Wisdom: The Serenity Prayer applied to sociopaths

By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

The definition of wisdom

Almost everyone is familiar with the above “serenity prayer,” which is used as part of its program by Alcoholics Anonymous. Until I looked it up, I didn’t know who actually wrote it. What is wisdom, though? Albert Einstein says, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

Still, that doesn’t tell us exactly what wisdom is. Wisdom is defined by Webster as:

1a: accumulated philosophic or scientific learning: knowledge
: ability to discern inner qualities and relationships: insight
: good sense: judgment
: generally accepted belief
2: a wise attitude, belief, or course of action
3: the teachings of the ancient wise men

According to the Bible, Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. The story of him deciding who the real mother of a baby being fought over by two women is well known. He said, “I can’t tell who is telling the truth, so let’s just cut the baby in half, giving half to each.” Well, of course, the real mother said, “Oh, no, let her have it, don’t divide the baby.” Then he knew that the mother was the one who had the welfare of the infant first, and so he knew whose baby it was.

Solomon may have been “wise” enough to judge this case before his throne, after all, he wrote the book of Proverbs, which was filled with wise advice to his sons. However, in his own life, he didn’t always act wisely, especially where it came to women.  He had hundreds of wives and concubines. He also let his children do evil. So even though he may have been wise in some areas, in others he was unwise.

Thomas Jefferson is my favorite president. I think his ideas of government finance were very wise; he demanded a totally balanced budget. However, in his own personal budget, he was a spendthrift and didn’t balance his budget in business or personal spending.

So we can see that we may have wisdom in some areas of our lives, and in other areas we may have little wisdom.

My wisdom gets sidetracked

I have found in my own case, that while I generally have “wisdom” in how I conduct myself with people, I frequently fall prey to the “love bomb” that we know psychopaths are so good at. I lack insight into people’s motives and actions if I allow my wisdom to be side tracked by a “love bomb” and allow my own vanity to blind me as to what I should do in dealing with that person.

There are times in my life that I have done things I knew were wrong, immoral, illegal, or just plain bad. But over all I have tried to live a morally upright life, in good graces with my friends, family, my community, and my God. I think most of us at Lovefraud are probably pretty much like I am in this respect. We have consciences, and we try to live within our consciences.

Unfortunately, not everyone has a conscience or empathy or the desire to live a morally upright life in good graces with friends, family, community and whatever Higher Power (if any) they believe in. To interact with this type of person we must learn what they are and how they behave. We must accept that they are not going to change and that nothing we can do is going to effect change with that person, or that relationship.

Maintaining serenity while dealing with a psychopath is extremely difficult. They twist reality (gas lighting), they pathologically lie, they divide our friends and family, and they slander us (smear campaign). They also keep us in the “spin cycle” by a thousand inconsequential problems that they create.

Healing comes from knowing

I’ve often said here that “healing starts out about them, but ends up being about us.” Each day I live makes that statement more firms in my opinion. We must learn about them, so that we know what we are dealing with. But if we get stuck in doing this, if we don’t advance past the learning about them, no matter how much we learn about them, we are not going to develop the wisdom to combat their evil.

After my husband’s death, I found among his papers this quote: “Experience is a hard teacher, she gives the test first, and the lesson afterward.” While writing this article, I found that the quote is attributed to Vernon Law. Psychopaths also give the “test first” and the lesson afterward, because we do not expect that a person can actually be that evil, that mean, that underhanded.

“He is truly wise who gains wisdom from another’s mishap” is another very true quote I ran across about wisdom. There was no citation of the origin, but that makes it no less true. That is one of the really great things in sharing our stories with each other. Not only do we validate each other, but we can gain from the experiences of others, without having to endure those hard lessons personally.

Accepting life

There is a great deal in life that we can’t change no matter what we do. We must accept that or we are like a moth pounding itself to death on the glass globe of a lantern. Accepting those things with a calm mind is difficult, but we can do so. As we move past learning about sociopaths, and move on to learning about ourselves, we gain the wisdom to discern the differences between what we can change and what we can’t and the courage to change what we can.

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Tea Light

Lou, lovely to hear from you and hope you have a safe flight back home. I truly am sorry if my post made you feel worse. I wanted to express my care and concern and to encourage you to go back to strict no contact and to find a good counselor as so many of us have had to to pull through. If it was insensitively worded please forgive me. Come back soon you are very missed xx

Tea Light

P.S. Lou I’ve been covering my depression and anxiety i.e. fragility at work since my return and it’s exploded into panic attacks this past few days. I know how isolating it can be. ((Hugs to you)) and thanks for all you have done to help me x


Tea Light:

I am strict no contact now…again. I was six months NC…almost seven, when he was fired. And before that, I was seven months. So now it will be for good. I am going to find a counselor this week.

It all is very isolating. But I am going to work on ME now. Like you said, counseling will be about me and not about him. Take care. x

Tea Light

We’ll be ok Lou. God bless love x

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