By Quinn Pierce
Shattering the Illusion
Once I learned that my husband was a sociopath, it was a lot like looking at one of those Magic Eye puzzles that don’t look like anything except random, tiny shapes and then, suddenly, a three dimensional image appears out of nowhere.
Unfortunately, this lead to the realization that my entire marriage was an optical illusion covering up a very scary reality. And once the illusion was shattered, I felt like I was living with a stranger who was capable of harming my children and me in ways I hadn’t even realized.
However, I also learned that separating from a sociopath and, subsequently, divorcing one is not any easier than living with one. Without the emotional attachment that the rest of us feel, and with a constant need to control and keep a façade in place, a sociopath can be even more scary and manipulative when given an ultimatum that will alter his life in a way he does not want.
Techniques of Manipulation:
Before our separation, my ex was going down the list of last ditch efforts to prevent the inevitable. He did not want a divorce; he needed to keep the family unit intact in order for him to maintain the image he had cultivated for so many years. I didn’t know at the time, but it was a checklist of sorts, and he tried each manipulative technique in rapid succession.
I remember going to marriage counciling and sitting across from him listening in awe as he painted a very different picture from what the reality of our home life encompassed. He dismissed his abusive behaviors as responses to being upset by my actions, he blamed all of our children’s emotional distress on me, and he belittled my role in, well, everything.
Needless to say, we did not make any progress in counseling.
2. Anger and Threats…
Then, he moved on to anger and intimidation, threatening to take the children, keep the house, and destroy everything he could that I loved. The tirades also included trying to verbally strip me of all my worth as a woman, mother, wife, and human being in general. He accused me of deceit, lying, cheating, and manipulation. It was actually a very true description of his own behavior.
The incidents of tantrums increased, the reckless behavior- leaving the house enraged and not returning until the next day, also increased. This was a very tumultuous time in our home. I would try to distract him and keep him away from the children when he was enraged, and I would often find the children huddled together and hugging each other in the corner of their bedroom or under the bed. To this day, my ex does not believe anything he did was abusive and claims that the children ‘should have known he wouldn’t hurt them’. This strengthened my resolve to get him out no matter what.
When the intimidation didn’t work, he suddenly switched gears and went in the complete opposite direction. Every day was filled with remorse, tears, and empty promises of how he was going to change. If I hadn’t heard every single promise dozens of times before, it might have been somewhat believable.
4. Emotional Breakdown…
Possibly sensing the fake tears and false words were not working either, his efforts took a more dramatic flair. He called me from work to tell me that he was having an emotional breakdown and couldn’t function. He had never sounded so despondent and confused, and I immediately dropped everything and went to where he was. He was shaking and crying and begging me to help him. I drove him to the doctor who gave him a sedative and checked him over, but concluded it was most likely an emotional overload type of reaction.
I didn’t know this was all a well planned act and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. It probably bought him about a month of reprieve from the separation process, as I felt compelled to help him through whatever it was he was experiencing. I was not about to kick him out if he was in a medical crisis.
A couple of years later, I read an article about sociopaths and the games they will play to manipulate those around them. I froze in place as I read word-for-word the entire scenario that I experienced with my ex and his emotional ’crisis’. He knew I would not turn my back on someone whom I believed needed help and, more importantly, was asking for help. I didn’t have any intention of staying with him at the time, but I didn’t feel comfortable throwing him out without trying to help him find resources he could use to support him while on his own. Little did I know, I was the one who would need the resources for support.
5. Playing the Victim…
Next, he reached out to family members, usually mine, telling them that I was depressed, unstable, on too much medication, etc. Essentially, he was painting a picture of a mentally unstable woman who didn’t know what she was saying or doing. At the same time, he was painting himself to be the hero who was trying to keep his family together while embracing the victim role.
He succeeded in convincing just about everyone that I was the villain and he was the victim. Ironically, my biggest support came from my children. They knew the reality of what we lived with, and even though they were not old enough to understand everything that was going on, I made sure they knew their father’s behavior was unacceptable. I explained to them that the three of us were working very hard through counseling and practicing the right way to behave, but their father did not think he was doing anything wrong and refused to try to change his behavior. They understood this, because we had all tried to convince my ex that he was hurting us in different ways and we begged him to get help. His refusal was crushing to them; it was despicable to me.
6. Social Isolation…
The last thing my ex did before moving out was go door to door in our neighborhood explaining that we had mutually agreed to separate, again painting a picture of himself as the selfless, caring, genuine person that he was not.
When he finally left the house, he made good on several promised threats from the year before. Like a virus, he began infecting everyone around me by staying socially connected to friends we shared and family that believed his lies. I spent the first few months a virtual prisoner in my home, afraid to encounter the negative response to my decision, becoming more and more isolated each day.
Affirmation of Making the Right Decision
But, my resolve did not waiver. The day my ex moved out was the first time in nine years that my son did not have an accident in his bed overnight. And he never had another again. My other child seemed like a huge burden had been lifted, and he, too, could relax for the first time in his young life.
The disappearance of symptoms was startling and instantaneous. I knew we had a rough road ahead of us, and we did, but these were clear signs that I had made the right decision for my children.
The illusion had exploded into a million pieces, and I had no intention of trying to piece it back together. We were well on our way down this path to freedom and recovery, and we only needed to look back to know we were headed in the right direction.