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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

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Why Psychopathy is Incurable: Nothing Can Fix a Psychopath

Psychopathy, along with borderline personality disorder and malignant narcissism, is an incurable personality disorder. Personality disorders are character deficiencies that are so deeply ingrained in one’s personality that they are, for all practical purposes, unchangeable. Most websites and books on romantic relationships tell readers what steps to take to get them or improve them. By way of contrast, I tell you bluntly and in detail why and how to disengage for good from the psychopathic bond. If there’s one kind of relationship that’s not worth saving, it’s one with a psychopath. You can’t change a psychopath. Consequently, you also can’t improve your relationship with him.

Psychologists call psychopathy “pathological.” They state that psychopaths suffer from a severe “personality disorder,” not just normal human flaws that can be worked on and ameliorated. Sandra L. Brown, M.A. underscores in How to spot a dangerous man before you get involved that “Pathology is forever.” (23) It’s the result of a faulty brain wiring, sometimes coupled with emotional trauma that occurs during childhood development, which can’t be altered in any significant way once the psychopath reaches adulthood.  Brown doesn’t mince words when she describes a psychopath as “an emotional predator” who represents “the pinnacle of poisonous and pathological dating choices.” (179) When involved with such an individual, she cautions, “You will never change his physiology or his bad wiring. You will never love him into safety, sanity, or sanctity.” (21)

Women involved with psychopaths have been conditioned by their partners to assume most of the blame for the problems that occur in the relationship. They’re often deeply in love. They hope that the psychopath will magically improve and grow to love them more meaningfully. Often, they seek therapy, counseling or support groups. They grasp at any straw that can help them salvage the pathological relationship. As time goes on, they focus on the increasingly fewer positive aspects of the relationship. They cherish the memories of how well they were treated in the beginning. They go into denial so that they don’t have to face the deliberate malice of the person they love, to whom they may have devoted their entire lives.

When faced with the vast discrepancy between the psychopath’s nice words and his malicious actions, they feel lost, disoriented and alone. They stubbornly cling to the psychopath and to the fantasy of romantic love he initially created. They believe the psychopath has a good side, which reflects his real positive qualities, and a bad side, which they often take the blame for. Psychopaths don’t have a good side. That supposedly good side—made up mostly of fake charm, manipulation and lies–is only a mask they put on in order to establish dominance over other human beings and use them for their selfish purposes. Because we want to believe there’s some good in every human being, it’s difficult to accept that psychopaths are, at core, evil. Unfortunately, that’s the case. As Liane Leedom puts it, psychopaths are “driven to do evil”. Their compulsion to harm others and their predatory desires are physiologically rooted in their personality structure. This is what I’ll explain next.

Since the early 1940’s, when Hervey Cleckley conducted his study of psychopathy, psychologists have tried to understand the physiological basis for this dangerous personality disorder. During the nineteenth century, psychopathy used to be called “moral insanity.” It could also be called “the malady of lovelessness,” since it’s caused by shallow emotions. Robert Hare shows that the root of the problem lies in the fact that for psychopaths neither side of the brain processes emotion properly. To psychopaths, emotionally charged statements such as “I love you,” “I’m sorry that I hurt you,” “I’ll never do it again,” mean absolutely nothing. They’re just words they use to deceive and manipulate others. Of course, they’re not random words. Psychopaths see that other people attach a special meaning to them. They notice that when they say “I love you,” “I’ll always be faithful to you” or “You’re the woman of my life,” they get a positive reaction. These hollow phrases help them seduce others, establish their trust and use them for their own selfish purposes. Psychopaths lack the capacity, however, to experience, and thus to fully grasp, the meaning behind emotionally charged words. Hare observes:

“Like the color-blind person, the psychopath lacks an important element of experience—in this case, emotional experience—but may have learned the words that others use to describe or mimic experiences that he cannot really understand.” (Without Conscience, 129)

To verify these findings, Hare and his research team conducted experiments on psychopaths versus non-psychopaths. They connected their subjects to an EEG machine, which records the electrical activity of the brain. Then they flashed on a screen strings of letters. Some of them formed real words while others formed only gibberish. They asked their subjects to press a button as soon as they identified a true word. A computer measured the time it took them to make the decision. It also analyzed their brain activity during the performance of this task. They found that non-psychopathic subjects responded quicker to emotionally charged words–such as “death” or “love”–than to non-emotional ones, such as “tree.” By way of contrast, emotionally charged words had no effect whatsoever on psychopaths. Hare elaborates,

