By Ox Drover
Something occurred recently that set my mind to thinking. My best friend who lives another state came to visit me for a couple of weeks. This friend has known me about 30 years, so has known both of my biological sons, including the psychopathic one, since they were kids. She has “been there” for me through all the trauma, the disappointments and the pain. She was there for me when my husband died in the aircraft crash and my adopted son was burned. She was there for me and for my oldest son when his wife tried to kill him. So she has seen many of the psychopaths I have dealt with “up close and personal” and she has seen the toxic enabling my mother has done and is doing with my P-son by sending him money, even after he tried to have me killed. There is no one on earth who can reasonably “validate” that I have been the victim of multiple psychopaths during my life than she can.
I remember when I went to the EMDR (rapid eye movement therapist). During my first intake interview, which lasted over two hours, as I detailed the large numbers of psychopaths who were conspiring to have me killed and had run me out of my home in fear of my life, the man very politely listened and showed interest in my tale of woe, which could almost be labeled “Pitiful Pauline’s Terrible Trials,” to use an old serial movie title. At the end of the session, he was careful to word his request, since I had told him I was a retired medical and mental health professional, that I “bring in someone to confirm” my stories, which to him, I don’t doubt, sounded like the ramblings of a “paranoid delusional schizophrenic.” When he made this request, in his very diplomatic manner, I actually threw back my head and laughed and said, “Yep, I do sound like a paranoid schizophrenic, I know, but I will be glad to bring in both witnesses and documentation to verify my stories.” Which, the next visit, I brought in court documents and rap sheets and mug shots, newspaper clippings, and my adopted son to verify that I wasn’t just “paranoid,” that there were indeed a conspiracy of psychopaths “out to get me.”
My own tall tales
Because I have lived a life that is pretty much out of the norm for a kid who grew up in the boondocks of rural Arkansas, and in some instances, done some things that are sort of along the lines of an “Indiana Jones” character, I learned pretty early in my young adult life that many people will disbelieve you if you “tell exciting stories” that are too far off the “norm” of most people’s lives. They view you more in the line of someone who, like my neighbor, “Crazy Bob,” tells tales of his years in the FBI, CIA, his Congressional Medal of Honor, his 5,000 parachute jumps, and him being a Navy Seal, all the while being too dumb to know that no one has ever made 5,000 parachute jumps.
Even if “Crazy Bob’s” stories are unbelievable to most people, some of my stories are as unbelievable, of flying cargos of live animals in and out of South America in a salvaged WWII B-25 bomber, or living in the bush for months at a time, or catching thousand-pound crocodiles at night from a 25 ft. canoe in the delta of the Nile, or the crazy camel driver at the pyramids who was paid to let me ride his camel. The only differences between my unbelievable stories and “Crazy Bob’s” are that I can prove mine with photographs, newspaper articles, passport stamps, pilot’s log books and other documents as well as living witnesses who were there with me.
A man who has been my friend for about 15 years told me, “When I first met you, I thought you were some kind of ‘blow hard’ who made up these outlandish stories, it wasn’t until later, I realized that you were telling the truth.” This man is not the first, but I do hope, will be one of the last people who “hears my stories” and disbelieves because they sound “so outlandish, no one could have done all those things, or had so many psychopaths target them.”
Is every jerk a psychopath?
Even my friend of 30-plus years asked me as I was chattering on about some guy I thought to be a psychopath, “Are you starting to label everyone you know who is a jerk, a psychopath?”
This comment sort of surprised me, so I said, “No, I don’t think so, let me tell you why I think this man is a psychopath, though I didn’t realize it at the time I had a business interaction with him. First, he left his wife of 25 years while she was dying of cancer, leaving her destitute and alone, then he showed up at her funeral with his girlfriend sitting beside him, then he stole the inheritance of the daughter of a deceased friend after he had gotten himself appointed the executor, and then I added a few more incidents to his “psychopathic con-man resume.”
My friend then replied, “Yea, he does sound like a psychopath.”
Psychopaths I have known
Not too long ago I sat down and decided to make a “list of the psychopaths I have known, been related to, and/or who had hurt me/others significantly in interactions with them.” First off, of course, was my “sperm donor psychopath”, and I actually know of two men he killed. One of my maternal g-grandfathers was an abusive alcoholic. My “egg donor’s” brother, Uncle Monster, was a vicious, violent wife-beating, woman-hating man. Then there was Charles “Jackie” Walls III, who was a Boy Scout leader in our small town who was tried and convicted and sentenced to life without parole for the over 1,500 cases of child molestation that are known of. There was the covertly psychopathic teacher I had in nursing school whom I saw over and over persecute and target certain students, primarily males, for several years. Though she never targeted me, I finally became so afraid of her that in the middle of the program, I changed universities and drove 40 miles further for the last two years of my schooling just to get away from her.
