Anne Smith* is a strong, intelligent woman from suburban Sydney who has a network of supportive friends and family.

She fell in love with a charming man who seemed perfect, but ended up showing many of the signs of being a sociopath.

Anne says it wasn't obvious she was in a relationship with a dangerous man to begin with. "When we first met he was extremely charming, he even feigned similarities with me so it would appear we had more in common," she says.

But the charm didn't last. "Once he had me isolated he started to speak to me differently, he was unkind at first but quickly escalated to being down right nasty.


"He began to criticise my physical appearance, especially the parts of me he knew I was quite happy with. It wasn't long before he was constantly undermining my view of myself."

Hearing her often chilling account of her life with this man you could be excused for assuming her situation was a rarity, but her ex partner's personality disorder may be more common than you expect.

Forensic and Clinical Psychologist Lyn Shumack explains that instead of being labelled sociopaths, these people are officially referred to as having Antisocial Personality Disorder or Narcissism. And the statistics may surprise you.

"The World Health Organisation estimates that 17 per cent of any given population will suffer from a personality disorders, that's around one in six of us. To put it in perspective, it's more common than depression and it often goes undiagnosed." Dr Shumack says.

Dr Shumack performs psychological assessments and expert witness testimony for the courts. Personality disorders can be varied and complex, but her best piece of advice is incredibly simple. "If you ever see your partner mistreating another person or animal, don't think you'll be exempt," she says. "That behaviour could be directed at you one day."

Dr Shumack explains that verbal abuse is a common starting point in abusive relationships.

"Most abusive relationships starts with verbal abuse, then it can escalate to deep psychological abuse, then it may move to violence but that may escalate over a 10-year period," she says.

"Victims keep accommodating, trying to fix it but you can't fix it, you will never be able to fix it."


Sadly, it did escalate for Anne. "One day he told me I was a bad mother and he was taking our son to raise him without me, he left me crying in the driveway begging him not to take our son. It was that day I decided to leave," she says.

"Leaving was hard though, I had to be very sneaky but with the help of my sister I managed to get a flat and all my furniture organised. When I told him I was leaving he laughed - that was until I actually did leave, then his behaviour became increasingly violent.

"He constantly used our son as a weapon in his game of control, he would refuse to return him after his visitation and I ended up in the family law court but the worse part was that he was manipulating our little boy, he was filling his head with so many lies, it was so confusing for him and he was becoming angry and resentful toward me."

Although it sounds harrowing Anne may be one of the lucky ones. Dr Shumack explains that it can take some women much longer to decide to leave "On average, abused women leave eight times before they leave for good," she says.

"Women often need to get to a point where they fear being harmed to leave, they are usually completely destroyed financially and mentally before they leave. It's high stakes to leave, sometimes it means changing their name and moving state."

Dr Shumack explains that women in these situations need to be very organised when plotting to leave. "You need a plan. You have to be good enough to cover your tracks because people with these disorders are often paranoid enough to be checking on you," she says.

Fortunately, Anne was successful in escaping for good, and was helped by counselling.

"As soon as I left I sought out some counselling to help both myself and my son," she says.

"Counselling was helpful and I moved on to have a healthy relationship with someone else but even when both myself and my ex were in new relationships, the controlling, manipulative behaviour of my ex partner didn't stop dominating my life."

The end of the torture for Anne came in an unexpected way. "I didn't truly feel free until he passed away six months ago," she says.

*Name has been changed.