Many victims of psychopaths may wonder whether everything is all just a misunderstanding. Maybe the psychopath is just ignorant, unaware of the the way their behavior impacts others, but there is nothing deliberate there. Is there any truth to this?
The uncomfortable reality here is that psychopaths are well aware of the damage they are causing to others and are indeed doing it on purpose. There is a deliberate intent to cause harm to another person, with their actions often carefully planned and pre-meditated over a long period of time.
People who have had a lot of experience dealing with multiple psychopaths, as well as lifelong experts who have spent years studying them, will confirm this is the case. There is willfulness and intent there. They know full well what they are doing and don’t care for the consequences of their actions on others. It’s just a game they play for their own internal amusement.
Let’s look in more detail at the way this behavior plays out and some possible motivations the psychopath has for doing this.
Psychopaths are Fully Aware of What They Are Doing
“(Psychopaths) are individuals who are extremely egotistical, self centered, lacking remorse for what they have done, knowing exactly what they are doing. And what they’re doing is manipulating and deceiving other people for their own ends”
Dr Robert Hare
The quote above from psychopathy expert Dr Robert Hare early on in the embedded documentary sums up very well the approach of a psychopath. They are manipulating others to their own advantage, fully aware of what they are doing.
Unfortunate victims caught up with them need to move past the cliches of them being misguided people who are unaware of their toxicity and need to be pitied and forgiven. The psychopath knows full well the damage they are causing in the lives of others and is doing it on purpose. Emotional abuse is a game to them. They couldn’t care less about the damage it causes.
Deleted empathy is a crucial component in driving this behavior. Psychopaths and sociopaths are well known to lack this emotional fail-safe that normal, feeling people possess. This means they cannot put themselves in the emotional shoes of another and comprehend on a feeling level the psychological harm they are causing to others.
This means there are no limits to what a psychopath will do to someone else to psychologically (and sometimes physically) destroy them. Hence the distressing dynamic victims get caught in where the psychopath just keeps going with ever more outrageous behavior until the person is completely undermined psychologically, at which point they discard them and move on.
This emphasizes the deeply rooted sadism that is evident in most psychopaths, where they enjoy inflicting pain on others, psychologically as well as physically. It is not enough to score one “victory” over someone in their own mind. They have to keep going and hammering away at the person until they are completely diminished and eroded psychologically.
The Push-Pull Dynamic
I have personally dealt with at least half a dozen psychopathic or sociopathic characters and not a single one of them ever admitted openly that they knew what they were doing and were doing it on purpose. This also tends to be the experience of other people who have dealt with psychopaths.
In some rare cases they made an admission of “Yeh, I just did it all mess with your head” or something similar, usually when they are confronted on their motives after the relationship has ended. There is no reason for them to hide anymore so they just come out with the truth. Most times they don’t do this though and simply play what I like to call the push-pull game.
This is where they keep pushing into you to chip away at your boundaries and self esteem with ever more outrageous behavior, but will always pull back at the right time whenever there is any resistance or confrontation on the victim’s part where they are sensing something is wrong and question the psychopath’s motives.
In other words, they will constantly and relentlessly play mind games and chip away at you, but will never admit that is what they are doing. They will pull back at the right time and mimimize, rationalize, gas-light or blame shift. Any tactic which further confuses the victim and gets them off the hook.
They will then gradually start pushing back into the victim again, building up with the toxic abuse patterns again until there is another “push back” from the victim, at which point they retreat again, pull out the excuses and blame shifting, and so the cycle beings again.
They are masters of inhabiting this middle zone of relentlessly eroding a person’s confidence and identity but leaving just enough doubt in the person’s mind as to their motives that more generous and kinder natured people will continue to tolerate it, thinking that it must be them that is reading it wrong and the psychopath can’t possibly be doing this on purpose.
In this way there is a relentless psychological assault on the victim, often played out over a long period of time. The psychopath is so malevolent and cunning that they are willing to back off for a bit just to prolong the game they are playing.
They are literally tactical and long sighted in the evil they commit against others. They plan things out over a long period of time. See this account of a female psychopath for more on this premeditation.
Of course the relentless gas-lighting that psychopaths engage in also contributes to this, where they continually deny a person’s perception so much that they eventually start to believe in the twisted reality the psychopath has drawn them into. The victim comes to accept completely substandard treatment as normal and sometimes doesn’t even protest anymore.
Psychopaths often gas-light their victims into thinking nothing is wrong, or they are the problem, knowing full well what they are doing to the other person
Why Do They Do This?
The next logical question a normal feeling person would ask is why do they do this? This kind of willfully destructive behavior is difficult for a person with empathy and a conscience to understand. Why do they feel the need to behave like this?
There are a number of ways of looking at this and it is this writer’s opinion that actual motives do differ between different psychopaths. We have already covered the lack of empathy and deep rooted sadism that characterizes psychopaths, which partly explains how they can behave in such an inhuman way towards others and not feel any emotional consequences.
As far as other motives go, envy is a huge motivating factor behind a psychopath’s behavior. They envy the virtues and traits they see in high quality people and often want to destroy in others what they cannot have for themselves.
This is where the dynamic can get interesting, since some psychopaths will initially try to mirror and mimic those they are initially drawn to, walking and talking in rhythm with them. They are often thinking that by mimicking the person’s traits, they can also embody them for themselves.
This kind of shallow thinking is typical of psychopaths, in that they want the virtues, but don’t want to do the work or behave in a way that is conversant with having those virtues. They just want to “download” it.
When they realize this is not how it works, this is when the envy can start to surface and they then turn on the person, attacking them psychologically and trying to destroy the virtue in them that they now realize they can never have.
Envy is the most destructive of all the emotions and as such all high quality, empathic people need to be aware of how envy works and be on guard against it from toxic people we meet in our lives. Envy wants to destroy something altogether if the envious person can’t have it – “If I can’t have it, then you’re not having it either” is the underlying motif behind envy.
Another motivation for a psychopath’s behavior is simply to relieve boredom. This is technically a trait that is often seen more in the closely related sociopathic character. Both psychopaths and sociopaths have a very limited or non existent emotional range and feel a relentless emptiness and boredom.
Many of them play the endless mind games they do simply as a way to relieve this boredom which is driving them mad. As twisted as it sounds, the evil behaviour they direct towards others is a form of entertainment and amusement to them which brightens up their day.
Another way of looking at this is there is basically something incomprehensible about evil people and evil behavior; something normal people with empathy and feelings will never truly understand. Perhaps we will never fully understand why a psychopath behaves the way they do. See M Scott Peck’s People of the Lie in our Books section.
In the end it may not even matter either. All that matters is being able to spot these people and get away from them as soon as possible. Evil is as evil does and as long as we can spot psychopaths through the predictable pattern of traits they display over time, we can avoid any prolonged entanglements with them. If we can manage this then we don’t need to worry about what their motives are.
Judging Others By Our Own Values
To fully understand psychopaths, we need to move past the trap so many of us can fall into, of judging others by our own values. Good, virtuous people are the most prone to this. We project our virtue onto others and assume that because we are good, decent people, so must everyone else be. The more intelligent psychopaths are well aware of this and use it to their own ends.
We assume that because we would never do something so malevolent as deliberately harming another psychologically for our own ends, neither would any other person. “They’d never do that!” is the classical response to evil behavior we can’t comprehend.
No, you’d never do that. Psychopaths mess with people’s heads all the time, and they do so for their own internal amusement and entertainment. They deliberately seek to cause damage in the lives of others to relieve the own internal boredom and emptiness inside them.
We have to come to the realization that not all people in the world are good at the core, that conversely some people are rotten at the core and unsalvageable psychologically. It can be a bitter pill to swallow but will ultimately serve to protect us from these predators, since we won’t be blindsided the next time we bump into one, assuming these kind of people don’t exist.