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


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How do Psychopaths Construct their Mask of Sanity?

The first very influential book about psychopathy was Hervey Cleckley’s groundbreaking The Mask of Sanity. Here Cleckley went over every major symptom of this dangerous personality disorder. What is most striking about psychopaths, as opposed to other disordered or deranged individuals, is how well they blend into the rest of society, to use, dupe and harm other human beings. Their glibness and charm, as well as their uncanny ability to lie convincingly, makes them the perfect wolves in sheep’s clothing. Cleckley observes, “More often than not, the typical psychopath will seem particularly agreeable and make a distinctly positive impression when he is first encountered. Alert and friendly in his attitude, he is easy to talk with and seems to have a good many genuine interests. There is nothing at all odd or queer about him, and in every respect he tends to embody the concept of a well-adjusted, happy person. Nor does he, on the other hand, seem to be artificially exerting himself like one who is covering up or who wants to sell you a bill of goods. He would seldom be confused with the professional backslapper or someone who is trying to ingratiate himself for a concealed purpose. Signs of affectation or excessive affability are not characteristic. He looks like the real thing.” (The Mask of Sanity, 339)

Because they appear to be easy-going, friendly and genuine, psychopaths attract many potential partners. They tend to be great conversationalists, orienting the subjects of discussion around each of their targets’ personal interests. Scott Peterson, Mark Hacking and Neil Entwistle seemed true gentlemen and fun-loving guys not only to their wives, but also to their in-laws and friends. Generally speaking, they behaved appropriately for the circumstances before committing their gruesome crimes. They knew how to open the car door for their partners, how to engage in polite conversation with their in-laws and how to joke around with their buddies.

Not only do psychopaths tend to be extraordinarily charismatic, but also they can appear to be rational, levelheaded individuals. They usually talk in a way that shows common sense and good judgment. “Very often indications of good sense and sound reasoning will emerge and one is likely to feel soon after meeting him that this normal and pleasant person is also one with high abilities,” Cleckley continues. (338)

Psychopaths generally present themselves as responsible men. They seem to be in charge of their lives, their families and their careers. As we’ve seen, for several years Mark Hacking led his wife and her family to believe that he was a college graduate on his way to medical school. Only members of his own family knew (and hid) the truth. Similarly, Neil Entwistle convinced his entire family that he was a successful computer entrepreneur. In actuality, he was a bankrupt spammer. He also led Rachel to believe that he was a faithful, loving husband while actively seeking promiscuous liaisons on adult dating websites.

Although most psychopaths fail at their endeavors, it’s usually not due to a lack of natural intelligence. Cleckley notes, “Psychometric tests also very frequently show him of superior intelligence. More than the average person, he is likely to seem free from social or emotional impediments, from the minor distortions, peculiarities, and awkwardness so common even among the successful.” (338) Psychopaths succeed in fooling others not just because of what they say, but also because of how they say it. Their demeanor tends to be self-assured, cool, smooth and collected. Even though, at core, they’re more disturbed than individuals diagnosed with severe mental illnesses–such as psychotics or schizophrenics–their personality disorder doesn’t show through.

The fact that psychopathy tends to be well concealed beneath a veneer of normalcy makes it all the more dangerous to others:  “Although the psychopath’s inner emotional deviations and deficiencies may be comparable with the inner status of the masked schizophrenic,” Cleckley goes on, “he outwardly shows nothing brittle or strange. Everything about him is likely to suggest desirable and superior human qualities, a robust mental health.” (339)

Absence of Delusions and Other Signs of Irrational Thinking

Despite being capable of actions that we’d associate with insanity—such as killing their family members in cold-blood, then going out to party afterwards—psychopaths are in fact clinically sane. But what does it actually mean to be “sane,” in light of such severely disturbed behavior? It simply means being in touch with reality and aware of the legal, social and moral rules that govern one’s society. Sanity doesn’t imply processing this information normally or behaving normally.  Cleckley elaborates,

“The psychopath is ordinarily free from signs or symptoms traditionally regarded as evidence of a psychosis. He does not hear voices. Genuine delusions cannot be demonstrated. There is no valid depression, consistent pathologic elevation of mood, or irresistible pressure of activity. Outer perceptual reality is accurately recognized; social values and generally accredited personal standards are accepted verbally. Excellent logical reasoning is maintained and, in theory, the patient can foresee the consequences of injudicious or antisocial acts, outline acceptable or admirable plans of life, and ably criticize in words his former mistakes.” (339)

The psychopath constructs his mask of sanity by imitating the rest of us.  He mimics our emotions. He pays lip service to our moral principles. He pretends to respect us and our goals in life. The only difference between him and normal human beings is that he doesn’t actually feel or believe any of this on a deeper level. His simulation of normalcy functions as a disguise that enables him to fool others and satisfy his deviant drives. However, because of the psychopath’s extraordinary charm and poise, those perverse needs aren’t likely to be obvious to others.

For as long as a psychopath can hide his true nature, his real desires as well as the seedier aspects of his behavior, he appears to be the very picture of sanity: an upstanding citizen, a loyal friend, a loving husband and father. “Not only is the psychopath rational and his thinking free of delusions,” Cleckley pursues, “but he also appears to react with normal emotions. His ambitions are discussed with what appears to be healthy enthusiasm. His convictions impress even the skeptical observer as firm and binding. He seems to respond with adequate feelings to another’s interest in him and, as he discusses his wife, his children, or his parents, he is likely to be judged a man of warm human responses, capable of full devotion and loyalty.” (339)

Absence of Nervousness or Psychoneurotic Manifestations

Psychopaths display an almost reptilian tranquility. Their paradoxical combination of calmness and thrill-seeking behavior may render them, at least initially, more intriguing than normal individuals.  A psychopath can appear to be the rock of your life, promising a solid foundation for a lasting relationship. Cleckley observes,  “It is highly typical for him not only to escape the abnormal anxiety and tension fundamentally characteristic of this whole diagnostic group but also to show a relative immunity from such anxiety and worry as might be judged normal or appropriate in disturbing situations.” (340) While their general aura of coolness and calmness can be reassuring, psychopaths tend to be too calm in the wrong circumstances. Upon closer observation, their mask of sanity includes fissures, or attitudes and elements of behavior that don’t conform to their normal external image.

For instance, they may laugh when (and even because) others cry. They may remain too serene in traumatic circumstances. Or they may appear theatrical and disingenuous in their displays of emotion, as Neil Entwistle did in court. In those moments when they behave inappropriately, psychopaths reveal their underlying abnormality.  This shows through not only before they commit some crime but also afterwards, in their lack of genuine remorse, regret or sadness.

Neurotics feel excessive anxiety. By way of contrast, psychopaths feel too little anxiety. When they experience regret or pain, it’s for getting caught or for being momentarily inconvenienced, not for having hurt others. When they get frustrated, it’s for not getting their way or out of boredom, not because they’re troubled by what they did wrong. As Cleckley puts it, “Even under concrete circumstances that would for the ordinary person cause embarrassment, confusion, acute insecurity, or visible agitation, his relative serenity is likely to be noteworthy… What tension or uneasiness of this sort he may show seems provoked entirely by external circumstances, never by feelings of guilt, remorse, or intrapersonal insecurity. Within himself he appears almost as incapable of anxiety as of profound remorse.” (340) Empathy, fear of punishment, anxiety and remorse represent the main forces that prevent normal people from engaging in dangerous and harmful behavior. Psychopaths lack such restraints.  No matter how good their disguise, dangerous and harmful behavior is all they enjoy and desire to pursue in life.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

Charismatic Psychopaths: Mark Hacking and Neil Entwistle

The most dangerous social predators are, unfortunately, also the most common and the best camouflaged.  Charismatic psychopaths rely upon their natural trademarks–glibness, magnetism and charm–to lure others into their lives. Romantic relationships with such individuals tend to have one thing in common: they initially appear to be absolutely perfect, the very picture of happiness and the envy of all your friends. Charismatic psychopaths give their partners flowers and say all the right things to win their trust and love. They engage in ostentatious public displays of affection that leave other women drooling, wishing they too could have such romantic partners. But we must remember the age-old adage: what seems too good to be true usually is. If predators weren’t especially alluring and didn’t behave exceptionally well at first, they wouldn’t trap so many victims into their dangerous nets. They also wouldn’t be able hold on to the partners they inevitably come to mistreat.  Few women are so masochistic as to be enticed into a relationship by overt and immediate signs of abuse.  Yet many remain trapped in abusive relationships with psychopaths because of the lure of the initial honeymoon period and the vain hope that they can somehow recapture it. In their international study of 75 women who got romantically involved with psychopaths, entitled, appropriately enough, Women who love psychopaths, Sandra Brown and Liane Leedom observe:

