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


A Better and Stronger You: Leaving the Psychopath for Good

Many of the women who love psychopaths intuitively know that they’re dealing with a sick man. Yet they feel like they have invested far too much for far too long into the relationship to give up on him. Their self-confidence and sense of reality have been severely undermined. They may tell themselves, hoping against hope, that their love and patience will fix the dangerous man. Or that after spending fifteen years with him, they can’t throw away the entirety of their youth, as if those years together were all for nothing.

As Sandra Brown M.A. puts it in Women Who Love Psychopaths, nobody escapes completely unscathed from such a toxic relationship. However, the harm is not linear: in other words, it’s not necessarily true that the longer you are with a psychopath the more you are harmed. Even short-term relationships with a disordered man can be very harmful. Conversely, even women who have spent 20 years with a psychopath can escape those toxic bonds and emerge better and stronger from them.

However, the damage seems to get worse from the time you realize you’re with a psychopath or disordered man and come to accept his abuse: the pathological lying, the gaslighting, the cheating, the putdowns, the threats and the relentless chipping away at your self-esteem. Women who stay with known psychopaths, or with men they know to be very bad, adapt to increasing dosages of harm. This can severely damage their own personalities and the way they interact with others, sometimes beyond repair.

On the positive side, even if you’ve spent many years with a psychopath, you can escape this toxic relationship. Chances are, you used to be a strong person. In previous posts we’ve seen that psychopaths prefer to seduce extraverted, accomplished and confident women. They could easily prey upon passive and weak women. But they prefer the challenge of destroying a strong person instead. We’ve seen how psychopaths use their partners’ strengths against them. They use women’s trust to deceive and cheat on them as well as, more generally, to play mind games. They isolate previously sociable women. They undermine the confidence of women with high self-esteem by focusing on their real or imaginary weaknesses. It’s not unusual to develop neuroses, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders while involved with a psychopath. He will even cultivate those maladies, and lead you to focus obsessively on them rather than on your strengths and achievements, to keep you under his thumb.

We’ve seen how psychopaths use women’s capacity to love and their tenacity–their high emotional investment in the relationship–to keep them on the hook. They lure them with strategic withdrawals and empty promises to improve, which are belied by consistent, though often hidden, abuse. They dangle whatever women want most in life before their eyes–true love, fidelity, commitment, a happy life together, returning to the romantic and exciting honeymoon phase of the relationship–only to make conditional demands, that erode their partners’ dignity and self-respect.

To counteract these strategies and reclaim your life, you need to reassert your agency, your strength and your boundaries. You need to recognize that you’re not just a passive victim of the psychopath’s control, even if you were, indeed, victimized by him. You have agency. You willingly began the relationship with the psychopath. You willingly stayed with him despite seeing red flags early on in the relationship. You may have willingly taken him back after discovering that he repeatedly cheated and lied. You may have also engaged in some immoral behavior to keep him in your life. You may have hurt or neglected those who loved you for his sake. Each step you took as a couple was not just his own doing. It was also yours. Sandra Brown points out that seeing yourself as an agent in your life decisions doesn’t imply denying the fact that the psychopath has hurt you or minimize the extent of your pain. It just shows you that you have the power to determine your life choices. Just as you chose to become involved and stay with a psychopath, you also have the power to disengage from him for good. (How to spot a dangerous man,  32)

To understand why you made such poor and self-defeating choices, you need to assess realistically both your strengths and your weaknesses. In earlier posts, I identified some of the potential weaknesses of women who get involved with psychopaths, which led them down a self-destructive path. The main one is an unrealistic and dichotomous view of themselves, which is narcissistically inflated (as better than other women) in some ways, and too weak (as less than other women) in others. You don’t need a psychopath to identify your qualities and flaws. You don’t need his manipulative criticisms that undermine your self-confidence. You don’t need his fake and conditional flattery to feel good about yourself. You know who you are. And, deep inside, after so much mistreatment at his hands, you also know that it’s clearly in your best interest to leave the dangerous man and end the sick relationship with him. Your self-preservation, not just your self-esteem, is at stake.

Exercising your agency also implies reasserting your strength and your boundaries. If you stayed with a psychopathic partner it’s because he undermined the strength that he originally admired in you and that drew him to you, like a parasite to its host, to destroy you. You can find that inner strength again to live your life free of him. The longer you will be away from his noxious influence, the stronger you will grow.

The psychopath has strung you along by eroding your boundaries: your moral sense of right and wrong, your sexual boundaries and your empathy. When you draw the line and say no more and mean it, the psychopath loses and you win. By way of contrast, each time you do what he tells you, each time you override your intuition to believe his lies, each time you violate your sense of right and wrong, each time you neglect or hurt those who care about you, each time you engage in perverse sexual acts just to please him, he wins and you lose.

The women who stay with psychopaths may be strong women, as Brown’s research indicates. Yet many of them lack sufficiently strong boundaries. They may be strong in other areas of life. But they become weak as far as their personal relations with the psychopath are concerned. These, unfortunately, become the fulcrum of their existence. Staying with a psychopath indicates that they’re willing to compromise their values, their relationships and their standards just to keep and please a disordered man.

To reclaim your autonomy and your strength, you need to reassert your boundaries. The negative experience with the psychopath has no doubt made you more aware than ever of what you stand for since you were repeatedly pressured by him to lower your standards and to violate your principles. Each time you did that it hurt because you lost not only part of your values, but also–and more importantly–part of yourself.

Asserting the limits of the person you are and of what you stand for constitutes an essential step towards rejecting the psychopath. Most likely, he won’t even stay with you if you assert yourself and don’t give in a single inch to him anymore. As a narcissist, he can’t tolerate any real equality in a romantic relationship. He has to be “top dog.” He constantly reaffirms this status through the power he exercises over you, his family and his acquaintances. Because he doesn’t regard you (or anyone else) as his equal, the psychopath can’t offer you genuine respect for your values, your activities, your needs and your identity. His fake charm, his controlling and possessive attention, his disingenuous and manipulative flattery and the empty romantic gestures he made (mostly in the beginning of the relationship) are not the same thing as genuine love, mutual caring and respect.

As we’ve seen, a psychopath is incapable of having a caring and equal relationship with anyone. For this reason, psychopaths seek women who are strong but exceedingly flexible; women whose boundaries they can erode and whose identities they can distort. If you regain your sense of identity and boundaries, you become much less vulnerable to psychopathic seduction and control. Psychopaths are parasites who want to suck the lifeblood–the emotions, the confidence and the strength–out of you. They violate your sense of self, through what psychologists call “enmeshment.” As your identity blends into his, your whole life revolves around meeting his ever-changing needs. The more you violate what you stand for and who you are to please the psychopath, the more you dissolve into the dangerous relationship with him. As Sandra Brown states,

“Boundaries are indicators of where we start and end, and where other people start and end. We set limits–or boundaries–in relationships to protect our bodily selves and dignity… Drawing your identity from a dangerous man… can have disastrous outcomes.” (How to spot a dangerous man, 201).

Not every misfortunate experience has a silver lining. Some, like fatal illnesses, may be purely tragic. Fortunately, overcoming a relationship with a dangerous man is one of those life experiences that does have a silver lining. After having been involved with a psychopath, for whom “love” means conquest, ownership and dominance, a normal relationship with a decent, respectful and honest partner will seem almost miraculous by comparison. Nothing about healthy human bonds can ever be taken for granted again after one has experienced the worst life has to offer.

Clearly, in choosing a psychopath you lost part of yourself and wasted part of your life. Such a destructive relationship came at a cost. Fortunately, you still have the power of choice as to how your life will continue. You don’t have to throw away the rest of your life to him. This experience may have weakened you in some respects.  But if you utilize it the right way, it can also make you a much stronger person. Whatever time, energy and emotion you spent on the psychopath weren’t completely wasted. They have taught you how to know and defend the limits of your identity and values. They have taught you who to appreciate and love in life and who to reject and keep out. They have revealed your strengths and your limitations. They have made you more independent, since you’ve seen how flattery and criticism by others can function as a form of mind control.

It’s now up to you to decide if you will allow the psychopath to continue to undermine your dignity and the quality of your life or if you will rely upon your strengths and true love bonds with others to live the kind of moral, honest and fulfilling life that you deserve. The psychopath has kept you under his control by narrowing and intensifying the range of your experiences. You consequently focused only on him and on how to twist yourself, like a fish on a hook, to please him.

You can reverse this process. You can broaden the sphere of your existence by expanding your interests and focusing on those who deserve your affection. In fact, you can do more than that by helping inform others suffering at the hands of psychopathic partners about this dangerous and camouflaged predator. Making a clinical diagnosis of personality disorders is, of course, only up to experts. But identifying potentially dangerous traits isn’t just for experts. Any of us can be adversely affected when we allow disordered individuals into our lives. Knowledge is the most essential form of self-defense.

Widespread information about physical and emotional abuse has saved millions of people from domestic violence. Spreading information about psychopathy may help save millions of additional lives from harm. Ironically, the disordered man who wanted to destroy you both morally and emotionally can give your life a higher, more other-regarding purpose. In the past, you may have relegated too many of your decisions to the psychopath. But, ultimately, the power of choice in what you do with the rest of your life lies in your hands, not his. May the new year bring you peace and happiness, free of the toxic relationship with a psychopath.

Happy New Year!

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

When You Love Your Abuser: Stockholm Syndrome and Trauma Bonds

They say that when you get burned by fire you don’t put your hand in the hot oven again. But that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes, it’s the fact of being burned that emotionally bonds you to an abuser. In fact, studies show that emotional abuse intermixed with small acts of kindness can bond some victims to their abusers even more than consistent good treatment can. So far I’ve used the word “victim” to describe the women (or men) who suffer at the hands of psychopaths. Yet I don’t really like this word for several reasons. It tends to imply a certain passivity, as if the woman herself had nothing to do with the decision to get involved with the psychopath or, worse yet, to stay with him even once his mask of sanity started to slip. It’s rare that a psychopath physically coerces a woman to get involved with him or to stay with him. Although he intimidates and brainwashes her, generally the victim cooperates.

This isn’t to imply, at the opposite end of the spectrum, that the women who get involved with psychopaths are “guilty” or deserve the mistreatment. In fact, that’s the other main reason why I don’t like the term “victim.” It evokes certain notions of moral purity that put the victim on trial. There used to be a conventional prejudice, for example, that if a victim of rape dressed in a provocative manner or walked around alone at night, then she wasn’t really “innocent” and somehow “asked for it.”

We realize now that this perception is false and prejudicial. Women can be targeted and abused without being perfect angels themselves. Analogously, one shouldn’t have to have to prove one’s perfection in the court of public opinion to gain sympathy for being used and abused by a psychopathic partner. Nobody capable of empathy and love deserves the kind of brainwashing, intimidation, lying, cheating, manipulation and distortion of reality to which a psychopath routinely subjects his partner. Despite the fact that I don’t like some of the connotations of the word “victim,” however, I use it because I believe that the women who become involved with and stay with psychopaths of their own free will are, in some respects, being victimized. To illustrate how you can be victimized while colluding in your own victimization, I’ll rely upon Dr. Joseph Carver’s explanation of Stockholm Syndrome in his article “Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser.” (drjoecarver.com)

Carver states that he commonly runs in his practice into women involved with psychopathic partners who say something to the effect of, “I know it’s hard for others to understand, but despite everything he’s done, I still love him.” While cultivating feelings of love for a partner who repeatedly mistreats you may seem irrational, it’s unfortunately quite common. Psychological studies show that molested children, battered women, prisoners of war, cult members and hostages often bond with their abusers. Sometimes they even go so far as to defend them to their families and friends, to the media, to the police and in court when their crimes are brought to justice.

This psychological phenomenon is so common that it acquired its own label: “Stockholm Syndrome,” named after an incident that occurred in Stockholm, Sweden. On August 23rd, 1974, two men carrying machine guns entered a bank. They held three women and one man hostage for several days. By the end of this ordeal, surprisingly, the victims took the side of their captors. They also defended them to the media and to the police. One woman even became engaged to one of the bank robbers. Another spent a lot of money for the legal defense of one of the criminals. Those who suffer from Stockholm Syndrome develop an unhealthy positive attachment to their abusers. They come to accept the abuser’s lies and rationalizations for his bad behavior. They sometimes also assist the abuser in harming others. This psychological condition makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the victims to engage in behaviors that facilitate detachment from the abuser, such as turning him in, exposing his misconduct or leaving him.

This unhealthy bonding solidifies when the abuser alternates between the carrot and the stick conditioning, as we’ve seen in the case of Drew and Stacy Peterson. He interlaces the abuse–the lying, the cheating, the implicit or explicit threats and insults, and even physical assault–with acts of “small kindness,” such as gifts, romantic cards, taking her out on a date to a nice restaurant, apologies and occasional compliments. Needless to say, in any rational person’s mind, a cute card or a nice compliment couldn’t erase years of abusive behavior. Yet for a woman whose independent judgment and autonomy have been severely impaired by extended intimate contact with a psychopath, it can and often does. Such a woman takes each gift, hollow promise and act of kindness as a positive sign. She mistakenly believes that her abusive partner is committed to changing his ways. She hopes that he has learned to love and appreciate her as she deserves. She wants to believe him even when the pattern of abuse is repeated over and over again, no matter how many times she forgives him. This is what trauma bonding is all about.

A victim of Stockholm Syndrome irrationally clings to the notion that if only she tries hard enough and loves him unconditionally, the abuser will eventually see the light. He, in turn, encourages her false hope for as long as he desires to string her along. Seeing that he can sometimes behave well, the victim blames herself for the times when he mistreats her. Because her life has been reduced to one goal and one dimension which subsumes everything else–she dresses, works, cooks and makes love in ways that please the psychopath–her self-esteem becomes exclusively dependent upon his approval and hypersensitive to his disapproval.

As we know, however, psychopaths and narcissists can’t be pleased. Relationships with them are always about control, never about mutual love. Consequently, the more psychopaths get from their partners, the more they demand from them. Any woman who makes it her life objective to satisfy a psychopathic partner is therefore bound to eventually suffer from a lowered self-esteem. After years of mistreatment, she may feel too discouraged and depressed to leave her abuser. The psychopath may have damaged her self-esteem to the point where she feels that she wouldn’t be attractive to any other man. Carver calls this distorted perception of reality a “cognitive dissonance,” which psychopaths commonly inculcate in their victims. He elaborates:

“The combination of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘cognitive dissonance’ produces a victim who firmly believes the relationship is not only acceptable, but also desperately needed for their survival. The victim feels they would mentally collapse if the relationship ended. In long-term relationships, the victims have invested everything and ‘placed all their eggs in one basket.’ The relationship now decides their level of self-esteem, self-worth, and emotional health.” (drjoecarver.com)

I stated earlier that the only way to escape this dangerous dependency upon a psychopath is to remove yourself permanently from his influence. Any contact with him keeps you trapped in his web of manipulation and deceit. In some respects, however, this is a circular proposition. If you have the strength to leave a psychopath and the lucidity to reconsider your relationship with him, then you’re probably not suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. You may have been temporarily lost in the fog of the psychopathic bond, as I was. But those who suffer from Stockholm Syndrome find themselves lost in a dark tunnel. They don’t know which way to turn anymore. They probably need outside help to see the light and save themselves. So what can family and friends do for them?

Liane Leedom addresses this question in an article called “How Can I Get My X Away From the Psychopathic Con Artist?” (lovefraud.com, September 7, 2007). She advises a subtle intervention rather than clobbering the victim with accusations against her abuser, which may put her on the defensive. As we recall, psychopaths establish control of their victims BITE by BITE, like emotional vampires. Once again, “BITE” stands for “behavior, information, thoughts and emotions.” Psychopaths attempt to control all aspects of their partners’ experience of reality.

To counteract their dangerous influence, you need to BITE back. Give the victim a true perception of reality and real emotional support. If and when she complains about her psychopathic partner, don’t rush to join her in criticism. She’s likely to start defending the psychopath again. Instead, be a good listener. Draw out calmly and rationally the implications of the actions which upset her. Show her that you understand and support her. This way she’ll have a standard of comparison between her partner’s abusive behavior and your genuine caring. As we’ve seen, a psychopath is bound to make his partner feel insecure and pathologically dependent on him. Encourage the victim to find other sources of satisfaction in her life, which are not motivated by the desire to please him.

The issue of motivation is key. Psychopaths’ partners commonly lose weight, dress better, find better employment, pursue more interesting hobbies, all of which may appear to be positive signs. But they’re not if these self-improvements remain motivated by the desire to gain the psychopath’s approval or avoid his disapproval. The quest for his validation keeps the victim–and her self-esteem–enchained to a disordered human being whom she can never satisfy and who doesn’t have her best interest at heart. Above all, Leedom suggests that family and friends of the victim should make it clear that they will be there for her once she disengages from the psychopath. She won’t find herself lost, unloved and alone, as the psychopath probably leads her to fear in order to keep her under his control.

Sometimes, family and friends of the victims notice similar behavior from the victim as from the psychopath himself. Both, for instance, may lie. Leedom and other psychologists state that, sadly, this phenomenon is also quite common. We’ve seen that contact with a psychopath tends to be contagious and destructive, like a virus. It distorts your perception of reality, corrupts your moral values and diminishes your empathy for others. According to Leedom,

“This is what happens when you have any association with a psychopath, no matter how you know them and whether or not you live with them. This is why I strongly encourage family members to cut the psychopath off. Psychopaths’ whole way of relating to the world is about power and control. This need for power and control is very personal. They do it one person at a time, one victim at a time. They do it very systematically with malice and forethought. When they succeed in hurting someone or getting another person to hurt him/herself or others, they step back, revel in it and say ‘I did it again, shit, I’m great!’ (they use a lot of foul language also).” (lovefraud.com)

Just as most people experience a visceral pleasure in making love, or eating chocolate, or seeing their children’s team win a game, so psychopaths experience great pleasure when they hurt others. They enjoy corrupting their partners so that they too become manipulative, deceptive and callous like them. For a psychopath, destroying his partner from the inside/out–her human, moral core, not just her daily life–represents a personal triumph. Psychopaths identify, pursue, isolate, corrupt, devalue and eventually discard one victim at a time. By this I don’t mean to suggest, of course, that they’re faithful to anyone. But they focus their energy in a single-minded fashion on destroying one life at a time, one person at a time. Women seduced by psychopaths enter what psychologists call a “hypnotic state.” They shut out any aspects of reality that would reveal the truth. They focus instead only on the parts of reality that conform to the distorted perspectives presented by their partner. This logic often applies to the psychopath’s family members as well. I’ve already mentioned that Neil Entwistle’s parents supported their son even after he was convicted of murder. Parents who behave this way, Leedom explains, “want to have the perfect family as much as anyone else. They therefore normalize and justify all of the psychopath’s hurtful controlling behavior.” (lovefraud.com) Of course, when parents go so far as to either ignore or justify murder, their behavior crosses the line into pathology.

Yet no matter how much love and support you may offer the victim of a psychopath, like individuals who suffer from other kinds of addictions, she can only save herself. Ultimately, it’s up to her to find the inner strength to confront the truth about the psychopath. Psychologists state that, generally speaking, the longer a woman stays with the psychopath, the less likely she is to recover from that harmful relationship. Her tortured love for him may last for the rest of her life. But it’s highly unlikely that the psychopath will stick around for that long. If you don’t leave a psychopath, chances are that he’ll eventually leave you to mine for new opportunities elsewhere. Leedom adds, “The question here is whether this will take so long to run its course that the victim will lose herself completely. When that happens there is great risk of suicide when the relationship falls apart.” (lovefraud.com) Hopefully, the more information we spread about psychopathy, the easier and sooner victims will recognize the symptoms of this personality disorder. This information can give them the strength to escape psychopathic seduction and control before it’s too late.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


Poisoned Love: How A Psychopath Conditions His Victims

In previous posts I have shown how psychopaths camouflage their real evil identities and bad intentions, to appear normal and even better than normal partners to their victims. What may seem surprising to those who have not experienced personally the psychopathic bond is why their victims put up with it once the bait and switch occurs and Mr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde. There’s no simple answer to this question, since the motivations and personalities of the victims themselves vary. Some stay out of fear, others out of extreme emotional dependency and love addiction, others because they, themselves, suffer from a personality disorder that bonds them to a psychopath. Today I’d like to delve into the question of why even relatively normal and healthy women can stay with psychopathic men after the initial luring phase is over and the relationship becomes overtly toxic.

Psychopaths are extremely skilled not just at pretending to be decent men, but also at dosing. As early as the luring phase of the relationship, when they appear to be loving and normal partners, they make deviant requests, under the guise of romantic love. For instance, they isolate their new partners from those who care about them–family and friends–by claiming that they’re so in love with them that they wish to spend as much time as possible together. If the psychopath’s partner wishes to go out with friends, he spreads gossip about those individuals, claiming that they were critical of her or of their relationship. Or the psychopath may state that he’s so much in love with his partner that he can’t bear to spend time apart from her.

Couched in these positive terms, many women allow their other, healthy, social relationships with family members and friends to slowly but surely deteriorate. The less support they have from others, the more such women invest themselves wholeheartedly in the psychopathic bond. Once he senses his power over her, the psychopath becomes more openly possessive and controlling. Psychopaths have an intuitive relationship barometer that tells them when they have achieved dominance over others and can demand more (and more and more…) from them.

Another way in which psychopaths condition their partners to accept a toxic relationship is by gradually pushing the envelope of deviant requests. Since psychopaths are easily bored and need constant thrills, they may initially ask  their targets to make out in public, under the pretense that they’re so attracted to them that they can’t keep his hands off of them. In reality, however, psychopaths are not as attracted to their partners, even at the beginning of the relationship, as to the thrill of crossing the boundaries of public decency and demeaning their partners. Recall from my previous post that psychopaths are extreme narcissists who derive most pleasure from the dominance and victimization of others.

As soon as the victim complies with one perverse request, it becomes normative. After a short while, the psychopath will demand more indecent behavior from her, once again pretending that it stems from their great and special passion. Pretty soon, the victim finds herself complicit with his abnormal behavior, sometimes even addicted to it. Not surprisingly, this technique is often used by pimps to create loyalty and submission in the women and girls they ensnare into prostitution. What begins under the guise of romantic love and passion–something that most women yearn for–ends up being what it always was in reality and in the psychopath’s evil design: a form of sexual slavery.

Even partners who refuse to engage in the psychopath’s transgressive behavior–be it his scams, lies or sexual perversion–are inevitably poisoned by the toxic relationship if they continue to stay with him. The most common way in which a psychopath poisons his partner is to condition her to accept his abusive behavior as normal. This doesn’t have to be under the form of physical violence, although it can be. More commonly, however, any person who stays with a psychopath becomes gradually used to bigger and bigger doses of emotional abuse. When she catches the psychopath cheating on her for the first time, she may have a normal reaction and break up with him. But if she doesn’t have the strength to move on and later returns to him–since after bouts of promiscuity, a psychopath is likely to act repentant and romantic to lure back his main partner(s)–then the next times she discovers evidence of his cheating (or lying, or fraud), she puts up with it, or pretends she doesn’t know about it.

Denial becomes the shield that absorbs most of the emotional impact of his hurtful behavior. When denial is no longer possible, because his wrongdoings become too frequent and flagrant, she displaces her anger and resentment towards the other women in order to maintain the “integrity” of her relationship with him. If he cheated and lied, it’s the other women’s fault rather than his. She also blames those who point out the psychopath’s pathology rather than him for mistreating her. They’re the bearers of bad news, who expose the hollowness of the life she leads with him: a truth she can no longer face, after becoming so dependent on him. At some point, she becomes more invested in the false image of strength and of a wonderful relationship she has with the psychopath than in facing the dire reality and moving on, to achieve real strength in life and have the chance of having a non-pathological romantic relationship.

Eventually, after a long series of discoveries of infidelities and other kinds of bad behavior, she becomes used to it and finds some solace in the assumption that those flings mean nothing to him. In spite of his consistently unloving behavior, she convinces herself that the psychopath loves her and that she’s the most important woman in his life. His infidelity then becomes open and normative: what he used to do behind her back he does openly, before her eyes. What’s more, since psychopaths are sadists, he relishes seeing her suffer from a combination of jealousy, wounded pride and helpless love.

As Sandra L. Brown, M.A. explains in Women Who Love Psychopaths, any person intimately involved with a psychopath will be harmed. To offer an analogy, the cancer cells that are most dangerous are the few that resist the chemotherapy and multiply quickly in the body, to kill it. Psychologically, the most dangerous aspects of any victim of psychopathic seduction are the ones that survive and adapt to his mistreatment. Once she becomes inured to the constant lies, verbal abuse, cheating, etc, she allows those vices to multiply in the relationship and take over her life.

Just as the most pathological elements of a society adapt to and rise to the top of totalitarian regimes, and just as the most pathological individuals thrive in the life of crime of gangs, so the most pathological parts of a person adapt to and embrace the disorder of a psychopath. A psychopath trains his victim gradually into a form of submission–or acceptance of his deviant behavior–that annihilates everything that’s healthy about her personality and existence. Eventually, if she doesn’t find the strength to leave him, she’s reduced by the psychopath’s gradual poison to the shadow of the strong and healthy person she once was.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Advance Praise for The Seducer: A Novel About Psychopathic Seduction

As a victim of psychopathic seduction who is also a scholar and novelist, I was highly motivated to learn all I could about psychopathy. I wanted to use my research and writing skills to help other victims who suffered at the hands of these dangerous men. My new novel, THE SEDUCER, traces the devastating effects of a psychopathic social predator posing as “Mr. Right” upon two women’s lives. If you’re going through a similar experience, I hope that reading sample chapters from The Seducerwill give you insights into what makes psychopaths tick and help you find the strength to free yourself from the psychopathic bond. You can preview my novel on the links below:

Advance Praise for The Seducer:

Like the best, most delicious novels, Claudia Moscovici’s psychological thriller, The Seducer, grips you in its opening pages and holds you in its addictive clutches straight through to its dramatic, remarkable conclusion. This is a fascinating novel, on every page of which Moscovici’s intimate understanding of the psychology of psychopaths and their victims gleams with a laser’s concentrated brilliance. The result is a narrative that builds with a patient, yet propulsive, force; a narrative whose intensity and suspense, in tandem, leave the reader eager to know, at every step of the way, what happens next? I encourage the reader to start this novel with a full set of nails, because it’s a nail biter in the most literal sense.

Steve Becker, MSW, LCSW LoveFraud.com feature columnist, Expert/Consultant on Narcissism and Psychopathy

What is love in this seductive new novel? Hypnotic attraction or deadly trap? A dream come true or a world filled with obsessions in the absence of genuine feelings? The Seducer probes the chilling depths of alienation and selfishness as the heroine, Ana, is caught in the spider’s web of her narcissistic lover, Michael. No magic, just cruelty. Claudia Moscovici wrote a powerful novel about an unfortunate reality many women face: the unraveling of their romantic dreams as love turns into a cold and calculated game of chess.

Carmen Firan, author of Words and Flesh

The Seducer offers a thrilling look at the most dangerous men out there, that every woman is warned about and many encounter: the psychopathic predator. We’ve seen these men featured in the news for their gruesome crimes. But few would expect them to be the charming, debonair, romantic seducers that love stories are made of. When the heroine of the novel, Ana, met Michael, she was in for the roller-coaster ride of her life. In her exciting second novel, The Seducer, Claudia Moscovici depicts with talent and psychological accuracy the spellbinding power of these charming yet dangerous Don Juans.

D. R. Popa, author of Lady V and Other Stories (Spuyten Duyvil, 2007)

Claudia Moscovici’s new psychological thriller, The Seducer, reminds us of classics like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, but with a  contemporary twist. The new seducer is a psychopath, a dangerous predator without genuine emotion. And yet, we remain fascinated as he charms two women: one of them utterly dependent, the other seduced but autonomous. The reader’s outrage toward the reprehensible Michael may feel neutralized by the author’s meticulous studies of the psychopath in action and by what I call “ethical irony,” an often hidden moral perspective. Moscovici’s epic of betrayal and self-deception draws the reader into the convoluted mind of sexual predators and their victims. The narrative is bold, vivid and lucid.

Edward K. Kaplan, Brandeis University

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

The Seducer: A Novel About Psychopathic Seduction

Nonfiction books about psychopaths, their victims and the process of psychopathic seduction are very helpful. They arm people with information about this dangerous personality disorder necessary to defend themselves from social predators. Such books also give some victims the strength to recover from toxic relationships and move on with their lives.

Fiction about psychopathic seduction can take the healing process one step further. It puts readers into the twisted mindset of psychopaths, so that they can understand what makes them tick, from the inside. Such fiction also shows how they lure their victims and how different kinds of women respond to psychopathic men.

Yesterday I wrote a post about being a victim or being a survivor of a toxic relationship with a dangerous man. Today I’d like to let you know about my new novel, The Seducer, which shows the whole process of psychopathic seduction, from start to finish. This novel sketches the devastating effects of a psychopath upon two women who fall into his clutches: one who clings to him in spite of everything; the other who tries to escape him.

Please find below a description of The Seducer:

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 and exciting. In other words, these men are psychopaths.

My novel, The Seducer, shows both the hypnotic appeal and the deadly danger of psychopathic seduction. It traces the downfall of a married woman, Ana, who, feeling alienated from her husband and trapped in a lackluster marriage, has a torrid affair with Michael, a man who initially seems to be caring, passionate and charismatic; her soul mate and her dream come true. Although initially torn between love for her family and her passion for Michael, Ana eventually gives in to her lover’s pressure and asks her husband for divorce. That’s when Michael’s “mask of sanity” unpeels to reveal the monstrously selfish psychopath underneath, transforming what seemed to be the perfect love story into a psychological nightmare. Ana discovers that whatever seemed good about her lover was only a facade intended to attract her, win her trust and foster her dependency. His love was nothing more than lust for power, fueled by an incurable sex addiction. His declarations of love were nothing but a fraud; a string of empty phrases borrowed from the genuine feelings of others. Fidelity turned out to be a one-way street, as Michael secretly prowled around for innumerable other sexual conquests.

To her dismay, Ana finds that building a romantic relationship with a psychopathic partner is like building a house on a foundation of quicksand. Everything shifts and sinks in a relatively short period of time. Seemingly caring, and often flattering, attention gradually turns into jealousy, domination and control. Enjoying time together becomes isolation from others. Romantic gifts are replaced with requests, then with demands. Apparent selflessness and other-regarding gestures turn into the most brutal selfishness one can possibly imagine. Confidential exchanges and apparent honesty turn out to be filled with lies about everything: the past, the present, as well as the invariably hollow promises for the future. The niceness that initially seemed to be a part of the seducer’s character is exposed as strategic and manipulative, conditional upon acts of submission to his will. Tenderness diminishes and is eventually displaced by perversion that hints at an underlying, and menacing, sadism. Mutuality, equality and respect—everything she thought the relationship was founded upon—become gradually replaced with hierarchies and double standards in his favor. As the relationship with the psychopath unfolds, Dr. Jekyll morphs into Mr. Hyde.

The Seducer relies upon the insights of modern psychology and sensational media stories to demystify the theme of seduction we find in classic literary fiction. In its plot and structure, my novel deliberately echoes elements of the nineteenth-century classic, Anna Karenina. In its style and content, it fits in with contemporary mainstream psychological fiction such as Anna Quindlen’s Black and Blue and Wally Lamb’s I know this much is true. As much a cautionary tale as a story about the value of real caring, forgiveness and redemption, The Seducer shows that true love can be found in our ordinary lives and relationships rather than in flimsy fantasies masquerading as great passions.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

What Kind of Person Stays with a Psychopath or Narcissist?

So far I’ve tried to explain that just about any person can be initially fooled by a psychopath’s mask of sanity and become involved with such a disordered individual. However, while any of us can become ensnared by a psychopath during the initial, luring phase when he does his best to appear better than normal individuals, fewer people actually STAY with a psychopath or narcissist once his mask of sanity slips and they come to see his real, malicious, disordered and abusive self.

Today I’m pasting below an article by Sam Vaknin, an expert on narcissism and psychopathy, from his website and book “Malignant Self-Love”.  This article sketches the psychological profile of the kind of person who stays with a psychopath or narcissist long after the luring and honeymoon phases are gone and Dr. Jekyll has morphed into the real Mr. Hyde. If you recognize yourself in the victim profile, perhaps this New Year’s resolution could be to find the inner strength–and seek the external support–to ditch the psychopath or narcissist in your life. Don’t allow an evil individual to abuse and control you for the rest of your life. You deserve better than that.  At any rate, I hope that this information will help.

On the face of it, there is no (emotional) partner or mate, who typically “binds” with a sociopathic narcissist. They come in all shapes and sizes. The initial phases of attraction, infatuation and falling in love are pretty normal. The sociopathic narcissist puts on his best face – the other party is blinded by budding love. A natural selection process occurs only much later, as the relationship develops, the sociopath shows his true colors and the relationship is put to the test.

Living with a sociopathic narcissist can be exhilarating, is always onerous, often harrowing. Surviving a relationship with a sociopathic narcissist indicates, therefore, the parameters of the personality of the survivor. She (or, more rarely, he) is molded by the relationship into The Typical Sociopathic narcissistic Mate/Partner/Spouse.

First and foremost, the sociopathic narcissist’s partner must have a deficient grasp of her self and of reality. Otherwise, she (or he) is bound to abandon the sociopathic narcissist’s ship after the honeymoon phase is over. The cognitive distortion is likely to consist of belittling and demeaning herself – while aggrandising and adoring the sociopathic narcissist. The partner is, thus, placing himself in the position of the eternal victim: undeserving, punishable, a scapegoat. Sometimes, it is very important to the partner to appear moral, sacrificial and victimised. At other times, she is not even aware of this predicament. The sociopathic narcissist is perceived by the partner to be a person in the position to demand these sacrifices from his partner, being superior to her in many ways (intellectually, emotionally, morally, financially).

The status of professional victim sits well with the partner’s tendency to punish herself, namely: with her masochistic streak. The tormented life with the sociopathic narcissist is, as far as the partner is aware, a just punitive measure.

In this respect, the partner is the mirror image of the sociopathic narcissist. By maintaining a symbiotic relationship with him, by being totally dependent upon the source of masochistic supply (which the sociopathic narcissist most reliably constitutes and most amply provides) – the partner enhances certain traits and encourages certain behaviours, which are at the very core of narcissism.

The sociopathic narcissist is never whole without an adoring, submissive, available, self-denigrating partner. His very sense of superiority, indeed his False Self, depends on it. His sadistic Superego switches its attentions from the sociopathic narcissist (in whom it often provokes suicidal ideation) to the partner, thus finally obtaining an alternative source of sadistic satisfaction.

It is through self-denial that the partner survives. She denies her wishes, hopes, dreams, aspirations, sexual, psychological and material needs, and much else besides. She perceives her needs as threatening because they might engender the wrath of the sociopathic narcissist’s God-like supreme figure. The sociopathic narcissist is rendered in her eyes even more superior through and because of this self-denial. Self-denial undertaken to facilitate and ease the life of a “great man” is more palatable. The “greater” the man (=the sociopathic narcissist), the easier it is for the partner to ignore her own self, to dwindle, to degenerate, to turn into an appendix of the sociopathic narcissist and, finally, to become nothing but an extension, to merge with the sociopathic narcissist to the point of oblivion and of dim memories of one’s self.

The two collaborate in this macabre dance. The sociopathic narcissist is formed by his partner inasmuch as he forms her. Submission breeds superiority and masochism breeds sadism. The relationships are characterised by rampant emergentism: roles are allocated almost from the start and any deviation meets with an aggressive, even violent reaction.

The predominant state of the partner’s mind is utter confusion. Even the most basic relationships – with husband, children, or parents – remain bafflingly obscured by the giant shadow cast by the intensive interaction with the sociopathic narcissist. A suspension of judgement is part and parcel of a suspension of individuality, which is both a prerequisite to and the result of living with a sociopathic narcissist. The partner no longer knows what is true and right and what is wrong and forbidden.

The sociopathic narcissist recreates for the partner the sort of emotional ambience that led to his own formation in the first place: capriciousness, fickleness, arbitrariness, emotional (and physical or sexual) abandonment. The world becomes uncertain and frightening and the partner has only one thing to cling to: the sociopathic narcissist.

And cling she does. If there is anything which can safely be said about those who emotionally team up with sociopathic narcissists, it is that they are overtly and overly dependent.

The partner doesn’t know what to do – and this is only too natural in the mayhem that is the relationship with the sociopathic narcissist. But the typical partner also does not know what she wants and, to a large extent, who she is and what she wants to become.

These unanswered questions hamper the partner’s ability to gauge reality, evaluate and appraise it for what it is. Her primordial sin is that she fell in love with an image, not with a real person. It is the voiding of the image that is mourned when the relationship ends.

The break-up of a relationship with a sociopathic narcissist is, therefore, very emotionally charged. It is the culmination of a long chain of humiliations and of subjugation. It is the rebellion of the functioning and healthy parts of the partner’s personality against the tyranny of the sociopathic narcissist.

The partner is liable to have totally misread and misinterpreted the whole interaction (I hesitate to call it a relationship). This lack of proper interface with reality might be (erroneously) labelled “pathological”.

Why is it that the partner seeks to prolong her pain? What is the source and purpose of this masochistic streak? Upon the break-up of the relationship, the partner (and the sociopathic narcissist) engage in a tortuous and drawn out post mortem. But the question who really did what to whom (and even why) is irrelevant. What is relevant is to stop mourning oneself (this is what the parties are really mourning), start smiling again and love in a less subservient, hopeless, and pain-inflicting manner.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


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