Editor’s note: Resource Perspectives features articles written by members of Lovefraud’s Professional Resources Guide.
Sarah Strudwick, based in the UK, is author of Dark Souls—Healing and recovering from toxic relationships.
Who is the fool?
By Sarah Strudwick
A normal empathic individual will do their utmost to understand a psychopath, especially if they have no idea the person is a psychopath or has a personality disorder in the first place.
Throughout the ages most people have had a fascination with evil, so when we suddenly find ourselves coming across someone who ticks all the boxes when it comes to behaving like the Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, or even the devil themselves, we are left with a reality check: Do these psychopathic individuals really mean what they are saying? Are they just joking when they say things like, “I want to kill or hurt someone?” We think to ourselves, “Surely they can’t be serious,” “They really can’t be that evil.” We question, “Why would they do such strange things?”
When it comes to their crazy making behaviour, e.g. playing mind games and gaslighting, unless you have had the lovely misfortune of having met a psychopath or had a relationship with one, most people don’t actually know what has hit them until it’s too late. For those that don’t know what gaslighting is, it is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The sole aim is to make the victim of the gaslighting behaviour end up thinking they are crazy. Usually the person doing it is crazy themselves, and it can also involve verbal projection, whereby they use creative means to project their own insanity onto the victims.
Recently I met a person who decided to do a bit of gaslighting on me. Fortunately, they didn’t know I had written a book about it, and they thought they had spotted the little red neon flashing sign above my head that says, “Come and get me.” They decided to play a few little mind games on me, trying to make me think I had lost my marbles, or that my memory was failing me. Had I not known about gaslighting or written Dark Souls, I would have come out thinking I was starting to lose my mind. It was done in a very insidious way, and involved lots of projection and moving stuff around. However, the fact was that I knew straight away what they were doing, becoming immediately aware of their games, they weren’t able to have any hold on me.
Trying to understand
Having spent much of my life around crazy people and thinking I was crazy myself, wasting time and energy trying to “understand” them, I have come to a realisation as to why we as victims may be so fascinated by them. It’s usually because of the cognitive dissonance that reminds us that underneath all people must be good. This does not apply to a psychopath, and is one of the reasons people are so fascinated with them.
Claudia Moscovici talks about the psycopath as Evil Jokers (The Dark Knight and other psychopathic characters). Remember the psychopathic person is all about mind games and winning, and without a willing fool to play games with, they will soon move on to another willing victim. Psychopaths are known for experiencing great pleasure at hurting and playing games with their victims.
But who is the fool really?
The psychopath sees the victim as a fool, an idiot, prey, a target that they can use and abuse. They hide behind a mask, thinking they are invisible in their disguise and that victims cannot spot them. If you have a history of abuse, the psychopath has an innate ability to home in on victims, but many victims learn how to spot a psychopath more readily if they have already been victimised.
No more fascination
Once victims empower themselves and uncover the mask of insanity, and we learn why and how they do things, we no longer have a fascination with trying to “understand” them. We no longer want to help them by being dependent enablers, or figure out why they do evil things.
The victim understands that evil is not some glamourous, fictitious Hollywood character from a horror movie, whose sole modus operandi is to exploit and manipulate, who is trying to create a false persona so that we believe them to be something they are not. We understand that under the facade of the psychopathic personality they are hard wired to be different. We stop playing into their hands and we see them for the fools that they really are.
Once we educate ourselves, the fascination with evil suddenly dissolves from being a unhealthy obsession for what appeared to be the charismatic, macabre, charmer who we stupidly think “accidentally” does bad things to good people, to a more surreal kind of character that no holds glamour or real appeal. Since the psychopath lacks empathy, and without willing players, it becomes a game of solitaire for both the abuser and abused. They may be evil, but the other three-dimensional attributes, such as empathy, kindness, charm and charisma, that we gave to them, start to slip away.
Once the joker exposes himself as the true trickster he really is, they are unable to play their games anymore. As their house of cards starts to fall around them they reveal themselves as nothing more than a cardboard cutout, hiding in the pack and the joke is then firmly on them.