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A Relationship With A Sociopath, Anxiety, And Depression

Anxiety Depression

There are many reasons why being unwittingly involved with a sociopath often leads to anxiety and depression. Below is an edited excerpt from my book Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned (available via that discusses some of the relevant dynamics.

Chronic, Subtle Feelings That “Something’s Off”

A chronic, subtle sense of unease, anxiety, and feeling that something is “off” are classic symptoms of being in a relationship with a sociopath. These feelings became my constant companions while married to my ex-husband.

A Psychology Experiment

The Iowa Gambling Task is a classic study designed by neuroscientists at the University of Iowa. It demonstrates how you can sense that something is wrong and feel anxious without understanding what is making you feel that way.

In their study, subjects were given four decks of cards, play money, and instructions to draw cards from any of the four decks until they were told to stop. Each card in the deck triggered a payout or a loss of varying amounts. The decks were rigged so that two of the decks had positive expected payouts while the other two were downright punitive and would result in large losses for the participant.

Players’ anxiety and tension were measured via the electrical conductance of their skin, the same technique used in many lie-detector tests.

Knowing Without Knowing We Know

At first, a player’s choice of decks appeared random.

But soon, players experienced tension and anxiety while reaching for the decks with negative expected payouts. Players also started avoiding these decks long before they had a logical explanation for their choices, suggesting that your anxiety and tension can signal that something is legitimately wrong long before you realize it consciously or can offer some sort of explanation.

What do the results of this card experiment have to do with living with a sociopath?

A relationship with a sociopath is just like thinking you are drawing cards from a fair deck when, in fact, you are drawing cards from a deck that is stacked against you. You will feel anxious and on edge. Although participants in psychology experiments are debriefed so they understand what has actually transpired, in real life there is no guarantee that you will ever understand the root cause of your negative feelings. Without understanding the root cause, you may never remove yourself from the person or situation triggering the feelings, hence feeling anxious and on edge become chronic.

Let’s Make Up a New Experiment And Think About What Would Happen

Imagine if you were a participant in the study and were required to keep choosing from the punitive deck, not all the time but as frequently as you did from the nonpunitive decks. Your anxiety and tension would probably persist and even escalate. Imagine now that, due to heightened tension and anxiety, you ask to avoid these decks. When the experimenter asks why, you explain that certain decks seem associated with big losses.

Imagine if the experimenter appears to listen with great empathy and compassion (as a sociopath would) but then explains that the decks have been balanced carefully. If you perceive differences, it is just that you are unlucky early on in the study or that you are one of those people who is overly sensitive to negative feedback.

In fact, the experimenter is just like you; he had a similar impression when he went through the experiment himself, but almost no other player has made that comment. Further, it is important for you to continue, and the lead experimenter will not pay you for doing the study unless you complete it—although the assistant experimenter would be happy to help you out if he could.

Nothing’s Wrong—You’re Just Oversensitive

In light of the information that there’s no valid reason to be upset, and with your ego on the line to prove you’re not “overly sensitive,” you persist.

Several outcomes, none of them good, are now likely. Your anxiety and tension will probably persist and build as you take actions you sense, accurately, are contrary to your interests. As your anxiety mounts, maybe you will stop the experiment again and reiterate that you’re sure two of the decks are minefields and ask permission to avoid them. Again, the assistant offers (although he suggests he might get in trouble for it) to take the decks aside and check them. Maybe they got scrambled. You wait. He returns, assuring you that the decks are even. Again, maybe it is just randomness that made some decks appear more or less favorable than others.

Alternatively, maybe, as the assistant suggested earlier, you’re just overly sensitive to negative feedback. In fact, another experimenter is looking for people who consider themselves exceptionally sensitive and tend to “over react.” Maybe you would like to sign up for this study as well. Not wanting to appear unusually weak or overly sensitive, you persist with the experiment in spite of mounting anxiety every time you reach for the two punitive decks.

