Disordered people exist, and we need to avoid them

Last week, after publishing ThePsychoExWife.com and the First Amendment, Lovefraud received the following letter:

I want to commend you and thank you for your website. It is a service to all survivors and the people that love them and, if you’ll permit me, I do want to open a dialogue with you about some concerns I have about the site.

I have read everything possible about sociopathy from a graduate student perspective and from my own experience with a violent sociopath and several other moderate paths, as well as other random people and family members that fit various DSM criteria, I am concerned that your site is very black and white and that people will be misled to their detriment. As I am sure you know, sociopathy, like any other DSM diagnosis, is on a continuum and not all sociopaths exhibit or act out all path behavior, meaning each path is an individual and, although, they all have indicators, behaviors and thought processes that are similar they are not all the same and, most importantly, not all are equally dangerous.

I have been intending to email you for many weeks now but the piece on the psychoexwife.com motivated me to proceed. Borderline Personality Disorder is a very complex disorder, as all mental disorders are, and although it is related to sociopathy as the article stated, again, not all people under that diagnosis are equally afflicted and they are not usually physically dangerous to anyone but themselves—cutting, for example. In fact, many BPD people do not self-harm at all. People categorically need to protect themselves at all costs and I absolutely commend you and your site for the diligence in advocating that point but an ex-husband diagnosing an ex-wife without a medical degree is iffy at best and as someone who survived a VIOLENT (serial rapist) path and was labeled the “scorned ex-girlfriend” when I tried to report him, I am extremely wary of anyone or any public information that fosters the belief system that women that speak up against violence in a domestic situation are “psycho.” Isn’t that what your site loudly tries to expose? How we frame our dialogue is crucially important to our goals and success. Buying into the dominant paradigm to make our point hurts us more than we realize by reinforcing the belief that all women are potentially psycho and, therefore, should not be believed when they report domestic and sexual violence. I am very surprised by the position you took on psychoexwife.com. I would need a lot more information before I could take a side there.

My main point other than my comments about PsycoExWife.com is that most everything I read here and everywhere else talks about sociopaths lacking a conscience as an absolute—they just don’t have one period. Lack of conscious is certainly the defining feature, overall, in my experience, with paths but it is very hard to measure and most paths hide that with varying degrees of success so my concern is that most people without experience dealing with paths will not understand that there are degrees to which paths in general have or don’t have a conscious. A conscious is not a tangible thing you can see directly and it’s not that anyone has one 100% or 0%. The literature in general seems to always say you either have one or you don’t. I think that is misleading.

I appreciate the thoughtful concerns of this reader. Let me address the points that she brought up.

First of all, I was very surprised by the reaction of many readers to last week’s story about ThePsychoExWife.com. To me, the website is similar to Lovefraud—the main difference being that it is primarily about disordered women, rather than disordered men.

The email criticized Mister-M, the author of the website, for diagnosing his ex-wife as having borderline personality disorder, because he isn’t a qualified professional. Well, we do this on Lovefraud all the time. My ex-husband, to my knowledge, has never been professionally diagnosed. But I am quite comfortable with my conclusion that he is a sociopath. I am comfortable enough to write an entire book about it—Love Fraud: How marriage to a sociopath fulfilled my spiritual plan.

ThePsychoExWife.com advocates “low contact” with the disordered individuals. That’s “no contact” for people who have no choice but to interact because of children—essentially the same advice Lovefraud offers.

So why the visceral reaction to the article by many Lovefraud readers? Thinking about it, it seemed to me that some of you may have been triggered by the website. Readers commented that the name of the website itself was a red flag. I can understand that—you may have been accused of being the “psycho ex” by, of course, your “psycho ex.” You may have been subject to language similar to that used on the website. The articles are written with a sarcastic, “can-you-believe-she-pulled-this-crap?” tone. I have heard a similar tone in my ex-husband’s statements.

Thankfully, I’ve healed enough that I wasn’t triggered by the website. I will admit that I don’t know for sure who is right or wrong in Mister-M’s situation. But I interpreted the tone of his articles as utter frustration with a woman who he believes is not acting in the best interest of the children, and a court system that allows her to get away with it.

Underserved male audience

I do know that what he writes is perfectly plausible. We don’t get many men telling their stories publicly in the Lovefraud forum—probably because they don’t feel at home amid all the complaints and stories about disordered males. After all, the Lovefraud audience is 80 percent women who have tangled with exploitative men.

But I have communicated with many men privately. Through email and phone conversations, they’ve told me about the hell their ex-wives, the mothers of their children, put them through. They tell me of children neglected, emotionally abused, and yes, fed so much junk food that they are obese, and suffering ridicule in school because of it.

I’ve always felt that Lovefraud underserved the male victims of disordered women. So I was glad to see that there was a website for them. And, reading the letters and comments that ThePsychoExWife.com received from its readers, they appreciated, and learned from, the forum.

I frequently receive letters from people thanking Lovefraud for saving their lives. ThePsychoExWife.com receives those letters too.

Range of behaviors

Now, about the other concern raised in the letter at the beginning of this article: The author is absolutely correct. Sociopathy is continuum. Sociopaths—and people with borderline personality disorder—are not all the same. Some are definitely worse than others.

Lovefraud makes this point in several places. In fact, here’s what I write on the What’s a Sociopath? page of Lovefraud.com:

Sociopaths exhibit a range of behaviors. In fact, Dr. Hare diagnoses them according to their score on a scale. So just as you could describe someone’s intelligence as ranging from smart to genius, you could describe a sociopath as somewhere between sleazy and serial killer. If you see sleazy, he or she may be on the low end of the scale, but they’re still bad news.

Our other Lovefraud authors have also addressed this point in blog articles. In Experienced clinician says psychopathy is a spectrum, Dr. Liane Leedom wrote:

The idea that psychopathy is a spectrum and that “sociopaths/psychopaths” vary in severity means that there is no real point at which “normal” stops and “sociopath/psychopath” starts. Any decision about where to draw this line (after gathering information on a large group of people) is in a sense arbitrary.

The idea that “psychopathic disturbance” (as Dr. Meloy calls it) is a spectrum can be very confusing. Many people feel a sense of relief when they finally figure out that the person who has harmed them is “a sociopath.” By “sociopath” they mean categorically different from everyone else, a different type of human. Now I am saying there is really no category, just an extreme on a continuum.

Then, a few weeks ago, Steve Becker, LCSW, wrote an article that really gets to the heart of the problem, called, The special problem of the “sort of” sociopath. He wrote:

There are individuals with whom I work, not infrequently, whom I’d describe as, in some sense, “fall between the crack” personalities. These individuals have sociopathic tendencies. They are almost always chronically abusive one way or another.

Although they may not precisely meet every criterion of the textbook sociopath, still they exhibit, often (and historically) enough, the kinds of sociopathic abuses (and rationalizations of their abuses) that make them sociopathic enough to be avoided as assiduously as the full-blown sociopath.

Interestingly, these individuals can pose worse dangers than pure, unequivocal sociopaths for the very reason that it’s possible to find features of their personality that do not conform exactly to the textbook sociopath’s, leaving one dangerously more optimistic that her partner may be capable of the change and personal growth worth the wait, and suffering.

I’ve put that last paragraph in bold text, and I’ve never put an entire paragraph in bold text on the Lovefraud Blog.

Yes, our email writer is correct. Sociopathy is not a black-and-white issue; there are degrees of disorder. But it doesn’t matter. Partially disordered people are still damaging, and you do not want to have them in your life.

This is Lovefraud’s main message: Sociopaths exist, here’s what they look like, and they are bad for you.

The shades of gray may be important for researchers or therapists. But the objective for the rest of us is simply to keep these people out of our lives. We certainly want to avoid the seriously disordered. But the partially disordered still have the capacity to make us partially miserable. I’d rather not be miserable at all.

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