Almost everyone who reads about psychopathy is able to absorb this information on a rational level. We’re able to recognize the symptoms and red flags of this personality disorder, which helps us recognize other people’s psychopathic partners and offer support. But it’s much tougher to absorb this information on an emotional level and apply it to the psychopath in our lives: meaning the person we’re emotionally invested in. This is why weeks, months and even years after ending a relationship with a psychopath, victims still experience moments of doubt, or cognitive dissonance. This may take the form of self-blame, of jealousy towards the psychopath’s other victims or of remembering fondly the psychopath’s luring phase, when he made the greatest effort to hide his deviant acts and to lie to us. Those who stay in close contact with a psychopath risk never getting over the psychopathic bond.
Although nobody gets over a psychopath while still with him, it seems that once they look up the symptoms of his disorder, victims realize, at least intellectually, that they’re dealing with a sick man. The first impulse of a woman living with such a person, once she discovers that the totality of his symptoms comprise a dangerous personality disorder, is to attempt to cure him through her love or with the help of professional counseling.
Her need to change him means that she only has an intellectual understanding of his personality disorder. But she hasn’t yet absorbed the information on an emotional level as well. By “intellectual,” I mean that having done some research, the rational side of her brain has put together the symptoms of her partner’s behavior and seen them as signs of psychopathy. She may be horrified by this discovery. Perhaps a part of her wanted to believe that he was just a regular man, who made the mistake of cheating on her and is sorry about it, who lies sometimes, or who’s impulsive and somewhat childish, but that’s a huge part of his charm, after all. Once you do research on psychopathy you finally realize, on a rational level, the magnitude of his disorder. You also see how much more severe and damaging to others it is compared to “ordinary” cheating, lying or immaturity. You realize, rationally, that you’re not dealing with someone who’s extraordinary, as the psychopath encouraged you to believe. You’re dealing with someone who’s subordinary: with a person who lacks the main qualities that make us human.
When you finally reach this disheartening conclusion, instead of accepting or admiring the psychopath’s behavior as before, you disapprove of it. You also no longer see the problems in the relationship as he presented them to you, as largely your fault. You realize, rationally, that his sex addiction has nothing to do with the fact that you’re not sufficiently attractive or sensual. It has everything to do with his malady. You also see that his constant deception is neither harmless nor normal, as he would like you to believe. It’s pathological and self-serving. Once you realize that the problems in your relationship have much more to do with his personality disorder than with your own deficiencies, you begin to mourn the death of the idealized image of him and of the special relationship you thought you had with him. You also start to ruminate. You obsessively turn over and over in your mind all the lies and inconsistencies he’s told you. But this is not enough to get over the psychopath. You need to absorb this information on an emotional level as well in order to move on.
In her article “Do Psychopaths/Sociopaths Make Choices?” published on May 23, 2008 on lovefraud.com, Liane Leedom draws a distinction between intellectual disagreement with the psychopath’s actions, which is largely a rational process, and emotional disgust with his actions and with him. When you mourn the end of the idealized image of the psychopath only rationally, by disapproving of his behavior, you’re not likely to feel sufficiently repulsed by his identity to want to escape the relationship. You’re more likely to focus instead on improving him, the relationship with him and maybe even your own self (since for as long as you stay with a psychopath, he’ll continue to shift the blame unto to you). You therefore risk remaining under his spell and, therefore, under his thumb. Only once you pass to the second stage of mourning–that of experiencing visceral disgust–do you begin to get over the psychopath, escape his hold on you and move on with your life. Leedom states that you reach this stage once you realize that the sum of his actions is who he is. He is a pathological liar. He is malicious. He lacks empathy. He is completely narcissistic. His harmful actions aren’t normal human mistakes. They reflect the bad person that he is and that he’ll always be, no matter what false promises he makes and how much you may want to believe him.
Since the psychopath knows that, unlike him, you’re a loving person capable of empathy and forgiveness, he may look you in the eyes like a penitent puppy and tell you that the love you feel for him is unconditional. Even though he’s shown time after time that his own professed love for you is nonexistent. What he’s telling you about your own love is, once again, false. It’s a ploy intended to trap you in the toxic relationship with him.
When you go through the process of emotional mourning, you stop liking, respecting and loving the psychopath. After awhile, you no longer even experience anger towards him. Such an emotion still implies some traces of passion, a lingering attraction. He’s sunk so low in your eyes that it’s not even worth hating him. You finally see him as the trivial human being that he is. You’re repulsed by his actions, by all of his malicious lies, by his manipulation of others, by his fake niceness and conditional gifts, by his predatory and perverse sexuality, by everything he does and by everything he is. You reject him deep within your heart, as utterly and completely as one human being can reject another. At that point–and only at that point—are you finally ready to escape the psychopath and the harmful relationship with him that has been your prison.
Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness
Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction