Why do psychopaths want to mess with your head?

puppeteer and puppet businessLovefraud recently received the following question from a reader:

Why is it so important to psychopaths to get inside someone’s head and “mess with them,” such as gas lighting, and other head games?

This particular Lovefraud reader has endured stalking behavior from a psychopathic man for years. He has put her under surveillance, driven her from apartments, interfered with her job, and more for no discernable reason.

They were not romantically involved. He did not take money from her. So the question is, why does he bother?

Dominance behavioral system

It’s a question that goes to the core of the psychopathic disorder, and one that Dr. Liane Leedom has addressed in a scientific paper that is now being reviewed by a well-known journal.

Dr. Leedom believes psychopaths do what they do in order to satisfy their unending desire for power and control. She says that the dysfunctional behavior of psychopaths is motivated primarily by the dominance behavioral system.

This is very different from how mental health experts generally define psychopathy.

Usually, psychopaths are described as people who lack remorse or a conscience. This is certainly true, but it doesn’t explain why psychopaths go out of their way to torment other people. If they have no empathy, why don’t psychopaths just ignore people and leave them alone?

Pleasure from power

The answer is that psychopaths derive pleasure from having a physical, mental or emotional impact on others. They experience power and control as immensely rewarding.

Psychopaths love being the puppet master. They get a thrill out of pulling strings and making people jump.

A variation of this phenomenon is the psychopathic penchant for useless lying.

All psychopaths lie. When psychopaths are in trouble, you can understand them lying to get out of trouble. But many Lovefraud readers have noted that psychopaths lie for no reason at all.

They lie when they don’t have to. They lie when they would be better off telling the truth. They lie for the fun of it.

Dr. Paul Ekman coined a term for this: duping delight.

Convincing targets to believe something that is false is a way of exercising power and control over them. Psychopaths experience this as fun.


Where does the dominance behavioral system come from? Dr. Leedom explains that its roots are in our evolution as a social species. Structures have developed in our brains that carry dominance impulses, and the circuitry is influenced by hormones.

So a psychopath engages in dominance behavior, hormones are released in the brain that cause feelings of pleasure, the psychopath wants to feel the pleasure again, so he or she engages in more dominance behavior. And so it goes, around and around in a vicious circle.

It is normal for people to have a power motivation. This is the motivation that makes us want to succeed, achieve and be leaders. Unfortunately, in psychopaths, the power motivation is out of control.

Criminal behavior

In some psychopaths, the drive for power and control leads to criminal behavior. They take what they want, regardless of whom it belongs to or who may be hurt.

Others, however, do not engage in behavior that is likely to have them arrested and prosecuted. It’s not that they have any qualms about breaking the law. It’s just that they would rather not have their lives interrupted by going to prison.

Many psychopaths, therefore, find more subtle ways to feed their need for domination. They engage in behavior that is immoral and unethical, but not necessarily illegal. They cause problems of the “he said she said” variety. They compromise their targets, so that if the targets try to seek justice, no one believes them.

By taking a more low-key approach, psychopaths can have their fun, and keep having fun.

So they engage in lying, gas lighting and manipulation. They engage in low-level harassment aggressive enough for them to get a thrill, but not aggressive enough to incite a response from the legal system.

Psychopaths mess with your head because pulling the strings feeds their desire for power and control.


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Excellent indeed.

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