Psychopaths’ cat and mouse game

Editor’s note: This article was submitted by Steve Becker, LCSW, CH.T, who has a private psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and clinical consulting practice in New Jersey, USA. For more information, visit his website,

Have you ever seen a cat toy with a stunned, cornered mouse? How it will capture the mouse, dangle it in its mouth for a while, release it momentarily, allowing the mouse the pretense of an escape, only to recapture it, dangle it some more from its mouth, perhaps release it again briefly, now to watch the mouse, increasingly frantic, make another escape bid, only to recapture it, now letting the terrorized mouse (and, as if it’s fate) dangle yet some more, in dreadful uncertainty?

If the mouse could think, it might have thoughts like these: “What will this cat do with me? How long will it continue to toy with me? Will it kill me, or let me go? Strangely, this cat seems to be deriving a perverse pleasure in my predicament. My helplessness and suffering seem to be entertaining and amusing this cat. There is something cold and sadistic about this—that this cat could be using, and exploiting, my vulnerability in this way for its personal, shallow gratification?”

The mouse would think, “there is something wrong with this cat.”

In this analogy, the mouse’s imagined experience of the cat captures, I believe, the victim’s experience of the psychopath. Cats, of course, are not psychopaths, and mice, although traumatizable, are unlikely to experience their victimization in quite so thoughtful a way.

But to elaborate the analogy, let us imagine what’s taking place in the cat’s mind. The cat may be thinking, “This is fun. The mouse I’m terrorizing is pathetic. Look how scared and confused it is. It has no idea what’s in store for it. Even I haven’t decided what’s in store for it. I’m enjoying its helplessness, and my total control over it, too much to worry about my plans for this mouse. I find it amusing that its playing dead. Does this mouse think it can fool me? I, and only I, will determine whether the mouse lives or dies. Presently I’m going to release and taunt it again, with the illusion of escape. When I recapture it immediately, it will be trembling with fear, a prisoner to my designs. This is pretty funny. It’s not that I have anything personal against mice. As a matter of fact, they provide me with a great source of recreation.”

The cat in this analogy (and let me stress that I like cats, who don’t really think like this), captures with a chilling fidelity the perspective of psychopaths towards their victims. It is all there: the cat’s utter lack of empathy for the mouse; its view of the mouse as an “object” that exists to be exploited for its benefit; its amusement at having created the mouse’s predicament, now to watch and enjoy the mouse’s futile bids at escape; its contempt for the mouse’s helplessness and desperation, which the cat, of course, has opportunistically established for its own entertainment; its relish in its omnipotence to decide the mouse’s fate, but only when it is good and ready, and no sooner than the cat has mined the mouse’s helplessness for its full recreational value.

In sum, this is the essence of the psychopath: his joy of the hunt, his contempt for his prey, and his intention to take everything he can, and wants, from his victim.

When the psychopath takes you for a ride—that is, when he is victimizing people—it’s really not personal: You’re simply not enough of a person for it to be personal. In the psychopath’s eyes, you are an expedient, nothing more. When he crosses your path, the psychopath is assessing your expediency. He is asking himself, “Is there something this impending-sucker has for me? Is there something I can take from this fool that I want? Something I can take that will make me feel good?”

As part of his assessment, he is evaluating the kind of target you’ll be. If he decides to pass, it won’t be because he likes you, or feels something charitable; it will be because he’s decided that, either you have nothing, after all, worth taking, or that you’ll pose inconveniences and/or risks to his present self-interests that he prefers to avoid.

For the psychopath, you are like a sealed, vulnerable envelope he is constantly espying, with suspected money inside. He isn’t sure how much money, but he’s pretty sure there’s something in it. It might be a little, it might be a lot; it’s possible there’s too little (or nothing) of value worth his bothering with. Surely, though, he is scheming how best to glimpse what’s in the envelope, and how best to lift anything worth taking.

The psychopath is a high, and often imprudent, risk-taker; he’s in it for the catch, not to be caught. You, and all human beings, are mere commodities to him: maybe useful, maybe not. Certainly, once he’s expended your use, to the psychopath you’ll be as useless as a nagging headache.

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Good article. Only comparing a narcissist to a cat is a big insult to a cat. I came across a science article about why cats torment their prey (the mouse) before killing it. There is actually a biological link in the cats brain. The cat cannot immediately kill the mouse. Swatting it releases special hormones in the cats brain that allow the cat to “kill”. Much like females must have a certain homone release to get their monthly cycle. When I learned about this biological fact that nature gave to the cat I was awed. But what did nature do to Narcissists to have them use their own species for prey?

Thanks so much for this article! It puts things into perspective and serves as a great reminder. I had my own encounter with a cat recently. Unwittingly, however, I did the one thing he didn’t expect me to do: I dropped the dime on him. And now…after recognizing him for precisely what he is, I’m overjoyed. That’s the one thing I think actually compromises that cold distance, however briefly, and causes sociopaths/psychopaths any amount of pain: when their victims bring that complex, beautiful house of cards crashing down onto them, and they are forced to weather that negative experience. I seriously would love to do a little dance, look him in the eye, and say “Yeah! Who’s the mouse NOW, sucker?!”

So true. Every word of what they really think.

Gotta be more observant – and more demanding – next time ! Any games, and I’m gone, permanently. No excuses and no patience.


Well, I got another “kick” today from the psychopath. Last year when I had fled, the Trojan Horse-P came over to my place on a regualr basis doing small vandalizm, locking my donkeys up in a small pen without food and water, fortunately I was coming back every other day at random times to check on things until I had finally gotten everything out I NEEDED, and then I took the dogs and got someone else to check on the livestock daily.

My very expensive lawn tractor for some reason wouldn’t start, so I had taken it to the dealership to be checked out—well, sugar in the oil had ruined the motor. Also several other things around here for some strange reason suddenly wouldn’t start, but hadn’t had time to break them down to see WHY—including an airplane, but found out today about the sugar in the oil of the lawn tractor, and have NO DOUBT WHO DID IT.

Maybe that is why he sat in the court room smirking at me from the prisoner’s bench—he had done something to me that I didn’t yet know about, and of course, couldn’t LEGALLY prove if I did WHO did it. Yep, they love to TOY WITH THE MOUSE, and make it suffer as much as possible, to think it has finally gotten free, only to be grabbed and brought back into the jaws and claws.

I literally feel sick to my stomach. I thought I was FREE, I thought he wouldn’t be able to “get me”—but he had left a “time bomb” that would go off as soon as I started the engine on my lawn tractor. Didn’t help him or benefit him in any way, but cost me several thousand dollars….and there isn’t a darned thing I can do except grind my teeth and GET OVER IT!!! Ohhhh, welllllllll…..8>(

This essay and blog is one of my “favorites” because it does show how the Ps manipulate and “play with” us and our lives. I just wanted to “bump” it up to the top for a few of the people (especially newbies) who might not have read it. I think the “cat and mouse” analogy is so true, so right on!

Just read this essay and all the posts for the first time.

I was going to say that I do not really think all sociopaths realize what they are doing and enjoy it, but I got thinking about it, and I realized if I put those times the masked slipped from my ex-cheater bf, and the times they slipped from my first husband up against each other, underneath there is the same rage, the same hatred of other people, and the same desire to get even and take advantage of them.

Maybe different personalities exhibit in different ways. My first husband used to boast about the nickname we gave him, “the chameleon”, and my ex-bf occasionally admitted, “down inside I’m a totally different person, I really hate women and like to see them hurting”

He called this part of himself “his father”, and tried to fight it, but he never tried to fight the lying, cheating and manipulating, only the violence and fighting. He is the most loving guy in the world sometimes, and a completely cold-hearted bastard at others.

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