By: Linda Hartoonian Almas, M.S. Ed
Last year, I re-connected via social media, with a childhood friend who I had not seen in years. As mothers with children of similar ages, we had a lot to catch up on. As we did, I learned that she has two children who are suffering from a misunderstood and often misdiagnosed disorder.
She is a wonderfully positive person, who freely discusses her children’s struggles, in hopes of educating others about the issue. She advocates fiercely for them, yet seems to successfully strike a balance between speaking on their behalf and encouraging their independence.
The same, only different
Over time, as I learned more, I found that I identified with her emotions regarding her family’s concerns. Her situation is riddled with various highs and lows. Some days bring serious hurdles to jump, along with grave disappointments, while others bring great pride and immense joy. She and her family see many great successes, but these successes are punctuated with frequent challenges.
While psychopathy is not on her radar and we are dealing with two very different issues, it occurred to me that we share some very similar feelings regarding the paths we are on. One day, while beaming with pride regarding her children’s recent achievements, she pointed out how they rose above their health concerns, accomplishing things that many other parents would simply take for granted.
She said that her children were thriving, in spite of the large number of days that their particular illness had “stolen” from them. I noted that this was not the first time that she had used such terminology. She realizes that no matter how well things go, she cannot change that her children have been “robbed” of certain normal life experiences.
Her simple statement brought about a “light bulb moment” for me and really got me thinking. Isn’t that how most of us feel about our experiences with psychopathy or the individuals with psychopathic traits who have touched our lives?
They may have literally stolen many things from us, but most importantly, they did, effectively, “steal” portions of our lives. When we attach a unit of measure to what we endured, even if only in terms of thievery, it helps quantify our experiences.
It allows us to make sense of our lost time and gives us something tangible to take away from our experiences. It also gives us a reference point from which we are able to spring forward.
Prior to her statement, I had not thought in such terms. However, she was right. Again, I identified with what she was saying.
How many days, weeks, months, or years did we spend trying to work with the individuals in our lives with psychopathic features? The chances are good that now that we know what we were up against, our responses would be, “too many.” No actions on our parts could have increased our odds.
What I feel I lost from my brush with psychopathy is almost immeasurable. Yet, at the same time, so is what I gained.
In terms of stolen time, what exactly gets taken from us, as these relationships run their course? While there are numerous constants, some specifics may depend on the types of relationships we experienced.
A psychopathic parent will affect us differently than a psychopathic romantic partner. Nonetheless, the behaviors may be similar and just as abusive and devastating. Also, each carry the potential for long term harm. However, we tend to lose different pieces of our innocence, depending on the natures of our associations.
Regardless, we must accept that, while some forms of these relationships did exist, they were not the ones we thought we were having. Our involvements were based on love, caring, and genuine emotion. Little, if any, of that actually occurred on their ends, even if it appeared to for a time. For them, the associations were lies. Because of this, we were unable to take any meaningful actions. Nothing was real. Stolen time.
What about significant life events that we were shortchanged on in our experiences with psychopaths? In life, we encounter many emotionally charged moments, such as the births of children or the deaths of loved ones. We tend to experience a variety of feelings when something special or significant occurs.
Psychopathic individuals, however, do not experience these emotions in the same ways that we do. Therefore, their reactions tend to be quite different from ours. We may feel great joy or pain, they may feel next to nothing out of the ordinary. We may have tried to share our feelings, victories, or defeats, hoping that they could “feel” along with us. They could not. Rather, anger and rage at our attempts ensued.
In spite of our desires, we were forced to walk the emotional experiences alone. Their muted or non-existent affects left us feeling empty and disappointed. Their rages left us upset and confused. Stolen emotions. Stolen relationships.
Worse yet, often, the experiences we have with these individuals are so damaging that we try to eliminate them from our memories completely. Unfortunately, along with forgetting the bad they inflicted, we sometimes lose portions of the good we encountered with others who surrounded us. Stolen memories.
There are numerous other ways they violate us and take from us, as well. The above are only a few examples.
Unfortunately, if we were involved with psychopathic individuals, the truth is that portions of our lives may have been stolen by the disorder. While we may be able to recover the financial or material losses psychopaths create, some of our losses are not tangible items that we can take back. To some extent, we may always have to live with the trappings of these experiences.
As a result, it is important to own the losses. No one likes feeling robbed of special or irreplaceable pieces of our lives. We deserved more than mechanical and insincere responses, if we got any at all.
However, again, our knowledge and understanding can set us free. We must acknowledge any pain, so that we can leave it behind. It is not worth hanging on to.
Rising and conquering
That is not to say that we can or should try to erase what we lived. We should, however, work to thrive. We can do this, not only in spite of our experiences, but because of them. Sometimes, I feel like it took such an experience for me to reach my potential. I know what I learned has caused me to push myself to attempt and achieve things I never otherwise would have.
We can find goodness amongst the setbacks, by using the wisdom that our experiences gave us.
We can surround ourselves with loving people, who truly share our values and treat us well, rather than embrace disordered imposters. In fact, we may come to the point of being able to thank our imposters for showing us what it was like to live “half alive.” Without that education, we may not have been able to recognize “full-on” living. We can come to know calm, regarldess of what they may do.
After taking hits and having pieces of our lives “stolen,” we can recover and have and be more than we ever imagined.
Like my friend, who will never be able to alter the realities surrounding her children’s challenges, we cannot change what was. We can, however, conquer what will be; each of us, in our own ways.