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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A Better and Stronger You: Leaving the Psychopath for Good

Many of the women who love psychopaths intuitively know that they’re dealing with a sick man. Yet they feel like they have invested far too much for far too long into the relationship to give up on him. Their self-confidence and sense of reality have been severely undermined. They may tell themselves, hoping against hope, that their love and patience will fix the dangerous man. Or that after spending fifteen years with him, they can’t throw away the entirety of their youth, as if those years together were all for nothing.

As Sandra Brown M.A. puts it in Women Who Love Psychopaths, nobody escapes completely unscathed from such a toxic relationship. However, the harm is not linear: in other words, it’s not necessarily true that the longer you are with a psychopath the more you are harmed. Even short-term relationships with a disordered man can be very harmful. Conversely, even women who have spent 20 years with a psychopath can escape those toxic bonds and emerge better and stronger from them.

However, the damage seems to get worse from the time you realize you’re with a psychopath or disordered man and come to accept his abuse: the pathological lying, the gaslighting, the cheating, the putdowns, the threats and the relentless chipping away at your self-esteem. Women who stay with known psychopaths, or with men they know to be very bad, adapt to increasing dosages of harm. This can severely damage their own personalities and the way they interact with others, sometimes beyond repair.

On the positive side, even if you’ve spent many years with a psychopath, you can escape this toxic relationship. Chances are, you used to be a strong person. In previous posts we’ve seen that psychopaths prefer to seduce extraverted, accomplished and confident women. They could easily prey upon passive and weak women. But they prefer the challenge of destroying a strong person instead. We’ve seen how psychopaths use their partners’ strengths against them. They use women’s trust to deceive and cheat on them as well as, more generally, to play mind games. They isolate previously sociable women. They undermine the confidence of women with high self-esteem by focusing on their real or imaginary weaknesses. It’s not unusual to develop neuroses, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders while involved with a psychopath. He will even cultivate those maladies, and lead you to focus obsessively on them rather than on your strengths and achievements, to keep you under his thumb.

We’ve seen how psychopaths use women’s capacity to love and their tenacity–their high emotional investment in the relationship–to keep them on the hook. They lure them with strategic withdrawals and empty promises to improve, which are belied by consistent, though often hidden, abuse. They dangle whatever women want most in life before their eyes–true love, fidelity, commitment, a happy life together, returning to the romantic and exciting honeymoon phase of the relationship–only to make conditional demands, that erode their partners’ dignity and self-respect.

To counteract these strategies and reclaim your life, you need to reassert your agency, your strength and your boundaries. You need to recognize that you’re not just a passive victim of the psychopath’s control, even if you were, indeed, victimized by him. You have agency. You willingly began the relationship with the psychopath. You willingly stayed with him despite seeing red flags early on in the relationship. You may have willingly taken him back after discovering that he repeatedly cheated and lied. You may have also engaged in some immoral behavior to keep him in your life. You may have hurt or neglected those who loved you for his sake. Each step you took as a couple was not just his own doing. It was also yours. Sandra Brown points out that seeing yourself as an agent in your life decisions doesn’t imply denying the fact that the psychopath has hurt you or minimize the extent of your pain. It just shows you that you have the power to determine your life choices. Just as you chose to become involved and stay with a psychopath, you also have the power to disengage from him for good. (How to spot a dangerous man,  32)

To understand why you made such poor and self-defeating choices, you need to assess realistically both your strengths and your weaknesses. In earlier posts, I identified some of the potential weaknesses of women who get involved with psychopaths, which led them down a self-destructive path. The main one is an unrealistic and dichotomous view of themselves, which is narcissistically inflated (as better than other women) in some ways, and too weak (as less than other women) in others. You don’t need a psychopath to identify your qualities and flaws. You don’t need his manipulative criticisms that undermine your self-confidence. You don’t need his fake and conditional flattery to feel good about yourself. You know who you are. And, deep inside, after so much mistreatment at his hands, you also know that it’s clearly in your best interest to leave the dangerous man and end the sick relationship with him. Your self-preservation, not just your self-esteem, is at stake.

