Archives for October 2015

Beyond Power and Control

By Jennifer Young, LMHC

Intimate partner violence is not just about power and control. As valuable as the Duluth Model has been in helping us to make a turn in the right direction towards saving women’s lives, we must allow our work to evolve. The good news is that it has evolved – we now know much more about how people work, the brain and neuroscience and the delicate intricacies of intimate partner violence today than ever before. And if we expand our understanding to meet the science, we can make real changes in our world and improve on our efforts to build a safe society for all of us.

In the 1980’s the Duluth Model explained domestic violence based on what the perpetrator was doing. It helped make the shift away from blaming the victim and towards holding the perpetrators responsible (What is the Duluth Model?, 2011).  For decades women had carried the full burden of accountability.

The belief that has driven the Duluth Model is that societal power is what drives batterers to use violence. The innate idea of power within our society for hundreds of years, that men are more powerful than women, is at the source of the violence perpetrated against women. This power differential that continues has been handed down and sanctioned generation after generation. There is no denying that this power exists and is certainly a piece of the problem – a large piece. But, what we know now is far beyond society’s power structure. We now know, because of neuroscience, that there are human pieces of society’s structure that are broken and unfixable. We can no longer turn away from this fact.

Neuroscience and our efforts in understanding the human brain have taken us towards a deeper understanding of the human experience. For hundreds of years we have done the dance between nature and nurture. And for most of our time, we have struggled to validate the nature part and as a result, defaulted to nurture. This argument has not left us, even with neuroscience closing many of the gaps. However, the argument for the causes of human experiences related to nature are much, much clearer today.

What we know today, as it relates to perpetration of intimate partner violence, is that there are disorders of the brain that limit a person’s ability to have empathy and to have a conscience. Without these things one would have:

  • The inability to sustain positive change
  • The inability to have insight about how their negative behavior impacts others
  • The inability to develop any emotional or spiritual depth

There are specific areas of the brain that are responsible for these functions and brain research has now been able to identify that these areas of the brain are different. The differences could be in size, shape or volume. This is not an issue of brain chemistry or circuitry, but an issue with the organ itself – a problem for which we have no treatment. To date, we do not have treatments that change the size, shape or volume of a part of the brain. It is a permanent mal-formation (Fallon, 2006).

And these brain disorders are not new. In fact, we have known about them for decades. It is simply the addition of the neuroscience that creates a new layer of understanding. These disorders – personality disorders (specifically cluster b disorders which include antisocial, narcissistic and borderline personality disorders along with sociopath and psychopath) – highlight the idea of what it means to be a perpetrator of violence. They also teach us that there are many layers to how these disordered people do what they do. And although being motivated by power over others is a piece, there is so much more.

What survivors of cluster b disordered people will tell you is that the explanation of “power and control” as a cause or framework for understanding what happened to them is simplistic at best. Further, continuing with the idea of power and control as a cause does not offer a solution or a way out. For many survivors, hearing that the violence is about power and control implies that change is possible. Just finding the right mix of giving them what they need will lead to a solution. And for those who have heard “he will not change”, there is no follow up. Domestic violence professionals are not sharing the details of why they won’t change. In fact, often perpetrators are sent to Batterer Intervention Program and survivors are told that he can change – if he attends the group.

The evolution of the information about perpetrators requires that we share all of what we know as clinical professionals. What we have known for decades is that there is a group of people – approximately 4-6% of the US population (Hare, 1998) (Stinson, et al, 2008) (Grant, et al, 2008) – who have no empathy and no conscience. This group of cluster b disordered individuals cannot change and there is no treatment for their disorder. As clinical professionals, we have available to us a breadth of information about the patterns and a categorical list of behaviors that we can share with survivors to help them identify if their partner is a cluster b. Finally, we can share the permanent nature of these disorders to inform survivors, once and for all and with certainty, that their partner will not change.

This information is being used for risk assessments related to intimate partner homicide but it must also be used by every domestic violence professional from the moment a survivor walks through the door. This information can help determine what type of safety planning is needed and ultimately the path of recovery. Over and over again, survivors share with us the first time they were told that their partner had a cluster b disorder. Having been given this information by a clinical professional shifted everything for them. Today, survivors head to the internet and see for themselves that their disordered partner meets every one of the items on the checklist. Then they leave – for good.

