Psychopaths and Duplicity by Lisa Jean

A cool crisp autumn afternoon and I’m lounging around the house recovering from a severe cough that has left me too weak to do much else. Doing some channel surfing I come across a movie with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts called Duplicity. While watching it I am reminded of how duplicitous a psychopath is. How duplicitous anything a psychopath says is. As well as how duplicitous a relationship with a psychopath is.

The dictionary definition of duplicity is:

“1.contradictory doubleness of thought, speech, or action; especially: the belying of one’s true intentions by deceptive words or action

2: the quality or state of being double or twofold

3: the technically incorrect use of two or more distinct items (as claims, charges, or defenses) in a single legal action”

 The first definition is “contradictory doubleness of thought, speech or action.” This would be the very definition of a psychopath. In the beginning of the relationship when they are in the idealization phase the person they present to you is nothing like the person they truly are. Additionally, the intent of their relationship with you has little if anything to do with what they are saying to you or showing you. If the psychopath is intending a romantic interlude with you, or even a romantic relationship with you their actions, words, speech and thinking is rampant with lies. They may present themselves as being smitten with you and wanting to be your everything. If you are a single parent, they’ll be the man/woman who loves children and is happy to be there for you to help with watching the children, help with cooking meals, doing homework, or playing catch with the children. At night he/she may be ready to draw you a bubble bat, bring you a glass of wine, pamper and care for you. While in actuality they really couldn’t care less about your fatigue, or stress, or feelings of being overwhelmed. In fact they are probably rejoicing in your suffering because it is making the door for them to enter into your life so incredibly easy to walk through.
Any gesture, action, or words you hear them speak that appear caring or thoughtful is duplicitous. The only care or thought a psychopath feels centers around himself or herself. If your psychopathic partner has ever seemed thoughtful, or generous, take a good look at what may have motivated the seemed generosity. For generosity and the psychopath are a contradiction in terms. The psychopath is generous to himself alone. When I reflect back on some seemingly generous or selfless acts or words my psychopathic ex told me, or did for me I can always trace back a selfish motive. Even if the only motive was to keep me in his life for the next time he needed me for a victim. Had he completely burned our bridges and severed the relationship to a place that would be irreparable he wouldn’t have a sure thing lined up in terms of future victim supply.
Apparently, even the simplest of generosity or thoughtfulness is full of duplicity. The entire relationship is wrapped and woven very tightly in a mask of duplicity. The loving relationship I thought I was a part of, the connection I felt with this person and all the moments of intense emotion and passion we shared was duplicitous. I and I alone was experiencing them. What he was experiencing was a series of accomplishments, victories and defeats that were and remain completely about himself. There was never an “us”, there never is an “us” with a psychopath. There’s a me against you. There is “I will conquer and destroy you, I will win, I will come out on top, I will have control and power over you.” I, I, I, I, I. This is the crux of the relationship with a psychopath. There is no “us” in “us”. There is “I”, victory and defeat for me and me alone in “us” for the psychopath. Once again, duplicity.
The psychopath has been in the practice of living a duplicitous existence since their very first recollection of “self.” As soon as the psychopath is aware of themselves in relationship to a world outside of themselves they are aware of the difference between themselves and others. In order to simulate being like others and fit in with “them” the psychopath has to appear like “them” i.e. us. Hence the beginning of duplicity. They watch, mimic, pretend, learn how to be like the rest of us. Much like the big back wolf learns how to be Grandma in Little Red Riding Hood. Appearing like Grandma is what will get him the meal he so desires. The Big Bad Wolf may be one of the first introductions we as children have of a psychopath. He is extremely duplicitous. He pretends to be Little Red Riding Hood’s friend. He pretends to want to help her deliver her basket to Grandma’s house. But his real intention isn’t to help Little Red Riding Hood at all. His intention is to help himself to whatever it is he wants.
Another red flag was the self-deprecation. I saw this as insecurity and vulnerability. In actuality this too was duplicitous. The focus on his flaws turned out to be more narcissism. It was another way to have his ego fed by the attention and empathy of others. When he would ask me if I found him attractive, he’d get to hear exactly what he’d been craving. “Of course you’re handsome.” He’d ask me what I liked best about him. What I would rate him on a scale of 1 – 10. He would ask these almost daily for nearly all the 7 1/2 yrs we were together. Duplicity in action. Feigning insecurity when his ego just needed a constant supply of feeding: narcissistic supply. He never did return the gesture to tell me I was beautiful of course.
When allowing someone to enter into my life I intend to err on the side of caution. Not that I’m going to be paranoid and assume everyone is out to victimize me. However, I do intend to keep some distance until I know I can trust that person. This may mean a person who would have gotten a second chance from me in the past will not get it in the future. To some this policy may appear harsh. But upon further thought, it’s not. I have never hurt another person intentionally. I’ve never done something so thoughtless that it was in complete and total disregard of another’s feelings to the degree that it directly hurt them deeply. I’ve been thoughtless and careless, of course, I’m human. I’ve made attempts to change my behavior and been sincerely sorry when I’ve hurt someone. But, I never expect them to roll out the red carpet and welcome me back to do it again. I understand I need to prove my trustworthiness to others, before they can also trust me. I think if we entered our romantic relationships with this healthy assumption we would have been safer from duplicitous individuals.

The Psychopath’s Hook: Love Bombing, Sex and Flattery

Nobody is lured by anyone through initial criticism and abuse.  If a psychopath undermined your self-confidence on the first date, you’d quickly dispatch him on his way. Relationships with psychopaths are about utility and power. The psychopath will use you for whatever purpose he wants–sex, money, a mask of normalcy–and keep you in your place by getting you to focus on your weaknesses and pouncing on your insecurities. However, no relationship with a psychopath starts that way. On the contrary, once they set their eyes on you as their main target (their “prize”), psychopaths typically engage in whirlwind romances. They can’t get enough of you. They want to see you and make love to you all the time. They flatter you constantly. They tell you that no woman they’ve ever been with is as smart, as beautiful, as classy as you are. You are the one true love of their lives. Their only love. Victims tend to eat the flattery up, since after all, who doesn’t like to be told such positive and beautiful things? They don’t ask themselves a common sense question: Why is this guy flattering me so much?

This is, indeed, the first question you should ask yourself if you’re being “love bombed,” as they say, by anyone. How many healthy individuals do that? And what makes you so special that out of all the people in the world you turn out to be the most beautiful, brilliant and exciting of all?  Could it be that this man has an ulterior motive? Could it be that he told each one of his main targets the same lines? And if so, why? To show you how absurd love bombing is and why you should display great caution when you encounter it, just consider the following analogous examples. We tell our children not to approach strangers who try to lure them with nice words and candy. Those individuals are probably social predators, pedophiles. But why do grown women accept such flattery without raising an eyebrow? Shouldn’t the advice they offer their children also apply to them?

To offer a second common example: in the seventies a lot of women hitchhiked. They didn’t necessarily ask themselves why is this stranger being so nice and giving me a free ride? Most of the time they were safe; a lot of the time, they weren’t. Some got picked up by social predators–rapists and even murderers–whose “niceness” was only a lure. There is a pattern emerging here. Most normal people don’t love bomb. They do not engage in over-the-top flattery; they do not make promises of eternal love right off the bat; they don’t call you the love of their lives without even knowing you. These are patterns of behavior that should be suspicious because they are very common lures for predators.

Psychopaths commonly engage in love bombing as their hook, to sink their claws into their victims. The flattery, declarations of love and romantic encounters bond and attract the victims to them. This process is not reciprocal. Since psychopaths attach to others without emotionally bonding to them, they only bond the target, not the predator. Such techniques pump up the victim’s confidence and get her addicted to the supply: of flattery, of romantic words and gestures, or constant displays of “affection” and love making. But only one person–the victim–is actually  making love. The other one–the predator–is conquering her, getting her to depend upon his presence and approval, so that he can later tear her apart. That is a psychopath’s main goal: to exercise control over his targets and ultimately harm them. The psychopathic bond is, as Sandra Brown aptly puts it, “a relationship of inevitable harm.”

When victims are still in the honeymoon phase of the psychopathic bond they rarely believe that the person who appears to woe and romance them so much, the one who claims to adore them, intends to use, control and ultimately destroy them. But as the relationship with a psychopath unfolds, this underlying goal becomes more obvious. He starts to get you to focus on your weaknesses. He starts to tell you the criticisms leveled against you by other people (supposedly) so that you focus on those issues. Initially the criticisms don’t come from him (supposedly). They come from your colleague or your friends or his family members. Then, slowly, they start coming from him. Maybe you should exercise more. Or lose some weight. Or you don’t wear the right kind of makeup. Or professionally you’re not successful enough. Or you’re no longer as sexually exciting to him. Bit by bit, criticism by criticism, the psychopath undermines your self-worth. This process may happen in a few months or may be painfully slow and gradual, a matter of years. Either way, it’s highly effective. You are already used to his flattery and validation. What are you doing wrong that you’re no longer getting them? Your sense of who you are and self-confidence begin to slip. You do what you can to regain his approval, or perhaps even his idolatry. His “love”.

The moral of this story? If someone is too positive and flattering and gives you too much attention in the beginning of a relationship, it generally means you’re in for a very bumpy road later on, filled with criticism and manipulation. When somebody starts love bombing you, don’t ask yourself: How in the world did I get so lucky? Ask yourself: What does this guy want from me? In a psychopathic bond, the idealization phase of flattery and wild declarations of love is by far the most dangerous because that’s when a psychopath conditions you in a positive way to pin your self-worth on him. Once you do that, he gradually and steadily conditions you to accept his increasingly negative criticism, to chip away at your identity and self-esteem. This eventually happens in every relationship with a psychopath. You will not be the exception that confirms the rule. Nobody proves to be a psychopath’s “one true love,” no matter how much he flattered them and said he loved them in the beginning.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


A Note From the Heart by Kelli Hernandez

Sometimes those who have had the great misfortune of having had a relationship with a psychopath feel permanently tainted. They’re afraid they will never be healthy enough; all they can be is  a “second rate” partner. This attitude makes me angry and I will try to persuade you that it’s isn’t right.  All of us who had intimate relationships with a psychopath feel deeply wounded. None of us are or could find “the perfect partner.” But that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t become and find “a suitable partner”. The “perfect partner” doesn’t exist. You are not perfect; I am not perfect. While personality disorders are clearly defined–with a specific list of highly destructive symptoms and behaviors–“normalcy” or “perfection” are constructs, ideals. But just because none of us are perfectly “normal” or “perfect,” it doesn’t mean that we’d make second-rate partners. What we have, which personality disordered individuals don’t have, is the capacity to love. 

If there is one thing I’ve learned from having pathologicals my whole life is this: Without love, there is nothing. Without love, we wouldn’t survive as a species. Without love, we couldn’t have partners. Without love we could not have children. Without love, we couldn’t help the homeless or cats or dogs. Without love we couldn’t help the homeless, or a helpless human being dying from a terminal illness. All of those things derive from love.

Without love, what you have left is pathology, evil and suffering. You have the destruction that psychopaths bring into the world. The children in the orphanages in Romania…..they didn’t have LOVE…..they were sick, many died, they lived in their own urine and feces and suffered disease……but love flew in and adopted some of them. Love is simple. Love encompasses so many beautiful things. When we can love ourselves, we can love others, no matter what state they are in! Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

I was never given love, but I have the capacity to love and I want to be loved. Because without it, we would die and others would and do suffer. Without love we have psychopathy. With love, we can recover from the psychopathic bond. I don’t expect anyone to be ideal; I can’t offer perfection to anyone. I want someone to accept me for me and am ready to accept those I care about for who they are.  That is the best we can expect and offer in life.

Kelli Hernandez

Should You Warn the Other Victims of the Psychopath?

One of the questions victims of psychopaths ask themselves after they learn about personality disorders is: Should I warn the other victims of the psychopath? If this question is largely motivated by the need for vengeance my answer is definitely: NO. It’s not that I don’t support the idea that the psychopath, who harms others so gleefully and remorselessly, get what he deserves in life. But I can think of several good reasons why if you’re motivated primarily by vindictiveness, ultimately you won’t feel much satisfaction from warning the psychopath’s newest batch of victims.

1. It means that you’re stuck in a negative emotion, that will keep you angry and ruminating rather than focusing on moving on with your life.

2. It means that you’re still keeping up with what the psychopath is doing and with whom, when, once again, the focus should be on healing and moving on with your life.

3. Psychopaths usually have numerous simultaneous victims, at different cycles of the relationship–idealization phase, manipulation phase and devalue/discard phases–as I explain in the article Relationship Boomerang: The Psychopath’s Relationship Cycle. It would be a full-time job to keep up with the psychopath’s victims and warn all of them.

4. It’s likely to cause drama in your life, when what you need is calmness and healing. When they can’t get positive attention from you, psychopaths love getting negative attention from you. As extreme narcissists, they need to be at the center of attention, regardless what kind. 

5. Even passive contact–meaning reading the psychopath’s communication without responding to it or finding out on the internet or from mutual acquaintances what he’s doing–can set back your recovery.

6. It’s likely to be a very thankless task. Psychopaths, particularly “socialized” or “charismatic” psychopaths, tend to carefully select victims who idolize them. Such victims sometimes stand by the psychopath even in those extreme cases when they’re convicted of rape and murder. The psychology of individuals brainwashed by cult leaders, who are often psychopathic, also applies to some victims of charismatic psychopaths. Even in less extreme cases, most victims pass through a honeymoon phase–filled with lies, flattery, mirroring of their values, phony declarations of love and false promises–which bonds them to the psychopath. During that phase many victims will not listen to anybody’s warnings, even in the face of compelling arguments and evidence. Just ask yourself: Did you or would you have listened to such a warning? I know that my friends tried to warn me early on about the psychopath’s true nature, but during the honeymoon phase I couldn’t see the lack of character, superficiality and malice they saw in him. Only during the much less pleasant devalue phase, which occurred during the final few weeks of our relationship, did I start to open my eyes and recall the red flags they had spotted much earlier than me. I suppose it’s better late than never!

7. A small minority of the victims of psychopaths are disordered and dangerous themselves.

However, if you’re motivated by the other-regarding desire to warn the current victims for their sake–to help them avoid the pain you felt–regardless of whether they’re grateful for the information you gave them and regardless of the fact this will keep you at least indirectly associated with the psychopath and his current life, then it may be worth assuming the risks I enumerated above.

I’ve shown in a previous post, called  Stringing Women Along: The Psychopath as Puppet Master,  how psychopaths use women against one another to string them along as back-ups and to play puppet master. The more subtle psychopaths also use them to keep their hands clean, so to speak. If a psychopath criticizes his wife to the girlfriend (to justify his cheating and prove his trustworthiness to her) and, once discovered, the girlfriend to his wife (to exculpate himself), then the two women are too busy fighting each other to focus on his wrongdoings. Aside from the entertainment value of jealous women fighting over him, the psychopath gets the additional advantage of not having to engage directly in a smear campaign. He allows the women, who now disrespect and maybe even hate each other, to do it for him. They can spread false or selective information to family members and friends, thus sparing him the dirty job of doing it himself. He’s lied to them both and cheated on them both. In a just world, he certainly deserves to be exposed.

The tricky part is how to do it most effectively. Because such manipulative men antagonize women against each other, it becomes difficult to share information in a civil manner. Once she realizes that she’s been mistreated and that something’s seriously wrong with this man, how does the wife tell the girlfriend about it (and why would she do her rival such a favor?) or the girlfriend tell the wife? Both are likely to suspect the other of ulterior motives, such as wanting to get the man for herself or petty revenge against him. Moreover, the wife, or the psychopath’s main partner, has been morally wronged most. The girlfriend with whom the psychopath cheated on her has wronged her almost as much as her own partner (except more impersonally). She’s therefore not likely to respect the girlfriend (or girlfriends) enough to even want to communicate with her (or them).

A few years ago, I followed with interest the discussions on lovefraud.com on this subject. Numerous women have shared their experiences of trying to tell the other women about the psychopath and his personality disorder, once they have opened their eyes. The contributors reported mixed results. Some of them were able to get through to their “rivals,” which were really fellow victims. Others received further insult and abuse, only now from the woman or women they were trying to help. Obviously that didn’t ameliorate the situation. The main reason, however, why some women reacted so negatively to the truth about the psychopath was not the rivalry he created between them, but the power he exercised over them. Victims of psychopathic seduction don’t all awake from their spell simultaneously, like in a fairy tale. They don’t all realize at the same moment that they’ve been duped and used, just as their rivals were. In addition, as we’ve seen, psychopaths generally undermine the boundaries and self-esteem of their long-term partners in a more profoundly damaging manner than they do those of their short-term girlfriends.

Trying to awake the girlfriend(s) from the psychopathic bond presents a different sort of challenge. Those women are probably being treated “better” than his long-term partner because the relationship is newer, because they don’t have to live with a psychopath day-to-day and because they’re being maintained for sex, entertainment and romance: meaning the most pleasant and light aspects of a relationship. Even psychopaths who are so stingy that they won’t spend a dime on their wives often spend lavishly on their newest girlfriends. A woman who’s been treated like a “princess”–wined, dined, pampered and romanced—is likely to be deeply under the haze of the psychopathic bond. How do you tell a girlfriend who’s apparently treated well the sad truth? How do you let her know that she’s only a temporary pampered pet who’ll soon be devalued and discarded?

In my opinion, it’s important to tell other women about what happened, but only in a way that doesn’t hurt you or tarnish your reputation further. After having suffered the trauma of being involved with a psychopath, the last thing you need is more people insulting you or machinating against you. To determine whom to tell and how, follow your intuition. Timing is key. Obviously, you can’t tell anyone about the psychopath unless they’re willing to listen. If you catch them still in the honeymoon phase of the relationship, when the psychopath’s acting like Prince Charming, you’re not likely to convince them. If you catch them after they’ve been so severely psychologically damaged by their psychopathic partner that they’re too weak or dependent to face reality, you won’t get through to them either. You’ll only get through to a person who retains enough autonomy and strength to face such devastating facts and who’s been through enough unpleasant and disconcerting experiences with the psychopath to understand what you’re talking about.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Erased But Not Forgotten: Psychopaths and Emotional Memory

Please welcome a post on psychopaths and emotional memory by our guest blogger, Michael Pacitti, who writes both from his personal experience with a psychopath and from his experience as a mental health professional. This article explains a seeming paradox:  how psychopaths can simultaneously move on from previous relationships and discard their partners so unfeelingly, as if their memories of the relationships were erased, yet still continue to harass and stalk some of their previous targets, in a kind of perpetual relationship boomerang. Hence the title we chose: Erased but Not Forgotten. 

I listened to a song playing on the radio quite recently, a U2 track from their album “how to dismantle an atomic bomb”; the song is called A Man and a Woman. As I listened it took me back to a time early in the relationship with my ex when her idealisation of me was in full swing. I remember playing this song for her when we first met, and I had one of those cognitive dissonance moments as feelings of loss, sadness and melancholia came crashing over me. I had another similar moment looking at some photos of the Lake District, and one of the photos reminded me of a camping trip my ex and I went on in mid July of 2009.

We all experience many of these moments throughout our lives when we encounter a stimulus, it could be a piece of music, a place, a smell, a photo, it could be anything that triggers memories of days gone by, and the people who were or are significant in our lives. In those moments of recall a flood of emotion washes over us and it as though we relive those bittersweet moments all over again; we may experience feelings of joy, happiness, contentment, sadness, grief and so on. These are our emotional memories at play.

There is a biological basis for this mechanism that combines and connects emotion with the storage and retrieval of our memories. Psychologists who have researched memory function have noted that recall involves specific memory pathways within the brain and that these pathways interact at specific neurological locations. Pathways that give rise to the experience of emotion work in tandem with memory storage pathways, in that they are woven together, which is why recall of unpleasant events produce unpleasant emotions; likewise recalling memories of pleasant experiences produces pleasant emotions. We are far more likely to be able to access and recall memories that are associated with strong emotions, than events that are emotionally neutral or are lacking in emotional significance.

What is interesting is that our memories are by and large draped over our experience of emotion, and are stored in these pathways accordingly, with neurological cognitive recall pathways running alongside and working hand in hand with emotional memory pathways.  Our emotional memories can be thought of as a little like an internal journal that charts our growth and development as we move through life. Our emotional life forms the core of our own inner narrative and our narrative with others, whether it is family members, friends, or loved ones who have come and gone. Our experience of emotion determines how we store our memories which helps map, organise, and structure our experiences into a narrative or personal story that gives us a sense of internal temporal continuity. This also gives others a sense of temporal continuity of, and with us. Imagine the chaos and instability we would experience in our lives if it were not for this sense of continuity?

And yet this lack of continuity is precisely one of the defining characteristics of a pathological relationship, where contradictions, dichotomies, and non sequiturs continuously keep us off balance. The psychopathic personality construct is comprised of traits that fall along and make up the Cluster B continuum, and central to all of these variations of psychopathy is a poverty of emotional experience. Neuro-imaging has revealed that psychopaths have anatomical differences in the paralimbic systems of the brain which deal with the processing and experience of emotion. What this means is that psychopaths only experience a narrow, primitive, and primordial spectrum of emotion; and what emotions they do experience are very short lived. They are in other words lacking in an emotional memory, which is one of the reasons why psychopaths are notorious for having poor or selective, and contradictory recall; their neurological pathways are not working in tandem. They actually store memories quite differently to the rest of us due their lacking the emotional pegging neccesary for organising their inner experience of events and people. They are limited to stroring memories in small encapsulated packages, or what Robert Hare refers to as “small thought units” in Without Conscience.

They have no true or real consistent depth of emotional experience that provides them with an emotional temporal inner story with either themselves or others; they are quite literally empty black holes. Their own inner experience of themselves falls through them in much the same way that their experience of others does. They may be capable of cognitive complexity, but rest assured if they are disordered there is little or no sign of emotional intelligence or nuance that enabled you to follow and keep track of their emotional story with us. Their script continually changes, or is rewritten and flips in a manner that is severely emotionally disorientating for the victim, leaving us feeling as though we are plucking a never-ending daisy.

Because they are lacking a core self at the helm of their own experience there comes a point when you realise that there is no consensual narrative or consensual reality. They are in a sense lacking in a personal story when it comes to emotional relating, bonding, attachment, and intimacy. We as their partners believed of course that we were living a narrative with them. What we did not comprehend is that everything we shared with them (or thought we shared), no matter how significant has absolutely no currency with them whatsoever. I found it helpful to think about it like this: Imagine you are thirsty and take a glass, you place the glass under the tap and fill it with water, you put the glass to your lips and realise the glass is empty; I could have sworn I just filled the glass under the tap. In an erratic and dramatic manner, their stories are forever changing and lack a smooth seam that charts their transition from emotional position a, to contradictory emotional position b. Their ever changing scripts to us as victims, made us feel like we had a central role in a very important plot, only to find that the plot had suddenly changed and we were never consulted about it. Our role in the plot suddenly ends and the script we were reading suddenly and abruptly no longer apply.

One of the hallmarks that you have experienced a pathological relationship is that you can recall numerous disagreements, when all previous context, history, and emotional narrative were deleted by your partner. Welcome to the bait and switch. Their behaviours that have caused huge damage to the relationship doesn’t form part of their dialogue and narrative, or enter into the equation during such disagreements. Even to the point of talking in the third person as though they have somehow divorced themselves from themselves and their own behaviour. Psychopaths cannot sustain any consistent position over a period of time; they are quintessentially unstable of feeling, emotion and insight. While they are seemingly able to demonstrate insightfulness in the here and now, they are unable to demonstrate insight into their lack of consistent or longitudinal insight or see the bigger picture. They have no bird’s eye view of their behaviour or how their behaviour has impacted upon us. This is one of the encrypted, crazy making, and puzzling conundrums of these personality disordered people that we can become forever lost in trying to the fathom. How is it that they can appear to have such sound insight in the here and now, and yet have no insight at all into their lack of consistency around their ever changing and dichotomised insights across time?    

 The past seems to somehow miraculously disappear, along with their declared feelings for us, and commitments to us, all in the blink of an eye. In the end, we come to realise that any feelings they said they had for us were nothing more than a primitive expression of emotion designed to have whatever needs they wanted us to meet in that precise here and now moment. Once they are done with us and have secured their next victim, they can delete us as though the past never happened and we never existed.  And yet, periodically, they pop up to harass and stalk some of their previous victims, not because they miss them, but because they need those dominance bonds to feel empowered and alive. 

Michael Pacitti   

Between Envy and Contempt: The Psychopath’s Emotional Pendulum

Envy and contempt don’t necessarily go together. They’re both very negative emotions, but in some ways they’re polar opposites. Envy is about wanting what others have and you lack. Contempt is about disdaining what others want or have. In a psychopath’s mind, however, these two emotions coexist. Psychopaths want what others have. They want to be loved, even adored, for who they are, despite continually lying to, cheating on and mistreating those around them. They want to have professional success, despite the fact they rarely put in the work for it and even cheat their customers or bosses. They want to be respected by their kids, despite the fact that they emotionally abuse them or regard them as mere possessions or trophies. They want to have what normal human beings often have in life but they can’t because of their underlying abnormality. This is why their main emotion is contempt for others and, more generally, for human endeavors, accomplishments and goals.

I became attuned to this pendular attitude when I noticed my psychopathic (ex) partner’s inexplicable and unjustified criticism of and disdain towards others. I recall in particular one incident, when he put down a friend of mine who is a very talented and successful fiction writer, who had just published a novel on the Stalinist era in the Soviet Union, which was very similar to my novel about communist Romania, Velvet Totalitarianism. His novel did very well not just in terms of sales but also in terms of critical reviews. My ex referred to that writer as “a Loser” and “a failure” because he didn’t sell in the same quantities as books like the Harry Potter series. I was stunned by the fact that this man (my ex), who had accomplished nothing with his life and got booted out of every job, would put down someone so much more accomplished than him, who was also a nice person. My friend hadn’t done or said anything to insult my ex. My ex’s gratuitous insult towards a talented, successful and nice person stuck with me. I didn’t see any reason for it.

Later, after I informed myself about psychopathy, I realized that he was indirectly also putting me down, so that I wouldn’t feel satisfied with the literary success of my fiction if it wouldn’t be on the scale of books like Harry Potter. Just like he had identified in his wife a low body image and conditioned her to feel fat when she wasn’t, to the point where she had joined Overeaters Anonymous, or pressured her to leave a lucrative job where she was very much appreciated by her colleagues, so he was hoping to find my insecurities and make me feel bad about my dreams and accomplishments.

There were many such incidents during the course of our one year together, which I went over in my mind retrospectively, after the breakup, when I was trying to come to terms with the pathological relationship. To offer one more telling example, I was equally shocked when he greeted the good news that his sister-in-law had just given birth to a new baby with the contemptuous statement: “The kid’s butt-ugly”. At the time, he was already pressuring me about wanting us to have a baby together. I realized that this is how he processed any news about others having something he wanted: with mean-spirited criticism driven by envy. This trait bothered me at the time but, as usual, I chalked it up to his emotional immaturity.

Psychopaths have contempt for worldly ambition, for money, fame or success in any field. They have contempt for human love, viewing it as a weakness that can be easily manipulated. They have contempt for bonds of friendship outside of casual fun or mutual utility. Envy and contempt, wanting what others have yet disdaining it at the same time, are not contradictory emotions for a psychopath. They form the essence of the psychopath’s pendular movement, which springs from an underlying narcissism: his natural equilibrium, or state of being. Psychopaths want to be better than others at everything we thrive at and hold dear, but at the same time they disdain human values and their fellow human beings.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 


The List of Psychopathy Symptoms: Hervey Cleckley and Robert Hare

“I knew in my heart something was wrong with him (or with her)”. This is what nearly every victim of a psychopath has felt, usually early on in the relationship. The over-the-top flattery. The quick pace of the relationship and demands for instant commitment. The lies and inconsistencies. The callousness towards others. The disregard for social norms. The sense of superiority (absolute narcissism), without having much to show for it or justify it. The aimlessness and lack of responsibility. The random oscillations in mood and behavior, to exert power over others. The demands for isolation from loved ones and friends. The sexual deviancy. The control and possessiveness. There are always very disturbing signs in the psychopathic bond, signs that we tend to ignore or rationalize until the toxic relationship, like a disease, takes over to destroy our lives. 

I’d advise anyone who feels this way to start researching on the internet the symptoms they see wrong because this information about psychopathy, and finally paying attention to the red flags and our intuition, has saved each and every one of us. The first –and last–step in recovery from the psychopathic bond is getting information; recognizing the nature of the problem. This is why knowing how to identify the symptoms of psychopathy is so important. Information can save us from denial, false hope, gaslighting and the illusion that a psychopath is likely to foster in victims. It can give us the strength to leave the toxic relationships, substantiated by facts as opposed to just feelings. Psychopaths can manipulate our feelings. But the symptoms of this personality disorder are clear as psychology–which is, after all, a social rather than “hard” science–can identify.

Today I’d like to repost a list of the symptoms of psychopathy, offered by two of the main experts on psychopathy, to whom I’ve often alluded so far: Hervey Cleckley (author of The Mask of Sanity) and Robert Hare (author of Without Conscience, Snakes in Suits and The Psychopathy Checklist). Obviously, their lists are very similar since Robert Hare built upon Hervey Cleckley’s ground-breaking research.

Hervey Cleckley’s List of Psychopathy Symptoms:

1. Considerable superficial charm and average or above average intelligence.

2. Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking.

3. Absence of anxiety or other “neurotic” symptoms. Considerable poise, calmness and verbal facility.

4. Unreliability, disregard for obligations, no sense of responsibility, in matters of little and great import.

5. Untruthfulness and insincerity.

6. Antisocial behavior which is inadequately motivated and poorly planned, seeming to stem from an inexplicable impulsiveness.

7. Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior.

8. Poor judgment and failure to learn from experience.

9. Pathological egocentricity. Total self-centeredness and an incapacity for real love and attachment.

10. General poverty of deep and lasting emotions.

11. Lack of any true insight; inability to see oneself as others do.

12. Ingratitude for any special considerations, kindness and trust.

13. Fantastic and objectionable behavior, after drinking and sometimes even when not drinking. Vulgarity, rudeness, quick mood shifts, pranks for facile entertainment.

14. No history of genuine suicide attempts.

15. An impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated sex life.

16. Failure to have a life plan and to live in any ordered way  (unless it is for destructive purposes or a sham).

Robert Hare’s Checklist of Psychopathy Symptoms:

1. GLIB AND SUPERFICIAL CHARM — the tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile. Psychopathic charm is not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything. A psychopath never gets tongue-tied. He can also be a great listener, to simulate empathy while zeroing in on his targets’ dreams and vulnerabilities, to be able to manipulate them better.

2. GRANDIOSE SELF-WORTH — a grossly inflated view of one’s abilities and self-worth, self-assured, opinionated, cocky, a braggart. Psychopaths are arrogant people who believe they are superior human beings.

3. NEED FOR STIMULATION or PRONENESS TO BOREDOM — an excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky. Psychopaths often have a low self-discipline in carrying tasks through to completion because they get bored easily. They fail to work at the same job for any length of time, for example, or to finish tasks that they consider dull or routine.

4. PATHOLOGICAL LYING — can be moderate or high; in moderate form, they will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever; in extreme form, they will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative and dishonest.

5. CONNING AND MANIPULATIVENESS: the use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; distinguished from Item #4 in the degree to which exploitation and callous ruthlessness is present, as reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of one’s victims.

6. LACK OF REMORSE OR GUILT:  a lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, coldhearted and unempathic. This item is usually demonstrated by a disdain for one’s victims.

7. SHALLOW AFFECT:  emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness and superficial warmth.

8. CALLOUSNESS and LACK OF EMPATHY:  a lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.

9. PARASITIC LIFESTYLE: an intentional, manipulative, selfis, and exploitative financial dependence on others as reflected in a lack of motivation, low self-discipline and the inability to carry through one’s responsibilities.

10. POOR BEHAVIORAL CONTROLS:  expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting hastily.

11. PROMISCUOUS SEXUAL BEHAVIOR: a variety of brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, and an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners; the maintenance of numerous, multiple relationships at the same time; a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity (rape) or taking great pride at discussing sexual exploits and conquests.

12. EARLY BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS: a variety of behaviors prior to age 13, including lying, theft, cheating, vandalism, bullying, sexual activity, fire-setting, glue-sniffing, alcohol use and running away from home.

13. LACK OF REALISTIC, LONG-TERM GOALS: an inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals; a nomadic existence, aimless, lacking direction in life.

14. IMPULSIVITY: the occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations and momentary urges; a lack of deliberation without considering the consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable, erratic and reckless.

15. IRRESPONSIBILITY: repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments; such as not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements.

16. FAILURE TO ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR OWN ACTIONS: a failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions reflected in low conscientiousness, an absence of dutifulness, antagonistic manipulation, denial of responsibility, and an effort to manipulate others through this denial.

17. MANY SHORT-TERM RELATIONSHIPS: a lack of commitment to a long-term relationship reflected in inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable commitments in life, including in marital and familial bonds.

18. JUVENILE DELINQUENCY: behavior problems between the ages of 13-18; mostly behaviors that are crimes or clearly involve aspects of antagonism, exploitation, aggression, manipulation, or a callous, ruthless tough-mindedness.

19. REVOCATION OF CONDITION RELEASE: a revocation of probation or other conditional release due to technical violations, such as carelessness, low deliberation or failing to appear.

20. CRIMINAL VERSATILITY: a diversity of types of criminal offenses, regardless if the person has been arrested or convicted for them; taking great pride at getting away with crimes or wrongdoings.

These lists have been compiled by angelfire, on the link below:

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction



Social Predators: With Friends Like These Who Needs Enemies?


Sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction. Consider the following true story, which sounds so fantastic that it could have been lifted off the pages of an Agatha Christie mystery. One October evening 1998, a despondent Englishman named John Allan rushes into the hotel lobby of the New Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor, Egypt. He appears to be very distressed. He announces in a panic-stricken voice that his wife is dying in their hotel room. Pamela Black, a guest who happens to be trained in administering first aid, goes with him to try to help his wife. She finds Cheryl Lewis sprawled out naked on the bed. A ring of sweat surrounds her limp body. She’s also frothing at the mouth. Unwilling to risk her own life for a stranger, Black tells Allan that she’ll instruct him on how to give his dying wife mouth-to-mouth. Strangely, the man refuses to help. He paces back and forth by the foot of the bed while his partner is dying. To make matters worse, the doctor called to the scene also refuses to aid the sick woman, claiming that she’s a foreigner. The hospital staff can’t save her either. Cheryl Lewis, a seemingly healthy woman, expires at the age of 43.

The Egyptian doctors declared in their report that Cheryl Lewis died of natural causes. But in England detectives decided to investigate the matter further. John Allan’s bizarre behavior aroused their suspicion. Only days after his partner’s death, he kept company with prostitutes. Weeks later, he courted Jennifer Hughes, one of Cheryl’s close friends. He flattered her, cooked for her, pampered her and made her feel special, just as he had his previous girlfriend. Like Cheryl, she too believed that she had finally found her soulmate. However, when Jennifer refused to move in with him in a church where, eerily enough, his previous lover was supposed to be buried, Allan turned on her. That day Jennifer ended up sick. She was hospitalized for severe nausea and stomach cramps. The cause of her illness turned out to be cyanide poisoning. Police discovered large doses of cyanide in Cheryl’s car. During the trial it came to light that Allan had used cyanide to kill off his butterfly collection. Detective Superintendent Dave Smith, who investigated Cheryl Lewis’s homicide, concluded that John Allan had poisoned his girlfriends. Yet both women had been very enamored with him, considered him to be their life partner and trusted him fully. “He opens car doors for them, has their drinks when they come home, cooks their meals and just pampers them,” Detective Smith explained Allan’s magnetic pull on women.

Those who had not fallen victim to Allan’s seduction skills, however, saw another, more menacing, side of him. Close friends of Cheryl have described him as a “first-rate parasite” and “pure evil.” Eric Lewis, Cheryl’s father, stated in an interview following John Allan’s conviction for the murder of his daughter that Allan was “a confessed liar, a confessed forger. He’s extremely devious. He’s a skillful manipulator and a very, very dangerous man.” Lewis admitted that he never liked Allan. He didn’t see what his daughter, who was wealthy, successful and attractive, ever saw in him. Yet before the misfortunate turn of events, even he couldn’t predict just how dangerous John Allan would be.

On the surface, Allan’s motive for killing Cheryl Lewis, his companion of seven years, appeared to be money. Police discovered that he had forged part of her will, declaring himself as the main beneficiary of her $690,000 estate. But this motive doesn’t even begin to explain the sordid mind games he played with women. It doesn’t quite capture the lies he told his girlfriend when he claimed to be involved in illegal arms deals in the Middle East and pursued by terrorists. It doesn’t fully explain why he tried to extort money from Cheryl for a topaz ring her mother had given her, demanding more than $3000 for its return. Later, his DNA was found on the stamp placed on the anonymous letter sent by the blackmailer. It also doesn’t explain why he attempted to shoot his previous wife, Sima, the mother of his three children. And it doesn’t explain why he asked his newest girlfriend to live in the church where Cheryl’s body was supposed to be buried. In other words, no rational explanation or comprehensible motive can even begin to explain this dangerous seducer’s severe personality disorder–psychopathy–which led him to pathological lying, malicious manipulation, sexual perversion, theft, blackmail and eventually the cold-blooded murder of the woman he called the love of his life.

Not all sociopaths kill, of course. Few do. But they all hide their evil designs, mask their exploitative nature and withhold their real malicious motives from us. That is how they lure us; that is how they use us; that is how they also aim to destroy us, if not physically, then at the very least emotionally. The luring phase is perhaps the most sadistic of all because it is their best effort at disguise. The more they act like  they love and desire us; the more effort they put into deceiving and seducing us, the lower we will sink  when the fraudulent relationship inevitably falls apart.

I’ll offer an analogy to illustrate the underlying cruelty of psychopathic behavior.  Imagine the following scenario: a boy who gets a puppy for Christmas. He pets him, feeds him, cuddles him, plays with him and even sleeps next to him at night. Then, six months later, after the puppy has bonded most with him and expects only nurture and affection from him, the boy takes a knife and slaughters him just for fun. That’s exactly what a psychopath does, at the very least on a psychological level, to every person who becomes intimately involved with him. He carefully nurtures expectations of mutual honesty and love. Then he sticks a knife into her back through a pattern of intentional deception and abuse.

Let me now offer a second, more poignant, example. I remember many years ago being horrified when I read in the news about the rapes of Bosnian women by ethnically Serbian men. What troubled me most was a true story about a Serbian soldier who “saved” a Bosnian girl from gang rape by fellow Serbs. He removed her from the dangerous situation, fed her, protected her and talked to her reassuringly and tenderly for several days. Once he secured her trust, gratitude and devotion, he raped and killed her himself. Afterwards, he boasted about his exploits on the international news. This degree of psychological sadism exceeds that of the brutes who raped and killed women without initially faking niceness and caring. What he did to her was even more insidious, duplicitous and perverse. This backstabbing of trusting and loving victims makes psychopaths so calculated, dangerous and predatory. Evil is the word that comes to mind to best describe them and their diabolical actions. If you’ve been involved with a with a psychopath,  you have to wonder: with friends like these who needs enemies?

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the Psychopathic Bond

Many victims  of psychopathic and other kinds of pathological individuals experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) both during and (especially) after the relationship is over. PTSD is a manifestation of the immense shock victims experience when they come to realize the relationship with the psychopath was founded upon lies, false promises, hidden lives or other fraudulent activities and sometimes even fraudulent identities.  I’m pasting below an article written by the staff of the Mayo Clinic about PTSD, its causes and its symptoms. You can also find this article on the Mayo Clinic website, on the link below:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

By Mayo Clinic staff

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms typically start within three months of a traumatic event. In a small number of cases, though, PTSD symptoms may not appear until years after the event.

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms are generally grouped into three types: intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, and increased anxiety or emotional arousal (hyperarousal).

Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:

  • Flashbacks, or reliving the traumatic event for minutes or even days at a time
  • Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event

Symptoms of avoidance and emotional numbing may include:

  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships

Symptoms of anxiety and increased emotional arousal may include:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Hearing or seeing things that aren’t there

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can come and go. You may have more post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms when things are stressful in general, or when you run into reminders of what you went through. You may hear a car backfire and relive combat experiences, for instance. Or you may see a report on the news about a rape and feel overcome by memories of your own assault.

When to see a doctor
It’s normal to have a wide range of feelings and emotions after a traumatic event. You might experience fear and anxiety, a lack of focus, sadness, changes in how well you sleep or how much you eat, or crying spells that catch you off guard. You may have nightmares or be unable to stop thinking about the event. This doesn’t mean you have post-traumatic stress disorder.

But if you have these disturbing thoughts and feelings for more than a month, if they’re severe, or if you feel you’re having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your health care professional. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse.

In some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms may be so severe that you need emergency help, especially if you’re thinking about harming yourself or someone else. If this happens, call 911 or other emergency medical service, or ask a supportive family member or friend for help.