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By February 5, 2014 56 Comments Read More →

Recovering from the Lingering Effects of a Sociopath

by Quinn Pierce quinn pierce blog

One of my least favorite activities is walking through the women’s fragrance department at the mall.  I always reach the other side of the store trying to hold my breath while fighting the impending headache and dizziness that always follows.  By the time I get home, I feel as though every area of my environment has been saturated; the scent lingers on my clothes, in my car, in my hair…

It is with similar annoyance that I recognize the clinging traces of my ex-husband’s sociopathic behaviors in my own responses to current situations.  For instance, throughout my relationship, my ex-husband often criticized or attacked my decisions and actions that were independent of his input.  Through this continued act of devaluing my voice, second guessing myself became second-nature.

Far-reaching Effects of Abuse

For me, the most difficult part of healing after my marriage to a sociopath is realizing just how many areas of my life were affected by his abuse and manipulation.  It isn’t so much that I am disappointed with myself, but rather, that he still has any influence in my life at all.

Especially when I think my behavior is simply a reflection of my unique personality, only to find, it’s really a post-traumatic response to an otherwise normal situation.  I recently discovered this, again, while deciding what to buy a friend for her birthday.  Knowing the person’s likes and dislikes well, I still managed to talk myself out of almost everything I looked at.

Post-traumatic Responses

This is typical of me.  I often become overwhelmed when faced with choices that will affect other people, even if it’s something meant to be a nice gesture or simple gift.  That day, within minutes, my heart rate increased, my stomach twisted, and my face became flushed.  By the time I returned home, I was exhausted.  At least I was able to decide on a present for my friend first.  Sometimes, I leave without making a decision, returning home exhausted, none-the-less.

And that’s truly frustrating, feeling as though I haven’t accomplished anything, yet feeling as though I have run a marathon.  It’s the constant internal battles that take place, draining my energy, leaving me with a sense of inner chaos that can’t easily be described.  I could probably list dozens of examples in less than a minute of how my ex-husband’s responses kept me off-balance and challenged my decisions.  One situation in particular, however, will always stand out against the rest, and that is because his reaction was so unexpected, that I still see the images replay like a scene from a movie.

It’s the Thought That Counts, Right?

It was the first time I was truly excited about a birthday gift I had picked out for him.  I spent months before his birthday making sure everything was just right, and I was sure it was something so unique and thoughtful that he would love it.  The day of his birthday, we had dinner with some friends and I gave him his present in front of the small group.  He seemed happy, but I could sense he was not as thrilled as I thought he’d be.

The gift had a customized label as an added touch, and I remember one of our friends read the label, but changed the words in a joking way.  We all laughed, including him, as it was a harmless joke, and it was nothing out of the ordinary for this very entertaining group of friends.

As soon as we got in the car, I felt the mood shift.  I tried to ignore the sudden chill, but I could feel my anxiety beginning to increase before we reached the end of the driveway.  My ex-husband didn’t say anything to indicate he was upset, but the non-verbal clues were glaringly obvious: the clenched jaw, narrowed eyes, tensed muscles- all indications that he was not happy.

An Explosive Reaction

The next day, some small incident, I can’t even remember what it was, set him on one of his tantrums.  He began storming around the house yelling and banging things.  Shortly after he began his tirade, he grabbed his present from the night before and began berating me for such a thoughtless gift that I obviously thought was such a joke.  He was accusing me of embarrassing him on purpose, ruining his birthday, and on and on.  To my horror, he threw the gift against the deck outside and I heard the unforgettable, distinct sound of glass shattering as I watched the contents run down the railing, mimicking what felt like the blood draining from my body.

For years, I couldn’t figure out what went so terribly wrong that day.  How could it be that after all the time, care, and effort I put in to finding and creating the perfect gift for him, my ex-husband believed my intention was to hurt him and embarrass him in front of our friends.  Of course, that was my reaction before I knew what a sociopath was, let alone that I was married to one.

Criticism is Never Allowed

Knowing what I do now, I find his reaction to be not at all unusual for him.  First of all, it wouldn’t matter to him how much time I spent working on his gift or how sincere my intent, the only thing that mattered was the reaction of our friends that night.  And even though the laughter was not aimed at him directly, being a sociopath, he interpreted the joke as criticism and a personal attack.  What’s more, it was an attack by me, since I was responsible for the gift.  The only thing worse than ignoring a sociopath is embarrassing a sociopath.

My ex-husband is an attention seeking, praise craving, drama creating individual.  He is eager to criticize others, but the slightest indication that he is being criticized in any way is like waging a war.  I played two roles in his life: ally or enemy- until my divorce, at which point I was cast in the role of enemy for eternity.  That night, I quickly transformed from ally to enemy at the first hint of laughter.

Impossible to Predict His Reaction

For all the years of my marriage, this was a key element to his behavior, but one that left me navigating a sea of unpredictability and anxiety.  How could I predict the reactions of others in every situation?  Aside from that, it was nearly impossible to try to figure out what would make him happy, since he was merely mimicking those around him and rarely revealing anything sincere or genuine about himself.

I learned in those tumultuous years that my efforts were easily discounted, and my choices were easily ridiculed.  Many times, when my ex-husband deferred the decision-making to me, it was a set-up of sorts.  He either wanted to ensure that he could not be responsible for a decision that was made, or he wanted to be able to blame me for the decision, even if he supported it at the time.

No matter the situation, making decisions became a panic-induced activity for me.  I knew that most of my choices would receive a reprimand of some sort; it was like constantly being spritzed with a disapproval-scented perfume.

Of course, I am much healthier since ending my relationship with a sociopath, but there are days when I still feel like I need to take an exceptionally long shower.



56 Comments on "Recovering from the Lingering Effects of a Sociopath"

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  1. Moving On says:

    Here was my favorite gift to him:
    I got so sick of buying things he hated so I told him for his birthday I would get him anything he wanted just let me know. He said he wanted to go fishing alone. Fine, let me know how much it costs and I’ll let you go. Before I knew it he gathered up all his brothers and booked a Lake cruise and fishing expedition. He split the costs with his brothers and went. I really was confused because one minute he wanted to be alone and the next…not (and of course he denied saying he wanted to be alone)
    Then he promptly forgot that I offered this to him because the next year he turned to me and asked, “What did you get me for my birthday last year? Oh yeah, nothing!”
    I had a blank moment because I really didn’t get him anything, he did it himself. So I just coldly turned to him and said, “You’re right, you just went fishing with your family and left me out”
    lol
    What a weed

  2. Vision says:

    Moving On:

    So typical of their lovely personality isn’t it? He totally made it like it was his idea forgetting you in any of the plans especially when you were the one to suggest this….your story of the gift is just so true of their ratty and selfish sick minds…

    When first married to a malignant narcissist, I bought him a Russian styled winter hat that was perfect for Chicago winters in the city when what they call the Hawk comes blowing through the streets….plus he bragged about his Russian side of the family all the time……He opened the box, laughed and promptly took the box and receipt and walked out of the house and returned it and kept the money. I decided to never buy him another gift…

    My ex sp: Example: Got him dress shirts and ties for a new job and he loved it ….and new wallet and they were all by his favorite designer….but in 5 years of me helping him out etc, I never got a gift except a pair of slippers…LOL

    The difference between us and them: A dear Aunt of mine was getting older so she gave me some of her wardrobe that she thought was just beautiful….I was the size of her clothes from back then. She was so wonderful that I decided to wear the clothes to a family gathering were friends would also be. I wore the out of style skirt and top, totally not my style or color. I wore the pumps that were clearly unmatched although she thought they matched together with the “outfit”…my daughter thought it odd and when I explained why I was doing this she just stared at me and then hugged me..

    At the family thing, my family and friends stared at me and one in particular couldn’t believe me wearing the clothes. But when my Aunt came in and saw me, she let out a huge howl and told everyone she gave me the “outfit” and she got it in Hawaii and look how beautiful it is on her…Then the looks and tears came from those around us….It was a gift to her….

    • mcmjuly says:

      Vision, your post reminds of something I read once which said a sure sign of a sociopath is that they are terrible gift givers (meaning, you’ll probably never be WOW’ed by a gift they give to you)!
      My ex fit this to a tee!

    • blueeyes66 says:

