When somebody shines a bright light in your eyes, you can’t see who or what’s behind it. All you can see is the light. And even when they take the light away, the after-blindness stays with you a while, ruining your normal night vision.
That’s what it’s like to be the target of a psychopath.
I’m speaking from experience.
The word “psychopath” may bring to mind the likes of a Ted Bundy or a Jeffrey Dahmer or a John Wayne Gacy, but the truth is that most psychopaths aren’t serial killers – at least, not in the way we tend to think of serial killers.
Most psychopaths are sub-criminal human predators, who “function” well enough in society that they don’t wind up behind bars – even though many should.
Dr. Robert Hare (Without Conscience, Snakes in Suits), the leading authority on the subject, has identified fifteen characteristics that comprise a sort of “complex” of psychopathy.
The sine qua non of the psychopath is the complete inability to empathize, which means that they are utterly without any remorse for the hurt and harm they spread around them. Among the other characteristics are: shallow affect, superficial charm, impulsiveness, manipulativeness, irresponsibility and poor behavior controls. They are arrogant and narcissistic with a staggeringly inflated sense of their own abilities and their own worth.
Psychopaths are also the most impressive liars you will ever encounter, able to beat lie detectors at a single bound, because they feel none of the conflicting emotions that a normal human being feels when lying.
In fact, psychopaths feel no emotions at all. But they are able to mimic – to a point –the behavior of people who do have emotions. It’s like a color blind person driving a car. They don’t SEE the red light or the green light. But they know to go when the bottom light is on and to stop when the top light is on. If you just watch the flow of traffic, you might never guess that one of the drivers is color blind – until there’s an accident – because their behavior appears to be the same as color-sighted drivers.
That’s one of the ways to spot a psychopath. Their feigned emotions are just a little out of whack – way too much or way too little. Or they change too quickly (“I’m SO sorry to hear that your child was killed in a hit and run — What’s for lunch?”).
I’ll be honest: the psychopath I encountered suckered me completely – and I’ve got a fair amount of street time under my belt. But they’re very good at pretending to be the very thing you need most, and using that to manipulate you.
At the time, I guess what I needed most was someone who shared my outlaw values and beliefs: the importance of telling the truth, of keeping your word, and of taking responsibility for the consequences of your actions. Someone with the intelligence and the integrity to take up the gauntlet and carry on the fight for freedom and justice. I suppose I was longing for the son or daughter I never had, the way a phantom limb hurts because it’s not there. I ached to find a match to my own my renegade heart.
And so this young woman — let’s call her “Crystal” — hit me right where I lived, cleverly re-phrasing and parroting back to me my own beliefs to make them appear to be her own. And I fell for it. Lock, stock and barrel. Got to give the Devil her due: she’s an exceptionally gifted liar.
Fortunately for me, she decided to shine her light elsewhere and when she did, there was time for my night vision to clear. I was able to see how she conducted herself with other people, how little respect she had for the feelings of others, the rights of others, and how she prided herself on cleverly using them, employing her “cuteness” and “charm” to get away with all kinds of things – and never, ever have to actually put out any effort – just take the credit. Her mask of sanity, with it’s false frozen smile, slipped enough to give me a good look behind it, and what I saw there was bone-chillingly ugly.
At first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and then I just refused to believe it for a long time. But eventually, the weight of the evidence compelled me to admit that I had made a huge mistake believing her, and believing in her.
I’ve been able to repair most of the damage she did. Not all of it. Unfortunately, some of the relationships she ruined are beyond repair.
Also unfortunately, no one has yet put a bullet in her brain. She’s still out there spreading hurt and harm wherever she goes, destroying to a greater or lesser degree, everyone and everything she touches.
If you’ve had a damaging brush with a psychopath, you may find some resources here that can help you recover.
As part of my “recovery” process, I wrote the song Color Blind. Partly a lament, partly a warning: be very, very careful whom you trust.