By Mary Ann Glynn, LCSW
One of the most confusing things people grapple with during and after a relationship with a sociopath is wondering if any of the “love” was real. It’s a total mind f—.
You think of the beginning of the relationship in which your partner was the most romantic person you ever dated — how attentive he was. (I’ll refer to male sociopaths, but they may be female as well.) He may have even been thoughtful and empathetic if you confided in him about someone or a situation troubling you in your life. He may have remembered each occasion with wonderful gifts.
You remember times being part of family and friends as a couple, even when things started to get bad. You may have felt secure and proud when he seemed to be an attentive father or generous neighbor. You think of the time last week when you both glowed and felt proud over an accomplishment of your child. You think of a time not long ago when you laughed together with friends over dinner, or, when you made up with electric sex. You have in your memory times when there seemed to be genuine caring and thoughtfulness.
What is love?
Love is not chemistry. Love is not a feeling of attachment. Love is not romantic feelings. Love is not the high feelings you experience at the beginning of a relationship when it is new and super-affirming by the good feelings you get and the best selves you’re putting forward. Love is not a “feeling” at all; it is an action. Love is the ability to first feel compassion or empathy for another, and then act to meet their need, even before your own. Think of what you would feel for a crying child. You would feel their pain, and this would move you to try to comfort the child, even if you are weary and would rather be relaxing.
Since a sociopath is lacking empathy, and, therefore, the ability to love, what was going on? This statement isn’t entirely true as a sociopath may feel compassion or empathy for something which s/he sees as an extension of themselves, e.g. a child, colleague, friend, pet, even a spouse if s/he never challenges him or needs anything from him. These things do not threaten his sense of control or the image he likes to put forth in the world. But the minute you have a need or a conflict to resolve, which is what every normal healthy intimate relationship requires, what semblance of compassion he may have will go right out the window. Protection of the way he needs to see himself, or whatever he is hiding, is his priority. Everyone and everything else is sacrificed at the altar to his in-control, blameless awesomeness.
Often what happens is that at the beginning of the relationship, when he appears to be more engaged and romantic than anyone else you’d ever been with, can be mistaken for love. Then you get addicted to the intense sexual fireworks, which will release large amounts of oxytocin, the hormone that causes attachment. So, you’ll become very attached early on, believing that he feels the same close connectedness as you. He may be very turned on and very sex-centric at first, and/or is deliberately being manipulative, knowing consciously or subconsciously that sex will attach you to him. Then, after that perception has been firmly imprinted with a particular idea about him — he’s a great, caring, sexy, smart guy — it has the power to put a veil over the red flags that follow after.
The biggest mistake
I think the biggest mistake that partners make is to think that a sociopath operates in the same way they do. Sociopaths look for partners who have a larger than average dose of the qualities that will make a good relationship work: compassion, trust, loyalty, and the ability to love — someone who will think the best of him, feel for him, and jump backwards through hoops of fire to tolerate his behavior in order to make the relationship work.
What partners don’t get is the way a sociopath’s mind works. For him, sex does not have emotional connection like it does for you. He can’t feel your pain or your wounds like you do his. He can’t respond to your need if it doesn’t correspond with his own. He trusts no one. He isn’t honest with himself and can’t be honest with you, period.
Ask yourself, how much has your sociopath been able to feel compassion/empathy for you or your needs, and respond? That tells you how much you have been loved. Realizing this is a bitter pill to swallow. Love isn’t something you show only when it’s easy, convenient or gets you something. If someone is truly loving you, there is no question in your mind about it.
Exactly I feel the same way. You put it on great words “what I dreamed up”. Yes there was never any love, any compassion and empathy. It was all about him. My soon to be ex husband always stated “I am 44 years old and I have nothing “. He had everything, from a beautiful family, a nice house, a good career and most importantly his health. In his mind he had “nothing”. How sad his statement always made me feel. I felt so worthless. The truth is that he really has “nothing” now except his money. Like I said money can buy him prostitutes but never the love we had given him. It’s very sad but as hard as it is I have to close this chapter if my life. I just hope that’s 18 year old son will come out if this messing scarred. He is my biggest concern. My son never deserved and abusivd father.
You know, that dream I had of him, I call it the fog, it never lifted till 6-8 weeks ago. I carried this thing inside of me, this ball of energy, that was my love. I kept dragging it around. Loving it, going inside that little space where there were sad love songs, poetry, loss, longing, the whole nine yards.
When Dipsey Doodle showed up for work two months ago with a new profession (he completely built another career under my nose and then tried launching it off my business) and his new girlfriend with kids, the bubble burst. For the FIRST TIME!
Even after 3 years of therapy, knowing full well what he did to my daughter, and how he scarred my son, this bubble remained in me, intact.
Why would something like that affect me? Because it was the last thing I needed to pull the plug on. The reality of it was that it wasn’t reality at all. I mean, I knew everything and still held out hope that in this world he was still my champion. That frightens the daylights out of me. Because now, I see him. Clearly. There is no champion there is the terrorist, and the first thing I did coming out of that bubble was enforce the no fly zone. My conditioning must have been tremendously powerful. I recognized that as being the final closure.
How can they turn around and say they have nothing, and then want more? I think their psyche, their set up as spaths, requires them to drive for higher highs on a regular basis. Its like power junkies or people who do daring and dangerous things, that quest for more, becomes entangled in how they are, who they are, how they operate.
Not a one of us, and our kids, deserved it. Now we have to live with the end result. My kids are both damaged. But, I have to tell you something funny, maybe you’ll related. Spath is a former pop star, oh how he loved to flaunt that, trust me. Anyway, he gave my son a Gretsch guitar when he left, and told him it was their “bond”. Never to sell it. My son held on to that thing, and then last week he sold it. We were walking down University Ave in Toronto and he just leaned in and said “I sold the Gretsch”. We hugged and laughed. I hope in time, they understand and grow and mostly that they stop hating me.
Dear HurtTerribly, I love the story about your son selling the guitar.
My mother stayed with my sociopathic stepfather until the day he died, long after my sister and I were adults. She stayed with him, even though she knew he was sick and had abused us. I used to beg and plead with her to leave him. She’d say “I know I should” but she never did. It took me 48 years to forgive her, but eventually I did.
The difference between my mother and the strong women (and men) on this site is that all of you had the guts to walk away. This sends a clear message to your children that you love them. My mother never sent me that message and still I forgave her. I hope your children will heal much more easily.
I meant I hope that my son comes out of this mess without scars.
I believe sociopaths can feel attraction and infatuation like anyone else. The problem is that’s as deep as it can ever go. In a healthy relationship, when the infatuation wears off, and the partners start to see each others’ flaws, there is a deeper sense of love and caring that can develop that goes past infatuation. With a sociopath, once the infatuation fades, it’s time for the discard and then off to the next infatuation. Of course once they’ve discarded you, you can once again become the object of their infatuation because it’s a challenge/game to get you back. This is all the depth they have. If you scratch beneath the surface, there is nothing there. However, sociopaths know that other people experience love. So they adopt those words and sentiments and try to make them fit their shallow experience. “I love you”. “I am in love with you,” they will say. And they may really believe it. But what they consider as “love” is just obsession or infatuation. The one I dated became obsessed with me when I went away for 4 days on a camping trip. He left 14 messages for me telling me how much he was in love with me. But when I returned, after we had one intimate visit, he discarded me again. With a sociopath, you have to look at the actions and not the words. Because they use the same words as the rest of us, but those words do not carry any weight. They do not have the same meaning.
It is my experience that if a guy really cares for me, even as a friend, he will show me with his actions.