiding their true actions, their real selves and their evil intentions. Claudia

  7. Claudia

    I look forward to your posts every month. I think you write about this extremely disturbing mental “illness” exceptionally well and everything you mention my ex boyfriend did. And that is everything. (well not murder!) – my family do not understand why its taking me so long to get over him and the abuse, when i was only with him a year. However they do not understand the extreme highs and crushing lows, then after the relationshi ends, the mindgames and puppetry (as your post so brilliantly describes) that he carried out on me for 6 months after he told me to leave. You give me strength to get through this awful abusive toxic relationship and whenever i feel down or doubt myself i read your articles. I hope you keep this up! many many thanks

  8. Also sorry Claudia but can you erase my email address from the link above my comment. many thanks.

  9. Claudia

    I wondered also, when they go quiet and cut you off from their lives, I gather this is when they have found better supplies of interest to keep them amused? My ex has been silent for a month. Sometimes he went silent as a means of punishment, but I am thinking that this prolonged silence is because he has found another more interesting game to play. I think that as he continued to try and play mindgames with me I found out more about his disorder and questioned him on his actions, and hence he decided I was not worth the grief as he could get away with more from other sources. I do hope that I will now not hear from him again as I much as I totally understood what was wrong with him and disagreed I could not find it within myself to hate him or be disgusted by him, or not to extent that I should be. I hope this may come in time however. i continue to more feel upset and sadness at the devastation he caused in my life.

    thanks again

  10. Lesley, thanks for your comments. I’m so glad that my posts give you strength. On the inside
    all psychopaths are the same, despite their physical differences or differences in social status and profession.
    Their emotional shallowness leads them all to play malicious games with people, which is why
    these posts are applicable to pretty much any psychopath or relationship with a psychopath.

  11. Lesley, Yes, usually when the go silent it’s because they have found new supply elsewhere.
    But, unfortunately, psychopaths tend to return to former girlfriends (or boyfriends) because, as my post Relationship Boomerang explains,
    they usually want to string as many girlfriends along as possible, even those they tired of. Sometimes they keep harassing you just
    to annoy you and because no matter how many sexual partners they have, they always suffer from chronic boredom.

  12. I don’t think the email address appears on the posts, but I’ll double check and erase it if it does. Claudia

  13. Thank you Claudia and thank you for replying to my posts. It is quite frightening that they all have the same traits and modus operandi!! And so upsetting too really for the people that they try and do destroy.

    I really do think your articles are excellent and so well written without putting all the blame on the victimised party. It is hard to take that the person you love really never existed, or that even though part of them was ok underneath was this malicious hater that just has contempt for everyone. As you said in one of your articles, idealise, devale and discard, it is so hard when what they grow tired of is YOU. It is so so personal and you have to hold the thought that there was nothing wrong with you and that the issues were all with them, and anyone they are with will end up with the same fate.
    thank you again for your articles. I just think you are great!!!

  14. Lesley, I’m so glad my articles help you. Nobody is perfect or infallible, but when dealing
    with personality disordered individuals the problem is definitely not with you. One of the fallacies of couples counseling
    is that in every relationship both parties are equally to blame. That may be true in normal relationships, but with psychopaths
    the problem lies with their incurable personality disorder, which leads them to deceive, manipulate, use, demean and
    mistreat every person they get close to: whether openly or behind their backs. Either way they still do it, systematically
    and with malice, using each person’s vulnerabilities or weaknesses against them. Claudia

  15. Thank you Claudia. Would you mind if I asked you something else? You mention that the higher the idealisaton then the lower you fall and are devalued by the psychopath. I definitely found this with my experience. Is there a reason for this? Is it because they feel as though YOU have disappointed THEM (as they always blame their partner for flaws and failings in the relationship)?


