Dark Triad Personality Disorders and Cheating: An Interview with Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown
Photo courtesy of Sandra Brown

If you’ve uncovered your partner’s double life, you probably wondered: “Who does this?” What sort of person can cheat and compartmentalize their activities for years — or decades even.

People with pathological personality disorders, that’s who, says psychotherapist and author Sandra Brown.

Dark Triad personalities

Brown discusses the intersection of infidelity with personality disorders in the latest episode of the Tell Me How You’re Mighty podcast. Those with callous and manipulative traits — who range on a spectrum from narcissists to sociopaths — are referred to as Dark Triad personalities.

A pioneering therapist in narcissistic abuse recovery, Brown is the author of 12 books related to pathological love relationships. She talks to Sarah and Tracy about how to recognize Dark Triad personalities and why such people make dangerous partners. Her advice: it’s a fool’s errand to do therapy with abusers — they don’t change.

“I noticed all those survivors’ trauma. And what they didn’t have was an understanding of the disorder of their partners, which kept them hoping that they would change.”

Sandra Brown

Brown argues that the public — and sadly, therapists — lack awareness about the condition. And survivors, who would benefit from trauma therapy, instead waste time at their peril trying to help and understand their partners.

Infidelity is a hallmark of psychopaths

Not every cheater is a psychopath, of course. But “you would be hard pressed to find anyone within the Dark Triad” that isn’t a cheater, says Brown.

They enjoy the duplicity. The more people they can manipulate, the better. It’s difficult for anyone who’s wired normally to understand — and we stay because we project our normalcy on to them. And we also stay because they’re really, really good at fooling people. Brown shares that even Robert Hare, the eminent psychologist who devised the diagnostic tool to spot psychopaths, has been taken in by them.

The disorder is baked in

It’s disturbing to think that nature trumps nurture. That we can’t love all the hurt away. But if someone has a congenital lack of empathy, and a long history of manipulation, they aren’t safe partners. And it’s not your fault for “failing” to change them.

“A personality disorder is the inability to sustain non-manipulative and consistent positive behavior.”

Sandra Brown

They choose their victims well

Brown shares her recent research on survivors of narcissistic abuse — and what they have in common is a personality trait known as “agreeableness.” They’re pro-social, altruistic, caring, trusting. In other words, the best sorts of partners.

Agreeable people are conscientious — exactly the sort of person who shoulders an unfair burden like restoring your marriage after infidelity. Who tries harder. Who makes sacrifices. As I argue here, those are beautiful qualities misdirected at FWs.

Instead of beating yourself up for being gullible or naive, reframe it as you’re a high-value partner. And unlike a Dark Triad personality — you can learn and recover. Leave a cheater (pathological freak), gain a life.

More on Sandra Brown

To listen to the podcast, go to Tell Me How You’re Mighty: Infidelity Survival Stories, or wherever you get your podcasts.

To find Sandra Brown, check out her website for survivors — Safe Relationship Magazine.

If you’re a therapist interested Sandra Brown’s training workshops on pathological personalities, check out her site Survivor Treatment.

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2xchump
2xchump
2 months ago

This podcast, Tracy my 12 step group have given me the boost I need to get over the barbed wire wall. The wall that I use to beat myself up for staying, for being blind to betrayal, for allowing my daughree to watch me do a dance of lack of respect for myself, falling prey to 2 cheaters,the last one who developed over time, into a predictor. If brilliant psychologists can be fooled, if psychiatrist s are taken in, if pastors in my church bought into the tears and sad sausage, if family felt bad for these men and responded that the naked and heartless cheater could not be the fairy tale of the king with no clothes. That only a child could tell the truth? That truth is chump lady Tracy, and the Dr Browns that persist is shining giant bright lights in a dark world of dyed in the wool, cannot change, DNA launched manipulators and cheaters. I am looking closer at these people who cheat, lie, stole my reality and I’m cutting them out. This site helped me to go NO contact with an aging cheater cousin who was disrespectful of me and has been repeatedly blowing over my boundaries. I felt bad for him and sorry for his crazy..buy once again I did not think about me and my stability. So I am no contact with 2 cheaters,32 years apart and now a creepy, disrespectful cousin. They are everywhere. The key for me is to cut my losses and run sooner and quicker to save my precious trusting agreeable self. And to save myself for truly caring relationships. I may kiss a few more frogs but I’m not French kissing them. There is a difference! Thank you for this fantastic site helping to heal me, one creep at a time.

Elsie_
Elsie_
2 months ago
Reply to  2xchump

Yes, my 12-step group made a huge difference for me as well. I was seeing a local coach (truly a good one), and she recommended that as a follow-on to my work with her. It helped me see just how being agreeable and empathetic were positive traits that my ex took advantage of. But after several decades together, he wanted a new victim, and I was a shadow of my former self. Thankfully, I had come far enough that I knew to hire a powerhouse attorney and got a good settlement.

Ruby Gained A Life
Ruby Gained A Life
2 months ago
Reply to  Elsie_

The twelve-step program my best friend dragged me to after I left the Cheating Abusive Douche was somewhat helpful. I was the only one in the group whose abuser was diagnosed NPD — and though others claimed their abusers were Narcissists, they also continued to have faith that the 12-step program would “fix everything.” I shared no such hope, and was constantly being told I just had to let Jesus take the wheel or *believe* in the power of God. All very fine for the church-affiliated group members, who were presumably there because they were already religious, but I’ve also experienced abuse at the hands of the church and its leaders and I cannot seem to force myself to believe in God or trust Jesus to solve everything.

In the end, it was a vast relief to stop going to the twelve-step program when I finished the step study (the process that was touted to solve all my problems and lead to my complete and utter belief in Jesus to save me). The process of the step study did lead to somewhat better understanding of the issues in my marriage, mostly by forcing me to reflect on them as I answered the questions in the various steps. In the end, individual counseling and consistent journaling is what helped the most. And it had the added benefit that no one was trying to drag me kicking and screaming into their church.

While I am glad I did the Step Study, I am glad because it helped me to consolidate in my head why the church — especially that particular flavor of church — is not for me. I continued therapy for another four years — until I retired and Medicare won’t pay for that level of therapist — and journal every day. I’m at “Meh” most days, and I’ve built a happy life.

Hell of a Chump
Hell of a Chump
2 months ago

I have friends who’ve been in 12 steps for years and years and have to say that the people who most successfully manage to maintain sobriety and general personal integrity tend to draw from other philosophies and also pick and choose what aspects of 12 steps they adhere to (some are helpful) and reject the stuff they think is hypocritical or lame. The whole thing was founded by an unrepentant domestic abuser/FW after all so there are bound to be some cracks in the philosophical foundations that domestic abuse victims get snagged on.

When I was working in survivor advocacy, though most DV victim advocacy/support groups connected to shelters tended to use 12 steps/CODA-style circle talks (“no cross talk!” “no blaming!”) and other formats and concepts as a means of “supporting” survivors, the advocacy network I worked with did the reverse and rejected 12 step traditions and views on the grounds that the idea that victims are “addicted to” or “codependent with” abusers is just old-timey, dubunked victim blaming/shaming.

The funny thing we discovered is that DV survivors can be allowed to (gasp) a) blame the shit out of their perps; and b) “cross-talk” all they want because, as it turns out, most aren’t “codependent.” Nothing ever went off the rails from this. People didn’t give each other directives or try to control each other or, if they did, they would quickly self correct. It was all so civil and helpful and, best of all, meetings would frequently turn into big howling gallows humor sessions or political strategy sessions. That group minted a series of very effective activists, one of whom I saw eloquently advocating for victims’ rights on CNN and MSNBC. The secret ingredient was simply banning codependency drivel and victim-blaming and sharing the more cutting edge research which rejects victim-blaming and “CODA” approaches (like the chapter on DV in Frank Ochberg’s “Post-traumatic Stress and the Victims of Violent Crime: best scientific argument ever for why codependency or “split blame” approaches to treating DV survivors are a total disaster). It’s interesting that one of the most healing things we could do for a lot of survivors was help them protect themselves from victim-blaming psychobabble.

susie lee
susie lee
2 months ago

I really appreciate your posts. I have learned so much, and looked at the info you recommend. Don’t get me started on “codependent”.

I am not saying co dependent does not exist; but co dependent is not trusting, and building what you think is a good life with your spouse. It is a convenient blame shifter though.

Ruby Gained A Life
Ruby Gained A Life
2 months ago

Yeah, people kept trying to label me as codependent. I had a big problem with that . . . I had read enough to know that being abused and adapting your behavior to survive long enough to leave the abuser is NOT the same as codependency. Wish I’d been in your meetings instead of the ones associated with the toxic evangelical fundamentalist Christian church I wound up in.

Elsie_
Elsie_
2 months ago

This was one to listen to several times. Our mutual therapist didn’t use the “dark triad” terminology, but she had diagnosed him with aspects of NPD/BPD and said that he potentially could be dangerous. Her advice immediately after he left was to get an attorney and run.

I didn’t because I was still taking hopium, but was glad when I did get the one I picked. He completely got the situation and was worth every penny. During the divorce, my ex told his attorney that he knew how to kill me and get away with it, so that confirmed that ex was indeed dangerous. Thankfully, I was able to take out everything requiring long-term contact. There were no custody issues, and I felt like the settlement we eventually got was fair. Ex lives in another state and has moved on romantically, so all is well at present, and hopefully long-term.

Last edited 2 months ago by Elsie_
Hell of a Chump
Hell of a Chump
2 months ago
Reply to  Elsie_

I’m starting to lean to the updated concept of the “dark tetrad” which adds sadism as one of the stock traits of narcissism. For some reason it was long considered controversial to imagine these folks actually like causing pain and get off on causing suffering but new research found that sadism is part and parcel.

Shadow
Shadow
2 months ago

Yes, I’ve heard of the dark tetrad as well, and I do think sadism is likely to be part and parcel of the make-up of such lovely people.
I do remember getting the sense that certain people I’ve known have appeared to enjoy it when know they’ve caused hurt, upset, or even harm. It’s just that bit further down the sewer of bad character traits than callousness, where they just don’t give a shiny shite, but not that much further. I reckon it’s really quite common actually!

Elsie_
Elsie_
2 months ago

For sure. My attorney had a saying during my case, “No empathy and no regard for the law.” My ex truly wanted to squash me and run me over a couple of times during the legal process, as if what came before was just the beginning.

susie lee
susie lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Elsie_

I am surprised his attorney was not required to report that threat. We hear of murders or mass shooting all the time that something was seen, but no one reported it.

Elsie_
Elsie_
2 months ago
Reply to  susie lee

He reported it to my attorney, which is what is required when opposing counsel’s client is being threatened. Attorney-client privilege is waived in situations like that. Mine called me immediately and bumped another appointment so I could meet to discuss that.

He sent me to a domestic violence risk specialist who did a formal analysis so that we would have that if we chose to file a protective order or go to trial.

Ultimately, we decided to push hard to settle it, and we did. My attorney was open with his regarding that goal, and they worked together to get it done.

Shadow
Shadow
2 months ago
Reply to  Elsie_

I’m really glad you had such a good lawyer Elsie, he really did have your back! I’m glad you’re safe! I hope and pray your X stays in the dark hole he crawled into! You’re a strong woman!

susie lee
susie lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Elsie_

Glad you ended up ok.

Elsie_
Elsie_
2 months ago
Reply to  susie lee

Yes, coming up on four years divorced.

One sobering detail though. The domestic violence risk specialist I saw was actually murdered by husband two years after I saw her. She had left private practice and was working full-time for a large domestic violence shelter.

When I saw her name in the news, I completely lost it. What a tragedy!

Shadow
Shadow
2 months ago
Reply to  Elsie_

Oh bloody Hell! That’s horrible! Poor woman! I hope he never see the light of day again!

Hell of a Chump
Hell of a Chump
2 months ago
Reply to  Elsie_

Elsie– true about the crime-fraud exception in attorney-client privilege and thanks for pointing it out:
https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/the-crime-fraud-exception-the-attorney-client-privilege.html

The crime-fraud exception applies if:

  • the client was in the process of committing or intended to commit a crime or fraudulent act, and
  • the client communicated with the lawyer with intent to further the crime or fraud, or to cover it up.
Elsie_
Elsie_
2 months ago

Exactly. So I asked my attorney how this would work if we went to court to get a protective order or if the threat became part of our case if it went to trial. Would we put my STBX’s attorney on the stand as a witness?

Yes, we would, but his attorney would undoubtedly drop my STBX as a client as soon as the date was set. Being an officer of the court, he would have to testify, but no way would he represent a client AND provide testimony against his client.

MotherChumperNinetyNine
MotherChumperNinetyNine
2 months ago
Reply to  susie lee

Mandatory reports are limited to certain categories of professionals (teachers, healthcare providers) and threats to children or vulnerable adults).

susie lee
susie lee
2 months ago

I have gotten different info from research, but either way I am glad Elsie is ok.

Some of these guys are ticking bombs.

Elsie_
Elsie_
2 months ago
Reply to  susie lee

Ticking bombs is right. The specialist I saw said that the risk doesn’t go away post-divorce or even post-closeout. It goes down, but no contact is truly best if possible.

Ka-chump
Ka-chump
2 months ago

I do believe the disordered _all_ cheat or try to. That includes online activities. Another reason to run: they corrupt us. They force us to manipulate and lie (to ourselves and others or to them, often unconsciously) just to survive that highly toxic environment. They invariably groom their kids into future abusers or abusees. Evey single word, action, interaction or lack thereof is weaponized and targeted at their victims. To evoke hurt, fear, desperation, confusion, self-doubt. Every single one. They’re cobras and can only spew venom. Run!!

OHFFS
OHFFS
2 months ago
Reply to  Ka-chump

Good points. I think one of the reasons my FW hated me so much is that I would not lie to save his ego or his reputation. I would not manipulate the kids into accepting his bullshit idea of what constitutes fatherhood, which was basically just earning a living to support them and doing some Disney Dad activities. As entitled as he is, he felt betrayed. He believed I was supposed to be his alibi and his champion, even if he was in the wrong.

Shadow
Shadow
2 months ago
Reply to  OHFFS

That’s just reminded me, on the night shift after I’d had a procedure under general anaesthetic, my STBX left work early and when his bosses found out, they weren’t happy! His workmates warned him by phone and he said to me that he’d tell them my son had rang him saying I’d taken a turn and so he had to come home! That callous B wouldn’t even stay around to keep an eye on me after I’d had the GA , knowing the patient isn’t supposed to be alone for the next 24 hours; he buggered off with a lie in his mouth and I reckon he went to score coke and do a bit of sniffing with “the boys”! Luckily for me, I was ok and my son was at home when FW was at work that night, but I was not amused when he told me this and told him I did not want my son and I to be used in a lie, and was not happy about being put in a position of having to lie for him if his boss rang the house phone, which he did nearly every week and I’d end up answering! He didn’t argue but his shoulders slumped and he huffed like a teenager being told No! I nearly expected him to say “It’s SO unfair! I HATE you!” like Harry Enfield’s Kevin the Teenager character, lol!

Ka-chump
Ka-chump
2 months ago
Reply to  OHFFS

Mine too! He got enraged that I demanded he try harder to find work when we had 2 kids under 2 and I was studying full time. I confided in my cousin, who gently but firmly stepped in and helped him find a job … but he never forgave me for outing him.

LookingForwardsToTuesday
LookingForwardsToTuesday
2 months ago

The phrase “It’s a fool’s errand to do therapy with abusers — they don’t change” strikes a chord with me. It took youngest daughter’s therapist precisely one session with Ex-Mrs LFTT to work out that she (Ex-Mrs LFTT) wasn’t someone that he felt was “safe” to work with while helping our youngest daughter deal with anxiety and associated issues.

I am glad that he was open with our daughter. Th relationship that she formed with him, and the work that they did together helped her through some really dark times and helped her get to where she is today. Most importantly, it validated what she (youngest daughter) had always suspected about her mother but had been afraid to vocalise or internalise.

LFTT

MotherChumperNinetyNine
MotherChumperNinetyNine
2 months ago

Every word resonates. In the aftermath of Dday, 9 years ago on Christmas, my “beloved” husband of nearly 25 years turned on me and our kids. He was cruel, blameshifted, used DARVO, threatened, gaslit, raged, assaulted me, and lied and lied and lied…. His eyes changed …. Shark eyes that left me chilled to the bone. I thought he had a brain tumor because the abrupt change in his personality was so profound and unlike who I thought he was…. I had every symptom of complex PTSD at the end of 18 weeks of hell after Dday when I told him to GTFO. In that hellish phase, we spent thousands in a “sex addiction” recovery clinic where the lead psychologist apparently diagnosed him as a narcissist with borderline personality disorder – likely psychopath. Notwithstanding that diagnosis, the clinic continued to advocate for marriage therapy where XH screamed at me and threw things….I am a very successful litigator…otherwise strong as fuck, but in those sessions I was reduced to crying in a near fetal position….. the further trauma I suffered at the clinic — all for their material gain— makes me enraged. Thankfully, I found CL through another man-chump friend in AA and went no contact, filed for divorce… built a whole new life and healed with time. Sandra Brown, your work to educate and retrain therapists is extremely impactful. Thank you!!!!

Chumpty Dumpty
Chumpty Dumpty
2 months ago

my story too

hush
hush
2 months ago

“His eyes changed …. Shark eyes that left me chilled to the bone. I thought he had a brain tumor because the abrupt change in his personality was so profound and unlike who I thought he was….”

Same thing with my XH. Nobody I told this to at the time, years ago, could say what this was. But if I ever hear someone share this fact pattern I’ll immediately think: psychopath, dark triad, Cluster B – get a safety plan together and quietly get out.

I adore Sandra L. Brown, and had the good fortune to complete her Living Recovery Program (for traumatized partners of psychopaths). She is awesome!

Last edited 2 months ago by hush
OHFFS
OHFFS
2 months ago

😡 That’s terrible! Did you sue them for allowing him to abuse you in therapy? Those bastards are as bad as he is.

Elsie_
Elsie_
2 months ago

My ex also had a formal diagnosis of NPD/BPD. Our mutual therapist told me after he took off and settled in another state. She said that she hadn’t probed deep enough on the psychopath part to know for sure, but she told me what she had because she was afraid for me. This was a PhD clinical psychologist with a speciality in trauma, so thankfully, she knew the score. She had been treating the victims of these types for years.

Rebecca
Rebecca
2 months ago

This podcast was a fascinating listen!

“Who does that?” was very much a question I hoped to find the answer to after discovering my ex’s double life.

It was staggering for me to hear the judge call him a sociopath and then to see his warped pathology play out during the divorce process. Just one pathetic lie after another.

In the years since discovery and divorce, I have seen the wear and tear his chosen life has taken on him physically and emotionally. He looks like the sad sausage he truly is; he has aged poorly and swiftly. He hasn’t maintained his body and the weight gain is quite unflattering. His skin is grey and flaccid, clothes ill-fitting and beyond unstylish. He claims health issues but refuses to understand the correlation between life choices and good health. Not surprising for a grown man who refuses to even accept responsibility for what he puts into his mouth! He lives his life totally in the past. His childhood and his children’s childhood are his lens for his life. It is quite astonishing to see how juvenile his worldview is! What’s even sadder is that he seems to have zero recognition that he is doing this.

My healing has shown me that “who does this” is someone who has very little connection to reality or someone who chooses to ignore reality completely. It’s never them, always someone else’s fault. Someone who is deeply and profoundly troubled. Someone who is so invested in being right or the best that they block out all their failures. How could they live with themselves if they admit they are failures?

My ex would have to accept his failure as a man, a parent whose children barely tolerate him and don’t care about him on any deep level, a professional failure who always wanted to be a big shot but never came close, a failure as a whole, healthy person. He is incapable of even seeing the need for that self-awareness. Truly pathetic!

I’m forever grateful to be far, far away from that level of toxicity. That level of derangement. That level of self-destruction.

Yes, it’s a tough slog to walk through those hot coals to a free, healthy and productive life for ourselves. But best to leave them to wallow in their crazy muck of delusional horseshit!

OHFFS
OHFFS
2 months ago
Reply to  Rebecca

“My healing has shown me that “who does this” is someone who has very little connection to reality or someone who chooses to ignore reality completely. It’s never them, always someone else’s fault. Someone who is deeply and profoundly troubled. Someone who is so invested in being right or the best that they block out all their failures.”

Yeah, that’s one type, of which my FW is one. Others aren’t troubled, they are just pure, cold evil, are aware of their darkness (though they probably see it as “strength”) and are proud of it. They don’t have to confront failure as partners and parents, because they know they never wanted to be good at those things to begin with. When they succeed at their prime directive, which is to use and manipulate people, they have no failures to hide from. These are the ones who are most dangerous when they do fail, and a chump leaving would mean failure.

Hell of a Chump
Hell of a Chump
2 months ago

Great segment. It’s so refreshing to see this new wave of “anti-victim blaming” from clinical experts who put the onus for abuse where it belongs– on the abusers.

Though I think there’s a lot of controversy around the “neurobiology” of personality disorders and not all specialists are in agreement that these things are genetic per se, I still think personality disorders *might as well be* genetic because the conditions seem to be pretty treatment resistant.

I think there’s only one way in which theory of cause matters and that’s in consideration of children who are exposed to adult FWs. For one, children’s exposure to abusive FWs may doom subsequent generations to repeat dysfunctional behavior patterns. That’s why I’m glad to see that new coercive control legislation is helping victims get full custody in a few states. I hope that trend spreads. For another consideration, I’ve seen the psychological fallout on children who believe their personality disordered parents’ behavior is “genetic” which can cause anxious and depressive fatalism in kids based on the idea that the genetic “dye is cast” and they, too, will end up turning into monsters. In that case, I think it’s better for those supporting these chidlren to focus on learned destructive behavior and thinking patterns like neutralization which can arguably be passed by example from generation to generation.

Other than that, I don’t think it really matters to adult victims whether abusers’ behavior issues and twisted thinking processes are “baked in” due to the abusers’ horrifying childhood influences or genes. Not to me anyway. Because of the years I spent working in DV victim advocacy and having heard endless “tragic childhood backstories” of so many violent abusers, perpetrators’ sad sausage tale of woe leave me entirely unmoved in terms of leveling consequences. This is because, from what I’ve seen, abusers merely use victims’ and bystanders’ empathy to fuel more abuse. If anything, I would advise coldly using knowledge of abusers’ tragic histories as a means of predicting what they will do the better to stop further abuse and keep victims safe (i.e., did their dad once try to kill their mom? Better get a bench order of protection and a security system, etc.). My attitude is generally “Yes, the poor dear was chained up in a basement and fed rocks as a child. So let them get therapy during their very long prison sentence…”

At the end of the day, theory of cause should not impact consequences to abusers. If the cause is “nurture,” it’s all the more reason to “leave a cheater and gain a life” for the sake of any children in the mix.

susie lee
susie lee
2 months ago

“I still think personality disorders *might as well be* genetic because the conditions seem to be pretty treatment resistant.”

I absolutely agree. I honestly don’t think it is just that my ex wouldn’t get treatment, I think it is that his selfishness was so ingrained in him that he couldn’t even see or accept that he would actually need help. But again as you say, it doesn’t really change the victims situation.

Hell of a Chump
Hell of a Chump
2 months ago
Reply to  susie lee

I sometimes think advocates assume that framing these disorders as “genetic” will help survivors understand that these abusers are unfixable and help victims stop smoking hopium or falling into typical pity traps. But, in my experience and humble opinion, abusive thinking patterns and behaviors learned from the cradle– especially those honed and polished over many generations in a dysfunctional clan– can also be “unfixable.” Also, when you can find the same exact systematic, pathological tendency to rationalize in both FWs and, say, serial killers, there ain’t now hopium there, regardless of whether that sick thinking is learned or “genetic.”

susie lee
susie lee
2 months ago

I do know that my ex’s dad was an active alcoholic. I don’t know what all he suffered under his influence. His mother was a decent sort, and we got along well; but she told me some things that his dad did and said to her that sure were not good. Of course this was well after we were married.

