After the sociopath, learning to trust again
Monday, 8 December 2008 @ 5:46am •
A Lovefraud reader posted the following comment awhile back:
I just have one question for everyone here. Does anyone trust people after these sick people did what they did to us? Unfortunately for me … I have run across a few of these sickos but NONE like my ex. Whoever I meet now I’m thinking to myself, who is this person really? Do they have a secret life like the Scott Petersons and Ted Bundys of this world? I don’t let my children out of my sight and I’m already training my kids and they all know the signs of a sociopath especially my girls. I feel like I’m in a prison sometimes in my mind as I try so hard but just can’t trust anyone.
Yes, it is possible to trust again. Remember, sociopaths account for 1% to 4% of the population, depending on how the personality disorder is defined. Let’s bump the number of disordered people up to 10% to account for those who have sociopathic traits, but maybe not the full disorder.
That still means that 90% of the population are not sociopaths, and may be deserving of our trust.
So how can we feel trust again? How do we determine whom to trust? I think there are four components to being able to feel trust, and deciding who deserves to be trusted.
1. Educate ourselves
One of the statements I’ve heard over and over again, through e-mails and phone calls from victims, is this: “I didn’t know such evil existed.” Well, now we know.
We’ve all learned, mostly the hard way, about sociopaths. Now that we know they exist, we need to educate ourselves about the warning signs, the patterns of behavior that may indicate someone is disordered. Lies, irresponsibility, vague answers to questions, no long-term friends, new in town, magnetic charm, lavish flattery, statements that don’t add up, flashes of violence—if we start seeing the signs, we need to put up our guard.
2. Believe our own instincts
Just about everyone who was victimized by a sociopath had early warning signs—a gut feeling that something wasn’t right, an instinctive revulsion, questions about what was seen or heard. Unfortunately, we ignored the signals.
We didn’t believe the signals for three reasons:
We didn’t have the empirical knowledge that evil exists (see above), so we didn’t know how interpret them.
We viewed ourselves as open-minded individuals, and believed that everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.
We allowed the sociopath to explain away our questions and doubts.
Never again. We should never doubt our instincts. In fact, we should train ourselves to pay attention to our instincts. Our intuition is absolutely the best tool we have for steering clear of sociopaths.
3. Make people earn our trust
I had a blind spot. I am a forthright, trustworthy person. I would never think of lying to someone. Unfortunately, I thought everyone else was like me. Big mistake. My younger brother’s life philosophy is probably more useful. His rule of thumb: “Everyone is an a**hole until proven otherwise.”
The point is that we should not give our trust away indiscriminately. People must earn our trust by consistent, reliable and truthful behavior.
Important caveat: Sociopaths often appear to be trustworthy, dependable and honest in the beginning, while they’re trying to hook us. So if the good behavior slips, and bad behavior starts to appear, we must recognize the change as a big red flag.
4. Process our pain
I think the biggest roadblock to being able to trust again is our own pain. After an encounter with a sociopath, we’ve been deceived, betrayed, injured, emotionally crushed. We are angry and bitter, and rightfully so. But if we want to move on, we can’t keep carrying the pain around.
To get rid of the pain, we must allow ourselves to feel it.
I recommend that, either privately or with the guidance of a good therapist, we let the tears and curses flow. Expressing the pain physically, without hurting yourself or others, also helps. My favorite technique was pounding pillows with my fists. You may want to stomp your feet, twist towels or chop wood.
For more on this, read Releasing the pain inflicted by a sociopath.
Trust and love
It is important to be able to trust again. Doubting and disbelieving everyone we meet is a dismal way to live. If we cannot recover our trust in humanity, the sociopath who plagued us will have truly won.
The difference is that after the sociopath, we must practice informed trust. We know the red flags of a sociopath, and in evaluating a person, we don’t see them. Our intuition is giving us the green light. The person has proven, and continues to prove, to be trustworthy. These are the intellectual aspects of trust.
By doing the work of exorcising our pain, we clear away the roadblocks to feeling trust emotionally. It’s crucial to be able to feel trust, because that’s what paves the way for love.