Exercising your agency also implies reasserting your strength and your boundaries. If you stayed with a psychopathic partner it’s because he undermined the strength that he originally admired in you and that drew him to you, like a parasite to its host, to destroy you. You can find that inner strength again to live your life free of him. The longer you will be away from his noxious influence, the stronger you will grow.

The psychopath has strung you along by eroding your boundaries: your moral sense of right and wrong, your sexual boundaries and your empathy. When you draw the line and say no more and mean it, the psychopath loses and you win. By way of contrast, each time you do what he tells you, each time you override your intuition to believe his lies, each time you violate your sense of right and wrong, each time you neglect or hurt those who care about you, each time you engage in perverse sexual acts just to please him, he wins and you lose.

The women who stay with psychopaths may be strong women, as Brown’s research indicates. Yet many of them lack sufficiently strong boundaries. They may be strong in other areas of life. But they become weak as far as their personal relations with the psychopath are concerned. These, unfortunately, become the fulcrum of their existence. Staying with a psychopath indicates that they’re willing to compromise their values, their relationships and their standards just to keep and please a disordered man.

To reclaim your autonomy and your strength, you need to reassert your boundaries. The negative experience with the psychopath has no doubt made you more aware than ever of what you stand for since you were repeatedly pressured by him to lower your standards and to violate your principles. Each time you did that it hurt because you lost not only part of your values, but also–and more importantly–part of yourself.

Asserting the limits of the person you are and of what you stand for constitutes an essential step towards rejecting the psychopath. Most likely, he won’t even stay with you if you assert yourself and don’t give in a single inch to him anymore. As a narcissist, he can’t tolerate any real equality in a romantic relationship. He has to be “top dog.” He constantly reaffirms this status through the power he exercises over you, his family and his acquaintances. Because he doesn’t regard you (or anyone else) as his equal, the psychopath can’t offer you genuine respect for your values, your activities, your needs and your identity. His fake charm, his controlling and possessive attention, his disingenuous and manipulative flattery and the empty romantic gestures he made (mostly in the beginning of the relationship) are not the same thing as genuine love, mutual caring and respect.

As we’ve seen, a psychopath is incapable of having a caring and equal relationship with anyone. For this reason, psychopaths seek women who are strong but exceedingly flexible; women whose boundaries they can erode and whose identities they can distort. If you regain your sense of identity and boundaries, you become much less vulnerable to psychopathic seduction and control. Psychopaths are parasites who want to suck the lifeblood–the emotions, the confidence and the strength–out of you. They violate your sense of self, through what psychologists call “enmeshment.” As your identity blends into his, your whole life revolves around meeting his ever-changing needs. The more you violate what you stand for and who you are to please the psychopath, the more you dissolve into the dangerous relationship with him. As Sandra Brown states,

“Boundaries are indicators of where we start and end, and where other people start and end. We set limits–or boundaries–in relationships to protect our bodily selves and dignity… Drawing your identity from a dangerous man… can have disastrous outcomes.” (How to spot a dangerous man, 201).

Not every misfortunate experience has a silver lining. Some, like fatal illnesses, may be purely tragic. Fortunately, overcoming a relationship with a dangerous man is one of those life experiences that does have a silver lining. After having been involved with a psychopath, for whom “love” means conquest, ownership and dominance, a normal relationship with a decent, respectful and honest partner will seem almost miraculous by comparison. Nothing about healthy human bonds can ever be taken for granted again after one has experienced the worst life has to offer.

Clearly, in choosing a psychopath you lost part of yourself and wasted part of your life. Such a destructive relationship came at a cost. Fortunately, you still have the power of choice as to how your life will continue. You don’t have to throw away the rest of your life to him. This experience may have weakened you in some respects.  But if you utilize it the right way, it can also make you a much stronger person. Whatever time, energy and emotion you spent on the psychopath weren’t completely wasted. They have taught you how to know and defend the limits of your identity and values. They have taught you who to appreciate and love in life and who to reject and keep out. They have revealed your strengths and your limitations. They have made you more independent, since you’ve seen how flattery and criticism by others can function as a form of mind control.

