Here and on Lovefraud.com, 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 5: Who is a Potential Victim?
Everyone is a potential victim of a psychopath. There are two basic reasons why, and my goal in this chapter is to make them clear for you. Why? Because too many people think they can’t be fooled or that they’re too strong to be a victim, and those beliefs put us in danger of being swept away and devastated by a psychopath.
Here are my two points, up front. First, psychopaths handle deception differently, and it catches us off guard. Almost anyone can be fooled, even professionals. Second, the most masterful unincarcerated psychopaths can give a very warm impression and/or they talk incessantly about their values. We are not brought up to anticipate warmth and what seems like patriotism and/or family values from a psychopath. We are not prepared to detect their lies. And that makes us all susceptible.
So let’s talk about deception. How can you tell if someone’s lying to you? Most commonly, people say that they look for shifty eyes or fidgeting. We think that someone will feel agitated while lying and that even if they’re really good at hiding their symptoms, that they will still feel internal agitation in a way that can be measured by instruments attached to the body. Like a polygraph.
Here’s the thing. A psychopath does not feel agitated while lying. So there are no symptoms. No shifty eyes, nothing that can be measured internally… nothing. What a psychopath may feel is elation. There may be a sense of joy in duping you, in getting away with a lie. To a psychopath, that is a WIN, which means power, which means fun! It’s fun to toy with people and watch them twist and turn like little puppets. We (neurotypical people) are looked down upon as stupid, funny fools.
So the reason I say everyone can be a victim of a psychopath is because there’s no way to tell if a psychopath is lying. And most of us are over-confident in our ability to detect lies, anyway. In general, most people overestimate their gut sense of lie detection, and that makes us even more vulnerable.
My family was on vacation in Albuquerque. Wyatt was staying in an amazing resort all week for a conference, and I was staying with extended family who lived out there. We were supposed to have access to his room all week so the kids could enjoy the walk-in gradient pool, water slides, lazy river, and so on. It was an outstanding facility. The problem was that he never called us to say it was ok, and he wouldn’t answer my calls. I was afraid to show up over there because I didn’t want to make anyone in his company angry.
Finally, though, on the morning of the last day, my aunt said, “We’re going,” and basically got a key from the front desk and let us all into his room. She opened the door and walked right through it to the back door, which opened on the pool area. She threw open the shades and the beautiful light of New Mexico streamed across the room as I spotted a woman’s bracelet next to Wyatt’s wallet, cigar, and keys on the table in the front hall. Wow. I gasped a little. Another bracelet. This was the third.
My kids were pulling on my hands, wanting to change.
“Let’s go to the pool! This place is awesome!”
They bounced beside me, and I turned my back on the bracelet. It was gaudy. I took them into the bathroom and started helping them undress.
Wyatt must’ve gotten word that we’d arrived. I could hear him come in the door and give my aunt and uncle loving hugs with lots of happy explanations. They were tense because he hadn’t returned our calls all week, but like so many of us, they were polite. But I only heard their voices for a moment before he was bursting through the bathroom door, bracelet in hand.
“See what I found for you? Look what I found on the golf cart yesterday. I kept it for you. I thought you’d like it.” He held it up to my face and smiled. “See, look what I found for you.”
I blinked at the ugly thing.
“Ok. Interesting that you found yet another bracelet for me.”
The boys were struggling into their shorts at my feet.
“Crazy, right?” He grabbed me for a big hug and then bent over to tickle the boys.
“I’m so glad to see you guys—so glad to see you guys! I’ve been missing you so much! Missing you all week!”
What’s weird about this? Not much, I guess. Unless you remember that he hadn’t answered our calls or texts all week, asking to come play in the fancy resort pool. Unless you can zoom ahead in time and watch him just as confidently telling me a different story about how he found that bracelet.
He was lying.
He was happy.
The second reason we’re so susceptible to psychopaths is easy to explain if you look at images of psychopaths online. From movies to book covers to general images, what you’ll find will tell you a lot about what our general public believes about psychopaths. They are scary.
They have ice-cold eyes. There’s often blood and murder involved. A psychopath might look madly insane and be wielding a butcher knife. A cleaned-up psychopath might look like a slick con-artist with scary eyes. If you cross a psychopath like this, they’ll either give you the worst chills of your lifetime or they’ll kill you.
This is what we expect from psychopaths as a society. That’s why we’re all potential victims.
Just so you know, Wyatt tells me regularly—at least once a month still—that he is a really good person. That I might not believe it, but he is a really good person. He reminds me that he serves on the board of the most highly regarded charitable organization in his county. He reminds me that parents come to him all the time to thank him for setting such a positive example for their children. He tells me how much he loves America and how much better he is at parenting than I am. He tells me to calm down. To smile more. To maybe consider meeting with a minister or counselor to work on becoming a better person. Someone God would deem worthy.
So an unincarcerated psychopath may or may not look like a cheesy, fake, power hungry politician. Some are better at loud proclamations of their family values, while others will play the sweet choir director who is just there to serve. The roles they fill will depend on their goals—which group of people they want to hurt and/or exploit. Now if a scary-looking strange man dressed all in black with greasy hair and an ice-cold gaze walks into a church and asked to spend time with the children there, people worry. But if a quiet natured, baby-faced young minister enters and asks time to spend with the children because he’s led four other youth groups and just loves spending time with families (and hopes to have one someday of his own), people will not worry as much.
Which one is the psychopath?
My point is that you can’t tell. And since unincarcerated psychopaths who are clever enough to avoid detection will not have a record, background checks really won’t help.
That’s why anyone can be a victim. So if you’ve been a victim of a psychopath, there’s no shame in that. And if you haven’t been, count your blessings—but don’t give yourself too many pats on the back for avoiding it. The scary fact is that we’re all susceptible. The more you accept that vulnerability, the more you can actually wake up and protect yourself.
Follow these links to previous chapters on Lovefraud.com:
Or you can find The Other Side of Charm: Your Memoir at major booksellers.