Some things hit you between the eyes. Others take a little longer, then whack you around the face to boot, as if to wake you from your stupor.
And then, you're finally free.
'He's a Sociopath,' someone had said.
'A Sociopath?' I thought. 'Psycopath' had often crossed my mind, but 'Sociopath?' What on earth did that mean?
It seemed a good Google was in order.
This produced amazing and instant results. It explained everything. With relief and awe amidst feelings of incredible shame and foolishness, the truth dawned: I'd been married to one.
I perused page after page listing the signs and symptoms and the eye-opening continued. It made complete sense.
Not that there was anything I could do about any of it. Only my perception had changed. His behaviour would continue to hurt me. Worse, it would affect the children too.
It wasn't as if the tell tale stuff wasn't there at the outset of what would be a doomed and mostly miserable relationship, it sure as hell was, but so clever are they at luring you in to their 'Woe is me' story, making you feel sorry for them and exploiting every last fibre of your kind and giving being that it may be many years before you manage to eventually extricate yourself.
If you work with a Sociopath, you will feel bullied and humiliated. So, too, if a parent or your partner could be classed one. It's difficult to recover.
This is what Professor Robert Hare says in one of his books 'Without Conscience' -
In my experience, you fall for Mr. Charming - the attentive, caring, witty and understanding part of his personality which hides a ruthless, cunning, deceitful and domineering one. Your friends will be impressed. Your family will welcome him in. You don't tell them about the snide comments when they begin.'Sociopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate and ruthlessly plough their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations and empty wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and feelings for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret.'
You think you are happy. You make excuses for him. The criticisms about your cooking, the dissing your driving and the sneers at your appearance insidiously mount. You slowly become quieter, the more of you that is extinguished, the more your confidence evaporates.
You might try to talk about it. Your friends and family make excuses for him. You don't tell them how bad it really is, because in-between times, in public, you see the man you thought he was, believe he is, if only you can help him.
He blames everyone else. He blames his luck. He thinks everyone is out to get him. You try harder again. You can see someone brilliant and extraordinary with incredible potential, perhaps with depression, or even Asperger's, but these are condidions which cannot be turned on and off at whim, depending on who's watching. You are confused, you feel wretched and guilty.
By now, you might have children with this person. Something else that will add to his angry temperament. He will try to make you happy. Becaue he's so f*cked up, he will fail. Your heart can't switch around as his moods do. Much damage will have been done. Many tears will have been shed. Yours and his.
In outward ways he is great. He saves the real him for you, when no-one is looking. He will punch walls, smash a glass table, but never hit you. He is intimidating and his favourite remark is that you don't know anything about anything. He makes you fight to be heard. He condemns your opinions, disregards your feelings, ignores your efforts and dismisses your desires.
You try harder.
You may become more assertive. He merely ups his menacing game. But his mask might start to slip - in front of the children. The neighbours will notice. Your friends get a glimpse - the few from whom he luckily didn't manage to isolate you. All the 'Who the f*ck is that?' comments every time one of them rang will have unnerved you and those who went by the wayside will have increased your insecurity and fed his power.
You will feel embarrassed, but you will start to open up, take legal advice even. They label it 'Emotional / Domestic Abuse.' Years later you will hear the newer, posher term 'Intimate Terrorism' and know exactly what it means. You will peer past the glamourous exterior of Nigella Lawson, identifying with the pain, hurt and betrayal in her eyes and you will sense that she, too, despite her dignified appearance, deep down, is broken.
You secretly make notes of things. And then one day, he finally goes far too far, so, with newfound boldness, you quit, calling it a day, at last accepting it's not you who is crazy.
All your previous attempts to finish the relationship will have been met with threats of suicide, promises to seek help and counselling sessions might even have been had, but to no avail.
And when you're divorced, you think it's over. But, no, he wades back into your life, throwing his weight around, banging on about his right to see the children who he goes on to upset and disturb with alarming regularity.
Your life is toxic with him in it. You don't want him to win. You have to protect your sons - yet you don't know what is actually best for them. You tear yourself up trying to do work out what that is. You find yourself required to rely on professionals who don't even get their names right. They suggest your ex-husband is a controlling 'Narcisstic Sociopath,' but they add the caveat - 'If what you are saying is true.'
They throw in 'Anti-Social Personality Dis-Order' which is deemed more acceptable to the courts, but it's expensive to prove. For every step forward feeling heard, there are a couple back. Despair sets in. You are dangerously demoralised. Frustration must be overcome with yet more faith and fortitude.
Fortunately for you, your friends no longer hold back.
You are free of him now, but the children aren't. You do your best to faciliate a healthy, loving relationship but you wonder whether it's possible. It's no longer about how he made you leave the bedroom three times a night when you were breastfeeding because he 'couldn't stand the f*cking sucking sound.' It's about how your eldest son has 'dark feelings in his heart' he attributes to his father and how the youngest one clings to your Foreign Language Students (enforced upon us all by his lack of contribution) and more or less any other man he meets and calls them all 'Daddy,' as unedifying and mortifying as it is.
You have to stay strong, brave and decent, everything he isn't. But you cope.
You have to for the childrens' sakes.
And your new life may falter, but it will still be there.
Psycopath vs Sociopath - What's the difference?
Sociopath Signs: Is your Ex a Sociopath or a Narcissist?
womens aid (National Domestic Violence Helpline) 0808 2000 247
RESPECT - helpline for men 0808 8010 327 / anyone else 0808 802 4040
RISE (Brighton & Hove) 01273 622822