Chapter 4. The Feeding
The Doctor's Daughter
"You're looking chubby," he tells her, concerned, over dinner. She touches her face. She leaves her dessert. No appetite. They've been arguing a lot recently. She can't get it. The first year they were together, he was fine. It is as if he became a different person.
Their fifth anniversary is coming up. He promises to take her out. She buys a new dress, she wants to be beautiful for him. On the day itself, he has to meet people. He will be home late. She spends the evening alone at home, hurt and angry. He comes home after midnight. He slides into bed beside her. She smells the alcohol, and pretends to be asleep.
He's studying again. Business school, this time. Before that, marketing. Before that, Eastern philosophy. He studies evenings and weekends. She works office hours. They live together like uncomfortable strangers in an elevator. She wishes he'd get a proper job. When she says this, they fight. "They're racist!" he tells her. "You don't know how hard it is for a black man. You whites," he says, and she winces. "Go study," she says, "I want you to be happy."
Her mother never liked him. "He's not a nice man," she says, shaking her head, after meeting him. "He doesn't make you happy." She cuts her mother off, refuses to talk to her again. He is handsome. He is full of love. He makes her passionate and come alive. When she is with him, she feels energized, euphoric. It is magical. How can her mother be so petty and jealous?
"You have to forgive her," he tells her. "Her generation aren't used to foreigners. Jealousy and hate, I know it so well. She'll get over it in time." His eyes are moist and she sees five hundred years of pain. She hugs him and wonders how her mother can be so small-minded. She tries to kiss him, and he turns away. "I'm tired," he says, "Tomorrow."
They are always in debt. She doesn't understand it. Before she met him, she'd never owed anyone money. She saved every month. Now, it seems she is scrabbling at every turn. They spend so much, on wasteful luxuries. Trips they can't afford. Eating out, several times each week. A new car. New furniture. The worst part: he neglects everything.
He takes the car and brings it back with scratches. Then, dents and broken lights. What happened? she asks, furious and shocked. "Some idiot backed into me," he says. It is always someone else's fault. "Did you fill in the insurance form?" she asks. "He drove off! I called the police of course."
She gets the post. Credit card statement. She opens it, glances at the total. What?! She reads again. No mistake. It's more than her monthly salary. Her hands tremble, as she looks through the details. Some mistake! This isn't her. She tries to make sense of the text. Her mind is slipping on ice. She grapples for balance.
The bank! The number is there on her statement. She calls them. Give me a real person... give me a person... ah.. "There's been a mistake on my credit card" she blurts. They calm her down. Client number. Name. OK. They check. Madam, was your credit card stolen? "No," she says, "no, it wasn't. I have it right here." Sorry madam, these are legitimate purchases. All confirmed with PIN code." She frowns. Who else knows her PIN code apart from her husband...?
When he comes back from his studies, she confronts him. He denies it flat out. "It's one of those websites you shop on. I told you not to trust the Internet," he says. "Cancel the card, and if the bank won't refund you, change banks. Damn thieves." It does not end well. She argues with her bank manager, and closes her accounts there. After years of the same bank! She sits shivering in anger, fear, insecurity. Her world is collapsing.
One day, she is too sick with flu to go to work. In the post she gets a letter with a court summons in her name. Unpaid traffic fines, more than a year of them. Her mind finds itself on slippery ice again. This is impossible! She parks with such attention! There's a number for the bailiff. She calls to ask for details. The female voice is happy to explain. Eleven different parking violations. Unpaid despite many reminders for each one. Fines and costs are now over three thousand dollars. She sits in shock, unable to process.
I'm going mad, she thinks. I can't take this. She weeps slow hot tears as she takes the bottle of sleeping pills, and puts a handful in her mouth. The black void pulls at her. Come, it says, why fight?
And then her phone rings. It's him. "Where are you?" he asks, without pause. "At home," she tries to say. It comes out as a nasal mumble. "Don't expect me home this evening," he continues, as if she'd not spoken. "I've got stuff to do, put the garbage out, OK?" He cuts the conversation. She holds the phone, stares out of window at the wordless city.
In her mind, an ancient door slides open. Something steps out. "No," it says, "not that way. We fight." The bottle of pills drops from her hand. Cold anger wipes out her self-pity. She spits the pills out onto the carpet.
She goes to the cupboard where her husband keeps his papers and books. It's locked as always. She has a second key that he never knew about. She opens it. Inside there are piles of papers. She takes the piles one by one and goes through them. Finally she sees it: a plastic bag with letters. They are all addressed to her. Dozens and dozens of them.
The tickets. Then reminders. And second reminders, then final warnings, and penalties, and letters from lawyers...
She confronts him when he gets home. Waves the papers in his face, shouting, what is this? What IS this?
He looks at the letters, and then at her, and then explodes in rage. "You looked through my papers? How DARE you?" He slaps her, once, and then again, harder. She falls to the floor, in shock. He kicks her in the ribs, in the face, in the back. He shouts. "Never." Kick. "Touch." Kick. "My stuff!" Kick!
In the hospital, they recognize her name, and call her mother. The doctor checks her daughter. Nothing broken. She asks, "Did he do this?" and her daughter nods. She calls the police, who send a unit. They write up a statement, and then go to arrest him. He does not deny hitting her. It was her fault, he explains. She told me I'm too poor for her, and she kept taunting me with racist slurs. In the end I couldn't help it, I got angry. It's terrible, and I feel so bad about it. He is crying, miserable, a broken man.
He is not charged, instead they both get warnings, he for assault, and she for hate crimes. Much later, at home, he tells her he's sorry, and that he loves her. She looks at him, and sees the man she fell in love with. For a brief moment she feels the connection again. She wants this so much, and she's so afraid of what comes next. And then she remembers his violence, his lies, his stealing. The other voice speaks. "Get out," it says, and she takes a step towards him. "Make me!" he says, but takes a step back.
When we meet others suffering from abusive relationships, our first response is often disbelief. "Leave!" we say. "Change jobs! Divorce! Move out!" Yet that is like saying to a sick person, "Get better!" The victims find themselves tied down by a web of lies, promises, and threats. Escape can seem impossible. Captivity and suffering seem inevitable.
In this chapter I'll describe the second half of the psychopathic relationship: the Feeding. The word sounds like there's a deadly blow. A bite to the throat, then the ripping of bloody flesh. Yet, that's not how it generally works.
What we see is the victim accepting, even embracing their situation. If others criticize them, they become defensive, and hostile. They protect their abuser, praise him or her. They produce tortured rationalizations that make you ask, "are you crazy?" to which the unspoken answer is, "yes, at least for now."
How does this happen? How does a psychopath force adult humans to accept such pain, neglect, and violence?
I've been researching mind control techniques since the late 1990's. I stumbled onto the Cult Information Centre, a website describing how cults work. The loss of self within a consuming group... it was familiar. It reminded me of working in large businesses. Or military service.
What I found interesting was how many of these techniques seem to work both ways. One theme that we'll see in this chapter is pushing people into a juvenile state of mind. The adult mind needs real (even small) problems to chew on, and freedom to solve them. It's like a muscle that needs real work and freedom to move. Take away real problems, or remove freedom, and the adult mind weakens and shrivels. This leaves the juvenile mind unprotected. And that is far easier to push around.
