Psychopathy and the Story of Coraline

So far we’ve seen that a psychopath’s positive qualities are fake. As the psychologist Hervey Cleckley explains,  the psychopath relies on a mask of sanity to pretend being fully human:

“However quick and rational a person may be and however subtle and articulate his teacher, he cannot be taught awareness of significance which he fails to feel. He can learn to use the ordinary words and, if he is very clever, even extraordinarily vivid and eloquent words which signify these matters to other people. He will also learn to reproduce appropriately all the pantomime of feeling; but, as Sherrington said of the decerebrated animal, the feeling itself does not come to pass.” (The Mask of Sanity, 375)

When reality is missing all you’re left with is illusion. This is precisely the message of Coraline, a popular children’s book and movie that even adults have a lot to learn from.  Coraline is a little girl who has an average family life. Like most tweens, she finds many things wrong with her parents. Her mom can’t cook and her dad’s cooking leaves much to be desired. Both parents are too busy with their jobs to give her all the attention she craves, even though they love her. One day, as she’s exploring around her new house, Coraline discovers a little secret door in the wall. Once she opens it and steps inside, she inhabits an alternate universe, with seemingly perfect versions of her parents. In this parallel household, everything revolves only around Coraline’s needs and appeals to her tastes. Her new mom prepares only the dishes that the little girl prefers. Her new dad plays the piano just for her and plants a beautiful garden that, from above, resembles Coraline’s face. The neighbors entertain her with a spectacular circus performance.

Yet, as it turns out, this magical world is completely fake, the opposite of what it initially appears to be. It’s the creation of an evil witch who lures people in by preying upon their dissatisfactions with reality and promising them an ideal life. In actuality, she wants to suck the living soul out of them. Why? Because she loves controlling others and playing mind games. Does this sound familiar? Since everything generally ends on a happy note in children’s movies, however, Coraline escapes just in time to save herself and her parents. She realizes that the imperfections of a real life with loving individuals are far preferable to any illusory ideals created by those who want to control and destroy you.

As Coraline also illustrates, psychopaths don’t just lie through omission and commission. More fundamentally, they lie about who they are and what they intend to do with you once you become emotionally attached to them and invested in whatever they originally promised you. Their whole identity is a lie and so are their good intentions. Their every relationship is based on fundamental deceit. They attract you with the illusion of love and compatibility only to repeatedly stab you in the back. They act as if they support your goals in life, while covertly undermining them or openly discouraging you from their pursuit. They act as if they care about your family and friends, only to isolate you from them. They fake interest in your interests, only to narrow the range of your activities to a complete, and servile, focus on them. When you deal with human nature, remember the age-old adage so thoroughly elucidated by Cleckley in The Mask of Sanity and so entertainingly expressed by Coraline: what seems too good to be true usually is.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


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