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What You Can Do
The text below is excerpted from Chapter 13 (pp 207-218) of Dare's Without Conscience, entitled "A Survival Guide". It is not meant to supplant his text and you really should buy Dr. Dare's book if you haven't already read it. We are mainly concerned here with dealing effectively with the Ps we already are afflicted with, not with how to avoid new Ps, which you can learn more about by reading Without Conscience. This is to serve as an introduction to dealing with Ps for those who haven't yet read Dr. Dare's book, and as a convenient reminder for those who have.
- Know what you are dealing with. This sounds easy but in fact can be very difficult ... all the reading in the world cannot protect you from the devastating effects of psychopaths. Everyone, including the experts, can be taken in, manipulated, conned, and left bewildered by them. A good psychopath can play a concerto on anyone's heartstrings.
Psychopaths are found in every segment of society, and there is a good chance that eventually you will have a painful or humiliating encounter with one. Your best defense is to understand the nature of these human predators.
- Know yourself. Psychopaths are skilled at detecting and ruthlessly exploiting your weak spots, at finding the right buttons to press. Your best defense is to understand what your weak spots are and to be extremely wary of anyone who zeros in on them. Judge such people more critically than you do those who do not seem to be aware of, or catering to, your vulnerabilities. (note: this is from Dare's advice on protecting yourself against meeting new Ps, but "Know Yourself" is good advice too for defense against the P or Ps you already know, so that you will recognize when you are being manipulated).
- Obtain professional advice. Typical is a telephone call I received from a woman in Maine who had read a newspaper article about my work and was convinced that her husband perfectly matched the profile of psychopathy outlined in the article. From what she told me about him it appeared that she might very well have been right. For more than ten years she had been trying to get professional help, starting with her family doctor and moving through a succession of psychologists and psychiatrists, all to no avail. The problem was that her husband always put on such a good show that her account of things was seldom believed. None of these clinicians could see beyond the husband's charming and convincing display. The poor woman began to believe that she was the real problem.
- Don't blame yourself. Whatever the reasons for your involvement with a psychopath, it is important that you not accept blame for his or her attitudes and behavior.
- Be aware of who the victim is. Psychopaths often give the impression that it is they who are suffering and that it is the victims who are to blame for their misery. But they are suffering a lot less than you are, and for different reasons. Don't waste your sympathy on them; their problems are not in the same league as yours. Theirs stem primarily from not getting what they want, whereas yours result from a physical, emotional, or financial pounding.
- Recognize that you are not alone. (See the homepage. This is the primary purpose of psychopathtracker.com, and we are here to help you deal with your P)
- Be careful about power struggles. Keep in mind that psychopaths have a strong need for psychological and physical control over others. They must be in charge, and they will use charm, intimidation, and violence to ensure their authority. In a power struggle a psychopath will usually focus on winning. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't stand up for your rights, only that it will probably be difficult to do so without risking serious emotional or physical trauma.
In some cases, you may be able to use the psychopath's "win at all costs" philosophy to your advantage. For example, in a local case a woman and her psychopathic ex-husband were engaged in a prolonged and bitter custody dispute over their two children. The lawyer for the woman, realizing that the man was dangerous, was intent on winning, and didn't actually care about the welfare of the children, advised his client to agree to a joint custody arrangement. This is what the husband had wanted all along, and having "won the battle," he lost all interest in the children. Although the lawyer's tactics worked in this case, he ran a great risk of having the man decide to exercise his right of joint custody, with potentially disasterous consequences for the children.
- Set firm ground rules. Although power struggles with a psychopath are risky at best, you may be able to set up some clear ground rules -- both for yourself and for the psychopath -- to make your life easier and begin the difficult transition from victim to a person looking out for yourself. For example, this may mean that you will no longer bail him or her out of trouble, no matter what the circumstances. (note: Dare doesn't discuss it, but some Ps will respect court orders, so you sometimes can establish some ground rules through that venue. Just be careful your court actions don't backfire on you through the fabrications of your P).
- Don't expect dramatic changes. To a large extent, the personalities of psychopaths are "carved in stone." There is little likelihood that anything you do will produce fundamental, sustained changes in how they see themselves or others. They may promise to change and may even show short-term improvements in their behavior, but in most cases you will face years of disappointment if you believe that permanent changes for the better have occurred. Although some psychopaths do "mellow" a bit with age, and as a consequence become somewhat easier to live with, in most cases they remain what they have always been.
- Cut your losses. The psychopath may succeed in shattering your self-confidence and may convince you -- and your friends -- that you are unworthy of his or her time or even that you are "losing it." The more you give in, the more you will be taken advantage of by the psychopath's insatiable appetite for power and control.
Rather than make fruitless attempts to adapt to a hopeless situation -- usually by giving in, accepting your lot in life, or losing your self-identity -- it may be better to recognize that your emotional and physical survival requires that you take charge of your life. This can be a tricky move -- even a dangerous one -- and it requires good professional advice, both clinical and legal.
- Use support groups. By the time your suspicions have led you to seek a diagnosis, you already know that you're in for a very long and bumpy ride. Make sure you have all the emotional support you can muster.
Many organizations and groups are devoted to helping victims of crime to understand and cope with their plight. In most cases the victim learns that he or she is not alone and is able to share experiences with other victims. For example, most urban areas have crisis centers and support groups concerned with domestic violence, emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children, and victim's rights. Depending on the nature of the problem, one or more of these established groups may be of real benefit to you. But what we really need are support groups specifically designed for victims of psychopaths. Perhaps this book will help to encourage the development of such groups. (note: the internet is home to several good psychopath victims' support groups -- see resources for a list -- and psychopathtracker.com is just one more tool to help you deal with Ps).
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