What psychopaths see when they see you depends greatly on what “mode” they’re in. When in a “gratification pursuit” mode, psychopaths will see you somewhat differently than when not—that is, they’ll see you in a way that’s telling of their psychopathy.
By “telling” of their psychopathy, I don’t mean that they’ll make their psychopathy necessarily obvious. If they’re slick and well-masked, they won’t. But how psychopaths see you in “gratification pursuit” mode will be telling of their psychopathic mentality. Outside this mode, in what I call, contrastingly, their relatively “gratification quiescent” mode, psychopaths (as I suggest) will see you in a somewhat different light. Foremost, they will see you as less “targetable,” because they’re not targeting anything in “gratification quiescent” modes.
This doesn’t mean that outside “gratification pursuit” modes, psychopaths will see you as non-psychopaths will—that is, as deserving of authentic, honorable respect. They won’t. They may seem to accord you that respect, but not from a well-spring of authentic respect. Always, even outside “gratification pursuit” modes, psychopaths are seeing you through a lens of psychopathic superficiality and shallowness. Always, on some level, psychopaths are seeing you as an “object,” although not, always, as an “object” they find necessary to transgress and exploit.
A frustrated psychopath might see a dog as a convenient “object” to kick viciously, whereas when calmer he might see the same dog as a convenient “object” to pet. In the latter state, he may “appear” to be (and act) quite normal, even most of the time. After all, he may be seen petting the dog far more often than kicking it. But he will always perceive the dog with the underlying contempt that accompanies the view of any living creature as an object.
In “gratification pursuit” modes, psychopaths have sharpened agendas. Having identified a gratification to pursue, they are now targeting “sources” of the sought-after gratification. You hope it’s not you, and there’s some good news: Although you’ll cross paths periodically with psychopaths—after all, estimates are that 1% of the general population is quite psychopathic—yet even when you do, there’s a good chance psychopaths won’t target you as a “gratification source.”
If ninety people swim by a crocodile with no consequences, they’re likely to conclude the crocodile is docile, and neither mean nor dangerous. But when the crocodile is in a hunger state, you don’t want to be the 91st swimmer to cross its path. Let’s not kid ourselves: The crocodile didn’t spare the first 90 swimmers from a warm connection and compassion; rather, it spared them only because it wasn’t in “gratification pursuit” mode. In “gratification pursuit” mode, the crocodile’s cold-blooded, ruthless capacity will emerge, leaving the 91st swimmer with a very different experience of it, and in no condition to debrief it.
When psychopaths identify you as the source of their targeted gratification, that’s bad news for you. Now, they are no longer seeing you as just another “object” in their world to dully recognize, indifferently tolerate, “relate to” inconsequentially. Now, they are seeing you as a “resource” to exploit. Suddenly, the psychopath’s interest awakens, perhaps even electrically, much as the tug on a fisherman’s line excites the fisherman from his lull into an electric awareness of the fish he’s seemingly hooked.
When psychopaths target you as a source of a gratification to pursue, depending on the circumstances you may feel their intense excitement and focus. For instance, in a dating/romantic context, psychopaths might see you as a seducible, or sexual, challenge (or, parasitically, as a resource to exploit financially). But it’s important to remember that psychopaths who’ve targeted you are never really interested in you, only to take something from you. Charming psychopaths can be adept at convincing you that it’s you they’re interested in, even in a special way. But psychopaths are extractors. Once they’ve targeted you as possessing something they want, they will extract everything they can from you, at which point they will see you as useless. Having extracted everything they can from you, they will see you as expendable. When they treat you as such, it can feel shocking and inhumanly cruel.
But this, after all, is precisely what makes psychopaths psychopathic—their capacity to exploit you, knowingly and harmfully, with callous indifference, remorselessly. When psychopaths are in a process of exploiting you—without, say, your yet being aware of it—they see you variously as suckers, stupid, responsible for your own victimization; as necessary casualties of their higher, Machiavellian agenda; as having, in some warped sense, “asked for it;” as comically or pathetically gullible and dupable; as conveniently existing to enable their “gratification pursuit” mode.
Most psychopaths aren’t causing you pain and harm as a primary goal; rather, the harm they inflict is usually a byproduct of their agenda to seize something from you that doesn’t belong to them. (Sadistic psychopaths are a different case, where causing you harm and pain is their primary aim.) When non-sadistic psychopaths see you in pain that they’ve knowingly caused, they are neither deeply moved, deeply regretful, deeply mortified, nor oppressed by guilt or shame. The essence of their psychopathy ensures they’ll lose no sleep at night for having violated you.
Their contrition, if it’s even expressed, will necessarily be shallow, although slicker psychopaths can simulate contrition convincingly. Psychopaths will see you as inconveniently confronting them with your pain. They won’t want to deal with your pain because they’ll be uninterested in it, because it never factored into the equation, because all that mattered was that you had something they wanted and the imperative was to take it for their gratification. Hence, they will see your visible pain (and your confronting them with it) as an imposition to be dismissed, tolerated or, as suggested, slickly diverted with, for instance, simulated contrition. Psychopaths will see you as someone who, while perhaps not having deserved the pain they caused you, bear at least some responsibility for having made yourself vulnerable and exploitable.
In “gratification pursuit” modes, when psychopaths target you as possessing a valued resource, they see your vulnerability as weakness and regard it with pure contempt; your vulnerability is begging to be mined and exploited, not respected and protected. Challenging a psychopath, “How could you have exploited my vulnerability like that!?” is like challenging a boxer, “How could you have punched me in the face like that!?” The boxer responds, “Because you left yourself open, fool.”
This very much captures the psychopath’s worldview: that “life is a game, and when you let your guard down, watch out—I may pounce! And when I do, it’s ‘your bad’ for exposing yourself.”
This is what psychopaths see, when they see you.