It’s now up to you to decide if you will allow the psychopath to continue to undermine your dignity and the quality of your life or if you will rely upon your strengths and true love bonds with others to live the kind of moral, honest and fulfilling life that you deserve. The psychopath has kept you under his control by narrowing and intensifying the range of your experiences. You consequently focused only on him and on how to twist yourself, like a fish on a hook, to please him.

You can reverse this process. You can broaden the sphere of your existence by expanding your interests and focusing on those who deserve your affection. In fact, you can do more than that by helping inform others suffering at the hands of psychopathic partners about this dangerous and camouflaged predator. Making a clinical diagnosis of personality disorders is, of course, only up to experts. But identifying potentially dangerous traits isn’t just for experts. Any of us can be adversely affected when we allow disordered individuals into our lives. Knowledge is the most essential form of self-defense.

Widespread information about physical and emotional abuse has saved millions of people from domestic violence. Spreading information about psychopathy may help save millions of additional lives from harm. Ironically, the disordered man who wanted to destroy you both morally and emotionally can give your life a higher, more other-regarding purpose. In the past, you may have relegated too many of your decisions to the psychopath. But, ultimately, the power of choice in what you do with the rest of your life lies in your hands, not his. May the new year bring you peace and happiness, free of the toxic relationship with a psychopath.

Happy New Year!

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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

 


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

 


Why Psychopaths are Insatiable

Many of the women who have been romantically involved with psychopaths describe their partners’ appetite for sex, pleasure and power as insatiable. In the beginning of the relationship, the psychopath’s penchant for pleasure may seem exciting, fun and even romantic. You may feel very special to have encountered a man who can’t keep his hands off of you. The problem is that psychopaths usually can’t keep their hands off other women and men too. Once you discover the depth of his deceit and the frequency and quantity of their infidelities, you may ask yourself: Why couldn’t I satisfy him? Why wasn’t I enough?

The answer is that nobody and nothing can satisfy a psychopath. There are emotional reasons for this insatiability which I’ve gone over in previous posts. Because they lack emotional depth and the capacity to bond to others, psychopaths don’t care about the harm they inflict. On the contrary, they relish seeing people in pain and the idea that they’ve duped them. This emotional shallowness also leads psychopaths to attach quickly to their targets and detach just as easily. The lack of love, coupled with the propensity to do harm and low impulse control, propels psychopaths to move quickly from one relationship to the next, in a desperate search for the next dupe, the next pawn, the next conquest, the next rush.

Clinical studies also reveal that just as psychopaths can’t bond emotionally to others, the pleasures they experience are also shallow. Like the mythical character Tantalus, psychopaths are cursed to consume more drink, more drugs, more sex in a desperate search for an unattainable physical satisfaction. To offer an example from pop culture, the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie featured cursed pirates whose punishment for stealing forbidden treasure was to become insatiable. Drink poured into them as through a bottomless cup without making them any happier or  more light-hearted. Food passed through them without being able to really savor it. They indulged their sexual appetites with as many partners as they could find, but none gave them enough stimulation or pleasure.

Psychopaths resemble those cursed pirates. The more they indulge their addictions and appetites, the more jaded and dissatisfied they become, the more quantity of sex, partners, positions, drugs or alcohol they need to get their next fix. Every new activity, place and person quickly becomes boring to them. The only constant satisfaction psychopaths experience is the sadistic pleasure to use, hurt and deceive other human beings.

So what do psychopaths feel in lieu of emotional attachment and sensual pleasure? Their desire resembles that of a voracious animal fixated on its prey. It’s focused yet impersonal, targeting whomever they perceive as vulnerable out of the herd. To lure some victims some psychopaths may invest a lot of energy and time in appearing loving, caring, nice, committed and faithful. But that mask usually cracks as soon as they believe they got whatever they needed from that particular victim. This is why so many victims describe the sudden 180 degree change in the psychopath’s attitude and behavior as soon as they got married, or as soon as they committed to their relationship. Before giving in, they were exposed to the psychopath’s mask, which he used to lure them. Afterwards, they saw the real psychopath.

