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Penn State’s Fall From Grace. — 79 Comments

  1. Sklar,

    Thanks for wading through your own cog/dis to complete this wonderful article!

    It is amazing, and not surprising when you understand psychopathy, that entire nations have been led to brutalize and scapegoat masses of other people. Psychopaths use the same manipulation tactics and lies, whether they are manipulating their girlfriends and kids and bosses, or whole populations.

    I myself experienced the slow erosion of my boundaries and integrity, though not to the degree that I was left overly shamed. But certainly if I had not gotten out when I did I would have lost MUCH more. It was painful and shameful enough to have nearly let go of my values of monogamy, faithfulness, and loyalty…..And I relate, so well, to the use of others’ in positions of power/influence, that are used by the psychopath to provide them ‘cover’, and a facade of ‘normalcy’. The psychopath I knew rode the coat tails of some influential people, and implicated them in his chaos, to the point that they had to defend him, just so they wouldn’t lose too much of their reputation. Afterall, they had him on the cover of one of their books. He also, almost without fail, attached himself to women who were successful, strong, and intelligent.

    I think the most shameful thing for me was exactly what you write about: the use of our own arrogance to manipulate us. I was convinced, and not just in this relationship but as a rule, that I could ‘fix’ anyone. Psychopaths love to find our weaknesses and false beliefs and use them to their advantage. In this case he played off my false belief that I was solely responsible, in any relationship, for how well the relationship was functioning, and everyone’s happiness. Of course, this came from my family dynamics, where I was held responsible for all my family’s dysfunction and my mother’s narcissistic behaviors. My own mother, and other folks in my family, taught me that I would be treated well if I ‘made’ them happy, and ‘loved’ them enough, by forfeiting my own needs and reality for their satisfaction. This resulted in my stubborn and excessive ‘giving’, emotionally/financially/physically. And it drained me on all fronts.

    It wasn’t until my therapist pointed out that it was narcissistic on my part to believe that I was the cause and the cure in all my relationships. Boy was I shocked to hear that! But as I was able to come to terms with my false beliefs about myself and the world, I understood what she was getting at, and I found myself developing a more realistic sense of self-respect and protecting myself with unmovable boundaries.

    Sandusky shows all the classic behaviors of a psychopath and leaves a perfect trail of tears, in the form of slimed victims (both the children, and the adults who colluded). Any of us who have been involved with a ppath understand both sides of this coin, having been both victim, and perhaps manipulated into unwittingly victimizing others’.

    As someone who has been there and done that, I feel compassion for all who have been deeply wounded and shamed.


  2. Hi Slim,
    Although our outrage at the cover up is justified, it’s important to TRY to see the complete picture. When there’s a spath involved, things are never exactly as they seem.

    My experience with spaths has taught me that they can convince anyone to make an exception for them. Before they ever set you up for the pity ploy, they’ve already made you feel like you’ve met the most wonderful, kindest person on earth. How does that mesh with their request for compassion?

    I know that my ex-spath plans things for years in advance, working to set all his chess pieces where they need to be. Sandusky, I believe, did the same thing.

    I read that he wrote a book about football, Linebackers the Penn State Way. And he used all the money from the proceeds to start the Second Mile Charity. Which, now we know had nothing to do with wanting to help disadvantaged children, but was actually a plan to provide him with a source of the most vulnerable victims, as well as the perfect cover and mask.

    This is that part that normal people don’t get: the 180 rule. Who would suspect, or even imagine, that a guy would go to such lengths to feed his pedophilia?

    I know that Paterno and the others never intended to cover for a pedophile. They didn’t wake up one morning and decide to do that. Yet, the psychopath, sensed the weaknesses in them. He exploited their narcissism.

    Like you, Slim, my ex-spath also got me to do things that I never imagined I would do. What surprises me though, is that he never tried to get me to do worse. I know that he convinced others to do awful things, so why didn’t he target me that way? He never got me to hurt anyone else. Did he test a boundary and realize it wouldn’t work? If so I wasn’t aware of it.

  3. Skylar,

    There was a time when I believed, even after I ditched the ppath, that the reason he didn’t manipulate me to do worse was because we had a ‘different’, perhaps more special, relationship. I don’t for one second believe that now. I think they use people to different ends. You were with your spath for so long I don’t wonder that you were truly his front for appearing to be a family man, capable of deep comittment and connection. That must have been very important. And, you were a cash cow, that kept on giving, to provide him with a base of financial stability.

    The guy I knew didn’t have that kind of attention span. Or perhaps he had more co-morbidities, like ADHD. Certainly he suffered from an addiction to sex and perversion. I also see that his narcissism was pretty up front in his character make-up, so he needed ungodly amounts of attention. Never-the-less, he did make other women suffer more than I did. I will never know, exactly, why….but I think it was because I had more $ and he wanted it. He got some of it, then I dumped him when his true colors began to shine through.

    It is very true what you say though. It is hard for most to believe someone would go through such machinations, and create appearances that are opposite their goals. To take years and so many resources to find boys to rape is unfathomable to most. It is so alien to people with empathy many of us simply cannot cross the hurdle of disbelief.

    We continue to look for ‘plausible’ explanations. But, there are none. The only ‘real’ explanation is a total lack of empathy, and a desire to create suffering in others.

    When you said that ppaths goal isn’t winning….it is seeing others lose, you poked the truth square in the eye. Time and again they will forfeit their own sorry lives, even ending up on death row, to create loss and devastation in our lives. I don’t see that they have any more DEEP regard for their own lives than they do their victims. Life is cheap and shallow in their minds.

    All we have to do is look at Hitler, Bundy, Peterson (Drew), Madoff, etc….they didn’t NEED to go to the lengths they did to get out of their marriages (murder), make a living (billion dollar fraud), run a country (genocide), get laid (murder).


  4. Slim, You’re right. He needed me as a cover. I was his front, so I needed to be innocent. It’s what I noticed: he KEPT ME INNOCENT. I was never exposed to the nastiness of humanity. Not until the very end. Mostly I was isolated.

    Sandusky was known for his defensive football strategies. It’s very interesting. I know NOTHING about football. I don’t even know how the rules work except the ball has to be taken to one of the sides to score points. But reading about Sandusky’s genius strategies, I could see one thing: Defensive strategies are not about scoring points, they are about not allowing the other side score any points.

    He coached the defense. The linebackers. This was what made him successful. He knew how to make the other side lose. LOL! interesting. Of course he did!

  5. “… knowing that his superiors would experience cognitive dissonance when they learned that the man they saw as one of their own was an evil predator.”

    This is very disturbing. It seems that psychopaths are “beyond forgiveness”, and maybe they are – at least from our perspective. The psychopath abuses people’s willingness to consider his “goodness” to gain even more power, without remorse it seems. But does this mean that “evil” prevails over “love”?

    • Hi Erik,
      I think that’s a great question. It take me back to an earlier debate I saw on another forum – that most people here also frequent – about the various ways people, both religious and not, view the term ‘forgiveness’. I think the same concepts apply to the terms “goodness”, and “love”.

      BTW – I know that what I’m about to say can be viewed as somewhat heretical by many people these days – so no offence taken if you disagree with it. JMO, is all.

      I tend to believe in the (from what I understand) more Jewish/Christian biblical view of “forgiveness” as being part of the cycle of redemption; that forgiveness requires remorse and repentance on the part of the person who is to be ‘forgiven’, and is part of the larger circle of bringing that person back into healthy community. JMHO, but I think the way we throw the word forgiveness around these days cheapens it.

      I assume Sandusky SAID the right words to convince them that he was remorseful and repentant (in your words “good”). I think Paterno et. al. erred by not following through to ensure that he actually meant it and was prepared to show it by his actions, not just his words. Matter of fact, I think this example is a very good illustration of just why all the steps to redemption (of which forgiveness is only one of several) are necessary.

      I think the only reason Sandusky’s ‘evil’ was allowed to prevail was because what Paterno et. al. actually practiced wasn’t love or forgiveness, but sloth (laziness, lack of appropriate effort) combined with naivety. That’s why education is so important.

      Based on those discussions, I’ve also reconsidered my views on what is “good”, and what constitutes “love”. I used to think that giving people who’d erred slack was the “good” and “loving” thing to do. Now I’m more of the mind that by allowing people to commit bad behaviour without any consequence we are actually rewarding, and thus reinforcing, their bad behaviour over the long term. Taken to its furthest extreme, that’s how we create monsters. Come to think of it, I now believe that rewarding someone for their bad behaviour is pretty much the worst thing you can do to them, if it’s done over the long term. And we have to consider how giving someone slack for bad behaviour *just once* may be part of a bigger long-term pattern for them.

      I’m not sure how we got to the place where we confuse the concepts abuse and unkindness with ‘appropriate consequence’.

      I now believe that, particularly when someone is just starting out on the wrong path, giving them appropriate consequence (given kindly but firmly) is the best definition of “goodness” and “love” I can think of.

      As in “I love you too much to let you get away with thinking that what you did was OK.”

