Do You Make This Simple (But Dangerous) Mistake About the Psychopathic Mind?

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 “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.

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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 …” 

My response:

“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.

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 “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.

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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.

Thank you for reading.

Recommended:

Matters of Conscience
Personal Empowerment: Let Go of Harmful Misconceptions
WITHOUT CONSCIENCE by Robert Hare, PhD

 

 

LOTUS DIVIDER

Comments are closed.

“Such a great gem. One of my favorite books about this subject as the author paints such a clear picture of what these relationships are like.”

“Practical, concise, well-written and researched. Everyone should have a copy of this book. In fact, they should give one to every high school student. That would prevent a lot of people from getting involved in ‘?relationships’? with these hidden, manipulative predators. An easy five stars, I wish I could give it a hundred!”

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48 thoughts on “Do You Make This Simple (But Dangerous) Mistake About the Psychopathic Mind?”

  1. I’d rather not have my initials published but I wanted to thank you for this emailed blog. So very helpful and its as though you can read my thoughts and what I am struggling with right now. I kept giving lee-way after several break – ups & half – breakups. I have never been around someone who so totally needed control & could be so cruel in words. Hard to fathom. Thank you.

    1. Admin

      You’re welcome. It is hard to fathom, and while the truth hurts at first, it definitely helps after the shock wears off. Best wishes to you.

  2. Rubi

    You give me so much hope. I love your work. You are amazing.
    Thank You.

    1. Admin

      You’re welcome. I am left speechless (but happy) when I receive comments like this. Thank you.

  3. Tammy

    I did this blunder when I did my victims impact speech in court. I assumed he was capable of caring but, due to some screwed up situation in his past needed help. Never once did it dawn on me at the time that he wasn’t capable of feeling the same emotions I did. If I had to do the speech all over again, I would leave any empathy I had for him completely out of it.

    1. Admin

      It wasn’t really a blunder at all — it was just you acting as decent person with normal emotions and beliefs about others. Even if you gave the speech you would now liked to have given, it wouldn’t have had any impact on the perpetrator. I assume your concern is the effect it had on the judge and the sentence imposed, but ideally your empathy should not have affected it. From what I understand, the sentence must be within some pre-approved range for the crime committed. In any case, don’t forget that you were still the one in power that day, and the perpetrator was powerless. I hope that you are recovering from whatever happened. All the best to you.

      1. Tammy

        You’re a very in-depth person, your assumptions are correct. He did get the maximum sentencing. Although, he later managed to weasel out of his damage payment responsibility for my hospital bills and so on while on probation. He managed to manipulate the probation officer into somehow feeling sorry for him and dropping this. When I received the papers stating this I was very upset, he managed to victimize me again after the fact. I called many court appointed officials involved and was told that there was nothing more I could do after the fact and how sorry they were that this happen to me. I don’t understand how a probation officer could trump a Judge’s ruling. Thank you, I’m doing much better. I haven’t allow myself to be in a relationship in over seven years now, I’m scared to allow another power in my life again. Yes, this could be an issue I may need to work on but, it feels right and I’m happy on my own for now.

        1. Admin

          I felt like I was stepping out on a limb since I know very little about what you spoke of, but I wanted to try and say something helpful anyway. So thank you very much for coming back and letting me know!

          It’s good to hear you’re doing much better. While I’m glad to hear he got the maximum sentence, I’m sorry that he managed somehow to trump the judge’s ruling and get out of his damage payment. Even so, you still had quite a victory, and I imagine it helped you to feel strong again.

          I can understand not wanting another ‘power’ in your life, and if it feels right and you’re happy, that’s all that matters. If you feel differently about it one day, the best things you can do are to know what kind of relationship you want (so you don’t inadvertently end up going along with someone else’s agenda); determine your limits and have clear boundaries; know how to determine if someone is trustworthy; take things slow; and have a strong sense of self worth. Best wishes.

  4. ABC

    I found this very helpful!!
    Thank you for shinning a light on the harsh truth
    It is necessary

    1. Admin

      You’re welcome. It’s a harsh truth but it is the truth, and ultimately it does set us free. I’m so glad you found it helpful.

  5. Baglady

    I have been puzzled by the behaviour of my psychopath’s first wife. She was very helpful in confirming that our ex was dangerous and severely disturbed but she kept his name, and some comments she made suggest that she’s even flattered by his constant attempts to get back in touch, mentioning that she heard that he kept photos of her!! Despite our long correspondence I saw no signs that she understood what her ex is all about. I wasn’t going to be brutally honest with her, she has to get to a stage where this might occur to her naturally.

    My own thoughts on how to view psychopaths is to think that they are parasites or viruses. A parasite/virus only has one function – to survive. A parasite/virus is incapable of thinking about others or the pain they are causing other people, because the pain they are causing is a necessary consequence of their preferred/programmed lifestyle. Your pain and suffering is literally collateral damage.

    How to judge new acquaintances during your recovery is a tough one. But certainly we need to ditch this idea that others are like us, stop buying into new age speak and psychobabble that we are all products of childhood experiences etc and that you get what you put out. I think most survivors have always trusted others, been inordinately generous etc but what have they received in return? These new age and mainstream psychotherapy attitudes continue our victimisation and are therefore unhelpful. The victim continues to be punished for being a victim, weakness is reviled and aggression is construed as strength. For me, weakness and gentleness are true strength.

