Psychopathic Charm

What’s So Charming About Psychopaths?

One of the first characteristic of psychopathy on the Hare PCL-R is “superficial charm.” I don’t know what deep charm is like as opposed to the superficial kind. But certain aspects of psychopathic charm seems pretty deep to me.

All the essays that warn the public about the dangers involved in a relationship with psychopaths mention the psychopath will “love bomb” you in order to “seduce” you. But I would question that assertion. I have been subject to “love bombing” from very superficial would-be lovers. It turns me off. Those who claim to “love” me after half an hour’s acquaintance are as transparent as they are phony. They are certainly not charming.
What does the psychopath have that is special? The psychopath is truly interested in the object of his attention. He doesn’t put women in a box where every woman is and just sees her as every-woman. He is curious, interested and has penetrating vision that goes right to the core of a person. As a woman who has dated many, many men, I can tell you this is a rare quality.

I think we all need to be seen, I mean, really seen. In the movie The Devil’s Advocate, the protagonist’s wife is swept away by Milton (the devil in disguise) because “We talked, really talked for hours. I hadn’t talked to anyone like that for so long.” Psychopaths see not only your good qualities. We see your warts and blemishes. Nothing is off limits to that searching curiosity.

M.E. Thomas, Confessions of a Sociopath, mentioned this kind of deep understanding in her book.

People always say to be careful not to confuse sex and love, but I think they should be more wary of confusing love and understanding. I can read every word of your soul, become deeply engrossed in the study of it until I’ve comprehended every nuance and detail. But then when I’m done, I’ll discard it as easily as if it were a newspaper, shaking my head at how the ink has stained my fingers gray. My desire to know every layer of you isn’t feigned, but interest isn’t love, and I make no promises of forever. Perhaps I do every so often, but you have no business believing me.

The “discard” occurs when we have learned everything we wanted to know and the person we had focused so intensely upon has nothing left to interest us.


Another example of this is Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Lecter is deeply interested in Clarice Starling. He extracts information about her life in exchange for help in solving the case she is working on. He later tells her he has no plans to kill her. “The world is more interesting with you in it.”

Another aspect to the psychopath’s charm is the ability to draw someone into his/her world. When Kevin Dutton has some friends tweak his amygdala so that he experienced the consciousness of a psychopath for half an hour, he found it a thrilling experience. He said, “If I could bottle it, I would.” The psychopath who is charming someone is saying, subliminally, “come fly with me.” Who would say “no” to such an invitation. Doesn’t everyone want to fly?

The fickleness of psychopaths is often mentioned. I think every new relationship is a mystery to be explored. When our curiosity is finally satisfied, we look for someone new. I don’t think any of it is evilly planned. We don’t intend to seduce you and then leave you. The whole thing is real and spontaneous.
menageAn article by Nozomi Hayase entitled, Lifting the Veil of Psychopathic Intrusion into Everyday Life provided some additional insights which I believe have a great deal of validity:

For psychopaths, relationship is the stage on which they enact their grandiose fantasy. Others are seen as an extension of themselves, as props that can be used. Anyone who comes their way is screened for their ability to perform a role that serves their plot. Their chosen targets become an object of desire and are pursued with great passion. With beam-like attention, they turn the spotlight on the victims. Through mirroring the victims’ positive qualities, predators disarm their prey and bring them under the luminary light of their narcissistic mirror. In this, the victim’s identity is eroded, yet with constant flattery and attention, they feel pumped up and elated.

This internal casting process can be seen as the psychopath launching a parallel persona upon their targets’ identity and then using it as a mask to create a rapport with their target. Yet, this mirroring is not consciously carried out. It is an automatic reflex that happens when they see something they want in others. Also, in some cases, in others’ positive attributes, these self-absorbed individuals see an idealized image of themselves. Like the Greek myth of Narcissus who falls in love with his own reflection in the water and then pines away, this is the effect of psychopaths seeing themselves in another’s reflection that is created by victims favorably responding to idealization and then trying to claim that image for themselves.

blankspaceAs I had said above,we want to know and understand everything about our object. This intense interest and focus is, itself, seductive. Most people are just not all that fascinated by others, despite their supposed capacity for empathy. Perhaps all that empathy makes people assume everyone is so much the same that there is no mystery to explore so they don’t even bother. What I hadn’t understood until I read the above quotation was the presence of narcissism in all that fascination. It makes perfect sense. We are fascinated with ourselves. If we see an other who is mysterious and thrilling, we can have it all.

The “devaluation” begans when

After psychopaths absorb their targets’ good traits, they cannot truly make them their own. There is nothing that can fill their bottomless pit and soon the void starts to grow again. When the initial thrill and excitement of a new target wears off, they get bored. This is the point where those who have been taken in by the charm start to see the mask slipping.

lonelyboredThis suggests that we need the other to be an extension of ourselves but also to be something new. Everyone needs input from outside ourselves. A person who is nothing but an extension of ourselves will ultimately fail to satisfy. Boredom and loneliness are our Achilles Heels. 

Yet, sometimes, we manage to keep a long term relationship.This can happen when we manage to mold someone to our specifications. If we can actually get so far inside of our significant other that s/he become a work of art, we can love hir the way we love our other creations. Of course, s/he retains enough of hir authentic self to keep the game interesting. There is a delicate balance between control and the pursuit of it.


11 thoughts on “Psychopathic Charm

  1. Good article.I have recently wanted to articulate something similar, but I just couldn’t be arsed. Glad to know I don’t have to anymore.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s