By | March 11, 2012 70 Comments

Getting picky about the definition of psychopathy

After reading about the book, The Psychopath Test, Kayt Sukel, a Psychology Today blogger, wondered if psychopaths were, in fact, everywhere. So she asked Joshua Buckholtz, a neuroscientist. He said that psychopathy needed to have meaningful diagnostic boundaries. Buckholtz told her “a true psychopath is going to show high aggression, low empathy and high narcissism in all contexts.”

I wondered about that description. Here at Lovefraud, we know that psychopaths are capable of faking love and concern, quite convincingly, when it suits their purpose. How does the expert account for that?

Read Psychopaths everywhere? on

Link supplied by a Lovefraud reader.

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Thanks Donna for an interesting link. To me there is no question that the structure of corporations, that put the growth of the bottom line, openly and admittedly, above any other concern for the well being of people and the planet, does directly reward and encourage psychopathic behavior.

Can a business man who’s actions destroy lives and environments go home at night and be a good person? No. The lie is the lie that he can be a ruthless destroyer by day, and have empathy in other areas of life, regardless of how well he fakes it.

If we included those how behave in self serving ways that are destructive to others, and said they were high in sociopathic traits, the numbers of them amongst us would be enormous, I would venture more like 20% than the 4% usually cited.

I look forward to studies that can help us determine if we are in fact “teaching” sociopathic behavior in our constant growth model of predatory capitalism. We do reward and celebrate a lot of leaders in business and politics that have committed callous acts and delivered much injustice to others. We make heroes out of those who have the “guts” to be “tough”.

Are we building sociopathy into our model of how we do business? I think the answer is yes. And we are witnessing the costs to all of humanity. Be it the handling of Fukishima or the Bhopal disaster in India or the banking and foreclosure scandals, all of these harmful events were first initiated by those who cared not for others.

Sorry to sound so dark so early in the day, but hopefully the more light is shed on this pervasive problem the more hope we have of one day, as a society, going NC.

Ox Drover

For me, I think the “definition” of psychopathy should hinge on Empathy or lack of it. As Dr. Baron-Cohen points out in his books and research though, empathy is not just a “you have it or you don’t” but is on a “bell curve” with most people iin the middle, having “enough” empathy, but 1-2% of people lack empathy almost entirely, and another 2-3% are VERY low in empathy.

To me, as your empathy decreases, your ability to use and abuse others without any second thought about it increases. It doesn’t have to be phyisical violence, though it can include that. People can be frequent liars for many reasons, and people can be violent for many reasons, people can do lots of things that are anti-social and still have empathy, but the person lacking empathy enjoys doing those things, and has the “duping delight.”

The person without empathy or with low empathy will be fairly consistent in his or her behavior in all aspects of their lives, but they may be also very careful in HIDING and MASKING these abusive and anti-social behaviors. The man may beat his wife in secret, but appear to be a loving husband in public. The person may molest children in secret but appear to be a philanthropist during the day. A person may be a church leader or a school teacher, policeman or judge and yet hide the dark secret of psychopathic behavior.

Just like most people there will be various parts of their personality, like some will have more or less narcississm just like ther est of us have different aspects to our personality, they may be more introverted or more extroverted, but I think the bottom line is how much if any empathy they have, and that will determine how they ultimately treat others.


I use the “mask of sanity” as the benchmark for psychopathy. The lie about who they are and what their intentions are is the most distinctive feature of psychopaths IMO.

The fact that they use masks of charm, pity and rage to coerce emotional responses out of others is part of it. They can cycle from one mask to the other very quickly if one isn’t working. This is because, as Hare says, they have shallow affect. They never felt the emotions very deeply to begin with. My spath sister told my spath mom that her spath husband will rage out of control and she will be so upset and crying, but then 20 minutes later, he acts as if it never happened. This is classic spath behavior and indicates that they don’t feel things deeply, so how can they feel empathy? They don’t.

I’m not sure about corporate psychopaths because empathy in the workplace isn’t the primary reason someone is hired, competence is. But in a marriage and family, it IS all about empathy. The family is based on emotional attachments, so betraying those IS what I would call psychopathic.


I don’t see any conflict here. Buckholtz’s comment about psychopaths having “high aggression, low empathy and high narcissism in all contexts” only covers certain features of the disorder. It does not address other features we know about, including the psychopath’s well-known propensity for lying, deceit, and manipulation. Nor does it mean that a psychopath is openly displaying aggression all of the time. We all know how psychopaths can often mask their aggressive intentions, or simulate such things as “empathetic behavior” when it suits their purposes. I can’t believe that anything in Buckholtz’s statement was intended to exclude those deceptive behaviors.

Nothing in his statement excludes the possibility that “Chainsaw Al” is a psychopath, either. Buckholtz is only saying he can’t be sure. Otherwise, all that Buckholtz is warning against is the tendency some people have to use terms like “psychopath” too loosely, and stretch them too far. Others do the same with other terms too, like “narcissist.” Some people make these terms into trendy buzzwords, but that doesn’t mean they’re using them accurately. Buckholtz is simply pointing out that not every “bad guy” is clinically a psychopath. That’s absolutely true, and does need pointing out to people at large.

