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The Attraction Cocktail

THIS WEEKS ARTICLE IS BY: Jennifer Young, MS

“People can be induced to swallow anything, provided it is sufficiently seasoned with praise” – Molière

You might be asking yourself “Why me?”  Why did you get to be the one to end up in this crazy relationship?  What did you do wrong to land THIS guy?  The answer begins with what could be called the “Attraction Cocktail”.  There is this powerful potion that has brought the two of you together.  This potion consists of the first three SuperTraits identified in Sandra’s research: Excitement Seeking-Extraversion-Dominance.   These are a few of the rare traits that you both posses in high amounts.  In your cup and in his cup these traits are spilling over.  Remember you both posses these at the high end of the trait cut off at 85-95%. Most average people would not test that high in these traits.  So, what we have are two high excitement seekers who are both extraverts, looking for a win…sounds like a recipe for inevitable harm to me.

But not immediate harm.  First and almost within minutes there is fire and passion, understanding and power, lust and energy.  There is electricity…maybe in a way that you have never felt before.  While some people might see in him as “fake” and “overkill” you see him as passionate and understanding.  In the very early stages of a relationship these traits lead you from one “fun” experience to another…for him its about building your trust and testing your boundaries.

Let’s look at each trait on its own because each ingredient offers its own unique characteristics that contribute to the potion.  I am guessing that some of you may be saying, “I’m not an Excitement-Seeker.  I do not like to jump out of planes!”  But being an excitement seeker is a little more (or less) than that.  It can mean that you like to take risks…personal risks, financial risks, professional risks.  It can be that thing that creates in you the desire to go out on a limb…maybe go to the nightclub on your own or sign up on a dating sight or go on a blind date.  These are not the things that someone who desires boredom would do.  It is the excitement you seek in your hobbies..maybe cycling, hiking or traveling.  It is the excitement that you get from going to a great job every day-a career that drives you to go for it!  You’re the person who says “Yes!” to new experiences and “Sure!” to risky (yet really cool and innovative) opportunities.  It’s that little something inside of you…think about it…that thing that says “I’ll give it a try, why not?”

So, let’s mix the cocktail.  Here you are…with all this desire to “seek excitement” and here he comes…looking for some excitement too!  Pow!  It’s on!  He loves to go…get out there…take risks with no regard for others.  His risks are more about feeding his energy…this energy is part of his pathology.  You know that feeling you get when you meet someone who just overwhelms you…they chat you up…with frenetic energy that just doesn’t stop-that’s the energy of a psychopathy that must be fed with exciting things.  He’s game for anything…in fact you may have noticed that if you mention a hobby it probably is his hobby too! (Later, you find out that he never really like to do that-it was just part of his hook).  He probably loves to travel, if you do; he loves to bike, if you do; he loves to go out with friends, if you do; he loves art, if you do; he loves to go camping, if you do; he loves to go boating, if you do.  Whatever he can do that you do-he’ll do it. Isn’t that exciting?   And herein lies the risk: When two excitement-seekers meet it is a chance to join.   For you it is a chance to build trust; for him a chance to take trust.  For you it is a chance to create a bond; for him a chance to build an attachment.  For you a chance to feel a connection-someone finally understands you; for him a chance to make you think that he is just like you and that he understands.  Your need for excitement means that you take risky chances…sometimes those risks do not pay off.  You (and everyone else in the world) is also more likely to go along with others when you are in a heightened state of excitement.  And herein lies the benefit: Because you are an excitement seeker you will be able to see quickly that he is not “all that and a bag of chips”.  Because inevitably, once the relationship progresses it will become clear that his excitement-seeking fades and the façade he built to trap you will fall to pieces.  He bores easily and not because you are boring but because he cannot sustain the emotional energy that it takes to remain in the relationship.  He bores because he cannot do the emotional work to remain committed and he does not have the depth to go where you can go.  You can turn your wonderful, exciting experiences into real emotional energy-building bonds and forging strength and character for yourself.  He has used the opportunity to manipulate you into being under his control.  When he is done with that task…he must find someone else to fuel his need for excitement.

What about the ingredient of Extraversion?  You might see in yourself a person who openly engages in conversation, someone who is curious about others and often is impulsive in social situations.  You might be the person who leads in a group or offers to help out more often than others.  You are willing to tell your story, share your thoughts, and contribute.  Your extraversion wrapped up with excitement-seeking makes for a pretty great package…life of the party even.  So, mixing it up in the room is another extravert…he has no problem going up to complete strangers (how exciting) and introducing himself and then telling you his life story (or whatever story he thinks you want to hear).  He is “owning” the room with so much confidence and bravado it’s almost sexy.  He displays expertise in to the point he is grandiose…a lot grandiose.  His extraversion is the mask…the mask that makes you think it’s safe.  It’s the mask that convinces you he is what you want him to be.  And they are really good at this part-creating that mask of normality.

