Decoding the Psychopath
There are some scary people around. People who take what they want, using their charm and wits. Con artists. Professional liars. They take from friends, colleagues, family and strangers alike. They never apologize or feel remorse towards the people they hurt. They often have criminal careers. We call them by many names. Narcissist. Anti-social. Sociopath. CEO. And more and more, we call them Psychopath.
Psychopaths raise so many questions. What is wrong with these people? Maybe they had cold and distant parents. Maybe they suffered abuse as children? Maybe they have something broken in them, a chemical imbalance, or evil demons. Or the next stage in humanity's evolution. A new race of superhumans, perhaps? Can we identify them? Can we learn to spot them in our homes and streets? What is going on in their minds? Are they aware of the damage they do? Do they sleep well at night? How do we survive them? How can such horrible people exist? Am I one of them?
Luckily, there are good answers, which lift the dread mystery from psychopathy. This was my goal with this book: to decode the psychopathic mind and write a manual for the rest of us. The material is based on my experiences and those of many others. It has been tested in real life, and it seems to work. Having said that, please note the following section.
The author is not a psychiatric or medical professional. The author does not dispense medical advice or prescribe the use of any techniques as a form of treatment for physical or medical problems without the advice of a physician, either directly or indirectly. The intention of the author is to offer information of a general nature to help you in your quest for emotional or spiritual well-being. In the event that you use any of the information in this book for yourself, which is your right, the author and publisher assume no responsibility for your actions. None of the suggestions included in this book are intended to replace the care of a physician or to interfere with a diagnosis, prescribed medicines or therapies.
Break the Glass
If you're reading this book to get help with a difficult situation in your life, start here. I'm going to explain the key lessons in a short summary.
You will need to realize several things. The first is, are you the victim of psychological abuse? It is rarely overt. The bruises tend to be mental, not physical. An abusive relationship is disguised in lies, the ones your abuser tells you, and the ones you tell yourself. That makes it hard to see clearly.
Let's start with your feelings. Are you often sad, depressed, even suicidal? Do you feel empty and worthless? Have you bent your life to the other person's needs? Do you take blame for the failures, and do you keep trying to fix things? Do you feel you might be crazy? Do you feel burnt-out? Are you lonely, and have you lost old friends and relations? Do you drink a little too much?
If you're nodding to this list, you are probably in an abusive relationship. It is far more common than you realize. I'd estimate 10% to 20% of people are in abusive relationships at any point in time. It can be hard to recognize, admit, deal with, both for victims and for their friends and family.
Next, let's examine the relationship that is stressing you. Did it start "perfect" and then turn into a nightmare over time? Is it marked by sudden, unexpected crises? Is it characterized by extreme emotions? Is there verbal or physical violence? Have you invested everything in the relationship, with little in return? Has it become the only relationship that matters, over-shadowing friends and family? Are you unable to imagine any alternatives?
These are the signs of the abusive bond. If this describes your situation, then you are under attack. Assume the person doing this is a psychopath, with or without formal diagnosis. We'll come to a detailed diagnosis later. What matters now is to recognize your situation, and how you are being attacked. It may seem random, yet it is systematic. The goal is to confuse and isolate you, strip you of your assets, then destroy and discard you. The violence is just part of that.
If this does not describe your situation, then you can skip the rest of this section.
Now, take a fresh look at the other person. If you are facing a psychopath, it can be impossible to see their real nature. You must look sideways, and by reflection off other people. Do you see someone who cares for others, or someone who cares for themselves? Do they make quiet, careful plans, or are they chaotic? Do they save and invest, or are their finances in a mess? Are they surrounded by happy people, or by a cloud of stressed, obsessed followers? Do they have a solid professional and social history, or is their past a blank mystery?
When you come to the decision, "I am the victim of an abusive psychopath," then you are halfway to the door. You will be tempted to flee, and when you talk about your realization with others, they will tell you to get away. In common culture, "psychopath" means "serial killer."
In reality "psychopath" means the slow draining of your life force, like a vampire sucking you dry over weeks, even years. There can be physical violence, yet it's mostly insignificant compared to the psychological damage. This means if you leave, you take your damage with you.
Here is my overall strategy: patience, observation, and the slow turning of the relationship around. From victim and enabler, you become an immovable force that recognizes and blocks the psychopath's many attacks. You slowly disable your abuser, and in doing this you regain your power. Finally you end the relationship on your own terms, a whole person.
Sometimes you can just tell an abusive person, "it is over, do not contact me again." Yet often it requires force and time to break the relationship.
The law tends to ignore psychological abuse between adults. Most psychopaths are careful to leave no evidence. The police and courts tend to be cynical about "he said, she said" accusations. And no matter what you say, a psychopath will always have a better lie. This is how cults can operate in broad daylight.
So you cannot make verbal accusations. Indeed, it will tend to work against you. When it comes to wars of words, psychopaths are powerful. Instead, be patient and collect material evidence. There are ways to provoke a psychopath into doing and saying self-destructive things.
When you confront a psychopath, or even change your behavior slightly, the response is usually more abuse. You will be terrified, and hurt. You will want things to be "normal," and parts of you will be screaming, "don't provoke him, it'll only make things worse!"
This is the point when many people give up and return to their abusers. It is easier to accept than to fight back in pain. Yet to accept abuse is to die a slow death.
From experience we see that most threats are bluff and bluster. Predators are fragile. They cannot survive exposure. They will snarl and bully, yet confronted with real resistance and the risk of wider sanctions, they mostly back off.
Learn the laws that cover abuse and harassment. Make friends with your local police. Learn the types of reports you can file. Does violent language count as abuse? Or do you need bruises and a medical certificate? Are you legally allowed to record phone calls and conversations? Do your research.
If you share property, a business, or children, do contact a lawyer. The police will give you the address of your local victim support groups. If you are in a difficult domestic situation, a psychologist who specializes in abuse victims will help as you fight your way out of the relationship. Whether you're a man or a woman, asking for help to fight an abuser is no shame.
And here is your superpower: other people. When you talk to others you'll find that many have similar experiences. When you get evidence of abusive behavior you can publish it and file police complaints. Your abuser can only hide when others excuse and forget his or her behavior.
Above all, patience and calm. You need to learn a lot and change some deep assumptions about your life. You are not to blame. Abusers choose their victims, not the other way around. Read the book slowly, and take your current situation as a chance to become a stronger, wiser person.
How this Book Works
The Psychopath Code has eight chapters, each telling part of the story. You can read these in any order. I'd suggest you skim the text rapidly, then read it carefully a few times. Then discuss with people you trust, and let your new knowledge sink in slowly. Do your research, read psychopath forums and other books. There is a lot to learn, and it will take you time, maybe years, to digest it all.
In Chapter 1, we get the core hypothesis of the book, which is that psychopaths are social predators of other humans. It is not a new idea, indeed it is becoming mainstream. I've just taken the idea further than others.
In Chapter 2, we see how psychopaths hunt. It is strongly driven by gender and age. In each case the psychopath uses stealth and deception to get close and make their prey trust them. Learn these patterns, and you become immune to them.
In Chapter 3, we see how psychopaths capture their victims, and build the abusive bond. The psychopath isolates and manipulates their target into giving them anything. Again, knowing these patterns, we become immune to them.
In Chapter 4, we see the most brutal phase of the psychopathic relationship. In this stage, the psychopath drains their target, while abusing them into silence and acceptance.
In Chapter 5, we begin to turn the tables by tracking and identifying psychopaths. We see over a hundred traits and behaviors you can identify, including how you feel in the embrace of a psychopath.
In Chapter 6, we examine the human emotions. This is the key to understanding psychopathy and our response to it. We work through about fifty universal human emotions, of which psychopaths have nine.
In Chapter 7, we see how to break free from the embrace of a psychopath. The material explains step-by-step how to regain your power, and disable your abuser. It is not an overnight process, so patience and calm are essential.
In Chapter 8, I answer frequently-asked questions that follow from the material.
The book is available for sale on Amazon.com and Kindle, and for free from psychopathcode.com. Please do share the free PDFs and ebooks with your friends and family.
How this Book Came to Be
I'm a geek who writes software, articles, and books. My degree was in computer science. I studied psychology only a little at university. It's not the usual starting point for a book about psychopaths. So let me explain how it came to this.
Over my career I've worked with thousands of people. I've built hundreds of teams, and many small businesses, not-for-profits, and on-line communities. I've had to learn human nature. Some lessons are obvious. Some are well hidden. We are such a complex species. And yet it is possible to decode, understand, and predict human nature.
It was in Culture & Empire that I began writing on psychology. My expertise, and what fascinates me, is social psychology. That is, how groups work, and how people work within groups. It is the core of my work in open source community building. Software is all about people, it turns out.
In Culture & Empire I also looked at conflict as a force for change.
We dream of peace and stability. Yet throughout history the most ambitious leaps forward have arisen from conflict and chaos. We build a world of human rights. We work to protect the environment. We build legal systems and courts and police forces to protect prosperity and peace. You may not realize this from the daily news, yet globally, violence falls every year, and always has. Humans are not good, or evil. We are survivors. We do whatever it takes to reproduce and make sure our children flourish. Most of us succeed by hard work. A few of us live as parasites, taking from others, like vampires. I call these the "good actors" and the "bad actors."
As I finished Culture & Empire, I was facing some bad actors in my personal life. Being a writer, I didn't run away, and I didn't deny what was going on. Instead I started taking notes and conducting small experiments. It is not every day you get psychopaths to play with.
I found that my work in social psychology was incomplete. I'd focused on the good actors, and only skimmed the surface of bad actors. Yet these two strategies are not alternatives. They intertwine and work together in a long and mysterious arms race. This arms race lies at the core of what it means to "be human."
There is a lot of material about psychopaths on the web. It is a topic that is trending year on year. There are thousands of stories from those affected. There is research from psychologists and psychiatrists. There are papers from criminologists, and from on-line dating experts. There are even blogs and forums written by diagnosed psychopaths.
There are some huge questions that have no agreed answer. To start with, what causes psychopathy? Can we cure it, and do we even want to try? Can we identify psychopaths "in the wild," that is, without a psychiatric examination? Are they always violent and dangerous, and if not, what factors affect that? Is it a spectrum of behavior, like intelligence? Or is psychopathy more binary, like gender? How do psychopaths think and operate? Can we protect ourselves from them?
The authority on psychopaths is Dr. Robert Hare, and I use the term as he defines it, though more broadly. His checklist focuses on males and misses many female psychopaths. Classic psychopath research has focused on convicted criminals: habitual law breakers, and violent offenders. In the mid 1990s researchers started looking at psychopaths who hide in the general population. These are the "subclinical" or "successful" psychopaths who stay away from violent crime. They are rarely arrested.
What we see is a figure of around 10%, in both genders. ‘A handful of empirical studies suggest that ... subclinical psychopathy is much more common than its clinical counterpart, with base rates ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent." -- Jay C. Thomas, Daniel L. Segal, speaking of work by Gustafson and Ritzer in 1995 and Pethman and Earlandson in 2002, in the Comprehensive Handbook of Personality and Psychopathology: Personality and Everyday Functioning (Google books).
Clearly some psychopaths are more harmful than others. I'm going to use a figure of 4% as the cut-off point. This is somewhat arbitrary. Too low, and we miss the majority of psychopaths and the damage they do. Too high and we trivialize it.
While many psychopaths look entirely "normal", I've also come to think, and research backs this up, that psychopaths also hide behind other personality disorders. Those are: narcissistic, borderline, and histrionic PD. This especially applies to female psychopaths. When you include these, the picture becomes clearer and more detailed. As a plus we get usable models for managing the damage caused by these disorders.
In theory, personality disorders like borderline are treatable with medication and therapy. In practice, that does not work well, or at all. It is the same for diagnosed psychopaths (those with "anti-social personality disorder"). Therapy just seems to make them more skilled at manipulating people.
What can work is to limit and work to repair the damage that psychopaths do. Like bullies at school, psychopaths do not suffer from depression. It is family, friends, and colleagues who pay the cost. Once you see the process behind the psychopaths' impact craters, you can intervene.
Intervention is not simple. To deal with people who have spent their lives charming, manipulating, and bullying others is by default impossible. If you try to warn a group, you will find yourself blamed. If you try to warn individuals, you will find them turning against you. You must move slowly, carefully, and with the right knowledge.
So this book focuses on that process, how to recognize it, how it works, and how to disable it.
I'm not a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist. I cannot argue from authority. What I can do is develop models and test them on the psychopaths I have access to. I can test them against unusual situations from the past. And I can test them through other people who find themselves entangled with psychopaths.
I've spent years reading the literature, forums, books, articles. Anything that can shine a light on this mystery of these strange fellow humans, and how they work. I've talked to hundreds of people about the topic. That includes psychologists who specialize in abuse, and developmental disorders. It includes people who have survived abusive partners. People who have tried to kill themselves to escape. People whose parents were abusive and fit the profile of psychopaths.
I've used these models to build gardens of sanity in my personal and professional lives. Those who work with me know that our on-line communities are above all happy places. This is no accident. It comes from long, careful work to keep bad actors at bay.
As far as possible I've worked from repeated observations, verifiable research, and consensus. I've stayed away from speculation and opinion for its own sake. Having said that, I do tell a lot of stories and some are more fantastic than others. This is necessary. My experience has told me there are deep, important problems to solve here. For myself, my friends and my family, I wanted to solve these problems.
In "All Life is Problem Solving," Karl Popper wrote:
Science begins with problems. It attempts to solve them through bold, inventive theories. The great majority of theories are false and/or untestable. Valuable, testable theories will search for errors. We try to find errors and eliminate them. This is science: it consists of wild, often irresponsible ideas that it places under the strict control of error correction.
Please look for errors in my wild, irresponsible ideas, and work with me to replace or correct them. I've avoided jargon and innuendo. A clearly expressed idea is easier to critique. We can never reach truth, only discover better approximations to it. Sometimes that takes large leaps and informed guesses. Sometimes we must be willing to think in unorthodox directions. I make many hypotheses, and state them as if they are facts. I apologize in advance for that style. I apologize also for the speculation that I've gotten wrong. I hope the parts which turn out to be right make it worthwhile.
Embracing the Past
If your ex-partner might have been a psychopath, this book will bring back memories. It will cause you to feel strong emotions. You may want to avoid reading it, to avoid reliving your experiences. This is a common and understandable reaction. The dominant opinion about trauma is that re-thinking our experiences stops the healing process.
Yet to avoid is to be helpless. And helplessness leads us to depression. I have talked for hundreds of hours with other survivors of psychopathic relationships. I've listened to their stories of endless emotional bullying, deceit, manipulation, theft. I've shared my own stories. And I've told the stories that I tell in this book. What psychopaths are. How they think. Where they get their power. What they look like. And most of all, how to fight back.
Our experiences are all so similar. It is as if every psychopath on Earth read the same handbook. When I talk about psychopaths with a new group, at least a quarter of them light up. "You're speaking of my ex," they say. I explain how I learned to deal with such people, past and present. "You should write a book," they tell me. "I'm doing that," I reply.
My advice is to embrace your past. Don't avoid it. Confront it and understand it. Then use that new knowledge to become a stronger, happier person. This is why I wrote this book. I wanted to explain psychopathy in a positive way. Not that psychopaths are nice people. They are as nice as a nail through the hand. Yet if you can get to the end of this book, I promise you a picture of psychopathy that changes everything.