Archives for June 2009

Talent -VS- Personality Disorders

The world has been rocked by the death of Michael Jackson who is likely to be remembered equally for not only his talent/creativity, his bizarre behavior, appearance, and practices and the abuse allegations he has gone thru more than once. It seems at ‘odds’ that someone so talented could also be fairly disordered.

Michael appears to meet the critieria for Schizotypal Personality Disorder. There has been many other articles written about Michael’s possible link to Schizotypal Personality Disorder (just google).

This disorder is:

  • acute discomort with, and reduced capacity for close relationships
  • Odd beliefs or magical thinking that influences behavior and is inconsistent with cultural norms
  • Unusual perceptual experiences
  • Odd thinking and speech
  • Suspiciousness or paranoid ideas
  • Inappropriate or constricted emotions
  • Behavior or appearance that is odd, eccentric, or peculiar
  • Lack of close friends or confidants other than first degree relatives
  • Excessive social anxiety that does not diminish with familiarity and tends to be associated with paranoid fears rather than negative judgments about self.

Through the years we have watched a mega-talent and child prodigy slowly turn into a reclusive and eccentric man-boy. Exemplifying the oddities of schizotypals, he has continued to alter his appearance past the point of ‘normal’ appearing cosmetic surgery–often implying that the weirder it gets, the better. He used other behaviors as ways of accentuating his ‘eccentricity’ and uniqueness–often seen wearing a germ mask (long before the flu fears), claimed that Bubbles his chimpanzee was his closest companion (not humans), created his property into Neverland, storybook based on the Peter Pan story of ‘never wanting to grow up’ and remained highly reclusive from that point on–drawing mostly children to Neverland. The stories about sleeping in the ‘anti-aging chamber’

along with his growing oddity of appearance, dress, and behavior, sadly attracted the title ‘Wacko Jacko.’

His two sexual child abuse cases, while dismissed, did expose some of his bizarre thinking, stating “It’s the most loving thing to share your bed with a child.” The inability to see the inappropriateness of some of his comments especially while under investigation established much of his thinking as ‘disordered’ and out of touch with reality and what is ‘normal’ in other people’s eyes.

While bizarre children’s names are not out of the norm with celebrities and many every day people name their children after themselves or a family name, his reflected a glaring narcissism. First child was Prince Michael I, second child Paris Michael (a girl), third child Prince Michael II.

The last child produced more examples of his bizarre behavior by him dangling the infant over a hotel balcony. Today, the child is referred to as ‘Blanket.’ While celebrities all try to shield their children from the negative effects of the media and possible kidnapping, Michael’s was the most extreme–given his schizotypal approach to life. His children, when they were rarely seen in public, had elaborate masks or towels hanging from their heads. While other huge celebrities face the same threats (John Lennon, McCartney, Elvis, JF Kennedy)– none responded by dressing their children bizarrely in masks or towels and prohibiting any known information about them.

Michael stands as probably THE most talented person to date changing the racial divide in music, changing MTV, and pressing excellence in music far beyond what anyone had done to that point. But talent does not mean that it is not co-mingled and intertwined around rather severe disorder. We see that over and over again in pathology–that people’s pathology is often dismissed when it is compared to their achievements. Various forms of pathology SEEKS careers in which they receive a lot of status, attention, money, or exposure. Many forms of pathology are laced with excitement seeking, risk taking, and high achieving traits that will ‘help’ pathology over the bar and up the career ladder. We shouldn’t be looking for pathology working at the grocery store or the car wash. While there are blue collar pathologicals, many (and those most undetected) are successful–even mega-successfully. Certain disorders migrate to certain fields such as medicine, the legal field, criminal justice, law enforcement, banking, psychology/theology, and even the entertainment field. While it is tempting to take our eyes off of ‘who’ they are underneath the talent, it is just as important for us to remember that talent and disorder aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s as if the Creator gives greatly on one side, and takes greatly from the other side–there are talented excesses and devastating deficits. Michael’s talent exemplifies what it means to be a prodigy. His personal life and deteriorating behavioral life also shines a light on how pathology is not a respecter or persons–any talented person can be harboring the life-altering effects of pathology.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw him moon walk and the goose bumps I had when he sang Thriller. Yet I’ll also never forget the first time I saw his face being so altered from surgery and thinking this was the revelation of a bigger problem or the mortification I felt when he was fighting sexual abuse allegations. In either extreme, we will all remember something “BIGGER” than life about Michael. Much healing to those who loved him–which were many.

Bait and Switch

Psychopaths are somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand they are known to experts as extremely impulsive, with a seeming inability to plan ahead or to be affected by the threat of future punishments. Their behavior is mainly directed in the service of fulfilling their immediate impulses and whims. However, on the other hand, they can be perfect predators, stalking their kill with the patience and precision of a cougar, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. It’s a marvel to watch the steady, subtle maneuverings of a psychopath climbing his way up the hierarchy of power, influence, and control.

Researchers aren’t exactly sure how to reconcile the two. Perhaps intelligence is a factor that contributes towards the making of a “successful” psychopath who manages to avoid detection, or who operates within the law. For the successful psychopath, a good intellect is a useful tool in fulfilling the impulses that often are the Achilles’ heel of less intelligent psychopaths. And when good intelligence combines with utter ruthlessness in the pursuit of an impulse for power and subjection, disaster results for everyone caught in the maelstrom of the psychopaths influence.

Paul Babiak’s and Robert Hare’s book, Snakes in Suits, contains an entertaining case study of a corporate psychopath manipulating his way to the top. He does this by cultivating a series of relationships with those he feels can be used as stepping stones on his rise to success. He establishes a hierarchy of those he sees as occupying important positions of influence, and those he sees as below him. Babiak and Hare divide these relationships into “pawns, patrons, and patsies.” Those he feels have nothing to offer are treated as worthless, while those with something to offer are conned. By developing relationships with important people, convincing them of his goodness and skills, he shelters himself from the criticisms of those who see through his game. These patrons become patsies as he orchestrates situations geared towards usurping their power.

This cold, calculated behavior is entirely geared towards getting what the psychopath wants, and is definitely at odds with the petty and inept criminal psychopaths who populate our prisons and psychiatric wards. It is these successful psychopaths who can do the most damage to individuals and even entire countries. On the interpersonal level they masterfully gain the influence of men and women in romantic relationships, establishing a strong emotional bond in their partner, who they then use as sources of emotional feeding and exploitation. They entrench themselves in our lives and suck us dry, moving from one victim to the next, in the manner described so well in Sandra L. Brown, M.A.’s book, Women Who Love Psychopaths.

When this dynamic plays out in political organizations, the results are tremendous and catastrophic, as demonstrated by Andrew Lobaczewski in Political Ponerology. Just as a psychopath distorts reality, and demands his partner adopt this distorted perception, psychopaths seeking political power strive to achieve the same ends. They seek to create an environment in which their behavior is not only permitted, but accepted. Lobaczewski calls this process by which psychopaths gain prominence, distorting the minds of their pawns and patrons, ponerization. Not only do they infect groups with their presence, they infect the minds of those under their influence.

One method by which they achieve this is by setting up patsies. On the micro level this can be as simple as convincing a partner that her family and friends are evil, cutting her off from a support base that could otherwise help her. On the macro level, this is achieved by creating or exploiting external or internal enemies. Hitler did it with communists and the Jews, and American leaders have continued this process with the demonization of “traitors” and “terrorists”. By convincing the people that this easily identifiable group is evil and worthy of destruction, psychopaths corrupt the minds of their subjects, forming them into just the kind of bloodthirsty monsters they accuse their enemies of being.

In such an environment, psychopathic thinking becomes widespread. The minds of ordinary people are ponerized towards viewing other humans as less than animals, and the destructive wishes of psychopaths are normalized. In this way, psychopaths exploit our natural tendency to abhor the very behavior they are guilty of. They manage to convince us that it is not them that is to blame, but a convenient scapegoat, the result being a kind of Orwellian doublethink. On the one hand we condemn violent behavior, and on the other we condone it in ourselves, because, “They deserve it.” It is this “bait and switch” operation that is used most often, and most expertly, by psychopathic politicians, not only in their character assassinations of political rivals, but also in their creation of a controlled opposition. The Nazis used it, in their false-flag burning of the Reichstag in 1933, falsely blamed on a communist named Marinus van der Lubbe. Orwell described it, in 1984’s Party-orchestrated “terrorist” bombings, blamed on political dissidents. And it’s up to us to see it when the snakes in suits currently occupying important positions of political influence use the same tricks.

Taking the Bait

I already observed that we often spot pathological dynamics in other people’s lives. After the horror of discovering on our own that our partners are not who they say they are, parents, siblings, and friends will often say, “I knew he was trouble from the start!” So why couldn’t we see it?

There are several reasons, and they boil down to this: when a psychopath picks his mark, whether in a personal or business relationship, he focuses all his resources on making his victim think he is something he is not. He specially tailors his manufactured persona to your specific traits, behaviors, and anxieties. In other words, he makes it personal, projecting the image of your fantasy partner, perfect in every way. The problem is, it’s all an act. Once he has used you up he will throw you to the side and move on to his next victim, leaving you traumatized and clueless as to what hit you.

But how does he begin to do this? How does he convince us of his perfection, even if others can see he’s dangerous? This is where his special ability to exploit emotional weaknesses begins: the initial con. The psychopath is aware of certain things about so-called normal people. He observes their strange rituals of “loyalty” and “friendship”, their meaningless fantasies, their desperation for something so lacking in their lives. To him these things don’t make sense. They’re like the dance and music of a foreign culture. But he observes these strange “rules” of behavior and quickly understands that they can be put to use to give him what he wants. He learns to use people as instruments, as machine parts. “Put in a coin and push this button. Out comes food. When nothing else comes out, move on to the next.” He pushes the buttons but has no understanding, like a deaf man who plays piano by rote, amused by the goofy smiles of enjoyment on the faces of people who hear the music he never will.

But the psychopath can’t simply play random notes. He needs to learn the correct technique and melodies otherwise he’ll be exposed for what he is. He needs to identify what it is we want and need and then give it to us. It’s only when we trust, respect, and love him that we become his slave. In this stage of his con, he exploits our positive emotions. He gives us the pleasure of telling us everything we’ve always wanted to hear, giving us what we want, and fulfilling our long-held fantasies. The psychopath can be the perfect friend, the perfect lover. He likes the things we like, reads the same books, has the same views on the world, and he accepts us completely and with no conditions. He is always there for us and is considerate to our every need. The psychopath protects us from the dangers of the world and lets us bask in his perfection.

It is this process that makes the psychopath go from just being some guy whose opinion we could care less about, to someone we trust and look to for love and guidance; from an outsider, to a member of our family. He conditions us to need him. He “hooks” us via our emotions so that it hurts not to have him. As mentioned last month, our basic emotions serve our survival. We come to enjoy good meals because they give us energy and keep us alive; our homes which provide shelter from the elements. The positive feelings of the social bonds with our families and close friends gives us a network of support and trust to survive in the world. And when those habitual and emotional bonds are broken, it hurts.

The psychopath knows we prefer pleasure over pain, so he deliberately makes us feel great and sets it up so that we feel miserable without him. When we have a job, we tend to want to keep it; a house, to stay in it; a meal, to eat it. We don’t willingly just give these things away. We need them, and we often fight to keep these things. When the psychopath insinuates himself into a position of being the provider of the things we need, we can’t leave him. We NEED him. And he knows it.

Let’s look how pathology creeps into other areas of our lives. For instance, our political and religious systems follow the same psychopathic dynamic. Just look at the position of President of
the United States and the manner in which he is presented to the public (the “image” of President Obama being a case in point).  He is a myth, a god, a superhero. He loves us, understands us, praises us, and does everything he can to help us and give us what we want and need. He is a good father, one who knows best and in whom we place our respect and trust. If he tells us something, we believe him. After all, we are emotionally invested in believing because government is set up in a such a way, and marketed in such a way, that we NEED it. This has provided the perfect feeding ground for inordinate number of psychopaths who seek politics and government as a career.

After all, they are experts in telling us what we want to hear, presenting themselves as our country-saviors and protectors. They are charming, hope-inspiring, and charismatic. But again, it’s all the well-known ‘mask of sanity’ of the psychopath.  These  politicians could care less about us and what we need. They lie to gain our support, and later use our own support to dominate us. Of course, just as in relationships, we usually don’t realize we’ve been duped until it’s too late and the life has been drained out of us.

What the politician does on the national and global level, the charismatic pathological preacher does in his church. The news is often packed with the latest pathological preacher and what he’s doing within his church. He plays on our desire for meaning and transcendence. He tells us we are “special” and “chosen”, and presents himself as the interpreter of God’s will instead of allowing each person to know that for themselves. He convinces us that we can only continue to be “special” children of God if we follow his will and ideology. In this way, he makes it so that we rely on him alone. Without him, as God’s middleman and mouth-piece of truth, we cannot be saved. Once he has his flock, he keeps it, and feeds at will.

Here we can see how pathology implies into our mind the issue of ‘needing’ this person for our own relational needs, governmental protection, or spiritual service. It’s no wonder that psychopaths can easily enter our lives under the guise of need.

The Pathological Relationship: Here, There, Everywhere!

In the last column of Petty Tyrants I made the observation that the pathological relationship is a well-known dynamic. Either we’ve experienced it ourselves, or if we haven’t, we know someone who has. We see them in TV shows and movies, and hear news reports on domestic violence and husbands and wives with “secret lives”, and so on. But often that’s where our knowledge ends. We know it happens, and that’s pretty much it. We’re still left in the dark when it comes to why and how, and the explanations we do have are often dangerously wrong. Without this knowledge of the real nature of pathology and the reasons we get involved, we cannot possibly prevent ourselves from future danger.

Our complete lack of education in this area is difficult to comprehend. Imagine a mother who teaches her child she’ll be safe around dogs as long as she is friendly and approaches them with care. Eventually, the child will approach an aggressive dog, and perhaps be seriously harmed by the resulting attack. Now imagine that this is how an entire society approaches the topic. The children in such a world would have no ability to tell the difference between friendly dogs and dangerous ones; no knowledge of those dogs bred specifically for aggressive traits; no ability to detect an overly fearful, territorial, or possessive dog; no knowledge on the effects of previous abuse on a dog’s behavior. The child may even mistake a predatory animal like a coyote or even a hyena for a normal canine.

Not only would the children be at risk, the adults who pass on such naïve beliefs would lack the knowledge necessary to come to a correct conclusion about WHY their children keep getting mauled. After all, dogs are inherently good and friendly, especially if they’re approached in a loving manner, so it must be the children’s fault. They must be doing something wrong. In other words, they’d use all sorts of mental gymnastics to force reality to conform to their worldview. Belief systems tend to do that—distort reality.

Unfortunately, the state of public education about psychopathy (not to mention relationships in general) is that bad, if not worse. We not only neglect to teach our children about its existence and the cautionary clues to help us avoid interactions with psychopaths, we blame the victims for the harm they unwittingly experience. To many, still, the rape victim “had it coming.” And victims eventually adopt such excuses for themselves: “I know deep down, some part of him really loves me. He just had a really rough childhood.” And just like the in the dog analogy, we end up blaming ourselves when our love doesn’t change them. It must be something we’re doing wrong.

The situation is made even more difficult because psychopathy is like a swift punch in the back of the head—you never see it coming until it’s too late! We tend to only hear about their crimes after they’ve been caught. To all appearances, they look and act just like we do. They learn very early in life to present a near-perfect image of normality. So on the surface of reality, everything looks in order.

While in reality psychopaths feel nothing, they learn how to fake emotion, for example, crying in situations where one is supposed to be sad. And most importantly, they become experts at manipulating the very real emotions of others. They are so successful because, strangely, they seem to have a better grasp on our emotional lives than we do. They instantly spot all those weaknesses and blind spots that we try so desperately to ignore, and they exploit them ruthlessly. If our emotions were keys on a piano, psychopaths would be virtuosos! And when you can manipulate a person’s emotions, you can manipulate their actions, even to their own destruction.

Although it is certainly a difficult skill to learn, it is possible to recognize such individuals, before we get involved. The first step is to understand the nature of our own emotions. Only then will we be able to understand how psychopaths use these emotions to manipulate us and how to prevent it. But before we get into some specific emotions, like happiness, fear, and anger, and the techniques psychopaths use to take advantage of them, we need to talk a little about emotions in general.

Not only are basic emotions like fear, anger, joy, disgust, and contempt common to members of the human species, we also share them with most other mammals. They serve a specific purpose to us as part of our body’s natural survival mechanism. For example, materials and substances that are toxic to our bodies, like rotten food, feces, and vomit, disgust us, so we stay away from them as much as possible. We feel fearful when threatened, freezing or fleeing in order to avoid the pain we may experience. In contrast, we are drawn towards things that sustain us, like good food, good people, and physical comfort. In other words, these basic emotions are the body’s way of telling us what to do if we’re going to stay alive.

Emotions are automatic reactions to our experience of the world, and they’re like that for a reason. For example, when the emotional systems in our nervous system first recognize a threat in the outside world, they essentially take over control of our body and mind in order to deal with the threat. They focus our attention on the situation at hand and push everything else out of mind. When we’re walking alone at night on a dark street and a man appears out of an alleyway in front of us, we may feel fear. If that’s the case, our heart rate increases, blood flows to our legs preparing us to run, and our mind filters out all unnecessary information, interpreting whatever DOES enter strictly in terms of the fear. If he puts his hand in his pocket, we expect him to pull out a weapon.

These emotions are common to people of all cultures, and they are all triggered in similar scenarios. However—and this is the most important part of this discussion—while the emotional “themes” of these emotions are universal, the specific situations in which we feel them are not necessarily so. We can be socialized, trained, and manipulated to feel emotions in situations where they are not only unnecessary; they are even harmful to our wellbeing.

This subject will be the focus of this column for the next several installments. Psychopaths, whether in our personal lives, or in the halls of political, religious, or corporate power, have an almost innate understanding of the emotional themes that run our lives. They see how situations trigger an emotion, and they see that this emotion causes us to act in very specific ways. And they use us as pawns in their games of power. Luckily, if we can learn to differentiate between real emotion and manipulated emotion—to become free from those parts of ourselves which control us—we can then become free from the rule of those external tyrants which control us. We can cease to be pawns in someone else’s game.

Petty Tyrants – An Introduction

Psycho girlfriends. Toxic boyfriends. The pathological relationship. We’ve all heard about it or experienced it for ourselves. Even if we’re not familiar with its various names or the psychological explanations behind it, we’re not surprised when we hear that a friend or family member is in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship. Whether it’s a girl insulted and humiliated by her boyfriend, or a man whose wife leaves him, takes his money, their kids, and his reputation after a painful divorce, these pathological relationships still seem to be a natural part of our daily experience. The pain and hopeless cycles of these relationships remind us that pathology in relationships is all too common.

Luckily there is a growing body of research on these all-too-familiar dynamics, and therapists trained in dealing with them. Sandra L. Brown, M.A.’s How To Spot a Dangerous Man and Women Who Love Psychopaths; Martha Stout’s The Myth of Sanity and The Sociopath Next Door; and Robin Stern’s The Gaslight Effect. These and other essential materials bring an important body of knowledge to those who need it most. Because without such knowledge, we are like Goldilocks entering a dark and unknown forest, blind to the dangers of charming yet cunning predators.

Upon meeting and interacting with such a predator, many men and women ignore the warning signs, rationalizing the odd behavior that doesn’t quite add up. Unfortunately, that inability to recognize the warning signs—the ever-so-slight intuition that something is wrong—is the first step in a downward spiral of deceitfulness, manipulation, and suffering. And unfortunately, a clever psychopath is an expert at taking advantage of this gap in our knowledge. Like a hyena picking out the weakest of the herd, they spot our weaknesses and exploit them ruthlessly.

The purpose of the materials listed above, and this magazine, is twofold. On the one hand, the information helps to educate those of us who have not been in a pathological relationship. By learning the signs, we can avoid such a relationship before it happens. On the other hand, it provides the information necessary to help those of us within such a relationship to recognize what is really going on, and that there is a solution.

The simple act of learning that one’s partner, or parent, or sibling, is pathological can be therapeutic in itself. Then we know that we’re not crazy—there is an explanation for their incomprehensible and often inconceivable behavior, and there are others who have gone through the exact same thing. Simply learning that language brings relief, comfort, and the strength to continue healing.

But let’s step back for a moment here and look at the bigger picture. Surely the partners of these individuals are not the only ones affected by their pathology. They have jobs, and because of their own ruthless drive for power and control, they often achieve influential positions in corporations, churches, and politics.

The purpose of this column is to analyze the pathological “dictators” in our lives, both on the interpersonal level—the dirty tricks and subtle manipulations we encounter in our everyday interactions—and on the wider, societal/political level—from our bosses, political leaders, and church authorities. We know the havoc one psychopath can bring down upon just one individual. When in a position of great power and influence, that havoc is vastly increased, as their pathology affects the lives of entire nations.

Just as the books listed above are essential tools in bringing an understanding of the pathological relationship to the general population, several recently published books expand this approach to the broader, social dynamics I’ll be exploring in this column. They have all influenced me greatly, and I’ll refer to them frequently. They are Andrew Lobaczewski’s Political Ponerology; Martha Stout’s The Paranoia Switch; and Paul Babiak and Robert Hare’s Snakes in Suits. Their work provides a solid foundation for understanding how the pathological relationship applies to every facet of our lives.

In this column I will not only analyze historical and contemporary examples of such pathology in high places, but also the similarities between the interpersonal dynamics and the sociopolitical dynamics. Whether in your own home or in the Whitehouse, pathological individuals use the same tricks. And, luckily, when their tricks are revealed, when they’re exposed for the petty tyrants they really are, they’re powerless.