According to Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, romantic love is an addiction. The drive to find a romantic partner is buried deep in the brain, and biologically intertwined with the brain’s reward system, which is linked to wanting, motivation, focus and craving. To hear Dr. Fisher explain this, watch the video.
Dr. Fisher points out that when you love someone and are rejected, the addiction is worse. Not only do you continue to feel the intense romantic love, but you love your beau even more. Your love becomes an obsession. It turns out that the brain system associated with rewards becomes even more active when you can’t get what you want.
So what happens when you fall in love with a sociopath? Why is it so difficult to emotionally disengage from a sociopath, even when you have discovered what they really are? I’ve spoken to many people who know, on an intellectual level, that they are involved with an exploiter. They absolutely understand that they must end the involvement. But they can’t.
The following letter from a Lovefraud reader is a case in point. We’ll call her “TammyLynn.” The other names have been changed as well. I will comment on her case, and why it’s so hard to break away from a sociopath, after her letter.
I’ve just turned 41. I was married in 1996 and separated from my husband, David, in January 2009. All during this time, my best friend was male (I’m female). Jeremy and I became close, and when I separated from my husband, I pretty much went straight to him.
Jeremy was everything to me. The PERFECT man. He had almost no flaws … I trusted him 100%. I told him my secrets, relied on him. We both worked in law enforcement, so I really thought he had the same values.
Fast forward to March 2012. He got arrested for embezzlement from our own agency. (I had been off work for two years at the time for an injury.) We were broke, or so I thought.
After the arrest and a lot of questions on my part, I finally discovered Jeremy had been cheating on me. He denied it until I showed him printed proof at the jail. Yes, I still went to see him.
Jeremy owes me over $27,000. He insists he will pay, but his money is locked up in his divorce. (This part is true because I got power of attorney and was able to view all finances and that’s how I found the other girls.) He’s now in prison and considered a “con” by the media.
Money is an excuse
I need the money… I also know it is an excuse, because once I get the money, I keep telling myself I will cut ties, but I miss what I thought we had. My brain is smart, I’m educated, but my heart is totally stupid and broken.
I love David, my husband, but we don’t have the same relationship. With Jeremy, it seemed expertly loving, exciting. Said the right things … etc. Although I love my husband and he is stable, I miss the relationship with the sociopath. I’m humiliated, angry, my kids were also devastated, sooo incredibly sad.
EVERYONE is telling me to run. But even David, my husband, and family, tell me to “con the con” to try to get some of the money back. I’m just not good at it everyday — some days I feel like I can con him, others not so much.
Jeremy believes that we will get back together after prison, even though I have told him we won’t, that I do not trust him (God I wish I could). I know I am attractive to the opposite sex, funny with a kindhearted personality. Kids, old people and dogs are my favorite things in life … I feel pathetic and stupid.
Why can’t I convince myself?
Why can’t I just convince myself what my brain knows???? I don’t get it. And why does he seem to think it should all be understandable because of his own “mental breakdown that caused him to do horrible things.” His words, not mine.
My experience w the sociopath was so entirely different from what my reading, investigating and what I’m hearing. It’s like reading about a totally different person. I’m having a tough time making a clear parallel to the same guy. The guy I loved is NOT what I’ve now been exposed to. It does not seem real. My heart is not recognizing this. My brain says no way, never again. So sad.
I don’t care if you post this, if I could read responses, or if you will take the time to tell me not to be a dummy. I just need other people to help me with my backbone lately. He will be out in a few months, I know I will not be with him, I’m just asking for help with my thinking … he’s messed me up big time.
Donna’s comments — love with a sociopath
First of all, I think it’s fair to say that Jeremy is a sociopath. He swooped in when TammyLynn was vulnerable. He pulled her into a relationship that was both personal and business — and then embezzled from the business. The fact that Jeremy is now a recognized con artist and in prison is telling.
But notice how TammyLynn described Jeremy — he was “the PERFECT man. He had almost no flaws.” This is the impression that Jeremy wanted to create for her.
Sociopaths engage in calculated seduction. They figure out what you are looking for, turn themselves into that person, and then declare that the two of you are soul mates, destined to be together.
Notice what else TammyLynn said about this man — “With Jeremy, it seemed expertly loving, exciting. Said the right things, etc.” Jeremy undoubtedly engaged in love bombing — overwhelming attention and affection. This level of adoration is exhilarating, and most likely intensified TammyLynn’s feelings of love. The normal, stable love of her husband just couldn’t measure up.
Sociopaths are different
I don’t know of any fMRI brain studies about sociopaths and love, but researchers at the recent SSSP conference that I attended did present information about how sociopaths’ brains are different. Maybe some of the deep brain mechanisms that Dr. Fisher described do not operate the same way in sociopaths. I do know that sociopaths do not form bonds the way the rest of us do.
Although sociopaths are great at convincing us that they love us, it is all deceit and manipulation. They are not capable of complete love, love that involves truly caring about the welfare of another person. Sociopathic love is fake love.
Because they don’t bond, sociopaths are capable of unceremoniously dumping us when they’re bored, or when a juicier target comes along. We, however, can become obsessed with regaining what we thought we had, even though it was a mirage.
By the way — I wonder if Dr. Fisher screens for deception in her Chemistry.com online dating site. I’ve heard from people who say they’ve met sociopaths on Chemistry.com — along with Match.com, Pleny of Fish, and every other dating website.
Advice for TammyLynn
TammyLynn knows that Jeremy is a con artist, but she is still feeling the pull of romantic love. This is because of the changes her love for Jeremy, which is real, have made in her brain.
The solution is to realize that leaving Jeremy requires breaking an addiction.
TammyLynn must have No Contact with Jeremy. She must stop all communication with Jeremy — luckily, he’s in prison, so that should help. Then, like anyone kicking a drug or alcohol problem, she needs to take it one day at a time. Promise herself she will not contact him today. Then make the same promise tomorrow. And the same promise the next day. The longer she stays away, the more his grip on her will dissipate.
Unfortunately, it sounds like she’s not going to be strong enough to “con the con.” If she tries to deal with Jeremy directly, she will be drawn back into his web. He’ll use the pity play on her, telling his tale of woe about his “mental breakdown.” I am certain Jeremy knew exactly what he was doing, and is expressing remorse only because he got caught.
Even if TammyLynn retains an attorney, just having to think about a legal case will keep Jeremy, as Dr. Fisher says, camping in her head.
I’m all for holding sociopaths accountable. But in this case, it’s more important for TammyLynn to rebuild her life. She may have to take her lumps and walk away from the $27,000.