Q: I wasted five years of my life loving a sociopath and simultaneously trying to figure him out. Thankfully he didn’t do any permanent damage to my self-esteem, but some women don’t know that these people without consciences do exist. They come off as overwhelmingly charming, but are fraudulent liars who have no capacity to feel love or guilt whatsoever. In the interest of saving my sisters time and heartache, please shed some light on these people. I’ve read that the natural relationship cycle for a sociopath is: “Idealize, Devalue and Discard.” He had me jumping through hoops until I figured out what was going on.
A: Five years is a long time to put up with anyone’s BS, let alone an actual sociopath. Sociopaths are narcissists on steroids — unable to emote and prone to violence. If you were involved with a true sociopath, you are lucky to have left the relationship unharmed. I suspect, however, your ex was a narcissist.
The narcissist is a villain many of us can recognize: the perfect love interest who showers you with compliments and gifts, adores your friends and family, lives in a loft straight out of Dwell magazine and makes you wonder how you managed to land such a catch. For the first few months, anyway. Then all the sweet nothings suddenly halt, flowers stop arriving on your desk at work, he makes you feel guilty for spending time with anyone else, and you’re not sure how he can afford that lifestyle. Outgoing has become ostentatious, and you start to notice how much shade your dreamboat throws around. Your narcissist has successfully enrolled you as another member of his fan club, and no longer has to try to win your affections.
You also notice that he’s not only self-centered, but totally preoccupied with being admired by everyone. He hands out negative comments disguised as compliments, cutting you down to make you feel inferior. He gets defensive at the first sign of criticism. He name-drops often and brags about coming from the perfect family (usually far from the truth; hot and cold parenting is believed to nurture narcissism). Narcissists pass through our lives constantly: the toxic friend, the competitive co-worker and, of course, that a-hole you can’t believe you dated for so long.
Narcissists tend to hold their mates to an often unrealistic standard. If you feel pressured to always sport runway waves, have professionally pedicured toes or drive the newest-model luxury coupe, you’re probably dating a narcissist. Their style of communication includes constant one-upping, big hand gestures, excessive profanity and blatantly dismissing everyone else in the conversation. Put yourself in charge of dinner plans that involve a narcissist, and he or she will deliberately sabotage them by being late, blaming you for not being clear enough on the details.
Romantic partners of narcissists are no strangers to faint praise. A narcissist will refrain from giving his or her mate a compliment for weeks, then say something messed up like, “I could have just about anyone but I chose you.” It is a constant stream of words and actions that make others feel smaller so they can feel bigger, and it will never end.
If any of this hits too close to home for anyone reading, start making your getaway. You can’t change a narcissist because they see nothing wrong with their behavior, so don’t subject yourself to more suffering. The more emotionally attached you are to a narcissist, the easier it is for them to manipulate you. A person can’t take advantage of something that isn’t being offered, so pack up your heart and move on. There’s someone else out there more worthy of it.