Don't judge a book by its cover


Dark Souls -- A Practical Handbook on Psychopathic Personalities,”

by Sarah Strudwick


Review by Fannie LeFlore, MS, LPC,CADC-D

December 22, 2010


Few people have sympathy for a woman who engages in a relationship with a married man. Of course, some complicated attachments evolve due to separations or pending divorce, bad timing and other reasons. But when people learn a woman stayed with a married lover who was also abusive, a tendency exists to further blame her for bad judgment.


When you learn the married man in question might be a sociopath, this alone requires refraining from judgment. You really cannot know a person based on her primary relationship, nor judge a book by its cover, as Sarah Strudwick’s book, “Dark Souls” suggests that anyone can be fooled into a toxic relationship, whether with a sociopath, pathological narcissist or other personality disorder. That’s because most people start off with good behavior, and in Strudwick’s case there had been a reasonable friendship prior to all the mess that would result in her writing a book with the subtitle, “Healing and Recovering from Toxic Relationships.”


What Strudwick portrays as a relationship where she experienced deep suffering due to being victimized by abuse from a partner with mental health issues that were off the charts, shows we can never assume what the real dynamics between two people are simply from the outside looking in. The book clearly demonstrates that dealing with a personality-disordered individual means that what appears to be one thing is often something else, and many things do not add up. When we try to make sense of certain situations, we find that well-known logic and rules for dating and mating do not apply.


Although she exposes wide-ranging details of Oliver’s actions to suggest he is a sociopath, Strudwick’s ill-fated alliance with a married man does not neatly fit into a scorned woman category. The merger of unconscious beliefs, assumptions and motivations due to her past experiences had set her up to repeat familiar patterns and tolerate painful and dysfunctional relationships. Strudwick offers testimony of her own family history with a philandering father who was tolerated by her mother and other unresolved issues and vulnerabilities that played a role in being able to maintain a relationship based on many deceptions.


Upbringing also helps us understand why anyone can remain in an unfulfilling relationship long past the expiration date when things go sour. It hints at why a normal person can love someone who is emotionally unavailable and psychologically unhealthy. As Strudwick uncovered a history of lies and manipulation by Oliver, the sense of disorientation left her feeling stuck before she realized she had been dealing with what she calls a “Dark Soul.” Strudwick came to this conclusion as she acknowledged that the relationship with Oliver was one “of inevitable harm.”

The heavy price she paid yielded valuable lessons for Strudwick. Among revelations from her research was understanding how personality-disordered people are capable of appearing so normal, their real pathological characteristics are only revealed to those close enough to be on the receiving end of their abusive behaviors. Even then, many victims do not fully believe how ingrained the disorder of sociopathy is, and how resistant to change. Unsuspecting individuals faced with overwhelming proof that their lover is not capable of sustained human decency usually accept this reality only slowly and over time as patterns emerge and repeat themselves. By then, a relationship that began with much promise evolves into a traumatic and often addictive nightmare.


How Strudwick tells her story is another matter. The disorganization of the book suggests a metaphor for what it must have felt like caught up in the maze of lies over the course of her 5-year connection with Oliver. It was tantamount to an ongoing whiplash of struggle. Frustrations and uncertainty that Strudwick encountered with Oliver were beyond occasional disappointments and routine imperfections that exist in all relationships. Strudwick discerned ill-will toward her, felt through ongoing chaos, contradictions and confusion with someone claiming to love her, while willfully hurting her with no remorse. At some point, she could no longer justify accepting a man whom she felt treated her like an object, was devoid of empathy and lacked concern for others.


While in denial about the true nature of sociopaths, Strudwick felt continually depleted of energy due to ongoing negative forces in the relationship, learning how easy it is for many victimized by sociopaths to engage in inappropriate enabling. Some think love alone can save a relationship, or that sacrifices will help their partner heal or change. Some feel obligated to help a mate deal with an addiction or overcome an abusive childhood. Sociopaths are adept at seeking pity or claiming they’re being victimized.


Strudwick, like many who’ve been entangled with personality-disordered individuals, had a back-and-forth relationship before ultimately seeing the futility. Despite grief from the loss of what she’d once thought of as a meaningful relationship with Oliver, Strudwick eventually came to terms with the realization that letting go was necessary for healing. In some ways, it became a matter of life or death for her.


One can discern how crazy-making it all must have been, and how the resulting cognitive dissonance would leave Strudwick not just suffering from a broken heart, but also a wounded psyche and compromised her spirit. The impact is much like how our immune system can come close to depletion due to overwhelming and prolonged stress.


In “Dark Souls,” Sarah Strudwick delivers both a practical handbook on psychopathic/sociopathic personalities and many tools for healing and recovering for those affected by toxic relationships. Like other writers, Strudwick concludes that the challenges faced from a long-term encounter with a Dark Soul really can ultimately make us better rather than bitter. We must be willing to work through various feelings and life issues for personal growth, accept things we cannot change, stop taking too much for granted and think differently to update old perspectives and accept new information.


Strudwick’s contribution adds to an increasing volume of recent books by people like Donna Andersen and Mary Jo Buttafuoco, who had marriages to men they believe are sociopaths. Research by professionals like Sandra Brown,MS, Dr. Liane Leedom, Martha Stout and Dr. Robert Hare continue to shed new light on how interpersonal relationships with sociopaths damage a person’s life on many levels.


The combined works of Strudwick and others remind us why looking beyond the surface is important as ever, as well as the need to rethink many assumptions women and men believe about relationships, roles and expectations. Growing evidence exists that the choice of intimate partners can no longer be left simply to chemistry or based on fairy tales.


About the author: Fannie LeFlore, MS, LPC, CADC-D, is an Entrepreneur, Writer/Editor and Licensed Professional Counselor. These combined career areas are the foundation of the expertise and quality professional services provided by LeFlore Communications, LLC in Milwaukee, Wis. ( LeFlore served as Co-writer/Editor of The Road Less Traveled and Beyond (1997) by M. Scott Peck, MD.


She also is the inventor of a consumer product on the market called Toothbrush Hygiene Helper: Contact Information: 414-438-1534; Email: