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Dr. Robert,

 

I have been reading your archives for a while now.

 

Being a victim of someone who I suspect is a sociopath, I am left forever researching the condition in an effort to answer an endless list of questions. I will present my questions to you, but first would like to give you as brief a synopsis of my situation as I possibly can.

 

I met my ex-boyfriend some seventeen years ago. He was married at the time and he was a family counselor, working with troubled teens. When we initially met, he courted me under the guise of friendship. I cannot begin to explain how special he made me feel, and how "deep" I began to think of our friendship. He eventually pushed intimate boundaries with me, often spending the night and rubbing my back, spending a lot of time with me, hours of conversation, etc. He finally admitted to me that he was in love with me.

 

And yet he was married.

 

He had divulged secrets with me. He admitted that he often sought the services of erotic massages, that he would sleep with dancers at the adult clubs he frequented, had many affairs. He had been married less than a year when he met me and so these sexual escapades and indulgences were not due to a lagging marriage. It was obviously still in the honeymoon phase.

 

Our friendship lasted about five years. I always felt pressured to have sex with him, but usually kept him at a distance...succumbing only once. If I am honest with myself, I felt the hypocrisy, sensed he was somewhat of a player, a manipulator. And yet, he was so sublime, so charming and gentle and sweet. I had mostly come to treasure our relationship. However, we lost touch, only to reunite three years ago.

 

He had since divorced his first wife, and had remarried and was divorced again. He gave me the impression that he was single, living in a town about five hours from where I lived. We decided to move forward romantically and I fell head over heels in love with him. Finally succumbing to him fully after all these years was intoxicating. He called me constantly, said the most beautiful, wonderful things, and when we would meet the intimacy and time spent together was magical.

 

However, red flags were starting to present themselves. I was not willing to pay attention. I absolutely refused to acknowledge the ongoing signals that something was not right - something that I ultimately paid for very, very dearly. First warning: inconsistencies about his "ex-girlfriend." I began sensing he was still seeing her. Second warning: he was a financial mess, and began gently manipulating money from me. Keep in mind, that he had a prestigious job as an executive director of a well known non-profit organization in the community. But it was always that he was broke because of the child support he was ordered to pay for his second wife and their child together. He would ask me for money, and tell me that he was wiring the money back to me the following week. I never saw a dime and he would tell me stories how the money was lost in transit.

 

Third warning: sexual addiction that presented itself quite innocently at first, but later would prove to be a full blown problem that was ruled by pure impulse and an ego-driven need to self-indulge and objectify, use, and degrade women. It really became quite perverse a sick.

 

Fourth warning: While we were actually planning to get married, he would periodically break up with me for reasons that left me spinning. Things would be going along fine, and then, suddenly he would come up with something from left field. It was usually when things were quite content. It would devastate me. Then he would slowly reel me back in, with comforting words, gentle compassion, and a savior-like attitude. I began to get the feeling later that he enjoyed the pain he caused me, as well as the power he had to console me and mend my heart.

 

Despite these warnings, I left my family and job of ten years, moved to his town to begin our lives together. This is when things became so disturbing that I am still left wondering what happened. For the next two years, I would undergo the most diabolical onslaught of both subtle and overt emotional cruelty ever. He always upped the ante. I soon discovered after moving that he had not one other woman, but two, as well as the occasional erotic massage. Being away from my supportive network of family and friends, he did a doozy in manipulating me, turning things around to indicate that somehow there was something wrong with me. Having a background in psychology, he was amazingly great at this. He always has a "concerned" tone in his voice, as he questioned my loyalty, my mental stability, my ability to even love him. No doubt, I began to question myself. He manipulated thousands from me, depleting my life savings account. Despite being the professional that he is, he managed to have his electricity, gas, and water turned off in his home, then leached off me in my apt for a while. He managed to get into minor legal trouble (I bailed him out). All the while, courting another serious relationship whereby he was also engaged to her, and sleeping with another ex.

 

He loves the "thrill" of sky diving, doing reckless and daring things, and I feel that the sexual addiction was part of this rush he sought. Looking back now, I see that he would say things that appeared to be an indication of him wanting to mix things up as well as prove his own manipulative skills to himself. For example, later on I learned that he urged the ex-girlfriend to apply for a job at the same company where I worked. He had no other reason for suggesting this, other than to force a confrontation between her and I. So, secrecy was not tantamount, thrill and danger of discovery was.

 

As time wore on, and I discovered there was another serious relationship, he begged me to hang on - that he was on the verge of breaking up with the other. Yet, he would always rush to see her on weekends. I soon became very toxic and resentful towards both him and myself. He again manipulated me to accept this internal battle. He urged me to both participate and fund his sexual fantasies, to which I agreed. He pitched it that were sharing "everything" together. I would come to feel devalued, degraded, and nothing short of being sexually exploited. I have since accepted my responsibility in failing to protect myself. Eventually, as my psychological state deteriorated and shortly after taking a prescription, smoking cessation drug (that is known for causing suicidal ideation), I attempted to take my life. This was the lowest point in my downward spiral with this man.

 

When he came to my apt the morning after my attempt, his concern was not for me. I was unconscious, and he roused me awake. He only wanted to know if I had contacted the other girl during my drunken, drugged oblivion. I began to seek professional help around this time. I might also add that during this time, there was a write-up in the newspaper about him in the community about how he was an upstanding philanthropist, gaining donations to fund a community park for children. He absolutely basked in the limelight, adoring the attention. Meanwhile, he was taking me to escort studios some nights, seeing his other non-suspecting girlfriend other nights, and sleeping occasionally with an ex-girlfriend. I truly believe that he was high on the power he perceived he had over each of our lives, as well as the rush of adrenaline he must of had from ongoing threat of discovery, from not just the women, but from his job and the community.

 

The psychologist I was seeing at the time apparently saw how integrated my psyche was with this man, so he suggested a gradual termination of the relationship. He also felt it was important, since I told him the background in psychology he had & how manipulative he is. It was then that I was first introduced to the concept that my ex-boyfriend was a sociopath. Having told my story to several therapists since, the general consensus is that he was a sex addict and possibly sociopath, narcissist at the very least. I was counseled to proceed with caution, particularly given my fragile state of mind.

 

I had a handful of encounters with my ex after this, with the final encounter resulting in my pregnancy. My ex, a father already, reacted with coldness and detachment, urging me to obtain an abortion. He had once told me that he would never consider abortion - he just loves children so much! I digress...

 

Seeking mental, emotional and physical health for myself and my unborn child, I finally chose to cease contact with him. He went on to marry the other woman and move to another city. I now have a six month old daughter, and struggle to make ends meet since being laid off from work recently. I filed for child support and received hateful backlash from this man. He has no more vested interest in me, and so now I am seeing sides to him I never before believed he was capable of. Furious that he may be found out, he has urged me to drop the child support case, threatening to take my infant daughter for extended weekend visitations (despite me breast-feeding her, or despite her not knowing who he is, etc.). He admitted it was strictly retaliatory and that he would back off if I did. I was astonished to learn that he would actually attempt to traumatize my infant daughter in an effort only to get even. And he used to counsel families with children!

 

He now lives in lovely community, newly married, and has established himself favorably in the community, as a quick google search proves. People adore him, instantly like him, and he generally is perceived as a sincere, charming, witty, decent person. Everyone likes him.

 

So my questions...

 

I am still confounded, still feel duped, after all this, still in shock that my friend from all those years ago betrayed me in so many ways. It is still easier for me to know that he may be a sociopath. It feels less personal that way. I just happened to be at the wrong place, wrong time. In your opinion, having read my story, would you agree that my ex was indeed sociopathic in nature? If so, do you have any advice for the victims in order to move on? I find the latter so extremely difficult. I might add here, also that my ex frequently diagnosis others' as sociopathic (such as his own ex-wife, a doctor friend of mine, etc.), and I once accused him of being one himself. He admitted to me that while he was a very selfish person, he did not think he was sociopathic. He said "I think I am a strange anomaly, an enigma of sort. I am very selfish, yes, but I do feel guilty about things."  If this is true, and if he does experience guilty feelings, the guilt never, absolutely ever, caused him to change his course of action. Too, I have heard that some sociopaths do feel degrees of guilt, but usually it is only in direct correlation to being caught, or how their actions reflect poorly on them. Again, it comes back to an egocentric perception of guilt and how it relates to their uncomfortable feelings, and not in relation to the misery and pain their actions have caused others.

 

If he is a sociopath, is it advisable to allow contact between him and my daughter? My maternal instincts, while not objective, scream no. If it is not advisable how would I go about getting a diagnosis of him, if possible? He has a very cold attitude toward my daughter and I am afraid if given the opportunity, he would objectify her as I have seen him objectify others, to punish me. Simply suggesting to take her overnight (which is not advisable in visitation for children under two years of age) makes my skin crawl at his callousness and disregard for the anxiety and distress this would inflict upon my daughter. He mentioned, too, that after being found out, he would seek visitation so that his new wife would not think he was uncaring towards his daughter. But before that time comes, he has no interest whatsoever. I cringe to think of what regular contact with this man as father would do to a child.

 

And finally, with the theory that sociopathy tends to run in families, is this due to genetic predisposition, or environmental factors, or both? I am watching my daughter carefully, looking for any signs of autistic-like dissociative tendencies, or anything strange that would indicate lack of feeling or empathy. So far, she seems so very normal, happy, and healthy. She has bonded with me very well, laughs and smiles and is an overall very happy little girl. She does seem to need lots of attention and becomes distressed when alone, and this worries me. My son (different father) was so much more self-soothing. But this I am hoping is only her individual need for human contact and bonding, which seems to be more heightened than my son's need. Do you have any advice here with regard what to watch for, how to minimize the risk, etc.

 

If you have gotten this far, then I thank you for your time and consideration in responding.

 

Many thanks,

 

Laura

Texas







ask dr-robert






Hello, Laura--

Well, I cannot make a diagnosis of someone whom I have never met, but many your impressions of this person, which you have communicated to me in your letter, are the kind of behaviors that would lead many psychologists to identify a person as sociopathic.

If you as her mother feel that your daughter would be hurt by contact with her father, and since he seems to have no real desire to know her, but only, according to your account, would use her as a way to keep on manipulating you or as a way to exact some kind of revenge, I would strongly advise you to think first of your daughter's best interests and welfare, and to use your best judgment in protecting her, no matter what that means you must do.

Let me take your question about guilt first. Sociopathy—also called psychopathy—has been defined in different ways by different authorities. And diagnosis is not always easy. For example, where exactly does one draw the line between in-your-face narcissism and outright psychopathy? I tend to concentrate most on whether or not a person feels true guilt for wrong actions which cause harm. So in my book, a person might be almost entirely self-centered and extremely narcissistic, but still not be sociopathic if real guilt arises in appropriate circumstances. Perhaps I like to focus more on this diagnostic criterion, guilt, than to focus on behavior as a test of whether someone is psychopathic or not because I believe that any one particular behavior could have any number of possible psychological explanations, so that focusing mostly on actions, as the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) does, risks blurring important distinctions between people, and might interfere with ariving at a psychological understanding in depth. However, others see things differently, and manage to focus partly upon behavioral criteria in ways that can be worthwhile in helping to paint a diagnostic portrait. For example, Dr. Robert Hare formulated a list of behaviors and traits which he likes to use in diagnosing sociopathy or psychopathy, and his "Psychopathy Checklist-Revised" has become the most commonly used method of assessing psychopathy (Each factor is scored as a zero if it does not apply, as a one if applies somewhat, or as a two if it applies fully. A score of thirty or more qualifies for the psychopathy diagnosis):


Factor 1: Personality "Aggressive narcissism"

* Glibness/superficial charm

* Grandiose sense of self-worth

* Pathological lying

* Conning/manipulative

* Lack of remorse or guilt

* Shallow affect

* Callous/lack of empathy

* Failure to accept responsibility for own actions


Factor 2: Case history "Socially deviant lifestyle"

* Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom

* Parasitic lifestyle

* Poor behavioral control

* Promiscuous sexual behavior

* Lack of realistic, long-term goals

* Impulsivity

* Irresponsibility

* Juvenile delinquency

* Early behavior problems

* Revocation of conditional release


Traits not correlated with either factor

* Many short-term marital relationships

* Criminal versatility






ask dr-robert




Assuming that your ex is sociopathic—and again, I would have to meet him to make a fully intelligent determination—your question about genetics is germane. Probably most, if not all, personality structures are the resultant of both genetic predisposition and environmental factors-- of nature and nurture as this is sometimes said--but that does not mean that a personality type emerges as an outcome of a fifty-fifty even-stephen mix of heredity and environment. Some traits are less influenced by genetics, and others more. The more strictly a trait follows genetic inheritance, the less influential environment will be. For example, if both parents pass along the genes for blue eyes, you will end up with blue eyes regardless of environment, so eye color is one hundred percent genetically determined. Sociopathy seems to be one of those situations in which genetics carries more influence than upbringing does. For example, an important recent study involving twins (Viding, 2005) demonstrates convincingly that callous unemotional traits are strongly influenced by genetics. Another long longitudinal study examined subjects as toddlers and then, 25 years later, as adults (Glenn, 2007). Analysis found that as early as the age of three temperamental and physiological differences exist between those who eventually manifest psychopathic tendencies as adults and those who do not.

This does not mean that your daughter will be sociopathic, but it does raise concerns. So far, from your description, your daughter seems to be doing OK, so perhaps you should try not to worry so much, and simply have a happy and playful relationship with her as best you can. If problems arise later, you can deal with them then, but in any case, although the studies show that sociopathic tendencies do run in families, that does not mean that healthy, loving input will have no effect at all. It might make all the difference. Personality development still involves factors which are neither well understood, nor predictable, so, in my view, understanding and love are still the best approaches to child-rearing.

I hope this properly addresses your concerns.

Be well.




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