    We need to be supervigilant as to our own perceptions as well as the perceptions of others. Lazy thinking is our enemy. It’s a messy and huge process, but entirely necessary to get at the truth. It takes you out of your comfort zone and that’s why you have to be really kind to yourself. Find some sort of constant or rock in your life that you can cling to when it gets really rough. For some people that will be faith, or jogging, gardening etc, for me it’s embroidery!!! Its a kind of waking meditation to help me get calm into my life, life affirming and productive.

    1. Admin

      “I saw no signs that she understood what her ex is all about.” I always wonder about the ones who never figure out the truth. Their recovery is thwarted, and the cognitive dissonance will continue forever.

      “My own thoughts on how to view psychopaths is to think that they are parasites or viruses.” It’s a good analogy, but beyond that many former victims (myself included) go through a phase when they feel as if they have been ‘infected’ with something, like a parasite. Thomas Sheridan touches on this in “Defeated Demons.” Did you experience that?

      “How to judge new acquaintances during your recovery is a tough one.” I look at it as an experiment, a chance to put what I’ve learned to the test in a real- life laboratory (with the chance of making real friends, of course). It’s more fun that way! The main thing for me is not to automatically trust anyone (nor automatically mistrust them), but to observe and determine if their behavior indicates they are trustworthy…and observe if they CONTINUE to be trustworthy (this is the really important part!)

      “These new age and mainstream psychotherapy attitudes continue our victimisation and are therefore unhelpful. The victim continues to be punished for being a victim, weakness is reviled.” I can not stand these attitudes. I wrote about New Age Bullies in my post “How to help a victim…” and you can read more about it here: http://juliaingram.com/nab/

      “Find some sort of constant or rock in your life that you can cling to when it gets really rough.” This is a wonderful idea.

      I agree, weakness and gentleness are truly strengths. The ability to be vulnerable is a great strength, too (and of course is related to weakness and gentleness), and there is no intimacy without it. Have you seen the Brene Brown TED talk on vulnerability? http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?embed=true

      1. Baglady

        My first impression after being discarded by the psychopath was that I was no longer hypnotised, I was seeing things more clearly. I had a disagreement recently with someone who poohpoohed the idea that psychopaths employ a type of hypnosis, they really don’t know the half of it! Certainly Hare’s and Sheridan’s ideas that psychopaths have a parasitic lifestyle resonated strongly with me later and you can see that psychopaths actually have no existence outside of their hosts/victims. Put a psychopath into a vacuum and what do you get – zero. They have no creativity or originality of thought, in fact my first psychopath’s career wouldn’t have got off the ground if it wasn’t for me. Non-psychopaths have the ability to solve problems out of the box, psychopaths seem to have a rigid programmed approach and they’ll try the same methods each time on different victims.

        Yes, it is a fun challenge to work out who’s an abuser and who is worthy of more attention and it’s an ideal opportunity to put your new-found knowledge to the test – perhaps we are living in some sort of laboratory.

        “and observe if they CONTINUE to be trustworthy (this is the really important part!” – in my experience length of time is not a sure indicator. If the prize is big enough they’ll manage the boredom with a few side bets. My psychopath worked on a very long con for about 20 years and he got what he wanted.

        The only true test of a real friend is someone who doesn’t use you in a crisis, either theirs or yours. I’ve been able to ditch people quite quickly if they display behaviour which doesn’t accord with my own standards – I’m not looking for a saint btw! It most certainly is a “work in progress”, travelling hopefully is the best we can do in the circumstances, and as you say, neither to trust or distrust completely is the way forward. Wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

        Thank you for those links, I’ll be sure to look at those.

        1. Admin

          Let them poohpooh it all they want; no one who hasn’t experienced it can understand. There certainly is an element of hypnosis involved.

          “Yes, it is a fun challenge to work out who’s an abuser and who is worthy of more attention and it’s an ideal opportunity to put your new-found knowledge to the test – perhaps we are living in some sort of laboratory.” The only things missing are our white lab coats and some bubbling test tubes…

          True, if they plan a “long con” we might be SOL. I realized this but I hate to bring it up. I think about people like you who have been through it and then it reminds me of Dr. James Fallon, the psychopathic neuroscientist, who recently gained fame when he admitted all over the media that he is indeed psychopathic. Well he also admitted that his wife and other family members (think wife/mother/children) are no different to him than strangers in a bar. In his own words: “I started with simple things of how I interact with my wife, my sister, and my mother. Even though they’ve always been close to me, I don’t treat them all that well. I treat strangers pretty well—really well, and people tend to like me when they meet me—but I treat my family the same way, like they’re just somebody at a bar. I treat them well, but I don’t treat them in a special way.” http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/life-as-a-nonviolent-psychopath/282271/?single_page=true

          I wondered how they would react to this, and Fallon says “…they said, “I give you everything. I give you all this love and you really don’t give it back.” They all said it, and that sure bothered me. So I wanted to see if I could change. I don’t believe it, but I’m going to try. In order to do that, every time I started to do something, I had to think about it, look at it, and go: No. Don’t do the selfish thing or the self-serving thing. Step-by-step, that’s what I’ve been doing for about a year and a half and they all like it. Their basic response is: We know you don’t really mean it, but we still like it. I told them, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You accept this? It’s phony!” And they said, “No, it’s okay. If you treat people better it means you care enough to try.” It blew me away then and still blows me away now.”