“For most of us, language has the capacity to elicit powerful emotional feelings. For example, the word ‘cancer’ evokes not only a clinical description of a disease and its symptoms but a sense of fear, apprehension, or concern, and perhaps disturbing mental images of what it might be like to have it. But to the psychopath, it’s just a word.” (Without Conscience, 133)

According to both psychological and physiological research, psychopaths function far below the emotional poverty line. They’re much shallower than what we generally call “superficial” people. This has a lot to do with the faulty wiring in their brains. Hare explains that in most people the right side of the brain plays a central role in processing emotion. By way of contrast,

“Recent laboratory evidence indicates that in psychopaths neither side of the brain is proficient in the processes of emotion. Why this is so is still a mystery. But an intriguing implication is that the brain processes that control the psychopath’s emotions are divided and unfocused, resulting in a shallow and colorless emotional life.” (Without Conscience, 134)

The shallowness of their emotions explains why psychopaths are so callous as to use and abuse even those closest to them: their partners, their children, their parents, their lovers and their so-called friends. It also clarifies why they can’t see anything wrong with their mistreatment of others. Even when they rape and murder, psychopaths feel no remorse. Their theatrical apologies and promises to reform are as empty as their vows of love. When they cry in court after having been sentenced to prison for their crimes, they either feign emotion to gain sympathy or cry about the fact they got caught. While research shows that psychopaths are incapable of real emotional bonding with others, this doesn’t imply that they’re out of touch with reality. When they harm others, even when it’s opportunistically and in the heat of the moment, they’re cold-blooded and deliberate about their actions. They’re also aware of the fact that their misdeeds are considered morally wrong by society. But, fundamentally, they don’t care. In fact, breaking the rules (without suffering any consequences) is the name of their game. As Hare clarifies:

“As I mentioned earlier, psychopaths do meet current legal and psychiatric standards for sanity. They understand the rules of society and the conventional meanings of right and wrong. They are capable of controlling their behavior and realize the potential consequences of their acts. The problem is that this knowledge frequently fails to deter them from antisocial behavior.” (Without Conscience, 143)

Whenever any discussion of criminal or deviant behavior takes place, the age-old debate between nature versus nurture tends to come up. The question thus arises: are psychopaths bad because of their social environment or are they born that way? The simple answer to this question is: they’re born that way and they can be made worse by a bad environment. Unfortunately, they can’t be made significantly better by anything at all. Psychological and sociological research shows that, in fact, psychopaths are much less influenced by their environment than non-psychopaths. This conforms with the general finding that psychopaths have rock solid egos, which are more or less immune to negative input. As we’ve seen, although they enjoy affirmation and praise, as all narcissists do, they don’t care when they’re criticized or punished. While a corrupt environment and abuse is unlikely to cause psychopathy, it can lead a psychopath to express his constitutive emotional callousness through violence. (Without Conscience, 175)

Martha Stout seconds Robert Hare’s conclusions that nature–or the physiological incapacity to experience and process emotion properly–has much more to do with psychopathy than nurture. Stout observes, “In fact, there’s evidence that sociopaths are influenced less by their early experience than are nonsociopaths.” (The Sociopath Next Door, 134). She elaborates,

“The sociopaths who have been studied reveal a significant aberration in their ability to process emotional information at the level of the cerebral cortex. And from examining heritability studies, we can speculate that the neurobiological underpinnings of the core personality features of sociopathy are as much as 50 percent heritable. The remaining causes, the other 50 percent, are much foggier. Neither childhood maltreatment nor attachment disorder seems to account for the environmental contribution to the loveless, manipulative, and guiltless existence that psychologists call psychopathy.” (The Sociopath Next Door, 134)

In other words, psychopathy constitutes a physiological deficiency that causes shallowness of emotions and all the negative implications which stem from it that we’ve explored so far. This deficiency is genetically inherited only half of the time. The other half of the time it may be caused by accidents, brain damage, drugs or other, unknown causes. The saddest implication of the scientific research on psychopathy is the fact that there’s no cure for it. No medication or treatment has yet been discovered that can give a psychopath the neurological capacity to process emotion properly. Consequently, nothing can turn him into a functioning, caring human being. In other words, nothing can transform a psychopath into a non-psychopath.

