Answers to common questions about psychopathy

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Recently the translator of my psychopathy blog in Italian, Relazioni Pericolose (www.relazionipericoloseblog.wordpress.com), has conveyed to me some of the questions that Italian readers have about psychopathy. Since I think that these questions are equally relevant to English-speaking readers, I’m including below their questions and my answers:

 

QUESTIONS/ANSWERS ABOUT RELAZIONI PERICOLOSE/DANGEROUS LIAISONS by Claudia Moscovici

    Has the psychopath a sort of addiction from emotions? Is his obsession for his prey similar to the obsession that a victim experiences toward him?

Yes and no. The psychopath is, above all, an emotional predator. He (or she, if the psychopath is a woman) gets high on the sense of power that controlling others, and seeing them addicted to him, creates. He also becomes obsessed with hooking new victims, and can invest a lot of energy in getting them to believe the fictions he creates: that he loves them, cares about them, and will give them everything that they want (be it happiness, love, wealth, etc.). However, the psychopath’s emotions are at the same time very shallow. A psychopath is incapable of forming real, caring and deep attachments to others. So even his obsessions—and thus the “highs” he experiences when he hooks new victims–tend to be shallow and fleeting. He moves from one victim from another; from one high to another.

       What determines boredom?

A psychopath’s boredom is created by the fact he (or she) has no emotional depth. He can’t care much about others; he has no enduring bonds that aren’t based on mutual interest, or mutual using. Every human contact for the psychopath is a power game, one that he plans to win. Normal people avoid boredom by finding meaning in their personal relationships, caring about those close to them, caring about their jobs and endeavors. Nothing of the sort can root a psychopath, so he’s constantly looking for new relationships, new jobs and places, new sources of diversion and pleasure. But sooner or later they all bore him.

       What determines the duration of the three different phases of the relation?

There are many variables in how the process of idealize, devalue and discard plays out in  a relationship with a psychopath: such as whether the psychopath is charismatic enough to find many victims; whether the victim proves a challenge to him or is easy to get; for how long the victim is useful to the psychopath; and how much a victim accepts the eventual mistreatment. Some victims never leave the psychopath no matter how much he abuses them. The toxic bond becomes too strong; their self-esteem has been worn down; they feel like they are nothing without the psychopath. There are also some victims who begin to adopt psychopathic traits (lack of empathy, shallowness of emotions, pleasure in hurting others) either because they had such tendencies or because the psychopath encourages such behavior.

     Can he feel happiness? What does it mean for him?

If happiness implies depth of emotion, caring about others, then no, the psychopath can’t feel that. But a psychopath often feels emotional thrills or highs when he gets his way, succeeds at a new conquest or endeavor, or wins some kind of battle with someone.

     Why do psychopaths repeat the same mistakes relationship after relationship and why don’t they ever learn from them?

Psychopaths never learn because they don’t want to learn from their mistakes. They don’t consider them to be mistakes. Psychopaths are highly narcissistic and amoral individuals who take no responsibility for their wrongdoing. If something goes wrong, they blame it on others. If they hurt their victims, they blame their victims. Often they take great pleasure in hurting others. Sometimes psychopaths do go to therapy to “improve” a relationship, but that occurs only when it’s in their perceived self-interest to stay in that relationship and it’s always a ruse (they fool their partners, the therapist, their family into believing they can and want to change for the better).

      Do psychopaths remember their protoemotions after the end of the relation or are they able to delete them completely?

Psychopaths may recall the sense of the excitement they felt at the beginning of a relationship, but they don’t feel any real, deeper attachment for the person who provoked it. In other words, they remember fondly their excitement, not their partner or relationship. This is why psychopaths tend to search for a new person or, more likely, persons, that can provoke in them the same excitement while forgetting about the past person or persons they felt excitement with.

      You’re always talking about psychopaths. Are there deep differences between them and malignant narcissists?

There are differences between psychopaths and narcissists in that all psychopaths are narcissistic (self-absorbed, selfish) but not all narcissists are psychopathic (engage in game-like behavior, are pathological liars, etc.). However, malignant narcissists have such high narcissism that they’re very close to psychopaths on the psychological spectrum.

     What does a psychopath feel after his prey escapes?

Very often, anger. Rage. This is why the most dangerous period of time for a victim is right after she’s escaped from a psychopath or any kind of abuser, when he’s likely to be very angry that his possession, or someone he controlled, has dared to leave him.

      When he’s hovering is he always in bad faith? Does he hope to change?

 A psychopath may feel that it’s in his immediate interest to make some changes to please his spouse, his family, his friends, etc. But those changes are momentary, and always based on short-term, perceived self-interest. They’re not other-regarding in any way. So my answer is that psychopaths won’t make any positive difference for the sake of others in an enduring manner.

      During the idealization stage is he aware of the dramatic end of the relationship for his fault or could he hope to have found Mrs. Right?

 Psychopaths have only fleeting feelings, so at some moments a psychopath may feel so excited by a partner that he may feel he found “Mrs. Right.” But, at the same time, psychopaths are always strategic and manipulative and their feelings are always very shallow. So the “Mrs. Right” of one day, or one month, or one year isn’t going to be the same one as the next day, month or year. The concept of “Mrs. Right” or “true love” has no real meaning for a psychopath because he can’t really love.

      What is the exposure effect? What does he feel when a girlfriend expose him?

Anger and derision. In fact, often a psychopath will preemptively smear his victim—try to destroy her reputation to acquaintances and friends—so that when the victim exposes his behavior to others they won’t believe her.

      The Italian blog Relazioni Pericolose has reached almost 20.000 hits in one month. It seems that Italian women need advice and counseling. Why is psychopathy is so little known?

Psychopathy is a big problem—affecting tens of millions of lives—all over the world. Although psychopaths constitute a small percentage of the human population—between 1 to 4 percent, depending which statistics you rely on—they are very sociable and promiscuous and therefore touch (and destroy) many lives. The popular perception about psychopaths is that they’re serial killers or murderers. So most people feel relatively safe, like they won’t run into a psychopath. The reality is that few psychopaths murder. So most people don’t realize that they have very high chances of interacting with more “ordinary” psychopaths: serial cheaters, serial frauds and serial liars, rather than serial killers. The blogs on psychopathy that are informed by research, such as this one, and now the blog in Italian translation, Relazioni Pericolose (www.relazionipericoloseblog.wordpress.com), can reach millions of readers because they bring the reality of psychopathy home. Pathological relationships can touch your life. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship, it may have been with a psychopath. Few people are immune from harmful relationships. Information can help all of us to identify dangerous relationships, or as the name of my book on psychopathy indicates, Dangerous Liaisons. Because, let’s face it, the most toxic relationships are romantic relationships with predatory individuals. They can cause unbelievable harm, but with knowledge we can heal and move on with our lives.

       Today Italian Blog Relazioni Pericolose is one month old. We have already had thousands and thousands of visits. It seems like Italian women need help, through therapy, specific books and finding each other on recovery forums on the Internet. What  is your first advice for a fast and safe healing?

My advice to Italian women is first of all to find well-researched information on abusive relationships, psychopathy and narcissism, in reliable blogs and books. Without such information it’s easy to “normalize” abuse. In the case of charismatic psychopaths, it’s easy to remember the excitement of the honeymoon phase, attribute it to “romantic love”, and then find reasons for its dissipation and later abuse in themselves instead of their disordered partners. In Latin cultures, such as Italy, France and my native country Romania, it’s easy to mistake even negative traits, such as jealousy, possessiveness and the controlling nature of psychopaths, for passion. But Don Juan is appealing only in opera and fiction. In real life, such personalities spell disaster. Accepting that the romantic phase of a pathological relationship was never about love or even passion, but about conquest, dupery and a new thrill for the psychopath is very important. Then, once victims seek information and establish that they’ve been roped in by a pathological partner, escape and go “no contact”. Each contact with a psychopath offers him an opportunity for him to rope you in, manipulate you and harm you again, usually even worse than before. This doesn’t mean living in fear of him. It means leaving him behind and never engaging again with others that share his personality traits.  

Getting over a relationship with a psychopath can be difficult when children, even adult children, are involved. How can one protect them from manipulation and abuse from their father? How can one reduce the risk that they will grow up like him?

Psychopathy can be genetic, in which case there’s little that can be done. One sees some children who grow up beloved, and still turn out psychopathic as adults. However, it’s more common that psychopaths are made: by abuse, trauma, or bad examples. If one parent identifies a personality disorder in the other parent, the best solution for the safety of the children is to divorce the pathological parent and gain full custody so that the children have as little contact as possible with the pathological. Nothing good can come out of contact with a pathological parent. The risk of abuse is high and even if the pathological doesn’t sexually or physically abuse the child or children, he or she subjects them to manipulation and brainwashing which are also harmful.

        How do you stop the psychopath’s devastating effect upon the society? Wouldn’t it be necessary to increse people’s awareness not only with books such as yours, blogs and the media, but also through the involvement of schools and legislative recognition of this social phenomenon?

Yes, certainly increasing awareness of this psychological phenomenon in schools and through laws   would be very helpful. In the United States we’ve seen the success of such measures in the anti-bullying campaigns that have gained currency in public schools. The emphasis should be on the harmful actions of psychopaths, just as they are on the harmful actions of bullies (some of whom are psychopathic in fact). Actions are easier to identify than a diagnosis of psychopathology. Rather than labelling people as “psychopaths” we should be aware of the symptoms but above all focus on their harmful actions.

       The sales of books about psychopathy and the popularity of blogs about personality disorders would indicate that psychopaths are far more numerous than the statistics indicate (that they are between 1 and 4 percent of the population). What does this discrepancy mean? The phenomenon is more alarming then the percentage would suggest. Maybe simple “assholes” are misread by psychopaths?

Sometimes they may be, indeed, just assholes. However we have to keep in mind that psychopaths tend to be very sociable and sexually promiscuous. One single psychopath can have hundreds of sexual partners, and feign romance and love to many of those. So a few psychopaths can touch many lives. Similarly, when psychopaths acquire political power—as in the case of Stalin, Hitler, Mao and other evil dictators—their policies can influence the behavior of the entire population, degrading and even destroying human ethics. So sometimes it only takes a few psychopaths to adversely affect tens of millions of lives.

         One of the main problems is the victims’ attitudes. Many victims choose to stay in the relationship even once they discover the pathology. They know perfectly well the cause, the pathology. They are perfectly aware that the psychopath is not going to change but they don’t leave him. Often when they’re left by him they still miss him. Is the main problem psychopathy or the love addiction? Which are the weaknesses that victims must work on to escape from the next predator?

This is a very good question, since we have no control over a psychopath, but we can have some control over whom we choose to be with and how we deal with the trauma that the psychopath causes. Psychopaths create love and sexual addictions. They come on strong, shower us with flattery, promise us whatever we wish. They tend to be far more romantic and sexual and tender initially than normal men. But it’s all an act to acquire power over us to do as they please with our lives, our property. So once we come to this realization, we must learn to let go of the past as well as examine what in our natures needed what the psychopath offered. Why do we need the exaggerated romance, or sex, or gifts, or flattery? Why do we fall for the individuals who offer it? Escaping the psychopathic bond involves identifying the pathological traits in the psychopath and our own propensity to be attracted to some of those pathological traits.

       Is it possible to have a double personality: one, a psychopath with mistresses and lovers—cold, cunning, deceptive and uncaring—and another with the wife and kids—caring, a good husband and father.

 A psychopath shows his true self—the cold, manipulative, cunning side—to those he needs less. If a psychopath feels he needs his wife and children for his image, he will put more effort in creating the mask of a good father and husband. When he wants to divorce his wife, he’ll show his true ugly self. Either way, a psychopath is “good” only as a fake act with those he feels he needs at the moment. None of his good—and by that I mean other-regarding–qualities are real.