If you give people full freedom and responsibility, then their adult minds get stronger. This can make them rebellious, if you are a tyrant. What it also does is unleash a self-controlled creativity.
My business is making software. To be more precise, I build on-line communities, and help them to make software. One tactic I used was to take the cult techniques and reverse them. Cults use arbitrary, inconsistent rules. Healthy communities need consistent, pragmatic rules. Cults form a pyramid of power. Healthy communities form a network of peers. And so on. Cults tell their members what to do, and when. Healthy communities self-organize around real problems.
So we can learn a lot of positive lessons, from the worst things people do to each other. Bear this in mind as you read this chapter, else it may be quite unhappy reading.
Let's recap. Mallory has persuaded Alice to invest a relationship where she's losing control. She's stopped building up her own future and is handing over resources to Mallory. In a normal healthy relationship the two parties complement and strengthen each other. The psychopathic relationship is one-sided. Mallory takes everything he can, and gives as little back as necessary.
Keep in mind, it is about economics: money or time or sex. Sometimes access to property or assets. Sometimes power of different kinds, when it benefits Mallory in some tangible way.
In pop culture, the psychopath is the caricature of an unpredictable and deadly killer. It is how the mouse describes the cat. "The monster was upon us! All teeth and claws... it got my family, luckily I escaped! Crazy!!" The cat does not share mouse emotions and psychopaths do not feel social emotions. No hate, fear of rejection, jealousy or self-pity. And no revenge, nor even enjoyment in the pain of others.
Psychopaths are scary because they can inflict extraordinary damage onto others without restraint. Their emotional states are those of a predator. That's it. How do you talk to animal hunger? Yet I suspect the worst monsters in history are social humans. People who are aware of the pain they cause, driven by beliefs that can seem insane. At least Mallory follows the logic of the predator.
So the "why?" is easy to understand and predict with psychopaths. As long as Alice has something of value to offer, Mallory keeps the web strong and tight. As Mallory drains Alice he shifts gears and prepares to exit in safety.
Until that point, Mallory must ensure that Alice stays put. This is no simple task. We're all the descendants of an unbroken chain of survivors. There has been a long arms race between human predator and human prey. This gives even the nicest of us strengths to call on when we need them.
Alice is an adult, and capable of walking out of the door at any point. Mallory cannot stop her by physical force. He doesn't need to. Instead, He explains to Alice, in different ways, that she has no choice but to stay. There are many ways to do this. These are Mallory's main tactics:
Cut Alice off from the outside world and sources of help.
Strip Alice's assets so she becomes too poor to leave.
Keep Alice confused so she accepts Mallory's arguments.
Break Alice's empathy and ability to care for others, and herself.
Break Alice's ability to think and make plans.
Regress Alice to a juvenile state so she accepts her situation.
Mallory could be an organization rather than a person. Organizations tend to take on the characters of their founders. When psychopaths bring people together, we see the same patterns as between individuals. We see this in organizations like investment banks, cults, and VC-funded startups. They tend to abuse their members more than they abuse the rest of the world.
That Big, Bad World
Every cult and police state does the same cheap trick: "they hate us for our freedoms!" This refers to the devastated wastelands of the outside world, filled with roaming zombies. The message is clear: "stay here and follow The Rules, and you will be safe. Leave, and your death will be slow and nasty."
It is already hard for a single mind to make sense of an infinite and chaotic universe. We depend on others for our sense of reality, even our memories. It is the power of a social species, and also its weakness. An isolated individual is much easier to manipulate.
An antagonistic "them and us" mentality is a red flag. If your company defines itself by hate for its competitors, watch out. With individuals it's harder to see. The first thing you may see (and often, accept as truth) is a "trail of tears." Here, Mallory plays the victim. She tells convincing stories of abuse from her parents, teachers, and ex-partners.
After you have accepted Mallory's vulnerability, she learns your most important relationships. Then she breaks them, one by one.
Our relationships are rarely strong enough to survive deliberate attack. I once knew a man who's job it was to recruit experts. He didn't wait for people to answer ads. Instead, he just called a business. He chatted to the receptionist and asked, "can I speak to your best
Once upon a time a small software firm called Borland made the best software in the world. They made compilers, spreadsheets and databases. They threatened Microsoft's business. Microsoft responded not by making their own software better and cheaper. Instead they hired away Borland's key staff, one by one. The dying firm sued, then settled and was then swallowed up piece-meal, for peanuts.
People asked, at the time, how Borland's staff could be so disloyal. Yet it was easy, and cheap. Send limousines, offer million-dollar signing bonuses. Make it clear that the number of seats is limited. If you don't join us, your junior colleague will, and one day you will beg to work for him or her.
There are so many ways to create conflict between people, no matter how close. Psychopaths excel in doing this, if they can see both parties and get a sense of each.
Here are some ways Mallory discourages Bob from an independent social life:
Showing violent jealousy when he speaks to someone of the opposite gender. It's love, right?
Reporting others plotting against him, with convincing detail. Of course they deny it. That just goes to prove.
Forcing Bob to spend so much time on other tasks that he neglects his social life. It is all about priorities.
Accusing Bob's family of prejudice and a hateful attitude. They never understood him, never accepted his choices.
Hinting that Bob's colleagues are getting unfair promotions or earning more than him. She's obviously sleeping with the boss.
Showing flashes of "crazy" to Bob's acquaintances so they learn to stay away.
Encouraging Bob to change his behavior and act weird, so others start to avoid him. Here's a new shirt I bought you. Bright colors suit you!
Forcing a move to a new city or country where Bob knows no-one. We have to move, it's best for my studies. We'll be together :)
Criticizing Bob so he loses the confidence needed to make new friends. Your friends say you're overweight, so you might want to wear baggy clothes.
If Mallory is an organization, most of these tactics still work:
Did you go for a job interview with another firm? That's treachery... You're fired!
Every quarter we expect you to rank your colleagues. Oh, and they will rank you.
Yes, we expect you to work evenings and weekends. Other people want your position.
You need to explain to your wife how important your work is. Make her understand.
Employee grade levels and salary data are secret. You negotiate alone.
Next Saturday is team building day. Your voluntary presence is mandatory.
You're going on a two week intolerance awareness program.
Good news, you're promoted. How do you feel about moving across country?
Your peer ranking for the last quarter was 20% lower than average.
If Bob insists on an independent social life, Mallory creates a crisis. In a couple, she packs her bags and walks out. A group threatens its non-compliant member with expulsion. "Imagine if you lose this job, and your health benefits. Do you want to risk that?" This is usually enough to break Bob's resistance. Bob is so lost, so in love, so addicted to Mallory that he will do anything to get her back. If swallowing her persecution complex is what it takes, so be it.
The Uphill Struggle
There is the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus, whom Zeus sentenced to forever pushing a rock up a mountain. Every time he got near the top, the rock would slip out of his grip and roll back to the bottom.
At the heart of every psychopathic relationship is a Sisyphean Mountain. The victim or victims push their heavy rocks up this mountain. The rocks always slip and roll back to the bottom.
This is part of the Narrative: work harder and your life may improve. If you aren't in a great place today, it's because you're not trying hard enough. Yet no matter how hard Bob tries, that rock keeps slipping out of his grasp.
Go into almost any large business and you will see a Sisyphean Mountain, rising up. Cathedrals where the elites sit high and the masses toil in the lower levels. Work hard, says the Narrative, and you may rise and rise. In reality, no. That is not how it works. You will fall off, and it will be your fault.
We also see a great deal of Sisyphean Mountain propaganda in our media. It shows beautiful people, expensive lifestyles, desirable sexual partners, large homes, frequent luxury travel. This represents the top of the mountain. We are then encouraged to climb this mountain, at all costs. The 2015 movie Entourage is a prime example.
We take such organizations and cultural models as the norm, and yet they are predatory, and psychopathic.
Follow the Money
Here is some advice for those seeking a partner, a new job, a new client or supplier. If you don't enjoy a meeting with someone, wait before calling them back. Either you feel happy and content and snug with them, or you don't. After a date, interview, or business meeting, we often ask the wrong questions. We ask, "are they the right person for me?" Or, "will she sleep with me on our next date?" Or, "will they pay me enough?" Or "does he like me?"
The correct question is: "did that moment make me happier or not?" Keep asking this question over time. Your first dates with Mallory will almost always be fun. It takes time for the pain to emerge.
Back to Alice, who is pushing her rock up that mountain. Mallory goads her on with comments about her lack of style, and weight. She is so focused on her rock that she does not see what is happening to her world.
Psychopaths are often mysterious until you look at the economics of the relationship. Then it usually becomes as clear as a deer halfway down a boa's mouth. The predator feeds. This means taking resources from Alice until she is empty. This is the core of the relationship, as far as Mallory cares.
It is often about money, time, or sex. Yet the range of resources Mallory may in fact be taking from Alice is quite broad:
Mallory will use people as cover. An organization will recruit people to boost its numbers. This projects a more solid and trustworthy image to potential targets. The recruits may believe they are getting a good job or a path to paradise. Yet they are fodder for whatever insane projects the organization comes up with. Many psychopaths will marry and have children. This screen of normality makes their hunting easier.
Mallory will use people for sexual gratification. This gives a sense of power. I believe this is more common for male psychopaths (using women and/or men). It is rarely rape, since half the kick for Mallory is to get his target to say "yes". Yet it often skirts close to rape. Robert Hare has estimated that 50% of serial rapists are psychopaths.
Mallory will ask for money, slowly yet obsessively. Mallory might target his wife's life savings. It comes as hints, pleas, manipulations against her family, requests for help to start a small business, then losses, and the need for more. If he makes modest demands then he follows with immodest ones. In business, a corrupt startup may ask its investors for more funds to avoid bankruptcy. The total over time will be huge and crippling.
Mallory will offer his targets a lucrative business opportunity. There will be some show of early profits, and the promise of huge annual returns. If Alice invests, she will not see his money back. Pyramid schemes are a classic psychopath construction. If Alice challenges Mallory, he will insist on his innocence. He will then ask for more money to make things work again. Alice often falls for that. The psychology of sunk costs I explained in “Attack and Capture” is powerful.
Mallory will use people as slaved labor. He has no remorse doing this. He will justify it in creative ways. "I saved them from a worse fate," or "They are paying back their debt to me." In an organization, this means volunteers and interns, cheap foreign labor, and extreme overtime. In a family, you will see Mallory avoiding work and delegating to others. In cults and prisons, you get outright slave labor.
Mallory will convert others' assets by claiming "yours is ours is mine". In marriage, Mallory insists on sharing all property and savings. This makes them easy to plunder. Yet he will keep his own assets hidden. In business, a startup may tell its new hires, "You are part of this!" and even give them a nominal shareholding. In return the employee must contribute all their time. If the firm ever makes profits, or sells for a large amount, the employee gets little back.
Mallory will create debt and push that onto others. He uses the reverse "mine is ours is yours" principle. This is common in business deals and marriages with psychopaths. Mallory borrows money in the name of the joint venture, and hides or spends that money. He then defaults, leaving Alice to pay the bill.
Mallory will encourage Alice to invest in new assets. This could be a new company, or property. Mallory always gets enough of a stake to be able to steal. He often insists he is the only trustworthy party. "You are too old and senile to recognize crooks!" he tells Alice, who must sign over full control of the new assets.
Mallory will steal and defraud whenever he believes he can get away with it. This is consistent, whether the amounts are a few dollars or millions. The price to the victim is irrelevant. All that matters is the benefit/risk ratio for Mallory. Fraud works better when he knows and profiles his victims in advance. So for example, if Mallory shoplifts his groceries, he sticks to shops he knows. If he steals old peoples' identities, he targets people she knows and can control.
If Mallory gets caught, he always denies the facts, and blames someone else. It may be the victim. It may be other bystanders. He denies responsibility even when confronted with material evidence. There will be no remorse, no attempts to make it right, no apologies.
The Ukrainian serial murderer Andrei Chikatilo said, about his 50-60 victims: "I did not need to look for them. Every step I took, they were there."
For every wallet and every heart, there is a story that will open it. Sometimes it's being the tragic victim of a cruel world. Sometimes the wallet opens for false promises. "Let's invest in tulip bulbs! I've a cousin who's importing them." "We should build an extension to the house. My friend will come and help." Sometimes it is simple blackmail. Give me a new car, or I'm leaving. Sometimes objects of value disappear.
Wherever there are flows of money, Mallory tries to get control over them. In an organization he will try to be treasurer or get spending authority. In a family, he will "hold the purse." Mallory is as negligent in paying bills as he is quick to steal. This combination is a recipe for ruin.
Many business do go bankrupt like this. Yet many more do not. It is interesting to look at the design of a modern business. The concept of a limited-liability entity may seem sinister. How can a business be a "legal person?" How is it ethical to allow a business to take risks that do not carry onto their owners? Is this a conspiracy by capitalism to defraud the general public?
In fact a business entity is a one-way trapdoor. It stops debt moving back onto investors. Most often the investors are not the ones running the business. Without such a trapdoor, Mallory can borrow heavily, steal the cash, and run off.
Modern States demand annual accounts from businesses. They give owners the right to inspect these accounts. They let owners question their business managers to justify them. They often separate the roles of treasurer and chief executive. All this reduces the scope for fraud.
So the core of modern business law is an anti-psychopath defense.
The French proverb Les bons comptes font les bons amis applies here. Some misinterpret this as "debts must be repaid as fast as possible." It just means that any relationship must balance.
If you look at the accounting, an abusive relationship shows up right away. "We're in an open relationship," Mallory says. He knows Alice will try harder and harder to get him to commit. Meanwhile he is "free" to sleep with other women.
We've evolved many defenses against predators looking to empty our real or social wallets. Another of those defenses is the ritual of gift giving. This is a fascinating part of human culture. We get so much pleasure from our rituals of exchanging gifts. And particularly when they are heavy with emotional value. We get such pleasure from making a successful gift. That shows how important the ritual is.
Gift giving can take different forms. I believe that it's fine to work for free. It is also fine to charge a full price for your services. The first is a gift. The second is a transaction, not an investment. What I will not do is work at less than my worth, on the basis of future rewards. This is something I've learned to avoid, unless I'm working for myself.
You should be free to walk away from any relationship, at any time. This includes personal, business, and social relationships. It does not mean lack of commitment. It means clarity and freedom. When a relationship is healthy and makes you happy, you have no reason to end it. And when it is unhealthy and makes you unhappy, you should not have to continue it.
Techniques of Confusion
Mallory must keep Bob captive and docile while she feeds. She most often uses words rather than chains. She is a convincing speaker, quick to find the right thing to say. She is always confident and dominant. To hold Bob captive without chains, she keeps him in a state of confusion. There are many techniques, and I'll try to cover the main ones.
It's not Me, it's You
There is a certain kind of lie that Mallory uses, called "gaslighting." He does this to confuse Alice, by messing with her memory and sense of reality. The term comes from a play and 1944 movie, "Gaslight." As Wikipedia notes, "Sociopaths frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths consistently transgress social mores, break laws, and exploit others, but typically, are also charming and convincing liars who consistently deny wrongdoing."
Some classic forms of gaslighting are:
To lie about important past conversations. "You told me I could borrow the car! You even gave me your credit card so I could fill the gas tank!"
To lie about past agreements. "We agreed you would invest in my firm if I tried to get you a meeting with the vice-president. Well I tried, and now you owe me that investment!"
To lie about irrelevant details. "No, we didn't have Italian yesterday, it was sushi. You had the maki, remember."
To lie about others' perception of her. "Everyone tells me how paranoid you have become."
Mallory prefers to lie in private. When Alice is alone and cut off from other people, she wants to believe Mallory. Faced with a constant flow of untruths, she starts to doubt her memories and even her sanity. This is a pragmatic tool for mind control. Unscrupulous interrogators can use it to extract false confessions.
The Gods of Lies
Mallory lies to confuse her victims. She also lies to conceal. She conceals who she talks to, where she goes, and what she does. She is so secretive about her real life that even her own family are unaware. And Mallory lies for profit, to escape criminal prosecution, and to frame other people. She mixes lies into banal truth, to confuse and distract.
Mallory is Loki, the shape-shifting Norse god of trickery and untruths. Her love and talent for lying are central to her predatory nature. To be a predator is to deceive your prey. When she lies, no matter the occasion, she feels the thrill of the chase.
I've seen Mallory lie, and it is a remarkable thing. I'm sure she can stroll through lie detector tests without leaving a trace. It goes further than not showing a stress response. When she tells you that black is a shade of white, it feels better than the truth.
How does Mallory do this? How does Mallory project untruth to feel more solid than mere statements of fact? I think it is another blue egg story. Mallory mimics the signals for sincerity, and speaks with authority and confidence. This triggers our belief response. The more the psychopath amplifies those signals, the more we believe. It is like Puss in Boots' wide eyes in the movie Shrek 2.
To understand how Mallory can lie like Loki, first accept that we all lie. We start lying as young children and we socialize ourselves out of it. We become honest liars. We accept and repeat stories we know are only partly true yet are better than empty space. All stories are lies to some degree. "It is sunny outside" is a lie. What does "sunny" mean? Half-true stories make the world simpler and more digestible. This book is full of such stories. Only a dysfunctional mind cannot deal with gentle lies.
So we all lie, and we know this about each other. It is a human universal. Truth is a negotiated average of semi-lies. We have evolved ways to get more accurate stories by talking to each other. "It's sunny outside," says one person. "I just saw dark clouds on the horizon," says another. Together they get a better story: "it's sunny and may rain later." The stories become solid, reproducible. We build them into theories, share them and pass them on.
So as we talk, we exchange fluffy lies and distill them into hard truths. For this to work, we must try to believe people even when we guess they are inaccurate. We measure the speaker for sincerity, and when we see that, we accept. The more sincere the speaker, the more we accept. We can always correct mistakes later.
Social humans cannot fake sincerity, by definition. When we tell an "honest" lie, we are sincere about it. When we tell a deliberate lie, we show tiny twitches. Our imaginations take over from our memories, and the shift in gears shows in our eyes. So, we are honest liars.
Mallory is different. She fakes sincerity like she fakes anger, affection, jealousy, sadness. From an early age she studies others' faces and body language. She becomes a perfect mimic. She is born with this talent, visible in some children just a few years old. She can amplify the triggers at no cost, so she is better than the original.
The second thing about Mallory's lies is how rich and detailed they are. You can of course catch her out, if you know what is going on. If you don't then you just get a convincing flood of detail. It is as if Mallory creates an imaginary situation, then describes this to you.
Mallory does not seem to try to remember these imaginary situations. Maybe there are too many, for too many different people. So the reliable way to catch her lies is to record them, and compare them over time.
It is how some psychologists get the truth out of people. Ask the same question in five different ways, and compare the answers. A sincere person will tell the same story five times. A psychopath may change the story each time. This is how honest police work, when questioning a suspect. For this to work, I think the questions must come from different people, and over time.
If Mallory has children, they grow up with her lies as a daily diet. The children of narcissists often report having above-average memories for events and conversations. This is anecdotal data. It could be correlation as well as causation. Mallory, after all, has genetic talents for conversation and mimicry. Her children inherit these, to some extent.
Machines of Chaos
Many children of psychopaths describe their parents as "chaos machines." Mallory spreads chaos in different ways. He tends to disrupt the lives of everyone around him. Sometimes it looks like incompetence, sometimes like neglect, and sometimes like simple carelessness. I've come to believe it's deliberate, even if it's often subconscious. Organizations often use the same techniques:
Chaotic planning, in which Mallory's time is precious and Alice's time is worthless. Mallory will make short-term demands of Alice. This interrupts her schedule and makes a mess of her planning. If Alice dares to act like this, Mallory attacks her irresponsibility and punishes her.
Alice may lose all control over her schedule, leaving Mallory to plan her every move. This is typical of cults, and also happens in some relationships and some organizations. Mallory can combine this with sleep deprivation. Then Alice has no private time in which to analyse her situation.
Removing Alice's personal spaces. Organizations often do this by creating communal areas for working, eating, and meeting. Some psychopathic businesses ban all personalization. They enforce "order" and sterility of spaces, the so-called "clean desk" principle. Since humans are territorial, the lack of any private space damages our self-confidence.
Mistreating or neglecting items that Alice cares about. Organizations may ban personal choices when it comes to items people identify with. Here, you will use a corporate laptop. In personal relationships, Mallory will mistreat Alice's property: cars, apartments, photographs, clothes. It is violence by proxy. It depresses her, and she then detaches. She realizes she cannot stop such mistreatment. So she stops trying, and stops caring. And the less she cares about her possessions, the less she cares about herself.
So chaos can take various forms. An employer may demand that Bob give up his free time. The firm may send him on business trips without notice. They may put him on irregular and disruptive shifts. At the same time, Bob will have to plan his vacation six months in advance. He may not know until the last minute whether he will actually be able to leave.
In the home, Mallory will go out, and return, without warning. He will bring home spectacular and flashy dramas involving real or imaginary protagonists. He will crash the car and it will never be his fault. He will start disruptive projects like renovations and insist everyone get involved. And he will leave these projects half-finished for months or years. He plans tasks for others, yet rarely shares his own calendar.
If talking to others is hard, maybe Alice can find a quiet moment to herself. Just to process the day's events. Mallory makes sure this is impossible. Early in their relationship, he will cling to Alice day and night. He smothers her with chatter, intense sexual activity, and passionate arguments. Later, he disrupt Alice's schedule with endless trivial-yet-urgent tasks, so she cannot relax. And later, he builds up the ever-present threat of emotional and physical violence. Alice retreats into depression and starts to shut down.
Rigid sterile order has the same effect as chaos. Imagine that someone goes into your email every night and messes with your emails. They delete some, move others to the wrong folders, and so on. It is all "clean" and yet nothing is where it should be. At first you get irritated and angry. Then you try to take steps to stop it. When all this fails, you give up and abandon your email. Or, you accept that someone else is now in charge of your life.
In a world of chaos, we regress to juvenile acceptance of authority. This reaction is well known to propagandists, who depend on it. Keep your public on a steady diet of shock and horror chaos. They won't question the corruption and repression.
Magic and Illogic
Karl Popper wrote: "We are social creatures to the inmost center of our being."
Our superpower, as a species, is to think together about large problems. We do this by building theories of the world. We refine these over time, and we teach them to younger generations. Our minds collect observations and use them to test our theories. We do this from our first to our last breath.
We seem to construct theories out of nothing. We take observations and gut feelings. We chatter with others, and with ourselves. We take the endless theories delivered to us by past generations. We design new, or improved theories. We encode them in language and words. And we argue, remember, and share them.
Popper argued that there are two kinds of theory. There are scientific theories, which we can falsify with data or observations. And there are magical theories, which we cannot. To put this another way: you cannot ever prove that a theory is true. Absolute truth is unreachable, like an irrational number. What is the absolute value of pi? You can try, and fail to prove a theory wrong. When you remove all that is wrong, what remains is a closer approximation to the truth.
We can disprove or improve scientific theories like "Tiny invisible creatures spread diseases." We can neither disprove nor improve magical ones like "Evil spirits spread diseases." Magical theories are not only not true. They are -- to quote the theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli -- "not even wrong."
When a social mind shapes a theory, it remixes existing theories with new observations. It adds in guesses, assumptions, and beliefs. It mixes in myths, legends, hypotheses, memes, and lies. It tries to connect those into a consistent story. The process takes time. In such minds, lies are temporary scaffolding that we correct over time.
Mallory lies to confuse, manipulate, and hide. She does not seek truth, only control. Her mind constructs magical theories in a heartbeat. She describes with complete sincerity. This is an assault, a weapon, a form of violence. In Mallory's theories, truth is temporary scaffolding to replace over time with lies.
A magical theory has no solution, and can absorb infinite amounts of thought. That disrupts logical thinking. In the software security business we call this a "denial of service attack." Every cult and religion grows around magical theories. So do many business ventures, and many relationships. How can you disprove or improve "Fate means us to be together" as a theory?
Magical theories tend to develop their own secret languages, jargons, and idioms. Invented words often carry magical meanings that the listener cannot negotiate. Psychopathic organizations tend to invent private languages that are confusing and hard to learn. And then they change these languages often and without cause. They force their members to listen to and learn complex doctrines. More denial of service.
Unable to process the flood of illogic, Alice gives up making sense of her world. She accepts Mallory's statements. She accepts his justifications. She treats him with respect and love, even as he is consuming her.
Crime and Punishment
After enough pain and theft, Bob may wake up and think of rebellion. So Mallory carries another weapon, which is fear. Before Bob gets to the point of revolt, Mallory has already been working hard. She redefines the relationship around fear. She creates an atmosphere of terror. It is so deep and tangible that Bob thinks of killing himself rather than challenge her.
As I explained in “The Hunt”, you can spot abuse victims by the nervous way they walk. It's the deep-seated fear of tripping up and unleashing their tormentor's anger. Mallory builds the fear by rewarding and punishing Bob in the most confusing way.
Mallory likes to change the rules arbitrarily, and make rules that are inconsistent, intrusive, and impossible to not break. The rules never apply to her. Bob has no appeal, and no voice. He must accept the rules, or leave. So, Mallory can punish Bob arbitrarily, and keep him always on the defense.
Complex and arbitrary rules are a staple of religious cults and other psychopathic organizations. These rules regulate what to eat, and when. They define dress codes for every occasion. They regulate language. They limit who may talk to whom, where, when, and about what topics.
Good rules are in fact important. They block that tactic of making up new rules to suit the purpose, so Bob is always a criminal. Bad rules become a prison. What we see often in psychopathic relationships is an asymmetry. The rules apply to Bob yet not to Mallory. This power imbalance is a sign of something rotten. When the justification for a rule is "Because I said so," it's a sign of abuse.
When Bob breaks a rule, and often when he does not, Mallory will explode in sudden anger. When Mallory projects sudden anger, it can be dramatic and terrifying. She shifts her body language to look larger, smiles with her teeth bared. She opens her eyes wide. She advances and raises her arms as if to strike. She picks up objects to use as weapons, or to smash on the floor. She raises her voice, shouts a barrage of insults and provocations.
Our emotions are social communication tools. They are a way to negotiate others into behaving with us. They are our original, primeval language, displayed in face and body. Sudden anger defuses and moderates conflicts between individuals. We still have conflicts, yet anger reduces the risk of violence and injury. It lets us make mistakes that could end in conflict, and then step back before we go too far.
This is easy to see. If someone walks in your way on the sidewalk, you sidestep, smile, or nod. The little irritation (a raised eyebrow) turns into a tiny pleasant interaction. You both smile and nod. Take the same two people in two cars, trying to cross each other in a busy intersection. Instead of a polite nod, it can lead to intense sudden anger in both drivers.
What makes the difference is the cage the car forms around the driver. This cuts off verbal and non-verbal communication. It is easier for a car driver and a pedestrian to understand each other than two car drivers. When the brain gets annoyed it starts to show anger. If it gets a response, it calms down. If it gets no response, it moves into "fight or flight" mode. It is the same response you might have if someone walks in your way on the sidewalk, on purpose. Road rage is a basic survival instinct caught in the wrong context.
So the authentic anger display is a social cue. It evolved to tell another person: stop now, I am losing control of myself. It says, violence will happen if you do not step back now. It is a usually-reliable signal that most people cannot fake. The loss of cerebral control is central to the signal's weight. We can learn to control anger, to calm it or to encourage it. It remains the same authentic mechanism in most people.
Mallory's anger display is loud and explosive yet not authentic. She does not feel sudden anger, and does not lose control. Instead she puts on an anger mask taken from people she's watched in the past. She may have several anger masks, taken from parents, siblings, or close relatives. When Mallory believes she faces a real threat, she does not display anger. She strikes, at once and without hesitation, or she turns and leaves.
Mallory's volcanic anger display provokes the fight or flight response in Bob. No matter how he responds, he is in trouble. If he responds with anger, Mallory mocks and insults him and provokes him further. She does not back down, nor apologize. If Bob walks away or does not respond, she mocks him and insults him. She chases after him and threatens him with violence if he returns. If Bob gets violent, he will be accused of criminal assault.
It is how Internet trolls behave, getting people to argue, to humiliate them. If Bob accepts the violent language and anger, he takes a large burden of stress with him. It will consume him for hours, even days. If Bob fights back, he may feel better, yet he is losing control, and Mallory will use that.
So Bob learns to absorb the insults and anger in silence. This is how abusive relationships run. The outsider sees, if anything, violent arguments. One person tends to start the fights, and the other tends to take the blows.
There are, according to Wikipedia, three types of anger. There is sudden anger, which Mallory mimics to build that atmosphere of fear. There is passive anger, which she doesn't seem to experience at all. And then there is aggressive anger.
The symptoms for aggressive anger are a checklist for the late phases of a relationship with a psychopath. The accuracy of the list shocked me when I first read it. I'm going to quote it completely, in case someone edits it out of Wikipedia:
"The symptoms of aggressive anger are:
Bullying, such as threatening people directly, persecuting, pushing or shoving, using power to oppress, shouting, driving someone off the road, playing on people's weaknesses.
Destructiveness, such as destroying objects as in vandalism, harming animals, destroying a relationship, reckless driving, substance abuse.
Grandiosity, such as showing off, expressing mistrust, not delegating, being a sore loser, wanting center stage all the time, not listening, talking over people's heads, expecting kiss and make-up sessions to solve problems.
Hurtfulness, such as violence, including sexual abuse and rape, verbal abuse, biased or vulgar jokes, breaking confidence, using foul language, ignoring people's feelings, willfully discriminating, blaming, punishing people for unwarranted deeds, labeling others.
Manic behavior, such as speaking too fast, walking too fast, working too much and expecting others to fit in, driving too fast, reckless spending.
Selfishness, such as ignoring others' needs, not responding to requests for help, queue jumping.
Threats, such as frightening people by saying how one could harm them, their property or their prospects, finger pointing, fist shaking, wearing clothes or symbols associated with violent behavior, tailgating, excessively blowing a car horn, slamming doors.
Unjust blaming, such as accusing other people for one's own mistakes, blaming people for your own feelings, making general accusations.
Unpredictability, such as explosive rages over minor frustrations, attacking indiscriminately, dispensing unjust punishment, inflicting harm on others for the sake of it, using alcohol and drugs, illogical arguments.
Vengeance, such as being over-punitive. This differs from retributive justice, as vengeance is personal, and possibly unlimited in scale."
I've no clue how the author captured the psychopathic relationship so well. It would be a big coincidence. Perhaps the author lived with a psychopath.
Mallory slams Alice with sudden anger displays, and long term aggressive anger. The effect on Alice is corrosive. Her mental state suffers. She becomes sick with unusual stress-related diseases. She lives on the verge of depression and suicide for months, even years. She may start to use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.
The one thing she won't do is ask, "is this normal?" She is too busy fighting for her sanity.
You Can't Beat Me
When you read about psychopaths on line you hit a lot of theories about what makes a Mallory. Evolutionary psychologists like Steven Pinker have dismantled the old nature-versus-nurture argument. Yet it still confuses many.
Pinker explained this well in his 2002 book "The Blank Slate." Human nature is the product of genes, expressing through our environment. Everything we are is the result of genetic potential, shaped by environment and use. There is no choice between nature and nurture. You need 100% of both.
The theory of our genes as static blueprints is also falling to a better model. That is, our genes express over our lifetimes. In other words, they switch on and off all the time, to produce different proteins. They work in cascades, so that one gene may control dozens or hundreds of others. And this happens in every cell of our body.
Look again at Mallory. We see a set of talents that switch on and develop depending on the environment. At least some adults can become temporary psychopaths, if conditions are right.
I'll use the term "secondary psychopath" to mean a social human who has turned to psychopathy. Some people still explain this phenomenon using the nature-versus-nurture model. Remember that gene expression is itself an evolved mechanism. No-one becomes a psychopath just through trauma. It is always about survival.
I don't think you can be a little bit psychopathic. Whether you play the social game, or the cheater game, you must play to win. Mallory is competing with other psychopaths, and Bob with other Bobs.
So we can model psychopathy using game theory. People are bundles of talent that are either expressing, or latent. It depends on the playing field. Depending on our age, that expression influences our mental and physical development. Many can learn to play music, yet the best musicians start young and focus on just that.
Mallory controls the playing field. If she sees the potential in Bob, she can try to turn him. If this works she gets a long-term helper, much like a master vampire. To create the necessary playing field, Mallory must:
Break Bob's empathy. She makes him witness violence towards others, and forces him to take part. For the greatest effect, the violence happens to Alice, who Bob cares about.
Maintain the climate of fear, so that Bob lives in constant fear of punishment. Mallory will punish Bob enough to teach him who is in charge.
Offer Bob an escape from the constant threat of pain and violence. He just has to help Mallory by being violent to Alice.
Maintain the threat of expulsion. At any point, Mallory may kick Bob back into the cell with Alice, or expel him into the unknown.
Mallory creates a "them or us" dichotomy. She forces Bob to choose sides. She makes it more and more expensive and painful to stay with Alice. If Mallory judged Bob well, he takes the path of least pain. He rationalizes it by accepting Mallory's doctrines.
This sounds awful, and it is. It's the recipe that gangsters use to make child soldiers. It's how many businesses operate. Accept and survive, or resist and die. The violence and threats may be subtle, and economic rather than physical. Yet this basic recipe is the core philosophy of many organizations.
Look deeper, and the distinction between primary and secondary psychopath is vaguer. There are no "born" psychopaths, it is always genes expressing according to their environment. I'm not sure that psychopathy can always switch off. It seems impossible after a certain point.
This recipe for secondary psychopaths is how Mallory raises his children, if any. He divides them into helpers and victims. The helpers practice on their brothers and sisters. They emerge at young adulthood as unflinching predators with a decade of training. The victims spend a life as hosts, stumbling from one parent figure to another. Genes have no pity, in their endless race to stay relevant.
Let's Go Back
We can model the human mind as interlinked yet distinct tools. This includes the tools for decision-making. These tools tend to pull in different directions, and balance each other. Our emotions pull us according to what other people are doing around us. Our empathy pulls us according to how we think other people are feeling. Our intuition pulls us according to slower and more careful background analysis. Our executive pulls us according to conscious analysis and forward planning. When someone yells at us in the street, our emotions say, "Yell back, louder!" Our empathy says, "Smile!" Our intuition says, "Laugh!" Our executive says, "First see who it is, then respond."
Our emotions develop early. A young child already experiences happiness, anger, jealousy, self-pity, fear, hate, joy. Our empathy develops later, when we are teenagers. A young child can already plan and solve problems. Our intuition and executive only mature when we reach adulthood.
If our executive, intuition, and empathy are not working, then our emotions decide everything. It is far easier to manipulate someone's emotions than the other parts of the mind. Psychopaths often attack these three instruments of adult thinking. This pushes their target back into juvenile acceptance of their situation.
I've already explained a set of techniques that do this. Each mental tool needs a certain consistency in its dealings with the world. The more Mallory controls the world, the more she can create inconsistency. And in an inconsistent world, emotions rule the stage.
A young woman goes to her manager to ask for a raise. He does not talk about her excellent work and successful projects. Instead he chastises her for her clothing. "There have been complaints," he says, "suggestions that perhaps you dress a little too,..." he looks up and down at her, .".. flamboyantly. Now what did you want to talk about?" he asks. She shakes her head and leaves.
A company is giving its executives bonuses. Meanwhile it is also sacking staff. The CEO announces a new ranking system. Employees will score each other. Each year the company will fire the lowest ranking 10%. The emotional chaos ensures that no employee questions the bonuses. Conform or die.
One can also talk straight to the child mind, to reinforce it and encourage it to dominate. One tactic is to ask for small favors. Ben Franklin wrote, "He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged."
Asking someone for favors makes them like you. It is simple, effective, and Mallory uses this often. This is the "Ben Franklin effect". I think it is a mild form of Stockholm Syndrome, something I've already explained. Either you rebel and say "no," or you accept. Then you feel attachment to the parental figure asking you the favor.
Doing random favors for Mallory disrupts Alice's schedule, and keeps her afraid and uncertain. Mallory never asks "please." She demands "or else!"
It gets worse.
The Feeding doesn't last forever. After a while -- it could be a few days, or many years -- Mallory decides to move on. To be more accurate, she starts to act on plans she's been making from the start. Bob is close to empty. Or, a fantastic opportunity has opened up. Or, Bob is threatening to explode and expose the whole scheme.
So her next phase is a demolition job I call the Wrecking. It is a classic part of Mallory's relationships, and yet puzzling. She doesn't work from revenge, nor vindictiveness. She is too lazy to take time and effort to hurt people unless there is a pragmatic reason. It has to be profitable.
The Wrecking can be hard to see. It happens in private for the most part. It is often subtle and insidious. The obvious symptom is long term depression and trauma in Bob and Alice. Years after Mallory is gone, they still hate to talk about their experiences. They feel long-lasting shame, guilt, and self-pity. Anything that reminds them of their experience triggers flashes of fear, anger, and pain.
Brenda Myers-Powell, in her article "My 25 years as a prostitute", wrote: "I can tell as soon as I meet a girl if she is in danger, but there is no fixed pattern. You might have one girl who's quiet and introverted and doesn't make eye contact. Then there might be another who's loud and obnoxious and always getting in trouble. They're both suffering abuse at home but they're dealing with it in different ways - the only thing they have in common is that they are not going to talk about it."
During the Wrecking, Mallory only has two masks for Bob. One is neglect and absence. The other is aggressive anger. There are no rewards, only silence or punishments. And during this, she tells him over and over, "this is your fault, you are worthless." And she reminds him how he has ruined her life, how she will make him pay. "No matter where you go," she says, "I will find you and hurt you."
Bob becomes dysfunctional, gaunt, violent, and defensive. If anyone sees the couple, Bob looks hostile and unstable. Mallory looks comfortable, easy, delicate. It is clear to observers who the victim is, if any.
This wrecking brings no direct profit to Mallory. A dysfunctional Bob is worth nothing to her. This is the mysterious part. Mallory needs to feed, and yet she spends effort making Bob useless. We can see the answer in Bob's long-term PTSD.
Mallory has strong incentives to keep Bob from telling people about his experiences. Mallory needs to keep her cover, or she cannot hunt. An ex-victim who talks is dangerous. This is how cults like Scientology fall. Ex-members tell stories of the insanity and criminality, and public support turns to hate. Likewise, firms have collapsed due to ex-employees exposing corruption and criminality. Governments have fallen the same way. As for serial abusers, it is the silence of their victims that lets them continue.
Serial Killer vs. Psychopath
The man sits next to him, unwraps a package, and offers him a piece of bread with sausage. "Here, take some, you're hungry," says the man. He takes a piece then nibbles at it. It's the first food he's had in days, since he left. He can hardly swallow, his mouth is so dry. The man offers him a canteen. "Drink" he says. It's water. He drinks and hands back the metal bottle, then finishes the rest of the bread.
"Where you from?" says the man. "Gukovo," he mumbles. "Runaway, eh? What are you, thirteen, fourteen?" says the man, and gives him another chunk of bread and sausage. He nods, says nothing, and eats. The man reaches into his pocket and takes out his wallet. He opens it, pulls out some notes. "Take this, you'll need it," says the man. He hesitates. Why is this stranger helping him?
"My uncle was from Zverevo." says the man, nodding, as if he can read his mind. "Horrid little town, nothing but the mines. Just like Gukovo. You're going to a better place. Here, take this." The man hands him the money again. So he takes it, folds it, puts it into his shoe. "Come," says the man, "I will show you something important." The man gets up, stands in front of him. He's dressed like a factory worker, heavy trousers, heavy shoes, shirt, jacket. He is carrying a black bag. His face shows nothing except an easy smile. It's a face you can trust.
The young boy shrugs and gets up. He follows the man out of the waiting room, deserted for hours. They walk out of the station yard and cross the single track into the autumn woods. He wonders where the man is taking him. They get deeper into the woods, well out of sight of the station. The man opens the bag he is carrying and takes out a length of rope.
"I will tie your hands behind your back now," he tells the boy.
The boy complies. It seems inevitable.
With all this talk of violence, let's talk about serial killers. Popular culture has often portrayed psychopaths as serial killers. Serial killers are of course real, yet rare. The FBI estimates 35-50 active in the USA at any time. There are roughly 8 million psychopaths running around. That is 4% of Americans above 18 and under 65.
So the chance that any given adult American is a psychopath is 1 in 25. Whereas the chance that any given psychopath is a serial killer is 1 in 200,000. The statement "all Americans are psychopaths" has a 96% error margin. The statement "all psychopaths are serial killers" has a 99.9995% error margin, by contrast.
Can we agree at least that all serial killers are psychopaths? If you ask forensic psychologists and psychiatrists, there is no general consensus.
Some argue that most serial killers act like psychopaths. They are aware of the law yet they disregard it. They have no empathy for their victims. They are predatory, to an extreme degree. They tend to be charming, manipulative, and narcissistic. They often hide in plain sight, fooling friends and family for years. They invent rich cover stories. They lie so well that even coming home covered in blood, their wives suspect nothing.
The list of psychopath traits that serial killers exhibit goes on. They show no remorse, and blame their victims. They are rarely alcoholics or drug users. Above all, they treat others like disposables, to use and destroy for personal gain.
Nonetheless, when psychiatrists diagnose serial killers, they often come up with other personality disorders. The typical diagnoses for serial killers are borderline, narcissistic, and schizoid personality disorders.
And others argue that serial killers do not act like psychopaths. Most psychopaths murder no-one. And when they do, it is for pragmatic reasons: for money, for power, or to escape capture. Most serial killers are men. 50% of psychopaths are female.
They look like different animals, and I struggle to find a model that works. Mallory, for all the pain he causes, plays a role. Predators shape their prey species. Psychopaths have been key to social human development, as I explained in “Predator”. Yet serial killers?
The 2015 movie Jurassic World turns around this question. In the movie the genetic engineers grow an Indomitus Rex out of mystery genes. The angry hybrid animal escapes and goes on the rampage. It slaughters people and other dinosaurs. Owen (played by Chris Pratt) says the animal knows nothing of the outside world. "Now it's killing for sport," he tells us.
In the end (spoiler alert!) it is the other predator dinosaurs that defeat the monster. The velociraptors and T-Rex that bring down the Indomitus Rex are just as dangerous. Yet they are part of a system, and in the end they defend that system against the threat.
We see the clear difference between killing for survival, and killing for pleasure. The I-Rex has the talents of a predator, yet exists outside the natural balance. It never had an environment in which to learn its place. When the velociraptors and T-Rex bring down the dragon, we cheer.
This is the theme of the popular US TV series Dexter. The protagonist is a predator who hunts serial killers. Whether Dexter is a serial killer or even a psychopath is debatable. He is charming, stealthy, and lacks all empathy. Yet he protects innocents from men who have put themselves outside society. He does not manipulate people. He has a job that involves real work, not conning people.
We see what appear to be serial killers in nature. The British built their first East African railways late in the nineteenth century. A pair of male lions in Tsavo learned to eat humans. They started attacking railway workers. By the time Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson shot the two lions, they had eaten 35 people.
Lions evolved to eat large African wild animals. Attacking humans is a losing strategy. In normal times, male lions live with a pride of females. The pride hunts zebras, wildebeest, gnu, buffalo, gazelle, and so on. It is the sister lionesses in the pride that organize the hunts. Most male lion cubs do not survive to reproduce. So these two lions were outside the system, so to speak. It is possible they had learned to scavenge corpses. When railway workers moved into their territory, the humans became irresistible targets.
In 2005, the FBI published a readable and detailed report called "Serial Murder". It is worth reading from start to end. Some key points: serial killers span all ethnic groups. They are territorial. They kill for a variety of motives: sexual, thrill, financial gain, anger, and attention. They may pause or stop killing when they have other priorities. They improve their skills and range over time. When they get caught, it is not on purpose. "It is not that serial killers want to get caught. They feel that they can't get caught," says the report.
The report looks at the origins of serial killers. It argues for a mix of biology and environment. Serial killers often come from abusive homes. Young, they are often lonely or isolated in violent environments. In 70% of cases they suffer injuries or traumas to the head when young. The report says:
There are documented cases of people who suffered severe head injuries and ultimately become violent, even when there was no prior history of violence.
The FBI report is pretty clear:
As a group, serial killers suffer from a variety of personality disorders, including psychopathy, anti-social personality, and others. Most, however, are not adjudicated as insane under the law.
What about the different diagnoses given to serial killers? I've argued that borderline, histrionic, and narcissistic personality disorders are masks of psychopathy. The forensic psychologist may well see these masks and take them as real.
Psychopaths kill rarely, and only when necessary. Serial killers butcher people for sexual gratification or sport. That seems irrational and self-destructive. Yet the serial killer feels all the benefits, and none of the costs. They do not recognize their victims as living beings. They are confident they will not get caught. That is pure, selfish pragmatism.
Serial killers appear to be psychopaths who have broken something. Not their empathy. Rather, their restraint and calculation of consequences.
The case of Charles Whitman gives us a strong hint. Whitman's father appears to have been a psychopath. Whitman himself showed some of the traits. Charm and small-scale criminality. On 1 August 1966, he shot 16 people, after complaining about "tremendous" headaches. A later autopsy showed a tumor pressing on his amygdala.
Like the I-Rex and the Tsavo lions, psychopathic killers live outside the system. I'd guess most are caught rapidly. That is, if a hundred psychopaths suffer the specific damage to their amygdala that turns them into killers, then ninety-nine get caught and imprisoned after one or two murders. As such they never count as "serial killers." The careers of those we know about is likely to be survivorship bias.
Serial killers are so scary and fascinating because they epitomize the psychopath's predator traits. Every time we read about a serial killer we think of all our near escapes. You almost never see the psychopath's predatory nature naked, in the daylight. Mallory hides so well. Serial killers show us Mallory naked and exposed, in broad daylight. It is a scary and yet compelling sight.
Paying the Bill
Psychopathic households live in violence, emotional and physical. Few of the victims report even physical violence to the police. Let alone neglect and emotional violence, which can be hard to explain and prove. About one third of women and men alike pass through an abusive relationship. About 40% of murders of women are at the hands of their partners, compared to 6% for men.
I'm not claiming that violence is Mallory's monopoly. Most violent male deaths are at the hands of other men. And most often in disputes over women, territory, or status. Male-on-male violence does not shock us. We have institutionalized it as war. We glorify it in our culture.
What I am claiming is that the abusive relationship is a psychopath's digestive system. How it starts, how it flows, and how it ends are a evolved mechanism. It is how Mallory consumes Alice and Bob. It can be that in some cultures, abusive relationships are the norm. I'd consider these cultures to be psychopathic, like a national cult.
If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, it is likely one of the two is a psychopath. You must take real care before making a conclusion. Psychopaths lie. They will often claim to be the victim. They will often look exactly as you'd expect a victim to look. Most often there is no visible violence. As I explained, the real victims do not like to talk about their experiences.
So the violence tends to resurface in a different form: self-harm.
A million people a year take their own lives, reported the WHO in 2012. For every death, there are 20 attempts. The WHO says 5% of people will try at least once to take their own lives. I think they under-counted. 20 million x 70 (global life expectancy) makes 1.4 billion, or 1/5th of the world population in 2012.
Attempted suicide is a cry for help from someone who has no other voice. For every suicidal person, how many live in long term depression? Five, ten, fifty? The WHO estimates 350 million people live in depression globally. It says, "depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide." As men tend to not ask for help, the real figure may be much higher.
I've explained how Mallory feeds. It is usually a slow business, yet it is violent. It often drives Alice and Bob to long term depression, PTSD, or suicide. While Mallory is not a serial killer, he is a serial abuser. His selfish use of others can result in death.
Mallory deserves his dark caricature. It's not just that he causes such massive amounts of suffering and death. It's that he does this pragmatically, to control his victims, and to stop them talking.
Despite this, Mallory evolved in a predator-prey relationship. Later I'll explain how this relationship has been good, even essential, for our species. First, I will provide a set of tools for breaking yourself or another person free. If you are in a relationship with a psychopath, you must have this goal. It can seem impossible. Yet there are ways out.
We start by asking the essential question, "am I confronting a psychopath?" and I will answer this in the next chapter.