By | January 13, 2008 15 Comments

Undoing the riddle of the sociopath

A while ago, I heard a riddle on the radio I hadn’t heard since I was a young girl.

Three men go to a hotel and book a room together. The room costs $30, so they each pay $10. After they’ve gone upstairs the desk clerk realizes the room only cost $25. He gives the bellhop $5 and tells him to return the money to the men. The bellhop figures he can’t split $5 evenly, so he pockets $2 and gives them each $1 back. That means they each paid $9 for the room. Which means they paid, $27 total. But, if you add the bellhops $2, it means there’s only $29 — Where did the extra $1 go?

Ultimately, the answer is, it’s not a math question — it’s a case of misdirection. The riddle asks us to follow the money trail based on the monies returned, not the monies paid. It mixes money paid with money received and money returned — and takes our focus off of what’s really going on. There never was an extra $1. It’s just a case of misdirection.

When I was in relationship with the sociopath, I lived a riddle. I followed his misdirection. I focused on what he was saying ‘would happen’, not what was actually happening. He continually asked me to ignore the facts, and focus on his lies. And I did. Not because I’m stupid. I’m not. My attention was diverted into the lies, into believing his truth was what he was speaking, because what he was doing because he kept masking what he was really doing. And, whenever I thought about what he was actually doing, it didn’t add up. Because I couldn’t make sense of his misdirection, I focused on what he was telling me was true, not reality.

It is a common trait amongst those of devious intent. Like a husker shifting the cards rapidly before your eyes, you try to follow the action of his hands and never see the trick unfolding. Mislead into believing the truth is waiting for you under the card you think you’ve been following, you lose sight of what he’s really doing with his hands. You focus on the cards, not the player, and lose sight of what’s happening before your eyes.

Life is filled with riddles. Today, I recognize riddles as what they are, thought-provokers, interesting games — but not my life. I still like riddles, I just don’t get caught up in the need of having to figure them out so badly that I lose focus on who I am and where I’m at in my life today.

My life is not a riddle waiting to be discerned. Life is what I make it. There’s no mystery, no sleight of hand, no riddle to be figured out in order for me to live my best day yet. It’s up to me to make this my best day yet so that I can live the life of my dreams. No one else can tell me my dreams. No one else can make my dreams come true.

Since leaving the riddle of that relationship with the sociopath, I have figured out my truth. I know who I am, what I want in my life, and I take responsibility to live my life with integrity, grace and honesty. To stay out of someone else’s riddle, I must always stay true to my values, moral, principles — not the truth someone else tells me or wants me to believe is my reality.

My truth is, this is my one and only life. It’s up to me to live it, breathe it, experience it — no holds barred. It’s up to me to be the best me I can be so that I can fearlessly live the life of my dreams.

The question is: Are you living the life of your dreams, or are you following someone else’s misdirection in the hope they will lead you to the truth of who you are?

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I agree. Isn’t it conroversial? Sociopath leaves you emotionally and financially devastated and broken…but on the other hand it teaches you SO MUCH.

I became more confident and focused after my relationship with a sociopath was over. I value myself, I know what I want in this life, I became wiser. The most important thing is that I did absolutely nothing wrong and I am good.


Funny that, different archetypal characters came into my mind yesterday – The Riddler and The Phantom of the Opera.

As an older person and through alot of pain and struggle, the realisation is dawning on me, that I dont need to prove to others that I am intrinsically good and loveable. I always was, but somewhere in my life, I believed the scripts of others, judging myself against their values. During my life I have depleted myself on so many levels, giving myself away, when I should have looked out for myself and made myself number one – not in a selfish way, but in a self centered way. Being within my own centre, allows me to be less prone to getting involved with the extremes of life, and the extreme persons of life. It has taken me alot of strife and insight to realise that I allowed myself not only to believe the distortions of my parents but those of many other people – somewhere I devalued my own perceptions, I gave way, over riding my doubts and insights. If I ever learn to do anything right, it will be to learn to stand by my own authenticity and not to allow this to be distorted, devalued or trashed. Maybe from that standpoint, I can aspire to my own creative core.


The riddles perfect. That’s exactly what he did to me.

I have decided not to talk to him on the phone after another week of little games (we have a teenage son). But, it’s probably going to end up with the lawyers. He says I can’t text him or e-mail him and I have to call him before I fax anything. He says he can’t understand why we just can’t be “adults” about this.

