A chief characteristic is being devoid of empathy, lacking concern for the well-being of others. The Montgomery and other true stories of male and female sociopaths cited in the book or on Lovefraud.com show the inhumane extremes to which some people will go to get what they want. They'll claim to be in love, while juggling multiple partners or operating with ulterior motives. They'll fake credentials, and pit people against each other. They will lie, cheat and steal. They will deny or minimize how they intimidate and abuse others mentally, psychologically, physically or financially.
Andersen's courageous work helps readers comprehend the reality of sociopaths in our midst beyond what is normally covered in mainstream media. It's one thing to understand sociopaths in generalized or academic terms, and quite another to experience them in real life. It's in the day-to-day details of living where both their blatant and subtle impact is felt most, and can become life-threatening or life-changing for most people entangled with a sociopath.
For someone who can't fathom that some people refuse to honor basic courtesies or follow normal rules for living in a civilized society, it can be a shock to the psychic system. To slowly realize that individuals who regularly deceive others exist, justify their actions and simply do not care, flies in the face of conventional wisdom. In fact, the often-unquestioned belief that good can be found in everyone is one reason many people continuously accept or make excuses for bad behavior from toxic people across the board.
M. Scott Peck, M.D., who explored the psychology of evil in his 1983 book, People of the Lie, wrote that deliberately deceiving others and also building layer upon layer of self-deception is characteristic of those who not the same as us average sinners who make mistakes and must learn to live with our imperfections -- can be described as evil. "Lies confuse," Peck wrote, indicating that it is those directly affected by evil people whether relative, spouse, friend, co-worker, etc. -- who suffer the most.
"Evil is in opposition to life. Evil is also that which kills spirit. There are various essential attributes of life particularly human life such as sentience, mobility, awareness, growth, autonomy, will. It is possible to kill or attempt to kill one of these attributes without destroying the body. Thus we may "break" a horse or even a child without harming a hair on its head." - M. Scott Peck, M.D.
What Andersen does best is clearly show how sociopaths are defined by underlying pathological narcissism -- evident in their pattern of treating other people with little to no regard. Everyday behaviors by sociopaths often result in victims subjected to unfair criticism, unpredictable outbursts, direct and indirect threats of abandonment or violence, humiliation and gas-lighting, and routine betrayals even when lying about big and small things makes no sense. These patterns of interactions can contribute to "crazy-making" that result in losing touch with reality or spiritual crisis for many victims. The potential for "murder-by-suicide" also exists when someone subjected to abuse over time harms him- or herself due to constant belittling and invalidation by, or commit suicide due to "encouragement" from, a sociopath.
Research on traumatic bonding explains how victims become more attached to sociopaths as a result of feeling powerless, anxious and fearful, due to lacking assertiveness or feeling a sense of obligation or martyrdom as a result of unresolved issues from their own upbringing.
This helps in part shed light on why people on the outside of some exploitive and abusive relationships generally blame the real victims, or express impatience by suggesting victims should just leave a bad relationship right away or should at least have known what someone else was doing behind their back.
But who can truly fathom the tangled webs sociopaths weave when they set out to deceive? Had the women Montgomery victimized known the truth about him before they got involved, surely they would have been in a better position to make different choices, more informed decisions. But they didn't know. They may have suspected something wrong, but short of doing full-fledged investigations, they generally had no direct access to proof when they needed it.
At times in her voluminous 640-page book, Andersen's overview of Montgomery's deceptions and exploitation seem repetitive, but they serve a strong journalistic foundation of factual reporting. Otherwise, a reader might be tempted to minimize just how disordered Montgomery was how he functioned without regard for consequences, routinely lied and manipulated multiple people in many ways through personal, professional and family situations. To her credit, Andersen manages to inject comic relief with some jaw-dropping moments, including when she teamed up with other women who had been harmed, to compare information and hold James Montgomery accountable. Given the extensive damage he'd done, it offers vicarious pleasure to visualize Montgomery squirming as he got a bitter taste of his own medicine.