“The early days of being wooed and lured by a psychopath are the most exciting times that women remember. Consistently described as ‘charming’ the psychopath is irresistible in his personality traits. Women described him as ‘a charming and engaging conversationalist, agreeable, insightful, sweet, twinkling eyes, a compelling talker, funny, a great storyteller, fun to be with, delightful, exciting, companionable, loyal, enthusiastic, upbeat, fun-loving, intense and sensitive.’ From this list of traits, it’s easy to see why women are enamored with his personality. By this list, what’s not to like?” (93)

As it turns out, what’s not to like is absolutely everything about this dangerous and sometimes deadly charmer. His image of perfection is only a mask, set up to ensnare his target into a vision of her dream come true, which eventually turns into a nightmare. This is precisely what happened to Lori Kay Soares and Rachel Entwistle, two young women who believed that they had married their dream lovers. In actuality, however, they fell into the clutches of psychopathic partners who killed them for the flimsiest of reasons. The most common question people ask when they hear or read about such cruel and senseless crimes is: why did he or she do it? Even the journalists who cover these crimes ask this question, which shows quite clearly that they lack a basic understanding of the kind of people they’re dealing with. Once again, psychopaths don’t have rational or comprehensible motives. They don’t steal primarily for money, which they could get through honest means. They don’t rape primarily for sex, which they could get voluntarily. They don’t kill their spouses primarily for freedom, which they could get through a legitimate divorce. They have malicious motivations.  They harm others primarily for pleasure and fun; for the sport of it. Hurting others, sometimes even killing them, gives psychopaths the greatest rush of euphoria and power. This constitutes their only real purpose in life. Fooling their families, their lovers, their colleagues, their buddies, the media and even the police into thinking that they’re decent, caring human beings–or, when caught, that they feel genuine remorse or have been victimized themselves–offers the extra bonus. It’s the icing on the cake, so to speak. It also enables psychopaths to sometimes get away with their evil deeds.

Mark and Lori Hacking

Mark Douglas Hacking and Lori Kay Soares appeared to be the perfect couple. They were both in their late twenties and had been together for ten years. Their seemingly idyllic relationship was the envy of Lori’s friends. From the moment they met on a trip in Lake Powell, Utah in 1994, Mark and Lori fell in love and become practically inseparable. Mark in particular seemed absolutely crazy about his wife. He was an outgoing, fun-loving young man who appeared to have a promising future ahead of him. The couple planned to move to Chapel Hill, where Mark was supposed to attend medical school. Lori was expecting their first child.  According to family and friends, the couple was looking forward to the birth of their baby and to their promising life together in North Carolina. But tragedy struck on July 19, 2004, when Lori went out for a walk and didn’t return. That morning, Mark called Lori’s work to inquire about her whereabouts. Lori’s colleague, Brandon Hodge, told him that she didn’t come to work yet. This struck him as somewhat unusual, since Lori was punctual. Mark responded that his wife went jogging earlier that morning. He claimed that was the last time he saw her. Although Lori had been missing for only a few hours, Mark sounded very concerned. He told Hodge that he went jogging for three miles on the trail his wife took, but couldn’t find her. About half an hour later, Mark called the police to report his wife as missing. They informed him that a person must be gone for at least 24 hours for them to start an official search.

Lori’s family, friends and colleagues, however, were sufficiently alarmed to assist Mark in the search for his wife that very day.  On the following day, Lori’s parents held a press conference. They asked for the public’s help in finding their missing daughter. Since Lori was extremely well liked in the community, 1,200 people volunteered to search for her. Mark, however, felt too distraught to join them. Police found him wandering around a local motel wearing nothing but a pair of sandals. He was admitted to the University of Utah psychiatric unit to recover from his apparent anxiety attack. The police, however, expressed skepticism. They wondered if Mark had faked his nervous breakdown to avoid a more thorough interrogation. Their initial inquiries led them to believe that he might have been involved in his wife’s disappearance. Upon questioning Lori’s family, colleagues and friends, they discovered that, in fact, the marriage wasn’t going all that well lately. The couple had fought earlier that week after Lori found out that Mark had deceived her about whom he was and what he was planning to do in life.