      This article states it better than I ever could: http://whatprivilege.com/how-the-golden-child-upbringing-is-abusive/

      Further to that, I need to put my money where my mouth is, and say that I find it offensive, and harmful, when people casually assign the male gender to discussions of psychopaths (btw, this isn’t a comment on your comment, Erik). For some perspective on how some sociopaths (as opposed to psychopaths) are created, I offer the following (which I just came across today):

      BTW – great article, Sky. As someone else said above, I’m grateful you worked through your cog/diss to get to this.

      • Annie,
        you said it much better than I ever could, thanks!

        I hope I haven’t offended you by using the male pronoun for psychpaths, it’s just shorter. Sometimes I try to substitute “they” but it sounds so clunky.

        Your links definitely show that women are just as capable of being abusive as men are. We could almost say that women can be worse because they will often have more access to children. Furthermore, psychopaths are bullies, they pick on someone weaker than they are. Women will pick on children because they are the weakest most defenseless of all.

        That news story is so sad.

        BTW, my cog dis came from feeling disgusted with the cover up these men perpetrated, yet also understanding how cunning a psychopath is. I’m not sure any of us can say we would or wouldn’t be conned if a psychopath knows our hooks and targets them.

        • Hi Sky,
          No, you absolutely haven’t offended me. I absolutely know that you ‘get it, and I apologize for leaving that possible interpretation
          of what I wrote.

          One thought, and a possible option for people writing about psychopathy, some of the fairest (and best) authors I’ve seen writing about trauma alternate their pronouns – using ‘he’ in one paragraph (for instance) and ‘she’ in the next. And they explain that up front. I now view this as a good signal (a ‘green flag’?) that this is a fair and impartial person because my experience has been that everyone I’ve seen doing this has turned out to be that way over the long term.

      • Hi Annie,

        I’m thinking about this more profoundly now:

        “Now I’m more of the mind that by allowing people to commit bad behaviour without any consequence we are actually rewarding, and thus reinforcing, their bad behaviour over the long term. Taken to its furthest extreme, that’s how we create monsters.”

        I had a conversation with Skylar – thanks Skylar! – about “forgiveness”. Now I tend to think there are two ways of giving in to evil: by giving up on monsters and letting them be who they are (in some far away prison), and by forgiving them “just like that”. I think it’s possible to keep them away from society, but at the same time there could be programs to allow them to become aware of what they’ve done – if ever they will… Certainly, the monster who realizes what kind of person he has become, will normally ask to pay for what he’s done – and even ask to remain in prison! That’s probably a trace of authentic remorse… I think it’s possible to create a “space” wherein people can develop this kind of remorse – if they are willing to accept the gift of that space (a space of grace).

        • Eric,
          Sorry I dropped the ball on our conversation on your blog, I got busy and forgot. I’ll run over there later today and answer your question.

          You won’t find anyone more desirous of finding a cure for psychopaths than those that have been hurt by them. We LOVED them. We tried to love them into a healthy mindset. Their response was to show us how powerless we are by being more evil. They knew exactly what we were trying to do and they were not going to allow it, out of spite, out of a lust for power.

          But right now, there isn’t a cure.

          Psychopathy is caused by a failure to bond with a parental figure at an early age. Learning to love is like learning language. There is a short window in childhood and if it doesn’t happen then, it never will.

          The little girl who was raised in the wild by dogs, only learned a few words and she wasn’t retarded, it was just too late. There were other consequences of not learning language, she doesn’t understand time. Concepts of the past and the future are incomprehensible to her.

          There can be different reasons for a child to fail to bond, it could be genetic, or traumatic or a congenital or chemical or all of them in just the right doses. The consequence is that they become “emotionally retarded”.

          “Fixing them” is considered impossible because they don’t WANT to be fixed. To them, it seems like they are the ones who are right and everyone else needs fixing.

          One would think that you could appeal to their intellect and “show” them how they could be happier by allowing themselves to feel. But it doesn’t work, they are paranoid and suspect you are trying to cause them great pain. And in fact they are right. It’s painful to feel, so they don’t. Then they also can’t feel love.

          The side effects of this are many. By remaining emotionally numb, they can’t really experience life and they feel overwhelmed with anxiety and boredom. Much of their evil behavior stems from that. And the addiction aspect is related to this as well. We might drink or do drugs to quell our anxiety, the psychopath does evil.

          It would take volumes to describe all the details of psychopathy. I’m just trying to give you an overview understanding.

          To put it most succinctly, I would say that it’s as difficult for normal people to relate to what it would be like to be a psychopath, as it is for us to imagine being a paper thin,cardboard cut-out, or a two-dimensional being in a 3 dimensional world. That’s what a psychopath is. The word “shallow” has a very deep meaning.

