Like so many of us, she fell in love with a practiced charmer. A man who was the life and soul of the party, good looking, funny, kind and witty. A man who couldn’t do enough for her. A man who made her feel like a princess. Her friends thought he was wonderful, but it was only when she was alone with him that the mask would slip and the cruel tentacles of destruction and abuse wormed their way in to her soul. Again, like me, she just didn’t see it at the time. And, like me, Beatrix’s response whenever her husband did something ‘out of character’ was always… “It must be me! What am I doing wrong here? How can I make this better?”
From my experience, most targets are by nature caring loving souls who choose to nurture others. When we first meet the sociopath he or she seems to be “just like us” in more ways than we’ve ever experienced before. We feel in-tune with them. We understand them. And they understand us as well – it is like heaven on earth, and we feel more connected, more loved, more special than even our wildest dreams would have allowed us to imagine. How lucky we are to have found such a perfect match! They seem to mirror everything that is important to us – our deepest hopes and our highest values, as well as empathizing with our darkest fears. No wonder we fall in love so completely! No wonder that our in-built response when that same person appears to be suffering is to ask what we can do to help. I, for one, rarely questioned anybody’s motives, least of all the person I called my soul mate – why would anyone be showing me anything but reality?
There is a huge amount of truth in that old saying “we don’t know what we don’t know” - something I now recognise as a trap that I fell for, hook line and sinker. Believing my eyes and ears to be fully open at the time, I simply could not comprehend or begin to imagine the true devious nature of the beast because that nature didn’t exist within ME – thank goodness.
Planting the seeds of self-doubt
Yet this presents us with a fascinating paradox. Because when the sociopath shows us the mirror – the care, the charm, the understanding, the love that we fall for, we naturally take it as read that this is who they really are – because that is precisely what they want us to believe. Yet on the other hand, when they show us their manipulative, devious, abusive true self, we automatically think “It must be me. I must be doing something wrong. What do I need to change?” because we are deliberately led to accept that we are somehow responsible. Their lies and manipulation, their denial and their blame of others mean it’s never their fault. So, not only are we trapped because we are caring people, we are also trapped by the deliberate cloak of deceit that is systematically and skilfully wrapped around us so that we don’t notice the hug turning in to suffocation. Because that hypnotic ‘hug’ starts causing us to question our self-belief, gradually and deliberately eating away at our confidence so slowly that we don’t realise it’s happening – until it’s too late. And all the time the smiling assassin purposely tells us that it’s never their fault… therefore, it stands to reason that it must be our fault… doesn’t it??
I’d like to make it absolutely clear that their ‘bad stuff’ is NOT who we are. The bad stuff is who they really are. It’s not a ‘bad hair day’ or a ‘hiccup’ or a ‘minor malfunction’ – no, on the contrary, it’s the true essence of what lies at the core of the facade they present. They are not suffering from anxiety. They’re not grumpy, nor are they the victim of a deprived childhood. It’s not that you did something wrong, or that you simply don’t understand their pain enough. It’s none of those things.
When they use denial as a weapon, we start to question our sanity – we’ll say to ourselves “well, perhaps I was wrong, perhaps I DID misunderstand or misread the signs”. When they choose blame we’ll likely respond with acceptance. “Perhaps they’re right” we might think. “How could I not have seen that, it must have been be so clear. How could I get it so wrong with this person I love so deeply? I should have known better. I’ll try even harder” And so the twisted cycle of methodical asphyxiation continues.
Remember they are masters in their techniques of manipulation – they have had to become that way to appear normal. To live and breathe among us without being detected. But they are only techniques – they are not real emotions. The book “In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding And Dealing With Manipulative People,” by George Simon, has been a huge help in helping both Beatrix and I to identify and understand these methods in more detail.
I remember when my ex showed his true colours for the first time a few years ago. When I found him out that time, he convinced me that he was in the middle of a breakdown. He persuaded me that he had felt unloved by me, and that as a result he had done things he bitterly regretted. For me, because his behaviour had been so out of character from the person I knew and loved so well, I decided to believe him. I’m no pushover, but I reasoned that he deserved a second chance – our ‘ideal’ marriage deserved a second chance. After all, everybody makes mistakes don’t they? Nobody is perfect all the time?
So, yes, the pain and shame ran deep when I found him out the second time. When once again he demonstrated the same sickeningly callous levels of cruelty, and then just disappeared when he knew the game was up. I can assure you that my inner critic went in to full flow at that point! How could I have been so stupid? How could I have believed his lies? How could I not have recognized the truth the first time around? But the fact is, I couldn’t. I couldn’t because that way of being was (and is) alien to me. These days I have learned the hard way that not everyone comes from the same place of loving that I am proud to acknowledge I possess within myself.
Now, of course, I realize that the heartless creature I saw then was actually the real person. Now I understand that the man I loved so dearly was the fake one – but back then I didn’t know the difference. How on earth could I have even begun to understand that I was in the grip of a callous predator who didn’t give a damn about me or about my son? How could I possibly know that the practiced mask of love and kindness he showed so freely was just that – a mask. A skillfully crafted facade designed to fool anyone who crossed his path.
What about recognizing the positives?
Which brought both Beatrix and I to ponder the next question – how come both she and I only interrogated ourselves when our partners were behaving badly? True, we assume that the ‘bad stuff’ is a passing phase, because after all, that is not the ‘real’ person we fell in love with. But along with that, surely, comes a peculiar and fascinating wake-up call. How come we didn’t stop and ask ourselves the same set of questions to find out how we might be affecting all the loving behaviours? How was it that at no point did we think to ourselves “It must be me” when they were showing their good (false) side?
Because, the truth is, that WAS and IS us all along. All the sociopath can do is mirror who and what we already are – because we are everything that they are not. Which is what makes us so attractive in the first place. And from my current point of view (granted with the benefit of hindsight and a good deal of distance from the nightmare) I reckon that the person I was, I am, and always have been, must be pretty darned special. I’ve reasoned that if all I was seeing was a skillfully mirrored reflection of who I am, and if what I saw caused me to fall head over heals in love with the man who was reflecting me, then surely it stands to reason that I must be a good person?
If the reflected kindness, love and attention he showered on me was enough to mask his deception and manipulation for more than ten years, then surely it stands to reason that I have to a pretty strong character who has a whole heap of love to offer? Of course I recognise that I’m one of the lucky ones, because I am now coming from the place where I am free – so I understand that what I am saying may be somewhat tricky for anyone who is still feeling trapped to take on board. But I invite you to consider the following point because I believe it could be an important tool to help with escape and healing.
We can ALL heal
My point is this. I now believe that for all of us who are on this journey of recovery – whether or not we’ve yet managed to escape the nightmare in reality – a massive amount of strength can be gained by holding on to the assumption that ALL the good stuff we were/are being shown is indeed who we really are – it’s our soul, our essence, our being. The more we acknowledge that the sociopath doesn’t have these qualities, the more we can remember that they can only achieve them through reflection. I believe that by accepting the idea that “it must be me” whenever the sociopath shows us kindness, appreciation or love (and any number of other ‘good things’) the more we can shift our responses and reclaim our power. Even now, I often choose to look back on my own experiences and I think to myself “Yes, he was often really kind, considerate, loving and caring. Oh ho! It must have been me! That’s the kind of person I must be!”
There are countless stories and informative articles on this site that aim to educate all of us about the dangers and real behaviours of sociopaths. So I am confident that, little by little, more people are waking up to the idea that not everyone plays by the same caring rules that come so naturally to the majority of us who are on this planet. Little by little we can begin to recognize that which we are not – and, little by little reduce the need for others to have to experience the pain before they understand.
Of course, I don’t know how easy my recommendation is going to be for anyone who is still having to deal with a sociopath on a daily basis – as I said, this particular realization only came to me after I had broken free. But I believe that every and any thing that helps us to reclaim our power is another step forward in liberty, healing and recovering our lives. I always say to myself and others – if it works, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Bit by bit we’ll find out what helps, and bit by bit we’ll re-connect with ourselves.
So here is my message. Every time you notice something ‘good’ in the sociopath, say to yourself that “It must be me” – because at the end of the day, we must be ourselves in order to become free. I am liking the mantra that is now running around inside my head:
“It must be me, because I MUST BE ME…!”
We CAN heal, we ARE healing, and by sharing our experiences with each other here, it means we’re in the right place. Right here, right now, we can become united in our experiences, understanding and support for each other.
I hope this is helpful – I welcome your feedback. With love and blessings to all.