Archives for 2014

“Stop Dragging My Heart Around”

“Stop Dragging My Heart Around” (Song by Tom Petty)

Women spend years and thousands of dollars trying to heal from dangerous men. If they are lucky, they only encounter one in their lifetimes. If they aren’t, there are many more. That’s because women haven’t really verbalized what they think constitutes a dangerous man. When I interviewed women, most of them thought the ONLY thing that made men dangerous was violence. If there was no violence, well then… he was probably ‘fixable’ in the long run.

For over 20 years I have been the not-so-silent witness to women’s choices. As a therapist, I counseled women whose childhoods included abuse and who grew up to be  adults who were abused. I watched adult women choose over and over again one version or another of a dangerous man. Often only the faces changed, but since there are many types of dangerous men, often women would move all over the continuum dating men from all categories.

The result was always the same:

  • They were miserable
  • “They were in pain”
  • They took a long time to heal, if ever
  • They often went on to do it all over again

Before we go any further, answer these questions:

1.  Do you believe a dangerous man will eventually be violent?

2.  Do you believe that, if you were hurt by a dangerous man in the past, you would be able to spot the next one and avoid him?

3.  Do you believe that dangerous men are notably gregarious, aggressive, narcissistic and abusive?

4.  Do you believe that something in your past has predisposed you to dating dangerous men?

If you answered ‘YES’ to any of the above, you are indeed at risk of dating one or more dangerous men.

The lack of a solid definition of what constitutes ‘dangerous’ for women is probably at the heart of what keeps us in these dangerous relationships. So let’s nail down what is dangerous.

The word danger means, “the state of being exposed to injury, pain, or loss.” Synonyms for the word include:

  • Hazard
  • Jeopardy
  • Peril
  • Risk
  • Menace
  • Threat
  • Emergency

Notice the word danger doesn’t merely mean, “when someone is violent toward you,” nor do the synonyms indicate this is strictly limited to violent behavior. Yet women let lots of men and their behavior off the hook simply because, “well, he never hit me so I didn’t feel like I could say he was abusive.”

Year after year my practice filled up with women who would never label or define the men in their lives. When asked if their men were dangerous, they would hem and haw around, looking for loopholes to say they weren’t dangerous, but not really knowing what dangerous was or how dangerous men behaved. Women are most at-risk for picking, marrying, and staying with dangerous men when they don’t have a concrete idea of what dangerous is like. The words listed above give good clues to what dangerous is like—injury, pain, loss, hazard, jeopardy, risk.

So let’s define that for you: A dangerous man is any man who harms a woman…

  • Emotionally
  • Physically
  • Sexually
  • Financially
  • Spiritually

This definition immediately broadens the field experience of dangerousness. It adds emotionally, financially and spiritually—three areas where women often let men off the hook from being labeled as ‘dangerous’ to a woman’s well-being.

We already determined that the word danger means ‘the state of being exposed to injury, pain, or loss.’ Simply being ‘exposed’ to the possibility of being injured, experiencing pain or going through loss IS dangerous to a woman’s mental health. Women often discount that merely the exposure to the possibility really constitutes ‘danger.’

Any exposure to dangerousness negatively affects a woman’s:

  • Self-esteem
  • Future relationships
  • Trust in others
  • Ability to disconnect and move on

…and inevitably leads to…

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Intimacy issues

Some of the women who came into counseling had only one exposure to a dangerous man, and yet the after-effects warranted psychological counseling in order to heal. Other women had experienced multiple exposures to dangerous men, choosing one after another, because they did not spot the signs. They spent years in therapy.

Dangerous men are not just the psychopaths you see on the nightly news. A dangerous man is just as likely to be ‘the nice man at church,’ ‘the smooth boss at work,’ or ‘the girlfriend’s athletic trophy-winning brother’. He is just as likely to be a social worker, cop, doctor, or mechanic. The fact is—he could be ANYBODY.

The only defense is self-defense. And the only self-defense is knowledge. The articles in our newsletters and on our website will help you realize your potential need for future insight into the area of dangerousness. Perhaps they will illuminate areas that you need more knowledge about, more insight, or just information.

If, after reading this article, you recognize your own patterns, please avail yourself to more information through our products and services, or through your local women’s organizations and counseling programs.

Our hope is that this information is used for a woman’s relational harm reduction and education for healthier relationships. Please pass this on to other women who need this life-saving information. Be the beacon to other women.

How to Not Go Back During the Holidays

People relapse and go back into relationships more from Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day than any other time of the year. Why? So many great holidays for faking it! Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, V-Day… then PHOOEY! You’re out! Why not be out now and stay out and save face? You’re not fooling anyone … not yourself, them, or your family and friends.

Here’s a secret: Even if you go back, you’re still alone. You’ve been alone the entire time because, by nature of their disorder, they can’t be there for you. So you’re alone—now, during the holidays, or with them. WITH them, you have more drama, damage and danger—your choice.

The holiday season is an extremely stressful time. It’s a time when it is more likely for:

  • Domestic violence to occur or recur
  • Dysfunctional families to be even MORE dysfunctional
  • Pathologicals to be overt and blatant, and to target your joy and ruin your holidays
  • Former pathological partners to magically reappear and try to hook you back in
  • People to eat, drink, and spend too much
  • People to not get enough rest
  • People to feel pressured to “be in a relationship” and accept dates or stay with dangerous persons “just until the holidays are over”

It’s an idealistic time when people have more depression and anxiety than at any other time of the year because they think their lives should be like the picture postcards and old movies we see this time of year. Depression creeps in, anxiety increases, and to cope, they eat/drink/spend/date in ways they normally would not. But you can’t make a “picture postcard memory” with a psychopath or a narcissist!

Those with the super trait of “sentimentality” will focus on the past — when they had that one perfect Christmas with the pathological.  The other drunken, absent, or abusive 14 Christmases are forgotten, forgiven or overlooked. But what IS focused on is that one year when it was nice and the pitbull stronghold on the hope it will be this way again.

But you and I both know that pathology is permanent. The bad 14 years are a much better and more realistic presentation of what pathology is like during the holidays than the one fluke of a year he held it together. Pathology is very stressful to experience under any circumstances. Add to it the expectations for a pathological to be different (i.e., act appropriately) this time of year, and the pathological’s and everyone else’s stress is then through the roof. Sometimes even our hope can be “pathological” when it is focused on something that cannot and will not change.

The glittering fantasy that resembles your Christmas tree lights places not only you in the path of misery, but all those you plan to spend Christmas with—your family, friends, kids and pets.  It is much kinder to unplug your glittering fantasy and tell yourself the truth of what will happen if you expect a serene and joyful time with a pathological than it is to drag others through your fantasy.

Here’s a mantra to say out loud to yourself: “I’m pretending that staying/going back with a psychopath/narcissist will make my holidays better.”  Pretty ridiculous thought, isn’t it? Something happens when you say the REAL thing out loud. It takes all the romanticizing and fantasy out of the thought and smacks a little reality in your face.

“I want to be with a psychopath/narcissist for the holiday.”  Say that three times to yourself out loud …  NO!! That’s not what you want. That’s what you got LAST YEAR. You want to be with a nice man/woman/person for the holidays. And, as you VERY well know, they’re not it.

“I want to share my special holidays with my special psychopath.”  ???  Nope. That’s not it either. But that’s what’s going to happen unless you buck up and start telling yourself the truth. It’s OKAY to be by yourself for the holidays. It sure beats pathology as a gift.

Peace, gratitude, and all the spiritual reflections that are supposed to happen during this time of year cannot be found in pathology. They were not created there, but they do end there. If your goal for the holidays is to find some peace, joy, hope, and love, don’t spend it where and with whom it cannot be found. After the holidays, you will be a lot happier for not having attempted, for the millionth time, to find happiness where it does not exist.

Here’s a real gift for you—some tips!

TIPS FOR A HAPPIER/HEALTHIER HOLIDAY

v Stop idealizing—you are who you are, it is what it is, pathology is pathology. If your family isn’t perfect, they certainly WON’T be during the season. Accept yourself and others for who they are. This includes accepting that pathology cannot, and will not, be different during the holidays simply because you want the Christmas fantasy.  “Emotional suffering is created in the moment when we don’t accept what ‘is’.” (~Eckart Tolle)

v Don’t feel pressured to eat more/spend more/drink more than you want to. Remind yourself that you have choices and the word “No” is a complete sentence. Don’t be held hostage to exhausting holiday schedules.

 

v Take quiet time during the season or you’ll get run over by the sheer speed of the holidays. Pencil it in like you would any other appointment. Buy your own present now—some bubble bath—and spend quality time with some bubbles by yourself. Light a candle, find five things to be grateful for, repeat often.

v Take same-sex friends to parties and don’t feel OBLIGATED to go with someone you don’t want to go with. People end up in the worst binds going to parties with others, and get stuck in relationships they don’t want to be in, because they feel obligated. Find a few other friends who are willing to be “party partners” during the holidays.

v Give to others in need. The best way to get out of your own problems is to give to others whose problems exceed yours. Give to a charity, feed the homeless, buy toys for kids and those who are in need.

v Find time for spiritual reflection. It’s the only way to really feel the season and reconnect. Go to a church service, pray, meditate, reflect.

v Plant joy—in yourself, in your life and in others. What you invest in your own recovery is also reaped in the lives of those closest to you.

v Pick ONE growth-oriented issue you’d like to focus on next year for your own growth beginning on January 1. It creates hope when you know you have a plan to move forward and out of your current emotional condition. Invest in your opportunity to grow past the aftermath of this pathological love relationship.

Happy Holidays from The Institute!

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

The Challenge of Being Thankful

“Rest and be thankful.” ~William Wordsworth

 During this month of Thanksgiving it is certainly appropriate to evaluate what you are thankful for. Now that might be a little challenging considering the wreckage of a pathological relationship, so be thankful this article has arrived in your inbox!

We would like to offer some reminders of the blessings of pathology.

Be thankful for your new filter.

What the psychopath has given you is the ability to spot. That is a gift. Many people don’t know what pathology looks like and, as a result, they move forward despite the patterns of behavior that are present. Once you move toward a psychopath, it’s like you’re a fly in a web… stuck. The ability to spot the spider and the web keeps you far, far away from danger. If you made it out, then knowing the power of pathology is a gift. You have a new filter to lay over your own perceptions and understanding of the world and this filter will ultimately keep you much safer.

Be thankful for the peek deep inside at ‘who’ you are.

We know that pathology is soul-stealing. It grinds you down to the bare bones of who you are and what you believe. It is a terrifying, maniacal, devastating process. There is no doubt that going through it is likely one of the worst experiences of your life. What is left when you leave is your foundation. There might even be a few cracks still there. But no doubt you are seeing things about yourself that you didn’t know existed or that you had forgotten about. As you look back on the moments of manipulation, you undoubtedly see what was done to your values, your worth, and your beliefs. But through this careful evaluation you can reaffirm where you stand and what you stand on.

Be thankful for understanding love in a whole new way.

Love is not fantasy. Love is not a task. Love is not excitement (it’s pretty boring). Love is not adrenaline or fear covered by excitement. Love is steady, unconditional, joyous and gentle.

Sometimes we learn lessons by not getting what we need, and pathology has done that for you. You now know what love is NOT. Your love is real and your capacity for love is real. In a sense, that was never the problem. Feeling love is never your problem… but being able to put a lid on your intense bonding so that you can trust what you felt about his lack of love is the problem.

Be thankful for your own humanness and your ability to bond and love other healthy people.

Your ability to connect and bond to him makes you human. You may be questioning, “How could I have let this happen?” Or blaming yourself for “falling in love with a psychopath.” Well, thank goodness that you love, thank goodness that you bond and thank goodness that you have empathy about it. You know what it means if you can’t do those things, so the alternative is much better. You CAN love and you CAN bond so that means you CAN do it again. Maybe not right now… but you CAN do it. Be thankful that, with some tweaks to your filter, there is hope for love again. You are NOT irreversibly damaged.

Be thankful for your Super Traits.

So, those things that psychopaths manipulate in you are your biggest assets. Do not get it twisted—your Super Traits saved you. Your excitement-seeking, compassion, trust, loyalty, resourcefulness, helpfulness, and sentimentality (among others) played a role in getting you out. Take a minute to think about how each one of these traits helped you. In the end, did your compassion for the kids take over? Did your resourcefulness help you find the facts or did your sentimentality remind you of who you were before? They will be the things that drive your recovery if you let them. You can strengthen them by combining the feelings of the Super Traits with what you know about pathology.

Be thankful you are safe and alive.

Pathology is dangerous. Your pain—emotional and physical—is real. But here you are. There is nothing better than the awareness of our aliveness. Feel the power of being present here, now. In any given moment, pathology can bring a sense of danger and fear. Certainly hypervigilance can set in, if you allow it. But the alternative is much more powerful. Embrace the moments of safety and security. Create an environment which strengthens your sense of safety. In that space, your aliveness will grow.

Being thankful for pathology is a stretch—a stretch toward healing. It is a necessary step in recovery. You may not be there yet and that is OK. Don’t rush yourself. However, take this opportunity to open the door to the idea. If you are there and can feel the thankfulness then take it in.

 “I fall, I rise, I make mistakes, I live, I learn, I’ve been hurt but I’m alive.

I’m human, I’m not perfect but I’m thankful.” ~Unknown

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

 

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Nothing Bothers Him—I Wish I Were MORE Like Him!

At the heart of pathology is a lack of remorse, empathy, and conscience. It sounds horrible on paper (and it is!) but it looks different in action. Sometimes women wish they were more like THAT—less empathic—as a way of getting less hurt.

They don’t really mean that (unless they too have a pathology bent). They are exhausted by their own mental activity of intrusive thoughts, heartbreak, hypervigilance and hurting. They just want the pain to go away, and if that means they become callous and don’t ‘give a rip’—then so be it—they’ll opt for his pathological character traits.

