Psychopaths, Jerks and Triangulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

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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

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



Why do psychopaths target married or “taken” individuals?

Some of the readers of this blog have asked me: why do psychopaths target married or “taken” individuals? Why don’t they prefer people who are single and available? My first answer is a reminder that psychopaths target everyone. They are constantly performing in their heads a cost-benefit analysis that intuitively assesses how they can use and exploit each individual they meet.

For those psychopaths who are sex addicts and/or sexual predators, obviously the use-value that matters most has to do with domination through sex and romance. When a psychopath enters a room, he scopes out everyone and zones in on the prey that he intuits might be vulnerable or open to his advances. Psychopathic sex addicts have plenty of easy prey: one night stands, friends with benefits and flings. They do go after easy targets.

However, those targets are not enough because their domination and conquest are purely physical, not emotional. This is why psychopaths also latch on to more challenging prey. They promise them commitment and express (phony or superficial) love in order to sink their teeth deeper into them, body and soul. Feeling the love in someone else’s eyes gives psychopaths and narcissists a sense of power, almost omnipotence, that is very arousing, especially since they know that the love is based on a foundation of lies and false premises. The conquest and dupery of their victims is doubly intoxicating for them.

Choosing married or otherwise “taken” victims adds a third dimension to their sadistic pleasure. When they seduce a married woman, they are not only conquering that person’s heart but also “taking her” from another man. To psychopaths this represents a double conquest and therefore also a double defeat of their victims: both of the person they dupe into loving them and of the person they both cheat on. The thrill of seducing married individuals, to manipulate and hurt not only a given target, but also her significant other and family, often proves irresistible to psychopaths, fueling their false sense of superiority, power and invincibility.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

A Painful Incredulity: Psychopathy and Cognitive Dissonance

Almost everyone involved with a psychopath goes through a phase (and form) of denial. It’s very tough to accept the sad reality that the person who claimed to be your best friend or the love of your life is actually a backstabbing snake whose sole purpose in life is humiliating and dominating those around him. Rather than confront this reality, some victims go into denial entirely. They aren’t ready to accept any part of the truth, which, when suppressed, often surfaces in anxiety, projection and nightmares.

At some point, however, the evidence of a highly disturbed personality shows through, especially once the psychopath is no longer invested in a given victim and thus no longer makes a significant effort to keep his mask on. Then total denial is no longer possible. The floodgates of reality suddenly burst open and a whole slew of inconsistencies, downright lies, manipulations, criticism and emotional abuse flows through to the surface of our consciousness.

However, even then it’s difficult to absorb such painful information all at once. Our heart still yearns for what we have been persuaded, during the luring phase, was our one true love. Our minds are still filled with memories of the so-called good times with the psychopath. Yet, the truth about the infidelities, the constant deception, the manipulation and the backstabbing can no longer be denied. We can’t undo everything we learned about the psychopath; we cannot return to the point of original innocence, of total blindness. The result is a contradictory experience: a kind of internal battle between clinging to denial and accepting the truth.

Cognitive dissonance is a painful incredulity marked by this inner contradiction in the victim’s attitude towards the victimizer. In 1984, perhaps the best novel about brainwashing that occurs in totalitarian regimes, George Orwell coined his own term for this inner contradiction: he called it doublethink. Doublethink is not logical, but it is a common defense mechanism for coping with deception, domination and abuse. Victims engage in doublethink, or cognitive dissonance, in a partly subconscious attempt to reconcile the contradictory claims and behavior of the disordered individuals who have taken over their lives.

The denial itself can take several forms. It can manifest itself as the continuing idealization of the psychopath during the luring phase of the relationship or it can be shifting the blame for what went wrong in the relationship from him, the culprit, to ourselves, or to other victims. In fact, the easiest solution is to blame neither oneself nor the psychopath, but other victims. How often have you encountered the phenomenon where people who have partners who cheat on them lash out at the other women (or men) instead of holding their  partners accountable for their actions? It’s far easier to blame someone you’re not emotionally invested in than someone you love, particularly if you still cling to that person or relationship.

Other victims project the blame back unto themselves.  They accept the psychopath’s projection of blame and begin questioning themselves: what did I do wrong, to drive him away? What was lacking in me that he was so negative or unhappy in the relationship? Was I not smart enough, virtuous enough, hard-working enough, beautiful enough, sexy enough, attentive enough, submissive enough etc.

When one experiences cognitive dissonance, the rational knowledge about psychopathy doesn’t fully sink in on an emotional level. Consequently, the victim moves constantly back and forth between the idealized fantasy and the pathetic reality of the psychopath. This is a very confusing process and an emotionally draining one as well. Initially, when you’re the one being idealized by him, the fantasy is that a psychopath can love you and that he is committed to you and respects you. Then, once you’ve been devalued and/or discarded, the fantasy remains that he is capable of loving others, just not you. That you in particular weren’t right for him, but others can be. This is the fantasy that the psychopath tries to convince every victim once they enter the devalue phase. Psychopaths truly believe this because they never see anything wrong with themselves or their behavior, so if they’re no longer excited by a person, they conclude it must be her (or his) fault; that she (or he) is deficient.

Because you put up with emotional abuse from the psychopath you were with and recently been through the devaluation phase–in fact, for you it was long and drawn-out–you have absorbed this particular fantasy despite everything you know about psychopaths’ incapacity to love or even care about others. But with time and no contact, the rational knowledge and the emotional will merge, and this last bit of illusion about the psychopath will be dissolved.

Cognitive dissonance is part and parcel of being the victim of a personality disordered individual. It doesn’t occur in healthy relationships for several reasons:

1) healthy individuals may have good and bad parts of their personalities, but they don’t have a Jekyll and Hyde personality; a mask of sanity that hides an essentially malicious and destructive self. In a healthy relationship, there’s a certain transparency: basically, what you see is what you get. People are what they seem to be, flaws and all.

2) healthy relationships aren’t based on emotional abuse, domination and a mountain of deliberate lies and manipulation

3) healthy relationships don’t end abruptly, as if they never even happened because normal people can’t detach so quickly from deeper relationships

4) conversely, however, once healthy relationships end, both parties accept that and move on. There is no stalking and cyberstalking, which are the signs of a disordered person’s inability to detach from a dominance bond: a pathetic attempt at reassertion of power and control over a relationship that’s over for good

Cognitive dissonance happens  in those cases where there’s an unbridgeable contradiction between a dire reality and an increasingly implausible fantasy which, once fully revealed, would be so painful to accept, that you’d rather cling to parts of the fantasy than confront that sad reality and move on.

Relatedly, cognitive dissonance is also a sign that the psychopath still has a form of power over you: that his distorted standards still have a place in your brain. That even though you may reject him on some level, on another his opinions still matter to you. Needless to say, they shouldn’t. He is a fraud; his opinions are distorted; his ties to others, even those he claims to “love,” just empty dominance bonds. Rationally, you already know that his opinions and those of his followers should have no place in your own mental landscape.  

But if emotionally you still care about what he thinks or feels, then you are giving a disordered person too much power over you: another form of cognitive dissonance, perhaps the most dangerous. Cut those imaginary ties and cut the power chords that still tie you to a pathological person, his disordered supporters and their abnormal frame of reference.  Nothing good will ever come out of allowing a psychopath and his pathological defenders any place in your heart or mind. The schism between their disordered perspective and your healthy one creates the inner tension that is also called cognitive dissonance. To eliminate this inner tension means to free yourself– body, heart and mind–from the psychopath, his followers and their opinions or standards. What they do, say, think or believe –and the silly mind games they choose to play–simply does not matter.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Psychopathy and Totalitarianism: A Review of Conquest’s The Great Terror

Psychopathy is usually analyzed as an individual psychological phenomenon. As we’ve seen, the term describes individuals without conscience, with shallow emotions, who are able to impersonate fully developed human beings and mimic feelings of love, caring and other-regarding impulses to fulfill their deviant goals: be that stealing your money,  stealing your heart or both. This phenomenon becomes all the more toxic, and dangerous, when such individuals rise to national power and manage to create totalitarian regimes ruled by mind-control, deception, lack of individual and collective rights and freedoms, and  arbitrary displays of power.

Psychopathic, or at least seriously disordered rulers, such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Ceausescu show what happens when (their) pathology spreads to a whole country. Given that psychopaths are estimated to be, at most, only 4 percent of the population, it’s difficult to imagine how they manage to rise to positions of authority over more or less normal human beings to impose a social pathology in every social sphere: from education, to the police force, to the juridical system, to the media. Few books explain this strange and extremely dangerous political and psychological phenomenon better than Robert Conquest‘s classic, The Great Terror. This book traces both Stalin’s rise to power within the ranks of the Bolsheviks and, concurrently, the spreading of the totalitarian system like a fatal virus throughout Soviet society (and beyond).

The book also exposes the underlying lack of principles even among seemingly ideological rulers like Joseph Stalin. When it suited his purposes, Stalin strategically oscillated siding with the left wing of the communist party (Trotsky, Kamenev and Zimonev) or the right of the Bolshevik party (Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky), turning each side against the other, to weaken them both and consolidate his own power. He surrounded himself with equally ruthless, unprincipled and sadistic individuals who did his dirty work–Yakov, Yagoda and Beria–placing them in positions of power in the NKVD, or Secret Police.

Stalin engaged in arbitrary displays of power, sending tens of millions of people to their deaths in prison or labor camps. Even his army leaders weren’t spared. In a very poor strategic move that showed he cared more about acquiring total control than about his country’s victory, Stalin decimated the ranks of his army elite right before the war against Hitler, when the Soviet Union would have needed them most. Nobody was safe from the gulag; nobody could maintain ideological purity. Anybody could be accused of deviationism from communist principles at any time.

Totalitarianism is a pathological system imposed upon an entire country or area. Like a disease, it spreads through the healthy aspects of society. It conditions even ordinary human beings, through the inculcation of fear and through brainwashing, to lose their conscience, their empathy and their humanity. Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror is a testament to human corruptibility. This magnificent book will continue to remain historically relevant  for as long as we allow disordered individuals to have power over us, our families and our social institutions.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Review of Sarah Strudwick’s Dark Souls

If you’ve been involved with someone who seemed to be your dream come true, but turned out to suck all the energy,  financial resources and happiness out of you, then Sarah Strudwick‘s new book, Dark Souls: Healing and Recovering from Toxic  Relationships is worth reading. This book, written by a very well-informed survivor of a toxic relationship with a narcissistic  sociopath, offers a wealth of information about the key symptoms of sociopathy and malignant narcissism; an inspiring tale of the author’s
personal journey of coping with a hellish relationship and her survival; information about other helpful books and resources that can help victims;  and, last but not least, a dab of wry British humor to entertain you.

Dark Souls gets to the essence of what makes personality disordered individuals so predatory, ruthless and dangerous. It exposes  their luring techniques, when such individuals seem to be perfect and adapt to your ideals. It reveals why this is only a mask to hide  these social predators’ real motives, which is to use and abuse others for their personal gain and amusement.  It explains the physiological and psychological manifestations of sociopathy and narcissism, exploring the reasons behind their shallowness of emotions  that leads these predators to con, deceive, beguile, torment and sometimes physically harm others.

The book also examines, in an introspective and highly informative manner, the profile of their chosen targets: whom social predators tend to select  and why. Although nobody is immune from victimization by sociopaths and narcissists, Strudwick indicates that these predators tend to pick  the emphatic, vulnerable and needy out of the herd. She traces the root of this vulnerability to childhood upbringing, using her own life as an example.  This doesn’t mean, however, that their chosen victims are weak. The author also goes on to explain that sociopaths tend to target strong and principled victims.  They prefer individuals whom they initially regard as a challenge, later use as a false front and, when  they are finally unmasked, who won’t behave towards them as unscrupulously as they do (by lying, cheating and/or defrauding others).

While there are quite a few informative books on narcissism and sociopathy, Dark Souls still manages to bring a lot to the literature on the subject  through its wit and spiritual perspective. This book uses the metaphor of the “dark soul” and the concept of spiritual energy to explain how psychopaths and  narcissists drain our emotional energy as well as to point to a road of recovery and personal flourishing once we end these toxic relationships.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

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