When I read Paula Carrasquillo’s essay, Undoing Our Fears and Triggers Lying Down, about coping with a sociopath and toxic relationships, it hit a raw nerve. I have also had the unwanted pleasure of having dealt with this kind of person. Since my harasser and bully threatened me I haven’t thought much about that person and that part of my life much lately (to his relief, I am sure). But I suspect the memory of our deteriorated and ultimately toxic friendship (at least towards the end) will probably remain for a long time. I’ve had a hard time accepting the fact that I spent over half a year loving this friend that, in retrospect, didn’t deserve my love and took advantage of that love. It’s not the first time that has happened to me, but it was the most traumatic, since I truly believed in my heart that this person would be a lifelong friend. Because of the intensity with which I love my friends, I’ve always had a difficult time coping with and healing from betrayal. My bully and former best friend stated publicly that I was mentally unstable and made accusations that just were not true. I think, to a degree, we are all suffering from mental and emotional instability (of not instability, at least challenges and difficulties). What I didn’t realize until a few months of therapy is that this was his reality of me and our relationship and not my reality or the reality that truly existed. Paula starts off her essay speaking to similar sentiment:
While exposed to the sociopath’s crazy-making highs and lows, we compromised our intuition and ability to instinctively distinguish right action from wrong action.
When my bully and I were friends he would tell me often that I was “fucked up” (I’m paraphrasing) and needed to be in therapy (at the very least) and would be happier if I changed significant parts of my life. Again, while I believe everyone can benefit from therapy and I fully acknowledge(d) that I have some deep emotional issues, I whole-heartedly believed what my friend was telling and took on this persona and emotional state. What Paula explains and what I’ve come to learn through other research I’ve done on sociopath and narcissistic behavior is that these individuals are extremely manipulative and very good con-artists. Everything my friend told me about himself, myself, my life, his life, our life, was said in a way that it could not be refuted.
One day, the sociopath declared that right action was wrong action, and the next day, the sociopath declared that wrong action was right action.
It got to a point where I believed my friend was the only stable part of my life and everything else was falling apart. I felt like I was living a lie and merrily convincing everyone in my life that I was ho-hum happy. Again, there are parts of this that are true. I have been depressed for much longer than I thought and I am still struggling with PTSD from events that happened in my life over a decade ago. But that is all being talked about and worked on in therapy sessions now. Until these past few months of therapy I was under the “spell” of my former friend and now bully and harasser. Once again, Paula’s words illustrate this perfectly:
No amount of logic or deep thought could bring us clarity and focus to the life we were being conned and controlled into living and accepting under the sociopath’s spell.
But clarity and objectivity are qualities that I’ve just recently come to possess. And I would be lying if I didn’t say I still waver from time to time wondering if I’m all wrong about my assessment of my former friend. I hope that I am. I want to be. But I’ve caught glimpses of him since our separation and discovered words he’s written publicly about me, and it’s in those moments I can’t help but feel that I was conned and manipulated by this man. That our friendship was never as real as I believed it to be. I want so badly to be wrong about this, because he meant so much to me and I hate to think that I “wasted” months of love on an individual who didn’t love me back. But the evidence I have just doesn’t support that.
Many refer to this as cognitive dissonance, living in the fog and/or being emotionally unstable. Much of what we experience in the aftermath through triggers and anxiety was born from this place of uncertainty and fear about ourselves and our surroundings. This fear and uncertainty, which the sociopath manifested in us, rendered us dependent and reliant upon the sociopath for clarity and approval.
Even outside the toxic relationship, we find ourselves frozen and in search of outside validity and approval. The fear of being judged and not accepted and viewed as unworthy is very real and keeps us from expanding and growing.
That bolded sentence in particular is what I had struggled with while still friends with him and still sometimes struggle with now that we no longer speak to each other. One positive outcome of our separation is that I’ve had to learn how to be a whole person without his love and approval (which is something he wanted all along, so I like to think that he would be proud). But I’ve also had to accept that his love may not have been genuine in the first place, and also to find wholeness in myself not dependent on others. I haven’t completely manifested that last quality, but I’m doing good work towards it.
Regardless of how deep and for how long we were in this state of paralysis, I believe we can repair what was damaged and improve how we relate to ourselves and others moving forward.
I don’t practice Yoga Nidra (which is how Paula suggests coping with the stress and anxiety that manifests from these toxic relationships), but I do believe in the benefits and power of yoga. For me, I’m healing and growing and learning through a triad: antidepressants, therapy, and meditation. In the near future I’d like to add other elements to this growth: forming strong bonds in my community (and possibly finding a “new” community because my harasser and bully has alienated me from mine), activism, physical exercise, and healthy eating. This is all in addition to having the continual support and love of real and beautiful friends and family, of which I am fortunate to have a great deal of. Because of my bully, I have lost friends that I believed to be real and that I wanted to have in my life. But as my friend pointed out to me, “stolen friends probably aren’t friends. They can make the choice not to be stolen, after all.” And so I go into this next phase of my life with that in mind. If these people feel they need to make a choice, him or me, and choose him, I have to accept that and move on. I’m not demanding mutual friends make a choice. I don’t know if he is. I do believe he is fabricating our story to paint himself as the victim and me as the villain, and creating a perception of me that is not true. My therapist says though that he truly believes this about me — it’s his reality — even if it’s not my reality or the actual reality.
I can only know what I know: my love was real, it was beautiful, it was deep. I loved with my whole heart and as best as I could. I believed he was a beautiful soul and I wanted to be friends with him for as long as that was possible. I learned a great deal about myself from our friendship. I learned a lot of about relationships in general from our friendship. There are passions of mine that have been reignited (creative writing being one of them) because of our friendship. I don’t regret our friendship. I wish him happiness. I wish his happiness in his job didn’t have to come at the expense of me losing my decade-long community. I (sometimes) wish we could be friends. I am working on forgiving him, and I am close. I want him to forgive me. I wish he would stop his slander of me. I wish his reality and my reality of what happened and is happening were closer aligned. I hope I am wrong about our friendship being built on lies and manipulation and that, at least for a short amount of time, it was real.