Cognitive Dissonance and the Narcissist/ Sociopath/ Sex Addict


Now that my kids are adults, he’s shown up again, riding in like a hero on his “great guy” image, denying his actions and sewing confusion anew.

Narcissists (NPD’s) and sociopaths are like that. It’s easy to be the great guy when time is limited to holiday photo ops and lunches. In their wake, however, these personality disordered individuals leave people with the uneasy feeling that something isn’t right.

Most of us readily dismiss that feeling because we like our belief systems to match our reality. When confronted with information that conflicts with our beliefs, values, or ideas, we experience emotional pain called cognitive dissonance.

When the difference between the new information and our beliefs is huge, so is the pain. The greater the pain, the greater the desire to deny the new, disturbing information.

There are only 2 ways to reduce the pain: change our beliefs (very difficult) or deny the new information (much easier).

No wonder spouses of sex addicts experience such trauma. The truth is directly opposite our supposed reality. It takes intense trauma therapy, and enormous courage, to quiet the war waging in our brains and face the abuses perpetrated against us.

Cognitive dissonance explains why his version of the story – “I cheated once 15 years ago because my wife was such an angry crazy woman” – is much more palatable to his family and our children. Who wants a dad, or a son, or a brother who is a sexually deviant, abusive serial cheater?

They’ve never witnessed the deviancy, but have plenty of experience with his carefully crafted false image. Talk about cognitive dissonance!

I won’t ever win by engaging in the war of words, so I have zero contact with him. He will continue to lie/deny and sew confusion wherever he goes, and I will be portrayed as crazy.

He has to have it that way, just in case his worlds collide and any of his victims speak truth to his new prey.

But, all hope is not lost. I have a secret weapon called truth. It always wins, just not on my schedule!

Pain and Truth

Pain reaches the heart with electrical speed, but truth moves to the heart as slowly as a glacier. ~ Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Nothing in my life has rivaled the instantaneous pain of that night. My kids were away at camp when my world fell apart in the dark, previously safe haven of my master bedroom as my then husband revealed “I might be a sex addict”. Nothing would ever be the same.

That night, he admitted to several extramarital partners over the course of our marriage and, with incredible lack of self-awareness or empathy, spun even more lies. Little did I know that more tidbits of truth would eventually come, and each time they would roll over me like a freight train, decimating yet another level of safety, peace, and predictability of my world.

My personal favorite lie from that night is his tale of falling innocently into sex addition at the hands of a wily masseuse. I should have recognized then his uncanny ability to sincerely believe himself to be the victim in this hell he created. I guess when someone has lied to cover deep shameful secrets long enough, lying becomes as natural as breathing.

The problem with his continued lies was that my truth compass had been shattered, so I had no way to get my bearings. With each new lie, he further raped my mind. I no longer trusted anything or any one, least of all myself. If I could fall victim to a man who systematically hid a double life while I raised his children, what else was being done to me without my knowledge?

With each passing month he lightened his own load by revealing more and more sick, illegal, and deviant acts. Needless to say, with each new tidbit of supposed “complete truth”, I sank deeper into the abyss, my reality again shaken. Each time I had tried to grieve and understand, a new level of hell was released upon me.

Eventually, it was as if my brain gave up the fight – I could no longer process any more revelations. It took years to fully grasp and accept the truth of what he had done, though I long ago gave up trying to understand it.

I spent that first year bouncing unpredictably between a complete numbness in which I mechanically went thru the motions, and a pain that enveloped me completely. At night I often lay awake sobbing – literally groaning in emotional pain. During the day, it was as if I was watching myself walk around with a gaping hole in my chest, struggling to function in a world I no longer trusted.

I lost weight and withdrew into a world of pain, eventually driving away 2 very dear friends as they simply couldn’t watch me come undone. By then, I was using wine to kill the pain and try to sleep, as I’d gone months with little sleep; what sleep I did have was interrupted by nightmares so intense I would wake up screaming.

I felt utterly alone, and without appropriate professional help I was drowning. Not only did I not have any idea how to help myself come up for air, the trauma based life raft had not yet been created for the spouses of sex addicts. I felt completely isolated from anyone, as I could not convey the depth of my despair in a way that could be understood.