Archives for May 2014

Why You Only Remember the Good Stuff of a Bad Relationship – Part 2

Last time I began to discuss the reasons why women have a difficult time remembering the bad aspects of the relationship. Women describe the sensation of only remembering the good times, the good feelings, and being ‘fuzzy’ or sort of forgetting all the bad things he has done when they think of him. This process seems to be triggered by an emotional feeling (such as longing or loneliness) AND/OR by a memory of hearing his voice, seeing an email, etc.

 

Last time we also discussed how good and bad memories are stored in the brain differently. Good memories are stored up front and are easily accessed. Bad memories are fragmented and compartmentalized in the mind, and are, therefore, harder to access as one complete memory. Think of, for instance, child abuse memories and how people so often repress or forget these memories.

 

In this article we are going to talk about ANOTHER reason why you only remember the good stuff of a bad relationship. (This is covered in detail in the book, Women Who Love Psychopaths.)

 

The second reason is based on our own biological hardwiring. We are wired with a pleasure base that is called our Reward System. We associate pleasure with being rewarded or something good. We are naturally attracted to pleasure. The pathological (at least in the beginning) stimulates the pleasure base and we associate that with a ‘reward’—that is, we enjoy his presence. Pathologicals are also often excessively dominant and strong in their presence, something we have gone on to call ‘Command Presence’.

 

What we enjoyed in him is all the good feelings + his strong dominant command presence. Being rewarded by his presence AND experiencing the strength of that presence registers as pleasure/reward.

 

Although he later goes on to inflict pain, pleasure or good memories, as we saw last time, are stored differently in the brain. Our brains tend to focus on one or the other and we have a natural internal ‘default’ to lean towards remembering and responding to our Reward System and pleasure.

 

On the other hand, memories associated with punishment or pain are short-lived and stored differently in the brain. They can be harder to access and ‘remember’. When you experience pleasure with him (whether it’s attention, sex, or a good feeling) it stimulates the reward pathway in the brain. This helps to facilitate ‘extinction’ of fear. Fear is extinguished when fear is hooked up with pleasant thoughts, feelings, and experiences (such as the early ‘honeymoon phase’ of the relationship). When fear + pleasant feelings are paired together, the negative emotion of the fear gives way to the pleasant feelings and the fear goes away.

 

Your Reward System then squelches your anxiety associated with repeating the same negative thing with the pathological. The memories associated with the fear/anxiety/punishment are quickly extinguished.

 

For most people, the unconscious pursuit of reward/pleasure is more important than the avoidance of punishment/pain. This is especially true if you were raised by pathological parents and you became hyper-focused on reward/pleasure because you were chronically in so much (emotional and/or physical) pain.

 

Given that our natural hardwired state of being is tilted towards pleasure and our Reward System, it makes sense why women have an easier time accessing the positive memories. Once these positive memories become ‘intrusive’ and the only thing you can think about now is the good feelings associated with the pathological, the positive memories have stepped up the game to obsession, and, oftentimes, a compulsion to be with him despite the punishment/pain associated with him.

 

These two reasons why bad memories are hard to access have helped us understand and develop intervention based on the memory storage of bad memories and the reward/punishment system of the brain.

 

If you struggle with the continued issue of intrusive thoughts and feel ‘compelled’ to be with him or pursue a destructive relationship, you are not alone. This is why understanding his pathology, your response to it, and how to combat these overwhelming sensations and thoughts are part of our retreat/psycho-educational program. Remembering only the good can be treated!

Why You Only Remember the Good Stuff of a Bad Relationship – Part 1

Over and over again, women are puzzled by their own process of trying to recover from a pathological relationship. What is puzzling is that despite the treatment she received from him, despite the absolute mind-screwing he did to her emotions, not only is the attraction still VERY INTENSE, but the POSITIVE memories still remain strong.

Women say the same thing—that when it comes to remaining strong in not contacting him (what we call ‘Starving the Vampire’) they struggle to pull up (and maintain the pulled up) negative memories of him and his behavior that could help them stay strong and detached.

But why? Why are the positive memories floating around in her head freely and strongly, and yet the bad memories are stuffed in a ‘mind closet’ full of fuzzy cobwebs that prevent her from actively reacting to those memories?

There are a couple of reasons and we’ll discuss the first one today.  Let’s think of your mind like a computer. Memories are stored much like they are stored on a computer. Pain and traumatic memories are stored differently than positive memories. Pulling up the negative memories from your hard drive is different than pulling up a positive memory that is like an icon on your desktop.

Traumatic memories get fragmented on their way to being stored on the hard drive. They get divided up into more than one file. In one file are the emotional feelings, in another file are the sights, in another file the sounds, and in another file the physical sensations.

But a WHOLE and complete memory is made up of ALL those files TOGETHER AT THE SAME TIME such as what you emotionally felt, saw, heard, and physically

experienced.  Just one piece of it doesn’t make it a complete memory such as just a positive memory.

A complete memory = good + bad

 When things are traumatic or stressful, the mind separates the whole experience into smaller bits and pieces and then stores them separately in the mind because it’s less painful that way.

When women try to ‘remind themselves’ why they shouldn’t be with him, they might get flashes of the bad memory, but, strangely, the emotional feelings are NOT attached to it. They wonder ‘where did the feelings go?’ They can see the bad event but they don’t feel much about what they remember.

If you are playing a movie without the sound, how do you know what the actors are passionately feeling? It’s the same thing with this traumatic recall of memories. You might see the video but not hear the pain in the voices. The negative or traumatic memory is fragmented into several files and you are only accessing one of the files—a place where you have stored the positive aspects of the relationship.

To complicate things further, positive memories are not stored like negative memories. They are not divided up into other files. They don’t need to be—they aren’t traumatic.

So when you remember a time when the relationship was good or cuddly, or the early parts of the relationships which are notoriously ‘honeymoon-ish’, the whole memory comes up—the emotional feelings, the visual, the auditory, the sensations. You have a WHOLE and STRONG memory with that. Of course that is WAY MORE appealing to have—a memory that is not only GOOD, but one in which you feel all the powerful aspects of it as well.

Now, close your eyes and pull up a negative memory. Can you feel the difference? You might see it but not feel it. Or hear it and not see much of it. Or feel a physical sensation of it but not the emotional piece that SHOULD go with the physical sensation. No matter what your experience is of the negative emotion, it is probably fragmented in some way.

Negative and traumatic memories are often incomplete memories—they are memory fragments floating all over your computer/mind. They are small files holding tiny bits of info that have fragmented your sense of the whole complete memory. These distorted and broken memory fragments are easily lost in your mind.

If you have grown up in an abusive or alcoholic home, you were already subconsciously trained how to separate memories like this. If your abuse was severe enough early on,  your mind just automatically does this anyway—if you get scared, or someone raises their voice, or you feel fear in anyway—your brain starts breaking down the painful experience so it’s easier for you to cope with.

Next time we will talk about one other way your mind handles positive and negative memories, and why you are flooded with positive recall and blocked from remembering and feeling those negative things he’s done to you.

The Anniversary of My Plunge Into Pathology

The month of May marks my fairly “official” date (at least in my mind) in which I was thrust into the field of pathology—totally without consent, without warning, and without return to the normal life I knew before May 13, 1983.  That was the day my father bled out in a grungy gutter in Cincinnati just outside his jazz club after a psychopath plunged a knife into his aorta.  I was initiated into a victim-hood that would turn my life and career in a direction I hadn’t much interest in before that particular day.

Much like pathology in anyone else’s life, you don’t get to choose how it plays out in your life.  The best you can do is to learn how to ride the rollercoaster that goes along with the serious group of disorders in pathology—as I have done.  Thirty-plus years later, I still feel like I am just skimming the surface of what can, and should, be done in education, awareness, survivor services, and advocacy in dealing with pathology. Thousands of pages of writing books, newsletters, websites, workbooks, e-books, quizzes, hours and hours of lectures ad nauseum, over a thousand hours in broadcasts, both radio and television, stacks of CDs and DVDs created—and still we are in the infancy of a new understanding about pathology.  It is the virtual edge of just beginning what someday will be a momentous marker that shows when the world turned a corner for a better and very public understanding of pathology.

We’re not there yet but the day IS coming. Every new blog that goes up, every newsletter, every website, every talk, every social networking post, every private moment of knowledge shared with another victim, every coaching session, every class taught, every therapy hour, every group gathering, every prayer muttered, every radio show aired, every celebrity living it and bringing it to notice, every TV show featuring it, every newspaper or women’s magazine article taunting it is another message to another ear that has heard the message. You learned it because someone cared enough to make sure you learned it.

Every May 13th, for the past 30+ years, I have halted my existence to remember that life-altering second when my life went from being a normal everyday life to a life of being a family member of a homicide victim. This is when my reality was ripped through by pathology—a disorder so conscienceless that altering history is just another day in the lives of the pathological.  While my pathology story includes a brutal ending, yours, no less, includes something similar—all the things lost in a moment of deep betrayal—the kind of betrayal that only pathology can bring.

If I don’t brighten up this newsletter, I’ll get complaints about “too much reality” or “too much negativity” so, I will say this—while none of us choose to become survivors at the hands of very disordered pathological individuals, what we do with what we were dealt is up to us.  Every so often I like to send a message to you that encourages you to “pass it forward”.  Whatever you have learned from the magazine’s website, newsletters, radio shows, blogs, or the books, is probably more than the woman who is sitting next to you knows.  You don’t need to wait until you understand it more by taking a class, getting a degree, reading another one of our books, attending a retreat, or taking our coach training—that doesn’t help the women you sit next to at work. The knowledge in your head is life-saving to her. Next year, when you are better trained, isn’t the time to share what you know—today is!

If we want to move from living on the virtual edge of changing pathology education in the world, we have to open our mouths and tell what we know.  Every pathological hopes you DON’T do this! They hope you keep what you know to yourself. So many women that have shed so many tears have said, “If I had only known … I would have left earlier, I wouldn’t have left my children with him, I wouldn’t have _______.”

Every May is a time I renew my commitment to what changed me. Every May I bother people with my message and prod them and push them to make victims’ rights and survivor education important in the world.  If I don’t, the image of my dad laying in that gutter haunts me. His death should never have been for nothing—and as long as people have been helped, it hasn’t. Frankie Brown, by his death, has touched so many lives through the message of psychopathy. You’re one of them!  Help me celebrate my father’s death anniversary in a way that brings meaning and hope to many. Today, tomorrow, next week, next month—share what you know with just ONE person—someone that you have felt in your gut needs to know about the permanence and the pain of pathological relationships. Then email me and say “I passed it forward” so I can count up how many people have celebrated Frankie!

If this message has offended you, I’m sorry. Pathology has offended my entire life. Thank you for growing in the knowledge of pathology so you are prepared for the day when you can give someone the life-changing information that you’ve come to know!

When Friends Don’t ‘Get It’ About Him

Remember the line ‘You’re known by the company you keep’? Well, I don’t think that ONLY includes the pathological and dangerous man… it also includes your ‘friends’ and ‘family’ members who may be emotional accomplices of his.

Someone wrote me awhile back and said, “Please write about this — when your own friends don’t get how sick he is and think you should go back, or they think you’re over exaggerating his faults.”

There are a couple of things to consider here. First of all, your pattern of selection of dangerous, pathological, or not quite healthy people probably exceeds just your intimate relationship selections. It might also include your friends, cohorts, buddies, family members and even bosses. Women who enter recovery from pathological relationships and attend the retreats quickly figure out that their lives are LOADED with other pathological people! Not just him!

That’s because those temperament traits in you that I’ve talked about are just as active in ALL your relationships as they are in your intimate ones. Don’t be surprised to find these types of people hidden in all corners of your life. Many women realize they have some house cleaning to do in terms of clearing out all the unhealthy people from their lives once they recognize what pathology is and WHO it’s in.

Secondly, the dangerous and pathological people often attract people to them. If your friends and family members have your emotional characteristics, they are likely to STILL see him how you USED to see him. They haven’t been hurt up close and personal by him to ‘get it’ the way you do. Since these are Jekyll-and-Hyde guys, they have one face for you and another adorable and charming one for everyone else. Women get confused when they gauge whether they should be with him based on what OTHERS say about him.

Intimate relationships are just that – personal and PRIVATE! Others don’t see him behind closed doors the way you do/did. Their take on this charming charismatic guy doesn’t include everything your gut has told you about him or that you have come to recognize by experiencing his bad/dangerous behavior.

When you are ending the relationship, he’s likely to pour it on to all your family and friends — the tears, the confusion and shoulder shrugging (“What did I do?”) and pleading (“Help me get her back!”) Those family and friends who have the same HIGH traits of empathy, tolerance, and compassion as you do are likely to fall for it. Top it off with the fact that almost all pathologicals also proclaim to be ‘sick or dying’ when the relationship is ending. This makes for a cheering squad lined up to backup his sad and pleading stories.

Then there’s the ‘finding religion’ guy who blows the dust off his Bible and is sitting in the front row of church week after week telling your pastor/rabbi how ‘unforgiving’ you are of him.

Yup. Your friends are likely to point to all that pew-sitting and think there’s something to it. But YOU know better… you’ve seen it all before. Remember – the core of pathology is that they aren’t wired to sustain change so this too shall pass.

Getting confused about what other people think of him goes back to the central issue of you having ignored your red flags when you met him. Don’t ignore those red flags again when people who don’t have a clue about what true pathology is tell you that you should ‘give it one more shot’. You know what you know. Tell yourself the truth and let the cheerleading squad fall on deaf ears.

(**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).