We’ve all had the experience of waking from a dream that’s particularly disturbing. Nothing made sense, it wasn’t even real, yet we wake up emotionally rattled. There’s a nagging feeling that our mind is trying to reveal something important because we are so intensely affected, but the meaning eludes us.
That is exactly what it’s like to wake up from the illusions of a psychopath. As with the dream, it sometimes helps to share the experience with someone. We hope that maybe they can explain what it meant or why it happened. Maybe they had a similar experience or perhaps they understand the significance of the symbols involved. Sometimes, we feel compelled to spill out story to just about anyone who will listen.
When I first understood that I was involved with an evil being, I went directly to the nearest church to talk to the priest. Weeping inconsolably I explained that this person had pretended to love me for 25 years but was actually pure evil and intent on killing me. The priest yawned, “We are all children of God,” he chastised me, “don’t call anyone evil.” WTF Moment.
I continued detailing the events of the last 25 years, hoping he could shed light on what I was involved in. If it wasn’t pure evil then what was it? When I got to the part about not being married, the priest interrupted me. “Well that was the problem,” he explained, “You went against the laws of God by living in sin. You see, men want sex and women want love. You didn’t get a fair trade when you agreed to live with this man.” Huh? God wanted me to marry pure evil? “But Father,” I protested, “We didn’t even have sex for the last 15 years and rarely at all for the 10 before that.” For the first time he gave me his full attention. He looked shocked. “Do you mean you lived as brother and sister for 15 years?”
When a priest can’t believe that someone else could choose to be celibate for 15 years, I think there’s a problem. Maybe he was the wrong priest.
I went to a different church a few weeks later. This time, I began the conversation differently, “Father, do you believe that evil exists?” I asked tentatively.
“Absolutely! Evil is in the world!” he zealously replied.
I began to explain my story. After about 10 minutes, he jumps up from his chair and exclaims, “I’m just a poor parish priest!” and runs out of the room.
So much for priests. I had better luck in a sushi bar. I was staring at my sushi, lost in thought, trying to make sense of the nightmare I called my life. What did it mean? I had the vague impression of a voice over my shoulder but I could only hear a buzz. Another customer reached out and touched my arm to get my attention. The waiter was asking me a question. Did I want a beverage? “No thank you, water is fine.”
The customer introduced himself. He began to chat about the excellent quality of the sushi he was eating. We had only spoken for a few minutes, when I spilled my story at him. I just couldn’t think about anything else. It was all I could concentrate on. He listened intently for a while, then he matter-of-factly said, “Oh that’s a malignant narcissist,” and ate another bite of sushi.
“A what-what?” I asked. Here, finally an answer perhaps! This tall athletic stranger spent the next few hours explaining what a narcissist is and how to deal with them. The advice he gave me, “Be boring. Don’t show any emotion. It makes them go away,” has been the basis for all my understanding of psychopaths. They want our emotions. In this case it paid off to talk about the nightmare because, by pure chance, I found a person who had experienced this same nightmare and had researched it.
After several more months of research, I had a much better understanding of what I had encountered, but I still wondered whether the Catholic church didn’t have some advice to offer on the subject. Surely an institution that had been around for 2000 years could offer some insight. So I made an appointment with still another parish priest.
I began my story, slowly filling out the details. I told him what I’d learned about narcissism. Having since discovered that there were several more narcissists in my family of origin, I asked his advice.
“I recommend you get counseling,” he advised. Then he got up and went to get me a business card with a referral to Catholic Community Services. I was feeling perplexed but wasn’t sure why. His suggestion seemed reasonable. Then I realized why: He had absolutely no expression on his face. There was no shock, dismay or any empathy at all. It was a blank expression. I felt slimed again.
What I’ve since discovered, is that there are two typical responses when you share your story of a psychopathic encounter. The first is from those that do believe you. These people have experienced it too. They KNOW you’re telling the truth and they will listen.
The second response and most common, is disbelief. Of course, they don’t all actually say they don’t believe you. They just look at you like you’re wearing a tin foil hat. Then they back slowly toward the door, careful not to make any sudden moves. Denial is a protective mechanism people use because they don’t like to have their comfortable lives disrupted by the truth. It’s so inconvenient.
I’ve learned that defense mechanisms are a huge part of the human experience. We deny, repress, suppress, project, rationalize and intellectualize all the time. It seems as if most of our lives are spent trying NOT to see the truth if it causes any bit of anxiety. So it’s no surprise that people don’t want to hear about evil. And that, is why evil has so much power, because we let it. In fact, I would say that the subversion of reality IS the basis of evil. Dr. Scott Peck called the malignant narcissists, “People of the Lie” because they will not submit to any authority, not even to the authority of reality.
With reality comes responsibility. I remember how many clues I had, over 25 years, that I was in the presence of evil. Fear kept me from acknowledging it. It was too horrible to imagine and so I didn’t. Now I understand how denial enables evil. I also know that evil understands this and depends on it. With denial, we become accomplices to evil and share in the guilt of enabling it. Because we are normal, that creates shame, but the shame is unbearable and we deny that too. So, like Eve in the garden of Eden, we point at the psychopath and say, “He made me do it. The snake deceived me.” But that is exactly what he wanted you to do because in doing this, you become like the psychopath: a denier of responsibility. You’ve chosen to scapegoat and imitated the example set by the psychopath. Denying responsibility keeps us stuck in the quagmire. It gives the power back to the psychopath.
There is a defense mechanism that’s considered healthy, it’s called sublimation. Sublimation redirects a painful experience into a positive experience. When we share the story of our nightmarish encounter with a psychopath we help create awareness about the disorder and help others who have suffered a similar crisis.
Looking for meaning from our experiences and our dreams, is human. The first step is to share and to listen. We find common elements then piece them together. Eventually we get the picture. We can see how we collectively bear responsibility for the evil in this world. Each of us allowed it to encroach on our boundaries. Over time, it became a part of our world and we no longer even noticed it. It seemed normal.
Then we woke up.
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