Before I became entangled with the sociopath, I was an avid consumer of self-help books and programs. Although I was successful in my career, I could not get the relationship thing to work. This, of course, was the vulnerability exploited by the sociopath I married, but I get ahead of myself.
In my quest for answers—Why was I alone? Why couldn’t I find love?—I once participated in a weekend seminar called “Understanding Yourself and Others.” After some initial skepticism, I found the program to be helpful. One of the things I remember from the weekend is a pithy little motto:
“The truth will set you free—but first it will piss you off.”
In reference to sociopaths, truer words were never spoken. When we finally learn the truth about these people, after months, years or decades of deception, we are hurt—but we are also enraged. Then, as we try to dig ourselves out of the hole, we learn more infuriating truths about the inability of other people in our lives, and of society’s institutions, to help us. Let’s take a look at what we learn.
Truths that make us angry
1. The sociopath never loved us. We were used. He or she wanted our money, or sex, or a place to live, or business connections, or a family to make him or her look normal, or whatever. All the promises of eternal love were bald-faced lies. We were supply, that’s all. They toyed with our hearts, and we are furious.
2. Other people just don’t understand. Those who have been lucky enough to avoid entanglements with sociopaths cannot fathom how we fell for it. They don’t comprehend the elaborate deception, the psychological manipulation and our inability to extract ourselves. We hear, “Just get over it already,” and are angry at the callousness of people who say they are concerned for us.
3. Credit card companies don’t care that we’ve been defrauded. The con artists talked us into paying their expenses or giving them money. Unless we can prove identity theft, the credit card companies don’t care how many lies he or she told. Even if a court finds the sociopath guilty of fraud, we’re stuck with the bills—which is patently unfair.
4. Legal authorities cannot cope with sub-criminal sociopaths. Unless the sociopath commits murder or robs a bank, chances are slim that law enforcement will take action. Fraud and domestic violence charges are difficult to prove, so they often don’t get investigated. But even if the police do take action, much of it is undone in the courts. Between manipulating the legal system and lying under oath, sociopaths rarely get the punishment they deserve. Sometimes they actually get away with murder, and we are fit to be tied.
5. Media images of sociopaths are wrong. On television and in the movies, sociopaths are equated with The Sopranos and psychopaths are portrayed as Hannibal Lecter. Some disordered people are, in fact, demented murderers and serial killers, but the vast majority of them are not. By promulgating myths and not reporting reality, the media do a tremendous disservice to everyone. As a trained journalist, this one really pisses me off.
Truths that set us free
6. Evil exists. Many of us got into our predicaments because we did not realize that human beings are capable of the evil that sociopaths perpetrate. Now we know, and knowledge is power. We know to be on the lookout for these predators, so that we do not fall into their traps again.
7. Our intuition knows better. Most of us felt something was wrong with the predator early in the game. We got the tickling in the brain, the twisting in the stomach, telling us to get out. But we let the sociopaths explain away our concerns. Now we know—when it comes to protecting ourselves from evil, our instincts are usually right.
8. We cannot save the sociopath. Sociopaths do not seek treatment. But suppose, due to a court order or fear of losing their gravy train, they do submit to medication or therapy. Suppose the treatment makes them 50 percent less abusive. That’s still 50 percent too much abuse for a healthy relationship. No matter how hard we try to save them, sociopaths are incapable of empathy or love. Adult sociopaths will not suddenly develop a conscience. So we can put down the burden of rescuing them, because it is not possible.
9. We must learn discrimination. An important meaning of the word “discriminate” is “to distinguish accurately.” Our mission in life is to learn when to say yes, and when to say no, so that our decisions support our wellbeing. We cannot abdicate this decision to others, even to people in authority. Some of them are sociopaths. Even if they aren’t, the people in charge do not always have our best interests at heart.
10. We are responsible for our own healing. We’ve been exploited, injured, used, and now we are struggling to overcome the pain. But where did the pain actually begin? There may have been some vulnerability or desire within us—something as normal as wanting to be loved. Somehow we felt we were lacking, and that gave the sociopath an opening. He or she ripped open our hearts, and whatever old wounds were hidden in them. Now we must look within, force ourselves to take stock of everything that’s there, and heal. Even when we have support, it is a lonely journey that we must undertake ourselves. But it is the journey that truly sets us free.