“Misinterpreting the behavior of a disordered character is the first step in the process of being victimized by them.”
Dr. George Simon
Recently I wrote a blog post about errors in our thinking called cognitive biases, those automatic ways our minds work that keep us from seeing things as they really are. One of those biases is the Assumed Similarity Bias — a mental shortcut that leads us to the unconscious assumption that others share the same or similar values, thoughts and beliefs. We automatically assume that others are just like we are, especially when it comes to the fundamental aspects of our characters that are so basic we never even give them a second thought — such as having a conscience.
In other words, you never for a moment stop to consider that some people in fact have a drastically different way of being, one that is so foreign to you that you can’t even begin to grasp it.
Even though you may have read many times that psychopaths have no conscience, no empathy, no guilt, no remorse, no shame, and no ability to love… and even after all you’ve been through in your experience with such a person… you may still not be able to grasp the truth of what this means, or truly understand just how fundamentally different they are.
Until you do, you are at greater risk. At greater risk of ‘reconciling’ with the person who victimized you. At greater risk of having a new predator come into your life. And at greater risk of not truly understanding what you experienced, which will complicate and slow your recovery.
As an example, here’s a recent comment I got from a reader:
“Why does a psychopath depend on the love of others? Because he fears his emptiness, isn’t it?… He searches for people to cling to … There MUST be some vulnerability deep down at that spot, otherwise he wouldn’t get angry… he is just not able to make a life with an authentic purpose …”
“He doesn’t depend on our love because he ‘fears emptiness’… he depends on it because our love enables him to exploit and manipulate us. He doesn’t search for people to ‘cling to,’ he searches for people to VICTIMIZE. Don’t forget, we are dealing with a predator. You are attributing your feelings and motivations to him, when in fact they are not like yours at all. The anger is simply from frustration when he doesn’t get his needs met…They do not share our need for ‘authentic purpose.’ That’s your need, not the need of the psychopath. They have their own purpose, which is vastly different from your purpose.”
How can a lack of understanding affect your recovery?
Well, you might still have the belief that you were at fault for a promising relationship having gone wrong. You might internalize his or her lies that it was you who made mistakes or who didn’t give enough or love enough. You might think that you want another chance to try again, try harder, and so you might get back together with him. You might feel that love and acceptance have the power to change anyone, and berate yourself for falling short. You’ll believe he was capable of love, but he just stopped loving you.
If your ex was truly psychopathic, none of this is true. It is simply not possible.
The truth is very difficult to understand from our own frame of reference. It’s important to understand it, though, because it is their significant differences that cause the harm we experience.
In addition, a lack of understanding can perpetuate the emotional bond; you’ll believe you’re involved with a person who is capable of an actual relationship and so you’ll try to save what you think is a relationship, when you’re actually involved in a predatory victimization.
“As hard as it is to imagine, there are individuals with no conscience at all. It’s so hard to imagine that it’s one of the main reasons such people are able to prey upon others. No one can believe that the person they’ve been dealing with is as heartless or remorseless as they suspect.”
When we experience someone engaging in bad behavior of one kind or another, we think of it in terms of why WE might act that way and how WE would feel afterward. When we do this, we come up with the idea that the behavior may stem from insecurity, past wounds, fear, or a lack of love; and we imagine they must feel shame and guilt after treating us so badly. Because of this, we are more apt to forgive, to let things slide, to stick it out and see if things will change with love and acceptance and time.
But when the same things happen again and again, it comes time to face an important truth:
The only intelligent way to make judgements about people is to base those judgements on their patterns of behavior, and not on what we think the reasons for their behavior might be.
“The single most important empowerment tool is to ‘accept no excuses’ for hurtful, harmful, or inappropriate behavior.”
~Dr. George Simon
You may want to add this to your list of boundaries: I will accept no excuses for hurtful, harmful or deceitful behavior.
Unfortunately, traditional psychology still hangs on to the outdated belief that everyone is struggling with insecurities and fears, and teaches that this struggle is what causes problem behavior. This puts us at a disadvantage and leaves us vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. And it seems to say that the field of psychology itself is operating under its own ‘assumed similarity’ bias!
My own therapist had difficulty accepting the facts of how the psychopathic mind works, which was due to her ‘humanistic’ perspective. Humanistic psychology is founded on the principles that all people are inherently good and have a drive toward self-actualization, and that ethical values are strong psychological forces that are one of the basic determinants of human behavior. It advocates an unconditional positive regard for everyone. Empathy is one of the most important aspects, so the therapist must have the ability to see the world through the eyes of the patient.
Although this humanistic approach sounds wonderful (and it truly would be, in a perfect world), my therapist’s quest to accept everyone (by seeing them as fundamentally the same) actually caused her to completely exclude two groups of people — psychopaths and their victims. She was basically denying the very existence of psychopathic people, and therefore, by default, invalidating me as well. That didn’t feel very humanistic to me.
I let her know that she could not see the world through my eyes — meaning she could not be truly empathetic and could not help me — unless she understood what I had experienced, and that in order to do that, she needed to understand how the mind of a psychopath worked. This was an extraordinarily empathetic and genuine woman (which in and of itself was extremely therapeutic for me at that time) who had a sincere desire to help others and be the best therapist she could possibly be, so she took the time and effort to read and learn, and she came to understand the truth.
It’s very difficult to understand how the psychopathic mind works because it is so totally different from what we know. I think it’s made even harder because we don’t want to believe it’s possible, and we don’t want to accept that the person we were with was not at all who or what we thought they were, and that nothing we believed about the relationship was true… and that it wasn’t even a relationship at all. But it is important to understand so you can truly grasp what you experienced. It will help you move forward in your recovery, and what you learn from it can protect you from further victimization.
♥ Do you feel you truly get how the psychopathic mind works? How has it affected you? Are you unable to get it? If not, why do you think that is?
…If you’re wondering if you are encountering a psychopath, read this book and you will know without a doubt.”
“Quite relevant and helpful, written in a useful down-to-earth-style which emphasizes the practical. Obviously written from direct experience.”
“The truth shall make you free… the description of typical behavior and common reaction to that behavior was more helpful to me in freeing myself than all the books on what a psychopath, sociopath or narcissist is”