By | September 16, 2013 14 Comments

Trust after the sociopath

For everyone here at Lovefraud, there came a time when we could no longer continue in denial. We were forced to admit that someone we trusted had betrayed us. We felt devastation, anger, humiliation, grief and every other negative emotion on a therapy checklist.

We also berated ourselves for our naiveté, kicked ourselves for our gullibility, and castigated ourselves for trusting someone who shouldn’t have been trusted. Overwhelmed by pain, we may have vowed that we would never trust again.

Hold on. As human beings, we need to trust. Human society is built on trust. The key is to determine who is trustworthy, and who is not.

Trust and human society

I wrote previously about Paul Zak’s book, The Moral Molecule, in which he identified oxytocin, a neurotransmitter, as the key to human moral behavior. Read:

Oxytocin, trust and why we fall for psychopaths

The foundation of Zak’s theory is that human beings are supposed to trust.  We are social animals. We were able to survive for millennia because we lived in groups, we cooperated and we helped each other. Trust is the glue that holds us together.

Zak started out as an economist, and then went on to study moral behavior. Here’s a quote from his book that proves the importance of trust:

The level of trust in a society is the single most powerful determinant of whether that society prospers or remains mired in poverty. Being able to enforce contracts, being able to rely on others to deliver what they promise and not cheat or steal, is a more powerful factor in a country’s economic development than education, access to resources—anything.

Trusting is normal. Trusting is healthy. So how can we make sure we trust appropriately?

Oxytocin and trust

Researchers have long known that oxytocin is released in the brain and bloodstream when we experience intimacy, especially during sex. We also are flooded with oxytocin during emotional intimacy, such as shared feelings, and physical touching, such as a hug.

But Zak found that oxytocin, which he calls the “Moral Molecule,” is responsive to other interactions as well:

All you have to do to trigger this Moral Molecule is give someone a sign of trust. When one person extends himself to another in a trusting way, the person being trusted experiences a surge in oxytocin that makes her less likely to hold back, and less likely to cheat. Which is another way of saying that the feeling of being trusted makes a person more trustworthy.

Zak says that oxytocin inspires caring and generous behavior, at least in most people. It doesn’t work in psychopaths (I explained why in my previous article). But oxytocin doesn’t turn us all into starry-eyed do-gooders who cooperate with anybody. Rather, this neurotransmitter enables us to recognize and respond to the precise nature of human interactions. He says:

The Moral Molecule works like a gyroscope, helping us maintain our balance between behavior based on trust, and behavior based on wariness and distrust. In this way, oxytocin helps us navigate between the social benefits of openness, which are considerable, and the reasonable caution we need to avoid being taken for a ride.

Interfering with oxytocin

So how did we get taken for a ride? Why did we fall for someone who turned out to have no morals at all? Perhaps we weren’t letting oxytocin do its job.

Zak doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about psychopaths in his book. But he does relate the story of a devoutly religious prison guard who took pity on a convicted rapist. The prisoner said he’d found Jesus, and when he was paroled, the guard took him into his home. The prisoner raped and murdered the guard’s daughter.

Here’s the point, according to Zak:

Distorted ideas from religion, just like distorted ideas from economics, or eugenics, can impair the ability of the Moral Molecule to do its job, which is not so much to make us “good” as to keep us in tune with our immediate environment in the most adaptive way.

At some point, the prison guard may have felt misgivings about bringing the convicted rapist into his home. But he was so invested in his religious convictions, and the promise of redemption, that he may have disregarded warnings or fear.


In his book called The Gift of Fear, author Gavin DeBecker writes that the most powerful warning system we have is intuition. He says intuition evolved over millennia specifically to keep us safe from predators.

Usually, we ignore it.

To research my book, Red Flags of Love Fraud — 10 signs you’re dating a sociopath, I invited Lovefraud readers to complete an Internet survey. One of my questions was, “In the beginning of the involvement, did you have a gut feeling or intuition that something wasn’t right about the person or the relationship?” A whopping 71 percent of respondents answered “yes.”

Why? Why did so many people ignore their intuition? Here were some reasons:

  • 18 percent — Doubted themselves
  • 12 percent — Gave the benefit of the doubt
  • 11 percent — Questioned the sociopath, but accepted the answers
  • 9 percent — Wanted to believe the sociopath

So almost three-quarters of the survey respondents instinctively knew there was something wrong with the person, but stayed anyway. We talked ourselves out of what our intuition told us.

