by Jennifer Copley
Psychopaths make up just 4% of the total U.S. population, but the damage and devastation they wreak is extreme and widespread.
Psychopaths, also known as sociopaths, comprise 20-25% of the prison population, but 50% of those who have committed serious crimes. However, the majority of psychopaths are not violent—most are users, scam artists and shady business people. There is some evidence that psychopaths may be overrepresented in the fields of business, politics and entertainment.
Targeting the Vulnerable
Psychopaths are good at spotting exploitable vulnerabilities in others. Many psychopathic scam artists seek lonely individuals and promise them a lifetime of love and partnership. Others target the grief-stricken or those who have suffered a recent setback or breakup and are therefore less apt to look closely at what appears to be a compassionate helping hand. Alternatively, psychopaths may exploit someone’s need to be needed, finding a motherly or fatherly soul that they can milk for sympathy and cash. They are also inclined to marry people with low self-esteem and convince them that they are somehow to blame for any abuse they suffer in the marriage.
The Sympathy Ploy
Psychopaths usually play on the sympathies of others. When people’s empathic responses are aroused, they are less inclined to scrutinize an individual’s behaviour, or they will attribute bad behaviour to an abusive childhood or other trauma. This provokes the sort of nurturing response that enables the psychopath to manipulate and extract what he wants from others. In extreme cases, sympathy and deception are combined as a deadly lure. Serial killer Ted Bundy wore a cast and used crutches to make himself appear harmless and vulnerable to his victims.
While often appearing cold and deadpan, when they are trying to manipulate others, psychopaths often engage in dramatic, short-lived emotional displays designed to provoke sympathy or guilt, or even cause people to believe that they must be crazy for questioning the psychopath’s motives. Psychopaths say whatever will get people to give them what they want. Many work hard to give the impression that all of their problems stem from cruel treatment at the hands of others, and that they could change for the better if only some kindly soul would take an interest in them and support them. And because 24 out of every 25 people is not a psychopath, they find plenty of kindly souls willing to do so. They usually reward these people by breaking their hearts and cleaning out their bank accounts, as well as physically abusing them in some cases.
The Dynamic Persona
The psychopath can be an exciting companion at first because she takes risks that others wouldn’t take and thus can appear courageous and impressive. Psychopaths often pose as brilliant eccentrics, misunderstood geniuses or difficult artistic types, and so people are inclined to attribute bad behaviour to a creative temperament. Self-assured, cool under pressure and socially adept, they may appear larger than life. Their tendency to maintain intensive eye contact and move into the personal space of others enhances the image of forcefulness and confidence.
Because many psychopaths have a surplus of charm and the gift of gab, they are able to dazzle their audiences and con them into believing all sorts of outrageous stories. Excellent self-promoters and fast talkers, they boast and dazzle their targets with a variety of grandiose plans. The target usually experiences a wild ride and is left disappointed, financially poorer and wondering how everything the psychopath said could have seemed so plausible at the time.
In The Miser, Moliere noted that “People can be induced to swallow anything, provided it is sufficiently seasoned with praise.” A common tool of the psychopath is excessive flattery. Most people enjoy receiving compliments, and those who suffer from either low self-esteem or an overinflated sense of self-worth can be particularly vulnerable to this sort of approach. Beware of those who tell you everything you want to hear all the time. A compliment or two is nice, but someone who continually peppers the conversation with flattery should be suspect.
Excuses and Empty Promises
A psychopath does not keep his commitments or obligations. He breaks his word, stands people up, abandons those who care about him at critical times in their lives, cheats with impunity, and makes promises he has no intention of delivering on to get what he wants. Psychopaths may disappear and reappear in the lives of friends and family, causing worry and heartbreak, without ever adequately explaining what they’ve been up to. However, they always have excuses, and it is always someone else’s fault.
Psychopaths abandon their spouses and children without the slightest concern. And while many don’t commit crimes for which they can be convicted, they often live what could be termed as a sub-criminal existence, engaging in a variety of secretive and shady dealings. When they do achieve success, it is usually through causing harm to others. Their lack of commitment to anything is evident in the many contradictory and hollow statements they make. However, they hang onto the people in their lives by promising to change, or even changing, briefly, only to revert back to their old ways in time.
Labels: adult children of narcissists, brainwashing, cognitive dissonance, deception, harm, manipulation, narcissist, psychopath, ptsd. coercion, seduction, sociopath