I am a person with a very strong sense of responsibility. If I make a commitment to do something, I honor my commitment. Generally, being responsible is considered a positive quality. But it is the quality that made me stay with my psychopathic ex-husband far longer than I should have.
I knew he was taking money from me. I knew he was lying to me (although I vastly underestimated the extent of his deception). I didn’t love him anymore. So why did I stay? I had married him, and to me, marriage was a commitment.
I’ve written before about how psychopaths find our weaknesses and exploit them. The scary truth is that they also exploit our strengths.
It takes a special person to work in human services fields such as nursing, teaching, social work and counseling. People who choose these professions are usually empathetic, nurturing and supportive. Again, these are generally viewed as positive qualities. Psychopaths use them against us.
Dr. Robert Hare writes in his book, Without Conscience:
Psychopaths have an uncanny ability to spot and use “nurturant” women—that is, those who have a powerful need to help or mother others. Many such women are in the helping professions—nursing, social work, counseling—and tend to look for the goodness in others while overlooking or minimizing their faults. “He’s got his problems, but I can help him,” or, “He had such a rough time as a kid, all he needs is someone to hug him.” These women will usually take a lot of abuse in their belief that they can help; they are ripe for being left emotionally, physically and financially drained.
Psychopaths can exploit any type of competence or expertise. In his book, The Psychopathic Mind, Dr. J. Reid Meloy describes a process that he calls “malignant pseudoidentification.” He says mental health and legal professionals are particularly vulnerable to it.
Here’s an example of what happens: A psychopath is dealing with a lawyer. The lawyer has healthy self-esteem; he believes he is intelligent and competent. The psychopath compliments the lawyer’s intelligence and competence. The psychopath also subtly imitates the lawyer’s mannerisms, and, after engaging in some personal conversation, discovers that he and the lawyer have shared interests! Imagine that! The lawyer’s self-esteem is further enhanced, and he begins to identify with, and feel bonded to, the psychopath.
I can relate to this phenomenon as well. My ex-husband was always complimentary about my work. He kept telling me what an asset I’d be to his entrepreneurial ambitions (even though they were unrealistic). I was pleased that he recognized my talents. I fell for it.
Awareness is the key
It’s bad enough that our vulnerabilities can cause us problems with psychopaths. But so can our strengths? How do we protect ourselves?
The key is awareness. Awareness that psychopaths exist. Awareness of their ploys and tricks. Awareness that when our instincts are telling us something is wrong, we should listen.
Then we can use our strengths to help us heal our vulnerabilities, without becoming a victim.