Editor’s note: Resource Perspectives features articles written by members of Lovefraud’s Professional Resources Guide.
Gary Cundiff is a marriage and family therapist based in San Diego, California
Through deception and mirroring, the sociopath exerts control
By Gary Cundiff, MFT
Having fallen victim to the very thing I had dedicated my life to protecting others from is my reason for writing. To warn others and feasibly aid some. The inevitable harm from interacting with a sociopath is definitive. For some, years have been spent recovering.
I am a mental health professional with years of experience and education, and yet I still was deceived. This encounter came close to ending my career, my life, my friendships and my marriage. However, God has been faithful in his grace, love and protection. The duration of the encounter was less than a year, from first attack to conclusion. Yet even very limited exposure to the pathological can cause serious damage. I hope to relate what I have learned regarding the sociopath’s and Satan’s schemes and to expose their mode of operation.
Why do some and not others fall prey to these predatory beings? My study of psychology led to a belief that sociopathy and other character disorders were developed primarily from childhood abuse and maltreatment. I do not intend to prove or disprove this theory. My intent is to describe my experience with evil, and how it functioned and found access to my life, the damage it did, and the effort it takes to repair.
The sociopathic relationship involves five phases: Deception, dread, dependency, degradation, and discard. These steps might not encompass all the complex dynamics in the pathological encounter, but they serve as a basis for the victim.
The sociopath selects a target based on the victim’s best and most admirable qualities, with an explicit intent to exploit. Understanding that it was my best attributes that left me vulnerable helped enormously in the healing process.
If someone should judge you, you will know it. If someone tempts, criticizes or verbally attacks you, you will know it. But if someone deceives you, you will not know it, because the very nature of deception is to conceal. Many myths and stigmas are attached to being victimized, such as weakness, naïvete, mental dullness, or rebellion. These axioms are not, however, consistent with the census.
Targeting the best qualities
My personal experience in client/therapist relationships with hundreds of victims of the pathological encounters, over a course of 25 years, has shown me that the very qualities that made them vulnerable are the very qualities commonly held with the highest regard. The common characteristics of the victims I have known include: trust, compassion, forgiveness and generosity—the very attributes that Satan hates—making them natural targets for the sociopathic predator. People fall victim to the deceiver not because of weakness, but as a result of their strengths. Compassion is not a weakness; it is strength. The desire to love and to be loved is a natural human drive.
Whatever the precursors of victimization, the damage inflicted is the fault and responsibility of the one doing the deceiving and plundering.
Everyone becomes vulnerable at some moment in life, possibly as a result of sustained losses, or some crisis. There are many scenarios that may lead to vulnerability. Sociopaths do not discriminate regarding their prey: young, old, race, gender, rich or poor, with one possible exception—the hard-hearted, who are much less likely to show compassion or trust. There is no universal profile of a typical victim. There is only one distinction: the more sensitive and conscientious the victim is, the higher the probability of success. The abuser is always at fault; no one chooses to be harmed.
Sociopaths know if they can get you to accept a single lie, they then can exert some measure of control over you. No one lies better than the sociopaths. There was nothing about Satan’s approach that caused Eve to be suspicious or be seriously alarmed. His approach seemed innocuous, “Let’s have a conversation. I am spiritual too. I am like you.” Satan seldom comes as a dark angel. He doesn’t show up as a coiled snake. Temptation is never ugly, painful or bloody. He may very well come and say, “Let’s have a religious discussion, let’s talk theology. I know God too.”
Everything about the sociopath invites us in, says join me—the voice tone, smile, hypnotic stare—making them the most dangerous predator of all. All the posturing is done to create a false belief of interest and concern. The more pathological, the more rapid and intense the bonding.
Building the disguise
The disguise begins with studying you: your values, interests, beliefs, vision, goals, concerns, and any other information they can glean. From the trivial to the most significant, all is stored away for future use—testing and noting what pushes your buttons, what moves or excites you. Sociopaths are ardent students of human behavior, having spent much of their lives investigating the difference between themselves and the rest of the population.
Using each piece of information, they create the disguise—a mask carefully constructed to look like their prospective target. Flawlessly, they weave a canvas picture of their mark, a tapestry precisely reflecting the brightest, most honorable aspects of your personality, sewing in the most desirable and wanted details, literally stealing your persona, mirroring this image back, without the defects of character, flaws and shortcomings.
The pathological relationship is a one-dimensional interaction. You fall in love with yourself as presented by this reflecting object. The attraction is irresistible. People are attracted to those who are similar to themselves. By transforming themselves into a reflection of their prospective prey, the sociopath becomes the most alluring figure imaginable, and the propensity to trust that person becomes compelling, promising to meet whatever need or want may exist: friend, advisor, mentor, brother, mother, father. This personification is deception at its most radical level. It is interesting to remember that Eve was deceived before she ever sinned.
Sociopathy is one of the most extreme of the pathological disorders. They are empty shells, possessing nothing of value, no guiding principles, no shame, and no righteous principles. Therefore, this emulation of others for sustained periods of time is effortless: no conflict with their own beliefs or interests. They haven’t any, apart from their ruthless, selfish desire for domination.
This one-dimensional mirroring blurs and confuses the boundaries. You lose touch with where you end and where they should begin, creating an enmeshment that quickly suppresses any sign of personal autonomy. However, it is nothing more than an illusion. You experience a sense of oneness like none other. At the emotional center of this connection is intensity never felt before, making the appeal and apprehension addictive. My sociopath bragged of the capacity to leave people feeling extremely loved, describing her energy as a warm blanket of water flowing around them embracing and holding, while locating deep wounds and hurts for future reference, having a clear awareness of what she was doing.
Behind the mirage
The sociopath uses deliberate and premeditated deception. Since Satan himself appears as an angel of light, is it any less imaginable that his emissaries who serve him would be capable of resembling their master? Imitation is the purest form of flattery and the sociopath is an expert. The effects are intoxicating, like finding an oasis in a dry land—the nurturing and understanding you have longed for. You wish to believe, you succumb, and you give in. What could be more seductive than having all of your best attributes reflected back and praised?
But what exists behind this illusion is a savage, a brute beast, the incubus. They hide behind the mirage, assessing and evaluating your every weakness and strength. The sociopath who possesses the blackest heart may appear to be a person of eminent goodness, but one never bothered by shame, full of greed and deceit.
Jeremiah 6:15 refers to God’s punishment of such people. “They dress the wounds of people as though it were not serious. Peace, peace they say when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all: they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen. They will be brought down when I punish them, says the Lord.” This passage is self-explanatory.