If we included those how behave in self serving ways that are destructive to others, and said they were high in sociopathic traits, the numbers of them amongst us would be enormous, I would venture more like 20% than the 4% usually cited.

A figure as large as 20 percent does illustrate the need for Buckholtz’s comment. If we took the 20 percent of people who were most self serving and cared least for others, assuming we could see their brain structure clearly enough, only some small percentage (whether it’s four percent or whatever) would turn out to be psychopaths. Quite a number of others might turn out to have some different personality disorder or mental condition, but not psychopathy. Then out of a figure as large as 20 percent, I dare say a few percent wouldn’t have any identifiable “disorder.” They’d just be on the selfish end of “normal,” that’s all, and we wouldn’t have any justification for pathologizing them with terms like “psychopath”/”sociopath.”

Ox Drover

Red if you look at the “Psychopath” term on a BELL CURVE, which I think really it IS, as some people will have more or less of the TRAITS that make up a psychopath…and we know it is not an “either or” situation, as some of them are “more so and others less so” Like for example, while 25% of the prison population at any given time scores a 30 on the PCL-R, the AVERAGE score is 22, and the average score of the general population is about 4-5 I think.

Now, if you look at the number of EX- convicts in this country where a HIGH NUMBER OF THE POPULATION ARE INCARCERATED Or have been, I would say that there is a higher than 1% level of people who SCORE HIGHER THAN a 4-5 on the PCL-R, so thought they might not FULLY qualify as a “psychopath” (scoring a 30) they are NOT NICE PEOPLE.

I’m getting to the point that I can recognize people HIGH IN THE TRAITS without possibly even thinking that they are full fledged psychopaths. ON a personal level I don’t want any one high in traits in my immediate circle…but at work, sometimes we don’t have choices but to interact with these people that we can see are LOW on the empathy scale or just plain vicious when it comes to work “success” and success at work is usually not about people liking you or being nicey nice, but the bottom line, the amount of money coming into the til.


In my opinion, from a practical standpoint for the layperson, the diagnostic labels mean nothing. Furthermore, I think the labels keep people who are psychopathically bonded, or even just those with high relationship investment, “stuck” in these toxic situations longer. “Oh, well, my partner doesn’t exhibit a few of the diagnostic characteristics, so there’s hope things will change in our relationship.” The chance of ever getting a diagnosis of the disordered person is slim to none, and it just doesn’t matter when your well being and safety are at stake. Patterns of behavior are important, but sometimes even a single instance of a particular behavior should be adequate justification to get out.

Ox Drover


To quote you: “sometimes even a single instance of a particular behavior should be adequate justification to get out. ”

NO TRUER WORDS HAVE EVER BEEN SPOKEN, even a SINGLE instance of some behaviors are more than enough to GET OUT!

Thanks for posting this.


My first comment. “Brilliant Harvard Neuroscientists” are often highly Narcissistic. Being that, there views tend to be very black and white, as evidenced by Buckhotlz’ need to put boundaries around the definition. Moreover, such types (the brilliant Harvard professors) think they are so smart that they cannot be deceived by a psychopath? For example, Buckholtz only seems to recognize overt aggression, when covert aggression can be equally destructive, especially in relationships.

This is why I believe there must be separate definitions: sociopaths and psychopath, primarliy differentiated by the level overt aggressiveness and criminal behavior. Doing so is crucial because I agree with Jon Ronson. When you go hunting for Psychopaths (and Sociopaths) they do turn up everywhere.

Ox Drover

BBE, you are right, PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE **is** aggressive! Sometimes worse than aggressive aggressive.


Buchholtz is too stuck in the Ivy Tower to understand this…

Da Poeta

I completely agree with the blogger. Even some of my professors treat this diagnosis like a joke and people who suffer from it like “boogeymen”. It’s just ridiculous. It’s a real disorder that we need to start taking seriously, or they’re just going to keep doing what they do. There needs to be a more objective measure of psychopathy and less sensationalized hollywood crap. End rant. 🙂


The terminology needs to be nailed down. We often say Passive Aggressive when we are talking about COVERT AGGRESSIVE.

Though the spath might engage in some passive aggressive, so do many other people, such as depressed people. Covert aggressive is a spath trait. They plot and manipulate all day long.

I think part of the reason people have a hard time nailing down the traits is because our culture is psychopathic and nobody wants to admit it. We admire traits which lead to winning “AT ANY COST”.

The term, “all is fair in love and war” comes to mind. A psychopath must’ve coined that term. All is NOT fair in love and war.

Ox Drover

You are right there Skylar! Totally 100% right!

Da Poeta

The terminology needs to be gotten rid of all together. The terms psychopath and sociopath are just too stigmatized. And laymen use them regularly without having any idea what they actually mean.

Yeah, most people don’t know the difference between an actual psychopath and someone who acts psychopathically because of the situation. Are they really psychopaths, or just people who got caught up in a lifestyle?


Da Poeta,
I understand what you mean about lifestyle. I think you are talking about fence sitters. They are people who are empty of morals, values and opinions. So whatever is going on, they just follow along. Though on their own, they wouldn’t necessarily do evil. In fact, even the selfish ones, like my sister can be unselfish when under the right influence. But like, my sister, if a spath comes along and tempts her, she’ll jump right on the band wagon and it FEELS FINE to do evil. In fact, she sees nothing wrong with being evil.
She told me.


Hence really back to the simplest definition centered around lack of empathy.


It seems to me that there are two kinds of people (not that I like to be so binary usually) who have opinions/definitions of psychopaths/sociopaths: the ones who have studied psychopathy/sociopathy in books or institutions, and the ones who have had personal relationships with it.

I honestly think that the ones who have had personal relationships with it know it best, but each side can learn from the other. It is because we have seen it with its mask off, so we get the “covert” bit. We have had the jarring and dissonant experience of seeing it in different settings, mask on, slipping for an instant (inadvertently or just enough for US to see but no one else… as a sick threat to keep our stress up and make us look crazy)… or mask off altogether (this one done in private).

We talk to each other, we know this is the same play but with different actors, so now we know WE are not crazy or imagining it.

The task now is to get the ivory tower experts to take us seriously, as well as the clueless others who have not (yet) had a personal brush with it or an awakening to it.


George Simon, the guy who wrote the ‘Character Disturbance’ book has an interesting way of classifying aggressive personalities, from the neurotic (ie, unconscious form) of passive-aggressiveness, through character disturbed aggressives, to full on disordered individuals. I found it really interesting to read about all the different styles of aggression, from ‘reactive’ to ‘predatory’.

Reactive aggression is the kind ‘normal’ folks have to a real threat. Predatory means there is no threat, and the aggression is being used to satisfy the needs of the individual, with intent to victimize others’.

He lists aggression types : Overt, with open attempts to win, dominate, control. Covert, with subtle or concealed attempts of same. Also Active aggression- trying to get something you want by actively doing things and employing tactics to victimize. And, finally, passive- trying to avoid things you DON’T want by resisting cooperation with others.

He chooses the term Predatory Aggressive to describe someone (a personality pattern), who can use ALL of the aggression tactics, as a psychopath, believing them to completely lack any degree of empathy (as Oxy wrote, about empathy existing on a continuum). That is his criteria for a psychopath. Lacking, not limited, empathy.

He observes that disturbed and disordered character individuals display all the same ‘basic’ thinking, attitude, and behavior dysfunction. But the thing he uses to classify them from mildly disturbed in character, to fully disordered is empathy.

Further, he writes that these types can be more antisocial and out of control types: violent, physically abusive, law-breakers. Or they can be like Bernie Madoff, and have the ability to ‘channel’ their aggressions, more readily fitting into society, and flying under the radar of the law.

How he presents it it is pretty simple: empathy, and the degree to which we possess it identifies where any of us fall on the continuum of being character deficient. The more we lack empathy, the more character disturbed we are.

I recommend. Good and interesting read.


Ox Drover

I also have that book, Slim and started reading it, but put it down before I finished it and read what my late husband would call “chewing gum for the eyes”—just something that is a “story” to sort of take a rest from reading about psychopaths and such.

Went outside today in the sunshine (with a hat and plenty of sun screen) to rake leaves out of the flower beds and blow leaves off the deck. I’ve spent too much time inside and it is time to get OUT!

What I did read of the books was good as for CONTENT and I agree with is theories, but I do find his style of writing somewhat difficult to sift through. It is WORTH it though because the content is VERY good and helps us to realize that NOT ALL PSYCHOPATHS ARE EXACTLY ALIKE, and that there are different kinds of aggression/violence and varying levels of empathy from almost none to too much…Dr. Baron-Cohen also makes this point as well. A lower autistic has little to zero empathy, but they are not violent, whereas a psychopath has very little to zero empathy but they are abusive and violent and have “duping delight”–i.e. enjoying hurting others.



I agree with you 100%. The problem is though that Academia is filled with narcissists who don’t like to listen to those without an equivalent “education. In retrospect to my situation with a sociopath, one of the issues was that my psychologist did not quite understand sociopaths. Yes, he saw a manipulative, disordered person, but he saw “borderline” not sociopath.


I personally believe that one can only truly understand what these individuals are like through experience. I am currently invested in a relationship that isn’t really one at all. The more I expose him to his face the more he resents me. I’ve tried to let him know that I see him clearly as he is and not as he wants me to see him and I still love him. I believe it makes it worse, but every once in a while I look in his eyes and see an unbelievably scared and pathetic childlike spirit that needs to be freed from himself. Real love doesn’t just go away so im having a hard time freeing myself. No one in my life really understands what has happened to me, so the support isn’t really there. I want to be with someone who really cares but when I think about leaving him I feel as though ill leave him to a world who doesn’t know what he truly is. I guess I want to protect him from others and himself as well as protect others from him. I don’t know how I can make this right but at least I know I really loved in the face of evil and against all odds. For that reason I eliminate some regret. Need help….


I totally get what you mean. If you will allow me to explain what I finally learned about this. It was NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY to fix him, protect him or protect the world.

The one most important trait that spaths look for in a victim is the trait of TAKING RESPONSIBILITY when it isn’t ours to take.

It’s a very narcissistic trait to think we can SAVE the world or even save anyone, perhaps not even save ourselves. How we came to think this way could be for so may reasons. Mine was because my parents forced me to do this as a child. When I took care of and sacrificed for my little sister, the golden child, I was met with the only approval I ever got. So we learn that it feels good to rescue others. I’m still that way, I haven’t changed, but at least I’m EXTREMELY aware of it.

You spath is also extremely aware of it. He knows that the sad pathetic look on his face will melt your heart. The answer? STOP using your heart to make these decisions.

Use your knowledge to gain more understanding. Humility is the key. Once you integrate humility into your heart, then, whenever you want to save the world, humility will tell you that God will take care of it. You’ll experience a release of responsibility, peace with the world and trust that the universe has been operating LONG before you were born and it doesn’t need your help to keep ticking along.


Ox Drover

Dear lovedapsycho,

Welcome to LoveFraud…and there is help here in the form of articles that will educate you and people who will support you.

Read and read and think about what you are reading. Knowledge is power, and taking back your power is what will free you. The truth will set you free, but first it will pith you off.

Yes, you hang in there because you PITY HIM, this is called the “pity ploy” and it will hook you to him as long as YOU ALLOW IT TO.

Learn how to let go. God bless.


Hi everyone,
I have always wondered about a meaningful and a relevant definition of a psychopath. Dr. Hare in his seminal book “Without Conscience” came up with a definition that suited the criminals in jail (that’s where he had encountered his first psychopath and that’s where he had done his study). But Dr. Hare, himself, said that if he were to do another study, he would do it in the financial sector. I read that he had done something like that and found out that 20% of those he studied had exhibited psychpathic traits. But I still think we have not found a meaningful and relevant definition of a psychopath. But this is not why I wrote today (I had always wanted to participate in a discussion on what makes someone a psychopath even if he/she did not exhibit criminal, aggressive, or antisocial acts). I wrote to tell you about this movie (or documentary) that I received today. I have not finished watching it yet but I thought you might be interested in watching it as well.

Ox Drover

There’s an article here on Love Fraud about this documentary and some good discussion about it.

Here is the link:



I have been going to therapy for the past couple months now. I feel like I have made some progress, but yesterday when I mentioned again to my therapist that my ex was a sociopath, she actually said it sounds more like he is bi polar. I wanted to scream! NO he is a sociopath. What he did to me…. Oh my God, no. She doesn’t understand. I am so angry that she said that. I have been struggling with the FACT that my ex is a sociopath and my therapist is doubting me.

I was so glad to have found this site when I had no idea what had happened to me… this site and Donna helped me to understand what I was dealing with…. he is a text book, sociopath. I don’t know what to do….

Ox Drover

Dear Sadme,

I hear you and I know that what your therapist said probably sounded like she was invalidating what you had been through. Many therapists don’t get it about real sociopaths, BUT in defense of her/him, many sociopaths are ALSO bi-polar and in fact, that makes it much worse than if they were “just” sociopaths. So, while I realize that you got triggered by what she said, cut her a little slack…and maybe you can educate her.

You might think about printing out some things about psychopaths, like maybe the PCL-R or some articles from LF and take to her. Educating a therapist about sociopaths is a good thing for you to do. It will help her with her future patients (and maybe some she is seeing now) Don’t give up on therapy though! (((hugs))) God bless.


Thank you Ox Drover,

Your right… she doesn’t get it. I have liked the progress that I have made and it is about me anyways… it about me healing, my therapy is helping me to get over things that have happen in my childhood that actually made me more attractive to a sociopath. I have the both the Love Fraud book and the new Red Flags of Love Fraud. I may give them to her to read. My ex exhibited all the red flags of a sociopath… but I didn’t see any of them till it was to late for me…
I had a dream with him in it last night. He left me a year ago and his 1st year anniversary to the new victim is coming up. I had a dream that I was at their wedding. I saw him smiling knowing I was there. His bride fell into a pond that was behind the alter. She got out and she was a scary mess, but then when I saw her after she got out of her dress, she wanted to talk to me… I said to her ” why would I want to talk to you, you hate me” Then I looked at her and saw a very innocent young girl looking at me with sad eyes…
I still think of him and I hate it. I wish I could clear him from my mind… I think that what my therapist said made me dream of him.

Ox Drover

Dear Sadme,

Sometimes iin our dreams we try to “work out” what we are doing in our day time lives….and we make progress in leaps and then back steps…there’s no way I can know what the meaning of your dream is, but I think you realize she (his new victim) did not “win any prize” Yes, it is difficult to stop thinking about them, but you will when the time is right. It takes some TIME and some WORK. The things that happened to you that made you vulnerable to him will get worked out and you will heal. But keep in mind that healing is a process not a “place” that you get to and all is lovely. It is a journey, so just enjoy the trip and the new things you will learn along the way…and don’t forget to stop and smell the roses too. (((hugs)))

the sisterhood

Thank you for this article Donna, I just got your most recent book, “Red Flags of Love Fraud”, in the mail and I can’t put it down.

But what I am most thrilled about is that you have helped to put my confusion about Narcissism and Sociopathy and the minor difference between the two to rest. I found your words in the chapter, “What is a sociopath?”, to be so reassuring when you stated, “In practice, the behaviors and traits exhibited by individuals diagnosed with psychopathy, sociopathy, narcissism, and even borderline personality disorders overlap, so it’s hard to tell where one ends and another begins.”…”All of these disorders are harmful…”.

I have been struggling for such a long time to pinpoint exactly what my ex is. I was feeling like I didn’t have a right to be on this site if he didn’t match up perfectly to the psychopathic checklist. But in the end, the label isn’t as important as knowing that he IS disordered and has caused great emotional and psychological harm to me. I believe he mostly has NPD with some traits of Sociopathy. He doesn’t meet every single one of the criteria on the lists that you gave in the book. But he still has most of them. I’m really starting to believe that is enough for me to know and how fortunate I am that I got out when I did. And to be so thankful for the help Lovefraud has given me.


Very interesting, Donna – thank you for the link!

OxD, I agree with your observation that lack of Empathy should be directly associated with this psych term. Empathy is the one thing that can be assessed by a professional in due time. Words, body language, and inferences all can point to a person’s level of empathy. My counseling therapist has never met the exspath, and has used the terms “Sociopath” as well as “Psychopath” in describing the exspath. She is using the terminology properly, but I am hesitant to use either term outside of her office simply because the facade of the exspath is so “normal” and (of all things!) “mild-mannered.” To use either term is to risk misinterpretation.

It may be time to alter the terminology, entirely – the connotations are just too pre-designed, anymore. When we talk about a “Sociopath” that we’ve encountered, people who don’t “get it” will roll their eyes, nudge the person next to them and wink, and respond with, “Sure, they were sociopaths….sure they were.”

Personally, I cannot think of an alternative term that would encompass the traits. “Soul-less dick-cheese” is not what I would consider to be a proper medical/psychiatric term, though it does fit the bill, nicely. Perhaps, a term that focuses on what OxD laid out: lack of Empathy and Remorse.

As it stands, the general public still does not “get it,” even though there are movies, talk shows, crime dramas, and so forth that clearly use the current terminology.

Ox Drover

Sisterhood and truthspeak, I am with Donna and I have pounded on this construct here on LF for going on 5 years now…all the PDs “over lap” and there is NOT ONE BIT OF DIFFERENCE as far as relationships are concerned….TOXIC IS TOXIC and what you call it does NOT MATTER A FIG!

So many people seem to fixate on “is he a sociopath or not” like if he doesn’t meet 100% of the criteria then maybe he really wasn’t all that bad after all.

Your X does not have to be Charlie Manson to qualify as a psychopath/sociopath.

The terms psychopath and sociopath have been twisted by the media until they are actually seen as the same as “serial killer” or “Crazed serial killer” so I agree that those two words have been “tainted.” However, Truthspeak, I think “Soul-less dick-cheese” is not going to meet the criteria for a new name. LOL ROTFLMAO The last term used in the Medical field was “anti-social personality disorder” which was ALMOST identical to, but not identical to psychopathy, in fact, though, the term sounded like they were describing a HERMIT. Anti-social sounds to me like a guy who doesn’t like cocktail parties. In medical-speak it meant he didn’t behave in a “social” way meaning go along with what society thinks is a good way to act.

Part of the problem I think in getting a “real diagnostic criteria” is the “rule by committee” where everyone has to get their idea in because of the egos of so many PhDs….it is like a “horse designed by a committee, turns out to look like a CAMEL, everyone has to put their hump on it.”


Donna and OxD………..yes, on all points!

the sisterhood

Donna and Oxy, thank you, thank you, thank you!. I’m feeling really good a free today. So refreshing!!


What scared me about the article was its conclusion – that most Ps are safely locked away in prison.

Really? Based on what evidence?

My father had a little sign in his home office that said, “It’s hard to remember that your objective was to drain the swamp when you’re up to your neck in alligators.”

This article brought to mind, “It’s hard to care about a debate regarding which psychopathic characteristics may apply when your wounds from the P’s attacks are still bleeding.”



Ps may be, but by definition these will be mostly violent criminal types.

What about Bernie Madoff? Next Gingrich?

White collar crime does not seem to fit the standard definition and since most white collar criminals go unpunished, I cannot see how somebody could make such a comment. In addition, domestic violence typically goes unpunished as well…


G1S & BBE, the shocking assumption that they’re “safely” locked away is absurd. What about Sandusky and the horrific Penn State situation?!?!?! And, that only continued because people ENABLED – nobody wanted to “be the one” who caused Sandusky to lose his important, prestigious, and successful position. SERIOUSLY!?!?!

I have a friend who is working for a spath – this person is not one of the best or most intelligent spaths, but he is engaging in the absolute patterns that they perpetrate: divide/conquer; intimidation; threats of dismissal; then, they’re you’re best buddy; etc. She is under SO much stress because she does not have the ability to walk the fark away, yet. Not from her JOB, but from this boss.

Uh………..Spath Island, as I’ve said. Put them ALL together with a few livestock and some vegetable seeds, and let ’em go.

Brightest blessings!


I’m catching up on this thread, and as usual I’m struck by the depth of insightful comments. So many brilliant, thoughtful people here, people who have lived through spath experiences, (some still going through it), and with such a strong desire for healing and making meaning of the experience… such good stuff. I’m so impressed and grateful for everyone’s sharing.

I’ll comment only on one, right now: Skylar said: “It was NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY to fix him, protect him or protect the world.

The one most important trait that spaths look for in a victim is the trait of TAKING RESPONSIBILITY when it isn’t ours to take.

It’s a very narcissistic trait to think we can SAVE the world or even save anyone, perhaps not even save ourselves.”

This is a pattern I myself have fallen into and am still vulnerable to (though not as much now as previously). Skylar, you described this very succinctly and compassionately; how a person can develop this trait of thinking it is our job to save others or the world, to be a “rescuer” or not knowing where our duty to others begins and ends. You are correct that it is a narcissistic trait — though thinking of it as “duty” (noble, or self sacrificing; a good thing) is why it can be so hard to recognize it for the mistaken belief that it is.

Seeing it as a misunderstanding of boundaries AND also “whose job is it” (God’s job) is helpful in releasing that mistaken belief or “need.” Thanks.


20years, I can only say that my own mandates to “fix” other people’s issues comes directly from my “inner child” experiences. Dad working all day, mom drinking all day, and dad comes home to find the house a wreck, nothing to eat, his wife passed out, and his 8 y/o daughter filthy and hungry – dad turns to daughter and says, “How could you let her drink like this, again?”

In examination of this broken, neglected, and abandoned “inner child,” I have (with PLENTY of trepidation) come to understand some of the reasons that I “chose” spaths and how to take baby-steps to address some of these issues, even if it’s on a very tiny level.

I’m heading in a direction that is painful but truthful. These things that we have all experienced are often as a result of what we were either taught or what we learned as a child, plain and simple. Attempting to look at these truths with an objective and compassionate eye is not my forte – I don’t like it one little bit. But, if I don’t stare down the truths and learn how to manage these issues, I’ll run right out, latch on to someone who is going to rescue me from the spath devastation, and put myself on the victimization block, AGAIN. And, I hate the experiences more than I can describe, so I never, ever want to find myself making choices and decisions based upon my “shame core,” anymore.

What is evolving, as a result of this effort, is someone who I don’t recognize as myself. I am becoming more intolerant of people’s bad behaviors. I am finding it very hard to excuse a person’s choices because of their upbringing, social status, etc. I am not accepting of the notions that all people are generally “good,” and that my trust is available until someone actually does something to break that trust. I am becoming something that I don’t particularly like, and I don’t know if it’s being “jaded” or “cynical.” Either way, I won’t say something unless it’s the truth, EVEN if the truth isn’t all that pleasant.

Has anyone else experienced this? Did they find it to be an uncomfortable space to be in? I have always wanted to be like a hippy-dippy person – nonjudgmental, all-inclusive, loving and giving, etc. Today, I am NONE of those things, and I am very uncomfortable with this evolution (or, DE-evolution).


Truthspeak, yes, I know EXACTLY what you mean about the process of starting to face some uncomfortable truths about myself, and then changing or becoming a new version of myself that is a stranger…

I do not know how far along this path I am, how far I will go, but I have experienced at different points, different emotional responses to facing the Truth (this can be mundane, worldly truth or deep spiritual truth):

At first, for many years, I had an automatic, unconscious, defensive response: denial. This manifested in different ways. I would sometimes ramp up my frenetic “duty to others” to cover up my pain. I mean, I was unaware of the pain (or shame core, however you want to view it). This defensive response was so automatic it happened in a fraction of a second. I know there was pain lurking underneath, but the pain was SO PAINFUL that my defense system didn’t want me to be consciously aware that the pain even existed. Well, if you are unaware of the pain, how on earth can you possibly know there is a problem to be addressed? Honestly, for years I thought I knew myself and that I was “happy.” I thought that there was nothing wrong. (but there WAS).

I am now at a point where I think I was so covered in layers of denial, that I may have “sought” a spath relationship which was overtly painful, in order to sort of crack that shell of unawareness, and allow me to be conscious of much deeper pain. Mind you, this is a loooooooong process.

But during the long process, I have gone through different stages of “facing down the beast.” (I do not believe I am “done” yet, but I’m in this for the long haul… I’ll keep at it until I am done or die).

