Years ago, I rented a car and drove over a mountain pass to pick up the psychopath and his minion from his job site. On the drive back home, I chose a different mountain pass because it was shorter. This 400-mile scenic highway climbs through some perilous stretches of hairpin turns and steep drop-offs. I knew it would be a white knuckle drive. At each twist and turn, with every oncoming car, I imagined us careening over the cliff.
Psychopath rode shotgun while Minion sat behind him in the backseat. In my rear view mirror I could see Minion’s eyes and he could see mine. Psychopath gave no indication that he was anxious but in my peripheral vision I could see his right hand on the door’s hand rest. As we approached each turn, he would grip the handle tighter and then he’d relax his grip when we’d made it past. I knew he disliked not being in control. Minion commented on the dangerous curves and I mentioned that I could see Psychopath tightening his grip at every turn. Minion replied, “Wow, you must have really good peripheral vision because I’ve been watching your eyes in the mirror and you haven’t taken them off the road once.”
I have no doubt that living with a psychopath for 25 years has trained my peripheral vision. Instinctively, I had developed a habit of not looking at his face but still watching for movement from the corner of my eye.
Psychopaths Need Attention — Please Don’t Feed the Psychopaths
Peripheral vision is an important tool for observing a psychopath, both in the literal sense and figuratively speaking. This is because the psychopath never stops lying. He never stops performing his scripts, as long as he thinks he has an audience.
Peripheral vision allows you to observe without giving him the attention that he desperately requires in order to prey on his victims. This pathological desire for constant attention serves his narcissistic need for supply. Without attention, he has no one to perform for, nobody to exert his will over, nobody to con and manipulate.
A psychopath tailors his performances to mirror his victims. He becomes whatever you need him to be.
Because he lacks a nervous response, he can put on the most convincing act you’ve ever seen. When you’re observing his performance, you don’t just watch, you FEEL what he wants you to feel.
Psychopath used to rage if I didn’t look at him while he was talking. “LOOK AT ME WHEN I TALK TO YOU!” he demanded. “If you look away, I’ll start over from the beginning!” Then he would start over, very slowly, dragging out some convoluted explanation, as my eyes glazed over with boredom.
Without your undivided attention he can’t pull his con. His lies are powerless if you aren’t listening. He has to be able to watch your every micro-expression so he can tailor his mask to your reactions. Psychopaths are obsessed with observing and understanding our facial expressions. Our facial expressions tell them whom to envy, so they can choose their next prey. Facial expressions validate that they have successfully accessed our emotions and hooked us in their games. Finally, our facial expressions tell them when they’ve won the game as we stare in shock and awe after they’ve pulled the rug out from under us. By not giving them our attention, we deprive them of the feedback they need to play us.
Why We Believe the Psychopaths’ Lies
I watched the Psychopath lie to everyone he ever met. It boggled my mind but he explained why he lied. He explained that most people are vicious and will eventually turn on you for no reason, so his lies were simply preemptive protective measures. I trusted that, with Psychopath’s vast experience and superior understand of people, he must be right. I also believed that he trusted me, knew that I loved him and therefore, he had no reason to lie to me. So I believed he didn’t lie to me. Of course I was in deep cognitive-dissonance and denial because I had heard him lie to me many times. Yet, I still believed.
There are several reasons why I believed his lies. First, I had never imagined that anyone could lie ALL THE TIME. So if I didn’t have absolute proof of a lie, I believed it must be the truth. But on the contrary, psychopaths never stop deceiving, it is their nature.
Secondly, there was no reason to lie to me. None that I could imagine. If he was lying to protect himself then he didn’t have to lie to me. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to hurt him. But of course, he knows his intent to harm others will likely be met with a desire for vengeance. His lies were not preemptive defense tactics against enmity, they were his exit strategy.
The third reason that I believed his lies was because when he lies, he performs with his entire body. Every phony expression, every practiced movement, testifies to the veracity of his statements. He has no nervous response that would betray him.
I’ll never forget the day I realized he was trying to take possession of my business accounts. My mind immediately recalled the previous day when he had taken me into his arms and said, “Honey, I LOVE you!” It felt so real, the acting was superb. But a 180° change of heart doesn’t happen overnight, so I realized then, that his declaration of love had been a sinister lie.
Since that day, I have observed many psychopaths lying audaciously to me. I knew they were lying, but they seem so real, my emotions responded to them as if they were telling the truth, even though I knew they weren’t.
Our Empathy Makes Us Vulnerable to the Performance
When we pay attention to a psychopath, it triggers their performance: facial expressions and body language coupled with a stupendous lie. With each performance, his facade is fleshed out and solidified in your mind because human beings are not expecting to interact with two-dimensional cartoon characters. We expect to find three-dimensional human beings like ourselves.
Figuratively speaking, we can think of peripheral vision as a way to allow the psychopath to turn his focus on another victim while we observe the show from a different angle. As he is performing for the new victim, he must turn to face his new victim so he can mirror them. From this angle we can see that he has all the depth of a thin mirror or a paper cut-out of a human being.
Finally, we must keep at the forefront of our minds the thinness we’ve seen because when the psychopath mirror turns again to face us, he will magically appear three-dimensional once more. If you have the audacity to question the depth of his being, the psychopath will use charm, pity or rage to convince you that you didn’t see things correctly, you’re crazy or just dumb. Of course he’s a fully dimensional human being, he will tell you. Can’t you see that now? With his rational explanations and his Oscar winning performance, you just have to believe him.
If you find yourself faced with a dramatic performance, I recommend you turn away and only observe with your peripheral vision. Let the drama queen perform for someone else while you take notes.