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



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Psychopaths, Jerks and Triangulation

If you’ve fallen for a jerk, you may take some solace in the fact that you’re in good company. Even Hollywood stars and music icons, who have their pick among men, tend to go for bad guys. To mention just one of the latest scandals, LeAnn Rimes has left her husband, Dean Cheremet, for Eddie Cibrian, a man whom many describe as a “serial cheater”. This news caused a splash in 2009. It even led the editor of Shape Magazine to offer an apology to her readers for putting Rimes on the cover. Needless to say, LeAnn Rimes is no innocent victim. And yet, given the fact that Eddie Cibrian reportedly already cheated on her with his ex-wife and his ex-mistress, I predict that he’ll be the one to break her heart rather than the other way around.

For now, their blooming love affair appears all rosy. On Halloween last year, Eddie proposed to LeAnn as a prank, but recently they got married for real. The fact that she became obsessed with her looks, lost a lot of weight, and now looks anorexic seems like a very bad sign. However, still in the throes of the honeymoon phase, LeAnn has no time for regret. She states in an interview: “Nothing I’m going to say is going to change it. I do know that, and I have accepted that…but I do know how much I love him. So I’ve always said I don’t live my life with regret. I can’t.”

And yet, many women who leave decent partners for rakish lovers do, indeed, end up living with regret. What’s new gets old. After the initial conquest is over, the Casanova types quickly tire of their relationships and look elsewhere for new sexual thrills. Even giving in to their libertine lifestyle may not be enough. Speaking of  which, it seems like each of Charlie Sheen‘s “Goddesses” were eventually knocked off their pedestals, despite readily participating in his raunchy fantasies.

Psychopaths know how to identify each person’s specific weaknesses and vulnerabilities. If you’re okay with an open sexual relationship and look down upon the “bourgeois” notion of fidelity as too boring and conventional, don’t worry, the psychopath will identify other deliciously cruel ways to betray, hurt and punish you. After all, isn’t that what the libertine tradition is all about? Not just pleasure in itself, but pleasure through someone else’s dupery, misery and pain? Just take a look at Laclos and De Sade.

In fact, it’s worth rereading the eighteenth-century novel about psychopathic seduction after which I named my own book on the subject, Dangerous Liaisons, or at least seeing the excellent movie staring John Malkovich and Glenn Close. In a particularly poignant scene, whose image I’m including below, the psychopathic sex addict, Valmont, is writing love letters to one mistress on the naked back of another: a corruptible young woman he seduced and perverted very young, who relishes the perversion and colludes with him in his libertinage.

Predictably, she ends up destroyed as well. It’s not just sex psychopaths and other jerks want, nor just power. It’s power at the expense of another. For a disordered, control-driven individual, there’s no better way to exert power over others than through triangulation: flaunting new relationships to his ex’s; fostering enmity and jealousy among his various conquests.

Feeling flattered by the overflow of attention, newer targets often participate in these displays of cruelty, much like LeAnn Rimes willingly participated in a pretty disgusting PDA with her new husband Eddie, in front of his ex-wife, Brandi Glanville, according to this recent article in US Weekly Magazine:

As I’ve explained in my earlier post on manipulating women and turning them against each other (https://psychopathyawareness.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/stringing-women-along-the-psychopath-as-puppet-master/), such ostentatious make-out sessions aren’t about affection or love. They’re about using current targets to rile up and hurt former targets. Without causing pain to others, psychopaths and other jerks don’t enjoy their control over women. They use new victims to rub salt on former victims’ wounds, just as they’ll use future victims to try to hurt them in turn.

Their logic is the same as the song How You Like Me Now? by The Heavy, which I used in this art video to showcase the photography of postromanticism, the art movement I started in 2002.

The logic of this song is triangulation: How do you like me now, that you know I cheated and replaced you? The sadist in the song flaunts the new “love” to the former girlfriend and asks her: Does that make you love me Baby? Does that make  you want me Baby? The obvious answer to such stupid questions from anyone who is not disordered is: NO. I like you even less. Or, if you prefer, I dislike you even more!

A psychopath can’t understand that it’s him you reject, so it doesn’t matter what other women (or men) he attracts and what he does with his life, professionally or personally. Nothing and nobody can make a person entirely deprived of human qualities and character look good. Triangulation can only expose further the depth of his depravity.

Even those women who, like LeAnn Rimes, buy the psychopath’s smear campaign about his ex’s and relish being the new partner in his latest triangulation don’t usually enjoy when they’re the target of the psychopath’s newest “love of his life” or “soulmate,” as the process inevitably starts all over again. A psychopathic seducer cannot be happy with anyone, not even with his most ardent defender and worshipper. It doesn’t matter how much she herself loves him; what’s most relevant is that he is constitutionally incapable of real love. Sooner or later, he’ll find ways to humiliate and hurt her as well, as he’s done to every other woman before her.

Believe it or not, you reap what you sow in life. Each target will eventually be stabbed in the back by yet another target, whom the psychopath will use to machinate against her. This pattern, which we see played out over and over again, leads me to ask the inevitable question: Why do so many women go for jerks? Here’s my top five reasons, off the top of my head:

1. Jerks tend to be very romantic at first. Much more so than nice guys. Jerks are impulsive, thrill-seeking and experienced in the art of seduction. They know just what to do and say to sweep women off their feet.

2.  Jerks are smooth liars. They know how to tell women what they want to hear. A nice guy may tell you quite honestly when you don’t look so hot or have gained a couple of pounds. A jerk, however, will usually flatter you as if you’re the best thing since sliced bread (but he’ll cut you down behind your back, to the other women he’s trying to impress).

3. Jerks tend to be hyper-sexual. All too often women equate sexual attraction with love. But remember, attachment doesn’t equal bonding. Just because a man wants to make love to you all the time doesn’t mean that he actually cares about you.  Besides, sexual passion rarely stays intense once the relationship transitions from an affair to marriage.

4. Women flatter and fool themselves. We really want to believe that we’re the exception that confirms the rule. Sure, the man I love may have cheated on his ex-wife and dozens of OTHER women, but he won’t cheat on ME. Why not? Because our relationship is that UNIQUE and because I’m that SPECIAL. Chances are: no, you’re not. What he did to others for you he’ll eventually do to you for others. Mark my words LeAnn Rimes! You’ll see this behavior in a few years (at most!), when he’ll be using someone new to hurt you just as he used you to hurt his former wife.

5. Women enjoy a challenge. Taming a player is kind of like riding a wild horse. It may be dangerous and cause anxiety, but it’s also very exciting. One thing to keep in mind is that, sadly, excitement is fleeting. Dealing with your partner’s constant lying, cheating and rationalizations for his bad behavior gets tedious, predictable and boring real fast. Far more boring, in fact, than interactions with men who have good character and emotional depth.

Because women don’t always have impeccable judgment when it comes to falling in love, it may be true that good guys finish last. But if you choose a jerk over a nice guy (or even over being single), you’ll be the one ending up last. My advice? Choose someone sweet because a relationship with a psychopathic jerk is bound to sour. 

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

Getting Over the Psychopath: Cultivating Indifference

Today I’ll keep my post short and sweet: the best antidote for the pain a psychopath has caused you is indifference. This attitude takes awhile to cultivate, but believe me, it does come. It comes after you accept the fact that a psychopath’s virtues are an illusion and that at core he’s an utterly insignificant and trivial human being.

Since all psychopaths are extreme narcissists–even though they may sometimes feign modesty–they consider themselves to be brilliant, gorgeous, clever, accomplished, superior to others and, overall, extremely important. In fact, they latch on to others and victimize them only to assert their false sense of superiority. If you’ve been involved with a psychopath for any substantial period of time, you probably first shared the illusion that the psychopath had all the qualities he claimed to have: by lying, piggy-backing on the accomplishments and hard work of others and greatly exaggerating his own accomplishments and virtues.

Then, once his mask of sanity shattered and you realized that you’ve been conned–be it emotionally, physically, financially or all of the above–you’ve probably experienced a deep sense of betrayal and anger. These negative emotions are perfectly normal under the circumstances. In fact, to overcome the psychopathic bond, you must allow yourself to feel them. During this middle stage, you probably oscillated between negative emotions and positive (but illusory) memories, which were created during the “romantic,” luring phase of the psychopathic bond, when he deluged you with compliments and gifts.

Most of the pain experienced by victims of psychopathic seduction comes precisely from the contrast–or vast difference–between the fake image (the luring phase) and the dismal true reality (after the psychopath reveals himself to be an evil human being). You may feel used, betrayed, extremely hurt, yet still, sometimes, in spite of yourself, wish to cling to some of those positive memories as “real.” Unfortunately, even the good times you shared with the psychopath weren’t real in any meaningful sense of the term. They weren’t created with a person who was genuine or who is capable of loving you or anybody else. They were simply part of the ruse.

But once you accept this reality and stop clinging to any part of your past with the psychopath, you begin to experience a genuine indifference. You don’t forgive, since psychopaths don’t deserve–nor ask for–anyone’s forgiveness. You don’t forget, because this negative experience taught you how to be a stronger and better human being. But you don’t care anymore if the psychopath who plagued your life lives or dies, fails or thrives.

A psychopath is only the center of his own world. He wants to get others to believe that he has qualities he lacks; that he’s talented and important. But the truth of the matter is that he’s not any of these things. Psychopaths, at core, are frauds and empty shells. They don’t have any talents except for very superficial ones. They aren’t capable of emotional or intellectual depth. They lack real social skills because they attach to others only in order to use and victimize them. Their life accomplishments are also parasitic.

Just think about it: why waste an ounce of your energy and life on such a trivial human being? He’s not worth it. Yes, you were fooled. But it was by a fool who shouldn’t matter to you or anybody else. Getting over a psychopath entails accepting how uninteresting and insignificant such a pathological person truly is. It means, in other words, cultivating indifference. That is the only emotion–or lack thereof–that any psychopath deserves from other human beings.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Confessions of an Incorrigible Sex Addict

Couple the fact that psychopaths are very impulsive and hedonistic with the fact that they seek to maximize their dominance over women and what you often get is sexual addiction. Sex is a psychopath’s preferred method of combining pleasure, deception, conquest and dominance. This is why, as we’ve seen in my previous post on the relationship boomerang, psychopaths tend to rotate and recycle women. They shift energy and prioritize one, then another; they return to former girlfriends once they get bored with the new ones. In a popular article, Dr. Gail Saltz responded to a letter from a married man who bragged about his duplicity and manipulation of countless women. He writes:

“Dear Dr. Saltz, I can’t get enough of women. I have to look at every woman who walks by. I watch porn, I flirt, I keep in touch with past girlfriends, I make new ones, I browse for women online. I get up to 30 e-mails a day from women. Once I have seduced them online, they are dying to meet me and usually sleep with me on the first date. Then I find the simplest flaw and use that against them to break it off. They are devastated. They feel I have used them sexually, and they are right. The kicker is that I am married. My wife is great, beautiful, intelligent and we have a good sex life. I am 41. We have been together for 25 years. I, however, still have a constant rotation of new women. I just can’t stop seducing other women and having sex with them. Nor do I want to, because I am having the time of my life.”

The only thing that bothers this man turns out to be the inconvenience it poses for his job. He claims that he takes three hours a day to write women. He also calls those “higher on the rotation.” He emails women again for three hours at night, after his wife goes to bed. Then he hunts on the Internet for new targets. Needless to say, he doesn’t feel guilty towards his wife or any of the other women he misleads. Nor does he believe that he has a problem or sex addiction. His reasoning is quite impressive: consuming what you enjoy can’t possibly be an addiction. He boasts:

“I have slept with an untold number of women. I would not call it an addiction because I like it so much and it makes me happy to meet them, seduce them, sleep with them and, yes, even break up with them. This week I will hit my all-time record of sleeping with 13 different women. They are all beautiful, intelligent and successful, and they all think we will live happily ever after. They have no idea that I am sleeping with so many other women, let alone married. I know hurting them emotionally is bad. I just can’t stop. To me it is all fair game as long as it is consensual.”

This man’s definition of addiction is only outdone by his impressive moral reasoning. According to him, lying to, misleading and cheating on women can’t possibly be wrong as long as it’s “consensual.” One wonders how many of those women “consented” to being used and deceived by him. Imagine your boyfriend kissing you, then looking into your eyes and telling you how much he loves you and that you’re the only woman for him. It sounds very nice and fills you with feelings of love and devotion. Then imagine him doing exactly the same thing with another woman an hour before meeting with you and with a third woman an hour afterwards. Somehow, his kisses and vows of love no longer seem quite as meaningful. In fact, once you see the whole picture of the psychopath’s behavior, all the so-called “positive” aspects of the relationship lose meaning.

Unfortunately, women involved with psychopaths don’t usually get to see the whole picture. Like the man in this scenario, their husbands or boyfriends carry on behind their backs and routinely deceive them. Yet, to return to my previous point, wouldn’t “consent” imply knowing all the relevant facts to reach an informed decision? Apparently, not according to this self-professed Don Juan. The only thing that matters him is the fact that he enjoys seducing, deceiving and dumping women. He elaborates:

“For me, it is not simply the sex, it is the seduction, and the mental games and pleasure I receive from this. To seduce a women to the point where she really wants to have sex with me is very stimulating to me. It is like I have scored a touchdown in the last few seconds of the Superbowl. I have gotten so good at the aftergame as well that I make only one call or e-mail. You are not what I was looking for, please don’t write me anymore. I never hear from them again. I find myself so manipulative it scares me sometimes. Can you please give me some insight into what is going on?”

Dr. Saltz hits the nail on the head when she responds:

“I think you are a sex addict and a sociopath. What you describe is sexual addiction. Like any addict, you have a feedback loop that provides you with positive reinforcement every time you make a conquest—hence your comparison to a winning touchdown in the big game… What is so very disturbing is your complete lack of guilt, remorse or empathy for the other parties involved. You know intellectually that this is bad behavior, because you are aware you are betraying your spouse and hurting all the other woman you deal with. Yet it seems that you understand this only on a purely observational level. It sounds as though you have no capacity for emotion. You lack any ability to hold yourself morally accountable for your dishonest and harmful actions. You are easily able to rationalize hurting and mistreating others, whether they are strangers or relatives. In fact, you take pleasure in it. Hence, I also think you are a sociopath, with an utter lack of concern and regard for others.”

I’m not sure what or if the psychopath answered her back. I suspect, however, that he couldn’t care less about her diagnosis or anyone else’s assessment of him, at least in so far as it’s negative. But I think it’s important to be aware of the whole picture: the lure of the psychopath as well as his pathetic reality. The bait he offers women is a picture of perfect romance, ideal love and happiness. A psychopath can be charming, fun, romantic, spontaneous, passionate and sweet in the beginning of a relationship. The reality, however, is a relationship without any genuine feelings–at least on the psychopath’s side–founded on deceit and plagued by countless lies and infidelities.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction