Archives for March 2009

Just Because You Believe It, DOESN’T Make It True

I am reminded frequently that this statement is so true when it comes to denial in pathological love relationships. There’s something about a narcissist and psychopath that can make you forget all about their pathology and return to your previous ‘fog’ of beliefs. F.O.G.–Fear, Obligation and Guilt.

Entrenched in the partner is the dire desire to have a normal partner. Couple that with the NPD (Narcissitic Personality Disorder) and PP’s (Psychopath’s) ability to convince you of their, at least, fleeting normalcy and you have a woman who has dug her finger nails into the nano-second of his normal behavior and she’s not gonna let it go! Otherwise highly educated, bright, and successful women can be reduced to blank-stared-hypnotized-believers when it comes to believing he is normal, can be normal, or that it’s her that is really the messed up one.

Many therapists miss this process in working with the partners–they feel they have made substantial headway in helping her (or him) understand the nature of the unchangeable-ness of the disorder and then what appears to be out of nowhere, she’s blank-staring and hypnotized yet again.

The only thing that has changed is her belief system. Obviously an NPD and/or PP is not capable of true sustainable change. He didn’t change. But her desire to believe his normalcy and to deny his pathology is the only thing that has changed. It’s not so much a ‘change’ per se, as it is a return to straddling the fence about the belief system.

Most partners live a life of cognitive dissonance–this conflict between ‘He’s good/He’s bad’ that is so distracting they never resolve the internal conflict of whether he is MORE good than bad, or MORE bad than good. They live in a fog of circulating remembrances that support both view points–remembering the good, but still feeling the bad. This circulating remembrance keep them straddling the fence with the inability to resolve a consistent belief system about him.

This inability to hold a consistent belief system is what causes cognitive dissonance, it’s also what increases it and causes intrusive thoughts (join us this week for a tele-seminar on How to Manage Dissonance and Intrusive Thoughts). Dissonance is caused by thought inconsistency which leads eventually to her behavioral inconsistency–she breaks up and makes up constantly. Thought and behavioral inconsistency increase Dissonance which increases Intrusive Thoughts. No wonder she can’t get symptom relief!

Her desire to ‘believe it’ doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t make him normal. It doesn’t cure his NPD or Psychopathy. It only keeps her stuck straddling a belief system that has caused her emotional paralysis. In a crude way of understanding this–the only thing that happens when you’re straddling a fence is you get a fence post up your butt! Try moving when your paralyzed by a fence post!

Just because you believe it, doesn’t mean he’s ok, he’s going to stop doing the thing he said he’d stop, that counseling is going to work, that there never was anything wrong with him, that it’s probably you….or any of the other items you tell yourself in order to stay in a relationship of pathological disaster.

Even Benjamin Franklin said “We hold these truths to be self evident…” For us in the field of psychopathology, these self evident truths are that pathology is permanent whether you believe it or not.

All Memory is Not Created Equal–Positive Memory Seepage

We already know that intrusive thought is associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as other emotional trauma disorders. However, many of the survivors say what is most painful is not necessarily the intrusive thoughts of the bad stuff or even the violence. It’s the intrusive thoughts of all the good times that are really hard to deal with.

Intrusive thoughts are not just bad thoughts or flashbacks. They can be intrusive from positive memories as well. Positive memories are embued with deep emotional and psychological ‘meaning.’ The meaning of the relationship, various happy moments, the deep feeling of attachments, the fantastic sex–can all be power packed into positive memories. Positive memories are also embedded with all the sights, sounds, smells, sensations, feelings, the associated meaning of the events, and the remembrances of a happier time. The positive memories can also be tied up with a ribbon of fantasy and romanticized feelings. That’s a lot of power packed into a few positive memories that has the TNT emotional factor to blow your ‘stay-away-from-him’ resolve, sky high.

All memories are not stored the same. I’ve talked about this before….positive memory is stored differently in the brain and is more easily accessible than some bad memories. Many traumatic memories are stored in another part of the brain that make them harder to access. Sometimes the more traumatic they are, the harder it is to remember.

Unfortunately, what you might want to remember most is the bad part of the relationships so it motivates you to stay away from it. But instead, it’s murky and not always fresh in your mind about ‘why’ you should be avoiding the pathological relationship. But what IS easy to remember is all the positive memory. In fact, what has become obtrusive and intrusive, is positive memory seepage–where all the good times and the associated ‘senses’ (taste, touch, smell,etc.) are flooding your mind. You easily remember the good times and easily forget the bad times–all based on how and where these types of memories are stored in the brain. You NEED the bad memories but you REMEMBER the good ones—constantly.

In addition, that which is held internally is amplified. Almost like putting it under a magnifying glass–the feelings, memories, taste/touch/smell, are all BIGGER and STRONGER when the memory simply rolls around in your head. It’s a lot like a pin ball machine–memories pinging and ponging off of internal elements. The more it pings and pongs, the stronger the memory moves around the mind.

Memories kept in the mind also take on ‘surreal like qualities’ — certain parts are like a movie–fantasy based, romanticized. The positive memories are dipped in crystalized sugar and become tantalizing treats instead of dreaded dead beats! While engaged in this positive memory seepage–it doesn’t feel like you are indulging your self in toxic memories—it feels like you are trying to ‘process’ the relationship–why did we do this, did he say that, why was it like that then but it’s like this now…. It feels like what you are trying to do is sort out the relationship. But all the sorting of this dirty laundry still leaves the same amount of piles of clothes in your head. You’re just moving the same shirt from pile to pile–but it’s all the same dirty laundry. Nothing is getting cleaned up.

Positive memory seepage as intrusive thought is a big contributor to the cognitive dissonance women feel in the aftermath of these relationships. Cognitive Dissonance (or C.D. as we refer to it as) is the difficulty of trying to hold two opposing thoughts or beliefs at the same time. That’s usually “he’s good” AND “he’s bad” = “How can he be good AND bad?” Just trying to resolve that one thought can leave women’s minds tangled up for years.

C.D. can single-handedly take women down—it can cause her to be unable to concentrate, work, sleep, eat, or function. It’s like the little image of the devil sitting on one of your shoulders and the angel sitting on your other shoulder and they are both whispering in your ear. That’s exactly like C.D.—trying to decide which thing you are going to believe….that he’s bad for you, or that he’s good for you.

Positive memory seepage produces intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts, especially about positive memories, produces cognitive dissonance. These emotional processes feed each other like a blood-induced shark fest. It’s one of the single reasons women don’t disengage from the relationship, heal, or return to a higher level of functioning. Now that we’ve identified ‘what’ is really at the heart of the aftermath of symptoms—we know that treating CD is really the most important recovery factor in pathological love relationships. It’s why we have developed various tools to manage it (Maintaining Mindfulness in the Midst of Obsession E-book and 2 CDs).

Are Batterer Intervention Programs Killing Women?

Our Batterer Intervention Programs might not be providing the hope women want. Our court systems are not psychologists so consequently are under-educated in the issue of pathology. Most judges have very little knowledge about the permanence of pathology, the effects of pathological parenting on children, which batterer has a personality disorder, which one doesn’t, and why that even matters. Without this knowledge, they continue to court-order batterers to intervention without even knowing which ones can change from the treatment and which ones will never change, and can’t.

This under-education matters so much that it’s killing women. The Central Three Tenets of Pathology — the inability to grow to any emotional or spiritual depth, the inability to sustain positive change, and the inability to develop insight about how one’s behavior negatively effects others is hugely relevant when it comes to batterers and personality disorders.

But judges aren’t the only ones under-educated in pathology. The attorneys who are suggesting Batterer Intervention are likely to not understand pathology and the lack of many batterers ability to sustain positive change OR develop insight about their behavior. Child evaluators are likely to not understand why sending a batterer to treatment has no guarantee that he won’t batter again in front of a child, or to a child, if he has one of the Cluster B personality disorders.

And sadly, Batterer Intervention Programs are just as likely to be conned in their groups by narcissists, ASPDs, socios/psychopaths as are the judges, child evaluators, mediators, and attorneys. In fact, most Batterer Intervention Specialists are not pathologists at all. Many are Marriage & Family Therapists (which isn’t a bad thing, of course) or Mental Health Counselors but have little specialty training in personality disorders and psychopathy. Since they are not specialists in the field, they are less likely to flag the batterer as having one of these disorders. Most therapists feel they would be ‘able to spot’ a personality disordered person even though many of them can’t tell you the full spectrum of symptoms associated with personality disorders. One of the least taught aspects of psychology in graduate school is personality disorders and psychopathy.

Since Cluster B Personality Disorders and psychopathy are the ones MOST likely to stalk, disregard restraining orders, abduct children during custody battles, and violently assault–the therapists who run the groups and have a ‘duty to report’ to victims if they are at-risk of harm by their patient, yet don’t even know they have those most likely to harm the victim in their group.

Equally as disturbing is that psychological testing of batterers as a pre-requisite to entering Batterer Intervention is not required and hardly ever done. That means batterers who have personality disorders are being court-ordered and accepted by the agency (or individual therapist provider) into their programs WITHOUT KNOWING what, if any, diagnosis they have. Wouldn’t an agency WANT TO KNOW if someone has Anti Social Personality Disorder? Or is a Psychopath? Wouldn’t they want to know if they were admitting someone into a program that couldn’t be helped BY the program but would only learn how to be a ‘better covert batterer’ to the courts–slinging recovery jargon at the judge to prove they were treated? Even Dr. Robert Hare, the leading researcher and specialists in Psychopathy advises psychopaths NOT be put into group–any group because of this. And yet, day in and day out, Batterer Intervention Groups have NO idea whether or not they are admitting Cluster B’s and psychopaths to their groups to become better-jargoned batterers.

The irony is that the same therapist in their out patient practice with a non-battering client, would have to give a diagnosis for a client in order for them to be in therapy and bill their insurance. Yet, in an area of lethal behavior like domestic violence (especially with the personality disordered), the same therapist does not have to diagnosis the batterer and (in some programs) are able to bill the State for the batterers treatment NOT knowing what the diagnosis of the batterer is. In the cases in which the batterer privately pays for the Batterer Intervention, they are able to receive up to 52 weeks of treatment and never be ‘diagnosed.’ Yet, again–if a non-batterer went to a weekly treatment program for group therapy for an entire year, they would certainly have to be diagnosed. Is this CRAZY or what?

So, how does this effect the woman? The un-diagnosed personality-disordered batterer has just been put through up to an entire year’s worth of weekly treatment that is not likely to do anything given that pathology is based on the inability to sustain positive change and the inability to have insight about how his negative behavior has effected others. Since Batterer Intervention is largely about (a) recognizing how his battering/negative behavior has hurt others and (b) changing and sustaining different behaviors—his therapeutic outcomes are going to be nearly zip.

But he has ‘learned’ some things–how to discuss the power and control wheel taught in class, how to verbalize unequal power in the relationship—how to use buzz words like ‘abuse’ ‘dominance’ and ‘control.’ And better yet, he brings home his either paper or verbal ‘Certificate of Completion’ to the woman who has barred her door to him until ‘he got help.’ He got plenty of it–according to him–a whole years worth and a paper or verbal certificate to hang on his proverbial wall. And she assumes that if he was court-ordered, certainly he was going to a program that COULD help him, and did help him.

Women are killed every day in this country by batterers who have completed intervention, who are un-diagnosed raging narcissists, anti-socials, and socio/psychopaths–who were graduated from programs who didn’t bother to find out ‘who’ was in their class. The buck is passed from the attorney who doesn’t know personality disorders and suggests batterer intervention, to the judge who doesn’t know personality disorders and court orders a program, to the child evaluator who doesn’t know personality disorders and allows continued vists with the child, to the Batterer Intervention Group that accepts, without testing, batterers into their program, and lastly the biggest buck passed is to the woman who is hurt or killed by the ‘graduate’ of Batterer Intervention.

Batterers represent an unusually high percentage of the personality disordered, which shouldn’t be a surprise. The personality disordered (especially Cluster B) have an unusually high percentage of lethality, recidivism in battering behavior, and treatment resistance. And yet, we have an irresponsible system of not testing batterers prior to admission into a program that will some day label them ‘graduates.’

Our positive psychology oriented world that believes everyone can change or grow wants to know ‘Then what are we suppose to do with them?’ There is a reason Dr. Hare says not to put psychopaths in group. It’s so they don’t learn how to con others with their newly learned lingo and to protect the public from false presentations of ‘cure.’ We need a category, even within Batterer Intervention, of ‘non-admissable’–someone who is rejected from treatment to protect the public from the false presentation of ‘cure’ –to protect her from the illusion of graduation from a theory he’ll never incorporate, understand, or conform to.

The under-education of attorney, judges, child evaluators and therapists about personality pathology has to be addressed so that those who are being killed by our court-ordered batterer intervention programs are given the truth–NOT ADMITTED TO BATTERER INTERVENTION.