Recovering After A Sociopath
I’ve written about sociopaths before. It’s taken me decades to a) fully understand, b) identify, and c) get the hell away from several of them.
Having a sociopath in your life can be extremely destructive. Apt descriptions tend to be phrases like “wrecking ball” or “shit tornado”.
The core of a sociopath is this: they have no conscience. So, they can (and will) do anything, to anyone, with zero regrets. They only care about themselves.
Some examples (all from personal experience):
- Stealing entire life savings (from you, from little old ladies, from kids)
- Lying (to everyone – family, friends, partners, the police, judges, government investigators)
- Putting their girlfriends in A&E (and then lying about that)
- Manipulating (aka charming and lying to) everyone around them to get what they want
- Frequently saying the cruelest, most guaranteed thing to hurt you
- Cheating on you and then lying to your face about it (or just dismissing it out of hand)
Needless to say, sociopaths thrive in war zones. After the above, killing women and children with no remorse or regrets is child’s play.
The good news is, (from people who study these things) sociopaths tend to self-implode. Treat enough people badly and eventually it all catches up with you. They typically end up in jail, their lives destroyed, or worse. Karma, I suppose.
The bad news is, if you have something a sociopath wants (money, skills, power, lifestyle), they will attach to you like a limpet, and it can be very hard to get away. This means they can easily be in your life, damaging you, for years.
Important reminder: the key attribute to watch for is this – a sociopath will use pity to get what they want from you. They want you to feel sorry for them. Why? Because that’s the easiest way to manipulate someone. It’s hardwired into us non-sociopaths to respond compassionately to pity.
Anyway, this isn’t about them. This is about you. What do you do after one of these human destruction machines has come ripping through your life?
Let’s assume you’ve seen through their charm, broken ties, and – critically – made it obvious you have nothing left they could want (so they’ll leave you the hell alone). How do you clean up?
The physical stuff is obvious. Mostly it’ll be – try to recover your finances and pick up what’s left of your life.
The internal stuff – emotional, mental, spiritual, that’s much trickier.
I’ve had sociopaths in my life at various points over a 20+ year period. Here’s what I’ve learned.
It Takes Time
Some of this damage I’m still working on almost a decade later. It can take a while to see just how much you’ve been affected.
On top of that, you have every reason to be upset, to be angry, to be resentful. These people ripped your life apart, and didn’t even care that they had.
The problem is – hanging onto all this isn’t helping. Sure, it’d be nice if they apologised. Or said thank you for the countless hours your poured into their businesses. Or repaid you for your time. But listen: IT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.
In the meantime, hanging onto that pain is only hurting you. You have to to let it go. Not for them. For you. They certainly don’t give a shit if you do or not.
Some Of It Can Be Very Subtle
A lot of the obvious mess is very easy to see – and thus relatively easy to clean up. Getting them the hell out of your life completely is A Very Good First Step.
What’s harder to see is the stuff that lingers on after they’ve gone:
- Resentment – why should they have such a wonderful life when you’re still suffering?
- Anger at the pain and damage they’ve caused and are still causing
- Indignation at how they’re able to get away with it (breaking the law, treating people so badly etc)
- A strong sense of injustice
It Can Be Hard To Clear
A lot of these feelings we have are very justifiable. The trouble is, while we’re focused on our “rightness” (wanting to be right), we’re blocking ourselves from letting go of this pain and truly healing.
We have to decide that our healing is more important than their suffering (or repentance, or justice). Because really, it is.
Hanging onto these non-loving thoughts about them are only hurting us. And sociopaths are lightning rods for non-loving feelings, trust me.
All these reasons are why I continuously keep coming back to love. Love love love. It’s damn hard to do towards someone who has caused you so much pain. The good news is, it’s hard because of all the crap we hang on to. Which means we’ll benefit the most by pushing through and letting all that pain go.
If (WHEN!) we get to the point of genuinely being able to hold loving feelings towards whomever has hurt us? That’s when we’ll know we’ve genuinely let go of all of our pain around the situation.
There’s a critical distinction here. Does “holding loving feelings towards them” mean we should invite them back into our lives, or otherwise put ourselves in harms way? If you’ll excuse me a little vernacular here, fuck NO.
What it means is that we have no non-loving feelings (anger, resentment, bitterness, violence, retribution etc) towards them. It means we are in a state of peace. It means we’ve healed EVERYTHING.
So, what are the thoughts and feelings we’ll commonly end up hanging onto, once these sociopaths have gone from our lives?
As is often the case, we can find these issues most simply by breaking them down into the three primary wants (plus fear)
- Wanting them punished or to suffer
- Wanting them to stop hurting us
- Wanting them to stop hurting others
- Wanting other people to see the truth about them, and escape too
- Wanting them to acknowledge and/or apologise for the damage they’ve done
These are all forms of wanting to control others – which you can’t do, so you might as well let go of wanting it.
- From them hurting us
- From them taking things from us or damaging our life further
- From them hurting people we care about
- Wanting their approval/love
- Wanting them to be grateful, or express appreciation for everything we’ve given them
- Wanting recompense for our time/efforts/investment (debatably this is control too)
Wanting their approval is particularly likely if you have low self esteem (as I certainly had in the past, when I first met these sociopaths). Remember: sociopaths can be incredibly charming, and will promise the world to get what they want. They just never actually deliver on those promises. And they won’t.
- That they’ll hurt us more
- That they’ll take more from us
- That they’ll stop liking us or “being nice to us” (an especially ridiculous fear)
There’s much overlap here with the three wants, obviously.
It’s important for us to identify all these thoughts and feelings, so we can work through and get rid of them.
In a way, they are further damage that has been left behind by the sociopath.
What tools you use to do this is up to you, of course. I definitely have my favourites (as I’ve discussed on here extensively). A good therapist is also always recommended (and possibly medication, if you’re really struggling). Clarity and objectivity can be incredibly difficult when you’re still inside this mess looking out and a therapist can help provide that.
Another important benefit of this work? The more of these feelings we let go of, the less influence the sociopath will have over us. Why? Because the less emotional resonance we have, the less they are able to push our buttons and manipulate us.
By healing ourselves we start to inoculate ourselves against sociopaths.
So, not only will we feel better in the short term, we’re protecting ourselves in the long term. Both goals that are well worth the effort.