The Psychopath’s Emotions: What Does He Feel?

So far I’ve asked you to imagine a person who lacks empathy for others and the capacity to feel any emotion deeply. I’ve asked you to imagine a person who is plagued by restlessness and boredom and finds sole satisfaction in duping, manipulating and controlling others. A person who may simulate respect or politeness, but who fundamentally regards others with contempt, as objects to be used for his temporary diversion or satisfaction. A person who suffers from an incurable and absolute egocentrism.

But even this doesn’t even begin to give you a full picture of the extent of a psychopath’s emotional poverty. It may describe what a psychopath can’t feel, but to understand how and why the psychopath is driven to harm others, you need to also get a sense of what a psychopath does feel. Psychopaths can’t tolerate loneliness. Just as all human beings can’t survive physically without food and water, psychopaths can’t survive emotionally without victims.

Of course, psychopaths regard love with contempt. They view loving and loyal couples as an ugly, undifferentiated blob. Because they can’t experience or even understand love and loyalty, they see moral individuals as weak. They have nothing but disdain for the emotions that normal human beings feel. But at the same time, psychopaths can’t live without feeding upon the real and deeper emotions of people who care about them, of individuals who can love: in other words of the people they use, abuse, toy with, lie to and hurt.

Psychopaths are often sexual predators. But even more often, and certainly more fundamentally, they’re emotional predators. What they want from their victims is far more than possessing their bodies or sex. They need to feed their insatiable appetite for harm, as well as sustain their sense of superiority,  by possessing and destroying others inside and out, body and soul. A psychopath’s emotional framework is like a vacuum that needs to suck out the emotional energy from healthy individuals in order to survive. This is why I have called psychopaths real-life vampires, that we need to understand and worry about far more than their fictional counterparts.

A psychopath lacks much more than empathy for others in his emotional repertoire. He also lacks the capacity to experience any kind of emotion that requires deeper insight and psychological awareness. He experiences only proto-emotions, which are as short-lived as they’re intense. That doesn’t make them any less dangerous, however.  The evidence points to the fact that Scott Peterson and Neil Entwistle preplanned their murders weeks in advance. But Mark Hacking seems to have acted more or less on impulse, after having fought with his wife. If we believe his confession to his brothers, Mark was in the process of packing up his things, ran across a revolver and shot Lori while she was asleep.

When angry or frustrated, a psychopath is capable of anything, even if his anger will dissipate a few minutes later. As Hervey Cleckley observes, “In addition to his incapacity for object love, the psychopath always shows general poverty of affect. Although it is true that be sometimes becomes excited and shouts as if in rage or seems to exult in enthusiasm and again weeps in what appear to be bitter tears or speaks eloquent and mournful words about his misfortunes or his follies, the conviction dawns on those who observe him carefully that here we deal with a readiness of expression rather than a strength of feeling.” (The Mask of Sanity, 349)

The proto-emotions experienced by a psychopath tie in, once again, to the satisfaction or frustration of his immediate desires: “Vexation, spite, quick and labile flashes of quasi-affection, peevish resentment, shallow moods of self-pity, puerile attitudes of vanity, and absurd and showy poses of indignation are all within his emotional scale and are freely sounded as the circumstances of life play upon him. But mature, wholehearted anger, true or consistent indignation, honest, solid grief, sustaining pride, deep joy, and genuine despair are reactions not likely to be found within this scale.” (The Mask of Sanity, 349)

For this reason, psychopaths don’t feel distress even when they land in jail. Even there they take pleasure in manipulating their fellow inmates and the prison staff. Even from there they write letters to people outside to use them for money, amusement and possibly even sex. Nothing ruffles a psychopath’s feathers for long. The same emotional shallowness that leads him to be unresponsive to the needs of others and to experience no remorse when he hurts them also enables him to feel little or no distress when he, himself gets hurt. So far, I’ve covered the emotions psychopaths can’t feel. I’ve also had the opportunity to witness up-close and personal the emotions a psychopath can feel, however. That’s what I’ll describe next.

The Psychopath’s Emotions: What Does He Feel?

1) Glee. A psychopath feels elation or glee whenever he gets his way or pulls a fast one on somebody. I can still recall O.J. Simpson’s reaction to getting away with murder (at least in my own opinion and that of a lot of other people who watched the trial, if not in the eyes of the jury): his celebratory glee at pulling a fast one on the American public, on the system of justice and especially on the victims and their families.

