Having spent a good long while now — much longer than I would have thought — studying the nature of good vs evil and psychopathy, I come to the conclusion that cognitive dissonance is the most shattering part of dealing with people who lack conscience. In my blog thus far, I’ve shared many of my experiences encountering such people with candor and bold honesty. There’s that old quote, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
I have been trust-impaired, meaning I have trusted too easily, even in the face of evidence that my trust was misplaced. To be fair, this goes back to my relationship with my mother, as does my quest to understand the nature of good vs evil. We come into this world helpless and we learn about trust from our care-takers. By all rights, the one person we should be able to trust — in order to have a good start in life — is our own mother.
Unfortunately for me, I had a mother who was not trustworthy. On the other hand, I had a father who was gentle and imminently trustworthy. My mother did not know how to nurture, and I was an object to her, an inconvenience, and a puppet to be used for her own gain of love and admiration. She didn’t take proper care of me, did not protect me from a world that can be cruel, and added her own doses of cruelty to boot.
I’ve long since tired of analyzing my childhood experiences, but they are instructive in how a human being can become trust-impaired. Like a Shakespearean tragedy, my mother was not to be trusted, but my father was a paragon of trustworthiness. Unfortunately, he died when I was young, leaving me — seemingly — in a quandary. Yearning for that sense of safety he had provided for the briefest of whiles, yet getting smacked down time after time by my own mother. And the disconnect was lodged in my psyche, hindering my ability to know when it was wise to give my trust to others and when it was dangerous for my well-being.
When I was an adolescent, I took notice of Janis Joplin and still adore her music legacy. She did a song called Trust which might have been my theme song or which might have been a warning call:
Years ago, I read the classic book by Ann Rule about famed serial killer Ted Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me. Recently, I re-read that same book along with another by Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth called The Only Living Witness: The True Story of Serial Sex Killer Ted Bundy.
Ted Bundy has become daggered into the public imagination as the iconic psychopath. What many people fail to grasp is that Ted is on the far end of the spectrum, but that psychopaths walk among us who may not be serial killers, but their affect on our lives — the lives of their targets and innocent victims — is destructive and calamitous. Until one has encountered a person without conscience — yes, until one has been caught in their web of deceit fueled by their charm — one cannot understand the scope of the dynamics at play.
Studying Bundy and his depravity and the impact he had on the lives of the people who entered his orbit is revealing. Aside from the heinous and barbaric acts he committed, he used the same tactics and M.O. you will find in your “garden variety” psychopath. A charming narcissist who was admitted to two different law schools and who was involved in state-level Republican politics, who would have guessed his avocation was killing young women and engaging in necrophilia?
Ann Rule, who had been a policewoman and who wrote pieces for True Detective magazine, encountered Ted Bundy when both of them answered crisis calls at a suicide hotline. The “Ted” known to Ann Rule was a handsome clean-cut man who could soothingly talk a caller out of suicide. No wonder she was rocked to the core when she began to suspect that he might be involved in the cases of missing women in her region.
As a writer for True Detective, Ann Rule had close working relationships with many local detectives. She was privy to details of the cases of the string of women who vanished so elusively. And ironically, her big break had come when she’d signed a book contract to write about the cases when they were solved.
One can hardly imagine and only shudder at the ravages of cognitive dissonance Rule felt over time, as clues began to point to her “Ted” as the perpetrator! On a grand scale, this is what all of us who have been ensnared in the spider web of a psychopath experience. Ted #1, the charismatic and handsome fellow who softly guided people in the depths of despair out of bleak notions of suicide and who studied law and who socialized with the Washington state political elite versus Ted #2, the maniacal serial killer who feigned broken limbs to arouse sympathy and quell doubts as he lured his victims. The two images are irreconcilable and clash from top to bottom.
Our “garden variety” psychopaths may be one of our parents, our siblings, our children, our boss, our neighbor, or our romantic or domestic partner. My heart especially goes out to the latter because I’ve been there. Close friends can see we are clearly being deceived, manipulated, and abused, or worse. They watch helplessly as we crumble. And they become exasperated because no amount of counseling and listening and talking to us until they are blue in the face can assuage our confusion or deter us from remaining loyal even as the evidence mounts. We carry our own version of Ted #1 and Ted #2, and the twain do not meet. Bundy had already been convicted of kidnapping, and Ann Rule could even still not quite fathom that he was actually guilty. She wrote him letters of comfort and sent him money for his prison account…. If someone with her background in crime-writing and detective work was still not disabused of Ted’s innocence, the rest of us can be forgiven for our lingering cognitive dissonance.
For those of us who are trust-impaired, the wisest advice is to listen to your gut. Many potential Ted victims survived because they did just that. The “psychopathic stare” is often written about. Over and over, potential victims and witnesses talked about the “creepy” look in Ted’s eyes. Superficially, he might have seemed like an ordinary guy, quite polite and well-spoken. When a psychopath rests his or her gaze on you, it’s not out of interest or love or admiration or infatuation — it’s the stare of a predator after prey. Somewhere deep inside you, you will sense the “evil.” Honor that feeling.
Yeah, it’s disheartening to write about such things. So much nicer to think about flowers and rainbows and unicorns and warm hugs from special doggies. Life doesn’t come with an instruction booklet. (Some of wouldn’t read it anyway!) Sounds jaded to offer a reminder that everyone you meet is not to be trusted. Maybe these lessons are better learned the hard way, but I still subscribe to the words of Emily Dickinson:
IF I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
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