Anybody who tells you that a psychopath can be significantly improved does NOT understand the nature of pathology and does NOT have your best interests in mind. If you’ve hired such a therapist, you’re paying him or her just to bolster your own unrealistic expectations and confirm your wishful thinking. Sandra L. Brown, M.A. offers the best advice in How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved (a book that I reviewed on this blog): stay away from such men. Rather than persisting in trying to save them, save yourself and those who are capable of empathy and love. Medication and therapy can’t transform an emotional cipher into a caring man.

Moreover, unlike mental retardation and autism, psychopathy and narcissism are NOT harmless deficiencies. On the contrary, they are very dangerous emotional deficiencies. The individuals who suffer from mental deficiencies like autism and mental retardation are often reduced to a debilitating and life-long dependency upon others to function. By way of contrast, individuals suffering from emotional deficiencies–or personality disorders–can have very high intelligence and they use it to cause harm to others. If any trained professional tells you that mental and emotional deficiencies are comparable–in any respect other than that neither can be significantly altered–I strongly advise you to seek another therapist because that person is (at the very least) incompetent. To see the implausibility of such a comparison, just imagine someone suffering from mental deficiencies machinate the kind of carnage caused by psychopathic dictators like Hitler or Stalin; the predatory murders caused by serial killers like Ted Bundy; the senseless murders carried out by someone like Neil Entwistle, or even the more banal evil caused by your garden-variety psychopath, who continually lies to, cheats on, scams, dupes and manipulates those around him. Psychopaths’ capacity for evil actions is only limited by their malicious imaginations and desires. This means that, for all practical purposes, there are no limits.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


How And Why A Psychopath Pushes Your Buttons

In an earlier post, entitled Relationship Boomerang, I explained that it’s very difficult to get rid of a psychopath even after you break up with him because such an individual rarely lets go of his dominance bonds. He’s usually in the beginning, middle and end phases of numerous relationships simultaneously. He recycles former relationships, to reclaim possession of previous partners. At the root of psychopathy is the most extreme and malignant form of narcissism. In The Mask of Sanity, Cleckley calls the psychopath’s egocentricity and incapacity to love “complete” and “absolute.” A narcissist often dominates others because he wants validation from them. A psychopath, however, carries this personality disorder to an extreme: he dominates others, and puts them down, in order to destroy them. For a psychopath, the ultimate ego trip is shattering the lives of others, not simply proving himself superior to them. He cannot derive pleasure from recognition by others unless it also causes them harm or humiliates them. This is why psychologists state that psychopaths suffer from the most dangerous, predatory and malignant form of narcissism that exists.

Today I’d like to go over how and why a psychopath pushes your buttons, to provoke some type of reaction from you long after your relationship is over. The why is easy: a psychopath regards his partners as his personal property, to use and dispose of as he pleases. Since eventually he gets bored with all relationships, he periodically revisits some of the previous ones, to harass former parters or to sink his claws into them once again.

He does so by testing out different strategies and seeing which ones get the desired reaction. Often, he alternates between nice and complicit interactions (or overtures) and insults, which correspond to the idealized or devalued mirror effects I went over in my previous post, The Psychopath’s Mirroring Effects. One message (or spam) he may praise you, the next one he’ll put you down. This is partly because a psychopath’s moods and attitudes arbitrarily oscillate between idealizations and devaluations of the same person. I call these fluctuations “arbitrary” because sometimes they may be motivated by your actions, sometimes not. For instance, a psychopath may idealize you when you comply with his wishes and regard him as an ideal partner (before you open your eyes, that is, and see him for what he is).

But even during the honeymoon phase, when you’re infatuated with him, he may at the same time devalue you: see you as a gullible individual whom he can use and dupe. This is why even during the honeymoon period, when a psychopath desires and pursues you, there are frequent moments of devaluation, at least in his own mind. Usually, however, during the seduction phase the psychopath hides those negative thoughts far better than when he’s grown tired of you and is ready to move on. As the psychopathic bond unfolds, the moments of devaluation necessarily become more frequent until they eventually set the tone for the entire relationship. At that point, the psychopath puts much less effort in maintaining the “mask of sanity” and shows himself more and more for the evil person he is.