The history of the domestic violence movement is a solid foundation on which all of us stand. It provided a way forward and a way out for uncounted millions. But there is more – more information and more work to be done. We cannot stop and rest on one piece of the puzzle when survivors know there is more to the story. We must not be afraid to share what we know – say what we see – and give every survivor a chance.


Fallon, James H. (2006) Neuroanatomical Background to Understanding the Brain of Young Psychopath. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law. Vol 3:341.

What is the Duluth Model? (2011). Retrieved August 19, 2015 from

Robert D. Hare. (1998). Psychopaths and Their Nature: Implications for the Mental Health and Criminal Justice Systems in Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal, and Violent Behavior. ed. Theodore Millon, Erik Simonsen, Morten Birket-Smith, and Roger D. Davis. New York, NY: Guilford Press. 188-212.

Stinson FS, Dawson DA, et al. (2008). Prevalence, correlates, disability, and comorbidity of DSM-IV narcissistic personality disorder: results from the wave 2 national epidemiological survey on alcohol and related condition. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Jul; 69(7): 1033-45.

Grant, B. F., Chou, S. P., Goldstein, R. B., Huang, B., Stinson, F. S., Saha, T. D., et al. (2008).

Prevalence, correlates, disability, and comorbidity of DSM-IV borderline personality disorder:

Results from the wave 2 national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions.

Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 69, 533-545.

(**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.)


Recovery Without Justice

At the heart of the victims’ rights movement I was involved in, during the 1980s after my father’s murder, was the concept of judicial justice that would lead to psychological justice. It’s a great concept and, in a perfect world, it would work in all situations. If the pathological person wronged you (physically hurt you, conned you out of money, screwed up custody situations, cheated on you, spiritually abused you, etc.), he would be held accountable in the courts for his behavior and, more importantly, he would be forced into victim restitution in which he would have to repay you for your pain or do something to acknowledge his guilt and assuage your pain.

Of course, restitution in and of itself really doesn’t heal anything. It’s just that the victim or person who was harmed feels like the scales of justice, which were so grossly leaning in the abuser’s direction, got balanced in their direction for once. For a moment in court, and for however long it takes the abuser to pay or make restitution, he is officially ‘guilty’ and everyone knows he was charged as such. He is “paying his price to his victim” for his actions. For a moment in court, a judge believes you! He or she believes the monster really did what you say he did. That, in and of itself, is often the psychological justice that victims really look for and it helps them to heal.

In murder trials that I’ve often attended, the family could obviously not be compensated in any true way that relieved their pain and suffering. Their loved one was murdered. No amount of restitution touches a human life. The best the family can hope for is physical payment, prison, the death sentence, or some other act that the court assigns for the monster to repay the victim’s family.

The judicial system acts as the conscience of this country. Victims seek solace in the courtroom and chambers hoping that justice will alleviate the pain, horror, and stigmatization of being a victim of the monster. But we know that in many cases and, I dare say, in most cases, that’s not what happens. Restraining orders are not granted, arrests are not made for stalking or violence, children are given over to the pathological who is an overtly violent, sick, drug-addicted, or an otherwise inept parent. When the pathological doesn’t pay child support, nothing is done and the child is still sent to him. The thousands of dollars he conned out of you or stole from you is never returned. When alimony isn’t paid, he gets away with it. Repeated visits to the courts do nothing to convince them or to open their eyes to the true nature of his behaviors. Anything that is court-ordered he defies and laughs at. You stand, mouth gaping, and wonder, “Where is the justice? HOW does he get away with this?”

I have repeatedly said that the universe is strangely tilted to the benefit of the pathological. If ANYONE will get away with a con or a criminal act, it will be the pathological. The universal scales of justice are tilted in their favor and, ironically, somehow influence the judicial scales of justice. In the 25+ years of doing this work, I have seen them literally get away with murder, rape, embezzlement, breaking and entering, stalking, domestic violence, child abuse, and more. This ranks as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’—how pathological people can con their way out of the most vicious deeds and often never pay in any way for their behavior.

In these cases, women’s hopes of justice are dashed as it is connected to part of their psychological healing. The scales of justice will never be balanced—they are not vindicated in the way that helps them to heal. Even if he is found guilty of something, he is rarely ever held to the standard of the law it’s connected to. If he is supposed to pay a fine, he doesn’t. If he is supposed to go to jail or prison, it’s postponed or overturned. If custody is denied, he receives it by another judge. If he embezzled, it’s forgiven in exchange for an admission of guilt.

Victims’ rights and their connection to judicial and psychological justice will not often get played out in Pathological Love Relationships. The psychological justice that the victim is counting on in order to validate her—her moment in which the conscience of this country believes her—doesn’t happen. Since we understand that psychological justice is what is most likely to help victims heal, now what?

Sternly, I tell victims of Pathological Love Relationships that they sometimes must recover without justice. We are not discussing ‘what is fair,’ because the pathological has already skirted the issue of ‘fairness.’ He doesn’t live with the concept of fairness and the law doesn’t use it as a concept with him. If you desire to recover, heal and move forward with your life, it will require that you just might have to recover without judicial justice, without victim restitution, and without the conscience of this country validating your story.

You have to recover without a second of judicial support. Women who hinge recovery on judicial justice, or waiting for their day in court, or “when he gets what’s coming to him,” will never recover. Your own recovery must be a daring adventure in the face of a lack of victims’ rights. Sometimes the only personal justice IS recovering and living a great life. What he has done to you doesn’t define you, hold you down, or stop you from succeeding in your own spiritual outlook.

In the end, the only thing you really have control over is how you choose to see your situation. If you see it as a victimization and are unable to move past that view, you won’t recover. If you see it as horrible things that happened to you but those things don’t define or restrain you, you will move forward—with or without justice.

The unfair situation is what you have lived through and the aftermath of the effects of the Pathological Love Relationship. In the face of this grossly dehumanizing experience is the indomitable ability to recover that can guide you, not only to survive, but also to thrive in the face of great pain. I have every confidence you can heal, even without justice.


(**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.)



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

October 16 marks 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 Love 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 get bitter, get revenge, get hyperfocused on him and his latest antics, or get into a fetal position and stay there.

But remarkably, Joyce rose from the dirt which 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 Love Relationships.

Joyce believed women tended to drift sideways into Pathological Love Relationships looking for fun and excitement, which actually pointed at what these women needed in their lives that would prevent them from taking on 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 question:

In her 60s 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 70s she took up bellydancing to prove to herself she was still attractive, went to Paris to meet 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 using Joyce’s words 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 of drowning 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 Love 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 her death at age 76, she laid 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, she 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 come away with who attend our retreats. 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 the psychopath who’s so full of energy that it makes their 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 came from a life that was full of the things that interested, motivated, supported, and challenged 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.

Feel how big YOU are and fill your own life with a great life!

One of our readers memorialized Joyce on our Facebook page:

Thank you, dear lady, for your continued inspiration—a legacy you’ve left to many you never knew, but 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.)



Telling Yourself the Truth—You Don’t Have to Tell Me—But at Least Tell it to Yourself…

“People, like all forms of life, only change when something so disturbs them that they are forced to let go of their present beliefs. Nothing changes until we interpret things differently. Change occurs only when we let go of our certainty.” ~Dee Hock


Rigorous honesty is the first rule of recovery. Nothing happens until the truth is laid on the table. Well, that ends a lot of recoveries right there—the inability, or even refusal, to be honest, especially with yourself.


Telling yourself the truth means several difficult things:


1. It means you stop covering for him—stop making excuses for his behavior, quietly and secretly looking for loopholes he just might fit into (“he doesn’t met ALL the criteria for pathology, only 10 out of 12. Psychology could be wrong in his case”).

Instead of looking with the eyes of safety and seeing how many ways he DOES fit in, you scour every square inch of your memory and his behavior looking for ONE redeeming trait that is supposed to wipe out the 25 absolutely pathological things he does. You aren’t telling yourself the truth about him and his pathology or your own loophole hunt and what your real motives are—to find a reason to stay.


2. It means telling yourself the truth about how you need to take responsibility for your choices and your recovery.

Telling yourself the truth about your own choices means you are willing to really dig in and look at where your choices in relationships have their origins. You can’t change what you don’t see. While you are not responsible for the abuse you incurred, you are responsible for your own recovery and the safety of you (and your children). This can only occur when you begin telling yourself the truth about the level of danger you are in and the level of damage you (and your children) have already sustained. Taking responsibility for your recovery means that you both acknowledge the victimization AND seek to thrive beyond the mere title of ‘victim.’ We see so many women do part one: acknowledge the victimhood, but then don’t do part two. They camp out in the victimhood and, 10 years later, they are still in the same spot as they were before.


