Lovefraud recently received the following e-mail from a reader:
How do I process a relationship that had so many lies in it that I don’t know really with whom I was involved?
I miss the person I thought I knew so much, but at the same time, he was involved with someone else, and others, since at least last June. I thought he had had one affair—but not anything to the extent that it looks like now.
How do I process a relationship I never had? Was he lying the whole time — acting out the “I love you’s”, the romantic comments, and the idea that we should be together? Is it all an act?
Most of us are reading and posting on Lovefraud because we were intensely, callously, brutally deceived in a relationship with a sociopath. The betrayal was so deep, and so profound, that all we can say is that the person we thought we knew, the relationship we thought we had, didn’t exist.
Much has been written here on Lovefraud about the different aspects of recovery. But in response to this reader’s e-mail, I’ll review some of the key points.
Understanding sociopaths and “love”
Sociopaths do not feel empathy for other human beings. Therefore, they do not have the ability to love as we understand it. There is no emotional connection, no true caring for the target of their “affections.”
What is going on when sociopaths say, “I love you?” They are not all the same, so there is a range of explanations for what they mean.
At the clueless end of the range, sociopaths may view the target as attractive arm candy, or may like the attention they receive from the target, or may enjoy sex with the target. Sociopaths may label as “love” whatever it is they feel with the target. So, “I love you,” means, “I like how I look when you’re with me,” or, “I like the fact that you’re showering me with attention,” or, “I like having sex with you.”
At the sinister end of the range, sociopaths know they are cold-hearted predators and view their targets the way cats view mice. These sociopaths play with their targets for awhile, then, when they tire of the game, abandon them, leaving the targets battered and gasping. Or, some sociopaths will go in for the kill, usually figuratively, but sometimes literally.
The reader asked, “Is it all an act?” Often, the answer is yes.
The sociopath may have painted a picture of an exquisite future of unending togetherness and bliss. Or, the sociopath may have latched on to our own nurturing instincts, and convinced us that they can only survive with our caring and support. Then the mask slips, the story unravels, and we learn that everything we believed was a lie.
We must accept this reality. We must believe our own eyes and recognize the truth.
This may be really difficult. We thought we were working towards our dream. We made important life decisions based on what we were told. We may have spent a lot of money—maybe all of our money—at the behest of the sociopath.
We don’t want to believe that it was all a cruel mirage. We argue with ourselves—there must be some other explanation, some other reason. We may say, “I must have misunderstood; no one can be that heartless.”
Yes, sociopaths are that heartless.
The reasons they are heartless do not matter. Yes, in some cases they have had bad parents and a terrible childhood. But as an adult, they are not going to change. They are what they are, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can begin to recover.
Time and permission to recover
The psychological and emotional damage that we suffer because of our entanglements with sociopaths is often extensive. We may experience anxiety, depression, guilt, self-hatred, and perhaps even post traumatic stress disorder.
Some of us are so angry with ourselves for falling for the scam that we punish ourselves by blocking our own recovery. We say we will never trust again; never love again.
Please do not feel this way. If you never recover, giving up on trust and love, the sociopath will have truly won. Deny him or her that victory. Give yourself permission to recover.
Recovering from this damage is not an event; it’s a process. Readers often ask, “How long will it take?” The answer: It will take as long as it takes.
We may need to move forward in several directions at once, but it’s okay to move forward slowly. Some steps to take:
- Protecting our physical safety, if the sociopath has made threats, and what remains of our financial assets.
- Taking care of our physical health—eating right, getting enough exercise and sleep, avoiding alcohol and other substances.
- Finding a way to release the pent-up anger and pain within us, without showing it to the sociopath, because that will backfire.
- Rebuilding relationships with family members and friends that were damaged because of the sociopath.
- Letting moments of joy, no matter how small, into our lives. Joy expands, so the more we can let in, the more it will grow and the better we will feel.
The Lovefraud Blog has many more articles that focus on how to recover from the sociopathic entanglement. You’ll find them in the following category:
Believe in yourself. You can do this. You can get past the experience. You may have lost your innocence, but in the end, you’ll gain invaluable wisdom.
Lovefraud originally posted this article on May 23, 2011.