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Below is an Interactive Board sampler. A fuller listing is found in the "Stories" menu above.

4/14 Interactive Board: Codependent Partners

3/23 Interactive Board: He's Changing... I'm Not...

3/1 Interactive Board: D/s Lifestyle

1/14 Interactive Board: My Purrrfect Husband

12/12 Interactive Board: What if He Could Have Changed?

10/23 Interactive Board: Quandary Revisited

8/24 Interactive Board: Quandary! What's Going On?

7/20: Dr. Irene on cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness

6/12 Interactive Board: Unintentional Abuse

11/7 Interactive Board: Is This Abusive?

12/29 Interactive Board: There Goes the Wife...

11/4 Interactive Board: A New Me!

10/8 Interactive Board: Seeming Impossibility

9/8 Interactive Board: My Ex MisTreats Our Son

5/1 Interactive Board: I feel Dead - Towards Him

4/26 Interactive Board: Why is This So Hard?

4/19 Interactive Board: I Lost My Love...

4/7 Interactive Board: Too Guilty!

Am I Married To A Sociopath?

Am I Married To A Sociopath?

Dear Dr. Irene,                                                            
First, many thanks are in order!!! Because of your wonderfully comprehensive website, I have identified "the problem" with my nine year marriage. Understanding the dynamics that make the abusive cycle "work", gave me an option I never knew I had: namely to stop  allowing my husband to control and abuse me any more! 

When I realized I was responsible for protecting myself and our two young children from this, I had some hard choices to make. I had to take action and stop hiding behind my anger and hurt feelings and instead use them to motivate and guide me to better, healthier choices!!!!! In short, I had to ask my abuser to leave and prepare myself to leave if he refused. Pretty scary stuff! It was very painful and frightening to face the truth and decide to do whatever it took to provide a safe and sane home for me and my kids. And I also realized this might be his only chance to see the consequences of his abuse and make a choice to change himself. He agreed to leave after many attempts to change my mind, the worst being, "How can you destroy our family?" I had to be clear on what I wanted and what I could do to change it. I had to tell him his abuse of our family is the reason for the separation, and he has to look in the mirror and finally see how his choices affect others. He cried, he pleaded, he manipulated. But I stood firm! The only way to stop this cycle is to refuse to participate in it and seek help for myself.                  

I come from an abusive home (big shocker, huh?) where my mother and father married young. By the age of 23 my mom was widowed with two young children. My father killed himself (the ultimate act of selfishness and rage). Mom was an alcoholic and drug  addict. She raised me and my sister (or should I say we raised ourselves) in an extremely chaotic environment of anger, shame, emotional and physical abuse. She was very neglectful and given to outbursts of rage when we needed her in any way. This left us to fend for ourselves in many overwhelming, frightening ways and exposed us to predatory abusive men who sexually molested us. Needless to say, I had to do a tremendous amount of work to survive this childhood with my sanity intact. And I did. I survived by being creative and resourceful and knowing deep down that I deserved much better (a divine gift!). Yes.

By the time I met my husband, I had done a lot of living and was determined to choose a spouse wisely.  He by contrast, came from a conservative, well-educated European family that seemed very close and healthy. I guess anything would have looked good compared to my home life - and he seemed wonderfully supportive of me. Yet, I had warnings in my feelings about him, but the good codependent I was, I ignored them. Everything about him just LOOKED so good! I had learned to question so much of my internal world (part of why I survived in the first place), I chalked my insecurities up to being afraid to be happy! He more than encouraged me in that direction. He would speak of wanting to protect me and take care of me, and LOVE me as I had never been loved before. Yet his actions were making me uncomfortable. 

On the surface things looked great - all my girlfriends wanted to know if he had a brother! He was extremely charming and thoughtful in ways that impressed me. He showered me with gifts and attention. But, he seemed to want his own way in many things and was insistent I comply. I remember sleeping with him the first time because he persisted and persisted until I allowed him to do it. It didn't feel good. It felt bad. But I was still unhealthy enough to think I had to give him what he wanted in order to be loved. He was controlling in ways that made me feel belittled and child-like. He didn't listen to my wants or needs, but told me I had been in such a screwed up family, that I couldn't know what was best for myself. It angered me to be so discounted, but I was afraid he was right. Here was this handsome, older, successful man, with no addictions and a nice family background wanting ME! Still, I often felt a lack of connection to him. He became cool and removed, working long hours and berating me for my lack of appreciation. He was demanding and self absorbed. He felt himself to be a superior person, able to make up his own rules as he went along, and I went with him. I remember wanting to run away on the night before our wedding. I felt so anxious and afraid. My mother told me it was nonsense, and seemed to think it was just jitters. She didn't want to listen to me, she wanted me off her hands and married to this successful man, so she could feel she had done her job well as a mother.

So, I married him. I cried on the honeymoon and felt terribly depressed. He was annoyed and angry that I didn't respect him enough to enjoy all the relatives we stayed with in Europe. I was unhappy. But when I returned home everyone thought we had to have had the most marvelous time, and I went along with the ruse. Life became increasingly more difficult as he did things that resulted in my feeling very insecure and fearful. He would go on business trips and stay out all night and not call when he said he would. My anger and unhappiness with any action of his was "ridiculous!" He seemed to go out of his way to encourage the very feelings he claimed to be so suffocated by. I was really confused! 

He became completely selfish after the birth of our first child, almost like a rebellion against the neediness of our baby. He wouldn't help me at all, and threatened he would take away our baby if I couldn't handle it. I became so depressed, I thought of committing suicide and sought professional help. My therapist never recognized my abuse and saw my problems as a result of my childhood, further validating my husband's explanation that the problem was all in my head. I thought I would go insane, and just getting through each day was a challenge. His angry outbursts escalated, and he withdrew all affection and support unless I behaved as he thought I should. He accused me of trying to control him often, when I was really just trying to find out when he'd be home for dinner. He took away my credit cards and debit card because he said I was ruining us financially with my spending (hard not to spend money when you have a family to clothe and feed!) and generally made my life hell. 

I discovered at that time that he was lying to me about a number of things, namely his spending and whereabouts. I was devastated and confronted him. He lied even when I begged him for my sanity's sake to tell me the truth. We became, unexpectedly, pregnant again. I felt really trapped at that point. He was terrible to me throughout that pregnancy, and didn't seem to care about me at all. My tears didn't move him; he would ignore me and be annoyed that I was upset AGAIN. He began to use physical force to get me to comply with his wishes, holding me down, blocking my path and raising his fist to me. He would agitate me to the point that I would explode with anger and say terrible things to him. He told me I was abusive to him - and I agreed!

I read, "The Intimate Dance of Anger" and learned to express myself more clearly. I changed the way I responded, and was careful to not use my anger as a weapon against him - but, surprise - it didn't make things any better! His behavior became more brutal and cruel. He began humiliating me in front of the children, screaming curse words and foul names. He withdrew from me sexually and told me I was too fat and ugly to be wanted. Any small thing could set him off. He made mean "jokes" about me, threw things and hit me "by accident" and a whole host of rotten, inhuman behaviors. Meanwhile, he became more and more successful in the business world. He treated me so well in the company of folks he wanted to impress. He bragged about my success as an pianist (don't even ask me how I managed to perform! 'cause I sure don't know!) and was proud to appear as "the family man". 

We had a terrific life from the outside: beautiful, smart kids, a lovely home, exotic trips to islands, all the stuff that looks good. But inside I was dying. I began to hate him and wish any plane he was on would just explode. I dreaded  the dinner hour and any time we spent together. I despised him for exploiting me, and had fantasies of dying to show him how much he would regret what he did to me. I began to do things I knew would anger him (smoking cigarettes, spending time with friends, spending money), and just didn't care anymore. I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't, so I figured I might as well enjoy my life. 

I lied to him to avoid confrontations, I hid purchases and distanced myself emotionally in every way I knew how. I struggled to keep up the facade, be a good mom to my kids and have a life of my own. I never let him see me cry, and felt I was living with a stranger. He would explode with rage over trivial things, and used the children to manipulate and control me. At that point I'd had enough. I'd had enough of his pathetic self-centeredness, his control and his tantrums. I didn't want to live like that. 

Despite all I'd done to please him and make him treat me lovingly, his actions and words told me over and over again how much contempt and hatred he had for me. He hated me for needing him, but couldn't resent me if I didn't need him. He hated my new "selfishness," but couldn't feel sorry for himself without it. He actually enjoyed making me suffer, seemingly getting high off of my misery. There was not a single area of my life or my person that he hadn't sought to use for his own means: to exploit, to destroy. 

After surviving the hell of my childhood, I was in hell again. That's what tipped me off to what was really happening. I felt just as I'd felt as a kid; enraged, shamed, blamed, powerless, helpless, hurt and unhappy. I prayed for help, to know and understand why this had "happened" and how I could make it stop.                               

Then I found your site, Dr. Irene. I sat in front of the computer, dumbfounded by what I was reading. I joined the online support group and began to tell others how I felt. I read about my husband in their posts. I got mad as hell! Mad at him for abusing me (now I could call it by it's proper name), mad at me for taking it! 

A new idea began to grow in my cramped brain - freedom!!! I could set myself free. I called my local shelter and made an appointment to see a counselor. I told him to get help or get out. I went to see a lawyer. And I got my hands on every book I could find that dealt with abuse. (see some books here)

I was so scared.  I felt overcome by emotions of grief and sadness at the loss of my dream with him. When I faced the truth, it tore me up so badly I wasn't sure I could make it. I felt so fragile and afraid. Yet, a new feeling was taking root for the first time in my life: I could make it on my own! I didn't need to stay with an abuser to survive, I needed to get away! I knew deep down that it was time to live my life on my own terms. Time to find out what that meant for me and what I needed to do to get there. Time to take back my dignity, my self-respect, and give myself the love I deserve!!!!  

My husband is now in therapy and living in a hotel. He says he's a changed man (overnight no less!) and is reading "Angry All the Time". He is finally seeing the damage he has done, and is not blaming me. He wants to come home, but it's early on in the process, and that is unacceptable to me. 

I want him to get the help he needs so he can be a loving father to our children, and have a life he can feel. I am struggling with guilt over wanting to end our marriage, even if he gets better. I don't know if I can ever feel loving towards him again, or trust him at all. I fear he is pathologically unable to perceive needs and wants other than his own. I feel that he "acquired" me to experience emotions he couldn't generate on his own and that his ability to be honest with himself is seriously disabled. He is so emotionally and spiritually handicapped, I can't imagine his recovery (if he can sustain it) lasting less than the rest of his life. Even if he really wants it (and I have no way of knowing if he really does or is just trying to win me back), can he ever have anything to offer me that I would want? Could he be sociopathic and able to function in the outside world as well as he has? Are some abusers incapable of empathy? These questions trouble me greatly as I have the well being of my children to protect, and do not want them growing up in a divorced home unless  absolutely necessary. I am also fearful of seeking legal separation because I don't want to incite him at this critical time. Maybe I just don't know what I want! Maybe I still want to have hope that this could become a success story and not end in divorce. What do you think?   

Thank you so much for reading this long story - and for any response you can give!   Christina        

Dear Christina,

What do I think? I think that you are no less than a truly amazing woman.  I thank you for writing me; it is hearing about accounts like yours that make my hours working on this site so overwhelmingly fulfilling.

Now, what do I think about your situation and your husband? I think you don't yet know what to do!

You have every right to feel exactly the way you feel. You do not trust his recovery, and you should not trust his recovery. He needs to earn your trust. Maybe he will get OK, and maybe he won't. Time will tell.  You will know. 

About sociopathy: I cannot make any comments regarding your husband and sociopathic traits or tendencies. Clinicians recognize that antisocial personality disorder is very difficult to treat. Angry individuals vary in their degree of sociopathy. In general, the more sociopathic the individual, the worse the prognosis.  

The angry people I work with are clearly selfish. They are also ordinarily compassionate and well-meaning. I have yet to meet one who was not. The problem arises when the angry person believes the partner is not meeting a perceived need/want the angry person rightly or wrongly (usually wrongly) feels should be met. Flip! All reason, all empathy goes out the window. All that exists now is anger. The partner deserves to be punished for withholding: "Hurt the horrible partner for hurting me," or so the irrational thinking goes. Other times, the intent is less to hurt the partner than it is to hole up to lick one's wounds. Their self-absorbed withdrawal however hurts those around them - a byproduct of wound licking.

Irrational thinking is workable. Like anything else, the more ingrained the thinking style, the more time and effort it takes to dislodge. But it is do-able - when the individual is highly motivated. (Look what you did when highly motivated!)

On sociopathy: I've never met a person truly without conscience. I've met many who have no conscience when angry. I've met people who pretend not to have remorse when questioned because they don't want to admit to a "weak" feeling. But, I've never met anyone without any remorse. So, I don't know if these awful, ice-cold people exist, or if they just spend most of their time being very, very angry. Perhaps I am naive. Or, perhaps the angry people in my practice (who have to put up with me) are self-selected, i.e., I scare off the more pathological candidates. Or, as I suspect, it could be that sociopathy, when viewed from the surface, is different from sociopathy when viewed from the context of a more trusting relationship.  

I am printing an excerpt from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on antisocial personality disorder. ("Antisocial" is the newer technical term for sociopathy.) Make up your own mind on your husband's sociopathy. For the record, most of my angry people meet these criteria. That's really funny, since I don't think I've never met a "real" sociopath, whatever that is! For the record, a really, really good antisocial person is successful at whatever he or she does and - does not get caught!  

Keep up the wonderful work. Though I suspect at this point, you cannot do anything else.

My warmest regards,  -Dr. Irene    

See Christina's March 2000 update here!