A Better and Stronger You: Leaving the Psychopath for Good

Many of the women who love psychopaths intuitively know that they’re dealing with a sick man. Yet they feel like they have invested far too much for far too long into the relationship to give up on him. Their self-confidence and sense of reality have been severely undermined. They may tell themselves, hoping against hope, that their love and patience will fix the dangerous man. Or that after spending fifteen years with him, they can’t throw away the entirety of their youth, as if those years together were all for nothing.

As Sandra Brown M.A. puts it in Women Who Love Psychopaths, nobody escapes completely unscathed from such a toxic relationship. However, the harm is not linear: in other words, it’s not necessarily true that the longer you are with a psychopath the more you are harmed. Even short-term relationships with a disordered man can be very harmful. Conversely, even women who have spent 20 years with a psychopath can escape those toxic bonds and emerge better and stronger from them.

However, the damage seems to get worse from the time you realize you’re with a psychopath or disordered man and come to accept his abuse: the pathological lying, the gaslighting, the cheating, the putdowns, the threats and the relentless chipping away at your self-esteem. Women who stay with known psychopaths, or with men they know to be very bad, adapt to increasing dosages of harm. This can severely damage their own personalities and the way they interact with others, sometimes beyond repair.

On the positive side, even if you’ve spent many years with a psychopath, you can escape this toxic relationship. Chances are, you used to be a strong person. In previous posts we’ve seen that psychopaths prefer to seduce extraverted, accomplished and confident women. They could easily prey upon passive and weak women. But they prefer the challenge of destroying a strong person instead. We’ve seen how psychopaths use their partners’ strengths against them. They use women’s trust to deceive and cheat on them as well as, more generally, to play mind games. They isolate previously sociable women. They undermine the confidence of women with high self-esteem by focusing on their real or imaginary weaknesses. It’s not unusual to develop neuroses, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders while involved with a psychopath. He will even cultivate those maladies, and lead you to focus obsessively on them rather than on your strengths and achievements, to keep you under his thumb.

We’ve seen how psychopaths use women’s capacity to love and their tenacity–their high emotional investment in the relationship–to keep them on the hook. They lure them with strategic withdrawals and empty promises to improve, which are belied by consistent, though often hidden, abuse. They dangle whatever women want most in life before their eyes–true love, fidelity, commitment, a happy life together, returning to the romantic and exciting honeymoon phase of the relationship–only to make conditional demands, that erode their partners’ dignity and self-respect.

To counteract these strategies and reclaim your life, you need to reassert your agency, your strength and your boundaries. You need to recognize that you’re not just a passive victim of the psychopath’s control, even if you were, indeed, victimized by him. You have agency. You willingly began the relationship with the psychopath. You willingly stayed with him despite seeing red flags early on in the relationship. You may have willingly taken him back after discovering that he repeatedly cheated and lied. You may have also engaged in some immoral behavior to keep him in your life. You may have hurt or neglected those who loved you for his sake. Each step you took as a couple was not just his own doing. It was also yours. Sandra Brown points out that seeing yourself as an agent in your life decisions doesn’t imply denying the fact that the psychopath has hurt you or minimize the extent of your pain. It just shows you that you have the power to determine your life choices. Just as you chose to become involved and stay with a psychopath, you also have the power to disengage from him for good. (How to spot a dangerous man,  32)

To understand why you made such poor and self-defeating choices, you need to assess realistically both your strengths and your weaknesses. In earlier posts, I identified some of the potential weaknesses of women who get involved with psychopaths, which led them down a self-destructive path. The main one is an unrealistic and dichotomous view of themselves, which is narcissistically inflated (as better than other women) in some ways, and too weak (as less than other women) in others. You don’t need a psychopath to identify your qualities and flaws. You don’t need his manipulative criticisms that undermine your self-confidence. You don’t need his fake and conditional flattery to feel good about yourself. You know who you are. And, deep inside, after so much mistreatment at his hands, you also know that it’s clearly in your best interest to leave the dangerous man and end the sick relationship with him. Your self-preservation, not just your self-esteem, is at stake.

Exercising your agency also implies reasserting your strength and your boundaries. If you stayed with a psychopathic partner it’s because he undermined the strength that he originally admired in you and that drew him to you, like a parasite to its host, to destroy you. You can find that inner strength again to live your life free of him. The longer you will be away from his noxious influence, the stronger you will grow.

The psychopath has strung you along by eroding your boundaries: your moral sense of right and wrong, your sexual boundaries and your empathy. When you draw the line and say no more and mean it, the psychopath loses and you win. By way of contrast, each time you do what he tells you, each time you override your intuition to believe his lies, each time you violate your sense of right and wrong, each time you neglect or hurt those who care about you, each time you engage in perverse sexual acts just to please him, he wins and you lose.

The women who stay with psychopaths may be strong women, as Brown’s research indicates. Yet many of them lack sufficiently strong boundaries. They may be strong in other areas of life. But they become weak as far as their personal relations with the psychopath are concerned. These, unfortunately, become the fulcrum of their existence. Staying with a psychopath indicates that they’re willing to compromise their values, their relationships and their standards just to keep and please a disordered man.

To reclaim your autonomy and your strength, you need to reassert your boundaries. The negative experience with the psychopath has no doubt made you more aware than ever of what you stand for since you were repeatedly pressured by him to lower your standards and to violate your principles. Each time you did that it hurt because you lost not only part of your values, but also–and more importantly–part of yourself.

Asserting the limits of the person you are and of what you stand for constitutes an essential step towards rejecting the psychopath. Most likely, he won’t even stay with you if you assert yourself and don’t give in a single inch to him anymore. As a narcissist, he can’t tolerate any real equality in a romantic relationship. He has to be “top dog.” He constantly reaffirms this status through the power he exercises over you, his family and his acquaintances. Because he doesn’t regard you (or anyone else) as his equal, the psychopath can’t offer you genuine respect for your values, your activities, your needs and your identity. His fake charm, his controlling and possessive attention, his disingenuous and manipulative flattery and the empty romantic gestures he made (mostly in the beginning of the relationship) are not the same thing as genuine love, mutual caring and respect.

As we’ve seen, a psychopath is incapable of having a caring and equal relationship with anyone. For this reason, psychopaths seek women who are strong but exceedingly flexible; women whose boundaries they can erode and whose identities they can distort. If you regain your sense of identity and boundaries, you become much less vulnerable to psychopathic seduction and control. Psychopaths are parasites who want to suck the lifeblood–the emotions, the confidence and the strength–out of you. They violate your sense of self, through what psychologists call “enmeshment.” As your identity blends into his, your whole life revolves around meeting his ever-changing needs. The more you violate what you stand for and who you are to please the psychopath, the more you dissolve into the dangerous relationship with him. As Sandra Brown states,

“Boundaries are indicators of where we start and end, and where other people start and end. We set limits–or boundaries–in relationships to protect our bodily selves and dignity… Drawing your identity from a dangerous man… can have disastrous outcomes.” (How to spot a dangerous man, 201).

Not every misfortunate experience has a silver lining. Some, like fatal illnesses, may be purely tragic. Fortunately, overcoming a relationship with a dangerous man is one of those life experiences that does have a silver lining. After having been involved with a psychopath, for whom “love” means conquest, ownership and dominance, a normal relationship with a decent, respectful and honest partner will seem almost miraculous by comparison. Nothing about healthy human bonds can ever be taken for granted again after one has experienced the worst life has to offer.

Clearly, in choosing a psychopath you lost part of yourself and wasted part of your life. Such a destructive relationship came at a cost. Fortunately, you still have the power of choice as to how your life will continue. You don’t have to throw away the rest of your life to him. This experience may have weakened you in some respects.  But if you utilize it the right way, it can also make you a much stronger person. Whatever time, energy and emotion you spent on the psychopath weren’t completely wasted. They have taught you how to know and defend the limits of your identity and values. They have taught you who to appreciate and love in life and who to reject and keep out. They have revealed your strengths and your limitations. They have made you more independent, since you’ve seen how flattery and criticism by others can function as a form of mind control.