As strange as it may seem, even something as visceral as the psychopath’s sensuality is as much of an illusion as his capacity to love. Psychopaths can be very sensual and affectionate. But this behavior is learned from victims, not natural to them. They see that women are attracted to and beguiled by romantic words and gestures, so they mimic them: but only for as long as they pursue a target or want something from her. Afterwards, the affection and attention suddenly evaporates.

As Skylar, a regular contributor to lovefraud.com eloquently states, a psychopath “is like a ghost, a shadow or a vapor. A complete hallucination created out of DNA. There is nothing real about him, and that is what so hard to take, because you know that there are so many like him: walking shadows. It’s frightening, but we have to lose our innocence at some point.”

Our innocence consists of anthropomorphizing psychopaths by attributing normal human motivations or desires to them. Because their brains are wired differently, psychopaths think, feel and behave differently than the vast majority of human beings. For them, desire is a predatory drive which can never be satisfied by anyone and anything for long. Emotion consists of  dominance. That, too,  is never enough no matter how many victims the psychopath collects or how much he controls and humiliates each one. Communication becomes reduced to a web of manipulation and deceit. As for love, well, that’s the biggest illusion of them all. It’s the fatal trap that slowly sucks the life out of so many victims: often slowly and painfully, until they have no energy left to escape.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

How to Recognize Emotional Abuse

We usually recognize physical abuse because it often leaves external marks: bruises, broken bones, wounds, gashes or disfiguration. Because such abuse tends to be objectively identifiable, we’re not only likely to recognize its signs, but also to sympathize with the victims. Some of the great novels of modern and contemporary literature focus on victims of (statutory) rape, battery and other forms of physical abuse. I’m thinking, above all, of Nabokov’s incomparable Lolita which, without any trace of sentimentality or moralism, offers a multidimensional characterization of the victim as well as a realistic portrayal of the remorseless pedophile. Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone and Anna Quindlen’s Black and Blue, two of my favorite contemporary novels, give a compassionate portrayal of the victims. If readers readily sympathize with the heroines of these novels, it’s partly because the victims are as innocent as it gets and partly because their physical abuse (rape in one case, battery in another) is obvious. Yet, as I’ve tried to convey here, in many situations in real life the abused isn’t as morally pure (because she colludes with the abuser) and her abuse isn’t necessarily so obvious (because it may be emotional rather than physical in nature). Some psychopaths, especially those who also suffer from borderline personality disorder, may, indeed, spin out of control and engage in acts of physical violence. But many are subtler in the damage they inflict upon others.

As we’ve seen, charismatic psychopaths present to the outside world and even to their partners an impeccable image of self-control, sanity, kindness and charm. Such psychopaths sometimes pose a greater danger than those who engage in overt acts of physical violence because their personality disorder is better camouflaged. Unfortunately, so are the symptoms of their abuse. Which brings me to my main point here. Just as outsiders may fail to identify and sympathize with the signs emotional abuse, the victims may as well. In her article “How Can I Get My X Away from the Psychopathic Con Artist?” Liane Leedom explains that psychopaths escalate their control over their partners gradually, BITE (behavior, information, thoughts, emotions) by BITE. (lovefraud.com, September 7, 2007) Psychopaths intuitively tighten the screws at the moment when they feel they can get away with it. Over time, the victim becomes used to each new form of abuse as well as to the on-going manipulation and deceit. Charismatic psychopaths poison you softly, while pretending to love you and act in your best interest.

To offer an analogy, I’ve watched several episodes of Forensic Files where a man has poisoned his wife by introducing small doses of a toxic chemical into her food. She eventually died after months of gruesome suffering. Most psychopaths don’t literally poison their spouses. But they achieve a similarly toxic effect on a psychological level. They introduce tiny doses of emotional poison into their partners’ daily lives.

