Chapter 3. Attack and Capture
The Careful Nurse
She likes old people, she says, because they talk so much. The old men and women in the home seem to like her too. "She's always in a good mood," they tell each other. "Such a good listener!"
She's worked hard for her nursing degree. Endless books, studying, writing, exams. The other students get better marks, and she guesses they all cheat. They've got people helping them, and they bribe the teachers. Well, that's easy. She can do that too. She can't use the computer, it's so difficult! Oh, could you check my work for me? Pretty please?
Finally, the torture is over and she gets that magical piece of paper. "Qualified nurse," she repeats to herself. "Qualified nurse!" That afternoon she's already sending emails around, looking for work. Soon she has a gig lined up. She'll join a team looking after a wealthy man who has cancer.
She dresses for work. Hair tied back, and the neat outfits she learned from the nursing home. Black and blue, white cap, long skirt, dark shoes. Expensive dark shoes. She has three colleagues, and they take shifts. Their patient is in his seventies and spends most of his time in bed. Before lunch they get him up, dress him, and take him for a walk in his gardens. He returns tired, and sleeps. Her colleagues prefer the evening and night shifts, as they have less to do. Despite the extra work, she prefers the morning shift, when he's awake and talkative.
He's an interesting man, who's built several large businesses. They get close, always talking. She asks him once, laughing, "so how much are you worth?" He laughs back, "that's one thing I regret. I never quite made a billion." She raises one eyebrow and tuts. "Silly man, I'm sure you have more regrets than that!"
He does. Hard work is good for you, he tells her. Yet it's no replacement for family. He married, his wife died in a car crash twenty years before. He has a son, forty-five now. The son hates his father and visits once a week, like it's a chore. They talk about nothing. He leaves as soon as he can, in his black Mercedes. She finds out he divorced his wife, and refused to help his father in his businesses.
It takes her almost six months to reconcile them. In the end, they hug, and she smiles to herself. The old man is getting stronger. He's promoted her to head of the nursing team. She replaces the other team members with her own people. Now she's the only woman. One evening, as the son is leaving, she goes with him. They have a meal in a restaurant close by, and she stays overnight at his house.
When they marry, soon after, they both know it's the right time. Why wait longer? Destiny makes its own plans. They buy a ranch, high in the hills, and plan their dream home. The father dies in his sleep a few months later. They name their baby after him. It is a boy.
We've seen a little of how Mallory operates, when she is out on the prowl. She preys on the most ruthless of apex predators: other humans. "The Most Dangerous Game", a short story by Richard Connell has entered part of popular culture. And yet by selecting the weakest, most vulnerable people, Mallory tends to escape unscathed. Most of the damage falls on her victims. Just now and then, Mallory chooses a target that fights back, and she gets hurt.
This is how it is in a classic predator-prey relationship. The predators cull the most vulnerable individuals. This drives the evolution of the prey species towards ever greater resistance. It is not the sole evolutionary driver yet it can be a significant one for both sets of genes.
After identifying Bob, Mallory attacks and tries to capture him. We might imagine a lion chasing, and then bringing down a zebra. The zebra dodges left and right. The lion leaps, and strikes. What we actually see is a lot of talk, and then sudden and unusual decisions. The violence is rarely overt, yet it is always present in one shape or another. For as Mallory attacks, Bob fights back with all his strength.
The core of the psychopathic relationship is an "idealize-devalue-discard" (IDD) cycle. Many authors describe this cycle. Anyone who has tangled with a psychopath will recognize it. The IDD cycle starts with Mallory putting Bob on a pedestal. She rains down praise and affection. A while later, she does an about-face and turns indifferent and cold. And then she breaks it off, and walks away.
The IDD cycle can run in a few hours, or over decades. Most authors see the cycle as a sign of failure. Mallory cannot create real relationships, they explain. She needs admiration to feed her narcissism, then she gets bored, goes the story. This explanation seems bogus for several reasons. It assumes there is a normative model for relationships, which Mallory fails to achieve. It draws narcissism as a kind of mental demon, with wants and needs. And above all it ignores the many psychopaths who build relationships spanning years.
It is more useful to see the IDD cycle as one of Mallory's many tools. She is not a broken person. She is as successful on average as anyone else. Her relationships are as "normal" as anyone's. It is just a different normality, based on the dynamics of predator and prey.
The Wikipedia article on predation says:
The act of predation can be broken down into four stages: Detection of prey, attack, capture and finally consumption.
There is a stage before detection, which is hiding. Mallory must remain invisible to her prey as long as possible. If Bob sees her true colors, he walks or runs away. Exposure is crippling. Only by packing up and moving elsewhere can Mallory hunt again.
The hiding stage is critical. Yet the IDD cycle misses it, and treats "idealize" as the start of entanglement. And it misses the goal, for Mallory at least, which is "consumption." She does not eat her victims' flesh. She just empties them of money, power, and energy until death can feel welcome.
Finally, the IDD cycle misses the detailed way Mallory builds her control over time. It is not one cycle at all. Rather, there are larger and smaller cycles that overlap and repeat. This is why the timescales seem so variable. Mallory may IDD someone on their first meeting. And, then go on to a decade-long relationship with that same person. As I'll show later, this is not contradictory. It is part of the mechanism.
So, the IDD cycle is accurate, consistent, and predictable. Yet it is also incomplete and shallow. It does not model the relationship between Mallory and her children. It does not model the one between Mallory and her willing helpers (secondary psychopaths). It does not explain why Mallory works to break people before she discards them.
As I see it, the IDD cycle tells the victim's story. The story is valid, yet biased and incomplete. We must look wider and deeper to understand the whole picture. The "discards" are lies aimed to dig the hook deeper. Only the last one is true. And when Mallory does walk away, there is no relationship any longer. It is not just over. In Mallory's mind, it never existed.
Let's rewind. Mallory has detected a target. Before the first IDD cycle bites, she is preparing her attack. This preparation is so consistent you can tell where you are in Mallory's eyes by the mask she shows you. By the time she is idealizing you, you are already entangled. I'll explain how the entangling starts.
Mallory cannot survive exposure. From an early age he must learn to act "normal." This is a hard challenge, as "normal" is a moving target and a devious one at that. It's almost as if social humans move the goal posts every day to mess with psychopaths. Mallory often avoids the problem by hiding in plain sight. One way is to act so loud and lurid that people don't look twice. We call this histrionic and narcissistic behavior.
I'm not claiming that every loud, flashy, extravagant person is a psychopath. There is no accurate visible test for a psychopath, and cannot ever be. This is the balance of evolution. Yet, if you think of Mallory as a cold, gray person, you're wrong. He is often dramatic, unpredictable, mysterious, ineffable. He is passionate and emotional. It is nonetheless an act, and it fools most except other psychopaths.
