Spotting the Covert Psychopath “In the Wild”

By Ox Drover

Something occurred recently that set my mind to thinking. My best friend who lives another state came to visit me for a couple of weeks. This friend has known me about 30 years, so has known both of my biological sons, including the psychopathic one, since they were kids. She has “been there” for me through all the trauma, the disappointments and the pain. She was there for me when my husband died in the aircraft crash and my adopted son was burned. She was there for me and for my oldest son when his wife tried to kill him. So she has seen many of the psychopaths I have dealt with “up close and personal” and she has seen the toxic enabling my mother has done and is doing with my P-son by sending him money, even after he tried to have me killed. There is no one on earth who can reasonably “validate” that I have been the victim of multiple psychopaths during my life than she can.

I remember when I went to the EMDR (rapid eye movement therapist). During my first intake interview, which lasted over two hours, as I detailed the large numbers of psychopaths who were conspiring to have me killed and had run me out of my home in fear of my life, the man very politely listened and showed interest in my tale of woe, which could almost be labeled “Pitiful Pauline’s Terrible Trials,” to use an old serial movie title. At the end of the session, he was careful to word his request, since I had told him I was a retired medical and mental health professional, that I “bring in someone to confirm” my stories, which to him, I don’t doubt, sounded like the ramblings of a “paranoid delusional schizophrenic.” When he made this request, in his very diplomatic manner, I actually threw back my head and laughed and said, “Yep, I do sound like a paranoid schizophrenic, I know, but I will be glad to bring in both witnesses and documentation to verify my stories.” Which, the next visit, I brought in court documents and rap sheets and mug shots, newspaper clippings, and my adopted son to verify that I wasn’t just “paranoid,” that there were indeed a conspiracy of psychopaths “out to get me.”

My own tall tales

Because I have lived a life that is pretty much out of the norm for a kid who grew up in the boondocks of rural Arkansas, and in some instances, done some things that are sort of along the lines of an “Indiana Jones” character, I learned pretty early in my young adult life that many people will disbelieve you if you “tell exciting stories” that are too far off the “norm” of most people’s lives. They view you more in the line of someone who, like my neighbor, “Crazy Bob,” tells tales of his years in the FBI, CIA, his Congressional Medal of Honor, his 5,000 parachute jumps, and him being a Navy Seal, all the while being too dumb to know that no one has ever made 5,000 parachute jumps.

Even if “Crazy Bob’s” stories are unbelievable to most people, some of my stories are as unbelievable, of flying cargos of live animals in and out of South America in a salvaged WWII B-25 bomber, or living in the bush for months at a time, or catching thousand-pound crocodiles at night from a 25 ft. canoe in the delta of the Nile, or the crazy camel driver at the pyramids who was paid to let me ride his camel. The only differences between my unbelievable stories and “Crazy Bob’s” are that I can prove mine with photographs, newspaper articles, passport stamps, pilot’s log books and other documents as well as living witnesses who were there with me.

A man who has been my friend for about 15 years told me, “When I first met you, I thought you were some kind of ”˜blow hard’ who made up these outlandish stories, it wasn’t until later, I realized that you were telling the truth.” This man is not the first, but I do hope, will be one of the last people who “hears my stories” and disbelieves because they sound “so outlandish, no one could have done all those things, or had so many psychopaths target them.”

Is every jerk a psychopath?

Even my friend of 30-plus years asked me as I was chattering on about some guy I thought to be a psychopath, “Are you starting to label everyone you know who is a jerk, a psychopath?”

This comment sort of surprised me, so I said, “No, I don’t think so, let me tell you why I think this man is a psychopath, though I didn’t realize it at the time I had a business interaction with him. First, he left his wife of 25 years while she was dying of cancer, leaving her destitute and alone, then he showed up at her funeral with his girlfriend sitting beside him, then he stole the inheritance of the daughter of a deceased friend after he had gotten himself appointed the executor, and then I added a few more incidents to his “psychopathic con-man resume.”

My friend then replied, “Yea, he does sound like a psychopath.”

Psychopaths I have known

Not too long ago I sat down and decided to make a “list of the psychopaths I have known, been related to, and/or who had hurt me/others significantly in interactions with them.” First off, of course, was my “sperm donor psychopath”, and I actually know of two men he killed. One of my maternal g-grandfathers was an abusive alcoholic. My “egg donor’s” brother, Uncle Monster, was a vicious, violent wife-beating, woman-hating man. Then there was Charles “Jackie” Walls III, who was a Boy Scout leader in our small town who was tried and convicted and sentenced to life without parole for the over 1,500 cases of child molestation that are known of. There was the covertly psychopathic teacher I had in nursing school whom I saw over and over persecute and target certain students, primarily males, for several years. Though she never targeted me, I finally became so afraid of her that in the middle of the program, I changed universities and drove 40 miles further for the last two years of my schooling just to get away from her.

I also listed covertly vicious physicians and nurses I had worked with for quite some time, directors of programs I had worked with, business partners of my husband who literally stole his business and bankrupted it, working together, and lying in depositions to the court. (One of them did, later, go to prison for conviction in a very similar scam in which they got caught, but they got away with the scam against my husband.)

All in all, when I finished the list of people that I had known closely enough to know their histories and to see some of their covertly malicious behavior targeting others or targeting businesses, I had, just off the top of my head, a list of 45 people that I knew who would have rated at least a 20, and more likely a 30, on the PCL-R. Many of these people were “respected” physicians, attorneys, Boy Scout leaders, psychological counselors, psychiatrists, surgeons, school teachers, police men, ministers, prison officials, prison guards, college presidents, businessmen, politicians, media stars, and others were “known” and convicted convicts and ex-convicts. Some few were “overt” psychopaths committing murder and other crimes of violence and not caring who knew they were “dangerous.” Others were “covert” psychopaths trying to protect their “public mask” of kind and caring people.

Of course, at the time I was working with or interacting with these people I had no idea that they were “toxic” and “dangerous,” and their public face, in “responsible” positions of college president, or minister of a church, was intact. Even when in some few cases I was actually warned that these people couldn’t be trusted, I didn’t listen to the warnings. When they began to target me and to covertly attack me (“stab me in the back” is the common vernacular) I felt the knife go in, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out why! Of course they were smiling and “playing nice” as they stabbed me, and if I “whined” about the pain I was feeling, then they “couldn’t understand” why I should be feeling and sensing that I was being attacked, of course they didn’t see any “knife in my back.”

Overt and covert

I had learned after the encounter with my sperm donor, who was an openly violent man and “proud” of his homicidal violence, to stay away from overtly dangerous people. I had taken great pains to stay away from the “low lifes” in the community, the heavy-drinking, fighting, strutting “bad boys.”

What I hadn’t learned until the last couple of years, though, is that there are probably, I estimate, six or eight “covert” psychopaths for every one or two “overtly” violent psychopaths. Though Scot Peterson and the BTK killer were actually very physically violent to their victims, they tried to present to the public this “good guy” mask to hide their psychopathic violence. These men were eventually convicted of their violent activities, just as Charles “Jackie” Walls III was convicted and his mask of “community leader and Boy Scout leader” was jerked off his face.

Not every “domestic abuser” goes to jail or makes the statistics. I don’t know what the real statistics are of overt and covert domestic violence, and I am sure that no one else knows, either, of the men/women who physically assault their spouses behind closed doors and nothing is ever known by anyone except the victim and the abuser. Many times, I think, not even the children in the family know the truth of what goes on behind “mommy’s and daddy’s bedroom door.” Unfortunately, too many of the victims take the shame of the beatings on to themselves, and “keep the family secrets” intact.

The statistical estimates of “how many psychopaths are there?” range from 1 percent to 4 percent of the general population, while about 20 percent of incarcerated felons are rated as psychopathic. While many victims may only recognize one psychopath in their lives, there are others of us who have repeatedly been targeted by them.

Crossing paths with psychopaths

Why us in particular? Possibly, we were born into a family highly populated with overt or covert psychopaths. Possibly we are adventurous and, as many psychopaths engage in high-risk or adventurous professions or past-times, we come into contact with a “pool” highly populated by psychopaths due to the adventurousness of our profession or recreational activities.

I spent time working for my sperm donor as a wildlife photographer in South and Central America, Europe, Africa and the American west, and the adventurousness of the profession attracts people who are highly involved in “risk taking” activities like self employment, film production, international travel, general aviation, and dangerous hunting activities. Therefore, it isn’t surprising to me, looking back now, that several of the men who were involved in my sperm donor’s enterprises were psychopaths.

Though my late husband was a man addicted to a “high-risk” and adventurous profession, general aviation, he was not a psychopath, but that profession brought him into contact with my sperm donor, and also many other psychopaths. Many were wealthy, famous and infamous men that, in retrospect, I consider high in narcissistic and/or psychopathic traits, Richard Nixon for one.

Identifying the psychopath

Learning to identify people with “covert” psychopathic traits in the “wild” is much more difficult than identifying “overtly dangerous” people with psychopathic traits, since most of the people who are “overtly dangerous” will swagger around “looking like a thug” and wanting to impress you with their potential for violence. It is sort of like the difference between the pit bull dog who bares his teeth and growls, versus the dog that quietly sneaks up behind you and sinks his teeth into your calf without any warning growl.

In either case, the best test of either the overt or the covert psychopath is their behavior, rather than what they say. If you observe someone do something (anything) to another person that you deem unjustified, ugly, nasty, hateful, revengeful, etc., then you should be very careful around that person and be watchful of them.

A friend of mine who was a dean of students at a prestigious college was literally sexually attacked by one of her fellow vice-presidents of that college; fortunately she was able to get away from him. Six months later, though, when he was appointed the new college president, his first act was to fire her. She hadn’t seen it coming. She was not only devastated, but was shocked and surprised. She shouldn’t have been. She had been warned that this man was a psychopath by his drunken sexual attack, but she kept her mouth shut at that time rather than “cause a stir.” Later, her silence at the time of the attack cost her her job.

The covert psychopaths count on people being “peace keepers” and keeping their mouths shut about observed bad behavior. They also count on “small” instances of bad behavior being over looked, even though these “minor” transgressions of “niceness” add up to a large mountain of bad behavior over the long haul.

Another thing that is against our being validated when we observe and “label” these instances of psychopathic behavior is the lack of validation we get from others who also know this person, but are not nearly as aware of what it “means” as we (former victims) are. They may pass off the behavior as “Oh, that’s just John” or “Well, he probably didn’t mean it that way” or “Oh, just get along and play nice.”

The covert psychopath may not be physically violent at all, but instead, may only engage in emotional and mental abuse of his/her victims by demeaning and degrading them with subtle put downs. The covert psychopath may also do financial or career damage to their targets, and a covert smear campaign against a co-worker or boss can destroy a career or a reputation.

No understandable motive

Because we, many times, fail to see a “motive” that we can understand for the behavior of the covert psychopath, it makes it difficult for us (and others) to believe that “s/he would do that,” because we cannot see what s/he would gain. Unfortunately, many times the “motive” of the psychopath is the same answer as the mountain climber gave for climbing a very difficult peak, “Just because it’s there and I wanted to prove I could do it.”

It might be fairly easy, you would think, to spot the “overt bad boys” by going to a “bad part of town” or “gang turf” and looking at the guys swaggering in and out of bars or selling drugs on the street and say “that guy acts like a psychopath,” and you might even be right in your assessment, but maybe not. But you can’t be sure you are not dealing with a psychopath at a debutante ball, or a civic meeting, or a political rally, a church group, or a business meeting either, because the fact that people there are cleaner, better educated and dress nicer doesn’t make them less apt to be a psychopath.

My sperm donor used to tell the press that he was “eccentric” and “the reason he was ”˜eccentric,’ instead of ”˜crazy’ was because he was rich!” Unfortunately, I think in many ways he was right, as people who are in a powerful position because of fame, money or other reasons, seem to be allowed more range in the behavior that is considered “acceptable” than those of us who are not so rich or powerful. Their power over other’s lives, finances, and emotions I think is what feeds their egos and their sense of entitlement to “control” others. Those of the human race who are not high in psychopathic and narcissistic traits don’t usually consider “control over others” to be a stand-alone motive to use, abuse and manipulate other’s lives for their own joy. That being said, it is difficult for us to see this as a viable motive in others who do have the psychopathic traits.

Survival skill

Detecting the covert psychopath in their “natural habit” becomes a necessary survival skill to minimize the damage that they can do to us. Whether their natural habitat is in the school room, the board room, the court room, the dining room, or the bedroom, we need to watch for the signs of deception and signs of lack of empathy, even the very subtle signs that these people have an ulterior motive in their interactions with us and/or others. We need to listen to our “guts” and our “intuition” and to validate this information ourselves, rather than doubt ourselves. Even if no one else on earth thinks that what “John is doing” is pathological, we need to have the self-awareness to watch out for ourselves if we spot a “red flag” of pathological behavior or attitude in someone.

To answer my best friend’s question again, I think I would add, “No, I am not labeling everyone who is a jerk a psychopath, but I am no longer excusing bad behavior on anyone’s part. I am keeping my eyes open for signs of people without moral compasses and I am distancing myself from them as far as I can.”

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129 Comments on "Spotting the Covert Psychopath “In the Wild”"

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easy, skylar, EB–very good posts.

Audrey, I can appreciate your point of view. I think sometimes we are a bit hasty in labeling others as PSN’s, it’s the,” see one behind every bush” syndrome…but under the circumstances, it’s understandable. I believe that recovery is a process, and for those of us that are just beginning our journey, it can be quite exhillarating to finally have a way of comprehending what has happened to us. It is a way to take back power and control in our lives, and just being able to NAME it feels wonderful!

I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad you shared your concerns. I hope we’ll hear from you again.

I’ve posted twice that I just saw the movie “Doubt” with Meryl Streep but I just can’t stop thinking about it. And that movie really answers Audrey’s questions in so many ways.

Watching the older nun deal with the priest was amazing. She never had any DOUBT, and she expressed that it was because of EXPERIENCE. But the whole movie wasn’t about her relationship with the priest, it was also about how she treated all the children in the school. She was very strict. She allowed no nonsense because her experience had taught her that each time a child gets away with a little mischief, he becomes more mischievious. Making them think that they can NEVER get away with crap when they are very young, keeps them from going down the wrong road later in life. She was not a psychotherapist or a behavior therapist or even an animal trainer, but EXPERIENCE had taught her all she needed to know about the minds of children.

And she COULD see a narcissist coming a mile away.

It is such an interesting movie, I hope you all get a chance to rent it and watch it.

I’m with Twice and mark Twain, I don’t want to let my education get in the way of my learning either!

Good points Audrey, but it isn’t about “labels” as much as behavior, when we speak of someone as a “psychopath” (ASPD or Sociopath) we are saying, in effect, “S/he displayed these traits.” We are NOT making a legal “diagnosis” of this person, but an OBSERVATION of behavior.

None of us can read minds, but we do OBSERVE BEHAVIOR. and, like others have said, “if it looks like a duck….etc” but the BOTTOM LINE is that we recognize ANY manipulative or TOXIC person so we will not be caught in their webs.

Welcome, glad you are here! glad also that you did not get badly hurt over your encounter!,CST-NWS-dugan06.article

Experts know 1 in 200 people are as pschopathic as a crazed murderer?

Maybe it’s sane to be a bit wary folks!

Dear EC,

GREAT LINK! I hadn’t heard about this guy but to score 37 out of 40 must be the PCL-R. The scan they did on his brain is also interesting. To say that he cannot control himself though is absolutely in my mind ridiculous!

Someone posting under the handle “lovefraud” (Donna?) made the first post and that was a good one on the comments, couple of guys got into an argument about the death penalty, but obviously the guy doesn’t want to die, as he is fighting the death penalty. I bet you can figure out my idea on pro or con dealth penalty, but at the same time, I know that innocent people have been sent to death row and then years even decades later exonerated by DNA evidence.

I’m not sure what the evidence against this guy was/is as I am not familiar with the case except this one link, but to use psychopathy as a excuse for any crime is as bad I think as the “twinkie” defense, where the guy said eating too many chemicals in too many twinkies was responsible for his criminal behavior.

In certain cases I would be in favor of public hanging, drawinig and quartering. Most of the people for which I would “vote” for that death penalty there is NO doubt that they are guilty. John Wayne Gacy for example.

I have been a victim of a sociopath, and am only just now realizing a year and a month later, just what she is.
Two years ago, a female co-worker began showing an interest in my husband’s running. He also works with me. Eventually, her and her husband began doing races with mine, and they would work out together in the mornings. This woman started befriending me too, and we got really close.
I noticed that she and my husband were spending a lot of time together, but nothing seemed fishy. They were very public with their friendship, and since her husband was involved, I felt no need to worry.
Almost a year into their “friendship”, I started getting weird feelings. My husband hid $3000 from me from income tax return, and when I discovered it, he said he used it to try and pay his car off, but only made the payment AFTER our conversation. Her husband stopped coming to races. Family lunch after the races with her and my husbands’ family (who also ran) started to feel like I was the outsider and she was his wife. I noticed her watching him closely when he interacted with her 13 year old daughter. Ultimately, I started to feel like she was interested in him, and I had heard through the grapevine that she had cheated a few years back. Again, I hadn’t worried though, because she was a strong Christian woman-who spoke out vehemently against her supervisor recently busted for cheating. And, I didn’t sense that the feeling was reciprocal from him.
When he left me, I told him that people would think he was leaving me for her-not realizing he was. She left her husband that same night. They moved in together a week and a half later.
I met with her husband to compare stories, and found out that she admitted a 6 month affair, after she thought I had found out. Her husband and I really bonded through this experience, and fell completely in love-and are now married. I am happier than I’ve ever been, but because I’m with him-I can’t get rid of her or my ex, as if working with them isn’t bad enough.
Looking back now, and stumbling across descriptions of sociopaths, I clearly see that she is, and so was my ex, to an extent. Neither of them felt true remorse for their behavior. Of course they cried and said they were sorry, but both felt justified in their behavior.
Even though she hurt me and her ex, she convinced herself and my ex and his whole family that somehow she is the victim in all this. In fact, she has his family so wrapped and duped that even though they were MY family for 14 years, they completely cut me off and fully embraced her IMMEDIATELY, as though I never existed. And because sociopaths work in stealth mode, I can never see her operating, and therefore defend myself. As a classic sociopath trait, she has numerous times tried to convince me that she was justified in her behavior by citing neglect on the part of her husband. I of course let her know that I didn’t accept that as an excuse since my husband had been spending four hours with her exercising every day, and I wasn’t cheating. Of course-that was four hours away from her husband too-who had to stop running because of knee injuries. She won’t rest until I tell her that was she did was okay. Sociopaths need willing victims.
I can’t believe that I was friends with her nearly a year, and never saw this other side of her. When she is called out-she turns into a wild animal. She lies so easily. As long as you believe her lies, she will continue to flatter you and make you feel comfortable, but the moment you don’t, she turns on you.
Other sociopath traits she appears to have:

Numerous affairs over the years on her first and second husbands. It’s amazing what people tell you after the relationship is over.

Seemingly hating her ex more than she loves her children…putting them in positions of “choosing” often

An extreme sense of entitlement, and belief that she is better than everybody else.

She is ALWAYS smiling/laughing AND complimenting.

Her relationship with her own family is extremely strained and distant

Unfortunately because of the circumstances, especially with a child involved, I feel so stuck. I can’t do anything to defend or retaliate. Anything that me or my husband say gets twisted and told to the child-because the sociopath thrives off sympathy-guilt-and manipulation. And since the woman seems like Mother Theresa to everybody else, if I try and tell what she is really like-people think I’m crazy/petty or still angry that she stole my husband-which, actually, I’m not. He was a loser, and I’m way better off now.
Anyway, I’m struggling to maintain my sanity while dealing with her and would love any suggestions.


Great job on the article, Oxdrover.

I think your overall point is great – about just distancing yourself from ANYONE who demonstrates abusive behavior towards anyone/anything.

If they will do it to someone else, they WILL do it to you.

Thank you Pure4Water3.
Brandywine, Yea I guess you are stuck with her and him until at least any mutual childrfen are out6 of the nest. I would though if at all possible MOVE and/or get another job if possibnle so you dont’ have to live right on TOP of them. I know there are kids to consider and schools and all that, but do your berst to acquire a new circle4 of friends and clubs you attend, don’t run in the same area or at the same time.

Don’t communicate with them through your children and if others in the familyh or5 your children try to give you messages about them or pass on information, just FIRMLY and politely say “John and I don’t wish to speak about Frank and Joan.: Then change the subject and if they say “Well, I was just trying t6o tell you….” REPEAT it [email protected]!!! If that doesn’t work, then WALK OFF.

If the kids come home with “dad or mom lsaid to tell you” xyz, ” E mail Dad or Mom nicely and ASK them in the future to please communicate by e4 mail NOT THROUGH THE KIDS. tHAT YOU ARE NO LONGER GOING T6O BE “ANSWERING” THE KIDS BECAUSE MESSAGES GET TOO MIXED UP THANKS.

Telol yourf kids that you want written messages about whatever he wants to tell you or arrange with oyu so tghere is no mistake and they don’t miss a ball game or something.

After a few times of you refusing to “answer” them they will get him to e mail you. Without access to give you trouble, or float tales around it may lower some of your stress levels.

Keep ytour chins up. I amm glad you and the other husband found happiness, and each shed 150-200 pounds of ugly rancid FAT!

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