By: Linda Hartoonian Almas, M.S. Ed
When dealing with psychopaths, or individuals with psychopathic features, nothing is as it seems to the naked eye. When in relationships with psychopathic individuals, the non-psychopaths bear the brunt of great responsibility, both real and perceived. After all, the “normals” really are left carrying the loads and picking up the pieces when the psychopaths are tired of playing the games that they initiated. However, the blame or burden they attempt to place on us, while accepting none for themselves, is not legitimate and we should not internalize it. Our actions and behaviors have little or nothing to do with the outcomes of their choices, even if they, for a time, have us believing otherwise.
While I generally feel that we are largely responsible for our own lives and have a fair amount of control over our own destinies, there is no question that when we interact closely with psychopaths, these notions may change. Our playing fields are far from level, altering everything we thought we knew about interpersonal communication and human behavior. In short, we are left reeling because we tend to assume that everyone is normal, or at least not psychopathic, and we act accordingly. We continue on this path until we gain an accurate understanding of how psychopaths function. Once we process and accept what we know, we give ourselves a tremendous gift; understanding. While we cannot change them and we come to know that, this understanding allows us to alter our behaviors, thus eliminating their power and control.
Pick and choose
For me, few questions remain about their behaviors or how to react to them. Almost twenty years’ experience—a combination of personal, professional, and academic—have brought me to this place. However, from time to time, I occasionally find myself pondering how they pick and choose which rules to follow.
At first, I felt the answer was obvious. It would seem that, like anything else they do, the answer would lie in the payoff. Perhaps it does. Given their lack of insight and inability to engage in any actual long term planning, it may be that simple. Nonetheless, the topic has caused me to give pause.
I am able to comprehend that they feel that the rules governing the rest of society simply do not apply to them. I am also able to understand that they have only limited regard for consequences. Furthermore, I realize that they tend to think mainly in the short term, and acknowledge that their desire for immediate gratification may override all else. But is there more; is there some form of rhyme or reason to their compliance or lack thereof?
For example, let’s examine financial obligations, since this tends to be a common area of non-compliance and general mismanagement. Let’s take this scenario one step further, and discuss court ordered financial obligations. In spite of the court system attaching a certain level of importance to these obligations, it is not uncommon for psychopathic individuals, or those with such features, to treat these orders as SUGGESTIONS. Why?
As with anything anyone does, there could be a multitude of reasons. However, psychopaths’ motivations may be more sinister than ours. It is clear that they have no problem insulting the integrity of the courts, but it is likely that this goes much further. Below, are some possible reasons.
Possible Reasons for Non-Compliance:
1. They may want those they owe to “suffer.”
2. They may be engaging in “payback” for something they perceive was done to them. Remember, they see themselves as the actual victims much of the time.
3. They may be attempting to stir the drama pot and elicit reactions or engagements, instigate arguments, or create circular, dead-end “back and forths” over their wrongdoing.
4. They may be attempting to bring out “bad behaviors” so that they look “right” or “justified” in their actions.
5. They may be attempting to frustrate, wear down, or harm financially, emotionally, or otherwise.
6. They may be attempting to exercise power and control over the situation.
7. They may be looking for pity, especially if they have a “good” reason (but you know better) as to why they are unable to pay.
8. They may want those they owe to internalize their wrongdoings, and accept blame. For example, “Had I not (fill in the blank,) I would be getting paid.”
9. They may simply be taking risks, with or without regard for any potential consequences. These risks may be calculated, planned, and enjoyable to them, or they may not give them a second thought.
10. They may simply feel that they have better things to spend “their” money on.
This list is, by no means, exhaustive. As I write, I can think of several more possibilities. Additionally, much of this list is not exclusive to financial choices. It could apply to many different sets of rules or norms. The important thing to remember, regardless of their motivations, is this; these choices are theirs, not ours. The rules and structure that govern society have spoken and in spite of what they decide, very real consequences could come their way in situations regarding such non-compliance or compliance on their terms.
So, how or why do they choose to follow some rules and not others? That is not something for which I can offer an absolute answer. This topic comes with many variables. We each probably hold some very solid theories, in addition to the ones I provided.
What I can offer is that I know it is our responsibility to utilize the gifts we gave (or are in the process of giving) ourselves and employ our knowledge. We must pull strength from our understanding and control ourselves, because reasoning with the unreasonable or attempting to work with those who wish to harm us is fruitless. It is a process that takes practice and persistence, but when we do this, we render them powerless regardless of their actions and choices.
Linda Hartoonian Almas has a Master’s Degree in Learning and Behavior. She is former a police officer who had her own run-in with a psychopath. She lectures on domestic violence and is a contributing author of a presentation on psychopathy in the family court system.