Why Do I Feel So Guilty? How Sociopaths Shame Us Into Submission

If I had to pick the most powerful tool in a sociopath’s arsenal, it would be shame.   I’ve experienced a myriad of emotions during my life with sociopathic parents:  sadness, anger, confusion, jealousy (from observing “healthy” families), fear, loneliness, compassion, forgiveness.  During the healing process, it is very normal to have waves of these emotions come and go.  But for me, the one emotion that hasn’t come and gone, the one that has blanketed my entire life history, is shame.

Why shame?  I didn’t ask to be abused as a child.    As an adult, I certainly had the choice to sever ties with my parents, but I didn’t because I thought a good daughter wouldn’t do that.   If I hang in there long enough, they will see I’m a good daughter and they will love me.

What I didn’t know at the time is that sociopaths don’t change.  They will never become compassionate people.  They will never feel true remorse.  By “hanging in there”, I was allowing them to tighten their grip on me, using guilt trips to keep me attached.  I now know that it wasn’t sacrificial love that kept me going back, it was shame.  Shame is sneaky that way – it disguises itself in many ways.

So what does this look like?  Here are tactics both my parents used to reinforce guilt and keep me reeled in:

You need me:  “I can help you.”  “We need to stick together.”  “You’ll never make it without me.”  “You have nowhere to go.”  “No one else cares about you.”

Sulking:  “You have no idea how much you hurt me.”  “You don’t love me.”  “I thought you cared about me.”  “You never appreciated me.”  “I cried after you left.”

Flattery:  “You’re the only one I can count on.”  “No one else can (fill in the blank) as well as you.”  “I can trust you.”  “Look, I just bought you this present!”

Aggression:  “How dare you, after all I’ve done for you!!”  “I will never help you again!”  “I will make you regret it!”  “You’ll be sorry for this!!”  “You are WRONG!”  “You are STUPID!”

Gas-lighting:  “That never happened.”  “I never said that.”  “You’re too paranoid.”  “You have your facts all mixed up.”  “You have no reason to feel that way.”

Intimidation:    “I know you better than anyone else.”  “You can’t escape me.”  “I’m smarter than you.”  “You know what the consequences are.”

It’s no wonder  shame tends to be the overriding emotion!  All of these tactics are designed to do one thing:  guilt you into staying enslaved to your manipulator.

The one thing I’ve learned from all this is to trust my gut-instincts. When we start allowing others to make our decisions for us (especially if it’s a decision we are being manipulated into against our better judgment), we enter dangerous territory.

I’ve learned it feels good to think independently.  It feels good to refuse feelings of shame when I make my own decisions.  It feels good to not be blown by the winds of other people’s opinions.  And if I make a mistake?  Well, even that feels good, because at least I can say it was my mistake.

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37 Comments on "Why Do I Feel So Guilty? How Sociopaths Shame Us Into Submission"

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Shocklingly familiar. Thanks for posting this Wendy. I never realized how my nurture set me up for socios. Constant guilt if didn’t agree w/my mother who said/did almost everything on your list. I recall her telling me once that the way I carried a paper bag was wrong. It shouldn’t be wrinkled and messy. I was never “finished” looking, always something missing from my attire or my hair, nails, makeup, posture were wrong. I understand *why* she was so critical and guilt-provoking. Truly do. And I do forgive her but she ruined me. I was never able to feel truly OK about myself and still don’t after decades of therapy.
I was true fodder for socios and realize that the experience about which I have written in here many times which occurred in 2011 was not the only one I had with a socio. Looking back, there was more than one, but not as slick or come-hither as this pro. I am ashamed and I am angry that I gave this monster one second of my time or emotion. 3 years later and I am almost better, but I can feel where I am still stuck on him in some ways. It just makes me so angry. I turned him into an Imaginary Lover, and a place to go in my head when I felt lousy, worried, ashamed, guilty, weak, much like a kid who finds solace and happiness in books, imaginary friends or running off to a friend’s house where relationships are more positive and normal.
Thank you for this extremely well-written, completely logical and sensible piece. I shall keep this as a go-to.
Peace and happiness to you today and tomorrow.

Thank you Still Reeling… for saying you feel ashamed and angry that you gave him your time. I am two years out from our split, and those feelings are hitting me now. My Ex is such a mess that I feel dumb for being married to him for 24 years. Of course, he HID it incredibly, then snapped apart when I ended things… but I still am struggling with feeling like an idiot. How could I never have seen what he was? He was a sociopath who lived a secret life. I console myself that none of my family or friends ever saw thru him either…but…it just helped me to know someone else feels this. I think, when we think those thoughts, we must have a technique we use, of turning to another place in our thoughts… things we are proud of that we are doing Now.

Still reeling, I tend to fantasize about ex lovers or almost would-be lovers, too, especially those who chose to leave. I recently read an article about this that made a lot of sense. It talked about how holding on to people you can’t have is not good for your survival. He compared it to the situation in Thailand of the monkeys (which I’ve told several times on here) who get trapped by jars with sweet fruit in them. They refuse to let go of the fruit to get their hand out of the jar so they can run to their freedom, so the trappers come by and trap them where they’re stuck. It seems that it’s easier for some people to let go than others. I am one who holds on. I had a dream last night that I was with the last guy I dated briefly. He just faded out of my life in March, but I still think about him sometimes. In the dream he was my boyfriend, and I woke up longing for him. Ugh

In the article it said that letting go is a matter of survival. If we want to thrive, to be healthy, and to be open to an actual appropriate mate, we have no choice but to let go, even though it is counter-intuitive to our heart’s desire. We have to go against what our hearts tell us. Fortunately, the article didn’t leave me hanging. It mentioned how exactly to do this. You do it by just getting back out there and living your life. Eventually you begin to form real bonds and real relationships with real people and develop real intimacy. These real relationships will trump the imaginary ones. I don’t know about you, but I find I go back into fantasy when I feel bereft in my life – when there is some well of emptiness or loneliness. I’m learning how to fill those voids through just living life. In those moments where I have lost myself – listening to music or dancing with friends or laughing at a comedy show, or engrossed in my work or some creative project, the fantasies fall by the wayside. Recently, I bought a condo. I’ve been so busy packing and mentally remodeling the condo that I’ve had little time to sit around and fantasize about loves lost.

But believe me, I’m a die hard romantic. When I get lost in fantasy, it’s not just about one. There are several who are the “ones who got away” and I dream about all of them. It seems my psyche is running some program about how I must always be pining away for a long lost love. I even dream about past eras (like the old west) or even faraway places (like Egypt and India) that I’ve never been to. In all of those dreams I’m mourning a lost love who had died or somehow gotten separated. I have a cellular release session coming up in a week or two. I hope I can work on exactly this issue.

But for now, I guess it’s good for all of us to know that it’s not a good thing to keep obsessing about a relationship that didn’t work out. And also that it is a choice to change the station in our minds.

@Elizabeth, sorry you had to go through your personal tragedy for 25 years only to find out that he was water running through your hands. No substance, nothing human about him, only evil behaviors that an empath cannot possibly understand. I find it grossly unfair that these grotesque beings are missing parts that allow them to walk away feeling no remorse but the victims have to suffer and waste even a day feeling rotten.
I’m glad to hear you are turning the corner, Elizabeth. When you’re conned and conned and conned over and over and over, it stands to reason it will take time to get over it. If you were the kind of person who would laugh in his face from the getgo, after the first lie or weird behavior, you would never have been chosen by him.

You’re right, I believe our minds and bodies want to be at peace, want to return to a state of homeostasis or balance, so when we think of the reality of what occurred and begin condemning ourselves, we can go to a place in our minds that helps counteract those horrible feelings.

Wishing you complete recovery and days ahead that are bright, fun and peaceful and filled with “normalcy.”

@stargazer, what an interesting post. You sound great. Your creative dreams, I think, are an outlet for your subconscious (thx Dr Freud). Maybe some material there for a book!!!!

“I find I go back into fantasy when I feel bereft in my life ”“ when there is some well of emptiness or loneliness.” Yes, me too. I think we all do this when we are depressed or have too much time on our hands. All of the things you wrote about in your comment prove that being busy and productive counteract the blue misery that can develop when we have too much time to think about the past and are unable to divert it. You can’t be busy all the time but if you are keeping busy (condo, friends, dancing, all the wonderful things you’re doing) you can focus on these things instead of on something that only brings you misery!

You are doing all the right things. Keep on keeping on. There is nothing more attractive to others than a strong, confident, but caring individual. You are truly on the right path.

Still reeling….Yes, I’ve developed a sense of fun, happiness, and confidence over the years…….and yet STILL I’m single… I think all of my failures in the love department have taken a toll on me. I’m a little gun shy now, and also I’m almost 54. Even though I’m still quite attractive, youthful, and radiant, I feel like I have younger women to compete with. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the salsa (dance) scene, which is a big part of my life. It’s such a double-edged sword because on the one hand it keeps me young and vital. But on the other hand, it plunges me into a world where youth is valued over wisdom and experience. Although I think this is probably true everywhere in our culture.

Regarding the long-lost-love-themed dreams, I have not ruled out the possibility of these being past lifetimes I’m dreaming. Some of the details in the dreams I would not and should not have known. Many of these details have turned out to be historically accurate. When I find out, my hair prickles from the eeriness of it! And sometimes I return repeatedly to the same places when dreaming. I often travel to India in my dreams – a place where I’ve never been nor even had much desire to go in my waking life. Most of those dreams take place in a bustling town along the Ganges River. In one of the dreams, there was wild ginger growing in patches by the river. The wild ginger garden was supposedly the favorite place of the man I loved deeply who had recently died leaving two women – me and an unknown other – to grieve for him. It was unclear what relationship each of us had to the man, who looked very much like Gandhi. One of us could have been a wife and the other a sister. This was never revealed to me. Apparently, wild ginger really does grow by the Ganges – I asked someone I know who is from India. I have come to have a great reverence for dreams beyond what wisdom they hold for our healing and promise of psychological wholeness. I used to be a student of dream interpretation in graduate school and have always been fascinated by the mystical quality of many of them. I often try to remember them upon waking because the images and feelings transport me into another world, perhaps even a parallel universe where part of me travels, has traveled, or will travel at one time, or perhaps just astral travels? At one time, I even wrote a few stories, and even a novel, based on some of these dreams. I’m convinced that fiction writers like Stephen King take their plots from dream sequences. Either that or they have learned to dream while awake and blur the lines between waking and dream reality. I believe that in the spirit realm, time and space are just mental constructs and are much more fluid, and this is why we can travel to times and places we’ve never even imagined.

Interesting diversion but off topic, I know. But this is just an example of a long-lost-love dream, of which I’ve had many. One was in the old wild west. My love was shot off a horse with a bow and arrow. My grief consumed me and I woke up sobbing. I’ve had (dream) lovers drown, too. I’m not sure how the East Indian man died, but we all seemed a bit older so perhaps it was an age-related natural cause. In all of these dreams the grief is so overwhelming, I usually wake up with an unshakable sadness. Perhaps some day I’ll get some insight into what those dreams mean or why I have them.

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