Living with a Sociopath?
You're not Crazy.
Learn the disease. Stop the Abuse
(this essay adapted from Tears and Healing Reflections
with selected pages from Tears and Healing)
Is your partner a sociopath? You may not know how to tell, but even worse, you
may be thinking that you are the crazy one. Sociopaths' minds don't work
like yours or mine, yet they feel perfectly confident about what they are doing.
Something is clearly wrong, and we often question our own sanity.
So what is a sociopath? A serial killer that strolls from one victim to
another? Possibly, but not often. Ask yourself this: is the
person you're concerned about
unable to form any kind of emotional bond with another person? Does he or she
seem to be always without empathy for others, even their own family? Does
he or she do things that to you seem beyond comprehension; and then carry on as
if those actions made no difference? Does she/he lie without compunction? Is he or she in trouble with the law and
other authorities? Does he or she like dangerous, outrageous or
socially/sexually unacceptable activities that provide a thrill?
If you see this dynamic in your partner, family member, coworker, or friend,
you are very probably dealing with a sociopath.
If that isn't bad enough, most people who show sociopathic behavior aren't
just sociopathic. They often also have narcissistic tendencies, sometimes intensely angered by
anything that seems to suggest that he or she might have a flaw. In this mode,
they will do anything, including brutalizing their own family, to maintain
their own feeling that others see them as without any flaws. The combination is
terribly painful to live with.
You're not Crazy
For many of us, struggling to live with this kind of abusive partner, the
first handhold we need to grasp is that we
are not crazy. Whether the person we live with has narcissistic
personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, sociopathy
(antisocial personality disorder), or alcoholism, people who
suffer from these disorders have extreme emotions, which lead them to actions
that can range from puzzling to brutal. Living with them is painful and
confusing. Personality disorders are aptly named,
because the minds of people who suffer from these disorders work differently
than healthy people.
It is only by understanding how you and your partner function,
how his or her personality disorder affects his or her behavior, and how
you interact, that you can begin to really judge what is happening. To
figure out what you should do, you need to understand your own emotions and how
to handle the decisions you face. Tears and Healing (up top) deals with
your situation, while Meaning from Madness (on the right) explains a
disordered partner. Both are written by a man who survived a violent
relationship with a narcissistic/borderline/alcoholic wife and has been engaged
helping others through these situations for the past 6 years.
What is a Sociopath?
Meaning from Madness - Understanding the Hidden Patterns that Motivate Abusers: Narcissists, Borderlines, and Sociopaths
explains the simple psychological driving force that defines this disease; the callous indifference of sociopaths,
their treatment prospects, and the impact
of alcohol abuse. It explains how sociopathy fits in with the raging and controlling behvaior of borderline personality disorder and narcissism.
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They Spin our Reality: Disordered people can't deal with the reality of their behaviors. On some
level they realize how hurtful they are, yet accepting this major flaw in
themselves is just too painful. So disordered abusers spin our reality to make
theirs less painful. One of the most common defense mechanism they use is projection.
In projection, a characteristic of themselves that they find just too painful to
accept is projected onto us. And the most
frequently projected characteristic is mental illness. "I'm not a
sociopath. You're the crazy one." Another common and difficult defense mechanism is
blame shifting. It's your fault this
happened because blah, blah blah blah...
After a while it becomes hard to distinguish what is real from what is being
projected and what is being distorted. We begin to doubt our reality and
question whether we're the crazy ones, or whether our disordered SO's
(significant others) are
really right about what they say.
The truth is, THEY'RE NOT RIGHT. But they feel better when they can get us to
carry the burden of their illness and their behavior.
How Do I Cope with this Abusive Relationship?
Tears and Healing - the Path to the Light after an Abusive Relationship
explores the feelings, issues, and decisions that we face in an abusive relationship.
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What's more, disordered people hide their problems very effectively. People with all of these personality disorders - narcissistic personality
disorder, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder
- have serious maladjustments in coping with life. Thus, they live in emotional
turmoil. They seek to present a very together appearance, hiding their disease
from most people. It is only when we get into a close and private relationship
with someone with these personality disorders that the abusive behavior comes
out. And because their lives are wracked with emotional turmoil, there is a lot
of pent-up emotion that can be focused on us. Yet those around us don't see it,
causing us further confusion.
The different disorders have different underlying themes. People suffering from
narcissistic personality disorder respond with extreme defensive actions to
events which they feel threaten their perception as special and
privileged. Similarly, those suffering with borderline personality disorder
respond to some events with extreme fear of abandonment - events that would have
little meaning to a healthy person. Those with antisocial personality disorder lack normal
feelings of responsibility and compassion and thus have little motivation to
restrain their reactions. And alcoholics can show any of these, while at the
same time their natural inhibitions from hurtful behavior are suppressed by the
All of this leads a lot of confusion for those of us unlucky enough to be in
committed relationships with someone with a personality disorder. My own
experience was with someone who probably would have barely diagnosed at her
worst - and definitely not at her best - with borderline personality disorder.
What I have learned, as I have begun helping people with broader experiences, is
that much of what I learned about abuse and borderline personality disorder also
applies to narcissistic personality disorder and even antisocial personality
Another thing I've observed over time is the link to alcoholism. AA and
Al-Anon have a culture that treats alcoholism as a disease alone and apart.
Thus, people getting support through these channels tend to think that there is
nothing more to learn beyond alcoholism. At the same time, this approach leaves
some things unexplained. They talk about "dry drunks" and problems
that persist long after alcoholics get sober. Why is this so? If addictive use
of alcohol is the problem, why don't things improve when the alcohol abuse
The reality is more likely that alcoholism and other addictions, like
pot/marijuana, prescriptions drugs, cocaine, etc, are the result of a
personality disorder. In the case of my ex-wife, a mixed addictions to alcohol
and prescription psych meds was the result of self-medication to deal with the
emotional pain of her disorder. Addiction is extremely toxic, and greatly
worsens the effects of a personality disorder. But if the substance abuse stops,
the underlying personality disorder is still there.
Thus, understanding how a partner borderline personality disorder, narcissistic
personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, alcoholism, and substance
abuse will interact with us is essential if we are to get a handle on our
situations and our own lives. And to begin with, we have to realize that
even though we are victims a prolonged distortion campaign and may feel very
confused about things,
WE ARE NOT CRAZY.
About the Author
Richard Skerritt is a writer, inventor, engineer, and athlete. A survivor of a
marriage that turned abusive, he forged a path through confusion, love,
obligation, and emotional damage to safety and truer life. His experience and
insight, shared in Tears and Healing, originated in his contributions to online
support groups for people in relationships with a partner who has borderline
personality disorder. He has been a respected contributor and mentor in these
groups for the past four years. His writing and publishing work now includes
six books (see them all here)and he continues to help
people through books, daily
and phone consultation. Not a mental health professional, his
perspectives and guidance "from the inside out" have been especially
relevant for people in abusive relationships. More information is
Fighting an ugly divorce? Maybe you're facing a narcissist.
Surviving the Storm - Strategies and Realities for Divorcing a Narcissist
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