When we think of psychopaths, we often think of extreme and criminal examples, such as the brutal, ruthless and murderous dictator Idi Amin.
But there is an equally dangerous kind of psychopath, the ‘everyday psychopath’. This is a psychopath who blends in so well with our general social norms of behavior that he or she is not usually detectable in casual social encounters. A significant number are female, making them even harder for us to spot .
Everyday psychopaths are not so much a physical danger as an emotional danger. They might not destroy your body, but they can do terrible damage to your soul.
They can be your partner, your parent, your CEO, your boss, your coworker, your political representative or your health care professional. They are attracted to positions where they can wield power over others, even if it’s only over their children.
So what creates a psychopath, and how do you identify them in the crowd?
Psychopaths are people who are literally heartless. The ability to love and care for others, and to empathize with their pain, is profoundly absent. At least one study has shown that the area of the brain that mediates empathy is smaller in psychopaths, so it may be that their absence of empathy is simply inborn.
Our heart is what makes us human. It drives us seek out mutually loving and caring connections with others. It drives empathy, altruism and putting the needs of others before our own. It balances our more primal survival instincts.
So what happens when all heart qualities are absent? When that happens, what’s left is the naked drive to survive. Psychopaths are driven purely by the law of the survival of the fittest, and they are ruthlessly determined to be the fittest.
Their primary method of becoming the fittest is to emotionally destroy those around them, especially those with whom they have ‘close’ relationships. They can be charming, sexy and charismatic, and often excel at the external behaviors of normalcy. They are masters at discerning our greatest emotional need, and offer just enough of the ‘love’ or ‘approval’ we seek to get us hooked. They then proceed to slowly erode our confidence in ourselves through criticism, rejection, doubting us, gaslighting us, isolating us from friends and family, and/or telling us we’re stupid or worthless. Bit by bit they gain power and control over us, and often over our finances as well. They are secretly delighted by the suffering they cause, because the more we suffer, doubt and devalue ourselves, the stronger they are in comparison.
The only clue we may have that our abuser is a psychopath is a subtle mechanicalness in their actions towards us. We might notice that even when they say loving words, there is a subtle emotional flatness and an absence of affect coming from them. They may say they care, but we somehow don’t feel loved. This can be very confusing and make us doubt ourselves even more.
If we recognize that we have been, or are in a relationship of some kind with a psychopath, it’s really important not to blame ourselves. When we have a normally functioning heart, it simply does not occur to us that other humans may not. So we stay in the relationship on the assumption that if we just try hard to be good enough, we will win their love and approval, not realizing that this can actually never happen.
If you recognize that you are in a relationship of some kind with a psychopath, then it’s absolutely crucial that you find a way to leave the relationship. You may need to make secret plans over time to ensure that you can leave without warning, suddenly and effectively. Try to find the support of trusted friends and/or a therapist if at all possible.
A relationship with a psychopath can leave deep trauma, so if you feel you have been traumatized by a psychopath, then please do consider finding a trauma therapist to work with, and again, do not blame yourself for having been fooled. You were fooled by an expert.
This is a very brief overview of psychopathy, so if you would like more information I suggest you search amazon.com and find the book that speaks most closely to your experience.