UPDATED FOR 2021. Time and time again, when I do personal consultations, people tell me how they struggle to break away from a relationship with a sociopath. It is not your imagination. It’s hard to get away. Let me help you understand why relationships with sociopaths are so addictive.
You know the involvement is bad for you. But even when you’re not forced to interact with the sociopath — you’re not married, don’t have kids with the person and don’t work together — you can’t cut the cord. There are psychological and biological reasons for this, which I’ll explain.
Any time two human beings enter into a relationship, a psychological love bond forms.
This bond begins early in the relationship because of pleasure. In the beginning, both people are doing their best to attract and impress each other. The new involvement is fun and exciting, which creates the pleasure.
Sociopaths, of course, usually engage in love bombing. They shower you with attention and affection. They’re always calling and texting. They want to be with you all the time. The sociopath makes you feel like the most important and loved person in the world. This intensifies your pleasure.
The relationship seems to be moving ahead at warp speed, and then the sociopath does something to threaten the relationship — disappears, lies, picks a fight. You were once on cloud nine, and now you suddenly feel totally deflated. This creates fear and anxiety.
Now here’s the kicker: Fear and anxiety actually strengthen the psychological love bond.
You want the relationship to go back to how wonderful it was in the beginning. So you ask the sociopath if you can talk. You try to figure out what went wrong. You may even apologize for something you didn’t do.
You get back together with the sociopath, which brings you relief — and strengthens the psychological love bond again.
This becomes a pattern: Pleasure, followed by fear and anxiety, followed by relief, rinse and repeat. It becomes a vicious circle, and with each turn of the wheel, the psychological love bond gets tighter and tighter.
Here’s the next kicker: Even if you no longer feel pleasure, the psychological bond is still in place.
Pleasure is required for the bond to form. But the absence of pleasure does not break the bond.
There are also biological reasons why you feel so attached to the sociopath.
When you experience intimacy, the neurotransmitter oxytocin is released in your brain and bloodstream. This happens with any type of intimacy — emotional sharing, hugs and especially sex.
Oxytocin is called the “cuddle chemical.” It makes you feel calm, trusting and content, and alleviates fear and anxiety. Mother Nature created oxytocin to make parents want to stay together to raise children. It is critical for the survival of the human race.
But, oxytocin also makes you want to stay with someone when you really should leave.
Feelings of love also make the brain produce dopamine. Dopamine is associated with energy, motivation and addiction. In fact, that’s why cocaine makes people feel euphoric — it increases the amount of dopamine in the brain.
There’s more. Sex also causes structural changes in the brain. So if you have sex with a sociopath, your brain changes to adapt to this person. Breaking off the relationship will require undoing all the changes in your brain.
Sociopaths don’t bond
Human beings are social animals, and we need to be able to trust each other and stay together to survive. That’s why these psychological and biological changes take place.
However, sociopaths don’t bond like regular, empathic people do. Some researchers theorize that sociopathic brains don’t have the right receptors for oxytocin.
But they have learned how to pretend to be in a relationship, in order to set you up for exploitation. Sociopaths hijack the normal human bonding process.
Breaking the addiction
Because of these psychological and biological reasons, relationships with sociopaths are highly addictive. So when you want to break away from a sociopath, you need to treat it like breaking an addiction.
Here’s what this means.
First: In most cases, you’ll want to go cold turkey when breaking off the relationship. That means you tell sociopath very clearly that it’s over. Here’s what I recommend that you say, which is adapted from The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker:
I have no romantic interest in you whatsoever.
I am certain I never will.
Do not contact me ever again.
Do not give a reason for breaking up, because a reason gives a sociopath an opportunity to argue with you. You do not want to attempt to negotiate with a sociopath, because the sociopath will usually win.
Breaking up by text is totally acceptable. In fact, it is preferable. If you talk to the sociopath — either by phone or in person — it gives him or her the opportunity to plead, promise, grovel or sweet talk you, which may weaken your resolve. It’s best to send a direct message without giving the sociopath the opportunity to respond.
Second: Once you make it clear that the involvement is over, have No Contact with the sociopath. Here’s more information:
How to implement no contact, on Lovefraud.com
Third: If you’ve ever had to overcome addiction smoking, alcohol, drugs you probably know that the standard advice is to take it one day at a time. That’s exactly what you need to do when detoxing from a sociopath.
Get through today. Then get through tomorrow. Then get through the next day. Do whatever you need to do to distract yourself from any urges to contact the person. The longer you stay away from the sociopath, the more his or her grip on you will dissipate.
If you give in and reach out to the sociopath, or answer when the sociopath contacts you, you’ll be back at square one. You’ll have to start the process all over again.
Many Lovefraud readers have found Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) “Tapping” to be helpful. Stacy Vornbrock, MS, LPC, explains in her webinar that emotions are chemicals, and her tapping protocol can break the chemical aspect of your addiction to the sociopath.
Fourth: When you’re feeling the urge to contact the sociopath, visit Lovefraud. Many, many people have told me that they do this. They read the posts and comments on Lovefraud to remind them of why they are leaving.
Like overcoming any addiction, disengaging from a sociopath takes time and willpower. But your emotions, mind, body, spirit and finances will all be healthier away from this person.
Lovefraud originally published this article on November 24, 2014.