A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

My Own Private Dexter: Insights into the Psychopath – by Deborah

This is a guest post by Deborah, one of our readers. Many thanks to her for sharing these first-hand insights into the character and nature of a sociopath/psychopath.

Rom 1:32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

I was 15 when I went on the first date with my abuser. It was a movie. You know, one of those karate ones with no plot but lots and lots of blood and broken bones. It was a shock to my system, because I wasn’t used to movies like that, but he was cute, so oh well, right? If I had only known. If only I had listened to my convictions and made a better choice that day.

Ok, so follow the rabbit hole with me for a moment and let me explain…

Over the years, I would become slowly, yet completely immersed in those kinds of movies, TV shows and video games, with his encouragement and praise chasing me with each choice to watch one of them with him. I was eager to please him. I was so eager that I didn’t even realize the moment I began to lose myself and started ignoring my convictions, with the help of his smooth reassurances and my desire to please him over doing what was right.

Mortal Combat, Halo, karate movies and Family Guy in college led ever so gradually through our relationship to him watching horror movies with demonic themes, Dexter and Adult Swim by the time I was 30.  I remember even with the frog-in-the-boiling-water method of desensitization I was under at the time, I had to ask him to take quite a few of them out of the house, because I just couldn’t handle them even being there.  I would wake up at night, especially after watching one of those movies with him (which I began doing less and less, as they continued to get increasingly hard core violent and demonic related), feeling very scared, with a heaviness in my spirit and a feeling of evil in the room. He worked hard to convince me it was just a reaction to what I had seen and that it wasn’t real.  I think I justified it to myself too.

I felt convicted so many times about having them in the house. When I expressed this to him and told him I wouldn’t watch any more, he said that was fine, but would then continue to watch them loudly, in the main room of the house.  I was exposed, whether I wanted to be or not. I remember tensing up my ears, trying not to listen, without success.  Worse than that, we had two young kids in the house and even though he always waited for them to go to bed, I worried a lot about what they could hear. I prayed over them a lot.

My abuser didn’t seem affected by them in the same way I was. In fact, he would reference specific shows and movies a lot.  He thought the movie Primal Fear was a masterpiece.  Edward Norton in that film played Aaron Stampler, a young altar boy with a severe stutter, who is accused of brutally murdering an Archbishop. The attorney who took on his case, spends the movie, trying to prove that Stampler has been sexually abused, as a result, developed multiple personalities, and is therefore not responsible for his actions. In the end, Stampler gets off and in the last two minutes of the movie, he reveals himself to be a sociopath who faked his multiple personalities to get out of the murder charges. My abuser seemed to show just a bit too much respect for Mr. Stampler and I thought that was odd at the time.

Another of my abuser’s favorite shows was Dexter, a psychopath who was adopted by a police officer in Miami. He saw Dexter’s lack of conscience early in his life and raised him to subdue his true self so that he could function in society, while also teaching and allowing Dexter to kill “Those who deserve it”, referring to criminals in society. Dexter grows up to be a blood spatter analyst by day and a serial killer by night, using the police department where he works, to get leads on the criminals that he is later to kill.

Why did my abuser like these shows and others about psychopaths and sociopaths so much? I asked myself that often.  It wasn’t until I escaped that relationship and began to pull out of my own fog from the abuse, that I realized  he probably liked them because he was actually learning from them. Yeah, I said learning.

I believe my abuser meets the criteria to be considered a covert aggressive personality or maybe even a psychopath. He has told me in the past that he sees people like ants. He has said he sees them like pawns on a chessboard, to be used as he needs them. He has told me that emotions are pointless and that if he wasn’t a Christian, he would be a very bad person. He looked up to and understood Machiavelli and used those tactics often. He has, or at least had a book that teaches him how to control people. Psychopath.

But he also hides who he is, so he can blend into society, more like the covert aggressive does, and he’s good at it. As far as most people can see, he is an upstanding member of society. He acts like it anyway, but I think he got there by studying people’s reactions to things and then copying them. You only see it if you notice that his smile may last just a little too long, or everyone in the room looks shocked about something about 30 seconds before he does.  His reactions are just slightly off, but they are slight enough to go just under the radar, if you aren’t watching for it. Every so often he might have a slip and show an inappropriate reaction to the situation, as if he is guessing at how he should act.

I suspect that this is why he watched these shows. Finally, he found someone to relate to, especially in Dexter. Here was another psychopath, trying to live in society and conceal his true identity. When my abuser watched it, he seemed almost relieved and calm. He seemed to relate, and he seemed to learn from it. I think he learned how to hide himself in more clever ways and he learned how to get away with things better. He would often talk about what Dexter did wrong, to almost get caught and how he would have done it differently. He seemed to use it almost as a training manual on how to hide in plain sight.

I don’t think watching these shows made my abuser a psychopath. I think my abuser has a character disturbance formed when he was growing up, that he wants to hide from people. I think he wants to get what he wants, when he wants it, and he uses movies and shows like Dexter as training tools to make himself a better, more convincing wool to wear so that he can better hide when he is amongst the people around him. What power and control that creates for him!

But as George Simon says in In Sheep’s Clothing [*Affiliate link], power itself does not have the ability to corrupt [a person’s] character. It’s the already present flaw in [their] character that leads [them] to unscrupulously pursue power in the first place, and abuse it once [they] have it.

*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.

45 Comments

  1. Forrest

    That was eye-opening and helps put much in its proper place. People who are emotionally unavailable will also wait for cues from others before responding. It seems that many abusers use similar “tricks”.

  2. My abuser is a sever sociopath and I am just waiting for that moment when he snaps and becomes a full psychopath. He was so similar to your description of you ex that it’s not funny except that he couldn’t/ can’t function in society. It is scary looking back that I was in that monsters grip. I praise God that I got out alive!

  3. Wisdomchaser

    I am not sure of the difference between sociopaths and psychopaths. If there is a previous article on the difference would someone please provide a link.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Wisdomchaser – In the reading I have done, I have learned that not even psychologists are totally agreed on the difference and sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably. Psychopath sounds more wicked than sociopath, but as I understand it, both are fundamentally characterized by a profound lack of conscience.

    • The difference that was explained to me and the one I am working with is that Sociopaths have little to no conscience but respect life (as in they don’t kill animals or other things) and Psychopaths have no conscience and have little to no respect for life (the 5yr old who tortures animals to death) though now that I am typing this I am reminded of a story my abuser used to tell about how he would hold chickens up the electric fence until there hearts stopped (laughing at the memory of it)… maybe he is a psychopath and I am just in denial…

    • I think I recall George Simon discussing the terms sociopath and psychopath in his book Character Disturbance [*Affiliate link]. Does anyone have time to check that, and give us the page numbers? And so far as I recall, the terms are not clearly differentiated and there may be no agreed on definition of the difference between them.

      *Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
    • Brian

      Check out Zelma’s link below. The article explains it pretty well.

  4. Joyce

    My abuser had strange reactions, too, like they weren’t real. And there were phrases and gestures he would use that I started noticing in older movies I re-watched at times. I really believe he learned how to act from watching the movies. I never heard anyone else say this about someone before.

  5. Barnabasintraining

    Yowza.

    To think.of someone watching evil movies relating positively to the evil characters and using the movies to learn how to be more evil is really really creepy. They want to make horror flicks into real life. 😦

  6. Brenda R

    Evil knows how to hide. Unsuspecting people that don’t live in the home don’t notice the little things that would set off suspicion. My daughter says that my soon to be ex was nice to everyone that didn’t live in the house. Evil is clever. I am glad you are out of it.

  7. Mine did the same thing. He said it was because, “You asked me not to and I won’t have a woman telling me what to do.” When we left, I quit watching TV completely and still haven’t gone back. Just need the peace and quiet.

    Violence, blood, gore and profanity– that mixed martial arts program where they went into a cage and beat each other senseless, a constant stream of violent war type movies and tons of demonic vampire stuff. HIs favorite was Sons of Anarchy. When I’d refuse to watch with him, he’d get mad. If I asked him to turn down the volume, he’d get mad. If I asked him not to watch with the kids around, he’d get mad. And, he’d turn the volume up so loud you couldn’t do anything else in the house without earplugs, then get angry if you plugged in the headphones so you could hear the computer.

    By the time I left, he would play the most vile programs, full of violence, profanity and just-this-side of porn until well past 3 am most nights, loud enough to rattle the window panes. I went to bed more nights than I can count to the tune of explosions and f-bomb, f-bomb, f-bomb.

    And yet, one of my most vivid memories–the ex barreling out the door of our bedroom, screaming at the top of his lungs, cursing at me to “Turn that *&%&@-ing @#$% off!” because he was trying to sleep. Truth was, he didn’t like my taste in music.

    Well excuse me. Who doesn’t like the Bee Gees?

    • Brenda R

      The Bee Gees are cool!! Or were anyways. There were no cuss words or evil speak though. Maybe he would have preferred gangster rap.

      • The Bee Gees are *way* awesome 🙂

        Sometimes when I talk about this kind of stuff, it sounds like nit-picking, even to me. But it was always there and always just a symptom of something sinister hiding under the covers. Looking back, its amazing how many red flags were snapping in the wind.

      • Ellie

        Stayin’ Alive!

      • Barnabasintraining

        What was that disco movie with John Travolta? Was that Stayin’ Alive? I forget.

      • Saturday Night Fever, I think. I really can’t stand Travolta, so I’ve never seen it, but I’m pretty sure that’s the one you’re thinking of. Stayin Alive is on the soundtrack.

      • Barnabasintraining

        Oh yeah! Saturday Night Fever. That’s right!

    • My abuser was doing the same thing with the blaring TV by the end and I had to get up and go to work the next morning… but if I had the TV on just loud enough to hear while he was taking a nap he would yell “Turn the F@#$# TV down now” at the top of his lungs. Boy I don’t miss those days.

    • LorenHaas

      Ida Mae, there is this great scene in the Bill Murray movie, “What About Bob” in which he tries to tell the psychologist he left his wife because she liked Neil Diamond. When the psychologist reminds him of his long list of nearly paralyzing social phobias, he says. “Your trying to tell me that I didn’t leave her, that she left ME? Ouch!”
      Very funny scene and one that is very revealing.

      • Loren, you have endeared yourself to Jeff C for life! What About Bob is one of his favourite movies! When I was in Oregon he and his wife showed it to me. I’d never seen it before, and I really enjoyed it.

        But I know a therapist who can’t bear to watch it as she has been stalked by one of her clients, and it’s too triggering for her. (In the movie the main character, Bob, stalks his psychiatrist but it works out fine in the end because, hey, this is Hollywood!)

      • Ha! I’ll have to look for that one.

        Funny– the estranged is going around telling the kids and Lord only knows who else that he’s being ‘forced to divorce your mother because she refuses to reconcile.’

        Say what? *I* am the one who left. *I* am the one divorcing him.

        And he’s absolutely right, I *am* refusing to reconcile. What is there to reconcile with exactly? He hasn’t changed one iota and I’m certainly not going to become like him!

      • Yay for Ida Mae!

      • Jeff Crippen

        I want to be standing near you, Ida Mae, on the Day when the Lord reveals all. Isn’t there a song – “Who’s Cryin’ Now?” And it won’t be you!

  8. Ellie

    This all sounds too familiar.

  9. Otter

    I think we should really pay attention to what people read/watch/listen to. When I first started dating my ex-fiance, he told me that his favorite book was a biography of the music producer Bill Graham. He described the book as absolutely amazing and life changing. When I asked him to tell me about it, he described a person who was very abusive/screaming/yelling at everyone around him, but he explained, “Everyone adored and accepted Bill because he was such a genius and they knew his yelling was just part of him and it shouldn’t be taken personally.”

    So I had to leave this man because of his horrific screaming/yelling/aggression/controlling. It was really unexpected because he seemed so sweet, humble, and gentle. When I think back on this, I realize this was a major clue because how could you ever admire and look up to someone who acts so abusively toward people? I realize now that Bill Graham was his charismatic role model. His “hero” eased his conscience about his abusive rages…and gave him an excuse to continue it. It also led him to get angry when I became hurt after his rages. I should just accept them as I should accept him fully. My hurt instead was called “blaming,” and it was just more reason for him to explode and enjoy his idol’s type of power.

    • Katy

      My ex was completely obsessed with Hitler documentaries (I wrote about that on this blog once before) – and it’s the same thing. He enjoyed them in a way that wasn’t too normal….but he learned to say that he was a “history buff”. Even though he didn’t give a fig about any history except Hitler and Mao.

      • LL

        Yes, the ‘history buff’ cover! But it’s not all the programming the History Channel features, rather the war, the killings, the evil dictators and their evil henchmen, the slaughtering of masses. “History buff”. Hitler. Pol Pot. Stalin. and others like that.

  10. Song of Joy

    Psalm 11:5-6

    The Lord tests the righteous,
    But the WICKED and THE ONE WHO LOVES VIOLENCE
    His soul hates.
    Upon the wicked He will rain coals;
    Fire and brimstone and a burning wind shall be the portion of their cup.

    ***

  11. Thank you Deborah for this post, and for all the commenters.
    And yeah, the Bee Gees are cool, Ida Mae!

    My exes were not as deeply into this evil movie world as some of yours were, but my first husband once made our daughter watch Braveheart with him, even though she begged him to let her go to bed. And he watched the first gulf war news footage as it was unrolling with what I thought was unnatural glee. I feel for all of you whose homes were saturated in evil movies.

  12. Here’s a pretty good description of the difference between Psychopath and Sociopath (written portion):
    http://www.diffen.com/difference/Psychopath_vs_Sociopath

    I think the individual my family was unfortunately tied to for a time fit into the Sociopath as he could present as relatively normal especially to gain sympathy.

    • Brian

      That article in the link really explains it well. Thank you for sharing that here! I know one guy that fits the description of the psychopath perfectly, and another guy that is right in the middle and could go either way, but is probably more toward the psychopath.

    • That *is* really clear– thanks for posting. The chart down bottom spells things out nicely.

      Looking at that, the estranged falls under sociopath–a calculating, devious person who spent long hours ruminating on ways to punish others when he didn’t get his way, only tending toward violence when he was positive he could get away with it unchallenged.

  13. My abuser loved to study Hitler too. He not only watched documentaries about him, he read Mein Kampf, the book BY Hitler. I felt chilled by it at the time, but didn’t understand what it meant. He also loved movies with a demonic theme and violent movies.

    After I left him I developed my own fascination with true crime books and other materials about psychopaths. I was trying to understand what makes a person like that tick. I suppose I am hoping I never get fooled by the smooth, charismatic veneer of someone like that again.

    It is so sad when you figure this out about someone AFTER you’ve had children with him.

    • My ex also had a love if all things Holocaust related. She said it was fascinating. I never understood that.

      Throughout our marriage she gradually got into darker and darker stuff. At fist it was stuff that I think falls into the gray area, but that I didn’t care for. In fact, being a guy who enjoys action movies and crime dramas, I enjoyed it when she started going in for more intense material. But then it started getting REALLY dark, and she wore that fact like a badge of honor. And she started watching things I couldn’t stomach. Now she wasn’t a sociopath, but she began to dwell in darkness almost all the time.

      But more than anything, it wasn’t the individual shows and movies that were problematic. Living in this world we encounter all kinds of entertainment that has objectionable stuff in it. But when there is a pattern of consumption, and the joy derived from the entertainment is not from The Lord, that’s a red flag.

      • There are definitely some things that cross lines, things like…Hostel, for example, and the Saw movies, I think (personally) those are not something any Christian should be watching, but there are a lot of other things that, like you said, is kind of a grey area – for some people they may be too much, and for other people not a problem.

        I think the real key is like you said, a pattern of content combined with attitude and reaction, how what they are watching affects them, and secondly, whether or not they are respecting the other person’s boundaries in so doing. For example, my mother for years hated Star Trek, said she had nightmares when my dad would stay up watching it, and she thought it somehow opened a door for demonic activity in the house. My dad always ignored her, and he watches an awful lot of things that disturb her, without being mindful of her concerns or trying to watch things in a place/time/volume that wouldn’t force her to see/hear it also. So I think if there’s respect of the other person’s feelings and boundaries, and dialogue about it when differences of opinion happen, that is the main thing that is the difference between a healthy relationship and an abusive one.

        Personally I love Star Trek, and a lot of other scifi/fantasy/action type things, sometimes darker in tone, but I am kind of bemused by the idea that Star Trek is demonic in some way. I am very, very sensitive to spiritual energies and presences, and I’ve never gotten any kind of negative ‘vibes’ or effects from it, and my mother seems to have eventually changed her mind about it since now she watches it whenever the rest of us are and seems to enjoy it, so I’m not sure if it was just her reacting to something she was unfamiliar with and not actual oppression, or if there was something else specific to her going on, but I am always wary of condemning any particular thing wholesale.

        There are some things, like I noted above, that I do think we can say are not acceptable, period, but I don’t want to judge anyone who feels differently as long as they are not crossing other people’s boundaries and being abusive in their enjoyment of it. I think most things are okay for at least some people, and maybe not for others. We all have different experiences and sensitivies and boundaries behind us, the important thing is just to learn how to respect each others limits, and use discernment in judging what things are acceptable for us, and wisdom and grace in how and where we choose to watch things that may be causing pain or distress to someone else.

        Overall I think regardless of the content, even if it is completely G-rated but has something triggering to them, if you are forcing someone else to watch or hear ‘entertainment’ that is deeply distressing, disturbing, painful to them or otherwise harmful to their soul or psyche, that is abuse, full stop.

      • I agree, Kagi, and I think you put that very well.

      • Thsnks…I’ve had a few clear days recently here where I’ve been able to say things and put things into words better, I cut one of my medications for a week to see if it made a difference and it really did. I’m hoping my new doctor can help me find something else that works, because I have a lot to say and it’s very frustrating not to be able to contribute to discussions like this. :’)

    • Deborah

      I agree with Jeff S and Kagi. I guess what disturbed me most is that the movies crossed the line more and more of the time. It progressed. That and he seemed to study them and that scared me…a lot. The movie “Primal Fear” in and of itself may not be bad for some people, but if someone uses it to study how to be more deceptive, it becomes a vehicle for evil. It really boiled down to how he used some of these movies and shows. And then others were just plain evil in and of themselves.

      • I didn’t want to admit it, but Primal Fear is one of my favorite movies, but not at all for the reasons your ex was into it.

        To me it demonstrates just how powerful a deceiver a psychopath can be, and how people who are unprepared can be tricked into being their accomplices. I find it fascinating that the main character lawyer is kind of shady, but picks this moment and this person to become an altruistic true believer. It makes you wonder if he’d have been better prepared if he had been a better person to begin with. Remember that his mantra (if I recall correctly) is that everyone deserves a chance, and that is why he’s a criminal lawyer. And in the end, when he realizes he aided true evil, it’s really his own comeuppance for the choices he’s made. In a way, I see him as representative of those on the church who don’t want to face and deal with real evil.

        But if you watch this movie and come away wanting to be Edward Norton’s character, you are a sick and disturbed person.

      • Though now part of me wonders if my ex admired Edward Norton’s character. I know she really liked the movie . . .

  14. Abigail

    Great discussion.

  15. Joyisnowfree

    The story that Deborahmom shared is something I can definitely relate with. I have have also taken notice on my husband’s behavior over these long 5 years. He was recently jumped by 3 men in the street last week. As he was defending himself, he broke his attacker’s eyebrow causing blood to gush out. The sight of the blood gave him a feeling of pleasure and began to laugh.

    This is not the first time he has mentioned this to me. I have witnessed how my husband has invested countless hours in researching the criminal mind. He is fascinated with sociopaths and psychotics and what drives them to murderous acts and cannibalism. Although I have tried to warn him of the dangers and consequences of feeding these subjects to his soul, he didn’t believe my counsel, however did adhere to a non believer co-worker that told him he was hurting himself.

    About a year ago, I sold my TV. I noticed that one day my husband was watching the news about a man who drove uncontrollably into a large crowd. My husband exitedly yelled for me to come into the living room to see how people were getting hit and thrown around. His eyes were filled with such exitement that he rejoiced as 5 year old would as a reaction to a birthday present. I felt the worse grief in my soul and I could never explain. It was worse than loosing my mother. I believe it wad the Holy Spirit grieving within me, because I couldn’t stop crying for a long time. My husband has confessed in the past that he felt like killing before. I know that my daughter and I are at risk, but God had shielded us and He is showing me what steps to take to break free.

    • Joy, that sounds to me like your husband is definitely a sociopath, and possibly demonized as well. Taking such fiendish delight in evil: that has to be demonically motivated.

Trackbacks

  1. Psychopath, Sociopath — is there a difference? | A Cry For Justice
  2. The Love Dare, a dangerous book in the hands of an abuser — by Deborah | A Cry For Justice

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