Revenge, justice, punishment. These concepts are sometimes used interchangeably when discussing how we might respond to a psychopathic attack. On the surface, an eye for an eye, may seem equitable and justified. Beneath the surface, though, there is much more happening and sometimes we are unaware of, or misidentify, the consequences of retribution.
I remember when I was working to bring about the downfall of a person who was using her position of power to destroy our neighborhood water association. Her selfish reason for creating problems with the water supply, was so that no more houses could be built in our neighborhood.
I was determined to reveal her actions to the entire membership. Like a psychopath, I gleefully planned her downfall, but I remember that I felt guilty for enjoying what I was doing. I did NOT and still don’t, feel guilty for what I did, but only for enjoying it.
When we believe that someone deserves their punishment, schadenfreude is the word that describes the glee we feel at that person’s downfall. Now, after studying psychopaths, I understand that I was feeling schadenfreude. But the other feeling I was having was not guilt, it was slime. By feeling satisfaction at someone else’s demise, I had become like them and mired myself with shameful slime, but I misidentified it as guilt.
The problem with delivering justice is that it’s hard to do it without becoming like the person who committed the offense. Consider that an eye for an eye is a mirroring of the offense. Even worse, it is a mirroring of the emotional and mental condition that caused the offense to begin with: anger and vengeance. Mirroring is what allows us to feel empathy, but it is also what allows us to feel slimed. When we mirror someone’s actions we begin to feel what it’s like to BE them.
This was always the psychopath’s intent. They want us to become like they are, a shameful lack-of-being, eager for vengeance. That is what they slime us with.
So if we must avoid mirroring the psychopath by seeking revenge or justice, what are our options?
Truth and Consequences.
The psychopath uses lies and deceit to victimize others and then they wear a 180° mask of innocence. They do evil and then they hide what they’ve done under a lie. Whenever possible, I think we need to shine a light on the psychopathic behavior, not in order to punish the psychopath, but to limit their power to hurt others. Truth creates its own consequences.
It is my hope that all people will eventually recognize psychopathic behavior where ever it appears and respond by shunning the offender — but I’m not holding my breath. After I revealed my malicious neighbor’s malfeasance on the water board, she resigned. I thought I had won a victory for truth and justice. But guess who is back on the board? Yep, she’s back. In my naivety, I had thought that people cared about the truth. They had all thanked me and congratulated me for my perseverance and hard work in finding out the truth. What I’m realizing now, is that more than truth, people want an easy life, they don’t want responsibility. As long as they thought that I was going to be responsible for the water association they were pleased. When I left because I was hiding from my ex-psychopath, they allowed anyone who was willing to fill that empty seat to be voted back in.
I’ve seen this same pattern on the larger political stage. An elected official conducts himself in an egregious manner and is removed from office, but only a few years later, we find out that they are once again elected for office somewhere nearby. WTF? Moment.
I think that there are two reasons for this response by the public. First, many people don’t understand the dysfunction that motivated the bad behavior in the first place, so they assume it won’t happen again — very much like the way I forgave my psychopath over and over for his bad behavior, before I knew what he was. The second reason, is that there are also many people with the same dysfunction and they APPROVE of the bad behavior and look forward to being entertained by round two of more of the same. As my friend likes to say, “Second verse same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.”
I no longer believe that we can win against an individual psychopath by trying to punish or reform them. They don’t feel shame, so they can’t be taught a lesson. When we engage them in any way, even to exact revenge, they feel the satisfaction of knowing that they made us respond to them. Punishment feels pleasurable in their perverted minds because they feed on other peoples’ negative emotions.
The only consequence they fear is abandonment, so shunning is the only appropriate response.
Still, even shunning one psychopath or two or three, will not make much difference in the long run, they always seem to find new sources of supply to feed them. What might make a difference is to learn and also teach others how to recognize the disorder, so that all psychopaths can be shunned by empathic people everywhere. As much as their slime may make you wish for vengeance, realize that any response only feeds a psychopath’s disorder. So please, don’t feed the psychopaths.