Cluster B Personality Disorders (Borderline, Narcissistic, Anti-Social, Sociopaths and Psychopaths) have, at the center of their disorder, a complete lack of, or at least a reduced capacity for, remorse, empathy, and conscience. (We will use the space-saving acronym, REC, for a lack of these traits—Remorse, Empathy, Conscience.) To a certain extent, only the degree of a lack of REC distinguishes one disorder from the other. Psychopaths and Sociopaths are at the high end of the spectrum with the most of these traits. But all four disorders have some of this in them because these disorders overlap each other.

So what does a lack of remorse, empathy, and conscience look like? On the surface, from your perspective, it looks like either he’s carefree, or he doesn’t care what others think of him or his behavior. It looks like confidence in his choices and his behavior. It looks like he enjoys his choices and behaviors even if they are negative. It looks like he has an unwavering commitment to his own thoughts (even when they hurt someone else). On the surface, it looks good to not be harmed by the thoughts of others. You get to do your own thing and then be unaffected by how it affects others. You coast along in a cloud of impenetrable numbness from any negative consequences—social, emotional, sexual, financial, spiritual, or physical, from his behaviors.

However, a lack of REC is the only thing that differentiates us from some animal species. (Ever try to guilt a cat?) Our ability to feel appropriate guilt is a reflection of our humanity. That various levels of psychopathology LACK these elements points to the pathological’s own diminished ability to act humane in certain situations. Why are we surprised that people who have impaired REC go on to abduct children, hurt pets, steal, lie, cheat, and act unfaithful? Conscience is related to consequences and the emotional guilt that accompanies the act. Guilt is the RED LIGHT of our behavior—we don’t do something because we don’t want to feel guilt. In the end, guilt saves us from hurting others and ourselves, and living with that awful feeling of regret.

But a pathological, who doesn’t have that hardwiring to feel remorse or guilt, hurts others, hurts society—and himself—although he may not have the insight to recognize it as self-harm. He leaves a trail of wounded women and children behind him as he goes off golfing, picking up other women, or to the tanning bed—all the while humming a little song to himself.

His ability to hurt others and go on is NOT something you should admire in him. In a recent retreat, a woman kept bringing up that she thought this was GOOD—that a pathological remained unscathed by his own belief system and therefore, if we were more like him, we would be happier because we would react less to what we did.

That’s a sad thought. It’s the only line in the sand that separates us as caring human beings from a pathological. Our ability to have insight about our behavior is what makes us somewhat un-pathological. Even though you are hurt and would welcome a bit of numbing to get away from the pain, you will never be able to throw yourself into the pit of pathological REC to escape your pain, intrusive thoughts, and other symptoms you wish would go away.

For those women who are not mutually pathological, the only way to get OUT of pain is to go THROUGH the pain. Embracing that you can still tell the difference between right and wrong, and you don’t covet his pathology as something to be admired, means you are not pathological yourself! Others who have now embraced his worldview of hurting others, seeing it as good, and wanting to a live a life of power/dominance/status, need therapy surrounding their ‘consumption’ of his pathological worldview.

A healthy REC is one of the differentiating aspects that separate us as the fabric of humanity versus the pathological alien. Embrace that about yourself. Stay positive!

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

 

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

 

My Cup is Empty… Can You Help Me Out?

A pathological relationship might begin with the Attraction Cocktail of excitement-seeking, extraversion and competitiveness, but soon it evolves into 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 these are not really the things you might think of when you think of pathology, but that makes them 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 a pathological wears. They exist in two distinct ways… the outside perception that they present, and the dark, empty underside of who they really are. As they move through life, they learn to compensate for their deficiencies. One way to compensate is by using what others have and presenting it as their own.

Cooperation

One of the traits 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 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 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 tells 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.

Helpfulness

The next trait 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 you will stand by 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. They 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 right 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 straight. 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 will 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 ‘overflowing’ 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 week, we will look at the third trait in this trio of Super Traits: Compassion.

As we near the holiday season, remind yourself… these are your traits—your gifts—and they should not be handed out to just anyone. Tie them up with a bow and keep them to yourself!

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions. See the website for more information.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Grieving the Pathological Loss, Part 2: The Personal Side

In the last article, we began talking about the grief process as it pertains to ending the relationship with your dangerous (and often, pathological) person. Even though the relationship was damaging, and maybe you even initiated the breakup, you cannot sidestep the necessary grieving. Women are then shocked to find themselves grieving at all, given how abusive, damaging, or horrible the relationship was. They tell themselves they should be grateful to be out and this negates their own feelings of loss. The end of a relationship always constitutes a loss, whether he died or whether the relationship merely ended—the heart recognizes it as the same—a “loss.”

I mentioned in the last article that grief is natural. It’s an organic way the body and mind try to rid themselves of pain. That’s why it’s so necessary, because if you did not grieve you would have no way to eventually be out of pain. Grief is the way a person moves through the loss and to the other side of health and healing.

Without grief there wouldn’t even be a POTENTIAL for healing because grief must take place for healing to later occur. To stuff your grief, or try to avoid it, is to sabotage your own ability to heal. For every person trying to work through the ending of a relationship, grief is the healthiest response.

Some of the losses associated with the end of the relationship were discussed in the previous article. Many of you have written me to talk about the ‘personal side’ of grief—the other aspects that were lost because of the pathological relationship which must be grieved.

These include the loss of:

  • your own self-respect
  • respect of others
  • trust of others
  • your ability to trust your own instincts
  • your own dignity
  • your self-identity
  • your self-confidence
  • your self-esteem
  • hope
  • joy
  • the belief that you can ever be different or better

These significant personal losses may not always be recognized as ‘grief’ but more as all the deficits that have been left behind because of the pathological relationship. Although he is gone, this is his mark upon your life and your soul. These losses reflect the loss of your self and your own internal personal resources.

Stripped away is your ability to recognize your former self, the ability to tap into what was once the strength that helped you in life, and to respect your self and your life choices.

Of all the things that need grieving, women indicated these personal losses are the most devastating. Because, in the end, you are all that you have left—when he is gone, you must fall back on your self for your healing. But what is left has been described by survivors as ‘an empty shell of a former life’ … ‘a garden that is overgrown with weeds and in disrepair’ … ‘a once-stately estate that has been vandalized and abandoned’.

To begin the arduous task of healing and repair requires that you turn inward and draw on your resources. But what was there feels like it is gone You may want to begin the healing from the pathological relationship but you are stopped short in your tracks by the necessary grieving of all things internal that are now gone or damaged.

Clearly, the first step is to grieve. Let us know if we can help you take that first step.

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Grieving the Pathological Loss, Part 1

Over and over, women are shocked to find out how badly they feel about leaving a dangerous/pathological man. As horrendous as the relationships has been, as hurt as they have become at his hands, and the emotional/physical/financial/sexual/spiritual cost it takes to heal…they still say “Why in the world am I so sad and in so much grief?”

One of the things we have discovered from our Women Who Love Psychopaths research project is that ‘loving’ a pathological (not just a psychopath, but any person with a pathological disorder) seems to involve having a very intense attachment to the relationship. Most women report that ‘loving’ them is like nothing else they ever experienced. They indicate that it’s more intense than other relationships, there are more mind-games that keep them very confused and unable to detach, and a kind of hypnotic mesmerizing that keeps them in the relationship LONG after they know they should have left.

Because of this intense bonding, mental confusion, pathological attachment and a hypnotic connection, the woman’s grief is likely to be HUGE. This is often confusing to her because she has suffered so much damage by the time she leaves that she thinks she should be ‘relieved’ to simply be out of the relationship. But when the paralyzing grief mounts, she is aggravated with herself for being in so much pain and grief over the ending of something so ‘sick’ to her.

Lots of women are confused as to ‘whom’ or ‘what’ it is they are actually grieving over. Grief can seem so ‘elusive’—a haunting feeling that is like a grey ghost but can’t be nailed down to actually ‘what’ the loss is.

 

The end of any relationship (even a pathological one) is a loss. Within the ending of the relationship is a loss of many elements. There is a loss of the ‘dream’ of partnership or togetherness, the loss of a shared future together, as well as the loss that maybe he would someday ‘get it together’ or actually ‘love you.’ When the relationship ends, so does the dream of being loved (even if he was technically not capable of truly loving anyone). There is the loss of your plans for the future—maybe that was buying a home, having children, or taking a big trip. There is the loss of shared parenting (if that occurred), loss of income, loss of being touched or held, the loss of sex, and numerous other losses.

Although a lot of women may actually see a lot of these hopes and dreams as ‘illusions’ it still constitutes a loss and women are often surprised at the kinds of things they find themselves grieving over.

In the breakup, some women lose their pets or their house or career. Some lose their children, their friends, her relatives or his. Some have to relocate to get away from him because of his dangerousness, so they lose their community, roots, and home.

No matter what it is you perceived you no longer have… it’s a loss—and when you have loss you have grief. People spend a lot of time trying to stay on the perimeter of grief—trying to avoid it and stay away from the pain. But grief is the natural way to resolve conflict and loss. It’s the body’s way of ridding the mind and soul of ongoing pain. It’s an attempt at rebalancing one’s mind and life. Grief is a natural process that is given to you as a pain management tool. Without grief there would never be a way of moving through pain. You would always just remain stuck in the feelings and you would always feel the same.

Don’t avoid grief. While no one LIKES grief, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the feelings and the pain because to suppress it, deny it, or avoid it means you will never work through it. I don’t know anyone who WANTS to live in this kind of pain.  There is only one way through the pain of grief and that’s through the middle of it. There are no shortcuts, quick routes or other ways ‘around’ the pain and grief. There is only through it—like a wilderness. But on the other side of it is the promise of healing, hope and a future.

Don’t judge your grief. What hurts, hurts. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you (he was horrible, why am I grieving HIM?)—it’s your body’s way of moving through it so let it. Get help if you need it—counseling, group, medication, a grief group—whatever it is you need.

Don’t set a predetermined ‘time’ that you think you should be ‘over it’. It may take much longer than you think it will or that you want it to. But that’s how it is—grief takes its time.

Grief can look like depression, anxiety, PTSD or a lot of other types of symptoms and sometimes it’s hard to know where one starts and the other one ends. That’s because all too often you aren’t having one or the other, you are having some of both.

Journal your losses, talk about them, tell others, get help when you need it. (We’re here too!!) Most of all, know that grief is a God-sent natural way of working through the pain so you can move on.

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

 

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Remembering Our Roots: Joyce Brown’s Influence on the Pathological Love Relationship Recovery Process

This weekend marked the anniversary of the death of an extraordinary visionary. Many of The Institute’s highly acclaimed purposes, products, and processes came from what Joyce lived through, talked about, and modeled for others.

Joyce, like other leaders, did not set out to do anything extraordinary. She simply set out to heal after two back-to-back pathological relationships. First a 25-year relationship with a narcissist, and then an upgrade to a sociopath for 10 years, left Joyce in the typical emotional fetal position that is common in the aftermath of pathological relationships.

She went through the normal stages of pathology recovery, asking:

“What just happened?”

“Did I do that?”

“What’s wrong with him?”

 “Why am I so obsessed with this?”

 “What’s wrong with me? Why am I attracted to men like that, and what does it say about my life that I would end up in a relationship like that?”

 Without the benefit of mental health therapy and with only the support of a few close friends (who were quickly becoming weary of the ongoing saga of ‘why her/why him, why he moved on quickly, and why he picked the new woman’), Joyce managed to piece together not only a recovery, but some profound insights that changed the quality of her life forever.

By then, at age 60, it would have been easy to say she would not likely find love or heal. It would have been even easier to turn bitter, get revenge, hyper focus on him and his latest antics, or just curl into a fetal position and stay there. But remarkably, Joyce rose from the dirt she had been ground down into. Like the symbol of the Rising Phoenix, she not only rose, she dug out every particle of dirt that could be transformed from crusted pain and milled it for life-changing insight.

She didn’t keep these golden gems to herself—she talked to women about relationships wherever she was. Some of her approaches have trickled down to help other therapists work with women leaving pathological relationships.

Joyce believed women tended to drift sideways into pathological relationships looking for fun and excitement, which actually pointed at what that woman needed in her life that would prevent her from taking just any old relationship.

“If you aren’t living a big enough life that is as big as your heart, or as big as your personality, or as big as your dreams, then any old psychopath will do.”

She poignantly asked herself, “What is or is not going on in my own life that I would end up with a sociopath? Sure, I didn’t know he was one—he said all the right things…but what could this possibly be pointing out to me about me, the condition of my own life, and what needs to happen so I don’t choose like this again?”

 16 years later she had answered her own questions.

In her 60’s she went to college for the first time and became a short-term missionary. She started her life in the arts of painting, sculpting, and pottery. She moved to a one room beach house so she could ‘make up for lost time and play hard’. She drove a convertible Miata to feel the rush of adrenaline she no longer had because the sociopath was gone.  In her 70’s she took up belly dancing to prove to herself she was still attractive, went to Paris to see handsome men so she knew she could still flirt, and got a motorcycle so she always had something hot to ride (!)—hey, I’m just quoting Joyce here. She became a hospital chaplain to comfort the sick and fed the poor every week to give some of that hyper-empathy away, lest it go to another psychopath. Then she sailed a catamaran to the Bahamas to challenge her fear because she could not swim.

“A relationship is the icing on the cake. It is NOT the cake. Don’t confuse the necessity of living life to be the icing. Living life IS the cake. Anything else, including relationships, is just the icing.

The Institute’s own Jennifer Young, who does phone coaching and our tele-support group, had this to say about Joyce’s impact on her and the women she helps, “Joyce Brown carries a big impact on my work with women.  On her own she developed the innate ability to care for herself.  That care translated into real solutions for disengagement from a pathological relationship. I believe the biggest, specific idea that has come from Joyce is the idea of ‘Not One More Minute’. I have shared this concept with many women who instantly feel the ability to disengage… ‘not one more minute’ means, ‘I will not allow you to take one more minute of my energy, my love, my care, my compassion.’ It provides an end point… a point to say I’m done. This change in thinking, that I stop it, is crucial. It means, ‘I have come to know and understand that he will not change, but I still can… and I will.’  So thank you, Joyce Brown, for showing us the way to the end!”

At age 76, as she lay in a hospice bed only hours from death, I told her I wanted to toast her life. She said “Crank this bed up!” She fluffed her hair and with a glass of Jack Daniels in her hand, said, “I have had a great life. I lived, I learned how to have a great life, and I was loved. Who could ask for more?

Her life lived well is what has impacted thousands of women worldwide and is the main thing women who attend our retreats come away with. Sadly, in this day and age, living a great life seems to be an extraordinary accomplishment.  Her lecture on ‘Get a Great Life’ is what has spurred women on to not merely limp into recovery dragging their souls behind them, but to burst into recovery and fill their lives to the rim with all the things that their big personalities need in order to live fully.

Lifeless living is what causes many women to seek a psychopath who’s so full of energy that it makes their own lives seem so exciting and vibrant. Joyce said, “The problem is pointing to the solution. I loved the energy of those men! But what was that energy, and why couldn’t I have it another way? Was a psychopath the only way for me to feel life?

Joyce learned that vibrancy comes from a life that is full of the things that interest, motivate, support, and challenge HER. If she wasn’t living a big enough, interesting enough, motivational enough, supported enough, and challenged enough life… she would drift again into the arms of pathology to fill that space.

One of our readers recently memorialized Joyce on our Facebook page:

Thank you, dear lady, for your continued inspiration—a legacy you’ve left to many. You never knew those who have come to love you [posthumously] for your feistiness, tenacity, grit, and that wonderful sense of humor!”

Feel how big YOU are and, as Joyce did, fill your own life with greatness. As she would say, “Get a great life” and stop the cycle of pathology!

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

 

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Circling ‘The Promised Land’

I don’t know if YOU see your life as real as I sometimes see it. Do you see what I see when I read your letters, hear your stories, and imagine your relationships and pain?

Many women want ‘The Promised Land.’ To them that could be healing or maybe that’s being with him…but so many are always looking for happiness and thinking ‘The Promised Land’ is just around the corner.

~ “The Promised Land always lies on the other side of the wilderness.”~ (Havelock Ellis)

Oh…the wilderness…the path of pain – that road that requires that you leave him – that you face your own fear or loneliness – the street that makes you wonder if you’ll ever find another one to love, have sex again, or with whom to feel real joy in your heart.

The wilderness that meanders through all the places you have been…the valley of truth, the river of denial, the desert of lies…Don’t spend time regretting whatever your time with him was for you – if you couldn’t leave him yet, if you picked yet another pathological, or if you’re still not over him yet. Regret is so wasteful of human energy.

A wise man said “Humans grow thru the metabolism of their own experience.” What you lived through was not wasted. It’s part of how you will grow and how your future will be healthier and more healing for you.

Women ask me all the time, “What can I do to help other women in the area of pathological love relationships?” Your own self growth and healing is the greatest service you can give the world and other women. What you invest in yourself is never wasted or lost. God is the God of Economy. He recycles everything, even your pain. Your pain heals the next woman.

I believe that, which is why we created the Coaching program, the retreats, our web and facebook pages, blogs, radio shows, and weekly articles – so you can recycle your own pain and help the next woman. Many therapists are also survivors too and have made entire practices into outreaches from their own pain. They stopped circling ‘The Promised Land’ and moved through it to a place of helping other heal.

To stop the circling of ‘The Promised Land’ and to help you actually get there is why we developed our programs and products – so that your pain recycled becomes hope to the next woman. Nothing is lost. Pain that is not actualized – that isn’t converted into wisdom – is just pain. It was useless suffering that did not manifest itself into something larger than itself.

I believe many of you will stop circling ‘The Promised Land’ and will come out of the wilderness you’ve been in. And when you do…we’re right there celebrating with you – your rite of passage into a new life.

“I believe that what it is I have been called to do will make itself known when I have made myself ready.” (J. Phillips)

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

 © www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Living the Gentle Life—Part 7: Healing Sexually

Over the past month or so, we have been talking about healing from pathological love relationships and what is involved in this process.  It requires facing the damage that has been done and recognizing any stress disorders or PTSD that you might now have from the relationship. It then requires changing your life in order to heal – changing your physical environment and learning how to develop a lifestyle that helps you heal emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and sexually. Today, we’re going to talk about the sexual effect of pathological and dangerous relationships.

Last week we talked about healing the spiritual effects of a pathological relationship.  Ironically, the sexual effects are also often spiritual effects. That’s because a lot of the spiritual effects have to do with attaching and bonding on many levels – including spiritually. In a spiritual sense, we have been designed to bond during sexual experiences – especially women.

(WARNING – THIS IS GRAPHIC!) Recent hormonal and sexual studies have indicated orgasms achieved during sex release the same brain chemicals that are released during BONDING with your baby!

This phenomenal aspect gives great insight into WHY it is so hard to leave a relationship, even if it is dangerous.  Many of the dangerous types of men are hypersexual so there is A LOT of sex. A lot of sex equals a lot of opportunities for sexual bonding through orgasm and hormonal stimulation. Women are, by nature, NOT abandoners; they stay with those to whom they ‘attach’ or ‘bond’. So the more bonded you feel to him, the less likely you are to leave. The more sexually attached you are, which often feels like spiritually attached – “he’s my soul mate”, the more confusing and difficult it is to detach.

Additionally, many pathological men who are hypersexual bring to a relationship a lot of sexual deviancy. For the first time in your life, you may have been exposed to sexual behaviors or aspects that you have never experienced. Since the pathological is great at manipulation, guilt, and rewarding your loyalty, you may have been coerced into sexual behaviors that violated your own morality or normal sexual boundaries. Perhaps he introduced pornography, sexual acts you were uncomfortable with, group sexual experiences, relationship rape, or other sexual violations into the relationship. Additionally, most pathological men, in their hypersexuality, are NOT monogamous, so maybe you acquired an STD from him.

These deep soul wounds harm more than just your emotions. They harm you spiritually and infiltrate your sexual identity. A woman often feels so perverted in what she has experienced, she may feel like she has to stay with him because no ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ man would want her after what she has done in the sexual relationship with him.

In some relationships, true sexual addiction may have occurred. You may feel as if you are addicted to him, the sex with him, or sex with anyone. What you have experienced IS sexual abuse in the relationship. However, pathological men have an uncanny way of making you feel like a willing participant, or that it’s YOUR deviancy he is responding to sexually. Remember – they twist and pervert every aspect of the truth.

The sexual side effects of the relationship can contribute to your overall stress disorder or PTSD. It is an aspect that should be treated in order to reclaim your sexual identity.  Untreated, your skewed sexual identity can cause you to continue to sexually act out, to cooperate in his sexual deviancy, or to use drugs or alcohol to numb your painful feelings.

It also can cause increased PTSD symptoms, anxiety and depression, or leave you despondent to stay in pathological relationships out of a sense of feeling dirty or unworthy of healthier relationships.

You can also be impacted spiritually – driving you away from the solace and help you find in your own connection to God.

From this standpoint, the ONLY way to live a gentle life is to heal your sexual side and to see the damage done to your sexuality as part of the overall picture of the after-effects of a dangerous and pathological relationship.

If you are in counseling, please talk to your counselor about the sexual effects of your relationship.