2) Anger. Robert Hare notes in Without Conscience that since psychopaths have low impulse control, they’re much more easily angered than normal people. A psychopath’s displays of anger tend to be cold, sudden, short-lived and arbitrary. Generally you can’t predict what exactly will trigger his anger since this emotion, like his charm, is used to control those around him. It’s not necessarily motivated by something you’ve done or by his circumstances. A psychopath may blow up over something minor, but remain completely cool and collected about a more serious matter. Displays of anger represent yet another way for a psychopath to demonstrate that he’s in charge. When psychopaths scream, insult, hit, or even wound and kill other individuals, they’re aware of their behavior even if they act opportunistically, in the heat of the moment. They know that they’re harming others and, what’s more, they enjoy it.

3) Frustration. This emotion is tied to their displays of anger but isn’t necessarily channeled against a particular person, but against an obstacle or situation. A psychopath may feel frustrated, for example, when his girlfriend doesn’t want to leave her current partner for him. Yet he may be too infatuated with her at the moment to channel his negative emotions against her. He may also believe that his anger would alienate her before he’s gotten a chance to hook her emotionally. In such circumstances, he may become frustrated with the situation itself: with the obstacles that her partner or her family or society in general pose between them. Psychopaths generally experience frustration when they face impersonal barriers between themselves and their current goals or targets. But that’s also what often engages them even more obstinately in a given pursuit. After all, for them, overcoming minor challenges in life is part of the fun.

4) Consternation. As we’ve seen so far, psychopaths don’t create love bonds with others. They establish dominance bonds instead. When those controlled by a psychopath disapprove of his actions or sever the relationship, sometimes he’ll experience anger. But his immediate reaction is more likely to be surprise or consternation. Psychopaths can’t believe that their bad actions, which they always consider justifiable and appropriate, could ever cause another human being who was previously under their spell to disapprove of their behavior and reject them. Even if they cheat, lie, use, manipulate or isolate others, they don’t feel like they deserve any repercussions as a result of that behavior. In addition, psychopaths rationalize their bad actions as being in the best interest of their victims.

For instance, if a psychopath isolates his partner from her family and persuades her to quit her job and then, once she’s all alone with him, abandons her to pursue other women, he feels fully justified in his conduct. In his mind, she deserved to be left since she didn’t satisfy all of his needs or was somehow inadequate as a mate. In fact, given his sense of entitlement, the psychopath might even feel like he did her a favor to remove her from her family and friends and to leave her alone in the middle of nowhere, like a wreck displaced by a tornado. Thanks to him, she can start her life anew and become more independent.

To put it bluntly, a psychopath will kick you in the teeth and expect you to say “Thank you.” Being shameless and self-absorbed, he assumes that all those close to him will buy his false image of goodness and excuse his despicable actions just as he does. In fact, he expects that even the women he’s used and discarded continue to idealize him as a perfect partner and eagerly await his return. That way he can continue to use them for sex, money, control, his image or any other services if, when and for however long he chooses to return into their lives.

When those women don’t feel particularly grateful—when, in fact, they feel only contempt for him–the psychopath will be initially stunned that they have such a low opinion of him. He will also feel betrayed by these women, or by family members and friends who disapprove of his reprehensible behavior. Although he, himself, feels no love and loyalty to anyone, a psychopath expects unconditional love and loyalty from all those over whom he’s established a dominance bond.

This mindset also explains psychopaths’ behavior in court. Both Scott Peterson and Neil Entwistle seemed outraged that the jury found them guilty of murder. Psychopaths believe that those whom they have hurt, and society in general, should not hold them accountable for their misdeeds. After all, in their own minds, they’re superior to other human beings and therefore above the law. How dare anybody hold them accountable and punish them for their crimes!

5) Boredom. This is probably the only feeling that gives psychopaths a nagging sense of discomfort. They try to alleviate it, as we’ve seen, by pursuing cheap thrills, harming others and engaging in transgressive behavior. Nothing, however, can relieve for long the psychopath’s fundamental ennui. He gets quickly used to, and thus also bored with, each new person and activity.

6) Histrionic flashes. I’m not sure if this is an emotion, but I know for sure that the psychopath’s dramatic displays of love, remorse and empathy lack any meaning and depth. If you watch the murder trials on the news or on Court TV, you’ll notice that some psychopaths convicted of murder often put on shows of grief, sadness or remorse in front of the jury. The next moment, however, they’re joking around and laughing with their attorneys or instructing them in a calm and deliberate manner about what to do and say on their behalf. The displays of emotion psychopaths commonly engage in are, of course, fake. They’re tools of manipulation–to provoke sympathy or gain trust–as well as yet another way of “winning” by fooling those around them.

