Reconciling with A Psychopath: The Dangerous Lure of the Honeymoon Phase

Many of the victims who are tempted to get back together with a psychopath have a nostalgia for the luring phase. They don’t dream of getting back with a serial cheater, a pathological liar and a controlling narcissistic individual. They long for the return of the seemingly loving person they first encountered. In other words, they want the psychopath to put his mask back on: only this time they want the mask to be real–his real self–not just a ruse.

During this honeymoon period the psychopath put on a very desirable front. He was helpful, attentive, respectful, flattering, generous, romantic and nice. He made promises that sounded great. He pledged  commitment, fidelity, loyalty and everlasting love. He looked into your eyes and told you he doesn’t need any other partners. You were the person he looked for all his life. Let’s face it: cheesy lines sound very truthful and romantic when they play on the chords of the tune you want to hear.

Psychopaths are good enough actors to make such cheesy lines sound plausible to their victims, not only because of what they say but also how they say it: looking into your eyes, speaking in a low, hypnotic voice, even blushing with emotion or shedding a tear or two at the right moment. For me, the Chris Rea music video below, called Looking for the summer, captures very well the nostalgia and the hope that you can return to the honeymoon phase of any romantic relationship  the second time around:

But the psychopathic bond is no ordinary relationship, as the one featured on this video. It’s an extraordinarily toxic relationship that involves predation. As seductive and appealing as the luring phase with a psychopath may be, as the victims who reconcile find out, this illusion only happens once. I’d like to analyze here some of the reasons why even those who make the grave mistake of returning to their psychopathic ex’s–and thus jeopardize their recovery, their happiness and perhaps even their lives–cannot recapture what they experienced with the psychopath in the beginning.

From the psychopath’s perspective:

1) You are no longer a new pursuit for him. Psychopaths are excited by novelty: by duping and seducing a new person. Within a few minutes, hours, or days of getting back together with a psychopath you will see that he considers you as familiar as a pair of old shoes.

2) You have demonstrated weakness in his eyes. A breakup with a psychopath happens because he has mistreated you: lied to you, cheated on you, stolen money from you, controlled you. Whatever form the mistreatment took, it was serious. You may have broken up with him as a result of the mistreatment or he beat you to it and broke up with you first. It doesn’t really matter. The relationship itself was at the very least emotionally abusive. If you get back together with a psychopath you’re letting him know that you are willing and ready to take abuse. And he will dish it out. To him, your willingness to accept the abuse will be an indicator of your weakness, not of your love and loyalty as you may believe. Rather than a more enduring rekindling of the old flame you can expect less respect and more mistreatment. The fundamental inequality of the psychopathic bond will deepen, creating an even bigger and more overt schism of double standards in his favor.

3) You are showing neediness. If you need him so much that you are willing to return to him even after the abuse, then he will continue to play catch and release games with you in the future. Psychopaths are psychological sadists and as such enjoy tormenting their victims. By engaging in a series of breakups and reconciliations you have proved yourself to be an excellent subject for these cat and mouse experiments.

4) Relatedly, you have also proven yourself to be a reliable backup. Psychopaths return to their former targets out of boredom and the compulsion to maintain control over you and your relationship. Usually, however, those targets don’t excite them as much as new pursuits. They therefore use them as backups, to return to them periodically, when they are bored with everyone else, when a newer and more exciting flame is busy or on vacation, or whenever they feel like it. By getting back together with him, you are showing that you think so little of yourself that you’re willing to be available for a psychopath on his terms, at his beck and call.

5) Last but certainly not least, the psychopath is getting back together with you to punish and destroy you. How dare you break up with him? Or, if he broke up with you, how come you didn’t grovel enough to get him back? If he didn’t finish you off the first time around, by destroying you emotionally and financially, he may this time. He has a good shot at it, thanks to your willingness to forgive him. At the very least, he will humiliate you by waving under your nose his wooing other women and the honeymoon phases with them, which are forever gone for you. Needless to say, this is not the foundation for the romantic reconciliation you envision. At best, it’s the groundwork for being friends with benefits. Only the psychopath isn’t your real friend, but your worst enemy masquerading as a friend to use and hurt you some more.

From the victim’s perspective:

1) You’re not blinded by novelty and love anymore. In fact, you’re not falling in love with the psychopath at all. You are returning to a relationship you now realize is deeply flawed, hoping that if you both work at it you can correct it.  You are therefore returning to the psychopath with a lost innocence (or blindness, more like it) expecting that he reform. It will not get better, however, it will get a lot worse. Which leads me to my next point.

2) Your expectations won’t be met. Psychopaths feign working at a relationship long enough to get what they want. If you already got back together with the psychopath, then he has pretty much lost the incentive to fool you, unless you have something else he wants, such as money. The more you see that the psychopath isn’t taking the relationship seriously again and willing to put in the work to improve it, the more you’ll express your frustration. In response, the psychopath will rebuff you and project the blame unto you. So what happens next?

3) You will either have to accept the fundamental inequality of the relationship or you will have to fight him tooth and nail on every issue. Either way, the result will not be particularly pleasant or romantic. You’ll either be reduced to the status of a subordinate in the relationship or you will continually fight for an equality and fairness that is impossible in a psychopathic bond. Such a relationship is predicated upon lies, inequality and dominance.

4) You are too aware of his deception. The original honeymoon phase was based on a huge pile of lies that you believed or at least wanted to believe. You believed that he loved you. You wanted to believe he could therefore be faithful to you. You wanted to believe he could care about you and your loved ones. You wanted to believe that he could consider your common interest rather than making purely selfish decisions. All these assumptions proved to be wrong. He was purely selfish. He loves no one but himself. He acted in such a way as to hurt you and your loved ones. They say that ignorance is bliss. But that’s not really true. Ignorance is vulnerability and what you didn’t know has hurt you. At any rate, it’s impossible to return to the original state of ignorance when you believed all his lies. You can’t even give him the benefit of the doubt anymore because he’s already proven to you that he doesn’t deserve it. Everything the psychopath tells you from now on will seem suspect.

So your relationship will be founded upon inequality, warranted suspicion and distrust,  wounded feelings and impossible expectations. Anyone who gives a psychopath a second, third, fourth or fifth chance based on the fantasy of the honeymoon phase will live a nightmare in reality. Real life with the psychopath will be filled with double standards in his favor, with jealousy and deceit, with constant tension and fighting, with higher expectations from him and fewer efforts on his part to meet you halfway and improve the relationship. Keep this reality in mind whenever the dangerous lure of the honeymoon phase haunts you.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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Red Flags: How to Identify a Psychopathic Bond

The most important self-defense against psychopathic seducers consists of recognizing the initial warning signals so that you can escape the relationship early on, hopefully before you’re seriously harmed.  Dr. Joseph Carver has put together a helpful and instructive list outlining the early symptoms of a dangerous relationship with a psychopath, or as he puts it quite aptly, with “a Loser.” As we’ve already seen in the previous account of Drew Peterson’s behavior, not all the signs of psychopathic seduction are obviously negative.  But, as we’ll see, even the symptoms that seem positive (such as the instant attachment and over-the-top attention, flattery and gifts) are in fact negative. Similarly, Carver notes that the Loser doesn’t have to exhibit all of the symptoms listed below to be dangerous. The presence of even three of these symptoms indicates a potentially harmful relationship. Anything above this number points to not just probable, but certain harm. Carver begins by defining “the Loser”: “‘The Loser’ is a type of partner that creates much social, emotional and psychological damage in a relationship… The following list is an attempt to outline the characteristics of ‘The Loser’ and provide a manner in which women and men can identify potentially damaging relationships before they are themselves severely damaged emotionally or even physically.” (drjoecarver.com)

1.     The Loser will Hurt you on Purpose. “If he or she hits you, twists your arm, pulls your hair, kicks you, shoves you, or breaks your personal property even once, drop them,” Carver advises. As we’ve seen, Drew Peterson escalated the abuse of his partners. He began with criticism, went on to name-calling and moved on to physical violence and (probably) murder. It’s very important to get away from a Loser at the slightest hint of violence, including verbal aggression, since abuse usually increases in frequency and severity over time.

2.     Quick Attachment and Expression. “The Loser,” Carver notes, “has very shallow emotions and connections with others. One of the things that might attract you to the Loser is how quickly he or she says ‘I Love You’ or wants to marry or commit to you. Typically, in less than a few weeks of dating you’ll hear that you’re the love of their life, they want to be with you forever, and they want to marry you. You’ll receive gifts, a variety of promises, and be showered with their attention and nice gestures.” Drew Peterson and other dangerous seducers wouldn’t get any partners, much less attractive young women, if they showed their true colors from the very beginning. Psychopaths generally pour on the romance. They deluge their targets with flattery, promises and gifts at the beginning of the relationship. No matter how promiscuous they actually are, they focus their energies on their most desirable targets. Yet, Carver cautions, this seemingly positive sign is, in fact, also negative. It signals shallowness of emotions rather than strength of love. He elaborates, “Normal, healthy individuals require a long process to develop a relationship because there is so much at stake… The rapid warm-up is always a sign of shallow emotions which later cause the Loser to detach from you as quickly as they committed.” Which is exactly what Drew Peterson  (and others like him) did after seducing each of his partners. As easily as he attached to them initially, he later detached from them to pursue his next conquest(s).

3.     Frightening Temper. Sooner or later the Loser reveals his hot temper. Carver states that Losers often begin with indirect violence—such as demonstratively hitting the wall with their fist or throwing objects—before they start pushing, punching or hitting their partners. The physical outbursts towards inanimate objects function as a form of intimidation. Through such behavior, Losers show their targets that they’re capable of doing the same thing to them.  Such outbursts also train the partners to become gradually habituated to acts of violence.

4.     Killing Your Self-Confidence. Losers generally prefer flings and short-term affairs, which provide constant new thrills. They also engage in long-term relationships, however, to gain more lasting control over certain more promising targets. It’s nearly impossible to control strong human beings who have clear boundaries and a healthy self-esteem. This is why psychopaths eventually move from the initial over-the-top flattery to scathing criticism. Once they have secured their chosen partners in their grasp, they put them down to erode their self-esteem. Carver states that, for instance, Losers “constantly correct your slight mistakes, making you feel ‘on guard’, unintelligent, and leaving you with the feeling that you are always doing something wrong… This gradual chipping away at your confidence and self-esteem allows them to later treat you badly–as though you deserved it.” According to Tracy’s and Stacy’s families and friends, after seducing them, Drew undermined both women’s self-confidence. His assertion that he pampered Stacy by indulging her obsession with plastic surgery rings false. By way of contrast, her friends’ and family’s claim that he criticized her to the point that she felt compelled to make constant “improvements” in her physical appearance sounds much more plausible. Stacy’s growing insecurity also placed her under Drew’s power to determine how she felt about herself.

