How childhood pain leads to involvements with sociopaths

sad and stressed woman

Lovefraud recently received this letter from a woman whom we’ll call “Nina.” I’m posting Nina’s story because many Lovefraud readers have told me of similar patterns in their lives.

I love this man like I’ve never loved before. He seemed to be my soul mate.  I have had two failed marriages (no sex in them).

I was touched by a neighbour starting when I was 10 and it continued for eight years. My father was totally controlling and I was not allowed friends or to go anywhere except to this neighbour. Both were depressed parents and did not show affection, only criticism.

I have always felt alone but now am parents dead, sister dead within last four years. I am 57.

I met him seven years ago and he was totally charming and enchanting.

He pursued me for 11 months before I let him kiss me, and a year before I let him “make love.”

I have got myself totally embroiled in a situation with him and my life revolves around him. He has a partner now his wife and seven other women that I know of.

He speaks to me in a terrible manner a lot and is demeaning and rude and cruel and thoughtless. Tells me he loves me all the time.

I can’t understand why I find it ok to let him treat me this way ”¦ I desperately want him to love me and can’t imagine not having him in my life. Feels not worth living.

We have good times together playing music and he is a good lover (I think, although I nothing to compare).

He doesn’t know I know about most of his other women but he often has us crossing paths ”¦

I don’t want to lose what may be a relationship worth keeping, yet it causes me so much pain and torment I don’t think it can be worth it ”¦

He owns a huge property and I live in same building paying rent. I help with any work that needs to be done, as my biggest dread is being on my own, so I work with him and his nephew.

I have myself totally tangled up with him. He sometimes seems such a caring man yet at other times a completely selfish one. Over these last six plus years I have let him become part of almost every bit of my life. I am trying to open other avenues, but have no family and no “true” friends.

I am trying to work out why it is so important to me to find out if he is a “sociopath,” as really, how he treats me should be enough for me to say that I deserve better. I have worked really hard on improving myself for over 25 years now, and although I have come a huge way, I still feel very stuck in myself a lot.

My problem is I would become homeless, know nobody and my greatest fear is being alone and rejected ”¦ can’t see a way out.

What is he just a selfish, inconsiderate, narcissistic, thoughtless man, or am I too fussy? Sometimes he can be very nice and seems thoughtful.

Don’t feel other option/s are worth considering ”¦ all feels hopeless and useless and impossible.

I feel when I tell what I’ve allowed that I am extremely stupid and weak.

Roots of the pain

Why is Nina in this situation? I believe the roots reach back to the beginning of her life, which she explained at the start of her letter. Nina says she endured:

  • Depressed parents, who showed no affection, only criticism
  • A controlling father, who wouldn’t let her have friends
  • Sexual assault by a neighbor from ages 10 to 18

After that, Nina had two failed marriages with no sex. So, as Nina says, she has “always felt alone.”  And even though her parents contributed mightily to her pain, they are now dead, so she truly is alone.

Seven years ago the man Nina writes about showed up. In the beginning he pursued her with charm and enchantment. After she finally agreed to a physical relationship with him, his treatment of her changed. Now Nina experiences:

  • Cheating the man has a wife and seven other women
  • He is demeaning, rude, cruel and thoughtless, yet still says he loves her
  • He arranges for Nina to cross paths with his other women
  • They have sexual relations
  • Nina pays the man rent and does work for him
  • The man is entangled in all aspects of Nina’s life

Cause and effect

I see a direct cause-and-effect relationship between Nina’s past and the mistreatment she is now experiencing at the hands of the sociopath and yes, he is a sociopath.

This man’s level of disorder may be low- to mid-range unless he’s also doing other things that Nina hasn’t mentioned. But he is definitely toying with her, cheating, and taking advantage of her. The guy is an exploiter, so in my book, he’s a sociopath.

Nina’s prior disappointments, betrayals and traumas primed Nina to be his target.

Hungry for love

Nina’s parents did not provide her with love, so I believe she did not develop a solid understanding that she, like everyone, is worthy of love. Now she is hungry for any scraps of love she may find.

“I desperately want him to love me,” she writes.

Inappropriate sexual contact

Nina was abused from age 10-18, and apparently her parents did nothing. (Her father may have even been complicit.) Nina then had two sexless marriages which may have been her own reaction to the childhood abuse.

Then she meets the sociopath, who takes a year to get her into bed. Because of his diligent pursuit, Nina probably believed his intentions were sincere after all, who chases someone for a year just to get laid? Well, sociopaths do they enjoy the game.

To Nina, this sociopath seems like an accomplished lover. This may be true many Lovefraud readers have said that the best sex they ever had was with the sociopath.

But that only covers the physical aspects of sex. Sociopaths are not capable of emotional connection, so that dimension is missing from the experience, although they can be good at faking it. But because Nina herself has not experienced healthy sex, she may not realize what it can be.

Fear of being alone

Nina says that she always felt alone. This likely resulted from the lack of warmth in her home when she was growing up, and the fact that her father would not let her develop outside relationships.

Now Nina’s family is gone, and she’s living in a building owned by the sociopath. If she wanted to end the involvement, she would probably have to move. Nina didn’t explain much about that situation, except that she fears being homeless.

Psychological love bonds

All of these issues created psychological vulnerabilities for Nina. And how do sociopaths hook their targets? They find psychological vulnerabilities and exploit them.

One way they do this is by hijacking the normal bonding process.  When two people become a couple, a psychological love bond forms between them. Intimacy, both emotional and physical, causes oxytocin to be released in the brain, which creates feelings of attachment. This is all normal.

But sociopaths then create fear and anxiety in their partners, perhaps by cheating or threatening to leave the relationship. Surprisingly, this has the effect of making the psychological love bond stronger.  The target wants the relationship to go back to the happy days of the beginning, and may beg, plead and appease to make it happen. Sociopaths may be willing to go along with this, if it suits their purpose at the time. So if the two kiss and make up, the bond is strengthened again.

Intermittent reinforcement

Another technique that keeps the target attached to the sociopath is intermittent reinforcement. This is classic psychology if laboratory rats don’t know when pressing a bar will result in a food pellet, they keep pressing and pressing and pressing. The compulsion to engage in the behavior gets stronger and stronger.

Likewise, if Nina never knows when the sociopath is going to respond to her with affection, she keeps trying and trying. Any time he responds with affection, it reinforces her efforts and strengthens the compulsion she feels.

Tolerating bad treatment

Nina writes that she can’t understand why she allows the man to treat her badly. It’s because she has psychological vulnerabilities created by her family of origin and her prior experiences. The sociopath found and targeted those vulnerabilities.

Nina has experienced a lifetime of pain. The sociopath presented himself as the antidote to her pain. The love he expressed was fake, but Nina didn’t know that, so she became emotionally and psychologically entangled.

Now she feels like she has no choice but to tolerate his bad treatment. In fact, she questions whether she is being “too fussy.” This may be a psychological defense mechanism. Since she can’t change him, she may subconsciously hope that changing her own expectations will make her feel better so she can stay in the relationship.

Except that the relationship is not healthy. Nina, like all of us, is deserving of love. Real, honest love. She’s never going to get it from this man.

Full recovery

Nina’s story demonstrates a big reason why sociopaths come into our lives: to help us recover from a lifetime of pain.

Involvements with sociopaths are bad. Really bad. They are so bad that, unlike other painful experiences we may have had earlier in our lives, the devastation of the sociopath cannot be ignored. We have to face it, or we’ll fall apart.

If we examine the experience with the sociopath, we can often see that it is linked to previous life experiences. So to truly recover, we need to overcome not only the injury and pain caused by the sociopath, but the previous injuries and pain that made us vulnerable to the sociopath in the first place.

Then we can achieve real healing, and a life more brilliant than we ever imagined.

Nina’s story clearly and concisely demonstrates how her past created an opening for the sociopath to exploit. I thank her for allowing me to share her story.

The next step for her, and for everyone with similar stories, is to address all the pain the recent experiences and the trauma from experiences long ago.


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70 Comments on "How childhood pain leads to involvements with sociopaths"

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Nina, thank you so much for sharing your story and helping so many others. I can relate to so much of your story. Stay strong and may you be filled with peace and serenity.

This was a good article/post. It helps to move on by exploring why we are seemingly magnets for the character disordered. Why we settle for unconscionable treatment. And, why we stay when we should go. Information is power.

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