“It feels like I have a target on me,” said a woman who had repeatedly caught the eye of sociopathic men.
“You do,” I replied. “So do I. So do lots of us.”
Believe Who They Are When They Show You The First Time
Why are empathetic people especially likely to get trapped in long-term relationships with sociopaths?
We stay in these relationships too long, in part, because we discount and misattribute malicious, selfish, destructive behavior. We give people the benefit of the doubt. We have to stop doing this! Or at least, we need to become far more selective about when we do it and with whom we do it.
We need to take Maya Angelou’s words to heart — “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”
There Aren’t Two Sides To Every Story
If you turn to someone for support when dealing with a sociopath and that person expresses the idea that “there are always two sides to every story,” this is probably not someone who can support you in this very challenging situation. This person does not understand that sociopaths are real and that they walk amongst us.
Find someone who really understands—this is probably someone who has lived it.
There are not always two valid sides to every story (and it would not surprise me if it was a sociopath who first planted this idea in our collective unconscious).
Are there two sides to the story of Bernie Madoff’s multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme? Does the heart-breaking story of Laci Peterson and her unborn son’s 2002 Christmas-time murder at the hands of her philandering husband Scott have two sides?
Since we have empathy and a conscience, it is almost impossible for us to imagine that there are people (sociopaths) who are devoid of both. Yet, there are—lots of them. It takes far too long for many of us, including me, to realize this.
To help accelerate the process, I’d like to offer a crash course in what I call sociopath math.
As I discuss in my book, Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned, although simplistic, I’m guessing we make tradeoffs and choices when we balance our needs against the needs of others by some implicit mental math. We compare the importance of a person to us and the importance of their needs to the importance of our needs.
At times we’ll compromise our needs, and at other times we’ll allow our needs to trump those of others. But a sociopath does not care about other people, so the importance of any other person to the sociopath is always ZERO.
Let that percolate in your mind for a moment—a sociopath values other human beings at ZERO.
Oh, they may pretend to consider another’s needs. But that means the sociopath is valuing the other person as part of a long-term manipulation for the sociopath’s gain.
Since a sociopath does not place any inherent value on another human’s right to life and happiness, the sociopath’s need, no matter how small, always trumps the other person’s need, no matter how big. If this statement resonates with you, it’s likely you are involved with a sociopath. Start planning your exit strategy now.
To a sociopath, it does not matter if another person’s need is dire and life altering. It does not matter if that other person is the sociopath’s child, parent, spouse, sibling, or a total stranger. If you or someone trying to help you deal with a sociopath say things like, “If only they understood how important this is …” it means that you or that other person still do not understand a sociopath’s immutable mental math.
Even worse, explaining to a sociopath how important something is to you or to someone else you care about, only gives the sociopath leverage to use against you. And, trust me; they will use it against you.
The only agenda a sociopath has is for them to win and for you to lose. Although they delight in the smallest of wins, of course, the bigger the win the better.
In my case, alienating a child from me was a massive win for my ex-husband. He did not care for a moment what this would mean for my child. My ex-husband knew losing contact with that child would be heart-breaking for me. It was.
I realized 20 years too late that sociopath math was evident early on when my ex-husband, “Paul,” told me about his first short, heartbreaking marriage. Instead of eliciting my pity, it should have triggered red flags and blaring sirens.
Sociopath Math In “Paul’s” First Marriage
When “Jenny” was just eighteen years old and a freshman at a prestigious university on a full scholarship, she fell so head over heels in love with Paul (then a senior) that they got engaged.
She left school to follow Paul across the country to his first job. Poof! went Jenny’s scholarship. Before starting her sophomore year in a nearby, convenient university, nineteen-year-old Jenny married Paul. Both she and Paul signed for the sizeable loans she now needed.
Paul worked long hours, traveled a lot and was rarely home. (Hmmmm.)
Now, away from her family and married, while most students her age were single, she was emotionally isolated and physically alone. Not that I am justifying her alleged affair, but I can understand how a young, vulnerable, lonely teenager, separated from family and friends, would turn to another human being for warmth and companionship. Paul and Jenny separated and quickly divorced.
Paul exited the marriage with their fancy sports car (a selfish choice to begin with at that stage of his life, that he alone would be able to afford), their dog, no student debt, and the beginning of a fruitful career that he would use as a platform for a successful application to a top MBA program.
Jenny was left reeling emotionally and financially, as she agreed to be solely responsible for all her student debt.
Sociopath Math In Action
In Paul’s world, his need for Jenny to support him during his first job by being a built-in maid, cook, errand runner, dog watcher, and source of sex trumped Jenny’s need to lay a solid educational and financial foundation for her future. As a sociopath, Paul likely never gave her needs a second thought.
There are not two sides to this story, no footnotes needed.
Instead of accepting Paul’s version of this story of young love, betrayal and heartbreak, I should have thought critically about his first marriage.
Strip Away the Spin. Find the Facts
Once Paul’s spin was stripped away, what were the facts? The facts contained multiple signs of sociopath math—an inherent and profound imbalance of compromise and risk. Jenny made all the compromises and took all the risk. If Paul truly loved Jenny, he’d want what was best for her.
- Why did Paul agree to have Jenny marry so young?
- Why did he allow her to give up so much (a free top-notch education) to become his wife?
- If they were destined to be together, why not wait to get married after Jenny graduated?
- Why did Paul not make any tradeoffs so he and Jenny could be together?
- Who became socially isolated by getting married?
- Who really suffered disproportionately by the short marriage?
I’m not sure this warrants a lot of sympathy for Paul. In fact, maybe Paul is the one who had the affair. I know now that Paul is an adulterer and a chronic liar who accuses others of his own unsavory behavior.
Regardless, Paul emerged unscathed with a story of love and loss he could leverage into attracting his next target. Sociopath Math!
(Identifying names, places, events and characteristics of “Paul” and others I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect their and my identity.)