Lovefraud received the following e-mail from a reader; we’ll call her Lisa. In one short paragraph, Lisa conveyed the betrayal, rage, pain and hopelessness that we’ve all felt:
If a stranger broke into my house and stole all my valuables and then burned the rest. If I was left homeless and broke. I would be angry. I would be damaged. But I would recover. The person who did this slept in my bed and held me tight and told me he loved me every day. He told me that we were moving overseas and that everything should go. Stop paying the mortgage. Sell your furniture for cheap. Burn the rest. I did it. He disappeared with my jewelry and cash. I feel that I cannot recover. I am devastated. I am bitter. I am obsessed with my hatred and can’t smile or laugh. I need a psychiatrist. I dream of stabbing him. I am a loving and forgiving person that can’t find grace. I try to forgive and recognize my own fault. I fail. I need help with this.
Had an unknown criminal ransacked Lisa’s home, she would be justifiably outraged, and perhaps afraid for her safety. But the man who plotted and schemed to crush her was a man that she trusted, a lover who talked about their exciting future together in a faraway land.
It was cruelty beyond belief. It was the shattering of trust.
A few months back I wrote about a book called Legal Abuse Syndrome. The author, Karin Huffer, writes, “the most profound loss is loss of trust.”
That is what makes these experiences so painful. We trusted someone with our hopes, our dreams, our love. That person probably spoke eloquently about trust to us, in words full of shining promise. And it was all a lie.
Now we don’t know whom we can trust. And we’re pretty sure that we cannot trust ourselves.
So how do we recover?
8 steps for recovery
Huffer provides an outline for recovery in her book. Although the steps are geared to helping people recover from the outrages of the legal system, which has a tendency to make our bad situations even worse, I think the steps are useful for anyone recovering from the betrayal of a sociopath.
1. Debriefing. That means telling someone what happened, and that person listening without judgment. This is what we try to do at Lovefraud. We all listen to your stories, and we know what you’re talking about, because we’ve all been there.
2. Grieving. Grief is usually associated with the death of a loved one. But as Huffer points out, it is legitimate to grieve the loss of possessions, or our lifestyle, or our place in the community. Sometimes well-meaning friends or relatives say, “Oh, it’s only money.” This isn’t true. As Huffer writes, “Possessions are the outward manifestations of our inner identity.” We didn’t just lose things. We lost part of ourselves.
3. Obsession. Lisa is obsessed with her hatred of the guy who violated her. Her feelings are certainly justified. The problem with obsession, however, is that it wears you out, and interferes with your ability to regain control in your life. Huffer suggests coping with obsession by compartmentalizing it—only allowing yourself to dwell in it for specific periods of time. “Schedule your way out of it,” she says.
4. Blaming. This means putting blame where it belongs: on the perpetrator. We often feel guilty for allowing the situation to occur in our lives. But we have nothing to be guilty about. We were normal, caring, loving individuals who were deceived. The guilt, anger and rage needs to directed towards the person who deceived us.
5. Deshaming. Before our encounter with the predator, we had certain beliefs, such as “there’s good in everyone,” or “if someone asks me to marry him, he must really love me.” Unfortunately, the dreadful experience has taught us that some beliefs are false and need to be changed. When we do this, we also change our attitude, from “I was a fool” to “I’ve been wronged.”
6. Reframing. The first five steps of the process must be accomplished, Huffer writes, before a person can move on to reframing. At this stage, you can look at your experience, define it differently, and then articulate the wisdom you’ve gained.
7. Empowerment. At this point, you feel focused energy. You take ownership of your problems, determine how you are going to cope with them, and go into action.
8. Recovery. With recovery, you are able to move forward in your life. Sometimes recovery involves forgiveness, but Huffer says it is not necessary. It if far too early for Lisa, who wrote the e-mail quoted above, to attempt forgiveness.
The long journey
There is no expected timetable for moving through the recovery process. We all have different personal histories and face different circumstances. We’ve all had different levels of violation.
Anyone who has been targeted for destruction by a sociopath must understand that it was a profound assault, and it will take time to recover. You may slide back and forth among the stages. So be gentle on yourself, because the journey may be long. If you keep going, in the end you will find peace, built upon new depths of wisdom and understanding.