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

 © www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

 

Living the Gentle Life—Part 6: Healing Your Own Worldview

Over the past month or more, I have been talking about healing from a dangerous and/or pathological love relationship. The chronic stress disorder and often Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that occurs from the damage done in the relationship requires a serious change in lifestyle in order to heal.

We have been talking about those changes – what needs to change physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In Part 5, we discussed the negative ‘worldview’ effects resulting from pathological exposure. The negative worldview impacts how you now see your post-pathological relationship world. This includes how you NOW see yourself, others, the world, your future, and God.

One of the seriously undertreated effects of pathological love relationship exposure is the healing of the personal worldview. The untreated aspects mimic PTSD symptoms with increases in depression, anxiety, fear, isolation, dread of the future and other similarly related PTSD side effects. Healing your worldview is critical to a healthy future.

Another often untreated effect of pathological relationship exposure is the ‘unconscious adopting of the pathological’s worldview.’ Not only was your worldview altered from the damage done to you IN the relationship, but your worldview was also altered from the damage done to you THROUGH the pathological. One of the unrelenting side effects is the ‘learned experience’ of seeing the world through his eyes.

One of the things that makes pathologicals pathological is the effect of their pathology on how they see themselves in relation to the world and others. Pathologicals are noted for their over/under sense of themselves, over/under opinion of others, and their unusual view of what the world should do for them.

While you may not have adopted these exact views like the pathological, chances are your views have been tainted with the pathological’s viewpoint. This can include normalizing abnormal behaviors or dissociating pieces of reality AWAY from you. Normalizing can make womanizing, over/under employment, drug dealing, alcohol/drug abuse, domestic violence, lying, cheating, stealing, or other overtly wrong behavior ‘marginal,’ when you have taken on his view of life and right/wrong. Pathologicals don’t operate by the rules. They create them for their unique situations and break them for fun.

When your grip on societal boundaries begins to slip, you have been affected by his view of the world. When his behaviors become ‘just a little different’ than other people’s or ‘all people are like this’ – your worldview has been infiltrated. When you begin to think of other people like he does, or define others by his warped definitions, when you believe his ‘take’ on things or tell yourself only partial truths so you don’t have to really see his real self – your worldview has been penetrated. When you become numb and lethargic to the things he has done, your worldview has been violated.

This is just one more aspect of your wounded worldview that needs healing if you are going to recover. A wounded worldview does not allow for living the gentle life. And the gentle life is probably not even possible until the way you see yourself, others and the world becomes ‘gentle.’

Pathologicals are harsh. They leave people feeling irritated, rubbed raw, and chapped. Your interior does not feel ‘gentle’ – it feels rough.

Pathologicals are notoriously negative, so you may have found your mood, thinking, and reactions to have taken on his negativity. It’s hard to heal when everything looks like he told you it looked – bad (and it’s all your fault!). It’s hard to live the gentle life for yourself when your emotions are anything BUT gentle.

This is the point about the necessity of healing the worldview – it’s a critical part of your recovery. Because having been warped by a pathological, ‘HOW you see determines WHAT you see.’

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Living the Gentle Life—Part 4: “Ah, Just Get a Life’

“Ah, just get a life!”

Have people ever told you that? Sometimes from the chronic stress and upheaval the pathological love relationship caused, people can get very one-dimensional and hyper-focused on him, their relationship, or the problems surrounding the relationship. They stop doing the kinds of things in their lives that could help them be LESS obsessed, depressed, or anxious. That’s because survivors tend to ‘lose themselves’ in the pathological relationship. It’s a testimony to the strength of pathology and the almost labyrinthine maze of hypnotic lull that occurs in these relationships.

The crazier it gets, the more the survivor feels like she needs to “try to understand it,” or “try to make him understand what he is doing,” or “do something that will help the relationship feel less pathological.” These ideas can create a 24/7 obsession – it can take up your whole life trying to balance the relationship, which you have probably figured out, cannot be balanced.

Getting lost in a very dark tunnel can draw people away from the actions, behaviors, thoughts, people, and resources that previously allowed them to live a happier and more balanced life. The pathological relationship is all-consuming, and soon, any level of your own self-care is abandoned for the insane focus on how to help him, or mend the relationship.

It isn’t very long before others around you notice the myopic and single-focused person you have become – that can’t think or talk about anything except the pathological relationship. This myopic view of your relationship has now blocked out any other part of your life. Consequently, people are bailing out of your life, and emotional resources are dwindling, as your life has become the size and shape of him.

Women in the most dire situations (especially in domestic violence cases) are those who have lost physical and emotional resources and can find no way to get out. The less support a woman feels from others, the more likely she is to stay because it takes support to get out, to break up, and to not go back. So, by the act of myopia, her life and resources just dwindle away.

One day someone says to her, “Man, you need to get a bigger life than THIS,” and something really hits her about that statement. Like coming out of a deep freeze, the lightbulb goes on. She notices her lack of a life and says, “What happened to me? Where is my life?”

The last few weeks in the newsletter, I have been talking about ‘living the gentle life,’ especially if you are someone who has lived in a pathological love relationship, or has a chronic stress disorder or PTSD. A gentle life is a full life. It is a life that includes the kinds of things that nurture you and bring you peace. The gentle life is healing, because the feeling of joy is sending the right kinds of signals to your brain that fight depression and anxiety. This gives the sensation of well-being. In order to heal, you need to be a ‘joy hunter.’

The fact is, women go back, or choose poorly again, because they fail to build a life for themselves. They know how to ‘invest and invest’ in him and in the relationship, but do not know how to ‘invest’ and build a life of their own – without him. Women who have healthy lives on the outside of the relationship are more likely to get out and to stay out.

Loneliness is one of the key risk factors that cause women to return to the relationship or one that is similar. There are so many ways to get your needs met for friendship, fun, support, beauty, or whatever you love in life. Building a life – especially a gentle life, is the best prevention for relapse a woman can do.

But sadly, many will not do this. After more than 25 years of doing this type of work, I can pick out who will and who will not invest in themselves by building a life. Those who don’t are in the same boat years down the road – either with the same pathological person, or another one just like him. Those who do build a life are less likely to feel pressure to date or, worse yet, to phone him out of loneliness.

The gentle life isn’t even possible unless you have a life and a mindset that is ready for transformation. Living with a pathological or picking another one is just about as opposite a gentle life as there is. Will you be one who rebuilds a fabulous life?

Joyce Brown, who inspired our work and who happens to have been my mother, said, “I’ve got to stop focusing on him and get a great life!” At 60, she went to college. At 70, she took up belly dancing. And after 70, she sailed her own boat to the Bahamas, traveled to Paris and beyond. She proved the point that creating a great life was, in and of itself, learning to create a gentle life.

Much healing to you!

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Living the Gentle Life—Part 3: The Emotional Effects

In last weeks article, I talked about recovering from a pathological love relationship. The toll it takes on people often leaves them with symptoms of chronic stress. For extremely bad relationships, often the result is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—a diagnosed anxiety disorder. The long-term stress from the pathological love relationship (with narcissists, abusive partners, socio/psychopaths) affects people emotionally, physically, sexually and spiritually.

I have been talking about what the body does when it is under chronic stress and the results of this unrelenting stress. The last newsletter discussed how to deal with the physical ramifications of stress. I also talked about changing your physical environment to embrace the needs of a stress disorder.

Today, we are going to discuss emotional effects and how to create the gentle life for your emotional needs as well.

PTSD is an emotional disorder that falls in the category of anxiety disorders. Therefore, someone with chronic stress of any kind needs to learn the types of techniques that help reduce emotional anxiety. The problem is, by the time people ask for help with chronic stress or PTSD, they have often lived with it for a long time and the symptoms are then extreme.

The emotional effects of untreated PTSD can include tension, panic attacks, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, or hyper-startle reflex. All of these are distressing and, over time, a combination of these symptoms can normally occur at the same time.

Relaxation techniques are a way of managing the physical symptoms of PTSD. Relaxation techniques are not ‘optional’ in the recovery of chronic stress/PTSD. That’s because these techniques have a dual purpose. These same relaxation techniques also help manage the emotional and physical symptoms. Learning correct breathing to ward off anxiety and panic attacks can be done through relaxation techniques.

Likewise, these same techniques can help with sleep disruptions and tension. Chronic stress and PTSD are disorders that should be treated by a professional therapist. Especially with PTSD, the symptoms tend to increase over time if not treated. People make the mistake of waiting until it is totally unbearable, and then it takes time to ease the symptoms. People are often hopeful it will just go away when the pathological relationship has ended or contact has ceased. These aren’t called the worst relationships in the world for nothing! They are labeled as such because they produce horrible side effects!

Unfortunately, PTSD is a chronic disorder meaning you are likely to have symptoms off and on for years, maybe a lifetime. This is all the more reason to learn how to manage the symptoms when you may need to. Intrusive thoughts are one of the most complained-about symptoms.

This is when unwanted thoughts of the pathological person or relationship keep popping up in your head. No matter how many times you try to not to think about them, they keep coming back. The problem with the images in your mind is that each time they pop up, they have the ability to trigger you. Your body responds to the trigger with adrenaline and starts the whole stress cycle over again. So managing the intrusive thoughts and flashbacks is imperative to emotionally regulating yourself and living the gentle life.

Living the gentle life means removing yourself from personalities that are similar to the pathological relationship. We often tend to migrate BACK to the same kinds of people and relationships we just left. These kinds of abusive people can cause an emotional avalanche. It is important that you understand the kinds of traits in people that should be avoided if you have PTSD or high-level stress. These could be people who remind you of the pathological person, loud or aggressive people, or those who violate your boundaries or bother you in other ways. Stress and PTSD do mandate that you develop self-protective skills such as setting boundaries—learning to say no or leave environments that increase your symptoms. Learn to migrate instead to people who are serene or leave you feeling relaxed and happy.

Creating your gentle physical environment will also help you emotionally. An environment that is soothing, calm, quiet, soft, and comfortable has the best chance of allowing an over-stimulated body to relax. Changing your physical environment for your emotional benefit, and adding relaxation techniques can greatly impact the amount of emotional symptoms you experience. Learning ‘emotional regulation skills’ for stress and PTSD is a must.

If you are in need of the following:

  • Pathological love relationship education
  • Healing the aftermath symptoms of intrusive thoughts, obsessive thinking, flashbacks, anxiety, depression
  • Learning to manage PTSD

…The Institute is just the place to get your life back! For information on the services we offer, go to http://saferelationshipsmagazine.com/services-for-survivors/path-to-recovery. We’ll be happy to help you find a treatment modality that is right for you.

Living the Gentle Life—Part 2: The Physical Effects

In the previous newsletter, I began talking about the normal aftermath of pathological love relationships—Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is often reactivated by ‘triggers’. These can include people, places, things, or sensory feelings that reconnect you with the trauma of the relationship. In the last newsletter, I talked briefly about the gentle life and how an overtaxed and anxious body/mind needs a soothing life. I cannot stress this enough: people MUST remember that their PTSD symptoms CAN BE reactivated if they aren’t taking care of themselves and living a gentle life.

What IS a gentle life? A gentle life is a life lived remembering the sensitivities of your PTSD. It isn’t ignored or wished away—it is considered and compensated for. Since PTSD affects one physically, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually—all of those elements need to be considered in a gentle life. Just as if you had diabetes you would consider what to eat or what medication you need to take, so it is with PTSD.

Interestingly, although PTSD is listed in the psychiatric manual as an emotional disorder, PTSD has some very real physical effects as well. In fact, there has been some discussion among professionals about having PTSD listed in physicians manuals as well, because the untreated, ongoing effects of acute stress are well-known in the medical community. Since PTSD has both components of emotional and physical symptoms, someone recovering from PTSD must take those aspects into account.

Physically, PTSD often becomes a chronic condition by the time you get help. That means you have been living with it for a while and it has been wreaking havoc on your physical body during that time. Unbridled anxiety/stress/fear pumps enormous amounts of adrenaline and cortisol into your body. This over-stimulates your body and mind, and causes insomnia, paranoia, hyperactivity, a racing mind/intrusive thoughts and the inability to ‘let down’ and ‘rest’.

A body that has been living on adrenaline needs the adrenal glands to ‘chill!’ People often complain of chronic insomnia, which also leads to depression. Depression can lead to lethargy, overeating, weight gain and hopelessness. It is possible to have both anxiety and depression occurring at the same time. Unmanaged stress, anxiety, and adrenaline can lead to long-term medical problems often associated with stress—lower GI problems, migraines, teeth grinding, aggravated periods, chest pain, panic attacks, and most auto-immune disorders like fibromyalgia, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis and MS.

So, CLEARLY, PTSD is something that SHOULD be treated. Physically, that means going to someone who can diagnose you—a therapist or psychiatrist. In the early part of treatment, it is normal to take anti-anxiety medication, anti-depressants or sleep aids in order to rectify your depleted brain chemistry and to allow the adrenal glands to rest and stop pumping out adrenaline. Your doctor is the best person to tell you what will help to relieve your physical symptoms. Some use alternative medicine to deal with those symptoms. What is effective for each person varies.

Additionally, you need to help your body and brain produce the ‘good stuff’ in your brain chemistry. This means exercising, eating well, and learning relaxation techniques. Too much adrenaline has been pumping through your body with no way to get utilized.  Excessive adrenaline makes you feel jumpy and restless. Exercise (even moderate walking) helps to produce endorphins in your brain, which produce those feelings of well-being and help to burn off the adrenaline and any extra weight you might have gained.

Although during depression you often don’t FEEL like exercising, you will always feel bad if you don’t get your body moving. Stress is even stored at the cellular level of our bodies. You must, must, must get moving in order to feel better.

Eating well means not trying to medicate your depression and low energy with carbs. When you are depressed your body craves carbs as a source of quick energy, but the spikes in blood sugar add to the sense of mood highs and lows. You’ve already had enough ‘junk’ in the relationship—think of it as nurturing your body with good food to replace all the ‘junk’ that it has been through. You can greatly help mood swings by eating well.

It’s also necessary to deal with the negative habits you have acquired as coping mechanisms. Many people with PTSD try to medicate their anxiety and depression. This could be through smoking, relationship hopping, sex, eating/bingeing/purging, drugs (legal and illegal), and the increased use of alcohol. In fact, one of the devastating side effects of PTSD is how many people develop alcoholism as a result. Any habits you are prone to right now tend to increase when you have PTSD, because the particular habit becomes more and more a way to manage your PTSD symptoms. Finding positive coping skills instead of negative habits is a great step toward your recovery.

Physical recovery also means paying attention to not reactivating your symptoms. Your physical environment in which you live, play and work must be conducive to low stimulation. That means low light, low noise, low aggravation. Sometimes that means making big changes in the people you hang out with—getting rid of the loud, noisy, overactive, aggressive and pathological. And sometimes it means making big changes in a job where the environment does nothing but trigger you.

Lastly, learning relaxation techniques is not optional for people with PTSD. PTSD is a chronic state of hyper-vigilance, agitation, and restlessness. Your body has been over-ridden with adrenaline for a long time and has ‘forgotten’ its equilibrium in relaxation. It must be re-taught. Re-teaching means doing it daily. Take 5 to 10 minutes a day to use relaxation breathing and allow your mind to unwind. Give positive messages to your body to relax to help you tap into this natural relaxation, even during times you are not actively trying to relax. The more you use these techniques, the quicker your body can relax—even at work or when you are doing something else because it has ‘remembered’ how to.

There are many tapes, CDs and videos you can buy on relaxation that walk you through the process of relaxation. We have products created especially for managing PTSD on the magazine site—www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com/category/audio-products.

Taking yoga will also teach you how to use correct breathing techniques that help correct the shallow/panting breathing that is associated with PTSD and anxiety. Shallow breathing or panting can actually trigger panic attacks. Learning to breathe well again is a metaphor for ‘exhaling’ all the junk you’ve been through and releasing it. If you don’t have a relaxation tape, you can download our mp3 audio on relaxation techniques. Most important is to just become acutely aware that PTSD is as physical (and often medical) as it is emotional.

Next week we will talk about PTSD and the emotional effects.

Living the Gentle Life—Part 1: Be Gentle with Yourself

“Be gentle with yourself. The rest of your life deserves it.” (Sandra L. Brown, MA)

As discussed in previous newsletters, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a trauma-related anxiety disorder, and is often seen as an aftermath constellation of symptoms from pathological love relationships. Exposure to other people’s pathology (and the corresponding emotional, physical/sexual abuse) can, and often does, give other people stress disorders, including PTSD. Our psychological and emotional systems are simply not wired for long-term exposure to someone else’s abnormal psychology. Often the result is a conglomeration of aftermath symptoms that include PTSD, which is described as ‘a normal reaction to an abnormal life event.’

The profound and long-term effects of PTSD create what I refer to as a ‘cracked vessel.’ The fragmentation caused by the trauma creates a crack in the emotional defense system of the person. While treatment can ‘glue the crack back together,’ and the vessel can once again function as a vessel, if pressure is applied to the crack, the vase will split apart again. This means that the crack is a stress fracture in the vessel—it’s the part of the vessel that is damaged and weakened in that area.

There are numerous types of therapies that can help PTSD. If you have it, or someone you care about has it, you/they should seek treatment. PTSD does not go away by itself, and if left untreated, can worsen. People often have missed the opportunity of treating PTSD when it was still relatively treatable and responsive to therapy. The sooner it’s treated, the better the outcome. But any treatment, at any time, can still help PTSD.

However, what is often not recognized is the ‘continual’ life that must be lived when living with the aftermath of PTSD. Because the cracked vessel can crack again, a gentle and balanced life will relieve a lot of the PTSD symptoms that can linger. I have often seen people who have put a lot of effort into their recovery and NOT put a lot of effort into the quality of a gentle life following treatment. This is a mistake, because going back into a busy and crazy life, or picking another pathological, could reactivate PTSD. As much as people want to ‘get back out there,’ and think they can return to the life they used to live, often that’s not true. Wanting to live like you did in the past or do what you did before does not mean that you will be able to. I know, I know… it ticks you off that the damage is interfering with the person you used to be… before pathology exposure (BPE). But wanting it to be different doesn’t make it different. If you have PTSD, you need to know what to realistically expect in your prognosis.

Consequently, many people’s anxiety symptoms return if their life is not gentle enough. Much like a 12-step program, ‘living one day at a time’ is necessary, and understanding your proclivity must be foremost in your mind.

Living the gentle life means reducing your exposure to triggers that can reactivate your PTSD. Only you know what these are. If you don’t know, then that’s the first goal of therapy—to find your triggers. You can’t avoid (or even treat) what you don’t know exists.

Triggers are exposures to emotional, physical, sexual, visual, auditory, or kinesthetic reminders that set off anxiety symptoms. These triggers could be people, places, objects, sounds, phrases (songs!), tastes, or smells which reconnect you to your trauma. Once you are reconnected to your trauma, your physical body reacts by pumping out the adrenaline and you become hyper-aroused, which is known as hyper-vigilance. This increases paranoia, insomnia, startle reflex and a lot of other overstimulated and anxiety-oriented behaviors.

Other triggers that are not trauma-specific, but you should be on the alert for, are violent movies, TV, or music, and high-level noises. Also, be alert to lifestyle/jobs/people that are too fast-paced, busy environments, risky or scary jobs, bosses or co-workers who have personality disorders and are abrasive, or any other situations that kick-start your anxiety. Women are often surprised that other people’s pathology now sets them off. Once they have been exposed to pathology and have acquired PTSD from this exposure, other pathology can trigger PTSD symptoms. Living ‘pathology free’ is nearly mandatory—to the degree that you can ‘un-expose’ yourself to other known pathologies.

The opposite of chronic exposure to craziness and pathology would be the gentle life. Think ‘zen retreat center’—a subdued environment where your senses can rest… where a body that has been pumped up with adrenaline can let down… and a mind that races can relax. Where the video flashbacks can go on pause, and fast-paced chest panting can turn into slow, diaphragmatic breathing. Where darting eyes can close, soft scents soothe, and gentle music lulls. Where high heels come off and flip-flops go on. Where long quiet walks give way to tension release … quieting of the mind chases off the demons of hyperactive thinking… so when you whisper, you can hear yourself.

Only, this isn’t a retreat center for a yearly visit… this is your life, where your recovery and your need for all things gentle are center in your life. It doesn’t mean you need to quit your job or move to a mountain, but it does mean that you attend to your over-stimulated physical body. Those things in your life that you can control, such as the tranquility of your environment, need to be adjusted. Lifestyle adjustments ARE required for those who want to avoid reactivating anxiety. This includes psychological/emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual self-care techniques.

The one thing you can count on about PTSD, is when you aren’t taking care of yourself, your body will SCREAM IT! Your life cannot be the crazy-filled life you may watch others live. Your need for exercise, quiet, healthy food, spirituality, tension release, and joy are as necessary as oxygen for someone with PTSD. Walking the gentle path is your best guard against more anxiety, and your best advocate for peace.

Because of this overwhelming need, The Institute offers retreats several times a year that focus on understanding your PTSD. Watch for announcements in future newsletters.