Trusting ourselves

We have the tools to know who is trustworthy and who is not. Whether the source is oxytocin or intuition — or perhaps they’re the same thing — we have internal knowing that can protect us. The key is to pay attention.

In order to trust others, we first must trust ourselves.

It may take us some time to rebuild, or develop, our self-trust. We need to recover from the sociopath. (Many articles on Lovefraud can help you with that.) We may need to release some beliefs, such as “there’s good in everyone,” or “anyone can be saved,” that block our perception of warning signs.

Most people in the world can be trusted, and now we know there are exceptions. When we trust our own perceptions and intuition, we can accurately discern who deserves our trust, and who does not.


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Thanks Donna for helping us to understand a vital point!Intuition is a divine gift that I’ll never push to the back of my mind again!
Because I didn’t know how to trust myself,I didn’t listen to my intuition when it told me to “run while you still can” and it caused untold suffering for my children and me.


Amen to that. Couldn’t agree more…..


Another home run resource Donna, thank you so much!

This article spoke directly to my sociopath experience: I wanted to believe her, I questioned her and accepted the answers (one of them early on, during what I later called her “Captain Obvious behavior changes” stage, being “I was not aware that we were not ok” – such a slick twist!) Furthermore, I allowed my compassion towards her – her father started battling cancer about six months into our time together – to suppress how I communicated my sense that something was wrong with us.

Although the ending hurt like hell, I’m still glad I got out and found such an inviting and helpful community as this one; thanks Donna!


I think my biggest struggle was perhaps KNOWING which voice inside is telling me that I can trust the new person or not. What I mean is I am so hurt by what my ex-spath did that it’s hard for me to know when I am being lied to and deceived or or if it’s just that I am holding everything against my ex and looking for his behaviors in everyone I meet. My mother did that after my Dad left and she never trusted anyone again. She died lonely, found something wrong with even the kindest man she met. Yes, some were not trustworthy but she stopped trusting EVERYONE. Does this make sense? No one is perfect but it’s hard to tell which things are just imperfections and which are true warning signs. That has been my struggle anyway.


I am in the same boat as you right now. I feel I am healed from my spath experience but I feel like my man radar is skewed and always has been. I never had a good male influence. My dad was an alcoholic and quite verbally abusive and I’m afraid that I keep picking bad men because I really don’t know any better. I’ve never met a man that doesn’t have issues..but don’t we all? What I struggle with now is what is acceptable and normal and what isn’t….does that make sense? I try to gauge it by ‘would I ever do that to someone I loved?’ and if the answer is no, should I run? or is that too harsh? It’s so hard.


Thanks for the thoughts posted here. I don’t want to be alone forever. But I’m struggling with guilt. After being single, not dating for almost 10 years I put myself “out there” and did fall for a sociopath. Bought in to all the words. My daughters ages 14 and 23 DID tap into intuition. They DIDN’T feel “right” about this man. They had a “check” in their spirit. I NEVER saw it. I married the guy. It hurt my girls terribly. Eventually after 5 months of marriage, this guys true nature showed up in a big way. Domestic violence became my daily life. Mostly verbal. Never physical in front of my teen daugther..he was calculating, smart not to reveal himself when she was around. But eventually now into a year of marriage, he did reveal himself. We left with just our clothing. We were imprisoned in the million dollar home. Cell phones smashed, car keys taken, locked in. Now we’re both recovering. This was 7 months ago, and I’m still shaken. I can’t even think of another person in my life, ever. I hurt my daughters marrying this man. A chance I’ll regret forever. I feel guilt, like I don’t even deserve anyone after how this has hurt them. My now sphomore feels secure that mom isn’t going to make another mistake. She’s angry that I didn’t find a good person, since she feels i’m such a good person. And the truth is, I am. But I’m NOT a good judge of character apparently. Her own dad and I split up because I found out he was gay. So not a good track record. No radar built in. If all I have is my girls I’ll be ok. I want to but won’t allow myself to trust again. Not at the expense of the ones I love. Or myself.


I need your help. I am hurting. I’m just decompressing from an encounter with a man who I now believe was a sociopath of the worst kind. He brought me to the highest highs and dropped me to the lowest lows. I feel like i just got hit by a semi and am now lying on the side of the road, going what just happened here? It was feeling so good, hopeful and happy just not bery long ago, now look at me. He took away my hopes and dreams, or at least that is how it feels. I feel a void inside of me, a loss, a vacancy, an ache and a sadness that won’t let go. I wished he hadn’t dropped me like a rock like that; of course, I know that it is for the best. I was in a haze of hope, which blocked my intuition. What I realize now is that his constant attention, romance and all that was so intense and fast, it gave me little time to sit with it and put the brakes on. I think that was his tactic, bombard me fast with all that a woman wants to hear to get me hooked in order to block my intuition. It started off feeling so great, now it feels like hurt. I didn’t know what I was dealing with at first, but now I do, but it still hurts. I feel dizzy and confused. I met him online. He lives across the pond and kept pressuring me to come out to see him. Once he realized that it could be a real possibility, he dropped me fast and hard, and said that he never had a crush on me or anything near that. Mind you, just a day before he was calling me gorgeous and beautiful, and was calling me gorgeous and honeee in a dashing british accent and calling me from across the pond for hours on end. I feel raped and robbed emotionally and mentally. What just happened here?

The Door-

What happened is that you, indeed, were love bombed! Donna and I share the same concept on the role of oxytocin and our susceptibility factor. It’s my belief that predators see us coming from a mile away. We wear our level of caring and forgiveness on our sleeves. We reflect our moral code of conduct from the get-go. End result is that our high level of forgiveness is readily apparent and makes us “prey” to someone with ulterior motives.

Now that we all know that predators work as they do, we’ll be less trusting the next go round. It’s never a mistake to love someone, so I’m not going to say that we should learn from our mistakes. But we need to learn that predators will begin building our trust factor from the get-go.

Instead of focusing on being kind, we need to focus on whether we see signs that the object of our affection is a genuinely “kind” person, and they didn’t just start being kind when they met you. Don’t be fooled, they can make momentary acts of kindness to lure you in.

What is their background? Are they living a “kind” life? Are they trying to impress you with gifts, the big car and their ambitions? Or are they in good stead with their children, their ex-wife, their parents, and have a special interest in mentoring disadvantaged children or some other unselfish cause? Are they focused on helping the world, or are they focused on self indulgence?

Once you absorb what a predator looks and sounds like, you’ll find that the people who may have caught your eye previously, may not be the ones that motivate your chemistry any longer, and indeed, romantic love IS all about brain chemistry.

For folks who feel like the predator took you in, chewed you up and spit you out, keep in mind that your brain chemistry is hard at work dealing with the longing that betrayal fosters. The best thing you can do for yourself is to trigger good feelings that offset the depletion of oxytocin and other “trust” chemicals that affected you. Make it your business to do things you love to do and that make you feel good about yourself.

Having no contact with the offender will enable that brain chemistry to get back in balance.



Doorclosed, Thank Goodness you did not fly anywhere to see the %$#@…. Now comes the hard part for you….and I do not mean dealing with the pain!!! Just as with any physical ailment, pain is a warning system our body uses to tell us something is amiss. Your emotional pain is indicating to you that you have “stuff” in your psyche that you need to tend to and heal…. You know you were targeted and that perpetrator probably is enjoying the fact that he duped you. Now straighten your back, put up your middle finger and say to yourself that you will be stronger for his having taught you your lessons. Then take the best care of yourself that you can!!! And work on finding what made you vulnerable… and how you can keep yourself from predatory creatures in the future. Be good to yourself…big virtual hug!!!!


This has really helped me here. Donna and J.M. Short, I have met someone who is genuinely kind and has a long track record of selflessness and treating his family like cherished treasure. I was not “love-bombed” but respected from the first and we became best friends, got engaged last Spring and will be married in 2 weeks. Your words have confirmed what my feelings tell me. I have talked to all our common friends who I trust about him and haven’t seen any warning signs or HAD any warnings. VERY different than any other relationship I have ever had. There IS hope but MOVE SLOWLY and listen not only to intuition but check around and get to know family members and friends and see if he treats them very well because he will treat you like that later believe me!!!!


To The Door and all commenters,

Somehow reading how very intelligent people were deceived as I was, is comforting in a small way when it comes to moving onward. I tried to warn his most recent victim but he admitted that she fell for it just as I did. The part that sends chills up my spine is hearing his real voice for the first time – 6 months after last contact. It was so brutal to hear the icy tone and brutality to which he spoke, the exact opposite from how he was when we were together. With no remorse, he admitted to being a sociopath and compared himself to Dexter, the serial killer. I know time will heal all wounds and my thoughts and prayers are will all who are at different stages of the healing process. I am still in a tunnel but hopefully some light will shine through.


You are recovery’s poster child!! How fabulous! Wishing you all the best.


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