“But surely I’d know if I was in the company of someone like that?” I reasoned to myself, the dank smell of Hannibal’s cell now beginning to permeate my senses, his chains rattling my imagination. “But I’m an executive business coach! I’ve been working in the field of personal development for over 13 years! I’m wise to the ways of different personalities and what makes people tick!” I tried to rationalise, becoming more aware that my bewilderment was arousing the curiosity of my uninvited guest.
I was hooked. And as I read further, uncovering facts, examples of typical traits, and stories from other victims of a sociopathic relationship, I was gradually coming to the horrifying comprehension that my friend’s prognosis was correct – and the fact that I was not alone. There were literally thousands of women with stories just like mine. I allowed the weirdly reassuring feeling that I was not the only one to grow within me, gratefully confirming to myself that there were hundreds, thousands – perhaps millions – of other people just like me. Intelligent, professional, and successful women who had willingly succumbed, fallen in love, followed their dreams and been thwarted by the malevolent charms of the skilled and charismatic sociopath. Chillingly, as I now know, as much as 4% of the population (allegedly 1% of females and 3% of males) are afflicted, yet remain undiagnosed, with what mental health officials refer to as “antisocial personality disorder” – or, to you and me, these are psychopaths who live, breath and feed among us. If you think (as I did) that this kind of thing could never happen to you, then think again.
Suddenly I began to see things from a different angle. Suddenly things started to make sense. Dr Lecter, for now, faded safely back in to the darkness of my imagination, as I began to replace his image with strangely comforting feelings of relief. The deeper truth was dawning that the experience I was living, my own personal living nightmare, was not something I could have foretold. So I was not to blame for what had happened – there was nothing more I could have done. In fact, I’d had a lucky escape.
This was the beginning of my understanding about what had happened to me. How I’d found myself in such a horrific and unimaginable mess. After three long months, the hurricane of discovery that had all but broken me in its relentless force to destroy all that I had believed in was gradually beginning to loosen its grip in light of this new information.
I realized, with frightening clarity, that in order to truly understand what had happened, to come to terms with how I had come to find myself in such a nightmare situation, I was going to have to embark on a journey of self-discovery. I would need to find out more about what had happened to other people. Understand the true meaning behind the word sociopath, or psychopath. Recognise the traits within myself that allowed me to be the perfect target – dig deeply in to my own psyche and explore my own choices in life. Examine how I’d got here, what I’d believed about myself and others and my own deeply held personal values. And, most importantly, to find my strength and finally heal.
My years of experience in personal development told me it was not going to be an easy journey. Some of the deeply buried feelings and experiences of my past would need to be re-examined. I would need to dredge through parts of my life I thought I’d already dealt with. Old scars I thought I’d healed would need to be re-opened and treated anew. It would be painful. It would mean re-visiting old chapters of my life. Re-living the hurts of the past in order to truly understand what was going on. And I would also need to venture in to the depths of this new murky world I was beginning to discover. Stand in the shoes of these soulless people I now knew existed for real, and who live and work among us. People who have no conscience. Sham human beings who exist purely to win, who see other people merely as tools to be used and abused – and discarded once they are no longer of any value.
I was alerted to the sounds of Dr Lecter shuffling around in the back of my mind, his interest clearly intensified by my growing fear at what lay ahead. And I heard a barely perceptible laugh – or was it a cackle – coming from the darkest corners of my imagination. The unpalatable solution hit me like a steam train, and I understood at that moment that he would need to become an ally in my journey; for who better than the archetypal sociopath, Dr Hannibal Lecter himself to help me understand the twisted workings in the mind of a psychopath?
This was my invitation. To myself, and within the safety of my own imagination – at least for the moment. It was the only way to regain my sanity and claim my life back. And, surely, this couldn’t be any worse than the real life experiences I had already survived? And so I nodded my silent agreement and the deal was done. I would allow the specter of Hannibal to steer me as I unravel the past and make sense of my pain. A smug sneer crept across Dr Lecter’s face, as he pulled himself upright and acknowledged my consent “Brave Melanie. You will tell me when those lambs stop screaming, won’t you?”
So this was the beginning of my recovery. I started preparing for my own personal voyage of soul-searching, education, self-questioning and personal discoveries right through to the eventual victory I knew was waiting for me. I’d have to return to the innocence I once knew, and in returning there I knew I’d have to face some ugly and painful memories. Rearrange them to make sense of what had happened, and to ensure that I would never again be taken in by anyone whose sole intention was to hurt me.