Instead of the Cult of Self-Improvement Cultivate Self-Respect

Self-respect is essential for survival. It is a form of self-love that solidifies our identities and protects us from dangerous pathologicals. Self-respect gives us definition and boundaries. Unlike the absolute narcissism of toxic indviduals, self-respect (and self-love) does not entail the exploitation of others nor is it a total self-absorption.  It is also very different from the idolatry that psychopaths commonly engage in during the luring phase of the relationship, when they flatter and love bomb you, in order to manipulate and control you.

In earlier posts I explained that a psychopath controls those who need him for a sense of self-worth and meaning in life. Any woman may be initially hooked by a psychopath during the seduction phase of the relationship. But those who stay with him of their own volition once his mask of charm comes off often suffer from an extreme form of dependency. They have little or no independent self-worth and need the psychopath’s periodic validation to feel sexy or attractive or brilliant or like a good mother and wife: whatever form of validation they need depends upon him.

 “Willing” victims of psychopaths and other control-driven individuals are not necessarily suffering from low self-esteem in a conventional sense of the term. In fact, they may have a very high opinion of themselves. But they do suffer from a highly dependent or mediated self-esteem. They need a “special” person’s control to feel good about themselves and to get a sense of meaning in life. These are the most loyal and promising  long-term victims for psychopaths, who stand by the disordered individuals no matter what they do wrong.  They give their psychopathic partners a kind of absolute power over the lives in a similar manner that cult followers do to their pathological leaders.

In so doing, they relinquish agency and control over their lives. Such highly susceptible individuals may stay with a psychopath even once he stops validating them on a regular basis, and offers only tokens of praise or fake “respect” from time to time. By that time, they’re already trauma bonded to the psychopath, which may keep them emotionally and mentally enslaved to him for life.  The psychopath uses such dependent personalities for his own destructive purposes. He never offers them any genuine love, though he may offer them the false validation they so desperately need.

In life, you gain peace and fulfillment from your own healthy self-esteem and from cultivating a respectful attitude towards others. This sense of balance is largely internal. Nobody else can give it to you. There are literally thousands of “how-to” and “self-help” books on the market. They claim to help people find their inner balance in all sorts of ways: through yoga, Pilates, other mind-body exercises, improving their looks or increasing their sexual stamina. I suspect that most of them work about as well as the perennial miracle diets. They may produce some immediate results. But they rarely fundamentally change a person or improve the quality of his or her life in the long run. Some of them, such as the retreats run by James Arthur Ray, a very popular self-help guru, are extremely dangerous, bordering on cults run by disordered leaders who enjoy controlling others, milking them of their money, and pushing their limits even to the point of death:

http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/r/james_arthur_ray/index.html

To improve yourself more enduringly, you need to cultivate a healthy perception of who you are and know what you want from lifeDysfunctional lives and relationships often stem from character distortions, such as the ones I’ve described so far, which leave you dependent upon the perceptions of others to gain a sense of self-worth. Those most likely to exploit such neediness or vanity are not those who have your best interests in mind. They’re likely to be individuals who want to use and control you. There’s no magical step-by–step procedure that can give you a healthy self-esteem. Just as losing weight depends upon having a healthy, moderate attitude towards your body, so improving your self-image depends upon having a healthy attitude towards your mind. “Know thyself,” the ancient Greeks advised. This, like so much of their practical wisdom, is very good advice.

This is not to say that moderation, or what Aristotle called the mean between two extremes, is always the answer to everything. Nobody can be equally good and equally bad at everything. We all have a combination of weaknesses and strengths. Knowing yourself, in my estimation, means using your strengths to improve your life and the lives of others rather than to appear superior to them or to gain their approval. Being an artistic or mathematical “genius,” or being very popular and beautiful–however exceptional you may be in some respects–doesn’t entitle you to special treatment. It also doesn’t justify you mistreating others in any way. In other words, your strengths shouldn’t feed your vanity, as they do for narcissists and psychopaths, just as your weaknesses shouldn’t cripple you.

