When you break free from sociopathic abuse, you can expect to go through an exceedingly challenging season. Chances are, you were cast aside as effortlessly and emotionlessly as one might discard a seashell on the beach. You’ve been lied to, cheated, manipulated, gaslighted, and systematically torn down. Simply put, you’ve been USED. You’ve been “supply” for a narcissistic sociopath.
Your situation is probably even more convoluted because those around you still love and believe the sociopath, not you. You may have become ostracized in your family or social group. You may be told that it’s you that has the problem, you’ve had it all along, the sociopath was trying to help you. Others will simply refuse to discuss your situation and will act like absolutely nothing is wrong.
Suddenly, you’re left all alone, and it feels like someone just hit your soul like it was a mirror. Shards flew everywhere. Only a few of them reflect reality now (hat is reality, anyway?) You’re not even sure you can find all the pieces, much less make that glass whole again.
Beloved, I am here to tell you that you can be whole again. You can be free. You can learn to trust yourself and trust other people again. You can become so whole, you’ll never be abused in this way again. And you can do it without becoming an apath (emotionless) or a sociopath yourself.
I don’t believe that these steps below are something that should be undertaken in order, but rather “all at once”. Don’t do one without the other.
#1 – Find someone that you can trust.
This could be a spouse, friend, pastor or church leader, counselor, etc. Yes, it’s hard to trust after what you’ve suffered – but make a conscious decision, and do it. There is someone around you who sees that you are hurting, and genuinely wants to help. This can be difficult to do within your own social context because most people in that social group are part of the life of the sociopath already. Don’t hesitate to consult a professional.
You will want to confine your discussion of the sociopath to this one person, at least at first, especially if you have remained in a family or social group with the NS. There’s no sense in starting a war of words and emotion and pain against a sociopath. They’ll enjoy all the drama, and they’ll win.
#2 – Begin writing things down.
I was very fortunate to have a series of texts and emails spanning years with the sociopath in my life. Once everything unraveled I could look back and see the effects of gaslighting and deliberate manipulation upon my soul. Even if you don’t have communication with your abuser in writing, you’ve probably got it with other key people in your life, be they non-supply, support supply, detractors or people who just pretend nothing is going on.
Writing is therapeutic and easy to look back upon when you have a “moment”. It helps you with step #3. It helps you on those dark nights when you feel like you’re about to lose it. It helps you to become more grounded; things in writing have a level of “concrete” to them that thoughts do not. In some cases, your writing may help with civil or criminal court proceedings against your abuser.
Writing is deliberate. Write, and read. Read, and write.
#3 – Learn how to play “real or not real” for REAL, and get really comfortable with the process.
I coined this term after reading Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins). Peeta was kidnapped by the Capitol, tortured, gaslighted to an extreme, and then turned loose to kill Katniss. After serious intervention, Peeta begins to glimpse that perhaps not everything is as his mind currently believes. He has memories that he’s not sure are real or false, so he tells Katniss the memory and asks, “real or not real?” over and over again until he has things sorted out in his own mind.
As survivors of sociopathic abuse, we have endured something quite similar. Our perceptions of everything have been shaken to the core. Memories may have been manipulated, thought patterns are askew, right and wrong seems muddled. This is because the abuser has played “real or not real” with us, and they’ve enjoyed the game immensely. We’re not sure exactly what IS real any more. The truth is, NONE of it is real.
Now it’s time to find out what’s REALLY real, for real, once and for all. What is the rock-solid truth?
Something I’ve learned in my journey is that not everything the NS said was false or untrue. Stated facts were often facts, especially when the NS was teaching in the area of his expertise. I believe this happened because he was plagiarizing the work of other people, anot her fact that I have well-documented.
Another thing I’ve learned, related to what I just said, is that the NS will use things that are real and exploit those to the max, making them NOT REAL – he will work to convince you that you are damaged goods that cannot survive without his help (and you really do have wounds that need healing) – convince you that you don’t know certain truths and must rely on him (and you really didn’t know certain things) – convince you that certain people are against you and he can help resolve that issue (and they really may have an issue with you). The best and most effective lies are those with an element of truth, and the sociopath understands how to exploit this principle.
At first, my real-or-not-real was confined to me – he’d told me that I was lacking certain things, needed healing or deliverance in certain areas, had treated people badly, that I needed to change, that I could never achieve the high calling that God has on my life without the help he was offering. NOT REAL. Not even remotely real. The devil is a liar. So is the sociopath (in fact, lucifer was the first sociopath). Then I began to question everything I’d been told about relationships I was in – people I’d allegedly wounded (that turned out not to be the case), people I’d actually wounded (that the sociopath was convincing me that I should hurt in certain ways). CRAP-LOADS OF NOT REAL. Later, my real-or-not-real began to question everything I’d ever been taught – quite literally, everything – not just what he had taught, but also everything I had ever been taught. This was a maddening, painful, and necessary process, because much of it was NOT REAL.
I’ll say it again – the most effective lies are based upon the truth. They can be just the tiniest bit “off” and still be a devastating lie.
#4 – Repair your relationship with God.
If you were not a Christian before, now is the time. Invite Jesus into your heart and life. Surrender to Him, and He will help you clean up all those shards of broken glass and, rather than gluing it all back together, He’ll make everything in your life brand new.
If, like me, you were already a believer, the best – and the scariest – part of all of this is admitting to God that there was some kind of fracture in your relationship with Him. Believe it or not, you may one day come to thank the sociopath in your life for exposing that so it can be healed. But come boldly to the throne of grace, my friend – allow Him to clean up all those shards of broken glass and make everything brand new again. Allow Him to take you by the hand down the path of healing and wholeness.
#5 – Stay immersed in the Word.
One of the scariest things about the sociopathic process is how the Word of God becomes convoluted in your heart at their hands. Little things at first, and those little things eventually become big things.
Picture the Word of God as being pure white. At first, the sociopath adds the tiniest amounts of black to it – so imperceptibly that probably only God Himself would notice. But just as gallons of water become tainted by one drop of raw sewage, eventually the contagion spreads – the understanding of the Word becomes darkened. The few who announce “Hey, it’s a bit gray” are ostracized, labeled religious, or removed from power. The sociopath’s supply and support supply continue on with him until nobody would notice if it was red, green, or pinkypurple.
NOTE: I believe that sociopathic abuse differs from doctrinal error. That’s way outside the scope of this post, so I’ll just say that all sociopaths have bad doctrine and a fundamentally flawed relationship with God, but not all people with bad doctrine and a fundamentally flawed relationship with God are sociopaths.
You might think this NOT REAL distortion of the Word only happens in church abuse, but people who are abused in the workplace, families, even neighborhoods end up with the same skewed perceptions of what the Word says – even in situations where the Word isn’t being taught or even discussed! I’m not sure how this happens except to say that sociopathy has a unified source that finds many expressions, but each expression points back to the source.
At first – probably for a whole year – I read the Word in context of the abuse I’d suffered. I’d read verses (especially out of Proverbs) and say to myself “Well, he taught that, but he sure didn’t believe it” or “that’s in direct violation of what he said!” Over time, Holy Spirit began to show me that while this was healthy in its season, it was no longer good for me – In the second year, I began reading in the context of the flaws within my soul that had exposed me to this horror. Step by step, He led me to places in the word and healed me. Eventually Holy Spirit encouraged me to simply read and study out of love and enjoyment and fellowship again … And that is the best thing ever.
These are only five steps toward wholeness. Of course there are many more. I believe these represent the starting place.