  16. Lesley, I think it’s because psychopaths want you for your use value (someone to keep their image or mask,
    for pleasure or money or status). This, plus the novelty of the initial conquest and pulling the wool over your eyes, gives them
    a high that wears off in time. When the novelty of the relationship is gone, when duping you makes them feel like you’re just that–a dupe–and when
    you no longer give them the same rush or fulfill their immediate needs as much, they want to destroy you, the same way
    a child might smash a toy that no longer works. They’re angry and frustrated at YOU for not giving them the same pleasure and high
    as you did in the beginning. They hate YOU even more than they would a person who didn’t give them the same high at first, because
    you literally let them down. And they punish YOU for the letdown. There is no harder fall than for a person who was initially idealized
    a lot by a psychopath. Claudia

  17. Thank you Claudia. Yes that is how I was treated, you can actually see the disappointment oozing out of every pore of them. I felt as though someone had put me in a box with lots of room in it but every time i turned round the box sides closed in a bit at a time until i was trapped and coudnt move. That really was how i felt about the control element. The devalue element, well they just make you feel unworthy and uncomfortable in your own skin. it is quite frightening and really, traumatic is the only word i can describe it as.

    thank you again for replying and for this site. it really is just so so helpful and so well documented by you.

  18. Lesley, if you check out my post on Drew Peterson, you’ll see how gradual (and interspersed with flattery and gifts) his devaluation of his wives was.
    That makes it much more pernicious and effective, because you get used to increasing dosages of abuse little by little.
    By the time you wake up, you’re already isolated from loved ones, smeared to friends and colleagues,
    and suffer from low self-esteem. Fortunately, I woke up on time, before the process could
    destroy me and my family. My healthy sense of self-worth saved me from the social predator. I began to see the psychopath’s devaluation and manipulation
    for what they were and left him. But a lot of women don’t face the abuse, so websites like this can help them to recognize
    the symptoms of personality disorders and leave their abusers before irreparable damage is done. Claudia

  19. Thanks Claudia. My ex would more devalue me by cancelling arrangements we had made (or he had made as a surprise for me) on one occasion cancelling so he could spend the weekend with his ex wife(it was his sons 16th birthday) however he then came home and told me how wonderful she was and how much he’d loved her and probably still did. If I made any kind of remark about this he woudl be furious and say I was pathetic, jealous, how dare I insult such a wonderful woman(when I hadnt insulted her, but pointed out that he shouldnt be saying and thinking these things about her when he was with me). He would be great to get on with, the person I’d known from years ago, but then suddenly just go into strange moods, cut you off emotionally, then character assassinate you when you tried to say he was out of line or question his behaviour…i suppose they all do whatever it takes to destroy and belitte their current partner. I have since heard he is back with his ex wife (they split 16 years ago) so I think he will be trying to rekindle that feeling from years ago (he drank most of the time he was with her) – I do not know how that will go, but I am sure he will devalue her even more than he did me and I hope she catches on to what he is up to before he messes her life up again. They really are just very dangerous people. Sorry that turned into a bit of a long winded tale!
    thank you again for you advice and support. you are a godsend.

  20. It sounds like your sociopathic ex did what most of them do: foster rivalries and hatred between his targets.
    Sociopaths love to triangulate in this way. That way they keep the partners separated, not able to exchange information about him
    and the focus of their hatred and resentment for his cheating on each other rather than on him. Plus it makes them feel important to
    have people fighting over them. It’s a typical sociopath relationship structure, as I state in the post on The Psychopath as Puppet Master:
    Stringing Women Along. The important thing is what you’ve already done: to see that strategy and triangulation for what it is, the manipulative
    moves of a sociopath. And to cut the strings! Claudia

