When most people think of the word "sociopath," their brain flashes images of Patrick Bateman, Christian Bale's character in American Psycho. Or a long list of serial killers like Ed Gein and Ted Bundy.
Sure, these guys are sociopaths, on the severe end of the spectrum. On the less severe end, you may be the child or significant other of one and not even be aware of it. I was.
Jack* and I met one summer several years ago. We seemed to have so much in common, most importantly music. He was quick to tell me how beautiful I was, that no one understood him like I did. He spilled all of his secrets to me, including his two year stay in a home for troubled teens for severe depression. I would later discover this "home" was actually a mental hospital for extremely disturbed individuals.
Jack professed his love for me freely and easily. He put me on a pedestal as the best thing that's ever happened to him, showering me daily...even hourly...with compliments. This is known as "love bombing" in the world of psychology.
He was charming and funny, and it was not difficult to fall in love with him. We decided to move in togetherafter just 4 months.
By the following Spring, I learned he was cheating on me with his "best friend" from high school. When I confronted him about it, he ended our relationship...but not before beating me so severely I had bruises on my entire upper body, including a fat lip.
I returned to our home to pack my things at a time I knew he'd be at work. I walked in to discover all of my CDs out of their cases on the floor, and my favorite ones completely smashed. Fast forward several months. Jack emailed me, the only form of communication he had left. He told me he wanted just one more steamy encounter.
Once again, he showered me with compliments. Young and naive as I was, I bought it. We began our relationship anew, with promises he'd never hurt me again and that I was "The One."
An entire year went by without any physical abuse. We got engaged. Several weeks before we got married, I learned he'd been having cyber sex, emailing and calling multiple women he'd found on Craigslist. He promised to enter therapy with me, but after several sessions, he quit. He said I was trying to make myself look good in front of our therapist, not being honest about my wrongdoings in our relationship.
I was confused...hadn't I bared my soul to save us? I felt as though I had. Jack insisted he couldn't continue if I was going to lie and blame him for everything that was wrong with us.
A couple years later, I was working a job that kept me away from home midnight to 9 am. He used this opportunity to cheat on me yet again, having sex with a woman we were acquainted with. When I came home to an empty house, I called him. He nonchalantly said he was cooking her breakfast and would be home shortly. I packed my things yet again, moving the next day.
Two months later I took him back again, and two months after that I got pregnant with our only child because I was laid off from work and we couldn't afford birth control. He continued to force me to have sex with him, despite my protests about unplanned pregnancy.
Jack began staying out with friends all hours of the night, leaving me alone and pregnant. He accused me of being lazy, not doing chores and sleeping too much. He insisted I should be able to work full time and keep the house nice throughout my pregnancy, despite having gestational diabetes and other complications.
Typical arguments would last hours, sometimes days. If I left our home, he'd pack all of my clothes in trash bags, or call me threatening to throw our cats off the balcony.
I would be a crumpled mess on the floor, tears flowing and sobbing heavily. He'd just look at me coldly. This always struck me as odd: Why wasn't he crying, too? I'd ask him how he could see me like this and not feel guilty for making someone he loved so upset.
I'd scream: "You have absolutely NO EMPATHY!" He never denied this.
He usually worked until midnight at the latest, but started going out after work every single night, getting drunk and running up a bar tab that dented our shared bank account. He'd turn his cell phone off, claiming his battery died. I stayed awake battling panic attacks, pacing the floor.
At least twice a week he'd stay out until 5 am. or later, forcing me to call his parents to watch our child so I could go to work. He crashed his car twice in the span of a month from falling asleep at the wheel, exhausted from not getting enough sleep and drinking with his friends all hours.
By our baby's first year, he would pick fights with me about everything from how much time I spent away from the house to the kind of clothes I chose to wear. He began attacking my weight despite my losing 30 lbs., telling me he was disgusted by "my gut."
After months of little to no sex, I suggested we have an open relationship. He had hinted at it in the past, and I saw it as a last ditch effort. We established rules that he'd later manipulate in his favor. Our shouting matches were getting police called to our home multiple times per week.
On the morning of my 30th birthday party, he woke up in a crummy mood, carrying over a fight about the state of our marriage from the night before. He'd volunteered to cook for my party, but went back on his word. My friend and I left for the grocery store. When we returned, Jack was gone, but all of my decorations were torn down and glass jars smashed on the floor.
He drove around town, calling me multiple times and threatening to kill me. He came back and chased me down the hall of our building, following me onto an elevator.
"You're lucky I let you live to see 30," he snarled in my ear as he cornered me in the elevator of our condo building. The next morning I told him I wanted a divorce.
This time I was financially secure, at a full time job. I was not going to allow this monster to continue to abuse me in front of our child. Our child was getting to the age where they would soon be able to comprehend words, and I couldn't let this go on any longer.
This time he moved, and soon after I began to reveal to my friends what had been going on. I'm an extremely outgoing and happy person. I've never suffered from low self esteem. How had this happened to me? How had I been brainwashed and abused for so long?
Someone suggested I Google the word "Sociopath" and see if anything matched my husband. I read the list carefully: Glibness and superficial charm. Manipulative and conning. Callousness and lack of empathy. Impulsive. Juvenile delinquency.
I kept reading, nodding my head after every single bullet point on the checklist. I was stunned, but relieved to know exactly what kind of person I was dealing with.
Many times since then, he's accused me of being the abuser and him the victim. He's even gone so far as to fake photographs of himself beaten up, insisting I punched him in the face. Things kept getting more twisted.
A year later, I am dating the man of my dreams. We are in a healthy and happy relationship. After many months, we have never had a single argument. He's never cheated on a woman, nor would he ever. He'd never raise his voice or get physical.
I come home every night to dinner on the table and a clean and happy child. I go to sleep peacefully knowing that I am in the best place emotionally I've ever been in.
Unfortunately, I am tied to my abuser for the rest of my life. But I have the gift of the most wonderful child a mom could ever ask for.
*Not his real name, obviously