Reaching an inner balance also requires having the right motivation for your endeavors. For instance, don’t create art to impress others or to become famous. Create to offer yet another instance of beauty and meaning to enrich your life and perhaps also the lives of others. Don’t write books to become rich or consecrated. Write to express a talent that makes you happy and that may contribute some human wisdom that is best expressed more creatively. Don’t give to charity or behave nicely to others to be considered generous and kind. Help those in need and be a genuinely decent human being.

If you have a healthy self-image, your strengths and talents will radiate primarily from within. They will give energy to others rather than being absorbed from without, by depending upon their external validation. Similarly, having a healthy self-esteem entails working on your weaknesses without allowing them to haunt you, to become deep-seated insecurities that malicious individuals can exploit. Such a healthy attitude towards yourself and your life therefore implies some detachment from the views of others: from how they perceive you, what they expect from you and what they say about you.

Of course, none of us live in a vacuum. We’re all partially influenced by the views and expectations of our partners, our families, our colleagues, our friends and society in general, as we well should be. But those with a healthy self-esteem are not determined primarily by others. For as long as they behave decently to other human beings, they don’t fold under when their partners, family members, friends or peers criticize them. They also don’t lose their self-esteem when they fail at some of their own goals. Conversely, they don’t feel superior to others just because some people praise them or because they attain some level of success or even fame. Success and fame, like the criticism and praise of others in general, comes and goes. Knowing who you are and what you have to contribute can last a lifetime.

The main thing that can save you from a psychopath–or from any other manipulative person who wants to take over your life–is cultivating a healthy self-esteem. This may seem like a truism. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of common sense that many know but fewer actually practice. Any therapist will tell you that he or she stays in business largely because of people’s unrealistic perception of themselves. Character distortions not only damage our self-confidence, but also taint our relationships. They make us excessively vain, or needy, or inflexible, or too willing to bend over backwards just to please others. More seriously, character disorders, such as psychopathy and malignant narcissism, are unfixable in adults.

Fortunately, however, most people don’t suffer from such constitutive emotional and moral deficiencies. More commonly, we suffer from distorted perceptions of ourselves. This puts us at risk of falling into the clutches of controlling individuals. To find your compass you need to look within, as the Greeks wisely advised. Ultimately, nobody else can save you. You can save yourself by living well, which depends upon knowing your worth–neither underestimating nor overestimating it–and pursuing with a mostly internally driven self-confidence the path you want to take in life.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction



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Psychopaths and Stalking

Paradoxically, psychopaths are egomaniacs without pride. Their shamelessness, lack of boundaries and hunger for control often leads them to relentlessly pursue individuals who don’t want them, and who repeatedly reject them. Normal human beings not only don’t desire to stalk others because they have boundaries, but also they would feel too deeply embarrassed and humiliated to continue pursuing individuals who have rejected them over and over again.

This common sense logic does NOT apply to psychopaths. In fact, like in the movie Fatal Attraction and many other films about disordered creepy individuals, psychopaths ESPECIALLY pursue those who don’t want them. Not only directly, through stalking and cyberstalking, but also indirectly, by manipulating other individuals under their control to stalk and harass the targets who have rejected them.

Being social predators driven by the need for power and control, psychopaths can’t take rejection. Like with any predatory behavior, observing, following and stalking the prey is part and parcel of what psychopaths do. Sometimes their harmful behavior is opportunistic, as is the case with serial killers who seize the moment–and their victims–without observing them for an extended period of time in advance. But very often psychopaths plan their actions cold-heartedly and methodically in advance: and not only as they pertain to violent crimes, but also as they pertain to getting anything they want: your money, your body, your heart and/or your life.

At the beginning of the relationship stalking behavior may seem romantic. It’s presented under the guise of not being able to be away from you; needing you all the time, wanting you. However, this constant attention masks the predator’s main intent: to control you and isolate  you from others. Consequently, even in the most pleasant and blinding phase of a relationship with a psychopath–the honeymoon phase–dangerous individuals exhibit predatory behavior and traits.

