So who do psychopaths target then? Do they have a specific type of person that they tend to go for above others and what can these people do to watch out for this behaviour?
In summary, psychopaths do tend to target high quality, good, decent individuals who have a strong sense of right and wrong and are highly empathic towards others. These are all the qualities that psychopaths don’t have and therein lies the basic answer as to why they target these people. They do not tend to target mediocre, low quality or apathetic individuals.
Here are some common traits and qualities that are present in the people psychopaths target:
- A strong sense of morality, decency and kindness.
- Weak ego boundaries and a difficulty in saying no
- Qualities or traits that the psychopath envies, like charisma, wealth, popularity, power or status.
A combination of envy, self preservation and just plain evil are what motivates this targeting of good people. As the great psychiatrist M Scott Peck said when speaking on the topic, there is something basically incomprehensible about evil and we never truly understand everything about what makes them tick. They appear to hate goodness just for the sake of hating it and this may be why they seem to always go after good people
Envy as a Primary Motivator
The role of envy in psychopaths is one of the most important things for potential targets and victims to get their head around. Envy is the most destructive of all emotions and it should come as no surprise that as the most destructive people in the human race, psychopaths tend to be brimming with envy.
Envy should be contrasted with jealousy and admiration, where a person admires and looks up to a person for their qualities and what they have going for them in life. Envy is more poisonous and destructive and wants to take what the other person has, or at least stop them from having it. See Helmut Schoeck’s book Envy on Amazon for more analysis of the subject in individual and societal terms.
Here is a list of some qualities that you may have which psychopaths will see in you and envy. The list is not exhaustive and can include anything you have going for you that make you popular, successful or otherwise attractive:
- Money or Wealth
- Charm, charisma or vibrancy
- Good job and prospects
- Self confidence
Psychopaths can see in their victims these qualities that they don’t have but would like to have. As fundamentally shallow and dishonest individuals though, they want to have it without doing the work or having the character that would actually bring those qualities about. That would be too much work for them; they’d rather just soak it in or “download” it by being around the person.
This explains the initial fascination that psychopaths often have with their victims, initially barraging them with charm and walking and talking in step with them as they create the manufactured soulmate some survivors describe in great detail (see Jackson Mackenzie’s Psychopath Free on Amazon).
At least part of the motivation behind this is that they want to have the same qualities as the person but they just think they can somehow absorb or clone them by just being around the person. When they realize this is not how it works then their fascination and admiration turns to envy and they seek to undermine and destroy the person instead.
This goes back to the fundamentally pointless nature of the psychopath and the senseless things they do. If they can’t have something themselves then they do not have it in them to at least allow another person to have these qualities. Their toxic and evil nature means they’d rather no one had something if they can’t have it. Hence the endless destructive behaviours that psychopaths engage in towards others.
This dynamic is common among psychopaths and is covered in great detail in Psychopath Free linked above. The Idealize period is the honeymoon period we already mentioned where the psychopath is attempting to clone in themselves the qualities they see in you. They will often bombard you with charm and affection and it will seem like they are perfectly in sync with everything you do and say.
Once they realize the cloning bit isn’t going to work and they can’t have these qualities by counterfeit means, then the more destructive envy comes out and they start devaluing you. This is when the emotional abuse and “gas-lighting” will start, where they slowly start to erode your sense of perception and reality.
They will start to chip away with comments to undermine you and will claim things happened or were said when they didn’t and vice versa. They are eroding your identity and self esteem and attempting to destroy the qualities in you that they realize they can’t have.
Their behaviour will become ever more outrageous as they continue to chip away at your boundaries psychologically and the final discard comes when they have completely worn down their target psychologically, at which point they get bored and move onto someone else.
Some survivors of psychopathy believe this idealize – devalue – discard process is carefully planned in advance and they know when they are going to move onto each phase. This may be true but in some cases it may just be a natural cycle of how a psychopath’s mind works, as they progress from admiration to envy as their attempts to clone the virtues and traits they see in their target fail.
Perhaps some psychopaths realize after going through this cycle a few times that they cannot ever have these traits. From that point on it may be more about targeting good people just for the sake of targeting them – pure envy and destructiveness with no initial marsipan topping of charm and idealization.
They may realize on some level that they can never be a strong moral person so they set about destroying any goodness they see in others. They are not so bothered about trying to clone virtue anymore as they just realize by now they can’t have it.
This writer has certainly experienced that dynamic as well as the classic idealize – devalue – discard cycle. It is probably best not to lock interpretations of psychopaths into one framework as they do vary in the way they target people.
Some are also arguably more self aware than others in realizing they are basically evil and immoral people and are not like normal people who have morals and a conscience. In that sense some of the pretense and initial charm may drop and they move instead straight to undermining their target without little or no honeymoon period.
Psychopaths like to try and isolate high quality empathic individuals from those around them through manipulation of apathetic onlookers.
The Sociopath-Empath-Apath Traid
Another interpretive framework with which to look at how psychopaths target high quality people is through the Sociopath-Empath-Apath triad model, well developed and explained in Tim and Jane McGregor’s book The Empathy Trap, available on Amazon. See also our full article on the subject.
This model details how the Sociopath or psychopath (both terms are interchangeable for the purposes of this context) will enlist the help of apathetic or easily influenced onlookers or Apaths to specifically target a high quality empathic individual or Empath and isolate them from a group, particularly in a work setting.
The dynamic usually starts with the empath confronting the sociopath on something unacceptable they have done or said. Remember the empath has all the virtues a psychopath doesn’t, such as morals, integrity and a strong sense of principle. He is also observant and will spot contradictions and hyprocrises in the sociopath’s behaviour and will not be afraid to point them out.
In response the sociopath will use a combination of manipulative tactics to throw others off the scent of their wrongdoing and shift blame and attention onto the empath. They may include lying, deceit, distortion of facts, blame shifting and denial. They enlist the help of onlookers or apaths in this through deception, lies, flattery or deceit, among other methods.
The apath completes this triad by corroborating the sociopath’s view or at least not having the courage to back up the empath on their correct view. They allow themself to be taken in by the sociopath and ultimately contribute to the game the sociopath is playing to undermine and isolate their empathic target.
The situation ends badly for the empath despite them doing the right thing in pointing out something the sociopath has done. By colluding with the sociopath and effectively taking their side against the empath, either explicitly or implicitly, the apath further undermines the empath and allows the sociopath to walk away scot free, often painting the empath as a troublemaker for added insult.
Through this interpretation it is more self preservation that is motivating the sociopath or psychopath to behave as they do, since they may realize very early on that the empath is their biggest enemy.
This is the case because the empath is intuitive, intelligent and observant in a way that others aren’t and so is better able to spot that something is “off” with the sociopath and point out glaring contradictions and red flags in their behaviour and character. They are able to see the sociopath or psychopath for what they are much more easily than the apath and are not taken in by their fake charm in the way that others are.
Psychopaths also unfortunately realize that most people do not have these qualities the empath has and so are much more easily manipulated and influenced. They always take advantage of this and are quick to undermine anyone they see as a threat by enlisting the help of apathetic onlookers and using lies, deception and misinformation to paint the empath in a negative light and isolate them from a group.
How to Defend Yourself
If you are a high quality person with strong morality, principles and other traits and virtues that others admire in you, then you need to watch out for psychopaths. As is mentioned in the superb Unslaved Podcast on the topic, they tend to hone in from afar on people with these qualities or who have created a contented and successful life for themselves.
They are initially drawn towards other peoples virtues and happiness, as we said maybe out of an initial fascination to clone it but also sometimes out of a pure destructiveness to undermine and destroy what they cannot have for themselves. See our article on psychopaths destroying your happiness.
You need to especially watch out for this dynamic in the workplace, since psychopaths are ruthless in this regard and will stop at nothing to get what they want, including undermining and isolating anyone they see as a threat. Watch out for signs of both psychopathic managers and a more general toxic psychopathic culture in the company itself.
These types of environments are to be avoided at all costs. Also make an assessment of the quality of all people around you in a work environment, since psychopaths will often enlist the help or at least take advantage of the apathy of other non psychopathic but morally weak people to manipulate, isolate and undermine high quality targets in the workplace.
Elsewhere it is about being aware of any watching out for psychopathic traits in people and avoiding these types of people at all costs. See our Checklist Page and also the linked books below for some excellent resources and pointers that will help you spot and evade psychopathic characters before they get chance to do too much damage.
In this sense it is very much a sense of forewarned is forearmed and arming oneself with as much knowledge about psychopaths and sociopaths as possible is essential to being able to spot them, as they do give themselves away through a series of observable behavour patterns (and also a lack of other traits) that they will display over time and can be picked up by more observant and informed people.
See our Resources page for links to some of the most definitive and authoritative books on psychopathy, from experts like Jackson Mackenzie, Robert Hare and others.