Fifty Shades of Sadism: Psychopaths as Lovers

Some of the women who comment about their experiences with psychopaths,  as well as many of those interviewed by Sandra L. Brown, M.A. in Women Who Love Psychopaths, state that psychopaths make good lovers. When you read their comments, however, you see that while superficially that may be true, fundamentally it is false. Psychopaths have low impulse control and are generally very promiscuous. Since they need transgression, risk and variety in their lives, they’re likely to have tried a lot of sexual positions in many locations with numerous partners. Initially, their ample sexual experience can appear exciting even to a normal person. In the honeymoon phase of the relationship, a psychopath is generally hypersexual with you. He’s excited by the chase and the “conquest,” by the novelty, by the fact that he’s (most likely) cheating on other women and on you, as well as by the increasing control he’s exercising over you.

Analogously, from your perspective, the aura of romance, excitement and spontaneity can be very seductive. Initially, it may seem flattering, even if a bit disconcerting, to have a man who seems unable to keep his hands off you anywhere and everywhere, including in public. As social predators, psychopaths tend to stalk their victims, overwhelming them with attention at first. The movie 9 1/2 weeks, staring Kim Basinger and Mickey Roarke, has been interpreted as a superficial erotic movie. But it’s actually a psychologically insightful film about the process of psychopathic seduction. What starts out as a romantic relationship progressively turns into a menacing dominance bond. The man in the movie stalks the heroine and makes her feel desirable and special. He showers her with attention and gifts. But those don’t come free. For instance, he gives her an expensive watch and tells her to look at it and think of him every day at a certain time. He ends up controlling her thoughts, her feelings and her sexuality. He begins by being very sensual and affectionate, but eventually induces her to engage in perverse sexual acts that she feels uncomfortable with. He pushes the envelope further and further to the point where she becomes just a puppet in his hands. Fortunately, she realizes this and escapes his control before she’s seriously damaged. In real life, however, many women aren’t so lucky.

It may seem exciting to play erotic games or to talk in a raunchy manner. But, over time, this behavior begins to feel strange and uncomfortable. What’s worse, it also becomes normative, since psychopaths enjoy controlling you. They tell you how to dress and what to do or say to please them. They tell you what make-up to wear or to wear no make-up at all. Some psychopaths instruct women to dress very modestly, to cover themselves practically from head to toe, so that they won’t tempt other men. Others, on the contrary, prefer that their women dress provocatively even in public, to demean them and satisfy their penchant for transgression. Many psychopaths engage in rape and other forms of domestic violence. Even giving you pleasure gives them a sense of power.

Eventually, psychopaths need more transgression, more depraved and sadistic acts, harder pornographic material, more sleazy places, more sexual partners and configurations, more everything, to derive the same degree of enjoyment from sex. You begin to feel like a sex toy, nothing more than an object, rather than the cherished, attractive human being you thought you were in your partner’s eyes. It’s no news that most women prefer to be both. We want to be desired as sex objects but also loved and appreciated as individuals. Unfortunately, psychopaths can’t deliver both. Of course, they often convincingly fake feelings of love in the beginning. But, fundamentally, they can only view and treat you as a sex object that increasingly loses its appeal over time. After the honeymoon phase ends, there’s no real sense of individuality with psychopaths. Sexual partners are interchangeable to them. You’re placed in constant competition with other women. As we know, psychopaths constantly seek new “opportunities” to fulfill their insatiable desires. They’re always ready to “upgrade.” To compensate for the fact that you may be exchanged for a newer, younger, hotter, richer or simply different model at any point in the relationship, you need to do more and more things to satisfy the psychopath. Which is exactly what he wants from you in the first place: a total capitulation to his will.

Psychopathic lovers project upon their partners the fantasy of what psychologists call the “omniavailable woman.” They envision a partner who’s always turned on, always at their beck and call, always sexually available to them anytime and everywhere. They want a woman who makes love to them as easily in the privacy of their bedroom as in the public space of a movie theater or a parking lot. Men’s magazines play upon this fantasy as well. But in real, loving, relationships your moral and sexual boundaries are respected without the fear (or the implicit threat) that you’ll be punished for having such restraints. That doesn’t happen in psychopathic bonds. In those, it’s guaranteed that you’ll be punished–with infidelity, emotional withdrawal, abandonment, divorce, psychological and sometimes even physical abuse–if you don’t comply with the psychopath’s requests. Of course, this emotional blackmail is itself only a sordid joke. The psychopath betrays you whether or not you meet his demands. The only question is: does he do it openly, to torment you, or behind your back, to deceive you?

Although being a plaything may seem initially exciting, a woman who becomes a psychopath’s sexual partner loses her autonomy in a relationship where she’s supposed to be, like some wound-up inflatable doll with holes, always available to that man for his sexual gratification (or else…). In time, she realizes that she isn’t loved in any meaningful sense of the term. That, in fact, her needs and desires don’t really matter to him. That just about any other woman could have been used in the same manner and for the same purposes. That many others already are. She’s neither unique nor irreplaceable in her lover’s eyes, as he initially made her feel. She’s generic and disposable to him. She then sees that the multidimensional man she thought cared about her is nothing but an empty shell. His charming exterior masks a completely hollow interior. He can’t love her. He can only own her. Not even exclusively, but as part of his collection.

With a possession, one can do anything at all. An object has no independent will, no separate needs, no sensibilities. Over time, sex with a psychopath begins to feel contrived, cold and mechanical. It becomes an exercise in obedience rather than a bond based on mutual pleasure and affection. Because psychopaths grow easily bored of the same acts, places, positions and persons, the sexual experience becomes tainted by perverse acts at her expense. The bottom line is that psychopaths are lovers who don’t care about their partners. If they give them pleasure, it’s only to make themselves feel more powerful and potent, not because they consider another person’s needs. In addition, since psychopaths get a rise out of harming the people they’re intimately involved with, they’re sadistic lovers: always emotionally, often physically as well. Once they’ve “conquered” you, they start asking you to do things that are degrading or that hurt. What you may do as a fun experiment once or a few times becomes a “non-negotiable” element of your sexual repertoire. You’re asked to do it over and over again, whether or not you enjoy it.

