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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i never have. ppl have sincerely thanked me for my wisdom — and help, especially wen i rly didnt think they were listening. wud that i cud apply it to mine own life.
im resolved henceforth i will 🙂

I will write a lot more of my story shortly. Its just ended in the last couple weeks. There so many details it sounds like everyone else is. I’m a shell of a woman. Everyone thought it was gorgeous. You should see what I look like now in the way that bus the part that’s making me more sick is I told him my deepest darkest secret. That I’ve never told anybody. I felt safe with him. I told him this. I was molested by my grandpa. Because I was. We thought it was over

I didn’t finish the rest of my last post. This is the first time I’ve ever written lease candy toast. Anyway I feel so betrayed but I told him I was molested by my grandpa. There’s so many other things custom details. I feel so used and humiliated. I’ve never been destroyed that you need one like this. The other thing I told him was the only thing I wanted from him for sure was to not be a cheater.I told him my other two x’s had both cheated. I said the rest of the relationship was wonderful but that was one thing I was sensitive to. He said he knew exactly how I felt and told me his to sob stories and cheating one with his wife a month before they got married to another notary officer the other was supposed to leak on the park with you married men having sex. She supposedly cheated more. I cannot believe this sweet charming wonderful man whatever toleratthikind of horrible things from a woman. Anyway so a man

trusted him. And he made me think it was because of my grandpa and displaced anger. The funniest thing of all is for me that’s not funny I’ve never accused me of cheating before so many times I told him my gut says it I’m so sorry I know I’m being paranoid. Actually said crazy windy. All those times that I was being paranoid and crazy and he actually every ounce of my self worth any kind of self esteem I had I’ve lost 20 pounds. I’ve been on eggshells for months now. The worst thing that happened is two months ago I don’t know where he changed his phone number he called back the other day with a new number and he explained it but it didn’t make sense I just found out he’s got a girlfriend and he was actually told me to move on the other dayhe’s never ever said that before. I’m sure that’s because I’ve been replaced obviously. He’s also given me to STD. I don’t know if I’ve written it yet. So many other twisted distorted stories I can’t believe I fell for all this. He did sweep me off my feet.&I. I know that I was the cross over his last relationship it was 6 month in before I realized that he’s been with her the whole time. I couldn’t believe after I said that was the one thing I didn’t want him to do is cheat. You can.. Glee brutalized almost raped again like I was with my grandfather when I was a kid that I told you about that.was over the moon unbelievably happy.y

“Nina” (if you are around): You seem much too hard on yourself. No wonder: Getting trained at such a young age to become a master of self condemnation by parents, too depressed to be nurturant.
1. You’re astute: You get the background influencers. (Okay, so maybe you missed the one about how well trained you are to have self contempt… You’re allowed to miss one even if obvious.)
2. You’re prudent: You took your time before you fell into bed or in love with him. You’ve kept what you know about his caddish conduct to yourself. Good girl! You’re not into drama or victim.
3. You’re enterprising: Your chronic fatigue syndrome laid you out and had it’s part in your isolation. So, too, did having lost all your family. Yet, within those confines you did find a way to connect with both the landlord and nephew. Makes perfect sense. And you did find a way to put yourself back to “work” which, I presume, you wanted…Good for you!
4. You’re no dummy: You tell a good Cliff Note version of the account. You capture it compellingly without all the mundane details. And your focus is correctly and mainly on you… What is happening to you.
5. You’re a survivor: You’ve sustained many losses/disappointments/discouragements and yet, here you are: Still making a life for yourself in some fashion albeit not the one you want. That’s okay, you have the stuff to get there and the dalliance doesn’t equal a detour down the tubes.

Here’s the thing: “It’s all in the story that you tell yourself”. That’s what makes or breaks anyone…. the story; not the truth because there is no absolute truth.. it’s all relative stuff. There’s a story here of a smart woman whose struggling with a situation, that’s all. That struggle ends when you see yourself (graphically) as man on top. And that is the name of the game: To feel you have things in control… nothing is going to go to catastrophe. Here’s my opinion on how to get there:
1. Quit the self condemnation. Quit it! Quit it! Quit it! You’re pained; act accordingly. Give the kindness and latitude to yourself as you would anyone in pain. Every time you can notice that you are kicking you, whose really talking here? You or the parents… who were a disappointment to you anyhow. Retrain you to do what should have been yours in childhood… It still applies.
2. Don’t use counseling to forage the past and (supposedly) heal that in your state.. Ain’t gonna happen there, ain’t going to happen for such scrutiny and ain’t the time to be scrutinizing anyhow when you’re hurting. Does it make sense to scour when you’re scoured? No. Akin to going to pick raspberries butt naked and sunburnt. Raspberries are great; just go picking them clothed and not sunburnt; ie, do the forage/introspection stuff (if you want) when you’re on top of your game. Yes, I’m a heretic about traditional psych: Show me the real, measurable benefits and maybe I’d convert but they ain’t out there. I take it that you have done counseling: Could it be the fact that you had someone to confide in and as years passed, you got a handle on some things… like we all do as we get older? Use counseling for another purpose, I’ll describe later.
3. I’m taking that your lover is only an emotional threat to you… not a physical or financial threat to you. If so, I tender this to you: He doesn’t have to be an emotional threat to you if you will rewrite this story. First edit is to see that you fell for him and have had gratifying sexual experiences for the first time. Wow! You were capable and strong enough to do that. Given it’s your first experience, how about you finding out that your trancelike rapture is the norm? And it should be on everyone’s bucket list… as much as seeing Paris should be. It’s delicious and it’s agonizing, too.
You just happened to fall for a cad; nothing unusual there. Whose going to be a better pursuer/lover than a dude with a lot of experience doing it? Nothing insensible about you falling for him…. Makes absolute sense. How about you rewriting the version of yourself as: Not being the fool but being a tough cookie who’d need a masterful lover for love/lust to bite?
Falling for someone is more a visceral thing than we want to believe/think. Ella and Frank singing “Old Black Magic” paints the truth of falling “in love” aptly. Ponder and chuckle on this: What love song has ever been recorded that sung about “great character, responsible adult or good citizen”? For a reason there’s no song about this: It isn’t what captures us; it’s mysterious visceral stuff that does. You could lie on a shrink’s couch for years trying to dissect what it was about the dude that hooked in for you and it wouldn’t do a thing to really change the spark you get. Spend your time more wisely…
In gamesmanship; getting to be man on top. It’s the powerlessness you feel that’s driving you to feeling wacked. What if you knew better that being in the throes of “in love” is just this and that you can play the game superiorly. Life isn’t a game; but gamesmanship does serve our lives well. You just have to tool up for shrewd gamesmanship, that’s all.
Look at this dude clearly to get a good game on: He’s a hound dog running around to every female dog in heat. (Let’s be impressed by his energy: Wow!) He’s on his best game when he’s in heat… The rest of the time he might be rather unpleasant… Let his wife, not you, have him then: She gets paid to put up with the down time. Your don’t. And you aren’t aiming to be the next “Mrs” either because that really means putting up with all that down time. No Sirree!
You want to be going for his “in heat” times… not his off times. When he’s off you make your lady-like exit; you are not amused nor going to keep company when he’s unappealing ( BTW:You do come across as a lady.) You’re staying in the game because, it is engrossing to you and the energy it gives off you can use to tend to your other concerns: Your financial stability and isolation. You’ve wisely identified these concerns as sources of your vulnerable and fearful feelings. And I know you do want to tackle those, why not do it while mobilized from being on top of the game? Too, I think it’s near impossible to cut something out when it means there is a big void left. So fill the void before you cut out of the affair.
And you will or you won’t… It really isn’t necessary to cut it, it’s just necessary that you think on the lines of gamesmanship, see him as just a houndog (not necessarily, by design but by fate) and you understanding that you do have a lot more power than you think. Just watch a male hound dog when the female is in heat… He’s crazed, following her up hill and dale. She’s the one with the power. (No disrespect to any man in this forum or anywhere: It’s just the law of nature.)
I’d use the counselor to support and encourage you in those two endeavors and sort of like your “Weight Watcher” club’s support and accountability… A light handed approach. If you find yourself too distracted by the affair to attend to these endeavors, then you know you’re not man up but man down. And you are going to definitely change that… Of course, you will! You just have to get the self talk straight.