          He only measures a 20 on the PCL-R (and a “true” psychopath must score at least 30). I do wonder about how his wife feels about it after ample time to digest the truth. I suspect we’ll be seeing her own book out someday.

          “I’ve been able to ditch people quite quickly if they display behaviour which doesn’t accord with my own standards – I’m not looking for a saint btw!” Me, too. It’s a different world. In the past, a ‘friend’ had to behave badly for at least 10 years before I’d had enough. It’s quite different now. And it’s a work in progress, as you said.

          Wise as serpents and gentle as doves. Mmm, yep.

  6. prinses

    For psychopaths it’s just too late. They will never be able to connect with life again. All they can do is invent better and better tricks to ‘catch’ people who can deliver them things like attention, warmth, money, excitement. Too be able to do that, they have to pay FULL attention to that other human being in order to not miss a single piece which can be manipulated to their will. And then the play begins. Wow what a thrill for them. It’s madness, it’s like an invisible zoo surrounding your soul. Hungry animals. And you know what? I am sure the psychopath isn’t even aware of this destruction. I am sure he is so full of saving himself, disconnected from real life, that he never makes this deep thoughts like we do now. If he would read them, he would use them like the imitator to develope his manipulation tricks a little more, but he is a big, big, helpless child, seeking for attention and life-connections all the time, over and over again. He doesn’t undertstand a single thing of life.
    I refuse to see a psychopath as an evil genius. The stealing and harming he does to us forces US to dig deeper in our souls to stand stronger and more awake. But he? Continues to develope in the negative way (which forces victims now and in the future to get stronger in the positive loving way). Get the picture? I do, but it’s so uncommon and new that it’s hard work to reach this new level of consousness. But I am so sure that the ‘awakened’ ones will outnumber the negatives. This turning point is already active; psychopaths are part of the big picture of a changing world.
    lots of love to all of you brave people

    1. Admin

      They couldn’t connect in the first place. Yes, they have a remarkable ability to be fully present and read people with amazing skill.

      They are actually VERY aware that they have these skills and very aware that they use them to manipulate. If you read some of the writings of psychopaths themselves, they say they know it.

      For example, have you heard of James Fallon, PhD, the neuroscientist who is psychopathic? Here is a QUOTE: ” I get a buzz from manipulating people, and from making them want to do things for me — even if I don’t take it that far, by making unreasonable or immoral demands on them. I just like to know that I can; it’s like a game I play whenever I walk into a room. I can really turn on the charm, I can really work it to get whatever it is that I might want. I mean, I don’t look good: I’m fat and I’m old. But I can make people think that I’m really special. And that gives me a hit that I crave.”
      http://www.theverge.com/2013/10/31/5025744/james-fallon-the-psychopath-inside-interview

      “I am sure he is so full of saving himself…he is a big, big, helpless child, seeking for attention and life-connections…” S/he is not seeking attention and life connection. What they seek is stimulation and getting their needs met. You are still looking at them from the point of view that they have the same needs as you, but they don’t.

      I agree, because of our experience we stand stronger and more awake, and so we reach a new level of consciousness. And that does take a lot of hard work! But it is so worth it.

      Lots of love to you, too, Prinses.

  7. prinses

    You identify the psychopath with his negativity, I see the psychopath as a victim of his own negativity. I do not understimate the danger of it.
    Like a toddler is not yet able to pay attention to the needs of his parents, just like this, a psychopath stays a toddler all his life.
    And you know, you should never leave a toddler alone with a baby or pet, cause he sees it as an object.
    It is this stage where the psychopath never grew further.
    What happens in all these years after he got stuck inside himself, is a mystery.
    All we know is the damage he causes to other people, animals, posessions, and so on.
    The difference between our opinions is that you think they are aware of what they do, and I do not think so.
    For me awareness is connected to life and positivity,
    The negativity and smart-ass behaviour of a psychopath I compare with the behaviour of a desperately attention-seeking toddler, that grew big and dangerous.
    Do not confuse intelligence with adapted behaviour. There is a soul in intelligence. The soul of a psychopath is hidden because of fear.

    With all this in mind, I just wonder what kind of energy surrounds this handicapted soul and I almost start to believe the psychopath became an object himself, of some sucking dark energy that uses his old needs and desires as a child that were not forfilled and therefor left holes where this cold shadows began to enter and posess his body and soul.

    Again, I do not underestimate the damage the P causes and the joy it gives him to control and hurt others. It is the only thing that can make him feel peaceful himself and give him some meaning in life. It’s all he can do.
    We, victims, have vulnerabilities for different reasons, but have to draw a line at some point. This is not saying no to the psycho, but saying no to disgusting behaviour. Wherever it came from.
    And you have to be quite strong to say no to powers that touched your deepest feelings working through some lost soul.
    We connect this forfillment to that individual, but it wasn’t him, it was his shadow using him.