Dr. Douglas Hacking, Mark’s father, told the police that his son had lied to his wife about graduating with honors in psychology from the University of Utah. He also deceived her about being accepted to the University of North Carolina Medical School.  Lori discovered the lies by accident, when she called the medical school from work to ask about financial aid for her husband. Some of her colleagues stated that she was visibly upset during that conversation. She left work early that day, probably to confront Mark, they speculated. For a few days, however, the relations between the couple improved. As it turns out, Mark succeeded in persuading his wife of yet another lie. He told her that the reason he wasn’t in the University of North Carolina’s records was because of a computer malfunction. Apparently, however, Lori didn’t buy that excuse for long. She proceeded to verify his claim. Afterwards, the situation went from bad to worse. A few days later, the couple had another altercation.

The extent of the deception led investigators to suspect that if Mark lied so easily and for so long to his wife and others about his education and life plans, he could just as easily be lying to them about his lack of involvement in Lori’s disappearance. In addition, the evidence they found at the Hackings’ residence led them to conclude that they were dealing with a homicide, not a missing person case. From that point on, they considered Mark to be “a person of interest.” Inside the Hackings’ apartment, they collected a receipt for a new mattress and bedding, a bloody knife found in the drawer of the couple’s bedroom, clothing and a letter supposedly written by Lori warning her husband that she’d leave him “if things didn’t change.” Outside, they gathered a cut up mattress that matched the box spring found in the trash bin of University of Utah hospital, where Mark worked. They also removed a clump of dark hair matching Lori’s from a dumpster outside a gas station near the hospital. In addition, the surveillance tapes taken from various locations–the hospital, a Mormon church near the park where Lori supposedly went on a walk and a convenience store–told a different story from the one that Mark shared with the police.

The tapes revealed that on the morning when Mark told police he was searching for his wife in the park, he was actually buying a new mattress at a local store. In addition, the seat of Lori’s car was adjusted for a tall person rather than for her petite frame. Mark was six feet tall, while Lori was only 5’4”.  More significantly, Mark’s two brothers told investigators that he had confessed to murdering his wife. According to them, this was neither a premeditated murder planned long in advance nor a crime of passion perpetrated in the heat of the moment. Mark told his brothers that on the evening of July 18th, Lori confronted him about his newest lie, concerning the supposed computer malfunction. He finally admitted to her that he had deceived her for years about his education. This resulted in a heated argument. Lori then went to bed and Mark began packing his belongings. During this process, he came across a .22-caliber rifle. Around 1:00 a.m., he shot his sleeping wife in the head. He then wrapped up her body in garbage bags and disposed of it in a local dumpster about an hour later. He also cut up the mattress (with the knife that the police removed from his bedroom drawer) and discarded it in the dumpster near the hospital, where it was later found.

Because the investigators couldn’t find Lori’s body for a few months, the prosecution team charged Mark with first-degree murder without seeking the death penalty. Two months later, on October 1, 2004, they found Lori’s remains in the Salt Lake County Landfill. Her husband pleaded “not guilty” at the arraignment hearing. During the April trial, however, Mark confessed that he had murdered his wife.  As he described how he killed Lori and disposed of her body, he showed no signs of emotion. Lori’s family expressed not only grief, but also a sense of perplexity. They couldn’t understand what might have led this seemingly adoring husband to kill the woman who was, by all accounts, the love of his life. They were also puzzled by the fact he disposed of her body in such an irreverent fashion, as one does of a pile of garbage.

Neil and Rachel Entwistle

The case of Neil and Rachel Entwistle resembles that of Scott and Laci Peterson, which has received enormous media attention and is the subject of several biographies and true crime books. According to his friends and family, Neil was a charming, handsome, polished and courteous British man. He fell in love with Rachel, a sunny, petite American woman.  The way the couple fell in love was so poetic that it could have been lifted from the pages of a romance novel. They met in the north of England on the Ouse River. Both attended the University of York and participated in the rowing team. Rachel was a coxswain, while Neil rowed. Their friends state that they took an instant liking to each other. Neil, in particular, “adored” Rachel.

