Archives for August 2010

Reality Bytes: A Survivor’s Journey – Part 4

Part 4

It was a rainbow day perfect day. I squinted at the sun as it peaked through the dark feathered clouds. I hoped the rain would take a nap for a while because it was time for my most favored activity— a trip to the Laundromat, yeah, yeah, yeah.

A mound of dirty clothes piled high above my granny cart—my newest set of wheels, gave away my agenda for the day.

Realizing it was laundry day, my ninety-year-old landlord volunteered her car. I gratefully accepted; the alternative was than hoofing it down the street like a homeless woman carrying all of her belongings in the rain.

Just then a magnificent cloak of vibrant colors magically spread across the sky. I thanked her for her offer and started our on foot with the cart. As the distance grew between us, I heard my landlord yell, “if it starts to rain and you need a ride call me!”

Judgment used to float around my head when I saw others walking around with one of these carts. It seemed they were either very old or homeless. Yet they were comfortable with their cart. They did not care about image. Man, how perception shifts when you get a chance to walk in another’s shoes, or push another’s cart…

I am now grateful to own this unassuming set of wheels. When I purchased it five years ago, my belly was big and round as it nurtured a very precious, beautiful little girl growing inside me.

I will never forget the blistery hot day. I was walking the one of the largest swap meets in the country. I purchased that blue granny cart to carry all the items I had bought for the “Good Doctor’s” office. I was going to be the doctor’s wife. Alas I thought!


I remember how that cart came in handy that day. As I pushed it around, I never guessed that one day it would become my only set of wheels. And that the “Good Doctor” wasn’t so good.

I admit, I still worry a tad about “image” as I walk down the street with the cart. However, I have come to appreciate an item I wouldn’t be caught dead with a few years ago.

It has become abundantly clear that I have something to give. Actually, it is that knowledge that keeps me going through the murky waters of this battle. I try to find humor. With laughter, the soul cleanses itself.

(All articles are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced, however feel free to put a link to this page.)

* All content does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Institute.

Chronic Personality Problems in Problem Relationships

A large portion of emotional and physical abusers (although not all) have some similar identifying disorders, traits, or diagnosis. They are not all created equal. That means, each one of them brings a unique combination of traits, challenges, and problems to the equation of the relationship and even therapy. Therefore, not all abusers treatment is going to be effective because not all psychological problems are treatable. For instance, batterer intervention has often failed to make this distinction and lumps all violent behavior or psychological problems together
as if they are not differentiated by their differences.

Some of the disorders have biological and neurological root causes that are not curable. Ultimately, not all problem relationships have a solution especially those that have biological/neuro problems at their basis. That’s not popular to hear. We live in an Oprah-age of psychology that believes all disorders are curable
and if not curable, at least highly treatable. ‘Law of Attraction’ type thinking pulls many people into believing ‘if they think it, they can make it happen’ (their relationship will work, the pathology will be gone, or something curative will happen that will drive away the symptoms.) Like medicine, psychology faces the same challenges that not all disorders have a satisfactory treatment, or a cure.

If people who are in problem relationships want to avoid future problem relationships, they have to understand what contributes to some of the disorders and the signs within the behavior.  There is no doubt that chronic personality problems wreak havoc in relationships and the worst of these do have commonalities related to impulsivity, emotional dysregulation, and violence. (No abuse is mild. I’m not suggesting that. What I am trying to hone on is the chronic and lethal nature of some of the
relationships and what some of the contributing factors can be to those problems).

Some of the more recent research in neuroscience helps us to understand the problems related to what Otto Kernberg (one of the renowned writers and researchers of pathology) wrote about as
‘severe personality disorders’ related to Cluster B disorders (see his books Aggression in Personality Disorders and Perversions; Severe Personality Disorders; Aggressivity, Narcissism and Self
Destructiveness in the Psychotherapeutic Relationships–to name a few).

However, neuroscience over the past few years has helped us understand the additional possible biological and neurological roots of some of these severe disorders as well as the disorders of sociopathy and psychopathy. MRI’s of various Cluster B disorders and sociopathy/psychopath have lead the way noting
similarities in brain formations, brain activity, brain circuitry, brain chemistry and it’s relationship to the severe disorders, impulsivity, poor treatment outcomes, and poor relationship outcomes. Where therapy has spent decades (if not a century)
focused on the very psychoanalytic and behavioral approaches, we have missed the very real potential of neurology and brain functioning challenges.

While the origins and etiology of these disorders has been widely debated for decades, neuroscience is providing many of the answers to biology that we previously didn’t have. This helps us delineate
between the mind as a structure and process and the brain as an organ. The brain as an organ has all the proclivity of being born with differences, challenges, and problems as any other organ in the body. Unfortunately, up until now, the view has been a very
‘psychological’ approach to the brain and its disorders without looking at the possible contributions of ‘nature’ such as being born with physical predispositions. While we don’t question that
when it comes to the heart or immune system people can be born with abnormalities, people certainly have a BIG reaction to that at the thought as psychology being related to brain organ issues and not merely emotional issues.

When looking at the behaviors associated with problem partners with what is referred to as ‘severe personality disorders’ and the problems of sociopathy and psychopath, we have to look broadly at the symptoms, but not so broadly that we find loopholes.
Normally, one symptom off a behavioral list does not constitute one of the ‘severe personality disorders’ or even the no/low-conscience disorders of sociopathy or psychopathy. However, they don’t need to have ALL of these traits in order to be problematic in a relationship.

Those in relationships with problem partners often fail on the side of ‘too much empathy’ and give them more credit for not having these symptoms than what is warranted. Somewhere in the middle of one trait-too-many/and no-they-don’t-have-problems-at-all,
is a snap shot of relationship problems and problem partners. Here are some of the behaviors associated with what is referred to as some of the severe personality disorders and also sociopathy and psychopathy. (Taken from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual–DSM IV)

___Disregard for, and the violation of, the rights of others
___Failure to conform to lawful social norms
___Deceitfulness Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
___Irritability and aggressiveness as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
___Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others
___Consistent irresponsibility as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
(Above are related to Antisocial Personality Disorder)

___ Lack of remorse as indicated by being indifferent about having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another
___ Glib and superficial charm
___ Grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
___ Need for stimulation
___ Pathological lying
___ Cunning and manipulativeness
___ Lack of remorse or guilt
___Shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
___ Callousness and lack of empathy
___ Parasitic lifestyle
___ Poor behavioral controls
___ Sexual promiscuity
___ Early behavior problems
___ Lack of realistic long-term goals
___ Impulsivity irresponsibility
___ Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
___ Many short-term relationships
___ Juvenile delinquency
___ Revocation of conditional release
___ Criminal versatility

(Above are related to Sociopaths/Psychopaths)

___ Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
___ Intense and unstable personal relationships that over idealize and devalue
___ Identity disturbance with unstable self image or sense of self impulsivity in at least two areas (spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
___ Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-mutilation
___ Emotional instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (intense episodic irritability or anxiety)
___ Chronic feelings of emptiness
___ Inappropriate intense anger or difficulty controlling anger

(Above are related to Borderline Personality Disorder)

___ A grandiose sense of self importance
___ Exaggerates their achievements and talents
___ Expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements
___ Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
___ Believes that he is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should only associate with, other special or other high-status people or institutions.
___ Requires excessive admiration
___ Has a sense of entitlement, unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his expectations
___ Is interpersonally exploitative within relationships and takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends
___ Lacks empathy and is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
___ Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him
___ Shows an arrogant, haughty behavior or attitude

(Above are related to Narcissistic Personality Disorder)

This list is not mild relational infractions or merely what Dr. Phil refers to as ‘deal breakers’. In some of the more chronic features and behaviors, this pathology causes debilitating partner aftermath
symptoms. The Institute is involved in offering recovery to those coming out of relationships with narcissists, antisocial, sociopathy and psychopaths. That’s because the chroncity of their disorders often causes chroncity within their relationships. If that wasn’t true, 60 million people would not be negatively
affected by someone else’s pathology. We wouldn’t have support groups for “Partners of Narcissists” or “Adult Children of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” There wouldn’t be self help books for those harmed by antisocials or psychopaths. The Institute wouldn’t have felt it necessary to write ‘Women Who Love Psychopaths’ and offer coaching for the survivors.

Some of those listed above on the check lists are the abusers who are not created equal, who have permanent neuro, emotional, behavioral and psychological disorders that bypass what psychology
can do for them. Anger management–nope. Batterer intervention–nope. Intensive psychotherapy–nope. The permanent forms of pathology are noted for it’s Three Inabilities (Brown, 2005):

* Inability to grow to any authentic emotional or spiritual depth
* Inability to sustain positive change
* Inability to develop insight how their behavior negatively affects others

These inabilities are the hallmark of chronic disorders that create chronic problem relationships. Lacey, Staci and Nicole bear witness to the un-diagnosed problems of problem partners.

** Footnote: Research articles related to this topic: ‘Neural foundation of moral reasoning and antisocial behavior;’  ‘Into the Mind of a Killer: Brain imaging studies starting to venture into the research of criminal psychopathy;’ ‘Tridimensional Personality
Questionnaire data on alcoholic violent offenders: specific connections to severe impulsive cluster B personality disorders and violent criminality” ‘The Relationship Between DSM-IV cluster B personality disorders and psychopathy according to Hare’s
criteria: Clarification and resolution of previous Contractions;’ ‘Brain imaging abnormalities in borderline personality disorder’ (video)’ ‘Potentials implicate temporal lobe abnormalities in criminal psychopaths;’ Hypomanic symptoms predict an increase in
narcissism and histrionic personality disorders;’ and ‘The Brain and Personality Disorders.’

Reality Bytes: A Survivor’s Journey – Part 3

Part 3

Hello dear friends, I was thinking about the early days and how things began with me and the psychopath. I love those who look at me with crunched foreheads and say, “so why did you get involved with someone like this?”

Well, back then I did not know what I know now. If I had, I would have never been with such a sick person. The issue was that he presented himself drastically different to me.

I remember our early days like it was yesterday-it felt so wonderful. He was so warm, affectionate and loving. I felt like the center of his universe.

There was one night in particular that is so opposite to what I am dealing with today. It was a beautiful moonlit fall evening on a chilly California Beach. Harmoniously, we swayed side-by-side at the shoreline in a mutual state of awe at one of God’s greatest creations: the ocean. I shivered from the cool sensation of the water rolling over my toes so he gallantly draped his leather bomber jacket around my shoulders. Oh, he was charming, gentle and self sacrificing.

His stunning powder blue eyes were hypnotic to me. Later that night, like a child I skipped down my driveway reliving the tingling sensation that came to me during our first kiss. It felt like a stream of butterflies flowed out of my soul into my belly. It was so dreamy. He was older, mature, attractive, a “doctor.” WOOHOO!

Between my moments of elation, I felt sorrow for him. He shared his story with me. He told me he was renting a room from a lady because he just moved back to the area. Some time ago, he said he married and moved away to another state. He wanted a family, but his wife had a miscarriage and refused to try again. He said he would have adopted a child, but she would not even do that. After 10 years of promises with him, she refused to fulfill his dream of being a father. How terrible I thought she must be while I consoled and honored his noble mission.

I thought what more could someone want? Here I am, so over the corporate rat race and completely missing having a family. I believed my chances to meet Mr. Right were slim to none. Just hitting my forties, the best thing to do I felt was to cover up my desire to have a loving man. The white picket fence, the babies, stay at home mom, etc. etc. So because I was making a lot of money and just bought a home, I assured myself things could be a lot worse.

My attitude changed when “he” seemed to have the same dreams as I did. It was a perfect overlap. He wanted a child. He wanted to be the pappa bear supporting his family and felt that moms were meant to stay home with the kids. By the time we made it through our wonderfully romantic holidays, I was just so taken in by him. I still feel him cupping my face with his hands telling me how much he loved me.

The family portrait he visually painted of us and our two children was hanging over the fireplace. He used to drive me around the beautiful tree-lined streets in an exclusive beach town to point out what houses we should consider to live in one day. Of course once he got his practice set up again.

Within five months of that blissful beach evening, he had proposed by sliding a very large diamond ring on my finger. In a few short weeks I found out I was having his baby which was only a few short days after I got a real glimpse into the man I promised to marry. A little too late, but what the heck, love could conquer anything, right?

(All articles are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced, however feel free to put a link to this page.)

* All content does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Institute.

Ponerology 101 – A Wall Street Psychopath

Article used with the permission of

In 1960 Bernie Madoff founded his Wall Street firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC. As chairman of its Board of Directors until his arrest in December of 2008, Madoff saw his firm (and himself) rise to prominence on Wall Street, developing the technology that became NASDAQ, the first and largest electronic stock exchange in America, in the process. A multimillionaire with over $800-million in shared assets with his wife and high school sweetheart, Ruth Alpern, Madoff was well-regarded as a financial mastermind and prolific philanthropist. He exuded an aura of wealth, confidence, and connections, and many trusted him as a pillar of the community. Sounds like a great guy, huh?

His humanitarian image was supported by his work for various nonprofit groups like the American Jewish Congress and Yeshiva University in New York, the various commissions and boards on which he sat, and the millions he donated to educational, political, cultural, and medical causes. As his firm’s website made clear at the time (it has now been removed): “Clients know that Bernard Madoff has a personal interest in maintaining the unblemished record of value, fair-dealing, and high ethical standards that has always been the firm’s hallmark.” It’s funny how things change with a little perspective and a pattern emerges only in retrospect. It wasn’t until December of 2008 that the public became aware that this “personal interest” was anything but one of integrity, and that image stopped being taken for reality.

In a discussion with Condé Nast Portfolio Editor in Chief Joanne Lipman, Holocaust survivor, Nobel laureate and Madoff victim Elie Wiesel said: “I remember that it was a myth that he created around him… that everything was so special, so unique, that it had to be secret. It was like a mystical mythology that nobody could understand… He gave the impression that maybe 100 people belonged to the club. Now we know thousands of them were cheated by him.”1

In what has been described as the largest investor fraud ever committed by single person, Madoff defrauded thousands of investors out of just under $65-billion in an elaborate Ponzi scheme, paying returns to investors from money paid by other investors, not actual profits. By moving funds in such a way, Madoff created an image of money that rivaled his own as a man of good character. The illusion of consistent, high returns, lured thousands into a deal too good to be true, offered by a man too good to be true. According to the media portrayal of events, Madoff described the investment fund as “one big lie” to his sons, who promptly informed the authorities. Madoff was arrested the next day and his assets were frozen (as were those of his wife and sons later on). In the aftermath, Madoff had succeeded in ruining the lives of thousands, driving some victims to suicide. He ended up pleading guilty to eleven counts of fraud, money laundering, and perjury, among others. Although Madoff ran his companies with an iron fist and claimed he was solely responsible for defrauding clients, investigators were unsatisfied that one person alone could hide fraud on such a massive scale for so long. Subsequent investigations have so far placed six former associates under criminal investigation,2 while multiple lawsuits are underway against Ruth Madoff and her sons.3