Your life with a psychopath can turn into a constant state of anxiety and self-doubt. You may develop neurotic habits, eating disorders and depression. Furthermore, the abuse can be so underhanded that you may not even realize that the person causing you all these negative symptoms is your own partner, the supposed love of your life. Consequently, saving yourself from a charismatic psychopath entails, first and foremost, recognizing his pattern of emotional abuse. After all, you can’t fix a problem until you identify its cause.

Definition: Emotional abuse constitutes a pattern of behavior over time that is designed to control another human being through the use of manipulation, deceit, threats, intimidation, emotional blackmail, verbal abuse, insults, gaslighting, coercion or humiliation. Even normal people occasionally engage in some of these behaviors. But the key term here is a “pattern” of such behavior over time. Emotional abuse functions as a form of brainwashing. The strategies I will describe below are commonly used in prisons, labor camps, by the Secret Police of totalitarian regimes and cult leaders. They’re extremely effective and very destructive. They can reduce a healthy and strong human being to the mere shadow of her former self.

1. Abusive Expectations. Emotional abuse occurs in asymmetrical relationships, where one partner strives to meet the expectations of the other, while he constantly raises the bar. In a healthy relationship, expectations are reasonable, fair and balanced. Both partners strive to please each other and treat each other with mutual respect.

2. Threats. A psychopath maintains control of a relationship through the use of implicit or explicit threats and the inculcation of fear or anxiety. He may tell his wife that she needs to lose weight, or move to another state with him, or change her interests and habits, or leave her job in order to keep him. Otherwise, he implies, he’ll cheat on her or even divorce her. A sword hangs over the victim’s head if she doesn’t meet the psychopath’s incessant demands and unreasonable expectations. However, even when she meets his demands he still cheats, lies and actively seeks other opportunities. Meeting a psychopath’s demands accomplishes nothing constructive. It only weakens the victim and places her further under his control.

3. Verbal Aggression. This includes name-calling, blaming or commanding. Psychopaths rely upon such tactics to assert dominance. Verbal abuse transforms what should be an equal and mutually respectful relationship into one where the psychopath is on top. His partner fears to disappoint him or do anything that might trigger his anger.

4. Condescending Attitude. Charismatic psychopaths often couch their aggression in a condescending attitude towards their partners. For instance, a psychopath may act as his partner’s spiritual guide or life coach. He may pretend to alleviate the symptoms of the psychological problems that he, himself, has caused her. If she develops anxiety attacks, insomnia or an eating disorder because of his ongoing deception, manipulation and mind games, he might paternalistically act as her guide, as if to help alleviate these negative symptoms. The underlying assumption in such a relationship is that the psychopath is healthier, more sane and superior to his partner. She should strive to approximate his level of mental, physical and emotional health. This cultivates her dependency on him and fosters a sense of helplessness. More importantly, it masks the underlying source of her psychological problems, which is him and his harmful behavior. It’s kind of like the husband who puts poison in his wife’s soup while pretending to be loving and concerned. When you get rid of the psychopath in your life, who’s poisoning your existence, you also alleviate the symptoms of whatever psychological and physical ailments you developed while being involved with him.

5. State of Uncertainty/Emotional Chaos. A psychopath derails his partner by keeping her in a perpetual state of uncertainty. She doesn’t know what to do to please him. She constantly struggles to keep him from engaging in various misdeeds or abandoning her. Psychopaths who also have borderline personality disorder transform daily life into a battlefield with occasional truces. A charismatic psychopath, however, poses a more hidden threat. He preserves the external appearance of being calm, collected and loving while periodically hinting that the perfect picture of the relationship you struggle so hard to preserve is highly precarious. Anything you might do–or fail to do–can destroy it. In reality, of course, nothing you do or refrain from doing meaningfully affects his behavior. I’ve never read about (or met) a psychopath who didn’t do exactly what he wanted.

