“He gives me so many chores to do, I can’t make it to work on time” Theresa explained quietly. Her head hung down, her hair covering her face. She did not, would not make eye contact with me. She was soft-spoken, kind, pretty, and had beautiful hair, but her spirit was so broken.
I remember this conversation as if it were yesterday. The year was 1996. It was my first professional job as a young Human Resource Director for a non-profit nursing home. I was asked to speak to one of the nursing assistants because she had been consistently tardy to work.
She told me her husband gave her such a long list of things to do in the morning it was making it impossible to arrive to work on time. I had to ask what would happen if she refused. She told me he beat her. She calmly explained they had four boys together and if she left him, he would get custody of the kids and if she fought him, she was sure he would kill her. The way she told me, was as if she was telling me the sky was blue. This was a fact. This was how it was. She was not being dramatic, she was not making excuses, she was telling me the truth of her life.
I became determined to help her. I called a counselor who specializes in domestic abuse, and had her and the employee meet with me in my office. When presented with the information about the threats on her life, I will never forget what the counselor told her. She said, “You can get a restraining order, but it will not do not do much to protect you since it is just a piece of paper.” I wanted to scream. I could see on the woman’s face she would not leave. She couldn’t risk leaving her boys. She would sacrifice herself.
She told me she had called the police once, and the story made it into the paper. She pressed charges and pictures were taken. She was covered in bruises. Her husband owned a business in town and he blamed her because the business suffered after the abuse report. Naturally, it was her fault his business suffered. The story haunted me. I wondered how could someone be so selfish and cruel?
Years later, I was introduced to a book called, The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless vs. the Rest of Us, by Martha Stout Ph.D, an instructor at Harvard Medical School. It was eye opening to me. The book introduced me to the world of sociopaths and narcissists. I knew there were sociopaths but I assumed they were mass murderers. People like Ted Bundy. The book explained while some are violent, many sociopaths and narcissists are not. They do however wreak havoc and create chaos in their personal lives and most of us will encounter someone who has this disorder in our lifetime. Obviously, the more power they have, the more damage they can do. The kindest people have to be the most careful, because they are susceptible to their charms.
This is an excerpt from her book. “Imagine – if you can – not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern of the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken. And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools. Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless. You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience that they seldom even guess at your condition.
In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world. You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences, will most likely remain undiscovered.”
The author explained narcissists are attracted to powerful positions but not all narcissists are powerful. Many people think narcissism is arrogance, but the deficiency is lack of empathy and guilt. She asked her readers to imagine what you could do if you lacked the ability to feel other people’s emotions or guilt when you hurt others. The results are terrifying and it changed me. She gave many real-life examples of people at work, in personal relationships and how they were harmed. The stories stuck with me and made me more cautious with my trust.
After years of studying sociopaths and narcissists the number one question people asked Dr. Stout was how can you tell if you are dealing with a sociopath or a narcissist? People who have been harmed or duped want to know so they can avoid the pain in the future. The skilled narcissists can charm people and hide it well.
She said the number one sign you may be dealing with someone with narcissism is they have a victim story and they use it to manipulate those of us with big hearts. Pay close attention if someone is trying to get you to feel sorry for them. Trust me when I say that empathy will never be reciprocated. That is a red flag. These individuals are the victim of other individuals, groups, perhaps a rigged system, dishonest media, or unfair coverage. Sound familiar? They deflect the blame away from themselves. When I read this book, I was immediately reminded of Theresa. She was married to a sociopath and she felt trapped in his world of alternative facts. He had empathy only for himself and had the audacity to blame her for his abuse. Fast forward to 2017 and we have a narcissist in the White House therefore I submit Americans are all in an abusive relationship.
If you don’t believe me, here is a partial list from Dr. Stout of, “Personalities in the public eye who deserve our attention as exhibiting sociopathic behavior” from inside the mind of a sociopath:
O J Simpson
We have elected a narcissist for a President and he is wreaking havoc. What can we do? If you do an internet search on what to do if you are in a relationship with a narcissist, the advice is clear and can be summed up in one word. Run. The best advice is to run, run fast, and don’t look back. This isn’t a disorder that can be treated with medication and there is no cure. Narcissists do not get better and power often makes their disorder worse.
Running is not an option for most Americans, not to mention many are like me and we love our Country. I feel like Theresa- stuck in an impossible situation. Here are some things we can do:
- Understand what you can and cannot expect. Do not expect reason, calmness, or truth. Never appeal to their better nature or expect them to empathize with others. Understanding what to expect helps and knowledge is power.
- Do not get sucked into the chaos. A narcissist wants to create chaos. Don’t bite.
- Stay calm. The angry outbursts will keep coming. The threats will keep coming but we must take the high road. That is where our power lies.
- Leaders have the power to send out energy and set a tone. Be mindful of your energy and your tone. If someone is angry, anger back is a choice. No one can take that away from you.
- Do whatever you can to keep your mood positive and loving. Just like Dr. Martin Luther King said, only light can drown out darkness.
- Stay informed, but take a break from news. Pay attention to how you feel after watching the news or reading about it.
- Do not be intimidated. In a democracy, people have power. Use your voice. We have to stick together to protect our values and those who are unable to speak for themselves. We cannot allow the lack of empathy to spread.
- Abusers try and separate people from friends and family. Do not allow that to happen. Regardless of our beliefs, Americans need to be united. We should not be angry with each other and we need each other to stand up for our values.
- Be understanding and compassionate with people. Narcissists have followers. All of them do. Dr. Stout said, the followers will often stand by them despite extremely strong evidence they are doing harm. No one is immune from manipulative people. The reason people hang on so long to the belief in someone is because admitting someone they trusted is a fraud or worse feels like a reflection on them. Many of us have done this before.
- Believe in our democracy. This will be a test to see if the separation of power that was designed into our system has the strength to withstand the test.
- Remain hopeful. For those like me on a spiritual path, we must believe good can rise from chaos.
Despite the chaos on the outside, only we can individually learn to create peace on the inside. People who radiate a peaceful presence change the world one person at a time. Let’s not let our spirit be broken.
I want to end with another positive note if this information makes you lose your faith in humanity. Most people are good. The reason many sociopaths and narcissists go undetected for years, even a lifetime and often even get rewarded is because people don’t want to believe there are humans that lack a conscience. The good news is, this is true. Dr. Stout confirms this. Most people are good, but we do have to be aware. I encourage you to read this book. It is very enlightening.
I am curious to know how you are coping with the external chaos?