After involvement with a psychopath, you’re probably wondering how you’ll ever be able to trust again or even if you should. You found out the hard way that the psychopath was not at all who he or she pretended to be, and that their motives were vastly different from what you believed. After finding out the shocking truth – that you were targeted and victimized by a dangerous manipulator – you might make up your mind to never trust anyone ever again.
But if that’s your plan, think twice.
What kind of a life would that be? You would be cut off from deep, meaningful relationships in an effort to be “safe,” but you would still be fearful all the time, not to mention isolated and bitter.
And consider this: If you can’t trust anymore and you go on to have your life adversely affected by it, you remain the psychopath’s victim. He or she is continuing to harm you and your life.
Fortunately, there is another way.
As you learn about what you experienced – and hopefully you’re doing that with lots of research and reading, writing in a journal, and working with a therapist – you’ll start to understand that you will go on to trust people in the future, but with some very important differences.
You’ll no longer give your trust freely as soon as you meet someone just because they make you feel comfortable. That’s not saying you should be mistrustful (although certain people and situations call for that), but to be in a place I call “neutral trust” when starting any new relationship. Neutral trust means you neither have trust or don’t have trust; you’re simply watching things unfold so you can determine which is warranted.
I once had a teacher who announced on the first day of class that we were all starting out with an “A” and it was up to us to keep it. The problem was that she now SAW us as “A” students, and it clouded her judgement and impaired her ability to give us the grades we deserved. In the same way, our judgement becomes clouded when we simply give someone our trust and then expect to judge later whether or not they deserve to keep it.
After a relationship with a psychopath ends you may feel a need to withdraw for a short period of time due to feelings of not knowing who to trust and due to an innate need to become stronger before dealing with new people again. That’s OK. An important task now is to develop boundaries.
When you decide what your boundaries are, you’ll know in advance what kind of behavior you won’t tolerate, how you expect to be treated, and what kind of relationships YOU want to have instead of going along with other people’s agendas. None of us decided in advance that the detrimental relationship with the psychopath was just what we had in mind, after all. Starting a relationship with a clear picture of what we want and having boundaries in place meant to protect us can help us avoid the same fate in the future (although I’m not sure it could have prevented our fate in the past, not knowing what we know now).
Chances are that in hindsight, the psychopath taught you exactly what your boundaries are. From here, you might also uncover a lot of other things in your past and present relationships that you won’t allow anymore.
Once you’re clear on your boundaries, you have to make a commitment to stick to them for this very important reason: If you’re willing to bend your rules for someone, willing to break a promise you made to yourself that would protect you from another relationship with a disordered person, there’s a good chance you’re having your defenses disarmed. When you seem to willingly throw all caution to the wind despite commitment to your boundaries, a large red flag should appear in your path.
The only way to determine if a person is trustworthy is to apply the test of time. There is no shortcut. Remember that con artists are masters at gaining your trust…but they’re not so good at keeping it. You already experienced this. Make a person gain your trust and then keep it for a period of time (some say 6 months or even a year) before progressing beyond a platonic friendship. And then continue to make sure they keep your trust for the duration of the relationship. It’s not about threatening someone with having to keep your trust; it’s about watching behavior (actions) and listening to words and seeing if they go together. Words are cheap, but when you’re under the spell of a skilled manipulator, they’re everything. But you’ve been through that before, so make a decision now to do things differently.
Don’t let doubts creep in between you and your ability to accurately discern someone’s character. And that is exactly what you’ll be doing from now on – looking for real substance behind the charm and the promises and the declarations of love.
Always remember this basic truth:
Actions speak louder than words.
Remember, moving too quickly is a big red flag. No normal man (or woman) wants to get serious or heaven forbid get married in the first weeks or months of a relationship! Ideally, he might be in love with you but still be sane enough to want and need to get to know you much better before making any kind of commitment, such as marriage or moving in together. You should do the same thing. Ask yourself, “What’s the rush?” There is none.
And forget about relying on your gut feelings or intuition (unless they signal something bad; in that case, listen) because a psychopath can and will manipulate your gut instincts, changing them to his advantage.
Never let words have more weight than actions. Don’t let anyone “explain things away,” as you probably did with the psychopath, who was skilled at making you doubt yourself and who had an excuse for everything, even if it was as flimsy as denying what occurred right in front of you.
Become determined to trust again. But at the same time, do it differently: become determined to give your trust only to those who have earned it and who can keep it for the duration of a relationship.
Learn what might have made you vulnerable to a psychopath, such as desperately wanting a love relationship. It’s one of the things that makes a person most likely to be victimized. This does not mean you shouldn’t want a relationship – love is a basic human need. But work on losing the “desperate” part, and work on feeling loved even if you’re not in a relationship. You always have access to feeling loved when you love yourself. Don’t put off loving yourself until you meet some criteria in the future, though. Love yourself right now, because you’re already worth it.
The psychopath saw as weaknesses your ability to be vulnerable, to care about others and to feel insecurity, and you may have internalized that. Watch this amazing TED talk by Brene’ Brown on vulnerability. It’s probably one of the best ways you could spend 20 minutes. You’ll know that you’re normal and worth loving, and you’ll learn that vulnerability is a gift that creates intimacy and allows us to truly bond with others instead of a weakness to be exploited, as it is in the psychopath’s warped world. You were immersed in that warped world for a period of time, and you need to reset what’s normal and what’s not.
I don’t believe most people (regardless of what they think) who have never been victimized by a psychopath could see what’s coming and prevent it or even nip it in the bud. Just like us, I don’t think they’d have much of a chance in the face of such intense manipulation. But guess what – you can now, especially if you’ve been determined to learn everything you can from your experience and determined to end up stronger and wiser because of it. Set that as your goal and simply have faith that you’ll achieve it even if you’re feeling miserable right now. Even if you have no idea how it will happen. That might be all you can do in the early stages of this process, but it makes a big difference. And if you can’t have faith right now, that’s OK. Maybe in a day or a week or a month, you’ll be able to. I’m talking about having faith in yourself, but go with whatever works for you.
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