One of the stages I passed through was certainly the stage of outrage and intolerance for cruelty of any sort. I became VERY sensitive. I became more and more aware that behaviors i had previously thought of as benign were ANYTHING BUT. I was angry at myself for my previous blindness, angry at others for their tolerance, angry at the slippery snakes wearing the masks — angry at everything and everyone. I transferred my ‘duty” towards others (this previous “duty” was to keep my mouth and eyes and ears shut and pretend — at first unconsciously and then with dawning awareness — pretend that everything was “OK” or “not so bad.” I transferred this previous “duty” into a raging “save the world” duty — zero tolerance, calling it out, etc.

But I am passing through that phase, as well. Into a new one where I realize that it is not my job. This is a new realization for me, and still a bit fragile. It does not mean I do not care about injustice in the world. But it means that I can be at a place where I don’t condone it, don’t participate in it, I can look at it and see it for what it is and not turn away in fear…. I can look through it and see the banality of it. I don’t have to do battle with it. I don’t have to run away and hide. I know that I can just “turn the other cheek” and live my good life without engaging with Evil — and I can see the world through different eyes, if I choose to remove the veils. (this is still somewhat theoretical to me because I am still on the edge of it; i haven’t completely gone through that door OBVIOUSLY and come out on the other side… LOL. it’s just that, before, I never know that this place of Peace existed. That’s where I want to go…)

This is the direction my spiritual search is taking me. it has always been a spiritual search as well as pursuit of mental health. Both. So, I think there are many stages along the way. I have no idea what new stages await for ME. But I do know that I don’t want to remain in any stuck, dark places.

Yes, Truthspeak, those are uncomfortable places… but my experience has been that each time I evolve a little, it is uncomfortable and I need to pause, rest awhile, and get used to the new place before I have energy to go on and do more work to keep growing and healing. It seems to be an open-ended process, if we want it to be.


20years, thank you for sharing your healing process – it’s weird to me to be this different person that I don’t particularly like. Perhaps, it’s because this person won’t be “liked” by everyone else that makes it such an uncomfortable place to be in.

I have to come to the understanding that I don’t NEED everyone to “like” me in order to survive. 😀


Truthspeak and 20years,
great topic this morning. It just happens to be what I’ve been thinking about too: responsibility.
Where does it begin and where does it end?
To deny responsibility is to be like a spath. To take on more than our share, is to enable the spaths.

You’ve both described so many of the processes that I’ve been through as well. The denial, the intolerance.

One of the things that I’ve been reading lately, about shame, is that it comes from a threat to the social bonds. It isn’t an emotion you can have without the context of other people. And I think that is true of psychopathy, as well. You can’t be a parasite or a predator when you’re by yourself. It requires other people. So in this context, the word “anti-social” is actually a very good description of psychopaths because everything they do is 180 degrees against society and the social bonds.

Rene Girard, whose Mimetic Theory states that we are all imitative people and we imitate each other’s desires, coined a word: intervidual. The word conveys the idea that we are each much more interconnected than we are aware of. We are constantly modeling for each other and creating each other’s emotions, which color our perspectives of the world.

So in that way, we do have to take responsibility for each other, because we affect each other so much.

I think the problem we have when we try to take on too much responsibility, is that we are trying to CONTROL others. Especially the spaths. It’s hard not to want to control them. But that just make it worse, in so many ways, that I won’t list them here. They key is to control ourselves as we become aware of how we affect others.

I’ve read that when a child does something bad, it is ok to shame him so that he internalizes what “bad” is. But then within a few minutes, it’s important to help him handle his shame so that he learns to do this himself and not deny it.

What I used to do with all the spaths, was that when I saw them doing something shameful, I was so embarrassed for them, that I pretended it wasn’t there. I JOINED them in the denial of the shame. Well, I can’t say I’ve stopped doing it, because shame is an uncomfortable feeling even if it’s not your own. But at least I can now SEE the pink elephant in the room.



The last paragraph in your post is particularly powerful and insightful for me. That’s exactly what I learned to do in my family growing up, pretend the embarrassing/shameful thing wasn’t even happening. What is the appropriate, “normal” way to respond to the shameful things? When someone makes a scene in a restaurant, how should their companions respond “appropriately”? I have no idea!!


That’s a great question, Sparklehorse.
I’d like to say, we should address the shameful behavior right then and there but at the same time, how do we then offer compassion? I’m pretty sure ignoring it is the wrong thing to do, I just don’t know what the right thing is.


The best way is to tell someone, in a calm, decisive way that they should stop that particular behaviour. It’s something I’ve heard worked succesfully with bullies who pester kids at school. And it’s a tactic I’ve been using the past few months as a teacher. And it does seem to have the best effect.

I don’t “ask” them to stop, I don’t tell them I “want” them to stop. I don’t even tell them what the consequences will be if they don’t stop. I just say, “From now on, you will stop [fill in wrong, negative or annoying behaviour].” It’s a kind of authority voice that is never or rarely used anymore, and I guess that’s why it works.


The very notion of tenure could be argued as being highly narcissistic.


darwinsmom, YES, if you are the teacher/authority. But what if you are in the subordinate position?

More risky. For example… if the rude-to-service-people-in-restaurants person is your parent, and you are a child. (this happens frequently to my children when they are taken to restaurants by my ex-husband).

Ox Drover

Good conversation guys. That mantra of “let’s pretend none of this happened” is the mantra I grew up with. Ignoring the bad behavior is enabling it.

When I caught my “friend” stealing from me, caught her in the ACT…I was ASHAMED for her…afraid I had embarrassed her. I felt bad that I had caught her in the act and cried for 3 days because I had made her uncomfortable by catching her stealing.

She had stolen from me before and I had known it, confronted it, of course she denied it…but I had gone on then and PLAYED PRETEND IT NEVER HAPPENED….and let her back into my life like it never happened.

With Uncle Monster’s drinking and abusing his wife or girlfriends we pretended it didn’t happen…when he held my grandmother hostage at gun point for 3 days when my grandfather was in the hospital I quit pretending and I went to rescue her with a gun, and he knew I was coming so split before I got there. I stopped off at the county sheriff’s office to tell him waht was going on and ask if he wanted to send a deputy with me, and I told him I had a gun and was going in to get her…the sheriff said “No there was no need to send a deputy and if I shot Uncle Monster, HE WAS PAID FOR.”

After that I didn’t want anything to do with Uncle monster but that was when egg donor started her carp about I was ruining HER christmas because I wouldn’t have christmas or
thanksgiving dinner with him….well, I took my kids and went somewhere else rather than eat a meal with him. I couldn’t stand to be in his presence.

Since uncle monster died, the family bad boy is my son Patrick, so now she is enabling him. Protecting him from his mean old mommie just like she tried to protect uncle monster in the name of “forgiveness” which to her was “pretend it didn’t happen” Funny thing though she didn’t seem to “forgive” my P DIL who stole from her and tried to kill my son C and when the Trojan horse P got out of prison and asked to borrow some money she didn’t seem very forgiving of him.

We do have to realize that we cannot and should not try to “rescue” the world in general or psychopaths in particular and people who are in thrall to the psychopaths we cannot “rescue” them because they don’t want to be rescued.

I tried hard to “rescue” my egg donor when she was being abused by them and all it got me was to be devalued and discarded.

We do have a duty to take care of our children until they reach adulthood at which time they should be on their own.

Those friends and relatives we love we want to “help” them if we can, if something bad happens to them, but we don’t have a duty to pull someone out of the river when they keep jumping back in. We don’t have a duty to allow someone to abuse us over and over and keep giving them trust again.

We DO have a duty to ourselves to set boundaries about how we will allow others to treat us.

It might be nice to have this “namby-pamby there is good in everyone” outlook, but the TRUTH is that there is NOT “good in everyone” and that as adults we have to recognize that there is no Santa, no Easter Bunny, no tooth fairy and that some people are just plain evil. I dont’ think that makes us jaded or cynical but honest and looking at the world the way it really is, not in this magical thinking way that life is a bowl of cherries.

I’m sitting here in the house today because it is stormy outside, I’m taking another round of antibotics for tick fever, and my ankle is either badly sprained or broken and my dog is missing…it has been a CRAPPY week, but none of this was a betrayal by anyone, it is just “shiat happens” so you go on and do what you have to do. I spent a couple of days crying for my dog and I still miss him, but “shiat happens” and you deal with it.

But when you have betrayal in your life, people doing shiaty things to you, that is a different kind of hurt, different kind of problem and it is more difficult emotionally to deal with it.

I don’t think I will ever completely get over the “knee jerk impulse” to “help” people (read: enable) but I am learning to set boundaries better and to “control myself” better. to cut those people out of my life who are high in P traits. Doesn’t matter if they would score 30+ or not, if they are dishonest, or irresponsible I don’t need them in my life because I can’t trust them.

That allows me more energy and strength to contend with the sprained ankles, missing dogs, and medical problems….in other words LIFE.


darwinsmom… additional thoughts…

I think when the offending person is “your equal” as in your spouse, then of course be assertive. HOWEVER… when the offending person is your spouse, most likely you think of them as your equal, but THEY think of themselves as your SUPERIOR, so you would be insubordinate in their view, and you might be punished for that.

This goes back to the paradigm of do we view the world through a lens of mutuality, while the spaths view it as a power-over, or win-lose type of thing? Yep, they do.

So…. in the case of bullies…. where they are your equals (peers, as in school or sometimes co-workers)… I think that is when it can work that you are assertive and call them out on it — but ONLY if you do this at the beginning, before they get to view you as prey or a victim. Once they have sized you up as weaker than they, then they will view you as INSUBORDINATE as opposed to their equal (like two lionesses that respect that you can each rip each other’s heads off, so maybe you just keep your own territories and don’t mess with one another).

I have done this, from time to time, when I have successfully recognized a (workplace) bully: I kind of give them a knowing look (not a wary one — but one that says, I see that you are “like me” and I get you — don’t mess with me, and i won’t mess with you). And then I smile and maybe laugh at our “shared joke” (yes, I am putting on a mask — but it fools them and keeps me safe). phrases like, “oh, PLEASE” and “don’t even THINK about it” have worked in these cases.

Sigh. It has been self protective.

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