I also listed covertly vicious physicians and nurses I had worked with for quite some time, directors of programs I had worked with, business partners of my husband who literally stole his business and bankrupted it, working together, and lying in depositions to the court. (One of them did, later, go to prison for conviction in a very similar scam in which they got caught, but they got away with the scam against my husband.)
All in all, when I finished the list of people that I had known closely enough to know their histories and to see some of their covertly malicious behavior targeting others or targeting businesses, I had, just off the top of my head, a list of 45 people that I knew who would have rated at least a 20, and more likely a 30, on the PCL-R. Many of these people were “respected” physicians, attorneys, Boy Scout leaders, psychological counselors, psychiatrists, surgeons, school teachers, police men, ministers, prison officials, prison guards, college presidents, businessmen, politicians, media stars, and others were “known” and convicted convicts and ex-convicts. Some few were “overt” psychopaths committing murder and other crimes of violence and not caring who knew they were “dangerous.” Others were “covert” psychopaths trying to protect their “public mask” of kind and caring people.
Of course, at the time I was working with or interacting with these people I had no idea that they were “toxic” and “dangerous,” and their public face, in “responsible” positions of college president, or minister of a church, was intact. Even when in some few cases I was actually warned that these people couldn’t be trusted, I didn’t listen to the warnings. When they began to target me and to covertly attack me (“stab me in the back” is the common vernacular) I felt the knife go in, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out why! Of course they were smiling and “playing nice” as they stabbed me, and if I “whined” about the pain I was feeling, then they “couldn’t understand” why I should be feeling and sensing that I was being attacked, of course they didn’t see any “knife in my back.”
Overt and covert
I had learned after the encounter with my sperm donor, who was an openly violent man and “proud” of his homicidal violence, to stay away from overtly dangerous people. I had taken great pains to stay away from the “low lifes” in the community, the heavy-drinking, fighting, strutting “bad boys.”
What I hadn’t learned until the last couple of years, though, is that there are probably, I estimate, six or eight “covert” psychopaths for every one or two “overtly” violent psychopaths. Though Scot Peterson and the BTK killer were actually very physically violent to their victims, they tried to present to the public this “good guy” mask to hide their psychopathic violence. These men were eventually convicted of their violent activities, just as Charles “Jackie” Walls III was convicted and his mask of “community leader and Boy Scout leader” was jerked off his face.
Not every “domestic abuser” goes to jail or makes the statistics. I don’t know what the real statistics are of overt and covert domestic violence, and I am sure that no one else knows, either, of the men/women who physically assault their spouses behind closed doors and nothing is ever known by anyone except the victim and the abuser. Many times, I think, not even the children in the family know the truth of what goes on behind “mommy’s and daddy’s bedroom door.” Unfortunately, too many of the victims take the shame of the beatings on to themselves, and “keep the family secrets” intact.
The statistical estimates of “how many psychopaths are there?” range from 1 percent to 4 percent of the general population, while about 20 percent of incarcerated felons are rated as psychopathic. While many victims may only recognize one psychopath in their lives, there are others of us who have repeatedly been targeted by them.
Crossing paths with psychopaths
Why us in particular? Possibly, we were born into a family highly populated with overt or covert psychopaths. Possibly we are adventurous and, as many psychopaths engage in high-risk or adventurous professions or past-times, we come into contact with a “pool” highly populated by psychopaths due to the adventurousness of our profession or recreational activities.
I spent time working for my sperm donor as a wildlife photographer in South and Central America, Europe, Africa and the American west, and the adventurousness of the profession attracts people who are highly involved in “risk taking” activities like self employment, film production, international travel, general aviation, and dangerous hunting activities. Therefore, it isn’t surprising to me, looking back now, that several of the men who were involved in my sperm donor’s enterprises were psychopaths.
Though my late husband was a man addicted to a “high-risk” and adventurous profession, general aviation, he was not a psychopath, but that profession brought him into contact with my sperm donor, and also many other psychopaths. Many were wealthy, famous and infamous men that, in retrospect, I consider high in narcissistic and/or psychopathic traits, Richard Nixon for one.
Identifying the psychopath
Learning to identify people with “covert” psychopathic traits in the “wild” is much more difficult than identifying “overtly dangerous” people with psychopathic traits, since most of the people who are “overtly dangerous” will swagger around “looking like a thug” and wanting to impress you with their potential for violence. It is sort of like the difference between the pit bull dog who bares his teeth and growls, versus the dog that quietly sneaks up behind you and sinks his teeth into your calf without any warning growl.
In either case, the best test of either the overt or the covert psychopath is their behavior, rather than what they say. If you observe someone do something (anything) to another person that you deem unjustified, ugly, nasty, hateful, revengeful, etc., then you should be very careful around that person and be watchful of them.
A friend of mine who was a dean of students at a prestigious college was literally sexually attacked by one of her fellow vice-presidents of that college; fortunately she was able to get away from him. Six months later, though, when he was appointed the new college president, his first act was to fire her. She hadn’t seen it coming. She was not only devastated, but was shocked and surprised. She shouldn’t have been. She had been warned that this man was a psychopath by his drunken sexual attack, but she kept her mouth shut at that time rather than “cause a stir.” Later, her silence at the time of the attack cost her her job.
The covert psychopaths count on people being “peace keepers” and keeping their mouths shut about observed bad behavior. They also count on “small” instances of bad behavior being over looked, even though these “minor” transgressions of “niceness” add up to a large mountain of bad behavior over the long haul.
Another thing that is against our being validated when we observe and “label” these instances of psychopathic behavior is the lack of validation we get from others who also know this person, but are not nearly as aware of what it “means” as we (former victims) are. They may pass off the behavior as “Oh, that’s just John” or “Well, he probably didn’t mean it that way” or “Oh, just get along and play nice.”
The covert psychopath may not be physically violent at all, but instead, may only engage in emotional and mental abuse of his/her victims by demeaning and degrading them with subtle put downs. The covert psychopath may also do financial or career damage to their targets, and a covert smear campaign against a co-worker or boss can destroy a career or a reputation.
No understandable motive
Because we, many times, fail to see a “motive” that we can understand for the behavior of the covert psychopath, it makes it difficult for us (and others) to believe that “s/he would do that,” because we cannot see what s/he would gain. Unfortunately, many times the “motive” of the psychopath is the same answer as the mountain climber gave for climbing a very difficult peak, “Just because it’s there and I wanted to prove I could do it.”
It might be fairly easy, you would think, to spot the “overt bad boys” by going to a “bad part of town” or “gang turf” and looking at the guys swaggering in and out of bars or selling drugs on the street and say “that guy acts like a psychopath,” and you might even be right in your assessment, but maybe not. But you can’t be sure you are not dealing with a psychopath at a debutante ball, or a civic meeting, or a political rally, a church group, or a business meeting either, because the fact that people there are cleaner, better educated and dress nicer doesn’t make them less apt to be a psychopath.
My sperm donor used to tell the press that he was “eccentric” and “the reason he was ‘eccentric,’ instead of ‘crazy’ was because he was rich!” Unfortunately, I think in many ways he was right, as people who are in a powerful position because of fame, money or other reasons, seem to be allowed more range in the behavior that is considered “acceptable” than those of us who are not so rich or powerful. Their power over other’s lives, finances, and emotions I think is what feeds their egos and their sense of entitlement to “control” others. Those of the human race who are not high in psychopathic and narcissistic traits don’t usually consider “control over others” to be a stand-alone motive to use, abuse and manipulate other’s lives for their own joy. That being said, it is difficult for us to see this as a viable motive in others who do have the psychopathic traits.
Detecting the covert psychopath in their “natural habit” becomes a necessary survival skill to minimize the damage that they can do to us. Whether their natural habitat is in the school room, the board room, the court room, the dining room, or the bedroom, we need to watch for the signs of deception and signs of lack of empathy, even the very subtle signs that these people have an ulterior motive in their interactions with us and/or others. We need to listen to our “guts” and our “intuition” and to validate this information ourselves, rather than doubt ourselves. Even if no one else on earth thinks that what “John is doing” is pathological, we need to have the self-awareness to watch out for ourselves if we spot a “red flag” of pathological behavior or attitude in someone.
To answer my best friend’s question again, I think I would add, “No, I am not labeling everyone who is a jerk a psychopath, but I am no longer excusing bad behavior on anyone’s part. I am keeping my eyes open for signs of people without moral compasses and I am distancing myself from them as far as I can.”