Their relationship moved fast and got serious from the very start. The couple envisioned a bright future together. Rachel took a job as a teacher while Neil, described by some of his friends as a “computer wizard,” took a programming job. Their wedding was so lavish and beautiful that it seemed right out of a fairy tale. They honeymooned in the Mediterranean. Pretty soon, Rachel gave birth to a little girl, whom they named Lillian Rose. Both Neil and Rachel appeared ecstatic about the birth of their baby. Neil set up a website, rachelandneil.org, to showcase their wedding pictures and their adorable newborn. Rachel described her husband to her friends as “her knight in shinning armor.” She told her family that she was “blissfully happy” in her marriage. The young woman considered Neil to be her dream come true: handsome, charming, intelligent, humorous, a gentleman, a doting husband, a loving father and a stable provider.  Shortly thereafter, the couple decided to move back to Boston, to be near Rachel’s family. They bought an expensive 4-bedroom house in the suburbs and rented a BMW. On January 19, 2006, only a few days after they moved into their new house, Rachel talked on the phone with her good friend, Joanna Gately. They planned a visit that weekend, since Joanna wanted to see their new house and the baby. Rachel went to sleep that evening and never woke up. Neither did her nine-month-old daughter.  Both had been murdered.

During the course of the investigation, what turned out to be most astonishing for Rachel’s family was that the evidence pointed to the fact that the person responsible for killing them was none other than the doting husband and father who appeared to love them most. Moreover, the image of Neil Entwistle during the trial and his behavior after the murders sharply contradicted the impression of him that his family and friends used to have. Rather than being a faithful, adoring husband, the evidence revealed that he joined an Internet sex-swinger site in England during the time that Rachel was in Boston with their newborn baby. As soon as he joined them in the United States, Neil advertised himself on Adult Friend Finder. He presented himself as a man looking for “American women of all ages,” to see if they were “much better in bed than the women over the ocean.” On January 4, 2006, he wrote to a woman saying that he was “currently in a relationship” but would like “a bit more fun in the bedroom.”

His professional life also turned out to be largely a sham. Rather than being a successful computer programmer, as his wife and the rest of his family were led to believe, he was one of those annoying spammers who promise magical results in the bedroom and in the wallet. Unfortunately, his occupation didn’t bring him such results. Neil was broke and in debt. In addition, the evidence found on his computer pointed quite clearly to premeditated murder. Weeks before his wife and daughter were shot, Neil looked up on the Internet methods of killing, including euthanasia, murder and suicide. Researching suicide doesn’t imply he wanted to kill himself, as some speculated.  Individuals who intend to murder others commonly look into how a homicide could be framed as a suicide, as Neil’s defense during the trial later confirmed.

Nothing about Neil Entwistle’s true identity conformed to the outward impression he created for his family and friends. Immediately after murdering his family, Neil behaved even less like the loving husband and father he claimed to be. He bought a one-way ticket to England, to avoid police interrogation. He didn’t return to the United States to attend his wife and daughter’s funerals. During his murder trial, the prosecution presented evidence that Entwistle used a .22 caliber revolver to shoot his wife in the head and his daughter in the stomach, both in cold blood and at close range. Perhaps to showcase his “sensitivity,” he told police that he covered their bodies with bedding because he was “closing them off.”

At the trial, Neil pleaded “not guilty.” His defense team argued that Rachel killed the baby and then committed suicide. The only ones who bought this implausible defense even after Neil was found guilty and convicted of first-degree murder were his parents. In spite of the overwhelming evidence that pointed to Neil’s guilt, his mother cast him as the real victim and his murdered wife as the victimizer. She stated, “We know that our son Neil is innocent and we are devastated to learn that the evidence points to Rachel murdering our grandchild and then committing suicide.” By way of contrast, after hearing and seeing the evidence against him, Lori’s family had no doubts that their son-in-law had committed the crimes. But they, along with the prosecution and the press, couldn’t understand what drove Neil to commit such a horrific act against his own family. Joseph Flahery, the spokesman for Pricilla Materazzo, Rachel’s mother, and for her stepfather, Joseph, released the following statement on their behalf: “We may never know why this happened, but we do know Rachel and Lillian Rose loved and trusted Neil Entwistle.”

