Love, Psychopath Style?

At the risk of possibly offending the readers with another egregious example of severe character disturbance, I simply had to comment on the heinous actions of a pair of heartless “lovers” who made headlines several days ago in Pennsylvania.  Despite the sickening nature of the crime they committed, the actions of Miranda and Elytte Barbour illustrate so many things about the nature of psychopathy (referred to by some as sociopathy) so clearly that I think it worth discussing a few important aspects of the case.

For some time, 18 year-old Miranda Barbour had been arranging to meet men for “companionship” and “delightful conversation” by placing ads in Craigslist.  Her 22 year-old husband of only three weeks said he was perfectly okay with his new bride soliciting meetings with men because they were purely for the purpose of providing companionship to someone needing another person to listen to and understand them and not for purposes of prostitution or for other nefarious reasons.  One of the men Miranda met on Veterans Day (November 11), came to the attention of police after they found him dead.

Miranda’s initial story to police was that the man tried to attack her and she stabbed him in self-defense.  But the evidence simply didn’t add up, and the stories of Miranda and her new husband began to unravel quite quickly.  In the end, the couple’s purported compassion-inspired caper turned out to be one of the most cold-hearted and senseless acts of murder.

Miranda eventually told police she’d dreamed about her and her husband committing a murder together for a while.  They talked about it being one of the most exciting things they could possibly do together.  They then used the occasion of Veterans Day to celebrate both the holiday and their 3-week “anniversary,” as well as to fulfill their dream.

Elytte eventually acknowledged that he hid on the floor of Miranda’s car when she picked up 42 year-old Troy Ferrara, and upon a signal from Miranda, wrapped a cord firmly around the victim’s neck and held on tightly while Miranda repeatedly stabbed him to death.  Then the couple went out to dinner to celebrate the holiday and their special “honeymoon” gift to one another.

I’ve pointed out before (see, for example: (Understanding Predatory Aggressors as well as the section on predatory aggression in my book Character Disturbance) that predatory aggression (some refer to this type of aggression as “instrumental” aggression), which is a cardinal feature of psychopathy, is rarely motivated by anger but rather most often by pure desire.  Sometimes that desire can be for nothing more than pure excitement. And it’s the apparent senselessness of this kind of violent behavior that led early pioneers in the field of psychopathy to conclude that the condition is a form of “moral insanity.”  But Miranda and Elytte Barbour are not insane by any measure.  They’re just devoid of what most of us would consider a human “heart” (i.e. empathy), which is why they lack something else most of us have: a moral conscience.  That’s what enables them to do the most horrific things to others, and sometimes, just for the thrill of it.

Miranda and Elytte not only displayed the heartlessness, senselessness, and and lack of remorse common to psychopaths in their brutal crime but they also displayed the other cardinal feature of this most serious of character disturbances during their interviews with police:  seemingly senseless, incessant, (or as some have often termed: “pathological”) lying.  With psychopaths, lies flow so freely and with almost no forethought given that occasionally their stories unravel with surprising ease, especially when there’s reliable evidence available to counter their attempted “con.”  This was the case during Miranda and Elytte’s police interrogation.  They just couldn’t make things up fast enough to stay ahead of the evidence.  Of course, psychopaths’ lies are indeed calculated, part of the “game” of manipulation and impression-management, designed to lure and subsequently victimize unsuspecting targets.  But at other times, their lies appear senseless (for more on lying and character disturbance see:  Lying – Another Look at This Character Defect and Lying – Manipulation Tactic 1 – Pt 2 as well as the section on lying as a manipulation tactic in my book In Sheep’s Clothing).  But in all cases, psychopaths lie primarily to keep others guessing and in a one-down position.  So while their lying might appear senseless, it actually always serves a purpose.  It’s their chillingly predatory nature that these pathological liars don’t want you to readily recognize.  Correctly identifying their nature early on could keep someone from being victimized.  Unfortunately, when it comes to psychopaths, because of their capacity for superficial charm, most folks don’t recognize their true nature until it’s too late to avoid victimization.

Now that they know they have two heartless predators devoid of conscience on their hands, police will be looking carefully for other victims (another Craigslist serial killing spree is definitely a possibility).  And they’ll probably also be taking a much closer look at Miranda’s prior relationship, inasmuch as she has a 16 month-old child from her former lover who just happens to have died under odd circumstances.  Perhaps they could even learn a lot from examining Elytte and Miranda’s relationship more closely.  In addition to their other unusual characteristics, psychopaths can sometimes have genuine feelings for another person while also being chillingly able to completely mentally wall-off or “compartmentalize” those feelings when the urge to prey strikes (this also appears the case with serial killer Aileen Wuornos and her lover Tyria Moore).  And it’s this uncanny ability that we need to know much more about if we’re to fully understand these heartless predators among us.

Next Friday’s post will focus the issues of mental illness, character disturbance, and personal responsibility.  It will examine the various ramifications of the so-called “affluenza” defense in the case of Ethan Couch, the 16 year-old young man who killed 4 people and left others paralyzed while driving drunk (and was sentenced to a posh rehab center in lieu of punishment), as well the messages parents, society at large, and especially the justice system need to send our young people if they’re ever to acquire a sense of personal and social responsibility.  Also look for a new page on the site sometime mid-week that will post information on upcoming seminars, webinars, etc.  Stay tuned.

15 thoughts on “Love, Psychopath Style?

  1. I’ve recently read a bit of Robert Firestone and his theory of anti-self system that consists of destructive thought processes.

    Now, reading about folks, who utilize their goal-seeking energy on aggressive whim, I get the impression they have little to no problem with self-loathing issues or suicidal thoughts(of course, depends on how each personality traits cluster). Is it feasible to say that the same destructive energy, which some people internalize, ends up, in turn, being directed externally by other kinds of people? Can we say that a human being’s natural capacity for destructiveness morphs into self-impairing patterns in one person’s personality structure and, in that of another person, into an instrument of dominance and assurance of being recognized at the expense of anything else?

  2. Wow J…..that is interesting. Very interesting. I don’t know!! I see Spathtard….and he was so withholding of himself, held his cards VERY close…..that it’s hard to say. He would have you think all kinds of things about him that I don’t know to be true or false. At this point it’s safe to assume that everything he said was a lie. He tried to get me to think that he was victimized by his father, his ex-wives……all a pity ploy lie is the way I see it now. So, what did he really think of himself?? WHO KNOWS! Did he interpret my behavior and actions through his own TRUE motivations and thoughts? That is what I think is true now. And it’s a horrible thought to wonder if all the effort I did put in was in vain from the start and did nothing but entertain him……
    I think you may be onto something there though J. Philosophical ?

    1. Made a connection, although I’m not sure whether that connection really is there. Some cause pain to others, some to themselves.

      Sure I could philosophize(read: fantasize) endlessly how it would be so much better if human only could exist being constructive, but what difference would it make?

      I read psychology as a hobby. I don’t want to mess with anyone’s ideas here. I do hope to contribute something small, even if it’s just a link to some other discovery that could prove beneficial.

    2. I recall you’ve mentioned how this Spath-Jeron(jerk+moron) had a life no self-respecting person would like to find themselves having yet liking it all fine.

      That brings me to questions of self-respect. When it’s said someone has no self-respect, I usually think they do feel bad about themselves and their lives by implication. However, if someone likes the life like Sjeron(just thinking of new nicknames), can we still say he has any self-respect? Or can a person without self-respect like the kind of person they’ve become, because they have an inflated self-esteem at the expense of respect for others as well?

      1. Hi J,,,,,,,,,,I am struggling with this! I think it’s a really grey area and also very subjective to the individual. Also a lot of variables that could be involved and have an influence.

      2. I guess we can get tangled in details here, thus failing to see what’s really important.

        If someone was aggressing against me, I wouldn’t care a bit whether they care about self-respect or what their exact psychological dynamics are.

        Being a therapist is a different context, but even there one can get stuck in irrelevancies like “I wonder if this person here is in existential sense a dead spirit, who’s stopped caring about what means anything anymore, more content with essential existential isolation than anything. Their Gestalt doesn’t seem fixed and he has his own idea of fixing the deadness of his life, but he hasn’t exploded with shame yet(refering to the “explosive”, the last of psychological layers better fit to describe neurotics in Gestalt psychology), so transactionally that must mean (mash together theories of as many psychological schools as possible)”.

        While it can be helpful to know many different underlying psychological theories, I think that can easily backfire if one desperately tries to reconcile them all.

        Random thoughts of mine organized here, anyway.

        1. J, The whole subject lends it’s self to “over thinking” it because it is so………just so perplexing? And the human mind always wants to figure things out and explain things in terms it can understand and accept. The problem being,,,,,,,,If the experts still don’t completely understand quite a bit of what is going on with psychopaths and sociopaths and are at odds amongst themselves, how are we going to really figure it out? I think you are right……we don’t really need to know why they are disordered but just that they ARE disordered.
          In my case,,,,,,,the impact has had such a deeply painful effect and has effected me in so many ways……I think that part of what fuels my desire to understand it better is to prevent it from happening again in the future but also…..maybe the hope that is I can really see him clearly and really “get” that this is a person who is very disordered and NOTHING I could have done or said differently would have made a damned bit of difference,,,maybe it would help me let go emotionally. If this person I loved does not exist in reality….then I really didn’t love him……so confusing for me still.

        2. Paralysis of analysis, I think that’s what it’s called.

          About the nature of sociopaths, I go with Dr Simon’s version, of course. It makes the most sense.

          People of different personality types have generalizeable traits. Individually there are different hues, tones, details in the mindscape.

  3. Dr Simon, an interesting series indeed. Here’s another one of them, in today’s paper:

    “Hit-run victim wedged on car 2 miles: Throughout the trip that spanned nearly two miles, the severely injured bicyclist remained wedged on the smashed rear window of the car that struck him from behind. The bicyclist, 53, was then dumped from the mangled car and left for dead behind a trash can. It would be hours before a landscaping crew found him barely alive with a broken spine and nearly severed ear. The driver of the car? He went home to take a nap, police said.”

    But… they published his name and mug, and frankly disclose the details of the story including pathetic and repeated lying. Maybe they are starting to get a clue?

  4. Very interesting topic. I understand, that there is no way to give a definite answer. I am only trying to clarify the exact meaning of 2d from the bottom paragraph.
    DR. SIMON, my questions are:
    1. When the examples of psychopath’s ‘love’ were brought to the attention, did you mean ‘love’ between the two psycos (examples indicate so).
    2. Any evidence to suggest a genuine feeling from psyco to neurotic, but they wall it off, i.e. it is ‘compartmentalized’?
    3. While wallig-off or ‘compartmentalize’, did you mean a psycho mentally detaching from another psycho partner, in order to commit a coldblooded act together, or act as one against another.
    4. Did you mean to mentally detach from the psycho partner, in order to prey for another person?
    5. I’ve come across the suggestion, that two psycos can go well together, for the reason, that they SWITCH ROLES. What do you think?
    Thank you.

    Thank you.

    1. Great questions, Margot. Generally speaking, there’s no possibility for genuine “love” between two psychopaths, even genuine love “feelings,” but rather mutual use, edification, and serving of desires. And when either party to the relationship ceases to be of use to the other, that person becomes perfectly expendable and possible prey. There have been many examples of this. When a person can be “enjoyed” but is perfectly expendable should they cease to be of use, there’s certainly nothing resembling what most of us would consider “love” present. Now, there are some notable exceptions to this, but in those cases you tend to find character disturbance of a variety different from pure psychopathy.

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