Why don’t psychopaths let go of their victims?

Several readers have indicated in your comments that the psychopaths you broke up with (or who broke up with you) don’t let you go. They can’t accept that the relationship is over. They still try to contact you even though you told them in no uncertain terms you wish to break all contact with them. Despite this finality, they still harass you with unwelcome emails or phone calls. Sometimes they use your child or children as intermediaries, making the situation even more painful and complicated. So the question arises: Why can’t psychopaths take no for an answer and let former relationships go?

I’ve offered one answer to this question in the post Relationship Boomerang. Psychopaths juggle many relationships at once. Some are in the idealization/luring phase; others are in the devalue phase; yet others are in the discard phase and finally many are in the discarded phase, to which the psychopaths return when they get bored with all of the above.

Since, fundamentally, psychopaths engage with other human beings only because they need idolaters and subjects to use and dominate, an insatiable and obstinate need for control is the main and most fundamental reason why psychopaths can’t let go of their victims. Letting go would mean that they lose ownership over former targets. They no longer can get them to do their bidding. They can no longer lie to and manipulate them. They can no longer use them for supply, be it an ego boost, sex, money, or power. Those targets are out of their reach, out of their hands.

This also means that those former targets can move on and have the opportunity to lead much healthier and better lives without the psychopaths. This is the one thing that a psychopath can’t tolerate: the idea that you are far better off without him. The idea that you can find love again, or regain control of the finances he decimated, or find a better career that he destroyed.

To move on, you need to sever all contact with the psychopath. The psychopath may not release you, but you can free yourself. If he emails you, keep all the emails and once you establish a pattern of cyberstalking turn them in to the authorities. Even rerouted IP can be identified by the police. If he calls, don’t answer. If he leaves messages on the phone, let the answering machine record them and keep them as evidence to show the police. A restraining order may not offer much protection, but proving a pattern of stalking could land the psychopath in jail. Keep all the evidence against him but never engage directly with him (or her) in any way.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 


Why do psychopaths target married or “taken” individuals?

Some of the readers of this blog have asked me: why do psychopaths target married or “taken” individuals? Why don’t they prefer people who are single and available? My first answer is a reminder that psychopaths target everyone. They are constantly performing in their heads a cost-benefit analysis that intuitively assesses how they can use and exploit each individual they meet.

For those psychopaths who are sex addicts and/or sexual predators, obviously the use-value that matters most has to do with domination through sex and romance. When a psychopath enters a room, he scopes out everyone and zones in on the prey that he intuits might be vulnerable or open to his advances. Psychopathic sex addicts have plenty of easy prey: one night stands, friends with benefits and flings. They do go after easy targets.

However, those targets are not enough because their domination and conquest are purely physical, not emotional. This is why psychopaths also latch on to more challenging prey. They promise them commitment and express (phony or superficial) love in order to sink their teeth deeper into them, body and soul. Feeling the love in someone else’s eyes gives psychopaths and narcissists a sense of power, almost omnipotence, that is very arousing, especially since they know that the love is based on a foundation of lies and false premises. The conquest and dupery of their victims is doubly intoxicating for them.

Choosing married or otherwise “taken” victims adds a third dimension to their sadistic pleasure. When they seduce a married woman, they are not only conquering that person’s heart but also “taking her” from another man. To psychopaths this represents a double conquest and therefore also a double defeat of their victims: both of the person they dupe into loving them and of the person they both cheat on. The thrill of seducing married individuals, to manipulate and hurt not only a given target, but also her significant other and family, often proves irresistible to psychopaths, fueling their false sense of superiority, power and invincibility.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

A Painful Incredulity: Psychopathy and Cognitive Dissonance

Almost everyone involved with a psychopath goes through a phase (and form) of denial. It’s very tough to accept the sad reality that the person who claimed to be your best friend or the love of your life is actually a backstabbing snake whose sole purpose in life is humiliating and dominating those around him. Rather than confront this reality, some victims go into denial entirely. They aren’t ready to accept any part of the truth, which, when suppressed, often surfaces in anxiety, projection and nightmares.

