Present a sociopath with a documented allegation and he will quickly turn on you, denounce you, and tell others that you are “disturbed,” “unstable,” “irrational,” or something equivalent. Anyone who does not accept his version of reality and fall for his brainwashing will be kicked out of the circle and then wildly disparaged by the remaining members.
“Nothing will change fundamentally until we educate ourselves about psychopathy and political ponerology and how it affects all of us. The virus of psychopathy will infect any new system, community or change in power until it is brought to awareness and looked at for what it is. Then the solutions will present themselves based on the knowledge and understanding we have gained. Educating ourselves and others about it is the best we can do for ourselves and future generations. It is vital knowledge in this day and age.”
Refusal to listen to another point of view with openness
Refusal to compromise
Refusal to collaborate
Refusal to support the other person’s plans
Refusal to accept influence
Stonewalling is a widely-used strategy in most unsatisfying relationships. It may become a fundamental tactic, because it is a way to apply pressure that seemingly can’t be confronted, because it is exactly “not doing anything.”
Part of the deliberate intention of stonewalling is to keep the survivor ‘on the hook’ and not really able to pursue alternatives because the issue is still ‘open’ in some technical sense.
However, in an abusive relationship, isolation and threats are usually present, and the survivor has no safe options to pursue needs except through the primary aggressor.
Stonewalling is a complete pattern of non-communication and non-cooperation that only works from a position of power.
Anyone who has been around a malignant narcissist knows how much discord one person can sow. A fog of confusion descends, and the environment seems to become more toxic by the minute. That’s because people with disordered personalities thrive on drama and division, which they create by spreading false rumors, sometimes with a little bit of truth mixed in to make the story more plausible.
They also recruit flying monkeys, whom they artfully manipulate to carry out their agenda. A target is chosen to be driven out of their job or social circle. After a short breather, another target is selected.
Meanwhile, because the air has become poisoned, no one is happy. However, it’s very difficult to figure out exactly what’s going on. That’s because an adult with a character flaw, serious enough to bully another, knows their number will be up if they don’t use a lot of smoke and mirrors to deflect attention away from their own misdeeds. One tried and true trick is to blame everything on their target. Then they need to convince everyone else that things will improve if this person is banished.
The ‘Almost Psychopaths’ Among Us (wbur.org) Most people think of psychopaths as those who commit horrible acts: brutal murders or enormous fraud. But maybe they’re not. Maybe, they’re our neighbors, co-workers or family members…
I’m “mentally unstable” because I object to yourabuse?!
Personality disordered individuals enjoy playing this game. They provoke their chosen target for a reaction, which they then claim is incriminating evidence of mental instability or evil-mindedness; thereby implying it is their victim who is at fault. While diverting attention away from their own behavior, the bully seeks support from others, turning them against his target.
It can be devastating for someone already suffering from mistreatment to also be blamed, slandered, rejected, and ostracized. The abuser enjoys the sense of power and control they derive from tormenting with impunity and the positive attention they get from playing the victim and fishing for sympathy; all while effectively intimidating their target from speaking up and exposing the abuser.
The dark triad is a combination of three negative personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. It is more common for this set of traits to be found among men, and it can be spotted through characteristics like selfishness, impulsivity, and opportunism. Those who gain success at the workplace without regard to getting along with others are likely to score high on measures of the dark triad.
Their grisly deeds and commanding presence attract our attention – look no further than Ted Bundy, the subject of a recent Netflix documentary, and cult leaders like Charles Manson.
But despite years of theorizing and research, the mental health field continues to hotly debate what are the defining features of this diagnosis. It might come as a surprise that the most widely used psychiatric diagnostic system in the U.S., the DSM-5, doesn’t include psychopathy as a formal disorder.
Most agree that psychopaths are remorseless people who lack empathy for others. But in recent years, much of this debate has centered on the relevance of one particular personality trait: boldness.
I’m in the camp that believes boldness is critical to separating out psychopaths from the more mundane law-breakers. It’s the trait that creates the veneer of normalcy, giving those who prey on others the mask to successfully blend in with the rest of society. To lack boldness, on the other hand, is to be what one might call a “shy-chopath.”
The boldness factor
About 10 years ago, psychologist Christopher Patrick and some of his colleagues published an extensive literature review in which they argued that psychopaths were people who expressed elevated levels of three basic traits: meanness, disinhibition and boldness.
Most experts in the mental health field generally agree that the prototypical psychopath is someone who is both mean and, at least to some extent, disinhibited – though there’s even some debate about exactly how impulsive and hot-headed the prototypical psychopath truly is.
In a psychological context, people who are mean tend to lack empathy and have little interest in close emotional relationships. They’re also happy to use and exploit others for their own personal gain.
Highly disinhibited people have very poor impulse control, are prone to boredom and have difficulty managing emotions – particularly negative ones, like frustration and hostility.
In adding boldness to the mix, Patrick and his colleagues argued that genuine psychopaths are not just mean and disinhibited, they’re also individuals who are poised, fearless, emotionally resilient and socially dominant.
Although it had not been the focus of extensive research for the past few decades, the concept of the bold psychopath isn’t actually new. Famed psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley described it in his seminal 1941 book, “The Mask of Sanity,” in which he described numerous case examples of psychopaths who were brazen, fearless and emotionally unflappable.
Ted Bundy is an excellent example of such a person. He was far from unassuming and timid. He never appeared wracked with anxiety or emotional distress. He charmed scores of victims, confidently served as his own attorney and even proposed to his girlfriend while in court.
“It’s probably just being willing to take risk,” Bundy said, in the Netflix documentary, of what motivated his crimes. “Or perhaps not even seeing risk. Just overcome by that boldness and desire to accomplish a particular thing.”
Seeds planted in the DSM
In the current DSM, the closest current diagnosis to psychopathy is antisocial personality disorder. Although the manual suggests that it historically has been referred to as psychopathy, the current seven diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder mostly fall under the umbrella of disinhibition – qualities like “recklessness,” “impulsiveness” and, to a lesser extent, meanness, which are evident in only two criteria: “lack of remorse” and “deceitfulness.”
There’s no mention of boldness. In other words, you don’t have to be bold to have antisocial personality disorder. In fact, because you only need to meet three of the seven criteria to be diagnosed with the disorder, it means you don’t even need to be all that mean, either.
However, the most recent revision to the DSM, the fifth edition, did include a supplemental section for proposed diagnoses in need of further study.
In this supplemental section, a new specifier was offered for those who meet the diagnosis for antisocial personality disorder. If you have a bold and fearless interpersonal style that seems to serve as a mask for your otherwise mean and disinhibited personality, you might also be diagnosable as a psychopath.
Can a psychopath be meek?
Whether this new model, which seems to put boldness center stage in the diagnosis of psychopathy, ultimately will be adopted into subsequent iterations of the DSM system remains to be seen.
Several researchers have criticized the concept. They see meanness and disinhibition as much more important than boldness when deciding whether someone is a psychopath.
Their main issue seems to be that people who are bold – but not mean or disinhibited – actually seem to be well-adjusted and not particularly violent. In fact, compared with being overly introverted or prone to emotional distress, it seems to be an asset in everyday life.
Other researchers, myself included, tend to view those criticisms as not particularly compelling. In our view, someone who is simply disinhibited and mean – but not bold – would not be able to pull off the spectacular level of manipulation that a psychopath is capable of.
To be sure, being mean and disinhibited is a bad combination. But absent boldness, you’re probably not going to show up on the evening news for having schemed scores of investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars. The chances that you’ll successfully charm unsuspecting victim after unsuspecting victim into coming back to your apartment to sexually assault them seem pretty slim.
That being said, timid but mean people – the “shycho-paths” – almost certainly do exist, and it’s probably best to stay away from them, too.
But you’re unlikely to confuse them with the Ted Bundys and Charles Mansons of the world.
Researchers such as psychologist Marvin Zuckerman have long noted the morbid curiosity of humans; there’s just something about horror and terror that captures our attention.
Indeed, there may be nothing more horrifying – and fascinating – than murder. With my colleague Tom Bowers at Penn State Harrisburg, I’ve studied the crimes and characteristics of mass murderers for years, and still, I’m alarmed by every reread of each case.
But it wasn’t until last year when an undergraduate student, Erin Murphy, approached me about studying female serial killers (FSKs) that I realized how little scientific literature existed on this topic. Many routinely hear about male serial killers (MSKs) – the Jeffrey Dahmers and Ted Bundys of true crime lore – and one can indeed find volumes of literature analyzing their killing sprees.
On the other hand, few have heard of Belle Gunness and Nannie Doss, whose crimes were no less heinous: Gunness killed more than 25 people in the late 19th century, including her children and husbands. Doss killed 11 people in the first half of the 20th century, including her own mother and grandson.
After parsing the data, we found that female serial killers do tend to possess a number of unique characteristics.
Middle- and upper-class killers of kin
The research that did exist on FSKs provided some good insight. Fresno State criminologist Eric Hickey – author of Serial Murderers and their Victims – interviewed 64 FSKs in the US, yielding a disturbing portrait of women who poisoned, shot and stabbed countless men, women and children.
Most were white and typically killed between seven and 10 victims. They were more likely to murder family members than strangers. And even though the most prevalent motive for murder was money, most of the murderers were middle- and upper-class.
Other research used smaller samples, but had notable findings. For example, in a 2011 study, Amanda Farrell, Robert Keppel and Victoria Titterington reviewed newspaper reports of 10 American FSKs. They found that FSKs tended to operate for a substantially longer time than did MSKs, while 80% knew their victims. Farrell and her colleagues – along with Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, who interviewed eight FSKs in a 2000 study – pointed out that, ironically, nursing is an occupation that’s overrepresented among FSKs.
Fleshing out the profile
So when we decided to study FSKs, we approached the topic with two main goals.
First, we wanted to document the means, motives and histories of these criminals with a larger, more recent sample (the larger the sample size, the more likely the findings and patterns are to reflect true life). Moreover, being psychologists, we found a relative absence of research on the psychology of FSKs.
Like Farrell and her colleagues, we used the mass media approach to study female serial killers.
We found the internet site Murderpedia.org to be a valuable consolidation of media reports of murder, and we found it verifiable 100% of the time. In the end, we collected profiles of 64 female serial killers (the same number Hickey found) who committed their crimes in the US between 1821 and 2008.
Although our findings were limited to information that newspapers chose to include about these women and their crimes, our results lend validity to the mass media approach.
Along the lines of previous studies, we found that most FSKs were middle- and upper-class.
Almost all (92%) knew their victims, almost all were white, and their most common means to kill was poison, while the primary motive for murder was money.
Most of these women had earned college degrees or had attained at least some higher education. They held a wide variety of jobs, ranging from religious teacher to prostitute. Nearly 40% worked in health-related fields as nurses or aides, and about 22% worked in direct caregiving roles (mother and babysitter).
Most FSKs were married at some point. In fact, these serial killers were serial monogamists – married, on average, twice, and as many as seven times. Where we could ascertain appearance, most were reported to be average to above-average in attractiveness; where we could ascertain religion, 100% were Christian.
Nearly two-thirds were related to their victims, nearly one-third killed their significant others and about 44% killed their own biological children. More than half the sample killed children, and about one-quarter killed those who were elderly or infirm, those who had little chance of fighting back.
An aberration of unconscious drives?
From an evolutionary perspective, two important pictures emerged.
First, our data (in line with other studies) showed that female serial killers primarily kill for money. Previous research, such as Eric Hickey’s, has shown that male serial killers primarily kill for sex.
This aligns with evolutionary psychological theory. Robert Trivers’ 1972 work pointed out that due to their limited reproductive potential (relatively few ova), women have evolved to place a premium on securing resources (likely through wise mate choices in the ancestral environment). Conversely, virtually unlimited reproductive potential (relatively unlimited sperm) has likely predisposed men to seek a vast number of sexual opportunities.
Of course, I’m not saying we evolved to be serial killers. What I am saying is that an aberration of genetically mediated unconscious drives might explain some of the reasons for these crimes. These urges could also explain some of the differences between male serial killers and female serial killers.
Second, research has shown that male serial killers tend to stalk and kill strangers. But FSKs tend to kill people they know. It seems, then, that MSKs are hunters and FSKs are gatherers. Although aberrant, this evinces the psyche operating much like the conditions of our ancestral environment.
So, do we know for sure what makes a woman turn into a serial killer? Sadly, no. Even though brain imaging studies, such as psychologist Adrian Raine’s, do point to some trends, we can’t predict this with certainty.
Nonetheless, we’re clearly fascinated by murder, and perhaps morbid curiosity operates from an innate drive to pay attention to phenomena that can ultimately harm us. Creating an informed profile of the “typical” female serial killer will, we hope, lead to further analysis and, possibly, prevention.
The smear campaign has been called the trademark of the sociopath, but it is not only sociopaths who exhibit this extraordinarily malicious behavior. Although the author links the distortion campaign to BPD, borderline personality disorder, it is also a characteristic of people who better fit the diagnostic criteria of other personality disorders; narcissistic, histrionic, and anti-social or psychopathic. The bottom line is that it is not “normal” to set out to harm others. Anyone who degrades to such behaviors is either personality disordered or a recruit with weak character, a minion.
The article, and the comments that follow, provide an excellent read about personality disordered vindictiveness, the susceptibility of bystanders, the inability of courts and other authorities to recognize the malign behaviors, and the devastating consequences for both the individual being targeted and others in his/her proximity; especially the children in custody cases.
Note: The terms vilification campaign, smear campaign, and distortion campaign are used synonymously.
One of the classic behaviors of a person with Borderline Personality Disorder is the vilification campaign. The target is the person against whom the perpetrator Borderline conducts the vilification. The intent is to destroy the target’s reputation and thereby destroy the target’s relationships with family and friends, employers, co-workers, doctors, teachers, therapists, and others. The intent may even be to force the target to leave the community, put the target in prison, or even kill the target. As with so many things involving Borderlines and their typical inability to understand or respect boundaries, there really are no limits. They will use basically any means available to them to cause damage to their target, including denigration, endless disparaging remarks, fabrication, false accusations, and even teaching others (including their children!) to lie on their behalf as part of their vilification campaign.
The sociopath is a high level con who manages to dupe people so thoroughly that his/her fans will persecute, silence, and ostracize a victim who complains about mistreatment. These people are in denial and they will reject information that doesn’t correspond to their highly favorable perception of the sociopath. The victim’s accounts of abuse will upset them, and may anger them. By defending an influential sociopath and abusing his/her target by proxy, the followers prove their loyalty and hope to win favor while getting closer to the influential sociopath they are instinctively attracted to.
A narcissistic personality disordered mother has flying monkeys. This is a term taken from The Wizard of Oz, where the flying monkeys do the bidding of the Wicked Witch. The flying monkeys may be your neighbor, church members, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandmother, grandfather, nieces, nephews, etc. These people do the narcissist’s dirty work and often pour their own abuse on the scapegoat.
I spent years of my life trying to show various flying monkeys the truth. It virtually never worked, not once in the twenty or so years I kept trying to “clear the air” or to finally be understood. They do not understand because they do not want to understand. Many are willfully ignorant and blind to the situation. There is not some magical phrase and method you have not yet discovered that is suddenly going to cause these people to stand up for the truth.
What I have realized is the flying monkeys generally have their own reasons for behaving the way they do. Some may truly do it out of ignorance, truly fooled for years by the narcissist. However, it is my experience that most flying monkeys have weak characters.
Dr. George Simon, author of In Sheep’s Clothing—Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, presents this list of 14 tactics that manipulators use to get you to do what they want. He points out the importance of recognizing that these tactics are offensive moves employed by the covert-aggressive to either maintain a position of power, gain power, or remove an obstacle from getting what he wants. You’ll be better equipped to deal with manipulators if you are familiar with this list of tactics, and can identify them when you encounter them:
Denial– playing innocent, refusing to admit they have done something harmful.
Selective Inattention– playing dumb, or acting oblivious; refusing to pay attention to anything that might divert them from achieving their goal.
Rationalization– making excuses or justifying their behavior, often in very convincing ways.
Diversion– changing the subject, dodging the issue, distracting us from the real problem.
Lying– deliberately telling untruths, concealing the truth, lying by omission.
Covert Intimidation– intimidation through veiled threats; hints that “it’s a tough job market out there.”
Guilt-tripping– using the conscientiousness of their victim against them to keep them self-doubting and anxious.
Shaming– using subtle sarcasm and put-downs to make the victim feel inadequate, unworthy, and anxious.
Playing the Victim Role– playing the innocent victim to elicit compassion; convincing the victim that he/she is hurting in some way so that the victim will try to relieve their distress.
Vilifying the Victim– making the victim the “bad guy”; pretending he’s only defending himself.
Playing the Servant Role– disguising their personal agendas as service to a nobler cause.
Seduction– flattering and overtly supporting others to get them to lower their defenses and be trusting.
Projecting the Blame (blaming others)– shifting the blame, scapegoating.
Minimization– a combination of denial and rationalization, “making a molehill out of a mountain”.
“A manipulative person … is a covertly aggressive personality.”
“You ask a manipulator a direct question, you rarely get a direct answer.”
over-intellectualization – victim tries too hard to understand and believes the manipulator has some understandable reason to be hurtful.
emotional dependency – victim has a submissive or dependent personality. The more emotionally dependent the victim is, the more vulnerable he or she is to being exploited and manipulated.
Manipulators generally take the time to scope out the characteristics and vulnerabilities of their victim.
According to Martin Kantor, the following are vulnerable to psychopathic manipulators:
too trusting – people who are honest often assume that everyone else is honest. They commit themselves to people they hardly know without checking credentials, etc. They rarely question so-called experts.
too altruistic – the opposite of psychopathic; too honest, too fair, too empathetic
too impressionable – overly seduced by charmers. For example, they might vote for the phony politician who kisses babies.
too naïve – cannot believe there are dishonest people in the world or if there were they would not be allowed to operate.
too masochistic – lack of self-respect and unconsciously let psychopaths take advantage of them. They think they deserve it out of a sense of guilt.
too narcissistic – narcissists are prone to falling for unmerited flattery.
too greedy – the greedy and dishonest may fall prey to a psychopath who can easily entice them to act in an immoral way.
too immature – has impaired judgment and believes the exaggerated advertising claims.
too dependent – dependent people need to be loved and are therefore gullible and liable to say yes to something to which they should say no.
too lonely – lonely people may accept any offer of human contact. A psychopathic stranger may offer human companionship for a price.
too impulsive – make snap decisions about, for example, what to buy or whom to marry without consulting others.
too frugal – cannot say no to a bargain even if they know the reason why it is so cheap
the elderly – the elderly can become fatigued and less capable of multi-tasking. When hearing a sales pitch they are less likely to consider that it could be a con. They are prone to giving money to someone with a hard-luck story. See elder abuse.
All too easily, we mistakenly assume that everyone else is honest, intelligent, and trying to do the right thing, just like us. In reality, some people are outright evil.
Similarly, a psychopath thinks that everyone else is evil like himself. When a psychopath sees an honest and intelligent person asking questions or giving logical explanations, he believes that it is an evil manipulation trick.
With illustrations added by Psychopath Resistance.
Pathological lying is a particular kind of lying. Many would argue that lying is simply part of being human. We all do it at one time or another. Sometimes our lies are relatively benign and inconsequential. (That’s the character of “little white lies.”) But lying can be really problematic at times. And it can cause much unnecessary pain and suffering. It can decimate relationships. Moreover, some disturbed characters lie habitually. And they seem to lie for no apparent rational reason. They lie about little things. And they lie even when the truth would appear to serve better. We’ve often called such liars “pathological” liars.
Pathological lying seems to make no sense. It’s hard to understand why someone would lie when the truth would suffice. And it’s especially hard to understand why someone would lie when the truth might well serve them better.
Pathological liars aren’t crazy. There’s actually method to their apparent madness. They may
drive you crazy with their antics. But once you understand why they do what they do you can restore your sanity.
The Method to the Madness
Pathological liars have a singular purpose. They lie to keep a position of advantage. That’s right. As I assert in Character Disturbance, it’s always about position, position, position for some disturbed characters. Such folks view life as a game or contest. And they don’t want a level playing field. Whenever they engage, they want the advantage. Lying helps them keep the advantage. It’s hard to pin them down. And when you can’t pin them down, you can’t know what’s really going on. You don’t know what might really be up to. You cant tell how they really feel, or what they really want. And you can’t know who they really are. That automatically puts you in a one-down position. And that’s just the way they like it.
Pathological lying has its payoffs. But it can take its toll, too. Sometimes the truth simply has to out. But pathological liars persist to the very end. They don’t concede the truth until their wall of lies is forced to come crashing down. Sometimes, the evidence simply piles up against them. That’s when cracks in the wall develop. However, quite often the wall of lies doesn’t tumble until a lot of damage has already occurred.
Death of the Truth and Erosion of Trust in our Narcissistic Age
In our narcissistic culture, the truth, and regard for it has taken a real beating. Truth has no value when life is all about getting what you want or manipulating people’s impressions. And Lying is the penultimate manipulation tactic.
As I mention in In Sheep’s Clothing, it’s also the main way folks resist acceding to moral principles. For years, we’ve been in an age of deceit. And many have truly been at war with the truth.
Disregard for the truth has infected almost every aspect of culture. There’s deception in our advertising, our teaching, our politics, even our news. Sadly, deception has even infiltrated science, once the bastion of relentless, unbiased truth pursuit. The goal is no longer discovering and living by the truth. The goal is now winning, advancing an agenda, swaying opinions, securing power, etc., by any means necessary. And that means constantly, fudging, distorting, twisting, and “spinning.” In such a culture, there’s simply no room for the truth.
Lying, especially pathological lying, takes its deepest toll on relationships. The foundation of any healthy, intimate relationship is trust. Where there’s no trust, there can’t be intimacy. It’s simply too dangerous. As I point out in How Did We End Up Here?, breaches of trust have destroyed more relationships than I care to count.
Restoring Some Sanity
Sanity will be restored to our culture when reverence for the truth returns. Truth is, perhaps, the most precious “higher power” that can govern our lives. But as you may already know, narcissists neither recognize nor revere any higher power.
The need to control others may not make a lot of sense to you. If you’re a live-and-let-live person, you’d never want to control someone else. Even if you’re a perfectionist, you stay on your own case all day, not necessarily someone else’s.
But controllers are out there. They want to micromanage what you say, how you act, even what you think quietly in your own mind. It could be your boss, your spouse, or even your parent. You can’t be yourself around them. They insist on being your top priority and want undue influence over your life. They might push your buttons to get an emotional reaction out of you because they want to exploit it as weakness. They have no respect for you or your boundaries.
There are plenty of theories why someone would want to control you. One is that people who can’t control themselves turn to controlling others. This happens on an emotional level. A person full of insecurities has to exact a positive sense of self from other people because their self esteem is too low to do it for themselves.
Maybe people control because they are afraid of being abandoned. They don’t feel secure in their relationships and are often testing to see if they’re about to be betrayed. The paradox is that their behavior creates exactly what they fear the most… Continue reading:
Sarah Rae Newman is an Associate Editor at Psych Central and a science blogger. The author of several books, she received her MA in psychology from the New School for Social Research and an MFA in writing from CCNY.
Grandiosity is a principal feature of a certain type of narcissism. (See: Two Main Varieties of Narcissists.) Narcissists of the grandiose variety don’t just think they’re great. Some just know they’re great. They truly believe in their special status and their power. And because they often feel omnipotent, they can act in ways that reflect their perceived invincibility. There’s a big difference between a really healthy dose of confidence and pathological grandiosity. And you can’t always gauge the difference by a person’s status, wealth, or accomplishments. Some grandiose narcissists have plenty of reason to boast. Others have virtually nothing to show for themselves. Narcissistic grandiosity is mostly a matter of exaggeration—especially exaggerated self-importance and capability. And, when such grandiosity goes unchecked, it can lead to much bigger problems. Continue reading.
Relational aggression (or relational violence) generally refers to all the forceful ways a person might try to assert power or dominance in a relationship. But these days, many use the term to describe attempts to damage someone’s social standing or wreck a good relationship they enjoy. In any case, this kind of behavior destroys. It serves only to bring its perpetrator a sense of power or importance. And it stems from the aggressor’s lack of empathy.
Two Main Types of Aggression
Aggression can be of two main types: overt or covert. Someone is overtly aggressive when they make no bones about what they’re doing. Maybe they simply want to hurt you. But they might also want to get something from you. Perhaps they want to take advantage or have power over you. Whatever the case, they mean to aggress and don’t try to hide it.
Covert-aggressors operate differently. They don’t want to be seen for who they are or what they’re doing. The relational aggression they engage in is subtle, underhanded, or even concealed. So, you barely realize what they’ve been up to until the damage is already done. This is the kind of aggression that underlies most interpersonal manipulation. Moreover, it occurs quite frequently. So, many years ago I felt compelled to write a book about it.
Covert Aggression in the Social Arena
In our times, relational aggression has taken on some interesting new dimensions. Covert aggressors can damage your social standing or your relationships in some very sneaky ways. They can put out false information about you on the internet. They can spread nasty rumors and lies. Or they might defame you on social media. A skilled covert operator can even use surrogates to do their dirty work. That way, they leave no “fingerprints” and can convincingly deny their evildoing. Young persons are particularly vulnerable to this kind of behavior. But no one is immune.
Why do these relational aggressors do what they do? We used to think that they came from a fearful, insecure place. But we’ve learned better. Some folks simply lack empathy. They care only about themselves. Sometimes, all they want is a sense of power. Other times, they might merely be seeking amusement – at your expense. And in the coming weeks I’ll be saying more about why these behaviors are so prevalent nowadays.
Character Disturbancehas entered its third major printing. As always, thanks for your support and recommendation of my books.
The dark triad is a group of three personality traits: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy. Use of the term “dark” implies that these traits have malevolent qualities:
Narcissism is characterized by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy.
Machiavellianism is characterized by manipulation and exploitation of others, a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and deception.
Psychopathy is characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, impulsivity, selfishness, callousness, and remorselessness.
All three traits have been associated with a callous-manipulative interpersonal style. A factor analysis carried out at the Glasgow Caledonian University found that among the big five personality traits, low agreeableness is the strongest correlate of the dark triad.
Disordered people can’t deal with the reality of their behaviors. On some level, they may realize how hurtful they are or how inappropriately they behave, yet they are unable to accept any kind of major flaw in themselves. So disordered abusers spin our reality to protect their delusions.
Projection, a commonly used defense mechanism, serves that purpose. In projection, a characteristic of themselves that they find unacceptable is projected onto us. An example of a projected characteristic is mental illness or disorder. “I’m not a sociopath. You’re the [crazy, irrational, mentally disturbed, narcissistic, etc.] one.”
Another common defense mechanism is blame shifting. “It’s your fault this happened because [fill in the blank].” The abuser’s rationalizations can be elaborate and far-fetched but their convictions are rock solid. Bystanders may have been groomed to believe that the target deserves the treatment they are receiving. Attempts to disprove accusatory claims will get you nowhere, or worse, seem to confirm your guilt. They cannot fathom that anyone— especially not someone they like and respect—is capable of deviously crafting a convincing blame shifting scheme, and will often side with a charismatic sociopath.
When “Don” told the priest who ran St. Michael’s Home for Children on Staten Island that one of his employees had molested him repeatedly over the previous two years, the clergyman gave the boy a lecture about damaging another man’s reputation. Then he told Don to report to the employee who allegedly sexually abused him for his punishment.
Psychopaths blame their victims for what happened and have no concern about the consequences.
The mocking and controlling behavior of the psychopathic mind is motivated by a sense of entitlement and a claim for submission. It’s a power trip. The submission brings them feelings of excitement and superiority. They enjoy what they consider to be a game of destroying people. It’s amusing to them.
Evil people are often busy building for themselves various fronts for disguise to further their ambitions. “They are likely to exert themselves more than most in their enduring effort to obtain and maintain an image of high respectability.” Evil does not reveal itself as the bad. Evil will very rarely expose itself to public light. It must hide. And it almost always hides under the pretext of something virtuous.
In fact, rather than hiding in the shadows dressed in black, it disguises itself in uniforms of holy men or suits and charitable organizations, which allow it to deceive us into thinking it’s our savior. This enables it to cause far greater damage. Continue reading…
ith all the information available about narcissism and narcissistic personalities, chances are you’ve heard the term “malignant narcissism.” But exactly what the term means and why a certain kind of narcissism warrants such a special descriptor is not very clear to many. And while it’s hard to imagine any kind of narcissism that’s completely “benign,” it’s worth understanding why the particular brand of narcissism professionals call “malignant” is cause for grave concern whenever it’s present to any significant degree in someone’s personality structure.
The term narcissism has been around for a long time and is derived from the mythical character Narcissus, who, as the ancient Greek story goes, was a strikingly handsome and gifted young man (and who obviously knew it!) who was not at all phased by the relentless amorous advances of a nymph but instead fell head over heels in love with his own reflection as he gazed upon it in a pool of water. Narcissus, it seemed, found all he’d ever dreamed of in perfect complement to himself in himself. Narcissism is, therefore, not the healthy love of self that leads to adaptive self-protection and care but rather the abnormal and unhealthily haughty perception of oneself as such an idol that one has no real need for anyone else.
Classical psychological paradigms conceptualized narcissistic individuals as necessarily insecure individuals who unconsciously compensated for their underlying low self-esteem with their braggadocio. Today we know that although there are indeed some “neurotic” narcissists, there are also many more vain and self-centered folks who really believe in their superiority through and through. Such individuals are far more character-disordered than they are neurotic and their inflated views of themselves are not an anxious compensation but rather a sincere belief. And they can be a monumental challenge to deal with, work with, and live with.
Narcissism is common during our early stages of growth. But most of us eventually grow to develop a healthier balance of perspective with respect to our regard for ourselves versus our regard for and need of others. When a person enters adulthood retaining the narcissistic tendencies they had as a child, there’s bound to be lots of trouble in their relationships.
Narcissism becomes particularly “malignant” (i.e. malevolent, dangerous, harmful, incurable) when it goes beyond mere vanity and excessive self-focus. Malignant narcissists not only see themselves as superior to others but believe in their superiority to the degree that they view others as relatively worthless, expendable, and justifiably exploitable. This type of narcissism is a defining characteristic of psychopathy/sociopathy and is rooted in an individual’s deficient capacity for empathy. It’s almost impossible for a person with such shallow feelings and such haughtiness to really care about others or to form a conscience with any of the qualities we typically associate with a humane attitude, which is why most researchers and thinkers on the topic of psychopathy think of psychopaths as individuals without a conscience altogether.
I’ve posted several times before on the issues of narcissism and malignant narcissism (see, for example: Psychopathy and Sociopathy, and Malignant Narcissism: At the Core of Psychopathy). And of course, I explore the topics in all my books, In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance, and The Judas Syndrome. But in the upcoming brief series of articles, I’m going to examine narcissism from some new angles and in some unusual depth, using examples from case histories to illustrate not only how detrimental to one’s personality formation this trait can be but also how much damage it’s capable of inflicting in relationships when it reaches malignant proportions.