Partners in Evil: The Psychopath and Malignant Narcissist Combo

You probably have heard on the news about the kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Duguard, when she was only 11 years old. The young girl was kidnapped on June 10, 1991 from a school bus stop near her home and held hostage for more than 18 years by Phillip and Nancy Garrido. Garrido raped and imprisoned Jaycee. They had two girls together (age 11 and 15 at the time they were discovered by the police), whom Garrido and his wife also imprisoned in unsanitary tents in their backyard.

At the time they kidnapped Jaycee, Garrido had already been convicted of a sex crime. Despite the fact that parole officers checked regularly the house, they didn’t bother to look in the couple’s backyard, behind a fence. Nancy Garrido is shown on one tape interfering with the police inspection, harassing the inspector in order to distract him and prevent him from finding Jaycee and the girls. She is a partner in her husband’s crime; a fellow abuser. The couple pled guilty to kidnapping and other charges on April 28, 2011 and were convicted on June 2, 2011. Phillip Garrido was sentenced to 431 years of imprisonment while Nancy received a lesser sentence of 36 years to life.

We see this phenomenon of dangerous duos, or partners in evil, on the news over and over again. What kind of women stay with male psychopaths, enable their wrongdoings, participate in them and then cover them up? Sometimes it’s female psychopaths who partner in crime sprees with their male counterparts. The most notable example of this is Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, the young Canadian couple who kidnapped and killed several young women, including Karla’s younger sister. They were convicted in 1993 and are perhaps the inspiration behind  Oliver Stone‘s controversial movie, Natural Born Killers (1994). Usually, however, two psychopaths together can’t last long. Each has to outdo the other in wrongdoings; each wants to be top dog; each looks out for number one and, at the slightest provocation, turns against the other (as, in fact, happened in the case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka).

The partnership between Phillip and Nancy Garrido reflects a different dynamic: the equally dangerous yet usually far more enduring combination between a psychopath and a malignant narcissist. In this combination, there is a clear top dog who guides the relationship: the psychopath. However, the malignant narcissist helps him carry out his wrongdoings and covers up for him. What is in it for a malignant narcissist when she teams up with a psychopath? How does this dynamic play out and why does it last? These are the questions I’d like to address next.

I have explained at length the features of a psychopath and why his lack of conscience and empathy, combined with an underlying psychological sadism (enjoyment at causing others pain) would lead him to commit the kinds of crimes Phillip Garrido was found guilty of. But what kind of woman stands by such a man? My hypothesis is: a malignant narcissist. All narcissistic personalities–even those who appear to have high self-confidence and to consider themselves superior to others–crave constant validation. An insatiable need for validation forms the core of unhealthy, excessive narcissism. I say “excessive narcissism” because we all have egos or selves and thus we all have some narcissistic tendencies that are healthy–in moderation–and make us the individuals we are.

Psychopaths are very adept at identifying individuals who suffer from unhealthy, excessive narcissism. Why? Because such individuals appear to be vulnerable and insecure. Caring too much about what others think and pinning one’s self-esteem on the opinions of others is, indeed, a weakness and a vulnerability. Those who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder have a weak and relative sense of self that needs constant validation. They need to feel better than others or superior to others in order to have an identity and feel good about themselves.

Psychopaths form a symbiotic relationship with such highly narcissistic individuals by holding out the promise of becoming a superior and very special couple. Because psychopaths have an inherent sense of superiority and because they’re thrill seekers who consider themselves to be above the rules and laws, they often manage to convince such narcissistic partners that together they make an unbeatable power couple: closer than other couples, better than them, smarter than them, more cunning than them, hotter than them. During the honeymoon phase of the relationship, there are no words in any language to describe this superlative superiority.

The problem is, as we know, that psychopaths inevitably pass from the idealization phase to a devaluation phase in all of their relationships. This is part and parcel of their personality disorder: to become bored with and emotionally detach from every person they are with. Since a narcissistic partner requires constant reassurance of her superiority to other women–especially since the psychopath,with his constant flirting and cheating, gives her plenty of reasons to be jealous of them–she will feel threatened during the devaluation phase, when he no longer finds her hot, virtuous, brilliant, practical, wise, and all the other qualities he formerly (and all too briefly) ascribed to her.

That’s when the most dangerous and pathological aspect of their relationship begins. During the devaluation phase, the malignant narcissist begins to be rewarded almost exclusively by the punishment of other women the psychopath hooks up with, uses, devalues and abuses. She may no longer be as wonderful as she seemed in his eyes in the beginning. However, there’s this reward left in their “special” and “superior” relationship: by staying with her; by needing her as an alibi and cover for him; by harming other women jointly, she proves her (sick) love and loyalty to him while he, in turn, acknowledges her superiority to all the other women he uses and abuses worse than he does her.

The worse other women are treated by the psychopath–in more commonplace cases, used and disposed of like dirty condoms; in extreme cases, raped and murdered–the more this abuse confirms her special status in his eyes. Such women are without conscience, without remorse, without empathy just like the psychopaths themselves. They are manipulative, deceptive and abusive like psychopaths. The main difference between such malignant narcissists and the psychopaths is that the narcissists are in some respects weaker and more vulnerable.

They tend to be followers rather than leaders because of their excessive need for validation, which puts them at the mercy of others and makes them especially appealing to psychopaths: as their partners in life and allies in wrongdoings. If you read about other similar cases to that of Phillip and Nancy Garrido or about the psychology of cult followers, you will see this psychological dynamic at play. There are few more enduring and dangerous duos than these partners in evil: the psychopath and malignant narcissist combo.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


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


Reconciling with A Psychopath: The Dangerous Lure of the Honeymoon Phase

Many of the victims who are tempted to get back together with a psychopath have a nostalgia for the luring phase. They don’t dream of getting back with a serial cheater, a pathological liar and a controlling narcissistic individual. They long for the return of the seemingly loving person they first encountered. In other words, they want the psychopath to put his mask back on: only this time they want the mask to be real–his real self–not just a ruse.

During this honeymoon period the psychopath put on a very desirable front. He was helpful, attentive, respectful, flattering, generous, romantic and nice. He made promises that sounded great. He pledged  commitment, fidelity, loyalty and everlasting love. He looked into your eyes and told you he doesn’t need any other partners. You were the person he looked for all his life. Let’s face it: cheesy lines sound very truthful and romantic when they play on the chords of the tune you want to hear.

Psychopaths are good enough actors to make such cheesy lines sound plausible to their victims, not only because of what they say but also how they say it: looking into your eyes, speaking in a low, hypnotic voice, even blushing with emotion or shedding a tear or two at the right moment. For me, the Chris Rea music video below, called Looking for the summer, captures very well the nostalgia and the hope that you can return to the honeymoon phase of any romantic relationship  the second time around:

But the psychopathic bond is no ordinary relationship, as the one featured on this video. It’s an extraordinarily toxic relationship that involves predation. As seductive and appealing as the luring phase with a psychopath may be, as the victims who reconcile find out, this illusion only happens once. I’d like to analyze here some of the reasons why even those who make the grave mistake of returning to their psychopathic ex’s–and thus jeopardize their recovery, their happiness and perhaps even their lives–cannot recapture what they experienced with the psychopath in the beginning.

From the psychopath’s perspective:

1) You are no longer a new pursuit for him. Psychopaths are excited by novelty: by duping and seducing a new person. Within a few minutes, hours, or days of getting back together with a psychopath you will see that he considers you as familiar as a pair of old shoes.

2) You have demonstrated weakness in his eyes. A breakup with a psychopath happens because he has mistreated you: lied to you, cheated on you, stolen money from you, controlled you. Whatever form the mistreatment took, it was serious. You may have broken up with him as a result of the mistreatment or he beat you to it and broke up with you first. It doesn’t really matter. The relationship itself was at the very least emotionally abusive. If you get back together with a psychopath you’re letting him know that you are willing and ready to take abuse. And he will dish it out. To him, your willingness to accept the abuse will be an indicator of your weakness, not of your love and loyalty as you may believe. Rather than a more enduring rekindling of the old flame you can expect less respect and more mistreatment. The fundamental inequality of the psychopathic bond will deepen, creating an even bigger and more overt schism of double standards in his favor.

3) You are showing neediness. If you need him so much that you are willing to return to him even after the abuse, then he will continue to play catch and release games with you in the future. Psychopaths are psychological sadists and as such enjoy tormenting their victims. By engaging in a series of breakups and reconciliations you have proved yourself to be an excellent subject for these cat and mouse experiments.

4) Relatedly, you have also proven yourself to be a reliable backup. Psychopaths return to their former targets out of boredom and the compulsion to maintain control over you and your relationship. Usually, however, those targets don’t excite them as much as new pursuits. They therefore use them as backups, to return to them periodically, when they are bored with everyone else, when a newer and more exciting flame is busy or on vacation, or whenever they feel like it. By getting back together with him, you are showing that you think so little of yourself that you’re willing to be available for a psychopath on his terms, at his beck and call.

5) Last but certainly not least, the psychopath is getting back together with you to punish and destroy you. How dare you break up with him? Or, if he broke up with you, how come you didn’t grovel enough to get him back? If he didn’t finish you off the first time around, by destroying you emotionally and financially, he may this time. He has a good shot at it, thanks to your willingness to forgive him. At the very least, he will humiliate you by waving under your nose his wooing other women and the honeymoon phases with them, which are forever gone for you. Needless to say, this is not the foundation for the romantic reconciliation you envision. At best, it’s the groundwork for being friends with benefits. Only the psychopath isn’t your real friend, but your worst enemy masquerading as a friend to use and hurt you some more.

From the victim’s perspective:

1) You’re not blinded by novelty and love anymore. In fact, you’re not falling in love with the psychopath at all. You are returning to a relationship you now realize is deeply flawed, hoping that if you both work at it you can correct it.  You are therefore returning to the psychopath with a lost innocence (or blindness, more like it) expecting that he reform. It will not get better, however, it will get a lot worse. Which leads me to my next point.

