After the sociopath: Being heard, being validated

Last week I posted two articles related to the Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. Between 2001 and 2005, as many as a dozen teenage girls may have suffered sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse from a church youth director. This year, the youth director was long gone, but church leaders felt that the wounds had not be properly addressed and healed. So a few months ago, the pastor and church issued a public apology.

Lawyers for the church’s insurance company warned the church not to accept responsibility for the failings of the youth director.  Doing so, the insurance company said, would jeopardize the church’s coverage in case a lawsuit was filed.

The Vienna Presbyterian Church ignored the demands of its insurance company. On March 27, Pastor Peter James preached a sermon that acknowledged the church’s failings.

“Let me speak for a moment to our survivors,” he said. “We, as church leaders, were part of the harm in failing to extend the compassion and mercy that you needed. Some of you felt uncared for, neglected and even blamed in this church. I am truly sorry ”¦ I regret the harm this neglect has caused you.”

Guess what—so far, none of the young women has filed a lawsuit.

Why not? The case would be a slam-dunk. The youth director pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  The church accepted responsibility. Several of the now young women have trouble in relationships, because they are still seeking the fantasy that the youth director promised. If they filed suit, they’d win.

My guess is that the women don’t want money. They want to be heard. They want to be validated. And they want to be healed.

Invisible damage

The problem with sociopathic entanglements is that so much of the damage is invisible. Even in cases where we lose money, jobs, homes, and are subject to physical violence, the big wounds are not readily apparent. Before all those obvious injuries occurred, the sociopaths softened us up with emotional manipulation, psychological control and spiritual abuse. These internal wounds not only eat at us, but they make it difficult for us to respond to, and recover from, the obvious physical damage.

After the sociopath, we need to purge our emotional and mental pain. We need internal stability. But when we reach out for help on this level, many of the people around us simply don’t get it.

They don’t understand why we need to talk so much about what happened. They don’t understand how, when we suspected that we were being used, we allowed it to continue. They don’t understand why we are still confused in our thoughts and emotions about the sociopath.

Get over it, they tell us.

These are the people, of course, who are lucky enough to have avoided a direct assault from a sociopath in their own lives. We often understand why they don’t really understand what happened—after all, we were once as clueless as they are. Still, their ignorance of the depth of our pain seems to increase our pain. We feel like we are not being heard, and our suffering is being invalidated.


Karin Huffer, in her book, the Legal Abuse Syndrome, describes this situation in detail in her chapter on “Debriefing.”

Debriefing, she says, is the first step in recovery. In the debriefing process, we tell someone exactly what happened to us, in all the painful detail. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find what Huffer describes as “quality listeners.” These are people who have the ability to hear what we have to say, overriding their own protective filters. She writes:

Protective filters are always at work. If an individual begins to share with another and the data threatens the listener’s feelings of safety, they may try to divert the data or simply not hear it at all ”¦

The function of this protective filter is to maintain the equilibrium of the listener. Victims’ stories shake the foundations that we lean upon in order to feel safe. When it is impossible for friends or family to hear, due to their protective psychological filters shielding them from vicarious pain, the victim feels rejected and alone.

Huffer goes on to describe a formal debriefing process. It’s best done with a quality listener or support group, but an individual can do it alone if necessary.

Support at Lovefraud

I believe that we have many, many quality listeners on Lovefraud. I am always amazed at the thoughtful, comforting and patient comments posted in response to readers who are spilling their traumatized guts.

The reason Lovefraud readers can do this, of course, is because we’ve all been there. We know what it’s like to be deceived, betrayed and assaulted. We know what it’s like to sit amidst the wreckage of what was once our lives. We’re all on the path to recovery, and those of us who are further along help those of us who are just beginning.

Healing, in the end, is an individual journey. To fully recover, we must consciously excavate and examine our pain, and find a way to let it go. But the process is helped immensely when we are heard and validated. I am so glad that Lovefraud offers this to so many people.


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664 Comments on "After the sociopath: Being heard, being validated"

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Good Morning Ana,
I’m glad it got fixed. That stuff happens when Donna does maintenance, I think. It happened to me once and it was for a different reason: I was trying to post a link that was not allowed, for some reason. It was a link on Alexithymia from another Forum.

Morning Eva,
It looks like you’ve resolved some of your issues?

Hey Oxy,
I meant to comment yesterday about your book review. It sounds really excellent, even better than her first book, just from the title. Thanks for reading and reviewing, it’s very helpful to us who want to learn more. BTW, I love that you chose that picture for your profile. Your choice says, “I’m not your average gal, I’m Oxy!”


Thank you for sharing that! It is all so logical. You are right about having more work to do. That is what first came to my mind, after the incident. I have more work to do, and that prooved it. I didn’t want to allow her to continue her charade. Well that was stupid. It would have never ended, no matter what. Duh. I have to continue to keep the focus on me. It’s hard when you are so intent on wanting to make the other person “get it”. If I had stepped back, taken myself out, and had just been an observer, I know I would have thought, “What the hell does Eden think she is going to accomplish, here?” I got cought up in it, and didn’t use my tools.

Thank’s Ox Drover!


Eva, I feel for you. I do. I can hear the frustration in your tone. You do however, crack me up! I know that you are very serious, but still, you always have a way of making me giggle. Is there any way that Donna might consider allowing you to view the thread, long enough to just print it out? Is this a completely stupid question? I do wish that you could some how aquire what you are in need of, for your study/paper!

Much Love,

I am very thankful for this site, which helps me to understand the pain of what I am experiencing having left my spath a month ago. I still struggle with having let myself be duped….I have been talking with the estranged daughter of my ex and she helped a lot when she said, “You didn’t pick him, he picked you, and he’s really good at picking nice women. I honestly think he could make any woman fall in love with him, because he is so good at it. Sharing my story with his daughters, and hearing the horror of their own stories of him as an spath father has allowed my to lose any feelings I had for him, but the pain of being in love with someone who didn’t honestly return it lingers…

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