If I had to pick the most powerful tool in a sociopath’s arsenal, it would be shame. I’ve experienced a myriad of emotions during my life with sociopathic parents: sadness, anger, confusion, jealousy (from observing “healthy” families), fear, loneliness, compassion, forgiveness. During the healing process, it is very normal to have waves of these emotions come and go. But for me, the one emotion that hasn’t come and gone, the one that has blanketed my entire life history, is shame.
Why shame? I didn’t ask to be abused as a child. As an adult, I certainly had the choice to sever ties with my parents, but I didn’t because I thought a good daughter wouldn’t do that. If I hang in there long enough, they will see I’m a good daughter and they will love me.
What I didn’t know at the time is that sociopaths don’t change. They will never become compassionate people. They will never feel true remorse. By “hanging in there”, I was allowing them to tighten their grip on me, using guilt trips to keep me attached. I now know that it wasn’t sacrificial love that kept me going back, it was shame. Shame is sneaky that way – it disguises itself in many ways.
So what does this look like? Here are tactics both my parents used to reinforce guilt and keep me reeled in:
You need me: “I can help you.” “We need to stick together.” “You’ll never make it without me.” “You have nowhere to go.” “No one else cares about you.”
Sulking: “You have no idea how much you hurt me.” “You don’t love me.” “I thought you cared about me.” “You never appreciated me.” “I cried after you left.”
Flattery: “You’re the only one I can count on.” “No one else can (fill in the blank) as well as you.” “I can trust you.” “Look, I just bought you this present!”
Aggression: “How dare you, after all I’ve done for you!!” “I will never help you again!” “I will make you regret it!” “You’ll be sorry for this!!” “You are WRONG!” “You are STUPID!”
Gas-lighting: “That never happened.” “I never said that.” “You’re too paranoid.” “You have your facts all mixed up.” “You have no reason to feel that way.”
Intimidation: “I know you better than anyone else.” “You can’t escape me.” “I’m smarter than you.” “You know what the consequences are.”
It’s no wonder shame tends to be the overriding emotion! All of these tactics are designed to do one thing: guilt you into staying enslaved to your manipulator.
The one thing I’ve learned from all this is to trust my gut-instincts. When we start allowing others to make our decisions for us (especially if it’s a decision we are being manipulated into against our better judgment), we enter dangerous territory.
I’ve learned it feels good to think independently. It feels good to refuse feelings of shame when I make my own decisions. It feels good to not be blown by the winds of other people’s opinions. And if I make a mistake? Well, even that feels good, because at least I can say it was my mistake.