I’ve already mentioned that Neil Entwistle engaged in such histrionic behavior. If you’ve followed crime features on the news, you may have noticed that Casey Anthony, the young woman accused of killing her toddler, behaves similarly. She was observed going out to dance and party at clubs with friends the day after her daughter, Caylee, disappeared. Casey’s lack of concern for her missing child doesn’t necessarily prove that she murdered her. But it reveals highly suspicious and callous behavior. It also casts doubt upon the brief and dramatic displays of grief or concern that she sometimes puts on in front of the media and for her parents.

7) Infatuation. When they identify someone as a good potential target, psychopaths can become obsessed with that particular person. In Without Conscience, Hare compares the psychopath’s focused attention upon his chosen target to a powerful beam of light that illuminates only one spot at a time. He also likens it to a predator stalking its prey. Because psychopaths tend to ignore other responsibilities (such as their jobs and their families) and have no conscience whatsoever, they can focus on pursuing a given target more intensely than multi-dimensional, loving men could. This is especially the case if their target presents an exciting challenge, such as if she’s rich or famous, or if she’s married to another man, which triggers their competitive drive. This single-minded infatuation, however, like all of their proto-emotions, is superficial and short-lived. Because for psychopaths such obsessions don’t lead to any genuine friendship, caring or love, they dissipate as soon as they get whatever they wanted from that person, which may be only the conquest itself.

8) Self-love (sort of). Since psychopaths only care about themselves, one would think that self-love would be the one emotion they could experience more deeply. In a sense that’s true, since their whole lives revolve around the single-minded pursuit of selfish goals. But this is also what makes psychopaths’ self-love as shallow as the rest of their emotions. Just as they’re incapable of considering anyone else’s long-term interest, they’re incapable of considering their own. By pursuing fleeting pleasures and momentary whims, psychopaths sabotage their own lives as well. Rarely do they end up happy or successful. They spend their whole lives hurting and betraying those who loved and trusted them, using and discarding their partners, disappointing the expectations of their families, friends, bosses and colleagues and moving from one meaningless diversion to another. At the end of the road, most of them end up empty-handed and alone.

9) CONTEMPT. I’ve capitalized this word because this is the emotion that dominates a psychopath’s whole identity and way of looking at other human beings. No matter how charming, other-regarding and friendly they may appear to be on the outside, all psychopaths are misanthropes on the inside. A psychopath’s core emotion is contempt for the individuals he fools, uses and abuses and for humanity in general. You can identify the psychopath’s underlying contempt much more easily once he no longer needs you or once his mask of sanity shatters. As we’ve seen, psychopaths hold themselves in high regard and others in low regard. To describe the hierarchies they construct, I’ll use an analogy from my literary studies. I was trained in Comparative Literature during they heyday of Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction as it was being applied to pretty much everything: cultural studies, gender hierarchies, race relations, post-colonialism and the kitchen sink.

Although looking at life in general in terms of “indeterminate” binary hierarchies hasn’t proved particularly useful, this polarized worldview describes rather well the mindset of psychopaths. For such disordered, narcissistic and unprincipled individuals, the world is divided into superiors (themselves) and inferiors (all others); predators (themselves) and prey (their targets); dupers (themselves) and duped (the suckers). Of course, only giving psychopaths a lobotomy would turn these binary hierarchies upside down in their minds. This is where the applicability of Derrida’s deconstructive model stops. Although psychopaths consider themselves superior to others, they distinguish among levels of inferiority in the people they use, manipulate and dupe.

The biggest dupes in their eyes are those individuals who believe whole-heartedly that the psychopaths are the kind, honest, other-regarding individuals they appear to be. As the saying goes, if you buy that, I have some oceanfront property in Kansas to sell you. Such individuals don’t present much of a challenge for psychopaths. They’re usually quickly used up and discarded by them. The second tier of dupes consists of individuals who are lucid only when it comes to the psychopath’s mistreatment of others, not themselves.  Wives and girlfriends who are clever enough to see how the psychopath cheats on, lies to, uses and manipulates other people in his life, but vain or blind enough to believe that they’re the only exception to this rule form the bulk of this group.

This brings to mind an episode of a popular court show I watched recently. A woman testified on behalf of the integrity and honesty of her boyfriend. As it turns out, he had cheated on his wife with her (and other women as well). But his girlfriend nonetheless staunchly defended his character. She maintained that even though she knew that her lover was a cheater and a liar, because she herself was such a great catch and because they had such a special and unique relationship, he was completely faithful and honest to her. The judge laughed out loud and added, “…that you know of!”

Women who are cynical enough to see the psychopath’s mistreatment of others yet gullible enough not to see that’s exactly what he’s doing to them constitute his preferred targets. Such women are not so naive as to present no challenge whatsoever for the psychopath. But they’re definitely blind enough to fall for his manipulation and lies. A psychopath will wrap several such women around his little finger. Those who finally see the psychopath’s mistreatment as a sign of his malicious and corrupt nature occupy the third rung of the hierarchy. They’re usually women who have been burned so badly by the psychopath that they don’t wish to put their hands into the fire again.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


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


Instead of the Cult of Self-Improvement Cultivate Self-Respect

Self-respect is essential for survival. It is a form of self-love that solidifies our identities and protects us from dangerous pathologicals. Self-respect gives us definition and boundaries. Unlike the absolute narcissism of toxic indviduals, self-respect (and self-love) does not entail the exploitation of others nor is it a total self-absorption.  It is also very different from the idolatry that psychopaths commonly engage in during the luring phase of the relationship, when they flatter and love bomb you, in order to manipulate and control you.

In earlier posts I explained that a psychopath controls those who need him for a sense of self-worth and meaning in life. Any woman may be initially hooked by a psychopath during the seduction phase of the relationship. But those who stay with him of their own volition once his mask of charm comes off often suffer from an extreme form of dependency. They have little or no independent self-worth and need the psychopath’s periodic validation to feel sexy or attractive or brilliant or like a good mother and wife: whatever form of validation they need depends upon him.

 “Willing” victims of psychopaths and other control-driven individuals are not necessarily suffering from low self-esteem in a conventional sense of the term. In fact, they may have a very high opinion of themselves. But they do suffer from a highly dependent or mediated self-esteem. They need a “special” person’s control to feel good about themselves and to get a sense of meaning in life. These are the most loyal and promising  long-term victims for psychopaths, who stand by the disordered individuals no matter what they do wrong.  They give their psychopathic partners a kind of absolute power over the lives in a similar manner that cult followers do to their pathological leaders.

In so doing, they relinquish agency and control over their lives. Such highly susceptible individuals may stay with a psychopath even once he stops validating them on a regular basis, and offers only tokens of praise or fake “respect” from time to time. By that time, they’re already trauma bonded to the psychopath, which may keep them emotionally and mentally enslaved to him for life.  The psychopath uses such dependent personalities for his own destructive purposes. He never offers them any genuine love, though he may offer them the false validation they so desperately need.

In life, you gain peace and fulfillment from your own healthy self-esteem and from cultivating a respectful attitude towards others. This sense of balance is largely internal. Nobody else can give it to you. There are literally thousands of “how-to” and “self-help” books on the market. They claim to help people find their inner balance in all sorts of ways: through yoga, Pilates, other mind-body exercises, improving their looks or increasing their sexual stamina. I suspect that most of them work about as well as the perennial miracle diets. They may produce some immediate results. But they rarely fundamentally change a person or improve the quality of his or her life in the long run. Some of them, such as the retreats run by James Arthur Ray, a very popular self-help guru, are extremely dangerous, bordering on cults run by disordered leaders who enjoy controlling others, milking them of their money, and pushing their limits even to the point of death:

http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/r/james_arthur_ray/index.html

To improve yourself more enduringly, you need to cultivate a healthy perception of who you are and know what you want from lifeDysfunctional lives and relationships often stem from character distortions, such as the ones I’ve described so far, which leave you dependent upon the perceptions of others to gain a sense of self-worth. Those most likely to exploit such neediness or vanity are not those who have your best interests in mind. They’re likely to be individuals who want to use and control you. There’s no magical step-by–step procedure that can give you a healthy self-esteem. Just as losing weight depends upon having a healthy, moderate attitude towards your body, so improving your self-image depends upon having a healthy attitude towards your mind. “Know thyself,” the ancient Greeks advised. This, like so much of their practical wisdom, is very good advice.

This is not to say that moderation, or what Aristotle called the mean between two extremes, is always the answer to everything. Nobody can be equally good and equally bad at everything. We all have a combination of weaknesses and strengths. Knowing yourself, in my estimation, means using your strengths to improve your life and the lives of others rather than to appear superior to them or to gain their approval. Being an artistic or mathematical “genius,” or being very popular and beautiful–however exceptional you may be in some respects–doesn’t entitle you to special treatment. It also doesn’t justify you mistreating others in any way. In other words, your strengths shouldn’t feed your vanity, as they do for narcissists and psychopaths, just as your weaknesses shouldn’t cripple you.

Reaching an inner balance also requires having the right motivation for your endeavors. For instance, don’t create art to impress others or to become famous. Create to offer yet another instance of beauty and meaning to enrich your life and perhaps also the lives of others. Don’t write books to become rich or consecrated. Write to express a talent that makes you happy and that may contribute some human wisdom that is best expressed more creatively. Don’t give to charity or behave nicely to others to be considered generous and kind. Help those in need and be a genuinely decent human being.

If you have a healthy self-image, your strengths and talents will radiate primarily from within. They will give energy to others rather than being absorbed from without, by depending upon their external validation. Similarly, having a healthy self-esteem entails working on your weaknesses without allowing them to haunt you, to become deep-seated insecurities that malicious individuals can exploit. Such a healthy attitude towards yourself and your life therefore implies some detachment from the views of others: from how they perceive you, what they expect from you and what they say about you.

Of course, none of us live in a vacuum. We’re all partially influenced by the views and expectations of our partners, our families, our colleagues, our friends and society in general, as we well should be. But those with a healthy self-esteem are not determined primarily by others. For as long as they behave decently to other human beings, they don’t fold under when their partners, family members, friends or peers criticize them. They also don’t lose their self-esteem when they fail at some of their own goals. Conversely, they don’t feel superior to others just because some people praise them or because they attain some level of success or even fame. Success and fame, like the criticism and praise of others in general, comes and goes. Knowing who you are and what you have to contribute can last a lifetime.

The main thing that can save you from a psychopath–or from any other manipulative person who wants to take over your life–is cultivating a healthy self-esteem. This may seem like a truism. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of common sense that many know but fewer actually practice. Any therapist will tell you that he or she stays in business largely because of people’s unrealistic perception of themselves. Character distortions not only damage our self-confidence, but also taint our relationships. They make us excessively vain, or needy, or inflexible, or too willing to bend over backwards just to please others. More seriously, character disorders, such as psychopathy and malignant narcissism, are unfixable in adults.

Fortunately, however, most people don’t suffer from such constitutive emotional and moral deficiencies. More commonly, we suffer from distorted perceptions of ourselves. This puts us at risk of falling into the clutches of controlling individuals. To find your compass you need to look within, as the Greeks wisely advised. Ultimately, nobody else can save you. You can save yourself by living well, which depends upon knowing your worth–neither underestimating nor overestimating it–and pursuing with a mostly internally driven self-confidence the path you want to take in life.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction



How to Recognize a Psychopath

Unlike Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, psychopaths don’t usually come across as socially awkward, reclusive and bizarre. On the contrary, they often seem charming, outgoing and normal. That’s a big part of their lure, or “mask of sanity.” Consequently, it’s very important that we inform ourselves about the symptoms of psychopathy in order to protect ourselves from these dangerous individuals.

The main experts on psychopathy, Hervey Cleckley, Robert Hare and Martha Stout provide, essentially, the same list of personality traits to describe psychopaths. They state that such individuals exhibit superficial charm and intelligence. They use these qualities to attract people and to control them. Contrary to other kinds of pathological individuals, psychopaths don’t experience delusions or manifest any “other signs of irrational thinking.” For that reason, they appear to be, and actually are, “sane.” When they commit crimes, psychopaths know exactly what they’re doing. They realize that it’s wrong and know why society considers it wrong. They just happen to make exceptions for themselves and for their outrageous behavior, which, in their estimation, lies above the rules that govern the rest of humanity.

Similarly, psychopaths lack nervousness or any “psychoneurotic manifestations.” Not only are they unlike Woody Allen’s comical antiheroes, but also they stay cool and collected even when a normal response would be to experience distress. Although they sometimes engage in histrionic displays of emotion to gain sympathy, psychopaths remain unflappable during a crisis, such as a break-up or divorce from their significant other (because no other is significant to them), a death in the family, when they’re caught for committing a crime or even when they’re being punished for their illegal activities. A psychopath’s motto in life is: “Bad men do what good men dream.” Psychopaths can’t grasp the idea of conscience and feelings for others except as a form of weakness. They don’t understand that their dreams are normal people’s nightmares.

Such individuals are very impulsive and can fly off the handle with little or no provocation, but nothing rattles them for long. Analogously, they can fulfill their obligations for a short period of time to win their targets’ trust, but are unreliable over the long haul. No matter what promises they make and how important their commitment to fulfill them may be to others, they’ll eventually let people down. In fact, they go out of their way to hurt and betray those who trust them.

Psychopaths pursue short-term goals. They say whatever they need to say in order to get what they want at the moment. Their minds function like a GPS system where they’re constantly punching in a new destination. Whatever direction they take changes upon a whim, as soon as they spot anything or anyone they momentarily perceive as a better or more exciting opportunity. That’s not just because psychopaths are shallow, but also because they’re envious, greedy and power-hungry.  They want whatever other people have that they find desirable. That may be a new partner, a good job, prestige, wealth or a family. They want successful relationships without offering love, honesty or fidelity. To bolster their sense of superiority–without having much to show in terms of personal qualities, talents or accomplishments–they put their partners (and others) down and cultivate their weaknesses. To succeed in their jobs, without doing much work, they charm, intimidate, manipulate and bully their coworkers and staff.  To acquire wealth, they commit fraud or engage in scams. But, generally speaking, psychopaths can’t hold on to anything and anyone because their interests and needs change constantly. Sooner or later, they become dissatisfied with everything they have in life and want something more, or someone different.

