A big problem we face in sizing up a partner is getting stuck on, or being seduced by, his “light side—”that is, his apparently (or genuinely) wonderful, engaging, admirable, gratifying qualities.
However, when we’re dealing with a sociopath, there is also the other side—the “dark side.”
By “dark side” I mean, essentially, the sociopath’s exploitive side. And by exploitive I mean, very specifically, his calculated use of leverage to betray you somehow; moreover, to betray you with gross insensitivity to your experience of the injury or insult he’s inflicted.
The “light side” of the man must never compensate for his “dark side,” regardless of how well-concealed, and rarely, the latter may surface.
Most of us would take six sunny days in exchange for one cold, dreary, rainy one. That’s a trade-off we’d probably gladly accept. It’s not perfect, but it’s good, and it does nothing to compromise our integrity.
Yet six days, six months, six years of the man’s light side must not mitigate a single instance, a single flash (let alone pattern) of his dark side. One act of exploitation, the very first, necessitates, however sadly, that we cut our losses with minimal delay and filibustering.
Yet, in case after case I see clients who, understandably, prefer not to see their partners’ dark side. They prefer, naturally, to see his light side—his strengths, what he can be, what he usually is, what he “really” is!
They seize on his capacity for sensitivity, thoughtfulness, tenderness, warmth, good humor, patience, soliticousness, you name it. They desperately want to convince themselves, if not others, that his capacities define his essence!
Because he can be thoughtful, his essence must be thoughtful! Because he can be sensitive, his essence must be sensitive! Because he can be unselfish and candid, his essence must be unselfish and honest! Because he can go periods when he’s not (apparently) screwing around, his essence must be faithful!
I’m not speaking here about flawed partners who screw up, who make mistakes, who lose their course, their priorities, and in so doing sometimes wound others badly. In our fallibility we can make a mess of things, and hurt the people we care and love. Whether our transgressions are forgivable is for those whom we’ve disappointed to decide.
But the man with the dark side is a different case. When he reveals the capacity to exploit, he’s not revealing his human face, but his inhuman face.
He’s revealing the face of his dark side.
And while it’s a sight you might like to avoid, you musn’t. While you’d rather turn away until the view of his “light side” resurfaces, you must not. You must, instead, see him, unmasked, and recognize him, unmasked.
You must recognize him for who he is, in his essence.
(My use of “he” in this article is for convenience’s sake and not meant to suggest that females aren’t capable of the behaviors discussed. This article is copyrighted (c) 2010 by Steve Becker, LCSW)