Every day I work with some of the worst of mankind; killers, rapists, molesters, etc. Most of these individuals easily fit into the category of psychopaths or sociopaths. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, the difference mostly comes down to nature versus nurture.
Psychopaths are thought to be born that way. Their traits are more innate and often have underdeveloped parts of the brain that influence emotions such as empathy. Sociopaths on the other hand tend to be the result of their upbringing and environment. Both are covered in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders under Antisocial Personality Disorder.
Not everyone with Antisocial Personality Disorder ends up being a criminal. Studies show that many leaders, CEOs and medical doctors have Antisocial Personality Disorder. In some ways, it is what makes them able to do their jobs so well. However, many career criminals, especially does engaged in some of the most violent and heinous crimes, do fall under the constructs of psychopaths or sociopaths.
A common and what I consider to be the most dangerous trait that most of these individuals possess is the ability to appear perfectly “normal”.
They are not the creepy, easily recognizable monsters we would like to believe they are. They don’t look scary. They don’t cause us to cross the street when we come across them on the sidewalk.
They are the guy next door we see every day and says hello, yet he’s got death bodies hidden in his apartment (Jeffrey Dahmer). They are the charismatic friend we never could imagine is going out raping and killing women (Ted Bundy). They are the neighbor who dresses up like a clown and entertains the kids, yet is killing and torturing young boys (John Wayne Gacy).
They are the people you could never imagine had such violent tendencies and could carry out such devious acts because they act so “normal” and blend in with the rest of society so well. Many not only appear harmless, but also appear weak.
Watching a documentary on Jeffery Dahmer, one person interviewed commented that when he first met Dahmer, he found him unassuming and thought to himself that his seventeen-year-old son could easily beat him up, yet Dahmer successful drugged, sexually assaulted and killed seventeen males.
Ted Bundy often put his arm in a sling and put on a facade making himself appear harmless and handicap, that’s as if his relatively good looks and charm weren’t enough to lower his victims defenses.
I’ve spoken to a man who attacked two women with an axe, brutally killing one, yet he portrayed himself to me and others as barely able to walk and incapable of moving as fast as the blitz attack he was later convicted of committing called for.
Another man I spoke to killed his wife, dismembered and discarded her body, yet during our interview who portrayed himself as being fragile and sick with mobility issues. Many of the healthcare staff who came in contact with him commented on how they felt sorry for him, that he was so weak and needy that they couldn’t imagine him hurting a fly.
And that’s how psychopaths and sociopaths get you. You think they are harmless, your guard is down and then they hit you in the back of the head and stuff you in the trunk of their car, or the back of their van.
I recently spoke to a serial rapist who, once again presented himself to me as being emotionally weak, compliant and an overall nice guy, yet he has attacked, abducted, beat and raped women in his van. He is a good-looking young man, that with his charm and apparent mild-mannered disposition allowed him to meet women who had no idea they were putting their lives in the hands of a monster.
I’m not saying you can’t trust people, but what I am saying is to listen to your gut. Society has slowly been pushing us as to ignore our natural instincts that say “something isn’t right here”, and that ignoring our natural instincts can make us easy targets for people to victimize us and not just rapist and killers, but those who are less deviant such con-artist and scammers.
The person who could have ended up being Jeffrey Dahmer’s next victim, felt like something wasn’t right when Dahmer had him back at his apartment and wanted to take pictures of him handcuffed and lying face down on the bed. This person found an opportunity to leave and this saved his life and ended Dahmer’s killing streak. How many other of his 17 victims also felt like something wasn’t right, but overrode their innate warning system and told themselves nothing bad was going to happen.
Not that this totally summarizes my point nor do I necessarily agree with everything said in this clip, but listen to what Saundra Bullocks character says in this clip from the movie Crash about ignoring her gut. Some things can not be avoided, but from my research, individuals like psychopaths and sociopaths are counting on us to ignore our innate instincts in order to become their next victims.
I had never heard of the term gas-lighting until I was in a tumultuous relationship with a woman with borderline personality order who accused me of gas-lighting. At the time I asked her what it meant and she told me to look it up, so I did and the more I read about it and researched it, the more I realized she was the gas-lighter and I was the one being gas-lighted!
What Is Gas-lighting?