Extraversion is a great trait to have but herein lies the risk: your extraversion lets him know that you might play his game.  Your extraversion means you will do the exciting things he likes to do.  It also means that you are curious and probably would not turn down an offer for fun or the offer to try something new…and he might be just that, in the beginning.  You are someone who likes to get out and meet people and the guy who is “owning” the room is just the guy for you.  But there is one thing about extraversion that makes you different from him-your ability to truly bond with others.  And herein lies the benefit: you must become truly bonded with someone to maintain a relationship.  Extraversion may bring you two together but you need mutual understanding, respect and unconditional love…this is not what he provides in the long run.  It will become clear at some point that his extraversion was a rue to hook you…because his mask will fall and you will see that he is really a lonely, empty person who transforms to meet the needs of those around him.  You will begin to use your extraversion as a way to break free of him.  When the dynamics of the relationship become clear you will seek out help…you will find people around you who can support you.  Your curiosity will lead you to answers and help.  You will not fear talking to others…even if they don’t really understand.  You will keep trying until you find what you need.

 

The final main component of the “Attraction Cocktail” is dominance.  Now, this is another one that at first thought you might say, “What, who me?  I am surely not dominant!”  But with a closer look you will see that your dominance looks like leadership…it looks like a woman in charge.  It’s not the kind of dominance that over powers…it is the kind that takes charge.  Your dominance does put you in control without being controlling.  It tells others that you know what you want and will do what you need to do to get it….even if it means you want a relationship with a certain exciting man.  So, there he is…the guy with the magnetic personality who appears as if he “owns” the room…you decide to go for it.  He says, “Bring it on!”  His dominance means that you are a challenge…two “powerful” people means there is energy.  This energy is ultimately moving in different directions but nonetheless energy.  His dominance means he wants to have power over you.  His power is the kind that is controlling but when you first get together it may look like “a man who knows what he wants”…and knows how to get it.  He will use his dominance to appear as if he is your equal…he will move in your circles and appear to be everything you need…and he will do it with swagger.  But soon his dominance and need to control will become “power over”.  And herein lies the risk: Your dominance is not the same as his and when that difference becomes undeniably different you may already be hooked…You may spend the middle to late part of the relationship fighting for your own power and realize that you are completely powerless to his control of you.  You may have seen his dominance as “sameness” and felt comforted (thinking that you are always in control and it is finally nice to have someone match you) but that feeling soon fades.  By the time it does, you can’t break free.  And herein lies the benefit: your dominance will be the power that in the end does free you.  You will learn how he controls you, you will learn his patterns and with that information you will gain control and dominance…the kind of control and dominance that will set you free.

So if this cocktail isn’t strong enough to convince you of the power of his pathology, your risk to it and the benefit it offers you…I want to add one splash of competiveness.  It is one of the final traits that you both have in common and that you both have in high amounts…so it makes sense that it adds to the power of the initial attraction.  Let’s get real…you probably like a good fight.  Not one with someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about or with someone who is not equally matched to your intelligence but a fight that helps you gain an edge…a smarter outlook…a challenge to build your depth of knowledge.  You would not back down if someone came at you with inaccurate information…you have a need to make things right, to get the facts and share facts.    Additionally, you will not tolerate being accused of untruths or called inappropriate names.  If you think you are not competitive…ask yourself how you would react if someone called you a name or lied about you…I bet you would not back down to that.  Well, guess what-he does not like to back down either.  He likes a challenge so he is looking for someone who will tangle with him.  This type of emotional tangle is just what he loves.  He loves to engage in emotional wrangling-it feeds his need for power.  When he can control you emotionally he knows that you are invested in the relationship.  And herein lies the risk: this relationship is going to feel like a challenge to both of you in the beginning.  To you a less passive man probably seems boring.  Furthermore, you are not afraid to battle it out and you surely do not want him to “get one over” on you.  So this is a great reason to stay and fight.  You also might find it a challenge to stay in the relationship and “bust” him doing something…staying until you find the evidence or staying until you find out he’s NOT doing what you think he is.  Your competiveness means that you are willing and able to battle it out in court.  You will go head to head with him…and that is just what he wants.  And herein lies the benefit-once you know who he isyou will fight like hell to get out.  You will realize that you have won because he no longer has the power that comes from your lack of awareness.  More importantly, being competitive helped you build a great life.  You fought for things that were important to you-an education, a great career.  It helped you to challenge others and yourself to always be the best and find the best in others.  It helped you make good decisions and take a pro-active approach to almost everything. The best thing about being competitive is that you are often successful. The reason you are successful is because part of competition is knowing when you have been beat-knowing when to cut your losses and move on to a challenge you can win.  It is not about being so headstrong that you stay and fight just to be able to say “I win”.  Your competitiveness, combined with all the other traits you possess lead to more than a need to win…they lead to success.

Because he is sicker than you are smart you will never “win” with him.  So all of your book smarts and street smarts and relationship smarts will not out smart his ability to psychologically damage you.  Prolonged exposure leads to inevitable harm.  Once you know this the battle is over.

By the end of the relationship you may not even feel competitive anymore…he has taken it from you.  The energy, fire and gusto that you once had may seem gone.  But spend some time away…talk with your girlfriends or family about it…your fire will return.  Your brain will tell you to put down the sword and walk away from the emotional vampire; walk away from the battle that you cannot win.

 

Ultimately and in the end this is where the similarity stops and the pathology begins.  Someone who is pathological does not want someone like themselves…ultimately they know that they lack certain things that other people have and they are on a never ending search to get those things…and because they will never get those things or be those things they will use your emotions to control you…so they can fill their empty cup.

So when you ask yourself “Why me?” the answer is clear-because you have what he wants.  And when you ask yourself “Why did I stay?” the answer is because you posses traits that meet his needs and he used them to control you.  And when you ask yourself “How do I begin to heal?” the answer is by using all of your traits as powerful healing tools, tools that have helped you create a big, full life in every other area of your life.

When it comes to the traits contained in the Attraction Cocktail you may be asking “How do I make sure I never get caught up by another psychopath again?”  My suggestion is to use these traits and take the Joyce Brown approach to life.  Once you begin to accept that you are an extraverted, excitement-seeking, dominant, competitive woman…once you own that and claim (or re-claim) the benefits…you will find new ways to feed that part of you.  Remember, these are NOT deficits, they are overflowing traits you posses so you must use them.  You must do it carefully and cautiously, but your must use them.  You can do a couple of things:

  • Find a hobby-learn to do something you’ve always wanted to learn.
  • Take up a political cause or join a social action group.
  • Work with a non-profit agency on an issue close to your heart.
  • Start a club or group focused on a topic, issue, or hobby you enjoy.
  • Learn to ride a motorcycle or take up waterskiing (go big or go home, right?)

Think outside of the box…these are just a few suggestions that will feed your need to be extraverted, do exciting things, be a leader and engage with others.  Most importantly you are using your traits in a way that YOU can control.  If you are carefully and thoughtfully aware of who you are and what you need…no one can come along and take that away from you.

Peace to you,

Jennifer Young, MS

Mutual Pathology: Gasoline and 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 do in other areas of personality disorders.  Some of the 10 personality disorders present more in men, while some of the disorders present more in women.

As you have heard me say over the years, pathology is pathology – meaning that each personality disorder has it’s own problems and challenges in relationships, but mainly holds to the central three aspects 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 three aspects of personality disorders, we can easily see how each of the 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 show more of a bent towards Histrionic, Dependent, or Borderline Personality Disorder.  When you have a man with a personality disorder coupled with a personality disordered women – it equals 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.  It’s quite common for people with a personality disorder to hook up with another disordered individual.  When this happens you have two people who can’t grow to any true depth emotionally or spiritually, two people who can’t sustain positive change, and two people who don’t have insight about how their behavior affects others.  These relationships are dramatic fire-beds of emotionality, addiction, and violence.

Women’s pathology is just as damaging to men as men’s pathology is to women.  Women’s pathology may present 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 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, friends, and God forbid, the effects it has on their children.

While women are more likely to be diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder, borderlines are often misdiagnosed, and under-diagnosed psychopaths and anti-socials.  There seems to be somewhat of a gender-bias when it comes to diagnosing women with psychopathy.  Unless they have participated in a Bonnie and Clyde-type episode, or made the America’s Most Wanted television program, they are likely to be downgraded in their pathology.  Dramatic, highly emotional, or self-injuring women may be downgraded to Histrionic, Narcissistic, or Borderline Personality Disorder.   Those with a little more flare for hiding their real lives may warrant the same diagnosis as male psychopaths.  Their ability to hide it better, or having less violence associated with their behavior, goes undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed.  But not all female psychopaths are non-violent.  Many are horribly violent – to their children and their partners – yet always present themselves as the victims.  These are the women most likely to press unwarranted domestic violence assaults, cry rape that didn’t happen, and abandon their children.  The point is, both genders can have personality disorders and each personality disorder may, or may not, present in a slightly different way in the other gender.

Beyond mutual pathology, a woman’s own mental health can influence the dynamics within a relationship with a pathological man. A woman that has bipolar disorder that is untreated, and who is in a relationship with a borderline male, can bring unusually dramatic dynamics to the relationship. Their fluctuations in mood can ignite a feeding frenzy of boiling anger in both which is likely to lead to violence.  Both partners having a substance abuse or alcohol problem can certainly fuel the relationship dynamics in further, severely negative ways.

Let’s not overlook the ‘model’ of pathological behavior 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 this in sessions with women (and hear it a lot in the emails I receive) where the pathological affects of her childhood, adult life, or past or current relationship is negatively affecting her worldview, current level of functioning, as well as the entitlement attitudes she brings to the table.  Couple any of HER mental health issues and situations along with HIS pathology, and you have some of the most volatile and difficult relationships and breakups in history.

There has 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, some women in pathological relationships ARE mentally ill.  Some of her own mental illness can be the gasoline on the fire of the pathological love relationship that fans the flames of danger for her. Red flags, for me, that show there is possible mental health issues with her includes the following:

•    Entitlement
•    Chronic victim mentality
•    Unregulated mood issues not amenable to treatment/medication
•    Chronically returning to the pathological relationship
•    Replacing relationships with more pathological relationships
•    History of unsuccessful counseling/treatment
•    Doesn’t take responsibility for her own behaviors/choices

These represent only a few of the many symptoms that could indicate a possible mental health issue in the woman as well.  Clearly, pathology is not gender specific. Pathology and other mental health issues in both parties can accelerate the dangerousness and problems seen in pathological love relationships.

Healthy Love – What in the World is That?

Hope you’re having a good Valentines Day! And since Valentine’s Day is upon us, I thought it would be a great discussion about what happens in Pathological Love Relationships— that attraction is on over-drive while love (from a pathological) is lingo-bling.

But what about real love, healthy love? People write all the time and say ‘When are you going to write How to Spot a Healthy Partner because with as many bad relationships that I’ve been in, I can hardly tell the difference between what should be obviously toxic and what should be obviously healthy.’

The opposite of healthy love is what we often call ‘toxic’ love. Sometimes understanding what toxic ‘looks like’ helps us to see what real ‘love’ should look like too.

Here is a short list of the characteristics of Love vs. Toxic Love (compiled with the help of the work of Melody Beattie & Terence Gorski).

1. Love – Development of self first priority. Toxic love – Obsession with relationship.

2. Love – Room to grow, expand; desire for other to grow. Toxic love – Security, comfort in sameness; intensity of need seen as proof of love (may really be fear, insecurity, loneliness).

3. Love – Separate interests; other friends; maintain other meaningful relationships. Toxic love – Total involvement; limited social life; neglect old friends, interests.

4. Love – Encouragement of each other’s expanding; secure in own worth. Toxic love – Preoccupation with other’s behavior; fear of other changing.

5. Love – Appropriate Trust (i.e. trusting partner to behave according to fundamental nature.) Toxic love – Jealousy; possessiveness; fear of competition; protects “supply.”

6. Love – Compromise, negotiation or taking turns at leading. Problem solving together. Toxic love – Power plays for control; blaming; passive or aggressive manipulation.

7. Love – Embracing of each other’s individuality. Toxic love – Trying to change other to own image.

8. Love – Relationship deals with all aspects of reality. Toxic love – Relationship is based on delusion and avoidance of the unpleasant.

9. Love – Self-care by both partners; emotional state not dependent on other’s mood. Toxic love – Expectation that one partner will fix and rescue the other.

10. Love – Loving detachment (healthy concern about partner, while letting go.) Toxic love – Fusion (being obsessed with each other’s problems and feelings).

11. Love – Sex is free choice growing out of caring & friendship. Toxic love – Pressure around sex due to insecurity, fear & need for immediate gratification.

12. Love – Ability to enjoy being alone. Toxic love – Unable to endure separation; clinging.

13. Love – Cycle of comfort and contentment. Toxic love – Cycle of pain and despair.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Love is not supposed to be painful. There is pain involved in any relationship but if it is painful most of the time then you are probably in a Pathological Love Relationship because the end result of these relationships is ‘Inevitable Harm.’ Let’s be clear that there is nothing wrong with wanting a relationship – it is natural and healthy. If we can start seeing relationships not as the goal but as opportunities for growth then we can start having more functional relationships. A relationship that ends is not a failure or a punishment – it is a lesson. And these lessons are mostly about pathology, its permanence, and the lives it affects without discrimination.

Real Love not Just Real Attraction

So many people confuse the feeling of attraction with the emotion of love.  For some who are in chronically dangerous and pathological relationships, it’s obvious that you have these two elements ‘mixed up.’  Not being able to untangle these understandably, can keep people on the same path of unsafe relationship selection, because they keep choosing the same way and getting the same people!

Attraction is largely not only unconscious, but also physical.  There is actually something called ‘erotic imprint’ which is the unconscious part that guides our attraction (I talk about this in the Dangerous Man book).  Our erotic imprint is literally ‘imprinted’ in our psyches when we are young – at that age when you begin to notice and be attracted to the opposite sex.  As I mentioned, this is largely an unconscious drive.  For instance, I like stocky, fair-haired men.  Whenever I see that type of image, I immediately find that man ‘attractive.’  I can vary slightly on my attraction, but I’m not going to find Brad Pitt attractive.  I might forego the full ‘stocky’ appearance, but I’m not going to let go of some of the other traits that make men appealing to me.  We like what we like.  For instance, I am attracted to Johnny Depp or George Cloney.  I don’t like any of the blondes or overly tall and lanky body types.

If you think back to what your ‘attraction basis’ is you may find some patterns there as well.  Attraction, however, can also be behavioral, or based on emotional characteristics.  For instance, some women are attracted to guys with a great sense of humor.  The attraction is based on that particular characteristic.  Other women may be attracted to athletic guys, not because of what physical exercise does to their bodies, but because of the behavioral qualities of athletes.  Attraction can be subtle – like the unconscious erotic imprinting that makes us select men based on physical attributes – or attraction may lead us to choose relationships based on behaviors or emotional characteristics like displays of empathy, helpfulness, or friendliness.  (I have discussed your own high traits of empathy, helpfulness, and friendliness in Women Who Love Psychopaths.)

Although these traits might guide our relationship selection, this is not the foundation of love.  It’s the foundation of selection.   Often, our relationship selection comes more from attraction then it does anything else.  So knowing ‘who’ and ‘what types’ you are attracted to will help you understand your patterns of selection.  Some people choose characteristics – helpfulness, humor, gentleness, or another quality that they seem to be drawn to.  Other people are more physical in their attraction and find the physicality of someone either a ‘go’ or a ‘no.’ Maybe you like blonds or blue eyes.  This may also drive your pattern of selection.

Also, in the area of attraction – sometimes it’s Traumatic Attraction that seems to drive our patterns of selection. Those who have been abused, especially as children, can have unusual and destructive patterns of selection.  This will be discussed in further detail in the next newsletter.

This Valentine’s Day, be very clear about love and attraction.  This is a time when you might be likely to want to reconnect with him.  Let me remind you, NOTHING has changed.  His pathology is still the same. On February 15th you could hate yourself for reconnecting with him for one weak moment on February 14th, in which the world is focused on love, but he is focused on manipulation, control, or anything OTHER than love.  If you open that door, then you will have weeks or months of trying to get him out and disconnect again.

Instead, plan ahead for your potential relapse by setting up an accountability partner AND something to do!  Go to a movie with a friend, go out to dinner, or do SOMETHING that takes responsibility and action for your own loneliness at this time of year.  Whatever you do, don’t have a knee-jerk reaction and contact him.  One day on the calendar about love is just an ILLUSION!

Trait Examination or Character Assassination?

Part of the problem we face in trying to get to the nitty-gritty of pathological love relationships is that ‘how we do it’ or ‘what we call it’ is judged so severely, that it impairs sharing the valuable outcomes that are learned.  There are groups of professions, women’s organizations, and service agencies that tiptoe around what we ‘call’ patterns of selection in relationships.  There are unspoken rules and heavily weighted opinions about ‘what’ we can discuss and ‘how’ we discuss the outcomes.

What am I talking about?  Since the 1970’s and the women’s movement, discussing the specifics about women’s choices in relationships, patterns of selection, personality traits, mental health, and sexual addiction/deviancy has been largely discouraged as ‘labeling the victim’ or ‘victim blaming’.  It has put the victim off limits for any in-depth understanding other than a victimology theory that was developed in the 1970’s.

It is hard to get around the billboard image of ‘victim’ to talk about any kind of relationship dynamics or other psychological aspects (including biology or temperament engrained traits) that is happening in the pathological love relationship.  We may study him, but we already have a ‘theory’ for her that is not to be disturbed.  Compare this to any other field of mental health and it’s absurd that we would say, for example, ‘Being as we already understand depression, no more theories, no more studying!  Don’t call it depression or you are blaming the patient for their own depression.’

To study her is to blame her.  To measure her traits to see if there are vulnerabilities or pattern typing is to suggest she is flawed.

•    The victim assuredly has been through trauma.

•    Studying the victim in no way says they have not been through trauma.

•    The victim is not to blame for what happened to them.

•    Studying the victim in no way says they are responsible for what happened to them.

•    The victim did not ‘choose’ the victimization, but in relational dysfunction, she did choose the victimizer.

Can we learn something about that?

How will cancer be eradicated, or a cure for AIDS be found if we don’t study the problem from all angles?  If we conclude that studying the victim blames them, then we have cut off an entire segment of research that can help us in prevention, intervention, and treatment – whether it’s a medical disorder or a pathological relationship.

Studying victimology, including various aspects, is not victim character assassination.  It might be trait examination or pattern of selection analysis.  It might be a lot of things that have nothing to do with blame and shame, and everything to do with understanding or creating new paradigms in which to see these relationships.  It might piggyback off of theories developed in the 1970’s… surely we have learned SOMETHING new about relationship dynamics, pathology in relationships, personality disorders as intimate partners, violence and addiction and their part in these relationships…surely we can UPDATE a theory without our own assassination or that of the victim?

In some ways, I envy the scientific and research communities that look at the data, and pass all the political correctness and emotional politics of ‘labeling’ something certain groups find offensive.  They test and crunch the numbers and put it in a journal without all the rig-a-ma-roar.  But in our case, what we study and how we describe what we found, is subject to so much scrutiny that many clinicians and writers hesitate to publish what was found.

So it has been with what The Institute has studied, found, reported, and written.  In many organizations the first book, ‘How to Spot a Dangerous Man’ was rejected for looking at family role modeling, patterns of selection, and other aspects that women themselves said contributed to their pathological relationship.  On the other hand, it has been hailed by many domestic violence agencies and used widely in shelters, treatment centers and women’s prisons.

We stepped it up a big notch in ‘Women Who Love Psychopaths’ where we used testing instruments to test women’s traits to see if there were temperament patterns in women who ended up in the most dangerous and disordered of relationships.  This caught huge attention from some groups as the groundbreaking trait identification that was, and still is.  However, victim groups saw it as labeling.  How can we help women if we don’t understand their biological make up?

Ironically, what we found was significant – super-traits so perfectly and symmetrically seen in 80 cases.  Did we hurt a victim by studying that? Or have we helped thousands of women who have read the books, been counseled by our trained therapists, and come to our treatment programs?  How would we have got here today without daring to look deeper…to even risk looking at her?  Not to blame her, but to understand her!

Some of the biggest breakthroughs that have been happening are in understanding the biology of our brains and the consequences of biology on our behaviors, choices, and what ramifications these have on our future.  We know that MRI’s are being done on psychopathic brains, revealing areas of the brain that work differently.  Someday, I think that may cross over and other personality disorders and chronic mental illnesses will be able to be detected by MRI’s as well.  This will assist immensely in understanding how those disorders effect biology and brain function.

How can we understand the victim of the pathological?

•    If we used the word ‘damaged’ and looked at how different brain regions of victims function – over or under functioning, influences of stress, PTSD, adrenaline, cortisol, and early childhood abuse – could we come to understand how their brain might function in their patterns of selection in dangerous relationships?

•    Could we come to understand that even temperament traits might give proclivity to how the brain ‘chooses’ or how the brain categorizes, ignores red flags of danger, or is highly reactive to traumatized attraction?

•    Could we understand brains that have higher tolerance levels because of certain brain areas that operate differently than other people?

•    Could we understand traumatic memory storage and why good memories of him (as awful as he might be) are so much stronger than the memories of abuse?

•    If we know what part of the brain distorts memory storage, can we work with that?

•    Could we come to understand trait temperaments as risk factors or certain brain functions as possible victim vulnerabilities?

•    Would we know who is at risk and understand better how to more effectively TREAT the victim in counseling, and develop prevention and intervention programs?

•    Or, how intensity of attachment could be either a temperament trait or a brain function instead of merely calling it ‘victim labeling.’

I am not only interested in the psychobiology of the victim, but how the psychobiology affects patterns of selection and reactions in the most pathological of relationships.  When we really start dealing with an open dialogue about these survivors, looking past ridiculous theories that imply asking questions is victim blaming, then maybe we can really offer some new theories into victimology that by-passes band aid approaches to complex psycho/bio/social understandings.  This is what The Institute intends to do.

Are You Really as Far Along as You Think You Are?

For the New Year, in the month of January, we have been discussing recovery and finding your path to emotional wellness from pathological love relationships in 2012.

When women get mild relief from the unrelenting symptoms of the aftermath with a pathological, it can be palatable to them.  The relief from the intrusive thoughts, obsessions, PTSD, poor sleep, hyper-vigilance, or any other problematic symptom can feel ‘healing’ to them.  But it doesn’t always mean they ARE healed.

Over and over again, I have learned how damaging, how unrelenting the aftermath is from pathological relationships.  For some women, it reaches all the way back to childhood with pathological parents.  For others, however, it has only been in their intimate relationships during adulthood, yet it has left its distinguished mark.

Mild relief can often be mistaken for recovery.  Recovery is a life-long journey of self-care.  Recovery can begin at the moment you recognize the damage done to you by pathological individuals, but it doesn’t end with a counselor or a group.  For many women, the symptoms have crept into their worldview – how they see others, their environment, and themselves.  Weekly, I learn again and again, as I meet with women, that the damage is widespread.  This isn’t a quick fix or often, a quick treatment.  While her mild relief or symptoms instills relief or hope, it isn’t the end of her recovery journey.  It’s the beginning.

Like peeling an onion, each layer shows a level of damage that needs care.  All the way down to the core are layers of unperceived and unrecognized aftermath symptoms.  At the core are boundary issues – those necessary limits that shows that someone understands what is hers, someone else’s, or God’s.  From the center of boundaries are developed gates that serve as limits saying what one will tolerate and will not tolerate. Boundaries are the bedrock of all recovery.  Anything that is built will be built from the issue of healthy or unhealthy boundaries.  Many women don’t realize that pathological people target women with poor boundaries.  They test it out early in the relationship, and when small violations are not managed, they proceed on with bigger violations.  Every violation is a green light.  Boundaries are the first step in recovery.

In another layer of the onion lays hyper-vigilance issues.  High harm avoidance from PTSD weaves a level of distrust in new environments, people, and situations.  It affects fear of the future and even fear of the present.

Another layer of the onion is communication – the ability to listen in the midst of upset.  Since pathological individuals have skewed communication, this area is often seriously affected.  Long-term exposure to pathological people produces the same type of skewed communication patterns and linguistics in women who have normalized abnormal behavior.

A layer of emotional regulation is most assuredly part of the aftermath – anxiety, depression, irritability, the overflow of pent up emotions, and the inability to control the emotions can be experienced.

Layer after layer are aftermath symptoms that must be peeled away and treated in recovery.  Everyone knows how many layers are in an onion.  While it may be disconcerting to see all those layers, the layers are translucent and show the wounding on each level that recovery must touch.  Women who have begun recovery may be surprised at what feels like the unending layers of the onion, and wonder when they will reach the core.  A mild relief from anxiety or sleeplessness is welcomed, but should not be viewed as more than it is.  Reaching to the core is deep work and should be respected for the lengthy process it is likely to be.  What other choice is there?

Whether you begin at the core with boundaries, or start at the outer edge with symptom management and work into the core, allow the process because there is no healing without it.  We must never underestimate the damage done by pathological individuals at a deep emotional and even spiritual level.

Why A Focused Recovery IS Necessary Part II – Beginning 2012 with a Completely Different Mind Set

Last week I began the New Year by talking about the issue of healing, recovery, and moving forward.  In fact, during the month of January we are going to look at why starting 2012 ‘differently’ can help you move forward in recovering from the aftermath of a pathological love relationship.

The past few years at The Institute have been a tremendous time of development.  (Don’t mind me as I wander down memory lane of all that has happened at The Institute…)

A mere four years ago the newsletter started.  We now have over 35,000 subscribers each week.  That created a snowball effect, and the personalized  coaching began.  More e-books were written.  Then the CDs, mp3s, DVDs, and tele-seminars were created.

Research commenced, and the Women Who Love Psychopaths book is now in its second edition.  The retreat program started, along with training for therapists and coaches, and law enforcement/judicial. Sandra began to do more key note speaking at other organization conferences, including law schools and victim organizations.

All this development, and more, has happened as a result of realizing how uniquely damaged you became at the hands of a pathological.  All this research occurred after realizing there was really something to the ‘temperament’ of women who end up in pathological relationships.  All the phone coaching, therapist training and retreat center creation because so few people ‘get it’ about you, him, and the mind-blowing relationship dynamics.  For the FIRST time there really is a concrete program designed about you, and in some ways, by you, and definitely for you.

The one thing that does stand out in the research and what I have been eyeballing closely about healing and recovery is that this level of damage by him is profound.  If there were lots of ‘his type’ relationships, then the damage is even more profound.  What this does over the long haul is that it takes some strong, fabulous women out of the game of life by destroying them.
Untreated, symptoms get worse.  Symptoms that get worse affect your life functioning and your children.  Worsened effects then contaminate your partner selection. If you do get a healthy partner, you don’t appreciate him, or you’re too messed up from the pathological relationship to be in a healthy relationship, so he leaves.

Untreated symptoms make intrusive thoughts worse, so obsessions increase.  Friends abandon you because they are tired of hearing about the obsessions.  This creates isolation.  Isolation makes you at risk of re-contacting him, and re-contacting him lowers your coping skills.  As your coping skills lower, your fantasizing increases—’Maybe he ISN”T pathological’, ‘Maybe he WILL stop cheating,’ etc., and your minimizing begins – ‘At least he…’
More contact with him increases your Post Traumatic Stress symptoms of
flashbacks, fears of the future, unbridled worry, depression, and insomnia.

Is any of this sounding familiar?  There is a typical de-compensation pattern that most of the women go through.  Recovery can stop that de-compensation and begin rebuilding your life.  By December 31, 2012, how many of you will be in the same situation, with the same man, having the same symptoms?  On the other hand, how many of you will be ‘pathology free’ – symptoms reduced, a new vigor for life, insight about how this happened and how to avoid it in the future?  How many of you will be less depressed and anxious, more active, have lost weight, have more friends, have a better job, have happier children, got more self-esteem, gone back to school, and have potential to have a healthy relationship?

I’m not a resolution-type person, so I don’t make them.  But, I AM an advocate for complete life changes.  Not tiny habits, but big overhauls.  Let’s face it if you have dated a narcissist or a psychopath, you NEED a big life overhaul.  Something malfunctioned in your life that created this huge blind spot under which really sick people flew into your life, camped there, and overtly destroyed you.  That’s not a little issue – take a look at the condition of your life and see if you think it was ‘little.’  Ask others if they think it was little.

This year, 2012, is going to be a great year at The Institute – I can just feel it.  We spent the last several years laying a solid groundwork for super programming this year.  For the first time ever, everything is in place to heal the women who have loved pathological individuals.  I believe we have covered all bases with phone support (coaching and weekly support groups), in-person coaching (retreats, 1:1s), portable products (e-books, books, DVDs, CDs), and community outreach through workshops that we will be putting online. You can join the workshop from your living room.  We have removed the barriers to assistance by creating our program in as many formats as possible.  I have found out that the Dangerous Man book and the Women Who Love Psychopaths book is now in almost every country of the world! The Dangerous Man book has been translated into a couple of languages and the psychopath book is mentioned in various documentaries.

I hope in 2012 instead of being a mere name on our email list, you’ll be a very active part of The Institute beginning by working on your own healing.  Then, we hope you will run support groups in your community, give power-point presentations for other women in your area, or start an advocacy group.  Instead of emailing me and telling me what ELSE I should be doing (I’m tired enough!), how about stepping out and being the powerhouse in your own community?  How about taking it to the streets and passing it forward?  How about turning your life around so you can be a role model for other women?  All of this begins when you start healing yourself…and moving forward.

The truth is–there is only us to educate others.  You don’t see a multi-million dollar ad campaign with billboards on the highways that announce how to spot pathological relationships, do you?  That’s because it doesn’t exist.  Sadly, no one has funded a national campaign to warn and educate others.
However, what exists is The Institute + You = Education For Others.

It’s you and me, babe!  As Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’

Join us in 2012 for Healing Your Heart!  We’re here.

Finding Effective Help in 2012!

By now, if you have been trying to heal from a pathological love relationship and can’t find effective and knowledgeable counseling, you have probably figured out what we have…that the pathological love relationship is NOT widely understood.

Frustrated women hear unhelpful advice from family, friends, and even therapists who label their attachment to pathological men as ‘codependent’ or ‘mutually addictive’ or merely ’emotional abuse.’ Women jump from counselor to counselor, and from one group counseling experience to another group counseling experience looking for someone, ANYONE, who understands this intense attachment to a dangerous and pathological man.

She looks for some understanding at ‘what’ is wrong with him.  Giving him the label of ‘abuser’ doesn’t quite cover the extensive array of the brilliant psychopathic tendencies he possesses.  Why did he target HER?  Why does she feel both intense attachment and loathing for him at the same time?  Why do her symptoms resemble ‘mind control’ more than mere abused woman syndrome?  Why is the bonding with this man more intense and unshakable than any other man?  Is it abuse if he never physically harms her but has the mental infiltration of a CIA operative?

What we are finding out from our research with those who have been in pathological love relationships is that all of the usual dynamics in regular relationships, both functional and the occasional dysfunctional DON’T apply to pathological relationships.  All of the usual dynamics of addictive relationships, codependent relationships and dysfunctional relationships DON’T apply to the pathological relationship, either.  No wonder women can’t find the help they need…it hasn’t been taught YET!  Our research is pointing towards women who DON’T fit into the stereotypes of women we normally see in shelters, counseling centers, and in other abusive situations.  These are not women who have the kinds of histories we normally associate with abuse, nor do they have the kinds of current lives that fit the demographics of most counseling programs and shelters.  Their personality traits and behaviors fit no other ‘typologies.’  And, their current symptoms don’t match the simply ‘dysfunctional-type’ love relationship.

Could it be that the dynamics in pathological love relationships really ARE different than other types of relationships?  Could this be why women in these types of relationships aren’t helped by more prevalent types of intervention offered to other types of abusive relationships?  Why does the Power & Control Wheel model seem ineffective with these types of women?  Why are these women LESS likely to seek traditional counseling?  And if they do, why are they less likely to be helped by it?  Why are these women’s personality traits so vastly different than shelter women, or abused women?

Too many women have been through the ringer of counselors ‘not-understanding-psychopathology,’ family ‘lumping-all-relationship-types-together,’ friends saying-‘just-get-over-it’ and counseling-programs ‘telling-her-she’s-just-codependent’.  Too many women have stopped seeking help because they are tired of too many people ‘not getting it.’  Psychology has to allow itself to grow beyond a one-size-fits-all approach when dealing with women emerging from pathological love relationships, because all relationships are not created equal – especially when one of them is pathological.  Not understanding the effects of pathology on relationships, self-concept, and recovery deters a woman’s ability to heal.  Understanding the DIFFERENCES in these types of relationships is critical.

The Institute has developed programs and materials exactly for this reason.  We developed our telephone coaching program for women in immediate need of validation of their experiences, our retreat programs are specifically geared to ‘Healing the Aftermath of the Pathological Love Relationship,’ our Therapist Affiliate Program training which provides other therapists nationwide the clinical training to help women heal from these types of relationships, and our 40 plus products all developed to teach pathology and its related issues to others.

Why?  Why all the effort in treatment related issues?  Because the absence of trained counselors is screamingly evident.  Our mailing list asks the question week after week, ‘Can you recommend someone in Florida, Michigan, the United Kingdom, Canada, California, Oregon…who can help…?  Why don’t counselors understand this?  Why can’t anyone explain to me what is going on? If one more counselor or family member suggests I am codependent or a relationship addict, I’m going to scream!’ Why is this so hard to understand?

Much like the beginning phases of the addiction field, the pathological love relationship field is feeling the same phase of misunderstanding that other theories of counseling have encountered.  When the field is new or the knowledge is groundbreaking, there is an overt lack of trained responders.  Unfortunately, those who suffer the new phases are the victims/survivors that wish there were more trained service providers.

The Institute operates as a public education project on psychopathological issues, which means we try to train anyone and everyone in the issues of pathology.  This includes the women in the relationships AND those who are likely to be emotional supports to women recovering from these relationships.  Please bear with what entails, as an entirely new and emerging field of psychology is trying to race to catch up to the knowledge of what is needed for this particular population of people.  After all, until we began our research and writings, no one had even bothered to study the female partners of psychopaths and partners of other pathological types.  No one created research projects to study the personality traits, histories, and chronic vulnerabilities of women who have been in these relationships.  So, to that degree, we are virginal in our exploration of these issues.

At The Institute, we try to be immediately responsive to the needs of individuals.  In the last year we have exploded in growth in our outreach:

Our weekly newsletter continues to reach more and more people

  • The blogs we write for websites such as Psychology Today and Times Up! help to reach an even larger audience with the educational value of our expertise
  •  Our books, CDs, DVDs are international
  •  Expanded retreat format, and private1:1’s with Sandra
  •  Telephone coaching has doubled in size
  •  Weekly teleconferencing support groups
  •  Therapist Training Programs

All are born out of our desire to reach YOU!  As needs are repeatedly identified by our mailing list, we try to quickly ascertain how to develop a program to meet the needs presented.  That’s because we recognize that the services available out there are slim.  We provide what we can, knowing that we are a drop in the bucket to the needs that exist—but an ever needed drop to a thirsty population.  So unless we duplicate ourselves through products and services, many women will go untreated.

I know for many women who are struggling to recover from the diabolical aftermath of a pathological relationship that it seems that too few services exist.  Please remain hopeful that along with The Institute there are other therapists and agencies that hear your cry and are reaching out for training so they can help you recover.  We too, are always looking at how we can expand our scope and reach.  If you have ideas about how we can help you further, please let us know your thoughts.

In the meantime, if our coaching programs can be of assistance please use them.  Or if you are a therapist, please come to our trainings.  If you are a survivor, we would love for you to bring healing to yourself through our phone coaching, support groups, or retreats (February & March 2012).  The fact is, the more we learn, the more we can teach.  But we can only do so much.  One agency like ours can’t heal the world.  But we can teach what we know and assist in healing those who come for help, which is why we are always encouraging therapists to get trained, (January 26-30, 2012 training in Hilton Head Island, SC!)  Don’t lose heart that there are few services that understand your unique situation with a pathological.  Remain hopeful that in a new field of psychology, we are growing as fast as we can!

Watch with us vigilantly, as we see this new field of psychology emerge and expand!  Please let 2012 be the year of healing for you.  We’ve worked hard so that you have many of our resources that can help you move forward.

Much healing to you in 2012!