si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Category: healing

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.


    Are We Allowing Ourselves To Be Happy?

    Recently I’ve been thinking about happiness.

    Obviously, there is some level of conscious control involved:

    Additionally, if we choose to be loving, that’s the quickest path to feeling deeply happy in any given moment or interaction.

    The weird thing I’ve noticed is that despite years of healing, I’m not particularly happy.

    These days I’m incredibly peaceful, centred, content and mostly pretty calm – which for me are HUGE steps forward. I just haven’t felt any noticeable level of deep happiness.

    Joy? Hell yes, just not consistent happiness.

    So what’s been going on?

    Eventually, I’ve realised that I’ve had a whole list of conditions that had to be met before I would allow myself to be happy.

    While consciously I may have been choosing to be happy (and taking appropriate steps), subconsciously I simply wasn’t allowing it to occur.


    So, what next?

    I got a piece of paper and wrote at the top “I’ll be happy when…” then made a giant list. All the conditions, all the expectations that had to be met before I was “allowed” to be happy.

    (and yes, the alert among you will have noticed I’ve written about this before – but then, as with so many things, it’s not about knowing them intellectually, it’s about living them every day, in our hearts. Reminders are good, even for me. Especially for me. Also, there’s been a subtle shift. Before when I was doing this exercise it was to “get” something. Now it’s just to remove all limitations. Ie, for the sake of the exercise itself.)

    All these conditions are, of course, utterly ridiculous. But then, this is just how our brains work half (all?) the damn time – against us.

    Once I had the list, it was pretty straightforward (and as usual, quick) to just take each item back to wanting approval, wanting control or wanting safety, and simply let it go.

    Of course, this isn’t going to be a one-off task. As we peel back layers of the onion we’ll see deeper and deeper into ourselves. We’ll be able to identify more and more subtle limitations.

    The good news is, it’s a super quick exercise, and really, once you’ve got the hang of it, you could do it anywhere. While sitting at a bus stop. In the shower. While having a sandwich. In the shower with a sandwich! Just say to yourself “I’ll be happy when…” and see what your brain fills in for you.

    All these conditions are standing between you and happiness. The more you let go of, the easier it gets to make that simple choice. To actually be happy. To feel happy.

    To be honest, while I wouldn’t say I am now deliriously happy, I do feel as if several huge weights have lifted off me. I’m no longer dragging myself around quite as heavily. My soul is lighter and genuine smiles are closer and easier to reach.

    I just need to keep doing this exercise. Keep working my way down through the layers till there’s nothing left.

    Of course as with all of life, it’s a journey, not a destination. Today is better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be even better. What more can I ask?

    2017 UPDATE

    Some additional phrases that might help you dig to the bottom of what’s holding you back:

    • I won’t be happy unless…
    • I can’t be happy because…
    • I can’t be happy until…


      You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You

      I’ve been on a dating site recently. Not with any significant expectations (I trust the universe to look after me), more just about “keeping the door open” and passing the time.

      However, I noticed myself slipping into compulsive behaviour. Checking the site way more times than strictly necessary. And really, how often is “necessary” anyway? Once a year? Once a week? Once a day? Once an hour?

      But I digress.

      As with most forms of escapism, once I spotted it, I wanted to get to the root of it, and clear it out.

      After I got quiet and focused in on what I was feeling and what my motivations were for constantly checking the site, I realised Dean Martin summed it up perfectly decades ago.


      See, the real problem is, this concept is insidious. It’s everywhere.

      How many films are there where a couple start out together, then breaks up and are happier being single at the end of the movie?

      How many adverts involve someone being perfectly happy being by themselves?

      Versus, of course, the exact opposite.

      The media tells us, constantly, that we can only be happy if we’re in a relationship. That really, we only have value, that we’re only lovable if we’re in a relationship.

      None of this is news to you, I’m sure. But holy crap, how twisted is that?

      And of course, I realised this was exactly the rabbit hole I’d fallen into.

      I had a whole raft of beliefs along these lines:

      • I need the love of a good, beautiful woman
      • I’m happiest when I’m loved – I feel I can kick ass and achieve anything
      • I have no value unless someone else values me
      • I’m not lovable unless someone else shows this by loving me
      • I’m somehow failing unless I’m in a relationship
      • I’m not important/don’t have value unless someone better than me loves me (whoa!)
      • I’m not attractive unless someone attractive/amazing wants me

      … and so on.

      You can immediately see how these beliefs both set me up for instant failure (default mode: unhappy, unattractive, unloved), but also are self-defeating. Why would someone else want to love me if I don’t love myself?

      Of course, the good news is – as always – the hardest bit is seeing these beliefs.

      Once you see them, you can very easily drop them.

      So, just to be thorough, how can we get all of these beliefs to the surface?

