Holidays with a Sociopath

There’s no exact formula for spending life’s special events with a sociopath, but one thing’s for sure. It won’t be good for you.

With the 4th of July coming tomorrow, I decided to spend some time talking about life’s biggest events and sweetest moments. Weddings. Birthdays. Funerals. Births. Christmas. Hanukah. Anniversaries. And any other special time or ritual that gives our humanity a chance to feel the deeper meaning of life. To watch the fireworks. To celebrate our bonds to each other. To remember our heritage. To take a breath and step away from the daily grind so we can look around and appreciate what’s most important to us. And feel the joy that comes with it.

And because our hearts are likely to be more open, holidays and special events are vulnerable moments. They’re times when we rely on the people we’re sharing our lives with in many ways. To care for us. To let us care for them. To celebrate together. To respect the intimacy of sharing times that stand out from the everyday.

Because we need each other to make life’s most special moments special. Sometimes, it’s to let us bury our swollen, tear-stricken faces for a moment in a loving shoulder. To wrap arms around. To hold a hand. To show up with sparklers for the kids. To build good memories instead of bad, because these moments are oh so memorable.

They’re our birthdays. Our sister’s wedding. Our brother’s bar mitzvah. Our father’s funeral.

And if you’re with a sociopath, they’re opportunities to hurt.

Whether through oblivious negligence or direct action, a sociopath is going to let you down on the days you’re most inclined to remember.

A Sociopath Will Shatter Your Most Meaningful Traditions

I’ll talk from my own experience. Christmas. But translate it to any holiday in your world that is rich with tradition and perhaps involves the exchange of gifts.

If you’re with a sociopath, you’ll do all the work and preparation on your own. At least after the first impressions are over. (Sometimes in the courting phase, they’ll do too much.) But once you’re tied into more permanent bonds with a sociopath, you can count on doing everything yourself.

Here’s an example. If your sociopath gives you a clear budget for gift-giving, you’ll follow it closely. You’ll be reasonable in your spending. You’ll decide against a few things you really wanted to get for the kids. You’ll do all the cards and be sure to include your partner’s family and friends on your list. You’ll take care of it. Of everything.

And then on the day before Christmas, your partner will leave you to do all the cooking and will go out and blow $4,000 on whatever he (in my case) felt an impulse to buy for you or the kids or anyone else in the world.

Because that’s fun.

And he won’t have a clue about your anger and exhaustion when he gets home. He’ll think you’re a bitch. He’ll either sigh in self pity or explode when you moan.

He’ll tell you that you’ve ruined the holiday.

A Sociopath Will Set You Up for Disappointment

Maybe another year, there will be no gifts for you at all.

Maybe that will be the most consistent way.

Maybe you’ll wonder each year (because a sociopath likes to keep you on the edge of your seat, not knowing) whether this will be the year he’ll show up with a ring. Maybe you’ll imagine him (finally) cooking a romantic dinner with candles. Maybe you’ll pray that this time he’ll actually buy something special for the kids. Since you asked him to.

But he won’t.

He won’t even know that he should. A person without empathy is oblivious to your experience. Even a narcissist is lost in this way. It’s not just sociopaths. There are all kinds of ways to be so lost in yourself that you don’t even realize how you’re hurting everyone around you.

But a sociopath is, in my opinion, often the worst.

Because it’s hard to see clearly. One holiday may be an extreme romance. The next may pass without notice. The next may be a chance to torture you emotionally. The next may find you tossed across the hood of the car. The next may bring on a break up. The next may reunite.

The key pattern is the chaos.

The shattering of your traditions.

The breaking of what’s dearest in your heart.

At times you’ll remember the most.

A Sociopath Will Shatter You Out of Habit

My ex used to devastate me just before weddings. Every wedding we ever attended, to be exact. He would create a fight on the way there. A terrible fight. And I was too naive and involved at the time to see the bigger picture—the map of patterned experiences. But it was there.

At every special moment.

Maybe he would disappear when we were supposed to be dancing together as part of the wedding party. I’d be the only one left standing up there without my partner.

Maybe he’d leave me in the car for a full hour on the way there while he ran into a local business on a five minute errand. We’d miss the entire ceremony. At my best friend’s wedding.

And he’d laugh—exasperated—at my anger.

And maybe he was even elated. Because he won. We’d arrive at the reception, and I’d feel rumpled and let down. I’d be wiping mascara tracks off my cheeks. And he’d tell me that I’m superficial and demanding—a total bitch—someone who can’t flex to other people’s needs. Someone who can’t give.

I’d sit in the corner.

And he’d dance.

And I’d wonder, often, if he was right. If it was me.

But after ten years of letting him devastate every special experience of my life, I finally realized that it wasn’t me at all.

A sociopath’s deflection is a tricky thing. Especially when they know enough about psychology to turn it right around and point it at you. But if someone’s devastating or abandoning your holidays and special moments, your alarm system isn’t something to be ignored.

Your anger isn’t wrong.

In fact, it’s worth listening to.

A Sociopath Knows No Meaning

A sociopath isn’t going to feel what you feel. As a result, they might blindly destroy the moment. Spend the day with another man or woman and not understand why you’re upset. Or maybe they’ll show up late and blunder the surprise and get mad at you for being angry.

If they’re trying to impress you, though, you might get a room full of roses. A new car. A hot air balloon ride. An extravagant orchestration of community volunteers on your anniversary, gathered together to usher you through some kind of sentimental experience.

But the sentiment is yours. You may not know it at the time, but the sociopath views holidays as an opportunity to manipulate. You may only find out later, when they cheat on your next anniversary and let you “catch” them for the excitement of the drama and the fight. For the joy of devastating you. Maybe you made them mad. Maybe they harbor a deep anger toward you. The desire to hurt you. But maybe not. The point is that they’ll use life’s biggest moments to elevate or destroy you, either way.

And you can never make them care about how much it hurts.

Because they’ll never really feel bad about it. Even if they manage to notice life’s special moments, those moments just become a chance to impress or hurt you. Maybe a chance to make you look bad in public. A chance to deflate you before the party.

A chance to leave.

And you may cry about it all for years. If you’re like me, you may mourn that you’ve never shared life’s special moments with a partner who felt as much love and attachment as you. You may shame yourself for choosing a partner who tricked you—who doesn’t feel much at all. Who manipulates, uses, excuses, deflates, and destroys—whether through obsessive abuse or abandonment.

But the bottom line is that you can. You can spend yourself and all that you’re worth on people who appreciate you. Who love you. Who need you. Who will wrap their arms around you during the fireworks on the 4th of July and still be there consistently through the years.

Find those people. Cultivate your bonds to them all through your life.

And when the holidays come,

go to them.

Share what’s special. Give and take.

And try not to look back.


If you liked this post, you may also want to read The Other Side of Charm.

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