Psychopaths are unpredictable even in their unpredictability. Nobody can tell in advance when they’re going to sabotage your life and happiness, or even their own, for that matter. Psychopaths can be highly believable pathological liars. Most people may lie sometimes.  Psychopaths, however, tell harmful lies for the sport of it and with malice. To them, lying functions as a means of controlling others by manipulating their perception of reality. It’s also a form of free entertainment. Because of their shallow emotions, psychopaths get easily bored. Their psychological hollowness propels them into a perpetual quest for new people to use, new sexual encounters, the newest business ventures as well as new and exciting ways to transgress social rules.

Psychopaths manifest poor judgment and fail to learn from experience. Epicurus defined pleasure as the absence of pain. By that standard, psychopaths aren’t Epicurean. They seek positive pleasures: highs, thrills and the sensation of constant euphoria. But they aren’t particularly bothered by pain or by negative consequences in general. They sabotage their own futures and harm others in momentary flashes of anger or for the sake of short-lived fun. A lot of their problems stem from their fundamental narcissism, or what Cleckley calls their “pathological egocentricity and incapacity for love.” To psychopaths, people are objects whose needs and even lives don’t matter except in so far as they can use them.  After using people, they toss them away.

Psychopaths can’t feel anything, not even joy or happiness, very deeply. They exhibit, Cleckley indicates, a “general poverty in all major affective reactions.” Hare states that psychopaths experience “proto-emotions” rather than the full range of human feelings. They feel momentary pleasure, glee or delight when they do or get what they want. By way of contrast, they feel fleeting frustration or anger when their desires are thwarted. But they can’t experience the deeper emotions, such as other-regarding love, empathy, remorse, sadness, regret or even anxiety and depression.

Their main emotion is contempt for other human beings, which they often mask underneath a thin layer of sociability and charm. Upon meeting new people, psychopaths perform an intuitive cost-benefit analysis, to classify them as targets, accomplices or obstacles in the pursuit of whatever they want at the moment. Targets are used as accomplices, and then discarded as obstacles once their usefulness has expired.

Since psychopaths eventually alienate all those around them with their unscrupulous and callous behavior, the only people who continue to find their mask of sanity plausible over time are those who don’t know them well, those who suffer from a similar personality disorder, or those who have an unhealthy emotional investment in them. Those who refuse to face the truth about the psychopath in their lives often become his alibis, sticking by him despite all rational evidence of his personality disorder and his wrongdoings.

Due to their shallowness, psychopaths suffer from what psychologists call “specific loss of insight.” Not only are they incapable of understanding how others function on a deeper emotional level, but also they lack an understanding of their own motivations and behavior. They intuitively know how to deceive and manipulate others. But they can’t grasp why they feel compelled to do it. Because they don’t see anything wrong with themselves and their actions, they also fail in therapy. Improving one’s behavior requires having the insight to see your flaws and the desire to change for the better, especially for the sake of those you care about. Psychopaths lack such incentives. They live only for their own pleasure.

To entertain themselves, they engage in what Cleckley calls “fantastic and uninviting behavior.” This is made worse by various addictions—to sex, drugs and/or alcohol—that are quite common for them, largely because of their low impulse control and need for constant excitement.  Psychopaths thrive on depravity and transgression. After behaving more or less normally for a period of time, they can all of a sudden become boisterous and unruly, pull their pants down in public, hit their spouse or start a brawl without provocation. Cleckley also notes that for psychopaths, “suicide is rarely carried out.” Just as they’re incapable of experiencing a deeper form of happiness which for most people results from leading an orderly life and loving one’s family and friends, they’re also incapable of experiencing a deeper form of unhappiness, which drives some individuals to suicide.

Cleckley and Hare both observe that for psychopaths “sex life is impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated.” Psychopaths can, however, sometimes experience intense attachments without emotional bonding. Some of them have such obsessive infatuations that they may even stalk their targets for an extended period of time. This behavior, however, is not tied to any genuine feelings of love or even to “being in love.” Rather, it stems from a sense of entitlement and ownership. Psychopaths believe that it’s their right to possess the women they momentarily desire and to discard them as soon as they no longer want them. Generally speaking, for psychopaths sexual relationships function as a release and as a form of exerting control over others. They’re not a means of connecting, which, over time, implies shared emotional ties and mutual moral obligations.

