I saw a girl

I have been struggling with so many unknowns recently, feeling so unsettled. I was just reading while my daughter napped, but not really able to focus because of these worries floating around in my head, so I opened my window shade.

I saw a girl swinging in the yard next door out my bedroom window. I saw a girl swinging so high and free that I stopped breathing for a moment. It literally shocked the breath out of me as I realized at once: You are already everything.

The secret is that everything you ever needed to know, all the power you ever wanted, you already have. Isn't it amazing, that as soon as we are born, we are already everything? We are nothing, as in not yet shaped, but we are also already everything, as in the magic and power and beauty of humanity is instantly and tremendously inside each and every one of us.

That is why before I knew it, I was half crying, half laughing watching this little girl swing high and free because she is me and she is you. The greatest teacher we will ever, ever know has already been inside of us, if we can just remember.

If you don't believe me, talk to a three-year-old. The wisdom is at once startling, obvious and infinite.

That is why I keep coming back to this thought: "time is not linear." What I mean is that right now, we can learn from ourselves at a much, much younger age, if we can re-access that part of ourselves.

Isn't it fantastic though, that she's there already, waiting for us to come back and say hello? And suddenly the struggles that I am facing today seem a little less daunting as I realize how cyclical life is and how there is no right or wrong, only learning and changing or closing down and trying to stay linear (I don't recommend).

What I mean by staying linear is refusing to accept that yes you may be 32 but you are also 2 and 13 and 21; you are not just one stagnant thing, you are everything you have ever been at this one moment in time.

So my advice is do what you were born to do: play and learn and evolve and if you can, keep yourself open to the magic of who you are, who you already have been and who you were meant to be (spoiler alert: I'm becoming more and more certain they're one and the same.)

The Biggest Lie

When I watched the first episode of Big Little Lies, I hated it. I thought it was silly, irrelevant, tacky. No one actually lives like this, I thought. I don’t care about these women and their fluffy, perfect lives.

And then I watched the second episode. I’m not sure why I kept watching after such a strong negative reaction to the first. Maybe the pretty actors, the beautiful California coast or more likely the fact I had just signed up for HBO Go and was determined to make the $14.99/month worth my while.

I’m very glad I watched the second episode. Well, a part of me is glad. Another part of me wishes I could go back and stick with my first assessment; the part of me that would rather not face a lurking discomfort. You see, in the second episode of Big Little Lies, it becomes clear that something is not quite right with the relationship between Celeste (played by Nicole Kidman) and her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård). The almost-too-beautiful couple has a strange dynamic – they precede their lovemaking with a sprinkling of violence. At first it wasn’t clear to me whether this was mutual passionate desire gone a tad kinky or if something was terribly awry. By episode three it becomes crystal clear that the power is one-sided; it lies with Perry. There is no safe word or backing down on Perry’s end when the violence goes from kinky to abuse. What rocked me to my core, though, was not the physical abuse, it was the way in which Celeste tries to reshape the story she tells herself. As soon as Perry gets that look in his eye, the dark blood-thirsty glint, Celeste becomes combative, snarky, she even sometimes hits Perry first.

To anyone not intimately familiar with the dynamics of an abusive relationship, this probably seems stupid and unrealistic. But I immediately and instinctively understood what she's doing: she’s trying to change the narrative in her own mind. She’s convincing herself that these are episodes of mutual anger and abuse. If she can shift the paradigm in her own mind, if she can tell herself this lie and truly believe it, then it’s not really abuse because they are both complicit in the dynamics of the relationship.  

Right after my daughter was born, I discovered that my own “perfect” husband was not who I thought he was.  As soon as I made that discovery, his mask came off, and I experienced intense emotional abuse.

When I finally walked away, crawled away, really, I went through a grueling grieving process. Eventually I realized that what I was grieving was not the relationship: it was that my story, my own reality and everything I thought I knew had been smashed to dust. I was forced to look at myself and some of my own issues that had lead me to ignore my inner compass and instincts.

When I first met my ex-husband, I saw him lie to others. Instead of facing the reality of “he is a liar” I thought, “he’s lying because of a, b and c, but he would never lie to me.” I managed to filter out any bad behavior and focus only on what fit my paradigm.

The first time you drown out that little voice saying “this doesn’t feel right,” it’s hard, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.

When we tell ourselves these little lies, when we make the decision to keep engaging with someone or something that negatively impacts our emotional well-being, we are also actively silencing our gut instinct that is whispering, “this doesn’t feel right.” We shut down the immense power that we are born with.

Celeste is a beautiful, intelligent woman. While I watched the show, I wondered, what was the first little lie she told herself? When Perry first started to show her who he really was, how did she change the narrative in her own mind, how did she filter out the data so that she could avoid facing the reality of the situation? For me, the first little lie I told myself was: he’s doing it because he loves me.   

Oftentimes, our lies start out small and they’re easy enough to swallow, much easier than facing the reality of the situation. Facing the reality could mean acknowledging that we have to make some big changes and change, even small change, is hard. It might even mean examining a deep-rooted issue or belief and finding out it’s false. Facing reality might force you to strip yourself down and start over.

I had to re-learn that I was enough, that I didn’t need validation from someone else to complete me. I had to understand that if someone does not meet your standards or contribute positively to your emotional and physical well-being, you need to disengage, i.e. drop him/her like a hot potato. This sounds simple. Trust me, it is not. But once I really understood that I am my own mirror, that I do not need approval from anyone else, it was the most freeing and powerful change I have ever made in my life.

 

The Battle

Funny thing. I wrote this whole post and then had a bit of an epiphany and erased it and now I’m starting over. The gist of what I was writing before was the concept of doing battle with the two parts of you that now seemingly exist: the Before you and the After you. The Before you is the all-trusting, fun-loving, happy-go-lucky you and the After you is the wary, highly-discerning, look-before-you-leap you. 

 

The reason this battle has been on my mind is because the past couple of months, I have questioned whether or not I made the “right” decisions with regards to a romantic relationship. I became almost crippled by anxiety over whether or not I made a huge mistake. So I was writing this out, this concept of fighting in order to overcome your fear and trauma, and then I thought:

 

“What if you just surrender?” What if, instead of questioning and ruminating and doubting yourself, what if you just trust yourself? What if you trust that, because of the person you are becoming, you will bring beautiful beings into your life (and trust me, you will) and some of these individuals will push you to grow and expand in ways you weren’t even aware of. What if, instead of questioning the end of a relationship, you were simply to say, “I am so grateful for this experience”? What if, instead of using your head, you trusted your body? What if you accepted that there is someone so good coming for you? Someone strong and loyal and deep and interesting and powerful and soulful and dynamic and funny and full of love? Can you feel it? No, really, can you feel that that person is coming? 

 

That person is you. 

 

You are not two parts or two people. You are one whole person, you have always been one whole person, but it is just now that you are finally allowing yourself to tap into the immense power that we were all born with, the power that comes when you act from a place of self-love, self-respect and most importantly, self-trust. You are starting to rid yourself of some damaging, but comforting characteristics. Traits and coping mechanisms you have developed over years and years that have served you well short-term but that are extremely harmful to your future health and happiness. It is really fucking hard to confront these delusions.

 

So stop fighting, surrender. Surrender to your truth. Accept that unequivocally trusting yourself may not always feel good in the short-term but it will create a rich, interesting, fun, peaceful long-term. Accept that your head and your gut will not always agree. Trust your gut. Accept that you will now start to attract amazing, beautiful partners into your life. Some of these partners will go, and it’s not because they are “bad” or because you made a “mistake,” it's because at this point in time and space, your relationship was always meant to be temporary and you are simply making room for what is to come. The person that is coming, the person that is still forming, she is so proud of you. 

Love Is.

Love is. Love is. Love is. 

What is the definition of love? I'm not so sure I know what love is, so I'll start with what I know love is not. 

Love is not: wanting to be chosen. 

Love is not: always showing the best version of yourself. 

Love is not: needing or being needed. 

Love is not: unloading your trauma onto someone else and asking them to absorb it. The only person who can unburden you is you. 

Love is not easy. Love is not always hard. 

I've only just begun to allow myself to love (romantically) in a real way. What I'm finding out is that: 

Love is being honest. About who you are and not just who you are on a good day. Love is showing someone everything, all the good stuff but all the uncomfortable, messy parts too. 

Love is making decision after decision that might not feel good or fun or exciting. Love is also good and fun and exciting. 

The reason love is undefinable is because love is not a thing. Love is many courageous actions and decisions made day after day, over and over again. 

Not everyone can love in this way. It's not for everyone. But if you're reading this right now, you are probably getting closer to giving and accepting this kind of honest, brave love. 

Let it in. 

The Art of F*cking Up

I’m writing this as a follow-up to my last post, “Trusting Again.” This might not fall under the heading of “Inspirational” but I think it’s important to write about struggles and reality.

When I wrote the last post, I was so proud of myself – I had gotten to a place where I felt like I was on solid ground and I was starting to make decisions that aligned with my long-term mental and emotional well-being. I was doing it! I was actively aligning my actions with my words and reaping the benefits.

And then something shifted. I started questioning and doubting everything. I became unbearably anxious, and I started to doubt my own instincts. I could not stop the fear from seeping in.

I remembered my therapist telling me to “take in all the data as objectively as possible” and I used this as a justification for being hyper vigilant, hyper aware and flat out testing/doubting/searching for signs that people were not who they said. “It’s inevitable,” I thought, “I am going to get hurt.”

For those of you in this same stage, starting to try to trust and open your hearts again for the first time post-psychopath, this may all sound familiar. The deep betrayal and mind f*ckery that you have endured goes well beyond what most people will experience in their lifetimes. I’m not here to offer any magic solution, however I am here to tell you: be patient with yourself and, if you can, learn something from these experiences. The only way to take a f*ck up and turn it into an artful f*ck up is by learning from it. That’s all we can do. Face it, process it and move forward.

I used to think that people living seemingly amazing/joyful/fulfilling lives were born with some sort of inner “right decision” maker. I’m slowly learning that there are no “right” or “wrong” decisions, but rather healthy/healthier decisions based on what we’ve learned from the past. This is a simple sentiment and yet so very hard to put into practice. It is easier to procrastinate. It is easier to go with what feels comfortable and familiar. It is easier to give in to the fear that it (whatever it may be) is out of your hands. I gave into the voice that said, “It is going to happen again, you will be deeply deceived and betrayed, and you will not survive this time,” and the fear was so great that I became unsure of myself, of trusting that I had started to make good, healthy decisions..

Even after knowing everything I know, after building up my boundaries and trust in myself, after realizing that I didn’t need anyone to “complete” me, I am still f*cking up. I’m writing this because I imagine there are many others out there feeling this way. Wherever you are in the process, wherever you are in life, my advice is this: Be gentle with yourself. Maybe you aren't f*cking up at all. Maybe you are: learning, falling, getting up, breaking through, breaking down, expanding, changing.

Keep going.  

Trusting again

"How will you ever be able to trust anyone again?"

This is a question I get a lot. Even recently, I was being interviewed and, though I knew the question was coming, it momentarily rendered me speechless. 

It would be so easy to decide that I simply will never trust again. It would be so easy to answer that question, "I won't." Because even thinking about trusting someone new after being betrayed so deeply is terrifying. Let alone actually building that trust in the real world. 

So you can make the decision to take the easy way out. A lot of people do. But I don't think it's that simple or that easy, and I have struggled so much with this question because behind the question is fear. The same fear that led me into blindly pursuing a relationship that was contrary to my emotional well-being in every way, is the fear that whispers, "I won't. I won't ever trust anyone ever again."

Before it was the fear that I was unworthy of love that didn't cost anything. Now it is the fear that I am worthy and what it means to open myself up to that type of relationship. It would be so much easier to shut down. Or run away. It is fear masquerading as strength. 

I am going to explain why I believe you can trust again. Not only can you trust again, you will find trust and love in a deeper way than ever before. I also believe that it is imperative that you wait until you have a healthy sense of self before you engage in any type of serious romantic relationship. This means that you must understand what your boundaries are and also be actively enforcing your boundaries. 

Before my ex-psychopath, I had no idea what boundaries were - the best way I can describe them now (because it's a somewhat intangible concept) is: What are your 'deal-breakers'? The red-flag behavior that you decide you will not, under any circumstances, put up with? It can be something as concrete as, "I will walk away if I ever discover cheating." Or it can be something a little more subjective, such as, "I will walk away if I am constantly made to feel like I am second-guessing intentions or where I stand in the relationship."

It's actually incredibly difficult to resolve these boundaries and then actively enforce them. But the more you do it, the better you get at it. Enforcing them looks a little something like: You are making a choice that hurts like fucking hell short-term but that is aligned with your emotional and mental health long-term. And trust me when I say that each and every time you make these decisions, small and large, you build your self-esteem and your sense of self and it feels AMAZING. 

Now, I'm not saying that every time you enforce a boundary, it necessarily means you are avoiding a psychopath. It doesn't even necessarily mean that the person you are cutting off is a "bad" person. Being flaky, non-responsive and emotionally blocked does not a psychopath make, however, with my new set of boundaries, these people just don't pass the test of who I want to put energy into. 

The reason I'm so adamant about being clear on your boundaries and your self-worth before navigating a serious romantic relationship is because a) you will automatically stack the deck in your favor in terms of who you bring into your universe, and b) even WITH this strong foundation, I still constantly find myself questioning, doubting and projecting my past betrayal into my current reality. 

If you are willing to do this work, though, and you are willing to open yourself up to a person who does NOT present these deal-breakers and red-flags (that seems obvious, but I have a feeling I'm preaching to the choir when I reiterate that I was strongly drawn to the assholes and game-players during my first few months of dating again even knowing EVERYTHING I now know), you will find yourself being able to not only build trust with someone new, but to be vulnerable, be loved and give love in a deeper way than ever before. It will probably feel scary and foreign because it is REAL. 

Instead of taking away from the experience with your ex-psychopath that you can't trust anyone ever again, take away this: There are bad people out there, there are psychopaths and narcissists, yes that is true, but you now have finely tuned radar to weed them out of your life. You were drawn to him/her for a reason, focus on that first, grow your sense of self-worth, form your boundaries, begin to trust your intuition because goddammit it's there for a reason. And then realize that he/she is a fucking anomaly, he/she is 4% of the population, and he/she does not stand a chance against you now. 

Take as much time as you need working on yourself and remember that, for all of your strength, the beauty lies in your frailties. 

Why Did This Happen To You?

So many of you have written to me and shared your stories. A closing phrase I read time and time again is, "I can't believe this is my life." There is so much wrapped up in this one sentence. There is the fear and anxiety that you are experiencing on a moment-to-moment basis. There is a broader worry of what the future holds. And then there is that shame that we don't often speak of but that we feel deeply. The nagging question: "How did I let this happen? Why did I choose that person?" 

I have been uncovering answers to this particular question for over a year now. This is what I have learned. 

  • You let this happen because you were not loving yourself to your full and true capacity

There was a part of yourself, perhaps a large part, that believed that receiving the psychopath's love made you worthy. Somewhere along the way, you lost touch with the fundamental truth that you are worthy with or without a partner. Instead of protecting the amazing, unique, beautiful person you are, by only allowing in others who have your best interests at heart, you accepted someone who manufactured false emotions and intimacy through manipulative tactics. You felt a bit sick; there was a part of you deep down that knew something was very wrong, but you forged ahead, determined to finally validate yourself, once and for all.

Guess what? You're not alone. I would venture to guess that more people than not have self-esteem issues. You, though, have been given this incredible gift. What your ex didn't foresee is that by pulling the rug out from you (emotionally, physically, financially) you will be forced to learn to stand on your own. You will fall in love with your strength, your sadness, your light, your courage, your pain, your empathy - you will feel these qualities sharply and clearly and you will become fiercely protective of the beautiful self you have uncovered. 

  • This happened because you were meant to become more powerful than you could have ever imagined  

After you emerge from this all-consuming grief, heartbreak and despair, you will be walking away with a solid sense of self for the first-time in your adult life. You will get to know yourself very well, you will be stripped down to your most animal instincts. You will discover new truths. You will discover some of the values and notions you once held are utterly false. This experience will force you to start over, to question everything you thought you knew, to test your former beliefs. Some will stand the test. Some won't. When you emerge, though, deeply grounded in your beliefs and truth and self-worth, the power burning within you will be unlike anything you've ever experienced. 

  • This happened to align your actions with your true self

Finally, perhaps the most important answer of all to this question of "Why??" 

This happened in order for you to live a life of authenticity. You have been shown the depths of your compassion, strength and humanity. There is so much more for you out there. You've been given this incredible chance to rebuild your life on your own terms. For the first time you will be moving through life from a place of deep truth. You will begin to see through bullshit swiftly and decisively. I don't mean to say that you won't ever stumble. That is all part of the process. But day by day, you will begin to make decisions that actually match up with what you truly want and believe.                    

Welcome to your life. 

 

Divorcing the Psychopath

(I wrote this article for a fantastic website, X2X Community, that helps people navigate divorce and all that goes along with it.) 

 

Going through a divorce can be heartbreaking, frustrating and flat-out devastating. Going through a divorce with a psychopath or narcissist can be all of the above plus a whole other level of hell because you are dealing with a completely unpredictable human being who experiences zero remorse, zero empathy and has zero conscience. But it doesn’t have to be. I learned very quickly while divorcing my own psychopath that certain techniques can make all the difference.
 
You see, while a “normal” person understands the life altering ramifications of a divorce (on finances, lifestyle, his children’s lives, etc.) a psychopath only sees the divorce as one thing: a game. A game that he wants to win. Because it’s fun for him. That’s all. He doesn’t actually care about the money, the 401Ks, the kids, the properties. He only wants to win this game and/or make you miserable in the process.
 
The psychopath has an extremely limited emotional range but he is an expert at causing emotional and financial devastation. Once you can wrap your mind around this concept, that the psychopath has no true emotional investment in the process (other than to win), you can start to carefully play him at his own game.  Here are some techniques and behaviors that I learned worked first hand. 
 
Don’t engage…except to stroke his ego
What?? Stroke his ego?? The man who tried to destroy every facet of your life? The man who threw you away like yesterday’s trash? Yes, that’s correct. You’re dealing with some messed up shit when you’re dealing with a psychopath and accordingly my first piece of advice is a bit messed up.
 
I read every article I could find on divorcing psychopaths and narcissists and they all said to not engage, to not feed into drama, to let things roll off your back as much as possible, but not one gave this little tidbit of advice: once in awhile, throw him an ego bone, make him feel he’s in control. This is what he wants, to feel in control and to revel in your anguish, and so in the name of getting rid of the psychopath as quickly and painlessly as possible, give him what he wants.
 
I am talking very small scale gestures. Let me use an example from my own divorce. My psychopath and I got married and lived in New York, but when his “mask” came off and my reality crumbled, right after the birth of our daughter, I fled to Maine to be near family. I was told by my lawyer right away that if I could establish residency in Maine (i.e. live in Maine for six months), the divorce could take place in Maine which would be extremely beneficial for me and my daughter. Divorcing in NYC is a lengthy and arduous process and getting full custody of my daughter would be much more likely in a Maine court. 

My lawyer’s advice: "Keep things calm for six months...maintain the status quo." A huge challenge considering how unstable everything felt at the time and the unpredictable nature of my ex-husband. The physical distance from him was helpful and I followed the "Do not engage" as much as possible, but once in awhile, if things were too quiet on my end, his ego would flare up out of nowhere. Suddenly, I would receive a barrage of nonsensical, aggressive texts. I found that the only way to placate him was to stroke his ego in some way, such as a text that hinted at how badly I was doing, i.e. let him think he’s winning. We made it through the six months and I was able to file in Maine.
 
Document EVERYTHING
We live in a time where almost all communication is transmitted via text, email, snapchat, viber, etc. so take advantage and screenshot anything that could prove important in court. This means if you can show that his words do not match up with his actions or vice versa, screenshot it. If he blatantly lies, screenshot it. If he threatens you in any way, screenshot it. If he shows unsavory character/behavior, screenshot it. You get the point.
 
I was armed with 15 pages of printouts that clearly showed pathological lying, emotional/verbal abuse, and physical threats. Luckily, my lawyer never had to present them in court because I was granted full custody based on abandonment but the bailiff read them all and did not allow me in the courtroom with my ex (which was a huge relief).
 
Because the psychopath is extremely charming and believable in person and thrives on the drama of a courtroom, having these printouts could end up being crucial in showing the judge what your ex partner really is. Notice I said “showing” instead of “telling.” The more you can show a lack of empathy/conscience/moral character and the less you use words like “psychopath” “narcissist” or “sociopath,” the better. I was frustrated when I received this advice, but I now understand that judges hear these words thrown out by divorcing partners a lot. Sometimes it’s merited, but sometimes it’s not so let the evidence speak for itself. 
 
Be boring
This is similar to “don’t engage” but it deserves to be elaborated on because it is a crucial component to not only getting through this divorce but also to your future happiness. He will send you dramatic texts. He will provoke you out of nowhere. If he is running low on narcissist supply, he will push your emotional buttons in the hopes of stirring up some drama. He feeds on drama, rage and causing you emotional pain. You need to starve him out so that he will move on to another supply. 
This goes deeper than just not responding (except, once again, to let him think he’s in control once in awhile). This means be boring in all facets of life for the time being. Do not post on social media, do not fraternize or gossip with mutual friends. Tell your close friends and family also to be boring and not engage him in anyway. 

Yes, I know this advice sucks and it’s not right considering everything he’s already put you through, but you are dealing with a freaking psychopath. He is unpredictable and he will never react in the way you expect (i.e. the way you expect a normal human being with emotions to react).
 
During this time period, find your support system of family and close friends and lean on them. Get a lawyer who understands and/or has dealt with these disordered individuals. 
 
Most importantly, breathe in and out and know that you will get through this and you will find happiness, unlike the psychopath who never will.

 

Dating Post-Psychopath (and what I've learned so far)

This is a scary post to write. Scary because I am about to share a lot of the “inner work” I had to do (and am still doing every day) after my relationship with my ex-psychopath. I want to preface this by saying that under no circumstances are you to “blame” for getting involved with a psychopath/sociopath or narcissist (these people are extremely good at conning and extremely manipulative and often prey on highly empathetic individuals), but I still believe that building boundaries and self-esteem is a necessary component in making sure these people are never allowed in again.

 

I’ve written previously that the year I spent really deep in grief and despair and darkness ended up being extremely transformative. It forced me to shred everything I thought I knew and rebuild a new self piece by piece. It was like being reborn…but as a 30-year-old woman.

 

But I also think it’s important to say that it wasn’t like an “Aha!” moment. I didn’t wake up one morning flooded with self-confidence and yell out, “I’m never looking back!” I am still learning and rebuilding every day and I still have really, really dark moments. 

 

I stumbled quite a bit. Specifically, when I decided to start dating about a year post-psychopath. I was not ready to actually be dating in any real way but I was desperate to feel like a human being again. I even remember fretting to my therapist, “I used to feel pretty good about what I brought to the table, but who is going to want a single mom living at home with her parents?” I was so surprised at her response. She broke out in a huge smile and said, “I am looking at a beautiful, smart young woman sitting across from me. When it clicks for you, when you see what I see, you won’t have to do a thing and you will have your choice of anyone you want.”

 

I heard her words at the time but I did not believe her. Now I understand what she meant. She didn’t mean I can now snap my fingers and have Jon Snow appear at my doorstep. She meant that when you have firm boundaries for how you will and will not be treated and you genuinely like yourself, you immediately delete a huge portion of people from your dating pool. Seems counterintuitive, right? Isn’t deleting people the opposite of what you want to do?! Let me explain by example.

 

A year post-psychopath, I downloaded a dating app and starting going on dates. It was fun, it was a distraction and it was the first time I’d been single in the age of dating apps (which makes dating into a video game basically). But I wasn’t really ready to be dating. I had grown, I had changed, I had done a ton of research on psychopathy, but I didn’t truly see that woman yet that my therapist saw. I was getting there, but I wasn’t there yet.

 

I wasn’t looking for anything serious, obviously, but I still found myself drawn to the jerks, the emotionally unavailable, the players. The person I ended up dating for the “longest” was not a psychopath, but a completely emotionally blocked Mr. Big type. He fed me crumbs and I gobbled them up, hungry for validation from someone who could not give it.  

 

When I first threw myself back into the dating game, I was still on shaky ground, looking for validation from someone else, convinced that if I got it from an “unavailable” man, it meant I was special. I did not truly love myself and so could not allow genuine, kind men in because I was looking for someone who couldn’t love me in the way I deserved.

 

Even with all the power I had found and all the writing I had done, it wasn’t until very recently that my actions actually started lining up with everything I knew intellectually.  Once you have clear boundaries and genuine love and respect for yourself, you naturally will weed out the scum and start to attract what you truly deserve.

 

When you get to the point that you don’t need another person, you will feel it and you will know it, and it is only then (ironically) that you are ready. 

When You Feel Broken

This will be a shorter post as there is something very simple, but important that I’d like to say.

 

There were so many months, days, hours, minutes when I felt broken. Like something had actually broken inside of me. Like I was forever changed. Forever broken, missing a piece because of what had happened. It was an emptiness I had never felt before. I was convinced that I had poured so much of myself into my husband, that when he disappeared (figuratively), so did that part of myself.

 

I was like a robot for months with my daughter. Every now and then, I would think, “Thank god, she’s a baby and doesn’t know anything,” or, “Thank god for my parents.” But mostly I was on autopilot, just trying to make it from morning to night, morning to night, morning to night.

 

I thought a few times in a simple way, “Please let me die.” The emptiness, the all-consuming ache was just too much. I did not feel like a full person anymore. If I had lost such a vital part of myself when I lost my husband, then I would rather not be alive. Of course, having a newborn gave me a reason to go on, but at the time, it seemed like a shitty, horrific, cruel joke of a reason.

 

Writing this, I can feel that physical ache again. It’s been such a long time since I’ve felt it and yet I have a lump in my throat right now.

 

For those of you who are in the beginning stages of this broken-ness, I am writing for you. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but what is actually happening is this: You are rebuilding yourself. All the light and love that you were born with and that somehow got flattened or dimmed is still there within you and it is only now that you will be able to access it again. I know it feels impossible, but it is true.

 

You will question everything and everyone. You will be in so much pain; you will have panic attacks. You will start to have epiphanies and feel euphoric, as if your new life is just waiting around the corner. And then you will be thrown back into the pain when you least expect it. Over and over. Again and again. This kind of change is hard and it is physically draining. But little by little you will rebuild yourself. And this time, it will be based on what you know to be true, not what society or your parents or your friends tell you.

 

You gave yourself away, yes, but now you will take yourself back.

 

If you can’t go there yet, if you can’t imagine that this will come to pass, then, for now, just take a breath, take my word for it and hang on.  

Will I Ever Get Closure?

I received this question from a man who is in the beginning stages of the “fall out” of a relationship with a woman who seems to be somewhere on the psychopathy spectrum. The question kind of jolted me because I remember wanting so, so badly for that sense of closure. I wanted a heartfelt, genuine display of remorse. I remember sitting beside my mom on the couch, staring vacantly ahead, my voice coming out in a whisper, “I just want an apology.”

 

This was months and months after horrific upon horrific discovery and at this point, I was almost numb to what my ex-husband had actually done. Intellectually, although I understood what he was and that he lacked empathy and a conscience, I still found myself longing for an apology. The gravity of what he had done was so enormous that an “I’m sorry” would have been meaningless, but still I wanted it with every fiber of my being.

 

I mention this because I want to emphasize that there was a long period of time when I understood on a clinical level what my ex-husband was and what it meant (see psychopathy checklist), but my heart and mind could not get on the same page (see cognitive dissonance).

 

So the question “Will I ever get closure” is one that hits very close to home. And to the gentleman who asked, I will tell you that the answer is yes. And no.

 

No, you will never get a genuine apology from someone on the psychopathy spectrum. No, she will never wake up in a cold sweat realizing what she did and how she hurt you (and many, many others). No, she will never fall to the floor in a heap upon realizing what she lost. A person who truly lacks empathy will never, EVER feel even a smidgeon of what you feel.

 

 It IS possible that she will give a half apology at some point, or seemingly “confess” her bad deeds. If a psychopath ever does this, it is because it is in some way self-serving. It has nothing to do with you. Nothing.

 

Or the psychopath may apologize/confess precisely to keep you in a confused state of agony even longer. I remember at one point my ex-psychopath texted me finally, after months and months of me begging for the truth and him adamantly denying his affair (and this was after he was basically caught in the act), that “it” had happened at his work, but long after I had fled with our newborn baby. He hinted that “it” in fact had happened only because I (and both our families) pushed them together with our “suspicions.” Now, in hindsight, I see that this is such a prime example of a psychopath using even a confession of “truth” as a tool of manipulation.

 

If the psychopath gives this type of half-apology or half-confession, it does not mean he/she has magically been implanted with a conscience. It means only that he is gaining something from the apology/confession. Whether it be the ego-fuel from your reaction or the satisfaction of knowing he’s further tormenting you with his “confession,” this display is absolutely unrelated to him having any genuine feelings of remorse. Because if you are dealing with someone on the psychopathy spectrum, that is. Just. Not. Possible.      Ever.

 

After I tearily told my parents that my ex had finally confessed and that I was, actually, in part to blame for his affair, my dad very succinctly laid out the reality of the situation. He went through everything that had happened, everything we had learned that made the confession impossible. Finally, my dad looked me in the eye and said, “He is now trying to trick you with a very distorted version of what really happened. And he is enjoying it immensely.”

 

So, no. You will never get closure via the psychopath’s words/actions. You will however find a deeper closure than you could ever get from him/her once you truly understand 1) What this person really is (a black void, a skin suit with no soul) and 2) that this is the best thing that ever happened to you because you are now finding the person you were always meant to be. I know this sounds frustratingly abstract, but this person came into your life for a reason. I hate hate hate when someone glazes over months of pain and trauma with a pat on the back and a “But I bet you never knew how strong you were, huh?” But hear me now, this is a fucking test and you are passing. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or how many times you fall down or how many times a day you think, “WHAT THE FUCK is my life right now??”

If you are reading this now, you are at the beginning of finding out who you really are. So, “Will I ever get closure?” Yes, you will and in the process of finding closure, you will find so, so much more.  

On Anxiety

There is a special type of anxiety that you will experience during and after breaking the psychopathic bond. Perhaps "special" isn't the right word. More like hellish, want-to-rip-through-your-skin-and-leave-your-body-behind type of anxiety.

A year and a half ago I was in the depths of this anxiety. I had never been an anxious person before; I was always a happy-go-lucky, optimistic, everything-is-gonna-work-out type person. And then I found out my husband was not the person I thought he was, and for about a year, with the first six or so months being the worst, I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of unspecified anxiety and panic on a day-to-day basis. More like an hour-to-hour basis to be honest.

Some good news: now, a year and a half later, I very rarely experience this type of drowning-in-my-own-body type of anxiety. I went from having to take medication so that I could function to take care of my newborn baby, to the waves of panic gradually lessening to the point that now, when I rarely get anxious, it is much more specific and circumstance-based. That is just to keep in mind if you are currently in the thick of it; "this too shall pass." I promise. 

But what is this anxiety? Where is it coming from and why? I found that the more I could understand what I was going through, the more I was able to eventually (like months and months later after doing a lot of inner "work" - which by the way I am still doing every day) let it go. Let. It. Go. Because, really, that's what this whole process is about, letting go of an idea, a fantasy, someone who never really existed. 

Which brings me to: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the root of this specific type of unspecified anxiety (sounds confusing but let me explain). Cognitive dissonance is defined as: "the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas, or values, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values."

This article explains why cognitive dissonance always occurs during/after the discard phase of the psychopathic relationship: 

"At some point...the evidence of a highly disturbed personality shows through, especially once the psychopath is no longer invested in a given victim and thus no longer makes a significant effort to keep his mask on...The floodgates of reality suddenly burst open and a whole slew of inconsistencies, downright lies, manipulations, criticism and emotional abuse flows through to the surface of our consciousness.

However, even then it’s difficult to absorb such painful information all at once. Our heart still yearns for what we have been persuaded, during the luring phase, was our one true love. Our minds are still filled with memories of the so-called good times with the psychopath. Yet, the truth about the infidelities, the constant deception, the manipulation and the backstabbing can no longer be denied. We can’t undo everything we learned about the psychopath; we cannot return to the point of original innocence, of total blindness. The result is a contradictory experience: a kind of internal battle between clinging to denial and accepting the truth."

Sound familiar? For months I held two very different realities in my mind: 

1) the person I loved for 5 years and had a baby with, my best friend, my crutch, my heart, the sweetest, most loving man, 2) is actively trying to destroy me.

Number 1 and number 2 were both true in my mind for many months and they collided and crashed into each other on an hourly basis because they couldn't both, actually, be true. But I couldn't give up one for the other, at least not for months and months. These two beliefs, these two realities, swimming around in my mind, manifested physically as overwhelming anxiety and panic attacks. 

Knowing this didn't make the anxiety go away. But it did give me something to hold onto. For me, understanding what was happening on a psychological level was an important part of the process. Perhaps because, in a situation where nothing felt in my control, being able to sort through everything on a clinical/psychological level grounded me the tiniest bit. 

Eventually I was able to accept the second reality. When I finally really, truly understood what a psychopath is, I laid that first reality (and my ex-husband) to rest and that's when the anxiety also faded. When you finally truly accept and understand that your partner was and is a black void of a human being, his power over you dissipates completely. You will get there, and when you do, you will be free.   

The "difference" between a sociopath and a psychopath (and why "difference" is in quotes)

If you’re confused about the difference between the terms “sociopath” and “psychopath,” you’re not alone. Even folks within the psychiatric community have come to various and sometimes conflicting conclusions when discussing the differences between a sociopath and a psychopath. And then there are many who use the terms interchangeably. The most conclusive article I could find on differentiating between the two is this article on Psychology Today. The author sums up the supposed main differences in these two paragraphs:

 

“Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage. They are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long. It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. Many sociopaths are able to form an attachment to a particular individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general or its rules. In the eyes of others, sociopaths will appear to be very disturbed. Any crimes committed by a sociopath, including murder, will tend to be haphazard, disorganized and spontaneous rather than planned.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature.”

 

Personally, this differentiation makes me very nervous. It seems to be saying that a sociopath is a mentally ill/disturbed individual but that he can, in fact, form attachments with other people. This doesn’t sit well with me for a number of reasons. Primarily, I don’t like equating the term “sociopath” with mental illness or a “disturbed” individual. I realize that people like this do absolutely exist – mentally ill individuals that “go off” and commit haphazard, spontaneous crimes. But I strongly disagree that the term “sociopath” is fitting of these types of people.

 

I find it extremely implausible that there are two types of people who feel no empathy and have no conscience, but that one of them can be categorized as “disturbed," “nervous and easily agitated,” and the other as stone-cold manipulators who know exactly what they’re doing (more or less the second paragraph which defines a “psychopath”). For that reason, I tend to be in the camp of people who use the terms interchangeably. Or, if the psychiatric community is going to insist on differentiating between the two terms in this specific way, then I would always use the term “psychopath” when talking about someone who does not feel empathy and fits the majority of traits on the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised.

 

There is another popular belief that a psychopath is by definition a violent offender. I also strongly disagree with this. It is my belief that anyone on the psychopathy spectrum could commit violence without any feelings of guilt or remorse, but many psychopathic individuals just don't have the "taste" for violence and prefer to inflict emotional pain. In other words, many psychopaths may not be "bloodthirsty" per se, but still enjoy, and get off on, the destruction of others' lives. In this article in The New Yorker, the author sums it up quite nicely while interviewing Robert Hare (a leading expert on psychopathy):  "Hare rejects the notion that a distinction ought to be made between a violent psychopath, like Ted Bundy, and a nonviolent one who commits financial crimes. Both, he said, are willing to do whatever it takes. He [Hare] went on, 'Can you say Ted Bundy caused more disaster than the guys at Enron? How many destroyed lives and suicides followed as a result of so many people losing their savings?'"

 

I’ll go out on a limb here and assume that the majority of you reading right now, who have come into contact with a “sociopath/psychopath” probably identify much more with the second paragraph about psychopaths (charming as hell? Check. Absolutely did not suspect his true nature? Check. Appeared Normal? Appeared sweet and loving? Appeared as the goddamn perfect man? Check check check.)

In conclusion, I will probably use the word “psychopath” more frequently than the word “sociopath” on this blog, but if I do use the term “sociopath” I am referring to someone with no empathy, no conscience, and absolutely no moral compass – not a mentally ill or disturbed individual who doesn’t quite understand what he/she’s doing but acts out in the heat of the moment. 

What is she thinking??

For months I obsessively tried to figure out what on earth the “other woman” was thinking – the one my ex-husband began an affair with as soon as our daughter was born. How could someone want to be with a married man with a newborn baby? Even if he was lying to her, didn’t the fact that he was also obviously lying to me make her think twice? Didn’t she take issue with a man who would abandon his wife and newborn baby? These questions circled around and around in my head. I couldn’t bear to try to get inside the mind of the real perpetrator, my ex-husband, so instead I obsessed about her.

 

Flash forward to today, more than a year later. I almost never think of this person anymore and I’m going to let you in on the exact “light-bulb” moment that freed me from these never-ending questions.

 

It was a few months after everything went down and I was still deep in my grief. I had spent the day obsessively picking at this “What the hell is wrong with her?” wound. That night, as I was falling asleep, a crystal clear voice inside my head said very matter of factly: “She could have been anyone.” She could have been anyone insecure enough to crave validation from an outside source. She could have been anyone that would fall for a line as simple as, “Look what I’m giving up for you.” She could have been anyone with so little self-love as to let herself be treated in such a fundamentally disrespectful way.

 

Do you think anyone with a goddamn shred of self-love, self-respect, or self-worth would be involved with a man already in a “committed” relationship, let alone a married man with children or a newborn baby? Read that sentence again and again until it sinks in. And I write this having been “the other woman” at the very beginning of my relationship with my ex-husband. We were both dating other people when we met. I broke up with my boyfriend immediately and he stayed with his girlfriend for a month. I believed at the time that if he “chose” me then that meant I was special. That I would be validated. That the sick feeling in my stomach was worth it because we were so in love. Now it gives me the absolute shivers to think about being involved with a “taken” man. But, back then, when I was 24, I did not understand/truly grasp that I was already “whole.” I was looking to someone else to validate me, to fill in the gaps and holes that I believed were missing.

 

Psychopaths target people who are extremely empathetic but who also lack self-esteem in a fundamental way. People who don’t have healthy boundaries. A person with healthy boundaries and a healthy sense of self would be gone, out, peace as soon as any of the psychopathic red flags appeared. On the one hand, it’s difficult to admit to needing to work on yourself because it’s scary as hell to turn inward. Trust me, I know. On the other hand, how great and amazing is it that once you come out on the “other side” of this, you will know who you are, you will fall in love with yourself, and you will have a deep-rooted sense of power for the rest of your days.

 

So the next time your thoughts turn to the other woman, remember, she could have been anyone, but she sure as hell will never be you again. 

Is he/she a psychopath? (first post)

This will be my first post on how to determine if someone is a psychopath. Please keep in mind that there are therapists, psychologists, PhD's who have dedicated many years to studying psychopathy and still have trouble, when it comes down to it, "diagnosing" a psychopath. In fact, many of these professionals admit that some psychopaths are such skilled and practiced manipulators that they can "trick" their therapist. In John Seabrook's fascinating article about psychopathy, he writes, "several studies suggested that talk therapy made the condition worse, by enabling psychopaths to practice the art of manipulation." 

I do not use the term "psychopath" lightly. This is not a term I throw out for all cheating men and women. If that were the case then, according to some studies, about 70% of people would be psychopaths. That is not true, thankfully. It is more like 1 in 25, or .04% of the population. 

I spent about a year reading everything I could find on psychopathy. If you're reading this blog, you are probably aware that a very small percentage of psychopaths are actually murderers, or even behind bars. The word "psychopath" is visceral and jarring but what it actually means is an individual who has no conscience and no empathy. There are other traits on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), but, in my opinion, those two are the most significant. I'll add a third that is not on the checklist but that I've found to be a very good indication of "diagnosing" a psychopath: if he "gets off" on hurting/conning/cheating others; that is to say, he is energized by inflicting pain. And by "hurting" and "pain" I do not mean in a physical sense (though some psychopaths are violent, the majority hurt their victims in a much more subtle way). 

The problem is, it's difficult to determine if the psychopath is a psychopath because a true psychopath is an extremely good actor. So how can you tell if he's "getting off" on the pain he's causing? If his actions are repeatedly in direct conflict with his words. If he consistently appeals to your empathy and guilt in order to win forgiveness, portraying himself as a victim, and then continues to behave badly. The technical term for this is the "pity play," and Martha Stout, author of "The Sociopath Next Door," says that it's her number 1 trait that she uses in diagnosing a sociopath. Dr. Stout writes, “If…you find yourself often pitying someone who consistently hurts you or other people, and who actively campaigns for your sympathy, the chances are close to 100 percent that you are dealing with a sociopath.” (By the way, I will dedicate a post to the "difference" between "sociopath" and "psychopath.")

Ok that's enough to mull over for now. We'll dive into some of the other "red flags" in my next post about determining whether someone is a psychopath. 

 

How To Talk About "Bad" Men...Exactly

A lot of women (and some men!) have written me asking exactly what to say to their children about a “bad” parent. First, let’s define “bad.” I wholeheartedly believe that, no matter the reason for the demise of the parent’s relationship, both parents focus should be on fostering a healthy relationship between each parent and the child. Except in the case where one of the biological parents is a sociopath, psychopath or narcissist. This seems to be a relatively new concept for people yet these types of disordered people have always existed. And many of them are great at procreating, but not so much at the part that comes after: being a parent. 

If you're wondering if your partner is on the psychopathy spectrum, read more here. 

If you're certain that your partner/ex-partner is a psychopath or narcissist, let's talk about the question of "What do you say to your child? Specifically?" I thought I'd throw out some of the phrases that I've come up with to give you an idea of what might be a gentle, age-appropriate way to talk to kids about this. 

"Your father can't make good decisions." 

"Your father has a lot of trouble putting other people before himself." 

"Your father doesn't love the same way other people love. And that's why you have me and so and so (family, friends) who love you so much." 

Be truthful but keep it as simple as possible. I have a very good friend who's father, I believe, is on the psychopathy spectrum. She was never told that her father was disordered and so she spent her entire childhood (and most of her adulthood so far) vying for his attention, begging for his love, never feeling good enough and never knowing what to expect. She is a smart, funny, beautiful, loving young woman. She has a huge hole in her self-esteem, identity and self-worth because she grew up believing that it was her that was not good enough for him

I don't have all the answers and maybe there's no way around a child feeling wounded by having a biological parent who can't love her, but I'm going to damn well try to explain to my daughter that it is not her, that her father was born with a personality disorder, that she was created in love before her mom figured out who her father really was, and that she is not her father. Or her mother. She's her own person. And a beautiful person at that.