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


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Fifty Shades of Sadism: Psychopaths as Lovers

Some of the women who comment about their experiences with psychopaths,  as well as many of those interviewed by Sandra L. Brown, M.A. in Women Who Love Psychopaths, state that psychopaths make good lovers. When you read their comments, however, you see that while superficially that may be true, fundamentally it is false. Psychopaths have low impulse control and are generally very promiscuous. Since they need transgression, risk and variety in their lives, they’re likely to have tried a lot of sexual positions in many locations with numerous partners. Initially, their ample sexual experience can appear exciting even to a normal person. In the honeymoon phase of the relationship, a psychopath is generally hypersexual with you. He’s excited by the chase and the “conquest,” by the novelty, by the fact that he’s (most likely) cheating on other women and on you, as well as by the increasing control he’s exercising over you.

Analogously, from your perspective, the aura of romance, excitement and spontaneity can be very seductive. Initially, it may seem flattering, even if a bit disconcerting, to have a man who seems unable to keep his hands off you anywhere and everywhere, including in public. As social predators, psychopaths tend to stalk their victims, overwhelming them with attention at first. The movie 9 1/2 weeks, staring Kim Basinger and Mickey Roarke, has been interpreted as a superficial erotic movie. But it’s actually a psychologically insightful film about the process of psychopathic seduction. What starts out as a romantic relationship progressively turns into a menacing dominance bond. The man in the movie stalks the heroine and makes her feel desirable and special. He showers her with attention and gifts. But those don’t come free. For instance, he gives her an expensive watch and tells her to look at it and think of him every day at a certain time. He ends up controlling her thoughts, her feelings and her sexuality. He begins by being very sensual and affectionate, but eventually induces her to engage in perverse sexual acts that she feels uncomfortable with. He pushes the envelope further and further to the point where she becomes just a puppet in his hands. Fortunately, she realizes this and escapes his control before she’s seriously damaged. In real life, however, many women aren’t so lucky.

It may seem exciting to play erotic games or to talk in a raunchy manner. But, over time, this behavior begins to feel strange and uncomfortable. What’s worse, it also becomes normative, since psychopaths enjoy controlling you. They tell you how to dress and what to do or say to please them. They tell you what make-up to wear or to wear no make-up at all. Some psychopaths instruct women to dress very modestly, to cover themselves practically from head to toe, so that they won’t tempt other men. Others, on the contrary, prefer that their women dress provocatively even in public, to demean them and satisfy their penchant for transgression. Many psychopaths engage in rape and other forms of domestic violence. Even giving you pleasure gives them a sense of power.

Eventually, psychopaths need more transgression, more depraved and sadistic acts, harder pornographic material, more sleazy places, more sexual partners and configurations, more everything, to derive the same degree of enjoyment from sex. You begin to feel like a sex toy, nothing more than an object, rather than the cherished, attractive human being you thought you were in your partner’s eyes. It’s no news that most women prefer to be both. We want to be desired as sex objects but also loved and appreciated as individuals. Unfortunately, psychopaths can’t deliver both. Of course, they often convincingly fake feelings of love in the beginning. But, fundamentally, they can only view and treat you as a sex object that increasingly loses its appeal over time. After the honeymoon phase ends, there’s no real sense of individuality with psychopaths. Sexual partners are interchangeable to them. You’re placed in constant competition with other women. As we know, psychopaths constantly seek new “opportunities” to fulfill their insatiable desires. They’re always ready to “upgrade.” To compensate for the fact that you may be exchanged for a newer, younger, hotter, richer or simply different model at any point in the relationship, you need to do more and more things to satisfy the psychopath. Which is exactly what he wants from you in the first place: a total capitulation to his will.

Psychopathic lovers project upon their partners the fantasy of what psychologists call the “omniavailable woman.” They envision a partner who’s always turned on, always at their beck and call, always sexually available to them anytime and everywhere. They want a woman who makes love to them as easily in the privacy of their bedroom as in the public space of a movie theater or a parking lot. Men’s magazines play upon this fantasy as well. But in real, loving, relationships your moral and sexual boundaries are respected without the fear (or the implicit threat) that you’ll be punished for having such restraints. That doesn’t happen in psychopathic bonds. In those, it’s guaranteed that you’ll be punished–with infidelity, emotional withdrawal, abandonment, divorce, psychological and sometimes even physical abuse–if you don’t comply with the psychopath’s requests. Of course, this emotional blackmail is itself only a sordid joke. The psychopath betrays you whether or not you meet his demands. The only question is: does he do it openly, to torment you, or behind your back, to deceive you?

Although being a plaything may seem initially exciting, a woman who becomes a psychopath’s sexual partner loses her autonomy in a relationship where she’s supposed to be, like some wound-up inflatable doll with holes, always available to that man for his sexual gratification (or else…). In time, she realizes that she isn’t loved in any meaningful sense of the term. That, in fact, her needs and desires don’t really matter to him. That just about any other woman could have been used in the same manner and for the same purposes. That many others already are. She’s neither unique nor irreplaceable in her lover’s eyes, as he initially made her feel. She’s generic and disposable to him. She then sees that the multidimensional man she thought cared about her is nothing but an empty shell. His charming exterior masks a completely hollow interior. He can’t love her. He can only own her. Not even exclusively, but as part of his collection.

