What is a Psychopath?
Psychopaths are social predators,
both male and female, who do not have a conscience or the ability to feel love, compassion, fear or remorse. It is believed that psychopathy is a genetic neurobiological disorder.
Evolutionary psychology offers an alternate theory that psychopathy is not a disorder at all, but an evolutionary adaptation. This theory views psychopathy as a social strategy, one that benefits the individual instead of the group.
Whatever the cause, psychopathy creates individuals who share certain characteristics that differ greatly from the norm.
“Psychopathy refers to a pathological personality disposition that involves charm, manipulation, and ruthless exploitation of others. Psychopathic persons are lacking in conscience and feeling for others; they selfishly take what they want and do as they please without the slightest sense of guilt or regret.” (Hare, R. D., Neumann, C. S., & Widiger, T. (2012). Psychopathy. T. Widiger (Ed.) Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders. Oxford University Press)
Self-gratification is the only thing that motivates them. Psychopaths are bold, confident liars who will say anything to get what they want, no matter the cost to anyone else. Manipulating, using and exploiting others not only gets them what they want, but fulfills their needs for power and control.
With traits like these you’d never expect a psychopath to be charming, but they are often extraordinarily so.
“I apply the label predatory aggressive to the most severely disturbed of all characters, the psychopath: These individuals are first and foremost characterized by their senseless, remorseless, and completely empathy-devoid use, abuse, manipulation, and exploitation of others…being devoid of any empathy-based sense of bonding to others, having virtually no conscience, having such a pathological sense of superiority that they feel entitled to prey on those they see as weaker and remorselessly engaging in predatory aggression. It’s important to remember also that predatory aggression is not rooted in anger, but in pure and heartless desire.”
Psychopaths wear what’s called a “mask of sanity,” which hides the truth that lies beneath. This mask allows them to move through society undetected. They’re smooth talkers with a lot to say. They’re very relaxed since they have no fear or anxiety, and this makes others around them relax. Strong social skills and unshakable confidence are their predatory edge; these skills bring the psychopath into contact with many potential victims, and make these “targets” comfortable and open to contact.
Just when you need your intuition to alert you to danger, it will be disarmed by the psychopath.
According to research published in the article “The Mask of Sanity Revisited: Psychopathic Traits and Affective Mimicry,” (Evolutionary Psychological Science, June 2015), successful opportunists use insincere emotional displays to appear trustworthy, and people with psychopathic traits make use of emotional mimicry in order to avoid detection. “More specifically,” the author writes, “individuals with psychopathic traits may be able to express fraudulent emotions that appear genuine to the people around them. Cleckley’s use of the title ‘The Mask of Sanity’ may be more appropriate than even he knew.”
Psychopaths aren’t able to experience love, and they consider it a weakness that creates vulnerability they can use to their advantage. These predators gain a victim’s trust and love and then involve them in sham relationships that inevitably result in serious harm.
Psychopaths have severely blunted emotions. Because they don’t experience them, they feel contempt (one of the few things they can feel) for normal human emotions. We show our humanness in the form of love, insecurity, fear, remorse, trust and anxiety, and they consider these emotions weaknesses, vulnerabilities that make us easy targets for manipulation, and deserving of it. They lack emotional empathy, which leaves them unable to form an emotional connection with another person. This leads them to view others as mere objects, which exist for their own use. This objectification goes hand-in-hand with dehumanization, which is the psychological process of depriving another of their humanity and individuality, making them seem less than human and thus not worthy of dignity, value or respect. Objectification and dehumanization in relationships can manifest as invalidation, domination, control, humiliation, ridicule, disrespecting sexual boundaries, and all other forms of emotional, verbal and physical abuse.
Empathy is an awareness of someone else’s thoughts and feelings, mutual understanding, caring, and expression of that care. It is made up of two distinct abilities: cognitive empathy (an awareness of someone else’s thoughts and feelings) and emotional empathy (mutual understanding, caring, and expression of that care). Psychopaths are capable of cognitive empathy, but not emotional empathy, although they are good at faking it. This is what makes them able to manipulate others so well. They know what you’re feeling, but only use it to manipulate you. This lack of emotional empathy, when combined with other traits such as callousness, amorality and lack of a conscience, enables the psychopath to exhibit profound indifference to the suffering their actions cause others.
Psychopaths often establish a relationship with a target based on a hidden agenda from day one. They are human predators who completely hide their real identities and create a tailor-made persona to gain the trust and love of their victim so they can dominate, control and use them. Self-gratification is what drives them.
Sometimes, they pursue a relationship without an explicit intent to victimize and harm. They may become genuinely “fascinated” or enamored with someone. This doesn’t change the fact that psychopaths can’t bond or love, so they will end up hurting the people they get close to. Their relationships follow a predictable pattern that has three stages, which are known as the stages of the psychopathic bond:
Idealize, devalue, discard.
There are a few different theories for what causes this phenomenon in psychopaths:
According to psychopathy expert Dr. Reid Meloy, devaluation is driven by unconscious greed and envy. When the psychopath is envious, he loses his much-needed feelings of superiority and grandiosity. The psychopath’s greed and envy cause hatred, and that hatred creates wishes to destroy the object of his or her envy, which in turn eliminates the envy. When envy is eliminated, superiority and grandiosity are temporarily restored. Their envy is hatred of the good object, and their greed is the desire to have all the ‘contents’ of the good object. When greed and demand start again, the cycle must be repeated with a new person.
Meloy says the psychopath must act out this manipulative cycle repetitively and compulsively in order to experience feelings of exhilaration and contempt (contemptuous delight), which perpetuate his or her feeling of grandiosity. The manipulative cycle is a ‘purification process’ for the psychopath, which projects all the bad onto the victim of his manipulation. It is described as a narcissistic repair of the psychopathic process that restores a primitive and defensive equilibrium. They need to do this because their grandiose self is threatened, but must be kept intact. The psychopath will continue to ward off others by devaluing them, Meloy says, but also continue to seek out new victims. Once a new victim is found, greed and envy cause rage and sadism, and the victim is devalued and destroyed. When that has been accomplished, the psychopath’s need for devaluation will start all over again.
Another theory is based on neuroscience. Psychopaths have a significantly exaggerated dopamine response when seeking a reward, such as when they’re pursuing a person they’re attracted to. Athough they have this exaggerated dopamine response when after something they want, they have an abnormally low level of dopamine in general. Without strong stimulation (and the dopamine that goes with it), they feel bored, empty and restless. They’re also low on serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of contentment. Since they require intense stimulation to get their dopamine high, when the object of their desire isn’t shiny and new anymore, they’re simply not stimulating enough to give the psychopath the high they need. When their dopamine crashes and the relationship becomes boring to them, they blame their partner for their loss of interest and devalue and abuse them. Since they aren’t capable of attachment, when the intense newness of the relationship wears off there’s no incentive for them to continue with it.
This search for an intense dopamine high—and the relief from the intolerable sense of bored emptiness they feel without it—drives the ever-repeating cycle of idealize, devalue, discard. Their lives are a continual, relentless pursuit of stimulation intense enough to give them the dopamine they need to feel exhilarated and alive. You can read more about this in the articles, Genuine Attraction, Manipulation or Something More? Dr. Rhonda Freeman Explains and It’s Not You, It’s Me… and My Hyper-Reactive Dopaminergic Reward System.
Whatever the cause, the psychopath’s relational pattern of idealize, devalue and discard causes a great deal of trauma to the victims, who are left confused and devastated.
They do establish what appear as normal, positive relationships with some people for the purpose of developing a good reputation, one that covers up their victimization of vulnerable others or that helps them to meet other self-serving goals. Some psychopaths are respected and well-liked members of their community because of this. Only those closest to them learn the truth.
Seeing that the psychopath is well-liked also serves to make the victim more trusting, and when or if the victim finds out the truth and comes forward, the psychopath is strongly supported by all those who think he or she is a good person. Meanwhile, the victim gets no support or validation — they may have been an unknown who was new to the community, company or group, or in some way marginalized, which is often why a psychopath targeted them in the first place.
These cunning and calculating predators often go for vulnerable people who are lonely or have experienced multiple life stressors, such as an illness, a death in the family, or unemployment; these are the easy targets. Just desiring a relationship is enough to create the required vulnerability. No one is immune. Psychopaths are adept shape-shifters able to read their prey like a book. They figure out exactly what you need and they cut the master key that disarms all of your defenses.
Psychopaths are cunning and intelligent “intra-species predators,” according to Dr. Robert Hare, leading psychopathy researcher, creator of the most widely used diagnostic assessment (the PCL-R), and author of the book Without Conscience. If you’re targeted and lured into a relationship with a psychopath, you’ll be left in ruins while he or she goes on to the next victim with no care or concern for you. There is no easy way to detect them, but awareness may help.
It is said that psychopaths know right from wrong, but they just don’t care.
That’s not exactly true. They know right from wrong, but they just can’t care. Psychopaths don’t have the neurological wiring that allows them to care about others or about doing what’s right. Their physical brain is different, and those differences leave them without a conscience and without normal emotions or a sense of morality. Researchers have found at least 17 different factors that affect the frontal lobes, amygdala, and the associated communication pathways within the brain that produce the neurological pattern of the psychopath.
It is estimated there are 1 – 2 psychopaths per 100 people in the population. And they get around. One psychopath can wreak havoc on many through serial “romantic” relationships. It doesn’t take long for the psychopath to inflict harm, and he or she can move swiftly among victims. He can also keep one victim for a long period while having many more on the side. Some maintain a marriage to give the illusion of normalcy. Many psychopaths feast greedily on a banquet of easy targets while taking the time necessary to break down the defenses of more challenging ones.
Psychopaths are notoriously hypersexual and promiscuous; at any one time they may be having sex with their main victim while juggling a few other regulars, having one-night stands with people of either sex, or hiring prostitutes. Psychopaths are most likely to be those who continue to have unprotected sex despite knowing they are HIV positive, according to research.
When you’ve met someone who you believe is your soul mate and the love of your life, it’s not usually the time you think of danger or want consider taking things slowly. After all, this is someone you believe is worthy of your love and trust. But this is exactly when you need to keep your eyes open and think critically about who this person really is. Unfortunately, feeling someone is your soul mate is a red-flag warning, because psychopaths are able to so perfectly mirror you and figure out your needs and desires that they appear to be the perfect person for you.
Dr. Paul Babiak, psychopathy expert, warns,
“What the psychopath does is they weave a picture of a person that’s really a dream. It’s a spirit. It’s not real. You feel like you’ve discovered a soul mate. Once you’re in that bond — and we call it the psychopathic bond — you don’t want to break it.”
This conundrum is precisely why so many jump headfirst and wholeheartedly into relationships with psychopaths. Unfortunately, what starts out as heaven will turn into hell.
“Know what you are dealing with. This sounds easy but in fact can be very difficult. All the reading in the world cannot immunize you from the devastating effects of psychopaths. Everyone, including the experts, can be taken in, conned, and left bewildered by them.”
~ Robert Hare, PhD., author of Without Conscience
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