It’s now up to you to decide if you will allow the psychopath to continue to undermine your dignity and the quality of your life or if you will rely upon your strengths and true love bonds with others to live the kind of moral, honest and fulfilling life that you deserve. The psychopath has kept you under his control by narrowing and intensifying the range of your experiences. You consequently focused only on him and on how to twist yourself, like a fish on a hook, to please him.

You can reverse this process. You can broaden the sphere of your existence by expanding your interests and focusing on those who deserve your affection. In fact, you can do more than that by helping inform others suffering at the hands of psychopathic partners about this dangerous and camouflaged predator. Making a clinical diagnosis of personality disorders is, of course, only up to experts. But identifying potentially dangerous traits isn’t just for experts. Any of us can be adversely affected when we allow disordered individuals into our lives. Knowledge is the most essential form of self-defense.

Widespread information about physical and emotional abuse has saved millions of people from domestic violence. Spreading information about psychopathy may help save millions of additional lives from harm. Ironically, the disordered man who wanted to destroy you both morally and emotionally can give your life a higher, more other-regarding purpose. In the past, you may have relegated too many of your decisions to the psychopath. But, ultimately, the power of choice in what you do with the rest of your life lies in your hands, not his. May the new year bring you peace and happiness, free of the toxic relationship with a psychopath.

Happy New Year!

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


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16 Comments

  1. Super insightful, thank-you. The main comment I would have is that your use of the term ‘psychopath’ might prevent some people from receiving your message because it is so harsh, extreme.

  2. Nina, thanks for your comment. I agree the term “psychopath” may seem harsh, but it applies clinically to those who have the psychopathy symptoms (see Robert Hare’s list), which is the people I’m discussing in this blog. I think that we want to believe there’s good in everyone. It helps us feel safer in this world. But, unfortunately, that’s not true in the case of psychopaths and other individuals with severe personality disorders. What’s worse, personality disorders are for the most part incurable.

  3. You will heal for sure and will get better and better with time, as you come to terms with the information
    about psychopathy and how it impacts your particular situation. In fact, this negative experience will give you
    strength you never knew you had and make you even more focused on positive goals (and also more aware
    of social predators and their masks and manipulative strategies). Best wishes, Claudia

  4. Thank you again for another brilliant article.You have no idea how helpful they have been to me recently as I try to get over and heal from a relationship with a psychopath. When I am feeling low I just read these articles and they have really really given me the strength to get through the day.

  5. I was just caught up in an intensely damaging relationship with a phychopath, and I am slowly picking up the pieces of my life. But, er, I am the man. Why is there this assumption that the man is the psychopath, and the woman the victim? The following excerpt:

    We’ve seen how psychopaths use women’s capacity to love and their tenacity–their high emotional investment in the relationship–to keep them on the hook. They lure them with strategic withdrawals and empty promises to improve, which are belied by consistent, though often hidden, abuse. They dangle whatever women want most in life before their eyes–true love, fidelity, commitment, a happy life together, returning to the romantic and exciting honeymoon phase of the relationship–only to make conditional demands, that erode their partners’ dignity and self-respect.

    This was precisely how she manipulated me. Why is your post so dramatically female victim based?

  6. And I would like to thank you. Thank you! This is a revelation. I have been trying to piece together how I got psychologically trapped in such an abusive situation, how my self-esteem became chiselled down so low, as I am a strong and empathic man. It seemed as if all of her qualities were disjoint multiple-personlaity issues, or bi-polar sickness, but you have encapsulated almost all of them under the one heading “psychopath’. I now have somewhere to start in understanding my experiences, and my self-destructive idea that with more love and patience I could fix her. Reading this post I am very grateful that being a man I managed to avoid some of the basic types of damage you have outlined; for example, I never gave in to her requests for violent abusive S&M sexual exploration – I stood my ground and tried to introduce her to http://www.scribd.com/doc/2680255/Mantak-Chia-Cultivating-Female-Sexual, healing taoist love practices (it’s an amazing book I highly reccommend it)

    I understand that becasue of the physical dominance of men, abuse against women is very much more in the spotlight, as more women are killed by men than men kiled by women. But I believe it might have more to do with the masuclin and feminine energies, as opposed to the genatalia. If we look at studies, we see abuse and rape just as proportionally prevalent in the lesbian community as we do in the heterosexual community. And through my process of trying to pick up the pieces of my life, I have come across several professionals who regularly provide therapy for abused men, as well as many men themselves trying to sort through the ramifications of deeply investing in a psychopath.

    Thanks again. You have been a great help to me.

  7. James, I’m so glad that this website has helped you group the symptoms of the female psychopath in your life as a “psychopath”
    and may help you overcome the damage of that toxic relationship. Female psychopaths are about 1 percent of the population,
    while male psychopaths are about 4 percent of the population. I’m using the pronoun “he” only because of statistical convenience, since
    saying “he” or “she” every time would sound awkward. But of course there are female psychopaths too, and they can cause just as much
    harm as male psychopaths.

  8. Claudia, I found your blog while looking for something else – like it was meant to be. I can’t adequately express how affirming your posts are. I feel as if I received the gift of context for this evil situation and am FINALLY understood . . .

    I’ll cut to the chase of a 13 year story of emotional abuse, none of which would be news to you, exactly the predatory/evolutionary way you’ve described here in detail. Thank you for writing from your heart.

    2011 is the year I stop giving my abuser permission to affect me. I’ve reached the ‘indifference’ stage you wrote about so eloquently, on my own. I now see him for the pathetic, irrelevant, empty parasite that he is and will always be. I, conversely, can ask myself ‘how high is up?’.

    There’s one thing that make my situation atypical. I own my home outright and have two options for removing him. The first is an informal though documented/witnessed eviction that must have 30 days’ notice, followed by a petition for a restraining order if he remains on day 31 – approximate timeline 45 days. The second is a complaint for eviction, followed by a court appearance, followed by a court order if I win the case, followed by 30 days’ notice upon being served, followed by the ability to call the police if he remains on day 31, followed by his escort out – approximate timeline 60-75 days.

    He has guns and knives in the house. I must move my mother in for the duration, so I’m not alone with him, and I fear for us and my pets.

    All resources I’ve researched so far are for women who must leave the home. I’ve consulted numerous attorneys and still don’t have a clear idea of what I should do.

    If this is inappropriate for your site, I fully appreciate that.

    If you or anyone can offer ideas, I welcome them.

  9. I’m glad you found my blog and that it confirms your intuitions. Your ex sounds
    quite dangerous. The obsession with knives is an obsession with power and a sign of danger.
    I’d definitely consult a family law specialist about the possible avenues for eviction you mention.
    I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know what else to advise, more specifically. However, your situation
    can’t be that uncommon. Many victims of abuse and of scam artists own their homes.
    This is not just a property matter, but also, given the potential danger posed by your ex, a matter for family court.
    If it’s your home, don’t give it up.

  10. Thank you for this article. I’m just now getting on with my life after being involved with a psychopath. Unfortunately, I have two children by mine and that makes for a difficult recovery at times. Your article hit my ex to the exact symptoms of a “psychopath, for whom “love” means conquest, ownership and dominance, a normal relationship with a decent, respectful and honest partner will seem almost miraculous by comparison. Nothing about healthy human bonds can ever be taken for granted again after one has experienced the worst life has to offer.” My ex sought me out and even strangely followed me around at work, but was of few words. So when he sent me an unexpected email that was his way of communicating with me. Keep in mind, I was a co-worker and didn’t realize he had a history of getting involved with women at his past jobs (as he was new to our agency). He kept me around, but belittled me as often as he could. He talked about ex-lovers, conquests, girlfriends, and break-ups he had every single day. Why did I stay? He would threaten me when I didn’t call him. He would bully me into a friendship with him. He made me feel sorry of stories of his childhood and his abusive father and submissive mother. I stayed and even offered him comfort, but never ever received it in return.

    He owned many guns, thousands upon thousands rounds of ammunition. He owned gas masks and the outfits. He owned a bullet proof vest, and about 500 disks of downloaded pornography. He owned gold coins, along with silver. He owned stock, and checked it everyday. He had re-routers on his computer and paid someone that lived out of state to ensure his computer was routed to China, New York and other countries around the world. These were all major red flags, but he reassured me that a lot of people lived like this. He also talked me into being apart of his membership to alternative adult sex website. He wanted me to hook up with people in our city and thankfully, I never did.

    Typical, when I got pregnant with twins, he drastically wanted out and wanted to give up his rights and move to Afghanistan. He was willing to leave his family behind to avoid paying child support. Then that changed and he said he would quit his job to avoid paying, then his last option was to marry me but if something happened to the babies ten years down the road he would divorce me.

    That was almost a year and a half ago. I didn’t marry the #(@*&($*#&(. I instead have kept a steady distance from him. He turned his entire family against me, but now I know that was a blessing. I didn’t need fake family in my life. I’ve managed to make great accomplishments in my life within this time and I continue to do so. I constantly tell my children how much they are loved and I hug and kiss them often.

    Again, thank you for your insightful article. I will continue to read it often to give me renewed courage to move forward and not look back at the facade or illusion of a life I would have never had with my ex psychopathic partner.

  11. Dawn, it looks like your psychopath didn’t even keep his mask on for long.
    He was more of a bully psychopath than a charismatic psychopath. But it doesn’t matter,
    since in the end they’re all emotionally abusive and aim to destroy their targets.
    Some of his family members are likely to be similar, since psychopathy is partly a genetic disorder.
    So yes, it’s a big blessing that you didn’t marry him to land in his toxic family. Besides,
    even if his family is healthy and nice, he’d still have turned them against you. Congratulations
    on leaving him and on making great progress in your life since then. Claudia

  12. Thank you much. I will continue to journal my recovery in hopes to help a struggling man or woman that was once in my situation or possibly co-parenting with a monster. The main thing is to have very minimal contact and avoid allowing them to come into your home no matter how much they try. It is a control thing and that’s it. These people love having a open window into your life to try and use any detail of your happiness (example: new furniture, flowers on the table, new computer, etc) to cause you harm or try to put you down only to lift them up.

    Please continue to read this article if you feel you are in love with a psychopath.

    Thank you Claudia.

  13. Dawn, you’re welcome. I’m so glad that reading about sociopathy has helped you
    understand better who you were dealing with and react accordingly. Claudia

  14. You are doing such an amazing service to people like me Claudia – in fact I believe your work is capable of literally saving lives. The damage done by a psychopath can be horrifying and people can be left feeling totally worthless. In my case my physical health was directly affected and my muscles weakened. I had two surgeries last year because of this. At times I still get so sad because I thought I was really engaged and had a real future. I still have the cards “Stay with me always -please?”.
    They say the most dangerous Psychopaths are the ones who hide it the best and never come to the attention of the law. My one was an absolute genius -there’s no doubt about that. And although he had no job he applied diligence and conscientousness to his ‘craft’ of picking up women and of using people . He used to say that gay men always flirted with him and I realise how he used that to his benefit also. I often wonder if he is a closet homosexual and really hates women?He carried a little purse always and always scrubbed his nails with his nailbrush and used hand cream- a lot of feminine traits were there.
    thanks again Claudia

  15. Tricia, I’m so glad that my blog is helping you and others in your situation. Yes, psychopaths always play
    upon your desires and dreams to lure you and keep you attached and revolving around them.
    Of course, as you’ve seen, their promises are absolutely meaningless, as are their words of love.
    I don’t know if psychopaths have feminine traits, however, they tend to be bisexual in a way because sex to them = control and power.
    Since they live to dominate and manipulate, they often select both male and female partners. Claudia


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