After the victim ends a relationship with a psychopath, this behavior is likely to escalate into downright stalking. This happens for the reasons I have explained in previous articles:

1) psychopaths, being control-driven individuals, can’t take rejection

2) psychopaths, being control-driven, also don’t like to relinquish control over their targets

3) psychopaths, being control-driven, want to WIN. To them, winning means catching their targets into their spider’s nets and destroying them

4) psychopaths, being control-driven, want to exact vengeance and intimidate those who no longer worship them, want them, or obey them blindly.

Notice that the common denominator that explains psychopathic behavior is the fact that psychopaths need to be IN CONTROL. They are principally motivated by the need to exercise power over others. Stalking behavior is a common strategy that psychopaths use to intimidate their non-compliant victims and an effort to punish them and regain control. For their victims, this is particularly difficult to deal with because stalking laws vary from state to state and because stalking–particularly cyberstalking–is very difficult to establish under the current laws. Generally speaking, one must establish a pattern of stalking as well as harmful intent and threat to safety: all from the same source/stalker. Since stalkers can be very stealthy and know how to erase their traces, reroute their IP address and easily get new email addresses, it’s not easy to take legal action against a psychopathic (cyber)stalker.

However, I’d advise victims to keep all the emails and evidence of (cyber)stalking and share it immediately with the authorities, their therapist, their friends and others. The more evidence is out there which pertains to the harassment, the better your chances become for taking effective legal action against the psychopath and even putting him in jail for his crime. I’m including below some additional helpful information about stalking laws from the National Center for Victims of Crime.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Analyzing Stalking Laws (information from the National Center for Victims of Crime)

http://www.ncvc.org/src/AGP.Net/Components/DocumentViewer/Download.aspxnz?DocumentID=41531

Stalking is generally defined as a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a

reasonable person fear.  The crime of stalking is defined differently, however, in all 50 states, the

District of Columbia, and on tribal and federal lands.* When analyzing your stalking statute, please

consider the following elements and issues:

 Course of Conduct

A course of conduct is typically defined as one or more intentional acts that evidence a continuity of 

purpose.

• Is your state’s law “course of conduct” language inclusive of all behaviors that stalkers employ,

such as using surveillance technology (e.g., GPS-equipped cell phones) or enlisting third parties

(e.g., family and friends) to stalk on their behalf?

• How many acts are required to satisfy the course of conduct element?  Would a single,

threatening posting on a social networking Web site satisfy the element?

Intent Requirement 

States categorize the crime of stalking as either general intent crimes or specific intent crimes.  A stalker

commits a general intent crime when the stalker intends the actions in which he engages.  In states

categorizing stalking as a general intent crime, the prosecution does not have to prove that the stalker

intended the consequences of his actions.  Conversely, when stalking is a specific intent crime, the

stalker must intend to cause the result of his actions (typically the victim’s fear) to commit the crime of

stalking.  Specific intent stalking statutes may be more difficult to prosecute.

• Is your state stalking statute a general intent or specific intent crime?

 Standard of Fear 

Some states require that the defendant’s behavior cause the victim actual fear (which usually requires

the victim to testify as to her feelings or change in lifestyle due to the stalking).  Some states only

require that the behavior would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.  Some states require both actual

fear on the part of the victim and proof that a reasonable person would also feel fear.

• What standard of fear does your stalking statute require?

Copies of all state criminal statutes (as well as the federal statute and some tribal codes) can be found at http://www.ncvc.org/src.

The Psychopath’s Poison Containers

image by Christian Coigny

As everyone who has been involved with a psychopath knows, building a romantic relationship with such a pathological person is like building a house on a foundation of quicksand. Everything shifts and sinks in a relatively short period of time, usually within a year.  Seemingly caring, and often flattering, attention turns into jealousy, domination and control. Enjoying time together becomes isolation from others.