Finally, psychopaths are noted for their “failure to follow any life plan.” A few psychopaths may be very ambitious. Yet fewer become powerful or famous. However, most lack the patience to pursue far-reaching goals that require dedication and hard work. Instead, they move from one temporary–and usually destructive–diversion to another, in search of something to alleviate their pervasive sense of boredom.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


The List of Psychopathy Symptoms: Hervey Cleckley and Robert Hare

“I knew in my heart something was wrong with him (or with her)”. This is what nearly every victim of a psychopath has felt, usually early on in the relationship. The over-the-top flattery. The quick pace of the relationship and demands for instant commitment. The lies and inconsistencies. The callousness towards others. The disregard for social norms. The sense of superiority (absolute narcissism), without having much to show for it or justify it. The aimlessness and lack of responsibility. The random oscillations in mood and behavior, to exert power over others. The demands for isolation from loved ones and friends. The sexual deviancy. The control and possessiveness. There are always very disturbing signs in the psychopathic bond, signs that we tend to ignore or rationalize until the toxic relationship, like a disease, takes over to destroy our lives. 

I’d advise anyone who feels this way to start researching on the internet the symptoms they see wrong because this information about psychopathy, and finally paying attention to the red flags and our intuition, has saved each and every one of us. The first –and last–step in recovery from the psychopathic bond is getting information; recognizing the nature of the problem. This is why knowing how to identify the symptoms of psychopathy is so important. Information can save us from denial, false hope, gaslighting and the illusion that a psychopath is likely to foster in victims. It can give us the strength to leave the toxic relationships, substantiated by facts as opposed to just feelings. Psychopaths can manipulate our feelings. But the symptoms of this personality disorder are clear as psychology–which is, after all, a social rather than “hard” science–can identify.

Today I’d like to repost a list of the symptoms of psychopathy, offered by two of the main experts on psychopathy, to whom I’ve often alluded so far: Hervey Cleckley (author of The Mask of Sanity) and Robert Hare (author of Without Conscience, Snakes in Suits and The Psychopathy Checklist). Obviously, their lists are very similar since Robert Hare built upon Hervey Cleckley’s ground-breaking research.

Hervey Cleckley’s List of Psychopathy Symptoms:

1. Considerable superficial charm and average or above average intelligence.

2. Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking.

3. Absence of anxiety or other “neurotic” symptoms. Considerable poise, calmness and verbal facility.

4. Unreliability, disregard for obligations, no sense of responsibility, in matters of little and great import.

5. Untruthfulness and insincerity.

6. Antisocial behavior which is inadequately motivated and poorly planned, seeming to stem from an inexplicable impulsiveness.

7. Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior.

8. Poor judgment and failure to learn from experience.

9. Pathological egocentricity. Total self-centeredness and an incapacity for real love and attachment.

10. General poverty of deep and lasting emotions.

11. Lack of any true insight; inability to see oneself as others do.

12. Ingratitude for any special considerations, kindness and trust.

13. Fantastic and objectionable behavior, after drinking and sometimes even when not drinking. Vulgarity, rudeness, quick mood shifts, pranks for facile entertainment.

14. No history of genuine suicide attempts.

15. An impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated sex life.

16. Failure to have a life plan and to live in any ordered way  (unless it is for destructive purposes or a sham).

Robert Hare’s Checklist of Psychopathy Symptoms:

1. GLIB AND SUPERFICIAL CHARM — the tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile. Psychopathic charm is not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything. A psychopath never gets tongue-tied. He can also be a great listener, to simulate empathy while zeroing in on his targets’ dreams and vulnerabilities, to be able to manipulate them better.

2. GRANDIOSE SELF-WORTH — a grossly inflated view of one’s abilities and self-worth, self-assured, opinionated, cocky, a braggart. Psychopaths are arrogant people who believe they are superior human beings.

3. NEED FOR STIMULATION or PRONENESS TO BOREDOM — an excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky. Psychopaths often have a low self-discipline in carrying tasks through to completion because they get bored easily. They fail to work at the same job for any length of time, for example, or to finish tasks that they consider dull or routine.

4. PATHOLOGICAL LYING — can be moderate or high; in moderate form, they will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever; in extreme form, they will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative and dishonest.

5. CONNING AND MANIPULATIVENESS: the use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; distinguished from Item #4 in the degree to which exploitation and callous ruthlessness is present, as reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of one’s victims.

6. LACK OF REMORSE OR GUILT:  a lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, coldhearted and unempathic. This item is usually demonstrated by a disdain for one’s victims.

