The Undetected Victim
Introduction: The Undetected Victim
A Skewed Fascination with Pathology
The world’s interest seems to be about extremes–the worst anything…mass tragedies, political messes, or outrageous celebrity behavior. So, it’s hard to imagine that something like the private underworld of the personal lives of the most extreme humans, representing the most extreme danger, has flown under the world’s curiosity bar. I am talking about the patch of human pathology represented in the low-conscienced disorders consisting of the charming psychopath and his pathological ‘cousins of disorder’– the personable narcissist, and the edgy bad-boy anti-social referred to as The Dark Triad.
Oh, sure some of these charmers and their bad boy escapades garner some curiosity. For instance, they make for an entire genre of books—thriller books about ‘everything-psychopathic.’ Fox News lives and breathes the disordered’s every move for tantalizing media clips. Serial Killer websites and fan clubs worship the ideology of no conscience. Researchers also share the skewed fascination with this much pathology and spend millions of dollars a year studying and re-studying the same mangled mind for just another obsessional peek at what makes these people tick.
But the interesting fact is, for all the fixated fascination, for all the repeating research, no one has attempted to examine the intimate details of the low-conscience’s lives behind closed doors with their love interests. For the public’s interest in remorselessness, those who haven’t garnered any curiosity are their partners—the very ones who have lived and survived psychology’s highest challenge—mental mutilation by extreme (albeit fascinating) pathology.
Sadly, it is not just pop culture that has missed what a narcissist’s or psychopath’s personal life can shed light on. Even the pathology researcher’s preoccupation for focusing on this level of extreme pathology has somehow missed studying the intimate partners of narcissists, anti-socials, and psychopaths. If the world is all about extremes, why isn’t the extreme victim studied? How can there be such little information about the partners of some of the most extreme, and pop culturally interesting, well…extremists?
We wondered that too 30 years ago, when we began working with the partners and children of narcissists, anti-socials, and psychopaths, whose disorders are often referred to as “The Dark Triad”. Clinically we were shocked to see such serious trauma that had not been readily recognized in an entire population of victims. With the cultural fascination of every narcissistic celebrity, every impulse-disordered professional athlete, every anti-social criminal, and every fascinating psychopath, the question remains ‘Why have the victims flown under the pop culture and psychology radars? Why are these victims not recognized?’
The reasons we have found the victims, their relationships, and the traumatic aftermath have gone undetected begins with not recognizing the disorders of the Dark Triad.
A Lack of Public Pathology Education about the Disorders
When was the last time you read a New York Times article about your likelihood of dating one of the 1 in 25 persons who have no conscience? You didn’t read that? I didn’t think so. When did you ever see a government poster in a health clinic that warned that 60 million people are negatively impacted by someone else’s severe pathological disorders? I haven’t seen any posters like that, ever. Did your kids get ‘How to Spot a Dangerous Dark Triad Partner Before You Get Involved’ in the dating portion of health class or did your college kid get a checklist of symptoms in orientation of the ‘Do-Not-Date Narcissist’? Nope, she didn’t get that. Ever see any billboards (like you do for depression or breast cancer) on ‘How to Detect Anti-Social Personality Disorder?’ No—no one has funded that billboard campaign. Or fliers in the restrooms of bars right next to the condom machines, ‘If you are being harmed in a relationship by a psychopath, call this number’? No, right? Ever see a celebrity spokes-person for this issue or Pathology-Aid concerts by Willie Nelson to fund victim education and treatment? Nope.
Minimally 60 million people in the United States alone are impacted by someone’s dangerous and severe disorders of narcissism, anti-social personality disorder and psychopathy. The Dark Triad of disorders is estimated to cost $580 BILLION a year, mostly in medical and mental health costs to their victims who have been traumatically impacted. These triad of disorders impact every societal system (legal, medical, mental health, victim services/law enforcement, and social services) which represents a staggering cost to our lives, financially and personally.
Whether they are ever identified as abusers, perpetrators, or criminals, the “disaster trio” are still the ones who are dramatically impacting entire societal systems and interpersonal chaos through the women they claim to love, the children they bear, and the psyches they harm. These are the disorders at the heart of high conflict law cases that drag on for years, the disorders most likely to perpetrate child alienation or abduction, those most likely to stalk and cyberstalk, and those whose disorders are at the top of the list for intimate partner homicides. After all, ‘who does that?’ – they do.
The Dark Triad are those who (if they are ever arrested) have the revolving door of failed court ordered treatment, batterer intervention, or mediation. If they are not arrested, their pathological punch no less dismantles formerly high functioning partners to fetal positioned females needing social service assistance as they watch their previous careers circling the kitchen sink drain. There is a triad of disorders as effective in organized personal terror as any highly written about mafia group, whose whopping impact on our societal bottom line is unmatched even by meteorological disasters, and yet we have no public pathology education program to warn of this societal and personal plague.
We can’t avoid what we don’t know©. Before people judge that women have fallen into relationships with a member of the triad team, they need to realize that no one has taught us how to not become a victim of them. Those who are supposed to be teaching us how not to be a victim, know almost nothing about the disorders. And while there is no organized public pathology education program to alert us to the impending nature of these personality problems, let’s recognize that The National Enquirer rag-mag plastered with celebrity pathology is hardly the place for any victim to learn the true essence of a powerful disorder. In the absence of real public pathology education, the media is not an accurate educational substitution. Fox News portrayals of leaked private infidelity stories, celebrity news channel’s rantings of someone’s bizarre behavior, and reality shows glorifying grandiosity is not public pathology education. This type of pathology exposure has not created a public likely to name even five behaviors associated with the disorders of narcissism, anti-social personality disorder, or psychopathy. Most non-victims think the only people who have these types of behaviors are likely serial killers, they don’t know the everyday-ness of pathology, and likely think they probably have never met one of these un-forgettables.
A Lack of Professional Pathology Education
But not only can the pubic not avoid what they don’t know, they also ‘can’t get help for what they can’t name’©. For victims of low-conscienced partners to be helped they must know what they need help for. Victims tell us the same story repeatedly…because of a lack of information, they could not figure out what was wrong with him or the relationship. They spent months scouring books, a financial fortune going from counselor to counselor, and hours and hours searching the internet trying to figure out what was at the core of his behavior. Victims geared their search for help based on what they were needing help for. The inability to identify what disorder he had was at the source of their floundering for help.
But the problem does not end there. Not only is there no public pathology educational system, but there is also, a profound absence of accurate professional information about the low-conscienced disorders. People and services that victims might seek information and education from about these disorders, are sources that were not well educated in the dark disorders. Victims trying to recover might seek information about their disordered partners from:
- A marriage and family therapist while they were trying to repair the relationship
- From a domestic violence if things got abusive
- From a support group when she hadn’t made up her mind to stay or go
- From her own personal counselor when the relationship ended
- From a church for spiritual support
- From a book for ‘how-to-spot’ guidance
- Or from the internet for information
The disorders of low-conscience have been poorly understood in several arenas including those listed above which happen to be the very places victims attempted to get assistance from. If these disorders are so interpersonally destructive, why aren’t they better known? Should it be this hard for a victim to find out what disorder her partner has or what his behaviors point to?
Over the years, we have wondered why information about disorders that fall into categories referred to by the DSM5 (Diagnostic Statistical Manual, a mental health diagnostic tool) as the ‘dramatic and erratic’ and previously called ‘the dangerous and severe’ disorders do not warrant public safety through education? We warn about food and environment contaminants, why not relational contaminants? We warn about the public-health risks of not using condoms, why not public-health risks of coupling with disorders already labeled with warnings called the ‘dangerous and severe’ disorders? We warn about safety risks of protecting yourself from rape or attack, why not warn of the safety risks related to a partner with low/no conscience?
This lack of information about the profound impact of the Dark Triad disorders is at the forefront of a lack of public education, prevention, and victim’s services. From graduate school, to domestic violence agencies, to law enforcement and legal systems—the absence of understanding these disorders is continuing to impact the lives of millions.
If therapists don’t recognize it, they can’t warn their patients. If domestic violence agencies don’t identify these partners as having low conscience, they can’t prevent victim fatalities. If court systems don’t spot them, they continue to give custody to a profoundly disordered parent or deny restraining disorders for impulse disordered abusers. If the public doesn’t know how to spot them, they will continue to partner with them. The list of victims in the wake of the low-conscienced will, and has, continued to grow.
A Lack of Victim Recognition
It seems obvious that if there isn’t recognition of these menacing triads of disorders, there isn’t likely to be recognition of their victims. That’s problem number one. But an additional problem is the victim of the Dark Triad is not your regular victim. While she is likely to fly under the radar of detection due to a lack of pathology education, she is also flying unflagged because how victims are categorically defined and by whom.
Since the 1970’s and the onset of the domestic violence awareness movement, the details of what violence does to a person have been well documented. For that reason, today services exist for survivors to heal from many forms of abuse, and yet there are generalizations about victims that are causing partners of extreme pathology to go unrecognized. There has been an underlying assumption that if victims experienced relational abuse of any form, they fall within a standard profile of a domestic violence victim. This profile assumes basic emotional and historical characteristics of a victim along with certain responses to abuse. It then categorizes these victim features to create a snapshot of a victimized person. These types of profiles were generated mostly from the victims who utilized services related to domestic violence. Research and studies were conducted with victims who were in shelter care, counseling from a DV-related agency, or a DV support group environment. But not all victims use these services.
Thirty years ago, we began wondering about victims who never utilized domestic violence services who remained largely unstudied. How are the victims who don’t utilize services (and may not need those types of services, or, may require other types of services) different from shelter-care populations? Are there victims who have different emotional and personality make-ups than the standard victim profile? And why? Could these differences account for why a whole subgroup of victims rarely used victim services?
There doesn’t seem to be a curiosity by others (on the rare occasion these victims are recognized) as to why these women were attracted to, and tolerant of, the most disordered and dangerous partners. The women are labeled simply as ‘codependent’ or ‘relationship addicted’ or victims of ‘learned behavior’ but nothing has been studied to understand what might be at the heart of normal women getting involved with seriously disordered partners.
But we wondered: Do victims of pathological love relationships have reasons and clues in their personalities or temperaments that predisposed them toward being the type that pathological partners would target? Can we come to understand if temperament traits might impact how a woman responds to a partner’s advances or how she chooses partners? Or can traits impact the way she categorizes or misses red flags of danger? Can we understand how someone might have higher tolerance levels to low-conscienced partners that is unrelated to codependency? How can we help victims who have unusual groupings of characteristics, temperaments, and personality factors that might be negatively impacting their patterns of relational selection?
A Lack of Research about Victims of the Dark Triad
It is hard to get the attention of society, victim service providers, self-help approaches, or the media for that matter, if nothing is known about a problem. In the case of women who love psychopaths and narcissists, how did they not garner attention?
At the top of the list, is a lack of any research generating information about the victims of narcissists, anti-socials and psychopaths which is shocking given the million-dollar research fascination with the whole topic of The Dark Triad. But there is almost nothing written clinically about the relational aspects or the traumatic outcome of what it did to them, which might draw attention to this unrecognized population. It should seem evident if there is no direction for understanding these types of relational dynamics with these types of personalities, how can victims be helped, or even taught how to help themselves? How can professionals help victims if they themselves are unable to identify the victims or develop approaches that a victim needs?
If society, or mental health systems believe that all relational abuse victims are the same, that their relationships patterns are generated from the same type of abusive partner, that all trauma is the same, that there are no contributing factors to make one victim’s experience different from the next, or for that matter, one victim different from the next, then no one bothers to look for, much less recognize, the differences that occur around the victim and relationships of extreme pathology. The result is very little research producing almost no information about this subgroup.
It is not a far leap then, if there is a lack of awareness that this subgroup of victim exists, and there have not been special reasons to study them, and they have not been researched to be understood, therefore, there certainly will not be programs designed to meet their needs. This chain reaction of invisibility has kept the partners of pathology out of the range of sight and help.
We wondered: Why are victims of the low-conscienced often lumped together with other victim populations who do not share some of the unusual personal factors, relational experiences, or traumatic symptoms? Why are generalized approaches for helping them either in treatment or with self-help recommendations not based on their trauma-specific symptoms and needs? Why have the issues of her temperament traits and other risk factors that impact her patterns of selection, relationship dynamics, risk level, and exiting difficulties, not been identified?
A Lack of Awareness in Victim and Abuser Services
Even how the Dark Triad is viewed and undiagnosed may be a culprit in how these victims remain largely unaccounted for. Within the domestic violence and batterer intervention communities, the low-conscienced (who have been violent) also have a general profile of behaviors which are associated with the motivation behind abuser’s actions. Much like the victims who have been generalized by these same communities, so have Dark Triad abusers who have passed through these systems for services.
The Domestic Violence and Batterer Intervention communities’ profiles associated with what makes any abuser tick are related to power, control, low self-esteem, and learned battering behavior. (In these victim/abuser communities the reasons are unfortunately, not related to the power-packed pathological disorders.) These abuser identifiers are explained by their teaching tool called The Power and Control Wheel whose theory dates to the 1970s. But Dark Triad partners whose behaviors (for many reasons including the ability to hide well) are not always readily identified on The Power and Control Wheel, fly under the radar of detection, as does their disorder. These victim/abuser programs are not taught ‘how to spot’ them and are not communities who include Dark Triad disorders as part of causes for violence. When low-conscienced partners fly under the radar, no doubt their victims do too.
We wondered: Can certain abuser disorders increase risk in the victim? Are there certain disorders associated with victim mortality risks? Do some disorders in abusers seek certain traits in victims? If so, what are those disorders and why?
The fact that psychology now knows clinically and criminally that The Dark Triad of disorders are those most associated with intimate partner homicides makes us wonder why these pathological disorders do not have a process for identification when coming into Batterer Intervention Programs or when stories that sound like impending Nicole Brown Simpson stories are emerging? Better identification by agencies who deal with The Dark Triad could better identify its victim and aid the victims in helping them understand the dangerousness of relationships with a partner without a conscience.
A Lack of the Known Features of the Successful Dark Triad
There is yet another reason why the victim is not recognized. These dark and pathological disorders do not always make it through the doors of a Batterer’s program, a police station, or the courthouse. Some of the features related to The Dark Triad are what Dr. Robert Hare (the world’s leading expert on the darker disorders), calls ‘The Disorder of Social Hiding.’ These pathological partners frequently hide well behind the mask of sanity or the highly-prized veil of success and are often referred to as “successful narcissists or psychopaths.” This does not simply mean success in career status (although that is often applicable), it also means the triad can remain undiagnosed, unrecognized for their serious disorder and for the interpersonal harm they are perpetrating.
The poor partners of successful pathologicals have an almost impossible challenge of convincing law enforcement, courts, custody evaluators, and therapists that this person who is anxiety-free, styling in a $3,000 Gucci suit and Italian loafers, with CEO hanging on his work door has the lurking disorder of low or no conscience. Why? Nowhere is there the ‘Jason Mask’ of the highly deranged. Instead the mask of a cool, calm, and collected professional exists, disarming all those around him who don’t realize this much pathology packed into a suit is really a disorder of social and relational hiding.
A leading researcher of the pathology spectrum suggests that the number of ‘successful’ Dark Triads in the business arena is found to be approximately four times greater in number than in the general population and are not as easily identified as the ‘unsuccessful’ or criminal types. In fact, successful Dark Triads flock to prestigious careers that massage their narcissism and reward their low consciences as they bolt up the career ladder taking out anyone in their path. Some careers are a natural ‘fit’ for the character and conscience deficits of the Dark Triad.
We wondered: Does the successful low-conscienced seek equally successful partners? These disorders who find great pleasure in flying under the radar of detection must equally enjoy the cat-and- mouse game of remaining undetected in relationships, especially the challenge of non-detection with bright and successful women.
A Lack of Classification of a Pathological Love Relationship
And the non-identification of the victim continues. Without the ability to identify those with a Dark Triad disorder, it is unlikely that the pathological love relationships will be noticed either; after all, it is the abused partners of the relationship who draw attention to the dynamics. Those with the low-conscienced disorders of social and relational hiding can go decades without ever being identified for their hidden lives or other deviant behavior especially those without physical violence that would warrant intervention and investigation.
Many factors unique to the combinations of the low-conscienced and their relatively normal partners, make these relationships not well known. Combinations of personality traits in him, and in her, create intense (and often combustible) dynamics that are often misattributed to unrelated factors. His traits of social appeal coupled with her unstudied personality traits of empathy and tolerance, and agreeableness and conscientiousness (discussed later in the book) portray an unusual presentation of relational features ripe for misunderstanding. These relationships have run the gamut from: not being recognized, her looking paranoid and hand-wringing, him looking calm and rational, to the assumptions of relationship addiction and codependency. The fact remains, the victim is undetected when her relationship looks like something else is going on.
We wondered: Is there such a thing as personality traits in unusual combinations that might predispose a victim to pathological relationships? And why? Are some of the covert relationship dynamics related to his pathology or her combination of personality traits? Do pathological love relationships have different patterns than those described in domestic violence settings or marriage and family counseling? Are these relationships unique in any way that has not been studied?
A Lack of Differentiating the Trauma and Aftermath
At the extreme end of the human spectrum where the disordered partners cross over from one time batterers to another category of pathology, is the edge where what makes us human such as having a conscience and remorse, is absent in them. The extreme edge of psychological torment happens mostly in situations involving prisoners of war, cults, and organized crime. However, it is also a similar experience for victims of extremely pathological partners. And why wouldn’t it be? War criminals, cult leaders, and crime lords are all known for their no-conscience and dangerous behavior which is what makes their soul-destroying psychological impact even more devastating sometimes than physical assault. While the world has shuddered at film images of what no-conscience looks like, have we given much thought what being in the presence of hidden pathology does to those around them? While we would expect no less from the dastardly Dark Triad that what they would ‘do’ to someone is far more extreme than those with a conscience, why haven’t we thought about what happens to victims from the low-conscienced partners such as narcissists, anti-socials, and psychopaths?
We wondered: How much more would this disorder injure those around them in their day-to-day lives that have long-term exposure to this level of threat, such as their intimate partners and their children who live years and decades with this twisted and deformed psyche? Why haven’t others studied the ‘aftermath’ of harm from those living in a home with a dangerous pathological disorder to understand its impact of how that much pathology distorts how victims grow to sees themselves, others, and the world?
What happens to normal partners when coupled with the extreme abnormal partner? We wondered: Just what does psychological gas lighting and mind-messing do to victims over the course of their relationship—months, years, or decades? How might this create a type of victim that is different than those seeking services at a shelter? How might their traumatic injuries look, and be, different than other less pathological, yet abusive, partners?
Victims of the extreme low-conscienced don’t always present with black eyes and trembling traumatic reaction because her unique substructure of personality can create an unusual tolerance to, and an adaptation to, extreme pathology. The victim’s own personal success has created resources that allow them to bypass community services thus flying under the radar as the stereotypical domestic violence victim which are the ones that are studied. If others only look for the overt trauma, these victims can be missed because victims may have symptoms of ‘A-typical’ trauma and not fit the exact criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other trauma disorders so they go unrecognized as a trauma victim.
However, we wondered: What about the victims whose trauma reactions do not match typical descriptions of trauma or what they call ‘Battered Women’s Syndrome’? What about those whose unique combination of reactions are what we call “A-typical?” Can a victim’s personality and relational dynamics impact her reactions and responses? Are there any personality traits that make reactions to trauma different? Or predispose a victim to more trauma? Do low-conscienced partners impact others differently?
The victims of the Dark Triad have proven the myopic view of pathology has kept society’s eye on all things dark, while missing what darkness and remorselessness leaves behind. The extremity of the low-conscience behavior as a cultural fascination trumps the knowledge of their disorders. It leaves an entire society at risk for the manipulations and mayhem of an unseen force of pathology. Society’s dis-education about pathology has created an ideology of mis-education about generic views of victims and abusers. These are the cracks where victims have fallen through. Those who have experienced the most extreme disordered partners this world offers, are those whose cries for help have fallen on not merely deaf ears, but blind eyes. Systems that should have educated her did not. Services that should have reached her did not. Programs that should have healed her did not.
For all the world’s interest in all-things-extreme, one of the most extreme things has been left largely un-obsessed about. But that ends now.
Primarily Normal Women, Abnormal Relationships
Come meet some of the gals—Diana a former prosecutor and judge who worked at the Governor’s office and whose dashing narcissist was a JAG officer. Let me introduce you to Dena, a university professor whose psychopathic husband was in high level management in a Fortune 500 company. Or come to know Susan, a college president whose anti-social disordered husband was an attorney for a major NBA team. I’ll also introduce other capable women who were coupled with highly disordered (and yet successful) men.
Diana, Dena, Susan and others like them are the types of stories that captured our attention—that bright, corporate women whose highly-polished skill sets landed them very notable jobs could, on the other hand be attracted to, blinded to, and tolerant of, severe and dangerous partner pathology. We believe that at the core of these warm, open, trusting, and resourceful women, is something so excessive in personality which impacted her ability to read personal red flag danger. These very normal traits that are valued in society such as empathy, loyalty, and optimism which contributed to these women’s success in so many other areas of their life, but in excessive quantity, became her undoing with a pathological partner.
The stories of the women we have been privileged to help, have shattered the myth that women who love a Dark Triad disorder (Narcissists, Anti-Socials, or Psychopaths) are women with mental illness themselves, or victims with a lengthy violence history, or are needy-dependent women. These incongruences not only caused us to question what we believe as a society but what we believe as a mental health field, and even a research field. Could the fascinating mystery behind women who are able to love psychopaths, break the code for us to understand what trait excesses predispose a person to imminent danger? We think so.
It time for a new view of these very misunderstood relationships.