5.     Cutting Off Your Support. In the wild, predators isolate their prey from the rest of the herd to better attack and devour it. That’s precisely what psychopaths do to their targets. Losers isolate their partners from their friends, colleagues and families. They may do so through overt criticism and by following them around when they meet with others, as Drew did to Stacy. Sometimes they opt for more subtle manipulation, such as by covertly turning the victim against her own family and friends (and vice versa).  As Carver observes, “The Loser feels your friends and family might influence you or offer negative opinions about their behavior… Eventually, rather than face the verbal punishment, interrogation, and abuse, you’ll develop the feeling that it’s better not to talk to family and friends. You will withdraw from friends and family, prompting them to become upset with you.”

6.     The Mean and Sweet Cycle. As we recall, Drew Peterson bought his wife a motorcycle and expensive jewelry even during the period of time when he was criticizing her, throwing her up against the wall, isolating her from her loved ones, accusing her of infidelity and calling her pejorative names. If they were consistently mean or violent, psychopaths wouldn’t be able to hold on to their partners. Which is why, as Dr. Carver observes, “The Loser cycles from mean to sweet and back again. The cycle starts when they are intentionally hurtful and mean. You may be verbally abused, cursed, and threatened over something minor. Suddenly, the next day they become sweet, doing all those little things they did when you started dating.” The period of sweetness leads the partners of Losers to cling to the relationship in the misguided hope of finding what psychologist Susan Forward calls “the magic key” that will make the psychopath stay nice to them. That magic key, however, doesn’t exist. The psychopath invariably cycles back to his real, nasty self. Over time, the meanness cycle escalates in severity and increases in duration. It’s interspersed with increasingly fewer “nice” moments, which trap the victim in her own wishful thinking.  As Carver observes, “You hang on, hoping each mean-then-sweet cycle is the last one. The other purpose of the mean cycle is to allow The Loser to say very nasty things about you or those you care about, again chipping away at your self-esteem and self-confidence.”

7.     It’s Always Your Fault.  As we’ve seen, psychopaths never accept blame for anything they do wrong. They deny obvious facts and accuse their victims of wrongdoing. Their spurious logic goes something like this: I didn’t do it, but even if I did, you deserved it. When he didn’t outright deny the domestic abuse, Drew Peterson blamed it on each of his wives for provoking it. According to him, they lied about being hit by him. They also lied about his verbal abuse. They were the ones who were “on edge” and “disturbed,” not him. He never hit them, even if Kathy had to go to the emergency room to recover from his blows. Carver notes, “The Loser never, repeat never, takes personal responsibility for their behavior–it’s always the fault of someone else.”

8.     Breakup Panic.  Psychopaths need to maintain control of everything in their lives, especially their romantic relationships. When they get bored with one partner or find a replacement, they can leave her on the spur of the moment, heartlessly, often without even bothering to offer an explanation. But they get very angry when the tables are turned and their partners leave them. Drew Peterson didn’t mind cheating on his wives and abandoning them for other women. Yet when they wanted to leave him to escape the misery and abuse, he resorted to violence, threats, bribes and, when none of these strategies worked, (probably) murder. As Carver notes, “The Loser panics at the idea of breaking up–unless it’s totally their idea–then you’re dropped like a hot rock. Abusive boyfriends often break down and cry, they plead, they promise to change, and they offer marriage/trips/gifts when you threaten ending the relationship… Once back in the grasp of the Loser, escape will be three times as difficult the next time.”

9.     No Outside Interests. To further control their victims, psychopaths don’t just isolate them from other people. They also narrow the range of their interests and activities, leading their partners to focus exclusively on them. Drew Peterson discouraged Stacy from working outside the home. He gave her money and gifts, not out of any real generosity but to keep her financially and emotionally dependent on him. He also followed his wife around everywhere. He wanted to monitor if she was seeing other men. But his stalking made her feel on edge about any kind of activity or pursuit that was external to their relationship. Carver goes on to state, “If you have an individual activity, they demand that they accompany you, making you feel miserable during the entire activity. The idea behind this is to prevent you from having fun or interests other than those which they totally control.”

10.   Paranoid Control.  Notoriously, psychopaths stalk their principal targets. They suspect other people, including their partners, of being as manipulative, deceptive and unscrupulous as themselves. Although they routinely cheat on their spouses, often with countless sexual partners, they tend to be plagued by the fear that their spouses may be cheating on them as well.  Which is why, as Carver observes, “The Loser will check up on you and keep track of where you are and who you are with. If you speak to a member of the opposite sex, you receive twenty questions about how you know them. If you don’t answer their phone call, you are ask where you were, what were you doing, who you were talking to, etc.” Drew Peterson worked as a detective not only in his job on the police force, but also in his dealings with his wife. He followed Stacy around to monitor her.

11.   Public Embarrassment. Psychopaths tend to put down their partners not only in private, but also publicly, to embarrass and isolate them. They want to build a psychological, if not physical, prison around their primary targets. They do everything possible to undermine their confidence, reduce their sociability, narrow the range of their interests and eliminate all positive human contact from their lives. Consequently, as Carver observes, “In an effort to keep you under control while in public, ‘The Loser’ will lash out at you, call you names, or say cruel or embarrassing things about you in private or in front of people… If you stay with The Loser too long, you’ll soon find yourself politely smiling, saying nothing, and holding on to their arm when in public.” As we’ll see in the chapter on Pablo Picasso, psychopaths aim to transform strong and proud individuals into their doormats.

12.   It’s Never Enough. Psychopaths don’t want to have successful relationships. They want to assert dominance by destroying, at the very least psychologically and emotionally, their partners. In the long run, there’s nothing anybody can do to please a psychopath. Apparently, Drew Peterson flattered both his third and his fourth wives when they were still his girlfriends, which is to say, during courtship. But the honeymoon period ended once they decided to marry him. Nothing they did or failed to do henceforth pleased him for long. According to their families and friends, Stacy and Tracy constantly jumped through more and more hoops, while Drew lifted the bar higher and higher. Through this insidious process, a psychopath wears down his partner’s self-esteem. Eventually, she feels too insecure to leave the abusive relationship. As Carver puts it, “The Loser convinces you that you are never quite good enough. You don’t say ‘I love you’ enough, you don’t stand close enough, you don’t do enough for them after all their sacrifices, and your behavior always falls short of what is expected. This is another method of destroying your self-esteem and confidence. After months of this technique, they begin telling you how lucky you are to have them–somebody who tolerates someone so inadequate and worthless as you.”

13.   Entitlement. As we’ve seen, psychopaths feel entitled to do and have everything and everyone they want. Laws, ethics and other people’s feelings don’t matter to them. “The Loser has a tremendous sense of entitlement, the attitude that they have a perfectly logical right to do whatever they desire,” Carver continues.  “If you disobey their desires or demands, or violate one of their rules, they feel they are entitled to punish you in any manner they see fit.” In the case of Drew Peterson, even thought crime, or the intention to leave him, was punishable with (probably) murder. His interviews show that he felt entitled to mistreat each of his wives as he pleased. However, he believed that they didn’t have the right to object to his mistreatment or to leave him as a result of it.

14.   Your Friends and Family Dislike Him.  Psychopaths tend to be pleasant and charming, at least superficially, at the beginning of a relationship. But once they have their partner firmly in their clutches, they proceed to isolate her from her support system.  In so doing, they alienate her family and friends. Carver notes, “As the relationship continues, your friends and family will see what the Loser is doing to you. They will notice a change in your personality or your withdrawal. They will protest. The Loser will tell you they are jealous of the ‘special love’ you have and then use their protest and opinion as further evidence that they are against you–not him.” Drew Peterson stalked his wife even when she was visiting with her sisters. Initially, at least some of Stacy’s family members and friends liked Drew and considered him a good match for her. But as he began to isolate and abuse her, they became unanimous in their dislike of him. In the end, they all saw the relationship as seriously damaging for Stacy.

15.   Bad Stories.  They say that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. There may be exceptions to this general principle. Fortunately, some people can improve their character and behavior with genuine and consistent effort. A psychopath can never be one of those exceptions, however. Generally speaking, if a man cheated on every wife he’s ever been with, it’s highly probable that he’ll cheat on the next one as well.  Most likely, the problem isn’t the woman or women he was with, but his underlying lack of character. Similarly, if he abused his previous partners, he’s very likely to abuse the next ones as well. Stacy knew enough about how Drew treated his previous wife to see that he was a philanderer and potentially dangerous. But the intensity and perseverance with which he pursued her blinded her from seeing the same warning signals in their relationship. In addition, since psychopaths don’t find anything wrong with their harmful behavior, they’re likely to boast about it. This also sends out some glaring warning signals. As Carver states, “The Loser tells stories of violence, aggression, being insensitive to others, rejecting others, etc… They brag about their temper and outbursts because they don’t see anything wrong with violence and actually take pride in the ‘I don’t take nothing from nobody’ attitude… Listen to these stories — they tell you how you will eventually be treated and what’s coming your way.”

16.   The Waitress Test. Just as how people behaved in the past tells a lot about how they’ll behave in the future, so how they treat others functions as a pretty good indicator of how you’ll eventually be treated. A person who’s uncaring and unethical towards others will most likely also be that way to you when you no longer serve his interests. Carver calls this “the waitress test.” In his estimation, how a Loser treats people who aren’t immediately useful to him reveals how he’ll treat you once your use has expired. “It’s been said that when dating, the way an individual treats a waitress or other neutral person of the opposite sex is the way they will treat you in six months. During the ‘honeymoon phase’ of a relationship, you will be treated like a king or queen. However, during that time the Loser has not forgotten how he or she basically feels about the opposite sex. Waitresses, clerks, or other neutral individuals will be treated badly. If they are cheap–you’ll never receive anything once the honeymoon is over. If they whine, complain, criticize, and torment–that’s how they’ll treat you in six months.” Psychopaths lack consistency in their “good” behavior because for them “goodness” is only a façade. The manner in which they treat someone relates strictly to that person’s perceived use value. When people are useful to them they treat them (superficially) well. When they aren’t, they ignore or mistreat them. By way of contrast, genuinely nice people treat others well regardless of their perceived utility. Carver advises,  “If you find yourself dating a man who treats you like a queen and other females like dirt–hit the road.” Pretty soon, you’ll be the dirt he walks on, on his way to conquering other temporary queens.

17.   The Reputation. Psychopaths tend to have polarized reputations. Their victims often describe them, in retrospect, as Janus figures (since they’re two-faced) or as Jekyll and Hyde personalities (since they switch from nice to mean). We’ve seen that for a psychopath the Jekyll side is a mask he constructs to attract, fool and use others. The Hyde side represents his true identity, which becomes increasingly dominant over time. To his buddies, Drew Peterson appeared to be an easy-going, nice guy. But that’s because they only saw one side of him, the jovial facet he wanted them to see. To his wives and their families– which is to say, to anyone who had extensive intimate contact with him–Drew exposed another, much more menacing side of his personality. Any sign of independence from his partners meant escaping his control: something he couldn’t tolerate and which he punished through abuse and (probably) murder. Carver states, “As mentioned, mentally healthy individuals are consistent in their personality and their behavior. The Loser may have two distinct reputations–a group of individuals who will give you glowing reports and a group that will warn you that they are serious trouble.” In addition to paying attention to what others say, trust your own intuition and powers of observation. Pay close attention to how your partner treats you over time and in different circumstances. Be particularly attuned to how he responds when you express different needs or opinions. Psychopaths can’t tolerate any real assertion of independence from others. They also can’t treat those they’re intimately involved with well for long. Although some psychopaths may consistently maintain the mask of charm in superficial interactions with their buddies, colleagues and acquaintances, their real controlling, selfish and aggressive natures tend to show through in extended intimate contact.

18.   Walking on Eggshells. During the course of their marriages to Drew Peterson, at least two of his wives reported losing their self-confidence as a result of his emotional and physical abuse. While they both entered the relationship with Drew feeling desirable, in love and valued, by the end they were overpowered and intimidated by him. When involved with a psychopath, over time, his partner finds herself walking on eggshells. She fears that anything she does or says might trigger his emotional detachment, hostility or abuse. Carver observes that, “Instead of experiencing the warmth and comfort of love, you will be constantly on edge, tense when talking to others (they might say something that you’ll have to explain later), and fearful that you’ll see someone you’ll have to greet in public.”

19.   Discounted Feelings/Opinions. For psychopaths, their fundamental callousness and capacity for evil stems from their absolute selfishness and inability to respect other individuals, as fellow human beings with independent needs and desires. That’s why those involved with a psychopath, following the initial stage when he praises everything they do and say, come to realize that their feelings, needs and opinions don’t matter to him. The Loser’s narcissism is, as Hervey Cleckley’s study of psychopathy concluded, absolute. Carver elaborates, “The Loser is so self-involved and self-worshiping that the feelings and opinions of others are considered worthless… The Loser is extremely hostile toward criticism and often reacts with anger or rage when their behavior is questioned.” Narcissists and psychopaths flatter others only to use and manipulate them. They lack genuine consideration for others.

20.   They Make You Crazy. According to her friends, Kathy Savio felt overcome by rage, jealousy and anger when Drew cheated on her with Stacy. While her emotional response was perfectly understandable under the circumstances, Drew depicted Kathy to others as “insane” to justify his mistreatment of her.  In some ways, however, this statement isn’t far removed from the truth. Sometimes, psychopaths quite literally drive their partners crazy. They lie to them to the point where they start doubting their knowledge of reality. They discourage and belittle them to the point where they lose their self-confidence and become reclusive. They mistreat them to the point where they’re overcome with rage. As Carver goes on to explain, “The Loser operates in such a damaging way that you find yourself doing ‘crazy’ things in self-defense… You become paranoid as well–being careful what you wear and say… While we think we are ‘going crazy’–it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as ‘normal behavior’ in a combat situation. Rest assured that your behavior will return to normal if you detach from the Loser before permanent psychological damage is done.” When involved with a psychopath, you may, unlike Drew Peterson’s misfortunate wives, escape alive. But unless you end the relationship in its earliest stages, you’re not likely to escape unharmed.

What do these warning signs indicate? They show that psychopathic seducers can fake decency and love convincingly in the beginning of a relationship. That’s how they manage to attract so many potential partners. But they can’t sustain their mask of sanity over time in intimate contact, since it’s fake and instrumental.  If you remain vigilant, you’ll be able to see red flags early on in the relationship with a psychopath despite his veneer of charm and extravagant romantic words and gestures. As psychotherapist Steve Becker indicates on his website, powercommunicating.com, most of his clients recognized the warning signals in their relationships with exploitative partners. They just minimized those red flags or downright ignored them. They preferred to focus on their romantic fantasies rather than face an unpleasant reality. According to Becker, the most difficult challenge isn’t noticing the red flags, but actually heeding them. He states,

“I find that many of my clients were in fact cognizant of odd, disconcerting behaviors/attitudes that their exploitative partners were reckless enough to reveal (or incapable of concealing). They may have even felt troubled by them. But in their intense need to want the relationship, and the partner, to be the elusive fit they so hungrily sought, they found ways to suppress their uneasiness: to ignore and/or minimize the significance of these signals; and rationalize the alarms their instincts triggered.” (powercommunicating.com)

If you encounter a man who is aroused primarily by the circumstances surrounding your relationship—especially the perverse and forbidden ones—rather than by you, yourself, run. If you encounter a man who does a bait and switch to gain your trust only to violate his promises or raise the bar higher and higher, run. If you encounter a man who behaves in a despicable manner towards any other woman, no matter what he says about her, examine his behavior carefully since that’s how he’ll eventually treat you and, needless to say, run.

Truth is not a convenient fiction. Similarly, love is not a power game for anyone capable of this emotion. It’s the deepest and most significant bond human beings form with one another and the foundation of our lives. If you encounter a man who gives any signs that he regards love as a game and you as a “prize” to be won, fold your cards and quickly leave the table. Or, better yet, refuse to engage with him at all. Any intimate relationship with a psychopath is a gamble where you risk losing everything and from which you have nothing to gain.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

The Psychopath’s Relationship Cycle: Idealize, Devalue and Discard

Because they suffer from incurable personality disorders, psychopaths repeat over and over the same relationship cycle, no matter whom they’re dating or for how long. Relationships with them are always castles–or, sometimes, marriages–built on sand. Today I’ll describe the entire process of psychopathic seduction, from its seemingly ideal beginning to its invariably bitter end.

In their book on psychopaths in the workplace, entitled Snakes in Suits, Babiak and Hare state that the psychopathic bond follows certain predictable stages: idealize, devalue and discard. This process may take several years or only a few hours. It all depends on what the psychopath wants from you and whether or not you present a challenge to him. If the psychopath wants the semblance of respectability–a screen behind which he can hide his perverse nature and appear harmless and normal–he may establish a long-term partnership with you or even marry you. If all he wants is to have some fun, it will be over within a couple of hours. If he wants the stimulation and diversion of an affair, he may stay with you for as long as you excite him. Despite the differences in timeline, what remains constant is this: eventually, sooner or later, you’ll be discarded (or be led by the psychopath’s bad behavior to discard him) as soon as you no longer serve his needs.

Babiak and Hare explain that although psychopaths are highly manipulative, the process of idealize, devalue and discard is a natural outgrowth of their personalities. In other words, it’s not necessarily calculated at every moment in the relationship. Overall, however, whether consciously or not, psychopaths assess and drain the use-value out of their romantic partners. (Snakes in Suits, 42) During the assessment phase, psychopaths interact closely with their targets to see what makes them tick. They ask probing questions, to discover their unfulfilled needs and weaknesses. They also commonly lure their targets with promises to offer them whatever’s been missing from their lives. If you’re recovering from a recent divorce, they offer you friendship and an exciting new romantic relationship. If you’ve suffered a death in the family, they appear to be sympathetic friends. If you’re going through financial difficulties, they lend you money to seem generous.

During the manipulation phase, Babiak and Hare go on to explain, psychopaths construct the “psychopathic fiction.” They pour on the charm to hook their victims emotionally and gain their trust. They present themselves as kind-hearted individuals. Of course, in order to do so, psychopaths resort to outrageous lies since, in reality, they’re just the opposite. In romantic relationships in particular, they depict themselves as not only compatible with you, but also as your soul mate. While seeming your complement, they also present themselves as your mirror image. They claim to share your interests and sensibilities. Babiak and Hare observe: “This psychological bond capitalizes on your inner personality, holding out the promise of greater depth and possibly intimacy, and offering a relationship that is special, unique, equal–forever.” (Snakes in Suits, 78)

Because psychopaths are great manipulators and convincing liars, as we’ve seen, many of their victims don’t heed the warning signals. During the early phases of a romantic relationship, people in general tend to be too blinded by the euphoria of falling in love to focus on noticing red flags. Also, during this period, the psychopaths themselves are on their best behavior. Yet, generally speaking, they get bored too easily to be able to maintain their mask of sanity consistently for very long. The honeymoon phase of the relationship usually lasts until the psychopath intuitively senses that he’s got you on the hook or until he’s gotten bored by the relationship and moved on to other targets. He shows his true colors when he’s got no incentive left to pretend anymore. As Babiak and Hare note, “Once psychopaths have drained all the value from a victim—that is, when the victim is no longer useful—they abandon the victim and move on to someone else.” (Snakes in Suits, 53)

This raises the question of why a psychopath idealizes his targets in the first place. Why do psychopaths invest so much effort, time and energy into giving the illusion of intimacy and meaning in a relationship, given that they never really bond with other human beings in the first place? One obvious response would be that they do it for the sport of it. They enjoy both the chase and the kill; the seduction and the betrayal. They relish creating the illusion that they’re something they’re not. They also enjoy observing how they dupe others into believing this fiction. Moreover, whenever a psychopath expresses admiration, flattery or enthusiasm for someone, it’s always because he wants something from that person. I think, however, that this explanation is somewhat reductive. Many psychopaths experience powerful obsessions that resemble intense passions. Besides, this explanation doesn’t distinguish conmen, who fake their credentials and interest in a person, from psychopaths “in love,” who are pursuing their targets for what initially seems even to them as “romantic” reasons.

A broader explanation, which would include both kinds of psychopaths, might look something like this: as research confirms, all psychopaths suffer from a shallowness of emotion that makes their bonding ephemeral and superficial, at best. When they want something–or someone–they pursue that goal with all their might. They concentrate all of their energies upon it. When that goal is your money or a job or something outside of yourself, their pursuit may appear somewhat fake. You’re a means to an end. You were never idealized for yourself, but for something else. But when their goal is actually you–seducing you or even marrying you–then their pursuit feels like an idealization. Temporarily, you represent the object of their desire, the answer to their needs, the love of their life and the key to their happiness. But this feeling of euphoria doesn’t last long because it’s empty to the core. As we’ve observed, once psychopaths feel they have you in their grasp—once your identity, hopes and expectations are pinned on them—they get bored with you and move on to new sources of pleasure and diversion. We’ve also seen in Cleckley’s study that the same logic applies to their other goals as well. Psychopaths tire rather quickly of their jobs, their geographic location, their hobbies and their educational endeavors. But it hurts so much more, and it feels so much more personal, when what they get tired of is you, yourself.

Their loss of interest appears as a devaluation. From the center of their life, you suddenly become just an obstacle to their next pursuit. Since psychopaths are intuitively skilled at “dosing,” or giving you just enough validation and attention to keep you on the hook, you may not immediately notice the devaluation. It’s as if the psychopath intuitively knows when to be charming again (in order not to lose you) and when to push your boundaries, further and lower. Your devaluation occurs gradually yet steadily. One day you finally notice it and wonder how you have allowed yourself to sink so low. Occasionally, he throws you a bone–takes you out, plans a romantic evening, says kind and loving things—to lead you to dismiss your healthy intuitions that you’re being mistreated. If the psychopath allows himself to treat you worse and worse it’s not only because you’re much less exciting in his eyes. It’s also because he’s conditioned you to think less highly of yourself and to accept his dubious behavior. Because you want to hold on to the fantasy of the ideal relationship he cultivated, you go into denial. You accept his implausible excuses. You put up with your growing fears and doubts. You rationalize his inexplicable absences, his increasingly frequent emotional withdrawals, his curt and icy replies, his petty and mean-spirited ways of “punishing” you for asserting your needs or for not bending to his will.

But at some point, when he sinks to a new low or when you catch him in yet another lie, you slip out of the willful denial which has been your way of adjusting to the toxic relationship. Because he has lowered your self-esteem, you ask yourself why this has happened and what you did wrong. If he cheated on you, you blame the other woman or women involved. The psychopath encourages you to pursue such false leads. In fact, he encourages anything that deflects attention from his responsibility in whatever goes wrong with your relationship. He leads you to blame yourself. He also inculpates the other women. He implies that you were not good enough for him. He claims that the other women tempted or pursued him. But that’s only a diversionary tactic. You have flaws and you made mistakes, but at least you were honest and real. The other women involved may have been decent human beings, the scum of the Earth or anything in between. Think about it. Does it really matter who and what they were? You are not involved with the other women. They are not your life partners, your spouses, your lovers or your friends. What matters to you most is how your own partner behaves. He is primarily accountable for his actions. Not you, not the other women.

Also, keep in mind that psychopaths twist the truth to fit their momentary goals and to play mind games. When you actually pay attention to what they say instead of being impressed by how sincere they may appear, their narratives often sound inconsistent and implausible. What they say about other women, both past and present, is most likely a distortion too. Psychopaths commonly project their own flaws upon others. If they tell you they were seduced, it was most likely the other way around. If they tell you that their previous girlfriends mistreated them, cheated on them, got bored with them, abandoned them, listen carefully, since that’s probably what they did to those women. Their lies serve a dual function. They help establish credibility with you as well as giving them the extra thrill of deceiving you yet again.

So why were you discarded? you may wonder. You were devalued and discarded because you were never really valued for yourself. As we’ve seen, for psychopaths relationships are temporary deals, or rather, scams. Analogously, for them, other human beings represent objects of diversion and control. The most flattering and pleasant phase of their control, the only one that feels euphoric and magical, is the seduction/idealization phase. That’s when they pour on the charm and do everything they possibly can to convince you that you are the only one for them and that they’re perfect for you. It’s very easy to mistake this phase for true love or passion. However, what inevitably follows in any intimate relationship with a psychopath is neither pleasant nor flattering. Once they get bored with you because the spell of the initial conquest has worn off, the way they maintain control of you is through deception, isolation, abuse, gaslighting and undermining your self-confidence.

That’s when you realize that the devaluation phase has set in. You do whatever you can to regain privileged status. You try to recapture the excitement and sweetness of the idealization phase. You want to reclaim your rightful throne as the queen you thought you were in his eyes. But that’s an impossible goal, an ever-receding horizon. Every women’s shelter tells victims of domestic violence that abuse usually gets worse, not better, over time. For abusers, power is addictive. It works like a drug. The dosage needs to be constantly increased to achieve the same effect. Control over others, especially sexual control, gives psychopaths pleasure and meaning in life. To get the same rush from controlling you, over time, they need to tighten the screws. Increase the domination. Increase the manipulation. Isolate you further from those who care about you. Undermine your confidence and boundaries more, so that you’re left weaker and less prepared to stand up for yourself. The more you struggle to meet a psychopath’s demands, the more he’ll ask of you. Until you have nothing left to give. Because you have pushed your moral boundaries as low as they can go. You have alienated your family and friends, at the psychopath’s subtle manipulation or overt urging. You have done everything you could to satisfy him. Yet, after the initial idealization phase, nothing you did was ever good enough for him.

It turns out that he’s completely forgotten about the qualities he once saw in you. If and when he talks about you to others, it’s as if he were ashamed of you. That’s not only because he lost interest in you. It’s also the instinctive yet strategic move of a predator. If your family, his family, your mutual friends have all lost respect for you–if you’re alone with him in the world–he can control you so much easier than if you have external sources of validation and emotional support. Psychopaths construct an “us versus them” worldview. They initially depict your relationship as privileged and better than the ordinary love bonds normal people form. This is of course always a fiction. In fact, the opposite holds true. An intimate relationship with a psychopath is far inferior to any normal human relationship, where both people care about each other. Such a relationship is necessarily one-sided and distorted. It’s a sham on both sides. Being a consummate narcissist, he loves no one but himself and cares about nothing but his selfish desires.

If and when he does something nice, it’s always instrumental: a means to his ends or to bolster his artificial good image. Dr. Jekyll is, in fact, always Mr. Hyde on the inside. And even though you may be capable of love, you’re not in love with the real him–the cheater, the liar, the manipulator, the player, the hollow, heartless being that he is–but with the charming illusion he created, which you initially believed but which becomes increasingly implausible over time. From beginning to end, all this phony relationship can offer you is a toxic combination of fake love and real abuse. He constructs the psychopathic bond through deception and manipulation. You maintain it through self-sacrifice and denial.

But pretty soon, when you find yourself alone with the psychopath, you see it’s not us versus them, your couple above and against everyone else. It’s him versus you. He will act like your worst enemy, which is what he really is, not as the best friend and adoring partner he claimed to be. If he criticizes you to others–or, more subtly, fosters antagonisms between you and family members and friends–it’s to further wear you down and undermine your social bonds. Once he tires of you, he induces others to see you the same way that he does: as someone not worthy of him; as someone to use, demean and discard. Before you were beautiful and no woman could compare to you. Now you’re at best plain in his eyes. Before you were cultured and intelligent. Now you’re the dupe who got played by him. Before you were dignified and confident. Now you’re isolated and abject. In fact, right at the point when you feel that you should be rewarded for your sacrifice of your values, needs, desires and human bonds–all for him–the psychopath discards you.

He’s had enough. He’s gotten everything he wanted out of you. Bent you out of shape. Taken away, demand by demand, concession by concession, your dignity and happiness. As it turns out, the reward you get for all your devotion and efforts is being nearly destroyed by him. Ignoring your own needs and fulfilling only his–or fulfilling yours to gain his approval–has transformed you into a mere shadow of the lively, confident human being you once were.

He uses your weaknesses against you. He also turns your qualities into faults. If you are faithful, he sees your fidelity as a weakness, a sign you weren’t desirable enough to cheat. Nobody else really wanted you. If you are virtuous, he exploits your honesty while he lies and cheats on you. If you are passionate, he uses your sensuality to seduce you, to entrap you through your own desires, emotions, hopes and dreams. If you are reserved and modest, he describes you as asocial and cold-blooded. If you are confident and outgoing, he views you as flirtatious and untrustworthy. If you are hard working, unless he depends on your money, he depicts you as a workhorse exploited by your boss. If you are artistic and cultured, he undermines your merit. He makes you feel like everything you create is worthless and cannot possibly interest others. You’re lucky that it ever interested him. After the idealization phase is over, there’s no way to please a psychopath. Heads you lose, tails he wins. But remember that his criticisms are even less true than his initial exaggerated flattery. When all is said and done, the only truth that remains is that the whole relationship was a fraud.

The process of the psychopathic bond is programmatic. It’s astonishingly elegant and simple given the complexity of human behavior. Idealize, devalue and discard. Each step makes sense once you grasp the psychological profile of a psychopath, of an (in)human being who lives for the pleasure of controlling and harming others. 1) Idealize: not you, but whatever he wanted from you and only for however long he wanted it. 2) Devalue: once he has you in his clutches, the boredom sets in and he loses interest. 3) Discard: after he’s gotten everything he wanted from you and has probably secured other targets.

For you, this process is excruciatingly personal. It may have cost you your time, your heart, your friends, your family, your self-esteem or your finances. You may have put everything you had and given everything you could to that relationship. It may have become your entire life. For the psychopath, however, the whole process isn’t really personal. He could have done the same thing to just about anyone who allowed him into her intimate life. He will do it again and again to everyone he seduces. It’s not about you. It’s not about the other woman or women who were set against you to compete for him, to validate his ego, to give him pleasure, to meet his fickle needs. He wasn’t with them because they’re superior to you. He was with them for the same reason that he was with you. To use them, perhaps for different purposes than he used you, but with the same devastating effect. He will invariably treat others in a similar way to how he treated you. Idealize, devalue and discard. Rinse and repeat. This process was, is and will always be only about the psychopath for as long as you stay with him.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

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