I recently had clinical contact with a client who left me with the unusually strong, immediate impression of “schemer,” “slick,” “full of crap.” He was instantly, aggressively ingratiating—less, I felt, from insecurity, as from ulterior motives, as if he were angling, at the outset, for an edge.
I had the uncomfortable feeling I get around intrusive salesmen who leave you feeling like an “object” from whom to extract a sale and commission.
I should mention that he was glib. Glibness is a trait often associated with certain sociopaths. My client was so glib, as a matter of fact, that for the first time in a long while the word “glib” actually popped into my head.
When I say “glib,” I don’t mean just fast-talking, which he was. He was shallow, too. And for me, the combination of smooth, fast talking, underlain by shallowness, really captures “glib.”
He was something of a schemer, and it was fascinating to observe him deny or dismiss rife evidence of his historical deceptiveness, abusiveness and double-standards. And he did so with a striking lack of shame, and with much audacity, along with irritation (arrogantly conveyed) to have to even deign to respond to the history.
Now I’d like to shift gears (abruptly), and say something about the psychopath’s (or sociopath’s) alleged “look,” or “stare,” which has been described anecdotally in the literature. Its most obvious form is characterized by a certain crazed intensity (note some of the existing photos of Ted Bundy, and other serial killers).
There are also, I suggest, other, subtler forms of this look. In any case what this “look” transmits (in any of its forms) is something elementally predatory. It has an evaluatively predatory quality.
I suspect that many of you have had the experience of being watched in this way?
It’s more than a feeling of being scrutinized, because all of us scrutinize each other, and clients should be scrutinizing their therapists.
It is more, I think, the quality, or motive, of the scrutiny—again, a predatory aspect that engenders the experience of feeling invaded, and “sized up,” “measured” for ulterior purposes.
At bottom, this is a type of “look” that leaves one feeling watched, studied as an “object.” One experiences the “watcher” as if he or she is calculating, “How much can I have my way with this person? How susceptible is this person to my present interests in him or her?”
My client had this “look.”
He was a “watcher,” and as he watched me, I often had the disconcerting sense that he was less interested in what I had to say, or what I was saying, than in using the time I was speaking to further his evaluation of my vulnerability.
This feeling with, experience of someone, can be a signal. It can signal that something predatory is brewing, or occurring.
I’ve called this the “feel” of a sociopath, because sociopaths sometimes (not always) can stir-up this sensation in those whose paths they’ve crossed, or lives they’ve entered. To be sure, not all sociopaths evoke this experience; but some do, and it can be an uncomfortable, and not easily articulated experience. Depending on the circumstances, it can even feel flatteringly seductive (if still uncomfortable).
Take, for instance, a blind/first-date scenario, in which the exploitative-minded individual approvingly, hungrily, invasively and audaciously sizes-up his date, leaving her feeling flattered (hungrily desired) while at the same time uneasy?
This “sizing up,” “measuring” process too often belies not a hunger for love, and connection, but of acquisition, possession and/or conquest.
(This article is copyrighted (c) 2009 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)