I’m Not What You Say I Am
“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.” ~François Duc de La Rochefoucauld
Life isn’t all about appearances. Life is about movement, awareness, insight, change, compassion. Life is about interactions with others. As we move through the world we move through it together. Whether we accept it or not we impact each other. Conversely, we are impacted by others. Our impact on others is often a concern…it is a part of our conscious awareness. We wonder (and sometimes obsess) about how others regard us. Alfred Adler describes this trait of how people regard us in terms of “social interest,” our ability or potential for living “cooperatively and contributing to the good of others.” We learn to adopt this trait early on the playground. As children we were taught to be aware of others feelings and to be nice to others. We learned that words do hurt (in spite of the childhood lesson regarding sticks and stones!) We learned lessons like “make a good first impression” and “do unto others…” All of these childhood (and adult) lessons teach us that what others think is important. Now, this isn’t all bad. Considering we are social creatures and knowing that we impact each other, it is pretty important to be concerned with how other people regard us. Possessing this trait means that we have compassion and empathy…it means that we want to play well with others. But this trait, like all the others in excess, can be dangerous. It can be especially dangerous for someone who finds their way to a playground with a psychopath.
Herein lies the risk: Psychopaths lack concern for others…real, empathetic concern. They can fake it well, but deep down they move through the world not concerned about their impact, but concerned about having control and power. So, being concerned about how other people regard them is twisted. It isn’t so much about positive regard as it is negative regard…they want people to believe they are in control, powerful, smart, and likeable, etc. They want to cover up who they really are…manipulative, dangerous, callous, superficial, glib, and controlling. (Writing those words reminds me why they HAVE to develop a mask…it would be hard to spend two minutes with someone if we saw those traits). So, they move through the world, mask firmly in place…covering who they are with what they want you to believe.
For the woman in a relationship with a psychopath it’s the trait of how people regard you that keeps you stuck. You are concerned with the feelings of others, you are concerned about your impact on other people (and a psychopath will remind you all day about your impact on him!) As long as you believe you are having a negative impact…you will stay until your impact becomes positive. Sad part is…it never does. He knows you need to be seen as kind, compassionate, loyal and honest and he also knows that you don’t give up. So as long as he can make you believe your impact is negative…then give you a glimmer of hope that he can change…he’s got you. You stay because you must be seen by him and others as having a positive impact…a high concern for how others regard you. This concept works well in all other areas of your life, but with a psychopath it’s the thing that puts you at risk and the thing that keeps you there.
Herein lies the benefit: When you realize that he cannot change…you’re out. When you fully and completely come to believe that he is only motivated by power and control, you know that it is no longer about what he thinks or how he sees you…in fact, this flips. You begin to realize that he sees you as a sucker. He has used everything good about you to fill up his empty cup. He has taken what is good and right and manipulated it (and you) for his own agenda. You also realize that he is not only hurting you but he is having a negative impact on others…most likely people you care about. Knowing this becomes your strength…it becomes the fuel to the fire that burns the relationship to ruin…you will not play with others who have no regard. Think about it…would you allow an employee, client, friend, your child to manipulate your good nature this way…not a chance. You’re out. No more playing with a psychopath; time to take your toys and go home.
So, when all is said and done you have way too much concern for how other people regard you, and in the context of a pathological relationship that is really, really dangerous. So, how do you put a lid on that trait? First, be concerned about this trait only when it comes to your pathological. Chances are this trait has served you well in other areas of your life…so don’t be overwhelmed with having to “change” everything about you. This trait is appealing to psychopaths, so just put a lid on it in the context of your relationship. Next, be aware of your thoughts and actions when he persecutes you…when he calls you stupid or crazy, calls you irresponsible and uncaring, attacks your skills as a mother or tells you that you are being “mean.” When he does this he is seeking to control you through this trait. HE IS CONTROLLING YOU THROUGH YOUR TRAIT. Allow this thought to come into your awareness and then challenge it. Who is doing this??? A psychopath. Allow the truth to come into your awareness and you will be compelled to accept it. Additionally, with that knowledge you can counter any thought with a true thought. You might begin to remind yourself that what he says about you is part of his mask…part of the fantasy that he is creating to keep you in the relationship…fantasy is not reality. You know who you are…and you are not who he says you are!