“Shocked.” That’s how many who viewed the testimony of Ariel Castro, the notorious kidnapper and rapist who kept 3 young women as sex slaves for several years before their serendipitous rescue a few months ago, described their reaction to the statement Castro made at his hearing last week. How could someone who did all of the horrendous things this man did boldly claim: “I am not a monster” and cast himself as anything but the kind of abusive character his victims have made him out to be? Does he really believe what he’s saying? Is he delusional or in a state of some kind of denial? Is he just “sick” in the manner he asserts, driven to near madness by a “porn addiction” so severe that it compelled him to do things a decent person such as himself would simply not otherwise do? Or could he possibly be a heartless predator and indeed a “monster,” just as his victims claim – a man who even now is more concerned about managing the impressions of others (especially those who will decide his legal fate) than he is concerned about the evil deeds he committed and the damage he inflicted on his victims? Being outraged not only by Castro’s remarks but also by some of the comments by experts on the psychological dynamics purported to be at work in this case, and having so much experience dealing with individuals like Castro, I simply had to interrupt the planned progression of articles related to the topics we’ve been discussing on the blog of late and not only weigh in on the Castro case but also point out some of the extremely important lessons that can be learned from Castro’s behavior in court last week.
When I first started assessing and treating serious sexual offenders, I accepted what I’d been taught about the psychological dynamics associated with their “illness.” But it wasn’t too long before I became very uncomfortable with the dominant theoretical perspectives. That’s because so very few of the offenders really seemed to fit the various accepted models. Extremely few had behavioral profiles consistent with that of a true “addiction.” And very few fit the classic pattern of being generally well-adjusted folks who unfortunately possessed a deviant arousal pattern and a compulsion that drove them to do unspeakable things while unconsciously putting up a wall of “denial” to protect themselves against the overwhelming guilt they felt for doing those things. And it was not until research began clearly showing that certain offenders score very highly on the most reliable indicator of psychopathy that I finally allowed myself to trust my gut instincts that there are really heartless predators out there who see others only as objects of potential gratification and are capable of the most deliberate yet vile acts while wearing a “mask” of social civility. Eventually I found that if I dropped all preconceptions about the nature of these offenders, and simply listened and observed carefully and objectively to the things they say and do, simpler and more rational explanations would emerge about what they’re really like. And that’s why I wanted to focus some attention on Castro and his outrageous statements at his hearing. Because when you take an unbiased look at his proclamations and behavior, it’s much easier to see what kind of person he really is.
Castro says that he’s been “sick” for a long time and was in denial about it for years. Now, however, supposedly he’s overcome his denial and fully accepts and admits his illness. And he wants folks to know that apart from his sickness, he’s a pretty decent guy. He admits he took his victims, but claims his sickness drove him to it. And he vehemently denies his victims’ characterizations of him as an abuser and torturer. But it’s precisely the “characterization” he wants to sell others about himself as well as the behavior he exhibited in the present time (free from his “denial” of the past) that gives his true character away when you look at things objectively. For in those chilling, horrifying moments in the courtroom, before the judge, his victims, many others present, and the television cameras, he displayed absolutely no compunction about trashing the character of his victims in order to more positively portray himself. Without flinching or showing any signs of conscience twinging, he claimed his victims falsely portrayed his behavior toward them as “abusive” or “tormenting” in any way and that his victims should not be seen as victims at all but rather women who had already frivolously engaged in sexual acts long before he captured them and that “most of the sex that went on in the house, and probably all of it, was consensual.” And while some of the various blog commentators and many “experts” still see these outrageous assertions as evidence of a deranged and deluded mind in a very deep state of denial, it’s much more likely that they are merely the actions of a highly character-deficient individual, grossly lacking in conscience, and actively engaging in the tactics of impression management. After all, which of these self-descriptions sounds better to you: “I’m really an ordinary guy who developed an addiction to pornography that got so bad it compelled me to seek out young women who fortunately were were already sexually adventurous enough to want to have consensual sex with me” or “I have a sexual interest in teen girls (as opposed to a ‘porn addiction’) which I know is a deviant and socially disdained interest, and not only have I never sought help for it but also I’m the kind of person who has absolutely no compunctions about satisfying it by targeting, luring, and abducting and terrorizing innocent, unsuspecting young girls and making them my sexual slaves for years.” I have no doubt that Ariel Castro knows self-description number 2 to be the unvarnished truth. But self-description number 1 clearly sounds better. Number 1 casts him as a basically decent sort and a victim. Number 2 paints him as he is, “a monster” and calculating predator with the characteristics I describe so poignantly in In Sheep’s Clothing and provide several examples of in Character Disturbance (the latter chapters in Character Disturbance have some chilling vignettes of sexual predators). But here’s the most important thing to note and which readily gives the truth away: Castro could have falsely and positively cast himself as a “sick” victim without heartlessly trashing the character of his victims, but he didn’t. There he was in front of God and the rest of world watching, needlessly abusing his victims all over again without the slightest signs of upset or remorse. That’s what testifies so clearly to his true character. It’s the senseless and remorseless use and abuse of others that defines psychopathic predators. And Castro couldn’t possibly claim that a “porn addiction” made him do what he did in that courtroom! What bothers me is that so many pundits and experts have overlooked this.
It’s so common for heartless impression-managers to bundle together many of the tactics I outline in In Sheep’s Clothing, including minimization of their evil acts, casting themselves as victims, and engaging in various forms of victim-blaming and character assassination. Sometimes they just get carried away with their efforts to manipulate and just don’t know when to stop or when their excessive use of tactics will reveal too much of their character and diminish the success of their impression-management efforts. I have another article on the topic of impression management and how it’s used by heartless predators that you can find posted on another popular international blog (see: Psychopathy and The Art of Impression Management).