An unsettling theme
appears in some of the comments I get from readers on my website. I hear from people regularly who tell me there is no way they will ever be able to protect themselves from another psychopathic victimization. They feel powerless and hopeless, at the mercy of fate or luck or the benevolence of those who cross their paths. After all, they say, psychopaths are so powerful, so crafty, so…not really human. This belief is dangerous because when you imbue them with other-worldly power, you become powerless against such a force.
In the acute aftermath of my involvement with a psychopath, it seemed to me I had been involved with a magician, or the devil himself. How else could he have done what he did? It was totally out of left field, something I could never have anticipated or prevented because I never even knew it was a possibility. I was blindsided, manipulated, disassembled, and left in pieces. I visited the victim forums online looking for support, validation, and an explanation — and many times I saw psychopaths referred to as Evil or as Aliens or The Devil or some other sort of Supernatural Being who was Armed with Superpowers that Mere Humans are Powerless Against. I was traumatized and bewildered, and in light of what I’d experienced, it seemed to me this could very well be true. Many of you who have experienced a psychopath understand what I’m saying. It was just that bad, just that breathtakingly unfathomable and incomprehensible.
But as time went on and I learned about psychopaths and how they work, I stripped them of their supernatural status. Is their behavior evil? Yes, but they are not evil beings unleashed from the depths of hell. Are they so different that they seem like aliens? Sure, but they are not actual aliens. Are they so skilled at manipulation that they seem like magicians? Certainly, but they are not Merlin, complete with a wizard’s hat and a magic wand. To give them such status makes them omnipotent…and leaves us powerless in comparison.
Mary Ellen O’Toole, PhD., a forensic psychologist and former FBI profiler, says “Using the term ‘monster’ throws us back to the 18th century when werewolves and vampires were blamed for violent crimes. We’ve come a long way since then and we know so much more about criminal behavior. Similarly, ‘Evil’ has no legal or behavioral meaning. It implies demonic possession… Understanding what they are will help you to understand their behavior. Thinking of Ariel Castro (who kidnapped three young women and held them prisoner for eleven years) as an evil monster may make us feel better, but it does nothing to further our understanding of what happened and maybe how to prevent it in the future. Words matter and labels make a difference.”
Consider this: Psychopaths look at us with disgust for falling for their tricks, games and manipulations. Doesn’t that say they don’t really think they’re so amazingly clever and powerful? So why should we think they are? We’re on to them now, and that’s worth a lot more than we might believe, if only we’d believe it.
So if psychopaths aren’t supernatural beings with amazing superpowers, why do some of us believe that they are? According to Sartre, magic is dominant when control over our experience is weak:
“Magical beliefs and the fearful reactions based on such beliefs are the result of the state of uncertainty we are in, created by this challenge and by the negation of our expectations. Our feelings come from the conviction of loss of control and the sense of helplessness we feel when our cognitive system can neither assimilate our experience into its own structure nor adapt itself to the structure of the experience.”
Remember the All-Powerful Wizard of Oz and how he turned out to be the mere mortal trickster hiding behind the curtain? It’s a bit like that. I’m not saying a psychopath is actually like the kind and bumbling old guy the wizard turned out to be. What I’m saying is that when you divest the psychopath of his or her above-human supernatural status by learning how he or she really operates, you’ll bring him down several notches to a more manageable level, one that will leave you feeling you’re not completely without power.
This doesn’t mean you won’t be at risk, and it’s not meant to make you over-confident, which could potentially put you at even more risk. It is simply to see them for what they really are, to de-mystify them, and to recognize that what you’ve experienced, and all you’ve learned about them since then, and what you’ve done to shore up your defenses (like developing boundaries and knowing your vulnerabilities), can help protect you from future victimization.
Current research says that psychopaths are born neurologically different. This may or may not combine with the environment they’re raised in to determine the final outcome. One prominent theory says that in a psychopath’s brain the amygdala is not connected to the pre-frontal cortex, meaning the emotions are not connected to the decision-making processes or other executive functions. This neurological difference is obviously very significant (especially to those of us who have experienced it). It leaves a person without a conscience, without most emotions, and without the ability to feel love or experience remorse. It creates a callous and coldly analytical person whose thoughts and actions are instrumental and self-serving (summed up as: predatory).
Bereft of the usual human drives to bond with others, experience love, or create close relationships — yet still in possession of an intelligent, curious mind and plenty of energy — they’re driven to do something. There are a lot of hours to fill in a day. So they will do what they’re capable of doing and what is within their nature to do, and some of that is to manipulate and use others for personal gain or stimulation. While their differences are significant, they’re not supernatural.
In your recovery, you’ll get to the point where the psychopathic bond is finally broken (yes, it will happen) and your future lies in front of you. Will you go forth in fear or with confidence? One way you can go on with confidence is to ditch the belief that psychopaths are some sort of inexplicable, inhuman beings that you are powerless against. Believing that will do nothing to help you, and it will definitely hinder you.
…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”