6. Denying your Needs. Being completely narcissistic, a psychopath won’t prioritize your needs unless they coincide perfectly with his or cultivate your dependency on him. Consequently, he’s bound to discourage you from any pursuits that solidify your bonds with others or make you stronger, more successful and more independent. His motive is clear. The less self-confidence and meaningful contact with others you have, the more he has you under his thumb and can mistreat you however he wishes. Moreover, if you dare complain that he doesn’t satisfy your basic emotional need for caring or communication, he’s likely to become dismissive, sarcastic, derisive or even aggressive. In his mind, everything and everyone should revolve around him.

7. Domination. Psychopaths establish control over their partners through a ratchet. They automatically get their way on everything when their will is not contested. When you challenge them and express your own needs, they may sometimes compromise with you, to appear fair. This image of equality is misleading, however. When you look at the whole picture of your relationship over time, you notice that it’s systematically determined by the desires of the psychopath. Such an asymmetry constitutes a form of domination, which should be unacceptable to any woman who considers herself equal to her partner and worthy of the same consideration and respect as him.

8. Invalidation. To psychopaths, what other people think, want and feel is, to use the vernacular, “bull crap” (they commonly use such vulgar language). If you disagree with a psychopath, he’s likely to invalidate your arguments and insult you. Psychopaths tend to be stubborn and persistent. Even when a psychopath momentarily relents, in the long run he returns to the same issue to “win” the match by getting his way. If your partner consistently dismisses what you know, feel, want or believe, it’s obviously a very bad sign. It means that he doesn’t have any genuine respect or love for you.

9. Minimizing and Gaslighting. If you tell a psychopath that you’re hurt by his actions–such as his constant lying and cheating–he’ll either deny that behavior (i.e., lie to you yet again) or minimize it by saying that you’re being hypersensitive or paranoid. He’ll argue that you misinterpreted the matter, or that you’re exaggerating, or that it’s just a misunderstanding, or that you’re being a drama queen. If he calls you “crazy” and tells you that you’re imagining things when you accuse him of the bad deeds he’s actually done, then he’s also gaslighting you.

10. Arbitrary Reactions. Psychopaths and narcissists commonly use arbitrary reactions to establish dominance over others. If you can’t anticipate how your partner will react, then you’re always on edge, trying to figure out what to do or say to please him. In addition, if you care about his opinion, your moods and self-esteem will oscillate like a yo-yo, depending upon his approval or disapproval. A psychopath can keep his partner completely focused on his needs by toying with her emotions in this seemingly arbitrary fashion. This despotic behavior leads his partner to feel unhinged, anxious, depressed and powerless.

11. Sarcasm, Irony and Humiliation. Because they prefer to cultivate a nice external image, charismatic psychopaths may not verbally abuse their partners in a blatant fashion. They may opt for more subtle techniques—such as sarcasm, irony and humiliation–to make the victims feel bad about themselves. If you’re involved with a psychopath, you may have noticed that while he makes fun of you and others, any joke or wry comment about him is unwelcome and not considered amusing. Psychopaths establish double standards in practically all aspects of their lives: fidelity, honesty, freedom and even the hidden weapons of sarcasm and humor. While they routinely humiliate their partners to weaken their self-esteem, they demand nothing but the utmost respect for themselves.

The only way to reclaim your dignity when you’ve suffered the pattern of emotional abuse I’ve just described is to go straight to the source. Uproot the psychopath from your life. If you stay with him, he’ll continue to mistreat you and undermine your self-esteem as he’s done so far.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Review of Donna Andersen’s Love Fraud: The Book and the Website

In December 2007, I was reeling from a mixture of pain, confusion and relief that I had barely escaped an unmitigated disaster. I had nearly left a wonderful husband of 15 years for a man who initially seemed to be my dream come true–charming, sensual, romantic, cultured, caring and attentive–but turned out to be a social predator. There were plenty of red flags in my year-long relationship with him: such as the confession that he had been a sex addict many years earlier; the puzzling fact that he had lied for years to his parents about working at an escort service when in reality he had an honorable job; the unsettling fact that he relished telling me about his previous lies and sexual exploits and how much he had cheated on his fiancée (who later became his wife); the ease with which I witnessed him lie to his wife on the phone with elaborate stories that he made up on the spot. Rather than being embarrassed by lying, strangely, he appeared to relish the deception.

But, then again, obviously I wasn’t perfect either.  I chose to violate my own marriage vows and to overlook all these disturbing details to focus instead on this man’s constant declarations of love; his reassurances that he was no longer in love with his wife and that I was the true love of his life; and his over-the-top affection and plans for our happy future together which, of course, included my two kids. But even these plans were a subject of contention between us, since from the beginning my lover pressured me to divorce my husband to marry him. Despite being in love with him, I had serious reservations about breaking up my marriage with a husband I still cared about for someone I knew only in the context of a long distance affair who had already admitted to me that hadn’t been faithful to any other woman in his life.  To dispel my doubts, he kept reassuring me that I was special: the woman he had been looking for his entire adult life and his soul mate.

Everything began to unravel between us once I relented to his constant pressure and asked my husband for a divorce. Then my lover instantly cut out the pretense of being a caring, cajoling and romantic partner. His behavior became demanding, controlling and, quite frankly, bizarre. After pressuring me for a year to marry him, as soon as I gave in, he began to withdraw his commitment. At one point, he brazenly suggested that we post ourselves on a dating website. It then became clear to me that the hot pursuit was only a game for him and that juggling women, under the pretense of offering true love, was how he occupied his time and entertained himself. I realized that this guy was not simply promiscuous, but also a pathological liar and predatory in his designs. Destroying women and, as an added bonus, also their families was how he got his jollies. His wife and family may have accepted and even idolized this man for how he was, but I wasn’t about to put up with such flagrant mistreatment. I promptly ended the relationship with him. My husband and I began the process of rebuilding our marriage and family life, which had been damaged but not destroyed by the affair.

My first step in recovering was to google the symptoms manifested by my lover: including pathological lying, manipulation and sex addiction. I found that they all related to the same two terms: sociopath or psychopath, which appeared to be used interchangeably. I clicked on a website called lovefraud.com, started by Donna Andersen, and found a wealth of information: the symptoms of psychopathy; example cases (including details about Donna’s devastating experience with the sociopath she married , James Montgomery); resources for victims; articles from the key specialists on psychopathy and narcissism, and a forum for women like me to share their experiences with other victims of  social predators. Each person who speaks out on lovefraud.com not only helps heal those who are on it and themselves, but also spreads the word about this website and its helpful information to others. The format of lovefraud is somewhat similar to the Wikipedia or The Huffington Post: it’s reader generated and regulated, with structural limits and some expert input. If you want to reach and help a wide community of readers internationally, I believe this is the most effective way to do it.  Hopefully, lovefraud.com will continue to grow exponentially, drawing strength and numbers from each victim who, in turn, informs others.

While most people can’t relate to the degree of malicious deception and harm inflicted by sociopaths, these women did, since they had experienced it. Moreover, since they had willingly joined the lovefraud community, they weren’t willing to turn a blind eye to the harm caused by the sociopaths, accept it, rationalize it, justify it, or collude with it in any way. In other words, like me, they didn’t want to play the victim role.

On lovefraud.com and from reading other psychology websites and books, I learned that sociopaths constitute between 1 and 4 percent of the population: which means that there are millions of them in the U.S. alone. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of sociopaths are not serial murderers: although since they lack conscience, many of them are quite capable of murder. Initially, they come across as charismatic and flattering, which is how they attract their targets. As I had witnessed myself, they’re great pathological liars, which is how they dupe, manipulate and con people into doing what they want, even when it’s against their interests. They have no conscience or remorse for hurting others, which is why they can be so callous even to their family members. In fact, sociopaths usually prey upon those who love them. They can’t be fixed by either therapy or drugs because they don’t want to change, because they consider themselves superior to others and, above all, because their personality disorder is deeply engrained in their brain wiring and character.