So how did he pull it off? Jerry Reisman, a prominent New York lawyer, described Madoff as “utterly charming. He was a master at meeting people and creating this aura. People looked at him as a superhero.”4 Even when he was scrambling to secure funds to keep up his dead-end fraud, associates noticed no signs of stress. In a 2007 roundtable conversation, viewable on Youtube5, Madoff makes some telling comments. Speaking about modern exchange firms, Madoff coolly says, “By and large, in today’s regulatory environment, it’s virtually impossible to violate rules. This is something that the public really doesn’t understand… It’s impossible for a violation to go undetected. Certainly not for a considerable amount of time.” This coming from a man who had been doing just that for years and possibly decades! No wonder, given his propensity for deceit, that Madoff and his firm were extremely secretive, finding ways of keeping their illegal activities hidden, for example, refusing to provide clients online access to their accounts and ordering employees – against regulations – to delete email after it had been printed on paper, as reported by Lucinda Franks in her piece for The Daily Beast.6

Contrary to his illustrious public persona, in an article by Mark Seal for Vanity Fair7, various family friends and insiders present an image of Madoff as a cold-hearted control freak who not only exploited strangers, but also those closest to him. He cultivated ostensibly close friendships with the late Norman F. Levy and philanthropist Carl J. Shapiro while robbing them blind in the process. Madoff spoke of Levy as his “mentor of 40 years” and always deferred to him. In return, Levy considered Madoff his “surrogate son, a member of his family.” Carmen Dell’Orefice, Levy’s then-girlfriend, remembers, “He always did so much for Norman’s comfort in the smallest details.” She described Madoff and his wife as quiet and inconspicuous and expressed the cognitive dissonance often experienced by victims of conmen like Madoff when the truth behind the image is finally revealed: “I am accepting that what I was experiencing was a projection of a person who wasn’t there… If I didn’t take all the pictures I took all those years, I would say ‘Carmen, you’re delusional’.” Levy’s son Francis said his father believed in Madoff: “If there’s one honorable person,” he said, “it’s Bernie.” Joseph Kavanu, a former law school peer of Madoff’s shared similar disbelief with Julie Creswell and Landon Thomas Jr. in their piece for the New York Times: “It doesn’t make sense… I cannot take the Bernie I knew and turn him into the Bernie we’re hearing about 24/7. It doesn’t compute.” In reality, there were two Madoffs: the carefully cultivated image of the successful businessman and philanthropist and the reality: a ruthless and remorseless criminal who operated behind a mask of sanity, success, and humanitarianism.

One source described to Seal how Madoff ruled his two sons through “tough love and fear. People were afraid of Bernie. He wielded his influence. They were afraid of his temper.” Madoff also ruled his office with an iron fist, controlling the work environment down to the smallest detail. He was obsessed with order and control. A family friend related, “There was a lot of arrogance in that family. Bernie would talk to people who were as rich as he was, but he didn’t want to be bothered with the little people.” Another insider said, “He was imperial, above it all. If he didn’t like the conversation, he would just get up and walk away. It was ‘I’m Bernie Madoff and you’re not.'” Another said, “Peter [Madoff’s brother] is much more religious, more even-keeled. Bernie is more cocky, arrogant, a showman. Shrewd like a fox.”

From the descriptions of those who knew and interacted with him, a picture emerges of Bernie Madoff as arrogant, superficially charming, glib, manipulative, deceitful, emotionally cold, domineering, and heartless, in short, all the hallmarks of a successful psychopath. Unsurprisingly, journalists and experts alike have suggested exactly that. J. Reid Meloy, forensic psychologist and author of The Psychopathic Mind, Florida forensic psychologist Phil Heller, and former FBI agent Gregg McCrary, have all said so in print8 & 9, and several prominent researchers including Adrian Raine suggested the same at the 2009 conference for the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy in New Orleans. In what I’ll show over the course of this series to be typical psychopathic fashion, Madoff fought his way to the top, wooed the regulators, and built his fortune by conning those he saw as worthless, even screwing over his so-called friends. However, as Meloy told Creswell and Thomas, “the Achilles’ heel of the psychopath is his sense of impunity. That is, eventually, what will bring him down.”

What Is Psychopathy?

Until the publication of Hervey Cleckley’s landmark book The Mask of Sanity in 1941 (along with its subsequent editions), there wasn’t much agreement on what exactly psychopathy is. The term had come to describe individuals whose emotional life and social behavior were abnormal, but whose intellectual capacities were undisturbed. In contrast to psychotics whose grip on reality is clearly disturbed, as in paranoid schizophrenia, psychopaths are completely sane. They have a firm grip on reality, can carry on a conversation, and often appear more normal than normal. But at the same time, while talking to you about the weather or the economy, they may be deciding the best way to con you out of your life savings or perhaps get you to a secluded location where they can rape or murder you.

However, while psychopaths may be intellectually aware that their actions grossly violate the limits of normal human behavior, they lack the emotional engagement with others that normally acts as an inhibitor of anti-social acts, like calculated aggression, intentional intimidation, pathological lying and emotional manipulation. In the course of his (or her, as probably one in four psychopaths is female) development, the psychopath’s inability to feel and thus identify with the emotions of others blocks the development of a “moral sense” that allows normal individuals to care for others and treat them like thinking and feeling beings. Psychopaths just don’t care. To them people are things, objects. When they’re no longer useful they can be discarded or destroyed without a second thought.

The jarring disconnect between the absolutely normal (if not more than normal) face with which the psychopath greets the world, and the utterly unfathomable irrationality and inhumanity of his actions has led to their being called “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and “snakes in suits”. Cleckley coined the phrase “mask of sanity” to illustrate the disparity between the image of normality and the psychopath’s essential abnormality. While the label has come to be almost strictly associated with serial killers, rapists and arch-villains, Cleckley was quick to point out that the vast majority of psychopaths are not violent, and “only a small proportion of typical psychopaths are likely to be found in penal institutions, since the typical patient … is not likely to commit major crimes that result in long prison terms.”10 Their actions are antisocial in that they violate the almost universally agreed upon “rules” of social behavior. Of course, this often takes the form of crime, but many psychopaths operate successfully within the boundaries of the law, wreaking havoc interpersonally or monetarily.

After years of frequently encountering psychopaths in clinical practice and witnessing the immense suffering they inflict upon those who happen to fall within their sphere of influence, Cleckley identified several universal traits. On the one hand psychopaths are superficially charming and of good intelligence. They lack any delusions or other signs of irrational thinking and are free of nervousness and anxiety. In other words, they present an image of good “mental health” that can disarm even the most experienced judge of human character. However, a close analysis of their life history and interactions with others reveals some striking deficits beneath the mask. Psychopaths are also notoriously insincere, liberally inserting lies and innuendo into their talkative stream that usually go unnoticed. They are usually impulsive, acting on whims, and seeming to live entirely in the present, unhindered by concerns for past failures and future consequences. As such they often show remarkably poor judgment and an inability to learn from punishments or the threat of future ones (psychopathic criminals have the highest recidivism rates). They are unreliable, often moving from job to job and city to city, finding new victims and living parasitically off of others’ kindness and naiveté. They also have a pathological sense of entitlement. The center of their own universe, they are incapable of love, lack any sense of remorse or shame, and show a general poverty of any deep emotional life. This is the core feature, shared equally by all psychopaths: the inability to feel empathy.

While Cleckley did much to bring light on the issue, in the preface to the fifth and final edition of his book he described “an almost universal conspiracy of evasion” of the topic of psychopathy among North American researchers and clinicians. While institutions exist to deal with illness and crime, when it comes to psychopathy “no measure is taken at all … nothing exists specifically designed to meet a major and obvious pathologic situation.”11 Psychopathy arguably accounts for a grossly disproportionate amount of damage to society. Cleckley was convinced that the first step to deal with this immense problem was to “focus general interest” and “promote awareness of its tremendous importance.”12 Thankfully, significant contributions have been made in recent years towards such a goal by writers like Robert Hare and Paul Babiak, clinicians Martha Stout and Sandra L. Brown, M.A. and popular media portrayals such as the documentaries, The Corporation and I, Psychopath. Unfortunately, even with these efforts, public knowledge about psychopathy still falls far short of ideal, the “conspiracy of evasion” persists, and the problem rages on. For a disorder affecting more people than schizophrenia,13 and causing exponentially more harm to society, the fact that psychopathy is not a generally understood concept is alarming.

Robert D. Hare, Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia, wrote a book in 1970 summarizing the research available at the time. Since then, he has been at the forefront of psychopathy research, developing the first valid measure of criminal psychopathy, the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R), and writing two bestsellers on the subject: Without Conscience in 1993 and Snakes in Suits (co-authored with Paul Babiak) in 2006. Working with criminal populations, Hare further refined Cleckley’s list of psychopathic traits for the PCL-R, settling on twenty characteristics of a prototypical psychopath.

Whereas Cleckley described his psychopathic patients as “carr[ying] disaster lightly in each hand” and “not deeply vicious”,14 Hare’s Without Conscience presents a much more malevolent look into the mind of the criminal psychopath. As he puts it: “Psychopaths have what it takes to defraud and bilk others: They are fast-talking, charming, self-assured, at ease in social situations, cool under pressure, unfazed by the possibility of being found out, and totally ruthless. … Psychopaths are generally well satisfied with themselves and with their inner landscape, bleak as it may seem to outside observers.”15 They see empathy, remorse, and a sense of responsibility – all the qualities usually considered as the epitome of goodness and humanity – as signs of weakness to be exploited; laws and social rules as inconvenient restrictions on their freedom; and antisocial behavior as deliberate “nonconformity”, a refusal to “program” by society’s artificial standards. Love, kindness, guilt, and altruism strike the psychopath as comical and childish naiveties for “bleeding hearts”, and psychopathic serial murderer Ted Bundy even called guilt “an illusion… a kind of social-control mechanism.”16 While they may convincingly profess to love in the most romantic and meaningful verbosity to their partners, these displays are soon replaced with domination and exploitation, as Sandra L. Brown, M.A. shows in her 2009 book Women Who Love Psychopaths.

Psychopaths see normal life as dull and boring, a dog-eat-dog world in which potential enemies (i.e. you and me) are to be manipulated, and aggression used as a tool to establish their superiority and take what is rightfully theirs – to satisfy their grandiose sense of entitlement. Naturally, in a universe of one, Hare observes, “Obligations and commitments mean nothing to psychopaths. … They do not honor formal or implied commitments to people, organizations, or principles.”17 They may very well ask, “What’s so bad about being articulate, self-confident, living a fast-paced life on the edge and in the now, and looking out for number one?” And in our decaying society, many would not disagree. But what the psychopath sees as a carefree life of excitement and entitlement usually amounts to little more than the pursuit of immediate moments of pleasure and feelings of power, whether fleeting or more long-lasting.

With Hare’s work, the psychopathic “mask” of sanity and normality acquires a sinister and Machiavellian tone. That’s because psychopaths are conscious of being different. They see normal people as inferiors – “others” – to be used and discarded when they are no longer needed. But like a predator among its prey, psychopaths must disguise themselves to evade detection. If they made their motives known, others would be horrified. So, from an early age they learn to fit in by copying normal human reactions and behaviors. They learn when it is appropriate to cry, show grief, guilt, concern, and love. They learn all the facial expressions, common phrases, and social cues for these emotions they do not feel. And as such, they deceive others with false displays of sadness, grief, guilt, concern, and love, and they manipulate our reactions to get what they want. That’s how a psychopath is able to con you out of money by playing on your sense of pity and compassion. Normal people, unaware of the differences between psychopaths and themselves, assume that these displays of emotion are evidence of actual emotion, and so the psychopath succeeds in going unnoticed, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “[T]he truly talented ones have raised their ability to charm people to that of an art, priding themselves on their ability to present a fictional self to others that is convincing, taken at face value, and difficult to penetrate.”18

This “practice” at appearing human is expertly portrayed in Mary Astor’s novel The Incredible Charlie Carewe, which Cleckley recommended “should be read not only by every psychiatrist but also by every physician” because of its remarkably accurate portrayal of a psychopath.19 This “act” is a matter of survival for a psychopath, lest their “inhumanity” be discovered. After all, most people do not react positively to a child or adult who potentially can, as Hare put it, “torture and mutilate [a human being] with about the same sense of concern that we feel when we carve a turkey.”20

Psychopaths also keep up their “psychopathic fiction” by being charming conversationalists. They expertly tell “unlikely but convincing” stories about themselves, easily blending truth with lies. Not only can they lie effortlessly, they are completely unfazed when caught in a lie. They simply rework their story, to the befuddlement of those who know the truth. They may feign remorse, but are equally skilled at rationalizing their behavior, often portraying themselves as the victims (and blaming the real victims). One female psychopath complained that no one cared about how she felt, having lost both her children. In fact, she was the one who had murdered them. In cases like this, the mask slips ever so slightly, as when the less intelligent psychopath attempts to use emotional concepts he cannot understand. One inmate told Hare, “Yeah, sure, I feel remorse [for the crime].” However, he didn’t “feel bad inside about it.”21

Even their violent outbursts of “rage” are carefully controlled displays. One relatively self-aware psychopath revealed, “There are emotions – a whole spectrum of them – that I know only through words, through reading and in my immature imagination. I can imagine I feel these emotions (know, therefore, what they are), but I do not.”22 Another, confused when asked how he felt, was asked about the physical sensations of emotion and responded, “Of course! I’m not a robot. I really get pumped up when I have sex or when I get into a fight.”23 Capable of only the most primal body-based feelings, the psychopath has no intense emotions to be in control of; any display of such is an act with the intent to manipulate.

As to the causes of this disturbing disorder, researchers are now confident that, contrary to the once common belief that psychopathy must be caused by childhood trauma, there is a substantial genetic and biological basis for psychopathy. In his 2007 update on the last twenty years of psychopathy research, Robert Hare comments: “I might note that the early results from behavioral genetics research are consistent with the evolutionary psychology view that psychopathy is less a result of a neurobiological defect than a heritable, adaptive life-strategy.”24 Or, as he put it in Without Conscience:

I think [childhood experiences] play an important role in shaping what nature has provided [i.e. “a profound inability to experience empathy and the complete range of emotions”]. Social factors and parenting practices influence the way the disorder develops and is expressed in behavior. Thus, an individual with a mix of psychopathic personality traits who grows up in a stable family and has access to positive social and educational resources might become a con artist or white-collar criminal, or perhaps a somewhat shady entrepreneur, politician, or professional. Another individual, with much the same personality traits but from a deprived and disturbed background, might become a drifter, mercenary, or violent criminal. … One implication of this view for the criminal justice system is that the quality of family life has much less influence on the antisocial behaviors of psychopaths than it does on the behavior of most people.25

In line with this understanding, psychopathy can be detected at an early age. By the age of 10 or 12, most psychopaths exhibit serious behavioral problems like persistent lying, cheating, theft, fire setting, truancy, class disruption, substance abuse, vandalism, violence, bullying, running away, precocious sexuality, cruelty to animals. One psychopath smiled when he reminisced to Hare about tying puppies to a rail to use their heads for baseball-batting practice.26 However, the exact causes (and possible steps to prevent it in infancy and early childhood) are still unknown. Children predisposed to psychopathy who do not show obvious signs later in life probably become successful at avoiding detection because of such factors as increased intelligence and abilities to better plan and control their behavior. While the vast majority of research has been conducted on prison populations, because of the relative ease of research opportunities, the concept of the successful psychopath (whether that means he is not criminal or simply doesn’t get caught) is a relatively recent topic of interest for specialists and is not yet clearly defined or publicly understood, just as the term “psychopath” was in the early twentieth century.

It is these psychopaths – the ones who avoid detection – who become successful and ruthless politicians and government insiders, as was the case with Hermann Göring and Lavrentiy Beria (who will be discussed in future columns) and is probably the case with contemporary politicians like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, American ex-Vice President Dick Cheney, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. These men achieve the heights of power, and they are dangerous.


  1. A transcript of the talk is available here
  2. “Ex-Madoff Operations Director Arrested by FBI”, Reuters, February 25, 2010
  3. “Participants in the Madoff investment scandal,” Wikipedia, accessed March 17, 2010
  4. Tim Shipman, “Bernard Madoff: how did he get away with it for so long?”,, December 20, 2008
  5. YouTube video
  6. Lucinda Franks, “Madoff Employee Breaks Silence”, The Daily Beast, March 19, 2009
  7. Mark Seal, “Madoff’s World”, Vanity Fair, April 2009
  8. Julie Creswell and Landon Thomas Jr., “The Talented Mr. Madoff”, New York Times, January 24, 2009
  9. Katy Brace, “Psychologist calls Madoff a psychopath”,, January 29, 2009
  10. Cleckley, H. 1988 [1941], The Mask of Sanity (Augusta, Georgia: Emily S. Cleckley), 19, PDF available here
  11. Ibid, viii
  12. Ibid, ix
  13. Goldner et al. (2002) put the prevalence of schizophrenia at 0.55% of the general population, and while accurate studies of psychopathy in the general population have yet to be done, recently a few limited studies show that the low limit for psychopathy is 0.6% (Coid et al., 2009). Some estimates go many times higher than that figure, factoring in successful psychopaths.
  14. Cleckley, 33
  15. Hare, R. D. 1999 [1995], Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us (New York: Guilford Press), 121, 195
  16. Ibid, 41
  17. Ibid, 63
  18. Babiak, P. & Hare, R. D. 2006, Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work (New York: ReganBooks), 50
  19. Cleckley, 326
  20. Hare, 45
  21. Ibid, 41
  22. Ibid, 52-3
  23. Ibid, 54
  24. Hare, R. D. 2007, ‘Forty Years Aren’t Enough: Recollections, Prognostications, and Random Musings,’ In Herve, H., and Yuille, J. C. (eds) The Psychopath: Theory, Research, and Practice, pp. 3 – 28 (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), 14. However, recent studies have shown distinct differences in the brain functioning of psychopaths when compared to normal individuals. See Oakley, B. 2007, Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books).
  25. Hare (1999), 173 – 4
  26. Ibid, 66 – 7

Reality Bytes: A Survivor’s Journey – Part 2

Part 2

My friends so many things have happened since my first column.  The wreckage of the aftermath has gained some height and momentum.  I had a “my life flashed in front of my eyes” kind of experience that I will share with you.

It was around 3AM and I was in a very light sleep semi-aware of my surroundings.  It was because I felt somewhat paranoid when I went to bed because I had spent part of my day educating a new professional about our family law/ custody case.

Perhaps it is his anti-government extremist group affiliations that make me a little restless at night.  Or it could be something about my ex’s involvement with people who have two names.

Or, maybe it is the token diploma I found in the bedroom drawer that honored his completion of an extensive paramilitary training program.  Or it could just be that he must win at any cost.

So as I lay there, I saw an indication there was a flashlight in the back yard.  Its reflection flirted with my bedroom curtains.  He finally went over the edge I thought.  Then there was a loud banging on my glass door. A surge of fear went though my chest and limbs.

With the toughest, grumpiest, voice I could muster, I yelled “Who is it?” into the darkness.   A man’s voice responded in kind:  “it is ABC Finance Company.  We have come to take your car.”

At first I felt relief that it was not “him.”   But, the feeling of relief quickly melted away when I went outside to remove my personal items from my car.

This turned into a very sobering experience. Again I was forced to feel the impact of my daughter’s father coming into my life.

As I emptied out the car, it was like my life started flashing before my eyes, I started reliving the experience of signing the documentation when I lost my home.

I relived all of garage sales getting rid of my belongings. I cringed again about how those people scavenged through my stuff reminding me how little worth I had. They seemed compelled to beat up my perception of value on every single item.

I then flashed to an evening when I woke up in the middle of the night realizing the excellent credit I worked so hard for was going away– that began its spiral downward with a judgment for thousands of dollars placed on my report because “he” sued me for the diamond ring in small claims court.

Then I remembered the dream that night after that trial, his face was in my face laughing and laughing.  I woke up just as frightened that night.

It seemed with every item I pulled out of the car, a new painful memory surrounded my consciousness.

When I drifted back in to the present moment, with the “repo” man it felt like I was back in line at the supermarket with those government checks to get free milk and eggs.

The cashier made an assumption that I was trying to get more than what was on the check, in an instant his voice bellowed over the store’s intercom summoning a manager there to further pick apart the transaction.

The line was building behind me and heavy sighs were coming out of the customers while my child, with an urgent and untamed desire to leave, sat on the floor screaming in protest.

That chilly early morning, as I turned away from the car to leave I realized I forgot something.  I reached in and pulled my CD out of the car stereo. The irony is that it was Sandra L. Brown, M.A.’s Dangerous Man CD.

How fitting it was in that instant to have the Sandra’s CD in my hand while my car was chained to a tow truck.

As I walked away with the CD in hand, fighting back the tears, I looked at the man and said, you know, a few short years ago I had a 150,000 thousand dollar job, a nice home, great credit and money in the bank.  He just looked at me.

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* All content does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Institute.

Vulnerability and Other Prey of Psychopaths

Help protect yourself from victimization by psychopaths.

by Marisa Mauro, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Certain personality traits may create better perpetrators and, unfortunately certain cues may create better victims. In a study by Wheeler, Book and Costello of Brock University, individuals who self reported more traits associated with psychopathy were more apt to correctly identify individuals with a history of victimization. In the study, male student participants examined video tapes of twelve individuals walking from behind and rated the ease at which each could be mugged.

Read more at Psychology Today…

Suffering Souls: The Search for the Roots of Psychopathy.

Excerpt from The New Yorker website:

The Western New Mexico Correctional Facility sits in high-desert country about seventy miles west of Albuquerque. Grants, a former uranium boomtown that depends heavily on prison work, is a few miles down the road. There’s a glassed-in room at the top of the prison tower, with louvered windows and, on the ceiling, a big crank that operates a searchlight. In a box on the floor are some tear-gas shells that can be fired down into the yard should there be a riot. Below is the prison complex—a series of low six-sided buildings, divided by high hurricane fences topped with razor wire that glitters fiercely in the desert sun. To the east is the snow-covered peak of Mt. Taylor, the highest in the region; to the west, the Zuni Mountains are visible in the blue distance.

Read more…

The Invisible Epidemic: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Memory and the Brain

Excerpt from The Doctor Will See You Now website:

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is something of an invisible epidemic. The events underlying it are often mysterious and always unpleasant.

Read more…

Some People Really Feel Your Pain

Excerpt from

Researchers found that around one in three people actually feel physical discomfort when they see someone else in agony.

The findings could explain why some people are more empathetic to other people’s misery.

Read more…

Brain Activity Exposes Those Who Break Promises

Excerpt from Science Daily:

Scientists from the University of Zurich have discovered the physiological mechanisms in the brain that underlie broken promises. Patterns of brain activity even enable predicting whether someone will break a promise.

Read more…

Suffering Souls – The Search for the Roots of Psychopathy

Excerpt from The New Yorker:

The Western New Mexico Correctional Facility sits in high-desert country about seventy miles west of Albuquerque. Grants, a former uranium boomtown that depends heavily on prison work, is a few miles down the road. There’s a glassed-in room at the top of the prison tower, with louvred windows and, on the ceiling, a big crank that operates a searchlight. In a box on the floor are some tear-gas shells that can be fired down into the yard should there be a riot. Below is the prison complex—a series of low six-sided buildings, divided by high hurricane fences topped with razor wire that glitters fiercely in the desert sun. To the east is the snow-covered peak of Mt. Taylor, the highest in the region; to the west, the Zuni Mountains are visible in the blue distance.

Read more…

Psychopaths’ Brains Wired to Seek Rewards

Excerpt from Science Daily:

The brains of psychopaths appear to be wired to keep seeking a reward at any cost, new research from Vanderbilt University finds. The research uncovers the role of the brain’s reward system in psychopathy and opens a new area of study for understanding what drives these individuals.

“This study underscores the importance of neurological research as it relates to behavior,” Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said. “The findings may help us find new ways to intervene before a personality trait becomes antisocial behavior.”

Read more…

A Neuroscientist Uncovers a Dark Secret

Excerpt from NPR:

The criminal brain has always held a fascination for James Fallon. For nearly 20 years, the neuroscientist at the University of California Irvine has studied the brains of psychopaths. He studies the biological basis for behavior, and one of his specialties is to try to figure out how a killer’s brain differs from yours and mine.

About four years ago, Fallon made a startling discovery. It happened during a conversation with his then 88-year-old mother, Jenny at a family barbecue.

“And I said, ‘Jim, why don’t you find out about your father’s relatives?'” Jenny Fallon recalls. “I think there were some cuckoos back there.”

Read more…

The Lasting Effects of Psychological Trauma on Memory and the Hippocampus

Excerpt from a research paper written by J. Douglas Bremner, M.D.:

The invisible epidemic of childhood abuse and other psychological traumas and stressors represents a major public health problem in our society today. Childhood sexual abuse alone affects 16% of women (about 40 million) in the U.S.A. (including rape, attempted rape, or molestation) at some time before their 18th birthday.

Childhood abuse is the most common cause of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in women, which affects 8% of the population at some time in their lives, although there are a range of other types of psychological trauma that can also lead to symptoms of chronic PTSD, including car accidents, combat, rape and assault. Some of the symptoms of PTSD, which include intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks, increased startle and vigilance, social impairment and problems with memory and concentration, may be related to the effects of extreme stress on the brain.

Read more…

Opportunities to deal with sociopaths in American politics

by Gene Messick

December 11, 2008 at 14:51:24

Frequent arrest of Senators and Congressmen, and now arrest of the Illinois Governor, forces a question that has been far too long ignored: How do we
deal with sociopaths in our government?

Most Americans have a mistaken belief that sociopaths in America are a rare breed, that they are wild eyed, murderous lunatics who are regularly
recognized, put away or executed. Most unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

What’s a sociopath? Why do we not recognize them for what they are? How do we protect ourselves from them?

–