Editor’s note: The following article refers to spiritual concepts. Please read Lovefraud’s statement on Spiritual Recovery.
Lovefraud recently received the following e-mail from a reader who posts as “lostgirl.”
I fell hopelessly in love with (read as I would have given him my real heart and died for him) a sociopath/psychopath.
Skip the details.
I am four years divorced.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t grieve the loss of the relationship I thought I had. I cognitively know that the person I married was not who I thought he was and I even believe I know how he came to be. Unfortunately, I have never felt anger, only sadness for what I viewed as the person he could have been that was taken from him long ago. I see him as an addict and myself as having been addicted to him.
Somehow, now, I still cannot move on. I have been through many short relationships, all ended well for me and usually I ended the relationship when I noticed red flags, the ones I kept close at heart. Again, I am in a new relationship and experiencing all the anxiety all over again (each new relationship triggers this). Including nightmares of the ex-sociopath and agonizing over how to know when someone is genuine. Good words are empty and promises of future fall on my deaf ears because I was disheartened so gravely before.
I have become cold and detached. I feel less emotion for every single thing in my life than at any time ever. All things I own, animals, family, I feel as though I am in a stage of suspended life, I cannot bond. I take care of my animals, I take care of my parents, nothing I own feels as if it’s mine, only borrowed, including relationships. I feel fake and alone.
I truly liked the person I met that I am in a relationship with now, but as with all the others after a short time (three months), I begin to feel less and look critically at their words and life as if I am subconsciously talking myself out of taking the risk of succeeding because of the pool of “thought I had’s” that live inside my head.
I know that a good relationship takes time to grow. How can I give myself the time to grow a relationship when I am so busy still flashing back to a relationship that was agony? He compliments me and I toss it aside. He talks about his life and experiences and I’m trying to assemble timeframes in my head to make sure he isn’t lying to me. It’s as if I’m trying to analyze my way in to a sincere relationship by slicing and dicing all the input/information I’m given. In the meantime I’ve dehumanized the relationship in my head and nearly severed any chance at bonding.
I have read post after post from people and articles all over the internet. What I haven’t found is any truly helpful advice for someone like me.
I fear I have lost the ability to connect permanently because I cannot logically define what is not deceitful at the moment it occurs. What is unselfish, I look for selfishness in. All good is lost because I have become obsessed with what is wrong with what is right.
How do I get back to identifying reality and trusting when it is proper? I feel that my mind was raped and I have lost the ability to connect on any level with anyone. I feel like a shell and I can see through everyone in my life, it would be so easy to be just like him (the ex) but I am not driven to “want” like he did. I see the holes in people and it is so easy for me to identify what is exploitable.
I hate this person I’ve become. I want to climb out of the shell and return to who I was before I fell in “love.”
Help I’m lost.
Realm of Numb
A very wise spiritual counselor once said that unresolved anger becomes rage, and unresolved rage becomes numbness. I think that’s what has happened to Lostgirl—she has moved into the Realm of Numb.
She was so in love with the sociopath that she would have died for him. In effect, that is what she did. Her life spark is gone. She no longer finds joy in her family and animals. She looks for deception in new relationships. She no longer trusts herself to know when she can trust another human being.
The Realm of Numb isn’t a place of pain. It’s a place of emptiness, of nothingness, of void. And it’s a place where none of us should be.
But how do we escape? How do we leave behind the feeling of fakeness, and recover the feeling of authenticity?
Search for meaning
One of the books that Lovefraud recommends to everyone who has experienced the trauma of a sociopath is The Betrayal Bond, by Patrick J. Carnes, Ph.D. The book explains the circumstances that can cause us to form traumatic bonds with an abuser, and provides exercises to help readers unravel those bonds.
When I read the book, I highlighted only one sentence that Carnes wrote, and this is it:
My experience with survivors of trauma is that every journey of recovery depends on the survivor coming to a point where all that person has gone through means something.
This is the key. This is how we truly recover. There is always meaning in what has happened to us, although it can be difficult to find. In fact, that’s what makes the destructive relationships with sociopaths so excruciatingly painful—we can’t figure out why they happened. We did nothing to deserve the betrayal. Our intentions were honorable. So why did this happen to us?
