I Think I’m Dating a “Sociopath”

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I Wonder If You Know, by a 21-year-old college student.

Oh my, beautiful, irresistible man, I wonder if you know the pain you inflicted?

I wonder if you know.

You were like a spectacular birthday candle, igniting every bit of me. I craved your fire…until you snuffed all my wishes.

I wonder if you know the way you played me as your puppet. Or how your charm pulled everyone in. Your laugh set free a thousand butterflies in my stomach.

I wonder if you know that the pain you caused was worse than living off four hundred calories a day. Worse than the treatment that followed.

I wonder if you know your emotional assaults, which you disguised as my doing, Held me against my will, frozen, dazed, and confused. You thrust happiness right out of me.

I wonder if you know that the pain of realization was worse than stepping on shards of glass. Shock waves seared throughout my entire body. I throbbed everywhere.

I wonder if you know that I spent hours sobbing at the bottom of my shower, spiraling into a drain of darkness. Wracking my brain, wondering what I did wrong. Contemplating why I was alive.

I wonder if you know.

It’s okay, girl. Breathe. It’s okay.

Today, I hope you know that all the long nights of self-loathing grew into monumental moments of self-healing. The tears fueled my determination to find self-love.

I hope you know that you taught me what I don’t want. After all, how can you experience light without darkness?

I hope you know that your pain made me stronger. I am my own rock. And rock beats scissors.

I hope you know that I forgive you. Not for you. But for me. I love me. Therefore, I forgive you.

And finally, I hope you know I will live happily even after.

This…I know.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

While the reported numbers of individuals diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) are low, it is not uncommon for therapists to hear women say, “I think my boyfriend is a sociopath.”

Mental health and legal advocacy professionals seem to share the consensus that the prevalence of women in dangerous relationships with these individuals seems to be on the rise. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the prevalence of ASPD in the United States is between 1 to 4 percent of the population.

It is three times more common in men than women. Since deception and criminal behavior are traits of ASPD, these individuals are resistant to therapy and may never receive a formal diagnosis.

Only qualified mental health professionals can diagnose ASPD following comprehensive assessments. There are several listed personality traits, beginning with conduct disorder or juvenile delinquency before age 15.

The individual with ASPD demonstrates a continuous pattern of behaviors with three or more of the following: persistent violation of social norms and laws, deceit, impulsivity, reckless disregard for the safety of self or others, aggression and hostility, consistent irresponsibility, and lack of remorse (DSM-5-TR).

Being in a relationship with a person with ASPD is characterized by a progressive pattern of disregard for their partner, coupled with lies and manipulation for personal gain. The male referenced in the poem above pretended to attend the university and even walked with a backpack to his supposed “classes” when, in fact, he worked in a retail store.

He joined her in the library, writing fake papers. When campus workers asked for his identification, he would say he lost his ID and make up a student number. He attended university events and even got a “social” bid from a fraternity. Eventually, she discovered that he was dating another woman simultaneously, and when the two women talked, they realized the extent of his lies.

Ending a relationship with these individuals is challenging because of fear of impulsivity and retaliation. Firmly and formally ending the destructive relationship, with legal, safety, and support services in place, including restraining orders, is critical. Understanding all facets of this illness helps partners understand the importance of maintaining clear boundaries for protection.

For the above college female, she notified the police when she realized that he was not a registered student. The police response was, “Oh, another one of these? We see this often.” Unbeknownst to her, this individual had a prior juvenile arrest for trespassing, breaking, and entering the campus. The authorities alerted school officials, and a no-trespassing order was issued.

John Diez / Pexels

Source: John Diez / Pexels

Once safety measures are in place, psychological healing can begin. I recommend that survivors initiate these steps with a licensed therapist or victim advocacy group familiar with how these relationships cause harm.

Healing Steps

1. Process the trauma

These relationships grow over time, and the healing will happen in layers. Take time for yourself and your recovery. Begin by journaling all that you wonder. Answer the prompt, “I wonder if you know….”

2. Name the wounding

List how this individual hurt and deceived you. Seeing the behaviors on paper may help validate how this individual meets the criteria for ASPD. Correctly assign responsibility for the dysfunction to him and his untreated mental illness. Remind yourself that what you did not know then, you now know—reframe self-blame.

3. Feel and grieve all emotions

What have you lost? Grieve the losses while Identifying and allowing a full range of emotions, including anger, shock, shame, and disgust. Process your feelings with a therapist while practicing tools to release the intense, energetic holds.

4. Affirm who you are

Who are you as a survivor? How are you nurturing yourself? Write an affirmation for yourself and your life.

5. Zoom out to the bigger picture

What did you learn? What is your advice to others? Answer the prompt, “Now, I know…” Process closure for yourself through creative arts, including poetry, painting, photography, music, or any other means that speak to you.

6. Remember, there is “happily even after.”

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