All conscientious people, when there’s a problem in a relationship, take a look inside eventually to see where their fault or responsibility lies. In a good couple relationship, you might have a fight over something, but then at some point, you talk about it and get a different understanding of where your partner was coming from, which can change your perspective. You might realize you reacted because it pushed some sort of button in you, perhaps some experience from your past, or you misinterpreted something. In this interchange, both people in a mutually caring relationship should eventually take responsibility for their part of the conflict. Through resolving the conflict you should end up growing closer, and this ultimately can lead to healing whatever old wounds or misperceptions you are over-reacting from.
Could it have been my fault?
Of course, this never happens with sociopaths. They are incapable of taking responsibility for their part in a conflict, or understanding you if it differs from their perspective. So, we who are responsible look to ourselves to figure out what’s not working. It’s what we’ve been taught.
If you’re still involved with one, you might be wracking your brain to think of some way, some approach, to get through to him/her. You might be feeling so frustrated because you can never make your partner understand you, or how their behavior affects you. And so you probably take on the responsibility, because it really has come down to you. You’re backed into a corner. You have committed your love to this person, made a life, a family. Somewhere inside a voice, perhaps a panicky voice, says, “This is not going well!” You may ask yourself, how can I make this better? How can I be better? How can I get through to him/her?
Maybe you have already decided to leave or have left the sociopath. Even then, when it’s clear how this person you loved violated your trust, tricked and betrayed you, you somehow keep bringing fault back to yourself. What was I doing there in the first place? How could I have been so weak? Why did I stay so long? How could I have not protected our children and just left? From beginning to end, we could be torturing ourselves with these questions, and be consumed with feelings of shame and guilt.
Who’s to blame?
My question is, why do we find it so easy to blame ourselves? It may be partly a conflict between an empathetic nature and assigning blame. Blaming others goes against the grain. Our consciences have us take responsibility for our behavior when things are going wrong. Some of us were raised to take too much responsibility in our families, which just makes it familiar to do. And, if you had children with the sociopath, a parental guilt of a particularly hellish sort can make it nearly impossible to let go of the regret of not having protected them from the sociopath.
Let’s not forget that sociopaths, by their destructive victimizing behaviors toward us, are transferring their own shame (which they are not consciously aware of) onto us, and therefore blame onto us. We are left feeling stunned, confused and immobilized. We do not know what to do after we’ve experienced the manipulations, the anger, the control, the dismissing, the shaming and blaming and what I call, “Jedi mind tricks” from the sociopath. Our selves get repressed and get lost.
It’s a bit like being in a one-person cult. You’re initially love-bombed and subtly, methodically, brain-washed and broken down over time. It literally is that insidious. The healthiest individual would not have defenses against that, once taken in. It’s like a trap that you find yourself in, that you didn’t see coming, but now you’re hanging upside down in a net and it’s going to take time to figure out how to break free.
Accepting my vulnerability
What if we assigned blame where blame is due? What if we accepted our naivety that made us fall for someone who was devilishly artful at presenting him/herself as a wonderful person? What if we accepted our “vulnerability”? People in intimate relationships are supposed to be vulnerable! What if we accepted our own “weakness”? If we consider loneliness or the longing for a partner a weakness, then the whole world is weak. To be loyal and committed, to fight to make a relationship work is the only thing a loving partner would do. Love trusts, love is open and vulnerable. Love never gives up. You did all that love should do, and can feel good about that. How dare your partner discard that love or use it to his own advantage! A normal caring person would have treasured that love.
What if we even accepted that some harm may have come to our children as a result of living with a sociopath? We can’t always protect our children from harm like we think we should. So many things are out of our control, including the behavior of another person. But we can focus on the love we gave our child, and the good intention of trying to keep the family together while we still had hope.
I did the best I knew how to at the time
What if we accepted that we made a choice we thought was fine at the time but turned out to be wrong? We are fallible humans who make mistakes, and hopefully grow from them. What we can and perhaps have done, which is very good, is to recognize we don’t want to live this way anymore. If you’ve gotten out, it is very good you have gathered the strength and resources to have done it. This obsession with blaming ourselves, going round with, “I should have done it sooner, I shouldn’t have been a fool, etc.”, is only an exercise in beating ourselves up. Let’s not carry on what the sociopath has been doing all this time! Let’s stop the beatings!
Maybe you did it at exactly the right time, the only time you could have, considering your circumstances and where you had to get psychologically to recognize who you were with. Now you do know what a sociopath is, and now it is appropriate for holding yourself responsible for not falling in with one again. And, now you can support others who have fallen prey to their carefully constructed webs.