If our emotions are triggered, there’s more pain to process

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Lovefraud recently received the following e-mail from a reader—we’ll call her Sally:

It’s been almost four years since I left my ex psychopath. He almost had me take my own life through guilt, when it was him lying, cheating, committing fraud, you name it—a textbook case.

The reason I write to you today, however, is I am so sad and disappointed in myself yet again. Four years and I thought I was over the damage done by the psychopath so I stepped out of my comfort zone to contact an old friend I had not seen since before the psychopath came into my life.

I made a decision to visit my male friend and we had a nice time. When I returned I started analysing the situation. Was my friend just after one thing? He had made a few small promises that had not come through (generally that wouldn’t bother me too much). I felt like it was happening all over again. I felt cheated, lied to and manipulated by such minor matters.

The worst of all I let my friend have it by email. I was horrible, cruel and nasty; it was like my now lost friend was responsible for everything that happened four years ago just because he said a few things he didn’t come through with. So before I got hurt I lashed out and hurt him; I sabotaged something that could have been good in my life.

Now I just feel miserable. I was so nasty he will never speak to me again. I don’t blame him. My underlying intention was to get that result. I really thought I had recovered; obviously not. Now I am scared I will never be able to recover.

Time and emotional processing

Recovery from an entanglement with a psychopath/sociopath takes both time and emotional processing. The operative word here is “both.”

By emotional processing, I mean allowing ourselves to feel the deep disappointment, anger, hopelessness, rage, hatred—whatever painful emotions the involvement with the psychopath has generated within us. When we allow ourselves to feel these emotions—as uncomfortable as it is—when we are through, we can release them. The only way out is through.

Releasing the emotions is not an event, it’s a journey. No one can know in advance how many times we will be dealing with painful emotions, or how long it will take to release them. The amount of emotional processing required, and the amount of time required, are different for every individual.

Sally’s reaction

Sally’s involvement with a psychopath was so damaging that she contemplated suicide. This is serious. She probably needs a lot of time and processing in order to recover. In fact, if she was willing to take the step of contacting the man, she’s probably made a lot of progress.

Now, I can’t tell if Sally’s relationship with the man she contacted had the potential to be unhealthy. Was her intuition working, and the man was “just after one thing?” Or did she totally overreact?

The guy “made a few small promises that had not come through.” This could be a red flag—if not of a psychopath, than of someone who is inconsiderate. And a relationship where one party gets to be inconsiderate is at the very least, not fair to the other party. At worst, it could be the beginning of manipulation. So maybe Sally was justified in ditching the guy.

But she lashed out, and was then surprised and disappointed at the force of her own reaction. What happened? She experienced a “trigger.” Something in her encounter with the man brought up more of the pain from her experience with the psychopath.

Always more to do

This means that Sally still has more emotional processing to do. There is still pain within her that needs to come out. It may be directly related to her experience with the psychopath. Or, it could be related to some other deep pain or disappointment she’s carrying around—maybe from her childhood, or teenage years, or other relationships. I think Sally should view this incident as an opportunity for more healing, allow herself to experience the emotion, and release it.

If this man was truly a friend, Sally might be able to apologize, explain why she reacted the way she did, and he would understand and forgive her. But maybe the guy was a user and deserved whatever Sally said. If that’s the case, she should just move on.

Yes, Sally has more work to do. And she’s not alone.

In reality, we are never finished recovering. That’s because, whether due to the psychopath or other disappointments in our lives, we’re always carrying around some buried pain somewhere. But we can get to the point where the pain is minimal, and our lives are filled mostly with peace and joy. And that is the place we’re all journeying to.

Lovefraud originally published this story on June 30, 2008.

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4 Comments on "If our emotions are triggered, there’s more pain to process"

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Sally, you are NOT alone. The damage that is inflicted takes a LONG time to heal from. A mistake I made was believing that I was being too critical in my assessments of people that I let go. In turn, I allowed people back in my life that truly are destructive and currently I am trying to get out of it once again. I repeated a cycle. One my daughter, which should have been enough, but now there is a grandchild that is being used to hurt me. This one almost put me over the edge, and it didn’t help when I was given anti-depressants that had an opposite effect. The other… my ex-boyfriend. I allowed the monster back into my home thinking I could control the situation if he was a roommate. Even while my gut and experience were screaming at me, “No.” So in fairness to yourself, maybe you did make a good call. And if not, then as Donna said, “This experience is something to learn and grow from” as you continue to heal. I hate that you are being so hard on yourself. I encourage your continued healing and sending good thoughts to you.

I think Sally is being too hard on herself. Who needs friends who make promises and then don’t come through? It means either they lie or you are so far down on their priority list, they don’t care. I can’t see that you had a great loss here, and maybe lashing out helped weed out someone who isn’t going to be of value anyway. I think we get too sentimental about people and give them too much credit before they have earned it. If anything, I think Sally ought to be harder on other people, instead of herself. I agree that we all get triggered & we are always going to be in recovery, but frankly, in my experience, few people are really great people, whom you can really count on; and that guy did not show any greatness in the past. I recommend Natalie Lue’s work on Baggage Reclaim to supplement the information here. She talks very directly about how you are treated VS how you should be treated.

I have NOT dated, in the 17 years since I divorced my ex. I have met an old boyfriend one time (his wife was present)..and I hope I didnt make a fool out of myself when I briefly talked to him and her. I gave him a brief hug, her a brief hand holding when i was told she had lost a close relative. I see her Facebook page, but I leave only an occasional comment to any posting she does. I have NO desire to get any closer; as far as Im concerned, that part of my life (I dumped him, when I met my ex, a choice I regret).ended years ago. I have my own triggers, mostly holidays like Xmas/Thanksgiving, the ones involving family dinners/church/gifts; these are often painful, lonely times for me. I would be VERY AFRAID if someone were to even ask me out for coffee! I have made it clear to friends/family that I dont want ‘to be fixed up’ with anyone..its safer, easier for me to live by myself..I know Im ‘too hard’ on myself; its a long standing pattern of dealing with life.

I understand exactly Sally! I agree with TigerKim. The sociopath i was involved with made so many empty promises whether it be asking me to go out or go somewhere or saying he was coming to see me yet it always seemed like something would come up. All the things he said he was going to do for me and he never did and when i’d ask he’d act “forgetfull”. To me empty promises come from a flat out liar. So i think you don’t want this person around. I totally understand your anger because I have lashed out like that too and after i lash out i always feel like oh my god I should not have went that far and i feel bad for doing it to the person whether sociopath or not but i get those angry triggers. This is what really upsets me about having dealt with a sociopath because i feel like they destroy a part of us. I’ve always wanted a husband because i’ve never been married but after being with someone so cruel I don’t know if i will ever make it long term with someone and its just not fair because thats not what i wanted.

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