  21. I suspect I have been involved with a sociopath. Can you tell me if you think I have?
    I began a relationship with him in Feb ’10. He was married(I know) I was separated. He was 10 yrs younger than me. I could not believe how this guy made me feel and how quickly we connected. He would tell me I was a goddess,the woman of his dreams, how I had changed his life. He was in an awful marriage. Yes I think his wife is a sociopath or something too. She had been in jail twice for something to do with her addiction to painkillers. Anyway after just 3 months I was so in love and he said he was also. He started talking about wanting out of his marriage and moving in with me. He always brought it up, I never did but agreed I wanted the same thing. The end of June he sent me his nightly text telling me how much he loved me and I didn’t hear from him again for 5 mos. I sent text after text begging for an explanation, he never responded. I was devastated and confused. I just wanted an explanation.
    Then in Dec ’10 he contacted me again. Apologized said he had gotten scared and decided he needed to give his marriage every chance. But that he was wrong. His wife had gotten arrested again for something and he had put her out. He wanted a relationship with me again. Of course I fail for it again because I had not stopped loving him. That was on a Thurs. I saw him that night. By that weekend he had took her back. Got very little contact from him from then until March. Then in March he seemed to go back to the guy he was the first time around. He wanted a future with me. I was his inspiration. Started texting and calling every day. Begged me to trust him again. I did. She got arrested couple of more times and everytime he put her out then took her back. Everything seemed great until the last 3 weeks he started ignoring me again, inconsistent contact. The last two weeks never heard from him unless I contacted him. I got the feeling he was wanting to make me end things so he wouldn’t have to. Which I finally last night sent him a text and told him “I’m giving you what you want. You will never hurt me again. I’m Done.” He has not even bothered to reply. I asked him 2 days ago if I should leave him alone and he said no he wanted me and missed me.
    He was never mean to me but would withdraw and ignore me. I rarely knew where I stood. But then it was so great during the time he seemed to be crazy about me and I was always trying to get back to that. How can he go from that to this? And now I’m wanting to tell him I’m sorry and will be more understanding. Which is what I always end up doing.

  22. Also why is he not replying to my text. Is it because I have told him over and over that it drives me crazy when I don’t get a response? Does he want me to beg for a response? Or is he just glad to be rid of me? I really feel he has always been able to manipulate me. And I’m sad that I let him manipulate me into ending this. I feel like he got off again without acknowledging how bad he hurt me again.

  23. Molly, I can’t tell if he’s a psychopath but this behavior raises some red flags: the instant connection, the mirroring of your desires,
    the idealization, plus the triangulation between you and his wife, going back and forth between the two of you.
    Even if he’s not a psychopath, clearly this isn’t a good situation for you to be in. Claudia

  24. Molly, don’t dwell on his responses or lack thereof. If you’ve decided to end the toxic relationship with him, it’s best to move forward with the rest of your life. Speculating about why he does x, y or z keeps the focus of your thoughts on him. Claudia

  25. This sounds quite similar to my situation. You must remember tho that they don’t know or even care that they have hurt you. They just don’t seem to get it. I feel so much pain and hurt at the moment when I realise that I mean nothing to him but as claudia says there is no point in thinking what if this or that. Try and focus on you and your healing and not so much on him. I know this is easier said than done because right now I am in the position of trying to have no contact with the psychopath guy and it is so hard as they have such a hold over you but is best to have no more contact.

  26. I just came across this sight today. Do you think a sociopath or a psychopath could also have aspergers? Well, of course, it is possible but I wonder if there are times in which they may be confused or merged. I met a man who made me feel I hadn’t known love until he came along. His seduction was subtle, intelligent, reserved and seemingly ethical. I could go on…the story is an interesting one…but to keep it short, after he had successfully won me over, I was suddenly, inexplicably dropped but not before he left a hint that he would return. I waited but, finally, began to write to him asking him to let me go, to give me an indication of his intents. He never wrote back except he would lift words from my letters and inject them into his published reviews, as if, in answer to my questions. It was pure torture. Eventually, I simply stopped writing to him or reading anything he wrote. Ten years later, he contacted me saying he had had an epiphany due to a traumatic experience. He said he had been very selfish and had treated me badly. I asked him if he had aspergers and he admitted that he did. We corresponded for a few months before he went silent again. I waited six months before writing him to ask what was going on. I had a feeling he wouldn’t answer and he hasn’t. His aspergers, if I can even believe that he has it, isn’t apparent in the way television portrays it. There is a lot of variety among those who are afflicted with the disease. It just seems to me that he took pleasure in my suffering and in the suffering of others so I can’t help but wonder if he is not only suffering from aspergers but is also sadistic…..

