Editor’s note: Lovefraud received the following email from a reader who posts as “FreedomWithNoRing.” Donna Andersen responds below.
I am so thankful for your website. There is so much valuable information there to help with understanding how and why one could get locked in and stay with a sociopath.
I was married to an abusive sociopath for 25 years (I met him when I was 12 years old) and finally found the courage to leave 4 years ago. Divorcing and trying to co-parent with a sociopath is a complete nightmare.
My ex was with another woman for 2 years. Eventually they bought a house together. As soon as they moved in together, I knew the facade would crack and true colors would show because he couldn’t maintain it 24/7. Sure enough, each time I would see them out somewhere, there were more and more signs that the relationship was taking a toll on her and she was starting to look physically ill and haggard, for lack of a better term. It wasn’t long after the last time I saw them that I heard that she had waited until he was out of the country for 2 weeks and moved all of her things out of the house.
I contacted her via a mutual friend to ask if she was ok. Of course it was an odd question coming from the ex-wife, but I knew she had 3 children from a previous marriage and my conscience wouldn’t let me sleep until I at least tried to contact her. She emailed me and thanked me for my concern and said her heart was hurting because he had cheated on her, but she was considering a reconciliation. Knowing that, I couldn’t say anything else because of the fear that it would go back to the ex and there would be hell to pay. I simply wished her well, told her I was glad she was ok and left her with this, “The average number of times a woman leaves her abuser before it becomes permanent is 7. When something doesn’t feel right, there is a reason. Always trust your gut. Most importantly, please know that you are not crazy.”
The “crazy” part clicked for her and the floodgates opened. She had experienced plenty of gaslighting and just as he had me, convinced her that she was the crazy one. We exchanged many more emails and she told me that recognition on the gaslighting nixed any chance of a reconciliation. I sent her to your site, and continued to point out sociopath behavior. As it turns out, the ex-girlfriend and I are more alike than different. Of course we are, these people always choose the empath and the “fixer.” It’s easy to see, once you figure out the pattern.
We have since become friends and I have apologized to her many times as I felt like I should have warned her. The conclusion that we came to was that even if I had tried, she probably wouldn’t have believed me and the information would likely have gone back to the ex-husband. Her words to me, “But he was soooo NICE to me at the beginning.” They always are nice at the beginning because they need to tie you to them with a thousand strings.
My question to you is whether you think that is accurate? Is there any chance of the latest conquest of sociopaths hearing a warning of things to come? I couldn’t have given the ex-girlfriend the warning because of the consequences to me if the information went back to the ex. Is it a moot point or do you think there is any way to successfully deliver a warning message to women that they will actually hear in these situations or do they have to figure it out on their own?
My other question is how do we start to get this message to young women or even young girls to watch out for sociopath behavior BEFORE they get caught in the trap? My motivation is that if I can prevent even one woman from getting into a relationship with a sociopath or help one woman understand afterward that she was duped and it wasn’t her fault because the game was rigged against her from the beginning, that would make my 25+ years of the mindf*ck (sorry, but that word is the perfect description) games and living in hell worth it.
Donna Andersen responds
FreedomWithNoRing I am so glad that you escaped, and glad that you were able to help your ex’s next target escape.
About your first question is there any chance of the latest conquest of sociopaths hearing a warning of things to come? the short answer is that it depends on the individual and the circumstances.
If your ex’s next target says she wouldn’t have listened to you, then I am sure that is the case. Here is why it is so difficult for people to hear warnings about sociopaths:
1. Society’s lack of awareness about sociopaths
Most people do not understand what a sociopath or psychopath is. Even worse, those who think they know what a sociopath or psychopath is are often wrong.
Those who have any awareness about personality disorders may believe that sociopaths and psychopaths are all criminals or serial killers. So if you try to tell someone that his or her new love interest is a sociopath, and that person hasn’t done time in jail or murdered anyone, you sound like nothing more than a spiteful ex.
Even if you try to avoid this pitfall by not referring to the person as a sociopath and psychopath, you face another problem. Our society doesn’t have an awareness that evil exists. Most of us don’t know that people can appear to be loving, caring, human beings, but it’s all an act, designed to get past our defenses so we can be exploited.
People who are unaware that human predators live among us will have difficulty believing that their new partner, who appears to be so loving, is actually dangerous.
2. The sociopath has primed the next target not to believe you
Do you remember how your ex described his or her romantic partners before you? Most likely the description was negative that person was abusive, overbearing, cold-hearted, demanding, unstable, mentally ill, delusional, etc., etc.
Well, that’s how your ex is now describing you.
When sociopaths trash their previous romantic partners, they are really, really convincing. Everything was your fault. The sociopath did the best he or she could, but there was no pleasing you. You were a gold digger, cheater, or some other nasty person.
The new partner is appalled at how badly you supposedly treated the sociopath. The new partner already dislikes you, perhaps even hates you, even though you’ve never met. So is this person going to be receptive to a message from you? Not likely.
3. In the beginning, the new partner is being love bombed
Whether the relationship is new, or they have been together for awhile, if the sociopath hasn’t yet sealed the deal and convinced the target to commit, the seduction may still be ongoing.
That means the sociopath is still love bombing showering the target with attention and affection. And who doesn’t like being put on a pedestal? If someone is saying, “I love you,” who doesn’t want to believe it?
So while the sociopath is promising a lifetime of happily-ever-after, is the new target going to want to give up the dream and believe you? Probably not.
Now, if it’s later in the involvement, and the new target has already begun to experience the dark side of the sociopath well, then he or she may be more willing to listen.
What should you do? If you can warn safely, try
In my personal opinion, if you can warn safely, you should at least try.
The key here is IF YOU CAN WARN SAFELY.
Your first responsibility is to yourself. You need to protect your finances, your livelihood, your court case, your children and your recovery. If your situation will be jeopardized in any way by saying something to the new target, don’t do it.
FreedomWithNoRing, this is what you faced. You wrote, “I couldn’t say anything else because of the fear that it would go back to the ex and there would be hell to pay.” Therefore, you were correct to back off.
But it turned out that you said just enough. You gave the new target just enough validation to trust her own perceptions and get out.
Accept the new target’s reaction
If you take the step to warn the new target, one of three things will happen:
- The target will believe you and get out.
- The target will not believe you and stay.
- The target won’t believe you right away, but will remember your warning later and get out.
You need to be able to accept whatever happens.
If you’re able to help the target escape, that’s terrific. If the person doesn’t heed your warning, you need to be satisfied with the fact that at least you tried.
Maybe you’ll hear at some later time that the person escaped, and maybe your warning will have been partly responsible. But you can’t wait for that. You need to move on with your life.
Why I suggest warning the new target
Many other people, including many Lovefraud readers, say no one should try to warn the new target. They say the person will not listen. You will be wasting your time and emotional energy.
Maybe. And maybe not.
Here’s why I think it’s important to at least try: Not only could you possibly help the new target, but you could help address the first problem I wrote about society’s lack of awareness about sociopaths.
As a culture, we don’t talk about sociopaths what they are, how they exploit us. And this lack of discussion, this black hole of ignorance, is what enables sociopaths to keep finding new victims.
The fact that predators live among us is the biggest skeleton in the closet of the human race. It’s time to open the door and let light sign on the sociopaths.
How to get the message to young people
FreedomWithNoRing, your second question was, “How do we start to get this message to young women or even young girls to watch out for sociopath behavior BEFORE they get caught in the trap?”
The answer is what I just said we need to start talking about the problem.
I recommend that you and all Lovefraud readers educate yourself about sociopaths. Yes, you’ve learned about them the hard way. But really research the topic. Learn the traits. Learn the warning signs.
I encourage everyone to understand the disorder enough that you can talk about it in a calm, informed way. And then, when an opportunity arises, go ahead and talk about it in an age-appropriate manner.
That’s how we warn people one conversation at a time.