When my therapist first handed me a packet about psychopathy, I couldn’t understand why in the world that was relevant; the only exposure I’d had to the concept of ‘the psychopath’ was through Dateline specials about horrific crimes committed by those who seemed more like aliens than people. Even as I began reading, denial and rationalization remained strong enough I couldn’t acknowledge the person in my life indeed walked and quacked like a psychopathic duck.
But then Randall finally went one step too far. I can remember the exact day…the exact hour I at long last believed my therapist was correct. Answering the phone with him had devolved into a game of roulette; it was anybody’s guess whether he’d be loving and friendly or violent and abusive. That morning he was violent and abusive, ultimately cracking his voice while screaming that he would kill me and kill my family…because I had “made a fool of him” and had “ruined” his life.
By some fateful coincidence my mother chose that moment to walk into my room, and instead of trying to hide the insanity (as was my habit with Randall’s more outrageous behavior) I pressed the speakerphone button. We listened silently as he called me derogatory names while vowing he’d send someone to break into our home, steal all the valuables, and shoot us.
Having a witness meant I couldn’t rationalize any longer, and later when he sent me an indignation-lined email about my “fabrications” of him threatening me, my mother’s voice was there to silence the inner voice of doubt he’d planted in my mind.
All the articles, blogs, and pamphlets I’d been directed towards suddenly made sense; I didn’t recognize terms like “love bombing” or “trauma bonds”…but I recognized the signs and symptoms that went with them, because I’d been living it.
Both relief and denial greeted me. Relief that there might actually be an explanation for everything…but denial too, because it was overwhelming and a bit surreal; the idea that I loved one of these cold, vampiric predators textbooks declare to be ‘evil’. This was the person I had slept beside. Shared my most intimate secrets with. Was it possible?
Acceptance was vital to me beginning the healing and recovery process, but it was also incredibly difficult and painful. Acceptance yanked me out of the safety of denial and rationalization. Acceptance ended all pretending that his fits of rage or anger were ok. Acceptance meant acknowledging his chronic infidelities openly, and no longer denying his pattern of using and discarding those around him once they lost their ‘use’.
But most of all, acceptance meant no longer pretending somehow that he was the good person I’d always believed him to be. He wasn’t the damaged but beautiful soul needing love as he moved on from a difficult past. That man had never existed in the first place.
I recalled his insistence that every girlfriend he’d ever had came with a “crazy-ass mom”, but now I wondered if it was more likely that none of the mothers had liked him because they’d seen what my own parents had seen: a predator.
I remembered how often he swore he was a man of his word; that his word meant more than anything. Yet in reality he’d broken almost every promise he’d ever made to me, through infidelities, lying, and failing to respect just about every boundary I’d ever tried to set. And truth was he’d probably never been faithful; he’d dropped a few stories about times he’d partied hard, blacked out, and woken up naked next to women other than his girlfriend.
He claimed to be “a relationship guy”; but I had to accept that was a lie too. He maybe wanted a woman at home for stability, money, and support…but then he also constantly surrounded himself with others to pursue and chase and dally with.
I couldn’t ignore the patterns or the signs any more. It was like everything I read only further confirmed the truth; and I really didn’t want it to. I was searching for any sign that it was incorrect…but there were none.
He’d been the most wonderful man in the beginning…made me feel like a goddess. Like I could touch the moon and stars so long as he was with me. (“Love Bombing”…the psychopath’s way of creating a strong bond.)
And then suddenly he wasn’t. Instead he got angry a lot, and overnight the things he’d always appreciated about me irritated him. Instead of being compassionate, I was too emotional. Instead of being a risk taker with work and with life, I was incompetent at certain aspects of life because not everything I did worked out.
The list grew and grew. I wasn’t as attractive as other women…I wasn’t as diplomatic as some…wasn’t as witty………the comments started to add up; comments he’d insist were just him being ‘honest’, but actually were cutting and cruel.
It was gradual. I bought into his narrative that I was too sensitive, berating myself over it; slowly releasing all sense of boundaries and self worth.
In hindsight I could see it all…but in the moment? No. Instead I’d allowed myself to be repainted in the image he described: of an insecure, strange, unloveable woman who was a failure at everything she did and was just lucky to have him in her life.
He underlined that image by always flaunting his flirtations with other women; talking vividly about their attractiveness like I wasn’t even there, and arousing understandably jealousies and insecurities…and then criticizing me for it. (Triangulation, it’s called. A tool intended to keep you on your toes, never feeling “safe” in your relationship.)
I recognized his pattern of using and discarding others; recalling those he’d brought into ‘the fold’, interacting with them daily, telling all how much he liked them…until suddenly they did something he didn’t like, or wore out their usefulness…and then he couldn’t get rid of them fast enough. Worse, he’d go out of his way to eject them from the inner circle and smeared their reputation to others. Where once they were his best friend, or a troubled young woman needing help, or a decent kid just needing a shot…suddenly they were stupid, or predatory, or incompetent, or slutty, or any number of highly negative things.
And then of course there was his temper. The one I’d rationalized as understandable for being just out of prison when I’d first met him. Except it never seemed to get better…it only got worse. The aggressive posturing. The yelling. The name-calling. The way he’d ignore boundaries I set at every turn. Violently punching things. Shattering a stereo into the floor. Throwing a drink on me. Horrific road rage to the point where he once punched the steering wheel hard enough to fracture a knuckle.
He always insisted it was okay, because after all, he’d never hit me; he was “just angry sometimes”. He’d even act almost embarassed by or frustrated with his own actions sometimes. And so I bought it…even though I knew better, and deep in my heart I was frightened, particularly as the aggression escalated. He went from vowing he’d never hit a woman to actually hitting a young woman on the head. Twice. Right in front of me. Another time he shoved a girl in his way hard enough she stumbled into a doorstop and cut a gash across her forehead.
He was outraged by the strangest things. Once he was arrested for driving recklessly and being hostile with a neighbor (he was drunk), and then was furious with me because I wasn’t posting bail fast enough (even though he knew full well police move as fast as they move, and I’d been sitting at the jail for hours with money ready the very moment they were ready to take it). He was so cruel, and all he could offer later was a short, laughing apology.
And then there was the issue of his ex-girlfriend Blanche; the one he’d carried on an affair with before. Who he continued to speak to on a daily basis. Who flew out to spend a weekend with him while giving me the story that he was camping with a guy friend. I was eventually told by others that he’d been telling everyone his ultimate plan involved taking my money once it was made, and then go back to her.
Yet when I’d try and confront him about how uncomfortable their relationship made me – how I didn’t trust it – he’d shame me and call me foolish, stupid, and insecure.
Looking back I saw how my behavior and personality had changed to fall in line with how he acted; changing in ways that were so in line with what I was reading it left me floored.
I’d started walking on eggshells with him constantly. I wasn’t a bad communicator as he always insisted…I was just left stammering around him because he’d talk over me or get angry and I’d shut down. I felt insecure and miserable because he was always engaging with other women, not because I was ‘stupid’ or ‘delusional’…and was more withdrawn because of it all too, not because I was just a depressed or pessimistic person by nature. I started telling lies to try and avoid making him angry, and the lies grew more elaborate as time went on; but not because I’m a liar, rather I was afraid and trying to self-protect.
And then there was his behavior in the end; blaming me for all his horrific behavior. Insisting I was the one with problems. Turning every mutual acquaintance of ours against me, convincing them I was crazy while he was a saint; justifying his promiscuity as him trying to escape MY crazy world. Rewriting history and insisting MY memory was bad, while his was perfect. (That is the final stage with a psychopath…the Discard…when they resolve to throw you away.)
It was all falling into place for me to see. I couldn’t deny it any more. I had to let the acceptance wash over me. And with that acceptance came the pain.
There was Embarrassment: Of course I didn’t want to admit to myself I’d been ‘duped’, let alone admit it to anyone else. So many others in my life – friends and family – were insisting they’d seen he was trouble from day one, had never liked him, had always been suspicious or concerned. Pride struggled with the idea that everyone else had seen what I could not.
There was Guilt: Reading about psychopaths, and the danger and havoc and destruction they bring into the lives of those around them, I felt guilt for bringing someone so evil into the lives of my loved ones. Hating how I’d put his wellbeing above my most cherished family and friends; propping him up and giving in to his needs and demands for so long.
There was Shame: It trickled in slowly at first, then rapidly the more I talked about what had happened. Talking about it – something I’d not done before – meant sliding every last dark, sordid detail into the the light where it couldn’t be minimized or explained away.
There was Anger: He had used me. He had abused me. He had drained me dry. He’d committed felonies with some of his actions, and I’d carried his secrets believing that’s what I was supposed to do for the man I loved. And then at the very end, as thanks he smeared my reputation to the point where his friends and family believed ME to be the crazy compulsive lying psychopath. I was receiving spiteful messages telling me I ‘deserved to rot in the ground’ from his friends. And so I was angry at this man who took everything; destroying my trust, drainining my bank account, disrespecting me…and still convinced others that I was the problem, not him.
But then…after all that…came the relief. An enormous sense of relief. Because at least I now understood what had been happening. And understanding is what sets us free and enables us to heal. Since that first hour, it’s been a journey. But as the saying goes, the thousand mile journey had to begin with a first step. And I can honestly say the first step was the hardest. It does get better from there.
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. To learn more about her, or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.
**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities