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It’s not weakness, but lack of clarity, that exposes us to an exploiter

Editor’s note: This article was submitted by Steve Becker, LCSW, CH.T, who has a private psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and clinical consulting practice in New Jersey, USA. For more information, visit his website, powercommunicating.com.

You really need to admire yourself for surviving an exploitative relationship. I say this very seriously, not flippantly. We all, of course, hope to minimize our involvement with exploitative individuals. But in the course of life, as we know, that’s not always possible. It is vital, therefore, if you’ve been victimized by and/or are recovering from involvement with an exploiter, to fully, genuinely appreciate (and remind yourself constantly) that you are indeed strong, impressively strong, because only the strong survive exploitation.

Many clients with whom I work (really, most people, I think) tend to see personal strength and insecurity; personal strength and low self-esteem, as incompatible. They balk at the idea that you can be a very strong person and insecure at the same time; that you can be a very strong person even with low self-esteem. For instance, when someone violates you (especially chronically) and you don’t defend yourself properly, the tendency is to attribute your failure at self-protection to “personal weakness.” The thought is something like, “If I was a strong person, I wouldn’t have let that abuse occur. I’d have asserted myself, defended myself, drawn the line.”

But it’s not personal weakness that explains the failure to protect your boundaries; it’s more often a lack of clarity, in knowing precisely what your boundaries are, and precisely what constitutes an unacceptable violation of them. Victims of sustained exploitation/abuse aren’t personally weak, quite the contrary. My experience has affirmed again and again how remarkably strong and resourceful most of them are. What they lack, however, often is a clear, secure sense of their boundaries; this insecurity of boundaries leaves them vulnerable to compromising themselves. After all, you can’t assert and/or protect your boundaries unless and until you’ve established them very clearly and securely (in your mind).

This explains what for many can seem so confusing and dichotomous: how a victim of sustained exploitation/abuse can, on the one hand, lobby so effectively for others’ interests, while, with respect to her/his own, appear stuck in circumstances he or she would counsel anyone else to reject and escape.

But I restate: You can’t protect your interests if they aren’t, in the first place, clearly defined. And you can’t defend your boundaries if, on any level, you’re uncertain, or ambivalent about, what they are. This disadvantaged position helps explain how an otherwise strong, resourceful adult can find her/himself tolerating and enduring the meanness and nonsense of a defective partner.

When my clients who have been in exploitative relationships discover confidently their boundaries, they often feel sad, on one hand, not to have done so sooner; but thrilled on the other to find themselves, as if miraculously, just as skilled at protecting their own interests as they’ve always been at protecting others’.

It’s a kind of bittersweet discovery. The bitter part, if grieved properly, is usually short-lived; the sweet aspect is long-lasting.


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171 Comments on "It’s not weakness, but lack of clarity, that exposes us to an exploiter"

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Dear Donna

I discovered this site a few days ago and am slowly working through all the posts. It is too difficult at times because my own pain is still too raw, having discovered less than a week ago that the man I met and fell in love with 18 months ago is a psychopath who used me and other women too.

What you wrote about defining boundaries struck a particular chord. I’ve realised that I have no concept of my boundaries and this man is not the only person who’s taken advantage of that. It’s something I’ve resolved to work on because I have to take better care of myself.

Great post, Steve & Donna!! Thank you very much for “clarifying” my very own confusion…..haha.

Makes sense, in that we are who are strong, capable, resilient, resourceful are able to be there for folks who are in their own private hells, but tend to fail practicing what we preach in our personal lives.

I need to diligently work on setting my boundaries so I NEVER let another person exploit me for their own selfish needs. I reluctantly (but relieved now) realized that I’m a wanna-be-fixer, a people pleaser, a doter, and a woman who forgives WAY too easily. I was too accepting/tolerant of behavior and actions that I intrinsically knew were just awful and harmful for me.

I’m on hiatus from meeting and dating any fella who seems interested. I gots me some work to do and for however long it takes me to become confident with the boundaries I erect, I will stay single. And happy. And learning. And growing. 🙂

Thanks for this very enlightening post. I had already ‘GOTTEN IT” about the lack of boundaries, but it never really dawned onme til I read this that Yes, I AM STRONG and have always been, but…not about boundaries where people are CLOSE to me. With everyone else, but not with them.

This concept has come home to me this week, and I made the decision today to erect some boundaries that will probably end a 15 year “friendship” with some people that have been very close to me. I have had boundaries before and they resented the heck out of them, and are again overstepping the boundaries, showing disrespect for me, and at this time I am going to have to ***FOR MY OWN SAKE*** set a boundary that I am sure will END the relationship on an ugly note.

It has been stressful to make this decision because they are also friends of my two sons as well. I made the decision, and then discussed it with my sons, and to my wonderful surprise, my sons fully supported my decision. I haven’t spoken with the people yet, will do that tomorrow after a good night’s sleep, but I already feel so much better having made the difficult decision.

Setting boundaries and then enforcing them, realizing that the relationship can be or will be “destroyed” and still be strong enough to do it, is difficult for me because I was raised to be an enabler and never “hurt anyone’s feelings” no matter what the provocation. So now, I’m learning new skills, and feeling good about it–don’t they have an obligation to treat ME with respect? Yep, I think they do.

Right on, OxD!! You ALWAYS say it much better than I can. But it’s not a contest of wisdom, but a sharing and giving of wisdom. I like that. Besides, I enjoy mingling with brainiacs. 🙂

My prayers and thoughts are with you.

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Ooh-I’ve having one of my own “AHA Lightbulb Blazing Moments” and just wanted to write it out to here to see if I’m going in the right direction. I seek out the origins of things, ’cause I want to know the story from beginning, middle, conclusion. A-Z.

Ok, I think I have finally figured out the time when my thinking process slowly influenced my future behavior and my susceptibility to emotional vampires

My P father was evil. I innately knew this. Therefore I made a solemn oath to myself when I was a little girl, some time before 10 years old, to be the EXTREME opposite of what he was.

My Psychopathic father was uncaring, unfeeling, unconcerned about anyone’s physical & emotional pain except for his. I wanted to think opposite, so I became more compassionate, sensitive to the needs of others.

My P-father was ignorant, a racist, an elitist (or thought he was), and a nihilist. I strive to be able to see the perspectives of as many folks as I can. And they’re usually fresh, original perspectives from my own, so I say….”Yeah! That’s cool!” I sought and spoke with the Lord at an early age. He is the opposite of evil. He is the epitome of good. I am a Christian but I embrace, and study all religions, philisophical ideas, as long as they’re not corruptive cults or Satanists. Sorry, I’m not that liberal minded.

So maybe in my quest for being the polar opposite of my P-father, that I somehow exceeded my best expectations, but I didn’t even THINK about erecting boundaries. That I had no concept of the danger of being exploited and used (naivete). I think I was consumed, obsessed with being a sweet, kind, good gal, that I completely overlooked the fact that I should implement me some self-preservation techniques.

And I am blatantly aware that I am not perfect in any way, nor will I ever be perfect as that is a deluded notion. I have wandered from the right path oodles of times in my life, but with prayer, determination, self awareness, I hope I can stay on the path I’m on today which seems like a very fullfilling, spiritually rewarding, enchanting, joyous one. 🙂

@ Jane Smith

You sound so much like me it’s scary. In fact, in talking to my psycho-ex’s wife and sister I discovered the same qualities in them – a warm, generous heart, a forgiving nature and the instinctive need to help others.

I am also on hiatus from dating, it is all still too raw and painful, and I don’t know when I will be able to trust enough to let someone else into my life.

Jane, thank you very much, you swell my Narcissistic head! LOL

Jane and Odette, Both of you sound like me! I have been writing an essay on enabling (I do this as a method of learning, somehow it seems more real if I write it had do it like a “term paper”) Anyway, the essay on enabling I am doing I got an “ah ha” moment that WITHOUT an ENABLER(s) the Psychopath would be unable to function. The enabler completes the other “missing part” of him/her. A glove without a hand, a gun without a bullet, a dog without teeth—without the enabler to clean up his/her messes, without the enabler to do his/her bidding the psychopath would be impotent.

I realize that there are some psychopaths who are serial killers etc that function ALONE, but very few that I have known function totally alone, they want the enablers there to make life comfortable for them and clean up their messes or do their bidding in other ways.

Without his ENABLING mother to keep the secret from his father, my uncle couldn’t have tortured my mother for seven years. My grandmother was one of the “sweetest, kindest, most caring” women you would ever have known—and yet, she failed to protect her own baby daughter from this monster for seven long years until my grandfather finally found out and stopped it. My “sweet wonderful grandmother” was an ENABLER that allowed this horrible abuse of a baby to go on for seven years.

The moral and religious principle of “forgiveness” was defined by my family as “let’s pretend this never happened” and it was REQUIRED that you “forgive” even if the culprit had not repented, not stopped the behavior, and had no intention of stopping, and you were required to “pretend it didn’t happen.” God forbid you should confront the culprit and “upset” them. Everyone bowed to the RABID DOG in the pack and never challeneged him, least his pack of enablers rend you limb from limb.

Yes, it is bitter to realize that your strength is twisted into passivity where the “near and dear” are concerned, and that you are emotionally proscribed from setting and enforcing boundaries within the family. Learning otherwise has been an eye opener for me. Practiticing using that knowledge is like when we first start riding a bicycle without training wheels, still a bit wabbly but I’m peddling on.

Good article. Many people have said to me, you are a strong woman, but a soft touch. What does that mean? I used to think, how can people get one over me. Now I understand and looking back, I have had no idea of what my boundaries are, or I have talked myself out of them in favour of the other person. Now I realise in doing that, I have compromised myself, and not stayed true to my feelings. My feelings had little weight, but I guess that is what came of having narcissistic parents – I didnt matter.

Odette,

I’m not surprised a bit that you and I and everyone else on LoveFraud are incredibly similar in personalities/character, thoughts, and behavior. That’s why we can connect to each other relatively fast. But then again, reading each other’s heartbreaking stories develops a closeness, a bond that didn’t exist before with virtually anyone in our personal lives. We all lay it out on the line, spilling the whole sordid mess unto the page, releasing all the disillusionment, despair, & anger caused by an exploitive disordered creature. Maybe they are human also, but I’m not able to call them that title as of now. Still fuming over here in cyberland.

I know how you feel, Odette. We ALL do. Some of us are in a different place in the healing process. Like I’ve been deceived, used, abused, devalued and discarded more than once in the past 20 years, but I’m not still reeling from being betrayed by a person whom I thought loved me. You are in that phase, and you should spend as much time as possible reading and learning from the brilliant posts Donna, Miss Gallagher, Dr. Leedom, & Steve write for us. I cannont stress enough how valuable, beneficial, enlightening they are for your very own recovery and healing. 🙂

OxD,

Enabler…is that what I’ve been when I ignored my own blessed feminine intuition, failed to erect specific boundaries to protect myself, and gleefully allowed myself to be abused, gave these nasty dudes a free pass to take me for a ride?

Well, that’s gonna stop right here and now. I have informed my family members and my bestest friend in the world, that I will not tolerate inconsiderate, disrespectul, critically damaging words and behavior. Thank the Lord, that they are all loving, caring people and have been able to alter their behavior. I have also said for them to confront me if I say something that seems dismissive, tactless, mean as I don’t want to hurt anyone I love. I can be a blurter, but at least I’m able to sincerely apologize, and seriously mean it, for the crap I sometimes let spew from my mouth.

