Editor’s note: Resource Perspectives features articles written by members of Lovefraud’s Professional Resources Guide.
Sarah Strudwick, based in the UK, is author of Dark Souls—Healing and recovering from toxic relationships. She has also created a wonderful animation that describes the antics of a sociopath, called Exposing the Mask of Insanity. View the animation here.
Getting your head out of the washing machine
By Sarah Strudwick
I often receive emails from people asking me to talk about different subjects. One recent subject was the mind-bogglingly creative ways in which a sociopath will literally mess with your head. A client came up with the perfect analogy and said she felt like her head had been in a washing machine.
The sociopath will use many different techniques—gaslighting, emotional blackmail, manipulation, creating confusion, lying and creating fear.
Gaslighting, for example, is the type of abuse whereby an abuser uses an increasing frequency of systematically withholding factual information from the victim, and/or providing false information. This has the gradual effect of making victims anxious, confused, and less able to trust their own memory and perception. When it’s done for a long enough period, you will literally start losing your mind and feel like your head has been in a washing machine for most of the time you have been in relationship.
It could come in the form of verbal gaslighting, whereby the sociopath manipulates by lying to control information. They may also do it to keep you off balance psychologically. The classic example of gaslighting is to change things in a person’s environment without their knowledge, and to explain that you “must be imagining things” when you challenge these changes.
Let’s say they wanted you to think you were forgetful. You lose your car keys then they help you find them. Whilst they have been very “helpful” searching for the keys with you, the keys suddenly appear in the ignition of your dashboard. You’re thinking, “I am sure I didn’t put them there.” They say, “Oh silly you, see you are so careless, you need to be more careful otherwise someone could have stolen our car!” The reality is they are the ones that moved them there in the first place.
One very sneaky trick a sociopath I knew used on me was to hack into my hotmail account, not change the password but selectively delete some of the incoming messages so I would see them one minute and the next they were gone.
Sociopaths appear to have selective amnesia. They may say things like, “I don’t ever remember saying that I think you have you’re wires crossed,” or “Did I really say that?”
They are experts at creating unpredictability. The victim feels on edge because they never know where they stand and the goalposts are constantly shifting. Victims always remain hyper-vigilant, wondering when the abuser is likely to have an outburst or change of mood. As a result, the victim may start to feel frightened and unsettled.
Other tactics might include keeping the victim unaware of what is going on and what changes are taking place. For example, they may make plans for you and then cancel them, or talk about you behind your back, with the intention of isolating you from others. This type of abuse is done with the intention of keeping the victim in a constant state of anxiety and confusion.
There are a number of other mind blasting techniques that do not fit into any of the other types of verbal abuse categories, such as putting you down, being verbally abusive, using the silent treatment and so on. These tactics can also apply the narcissistic type personality.
The silent treatment is a favourite weapon of both personality types, and is particularly effective because it renders you unable to communicate anything to them. This is the most powerful weapon in their arsenal of sneaky abuse tactics.
Other tactic includes conversations or actions that divert from the original argument or put blame back on the victim, but often they are very ambiguous. These comments are meant to make you feel crazy, confused, off guard and unable to respond. For example:
“I think the fact that you are really angry is stopping you from seeing things clearly. Let’s talk about this another time.”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Why would I do such a thing? I wasn’t going to tell you, but only yesterday, I went out and bought you that present you wanted.”
“Look, if you are going to cry every time we have a conversation, how can I answer you? You’re not really in a fit state. Here, have a tissue and let’s talk about something else instead.”
“I really don’t see any point in discussing this further until you have all your facts straight.”
“It’s all your imagination. Isn’t it about time you went back on the antidepressants darling? Here let me make you a cup of tea.”
The mist clears
If you are left feeling confused and crazy by their gaslighting behaviour, their verbal assaults and emotional demands and strange conversations, stop!
This is exactly how they want you to feel. The minute you become aware of what they are doing, and the fact that they are actually manipulating you, sometime miracles happen.
You realise much of what they say and do makes no sense at all. You take yourself out of the washing machine. Your head stops spinning and suddenly the mist clears. You realise you are not crazy, but they are.
After the relationship many victims of sociopaths have literally felt like their head had been in a spin cycle. They are left emotionally, spiritually and financially drained. On an energetic level you have literally been sucked dry and brainwashed until you have no idea what is real or imagined anymore.
My advice is to start writing down what the sociopath says to you and you will soon find yourself wanting to take your head out of the washing machine— hopefully long before the spin dry and they have completely taken you to the cleaners.