Finally, you realize what is wrong with your romantic partner: He or she is a sociopath.
Finally, the behavior that was so confusing makes sense. The person you loved, and who you thought loved you, has a personality disorder. Now you realize that anything your partner told you could have been a lie. Now you know why your partner could be so cruel, then tell you how much he or she loved you, practically in the same breath. Now you realize that there never was any love, that your entire relationship was exploitation, and nothing more.
Now what do you do? How do you move forward? How do you recover?
Many of your friends and family tell you, “Just put it behind you. Get over it. Move on.” You are particularly likely to hear this advice if you were “only” dating the person, not married.
The friends and family dispensing this pithy advice probably were never involved with a sociopath. They don’t understand the depth of the betrayal. When you split from a sociopath, it is not a normal breakup. The intensity of these relationships makes the end incredibly painful.
Relationship and addiction
The sociopath initiated this intensity in the beginning of the relationship by showering you with attention, wanting to be with you all the time, claiming that you were soul mates, and painting a glimmering picture of your future together. You, never having experienced such adoration, believed that he or she was head over heels in love with you. Even if you felt misgivings, you suppressed them and focused on the promise of happily ever after.
Then, sooner or later, the sociopath did something to make you feel fear or anxiety. Perhaps you caught your partner lying or cheating. Perhaps he or she suddenly became enraged—you weren’t sure why—and threatened to end your relationship.
Whatever it was, the bliss that you felt in the beginning was shattered, and you wanted it back. You asked what was wrong, tried to work things out, perhaps even apologized for something that you didn’t do. Eventually the sociopath relented, and you kissed and made up.
Then, the whole cycle started again: Intense attraction. An incident causing fear and anxiety. Relief. Around and around it went.
This process has a profound psychological effect—it actually makes you addicted to the relationship. That’s why it’s so hard to break up with a sociopath. You’re not breaking off a relationship—you’re breaking an addiction.
Addictions don’t just go away. Anyone who has quit smoking, drinking, drugs or any other addiction knows that it’s hard work. You must choose yourself, your health and wellbeing, over the addiction. Then you must work on your recovery, day in and day out.
A relationship with a sociopath is the same. You cannot simply “put it behind you.” You cannot fully recover by locking your internal devastation into a closet, never to be opened, while attempting to go through the motions of living. If you try to do this, you simply end up with an emotional cancer within you, eating away at your life force.
The solution is to choose yourself. Make a commitment to yourself that you will recover, and then work it, day by day.
Steps of recovery
The first step is No Contact. Get the person out of your life. Stop seeing and talking to him or her. Block emails and text messages. Don’t visit his or her Facebook page.
This will be difficult in the beginning, because, remember, you are breaking an addiction. You’ll feel a compulsion to contact your former romantic partner. But if you do, it’s just like an alcoholic falling off the wagon. You’ll be back at square one, and you’ll have to start the recovery process all over again.
The secret to breaking the addiction, as they say in 12-step programs, is to take it one day at a time. So commit to yourself that you will not contact the sociopath today. Then you make the same commitment tomorrow, and then the next day.
The longer you stay away from the sociopath, the stronger you become.
Getting the sociopath out of your life is only the first part of your recovery. The second, and most important, part, is healing whatever made you vulnerable to the sociopath in the first place.
We all have vulnerabilities—it’s part of being human. We have internal fears, doubts and injuries from our past. Or we have dreams and ambitions—these, too, in the practiced hands of a sociopath, can become vulnerabilities, when he or she promises to make them come true. But generally, the sociopaths target our weaknesses, because that’s the easiest and most effective way to hook us.
Usually the weaknesses boil down to a subconscious belief, deep within us, that we are not good enough.
We rationalize that our mother ignored us, or our father abused us, because we were not good enough. We assume that an earlier romantic involvement failed because we were not good enough. These ideas may have been deeply buried, but they still caused pain, and pain created vulnerability. Sociopaths can sense vulnerability like a shark senses blood in the water.
Releasing the pain
How do you recover from these deep wounds? You acknowledge that they exist. You look at them and allow yourself to feel the associated emotions—pain, disappointment, fear, anger, rage, numbness—and then you let the emotions go.
This is a process, and is best done in private, or with the help of a competent therapist. You’ll find that you have layers and layers of pain, and as you release one, another rises to take its place. You may find yourself crying, wailing or stomping to release anger. You work your way through the layers of emotions, acknowledging, feeling and releasing.
You can’t do this all at once—it’s too draining, and you still have to live your life. In fact, you should intersperse these sessions of releasing with times of treating yourself well, and feeling joy at whatever goodness you experience, no matter how small.
True recovery isn’t easy, fun or instant—it takes work and a commitment to yourself. But the rewards are so wonderful: Release from old traumas. Life lived with peace and lightness. The opportunity for true love and happiness.
It all begins with making a decision to recover.