Recovery and finding your path to emotional wellness from pathological love relationships isn’t a quick and easy ‘done deal’. When women get mild relief from the unrelenting symptoms of the aftermath with a pathological, it can be very palatable to them. The relief from the intrusive thoughts, obsessions, PTSD, poor sleep, hyper-vigilance, or any other problematic symptom can feel “healing” to them. But it doesn’t always mean they ARE healed.
Over and over again, I have learned how damaging, how unrelenting, the aftermath is from pathological relationships. For some women, it reaches all the way back to childhood with pathological parents. For others, it has only been in their intimate relationships during adulthood, yet it has left its distinguished mark.
Mild relief can often be mistaken for recovery. Recovery is a lifelong journey of self-care. Recovery can begin at the moment you recognize the damage done to you by pathological individuals, but it doesn’t end with a counselor or a group. For many women, the symptoms have crept into their worldview—how they see others, their environment, and themselves. I learn again and again, as I meet with women, that the damage is widespread. This isn’t a quick fix or often, a quick treatment. While your mild relief of symptoms instills relief or hope, it isn’t the end of your recovery journey. It’s the beginning.
Like peeling an onion, each layer shows a level of damage that needs care. All the way down to the core are layers of unperceived and unrecognized aftermath symptoms. At the core are boundary issues—those necessary limits that show that someone understands what is your’s, someone else’s, or God’s. From the center of boundaries are gates that must be developed to serve as limits saying what one will and will not tolerate.
Boundaries are the bedrock of all recovery. Anything that is built will be built from the issue of healthy or unhealthy boundaries. Many women don’t realize that pathological people target women with poor boundaries. The pathological tests this out early in the relationship, and when small boundary violations are not managed, they proceed with bigger violations. Every violation is a green light to the pathological. Learning how to establish healathy boundaries is the first step in recovery.
In another layer of the onion lays hyper-vigilance issues. High harm avoidance from PTSD weaves a level of distrust in new environments, people, and situations. It affects fear of the future and even fear of the present.
Yet another layer of the onion is communication—the ability to listen in the midst of upset. Since pathological individuals have skewed communication, this area is often seriously affected. Long-term exposure to pathological people produces the same type of skewed communication patterns and linguistics in women who have normalized the abnormal behavior of pathologicals.
A layer of emotional regulation is most assuredly part of the aftermath— many women experience anxiety, depression, irritability, the overflow of pent-up emotions, and the inability to control their emotions.
In layer after layer are aftermath symptoms that must be peeled away and treated in recovery. Everyone knows there are many layers in an onion. While it may be disconcerting to see all those layers, the layers are translucent and show the wounding in each level that recovery must touch.
Women who have begun recovery may be surprised at what feels like the unending layers of an onion, and wonder when they will reach the core. Mild relief from anxiety or sleeplessness is welcomed, but should not be viewed as more than it is. Reaching to the core is deep work and should be respected for the lengthy process it is likely to be. What other choice is there?
Whether you begin at the core with boundaries, or start at the outer edge with symptom management and work into the core, allow the process because there is no healing without it. We must never underestimate the damage done by pathological individuals at a deep emotional, and, even spiritual, level.
(**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).