Let me draw you a scene to make this clear. You're in a party, with some friends. There is a woman who doesn't laugh, makes no expression at all. She looks at you like a butcher deciding which pig to slaughter. Now and then she looks at others, and then looks back at you. She smiles, and it's not a gentle smile. This would be Mallory wearing no mask. It is a frightening sight, and a rare one.
And there's a guy, wearing a stupid orange hat, dressed in lurid colors. He's laughing out loud, a huge stupid grin on his face. Everyone loves him. He's the life and soul of the party, roaring loud and happy, his face and hands animated. He looks like a harmless fool. If you meet his gaze, you feel warmth and affection. You could fall into that gaze, it's so deep. That's Mallory wearing his colors.
Mallory learns his masks from friends and family. He mimics accent and tone, speech patterns, facial expressions, body language. He is a professional actor immersing himself in his roles. He keeps these masks all his life, fine-tunes them, and wears them as needed. These masks are caricatures, yet more convincing than the real thing.
The point of this is to distract and control. It's the technique of the stage magician. Drama, music, and smooth words get the audience looking one way. And so they miss Mallory's real moves. It works with a single person, and it works with a roomful.
Once as a young student in York I strolled, with my band of friends, into a small house. The friendly people inside were offering a "free personality test." They let us play with science-fiction machines that measured our stress levels. They sat us down for one-on-one talks. A young woman chatted with me a little about why I was there and what I was looking for in life. She jotted down my name and address, and then started taking notes. "What's the worst thing you ever did in your life?" she asked me. It was the same casual tone as you'd use to ask someone, "what did you eat for breakfast?"
It was an unexpected cold finger poking into my private mind. I slapped it away and thanked her for the cup of tea, and took my friends and left. One of our group, a girl, stayed a little longer. Six months later we had almost lost her. With a lot of convincing, she stopped going to the group. She stopped spending her money on their weird literature and courses. She resumed her studies.
The friendly people stalked her, and us. They went to her dorm, and followed us on the streets. "Why are you not coming to sessions?" they would ask her, not so friendly any more. "Why are you hurting your friend?" they would ask us, "she needs her courses," sometimes yelling at us as we ignored them. They persisted for more than a year before they gave up.
I'm not mentioning names, as Scientology might take offense. Some years later that psychopathic organization took my cousin. It was years before he returned, a different person, his joy and laughter gone.
People ask me sometimes where my interest in Mallory comes from. My friends and family, and myself... we've bled and wept over and over. How could I not notice the parade of predators that stalk us? I don't make it personal. I don't get angry about it. Instead, I decode, understand, and dismantle the frameworks of lies that Mallory depends on.
The Interview is one of those lies. It starts as, "I care about you, and we are sharing an intimate moment." It ends with blackmail and extortion. It is rarely so overt as a person writing on a clipboard. More often it happens in a bar or club, or social setting. These are contexts where we expect small talk and are happy to chat. Often there is alcohol involved, so we drop our guard.
Mallory wants to know how good a target Bob is, and what direction to work in. It's the car salesman asking, "what is your job," then, "are you married?" The probing may be gentle yet is insistent. She slices to Bob's weaknesses, and the opportunities and risks he presents.
Mallory wants to exclude false positives. That is, people who look like opportunities yet are not. So the questions focus on Bob. There may be theater and drama. Yet the conversation zooms in, and Mallory reads every microscopic reaction and twitch.
The interview is part of a growing promise of some kind: sex, money, or salvation. The threat emerges side-by-side with the promise. If you don't answer, I'll walk away, and the promise will vanish with me.
You can tell when Mallory is interviewing you, if she is in a hurry. If she is careful, you cannot tell, as it will happen over days or weeks, or even longer. And the interview can happen behind your back, through people you know.
Often though, you can see it. She is nicer than she needs to be. She smiles a lot at you, and acts dominant in a casual way. She approaches you, not vice-versa. She asks questions about your background, your family, your work, your relationships. It seems rather intimate for casual discussion. Your intuition is uncomfortable. Yet the interactions hit your triggers, and you get dopamine kicks of pleasure. So you keep talking.
If you listen to your intuition, you may feel uneasy with this smiling person. You can of course walk away. Yet it's plausible she is sincere and interested in you. Walking away from everyone who's interested in you is a poor strategy. So there's another defense we often use. That is to keep talking, and switch to neutral topics, or back to the other person.
A person who enjoys talking to you will go with the flow, no matter what you talk about. The ability to play with conversation in random directions is a white flag. Mallory will ease the discussion back in line. She will deflect questions about her own background, or she will lie and exaggerate. She may talk about herself and share "intimate" details yet it is always to position you into revealing more. It is near impossible to spot her lying, unless you catch a specific falsehood.
Cold Reading and Shotgunning
During the Interview, Mallory will be cold reading his target. This means guessing significant details about Alice in a short time. It is a basic tool of mentalists, con artists, car salesmen, and assorted mystics. Mallory does it without effort or practice.
Most of us are expert in reading people, though we may not realize it. Yet our brains interpret what we see as emotional signals and empathic reactions. We don't see stress, we feel stress. Mallory sees what is there, with no emotional lens.
Classic cold reading is a party trick, used by mystics to impress people. "You recently lost your father... he is sending me a message for you." In the field, it is more intrusive.
Most people are readable most of the time. One engages them in conversation, and asks the right questions. One can then make good guesses about:
Where they grew up, from their accent.
Whether they are the first child or not, from the amount of stress they show at disorder. Are they comfortable with delay, and some mess, or not?
Whether they have younger siblings, or come from larger extended families, from the way they treat young children.
Whether their parents argued violently, and divorced or not, from their general confidence.
What field they studied, from the way they talk and act.
How much they earn, from the context, their behavior.
Why they are there and what they expect to happen.
How they feel, about the situation and about you.
What they want most, at that time and place.
And so on. Most people can learn to cold read, to some extent. You must learn to ground your emotions, and then you practice. Much of this is just being open to what people express, in words or in behavior. The unreadable people are those who hide, for one reason or the other.
Mallory cold reads at genius level. He combines perfect reading with shotgunning. He makes rapid, broad guesses at various scenarios. The guesses either fall flat, or trigger a small response. He blasts out five possibilities, sees a response to number four, and knows he's hit home. The result looks like a shocking ability to read minds.
You can tell when Mallory is shotgunning you. It's like the Interview except worse. He makes sharp guesses about details he should not know, nor be asking about. He makes these guesses with pure conviction, as if he is stating absolute facts. No questions, he blasts out assertion after assertion, until he scores.
Shotgunning can range from subtle scanning to overt aggression. Mallory may blast allegations aimed to cause the greatest pain. It is a curious form of discussion. It seems to have three goals. First, to hurt and destabilize an opponent or resister. Second, to get reactions and thus to discover vulnerabilities and hidden truths. Third, to convince observers of Mallory's innocence and virtue.
Internet trolls show many psychopath traits. They show no empathy nor emotion. They tend to be solitary and predatory. They also shotgun their perceived opponents. They are often as violent as one could be over a keyboard.
It is remarkable to see Mallory announce outright lies, to discredit others. He may be calm and sad, or burn with righteous indignation. It is theater, aimed at an audience. The best lies are plausible and colorful. They tend to be easy to disprove, yet few people do. Our minds evolved to agree with those in authority. We will accept obvious lies when they come from someone who acts superior to us. It's called the Asch effect.
The Imitation Game
Primates and birds have social instincts for copying the behavior of others. There seem to be three main mechanisms in humans: convergence, mirroring, and mimicking. Each mechanism has its evolutionary reasons. Each is a tool in the hands of a psychopath.
As a social species, our identity lives in the groups we are part of. Our concept of "group" scales from two people to millions. Many of the same mechanisms work at all these levels. Convergence is one of these.
Part of the group identity is a more-or-less consistent culture. Above all, this means appearance, behavior, and language. Groups don't just aim for consistency, though. They also aim to be unique, and different from other groups, especially close competitors.
There are several reasons why groups strive for consistency and originality. Individuals already in the group have an interest in expanding the group. Size is power. The group culture is its branding. "This is who we are!" is a recruiting statement. And "We're not like them!" is how groups stop their members defecting to other groups in the same area.
For those who join a group, or are born into it, there is strong advantage in conforming. Being "different" exposes an individual to rejection from others, and to violence from outsiders. When there is conflict between groups, the first targets are the outliers.
The evolutionary benefits of hiding within a group are an old cultural engine. The diversity of human language and behavior is not random chaos. It stems from every group's need to find its own niche. It expresses in accent, dialect, and memes.
It expresses as food taboos, which are often complex to the point of absurdity. Arbitrary, complex rules are a tool of control, as I'll explain in “The Feeding”. Food taboos most likely evolved from our hunting-gathering past. "This is toxic," is easier to explain as "forbidden." We learn disgust once, and it saves our life a hundred times. The same instinct then lets tribes ban foods eaten by neighboring tribes. It stops people slipping away.
Convergence happens by negotiation and imitation. Dominant individuals establish a pattern which the less dominant follow. When people share power, they negotiate a weighted average. Hence the term "slavish conformity." Even a child will try to negotiate with its parents. The result is group consistency in the short term, and evolution over time.
Convergence takes time and effort and is a negotiation between individuals. This means you can tell how close and equal people are by how they appear, act, and talk.
Both men and women converge, in differing ways. Men tend to converge towards group language, behavior, and appearance. Women tend to converge towards other individual women. You rarely see two men dressing alike, unless they are part of a larger group. Yet you will often see two women converge on each other. Observe two women together, and you can often tell how well they know each other. It shows in hair, clothing, shoes, accessories, and body language.
Not everyone converges. There are at least three distinct types of people who appear to act "different." There are those with some degree of autism. There are the natural leaders. And there are the psychopaths. I'll explain each so that you can tell the difference.
People with autism cannot read social cues. This means they never converge no matter the context. They look lonely, asocial, and "strange" in various ways. While popular culture has demonized "loners" as unstable and dangerous, this is a myth. Such individuals run a higher-than-average risk of discrimination.
Natural leaders will converge when joining others of higher status. They will not converge when meeting potential followers. This forces others to make more effort to converge. We value our relationships according to how much we invest in them. So working harder to converge makes a deeper attachment to the leader. And that builds the group, as participants converge on a single person.
Mallory acts much like a natural leader at this stage. Yet he starts to abuse and mistreat members of the group almost at once. A natural leader treats and protects the group like family. Mallory treats the group as his possession or toy. This is narcissism, one of his masks.
In extreme cases, he forces others to make extreme efforts to converge. To force a consistent dress, language, and behavior is a form of abuse. It breaks the individual's identity and self-image. This is a pure psychopathic trait, in individuals and organizations.
The Cloak of Invisibility
Convergence establishes the nature and depth of a relationship. It generally takes time and effort to become a corporate drone. There is a way to cheat, namely "mirroring." In this, one person (the "actor") copies another person, in real time. The most obvious sign is the actor switching language and accent. We're less likely to notice the shifts in body language and appearance.
What the actor is saying is, "we are close and you can trust me." When someone adopts your accent, it sounds like they are from your home region. It's an invisible sound. The sure way to know if someone is mirroring you is when they show no accent (to your ears). Unless, of course, they did in fact grow up where you did.
Mirroring is a cloak of invisibility, a mask that triggers trust and relaxation. It is a core talent of psychopaths. When Mallory uses mirroring, he becomes a dangerous presence. He does it to get close to his targets.
It's not malicious by definition. It evolved, presumably, as a defense mechanism. When you move to foreign places, the ability to mirror is a life-saver. We tend to see other people as fuzzy bundles of triggers. Mirroring lies about the actor's past and makes it seem they have been there for years.
Mallory does not feel social emotions. This is not a bug. It is a feature. If she had social emotions, she would be unable to work. And yet, the lack of emotional responses is a fatal give-away. Her answer, evolved and carried in her genes, is to borrow from others, using mimicry.
Mallory is a superb observer. She is always hunting, untroubled by emotional filters. One thing she watches for are new types of emotional scenes. Something happens, one person responds with emotions, and then others respond in turn. She watches these dramas. Somewhere in her mind, specialized neurons capture the caricature of behavior. Facial expressions, body language, voice inflection, and way of speaking.
And she replays this on demand.
This ability makes Mallory an excellent and convincing actor. Her projection is rich and has all the right triggers. This makes it more convincing than the original.
For example, when Bob or Alice get angry, they show a loss of control. It is still tinged with some fear. Mallory records this and replays it, without the fear. The result is a perfect "anger" mask that is terrifying at a visceral level. The same for displays of love, jealousy, self-pity, fear, loneliness, guilt, affection, sincerity.
People talk of the psychopaths' "masks of normality." In fact these are masks of super-normality. Much of Mallory's power comes from this talent, and our hard-wired responses to it.
Mallory can switch masks in a heartbeat. One second, calm. The next, intense fear. The next, brooding violence. The next, dramatic self-pity. Then, calm again.
Mimicking is a powerful tool that works on most people, most of the time. It has some inherent weaknesses and telltales. Remember, Mallory is showing prerecorded emotions. A social person starts with a mix of emotions and then expresses these.
These are some ways to tell that you are seeing Mallory's mask:
The emotional display is too pure, too intense. This is hard to see, as we're so vulnerable to the triggers. Yet if you can step away from your own responses, you can tell the difference. Bob is wine at 12% alcohol and Mallory is spirits at 40%.
The masks have no gradient. Social emotions can flash on and off, yet they have ripples and echoes. It's part of being social. Fear leads to anger, then to guilt, and regret and remorse. Mallory's anger mask has no gradient, no social climbdown.
The mask may be of someone you know, or even yourself. It is an interesting question to ask, when you see Mallory acting out. Who are they doing now?
In rare cases you may confront Mallory with a situation she has no response for. Perhaps a plan failed. You may see the "slip and recover" where the mask falls. You see no personality, just quiet, deep calculation. I've seen this last a split second, or hours. Then there is decision, and she puts on another mask.
Sometimes Mallory will lose control temporarily, when provoked. Mallory is not emotionless. She has some authentic emotions, like hunger, fury, and glee. You can provoke her through these emotions, and then she shows her real nature. It can be a terrifying experience.
When Mallory is tired, and at home, and can't keep up the act, the mask may slip.
When Mallory is over-confident, then her true emotions can show through. She may show flashes of glee for instance, when she believes a plan is working well.
The masks will fool anyone who is not aware of how this trick works. Her extreme emotional displays are not just for camouflage. They are also a whip and a hook. Strong emotional displays create strong responses. Those responses are addictive.
Mallory's true emotions are worth understanding, and I explain more in “The Dance of Emotions”. She feels hunger when bored, then obsession when she finds a new target. As she starts the chase, she feels euphoria, and as she closes in she feels glee. When she moves in for the kill, she feels fury, and as she inflicts damage, she feels bloodlust. As she feeds she feels gluttony, then satiation when she's had enough. And when she fails in a hunt, she feels blocked.
All other emotions she shows are fake.
When Mallory apologizes and shows remorse, it is an act. When Mallory stares into your eyes and says, "I promise," it is an act. When Mallory shows bad temper and burning anger it is an act. When Mallory tells you, "if you do that, I will kill you," it is an act. This can be hard to remember, so convincing is the mask. All psychopaths have the capacity for violence and yet, if they do strike, they will never warn you.
With mimicking, Mallory pushes people around like pieces on a game board. Only other psychopaths are immune, not responding to these emotional triggers.
Constructing the Narrative
Every psychopathic relationship has the same structure. At the heart, Mallory places a core of lies and promises. I call this the "Narrative". Around that, Alice wraps layers of efforts and investments, string around stone. Over time the ball becomes huge. To untangle it, and find the lies at its heart, can be difficult.
The first of those lies is a promise that Mallory makes right after the interview. It is a cheap, simple, and unbelievable promise. Yet it aims straight at the heart and guts. "I will make you wealthy," he whispers. "I will be yours," he promises. "I will take care of you forever," he sighs, as Alice falls asleep in his arms.
Mallory speaks with confidence and authority. His lies become prospects and then facts. As soon as Alice accepts a lie even as a remote possibility, the dance has started. Mallory mirrors, flatters, dominates. He weaves more promises around the core. This can happen in hours, or a few weeks. Alice starts to feel the burn of attention. We now enter the idealization stage.
Mallory focuses everything on Alice. Before that, she only felt short flashes of attention. Those were already strong enough to knock her out of her comfort zone. What comes next is shocking, disruptive, and addictive.
Mallory knows exactly what Alice wants. He's asked her, he's read her, and he's seen her type before many times. He spins a story of lies and magic. He gives Alice this theory and he watches as she swallows it, like a grateful child.
If Alice sees herself as strong, Mallory becomes the lost boy. Oh Alice, maybe you can save me? He plays the victim well. Later, he will turn to Alice's friends and family, with tears in his eyes. He will explain how Alice abuses and betrays him. Lost, helpless, he will show them a world of suffering in his eyes. They will curse Alice and reject her.
Whatever Alice's fantasy, Mallory brings it within reach. He promises, tells tales, flatters, hints at things to come. The only resistance to such an attack is to want nothing, and believe nothing. Above all, to distrust one's own voices. Mallory's magic only works on Alice because she lies to herself.
Not that Alice is unique, or to blame. We almost all lie to ourselves, even the most honest and upright of us. Even Mallory lies to himself. It takes conscious and deliberate effort to see our own lies and step aside from them.
What Alice should notice most of all is the sheer volume of chatter from Mallory. It would be overwhelming were she not so eager for it. When they are together, it consumes their nights and their days. Alice feels like the center of Mallory's universe. When they are apart, Mallory will text and call Alice non-stop. The phone companies love Mallory. He usually finds someone else to pay the bills, though.
Cult jargon and support forums call this "love bombing." It is a well known tactic to break resistance. Love bombing is a super-normal stimulus. It triggers a rush of dopamine in Alice's brain that overwhelms. It is the same response as if she was ingesting fructose, or cocaine. We get a kick when someone we like talks to us. We get ten times that kick if they talk to us ten times. We get a hundred times the kick when they call us a hundred times.
This trigger and response is natural and necessary. It is how we bond. A social person can only give so much. It is exhausting to express deep emotions. Mallory pays little or no cost. His deep ululations of love and desire come from memory. They cost him no more effort than wagging a finger. He does what social humans cannot. He amplifies the trigger, and he drives the addiction deeper into Alice's mind.
Alice starts to commit time and resources. Mallory watches her and chooses his moment. He has done this so often before. It is almost too easy.
Perhaps he will start slowly, when Alice is feeling most confident and intimate. A subtle comment after sex. A show of jealousy or insecurity. "Who were you thinking of, your ex?" A glum mood and argument that leaves Mallory a victim, and Alice searching anxiously for her fault.
Or, he may simply switch his attention to someone else, seen or unseen. Alice freezes, waiting for Mallory to return. It can be for minutes, or weeks. When he does return, it is without explanation or apology. He continues as if nothing had happened. If Alice makes a comment, he accuses her of being insecure, jealous, possessive.
Or he may strike more brutally, when she is feeling vulnerable. She twitches, does or says something that betrays uncertainty. Mallory lashes at her. How dare she? She stumbles, retreats, apologizes. It is what Mallory was waiting for. Fury fills him. Eyes wide, mouth in a snarl, he explodes in verbal abuse.
Alice has no words. It has all gone wrong somehow. Bewildered and in shock, she cannot react or process. She watches as Mallory takes his things and leaves. Come back, she pleads. And then he is gone. Mallory walks to a corner and makes some phone calls. He has business to take care of. Alice will be calling him, and hitting his voicemail. He'll give her an hour or two. Whatever. It's much the same. Alice is going nowhere.
There are many points in the relationship where Alice could break free. This is the most visible one. Mallory has left. It is over. Time to move on, yes?
Yet Mallory is a professional. This is what he does. Alice has as much free will as his phone. She will wait, and she will weep, and she will beg forgiveness. Alice always does.
When Mallory does answer her call, and returns, Alice is compliant. She is shivering from hurt, withdrawal, self-pity, and guilt. She does whatever Mallory asks. She takes all the blame, even though she does not understand what for.
This is the devalue stage of IDD, the withdrawal of affection. It is not a one-time event. It can start just a few days into a relationship. It can be subtle and creeping, or it can be dramatic and violent. Mallory does this over, and over. Break, and remake. Break, and remake. Alice goes fuzzy on the details, after a while. She tells no-one of it, and they would not believe her if she did. Mallory will remind her, often, of her crimes and his patient, forgiving nature.
It is the hallmark of an abusive relationship that Mallory acts highly sensitive, jealous, and volatile. At the slightest excuse, just as things seem OK again, he flips to violent argument, then to crisis. Sometimes he threatens to leave. Sometimes he packs his bags. Sometimes he just vanishes. Sometimes he kicks Alice out. It doesn't matter. The goal is to push Alice to the edge, to destabilize her, break her, and train her.
After every crisis, Mallory withdraws, goes cold and distant. If Alice was smart, she'd watch Mallory go and wipe his number from her phone. Of course, she is desperate to get him back. She is an addict. She tries harder, and he relents and returns.
The burn comes back. Mallory knows how to make her cry from pleasure, as well as pain. She forgets the arguments. Whatever he wants, she will give.
Mallory does not forgive, nor forget, though. He tracks Alice's crimes like an accountant. It forms part of the narrative. She will now and then try to resist Mallory's demands. She will complain when he throws chaos into her schedule and life. Mallory responds with cold abuse. "You dare?" he asks, and he reads the ledger back to her.
Mallory never apologizes if he can help it. He never makes steps to repair the fractures, unless Alice is on the verge of walking out. His brutality is not personal. It is a negotiation strategy, part of doing business.
While my description above has Mallory the man, and Alice the women, it works the same way when Mallory is a woman, breaking Bob. For every broken woman explaining why she loves her abuser, there is a broken man doing the same.
The Spanish Prisoner
People often stay in abusive relationships far longer than you'd expect. Abusive attachment is a counter-intuitive mechanism for everyone except psychopaths. These individuals understand it from youth, and practice it to perfection. For the rest of us, decoding the abusive bond is hard work. Yet it is a valuable exercise that teaches us much.
Let's start with normal social relationships. Alice and Bob meet. They need each other in some way. Love, business, or friendship. They each invest time, money, resources, or affection in the relationship. It starts with small steps. They ease into larger commitments over time. They work to keep the relationship balanced. This is "normality," when both Alice and Bob are happy with each other. If either feels they're not doing enough, they work harder until it is solid again.
Human social instincts are not perfect. There are at least three vulnerabilities in the bonding mechanism. These are triggers that Mallory can amplify to trap Bob or Alice. They are: sunk costs, future promises, and parental abuse. I'll take these one by one.
The sunk costs fallacy is well known in economics. No-one has explained it well, so I will try now. The symptom is, "I've spent so much money on this house, it must be good by now!" We know the house has problems, yet the more we spend on it, the more we believe in it. Even the smartest of us falls into this trap, over and over. Houses, businesses, cars, hobbies, all kinds of projects.
How do we value a project? We could put it up for sale and see what offers people make. Yet we tend to form emotional relationships with our projects. That is why we care for them. To offer them for sale violates the relationship. One cannot put a money figure on a relationship. Instead, we count our investments in the project. And we guess how much we feel it has given us back. We add these up. If we do come to a figure, it will be high.
The origin of what I'll call "social accounting" is clear. We're a predator species that survives risk by mutual sharing. When we succeed in a hunt we have more than we can consume or carry, so we share with others. When we fail, we beg. On average this exchange works out and keeps us alive. Yet it is vulnerable to freeloaders who cheat by always begging, never hunting. To beat them, we evolved identity to track other individuals, and social accounting to track their behavior over time.
Bob and Alice each hold a ledger in their minds. They keep a balance of gifts received and given. The more work it takes to calculate this balance, the more solid the bond feels. This is why the best gifts have no price tag. This is why money dissolves relationships like acid. This is why we can bond with a limited number of people. Our mental capacity is 150 ledgers, more or less.
The bookkeeping is delicate. We don't know the value of our gift to others. There are many intangibles like genetic closeness. We don't know the cost of their gifts to us. So we track the value of the gifts we received and the gifts we give. "He saved my life!" and "I gave her my last chicken." It is a one-sided ledger.
Further, we cannot read the other's ledger. We have to guess it. If we see the other person happy to see us, we assume our credit is good. Then we take our own valuation. If the other person is unhappy, we invest more until they are happy again. Then we again take our own valuation. If we feel we're getting too little from the other person, we become unhappy with them, and we dislike them.
You can see how the social emotions of like and dislike evolved. They are the language of social accounting. You can see why we read and interpret these emotions using empathy. You can see why empathy for these emotions is an adult mental tool. Juveniles do not take part in the risk sharing. We do not keep ledgers for juveniles, nor do we expect them to do that for us.
Social accounting achieves two things. First, it lets us detect and punish cheats. That takes no conscious thought. The ledger is out of balance. We dislike the cheats and then become angry with them. If they make enough effort, we become happy, and we like them again. If not, we stop sharing with them. Second, it lets us rank others from most to least important. Meaning, most to least likely to look after us when we are unlucky.
As such, social accounting is a good defense against cheats. I'd guess this mechanism evolved many millions of years ago. It is essential for high-risk hunting by larger groups (and I'd predict the same mechanisms in other social top predators).
Somewhat later, we evolved the ability to plan the future, and make promises. We often make and accept promises of future rewards, or just "futures". Futures are a large part of social accounting. It is how we stretch our risk balancing strategy forwards in time.
Like all gifts, we measure futures in the silence and privacy of our own minds. It is a bad tactic to tell others how you measure them, unless you dominate them. In the same way it is bad practice to tell others the futures you expect of them. Every relationship is a slow game, a negotiation. One does not show one's cards.
So when someone promises or reveals a future, that is a trigger. As the future gets larger, our response grows. When the reveal is modest, and thus looks sincere, our response grows. These futures tend to be basic: sexual gratification, protection, affection, time, resources, opportunities, contacts.
The further a future, the higher the risk of default and effort of enforcement. So we discount futures, using a hyperbolic curve. We discount a lot at first, then less over time. The closer the future, the higher we value it.
Somewhere close to the evolution of futures, we evolved the ability to lie. As I've said, Mallory is a professional liar. She is not just a good liar. She is a better-than-perfect liar. It is the key to her long-term success. Whereas Bob feels stress at lying, Mallory feels none. She fears no consequences. When Bob lies, he places his relationships at risk. Mallory has a different accounting model.
So to hack Bob's social accounting, Mallory lies about futures. Bob adds those futures to his ledger, and values the relationship higher. It sounds simple, yet that evolution must have taken hundreds of thousands of years. Presumably the necessary genes evolved in parallel with the genes for language.
Mallory meets Bob and reveals some future. She then asks for help, playing the victim. Bob starts to share. Mallory shows larger futures. Bob invests more. Mallory contrives a crisis, and makes it Bob's fault. He responds by investing more. He now values the relationship higher. Mallory gives a little, then repeats the cycle. She breaks the relationship again, and Bob repairs it, again. She can make Bob see this as the primary relationship in his life. He will sacrifice everything to make it work. It only ends when Bob is empty.
Futures tend to be massive compared to sincere investments. This means the bond works much faster than a normal social bond. In a typical case it takes only a few days for Mallory to hook Bob. It will take her only a few months to become the most important person in his life.
Over time, Mallory replaces the futures with Bob's debts. The advantage for her is that he can never pay them off. She controls that ledger, and no matter what he does, she adds new debts to it. The sooner she can do this, the sooner she can focus on other targets.
Sunk costs and future promises are the basis for many confidence tricks. The archetype is the Spanish Prisoner aka Nigerian advance-fee fraud. This is the backbone of the abusive bond. Even when Bob is bleeding empty, he will deny that Mallory is dishonest.
What do Mallory's ledgers look like? How does a psychopath do social accounting? In broad terms, they do not. They use different mechanisms to track their relationships. To start with, Mallory can hold many more ledgers than Alice. His Dunbar number is in the many hundreds. He does not track gifts. He does value his relationships relative to each other. He definitely knows who is most likely to feed him.
Mallory's ledger for Alice tracks the flow of resources from her to him. It tracks issues she appears to be sensitive to. Alleged crimes she has committed, that he can use as leverage. Often when he talks to Alice it is to try new accusations, and revisit old ones to see if they still work.
You can see that this ledger is not negotiated. Alice cannot get Mallory to change by being happy, nor angry. Her social instincts work against her.
This bond can last years, even a lifetime. Seen from the outside, it is incomprehensible and immoral. Yet it seems an inevitable consequence of the social accounting instincts. Evolution doesn't try to make everyone happy. It plays the averages. If 10% suffer so 90% can thrive, so be it.
Yet there are clear ways to escape this bond, no matter what stage it is in. I will come to this later. The suffering is only inevitable as long as Alice believes Mallory to be sincere.
"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man." -- Mark Twain
The third trigger is parental abuse.
As Mark Twain observed, the more someone invests in us, the less we value them. A visible effort by the other person diminishes them in our eyes. If a dominant man is generous to a submissive man, he creates a challenger. The submissive male sees the dominant male as weak and needy. Instead of affection, he feels antagonism and rebellion. This is our ancient primate mind at work, fighting its way up the group hierarchy.
Parental abuse triggers the opposite effect. It is the bond that children have with abusive parents. Mistreatment comes in many forms. It can come as verbal, emotional, or physical violence. It can come as physical confinement. It can be negligence of basic needs. It can be disregard for social cues and needs. We would expect children of abuse to hate and detest their parents. Instead, they tend to bond hard. They identify with their parents, defend them, excuse them, and follow them. The bond only breaks, if ever, when the children are adults.
The evolutionary benefits of responding like this are clear. To survive in an abusive family, a child must accept the abuse. To rebel is to starve. More, the child must push the worst of it onto his or her siblings. That means being the most enthusiastic defender, the first to comply.
To provoke the parental abuse response, Mallory pushes Bob towards childishness. When we think like juveniles, we respond like juveniles. We abandon our ledgers and social accounting. We do not negotiate. We submit, or we flee. Mallory has diverse tools to push Bob into this state. I'll cover them in “Attack and Capture”.
The parental abuse trigger is the basis for Stockholm Syndrome. That is the affection hostages feel for their kidnappers.
The mechanism at work is one of dominance and submission. When an individual tells us to do favors for them, we have several choices. We can comply or refuse. These are both submissive responses. We can also assert dominance by ignoring or mocking them. We can avoid the question by walking away. We can comply while mocking, which is a mixed response.
If we do comply, we accept dominance and we then feel attachment. It is not just favors. If an individual mistreats us, we again have the same possible responses. Ignore them, mock them, walk away, or accept. If we accept mistreatment, we accept dominance.
The worse the mistreatment, the stronger the dominance trigger, and the stronger the attachment.
Mallory is demanding with everyone she feels is under her spell. She puts on her anger mask at the slightest excuse. The verbal and emotional abuse she heaps on Bob can be astonishing.
Our oldest defense against predators of any species is other people. When we have trouble with someone, our first instinct is often, "discuss with others." When we keep our problems private, from isolation, or fear, it usually gets worse.
It is only through other people that we can understand the world. We may think of ourselves as clever individuals, yet that is self-flattery. We are only clever in groups. It is so easy for Mallory to lure people in. He spins them a fantasy, and sells it with promises, lies, threats, and half-truths. No-one is immune from such attacks, except other psychopaths.
As Mallory blasts Alice with exaggerated triggers, she loses her sense of normality. When she explains her life to others, they will tell her "this is not normal." She may be stubborn, so such advice can wash off. Yet it can be the voice of reason that saves her. It just takes one person who recognizes Mallory's true character.
So Mallory must separate Alice from the people she trusts and depends on. He does this through a series of "isolation attacks." He creates a bubble environment that he controls. He levers Alice into this environment. He keeps her isolated within it, so she cannot get help.
We see this pattern over and over. It can be one person controlling another. It can be a company asset-stripping its staff. A cult swindling its members. Mallory has many faces.
First, Mallory creates a bubble environment. In a couple, this will be "our new apartment." In a start-up, this will be "the new offices." In a cult, this will be "our new education center." The bubble looks and feels like home. It lacks the critical part of any home: real family.
Next, Mallory convinces Alice to move into the bubble. The further she moves from friends and family, the better for Mallory. The move is Alice's investment. It makes it harder for her to talk to others.
Now, Mallory starts to cut Alice's links to other people, one by one. He'll sow distrust by telling Alice stories of what people said about her. He'll create conflicts, and make Alice believe everyone hates her. While he is doing this, he will charm her family and friends. No-one will imagine Alice is in trouble.
When Mallory moves to isolate Alice, the stakes have risen high. This is the point where the young person leaves home, into the arms of a child abuser. This is where your brother packs a bag and moves into the cult compound. This is when the young couple announce they are moving in together. This is how the wealthy husband leaves his wife for a younger, prettier woman.
It is always a shock to friends and family. Alice abandons them for an unknown adventure. She uses passionate language. "Destiny!" she says, when people ask "why?" Mallory is discrete, charming, plausible.
If Alice was sober and able to listen, I'd try to warn her. Keep your assets out of the relationship at all costs, I'd say. Define boundaries and protect them with force if you must. Keep your friends and family close. Avoid physical vulnerability. Please don't trust Mallory, he is not what he seems to be.
Yet when Alice is moving in, it is already too late by months. You cannot treat addicts with logic. If there is a clear example of temporary insanity, this phase is it. Perhaps a dose of Clozapine or some other dopamine blocker would help.
Exploring in Safety
Reading this, you may ask how to avoid Mallory, and escape if she does decide you look interesting.
Locking yourself in a room is a poor option. People do try this. I do not recommend it. At the same time, if you walk among strangers, you will meet Mallory, over and over. It is as inevitable as day and night.
Another strategy is to become a "grey rock." This means, showing little or no response to anything people do or say. This is a decent strategy for surviving a psychopath in the room. Yet Bob and Alice don't like this and will avoid you. Grey rocks tend to be lonely, which is not a good thing.
You may ask, would it help to act more like a psychopath? It is a common question. There is this notion that psychopaths are successful, with their charm and social fluency. They do not suffer the bruises of emotions. They seem strong, even invincible. Does acting like Mallory give us immunity? The answer is "yes, except it's not that simple."
So then we ask: can we just identify the psychopaths, and avoid them? After all, we have checklists and personality tests. In theory, yes. I'll explore this in “Hunting Mallory”. In practice, the answer is "most often, no". Mallory has been fooling people since she was a toddler. She fools professionals: psychologists, law enforcement, judges. She fools people who see her every day for years: partners, children, close friends. What makes you special?
Where does this leave us? We cannot distrust everyone, or we become isolated and more vulnerable. We cannot extend blind trust to everyone, or we suffer wound after wound. We cannot tell who we can trust, and who we cannot. It seems like a paradox.
Yet what looks like a paradox is actually a set of false assumptions. First, that we can trust Alice and Bob, and we must distrust Mallory. Second, that we must decide alone, in our own minds. Third is that we must judge each case afresh, on its own merits. When we break down these assumptions, we solve the paradox.
The Theory of Trust
The psychopath manipulates trust. From the first seconds of a meeting to years later, Mallory insists: "trust me!"
So it's worth looking at trust. Trust is a hypothesis about a person's future acts towards us. "I trust her" is shorthand for, "my hypothesis is that she will not harm me." Like any hypothesis we cannot prove it is true. We can only try to falsify it, and fail.
To establish any depth of trust, we need opportunity and time. We need chances for the other person to break their trust. We need safe spaces where failures are not harmful. We need time for many such experiments. You need an unbiased observer to collect the data.
Mallory specializes in distorting this process. He expands experimental space far beyond what is safe. He forces conclusions based on too little data. He influences others to accept lies as truth. Mallory's logic is: you trust me, thus you must invest in our relationship, now.
As I explained, Mallory distorts our social accounting to make us trust him. Despite ourselves, we evolved to want to trust people. The more we work to establish trust with a psychopath, the worse our conclusions. This means that trust is a poor tool for predicting others' actions. It becomes a form of gambling. Most of the time we are lucky. We come to believe we are born lucky. Now and then we have horrid accidents. Then, we believe fate wants us to lose.
Consider this: you can create deep and loving relationships without depending on trust. Not that trust is absent. Rather, that it is not the basis for the relationship. Correlation is not causation. Trust is like happiness. It is a social emotion that you feel to show the other person how much you like them. Like happiness, it can come from real reasons, or fake ones, and we cannot tell.
If we cannot use our feelings of trust to predict another's actions, what do we use?
The answer is motivational awareness. That is, to develop an awareness of others' motivations and intentions. As part of that, we must also be honest about our own motivations. It is our own lies that trap us.
Why are we in this place at all? What are we looking for? Most often we disguise our own motivations. We do this for ourselves first, and for others thereafter. There is a social process. To put our needs on the table shortcuts this process, and invites rejection. One does not ask an unknown person, "are you single?" or "how much do you earn?"
Thus we often hide our desires and needs. Yet this does not hide them from Mallory. When we push our motivations out of sight, we create denial. When someone sees that denial and pushes the trigger, our response is higher.
So instead, we look for our motivations, with honesty. We accept them, and we then resolve them. There are not a huge number of possible motivations. Indeed the set is small and depends on our age, gender, and circumstances:
We look for people to trade our knowledge and skills with, to learn from, and work with.
We look for people to play with, be it mutual fun, or more sinister bullying.
We look for partners for casual affection, exploratory sex, and possible long term relationships.
We look for people to look after us, with advice, resources, affection, shelter.
We look for people to invest in, with our knowledge, resources, and affection.
We look for people to share experiences with, to make us feel safe and meaningful.
We look for people to like us, follow us, and listen to us, so we feel more important.
That is about it. It comes down to sharing knowledge, power, money, sex, security, attention, love, and care. We can not stop ourselves needing these at times in our lives. Yet how we respond to a trigger undergoes a dramatic change, when we accept our needs. Accept and embrace them, and they are no longer a vulnerability.
Let me illustrate. Imagine a homosexual man dealing with his sexual attraction to other men:
He may deny it, to conform to social expectations. This makes him vulnerable to predators, as he will ignore weak cues. He will respond only to the exaggerated cues that psychopaths are good at projecting.
He may accept and embrace it. This lets him recognize weak cues, and project them in turn. When someone projects exaggerated cues, he can now see these as a red flag.
Mallory picks up on the first case, to flip into a super-stimulus response. When you have hidden dreams and desires, you are vulnerable. Anyone with the talent can guess those dreams. And if they then promise to make them come true, they carve a hole into your mind. Yet if you embrace your desires and carry them in the open, it changes. You will find small, real comforts in most of the people you meet every day. It adds up to much more than any dream.
Normally, hiding our deepest desires, we see a crowd and feel, "most of these people are uninteresting." We narrow our vision and become passive, waiting for others to provoke a response in us. We appear bland, uninterested, perhaps shy and quiet. Every encounter feels risky, and if someone does break through our shields, we treat this as a special event.
When we understand, and accept our motivations, we can shift our perspective to "everyone here is interesting in some way." We broaden our vision and become active, trying to provoke a response in everyone we meet. We become playful, and outgoing. We have no shields to break. We're like a song bird sitting happily on every round object it sees, blue or not.
It is also healthy to understand the motivations of others around us. You can of course ask out loud, and get an answer. The answer will often be wrong in all the most important places. You have to go past spoken words and borrow one of Mallory's tricks.
When you are among strangers, practice cold reading them. Every person you see or meet is a story. Something happened to bring them to that exact place and time. What is their story? What are they hoping for, afraid of, dreaming of? Sometimes it is explicit, or obvious. Even then you will see layers. There is the story we show to others. There is the story we tell to ourselves. And there is the hidden truth.
It doesn't matter how well you guess. It is the perspective that matters. You can see strangers as words, bodies, and faces to respond to. Or you can see them as stories waiting to speak. That viewpoint lets you pick up on details that otherwise slip past you. Things people say, or don't say. The way they control, or respond to others. Their body language. How their friends act. Whether they appear alone, or part of a group. Whether they keep trying to get your attention, or not.
When you see strangeness, and you will, try to document it. Make a mental note and if you can, keep a journal. Anything that seems unusual. Over time you'll start to see patterns emerging. Many will be familiar from this book. You will start to see pain and hurt. You'll see through the many acts people play. You may now and then see Mallory, when she's not paying attention to you.
One of the core techniques to learn is emotional control. This is essential to escaping a relationship with a psychopath. It is also a useful skill in a broader social and professional context.
Like motivations, our emotions form an identifiable core set. These are universal across cultures, and live in our genes. The psychologist Paul Ekman proposed six original universal emotions. These were: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, and surprise. He seems to have missed jealousy, loneliness, despair, and self-pity and a few others. Later he added others including guilt and shame. The full list I explain in “The Dance of Emotions” runs to about fifty emotions.
The emotions evolved to coordinate our bodies for actions like fighting, or running away. They also evolved as a language that expresses on our faces and bodies. This is a universal language that babies can speak before they can form words. They live in the areas of our brain also responsible for empathy. These are the anterior insula and the amygdala. These areas also process our sense of smell. In humans this sense has strong ties to emotions.
Psychopaths do not have the same wiring in these areas of the brain. It's not clear yet what their anterior insula and amygdala do. Perhaps emotional mimicry that drives facial expressions. In any case, they do not experience the same range of emotions as non-psychopaths. Their emotional range is limited, as I'll explain in “The Dance of Emotions”. They have limited empathy. They have no disgust at mutilation, visible or imagined. They have a different sense of smell.
As a social human, we cannot control how our emotions display. If we feel an emotion, it shows. This is their value as social signals: they are honest. To fake or suppress an emotion takes training, or psychopathic talent.
While emotions are powerful social signals, they also affect our senses and behavior. If we feel a strong emotion, that affects how we see others. If we are happy, we see others in a positive light. If we are sad or anxious, we see others in a worse light.
Since they affect our awareness, emotions also make us vulnerable. If Mallory makes us happy, we like him more. If Mallory makes us jealous of someone, we start to hate that person. If Mallory makes us afraid, we will do what he demands.
To see clearly, and to resist Mallory's attacks, we must control our own emotions. Controlling your emotions is as hard as faking them. I'm sure there are many techniques. I call my technique "grounding." It works by identifying and resolving emotions one by one. I'll explain grounding in detail in “The Dance of Emotions”. For now, here is a summary.
The basis for grounding is that emotions are distinct, yet trigger in chains. Fear of being alone may trigger jealousy of others. That may trigger anger, which in turn triggers shame. The result is a soup of emotions, dominated by anger and shame. We can learn to identify the strongest emotion, shame, and sense what triggered it.
We can then work backwards until we come to the root emotion. The root emotion rests on a belief that we can negate. That fear of being alone is baseless. Doing that, the fear disappears. And then the whole chain of emotions is gone.
One of my sons is angry with his brother. I can see the small jealousies that provoke it. Those come from insecurity. Rather than ask them to stop bickering, I cuddle them both. The insecurity and jealousy and anger disappear.
To fake an emotion you do the same in reverse. Start with a belief or hypothesis that generates a strong emotion. Let this trigger other emotions. Express these emotions. It can be a useful skill if you need it. For one thing, Mallory does not expect it from others.
Grounding works in real-time, when you are in a difficult situation. You do not need peace and quiet. It does take practice, for most people.
It can help you deal with people who antagonize you, in real life and on line. A common root belief is, "feeling and expressing this emotion will get them to behave better." That is false with trolls and psychopaths.
The focus on others is a form of active meditation. Mallory likes you to listen to her and think of yourself, so she can push your buttons. That only works if you are unaware and lost in your own thoughts. It is good to search for others' motivations. It is also good to understand the situations you find yourself in.
This means active listening and watching. Even among strangers, the most valuable data about a person comes from other people. It is a good question to ask: "how long have you known each other, and how did you meet?" When you observe how one person affects a group, you can tell a lot about them. This is much harder when it's just the two of you.
So situational awareness is social awareness. Each person tells you their stories, and you build small theories of each person. Other people add weight to these theories, or falsify them. You throw away the theories that break, keep the ones that work. This sounds like a lot of effort. Yet it's just a set of small habits you can teach yourself, over months and years.
Once you are good at this, you can understand the dynamics of dozens of people, in a short time. You can respond in ways that deflect conflict, and absorb shotgunning without effect. You can start to see psychopaths by reflection off others.
It is wise to stay alert, sober, and with friends when possible. Alcohol and fatigue make it harder to stay aware of the people around you.
Finally, situations are not context-free. The question is, how much of the context do you know? You will always be safer in a place that you are familiar with. You will know the kinds of people who come there, and why. You will know the economics of the place. In an unfamiliar place, you have to guess these, and you will often be wrong.
This doesn't mean avoiding the unknown. It is only by exploring the unknown that we can learn. This applies to people and places alike. The point of context is to know that we're out of our depth. If you are in an unfamiliar place your first goal should be to understand it.
You can look at a place in several ways. One perspective that you can try is that of the hunter. What are they looking for? Are you being that person? If so, what can you change to regain control of the situation.
For example, I've traveled and worked a lot in Africa. A non-African always attracts interest, for various reasons. Much of this interest is constructive and benign. Some is life-changing in the best way. And a lot is predatory, pure and simple. The best way to escape the stream of predators is to stay away from other non-Africans. This either means staying locked up in a hotel room, or making local friends. The second strategy is by far the more pleasant.
In this chapter I've described the first half of the psychopathic relationship. I've explained how Mallory can trick otherwise sane people into insane commitments. Her goal is to isolate her target. Alone, they will give her what she wants.
Maybe I've made it seem easy for Mallory. And often it seems to be. Yet the stakes are high on both sides. If her trap fails, Mallory has lost an opportunity. Worse, she may have revealed herself. So she must select her targets with care.
The best defenses against a psychopath are proactive. It is easier to keep Mallory away, than to fight her off once she is part of your life. I've explained how to be aware of oneself and others, of the situation and context. When you need nothing, and accept everything, you are immune to Mallory's charms.
This strategy is not only an effective tool against Mallory. It also lets you build deeper, more solid relationships with Bobs and Alices. To find every person interesting is a humanistic and optimistic perspective.
Yet there are no guarantees. You, or someone you care about, will sooner or later get caught. Mallory will switch from charm and promises to different shades of violence. In the next chapter I'll explain how this works and what it looks like.