Since ending what turned into a toxic marriage, suffering through a divorce from hell, and enduring severe post-divorce emotional, legal, and financial aftershocks, I have educated myself about sociopaths.
It is clear to me now that my ex-husband and the father of my children is a sociopath.
By sharing my story and painfully gained insights in my book Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned, and on the lovefraud.com website, I hope to help others identify some of the markers that indicate someone in their life might be a sociopath as well as to recognize and offset the qualities in oneself—as in all of us—that encourage us to give these all-too-commonly disguised predators a “pass,” giving them access to our trust, our life, and our family until it is too late.
Onward in Disguise
Out of fear for my emotional, personal and financial well-being (and that of my children) I write under a pseudonym and changed names, personal characteristics, places, and specifics but not the dynamics. The essence of everything in my story is true—based on actual events, including conversations and bizarre behavior as best as I remember them or, later on, recorded in my journal.
The Illusion of “Being In It Together”
It all started my first year as an MBA student when “Paul” and I were assigned to the same team in a multi-day simulated business competition. In his bestseller, The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence, fear, danger, and risk expert Gavin de Becker describes how “forced teaming” creates vulnerability, because it manufactures the view that “we’re in this together.”
Forced teaming (acting as if two or more people are part of a team even for the most trivial of reasons, when, in fact, they are not) produces the illusion of common goals where none really exist, weakens interpersonal barriers, and facilitates unwarranted trust.
Conmen and others who would do harm use forced teaming to get potential victims to lower their defenses. If forced teaming is effective, any self-respecting sociopath knows how to take advantage of an actual team that requires shared time, experiences, and objectives, such as the simulated business team to which Paul and I were assigned.
In light of the effectiveness of this tactic, is it any surprise that Alcoholics Anonymous and similar groups designed to help people in challenging life situations report that some individuals join their organizations with the sole purpose of befriending and then preying on vulnerable members?
Appearing “Just Like You”
Once the opportunity arises and personal defenses have been lowered, sociopaths are skilled at fabricating personal qualities and details of their past and present as well as aspirations for their future to lure potential victims by pretending to be “just like them.”
Hence, as I did back then, those targeted by sociopaths often have an immediate and strong attraction to the sociopath and believe they have found their soul mate.
If I was from Vermont, for example, Paul stressed how much he loved Vermont and had always imagined himself living there. If I mentioned that I’d grown up in an academic family, that wasn’t very materialistic and loved rich, intellectual banter, Paul stressed how unimportant material possessions were to him and that his plan was to work hard for 10 years and then try to teach at a university.
I was simply being played, but I did not know it at the time. What I knew was that I felt that Paul and I were so alike. I felt an instant connection.
Early Warning Signs
What I wish I’d known, but it took me twenty more years to figure out, was that everyone needs to be vigilant for signs that the person with whom one is falling in love might be a sociopath. Paul exhibited many signs that only now do I realize are relevant:
- a sense of instant compatibility
- someone interested in being in charge or being in control (he seamlessly became the leader of our business team)
- a life-story that elicited “pity” (an alleged affair by his young wife, and they divorced soon after)
- emotional isolation of a partner even, ostensibly, for valid reasons (his first wife’s choice to leave school and her family behind to marry Paul)
- short relationships (his first marriage did not last very long)
- lack of fear or strain in situations most others find stressful (a rigorous graduate program that did not faze Paul)
- selfish behavior camouflaged as something else (allowing his first wife to give up a free education at a prestigious university to marry him, framed by Paul as the two of them being so head-over-heels in love that it seemed the only course of action).
Dream Come True or Dangerous Constellation?
A dangerous constellation was already starting to form, but I didn’t know about sociopaths.
It never occurred to me that a feeling of instant compatibility with an attractive, smart fellow MBA candidate who was comfortable taking the lead, for whom I felt sorry for because of his first wife’s (alleged) infidelity, and who seemed calm when others were stressed could be warning signs of anything dark and malevolent.
It seemed more like a dream come true. I could not have been more wrong. Sociopaths are very real and very good at seamlessly deceiving and manipulating.