    I think that’s all I have to say for now…

    1. Admin

      As long as your beliefs aren’t going to lead you back into the relationship, then they’re fine. But your beliefs do not align with all that is known about psychopaths; they align with your cognitive bias that psychopaths are just like you, only something terrible has happened to them and they can’t express it.

      There is some comparison when it comes to psychopaths and infantile behavior and objectification, I agree. But not in the way you think.

      “The difference between our opinions is that you think they are aware of what they do, and I do not think so.”

      Did you read Dr. Fallon’s words from my last response to your comment? Have you read the words of other psychopaths? They are 100% aware of what they do, and they are quite proud of it.

      “For me awareness is connected to life and positivity”

      I’m also “connected to life and positivity” (and I don’t appreciate you implying that I’m not) but I don’t waste it on those who are incapable of experiencing it. The things I say aren’t my opinions — they are what is known about psychopathy, and what has been known for a long time. You’ve come up with a theory that has nothing to do with reality. I don’t write this blog with the intention of giving the readers my made-up opinions; I back up what I say with plenty of resources, in addition to what I learned from my own experience. You have no idea what I do to bring accurate information here. Suffice it to say I have heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.

      “…and you have to be quite strong to say no to powers that touched your deepest feelings working through some lost soul.” It sounds much more romantic to think of it as power working through a lost soul, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. You have to be quite strong to say no to the powers of a skilled manipulator. And I say no. Good night.

    2. Baglady

      We all have a shadow side, but most of us are able to put the brakes on any antisocial or immoral acts. I may occasionally have a thought that is completely contrary to my personality but I am quick to deal with it and cast it out, I certainly wouldn’t act on it. The psychopath chooses to act on his/her antisocial thoughts and is even proud of it (as Admin has quoted from the neuroscientist Fallon), the shadow side is NOT using the psychopath. This implies a choice to some degree, certainly non-psychopaths are able to exercise this choice usually opting for the positive. But it appears that even though the psychopath is aware of what he is doing he is more likely to choose the shadow side – it is a conscious choice. Why the psychopath chooses to manifest his shadow is a matter for debate – eg are psychopaths hard-wired for antisocial activity? Which comes first, the impulse to do harm or the physical brain? Brain imaging is useful to show how psychopaths’ brains differ in terms of activity but it doesn’t answer the question WHY.

      There may be a sense of arrested development. Guggenbühl-Craig in “The Emptied Soul” talks about the curious observation that “there seemed to be no psychological development” in psychopaths. Even their faces showed no sign of aging commensurate with their physical age. Most of us learn from our experiences which leave their mark, whereas the psychopath is hardly touched by life’s experiences, it’s as if they just glide through life and nothing affects them.

      When we choose between following our “good” side or our “shadow” side we are usually applying a system of morality to help us make that choice, our consciences will speak to us at a visceral level – eg I cannot lie because I get a horrible feeling in my guts if I even think about lying!! On the other hand psychopaths, although very much aware of ideas of morality and immorality, they are essentially amoral. Neither morality or immorality elicits any response in a psychopath, both are the same to a psychopath, both can be used to manipulate people. Psychopaths are apparently flatlining in their emotional state whilst being physically alive.

      I’m not sure that psychopaths have a soul, if you believe in the existence of a soul as I do. I would never have entertained such a thought before, but being confronted by psychopaths has changed my views on the subject. It’s as if the psychopath has all the requisites for a physical life but none for a spiritual life, spiritual meaning a deep experience of life and the capacity to reflect and learn. They are spiritually incompetent, is it the result of some kind of aberration? Nature throws out all kinds of anomalies, perhaps psychopathy is one of those. My animals have shown me more feeling and caring than the psychopaths in my life, where does that come from?

      1. Admin

        “…Even their faces showed no sign of aging commensurate with their physical age. Most of us learn from our experiences which leave their mark, whereas the psychopath is hardly touched by life’s experiences, it’s as if they just glide through life and nothing affects them.”

        I would say the psychopath I knew looked close to his age, yet he seemed MUCH younger in the way he moved. He did indeed seem to “glide,” in a real sense, along with gliding through life in a metaphorical sense.

        “Neither morality or immorality elicits any response in a psychopath, both are the same to a psychopath, both can be used to manipulate people.”

        What I find confusing is that while they do know right from wrong, when they choose ‘wrong’ does the responsibility for that go to the abnormality they have (through no fault of their own), or does the responsibility go to them as an individual? Either way, they are just as dangerous, but to me it makes a difference. When I realized that my ex’s behavior was caused by a brain disorder, I wasn’t as angry at him any more. And that made a huge difference in my recovery. I would never go anywhere near him again, because whether or not he was personally responsible doesn’t matter — *what matters is the result his behavior had on me.* Yes, he knew what he was doing, and yes he knew it would hurt me, but it was rooted in a neurological disorder. Somehow, that makes a difference.

        1. Baglady

          I think it’s the youthful playfulness that some very charming psychopaths employ that we find so attractive. My last psychopath had a lined face but the eyes were bright and he tended to act as if he was in his twenties (going on 60 in physical terms!). It can be a very sexy combination. When he drank more than a glass of wine he would start giggling like a girl, there was never any indication that he had malice in his heart, far from it.

          ” when they choose ‘wrong’ does the responsibility for that go to the abnormality they have (through no fault of their own), or does the responsibility go to them as an individual? ” – The operative word here is “choice”. A mental abnormality overrides personal choice. When someone is dangerously insane we lock them up because they cannot control their dangerous impulses. A psychopath is not considered to be psychotic.

          My first psychopath used to beat me up. All sorts of excuses could be made about his behaviour, if he was drunk or if he was on medication (he was on medication for asthma). But did he beat anyone else up? Did he lay into colleagues at work for example or the girl at the checkout? If he didn’t do that then we have to infer he had some control over his behaviour. He kept his really bad behaviour for “her indoors”, namely me. The last time he beat me up was the most dangerous. He had twigged that I had encouraged him to take a secondment abroad in order to get him out of the house for a few months! I wanted a few months alone to think about my life and take steps to improve it. Back in the day, I don’t know if the numbers today are the same, but in dv cases where the wife is murdered by her abusive partner, about 75% of those murders occurred when the wife had just left the relationship or was on the point of leaving it. I was in a very dangerous situation now that he had guessed why I encouraged him to go. He proceeded to punch me with such ferocity, I was in a foetal position on the floor trying to protect my head. All of a sudden, he stopped, turned round and picked up a heavy object with which to smash my head in completely. I waited for the killer blow, I had given up and thought I was going to die, I mentally thought “this is it, get it over with”. It’s funny how in those situations time seems to slow down, it was like looking at a film frame by frame. But obviously he didn’t go through with it, otherwise I wouldn’t be here now. For some reason, in the midst of his ferocious attack he had managed to stop himself. How can you suddenly stop if you are in the grip of uncontrollable anger? It doesn’t make sense. What does make sense is that the abuser is in control at ALL times, he picks the moment to start, he picks the person he wants to abuse and he picks the time to stop.

          If indeed your abuser has a legitimate reason for being obnoxious, then the test should be if he/she is the same to everyone. If your abuser is careful not to abuse certain people then he has control over his behaviour and his reason for behaving badly is a fraud. The abuser knows enough about his behaviour that he is able to adapt it to certain people and situations.

          Sorry Admin, I don’t look for excuses for someone’s behaviour unless it is consistently bad for every person he has contact with. If the abuser only treats some people badly then a choice is being made. If a brain lesion can be proved to cause a manipulative personality I will be the first one to admit that I’m wrong. I was punched so many times in the head, over several years and with such force that I’m probably suffering from lesions in my brain myself, it may have affected my cognitive functioning, who knows, but I do know that I’m not a psychopath, I’m too neurotic!!

          1. Admin

            “Sorry Admin, I don’t look for excuses for someone’s behaviour unless it is consistently bad for every person he has contact with.”

            I understand what you’re saying, and I’m not looking for excuses for their behavior either. I’m just looking at the cause of their behavior being a mental abnormality. We’re not talking about a normal person who is behaving badly — we’re talking about a psychopathic person who is behaving badly. That has to account for something, doesn’t it?

            “The operative word here is “choice”. A mental abnormality overrides personal choice. When someone is dangerously insane we lock them up because they cannot control their dangerous impulses. A psychopath is not considered to be psychotic.”

            I believe they truly are psychotic — but in some different way that’s not defined by having delusions, per se. It used to be called “moral insanity,” and maybe that’s the description I’m searching for. They may not be out of touch with reality in the delusional way, but they are still very much out of touch with it, as evidence by the way they act and think.

            I agree, “a mental abnormality overrides personal choice.” So the way I see that, it means that if a person were not psychopathic, they would make different choices, and so they wouldn’t act the way they do. Just as if a person weren’t schizophrenic, they wouldn’t act the way they do. I see psychopathy as a mental or neurological abnormality, I guess that’s what it comes down to.

            Like you said, they do pick and choose who/when/where to do their harm. But the fact that they do it *at all* stems from their disorder. This is definitely the aspect that makes it confusing and puts it in some gray area.

            “For some reason, in the midst of his ferocious attack he had managed to stop himself.”

            For whatever the reason was that he stopped, I am very glad that he did.

            In my last comment, I said the cause doesn’t truly matter — what matters is the effect that behavior has on us. So it’s all kind of a moot point anyway. It’s equally as bad, no matter what the reason behind it. And even though I’m not angry, it doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven what he did or think “well, he couldn’t help it, poor guy.” Not at all. But in my opinion, his behavior stemmed from his disorder, and knowing that has allowed me to detach from the anger, which has helped me to resolve at least one part of the mental angst of the whole fiasco.

            1. Huytonwoman

              My analogy is this: If someone was running down a crowded street taking swings at passers-by with a big knife, it might be that the person was in psychosis, in dreadful searing pain. Or it might be that they really thought hurting strangers was fun, and knew they could escape punishment. Either way – you’d run and call the police.

              1. Adelyn Birch

                Exactly!

  8. prinses

    Excuse me if I am wrong, I am struggling to find my way out of a web of manipulation, I all the time think it is not right to give the psychopath so much importance, I get annoyed when people write about psychopaths as if they are such powerfull human beings.
    I never meant to offend you and I am gratefull for your work! I am dutch so my english is miserable I think so maybe thats also a reason I’m not so able to express my thoughts. Just thoughts, no judgements. I’m learning.
    I’m examining where the pycho got oppurtunity to hook me. So it will never happen again. It’s a deep wound in me because my mother was psychopathic and my ex is.
    I am in therapy since the damage, 2 years now. I’m still fucked up.
    But I never, never had the intention to lecture you, I was putting it in an other point of view, and wanted to discuss it with you.
    Thanks for your answer, I will be more careful with my words and think and examine more before I speak out.
    I just really want to catch the source of this awful psychopatic behaviour but it’s like searching old stuff in a completely dark room or so.
    Thanks again for your effort.

    1. Admin

      You (and everyone here) are trying to understand the manipulation and to prevent it from happening again, and so I’m sorry for making you feel that I thought you were wrong or that you had offended me. I want everyone who comes here to feel supported and to be able to say whatever they need to say.

      We have been discussing your point of view (and in fact the whole blog post was inspired by it) because it’s an important one to discuss. I guess it was just my feeling that taking ‘my’ point of view would help you, so I was getting frustrated when you persisted with yours. Meaning = I was trying to help but not feeling I was able to. Again, I’m sorry to have made you feel you did something wrong. You haven’t. I hope you will accept my apology. And I hope you’ll continue to read the blog and feel free to share your thoughts.

      1. prinses

        Thank you so very much and I will!

        1. Admin

          You just gave me a very big smile. I’m happy to hear it. Thank you.

  9. aurora

    Great article and reminder.
    It took me a long time to get my head around this to make sense of the complete insanity that took hold in my life for the very short period I was with the psychopath. More importantly – even though I ended the relationship – I was left with a range of horrible psychiatric and behavioural problems that took me a lot of time and work to ‘de-psychopath’ myself from.
    Normal, human, ethical, moral humans do not behave in the way you describe, and yet we try so valiantly, so impossibly – to make sense from the perspective of being human, why someone would behave in this way – it really is like learning a foreign language.
    But once you gain this understanding and start to extricate yourself from the web of lies, deceit, malignant projection and soul-lessness, it is possible to heal from this dreadful experience.
    I think its so important to maintain awareness of this.
    thankyou for posting such a great article.

    1. Admin

      Learning how their minds work is really vital to our healing. As you said, it enables us to “extricate” ourselves from the “web of lies”…truly, from the lie the relationship was. When we can understand who and what we were really involved with, it makes a big difference. It is really key. But because it is so foreign to us, it’s not an easy thing to do.

      I’m glad to hear you were able to “de-psychopath” yourself. Thank you for your comment.

  10. Darlene

    Thank you for this website. It has helped me so much to realize that Im not a bad person, as my sibling has always told me as a child. I have a full blooded brother who destroyed many lives secretly. He attacked all members of our immediate family to inherit a farm. He succeeded, and I survived his last attack. My good brother, mother, father and grandmother were not so lucky. The way this psychopathic worked is amazing and I am writing a book to try to help people with this serious mental disorder. It has been 4 years and I am still recovering financial, and emotional.

    1. Admin

      You’re welcome, I’m so glad the site has helped you. I’m sorry to hear about your family’s devastation at your brother’s hands. It’s very sad. Please let me know when your book is published. Best wishes to you for a full recovery.

  11. I have two stories that I would like to share and possibly get advice about.
    The first alleged psychopath I was involved with started about 5 years ago (he was actually my ex-boyfriend from 10 years ago when I was 20). I remember feeling even back then that something was “not right”. Forward all these years (a marriage and 2 children) later and I am the one who actually looked him up on Facebook. He lived out of state, but we talked and texted daily, and saw each other as much as possible. To try to make a long story short, I moved back to my home state after we had broken up and he soon followed (moving himself and 2 children 750 miles). He wanted to be “friends”, but of course it turned into a full blown love affair. He is charismatic, totally gorgeous, and the sex was the best of my life….like I would go into a trance. He was so skilled in this area, which my counselor felt was part of his game. He never physically abused me, but he was emotionally and verbally abusive. His pattern definitely followed the “cycle of violence” (honeymoon; tension building; explosion). He wanted to isolate me from family/friends and always talked about how evil they were and didn’t really love me/care about me. He tried to make me feel I was the crazy one and needed help. So I started counseling because I started to believe I was crazy, and having major anxiety. The counselor said she thought he was a psychopath after hearing story after story and showing her our text conversations. I tried to break things off, but he threatened me physical harm….so I had to go a different avenue. I played to him that “you are right, I am the crazy one; I am so messed up in my head and need to focus on working on myself”. I also did grey rock method. And finally just ignored him completely even though I didn’t want to at times (at times I hated him and at times I missed him/the sex). It took me 2 years of the roller coaster to figure out that HE was the problem not ME. What made me wonder if he was a true psychopath was that he took responsibility for his actions, showed remorse, apologized profusely, would get emotional and cry, begged my forgiveness, and showed his children love. I haven’t seen him in over a year, but I heard from him yesterday via text. He said he was walking into counseling and just wanted to say hi. Wondered how I’m doing and how my kids are. And said he will always love me no matter what. So my question is this: Would a true psychopath actually say/do these things and go to counseling? I’m at a weak point emotionally (because of psychopath #2…more to follow regarding that), so I feel like maybe he has changed or wasn’t a true psychopath to begin with? Or maybe I just forgot how bad things got? Are there different levels to psychopaths (i.e. Mild, Moderate, Severe)?
    Ok, onto story #2. About 4 months ago, another one of my ex-boyfriends from high-school started pursuing me. I wasn’t looking for anything serious, but it just felt right. He was so sweet in the beginning, and it got serious pretty fast (which he says was because we dated before and have known each other for so many years). However, I started seeing red flags pretty early on. The jealousy, being controlling, the drinking, tendency towards violence, being critical, bad temper, and the worst has been the verbal abuse. Calling me “f’ing stupid/retarded/crazy/psycho” whenever I try talking to him about emotional stuff or disagree with him on anything. Like I said, he was giving me a lot of attention in the beginning, then kinda has pulled away the last few weeks (but still planning a future together). Which has made me try harder and pursue him more. I found myself apologizing for things that really weren’t my fault. He wants things his way, is selfish, and says “no one else would put up with what he does with me”. The term ‘psychopath’ never entered my head…until I had an email from this site (which I had registered to back when I was dealing with psycho #1). I read what was written and my jaw dropped when I kept seeing similarity after similarity. The more I read, the more I realized that he fits the description to a “T”. The last time we spoke, he verbally attacked me (yesterday morning). I did not respond for a change. I haven’t heard from him since, so he either wants it to be over, or he’s doing this on purpose as a control thing. So I’m going through an emotionally hard time dealing with that and missing him; then I hear from psycho#1 and think “he wasn’t as bad as this guy”. I feel stupid and sad for getting myself into another mess, and wondering why I keep attracting the psycho’s!! I went through hell and back trying to get away (and stay away from psycho#1), and now I’m back to square one with another one. Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated:-)

    1. Admin

      OMG, not one but two psychopaths?!

      Two things jumped out at me. First was when you said psycho #1 was verbally and emotionally abusive. Second was when you said psycho #2 is verbally and emotionally abusive. It doesn’t matter which one is the least worst — they’re both really bad for you. The evidence is that you’re writing for advice on a website about psychopaths.

      Warm wishes.

  12. Huytonwoman

    It’s been over a year since I even laid eyes on him. There has been no contact at all in that time – not even second-hand news of him. I was not recovered but recovering. Then something very sad happened to me (not to do with him) and I find myself yearning for him again, and wanting to contact him. So I am clinging to these blogs to help keep my sight clear and not do that. Thank you.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I’m glad the website helps. Be sure to read the blog post, “Intimacy or Intensity.” The way you feel right now — yearning for him during a hard time — is how an alcoholic feels after they’ve quit drinking. Something upsetting happens, and they crave a drink to relieve their negative feelings even though they know alcohol was killing them and ruining their life. Stay strong! Best of luck to you.

  13. Sil

    I left him a yr ago. After 12 yes of dealing with all his craziness I was able to get 90% of custody of my daughters. He still gets visitations and I deadly scared of knowing that even if it’s an every other weekend visit, my little ones (9 and 6) well be hurt as I was. Any suggestions at what I can do? How do I teach them to not fall for someone like him when they become adults?

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Sil, I’m sorry to hear you’re so distraught about him getting visitation rights. I understand you’ve very worried. I don’t know much about that subject, so please take a look at the resources listed under the sidebar categories “Parental Alienation” and “High Conflict Ex.”

      As far as teaching them not to fall for someone like him in the future, the most important things are a good sense of self-worth, strong personal boundaries, and knowledge about predators and how they operate. All the best to you and your girls, Sil.

  14. Adele

    I left my psycopath lover five years back,cause I discovered him cheating with not one but two others women.however I’m back with him cause I miss the amazing sex and the companionship.im well aware that he’s still seeing other women and he is deceitful and stingy.i don’t love him anymore .im in it for the sex.i haven’t found anyone else suitable..does that make me a manipulator too?can I beat the psycopath at his own game?my boundaries about emotional and verbal abuse are very clear this time around..will it work or will it unravel very soon?

    1. Adelyn Birch

      If he knows you’re only in it for the sex, then it doesn’t make you a manipulator (not that you’d disappoint him at all by lying). You can’t beat the psychopath at his own game, since you have emotions. As far as it “working” goes, it depends on what you mean by that. If you truly have no feelings for him (which I wonder about; I tried to convince myself of the very same thing) I suppose it’s possible, but only for a short time until things start to unravel as they always do with a psychopath: he’ll start actively devaluing you, or give you HIV or hepatitis, or you’ll get tired of being unloved and decide that instead of wasting your time with him once again, you’d like to have something real with someone who’s capable of something real. I understand where you’re coming from, but when I told my ex P of my plan to continue seeing him without feeling attached, he laughed and said I was fooling myself, and that I was actually very much in love with him. He was absolutely right. Things ended badly. Things always end badly with a psychopath. Good luck!

      1. Adele

        I agree with you that I’d like to have something real with someone real but if I haven’t been able to get that in the past couple of years ,I might as well settle for atleast glorious sex knowing fully well that his claims of loving me is pure baloney.or settle for a life of no sex at all..
        If men can have sex without feeling love,can’t women?
        Devaluation? I place no value anymore on his words of love or otherwise.is his stinginess with me also a way of devaluing me for if you value someone won’t you want to indulge them?! Anyway even that I’ve psyched myself not to feel hurt about.if he doesn’t truly love me what do his gifts or lack of it matter?

        1. Adelyn Birch

          I’m sure some women can have sex without love; hookups seem to be very popular now. You know yourself better than I do, but if you’re asking me for advice you must be conflicted about it. What concerns me is this: Are you devaluing yourself by going back to this man for sex? He didn’t treat you well, and being with him now, knowing that, could affect you. I also went a long while without sex after it was over, and even though it was the best ever with him, I can’t imagine going back to him for it. I’m trying to imagine it right now, but I can’t. Celibacy isn’t my thing either, but I’d sooner join a convent. As good as it was, I don’t think it would be the same again; it had a lot to do with how I felt about him and how I believed he felt about me. I realize you may not feel the same way I do, but I’m telling you about it just in case it will help in some way.

          1. Adele

            Why is it so difficult to get a psycopath out of your head? What is wrong with me that not one day of the last five years haven’t I not thought of him? Thought of him with bitterness,anger,hatred,longing ,but thought of him?his stinginess,selfishness and at times downright pettiness were cringeworthy.knowing that still if I wait for some gesture from him to prove himself otherwise ,isn’t there seriously something wrong with me.how do I get him out of my head? In the past several years I’ve not met one man I was attracted to. I’m not a bad looker myself.why didn’t any other relationship materialise? Maybe if it had,I would have got over my obsession with this psycopath? There was a peculiar trait this man had when it came to gifting(the rare couple of times) he would give me something worth a dollar maybe,while flaunting something he had bought for himself worth several thousands.or the one time he got me something slightly valuable,it was something downright ugly and something he must have known i would hate.( I know this sounds like I’m looking a gift horse I the mouth)but is this a typical psycopath trait? I’m just curious.and then the snide comments about how he spent money on me would start! I don’t know why I can’t just put this man in the bin,walk away and get on with my life? Every morning my mirror mocks me that I didn’t get any other man in the past five years..do I have to compromise on my values and self respect or do I resign myself to a life of no sex,no romantic relationships,nothing except my work and other responsibilities…I am in my forties,so that’s a long life ahead I guess .

            1. Adelyn Birch

              There is nothing wrong with you. There is no need to “resign yourself to a life with no sex,” and in fact, therein lies the answer to all the questions you asked me—You have a belief that it’s him, or no one. Another big reason for your ongoing obsession with him is that you’re still seeing him. It will take time and space away from him to truly heal. Until you have that time and space, you will remain confused. When you finally do, you’ll have clarity. There is no other way. Would you please read this blog post: You Are Not Your Thoughts: How METACOGNITION Can Help You Heal I think it may have some of the answers that you’re looking for, Adele.

              1. Adele

                Thank you for your link to the blog on meta cognition.yes it did make sense to me.but the fact is that for five years I stayed away from this psycopath with minimal contact.no emotional or sexual strings were there. Distance of time and space.i didn’t heal completely.yes it made me aware of how he didn’t have a single quality of ethics or principles I valued in a man..it made me aware that he answered to every textbook definition of a psycopath.yet I didn’t get attracted to anyone else.nor anyone else to me.let me start actively following the techniques mentioned In the blog on meta ignition and see if it helps.

              2. Adelyn Birch

                OK, let’s give this some more thought. Something seems to be keeping you closed to others. You say you didn’t heal completely; do you know where you’re stuck? If you’re not sure, do you have any ideas? How are you feeling about yourself (confidence, self-worth, self-esteem) and others (are you able to trust anyone new who comes into your life?) Also, you say you’ve had “minimal contact” with him; is it necessary, such as seeing him at work or running into him in places you both go?

                When you say you can’t get him out of your head, what kind of thoughts are you having about him, and what is the underlying message, or meaning that you’ve given them? [For example, you’re still thinking about his gift-giving habits. Thoughts of this nature really don’t serve any purpose, except to provide food for endless speculation and rumination. When you have thoughts like that, you don’t have to engage with them (“engage” means that you have the thought and then start to try to make sense of whatever it is or figure it out). If he’s a psychopath then that’s why he did everything he did, and none of it says or means anything about you.]

                “do I have to compromise on my values and self respect or do I resign myself to a life of no sex,no romantic relationships?” Neither one. I believe you’ll find the answer to your dilemma, Adele. Don’t give up! xx

                Another blog post on metacognition: Want To Reclaim Your Power? Re-Write Your Story!

  15. Tq so much for giving us the enlightenment. After 3 years of studying Personality disorders, I feel I can breath freely now. There’s a better understanding now. I have hopes to live better life now. Im grateful that my young kids r safe now from the monsters manipulation.

    Would love to write to you personally.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      That understanding is key to moving forward, and I’m glad to hear you’re doing that and that I could help you, P. It’s wonderful that your kids are safe now! And you, too!

      I’m sorry, but I’m not able to write to people personally. This website takes an enormous amount of time, so it has to suffice. I wish you and your children all the best.

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