Chapter 8. Questions to the Author
What makes you the expert in dealing with psychopaths?
We're all experts, I think, after millions of years of evolved defenses against psychopaths. Some of us are better at expressing it. The book is based on my own life experience, and practice. When I realized there was a pattern to the damagingly eccentric people I'd come across, I could decode it, and explain it. I needed this book for myself.
Was this a hard book to write?
All my books take years to write. This one took less than some, and was easy to put together. The material wrote itself, often. A solid theoretical model provides answers to questions. Once I had the "predator" model, questions like "how does Mallory hunt?" or "what emotions does Mallory feel?" were just a matter of working through the equations, so to speak.
Why the name "Mallory?"
I apologize to everyone called "Mallory." It's a name used in computer security for an attacker. If someone breaks into your PC, that's Mallory. If someone steals your on-line identity, that's Mallory. The name works for male and female psychopaths.
The term is difficult... are there better terms?
All medical and criminal labels are loaded with the biases of their origins. "Psychopath" is the cleanest term yet it's so strong that I can imagine being taken to court for calling someone this. I've used that term in the book title and text. Yet it often leads to rabbit hole discussions like "why not 'sociopath'" or "such a diagnosis must come from a medical professional."
The French-Canadian author Isabelle Nazare-Aga coined the term "manipulator," and writes in her 1997 book Les manipulateurs sont parmis nous:
Sympathetic, seductive, reserved, and yet tyrannic, manipulators use various means to get what they want. Moving softly, our closest -- parents, partners, acquaintances, colleagues -- manage to make us feel guilty, inadequate, and full of doubt. Who are these manipulators? How do they keep us in their grip? Are they aware of what they are doing? Are their victims responsible, in some measure? How do we protect ourselves from these emotional terrorists?
The French also use the term pervers narcissiques (narcissistic perversion), invented by Paul-Claude Racamier in 1986 or so. I'm not sure the "perversion" works as a model, it seems rooted in a moralistic notion of normality, where there are "good decent" people, and then there are "perverts" of different flavors.
I've used "bad actor" as a euphemism. That's my way of identifying someone as a psychopath without invoking the arguments over terminology and qualifications. There are other terms we can plausibly use depending on context: "predator," "tyrant," "narcissist," "parasite," "cheat," "abuser," "bully," "professional liar," "con artist," and so on. However, my advice is to use "psychopath" consistently, unless you want to lighten the mood a little.
A lot of the material feels personal. Was this therapy?
It's a story of therapy. I'd discovered a way to deal constructively with the specific psychopaths in my life, and wanted to teach this to others. The tools and advice I'd found online were a good start, yet not enough. I felt we were mostly blind to the real story. OK, so there is clinical data, lots of it. Yet the only answer I'd get for my question of "how do I deal with Mallory?" was "leave, now!" It is a frustrating and patronizing answer.
Why is the advice to leave not helpful?
Anyone in an abusive relationship is already trying to leave. It's not through lack of will. The abusive bond has deep hooks into your psyche, and you can't just rip them out. If you try, it causes real damage. I explain this in detail in “Escape from Jonestown”. You must extract those hooks one by one. That takes time and insight.
So can you summarize your approach in a few words?
Don't run away. Stop reacting. Learn your enemy, and stand and fight. Remove those hooks, get your power back, and end the relationship on your own terms. It can be terrifying yet the alternative is to take long term damage with you.
It is like escaping a rip current, which is when the sea tries to drag you out and drown you. Rip currents aren't large. Obviously the entire ocean isn't moving, only little threads and swirls. However if you try to swim back to shore, you will die from exhaustion. Catch your breath, swim sideways, and in five minutes you're safe on land.
It is the same when a psychopath attacks you, whether it's early in the game, or late and the mask is long gone. Psychopaths start young, and work hard to improve their hunting technique. We social humans, we're like mice, scurrying through the tiny corridors of our lives. We barely have time to react when the fangs and claws hit us. We get dragged out into the wild ocean. No-one can jump in to save us, even if they're paying attention, which most people aren't.
The hardest part is to not panic, and to not react instinctively. Instead, to take a moment to tread water and think it through, and then move sideways. Over time this becomes easier. The fight-or-flight adrenalin response does not go away, so you try to learn to ignore it.
Can you fight a psychopath head-on? Or do you drown?
When a psychopath is trying to drag you down, the usual instinct is to not fight. We try to normalize the situation, to make it good again, and that is what makes it worse. That is the "swimming back to shore" behavior, and that's how we drown. Fighting back is the "swimming sideways" behavior. It takes deliberate and conscious effort, yet it seems to be the safest way out.
This is hard. The predator behaviors evolved specifically to push our mental buttons. So it takes conscious effort, practice, and above all, working with other people. That's our superpower: other people. Do not forget that, and do not make your life a personal struggle. Share your problems and answers, you'll be surprised how much support you get, and how much you can learn.
When you fight back, doesn't it make the psychopath act worse?
Sometimes, yet not always. Psychopaths operate outside the law, if not in deed then in spirit. They respect no higher authorities, only force. Remember the Ben Franklin effect, where you ask people for small favors and then they like you more. The flip side is that when we (including psychopaths) mistreat people, and they don't fight back, we treat them even worse afterwards.
There is the risk of escalation and violence. This can be terrifying. I'm sure in some cases it can be fatally dangerous. Mostly though, the psychopath risks more than you do through escalation. A public fight attracts other people. It attracts authorities and investigations. All predators are vulnerable in similar ways: injury or exposure means they can't hunt. In human terms, this means psychopaths have to stay hidden.
So psychopaths are afraid of being exposed?
Yes. All vampires have their fears. I'd say this the number one background worry of any psychopath: "what proof do they have?" A solid file showing a history of breaking the rules and bullying people: this is sunlight and garlic. Psychopaths need secrecy and privacy to misbehave and get away with it, decade after decade.
When you realize you're facing one or more psychopaths, collect evidence, slowly and carefully. This applies to all cases where psychopaths operate, from death squads and genocide to domestic abuse. Collect incontestable proof. Use such material cautiously, only when you need to and when you know it will have an effect. Exposure is a card you can play only once.
Do you have tips for collecting evidence?
Emails are good evidence in most courts, which not everyone realizes. So are photos and videos. Audio recordings can be helpful in some cases. Impartial eye-witness statements are good. You have to be careful in a he-said-she-said situation. A psychopath will have the more dramatic accusations, and be ludicrously convincing. I've seen cops spin on their heels and start threatening the victims of violence, based on thirty seconds talking to the perpetrator.
You can get cheap audio recorders that look like USB sticks. Video recorders hidden in watches, pens, and pendants. Or, keep your smartphone handy, and use its audio or video recorder. If you ever get into a physical confrontation, then recording a psychopath can have a dramatic effect, as they may react violently and without warning to what they see as a threat.
Sometimes that's what you want. Provoking a psychopath to anger (real or acted) can be a good way to get them to reveal themselves. They will make threats and accusations. The threats are often extraordinary, and meaningless, until you realize they tend to make threats they see as real to themselves. And the accusations can be laughable, until you realize they have accidentally said something they are trying to keep secret.
What else are psychopaths afraid of?
Like any predator, they fear injury, exposure, starvation, and a bigger predator. That's the list, I think.
Can you teach me how to act like a "bigger psychopath"?
You're not the first person to think of this. Many people do this instinctively when we're in unfamiliar situations. We become more dominant, charming, focused on others. We dress up when we go out. We laugh more. This is partly about seduction, yet it seems more about feeling safe. Often these talents are suppressed until we have a drink or two. You can learn to do this consciously. It is easier for some of us than others.
Can you be more specific?
Dress slightly too well, interrupt people gently yet forcefully. Touch people on the arms and shoulders, a lot. Smile a little too much, and hold eye contact. Ignore people as they talk to you. Then, if you think you're talking to a predator, speak of money and future possibilities. Shine that laser pointer and they will dance like an entranced cat. Only use this for self-defense, please.
Are there any other tools I can use against psychopaths?
Psychopaths tend to be paranoid. It's normal when 96% of your fellow species hate you ex animo, from the heart. This makes psychopaths vulnerable to certain kinds of suggestion, such as they're being spied on, followed, or framed by unspecified people.
Are you saying, it's OK to deceive and manipulate psychopaths?
If someone tries to sink their soul-draining fangs into you or yours, I think you're justified in using whatever force you need, to make them stop and/or go away. This includes lying, threats and false promises, indeed the whole psychopath play-book up to violence of different forms. As necessary. Don't break the law. If you must, make sure you can show self-defense. Also, insert standard disclaimer here. My advice is an opinion based on experience. You have the right to use it or ignore it.
So you mean, we should all become secondary psychopaths...
Please no! Psychopaths are horrid to be around. They hurt everyone they touch. What I'm saying is, if a predator comes into your life and attacks you or your friends or family, strike back with force and drive it away. That's different from becoming a predator yourself. I've made this quite clear in “The Dance of Emotions”, we have a set of emotions for attack, and a set for defense.
How does one lie to a psychopath?
Psychopaths are hard to lie to. They seem to read minds, and they know every possible lie like a musician knows chords. Lying to a psychopath is a bit like passing a lie-detector test. Start by assuming that every conversation is an interrogation. You're not a psychopath, so you will sweat and tremble and stutter. You can't avoid that.
Rule number one is control the conversation. Try to start conversations instead of waiting. Drag it out as long as you want it to last. Fill the conversation with tedious, boring detail. Mallory does not care about your life. If she's talking, she has a plan in her mind, an agenda. Every time you hijack the thread, you're making it harder for her. End the conversation when you're ready, and then go "no contact" until you decide you want to talk again.
Rule number two, truths are lies that are accidentally true. Every sentence you say is a potential time bomb, so telling the truth should scare you far more than making up lies. It doesn't matter how minor. What you ate for breakfast, the city where you were born... such details are bullets in the hands of someone determined to hurt you. So as a matter of habit, learn to give nothing of value in conversations. Do not discuss your real friends, money, or significant events. Tremble and sweat all the time, lie more than half the time, about grand and yet irrelevant topics, and you'll overload your psychopath's senses.
Don't do this in writing, or in front of neutral witnesses. If you're accused of lying, deny it, shrug and change the subject. Smile and hold eye contact. After many months, you will find yourself less stressed. Eventually you may learn to lie without showing any detectable signs.
This all seems like a lot of work, even dangerous... is it worth it?
It can be hard work, yes. I believe it's worse to let psychopaths roam free in our professional and social lives. That creates a lot more pain, even if it's often hidden. It's the child-in-the-cellar syndrome. Many of us are locked in cellars, so to speak. We don't want to open that door for fear of what we might see or have to do. And the world doesn't see us, and our pain remains private.
What I've learned is that climbing those stairs, pushing at that door, and confronting the brutes on the other side is the right thing to do. And "confronting" means fighting, even hurting and damaging them. It is hard work, and it can be dangerous, yet the alternative is worse. There is no peace with a tyrant. To live or work with a psychopath is to live in occupied lands. It is dismal, gray, with the constant threat of violence, and the total loss of freedom.
I've found, over the last years as I wrote this book and internalized its lessons, that confronting bad actors also made me generally happier in life. I'm pretty sure that psychopathy is an all-or-nothing strategy. We are all bad actors at times in our lives. Yet most of us work hard to self-correct. We're obsessive about it. It's enough to tell most people: "not cool!," show them an alternative, and they will stop. Psychopaths don't self-correct. Instead they get better at not getting caught.
So understanding these two paths of human nature, one can speak to people according to what path they are on. To the good actors, one gives order and structure, power, freedom, and protection from the bad actors. To bad actors, one gives the stick.
You're not a psychologist. How do you know this is safe?
I don't. I've tried it, with abusive psychopaths, and it works. That's my best data. I've discussed this approach with many people including psychologists who specialize in abuse victims. The main risk is that Mallory tends to get violent when challenged. How serious is this risk, and is it worth taking? How much violence can you absorb, and how far can you turn Mallory's violence against him? Are there higher authorities who will act on documented evidence of violence, for instance? These are questions you can answer and then act on.
Do psychopaths suffer from a disorder?
Technically, yes, it's anti-social personality disorder. In practice, there are two ways to study psychopathy. One is to look at Mallory and try to understand him by observing and dissecting him. The other is to look at Mallory's victims, and his relationships with them. The first approach leads to "Mallory is dysfunctional and needs help." The second leads to "Mallory damages people, who then need help." Not the same at all.
I just want to avoid dating psychopaths
Don't look for dates on line, and don't trust total strangers with things that are precious to you. This is how you invite dangerous people into your life. Start by making friends of your own gender. Sooner or later they will set you up. The good friend of a good friend is less likely to be a predator.
How do you get that 4% figure?
Clinical research is often biased in huge ways. Let me give you two examples from the USA. You are four times more likely to get a diagnosis of schizophrenia if you are black, than if you are white. Yet, when it comes to personality disorders, you're less likely to be diagnosed if you're black. The judicial system pushes for diagnoses that lets them lock up poorer, black men, while sending wealthier men to therapy.
So when you read figures from clinical studies, you must question the sources of data. Hare's classic estimate is 1%. He focuses on criminal male psychopaths. Others have estimated figures for malignant narcissism as high as 10%. I double Hare's estimate to account for female psychopaths. I double it again for the many hidden psychopaths.
Is this figure the same in all cultures?
Predator-prey ratios are not constant, they cycle over time. There is no reason to suspect cheater-altruist ratios are a special case. So the figure could be from less than 1% to above 10% depending on context. Up-down cycles will take several generations. Matching the ratio of psychopaths you'll see altruistic behavior swing between trusting and cynical.
Do you have historical examples of this?
I'd say the period 1950-1999 in the West was one of increasing trust, causing an upswing in psychopath ratios towards the end of the century. This led to numerous financial swindles peaking in the 2009 financial crisis. This is leading to an increase in cynicism and political pressure against institutional cheats.
Can we eliminate psychopathy?
I'm not even sure that's a sane goal. This predator-prey battle has been the main force of human evolution for millions of years. Without it, we'd be a historical footnote. We can treat the effects of psychopathy like a disease to be eliminated. Yet without constant pressure from cheats, there is no game. And without a game, humanity has no future.
What do you mean with that?
I think we're still evolving, as we must, to overcome the limitations of our planet. We will go to the stars, or we will go extinct. Not tomorrow. Maybe in a thousand years. And while the altruists will build the spaceships and design the hibernation tanks, it will be psychopaths that provide the hunger. Every dramatic voyage of discovery is driven by false promises and lies. Most end in disaster. Some succeed, and take us forwards.
So altruists aren't hungry enough?
They aren't, not in that untiring predatory sense. We aim to be safe and happy. Without Mallory challenging us, we'd be a species on holiday. Yet every time we build up some capital, savings, and wealth, along comes Mallory and steals it. It forces us to work harder, be more creative, and let go of the past.
You sound almost grateful to psychopaths...
In some specific ways, yes. Yet only when I step outside my own experience, and look at the big picture. If I speak from the heart, then Mallory's casual abuse and the sheer harm he does to others enrages me. We can hold two contradictory ideas in our minds at once, right?
What if psychopaths get too much power?
I'm optimistic that the worse it gets, the better we become. The war between altruism and cheating has been going on for millions of years. Neither side can ever win.
Are psychopaths evil?
Good and evil are terms based on a self-centered view of the universe that religion has encouraged. That view is false, and the terms are meaningless. Do psychopaths cause hurt and harm to others? Yes. Is that a question of morality and religion? No. It's biology. It's inevitable and has been central to our evolution as a species.
If it's inevitable, why write the book?
Maybe the book was inevitable. It was the right book at the right time, for me. Maybe I'm just a pen in the hand of destiny.
Do believe in God?
Only if you define "God" as "the universal laws of infinite maths and physics" and "believe" as "accept only models that make accurate predictions and cannot be any simpler." Or, to put it another way, "no."
How do I tell if someone is a psychopath?
It depends on how you know the person, and what your goals are. Also on your own experience, and how aware you are of yourself, and others.
You can pick out some, not all, psychopaths in a crowd by their appearance and behavior. You can see the combination of dominance, narcissism, and social distance. They are like car drivers who casually break the rules, knowing they'll rarely be caught. This stops working if they think you're watching them.
You can actively look for psychopaths when you see impact craters in organizations or families. Mallory will be well hidden. It takes a different process: elimination of all suspects until one is left. You look for rule breaking and conflict. You eliminate those who show honest guilt, shame, and remorse. It takes time and observation.
You can ask the question about a partner, relation, or colleague. In this case you work off your own responses and behavior. If the relationship is new, are you swept off your feet, and making big plans? Does it feel too good to be true? If the relationship is old, does it make you sad and depressed? Is there abuse, anger, drama?
Another, more general approach is "grey listing." You start by assuming everyone you meet is a psychopath. Don't panic. It's not a decision, just a possibility. Then you look for signs to disprove this possibility. Old friends who speak well of them. A clear public history. Zones of happiness around them. Modesty and shyness. Blushing, a sense of humor, creative zest. And so on. As long as you cannot disprove the theory "X is a psychopath," leave them in that category and treat them with care. If you get clear indicators, you can move them to your black list.
Are there different types of psychopath?
Some authors like to distinguish narcissists from sociopaths and so on. I don't see the point of that. Mallory has many faces, and is opportunistic. It is always the same Mallory, however. He works the same way, has the same attacks and tactics, and has the same weaknesses.
Are you a psychopath, and this book just a twisted way of hiding it?
It is a possibility. Certainly when I read my own descriptions of psychopaths, there are moments when I feel, "that's me!" I think we all experience that. We all walk on the dark side, at times in our lives. And we can distort the meanings of words. I've been firm in defining psychopathy in terms of the harm it does to others. Those "impact craters" we've all seen in our work and social lives. In my defense, I think my decades of public work speaks for itself. People who work with me know how protective I am of others. Yet it could all be an elaborate ruse. I don't know.
What traits did you recognize in yourself?
Charm, reality distortion, language fluency, dominant body language, and almost no fear. To be honest though, authority terrifies me. I've been arrested twice in my life (for growing a few marijuana plants, both times) and it was like being gutted. Whereas I've seen psychopaths confront police, and get away with it, without blinking. The question, "am I a psychopath?" has bounced around my mind during the whole writing of this book. In the end I decided "no" mainly because I get too much pleasure from seeing my kids and my family and friends safe and happy.
Now I wonder if I am a psychopath...
This is a common experience. We all have some of the traits. Yet it's practically the definition of "altruist" that you look for blame in yourself, when things don't work. If you worry that you may be a psychopath, then the chances are low. A psychopath knows they're different, yet never sees this as their problem.
Is it normal that I'm looking for psychopaths everywhere now?
This is also a common experience. I call it Van Helsing Syndrome. The awareness that the world is full of people who see you as food is disturbing. My advice is to decide slowly, and act rapidly. That is, allow people to show their real natures and intentions. This can take weeks or months. Do take simple precautions with new friends and contacts. If you decide a person is a psychopath, and you cannot explain their behavior otherwise, cut them off. Simply ask them to never contact you again, and delete their details.
So we are all a bit psychopath?
We share 50% of our DNA with a banana. Yet we're not "a bit banana." We certainly all carry a lot of psychopath genes. Most of these genes, in most people, are not expressed. Or if they are, it is in harmless or positive ways. We all tend towards being better altruists, or better cheaters.
Do psychopaths feel love?
Do you feel love for your breakfast? Or would you describe it as "hunger?" It does seem psychopaths feel something for their parents. It's not love though, it is more like another form of hunger.
What emotions do psychopaths feel?
Psychopaths feel those emotions needed to be a successful predator. These are: hunger, obsession, euphoria, glee, fury, bloodlust, gluttony, satiation, and blocked. I explain this in “The Dance of Emotions”. All other emotions appear to be absent. A psychopath can imitate some from birth, and some by learning. Others like remorse they just don't show, maybe because they can't fake the physical signs.
Do psychopaths have ethics?
Ethics is one of those slippery terms. Easy to use, hard to define. I assume you mean, do psychopaths set themselves limits on who they hurt? Some psychopaths declare, "children are off limits." Yet others exploit children without remorse. The best analogy I have is that psychopaths have food taboos. They learn what is good to eat, and what is harmful or forbidden, at an early age. It tends to be about costs versus benefits. Preying on children or the aged is taboo when there is real risk of punishment. Hunting other psychopaths can be toxic, and usually a bad idea. Otherwise, food is food.
What jobs attract psychopaths?
Psychopaths are flexible and creative when it comes to hunting. What they seek are people and their assets. This means any organization will attract psychopaths. It's rarely about the salary, nor bonuses, which are fodder. Rather, psychopaths seek the chance to take what isn't theirs. They like jobs that let them travel. Certainly, positions of power and influence. Anything in finance. Jobs with access to vulnerable people. Jobs that rotate around image and charisma.
Should my firm hire some psychopaths?
Only if you are in the business of stealing and lying. There is a persistent myth that psychopaths are powerful and effective. It's a lie. I've worked with several psychopaths, and hired more than one. They certainly liven the place up. They will always act in their own interests, even when it hurts their colleagues, or their firm. They are the ones who accept bribes, plot against their bosses, steal clients, falsify accounts, and so on.
How can I be sure I don't hire psychopaths?
It's much like dating. If you hire total strangers, based on how well they perform in an interview, you're asking for trouble. You want to hire people who have a trail of successful team work. Or, hire on a trial basis and be prepared to fire people easily.
Are all politicians psychopaths?
Not all, just many. The most successful politicians get elected on promises that they fail to deliver. They are charismatic actors who fit the role the public expects. They divide their opposition and blame their own failures on others. They lack empathy, and never show remorse for hurting others. Often they steal large amounts of money, and abuse their positions in every way possible. I'd estimate 10-20% of politicians are psychopaths. It can't be more, or they wipe each other out.