       What is the effect of his public exposure: shame, missing the victim or revenge?

Usually anger, revenge and ridicule of the victim. A psychopath doesn’t feel shame. He may fake shame in certain circumstances, when convenient for him, but he doesn’t feel it. And a psychopath misses using certain people at times. But he doesn’t miss people in themselves, for who they are rather than what they can offer him.

        It’s very common for victims to feel a hunger for revenge. What is the best revenge and, above all, how can a victim get over it?

The desire for justice is well-founded. The desire for revenge, however, is self-destructive. It eats victims alive, makes them dwell on the painful past and, ironically, keeps them emotionally attached to the psychopath, even if in a negative sense. So victims must do what they can to get legal justice, when appropriate, but not foster feelings of revenge. Living well is the best revenge.

        How should the victim behave in case he or she meets the psychopath by chance?

If the victim has been successful at implementing no contact, I would continue that policy and, if possible, act as if she never knew the psychopath and like he or she was never a part of one’s life.

 

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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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


My Interview about Psychopathy and Books in Celebrity Dialogue

Claudia Moscovici: Novelist, Non-Fiction Author & Art Critic PDF Print E-mail
March 11th, 2012
Interview of Claudia Moscovici on CelebrityDialgoue.com
Claudia Moscovici is an American Romanian Novelist, non-fiction author and art critic. Her latest novel “The Seducer” is a psychological story of a married woman trapped in the love of an unassuming psychopath. Claudia is the author of “Velvet Totalitarianism,” a critically acclaimed novel about a Romanian family’s survival in an oppressive communist regime due to the strength of their love.

CelebrityDialogue: What is the basic plot of your latest novel “The Seducer”?

Claudia: “The Seducer,” my new psychological thriller, shows both the hypnotic appeal and the deadly danger of psychopathic seduction. This novel traces the downfall of a married woman, Ana, who, feeling trapped in a lackluster marriage, has a torrid affair with Michael, a man who initially seems to be her soul mate and her dream come true. Although initially torn between love for her family and her passion for Michael, Ana eventually gives in to her lover’s pressure and asks her husband for divorce. That’s when Michael’s “mask of sanity” unpeels to reveal the monstrously selfish psychopath underneath. Written in the tradition of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” my novel shows that true love can be found in our ordinary lives and relationships rather than in flimsy fantasies masquerading as great passions.
CelebrityDialogue: What inspired you to write this novel?

Claudia: I have always been a big fan of nineteenth-century fiction that focuses on the theme of seduction: I’m thinking of classic novels like Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary”. I also read with great interest the libertine novel tradition of the eighteenth-century: my favorite in this genre being Laclos’ epistolary novel, “Dangerous Liaisons”. I think in his depiction of Valmont, Laclos gets the seducer profile exactly right: he is a dangerous psychopath—essentially a social predator who plays games with the lives of others, having malicious fun at their expense– rather than a libertine maverick (as in Casanova) or a tragic romantic hero (as in Tolstoy). I did four years of psychology research of the most dangerous personality disorders—psychopathy and narcissism—to create a realistic and up-to-date psychological profile of the seducer in my new novel by the same name.
CelebrityDialogue: Would you like to introduce our readers to a non-fiction book, “Dangerous Liaisons”, that you wrote in 2011?

Claudia: Although the theme of psychopathy comes up mostly when we hear about (psychopathic) serial killers, it is actually much more commonplace and pervasive, in both fact and fiction. What do O. J. Simpson, Scott Peterson and the timeless seducers of literature epitomized by the figures of Don Juan and Casanova have in common? They are charismatic, glib and seductive men who also embody the most dangerous human qualities: a breathtaking callousness, shallowness of emotion and the incapacity to love. In other words, these men are psychopaths. Unfortunately, most psychopaths don’t advertise themselves as heartless social predators. They come across as charming, intelligent, friendly, generous, romantic and kind. Through their believable “mask of sanity,” they lure many of us into their dangerous nets. My nonfiction book, “Dangerous Liaisons,” explains clearly, for a general audience, what psychopaths are, why they act the way they do, how they attract us and whom they tend to target. Above all, this book helps victims find the strength to end their toxic relationships with psychopaths and move on, stronger and wiser, with the rest of their lives.

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CelebrityDialogue: What exactly is psychopathic seduction?

Claudia: Psychopathic seduction happens when someone is seduced (targeted, lured with false promises or under false premises, deceived, manipulated, isolated and brainwashed) by a psychopathic social predator. Psychopaths are far more common than one thinks. Experts estimate that between 1 and 4 percent of the population is psychopathic. This means that there are millions of psychopaths in the United States alone. The influence of these very dangerous individuals extends far beyond this percentage however. Psychopaths are generally very sociable, highly promiscuous and con countless people: sexually, emotionally and/or financially. They poison tens of millions of lives in this country and far more, of course, internationally.

Claudia Moscovici The Seducer

CelebrityDialogue: Your novel “Velvet Totalitarianism” is about a Romanian family’s survival against communist regime. Since you have Romanian roots, did any true life events prompt you to write this novel?

Claudia: “Velvet Totalitarianism”, which was recently launched in Romanian translation (“Intre Doua Lumi,” Curtea Veche Publishing, 2011), is inspired in part by events in Romanian history as well as by elements from my life and my parents’ lives: including my father’s defection to the U.S., our dealings with the Securitate and our immigration. Nevertheless, I fictionalized both the historical and the biographical elements to give the novel a tighter and more dramatic structure.
CelebrityDialogue: You must have felt proud when this novel was published in Romanian language?

Claudia: I was delighted that “Velvet Totalitarianism” was published in Romania, both because it was written about the history and struggles of the Romanian people and because I have a sentimental attachment and cultural ties to my native country. I was especially happy to see how well-received the novel in translation (“Intre Doua Lumi”) was by the mainstream media in Romania, where it was featured not only in literary and culture magazines such as Scrisul Romanesc and Viata Romaneasca, but also in Forbes.ro, women’s glossy magazines (such as Revista Avantaje), and general interest blogs like Catchy.ro and VIP.net. Since I aspire to being a public writer and intellectual, I wish to reach a wide community of readers, internationally.
CelebrityDialogue: Which are your other major published works?

Claudia: I have published several scholarly books, but I’d consider “major” works only those books that I wrote for a general audience. These include my art criticism book “Romanticism and Postromanticism”, on the Romantic tradition in art and literature and its postromantic survival; my novels “Velvet Totalitarianism” and “The Seducer”, and my psychology book about psychopaths and dangerous relationships, “Dangerous Liaisons”.
CelebrityDialogue: You are the co-founder of” Postromanticism”. For those who may not know, please shed some light on this movement.

Claudia: I believe that art movements are not only diachronic, emerging one after the other, as they tend to be taught in art history, but also synchronic, in that each new art movement borrows from many aesthetic traditions of the past. Postromanticism, the international art movement I co-launched in 2002 with the Mexican sculptor Leonardo Pereznieto, is no exception. It is inspired by several traditions in art history, including Neoclassicism, Romanticism and art nouveau. Postromanticism places emphasis upon beauty, sensuality and passion in contemporary art. You can see samples of postromantic art on my website, http://postromanticism.com.
CelebrityDialogue: Since you write about love, beauty and passion, what does love mean to you in real life? Were you able to find love in your life?

Claudia: Being a novelist and art/literary critic, for many years I looked mostly at fantasy—since, after all, that’s what art and fiction are–to describe love as a romantic ideal rather than as a daily lived reality. But for the past few years, particularly after studying personality disorders, I have come to appreciate much more the pragmatic and ethical dimensions of real love. To me, love implies mutual commitment, supporting one another through thick and thin, fidelity and caring about one another: everything that the wedding vows promise and that my wonderful and supportive husband, Dan Troyka, has offered me in real life for over 20 years, since we met and fell in love in college.
CelebrityDialogue: What are you working on these days?

Claudia: Since my interests are in several fields—fiction, art and psychology—I always work at several projects simultaneously. This “multitasking” keeps me from becoming bored with any one subject or stuck in a rut creatively. Right now I’m researching the psychology of cults, which will be the subject of my third novel, “The Cult”. Since cult leaders are often charismatic psychopaths, this novel will incorporate a lot of the research I’ve already done to write “The Seducer” and “Dangerous Liaisons”. In addition, I have just finished writing the preface for an exciting new science fiction novel called “The Cube”, written in the tradition of Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Orwell’s “1984”, which will be published by my publisher in a few months. At the same time, I’m working closely with the Romanian-born movie producer Bernard Salzman, whom you’ve already interviewed in Celebrity Dialogue, on the screenplay for my first novel, “Velvet Totalitarianism”. Hopefully this will be an American-Romanian production, since a large part of the plot takes place in Romania. I also continue with my art criticism and am preparing for the launch of “Romanticism and Postromanticism”, translated by the writer and critic Dumitru Radu Popa, in Romania next fall. It’s a Latin country so I’m hoping for a warm reception of postromanticism, the art of passion!
CelebrityDialogue: Thank you so much Claudia. It was a pleasure.

Claudia: Thank you for this interview, the pleasure was mine.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

If you have children with a psychopath

You may experience the mixed blessing of having children with the psychopath. Bringing a child into this world can be one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences in human life.  But having a child or children with a psychopath carries with it great risk. Since antisocial traits are partly genetic, your child or children can inherit those negative characteristics. Moreover, as we’ve seen, a psychopath is incapable of loving anyone. He regards all people, including his children, as tools to get what he wants and as his personal possessions. Like you, they represent objects he will manipulate and control. Like you, they confirm his virility and personal power.  As he got tired of you and of every other woman he played with, he will quickly tire of your child, his newest toy.

No change in circumstances can ever alter a psychopath’s underlying bad character for long. He is what he is and that’s what he’ll remain. Think back to the many second chances  you’ve given him. Think back to all the times he shattered your hopes and abused your trust.  You hoped that he’d change his cheating ways after you got engaged, but he didn’t. You then believed that he’d take your commitment more seriously once you married, but he didn’t. He just hid his perversions better and mastered the game of deceit. You hoped that a change of job or location would improve him, but it didn’t. Instead, your repeated concessions to his will and willingness to swallow increasing doses of mistreatment made him more confident that you’d take whatever abuse he dished out. He turned your life into a game that has no rational or moral rules.

You played along with his arbitrary power games. You played along because you love him and because you want to believe that he loves you as well: in his way, on some level, you feel compelled to qualify. Sure, he left you for other women and he will leave you again. But you interpret the fact that he returns to you time after time as evidence of his love. In other words, you engage in wishful thinking and reject the obvious reality. He doesn’t leave you because he loves anyone else more than you. Conversely, he doesn’t return to you because he realizes how much he loves you, after all. He comes and goes as he pleases to whoever lets him because he’s bored.

Power over others fills his empty days. He’s like one of those magicians that spin plates on poles. He wants to see how many women he can spin around at once and for how long he can cultivate for each one the illusion of perpetual motion, or of real love. Each time a plate falls to the ground and shatters, he enjoys it. Each life he destroys represents a personal triumph for him. With you and every other woman in his life he plays this sordid game. There’s nothing inside of him that can love you or anybody else.

The same logic applies to having a child or children with him. If he cheated on you and wasn’t there to support you meaningfully during the emotional and physical challenges of pregnancy, he’ll remain equally unreliable and unsupportive as you raise your child. If he treated you with disrespect and even contempt before you had a child together, that’s how he’ll continue to treat you afterwards. If he shirked his professional and personal duties before, he won’t be able to handle the most important responsibility of all, which is raising a child. And if he abused you, he will abuse your child, at the very least emotionally. The Loser will remain a loser no matter whom he attaches to because his evil actions reflect his true identity. He deliberately hurts others not because they’re not right for him, as he claims to shift the blame, but because he’s not right for anybody else.

Consequently, if you have a child or children with a psychopath, it’s doubly important for you to protect not just yourself from his noxious influence, but also your children. Dr. Liane Leedom wrote a very informative book on this subject, called Just Like His Father. Her message is not purely cautionary, but also one of hope. She emphasizes that there’s no chance whatsoever of having a mutually loving and respectful relationship with a psychopath. But there’s a lot of hope for raising your child to be a healthy and empathetic individual who is not just like his father.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


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


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

Psychopaths, Jerks and Triangulation

If you’ve fallen for a jerk, you may take some solace in the fact that you’re in good company. Even Hollywood stars and music icons, who have their pick among men, tend to go for bad guys. To mention just one of the latest scandals, LeAnn Rimes has left her husband, Dean Cheremet, for Eddie Cibrian, a man whom many describe as a “serial cheater”. This news caused a splash in 2009. It even led the editor of Shape Magazine to offer an apology to her readers for putting Rimes on the cover. Needless to say, LeAnn Rimes is no innocent victim. And yet, given the fact that Eddie Cibrian reportedly already cheated on her with his ex-wife and his ex-mistress, I predict that he’ll be the one to break her heart rather than the other way around.

For now, their blooming love affair appears all rosy. On Halloween last year, Eddie proposed to LeAnn as a prank, but recently they got married for real. The fact that she became obsessed with her looks, lost a lot of weight, and now looks anorexic seems like a very bad sign. However, still in the throes of the honeymoon phase, LeAnn has no time for regret. She states in an interview: “Nothing I’m going to say is going to change it. I do know that, and I have accepted that…but I do know how much I love him. So I’ve always said I don’t live my life with regret. I can’t.”

And yet, many women who leave decent partners for rakish lovers do, indeed, end up living with regret. What’s new gets old. After the initial conquest is over, the Casanova types quickly tire of their relationships and look elsewhere for new sexual thrills. Even giving in to their libertine lifestyle may not be enough. Speaking of  which, it seems like each of Charlie Sheen‘s “Goddesses” were eventually knocked off their pedestals, despite readily participating in his raunchy fantasies.

Psychopaths know how to identify each person’s specific weaknesses and vulnerabilities. If you’re okay with an open sexual relationship and look down upon the “bourgeois” notion of fidelity as too boring and conventional, don’t worry, the psychopath will identify other deliciously cruel ways to betray, hurt and punish you. After all, isn’t that what the libertine tradition is all about? Not just pleasure in itself, but pleasure through someone else’s dupery, misery and pain? Just take a look at Laclos and De Sade.

In fact, it’s worth rereading the eighteenth-century novel about psychopathic seduction after which I named my own book on the subject, Dangerous Liaisons, or at least seeing the excellent movie staring John Malkovich and Glenn Close. In a particularly poignant scene, whose image I’m including below, the psychopathic sex addict, Valmont, is writing love letters to one mistress on the naked back of another: a corruptible young woman he seduced and perverted very young, who relishes the perversion and colludes with him in his libertinage.

Predictably, she ends up destroyed as well. It’s not just sex psychopaths and other jerks want, nor just power. It’s power at the expense of another. For a disordered, control-driven individual, there’s no better way to exert power over others than through triangulation: flaunting new relationships to his ex’s; fostering enmity and jealousy among his various conquests.

Feeling flattered by the overflow of attention, newer targets often participate in these displays of cruelty, much like LeAnn Rimes willingly participated in a pretty disgusting PDA with her new husband Eddie, in front of his ex-wife, Brandi Glanville, according to this recent article in US Weekly Magazine:

As I’ve explained in my earlier post on manipulating women and turning them against each other (https://psychopathyawareness.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/stringing-women-along-the-psychopath-as-puppet-master/), such ostentatious make-out sessions aren’t about affection or love. They’re about using current targets to rile up and hurt former targets. Without causing pain to others, psychopaths and other jerks don’t enjoy their control over women. They use new victims to rub salt on former victims’ wounds, just as they’ll use future victims to try to hurt them in turn.

Their logic is the same as the song How You Like Me Now? by The Heavy, which I used in this art video to showcase the photography of postromanticism, the art movement I started in 2002.

The logic of this song is triangulation: How do you like me now, that you know I cheated and replaced you? The sadist in the song flaunts the new “love” to the former girlfriend and asks her: Does that make you love me Baby? Does that make  you want me Baby? The obvious answer to such stupid questions from anyone who is not disordered is: NO. I like you even less. Or, if you prefer, I dislike you even more!

A psychopath can’t understand that it’s him you reject, so it doesn’t matter what other women (or men) he attracts and what he does with his life, professionally or personally. Nothing and nobody can make a person entirely deprived of human qualities and character look good. Triangulation can only expose further the depth of his depravity.

Even those women who, like LeAnn Rimes, buy the psychopath’s smear campaign about his ex’s and relish being the new partner in his latest triangulation don’t usually enjoy when they’re the target of the psychopath’s newest “love of his life” or “soulmate,” as the process inevitably starts all over again. A psychopathic seducer cannot be happy with anyone, not even with his most ardent defender and worshipper. It doesn’t matter how much she herself loves him; what’s most relevant is that he is constitutionally incapable of real love. Sooner or later, he’ll find ways to humiliate and hurt her as well, as he’s done to every other woman before her.

Believe it or not, you reap what you sow in life. Each target will eventually be stabbed in the back by yet another target, whom the psychopath will use to machinate against her. This pattern, which we see played out over and over again, leads me to ask the inevitable question: Why do so many women go for jerks? Here’s my top five reasons, off the top of my head:

1. Jerks tend to be very romantic at first. Much more so than nice guys. Jerks are impulsive, thrill-seeking and experienced in the art of seduction. They know just what to do and say to sweep women off their feet.

2.  Jerks are smooth liars. They know how to tell women what they want to hear. A nice guy may tell you quite honestly when you don’t look so hot or have gained a couple of pounds. A jerk, however, will usually flatter you as if you’re the best thing since sliced bread (but he’ll cut you down behind your back, to the other women he’s trying to impress).

3. Jerks tend to be hyper-sexual. All too often women equate sexual attraction with love. But remember, attachment doesn’t equal bonding. Just because a man wants to make love to you all the time doesn’t mean that he actually cares about you.  Besides, sexual passion rarely stays intense once the relationship transitions from an affair to marriage.

4. Women flatter and fool themselves. We really want to believe that we’re the exception that confirms the rule. Sure, the man I love may have cheated on his ex-wife and dozens of OTHER women, but he won’t cheat on ME. Why not? Because our relationship is that UNIQUE and because I’m that SPECIAL. Chances are: no, you’re not. What he did to others for you he’ll eventually do to you for others. Mark my words LeAnn Rimes! You’ll see this behavior in a few years (at most!), when he’ll be using someone new to hurt you just as he used you to hurt his former wife.

5. Women enjoy a challenge. Taming a player is kind of like riding a wild horse. It may be dangerous and cause anxiety, but it’s also very exciting. One thing to keep in mind is that, sadly, excitement is fleeting. Dealing with your partner’s constant lying, cheating and rationalizations for his bad behavior gets tedious, predictable and boring real fast. Far more boring, in fact, than interactions with men who have good character and emotional depth.

Because women don’t always have impeccable judgment when it comes to falling in love, it may be true that good guys finish last. But if you choose a jerk over a nice guy (or even over being single), you’ll be the one ending up last. My advice? Choose someone sweet because a relationship with a psychopathic jerk is bound to sour. 

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

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