Archives for March 2014

Adult Children of Abusive Parents—When Parents are Pathological

Why women end up in pathological love relationships is a widely debated topic. After more than 25 years in the field, my view is that the reasons are often a mixture of several issues. We find most of the simplistic ideas about ‘why’ are not based on the dynamics of the women’s lives or relationships.

This is a complex issue and we have been looking at various reasons why. Any one explanation is probably not the total explanation. I think for many women, their patterns of selection have to do with a number of complex interweavings, not to mention, the ‘mask’ of pathology itself and how it hides, lures, and cons.

We have looked at the possible influence of pathological parenting. This may not apply to all who have ended up in pathological love relationships, but for those who have had pathological parents, this, too, may have been a factor. Just like in the 12 Steps, “take what works, and leave the rest.” If this is not applicable to your past, it’s probably not applicable to your pathological relationships. For those to whom it is applicable, here is another consideration.

Sometimes our dangerous male choices, bad boy selections, and addictive relationships are really just manifestations of the parenting we endured when young. If we were unfortunate enough to live in homes in which one or both of our parents were abusive, addicted, or pathological, our choices could be reflecting what did or did not happen in our own emotional development because of our pathological parenting. Pathological parenting, often referred to as self-absorbed parenting, can have significant and deep-seated effects on children, and these effects often persist into adulthood.

Sometimes our choosing of dangerous men comes from replicating our own childhoods. Some women pick men that subconsciously ‘feel’ like those early childhood dynamics. This is not a conscious decision, but is driven by primitive and familial feelings and unmet needs. The dynamic is further re-enacted by women being victimized again in similar ways as they were in the home where a parent was abusive or pathological. Pathological parenting involves:

  • Being unresponsive to others’ needs
  • Being self-absorbed, self-focused, and self-referencing
  • Being indifferent about other people
  • Being grandiose and arrogant
  • Lacking empathy for others
  • Lacking a core self (they are as deep as Formica)
  • Having shallow and quickly fleeting emotions
  • Wanting constant admiration and attention
  • Feeling special and unique
  • Not relating well to others

This results in pathological parents typically displaying the following kinds of parenting types and behaviors:

  • Blaming the child
  • Criticizing the child
  • Demeaning, devaluing, and demoralizing the child

Since the child has only known this kind of parenting, it is often difficult for the child to know there is something wrong with their parents. The child grows into adulthood still not knowing their parent is pathological. The result is the child/adult now has learned how to ‘normalize’ abnormal behavior because healthy behavior was never modeled.

Typical of abusive and pathological parents is when the parents make the child ‘take care of them emotionally’. This is often referred to as ‘emotional incest’ or ‘parent-ifying the child’. In a healthy home, the parent emotionally meets the needs of a child and supports the child through the developmental process of becoming a separate individual and teen and ‘individuating’ or ‘separating enough to be your own self’. In addictive, abusive, and pathological families, children are not supported through these developmental periods. Instead, the parent expects the child to meet THEIR needs.

Were you a parent-ified child?

  • Were you made to feel responsible for your parent’s feelings, well-being and/or general welfare?
  • Did your parent(s) seem to be indifferent or ignore your feelings much of the time?
  • Were you frequently blamed, criticized, devalued or demeaned?
  • When your parent(s) was/were upset or displeased, were you the target of his/her/their negative feelings?
  • Did you feel that you were constantly trying to please your parent(s) only to fall short?

Do you ever remember hearing your parent(s) say:

  • Don’t you want me to feel good?
  • You make me feel like a failure when you (do) ________.
  • You ought to care about me.
  • I feel like a good parent when someone praises you.
  • If you cared about me, you would do what I want you to do.

Children who were parent-ified or were victims of emotional incest or were raised by abusive/ addictive/pathological parents often have one of two reactions to their parenting. One is compliance, the other is rebellion.

Do you have any of the following symptoms of compliance?

  • Spend a great deal of time taking care of others.
  • Are constantly alert about acting in a way to please others or are very conforming.
  • Feel responsible for the feelings, needs, and welfare of others.
  • Tend to be self-deprecating.
  • Rush to maintain harmony and to soothe the feelings of others.
  • Don’t get your needs met.

With rebellion, the adult child is often defiant, withdrawn and insensitive to the needs of others. They build a wall around themselves to avoid being manipulated by others. They avoid responsibility resembling the kind of responsibility they had as children.

Adult children of abusive/addictive/pathological parents normally have lives where:

  • They are dissatisfied with themselves and the course of their lives.
  • They are trying to be in emotional sync with others but find they are not successful at it.
  • They are constantly looking a their own flaws, incompetence, and other faults they perceive in themselves.
  • They do not have meaningful relationships in their lives.
  • They do not allow people to become emotionally close to them—they keep people at arm’s length.
  • They feel like they lack meaning and purpose in their lives.
  • They have continuing relationship problems with family, friends, and co-workers.
  • They feel isolated and disconnected from others.
  • They are often overwhelmed by others’ expectations of them.

People who were raised in these types of families often go on to develop relationships with people who resemble the dynamics with which they grew up. Unconsciously, women often pick men who demonstrate, on some level, the kinds of behaviors their abusive parent did.

Women who do not recognize that they have grown up to ‘normalize abnormal behavior’ perpetuate the pattern of choosing dangerous and pathological men over and over again. They are stuck in a terrible cycle of self-sabotage. (Read more about this in How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved or Women Who Love Psychopaths.)

(Thanks to the article, “Parental Destructive Narcissism,” by Nina W. Brown, for information on pathological parenting.)

(**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

It’s All About Him! Are You Dating a Narcissist?

Many women are now familiar with the word ‘narcissism,’ but not always totally aware of the specifics of the disorder. The word ‘narcissism’ is tossed around a lot as a catch-all phrase for people who are conceited or aloof. But narcissism is more than a case of conceit. It is a pathological and incurable disorder. Narcissism is a brutal way for women to learn about dangerous and destructive men. By the time a woman realizes a man is narcissistic, she has been pounded into the emotional dirt.

Many women find fascination with men who seem self-assured, but this is merely the mask of narcissism, which hides an emotionally undeveloped little boy seeking the attention NOW that he didn’t get as a child.

But all the attention he has sucked out of women never fills the broken vessel of his soul. All the attention never stays in him. It spills out only for him to seek MORE and MORE from anyone that he can get it from. Dr. Sam Vaknin refers to this as the ‘narcissistic supply’—the need for a constant stream of affirmations, attention, and admiration from a constant supply of givers. Narcissists are rarely happy with only one stream of attention. They seek it from friends, strangers, co-workers, family, and anyone else they can tap into, which is also why narcissists are rarely faithful—all this attention-seeking leads to more focused admiration via sexual contact.

The major description that women give of the relationship with a narcissist is he is ‘confusing and exhausting.’ Women come out of the relationship dragging the shell of their former selves. That’s all that’s left when he is done with her. A narcissist’s path is always littered with the emotional skeletons of a multitude of women and children.

So, ARE YOU with a narcissist? You might as well know now. Take the quiz below based on your knowledge of him. (Thanks to Nina Brown and “Is Your Partner a Narcissist?” from Loving The Self- Absorbed.)

Point scale for each statement
5-Always or almost always does this
4-Frequently does this
3-Sometimes does this
2-Seldom does this
1-Never or almost never does this

__ He constantly looks to you to meet his needs
__ He expects you to know what HE expects, desires and needs without having to ask
__ He gets upset when you are perceived to be critical or blaming
__ He expects you to put his needs before your own
__ He seeks attention in indirect ways
__ He expects you to openly admire him
__ He acts childish, sulks or pouts
__ He accuses you of being insensitive or uncaring without cause
__ He finds fault with your friends
__ He becomes angry when challenged or confronted
__ He does not seem to recognize your feelings
__ He uses your disclosures to criticize, blame, or discount you
__ He is controlling
__ He lies, distorts, and misleads
__ He is competitive and uses any means to get what is wanted
__ He has a superior attitude
__ He is contemptuous of you and others
__ He is arrogant
__ He is envious of others
__ He demeans and devalues you
__ He is self-centered and self-absorbed
__ He has to be the center of attention
__ He is impulsive and reckless
__ He boasts and brags
__ He is insensitive to your needs
__ He makes fun of others’ mistakes or faults
__ He engages in seductive behavior
__ He is vengeful
__ He expects favors but does not return them

If your answers are mostly 4s and 5s, you are involved with a narcissist.

People who have been raised with pathological parents go on to select pathological men for partners. Dating/marrying a narcissist falls into that category. Since narcissists do not change, because narcissism is a permanent embedded personality disorder, the question to you becomes, “How much longer will you stay with someone who can’t ever be healthy?”

Have you told yourself any of the following?
•    I am in a relationship and feel he is more important than I am.
•    I often feel like a failure in this relationship and blame myself for the condition of the relationship and how he treats me.
•    I tell myself, “If I just try harder things will be fine.”
•    I wonder what happened to the charming person I was involved with and why he is so different now.
•    I feel numb and exhausted by his constant demands and the strain in the relationship.
•    I keep hoping ‘someday’ things will get better.
•    I have an overwhelming sense of guilt much of the time.
•    I always tell myself I am responsible for things going wrong (and he agrees).
•    I have given up time, ambition, interests, family/friends and my life for him.

(Thanks to Mary Jo Fay from, When Your “Perfect Partner” Goes Perfectly Wrong: A Survivor’s Guide to Loving or Leaving the Narcissist in Your Life.)

These are examples of the effects of being with a narcissist. Over time, these effects increase until your self-esteem is so low you no longer even attempt an exit. Life with a narcissist costs you everything. It already has, and it will in your future as well.

In order for you to heal, both from abusive, addicted, and/or pathological parenting AND from your relationship with dangerous men, you must exit so you can work on yourself and your own recovery. No one heals or grows in a relationship with a narcissist. The longer you stay, the harder it is to leave, because you have stopped growing and hoping for emotional well-being for 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

Addictive Relationships

Let’s face it. If we were really good at choosing healthy relationships, we wouldn’t be here reading information about dangerous men. We would be happily somewhere else with a healthy guy! So let’s at least begin with the universal assumption that we haven’t done our best job at selecting potential relationships with men who actually HAVE potential!

There are a lot of ways to define relationships that don’t work well. Often they are called ‘dysfunctional’ or ‘abusive’ or ‘bankrupt.’ But, what I’d like to focus on are those relationships, that, despite all the horrible things going on in them, the women are encased in a web they cannot climb out of because their relationships are ‘addictive’.

Some people do not realize that relationships/love/sex can qualify as an addiction or an out-of-control behavior. Addictive relationships are characterized by attachments to someone who, for the most part, is not available emotionally. In addictive relationships there is a single overwhelming involvement with another person that cuts the women off from other parts of their lives. The results of trying to be in an addictive relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable are:
• Confusion
• Fear
• Franticness
• Obsession
• Loneliness
• Despair
• Anger
• Feeling stuck

Addictive relationships have similar qualities to other patterns of addiction, which ‘rob’ people of the quality of their lives. They impact the ability to:
• Have healthy communication
• Have authentic enjoyment of one another
• Love each other outside of dependency
• Be your healthiest self
• Be able to leave the relationship if it becomes unhealthy or destructive

Addictive relationships are described by women as “a feeling that I just cannot leave him no matter how bad he has been or how awful I feel”. There is a battle going on inside of them and, despite a normally rational approach to life, they still cannot unhinge themselves from this pattern of destruction that they know is bad for them. They often feel helpless to make the choice to leave. They are ‘hooked in’ in ways they do not even understand.

As is true in other addictions, you lose the ability to constructively manage your own life. Like drug or alcohol addiction, addictive relationships show the same signs of:
• Magical thinking
• Helplessness to stop the addiction/relationship
• Feeling bad about one’s inability to stop
• Passivity
• Low initiative to stop the behavior and/or relationship

The inability to manage one’s life is often connected to belief systems that you hold about yourself, your future and relationships. Often these beliefs are what they call “stinking thinking” — that is, at the core of these, are erroneous beliefs often developed from childhood on.

Unmet childhood needs warp into adult ‘neediness’, which places a person at higher risk for developing dependent and addictive relationships as an adult.
If your childhood was affected by your parents’ relationship or someone your parent dated, please be aware that the same thing can happen to YOUR children. A good reason to work on yourself and to stop dating dangerous men is your children and to stop the damaging effects on them. Addictive relationships are always the destructive exploitation of one’s self and the other person which masquerades as love.

The following checklist is a guide to help you identify any tendency towards relationship addiction or unhealthy relationships in general. If you answer ‘Yes’ to most of the following statements, you probably have a problem with relationship addictions.

o To be happy, you need a relationship. When you are not in a relationship, you feel depressed, and the cure for healing that depression usually involves meeting a new person.
o You often feel magnetically drawn to another person. You act on this feeling even when you suspect the person may not be good for you.
o You often try to change another person to meet your ideal.
o Even when you know a relationship isn’t good for you, you find it difficult to break it off.
o When you consider breaking a relationship, you worry about what will happen to the other person without you.
o After a break-up, you immediately start looking for a new relationship in order to avoid being alone.
o You are often involved with someone unavailable who lives far away, is married, is involved with someone else, or is emotionally distant.
o A kind, available person probably seems boring to you, and even if he/she likes you, you will probably reject him/her.
o Even though you may demonstrate independence in other areas, you are fearful of independence within a love relationship.
o You find it hard to say no to the person with whom you are involved.
o You do not really believe you deserve a good relationship.
o Your self-doubt causes you to be jealous and possessive in an effort to maintain control.
o Sexually, you are more concerned with pleasing your partner than pleasing yourself.
o You feel as if you are unable to stop seeing a certain person even though you know that continuing the relationship is destructive to you.
o Memories of a relationship continue to control your thoughts for months or even years after it has ended.
o Even though you know the relationship is bad for you (and perhaps others have told you this), you take no effective steps to end it.
o You give yourself reasons for staying in the relationship that are not really accurate or that are not strong enough to counteract the harmful aspects of the relationship.
o When you think about ending the relationship, you feel terrible anxiety and fear, which make you cling to it even more.
o When you take steps to end the relationship, you suffer painful withdrawal symptoms, including physical discomfort that is only relieved by reestablishing contact.

SO—Are you addicted? Finding the true answer, while it may be concerning, is at least a step towards taking more control of your pattern of selection to stop the cycle with dangerous men. The first step is awareness. Here are some tips for overcoming your relationship addiction:

Robin Norwood, in her excellent book, Women Who Love Too Much, outlines a 10-step plan for overcoming your relationship addiction. While this book is directed toward women, its principles are equally valid for men. Stated here (reordered and sometimes paraphrased), Norwood suggests the following:
1. Make your recovery the first priority in your life.
2. Become “self-ish,” by focusing on getting your own needs met more effectively.
3. Courageously face your own problems and shortcomings.
4. Cultivate whatever needs to be developed in yourself. Fill in gaps that have made you feel undeserving or bad about yourself.
5. Learn to stop managing and controlling others. By being more focused on your own needs, you will no longer need to seek security by trying to make others change.
6. Develop your spiritual side. Find out what brings YOU peace and serenity and commit some time—at least half an hour daily—to that endeavor.
7. Learn not to get hooked into games in relationships. Avoid dangerous roles you tend to fall into, such as rescuer/helper, persecutor/blamer, victim/helpless one.
8. Find a support group of friends who understand.
9. Share with others what you have experienced and learned.
10. Consider getting professional help/counseling.

Some women get stuck trying to get out. Others get stuck trying to choose differently the next time by trying to not end up with a dangerous man AGAIN. Here are some signs you might need professional assistance for a short time to help you get unstuck:
1. When you are very unhappy in a relationship, but are unsure whether you should accept it as it is, make further efforts to improve it, or get out of it.
2. When you have concluded that you should end a relationship and have tried to make yourself end it, but remain stuck.
3. When you suspect that you are staying in a relationship for the wrong reasons, such as feelings of guilt or fear of being alone, and you have been unable to overcome the paralyzing effects of such feelings.
4. When you recognize that you have a pattern of staying in bad relationships and that you have not been able to change that pattern by yourself.
Know that, as your relationship addiction increases, it becomes more difficult to cope with anyone or anything else. This becomes all-encompassing. There is the rush of the addictive relationship that is absent from healthy relationships. Often women misread that sign to think it means there is a strong connection—it just might not be a healthy connection! Addiction is where two people use each other to fill their own loneliness. They are distractions from the inner pain of what someone is feeling.

The only way through pain is going through the middle of it. The only way to find healthier relationships is to work on yourself so that YOU are healthy and you are choosing relationships out of the healthiest part of yourself. (Thanks to the Counseling Center at the University of Illinois for information on addictive relationships.)

In closing, the only defense is self-defense. And the only self-defense is knowledge. We can help you realize your potential need for future insight into the area of dangerousness. Perhaps this article illuminates areas in which you need more knowledge, more insight or more information. If, after reading this, 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.

(**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).

How People Regard You—I’m Not What You Say I Am

Jennifer Young, LMHC

~ “We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.” ~ (François Duc de La Rochefoucauld)

Life isn’t all about appearances. Life is about movement, awareness, insight, change, compassion. Life is about interactions with others. As we move through the world, we move through it together. Whether we accept it or not, we impact each other.

Conversely, we are impacted by others. Our impact on others is often a concern. It is a part of our conscious awareness. We wonder (and sometimes obsess) about how others regard us. Alfred Adler describes this trait of how people regard us in terms of “social interest,” our ability or potential for living “cooperatively and contributing to the good of others.”

We learn to adopt this trait early on, on the playground. As children we are taught to be aware of others’ feelings and to be nice to others. We learn that words do hurt (in spite of the childhood lesson regarding sticks and stones!). We learn lessons like “make a good first impression” and “do unto others …” All of these childhood (and adult) lessons teach us that what others think is important. Now, this isn’t all bad.

Considering we are social creatures, and knowing that we impact each other, it is pretty important to be concerned with how other people regard us. Possessing this trait means that we have compassion and empathy. It means that we want to play well with others. But this trait, like all the others in excess, can be dangerous. It can be especially dangerous for someone who finds their way to a playground with a psychopath.

Herein lies the risk: Psychopaths lack concern for others … real, empathetic concern. They can fake it well, but deep down they move through the world not concerned about their impact on others but about having control and power. So, being concerned about how other people regard them is twisted. It isn’t so much about positive regard as it is negative regard. They want people to believe they are in control, powerful, smart, and likeable, etc. They want to cover up who they really are … manipulative, dangerous, callous, superficial, glib, and controlling. (Writing those words reminds me why they HAVE to develop a mask … it would be hard to spend two minutes with someone if we saw those traits.) So, they move through the world, mask firmly in place, covering who they are with what they want you to believe.

For the woman in a relationship with a psychopath, it’s the trait of how people regard you that keeps you stuck. You are concerned with the feelings of others, you are concerned about your impact on other people (and a psychopath will remind you all day about your impact on him!) As long as you believe you are having a negative impact you will stay until your impact becomes positive. Sad part is, it never does.

He knows you need to be seen as kind, compassionate, loyal and honest—and he also knows that you don’t give up. So as long as he can make you believe your impact is negative, then give you a glimmer of hope that he can change, he’s got you. You stay because you must be seen by him and others as having a positive impact, a high concern for how others regard you. This concept works well in all other areas of your life, but with a psychopath it’s the thing that puts you most at risk and the thing that keeps you there.

Herein lies the benefit: When you realize that he cannot change, you’re out. When you fully and completely come to believe that he is only motivated by power and control, you know that it is no longer about what he thinks or how he sees you … in fact, this flips.

You begin to realize that he sees you as a sucker. He has used everything good about you to fill his empty cup. He has taken what is good and right and manipulated it (and you) for his own agenda. You also realize that he is not only hurting you, but he is having a negative impact on others … most likely people you care about. Knowing this becomes your strength. It becomes the fuel to the fire that burns the relationship to ruin. You will not play with others who have no regard. Think about it. Would you allow an employee, client, friend, or your child to manipulate your good nature this way? Not a chance! You’re out! No more playing with a psychopath; time to take your toys and go home.

So, when all is said and done, you have way too much concern for how other people regard you, and in the context of a pathological relationship that is really, really dangerous. So, how do you put a lid on that trait?

First, be concerned about this trait only when it comes to your pathological. Chances are this trait has served you well in other areas of your life, so don’t be overwhelmed with having to “change” everything about you. This trait is appealing to psychopaths, so just put a lid on it in the context of your relationship.

Next, be aware of your thoughts and actions when he persecutes you, when he calls you stupid or crazy, calls you irresponsible and uncaring, attacks your skills as a mother or tells you that you are being “mean”. When he does this, he is seeking to control you through this trait. HE IS CONTROLLING YOU THROUGH YOUR TRAIT.

Allow this thought to come into your awareness and then challenge it. Who is doing this??? A psychopath. Allow the truth to come into your awareness and you will be compelled to accept it. Additionally, with that knowledge, you can counter any thought with a true thought. You might begin to remind yourself that what he says about you is part of his mask, part of the fantasy that he is creating to keep you in the relationship.

Fantasy is not reality. You know who you are – and you are not who he says you are!

(**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).