Learning From Psychopathic Abuse & Toxic Relationships


Anyone who has been through psychopathic abuse will confirm what a horrendous experience it can be. Psychopaths do not have any remorse or conscience regarding the damage they cause in the lives of others and victims are often left with problems which take a long time to resolve.

We have already covered the issue of recovering from psychopathic abuse in our lengthy article on the subject. More specifically we want to cover here the issue of important lessons to take out of the experience for people to make sure it doesn’t happen again. It is important to extract whatever good we can out of what is usually a horrible and traumatic experience. How can we do this?

In summary it basically involves spotting what you missed before in terms of character traits and being more observant and selective in general about who you allow into your life. It also means learning to respond to toxic people and situations in a way that better serves you in the long run, and also building a life where you cannot be under the control of psychopathic people ever again.

To generalize even more, recovering from psychopathic abuse ideally teaches a person to be more aware and observant; aware of their own moment to moment experience, aware of emotional signs and clues from inside themselves, aware of behaviours of people around them. It also teaches us to trust our gut feel and intuition more and follow these cues when they are telling us something is off.

Mindfulness is often a practice that can further help with this and is always a useful skill for anyone to develop in life. Let’s look at some crucial general lessons to take out of the experience below.

Observe Character Traits in People More Closely

One thing a psychopathic relationship will instill in you is the need to more carefully screen and vet people you are working or living with to spot for character traits, both positive and negative. We also learn to do this over a prolonged period of time and not be taken in a by a superficial initial charm or “funny guy” act.

Psychopaths are brilliant at taking people in with this initial charm or charisma. Initially they will just seem like the funniest or wittiest guy who says all the right things and has everything going for them. This is just an act to get people to lower their guard and we learn not to be fooled by first impressions. Incidentally, the opposite can also happen where someone we dislike initially turns out to be someone we later grow to respect and admire.

Psychopaths may lure people in with this initial marsipan topping but will also reveal their true nature over a period of time. Certain unpleasant character traits will become apparent over time and will “leak out” despite the psychopath’s best efforts to keep them concealed. We need to watch out for these giveaways and know what the red flags are.

Our Checklist page has some good general pointers to look out for which suggest psychopathic traits. The more common characteristics to look out for include:

  • Superficial charm and charisma which takes people in easily.
  • Shallowness and superficial character incapable of really connecting with people.
  • Lack of ability to empathize.
  • No compassion or care for the problems of others or the world. No vocational traits.
  • Purely on the level of ego, power, and control over others.
  • Manipulative, deceitful and dishonest behaviour.
  • Lack of integrity, constant scheming and bitching against others.
  • Chronically suspicious of others.
  • Never accepts blame or responsibility for anything. Constantly blame shifts.

This list is not exhaustive but is a good starter pointer for some key negative character traits to watch out for. Of course we may already know this in some sense after dealing with a psychopath, in which case it is more about trusting your judgement and acting accordingly once you spot these traits in someone. It also still helps to have some kind of checklist.

Conversely, observing a lack of these traits is also a useful thing, since it is usually an indication of the sort of person you do want to be allowing into your life and trusting. Let’s look in more detail at the kind of people survivors of psychopathic abuse should be seeking out and aligning themselves with.

Psychopaths Negative Emotions Division

Psychopaths thrive on division and negativity and this will show up if you observe them over time

Only Allow High Quality People Into Your Life

The corollary to the issue of the types of traits and people to avoid is the types of people to seek out. We maintain that people recovering from psychopathic abuse be uncompromising about this and only allow high quality people into their trust and confidence. Average and lower quality people will not do, even if they are not psychopathic.

The reason we argue this is because average and lower quality people often collude in the psychopathic abuse process by not standing up for the high quality, empathic person. The so called apaths or “in between” people who are not psychopaths but not strong or moral either allow the psychopath to get away with abusing good people because they do not come to the empath’s defense and sometimes even side with the psychopath against them.

This process has been well illustrated in the book The Empathy Trap, available on Amazon, where they go into detail about the Sociopath-Empath-Apath Traid, where the sociopath actively enlists the help of the apath in shifting blame and negative attention into the empath for something the sociopath themself has done. See also our article on the topic.

It is for this reason that we argue that these “in the middle” people are not reliable as they too lack strong empathy and integrity and are too easily manipulated by psychopaths and other toxic characters. Too often these people are taken in by the psychopath and let down the empath when they try to confront the psychopath on their behaviour.

Rather it is far better to be demanding on this and only surround yourself with strong, moral, supportive, empathic people; people who would have stood up for you had they been there when the psychopath was targeting you. Anyone who is easily influenced and “goes along to get along” is no good to you, even if they are not psychopathic themselves.

Here is a quick checklist of positive traits to actively seek out in people when recovering from psychopathic abuse:

  • Empathic
  • Loyal
  • Stands up for others
  • “Bright Triad” traits – Clarity, Maturity, Stability
  • Has a clear sense of right and wrong
  • Values people for themselves and will say what traits they value in someone.
  • Non manipulative
  • Non political and uncomplicated
  • Straightforward
  • Honest
  • Integrity
  • Vocational aspects to their life and identity
  • People who plainly say they like you and enjoy your company

A useful way to look at this issue is that there are 7 billion people in this world, so why waste any time associating with toxic people, or even any sort of person who leaves you guessing as to their motives, intentions and character? It is much better to be uncompromising and only seek out high quality, empathic people who with whom you know clearly where you stand.

Of course we understand all this advice is somewhat simplified and perhaps geared towards one’s personal life where you have a choice as to who you surround yourself with. Work is of course more complex since we don’t have such control over who we are around. We will cover this in a later section.

Quality People Only

Survivors of psychopathic abuse should seek out only high quality, empathic people in their lives and not mediocre or poor quality people

Do Not Stay Around Toxic People

Another absolutely crucial lesson to take out of the psychopathic experience is to respond correctly if you find yourself in the same position again. In most cases this simply means realizing what is happening sooner and getting away from the psychopath as quickly as possible. Escape and evade is the best tactic in most cases.

It can be a trap that someone falls into where they stubbornly stay and try to fight and resist the psychopath, especially in work scenarios. They rightly think that they shouldn’t be forced to change their job or where they live because of one toxic person. This response is totally understandable but often counterproductive. If this is what you did the first time it is almost certainly not the way to respond if it happens again.

The reason for this is simply that they often don’t understand what they are going up against the first time it happens. They do not fully comprehend that psychopaths have no conscience or empathy and so will go to any lengths to undermine and destroy a target psychologically. They will just keep going until they get the result they want.

It is very difficult to win with these people because they are so ruthless and do not follow the rules of humanity and decency like the rest of us do, who feel and empathize and grasp the emotional consequences of our actions on others. Psychopaths don’t have these fail-safe mechanisms and are relentless in their targeting of someone.

Therefore the best approach in almost all cases is to back out of any situation where you are involved with a psychopath and seek another environment. If that means finding another job then it is best to accept it and move on. It shouldn’t have to be this way in an ideal world but it simply isn’t worth it for the damage a psychopath can cause, especially if you have been through the experience before and know what it is like.

Picking your fights and knowing when to back away from toxic people is a crucial lesson to take away from dealing with psychopathic characters, particularly in the workplace. Being fully aware of just how mentally twisted and evil these people are will help you make a choice that better serves you in the long run. Save yourself the time and energy and stress and move on.

Be Independant

This relates to the work issue, since having to deal with a psychopath in a work environment does tend to complicate the issue a lot. You do not have the same control over when and how you interact with them as you might if they were in your personal life.

When the psychopath is your direct line manager the situation is even worse. It is not always possible to walk straight away into another job and so there can be this horrible feeling of being trapped under a psychopath’s control, having to put up with their toxic behaviour and not able to immediately get away since you do not have an alternative.

If you have been unfortunate enough to experience this then it is important to create a lifestyle and support systems which mean you can never end up in this position again. This means creating options for yourself and possibly a self employed lifestyle where you are in full control of who you deal with and don’t have to answer to anyone you don’t like or trust.

Freelancing, web development or blogging are some ways of working online which can offer an independent lifestyle if one is prepared to train in those areas. There are many different ways of making money online now and this is an excellent option to look into for someone who is tired of working for toxic bosses and not having control over their own life.

More simply it may involve building up savings so that the option to leave toxic work environments is there when it wasn’t before. The main thing is that it is important to have options and never be stuck around toxic people in a job with that horrible trapped feeling of not being able to escape.

If self employment is not something which seems attractive or possible, then at least seek to only work in jobs and environments which contain a decent amount of high quality people. This often involves look carefully at the line of work involved and seeking out more vocational careers where there is some higher purpose there and not just soulless corporate or retail jobs which can often attract soulless people with apathetic or psychopathic traits.

This is easier said than done but will likely be necessary going forward, simply because it appears that the prevalence of psychopathic traits seems to be increasing in the population and not decreasing. See the Unslaved Podcast for more discussion of this. So unfortunately it is likely that empathic people will be encountering this problem of toxic people more and more in the workplace.

See our articles on psychopathic managers and psychopathic companies for types of people and organizations to watch out for. We list specific traits and red flags that can be a useful guide for what to avoid in the world of work. Robert Hare and Paul Babiak’s Snakes in Suits is also an excellent resources on psychopathy in the workplace. Click to view the book on Amazon.

See also our Resources Page for more books and videos.

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