Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Melting Snow

Spending the holidays alone after leaving an abusive relationship can be a hard pill to swallow. So naturally I was expecting this year to follow the course of the past few and that I would spend them very sad. Scratch that. Very depressed. Yet, as the weather turned colder outside something in my heart and mind began to turn warmer on the inside. I was... happy. More than that, I was thankful.

I was thankful, and still am, that there was nobody here raging at me. I was thankful for the me I have rediscovered since I left. I was thankful that I have a home, that I am a survivor, and that I still believe in love and the goodness of people.

I was thankful for all of you reading this and following me on Twitter that found inspiration in my journey and gave me inspiration in return. I am still thankful that I have an unbroken spirit, hope in my heart, and the knowledge that no amount of darkness will ever take away my sparkles. Don't let it take yours away from you either. Ever.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Overcoming Abuse, Trauma, and Self-Doubt - A Guest Post By Gillian Fuller

We are taught to fear strangers, but most victims of violent crimes are victims of people they know – assaulted or murdered by friends, neighbors or family members. Most of the violence related injuries to women in this country are inflicted by their husbands and boyfriends.” -Portland State University

If I’d known the signs to look for, I’d like to think that I would have run in the opposite direction as fast as I could. I hope so, but the reality is that the girl I was back then was probably not strong enough or confident enough to run in the opposite direction even if she had known how he would treat her. 

For the sake of privacy I’m going to call him The Lawyer since that was and still is his career.

The Lawyer seemed like a genuinely good and charismatic guy at first. He made me feel like he cared about me. Of course, I barely paid any attention to the fact that he usually peppered his comments with little insults at my education (I was a university student and he was already finishing law school by the time I hit my sophomore year). He liked to point out the fact that I didn’t go to a high ranking school like him.

As time went on, the little insults became less and less subtle. He would treat everything I said like it was the illogical ramblings of a toddler. Every serious opinion I expressed was met with, “Oh, you’re so cute” or “Well if you had enough education, you’d know that…”.  

It escalated when I moved in with him. He would tell me how disgusting I was for wanting to eat certain foods (because they were fattening) which led to an eating disorder I suffered from becoming severely worse. He would scream at me if I ever decided to go out without my hair or makeup done. To him I existed for one reason- to show off and make him look good in front of his friends and colleagues, not unlike a new car or toy. I was always expected to wear heels but he would yell and curse at me in front of his friends if, God forbid, the heels made me taller than him. 

He would tell me that no one could love me the way that he did, and that all of my guy friends weren’t true friends because "they all wanted to sleep with me".

The Lawyer would pressure me to work out 6 to 7 days a week, wear designer clothes and look like a Barbie Doll at all times. I was treated like I was little more than a wallflower. I was forbidden to go to my favorite hair dresser because The Lawyer was sure he’d been hitting on me. I had to cook all of his meals although I had a stressful job at a cosmetic company as the executive of sales and had to get to the office early during the weekdays. If I didn’t make him his lunch before I headed out to work, or lunch got too repetitive, I had to listen to attacks on my “work ethic” and I was told that I was lazy. He often compared me to his mother, which in itself was pretty odd.

After working on several successful major projects within the company, I was promoted. Soon I found myself being accused of sleeping with my boss, because how else could an idiot girl like me get promoted so quickly?

The mental abuse, even when it seemed like it couldn’t get any worse, did get worse. It got to the point where he took my phone from me, forbid me from contacting my family, and basically trapped me in this surreal world of pain, misery, self-hatred and loneliness.

He’d moved me to a state where I had no family or friends, no car, not even a bike. He made sure that I was totally reliant on him, and that was when he started to get physical. I often went to work covered in bruises and did my best to hide them. 

Some of my coworkers noticed the hand prints on my neck and arms, and offered to call the police. I begged them not to, though, because I feared retribution.

Eventually, the police were called because neighbors had witnessed some of the abuse. Again, I refused to press charges, and The Lawyer told the police I was delusional- that he was trying to “calm” me down because he believed I was suicidal. This wasn’t the case, but I was terrified of him. The police informed me that if The Lawyer pushed it and believed I was a danger to myself he could have me thrown into a mental hospital. A mental hospital? For what? 

I wasn’t suicidal. I was afraid.

Having people treat you like you’re a nutcase when you’re a victim of assault and mental abuse is extremely jarring, and it ruined my heroic image of police. After they left, I was punished by being locked out of our home, and forced to sleep outside.    

Later on, I suffered through a painful abortion that left me mentally and emotionally drained. I decided enough was enough. I made two attempts to escape that life and him by fleeing across state borders but he always went after me and he always found me. 

He lured me back with promises that he would do better. That I was the only woman he could ever imagine himself marrying. He would say anything to get me to come home with him, going so far as to blackmail me. Young and naive as I was, I went back to him. Both times.

It wasn’t until I had an emergency appendectomy that I realized what a truly horrifying situation I was in. While I was vomiting and crying and barely coherent on the surgery table he was yelling at me and accusing me of wasting his time with my “drama”. Apparently having my appendix burst was a major burden to him (though he didn’t have to do anything but wait with me in the hospital for a day and a night).

I called my family. My mom, dad and two brothers dropped everything they were doing and came to Salt Lake City. They must have known I needed them more than anything. It was when I was surrounded by love and warmth that I gained a strength I never knew I had. With my family there to support me, I broke up with him, moving across the country to Virginia.

It was scary. There was a lot of crying and emotion. What would I do now? Go back to my old life? Was there even going back to my old life when I’d suffered what I did? Had he broken me?

I was severely underweight from over exercising and eating very little. I barely recognized myself. My skin squeezed tight over bones that protruded sharply outward and I couldn’t do much physical activity for very long because I would get dizzy and sick from exertion. I had purple circles under my eyes and often stayed bedridden for hours. I felt empty. Broken.  

My family was terrified. They’d never seen me like this. Since I was a little girl, I’d been silly and upbeat, friendly with just about everyone. Not anymore. The quiet skeleton that drifted about the house wasn’t much more than a shade of the girl who’d once been.  

For all I knew, I was ruined goods and no one would want me and the emotional baggage I carried.

I can’t imagine what my family went through during that time. I have four younger siblings and two sets of parents with very traditional Christian and Catholic beliefs. My mother had never been exposed to abuse and I don’t think she knew how to deal with it. It wasn’t a subject we broached when I came back home since it was uncomfortable for the both of us to talk about. My father, a gentle person who’s shown my brothers and I nothing less than tenderness since childhood, didn’t handle it the same way. Instead, he blamed himself for what I went through.

I used to believe it was one hundred percent my fault, but what I went through was no one's fault. It wasn’t the Lawyer’s, my parents or my friends who introduced me to him. I made a bad decision, but I was young and I suffered from the aftereffects of sexual assault during my teenage years. The Lawyer himself must have had his own set of problems he was dealing with, although I refuse to give him excuses for his horrendous treatment of me.  

It’s taken me three years to deal with what I went through. I still suffer with severe PTSD (from that as well as the assaults) and I see an amazing understanding doctor right now that is helping me work through my disability and helping me manage the effects it’s had on my life.

I met an amazing man who I love and adore and has been one of the biggest and best support systems I’ve ever had. 

We got engaged this year, and he doesn’t talk down to me or treat me like “ruined goods”. We have a comfortable life with two amazing, sweet dogs that fill me with constant joy and we are excited for the future.

Finally everything is back on track. There have been bumps in the road, of course, but that’s life.

If there’s one thing I’d like to share with women who have also been in abusive situations, it’s this: You are important. You are amazing. You are strong, even if you don’t feel like it. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

If they do, know that they are a very dangerous, very toxic force. Take control of your life. It’s too short to let others rule it and make it miserable for you. Time is one thing we can never get back, and all that time spent with an abuser is stolen time.

If you’re in a relationship that is abusive in any way, get out as fast as you can. Not just for yourself, but for the sake of your family and friends who love you.        

If you are involved in an abusive relationship please contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Thank You: An Update

Image Credit

I walked away from an abusive relationship the week before Christmas exactly four years ago. To say that a lot has changed since then would be an understatement. I went from being called Mamma to being single and on my own in the blink of an eye. My world was turned upside down and churned about like clothes on spin cycle.

At the time I was beyond devastated. And as I cycled through the stages of grief over the loss of my step-daughter, my relationship, and everything I had ever known I acted in ways that I am not proud of. Back then I used writing as my outlet, that much hasn’t changed, and in my fight to try and save my step-daughter at times I acted like an out of control idiot. Grief does strange things to people and I was certainly no exception.

When I began to heal and focus on the importance of putting my mental health first, I took inventory of my behavior and I was ashamed. This blog had become a place of bitterness and anger. Most would understand and forgive. Many would call it justified. But that didn’t make it right. I was not a me I recognized. I was not a me I wanted to recognize.

I spent the next two and a half years in a self-imposed writing silence. I deleted most of my social media accounts and took down this blog. I wasn’t sure if I would ever bring it back again. I wanted desperately to forget the pain and grief that plagued me. But this numb avoidance wasn’t me either. I am not an unfeeling or quiet person. I am someone that feels deeply and believes in the salvation of writing for both myself and others.

So I spent some time in silence. I spent a lot of time in silence. I became comfortable with it and learned to embrace being alone. I focused on self care and tried outlets like yoga. I drove to beautiful places and lost myself in nature. I allowed myself to remember and I allowed myself to let go. This was no easy task but it was necessary and worth every ounce of grueling effort.

After healing took its hold on my heart and soul, I felt ready to write again. I wanted to share my story(ies) with the world and help people who might be struggling with similar circumstances. I wanted to give hope to those lost in the depths of the suffering I had climbed out of. And so I resurrected this blog and began to write.

Writing again has been a blessing. I have found new outlets by guest posting on a variety of wonderful sites. One opportunity led me to being published on The Huffington Post a couple of times. I am proud of my evolution as a writer and as a human. This is a me I recognize and am proud of. This is a me I resurrected and glued back together with hope and perseverance.

For those that have followed my story over the years, I want you to know that I am doing extremely well. I am safe and happy and I have broken the cycle of domestic violence that plagued my past relationships. I still find myself wondering these words I found in this story about breaking cycles:

“I used to wonder ‘Why me? Why did I survive? But I don’t ask myself those things anymore. If anyone can be inspired or motivated by me or my story, that’s the beauty of everything”.

And while my journey has had it’s ugly moments, it’s gritty down on my knees lost in grief moments, it truly has been beautiful. I have come out on the other side of loss and sorrow a better person. A changed person.

I want to thank everyone that has followed my story, wondered about me, reached out to me, and shared with me their own struggles. You have held my hand throughout these past four years and your presence, no matter how brief, has comforted me and brought me light. Light that sparkles and shines across the distance and reminds me how far I’ve traveled with all of you by my side. Thank you for listening. Keep fighting the good fight.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hungry For Humanity (Original Article On

I'll never forget the moment a few years ago when I left a store and a homeless man was sitting outside of the door.
He asked if I knew anyone that needed to have yard work done. I paused with my bags and told him I didn't. A woman walked up and handed him some change out of her pocket and he thanked her and said
"I'm so hungry, I haven't eaten in a really long time. I'm gonna' use this money to eat. Thank you"
I told him again I was sorry, glanced at the trash bag and rolled up sleeping bag he sat on. He had sharp blue eyes. Kind eyes. He told me it was okay and I began to walk away when something in my mind and heart told me "STOP". I can't explain it. I knew he wasn't dangerous. That I was okay but this man was not.
He needed someone to talk to... and God knows I know how that feels. Don't you?
So I sat down beside him and his kind eyes and asked him his name. He told me his name was Steve and began to tell me his story. I shared with him a little of mine, but mostly I listened. Steve came from a broken family, suffered from schizophrenia, was abused growing up, and fell through the holes in the mental health system. He said he felt haunted by his past, his heartache, and his life. He couldn't sleep. He felt like a failure. He wished he could be the son his Mom deserved.

To Read More Click Here:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Little Things (Original Article On

While growing up we are often told that what matters in life the most are "the little things".  As kids we nod, have no clue what that truly means, and add a fifth page to our wish list for Santa.  As teenagers we roll our eyes, pretend to listen, and then ask for more money.  But at some point along the way, hopefully, the truth of that statement begins to take on some actual meaning.  

Some of us learn it earlier than others and some of us never learn.  Those that do learn the true reality of the little things lesson can learn it on a small or large scale.  I happen to have learned it on a scale of epic proportions.  

I did a fair share of volunteer work even as a teenager and often with my church.  One of the most memorable trips was to rebuild homes in one of the most poverty stricken areas in America.  I gave up a decent chunk of my much anticipated summer break to sleep on a non-air conditioned gym floor in sweltering heat.  Each day we worked tirelessly in our heavy jeans and work boots.  But that isn’t what stands out in my memory from that summer.

I remember the conditions of those homes, the kitchen appliances sinking down below eye level into what was supposed to be a floor.  The stories behind the houses and the families that lived there.  One house that I painted belonged to a single Mom recovering from domestic violence.  I can picture me, standing on that ladder, completely oblivious to all we would one day have in common.  But, most of all, I remember the looks of gratitude and humility we were given.

To Read More Click Here:

All That Sparkles (Original Article On

All That Sparkles

Three and a half years ago I embarked on a journey away from abuse and towards freedom.  It has been a long road full of pain, surprises, and discoveries.  I won’t lie to you and tell you it has been easy.  Because it hasn’t.  But I will tell you that, even when it seemed like it wasn’t, it has truly been worth it.
There are many factors that contributed to the kickstart of this journey.  You could say it began in childhood with abuse, the decision to be with one toxic person after another, or the police that showed up at my house that final day.  I believe all of that played a huge part but truly it began with a simple piece of paper handed to me by a concerned therapist.  
When I first started seeing this therapist I knew that my then current relationship would dominate our conversations.  And it did.  What I didn’t know is how instrumental she would be in what has become my new life.  On an ordinary afternoon she handed me a not so ordinary directive.  She looked at me and said “When you leave him, you are going to have to change everything”.  My breath caught in my throat. “Everything?” I skeptically replied, the panic rising.  “Everything” she said.  And with that seemingly doom summoning statement she pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down a crisis plan for me to hide somewhere.  

To Read More Click Here:

Sunday, August 16, 2015


How we recover from loss, heartbreak, and trauma differs greatly from person to person.  We might all share similar emotions but no two recoveries are ever the same.  Some of us never recover. Those that don't walk through this world in a blurry haze, drinking or drugging away their pasts and their pain. Or maybe they eat to numb the pain.  They stop cleaning their house.  They become shut-ins. They stop dating completely.

You want to help them.  You try to help them.  You might even love them.  But you sit by, helpless, and watch them walk down the road of self-destruction while pushing you away. Whatever their scars are they have chosen to shut out the world, shut out love, and live in a prison of loneliness.

The irony is that the last thing most people truly want is to be left utterly alone.  So the paradox of their fears and their scars and their numbing and their pushing away leaves them doing to their own heart exactly what they worry you will do to it.  Essentially they are breaking it themselves, over and over again. only they don't realize it. Or maybe they do and feel helpless to stop it.  Or they do it before others would presumably have the chance to. You can fight for them.  And you should. But at some point, by holding on, you're damaging you as much as they're damaging themselves.

People give me advice about how I should handle my heart all the time.  I should not be so open.  I should stay open.  Having a giant heart gets you hurt.  Having a giant heart is an amazing thing. Don't be so trusting.  Trust people.  And, admittedly, I have had enough happen to me ten times over to be one of the most bitter, angry, jaded, man hating, walled off people on the face of the earth. Nobody would even question me.  Yet instead I remain... hopeful.  Open.  And I don't believe all men are abusive.  Far from it actually.  Most of all I am willing to still try.  To still put my heart out there and take the chance that it will get smacked down.  Risky?  Very.  But I'd rather come to the end of my life with a heart covered in scars instead of one preserved perfectly out of fear. I want to look back and know that I fought for all that mattered to me in this world.

I have known quite a few desperados in my life.  Their circumstances varied greatly.  So did their scars.  Each one of them I tried my hardest to convince that they shouldn't give up on humans, on love.  None of them would listen.  They all had their reasons.  And even though none of them probably thought I understood, I did.  I just have a different kind of heart.  If only we could reach into the hearts of those we care about and heal them and open them back up.  I know my way means I will accumulate more scars but I'm not getting any younger... and neither are you, desperado.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Finding Your Inner Sparkle

When I was ten the only road I cared about was the one between my house and the lake.  I would hop on my bike after a bad day and pedal as hard as I could towards that sanctuary.  As I sped through the neighborhood the wind would run its fingers through my long dark hair.  For a moment I would close my eyes and almost believe that I was flying.  The trees on the side of the road, the cars passing by, and the ground beneath my feet would become one fantastic blur.  My house might have only been a mile away but to me it no longer existed.

The sound of my feet on the dock would cause the ducks and swans to glance up at me as they paddled along.  My feet dangled over the edge and hovered several inches above the water.  The afternoon light twinkled in the windows of the homes surrounding the lake.  The soft sound of the water lapping at the bank would lull me with tranquility. I dreamed about who I would become and what I would look like.  My mind never even considered that I might not always walk down the right road to get to where I wanted to be.  The warm sun shone down on my upturned face and promised nothing but clear skies.

Many years later I now know that the sun does not always shine.  Some of the roads I have stumbled upon have turned out to be dead ends.  The bad relationships are scattered along those highways like road kill.  And others have been much longer and bumpier than I expected.  The road of my life has been filled with unexpected detours and speed bumps that threatened to knock me off balance forever.  

My journey through life has been more like an obstacle course meant for an Olympic athlete.  But I have learned to catch my breath, to jump the hurdles, and to carry on.  Along the way I have learned that sometimes the right road isn’t always the one I am traveling down.  That ten year old girl at the lake I once was I will never be again.  I can only hope to one day find the road that will lead me to a new lake of peace.  It is there that I know I will find her, sitting in the sun, waiting to welcome me.   


Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Vultures

When I left a toxic relationship several years ago I began trying to understand why I chose that person to be with in the first place.  I think we all do that on some level.  And if we don't, we definitely should. 

What was most shocking to me was, during the immediate aftermath, finding myself once again surrounded by these unsavory types of men.  They were like vultures looking for prey.  So when I found this article I immediately knew I had to share it. 

"Invisible Predators"

 I’m not sure what picture I had in my mind of the typical target for a sociopath when I began my research. I suppose I thought of either someone who traveled in fairly sordid circles or someone who was incredibly naive and unworldly. Either that, or someone with a pronounced victim mentality. As it turns out, anyone can be targeted and conned by a sociopath, including people who are successful, intelligent, and well-educated—even powerful, such as Sandra Boss, the Harvard-educated corporate consultant I mentioned in an earlier post who pulled down $2 million a year (in the news a while ago when her con-artist husband kidnapped their child). 

Some sociopaths go after those who have low self-esteem, even if it’s well camouflaged; sociopaths are known for having almost a sixth sense about such things. But others like a good challenge and will target someone strong just to see if they can pull it off. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, sociopaths will often target someone, weak or strong, when they are at a particularly vulnerable ebb after a life trauma.

In their book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, authors Sandra L. Brown, M.A., and Liane J. Leedom, M.D. present the results of a study they undertook in their efforts to see if they could discern any patterns in the types of individuals who attract and are attracted to sociopaths, and who tend to stay in the relationship even after things start to deteriorate and the true personality of the sociopath begins to emerge. As Leedom points out in a recent article on the recovery site,, “although sociopaths are not capable of love they are very social and most often want to count themselves in as part of a family, extended family and friendship network.”

Their subject pool included attorneys, physicians, therapists, social workers, teachers, editors, female clergy, and CEOs. Their conclusions are that sociopaths tend to go after women (male sociopaths outnumber female, but these authors’ conclusions could no doubt be equally well be applied to men who are targets) who possess the following constellation of positive traits: In general, they were nurturing, generous, forgiving, and tolerant. Targets tended to trust unconditionally, were cooperative, and highly empathic—an interesting contrast to the sociopath’s utter lack of empathy (it is likely that targets project their own empathy onto the sociopath). And they were compassionate, supportive, and devoted.

In fact, the women in their survey tended to be quite loyal and invested in their relationships; they attached deeply to their partners. According to Brown and Leedom, “These women find a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction in what they put in and what they get out of relationships … once they attach, it is with great passion and enormous depth.” In addition, the average target is sentimental, more likely to remember the sweet things the sociopath did in the beginning of the relationship than dwell on the cruel things that begin to emerge. On top of that, these women tended to be tenderhearted, sympathizing with the wounded little boy the sociopath has conjured up in his courting, and readily using his unhappy childhood or experiences as reasons to overlook his increasingly hurtful, manipulative, and crazy-making behavior. 

Interestingly, many of these women tested high on the extroversion scale, were free-spirited, and/or sought excitement. Brown and Leedom’s interpretation of these results is that these women can overpower men who aren’t like them in this way; when they meet a sociopath, who is not intimidated by this aspect of hers, they are thrilled. These women find the charming sociopathic male with his impulsiveness and romantic or sexual intensity exciting. In addition, highly extroverted women don’t like to be bored, and a sociopathic partner is anything but boring. This is the main point of connection that is often made between the sociopath and his or her target, this desire for excitement and intensity. She doesn’t realize that the guy is not just edgy or adventurous; he possesses a pathology. 

Over time, these strong women end up dominated by their sociopathic partner, which confuses them. She often keeps the relationship going, despite how far south it goes, because she can’t believe that such a strong person as herself would put up with the treatment she ends up being subjected to, and keeps trying to re-frame it in some way that makes psychological and emotional sense.

This group of women also tended to be competitive, another counter-intuitive reason they stay too long in this dysfunctional relationship. As the relationship becomes more contentious and pathologically driven, she’s likely to stay and fight, certain that she’ll be able to work things out. Unfortunately, her personality structure is no match for a sociopath’s. 

Not only that, she is operating from an inherent position of weakness, in that she doesn’t really understand what she’s dealing with. It’s almost impossible for the target to grasp the fact that this formerly delightful, supposedly smitten “soul mate” doesn’t actually care for her and never did—that she was literally nothing more than a game, an object, a conquest, or a meal ticket—and that there is nothing to work out. The sociopath has zero interest in that. 

They’re perfectly willing to use and then discard, without any emotion whatsoever, someone who’s deeply committed to them if she becomes inconvenient or too much trouble in any way, or he simply becomes bored. And for such glib Romeos, there’s always another easy target out there.

The results of Brown and Leedom’s research indicate that many strong, successful, and nurturing women become involved with sociopaths. The sociopath skillfully uses the target’s strengths against her, turning a formerly independent, seemingly self-confident person into a broken, needy, and self-apologetic one. It is a painful and sad trajectory, one that seems to fill a sociopath with a bizarre combination of pride in his prowess and contempt for the person he was able to break.

In the recovery community, although some targets feel that they were completely blind-sided, that their strength and success represented the bait that proved their undoing, many of them feel that either a lifelong or recent weakness contributed to their selection—that some Achilles’ heel, such as low self-worth or the death of a spouse, created blood in the water that attracted these sharks. Several authors observe that targets tend to be people who automatically assume blame, whether they’re in the wrong or not, and many targets on support sites mention that they were raised by a sociopathic or narcissistic parent, which primed them to respond positively to the current sociopath in their lives. Not until it’s too late do they realize the magnetism they experienced was recognition, not attraction.

Anyone reading this post who recognizes him- or herself in these descriptions should be particularly careful in giving their heart or trust away, especially to extremely charming individuals who romance them intensely and seductively. If you have self-esteem issues, you should work on them, not just try to hide them or compensate for them. If you’ve recently experienced a painful blow in your life, be more careful than usual where you seek comfort and support. If you think you’re someone who would never fall for a sociopath, that you would see through them in an instant, think again. Just about every single person conned by a sociopath thinks that.

Whatever you do, make someone earn your trust over time; do not trust unconditionally. There is a difference between innocence and naiveté, between being compassionate and being a sucker. Getting swept off your feet can be fun in the beginning, but if the person who’s doing the sweeping is a sociopath, a crushed psyche and years of heartbreak will not make up for the comparatively short-lived, false ecstasy.

Bear in mind, too, that encounters with sociopaths aren’t limited to romantic relationships. You can unwittingly have a sociopath as a friend, colleague, boss, co-worker, minister, idol, etc. In her book,Stalking the Soul, psychiatrist Marie-France Hirigoyen takes a look at the victims of sociopaths in the workplace. Often bullying of an employee begins with a sociopath. She observes, “Contrary to what their aggressors have others believe, victims are not, at the outset, weak or mentally unhealthy individuals. Quite the contrary, harassment is often set in motion when a victim refuses to give in to a boss’s authoritarian procedures.” She notes that targets tend to be perfectionists committed to their work; not the poor employee that the abuser conjures up by gaslighting and manipulation. In order to create a target, the sociopath subjects the selected individual to the same kind of devaluation that takes place in a personal relationship. Others in the organization will generally side with the bully for reasons discussed earlier, and soon, a perception exists that the target deserves this treatment: “They attribute to her character the consequences of the conflict, forgetting what she was before or that she is now in another context.” Hirigoyen remarks that abusers often choose “as their victims people who are full of energy and love of life.” For a sociopath, these attributes are like fingernails on a blackboard. Hirigoyen believes that the cynical, envious, empty and/or angry emotional landscape buried beneath the sociopath’s charming exterior drives them to destroy in others the qualities they lack themselves.

You might be lucky enough never to be targeted by a sociopath in any context, in either your work or your personal life—after all, they are in the distinct minority, thank goodness—but given the fact that in the U.S. alone, there are anywhere from three to twelve million sociopaths, most of them operating freely, it can’t hurt to be aware. As expert Dr. Robert Hare observes in his book, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us, psychopaths are “social predators who charm, manipulate and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations and empty wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and in feelings for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please.” He adds that they “are found in every segment of society, and there is a good chance that eventually you will have a painful or humiliating encounter with one.”

Sociopaths are Machiavellian masters at manipulating our egos and appealing to our desire to feel special and to be associated with charming “winners;” they are consummate liars, able to lie without the slightest qualm; they are excellent actors and true chameleons; they can read their targets with tremendous skill to find out what will seduce them with chilling accuracy; and they not only do notcare about you, if it amuses them, they will do everything in their considerable power to destroy you, bankrupt you, turn your friends against you … take everything from you they care to take. And perhaps worst of all, if you try to tell anyone what’s going on, chances are, no one will believe you. It’s as scary as a horror movie, except it’s real.

Be aware. And keep your antennae up for both gaslighting of people you might know and snow jobs directed at yourself. As Dr. Michael Fox observes in The Emotional Rape Syndrome, “the essential goodness of the individual … can serve us well in opposing the spread of evil in society, whether that evil manifests itself as emotional rape or any other major threat to the social good. We have to find the courage to get involved and to stand up to those who would use the best and highest human qualities, such as the ability to love and trust, for their own narcissistic gain.”

Suggested reading list:
Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us, by Robert D. Hare
Snakes in Suits, by Paul Babiak & Robert D. Hare
The Sociopath Next Door, By Martha Stout
The Emotional Rape Syndrome: How to Survive and Avoid It, by Michael Fox
Stalking the Soul, by Marie-France Hirigoyen
Women Who Love Psychopaths, by Sandra L. Brown, M.A. & Liane J. Leedom, M.D.
The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships, by Patrick J. Carnes
Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry, by Albert Bernstein
How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Become Involved, by Sandra L. Brown, M.A.
The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself, by Beverly Engel
Emotional Blackmail: When People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You, by Susan Forward