Romantic gifts are replaced with requests, then with demands. Apparent selflessness and other-regarding gestures turn into the most brutal selfishness one can possibly imagine. Confidential exchanges and mutual honesty turn out to be filled with lies about everything: the past, the present as well as the hollow promises for the future. The niceness that initially seemed to be a part of the seducer’s character is exposed as strategic and manipulative, conditional upon acts of submission to his will. Tenderness diminishes and is eventually displaced by a perversion that hints at an underlying, and menacing, sadism.

Mutuality, equality and respect—everything you thought the relationship was founded upon—becomes replaced with hierarchies and double standards in his favor. You can bet that if you’re involved with a psychopath, particularly if he’s also a sex addict, the fidelity he expects of you is not what he’s willing to offer you or any other person. Fidelity becomes nothing more than a one-way street, as he secretly prowls around for innumerable other sexual conquests. If you accept an open relationship, he will treat you as a sex toy or a prostitute whom he pimps to others in a humiliating fashion that reveals his underlying contempt. As the relationship with the psychopath unfolds, Dr. Jekyll morphs into Mr. Hyde.

Because psychopaths need to constantly lure new partners in order to escape boredom as well as to feel excitement and a sense of power over others, they are always in the idealization phase of relationships with several people at the same time. Those are the targets whom they momentarily woe, flatter, collude with, plot against others with and appear to love. Appear is the key word here, since psychopaths can’t love anyone. They simulate love in order to manipulate others, to intoxicate them even, with the potent mixture of flattery, complicity and lies.

Because psychopaths are filled with contempt for human beings, they are also at the same time in the devalue and discard phases with several individuals at the same time. Those are the people they conspire against, criticize, engage in smear campaigns to ruin their reputations, stalk, and sometimes physically threaten or attack. My article on Drew Peterson illustrates this cycle. Each time Drew Peterson was luring a new mistress, he was at the same time treating his current wife as a poison container, upon which to heap blame, insults, threats, slander, and abuse. Then once the new mistress became his current wife, he was seeking new mistresses and treating the wife–or the former mistress–as a poison container for his venom and abuse. As we now know, for him this cycle culminated in murder several times.

Because for psychopaths the image of niceness, caring, true love is always fake–a mask of sanity–they absolutely need to channel their underlying anger and contempt, which are their real, core emotions, upon the targets they have tired of, already used, or who are waking up and starting to realize the horrible individuals they’re involved with. Mr. Jekyll and Dr. Hyde are different facets of the same psychopath: Mr. Jekyll is only a false image used to lure and manipulate targets in the honeymoon phase, and the real psychopath is Mr. Hyde.

Mr. Hyde may be temporarily hiding from casual acquaintances, colleagues, new targets or old allies, but he will always reveal himself in how he treats those he’s already used up and tired of: his poison containers, meaning all the targets that are no longer in the idealization phase. Such poison containers are absolutely necessary for a psychopath who, in reality, can’t stand his own mask of sanity and the effort it takes to fake niceness, to simulate love, or to do things for others in order to get what he wants. 

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Our Strongest Chains: The Power of Denial

The Powers of Denial

Sometimes we become involved with disordered personalities because they have a compelling mask of sanity: they hide effectively their deviant natures and abnormal behavior. But we’ve also seen that psychopaths and other personality disordered individuals can’t maintain that mask on over extended periods of time for three main reasons:

a) they can’t keep straight all the lies and half-truths they tell us and other people, so inconsistencies and contradictions in their false stories start to become obvious in time

b) they don’t put as much effort into maintaining the false front since our value to them diminishes once the newness wears off and once they’ve gotten some of what they want from and

c) psychopaths form relationships in order to exercise control over others, which inevitably turns into  increasingly abusive and unequal relationships

It stands to reason that, after the honeymoon phase, something else blinds us to the truth about the psychopath’s increasingly obvious personality disorder: the power of denial. Sigmund Freud coined the term “denial” to describe a situation when a person is faced with an uncomfortable or difficult to accept fact and denies or rejects it despite all rational evidence that it has occurred. How often do people involved with psychopaths turn a blind eye to clear evidence of their lying and cheating? How often do they rationalize the psychopath’s wrongdoings, blame it on others, find excuses for it or accept the psychopath’s lies, projection of blame and (false) justifications? The more emotionally invested a victim is in the psychopath and the relationship with him, and the more he has succeeded in isolating her from others, the stronger the power of denial becomes.

As the Wikipedia explains, denial can take many forms, but all of them are a kind of willful blindness to an unpleasant reality:

a) simple denial: bracketing or failing to see the psychopath’s wrongdoings and bad character

b) minimisation: rationalizing away the importance of the psychopath’s wrongdoings (for instance, by attributing it to his immaturity, or human fallibility, or a simple mistake, or someone else’s bad influence upon him, etc.)

c) projection: accepting the fact of the wrongdoings, but blaming them on someone or something else

In her book Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them, Susan Forward also explains denial in terms of forgrounding and backgrounding of information. When people become invested in a toxic relationship, no matter how much they suffer as a result of their love addiction to a disordered personality, they foreground every quality they see in the psychopath and the relationship and relegate to the background all the information that contradicts that rosier picture of reality.

What ends up being in the foreground are subjective, fleeting and superficial impressions: such as the fact the psychopath occasionally makes you feel good through flattery or gifts; the fact that, when he wants (something) he  can be charming; the fact that he seems to cast a spell over you and others; the fact he excites you.

All of these “qualities” have nothing to do with what truly counts in a relationship: character. For those who stay long-term with a psychopath or any other personality disordered individual, character becomes relegated to the background precisely because psychopaths lack character. The only way to put up with the psychopath’s constant lying, cheating, manipulation, and exercise of dominance over you is to deny the importance of facts that show what the psychopath IS and focus instead on the superficial impressions and fleeting feelings related to the small (and fake) acts of kindness he sometimes DOES. False image becomes more important than real substance.

Psychopaths do everything in their power to maintain hold over their victims: by lying to them, by isolating them from others, by intimidating them and by rendering them dependent on them. However, the power of denial is the strongest chain that keeps people stuck in a toxic relationship with a person whose evil nature is undeniable.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Review of Donna Andersen’s Red Flags of Love Fraud: Information and Insight

Red Flags of Love Fraud

Donna Andersen, the author of Love Fraud the book  and the website/support group Lovefraud.com, has recently published a new book, called Red Flags of Love Fraud: Ten Signs You’re Dating a Sociopath, which I’d highly recommend for anyone who suspects (or knows) they are with a pathological individual. Psychopaths are extremely dangerous because they lack a heart and conscience but they camouflage that fundamental lack so well. They construct a “mask of sanity” by lying to others and hiding their real motives and identities. With their extraordinary glibness and charm, they come on strong to their potential victims, love bombing them, flattering them, mirroring their interests and personalities–essentially, seducing them–then use them for their selfish and malicious purposes. Since they can’t bond emotionally with others and have no conscience, there’s no limit to the devastation they can cause in people’s lives. Experts estimate that between 1 and 4 percent of the population is psychopathic. Since psychopaths are very sociable and promiscuous, this means that millions of psychopaths in this country alone adversely affect hundreds of millions of lives.

As its title suggests, Red Flags of Love Fraud teaches victims and the general public how to recognize the red flags of the psychopathic bondwhich are far from obvious in the beginning. This book draws upon Donna’s own personal experience (she was married for several years to a psychopathic conman and bigamist named James Montgomery); testimonials and research from lovefraud.com readers (conducted with her lovefraud partner, Dr. Liane Leedom), and–last but not least–a lot of her own analyses of psychopathic behavior and insights about the mindset of victims.

