By September 18, 2013 23 Comments Read More →

Recovery From A Sociopath: Establishing Healthy Boundaries

by Quinn Pierce


“But, I don’t understand, what does he do?”

And this is usually where the conversation falls apart.

There is no easy way to describe the behavior that sends me and my children into a post-traumatic tail-spin.

How do you explain to someone that you can just feel when someone is angry or disappointed with you?  Or, what it’s like when just being around someone makes you feel self-conscious, insecure”¦small.

Obstacles on the Healing Path

When I’m faced with this type of skepticism, I have two reactions: frustration that I have to try to convince people that the abuse, and subsequently, the post-traumatic stresses are real and jealousy that the person asking the question can remain so blissfully unaware of the evil around them.

Of course, it could be that others choose to live in denial of this evil, but that does not help my children or me heal. Regardless of the reasons for their disbelief, the outcome is the same: they are blocking my way on this healing path.  If I pull over to engage in such conversations at every turn, I will inevitably suffer some damage to my mental health and well-being.  So, instead, I choose to go around them and watch as other people’s opinions and uninformed advice fade in the rear-view mirror.

Mixed Messages

Over the past few years, some friends and family members have continued to profess their support of my decision and denounce my ex-husbands behaviors, but at the same time, have continued to interact with him on a social level.  This was extremely confusing and hurtful to me for a long time.  But I have learned that not many people are capable of taking a stance on a situation, because they do not want to be alienated or put in the uncomfortable position of letting someone know how they really feel.  Sociopaths seem to know this and use it to their advantage.

Usually, I hear the excuse that I didn’t reach out to anyone, or I never talked about the situation while my ex-husband did.  This tendency to remain private about my situation has been interpreted as a sign of guilt and/or remorse over my decisions.  The most irritating excuse family members use is ”˜doing what’s best for the children’.  They don’t want my children to feel left out or upset, so they continue their relationship with my ex so that they can continue to include my boys.  For some reason, the people who claim to support me feel they know what’s best for my children, even if it’s the exact opposite of what I have explained is best for my children.

For a long time, this was very confusing to my boys.  They know their father is harmful, but people that I have taught them to trust are continuing to interact with him.  I didn’t have the strength at first to fight so many different battles as I tried to protect my sons from their dad, but eventually, it all came into focus and I finally made a clear and final statement about what I expected and what I would allow when it came to interaction with my children.  That definitive boundary-setting exercise quickly showed me who I needed to avoid on my new path.  Sadly, my ”˜no contact’ list grows longer every week.

Identifying Healthy Relationships

The truth is, no matter how you present yourself to the world, it will be overshadowed by how a rejected sociopathic partner presents you to the world.  The trick is finding those who see through the jaded version and saying goodbye to the others, no matter how much it hurts.  And it does hurt to learn you can’t rely on or trust certain people you were once very close with.

But it makes my parenting role much easier.  I am no longer sending mixed signals to my children.  I am teaching them it is not ok to make excuses for others; just because someone says they love you, doesn’t mean they can ignore your feelings to make themselves feel better.  And most important, I am showing them how to respect themselves and not allow people into their lives who don’t respect them.

By setting this example, I am taking steps to make myself stronger, too.  I should not have to explain how someone abused me.  I should not have to try to convince someone that my decisions were best for my children.  And I should not have to continue asking for support and respect from people who have claimed to give me both.

I didn’t realize, until recently, that the continued action of trying to explain, convince, excuse, rationalize, and all the other futile efforts to maintain relationships with my so-called supporters causes me a great deal of anxiety and attacks my self-esteem.

Taking Control of My Own Emotional Healing

I’m so very tired of feeling like I’m being dismissed from a conversation before I finish speaking.  Every time I allow people to do this to me, I am giving them permission to doubt or belittle my experience and lessen my value in the relationship.  So, ultimately, I am recreating abusive and unhealthy relationships all around me.

Which leads me to wonder: Why do I keep allowing this to happen?

I’m sure the answer has something to do with my own insecurity and all the practice I had during my marriage to a psychologically and emotionally abusive sociopath.  And the only way I can see to make the changes I need to be healthy is to practice these new boundaries and remind myself that I want to set an example for my boys.

So, now I will use these triggers as a guide.  If someone asks me to explain the situation I was in so that they can ”˜understand’ why it was abusive, this is not someone who deserves my respect, because they are not respecting me.  Never again will I engage in relaying the intimate details of my life for someone else’s verification or entertainment.

The Real Question

What someone does to hurt another person should not be the question from someone who cares about you.

The question should be: What can I do to support you as you heal?

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4light2shine & kaya48,
Good to see you again after a long absense,4light! It occurs to me that many people say flimsy things they’ve heard passed down from their parents…when it would be better if they said nothing and just gave you a supportive hug or squeeze of the hand!