Once the relationship is over, the psychopath will continue to periodically harass you and test the waters, to see if he can reestablish the dominance bond over you, or simply to annoy you. If his oscillations between nice and mean overtures leave you confused, just remember this: both are equally meaningless. They’re just the psychopath’s way of pushing your buttons. This process is not innocuous. Couple his lack of conscience, vengefulness and boredom and what you get is high risk of getting seriously harmed if you go back to the psychopath. Some women were lured to their deaths by giving their vengeful psychopathic ex-partners a second chance, even when those men claimed to still love them. Whether a psychopath is saying negative or positive things to you or about you to others, these claims are  both empty of genuine content.

For a psychopath language is purely instrumental, not a way of communicating his real and deep emotions. The psychopath lacks the capacity to feel such emotions. So whether he’s saying I love you or I hate you; you’re beautiful or you’re ugly; you’re smart or you’re dumb, it’s really all just various ways in which he tests the waters to see if he can get a reaction from you and relieve the boredom that plagues his daily life. Once again, the psychopath’s need to push people’s buttons by making contradictory statements  is related to the shallowness of his emotions and his purely instrumental use of language–completely disassociated from any meaningful understanding of truth and falsehood or concept of right and wrong–to get what  (and whom) he wants in life.

Since the early 1940’s, when Hervey Cleckley conducted his study of psychopathy, psychologists have tried to understand the physiological basis for this dangerous personality disorder. During the nineteenth century, psychopathy used to be called “moral insanity.” It could also be called “the malady of lovelessness,” since it’s caused by shallow emotions. Robert Hare shows that the root of the problem lies in the fact that for psychopaths neither side of the brain processes emotion properly.

To psychopaths, emotionally charged statements such as “I love you,” “I’m sorry that I hurt you,” “I’ll never do it again,” mean absolutely nothing. They’re just words they use to deceive and manipulate others. Of course, they’re not random words. Psychopaths see that other people attach a special meaning to them. They notice that when they say “I love you,” “I’ll always be faithful to you” or “You’re the woman of my life,” they get a positive reaction. These hollow phrases help them seduce others, establish their trust and use them for their own selfish purposes. Psychopaths lack the capacity, however, to experience, and thus to fully grasp, the meaning behind emotionally charged words. Hare observes:

“Like the color-blind person, the psychopath lacks an important element of experience—in this case, emotional experience—but may have learned the words that others use to describe or mimic experiences that he cannot really understand.” (Without Conscience, 129)

To verify these findings, Hare and his research team conducted experiments on psychopaths versus non-psychopaths. They connected their subjects to an EEG machine, which records the electrical activity of the brain. Then they flashed on a screen strings of letters. Some of them formed real words while others formed only gibberish. They asked their subjects to press a button as soon as they identified a true word. A computer measured the time it took them to make the decision. It also analyzed their brain activity during the performance of this task. They found that non-psychopathic subjects responded quicker to emotionally charged words–such as “death” or “love”–than to non-emotional ones, such as “tree.” By way of contrast, emotionally charged words had no effect whatsoever on psychopaths. Hare elaborates,

“For most of us, language has the capacity to elicit powerful emotional feelings. For example, the word ‘cancer’ evokes not only a clinical description of a disease and its symptoms but a sense of fear, apprehension, or concern, and perhaps disturbing mental images of what it might be like to have it. But to the psychopath, it’s just a word.” (Without Conscience, 133)

According to both psychological and physiological research, psychopaths function far below the emotional poverty line. They’re much shallower than what we generally call “superficial” people. This has a lot to do with the faulty wiring in their brains. Hare explains that in most people the right side of the brain plays a central role in processing emotion. By way of contrast,

“Recent laboratory evidence indicates that in psychopaths neither side of the brain is proficient in the processes of emotion. Why this is so is still a mystery. But an intriguing implication is that the brain processes that control the psychopath’s emotions are divided and unfocused, resulting in a shallow and colorless emotional life.” (Without Conscience, 134)

The shallowness of their emotions explains why psychopaths are so callous as to use and abuse even those closest to them: their partners, their children, their parents, their lovers and their so-called friends. It also clarifies why they can’t see anything wrong with their mistreatment of others. Even when they rape and murder, psychopaths feel no remorse. Their theatrical apologies and promises to reform are as empty as their vows of love. When they cry in court after having been sentenced to prison for their crimes, they either feign emotion to gain sympathy or cry about the fact they got caught.

