Narcissistic pervers: “They are not incurable”

They are people who have no moral sense. They weave bonds of trust with others to better deceive or manipulate them after. They divert relationships to their exclusive benefit. It is legitimate to want to avoid crossing their path.

Yvane Wiart, researcher in psychology at Paris Descartes University, author of “Attachment, a forgotten instinct” (Albin Michel) .JPGuilloteau / L’Express

A 30-year-old American law professor has just published an autobiographical tale under a pseudonym, Confessions of a Sociopath, in the head of a manipulator (by ME Thomas, Larousse editions). In your opinion, why does she write a book that presents her under such a bad light?

Reading her testimony, one quickly realizes that she brandishes this label of sociopath as a title of glory. This diagnosis, which she solicited herself by passing tests with specialized researchers, takes her place of identity. She adds even in the sadistic side, as if she wanted to fit perfectly with the image that we have of this kind of character.

Narcissistic pervers: “They are not incurable”:

Do you think she’s not really a sociopath?

If, the diagnosis is obviously the right one. Her portrayal of herself and the story of her childhood are quite consistent with what is known about psychic construction and the behavior of destructive manipulators. But there are different degrees of sociopathy. If she were a 100% sociopath, she would not have written this book.

However, the way she seduces men or women to destroy and throw them is cold in the back …

That is true. The story of his affair with Morgan, an office colleague who will make several suicide attempts later, is terrifying. The author shows perfect cynicism, explaining that it only served this young woman who was actively seeking to be abused. But she also tells a very different relationship, with a certain Ann, to whom the book is dedicated. She insists less on this story, marked by mutual respect, which does not correspond to the bad character she decided to embody.

Do you mean that the author is capable of forming a relationship that is not destructive?

It is clear that between Ann and her, it is a relationship based on trust. She describes it as such, even if she does not put the right words on it because to trust her, in her mind, is to show weakness. In his childhood, his parents never valued this type of bond, on the contrary. His landmarks were blurred by parents who looked like good people when they were abusive.

The author grew up in a socially well integrated family but in a very harsh environment, with a father trying to break her up and a careless mother. She tells several scenes that are psychological abuse, even physical, to then qualify her childhood as “normal”. How to explain this contradiction?

Where we, readers, see in his narrative the obvious acts of abuse, the author sees only educational principles that he has been taught to find grounded. In her family, she and her four brothers and sisters considered it normal to suffer the terrible wrath of the father. When they became adults, they kept the same point of view on these family events. Their inner world is distorted by reality, but they do not realize it. I have just written a book, Small Ordinary Violence (Courrier du livre), to teach people like them to identify psychological abuse.

But why report such scenes, then, if the author considers them as banal?

She recounts them to justify her current vision of the world, in which there is no choice but to become a victim, like her closest brother in age who, as a sibling, served as scapegoat, or executioner . The story of her childhood aims to convince her readers that she made the right choice by joining forces with the aggressors. She encourages them to follow her example.

You mean that she does not see the blatant contradiction between the violence she refers to and the positive judgment she has on her education?

Exactly. The problem is here. She learned, very young, to find normal to be treated this way, hence her lack of remorse when she behaves well with others.

In her book, she even goes so far as to thank her parents for having the patience to raise a little sociopath and give her a structuring framework …

She found a convenient explanation, which prevents her from questioning her parents and considering that they might have failed, which would open a chasm under her feet. This miraculous explanation is the genes! She was born a sociopath, while other children are born empathic. This is the lottery, the parents are not for nothing, they do their best.

Sociopathy is not influenced by genes?

Genes can play but at the margin, in the form of a predisposition. Scientific studies, especially on twins, show that genetic heritage has a small influence. But it weighs little compared to the way the entourage responds to the child’s innate attachment needs. We are not born narcissistic perversely, we grow up with parents who do not meet the basic needs of listening, understanding and support of their children. This construction of personality is reversible if the therapist relies on these foundations of the theory of attachment developed by John Bowlby.

Who is John Bowlby?

He is a British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who died in 1990. During his lifetime, he was both highly listened to and very controversial. His ideas were probably too far ahead of his time … Over the last twenty years, he has been a little forgotten but in the meantime, neuroscience has progressed and they have proved the validity of his approach. It is time to rediscover his work and apply it in modern therapies.

To come back to this American’s testimony, do you think she could “heal” her sociopathy?

Absolutely. She has already taken the first step, engaging in an introspection exercise, which the majority of destructive manipulators avoid doing. Then, she knows that there is a relationship based on trust, since she has lived a history of constructive love with the one she calls Ann in her book. It remains for her to take the final step, that is, to admit that she did not receive, in her childhood, the attention she needed neither from her mother nor from her father. . For now, she continues to protect the good image of her parents that was necessary for her to survive when she totally depended on them.

The narcissistic perverts are nevertheless considered incurable …

Not by John Bowlby, anyway! Her work shows that the type of affective relationships that one builds up in adulthood is modeled on the ones one knotted, child, with the people who were our main figures of attachment. If they are tied in an unsatisfactory way, nothing is lost. Our “attachment style” can evolve in the right direction through new friendly or successful love experiences, or with the help of a therapist. The trigger is to become aware of his attachment needs and the means to satisfy them, as I explain in L’Attachement, a forgotten instinct (Albin Michel).

You would not be a little too optimistic?

Most destructive manipulators do not want to question themselves, it’s true. But justice could force them to do so, in case of psychological violence. Moreover, even the most intelligent of them experience failures in their professional or sentimental life because of their relationship mode. The American tells it very well in her testimony. They then go through periods of doubt, which could be opportunities to offer them treatment. They must know that this is possible.

Estelle Saget

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