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Psychopath and The Abused Woman

I have seen it happen repeatedly during forty years as a psychotherapist/clinical social worker. Intelligent women come to the office suffering from PTSD because they were abused by a violent lover or husband. How is it possible to be blind to the signals that this type of man is dangerous and should be avoided? More than one survivor of abuse has reported that they sensed something was wrong at the start of the relationship but then dismissed their gut reaction to being too critical or sensitive and to not giving the guy a chance. In one case a girlfriend told her to go out on their first date because he was such a nice guy. She went even though she had misgivings. Before she knew it she was in love with him. That was the start of a dark chapter in her life.

According to Author of the book, Sandra Brown, “Women Who Love Psychopaths,” “We can’t prevent what we don’t identify.” Her point is that there are women who become seduced by men who are psychopaths and then suffer abuse. As she points out, male psychopaths outnumber women psychopaths by four to one. So, what is a psychopath?

A Psychopath Is Someone Who:

  • Has a callous unconcern for the feelings of others. They exploit others without any sense of guilt or sorrow.
  • They are emotionally shallow showing a complete lack of guilt for all the harm they cause others. In terms of abuse and domestic violence, this lack of guilt includes harming children.
  • They blame others for events that they caused. To the psychopath, abuse is the fault of his wife and/or child.
  • They project a superficial charm that wins many unsuspecting women over. In other words, they know how to “con” others for their own selfish purpose or profit.
  • Along the same lines they are amazingly selfish, self-centered and unable to love or give to others.
  • It should go without saying that these are people who are capable of great violence.

It needs to be pointed out that not all abusive men are psychopaths. There are many factors that cause men to abuse women and this is just one of them. However, for the psychopath, there is no hope of changing.

Why are some women able to be seduced by the psychopath?

In my experience working with women who survived abuse is that some of them suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder long after having suffered through a childhood marked by violence. In one case, a woman reported that she had seen her mother being pummeled by her father when he was in a drunken state. As she got older he threatened to beat her and was not above cursing her with some of the most vile words imaginable. As she pointed out to me, “This was my family, how was I to know that it’s supposed to be different.” I suspect this carries over into adulthood making it difficult for this and other women to identify an abusive, psychopathic man.

In other cases, studies show that some of the women seduced by psychopaths had never suffered abuse during childhood. Instead, they scored high on empathy and the ability to bond with others. In other words, they openly trust others and harbor few if any suspicions about being hurt. These are the types of characteristics the predatory psychopaths that lure them. In these characteristics, they see possible victims of their exploitation. Of course, it is difficult for most of us to believe people who appear normal can be monsters. Most people want to believe in the basic goodness of all mankind. Unfortunately, this is not true of the psychopath. What is very unsettling about this is that all psychopaths are not in prison. There are what she refers to as “successful psychopaths” who manage to function in society while exploiting others.