7. SHALLOW AFFECT:  emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness and superficial warmth.

8. CALLOUSNESS and LACK OF EMPATHY:  a lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.

9. PARASITIC LIFESTYLE: an intentional, manipulative, selfis, and exploitative financial dependence on others as reflected in a lack of motivation, low self-discipline and the inability to carry through one’s responsibilities.

10. POOR BEHAVIORAL CONTROLS:  expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting hastily.

11. PROMISCUOUS SEXUAL BEHAVIOR: a variety of brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, and an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners; the maintenance of numerous, multiple relationships at the same time; a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity (rape) or taking great pride at discussing sexual exploits and conquests.

12. EARLY BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS: a variety of behaviors prior to age 13, including lying, theft, cheating, vandalism, bullying, sexual activity, fire-setting, glue-sniffing, alcohol use and running away from home.

13. LACK OF REALISTIC, LONG-TERM GOALS: an inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals; a nomadic existence, aimless, lacking direction in life.

14. IMPULSIVITY: the occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations and momentary urges; a lack of deliberation without considering the consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable, erratic and reckless.

15. IRRESPONSIBILITY: repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments; such as not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements.

16. FAILURE TO ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR OWN ACTIONS: a failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions reflected in low conscientiousness, an absence of dutifulness, antagonistic manipulation, denial of responsibility, and an effort to manipulate others through this denial.

17. MANY SHORT-TERM RELATIONSHIPS: a lack of commitment to a long-term relationship reflected in inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable commitments in life, including in marital and familial bonds.

18. JUVENILE DELINQUENCY: behavior problems between the ages of 13-18; mostly behaviors that are crimes or clearly involve aspects of antagonism, exploitation, aggression, manipulation, or a callous, ruthless tough-mindedness.

19. REVOCATION OF CONDITION RELEASE: a revocation of probation or other conditional release due to technical violations, such as carelessness, low deliberation or failing to appear.

20. CRIMINAL VERSATILITY: a diversity of types of criminal offenses, regardless if the person has been arrested or convicted for them; taking great pride at getting away with crimes or wrongdoings.

These lists have been compiled by angelfire, on the link below:

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


How can you win after the psychopathic bond?

Some of you have asked me how you can win with a psychopath. The simplest answer is: you can’t. The psychopathic bond is essentially a losing cause for the victim. There’s no question you will lose for as long as you stay involved with a psychopath: the only question is how much. Chances are that the longer you stay with him, the more you will lose. Furthermore, even after the breakup, you won’t win for as long as you perceive winning as relational to a psychopath and his standards.

Here’s why: You can’t win by seeing him lose, because psychopaths aren’t ashamed of their failures. They boast and dominate others even when caught for their crimes and in jail. You can’t win by seeing the psychopath regret what he did to hurt you and others because psychopaths lack a conscience. They gloat about their wrongdoings and take trophies to relive the pleasure.

You can’t win by persuading the psychopath that he’s a psychopath, since to him this will only mean that he’s more Machiavellian, intelligent, manipulative and dominant than you and others.  Whatever normal people perceive as horrible character flaws—pathological lying, manipulation, a quest for dominance, narcissism and sadistic tendencies—a psychopath perceives as being human qualities that he excels at, which only make him (in his own eyes) superior to others.

Earlier I have explained that for psychopaths winning means playing games with others, assuming fraudulent roles, and putting others down or slandering them (the psychopath’s smear campaign) in order to maintain dominance. They are narcissistic in that they need admirers, followers and people to worship them in order to feel like they exist. However, they use and put down even their followers, in order to play games at their expense. Psychopaths and malignant narcissists respect no one but themselves and love no one but themselves. They’d rather waste their lives playing games indented to make others lose than accomplish anything constructive with their lives, as I explain in the posts below:

https://psychopathyawareness.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/why-do-sociopaths-waste-our-time/

Obviously, you can’t win by playing the psychopath’s silly power games. You also can’t win by asking for or depending upon his approval. Keep in mind that he’s a completely worthless human being: a fraud masquerading human qualities. Consequently, showing him how true your love was, how loyal you were, how much you’ve done for him and what he has destroyed will accomplish nothing except reinforce the dominance bond over you. He latched on to you because of these qualities and destruction was his main goal. He will feel great that he was able to get you to love him so deeply. It means that the dupery worked: score!

For as long as you maintain the psychopath and his deviant standards as a frame of reference you can only lose.  Psychopaths view life and human relationships as a strategy game. For as long as you do as well, you are just one more game piece for a severely disordered individual.

You can only win after you sever the psychopathic bond. You will win by moving on, loving again, accomplishing your professional and personal goals and being caring to those who truly care about you. Living well (which  means a life free of the psychopath) is the best revenge.

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

 

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