Neil’s mother denied her son’s actions, while the media, which seemed convinced by the guilty verdict, mischaracterized his motives. Katherine Ramsland, from trutv.com and thecrimelibrary.com, for instance, describes accurately all the facts of the case. However, she characterizes Entwistle’s pathological lying about pretty much every significant aspect of his life as symptoms of so-called “white lies,” which got so far out of hand that he, himself, began to believe them. Psychopaths don’t tell “white lies.” They tell harmful lies to disguise their malicious actions and evil identities from others. The only journalist I’ve read who got the psychological profile of Neil Entwistle right on target was Harrison Koehli, who described him as a psychopath. Like me, Koehli expressed frustration that even the media, which routinely covers such crimes, doesn’t grasp the phenomenon of psychopathy, given that psychopaths commit such a high proportion of these sensational murders.  Koehli identifies several media misreadings of Neil Entwistle’s behavior. He notes:

“The Boston Globe tells us that Entwistle ‘breaks down’ while watching video of his dead wife and daughter. In fact, the description deserves to be quoted in full: ‘Neil Entwistle’s face turned scarlet red and he covered his mouth with his hand, looking down to avert his eyes from the video played today in court that showed the bodies of his wife and infant daughter, found shot to death in bed and frozen in an embrace. Entwistle trembled and for the first time since his 2006 arrest began to cry publicly, tears running down the cheeks of his quivering jaw. As the 20-minute video played for the Middlesex Superior Court jury, he turned his eyes back at the screen and watched, his hand covering his gaping mouth.’ ”

Having watched this video, I agree with Koehli’s interpretation of Neil Entwistle’s reaction rather than that of the Boston Globe journalists, Franci R. Ellement and Andrew Ryan. I see no signs whatsoever of trauma or pain in Entwistle’s expression. Sadistic buffoonery is more like it. I also see Entwistle trying to disguise the fact that he was laughing into his hand as the evidence of his gruesome murder of his wife and child was presented before the jury. Apparently, he treated the trial as a joke and even as a personal triumph. I’m fully on board with Koehli’s description of Entwistle’s reaction, as well as with his dismay at the media’s credulity towards Entwistle’s obviously histrionic displays of emotion. Koehli goes on to say:

“I have to say, to watch that video and to come away convinced that the scene ‘appeared to have a profound impact’ on Entwistle smacks of supreme credulity. A more honest description would appear as follows: ‘Entwistle appeared to enjoy himself, using his hand to hide a large grin and occasional laughter. Every so often he appeared to attempt an unconvincing expression of emotion, forcing his eyes into a crude facsimile of sadness. His obvious smile and alert eye movements, however, betrayed his undisturbed composure and lack of guilt or despair.”

While other media accounts automatically translate Entwistle’s expression and gestures into more or less comprehensible human responses, Koehli sees them for what they are: The decidedly abnormal and inhuman reactions of a psychopath. Koehli observes that “Entwistle cannot control the fact that his face appears to be smiling, but he can attempt to hide it by covering his face and attempting to fake crying, which is what he is obviously doing. He is smiling, but it is not because that is just how he looks when he cries. It is because he is thoroughly enjoying himself. He is sadistic and he is a psychopath.” This description fits. Not only does Entwistle show no remorse about murdering his family, but also he obviously takes sadistic pleasure in the presentation of his crimes. If he tries to disguise his reaction, it’s in a rather unsuccessful attempt to cover up his abnormality, which the prosecution is in the process of publicly unmasking.  Deprived of his mask of sanity, a psychopath lacks the means by which he can fool and use others.

Koehli comments that even those who have written at length about psychopaths, such as Keith Ablow, a forensic psychiatrist and the author of Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson, mischaracterize Entwistle’s reaction. Ablow states: “Men like Entwistle … feel like stripping their masks away is tantamount to killing them, because they believe those thin, synthetic disguises are all that keep them from dissolving into nothingness and feeling the full weight of unspeakable emotional turmoil, with roots that always reach deep into their pasts.”  This sounds existential and even poetic, but psychopaths lack the emotional depth to experience such angst. Their flashes of anger are as shallow and fleeting as their infatuations. I’m with Koehli, once again, when he advises the media and the general public to reread Hervey Cleckley’s The Mask of Sanity in order to gain insight into how the minds of psychopaths work:

“Sorry Keith, but you need to reread Cleckley. There’s no fear of unspeakable emotional turmoil lying behind that mask of sanity. Psychopaths do not even know the meaning of those words. They hang on to their masks with such conviction because they are predators, and without them, they cannot survive… To let down that facade would reveal that they are little more than unfeeling intraspecies predators that feed off the pain and suffering of others and thus destroy their chances of feeding. Even a psychopath is aware of the consequences of such a revelation. His ‘dreams’ of a boot forever stomping on the face of humanity are crushed.”