For psychopaths, the games normal people play to spice up their sex lives constitute their whole existence. There’s no other reality, a world of empathy, compassion and caring outside of or even within the context of the sexual relationship. Psychopaths live and breathe in the realm of fantasy. They have no concept of standing by you during difficult times or of coping with your bad moods, illnesses, sadness or disappointments. You’ll often feel alone and abandoned with a psychopath whenever you aren’t satisfying his immediate needs. Moreover, when psychopaths listen to your troubles, it’s usually to draw them out and make you feel weaker and more dependent on them. It’s never because they genuinely care; never because they want you to overcome hardships and become a stronger person. On the contrary, psychopaths cultivate your weaknesses (they make them feel superior by comparison) and prey upon your vulnerabilities. The games they play, both sexual and emotional, are the only reality that counts for them; the only reality they know.

Psychopathic lovers may initially appear to be oceans of raging passion. However, once the honeymoon phase is over, you come to realize that they’re only dirty little puddles. The chemistry between you is as shallow as their so-called love. Compare how the psychopath treated you in the beginning of the relationship to how he’s treating you later on. You’ll notice a drastic reduction in excitement, in interest, in affection, in pleasure and in romance. You’ll sense a mechanization of the sex acts.  You’ll observe an escalation in control, demands, humiliation, domination and perhaps even violence. You’ll see that for a psychopath affection, communication and tenderness become transparently instrumental as the relationship unfolds. At first, he was “nice” to you almost all the time. Later in the relationship, however, he’s attentive and affectionate mostly when he wants something from you. Affection becomes his tool of conditioning you like an animal. He gives out little pellets of nice words and tenderness to get you to do what he wants. Conversely, he doesn’t give you any positive reinforcement when you don’t comply with his wishes. The rest of the time– which is to say, in regular day-to-day life–you feel neglected, ignored and unwanted. You struggle like a fish on land to recapture the magical attraction you experienced together in the beginning.

As lovers, psychopaths represent a contradiction in terms. They’re lovers who can’t love. This contradiction may not be obvious at first, when the psychopath is smitten with you and pursuing you intensely. But it becomes painfully apparent over time. If you don’t grow numb to the mistreatment or take refuge in denial, you come to realize that everything that counts is missing from the relationship that seemed to have it all.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


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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


Red Flags: How to Identify a Psychopathic Bond

The most important self-defense against psychopathic seducers consists of recognizing the initial warning signals so that you can escape the relationship early on, hopefully before you’re seriously harmed.  Dr. Joseph Carver has put together a helpful and instructive list outlining the early symptoms of a dangerous relationship with a psychopath, or as he puts it quite aptly, with “a Loser.” As we’ve already seen in the previous account of Drew Peterson’s behavior, not all the signs of psychopathic seduction are obviously negative.  But, as we’ll see, even the symptoms that seem positive (such as the instant attachment and over-the-top attention, flattery and gifts) are in fact negative. Similarly, Carver notes that the Loser doesn’t have to exhibit all of the symptoms listed below to be dangerous. The presence of even three of these symptoms indicates a potentially harmful relationship. Anything above this number points to not just probable, but certain harm. Carver begins by defining “the Loser”: “‘The Loser’ is a type of partner that creates much social, emotional and psychological damage in a relationship… The following list is an attempt to outline the characteristics of ‘The Loser’ and provide a manner in which women and men can identify potentially damaging relationships before they are themselves severely damaged emotionally or even physically.” (drjoecarver.com)

1.     The Loser will Hurt you on Purpose. “If he or she hits you, twists your arm, pulls your hair, kicks you, shoves you, or breaks your personal property even once, drop them,” Carver advises. As we’ve seen, Drew Peterson escalated the abuse of his partners. He began with criticism, went on to name-calling and moved on to physical violence and (probably) murder. It’s very important to get away from a Loser at the slightest hint of violence, including verbal aggression, since abuse usually increases in frequency and severity over time.

2.     Quick Attachment and Expression. “The Loser,” Carver notes, “has very shallow emotions and connections with others. One of the things that might attract you to the Loser is how quickly he or she says ‘I Love You’ or wants to marry or commit to you. Typically, in less than a few weeks of dating you’ll hear that you’re the love of their life, they want to be with you forever, and they want to marry you. You’ll receive gifts, a variety of promises, and be showered with their attention and nice gestures.” Drew Peterson and other dangerous seducers wouldn’t get any partners, much less attractive young women, if they showed their true colors from the very beginning. Psychopaths generally pour on the romance. They deluge their targets with flattery, promises and gifts at the beginning of the relationship. No matter how promiscuous they actually are, they focus their energies on their most desirable targets. Yet, Carver cautions, this seemingly positive sign is, in fact, also negative. It signals shallowness of emotions rather than strength of love. He elaborates, “Normal, healthy individuals require a long process to develop a relationship because there is so much at stake… The rapid warm-up is always a sign of shallow emotions which later cause the Loser to detach from you as quickly as they committed.” Which is exactly what Drew Peterson  (and others like him) did after seducing each of his partners. As easily as he attached to them initially, he later detached from them to pursue his next conquest(s).

3.     Frightening Temper. Sooner or later the Loser reveals his hot temper. Carver states that Losers often begin with indirect violence—such as demonstratively hitting the wall with their fist or throwing objects—before they start pushing, punching or hitting their partners. The physical outbursts towards inanimate objects function as a form of intimidation. Through such behavior, Losers show their targets that they’re capable of doing the same thing to them.  Such outbursts also train the partners to become gradually habituated to acts of violence.