While research shows that psychopaths are incapable of real emotional bonding with others, this doesn’t imply that they’re out of touch with reality. When they harm others, even when it’s opportunistically and in the heat of the moment, they’re cold-blooded and deliberate about their actions. They’re also aware of the fact that their misdeeds are considered morally wrong by society. But, fundamentally, they don’t care. In fact, breaking the rules (without suffering any consequences) is the name of their game. As Hare clarifies:

“As I mentioned earlier, psychopaths do meet current legal and psychiatric standards for sanity. They understand the rules of society and the conventional meanings of right and wrong. They are capable of controlling their behavior and realize the potential consequences of their acts. The problem is that this knowledge frequently fails to deter them from antisocial behavior.” (Without Conscience, 143)

Whenever any discussion of criminal or deviant behavior takes place, the age-old debate between nature versus nurture tends to come up. The question thus arises: are psychopaths bad because of their social environment or are they born that way? The simple answer to this question is: they’re born that way and they can be made worse by a bad environment. Unfortunately, they can’t be made significantly better by anything at all.

Psychological and sociological research shows that, in fact, psychopaths are much less influenced by their environment than non-psychopaths. This conforms with the general finding that psychopaths have rock solid egos, which are more or less immune to negative input. As we’ve seen, although they enjoy affirmation and praise, as all narcissists do, they don’t care when they’re criticized or punished. While a corrupt environment and abuse is unlikely to cause psychopathy, it can lead a psychopath to express his constitutive emotional callousness through violence. (Without Conscience, 175)

Martha Stout seconds Robert Hare’s conclusions that nature–or the physiological incapacity to experience and process emotion properly–has much more to do with psychopathy than nurture. Stout observes, “In fact, there’s evidence that sociopaths are influenced less by their early experience than are nonsociopaths.” (The Sociopath Next Door, 134). She elaborates,

“The sociopaths who have been studied reveal a significant aberration in their ability to process emotional information at the level of the cerebral cortex. And from examining heritability studies, we can speculate that the neurobiological underpinnings of the core personality features of sociopathy are as much as 50 percent heritable. The remaining causes, the other 50 percent, are much foggier. Neither childhood maltreatment nor attachment disorder seems to account for the environmental contribution to the loveless, manipulative, and guiltless existence that psychologists call psychopathy.” (The Sociopath Next Door, 134)

In other words, psychopathy constitutes a physiological deficiency that causes shallowness of emotions and all the negative implications which stem from it that we’ve explored so far. This deficiency is genetically inherited only half of the time. The other half of the time it may be caused by accidents, brain damage, drugs or other, unknown causes.

The saddest implication of the scientific research on psychopathy is the fact that there’s no cure for it. No medication or treatment has yet been discovered that can give a psychopath the neurological capacity to process emotion properly. Consequently, nothing can turn him into a functioning, caring human being. He will always remain an absolutely narcissistic and malicious human being.

It’s up to you to decide if you wish to sacrifice the rest of your life to a man who, at best, may become somewhat less impulsive and dangerous with medication, but who was, is and will always remain incapable of appreciating you and of reciprocating your love.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

The Psychopath’s Mirroring Effects

A psychopath will mirror your identity at the beginning, middle and end of a relationship, only in different ways at each stage. Initially, in order to win you over, he will pretend to be like you and to like everything about you. Robert Hare and Paul Babiak describe in Snakes in Suits how during the “assessment phase” of the relationship a psychopath will convey to his target four main messages: 1) I like you; 2) I share your interests; 3) I’m like you, and 4) I’m the perfect partner or soul mate for you.

This process constitutes the mirroring phase of the psychopathic bond. Granted, most romantic relationships entail some aspects of mirroring. After all, that’s how couples discover their points in common. But with a psychopath the reflection tends to be instant and total. It’s a simulated bonding that’s way too fast, too soon and too good to be true. This happens before any real emotional connection can take place. It occurs before the partners have gotten to know each other well, over time and in different circumstances. Instant bonding is usually a symptom of shallowness of emotions rather than of miraculous compatibility. It means that the psychopath will detach from you and latch on to another target as easily as he initially attached to you. Yet through their conversational glibness and innate charm, as well as through their extraordinary capacity to identify and reflect your deepest desires, psychopaths can initially make you feel like they’re your dream come true. They present themselves as the only partners who could possibly fulfill whatever’s been missing from your life.

During the course of the relationship, however, the psychopath reveals more and more his true colors. He becomes increasingly critical and controlling. What’s more, he also incites you to go along with his wrongdoings. That way you mirror his ugly personality and become his accomplice. His message switches from being “I’m just like you” (as moral, smart, kind, beautiful, ideal as you are) as it was during the luring phase to being “you’re just like me” (as deceitful, malicious, dishonest as you begin to see that he is). Keep in mind that, most likely, you’re not.  Even if you’ve engaged in some wrongdoings, unless you thrive on pathological lying, promiscuity as a means of domination of others, playing mind games, harming others and power games you’re not likely to be a psychopath, like him.

When you’ve finally had enough and leave the psychopath–or when he leaves you–he will see you as a devalued, distorted mirror image of himself and of your former, idealized, self as well. Every quality he initially saw in you–from beauty to brains–will be turned into its opposite. If he saw you as smart, you’re now stupid in his eyes. If he was attracted to your beauty, he now sees you as ugly. If he admired your hard work, he now views your efforts as a mindless submission to the system. As I’ve explained in the previous post about the process of idealize, devalue and discard, this negative mirroring at the end is a natural and inevitable unfolding of the psychopathic relationship.

Just as the idealized mirror image at the beginning of the psychopathic bond had little to do with your qualities–they were false compliments intended to lure you–so the de-idealized mirror image at the end has nothing to do with you either. These distorted mirroring effects have everything to do with the character deficiencies of the psychopath himself, who suffers from an incurable evil. Which, incidentally, is a good way to describe the middle mirroring phase as well: when he says you, or all human beings, are like him, remember that’s not true either.  A psychopath is different from–and far worse than–just about any human being you will ever know.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


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

 

The Psychopath Unmasked

What happens when a psychopath’s mask of sanity shatters? The result is rarely as spectacular as it was in the cases of Mark Hacking and Neil Entwistle. Fortunately, most psychopaths don’t commit gruesome murders. Even when they do, their crimes are rarely featured so prominently on the national news. But once you unmask a psychopath, the picture you come to see is very ugly and deeply disturbing.

As we’ve observed, on the outside, a charismatic, garden-variety psychopath appears to be charming, nice, helpful, loving, calm and collected: sometimes uncannily so, and in inappropriate circumstances, but even that may seem, at first, like a blessing. But on the inside, a psychopath is always a repulsive individual: completely self-absorbed, unreliable, unethical and unloving. A psychopath’s social and moral boundaries are almost entirely based on his ability to create a positive impression on those around him. Those moral boundaries, which he violates behind people’s backs, and his phony yet often compelling displays of emotion function as his disguise. Through them, he gains other people’s trust, respect, admiration and sometimes even love. He then uses them for his own selfish and destructive purposes.

A psychopath is unmasked in life over and over again. Because his disorder is so deeply engrained in his character, he uses, dupes and manipulates people everywhere he goes. When he gets bored with one location, job or set of acquaintances—or when he’s unmasked in that environment—he moves on to the next. There he has the opportunity to make a fresh start: to dupe and use new people; to charm and destroy a new set of unsuspecting victims.

Quite often, psychopaths also depend upon a few individuals with whom they’ve established their main dominance bonds: their life partners, their parents, their children or their closest friends. After periods of open transgression, they return to them acting repentant, declaring their love or promising to reform. Such individuals often forgive them and accept them back into their lives.

This is not just out of love, but also out of denial: accepting reality would be too painful to bear. They’re too emotionally invested in the psychopath and in the central role he plays in their lives. Often, the women who love psychopaths justify staying with their disordered partners because they have a child or children with them. But this can only be a rationalization, given the fact that having no conscience, psychopaths frequently abuse their own children. It’s never in the best interest of any child to be in close proximity to a psychopathic father. In fact, the psychopath can only be a very bad influence on his child or children and even put their lives in peril. Therefore, when a woman stays with a known psychopath “for the sake of the children,” it’s usually because he has gutted out her identity to such an extent that she feels empty and lost without him.

