Dealing With Malice
On the dark side of dating
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I've folded the Malice Motivator into the framework common to the other Abnormal Motivators in the “Yeah, But What's My Motivation?” series under “Perversity,” which I think fits the observable facts more neatly. Much of the information in this post overlaps with that one, but enough is distinct that I’m leaving this one up. —Jay
I’m in the midst of a series called Yeah, But What’s My Motivation? for paid subscribers, which is a deep dive into what makes people tick. There’s a motivator I didn’t cover in that series, because it’s such a special case: Malice. I’m posting this article un-paywalled, because I believe it’s in everyone’s best interest that as many people as possible know how to deal with the Malice Motivator.
This is BPD girlfriend territory.
Most people aren’t motivated by Malice. You really have to live in Mean World full-time in order to be actively motivated by the desire to hurt other people; the premises on which your worldview is based, which psychologists call your schema, have to be centered around ideas like “the world is a bad place, and other people will hurt you if you don’t hurt them first.”
Markers for the Malice Motivator to look for:
Abuse. This is the big one. If you learn to spot people with an abuse history, you are over 51% of the way to never having to worry about the Malice Motivator. There’s basically two directions people go if they’ve suffered significant trauma at the hands of another; overtly righteous or stealth. Overtly righteous as a personal style is far less dangerous to men in a romantic context, because it isn’t subtle. I won’t be discussing it in depth here because people who take that approach tend to be reflexively opposed to acting maliciously. They tend to be justice-motivated rather than retribution-motivated, and in my experience, people who are open about their anger at what happened to them are more likely to heal. More importantly, in a romantic context, overtly righteous people either won’t date you in the first place or they will give you plenty of warning about what’s going on with them (and you probably won’t want to date them anyway as a consequence).
Stealth, on the other hand, is nightmare fuel as concerns romantic partnerships. If you discover your partner has an abuse history, and she minimizes it or jokes about it, strap in and light up, because you’re already on a roller coaster ride that ends in a brick wall. People who have genuinely overcome trauma or are on their way there don’t hide it, because they’re not ashamed of it, and they direct their anger appropriately. They know their partners will be concerned about their history, and they’ll talk about it. Acknowledging and addressing the concerns of people you love is a sign of a healthy, date-able partner, and a trauma history is a legitimate concern. People who are trying to get better will be in therapy. People who aren’t will avoid it.
Amorality. Anyone with an inability to understand the necessity to act ethically, who states a belief that morality is situational, or who behaves in a way that indicates a lack of understanding of basic moral principles or why people act according to them in your presence is undatable, full stop.
Rollins’s Rule #1: If someone makes an affirmative statement about their own character, they are telling the truth. This is based on Lacanian linguistic analysis, and I have never found it not to be true. People have a really hard time lying about their assessment of themselves. Sometimes they will use tone to offset affirmative statements about their character, but in the specific case I’m describing (self-assessment of character), look past tone. If someone you know, especially intimately, tells you they’re psychopathic, or evil, or amoral, believe them and act accordingly. Most of the time, people will tell on themselves before things get really bad.
Obfuscation. Safety issues are legitimate reasons to obfuscate, and it’s reasonable to be concerned about your past if there are people in it who are still a danger to you. But healthy people are transparent, and healthy people who are still actively dealing with safety issues are undateable anyway, albeit for reasons that have nothing to do with their character. Obfuscation about one’s past is a red flag; don’t date people who engage in it.
Information asymmetry. This is related to obfuscation, but it’s more subtle. Women are better than men are at communication, and they’re better at steering a conversation, so it’s likely you won’t pick this one up immediately. At the end of a conversation with a prospective partner, though, debrief. Ask yourself “Do I know as much about this person as she knows about me?” If the answer is an unequivocal “No,” that’s a red flag. If this situation persists after two dates, find someone else. Healthy people who are genuinely romantically interested in you want you to know them, and they want to know you.
Lying. A good rule of thumb: don’t date people who lie, whether it’s to you or to others. Dr. House liked to say “everyone lies,” but he was an emotionally retarded cynic who was lovable only in spite of himself. More to the point, there’s a difference between a woman telling you “Yeah, I love White Zombie too!” and a woman telling you she’s from Prague when she’s actually from Zagreb. A woman who pretends to enjoy heavy metal when in fact crowds of headbangers make her anxious is cute; the only reason for a woman to feign interest in a genre of music she doesn’t actually enjoy is that she really likes you (and who knows, maybe you two will end up going to a Rob Zombie show for your golden anniversary). Lying about verifiable facts is different; that kind of lie doesn’t keep. They always get found out in the end, and anyone who tells that kind of lie to someone they profess to care about has the particular kind of psychological damage that is at the absolute least co-morbid with the Malice Motivator.
What do you do if you do find yourself involved with a Malice-Motivated partner?
Document, document, document. Save your receipts—DMs, text messages, and emails can be shown to third parties. At the very least, if you show them to your friends, they’ll be able to tell you you aren’t crazy. In the worst case, they can be shown to authorities, and while the inclination of colleges and courts leans toward believing women, a pile of emails and DMs are evidence even an institution of higher learning has a harder time dismissing.
Speaking of friends, have some. We are the sum of the five people we’re closest to. If you’re only close to one person, you’re gonna be a reflection of that person. Having people in your life is good for all kinds of reasons, but in the case of Malice-Motivated people, having people in your life is directly protective of your psyche. If your friends don’t like who you are when you’re with your sweetie, and you’ve got good friends, you know your sweetie is probably the issue.
I have a pretty jaundiced view of psychiatry and therapists in general, but while I have concerns about the industry, I recognize it’s in no small part a “me” problem. I’ve had a bunch of bad ones. But there are good ones, and I’ve had some of those too. (I have a pretty good one now.) Educate yourself regarding the warning signs of bad therapists, interview a couple until you find one you like (therapists are service providers who you should treat as such until you’re comfortable that they’re a good fit for you), and if you don’t see any of those warning signs, treat your therapist as well-intentioned. A good therapist will help you make sense of what’s not normal behavior from a romantic partner, and they’re trained to spot Malice-Motivated people.
Cognitive schema are a huge topic, and there are other schema than the one I’ve mentioned that lead to people acting maliciously. This article is intended to be practically useful. I’m less interested in the “why” and much more in the “how to avoid this problem/deal with it if you’re already in it.”
I approve across the board. I might push back a bit that lying about whether or not you like something the other person likes might not be so cute or innocent. At some point it will come out that they really don't like it, and if it is just taste in music that might be fine. If it is doing something together that is the basis for your spending time, well, that might not be. For example, if you really like camping and your sweetie claims to as well, then after you get married they decide "actually I hate this and will never do it again". Then they start to complain when you do it because you aren't spending time with them. That spirals pretty quickly once it gets going. Now, maybe you like them more than camping, but if you are going to change what you do to please them you would like to know what changes are required up front. Or at least before it comes down to "Stay married and don't do things I care about, or do things I care about and get divorced".
You forgot one thing: Do the personal work required to understand why you paired up with a Dark Triad, Cluster B, etc. so that you don't repeat that mistake, ever.