2) Your expectations won’t be met. Psychopaths feign working at a relationship long enough to get what they want. If you already got back together with the psychopath, then he has pretty much lost the incentive to fool you, unless you have something else he wants, such as money. The more you see that the psychopath isn’t taking the relationship seriously again and willing to put in the work to improve it, the more you’ll express your frustration. In response, the psychopath will rebuff you and project the blame unto you. So what happens next?

3) You will either have to accept the fundamental inequality of the relationship or you will have to fight him tooth and nail on every issue. Either way, the result will not be particularly pleasant or romantic. You’ll either be reduced to the status of a subordinate in the relationship or you will continually fight for an equality and fairness that is impossible in a psychopathic bond. Such a relationship is predicated upon lies, inequality and dominance.

4) You are too aware of his deception. The original honeymoon phase was based on a huge pile of lies that you believed or at least wanted to believe. You believed that he loved you. You wanted to believe he could therefore be faithful to you. You wanted to believe he could care about you and your loved ones. You wanted to believe that he could consider your common interest rather than making purely selfish decisions. All these assumptions proved to be wrong. He was purely selfish. He loves no one but himself. He acted in such a way as to hurt you and your loved ones. They say that ignorance is bliss. But that’s not really true. Ignorance is vulnerability and what you didn’t know has hurt you. At any rate, it’s impossible to return to the original state of ignorance when you believed all his lies. You can’t even give him the benefit of the doubt anymore because he’s already proven to you that he doesn’t deserve it. Everything the psychopath tells you from now on will seem suspect.

So your relationship will be founded upon inequality, warranted suspicion and distrust,  wounded feelings and impossible expectations. Anyone who gives a psychopath a second, third, fourth or fifth chance based on the fantasy of the honeymoon phase will live a nightmare in reality. Real life with the psychopath will be filled with double standards in his favor, with jealousy and deceit, with constant tension and fighting, with higher expectations from him and fewer efforts on his part to meet you halfway and improve the relationship. Keep this reality in mind whenever the dangerous lure of the honeymoon phase haunts you.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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A Painful Incredulity: Psychopathy and Cognitive Dissonance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Perfect love is… a fraud

So many of us are looking for a perfect love. Not perfect in general–something too vague to be imaginable–but perfect for us. Someone who accepts and even prefers us with our imperfections. Someone who instead of criticizing our neuroses and bad habits finds them cute and quaint. Someone with whom we have an instant connection. Someone who shares our interests and finds them exciting. Someone who promises fidelity and commitment, for life. Someone who knows us so well that he or she can divine our thoughts and finish our sentences. Someone with whom communication is engaging and effortless.

Anyone who tells us “you’re perfect in every way” we’re not likely to believe. We know we’re imperfect and we know what our flaws are. But someone who tells us “you’re perfect in my eyes, flaws and all” or “I love you just the way you are” seems much more believable and seductive. This is the extraordinary nature of the psychopathic lure: a complete acceptance of our imperfection, which means a complete acceptance of who we are. Let’s face it: most of us want what is too good to be true and extraordinary over what is imperfect and requires effort and compromise. Unfortunately, as many of us found out through very painful life experiences, the kinds of people most likely to offer all of the above are personality disordered individuals: particularly psychopaths.

This is because normal love, like normal individuals, aren’t perfect and don’t promise to offer perfection to anyone. We all know, rationally speaking, that perfection is an illusion: especially this perfection of the imperfection; the perfection of being accepted by another human being as we are, imperfections and all, unconditionally and for life. Even the wedding vows qualify to allow room for imperfection: in sickness and in health, for better and for worse. No normal individual offers such a perfect love precisely because all human beings are imperfect and, in real life, connecting and communicating with other imperfect individuals, like ourselves, takes effort and isn’t always easy or pleasant. In an imperfect world, perfect love is… a fraud.

However, emotionally, many of us prefer to imagine such a perfect imperfection: a person who loves and accepts us exactly as we are, without much effort on our part. This emotional dream isn’t necessarily unhealthy. It’s a horizon of possibility: something to aspire to in our imperfect relationships to make them better. This wish or dream becomes dangerous only when we expect it to be fully realized in reality. The  human beings most likely to mirror us so perfectly and to present an image of perfection are psychopaths, narcissists and other personality disordered individuals during the idealization or luring phase of the relationship. Generally speaking, normal human beings will not jump into a relationship offering eternal love and commitment before even knowing you. They will not love or even like everything about you. They will not have more in common with you than your own image in the mirror. They will not say you’re ideal: because you’re not.

Conmen lure their victims with promises of easy money and huge profits that never pan out and waste their resources. Psychopaths lure romantic partners with promises of perfect love, lifelong adoration, fidelity and commitment and a mirrored image of their own perfect imperfection. It’s almost impossible to resist a bond that seems to fulfill, so easily and so instantly, everything you’ve ever wanted in a partner or in a romantic relationship. But usually in these cases, keep your eyes wide open, because the red flags will start waving. Because real life doesn’t work that way and a love that seems to be too good to be true is often…a psychopathic fraud.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


Moving On: Life After the Psychopath

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 


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