You don’t have to have studied economics to know that scarcity drives up value. A sip of water for someone parched in the desert is immensely more valuable than the same sip of water at the end of a meal at a white tablecloth restaurant where an attentive waiter refills your glass constantly. Is love any different? A single gesture of kindness or expression of love in a flowing stream of affection goes all but unnoticed. The value of that same gesture in a love-deprived environment, however, is immeasurable.
Using Love to Control
Because human beings value love, sociopaths often use love or the promise of love to control and weaken others emotionally. This happened to me and is chronicled in my book Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned (available via Amazon.com).
Taking a chapter out of the “Sociopath’s Playbook,” my now ex-husband, “Paul” (not his real name), began by getting me to love and to trust him. Next, he exploited my trust as he changed my world from love-rich and positive to love-starved and negative. This gave him power over me, because it left him as the primary source of something I valued but now rarely got—affection.
Frogs in Hot Water
Why would any self-respecting, confident woman tolerate such behavior? At a basic level, I am no different from a frog, and sadly, neither are most of us. I have been told on many occasions, typically in business settings, that if a frog is put in hot water, the frog will jump immediately to safety (if it can). The frog’s mental arithmetic is pretty simple:
Hot Water > Ouch! > Jump! > Live!
However, if that same frog is placed in comfortable water and the heat is turned up ever so slowly, the frog will stay in the pot until it is boiled to death, because the life-threatening change is too gradual for the frog to detect. In the absence of the perception of danger, the frog’s self-preservation instincts do not kick in and tell it to jump to safety. In the frog’s brain, the situation probably looks something like this:
Nice Water > Warm > Warmer > A Bit Warmer >Hot > Really Hot > Boiling > Dead Frog!
The Moral of the Frog Story
The moral of the frog story is that it’s difficult to sense changes in the environment when the change is subtle but continual. However, it does not take long for small changes to accumulate, adding up to meaningful shifts and, ultimately, profound and possibly disastrous alterations in the environment. If a company fails to sense these changes, it cannot take the required actions. Eventually, the business dies.
I am no expert on frogs, but if the frog is anything like me, it’s possible that due to the gradual nature of the change, by the time the frog senses danger, it has been too weakened by the hot water to jump out. Alternatively, the frog may want to jump, but it is being cooked on a gas stove, and the frog is not sure that it can clear the flames as it tries to reach safety. Similarly, the most dangerous time for someone trying to escape an abusive relationship is when that person actually tries to leave.
Hence, the question, “Why didn’t you just leave?” is insultingly ignorant. In either case, maybe the frog wants to get to safety but cannot. It may need help if it is going to survive. Someone must either turn off the stove or reach in and pull the frog out of the pot. If not, the frog knows it is weak and in danger but must resign itself to a terrible fate. This echoes the sense of helplessness many emotionally and/or physically battered men and women feel, and it is among the many reasons why it is so hard for them to leave abusive relationships. I understand it now, because, due to my relationship with Paul, I am one of those women.
But the Frog Habitat Looked So Perfect
To make matters worse, you can probably get the frog to jump willingly and happily into a pot of comfortable water if it is disguised to look exactly like the perfect frog habitat, complete with everything the frog needs for its long-term survival and well-being (food, a mate, shelter, nice temperature, and so on). Should the frog have known better than to pick a habitat that looked so perfect? Is the frog weak and pathetic to have stayed as the environment changed, even if there was no conscious perception of the changes until the frog was too weak to leave? Did the frog really choose to stay in such a toxic environment if it was unaware of the toxicity?
I pose these questions, because if, as someone hears my story or your story, we are dismissed as pathetic or weak, then that person is making the assumption that it could never happen to them (assuming they do not think of themselves as pathetic or weak). But this would be a mistake.
Beware–Sociopaths are Skilled Actors
Sociopaths are accomplished actors, and the real world is their stage. Sociopaths are that good at masking who they are and playing whatever role is required to get what they want, including a long-term marriage to provide a warm, cozy home base and the illusion of normalcy.
TV stories about sociopaths make such compelling drama, because virtually no one suspects ahead of time what these individuals really are. But if experts are right, that between one and four percent of humans are sociopaths, then our only defense against falling into a sociopath’s trap is to understand the prevalence of sociopaths in our everyday lives, to be wary of the subtle signs, and to understand what aspects of our humanity they are using against us.
Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.