Getting Hurt Again and Again? | Psychopathic Love Relationships
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Let’s look at the consequences of problems with certain brain functions through this vignette.
John and Larry
Consider a non-psychopathic man (John), enjoying a day in the park with his dog Max. He sits down on the bench to relax as his dog plays in front of him. A stunning woman walks by and stops to pet his dog. She engages in small talk, they smile at each other and after a few cuddles with the dog the beautiful stranger moves along with her walk.
The non-psychopathic man probably felt a sexual attraction to her. Sure, John’s mind registered her beauty and friendliness. However, he has a deep connection with his wife, Nancy, and would never jeopardize a relationship so special for an encounter. He did not have a desire to explore any further interactions with the stranger.
Betraying Nancy was not an option for him. Not only does he understand from a cognitive standpoint that an indiscretion would destroy his relationship and hurt Nancy, but his emotions would never allow him to take such actions. He was bonded with her and loved her deeply.
His brain also communicated with the areas associated with morality. It is wrong to betray someone (wife). It is wrong to break vows as though they were meaningless. He would be plagued by guilt, remorse, and shame. This all happens within a split second – instantly.
John continued his conversation with the stranger, smiled, enjoyed her beauty momentarily and then moved along with his day as well. Normal human beings with healthy brains are fully capable of feeling lust and attraction, without acting upon it. It’s normal for the reward center to be stimulated by beauty. However, one of the jobs of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in connection with the emotional system is to lay down the law and put the brakes on any behavior that could cause problems for John. There is a conscience. Morals are implemented and acted upon.
Most likely, the prefrontal region of his brain (ventromedial prefrontal cortex) sent down a huge “NO” and the impulse is controlled. The prefrontal cortex is considered ‘boss’ and usually when one has an intact well functioning system, problems are minimized and often avoided. In John’s case- everyone is happy and no one was emotionally harmed.
However, this scenario would have played out quite differently had John had a personality of strong psychopathic traits. There would not have been ‘brakes‘ within his brain (the systems mentioned above) to halt his impulses and desires. Research suggests that many with psychopathy have dysfunction associated with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. It does not perform its ‘boss’ duties and has poor interconnections to other regions of the brain, such as the emotional center. Problems are bound to happen.
Let’s put Larry in that scenario.
Larry has strong psychopathic traits. Larry has no bonds or strong emotional ties to anyone, even though he has been married to Samantha for six months. Therefore, a deep connection with another person (wife) does not exist for Larry. He cannot love Samantha in the manner suited for a monogamous marital partnership due to his disorder (psychopathy).
Therefore, Samantha is always replaceable.
Larry lacks morals and has no concern if his wife is hurt when he cheats. In fact, cheating confirms his superiority and desirability. It demonstrates to him that he can control “any woman” he wants. The entire process of betrayal and deception are stimulating and exciting to him.
When the friendly woman kneels down to pet his dog, Larry’s reward center within his brain is immediately stimulated. His primary thought becomes, how can I get this woman in bed! He calculates which lies are required to accomplish that goal. He sizes her up and lays on the charm. Making jokes, smiling, scanning the environment for signs of a man who might be with her. He is in full lure mode and nothing can break that focus.
In fact, his focus is extremely intense. He is determined to accomplish his goal, “I have to get her number … I want to see her again!” The dopamine, testosterone and reward center of his brain are on fire. It is nearly intoxicating. “How can I get this woman!” would be his state of mind. In this situation, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is not adequately performing its job. He is free to do what feels good to him, regardless of consequences, morals, or nature of his current relationships (i.e., new marriage).
Unless the beautiful stranger rejects Larry’s advances, poor Samantha is about to be betrayed by his cheating a second time. Feelings will be hurt and her heart will be broken, requiring months or years to repair. Samantha will most likely wonder (like many non-psychopathic partners),
“Why does he repeatedly hurt me? We just got married and he promised he would never do this again to me! I treat him well. I love him. Yet there is no loyalty or respect toward me.“
Samantha will eventually come to understand it is his disorder and not her behaviors that caused his deception, manipulation, stimulation seeking, and callousness. Betrayal is not an uncommon occurrence within psychopathic love relationships.
Of the two wives, Nancy would most likely not have to worry about John’s behavior when she is not around. She is secure in her relationship with him because she knows his personality. He has demonstrated a longstanding pattern of morals and respect. She never has to beg for his love, perform for his attention, or abide by unusual rules in order to keep peace in their home (i.e., walk on eggshells). Their relationship is not free of all problems, however it is stable, loving, and fun. Each are free to be themselves.
Samantha, on the other hand, is extremely concerned whenever Larry leaves the house. In an instant his attention and interest could shift to a different woman. It all depends on whether someone catches his eye. Her emotions are not safe with him.
Samantha knows the kind of man she married. Therefore, she is insecure and often makes attempts to monitor his behavior (check his phone, scan credit card statements, watch his online accounts). She has a bond with him and although she has not admitted it to herself yet, she knows deep inside he has no genuine bond with her. Her marriage is stressed, full of ups and downs, and always seems to fall far short of comfortable stability. She feels that she is constantly explaining to him how to treat her and upset about his history of moral violations.
Poor functioning of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex seems to be a significant variable in quite a few of the symptoms demonstrated in psychopathy.
Want to learn more about the ventromedial prefrontal cortex ? Go check out our talk show skit video that has a little fun with learning these brain regions. Talk Show Skit