Hot Water: a relationship with a sociopath

J Haley Phillips
3 min readNov 4, 2020
“Stay,” he says, “It will do you good.” He hands you your favorite book to help keep your thoughts off the heat.

You know the analogy of the frog in hot water? If you put it into a pot of boiling water it’s going to jump right now, but if you put it into warm water and slowly turn the heat up, the frog will eventually boil to death.

That’s what it can be like in a relationship with a sociopath or narcissist.

Let’s shift the analogy from frog to human, shall we? (And for the sake of ease, without implying it is always the case, we’re going to continue with the sociopath as male and the victim as female.)

He runs you a hot bath. He lights candles for you and puts on gentle music. He even brought you some lavender bath salts. What a sweet guy.

You relax into the steamy water, feeling very pampered and cared for. Very loved. But after a little while you notice that the bath seems a little hotter than it was when you got in. No, you must be imagining it. It’s just the sweat beading on your forehead making you think so.

Your skin starts to turn pink. It’s definitely hotter now, and getting uncomfortable. But you don’t want to seem ungrateful. It really was so sweet of him to run this bath for you, and he’s sitting there smiling at you. “You’re so lucky to have a partner like me who does such nice things for you,” he says. He’s right. This is nice. You’ll suck it up and sit a little while longer.

You bring your knees up, shifting your position to try and get some relief. Finally you tell him, “It’s too hot.” He shakes his head and tells you that’s how it’s supposed to be. It helps you release toxins. It helps relax your muscles. “Stay,” he says, “It will do you good.” He hands you your favorite book to help keep your thoughts off the heat.

You read a few pages but it’s not working. Sweat pours down your face. You want to get out but he suddenly seems menacing now. You imagine him pushing you back into the water if you try to get up. He’s bigger than you, he’d overpower you. Could you make it out the door? He has your towel. You’re naked and vulnerable, where would you go? Would anyone even believe that this was anything more than a slightly-too-hot bath run for you by a sweet and well-meaning partner? They’d think you were hysterical, just another “crazy girlfriend.” Even the redness of your skin would give you away as being “too sensitive.” It’s all your fault. You let this happen. No one will help you. There’s no way out.

And as all these thoughts race through your mind, you are slowly boiling to death.

Yes, this is what it can be like in a relationship with a sociopath. The obligatory gratitude. The love bombing. The manipulation. The gaslighting. The shame. The intimidation. The fear. It’s a lot to handle, so it’s no wonder so many victims “boil to death” in these relationships. By the time they realize something is wrong, they’re in so deep and they’re so enmeshed that their partner is “holding their towel,” having stripped them down to such a raw and vulnerable state that escape seems ridiculous… and practically impossible.

Photo credit: cottonbro from Pexels



J Haley Phillips

I’m an editor/writer/coach with a focus on inspiring, empowering, and healing content. I love tea, travel, long hippie skirts, and diving deep into the Self.