A relationship with a sociopath occurs within the context of a person’s life. People do not stop growing and developing after adolescence. In fact, adult development is lifelong. Developmental psychologists say that early adulthood is the time that people come to grips with their needs for intimacy, love and friendship.
Once this developmental dilemma of “intimacy versus isolation” is addressed, mid life adults move on to the “generativity versus stagnation” phase. Mid life is the time when people build their lives and contribute meaningfully to society. In this phase, adults seek satisfaction through productivity in career, family, and civic interests. Generative adults create a path to meaning and purpose in their lives especially if their intimacy needs are also met.
The reference at the bottom of the page says “Generativity is an extension of love into the future. It is a concern for the next generation and all future generations. As such, it is considerably less “selfish” than the intimacy of the previous stage.”
Older adults grapple with the notion of “integrity versus despair.” Older adults often look back on their lives and assess their accomplishments in the realms of relationships and productivity. Each of us hopes to have a balance sheet that favors “integrity” and a sense of pride in a job well done.
Sociopaths derail the development of other adults in their lives. Furthermore, these developmental phases do not exist for sociopaths. Sociopaths do not care about real intimacy, productivity and integrity. They only care that their momentary needs for power and control are met. Thus they want the appearance of intimacy, the appearance of productivity and the appearance of integrity.
When you consider the impact on you, of victimization by a sociopath you have to consider how your adult development has been affected.
Were you left isolated without intimacy? Was your trust in others so destroyed that intimacy is difficult for you? Was your productivity affected? Did you lose the reputation you took much of your adult life to build? How can you still maintain a sense of integrity?
In my encounter with a sociopath, I lost much of what I had attempted to generate with my life. As a result, when I at times, ruminate and lament, my thoughts are that I wasted my talents, and allowed myself to be used to victimize others. I do not ruminate about lost love.
The impact of the lost generativity for me, was reduced by my continuing to pursue discovering a sense of purpose for my life. Although I lost many important relationships, those that remained became even more important and I resolved to work at them, especially my relationships with my children. Parental relationships are important for adults because they are intimate and productive as we nurture and mentor the next generation.
I have observed that most victims ruminate about lost love as opposed to lost productivity. It is good to remember that while intimacy and love are very important, generativity is also important. I spoke with a new friend this week, a woman in her 40s who was victimized by a con artist. During our discussion, she said that she had a hard time letting go of the sociopath because he represented the love relationship she always dreamed she would have.
My guess is that he specifically chose to victimize her because she told him of her dream of a solid intimate relationship. He knew he could “hook her” with her dream.
In mourning the loss of her dream and her present lack of intimacy, my new friend had neglected to work on the middle adult task of generativity. She has a good job but does not really feel fulfilled in that job. She has the desire for something more. Furthermore her teenagers are off to college and her parent role is changing.
I challenged her to work on generativity and consider building a greater sense of purpose and meaning in her life. She is clearly very talented and did have some good ideas for community service that would benefit both herself and her community. It is also critical to note that my new friend does work hard at keeping an exercise program and eating right.
She challenged me to think about the meaning of life. I do still hope that I will one day share life with someone special. I believe that although walking hand in hand on the beach with that special someone, enjoying the moment is important, there is more to life than that special relationship. If we find ourselves in a circumstance where romantic love is not available, we have to get satisfaction from other intimate relationships and from our life’s purpose.
My new friend gave me a valuable gift that I share with you. That is the knowledge that victims have the most time letting go when the sociopath has blocked or set back their journey toward adult development.
For more on the phases of adult development see Eric Ericson