Gas-lighting is a deceptive and insidious form of control and manipulation. The name comes for the 1938 play, Gas Light. People who are being gas-lighted are deceived into doubting what they know to be true through the use of false information. These victims end up doubting their memories, feelings, perceptions and nearly everything about themselves, including their own sanity. Overtime, the gas-lighter’s manipulation tactics become more complex making it harder for the victim to recognize and avoid. If this sounds like psychological warfare, that’s because it is.
Gas-lighting is most common and noticeable in intimate relationships, but they can happen in professional relationships as well. Gas-lighters are usually charming at first and often have personality disorders such as narcissism or borderline. Many sociopaths and addicts are skilled gas-lighters as well.
Gas-lighters attack their victims most sensitive areas: their sense of identity and self-worth. Through my research and interviews with clients who were in toxic relationships, I found that it was common for gas-lighters to show one face to their victim and another to the rest of the world, making it hard for their victim to reach out to others in fear that no one will believe them.
In it’s most basic form, gas-lighting can be seen as projection taken to it’s highest level. The gas-lighter needs to create a certain reality by attempting to shape the reality of the person being gas-lighted. They will change facts in-order to create a new narrative more suitable for themselves and disregard their victims reality.
Gas-Lighting Can Be Used To Manipulate A Whole Society
Gas-lighting not only happens in day to day relationships, but historically has and is happening in a greater context. Think about how the narrative around Thanksgiving downplays the genocide of Native Americans, or how many American History books brush over the horrific slavery of and treatment of African Americans. Cultural appropriation and white-washing are both ways experiences and realities of others are overwritten, manipulated and downplayed. It happens so much in our society through the use of media and stereotypes that’s it’s not easily recognized, but is just as damaging to those who are the victims of gas-lighting.
I once read a book called Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, that in many ways detailed how American Society has been gas-lighted to perceive African Americans a certain way.
My Personal Experience
One example from my personal situation is that the person I was dating continuously disrespected our relationship by flirting with other guys. Even other people who knew us would come and tell me and it became embarrassing. When I would talk to her about it she would accuse me of being insecure, other people of manipulating me and accusing me of looking at other women.
It got so bad that I started questioning if I was insecure, if other people were trying to sabotage our relationship and although I had never been accused of having wandering eyes before, I started to doubt that as well. I started becoming more aware of my behavior and attempting to never even look in another woman’s direction. I started becoming paranoid and questioning things my friends were telling me about her. I started to doubt myself so much that I became oblivious to the ways she was continuously and increasingly disrespecting me and our relationship.
That’s what gas-lighting does. It makes you start questioning your own reality to the point where you don’t trust what you know to be true.
How I ended up overcoming this was through some deep introspection and awareness. First, thanks to her accusing me of gas-lighting (the gas-lighter often accuses their victim of being the gas-lightee), I became aware that I was actually being psychologically manipulated.
I had to regain trust in my own sense of self and judgement and realize that I wasn’t crazy and that my eyes and heart weren’t deceiving me. I had to find a way to separate myself from her and see the truth for what it was and once I did that, it was like someone had turned the lights on in a dark room and allowed me to see everything. I had to take back my power and it’s then when I decided to leave because I knew she wasn’t going to change and the new “woke” me, couldn’t stay in that toxic relationship and keep my sanity.
Despite the fact that I knew I had to leave, it still took multiple attempts before I was able to walk away for good. Toxic relationships are usually hard to leave and take several attempts. During that time I did reach out to friends for support and I continued to read articles and books that opened my eyes and made me strong enough to eventually leave for good.
With the holiday season in full effect, a lot of people will be feeling anxious, depressed and/or lonely. Some will feel like they have no one to talk to. I’ve attached a list of some important numbers that I hope will help anyone who feels the need to reach out this and any time of the year.
***TRIGGER WARNING- This article contains information about suicide which may be upsetting to some people. If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide please call your local suicide hotline or visit http://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/
Suicide sucks. Plan and simple. It always seems to hit us when we least expect it and it always hurts. It doesn’t matter the age, the circumstance. It always feel like a life was taking before its time.
The last half of 2018 has been a helluva time for me. Over the past 6 months I have dealt with the deaths of five people who were either directly or indirectly under my care. One died of an accidental heroin overdose, the other four were suicides by hanging.
I have seen CPR performed heroically and tirelessly, but in vain on two of those deaths and it is an indescribable feeling to see someone I knew, someone I had spoken to earlier that day, laying on the ground motionless. Someone so young (one was in her twenties, the other in her thirties) and so full of life at one point, now lifeless.
