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


Fifty Shades of Sadism: Psychopaths as Lovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


A Better and Stronger You: Leaving the Psychopath for Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Why Do Sociopaths Waste (Our) Time?

In reading Donna Andersen‘s book Love Fraud, I was struck by how much time  and energy her sociopathic ex-husband spent inventing phony business schemes which were doomed to failure. Given his intelligence, charisma and powers of persuasion, he could have created enough successful businesses to last him several lifetimes. But he chose not to create a single successful business venture during his predatory scams of so many trusting and loving partners. So the question arises: Why? Why do sociopaths waste (our) time?

The main answer I’ve given before is that sociopaths don’t have any constructive goals in life. On the contrary, they aim to destroy people and their lives however they can: emotionally, physically and sometimes also financially. Their behavior fits into a pattern that destroys human life and its meaning largely by wasting our time. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to who has been involved with a sociopath expresses one main regret: I wasted my life, for x number of months or years, on a fantasy, on a total fraud.

The feelings of “love” a sociopath expresses are never real. At best, they express need for you (or, more precisely, for using you for their purposes) or sexual desire. The  so-called “truths” a sociopath shares with you are largely lies or manipulative bits of truth, intended to sway you in some way that serves his purposes. Often a sociopath will invest an enormous amount of time and energy to construct a web of lies. He will repeat to you the same false information, to lead you to believe that he’s trustworthy; that he shares your life goals; that he loves you. He will even get others to corroborate those lies or half-truths. He will pretend to be interested in your interests. Not only that, but he will mirror you consistently enough and for a long enough period of time to gain your trust. He will sometimes go so far as to ingratiate himself with your family and friends, to gain their confidence as well. He will also take great pains, for as long as you’re useful to him, to hide his bad behavior, including the cheating, web of lies, crimes and/or financial scams. He will put in his best effort to brainwash you into accepting his false version of reality. Even the energy sociopaths invest in demeaning their targets is enormous, given that to be effective they do it gradually, insult by insult, demand by demand, over time. If they became abusive upfront and at once, their victims would be much more likely to be shocked by the mistreatment and reject them.

Because they find no inherent meaning in human life–no higher purpose, no real feelings of loyalty and love–sociopaths perceive life as an empty stretch of time that they must somehow fill up with diversions, schemes and games at other people’s expense. Even most sociopaths who are well-educated and intelligent waste their natural abilities and their lives, on playing constant mind games, pursuing a string of vacuous and ultimately unsatisfying sexual relationships, manipulation, and often pointless deceit. Sociopaths lie to attain their short-term goals, of course. But they also lie when it doesn’t serve any obvious useful purpose, just for the fun of it. Deception fills their empty lives with sadistic entertainment and ephemeral pleasure. As Janis Joplin sings in Me and Bobby McGee, for them “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” In that sense, sociopaths are free.

Normal people, however, have everything to lose in becoming involved with sociopaths. For us, time is very precious and life is not something to be wasted. It’s filled with positive desires and goals, with the meaning we find in fulfilling emotional bonds with those we care about, with what we can accomplish for both ourselves and others. Because of the vast difference in our concepts of time, a sociopath has nothing to lose in engaging in empty diversions while we have nothing to gain from them. This is why victims involved with sociopathic predators describe their time together as wasted time: as months or even years that can never be recaptured and were essentially thrown away. Most sociopaths don’t commit actual murder. Wasting our time with their lies, intimidation tactics, manipulation and mind games is the most common way in which sociopaths waste our lives.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Why Sociopaths Win By Losing

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

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

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

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

Perhaps a sociopath’s only fear is being unmasked as evil, because that exposes the nature of his game. As Harrison Koehli eloquently puts it, “[Psychopaths] hang on to their masks with such conviction because they are predators, and without them, they cannot survive… To let down that facade would reveal that they are little more than unfeeling intraspecies predators that feed off the pain and suffering of others and thus destroy their chances of feeding. Even a psychopath is aware of the consequences of such a revelation. His ‘dreams’ of a boot forever stomping on the face of humanity are crushed.” Unfortunately, for as long as there will be people protecting, colluding with, and covering for sociopaths, these parasites will continue to feed on us, even if it means the destruction of both predator and prey. Sociopaths play a very dangerous game, whereby they win by losing. 

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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

Psychopathic Seduction: The Case of Drew Peterson

It may seem strange that I’m choosing to open my discussion of psychopaths as lovers and, more generally, of the process of psychopathic seduction itself, by revisiting the case of Drew Peterson. By now we’ve seen and heard enough about—and from—Drew Peterson to strongly suspect that he murdered two of his wives. Despite his reputation as a contemporary Bluebeard—or perhaps because of it—he’s engaged to be married to yet another much younger woman.

Drew Peterson offers a case in point in how psychopaths manage to seduce numerous desirable women in spite of their dubious reputations. Although the evidence suggests that he mistreated his partners, Peterson obviously has great ease in reeling them in to begin with. Psychopaths tend to be very seductive—and extraordinarily dangerous—lovers.  I’ll rely upon Hoda Kotb’s interview with Drew Peterson to use his case as a point of departure for describing how psychopaths use charm, deceit, money, gifts, emotional blackmail and eventually intimidation and abuse to ensnare women into their sometimes fatal nets. I’ll also make use of Robert Hare and Paul Babiak’s insights elaborated in Snakes in Suits to outline the process of psychopathic seduction, from the initial idealization, to the inevitable devaluation, to the (sometimes literal) discarding of the women they target.

Many of us followed on the news the story of Stacy Peterson’s disappearance on October 28, 2007. Stacy was Drew’s fourth wife. His third wife had died under mysterious circumstances a few years earlier. The more investigators probed into the details of Drew Peterson’s personal life–particularly his turbulent relationships with women–the more they suspected that Stacy met with foul play at the hands of her husband. In fact, Drew was recently arrested and charged with the murder of his third wife, Kathy Savio. During the past few years, he welcomed the news coverage. He basked in the public attention, even though it was negative. He also enjoyed playing cat and mouse games with the police. In his interview with Kotb, Drew stated that he believed that Stacy, who was starting to express dissatisfaction with their marriage, had run off with another man. He placed his hand to his chest and declared, “I’m still in love with Stacy and I miss her so.”

Yet his subsequent actions belied this statement. His so-called grieving period for the disappearance of his fourth wife was rather brief. Only a short while later, he became involved with and eventually got engaged to another young woman. Although Stacy’s family, the police and the media believed that Drew Peterson murdered his wife, he vehemently denied any wrongdoing.  In fact, Drew described himself as a victim of the media. “I’m really being portrayed as a monster here. Nobody’s defending me. Nobody’s stepping up to say, ‘No, he’s a decent guy. He helps people. He does this. He does that.’ So somebody’s got to say something.” That somebody was none other than Peterson himself, who tooted his own horn.  During the interview with Kotb, he not only proclaimed his innocence but also waxed poetic about the honeymoon period with his fourth wife. He claimed that the seduction was mutual: in fact, that Stacy pursued him. “But I–she was beautiful. And it was exciting having a young, beautiful woman interested in me. And I pursued the relationship… Every time I tried to get out of the relationship, she would pursue me. Leaving little roses and notes on my car and stuff. So it was like it was exciting.”  According to Drew, they met while he was still married to his third wife. In his own words, their affair moved “Pretty quick. Pretty quick.”

Tellingly, Drew focused on his wife’s difficult upbringing. He told the journalist that Stacy was one of five children, two of whom had died young. Stacy’s mother was, as he puts it, “in and out of trouble with the law.” He emphasized that as an older, seasoned man with a good career and decent income, he appeared to the young woman like a knight in shinning armor. Stacy hoped that he would rescue her from a troubled life and poverty. Drew also stated that he was attracted not only to Stacy’s youthful vulnerability, but also to her kind, trusting and loving nature. Stacy’s friend, Pam Bosco, also describes her as “a darling. Bubbly, warm caretaker, you know. Just very, very, very sweet. Very much a family girl. Someone who wanted a family and wanted to be part of a family.”

Drew Peterson’s buddy, Steve Carcerano, offers an equally glowing description of Peterson himself. “Drew’s a nice guy. He’s a happy guy. Happy go lucky. A jokester type of guy.” Drew’s charm, sense of humor and superficially happy disposition impressed not only his buddies, but also Stacy herself. Initially, they also inspired her trust. Members of her family stated that the nice policeman who showered her with attention and promised her security seemed like a dream come true to her. Drew had a good job and a house in the suburbs. By Stacy’s standards, he was wealthy. In the beginning of their affair, he didn’t hesitate to share some of that wealth with her. Kerry Simmons, Stacy’s stepsister, stated in an interview that Drew bought Stacy a car, furnished her apartment and bought her jewelry and other gifts that a young woman would appreciate. “And she’s 17 years old so–it looked good to her. It looked good. It felt good. It was good.  She was head over heels over him. She really did like him,” Simmons added. By all accounts, Drew seemed to reciprocate Stacy’s feelings. Steve Carcerano stated, “When he met Stacy, it seemed like he had a glow in his eye. You know, she’s young. She’s attractive. He seemed very happy with her.”

Yet in the eyes of many, this May-December romance fell short of the ideal. First of all, Drew was already married, which, to Stacy’s family, wasn’t exactly a detail. Not only did he already have a wife, but also she was his third wife. They didn’t find this pattern particularly reassuring. He also had four children, including two young sons who lived with him. Stacy’s family believed that she was much too young to marry Drew Peterson. Yet Stacy felt too much in love, or too attracted to what she perceived as a golden opportunity, to heed her family’s warnings. She stayed with Drew. In 2003, he divorced his third wife–who, incidentally, had also been his mistress–to marry her. Drew admitted during his interview with Kotb that he was very persistent with Stacy. He stated, “I proposed to her on several occasions. Just asked her to marry me. First couple times she said no. Third time she said yes.” When they married in a Bolingbrook Field on October 2003, Stacy was only nineteen. She had already given birth to their first child. The second child, a girl, followed shortly thereafter. The couple also lived with Drew’s younger sons from his previous marriage.

According to her family and friends, Stacy enjoyed motherhood. Kerry Simmons stated that she “Never saw her upset with those kids. I mean she loved those kids so much. Those were like–they were her life. And I think she really wanted to give those kids the life that she felt she didn’t have, or the opportunities that she didn’t have growing up. She did birthday parties, marshmallow roasts, and backyard barbeques.” Before her disappearance, Stacy told her friend that she was looking forward to her daughter’s first trick-or-treating outing. She never got that opportunity, however. Three days before Halloween, Drew reported his wife missing. Stacy’s family, friends and volunteer groups formed search parties to look for her. Drew, however, refused to participate. He speculated that his young wife had run away with another man.

But Stacy’s family didn’t buy his story. They knew enough about their marriage and about Drew’s behavior from what Stacy herself had told them to suspect that her husband had murdered her. Stacy had confided in her stepsister, Kerry Simmons, in particular. During her interview, Simmons stated that initially the couple “seemed to be doing well. They looked happy, they acted happy and they looked, you know they looked fine.” But after awhile, slowly but surely, their marriage started to deteriorate. Family and friends told investigators that the couple was fighting frequently. Furthermore, whereas in the beginning of their relationship Drew had been very polite and flattering towards Stacy, after they got married he began to criticize her. As a result, they claimed, Stacy became insecure about her appearance. She had several plastic surgeries. Kerry Simmons also alleges that Drew’s abusive behavior escalated to physical violence. “He threw her down the stairs. There was an instance where he had knocked her into the TV. I think one time he actually picked her up and threw her across the room. I mean she’s small. She’s 100 pounds.” At that point, Stacy’s family and friends urged her to leave her husband. She confessed that she was too afraid of him. She feared that he’d  kill her.

Given Drew’s behavior, Stacy had sound basis for her fears. During the course of their four-year marriage, he became increasingly controlling, to the point of stalking her. Their neighbor, Sharon Bychowskyi, stated during her interview that Drew “would check in at home like clockwork throughout his shift. So he would go in at five, he would do his roll call, he’d come back. He would eat here in uniform, then he’d go back out on the beat. He’d stay an hour or so. Come back.” Stacy’s family told investigators that Drew followed his wife around in his car even when she went out to meet her sisters. He grew increasingly jealous and wanted to make sure that Stacy wasn’t seeing another man. Not that he had been above that kind of behavior himself. In fact, each time he divorced it was because of infidelity. Each time he married his newest girlfriend. Moreover, in each marriage, Drew had numerous affairs. But this time he had married a much younger and attractive woman. The tables were turned. He was the one worried about Stacy’s infidelity rather than the other way around.

In his interview, Peterson put an entirely different spin on the facts presented by Stacy’s family, friends and neighbors. He denied that their marriage was going as badly as they maintained. He also denied engaging in any kind of domestic abuse, be it verbal or physical. As for the claim that he fostered Stacy’s insecurity through criticism, thus leading her to get several plastic surgeries, he turned that statement around. He maintained that if his wife sought to improve her appearance, it’s because he indulged her vanity and catered to her every whim: “Stacy was spoiled. I pampered her. It’s–a lot of that’s my fault. Stacy wanted it, she got it. High-end jewelry. Name it. She got it.” Peterson asserted that it’s because he pampered his wife, giving her everything she asked for, that she had so many cosmetic surgeries. “Stacy wanted it she got it. I mean she wanted a boob job, I got her a boob job. She wanted a tummy tuck, she got that. She wanted braces, Lasik surgery, hair removal, anything. Stacy loved male attention.”

Stacy’s family, neighbors and friends, however, offer a different interpretation of Drew’s so-called generosity. They believe his gifts to Stacy functioned as bribes, to persuade her to stay with him despite the abuse. They see Drew as alternating between the carrot and the stick. The physical violence, intimidation, stalking and threats were obviously the stick. The gifts represented the carrot. Sharon Bychowski observed: “Most recently he bought her a motorcycle to ask her if it would buy him three more months with her.” Apparently, however, neither the carrot nor the stick worked anymore. Stacy’s family and friends told investigators that by the time she disappeared, the young woman was determined to leave her husband. Stacy had told them that she didn’t want to end up like Kathy Savio, the previous Mrs. Peterson.

Drew had also wooed Kathy very romantically at first, when she had also been his mistress. Initially, their marriage also appeared to be the very picture of happiness. Steve Carcerano stated, “My first impression of Drew and Kathy was a happy couple when they first moved there. Drew says he met Kathy Savio on a blind date in 1992.”  Moreover, Kathy was also significantly younger than Drew, in her late twenties, when they became involved.  He swept her off her feet, seducing her with his charm, sense of humor, flattery, gifts and promises of a happy future together. Even Kathy’s sister, Sue Doman, felt initially impressed with the jovial policeman. In an interview she stated, “He was funny. He talked–you know, he would joke around, got along with everybody. Went out of his way to meet people.” Not only was Drew outgoing, but also he came on strong. He acted extremely affectionate with his girlfriend, even in public. Doman recalled that he told her, “‘Hey, you know, I love your sister.’ Would hug her and kiss her in front of us. Just a very happy person, joking around.” Shortly thereafter, Peterson proposed to her. Unlike Stacy, Kathy said “yes” on the first try.

The couple married in 1992 and had two sons together. The pattern that would emerge in Drew’s fourth marriage was already present in his third. Although he had been highly flattering at first, once they married Drew began criticizing Kathy’s looks. The constant put-downs led her to feel increasingly insecure about her physical appearance. He started cheating on her as well, as he had on his previous two wives. As a result, the couple fought. Characteristically, Peterson blamed their altercations solely on his wife’s hot temper.  He told Koeb, “Our relationship started deteriorating. She was more–she was easy–easily agitated and more demanding. She would snap quickly.”

Sue Doman, however, remembers it differently. She asserted in her interview that Peterson was the one abusing his wife, not the other way around. “He would call her names… Horrible, swearing names. ‘Bitch,’ ‘whore.’ ‘You look like a dog.’ She needed to go to Jenny Craig. She needed to do anything to make herself look better because she was looking horrible.” She also stated that Peterson beat his wife. Hospital records confirm that Kathy went to the emergency room, following one of their fights. Sue Doman elaborated on this incident: “He took her head and took her hair, she had long hair, and he beat her against a wooden table. He was angry with her… She had a laceration on her head. She became dazed. She had black and blue marks all over her.” But even physical violence didn’t persuade Kathy to divorce her husband. An anonymous letter that informed her about his affair with Stacy did, however. Although Drew denied the romantic relationship, and even attacked his wife for voicing such suspicions, there was overwhelming evidence that he was being unfaithful to her.

Kathy finally filed for divorce. At the same time, however, she felt apprehensive. She feared that her husband would kill her. She expressed her anxiety to family members and friends. As their relationship deteriorated further while his relationship with Stacy progressed, Drew launched a smear campaign against his ex-wife. Sue Doman described it as follows: “He convinced everyone and anyone that she was absolutely crazy, mentally ill.” Shortly after their 2004 divorce, Drew found Kathy dead in the bathtub. Her death was officially declared an “accidental drowning.” But following Stacy’s disappearance, investigators reopened Kathy Savio’s case. Certain facts didn’t fit this description. For one thing, the bathtub had been empty. Also, Kathy had bruises and a gash on her body, which suggested physical assault. In addition, Stacy’s own mysterious disappearance established an unsettling pattern.

How does Drew Peterson explain the fact that out of four wives one ended up dead and another missing without a trace? “I guess this is bad luck,” he told Hoda Koeb. Not bad enough, apparently, since shortly thereafter he ended up courting another attractive young woman.  She agreed to marry him despite the fact that her family, along with the general public, saw a disturbing pattern in Drew Peterson’s pursuit and treatment of women.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction