Fifty Shades of Sadism: Psychopaths as Lovers

Some of the women who comment about their experiences with psychopaths,  as well as many of those interviewed by Sandra L. Brown, M.A. in Women Who Love Psychopaths, state that psychopaths make good lovers. When you read their comments, however, you see that while superficially that may be true, fundamentally it is false. Psychopaths have low impulse control and are generally very promiscuous. Since they need transgression, risk and variety in their lives, they’re likely to have tried a lot of sexual positions in many locations with numerous partners. Initially, their ample sexual experience can appear exciting even to a normal person. In the honeymoon phase of the relationship, a psychopath is generally hypersexual with you. He’s excited by the chase and the “conquest,” by the novelty, by the fact that he’s (most likely) cheating on other women and on you, as well as by the increasing control he’s exercising over you.

Analogously, from your perspective, the aura of romance, excitement and spontaneity can be very seductive. Initially, it may seem flattering, even if a bit disconcerting, to have a man who seems unable to keep his hands off you anywhere and everywhere, including in public. As social predators, psychopaths tend to stalk their victims, overwhelming them with attention at first. The movie 9 1/2 weeks, staring Kim Basinger and Mickey Roarke, has been interpreted as a superficial erotic movie. But it’s actually a psychologically insightful film about the process of psychopathic seduction. What starts out as a romantic relationship progressively turns into a menacing dominance bond. The man in the movie stalks the heroine and makes her feel desirable and special. He showers her with attention and gifts. But those don’t come free. For instance, he gives her an expensive watch and tells her to look at it and think of him every day at a certain time. He ends up controlling her thoughts, her feelings and her sexuality. He begins by being very sensual and affectionate, but eventually induces her to engage in perverse sexual acts that she feels uncomfortable with. He pushes the envelope further and further to the point where she becomes just a puppet in his hands. Fortunately, she realizes this and escapes his control before she’s seriously damaged. In real life, however, many women aren’t so lucky.

It may seem exciting to play erotic games or to talk in a raunchy manner. But, over time, this behavior begins to feel strange and uncomfortable. What’s worse, it also becomes normative, since psychopaths enjoy controlling you. They tell you how to dress and what to do or say to please them. They tell you what make-up to wear or to wear no make-up at all. Some psychopaths instruct women to dress very modestly, to cover themselves practically from head to toe, so that they won’t tempt other men. Others, on the contrary, prefer that their women dress provocatively even in public, to demean them and satisfy their penchant for transgression. Many psychopaths engage in rape and other forms of domestic violence. Even giving you pleasure gives them a sense of power.

Eventually, psychopaths need more transgression, more depraved and sadistic acts, harder pornographic material, more sleazy places, more sexual partners and configurations, more everything, to derive the same degree of enjoyment from sex. You begin to feel like a sex toy, nothing more than an object, rather than the cherished, attractive human being you thought you were in your partner’s eyes. It’s no news that most women prefer to be both. We want to be desired as sex objects but also loved and appreciated as individuals. Unfortunately, psychopaths can’t deliver both. Of course, they often convincingly fake feelings of love in the beginning. But, fundamentally, they can only view and treat you as a sex object that increasingly loses its appeal over time. After the honeymoon phase ends, there’s no real sense of individuality with psychopaths. Sexual partners are interchangeable to them. You’re placed in constant competition with other women. As we know, psychopaths constantly seek new “opportunities” to fulfill their insatiable desires. They’re always ready to “upgrade.” To compensate for the fact that you may be exchanged for a newer, younger, hotter, richer or simply different model at any point in the relationship, you need to do more and more things to satisfy the psychopath. Which is exactly what he wants from you in the first place: a total capitulation to his will.

Psychopathic lovers project upon their partners the fantasy of what psychologists call the “omniavailable woman.” They envision a partner who’s always turned on, always at their beck and call, always sexually available to them anytime and everywhere. They want a woman who makes love to them as easily in the privacy of their bedroom as in the public space of a movie theater or a parking lot. Men’s magazines play upon this fantasy as well. But in real, loving, relationships your moral and sexual boundaries are respected without the fear (or the implicit threat) that you’ll be punished for having such restraints. That doesn’t happen in psychopathic bonds. In those, it’s guaranteed that you’ll be punished–with infidelity, emotional withdrawal, abandonment, divorce, psychological and sometimes even physical abuse–if you don’t comply with the psychopath’s requests. Of course, this emotional blackmail is itself only a sordid joke. The psychopath betrays you whether or not you meet his demands. The only question is: does he do it openly, to torment you, or behind your back, to deceive you?

Although being a plaything may seem initially exciting, a woman who becomes a psychopath’s sexual partner loses her autonomy in a relationship where she’s supposed to be, like some wound-up inflatable doll with holes, always available to that man for his sexual gratification (or else…). In time, she realizes that she isn’t loved in any meaningful sense of the term. That, in fact, her needs and desires don’t really matter to him. That just about any other woman could have been used in the same manner and for the same purposes. That many others already are. She’s neither unique nor irreplaceable in her lover’s eyes, as he initially made her feel. She’s generic and disposable to him. She then sees that the multidimensional man she thought cared about her is nothing but an empty shell. His charming exterior masks a completely hollow interior. He can’t love her. He can only own her. Not even exclusively, but as part of his collection.

With a possession, one can do anything at all. An object has no independent will, no separate needs, no sensibilities. Over time, sex with a psychopath begins to feel contrived, cold and mechanical. It becomes an exercise in obedience rather than a bond based on mutual pleasure and affection. Because psychopaths grow easily bored of the same acts, places, positions and persons, the sexual experience becomes tainted by perverse acts at her expense. The bottom line is that psychopaths are lovers who don’t care about their partners. If they give them pleasure, it’s only to make themselves feel more powerful and potent, not because they consider another person’s needs. In addition, since psychopaths get a rise out of harming the people they’re intimately involved with, they’re sadistic lovers: always emotionally, often physically as well. Once they’ve “conquered” you, they start asking you to do things that are degrading or that hurt. What you may do as a fun experiment once or a few times becomes a “non-negotiable” element of your sexual repertoire. You’re asked to do it over and over again, whether or not you enjoy it.

For psychopaths, the games normal people play to spice up their sex lives constitute their whole existence. There’s no other reality, a world of empathy, compassion and caring outside of or even within the context of the sexual relationship. Psychopaths live and breathe in the realm of fantasy. They have no concept of standing by you during difficult times or of coping with your bad moods, illnesses, sadness or disappointments. You’ll often feel alone and abandoned with a psychopath whenever you aren’t satisfying his immediate needs. Moreover, when psychopaths listen to your troubles, it’s usually to draw them out and make you feel weaker and more dependent on them. It’s never because they genuinely care; never because they want you to overcome hardships and become a stronger person. On the contrary, psychopaths cultivate your weaknesses (they make them feel superior by comparison) and prey upon your vulnerabilities. The games they play, both sexual and emotional, are the only reality that counts for them; the only reality they know.

Psychopathic lovers may initially appear to be oceans of raging passion. However, once the honeymoon phase is over, you come to realize that they’re only dirty little puddles. The chemistry between you is as shallow as their so-called love. Compare how the psychopath treated you in the beginning of the relationship to how he’s treating you later on. You’ll notice a drastic reduction in excitement, in interest, in affection, in pleasure and in romance. You’ll sense a mechanization of the sex acts.  You’ll observe an escalation in control, demands, humiliation, domination and perhaps even violence. You’ll see that for a psychopath affection, communication and tenderness become transparently instrumental as the relationship unfolds. At first, he was “nice” to you almost all the time. Later in the relationship, however, he’s attentive and affectionate mostly when he wants something from you. Affection becomes his tool of conditioning you like an animal. He gives out little pellets of nice words and tenderness to get you to do what he wants. Conversely, he doesn’t give you any positive reinforcement when you don’t comply with his wishes. The rest of the time– which is to say, in regular day-to-day life–you feel neglected, ignored and unwanted. You struggle like a fish on land to recapture the magical attraction you experienced together in the beginning.

As lovers, psychopaths represent a contradiction in terms. They’re lovers who can’t love. This contradiction may not be obvious at first, when the psychopath is smitten with you and pursuing you intensely. But it becomes painfully apparent over time. If you don’t grow numb to the mistreatment or take refuge in denial, you come to realize that everything that counts is missing from the relationship that seemed to have it all.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


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Instead of the Cult of Self-Improvement Cultivate Self-Respect

Self-respect is essential for survival. It is a form of self-love that solidifies our identities and protects us from dangerous pathologicals. Self-respect gives us definition and boundaries. Unlike the absolute narcissism of toxic indviduals, self-respect (and self-love) does not entail the exploitation of others nor is it a total self-absorption.  It is also very different from the idolatry that psychopaths commonly engage in during the luring phase of the relationship, when they flatter and love bomb you, in order to manipulate and control you.

In earlier posts I explained that a psychopath controls those who need him for a sense of self-worth and meaning in life. Any woman may be initially hooked by a psychopath during the seduction phase of the relationship. But those who stay with him of their own volition once his mask of charm comes off often suffer from an extreme form of dependency. They have little or no independent self-worth and need the psychopath’s periodic validation to feel sexy or attractive or brilliant or like a good mother and wife: whatever form of validation they need depends upon him.

 “Willing” victims of psychopaths and other control-driven individuals are not necessarily suffering from low self-esteem in a conventional sense of the term. In fact, they may have a very high opinion of themselves. But they do suffer from a highly dependent or mediated self-esteem. They need a “special” person’s control to feel good about themselves and to get a sense of meaning in life. These are the most loyal and promising  long-term victims for psychopaths, who stand by the disordered individuals no matter what they do wrong.  They give their psychopathic partners a kind of absolute power over the lives in a similar manner that cult followers do to their pathological leaders.

In so doing, they relinquish agency and control over their lives. Such highly susceptible individuals may stay with a psychopath even once he stops validating them on a regular basis, and offers only tokens of praise or fake “respect” from time to time. By that time, they’re already trauma bonded to the psychopath, which may keep them emotionally and mentally enslaved to him for life.  The psychopath uses such dependent personalities for his own destructive purposes. He never offers them any genuine love, though he may offer them the false validation they so desperately need.

In life, you gain peace and fulfillment from your own healthy self-esteem and from cultivating a respectful attitude towards others. This sense of balance is largely internal. Nobody else can give it to you. There are literally thousands of “how-to” and “self-help” books on the market. They claim to help people find their inner balance in all sorts of ways: through yoga, Pilates, other mind-body exercises, improving their looks or increasing their sexual stamina. I suspect that most of them work about as well as the perennial miracle diets. They may produce some immediate results. But they rarely fundamentally change a person or improve the quality of his or her life in the long run. Some of them, such as the retreats run by James Arthur Ray, a very popular self-help guru, are extremely dangerous, bordering on cults run by disordered leaders who enjoy controlling others, milking them of their money, and pushing their limits even to the point of death:

http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/r/james_arthur_ray/index.html

To improve yourself more enduringly, you need to cultivate a healthy perception of who you are and know what you want from lifeDysfunctional lives and relationships often stem from character distortions, such as the ones I’ve described so far, which leave you dependent upon the perceptions of others to gain a sense of self-worth. Those most likely to exploit such neediness or vanity are not those who have your best interests in mind. They’re likely to be individuals who want to use and control you. There’s no magical step-by–step procedure that can give you a healthy self-esteem. Just as losing weight depends upon having a healthy, moderate attitude towards your body, so improving your self-image depends upon having a healthy attitude towards your mind. “Know thyself,” the ancient Greeks advised. This, like so much of their practical wisdom, is very good advice.

This is not to say that moderation, or what Aristotle called the mean between two extremes, is always the answer to everything. Nobody can be equally good and equally bad at everything. We all have a combination of weaknesses and strengths. Knowing yourself, in my estimation, means using your strengths to improve your life and the lives of others rather than to appear superior to them or to gain their approval. Being an artistic or mathematical “genius,” or being very popular and beautiful–however exceptional you may be in some respects–doesn’t entitle you to special treatment. It also doesn’t justify you mistreating others in any way. In other words, your strengths shouldn’t feed your vanity, as they do for narcissists and psychopaths, just as your weaknesses shouldn’t cripple you.

Reaching an inner balance also requires having the right motivation for your endeavors. For instance, don’t create art to impress others or to become famous. Create to offer yet another instance of beauty and meaning to enrich your life and perhaps also the lives of others. Don’t write books to become rich or consecrated. Write to express a talent that makes you happy and that may contribute some human wisdom that is best expressed more creatively. Don’t give to charity or behave nicely to others to be considered generous and kind. Help those in need and be a genuinely decent human being.

If you have a healthy self-image, your strengths and talents will radiate primarily from within. They will give energy to others rather than being absorbed from without, by depending upon their external validation. Similarly, having a healthy self-esteem entails working on your weaknesses without allowing them to haunt you, to become deep-seated insecurities that malicious individuals can exploit. Such a healthy attitude towards yourself and your life therefore implies some detachment from the views of others: from how they perceive you, what they expect from you and what they say about you.

Of course, none of us live in a vacuum. We’re all partially influenced by the views and expectations of our partners, our families, our colleagues, our friends and society in general, as we well should be. But those with a healthy self-esteem are not determined primarily by others. For as long as they behave decently to other human beings, they don’t fold under when their partners, family members, friends or peers criticize them. They also don’t lose their self-esteem when they fail at some of their own goals. Conversely, they don’t feel superior to others just because some people praise them or because they attain some level of success or even fame. Success and fame, like the criticism and praise of others in general, comes and goes. Knowing who you are and what you have to contribute can last a lifetime.

The main thing that can save you from a psychopath–or from any other manipulative person who wants to take over your life–is cultivating a healthy self-esteem. This may seem like a truism. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of common sense that many know but fewer actually practice. Any therapist will tell you that he or she stays in business largely because of people’s unrealistic perception of themselves. Character distortions not only damage our self-confidence, but also taint our relationships. They make us excessively vain, or needy, or inflexible, or too willing to bend over backwards just to please others. More seriously, character disorders, such as psychopathy and malignant narcissism, are unfixable in adults.

Fortunately, however, most people don’t suffer from such constitutive emotional and moral deficiencies. More commonly, we suffer from distorted perceptions of ourselves. This puts us at risk of falling into the clutches of controlling individuals. To find your compass you need to look within, as the Greeks wisely advised. Ultimately, nobody else can save you. You can save yourself by living well, which depends upon knowing your worth–neither underestimating nor overestimating it–and pursuing with a mostly internally driven self-confidence the path you want to take in life.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction



The Psychopath’s Bait and Switch

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

If you have children with a psychopath

You may experience the mixed blessing of having children with the psychopath. Bringing a child into this world can be one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences in human life.  But having a child or children with a psychopath carries with it great risk. Since antisocial traits are partly genetic, your child or children can inherit those negative characteristics. Moreover, as we’ve seen, a psychopath is incapable of loving anyone. He regards all people, including his children, as tools to get what he wants and as his personal possessions. Like you, they represent objects he will manipulate and control. Like you, they confirm his virility and personal power.  As he got tired of you and of every other woman he played with, he will quickly tire of your child, his newest toy.

No change in circumstances can ever alter a psychopath’s underlying bad character for long. He is what he is and that’s what he’ll remain. Think back to the many second chances  you’ve given him. Think back to all the times he shattered your hopes and abused your trust.  You hoped that he’d change his cheating ways after you got engaged, but he didn’t. You then believed that he’d take your commitment more seriously once you married, but he didn’t. He just hid his perversions better and mastered the game of deceit. You hoped that a change of job or location would improve him, but it didn’t. Instead, your repeated concessions to his will and willingness to swallow increasing doses of mistreatment made him more confident that you’d take whatever abuse he dished out. He turned your life into a game that has no rational or moral rules.

You played along with his arbitrary power games. You played along because you love him and because you want to believe that he loves you as well: in his way, on some level, you feel compelled to qualify. Sure, he left you for other women and he will leave you again. But you interpret the fact that he returns to you time after time as evidence of his love. In other words, you engage in wishful thinking and reject the obvious reality. He doesn’t leave you because he loves anyone else more than you. Conversely, he doesn’t return to you because he realizes how much he loves you, after all. He comes and goes as he pleases to whoever lets him because he’s bored.

Power over others fills his empty days. He’s like one of those magicians that spin plates on poles. He wants to see how many women he can spin around at once and for how long he can cultivate for each one the illusion of perpetual motion, or of real love. Each time a plate falls to the ground and shatters, he enjoys it. Each life he destroys represents a personal triumph for him. With you and every other woman in his life he plays this sordid game. There’s nothing inside of him that can love you or anybody else.

The same logic applies to having a child or children with him. If he cheated on you and wasn’t there to support you meaningfully during the emotional and physical challenges of pregnancy, he’ll remain equally unreliable and unsupportive as you raise your child. If he treated you with disrespect and even contempt before you had a child together, that’s how he’ll continue to treat you afterwards. If he shirked his professional and personal duties before, he won’t be able to handle the most important responsibility of all, which is raising a child. And if he abused you, he will abuse your child, at the very least emotionally. The Loser will remain a loser no matter whom he attaches to because his evil actions reflect his true identity. He deliberately hurts others not because they’re not right for him, as he claims to shift the blame, but because he’s not right for anybody else.

Consequently, if you have a child or children with a psychopath, it’s doubly important for you to protect not just yourself from his noxious influence, but also your children. Dr. Liane Leedom wrote a very informative book on this subject, called Just Like His Father. Her message is not purely cautionary, but also one of hope. She emphasizes that there’s no chance whatsoever of having a mutually loving and respectful relationship with a psychopath. But there’s a lot of hope for raising your child to be a healthy and empathetic individual who is not just like his father.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


A Better and Stronger You: Leaving the Psychopath for Good

Many of the women who love psychopaths intuitively know that they’re dealing with a sick man. Yet they feel like they have invested far too much for far too long into the relationship to give up on him. Their self-confidence and sense of reality have been severely undermined. They may tell themselves, hoping against hope, that their love and patience will fix the dangerous man. Or that after spending fifteen years with him, they can’t throw away the entirety of their youth, as if those years together were all for nothing.

As Sandra Brown M.A. puts it in Women Who Love Psychopaths, nobody escapes completely unscathed from such a toxic relationship. However, the harm is not linear: in other words, it’s not necessarily true that the longer you are with a psychopath the more you are harmed. Even short-term relationships with a disordered man can be very harmful. Conversely, even women who have spent 20 years with a psychopath can escape those toxic bonds and emerge better and stronger from them.

However, the damage seems to get worse from the time you realize you’re with a psychopath or disordered man and come to accept his abuse: the pathological lying, the gaslighting, the cheating, the putdowns, the threats and the relentless chipping away at your self-esteem. Women who stay with known psychopaths, or with men they know to be very bad, adapt to increasing dosages of harm. This can severely damage their own personalities and the way they interact with others, sometimes beyond repair.

On the positive side, even if you’ve spent many years with a psychopath, you can escape this toxic relationship. Chances are, you used to be a strong person. In previous posts we’ve seen that psychopaths prefer to seduce extraverted, accomplished and confident women. They could easily prey upon passive and weak women. But they prefer the challenge of destroying a strong person instead. We’ve seen how psychopaths use their partners’ strengths against them. They use women’s trust to deceive and cheat on them as well as, more generally, to play mind games. They isolate previously sociable women. They undermine the confidence of women with high self-esteem by focusing on their real or imaginary weaknesses. It’s not unusual to develop neuroses, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders while involved with a psychopath. He will even cultivate those maladies, and lead you to focus obsessively on them rather than on your strengths and achievements, to keep you under his thumb.

We’ve seen how psychopaths use women’s capacity to love and their tenacity–their high emotional investment in the relationship–to keep them on the hook. They lure them with strategic withdrawals and empty promises to improve, which are belied by consistent, though often hidden, abuse. They dangle whatever women want most in life before their eyes–true love, fidelity, commitment, a happy life together, returning to the romantic and exciting honeymoon phase of the relationship–only to make conditional demands, that erode their partners’ dignity and self-respect.

To counteract these strategies and reclaim your life, you need to reassert your agency, your strength and your boundaries. You need to recognize that you’re not just a passive victim of the psychopath’s control, even if you were, indeed, victimized by him. You have agency. You willingly began the relationship with the psychopath. You willingly stayed with him despite seeing red flags early on in the relationship. You may have willingly taken him back after discovering that he repeatedly cheated and lied. You may have also engaged in some immoral behavior to keep him in your life. You may have hurt or neglected those who loved you for his sake. Each step you took as a couple was not just his own doing. It was also yours. Sandra Brown points out that seeing yourself as an agent in your life decisions doesn’t imply denying the fact that the psychopath has hurt you or minimize the extent of your pain. It just shows you that you have the power to determine your life choices. Just as you chose to become involved and stay with a psychopath, you also have the power to disengage from him for good. (How to spot a dangerous man,  32)

To understand why you made such poor and self-defeating choices, you need to assess realistically both your strengths and your weaknesses. In earlier posts, I identified some of the potential weaknesses of women who get involved with psychopaths, which led them down a self-destructive path. The main one is an unrealistic and dichotomous view of themselves, which is narcissistically inflated (as better than other women) in some ways, and too weak (as less than other women) in others. You don’t need a psychopath to identify your qualities and flaws. You don’t need his manipulative criticisms that undermine your self-confidence. You don’t need his fake and conditional flattery to feel good about yourself. You know who you are. And, deep inside, after so much mistreatment at his hands, you also know that it’s clearly in your best interest to leave the dangerous man and end the sick relationship with him. Your self-preservation, not just your self-esteem, is at stake.

Exercising your agency also implies reasserting your strength and your boundaries. If you stayed with a psychopathic partner it’s because he undermined the strength that he originally admired in you and that drew him to you, like a parasite to its host, to destroy you. You can find that inner strength again to live your life free of him. The longer you will be away from his noxious influence, the stronger you will grow.

The psychopath has strung you along by eroding your boundaries: your moral sense of right and wrong, your sexual boundaries and your empathy. When you draw the line and say no more and mean it, the psychopath loses and you win. By way of contrast, each time you do what he tells you, each time you override your intuition to believe his lies, each time you violate your sense of right and wrong, each time you neglect or hurt those who care about you, each time you engage in perverse sexual acts just to please him, he wins and you lose.

The women who stay with psychopaths may be strong women, as Brown’s research indicates. Yet many of them lack sufficiently strong boundaries. They may be strong in other areas of life. But they become weak as far as their personal relations with the psychopath are concerned. These, unfortunately, become the fulcrum of their existence. Staying with a psychopath indicates that they’re willing to compromise their values, their relationships and their standards just to keep and please a disordered man.

To reclaim your autonomy and your strength, you need to reassert your boundaries. The negative experience with the psychopath has no doubt made you more aware than ever of what you stand for since you were repeatedly pressured by him to lower your standards and to violate your principles. Each time you did that it hurt because you lost not only part of your values, but also–and more importantly–part of yourself.