      Hi Moving On – It was helpful reading about your story. It was my birthday again this year, the last two years were nightmares and this one started out the same, even though he is no longer living in the same house, we are still in a relationship (its been hard to get him totally out of my life – work in progress.) He came over the morning of my birthday and told me he was mad at me because I was sitting outside – probably talking to my “boyfriend-imaginary one of course)and that I didn’t run in and greet him right away. So he once again started with the negative drama on my birthday (even after begging me to stay in town so he could celebrate it with me – he should have said so he could sabatage it for me.) So he continued to yell at me, call me names and I finally asked him to leave, so in a pissed off, name calling rage he stormed out of the driveway, telling me never to call him again – in which I said I wouldn’t, thinking okay this is it… long story short, I spent the morning crying than felt better after seeing all the happy birthday wishes posted to my fb -I pulled myself together and went about my day… well to my surprise, my husband (who by the way is married to someone else and never told me till I confronted him with the marriage cert and he said – oh she died in a car accident – which I futher investigated and she is still alive.) called me and said he didn’t want to fight and wanted to bring me my bday present. well, he got me roses, a big card and two funky electrically charged multi-colored lights from a garage sale that when he gave them to me in this big box, he told be – okay be careful, there is a puppy in there… I got you a puppy… I was very confused as I really couldn’t afford to care for a puppy since I have no job and he doesn’t give me money to help out- even though I supported him for almost 2 years… So I opened the box and it was candy and these two funky lights!! Anyway, I totally relate as he always ruins my birthday (V-day is even worse!)doesn’t get me anything, not even cards, says he did, but didn’t have a chance to fill it out, even has given me new cards still in the wrapper and says, here is your card… this year was really no different, with all the name calling and anger drama… all I can think of is that I pray by next year he won’t be in my life at all. At least from all the information I find on this site – thank you and thanks to all who post their stories – I now know that it wasn’t me and that I am not crazy..

  3. kaya48 says:

    Thank you Vision. Yes I am doing so much better since I started posting in June of last year . I did find myself again also and even though some things are out of my control I remain strong. Like when I saw him in court along with his attorney (strangely he picked a female attorney while he was always anti female). I felt absolutely nothing when I saw his hateful face full of anger and bitterness. He sure did not look happy or healthy despite his huge supply of his “minions”. Maybe after all sex and admiration does not make him happy. I really don’t care because my son and I are fine. We feel like we “cleaned” up our life’s and got rid of evilness. Everything in life happens for a reason. And I still to this day believe that God took him away so I can have peace. Because of my addiction to him I would have never left on my own. Thank you all for your great support . :)

    • Vision says:

      Kaya48 I am so glad to be your friend and I am so happy for you!!! You have come such a long way from when you began and I remember your post from the start….real progress.I too used to think I would never get out of my bond with the ex sp and even asked God to fix it for me….and yes, the final straw just made it so easy to say goodbye after he told me he loved me but didn’t want a relationship after 5 years….so easy to say OK good luck and good bye….. It is soooooo gooood to get past them and their ignorance isn’t it?? All my best and will be talking to you soon enough again here!!

  4. mcmjuly says:

    Uggggghhhhh Lingering effects….I know this concept all too well.

    My sister posted an event on facebook today that was related to our family’s 120th family reunion this summer. The event page was adorned with a 10 year old photo from the same event…a photo which depicted my ex-path standing there in the back row among 100 of my family members. I was standing in front of him. I looked great, skinny, looked like I was having a great time….and I feel as though my life is frozen in time right there….

    For all intents and purposes that was right around the last time in my life I knew joy and happiness. It was shortly after I was first married and still very unaware of the fate that was to follow. Over 6 years since the path walked, and about 4 since I’ve had any contact at all, but still I feel as though I just a shred of the person I once was. I want to find myself again, and I am trying as much as I can. I read, I am in therapy, I try to remain spiritual and connected to my higher power (holy spirit), but it is damn hard.

    There is a reason so many people are trying to educate others about the perils associated with a marriage/relationship with a psychopath….when they say it can wreak havoc of a complete and permanent nature on your life….BELIEVE IT! I am living proof. I really sometimes doubt I will ever know the “pre-psychopath” me again…

    • HanaleiMoon says:

      I can really identify with how you feel mcmjuly. When I see past photos of me and I look so happy and content, and then look in the mirror…ugh. I understand that some of what I see is colored by how I feel inside, but even allowing for that, I look beat up. Meanwhile, the ex sparkles because he has a new wife to contribute to the household income, he is “retired” and spends hours at the gym and treats himself like a king. Meanwhile, my life has been torn apart and I’ve borne the brunt of the financial fiasco he caused, which means covering his responsibility, or else my credit will be ruined. Nice.

      I’m not sure we will ever be the pre-psychopath people we were, but I’m hoping we will be different but better. Fingers crossed.

      • mcmjuly says:

        Thanks Moon (I meant to tell you before, but I’m connected to the “moon” term as well….I have an Etsy shop called MoonInspired…check it out sometime).

        I feel what you are saying and I am hoping right along with you. I will never stop trying. Like Quinn says in the article, it makes me so angry that his influence still finds a way to manifest negativity in my life today.

        I feel like (because of the picture thing) I had a bad day today. The grief process we go through is just like the process someone who has been through an extreme trauma/death or catastrophic loss goes through. It is not one bit different. We have good days and we have bad days. We recover when we can string enough good days together to make the bad day just a little more bearable. Smiles and warm wishes to you my friend.

        • HanaleiMoon says:

          I’ll check out your Etsy shop!
          I’m going through a tough patch because the house we co-own is in escrow and he’s being an ass right down to the wire. All the communication is through attorneys but he is making it as difficult as possible. It’s been bringing up a lot of bad memories to the surface…what should be an exciting time is just fraught with tension (as if selling a house isn’t tension enough). I just need to power through these next few weeks and this last, terrible connection will be cut. Yippee!!

    • hope52 says:

      Mcmjuly, I am sorry for your pain.

      I was reading one of my many books about disorder and came across this quote I would like to share with you.

      “Anything we truly accept, changes us.” Eckhardt Tolle

      I wish you peace.

  5. kaya48 says:

    I know exactly what you mean. I am still recovering from the 20 years nightmare. Therapy and my faith has helped me a lot but I still find myself searching for the “why” sometimes. It has gotten much less from before. Yes he caused me financial devastation, he caused my son and I to lose the marital home. He was not “satisfied” until he took every material asset away from us. He would throw obstacles in my way that are just outrageous and ridiculous. By him being a police officer he thought he had the “absolute” power over everything. We are still in the midst of this ugly divorce. What I have learned is that he can take material things away from me, but I am still a person full of love, empathy and joy. He can never take this away from me. I don’t focus on the past anymore because that’s gone. Nothing can change the past. I focus on the present. The future is unknown and I just find happiness in other things now. I have the love of my son who is doing great in college. Who makes me proud to be his mother every day. He cut of all contact with him. Since he is not a minor his choice is his. He says he does not have a father anymore. Because a “real Dad” would never inflict do much pain and sorrow to the mother of his child. There are consequences for every action in life and that’s one of them.
    I am sure things will improve for all of us here. It takes a very long time to think in a “healthy ” way again. For the past 20 plus years I was told I was a “crazy psycho bitch”. I never knew it was his way to justify cheating, affairs and betrayals. I know now. And I thank his little co worker every day for saving my life, for taking him away from me and for becoming his new victim. :)

    • mcmjuly says:

      Good for you Kaya….my prayers are with you and your son for future success. And I really hope I never get pulled over by your ex…sounds like he would be the cop from “hell”….lol!

      • kaya48 says:

        Thank you vision for all your support. Thank you mcmjuly for making me laugh. Yes, when I reached the final straw to say good bye, it was difficult but at the same time very liberating to me. Honestly I don’t miss his nasty, snooty remarks, sarcastic stabs. I also think I came a long way since I was thrown away like garbage. And I don’t look back anymore. It’s over and done with. I think the last straw was when he left the family and told our son that it was because I was mentally ill. All while he was going on cruises with his mistress. He was such a liar and deceiver. And when I caught him lying to my child, that is when I put an end to it all and filed for divorce. Thanks to all of you for being my friends. I know I will survive this nasty divorce with the help of my attorney and with the values that I never lost in the past two decades.

  6. Dave says:

    Well, court was a waste of time yesterday, the freaking judge didn’t show up and they wouldn’t let me get another judge, had to continue it to the 25th. After I had to drive 100 miles to get there, borrow money for gas and borrow a car, pick a friend up whos a witness and waste his time too. To make matters worse, after the 25th I have to go back march 4th for child support.

    I honestly wish we had something that could erase memories, I cant take much more of this insanity.

    Happy V day to everyone, I know most or all of us here don’t have someone special to enjoy it with, but I guess enjoy it as much as you can.

    • kaya48 says:

      Happy Valentines Day,
      Dave, please don’t give up hope. I am dealing with the court system also. I could not do it without my attorney. I still have faith in justice system. I don’t have to worry about child support and visitation. Bit even without those worries it is a nightmare. But there is always hope. I try to stay positive and look at the “good” things in life. Even just seeing a sunset over the ocean (luckily I live on the coast) makes me happy. Just the fact that I have not cried in more than 8 months is proof that there is joy and happiness after all this. I wish you all the best.

    • mcmjuly says:

      Dave, I saw a really cute valentine on facebook. It was a big red heart with the words: “I think, therefore, I’m single.” You better believe it was my status update!

  7. aintgonnatakeitnomore says:

    Happy Valentine’s Day to all the very loving, thoughtful, kind, deserving ppl on here!!! ~hugs~
    May we live with joy from now till death do we part from this earth.
    :) <3<3<3

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