          Maybe one day we can cure or at least prevent the condition, but for now, no one knows how.

  6. Plus…Skylar, He got so much delight in poisoning your food and making you sick, all those years! That is interesting about being the defensive coach.

    As for evil prevailing over love. Evil, or psychopathy, is a mental syndrome, which disposes one to prey on others. Love is a feeling, followed by an action, a comittment to treat others with tenderness and thought. My ability to love was never prevailed over by the evil of the ppaths I’ve tangled with. I would say, if anything, my ability to love has always prevailed over evil.

    Even so, I surely have suffered at the hands of a few ppaths….but it didn’t kill me (thank goodness).

  7. Erik,
    I don’t think it’s ever wrong to want to love anyone, not even a psychopath. We just need to know when we are exceeding the reach of our responsibility. Most of the time, the psychopath gives clues, there are tests and tells. That’s why we have blogs and discussions, so that people can learn the difference between healthy love and the parasitical false love of psychopaths. It’s like anything else, at first it’s hard, then it becomes almost second nature.

    Even in situations like Ted Bundy, who used the pity ploy with a fake broken leg and crutches, there were probably some clues. He asked for help carrying his books to the car, then clubbed them with the crutch and stuffed them in the trunk.

    In that case, he was probably very charming too. The combo of charm and pity is a huge red flag. The women should have declined to help or asked others to join in helping.

    As far as forgiveness goes, that’s been discussed and disagreed on because it seems that people have different meanings for that word. For me it’s a reconciliation and it requires that the offender be truly sorry.

    God always forgives but He doesn’t force reconciliation on us. He gives a choice to accept or reject Him. Psychopaths reject God and the human race. They don’t want forgiveness, they reject it.

    I do feel compassion for them though. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be so hollow.

    Slim, that’s true, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger! Even our love becomes stronger and more pure when we heal.

  8. Sky,
    That’s such a good article. Especially the bit about how they groom everyone, not just the victims. The 180º rule applies everywhere except in grooming; that they do 360º!

    Makes me realize that it’s not just the victims who need to be educated and warned, it’s everyone who can be a potential stooge. Companies now do 360 evaluations, so paths need to be able to do 360 grooming (not that it’s new behaviour by any means).

    Perhaps we need an article on the red flags of grooming for potential patrons/pawns…

    Another thing to consider re: how they might have been fooled into going along with Sandusky’s story is that, just as most people aren’t ready these days to acknowledge that both men and women can be paths, back in the days this was happening (I don’t know how long ago this all started so I may be incorrect here) no-one was really aware, except peripherally, that boys/men could be victims of SA, or how prevalent or damaging it was. All the movement to acknowledge boys as victims has come, best I can determine, within the last 10 years – most of it within the last 5. Even now we mainly only consider boys as victims of male perps, even though the incidence of female perps (against both boys and girls) is very high.

    That’s what I meant when I refered to naivete, although perhaps I should have used a better word. Not sure how much this applies in this case, but it’s really hard for people to appreciate what’s right under their noses when they’ve barely heard tell of the concepts behind the behaviours they’re seeing. It’s infinitely harder when you simultaneously have an experienced manipulator convincing you that what you saw was black instead of white. It’s human nature to ‘not see’ things that make us uncomfortable. Not sure if I sent you the link re: Judith Hermann’s article on trauma and memory – it describes about how not only the victim but also the abuser AND the bystanders have a certain degree of traumatic amnesia.

    Plus, it’s all well and fine for everyone to yell that they didn’t go to the authorities, but a good deal of the ‘authorities’ even today haven’t exactly got the best track record at prosecuting (or even being concerned about) male victims. Not that that excuses their behaviour, but I think there were probably a whole whack of factors pushing them into sidestepping coming forward with this.

    In audit there is a concept “easy to comply”, meaning that when you are setting policy and procedure you need to make it easy to do the right thing and difficult to do the wrong thing. Anything less tends to mitigate any negative findings. I wonder how much this might have been a factor here? Again, not excusing them, we shouldn’t get a free pass for not doing the right thing because it was ‘difficult’.

  9. Annie,
    that’s just it. I really can’t imagine how he could con these men into covering for him. I just know that he did and the emails about compassion indicate it was through the pity ploy. I’ve read earlier news articles about how Paterno felt about him. He loved him, he couldn’t praise him enough for his talents as a coach and his dedication to family and kids. The cog dis must have been off the charts.

    And I’m sure it happened ever so slowly, over years and decades. Like boiling a frog. How do you train people to be suspicious of everyone? To never let their guard down?

    I know the preacher who died in the helicopter accident was a very good man. Yet he was conned into forging records for my ex and keeping it a secret. Then he died.

    No, no free pass. You’re right about that. It wouldn’t benefit anyone, not even them.

    I don’t think you sent me that link on Judith Hermann’s article on trauma and memory. If you have time, please do send it. I’d be very interested.

    • Sorry to sound sexist here but let’s not forget that male bonding thing. The unspoken fraternal code….. Then ad contact sport like football? Grunt grunt. These collegiate football teams are such huge money makers……so many levels to that whole picture.
      I would say a similar, yet way more benign thing happened with the coach of Ohio State football team but not sure about the Spath factor there. It was nothing compared to Penn State except for the scapegoat element.

  10. Hi Sky,
    It’s part of the Study Guide that accompanies a documentary “Strong At the Broken Places” (pgs 41-52): http://www.cambridgedocumentaryfilms.org/media/guides/strong.pdf

    I found it eye-opening, and it really shifted my perspective and changed my views on quite a few things I thought I ‘knew’ – I love it when that happens. The whole document is really inspirational.

    I, of course, have a few major issues with it; as a survivor of female perpetrated sadism/SA I take exception when I read things that only ever documents/laments the experiences of 1/4 of the population, and leaves out the experiences of the other 3/4, in terms of SA (male on female – it leaves out male on male, female on male, and female on female). But since I have those issues with most published literature on abuse which are written from that perspective – especially older ones – it doesn’t negate the very important points this one raises, including about how the whole notion of repressed/recalled memory has been suspected / discovered / discredited / forgotten / suspected / etc… throughout the decades.

    “This brings us to the final subject: When a crime has been committed, what do the
    bystanders remember? For we are the bystanders, and we are called upon to bear witness to the many crimes that occur, not far away in another time and place, but in our own society, in normal families very much like our own, perhaps in our own families. Like the son of the man who drove the trains in wartime, we have been reluctant to know about the crimes we live with every day.

    We have sought information only when prodded to do so, and once we have acquired the
    information we have been eager to forget it again as soon as possible. We can see the
    phenomenon of active forgetting in operation as it pertains to crimes against humanity carried out on the most massive scale of organized genocide. It operates with the same force in the case of those unwitnessed crimes carried out in the privacy of families.

    When we bear witness to what victims remember, we are inevitably drawn into the conflict between victim and perpetrator. Although we strive for therapeutic neutrality, it is impossible to maintain moral neutrality. To clarify the difference – therapeutic neutrality means remaining impartial with regard to the patient’s inner conflicts, respecting his or her capacity for insight, autonomy, and choice. This is a cardinal principle of all psychotherapy and is of particular importance in the treatment of traumatized people, who are already suffering as the result of another’s abuse of power. Moral neutrality, by contrast, means remaining impartial in a social conflict. When a crime has been committed, moral neutrality is neither desirable nor even possible. We are obliged to take sides. The victim asks a great deal of us; if we take the victim’s side we will inevitably share the burden of pain and responsibility. The victim demands risk, action, engagement, and remembering. The perpetrator asks only that we do nothing, thereby
    appealing to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil, the desire to forget.

    In order to escape accountability for their crimes, perpetrators will do everything in their
    power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first lines of defense, but if secrecy fails, the perpetrator will aggressively attack the credibility of the victim and anyone who supports the victim. If the victim cannot be silenced absolutely, the perpetrator will try to make sure that no one listens or offers aid. To this end, an impressive array of arguments will be marshalled, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated rationalizations. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same apologies: it never happened; the victim is deluded; the victim lies; the victim fantasizes; the victim is manipulative; the victim is manipulated; the victim brought it upon him-or herself (masochistic); the victim exaggerates (histronic), and, in any case, it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater will be his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments will prevail.

    This is what has happened in our profession. In the past we have been only too ready to lend our professional authority to the perpetrator’s version of reality. For decades we taught that sexual and domestic crimes are rare, when in fact they are common; for decades we taught that false complaints are common, when in fact they are rare. At times, we have been willing to see what happens to men assaulted on the battlefield and women and children assaulted in the home.

    But we have been unable to sustain our attention for very long. The study of psychological trauma has had a discontinuous history of our profession. Periods of active investigation have alternated with periods of oblivion, so that the same discoveries have had to be made over and over again.”

    BTW, I’m sending out a big vote of thanks to all the Sandusky victims who were brave enough to come forward with their story, and to all those officials who bucked the trend (and probably put their careers on the line) to pursue their case.

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