Without understanding the phenomenon of psychopathy, we’re much more likely to fall into the traps set by these social predators. We’re also more likely to give them second chances in life when they mistreat us or commit crimes, believing that they’re capable of reform and redemption. They’re not. All the evidence points to the fact that psychopaths don’t learn from negative experiences. They’re therefore not intimidated by punishment. When freed, they go out to commit the same kind of crimes again. Spreading information about this personality disorder constitutes the public’s main line of defense against such evil individuals. However, when even the police, that routinely runs across such criminals and the journalists that present their crimes in the news fail to understand psychopaths, what hope is there left that the general public will get the necessary tools to protect itself from them? Koehli advises all of us to inform ourselves–and others–about these perfect invisible predators in our midst. His appeal for spreading information about psychopathy is so well justified and eloquent that I’m citing it in full:

“When I read comments like Ablow’s and the youtube commentator’s, comments so steeped in ignorance and projection, I get in a bit of a funk. After all, if only people would first accept the existence of psychopathy, we would not be so likely to fall for their cheap ’emotional’ manipulations. You see, psychopaths are wired differently than normal humans. They do not feel close to others, they do not feel remorse, they do not feel others’ pain, they are completely egocentric, and they derive a pathological ‘joy’ from others’ suffering.  Neil Entwistle’s sick display of joy at the sight of his dead wife and daughter, and his transparent attempt to feign sadness should be apparent to every normal, rational human being. Unfortunately it is not, and we all suffer as a result, and we will continue to suffer, and millions more will die, until we decide to grow up and accept the most pressing truth about our reality. What is that truth? That not only do psychopaths live among us, but also through our ignorance we have allowed them to rise to positions of almost absolute power over us. Widespread knowledge of the reality of psychopathy on this planet is the essential first step to securing our future and that of our children. Make it your priority to spread the word.”

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

Psychopaths: The Real-Life Vampires

My native country, Romania, is best known for a fictional character, Dracula, which is only loosely based on a historical fact: the infamous legend of Vlad Tepes. Novels that draw upon this legend—ranging from Anne Rice’s genre fiction, to the popular Twilight series, to Elizabeth Kostova’s erudite The Historian–continue to be best sellers. Yet, ultimately, no matter how much they may thrill us, the “undead” vampires we encounter in novels are harmless fictional characters that play upon our fascination with evil. However, real-life vampires, or individuals who relish destroying the lives of others, do exist. We see them constantly featured in the news and, if we don’t know how to recognize them, sometimes we even welcome them into our lives.

What do O. J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, Neil Entwistle and the timeless seducers of literature epitomized by the figures of Don Juan and Casanova have in common? They are charming, charismatic, glib and seductive men who also embody some of the most dangerous human qualities: a breathtaking callousness, shallowness of emotion and the fundamental incapacity to love. To such men, other people, including their own family members, friends and lovers, are mere objects or pawns to be used for their own gratification and sometimes quite literally discarded when no longer useful or exciting. In other words, these men are psychopaths.

If there’s one thing helpful to learn from psychology it’s the dangerous characteristics of these social predators, so that we can recognize them more easily and avoid them whenever possible. By definition, a predator is “one that preys, destroys or devours.” Not exactly boyfriend or spouse material, yet psychopaths manage to lure numerous partners into their nets.  Most of us are used to hearing the largely interchangeable terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” applied only to serial killers such as Ted Bundy or to murderers such as Scott Peterson. These men made national headlines for remorselessly killing strangers or family members. However, as Robert D. Hare documents in Without Conscience, only a very small percentage of psychopaths actually murder. Whether or not they do is not what makes them psychopathic or dangerous to others. Most psychopaths wreak havoc in our daily lives in more subtle yet sometimes equally destructive “sub-criminal” ways. They may engage in a pattern of deception and betrayal, an endless string of seductions, emotional and psychological abuse of their loved ones, domestic violence or the financial exploitation of others.

As lovefraud.com, the website started by Donna Andersen to help victims indicates, psychopaths are exceptionally selfish individuals who lack empathy. Consequently, they’re incapable of forming real love bonds with others. They establish instead “dominance bonds,” claiming possession of those closest to them rather than genuinely caring for family members, lovers and friends. Their top goal is control, their principal weapon is deceit and their main means is seduction: sometimes physical, but most often psychological in nature. Moreover, it’s not just the naïve and the gullible that get taken in by them. Anybody can fall prey to the psychopathic charm. As Martha Stout illustrates in The Sociopath Next Door, psychopaths tend to be extremely charismatic. They say all the right things to reel you in. They’re also supremely self-confident, highly sexual, have low impulse control and are amazingly good liars. Like real-life vampires, they feed upon people’s dreams, vulnerabilities and emotions. They move from person to person, always for their personal advantage, no matter under what other-regarding pretext or guise. Only the most notorious cases make it into the news or get profiled by popular shows such as Forensic Files, Cold Case Files and Dateline. But there are millions of psychopaths in this country alone who poison, in one way or another, tens of millions of lives.

Unfortunately, their personality disorder often passes unnoticed until they commit a horrific crime. Some psychopaths, like Charles Manson, would appear crazy to a normal person even from miles away. In those cases, psychopathy is probably compounded by psychotic tendencies which render the disorder much more obvious to others. But most psychopaths move among us undetected. Scott Peterson, Mark Hacking and Neil Entwistle appeared to be normal young men even to those who thought they knew them best, such as their spouses, parents, in-laws and friends. In fact, in some respects, they seemed better than normal. According to their family members and friends, they could be exceptionally charming. Nothing in particular led them to kill their wives and babies. The media has ascribed traditional motives to their crimes, such as financial distress, girlfriends on the side and the desire for freedom or promiscuous sex. But these motives don’t even begin to explain the viciousness, gratuitousness and callousness of their acts. Perhaps one can understand, even if not condone, lack of empathy towards strangers. As history has shown time and time again, it may be easier, in certain circumstances, to dehumanize those one doesn’t know more intimately. But these men killed those who loved them most, trusted them fully and were closest to them. They murdered their innocent babies and wives who were either pregnant or had just given birth to their children. They didn’t become “crazy” all of a sudden due to a crisis. In some cases, marital squabbles or financial distress may have functioned as a catalyst. But the underlying personality disorder that enabled these men to commit such vicious crimes was present before, during and after the gruesome murders that rendered it visible to the public eye.

What distinguishes a psychopath who commits murder from one who doesn’t isn’t his conscience, since all psychopaths lack it. What makes the difference may be nothing more than his desires, opportunities, whims and short-term objectives.  Most psychopaths choose to dispose of an inconvenient wife or girlfriend in the traditional manner. They divorce or break up with her. A few, like Scott Peterson, Mark Hacking and Neil Entwistle, decide that murder is the better route for them. Such men believe that they’re clever enough to fool the police and get away with their crimes. They commit murder to appear to be grieving spouses rather than risk being unmasked for what they really are even before the crimes: empty souls hiding behind a façade of lies. What a psychopath is capable of doing in order to protect his phony good image or to fulfill his deviant desires can’t be predicted in advance.

For normal people, it’s difficult to imagine such a disordered human being. To most of us, the psychopath represents a distant danger or an abstraction. It’s a concept we can comprehend intellectually, but not on an emotional level. Yet this is precisely what Martha Stout asks us to envision: “Imagine—if you can—not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you have taken…” (The Sociopath Next Door, 1) Her conclusion to this thought exercise is quite clear. Without a conscience, one can do anything at all. No evil act is beneath a psychopath. Once his crime is discovered, people tend to say that they never knew such evil existed. Unfortunately, it does. What’s worse, it’s common and well hidden enough to present a danger to us all.

Dr. Robert Hare, author of Without Conscience, Snakes in Suits and of the Psychopathy Checklist, which is administered in prisons and psychiatric institutions, estimates that about 1 percent of the population is psychopathic. Because this personality disorder ties into aggression and the need for dominance, the percentage tends to be higher in men than in women. What do psychopaths look like? They look, and superficially even behave, just like the rest of us. They come from every social class, every race, every ethnicity, every nationality, every kind of background and upbringing. They tend to be smarter than average. Some become successful businessmen, lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, writers, teachers, artists and scholars. They can be exceptionally charming. They say all the right things to get what they want, without fumbling or sounding artificial. Lacking any real emotional ties to preoccupy them, they’re easily bored and crave constant excitement. Having no conscience yet being glib, they’re compelling pathological liars. They rationalize everything they do, including rape and murder. Consequently, they fail to accept responsibility for anything they do wrong. Since they know no loyalty to anything or anyone but themselves, they don’t play by any rules. Like the Joker in the blockbuster movie, The Dark Knight, they don’t even bond with other outlaws. Even that would require having some loyalty and abiding by some subversive principles. Psychopaths, however, are rebels without a cause. Once they reach adulthood, their character solidifies and their personality disorder becomes unfixable.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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