You live in the age of the psychopath. In this age the values of love, honesty, commitment and integrity are increasingly rare. More and more, individuals are treated like the interchangeable or easily replaced parts of a machine. And this is true not just in the areas of business and government, but in personal relationships as well. If you look around, you will see that the values of power and self-gratification are ascending in our society. In their wake, emotionally injured people are left to carry on as best they can. If you are going to protect yourself from the onslaught of these psychopathic forces, there are some important things you need to know.
Unlike nature’s predators, such as a crocodile or a rattle snake, psychopaths are not easily recognized for the role they would play in your life. Psychopaths don’t wear nametags. They don’t come up to you and say, “Hi, my name is Bob. After I trick you into thinking I’m your friend, I’ll be stealing your money and self-esteem, and I’ll make it hard for you to trust anyone ever again.” With animals, what you see is what you get. But human predators are different. Though we all share the basic appearance of our species, our orientation to life and other people may be as different as that between a dove and a rattle snake.
You probably tend to assume that other people are like yourself. “We’re all human, aren’t we?” Yet, individual human beings are very different in their values, motivations, and character. If you are a “dove,” and imagine other people are basically like you, you will be making false assumptions about a lot of people. You will be baffled, if not personally injured, by their behavior. You will say to yourself in disbelief, “How can someone do that?!” “Has he no conscience?” “He acts as if he did nothing wrong, and as if I’m crazy for being upset. Am I crazy??” No, you are not crazy, although the psychopath would like you to believe that you are.
It is not unusual to feel confused when trying to make sense of the psychopath. This is because their approach to life is so much different from your own. You have a conscience. You accept limits and believe that some things are right and others are just plain wrong. You have compassion and a feeling response for the plight of others. Put simply, you have a more developed heart. But the psychopath does not have these attributes. You cannot appeal to his moral sensitivity because he doesn’t have any. Although you recognize that children may be born with birth defects, the idea that some are born with a defect in their capacity for a conscience is much harder to accept.
Perhaps you belong to the “blank slate club.” This describes people who believe that we are all born pretty much the same, and that we are molded into our adult personality solely through parenting, schooling and other life experiences. Since our parents have the most influence upon us as infants and children, they are often given the lion’s share of blame for the way we turn out. People point to the statistics and note that most criminals were raised in abusive homes. Certainly, a neglectful or abusive home life does not help raise healthy children, but the psychopath emerges from all walks of life, and from both healthy and hurtful home environments. Likewise, children raised in the same family can develop widely different moral attitudes. Having sympathy for the psychopath based on the belief that if it wasn’t for his rough childhood he would be just like you is to make an assumption that may not be helpful to him or you. In fact, he may be far more at ease with his lifestyle than you realize, and may have no interest whatsoever in any attempts at healing.
It is important to understand that the psychopath does not think or feel like you. To illustrate, imagine two children who have just been scolded for taking money from their mothers’ purses. The child with a feeling connection to his mother will feel guilty and sad. By his dishonesty he has placed a wedge in their relationship. He has injured the bond of trust and affection between them. He doesn’t like this feeling and so chooses to never steal from her again. The other child, however, does not have this feeling bond with his mother. He is more concerned with what he was going to buy with the stolen money. Although he may proclaim his sorrow and beg forgiveness with the best of them, his real thoughts are: “Next time I will have to be more careful so I don’t get caught. Perhaps I should try stealing from father instead.” For this child, the very valuable feelings of guilt and remorse are absent. No conscience is engaged. With the psychopath, relationships are a means to an end, and people are objects to be manipulated. He is a master pretender who recognizes no higher authority than his current desire. And he is concerned with morals only to the extent that following such principles will help him get what he wants.
There are several attitudes that may make you more susceptible to the games of the psychopath. For example, if you have a hard time accepting that such people really exist, you will have a hard time recognizing them when they enter your life. If you think that they are just misunderstood, deserve yet another chance, or merely need more love, you are playing right into their hand. If you are naïve about human nature, or believe that because you are a nice person you will be magically protected from their influence, you also place yourself at heightened risk. It is important to realize that evil is opportunistic and does not discriminate. It is an equal opportunity employer, and an equal opportunity destroyer.
When you think of psychopaths you may think of the extreme examples, such as the serial killer. But psychopathy is a continuum. Because we all have a tendency to place the desires of our ego over those of our soul, God, and other people, we all share in the illness of the psychopath. Thus, one of the best ways to protect yourself from the psychopath is to know and wrestle with your own psychopathic tendencies. Your selfishness, dishonesties, excuses, and manipulations may not reach the magnitude of the psychopath, but they are cut from the same basic fabric. The more aware you are of your own capacity for evil, the more discerning you will be of its presence in your outer life, and the better able to confront it with conviction.
Of all the things you can do to protect yourself from the psychopath, probably the greatest is learning to listen to your instincts. Many people who have had run-ins with the psychopath report having experienced “red flags” and intuitive warnings that they ignored, to their later regret. Listen to your instincts regarding situations and people. Your animal nature has been dealing with predators much longer than your conscious mind. Learn to understand its language and to heed its warnings.