Archives for 2010

How to Manage Cognitive Dissonance and Intrusive Thoughts – Teleseminar – MP3

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Relaxation – MP3

Learning to relax is essential to your recovery from a stress disorder such as Acute Stress Disorder.

In this audio, Sandra teaches you how to create a personal relaxation ritual.

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Joy vs. Happiness

You were out looking for a little happiness when you stumbled upon Dr. Jekyll as he was appearing wonderful and considerate. Strangely, before you knew it, evil Mr. Hyde was instead dismantling anything that resembled happiness and leaving in its wake, destruction and despair.
Despair is a long way from the happiness you were initially seeking. How did you get from mere happiness-seeking to a totally despairing life? How can you embrace the happiness that you set out to find?

It might not even be ‘happiness’ per se that you were initially seeking. You might have been looking for someone much introspective, spiritual and existential.  But you tell me…

Happiness is external. It’s based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts. Happiness is connected to your hope for a relationship or your hope for a future with someone. Happiness is linked to that ‘some day when I meet the right guy’ or ‘when he starts changing and acting right’ or ‘when he goes to counseling.’

Happiness is future oriented and it puts all its eggs in someone else’s basket. It is dependent on outside situations, people, or events to align with your expectations so that the end result is your happiness. These expectations can be seen especially during the holidays when whether or not you have a ‘Merry Christmas’ or a ‘happy holiday’ depends on whether or not he is with you, shows up, isn’t drunk, isn’t cheating, or a list of other behaviors you expect for a ‘happy holiday’ experience. Unfortunately, pathology rarely obliges in that way. So when the relationship falls through, or he isn’t wonderful at Christmas, or you kick him out, or he cheats again, or he runs off with your money, or he was a con artist…then your holidays were not ‘happy’ and your happiness was crushed.

Unhappiness is the result. It’s a typical and inevitable result in pathological love relationships. After all, it’s the only way it CAN turn out. There are no happy endings to pathological relationships. After Christmas and New Years, he will still be pathological and you will still have the same problems you had in November. You notice that The Institute has not written a book called ‘How to Have a Happy Relationship with a Pathological.’

Chronic unhappiness leads to despair and depression. Remember the emotional roller coaster you rode with him?  You were happy when he was good and miserable when he was bad? You were hypnotically lulled into happy-land when you were with him and in intrusive thought-hell when you weren’t? Your happiness was hitched to his rear end.

When he was around (and behaving) you were happy. When he wasn’t, your happiness followed his rear end right out the door and you were obsessing, wondering, and pacing.

Happiness is what you feel when he says the ‘right romantic’ stuff, buys you a ring or moves in. But happiness is not joy because joy is not external, it can’t be bought and it is not conditional on someone else’s behavior.

In fact, joy is not contingent on anything in order to exist. You don’t have to have ‘him’ for the holidays to have joy. Likewise, you don’t have to get revenge, snoop out his short comings, and tell the new girlfriend the truth or anything else in order to have joy. You can lose in court with him; already have lost your life savings to him, watch him out with a new woman, or live out of the back of your car and still have joy.

You’re probably thinking, ‘sure you can have joy in those circumstances if you are Mother Teresa!’ Joy is almost a mystery, isn’t it? It’s a spiritual quality that is internal. My mother had a lot of joy and I learned from watching her joy. Her pathological man ran off with her life savings forcing her to work well past retirement.

It forced her to live simply so moved to a one room beach shack and drove a motorcycle. For cheap entertainment, she walked the beach and painted nudes. She drank cheap grocery store wine that came in a box, bought her clothes from thrift shops, and made beach totes from crocheting plastic grocery bags together. She recycled long before it was hip to do it. But what she recycled most and best was pain….into joy.

Instead of looking externally for yet another relationship to remove the sting of the last one or to conquer the boredom she might feel at being alone…she cultivated internal and deep abiding joy. It was both an enigma and a privilege to watch this magnificent life emerge from the ashes of great betrayal.

I use her a lot as an example of someone who went ahead and got a great life and turned this rotten deal into an exquisite piece of art called her life. Anyone who spoke of my mother spoke MOST of her radiant joy. She had the ‘IT’ factor long before it was even called ‘IT.’ Women flocked to her to ask ‘How did you do it? How did you shed the despair and bitterness of what he did and grow into this? THIS bright shining joyful person? What is your secret?’

Somewhere along that rocky path of broken relationships with pathological men, she learned that happiness is fleeting if it’s tied to a man’s shirt tails. She watched too many of the shirt tails walk out the door with her happiness tied to his butt. In order to find the peacefulness that resides inside, she had to learn what happiness was and what joy was.

The transitory things of life are happiness-based. She had a big house and lost a big house when she divorced my father. She had a big career and lost a big career when she got ‘too old’ according to our culture to have the kind of job she had. She had diamonds and lost diamonds.

So she entered into voluntary simplicity where the fire of purging away ‘stuff’ left a clearer picture and path to the internal life. When stuff, people, and the problems they bring fall away there is stillness. Only in that stillness can we ever find the joy that resides inside of us, dependent on nothing external in order to exist. During this holiday season, this is a great concept to contemplate.

Her joy came from deeply held spiritual beliefs but it also came from a place even beyond that. Joy comes when you make peace with who you are, where you are, why you are, and who you are not with. When you need nothing more than your truth and the love of a good God to bring peace, then you have settled into the abiding joy that is not rocked by relationships. It’s not rocked by anything.