It does not excuse anything he did against me or our son; but I have thought of it through the years and wondered what might have happened that he witnessed, or if he just simply got a dose of his dads genetics and couldn’t over come them.

Ex took great pride in putting down the alcohol when our son was about 2, and as far as I ever knew he never took another drink, but as it turns out he was a serial cheater, and he was also gambling. The gambling didn’t kick in in huge quantities until he and whore married.

I suspect he had lost his dignity and standing in the community, not to mention his coveted rank that I helped him get; and he just gave up. But as far as I know he never drank again, though he was a heavy smoker.

hush
hush
2 months ago
Reply to  susie lee

My cheating (with men & also paid for sex) XH’s father was an alcoholic in recovery (an AA member & sponsor for many years) his whole childhood, and his mother was a Cluster B, who had cheated on and left his father, and had stolen the identities of her kids.

My first (cheater) boyfriend post-divorce also had an alcoholic father and a mother who had stolen his identity when he was a kid. Dumped him right away when I discovered he’d basically moved another girlfriend in across the street while dating me.

These are the subtle red flags from their childhoods that I will always take note of!

Last edited 2 months ago by hush
susie lee
susie lee
2 months ago
Reply to  hush

I had no way of knowing my ex’s childhood. But yes most certainly those are red flags in hindsight. Many folks raised in abusive home over come it; some don’t.

susie lee
susie lee
2 months ago
Reply to  susie lee

Oh, his dad was a cheater and a gambler too. In fact he worked for the now defunct Western Electric and he was a member of the company bowling team. He was treasurer and yep when it came time that they needed the money, he had gambled it away. He had to resign and he used his severance pay to pay back the debt. He and ex’s mom lost their home not long after that, so I don’t know what other bills there were.

JeffWashington
JeffWashington
2 months ago

This struck a cord with me.

As she was moving out (about a week after D-Day), my FW (who was on academic probation from her master’s program) began loudly talking about her high IQ and just got straight up smug with me and continuing the mind games when I was already a wreck. Clearly, she had got one over on me and the shroud had fallen. It was definitely “mad that she got caught” in that very personality disorder kind of way. So apparently it wasn’t enough that my heart and mind were broken and my bills were about to go up considerably-a kick in the teeth was also needed for the transgression of being her chump.

All part and parcel to that whole “part of the hell of recovery from D-Day is the shame and embarrassment of “getting played” as the kids would say” thing.

And yes, I tend to be pretty “agreeable” overall. And I feel like such an idiot sometimes for falling for it for so long and smoking the hopium(to kill the pain during the Pick Me Dance), particularly this close to Christmas. I want to understand…but…”untangling the skein of crazy” and all…I just have to trust that she sucks. “Sadder but wiser” as my father would say.

I find in my own professional work with personality disorders(lots and lots of borderline, antisocial, the old “cluster B”, etc), so often the personality disorder types pretty much do everything that they can to keep out of the “therapeutic crosshairs” as I like to say around the office. They often enough dodge therapy as that would expose them. Besides, “nothing is wrong-it’s everybody else that’s the problem”, their own faux-victim mentality, etc. It really can be a fool’s errand with those types. And there inlay the tragedy-they are absolute wizards at obfuscating their own awfulness (and absolute demons when they get trapped.)

Hindsight being 20/20, it’s interesting recalling my FW’s accounting of her own individual therapy(which she often skipped-she actually dismissed her therapist the morning of D-Day after getting called out for no showing yet another appointment)-it mostly seemed to revolve around how much my behaviors were upsetting her (and coming up with a change plan for ME). Which I acquiesced to(and in fairness there was a point buried in there). Because I was dumb(see above statements concerning “the Dance” and “Hopium.”) She always seemed perplexed when I discussed my personal gains and sharing “homework” from my therapy. Funny looking back at it-never how to cope better with things that she didn’t like…

Hell of a Chump
Hell of a Chump
2 months ago
Reply to  JeffWashington

Maybe you’ve already seen this paper on neutralization (sometimes referred to as “reduction of self punishment”) since I share it a lot. So far it’s the best explanation I ever seen on how serial perps of various of stripes manage to rationalize everything they do and sleep at night. Click download tab for a free read. https://www.mdpi.com/2075-4698/9/2/46

GayDivorcee
GayDivorcee
2 months ago

Thanks for the link. This is a fascinating paper. The neutralization techniques described there certainly match some of the things I remember my XH doing. Of course, neutralization does not make one a serial killer – but it is nonetheless chilling to see the same dynamics at play among the personality disordered.

Neutralization seems to be an essential set of coping mechanisms for the disordered. How else would someone be able to live a double life for decades?

By the way, neutralization is not only undertaken by disordered romantic partners…but it can also be spotted among some politicians. You can’t unsee these techniques once you see them.

Josh McDowell
Josh McDowell
2 months ago

After living with one that was diagnosed with NPD for 13 years, it’s been liberating to find my voice again. You do not realize how damaging a person is until you are out of that relationship. I am thankful I found a male counselor that deals with this as it has helped me in my life and management of my life.

The amount of lying, gaslighting, and manipulation is not fun, and it really is a mind blender. The good thing is, is you start to call it out, or ask questions and they hate that.

Elsie_
Elsie_
2 months ago
Reply to  Josh McDowell

Twenty-seven years married and four divorced, and I still struggle at times with being forthright and not second-guessing myself. I went through something during the fall that really messed with me before I realized how I was tying myself in knots. I was my own worse enemy there.

Mighty Warrior
Mighty Warrior
2 months ago

I like the reframing of myself as a ‘high value partner’. Thank you for that suggestion. I was left with a character assassination by the ex. My self-esteem was on the floor. Therapy is helping with that. One of the ex’s complaints about me was that I am ‘too altruistic’. He managed to turn every good point into a flaw. ExgfOW (who is his current partner) was (is?) a life coach and provided much of the ‘language’ for the character assassination. It all sounded convincing. Once I became aware later of the long-standing affair, it was less convincing! So glad I’m not part of that ‘dark triad’ any more. I gather that the fantasy isn’t as much fun now that I’m no longer part of it. Over 4 years out and 3 years divorced on 23rd of this month, 2024 is going to be my year of living bigger!

hush
hush
2 months ago
Reply to  Mighty Warrior

“Life coach” describes far too many OW. 🤮🤣

Here’s to an amazing 2024!!!!

QueenofChumps
QueenofChumps
2 months ago

Thank you for this. My ex husband definitely fits the description, long term double life, elaborate coverups, delight in deception, mutiple partners, inability to sustain long term change in behavior. I was the very agreeable spouse who forgave time and time again. My father and brother ALSO fit this description, so every male in my family apparently are sociopaths.
I do have a changed world view. I look at couples and wonder what lies the man is telling the wife, what secret life he has. in my world, all men cheat, no man can be trusted, you either have to be hypervigilant, or you wall yourself off, become so independent you don’t need anyone and you can’t be hurt again. I’m in therapy, but I don’t know if I’ll ever fully trust someone enough to commit.

hush
hush
2 months ago
Reply to  QueenofChumps

Yup. Changed world view for sure here, too. Sometimes there are no discernible red flags until one is 15 years into a marriage with kids. Now I judge character early and often on the little selfish things I observe, and quietly, quickly exit.

Actually it would be scarier for me to go back to my old views! Now I trust my inner voice 💯!

susie lee
susie lee
2 months ago
Reply to  QueenofChumps

My ex mother in law when I had only been married to her son about 5ish years told me that men will either chase women, gamble, or drink. Turns out hers did all three and mine did 2 out of 3. Of course at the time she told me this I didn’t believe it. I never saw my dad or my brother in that light, so I was sure her son had broke the mold.

Elsie_
Elsie_
2 months ago
Reply to  QueenofChumps

It makes you question your own judgment, for sure. I have wonderful friends, both male and female, but zero desire to pair up again. I can imagine that I would be a difficult parter to win over as I would be naturally watching and waiting to see the signs of disordered thinking.

Hell of a Chump
Hell of a Chump
2 months ago
Reply to  QueenofChumps

I think the more specifics we learn about disordered and abusive personalities and their MOs and tactics, the less generalized our fears can become. But, all the same, since even FBI specialists seem to be no better at detecting liars than a random coin toss, it’s a daunting prospect. That’s where gut instincts, time, patience, clear sightedness and a good social support system come in handy.

Helen Reddy
Helen Reddy
2 months ago

Much kudos to CL for continuing to do her part toward the immense need for

Public pathology education.

There is so much I did not know and could not name when the first Cluster B romantic partner entered my life back when I was 18. There are so many more resources now for betrayed people to turn to when encountering personality-disordered partners or prospective partners, and CL is a big part of the reason for that.

Thanks to all of them, one of my most treasured traits at this point in my life is the ability to turn off my agreeableness the moment it’s used against me.

AristocraticChump
AristocraticChump
2 months ago

Brilliant podcast, thank you so much!

kim2003
kim2003
2 months ago

My father used to tell me that you have to deal with people as they are, not what you hope they can be.

It’s saved me a lot of trouble. Once I got a good look at who my ex actually was, none of his begging and bullshitting worked.

I get it though…..hopium is a powerful drug.

susie lee
susie lee
2 months ago
Reply to  kim2003

Yep and good advice. Unfortunately, we can’t do it until we know who they are. But once we know, we will never unknow.

thrive
thrive
2 months ago

Really great podcast. I have struggled from the beginning about forgiveness because yeah I have been asked multiple times if I have forgiven him. And I have always not really understood what that meant so I have jumped through lots of hoops to try and get my mind around forgiveness thinking that that’s what I should do. So I think her comment “I hoped that he has gone through recovery from his [narcissistic behavior], and that he will not hurt another woman. But I will never have him at my Thanksgiving table. That to me is a very good way to think about forgiveness. However, there may come a time when he’ll be at my Thanksgiving table because I do have his sons but the point is I can live with not thinking about him every day being my goal. Hugs to all. Have a peaceful holiday!

OHFFS
OHFFS
2 months ago
Reply to  thrive

My FW might be welcome at my table if I was a starving to death cannibal and he was the main course. Otherwise, not a chance.

Elsie_
Elsie_
2 months ago
Reply to  thrive

I say something similar

I hope that he gets the help he needs, as unlikely as that is. I also hope that he never ever hurts anyone again like he hurt his family and children.

But have him for dinner? Heck, no. I’m not going there.

OHFFS
OHFFS
2 months ago

My FW took a dark triad traits test and scored over 75%.
I suspect most cheaters are high in those traits. Otherwise, their conscience would kick in and they would not be able to conduct a double life.

Stig
Stig
2 months ago

Yep. So many well-meaning therapists are still working on the premise that both parties are coming to the table in good faith. That’s never going to work out when one partner’s intent is to manipulate, minimise and shift blame.

Chump-Domain Cleric
Chump-Domain Cleric
2 months ago

This is always a complex one for me – my family has a history of mental illness (including PDs), I have mentally ill friends (including ones with PDs), and I’m a very, very mentally ill chump.

At the same time, I excused so many red flags with ex/FW because he was mentally ill. And hey, I had gotten better with some help, and he said he wanted to get better with some help, and I can show him how it’s done! How to take care of yourself better, how to open up… How to admit to yourself that your parents fucked up sometimes, and how it affects you as an adult.

Hey, uh, to any… questioning chumps, here’s a little thing. If you keep leading a horse to water, and they don’t drink, even if they say they want to? They probably aren’t actually interested in drinking that water. And even if they were, that is NO REASON TO PUT YOURSELF THROUGH ABUSE.

Mental illness is complicated. And we should watch out for patterns of disordered people. This sort of study is important (and I’ve actually followed Dr. Hare’s work since middle school) and I’ll definitely give it a listen later this week. But at the same time, mentally ill people are more likely to be targets of violence than to be violent – and that includes being a chump.

Just something I thought I’d throw out there, based on comments I’ve seen before. I hope this doesn’t come off as preachy.

Chump-Domain Cleric
Chump-Domain Cleric
2 months ago

Oh, and… in case it wasn’t clear, I’m talking about mental illness in general, not Dark Triad specifically, as I don’t exactly have much in the way of experience with that.

Although, I have heard of people with certain “impossible” disorders improving with a decade or more of CBT. But that doesn’t mean a chump should stick around for that. You don’t deserve to be chumped. You don’t deserve to be mistreated. None of us do. None of us did. And cheaters suddenly having a change of heart and becoming loyal partners? Well, you might as well be hunting unicorns.

susie lee
susie lee
2 months ago

There are many kinds of mental illness of course; but I think anyone who can lead a double life successfully for many years is definitely mentally ill. Dark Triad, Psychopath, Sociopath what ever diagnoses they fit in, they are mentally ill, and may need lots of help. But most won’t seek it, and there is nothing of course a spouse can do about that but run like our hair is on fire.

Serial killers are mentally ill, mass shooters almost always have a history of unstable behavior linked to mental illness.

It doesn’t make those with mental illness who don’t commit crimes guilty of those crimes any more than it makes the spouse guilty when their spouse’s mask comes off.

Mental illness also does not excuse crime; Not guilty by reason of insanity is a rare verdict.

Chump-Domain Cleric
Chump-Domain Cleric
2 months ago
Reply to  susie lee

Oh, completely agreed. “It’s not that they don’t see, it’s that they disagree” – they know something is wrong, they just don’t care.

weedfree
weedfree
2 months ago

Great podcast. The two Christmases story reminded me of FW one night having two dinners. He ate the roast dinner I’d prepared with our (but really my) friends before abruptly leaving and heading out for a second dinner (as I later found out) with AP. My friend helped him tie a windsor knot and dropped him off at the venue for his “work function”. I am sure many of our FWs doubled up on a lot of things to sustain their lives, other than sex partners. Must be exhausting. Another Friday challenge perhaps?

RaffNoMore
RaffNoMore
2 months ago

“Brown argues that the public — and sadly, therapists — lack awareness about the condition”. It is the judges in Family Court that really need to understand the condition. Uneducated Judges are killing our kids

Chumpty Dumpty
Chumpty Dumpty
2 months ago

This is THE most helpful person I have come across in almost three years of searching desperately for answers and understanding so I could heal and also know how to practically move forward. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for leading me to Sandra Brown.