Research into sociopathy/psychopathy has made a great deal of progress over the last 30 years. Even so, there is much that research does not address. For example, sociopaths are described as callous, lacking in empathy and without remorse for their hurtful actions. These sterile descriptors always fall short of really conveying the evil of the disordered.
A good 6 months before the Madoff story broke, I began a project to connect with the family members of professional con artists. The purpose of this project is to document the within family behavior of con artists and to link that “profession” to psychopathic personality traits. I have had good success connecting with family members and the exchange of information has been healing all around.
One con artist is in prison for affinity fraud- the use of a church, or other social connection to perpetrate fraud. This man was good at pretending to be a great “Christian” and used his church affiliation to swindle people. There is no doubt he is highly psychopathic as this is his second prison term and the descriptions given by his ex-wife are that of a classic sociopath.
Like many con artists, this man also has children. One of his daughters is the same age (within a couple of weeks) as my eldest daughter; she just turned 18. I spoke with this young lady with the permission of her mother and have had an ongoing dialogue with her. She wanted to talk to me because she was taking psychology in high school and had figured out on her own that her father is a sociopath.
This young lady is such a gem, so I’ll call her Gem here. She is smart, lovely and kind-hearted. In her own way she has been coming to grips with the reality that her father is incapable of love. He wasn’t physically violent but he has been callous, lacking in empathy and emotionally abusive toward everyone in the family. There I go with the adjectives that describe a sociopath.
Researchers are puzzled by the phenomenon of empathy in sociopaths. Although sociopaths seem to know all too well what others are thinking and feeling, they don’t respond in a normal way to what they know. Instead, they use their knowledge of others to manipulate. When the manipulation is perpetrated on a child or vulnerable teen/ young adult it is especially evil.
Gem shared with me the birthday communication she received from her imprisoned father. With her permission, I share it with you. She and I both hope this example will help other family members heal and move on. When I read the card, I was outraged and knew immediately the effect it had on my young friend. Without a lengthy explanation, a person ignorant of sociopaths would never “get it” regarding the manipulation I saw as blatant manipulation. Here is what the card said:
” My sweet baby girl, I miss you and love you very much. Happy 18th birthday. It seems like yesterday I held this little tiny baby with the biggest most beautiful eyes. I have so many great memories of you, handfuls of dog food, pretty little dresses. You played soccer but hated it. You danced and laughed your way into everyone’s heart. You are all a father could ever ask for in a daughter. I pray for you every day. May you find the best in life as you begin your adult life. I hope your dreams come true. You’re wonderful, beautiful, and always will be my little girl. God bless you.
OK an ignorant person reading this would say, “What a sweet, nice card, to get from a father.” This communication might also be cited as an example of how hard it is for the kids of the imprisoned to be separated from their loving parents who made, “mistakes in life.”
A person who really knows sociopaths would react with outrage as I did. I know that just a few short months before this card, the father in question stole money from his ex-wife. Money she was using to take care of Gem, his little girl. Furthermore, all during Gem’s childhood he was conning people including family members out of their money. He never had any real connection to Gem. She never felt he loved or wanted her. This card in my view was pure evil, why? because it preyed upon this beautiful Gem, a young lady who always wished for a real father.
When she sent me what her father had written, I responded, “I am speechless over that card, it must represent everything you wish he would have said to you your whole life. I hope you keep it and believe in your heart, mind and soul that this is what YOU DESERVE always and forever from your parents and your boyfriend/future husband.”
Here is what Gem said in response to my interpretation, “it did just trigger something in me that just made me cry. I couldn’t help but break down and cry after reading that because I HAVE always wanted to hear that from a father-figure but now… it’s too late.”
This con artist, bored in prison is writing cards, hoping for some entertaining responses, while his family is working to heal, make sense of it all, and move on. The words of the card, if left unchecked by reality, delay the moving on that is so important. Gem is off to college next fall and is moving on to a great life that she will make for herself.
It is only my personal knowledge of sociopaths and how they operate that enabled the correct interpretation of the birthday card. Please feel free to share your own examples of a sociopath’s manipulation of your emotions. Particularly useful are examples of a sociopath’s use of words that are superficially appropriate, but very inappropriate given the specific circumstances.