The Trick of the Psychopath's Trade: Make Us Believe that Evil Comes from Others
Popular culture sees psychopaths as characters such as Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs, that is, as serial killers. However, while a certain number of psychopaths are criminals and have had run-ins with the law and some are, in fact, serial killers, there are a great number of them that never fall afoul of the law. These are the smarter ones, and they are the ones that are the most dangerous because they have found ways of working the system to their advantage.
There are a number of traits that we find in psychopaths: An obvious trait is the complete lack of conscience. They lack any sense of remorse or empathy with others. They can be extremely charming and are experts at using talk to charm and hypnotize their prey.
They are also irresponsible.
Nothing is ever their fault; someone else or the world at large is always to blame for all of their 'problems' or their mistakes.
Martha Stout, in her book The Sociopath Next Door, identifies what she calls the pity ploy.
Psychopaths use pity to manipulate.
They convince you to give them one more chance, and to not tell anyone about what they have done. So another trait - and a very important one - is their ability to control the flow of information.
They are also incapable of deep emotions.
In fact, when Hare, a Canadian psychologist who spent his career studying psychopathy, did brain scans on psychopaths while showing them two sets of words, one set of neutral words with no emotional associations and a second set with emotionally charged words, while different areas of the brain lit up in the non-psychopathic control group, in the psychopaths, both sets were processed in the same area of the brain, the area that deals with language. They did not have an immediate emotional reaction.
Our whole emotional life is a mystery to them, while at the same time providing a tremendous tool for them to manipulate us.
Think of those moments when we are strongly affected by our emotions and how our ability to think is impaired.
Now imagine that you were able to feign such emotion, remaining cool and calculating, while the person you were exchanging with was really trapped in an emotional cauldron. You could use tears or shouting to get what you wanted, while your victim was driven to despair by the emotions they were living.
They also seem to have no real conception of past or future, living entirely for their immediate needs and desires. Because of the barren quality of their inner life, they are often seeking new thrills, anything from feeling the power of manipulating others to engaging in illegal activities simply for the rush of adrenaline.
Another trait of the psychopath is what Łobaczewski calls their "special psychological knowledge" of normal people.
They have studied us.
They know us better than we know ourselves.
They are experts in knowing how to push our buttons, to use our emotions against us.
But beyond that, they even seem to have some sort of hypnotic power over us. When we begin to get caught up in the web of the psychopath, our ability to think deteriorates, gets muddied. They seem to cast some sort of spell over us.
It is only later when we are no longer in their presence, out of their spell, that the clarity of thought returns and we find ourselves wondering how it was that we were unable to respond or counter what they were doing.