In Chronic “Fight or Flight” Mode Without Knowing Why

In this scenario, you’re in a subtle, but constant, “fight or flight” mode, because you are in a negative situation. But since someone you trust, someone who seems to show considerable empathy for you, is telling you that you’re misreading the situation, you don’t leave.

If this is truly just an experiment that takes a half-hour, no long-term damage is likely. But living with a sociopath is like being stuck in a rigged experiment that never ends. Being in fight or flight mode is great if you’re trying to outrun a nasty dog. Living in fight or flight mode constantly is profoundly unhealthy—both physically and emotionally. In addition, having someone you trust continually contradict your perceptions and undermine your decisions is intellectually and emotionally corrosive. As your perceptions and reasoning are discounted, not only do you experience ongoing anxiety, you have less confidence in your ability to perceive and assess the friendliness or hostility of your environment. Over time, your self-confidence and self-esteem take a hit. Your hard-wired fight or flight mechanism, crafted over millions of years of evolution to signal danger, is dampened.

Learned Helplessness and Depression

There are other potential outcomes to this experiment we’ve created.

Choosing not to feel constant anxiety and having all your efforts to understand what is going on fail, you might continue to go through the motions but give up emotionally as you realize you can’t do anything to control a situation you perceive as negative.

This sounds a lot like “learned helplessness,” a term introduced by psychologists Steven F. Maier and Martin Seligman. Learned helplessness is linked with depression. To avoid expending energy in an unwinnable situation, it might be best to just resign yourself to your unpleasant fate—to give up, to not care, to disconnect.

Depression Hangs Around

The problem is that once you learn that it’s futile to try, this is hard to unlearn. As a result, after being eroded by a sociopath, you may not attempt to exert effort to advance your interests in future situations, even when the situation is different and new efforts are likely to yield positive results. Being in an environment for an extended time in which the connection between effort and results is severed can change you, leaving you chronically depressed.

Inner Strength

As these are only some of the toxic and corrosive dynamics inherent to many relationships with sociopaths, is it any wonder that the majority of people involved in a long-term relationship with a sociopath become depressed or anxious even in the absence of physical abuse?

I think it is testament to the inner strength of those targeted by sociopaths that we recover from this at all.  But, thankfully, with time, a change of environment (preferably “no contact” with the sociopath), and the right help and support many of us can and do—but it doesn’t happen overnight.  As I was unwittingly married to a sociopath for almost twenty years, my healing process has been long and ongoing—but it is happening.

Best wishes for getting these toxic people out of your life and moving onward.

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

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64 Comments on "A Relationship With A Sociopath, Anxiety, And Depression"

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Emtuoba – I guess I don’t understand about the truck then. Seems to me that you should be within your rights to just take the vehicle away and sell it. Do you have the title in your possession? Do you have a key? Even if you don’t have the key, you can have a key made with certain information about the vehicle. I googled and you can sell a vehicle even if you still owe on it. Google it for yourself and see. Maybe a dealership would be interested in taking it off your hands and help with the paperwork involved. Of course you probably won’t make any money off it, but that’s not the point. The point is to release yourself from having this hanging over your head. Do you pay the vehicle insurance as well? God forbid he goes and has an accident and really trashes it.

If it were me, I think I’d talk to someone at my bank and at a car dealership and see if they’d help me understand what my options are for selling it. If there are some good options for unloading it then the next thing I’d do is take a friend that can drive a big truck and take that dang truck away from him. Then I’d get rid of it as quick as I could. If I were worried that he’d get angry and mess with me, then I’d first check with the police before I went to get the truck. Ask them if you’re legit to just go take it. None of these may be the right solution, but in the process of asking questions there should be some solution that emerges. Just so wrong that you would have to carry the burden and the risk of a truck that you don’t want and can’t afford anyway.

I get riled up about your situation because my ex-husband tried to crush me financially. Long story, but in 14 years of marriage he made sure everything financial had his name on it. Except for one thing…a MasterCard that was my first credit card I got just after college. I never cancelled it after we married. He never realized it existed and to be honest I forgot about it until I was going through files getting ready to move out. It was a Godsend. It was the only thing I had coming through the divorce that was solely in my name and that I could use to reestablish credit. Before I married I owned a home, a vehicle, had credit cards, and had excellent credit. After being married for so long it was like none of that ever existed. Like I never existed. My ex was mad as hell when he found out I had that card because he knew he hadn’t wiped me out. I was able to use it to reestablish my credit standing under my name and get other credit so I could buy furniture and beds for my kids at my new place until the divorce settlement came through. (I’m sure he would have loved to try to take full custody of our kids by proving that I couldn’t provide decent living conditions for them.)

I know thinking about this stuff makes you tired Emutoba, but the truck thing seems important because of the potential impact it could have on your future plans and your peace of mind. I hope you’ll consider asking around to explore any other options that might exist besides voluntary repo.

Changing the subject, that is horrible that you have to wait a month to get in to see the therapist. Hopefully it will be less time between sessions once you’re an established patient. I think we all experience some PTSD as we start to break away from these guys. So many of their tactics are focused on making us fearful that fear and distrust eventually become our very core.

Great ideas loveliesbleeding.
I will do what you have suggested. Yes I do pay for the insurance. There is so much owed on that truck. I cannot make any money and I know I will owe thousands besides. I really messed up. Yes he knew and took advantage of credit cards and more. He owes 2000.00 in tolls. I’m pretty well screwed here.
I just returned a text message to the HOMEWRECKER. I am hoping she wNts an end to any connection he and I still have and will facilitate future dealings with the horrible creature. I despise them both deeply when I think about them. I try not to think about them though so I can have no feelings about them one way or another. I just want this to be over. I want to be happy again.

Hello, I am in a messy long distance relationship with a guy for 10 months since February 2015 till now, he has these symptoms of a sociopath or psychopath as he is short tempered & he has been making promises to come to Singapore to meet me over 10 times for 6 months then make excuses for not coming.. Then he would fly into a rage over minor issues quite often. I dated & broke up with someone in Singapore 1 & a half months ago which I told him about & he always remembers whatever I did to him.. He has a selective memory by remembering my mistakes but forgets his own. He seems to be manipulative & controlling towards me.. He would unexpectedly say hurtful things to me in his whatsapp messages which leaves me in tears. He’s 27 years old from New Delhi, I am 31.. I didn’t understand why he behaves like that until I went to find more information about this personality disorder. After an argument, he would suddenly text me then get short tempered if I ask him questions. Don’t know what else he wants from me.

So… aren’t you glad you found all this out before he came to visit you? Thank your blessings.

He is still quite persistent in contacting me often.. He has a third private overseas number which he used to call me today..

I was constipated when always very regular, couldn’t sleep and had shingles. My body was screaming danger but I didn’t understand.

So sorry to read. Ive heard shingles is horrible and is brought on by stress. I hope you are handling the stress better. These types of relationships can literally kill you from the stress. Take care

The body will send signals when exposed to constant fight or flight, regardless of the source if the threat. I’ve received a certificates in integrative nutrition health coaching, neurological and hormonal testing and functional medicine to help myself and others understand and heal from this kind of stress. Alex Valasquez now in Spain produced an informative graphic of how the body releases chemicals in response to stress sending a cascade of inflammatory signals through our neuro-endo-immune systems – resulting in symptoms like constipation, anxiety, depression. I read a lot about relationships with !’spaths who are husbands and boyfriends. I married one, thus the 4yearsofhell username. But what I am coming to terms with, and struggle with more, is having a mother who I believe has strong ‘s’path character. This is very hard to say as I have loved her deeply. I no longer speak with her and it has allowed me some clarity on my lifelong struggle with fear, anxiety, depression and physical signs like irritable bowel and leaky gut. I recognize diet and my own choices in creating these symptoms. Marrying at ‘s’path who nearly destroyed me with the same methods used in the card game experiment, along with manipulation and lying, was like hitting a wall at full speed … a realization that was has been familiar and ‘normal’ in my first relationship, with my mother, was fundamentally flawed. I always knew it was “off”. But like the comments around the card experiment, I was told I was too sensitive, imaging things, wrong… by my mother and I could never fully understand of find the words to describe how it was “off.” My own “mommy dearest” story and health problems led me to integrative nutrition health coaching. I’m sensitive and that’s a good thing. The bad thing is remaining in relationships with people who will tell you that you are “crazy” or too sensitive, even if that person is your mother or any other person of influence,such as physicians who are often ill- prepared to link physical and mood issues to the stress cascade. If you are curious about the science , look up Functional Immunology.

I know that constant feeling of unease. Feeling crazy for feeling this way, but knowing if my ex gets an opportunity to harass me he will. Sure enough he does.

This Christmas he happened to be in line behind me at food pantry. He loudly told the world that he is dating a 32-year-old who has three kids. He said he has NO problem with her kids. I suppose this is supposed to mean that my son was the problem, because he hated my son. And, by telling the woman’s age was to rub it in that she is so much younger than me. All it told me is that he has access to destroy another family.

It’s at the 5 1/2 year mark since we broke up, and he is still trying to make me jealous. There is something seriously wrong with him.

Last Christmas (at the 4 1/2 year of break up) He sent me a 5-page letter. Saying he is sorry while he tried to box me in. He did not give me an OUT in that letter. He said if I hate his guts just call him and tell him to fuck off. If I don’t want anything to do with him we can still say hi and shoot the shit if we run into each other. On and on the letter went about how we can contact, even though we had ZERO contact for 4 1/2 years.

Then he called me days after the letter arrived. He called at 10:15 at night!!! I told him NOT INTERESTED!!! Got your letter NOT INTERESTED!!! Don’t CALL anymore!!! He said he would leave me alone, but then a year later he is standing in line behind me announcing that he is seeing a 32-year old with three kids and that he has no problem with her kids. The guy just is cycling! and never stops! No wonder I always feel uneasy!!!

Proof positive that these nut bags a perpetually crazy. And they’re always pulling shit on Christmas, one might think this coincidence, however, there are too many of us experiencing the very same thing,so I can only assume that it is a Christmas gift from the Universe, reminding us that these people are infinity disordered, there is no fixing them, or even helping them, for that matter, and their continued crazy behavior can only be addressed by no contact.
The more I understand and the farther away I get from my experience with narcissistic sociopaths, the more I begin to laugh at them. They are so pathetic, and everything they project, is the real them, ya know, sans-serif the mask. And the more confirmation I have that it’s not me, it’s them. Thank Goddess for space!

Sorry, auto correct.
Sans the mask
Are perpetually crazy

I recently experienced the uncomfortable sensation, “that I was being manipulated by a realtor for profit”. I immediately went on the offensive. I advised her that I was feeling betrayed. I let her know, in no uncertain terms, she must make “things” right or she will lose my business in the future. I was clear, concise, and assertive at the exact moment I realized I was being “had”. Her attitude changed and she made “things” right. My sensibilities have become my strength when in the past they were my weakness. This is an awesome place to come to after years and years of educating myself on the realities of sociopaths. Now I am sensitive to the slightest hint I am being lied to. Thank you for this site and to all who participate, “thank you!!

I found out about the long distance guy’s affair with a married woman on Facebook after I used a fake account to check up on him.. He has been dating the married woman in December 2015..

He denied dating the married woman who has a husband & baby son..

I added the married woman & her husband on Facebook, then blocked the married woman as the long distance guy sent me threatening messages to sexually assault me recently..

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