This logic applies to all family members who can’t let go of the psychopath even after they come to see him for what he is. Cutting ties with him and, by extension, coming to terms with his inherent and unchangeable evil would mean, to them, living the rest of their lives with an open wound. Keep in mind, however, that at least wounds have the chance to heal. Living with a psychopath, on the other hand, is like living with a growing gangrene which exposes the entire family–especially young and impressionable children–to his infectious evil.

Because he finds such receptive and forgiving targets, after bouts of promiscuity, drug use or other depravities, a psychopath periodically returns to the people closest to him. They’re the ones who protect him from the consequences of his wrongdoings and uphold his mask of sanity. But over time, this mask becomes less and less solid. Its fissures begin to show even in the eyes of those who love him most and have his best interest at heart.

The goal of maintaining a false image of human decency to his wife, girlfriends, parents and colleagues (in order to better manipulate them) motivates a psychopath to lead a more or less orderly existence: to come home at regular hours, have a job and behave sociably. When a crisis occurs and this fictional identity unravels, so does the psychopath’s life. Having lost his incentive to appear a decent human being because others finally see through his façade, he becomes consumed by his own penchant for meaningless diversion and limitless perversion.

Once a psychopath is unmasked, what he always was on the inside begins to manifest itself on the outside as well, in his overt behavior and in the eyes of others. Like the picture of Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde’s famous novella, a psychopath unmasked presents a pathetic spectacle. It reveals a deteriorating individual whose depravity, ugliness and shamelessness take over his life and contaminate the lives of all those who remain close to him.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


Psychopathy and the Story of Coraline

So far we’ve seen that a psychopath’s positive qualities are fake. As the psychologist Hervey Cleckley explains,  the psychopath relies on a mask of sanity to pretend being fully human:

“However quick and rational a person may be and however subtle and articulate his teacher, he cannot be taught awareness of significance which he fails to feel. He can learn to use the ordinary words and, if he is very clever, even extraordinarily vivid and eloquent words which signify these matters to other people. He will also learn to reproduce appropriately all the pantomime of feeling; but, as Sherrington said of the decerebrated animal, the feeling itself does not come to pass.” (The Mask of Sanity, 375)

When reality is missing all you’re left with is illusion. This is precisely the message of Coraline, a popular children’s book and movie that even adults have a lot to learn from.  Coraline is a little girl who has an average family life. Like most tweens, she finds many things wrong with her parents. Her mom can’t cook and her dad’s cooking leaves much to be desired. Both parents are too busy with their jobs to give her all the attention she craves, even though they love her. One day, as she’s exploring around her new house, Coraline discovers a little secret door in the wall. Once she opens it and steps inside, she inhabits an alternate universe, with seemingly perfect versions of her parents. In this parallel household, everything revolves only around Coraline’s needs and appeals to her tastes. Her new mom prepares only the dishes that the little girl prefers. Her new dad plays the piano just for her and plants a beautiful garden that, from above, resembles Coraline’s face. The neighbors entertain her with a spectacular circus performance.

Yet, as it turns out, this magical world is completely fake, the opposite of what it initially appears to be. It’s the creation of an evil witch who lures people in by preying upon their dissatisfactions with reality and promising them an ideal life. In actuality, she wants to suck the living soul out of them. Why? Because she loves controlling others and playing mind games. Does this sound familiar? Since everything generally ends on a happy note in children’s movies, however, Coraline escapes just in time to save herself and her parents. She realizes that the imperfections of a real life with loving individuals are far preferable to any illusory ideals created by those who want to control and destroy you.

As Coraline also illustrates, psychopaths don’t just lie through omission and commission. More fundamentally, they lie about who they are and what they intend to do with you once you become emotionally attached to them and invested in whatever they originally promised you. Their whole identity is a lie and so are their good intentions. Their every relationship is based on fundamental deceit. They attract you with the illusion of love and compatibility only to repeatedly stab you in the back. They act as if they support your goals in life, while covertly undermining them or openly discouraging you from their pursuit. They act as if they care about your family and friends, only to isolate you from them. They fake interest in your interests, only to narrow the range of your activities to a complete, and servile, focus on them. When you deal with human nature, remember the age-old adage so thoroughly elucidated by Cleckley in The Mask of Sanity and so entertainingly expressed by Coraline: what seems too good to be true usually is.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction