Why Sociopaths Win By Losing

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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Investigating Psychopaths

Since psychopaths are pathological liars and their every interaction with others is self-serving and strategic, even seasoned investigators and forensic psychologists have great difficulty dealing with them. Basically, they’re always faced with the liar’s paradox yet still need to get useful and true information from them.

Katherine Ramsland (from trutv.com) wrote an excellent article about how investigators deal with the inevitable obstacles and difficulties they encounter when attempting to retrieve true information from psychopaths about their crimes. I’m pasting part of her article below:

 

It’s not easy to know when to trust someone who has already exploited trust as a route to torture, rape and murder. Psychopathic killers view their victims as objects, useful only as pawns in their own personal game, and they thus have this advantage: they feel no remorse. They’re callous, manipulative and resistant to therapy, and when they choose to communicate, they have their own agendas, formed in self-interest and calculation. What we may accept as a “confession,” they may view as bait. Their motives take shape within a framework that has no equivalent in the normal world. That’s why we can’t just accept what they say at face value.
Gary Leon Ridgway 

Gary Leon Ridgway

A special agent from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit interviewed Gary Ridgway, who had initially confessed to 71 before settling on the official toll of 48. She had this to say: “I can’t think of any behavior on its own merit that would indicate that someone is telling the truth or exaggerating. It’s not that I wouldn’t believe them, but I’d like to get basic verification first. In my opinion, many of these people have an egotistical need to control and manipulate, and some like to be bigger and badder than the other guy.”

She points out that not only might they lie to exaggerate or dupe investigators, but, paradoxically, they might also conceal murders they committed. They don’t want anyone to know about their early feeble, halting attempts or the mistakes they made. If they lose a potential victim, they claim they intended to.

It’s hazardous to be gullible, especially for investigators hoping to close a case. They might inadvertently reveal details, allowing offenders to play them for fools. As well, they may expend limited resources. However, there are hazards in dismissing these offenders, too, notably that they may stop providing details that can solve crimes. The bottom line is this: even skilled investigators may not spot a clever liar with a selfish agenda. Detecting deception takes time, patience, a bit of sleuthing, and the corroboration of facts. Above all, it requires the ability to avoid a rush to judgment that may result in mistakes, such as those made with Lucas.

While psychopaths appear to use the same language as normal individuals, they have their own inner logic. They calculate the world around them in terms of self-gain. They are society’s vampires. They may be intoxicated rather than repulsed by the idea of targeting humans and picking them off, because it makes them feel powerful. Their agendas have no analogues in the normal world. That means developing a careful mode of communication. In this person’s perception, almost any response could be the “wrong” one.

John Wayne Gacy 

John Wayne Gacy

Former FBI profilers John Douglas and Gregg McCrary have conducted prison interviews with psychopaths such as John Wayne Gacy, who killed 33 young men and buried them under his house, and Mark Hoffmann, a brilliant forger who tried to escape debt by killing people with bombs. These criminals have no sense of the damage they’ve caused. To urge them to express regret is pointless. They might do so, but only as a manipulative tactic.

There are three important things to keep in mind when talking with psychopaths: clear goals, firm boundaries, and awareness of their triggers. In other words, keep your purpose in such communications up front, while also watching for the psychopath’s manipulative tactics (charm, deception, deal-making) and for what will keep him (or her) talking as opposed to shutting down. It’s tricky, and getting it right generally requires extensive exposure to the person. No matter how many letters Hess or others write to a killer like Browne, only those who have lived with him on a daily basis know him well, and even they can be fooled.

You can view the rest of Katherine’s article on the link below:

http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/predators/robert_charles_browne/10.html


What is a Psychopath? The Case of Joran van der Sloot

There has been some debate in the media recently about whether or not Joran van der Sloot–the young man suspected of killing Nataee Holloway in 2005 and charged with the murder of  Stephany Tatiana Flores Ramirez five years later–is a serial killer, similar to Ted Bundy. What is becoming obviously clear, however, is that he is a textbook case psychopath.

Not everyone is willing to believe that Joran is capable of murder. Some evidence has emerged lately, from one of his girlfriends, Melody Granadillo, that Joran had a charming, romantic and gentle side. The Associated Press reports that during an interview with ABC’s “20/20,” Granadillo stated they would spend hours talking together and gazing into each other’s eyes. She described Joran as “romantic… playful [and] very honest.” Honest, that is, until she repeatedly discovered him cheating and lying to her. “He would lie for no apparent reason at all… and if you caught him in it… he would double down and be even more serious about the story,” she recounts. The romantic and the vicious, the seemingly honest and the actually deceitful, the good and the evil sides of Joran van der Sloot all fit perfectly into the psychological profile of a psychopath. But only one side of a psychopath is real: the monstrous side. The other side is only a mask, used to lure and manipulate potential victims.

So what is a psychopath then? Psychopaths aren’t necessarily serial killers. But they are, like Joran van der Sloot, dangerous and predatory. The 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, inside, 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 longhaul. 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 something 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, 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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