Now I’m working on implementing boundaries for any person, outside my family and friends, who most definitely doesn’t have my best interests, my wellbeing in his/her mind whatsoever.

Jane, GOOD FOR YOU! I am doing the same exact thing, setting boundaries…realizing when I feel that “uncomfortable” feeling of being “used” or “disrespected” that probalby someone is crossing my COMFORT ZONE. Then, I look and say “what is my comfort zone” concerning this person and their behavior. If they are open to it, I will talk to them and tell them what my comfort zone is and why in a tactful way so that possibly it can be resolved and they can stop crossing it.

Unfortunately, I have some friends who have been stepping WAY over my comfort zone and I set some boundaries—but they actually “didn’t get” the real problem. So I worried about it for quite some time, stressed about it, which of course only made it WORSE STRESS on me, because I truly “didn’t want to hurt their feelings”—BUT I could NOT allow them to continually cross my comfort zone about some things.

I made up my mind yesterday that I would confront them today, I told my son D and my son C who are also friends of these people, and told D & C exactly WHY I felt this way, and they both supported me 100% on this, so today I confronted my friends in a calm, quiet, tactful, and firm stand. I quite frankly expected a loud verbal outburst from one of them at least or some sign of hostility, but instead, I was happily surprised that they were very accomodating.

In fact, it went so smoothly it was almost disconcerting! LOL

There may be an outburst later, who knows, but I do know one thing, even if it totally destroys the relationship I am prepared to have that happen, because I have to take ME into consideration first and foremost. I cannot allow others, even people who love me, to disrespect my boundaries.

I am quite proud of myself (pat pat pat–that is the sound of me patting myself soundly on the back! LOL) for first examining WHY I was feeling stress about this relationship and enforcing the boundaries, even though they didn’t get them apparently, and not taking on a guilt trip myself because THEY didn’t “get” the boundaries. They are not bad or mean people, but have a different mode of thinking on some things than I do, maybe it is a cultural or social difference, I’m not sure what makes us think differently about some things, but it is NOT my responsibility to allow them to over step the bounds that I have set for myself in my home.

It’s sort of like I said to you, “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t smoke in my home” and you said “Fine” and then right in front of my eyes, lit up a CIGAR! Then if I said something about it, you said “Oh, I said I wouldn’t smoke cigarettes, and I’m not.”

MY HOUSE, MY RULES. It isn’t like they have openly defied me, but it is just the continual LITTLE THINGS, that irritate like finger nails scraped on a black board. As much an attitude of entitlement to act as they please in MY SPACE rather than show respect for my rules, my boundaries. Seeming to always find another irritating thing to do—at some point, even those little things add up to a mountain of irritation that I don’t want to have to deal with. This isn’t a prison, there are no bars on the gates, no pad locks, so if you don’t like the rules here, no one is keeping you prisoner. There’s the door. I hate to be that way, and to have to make boundaries for common courtesy in behavior for adults who come to my home, but there comes a point, it is do something or just swallow it and I have swallowed enough disrespect for a life time. So it is now a “behave respectfully to me or don’t come here.”

I laugh about it now, but once I was really burned. The man of this couple used to work for omy husband and he idolized my husband. The man’s son is a narcissistic bi-polar with a poor lifestyle and eventually he would be tossed out of mooching on the last of his friends, and would show up here asking me to feed him as he hadn’t eaten in three days. I would tell him, I will give you a JOB and pay you with food. I told him how much food for how much work.

Once I came home from work and he was using the weed eater and I said “hello” to the boy (18 or 19) and he grumbled something nasty back about how tired he was. I ignored it and went on about my business. Later his dad (who worked for my husband) said something and I told him how his son had spoken to me. His response was “Well, you just need to stay away from him, he says you talk down to him anyway.”

I felt like I had cold water thrown in my face, and I responded by saying “WHAT! This is MY home and I should stay away from HIM?! I don’t have to tolerate anything from him. If HE wants to stay here and work so he doesn’t starve he can, but only if he treats me with respect. HE has to get along with ME, I don’t have to get along with HIM. If he doesn’t like the way I treat him, he is welcome to leave, but he will not be allowed to be rude to me on my property.” LOL

I’ve never had much problem setting boundaries with people in my life that were not emotionally involved with me or family, but I’ve always had diffculty setting the boundaries for those that I DO CARE ABOUT a great deal. I’m so afraid that I will “offend” them, but now I am learning. It still causes anxiety until I clarify my own boundaries, but it IS GETTING EASIER. This one was a big test, because they have been friends for many years, but I realize that their boundaries are not the same as mine and they “don’t get” it completely, but I still have to be firm and NOT SWEAT IT. If they end the relationship because of it, that is on their shoulders, not mine.

Dear JaneSmith, Like you I made some early decisions about how I was going to be, BUT this always disturbed me, that I had certain behaviours that were in reaction to my parents, thus, i was still caught up in the script/situation paradoxically. And for years i have thought, maybe i am just a jumble of behaviours and reactions – who is the real me – what would I have been if I didnt have dysfunctional parents? Has anyone got comments about this, because sometimes I just feel like a patchwork quilt?? Ha.

That’s because you have a bloomin, big heart, OxD.

It’s really tough to confront people that you care deeply for about their harmful behavior to you. It’s a burden, a struggle to seek the least critical, harmless way to state your case. I spent years myself, biting my tongue, supressing my pain whenever a loved one said something derogatory to me. I know I’m a highly sensitive person, but that gives no person the right to say such harmful things. Like I said, it was necessary for my own sense of peace and spiritual growth to do what I had to do. As you are doing now. 🙂

And, Bev, hon, you’re a whole lot more cerebral than I am….haha. I guess I can say, that maybe you should focus on the wonderful woman that are now, regardless of who and what your parents are/were. That you were able to become a caring, loving, considerate, capable, reliable woman with a huge heart, even though you were sired by dysfunctional parents. I think that’s the real, valid importance. imo….

Free, Bev and Jane,

When I was 15 I first became aware that somehow I was “different” from my parents–both my mom and my bio-father-P, and also from my wonderful step father. Somehow I didn’t feel like I fit in–Of course some of this is probably adolescent idenity crisis stuff–but still I always have said that my mother and I were like a chicken that raised a duckling and went into spasams when it went into the water. I always wanted to reach out and do things, go places, explore new things and my mom was the “status quo” is what we maintain. Of course there was SOME cultural influence about what was “proper” for a girl to do vs. what was “proper” and okay for a boy to do. My family wasn’t quite as rigid in this as many in my area were…there were still women waiting to eat until after the men and older boys had eaten when I was growing up.

But when I got the opportunity to go to work for my P-bio dad and do photography in Africa I jumped at the chance. I wanted the adventure, the novelty, the independence (as I saw it anyway) etc.

I have, like Free said though, realized that “family” is not who gave you birth, “family” is WHO YOU LOVE. I was brought up to believe that “blood is everything” and I realize that LOVE and respect is everything, not biology or blood. It was tough breaking away from that early teaching about “family” and “tradition” and the entire thing. I am proud of the accomplishments of some of my forebearers, but some of them were also Psychopaths who were extremely violent people and abused their “families”—my adopted son D is as prescious to me as my biological son C, and they are BROTHERS because they love and respect each other. My son C calls the P-son, “my X-brother”—he won’t mention his name. My entire “family” now consists of my two sons and myself and one of my 3 first cousins that I am close to. My half sibs from my father are not my “family”–I haven’t had interaction with them since they were young children. My father’s first cousins, the surviving ones in their 80s are also my family because we love each other as well as are related by blood. Not enough to “get a crowd together” for celebrations, but we are FAMILY, a family who loves each other and respects each other. I’m content with that now.

Dear Free, I read ‘Women who run…with the wolves’ when it first came out – during my ‘Greenham Common/feminist days’. I thank you for bringing it to my mind again, because it triggered the interest I have in childrens’ stories and archetypes. There were only 3 of us in the family, me, mother and brother, (as my Mother was foreign and so I didnt have access to her side), so to deny them would, at that time, have been to deny the only family I had. The dilemma then and now is the same – when I hadnt had an offer to date, I took the only offer there was – which turned out to be toxic. (((Hugs and Love to you Free)))

Hi Dear Free. When there are 3, it creates the perfect Drama Triangle doesnt it. I have learnt much about the dynamics of pecking orders, numbers and positions. I have a good friend who is the last child of 7 siblings, mother and father have a long marriage, but her self esteem is poor, because her mother (they are Irish) ran out of steam when they had her and she feels like the discounted one.

Like you Free there is now only me and my daughter (who moved out recently) and my brother wrote to me last year wanting reconciliation. I do not like family feuds, so I agreed, but I am still faced by the comparisons that my mother made (she is dead now) that he has done so well for himself and is abundant – this is what my mother set up in my head, that I was lesser than him and if siblings and fathers symbolically provide a link to the outside world, then this feeling will be transferred to other people.

Free, Funny you should quote that book, because i was on the MSN website the other night and saw it and thought, yes I must buy that – thank you dear Free for thinking of me.

People have said that to me and HE said it to me, but I dont feel that power (I know I have it) because I am a down to earth straight person, I am not into manipulation and there are people who seem so much cleverer and more cunning. There is a woman at work who is like it and she and I have been at loggerheads because I am now sensitive to being ‘had’ and she does it so NICELY!!

That is very true Free, guess what, I work in a hospital too (for a charity) and it is amazing how people who are supposed to be in caring situations can be so malicious!!!. It must be projection.

Psychopaths in various roles, from loves, husbands, parents, and bosses use whatever “weakness” (as they perceive it) that allows them to CONTROL us. Sometimes those situations we find ourselves in with them, even though maybe we don’t want to “stay” we feel TRAPPED and unable to leave.

Usually, the psychopath is pretty aware of what thing in yourself or your environment that will act like a “chain” to bind you to him/her is.

Many times psychopathic bosses will use your financial or career situation to bind you to the job. Children are also used to bind you to the situation. My paternal grandfather, whose wife was a psychopath (though he didn’t call it by that name) told my mother “I stayed with her for the sake of the children” but later recognized that doing so was the “wrong move” in the end.

I think psychopaths are adept at spotting our vulnerable points to use them as “chains”—whether it is low self esteem, financial, or situational. They play on that to use it against us.

As I have described before when I was training oxen (cattle trained to work) to pull a wagon, the basic knowledge of how cattle in general behave, and how those behave, I can convince the cattle that I am “god” and that they do not have the ability to rebel against my absolute control. When they are grown and weigh 2,000 pound, they could kill me with a flick of their horns or a kick, but they DON’T KNOW THAT THEY CAN, the thoiught never occurs to them that I am not “god” and much more powerful than they could ever be, when in fact, I am compared to them as a fly to an elephant!

We ARE powerful, just like the cattle/oxen, but we have been, like they are, blinded to our own power, and that becomes our “weakness”. Another thing that is sort of interesting is that IF THE CATTLE/OXEN EVER BECOME AWARE OF THEIR POWER, they are uncontrolable from then on.

We have BECOME AWARE, we have seen that the “chains” that bound us to the psychopath are but string. Like the oxen, we cannot ever again be held with this kind of chain again. We will never again be bound and will fight until we can break free.

I took a job once where the “boss” was either a P or a BPD I’m not sure, and I was WARNED about her, but because she “courted” me so much, and paid me so much, I didn’t listen to the warning. The abuse started slowly, and the courting stopped, and then one day she “out of the blue” bit my head completely off—without any warning. I sat in her office STUNNED. Apparently she had done this to everyone in the office to establish her POWER and POSITION as TOTALLY IN CONTROL.

