“Why me? And how did I get trapped?”
~ A Reader
All of us asked ourselves these questions. It’s important to try and answer them.
Why you? Psychopaths can sense who will be receptive. What made you receptive? The answer to that question is different for each of us. There are a lot of possibilities. We’ll talk about them in this post, along with some ideas of how to protect yourself in the future.
“Know yourself. Psychopaths are skilled at detecting and ruthlessly exploiting your weak spots. Your best defense is to understand what these spots are, and to be extremely wary of anyone who zeroes in on them.”
~ Dr. Robert Hare, “How to Spot Social Predators Before They Attack”
Understanding what these weak spots are, and being wary of someone who zeroes in on them, takes conscious effort. It also takes knowledge of what are considered weak spots, or vulnerabilities.
It could be as simple as our desire to be in a relationship. That’s a big one. Or if we’re already in a relationship, there may be some need going unmet. Or it could be loneliness, or the need for someone who understands us or appreciates us, or the need for someone who can bring some fresh energy into a life that feels a little too dull or routine. Or it could be something deeper, like low self-esteem, unresolved past trauma or a history of abuse. Or a hundred other things.
Keep in mind that your vulnerabilities change over time, and that some of them don’t seem like vulnerabilities, or they’re just hard to articulate or to be consciously aware of.
Our fundamental emotional needs:
To be acknowledged.
To be accepted.
To be listened to.
To be understood.
To be loved.
To be appreciated.
To be respected.
To be safe.
To be valued.
To be worthy.
To be trusted.
To feel capable and competent.
To feel clear (instead of confused).
To be supported.
If one of them isn’t being met, it becomes a vulnerability.
Take any one of those (and most of us had — and have — more than one) and combine it with the ability to feel empathy, love, compassion and pity, and the ability to bond, and the basic ingredients needed for victimization are there.
Then add some skilled manipulation, and your goose could be cooked.
Think back to the idealization or love-bombing stage of your involvement with the psychopath. What made it so marvelous? Your emotional needs were being met. You likely felt loved, appreciated, understood, valued, and all the rest… like never before. Psychopaths know what our emotional needs are, and they know what to do to appear to fulfill them.
By seeming to validate us, they demonstrated that they cared and that our feelings mattered to them. It seemed to show that we mattered to them. By “mirroring” our feelings, they showed us they were in tune with us. That made us feel connected to them. That’s how they created the bond.
Now think back to the devaluation stage. What changed? Your emotional needs began to go unmet. You felt confused, unappreciated, unloved, misunderstood, unworthy, rejected, incompetent, unsafe, etc. Our needs, emotions, thoughts, and perceptions were being invalidated, instead of recognized and fulfilled.
What follows is a list of situations and traits that make us vulnerable to predators. Notice that at the core of each one, there’s an emotional need from the list above that is going unmet.
- Not having gotten love, support or validation from your family of origin
- Isolation from friends and family
- Job loss
- Being new in town
- Longing for a relationship
- A strong need for attention and approval.
- A previous victimization that is unresolved
- Long-term stress
- Loss of a loved one through death, divorce or a breakup
- Weak or unclear personal boundaries. If you don’t have boundaries, it means you’re negating your own needs to fulfill someone else’s needs.
- Boredom. When you’re bored, you have the desire for excitement. A brand new relationship can relieve boredom quickly — especially one with a psychopath.
- Loneliness. If you’re lonely, your unmet social and emotional needs create an opening for a psychopath to enter your life. You’re probably also bored, which elevates risk. You may have gotten used to feeling like this, so it just seems like life as usual. But a psychopath — who is very adept at reading people — will recognize it for what it is, and take advantage of it.
Even traits we normally think of as positive can be used against us by a psychopath:
- Are you extroverted? This can increase your risk, because extroverted people are easily bored and generally curious, and are usually looking for excitement.
- Do you “go with the flow?” This trait could make you more willing to accept the chaos a psychopath creates in your life.
- Are you competitive? Then you’re better able to deal with a psychopath’s dominant personality. You’re also more likely to stubbornly hold on when it seems the psychopath is doing all he can to get you to end the relationship.
- Are you sentimental? Then you may be more likely to focus on the good memories of a relationship instead of the bad ones.
- Are you sensitive to other people’s feelings? You probably care a lot about what others think of you, and tend to put their feelings ahead of your own.
- Are you relaxed and carefree? Then you may not see danger in a person or situation as readily as a cautious person might.
- Other traits that will put you at risk are being overly trusting, very loyal, and committed to helping others reach their potential.
Having any of these traits does not mean a victim is to blame — the predator is clearly the one to blame. Everyone has vulnerabilities, but that’s only a problem because there are those who will exploit them.
Does it mean you shouldn’t ever be extroverted, stressed, ill, new in town, or want a relationship? Of course not. We will always have one or another (or several) of these “weak spots.” It simply means to be aware of them.
Our feelings can help us identify the unmet emotional needs that aren’t obvious to us:
If you feel misunderstood, it means you have an unmet need to feel understood. If you feel neglected or ignored, it means you don’t feel you’re getting enough attention. If you feel that you — or some quality or skill you have — is taken for granted, it means you aren’t feeling appreciated. If you feel people don’t treat you right or that they take advantage of you, you have a need to feel respected. If you live alone and worry about things that go bump in the night, you have a need to feel physically safe. If you have people in your life who routinely invalidate your thoughts and feelings, you have a need to feel emotionally safe. If you feel lonely, you have a need for social connection. If your hard work goes unnoticed on the job, you have a need to have it recognized and valued. And so on.
I realized afterward that a need to be appreciated was one of my weak spots, because when I was with the psychopath I felt incredibly and unusually appreciated, as if no one had ever truly appreciated me before. But the funny thing is, I never had the conscious thought that I wasn’t being appreciated. Somehow, he knew. It could be as simple as the fact that most of us aren’t shown the appreciation others close to us actually do feel for us. In other words, it’s a need many of us have, so it was a good bet for him to appreciate me. A really good one.
Dr. Hare says to be wary of new people who enter your life, especially those who seem offer a solution to your problem or an answer to your prayers. That’s great advice to keep in mind.
Sometimes it’s more subtle. For example, we all have some aspect of ourselves that isn’t recognized, or at least not acknowledged, by others around us (it could be our intelligence, or some skill we have, such as our artwork, or the things we do to help others), and a smart predator will zero in on those things. Imagine a stunningly beautiful woman who is always praised for her appearance. Now imagine that she is very intelligent, but no one seems to notice because they focus so much on her looks. Now imagine that a con artist comes along and pretends to appreciate and value her intelligence…
Flattery is a powerful manipulation skill, but remember that the most effective flattery doesn’t come across as flattery — it just seems like sincere appreciation for some quality or talent or skill that you have, especially one that hasn’t been properly noticed by others.
Also, be alert when someone flatters you for a quality you WISH you had, but don’t. For example, if someone praises your confidence when you feel anything but confident (and you wish you felt more confident), watch out. The psychopath I knew told me early on that my confidence was one of the things that attracted him to me. It actually struck me as odd, because my confidence was at a low point at that time. But I didn’t know then that it was a red flag– I simply thought he was mistaken. This doesn’t mean that everyone who appreciates something about you is a con artist! but it does mean you should recognize it and remain alert, and take it into consideration along with whatever else is going on with you and that person.
Going back to the appreciation I felt, an important point is this: It stuck out like a sore thumb when I looked back at what had occurred. So did the love. It wasn’t “just” love — it was love beyond what I could have even imagined before. In other words, another sore thumb. There were a few more as well.
To figure out what made you vulnerable, think back and look for the “sore thumbs.”
Ask yourself, what are the things that really stand out during the times that were good with the psychopath — how did he make you feel that was in some way surprising, and noticeably fulfilling, that you may not have even realized you were missing until you got it from him or her? What wildly exceeded your expectations or prior experiences?
There’s a good chance your answers to those questions will tell you what made you receptive to a psychopathic predator.
If you can’t figure out what made you vulnerable or don’t believe you were, remember that it was our best qualities — our ability to give and receive love, to trust another enough to be intimate and vulnerable, and to believe in the goodness of another — that enabled a psychopath to victimize us.
That doesn’t mean things are hopeless and to throw in the towel. It simply means to keep one eye open. And please don’t forget to enjoy life while you’re doing so. Being aware and alert isn’t the same as being hyper-vigilant and paranoid. Don’t be overconfident, either. Try to find a middle ground, one where you use the knowledge and experience (and the boundaries!) you now have to help you stay awake, see clearly and make sensible decisions about people, relationships, yourself and your life.
♥ As always, please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
“The BEST Manual on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim again…
…I am going to recommend it to the facilitators in the divorce support group I am attending.”
“My eyes have seen the light. How I wish I would have read this book years ago.”
“”Worth your time! Well written, clear, and concise. So thankful I came across this quick, but powerful read. I so appreciate the wisdom I found in this writing. I feel empowered once more! Easily rated at 5 stars.”