Also,many people equate our stories with the soap operas they watch on tv.They know that such are fictionalized stories for their entertainment,with actors and actresses portraying characters so well it seems real.While they get caught up with these stories and characters,they neglect reality….that some of us were actually living; what they call “stories” and that we need them to believe what is REAL…that we need their support.


Hello Blossom. I’m glad to hear you’re making progress and moving forward with your life. I just had a week out of town with friends and it was so peaceful. It’s amazing how easy it is to enjoy even little things without a toxic personality tied to your side. Enjoy the peace my friend.

I’m so glad you got to get away for a week with friends! It’s amazing how refreshing that kind of time can be for your body and mind!

Is there some way you can keep memoirs of your trip in a book?! Then when you’re going through a stressful time,get that book out and re-live those wonderful memories! 🙂

I have an idea the wondeful peace I’ve enjoyed with separation and No Contact, is about to shatter.I know my husband isn’t happy about having to go to court and being told the “marriage is over”! It’s like I don’t know what to expect—or where to expect it from!

“Fog” is a good way to describe the dissociation you’re speaking of.I felt like I was in a “fog” during my daughters’entire childhoods!

I’m pretty sure I already posted the link to this article elsewhere,but it shows there are temporary psychological changes in battered women,that are not due to mental illness.Battered women often underestimate their ability to alter their situations due to low self-esteem and learned helplessness.Shame also plays a part in keeping the battered woman from seeking help for herself and her children.

Anyway,in case you didn’t see the link the first time,here it is:

It’s rather long…so bring some coffee or tea to the pc! 🙂


I felt the same way. Like I was living in a fog. Thinking back now he had his escape route nicely planned behind my back. I was so blind sided that I did not know he was looking for appartments and changed all direct deposits to his new “secret” account. He had created this “crazy making” world for me and it was not easy getting out if it. Like I said if it wasn’t for that “other” girl I would still be in this denial and in that shameful stage. It did take me many month to realize what he had done to me and my son. But after all it took 20 years to create this illusion. Thank you to everyone for giving me hope and support dealing with this situation.


Quinn: you put everything so succinctly and precisely that I am beyond grateful for your thoughts on what has been a less than stellar life. You are a great thinker/writer.

Things I have felt for decades are explained in your writing and you are very much applauded for sharing it with us.

And being in a dissociated fog…I have been in that fog for decades. Lost jobs, friends, neighbors…lost it all because they see me as ‘strange/odd’. The truth rings clear in your post. Thank you.

LL Mequon

I am responding to cherith10–can’t seem to find the post–as well as others here.
More horrible than the treatment we receive at the hands of the sociopath, is the treatment we sometimes receive from our friends–and even family–when we are finally able to leave. They diminish our judgement and our feelings by keeping the sociopath in their lives–often in the face of evidence of the ex’s behavior toward us! The feeling of betrayal is overwhelming. And while I can accept that some may not understand what the sociopath is really about (because we, in fact, were in that same place at one point), I can’t accept their choice to ignore our wishes/feelings and in some way keep us in the perpetrator’s path. The hurt is incredible.

I believe I have figured it out to a certain extent. One of the reasons many of us got involved with a sociopath to begin with, is our own family dynamic. My mother is a narcissist and the child of an alcoholic. I was trained from a child to ignore my needs,not to trust my own instincts/judgement (“Dad isn’t drunk. He’s just tired.”)to be grateful for what anyone else CHOOSES to give me. I had no right to make demands. Small wonder I ended up with an spath in my life! Because my mother is narcissistic, she can’t put herself in my position. She can’t see or acknowledge my hurt and anger. So she continues to do what she wants to do. If that is to talk to my ex, well, that is what she will do. And, as for our children, horrible as it is, they were raised in the same toxic environment, and carry some of that baggage. We–through our hurt, confusion and denial–covered for our spath. Because we didn’t understand him/her, we could not be completely honest with our children.

I have found somewhat of a solution to this. I do not allow anyone in my life who does not see my ex exactly as I see him. I have cut off contact with family members and some friends/acquaintances who thought they could straddle both worlds. I tried to explain things, but when they didn’t accept it, I knew I could not set myself up to be diminished by them any longer. I drew a firm line in the sand. I won’t apologize, but I will explain, if they listen. As for my children, for the most part they have been able to see who my ex is and what he has done. But my youngest, especially, can occasionally make comments that show me he does not always have a clear understanding. At those times I am gentle, but scrupulously honest (leaving out any of the more gory details) about my ex. They need to know the truth, to protect themselves.

Sometimes I look at the shattered relationships and tsunami of pain from one sociopath, and can’t believe the damage that can result from just ONE person. When you care about no one but yourself, the propensity for destruction is enormous.


Good article. I get mixed messages.


Boundaries are important.


Boundaries are important to me.


This is very important.

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