With a possession, one can do anything at all. An object has no independent will, no separate needs, no sensibilities. Over time, sex with a psychopath begins to feel contrived, cold and mechanical. It becomes an exercise in obedience rather than a bond based on mutual pleasure and affection. Because psychopaths grow easily bored of the same acts, places, positions and persons, the sexual experience becomes tainted by perverse acts at her expense. The bottom line is that psychopaths are lovers who don’t care about their partners. If they give them pleasure, it’s only to make themselves feel more powerful and potent, not because they consider another person’s needs. In addition, since psychopaths get a rise out of harming the people they’re intimately involved with, they’re sadistic lovers: always emotionally, often physically as well. Once they’ve “conquered” you, they start asking you to do things that are degrading or that hurt. What you may do as a fun experiment once or a few times becomes a “non-negotiable” element of your sexual repertoire. You’re asked to do it over and over again, whether or not you enjoy it.

For psychopaths, the games normal people play to spice up their sex lives constitute their whole existence. There’s no other reality, a world of empathy, compassion and caring outside of or even within the context of the sexual relationship. Psychopaths live and breathe in the realm of fantasy. They have no concept of standing by you during difficult times or of coping with your bad moods, illnesses, sadness or disappointments. You’ll often feel alone and abandoned with a psychopath whenever you aren’t satisfying his immediate needs. Moreover, when psychopaths listen to your troubles, it’s usually to draw them out and make you feel weaker and more dependent on them. It’s never because they genuinely care; never because they want you to overcome hardships and become a stronger person. On the contrary, psychopaths cultivate your weaknesses (they make them feel superior by comparison) and prey upon your vulnerabilities. The games they play, both sexual and emotional, are the only reality that counts for them; the only reality they know.

Psychopathic lovers may initially appear to be oceans of raging passion. However, once the honeymoon phase is over, you come to realize that they’re only dirty little puddles. The chemistry between you is as shallow as their so-called love. Compare how the psychopath treated you in the beginning of the relationship to how he’s treating you later on. You’ll notice a drastic reduction in excitement, in interest, in affection, in pleasure and in romance. You’ll sense a mechanization of the sex acts.  You’ll observe an escalation in control, demands, humiliation, domination and perhaps even violence. You’ll see that for a psychopath affection, communication and tenderness become transparently instrumental as the relationship unfolds. At first, he was “nice” to you almost all the time. Later in the relationship, however, he’s attentive and affectionate mostly when he wants something from you. Affection becomes his tool of conditioning you like an animal. He gives out little pellets of nice words and tenderness to get you to do what he wants. Conversely, he doesn’t give you any positive reinforcement when you don’t comply with his wishes. The rest of the time– which is to say, in regular day-to-day life–you feel neglected, ignored and unwanted. You struggle like a fish on land to recapture the magical attraction you experienced together in the beginning.

As lovers, psychopaths represent a contradiction in terms. They’re lovers who can’t love. This contradiction may not be obvious at first, when the psychopath is smitten with you and pursuing you intensely. But it becomes painfully apparent over time. If you don’t grow numb to the mistreatment or take refuge in denial, you come to realize that everything that counts is missing from the relationship that seemed to have it all.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


Why Sociopaths Win By Losing

In The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout raises the following excellent question: “If sociopaths are so focused on their goals and so driven to win, then why do they not win all the time?” She goes on to explain that, basically, sociopaths are losers: “For they do not [win or succeed in life]. Instead, most of them are obscure people, and limited to dominating their young children, or a depressed spouse, or perhaps a few employees or coworkers… Having never made much of a mark on the world, the majority are on a downward life course, and by late middle age will be burned out completely. They can rob and torment us temporarily, yes, but they are, in effect, failed lives.” (The Sociopath Next Door, 188)

I think that Martha Stout, Robert Hare, Steve Becker and many other experts on sociopathy are right to say that sociopaths play games in life and aim to win.  They’re also right to observe that sociopaths generally don’t win because they tend to sabotage every relationship and endeavor by cheating, lying and engaging in other destructive behavior. But all this assumes that psychopaths have the same conception of “winning” that normal people have. It’s true that psychopaths lose in life by normal standards. But, as we well know, psychopaths lack normal standards and perspectives in pretty much all areas of life. They don’t view “winning” in the positive sense of achieving success–be it successful long-term relationships or professional endeavors–but rather as causing others to lose.

To offer one noteworthy example, from a normal perspective, Hitler and Stalin are the Big Losers of history. They’re evil dictators who trampled over countless human lives in their march to absolute power. But keep in mind that their goal was not governing strong nations in general, as was arguably Napoleon’s goal. These two totalitarian rulers wanted to achieve total control over several nations: and the entire world, if possible. Total control can’t be achieved without the subjugation, and even the annihilation, of any dissenting voice; without the inculcation of fear; without violence.

Sociopaths would rather win by becoming notorious for their crimes rather than famous for their achievements. How else can one describe the motivations of serial killers like Ted Bundy and so many others, who take pride in violent crimes and the ability to get away with them (at least for awhile)? Fortunately for the rest of humanity, most sociopaths aren’t world dictators or serial killers. However, looking at these prominent examples helps us understand better the distorted logic of sociopathy. It’s an “I win if you lose” mentality. In their own warped perspectives, sociopaths win by destroying other human beings and their social institutions, regardless if that enables them to achieve anything in life or lands them straight in prison.

Perhaps a sociopath’s only fear is being unmasked as evil, because that exposes the nature of his game. As Harrison Koehli eloquently puts it, “[Psychopaths] 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.” Unfortunately, for as long as there will be people protecting, colluding with, and covering for sociopaths, these parasites will continue to feed on us, even if it means the destruction of both predator and prey. Sociopaths play a very dangerous game, whereby they win by losing. 

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction