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“Will I ever be the same?” (Part 1)

Nearly every person who has been in a relationship with a sociopath and survived, has asked, “Will I ever be the same?” When we ask this question, what we are really asking is if we are permanently damaged. We all know that every day we age, grow and change, therefore on a minute to minute basis we are technically not the same even when good things happen. But the trauma we have experienced is different from our everyday experiences that change us little by little. This trauma resulted from an enormous psychological, emotional and financial catastrophe. The trauma is all the more severe because the catastrophe was caused intentionally as an act of aggression by someone we loved-a sociopath. Over the next few weeks I will be discussing the psychological and emotional damage caused by sociopaths.

I was always a passionate, feeling person. Then suddenly, four years ago, in the acute aftermath of my relationship with a sociopath, I went numb. I was completely unable to feel any emotion other than fear. The fear and anxiety were very intense and were present nearly every waking moment. The waking moments were the rule rather than the exception because for the first time in my life, I was also an insomniac. I went from being a person who always hated TV to being unable to relax at all at night unless it was on. It was then I wondered if I would ever be healthy again.

I had other symptoms too. Everything seemed unreal, I as if I was dreaming. Things seemed to go in slow motion. I felt separated from what was happening, like I was an actress in a movie or play. Everything looked different than before. Colors were less vivid, but sounds seemed uncomfortably loud. The trauma had been so severe that I developed these symptoms of dissociation. Indeed, I was coming unglued!

You may have read my story and said, “Wow! I felt that way too.” Maybe you felt these feelings, but never experiencing them before, didn’t know that they represent dissociation. But what is dissociation? Does it indicate a damaged person? Does dissociation mean a person has or will develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Dissociation is the psychological experience associated with trauma that is so severe that our stress hormones and neurochemicals act like hallucinogenic drugs. Dissociation affects our senses. Our sense of time, vision, hearing, taste and touch may all be affected. Our bodies may even feel different. In extreme cases ongoing memory is also impaired and the person may develop amnesia. It is no coincidence that these symptoms are similar to those caused by serotonergic hallucinogens like Ecstasy and LSD. The serotonin system of the brain is affected by severe stress. We also know that severe stress and Ecstasy can damage the serotonin system of the brain.

That was the bad news. This is the good news. These symptoms do not necessarily evolve into PTSD or indicate damage. They can occur in most anyone if the trauma is severe enough. However, the longer a person has these symptoms, the more likely it is he/she will develop PTSD. Consider these symptoms to be a warning siren signaling the possibility of long term damage to your system.

You can protect yourself from long term damage if you recognize you are having these symptoms of dissociation. Perhaps, following your severely traumatic experience, smaller stresses cause these symptoms to recur or intensify. Your capacity to withstand stress may be severely limited for a while. If you work to reduce the controllable stress in your life you can do a lot to protect yourself from long term damage.

There are four very important practical things you can do if you recognize these signs of stress hormone overdose. The most important is to get love and social support as much as you can. Even a pet can be a source of wellness for you. By love I mean giving and receiving physical affection, hugs and caresses. If you are a parent, giving love and affection to your children will help them and you. Talking about your experiences to a friend can be helpful if you end the conversations on a positive note. Put a positive spin on everything you can.

The second thing you can do is get exercise everyday. Exercise will help your body regulate its stress hormone levels. Exercise may also help clear your mind.

The third thing you can do is eat right. Go easy on the high sugar, high fat foods. Eating right may be hard to do because the stress hormones cause carbohydrate cravings. In the early stages of my own trauma, the carbohydrate cravings fueled an obsession with food. For the first time in my life, I enjoyed watching the food channel. I also took up cooking as a hobby!

The fourth and last defense against stress is stress management. Learn to relax yourself with deep breathing. Replace hopeless, negative thoughts with more positive ones. Think everyday about what you have to be hopeful about and thankful for. Most of all don’t glorify or ruminate about being a victim. Don’t allow “victim” to become your status or your identity.

If love, exercise, diet and stress management do not greatly reduce or eliminate symptoms of dissociation, you should seek a mental health evaluation. Symptoms of dissociation are like fever. They indicate you may have a serious issue that could cause long term harm. Medication and/or psychotherapy will reduce these symptoms and hopefully prevent long term damage. If you have never had symptoms of dissociation, it is statistically unlikely you will develop PTSD. Next week I’ll discuss PTSD.



15 Comments on "“Will I ever be the same?” (Part 1)"

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  1. ErinBrock says:

    CRS and i was hoping it was her!!!



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  2. Jorja says:

    I still wonder this after 4 years…will I ever be the same? I trust no one. I have a wall around me not letting anyone get close to me. I went through years of taking pills to help me sleep. I for a short term took anti-depressants, but that didnt work. I am skeptical of every word people say to me, I assume everyone is lying and has an alterior motive if they are nice to me.
    I am not the same fun loving, caring, happy , laughing person I used to be. I miss me.

    I have dated, and been in a few short term dating relationships since leaving my ex 4 years ago, but never had any real feelings for the people. I was dating just for the sake of dating and becasue I was lonely. The first little white lie I was outta there and left. I see the red flags everywhere with everyone.
    I am currently dating a man and can’t allow myself to be vulnerable and relax around him. I look for any inconsistancy in stories to find the lies becasue I will not allow myself to be conned and used again, especially since my son ( my xpath is his biological father) is now 5 and I do not want him anywhere near someone who might not be genuine and sincere.

    I have been through therapy, it didnt help, I have taken medications, it didnt help, I have read so many self help books my head spins, I have let time pass hoping it will change, but it hasnt really, except that I sleep some nights.

    When will I find myself again? I really do miss the person I was but am afraid I will never find her again, or find happiness and love again.



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  3. Louise says:

    Jorja:

    I feel exactly the same way. I feel like I will never find my way back. I still have all the same symptoms…can’t sleep at night, took antidepressants for a short time, but stopped… I watch every single thing people do and say now…I have a lot of anger. I don’t date and don’t plan on it and have my friends encouraging me to do so. They all say the same thing…don’t cut yourself off from the possibilites…you may miss the one because you are being too cautious…blah, blah, blah. I get tired of hearing it. I know what I need to do for me and if I never meet anyone again, that is OK with me. It’s almost comforting in a way if that makes any sense…that if I never meet someone I will be free of the drama. Anyway, why do we put so much emphasis on a man in our lives??? That’s how we got in this situation to begin with. We need to be happy with ourselves and whatever we have in our own life. It’s really just not worth it to me. I guess I am just a jaded old woman now at 48 years old!



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  4. darwinsmom says:

    Hi Jorja,

    It’s inconceivable for me to date. But I restarted my social life by meeting friends, going out with friends or environments where I know I will meet likeminded people. Couple of months ago, I went to the pub with my best friend, who I had neglected the past years except for a meeting every few months (and then we stayed at home). We laughed so hard, like in the old days, that I realized how long ago that was. I was still not healed though, and for a major part felt worse in the ensuing months… I finally made my first real breakthrough couple of weeks ago, able to put myself as I was the past half year (and before) into perspective. I regained some self-trust and a plan how to make my environment more controllable again so that I could feel safer and securer about myself. Nothing to do with spaths all that much, but structuring my life, prioritizing, doing what needs to be done even if I didn’t feel like it, and preparing myself more. I could see immediate positive results returning from my environment. And since a week I’m even feeling a daily happiness, rather than just joyful moments that contrast the dark days. But I know that dating would be too soon for me. I’d get majorly triggered and I don’t trust myself yet to date, neither a spath nor a genuine normal man. The risk at being triggered is too big still, and I’ll be very distrustful.

    It sounds to me, you may have pushed yourself into dating while you were totally not ready for it yet. It’s not solely our trust in humanity that has been damaged by a spath, but also the trust in ourselves to keep us safe that is damaged. As long as you cannot trust yourself yet to keep yourself safe, you will not be able to trust someone you are dating. A good testing ground though imo are friendships. Go out with the most trustworthy ones and see from there. At least you will laugh, have some fun. It’s like our mind and body needs to be reminded again of what it’s like to laugh, have fun and let a little bit of our guard down to enjoy the moment. And if you meet an acquaintance or stranger with red flags you can exercise your NC on them: are you able to cut them off, how do you respond to their red flags… out of those meetings you will gain confidence for yourself.

    Confidence, security and trust in ourselves cannot be built in one day, just like my home wil not be decluttered and sparkling clean in one day. But we can do small babysteps, and step by step, you may discover you have climbed the mountain.



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  5. Ox Drover says:

    Darwinsmom,

    Good post to jorja! Well said!



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  6. Jorja says:

    Thank you all.
    My friends kept saying the same thing..after being single for 2 years, trying to rebuilt my life, they talked me into accepting offers for dates..although I wasnt convinced I was ready. After 6 months I decided I wasnt ready yet, explained this to him and we have remained platonic friends since. I have been single again now for almost 2 years and just started officially “dating” a man a month ago who I have been friends with for over a year. It’s only been a month, but instinctively I can feel I am not into him on more than a friendship level and am nt ready to make any committments. I guess because I dont have much of a social life due to being a single parent, having no family nearby to help waatch my son so I can go out with the girls, and not having family near to spend time with…the lonliness has pushed me into convincing myself that if I dont make myself available to a relationship then I will never meet someone I fgeel safe with and trust.

    I think you are right though….I am not ready for a sexual dating relationship…although I try to convince myself I am, my heart is not in it.

    I think this weekend while my son is (unfortunately) with his father), I need to do some real self evalaluation and talk to this person about my feelings about staying friends and not dating right now.

    If I had more of a social life and had family to spend time with the loneliness would not be an issue…perhaps I need to focus on finding a way to make this happen first…baby steps to allowing myself to be open to trusting a man again.



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