Well, for once in my life, I am going to be “an adult” and
refuse to participate in my own abuse.



I love what you say about your lessons. These are my lessons too. I used to let people talk me into all kinds of things about myself. A good man I used to date often said, “Consider the source.” That was wise. The Bad Man had no business telling me what was wrong with me considering how he was treating me. It didn’t take me too long to realize that but I still ignored it because he was an ordained Minister… so I gave him power he didn’t deserve.


When your ex asks “can’t we be adult about this?” that is that thing that Dr. Stever talked about… paramoralism, if I understand it. He is trying to appeal to your desire to want to be adult and trying to make you feel like you are not being an adult when you and I (and I don’t even know you) know the truth. Of course, I can tell you already got it.

I think anytime you find yourself defending your character to the ex, you can bet that paramoralism is at play. That is how they keep us circling back over and over.

It’s interesting to watch the transformation of people here through their comments. I feel this in myself as well. I felt so confused when I found this site. I was circling in my head endlessly and now, I see things differently. My Dad used to be frustrated with me when I was a kid because he thought I was acting like a doormat. And I have struggled in personal relationships with neighbors, co-workers, bosses… and I always thought it was all me but I didn’t know what I was doing. Now I feel more clear about when something is me or when it is someone else. And looking back, I remember times where I was trying to make someone like me or make them see how nice I was when it was a problem with them… not me. And, there are many people I wanted to like me but I wonder now why?

I think I am letting that go now. I have a card in bathroom with a quote from RUMI that says, “Be with those who help your being.” For me, this is definately one of those places.



I had read that about paramoralism, but I had forgotten. Thank you. It helps. It’s one of his favorites.

That’s what I like about the riddle – the misdirection. He always put the focus on something or someone else other than his lies or his actions.

I saw this in Reader’s Digest.

“Marge, it takes two to lie.” Homer Simpson explained to his wife. “One to lie, and one to listen.”


I spent 15 years in a relationship with a man who would most likely diagnose as a Psychopath. I am 3 years out now.
He had brutally D&Ded me one day (just up and moved out on me after having subjected me to some nasty abuse, smear campaign-the whole 9 yeards) during the first year we were together. He took the last couple of hundred dollars I had to my name saying that I owed it to him for rent-I was so intimidated and controlled-I forked it over. Ironically, his mother had loaned him 30,000 to move with. I cannot describe how devistating his brutality was. The D&D was staged for optimum sadistic gratification.

Within the next 2 years, I had a built a successful high-profile career. My income was about 3 times what he made when I agreed to take him back. He had completed a year of therapy and we had lived seperately and dated each other for 2.5 years before I agreed to co-habitate again. He had even cut way down (almost completely quit) on his alcohol consumption.

I knew nothing about personality disorders at the time and his charm offensive as well as his seemingly complete change, had me questioning whether or not the abuses of the first year had even happened. I remember wondering why I had ever felt like he could not be trusted.

Because my job was so high profile, I traveled constantly and would often take him with me on business trips, as my company put me in very nice hotels. Come to think of it, I paid for most of the vacations we took, the majority of our dates and activities as well. I suspected that his relentless pursuit to get me back had more to do with my status/income and then felt guilty for even thinking such a thing, remembering that he had made tangible changes and I believed people could change. Four months after I had moved back in with him, he informed me he couldn’t take the weather and I agreed to move us back to California, where he grew up and we had once lived.

I landed a new job and while I took a substantial paycut, I still had a higher income, my partner took on work that ended up being only part-time at first and ended up not consistently working for the next 6 years of the relationship. He drank most of the time now. He also had enormous debt (his debt was massive credit card debt from compulsive shopping, drinking, bars and self-serving personal items, additionally, he owed his mother 30,000). Promises to pay off the debt and get steady work were never kept, but they came continuously. I kept questioning myself, wondering if I was being fair (I think he was suggesting I wasn’t).

Another promise that was never kept was that he would contribute to the mutual household needs like furniture or appliances, a new bed had been promised for awhile, as I had bought brand new very good quality furniture and had paid for the high ticket items (stereo syetem, Tv, etc). I don’t think he ever spent a dime on anything “us related”…only on himself and on things that were to his own benefit.

I carried the weight, paid the majority of the over-priced rent (the Bay area was price goughing on rent at the time) I also paid for most of the trips, vacations, meals out, etc until I got fed up with the false promises, undermining of mutual goals, drinking, self-centeredness, irresponsibility and decided to take a seperation so I could think through my growing resentment sort out my anger and re-evaluate whether or not it seemd possible for the relationship to be changed enough so that it still made sense to continue.

During the 9 months of seperation, I became ill. My partner had finally landed fulltime work for the first time in 7 years. I had flown him out to see me 3 times during the seperation and we talked frequently by phone. The improvement seemed genuine, and he informed me that he had appreciated everything I had done while he was getting on his feet and he was now in a position to be there for me. I sent him money for the down payment on a new apartment back in california, as he had to stay with friends after I seperated from him. He requested that I just come back and take some time off and recover from the anorexia. he told me he wanted to stand by me thru the recovery. He spoke of future plans and how now we had made it through the rough times, how much stronger our relationship would be, and how we would buy that house, and camp on weekends-this was going to be it, he said. Finally, all the effort was going to pay off-we would be living our bliss…I returned to him in Jan of 2001.

I believe the undermining and subtle abuse began immediately-but it was so subtle at first it was hard to tell. I do know that I felt little affection coming from him off the bat-like he was withholding it or something. The first thing he did when I got home was to sit me down in front of his computer and make me look at pornography-he tole me to compare myself to the women in the pictures and commented that “I might be thin but I wasn’t firm and a few weeks in the gym and he would be able to bounce a quarter off my butt.” That was the start of my compulsive exercising. I got sicker and sicker. losing more and more weight and he become more controlling. I assumed I was just taking it the wrong way, and that once I started gaining some weight, he would feel more comfortable and be able to express some affection.

I worked the first 6 months I was back but eventually got too ill to continue. We married in August and my contract work ended. He refused to buy a house with me “until I recovered.” I was treated like a child, he had somehow managed to co-opt the sole rights to decision making that affected us both or even myself alone without my noticing that had even happened. I was now told what i NEEDED to do over and over. I ended up hospitalized several times. I almost died twice. That’s when the covert abuse began but by then I was in a fog from the ambient and covert abuse and undermining. Constant nagging about my illness and how I was sick and didn’t want to get better, I was doing it on purpose, I didn’t want to work/I was too weak to work, I was selfish for being ill/I was trying to control him with my eating disorder-the insults and constant critcism beat me down completely. Each time I succeeded at gaining weight, he would cause some kind of crisis and I would relapse while berating me for relapsing and my disregard for how he was being affected.

Due to the internet bubble bursting the Bay area turned into a ghost town-I was a software engineer at that time and no one could find work-some programmers even ended up homeless, restaurants closed down, office space remained empty-I could not find work for 2 years but he refused to move with me somewhere we could both get work or even discuss a strategy for getting through the work shortage. At one point I started to pack and told him I was going to leave him…he told me I that I always leave and why didn’t I just put more effort into making him feel secure in my commitment. I felt guilty-I wanted this to work, after all the time, energy, heartache, hoping…this was supposed to have been what I had hung in there for-come back to live, this was supposed to be the dream coming true. I became completely isolated from the outside.

He was very angry with me, at that point I could do no right. If only I would just “get better” everything would be fine. I was now accused of “coming back just to sponge off him,” and called defective and worthless on a daily basis (10-20 times a day). He insisted I tap into my retirement account to pay the household expenses, as I was not paying “HIM” rent. I thought that seemed fair but I kept wondering why he was treating me like I was a freeloader in light of the 7+ years I had supported him and the contributions I had made to our lifestyle when I had been carrying the weight. He kept making me feel like I was delusional and that I had unreasonable expectations of him to “carry the burden of my financial responsibility to him”…I was so confused.

I continued to struggle with the anorexia and by this point, the onset of undiagnosed MS-my leg had become paralyzed temporarily, the doctors couldn’t figure it out. When I got accepted into an outpatient eating disorder program 30 miles away he told me to go stay in a hotel, I could not use the car. I was so focused on trying to recover, I hadn’t noticed the abuse that was being heaped on me-I had now become used to hearing what a loser I was, how he was sick of being with someone who needed to be fixed, how he deserved so much better, that I was expecting him to carry my weight, that I did not want to take responsiility for myself. I began to get depressed and I also noticed my ability to think was greatly impaired. My emotions were numb and I was exhausted. I lost myself completely. I kept trying to pull myself together, wondering why it was so difficult when I was so lucky to have him standing beside me (he told me that constantly and my thinking had become so distorted-I still believed he loved me).

The abuse became overt, he had been smearing me all over town I think for the whole time I had been back. He had succeeded in syphoning all of the money I had in savings and retirement and then annuled our marriage. I was now refused the use of the car at most times, he would not give me money to see the doctors (I lost the health insurance when he annuled the marriage) but he bought himself a new 1500.00 suit. I was wearing clothing that was 6 years old and he had just told me he made more money that year than he ever has in his life. One night he threw me out in the street, saying he was sick of my eating disorder and wanted the hell out. Violence began not too long after that and I believe he started and affair for which he eventually escalated the abuse in order to force me to flee rather than tell me he wanted to end the relationship like a normal person would have. I was able to get work finally…but even that did not improve things, if anything, it may have increased the abuse. I’m not sure how I was able to function through that job. My memory was so foggy (like short bits of amnesia). His behavior got more and more hostile, my brain got more and more muddled-but I finally did go. I went, wondering what the heck had happened to me, my life, the way it was supposed to be. I still wonder. I was not prepared for that.

To this day, I am still so confused by some of the beliefs that were conditioned into me that I am no longer certain of what constitutes reasonable expectations as far as reciprocity is concerned. Was I exhibiting unrealistic expectations by expecting him to work through the financial issues with me in light of the support I had provided when I was able and he was not? Was I expecting too much?



I’m having the same trouble. My whole adult life has been based on a lie. I don’t think it would be to much to expect from a healthy person, but all you can expect from a psychopath is to be used and abused.

I’m less than a year out of a 16 year marriage (or 17 I guess since we’re not divorced yet). My ex moved my son and me to FL with promises of starting over and making everything up to us. I believed him. However, I know now that uneasy feeling I had was my gut screaming at me not to. Denial is a powerful thing.

I’m short on time so I’ll go right to the discard- he devalued me years ago. He used me, my mom, my family, friends, and even our son to get set up in a new life. When he was all set he told me out of the blue he wanted to separate.(on Valentine’snight) Just a couple weeks earlier he was showing our son and me neighborhoods where we might buy a house. He said he was working so hard for us to make up for everything he had done and lost and taken. I found out however he was “working so hard” for himself and to impress his girlfriend. He then blamed all of his mistakes on me. “It’s all your fault that I did everything. (quitting jobs, starting 4 businesses and the bad decisions that made them fail, treating my son and me badly) I’ve been searching for something because I’m so lonely.” He likes to take things I’ve said to him and use them as his own. I had recently told him I was lonely and wanted so much for things to be the way they were in the beginning.

Long story short – he has a new career, a new sole mate (yes he has already “borrowed” money from her), a new Harley, etc. etc. And I have no education, no job, no car, no savings, bad credit (he used my credit cards for his failed businesses) and I’m scared. But, it’s all OK because of what I do have. I’m blessed with my son and my family who took us in. I’m also blessed with a soul. I don’t have to steal someone else’s.

One more thought, I was 18 and he was 24 when we met. I came from an abusive alcoholic household. I knew my father was abusive. He didn’t try to hide it. He yelled and told me I was fat, etc. (My father passed away almost two years ago.) So, when my ex treated me like a princess when we met I thought I had found someone as unlike my father as I could.


To Stunned – you were not expecting too much AT ALL. Reading your story – you have given him so many chances over and over and he has never genuinely been there for you. He has taken advantage of your good nature and abused you to the point where it nearly killed you. You have given and given to the point where you are totally depleted and exhausted. You have given in the hope he would give back – but he has kept you on a string, saying he will, but he hasnt, he has taken from you. You have lost your strength and you are probably mentally exhausted.

They use this trick to get you to put into the relationship and him and shoulder the responsibility and work at a demanding job, whilst they pretend to put in (but the illusion is that they only put in, when they are planning for you to give back big time). My ex used to say ‘speculate to accumulate’ and I know exactly what this really means. It means pretend to put in a little here and there to give the impression that you are putting in with the expectation that your partner will put in way more and that they will benefit.

A truly loving man will genuinely shoulder the burden without any expectation of return when you need it and will treat you kindly. This man’s behaviour has been grossly cruel and manipulative – he has weakened you. I hope you find the direction for your healing on this site.


Stunned: You need to step outside of yourself and look at the situation as if you were a stranger – things become so much clearer that way. I suggest you reread your post in another six months because you’ll probably see some things much more clearly.

When I read your post, I saw that you were successful after you left him the first time, leading a full, productive and probably satisfying life. You obviously have the ability to take care of yourself and you did it gloriously. And you can do it again if you don’t let your experiences with your ex continue to destroy you.

You are clearly a compassionate, patient and responsible person – you stood by him and did what you could to make the relationship work. You were genuine in your intentions. He was not. He chose you because he knew he could manipulate those qualities to his advantage.

He is a classic sociopath and this is evident from your description of your life with him. Once you accept this fully and completely, and stop trying to “figure him out” and analying what you did “wrong”, you will be well on your way to healing.

That said, work at putting the confusion behind you. Work at understanding you weren’t expecting too much (no way!). In fact, you expected too little and he trained you to be that way.

And that’s the way it is with a sociopath. They train you to accept the unacceptable. It begins in small doses and it accumulates like raindrops in a bucket. They continually push your boundaries outwards and they do it so gradually you don’t even know it’s happening. Battered women are examples of this; if their man hit them on the first date, they’d undoubtedly run away (and probably call the police). But over time they get trained to accept derogatory remarks, then verbal abuse and, finally, getting hit.

You are a battered woman except it’s your spirit that has been battered. But I think that’s probably the worst kind of abuse. Bruises, at least, go away without effort. Healing your spirit requires you to start loving yourself again.

Now I just have to follow my own advice! 🙂


M.L. Gallagher – this article is ART! You succinctly explained to me a baffling puzzle…and validated an intelligent woman who still cannot believe how easy it is to mislead a good person. Thank you – I feel SO MUCH BETTER! But more than that, I will not let it change who I am or my sincerity and openess to a next possibly significant person I hope to meet in my life.


Just wanted to post on this article to bring it back into the mainstream. It’s really quite excellent. There are many great lines and observations in it, but here is my favorite right now:

“There’s no mystery, no sleight of hand, no riddle to be figured out in order for me to live my best day yet. It’s up to me to make this my best day yet so that I can live the life of my dreams.”

For the last four to six months of my two and half years with a man who has to be a psycopath, I spent every day trying to figure out the riddle of his words, his actions, and where I fit into them. As if fitting into them could give my life meaning. I lost total sight of the fact that, prior to meeting him, my life was absolutely full of a meaning that I alone had constructed, based on my morals, my education, my goals. . .

I’ve been working for two months now to reclaim that base, and it’s hard work. I keep slipping and sliding. I really believe I’ll succeed, though.

And every person who reads this needs to believe he or she can succeed, too. I”m guessing you and I both were finally smart enough to listen that voice in our guts saying “something’s wrong here; get out get out!” Now listen with me to that same voice for advice on what to do next. I have absolute faith that it will tell me.

Thanks, M.L.


Yes.. this was a good post to read.. the slight of hand is how they con and infiltrate.. don’t look at what is real.. look at what is going to be.. promises… promises…I never totally bought it.. I kept him on his toes for a year.. and I protected myself..

I know had I given into him.. that he would’ve brought me down in everyway possible.. then blame it on me..

and they use compliments and love and all things good to get you hooked..

By the end.. this con.. who didn’t have a house or a bed or anything but a paycheck that went mostly to his ex..

Criticised me by stating that one or my pair of sheets didn’t come up as far as they should on the bed.. that sheets should come up further.. we are talking a few inches here and about a set of sheets!
and this arrogant man didn’t even own a bed.
He began picking me apart on stupid little things that matter little…

it’s CRAZY!


Misdirection: I am in a program…”yeah an outpatient program” and living with a man who says… he is in love with you…. using the cell phone under my bill to call other women and when it gets turned off saying that “she made a mistake” and have the cell co. call me to check if I made a mistake… No mistake….. misleading… half truths are still lies are they not? how is that relavent he would say ? its relavent to me if your lieing to me ? thats how …. misdirect … have me beleive that nothing happened between you and a man who is clearly gay , while I have emails that say other wise… misdirection to make us look and feel crazy … Yeah I am stupid for falling before but not falling again for the BS and lies and misleading information….

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