4.     Killing Your Self-Confidence. Losers generally prefer flings and short-term affairs, which provide constant new thrills. They also engage in long-term relationships, however, to gain more lasting control over certain more promising targets. It’s nearly impossible to control strong human beings who have clear boundaries and a healthy self-esteem. This is why psychopaths eventually move from the initial over-the-top flattery to scathing criticism. Once they have secured their chosen partners in their grasp, they put them down to erode their self-esteem. Carver states that, for instance, Losers “constantly correct your slight mistakes, making you feel ‘on guard’, unintelligent, and leaving you with the feeling that you are always doing something wrong… This gradual chipping away at your confidence and self-esteem allows them to later treat you badly–as though you deserved it.” According to Tracy’s and Stacy’s families and friends, after seducing them, Drew undermined both women’s self-confidence. His assertion that he pampered Stacy by indulging her obsession with plastic surgery rings false. By way of contrast, her friends’ and family’s claim that he criticized her to the point that she felt compelled to make constant “improvements” in her physical appearance sounds much more plausible. Stacy’s growing insecurity also placed her under Drew’s power to determine how she felt about herself.

5.     Cutting Off Your Support. In the wild, predators isolate their prey from the rest of the herd to better attack and devour it. That’s precisely what psychopaths do to their targets. Losers isolate their partners from their friends, colleagues and families. They may do so through overt criticism and by following them around when they meet with others, as Drew did to Stacy. Sometimes they opt for more subtle manipulation, such as by covertly turning the victim against her own family and friends (and vice versa).  As Carver observes, “The Loser feels your friends and family might influence you or offer negative opinions about their behavior… Eventually, rather than face the verbal punishment, interrogation, and abuse, you’ll develop the feeling that it’s better not to talk to family and friends. You will withdraw from friends and family, prompting them to become upset with you.”

6.     The Mean and Sweet Cycle. As we recall, Drew Peterson bought his wife a motorcycle and expensive jewelry even during the period of time when he was criticizing her, throwing her up against the wall, isolating her from her loved ones, accusing her of infidelity and calling her pejorative names. If they were consistently mean or violent, psychopaths wouldn’t be able to hold on to their partners. Which is why, as Dr. Carver observes, “The Loser cycles from mean to sweet and back again. The cycle starts when they are intentionally hurtful and mean. You may be verbally abused, cursed, and threatened over something minor. Suddenly, the next day they become sweet, doing all those little things they did when you started dating.” The period of sweetness leads the partners of Losers to cling to the relationship in the misguided hope of finding what psychologist Susan Forward calls “the magic key” that will make the psychopath stay nice to them. That magic key, however, doesn’t exist. The psychopath invariably cycles back to his real, nasty self. Over time, the meanness cycle escalates in severity and increases in duration. It’s interspersed with increasingly fewer “nice” moments, which trap the victim in her own wishful thinking.  As Carver observes, “You hang on, hoping each mean-then-sweet cycle is the last one. The other purpose of the mean cycle is to allow The Loser to say very nasty things about you or those you care about, again chipping away at your self-esteem and self-confidence.”

7.     It’s Always Your Fault.  As we’ve seen, psychopaths never accept blame for anything they do wrong. They deny obvious facts and accuse their victims of wrongdoing. Their spurious logic goes something like this: I didn’t do it, but even if I did, you deserved it. When he didn’t outright deny the domestic abuse, Drew Peterson blamed it on each of his wives for provoking it. According to him, they lied about being hit by him. They also lied about his verbal abuse. They were the ones who were “on edge” and “disturbed,” not him. He never hit them, even if Kathy had to go to the emergency room to recover from his blows. Carver notes, “The Loser never, repeat never, takes personal responsibility for their behavior–it’s always the fault of someone else.”

8.     Breakup Panic.  Psychopaths need to maintain control of everything in their lives, especially their romantic relationships. When they get bored with one partner or find a replacement, they can leave her on the spur of the moment, heartlessly, often without even bothering to offer an explanation. But they get very angry when the tables are turned and their partners leave them. Drew Peterson didn’t mind cheating on his wives and abandoning them for other women. Yet when they wanted to leave him to escape the misery and abuse, he resorted to violence, threats, bribes and, when none of these strategies worked, (probably) murder. As Carver notes, “The Loser panics at the idea of breaking up–unless it’s totally their idea–then you’re dropped like a hot rock. Abusive boyfriends often break down and cry, they plead, they promise to change, and they offer marriage/trips/gifts when you threaten ending the relationship… Once back in the grasp of the Loser, escape will be three times as difficult the next time.”

9.     No Outside Interests. To further control their victims, psychopaths don’t just isolate them from other people. They also narrow the range of their interests and activities, leading their partners to focus exclusively on them. Drew Peterson discouraged Stacy from working outside the home. He gave her money and gifts, not out of any real generosity but to keep her financially and emotionally dependent on him. He also followed his wife around everywhere. He wanted to monitor if she was seeing other men. But his stalking made her feel on edge about any kind of activity or pursuit that was external to their relationship. Carver goes on to state, “If you have an individual activity, they demand that they accompany you, making you feel miserable during the entire activity. The idea behind this is to prevent you from having fun or interests other than those which they totally control.”

10.   Paranoid Control.  Notoriously, psychopaths stalk their principal targets. They suspect other people, including their partners, of being as manipulative, deceptive and unscrupulous as themselves. Although they routinely cheat on their spouses, often with countless sexual partners, they tend to be plagued by the fear that their spouses may be cheating on them as well.  Which is why, as Carver observes, “The Loser will check up on you and keep track of where you are and who you are with. If you speak to a member of the opposite sex, you receive twenty questions about how you know them. If you don’t answer their phone call, you are ask where you were, what were you doing, who you were talking to, etc.” Drew Peterson worked as a detective not only in his job on the police force, but also in his dealings with his wife. He followed Stacy around to monitor her.