It wasn’t rocked as she lay dying three years ago in the most peaceful arms of grace–a blissful state of quiet surrender and anticipation. Those who were witness to her death still tell me that her death brought new understanding to them about the issue of real joy. Joy in all things….death of a dream, death of relationship, and death of a body. Joy from within, stripped down, naked and beautiful.

Untie your happiness from the ends of his shirt tales…

Merry Christmas and Peace to You in this Season of Peaceful Opportunities!

‘Love Hormone’ Boosts Memories of Mom — Good or Bad, Study Finds

MONDAY, Nov. 29 (HealthDay News) — A study involving men and their mothers suggests a new function for the “love hormone” oxytocin in human behavior.

Grown men who inhaled a synthetic form of oxytocin, a naturally occurring chemical, recalled intensified fond memories of their mothers if, indeed, Mom was all that caring.

But if men initially reported less close relationships with Mom, oxytocin seemed to encourage them to dwell on the negative.

Read more at Health at MSN…

Inside the Bullied Brain: The Alarming Neuroscience of Taunting

In the wake of several tragedies that have made bullying a high-profile issue, it’s becoming clear that harassment by one’s peers is something more than just a rite of passage. Bullied kids are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and suicidal. They struggle in school — when they decide to show up at all. They are more likely to carry weapons, get in fights, and use drugs.

Read more at The Boston Globe…

Mutual Pathology: Gasoline & Fire

Pathology is a mental health issue not a gender issue. Women have just as much pathology (in some areas of personality disorders) as men due in other areas of personality disorders. Some of the 10 personality disorders are seen more in men while some of the other disorders are seen more in women.

As you have heard me say over the years, pathology is pathology–meaning that each personality disorder has its own problems and challenges in relationships but pretty much holds to the Central Three that I talk about related to pathology:

1. The inability to grow to any true emotional or spiritual depth.

2. The inability to consistently sustain positive change.

3. The inability to have insight about how one’s behavior negatively affects others.

Given those 3 aspects of personality disorders, we can easily see how the 10 different types of personality disorders can be linked together by these three ‘inabilities.’

While men may be more bent towards Anti-Social Personality Disorder or psychopathy, women may be bent more to Histrionic, Dependent or Borderline Personality Disorders. And when you have a personality disordered man + a personality disordered woman = Jerry Springer Dynamics!

There is no guarantee that there is only one pathological in the relationship. Women have just as much mental illness, addictions, and personality disorders as men. And it’s quite common for personality disordered people to hook up. When this happens you have two people who can’t grow to any true emotional or spiritual depth. You have two people who can’t sustain positive change. And you have two people who don’t have insight about how their behavior affects others.  The relationships are dramatic fire-beds of emotionality, addiction, and violence.

Women’s pathology is just as damaging to others as men’s pathology is to women. Women’s pathology may ‘present’ a little differently than men’s overt aggression related to their pathology but it is not any less problematic. Women’s pathology can sometimes (and I use the word sometimes lightly!) be more subtle when it is masked behind emotional dependency, sexual addiction, sexual manipulation, financial dependency or high emotionality. Those types of symptoms can be associated with more than just a personality disorder. But women’s pathology is just as damaging to a partner, a boss, their family and friends, and God forbid, the effects of their pathology on their children.

While women are more likely to be diagnosed as Borderline, Borderlines are often misdiagnosed and under diagnosed female psychopaths and anti-socials. There seems to be some what of a gender-bias when it comes to diagnosing women with psychopathy. Unless they have participated in a Bonnie & Clyde episode or made the Americas Most Wanted TV program, they are likely to be down graded in their pathology. Dramatic, highly emotional or self injuring women may be down graded to Histrionic, Narcissistic or Borderline.  Those with a little more flare for hiding their real lives may warrant the same diagnosis as male psychopaths but are able to hide it better or have less violence associated with their behavior. But not all female psychopaths are NOT violent.

Many are horribly violent–to their children and their partners yet always present themselves as a victim. These are the women most likely to press un-warranted domestic violence assaults, cry rape that didn’t happen, and abandon their children. The point is, any gender can have personality disorders and each personality disorder may, or may not, present slightly different in the other gender.

Beyond mutual pathology, a woman’s own mental health can influence the dynamics within a relationship. A woman who has unmediated bi-polar disorder who is in a relationship with a borderline male can have unusually dramatic relationship dynamics. Her mood fluctuations and his can ignite a feeding frenzy of boiling anger in both of them which is likely to lead to violence. Both partners having a substance abuse or alcohol problem can certainly negatively fuel the dynamics.

And let’s not over look the ‘pathologizing’ that women often get from being raised in a home with a pathological parent. She brings to the relationship the pathological-like behaviors that are learned within pathological families. I have seen that in sessions with women (and hear it a lot in the emails I receive) where the pathological effects of her previous childhood, adult life or relationships is negatively effecting her world view, current functioning level and even ‘entitlement’ attitudes she brings to the table. Couple any of these mental health situations with her along with HIS pathology and you have some of the most volatile and difficult relationships and break ups in history.

There have been many times in working with women that I recognize he is not the only problem in the scenario. Not all women in pathological relationships are mentally ill. However, not all women in pathological relationships are NOT mentally ill. And some of her own mental illness can be the gasoline on the fire of the pathological love relationship which fans the flames of dangerousness for her. Red flags for me that there is possible mental health issues with her include entitlement, chronic victim mentality, unregulated mood issues that are not amenable to treatment/medication, chronic returning to the pathological relationship/replacing relationships with more pathological relationships, history of unsuccessful counseling/treatment, and doesn’t take responsibility for her own behavior/choices.

Those represent only a few of possible many different types of symptoms that there may be mental health issues in her as well. Clearly, pathology is not gender specific and pathology and other mental health issues in both parties can accelerate the dangerousness and problems seen in pathological love relationships.

Cortisol-What You Need to Know – Part II

Part one of this article described three phases of adrenal disruption that occur in chronic stress. We are hard-wired to respond to acute crisis with an “adrenalin rush” which describes how the adrenal glands respond to stress-they produce cortisol which gives the body a sugar boost in order to fight or flee.

If there is chronic stress and not much flight or ineffective fighting-ie, issues are not resolved, the stress response, (i.e., cortisol production) continues. Small wonder that women living with disordered men have more than their share of problems, such as thyroid imbalances, anxiety, sleep disturbances, irritability, weight gain, sex hormone imbalances, and auto-immune diseases.

If you are experiencing any of the above problems, how can you determine if in fact your adrenal functioning is out of balance?

Here are a few steps you can take:

1. These web sites have a number of helpful articles on adrenal disruption and also offer self-administered questionnaires:

2. Make an appointment with your health care provider to discuss your concerns. Print out a copy of any material or on-line test results you may have.

There are many traditionally trained healthcare providers that do not agree with these theories and dismiss research that has been conducted to explore these connections. Perhaps they are right or perhaps they are using an outdated paradigm.

Eventually, each person has to choose his or her providers on their own. One of the goals of this column is to provide enough information to readers so that you can ask providers questions, read further for yourself or consult with practitioners who have or are adopting these new approaches.

If you wish to pursue naturopathic avenues to address these problems, consult an established practitioner in your area, one who has earned an ND degree and is licensed to practice.

He or she will

  • evaluate your symptoms,
  • usually have a sympathetic ear and acknowledge the sources of stress in your relationships, and
  • proceed to have some tests done in order to get some objective information on which to base suggested treatment.


  • Make sure you eat as well as possible, exercise, no matter what it takes, a small bit each day,
  • Take a good multivitamin
  • GET EIGHT HOURS OF SLEEP if humanly possible.
  • Bow out of any unnecessary commitments that you have taken on for at least 6 months.Do something restorative-a brief nap, a short walk, a hot bath, a chat with a friend, every single day.
  • If you do not already have an excellent support system and an excellent therapist, run, do not walk in the direction of making these happen.

Again, there is some controversy in the medical community about this approach, and insurance companies in the US may not reimburse you for these services. In my personal and professional experience, I find the concepts about adrenal fatigue to be valid, and the treatments to be very effective.

Chronic stress makes demands upon body and soul. We have learned to identify the signs and symptoms of serious, ongoing stress and there are many effective and not so effective ways to deal with these problems. As readers of this column may have figured out, I am no fan of treating symptoms and ignoring underlying problems.

I strongly urge any of you who has had an ongoing relationship with a disordered individual to consider checking out the self-administered tests available on the sites referenced above. If your adrenal functioning is disrupted, it may take 6-12 months to get back into balance, so don’t hesitate to get started!

Joan-Marie Lartin, PhD, RN

Keep the Turkey on the Table

It is the holidays and you were sure that your relationship would last until the end of time, but it did not sustain.  However, those emotions still tied to the person remain, and you are teetering after that warm and fuzzy holiday text message or phone call you just received.  You have all but wiped away the memory of the last time you were together. Perhaps you were blamed or hurt by a circumstance or a situation that you were made to feel was your fault.  Finally, you had enough and began moving forward with your life. You worked hard to untie those emotional strings and the memories you once shared.

Holiday or nor not, how many more times are you going to allow a person with whom you were in a relationship to make excuses for their outbursts? Either through yelling at you because the boss got on their back, or there is not enough money through the end of the month to buy groceries and somehow your partner is blaming you? The house is in shambles, the kids have been up all night with the flu and you are whacked across the face by your “loving partner” because things are not the way ” THEY” expect them. Your partner informs you, similar to placing you on notice, that you have had this conversation before.

On the phone that warm and fuzzy feeling returns as he speaks to you so tenderly and warm. Your knees buckle a bit as the familiar scent of a toxic tune plays in their voice. He reminds you of all the other holidays you shared and the importance of family, knowing what will pull you back into him with his toxic sweet talk.  He says “can’t we try again for the sake of what we had or the kids?”  And then he adds a pinch of “baby it’s the holidays,” and your response should be yes it is, “happy holidays to you” thank you for calling.

The turkey you prepare should be the only one in attendance this year at your holiday table, and not sitting in the chair next to you.

Remember don’t invite the pathological live turkey to show up at your door for the holidays.

Ponerology 101: Psychopathy at Nuremberg – Part II

Be sure to check the article index page for this column to read other parts of this article.

Last article I began talking about the Nuremburg trials and it’s relationship to pathocrats and psychopathy.
I ended with : “But there was a time when political psychopaths – pathocrats, to be more precise, because in a pathological system more than one type of pathology participates in the network of control – could be studied up close and personal, and they were. However, the pathocrats running the prison, who made this opportunity a reality, quickly squashed any future possibility of gaining the much-needed data that could be gleaned from their captives. I am referring to that time right after the Allies won World War II, and a representative selection of Hitler’s top officials were held to be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremburg which we will dive into in the next article.”

The most wicked of the accused were executed in short order. While many saw this as justice, future generations were robbed of what could have been a treasure trove of knowledge about the true nature of Nazism and its leading figures. Luckily, while the defendants were still living, a few American psychologists were able to glean what they could, and one of them – Nuremberg prison psychologist Gustav M. Gilbert – even wrote a book, The Psychology of Dictatorship which could have been the foundation of a new science.

