Archives for March 2012

Who Does That? Part 1

Part of our goal at The Institute is not only to help survivors heal from the aftermath of a PLR (Pathological Love Relationship), but it is also to help prevent future relationships with pathologicals. In prevention, The Institute helps survivors to spot overt, glaring pathology. The overt pathology is easy to identify.

* Few would argue that mothers who drown their children like Susan Smith or Andrea Yates aren’t terribly disordered.

* Those that shoot people they don’t know, or commit a drive by shooting like the Beltway Snipers Muhammad and Malvo in the Washington D.C. and Virginia areas, clearly have pathological motives.

* Those that sexually abuse children and then hide the sexual offenders like the Catholic Church, are the face of evil.

* Horrendous hate crimes that torture hundreds, thousands, or millions of people – like war crimes or the Holocaust – are easy to figure that severe pathology is behind the motivation of that type of hate.

* The deranged that break into homes to beat the elderly for money like Phillip Garrett, who terrorized those in assisted living facilities, have a notable bent of sheer brutality.

* Terrorists who commit the taking of hostages and inflict psychological torture like the infamous Stockholm Bank Robbery (resulting in the term Stockholm Syndrome) are identifiable as probable psychopaths.

* The rapist who preys on the vulnerable, or the type of rapist who rapes a wife in front of her own husband is overtly vile.

* The violent anti-socials that are frequent gang members or thugs like James Manley, who murdered my father.

* Serial killers like Ted Bundy who raped and killed at least 36 women, leave no doubt that he was the worst of the worst psychopaths.

* The ordering of killing a pregnant woman and her unborn child like schizophrenic/psychopathic Charlie Manson makes our blood run cold.

* Cult leaders who usher hundreds to death like Jim Jones, remind us of the power and persuasion of pathology.

* Chronic re-offending domestic violence abusers like O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson convince us that all DV is not treatable, and some abuser brutality increases with each crime and are obviously disordered.

* The babbling grandiosity of narcissism, as seen in Charlie Sheen, reminds us that even the rich and famous carry and display their pack of pathology for all to see.

* The robbing of millions of dollars from thousands of people like Bernie Madoff, reminds us that not all pathology is physically violent – some do it with panache, and a tie on.

These forms of pathology are recognizable by most of society and many would agree that these people are horribly disordered, and probably dangerous for life.

But being able to spot pathology in less overt and even frequently hid, yet equally as damaging acts, is where most of us fall short—even professionals in the criminal justice and mental health systems. It’s also where survivors of PLR’s are likely to trip up, yet again, since the ‘types’ of behaviors pathologicals perpetrate can vary causing confusion to the unsuspecting, highly tolerant, and emotionally understanding survivor.

Low empathy is at the core of a cluster of pathological disorders that correlates to ‘inevitable harm’ when it crosses the paths of others.  Low empathy has its roots in reduced conscience, remorse, and guilt. Without empathy, pathologicals find pleasure in harming others. While they might not cackle aloud in public when a dog is hit by a car, they no less live in the shadows of enjoying the physical or emotional destruction of others.

Sadistic – absolutely, but often it’s sadistic behind closed doors, or as sheltered reputations behind factitious names, or online identities.

Why aren’t these pathological disorders better identified? That is the million dollar question since the main judicial, social, and mental systems of our society deal with this particular cluster of pathological disorders day in and day out. Why are they actively dealing with Cluster B’s?  Because these disorders represent the majority of white and blue-collar crimes that cataclysmically smash in our lives even if they are never identified as crimes.  The reason society has not cohesively named this cluster of disorders as the center of their focus, is each system has their own view of the ‘behavior’ associated with the pathological’s disorders.

Law enforcement calls them the bad guys (if they are even caught)
Mental health systems call them patients
Domestic violence organizations call them abusers
Batterer intervention programs call them perpetrators
Criminal defense attorneys call them clients
Sexual Assault centers call them rapists or sexual offenders
Financial structures call them swindlers
The online world calls them trolls
Victims call them predators
Children and adolescents call them cyber bullies
The swindled call them con artists
The judicial system calls them criminals (or not, if they are never identified)
The church calls them evil or unredeemed
The website owner calls them hackers
The defamed call them cyber stalkers
Parents call them pedophiles
Jails calls them inmates
Prison calls them high security risks
FBI calls them targets and terrorists

As each system deals with their own view of a specific act the person has done, we miss the wide broad category that these people fall under. We miss the bigger implication of what goes with that category. We miss the fact that those who fall under these pathological disorders have largely low, or no, positive treatment outcomes. Each system dealing with a behavior, only sees the person through their own behavioral specialty. Yet, we are all talking about the same disorders in action.

When we ask ‘WHO does that?’ we immediately become brothers and sisters in the same battle against pathology. We begin to see the ‘who’ within the act, the disorder that perpetrates these same acts, behaviors, or crimes. It’s the same sub-set of disorders that have different focuses but the same outcome: inevitable harm.

Emotional Phantom Limb Pain

In a session someone says, “I really miss what we had.  I could get over this if it hadn’t been the most wonderful relationship of my life.  I just feel like something has been cut out of me – like I’m missing a big part of myself now.”

Illusion is the mark of pathology.  It’s why our logo is a mask, because it best represents the mirage of normalcy that pathological individuals can often project…. at least for a while.

Dr. Hervey Checkley, a psychiatrist and writer of pathology from the 1940’s entitled his famous book The Mask of Sanity, and tells of pathology giving all the surface signals such as:  having a deep connection, having the most fun ever experienced with a person, of someone who is really into you – while behind the scenes you are being used as a distraction, a pay check, grotesquely, as a ‘vaginal doormat,’ or some other form of ‘feeding’ of the pathological piranha.  What you are experiencing, you are internally labeling as ‘normal,’ ‘wonderful,’ or ‘love,’ and yet it really isn’t any of those things.  It’s just a label of experience you have tagged with him.

If someone was watching your relationship as a movie, and watched scenes in which the pathological individual is exposed for his true self, your scene would be tagged and labeled very differently by the viewer, than what is labeled in your own experience.  That’s because the viewer would see the pathological individual’s behaviors and words as manipulative, and would have a distinctly different view of the storyline.  Your labeling of your experience isn’t always accurate.  As I often say, “Your thinking is what got you into this pathological relationship.   Don’t always believe what you think.”

Being invested in being correct is part of the human condition, and is in part, the way our brains work.  The more important the questions are such as, “Does he love me, is this the one?” – the greater the pleasure will seem from labeling the experience as positive.   The more positive the relationship is perceived, the more invested you will be to label the experiences, and his behavior as positive, and to get the reward of your label whether it is of ‘him, the marriage, or the relationship.’  Of course, none of this is problematic, except if you have misread the illusion, believed the presented mask, and labeled an experience with a narcissist, anti-social, or socio/psychopath as ‘positive.’

The illusion:

•    He was normal
•    He was in love with you
•    He was what he said he was
•    He did what he said he did

In pathology, that’s never the case, because:

•    Their attachments are surface (which isn’t love)
•    They are mentally disordered (which isn’t normal)
•    They never present themselves as disordered, sexually promiscuous, and incapable of love (so he isn’t what he said he is)
•    They harbor hidden lives filled with other sex partners, hook ups, criminality, or illegal and immoral behavior (so he doesn’t disclose what he’s really up to)

What you had (that you can’t possibly miss) is a pathological relationship.  What you want, and miss, is the ability to wrap yourself up like a blanket in the illusion – to go back to the time before you knew this was all illusion.

Women often say when they try to break off the relationship they have the feeling that something is being cut out of them.  They feel like they are missing a part of themselves.  This sensation is similar to what is called phantom limb pain, which is a medical mystery of sorts.  When a person has an arm that is amputated, the portion of the brain that used to receive sensory messages about the existing arm goes through a series of changes.  This causes it to misread the brain message, and creates the ‘ghostly’ illusion that the arm is still there and in pain.  Even though the patient can see that the arm is gone, and what they are experiencing is an illusion, they can’t stop the distressing phantom limb sensations of wanting to believe the arm is still there.  The arm is in pain, but the arm is gone.  The amputee must learn to cope differently, and begin to re-label the experience they are having, that the presence of the arm is a perceptual illusion.

So it is with those leaving the illusion of the pathological relationship.  The emotional pain you experience is based on the illusion the pathological presented, a perceptual illusion that was mislabeled, experience as positive, and invested in.  Keeping that positive illusion is initially important to you.  Learning to adjust the cognitive dissonance (which is the ping-pong between thinking ‘he was good/he was bad’) is the challenge in overcoming the ghostly emotional baggage of phantom relationship pain.

Genetic and Neuro-Physiological Basis for Hyper-Empathy

I heard a universal ‘sigh of relief’ go out around the world as women read the title of this article.  Don’t you feel better knowing there really IS some science backing the whole issue of having way too much empathy?

When we began writing about women who love psychopaths, anti-socials, sociopaths and narcissists, we already ‘assumed’ that maybe you did have too much empathy (as well as other elevated temperament traits).  We just didn’t know how much, or why.  When we began the actual testing for the research of the book ‘Women Who Love Psychopaths’, we learned just ‘how much’ empathy you had.

Do I need to tell you?  WAY TOO MUCH!

By now you have probably already suspected that your super-high empathy is what got you in trouble in this pathological relationship.  But, did you know there is hard science behind what we suspected about what is going on in your relationship with your super-trait of high empathy?  It really IS all in your head – and your genes.

In fact, these genes influence the production of various brain chemicals that can influence just ‘how much’ empathy you have.  These brain chemicals include those that influence orgasm, and it’s effect on how bonded you feel, while also influencing some aspects of mental health (No, no!  That is not a good mix!).

Other brain chemicals influence how much innate and learned fear you have.  However, females don’t seem to assess threats well, and the chemicals then increase her social interactions while at the same time she is not assessing fear and threats well (This is not a good thing!!).

One of the final chemical effects delays your reflexes (like not getting out of the relationship), and also impacts your short and long term memory (how you easily store good memories that are very strong, and how you store bad memories which are easily forgotten).  And, since it is genetic, it can run in entire families that produce ‘gullible’ and ‘trusting’ individuals who seem to just keep getting hurt.

Of course, the reverse is also true.  Genes can influence the absence of various brain chemicals that influence ‘how little’ empathy a person has.  We already know in great detail how this affects those with personality disorders.  Personality disordered people (especially Cluster B disorders) struggle with not experiencing, or not having any empathy.

Over the past few years, the magazine has been writing about various aspects of personality disorder and the brain.  This has included the issue of brain imaging.  What we are finding out is how brain structure and chemicals can affect personality, empathy, behavior, and consequently, the behavior in relationships.  As advances are made in the field of neurobiology, we are learning more and more of what The Institute has always believed – that there is a lot of biology behind personality development issues such as personality disorders.  Genetics and neurobiology are proving that behavior associated with narcissism, borderline, anti-social personality disorders, along with psychopathy has as much to do with brain wiring and chemistry as it does with behavioral intent.

The Institute has long said to survivors that personality disorders are not merely willful behavior, but brain deficits that control how much empathy, compassion, conscience, guilt, insight, and change a person is capable.  Autism and personality disorders share a common thread as ’empathy spectrum disorders’ now being studied extensively within the field of neuroscience.  But, in some opposite ways, the women also share a common thread of an empathy disorder – hyper-empathy.  We are coming to understand that hyper-empathy has much to do with her innate temperament (you come into the world wired with the personality you have), genetic predispositions to high or low empathy, and brain chemistry configurations that contribute to levels of empathy. The old thinking which assumes women with high empathy are merely ‘door mats’ is not scientifically correct when looking at current studies.

Neuroscience, with all its awesome information, has the dynamic power to blow us all out of the murky waters of assuming that our behavior is merely a reflection of our will.  As neuroscience graces our minds with new understanding of how our brains work, it brings with it incredible freedom to understand our own traits, and the pathological traits of others.

For a mind blowing book on the genetic and neurobiology of not only personality disorders, but ‘evil’ as well, read Barbara Oakley’s book, Evil Genes, or her latest book on hyper-empathy entitled, Cold-Blooded Kindness.

(**Information on your super-traits is in the award-winning Women Who Love Psychopaths, which is also taught during retreats, in phone sessions, and to mental health professionals.  Please go to for more information)

All Memory is Not Created Equal – Positive Memory Seepage

Intrusive thoughts are associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as other emotional trauma disorders.  Many survivors say that the most painful memories are not the intrusive thoughts of all the bad ‘stuff,’ or even the violence – what is most painful is the intrusive thoughts of good memories.

Intrusive thoughts are not just bad thoughts or flashbacks.  They can be intrusive from positive memories as well.  Positive memories are embedded with deep emotional and psychological ‘meaning.’  The meaning of the relationship, various happy moments, the deep feelings of attachment, fantastic sex – can all be power packed into positive memories.  Positive memories are also embedded with all the sights, sounds, smells, sensations, feelings, and the associated meaning of the events and 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, and has the TNT emotional factor that overrides your ‘stay-away-from-him’ resolve.

All memories are not stored the same way.  I’ve talked about this before in our books.  Positive memory is stored differently in the brain, and is more easily accessible than some of the bad memories.  Many traumatic memories are stored in another part of the brain that makes 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 relationship, so it motivates you to stay away from it.  But instead, you are murky, and are not always fresh in your mind about ‘why’ you should be avoiding the pathological relationship. What IS easy to remember is all the positive memories.  In fact, what has become intrusive is positive memory seepage.  This is when 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 may NEED the bad memories for emotional reinforcement, however all you REMEMBER are the good ones.

That which is held internally is amplified.  Almost like putting it under a magnifying glass – the feelings, memories, senses – are all BIGGER and STRONGER when the memory simply rolls around in your head.  It’s a lot like a pinball machine – memories pinging and ponging off of the 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 and romanticized.  The positive memories are dipped in crystallized sugar and become tantalizing treats, instead of toxic treats!  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 to sort out the relationship.  But all the sorting of this dirty laundry still leaves the same amount of clothing piled in your head. You are 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) is the difficulty of trying to hold two opposing thoughts or beliefs at the same time – it’s usually something like, ‘He’s good” AND “He’s bad’ –’How can he be good AND bad?   Just trying to resolve that particular 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 overall.  It’s like the image of the devil sitting on one shoulder, and the angel sitting on the other shoulder, and they are both whispering in your ear.  That’s exactly what C.D. is like – 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, produce 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 C.D. 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 two CD’s, as well as our retreats, 1:1s, etc.  The quickest way to recover is by learning to manage the intrusive thoughts and cognitive dissonance.  A managed mind makes life feel much more manageable too!