Healing After Dating A Sociopath
Breakups, in general, suck. Plain and simple. You’re losing a friend, confidant, camping buddy, and so on. However, breaking up with a sociopath is on another level. This is a psychological unraveling that you would think only happens in movies. Once I found out I was dating a sociopath, I was hollow and afraid. My whole world stopped. I felt humiliated, enraged, shocked, nervous, and sick. Months after, I remember feeling guilty and small after having failed yet another relationship. Was I really in love with a complete façade? I was house-hunting and meeting the parents of a whole sociopath?! But through intentional, rigorous inner work I have come to see that romantic love is a drug and because I withdrew from it, deliberately choosing myself, I am more than my shame; I am a survivor.
What Are Sociopaths?
Here are some key indicators of sociopathy:
- Typically male (this disorder is up to 8 times more common in men than in women.)
- Abundantly charismatic, effective and chronic liar
- One early warning sign of a dangerous sociopath: cruelty towards animals
- Lack of respect for others’ property
- Difficulty with long-term planning
- Inability to accurately judge the potential costs of an action and properly weigh it against the benefits, leading to impulsive behavior
- Highly skilled at hiding the fact that they simply don’t care about other people
No Really: It’s Not You, It’s Them
Robert D. Hare, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia once wrote, “Everyone, including the experts, can be taken in, manipulated, conned, and left bewildered by them… [they] can play a concerto on anyone’s heartstrings”. Often, the victims of sociopaths are highly educated and/or skilled, highly compassionate, highly successful, and highly accountable. For some sociopaths, the stronger the better. Sandra Brown wrote “Prominent female executives, attorneys, and doctors… Women often feel ridiculous that they let someone this disordered into their lives and they didn’t even recognize the symptoms until she was way in over her head and emotionally destroyed.” While this person is a predator, it is important to understand their thinking process and to see that you are not stupid, weak, or worthless. These are the steps they typically take:
- Assessment – “What does this person have that I want?”
- Idolization – “If I praise this person, she/he will have no other choice but to feel obligated to give me what I want.
- Devaluation – “I have what I want and now this person has the audacity to ask me for something in return? It’s time for the blaming and shaming. I answer to no one.”
- Discard – “This person is dead to me. Next!”
You cannot admire, punish, or love this condition out of the person. Sociopathy stands alone as a “disease” that causes no discomfort to the person who has it. As Martha Stout, psychologist and author of The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus The Rest Of Us, states, “sociopaths are often quite satisfied with themselves and with their lives, and perhaps for this very reason there is no effective treatment”. Case in point, no amount of giving or nurturing will help them; therefore, the sooner you stop viewing the person or situation as “fixable”, the smoother your healing process will be. The only thing that could save a sociopath, is simply the ability to show remorse, or empathy for those they hurt. Unfortunately, for sociopaths, this is one challenge that is truly impossible. Research shows that sociopaths do not respond to shock or social disapproval as powerfully as “normal” people. Because of this fact, sociopaths must be confronted with the consequences of their behavior in more tangible ways.
Steps To Take For Your Own Healing
- Withdraw: Sticking to a “no-contact” rule is difficult at first, but will help you stay alert to the sociopath’s persistent games and stand firm. Detaching from the abuser and reasserting your personal boundaries is key.
- Grieve: Although the love was not real to them, it was to you. You don’t have to deny the reality of how beautiful that person made you feel. It is important to phase through the process of grief just as a person who has experienced a death (Denial and isolation; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; Acceptance.)
- Seek A Therapist: Being seen by a professional who is non-judgemental, and empathetic can be an invaluable tool when you are piecing your life back together.
As part of the confusion and bewilderment experienced after breaking up with a sociopath, you may question the ‘why’ or ‘how’ they seem to have moved on so quickly. You may begin to judge yourself for not picking up yourself by your bootstraps and finding another person to love. You may continue to fantasize about it all being a bad dream, misunderstanding, or mistake; especially, if you have “Insta-stalked” them and seen that their lives are going on as “normally as ever”. While it can be painful to watch someone who has hurt you seemingly prosper, it is incredibly important to note that sociopaths can be expertly social, adept at manipulating others when it serves their purpose. But their relationships often tend to be superficial, short-lived, bereft of trust, and are not formed based on whether they genuinely like or care about the other person. Rather, they view relationships as tools to receiving some sort of benefit.
Understand that breaking up with a sociopath is not the same as a normal break up. The psychological discourse can be haunting and debilitating- believe me, I am still living through it. You may find that your usual network is not strong, stable, or understanding enough to push you through this trauma. For example, I had family members who thought I was too harsh for cutting the sociopath off (his charm worked). If that’s the case, it is crucial to build a supportive network of professionals, survivors, research, etc. It may take years to undo the damage, rebuild your sense of self-worth, and trust your judgment. But the important thing is that you withdraw yourself from the love that doesn’t serve you, that’s the first step. If you need a friend, who has been through it, reach out to me; I’m standing with you.