11.   Public Embarrassment. Psychopaths tend to put down their partners not only in private, but also publicly, to embarrass and isolate them. They want to build a psychological, if not physical, prison around their primary targets. They do everything possible to undermine their confidence, reduce their sociability, narrow the range of their interests and eliminate all positive human contact from their lives. Consequently, as Carver observes, “In an effort to keep you under control while in public, ‘The Loser’ will lash out at you, call you names, or say cruel or embarrassing things about you in private or in front of people… If you stay with The Loser too long, you’ll soon find yourself politely smiling, saying nothing, and holding on to their arm when in public.” As we’ll see in the chapter on Pablo Picasso, psychopaths aim to transform strong and proud individuals into their doormats.

12.   It’s Never Enough. Psychopaths don’t want to have successful relationships. They want to assert dominance by destroying, at the very least psychologically and emotionally, their partners. In the long run, there’s nothing anybody can do to please a psychopath. Apparently, Drew Peterson flattered both his third and his fourth wives when they were still his girlfriends, which is to say, during courtship. But the honeymoon period ended once they decided to marry him. Nothing they did or failed to do henceforth pleased him for long. According to their families and friends, Stacy and Tracy constantly jumped through more and more hoops, while Drew lifted the bar higher and higher. Through this insidious process, a psychopath wears down his partner’s self-esteem. Eventually, she feels too insecure to leave the abusive relationship. As Carver puts it, “The Loser convinces you that you are never quite good enough. You don’t say ‘I love you’ enough, you don’t stand close enough, you don’t do enough for them after all their sacrifices, and your behavior always falls short of what is expected. This is another method of destroying your self-esteem and confidence. After months of this technique, they begin telling you how lucky you are to have them–somebody who tolerates someone so inadequate and worthless as you.”

13.   Entitlement. As we’ve seen, psychopaths feel entitled to do and have everything and everyone they want. Laws, ethics and other people’s feelings don’t matter to them. “The Loser has a tremendous sense of entitlement, the attitude that they have a perfectly logical right to do whatever they desire,” Carver continues.  “If you disobey their desires or demands, or violate one of their rules, they feel they are entitled to punish you in any manner they see fit.” In the case of Drew Peterson, even thought crime, or the intention to leave him, was punishable with (probably) murder. His interviews show that he felt entitled to mistreat each of his wives as he pleased. However, he believed that they didn’t have the right to object to his mistreatment or to leave him as a result of it.

14.   Your Friends and Family Dislike Him.  Psychopaths tend to be pleasant and charming, at least superficially, at the beginning of a relationship. But once they have their partner firmly in their clutches, they proceed to isolate her from her support system.  In so doing, they alienate her family and friends. Carver notes, “As the relationship continues, your friends and family will see what the Loser is doing to you. They will notice a change in your personality or your withdrawal. They will protest. The Loser will tell you they are jealous of the ‘special love’ you have and then use their protest and opinion as further evidence that they are against you–not him.” Drew Peterson stalked his wife even when she was visiting with her sisters. Initially, at least some of Stacy’s family members and friends liked Drew and considered him a good match for her. But as he began to isolate and abuse her, they became unanimous in their dislike of him. In the end, they all saw the relationship as seriously damaging for Stacy.

15.   Bad Stories.  They say that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. There may be exceptions to this general principle. Fortunately, some people can improve their character and behavior with genuine and consistent effort. A psychopath can never be one of those exceptions, however. Generally speaking, if a man cheated on every wife he’s ever been with, it’s highly probable that he’ll cheat on the next one as well.  Most likely, the problem isn’t the woman or women he was with, but his underlying lack of character. Similarly, if he abused his previous partners, he’s very likely to abuse the next ones as well. Stacy knew enough about how Drew treated his previous wife to see that he was a philanderer and potentially dangerous. But the intensity and perseverance with which he pursued her blinded her from seeing the same warning signals in their relationship. In addition, since psychopaths don’t find anything wrong with their harmful behavior, they’re likely to boast about it. This also sends out some glaring warning signals. As Carver states, “The Loser tells stories of violence, aggression, being insensitive to others, rejecting others, etc… They brag about their temper and outbursts because they don’t see anything wrong with violence and actually take pride in the ‘I don’t take nothing from nobody’ attitude… Listen to these stories — they tell you how you will eventually be treated and what’s coming your way.”

16.   The Waitress Test. Just as how people behaved in the past tells a lot about how they’ll behave in the future, so how they treat others functions as a pretty good indicator of how you’ll eventually be treated. A person who’s uncaring and unethical towards others will most likely also be that way to you when you no longer serve his interests. Carver calls this “the waitress test.” In his estimation, how a Loser treats people who aren’t immediately useful to him reveals how he’ll treat you once your use has expired. “It’s been said that when dating, the way an individual treats a waitress or other neutral person of the opposite sex is the way they will treat you in six months. During the ‘honeymoon phase’ of a relationship, you will be treated like a king or queen. However, during that time the Loser has not forgotten how he or she basically feels about the opposite sex. Waitresses, clerks, or other neutral individuals will be treated badly. If they are cheap–you’ll never receive anything once the honeymoon is over. If they whine, complain, criticize, and torment–that’s how they’ll treat you in six months.” Psychopaths lack consistency in their “good” behavior because for them “goodness” is only a façade. The manner in which they treat someone relates strictly to that person’s perceived use value. When people are useful to them they treat them (superficially) well. When they aren’t, they ignore or mistreat them. By way of contrast, genuinely nice people treat others well regardless of their perceived utility. Carver advises,  “If you find yourself dating a man who treats you like a queen and other females like dirt–hit the road.” Pretty soon, you’ll be the dirt he walks on, on his way to conquering other temporary queens.