Viewpoint, this response was so well written. I agree 100% with what you said. I, too, was impressed as heck that Nina took 11 months to be convinced to have a relationship and even longer before she elected to make love with him. Sounds like this sociopath was completely intent upon luring her in. I do not like how we pathologize the victim and it is so easy to do. I have known some very strong, very bright AND very healthy individuals, both male and female, who have been completely duped by sociopaths.

The only way I know to break that enticing bind with a sociopath is distance. The more time away the more clarity and strength you gain. In the beginning of my separation I remembered often the funny moments we shared, the “oh my god I have found my soul mate” intimacy, and his alleged vulnerability but now after a year of no contact whenever I think of him, it is only as a threat; I do not miss him and I have no more romantic illusions about him. It is almost as if you have to break the spell by staying completely away from the spell caster. Pulling his criminal history, reading the details of his arrests, talking to his other victims allowed me to see his patterns of predatory behaviors. Reading the comments on this website from others who were reporting almost identical statements and behaviors from their sociopaths helped me see that he was not unique nor was I. Now that I know what is behind the façade he has no more power over me. I finally get that all that I thought was good about him was a façade. To Nina and those in the early stages of this process: be strong and know you are not alone, there is a posse of strong healing individuals right beside you who, like you, are in the process of reclaiming their strength and their lives.

I just want to thank you again viewpoint, for your st
Ring support and intuitive, spot on comments and insight.
Very supportive and strengthening.
I am quietly moving forwards, hopefully.

Thanks for your encouraging words. You seem very tuned in to where I am at the moment? Uncannily so!
Yes I now feel as though I am gently detaching, and am trying to subtly make new beginnings so I can leave when I feel I am emotionally and financially able.
Your words have soothed me and will strengthen my resolve to get away. Thank you

You indicate a fear that if this perp is no longer in your life you could lose your place of shelter. (very scary)

Psych. 101…air…food…shelter…then the rest (self actualization is at the top of the pyramid -the self goal!) It is difficult to think clearly about any thing else when concerns about losing your shelter (one of the very basics) monopolizes your daily thoughts.

I think you would be wise to seek out counseling and/or information at a battered woman’s shelter. Someone there could help you recognize your potential possibilities/opportunities. Knowing there are alternative options if/when you leave this situation (Plan B) will empower you to make better decisions/choices.

If you’re kicked out of your current apartment, or can no longer afford the rent…what are your options? (Knowing alternatives might give you some peace of mind!)

You also have an ongoing fear of abandonment…you’d be alone w/o him (at least he’s “something” and something has got to be better than an unknown alternative…but in his case probably not!). You have no close friends (other than him…really?…he’s a FRIEND…really?…look up the word “friend” in a dictionary…does that describe him (or only if you pick and choose what to believe about him)? Without his manipulative tactics messing with your mind, life might seem like free falling without a parachute that’s filled with holes! (He’s like an ironic joke!)

Maybe there’s a healthy support group with meetings you could attend. Talking with others who’ve witnessed/lived similar life experiences and have learned how to cope/survive might be helpful. Force yourself to seek help. Yes the internet offers a lot of information, but your local police department might have a helpful handout with local resources and phone numbers.

Detaching s/b less fearful once you realize that you have options and caring support from abuse survivors to help you.

Knowing you have options can be empowering when you feel powerless…please seek help.

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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