Suicide is an unfortunate evil we have to deal with in the mental health field. My current job puts me in the role of dealing with suicidal patients all day long.
I am used to dealing with suicidal patients, even patients who attempt suicide or self-injure, but I am and never will be used to dealing with completed suicides. I take each death personally, even if professionally and ethically my staff and myself did everything we could to prevent it.
Suicide is often an impulsive act. At least one of the suicides appears to have been the result of rage. Suicide is often thought of as anger turned inward.
Suicide sometimes builds overtime and is the result of unbearable psyche pain. Three of the suicides, at least on the surface, appear to have been thought out. One woman was grieving over the loss of her sister and blaming herself for her sisters death. She was filled with depression and guilt she found insufferable. Another man was facing a lengthy prison sentence and decided he would rather die than go back to prison and spent years locked away. He was the only one who left a suicide letter behind. It was obviously something he had given some thought to.
Suicide, as we have seen too often lately, is sometimes the result of bullying, which appears to have been the case in the last suicide and another serious suicide attempt a couple of weeks after that one. Adults in correctional settings who are exposed to bullying are at high risk for suicide.
There weren’t any obvious warning signs that could have prevented any of these deaths. Accept for the accidental heroin overdose, these individuals seemed to have been determined, in those moments, to end their lives. I wish I could have saved them. I wish I could have saved them all. I cried after each of those suicides because I knew those individuals, maybe not terribly intimately, but as close as you can professionally under these circumstances.
I even thought about resigning because I felt like we failed them although multiple internal and external reviews showed that we did not. However, I know that for these five lives lost, there a countless numbers of suicides we have prevented. And that’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps us all going.
When it comes to changes, most of us want to make big changes and see big results almost instantly. That’s why so many New Years resolutions and even regular goals fail. We only see the big picture and often get lost in all the effort it will take to see those changes.
What we should do however is focus on the little things. If we want to lose 30 pounds we can go on a crash diet that may work for a while only to see those 30 pounds plus some come back when we stop the diet, or we can start small by reaching for a glass of water instead of that soft drink, walking for 10 mins a day or adding more vegetables to our next meal instead of foods high in carbs.
If we want to save money we can get frustrated with the amount we want to save and how little extra money we feel like we have to put towards that savings, or we can decide to put away an extra $10 here or there, to cancel that subscription to Spotify or to start bringing our lunch to work or cooking at home to save money.
In both scenarios, before you know it, because it didn’t take an extraordinarily amount of effort, you will be inching towards your goals and likely will have found the motivation to increase your efforts, even more.
Think about the stories we hear of successful basketball players like Kobe Bryant who spend hours in the gym shooting free throws or three pointers just so when they make the “big shot” in the game it’s really just a series of small things that have come together.
Recently I watched a documentary on body builder and 8 time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman. For years he competed, but never won the Mr. Olympia title until one night, just before the show, with hesitancy, but with the urgency of another body builder, broke his routine. He was encouraged to relax, to have a drink and even eat some pizza. He was simply encouraged to not be so serious. The next morning he woke up and won the Mr. Olympia for the first time and he said he believes it was because he was so relaxed and allowed himself to have fun. Something so small ended up changing his life.
We all have changes we want to make and many people do not make those changes because they get lost in the totality of it all. Start small, put one foot forward and then the next. Before you know it you will have reached a goal you may have thought impossible or at least have gotten yourself further than you ever thought you could.
“You gotta be mature enough to understand that you have some toxic traits too. It’s not always the other person”. -Word Porn
I read this post the other day on Facebook and thought it to be one of the truest statements I have ever read. Too often in relationships, no matter if it’s personal relationships, familial relationships or romantic relationships, it’s easy to place all the blame for the dysfunction that goes on in that relationship on other people. It’s natural. It’s much easier to say that someone else is the cause of our unhappiness, the chaos that sometimes happens in relationships or the failure of a relationship than it is to be introspective and look at ourselves. It’s much less painful to put the blame on the other person than it is to admit our responsibility in why things are the way they are.
If you ask anyone in a relationship that failed or became extremely dysfunctional, they can easily tell you what the other person did wrong, but we all know that it takes two people to make a relationship work and so unless the other person was a complete narcissist or sociopath (and even then the other person usually still plays a role in maintaining the dysfunction of the relationship), we have to see both sides of the coin if we are going to come out of the relationship better and healthier than before.
When I think back to many of my past relationships that went south, I can easily name a dozen things the other person did to help drive our relationship off the cliff. I can tell you how they were selfish, inconsiderate, detached, mean, controlling and took me for granted. However, if you ask them, I am sure they can just as easily name a dozen things I did that were not supportive of a healthy relationship. What’s more important is that we discover for ourselves what we did to hinder those relationships (or maintain the dysfunction and toxicity) so that we don’t carry them into our future relationship and more importantly so that we can grow and change whatever qualities about ourselves that are holding us back and putting us in these toxic situations.
Thinking about my past relationships, I can spew out all the toxic qualities she had, but in reality, but what I know about myself is that I was codependent, at times insecure, controlling, neurotic, enabling and possibly lazy when it came to a number of things that eventually would have put a strain on even the healthiest relationship. I maintained much of the dysfunction in our relationship and kept it toxic because of my toxic qualities. At the very less I should have walked away before it became so engulfing and before bitterness and resentment on both sides set in.
If I go around, only seeing the things the other people did to screw up our relationship, then I will most definitely repeat the same pattern in future relationships and wonder why they too did not work out, or why I became so miserable in the relationship, yet stayed because I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all (a line from a Three Grace Song “Pain”, but also something I have come to realize to be painfully true about myself).
Too many of us do that. As a therapist, I often hear people complain about the same issues in their last relationship or even job. They think, they will just leave this person or that company and things will be better. Some even change physical locations such as the state and city they live in thinking that this will solve the problem, but a large part of the problem is within them and they take themselves wherever they go so they are likely to continue to repeat the same pattern regardless of who they are with or where they are unless they themselves change.
For instance, a woman whose last three relationships ended because the other person cheated may come to the conclusion that monogamy, trust and honesty are all dead and there are no good, faithful people out there.
In reality, she may be subconsciously choosing individuals with a certain trait or creating environments that are conducive to increasing the chances of someone being unfaithful.
Think about it, if she met her last three partners while they were in relationships with other people and she “stole” them away, she can’t be too surprised if that person later ends up being “stolen” away by someone else.
The same is true if she met someone who gave her reasons to doubt their loyalty in the beginning, but she thought she could “change them” only to realize later that she doesn’t have the power to change anyone. It’s a lot easier to just blame those individuals for being who they are and ruining the relationship instead of accepting that she herself has some flaws she needs to investigate.
Often we sabotage ourselves. Somewhere, somehow we may get a notion that all people suck so we subconsciously go out and seek relationships with people we know suck so that we can validate our notion.
We may rush into relationships and create an image about a person that they can’t possibly live up to and feel cheated or let down when they don’t, or they may feel so much pressure and/or smothering that they leave and we justified that by saying that we weren’t good enough or “everyone always leaves me”.
I once dated a woman who thought that everyone always abandoned her, including family, friends and romantic partners. During our relationship she did a number of things attempting to push me away, testing my loyalty and durability and I fought hard to prove to her that I was different than everyone else, but the harder I tried, the harder she pushed and in the end, we both were miserably, unhappy, and resentful. Her personality traits match up well with my codependent personality traits and created a toxic, dysfunctional relationship that lasted way too long.
The same issues in different ways can happen at work. Many of us spend more time at work and with our co-workers then we do with the people we live with, love and/or are in intimate relationships with.
Work can often feel like being in not only a toxic environment, but a toxic relationship. Sometimes we stay in a job we hate too long and become resentful, or we give so much of ourselves at work that we feel used and unappreciated, yet we still show up and won’t look for another place of employment. We may feel stuck there just like we may feel stuck in a relationship. We can blame everything on our employer or co-workers, but that won’t change anything. What will change everything is when we take responsibility for what it is that is keeping us there. It could be our refusal to look for another job, to stand up to a certain person, to demand what we know we deserve or to look for opportunities for advancement because of our fears that we aren’t good enough or don’t deserve better.
The bottom line is, nothing positive will happen for us if we don’t recognize the qualities about ourselves that need to be worked on. We can blame everyone else for the things that make us unhappy, but nothing will change unless we recognize our flaws, as uncomfortable and painful as they may be to admit to ourselves and change them.