As I have written, when one encounters a psychopath is a romantic relationship or marriage, one ends up devastated emotionally, financially, socially, physically, and spiritually. I would now like to delve into a topic more closely related to the intent of DogDharma — spirituality. When doing the tango with a psychopath, one cannot avoid the thorny philosophical question of good vs evil. It lurks behind every lie told, every instance of abuse, every wrong done, and it screams for attention during healing and the aftermath. So much hurt, so much anger…
When I was a child, I grew up in a milieu that was saturated with with fundamentalist Christian views and values. As a toddler, I had the fleeting realization that I was transgendered (female body, male soul), but that was quickly repressed, to be faced decades later. Then when I was an adolescent, I realized that I was drawn to girls. I had never heard the word “lesbian,” so there was a learning curve, but I decided that the label must apply to me. I couldn’t work out any other answers.
I was exposed to countless sermons about “hellfire and damnation,” and could only conclude that I was hell-bound. I now consider this to be a form of spiritual child abuse. Certainly, all the sermons railed against homosexuality as the one unpardonable sin. But with an inquisitive mind, I set out to read the Bible end to end for myself, and to attend various churches. I did not want to fail God, nor for God to hate me.
The churches that I attended were full of hypocrisy. I attended one traditional Baptist church that emphasized evangelism and “saving souls.” Initially, the experience was positive. People noticed me and seemed to accept me, although I kept quiet about me questioning whether I might be gay. But when I was finally moved to be baptized, I quite suddenly became person non grata. The church members had moved onto the next “soul to be saved.” I couldn’t help but notice that a tally was publicly posted of who had brought the most new attendees to the church, and they were given accolades. In the final analysis, it seemed that they were doing nothing more than collecting people to fill the church coffers, with no concern for new members once they had accepted Christ. A hypocrisy I couldn’t stomach, and so I stopped attending the church.
Next I attended a non-denominational church with a 1970’s flare designed to appeal to the younger generation. Music was not the old gospel hymns I was used to hearing and loved, but was provided by a Christian rock band with amps, drums, and guitars. Superficially, this was more compatible with my world view, and I thought perhaps I had found a church home. I still made no mention of my dilemma about being a lesbian. The church building was quite modest, a small wood frame structure. The preacher made weekly impassioned appeals for congregants to donate money as the plates were passed around. Then I was invited to a sleepover by the preacher’s daughter. I could not help but notice that while the church itself was modest, the preacher lived in a large house in a well-to-do neighborhood in Little Rock. The donations given at church were supporting his lifestyle, and again, I could not turn a blind eye to the hypocrisy.
But I did scour the Bible for myself. Granted, I was reading from the limited perspective of a an adolescent with serious ethical questions on my mind. Leviticus and other books in the Old Testament decried the abomination of homosexuality, and taught a war-like God of of retribution and judgment. There were a handful of verses in the New Testament that seemed to offer the same condemnation. But the words of Jesus himself were comforting. He championed acceptance, preached tolerance, stood up for the disenfranchised and the underdog, and even washed the feet of a prostitute. This was all well and good, and resonated with me deeply, but I couldn’t reconcile the vision of a God who wanted obedience on pain of eternal damnation to hell vs the love and acceptance that Jesus taught. Since I had not chosen to be gay, and all my efforts to push it aside were fruitless, and since the conflicting images of God were irreconcilable, I decided that any God who poo-pooed the purity of love, even same-sex love, was not a God I could follow.
The above graphic gives a good understanding of sexual orientation, biological sex, socially ascribed roles of masculinity and femininity, and gender identify. In the end, I chose Love over the extreme views of fundamentalist Christianity.
In Arkansas, you were either a Baptist, or a member of some similar Protestant congregation. As far as I knew, I’d never met a Jewish person, let alone a Muslim, and Catholicism was verboten as well. So for many decades, I had no vision of true spirituality, except that I believed in Love.
When I was in college, I took a course entitled a Survey of World Religions. I was taken by Buddhism, but since it was only a survey course, the introduction to Buddhism was only cursory. Just before the events of 9/11, when I was a resident of Washington, DC, I was perusing the shelves of the Borders bookstore at 18th and L Streets. I was really looking for books on politics, but someone had misplaced a book by Pema Chõdrōn on the wrong shelf. I was enthralled by the book, but didn’t buy it, yet it stuck in my memory.
One night after the visit to the bookstore, I looked out the window at night, and saw the smiling moon and the pale dots of stars scattered in the sky. I realized that there must be much more to this magnificent Universe than preoccupied the narrow thoughts of my own consciousness. I went back to the bookstore to find Pema Chõdrõn’s books, but came away with a stack of books that seemed more relevant. This was my introduction to Buddhism, and it seemed to me that the authors were writing my own private musing about spirituality. I immersed myself in learning and reading about Buddhism, and eventually acquired hundreds of books.
I particularly appreciated one quote by the Buddha, paraphrased liberally by me: “Don’t believe anything you read in newspapers or hear on the TV news, or even what your friends are posting on Facebook. Don’t even believe me. Take my teachings (the dharma), and if you find that they are helpful, then adopt them for yourself.” No dogma, no “thou shalt not,” no fear-based proselytizing, but an invitation to explore and think for oneself.
The Buddha’s goal, in it’s purest and Westernized form, did not demand any particular belief in the afterlife, in God, or in heaven and hell or what happens after death. His mission was to describe the nature of suffering and the cure for suffering in this life. A belief in God was not required. It was left for followers to decide for themselves. The basic teachings emphasized living a life of compassion and the principle of “first do no harm.” This was definitely something that I could accept and cling to. It helped me get through the events of 9/11.
I stumbled across a website tonight, Similarities Between Buddha and Jesus. There are differences, but I prefer to focus on the remarkable similarities. I had absorbed many of the purest and most lofty moral teachings of both Buddha and Jesus, and they have everything to do with dealing with psychopaths.
In particular, Buddha said:
“Hatred does not ever cease in this world by hating, but by love; this is an eternal truth. . . . Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good, overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth”
And Jesus said:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”18
Jesus also said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”19
Beautiful sentiment, beautiful words to live by, and it was the ethical standard I strove to emulate when I became involved with my psychopathic wife. I was far, far from perfect — no human is. But with each lie, each betrayal, these were the moral guidelines that suffused my thinking with each assault to my well-being that i faced. It’s hard to know what to do when you are under a constant bombardment of assault, and yet you truly do want to be a good person. But I tried to live up to these standards time and time again, even as the wrongs became more outrageous and more severe.
But Buddha also taught:
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
And that is the key. I don’t think Buddha and Jesus are asking us to “turn the other cheek” in all situations. We, too, deserve our own love and care, and there are limits to how much wrongdoing we are asked to bear. Turning a blind eye ti the wrongdoings perpetrated against us does not serve the psychopath, it only enables them to do more wrong. And so as we push what they do under the rug, we are doing a disservice not only to ourselves but to them as well. Challenging their wrongdoing may well be the kindest act of “turning the other cheek” we can give them.
Healing is another matter. We are left with the heartache and endless loss, disappointment, and anger. Buddha said:
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
We were blamed for anything and everything by our psychopaths, and we cannot help doing some painful soul-searching to figure out where we went wrong. We doubt and question ourselves, and eventually find that while we may have been innocent and duped, we were not in fact totally blameless. If nothing else, we entered the relationship with long unmet needs that caused us to overlook the red flags. We watched helplessly as our own internal moral compass swung round 180 degrees. We have a lot to learn about our own faults, failings, insecurities, and treasured dreams.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”16
Nearly all experts agree that psychopaths have no conscience and are incapable of change. Psychopaths make a willing choice to do wrong and to hurt others for personal gain. This is the demarcation line between good vs evil. But this is worldly wisdom and not Buddha’s wisdom or the teachings of Jesus. One can hope that Omnia Vincit Amor — the Latin phrase meaning “Love conquers all” applies.
I would sincerely hope that the sacrifices and unconditional love I gave my wife had some effect toward her spiritual progress. If one day, I had a sincere acknowledgement of those wrongs, and an apology, it would go far in healing us both. In that case, it would lessen my hurt and would give me hope that she is a rare one who is capable of change.
The 4th step of tenets of Alcohol Anonymous states:
“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
The 5th step advises:
“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
And the 8th step directs us to:
“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
These are a road map for any psychopath who is truly committed to change.
I pray and wish this for my wife. May the unconditional love I tried my best to give to her make a true difference. And may I learn when the time is truly right to “turn the other cheek.”
My own spirituality has evolved to the point where I can accept the wise teachings of Buddhism and the love and acceptance and inclusiveness of the teachings of the True Jesus of Nazareth, and for me, I see no conflict. I had a long, long way to go, but that is the path I am on.
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