After this encounter, I went home that night, and wrote up my letter of resignation and put in her “mail box” the next morning, without saying another word to her. After she picked it up she came into my office and said (very nicely) “We need to talk”—I replied something along the line of “you did all the talking yesterday that I need to hear” (I can’t remember the exact words any more.)

Fortunately I was in a position that I COULD quit, which I think surprised her since I was receiving probably 50% more salary than I could have received in a comparable job anywhere in the area. But, she didn’t realize that money was NOT a motivator for me. If I had been a young single mother with kids to raise it would have been a powerful motivator to stay no matter how she treated me.

After the fact, I discussed her outburst with a couple of other employees who had endured the same disrespect, along with salary cuts later. So there was a pattern in her “management style.” Very much like a psychopath wooing a victim, building them up, and then starting the abuse slowly, tightening the chains until she feels secure in utter control.

Fortunately for me, her chains of financial incentive weren’t strong enough to hold me and once I tested those chains vs the abuse I was suffering at her hands, I broke them and never went back. Like the patient oxen, once I saw her chains couldn’t hold me, and the abuse was painful, I broke free–which was something she hadn’t expected. I never knew what she wanted to “talk” about, I don’t care. After that, I worked out my notice period and never spoke to her again. My guess is though, that she was trying to sooth me while she put on a bigger chain around my leg. LOL

A while after that, her daughter, that I had worked with in the previous place and was friends with, said to me “Well,I hear you got to know my mother better.” LOL

I found this article to be very enlightening. I have been working with a therapist over the past nine months trying to find an answer as to why I allowed a nasty Narcissist to cause me so much emotional pain. This article was the “light bulb” moment for me. Although I believe my therapist was working toward me coming to the realization that I had not established cleared boundaries for myself, it took this article for the switch to be turned on.

I have always been a giver, asking very little if anything of others. I have always made my own way in life and have accomplished much through my strengths and abilities to overcome many life challenges. For the most part, I am the first to help those in need and am willing to go the extra mile when necessary with a smile on my face.

The N picked up on this right away and asked me in an email (unfortunately I worked with the bugger for a period of time) if I was “always nice”. I answered yes. He took full advantage of my kindness by running me ragged with all the menial tasks of living that he found beneathe him. I willing did these errands because I thought he would appreciate the help and because I cared.

It didn’t take long before I realized that the N would never appreciate anything I did for him because once the favor, errand etc. had been done and he had mentally processed the act, it was permanently erased from his memory. I was then required to start over as if I had never done anything for him.

I depleted all of my energy servicing him. I lost weight, hair, appetite and the zest for life through answering his every whim and need. It was never enough until I decided it was enough. I finally set a boundary and drew a line in the sand. I did this without telling the N. He of course step over the line and that was the end of the relationship. He had no idea it was coming because he never saw his self-serving actions as having any negative affect on me. He couldn’t have care less what was happening to me. He would notice if I was tired and would comment that I should get more rest and in the same breath order me to do something else for him so I could not rest.

Since the break-up I like all of you have suffered devasting anguish and emotional turmoil trying to figure out what happened to that Prince Charming. He was never really there to begin with. The N in my life (I refuse to call him my N) was handsome, charming, witty, sexy, alluring, conversational, interested, attentive, etc. but for a very brief time only. This behavior lasted only long enough to sink the hook in the fish and start reeling her in. I swam in dangerous waters not heeding the buoys’ warning of danger, not honoring my personal boundaries because none had been established. I am lucky to have survived the N’s net of control, degradation, humiliation, manipulation and exploitation. We are all lucky to have survived these horrible, uncaring, sub-human individuals.

Our hearts will heal but it will take time and effort on our part to mend what has been broken. Establishing boundaries and speaking up for ourselves is the first step. No one has the right to make us feel badly about ourselves…NO ONE.

I see people now in a much different light. I am not willing to always help out in every situation. I am not willing to sacrifice my time and energy for those who do not deserve it or those who are capable of doing for themselves.

Having clarity does not make you a selfish or mean person. It allows you to see clearly what is best for you, what behaviors honor or dishonor you. Clarity and well established boundaries give you the strength to stand tall and honor your inner voice when it tells you “this is not right” “this makes me feel uncomfortable”. The strength that we all possess to bolster others must now be turned inward to protect us from those who would do us harm.

this is an eecellent article and very astute. i never thought i was weak but i learned it through them. it was ingrained into me. they would always call me weak. three people have called me that. the S, the N, and the N’s stupid N friend.

after hearing it so many times you start to believe it. i began to believe it with the S. he pushed me down and kicked and held my head down and called me weak. this was supposedly because he had successfully quit smoking and i had not achieved that. i had quit but restarted because he had. i want to add that while he quit he felt free to abuse me to left off team and even declared he was doing this. but in reality i believe it was all in order to hold my head down at an angle and call me weak. holding my head down especially… he was forcing me down under as if he was the stronger one. he didn’t pay for his own place, have his own car, his boss paid him minimally and he fantasized of being in control and in power.

and that’s when i started to think i was weak.

and i agree what i really needed was boundaries. i was told i am open-minded. i realized i was too open-minded and lacked boundaries. if i had been more discriminating and more boundary oriented none of those people could of come into my life.

Dear Wisernow,

You are INDEED, WISER NOW! Very good post. Thank you for sharing that well written post.

Good luck to you.

Dear Wisernow. I was struggling to establish boundaries, but he took NO NOTICE. It taught me a hard lesson. He had no problem AT ALL sticking to HIS boundaries. Infact he was so rigid and unyielding (there was absolutely no give and take) that when I suggested a place for us to meet for a drink, he agreed then declined saying he preferred somewhere else across the road. I refused to submit, and I sat in one bar and he sat in the bar across the road and when he went home he passed ‘my bar’ – big red flag. I didnt always put my words into action, I allowed myself to be ‘diluted’ and my needs were reduced to nothing. He was occasionally complicit when he was setting me up to get something out of me, as he didnt have a car, he was always getting lifts – but he never asked, he waited for me to offer – clever – they exploit your goodness – good people dont do that. I have friends who respect my goodness and dont exploit it. We learn through this to differentiate between the good people and the exploiters.

I DID speak up for myself, but at the time I didnt understand the parameters of his ‘game’, but I didnt stand by my words, I kept thinking of reasons to let him off the hook, or I believed his crooked lies instead of believing my intuition.

Like you, I have had to exist under my own steam and with no support and I have always been a giver and all my jobs have been like that too and Ihave burnt out of 3 jobs giving too much.

For people like us, receiving is a big issue, somewhere we feel we are not worthy, so that when we meet someone who appears to be there for us, we give in abundance. Another lesson for me, is to work on being my own person and realise that I mustnt sell myself short, and that I am worthy and I dont have to give my gifts away and that my energy and time are precious too.

My N was the ‘perfect suitor’ reliable, showed personal integrity etc for a short while, until his shadow side came out and it was vicious. We have to remember that in all relationships, we cannot know all sides of someone in the first 6 months and that we have to allow the negative hidden sides of someone to come out so that we see a rounded view of the person, THEN WE choose whether we want to invest.

When he started his weird behaviour, I was going to ‘cheating’ websites and I realised that I had NO CLEAR idea of my boundaries and that some of the stuff I was allowing made me feel uncomfortable and he could offer no reasonable explanation – because he was obviously lying. I am much clearer about my boundaries now, problem is that many of them do their stuff in secret.

Bottom line is that we must have had self worth in order to extract ourselves from the abusive relationship, even if they engineered the ‘end’, we refused to accept – so we can build on that. Good luck and healing to you Wisernow

This is my first post here and I have to say thank you to everyone for all these comments. Reading through the site is giving me hope at a challenging time that I am not alone. I’m a guy who lives in NYC and have had the pleasure of dating back to back sociopaths.
I must agree that the lack of clarity is so important in enabling her behavior and has been one of my biggest weaknesses. Which in my case is progress, because I used to not even pick up the signals of lying and deceit. Now that I’ve become slightly better at reading non-verbal cues and listening more closely, I need to get better at demanding more clarity – and then taking action when I find inconsistencies.
I spotted the lying in the beginning and let it go. Why? It only became more egregious. I guess I’ll have to ask myself why I didn’t confront it in the first place. It turned out that she waited to get comfortable with me before she restarted old relationships on the side.
It hurts a lot right now, because my illusions have been shattered again. But I have hope that I am escaping comparatively intact and can draw on the wisdom and support of others here so that I can evolve enough to have less chance of making the same mistakes again.

Dear Treeman, Hello and Welcome. With regard to clarity, there are some ‘indicators’ that might help and people here will probably add their own. Finding out about someones past ‘track record’ is pretty important and may throw up some red flags. Type of occupation can be a smokescreen and is not a reliable indicator, anyhow some of them stay ‘beneath’ the law.

The big one for me, is that actions and words have to match with consistency, so if someone is professing that you are their ideal partner, are they actually showing that on a regular consistent basis. Predators will always let themselves down in some way and weird behaviour or behaviour that leaves you with a question mark is a red flag. Women though are much more wily then men, but of course the mobile phone is the chief means of communication, just observe how they ‘police’ their phone. Is their behaviour OPEN and TRANSPARENT? My ex used to ‘forget’ and leave his wallet in my car overnight!! Predators also will take much more than they give and they will only give to get. How much actual consistent energy and effort is the person putting into the relationship. I am sorry that you have had to suffer from being with that person but as you say, you will gain alot of wisdom and support here.

Dear Treeman,

The first RED FLAG most of us see is some “small” lie–and I’m not talking about the “do thes epants make my butt lookk big?” kind of lie, but just something about themselves that builds them up a bit, making more of an education than they really acheived or something on that scale, or lying about why they were late or didn’t call when they were supposed to meet you somewhere. AT THE FIRST LIE I am out of there! There is no need to lie it shows that they do not repect you enough to tell you the truth.

I have given many people second chances evena fter confronting them about a significant lie and I HAVE ALWAYS LIVED TO REGRET IT. ****ALWAYS**** no exceptions.

(I am talking about adults here not small children)

Run from the LIE is my best advice. DON’T LOOK BACK and don’t question it. Just RUN.

There are other red flags as well, and I think there are some threads here on red flags so see ifyou can find them. The first one most of us see too, is the “you’re my perfect prince/ss” routine–they are just TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. Love at first sight might happen, but if they come on “too good to be true” keep your eyes opened for the HOOK, it may be there. Don’t fall for it no matter how enticing it is. Read some of the true love fraud stories and it will give your hair a permanent wave!

Welcome.

Beverly, Thank you for your kind words. It’s still pretty fresh and I dont feel out of the woods yet, so again am grateful for this site.
With respect to your comment on the mobile phone, that was the Major red flag. Her behavior with the blackberry/phone became clandestine after about a month. If she had left if out on a table and I happened to be near it, she would swoop it up and put it in her purse. At a concert we attended, whenever I walked up to get us cokes, the blackberry came out within five seconds of my having walked up a few stairs. (this happened all the time) When I asked to use her phone when mine had broken that same night, her fear was palpable. When she checked her phone one night at my apartment and said ‘oh someone called me’ as if I were to ask ‘who’, I asked and she said, oh nobody. When I came out of my bathroom one night at 11.30pm she was with her back to me and texting someone on the phone. I asked whats up and she said ‘oh Im just texting one of my patients mothers to make sure they’re coming in the morning’. Doubtful.
I could go on. So, no her behavior was not open or transparent. The tough thing is that, with someone schooled in the game, its difficult to catch her outright without compromising your own integrity (like sneaking into her phone, which I refused to do) or basically saying ‘hey I dont trust you, could you hand me your phone for the night’.
So my choices became, waste my time trying to ‘catch her’ at something or let my gut feeling and a preponderance of sketchy behavior inform me that I simply didn’t trust her. And the toughest thing of all is that she could be so damn nice to me when she wanted to.

OxDrover, Thank you for your comments and advice on setting hard boundaries for others’ behavior. Sometimes it is hard to believe that someone that could be so good to you could cause so much pain. So, even though the signs are there and I can read them sometimes, I find myself wanting to believe otherwise. That’s where I get myself into trouble.

Yea, treeman, DON’T WE ALL! LOL

Dear Treeman, Cheaters often get caught via their mobile or computer. My ex had his phone pin protected and he gave me a warning and said that he would not tolerate any girlfriend checking his phone or belongings. Red Flag!! Anyway, my ex had at least 12 phones and I only saw one at a time, so he was possibly using 12 different phone numbers. I got very caught up in trying to catch him, but after he was telling me and doing things that made me uncomfortable, I decided that I didnt need proof and would finish things, because he wasnt worth the effort.

I didnt want to intrude into his privacy either, but then we didnt trust them – because they were giving us CAUSE not to. Every woman I know would check their bfs phone if they felt they had cause to! I would have no problem if my boyfriend picked up my phone, because i would have nothing to fear. But my ex kept his phone with him all of the time, like his right hand. OxDrover is right, setting boundaries is very important and being open with your partner about your observations – a genuine faithful person will be open and reassuring.

I was married to a sociopath 9 years ago !!! I still bring up good qualities he had with my future fiance now !!!! I do not know anyone on this blog but I can honestly say I am over him. My fiance says why do I bring up him and not my first marriage why only him!!!!! I do not want to lose this relationship what can I do to save it I have not recently brought him up but my future fiance cannot forget !!!!!! What is the best thing to say?

What an excellent article this is. BOUNDARIES – THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENCE. I realised that my disposition towards being quite ‘flexible’ in the domain of male female relationships – I have left myself open to much more hurt than I need have. Also looking back and knowing that I have RED LINES, but not having the outer walls of defence (boundaries) and thinking about that, I never really gave a thought to what my boundaries were. I have a much clearer sense of my boundaries now and that will give me much more power in things.

Many people here are caring individuals, flexible, patient, tolerant and whilst in particular work situations, these qualities are very important, in love relationships with a predator – these qualities can be turned against us.

I learned some years ago to discard friendships that served me no good, so why do we put up with more bad behaviour in love and family relationships? Is it because we invest in love on so many more levels and are we blinded to reality by fake promises, fake behaviour? Do we feel that because love doesnt come knocking very often, that we may miss an opportunity.

For me, the main elements of healing are:-

Learning about predators and how they operate. Know thine enemy.

Learn how I operate in relationships – what are the patterns in my relationships and how did I contribute.

Have a clearer understanding of what I would not be prepared to tolerate.

Be prepared to walk away, do without the relationship to protect myself – my physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Yes, face being alone if needs be.

Not to invest too heavily in a relationship, i.e DONT let them move in, or move in with them, or give them money or access to any other forms of our assets.

Find out as much as you can in advance and being aware that some of your research may not be as hardy as you think. So in my case if my ex has a security licence for his work, does not mean that he has not committed misdemeaours in one form or another. Not relying on the testimony of their friends who may not really know who they really are.

Oh, and not only to listen to my intuition, but to be prepared to act on it. Act without evidence if needs be. I felt like my ex was cheating, but was trying to catch him – didnt want to be seen as being unreasonable, unfair, insecure. The very thing that got me out, was the realisation that I didnt need any proof, that is crazy making was making me feel uncomfortable and that was my GREEN LIGHT to go. In a sense that was a boundary teaming up with intuition. I looked ahead a saw what my life with this man would be like – another GREEN LIGHT to jump ship for my survival.

Turned out he was cheating. My intituition was serving me right all along. Intuition is a powerful form of radar.

By being too flexible, tolerant – I was giving him lots of rope and he was hanging ME with it.

And focusing in on their actions -V- their words, promises, but not being TOO attached to what they say or do. because as many of us found out, this can be part of the FOG of illusion and once you are lost in the FOG, it can tak time to get your sense of self direction. Not taking in too deeply and relying on what they say in order to invest. Allowing the relationship to develop at a slower steady pace. Taking an ‘outsiders’ view of how they are treating you and how they are operating in the relationship and the overall vibe.

Dear Bev,

GOOD POINTS, ALL! It pretty well sums up all of the “mistakes” I made with every one of my Ps. Being “too tolerant,” too understanding, too nice, too forgiving (with a twisted concept of what forgiveness meant), etc.

I am the only validation I should need. If I feel abused. I am abused. If I am abused by someone, I will RUN!

Ah yes, the mobile phone. My ex had his mobile with him 24/7. He even slept with it by his side. It was his lifeline to all his OW I am sure, though of course he denied that he had any OW, and I was crazy enough to believe him. It wasn’t just a mobile either, he had photos of all sorts of people on it (mostly women), he had the internet, and also a sat nav built into it. It did everything except make him breakfast! lol

Bev, sometimes I think these guys have all been created out of the same mould. Your ex sounds so much like mine. His name didn’t begin with a ‘M’ by any chance did it?

Dear Marie,

Once you figure out the pattern in their behavior (and there are some individual variations, but overall there is a pattern) then you can SEE clearly that the pattern is about deict and control, using lies, half truths, projection, twisting, blame placing, tapping into our guilt, and them “living the lie.”

We’ll never be able to”fix” them of course, but learning the PATTERN gives us ARMOR to protect us from the next one down the pike. Until we “get it” and learn the patterns, we will always be vulnerable to the next one. With our knowledge “forewarned is forearmed” we won’t get trapped by another one, and if the “old” one comes back into our space to try to re-victimize us we will have the strength and fortitude to “fight” them off—with THE GREATEST WEAPON, NO CONTACT. No belief, in anything they say or do.

Dear OxDrover, yes that is exactly how he operated, you are spot on. I wish I had known all about N’s/P’s before I met him, they are so transparent when you know what to look for aren’t they. I had the misfortune to come across another one since then, but spotted the signs pretty quickly and got rid of him.

Yes forearmed is forewarned for sure. 🙂

Dear Marie, No my ex’s name didnt begin with M, but he also slept with his mobile by his side, saying he needed it for the alarm. I couldnt get into his phone, he had it PIN protected and he used to leave his wallet in my car, saying he fogot it. I know that he had his old phone number lodged on his phone, presumably to give out, although he had at least 12 phones, Im sure he was using more than one phone live.

Yes Oxy, but they are sooooo good at giving excuses arent they? But yes, whatever the reason, whatever the excuse, if it makes you feel bad – it probably is.

Snap, same here Beverly, mine used to set the alarm on his phone (or so he said), before he went to sleep. It took him a while though, now I wonder if he was texting some OW. Wouldn’t put it past him, knowing what I know about him now. He never had to get up in the morning, as he worked some evenings and often didn’t set foot out of bed until lunch time or even later! They are so devious, I don’t know how they live with themselves. And looking back I can’t believe how utterly naive I was. I trusted in him and believed in him, yet he wasn’t being straight with me at all. He had me walking around in a N-fog the whole time. It is weird how they put a kind of a spell on us isn’t it.

Dear Marie, Their use of the mobile is such a giveaway. When we were on a weeks break, one of my spy friends in the local pub, said she saw him texting for at least 2 hours and he wasnt texting me. I wasnt as daft as he thought. My ex worked shift hours too in the security business and although we didnt live together, he part moved in and then moved out the next day, he was doing all sorts of manoevours in the background. He left his place saying the landlord asked him to leave over an insult my ex made, but I think he didnt pay the rent – they are such liars.

Hey Marie, I love my pals on here and its really good to speak with some UKers. I wont go over my story again, but he pretended to be a trustworthy, decent bloke but I think he has decimated and hurt every woman he has been with. His relationships dont last more than a year and he said he never goes back out with an ex, because I think he knows how much chaos he brings to the woman, the relationship becomes unsalvageable. At the beginning of things, he kept saying ‘you wont leave me will you?’ now I understand why, because he knows his track record. A reall chilling thing he said by text was ‘I can be very dominant’. I asked him what he meant, he sidestepped. But he was a control freak in every department, not openly, but in reverse, if that makes sense. That is what throws us, when they control in reverse. Anyone want a conversation about that?

Hello Beverly— It’s funny how similar these guy’s are. I won’t rehash my story about my X and his cell phone – but for the new folk’s here or the one’s that missed it. I put my X’s cell phone in the microwave for 8 second’s, I never told him, but I remember that day, he was frustrated beyond belief, it was like he lost his leg’s.

Hiya Henry – how are you doing friend? You have so much support here – do you know that? I just got a shock, I logged into my email, to find a man has contacted me to organise a meet up next year at the care home where I was 50 years ago, and it has made me sob my heart out.

Beverly hmm explain that a litle more, is he your age and wanting to meet again or was he a elderly friend just wanting to see you?
It is 105 here in OK today going to be in the pool alot. I think I will clean house listen to good music and fix me a fabulous meal. Wish I had some company but it’s too far for you too drive…..hugs

Dear Beverly,

I’m so sorry that email made you so sad. I can’t even imagne how you must have felt. There is an “orphanage” here, what I think you are calling a “care home.” It is supported by a church and is quite old, nearly 100 years old, and years ago they would get kids at birth and sometimes keep them for the entire dependent period. It is quite a nice home, with cottages of about 10 kids each and a set of “parents” and actually if the kids are able they will send them to college. They have reunions every year where some of the kids (now adults) come back for the “homecoming”

My mom and step dad tried to adopt two brothers from there, but the mother wouldn’t either take them or let them be adopted either. One of the boys I still keep incontact with, he is a wonderful man, his brother became very bitter and ran away from the home. It is odd that the one man has very warm feelings for his home there which he lived at from age 8 to 18, and the other hated it.

Now the home mostly has troubled youth put there by the state, so it isn’t the same kind of institution that it was as the times have changed it has changed, but the need is still so intense. Not many “long term” residents there any more except ones so troubled that the state can’t find a placement for them. I used to do volunteer work there years ago, and would tutor some of the kids, and I have donated to that place for years too, funds, meat, etc. and when my husband died I asked that memorials be made there instead of flowers, etc.

(((((BEV))))))

Henry, I dont actually remember him, but he is trying to organise a reunion for the children of the school, and I am crying my eyes and heart out. When my mother sent me to the care home, it changed me forever. It made me feel abandoned and in a sense that is why I have always been prone to putting up with whatever I was offered.

You sound as though you are doing fairly well ok Henry.

Henry and Oxy – can I lean on you both for a while. I have this whole lot of pain and tears coming up from when i was 6, that I blocked out for so long.

Beverly Here in the states we refer to care home’s as nursing homes for the elderly. I think this reunion will be good for you. I am sorry your mother abandoned you like that. That has affected your intire life hasn’t it? Bev we don’t ever have to put up or settle for whatever is offered. This has been a struggle for us – too learn how to be good to ourselves. I am so used to doing for others and fixing everyone. I cant do that, cant make everybody happy. I did take some food and cloth’s item’s to a shelter for the homeless, it is for people that are really trying to get their life together. There are women with newborn babies that have fled abusive partner’s. I am so fortunate for what I have. Yes Bev I am doing good, the usual up’s and down’s, one day life suck’s the next day life is grand……hugs

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