Editor’s Note: Lovefraud received the following email from a reader whom we’ll call “Gianna.”
After extensive searches for the article already written, I’ve come to think I should just ask the question.
Will I ever be able to love someone the way I loved the sociopath?
I am 3 years out of my relationship with the man who almost destroyed me. It’s taken therapy, countless books, overcoming obsession, and rebuilding myself from the ground up. I’ve come a long way but there is still one piece of me that is missing: My ability to love as strongly as I did before, to feel that overwhelming warmth and elation I once had when I fell in love.
I’m in a new relationship with a wonderful man. But he’s not superman.
As much as I know the person I used to be in the relationship with was a fallacy, I loved him like no other. The sociopath made me high as a kite on love… in the beginning. He made me perfect. He was so cool! I had so much pride in my identity as, “his girlfriend.” Then everything went wrong, years were lost in the haze of this maze. I see now what happened and what it really was but I can’t forget those wonderful first feelings. I’m sad that I may never have them again. I’m resentful of that memory and wonder if I popped my cork on love.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my boyfriend. He’s my best friend. He’s genuine, full of integrity, and I respect him. When we have miscommunications we talk about them in a healthy way. We are always seeking to understand the other’s point of view. He’s loving and affectionate and even good looking! I trust him completely. He’s human.
So what’s wrong with me? Why am I always comparing him to the impossibly perfect man from the past? A man I want nothing to do with! Why can’t I love him as completely as I loved a myth? Why can’t my healthy partner measure up to the wolf in sheep’s clothing? Did that situation kill something inside me that I will never get back? A feeling I want so much with the man I’m with now.
If you have any advice, I’d appreciate it. I don’t want the great love of my life to have been a fraud.
Donna Andersen responds
I’m glad you’ve escaped the sociopath, glad you’ve recovered, and glad you’ve found a real, authentic love.
Other people have asked similar questions: Will I ever love again? Will I ever feel the same love that I felt with with sociopath?
Here’s what I think is the question that really needs to be asked: Was it really love that you felt for the sociopath — or was it addiction?
The romantic love addiction
Let’s start by stating this: All romantic love is addictive.
Helen Fisher, a researcher who specializes in the biology of romantic love, says that romantic love involves three distinct brain systems. These brain systems evolved over millennia to make us want to stay with one partner, so that we could raise children together, so that the human race could survive. The brain systems are activated when we fall in love, and when we lose love.
Fisher published a study in 2010 that investigated what happens to the brain after a break-up. Her team conducted an experiment with students who had recently broken up with a partner, but were still in love. The subjects looked at photos of their former partners while the researchers studied images of their brains.
According to LiveScience.com:
The researchers found that, for heartbroken men and women, looking at photographs of former partners activated regions in the brain associated with rewards, addiction cravings, control of emotions, feelings of attachment and physical pain and distress.
Furthermore, Fisher and her colleagues found that with unrequited love, these brain systems go into overdrive. In a TED talk, she explained:
When you’ve been dumped, the one thing you love to do is just forget about this human being, and then go on with your life — but no, you just love them harder. As the poet Terence, the Roman poet once said, he said, “The less my hope, the hotter my love.” And indeed, we now know why. Two thousand years later, we can explain this in the brain. That brain system — the reward system for wanting, for motivation, for craving, for focus — becomes more active when you can’t get what you want. In this case, life’s greatest prize: an appropriate mate.
So that’s the background. We are biologically programmed to feel profound desire and craving for our beloved, and this desire and craving gets even more intense when we lose our beloved.
Seduced by a sociopath
Now, let’s look at what happens when our beloved is, in reality, a sociopath.
Think about the sociopathic seduction. In the beginning of the relationship, this individual:
- Love bombed you — showered you with attention and affection.
- Mirrored you — seemed to share all of your interests and values.
- Seemed perfect for you — that’s because he or she figured out what you were looking for and became that person.
- Rushed the relationship — quickly proclaimed his or her love and started planning a future together.
- Promised to make your dreams come true — you would live happily ever after.
Plus, most Lovefraud readers experienced all of this very quickly — as an intense, whirlwind romance. This is the beginning of the psychopathic love bond.
Although I don’t know of any research to back this up, I suspect that all of those desires and cravings that are natural in any romantic relationship are even more intense with the psychopathic love bond.
The trauma bond
Then what happened in your relationship? The sociopath did something to create fear and anxiety in the relationship. He or she disappeared with no explanation, or took your money, or suddenly raged at you, or you caught the individual lying.
Whatever. Your sweet, adoring love interest disappeared, and you wanted that person, and your storybook romance, back.
So you tried to talk it out. You wanted to solve the problem. You may have even apologized for something you didn’t do, just to reclaim your special lover. Eventually the two of you kissed and made up.
But the fear of losing your love, and then the relief of regaining your love, had the effect of intensifying the psychopathic love bond that you felt even more.
When you’re involved with a sociopath, this cycle tends to repeat itself — intense love and attraction, followed by intense fear and anxiety, followed by reconciliation. But with each turn of the wheel, the psychopathic love bond gets stronger and stronger.
Eventually it turns into a trauma bond.
So here is my question to Gianna, and all who have loved the sociopath with more intensity than anyone else: Are you sure it was love? Or was it an addiction that morphed into a trauma bond?
Real love after the sociopath
Here’s what I know to be true: Real love, authentic love, satisfying love, is possible after the sociopath.
When I divorced the sociopath, the court awarded me all the money that he took from me, plus $1 million in punitive damages.
I spent about a year trying to collect my judgment. Eventually, I had to accept failure — I was not going to get my money back from him.
A week after I came to terms with that — believe me, it was painful — I met the man who would become my husband, Terry Kelly.
We’ve been together 14 years — 10 of them as a married couple. And I can honestly say I love Terry far more than I ever loved James Montgomery.
And the best part is, this love is real.