17.   The Reputation. Psychopaths tend to have polarized reputations. Their victims often describe them, in retrospect, as Janus figures (since they’re two-faced) or as Jekyll and Hyde personalities (since they switch from nice to mean). We’ve seen that for a psychopath the Jekyll side is a mask he constructs to attract, fool and use others. The Hyde side represents his true identity, which becomes increasingly dominant over time. To his buddies, Drew Peterson appeared to be an easy-going, nice guy. But that’s because they only saw one side of him, the jovial facet he wanted them to see. To his wives and their families– which is to say, to anyone who had extensive intimate contact with him–Drew exposed another, much more menacing side of his personality. Any sign of independence from his partners meant escaping his control: something he couldn’t tolerate and which he punished through abuse and (probably) murder. Carver states, “As mentioned, mentally healthy individuals are consistent in their personality and their behavior. The Loser may have two distinct reputations–a group of individuals who will give you glowing reports and a group that will warn you that they are serious trouble.” In addition to paying attention to what others say, trust your own intuition and powers of observation. Pay close attention to how your partner treats you over time and in different circumstances. Be particularly attuned to how he responds when you express different needs or opinions. Psychopaths can’t tolerate any real assertion of independence from others. They also can’t treat those they’re intimately involved with well for long. Although some psychopaths may consistently maintain the mask of charm in superficial interactions with their buddies, colleagues and acquaintances, their real controlling, selfish and aggressive natures tend to show through in extended intimate contact.

18.   Walking on Eggshells. During the course of their marriages to Drew Peterson, at least two of his wives reported losing their self-confidence as a result of his emotional and physical abuse. While they both entered the relationship with Drew feeling desirable, in love and valued, by the end they were overpowered and intimidated by him. When involved with a psychopath, over time, his partner finds herself walking on eggshells. She fears that anything she does or says might trigger his emotional detachment, hostility or abuse. Carver observes that, “Instead of experiencing the warmth and comfort of love, you will be constantly on edge, tense when talking to others (they might say something that you’ll have to explain later), and fearful that you’ll see someone you’ll have to greet in public.”

19.   Discounted Feelings/Opinions. For psychopaths, their fundamental callousness and capacity for evil stems from their absolute selfishness and inability to respect other individuals, as fellow human beings with independent needs and desires. That’s why those involved with a psychopath, following the initial stage when he praises everything they do and say, come to realize that their feelings, needs and opinions don’t matter to him. The Loser’s narcissism is, as Hervey Cleckley’s study of psychopathy concluded, absolute. Carver elaborates, “The Loser is so self-involved and self-worshiping that the feelings and opinions of others are considered worthless… The Loser is extremely hostile toward criticism and often reacts with anger or rage when their behavior is questioned.” Narcissists and psychopaths flatter others only to use and manipulate them. They lack genuine consideration for others.

20.   They Make You Crazy. According to her friends, Kathy Savio felt overcome by rage, jealousy and anger when Drew cheated on her with Stacy. While her emotional response was perfectly understandable under the circumstances, Drew depicted Kathy to others as “insane” to justify his mistreatment of her.  In some ways, however, this statement isn’t far removed from the truth. Sometimes, psychopaths quite literally drive their partners crazy. They lie to them to the point where they start doubting their knowledge of reality. They discourage and belittle them to the point where they lose their self-confidence and become reclusive. They mistreat them to the point where they’re overcome with rage. As Carver goes on to explain, “The Loser operates in such a damaging way that you find yourself doing ‘crazy’ things in self-defense… You become paranoid as well–being careful what you wear and say… While we think we are ‘going crazy’–it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as ‘normal behavior’ in a combat situation. Rest assured that your behavior will return to normal if you detach from the Loser before permanent psychological damage is done.” When involved with a psychopath, you may, unlike Drew Peterson’s misfortunate wives, escape alive. But unless you end the relationship in its earliest stages, you’re not likely to escape unharmed.

What do these warning signs indicate? They show that psychopathic seducers can fake decency and love convincingly in the beginning of a relationship. That’s how they manage to attract so many potential partners. But they can’t sustain their mask of sanity over time in intimate contact, since it’s fake and instrumental.  If you remain vigilant, you’ll be able to see red flags early on in the relationship with a psychopath despite his veneer of charm and extravagant romantic words and gestures. As psychotherapist Steve Becker indicates on his website, powercommunicating.com, most of his clients recognized the warning signals in their relationships with exploitative partners. They just minimized those red flags or downright ignored them. They preferred to focus on their romantic fantasies rather than face an unpleasant reality. According to Becker, the most difficult challenge isn’t noticing the red flags, but actually heeding them. He states,

“I find that many of my clients were in fact cognizant of odd, disconcerting behaviors/attitudes that their exploitative partners were reckless enough to reveal (or incapable of concealing). They may have even felt troubled by them. But in their intense need to want the relationship, and the partner, to be the elusive fit they so hungrily sought, they found ways to suppress their uneasiness: to ignore and/or minimize the significance of these signals; and rationalize the alarms their instincts triggered.” (powercommunicating.com)

If you encounter a man who is aroused primarily by the circumstances surrounding your relationship—especially the perverse and forbidden ones—rather than by you, yourself, run. If you encounter a man who does a bait and switch to gain your trust only to violate his promises or raise the bar higher and higher, run. If you encounter a man who behaves in a despicable manner towards any other woman, no matter what he says about her, examine his behavior carefully since that’s how he’ll eventually treat you and, needless to say, run.

Truth is not a convenient fiction. Similarly, love is not a power game for anyone capable of this emotion. It’s the deepest and most significant bond human beings form with one another and the foundation of our lives. If you encounter a man who gives any signs that he regards love as a game and you as a “prize” to be won, fold your cards and quickly leave the table. Or, better yet, refuse to engage with him at all. Any intimate relationship with a psychopath is a gamble where you risk losing everything and from which you have nothing to gain.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Psychopathic Seduction: The Case of Drew Peterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction



Why Psychopathy is Incurable: Nothing Can Fix a Psychopath

Psychopathy, along with borderline personality disorder and malignant narcissism, is an incurable personality disorder. Personality disorders are character deficiencies that are so deeply ingrained in one’s personality that they are, for all practical purposes, unchangeable. Most websites and books on romantic relationships tell readers what steps to take to get them or improve them. By way of contrast, I tell you bluntly and in detail why and how to disengage for good from the psychopathic bond. If there’s one kind of relationship that’s not worth saving, it’s one with a psychopath. You can’t change a psychopath. Consequently, you also can’t improve your relationship with him.

Psychologists call psychopathy “pathological.” They state that psychopaths suffer from a severe “personality disorder,” not just normal human flaws that can be worked on and ameliorated. Sandra L. Brown, M.A. underscores in How to spot a dangerous man before you get involved that “Pathology is forever.” (23) It’s the result of a faulty brain wiring, sometimes coupled with emotional trauma that occurs during childhood development, which can’t be altered in any significant way once the psychopath reaches adulthood.  Brown doesn’t mince words when she describes a psychopath as “an emotional predator” who represents “the pinnacle of poisonous and pathological dating choices.” (179) When involved with such an individual, she cautions, “You will never change his physiology or his bad wiring. You will never love him into safety, sanity, or sanctity.” (21)

Women involved with psychopaths have been conditioned by their partners to assume most of the blame for the problems that occur in the relationship. They’re often deeply in love. They hope that the psychopath will magically improve and grow to love them more meaningfully. Often, they seek therapy, counseling or support groups. They grasp at any straw that can help them salvage the pathological relationship. As time goes on, they focus on the increasingly fewer positive aspects of the relationship. They cherish the memories of how well they were treated in the beginning. They go into denial so that they don’t have to face the deliberate malice of the person they love, to whom they may have devoted their entire lives.

When faced with the vast discrepancy between the psychopath’s nice words and his malicious actions, they feel lost, disoriented and alone. They stubbornly cling to the psychopath and to the fantasy of romantic love he initially created. They believe the psychopath has a good side, which reflects his real positive qualities, and a bad side, which they often take the blame for. Psychopaths don’t have a good side. That supposedly good side—made up mostly of fake charm, manipulation and lies–is only a mask they put on in order to establish dominance over other human beings and use them for their selfish purposes. Because we want to believe there’s some good in every human being, it’s difficult to accept that psychopaths are, at core, evil. Unfortunately, that’s the case. As Liane Leedom puts it, psychopaths are “driven to do evil”. Their compulsion to harm others and their predatory desires are physiologically rooted in their personality structure. This is what I’ll explain next.

Since the early 1940’s, when Hervey Cleckley conducted his study of psychopathy, psychologists have tried to understand the physiological basis for this dangerous personality disorder. During the nineteenth century, psychopathy used to be called “moral insanity.” It could also be called “the malady of lovelessness,” since it’s caused by shallow emotions. Robert Hare shows that the root of the problem lies in the fact that for psychopaths neither side of the brain processes emotion properly. To psychopaths, emotionally charged statements such as “I love you,” “I’m sorry that I hurt you,” “I’ll never do it again,” mean absolutely nothing. They’re just words they use to deceive and manipulate others. Of course, they’re not random words. Psychopaths see that other people attach a special meaning to them. They notice that when they say “I love you,” “I’ll always be faithful to you” or “You’re the woman of my life,” they get a positive reaction. These hollow phrases help them seduce others, establish their trust and use them for their own selfish purposes. Psychopaths lack the capacity, however, to experience, and thus to fully grasp, the meaning behind emotionally charged words. Hare observes:

“Like the color-blind person, the psychopath lacks an important element of experience—in this case, emotional experience—but may have learned the words that others use to describe or mimic experiences that he cannot really understand.” (Without Conscience, 129)

To verify these findings, Hare and his research team conducted experiments on psychopaths versus non-psychopaths. They connected their subjects to an EEG machine, which records the electrical activity of the brain. Then they flashed on a screen strings of letters. Some of them formed real words while others formed only gibberish. They asked their subjects to press a button as soon as they identified a true word. A computer measured the time it took them to make the decision. It also analyzed their brain activity during the performance of this task. They found that non-psychopathic subjects responded quicker to emotionally charged words–such as “death” or “love”–than to non-emotional ones, such as “tree.” By way of contrast, emotionally charged words had no effect whatsoever on psychopaths. Hare elaborates,

“For most of us, language has the capacity to elicit powerful emotional feelings. For example, the word ‘cancer’ evokes not only a clinical description of a disease and its symptoms but a sense of fear, apprehension, or concern, and perhaps disturbing mental images of what it might be like to have it. But to the psychopath, it’s just a word.” (Without Conscience, 133)

According to both psychological and physiological research, psychopaths function far below the emotional poverty line. They’re much shallower than what we generally call “superficial” people. This has a lot to do with the faulty wiring in their brains. Hare explains that in most people the right side of the brain plays a central role in processing emotion. By way of contrast,

“Recent laboratory evidence indicates that in psychopaths neither side of the brain is proficient in the processes of emotion. Why this is so is still a mystery. But an intriguing implication is that the brain processes that control the psychopath’s emotions are divided and unfocused, resulting in a shallow and colorless emotional life.” (Without Conscience, 134)

The shallowness of their emotions explains why psychopaths are so callous as to use and abuse even those closest to them: their partners, their children, their parents, their lovers and their so-called friends. It also clarifies why they can’t see anything wrong with their mistreatment of others. Even when they rape and murder, psychopaths feel no remorse. Their theatrical apologies and promises to reform are as empty as their vows of love. When they cry in court after having been sentenced to prison for their crimes, they either feign emotion to gain sympathy or cry about the fact they got caught. While research shows that psychopaths are incapable of real emotional bonding with others, this doesn’t imply that they’re out of touch with reality. When they harm others, even when it’s opportunistically and in the heat of the moment, they’re cold-blooded and deliberate about their actions. They’re also aware of the fact that their misdeeds are considered morally wrong by society. But, fundamentally, they don’t care. In fact, breaking the rules (without suffering any consequences) is the name of their game. As Hare clarifies:

“As I mentioned earlier, psychopaths do meet current legal and psychiatric standards for sanity. They understand the rules of society and the conventional meanings of right and wrong. They are capable of controlling their behavior and realize the potential consequences of their acts. The problem is that this knowledge frequently fails to deter them from antisocial behavior.” (Without Conscience, 143)

Whenever any discussion of criminal or deviant behavior takes place, the age-old debate between nature versus nurture tends to come up. The question thus arises: are psychopaths bad because of their social environment or are they born that way? The simple answer to this question is: they’re born that way and they can be made worse by a bad environment. Unfortunately, they can’t be made significantly better by anything at all. Psychological and sociological research shows that, in fact, psychopaths are much less influenced by their environment than non-psychopaths. This conforms with the general finding that psychopaths have rock solid egos, which are more or less immune to negative input. As we’ve seen, although they enjoy affirmation and praise, as all narcissists do, they don’t care when they’re criticized or punished. While a corrupt environment and abuse is unlikely to cause psychopathy, it can lead a psychopath to express his constitutive emotional callousness through violence. (Without Conscience, 175)

Martha Stout seconds Robert Hare’s conclusions that nature–or the physiological incapacity to experience and process emotion properly–has much more to do with psychopathy than nurture. Stout observes, “In fact, there’s evidence that sociopaths are influenced less by their early experience than are nonsociopaths.” (The Sociopath Next Door, 134). She elaborates,

“The sociopaths who have been studied reveal a significant aberration in their ability to process emotional information at the level of the cerebral cortex. And from examining heritability studies, we can speculate that the neurobiological underpinnings of the core personality features of sociopathy are as much as 50 percent heritable. The remaining causes, the other 50 percent, are much foggier. Neither childhood maltreatment nor attachment disorder seems to account for the environmental contribution to the loveless, manipulative, and guiltless existence that psychologists call psychopathy.” (The Sociopath Next Door, 134)

In other words, psychopathy constitutes a physiological deficiency that causes shallowness of emotions and all the negative implications which stem from it that we’ve explored so far. This deficiency is genetically inherited only half of the time. The other half of the time it may be caused by accidents, brain damage, drugs or other, unknown causes. The saddest implication of the scientific research on psychopathy is the fact that there’s no cure for it. No medication or treatment has yet been discovered that can give a psychopath the neurological capacity to process emotion properly. Consequently, nothing can turn him into a functioning, caring human being. In other words, nothing can transform a psychopath into a non-psychopath.

Anybody who tells you that a psychopath can be significantly improved does NOT understand the nature of pathology and does NOT have your best interests in mind. If you’ve hired such a therapist, you’re paying him or her just to bolster your own unrealistic expectations and confirm your wishful thinking. Sandra L. Brown, M.A. offers the best advice in How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved (a book that I reviewed on this blog): stay away from such men. Rather than persisting in trying to save them, save yourself and those who are capable of empathy and love. Medication and therapy can’t transform an emotional cipher into a caring man.

Moreover, unlike mental retardation and autism, psychopathy and narcissism are NOT harmless deficiencies. On the contrary, they are very dangerous emotional deficiencies. The individuals who suffer from mental deficiencies like autism and mental retardation are often reduced to a debilitating and life-long dependency upon others to function. By way of contrast, individuals suffering from emotional deficiencies–or personality disorders–can have very high intelligence and they use it to cause harm to others. If any trained professional tells you that mental and emotional deficiencies are comparable–in any respect other than that neither can be significantly altered–I strongly advise you to seek another therapist because that person is (at the very least) incompetent. To see the implausibility of such a comparison, just imagine someone suffering from mental deficiencies machinate the kind of carnage caused by psychopathic dictators like Hitler or Stalin; the predatory murders caused by serial killers like Ted Bundy; the senseless murders carried out by someone like Neil Entwistle, or even the more banal evil caused by your garden-variety psychopath, who continually lies to, cheats on, scams, dupes and manipulates those around him. Psychopaths’ capacity for evil actions is only limited by their malicious imaginations and desires. This means that, for all practical purposes, there are no limits.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


The Psychopath’s Absolute Narcissism

Psychopaths suffer from the most extreme form of narcissism. Narcissists put others down, or dominate them, in order to get validation as superior to them. Usually such individuals seem to be exactly as they are: smug, snobby, self-absorbed to the point of being ridiculous. Since psychopaths wear a mask of sanity, however, their narcissism is better camouflaged, at least initially. It’s also far more acute and dangerous. Psychopaths put others down in order to crush them. No matter how charming and modest they may seem in superficial contact, their ego feeds upon the victimization of others, including–or rather, especially–their family members, spouses, lovers and children. They aren’t satisfied with simply proving their superiority. They need to also humiliate and harm those around them in order to feel empowered and superior to them.

Clinically speaking, narcissism constitutes what Hervey Cleckley calls in The Mask of Sanity a “pathological egocentricity and incapacity for love.” Narcissists are so self-absorbed that they can’t envision the needs and reactions of others. They regard others as mirrors whose main role is to reflect–and magnify–the image of their own greatness. Although psychopaths are narcissistic to an extreme, they’re also far worse than most narcissists. At least most narcissists—excluding perhaps “malignant narcissists”–can experience self-doubt. They also need love and validation from other individuals.

Psychopaths embody narcissism with a grotesque twist. They lack the depth to experience or need a personal, individuated kind of love. As Cleckley observes, “The psychopath is always distinguished by egocentricity. This is usually of a degree not seen in ordinary people and often is little short of astonishing.” (The Mask of Sanity, 347) Furthermore, unlike narcissists, who, as mentioned, often show themselves to be vain to the point of self-caricature, psychopaths don’t usually appear to be arrogant, self-absorbed or boastful. They can mask much better their grossly inflated egos, as they camouflage everything else that’s deviant and dangerous in their personalities.  They compellingly present themselves as loving, affectionate and other-regarding individuals.

However, as Cleckley notes,  “Deeper probing will always reveal a self-centeredness that is apparently unmodifiable and all but complete. This can perhaps be best expressed by stating that it is an incapacity for object love and that this incapacity (in my experience with well-marked psychopaths) appears to be absolute.” (347) Cleckley correlates object-love, or caring about another person, with the capacity to feel empathy. Without empathy, you can’t understand what others feel. You therefore don’t have a disincentive to cause them harm or pain. Conversely, you lack the incentive to make them happier. Love, or even kindness, don’t exist without empathy.

That’s not to say that psychopaths can’t experience any sort of fondness whatsoever. But their affection tends to be self-serving, fleeting and superficial. In some cases, it manifests itself as an intense, obsessive drive to possess another person. Cleckley grants that, “[The psychopath] is plainly capable of casual fondness, of likes and dislikes, and of reactions that, one might say, cause others to matter to him.” (348) He qualifies, “These affective reactions are, however, always strictly limited in degree. In durability they also vary greatly from what is normal in mankind. The term absolute is, I believe, appropriate if we apply it to any affective attitude strong and meaningful enough to be called love, that is, anything that prevails in sufficient degree and over sufficient periods to exert a major influence on behavior.” (347) Whenever they seem to be passionately in love or to experience genuine parental or filial devotion, psychopaths are faking it.

Let’s return again to the case of Neil Entwistle. Opening the door for his wife, giving her romantic gifts, posting the pictures of her and their newborn baby on a joint website, doesn’t mean anything if he’s prepared to literally sacrifice his family to his whims. To this effect, Cleckley observes, “The psychopath seldom shows anything that, if the chief facts were known, would pass even in the eyes of lay observers as object love. His absolute indifference to the financial, social, emotional, physical, and other hardships that he brings upon those for whom he professes love confirms the appraisal during psychiatric studies of his true attitude. We must, let it never be forgotten, judge a man by his actions rather than by his words.” (348) Because they can’t love others, psychopaths also lack the motivation to improve their character and behavior. Cleckley concludes, “This lack in the psychopath makes it all but impossible for an adequate emotional rapport to arise in his treatment and may be an important factor in the therapeutic failure that, in my experience, has been universal.” (348)

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

The Psychopath’s Mirroring Effects

A psychopath will mirror your identity at the beginning, middle and end of a relationship, only in different ways at each stage. Initially, in order to win you over, he will pretend to be like you and to like everything about you. Robert Hare and Paul Babiak describe in Snakes in Suits how during the “assessment phase” of the relationship a psychopath will convey to his target four main messages: 1) I like you; 2) I share your interests; 3) I’m like you, and 4) I’m the perfect partner or soul mate for you.

This process constitutes the mirroring phase of the psychopathic bond. Granted, most romantic relationships entail some aspects of mirroring. After all, that’s how couples discover their points in common. But with a psychopath the reflection tends to be instant and total. It’s a simulated bonding that’s way too fast, too soon and too good to be true. This happens before any real emotional connection can take place. It occurs before the partners have gotten to know each other well, over time and in different circumstances. Instant bonding is usually a symptom of shallowness of emotions rather than of miraculous compatibility. It means that the psychopath will detach from you and latch on to another target as easily as he initially attached to you. Yet through their conversational glibness and innate charm, as well as through their extraordinary capacity to identify and reflect your deepest desires, psychopaths can initially make you feel like they’re your dream come true. They present themselves as the only partners who could possibly fulfill whatever’s been missing from your life.

During the course of the relationship, however, the psychopath reveals more and more his true colors. He becomes increasingly critical and controlling. What’s more, he also incites you to go along with his wrongdoings. That way you mirror his ugly personality and become his accomplice. His message switches from being “I’m just like you” (as moral, smart, kind, beautiful, ideal as you are) as it was during the luring phase to being “you’re just like me” (as deceitful, malicious, dishonest as you begin to see that he is). Keep in mind that, most likely, you’re not.  Even if you’ve engaged in some wrongdoings, unless you thrive on pathological lying, promiscuity as a means of domination of others, playing mind games, harming others and power games you’re not likely to be a psychopath, like him.

When you’ve finally had enough and leave the psychopath–or when he leaves you–he will see you as a devalued, distorted mirror image of himself and of your former, idealized, self as well. Every quality he initially saw in you–from beauty to brains–will be turned into its opposite. If he saw you as smart, you’re now stupid in his eyes. If he was attracted to your beauty, he now sees you as ugly. If he admired your hard work, he now views your efforts as a mindless submission to the system. As I’ve explained in the previous post about the process of idealize, devalue and discard, this negative mirroring at the end is a natural and inevitable unfolding of the psychopathic relationship.

Just as the idealized mirror image at the beginning of the psychopathic bond had little to do with your qualities–they were false compliments intended to lure you–so the de-idealized mirror image at the end has nothing to do with you either. These distorted mirroring effects have everything to do with the character deficiencies of the psychopath himself, who suffers from an incurable evil. Which, incidentally, is a good way to describe the middle mirroring phase as well: when he says you, or all human beings, are like him, remember that’s not true either.  A psychopath is different from–and far worse than–just about any human being you will ever know.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction