Sanctuary for the Abused

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Painful Incredulity: Psychopathy and Cognitive Dissonance

by Claudia Moscovici

Almost everyone involved with a psychopath goes through a phase (and form) of denial. It’s very tough to accept the sad reality that the person who claimed to be your best friend or the love of your life is actually a backstabbing snake whose sole purpose in life is humiliating and dominating those around him. Rather than confront this reality, some victims go into denial entirely. They aren’t ready to accept any part of the truth, which, when suppressed, often surfaces in anxiety, projection and nightmares.

At some point, however, the evidence of a highly disturbed personality shows through, especially once the psychopath is no longer invested in a given victim and thus no longer makes a significant effort to keep his mask on. Then total denial is no longer possible. The floodgates of reality suddenly burst open and a whole slew of inconsistencies, downright lies, manipulations, criticism and emotional abuse flows through to the surface of our consciousness.

However, even then it’s difficult to absorb such painful information all at once. Our heart still yearns for what we have been persuaded, during the luring phase, was our one true love. Our minds are still filled with memories of the so-called good times with the psychopath. Yet, the truth about the infidelities, the constant deception, the manipulation and the backstabbing can no longer be denied. We can’t undo everything we learned about the psychopath; we cannot return to the point of original innocence, of total blindness. The result is a contradictory experience: a kind of internal battle between clinging to denial and accepting the truth.

Cognitive dissonance is a painful incredulity marked by this inner contradiction in the victim’s attitude towards the victimizer. In 1984, perhaps the best novel about brainwashing that occurs in totalitarian regimes, George Orwell coined his own term for this inner contradiction: he called it doublethink. Doublethink is not logical, but it is a common defense mechanism for coping with deception, domination and abuse. Victims engage in doublethink, or cognitive dissonance, in a partly subconscious attempt to reconcile the contradictory claims and behavior of the disordered individuals who have taken over their lives.

The denial itself can take several forms. It can manifest itself as the continuing idealization of the psychopath during the luring phase of the relationship or it can be shifting the blame for what went wrong in the relationship from him, the culprit, to ourselves, or to other victims. In fact, the easiest solution is to blame neither oneself nor the psychopath, but other victims. How often have you encountered the phenomenon where people who have partners who cheat on them lash out at the other women (or men) instead of holding their partners accountable for their actions? It’s far easier to blame someone you’re not emotionally invested in than someone you love, particularly if you still cling to that person or relationship.

Other victims project the blame back unto themselves. They accept the psychopath’s projection of blame and begin questioning themselves: what did I do wrong, to drive him away? What was lacking in me that he was so negative or unhappy in the relationship? Was I not smart enough, virtuous enough, hard-working enough, beautiful enough, sexy enough, attentive enough, submissive enough etc.

When one experiences cognitive dissonance, the rational knowledge about psychopathy doesn’t fully sink in on an emotional level. Consequently, the victim moves constantly back and forth between the idealized fantasy and the pathetic reality of the psychopath. This is a very confusing process and an emotionally draining one as well. Initially, when you’re the one being idealized by him, the fantasy is that a psychopath can love you and that he is committed to you and respects you. Then, once you’ve been devalued and/or discarded, the fantasy remains that he is capable of loving others, just not you. That you in particular weren’t right for him, but others can be. This is the fantasy that the psychopath tries to convince every victim once they enter the devalue phase. Psychopaths truly believe this because they never see anything wrong with themselves or their behavior, so if they’re no longer excited by a person, they conclude it must be her (or his) fault; that she (or he) is deficient.

Because you put up with emotional abuse from the psychopath you were with and recently been through the devaluation phase–in fact, for you it was long and drawn-out–you have absorbed this particular fantasy despite everything you know about psychopaths’ incapacity to love or even care about others. But with time and no contact, the rational knowledge and the emotional will merge, and this last bit of illusion about the psychopath will be dissolved.

Cognitive dissonance is part and parcel of being the victim of a personality disordered individual. It doesn’t occur in healthy relationships for several reasons:

1) healthy individuals may have good and bad parts of their personalities, but they don’t have a Jekyll and Hyde personality; a mask of sanity that hides an essentially malicious and destructive self. In a healthy relationship, there’s a certain transparency: basically, what you see is what you get. People are what they seem to be, flaws and all.

2) healthy relationships aren’t based on emotional abuse, domination and a mountain of deliberate lies and manipulation

3) healthy relationships don’t end abruptly, as if they never even happened because normal people can’t detach so quickly from deeper relationships

4) conversely, however, once healthy relationships end, both parties accept that and move on. There is no stalking and cyberstalking, which are the signs of a disordered person’s inability to detach from a dominance bond: a pathetic attempt at reassertion of power and control over a relationship that’s over for good

Cognitive dissonance happens in those cases where there’s an unbridgeable contradiction between a dire reality and an increasingly implausible fantasy which, once fully revealed, would be so painful to accept, that you’d rather cling to parts of the fantasy than confront that sad reality and move on.

Relatedly, cognitive dissonance is also a sign that the psychopath still has a form of power over you: that his distorted standards still have a place in your brain. That even though you may reject him on some level, on another his opinions still matter to you. Needless to say, they shouldn’t. He is a fraud; his opinions are distorted; his ties to others, even those he claims to “love,” just empty dominance bonds. Rationally, you already know that his opinions and those of his followers should have no place in your own mental landscape.

But if emotionally you still care about what he thinks or feels, then you are giving a disordered person too much power over you: another form of cognitive dissonance, perhaps the most dangerous. Cut those imaginary ties and cut the power chords that still tie you to a pathological person, his disordered supporters and their abnormal frame of reference. Nothing good will ever come out of allowing a psychopath and his pathological defenders any place in your heart or mind. The schism between their disordered perspective and your healthy one creates the inner tension that is also called cognitive dissonance. To eliminate this inner tension means to free yourself– body, heart and mind–from the psychopath, his followers and their opinions or standards. What they do, say, think or believe –and the silly mind games they choose to play–simply does not matter.


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shared by Barbara at 12:39 AM



The reality of our relationship WAS dire and the fantasy of what I imagined it to be was so off it's beyond crazy.

I want ME back. The ME I used to be before him. The pre-monster woman. No more pretending.

Thank you, Barbara. Our prelim hearing is Sept 7th. I have a hair appt. I want to look AMAZING!

5:44 PM  

I can't help but think of all the lies we are told by everyone. How much control do we REALLY have in our life? Think about this, and I mean REALLY think about it. We have NO choice who are parents are, little choice over other students in our classrooms, our neighbors, people who work at the stores we need to go to, and we've NEVER been informed about psychopathy by ANYONE who was in a position to PREVENT us from getting involved. Then, since we are trying to apply the never-ending "cures" or the latest personality description to our psychopathic mate/child/boss/family member, we waste valuable time, energy, resources and brain cells on people who will ever only be evil manipulators. So, IF we FINALLY figure out that it's plain old PSYCHOPATHY and NOT passive-aggressive, anti-social hogwash, we are told that we need to be SO careful NOT to jump to this conclusion even though EVERYBODY IS SUPER QUICK TO JUMP ALL UP ON US, to blame US or include US in the blame because we had the audacity to come out of the birth canal with air in our lungs (as this is all it takes to be included in the blame of the psychopaths guilt).

SO, since I apparently have all this control over the choices I make, I clearly have the power to fix everything. How you ask? Well, let's look at this realistically. Even the experts say there is no cure for psychopathy that it's genetic and even chromosomal, that psychopaths get worse with therapy (and by worse they mean better in their ability to deceive, lie, and manipulate). Since it’s inborn it means that it is the way they were born to be, and that it is unchangeable, and if given the choice, they would be glad to be what they are, they're just pissed that they can't be rightfully worshiped (but on the other hand they LOVE to have secrets and deceive).

So, how in the world can I fix ANYTHING? How can I change the children I have given birth to who are genetic psychopaths? How can I unmake all the family members who are also genetic psychopaths? And here you will try and sell me, "I can't change anyone else except myself." How on earth can I do this with no money, no education, and no access to non-psychopaths who are not also burdened down with a psychopath in their life, PTSD, physical ailments due to exposure to psychopaths from birth till now?
It is TRULY staggering the abuse that is done to us by psychopaths and their cohorts in the psychology field who try to get their name known by writing a book about the latest personality disorder (identified by them, of course) instead of FOREWARNING us that IT'S All JUST PSYCHOPATHY? There is no talk of the deep healing that needs to be done and let's face it, there's no TIME to do this as after we realize what has happened, we are too busy trying to just gain some footing to keep from being completely destroyed financially, emotionally, physically most importantly, SPIRITUALLY!
You know what we leave out in all this? That we non-psychopaths have an inherent need for LOVE. And I don't mean some trite love crap that we throw out meaninglessly, but true love for each other. This type of love only comes from God. And let me be clear here as well, the love of the God from the Bible, the three-in-one God who created us and created this world and who is more and more rapidly being denied and replaced with lies.
Even in this was it truly my choice? Did I choose to know the wisdom I have about psychopathy, or the Lord, or the world? No, I did not, but now that I do know it, I can no more undo this than I can undo the many choices I made while ignorant about psychopathy. So it all just sums up to GOD is in control and he says, through His word, that there will be terrible times in the last days (2 Tim 3:1-5)and that we will run to and fro and knowledge will increase (Daniel 12:4). (Have we EVER had so many "educated" people?) So I guess the only REAL choice left is to strap on my seat belt (the Bible) and hold on for the ride, as I am CLEARLY not the driver.

11:37 PM  

Barbara and Claudia - thank you for the lucid writing and clear information. I cannot tell you how precious the clarity is. As the poster just above put it - it's all about psychopathy. And also I've been getting closer to God as I have been breaking bonds to disordered people - breaking those bonds on a deep emotional and spiritual level. Very weird feeling - but such a relief.

Understanding exactly how non-disordered people use cognitive dissonance to survive an unknown and horrible situation - this is so helpful to me. I've tried reading books - but the lucid writing of just these few paragraphs here by Claudia puts it all on a level I can really fully get.

This helps me get closure on situations I have obsessed about and also sought to label so that I could move on. Too much psycho babble that I could not wade through. So this lucid article is priceless because it brings a final truth to my experience and long process of obsession.

Wow - so they never valued me for me - just for the supply of whatever they wanted at the time. Got it - thank you !!

Talk about a paradigm shift - feels like uncharted territory - but I'm free. I've survived being touched by what I think is pure evil - at least an emptiness that is a bottomless pit.

Bittersweet - so much loss in terms of what could have been in my own life - but knowing that I am okay at my core is more precious than I know how to say.

Thank you for this site. Reaching out with information - - it's life changing and life saving.

9:52 AM  

Ladies, I cannot thank you enough for this article that finally gave me a window of clarity for a moment, anyways, as I'm in the middle of coming to the realization after spending the past 32 years with this man (very hard to call him that right now, for me) who violated me in every possible way, since I was 14, now 46, but he did it be caused he loved me....,.,.., so he said, and I believed and I held onto that fantasy you write about, until this year, where once again, your words, he's no longer invested in his victim and his mask comes off, which is exactly what's happened over these past few years, his privacy, his own bedroom, not letting me work with him at our store, seeing him act so in appropriately with very young females while watching the security cameras, instead of talking to me, he shut down the security cameras at our store after 18 years!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And I know he's been cheating, but continues to deny it, blaming me, for all that has recently gone wrong with our store, when he's the only one making the choices there, but he's never wrong, ALWAYS SOMEONE ELSE.
I'm so very sad, cry several times a day, so angry over so many lies that came into reality recently, never mind the constant lies and now accusing me of being abusive recording me, audio and video, etc
It's been an absolute nightmare for me, so thanks for helping me to understand, others understand and I'm not all alone.

Thank you,

9:22 PM  

I've been struggling lately and I appreciate a site where I know I will be understood. Decades spent married to a sociopath and working towards separating. But it will take more time and money than I thought it would. So I'm stuck for awhile longer and it's really hard being around him.

His perspective is filled with entitlement. He believes he is entitled to barely legal age prostitutes while he will be 60 years old next year. He believes he is entitled to spending sprees and throwing cash around while I am the one who has the stable job. He believes he has found a great idea in using stimulants - legal and illegal - to fuel his activities. He feels entitled to bring prostitutes into our house so that I made a decision to be home every minute that he is home to prevent strangers from coming into the house. He believes he is so slick to hide everything from me with his texting and e-mails. His personality is strong and he believes he is dominant.

Cognitive dissonance is what I am feeling while trying to "shelter in place" until I can find a safe and permanent way to leave. I have a good professional job and I feel like two different people - one at home who is trying to stay calm and focused on my escape plan - and one at work who has to bend her mind to the daily work tasks. It's really exhausting.

I want to be so angry but I know confrontation will not work. I am so grateful for all the information about psychopaths - I live the truth of it every day. It's hard to keep the truth in front of me and not succumb to his dominating viewpoint. I know he is disordered. That is what helps me so much.

I am discouraged in that I am learning that I will likely take on financial burdens if I leave while he will get most of my money and will still have all his inherited money. It is such a relief to say this to someone. I am praying for the courage to find a way to get away from him and not just stay in order to not be poor. It's hard to explain, but I will likely lose most everything. But I want to be safe and free from constant worry, free from wondering where the next betrayal will come from.

I truly do not understand how someone can have so little respect for anything. Disordered, no real bonding, no depth - just nothing there except glib, shiny exterior. I never really liked him - but he got me to feel sorry for him and convinced me that he wanted to build a great life together. He always has excuses why it never came true.

Yes - cognitive dissonance - I am totally weirded out. Thank you for being here and for validating my experience. I can get lost sometimes.

9:31 PM  

Lol I started reading this expecting that you couldn't possibly include something about how I'm currently feeling, yet there is indeed a gentle but hard truth I needed to read. Sometimes I struggle with whether or not he loved me. I went on a mad answer chase on google and found nothing. Actually I was searching for evidence that other people knew him the way I did or that he saw himself as a master manipulator, and narcissist. Maybe he's just great at taking out unwanted search engine hits or I really am crazy and I was the problem all along. I mean if I'm the only one complaining and everyone else loves him I must be very delusional.

Its hard because from what I've observed and heard, he couldn't have been a psychopath all of his life. But maybe he was. Or maybe I triggered it because he loved me and that frightened him, or maybe he loved someone else who triggered it and that would be worse because I probably got the worst of it.

He had the power to really, deeply, hurt me but he didn't. I always wonder if he cared enough to not destroy me, or he didn't care enough to go that far...

There I go again. I'm basically saying, "yes, he gave me a black eye but he could have also broken my arm or set me on fire and he didn't because deep down he really cares." He always hurt me. Whatever the label, he broke my heart a million times with no apology or explaination apart from the one I made up for him in my head.

I need to believe that this person I was so hung up on for 5 years (6 including this recovery year) was worth something. Everything he did showed me he didn't care. So many other girls but I'll never know what happened with any of them. That should be enough reason to walk away but I still wish for answers I'll never get and likely wouldn't want to hear. A long time ago I could face the truth of his feelings and lies but for some reason right now I'm afraid i'd crumble.

I'm slowly accepting that there was nothing good about him. As much as I'm sure other women hate him, he isn't even hated enough to have a single negative page/site/tweet/blog post/etc. on him. (Not that I found.) He wasn't "the special" I put all of my hopes and dreams on. That's comforting now, but sometimes all I can think of is how I've wasted my adult life on someone who took my joy and money.

I feel free but also ashamed and stupid because I didn't see it. I couldn't see it. My brain wouldn't let me process reality. And I wonder how I can possibly avoid this in the future because I'm obviously amazing at denying what's in front of me.

3:54 AM  

Jennifer, you are not alone, there are more women likethis.I am free now, after 5years of marriage, I found out a lot of dirt, he has 2 kids aside, 5that I found out about, 1with 15 years old.Iam happy now, it took time to come into terms, but life is so good now, no more dirt, lies, etc.evrtj.will be ok:).Anna

1:43 PM  

Listing my narcissistic sociopath ex would invite more targeting. I have been isolated and am spending several hundred thousand dollars in the court system to protect our daughter from him. I hope no one lists your offender by name. He might blame you and so many others for that listing and that wrath is not something anyone wants brought upon them.

5:47 PM  

I will make this short. This is a great article as are all articles on this site except for one major flaw. How easy it is to be an arm chair quarterback or give advice from the stands. Under the guise of having a healthy relationship I lost my beautiful home modest but I built it. I am now homeless. Except for the psychopath's couch on occasion oh after holding me so dearly in the early phase he now screams fu at me and walKS on the other side of the room. I often times sleep in my car which has 220000 miles on it. He got into my sisters head about how lazy I am even tho he manipulated me into his business. I have worked for nothing saved his sorry rearend countless times. So I know longer have any family. I have spent every holiday alone for almost 5 years. While he sleeps with two women one is married and just gave him chlamydia in his eye both women look like his father both women are bullies and manipulators one looks like a neanderthal and drowns small animals. But they both wave money at him. The married one just defrauded an insurance company and got a settlement from her husband's company after her husband sexualy harassed several women at work and was fired. The other one just embezzles from her 4 person company. If it sounds like I am blaming other victims oh no I more than blame him but both women have horibly victimized me as well. I was a healthy woman in corporate America before I met this lousy excuse for a human let alone a man. Now I have nothing. I live in wi and have repeatedly asked for assistance from domestic violence programs. Here's the answer do u have a child under 18 ( no I am 60 yrs old) well then best of luck to you. There is no assistance. Wi more or less promotes prostitution as long as u are pumping out kid the benefit just roll in. Much of which goes to guys with several different baby mama's for drugs. Trust me I am a facade of construction business with the narcisist. Any money that comes in he gives to the trash that resembles his father.
There is not one second of one day that goes by that I don't regret ever having net him. He has been taking the married one with the std to his wels church the minister got wind of this so now he is thinking about turning catholic at 62.
Is abuse and control what God had in mind. I do get state health insurance and I am grateful but recently due to stress and poor living conditions have come down with health issues. I have had counselors and a psychiatrist say just move on get over it. Did I mention they had homes husbands children?
My carpal tunnel is making this impossible and painful to write. Sorry thought it would be short. How to you write the details of total abuse and destruction in a few paragraphs. Please offer some assistance and resources as abused women we already know how discarded we are. Help and kindness is what we deserve.

5:45 AM  

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