by Quinn Pierce
It’s fall in the Northeast. The long humid days of summer have been replaced by crisp autumn air, while vibrant, painted leaves cover sidewalks.
It’s usually my favorite time of year, but I have to admit that this particular change in seasons has been challenging. Instead of enjoying the beautiful scenery and bright sunshine, I’ve spent most of my days sitting in the interchangeable waiting rooms of doctors, lawyers, counselors, principals, etc, trying to help my children heal while protecting them from their father.
Time to Reflect on Change
Sitting in these impersonal, and sometimes, over-crowded waiting rooms, I have had lots of time to reflect upon my fifteen year marriage to a sociopath while I pretend to be checking emails and phone messages that don’t exist.
It’s interesting to me that I was married in the fall and divorced in the fall. It does seem appropriate that such changes in my life took place in the season that I consider to be all about change. And that has led me to try and figure out when everything in between these two events started to change, as well.
And here’s where I usually get stuck. I can’t really pin-point events or situations that were dramatic shifts in my marriage; it was more of a gradual accumulation of the same types of events over and over.
I recently over-heard someone sitting next to me in one of the waiting rooms talking about divorce. She described the event as two people growing apart. I would not describe my marriage that way at all, mostly because it would mean my ex-husband was capable of growth of any kind.
And that, I think, is the crux of the situation. Sociopaths, at least those I have encountered, have very basic characteristics that govern their behavior. These traits don’t ever seem to change, evolve, or grow; they just get more intense or sharpened over time.
The rest of us meet new people, experience new things, and learn new information in order to mature and create our own values and beliefs. People like my ex-husband use these new situations to adapt their behaviors, emotions, and responses in a way that will meet their own needs and desires.
Recently, I created a list of his fundamental character traits that dictate his every move. The motivation behind all of his decisions falls into one of these categories: entitlement, revenge, narcissism, blame, and control.
My ex-husband believes that whatever he takes from another person, whether it is monetary, emotional, or otherwise, are all things that are owed to him. He believes he is entitled to everything he has and more, and therefore, has no guilt, regret, or remorse about taking anything that doesn’t belong to him. Whether he believes the other person didn’t deserve it or he thinks he deserved it more, it is his right to have it.
I call it the ‘One-For-One rule’. If I do anything that casts him in a bad light (or me in a good light), he has to match the action in a reverse way. One extreme example of this is the recent event involving child services. He harbors so much resentment toward me because our younger son was reported by a psychiatrist to have been verbally and emotionally abused by him, that he created a situation where he could have me investigated by child services for emotional and physical neglect of our other son three years later. He had no concern for the effects this would have on our children, or the havoc he would wreak on all of our lives, he was only concerned with evening the score.
He has such a high opinion of himself that he is able to convince others that he is all that he says he is. He loves attention, and rewards anyone who gives him attention in a positive way- even if that person is cruel, hurtful, or dangerous to his wife and children. He switches his alliances according to who feeds his ego; therefore, anyone who argues or disagrees with him is an enemy. The word ‘enemy’ may sound dramatic, but it truly does become a strategic battle where he is only concerned with destroying the other person completely.
Nothing is ever my ex-husband’s fault. He takes no responsibility for anything, and can easily manipulate the situation so that he appears to be the victim. Changing his account of how things occurred in the past and gaslighting are tools he will use to keep people off balance and questioning their own memory. I’m still surprised at how easily something that I had nothing to do with can be my fault in his mind. He preys on people’s sympathy and ability to be manipulated in order to carry out his plan. He uses the trust and goodness of others to gain support and acceptance. Playing the victim is his most essential role.
Whenever he feels like he is losing control of a situation, he becomes desperate and starts acting unpredictably. The more I disengage from him, the more he tries to instigate an argument or create drama to keep me engaged. He is only happy when he is adored or hated, either seems to work equally well for him, but he cannot tolerate indifference. When I do not play the part he has chosen for me, he realizes he no longer has control of my choices and has no influence over my life. He will usually react to this with a tantrum, and once that subsides, he will start over trying to become ‘friends’.
Making Sense of the Past
Once I was able to identify the characteristics of my ex-husband’s personality, I could then make sense of my relationship with him, including the fast-paced courtship. He didn’t want a long drawn-out relationship without a commitment, becaused he couldn’t keep the mask in place for too long and he didn’t want his true colors to show. I’m sure it was exhausting for him to keep up the constant attention and adoration for someone other than himself.
The inconsistent behavior that followed was slowly introduced in a way that set the stage for what was to be ‘normal’ in our relationship. I had no idea that his emotions were insincere, so I trusted him and accepted his actions at face value. He took advantage of that trust and manipulated my insecurities until I slowly lost my self-confidence and started ignoring my instincts.
It wasn’t until I began to see my children struggling with anxiety and stress that I realized the environment in our home needed to change. We all went to counseling and worked hard to begin healing. All of us, that is, except my husband at the time. He insisted that he did not have any problems, nor did he cause the negative environment in any way. For more than two years, he became more uncompromising and obstinate while the rest of us continued to grow and change.
A Healing Path
It’s been twenty-one years since we met, and I can’t even recognize the person I was back then. My ex-husband, however, is the same empty shell of a person he has always been. The only thing he has changed is his home address.
I’m finished grieving the love that was a lie all those years. I have two beautiful children and a healthy, loving relationship. I’m not afraid of the changes ahead, because I know they will bring as much beauty as the autumn leaves blazing in the trees all around me, and in the end, I still love the fall.