What happens when a psychopath’s mask of sanity shatters? The result is rarely as spectacular as it was in the cases of Mark Hacking and Neil Entwistle. Fortunately, most psychopaths don’t commit gruesome murders. Even when they do, their crimes are rarely featured so prominently on the national news. But once you unmask a psychopath, the picture you come to see is very ugly and deeply disturbing.
As we’ve observed, on the outside, a charismatic, garden-variety psychopath appears to be charming, nice, helpful, loving, calm and collected: sometimes uncannily so, and in inappropriate circumstances, but even that may seem, at first, like a blessing. But on the inside, a psychopath is always a repulsive individual: completely self-absorbed, unreliable, unethical and unloving. A psychopath’s social and moral boundaries are almost entirely based on his ability to create a positive impression on those around him. Those moral boundaries, which he violates behind people’s backs, and his phony yet often compelling displays of emotion function as his disguise. Through them, he gains other people’s trust, respect, admiration and sometimes even love. He then uses them for his own selfish and destructive purposes.
A psychopath is unmasked in life over and over again. Because his disorder is so deeply engrained in his character, he uses, dupes and manipulates people everywhere he goes. When he gets bored with one location, job or set of acquaintances—or when he’s unmasked in that environment—he moves on to the next. There he has the opportunity to make a fresh start: to dupe and use new people; to charm and destroy a new set of unsuspecting victims.
Quite often, psychopaths also depend upon a few individuals with whom they’ve established their main dominance bonds: their life partners, their parents, their children or their closest friends. After periods of open transgression, they return to them acting repentant, declaring their love or promising to reform. Such individuals often forgive them and accept them back into their lives.
This is not just out of love, but also out of denial: accepting reality would be too painful to bear. They’re too emotionally invested in the psychopath and in the central role he plays in their lives. Often, the women who love psychopaths justify staying with their disordered partners because they have a child or children with them. But this can only be a rationalization, given the fact that having no conscience, psychopaths frequently abuse their own children. It’s never in the best interest of any child to be in close proximity to a psychopathic father. In fact, the psychopath can only be a very bad influence on his child or children and even put their lives in peril. Therefore, when a woman stays with a known psychopath “for the sake of the children,” it’s usually because he has gutted out her identity to such an extent that she feels empty and lost without him.
This logic applies to all family members who can’t let go of the psychopath even after they come to see him for what he is. Cutting ties with him and, by extension, coming to terms with his inherent and unchangeable evil would mean, to them, living the rest of their lives with an open wound. Keep in mind, however, that at least wounds have the chance to heal. Living with a psychopath, on the other hand, is like living with a growing gangrene which exposes the entire family–especially young and impressionable children–to his infectious evil.
Because he finds such receptive and forgiving targets, after bouts of promiscuity, drug use or other depravities, a psychopath periodically returns to the people closest to him. They’re the ones who protect him from the consequences of his wrongdoings and uphold his mask of sanity. But over time, this mask becomes less and less solid. Its fissures begin to show even in the eyes of those who love him most and have his best interest at heart.
The goal of maintaining a false image of human decency to his wife, girlfriends, parents and colleagues (in order to better manipulate them) motivates a psychopath to lead a more or less orderly existence: to come home at regular hours, have a job and behave sociably. When a crisis occurs and this fictional identity unravels, so does the psychopath’s life. Having lost his incentive to appear a decent human being because others finally see through his façade, he becomes consumed by his own penchant for meaningless diversion and limitless perversion.
Once a psychopath is unmasked, what he always was on the inside begins to manifest itself on the outside as well, in his overt behavior and in the eyes of others. Like the picture of Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde’s famous novella, a psychopath unmasked presents a pathetic spectacle. It reveals a deteriorating individual whose depravity, ugliness and shamelessness take over his life and contaminate the lives of all those who remain close to him.
Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness
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