The trauma that a sociopath inflicts on those who love him/her can be exceptionally difficult to overcome. In the wake of a relationship with a sociopath, former partners can suffer with clinical depression, generalized anxiety, PTSD and panic disorder. All of these conditions are said to respond to SSRI antidepressants like Prozac and to psychotherapy. However, many people have written to Lovefraud.com lamenting that antidepressants and psychotherapy have not been particularly effective for them.
The one good thing about a crisis is that it can be an opportunity to make major life change. I am a firm believer that it is possible to come out of a crisis better and stronger. I am also convinced that exercise is an important part of a life plan to become better and stronger. There is scientific evidence that exercise can actually treat major depression and anxiety disorders. Exercise has been used as a sole treatment and to improve response to antidepressants.
How much exercise is needed?
When discussing the benefits of exercise in treating these disorders, it is important to define the term. Generally speaking, to be beneficial, the exercise has to be of moderate intensity and occur most days of the week. For example, if you are walking, you need to walk 15 minute miles for at least 2 miles, 5 days a week. If you can only walk 3 days a week, you have to walk 4 miles each session. Similar intensity can be obtained bicycling 10-15 mph for 30 minutes five days a week or 1 hour, 3 days a week. You know you have exercised enough when you feel you have exerted yourself.
Weight training and stretching likely will not improve depression or anxiety if used alone. Scientists have used these as placebo conditions in studies of exercise.
How long before I see results?
To avoid injury from exercise it is best to start slow. If you haven’t exercised in a while, build up to the above intensity over a two-week period. Studies show that inactive people who attempt at 40 to do what they could at 20 are the most likely to get hurt.
When you start your exercise program, give yourself positive self-talk about the short-term benefits. These include better sleep, better energy level, improved concentration and improved mood. Clinical studies show that many people experience a resolution of depression within three weeks of beginning an exercise program. Weight loss is a long-term benefit which may not be apparent for many weeks.
Why does exercise treat depression and anxiety?
Exercise improves the body’s response to stress. When a person is stressed, two types of stress hormones are released, the fight/flight hormones like adrenalin and the longer acting steroid hormones like cortisol. Both of these classes of hormones stimulate carbohydrate craving. The combination of these hormones and increased carbohydrate intake produces insulin resistance. Insulin resistance causes changes in brain chemistry, not to mention diabetes and high blood pressure.
It turns out the best thing you can do to fight insulin resistance is to exercise. It is as if exercise resets the body following stress. That exercise counteracts the harmful effects of stress on the body is well known. People with diabetes and high blood pressure who exercise live longer.
Exercise also enhances what psychologists call self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that one can produce positive change in one’s life through effort. Many people who have been in relationships with sociopaths have lost self-efficacy and enter into a state of helplessness. Sociopaths tend to take over one’s life. That is why getting back in the driver’s seat and making positive life changes is so important for recovery.
Exercise for the whole family
If you have children, you are responsible for others who have also suffered at the hands of a sociopath. If these children are the biologic children of the sociopath, they also carry genetic risk for ADHD, addiction and sociopathy. I have found that parents that are themselves suffering have a hard time managing the needs of their children. I strongly suggest that exercise is an important activity for your entire recovering family. If you exercise with your kids, you spend fun time with them. This fun time is anxiety relieving for everyone.
Exercise may also help children with ADHD. A life habit of exercise also immunizes against substance abuse and later addiction. Again, to be beneficial the exercise needs to be of at least moderate intensity and be practiced most days of the week. US Government public health experts recommend ALL children receive 1 hour of exercise a day. For details on a program of exercise for you and your family see Fit and Smart.
It really makes sense to me that to get into a physical shape would help the mental shape of your days and experiences.
I agree with your recommendations about exercise.
But I feel that we so often miss the point.
And what is the point?
We spend our whole lives coping. Some do it better than others.
Some do it in such a way that we, their Physicians, know that sooner or later depression and anxiety will occur.
After 38 years as a Psychiatrist I have to a few conclusions. Manny of them are self evident. Let me try anyway:
~Thoughts and feelings are interacting and feed of each other. They make each better or worse. They can get into a vicious circle.
~Emotions consist of thoughts and feelings and are reaction to an event.
~If an emotion continues to exist after an event it is called a mood. It may also be an indication of a vicious cycle. There is a diminution in quality of life
~When the mood becomes such that there is a diminution in function the patient is ’officially’ depressed. He is not just suffering poor quality of life. He is now ’not doing’ too.
At this point you are probably asking yourselves ’so what?’
Well if we could find what makes some people more prone than others we could reduce the ’rate of descent’. We may even prevent it. Exercise certainly does ’reduce the rate of descent’.
Let me take you a bit further.
I said that thoughts and feelings are interlinked and interact. The next part is my own observations and explanations. All I can say in their defense is that they work for me!
We use two channels to input information. Think of it as two radios playing together.
We pay attention to one. We are vaguely aware of the other. In other words we have one channel paying attention to what we are doing. In this case you are reading this webpage.
But you are aware of everything around you. That is the second subliminal channel’s input.
This second subliminal channel is the key.
Normally it is subliminal .But not always. It is screening what is going on and silently noting it. Sometimes there will occur something that is significant. Or it may be significant. It needs marking. But how do we do this?
We use feelings. Maybe good, maybe bad or maybe threatening event s all have their appropriate feelings. So a feeling appears that is not related to this page. You are prepared for something but the thought is still subliminal. The next stage is that the subliminal event engenders such feelings that it drags your attention from what you were doing and you now devote your main thought channel to the previous subliminal event.
Again you may ask ’so what’? What is the point that I am trying to make?
At the outset I said that some people cope better than others. Some are destined to make the ’descent into depression.’
We know who they are.
They are the worriers. They are the over conscientious. They ’are good for other and terrible for themselves’.
They oversubscribe feelings to events. They over emphasis what may happen and use feelings as the ‘subliminal maker’.
They are emotionally overburdened. They are liable to get into the thought feeling vicious circle. They are loaded for the descent into depression.
They are completely unaware of all this. This is the way they are, they explain. And they are right. They know that they are different, but they do not know why. Or what is the significance.
They often make a virtue of the very trait that is detrimental to them. They gladly accept that they have poor quality of life. Why not? They have known nothing else.
Are medications the answer? Maybe if you are depressed. But medications will not prevent relapse when ceased. Medications cannot improve quality of life.
Only CBT [Cognitive Behavioural Therapy] can do this reasonably well.
I became convinced that CBT can be given as Self-Help. It can be done so effectively and conveniently online.
I have spent nine years making the free Online CBT Self-Help site myRay [http://www.myRay.com]
myRay [http://www.myRay.com] really is free. I am a non commercial venture. Please you myRay [http://www.myRay.com] as often and as freely as you like. I hope that it helps you.
With kindest regards
Dr. Michael Benjamin
Dear Dr Benjamin,
Thank you for commenting on our site. I agree with your comments above.
I treated people with treatment resistant depression for many years. The CBT piece is very important.
The point is that we have to work at having good physical and mental health.
Also having recently surveyed people who have been involved with sociopaths, they don’t tend to be the over anxious neurotic types. As a group, they tend to be out going and rather low in anxiety. The trauma from an experience like this is so severe that it can cause depression in a person without the predisposition you describe.
Maybe one of the reasons that exercise works is that those who are anxious and depressed have spent too much time talking and/or thinking about their problems and they feel a need to take action. The exercise itself doesn’t actually work toward fixing any problem (with the exception of improving the body), but maybe it “fools” the mind into thinking that something is being done.
I know that I, personally, can only do so much talking and thinking. When I have a problem, I need to take action to solve that problem. Too much talking and thinking serves only to make me feel that I am wallowing in the problem. I have to wonder if a person is enjoying the misery that the problem is causing if he just talks about it, rather than doing something about it.
One more point: Dr. Benjamin, PLEASE use paragraphs. You have good information, but it is difficult to read without paragraphs. Some people will see the long stretch of words without any white space and will not make the effort to wade into it.
Excellent comment above. Those who do best take action to recover. If talking is not followed by action, there will be no recovery.
Self efficacy is a very important concept – I wonder if you might consider doing a post at some point about how to recover self efficacy from a standpoint of helplessness. I hate the term ‘learned helplessness’ because it generally blames the victim and in these relationships victims have had quite enough blame. But I have to acknowledge that I do feel quite helpless at the moment in terms of solving practical problems in my life to move it forward.
My question is how do you recover self efficacy when you don’t have any confidence to take the actions required to retrieve it? What would be some gentle first steps for those who are severely affected? Staying stuck after the relationship ends is affecting me deeply yet I feel powerless to do anything about it. If I were to describe it, I would say it is lack of motivation, lack of self confidence and most of all lack of self efficacy – when you lose those things you become afraid to tackle anything in life. I walk more than the prescribed amount, don’t think I have a long standing clinical depression, but struggle in taking the actions needed to turn my life around – what is that about? Is it fear of making a mistake? Conditioning left over from the relationship where I was unable to get anything I wanted and my choices didn’t count? How do you move out of it?
I wasn’t always this way. I used to have lots of enthusiasm and energy for changing things in my life and no major fear or anxiety. I now think ‘What’s the point?’ when I contemplate what I would need to do to change my life to the way I think I would like it. Is it something you just move out of given time?
Has anyone else experienced this gloomy feeling? Moved past it? How did you do it? I would really appreciate some advice here now I have moved on from the crying all the time phase! I don’t want to be stuck in this anhedonia forever …