At some point, however, the evidence of a highly disturbed personality shows through, especially once the psychopath is no longer invested in a given victim and thus no longer makes a significant effort to keep his mask on. Then total denial is no longer possible. The floodgates of reality suddenly burst open and a whole slew of inconsistencies, downright lies, manipulations, criticism and emotional abuse flows through to the surface of our consciousness.

However, even then it’s difficult to absorb such painful information all at once. Our heart still yearns for what we have been persuaded, during the luring phase, was our one true love. Our minds are still filled with memories of the so-called good times with the psychopath. Yet, the truth about the infidelities, the constant deception, the manipulation and the backstabbing can no longer be denied. We can’t undo everything we learned about the psychopath; we cannot return to the point of original innocence, of total blindness. The result is a contradictory experience: a kind of internal battle between clinging to denial and accepting the truth.

Cognitive dissonance is a painful incredulity marked by this inner contradiction in the victim’s attitude towards the victimizer. In 1984, perhaps the best novel about brainwashing that occurs in totalitarian regimes, George Orwell coined his own term for this inner contradiction: he called it doublethink. Doublethink is not logical, but it is a common defense mechanism for coping with deception, domination and abuse. Victims engage in doublethink, or cognitive dissonance, in a partly subconscious attempt to reconcile the contradictory claims and behavior of the disordered individuals who have taken over their lives.

The denial itself can take several forms. It can manifest itself as the continuing idealization of the psychopath during the luring phase of the relationship or it can be shifting the blame for what went wrong in the relationship from him, the culprit, to ourselves, or to other victims. In fact, the easiest solution is to blame neither oneself nor the psychopath, but other victims. How often have you encountered the phenomenon where people who have partners who cheat on them lash out at the other women (or men) instead of holding their  partners accountable for their actions? It’s far easier to blame someone you’re not emotionally invested in than someone you love, particularly if you still cling to that person or relationship.

Other victims project the blame back unto themselves.  They accept the psychopath’s projection of blame and begin questioning themselves: what did I do wrong, to drive him away? What was lacking in me that he was so negative or unhappy in the relationship? Was I not smart enough, virtuous enough, hard-working enough, beautiful enough, sexy enough, attentive enough, submissive enough etc.

When one experiences cognitive dissonance, the rational knowledge about psychopathy doesn’t fully sink in on an emotional level. Consequently, the victim moves constantly back and forth between the idealized fantasy and the pathetic reality of the psychopath. This is a very confusing process and an emotionally draining one as well. Initially, when you’re the one being idealized by him, the fantasy is that a psychopath can love you and that he is committed to you and respects you. Then, once you’ve been devalued and/or discarded, the fantasy remains that he is capable of loving others, just not you. That you in particular weren’t right for him, but others can be. This is the fantasy that the psychopath tries to convince every victim once they enter the devalue phase. Psychopaths truly believe this because they never see anything wrong with themselves or their behavior, so if they’re no longer excited by a person, they conclude it must be her (or his) fault; that she (or he) is deficient.

Because you put up with emotional abuse from the psychopath you were with and recently been through the devaluation phase–in fact, for you it was long and drawn-out–you have absorbed this particular fantasy despite everything you know about psychopaths’ incapacity to love or even care about others. But with time and no contact, the rational knowledge and the emotional will merge, and this last bit of illusion about the psychopath will be dissolved.

Cognitive dissonance is part and parcel of being the victim of a personality disordered individual. It doesn’t occur in healthy relationships for several reasons:

1) healthy individuals may have good and bad parts of their personalities, but they don’t have a Jekyll and Hyde personality; a mask of sanity that hides an essentially malicious and destructive self. In a healthy relationship, there’s a certain transparency: basically, what you see is what you get. People are what they seem to be, flaws and all.

2) healthy relationships aren’t based on emotional abuse, domination and a mountain of deliberate lies and manipulation

3) healthy relationships don’t end abruptly, as if they never even happened because normal people can’t detach so quickly from deeper relationships

4) conversely, however, once healthy relationships end, both parties accept that and move on. There is no stalking and cyberstalking, which are the signs of a disordered person’s inability to detach from a dominance bond: a pathetic attempt at reassertion of power and control over a relationship that’s over for good

Cognitive dissonance happens  in those cases where there’s an unbridgeable contradiction between a dire reality and an increasingly implausible fantasy which, once fully revealed, would be so painful to accept, that you’d rather cling to parts of the fantasy than confront that sad reality and move on.

Relatedly, cognitive dissonance is also a sign that the psychopath still has a form of power over you: that his distorted standards still have a place in your brain. That even though you may reject him on some level, on another his opinions still matter to you. Needless to say, they shouldn’t. He is a fraud; his opinions are distorted; his ties to others, even those he claims to “love,” just empty dominance bonds. Rationally, you already know that his opinions and those of his followers should have no place in your own mental landscape.  

But if emotionally you still care about what he thinks or feels, then you are giving a disordered person too much power over you: another form of cognitive dissonance, perhaps the most dangerous. Cut those imaginary ties and cut the power chords that still tie you to a pathological person, his disordered supporters and their abnormal frame of reference.  Nothing good will ever come out of allowing a psychopath and his pathological defenders any place in your heart or mind. The schism between their disordered perspective and your healthy one creates the inner tension that is also called cognitive dissonance. To eliminate this inner tension means to free yourself– body, heart and mind–from the psychopath, his followers and their opinions or standards. What they do, say, think or believe –and the silly mind games they choose to play–simply does not matter.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

A Crazy Roller Coaster Ride: Life with a Psychopath from Idealization to Devaluation

Life with a psychopath quickly turns into a crazy roller coaster ride. Psychopaths usually retain the appearance of calm, even in the face of great duress. However, sharing your life with a psychopath for any significant period of time means living with constant drama and extreme ups and downs. There are  four main reasons for this, three of which I’ve alluded to in previous posts and a fourth that I’d like to examine in greater detail today:

1) The psychopath, not being capable of forming deep emotional attachments, is very easily bored. Consequently, he (or she) will need to provoke constant drama in his personal and sometimes even his professional life, for entertainment.

2) The psychopath, aiming for power and control over others, generally becomes involved sexually and romantically with many individuals at once. This in itself will create a lot of mutual jealousy, fighting over him and drama (among those targets that know of each other), once again, entertaining the psychopath and demonstrating his dominance over his victims.

3) A psychopath will engage in arbitrary displays of power, to maintain control over his targets. If he got upset in a rational manner only for legitimate reasons, this would not demonstrate his power nor psychologically and emotionally unhinge those around him. Psychopaths are always tyrants: be it of their small families or of an entire nation. Whether they wield power over few or over many, their behavior is similar, as are their techniques of maintaining control (deceit, brainwashing, isolation, abuse interspersed with small favors and arbitrary displays of power, manifested from anything to physical violence to gaslighting and emotional abuse and, in some cases, to death itself).

4) However, there’s an aspect of the roller coaster ride–the constant ups and downs, the extreme idealization and the bitter devaluation–which is even harder for victims to accept. It’s nearly impossible for victims to understand why somebody who made such a great effort to seduce you; who couldn’t praise you enough; who gave you so many romantic gifts; who said “I love you Baby” more often than “hello”; who seemed to be lost in your eyes could all of a sudden perceive you as a nothing and a nobody; insult your appearance, accomplishments and intellect; criticize and stab you in the back to others and–above all–hate you as the worst enemy of their lives. I believe that this dramatic and seemingly unmotivated shift from high to low regard absolutely stuns victims of psychopaths, leading some of them to wonder what they did wrong to provoke it.

The answer usually is: you did nothing wrong. In some cases, the flattery and gifts were only a ruse the psychopath used to get whatever he may have wanted from you: be it money, sex, or a cover of normalcy. In other cases, however, the flattery was genuine: which, of course, also means genuinely shallow. It was a sign that the psychopath’s pursuit of you was extremely exciting and rewarding to him. You were (for a period of time) a very high priority because of the immediate gratification the relationship with you offered him.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that he didn’t cheat on you, that he didn’t lie to you, or that he treated you well. It only means that he took the trouble to deceive you and hide his secret lives far better because that was the only way to get from you whatever he wanted at the time. He couldn’t have obtained your trust, your love, your commitment, or your wealth without doing everything possible to convince you of the lie that he, himself was capable of trust, love and commitment.

The high in your relationship is therefore explicable in terms of the time required to lure you, to get you to buy the false image and bond to him. The low is explicable in terms of his need to control and dominate you. Later, it’s also the manifestation of  the final phase of the relationship–the discard phase–when the psychopath finally exposed himself for what he is. At that point, he either left you or you left him. Usually, however, psychopaths never leave you for good, but return from time to time to probe for more supply and to destabilize your life.

But it seems as if the psychopath’s devaluation of you is so filled with bitterness, hatred and sometimes even violence that it can’t be fully explained in terms of him tiring of you and moving on to other promising victims. Loving couples can grow apart and leave each other for better matches and lives. Non-loving couples can grow apart once they’re no longer useful to one another. But a psychopath takes this process one step further, to discard his ex-lovers with a degree of vitriol and hatred that astonishes his victims and exceeds any boundaries of normality.

This becomes most obvious in those cases when psychopaths kill their ex-partners and dispose of their bodies as if they were a pile of garbage. Fortunately, this only happens rarely: and when it does, we tend to hear about it on the news. However, even psychopaths who don’t engage in such extreme behavior manifest an inexplicably strong vitriol towards their former partners, particularly towards those who left them of their own volition.

It’s as if a psychopath feels doubly betrayed in those cases: not only for being rejected by you, but also for the fact you’re no longer living up to the unrealistic ideal of the honeymoon phase of the relationship. He projects the blame for the diminished excitement in the relationship unto you. What’s wrong with you that you don’t thrill him anymore, as you did in the beginning of his hot pursuit? Is it because you’re not beautiful enough? Is it because you’re not smart enough? Or rich enough? Or sexual and sensual enough? What do you do wrong and how do you fail to meet his needs?

Failing to accept any responsibility for anything in life, a psychopath never really blames himself for any failure in his relationships. Someone else, or circumstances, are always to blame. Like a child who tires of an old mechanical toy and smashes it to the ground when it no longer works, so the psychopath destroys old relationships (along with their positive associations in his mind) after he tires of each of his partners. For a psychopath, it’s not enough to end a dying relationship. He must also demolish that person and what she once represented to him. The higher you were initially idealized by a psychopath, the lower you will fall in his eyes when the relationship inevitably fizzles out. Hatred and contempt will fill the place in his empty heart, which was temporarily filled by shallow admiration and lust.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


Moving On: Life After the Psychopath

Most of my posts have been about how to identify psychopathic traits and patterns of behavior and about understanding what drew the psychopath to you–and you to him–originally. I have also written several posts emphasizing the importance of no contact of any kind, passive or active, in being able to recover from the toxic relationship. But let’s say you now can recognize the features of psychopathy and narcissism. You are maintaining no contact. Yet you still ruminate obsessively about the relationship and you still feel trapped, somehow, inside of it. What do you do then?

My answer may sound somewhat circular: you’ve got to do everything possible to move on with the rest of your life. Fill your life with interests and activities other than thinking about the psychopathic ex. Focus on the relationships with people in your life who genuinely care about you and support you. Make new, genuine, friends. Find renewed energy in your job or in life goals, even those you might have given up on during the toxic relationship. Coming to terms with the truth about the psychopath and your relationship with him is essential to being able to let go of that person and your past together. But staying trapped in your past and ruminating endlessly about it–at the expense of other relationships or life goals–can become just another prison.

It can also foster negative personality traits that you may not wish to have, like paranoia or extreme distrust of all other human beings. In my last post, the review of Robert Conquest’s book on Stalin, I alluded to the atmosphere of mutual distrust cultivated under by a totalitarian dictatorship, where people started accusing family members and friends of deviationism–or of being traitors to the communist society and principles–and turning against each other. This phenomenon can happen anytime and anywhere, even if it’s more acute in dictatorships led by psychopathic tyrants.

Yes, it’s important to be cautious. Yes, it’s important to be aware of red flags in new relationships, or even older ones. Yes, it’s important to be aware of the signs of personality disorders. Yes, it’s important to cut off pathological individuals from your life. But what you want to avoid is you, yourself becoming pathological and living in an atmosphere of paranoia, pointing fingers at others left and right, and becoming consumed by the underlying hatred and distrust that characterized your relationship with the psychopath.

Moving on means, as Aristotle and other Greek philosophers urged, leading a well-rounded life. It means finding support and information about what you’ve gone through, both here and elsewhere, without neglecting all the other aspects of your life–family, friends, job, goals, exercise, enjoyment–that can free you from your painful past and help you escape the mental prison in order to live again.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 


Evil Jokers: The Dark Knight and Other Psychopaths

Psychopaths often fool others with their mask of sanity. As we know, they appear glib and charming in casual contact, hide their wrongdoings from others and lie smoothly with no compunction. But usually they’re far better at fooling their buddies and professional acquaintances–those they have only superficial contact with–than they are their long-term significant others. For a number of reasons I’ve explored so far–including fear, dependency, a sense of helplessness, PTSD, loyalty and deep emotional attachment–women sometimes stay with known psychopaths. Perhaps a less obvious reason for this that I’d like to discuss today is a self-defeating fascination with evil. Many of us are intrigued by evil, partly because of it’s caused by human beings who are fundamentally different from the rest of us. Just as it’s impossible for psychopaths to relate to what’s good about human nature—they see conscience, empathy and love it as weaknesses–it’s almost as difficult for most people to understand what motivates psychopaths to harm others.

The film The Dark Knight (2008) was a box office hit largely due to the popularity of the evil character. The Joker kills not in order to become richer, as do the other outlaws in the movie, but solely for the sport of it. His characterization as a psychopath is plausible: except perhaps for the unfortunate fact that most psychopaths are much harder to identify. They usually don’t look as repulsive and don’t act as obviously crazy as the Joker does. Yet, fundamentally, all psychopaths are evil jokers. Their idea of entertainment, and of a life well-spent, is duping and destroying others.

Similarly, Dracula novels remain international best sellers for a similar reason. In spite of ourselves, we’re drawn to human vampires who feed upon our lives, to weaken and destroy us. Even crime shows that feature psychopaths are very popular. Evil individuals also tend to monopolize the personal interest and crime stories featured on the news.

Because most of us are capable of empathy and love, and thus can’t identify with those who completely lack these capacities, we imagine evil people to be far more complex and intriguing than they actually are. We may be initially mystified by the contradiction between a psychopath’s apparent charm and his underlying ruthlessness. But once we realize that the charm of evil people is purely instrumental, to get them whatever they want at the moment, this contradiction is resolved and ceases to intrigue us. In reality, normal people are far more interesting and less predictable than psychopaths. The depth and range of our emotions complicates, nuances and curbs our selfish impulses and desires. For psychopaths, however, nothing stands in the way of their absolute selfishness. Each and every one of their actions, including seemingly other-regarding acts, can be plausibly explained in terms of their quest for dominance.

Evil men may appear to be masculine, self-confident and in charge. They seem to know what they want from life and how to get it. Keep in mind, however, that it’s so much easier to know what you want when you’re considering only your own desires and are willing to sacrifice everyone and everything to satisfy them. Even animals manifest deeper emotions. They care about their young and bond with others. Psychopaths don’t. If decent men sometimes hesitate, it’s because they’re more thoughtful and other-regarding. They put other people’s needs into the equation before reaching a decision. Thus, paradoxically, it’s only because of their deficiencies and simplicity with respect to normal, more multidimensional, human beings that we consider evil individuals our “Others” and are intrigued by them.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Why Do Sociopaths Waste (Our) Time?

In reading Donna Andersen‘s book Love Fraud, I was struck by how much time  and energy her sociopathic ex-husband spent inventing phony business schemes which were doomed to failure. Given his intelligence, charisma and powers of persuasion, he could have created enough successful businesses to last him several lifetimes. But he chose not to create a single successful business venture during his predatory scams of so many trusting and loving partners. So the question arises: Why? Why do sociopaths waste (our) time?

The main answer I’ve given before is that sociopaths don’t have any constructive goals in life. On the contrary, they aim to destroy people and their lives however they can: emotionally, physically and sometimes also financially. Their behavior fits into a pattern that destroys human life and its meaning largely by wasting our time. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to who has been involved with a sociopath expresses one main regret: I wasted my life, for x number of months or years, on a fantasy, on a total fraud.

The feelings of “love” a sociopath expresses are never real. At best, they express need for you (or, more precisely, for using you for their purposes) or sexual desire. The  so-called “truths” a sociopath shares with you are largely lies or manipulative bits of truth, intended to sway you in some way that serves his purposes. Often a sociopath will invest an enormous amount of time and energy to construct a web of lies. He will repeat to you the same false information, to lead you to believe that he’s trustworthy; that he shares your life goals; that he loves you. He will even get others to corroborate those lies or half-truths. He will pretend to be interested in your interests. Not only that, but he will mirror you consistently enough and for a long enough period of time to gain your trust. He will sometimes go so far as to ingratiate himself with your family and friends, to gain their confidence as well. He will also take great pains, for as long as you’re useful to him, to hide his bad behavior, including the cheating, web of lies, crimes and/or financial scams. He will put in his best effort to brainwash you into accepting his false version of reality. Even the energy sociopaths invest in demeaning their targets is enormous, given that to be effective they do it gradually, insult by insult, demand by demand, over time. If they became abusive upfront and at once, their victims would be much more likely to be shocked by the mistreatment and reject them.

Because they find no inherent meaning in human life–no higher purpose, no real feelings of loyalty and love–sociopaths perceive life as an empty stretch of time that they must somehow fill up with diversions, schemes and games at other people’s expense. Even most sociopaths who are well-educated and intelligent waste their natural abilities and their lives, on playing constant mind games, pursuing a string of vacuous and ultimately unsatisfying sexual relationships, manipulation, and often pointless deceit. Sociopaths lie to attain their short-term goals, of course. But they also lie when it doesn’t serve any obvious useful purpose, just for the fun of it. Deception fills their empty lives with sadistic entertainment and ephemeral pleasure. As Janis Joplin sings in Me and Bobby McGee, for them “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” In that sense, sociopaths are free.

Normal people, however, have everything to lose in becoming involved with sociopaths. For us, time is very precious and life is not something to be wasted. It’s filled with positive desires and goals, with the meaning we find in fulfilling emotional bonds with those we care about, with what we can accomplish for both ourselves and others. Because of the vast difference in our concepts of time, a sociopath has nothing to lose in engaging in empty diversions while we have nothing to gain from them. This is why victims involved with sociopathic predators describe their time together as wasted time: as months or even years that can never be recaptured and were essentially thrown away. Most sociopaths don’t commit actual murder. Wasting our time with their lies, intimidation tactics, manipulation and mind games is the most common way in which sociopaths waste our lives.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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