Friday, August 31, 2012

Total Recall: Three Things About Myself Made Me Vulnerable to a Sociopath

I am often embarrassed by how often people who know me ask, “What in the world were you thinking when you decided to have a relationship with this guy?” They expect the sociopath to be rich, or to be extremely successful. In fact, he is far from either of those things and remains unable to achieve anything without help from his supporters.

My ultimate shame is that I let this guy use me, terrify me, abuse my child and my pets, and control my life. How did this happen? I am smart, hardworking, and independent. I may not be centerfold material, but I am pretty and have a good sense of humor. So how did I fall so far, so fast?

After almost two years away from the sociopath, I have come to a painful self-realization: the personality traits that I love about myself are the same ones that led me into my nightmare. For example, my openness to other people’s opinions made me vulnerable to the sociopath’s “crazy making”.

I believe that every person has a right to his or her own feelings and thoughts. I don’t need everyone to agree with me, nor do I expect them to do so. I try to consider each person’s point of view as a counter balance to my own. The problem is that being too open allows the sociopath to use you to validate his own warped thoughts. This then leads to you constantly thinking, “Is he right? I hadn’t considered that possibility.”

Another good example of a dangerous trait is empathy. This is something that the sociopath doesn’t possess, but he is well aware of what it is. Empathy is a weakness that allows the sociopath to hone in on his target with laser precision. They feed on it.

During the process of separating from the sociopath, I would catch myself making his excuses for him. He can’t help it that he was arrested for assault again; he doesn’t know how to behave. His mother abandoned him when he was small, so of course he has issues. He is cruel to animals because no one taught him how to love. The list is endless.

The third personality trait is the ability to sacrifice personal needs for other people. Mothers do this everyday. We eat last, go to bed last, and plan our lives around our children’s needs. The sociopath feels he is entitled to the same devotion that the children receive- despite the fact that he is a grown adult. Before I ever knew what was happening, I found myself compromising my beliefs and values. It was easier than trying to hold the sociopath accountable for his own.

A very good friend of mine used the frog in boiling water analogy. If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, he will jump out. If you take the same frog and put him in a pot of cool water, then gradually turn up the heat, he will stay in the pot. This makes me a little sad because I love frogs, but the point is that we have trouble recognizing abuse because it has been a gradual progression.

Openness, empathy, and the ability to sacrifice are all good traits, but they can lead us astray. So when does too much of a good thing become bad? For me, it came with the realization that I was afraid in my own home. I was afraid to move any of the sociopath’s stuff when I cleaned, I was afraid of being caught if he came home and our son was playing with something that belonged to him, I was afraid that my family and friends would see how I was being treated.

In the end, I believe that it comes down to our ability to set and enforce boundaries in our personal relationships. How many times are you willing to let someone say or do something that offends you before you speak up or take action?

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