  27. Yes, a psychopath can have aspergers, but those psychopaths aren’t generally charming and smooth.
    The man you describe sounds like he enjoyed the power of playing with your feelings and leading you on. He sounds very adept at charming
    and manipulating you, so he may or may not have aspergers. Those with aspergers tend to have more obvious difficulties in social relations,
    but it’s difficult to say just based on a description. Either way, however, if you suspect he was psychopathic and know for sure he was emotionally sadistic,
    he’s not someone you’d want in your life. Claudia

  28. Emily, I agree with all your words of encouragement and suggestion of keeping the focus
    on constructive aspects of life. But I think psychopaths are even worse than you suspect because they do mean to hurt others and take
    pleasure in it. You’re right that they can’t understand the degree of pain–just as they can’t really understand real love–since they lack emotional depth.
    And sometimes they hurt people without meaning to: collateral damage, so to speak, of their main targets. But even that
    makes them gleeful and in control. And usually they mean to hurt their targeted victims. They’re extremely sadistic at core. Claudia

  29. I don’t know why I’m so addicted to him. I finally sent him a text yesterday and apologized for the text I sent the night before. Can you believe that? He has ignored me and not did what he said he would and I apologize to him. Well he didn’t respond so about 2 hrs later I say can you tell me something. He responds that it is the first chance he has had and ask what’s up? Which makes me crazy. Because why is he not acknowledging the text ending things the night before? Then I say did you get my messages and he said I just got it, your mad. And I said I was but did you get my apology text and he just answered yes. So I said do you forgive me and why are your answers so short and he said of course, baby. I’m tired I don’t feel like long answers. So I say “you haven’t really felt like talking to me any. And he said I told you I’m in a funk. That’s really all he had to say. It is like I am dealing with 2 different people. He can be so warm and loving but now so cold. And why would he try to act like he didn’t get my message when I know he would have? He leaves me so confused. I want to break away but he seems to have this control over me.

  30. Claudia, Thank you for your answer. Because over ten years have passed since I was in regular contact with this man it is easier now for me to break away. It is terrible to me that I’ve wasted so much time secretly hoping for his return. But, I’ve learned, like so many prisoners of war, that in truth no one has a hold over anyone except in illusion because the mind is free. To the women who have experienced this type of capture, if you feel confused because of another’s behavior and there is no obvious or legitimate reason why they turn against you then it’s time for you to withdraw yourself and go elsewhere. You don’t have to spend time trying to figure out what is the cause of their behavior, why they do it. All you need to know is that you don’t feel happy. That is enough of a reason for you to direct the force of your love toward someone new. It is your right to make a new plan and you can do it even in a dungeon.

  31. Absolutely. When you notice arbitrary displays of power, be they in dictatorships or individuals,
    it’s almost always a sign of pathology and desire for control. That’s when you know it’s not you and have to do your best to break free.
    I’m so glad that you did and that you view this past as a learning experience that has made you the stronger and more lucid person you are today. Claudia

  32. Molly, it’s the drama that keeps you ruminating about him. It’s called trauma bonding.
    I think the article I wrote about Stockholm Syndrome and Trauma Bonding on this blog might help
    you see the unhealthy dynamics that keep you hooked on him. Claudia

  33. Lesley,
    My ex is also what I believe to be a psychopath, everything that has been written on this really informative site sums him and our relationship up. I have a small son with him so since I have left him he has changed tac tics from directly abusing me to abusing me with the legal system( he’s reported me for many things and is also asking for full custody of our son and take away my parental responsibility, because I AM the MAD one!!!!) I am constantly asking myself the same question; when will he leave me alone?, when will he get bored of this? What can I do to stop his bizarre behaviour and jealousy towards me?
    Sometimes I try to think positively and think it’s only a matter of time other times I just think this is his mental health problem and if he doesn’t realise he has a problem both my son and I are going to be subjected to this forever.
    I feel for you and every other man and woman on here who are going through what we are, I just want to know… what can be done about these dangerous people.
    All the best

  34. Claudia,
    I completely agree with what you say, do you also think they do it because they project their problems on you and expect you to solve everything. I saw this with my ex, a classic irresponsible person. When the chips were down it was my fault and I saw the glee when I couldn’t do anything, however if it was something I could improve he was dead cold and I could almost see envy.
    They set the levels higher and higher each time and every time you have to be able to jump over or face the consequences.
    I see it as a way of them simply wanting to destroy you, to literally tire you out physically, mentally and in any other way. I think this illness is something so complex that we are unable to really comprehend what is going on inside their heads and hearts. Human beings are made to love, hurt and feel emotions and it is as if these people are completely void… are they really human? Can we ever really understand people who don’t have these emotions?
    Claudia, thank you so much for your posts, this website has given me so much information.
    All the best to you all

  35. L, you’re welcome. Yes, psychopaths feel glee when they feel they defeated you. And the more you give in, the more they raise the bar or add hoops for you to jump through. That’s why setting boundaries from the beginning is so important. Claudia

  36. This is all horrific to understand, but I don’t doubt for a moment it is true. For me, this totally undermines my whole understanding of life, and would for everyone if they knew.

    As a historian, I have always seen the suffering in the world as a result of complex but largely unavoidable geo-political and socio-economic factors, and we are indeed specifically trained to analyse the factors leading to events. With the rise of Hitler, we always cite factors like the harshness of Versailles and fear of communism, but with so many tragedies, it seems like historians and humanity in general has acted like the typical abused girlfriend in denial, retroactively finding ‘explanations’ for suffering and attributing the motivations of ordinary people to our extraordinary leaders.

    Stalin himself said that all politicians have to be odd to want to do the job and so many events have been swayed by the character of the leader in charge, not just by social factors. Those in charge have priorities totally alien to the people they supposedly represent, and while we all know this to an extent, we have always supposed they may have just had ruthless methods in service of moral goals (Machiavellianism) or a corrupt serving of their own needs with indifference to the people’s suffering, but never that the mental and physical enslavement and destruction of the populace were not methods, but goals in themselves.

    This new perspective rewrites history from the clash between nations and ideas and armies, painful but necessary for the survival of societies, genes and memes, to truly senseless destruction, oppression and misery. This, combined with some studies which show that only about 5% of soldiers actually shoot to kill in action (roughly the psychopathic proportion), makes war seems less about battles and more psychopaths on both sides lining up and killing average humans.

    The shocking overall truth of political ponerology is not that suffering is due to a natural flaw in general human nature, but mainly the result of sadism. We can talk forever about the reasons for war and genocide, but the soul-destroying, almost cheat answer everyone refuses to accept is that major events often happen through randomness and malicious boredom.

    Excellent blog.

  37. Helen, welcome to this blog. I am a huge fan of history and write historical fiction, so I too believe in the force of socio-economic factors in shaping our individual and collective destinies. But, like you, I’ve learned through my studies of psychology that there are also very important psychological factors that can’t be ignored when we look at history, since they are so strong. Particularly as they pertain to sociopathic dictators and leaders, like Hitler and Stalin, who have probably caused more destruction in this world than natural forces. There is an excellent blog on this subject which you may already know about,, which is run by Harrison Koehli, who studies political ponerology and also wrote an excellent analysis about Neil Entwistle as Psychopath which I’ve cited before. Claudia

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