In addition to the Gray Rock Method, another mental model we can use to understand what the psychopath wants, is the Slot Machine Model. The bright colored “slots”, also known as the One-Armed-Bandit, are addictive to compulsive gamblers. They while away the hours parked in front of one or a bank of slot machines, inserting their coins and hoping for a pay day. The slots generally take your money for nothing. Mostly it just spins the numbers and fruit and makes noise but occasionally it spits out a little incentive, a few coins just to keep you hooked. After I learned that the psychopath’s true desire was solely for my emotions, I channeled the One-Armed-Bandit’s response mechanisms to entice him with emotional currency.
The stranger in the sushi bar had advised me to “be boring” in order to safely and permanently escape from the psychopath. From those words, WTF Moments from my past became crystal clear. No matter what he pretended to want, the psychopath had really wanted my emotions. I remembered all the times I felt like I was talking to brick wall, while I argued my case with him. He really didn’t care about my words, he was only enjoying my agony and desperation to be heard. I remembered how powerless and ineffectual he made me feel and I now understood that it had been intentional. Unknowingly, I had been giving away my emotional currency along with my actual monetary currency and he was trampling on both.
The Fake Pilot, The Fake Scientist and The Body in the River
As I considered how I would put this new found information to use, I remembered something else that had happened several years earlier. Psychopath had come home with yet another story of adventure. First he told me about a teenage girl who had drowned in a river near the airport where he kept his aircraft. We had had a stretch of hot days that summer and kids went to the local river to cool off. The papers reported that the girl’s friends had seen her get swept away and go under. It had been days and nobody could find her body.
Psychopath told me he’d felt confident he would be able to find the missing teenager by flying his gyrocopter low over the river. The experimental gyrocopter was an open-cockpit, 2-seater he had built himself from a kit, so he invited a minion “Fred” to join him in the adventure. Fred is not really the adventuresome type. He’s more of an intellectual who attends comic cons and wears a perpetual pout on his face. Psychopath calls him a “fake scientist” because he passes himself off as a professor though he never graduated from college.
According to Psychopath, he and Fred stormed over the river, searching for hours. Eventually, Psychopath spotted the body caught in a thicket of branches near the bank of the river. He whirled the copter around and headed back toward the airport where he had already stashed our little inflatable yellow raft. They grabbed the raft and drove to the river bank near where they’d seen the body. At the river bank, they inflated the raft and paddled out to the body. Psychopath said he snagged the girl’s corpse with a branch and pulled it to shore. Then, he called the police to report the body. Emergency responders showed up, along with the media. Psychopath insisted that the media not report his name nor any details about him. The only thing they reported in the news was that the body was spotted by a helicopter pilot.
I remember that Psychopath was very focused while he was telling me the events of the day. He kept his face very close to mine as he regaled me with the story. But the thing I found most interesting was that he glossed over the parts that most people would find compelling: the search, the body, the media. What he kept repeating and ruminating over, was the look on Fred’s face when they pulled the body out of the water. He kept whispering in awe, “You should’ve seen his FACE, you should’ve seen Fred’s face, you should’ve seen him queeeeebing!” (Don’t ask me what that word means.) The one element that seemed to give him the most satisfaction was the look on his minion’s face.
Though the purpose of the story was likely to deceive me in some way –because psychopaths never stops lying– it is a fact that a girl was found dead in the river and the news reported that she was found by a helicopter pilot. Psychopath doesn’t actually have a pilot’s license – he has a student license – but he probably did find and report the body while identifying himself as a pilot. I also believe that the girl’s friends did see her go under, as was reported in the news. But that doesn’t mean that she drowned. Knowing that Psychopath is always trolling for teenage victims, he could have met her and convinced her to “play a joke” on her friends by pretending to drown. Once everyone thought that she was dead, it would be nothing for him to kill her off and find her body later. But that scenario is only my own suspicion based on nothing more than knowing what Psychopath is capable of. It may also have been that Psychopath had already spotted the body from the air and wanted to impress his minion with an adventure, just for the look on his face.
Regardless of which details of Psychopath’s story are true or not true, it doesn’t change the fact that he was fixated on Fred’s facial expression more than any other detail. The facial expression was what he found so fascinating. It’s why he went through all of that trouble. My memory of this event added credence to the advice that the stranger in the sushi bar gave me. He knew that psychopaths want your emotions and your facial expression is where they see evidence of emotions.
Turning the Tables on the Psychopath
For me, this revelation felt empowering. I thought that finally the tables had turned. By understanding Psychopath’s motivations, I could regain control of my life again. I would no longer be his puppet. But I had to test my hypothesis.
Up until the meeting in the sushi bar, I had been convinced that Psychopath wanted my money. In fact, I asked the stranger, “What did he want from me?”
He answered, “Something you had.” He didn’t say that the psychopath wanted my emotions, he only said that being boring would make the psychopath go away. He didn’t explain how or why.
That’s why I was confused. When I met the psychopath, I was only 17, I didn’t have money. Shortly after, I received a large insurance settlement from a car accident so I assumed he had stayed with me for that. He was constantly siphoning money from me with a variety of schemes. In the end, months before I left him, I told him I was tapped out. That’s when he changed his tactics from taking my money to taking my life.
Though I remembered Psychopath’s fixation with Fred’s facial expressions, I needed to be sure that the yet-to-be-named “Gray Rock Method” would work. To test my theory, I devised a way to get the Psychopath to pay for my emotional currency. I became a slot machine.
When I first left him, he had called the suicide prevention line to report me as suicidal. This was to show me that he could still exert power over me using the police. It was also a psychopathic tell that he had inserted a trojan horse into my family: my brother-in-law was a cop and his minion. Next, he would call me and my parents and threaten to “send the police again!”
To begin my test, I began picking up the phone when he called –-some of the time, and sometimes not. I gave him the random reinforcement of a slot machine, giving him just enough emotions to keep him on the hook, then becoming boring again. Next, I began to ask him for money. I told him I needed to pay our bills and desperately needed money, still only answering the phone some of the time. He was trying to up the game for a face to face meeting and here, he thought, was an avenue: he could meet me to give me money. I let him believe he had me and he agreed to give me several hundred dollars. This was the first time I began to think of my facial expressions as emotional currency.
I happened to know someone who had a side job collecting money from the pay box in a downtown parking lot. They knew about my predicament and agreed to allow me to use the pay box as a drop box so I wouldn’t have to see Psychopath. Once Psychopath agreed to pay, he asked where we should meet. I informed him that he could drop the money in one of the pay box’s slots. His confusion was palpable over the phone but he didn’t want to show his hand and his true motivation, which was to see my face.
Psychopath likes to stalk. It’s said that psychopaths are compulsive, that they have no impulse control. That is true in some situations, but when they’re stalking, they have the patience of a saint. This is because they’re feeding their fantasy when they stalk. They imagine the kill and that fantasy puts them in the zone. Years before he had told me about spending hours sitting in a car with Fred, casing the house of a woman who had bought Fred’s car but failed to make the monthly payments. They repossessed the car when she went out shopping at the mall. They followed her and stole it from the parking lot.
Now the tables were turned. I knew Psychopath would wait patiently for days sitting in his car watching the drop box from a vantage point, fantasizing that he could follow me when I left. I imagined his angst when I never showed. A week later, I went to the box and got my money. Then I repeated the process.
When I tried for a third time he said, “I know when I’m being played.”
The Oldest Currency in the World
It’s possible that I could have strung him along for longer if I had changed up the game, like he did to me for 25 years. But for me, it got old fast. Using my emotions as currency devalues them in my opinion. It’s like prostituting my emotions. Also, I didn’t really want to spend all my time gaming a psychopath. I just wanted him gone from my life. I knew that he was dangerous and unpredictable and I still didn’t have enough knowledge to keep myself safe (You never do with a psychopath). So I went from using the Slot Machine Method to using the Gray Rock Method. I gave him very boring details about my life, I never berated him for his abuse. Once he asked me, “Tell me, what I did to hurt you!” This demand was phrased with a double entendre. Almost everything he says is a psychopathic tell with a double meaning. His words sound like he cared to hear my side of the story but the truth was, he wanted to revel in hearing my complaints. My response was, “You didn’t do anything to hurt me, compared to what you did to yourself.” After continued let downs, Psychopath consoled himself with the idea that he would use the long con on me. He would wait, patiently, to come back for me. He would wait as many years as it took.
In one conversation he stated, “When the world starts to fall apart and society is going to hell, I’ll come for you.” This was said with a double entendre as though he would save me but really imagining my desperation while surrounded by devastation.
Another time he said, “Maybe in 10 years we can get together and have lunch.” It’s been 9 years now.
He emailed me on his last birthday to see how I was doing. He was met with radio silence, of course.
Psychopaths can be incredibly patient when they’re given the right incentive. They need to incorporate that incentive into a fantasy that sustains them until the expected payoff. That incentive is your emotional currency and the power that they imagine it will give them when you look at them, with the emotions they illicit laid bare on your face. Because psychopaths are constantly fending off boredom, they’re willing to pay to play. Maybe that’s why they gravitate to casinos and other gambling devices.
Psychopath would occasionally mention that he had been to a casino and watched a person lose everything. He said he was certain that they’d left the casino and committed suicide. This is the emotion that psychopaths crave the most: Despair.
Psychopaths aren’t the only ones who crave our emotions. Emotions make the world go around, they are the motivating force for all human behavior, even behavior that we may think is logical. Marketers and social media companies are well aware of this and they shamelessly try to exploit it. Manipulative people of every stripe know when they’ve got us on the hook because we give them our emotional currency. Once they’ve got it, they trample on it to show us that they never valued it, that it was worthless. When we learn to stop giving away our emotional currency to those who would trample it, that’s when we start building our own self-worth.
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