Unlike people who suffer from mental deficiencies, however, psychopaths are usually highly intelligent and use their minds to cause harm to others. Donna Andersen’s website, lovefraud.com, provided not only a wealth of information, but also healing and motivation. It helped me recover from my devastating experience and motivated me to use my research and writing skills to inform others about psychopathy, so that I too can help victims the way Donna’s website helped me.

In 2010 Donna Andersen published Love Fraud: How Marriage to a Sociopath Fulfilled My Spiritual Plan, an autobiographical book about her experience of being used by, lied to and conned out of a staggering $ 223,000 by her ex-husband, James Montgomery. For the past three years I had done so much psychology research on psychopathy, started my own blog (http://psychopathyawareness.wordpress.com) and written two books–a novel called The Seducer (previewed on the link http://www.neatorama.com/bitlit/category/the-seducer/) and the upcoming nonfiction book called Dangerous Liasions about it already. I didn’t think that I could learn much more about the subject, but Donna’s book proved me wrong.

From the moment I opened her book, I couldn’t put it down. Love Fraud offers the details of how her sociopathic ex-husband James Montgomery conned her and dozens of other women into giving him their life savings, credit cards and other resources. After bleeding them dry, he abandoned them to move on to the next victim. His entire life Montgomery pursued business ventures that never panned out, lying to the women who funded his grandiose schemes about business deals that didn’t exist and credentials that he didn’t have. But, ultimately, Love Fraud is not a victim’s tale, but a survivor’s story. It shows how despite all the havoc this sociopath caused in her life, Donna Andersen recovered from it, found true love again with the man who is now her husband (Terry Kelly), established ties with fellow victims of sociopathic predators, and used her experience to start a website, lovefraud.com, which has approximately 3000 visitors a day and helps tens of thousands of women, worldwide.

In her book, Donna describes how she found inner strength from a spiritual journey that encouraged her to view herself as a survivor, not just a victim, of her sociopathic husband. This spiritual growth was as necessary as the rational pursuits of the truth about Montgomery’s deception and fraud. Sociopaths suck out the joy out of life and the spiritual strength of their victims. Like parasites in the natural world, they destroy their targets, inside and out. To regain control of your life and assert your identity again, you need not just helpful resources and information, but also spiritual courage and strength. And Donna found plenty of both!

The road from victim to survivor she outlines in her book entails, first of all, acceptance and knowledge. Without understanding what sociopaths are, you risk remaining subject to their twisted manipulations, gaslighting and lies. It also entails belief in yourself: realizing that you are far more, and deserve far better in life, than being a disordered man’s dupe and possession, to be held in reserve for him, for when he wants to use you again. It also entails establishing social links with others, who are healthy human beings and who care about you. Psychopaths isolate their targets from their loved ones and friends because they don’t want healthy perspectives and true love to interfere with their evil designs.

Donna counteracted this by having the courage to date again, despite her horrible experience with James Montgomery, and by establishing contact with the other women her husband conned. She even worked closely with one of them to expose James Montgomery and recover her money, or at least drive him into bankruptcy, the way he did her and so many other victims. She also expanded her social network in other activities, such as rowing, and in business networking in writing and marketing–her areas of specialization–to recover socially and financially as well.

Last but not least, her writing is so engaging and entertaining–and sometimes so ironic, humorous and touching–that at times, despite the sad subject, you’ll laugh out loud. If you’re like me, an animal lover, you’ll become fond of her entire menagerie of pets, especially Beau, the loyal dog who provided so much emotional support throughout this harrowing experience. Donna Andersen is an exquisite story teller– and boy does she have a story to tell! This book has it all: sex, lies, videotapes, theft, retribution, ineffectual law enforcement, a struggle between good and evil, the triumph of truth and, as she wittily puts it, romance with a happy ending with her loving new husband and business partner, Terry Kelly. In establishing lovefraud the website and writing Love Fraud the book, Donna Andersen become not just a survivor but also a success. She’s the voice and inspiration for tens of thousands of  women in similar positions, with similar stories to tell. Donna has already appeared on a popular Investigation Discovery show, called “Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?” and given an interview about Love Fraud on Amerika Now. We’re eagerly awaiting the movie!

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

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