By Ox Drover
One of the themes that seems to run throughout the stories of many of, if not most of, the people who have had experiences with psychopaths is that we have either had repeated episodes of being abused by the same psychopath, even after we saw their dishonesty, or had episodes of being sucked into the webs of multiple psychopaths. Or, we have both of these—multiple episodes with multiple psychopaths.
Most of the people I have known who were formerly victims of psychopaths are not stupid. In fact, some of the smartest, most accomplished people I know are former victims, and have been repeatedly victimized by one psychopath after finding out that this person was dishonest and abusive. Somehow, they kept on going back to the relationship, even after multiple attempts to disengage from the abuser. Why? Why does a person who is smart, accomplished, and otherwise successful in life and business keep repeating the same behavior that allows them to be hurt?
There is an often-used quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It seems by this definition that the victims of psychopaths are “insane,” because we keep on trying to have a relationship with someone who is repeatedly abusive. There must be some reason that otherwise smart and successful people keep repeating the behavior that is unsuccessful in its outcome. There must be some common thread among victims and former victims that makes us susceptible to frequently returning to an unsuccessful and painful relationship.
Here’s a little story that may contain what may be a grain of truth that might point us toward the answer to the question of. “Why?”
The Chief and the Snake
Once upon a time there was a very wise and kind Indian chief. One day as the chief was walking through the forest, he came upon a rattlesnake in the path. He stopped and started to go around the snake, not wanting to hurt it, but not wanting to be bitten either.
As the chief started to pass around the snake, the snake spoke to him (not an unusual thing in those days) and said, “Chief, please have mercy on me, my wife and family are on the other side of yonder river, and I can’t swim, and I can’t get to them. Won’t you please pick me up and carry me across the river?”
The chief looked at the snake and laughed a bit and said, “Why, if I tried to pick you up you would bite me and I would die. I am sad that you have a problem but I must not be bitten, or I would die and my own children would starve because there would be no strong man with a bow to hunt brother deer to provide meat to my little ones. Though my heart feels sad for you, no, I must refuse to pick you up.”
The snake then spoke to the chief saying, “But such a brave man as you should not be afraid of such a small snake as I, and I promise from the bottom of my heart that I would never harm you if you were to help me across yon river. I am so afraid that if I am not able to get across, my wife and children will perish. Please help me in my hour of need.”
The chief looked at the snake and his heart was sad because he knew what it was like to have one’s children without food. His heart took pity on the snake, and he agreed to take the snake across the river, if the snake would agree not to bite him.
The chief reached out to pick up the snake and held him high over his head as he waded the swift and cold waters of the river. About half way across the river when the chief was doing his best to protect the snake from the cold waters, the snake reached down and bit him on the neck, sinking his poison fangs deep into the chief’s blood stream.
The chief was surprised and said to the snake, “Brother Snake, why did you bite me, now I will die and you will drown as well. You promised on your honor not to bite me if I would have mercy on you and help you, now we shall both die and our children starve. You promised me.”
The snake replied, “Ah yes, I promised, but you knew what I was when you picked me up,” as they both sank under the swirling cold water of the river.
What we have in common with the chief
What caused the chief to reach out and pick up a snake that he knew was poisonous, that he knew had the power to harm him, and that if he was wrong in making this decision to pick up the snake, and the snake did bite him, that his own children would suffer because of his decision?
Empathy is what the chief had, empathy for the children of the snake. Because the chief loved his own children, he assumed that the snake must also love its children. Just as the chief would do what was best for his children, he empathized that the snake would also do what was best. Since the chief knew that he would never do anything deliberately to cause consequences for his children, he did not see that the snake would deliberately do something that would cause problems for his own offspring.
Thinking that others have the same motivations that we have can get us into the same problems that the chief got into. The chief wanted to help the snake. He felt pity for the snake. He knew that he would not want someone to refuse to help him if it meant that he would die and his children would go hungry, so it never dawned on him that the snake would be willing to make a decision to do a deed that would insure that the snake-children would go hungry.
The chief’s empathy and his thinking that others had the same empathy, the same motivation for their behavior, and no reason to hurt another, even at the cost of hurting themselves or their near and dear, caused him to want to believe the snake’s promise not to bite.
The snake, however, was right. The chief knew what he was when he picked him up. When we allow ourselves to believe the promises of people who have proven that they are dishonest, we open ourselves to be repeatedly injured or even killed. When someone shows you what they are, believe your eyes. Believe what you see, not what you hear.
“No contact” is the commonly accepted “treatment” for any abusive relationship. This means that only contact that is required by law (such as meeting that person in a courtroom due to a law uit) or the minimum amount of contact required by law to co-parent with such a person, is the only interaction between you and your former abuser. No contact allows the injuries to cease, and keeps you safe from new and repeated injuries from the abuser.
“No contact” also includes not stalking the person’s Facebook page or other social media. It means blocking or deleting any text messages, phone calls, e-mails or any other form of communication, including having others tell you what the former abuser is “up to.” Refusing to engage in tale carrying, gossip, or drama involved with the former abuser is also essential. If you must speak about the relationship, do it ONLY with a trusted friend or family member who sees that the relationship was/is abusive, and with assurances that the person will keep your information in absolute confidence. This process can be likened to “not renting them space in your head,” which includes wondering if they have a new relationship, and if they are making this new person happy o,r if they will change for this new person, or wondering if you were wrong about what they are.
You know what they are now, so don’t pick them up. NO CONTACT WORKS.