Liminality, the Unsettling Space of In-Between

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After our experience in a psychopathic bond, we are shaken to our core. The firm foundation we believed we stood on crumbled beneath us and we hang on, barely, in any way we can.

We find ourselves in a liminal place — a place of ‘in-between.’

It is a strange place to be, and we feel fearful. But as we journey through this strange place, it changes as we change. Ultimately, it becomes the place where healing happens.

As we go through life, we have a driving unconscious desire to create a fixed and certain sense of reality. This enables us to feel a sense of safety. But all we ever really create is the illusion of it. And after the psychopath, our illusions of certainty, of security, of safety, are shattered. We are afraid, and this fear is existential and primordial and reaches down into the core of all that we are.

It is alarming to consider that our nicely ordered life, with its predictability and safety and certainty, actually exists on the edge of an unknown wilderness.

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This wilderness “is a place of initiation, for it is there the demonic presences and the forces of nature reveal themselves. The wilderness is the antithesis of house and heart … It holds the dark forbidden things – secrets, terrors, which threaten the protected life of the ordered world of common day.” We find ourselves in irreconcilable opposition between this wilderness and the civilized and familiar place we once inhabited.

Our homes and our selves are our basic places of safety. When violated, we have nowhere to go to feel safe. The fact that this violation was perpetrated by someone we thought we knew and trusted leaves us shaken and fearful.

That someone could have manipulated their way into our hearts, and then continued on freely to our souls, leaves us in this liminal space.

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“Liminality embodies the abject, ‘the in-between, the ambiguous, the composite’ that disturbs ‘identity, system, order,’” according toTeresa A. Goddu, in Gothic America: Narrative, History and Nation. It is a very uncomfortable place to be, to say the least, and one that scares us deeply.

In a state of liminality, “participants stand at the threshold between their previous way of structuring their identity…and a new way. Continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.”

We find ourselves in a place that exists between the everyday world we thought we knew — and the one we only recently discovered. We look around us, and on its surface everything appears the same as it did before. The sun rises, the clock ticks, the phone rings, and snow falls or flowers bloom. But there is a sense of that resemblance being an uncanny one. While everything around us may appear to be the same, it has taken on the quality of having been fundamentally changed beneath the surface. Even though we look the same when we see ourselves in the mirror, we know we have been fundamentally altered in some profound way, deep beneath our skin.

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This uncanny aspect extends into the very way we see things. We may give way to superstitious beliefs. According to Sartre, magic is dominant when control over our experience is weak:

“Magical beliefs and the fearful reactions based on such beliefs are the result of the state of uncertainty we are in, created by this challenge and by the negation of our expectations. Our feelings come from the conviction of loss of control and the sense of helplessness we feel when our cognitive system can neither assimilate our experience into its own structure nor adapt itself to the structure of the experience.”

What we believed was real and solid now seems like nothing but a house of cards that was ready to be blown over by a strong enough wind. The psychopath was that wind.

As Thomas L. Dumm pointed out, “Fear once meant the experience of being between places of protection, in transit, in a situation analogous to the condition that is commonly referred as liminality.” This idea of being in between places of safety applies equally well to paradigms of thought as it does to physical places, and it helps to explain the sense of uncanniness and fear we feel. We journeyed outside our usual paradigm and into an alternate one that we never even knew existed.

A key feature of liminality is the stage of reintegration. When this reintegration does not happen, liminality becomes permanent, which can be very dangerous. Only when we can take that new paradigm, and accept it and integrate it with our old one, does our fear and our sense of the uncanny resolve.

Liminality is brought about by trauma and tragedy. It is the space of transition. It is also the space of transformation.

Aurora explained it beautifully in the comments below:

 “This… explains exactly how I was feeling a year ago. Its a terribly frightening place, and I remember distinctly feeling like the ground was unsteady under my feet. The things that were previously precious and meaningful to me suddenly made no sense at all. It was a spiritual crisis, as well as an emotional and physical one.

I haven’t read a better description of this ‘space’ one finds oneself in after having had an experience with a psychopath. It really is a strange and barren landscape and it takes time and self care to get back to a space of feeling safe – safe emotionally deep within the self, within ones own home, thoughts, identity, reality, within one’s community and within ones sense of reality and trust.

I still have a long way to go with this, but I feel now I know more fully what I am dealing with. I no longer let wishful thinking, nostalgia or cognitive dissonance dull the painful but necessary task of facing the reality of what happened to me. It can be truly transforming, but is it a journey, and one where it is so important to get the help you need, and those that truly understand just how many levels the pain infiltrates.”

♥ Are you in the liminal space?

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22 thoughts on “Liminality, the Unsettling Space of In-Between”

  1. David

    That does help me understand my soon-to-be-ex wife, along with hundreds of other articles I have read. My problem at this stage isn’t understanding what happened so much as understanding why someone who I thought was lifelong companion would do it? And worst of all, where do I go from here? HOW do I go from here? I’m still reeling from this. I can’t even believe it happened, let alone move on.

    1. Admin

      That’s what we all go through — finding the answers we need so we can move on. Best of luck with your journey.

  2. prinses

    I like to think that the psychopath is it’s own biggest enemy.
    He might have used us by pretending and left us damaged, true, but it helps and comforts me knowing he will never build up a life.
    He left me kind of depressed and empty but I am sure he doesn’t even know how he did that. He went with a flow, entousiastic, cause he found someone that fed his emptiness but he wasn’t able to do something positive with this connection and will never be able anymore in his life to do something positive with ANYTHING.
    I love this sentence you wrote from Sartre; its exactly what makes the P himself the weakest puppet of this magic that takes over weak-hearted human beings and makes them psychotic like a drug does. Cause that’s what he is, a human being in a contstant state of psychosis. We were just another drug to his addiction to other human beings to make him feel alive.
    As I think of it like this, I might be in pain and recovering slowly, but somehow, with hard work, reading, writing, talking to people, reflecting, mourning, I know I will get out of this illusion.
    The psychopath never will. He doesn’t even realize what we are going through.
    He is never learning from experience, just getting older and more manipulative.
    Stealing our breaths, playing with our souls, even getting depressed when the magic is gone, everything in his life has got do with forfilling his needs that depend on the moodswings he is in all the time. Like he is a God.
    It’s all cold, all negative, without reflection. So bloody destructive.
    What we are doing is repairing what he subconsciousely damaged or even stole from us. without knowing it, because how can he know something he never had himself???
    Maybe we were kind of happier before, but this recovering will learn us how to really protect our happiness in the future.
    Darkness made us blind and sucked our light/love out of our souls we had build up for years.
    Now it’s up to us to recover and make our light so big and strong that it makes the dirtiness visible but never powerfull again.
    Light and love and positive values will lift us up out of this mess.
    The psychopath is just part of this mess and he is not able to see it himself, he is so blind and lost in illusion, exactly like the drug-addict.
    Those who think he is is powerfull, give him to much credit and importance.
    I see him as very very weak, a coward, a baby, completely lost in all this moodswings and fears that make him move with this destructive cold wind that blows him to weak spots of beautiful giving people to USE them.
    HE is the one caught in illusion. WE are getting back to reality and in some way always will be missing a little piece; that’s where we were cuaght in this illusion with him.
    HE will never get out> WE will.

    1. Admin

      You say we are “repairing what he subconsciousely damaged or even stole from us, without knowing it, because how can he know something he never had himself?” but I don’t agree with that at all — the psychopath knew darn well what he was doing. They have an extraordinary ability for cognitive empathy (knowing what we think and feel) but no emotional empathy (feeling what we feel), which is what makes them dangerous. They know what we feel but don’t give a rat’s ass, so they know how to take advantage of us in just the right way to get whatever it is they want.

      “We were caught in an illusion with him. He will never get out, but we will.” Exactly! When that illusion falls apart, that’s when we find ourselves in the liminal space. As we journey through it, the last vestiges of that illusion is resolved. Best wishes.

    2. Lisa

      Prinses thank you. Somehow I am taking guilty pleasure in the fact that he will always be lonely. I hoped he might once reflect on his actions and feel guilt or remorse, perhaps missing the “us” I believed existed but now know that will not happen. He does not have a conscience. He will never feel the love for someone like I had for him. He is incapable. I hope someday to be able to trust someone enough again to find love. I think the most precious thing he took from me is my trusting, giving nature. I am slowly getting my spirit back., my shine, my soul. I will get better. He will never change. Thank you so much for this whole article. It has affected me immensely in a very positive way to know a bit of how his mind works and to finally realize we are definitely over and to quit longing for something that was never truly there. I now feel I can put this chapter in life in the past and move forward. At least I am telling myself that. I will make it so.

      1. Adelyn Birch

        You ‘will make it so’ — I like your determination. It will happen in stages; first your head, and then your heart. You’ll get there. Best wishes, Lisa xx

  3. prinses

    ‘One cannot see what was lost in the dark without switching on the light.’
    But the moment you really enlighten things, you’ll see it was NEVER the psycho you loved! There was no-one but a spooky mirror! So pain will be gone! You were fooled!
    Be that smart-ass and move on! This GAP you’re feeling is the period of time in your life you were blinded by your own desires and insecureties you didn’t protect well enough, and the love you felt was YOURS and its still there, right where you are, right now.
    Say hi to your new self. Love it and stay in reality.
    I do the same transformation, it’s hard work but I believe in it and thank you guys for sharing!!

    1. Admin

      A spooky mirror, indeed. Knowing that definitely makes a difference, although the pain isn’t gone all at once with a “poof.” If it is, you are extraordinarily lucky!

  4. Natalie

    Finding god is the answer.. That’s what helped and saved me after my traumatic experience! God bless!

    1. Admin

      I’m glad you found what worked for you. Warm wishes.

  5. aurora

    This is a great post, and explains exactly how I was feeling a year ago. Its a terribly frightening place, and I remember distinctly feeling like the ground was unsteady under my feet. The things that were previously precious and meaningful to me suddenly made no sense at all. It was a spiritual crisis, as well as an emotional and physical one.
    I haven’t read a better description of this ‘space’ one finds oneself in after having had an experience with a psychopath. It really is a strange and barren landscape and takes time and self care to get back to a space of feeling safe – safe emotionally deep within the self, within ones own home, thoughts, identity, reality, within one’s community and within ones sense of reality and trust.
    I still have a long way to go with this, but I feel now I know more fully what I am dealing with. I no longer let wishful thinking, nostalgia or cognitive dissonance dull the painful but necessary task of facing the reality of what happened to me. It can be truly transforming, but is it a journey, and one where it is so important to get the help you need, and those that truly understand just how many levels the pain infiltrates.
    thank you, this has been really helpful

    1. Admin

      I’m glad it was helpful, and happy to hear you’re making good progress. You describe the liminal space perfectly as a spiritual crisis, as well as an emotional and physical one.

      You have expressed this well and beautifully: “It really is a strange and barren landscape and takes time and self care to get back to a space of feeling safe – safe emotionally deep within the self, within one’s own home, thoughts, identity, reality, within one’s community and within one’s sense of reality and trust.”

      It’s definitely a journey…the space changes as we travel through it. At first it’s utterly barren, but one day we notice a tiny flower emerging from a crack in the parched ground, like a miracle. Our own resilience can be surprising.

  6. Bel

    Thank you so much for this article. It describes perfectly how my life has been for the last couple of years. The quote from Aurora was spot on – it was exactly how I was a year ago after all the cheating, manipulation, lies and emotional abuse – nothing felt real for a long time. I found by taking the love and strength I had poured into my marriage and giving it back to myself and my children really helped me and us, as well as addressing my own issues which had kept me in such a horrible relationship for almost two decades. I also educated myself about these creatures and observed the behaviour of the ex-psychopath for a few months to see the patterns as they emerged. I gave myself closure about two months ago and my healing has now really escalated. After forgiving myself, all of the anger and pain dissipated – it comes back now and again – but with nowhere near the level and viciousness it hit me with for the best part of a year after separating. And I am better able to deal with it and let it go. Note: I have not forgiven him, I have forgiven myself. There is no obligation on our part to forgive someone who has deliberately gone out of their way to f**k us over, ever. Counselling, meditation and having only a couple of very trusted friends has also helped me on this journey. My son has suffered enormously through this too, and is only now coming through the other side. Both of my children and I are now in a much better emotional space and our relationship is stronger than ever. The psychopath, realising we have all moved on emotionally has started to try and draw us back into his nightmare of drama, deceit and abuse, but we are all standing firm and not allowing him to get to us. He will never build a life by himself, whilst ours continues to grow and expand. I almost feel sorry for him……..almost.

    1. Admin

      “I found by taking the love and strength I had poured into my marriage and giving it back to myself and my children really helped me and us, as well as addressing my own issues which had kept me in such a horrible relationship for almost two decades.”

      I love this — it’s really wonderful and so affirming.

      “After forgiving myself, all of the anger and pain dissipated – it comes back now and again – but with nowhere near the level and viciousness it hit me with for the best part of a year after separating. And I am better able to deal with it and let it go. Note: I have not forgiven him, I have forgiven myself. There is no obligation on our part to forgive someone who has deliberately gone out of their way to f**k us over, ever.”

      I could not agree more! Yet there is pressure to forgive, and if not in the form of overt pressure from others, it comes from the beliefs we’ve internalized. As you have shown, forgiving the perpetrator is not necessary for healing. But many believe that myth, and then beat themselves up for not being able –or not wanting — to do so. Part of healing is learning to honor and trust our own feelings and preferences again, instead of letting others dictate what we ‘should’ feel and ‘should’ do. We’ve all had enough of that! After what these people have done — compounded by the fact that they have no remorse for it — they don’t deserve our forgiveness. We already gave them far more than enough, and they kept blowing it. I’ve been thinking about writing a post about forgiveness, and when I do I’d like to quote your comment.

      I’m glad to hear your son is finally coming through to the other side, and it’s good to hear you and your children are standing firm together. There are so many sad stories of parental alienation — children being turned against the well parent by the unwell one. Very sad.

      I have an idea. I don’t have children, so I don’t write anything from that point of view or that addresses the issues that come along with it. Would you like to contribute to a guest post? It could be about helping children through the healing process or any other related issues you consider important. Let me know.

      1. Bel

        Thank you for your lovely response :) Please, feel free to quote anything I have written and I feel honoured to be asked. If my words can help even one person on their journey out of the maze these creatures build up around us, then it will all have been worthwhile.
        I agree so much with what you’ve mentioned about the internalised pressure to forgive the perpetrator, and looked at this from many angles during the period of liminality I lived through. I found in my experience, although I know the ex psychopath’s background (and what, perhaps led to his condition), that if I forgave HIM, then it would almost be like ‘re-victimising’ myself. So, by focussing on ME, our children, and MY issues – and leaving his abberant behaviours where they belonged, ie at HIS door – I effectively freed myself and the children from continuing on in an emotionally poisonous dynamic which would only have continued escalating. Counselling helped enormously with this.
        I would be happy to write a guest blog for you, how do I go about it?
        Enjoy your day :)

        1. Admin

          “I forgave HIM, then it would almost be like ‘re-victimising’ myself.” That’s exactly the way I felt, too. And as it turned out, I never ‘needed’ to forgive him. I healed anyway, without once again giving up what I valued. Or maybe BECAUSE I didn’t give that up again.

          1. marshanewday@GMAIL.COM

            Whether we forgive the psychopath or not, they will never know. Unless we make the mistake of staying in contact with them. I try not to waste thoughts on him but they do come up still. Sometimes it is difficult to push them away. Afraid I did tell the police that my only regret was not killing him when I found out what he did to the children. A psychopathic pedophile! I didn’t have the courage to do it and have a belief in karma. I don’t want that on my soul! Yet what he has done to all of us is far worse. He doesn’t have feelings. We feel devastated and trying to find a way to heal. It does feel that he is getting off free…though a minimum of 30 years in prison may seem unfair to him. He doesn’t believe in any authority other than his own and certainly feels above the law. He actually thinks it is ok if He rapes a child! Thankful for this site as I believe it will facilitate healing. Looking for a therapist tomorrow that understands victims of psychopaths. The children are in therapy.

            1. Admin

              Thoughts are bound to come up. I’m glad you didn’t kill him, because you would be the one in prison; it sounds like the legal system will do what’s necessary to remove him from society. It might not seem like enough, but at least he can’t harm anyone else. And pedophiles are not thought of very highly in prison, so he may not have an easy time of it.

              Good luck with finding a therapist; I hope you find a good one. I’m happy to hear you believe this site will help you heal! Thank you. Best wishes to you.

  7. Catherine

    I recently found out my mother has a personality disorder. It’s difficult to tell how far along the spectrum she is because she is covert. It turns out my brother is not my dad’s and she was poisoning me as a child everyday before school to humiliate me by making me throw up going to school in front of my friends. Exactly what she used is cloudy but every day I had to drink a special coffee egg mixture which was terrible.
    So I guess psychopathic comes to mind. I am now 60 and my mother is 88. Of course other things happened in my life with her but she was always a person I didn’t really like being with.
    But my grandparents were my saviors and because of them I had a good sense of self. They lived downstairs from us in brooklyn and because of their proximity I am sure nothing more sinister happened to me.
    So now I am in no contact with her. It took two years to work out the logistics of my escape but it worked. My brother, who doesn’t have a clue about anything and is not interested in knowing..is now in charge of her stay in the nursing home. I take care of the money for her only. Her grave awaits her and I doubt I will go to the funeral. I bought the grave and took care of all the particulars in advance.
    The overwhelming devotion I had to my parents during my lifetime is my honor and regret too. The wish to be loved by her was always present and now I know could never have been. My counselor told me my mother loved me in her own way. That is not true…I don’t go to that counselor anymore. I have profound faith that God has allowed me to become aware of who my mother really was and now God allows me to be free from her demons.
    Her shame anger and guilt was given to me subconsciously and now that I am aware I no longer feel the need to suffer like that anymore.
    Also I am now struggling with identity of sorts. Since my life was almost destroyed by my mother God gave me a new life with a wonderful husband and child. I focus on that and my art. I just wonder how much of me is really me and how much is the result of mind control. Thus your article is important and a labrynth is the right metaphor. My dreams tell me I am getting better. I no longer dream I am ugly and sad. Now I have beautiful blond golden hair smile alot and have a lot of light surrounding me I dreams. So things will work out eventually..
    Most probably after she dies.

    1. Admin

      Catherine, I’m sorry to hear about the terrible things that went on in your childhood. How sad that your mother purposely made you ill each day. I’m glad to hear your grandparents were there for you. It must be shocking to find out about all of it at this point in your life.

      You were not alone in your devotion to a parent who didn’t deserve it. Many people feel they have an obligation to a parent even if they were abusive, and society reinforces this idea. How did that counselor think she knew what was going on in your mother’s mind? I’m glad you stopped seeing her.

      It sounds like you’ve come a very long way and are living a good life. You may still have some vestiges of the trauma you endured, and in some aspects you may not have completed your journey through it yet. I hope you find whatever pieces of the puzzle that might still be missing, and the resolution you’re looking for.

      This article might be of interest to you.

      The Debt — What do their grown children owe terrible and abusive parents?

  8. Marsha

    It has been over a year since I moved away from him. Still healing. But now I feel blessed to have the opportunity to have a new life. I am not the incompetent crazy idiot he had convinced me I was. Still learning and understanding. We are survivors of a psychopath! Know what that makes us? Stronger than we ever we dreamt we could be. Until I feel confident that I can spot one of these monsters again I am happy to live alone. Financially, it is scary. He spent my pension two years ago. So when you see a white haired lady at Walmart greeting you, or an elderly lady at the fast food counter, don’t think for a moment she is less than you. No jobs for insurance underwriters for 63 year old women. Give that gal or man a smile. You may have more in common with them than you realize! And remember, best defense against a psychopath is still No Contact.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I’m so glad you’re away from him and starting a new life. You’ll know when you’re confident enough to meet potential partners again. Or you may choose to continue being happy to be on your own; it’s actually a wonderful thing to be able to do. I’m terrible sorry to hear about your pension! My heart goes out to you. All the best to you, Marsha.

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