Archives for December 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.

All Memory is Not Created Equal—Positive Memory Seepage

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

Intrusive thoughts are not just bad thoughts or flashbacks. They can be intrusive from positive memories as well. Positive memories are embedded with deep emotional and psychological meaning. The meaning of the relationship, various happy moments, the deep feelings of attachment, fantastic sex—can all be power-packed into positive memories. Positive memories are also embedded with all the sights, sounds, smells, sensations, feelings, and the associated meanings of the events and remembrances of a happier time. The positive memories can also be tied up with a ribbon of fantasy and romanticized feelings. That’s a lot of power packed into a few positive memories, and has the “TNT emotional factor” that overrides your “stay-away-from-him” resolve.

All memories are not stored the same way. I’ve talked about this before in our books. Positive memory is stored differently in the brain, and is more easily accessible than some of the bad memories. Many traumatic memories are stored in another part of the brain that makes them harder to access. Sometimes the more traumatic they are, the harder it is to remember.

Unfortunately, what you might want to remember most is the bad part of the relationship, so it motivates you to stay away from getting back into it. But instead, you are murky, and are not always fresh in your mind about why you should be avoiding the pathological relationship. What IS easy to remember is all the positive memories. In fact, what has become intrusive is positive memory seepage. This is when all the good times and the associated senses (sight, touch, smell, etc.) are flooding your mind. You easily remember the good times and easily forget the bad times—all based on how and where these types of memories are stored in the brain. You may NEED the bad memories for emotional reinforcement; however, all you REMEMBER are the good ones.

That which is held internally is amplified. It’s almost like putting them under a magnifying glass—the feelings, memories, senses—are all BIGGER and STRONGER when the memories simply roll around in your head. It’s a lot like a pinball machine—memories pinging and ponging off the internal elements. The more they ping and pong, the stronger the memories move around the mind.

Memories kept in the mind also take on surreal qualities. Certain parts are like a movie—fantasy-based and romanticized. The positive memories are dipped in crystallized sugar and become tantalizing treats instead of toxic treats! While engaged in this positive memory seepage, it doesn’t feel like you are indulging yourself in toxic memories. It feels like you are trying to process the relationship—“Why did we do this?” “Did he say that?” “Why was it like that then, but it’s like this now?” It feels like what you are trying to do is to sort out the relationship. But all the sorting of this dirty laundry still leaves the same amount of soiled clothing piled in your head. You are just moving the same shirt from pile to pile. It’s still the same dirty laundry but nothing is getting cleaned up.

Positive memory seepage, as intrusive thoughts, is a big contributor to the cognitive dissonance women feel in the aftermath of these relationships. Cognitive Dissonance (or C.D., as we refer to it) is the difficulty of trying to hold two opposing thoughts or beliefs at the same time—it’s usually something like, “He’s good” AND “He’s bad”—“How can he be good AND bad?” Just trying to resolve that particular thought can leave a woman’s mind tangled up for years. C.D. can single-handedly take women down—it can cause them to be unable to concentrate, work, sleep, eat, or function overall. It’s like the image of the devil sitting on one shoulder and the angel sitting on the other, and they are both whispering in your ear. That’s exactly what C.D. is like—trying to decide which thing you are going to believe—that he’s bad for you, or that he’s good for you.

Positive memory seepage produces intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts, especially about positive memories, produce cognitive dissonance. These emotional processes feed each other like a blood-induced shark fest. It’s one of the single reasons women don’t disengage from the relationship, heal, or return to a higher level of functioning.

Now that we’ve identified what is really at the heart of the aftermath of symptoms, we know that treating C.D. is really the most important recovery factor in pathological love relationships. It’s why we have developed various tools to manage it—Maintaining Mindfulness in the Midst of Obsession e-book and two CDs, as well as our retreats, 1:1s, etc.

The quickest way to recover is by learning to manage the intrusive thoughts and cognitive dissonance. A managed mind makes life feel much more manageable too!

(**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 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!


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.)


Controlled Contact

“The most dangerous thing is illusion.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It really is. Illusion is dangerous. As much as you want to be rid of the horror of a pathological relationship, as much as you want the chaos to end, as much as you try to make the quiet moments a sign of peace, it is all really an illusion. Just because it’s over does not mean that it’s done. In fact, the relationship’s end can often mean the beginning of a new phase: ‘wash, rinse, repeat.’

In many cases you may be facing parallel parenting or endless court battles. The problem is, you are different. You know what you are up against. The truth is, he is not different. You can’t forget that. So how do you manage what is in front of you?

When ‘no contact’ is not possible because of kids or court, you can institute a policy for yourself called ‘controlled contact’—meaning you are in control. You set the rules; you create and hold onto the boundaries. There is no denying that this will be like walking on a tightrope…with ‘gators in the pond below. This is going to be hard. But when you have control, your path will be less challenging, easier to manage. Most importantly, without illusion you will decrease the psychological impact that he has on you.

Controlled contact begins with evaluating how you communicate. You must look at email, text, phone and in person. The first step is to completely eliminate contact in the most ways possible.  So, ask yourself, “Do I need to see him?”, “Do I need to text or talk on the phone with him?”, “Can I limit my contact to email only?” Make a choice to eliminate at least two methods of contact. This means that you will no longer have ANY communication with him via those methods. You will not respond nor will you reach out via those methods.

The second step in controlled contact is to follow some simple communication rules. Begin with limiting the words you use. This means that instead of a lengthy email or text, you limit your words to three or four. You can respond with “OK.” or “Yes.” or “No.” Those are complete sentences, by the way. Next, if you must use more than a couple of words, eliminate all emotional language. You can do this by not using phrases like, “That’s not fair,” “You keep hurting me,” “You just don’t get it.” All of these phrases and those like them convey emotion. This emotional language is just the thing that he needs to hook you… just the thing that will let him know he still has you hooked.

The third step is to be an observer during contact. Stay alert by using linking and labeling.  Linking and labeling is a technique to link the behavior of the Cluster B personality with the label of the behavior—identifying it as projection, gaslighting, crazy-making triangle, etc. For example, pay attention and identify when you see the crazy-making triangle. Listen to his words and the position he speaks from—is it victim, persecutor or rescuer? When you know which role he is speaking from, it will help you to remember that you do not want to be in any of those positions with him… so be the wall. Give him back ‘nothing’. You have to stay outside of the crazy-making triangle because he never will.

The fourth step is to track your success. Write down what works and what doesn’t—when you make a mistake, write it down and don’t do it again. When you do this, you are paying attention to patterns of his reaction to things. This allows you to get your feet back underneath you and to actually be able to predict his responses.

Finally, write down rules for yourself. For example: “When I’m on the phone with him, I will talk to him for no more than 15 minutes.” Another rule might be: “When I talk, I will stay on topic—like the kids’ school issues.” When you set rules for yourself you are taking back your power. Throughout the relationship he controlled the conversations, content and all. Now, you decide.

For you to preserve your mental health you must stay in control when you can. The aftermath of a pathological relationship is not perfect, and it can often leave you feeling like you will never get control back again. But, the truth is, once you rid yourself of the illusion that he will ever be any different, you gain some power back.

(**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.)