When I talk to people who have had their hearts broken into a million pieces by a sociopath, a question that I’m frequently asked is, “How long does it take to recover?”
I wish there were an easy answer to the question, but there isn’t. Involvements with sociopaths cause serious damage to our emotions, psychology, health, finances, social connections — to our very lives. What I can say is that recovery is certainly possible, but it will probably take longer than a typical breakup.
Not breakup — betrayal
Why is recovery from a sociopath so difficult? Because this is NOT a typical breakup — it is a profound betrayal.
When normal people enter into a romantic relationship, it’s because we are searching for an authentic connection with another human being, a person to love, who will stay with us through thick and thin. Sometimes, we discover that the relationship just isn’t working out. Perhaps our lifestyles are too different, or we live too far apart, or we can’t tolerate each other’s quirks. It’s painful, in fact, one person may hurt more than the other, but we tried and failed.
With a sociopath, however, the entire premise of the relationship was a lie. The normal partner was looking for an authentic connection, but the sociopath was looking for someone to exploit. We discover that the sociopath just wanted money, or sex, or was living a double life, and all the sociopath’s professions of love and promises for the future were just bait to keep us hooked.
The betrayal leaves us shaken to the core. Therefore, more time is necessary for us to get over it.
How much time? It’s impossible to predict because every case is different. The short answer is that it will take as long as it takes—but there are steps you can take to make it go faster.
First, and most important, have No Contact with the sociopath. Cut the person out of your life. No phone calls, text messages, email and certainly no in-person meetings. Why is this so important? Relationships with sociopaths change the structure and chemistry of your brain, much like addictions. In fact, many people experience these relationships as addictions. Therefore, you must break the addiction.
The longer you “stay on the wagon,” and maintain No Contact, the stronger you become. This is using time to your advantage. But as anyone who’s struggled with other types of addictions knows, if you give in to your addiction a little bit, you have to start all over again. The time you previously spent maintaining No Contact is lost.
In situations where you must have some type of contact, such as shared parenting, your goal is to do your best to minimize interactions. More importantly, you want to go for Emotional No Contact. This means you get to the point where the sociopath simply means nothing to you. You know and accept what the sociopath is, and when you see that typical behavior, you just roll your eyes.
Because No Contact is so important, it is one of the issues you need to consider when deciding whether or not to pursue holding the sociopath accountable for his or her actions. I believe sociopaths should be help accountable—they get away with their moral or actual crimes far too often, which emboldens them and harms society. But the truth is that going after the sociopath keeps you in contact with them, which can slow down your recovery. So you need to decide—is it worth it?
Hastening the recovery
The other thing that can make your recovery faster is consciously deciding that you are going to heal, and taking the necessary steps to do it.
First and foremost, take care of yourself—eat right, get exercise, get sleep, don’t smoke, drink or do drugs. Involvement with a sociopath may have left you with anxiety or depression. Healthy habits go a long way towards combating anxiety and depression.
You then need to decide that you’re going to deal with the emotional and psychological effects of the involvement, using whatever method works for you. If you can find a therapist who gets it — great. If you find comfort in church, prayer, meditation or spiritual practice — fabulous. I used both of these approaches —plus my personal favorite, pounding pillows in which I envisioned my ex-husband’s face. However you do it, you must get the toxic emotions and energy out of your system, or they will eat you up.
I also believe it’s important to look deep within ourselves, beyond the experience with the sociopath, to discover why we were susceptible to the sociopath in the first place. These human predators target our vulnerabilities. In fact, they can spot vulnerabilities that we don’t even know we have.
Did we have wounds from our childhood? Did we have mistaken beliefs that we were unworthy or unlovable? Something made us vulnerable. To truly recover, we must find out what it was and heal it.
If we maintain No Contact with the sociopath and focus on our own healing, over time, recovery will happen. And sooner or later, we’ll discover that our lives are happier than we ever thought they could be.
Lovefraud published a similar version of the post on September 3, 2012.