How to Trust Again After a Relationship with a Psychopath

Red Riding Hood, 19th C

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.

Trust in action

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.

Image courtesy of Nikolay Zaytsev

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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7 thoughts on “How to Trust Again After a Relationship with a Psychopath”

  1. Thank you. It has been so hard to trust after being with a psychopath. I have started a new relationship with someone I truly like, but it is so hard learning to trust.

  2. mary

    2nd social path I have been involved with. Didn’t see it coming either time

    1. Admin

      Mary, I’m very sorry to hear you experienced it not once, but twice! It’s something we all hope will never happen again. Keep reading and learning as much as you can. It’s so important to trust YOURSELF; it’s the basis of self-confidence. Knowledge, and understanding — of the psychopathic mind and of yourself — will help you do that. I wish you all the best on your path to recovery xoxo

  3. jace

    i’ve been through at least one of these . the latest one shocked me into a different life. i am on the other side of it. i cut off entirely any contact. and in time i moved on….or so i thought.
    i learned that my road to recovery was only partial. certain occurrences caused me to feel violent anger (please, not the kind to want to hurt anyone…i couldn’t do that) but the kind that would cause me to react violently when faced with certain relationship prompts…such as those facebook meme’s defining what love is…or even the mention of marriage…i would respond to it as one would respond to being physically attacked…and i would retaliate in prose, how ridiculous marriage is, and equating it to voluntarily submitting to eternal bondage and characteral disenfranchisement. i guess a better phrase would be “marriage is like voluntarily allowing yourself to be emotionally raped, having your character and person ripped away from you, and in its stead, having an implant of vision and plan of what the other person wants you to be”…but alas, that doesn’t even do…because what ever goes wrong is ultimately your fault . i realize that im not over the pain …the discovery of what that violation did to me. and i know its there, because it comes out disproportionately aggressive to the point of the purpose of however someone chooses to define love or marriage for them that posts those things on facebook….where those meme’s are designed as a comfort to some, they arouse anger in me… and i always have this “savior” attitude , that i must save those who read it…”don’t fall for this, because love and marriage is bullshit and its a trap!”….i know in reality it is not. deep inside me i long for it. (who doesn’t?). but for me, i have rationalized the premise that my desire for love and intimacy pales in contrast to my hatred of being abused and resolving to never let it happen again. so love happens, but only on my terms…and only on a certain level that i know i can handle it…but no deeper.
    well life happens…i become more confident. i live alone ( not lonely, but im ok with being alone). i have now a girlfriend unlike none other i have ever had…not pushy…not demanding of her own way…not manipulative. we started this relationship on the premise of mutual respect. she would respect my boundaries, and i would respect hers. things are ok….we love each other…genuinely. until something happens . we have had disagreements before…we just agreed to disagree and move on. but something happened this time…it was our first shouting fight. and it was over her defending someone who i have little respect for (and i thought she had little respect for as well, but that proved wrong …when shit hit the fan…it was me she was arguing with). well…i withdrew…i mean I REALLY WITHDREW…i don’t call her anymore, i don’t see her anymore. we only communicate on facebook and its in posts ..i post responses to her posts just so she knows i still care about her…but things are different…here’s whats different;
    i think i went too far, too quickly. i went way further down this rabbit hole than i agreed to myself that i would ever go…we’ve known each other for 3 years…this is no 6 month relationship. and i cut it all off. the very things that i long for, i cut off. and i cant resolve this…the hurt that a psychopathic relationship caused me went sooo deep in me, i don’t think a deep loving relationship will ever be possible for me. the hurt it caused was so dramatic, it ruined every possible chance of me ever risking going that deep again. its taught me that no woman is worth that risk….i would rather be friends than risk being a lover. i can handle a friendship….but a lover enters an abyss into the heart that goes deeper than just sharing your mind…it goes deep into where the mind cant describe its own self and you are communicating on a sub- verbal level that only the souls understand…that is where i jump off and say “im outa here, too freaky for me , and no one is worth this kind of exposure to risk this kind pain”.
    folks, this is a good woman…she doesn’t deserve this kind of emotional and physical abandonment. but i can’t come off this boundary i drew for myself …once i became aware how deep i was going into this, i withdrew. in texts and private posts i let her know its my fault…and i have to work this out.. and it was nothing she did . and as far as im concerned , im not breaking up with her, i still love her, but i can’t do this anymore…i have to take a break..
    to THIS audience, i have to say, i don’t desire anyone else. i am not in pursuit of anyone else, actually im in pursuit of no one or any thing. i just didn’t want her to be dangling thinking she did something wrong…because that wouldn’t have been fair. that said. im not sure i CAN be healed from this…much more, im not sure i want to be healed from this…AM I CRAZY OR WHAT? im 57, i don’t exactly have “forever” in front of me anymore, and quite frankly i’ve lived longer than i have to go…i simply dont feel like going through this mess again…the hurt…the pain of risking being totally manipulated into having my whole inner being ripped from me after finally seeing myself as someone worthy of life. i will not allow anyone even the opportunity to do that to me again..EVER! …i have my boundaries, which i think might be overstretched compared to what others might call normal. but im ok with being alone. i have my life.. i can be ME again without having to apologize for it or be ashamed. …and im not willing to risk having that ripped from me by gambling it away by going too deep in a relationship ….and there lies the problem…its a paradox i don’t know i can solve. and perhaps not….the best thing is to never have had a pathological relationship to begin with, so that you are not aware of what the risk is….and most people who marry don’t know what they are really getting themselves into , but they do it anyway…because they dont know!
    im too far gone for help im afraid…but i hope others can over come … if i have but 20 years of life left, i don’t want to spend it risking having to reinvent myself all over again…im too old for this shit. and i refuse to do it.
    if this gets posted, i want to thank you for letting me vent here…no where else could i post something like this , and have understanding.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      There’s a lot here, Jace. No, you’re not crazy, but there is a lot of angst in your words as you describe the effects of the trauma on your life. It is a paradox, and now you’re stuck within this huge dilemma you’ve explained so well: You don’t want to risk being violated and betrayed again on a soul-deep level, but you realize you’re giving up the chance of having real intimacy with someone in order to protect yourself. You don’t want to lose the gains you’ve made in seeing yourself as someone worthy of life, and this is certainly understandable. What I wonder is, would anyone even be able to take that from you now? I don’t believe they could.

      I don’t think you’re too far gone, Jace. Not at all. You’ve had this three-year relationship with a woman and you say she’s a good one and you love each other genuinely, yet the incident you had with her triggered you. You felt betrayed by her defending someone you don’t respect and who you believed she didn’t respect, and you withdrew. Betrayal is the root of the trauma we experienced. Severe, cruel betrayal. That’s what emotional/ soul rape is all about. I also get a strong sense of your moral injury, which is an aspect of trauma that’s often overlooked; it’s the emotional and spiritual impact of being victimized by actions that violated our core moral values and expectations of others. It’s considered to be a trauma to the soul.

      You say you don’t think there’s hope for you, but that you hope others can overcome. I believe you can, too. In a vacuum we can believe we’ve healed, but only through real experiences in life can we uncover the issues we still face. That’s what you’re experiencing when you react to the Facebook memes and to the argument with your girlfriend. These things are opportunities — they reveal what needs healing and can be healed, not what will never heal.

      Thank you for sharing this here. Describing how this trauma has affected you, personally, gives valuable insight into the trauma these people cause all of us who’ve experienced it.

      I wish you all the best as you continue on your path. If you don’t feel you’ve gone far enough, don’t give up.

      The Powerful Harm of Betrayal

      1. jace

        im so sorry i took up so much virtual real estate here. i didn’t know where else to vent this frustration , and not be looked as a freak. i’ve held some of this in so long, i almost didn’t know how to translate the feelings into words.. in a venue such as this, no one knows me. and your circles and mine would never cross….so i felt half at ease exposing myself here…i guess its just going to take some time.
        thank you for your response :)

        1. Adelyn Birch

          Good luck to you.

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