Psychopaths can’t attach to, or bond with, others.

It is widely understood that psychopaths can’t attach to, or bond with, others.

“The ‘house of psychopath’ is constructed on a foundation of no attachment, underarousal, and minimal anxiety. These appear to be necessary, related, but insufficient characteristics that provide certain biological predispositions for the development of the psychopathic character. Attachment is a biologically-based, species-specific behavioral system which serves the survival of the infant by maintaining the closeness of the caretaker. It is deeply rooted in mammals, but absent in reptiles.” ~ A Psychoanalytic View of the Psychopath, J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D., San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute

Now I understand where the book “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work” really got its title.

Psychopaths provide shallow praise and flattery

“Psychopaths provide shallow praise and flattery only in order to gain trust. When you actually need emotional support, they will typically offer an empty response—or they will completely ignore you. With time, this conditions you not to bother them with your feelings, even when you need a partner the most, especially during times of tragedy or illness. You will begin to notice that you are never allowed to express anything but positive praise for them.” 

― Jackson MacKenzie, Psychopath Free: Recovering from Emotionally Abusive Relationships With Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other Toxic People

A Bout of Delusional Jealousy

In his 1921 article focusing on the psychoanalytic examination of the psychic mechanisms of jealousy, Freud distinguishes between three “layers or grades of jealousy [that] may be described as
(1) competitive or normal, (2) projected, and (3) delusional jealousy.” [39][39]Freud, S. (1922). Some Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy,… In delusional jealousy, the subject and his object are of the same sex, its development requires a strong homosexual impulse, against which the subject defends himself by contradicting the fantasmatic statement that “may, in a man, be described in the formula: ‘I do not love him, she loves him!’.” [40][40]Ibid., p. 224. In this perspective, Freud presents the case of a young man suffering from attacks of delusional jealousy, which

32[…] regularly appeared on the day after he had had sexual intercourse with his wife, which was, incidentally, satisfying to both of them. The inference is justified that after every satiation of the heterosexual libido, the homosexual component, likewise stimulated by the act, forced an outlet for itself in the attack of jealousy. [41][41]Ibid., p. 224.

33Hence, for the subject, a crisis of delusional jealousy constitutes clinical incidence of sexual satisfaction. Freud then adds that the subject “had made no friendships and developed no social interests; one had the impression that only the delusion had carried forward the development of his relations with men, as if it had taken over some of the arrears that had been neglected.” [42][42]Ibid., p. 226.
Freud attributes to the delusion the function of allowing the subject to assume what initially was missing. But what was it precisely? On the one hand, Freud speaks about the absence of the father and a strong attachment to the mother – an attachment he had already underlined in the 1915 case of the young professional woman – and, on the other hand, about the existence of a homosexual trauma dating from the subject’s childhood, a traumatic nodal element in his doctrine of the psychoses. The new observation corroborates Freud’s theorization, insofar as the persecutor would be the subject’s most loved object of the same sex.

A Case of Paranoia in a Young Woman Patient

In 1915, Freud reports another observation of the onset of psychosis. Embarrassed by one of his clients’ complaints about the persecution she has suffered at the hands of a former lover, a lawyer initiates a meeting with Freud, to whom the young woman tells her story. After she had been courted for a certain period of time by a colleague at work, she finally agrees to meet him in his flat. During their lovemaking she is surprised by a noise – “a kind of knock or click.” [33][33]Freud, S. (1915). A Case of Paranoia Running Counter to the… On her departure she runs into two men who seem to whisper to each other as she passes them, one of them hiding a camera. The woman remembers the noise she heard in the room and imagines that the man must have taken intimate pictures of her. Concerned, she presses her lover with questions, but is not satisfied with his answers and eventually contacts a lawyer.
Since the woman’s account first seems to contradict his conception of paranoia, Freud asks her for another meeting. The young woman then changes her first version slightly and tells him that it was in fact only during the second encounter with her lover that she was disturbed by the strange noise, to which she then attached her suspicions: they have set up a trap in order to compromise her. Freud also learns that the day after their first meeting, the young woman saw her lover at work, in a conversation with her female superior. Observing the scene, she became certain that the man had revealed the secret of their love affair, or worse, that he is having a love relation with her superior as well. According to Freud, the superior represents a maternal figure and the lover, in spite of his young age, a paternal one. He thus refers the triad composed of the young woman, her lover and the superior to the Oedipus complex. Although the young woman is attracted to the paternal substitute, she remains no less under the domination of her maternal attachment, here figured by the superior, towards whom she harbors homosexual feelings. She is therefore confronted with an impossibility – her love for the man – which the delusion is trying to solve: “The [delusion] was at first aimed against the woman. But now, on this paranoic basis, the advance from a female to a male object was accomplished.” [34][34]Ibid., p. 270.
Thanks to this observation, Freud finds a way to confirm his main theses: the subject and his persecutor are of the same sex and the triggering of paranoia functions as a setting up of a defense against an excessively strong homosexual attachment, the latter representing “the paranoic disposition in her.” [

Psychological Characteristics of Alienating Parent

Parent Alienation Syndrome occurs when individuals who have certain psychological characteristics manage internal conflict or pain by transforming psychological pain into interpersonal conflict. Divorcing parents often experience humiliation, loss of self-esteem, guilt, ambivalence, fear, abandonment anxiety, jealousy, or intense anger. These normal but very painful emotions must be managed. Usually people in crisis rely on characteristic relationship styles and pain management techniques. The Team has found alienating parents to have the following characteristics:

1. A narcissistic or paranoid orientation to interactions and relationships with others, usually as the result of a personality disorder.(2) Both narcissistic and paranoid relationships are maintained by identification, rather than mutual appreciation and enjoyment of differences as well as similarities. Perfectionism and intolerance of personal flaws in self or others have deleterious effects on relationships. When others disagree, narcissistic and paranoid people feel abandoned, betrayed, and often rageful.

2. Reliance on defenses against psychological pain that result in externalizing unwanted or unacceptable feelings, ideas, attitudes, and responsibility for misfortunes so that more painful internal conflict is transformed into less painful interpersonal conflict. Examples of such defenses are phobias, projection, “splitting,” or obsessive preoccupation with the shortcomings of others in order to obscure from self and others the individual’s own shortcomings. “Splitting” results when feelings, judgments, or characteristics are polarized into opposite, exhaustive, and mutually exclusive categories (such as all good or all bad, right or wrong, love or hate, victim or perpetrator), then are assigned or directed separately to self and other. (I am good, you are bad.) The need for such defenses arises because alienating parents have little or no tolerance for internal conflict or even normal ambivalence. The interpersonal result of such defenses is intense interpersonal conflict.(3)

3. Evidence of an abnormal grieving process such that there is a preponderance of anger and an absence of sadness in reaction to the loss of the marital partner

4. A family history in which there is an absence of awareness of normal ambivalence and conflict about parents, enmeshment, or failure to differentiate and emancipate from parents; or a family culture in which “splitting” or externalizing is a prominent feature. Some alienating parents were raised in families in which there is unresolved or unacknowledged grief as the result of traumatic losses or of severe but unacknowledged emotional deprivation, usually in the form of absence of empathy. More frequently, alienating parents were favorite children or were overly indulged or idealized as children.

Parental Psychological Control

 Parenting aggression can take on different forms, such as physical aggression, verbal aggression, and psychological aggression (Straus, Hamby, Finkelhor, Moore, & Runyan, 1998), and one key form of psychological aggression which is understudied is psychological control. Parental psychological control refers to parental behaviors that are intrusive and manipulative, undermining child autonomy, and characterized by guilt induction, love withdrawal, instilling anxiety, and verbal constraint (Barber, 1996;Barber & Harmon, 2002;Schaefer, 1965). In guilt induction, parents coerce children into complying with parental demands by making children feel guilty. …
… Parental psychological control has been linked to various forms of child maladjustment, including lower self-esteem, internalizing symptoms, and externalizing symptoms (Barber, 1996;Barber, Olsen, & Shagle, 1994;Barber, Stolz, Olsen, Collins, & Burchinal, 2005). For example, parental psychological control predicted adolescent depression and antisocial behaviors even after controlling for parental support and behavioral control (Barber et al., 2005). …
… Children’s theory of mind does not develop until around 4 years old (Wellman, Cross, & Watson, 2001) and self-conscious emotions do not develop until around 2 years old (Muris & Meesters, 2014). This is consistent with previous research that documented the adverse effect of parental psychological control behaviors primarily in middle childhood and adolescence (Barber, 1996;Barber et al., 1994;Barber et al., 2005;Soenens & Vansteenkiste, 2010). Future research with larger samples should examine whether child age moderates the association between parental psychological control and child maladjustment. …

Continue reading “Parental Psychological Control”

Is it possible to Manipulate a Psychopath?

Fear, narcissism, and neuroscience

Over the last several decades there has been significant growth in the understanding of the neurobiological basis of fear. At the center of the fear circuitry is the amygdala. The amygdala mediates processes such as the detection of emotionally arousing and/or salient stimuli. Additional regions (eg, nucleus accumbens, hippocampus, some prefrontal regions, etc) form a neural network involved in the perception of threat, fear learning, and fear expression. These areas individually mediate symptoms of fear and collectively act to produce an integrated fear response. Our nuanced understanding of this complex neural network results from imaging (eg, during fear conditioning studies), physiological (eg, skin conductance, eye-blink response), and psychopharmacological studies that not only enhance the mechanistic understanding of fear but also highlight the role of fearrelated dysfunction in the generation and maintenance of various forms of psychopathology.

Failure to properly regulate fear responses is central to specific phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety, and some Axis II disorders (ie, fear of separation and loss of support in dependent personality disorder (DPD) of abandonment in borderline personality disorder (BPD), and of criticism, disapproval, and rejection in avoidant personality disorder (APD). While some disorders are largely associated with hyperviglance and an over-reactive fear response (eg, anxiety disorders and BPD), others are related to deficient fear reactivity (eg, psychopathy). Studies on the relationship between fear and narcissism have been sparse, both at a phenotypic and mechanism level. One study of individuals with narcissistic traits, as measured by the Narcissism Personality Inventory (NPI) reported that they display diminished electrodermal reactivity to aversive stimuli, indicating weak responses to punishment or aversive cues.

Despite the limited research directly examining fear and narcissism, there are studies of other related conditions with relevance to pathological narcissism that highlight the importance of fear in the expression of psychopathology. Specifically, the role of fear in psychopathy-related disinhibition has been the focus of studies for decades. NPD and psychopathy are considered to be overlapping constructs, both expressing symptoms of grandiosity, compromised empathic functioning, and callousness. In fact, Kernberg suggested that narcissism might be the core of psychopathy. Psychopathic individuals generally display an inability to form genuine relationships; limited (ie, grandiose) affective processing, especially with respect to anticipatory anxiety and remorse; an impulsive behavioral style involving a general failure to evaluate anticipated actions and inhibit the inappropriate ones; and a chronic antisocial lifestyle that entails great costs to society as well as for the affected individual. While both affective and behavioral characteristics are important elements of psychopathy, the affective deficits have traditionally been considered to be the root cause of the psychopath’s problems. Continue reading “Fear, narcissism, and neuroscience”

Divorcing the emotional terrorist

Unfortunately the legal situation which many divorce agreements mandate is open-ended. Certainly, when both parties to a divorce are reasonably well-balanced, it is entirely fitting for the settlement to be flexible enough to incorporate changing financial circumstances, child-care capabilities, and visitation rights. When, however, one party to the divorce is an emotional terrorist, then both the confrontational divorce procedure and the resultant open-ended divorce settlement provide infinite opportunity for the courts, lawyers, and the entire battery of psychologists called in for evaluations, to be used as the terrorist’s weapons. In these cases, the court and the divorce procedure provide no boundaries for the terrorist; instead they allow the terrorist to continue to behave boundlessly.

For this reason, when dealing with a terrorist, it is best for the divorce procedure and final decree to be as swift, as final, as absolute, as unequivocal as possible. Every practitioner or attorney handling divorces is familiar with clients described as “litigious.” [ “Tar baby” is a popular term among Colorado lawyers.] Only when “litigiousness” is seen as a manifestation of terrorism can the course to swift and precise legal settlement be steered.

To limit the terrorist’s feelings of omnipotence, there are many effective measures. The guiding principle, as in the handling of political terrorists, must be: “There is no negotiating with terrorists.” Endless telephone calls, conversations, confrontation, trial “get-back-togethers,” correspondence, visitations, gestures of appeasement, and efforts to placate the terrorist’s demands, all serve to reinforce the terrorist’s belief that she is accomplishing something. Only determined resolution in the face of terrorism shows the terrorist that her power is limited.

Furthermore, for anyone dealing directly with the terrorist, reassurances, “ego boosts,” and consolations are lamentably counterproductive. Mrs. Roberts soon found for herself a feminist therapist staunchly supporting the erroneous belief “All feelings (and therefore behaviors) are valid.” Mrs. Roberts is told by this therapist that she has a right to feel and to behave in any manner she chooses, in callous disregard for the devastation inflicted upon the children. Such reassurances serve only to fortify the terrorist’s already pathological, solipsistic, and eternally self-justifying perspective.

If wishing to undertake the second sphere of disarming a terrorist — personal intervention with the terrorist herself — the therapist must be prepared to be straight, honest and very direct. In my own dealings with women as terrorists, I have found on occasion that one quite simply can point out to the terrorist, “You are behaving like a terrorist. This is what you are doing. This is how you are being destructive. This is the destruction you are heading towards,” and the terrorist, seeing themselves clearly for the first time, might be encouraged to reconsider their behavior. More commonly, however, extremely deep therapy is required. For the terrorist’s behavior to change, there must first be a solid and fundamental change within the terrorist’s physiological constitution.

Usually it is only by an in-depth excavation and resolution of early childhood pain that the terrorist can begin to gain a real, true, and level-headed perception of her own current situation. Direct intervention with a terrorist — like all forms of therapeutic intervention — can hope to achieve change only if the individual concerned wishes to change and possesses that vital yet ineffable quality: the will to health. When the will to health is lacking, there can be no change. If the terrorist cannot or will not change, one can only help the other family members to be resolute, be strong, and, whenever possible, be distant. Continue reading “Divorcing the emotional terrorist”

A “violence prone” individual

I will not describe here in any detail the types of childhood that tend to create the subsequent terrorist. I will say, however, that invariably the terrorist’s childhood, once understood, can be seen as violent (emotionally and/or physically). Also invariably, the terrorist can be regarded as a “violence prone” individual. I define a violence prone woman as a woman who, while complaining that she is the innocent victim of the malice and aggression of all other relationships in her life, is in fact a victim of her own violence and aggression. A violent and painful childhood tends to create in the child an addiction to violence and to pain (an addiction on all levels: the emotional, the physical, the intellectual, the neurochemical), an addiction that then compels the individual to recreate situations and relationships characterized by further violence, further danger, further suffering, further pain. Thus, it is primarily the residual pain from childhood — and only secondarily the pain of the terrorist’s current familial situation — that serves as the terrorist’s motivating impetus. There is something pathological about the terrorist’s motivation, for it is based not so much on reality as on a twisting, a distortion, a reshaping of reality.

Because the emotional terrorist is a violence-prone individual, addicted to violence, the terrorist’s actions must be understood as the actions of an addict. When the family was together, the terrorist found fulfillment for any number of unhealthy appetites and addictions. When that family then dissolves, the terrorist behaves with all the desperation, all the obsession, all the single-minded determination of any addict facing or suffering withdrawal.

The single-mindedness, the one-sidedness of feeling, is perhaps the most important shibboleth of the emotional terrorist. Furthermore, the extent of this one-sidedness is, for the practitioner, perhaps the greatest measure and indicator of how extreme the terrorist’s actions are capable of becoming.

Any person suffering an unhappy family situation, or the dissolution of a marriage or relationship, will feel some pain and desperation. A relatively well-balanced person, however, will be not only aware of their own distress but also sensitive, in some degree, to the suffering of the other family members. For example, reasonably well-balanced parents, when facing divorce, will be most concerned with their children’s emotional well-being, even beyond their own grief. Not so the emotional terrorist.

To the family terrorist, there is only one wronged, one sufferer, only one person in pain, and this person is the terrorist herself. The terrorist has no empathy and feels only her own pain. In this manner, the terrorist’s capacity for feeling is narcissistic, solipsistic, and in fact pathological.

Again, I will not attempt here to detail the factors in childhood that lead to the creation of an emotional terrorist. What is evident, however, in the terrorist’s limited or nonexistent ability to recognize other people’s feelings, is that the terrorist’s emotions and awareness, at crucial stages of childhood development, were stunted from reaching beyond the boundaries of self, due to a multiplicity of reasons. Later, the adult terrorist went on to make a relationship that was, on some level, no true relationship, but a reenactment of childhood pains, scenarios, situations, and “scripts.” Throughout the relationship, the solipsistic terrorist did not behave genuinely in response to the emotions of other family members but self-servingly used them as props for the recreation of the terrorist’s programme. And when that relationship finally faces dissolution, the terrorist is aware only of her own pain and outrage and, feeling no empathy for other family members, will proceed single-mindedly in pursuit of her goal, whether that goal is reunion, ruin, or revenge. The terrorist’s perspective is tempered by little or no objectivity. Instead the terrorist lives in a self-contained world of purely subjective pain and anger.

Because conscience consists so largely of the awareness of other people’s feelings as well as of one’s own, the emotional terrorist’s behavior often can be described to be virtually without conscience. In this lack of conscience lies the dangerous potential of the true terrorist, and again the degree of conscience in evidence is a useful measure in my work to anticipate the terrorist’s destructiveness.

An additional factor, making the terrorist so dangerous, is the fact that the terrorist, while in positively monomaniacal pursuit of her goal, feels fueled by a sense of omnipotence. Perhaps it is true that one imagines oneself omnipotent when, in truth, one is in a position of impotence (as in the case of losing one’s familial control through dissolution). Whatever the source of the sensation of omnipotence, the terrorist believes herself to be unstoppable, and unbound by the constraints or conscience or empathy, believes that no cost (cost, either to the terrorist or to other family members) is too great to pay toward the achievement of the goal.

The terrorist, and the terrorist’s actions, know no bounds. (The estimation of the extent of the terrorist’s “boundlessness” presents the greatest challenge to my work). Intent only to achieve the goal (perhaps “hell-bent” is the most accurate descriptive phrase) the terrorist will take such measures as: stalking a spouse or ex-spouse, physically assaulting the spouse or the spouse’s new partners, telephoning all mutual friends and business associates of the spouse in an effort to ruin the spouse’s reputation, pressing fabricated criminal charges against the spouse (including alleged battery and child molestation), staging intentionally unsuccessful suicide attempts for the purpose of manipulation, snatching children from the spouse’s care and custody, vandalizing the spouse’s property, murdering the spouse and/or the children as an act of revenge. Continue reading “A “violence prone” individual”