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By December 17, 2015 35 Comments Read More →

Sociopaths and a Greek Tragedy Revisited

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Now that I’ve had my own life derailed by a sociopath, and now that I know up to 4% of the population is sociopathic, I see sociopaths often in everyday life. I also see sociopaths in literature and film.  Yet, before my own life was train wrecked by a sociopath, I viewed these stories and characters as entertaining aberrations, not as anything or anyone about which I really had to worry. Weren’t sociopaths rare, and wouldn’t I somehow know if such a person entered my life?

I’m guessing I’m not that unusual.  Before it happened to you, did you know how high the odds were that your life could be profoundly scarred by a sociopath?

Why Aren’t We Warned?

Why isn’t every young adult repeatedly warned about sociopaths by their parents or even by teachers?

Young children are told to be wary of strangers. But the odds of a child being abducted by a stranger are miniscule.  The odds that someone will grow up and encounter a sociopath who will inflict significant physical, emotional or financial harm are palpable.

Examples of sociopaths wreaking havoc in people’s lives go back to the earliest times and appear in early literature—in Greek tragedy, for example. Yet, even as we study the behavior of these sociopathic individuals, teaching opportunities are lost.  Even worse, we are taught to explain away sociopathic behavior as strong responses to profound love, jealousy or betrayal, not to some individuals simply being hard wired differently—truly lacking a conscience and lacking empathy.

We Sidestep The Simple, Correct Answer

By not correctly attributing horrible behavior to a lack of conscience and empathy, the unstated implication seems to be that we all have these types of responses in our repertoire if the right buttons are pushed. But do we?  I’m not convinced.  I have studied enough psychology to understand that many of us are capable of behavior we cannot even imagine if put in the right situation.  Yet, I’m also guessing that it is often a sociopath creating that toxic situation, and the range of what a typical sociopath is capable is far beyond the range of behavior for most nonsociopaths.

What also shocks me is that even when people see behavior that looks to be caused by a lack of empathy or ethics, we excuse it away as if that simply cannot be the answer. Why aren’t we better at using literature dating as far back as Greek tragedies like Medea to reinforce important cautionary tales about life? Why is it so unpopular and deemed so unsophisticated to believe that evil people walk among us? They do and, apparently, they always have.

Medea

In the play Medea, a 431 BCE Greek tragedy by Euripides, Medea is the wife of Jason.  After Medea helps Jason obtain the Golden Fleece, she murders her brother to distract her father in order to allow her to escape with Jason.

Even after this dreadful act, Jason maintains a relationship with Medea. (Perhaps he attributes this as an act of love and loyalty for him, not a glimpse into Medea’s hollow, dark soul—a profound mistake.)  However, to forward his political aspirations, Jason soon leaves Medea for another woman—the daughter of a king.  Medea poisons the princess Jason hopes to marry, and her father, the king, is poisoned as he attempts to save his daughter.

To exact further revenge on her unfaithful husband, Medea murders two of their own children.  Medea gloats over the pain she’s caused Jason.

Wow!  Now that’s a Greek tragedy.

How Is Medea Analyzed?

When students study this play, what lessons are they encouraged to learn?  One online analysis of this play states that the play is about how Jason’s betrayal transformed Medea’s love and passion for her husband into rage, revenge and unbridled destruction.

I’m a believer in the complexity of human behavior and motivation. Yet, all science classes I ever took stress simple solutions over complex ones, all else being equal, of course. Why is it that with the prevalence of sociopaths in our world and the destruction they cause, the analysis of this play is not even simpler?

Medea is a sociopath.  Everything flows from that root cause.  She aligned herself with Jason hoping for things sociopaths crave—power and prevailing. Yet, when things did not go according to plan and Jason discarded her for another woman, Medea did what sociopaths do—seek revenge and try to destroy.

As Jason is not sociopathic (he is pained by the death of his children), there is nothing that could hurt him more than the loss of his own children.  So even though they are Medea’s children too, Medea kills her own children as a way of exacting the ultimate revenge against her husband. No remorse. Mission accomplished.

As a sociopath, other human beings, even her own children, have no value to Medea other than as pawns and leverage.  Her own children trigger no empathy, love, or maternal feelings. None. Their usefulness is in the fact that someone she wants to control, manipulate or hurt cares for them.

To A Sociopath, Children Are A Smokescreen At Best; Pawns And Leverage At Worst

Beware; as this tactic is not only part of Greek tragedy, it is part of life with a sociopath if you are a parent.  A sociopath will not hesitate to use your children to manipulate, hurt and drain you emotionally and financially.

I know this from personal experience, because my ex-husband used his considerable wealth to “buy off” one of my teenage children, insisting the child not see or contact me if the child wanted a constant flow of money and gifts.  Having this child alienated from me was emotionally gut wrenching and traumatizing.  This contributed to the profound insomnia I developed.  But, that was clearly the plan. The more my ex weakened me while we were in mediation and litigation, the less clearly I’d be thinking and the more I’d just want it all over. Years later, I still have virtually no relationship with my oldest child. Letting go of wanting a relationship with a child, with whom I was once very close, has been brutally hard.

What was best for my youngest child was used repeatedly to try to extort money and concessions from me (e.g., in exchange for allowing one child to continue in karate, a sport in which he excelled, my husband wanted me to pay him thousands of dollars so he’d allow our son to attend classes the weekends my son was supposed to be with him.)  My ex-husband is wealthy and does not need the money, but he knew I needed the money to continue defending myself against him in court.

A sociopath will use any means possible to hurt.  He or she will not hesitate to use their own children—think of Medea.

A Red Flag Ignored; A Huge Price Paid

Like so many victims of sociopaths, Jason had a huge red flag, but ignored it.  Medea murdered her own brother so she and Jason could escape. Perhaps she framed her brutality as a sign of the depth of her love for Jason. But wait a minute!  She just murdered someone.

To think that that kind of evil would always be used for his benefit and never turned against him makes Jason beyond naïve. Yet, we do this all the time. We excuse behavior that is callous, unethical and unfeeling, even sometimes glamorizing it as being savvy and “just business,” (Wow, he really screwed his ex-wife in their divorce…ha, ha, ha, ha, way to go!).  At the same time, we fail to take away an important kernel of truth—even in the absence of any unusual circumstances the person at issue is capable of monstrous, unethical behavior.  That should bother us. But even if it doesn’t, to think that someone capable of horrific acts will never direct such behavior against us or someone we love…well, that’s naïve.

Medea As Sociopath—The True Lesson Of The Play

That Medea is a dangerous sociopath and that Jason missed a pretty big warning flag should be the moral of the story, not that once betrayed, Medea’s deep love and passion were transformed into rage and revenge.  After all, if she was a sociopath, she was not capable of feeling love for anyone.  She always craved power and prevailing.  Looked at that way, she was never transformed, but remained true to her dark sociopathic self throughout. If she ever appeared any other way, it was just a ruse to get what she wanted from other people, because that’s what sociopaths do.

(What I learned about sociopaths from my corrosive marriage and toxic divorce is chronicled in my book Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned, available via Amazon.com.)

Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.



35 Comments on "Sociopaths and a Greek Tragedy Revisited"

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  1. becomingstrong says:

    They can’t help being mean because they have no regard for you. But they know they are being mean because if they didn’t they would just beat you in public and not behind closed doors. They would guzzle vodka at work and snarl at work. They don’t because work has boundaries we don’t. Work wouldn’t hide their behavior but we do. And why because we have zero credibility by the time they are done. I’ve learned to use narco lingo when I speak about him, “I am concerned about his increasing erratic behavior (concerned for myself of course but they aren’t) I hope he’s okay.



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    • whathappened says:

      Yes we were their punching bags for all the issues they had going through their head. I cant figure out why this one destroyed me emotionally. Becomingstrong your words have helped me so much. Part of my shame is that he was not my first psychopath/alcoholic. I divorced one too. And i can relate to what your situation having children with one. Although we have no contact he still scares me. And through the long divorce i had to obtain a restraining order to keep him from harming me. This is where my shame lies. It took me awhile to trust. I never let any man get too close. I thought i found the right man and totally let him into my heart and soul…and surprise! Way to repeat the pattern. It scares me it will happen again?!?



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  2. becomingstrong says:

    What happened,well you are in good company, my husband is not my first sociopath either. In fact, I can safely say I have never had a “serious” relationship with someone other than a sociopath. My first serious relationship lasted 10 years and he was actually on his best behavior for 8 and then we got married and all bets we off. He actually underwent psychological evaluation and was diagnosed as a narcissist. My friend says that if a man becomes interested in me it is proof they are a sociopath. How’s that for encouragement for ya😉. But I do choose my friends well and I have wonderful friends some we’ve been friends for over 25 years (and yes I did meet them when I was 2 years old- got to insert humor when you can). These abusive types can be so damaging and so addicting we can hardly see straight. My friends are always asking me ever time my husband does something mean, which is his usual course of action, “aren’t you disgusted with him he’s really gross?” I say yes I am but I still love him. But time has shown me that I can have all the unhealthy feelings for him without ruining my future. I can just treat my love for him like a pet hamster, take it out of the cage now and then and pet it and then out it back and go on with my day free of the real him.



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  3. becomingstrong says:

    I guess my point is it is difficult to stop “loving” the sociopath. Maybe instead of trying to fall out of love as a way to heal, I find that putting that love in a place in which you can feel the love you had (until it slowly dies) without feeling like you have to be with that person physically. I started with small exercises in which I told myself I’m not going to think about him for the next hour, then two hours and so on. In that hour I didn’t think about him I forced myself to do something positive for myself. As far as the future goes, I am going to just out one foot in front of the other and try not to think too far ahead-which is a behavior that kept me in the marriage.



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    • whathappened says:

      Good idea. Baby steps. Im doing better today. Closed all my social media so I’m not tempted to peek. Althought when i did it just confirmed that is still telling lies. He even lied about his education. I tell myself when i think of him he will continue to repeat the pattern with everyone he is with. The fantasy i created is not him. Today i am ok with knowing i loved him and he is incapable of loving someone in return. He will always be on the train wreck to hell and i am grateful to be of that ride!



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      • becomingstrong says:

        whathappened,

        Glad you are doing better. You are right about him always being a train wreck and you don’t want to buy a ticket on that train. My son, who is usually very quiet, asked me, “mom why didn’t you get dad help for his drinking, why didn’t you push the issue?” I told him, “first it was not my job to convince an adult to fix himself and secondly, the drinking was never the primary issue, it was just a symptom of his real problem.” My son then said, “what was his real problem?”, “his intense desire to destroy anyone who got close to him, the drinking was just camouflage to distract us from the real problem.” Interesting that I always knew that the drinking wasn’t the issue though I didn’t real understand what the issue was. I never did address his drinking with him. No thanks, I think I’ll walk.



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        • whathappened says:

          Kids are so observant. Mine asked me “why does daddys voice change when he drinks his drink? Will that happen if i drink too much milk?”. Again thank you for making me count my blessings that i do not have kids ith the latest. I had miscarried a child, i was so scared to tell him i was pregnant, didnt know how than god interviened and i never had to. You would think he would have noticed something was off? Wow it really does help to share!
          Can i ask, how long did it take for you to get to this point in healing? You have great insite. Thanks so much for sharing it really has helped change my perspective!!



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    • Rosie Jackson says:

      becomingstrong, are you still with him? if so, do you know if there are others “sharing the marital bed” as it were? i didn’t think my ex was cheating on me. He was extremely careful but after being with him for more than 20 years I discovered that he’d been cheating on me throughout our marriage. You need to ask yourself, “What will I do when he’s taken everything he can and takes off with one of those women OR MEN?! (that wasn’t really a big shock, he admitted to being bisexual just before he left, NICE!) You still need to be able to live your life in reasonable comfort. I also discovered that my ex had been squirreling money away for years, especially my family trust fund. Save yourself more heartache and trouble in the future, hire a private investigator, find out ALL of the marital assets and get a good divorce attorney. in the end you’ll be glad you did. You may be able to recoup the money, your self esteem and start over, but you’ll NEVER get back the years you wasted with him. How many are you going to give him? By the way, love is not a one way street.



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      • becomingstrong says:

        Dear Rosie,

        No I am not with him. I filed for divorce almost a year and a half ago. I don’t know for certain whether he cheated. I grappled with that question for a while until I figured out it didn’t really matter whether he did or didn’t. If cheating “was all” he was guilty of maybe I could have gotten to the bottom of it but he was a mean drunk and I didn’t feel at all safe locked behind closed doors with him. Thank you for your advice. I have managed to, because he was too lazy, be the one in charge of the finances (except for his earnings during the pendency of this divorce). I have secured enough money to see me through this divorce without the constant worry. I once hired a detective when I really wanted to find out if he cheated, nothing came up. The hardest part is accepting that some of my children adore him, want to sacrifice their future and happiness, and live with him. I can’t and won’t try to convince them they are wrong. How are you doing? how long have you been separated/divorced? What do your children think of him? What steps have you taken to move on with your life, both emotionally and financially?



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  4. becomingstrong says:

    Kids are observant and so is yours. I notice these sociopaths don’t notice much unless they have to. Mine would never ask me anything otherwise it might mean I thought he cared about me and we couldn’t have that now could we. If one of my children looked like he/she was in a down mood my husband would address it immediately, however, I could look like a beaten down piece of trash and he would never ask. Every day he had remind how ignored me. It’s interesting that you think I’m healed. I’m not, far from it. I walk around with a pit in my stomach most days. I just know that I can’t continue with him unless I am prepared to become a robot. I think I would become a robot if I thought I could but no matter how hard I tried not to care what he did or said I couldn’t stop caring. So I decided three months ago I was going to become informed as to what happened to my life. Now I know, I married a sociopath, not once but twice. To keep on the right track, due North, I remind myself every day that I was someone’s daughter, and I was loved, and invested in, and my parents didn’t want this misery for me (both my parents died in my twenties). I think about all the things large and small that my mother did for me, I did deep most days. The healing for me will happen when I get divorced and move away. I am determined to make that happen. I am determined to be better. I am determined to be in charge of my own life and when I shut the door and the end of the day I know I am safe place, I am locking out the bad instead of being locked in with the bad. I do take pleasure in showing him I am smarter and stronger than he is. I love showing him that an empathic person can flick a person they love off when they’ve have had enough. I love that he cannot control me physically and the emotional control will whither away. I love watching him blow in the wind.



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  5. Rosie Jackson says:

    Good girl, get out. You and your kids deserve so much better.



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    • becomingstrong says:

      Dear Rosie,

      I have gotten physically out and live on my own but he won’t move the divorce forward and I’m terrified that I will never get a divorce. I’ve hired the very best attorney I can one with a reputation for taking on the hard cases and going to trial and I’m beginning to sense my attorney is waffling. I hope I’m wrong would hate to change attorneys midstream, both for financial reasons and that I have finally positioned myself legally in gaining/will gain the upper hand. He hopes to wear me down, after a year and a half, we still don’t even have his paystub. He has been held in contempt and fined and more to come but I fear my lawyer might throw in the towel. Then what?



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