At the heart of pathology is a lack of remorse, empathy, and conscience. It sounds horrible on paper (and it is!) but it looks different in action. Sometimes women wish they were more like THAT—less empathic—as a way of getting less hurt.
They don’t really mean that (unless they too have a pathology bent). They are exhausted by their own mental activity of intrusive thoughts, heartbreak, hypervigilance and hurting. They just want the pain to go away, and if that means they become callous and don’t ‘give a rip’—then so be it—they’ll opt for his pathological character traits.
Cluster B Personality Disorders (Borderline, Narcissistic, Anti-Social, Sociopaths and Psychopaths) have, at the center of their disorder, a complete lack of, or at least a reduced capacity for, remorse, empathy, and conscience. (We will use the space-saving acronym, REC, for a lack of these traits—Remorse, Empathy, Conscience.) To a certain extent, only the degree of a lack of REC distinguishes one disorder from the other. Psychopaths and Sociopaths are at the high end of the spectrum with the most of these traits. But all four disorders have some of this in them because these disorders overlap each other.
So what does a lack of remorse, empathy, and conscience look like? On the surface, from your perspective, it looks like either he’s carefree, or he doesn’t care what others think of him or his behavior. It looks like confidence in his choices and his behavior. It looks like he enjoys his choices and behaviors even if they are negative. It looks like he has an unwavering commitment to his own thoughts (even when they hurt someone else). On the surface, it looks good to not be harmed by the thoughts of others. You get to do your own thing and then be unaffected by how it affects others. You coast along in a cloud of impenetrable numbness from any negative consequences—social, emotional, sexual, financial, spiritual, or physical, from his behaviors.
However, a lack of REC is the only thing that differentiates us from some animal species. (Ever try to guilt a cat?) Our ability to feel appropriate guilt is a reflection of our humanity. That various levels of psychopathology LACK these elements points to the pathological’s own diminished ability to act humane in certain situations. Why are we surprised that people who have impaired REC go on to abduct children, hurt pets, steal, lie, cheat, and act unfaithful? Conscience is related to consequences and the emotional guilt that accompanies the act. Guilt is the RED LIGHT of our behavior—we don’t do something because we don’t want to feel guilt. In the end, guilt saves us from hurting others and ourselves, and living with that awful feeling of regret.
But a pathological, who doesn’t have that hardwiring to feel remorse or guilt, hurts others, hurts society—and himself—although he may not have the insight to recognize it as self-harm. He leaves a trail of wounded women and children behind him as he goes off golfing, picking up other women, or to the tanning bed—all the while humming a little song to himself.
His ability to hurt others and go on is NOT something you should admire in him. In a recent retreat, a woman kept bringing up that she thought this was GOOD—that a pathological remained unscathed by his own belief system and therefore, if we were more like him, we would be happier because we would react less to what we did.
That’s a sad thought. It’s the only line in the sand that separates us as caring human beings from a pathological. Our ability to have insight about our behavior is what makes us somewhat un-pathological. Even though you are hurt and would welcome a bit of numbing to get away from the pain, you will never be able to throw yourself into the pit of pathological REC to escape your pain, intrusive thoughts, and other symptoms you wish would go away.
For those women who are not mutually pathological, the only way to get OUT of pain is to go THROUGH the pain. Embracing that you can still tell the difference between right and wrong, and you don’t covet his pathology as something to be admired, means you are not pathological yourself! Others who have now embraced his worldview of hurting others, seeing it as good, and wanting to a live a life of power/dominance/status, need therapy surrounding their ‘consumption’ of his pathological worldview.
A healthy REC is one of the differentiating aspects that separate us as the fabric of humanity versus the pathological alien. Embrace that about yourself. Stay positive!
(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know. The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions. See the website for more information.)