Answers in the past
For many of us, the answer lies in our past. If we’ve experienced an abusive relationship, and were not able to recover, we are primed for another abusive relationship. The problem is even more insidious if we were abused as children, because our whole idea of what is “normal” in a relationship is terribly skewed.
But issues of the past need not be as overtly damaging as abuse. Perhaps our childhoods were basically okay, but we’ve always felt somewhat insignificant, or undeserving of love. We may have had “good enough” parenting, but our parents focused on achievement, and we grew up believing that we were loved for what we could do, not for who we are. Beliefs like these, even when they’re unconscious, can create vulnerabilities for sociopaths to exploit.
It’s also possible that there is a deep spiritual reason for becoming involved with a sociopath. This is what happened to me. I believe that we all come into this life with lessons to learn, and sometimes the lessons are painful. I discuss this more thoroughly in another blog article, Why did this happen to me?
Some people may not be comfortable with the idea of searching for the meaning of the entanglement with a sociopath. It may feel easier to think we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and ran into the wrong person. We just want to brush the encounter aside.
I think this attitude is only a band-aid, and sooner or later, if we don’t find the root cause, we’ll repeat experience. There is meaning, and discovering it leads to healing.
Research, therapy, introspection
So how do we do this? How do we find meaning in what may appear to be a random victimization?
Here’s an important point: True healing doesn’t just happen by itself. True healing requires personal effort.
The first step is to be willing to look for the meaning. Sometimes this, in itself, is difficult. We may be afraid of the painful memories. We may have tried to shove the experience into the past. We may be afraid that if we start crying, we’ll never stop. By being willing, we face these fears, and we may discover, to our surprise, that we can overcome them.
The actual process of finding meaning will probably involve some combination of research, therapy and introspection.
Research: This means educating ourselves not only about the sociopathic disorder, but also about the characteristics and attitudes of a whole, healthy person. We need to understand what we’ve been through, and what we want to become.
Therapy: By therapy, I mean seeking support from other human beings. This could mean working with a therapist or counselor. Or, it may simply be seeking the advice of an understanding, trusted friend, or other members of Lovefraud.
Introspection: Somewhere, deep within us, we know the answers. If we can quiet our minds, with meditation or just sitting in stillness, information will bubble up into our awareness. We may become aware of the mistaken, limiting beliefs that we didn’t know we had. We may receive intuitive guidance about what we should do. If we allow ourselves to seek the truth within, we will find it.
We cannot expect the process of finding meaning to be simply an intellectual exercise. The bottom line is, we are in pain, pain that may be so entrenched that it has become numbness.
Pain is emotional. The release of pain is also emotional. Therefore, the search for meaning is an emotional experience. The meaning may be buried under anger, hatred, disappointment and fear, and we need to plow through all those emotions in order to find it. And this isn’t a one-time event. We may release anger, only to find more rise up to take its place. This may happen again, and again, and again. The truth is, we are all walking around in pools of pain, and draining the pools takes time.
The expression of these emotions is not pretty, and many people may not have the strength to be with us as we do it. I found that I could only do it with my therapist, or alone. So I sat in my spare room, which I call the meditation room, crying, pounding pillows in rage, and recording my rants in my journal.
But once we release the emotions, they’re gone, leaving room within us to fill with other emotions—like hope, love and joy.
Lostgirl, here is what I want you to know: You were betrayed by a sociopath. This is an experience that happened to you. It is not who you are. You are you; the experience is the experience. Do not confuse the two.
There is a meaning for the experience, and it will help you to discover it. This will require effort and commitment on your part. Take the steps. Make a commitment to yourself, to your own growth and happiness. What better commitment could you make?
Find the meaning. But don’t go on a self-help expedition to the exclusion of all else. Here’s a secret: When you focus on any joy in your life, no matter how small, and feel gratitude for the joy, you create an internal energy that attracts more joy.
Healing our hearts is always the answer. To heal, unearth the pain, and replace it with joy. The process may take time, but eventually the life spark will return, brighter than it ever was.