“Labyrinths twist and turn,
but they have a beginning and an end, through darkness into light.”
(Ariana Franklin, The Serpent’s Tale)
Victimization by a psychopath is a major life trauma that impacts our emotional and psychological well being as well as our social, spiritual, physical and financial health. Major trauma calls for major healing.
The pain and confusion of this experience can make you feel as if you’ve entered a dark and perplexing labyrinth, and you have no idea how to find your way out. The journey ahead can seem overwhelming. The only way out is through, and it takes time.
This post isn’t meant to overwhelm you further; it’s meant to make things less a little confusing, if that’s possible.
When the psychopath is out of our lives we’re were left with a huge task, one we’ve never faced before and that doesn’t come with instructions. We are given no choice but to deal with it, so it makes sense to know what it is, exactly, that we’re going to have to deal with.
It may seem obvious, but it can be very difficult in this situation because of the confusion and complexity inherent in it. There’s nothing simple, straightforward or linear about it. There are a lot of unknown twists and turns to navigate, unexpected thoughts and emotions that can take us by surprise. And there are things we may feel and think that aren’t helpful at all, but we don’t recognize them; they’re simply accepted as truth unless they’re seen for what they are.
Understanding what we’ve experienced and overcoming the trauma of it can feel like a long journey through rough and unfamiliar terrain. For me, it felt like peeling the layers of a giant onion. Others have likened it to untangling a big ball of wool, putting a puzzle together, or finding one’s way through a maze.
“Pas a pas, se va luenh.
Step by step, we make our way.”
― Kate Mosse, Labyrinth
I once took a class where I was taught to do something called “distinguishing,” which is the purpose of this post. Distinguishing means to take something from an undifferentiated background and bring it to the foreground. When we distinguish something, it goes from being a somewhat vague or even imperceptible idea or feeling mixed in with all the others, to something clearly discerned.
Each of us is different, but there are many common issues to distinguish. These are the landmarks that may need to be uncovered and recognized to find our way through the labyrinth to healing.
The list that follows distinguishes aspects of the trauma to bring into the foreground of your awareness. When you do that, you can carefully consider each one and decide if it’s something that needs your attention.
All of the aspects are connected in some way. They don’t resolve neatly, one at a time — each affects some of the others.
Some are obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to overlook others. If we don’t distinguish them, there is the potential for these issues to work behind the scenes and hold us back. They are things to keep in mind as you go along on your healing journey. Hopefully you’ll more easily recognize where you might be stuck or what might need your compassion, acceptance, understanding, or attention.
The list might also make it easier to explain to a friend or therapist what you’re experiencing.
Each aspect listed contains links to articles on this site or others that will help you to distinguish it further. This list and the links it contains are simply a starting point. There is a vast amount of information available in other places if you need it.
The items are not listed in any particular order.
* The caveat is that becoming aware of and understanding each of these things is not the same as resolving them; it’s only the first step. Resolution happens on a deeper level; it’s an internal process that happens over time, as different parts come together. Not only the mind, but the heart and the soul are involved in that process, as they come into alignment. As that happens, healing happens.
You are not forever damaged by this trauma. Resilience only comes from having been given a difficult problem to work through. In other words, it develops as you need it.
I hope this will make the labyrinth a bit less convoluted.
“There is no walking backwards, and I am lost in the Labyrinth Invisible. I cannot retrace my steps. I wrote my name on the wall of the Labyrinth… I wrote my name but I can find it no longer; My ashes blow around like dust.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Books of Magic : The Invisible Labyrinth
Groundlessness is the best word I can think of to describe the sense of our selves and our worlds having been deeply shaken and destabilized, leaving us feeling as if we have no firm ground to stand on. It seems that everything we knew and believed about ourselves, other people, and life itself has come into question. We have come face-to-face with something completely unknown and unexpected. Our sense of safety and our familiarity with the world is gone, and only uncertainty remains.
Read more about groundlessnes:
When Things Fall Apart, a small but important book by Pema Chodron
Part of the trauma — and one that takes some victims by surprise — are feelings of profound loss and deep grief. These uncomfortable feelings of loss are often denied, neglected or diminished by you and/or others. After all, you just went through months or years of victimization by someone who never loved you in the first place. How could you be grieving? Even if it’s true that the person you loved wasn’t who you thought and the relationship wasn’t what you believed it to be, your love was real and so is your loss, and your grief can be profound. Your love and loss deserve and need your acknowledgement, acceptance, and compassion. Grieving is necessary for healing.
Disen-whaaaat?? Understanding Disenfranchised Grief — Disenfranchised grief is grief that is not publicly acknowledged.
LOSS OF SELF (Identity):
There is also the loss of the self to deal with. In the devastation, the loss of the self and our identity also needs to be grieved as part of the work of becoming who we are going to be going forward. Rebuilding identity is a part of it.
Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices To Reclaiming Your Identity, a book by Michele Rosenthal
LACK OF SUPPORT:
A lack of support afterward can be very traumatizing. Many of us find that friends, family, and even mental health professionals don’t believe us or understand what we’ve experienced, and as a result we feel emotionally neglected, invalidated, and even re-victimized. There is a surprising dearth of information on this topic, even though most people experience it. This section will grow as I find resources to include.
Disen-whaaaat?? Understanding Disenfranchised Grief — Disenfranchised grief is grief that is not publicly acknowledged.
Recovering Without Validation, Sandra Brown, MA
Contact an organization that can put you in touch with a support group in your area:
Find a therapist specializing in trauma and abuse: GoodTherapy
Doubt comes at us from multiple directions. When we suspect our partner might be psychopathic, we’re filled with doubt about whether it’s an accurate assessment or not. And if we feel that it is accurate, it’s a truth that’s hard to accept and our doubt continues. We analyze every detail of what happened and can’t seem to settle on one point of view. Another source of doubt originated when we questioned the psychopath’s actions, feelings or agenda and we were made to doubt our perceptions.
Read more about doubt:
Doubt, confusion, self-blame, and shame stem from the manipulation we experienced at the hands of the abuser. An understanding of both psychopathy and manipulation is a very important part of resolving these feelings. Healing from this trauma requires knowing who victimized us and how they went about doing it. When we understand those things, we understand we are not responsible for what happened. We did the best we could with what we knew at the time.
READ MORE ABOUT PSYCHOPATHY:
An excellent four-part series from George Simon, PhD:
READ MORE ABOUT MANIPULATION:
Manipulation Tactics: A Closer Look, an article by Dr. George Simon
“I thought that I had found my way to the center of the Invisible Labyrinth, and I had discovered no more than the entrance.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Books of Magic : The Invisible Labyrinth
Self-respect can be in short supply after an abusive relationship. It stems from the feeling that we compromised our own values, dignity and boundaries. Self-respect means “to hold in honor,” and goes hand-in-hand with self-worth, which is valuing your inherent worth as a person. A sense of self-worth is necessary in order to attain peace, joy, love, empowerment and a sound mind. Instead, you are probably experiencing blame, shame, anger, guilt, regret, fear and self-doubt. It is imperative that you do whatever it takes to restore your self-respect. When you do, your sense of self-worth will follow.
Remember that self-respect means to honor yourself as a person and to accept yourself regardless of your life circumstances. Self-compassion can help you do just that.
Another powerful — and vital — way to restore self-respect is to develop personal boundaries based on your values, needs and limits and a belief that you are worthy of respect from others. Please see the links below in the section on BOUNDARIES.
Read more about self-respect:
Personal boundaries can protect you from future involvement with a psychopath. They want victims whose boundaries they can erode, which enables them to gain control. If you develop strong boundaries, you become much less vulnerable to psychopathic seduction and control.
Developing boundaries also builds self-trust. Components of self-trust include self-regard, being aware of your thoughts, feelings and needs and expressing them, and following your personal standards and ethical code — in other words, having boundaries.
Read more about boundaries:
Got Boundaries? Part One: What They Are and Why You Need Them.There are five parts to this series.
An excellent series of posts on personal empowerment (including limits and boundaries) can be found on Dr. George Simon’s website: Series On Personal Empowerment.
For many victims, the debacle doesn’t end with being discarded. It continues through ongoing abuse in the from of smear campaigns (an attack on the victim’s reputation and character by making false accusations, which are often believed by others), stalking, parental alienation, or through divorce proceedings and custody battles. This adds immeasurably to the trauma and thwarts healing. If there is also a lack of support from friends and family — especially if it’s related to what happened, which is all too common — another layer of grief is added, and it leaves a victim on their own to deal with many profoundly serious issues.
If you find yourself in this very stressful situation, make an effort to find the help and support you need. You can begin with the resources listed in the sidebar in the new category titled ONGOING ABUSE.
“Sometimes, the paths of this labyrinth converge… in one of the possible pasts you are my enemy, in another, my friend.”
― Jorge Luis Borges, The Garden of Forking Paths
Betrayal is a major aspect of our experience, and it is difficult to accept. The devastation we feel is far beyond the realm of a relationship gone wrong, with good reason. It’s the shock and devastation that come from finding out the person you loved and believed you shared an intimate relationship with was actually your worst enemy, hiding where you’d least expect it — in your own heart. We find out the person we thought we knew was actually someone very different, and the relationship we believed we were having was only an illusion that had no foundation in reality.
Read more about betrayal:
THE BETRAYAL BOND:
A betrayal bond — also known as a trauma bond — is an intense, seemingly inexplicable bond that forms with the perpetrator. Betrayal or trauma bonds form in situations of incredible intensity or importance where there is an exploitation of trust or power. The bond often persists long after the abuse ends. Indications of a betrayal bond include misplaced loyalty, the inability to detach, and self-destructive denial. How do you know if you’re experiencing it? The following are some signs from Dr. Patrick Carnes’ book, “The Betrayal Bond, Revised: Breaking Free of Exploitative Relationships,” which is a valuable resource:
- You obsess about the person who hurt you and they are long gone (obsess means to be preoccupied, fantasize about, or wonder about even though you don’t want to)
- You miss a relationship to the point of nostalgia and longing, even though it was so awful it almost destroyed you.
- You continue to seek contact, even though you know will cause you further pain
- You go overboard to help despite the fact this person has been been destructive to you
- You continue to trust this person who has repeatedly proven themselves to be unreliable
- You are unable to distance yourself from the unhealthy relationship
- You want to be understood by this person who clearly does not care
- You choose to stay in conflict when you could walk away
- You persist in trying to convince this person there is a problem even though they are not willing to listen
- You are loyal even though you have been betrayed
- You continue contact with the abuser even though they acknowledge no responsibility
- You find yourself trying to get back together with your abuser, even though you know you’ve been violated
Read more about betrayal bonds:
“I would find the path out of the labyrinth.”
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game
“We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone—but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.” ~ Walter Anderson
The issue of trust can be a major one after this trauma. Will we ever be able to trust again? How do we know who we can we trust? Can we trust our instincts? Our perceptions? Ourselves? You can come to trust others again, but before you do learn to go about it in a new way. You can come to trust yourself again, too. Having clear, strong boundaries is a large part of trusting yourself, so be sure to read the boundaries section on this page.
Trust and Betrayal: Learn to Trust Wisely, Steven Stonsy, PhD
Three Reasons to Not (Always) Trust (this talks about trust at work, but it applies equally well to personal relationships)
Is pressure to forgive keeping you stuck? Do you believe forgiveness is a requirement for healing? Are you taking flak for your decision not to forgive? This issue can grind healing to a stop or at least slow it way down. If forgiveness has thrown a wrench in the works, get some clarity and and quite possibly some mental freedom by reading the following:
Why I Reject Forgiveness Culture By Elizabeth Switaj
Forgiveness, from Narcissists Suck
This is a big one! Self-blame maintains depression and PTSD and impedes healing from trauma. Blame — you may have gotten a lot of it, from the psychopath and maybe even from family and friends, and it’s not surprising if you are now blaming yourself in some way, too. You may simply accept as truth that you are at least partially to blame, but one of the most important tasks any recovering person has before them is to end the destructive cycle of self-doubt and blame, writes Dr. George Simon. If you’re experiencing self-blame, it definitely needs your attention. It will hold you back.
Self-blame: The Ultimate Emotional Abuse, psychotherapist Michael J Formica MS, MA, EdM
Life After a Manipulator, an article by George Simon, PhD
Shame goes hand-in-hand with self-blame. We experience shame when we’re with a psychopath, and we experience shame when it’s over. Psychopaths are experts at shaming us in so many ways. Even after they’re gone, shame continues as we wonder how we allowed ourselves to be treated so poorly, and others close to us can make it worse when they don’t understand what we’ve endured and they shame us for it, too. Shame is the feeling of deep humiliation not for what we’ve done, but for what we are. Shame damages self-worth and can have a serious impact on life. If you feel shame, please don’t ignore it.
Read more about shame:
From Being Ashamed to Being Empowered, an article by Paul Dobransky, M.D., clinical psychiatrist
Watch a video about shame:
It’s normal to feel anger and even rage in reaction to being violated — mind, body and soul — by someone who doesn’t have a conscience and is a walking moral wasteland. Fierce anger and indignation — outrage — is an appropriate response. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and you recognize that you weren’t. Anger means your boundaries were violated.
Moral injury is a unique aspect of trauma that has been overlooked until recently. Moral injury refers to the emotional and spiritual impact of being victimized by actions and behaviors that violate our core moral values and behavioral expectations of self or others. It’s important to recognize and address moral injury. It is considered to be a trauma to the soul.
THE STORY YOU TELL YOURSELF ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE:
Trauma researchers say that negative “trauma appraisals,” or negative stories we tell ourselves about what happened, predict symptoms of PTSD and depression above and beyond the amount and severity of trauma experiences. There is a difference between what happened and the story you tell yourself about it. The facts can’t be changed, but the story about what those facts mean about you and your life is not fact — you created it, subconsciously. What story are you telling yourself about your experience with a psychopath? Is it a story of defeat, failure and danger, one that dis-empowers you and makes you doubt yourself and the world? Or is it a story of your resilience and strength, a story of overcoming significant trauma while learning and growing and building your wisdom, confidence and sense of self-worth? It’s time to bring your story to the light of consciousness and re-write it if necessary. This can make all the difference in the world in your recovery.
Healing is working your way through the trauma and reclaiming your power as you go. Acceptance helps you do that. It’s not the final stage in some neat and orderly process; it helps you move through the process. Acceptance is, put simply, the acknowledgement of reality. It makes no sense to fight reality. It only causes a lot of added grief, and reality always wins in the end anyway.
As a victim of a psychopathic person, it is possible you could be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
PTSD is “triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Many people who go through traumatic events have difficulty adjusting and coping for a while, but they don’t have PTSD — with time and good self-care, they usually get better. But if the symptoms get worse or last for months or even years and interfere with your functioning, you may have PTSD.” ~ Mayo Clinic
Please don’t wait years before you get help for PTSD! These are just some of the symptoms, with the complete list at the link below:
- Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
- Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event
- Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
- Inability to experience positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
- Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
- Always being on guard for danger
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
PTSD: Symptoms (with links to definition, causes, and treatment)
Reflections on Trust and Trauma — an interesting and different perspective on treating PTSD
Sidran Institute Help Desk will help you find therapists who specialize in trauma treatment.
“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us — the labyrinth is thoroughly known.
We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
“I feel like I just had an epiphany.”
“This book told me in a very concise format what I haven’t learned from two years of very expensive psychoanalysis AND a Master’s degree in Counseling: I’m not crazy! My intuition was not wrong.”
“This author nails it.”
“This book provides instant clarity.”
BOOKS BY ADELYN BIRCH
“Amazing Tool! Don’t be oblivious to the danger lurking in the shadows! Read this book and learn to protect your precious self. I love her for writing this!
“Quite relevant, useful, written in a useful down to earth style that emphasizes the practical. Obviously written from direct experience.”
“Such a great gem. If you’re wondering if you are encountering a psychopath, read this book and you will know without a doubt.”