“I Should Have Known”

Are you still telling yourself that, or believing others who say it?

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

~ Søren Kierkegaard

Such a simple phrase, and yet so rich with meaning and truth.

While we’re in the thick of the present moment, we must make decisions based on incomplete information and insufficient personal experience. That means failure can and does happen, to everyone. This quote can give great comfort, though, because even a great thinker like Kierkegaard knew and understood that we can’t always do the right thing because we’re human and limited and thus prone to messing up. It’s not until sufficient time has passed that we have the benefit of hindsight, knowledge and experience.

Some of us had read books like Without Conscience and The Sociopath Next Door (or even earned degrees in psychology) before the psychopaths who snared us came in our lives, but the knowledge in those books never came to mind when we needed it. Why would it, when we believed we’d met the most wonderful person?

Some things can only be learned through experience, and I believe this is one of them.

In teaching, Socrates, Jesus, the Buddha and Kierkegaard used “indirect communication” to convey the the fundamentally unintelligible ideas they were trying to get across. Explicit and rationally comprehensible means—like writing down their thoughts and having people read them—would not have worked with those kinds of concepts, so instead they presented their students with metaphor, parable, drama, archetypal stories, miracles and poetry, and they behaved as role models, to bring their students into a position where the truth of their lives was available for their own individual realization (though ultimately it was up to them whether or not to embrace that realization). In other words, this “indirect communication” was a method of teaching through experiences rather than with words, because experience and discovery are often the best—and only—ways to learn some things, and in a way that enables you to truly understand them.

To me, the idea of a psychopath is a fundamentally unintelligible concept, and I’ll bet you would agree. As such, it can unfortunately only be learned by experience.


“I can only show you the door; you’re the one that has to walk through it.”

~ Morpheus from The Matrix

In the aftermath, I wondered what other unknown threats, risks or dangers there were that I knew nothing about, or at least not enough about, to be able to protect myself. No one can know everything. There will always be unknowns and uncertainty. Reality confronts us without reservation or apology, and without regard for our wishes and desires. This is not to say we are completely without power and agency; not at all, but we have less today than we might tomorrow, because as we learn our power grows. But we will always have much less control over things than we would like to have and than we believe we have.

As some wise person once said, “Life is uncertain; eat dessert first.”

Although we are surrounded by other people, each of us, individually, must discover the truths of life, both good and bad. No one can show us the way, and we cannot escape the fact that—one way or another—we must find our way. Life is a series of experiences, one after the next, and although we don’t choose all of them, each gives us the opportunity to learn and to grow. Some of these experiences cause profound angst, and much time and contemplation is required before the appearance of understanding, and then growth—which happens when we accept the experience and then weave it into the tapestry that is our lives.

To do that, we must find the golden threads contained within.


Keep being willing and eager to live forward, with spirit, determination, passion, resilience, curiosity and a big measure of faith in yourself and in the world, despite what’s behind you, and despite the unknowns and uncertainty of the road ahead.

♥ Love to all of you

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“I loved the author’s ability to simply and compassionately describe why, and how, I feel victim to a monster. For me, she eloquently describes the most complex, confusing, horrific experience of my life.. To the author, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

“Her writing was like discovering a mentor, a friend, a sponsor, a confident who understood, who explained in detail what happened to me in my relationship with this man. I felt like something in the universe directed me to her. Her books will help you understand the hows and whys of what you went through. Your healing can begin with her writings.”

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14 thoughts on ““I Should Have Known””

  1. Linda

    Of course I knew there were “bad” people, dangerous ones, but the concept of someone without a bit of empathy, with no conscience, no soul, with the primal brain of the predator, escaped me. Even now, with many months between me and my last contact with the psychopath, it is difficult to believe the depth of his depravity and his total lack of humanity. If I had read your posts before I met him I might have dismissed them as exaggerations, but I know, from this experience, that you are writing from your own history, and with complete honesty. … When I first escaped the clutches of the predator, I felt victimized and vulnerable, paranoid and threatened by almost every encounter, no matter how benign. With time and careful consideration, and with the tremendous help you offer here, I have come to realize that the lessons learned from him are cautionary ones, raising my awareness of the actual existence of such evil beings. I have had to rewrite some of the messages he left with me, to understand that some of the same words, when spoken with genuine affection, are true blessings, not the curses that they became in the mouth of the psychopath. My encounter with him will remain one of the most profound lessons of my life. I hope to use it as part of my roadmap as I move forward in my life, another touchstone to assure my safety, and to help me to appreciate the wonderful and genuine friends who surround me in my world. … Thank you for another profound post Adelyn. As always, truly valuable! – xx

    1. Adelyn Birch

      It’s nearly incomprehensible. In writing my main focus is on people who’ve already been through it, and though I do hope that I can help someone prevent it from happening in the first place, I don’t know if that’s even possible. When you look at the fact that there have been many mental health professionals—who were educated about psychopathy, and who knew the person right in front of them was a psychopath—were duped anyway, you realize just how persuasive and manipulative psychopaths are, and how little most people can truly understand without having had the experience. It is a profound lesson. So glad to hear my writing has helped you, Linda.

      1. Jennifer

        None of us could possibly have known. There is no should. Most of us feel we “should” have at least in fleeting, sickening moments. And it’s like a punch in the gut when someone says: “Didn’t you know?!” Or “You should have known! Baaaad decision!” — Anyone who says that needs to now not only be avoided, they also don’t know what a sociopath is – no matter who they are: Therapist, sister, Doctor or Judge. The fact is it’s human nature to trust – and a good thing too! It’s human nature to especially trust those we love, another good thing. It’s in our biology, in our DNA. It’s super un-natural to distrust. It’s also in our DNA as a fully functioning humane human to bond more deeply to those we love in times of stress – even if the person we love is causing the stress. Sociopaths take advantage of our humanity. They don’t have any. Pure and simple. These aren’t relationships – they’re crimes. The blame is not to be laid at the victims feet.

        1. Adelyn Birch

          It is like a punch in the gut when someone says that. It lacks empathy and there’s no point to it, except to shame someone.

          You’re spot on, Jennifer, when you say they take advantage of our humanity. Being human was all it took, and that’s not something anyone can blame themselves for once they understand it.

  2. Antonio

    Thank you so much for sharing “I should have known.” Coming from a science background, chemistry, it makes a lot of sense learning by experience, and this is what has happened to many of us who were surprised by a psychopath, we learn it the hard way, by experiencing the knowledge of having been involved with one such person. And it prepares us for the future, I am certain I will be able to recognize the red flags of this type of relationship, and end it in time. Thank you again Adelyn.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Experience is the best teacher, and this lesson is an unforgettable one. I’m glad you feel confident that you’ll see the red flags if should it ever happen again. I feel the same way. I might not know on day one, but I will know long before I did last time!

  3. Ana

    I read this and see that touches a core place. Yes. I should have known. I should not have trusted him. He even warned me not to do so. I was so wide open, so vulnerable, so taken by the power of this energy, and there was no warning system within.. Just the cells saying “Yes, he is the one”.
    Do I still blame myself? Yes. Parts of me cannot understand how I could have been so foolish, so blindsided. If it had been a friend, I would have tried to warn her. It has been over 3 years now and I still am wondering what the lesson is. How do I navigate through life? Why do I feel that a part of me has been lost for all time?

    1. Adelyn Birch

      It touched a core place in me, too, as I was writing it. I’m sorry to hear that you’re still in a place where you believe you should have known, though, and that you’re blaming yourself.

      My advice to you is to try to gain more understanding of psychopathy and of manipulation, and of how your brain makes you vulnerable. Ask yourself this: If you should have known, then why didn’t you? When you find the real answer to that question, you will stop blaming yourself. R.Freeman, PhD, a neuropsychologist who writes an excellent website for people who’ve been victimized, says that psychopaths groom their targets and that the grooming is purposeful manipulation with the goal of taking advantage of their target, of priming them for future use, and that grooming facilitates an impression that the psychopathic person is safe and trustworthy. Her site gives readers a good understanding of psychopathy and how they were manipulated.

      Another vital part of healing is self-compassion. When you let yourself have compassion for yourself, you will find that part of yourself that you feel was lost.

      And yet another important thing is looking at the story that you’re telling yourself about what happened. Yes, you have a story, one you created (subconsciously) and which gives you the meaning your experience holds for you and your life. No, the facts of what happened can’t be changed, but the meaning that you give it can change. A story that says you should have known better and that it happened because you were foolish, etc., is not an empowering one. You can read more about this here: Want To Reclaim Your Power? Re-Write Your Story!

      If it had been a friend, I would have tried to warn her. The big difference is that a friend isn’t personally (and emotionally) involved, so they can look at it objectively.

      I know you’ll get there, Ana, and I wish you all the best as you do.

  4. Joan

    I still find it so hard to believe. Thirty seven years married to this person. I never saw it coming. He just walked out the door and married his next victim. His children don’t realize what he is really like but he hurt them too. His explanation was he simply didn’t love me anymore and to get over it. I’m stronger now and can handle my life without him but who would have thought at age 70 my life would be so drastically changed. Even now, I find it hard to believe someone would throw away everything he worked for to start a new life with a complete stranger. Why do I feel so sorry for him and know she will find her life with him to be sad and bewildering, not knowing why he acts so cruel to her. I know I am better off but miss the good side of him.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      It’s normal to miss the good side of him, Joan. I missed mine for a long time, way beyond the point of knowing the truth of who he really was. It takes our hearts a long time to accept the truth, far longer than our heads. I’m so sorry to hear of what happened to you, Joan. It still shocks me to hear of how cold-hearted and callous they can be, and it always will. I am very glad to hear you’re stronger now and able to handle life without him, though. You are a strong and resilient woman, and I wish you all the best.

  5. Carol

    So well written Adelyn. Thankyou.
    I am going to place a ink to your wise and reassuring article on my Art of Change and Domestic Violence Resources with Carol Omer fb page.

    I have come to understand that women who go through the psychopath experience are, in traditional mythology, working through the Persephone story, that amazing Goddess who was taken into the underground and upon her return was empowered and presided over the Spring.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Thank, you Carol. I hope it will help people who visit your page.

      I have looked at this experience as the hero’s journey, which sounds similar to the Persephone story. I’m going to look into it!

  6. Yasmin

    Thank you Adelyn for another wonderfully insightful, beautifully crafted article.
    Your analyses are so very very helpful and comforting. Also, a big thank you for the care and compassion with which you respond to people’s comments. I am amazed by your kindness and generosity, qualities that I used to take for granted until I met the character-disturbed person who took great pleasure in causing emotional pain.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      You’re welcome, Yasmin, and thank you for your very kind words! You made my day!

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