But that is not what happened. Not only were the most interesting of the criminals summarily executed, the book about them was never reprinted and only the most dubious of its data (the Rorschach protocols Gilbert conducted) has been looked at and talked about since.

It’s hardly coincidental that the bulk of his conclusions were ignored and only the weakest parts promoted (in Miale & Selzer’s The Nuremburg Mind, for example). It’s classic perception management. Those reading references to Gilbert’s work, which reach valid conclusions though using dubious proofs (the Rorschach test is all but completely discredited in today’s fields of experimental psychology and psychiatry, especially when it comes to psychopathy), will unfairly conclude that there is little value in his work. Ironically, Gilbert hardly mentions his Rorshach tests in the book, and yet this is where ALL attention has been focused when anyone talks or writes about the psychology of the Nuremberg war criminals. So, what did Gilbert really say?

His book was published in 1950, nine years after Hervey Cleckley’s The Mask of Sanity first hit the shelves in 1941. At the time, it was common among historians and other academics to downplay the role of individuals in the shaping of history. As one textbook of the time stated: “With some striking exceptions, the individual counts for little in the social scheme of things… [A leader’s] success will depend mainly on his happening to lead them [social circumstances] in the direction in which they happen to be going.”1 As if social circumstances were some nebulous force completely divorced of human motivations! Unfortunately, this is still the prevailing view among historians. Today it’s called “structuralism” – Hitler wasn’t the problem per se, the whole Nazi structure was.

This is certainly partially correct, but thanks to a convenient twist in the theory, it poses no problems to psychopaths (which is probably why it’s so popular these days). If the role of the individual is downplayed, it’s all in the structural, economic, social forces, you see! (Never mind that psychopaths and other pathologicals have inter-penetrated the social structure with a ramified network of mutual pathological conspiracies and are busily causing those very problems!) But with these assumptions guiding the historian’s hand, any relevant characteristics of the individuals comprising that structure, and giving it force and meaning, are equally dismissed offhand. Thus, any patterns to be noticed in the nodal points of key positions of power fade into the background. By downplaying the features of the single individual (e.g. Hitler), the theory is willfully blind to the results caused by a network of similar-minded (but not normal) individuals (i.e. the psychopaths within the whole Nazi network: the SS, lawyers, bankers, businessmen, military men, etc.).

If only there weren’t those darned anomalies!

According to the theory, Hitler was an anomaly of the system. A man whose interests just happened to correspond to the nature of the “structural” forces at play. But despite their popularity, these theories cannot account for the strikingly foreign nature of the times they seek to study and explain. In the minds of many, Hitler’s Germany was one of those “exceptions”. The brutal and anti-human nature of the Nazi regime – the “new reality” to which the Germans and their victims were subjected – became clear to the world over the course of the war, and it horrified humanity. As Field Marshal and Nuremberg defendant Wilhelm Keitel related to Gilbert, “He [Hitler] stood for a complete reversal of [the Wermacht’s] values: brutality and injustice became virtues of ‘hardness’; decency and honor became contemptible weakness.”2 When Gilbert asked Rudolf Höss, commandant at Auschwitz, if he had ever considered whether his millions of victims deserved their fate, “he tried patiently to explain that there was something unrealistic about such questions, because he had been living in an entirely different world.”3 In this world, the leaders possessed the qualities of “uncompromising hardness and brutality, nationalism with a paranoid tinge, in-group loyalty and out-group hostility. Deceit, treachery, persecution, and murder could be condoned in this militant, ethnocentric frame of reference, and the leader was the one who excelled in these virtues.”4

As Gilbert later wrote, the post-war trials led to “widespread speculation concerning the sanity or lack of it on the part of the whole Nazi leadership”.5 This speculation on the part of the public was simple common sense, because one can’t hope to understand a system like Nazism without a good understanding of individual AND social psychology. The Germans were experiencing the full force and iron grip of a macrosocial psychopathic reality.

Predictably, academic opinions quickly polarized between two, extreme and equally untenable conclusions. Either the Nazis (as a whole, mind you) were totally psychotic (think Norman Bates’ character in Psycho) or normal people “just following orders”. This cognitive error (also taken straight out of the psychopath’s handbook) is still prevalent today. And as usual, the truth is not quite so simple; the competing options are not mutually exclusive. As historian of ideas José Brunner notes, “one can notice a surprisingly broad area of underlying agreement” between the opposing opinions of Nazi leaders as “sane or psychopaths”.6 In Gilbert’s work (and later, Lobaczewski’s), an understanding of psychopathy, psychopathology in general, and normal social influences helped place the discussion in a more realistic and empirical middle ground. “Anomalies” like Nazism involve a complex network of psychopathic individuals who inspire the system as a whole, individuals with various other mental pathologies, and normal people who get caught up under their collective spellbinding influence. While leaders can and do play a crucial role in history, Gilbert writes:
… that does not imply by any means that leaders create history single-handedly. … socioeconomic, political, and historical forces … do not exist as pure abstractions, but become manifest only through the behavior of human beings… [the] interplay of personalities and social processes… cultural mores help to determine the nature of political leadership, and the latter in turn influences the development of the cultural pattern.7

© USHMM Photo Archives
The defendants listen as the prosecution begins introducing documents at the International Military Tribunal trial of war criminals at Nuremberg.

We will discuss more about Gilbert in our next article. Stay tuned!


  1. Quoted in Gustav Gilbert’s The Psychology of Dictatorship (New York: Ronald, 1950), 298.
  2. Ibid., 220.
  3. Ibid., 255.
  4. Ibid., 294.
  5. Quoted in Miale & Selzer’s The Nuremburg Mind: The Psychology of the Nazi Leaders (New York: New York Times Book Co., 1975), xi.
  6. Jose Brunner, “Oh Those Crazy Cards Again”: A History of the Debate on the Nazi Rorschachs,1946 – 2001,” Political Psychology 22(2), 2001, 237.
  7. Gilbert, op cit., 303, 4, 5, 7.

Live Through the Holidays, Don’t Just Get Through Them

The holidays are coming.  If you are feeling hurt or betrayed, it’s painful to see others “making merry” when you are in so much pain.  How can you change this?

The holidays can be enjoyable or miserable, based on your beliefs about themselves.  Negative beliefs can fill you with anxiety or depression during the holidays.  If you transform your negative beliefs, you transform your experience.  How do we you that? You can do that by:

  • acknowledging your negative beliefs (cognitions)
  • recognizing how negative cognitions have affected your life
  • transforming negative cognitions into positive cognitions with EMDR

A negative cognition is evidence that a traumatic event has had a powerful effect on your life that hasn’t been assimilated or resolved.  These negative cognitions can be from childhood events.  They can even come from recent events with your abuser.  These events are locked in our nervous system in the form of these negative cognitions, plus emotions and physical sensations that feel the same as the day it happened.  They can be triggered by holiday people, places and things.

A negative cognition is a negative belief you have about yourself now in relation to the past traumatic event.  The negative cognition is usually inappropriate and dysfunctional.  It is usually based in one of four themes:

  • Shame (I am something “wrong”.)
  • Guilt (I did something “wrong”.)
  • Safety  (Vulnerability)
  • Control  (Lack of choice)

Some examples of negative cognitions are:

  • “I am not good enough.”
  • “I should have known better.”
  • “I cannot protect myself.”
  • “I am helpless.”

This is the negative vicious cycle:

  • I was taught, through trauma, how to think, act and feel about myself, reinforced by experiences, family, friends, abusers and society so…
  • I am afraid of the world due to my negative cognitions being reinforced and validated by abusive people in my life and…
  • I behave in negative ways to gain validation of my shame, blame and guilt, therefore…
  • My experiences continue to reinforce the negative cognitions that I was taught to think & feel about myself and others by my abuser(s),

EMDR moves an event from short term memory storage into long term storage.  This is where what is useful is learned and made available for future use.  The negative cognition becomes less and less vivid and valid with each set of bilateral stimulation (eye movement or tapping or tones).

With EMDR, negative cognitions are transformed and replaced by a positive cognition of your choosing.  This creates a positive cycle:

  • I think, act and feel according to positive cognitions and values I am creating, reinforced by new positive experiences with family, friends and society, so…
  • I think affirmingly about myself due to my own sense of self and…
  • I live in the world in terms of being reinforced and validated by positive cognitions internal to me and…
  • I behave in positive ways to get internal validation of my value and worth, therefore…
  • My experiences continue to reinforce the way I feel about myself and others based on my positive cognitions.

If you want to make this happen:

1. Go to , click on “Find an EMDR Clinician”, to find a trained psychotherapist in your area, make an appointment.  Go and make it a gift to you for the holidays.

2. If you don’t have insurance, call your local mental health center to find an EMDR trained psychotherapist  who works on a sliding scale.

3. Be safe.  Do what is safe and good for you during the holidays instead of doing what you think you “should” do.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year filled with new possibilities!

My Cup is Empty…Can You Help Me Out?

Pathological relationships might begin with the Attraction Cocktail of excitement-seeking, extraversion and competiveness but soon it evolves to something more…it requires something more to feed it.  What a pathological relationship must have is Cooperation, Helpfulness and Compassion.  I am sure you are thinking that these are not really the things that you might think of when you think of pathology but that makes it all the more needed.  Keep in mind that a pathological’s “cup” is empty…they lack a sense of cooperation, helpfulness and compassion.  So, in order to fill their needs they MUST find someone who possesses these traits.

It is important to understand the mask that a pathological wears.  They exist in two distinct ways…the outside perception that they present and the dark, empty underside of who they are.  As they move through life they learn to compensate for their deficiencies.  One way to compensate is through using what others have and presenting it as their own.  One of the traits that they often cling to is cooperation.  They need you to be cooperative.  They need you to play along.  They are running a scam….and without your cooperation it just won’t work.  Herein lies the risk: You are optimistic, and supportive; you are willing to go the extra mile to make things work and if there is a “problem” you are part of the “fix-it” team.  Make no doubt about it – you go along with the program.  It’s true…the program that is presented is pretty darn convincing…but still, it’s your high degree of cooperation that allows you to be the perfect partner for pathology.  In our brain, a cooperative mind means that we will stay stuck in the deceit.  We will continue to participate in the “he’s good/he’s bad” scenario.  As long as we stay there…we cannot get out.  The good news is that once you listen to the facts and make a decision about what you are experiencing…it is hard to keep playing. This is the beginning of the end of the relationship.   Herein lies the benefit:  Just as quickly and as committed as you are to cooperate you will be out…just as fast.  You are no sucker.  Because of who you are there will be no looking back once you see his two sides…once you know that you are dealing with someone who is pathological.  Acknowledging this…deeply and honestly acknowledging this… makes all the difference for you.  Making the decision to leave and get out is one thing…getting the intrusive thoughts to stop is another.  As a result of his mask-his presentation of two sides- you will continue to struggle with questioning yourself and what you experienced.  Your cooperative mind will want to go along with the program when your “fact finding” mind will tell you something completely different.    The benefit here is that you have the choice to cooperate-to cooperate with the facts.  If you can lean on those around you (who are probably telling you he is no good, he’s dangerous, he’s all wrong for you) and the facts as they are presented (he lied to you, stole from you, manipulated you); you will have a much better chance at emotional healing…healing that will last long after you have had no contact.

The next trait that a pathological relationship requires is helpfulness.  This goes hand in hand with cooperation.  You are one helpful person.  A pathological needs that too.   He needs to know that you will do what you need to do to get the job done.  He also needs to know that you will stand next to him when times get tough.  See, the program he’s running is one big con…so sometimes others challenge him.  These challenges can be direct or indirect…the can come from family (yours or his), from co-workers, from friends or acquaintances.  No matter the direction, he needs to know that you will be there beside him…to stand up for him.  You, after all, are just trying to help.  He plays the victim and you the rescuer.  It is one of the dynamics that keeps you locked in.  Herein lies the risk: you are eager and willing to get the job done…be the person to provide assistance and guidance.  You want to make things right…set things strait.  He needs a person who will make his mask seem true…someone to vouch for him.  Sometimes, you are the person who helps seal the deal…make his con appear real.  How could he be lying about who he is with you on his arm?  Herein lies the benefit: You are not going to help someone con others.  The gig will be up when you really see him for who he is.  You can then use your helpfulness to make sure no one else gets hurt.  In turn, you are helping yourself.  You are the kind of person who will be just as strong in aligning against him as you were aligning with him.  You will help yourself too…you are the kind of woman who will seek out what you need.  You will search the internet until you find answers and when you do…you apply the skills needed to disengage and begin healing.

There are a couple of ways to address these traits so that they do not become a risk but are more of a benefit.  Your cooperation was tested early on in the relationship.  You may have been asked to do things or led to do things just to see if you would follow through.  Take a moment and think about the early stage of your relationship.  Did you complete tasks that were outside of your personal boundaries…late night meetings, compromising sexual requests, unannounced visits, requests for money?  Take a moment and list these requests or experience-title them “Red Flags-Boundary Breakers.”  These represent ways in which your cooperation and helpfulness was “over-flowing” from your own cup.  Your desire to cooperate and be helpful was greater than your desire to stay true to who you are.  As you begin to heal you can use this list as a reminder of where your boundaries are…give yourself a chance to firmly instill them so that no other person will be allowed to cross them.

Next month we will look at the third trait in this trio of “SuperTraits”-Compassion.  As we approach the holiday season, remind yourself…these are your traits-your gifts- and should not be handed out to just anyone.  Tie them up with a bow and keep them to yourself!

Dissociation is Not a Life Skill

“Dissociation Isn’t a Life Skill” (Quote by Sandra L. Brown, M.A. )

Dissociation is described as:

1. The splitting off of a group of mental processes from the main body of consciousness, as in amnesia.

2. The act of separating or state of being separated.

3. The separation into two or more fragments.

Let’s talk about Dissociation a minute…it’s technically a defense mechanism–we separate out of our memory things that we don’t want/can’t deal with. In trauma (like abuse or rape), that’s helpful at the time. If dissociation becomes your major defense mechanism, it can become a full blown dissociative disorder which is a very intense type of disorder. But outside of full blown dissociative disorders, there is still the ability to heavily rely on dissociation even if you don’t have the disorder.

We can get trained to dissociate and use it against ourselves! Dissociation is when we separate from our awareness ‘details’ of an event. I think this happens with dangerous men as early as the first date when we ‘choose’ to not pay attention to our screaming red flags. We are dissociating their messages away from our awareness because if we truly became ‘aware’ we might ditch him early on and we don’t want to.

Dissociation can become a primary defense mechanism if you grew up in a dysfunctional, abusive, addictive, or violent home. That’s because children can easily go on ‘overwhelm’ and check out–or dissociate because they can’t handle what’s going on. If you never learned adult coping skills then it’s likely you use the ones you do know: which are from childhood. And if your primary skill was dissociation, then you’re probably using that now, and it probably has gotten you into a lot of trouble in your patterns of relationship selection.

After a while, you don’t even know you’re dissociating. It’s just automatic. So you can dissociate away a lot of IMPORTANT stuff early on: like discrepancies in his stories, his not-so-nice words he says to you, his tonality in his voice, or other behaviors that SHOULD cause you concern, but don’t.

Any time we separate a memory from all its components, you are dissociating from the complete or whole memory which is why remembering ALL the relationship issues are important–not just the good times. The bad times are a part of the memory or the memory is merely a fragment of what REALLY was going on. You can also separate out other parts of the memory like: sensations, words or phrases, physical or sexual pain inherent in the memory, things you tasted/smelled/saw, and various emotions that were prevalent in the relationship. That’s why women get these highly skewed ‘snapshots’ of just the good times and long after those times. The whole snapshot would look very different indeed if she incorporated all the senses in the memory.

Sometimes women can dissociate or fragment off the ‘meaning,’ ‘motive,’ or ‘intent’ as well. So he uses all your money and your response is “He meant well, he just doesn’t know how to handle money.” That’s not likely the situation so the motive or meaning of what he was REALLY doing is fragmented away from you so you don’t have to take action. Dissociation can become an unconscious reason to stay “I didn’t notice….” because underneath dissociation was naturally at work and it also ‘worked’ for the ability to stay in the relationship and ‘not notice.’  How long can you live on the reasoning behind dissociation which is “I didn’t know, I didn’t notice….” which is why I say that dissociation is not a life skill. It doesn’t help you move forward, it keeps you frozen in time.

Women describe dissociation as a numbing or a spacey feeling. They either don’t feel something OR they are too spaced out to do much about it. In the middle of a traumatic event, spacing out and numbing is a good thing. Even as adults, I still advocate that there are times for ‘therapeutic dissociation.’ Like in a root canal–who wants to be ‘present’ and ‘aware’ for that? But the problem is that dissociation becomes largely un-managed. Then it becomes downright dangerous to us–robbing us of our ability to be aware, in tune, and vigilant.

Look back over your childhood for patterns of dissociation. Look back over your adult relationships and see how influenced your choices were by dissociation. Look at your TODAY LIFE for signs of when you check out, become aware, drift off, or stuff feelings at the speed of light so you don’t have to make a decision about something. These are all aspects of dissociation. While it might have helped you in a time of trauma, as an adult your recovery is about growing into healthier and stronger coping skills than mere dissociation. All of real life is happening now—are you missing it?

(There is more information about Dissociation in my book ‘Counseling Victims of Violence.’)

Caution: Relationship Lane Changes – Part 2

Last month’s article ( ) began the story of Susan Powell, a married stockbroker and devoted mother to two young sons. Over time, Susan’s husband Josh became more and more controlling.  Their marriage deteriorated. At this point in a relationship, many abusers begin to formulate a plan born of anger and desperation.

This plan remains in the abuser’s mind until they notice subtle signs of movement. Perhaps Josh walked into the room as Susan whispered into the phone. When she realized he was in the room, she quickly changed her tone or ended the phone call. Perhaps he learned Susan set up a bank account, and decided she was hiding money so she and the kids could leave.

The signs of movement spark Josh, or any potential abuser, to think of the next level. They think to themselves, “OK, she is going to leave me. I will not let that happen”. He acts as though nothing is wrong. When she goes to sleep, however, Josh leaps into action.  He may:

  • rummage through her car looking for evidence of her plan–a bank receipt or an unusual transaction or charge
  • check her cell phone for any unusual numbers he does not recognize
  • search her computer, checking to see which websites she visited

He finds something. Inwardly his anger skyrockets and his heart races. Outwardly, he remains calm and says nothing to Susan. A smile comes to his face. He “caught her,” and he figures in the future, she will pay one way or another.

Susan begins to email a trusted circle of friends about Josh’s abuse and threats. Maybe she keeps a detailed log containing dates and times of the incidents.

Next, Josh does what I label the “smell change.” Susan acts strangely. Josh, like most abusers, literally senses, or “smells” when his environment has shifted. Perhaps Susan verbalizes her unhappiness more often. Maybe she stands up for herself during a fight, where months before she would have backed down and gone to her room without incident.

Most abused women have difficulty hiding that “spark of empowerment” from a clever abuser. The abuser smells the spark, like a fox scents prey as he enters a coop full of chickens.

On December 7, 2009, Susan Powell of Utah disappeared. Law enforcement personnel consider her husband Josh a person of interest.

Susan Powell’s case appears no different from millions of cases of intimate partner violence we never hear about, until women disappear and someone finds their bodies. Often no “official documentation” of the abuse exists because the terrified women did not contact police or obtain a court order of protection. Why? Better than anyone, the victims know the court order of protection would not help. The court order of protection would only escalate the level of danger.

A Special Note from Susan…

Before you announce your thoughts about how unhappy you are or that the relationship simply is not working for you any longer, have a solid plan in place. Women often fail to plan ahead in leaving, underestimating what the abuser can and actually ends up doing. The Institute offers exit planning strategies to prevent you from becoming an abuse statistic or the victim of Intimate Partner Homicide. If we can help you strategize to get ready for disconnection, please let us. Most of all, be safe.

External Locus of Belief: Is it True, is it REALLY True?

In psychology, we refer to the belief about where control over events in our lives resides as ‘internal and external locus of control’. This means we see our behaviors either generated by personal efforts or by destiny. We believe that we make things happen or we believe others do it for us whether we like it or not.

But also related to internal and external locus of control is its effect on impulse motivation. This means that a person who has internal locus of control can self regulate their impulses and desires themselves. They find their motivation for behavior, choices, and reactions inside of themselves by themselves. (By the way, pathologicals normally have poor internal locus of control except for brief periods of time when they are conning someone. One of the true signs of pathology is poor impulse control).

Other people who have external locus of control (like the pathologicals) are not self regulated in their behavior, choices, and reactions inside of themselves. Instead, they look outside themselves for motivation and consequently since they don’t regulate themselves well, outside themselves for limits on their behaviors. People with poor internal locus of control often need the external world to regulate themselves for them—unfortunately this is often the legal system, jail, or some kind of negative consequence.

But today, I am talking about internal and external locus of belief systems. Where is your belief system (especially about the pathological) located? Is it inside you or externally in others? Do you come to understand, see, and accept his pathology within yourself? Do you read materials, go to counseling and then come to believe and hold that belief in you that he is pathological, can’t change, and destructive to your own future? Are you able to pull up inside of yourself the facts of his dangerous or misleading behavior in your relationship? Are you able to point to the ways in which he has been destructive to others? Are you able to latch on to his diagnosis and use it as a life raft for yourself to drift away from him?

OR, are your beliefs externally hinged? “If you say so Sandra–if you say he’s pathological, then I guess he is.” “If he scored high on the P-scan (developed by Dr. Robert Hare) then I suppose that is correct….”  Statements like these are related to people who have external locus of belief. They don’t really believe it themselves; they are hinging their belief system to someone else’s belief systems–usually mine or another expert in pathology. Somewhere along the line they haven’t really ‘come to believe’ that the pathology is his. It’s still some distant reality ‘labeled’ by a therapist but you don’t own it inside your self. This makes accepting it, reallllyyyyyy accepting it, hard for you because you then need to be reminded every 30 seconds that he is in fact, permanently pathological. Once you are out of ear range of a therapist or some other external validating system (books, DVDs, CDs, etc.) will you still accept his pathology?

‘Coming to believe’ pathology is a hard thing. It’s a shock to learn that someone you thought was the most wonderful person in the world is secretly very, very (did I say very?) sick.  NOT only do you have to believe that the person is very, very (did I say very?) sick, but that sickness has no cure. Not only are they sick and have no cure, but staying around them is detrimental to your own (and your children’s) mental health. Not only that they are sick, have no cure, staying around them is detrimental to your own mental health but they have all the capacities of breaking both your knee caps–either financially or even physically given no conscience. This is a big wad to swallow all at once with no chaser of hope.

Most people need a time of ‘coming to believe’ — it’s like building faith in anything else–we study and come to believe. Pathology is the same way–you need some education, some time to digest this big wad of bad news, and some time to work a plan of ‘accepting the things I cannot change.’ Almost everyone who faces the fact of pathology in someone else has this same ‘coming to terms’ process. We expect it.

But, there is also the problem of when you don’t ever come to truly accept it and then hinge your belief system about his pathology on some external person, organization, or book. The Institute cannot be your belief system (He’s pathological because Sandra says so). If after a few months, that belief system doesn’t become internal for you (I know this to be self evident, that he is pathological and for all of these reasons….) then you’re in trouble for potential relapse.

Just like in external locus of control explained above, external locus of belief stands in the same jeopardy–that someone else can’t be responsible for what you do with what you know (or what you don’t come to accept).  That your pathology destiny is not in The Institute’s hands–it’s in yours. That whether you ignore the info and go back is entirely up to you—not a support group, not a book, not a program or a retreat–just your destiny in your hands.

If your locus of belief is still external and it doesn’t shift and become internal–just know this is a risk factor for you. Holding the belief system steady is the challenge of overcoming cognitive dissonance. When it doesn’t get over come eventually, either you learn to do what the 12 Steppers call ‘Fake It ‘Til You Make It’ (do it ’til you believe it) or face the rising statistics that you’re likely to believe the internal chatter and make a beeline back.

Cortisol-What You Need to Know – Part I

What Is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a chemical messenger produced when the brain tells the adrenal glands “Hey, we need some energy, now!” Cortisol triggers a release of insulin into the blood stream, mobilizing the body’s flight or fight response. After the initial alarm, cortisol production winds down. However, when there is chronic, sustained stress, the body may begin a descent “down the rabbit hole” into adrenal imbalance, creating many different types of problems.

Early, Mid, and Late Stage Stress Response

Early Stage Stress Response

Ongoing stress initially creates a great deal of cortisol production. If the person does not fight, flee, or otherwise use up the excess energy, he or she may experience some or all of these symptoms:

  • weight gain
  • anxiety
  • restlessness
  • insomnia
  • poor concentration

A stressed-out person may take substances, legal and illegal, to calm down, think straight and focus. In my clinical experience, a very high percentage of kids and adults who believe they have symptoms of ADD or ADHD are in fact experiencing chronic stress. Most likely, their cortisol levels are very high.

Sometimes, constant stress damages the cortisol receptors.  As this happens, the body shuts down the override or feedback mechanisms, and the blood levels of cortisol remain high.

At that point, the body’s natural feedback process isn’t working well. If the stress continues, the adrenal glands, which produce cortisol, start to become depleted.

Mid Stage Stress Response

When the adrenal gland continues to secrete cortisol over a sustained period, the person enters an early stage of adrenal depletion. Cortisol levels start to decrease as the brain’s receptor cells become damaged. The person begins to show these signs:

  • low energy
  • fatigue
  • easily overwhelmed
  • mild depression
  • a degree of mental fog

…among other symptoms.

Cortisol imbalances are frequently associated with disruptions in other key areas such as the endocrine hormones, such as estrogen and thyroid hormones, the immune system, as well as neurotransmitter levels.

At this point, if

  • the stressors are not resolved
  • the person keeps up a hectic pace
  • there is little nutritional, nutraceutical, or other support

the next, fairly drastic stage is adrenal fatigue.

Late Stage Stress Response

This depleted stage, also known as late chronic stress, is often termed adrenal fatigue. Cortisol levels, once very high, are now very low. The person may suffer these symptoms:

  • very low levels of energy
  • brain fog
  • reliance on carbohyrates and caffeine
  • chronic infections
  • gastro-intestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome
  • salt cravings

Small wonder that women living with disordered men have more than their share of problems.  These problems include:

  • thyroid imbalances
  • anxiety
  • sleep disturbances
  • irritability
  • weight gain
  • sex hormone imbalances
  • auto-immune diseases

Because the adrenal glands play such an important role in the development of many of the body’s biochemical’s, some clinicians question whether extreme, ongoing stress plays a role in women developing estrogen-sensitive tumors.

Next month I will provide more information on cortisol imbalances, including further reading and treatment options. One website I recommend is the

Joan-Marie Lartin, PhD, RN