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


How to Recognize a Psychopath

Unlike Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, psychopaths don’t usually come across as socially awkward, reclusive and bizarre. On the contrary, they often seem charming, outgoing and normal. That’s a big part of their lure, or “mask of sanity.” Consequently, it’s very important that we inform ourselves about the symptoms of psychopathy in order to protect ourselves from these dangerous individuals.

The main experts on psychopathy, Hervey Cleckley, Robert Hare and Martha Stout provide, essentially, the same list of personality traits to describe psychopaths. They state that such individuals exhibit superficial charm and intelligence. They use these qualities to attract people and to control them. Contrary to other kinds of pathological individuals, psychopaths don’t experience delusions or manifest any “other signs of irrational thinking.” For that reason, they appear to be, and actually are, “sane.” When they commit crimes, psychopaths know exactly what they’re doing. They realize that it’s wrong and know why society considers it wrong. They just happen to make exceptions for themselves and for their outrageous behavior, which, in their estimation, lies above the rules that govern the rest of humanity.

Similarly, psychopaths lack nervousness or any “psychoneurotic manifestations.” Not only are they unlike Woody Allen’s comical antiheroes, but also they stay cool and collected even when a normal response would be to experience distress. Although they sometimes engage in histrionic displays of emotion to gain sympathy, psychopaths remain unflappable during a crisis, such as a break-up or divorce from their significant other (because no other is significant to them), a death in the family, when they’re caught for committing a crime or even when they’re being punished for their illegal activities. A psychopath’s motto in life is: “Bad men do what good men dream.” Psychopaths can’t grasp the idea of conscience and feelings for others except as a form of weakness. They don’t understand that their dreams are normal people’s nightmares.

Such individuals are very impulsive and can fly off the handle with little or no provocation, but nothing rattles them for long. Analogously, they can fulfill their obligations for a short period of time to win their targets’ trust, but are unreliable over the long haul. No matter what promises they make and how important their commitment to fulfill them may be to others, they’ll eventually let people down. In fact, they go out of their way to hurt and betray those who trust them.

Psychopaths pursue short-term goals. They say whatever they need to say in order to get what they want at the moment. Their minds function like a GPS system where they’re constantly punching in a new destination. Whatever direction they take changes upon a whim, as soon as they spot anything or anyone they momentarily perceive as a better or more exciting opportunity. That’s not just because psychopaths are shallow, but also because they’re envious, greedy and power-hungry.  They want whatever other people have that they find desirable. That may be a new partner, a good job, prestige, wealth or a family. They want successful relationships without offering love, honesty or fidelity. To bolster their sense of superiority–without having much to show in terms of personal qualities, talents or accomplishments–they put their partners (and others) down and cultivate their weaknesses. To succeed in their jobs, without doing much work, they charm, intimidate, manipulate and bully their coworkers and staff.  To acquire wealth, they commit fraud or engage in scams. But, generally speaking, psychopaths can’t hold on to anything and anyone because their interests and needs change constantly. Sooner or later, they become dissatisfied with everything they have in life and want something more, or someone different.

Psychopaths are unpredictable even in their unpredictability. Nobody can tell in advance when they’re going to sabotage your life and happiness, or even their own, for that matter. Psychopaths can be highly believable pathological liars. Most people may lie sometimes.  Psychopaths, however, tell harmful lies for the sport of it and with malice. To them, lying functions as a means of controlling others by manipulating their perception of reality. It’s also a form of free entertainment. Because of their shallow emotions, psychopaths get easily bored. Their psychological hollowness propels them into a perpetual quest for new people to use, new sexual encounters, the newest business ventures as well as new and exciting ways to transgress social rules.

Psychopaths manifest poor judgment and fail to learn from experience. Epicurus defined pleasure as the absence of pain. By that standard, psychopaths aren’t Epicurean. They seek positive pleasures: highs, thrills and the sensation of constant euphoria. But they aren’t particularly bothered by pain or by negative consequences in general. They sabotage their own futures and harm others in momentary flashes of anger or for the sake of short-lived fun. A lot of their problems stem from their fundamental narcissism, or what Cleckley calls their “pathological egocentricity and incapacity for love.” To psychopaths, people are objects whose needs and even lives don’t matter except in so far as they can use them.  After using people, they toss them away.

Psychopaths can’t feel anything, not even joy or happiness, very deeply. They exhibit, Cleckley indicates, a “general poverty in all major affective reactions.” Hare states that psychopaths experience “proto-emotions” rather than the full range of human feelings. They feel momentary pleasure, glee or delight when they do or get what they want. By way of contrast, they feel fleeting frustration or anger when their desires are thwarted. But they can’t experience the deeper emotions, such as other-regarding love, empathy, remorse, sadness, regret or even anxiety and depression.

Their main emotion is contempt for other human beings, which they often mask underneath a thin layer of sociability and charm. Upon meeting new people, psychopaths perform an intuitive cost-benefit analysis, to classify them as targets, accomplices or obstacles in the pursuit of whatever they want at the moment. Targets are used as accomplices, and then discarded as obstacles once their usefulness has expired.

Since psychopaths eventually alienate all those around them with their unscrupulous and callous behavior, the only people who continue to find their mask of sanity plausible over time are those who don’t know them well, those who suffer from a similar personality disorder, or those who have an unhealthy emotional investment in them. Those who refuse to face the truth about the psychopath in their lives often become his alibis, sticking by him despite all rational evidence of his personality disorder and his wrongdoings.

Due to their shallowness, psychopaths suffer from what psychologists call “specific loss of insight.” Not only are they incapable of understanding how others function on a deeper emotional level, but also they lack an understanding of their own motivations and behavior. They intuitively know how to deceive and manipulate others. But they can’t grasp why they feel compelled to do it. Because they don’t see anything wrong with themselves and their actions, they also fail in therapy. Improving one’s behavior requires having the insight to see your flaws and the desire to change for the better, especially for the sake of those you care about. Psychopaths lack such incentives. They live only for their own pleasure.

To entertain themselves, they engage in what Cleckley calls “fantastic and uninviting behavior.” This is made worse by various addictions—to sex, drugs and/or alcohol—that are quite common for them, largely because of their low impulse control and need for constant excitement.  Psychopaths thrive on depravity and transgression. After behaving more or less normally for a period of time, they can all of a sudden become boisterous and unruly, pull their pants down in public, hit their spouse or start a brawl without provocation. Cleckley also notes that for psychopaths, “suicide is rarely carried out.” Just as they’re incapable of experiencing a deeper form of happiness which for most people results from leading an orderly life and loving one’s family and friends, they’re also incapable of experiencing a deeper form of unhappiness, which drives some individuals to suicide.

Cleckley and Hare both observe that for psychopaths “sex life is impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated.” Psychopaths can, however, sometimes experience intense attachments without emotional bonding. Some of them have such obsessive infatuations that they may even stalk their targets for an extended period of time. This behavior, however, is not tied to any genuine feelings of love or even to “being in love.” Rather, it stems from a sense of entitlement and ownership. Psychopaths believe that it’s their right to possess the women they momentarily desire and to discard them as soon as they no longer want them. Generally speaking, for psychopaths sexual relationships function as a release and as a form of exerting control over others. They’re not a means of connecting, which, over time, implies shared emotional ties and mutual moral obligations.

Finally, psychopaths are noted for their “failure to follow any life plan.” A few psychopaths may be very ambitious. Yet fewer become powerful or famous. However, most lack the patience to pursue far-reaching goals that require dedication and hard work. Instead, they move from one temporary–and usually destructive–diversion to another, in search of something to alleviate their pervasive sense of boredom.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


See no Evil: Why is there so little Psychopathy Awareness?

It seems like people tend to research psychopathy and other personality disorders after they’ve been burned. I have decided to repost an entry from last year that examines some of the reasons why there is so little psychopathy awareness in the general public. Ideally, this information can reach the general public, so people can spot the symptoms of dangerous personality disorders before they get harmed.

Perhaps because they’re so dangerous and destructive—the closest approximation to metaphysical evil that human beings can embody–the general public has a morbid fascination with psychopaths. We see them featured frequently on the news. The media seems to be intrigued by men like Scott Peterson and Neil Entwistle, who remorselessly murder their wives so that they can fool around more easily with other women. The public eats up this sordid information. True crime books about psychopathic killers tend to be best sellers. Similarly, biographical works about Hitler and Stalin continue to sell well. Yet, paradoxically, as fascinated as the general public may be with psychopaths and their evil deeds, they’re far less interested in what makes these people tick and how to recognize and avoid them in real life. As mentioned, there are a few highly informative studies of psychopathy, some of which–Stout’s The sociopath next door, Babiak and Hare’s Snakes in Suits and Brown MA’s The women who love psychopaths–are written for a general audience. These books describe clearly and without unnecessary jargon the psychology of evil individuals. Unfortunately, however, such informative works tend to be less popular than the dramatic news coverage of psychopathic killers or the horror stories we read in true crime and thrillers. Why so?

The first answer I’ll offer is in the form of an analogy. When I (and probably most other people too) shop for a car, I don’t need someone to explain to me in great detail the mechanics behind how the car functions. I may read Consumer Reports online to see how the car’s rated in various relevant categories, such as overall quality, safety and gas mileage. Then I look at it in person, to see if I like it and if it’s the right size to suit my family’s needs. In other words, a superficial knowledge of the car suffices for me. That’s how most people feel about the psychopaths featured on the news, in history or true crime books and in the movies. They grasp the phenomenon superficially: that evil people exist and do horrible things to others. But they don’t feel like they need to understand these people on a deeper psychological level. Which brings me to my second reason. We tend to view psychopaths as a form of titillating, if morbid, entertainment. We may disapprove of their horrific crimes, but their capacity for evil fascinates us. Third, and perhaps most importantly, we hold psychopaths at arm’s length, so to speak, in our own minds. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard people interviewed on the news about a violent murder say that they can’t believe it happened to their families or in their neighborhood. We believe that the great misfortune of being the victim of a psychopathic killer, rapist, conman, spouse or lover only befalls others. Somehow, we assume that our families and we are immune to such terrible things happening to us. Perhaps we believe that we’re too wise, too well educated and live in too good of a neighborhood to fall into the hands of social predators.

If you think about it rationally, however, you come to realize that this belief rests upon an illusion. It may be true that you and your loved ones are not statistically likely to fall prey to a psychopathic serial killer. Experts estimate that there are only about 50 to 100 serial killers circulating in the country at any given moment. It’s therefore rational not to live your life in the fear that you’ll be attacked by one of them. But it’s not statistically likely that you’ll avoid any intimate involvement with a psychopath for the rest of your life. As mentioned, psychopaths constitute roughly 4 percent of the population. This is significant, given the number of lives they touch and the kind of damage they can inflict. Psychopaths are exceedingly sociable, highly promiscuous, have many children, move from location to location and, generally speaking, they get around. Their malady is technically called “antisocial personality disorder” not “asocial personality disorder.” An asocial person avoids human contact. An antisocial person, on the contrary, seeks others in order to use, con, deceive, manipulate, betray and ultimately destroy them. That’s what psychopaths do. They feed, like parasites, upon our lives. They live for the thrill of damaging healthier, more productive and more caring human beings.

Statistically speaking, there are decent chances that you have a psychopath in your extended family. There are even better odds that at some point you ran across one or will encounter one in your life. Perhaps it was a boyfriend who seemed perfect at first but turned out to be an abusive sex addict. It may be a difficult boss who makes work unbearable for his employees. Or maybe it was a manipulative professor who became a minor despot in the department. Perhaps it was a teacher who got too chummy with his students and even seduced some of them. Or perhaps it was a friend who appeared to be kind and loving, only to repeatedly backstab you. Maybe it was a conartist who took your elderly mother’s life savings, or a portion of her hard-earned money, and vanished into thin air. Moreover, any psychopath can cause you physical harm and endanger your life. It doesn’t have to be one predisposed to rape and murder. Scott Peterson and Neil Entwistle were not sadistic serial killers. They were your garden variety charismatic psychopaths who found marriage a bit too inconvenient and incompatible with the new, wilder paths they wanted to pursue in life. Their incapacity to regard others as fellow human beings renders all psychopaths extremely dangerous.

Since empathy, moral principles and the capacity to love don’t play a role in any psychopath’s decision-making process, the transition from sub-criminal to criminal psychopath can be fluid and unpredictable.  Just about any psychopath could easily engage in violent behavior. My main point here is the following: learning about psychopathy is not a matter of technical psychology research or of abstract theories that are largely irrelevant to the general public. This information is highly pertinent to all of us. It’s far more useful than learning all the technical details about how your car works, to return to the analogy I offered earlier. You will never need to rebuild your car from scratch. At most, you may need to learn how to change a spare tire. But it’s likely that you’ll need to defend yourself, at least emotionally and psychologically, from a psychopath who touches your life and aims to undermine your wellbeing. A basic knowledge of psychopathy can save you years of heartache at the hands of a spouse or lover whom you can never please, who never stops lying and cheating on you and who keeps you dangling on the hook. It can spare you a lifetime of struggles to save an incorrigibly bad child from his or her own misdeeds. It can help you avoid being scammed by con artists who are great at their game. It can give you the strength to move on from a job where your boss keeps everyone in terror by constantly oscillating between sugar-sweetness and abuse.

Obviously, such knowledge can’t protect you from all harm caused by evil individuals. Even if you’re informed about psychopathy, you may still have the misfortune of becoming the victim of a random crime or of being part of a society ruled by a psychopathic dictator. But at least a basic knowledge of psychopathy can help those of us who are fortunate enough to live in free societies determine that which lies largely within our control: whom we choose to associate with and whom we choose to avoid or leave. It can help us recognize the symptoms of this dangerous personality disorder so that we don’t invite a bad person into our lives with open arms. It can give us the strength to end a toxic relationship with an emotional predator for good, once his disorder becomes obvious to us. In other words, knowledge about psychopathy constitutes the best defense that the general public, not just those who have been personally harmed, can have against evil human beings: to avoid them whenever possible and to escape them whenever we become ensnared into their webs. Needless to say, even those of us who become well informed about psychopathy won’t be qualified to clinically diagnose them, unless we acquire professional training in this domain.  But we can become capable of recognizing them well enough in real life to want to get away from them. For all practical purposes, that’s what matters most.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction



Red Flags: How to Identify a Psychopathic Bond

The most important self-defense against psychopathic seducers consists of recognizing the initial warning signals so that you can escape the relationship early on, hopefully before you’re seriously harmed.  Dr. Joseph Carver has put together a helpful and instructive list outlining the early symptoms of a dangerous relationship with a psychopath, or as he puts it quite aptly, with “a Loser.” As we’ve already seen in the previous account of Drew Peterson’s behavior, not all the signs of psychopathic seduction are obviously negative.  But, as we’ll see, even the symptoms that seem positive (such as the instant attachment and over-the-top attention, flattery and gifts) are in fact negative. Similarly, Carver notes that the Loser doesn’t have to exhibit all of the symptoms listed below to be dangerous. The presence of even three of these symptoms indicates a potentially harmful relationship. Anything above this number points to not just probable, but certain harm. Carver begins by defining “the Loser”: “‘The Loser’ is a type of partner that creates much social, emotional and psychological damage in a relationship… The following list is an attempt to outline the characteristics of ‘The Loser’ and provide a manner in which women and men can identify potentially damaging relationships before they are themselves severely damaged emotionally or even physically.” (drjoecarver.com)

1.     The Loser will Hurt you on Purpose. “If he or she hits you, twists your arm, pulls your hair, kicks you, shoves you, or breaks your personal property even once, drop them,” Carver advises. As we’ve seen, Drew Peterson escalated the abuse of his partners. He began with criticism, went on to name-calling and moved on to physical violence and (probably) murder. It’s very important to get away from a Loser at the slightest hint of violence, including verbal aggression, since abuse usually increases in frequency and severity over time.

2.     Quick Attachment and Expression. “The Loser,” Carver notes, “has very shallow emotions and connections with others. One of the things that might attract you to the Loser is how quickly he or she says ‘I Love You’ or wants to marry or commit to you. Typically, in less than a few weeks of dating you’ll hear that you’re the love of their life, they want to be with you forever, and they want to marry you. You’ll receive gifts, a variety of promises, and be showered with their attention and nice gestures.” Drew Peterson and other dangerous seducers wouldn’t get any partners, much less attractive young women, if they showed their true colors from the very beginning. Psychopaths generally pour on the romance. They deluge their targets with flattery, promises and gifts at the beginning of the relationship. No matter how promiscuous they actually are, they focus their energies on their most desirable targets. Yet, Carver cautions, this seemingly positive sign is, in fact, also negative. It signals shallowness of emotions rather than strength of love. He elaborates, “Normal, healthy individuals require a long process to develop a relationship because there is so much at stake… The rapid warm-up is always a sign of shallow emotions which later cause the Loser to detach from you as quickly as they committed.” Which is exactly what Drew Peterson  (and others like him) did after seducing each of his partners. As easily as he attached to them initially, he later detached from them to pursue his next conquest(s).

3.     Frightening Temper. Sooner or later the Loser reveals his hot temper. Carver states that Losers often begin with indirect violence—such as demonstratively hitting the wall with their fist or throwing objects—before they start pushing, punching or hitting their partners. The physical outbursts towards inanimate objects function as a form of intimidation. Through such behavior, Losers show their targets that they’re capable of doing the same thing to them.  Such outbursts also train the partners to become gradually habituated to acts of violence.

4.     Killing Your Self-Confidence. Losers generally prefer flings and short-term affairs, which provide constant new thrills. They also engage in long-term relationships, however, to gain more lasting control over certain more promising targets. It’s nearly impossible to control strong human beings who have clear boundaries and a healthy self-esteem. This is why psychopaths eventually move from the initial over-the-top flattery to scathing criticism. Once they have secured their chosen partners in their grasp, they put them down to erode their self-esteem. Carver states that, for instance, Losers “constantly correct your slight mistakes, making you feel ‘on guard’, unintelligent, and leaving you with the feeling that you are always doing something wrong… This gradual chipping away at your confidence and self-esteem allows them to later treat you badly–as though you deserved it.” According to Tracy’s and Stacy’s families and friends, after seducing them, Drew undermined both women’s self-confidence. His assertion that he pampered Stacy by indulging her obsession with plastic surgery rings false. By way of contrast, her friends’ and family’s claim that he criticized her to the point that she felt compelled to make constant “improvements” in her physical appearance sounds much more plausible. Stacy’s growing insecurity also placed her under Drew’s power to determine how she felt about herself.

5.     Cutting Off Your Support. In the wild, predators isolate their prey from the rest of the herd to better attack and devour it. That’s precisely what psychopaths do to their targets. Losers isolate their partners from their friends, colleagues and families. They may do so through overt criticism and by following them around when they meet with others, as Drew did to Stacy. Sometimes they opt for more subtle manipulation, such as by covertly turning the victim against her own family and friends (and vice versa).  As Carver observes, “The Loser feels your friends and family might influence you or offer negative opinions about their behavior… Eventually, rather than face the verbal punishment, interrogation, and abuse, you’ll develop the feeling that it’s better not to talk to family and friends. You will withdraw from friends and family, prompting them to become upset with you.”

6.     The Mean and Sweet Cycle. As we recall, Drew Peterson bought his wife a motorcycle and expensive jewelry even during the period of time when he was criticizing her, throwing her up against the wall, isolating her from her loved ones, accusing her of infidelity and calling her pejorative names. If they were consistently mean or violent, psychopaths wouldn’t be able to hold on to their partners. Which is why, as Dr. Carver observes, “The Loser cycles from mean to sweet and back again. The cycle starts when they are intentionally hurtful and mean. You may be verbally abused, cursed, and threatened over something minor. Suddenly, the next day they become sweet, doing all those little things they did when you started dating.” The period of sweetness leads the partners of Losers to cling to the relationship in the misguided hope of finding what psychologist Susan Forward calls “the magic key” that will make the psychopath stay nice to them. That magic key, however, doesn’t exist. The psychopath invariably cycles back to his real, nasty self. Over time, the meanness cycle escalates in severity and increases in duration. It’s interspersed with increasingly fewer “nice” moments, which trap the victim in her own wishful thinking.  As Carver observes, “You hang on, hoping each mean-then-sweet cycle is the last one. The other purpose of the mean cycle is to allow The Loser to say very nasty things about you or those you care about, again chipping away at your self-esteem and self-confidence.”

7.     It’s Always Your Fault.  As we’ve seen, psychopaths never accept blame for anything they do wrong. They deny obvious facts and accuse their victims of wrongdoing. Their spurious logic goes something like this: I didn’t do it, but even if I did, you deserved it. When he didn’t outright deny the domestic abuse, Drew Peterson blamed it on each of his wives for provoking it. According to him, they lied about being hit by him. They also lied about his verbal abuse. They were the ones who were “on edge” and “disturbed,” not him. He never hit them, even if Kathy had to go to the emergency room to recover from his blows. Carver notes, “The Loser never, repeat never, takes personal responsibility for their behavior–it’s always the fault of someone else.”

8.     Breakup Panic.  Psychopaths need to maintain control of everything in their lives, especially their romantic relationships. When they get bored with one partner or find a replacement, they can leave her on the spur of the moment, heartlessly, often without even bothering to offer an explanation. But they get very angry when the tables are turned and their partners leave them. Drew Peterson didn’t mind cheating on his wives and abandoning them for other women. Yet when they wanted to leave him to escape the misery and abuse, he resorted to violence, threats, bribes and, when none of these strategies worked, (probably) murder. As Carver notes, “The Loser panics at the idea of breaking up–unless it’s totally their idea–then you’re dropped like a hot rock. Abusive boyfriends often break down and cry, they plead, they promise to change, and they offer marriage/trips/gifts when you threaten ending the relationship… Once back in the grasp of the Loser, escape will be three times as difficult the next time.”

9.     No Outside Interests. To further control their victims, psychopaths don’t just isolate them from other people. They also narrow the range of their interests and activities, leading their partners to focus exclusively on them. Drew Peterson discouraged Stacy from working outside the home. He gave her money and gifts, not out of any real generosity but to keep her financially and emotionally dependent on him. He also followed his wife around everywhere. He wanted to monitor if she was seeing other men. But his stalking made her feel on edge about any kind of activity or pursuit that was external to their relationship. Carver goes on to state, “If you have an individual activity, they demand that they accompany you, making you feel miserable during the entire activity. The idea behind this is to prevent you from having fun or interests other than those which they totally control.”

10.   Paranoid Control.  Notoriously, psychopaths stalk their principal targets. They suspect other people, including their partners, of being as manipulative, deceptive and unscrupulous as themselves. Although they routinely cheat on their spouses, often with countless sexual partners, they tend to be plagued by the fear that their spouses may be cheating on them as well.  Which is why, as Carver observes, “The Loser will check up on you and keep track of where you are and who you are with. If you speak to a member of the opposite sex, you receive twenty questions about how you know them. If you don’t answer their phone call, you are ask where you were, what were you doing, who you were talking to, etc.” Drew Peterson worked as a detective not only in his job on the police force, but also in his dealings with his wife. He followed Stacy around to monitor her.

11.   Public Embarrassment. Psychopaths tend to put down their partners not only in private, but also publicly, to embarrass and isolate them. They want to build a psychological, if not physical, prison around their primary targets. They do everything possible to undermine their confidence, reduce their sociability, narrow the range of their interests and eliminate all positive human contact from their lives. Consequently, as Carver observes, “In an effort to keep you under control while in public, ‘The Loser’ will lash out at you, call you names, or say cruel or embarrassing things about you in private or in front of people… If you stay with The Loser too long, you’ll soon find yourself politely smiling, saying nothing, and holding on to their arm when in public.” As we’ll see in the chapter on Pablo Picasso, psychopaths aim to transform strong and proud individuals into their doormats.

12.   It’s Never Enough. Psychopaths don’t want to have successful relationships. They want to assert dominance by destroying, at the very least psychologically and emotionally, their partners. In the long run, there’s nothing anybody can do to please a psychopath. Apparently, Drew Peterson flattered both his third and his fourth wives when they were still his girlfriends, which is to say, during courtship. But the honeymoon period ended once they decided to marry him. Nothing they did or failed to do henceforth pleased him for long. According to their families and friends, Stacy and Tracy constantly jumped through more and more hoops, while Drew lifted the bar higher and higher. Through this insidious process, a psychopath wears down his partner’s self-esteem. Eventually, she feels too insecure to leave the abusive relationship. As Carver puts it, “The Loser convinces you that you are never quite good enough. You don’t say ‘I love you’ enough, you don’t stand close enough, you don’t do enough for them after all their sacrifices, and your behavior always falls short of what is expected. This is another method of destroying your self-esteem and confidence. After months of this technique, they begin telling you how lucky you are to have them–somebody who tolerates someone so inadequate and worthless as you.”

13.   Entitlement. As we’ve seen, psychopaths feel entitled to do and have everything and everyone they want. Laws, ethics and other people’s feelings don’t matter to them. “The Loser has a tremendous sense of entitlement, the attitude that they have a perfectly logical right to do whatever they desire,” Carver continues.  “If you disobey their desires or demands, or violate one of their rules, they feel they are entitled to punish you in any manner they see fit.” In the case of Drew Peterson, even thought crime, or the intention to leave him, was punishable with (probably) murder. His interviews show that he felt entitled to mistreat each of his wives as he pleased. However, he believed that they didn’t have the right to object to his mistreatment or to leave him as a result of it.

14.   Your Friends and Family Dislike Him.  Psychopaths tend to be pleasant and charming, at least superficially, at the beginning of a relationship. But once they have their partner firmly in their clutches, they proceed to isolate her from her support system.  In so doing, they alienate her family and friends. Carver notes, “As the relationship continues, your friends and family will see what the Loser is doing to you. They will notice a change in your personality or your withdrawal. They will protest. The Loser will tell you they are jealous of the ‘special love’ you have and then use their protest and opinion as further evidence that they are against you–not him.” Drew Peterson stalked his wife even when she was visiting with her sisters. Initially, at least some of Stacy’s family members and friends liked Drew and considered him a good match for her. But as he began to isolate and abuse her, they became unanimous in their dislike of him. In the end, they all saw the relationship as seriously damaging for Stacy.

15.   Bad Stories.  They say that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. There may be exceptions to this general principle. Fortunately, some people can improve their character and behavior with genuine and consistent effort. A psychopath can never be one of those exceptions, however. Generally speaking, if a man cheated on every wife he’s ever been with, it’s highly probable that he’ll cheat on the next one as well.  Most likely, the problem isn’t the woman or women he was with, but his underlying lack of character. Similarly, if he abused his previous partners, he’s very likely to abuse the next ones as well. Stacy knew enough about how Drew treated his previous wife to see that he was a philanderer and potentially dangerous. But the intensity and perseverance with which he pursued her blinded her from seeing the same warning signals in their relationship. In addition, since psychopaths don’t find anything wrong with their harmful behavior, they’re likely to boast about it. This also sends out some glaring warning signals. As Carver states, “The Loser tells stories of violence, aggression, being insensitive to others, rejecting others, etc… They brag about their temper and outbursts because they don’t see anything wrong with violence and actually take pride in the ‘I don’t take nothing from nobody’ attitude… Listen to these stories — they tell you how you will eventually be treated and what’s coming your way.”

16.   The Waitress Test. Just as how people behaved in the past tells a lot about how they’ll behave in the future, so how they treat others functions as a pretty good indicator of how you’ll eventually be treated. A person who’s uncaring and unethical towards others will most likely also be that way to you when you no longer serve his interests. Carver calls this “the waitress test.” In his estimation, how a Loser treats people who aren’t immediately useful to him reveals how he’ll treat you once your use has expired. “It’s been said that when dating, the way an individual treats a waitress or other neutral person of the opposite sex is the way they will treat you in six months. During the ‘honeymoon phase’ of a relationship, you will be treated like a king or queen. However, during that time the Loser has not forgotten how he or she basically feels about the opposite sex. Waitresses, clerks, or other neutral individuals will be treated badly. If they are cheap–you’ll never receive anything once the honeymoon is over. If they whine, complain, criticize, and torment–that’s how they’ll treat you in six months.” Psychopaths lack consistency in their “good” behavior because for them “goodness” is only a façade. The manner in which they treat someone relates strictly to that person’s perceived use value. When people are useful to them they treat them (superficially) well. When they aren’t, they ignore or mistreat them. By way of contrast, genuinely nice people treat others well regardless of their perceived utility. Carver advises,  “If you find yourself dating a man who treats you like a queen and other females like dirt–hit the road.” Pretty soon, you’ll be the dirt he walks on, on his way to conquering other temporary queens.

17.   The Reputation. Psychopaths tend to have polarized reputations. Their victims often describe them, in retrospect, as Janus figures (since they’re two-faced) or as Jekyll and Hyde personalities (since they switch from nice to mean). We’ve seen that for a psychopath the Jekyll side is a mask he constructs to attract, fool and use others. The Hyde side represents his true identity, which becomes increasingly dominant over time. To his buddies, Drew Peterson appeared to be an easy-going, nice guy. But that’s because they only saw one side of him, the jovial facet he wanted them to see. To his wives and their families– which is to say, to anyone who had extensive intimate contact with him–Drew exposed another, much more menacing side of his personality. Any sign of independence from his partners meant escaping his control: something he couldn’t tolerate and which he punished through abuse and (probably) murder. Carver states, “As mentioned, mentally healthy individuals are consistent in their personality and their behavior. The Loser may have two distinct reputations–a group of individuals who will give you glowing reports and a group that will warn you that they are serious trouble.” In addition to paying attention to what others say, trust your own intuition and powers of observation. Pay close attention to how your partner treats you over time and in different circumstances. Be particularly attuned to how he responds when you express different needs or opinions. Psychopaths can’t tolerate any real assertion of independence from others. They also can’t treat those they’re intimately involved with well for long. Although some psychopaths may consistently maintain the mask of charm in superficial interactions with their buddies, colleagues and acquaintances, their real controlling, selfish and aggressive natures tend to show through in extended intimate contact.

18.   Walking on Eggshells. During the course of their marriages to Drew Peterson, at least two of his wives reported losing their self-confidence as a result of his emotional and physical abuse. While they both entered the relationship with Drew feeling desirable, in love and valued, by the end they were overpowered and intimidated by him. When involved with a psychopath, over time, his partner finds herself walking on eggshells. She fears that anything she does or says might trigger his emotional detachment, hostility or abuse. Carver observes that, “Instead of experiencing the warmth and comfort of love, you will be constantly on edge, tense when talking to others (they might say something that you’ll have to explain later), and fearful that you’ll see someone you’ll have to greet in public.”

19.   Discounted Feelings/Opinions. For psychopaths, their fundamental callousness and capacity for evil stems from their absolute selfishness and inability to respect other individuals, as fellow human beings with independent needs and desires. That’s why those involved with a psychopath, following the initial stage when he praises everything they do and say, come to realize that their feelings, needs and opinions don’t matter to him. The Loser’s narcissism is, as Hervey Cleckley’s study of psychopathy concluded, absolute. Carver elaborates, “The Loser is so self-involved and self-worshiping that the feelings and opinions of others are considered worthless… The Loser is extremely hostile toward criticism and often reacts with anger or rage when their behavior is questioned.” Narcissists and psychopaths flatter others only to use and manipulate them. They lack genuine consideration for others.

20.   They Make You Crazy. According to her friends, Kathy Savio felt overcome by rage, jealousy and anger when Drew cheated on her with Stacy. While her emotional response was perfectly understandable under the circumstances, Drew depicted Kathy to others as “insane” to justify his mistreatment of her.  In some ways, however, this statement isn’t far removed from the truth. Sometimes, psychopaths quite literally drive their partners crazy. They lie to them to the point where they start doubting their knowledge of reality. They discourage and belittle them to the point where they lose their self-confidence and become reclusive. They mistreat them to the point where they’re overcome with rage. As Carver goes on to explain, “The Loser operates in such a damaging way that you find yourself doing ‘crazy’ things in self-defense… You become paranoid as well–being careful what you wear and say… While we think we are ‘going crazy’–it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as ‘normal behavior’ in a combat situation. Rest assured that your behavior will return to normal if you detach from the Loser before permanent psychological damage is done.” When involved with a psychopath, you may, unlike Drew Peterson’s misfortunate wives, escape alive. But unless you end the relationship in its earliest stages, you’re not likely to escape unharmed.

What do these warning signs indicate? They show that psychopathic seducers can fake decency and love convincingly in the beginning of a relationship. That’s how they manage to attract so many potential partners. But they can’t sustain their mask of sanity over time in intimate contact, since it’s fake and instrumental.  If you remain vigilant, you’ll be able to see red flags early on in the relationship with a psychopath despite his veneer of charm and extravagant romantic words and gestures. As psychotherapist Steve Becker indicates on his website, powercommunicating.com, most of his clients recognized the warning signals in their relationships with exploitative partners. They just minimized those red flags or downright ignored them. They preferred to focus on their romantic fantasies rather than face an unpleasant reality. According to Becker, the most difficult challenge isn’t noticing the red flags, but actually heeding them. He states,

“I find that many of my clients were in fact cognizant of odd, disconcerting behaviors/attitudes that their exploitative partners were reckless enough to reveal (or incapable of concealing). They may have even felt troubled by them. But in their intense need to want the relationship, and the partner, to be the elusive fit they so hungrily sought, they found ways to suppress their uneasiness: to ignore and/or minimize the significance of these signals; and rationalize the alarms their instincts triggered.” (powercommunicating.com)

If you encounter a man who is aroused primarily by the circumstances surrounding your relationship—especially the perverse and forbidden ones—rather than by you, yourself, run. If you encounter a man who does a bait and switch to gain your trust only to violate his promises or raise the bar higher and higher, run. If you encounter a man who behaves in a despicable manner towards any other woman, no matter what he says about her, examine his behavior carefully since that’s how he’ll eventually treat you and, needless to say, run.

Truth is not a convenient fiction. Similarly, love is not a power game for anyone capable of this emotion. It’s the deepest and most significant bond human beings form with one another and the foundation of our lives. If you encounter a man who gives any signs that he regards love as a game and you as a “prize” to be won, fold your cards and quickly leave the table. Or, better yet, refuse to engage with him at all. Any intimate relationship with a psychopath is a gamble where you risk losing everything and from which you have nothing to gain.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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

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


Avoid These Men! The Three Most Dangerous Personality Disorders

Please find below a very helpful article about dangerous men by Liane Leedom, co-author along with Sandra Brown of the book “Women Who Love Psychopaths” (Health and Well-Being Publications, 2008) and lovefraud.com psychopathy expert. The article is called “The Dark Triad” and was published on lovefraud.com on December 1, 2007.

Choosing a life partner is the most difficult task we face. Furthermore, due to mistakes in choices, older adults also find themselves single and choosing again. The desire to have a life partner comes from our needs for sex and companionship; but, given how difficult it is to compete in society, the desire for a mate also may be influenced by more practical matters. In choosing a mate, sexual attractiveness, compatibility and social status all factor in to the equation. To avoid a mistake, then, it is necessary to be aware how sexual attractiveness, compatibility and social status influence our choices, and to couple this awareness with an understanding of the qualities that make a good life partner.

The problem with sexual attractiveness is that “beauty is only skin deep,” and many people, especially men, place too much of an emphasis on sexual attractiveness when choosing a mate. A choice based on sexual attractiveness has a high likelihood of being an incorrect one. Erotic passion clouds judgment and prevents us from considering compatibility and practical matters in our choices. The good news is that we do not have to allow ourselves to be seduced by beauty, and if we are, we have only ourselves to blame.

Once we get beyond sexual attractiveness, compatibility and status concerns weigh into our decisions. This is where the Dark Triad comes in. The Dark Triad of personality represents those who make their partners MISERABLE. The Dark Triad is Psychopathy, Narcissism and Machiavellianism. To varying degrees, all three personality types entail a dark, interpersonally destructive character with tendencies toward grandiosity, emotional callousness, manipulation and dominance. Psychopaths and Machiavellians have high self- esteem, and are charming and fun but psychopaths are also impulsive and cunning. Narcissists are grandiose and have high self esteem, and may also be intellectually gifted. Research has shown that these three personality types are all a bit different and yet also highly overlap.

A common theme underlies The Dark Triad; that theme is a preoccupation with DOMINANCE and POWER. Personality tests of Machiavellianism come the closest to identifying non-criminal psychopaths. There are high correlations between these three personality tests in college students who take all three tests. The numbers indicate that these three concepts are different but have some common underlying theme. That theme is PLEASURE IN POWER.

Why is it so hard to have it all? Why is it rare that a person is both loving/empathetic and effectively dominant/competitive? The reason is that affection and dominance motives are not compatible. We can be motivated by a combination of sex and love or a combination of sex and power, but we cannot simultaneously experience love and power motives.

Furthermore, dwelling in the power realm suppresses the development of empathy. Empathy is a skill that must be nurtured and practiced. Empathy, if not practiced, diminishes. We are designed this way because assertion of dominance often necessitates overt or covert aggression. How can we be aggressive toward someone we have empathy for? We can’t, thus the most loving people are the least aggressive and the least domineering.

If you are in a relationship and are considering a deeper commitment, or are attracted to someone and considering a relationship, please take stock of what I have said. Consider the person’s Inner Triangle, don’t go after The Dark Triad.

The Inner Triangle is our Ability to Love, Impulse Control and Moral Reasoning. Seek to surround yourself with loving people who have morals and impulse control. Avoid, at all costs, connecting with a member of The Dark Triad.

You can’t be a bully if you don’t have a victim.

You can’t feel “superior” if there isn’t an “inferior”

You can’t be a “winner” if there isn’t a “loser”

You can’t be “right” unless someone else is “wrong”

It IS all about the POWER.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction





Be Worried! Why Psychopathy is Everyone’s Problem

We worry about psychopaths the way we worry about death: as a form of entertainment (true crime movies and books are the equivalent of Halloween thrillers) and as an abstraction (death and misfortune happen, but there’s no point worrying about it until it happens to me or my loved ones). Death and disease are unavoidable parts of the human condition. However, contact with evil persons who can harm and perhaps even destroy our lives is, for the most part, avoidable. In dealing with such individuals, who often mask their malicious intent and nature, ignorance is our greatest weak spot. A basic knowledge of psychopathy and other personality disorders can save us from years of psychological and financial damage. And yet, few people are willing to inform themselves about psychopathy until they or their loved ones are significantly harmed. Why?

Perhaps because they’re so dangerous and destructive—the closest approximation to metaphysical evil that human beings can embody–the general public has a morbid fascination with psychopaths. We see them featured frequently on the news. The media seems to be intrigued by men like Scott Peterson and Neil Entwistle, who remorselessly murder their wives so that they can fool around more easily with other women, or by women like Casey Anthony, who (most likely) kill their children so that they can party harder. The public eats up this sordid information. True crime books about psychopathic killers tend to be best sellers. Similarly, biographical works about Hitler and Stalin continue to sell well. Yet, paradoxically, as fascinated as the general public may be with psychopaths and their evil deeds, they’re far less interested in what makes these people tick and how to recognize and avoid them in real life. As mentioned, there are a few highly informative studies of psychopathy, some of which–Stout’s The sociopath next door, Babiak and Hare’s Snakes in Suits and Brown and Leedom’s The women who love psychopaths–are written for a general audience. These books describe clearly and without unnecessary jargon the psychology of evil individuals. Unfortunately, however, such informative works tend to be less popular than the dramatic news coverage of psychopathic killers or the horror stories we read in true crime and thrillers. Why so?

The first answer I’ll offer is in the form of an analogy. When I (and probably most other people too) shop for a car, I don’t need someone to explain to me in great detail the mechanics behind how the car functions. I may readConsumer Reports online to see how the car’s rated in various relevant categories, such as overall quality, safety and gas mileage. Then I look at it in person, to see if I like it and if it’s the right size to suit my family’s needs. In other words, a superficial knowledge of the car suffices for me. That’s how most people feel about the psychopaths featured on the news, in history or true crime books and in the movies. They grasp the phenomenon superficially: that evil people exist and do horrible things to others. But they don’t feel like they need to understand these people on a deeper psychological level. Which brings me to my second reason. We tend to view psychopaths as a form of titillating, if morbid, entertainment. We may disapprove of their horrific crimes, but their capacity for evil fascinates us. Third, and perhaps most importantly, we hold psychopaths at arm’s length, so to speak, in our own minds. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard people interviewed on the news about a violent murder say that they can’t believe it happened to their families or in their neighborhood. We believe that the great misfortune of being the victim of a psychopathic killer, rapist, conman, spouse or lover only befalls others. Somehow, we assume that our families and we are immune to such terrible things happening to us. Perhaps we believe that we’re too wise, too well educated and live in too good of a neighborhood to fall into the hands of social predators.

If you think about it rationally, however, you come to realize that this belief rests upon an illusion. It may be true that you and your loved ones are not statistically likely to fall prey to a psychopathic serial killer. Experts estimate that there are only about 50 to 100 serial killers circulating in the country at any given moment. It’s therefore rational not to live your life in the fear that you’ll be attacked by one of them. But it’s not statistically likely that you’ll avoid any intimate involvement with a psychopath for the rest of your life. As mentioned, psychopaths constitute roughly 1 percent of the population. This is significant, given the number of lives they touch and the kind of damage they can inflict. Psychopaths are exceedingly sociable, highly promiscuous, have many children, move from location to location and, generally speaking, they get around. Their malady is technically called “antisocial personality disorder” not “asocial personality disorder.” An asocial person avoids human contact. An antisocial person, on the contrary, seeks others in order to use, con, deceive, manipulate, betray and ultimately destroy them. That’s what psychopaths do. They feed, like parasites, upon our lives. They live for the thrill of damaging healthier, more productive and more caring human beings.

Statistically speaking, there are decent chances that you have a psychopath in your extended family. There are even better odds that at some point you ran across one or will encounter one in your life. Perhaps it was a boyfriend who seemed perfect at first but turned out to be an abusive sex addict. It may be a difficult boss who makes work unbearable for his employees. Or maybe it was a manipulative professor who became a minor despot in the department. Perhaps it was a teacher who got too chummy with his students and even seduced some of them. Or perhaps it was a friend who appeared to be kind and loving, only to repeatedly backstab you. Maybe it was a conartist who took your elderly mother’s life savings, or a portion of her hard-earned money, and vanished into thin air. Moreover, any psychopath can cause you physical harm and endanger your life. It doesn’t have to be one predisposed to rape and murder. Scott Peterson and Neil Entwistle were not sadistic serial killers. They were your garden variety charismatic psychopaths who found marriage a bit too inconvenient and incompatible with the new, wilder paths they wanted to pursue in life. Their incapacity to regard others as fellow human beings renders all psychopaths extremely dangerous. As psychotherapist Steve Becker explains,

“Commonly, the psychopath is upheld as the incarnation of the murderous bogeyman. While it’s true than many cold-blooded killers are psychopaths, most psychopaths are not killers. The majority of psychopaths would find a messy murder too inconvenient and personally unpleasant a task to assume. This—the personal inconvenience and unpleasantness, not empathy for the slaughtered victim—explains why a great many more psychopaths than not, with chilling non-compunction, are more likely to target your life’s savings than butcher you, and dispose of your remains in several industrial-strength Hefty bags. This doesn’t make the non-murderous psychopath ‘less psychopathic,’ or ‘more sensitive’ than the murderous psychopath; it merely reflects the calculus psychopaths apply in their decision-making: how can I get, or take what I want, for maximum instant gain, at minimum personal inconvenience?” (powercommunicating.com)

Since empathy, moral principles and the capacity to love don’t play a role in any psychopath’s decision-making process, the transition from sub-criminal to criminal psychopath can be fluid and unpredictable.  Just about any psychopath could easily engage in violent behavior. My main point here is the following: learning about psychopathy is not a matter of technical psychology research or of abstract theories that are largely irrelevant to the general public. This information is highly pertinent to all of us. It’s far more useful than learning all the technical details about how your car works, to return to the analogy I offered earlier. You will never need to rebuild your car from scratch. At most, you may need to learn how to change a spare tire. But it’s likely that you’ll need to defend yourself, at least emotionally and psychologically, from a psychopath who touches your life and aims to undermine your wellbeing. A basic knowledge of psychopathy can save you years of heartache at the hands of a spouse or lover whom you can never please, who never stops lying and cheating on you and who keeps you dangling on the hook. It can spare you a lifetime of struggles to save an incorrigibly bad child from his or her own misdeeds. It can help you avoid being scammed by con artists who are great at their game. It can give you the strength to move on from a job where your boss keeps everyone in terror by constantly oscillating between sugar-sweetness and abuse.

Obviously, such knowledge can’t protect you from all harm caused by evil individuals. Even if you’re informed about psychopathy, you may still have the misfortune of becoming the victim of a random crime or of being part of a society ruled by a psychopathic dictator. But at least a basic knowledge of psychopathy can help those of us who are fortunate enough to live in free societies determine that which lies largely within our control: whom we choose to associate with and whom we choose to avoid or leave. It can help us recognize the symptoms of this dangerous personality disorder so that we don’t invite a bad person into our lives with open arms. It can give us the strength to end a toxic relationship with an emotional predator for good, once his disorder becomes obvious to us. In other words, knowledge about psychopathy constitutes the best defense that the general public, not just those who have been personally harmed, can have against evil human beings: to avoid them whenever possible and to escape them whenever we become ensnared into their webs. Needless to say, even those of us who become well informed about psychopathy won’t be qualified to clinically diagnose them, unless we acquire professional training in this domain.  But we can become capable of recognizing them well enough in real life to want to get away from them. For all practical purposes, that’s what matters most.

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


Don Juan as Psychopath

Please find below Gordon Banks’ intriguing essay, “Don Juan as Psychopath”:

Introduction

“What kind of man is this Don Juan Tenorio?”, asks Leo Weinstein in his monograph on the Don Juan legend, “Why does he bend all his efforts to deceive women?. . . To the modern, Freud-oriented reader, Tirso de Molina’s hero is likely to remain enigmatic. . . .” Rather than permit the thought that the enigma is due to the lack of psychological depth and subtlety in the creation of a 17th century priest, I intend to demonstrate that the opposite is the case, and that nowhere earlier in literature is a description of the psychopath found more sharply delineated than in this brilliant play of a Spanish friar named Gabriel Téllez, who wrote El Burlador de Sevilla y Convidado de Piedra, under the pseudonym Tirso de Molina (portrait shown on the right) in the first part of the seventeenth century.

While it was not until the nineteenth century that physicians began to elucidate the nature of that disturbing category of human beings that we now call psychopaths, history and literature show that they have always been with us. Although psychopathic behavior was displayed by literary characters as early as Ulysses of The Iliad, (that same psychopathic Ulysses was later revisited by Dante in Inferno Canto 26), this Burlador(trickster), Don Juan Tenorio, has come to occupy a place in western literature alongside the other great legends of Don Quixote, Faust, and Hamlet. Later, under the successive ministrations of Molière, Hoffmann, Mozart, Da Ponte (Mozart’s librettist), and Byron, the character of Don Juan lost much of the vicious edge given him by his creator, and was gradually transmuted into the character we identify with the name of Don Juan today: the profligate lover and often, a romantic seeker for ideal womanhood.

Scientific study of the psychopath is hindered by the fact that the subjects recognize no defect in their own psyche, no need to change. We mainly know them through the those captive populations who have had difficulty with the law and are institutionalized. Those who are “successful,” can only be studied at a distance. While some psychopaths undoubtedly correspond to the popular view of the brutal killer, criminal, or rapist, many, if not most, do not. Often they are referred to by the term sociopathy or antisocial personality, emphasizing the chaotic relationships with other people and society, but while this aspect of these personalities is most readily apparent, there are many other features of this character disorder having nothing to do with other people which also show considerable deviation from normal behavior. For this reason, I prefer the older term psychopath. In recent years, there has been a growing realization that there are many psychopaths who successfully avoid trouble with the law, and estimates of the percentage of psychopaths in the population (formerly estimated at about 3%, based on studies of prisoners) have been revised upward.

As is common in medicine, and especially in psychiatry, where there is often no “litmus” test which can be applied, diagnosis is a matter of nosology and categorization. This is bound to lead to disagreements between various authorities as to which manifestations warrant inclusion or exclusion of an individual from a given diagnosis. Naturally, this has led to various schools of thought on the subject of psychopathy.

Historical Overview

The first writings by doctors on the subject seem to originate around the beginning of the 19th century, but the earliest formal description of what he called “moral insanity” is given by Prichard in 1835. The 19th century physicians recognized that there were some walking among other men who were of sound reason and intellect, but when it came to the moral realm were “deranged”. They described individuals who had no sense of right and wrong, no feelings of guilt or shame for wrongdoing, and had a marked propensity to lie, cheat, and engage in other activities which normal society considered reprehensible. During the last 40 years, psychopaths have been more intensively studied and recent research seems to indicate that they actually represent a variant of human beings with abnormal brain function.

Demographics

Demographic studies of psychopaths are somewhat suspect because they rely so heavily on the institutionalized segment of the population of psychopaths, but they show that males outnumber females by at least 5:1, and that they almost always come from severely disturbed families. The deviant behavior is manifest even as young children. The period from adolescence to mid-thirties is marked by the most severe deviance. As they age, many psychopaths seem to mellow, at least in their more aggressive antisocial behavior.

Clinical Features

In describing the clinical features of psychopaths, I will rely heavily on the most complete description in the literature, the monograph which constituted the life-work of psychiatrist and neurologist Hervey Cleckley entitled:The Mask of Sanity.

Guiltlessness

While the psychopath often recognizes that other people have a “conscience”, and will feign remorse to avoid punishment, as Cleckley explains, “he shows almost no sense of shame. His career is always full of exploits, any one of which would wither even the more callous representatives of the ordinary man. Yet he does not, despite his able protestations, show the slightest evidence of major humiliation or regret. This is true of matters pertaining to his personal and selfish pride and to esthetic standards that he avows as well as to moral or humanitarian matters.”

Lack of insight and judgment

It is in this realm that the psychopath comes closest to the psychotic. While seemingly in full possession of his reasoning ability, by all the means of clinical psychology to test and assess them, the psychopath demonstrates an inability to comprehend the meaning and significance of his behavior for other people, and to judge their probable reactions to his behavior. He is often astounded to find that people are upset by his exploits. Although he knows intellectually what punishment is decreed for certain crimes, when caught, he puts up elaborate rationalizations and defenses, and seems surprised when he is actually punished. Mark Hofmann, an ingenious forger of rare documents and murderer, included among his victims many scholars, the Library of Congress, the U.S. mint, the Mormon Church, private collectors, and several forgery experts. His career began as a child with the alteration of mint-marks on coins. He recently revealed his thinking on the subject of his forgeries: “It’s not so much what is genuine and what isn’t as what people believe is genuine. When I forged a document and sold it, I was not cheating the person that I was selling it to because the document would never be detected as being a fraud. Obviously if I would have known they would some day be detected, I wouldn’t have done it. I didn’t feel like I was cheating them.” This statement shows not only a lack of guilt and remorse, but a semantic lack of understanding of the concept of authenticity. Psychopaths can be thought of not as being hypocrites, but as actually not understanding or using language in the same way other people do.

Lovelessness

While the psychopath has likes and dislikes and fondness for the pleasures that human company can bring, analysis shows that he is completely egocentric, valuing others only for their enhancement of his own pleasure or status. While he gives no real love, he is quite capable of inspiring love of sometimes fanatical degree in others. He is generally superficially charming and often makes a striking impression as possessed of the noblest of human qualities. He makes friends easily, and is very manipulative, using his ability with words to talk his way out of trouble. Many psychopaths love to be admired and bask in the adulation of others. With the lack of love, there is also a lack of empathy. The psychopath is unable to feel sorry for others in unfortunate situations or put himself in another’s place, whether or not they have been harmed by him.

Inability to form Meaningful Relationships

While psychopaths are notably sexually promiscuous, their inability to love or to show any but the most superficial kindness to others prevents them from forming meaningful relationships with others, including parents and spouses. The promiscuity seems more related to their lack of restraint than to an exaggerated sexual drive. Bizarre and indecent liaisons are common.

Fearlessness

The psychopath is remarkably free of both the psychological and physiological manifestations of anxiety. They often pass lie detector tests (as did Mark Hofmann), and are well known for their valor in war, risking their own lives, and often recklessly endangering their entire units and disobeying orders in the process. It is said that the decision often comes whether to award a man the Medal of Honor or to court-martial him, and the “Rambo” stories of former war heros in trouble with the law have basis in real life. The famous psychopath, Aaron Burr, directly disobeyed the orders of his superior in winning a battle and fame during the American revolution. It is this “bravery” that often helps the psychopath win the affection of followers and accord him a respected place in society, which is later disillusioned by his subsequent exploits. Another aspect of the fearlessness, is the obliviousness of the psychopath to punishment. Not only does the threat of future punishment have no power to deter him, but actual punishment does not reform him. Most psychiatrists consider psychopaths untreatable.

Irresponsibility, Insincerity and Unreliability

While the psychopath is charming and makes friends easily, those who come to rely upon him soon painfully find out that he has no sense of responsibility. Continually promises are made and broken without regard for the gravity of the consequences, for which the psychopath will then deny responsibility. He can solemnly lie while looking the victim in the eye, showing no anxiety whatever.

Impulsiveness

The inability to restrain his impulses is what often leads to the downfall of the psychopath. While he theoretically knows what is considered proper behavior, and can even provide sage advice, it is in carrying out the actual process of living that the psychopath runs into trouble. There is a tendency toward continual excitement and stimulation. This impulsiveness may lead to a scandal or to the commission of a theft, rape, or other crime. It is this obliviousness to the consequences of risk taking that often leads to the uncovering of a “successful” psychopath who was previously well esconced as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, politician, or some other respected person in the community.

Etiology

Prior to the past 30 years, psychiatry operated largely apart from the tools of modern biological investigation, and most theories of abnormal behavior were based on moral and later psychoanalytic notions, which largely were grounded in the belief that the individual was shaped by the environment. When it comes to explaining the psychopath, psychoanalytic theory has been speculative and not very credible, based as it is more on theory and dogma laid down many years ago by Freud rather than on scientific observation, and recent investigators have turned to studies in genetics, electrophysiology, and language in an attempt to explain why such a constellation of character defects crops up so frequently and consistently. Opinion now seems to favor a defect in the function of the brain, possibly the limbic system.

Synopsis of El Burlador de Sevilla

In this synopsis, we will highlight the quotations which illustrate Don Juan’s psychopathic character, to be analyzed in more detail later. The plot of the play consists of four burlas or “tricks” wherein Don Juan, a Sevillan noble, through deception is able to seduce four different women, two of the nobility and two commoners, and a fifth, where el burlador himself is the victim.

The play opens in the palace of the King of Naples, where Don Juan’s uncle Don Pedro Tenorio is the Spanish ambassador. Don Juan is in the darkness with Isabella, a noblewoman who is under the impression that he is her fiance, Duke Octavio. Don Juan has “enjoyed” her under this guise.

Don Juan.

Duquesa, de nuevo os juro

de cumplir el dulce sí.Isabela ¿Mis glorias serán verdades,promesas y ofrecimientos,regalos y cumplimientos,voluntades y amistades?Don Juan Sí, mi bien.

Isabella discovers her mistake as the king enters with Don Juan’s uncle. The king charges Don Pedro to arrest the unknown couple and retires.

Don Pedro.

Prendelde.Don Juan ¿Quién da de osar?Bien puedo perder la vida;mas ha de ir tan bien vendida,que a alguno le ha de pesar.Don Pedro orders the guards away whereupon Don Juan reveals his identity and begins to manipulate his uncle with rationalizations and flattery.

Don Juan.

Aunque tengo esfuerzo, tío,no lo tengo para vos….mozo soy y mozo fuiste;y pues que de amor supiste,tenga disculpa mi amor.This was not the first time Don Juan had been in serious trouble, as his uncle reminds him.

Don Pedro.

Di, vil: ¿no bastó emprendercon ira y con fuerza extrañatan gran traición en Españacon otra noble mujer,sino en Nápoles también?But Don Juan is unrepentant, and feels no guilt for what he has done.

Don Juan.

No quiero daros disculpa,que la habré de dar siniestra.Mi sangre es, señor, la vuestra;sacadla, y pague la culpa….A esos pies esoy rendido,y ésta es mi espada, señor.Don Pedro. …Alzate y muestra valor,que esa humildad me ha vencido.Mis cartas te avisaránen qué para este sucesotriste, que causado has.Don Juan. Para mí alegre, dirás.Thus Don Juan successfully enlists his uncle to cover up for him until he can make his escape.

In this first scene, we already see in Don Juan cardinal features of a psychopathic personality. He is sexually promiscuous and obtains his love object with lies and deceit, abandoning her when he has achieved his ends. He is charming and manipulative when he seduces a woman or needs to talk his way out of trouble. He is brave and fearless, willing to risk his life rather than surrender. He feels no guilt for his behavior.

In the next burla, the victim is a woman whose folk are fishers on the coast. Fleeing from the trouble in Naples, Don Juan and his servant Catalinón are shipwrecked and wash up on the beach. The beautiful Tisbea comes to their aid, and the drowned Don Juan “awakens” with his head in her lap. She suspects he was feigning death, but he begins to flatter her and profess his love. Tisbea, who is being courted by the young men of her village, now falls for Don Juan. Don Juan plans to “enjoy” Tisbea, and then make a quick escape. He instructs his servant to saddle the mares for their escape:

Catalinón.

Al fin ¿pretendes gozara Tisbea?Don Juan. …Si burlares hábito antiguo mío,¿qué me preguntas, sabiendomi condición?Catalinón. Ya sé que eres<> castigo de las mujeres.Don Juan. Por Tisbea estoy muriendo,que es buena moza.Catalinón. ¡Buen Pagoa su hospedaje deseas!Don Juan. Necio, lo mismo hizo Eneascon la reina de Cartago.Catalinón …Los que fingís y engañáislas mujeres, de esa suertelo pagaréis con la muerte.Don Juan. ¡Que largo me lo fiáis!Catalinón serves as a sort of conscience that Don Juan utterly lacks. Don Juan exhibits here another characteristic of the psychopaths: he is impulsive and can not delay gratification of his desires. He seeks to silence Catalinón’s nagging by reference to Aeneas. He again exhibits his lack of concern or fear for the consequences of his actions, although he does not deny he may someday be punished.

Following his abandonment of Tisbea, Don Juan returns to Seville, where he encounters his “oldest friend”, the Marquis de la Mota, an admirer of Don Juan and his escapades, who fancies himself a bit of a rogue also. They exchange anecdotes as to their respective amorous conquests and Don Juan learns that the Marquis is in love with another noblewoman, Doña Ana de Ulloa. The Marquis foolishly piques Don Juan’s interest with descriptions of Doña Ana’s beauty. A woman who has seen Don Juan in the company of the Marquis passes him a note, which Don Juan swears he will deliver to the Marquis. Don Juan, of course, reads the note, the purpose of which is to arrange a rendezvous between the Marquis and Doña Ana, for that evening at eleven. As he contemplates his next burla,Don Juan scoffs:

¡Desdichado amante!
¿Hay suceso semejante?
Ya de la burla me río.

Catalinón continues to warn Don Juan that “el que vive de burlar burlado habrá de escapar pagando tantos pecados de una vez.”

Don Juan’s father, Don Diego, shamed because of Don Juan’s exploits, informs him that in punishment for the escapade in Italy he is banished from Seville. He remonstrates with Don Juan and warns him that after death, God will call him to answer for his crimes, to which Don Juan characteristically replies, “¿En la muerte? ¿Tan largo me lo fiáis? De aquí allá hay gran jornada.” Don Diego replies, “Pues no te vence castigo con cuanto hago y cuanto digo, a Dios tu castigo dejo.” Don Juan brushes off his father’s grief and criticism with the remark, “Luego las lágrimas copia, condición de viejo propia”, and rushes off to prepare his next trick.

Don Juan informs the Marquis that the rendezvous is arranged for midnight, then, borrowing the Marquis’ identifying cape, he himself keeps the appointment for eleven. Doña Ana, discovering that Don Juan has tricked her, raises the alarm, bringing her father, Don Gonzalo, an aging knight, who attempts to prevent Don Juan’s departure at swordpoint. Don Juan warns the old man away, but they fight, and Don Gonzalo is killed. As Don Juan flees, he meets the Marquis, arriving an hour after Don Juan, and returns his cape, whereupon the Marquis approaches the scene of the crime and is promptly arrested for Don Gonzalo’s murder.

Don Juan is banished by the king to Lebrija as punishment for the affair with Isabella. On the way, Don Juan and Catalinón pass through the village of Dos Hermanas, where preparations are underway for a wedding between Aminta and Batricio, two young peasants. They drop in on the wedding feast, and due to his station as a noble, Don Juan is seated next to the bride. The charming and sophisticated Don Juan quickly usurps the rustic Batricio, and with his clever mocking remarks drives him from his own wedding feast.

Later, Don Juan seeks out Batricio, and informs him that he and Aminta have previously been lovers. He tells Batricio that he intends to reclaim her and threatens his life if he does not withdraw. Believing that Aminta’s honor has been compromised, he withdraws. Don Juan gloats:

Con el honor le vencí,
porque siempre los villanos
tienen su honor en las manos,
y siempre miran por sí.
Que por tantas falsedades,
es bien que se entienda y crea,
que el honor se fué a la aldea
huyendo de las ciudades.
Pero antes de hacer el daño
le pretendo repara:
a su padre voy a hablar
para autorizar mi engaño.
Bien lo supe negociar:
gozarla esta noche espero.
La noche camina, y quiero
su viejo padre llama.
Estrellas que me alumbráis,
dadme en este engaño suerte,
si el galardón e la muerte
tan largo me lo guardáis.

Here again, we see how Don Juan despises the honor that others hold dear, and is especially gleeful that he can make their own morality a weapon against them in his despoilation of the innocent peasants. He orders Catalinón to saddle the mares, to prepare “para el alba, que de risa muerta, ha de salir mañana, de este engaño.” Catalinón’s warnings of impending doom provokes the usual “¿Tan largo me lo fiáis?” and “Vete, que ya me amonhina con tus temores estraños.”

Don Juan now sneaks into Aminta’s bedroom, and informs her that he is in love with her, and Batricio has cleared the field for him. Although she does not believe that Batricio has truly abandoned her, she is tempted by the prospect of marriage to a nobleman and succumbs to him. Don Juan enjoys her and returns to Seville. Don Juan is informed two weeks later that Aminta, although abandoned, continues to call herself Doña Aminta, to which he replies “¡Graciosa burla será!” Catalinón remarks, “Graciosa burla y sucinta, mas siempre la llorará.”

Tirso wrote a morality play, and in the end, Don Juan must receive his comeupance. While passing the tomb of Don Gonzalo, Don Juan notices his statue, and the inscription “Aquí aguarda del Señor, el más leal caballero, la venganza de un traidor.” Realizing who the “traidor” is, he mockingly pulls the statue’s beard, remarking “del mote reírme quiero. ¿Y habéisos vos de vengar?” He then invites the statue to seek vengence by coming around to his house for dinner that night.

That night, Don Gonzalo’s ghost, in the form of his statue, comes to Don Juan’s quarters to accept the invitation. Catalinón and the other servants are so petrified they can hardly serve dinner, but Don Juan maintains his equanimity as he dines and converses with his stone guest. Finally, the ghost leaves, inviting Don Juan to be his guest the following night at his tomb. Don Juan agrees, and after shaking hands, the ghost leaves and Don Juan feels fear for the first time, but dismisses it, intending to turn the upcoming visit into another exploit.

Pero todas son ideas
que da la imaginación:
el temor y temer muertos
es más villano temor;
que si un cuerpo noble, vivo,
con potencias y razón
y con alma, no se teme,
¿quién cuerpos muertos temió?
Mañana iré a la capilla
donde convidado soy,
por que se admire y espante
Sevilla de mi valor.

The next night, Don Juan keeps the appointment in the chapel of Don Gonzalo’s tomb. Don Gonzalo appears and tells Don Juan, “No entendí que me cumplieras la palabra, según haces de todos burla.” Don Juan asks if Don Gonzalo thought him a coward, to which Don Gonzalo replies that he did indeed, since Don Juan had fled after killing him. Don Juan answers “Huí de ser conocido, mas ya me tienes delante. Di presto lo que me quieres.” After being served a gruesome supper, Don Gonzalo asks Don Juan to take his hand if he is not afraid. “¿Eso dices? ¿Yo temor?”, Don Juan replies, and takes his hand, whereupon Don Juan is dragged down to hell by the ghost.

Analysis of the Character of Don Juan

Throughout the play, even unto his final end, Don Juan expresses no feelings of guilt or remorse (asking for confession at the end only indicates his acknowledgement of infractions against God’s laws, not remorse). Quite the contrary, he glories in his exploits and takes pride in his reputation as El Burlador. There is no plan to change, as he continually reminds Catalinón. Making insincere promises to obtain the objects of his seduction, he never will carry through on any of them. The only promise he keeps is the one made at the end, to dine with the ghost, and that for the purpose of garnering the applause of Seville for his bravery.

Don Juan lacks insight as to the significance of his behavior for himself and other people. His father’s grief at his behavior is seen as a tendency of the elderly to cry easily. Everything is a joke. He doesn’t see what everyone is upset about. He is clearly oblivious to punishment. He is reminded continually of punishment to come by Catalinón, his father, and those women he tricks. He is not an atheist , and intellectually believes that he will be punished, but it does not really register in his mind. “¡Que largo me lo fiáis!” is his characteristic refrain. As to earthly punishment, he believes “si es mi padre el dueño de la justicia, y el la privanza del rey, ¿qué temes?”

Don Juan’s affairs are loveless and shallow. Nothing deeper than gozar (to enjoy) is intended by Don Juan. They are driven by his impulses. He is obsessed with the idea that he must “enjoy” his particular conquest of the moment “por Tisbea estoy muriendo” and “¡Esta noche he de gozalla!”. A lasting relationship is definitely unwanted. He has friends and admirers, such as his oldest friend, the Marquis de la Mota, who even tries to emulate Don Juan as aBurlador, and upon whom he plays one of his most scurrilous tricks. No one is immune from being drawn into Don Juan’s web. The central theme of Don Juan’s seductions is not even the sexual enjoyment, but playing the trick. Cleckley’s comment regarding the sexual affairs of psychopaths is particularly apropos:

“Entanglements which go out of their way to mock ordinary human sensibility or what might be called basic decency are prevalent in their sexual careers. To casually ‘make’ or ‘lay’ the best friend’s wife and to involve a husband’s uncle or one of his business associates in a particularly messy triangular or quadrilateral situation are typical acts. Such opportunities, when available, seem not to repel but specifically to attract the psychopath. Neither distinct appeal of the sex object nor any formulated serious malignity toward those cuckolded or otherwise outraged seems to be a major factor in such choices. There is more to suggest a mildly prankish impulse such as might lead the ordinary man to violate small pedantic technicalities or dead and preposterous bits of formality as a demonstration of their triviality.”

Also relevant to the character of the Burlador, psychoanalyst Ethel Spector Person writes: “The psychopath’s insight is always directed toward his internal needs. These needs are not what they appear to be. He is not predominantly hedonistic, although some of his behavior, particularly sexual, might lead one to think so. Instead, he is motivated primarily by the need to dominate and humiliate either the person he is ‘taking’ or, very often, someone connected to a person with whom he is involved. He may, for instance, seduce a friend’s girlfriend.”

That feature of Don Juan’s character which has won admiration over the years has been his bravery. His father would lead us to believe it was manifested early, as he tells the king:

Gran señor, en tus heröicas manos
está mi vida, que mi vida propia
es la vida de un hijo inobediente;
que, aunque mozo, gallardo y valerosos,
y le llaman los mozos de su tiempo
el Héctor de Sevilla, porque ha hecho
tantas y tan extrañas mocedades,
la razón puede mucho.

When caught in his acts of illicit seduction, he is ready to die rather than submit. While his servants quail in the face of the convidado de piedra, Don Juan keeps his cool. He even has his servants sing verses for entertainment at the dinner which echo his seduction and “¡Que largo me lo fiáis!” theme. Only the premonitory handshake with the ghost evokes a physiologic fear response, which Don Juan quickly shrugs off. Don Juan keeps his final appointment despite the warnings, but even here the courage is tempered by vanity: “por que se admire y espante Sevilla de mi valor.”

Other Psychological Interpretations

In this century, Don Juan has been subjected to much psychological analysis. Not surprisingly, given their literary and humanistic bent, psychoanalysts have provided the bulk of this material. Much of this is devoted not to Tirso’s character so much as the myth that evolved from it, and attempts to explain why the myth has found such resonance in western thought.

No psychologist has devoted more study to Don Juan than Otto Rank, one of Freud’s followers, and his is representative of the psychoanalytic view of Don Juan. He states that “on the basis of psychoanalytic theory, we are prepared to derive such forces of overwhelming guilt and punishment–connected with strongly sexual fantasies–from the Oedipus complex. Clearly the endless series [of seduced women] along with the ‘injured third party’ characteristics of the Don Juan type appear to confirm this analytical interpretation: that the many women whom he must always replace anew represent to him the one irreplaceable mother; and that the rivals and adversaries whom he deceives, defrauds, struggles against, and finally even kills represent the one unconquerable mortal enemy, the father.” Rank even attributes Oedipal feelings to Tirso in that “he has fantasized, in addition to the traditional punishment, the crime that psychologically corresponds to it” (the serial seductions).

While no psychoanalyst has suggested that Don Juan is a psychopath, Rank’s analysis of him does fit with current psychoanalytic thinking about the psychology of psychopaths: “One can understand the psychopath’s psychodynamics by referring to several interrelated theoretical models. From the classical point of view, certain predominant dynamics are apparent. A psychopath spends his life directly and indirectly recreating the never-resolved oedipal constellation and symbolically reenacting, over and over, the oedipal struggle of the little boy who hopes to best his father and take on his possessions. The wish to best the father is usually extended into the wish to discredit and destroy him.” Modern psychoanalysts tend to see psychopathy as representing an immature stage in psychologic development, having strong narcissism and weak superego (that which controls impulses).

Gregorio Marañon finds Don Juan to be a feminine character because he lies, which he regards as a defense mechanism of the weak, and he brags in relating his exploits, which he does not consider to be a masculine trait. Others, such as Lenormand and Unamuno have agreed, calling him homosexual or at least neutral. One could certainly question Marañon’s opinions regarding the propensity of men vs. women to lie or brag. Suffice it to say he provides insufficient scientific evidence for his speculations. While psychopaths will often admit to homosexual experiences, it has not been established that homosexuals are more likely to be psychopaths than heterosexuals.

Possibly the most interesting psychological observation to be made on Don Juan was that of Gonzalo R. Lafora, a Spanish Neuropathologist. He viewed Don Juan as displaying the typical hysterical symptoms of “lying, exaggeration, egocentrism, disproportionate irritability resulting in violent psychological reaction to insignificant events, a rigid sense of etiquette, and an excessive predominance of the affective, emotional, and sexual over the intellectual and cerebral forces.”[But the burlas often involve more intellectual than erotic pleasure for Don Juan. -author’s note] This hysteria, Lafora remarks, “makes people continually seek to exchange old emotions for new. They are like children who want a plaything very badly until they get it, and take it to bed with them in order to see it on opening their eyes the first thing in the morning; after which the toy lies about the house broken and despised, replaced by another better or worse that has attracted the little one’s attention another day.” Weinstein comments on the metaphor: “Lafora’s comparison is a striking one. We can see a series of broken lives all around Don Juan’s bed.” Lafora’s observation is particularly interesting in that a connection between hysteria and psychopathy has long been recognized. Female relatives of male psychopaths show an increase in prevalence of hysteria, and many female psychopaths and some males are also hysterics.

Who was Don Juan?

Was there a real Don Juan? A great deal of speculation has revolved around possible models for Tirso’s character. While there were real noble families in Seville named Tenorio, de Ulloa, and de la Mota, no historical record exists chronicalling the exploits of one like Don Juan. Some have pointed to Miguel Mañara, Sevillan noble and libertine in his youth as the model, but Mañara was born too late, in 1626. Mañara later became quite penitent with guilt over his early misbehavior. This is uncharacteristic of a true psychopath. While their aggression and violence may temper with age, true reform or cure is almost unknown. Tirso did have literary models of characters somewhat like Don Juan in other plays of the Siglo de Oro, such as Leonido in Lope de Vega’s Fianza satisfecha (1612), and Leucino in Juan de la Cueva’s Infamador (1581), but none describe the psychopathic character with the clinical precision of El Burlador de Sevilla. “Could such a character have existed in Spain’s golden age?” asks Weinstein. Maeztu writes, “I do not believe that the figure of Don Juan can have arisen in Spain or any other country, because the elements that make up his psychology cannot be reduced to a common denominator. He runs after women yet does not fall in love; he is a libertine yet does not lose his strength; he is a spendthrift yet does not ruin himself; he disavows all ideas of social and religious duty yet always remains a nobleman proud of his stock and his pure Christian blood. Don Juan is a myth; he has never existed, he does not exist and will never exist except as a myth.” Taking the opposite view, Austen says, “In no other country and in no other age, could the stage have found such a hero as in Spain of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: and few other races would have received so naturally the legend which so completely expresses this character. Spain’s racial history, her climate, religion, and social life produce the very type which the legend demands at a time when this legend, older than her history, had become one with all the religious instincts of her people.”

Psychopaths are found to be operating in every race and culture that has been closely studied, thus we can infer that they indeed existed in Spain’s siglo de oro. While we can not rule out that Don Juan was created wholly by Tirso from his imagination, the consistency with which he fits the mold leads me to the opinion that Tirso was a careful observer of human nature and had come to know well at least one true psychopath. As a priest, he would certainly be in a position to observe the grief that can be wreaked upon humankind by the psychopath.

The Meaning of Don Juan

Tirso’s immediate purpose in using the Don Juan character may have been that of the practical moralist: he wished to inveigh against the notion of deathbed repentance as a defense against a libertine disregard for the laws of God and king, especially rankling when found among young nobles who could use their family position to avoid the normal punishments which would be accorded to the disobedient commoner. At the time the play was written, the issues of justification by grace and the role of good works in obtaining salvation were the subject of great debate. The Lutheran idea of justification by grace alone indeed allowed for such a deathbed repentance, and it is possible that Tirso had a theological point to make as well as a practical lesson (Underlined when he refused confession to Don Juan at the last).

On an allegorical level, Feal suggests that Tirso’s Don Juan represents “una figura diabólica”. Like the serpent in Eden, Don Juan approaches the women (Eve) beguiling them into a loss of honor with lies and promises. Tisbea and Aminta, peasants as they are, can certainly be seen as representing the innocence of Eve in the garden. What is more, they share the blame for their own downfall for being dissatisfied with their lot and harkening to Don Juan’s promises of elevation of station by marriage to a noble, something that could be seen as a violation of the natural order in Baroque times. Don Juan’s methods for seducing the noble women are cruder and not scrutinized as closely in the play, coming under cloak of darkness or cloak of (borrowed) cloak. While Don Juan is finally punished by God in the form of the avenging death, Don Juan also serves God’s purpose by functioning as Catalinón says, as a “castigo de las mujeres” The punishment is deserved, since, as confesses Tisbea in her “fuego” soliloquy: “Yo soy la que hacía siempre de los hombres burla tanta; que siempre las que hacen burla, vienen a quedar burladas.”

Those who have been close to and then deceived by psychopaths often see them as diabolical, and this view has been expressed in other literary works about them. Gary Gilmore’s tortured girlfriend Nicholle in Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song asks him: “Are you the Devil?” The psychopathic preacher played by Robert Mitchum in Charles Laughton’s film Night of the Hunter carries with him many of the accoutrements of the Prince of Darkness.

While Tirso’s purpose in presenting the Don Juan character may have been to encourage repentance, as George Bernard Shaw remarked, “the lesson which the moralist wishes to teach is not always the lesson his hearers choose to learn.” With the creation of Don Juan’s character, Tirso struck a chord which is still resonating today. Like a magnificent black panther: powerful, dangerous, and alien, the psychopathic character has a dark, perfect beauty that simultaneously attracts and repels us. One can imagine that the affect of the Don Juan character on the young caballeros of el siglo de oro may have been somewhat different than Tirso intended. Arrogant and fearless before even God and king, proud, quick to resort to the sword to defend his own honor, making no apologies for his behavior, like the conquistadores of the New World, Don Juan took what he wanted as if by right (Aminta: ¿En mi aposento a estas horas? Don Juan: Estas son las horas mías.). Austen argues that many of these ideals characterized the culture of Spain at that time and since, and Weinstein believes that burlar una mujer was a popular game played by young blades of the time.

Don Juan has also found his defenders in our time. The philosopher Camus finds in Don Juan something of an existentialist hero, a natural (or absurd) man: “This life gratifies his every wish, and nothing is worse than losing it. This madman is a great wise man. . . . Why should he give himself a problem in morality?. . . How easy it is to understand why the men of God call down punishment on his head. He achieves a knowledge without illusions which negates everything they profess. Loving and possessing, conquering and consuming–that is his way of knowing.” Literary men in our time have also glamorized and even championed the psychopath, but it is in film (the modern equivalent to Tirso’s theater) that the psychopath is portrayed to us most often, usually as a villain, but sometimes with sympathy. In our own society, there are subcultures which exalt frankly psychopathic ideals. Examples are the fringe right-wing groups such as “The Order”, left-wing terrorist groups, “Soldier of Fortune” devotees of Ramboiana, and the urban street gangs of young males. While all of these groups may contain non-psychopathic individuals who are merely following a different morality, these subcultures attract psychopathic leaders who often see the group as an opportunity for adventure and power.

Now for some speculation: why are there psychopaths? The answer one gives to this, of course, depends upon one’s philosophy. Tirso may have answered: “because of fallen human nature and sin”, or even “to tempt us and to punish men (women?) for their sins.” A scientist must look elsewhere for an answer. While we are a social species, the engine of evolution is variation. The psychopath is common enough, with uniform enough characteristics, that he might be thought of as a variant upon normal. Variants that survive and are genetically passed on must carry some advantage for at least a significant portion of the variant organisms. While many if not most psychopaths seem to be misfits, spending much of their lives incarcerated in penal institutions, it has been recognized that many are clever enough or restrained enough, to avoid being “unmasked.” It is easy to think of fields of endeavor (politics, business, even science) where a lack of ethics might present a decided advantage, provided the unethical behavior can be shrouded from the scrutiny of associates and society. Even when the misdeeds are uncovered (often through the psychopath’s poor judgement), the psychopath may succeed in maintaining the respect and admiration through his charisma, talents, and abilities. (Does the world in general respect Nixon or Carter more?) Many of the “greatest” politicians and businessmen have made their fame and fortunes living according to their own rules and full-speed-ahead-damn-the-torpedos, with their own agendas. Those who succeed, have their faults forgotten. Perhaps the psychopaths then, even serve a social purpose in our species. At least, we must recognize that sometimes the line between psychopathy and genius grows fine.

Conclusions

Like Walt Whitman apropos the stars, Weinstein appears to disapprove of the attempts to study Don Juan psychologically as an “interesting case”. He feels that this reduces the myth and strips it of its power. Such might be the case, if we could fully understand such a complex subject, but although we can describe the psychopath, we do not understand him. What we do know, for me at least, does not reduce but expands the wonder at the beautiful complexity of brain and behavior. One of the values of literature is vicarious experience. We can experience persons and situations that we would never meet in the flesh. We can absorb some of the wisdom of dead people and vanished cultures. One can never definitively explain a work of literature or art. Because such explanation would not only embody every thought put into it by its creator, but every thought which will be evoked in every reader, even those not yet born, every work is infinite.

Gordon Banks

For a fictionalized representation of a psychopathic social predator, check out my new novel, The Seducer, previewed on the links below:

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness