Recently the translator of my psychopathy blog in Italian, Relazioni Pericolose (www.relazionipericoloseblog.wordpress.com), has conveyed to me some of the questions that Italian readers have about psychopathy. Since I think that these questions are equally relevant to English-speaking readers, I’m including below their questions and my answers:
QUESTIONS/ANSWERS ABOUT RELAZIONI PERICOLOSE/DANGEROUS LIAISONS by Claudia Moscovici
Has the psychopath a sort of addiction from emotions? Is his obsession for his prey similar to the obsession that a victim experiences toward him?
Yes and no. The psychopath is, above all, an emotional predator. He (or she, if the psychopath is a woman) gets high on the sense of power that controlling others, and seeing them addicted to him, creates. He also becomes obsessed with hooking new victims, and can invest a lot of energy in getting them to believe the fictions he creates: that he loves them, cares about them, and will give them everything that they want (be it happiness, love, wealth, etc.). However, the psychopath’s emotions are at the same time very shallow. A psychopath is incapable of forming real, caring and deep attachments to others. So even his obsessions—and thus the “highs” he experiences when he hooks new victims–tend to be shallow and fleeting. He moves from one victim from another; from one high to another.
What determines boredom?
A psychopath’s boredom is created by the fact he (or she) has no emotional depth. He can’t care much about others; he has no enduring bonds that aren’t based on mutual interest, or mutual using. Every human contact for the psychopath is a power game, one that he plans to win. Normal people avoid boredom by finding meaning in their personal relationships, caring about those close to them, caring about their jobs and endeavors. Nothing of the sort can root a psychopath, so he’s constantly looking for new relationships, new jobs and places, new sources of diversion and pleasure. But sooner or later they all bore him.
What determines the duration of the three different phases of the relation?
There are many variables in how the process of idealize, devalue and discard plays out in a relationship with a psychopath: such as whether the psychopath is charismatic enough to find many victims; whether the victim proves a challenge to him or is easy to get; for how long the victim is useful to the psychopath; and how much a victim accepts the eventual mistreatment. Some victims never leave the psychopath no matter how much he abuses them. The toxic bond becomes too strong; their self-esteem has been worn down; they feel like they are nothing without the psychopath. There are also some victims who begin to adopt psychopathic traits (lack of empathy, shallowness of emotions, pleasure in hurting others) either because they had such tendencies or because the psychopath encourages such behavior.
Can he feel happiness? What does it mean for him?
If happiness implies depth of emotion, caring about others, then no, the psychopath can’t feel that. But a psychopath often feels emotional thrills or highs when he gets his way, succeeds at a new conquest or endeavor, or wins some kind of battle with someone.
Why do psychopaths repeat the same mistakes relationship after relationship and why don’t they ever learn from them?
Psychopaths never learn because they don’t want to learn from their mistakes. They don’t consider them to be mistakes. Psychopaths are highly narcissistic and amoral individuals who take no responsibility for their wrongdoing. If something goes wrong, they blame it on others. If they hurt their victims, they blame their victims. Often they take great pleasure in hurting others. Sometimes psychopaths do go to therapy to “improve” a relationship, but that occurs only when it’s in their perceived self-interest to stay in that relationship and it’s always a ruse (they fool their partners, the therapist, their family into believing they can and want to change for the better).
Do psychopaths remember their protoemotions after the end of the relation or are they able to delete them completely?
Psychopaths may recall the sense of the excitement they felt at the beginning of a relationship, but they don’t feel any real, deeper attachment for the person who provoked it. In other words, they remember fondly their excitement, not their partner or relationship. This is why psychopaths tend to search for a new person or, more likely, persons, that can provoke in them the same excitement while forgetting about the past person or persons they felt excitement with.
You’re always talking about psychopaths. Are there deep differences between them and malignant narcissists?
There are differences between psychopaths and narcissists in that all psychopaths are narcissistic (self-absorbed, selfish) but not all narcissists are psychopathic (engage in game-like behavior, are pathological liars, etc.). However, malignant narcissists have such high narcissism that they’re very close to psychopaths on the psychological spectrum.
What does a psychopath feel after his prey escapes?
Very often, anger. Rage. This is why the most dangerous period of time for a victim is right after she’s escaped from a psychopath or any kind of abuser, when he’s likely to be very angry that his possession, or someone he controlled, has dared to leave him.
When he’s hovering is he always in bad faith? Does he hope to change?
A psychopath may feel that it’s in his immediate interest to make some changes to please his spouse, his family, his friends, etc. But those changes are momentary, and always based on short-term, perceived self-interest. They’re not other-regarding in any way. So my answer is that psychopaths won’t make any positive difference for the sake of others in an enduring manner.
During the idealization stage is he aware of the dramatic end of the relationship for his fault or could he hope to have found Mrs. Right?
Psychopaths have only fleeting feelings, so at some moments a psychopath may feel so excited by a partner that he may feel he found “Mrs. Right.” But, at the same time, psychopaths are always strategic and manipulative and their feelings are always very shallow. So the “Mrs. Right” of one day, or one month, or one year isn’t going to be the same one as the next day, month or year. The concept of “Mrs. Right” or “true love” has no real meaning for a psychopath because he can’t really love.
What is the exposure effect? What does he feel when a girlfriend expose him?
Anger and derision. In fact, often a psychopath will preemptively smear his victim—try to destroy her reputation to acquaintances and friends—so that when the victim exposes his behavior to others they won’t believe her.
The Italian blog Relazioni Pericolose has reached almost 20.000 hits in one month. It seems that Italian women need advice and counseling. Why is psychopathy is so little known?
Psychopathy is a big problem—affecting tens of millions of lives—all over the world. Although psychopaths constitute a small percentage of the human population—between 1 to 4 percent, depending which statistics you rely on—they are very sociable and promiscuous and therefore touch (and destroy) many lives. The popular perception about psychopaths is that they’re serial killers or murderers. So most people feel relatively safe, like they won’t run into a psychopath. The reality is that few psychopaths murder. So most people don’t realize that they have very high chances of interacting with more “ordinary” psychopaths: serial cheaters, serial frauds and serial liars, rather than serial killers. The blogs on psychopathy that are informed by research, such as this one, and now the blog in Italian translation, Relazioni Pericolose (www.relazionipericoloseblog.wordpress.com), can reach millions of readers because they bring the reality of psychopathy home. Pathological relationships can touch your life. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship, it may have been with a psychopath. Few people are immune from harmful relationships. Information can help all of us to identify dangerous relationships, or as the name of my book on psychopathy indicates, Dangerous Liaisons. Because, let’s face it, the most toxic relationships are romantic relationships with predatory individuals. They can cause unbelievable harm, but with knowledge we can heal and move on with our lives.
Today Italian Blog Relazioni Pericolose is one month old. We have already had thousands and thousands of visits. It seems like Italian women need help, through therapy, specific books and finding each other on recovery forums on the Internet. What is your first advice for a fast and safe healing?
My advice to Italian women is first of all to find well-researched information on abusive relationships, psychopathy and narcissism, in reliable blogs and books. Without such information it’s easy to “normalize” abuse. In the case of charismatic psychopaths, it’s easy to remember the excitement of the honeymoon phase, attribute it to “romantic love”, and then find reasons for its dissipation and later abuse in themselves instead of their disordered partners. In Latin cultures, such as Italy, France and my native country Romania, it’s easy to mistake even negative traits, such as jealousy, possessiveness and the controlling nature of psychopaths, for passion. But Don Juan is appealing only in opera and fiction. In real life, such personalities spell disaster. Accepting that the romantic phase of a pathological relationship was never about love or even passion, but about conquest, dupery and a new thrill for the psychopath is very important. Then, once victims seek information and establish that they’ve been roped in by a pathological partner, escape and go “no contact”. Each contact with a psychopath offers him an opportunity for him to rope you in, manipulate you and harm you again, usually even worse than before. This doesn’t mean living in fear of him. It means leaving him behind and never engaging again with others that share his personality traits.
Getting over a relationship with a psychopath can be difficult when children, even adult children, are involved. How can one protect them from manipulation and abuse from their father? How can one reduce the risk that they will grow up like him?
Psychopathy can be genetic, in which case there’s little that can be done. One sees some children who grow up beloved, and still turn out psychopathic as adults. However, it’s more common that psychopaths are made: by abuse, trauma, or bad examples. If one parent identifies a personality disorder in the other parent, the best solution for the safety of the children is to divorce the pathological parent and gain full custody so that the children have as little contact as possible with the pathological. Nothing good can come out of contact with a pathological parent. The risk of abuse is high and even if the pathological doesn’t sexually or physically abuse the child or children, he or she subjects them to manipulation and brainwashing which are also harmful.
How do you stop the psychopath’s devastating effect upon the society? Wouldn’t it be necessary to increse people’s awareness not only with books such as yours, blogs and the media, but also through the involvement of schools and legislative recognition of this social phenomenon?
Yes, certainly increasing awareness of this psychological phenomenon in schools and through laws would be very helpful. In the United States we’ve seen the success of such measures in the anti-bullying campaigns that have gained currency in public schools. The emphasis should be on the harmful actions of psychopaths, just as they are on the harmful actions of bullies (some of whom are psychopathic in fact). Actions are easier to identify than a diagnosis of psychopathology. Rather than labelling people as “psychopaths” we should be aware of the symptoms but above all focus on their harmful actions.
The sales of books about psychopathy and the popularity of blogs about personality disorders would indicate that psychopaths are far more numerous than the statistics indicate (that they are between 1 and 4 percent of the population). What does this discrepancy mean? The phenomenon is more alarming then the percentage would suggest. Maybe simple “assholes” are misread by psychopaths?
Sometimes they may be, indeed, just assholes. However we have to keep in mind that psychopaths tend to be very sociable and sexually promiscuous. One single psychopath can have hundreds of sexual partners, and feign romance and love to many of those. So a few psychopaths can touch many lives. Similarly, when psychopaths acquire political power—as in the case of Stalin, Hitler, Mao and other evil dictators—their policies can influence the behavior of the entire population, degrading and even destroying human ethics. So sometimes it only takes a few psychopaths to adversely affect tens of millions of lives.
One of the main problems is the victims’ attitudes. Many victims choose to stay in the relationship even once they discover the pathology. They know perfectly well the cause, the pathology. They are perfectly aware that the psychopath is not going to change but they don’t leave him. Often when they’re left by him they still miss him. Is the main problem psychopathy or the love addiction? Which are the weaknesses that victims must work on to escape from the next predator?
This is a very good question, since we have no control over a psychopath, but we can have some control over whom we choose to be with and how we deal with the trauma that the psychopath causes. Psychopaths create love and sexual addictions. They come on strong, shower us with flattery, promise us whatever we wish. They tend to be far more romantic and sexual and tender initially than normal men. But it’s all an act to acquire power over us to do as they please with our lives, our property. So once we come to this realization, we must learn to let go of the past as well as examine what in our natures needed what the psychopath offered. Why do we need the exaggerated romance, or sex, or gifts, or flattery? Why do we fall for the individuals who offer it? Escaping the psychopathic bond involves identifying the pathological traits in the psychopath and our own propensity to be attracted to some of those pathological traits.
Is it possible to have a double personality: one, a psychopath with mistresses and lovers—cold, cunning, deceptive and uncaring—and another with the wife and kids—caring, a good husband and father.
A psychopath shows his true self—the cold, manipulative, cunning side—to those he needs less. If a psychopath feels he needs his wife and children for his image, he will put more effort in creating the mask of a good father and husband. When he wants to divorce his wife, he’ll show his true ugly self. Either way, a psychopath is “good” only as a fake act with those he feels he needs at the moment. None of his good—and by that I mean other-regarding–qualities are real.
What is the effect of his public exposure: shame, missing the victim or revenge?
Usually anger, revenge and ridicule of the victim. A psychopath doesn’t feel shame. He may fake shame in certain circumstances, when convenient for him, but he doesn’t feel it. And a psychopath misses using certain people at times. But he doesn’t miss people in themselves, for who they are rather than what they can offer him.
It’s very common for victims to feel a hunger for revenge. What is the best revenge and, above all, how can a victim get over it?
The desire for justice is well-founded. The desire for revenge, however, is self-destructive. It eats victims alive, makes them dwell on the painful past and, ironically, keeps them emotionally attached to the psychopath, even if in a negative sense. So victims must do what they can to get legal justice, when appropriate, but not foster feelings of revenge. Living well is the best revenge.
How should the victim behave in case he or she meets the psychopath by chance?
If the victim has been successful at implementing no contact, I would continue that policy and, if possible, act as if she never knew the psychopath and like he or she was never a part of one’s life.
Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness
Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction