In this article I am assuming that you know that you are in a marriage to a sociopath or a narcissist, or that you are at least in the process of realizing it. You've probably read about the 10 or 12 signs that your marriage is abusive, you know what a narcissist means and you've looked up sociopaths. You've not only read about the charm, the love bombing, the lies, the lack of responsibility, the blame shifting and the lack of emotions but you have been on the receiving end of all of these things and you know what it feels like. I am also going to assume that it's the man is the manipulator in the relationship but the same things will apply if the woman is the manipulator.
So let's have a closer look at the dynamics of a marriage to a sociopath or a narcissist and how specifically they set up the power imbalance from the very start and how they maintain the power and control during the relationship.
The first thing to keep in mind is that when they first meet you, the sociopath or narcissist sizes you up, assessing your wants, your needs, your fears, your strong points and so on. Then they take on a role, the put on a mask if you like, and they present you with a persona that seems to fit perfectly with who you are. They present themselves as a person who can provide whatever it is that you want at that point in time. This is why so many women report that they believed that they had met the perfect man, the ideal husband, Mr. Right, their soul mate, someone who truly understood them and that they were swept up with the thrill of it all from the start.
It doesn't always happen this way, of course, sometimes the manipulator just keeps pushing the woman to have a relationship until the woman gets worn down and finally gives in and says yes, even though there may have been no attraction initially. Some women even say that the man was not her type at all but because he paid her so much attention it was kind of flattering and eventually she gave in and started a relationship.
So, back to Mr. Perfect. He is attentive, caring, loving, considerate, funny, great in bed, helpful, witty and pleasant with friends and family. He makes a great first impression. And this is the key. First impressions count and it's often difficult to change them. The psychopaths and narcissists know this and they go to great lengths to create a good first impression because they want to be friends, and they want to be friends quickly. People like their friends, they listen to their friends and they trust their friends. They trust their friends with their secrets and they trust that their friends will look out for them and will have their best interests at heart.
This makes it easy for you to agree to start a relationship with the sociopath or narcissist. At first everything is great, things are marvelous. But soon the bad behavior starts. But because your partner is normally so good you just put it down to his having a bad day or being tired or something like that. And besides he has a good excuse for it. So you let it slide.
But then there is more and more bad behavior. And this gets excused away. If you complain about it, you are made to feel bad for complaining. Somehow he manages to make you feel wrong for having complained about being treated badly. So there are more and more bad times and less of the good times. And during the bad times, you reassure yourself that there have been good times before and there will be good times again.
And it may seem that during the bad times this other person has turned up instead of the fantastic person that you fell in love with. This other person is cold and not very friendly and can even be quite cruel. But you just have to wait and the real person you married, the Mr. Right, that ideal man will show up soon and there will be nice times again. Or maybe you just need to try harder, or adapt yourself in some way, and he will be happy again and then there will be good times once more.
The reality is that Mr. Perfect doesn't actually exist. He was fabricated to trap you. The real person is the nasty, cruel, callous person that makes your life miserable.
The psychopath or narcissist had to hide that from you at the start or you would have run a mile. So he hid behind the mask of Mr Perfect. The person you fell in love with doesn't actually exist.
I know that's hard to understand. You don't want it to be true. You have invested so much in your marriage, time, money, energy, love, care, attention, there may even be children. And basically this nasty piece of work has been using you this whole time. It's not easy to accept this but accepting it is part of your recovery.
And you've probably seen him slip into the role of Mr Perfect many times in public. When you are in company he becomes this charming, intelligent and attractive character that chats amicably with those around and creates a wonderful impression. And you watch him in action thinking to yourself, "If only they knew what he is like behind closed doors..."
This public persona, the character he presented himself as at the start is a role that he plays. This act is purely for impression management. It is used to manage the impressions of others, tricking them into thinking that they are dealing with a normal, pleasant person.
Only when someone has been 'captured' by him does he begin to reveal the real person, that cold, calculating character that is self centered, selfish and self promoting. But he only does this when he knows that he can get away with it, that the victim is sufficiently under his control that even when he behaves badly, the victim will find it difficult to leave. This often happens after a significant event that indicates commitment on the part of the victim, such as moving in together, moving to another town, getting married or having a child. Or there may be no such event but little by little he begins to test you to see how much he can get away with.
Let's back up a moment and have a look at what happens at a fundamental level in a relationship with a psychopath or narcissist.
Whether it's in a cult, a work situation or an intimate relationship, the psychopath changes their victim in a particular way. Basically the manipulator breaks down the victim's personality, makes changes and then freezes these changes in place creating a different personality.
When your friends or family said to you at the start of the relationship with this person that you had changed, that you didn't spend as much time with them, that you didn't seem very happy or that they thought he was not good for you or even that he was taking advantage of you, it's this false personality (or pseudopersonality) that they were noticing. They didn't like how you were changing and you probably were not even aware of these changes. Chances are that you defended yourself and this person at the start, saying that they didn't know him like you did and that you were happy and everything was ok.
These 3 steps, breaking down of your personality, the changes and the refreezing may not be separate but can all be happening on an ongoing basis.
All those criticisms, the humiliation, the nasty comments, the shouting, the arguments about the same things over and over, the scoffing, the belittling, the comparisons between you and his ex or exes, all these things are designed to basically break down your personality. The manipulator may not necessarily be thinking in these terms, but the pattern happens in every relationship with a psychopath or narcissist so it's being done with a purpose in mind. And this purpose is to change you to the type of person that the manipulator wants around them.
What is this type? It's basically someone who will listen and follow instructions. The manipulator doesn't want you thinking and having opinions. They want you to agree with them. They want you to believe what they say. They want you to look after them, to put their wants, needs and desires first, second and third and your own a distant fourth. They want you to treat them as superior beings who are entitled to whatever they want. They want you to be dependent on them.
Think 'slave'. That's a fairly accurate description of what they want you to be. However, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you give, no matter how much you put into it, it's never enough. In fact, when they have you at the point when you stop giving your opinions or making decisions, they criticize you for not being able to make decisions! This is one of many 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situations that they set up for you.
An important aspect here is the nature of the criticism and humiliation. They will typically attack you at the level of identity. It's possible to criticize someone's behavior ("That's a stupid thing to do") or their beliefs ("That's a silly idea"). The manipulators, though, typically criticize you, who you are. Such things as "YOU are crazy for thinking that", "YOU are stupid for doing that" or "What does it say about you that you have friends like that?" and the ultimate is "YOU are the problem here!"
All these things are very destructive because there is no solution offered and these things are repeated over and over and over... In this way a person 'loses themselves' in the relationship and they become more and more dependent on the manipulator.
The manipulator then starts to make changes in the person, telling them what they should do, what they should think and how they should live their lives. Here we have another one of those 'hidden' things in mind control. There may not be actual instructions to the victim about what specifically to do or think. However, by controlling the person's impressions along with a system of rewards and punishments, the manipulator influences the decision making of their victims.
(Don't get lost in the meaning of 'victim' here. People don't like to think that they may be a victim, but in this case victim is a good word for what happens to people in a relationship with a psychopath or a narcissist. And just because a person has been a victim, doesn't mean they will live the rest of their lives as victims. There is a way out and we will look at that later!)
For example, if you get angry or annoyed at the manipulator, it's typical that they will either get 10 times more angry than you or they will twist and distort things and turn it back on you and make you feel bad. In this way they are effectively punishing you for doing something that they don't want you to do, which is to challenge them. By the same token when you do things they want, there may be compliments, although not very often! In this way they set up rewards and punishments to 'train' you to do what they want without necessarily telling you what the rules are.
It's typical in mind control situations that the victims believe that they are making their own decisions. In a marriage to a sociopath or narcissist this often is set up from the start. The manipulator says such things as "You let me know what you want and we will do it", or "You can decide how fast you want to go with me and I am fine with that." This means that in those moments you believe you are in charge and making your own decisions. You feel safe and in control.
However, it doesn't stop the manipulator from pushing you forward into the relationship faster than you are actually comfortable with. Remember the idea that they are liars? They can say anything they like and have no sense of responsibility in keeping their word. So they let you choose where you are going to go for dinner, for example, but at the last minute they have excuses as to why you need to do something else. But you have already had the experience of them allowing you to make decisions.
Later on in the relationship, when you make decisions without consulting them, they make out that you are not considering them, they feel left out and hurt and they claim that you don't care about the relationship. So you end up discussing things with them before making big decisions. Then it goes to medium decisions as well and before you know it you are discussing the little decisions, too. This is actually called asking for permission.
Sometimes people consider that they know how to handle or manage the manipulator. They say that they check his mood or look at his face and they know if they can ask for something or not, or whether they can do something or not. What happens here is that the person checks the sociopath or narcissist and then makes a decision, for example, they decide that now is not a good time to ask for money so they will wait until after dinner. The person believes that they have made this decision themselves, that they are choosing to avoid an argument or an unpleasant experience by putting off asking the question.
However, the manipulator has basically trained the victim how to make such decisions because in the past the manipulator has exploded on various occasions when asked such things. The victim may believe they are making their own decisions but the decisions have been so heavily influenced by the manipulator that it's no longer the victim's own decision any more.
In this way the decisions of the victims are tainted at one level or another by the manipulator and there is little or no independent thinking and decision making going on at all.
It's helpful to think about the victim of a sociopath or narcissist having this false personality, or pseudopersonality, imposed on them. The thinking, the decision making, the emotions and the behaviors of the pseudopersonality are all very heavily influenced by the manipulator. This pseudopersonality is a very useful way to think of the situation because it allows us to explain many of the things that occur.
For example, the pseudopersonality is very dependent on the manipulator and often cannot even consider a future without the manipulator. This is also typical in cults where people have even been given phobias of leaving the group. If the only future you have is with the manipulator then you end up tolerating all sorts of abuses.
The pseudopersonality is programmed to need the manipulator, to believe that it cannot survive without the manipulator. The real personality may want out of the relationship because it is fed up with the abuse but the pseudopersonality is programmed to stay. This creates an internal conflict where the person may feel that they are at war with themselves. A part of them wants to leave, but another part is unable to do that. The pseudopersonality usually dominates the real personality so the person ends up staying, despite the internal struggle and despite the advice of friends and family.
If the person does leave the manipulator, it is quite common for them to return, again despite the advice of all and sundry. This is also explained by the dependency of the pseudopersonality on the manipulator. When the victim moves away, it's more than just missing the ex partner, there is a deep seated need to be back with the manipulator. The pull back to the manipulator can be so strong and the person may feel so bad that they can hardly function away from the psychopath or narcissist. The easiest way to relieve the anxiety and desperation is to go back. This also explains why battered women often go back to the abusive husband. They often literally feel that they will not be able to survive away from the abuser, despite all the logical evidence to the contrary.
The pseudopersonality is also programmed to be obedient and loyal to the manipulator. This is why you may have defended your spouse to others at different times even though you knew that things were not right. The pseudopersonality often gives the impression to outsiders that everything is fine within the relationship, despite all the bad treatment. This again often causes conflict within the victim, they may want to tell others but the pseudopersonality is designed to protect itself and the 'leader' and the person finds themselves unable to reveal the truth to outsiders.
The thinking and reasoning of the pseudopersonality is also quite distorted for various reasons, the most basic of which is that the pseudopersonality now thinks along similar lines to the psychopath. The person may be unable to spot contradictions in the manipulator and they may not realize how bad the abuse is. For example, the victim may not see that the manipulator uses one set of rules for himself and another set for everyone else. The victim may accept abusive behavior as normal because they have become so accustomed to it.
The victim typically has had their morals, values and criteria changed by the manipulator. For example, the pseudopersonality may think it's ok that they have to report their every movement to the manipulator but the manipulator can disappear for hours or even days on end without explanation. Or the pseudopersonality believes there is not much money available even though the sociopath or narcissist wears only designer clothes.
As well as all these things going on, the victim is in a state of hypervigilance. One of the things about psychopaths and narcissists is their unpredictability. One day you can say something to them and it's ok. The next day you say the same thing and there is an explosion of anger and abuse. This is why people talk about 'walking on eggshells' around the abusers.
A situation where there are psychopaths and mind control is a high stress environment. You are always on the lookout to make sure that you do not upset them because you do not know when they might 'lose it'. Even when they are not present you will probably make sure to follow the rules (even if it's to cut apples in a certain way, for example) just in case they find out and you get into trouble.
Being continually highly stressed means that you can expect to have headaches, back aches, digestive problems, difficulty sleeping and so on.
You will find yourself constantly busy because the manipulator makes sure that there is a never ending series of things that you have to do. And if you are not busy physically, you will be busy mentally, trying to stay out of trouble and trying to figure out what your spouse is up to or will be up to. All this means that you don't have time to reflect on your life and the relationship and you haven't the headspace to decide if you even want to be in the relationship or not.
If there are children then life is even more complicated. Any children are used to keep you busy, to keep you isolated from your family and friends and to keep you under control. You can expect to get little or no help from the psychopath or narcissist with children and you end up doing all the organizing and rearing of the children. Occasionally a narcissist is involved with the children but in such a way that the child's life is micromanaged and the narcissist has total control over every aspect of the child's life. Either way, you will be expected to follow the manipulator's rules with respect to the children.
If anything goes wrong, it's always your fault, according to the psychopaths and narcissists. You get so used to this that you end up accepting blame for things that have nothing to do with you. The thing here is that often the manipulator decides if something is wrong, when you have broken a rule (you may not have even known this rule existed!), or if you have made a mistake. They use their own criteria for deciding that something is wrong and you then get the blame. Because their criteria change without warning (remember that unpredictability bit...?) you randomly get into trouble no matter how hard you try to please them. This adds to your anxiety and hypervigilance and it means no matter how much they get, it's never enough. You can never satisfy them.
As the intimacy and care and attention towards you from the sociopath changes in the relationship, so does the sexual aspect. Initially it may have been fantastic and earth shattering but as the bad behavior kicks in (because he realizes he doesn't have to keep the pretense up any longer), he won't bother to keep up the act in the bedroom either. At this point sex becomes all about his physical pleasure and little else.
And then there is the avalanche of lies. These people lie even when it would be better to tell the truth. You can't trust a work out of their mouths unless you have other evidence that what they say is true.
Easier said than done, I know, but these steps are the best thing you can do for yourself (and your children, if there are any).
Getting away from the sociopath or narcissist is important. As long as you are with them they will be manipulating you and it's very hard to recover if they are reinforcing your pseudopersonality every day. Leaving the relationship is obviously difficult for the reasons outlined above but it's not impossible. Lots of people have done it before you and you can, too. Sometimes you have to learn more about mind control and sociopaths in order to make the decision to leave (and act on it!) and sometimes the best thing is just to run and sort everything out later. You can read more about how to divorce a sociopath here.
As much as possible and as soon as possible you need to start getting rest. Being tired or sleep deprived (a favored tactic of the manipulators) means that you cannot think well nor can you resist mentally. It's very easy to get overwhelmed when you are tired and when you get overwhelmed your system shuts down and the pseudopersonality takes over and runs things on autopilot, to the benefit of the manipulator. You need to rest to be able to take on the sociopath or narcissist, to resist what's coming when you leave and to be able to think clearly in order to be able to learn about what was done to you.
Victims of psychopaths need help, professional help from someone who is an expert in mind control, sociopathy and narcissism. Going it alone is one option but it is the most difficult one. You really need someone who can point out the do's and don'ts with the manipulators, who can help you understand what they did to you, why they did it and how they did it. The more you understand the subtleties of mind control, the sooner the effects wear off, the quicker the pseudopersonality disappears and the easier it is to take back control of your life.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...
Do you think that you might be in an abusive relationship? Are you realizing that the group you are in may be a cult?
Do you think you are being taken advantage of emotionally, physically, sexually or financially in your relationship? Do you want to leave but you can't seem to get away?
With disappointing results in terms of traffic and income?
If so, this is a must-read!