Asserting the limits of the person you are and of what you stand for constitutes an essential step towards rejecting the psychopath. Most likely, he won’t even stay with you if you assert yourself and don’t give in a single inch to him anymore. As a narcissist, he can’t tolerate any real equality in a romantic relationship. He has to be “top dog.” He constantly reaffirms this status through the power he exercises over you, his family and his acquaintances. Because he doesn’t regard you (or anyone else) as his equal, the psychopath can’t offer you genuine respect for your values, your activities, your needs and your identity. His fake charm, his controlling and possessive attention, his disingenuous and manipulative flattery and the empty romantic gestures he made (mostly in the beginning of the relationship) are not the same thing as genuine love, mutual caring and respect.

As we’ve seen, a psychopath is incapable of having a caring and equal relationship with anyone. For this reason, psychopaths seek women who are strong but exceedingly flexible; women whose boundaries they can erode and whose identities they can distort. If you regain your sense of identity and boundaries, you become much less vulnerable to psychopathic seduction and control. Psychopaths are parasites who want to suck the lifeblood–the emotions, the confidence and the strength–out of you. They violate your sense of self, through what psychologists call “enmeshment.” As your identity blends into his, your whole life revolves around meeting his ever-changing needs. The more you violate what you stand for and who you are to please the psychopath, the more you dissolve into the dangerous relationship with him. As Sandra Brown states,

“Boundaries are indicators of where we start and end, and where other people start and end. We set limits–or boundaries–in relationships to protect our bodily selves and dignity… Drawing your identity from a dangerous man… can have disastrous outcomes.” (How to spot a dangerous man, 201).

Not every misfortunate experience has a silver lining. Some, like fatal illnesses, may be purely tragic. Fortunately, overcoming a relationship with a dangerous man is one of those life experiences that does have a silver lining. After having been involved with a psychopath, for whom “love” means conquest, ownership and dominance, a normal relationship with a decent, respectful and honest partner will seem almost miraculous by comparison. Nothing about healthy human bonds can ever be taken for granted again after one has experienced the worst life has to offer.

Clearly, in choosing a psychopath you lost part of yourself and wasted part of your life. Such a destructive relationship came at a cost. Fortunately, you still have the power of choice as to how your life will continue. You don’t have to throw away the rest of your life to him. This experience may have weakened you in some respects.  But if you utilize it the right way, it can also make you a much stronger person. Whatever time, energy and emotion you spent on the psychopath weren’t completely wasted. They have taught you how to know and defend the limits of your identity and values. They have taught you who to appreciate and love in life and who to reject and keep out. They have revealed your strengths and your limitations. They have made you more independent, since you’ve seen how flattery and criticism by others can function as a form of mind control.

It’s now up to you to decide if you will allow the psychopath to continue to undermine your dignity and the quality of your life or if you will rely upon your strengths and true love bonds with others to live the kind of moral, honest and fulfilling life that you deserve. The psychopath has kept you under his control by narrowing and intensifying the range of your experiences. You consequently focused only on him and on how to twist yourself, like a fish on a hook, to please him.

You can reverse this process. You can broaden the sphere of your existence by expanding your interests and focusing on those who deserve your affection. In fact, you can do more than that by helping inform others suffering at the hands of psychopathic partners about this dangerous and camouflaged predator. Making a clinical diagnosis of personality disorders is, of course, only up to experts. But identifying potentially dangerous traits isn’t just for experts. Any of us can be adversely affected when we allow disordered individuals into our lives. Knowledge is the most essential form of self-defense.

Widespread information about physical and emotional abuse has saved millions of people from domestic violence. Spreading information about psychopathy may help save millions of additional lives from harm. Ironically, the disordered man who wanted to destroy you both morally and emotionally can give your life a higher, more other-regarding purpose. In the past, you may have relegated too many of your decisions to the psychopath. But, ultimately, the power of choice in what you do with the rest of your life lies in your hands, not his. May the new year bring you peace and happiness, free of the toxic relationship with a psychopath.

Happy New Year!

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction