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

Review of “The Inner World of the Psychopath” by Steve Becker, LCSW

TheInnerWorldofthePsychopathBekcer

Psychopathy is the psychological root of evil. Understanding what makes psychopaths tick can offer us invaluable emotional protection from those who intend to harm us. It can also help us understand better complex and mystifying historical phenomena. Written for a general audience, psychotherapist Steve Becker’s new book, The Inner World of the Psychopath: A definitive Primer on the Psychopathic Personality, deciphers the psyche of the psychopath, making a significant contribution not only to the fields of psychology and self-help, but also to history and sociology as well.

Psychopaths, Becker contends, constitute only one percent of the human population. Despite being relatively few, they cause enormous damage. When they rise to power in dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, they can wreak havoc on entire populations. Hitler, Stalin and Mao were no doubt psychopathic individuals. It is difficult to assess which one hurt humanity most; which one was the most evil. All of them killed tens of millions of people. Yet, as historian Timothy Snyder rightly argues in Bloodlands, “Discussion of numbers can blunt our sense of the horrific personal character of each killing and the irreducible tragedy of each death”. (Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Basic Books, 2012). While numbers can’t capture the scale of emotional suffering, they do give us a sense of the magnitude of damage psychopaths can cause.

Hitler was bent on eradicating the Jewish people from the face of the earth. He also planned—and nearly succeeded—in enslaving entire Slavic and Baltic nations throughout Nazi occupied regions in the East (Poland, the Ukraine, Lithuania, etc.). Snyder indicates that the numbers of civilians killed by the Nazis under Hitler’s regime reached well over 11 million people, of which nearly 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust. Although Stalin didn’t target a particular race as systematically as Hitler did, he deliberately starved to death five million people during the famine of 1930-1933, which began in Soviet Kazakhstan and spread to Soviet Russia and the Ukraine. A few years later, during the Great Terror, launched upon a pretext (Kirov’s assassination) in August 1937, Stalin sent millions of innocent people to gulags on false charges. This led to the murder of about 680,000 individuals. Mao’s Cultural Revolution—a cultural and agricultural policy that showed no regard for human life and suffering–led to the deaths of 30 million Chinese.

Stalin, Hitler, and Mao: these are some of the most notorious psychopaths that fill the pages of history. We are also used to reading in the news about psychopathic serial killers, such as Ted Bundy, Charles Ng, Charles Manson, or, more recently, members of the terrorist organization ISIS: sadists who take great pleasure in harming others or in directing their minions to destroy lives.

While these are the kinds of psychopaths we’re most likely to read about, Steve Becker emphasizes that these are not the kinds of psychopaths we’re most likely to encounter in our personal lives. Most psychopaths are not influential dictators or serial killers. In fact, he points out, most of them aren’t even behind bars because they don’t get caught in criminal or violent acts. Yet, in many respects, the “ordinary” psychopaths we’re likely meet are also the most dangerous to us. We can find them in our neighborhood or at our work place; we may even date or marry them. Invariably they will harm us, at the very least emotionally, but often also financially or physically. Invariably, they will exploit us. Reading The Inner World of the Psychopath—a succinct, clearly written and psychologically insightful book–can help us identify not only the psychological traits of psychopaths but also their techniques of luring us as potential victims.

Who are these heartless human beings? Psychopaths, Becker argues, are “consciously violating” individuals. We may all, at some point in our lives, hurt others: sometimes out of momentary anger, at other times without even meaning to. Usually we regret the harm. Psychopaths, on the other hand, take great pleasure in causing deliberate harm. All human beings have some selfish qualities; selfishness, however, is the number one trait of a psychopath. This quality becomes all the more dangerous when it’s combined with charisma and sexual appeal. While psychopaths may profess love, they regard their sexual partners as objects to be preyed upon. Becker explains, “The sexualized psychopath uses sex manipulatively and seductively. Of course, the flip side is much darker; the psychopath can be sexually degrading and abusive because, at bottom, he will relate to you as a sexual object” (118). Rape or murder constitute the most extreme manifestations of objectifying another human being. While few psychopaths rape and even fewer murder, all psychopaths use and manipulate others with no regard whatsoever for their feelings and needs.

Control over other human beings—be it in the form of the spell they cast over some of their partners or in the form of menace and abuse—gives them a sense of near omnipotence and—quite simply–entertains them. “Let us not forget,” Becker reminds us, “you exist to satisfy him. Thus it might entertain him to entertain you, in which case, to the best of his ability, he may want to leave you feeling swoons of rapture. Conversely, it might entertain him to degrade and abuse you, or otherwise leave you feeling humiliated. Regardless, his entertainment will supersede everything” (118). Often the psychopath will start out by idealizing a victim. During the luring phase he’s likely to entertain himself by simulating and inspiring romantic love. During the course of the relationship, however, the psychopath generally grows tired of that victim or moves on to others. He then begins exercising control in more negative and menacing ways. Why do psychopaths objectify others?

Psychopaths, Becker continues, lack empathy, perhaps the most essential quality that makes us human. Consequently, they’re unable to put themselves in other people’s shoes, to register their suffering as something negative that should be avoided, to care about their welfare meaningfully.

There’s some debate in the field of psychopathology whether psychopaths are born or bred. Becker believes the answer to this question depends on the case. Sometimes it can be a combination of both. Sadly, what remains crystal clear is that psychopathy is incurable, particularly past adolescence. Trying to make a psychopath feel your pain through therapy, medication or any other kind of treatment would be like trying to make a completely deaf person hear your voice. Psychopathy is, by definition, a constitutive emotional deficiency that has far more serious implications than any other human deficiency. The psychopath’s lack of empathy translates into the incapacity for love and, even worse, the propensity to harm others.

Sure, Becker grants, psychopaths can act like they care about some individuals. They can put on convincing displays of devotion. However, their actual experiences of those emotions are always egocentric and shallow. They can convey contrition when they do something to harm you, but they won’t mean it, or even when they do, at the moment, it won’t mean much to them and it won’t change their negative behavior in the long run.

Because some psychopaths compartmentalize their lives with great efficiency, they may seem to care about some people while harming others. Some psychopaths may target certain victims while acting “lovingly” to others: such as the serial rapist who attacks strangers at night but returns home to his family and acts perfectly “normal” in the morning. Becker draws the only logical conclusion from the psychopath’s capacity for compartmentalization: “This means that not all psychopaths are ‘acting out’ their psychopathy on those closest to them. But this does not mean that he’s a psychopath toward his victims and nonpsychopathic toward his nonvictims. The psychopath is a psychopath all the time, even if he’s not exhibiting his psychopathy all the time. He is psychopathic because (with the psychopathic mentality we’ve been exploring) he victimizes and exploits anyone, not because he doesn’t exploit and victimize everyone. This last assertion is important. A bank robber is a bank robber if he robs any bank, not because he doesn’t rob every bank” (95-96). He goes on to explain by analogy that just like the bank robber may select particularly vulnerable banks, so the psychopath selects the most vulnerable victims. Yet any human being can be vulnerable—or appeal to a psychopath–at certain times for various reasons. This is why, truly, nobody is safe around a psychopath.

Because of their lack of conscience and inhibitions, psychopaths can be very convincing liars. Often they lie without any embarrassment. In fact, fooling their victims presents an entertaining challenge for them. Victims also state that one of the key the features of psychopaths is charisma, at least during the initial encounter, when they’re trying to lure their prey. Becker underscores that not all psychopaths are particularly charismatic, but those who are can inflict much greater damage. Even psychopaths who aren’t particularly charming individuals, however, initially seduce their victims. They flatter them, love bomb them, sweep them off their feet: whatever expression you choose, psychopaths use any means at their disposal to gain influence and control over their victims, so they can use them for whatever purposes suits them at the moment. As Becker explains, “They size people up, to evaluate their targetability.” Psychopaths therefore are, at core, dangerous social predators. They can be predators that attain historical significance—with disastrous effects upon humanity—or, much more commonly, predators that take advantage of their victims financially and emotionally. Either way, informing yourself about psychopathy by reading Steve Becker’s The Inner World of the Psychopath can help protect you and those you care about from future harm. You can find this book on Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Inner-World-Psychopath-psychopathic/dp/1508525110

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

Our Strongest Chains: The Power of Denial

The Powers of Denial

Sometimes we become involved with disordered personalities because they have a compelling mask of sanity: they hide effectively their deviant natures and abnormal behavior. But we’ve also seen that psychopaths and other personality disordered individuals can’t maintain that mask on over extended periods of time for three main reasons:

a) they can’t keep straight all the lies and half-truths they tell us and other people, so inconsistencies and contradictions in their false stories start to become obvious in time

b) they don’t put as much effort into maintaining the false front since our value to them diminishes once the newness wears off and once they’ve gotten some of what they want from and

c) psychopaths form relationships in order to exercise control over others, which inevitably turns into  increasingly abusive and unequal relationships

It stands to reason that, after the honeymoon phase, something else blinds us to the truth about the psychopath’s increasingly obvious personality disorder: the power of denial. Sigmund Freud coined the term “denial” to describe a situation when a person is faced with an uncomfortable or difficult to accept fact and denies or rejects it despite all rational evidence that it has occurred. How often do people involved with psychopaths turn a blind eye to clear evidence of their lying and cheating? How often do they rationalize the psychopath’s wrongdoings, blame it on others, find excuses for it or accept the psychopath’s lies, projection of blame and (false) justifications? The more emotionally invested a victim is in the psychopath and the relationship with him, and the more he has succeeded in isolating her from others, the stronger the power of denial becomes.

As the Wikipedia explains, denial can take many forms, but all of them are a kind of willful blindness to an unpleasant reality:

a) simple denial: bracketing or failing to see the psychopath’s wrongdoings and bad character

b) minimisation: rationalizing away the importance of the psychopath’s wrongdoings (for instance, by attributing it to his immaturity, or human fallibility, or a simple mistake, or someone else’s bad influence upon him, etc.)

c) projection: accepting the fact of the wrongdoings, but blaming them on someone or something else

In her book Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them, Susan Forward also explains denial in terms of forgrounding and backgrounding of information. When people become invested in a toxic relationship, no matter how much they suffer as a result of their love addiction to a disordered personality, they foreground every quality they see in the psychopath and the relationship and relegate to the background all the information that contradicts that rosier picture of reality.

What ends up being in the foreground are subjective, fleeting and superficial impressions: such as the fact the psychopath occasionally makes you feel good through flattery or gifts; the fact that, when he wants (something) he  can be charming; the fact that he seems to cast a spell over you and others; the fact he excites you.

All of these “qualities” have nothing to do with what truly counts in a relationship: character. For those who stay long-term with a psychopath or any other personality disordered individual, character becomes relegated to the background precisely because psychopaths lack character. The only way to put up with the psychopath’s constant lying, cheating, manipulation, and exercise of dominance over you is to deny the importance of facts that show what the psychopath IS and focus instead on the superficial impressions and fleeting feelings related to the small (and fake) acts of kindness he sometimes DOES. False image becomes more important than real substance.

Psychopaths do everything in their power to maintain hold over their victims: by lying to them, by isolating them from others, by intimidating them and by rendering them dependent on them. However, the power of denial is the strongest chain that keeps people stuck in a toxic relationship with a person whose evil nature is undeniable.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

The Insatiable Longing for Love

Psychopathic seducers, as social predators, target countless victims. But they attach like parasites, for a long time, to comparatively few: only to their most promising hosts. I think that promising victims give off a scent of vulnerability, of unfulfilled desires that are perfect lures for pathologicals in need of control.  However many women they seduce and conquer; however many individuals they con; however much power they acquire, they still aren’t satisfied and need more. That’s because, emotionally, psychopaths are hollow human beings. The emotions, caring, money and time anyone pours into them seeps through them like through a bottomless hole.

Narcissists are very similar psychologically, only instead of control what they desire even more is validation. Narcissistic personalities often become famous artists, writers, scholars, movie producers or politicians. They have the drive and dedication to get to the top, but their thirst for validation is far greater than their periodic success. It is only temporarily satisfied and, in some respects, fundamentally unachievable. Success is fleeting and being at the top of the charts–be it as a singer, producer or best-selling writer–quickly turns into yesterday’s news. Narcissistic individuals often end up in an endless rat race, spinning in place, both emotionally and psychologically, no matter how rich or famous they become.

But even those of us who are neither psychopaths nor narcissists, which is to say, even more or less normal human beings experience an insatiable longing: the insatiable longing for love. This is what I describe in my new novel, The Seducer, through the character of Ana, modeled after my favorite heroine by the same name from Tolstoy‘s novel, Anna Karenina (which, incidentally, remains very relevant and is being launched soon as a film starting Keira Knigthley).  If some of us are tempted to cheat on or deceive those we love; if we are lured by the temptation of instant passion, happiness and commitment promised by dangerous social predators, it’s because within us, someplace, somehow, there’s an insatiable longing for love. This need can be a wound from previous betrayals or trauma, or simply an unrealistic, fantasy-driven yearning that can’t be fulfilled in reality.

Real love takes patience, constant nurturing and work. It depends on commitment and strength. It sometimes takes self-sacrifice. Psychopaths can tempt us with instant fulfillment, instant commitment, instant passionate love that require no work, because we’re “meant for each other,” because this is “the love of our lives”. This promise is not only a false and dangerous illusion, but also rests upon a fundamental repudiation of true love and of reality, flaws and all.

In my novel The Seducer I attempted to offer a psychologically accurate and in-depth sketch of three common forms of emotional insatiability: 1) the insatiable need for control and power over women of Michael, the psychopath; 2) the insatiable need for validation that keeps Karen, his needy and narcissistic fiancee, indefinitely caught in his clutches, and 3) the insatiable need for love of Ana, who represents the force, the need, the empty part that propels each and every victim into the arms of a dangerous social predator.

Any woman can become a tragic heroine like Ana if she gives in to a secret longing that has no realistic outlet or satisfaction. Written in the tradition of my favorite nineteenth-century novels, Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary–but with a contemporary psychological twist–The Seducer shows that true love can be found in our ordinary lives rather than in flimsy fantasies masquerading as great passions.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

The Psychopath’s Bait and Switch

Psychopaths notoriously promise you the moon and deliver… nothing. They target victims who are vulnerable: feeling vulnerable as well as being vulnerable to flattery. They love bomb their new targets: showering them with attention, loving words, promises and gifts. They’re ready to commit instantly, saying that they finally found the soul mates they had been looking for all their lives. Although such behavior may seem positive, as I explained in my earlier article about the red flags of a psychopathic bond, it is actually, all too often, a predator’s lure.

This is how psychopaths attract new victims and make them feel wanted, loved and safe. If this behavior were genuine and consistent, psychopaths would be ideal partners. Unfortunately, it’s not. The flattery, attention, affection, sex and sensuality, gifts, promises of commitment all constitute the psychopath’s bait. Wait a few months, and you’ll begin to notice the switch.

As Sandra Brown M.A. notes in Women Who Love Psychopaths, the switch happens precisely when the victim begins to trust the psychopath and has emotionally bonded with him. Once the psychopath intuitively senses that you have fallen in love with him, believe his lies and false promises, need him and have begun to organize your daily life around the relationship with him, he begins to switch his behavior and enters the manipulation phase of the relationship. By then the idealization phase is over–forever–and you’ll only see again brief glimpses of it, especially when he senses that you are withdrawing from him.

He will start to demand more and more from you and reward you less and less with the phony romantic behavior you enjoyed in the beginning of the relationship. He will ask for more sacrifices of your emotional energy and time (isolating you from loved ones and discouraging your professional endeavors), more commitment, more sexual transgressions, or more money: all depending on what he wanted from the relationship. But the bottom line is that psychopaths enter relationships to use others and to gain control.

So even if what he wanted initially was money, or sex–or whatever else–ultimately he wants nothing less than to control and destroy you. That is, psychopaths use the bait and switch to get everything from you and leave you a shell of the person you once were. If you leave when you begin to notice red flags and inconsistent behavior, you have a chance to escape from the psychopathic bond more or less intact. If you don’t, you risk losing everything you hold dear and, more importantly, who you are.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Shattering the Psychopathic Disguise

If you watch shows like Forensic Files, or any true crime shows on Investigation Discovery, you will notice a pattern of criminal behavior: the psychopath usually kills his partner in a calculated, cold and cruel manner if she breaks up with him after discovering a mountain of lies. Psychopaths are great at devaluing and rejecting others, but can’t tolerate devaluation and rejection. They cultivate not only a “mask of sanity” as Hervey Cleckley aptly puts it, but also more than that: an image of perfection. They deceive partly for the power and sport of it partly to maintain a facade: as cultivated, desirable, sweet, moral, or whatever other qualities they want to project. This facade functions as their disguise, enabling them to become wolves in sheep’s clothing.

It also has the advantage of bolstering their narcissistic egos as perfect and superior to others. When a woman leaves her psychopathic partner after discovering his wrong-doings and his lies, she not only rejects him, but also shatters the disguise that enables him to maintain a sense of superiority to others and a mask of decency. Almost every time a psychopath murders his ex, friends and neighbors state: “They seemed like the perfect couple”.

If you read interviews about Scott Peterson or Neil Entwistle–men who callously murdered their wives–everyone expressed surprise and described their marriages as perfect. But their behavior during and after the crimes was, of course, shocking and incongruous with that perfect picture. Fortunately, few psychopaths murder. But even those who don’t undergo a process of devaluation–if not degradation–of their partners once they begin to see them as the frauds they are. For a psychopath, his false image of perfection is both fantasy and disguise. Fantasy because psychopaths believe the illusion of their ideal nature and superiority to others. Disguise because this false image enables them to dupe, use and abuse others.

To become critical of a psychopath means to chip away at his mask, which is his only true identity. He will defend it with all his might in three ways: 1) by undermining and, in rare cases, even eliminating the former target; 2) by replacing that target with other individuals who temporarily idealize him, and 3) by assuming a new persona, a new disguise. Nothing a psychopath does, no role, new partner or transformation, however, can change the inner hollowness that defines him and all of his human bonds.

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


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