      What worked for me was asking myself questions like:

      • How would I feel if I never had another partner?
      • How do I feel about being alone?
      • How do I feel about being alone for the entire rest of my life?
      • What if no-one attractive ever wanted me again? (ie, I had to compromise or settle not to be alone)
      • What if I was never loved again?
      • What if I never experienced love again? (slightly different phrasing often helps)
      • What feeling will I have when I have this partner?

      (then imagine, and feel these feelings as strongly as you can – to really dig everything up. Tapping 2″ down and across from the beginning of your collar bone (point 7) can also help you “tune in” to these feelings more strongly)

      As well as these, there will always be the ever present feelings of “wanting or lacking love/approval.”

      To some of these, you may feel a general, non-specific energy coming up. To some you may get specific phrases or beliefs bubbling to the surface.

      To the non-specific energy, I’d recommend just letting the energy go – you don’t need to know what it is to get rid of it.

      Specific beliefs or thoughts are pretty straightforward to dump too. Use whatever tools work for you. These days I tend to simply choose to let the belief/energy go, or let the picture go. You could also tap them out, etc etc.

      Either way, once you can see/feel these things coming up you can easily drop them all.

      Then, just go back to the questions, and keep going over them until you feel completely at peace. Completely at ease. Completely loving about being alone.

      Take that, Dean Martin. You can be somebody, even if nobody loves you. Hello? Who should love us the most? US OF COURSE!

      The paradox here is that when you’re in this state, you immediately become more attractive. Why? Because you’re dropping any sense of neediness or desperation. You become more loving. You become more centred and connected with yourself. Less pulled around by the vagaries of other people.

      Which of course, makes you more attractive.

      Hilariously ironic really, this life of ours.

      Oh, and the dating site? Yeah. I’m now checking it 10x less, but more importantly, with a definite feel of “Well, this is very nice, but really, whatever.” Win.


        What Is Love?

        It’s a big question. What is love?

        For a start, the word “love” can mean a lot of different things. The ancient Greeks had five main types:

        • Philia – loyalty. Motivated by practical reasons; one or both the parties benefit from the relationship
        • Xenia – hospitality. The almost ritualised friendship between a host and their guest.
        • Storge – natural affection, like parents have for their child
        • Eros – passionate, romantic love, with sensual desire and longing
        • Agape – pure love. Soul love. For lack of a better description, God’s unconditional love.

        Mostly on this blog I’ve been talking about unconditional love, what the Greeks called agape. Why? Simply because this is a superset of all the other forms of love.

        If you have unconditional love for someone, it doesn’t matter if they are guest, child, an intimate or business partner – you’ll treat them as lovingly as (or more than) if you had only the first four types of love.

        Agape, unconditional love, is the deep root beneath all other forms of love.

        Ok. Well, that’s nice. Now what?

        I’ve always struggled to find a good synonym for the word love. How do we identify if we’re being truly loving or not? How can we look at it from slightly to one side, just to be sure?

        Up until recently I’d often described love as “unconditional positive regard.” However, this lacked something. I wasn’t sure what, but I knew it wasn’t the whole picture.

        I could feel myself feeling unconditional positive regard towards people I knew that I still thought were complete shitbags.

        Then, recently, I was (finally, it’s amazing) reading Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse. In there, I found the missing pieces of the puzzle.

        These pieces are: admiration and great respect.

        So now in total I understand that unconditional love means unconditional positive regard, admiration and great respect.

        (obviously this may not be the entire thing, but it feels damn close. If it’s not complete, I don’t feel there’s very much to go.)

        Of course, as soon as we think about anyone like this, part of our brain will scream “Why the hell should I respect them? I refuse to admire them! They’re…” (etc).

        Well guess what? That’s us being judgemental. No matter how “right” we (think we) are, it’s not unconditional love.

        This is a tricky area.

        This is where Christians with their cries of “love the sinner hate the sin” start to slide – it’s still being judgemental.

        As soon as we say “this is wrong”, we’re sliding into judgement. It’s what makes it so insidious, and unconditional love so tricky.

        Think of the worst people you can imagine – typically something along the lines of a serial murderer, rapist, paedophile or Hitler. Or, closer to home, those that have harmed us in the past.

        Obviously these people have done some atrocious things. This is why they’re good examples. Because it’s so hard for us to unconditionally love them.

        If we put aside the rule of law (what should society do with people that commit atrocities), we can simplify this situation enormously.

        In terms of being (or not) unconditionally loving, what are we really talking about?

        We’re talking about how we feel.

        So, pick one of the cases above. What we’re doing by not choosing to be unconditionally loving is this: we are letting someone else’s behaviour decide for us how we are going to feel.

        In other words, we decide they’ve been awful, therefore we are going to hold negative (non loving) feelings towards them.

        We are giving our power away.

        Well, how silly is that?

        Surely we are the boss of us? Surely we decide how we should feel?

        Of course, there are people out there doing simply awful things. But why should we let them make us feel bad? Who gave them that power over us?

        Well, by choosing to be judgemental, by choosing to hold back from loving them (particularly when we feel they “don’t deserve it”), we did. We gave them power over us.

        So really, by choosing to be unconditionally loving, by choosing to give them unconditional positive regard, admiration and great respect what we’re really doing is choosing to let go of their power over us.

        We’re choosing to feel as positively as humanly possible, no matter what they do.

        This is the ultimate power we have. As Viktor Frankl (who survived Auschwitz) said

        “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

        This is why unconditional love is so important.

        This is why understanding what love is is so important.

        Of course, if love as “unconditional positive regard, admiration and great respect” doesn’t resonate completely for you – please do keep looking. I’d be most curious to hear your thoughts. I’m always eager to learn more.

        At this stage, this is the best I’ve found. It feels complete to me. Most importantly, when I think about applying that definition to people (or organisations) in my life I’m least likely to feel this way about, I feel challenged and uncomfortable. Which is probably a very good sign I’m stumbling in the right direction.

        Now obviously, the next practical question (and I do like to keep things practical, as much as possible) is what do we do with this information?

        Well, here’s what’s been working for me, it’s super simple.

        Basically, just imagine someone (or something) horrible in front of you. Then think the phrase “unconditional positive regard, admiration and great respect” towards them.

        If there’s any part of you that disagrees with giving them these things, those are the parts of you that are holding you back from loving them completely and unconditionally.

        From there, you can simply let those feelings or thoughts go. Or tap them out. Or breathe them out. Whatever works for you.

        The key is to keep letting go of all the objections, arguments and generally non-loving reactions that come up in response to trying to feel unconditional positive regard, admiration and great respect for that person (or organisation).

        Once you let go of all of these reactions, you’ll feel yourself naturally slip into genuinely feeling those feelings towards that person.

        In other words, regardless of that person’s behaviour, you are now feeling genuine unconditional love, agape (the highest possible way of feeling).

        You’ve stopped yourself (your emotions and energetic state at the very least) from being a victim of their behaviour. You’ve regained mastery over yourself.

        Now, I’m definitely not saying you should put yourself in harm’s way here.

        For example, you can cross the road safely (a very dangerous thing to do, statistically), but you can do that happily and at peace, or you can freak out and be full of fear. It’s completely your choice.

        For me, I choose unconditional love. I choose happiness. I choose peace. Oh, and I choose not to stand in oncoming traffic, human or otherwise.


          Surviving a Break-Up

          Relationship break-ups suck. There’s no two ways about it.

          They hurt.

          However, we have to get through them. We don’t (usually) have the freedom to hide in bed for six months (or three years) until all the pain goes away.

          So, what to do?

          Well. I’ve had a lot of breakups in my life. So I’ve learned a bit. I’d like to share what I’ve picked up along the way.

          There are two places all this pain we’re feeling comes from:

          1. OUR SHIT
          Things we’ve done (or didn’t do). Horrible things we’ve said. Things we should have done differently. Regrets and self-blame, in short.

          2. THEIR SHIT
          Horrible things they’ve said. Horrible things they’ve done.

          Once you are in a relationship for any length of time these things pile up. Breakups can take years to get over, if you wait for time to slowly heal everything.

          (This is also why I recommend healing everything like crazy while you’re in the relationship).

          You can understand why people so often just jump into something new (the so called “rebound relationship”). To distract themselves, avoid dealing with the pain, and so on. See also booze, work and all the other usual forms of escapism.

          Of course, this is kinda silly – you just take the same junk and pain with you into your new relationship. Which rarely helps.


          In terms of cleaning up efficiently, aka, getting over them and getting yourself back together, it’s easiest to start with our own shit.

          It’s much easier to forgive ourselves for past mistakes than to let go of perceived hurts by another. So, begin there.

          For a start, everything is in the past (as long as we’re not continuing to be horrible to our now ex). We can’t change it. So, the least we can do is let go of feeling bad about the mistakes we’ve made.

          Once we’re done with our own mistakes, and we feel peaceful and loving towards ourselves (regardless of how we feel about them), then we can get started on the harder side of things. Them.

          See, the trouble with breakups is, unless one person is a sociopath (or otherwise broken), both people generally come out of it feeling like they got the worse deal. The most pain. The most inconvenience. The shitty end of the stick.

          So, while we may think of four or five awful things we did wrong, we can easily think of dozens of things they did.

          But that’s ok. It just means their side will take a little longer to work through.

          HOW TO DO THIS

          Oh, I almost forgot.

          How to do all this?

          Well, as always, forgiveness is key. In brief: imagine them in front of you, and say I forgive you to them. Then, say “I’m sorry, please forgive me for all the things you did to hurt them (even if you have no idea what they were). Repeat until you don’t feel any emotional charge doing each of these things.

          Ok, that’s the fast bit.

          Now, start with all the things you did/said wrong. Take each item one at a time, focus on it, and just feel the pain rising. Usually, as this emotion comes up, there’ll be a physical component – we’ll feel it in our body, as well as the emotional/energetic component.

          Next, very simply say “I love you” to the pain, and let the energy/feeling/pain go. Say “I love you” and mean it. That’s really the key.

          You’re here to get rid of this pain, there’s no point being half-arsed about it.

          So, call up whatever’s happened, say “I love you” and let it go. Rinse and Repeat until done.

          You’ll know you’re done when there’s no more energy or emotion around the event. You’ll know you’re done when you feel peaceful or even loving about it.

          Yes, this is very similar to the simple meditation I told you about.

          Why should this be any surprise? We’re talking about being loving – the highest state of being – just in a very focused area, rather than your entire life.

          Once you can’t think of any other ways you’ve hurt them, you’re probably done.

          Next, work through the (usually larger) list of things that they’ve done to hurt you. Say “I love you” to each item and let the energy/feeling/emotion go. Keep saying “I love you” and letting it go until you’re peaceful and/or loving about it. Then move to the next thing, until you can’t think of any way they’ve hurt you that has any emotional charge left to it.

          Do the forgiveness thing again (both ways) and voila. All that crappy energy is gone.

          The last thing to watch for is any residual yet unidentifiable feelings. Often we’ll have just a general crappy aura towards them – without it being about any specific thing, or identifiable event. That’s ok – just focus on the feeling as before, say “I love you” and let it dissolve. You don’t have to vocalise the issue to clear it.

          WHAT ABOUT THEM?

          Not everyone heals their pain. Some people continue to act it out, in relationship after relationship. These are also the kinds of people that have the same relationship, over and over, with different people. The same angry controlling partners. The same fights. And so on.

          So, what do you do if, mid-breakup, your ex is continuing to act out their pain towards you?

          For a start, forgive them for being a dick. There’s a thousand reasons someone may not be healing things or moving on as quickly as you are. Everyone has stresses and difficulties in their lives that are difficult to understand from outside.

          Secondly, there’s a secret to how relationships work. As we get to know someone, we build up a connection to them. For any relationship of any intensity or length, that connection can be very strong.

          Imagine there’s a cord, running from your heart to theirs. We have these (effectively) with every person we interact with. For someone we pass in the street it’ll be thinner than a hair; for our parents it’s the kind of thing you’d anchor the Titanic with; intimate relationships are somewhere in between.

          The thing with these connections is this: what affects them affects us.

          How is this useful? It means that we can heal them. Not of everything (we’re not living their life, and we are not the boss of them), just of their attitudes and the energy they send towards us.

          Think of it this way. Imagine this cord between you is an actual rope. If they twist their end up, we can untwist it from our end. Unless they’re aggressively and consciously retwisting it, it will stay healthy. Stay normal. Stay untwisted.

          So, regarding the relationship (which remember, requires both of you) whatever you heal from your end heals their end too.

          Remember, you’re not doing this for them; you’re doing it for you.

          So, Extra for Experts:

          Think about them. Think about something that is upsetting them about you (they’ve probably told you. Several times). Focus in on that feeling in them. How it would feel for them. How upset they’d be. Say “I love you” and let the tension/energy/feeling go. Keep saying “I love you” until all that tension is gone.

          If you think through all the things they’ve said have upset them, you can quickly go through and lift all this tension off.

          What you’re doing here is removing negative energy that’s being aimed at you. Yes, it will help them feel better (and thus treat you nicer), but really, it’s you being the boss of your experience, being the boss of your life.

          Now, depending on the intensity of the relationship, there might be a half dozen things, or (as happened to me recently) there could be a few hundred. It’s ok, there’s no rush.

          Some relationships I’ve come out of and been fine within a couple of days. Some have taken weeks. Some months or even years (before I had these techniques).

          Trust me on one thing though. This way? Forgiving and loving? It’s exponentially faster than any other method I’ve found.

          Better yet? What you’re actually doing is healing these issues. Which means when you do finally feel you’re ready to jump back in the saddle, you won’t be attracting the same kind of yo-yos into your life. Sorry, did I say that? I meant, the universe won’t need to bring you those same lessons, because you will have learned (healed) them already.

          You’ll move up. To someone so much better, so much more perfect for you.

          And until they do turn up? You’ll be peaceful, loving and much, much happier.