The trauma of child abuse: from denial to healing, part 1 of 4

Brandon’s story

Brandon’s parents are sociopaths. I told a lot of his story in the first series on this blog—Sociopaths; so this post will include a summary of the sociopaths’ characteristics and behaviors, with some new examples.

Brandon’s type of denial is actually more common than you might think—the “I don’t know what you’re talking about” kind of denial.

Raising and grooming victims
If your parents were sociopaths or had certain personality disorders, their #1 job was to raise and groom one or more victims who wouldn’t call them out, who wouldn’t tell their secrets, who wouldn’t have any idea that there was abuse being done to them—who wouldn’t see the evil around them.

Training victims
And most importantly, sociopathic parents raise and train victims who believe the lies.

From Sneak Attack Impact, part 2:

The big lies
Yes, it’s all hollow. It’s all a show—the Persistently-Practiced and Perfected Public Persona. And it’s a lie.

So many lies. Non-stop lies. The smiles are lies that hide the evil.
Big lie #1: “We love you!”
Big lie #2: “We’re a normal, happy family.”
Big lie #3: “We’re wonderful and you’re the one who’s afflicted.”

Another one of their Top 10 Lies is this favorite: “You deserve it.”

Sociopaths must have victims. (Narcissists must have servants, etc.) At least one of the sociopaths’ children will be groomed as their targeted victim, but the sociopaths will never admit this. They’re just doing what sociopaths do: the abuse, the propaganda, the “training,” the lies, the religious jargon and pressure, the accomplices, the dramatic public displays of family devotion, and much, much more.

Public life vs. private life
That’s the way they play. And they play to win. They’re really good at it. Smooth. Belt-cracking at home and speech-giving in public. Beating and bruising the victim at home and serving the underprivileged in public. What a show. What acting. Award-winning, even.

Grooming abusive accomplices
Sociopaths also groom abusers. They must be adored and powerful, so they train their favored children to hate the victim too. The sociopaths and their Chosen Children recite their favorite lines for the victim with seething drama: “You’re the problem,” “There’s something seriously wrong with you,” “You’re the Black Sheep in this family,” “You’re an embarrassment,” “You deserve it,” “You should be thankful for all the wonderful things we do for you,” “We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t love you,” and more.

The use of propaganda, lies and gossip to control victims and accomplices
Then in walks a loving husband or wife to Victim #1. Uh-oh. The sociopaths must pump-up the mind-control and gossip to ensure that their carefully-crafted victim remembers his or her lowly place in Our Perfect Family.

In my experience, gossip is one of the most frequently-used tactics by women who have personality disorders. (Sociopath is the common name for people who have Antisocial Personality Disorder.) I’ve seen gossip used constantly by my mother-in-law, the Sociopath Extraordinaire, and I’ve seen shadows of my narcissistic sister Pam’s gossip in some comments made to me by two relatives on two or three very, very rare occasions.

Controlling the casual observers and accomplices
That’s the way the Personality Disorder Princesses play. They bad-mouth their victims so dramatically that other people get on board with their stories. The casual observers and accomplices don’t ever bother to ask those horrible victims what actually happened. They buy it all—hook, line and sinker.

Painting the sociopaths as victims and the victims as abusers
What a perfect play. The abusers pretend to be the innocent victims and paint their victims as being horribly abusive. Abusive people are bad, right? So everyone who hears The Dramatic Declarations of Dastardly Deeds done by those mean victims will proudly participate in ostracizing, hating and bad-mouthing the victims. The sociopaths succeed in abusing their victims and in collecting accomplices who will gladly join The Gossip Club, which further validates the sociopaths’ premise that the sociopaths are good and the victims are bad.

Psychiatrist Scott Peck addresses this common strategy with amazing skill in his book People of the Lie. You’ll find this book challenging to read. Some of the case studies will horrify you—not because they’re bloody or gruesome—but because the psychological warfare is so grim, so intense and so devastatingly effective. People who are evil literally cut apart their victims—most-often one or more of their children—with lies, with attitudes, with words, with violence, with the things they give to and withhold from them.

Please click here to see some highlighted text from this brilliant book.

The confrontation and the game
Only once in my life have I heard of a friend of a Personality Disorder Princess actually confronting a “mean” victim—the adult son of the Princess—for what he supposedly did. Brilliantly, he responded with questions that all began with the phrase Did you know…? After a fairly short round of the Did You Know Game, the previously-angry devotee—who thought she was protecting her dear friend—ended up apologizing. She’d been lied to. She’d been used. She was wrong. She thought the evil was good and the good was evil.

Mind-blowing, isn’t it.

The sociopaths next door
People generally think of sociopaths as cold-blooded killers, so the ones who live next door and are merely killing their child’s spirit—and leaving a Trail of Chaos wherever they go—remain undetected. The sociopaths’ neighbors and friends think Sure, they’re high-maintenance and a little dramatic, but sociopaths? No way. They’re always doing such good things to help people. They work so hard. How dare you accuse such wonderful people like that! Yadda, yadda, yadda.

No conscience or feelings, except for sadism
Sociopaths have no conscience or feelings, other than—in some cases—the sadistic thrill of hurting their victims. The recent incident that sticks with Brandon the most took place a year ago during his father’s Sunday afternoon sneak attack.

Last voyage
Andrew showed up at our house unexpectedly and pulled out all the stops to try to get Brandon back in line (i.e., making nice-nice with the sociopaths and their accomplices). During their long encounter that afternoon, Brandon reminded his dad of an incident between the two of them when he was a teenager. They built a sailboat together, with much frustration and yelling. While they were sailing on a nearby lake, his dad insisted that Brandon sail a particular direction toward the shore that was impossible, given the direction of the wind. His dad wouldn’t listen to Brandon and wouldn’t stop yelling at him, so Brandon dove off the sailboat, swam back to shore, and never sailed with his father again.

Brandon told his dad how traumatic that incident was for him. His dad’s response? He laughed. He found it entertaining. Jacking with Victim #1 gives our Friendly Neighborhood Sociopath a cheap thrill—then and now. It’s the highlight of his existence. What a total sicko.

Frequent complaint-focused gossiping to evoke pity
When sociopaths display their never-ending “I’ve been so mistreated” theatrics, this tactic throws people off-kilter and causes them to feel sorry for the sociopaths. I like how Lisa Wolcott addresses this issue in her article, “How to Spot—and Handle—a Sociopath.”

Question your tendency to pity too easily. Evoking pity is a classic sociopathic tool. If you find yourself pitying someone who consistently hurts you or other people, chances are close to 100% that you are dealing with a sociopath. Related to this: challenge your need to be polite in all situations. Sociopaths take full advantage of our social reflexes.

Substance abuse and hypochondria
The substance abuse and hypochondria can easily go unnoticed, in light of all the other drama, chaos and abuse going on. Brandon’s parents are prescription drug addicts and so was his violent sister Shelly. You should see the drawers full of prescription drugs. Drawers full. Before Shelly poisoned herself to death for 20 years with her plethora of prescription drugs, she used to put on a dramatic presentation of her cooler full of drugs at every holiday event. What a nightmare. Oops. I mean poster child for Histrionic Personality Disorder.

Let Me Tell You About My Most Recent Doctor’s Appointment and Let Me Tell You About My New Diagnosis are just two of the many Feel Sorry for Me tactics of the sociopaths. It’s a clever combination of Hypochondriac Central and a Top 10 Sociopathic Tactic: Evoking Pity.

Reckless disregard for safety—then and now
Andrew, my sociopathic father-in-law, was a church elder, a respected school vice principal, and a devoted philanthropist—always helping someone less fortunate. No one outside the immediate family knew about the countless times he put his son Brandon in extremely dangerous situations.

Hanging off the side of the roof
Until recently, Brandon thought his fear of heights was just a strange anomaly of his character. Then he remembered how his sociopathic father frequently made him get on top of the extremely high-pitched roof of their two-story house and lean off the side to fix the television antenna with absolutely no safety equipment whatsoever—no ladder, no straps, no nothing. It was terrifying. It was routine. It was abuse.

It was this category that our counselor Matt described most effectively in explaining that Brandon’s parents are sociopaths—a classic case of “reckless disregard for the safety of self or others,” one of the defining characteristics of sociopaths. (To read more about the revelation of this disturbing, life-changing, ultimately-healing truth, read the last part of this post, starting with Looking at the Truth of What They’ve Done.)

The tipping tractor
Shortly before we terminated contact with his parents, Brandon went up to his parents’ farm to do some shooting with friends. He found his father on his tractor at the very edge of their pond, spinning the massive tractor tires and coming extremely close to flipping the tractor on top of himself. Brandon raced over to stop the near-fatal accident. His father was oblivious to the danger of what he was doing. Totally oblivious.

That tractor incident reminds me of the end of Lisa Wolcott’s article.

Disturbing, isn’t it, to think about one in 25 of us having no conscience. One in 25 people being someone we need to avoid. Disturbing to think about the ease with which a sociopath creates a swath of destruction… and that they get away with it… and all you can do, usually, is steer clear.

But here’s another item I’d add to the list, something I’ve been known to say in my sessions with clients:  14) Time Wounds All Heels. (That’s not a typo….) Sociopaths come to a bad end. For a thorough discussion on this, read [Martha] Stout’s book [The Sociopath Next Door]. In a nutshell, because of the unrelenting boredom they feel, sociopaths create drama, take massive risks – even, sometimes, kill. It makes sense if you think about it – without human connection, what else is there? Because of their risk taking, it’s common for sociopaths to eventually be murdered, die of an overdose, or in an accident.

I write this not in the spirit of schadenfreude, but rather in celebration of our ability, the majority of us, to live lives full of depth, meaning, relationship, and love.

If you haven’t already read that article from Lisa Wolcott in its entirety or if it’s been a while, I highly recommend it.

Top 20 stories of sociopaths
How about a stroll down Sociopath Memory Lane? In the last series, I included a number of mind-boggling stories about our experiences with Andrew and Delia, my sociopathic in-laws, and some other colorful relatives. If you’d like to read some of them, I’ll link to the posts where you can find them.

1. Formula for Electrocution—see A Match and A Miracle from this post
2. Tied Up by Jump Ropes—see Sadistic Shelly from this post
3. Date Night for Sociopaths—from this post
4. Smashed in the Van Door and Spiked by a Tree—see Ski Trip 1 and More from this post
5. A Major Injury—see Ski Trip 2 from this post
6. The Photo, The Phone Call and The Fiasco—see Her Majesty’s Sneak Attacks… from this post
7. Holiday Mayhem 1 (Delia, the Control Freak)—see Sad, But True from this post
8. Holiday Mayhem 2 (Accomplice Behavior)—see Did and Didn’t and Sociopathic Christmas Party Ingredients from this post
9. The Sneak Attack (section 1 of the letter)—see this post
10. The Sneak Attack (section 2 of the letter)—see this post
11. The Sneak Attack (section 3 of the letter)—see this post (part 4 and part 5)
12. Childhood Vacations and Christmases—see Vacations with Sociopaths and Christmas Chaos (through The Impact) from this post
13. Yelling the L-word—see Drama and Power and The Disturbing Memory from this post
14. Snowy Days and Icy Hands—see Physical Attacks from this post
15. The Sniper—see The Sneak Attack and Sloppy Execution from this post
16. The Soccer Game—see The Chase and The Show from this post
17. The Funeral—see Throw-up and a Funeral through Precious Marie from this post
18. Bumper Cars—from this post
19. Howling—see What Happened and What It Means from this post
20. Oppositeville—see the Oppositeville section and Same Ol’ Same Ol’ from this post

With gratitude
Free at last….

And the first step was truth—hearing it, believing it, receiving it.

Coming next: Next time on Choosing Peace, you’ll read about Dear Old Mom, Our Perfect Family and The New and Bigger Problem.

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: Isaiah 59:3-8

Song for Healing: “Your Love Defends Me” by Matt Maher

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