What is the mask of a psychopath?
Psychopaths wear a ‘mask’ — a fake persona — to hide who they really are. They construct different masks for different people and situations, and use those masks to manipulate and get what they want. They are astute observers of human nature who size us up quickly. They pretend to share our beliefs and our preferences, which makes them likeable. They mimic our emotions. They easily see our vulnerabilities and know just what we need, and then they pretend to give it to us. Actually, their disguise enables them to get what they need.
The psychopath’s mask — which is what allows him to go undetected — stems from his lack of an identity.
Having an identity restricts a person to acting in ways that are in accordance with the characteristics of that identity. For example, if someone is (or at least believes that she is) shy and reserved, she will have a hard time being outgoing in most situations. She believes that’s just the way she is, and that may be true. If you ask her to describe her personality, she’ll say “I’m shy and quiet. I’m an introvert.”
Since the psychopath has only the vaguest sense of identity (if he or she has one at all), he is totally free from the hindrances and restrictions an identity confers.
Instead, he assumes whatever persona will work to get him whatever it is he wants from any given person at any given time. This persona he assumes is the “mask.” This mask is very convincing! In Hervey Cleckley’s pivotal book, The Mask of Sanity, he says this about psychopaths and their masks:
“There is nothing at all odd or queer about him, and in every respect he tends to embody the concept of a well-adjusted, happy person. Nor does he, on the other hand, seem to be artificially exerting himself like one who is covering up or who wants to sell you a bill of goods. He would seldom be confused with the professional backslapper or someone who is trying to ingratiate himself for a concealed purpose. Signs of affectation or excessive affability are not characteristic. He looks like the real thing.”
One way the psychopath uses this mask to great effect is to create the “soul mate” connection you believed you had in the beginning of the relationship.
Here’s how that happens, according to Marriage counselor Gary Cundiff, MFT. He believes that psychopaths select targets based on their best qualities. Then, the predators morph themselves into copies of their targets, so that they appear to be perfect partners:
“Using each piece of information, they create the disguise — a mask carefully constructed to look like their prospective target. Flawlessly, they weave a picture of their mark… precisely reflecting the brightest, most honorable aspects of your personality, sewing in the most desirable and wanted details, literally stealing your persona, mirroring this image back, without the defects of character, flaws and shortcomings…The attraction is irresistible. People are attracted to those who are similar to themselves. By transforming themselves into a reflection of their prospective prey, the psychopath becomes the most alluring figure imaginable, and the propensity to trust that person becomes compelling.”
As a result, “You experience a sense of oneness like none other. At the emotional center of this connection is intensity never felt before, making the appeal addictive,” Cundiff writes.
The mask a psychopath wears is only a superficial disguise, held in place by lies and manipulation. When we find out the truth — they were never who or what we believed them to be — the feelings of betrayal are overwhelming.
♥ Thank you for reading.
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