Recovery means movement and progress. We have to tell ourselves the truth

about our own recovery—we have to kick our own butts if we stagnate or stop growing. Some women find their identities in their victimization because of the severe abuse and loss of self-esteem. Years later, some women have never done anything for their own recovery. They read one book, saw themselves in it, recognized their victimhood, closed the book, squatted—and stayed there. You already lived THAT—real life is out there on the other side of recovery (even IN recovery). Tell yourself the truth about how invested you are in your recovery or what you need to really do in order to recover. If you’re afraid of  success—acknowledge that.


3. It means taking responsibility for relapses.

Sometimes women secretly want to relapse. Have you had that feeling? They just want to go back to what feels normal—which is often dysfunction. It is human nature to want what is comfortable even when it’s painful. That makes recovery all the more difficult because when you are tired, lonely, and sick of the pain you are in, it would be great to believe the fantasy again—wouldn’t it? Just ONE night where he pretends it’s gonna be good again (and even though you know it’s not true, and for that night you don’t really even care if he’s lying), and both of you know how to fake it to ward off the pain and loneliness. So there’s that night of passion that has been fueled by fear and abandonment, but the next day when everyone is past the fantasy, it all starts again. Then you think: since you gave in, and you really don’t have what it takes to end this and leave anyway—you sigh and resign yourself to just living in hell.


Telling yourself the truth is pointing to the ways you sabotage yourself. When you are tired, lonely and sick of pain and you feel the old feelings of relapse sneaking in and your head is wanting the fantasy back—you don’t pick up the phone and call someone who can remind you what reality is. You don’t plan something for that evening that will help you get through that night without sabotaging yourself. The video is replaying all the fragments that only show the ‘good parts’ of the relationship. It’s warm and cozy. You pick up the phone and call him, or you answer when he calls. Telling yourself the truth is about how long you had planned to self-sabotage.


Those are 3 REALLY HARD THINGS to hear. But they are at the crux of recovery. Trauma, fear, and abandonment actually INCREASE people’s feeling of attachment. The more you have been hurt by him, the more intensely attached you will be. Those trauma bonds are hard to break and even harder to live with. Women say they want MOST to be out of pain, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts about the relationship (good and bad) but they sabotage themselves—by not protecting themselves with a No Contact strategy, by not managing their anxiety, by not developing a support system, by not planning ahead for sabotaging thoughts, etc.


Recovery is a life change. It’s not a quick fix to get out of pain like Ativan or Xanax. Women who take a whopping 6 weeks or a few months off from dating and jump right back in are shocked to find themselves back in the same thing again—but it’s usually with someone even WORSE than the last one. The most common factor is each man is more dangerous than the one before. That’s because women think time heals wounds and if it’s been a few months, SURELY it’s time to date again. Recovery heals wounds. Sitting out for 5 years and doing nothing about gathering insight about your weaknesses, relationship patterns, and problems will not magically make you ready for a relationship because you waited 5 years.


Time is time. It just passes. You have to change your life in order to change your choices. Recovery, or changing your life, is a new way of seeing yourself, your previous relationships, your past, your choices, your coping skills and—most importantly—a future filled with different choices and healthier relationships.


I KNOW you ladies are up to the challenge. In the 25+ years that I have been doing this and kicking butts (referred to as Sandra’s Bootcamp!), I am always AMAZED at the quiet strength that grows in women as they take the chance to detach, be alone, and heal. It’s your strength that has kept me doing this for so many years in the face of great odds (and often danger) to myself. But ALL of you are worth it!


October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (and for The Institute, Pathology Awareness Month!), so I am starting the kickoff with this article on “Telling Yourself The Truth.” If we can help you dig down into the truth for you and help you start your recovery, just let us know! We make it easy—phone sessions in the privacy of your own home and in the comfort of your fuzzy slippers! Or gather over coffee in one of our support group and meet other ladies going through it too. Or jump on a plane or get in your car and go to the beautiful Carolinas, and begin your healing journey directly with Sandra. Whatever you do… tell yourself the truth so your recovery can start!


(**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.)