Richard Parker Is Not Your Friend: Chapter 4

Here and on, I’ve published chapters of a new book that shares my healing journey after leaving a sociopath/psychopath. I talk about things like co-parenting , failed support systems, and how I ultimately recovered peace and happiness despite all obstacles.

Here’s Chapter 4:

Research expert Kent Kiehl has contributed enormously to the field of psychopathy. He says that every adult psychopath he has ever worked with was different as a child, and not in a good way. When he looks through their prison files, he finds all kinds of stories about how much trouble they caused, how they never connected with friends, how they didn’t join teams, and how they were ultimately the black sheep of their families.

Sounds like what you would expect, right? A psychopath is not and never was your friend.

Here’s my issue. Kiehl works with prisoners.

Prisoners have been caught.

And so when you believe him—which is likely, since he’s an expert—and assume that all psychopaths have been caught causing trouble all their lives, then you are going to be wide open to the psychopaths who were darling children. Whose family photo album would show a smiling young charmer standing in front of a trophy case. Whose darker activities were never detected.

Most everyone in our society believes Kent Kiehl.

And while I agree that a psychopath is not your friend, I also have to assert that a psychopath might look like one. I believe that there are unincarcerated psychopaths in our society who have clean records. I believe that many psychopaths are adored by their parents, and that many have been very good at charming and manipulating their parents’ adoration all their lives. I believe that psychopaths can participate on sports teams and that some have the power to imitate a “friend” so well that other people latch on to them and befriend them, unknowingly.

How do we do this? We see them acting like a friend, so we project our own humanity on them.

It is exceedingly difficult or even impossible for empathetic people who haven’t lived with a psychopath for years to understand the mind of someone who appears to be normal but lacks empathy. We constantly evaluate their brains by what we know of our own. For example, we confide in our friends. So if someone confides in us, we feel like we’re that person’s friend. If someone laughs with us or cheers us on, we assume it’s because they enjoy our company and appreciate our success. If someone looks truly genuine, we’re wired to assume they must be.

A psychopath who wants to pose as a friend will have a deep knowledge of all aspects of winning friends and acting like one. For example, if someone shares something personal and private with me, I feel touched and flattered that I’m considered trustworthy. I’m then even more likely to look out for that person. A psychopath who wants to have people on his side will confide anything he thinks they will feel touched by, true or not. It’s part of developing an ally—a tool he can use while running for city council or perhaps when he wants to attack someone’s reputation without being the source of the rumor. Do you see why a psychopath would want to have “friends?” Do you believe that this skill could start at an early age?

I do.


Wyatt and I had a lot of parties. Family parties. Friend parties. People would come over with their kids and let them run around while we grilled food or played cards or sat around a fire.

With friends watching, he would become the most attentive dad and loving husband in the world. Maybe he hadn’t looked at our children in a week, hadn’t changed a diaper, hadn’t fed a meal, hadn’t thrown a ball. Not a glance. And maybe he hadn’t come home for the past two nights until 4 am despite it being just a regular old Wednesday and Thursday of a regular old work week. Where had he been? I never got to know. I’d wake up when he pulled in the drive, and he’d try to convince me that he’d been in the house since 10 pm. A decade later, he would still swear to God and on the Holy Bible that he never stayed out at night like that. But I know the truth.

Anyway, let’s say our friends show up on Friday after that kind of week. A psychopath wouldn’t care, right? Wouldn’t want to connect? I disagree with that wholeheartedly. Maybe a psychopath doesn’t care about people, but when there’s a chance to impress people or get them to do things or believe things, a psychopath can have a world of fun with a group of friends.

That was Wyatt. When friends were around, he’d let all of the kids climb all over him like monkeys in a tree. He’s throw them up in the air and hoot and holler, and they’d shriek and laugh and climb up for some more. He always, always made sure people were watching. If they weren’t, then game over. But women would sit and watch him and make open comparisons between his excellent fatherly instincts and their own dud husbands, who might be kicking back at the patio table, enjoying a beer and a conversation. When he heard their praise, he’d escalate it, maybe throwing himself on the ground and rolling around, still tossing kids and bellowing with laughter.

Women loved Wyatt. They still do.

And he would work them, using me as a prop. He’d adore me when they were around, and they would lavish him with praise and affection for it. They wanted to be adored by their own husbands so bad, and they had no idea that he often wouldn’t even acknowledge that I was speaking when we were alone together. But at parties, he’d call me over in front of them and ask me to pose for the camera, and I’d stand and smile while he made loud proclamations about how beautiful I was and how he was a master photographer. A master.

The women would swoon.

Nearly all of the photos I have of myself during that phase of my life were taken when people were watching. If I said “no thanks,” they wondered what in the world was wrong with me. Why I didn’t cherish the attention. What was my problem?

Wyatt cultivated many groups of “friends” who, in turn, would do anything for him. When I left him, he came after me in court, creating days and days and years and years of trial. And his whole group of women would take off work and find sitters so they could sit on the bench outside our courtroom in a show of support for that poor man. I had to walk by them each time we had a break in the trial, my heels clicking and echoing through the giant marble space as they stared me down. Sometimes they would say things out loud.

“I hope that judge sees right through her.”


Think of a tiger, like the tiger named Richard Parker in Life of Pi. If you sit near him, maybe on the other side of cage bars or glass, you can get lost gazing into his eyes.

There’s a sense of humanity in those watery depths. You can see its light. He understands you. He’s so beautiful. He might blink slowly and turn his head to the side a bit as if he’s reading your thoughts. He might stretch out a paw toward your hand.

And then if he could, he also might pounce on you, tear open your throat, and drag you away to eat you. Because Richard Parker is not your friend. The humanity you sensed in him was a projection of your own. Assuming he thinks and feels exactly like you is an insult to the diversity of our planet. He’s not evil, he merely exists as he was made to, like any of us. He commands respect. He challenges us to establish clear boundaries because while he might show affection, he might also torment and torture us for fun.

He makes us ask bigger questions of ourselves and the world. Questions we don’t want to ask, because we prefer a world in which everyone has a soft spot somewhere inside, even tigers. But to pretend that Richard Parker is our friend is to disrespect his nature while being irresponsible to ourselves and to all of humanity.

He might look like your friend.

He might even act like your friend.

But he’s not.

The same goes for psychopaths.

Read Chapter 5: Who is a Potential Victim?

Or follow these links to previous chapters that are posted on

Chapter One: Everyone’s Ex is a Psychopath
Chapter Two: Labels and Lists Might Not Help
Chapter Three: There Are Degrees of Conscience and Empathy

Or read my book, The Other Side of Charm: Your Memoir, available at major booksellers.