Most books about psychopathy focus primarily on explaining what this personality disorder is, the list of symptoms of the psychopath, and persuading readers why it’s very important to get away from such pathological individuals and establish no contact. This information is essential to what I’d call the first phase of escaping the psychopathic bond: realizing you’ve been conned, emotionally and/or financially, by a dangerous social predator and understanding his pathology. Donna’s book does this as well, with characteristic clarity and conciseness. She also includes anecdotes by victims telling their life experiences which make her book that much more interesting and offer concrete examples that readers can relate to.

But  as a professional writer myself, I’d say that the most distinctive feature of Red Flags of Love Fraud is the quality of the writing, both in content and form. Donna’s writing is well-documented and informed, engaging and psychologically insightful. Insight is when a writer manages to probe deep within, to explain analytically what may be only a vague intuition in the minds of readers. Good writing encourages readers to explore  their psyches, motivations and lives. Insight and introspection are especially important for victims of psychopaths.

It’s not enough to identify the traits of psychopaths and see how they behave and how they manage to manipulate and use us. Victims must also be able to look within in order to recognize some of the qualities and patterns of behavior that left them vulnerable to psychopathic seduction in the first place, so that it won’t happen again. This process isn’t about assuming responsibility for all the evil things the psychopaths did, which are unjustifiable and inexcusable. It’s about owning our power of discretion and choice in the future in seeing that, at least to some extent, we also had it in the past. There were red flags in the relationship early on that we chose to minimize or ignore. This book urges us to explore the reasons why we did that.

To offer an important example, one of the most common way psychopaths initially lure victims, Donna explains, is by a combination of 1) love bombing and flattery; 2) persistence, and 3) mirroring our identities and values, to reveal (a false) sense of compatibility. Love bombing is a process commonly used by cults, such as the Moonies, in the initial phases of attracting new members. It’s highly effective for cults–that are often run by psychopathic leaders–and it works just as well for individual psychopathic seducers.

Donna not only explains each strategy used by the psychopath, but also insightfully analyzes the reasons behind victim response. Love bombing is effective because unless you’re very famous, rich or some kind of celebrity, this kind of over-the-top attention is very rare. Few people are likely to tell you you’re the smartest, most attractive, most accomplished person in the world: first of all because you’re not; secondly because it’s rare to encounter another human being who appreciates you so completely. During the luring or idealization phase, therefore, psychopaths often set themselves apart from other people you’ve dated or befriended through a wooing and romancing that borders on worship.

They are also highly persistent, sometimes persevering for years until they catch and hook you emotionally.  Only once you’re emotionally invested in them they gradually–or, in some cases, abruptly–drop the pretense of love and begin the devaluation and abusePersistence pays off, Donna elaborates, because people tend to associate it with love and commitment. If someone persists in proclaiming their love and pursuing us for month after month, or sometimes even year after year, we’re likely to believe that it’s because they truly care about us. Why else would anyone waste so much energy on a romantic pursuit? As far as psychopaths are concerned, the answer, unfortunately, is because they want power and control.

Psychopaths engage in a game-like hunt or pursuit of the individuals they momentarily desire, hyperfocusing on them like predators upon their prey. That’s also why they commonly engage in cyberstalking and stalking, both before and after a relationship is over. Sometimes, the more you evade their grasp, the more interesting the hunt becomes for them. But they never pursue victims because they love or care about them. Their persistence is about the pleasure of the hunt, to possess, consume and destroy their prey.

When you examine, as this book does, both the psychopath’s behavior and the predispositions and vulnerabilities that led you into this dangerous game, you are more likely not only to recognize the red flags of pathological relationships, but also the qualities that predisposed you to ignore them. Knowledge is a process of acquiring  accurate information and processing it with insightRed Flags of Love Fraud offers both information and insight. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to learn how to identify the danger signs in others as well as to confront the vulnerabilities within. You can purchase this book on Donna Andersen’s lovefraud website, on the link below.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction