By Heidi Hiatt
Last night on ABC, a Nightline Prime episode titled “Secrets of Your Mind” airedhttp://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/Prime/. I came upon it just as I reached for the remote to turn the TV off.
It was a thought-provoking show that sparked an interesting water cooler conversation today. Unfortunately, the show furthered a common myth about psychopaths, that “psychopath” is synonymous with “murderer”. The media and pop culture have limited our society’s understanding of this concept. Many people think that only ruthless dictators and serial killers can be psychopaths.
In reality, a psychopath is someone without a real conscience that lacks empathy and remorse. An estimated one in 100 to one in 25 people in the U.S. is a psychopath. This term is used interchangeably with “sociopath”, although there are differences (that I touched on in my Iago post). Psychopaths/sociopaths use and abuse other people without feeling guilty about it.
Most psychopaths and sociopaths in the news and literature are men, but both men and women can be one. Sometimes men are the more obvious candidates. Male sociopaths are more likely to use physical as well as mental tactics to use and maintain control over someone. But female sociopaths are just as capable of using head games to use and control people, including through sex, seduction, and feigning helplessness and reform. People are less likely to realize when they are dealing with a female sociopath because of widespread stereotypes.
In his book, Without Conscience, Dr. Robert Hare says that, “Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and feelings for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret.”
Someone this callous should be easy to spot, right? WRONG. That’s what makes them so dangerous. Some of the most convincing psychopaths/sociopaths are the most “Christian”, charismatic, caring, daring, sexual, and magnetic people you will meet. They are so good at what they do because they instinctively, even effortlessly, convince others that they are someone you want to marry, work for, or otherwise forge a bond with.
These people, who author Sarah Strudwick calls dark souls, gravitate towards children of light (John 12:36). They use you as a power source to compensate for their own internal wasteland, feeding on your goodness and generosity. It thrills them to corrupt your morals and bring you down to their level. Draining someone else and ruining other people’s relationships makes them feel powerful. As I said in another post, being a vampire is not a part-time job for them, it is who they are, and they may not even realize what they do.
Obviously there can be a spiritual influence at work in such people, and so psychological and biological explanations may only account for part of their problem. God does not function on deception, guilt, and manipulation, but honesty, grace, and love, so if you see the former, it’s not coming from Him. It should not be surprising that people may get a strange vibe from those without conscience; even if they find the person attractive or intoxicating, they often notice that there’s something strange about their eyes. I’ve heard it described as eyes like a shark, snake, or goat, “black eyes”, looking hollow, looking like nothing’s behind their eyes, and looking like something’s missing.
Something is missing. A real conscience. Because they instinctively watch and mimic other people’s behavior, they can seem like they have one. They can act like they feel the love and emotions that others do, but some argue that they are incapable of having any authentic emotion, devotion, or spirituality. Their actions, however, will eventually prove to be inconsistent with normal or healthy human behavior. Ultimately they are all about themselves—how they can conquer, how they can win, how they can get what they want regardless of the cost to anyone else.
Most psychopaths and sociopaths are not in prison. They are right here in everyday society with us. They can be our friends, relatives, spouses, coaches, bosses, parents, and just about anyone else. Your conscience may start nagging you when you start getting used by these people, but they can have a frightening hypnotic power that makes it inexplicably difficult to break free from them. You may not think you can break free because of their relationship to you—they may be someone you have to keep some degree of contact with.
If you’d like to know more about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from these predators, feel free to watch the following videos and check out these books. Sandra Brown’s website is also a great resourcehttp://saferelationshipsmagazine.com/.
Please remember that the lack of literature on female psychopaths/sociopaths does not equate to the lack of such people in our society. Trust me, they’re there, and they often disguise themselves with benevolence and devotion. I have had more experiences with people without conscience than I care to disclose on a public blog, and I can assure you, the consequences have been life-changing.
If you educate yourself about these types and keep an eye open for their snares, you may soon become adept at spotting possible soul-suckers. I advise people to use the words psychopath and sociopath sparingly because sometimes only an expert can tell what someone is for sure, and conditions like narcissism, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder frequently overlap with them. But ALWAYS be on the lookout for these people. Sometimes they’re exactly where you least expect to find them, especially when it’s someone you’ve known for a long time.
*Please note: the financial irresponsibility mentioned in this video is one possible sign of a psychopath, but I’ve seen repeated cases in which suspected female psychopaths are excellent with money, one of their more endearing traits.
Psychopaths Among Us: Australian Broadcasting Report
How To Spot a Dangerous Woman – Author and former BBC reporter Roy Sheppard
Tactics of Manipulative People – Bill O’Reilly (who hardly let the other man speak) interview with Dr. George Simon
This clip is titled Antisocial Personality Disorder, but is about psychopathy
Dr. Robert Hare’s “corporations” analogy for psychopaths
How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved, Sandra L. Brown
Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us, Robert Hare
Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, Paul Babiak and Robert Hare
Women Who Love Psychopaths, 2nd Edition, Sandra L. Brown
The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout
Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You, Susan Forward and Donna Frazier
In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, George K. Simon
Venus: The Dark Side, Roy Sheppard and Mary T. Cleary (I have not read this, but it sounds like someone has finally come out with a book about female sociopaths)
The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence, Gavin de Becker
The Bible – the ultimate training manual on how to spot and deal with evil. God’s standards and designs are the litmus test for human behavior, and He can give us clear discernment. Jesus’ comments in Matthew 23:27 may well apply to those without conscience: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” I always recommend the NIV and The Message versions as they seem to be the most true to modern language.
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it. –Albert Einstein