Living the Gentle Life—Part 1: Be Gentle with Yourself


“Be gentle with yourself. The rest of your life deserves it.”  (Sandra L. Brown, MA)

As we’ve discussed before, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a trauma-related anxiety disorder, and is often seen as an aftermath constellation of symptoms from pathological love relationships. Exposure to other people’s pathology (and the corresponding emotional, physical/sexual abuse) can, and often does, give other people stress disorders, including PTSD. Our psychological and emotional systems are simply not wired for long-term exposure to someone else’s abnormal psychology. Often the result is a conglomeration of aftermath symptoms that include PTSD, which is described as a normal reaction to an abnormal life event.

The profound and long-term effects of PTSD create what I refer to as a ‘cracked vessel.’ The fragmentation caused by the trauma creates a crack in the emotional defense system of the person. While treatment can ‘glue the crack back together,’ and the vessel can once again function as a vessel, if pressure is applied to the crack, the vase will split apart again. This means that the crack is a stress fracture in the vessel—it’s the part of the vessel that is damaged and weakened in that area.

There are numerous types of therapies that can help PTSD. If you have it, or someone you care about has it, you/they should seek treatment. PTSD does not go away by itself, and if left untreated, can worsen. People often have missed the opportunity of treating PTSD when it was still relatively treatable and responsive to therapy. The sooner it’s treated, the better the outcome. But any treatment, at any time, can still help PTSD.

However, what is often not recognized is the ‘continual’ life that must be lived when living with the aftermath of PTSD. Because the cracked vessel can crack again, a gentle and balanced life will relieve a lot of the PTSD symptoms that can linger. I have often seen people who have put a lot of effort into their recovery and NOT put a lot of effort into the quality of a gentle life following treatment. This is a mistake, because going back into a busy and crazy life, or picking another pathological, could reactivate PTSD.

As much as people want to ‘get back out there,’ and think they can return to the life they used to live, often that’s not true. Wanting to live like you did in the past or do what you did before does not mean that you will be able to. I know, I know… it ticks you off that the damage is interfering with the person you used to be… before pathology exposure (BPE). But wanting it to be different doesn’t make it different. If you have PTSD, you need to know what to realistically expect in your prognosis.

Consequently, many people’s anxiety symptoms return if their life is not gentle enough.  Much like a 12-step program, ‘living one day at a time’ is necessary, and understanding your proclivity must be foremost in your mind.

Living the gentle life means reducing your exposure to triggers that can reactivate your PTSD. Only you know what these are. If you don’t know, then that’s the first goal of therapy—to find and identify your triggers. You can’t avoid (or even treat) what you don’t know exists.

Triggers are exposures to emotional, physical, sexual, visual, auditory, or kinesthetic reminders that set off anxiety symptoms. These triggers could be people, places, objects, sounds, phrases (songs!), tastes, or smells which reconnect you to your trauma. Once you are reconnected to your trauma, your physical body reacts by pumping out the adrenaline and you become hyper-aroused, which is known as hyper-vigilance. This increases paranoia, insomnia, startle reflex and a lot of other overstimulated and anxiety-oriented behaviors.

Other triggers that are not trauma-specific, but you should be on the alert for, are violent movies, TV, or music, and high-level noises. Also, be alert to lifestyle/jobs/people that are too fast-paced, busy environments, risky or scary jobs, bosses or co-workers who have personality disorders and are abrasive, or any other situations that kick-start your anxiety. Women are often surprised that other people’s pathology now sets them off. Once they have been exposed to pathology and have acquired PTSD from this exposure, other pathology can trigger PTSD symptoms. Living ‘pathology free’ is nearly mandatory—to the degree that you can ‘un-expose’ yourself to other known pathologies.

The opposite of chronic exposure to craziness and pathology would be the gentle life.  Think ‘zen retreat center’—a subdued environment where your senses can rest… where a body that has been pumped up with adrenaline can let down… and a mind that races can relax. Where the video flashbacks can go on pause, and fast-paced chest panting can turn into slow, diaphragmatic breathing. Where darting eyes can close, soft scents soothe, and gentle music lulls. Where high heels come off and flip-flops go on. Where long quiet walks give way to tension release … quieting of the mind chases off the demons of hyperactive thinking… so when you whisper, you can hear yourself.

Only, this isn’t a retreat center for a yearly visit… this is your life, where your recovery and your need for all things gentle are center in your life. It doesn’t mean you need to quit your job or move to a mountain, but it does mean that you attend to your over-stimulated physical body. Those things in your life that you can control, such as the tranquility of your environment, need to be adjusted. Lifestyle adjustments ARE required for those who want to avoid reactivating anxiety. This includes psychological/emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual self-care techniques.

The one thing you can count on about PTSD is, when you aren’t taking care of yourself, your body will SCREAM IT! Your life cannot be the crazy-filled life you may watch others live. Your need for exercise, quiet, healthy food, spirituality, tension release, and joy are as necessary as oxygen for someone with PTSD. Walking the gentle path is your best guard against more anxiety and your best advocate for peace.

(**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.)


Living the Gentle Life: The Cracked Vessel

Over the years, I have talked about the frequent aftermath of pathological love relationships which is often Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many women emerge from these relationships either diagnosed, or not yet diagnosed, with PTSD—an anxiety disorder so extreme that the core concept of self is often fragmented.

To demonstrate PTSD, I use the analogy of a cracked vessel. PTSD causes a fracture to the core concept of self. This fragmentation produces a crack in the soul, but the soul, mind and body must continue to try to function as an undamaged vase or vessel. The vase can be glued back together enough to function, but push on the crack, and the vessel will break again.

PTSD is a mood disorder, specifically, an anxiety disorder. The common symptoms of PTSD (whether in you or someone you care about who has been in a pathological relationship) include:

  • Intrusive thoughts about him/relationship/events of the relationship
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks or sensing effects recurring in the present moment
  • Extreme reactions upon exposure to things that symbolize or resemble parts of the relationship
  • Trying to avoid thinking about him or the relationship
  • Trying to avoid situations that remind you of him or the relationship
  • Blocked recall of all the events that occurred
  • Decreased interest in daily activities
  • Feeling numb, detached, unable to feel loving feeling
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hyper-vigilance (startle reflex)
  • Hyper-arousal (feeling keyed up or too alert)
  • Insomnia
  • Anger/Irritability

Some of the biggest concerns for women are the symptoms associated with PTSD, because it is interfering with the quality of their lives, their level of functioning, and often their ability to parent effectively. Many don’t realize they have PTSD so they don’t seek treatment. They just feel like they’re ‘going crazy’ or “I should be over it by now—why am I still having these experiences?” People are often relieved to learn the name and the reason for their experiences.

Unfortunately, others around them may also not realize what is wrong, and may tell them to “move on,” “get over it,” or “just meet someone else,” and yet, months, and even years later, women can still have PTSD symptoms. That’s because PTSD does not just ‘go away’ without treatment. In fact, it worsens over time when neglected.

PTSD is considered a ‘trauma disorder’ because you have lived through an abnormal and traumatic life event. Trauma disorders require specific types of treatment in order to recover. Untreated PTSD can lead to chronic anxiety and depression, substance abuse to help cope with the anxiety, other compulsive behaviors like eating, smoking, and sexual acting out, addiction to sleep aids, and chronic stress related medical conditions. It’s not a disorder to be taken lightly.

Those who have already been diagnosed with PTSD may not realize that PTSD is often a life-long condition. You won’t always feel as anxiety-ridden as you do now, but depending on the severity of your PTSD, it can leave the vessel cracked. Future damage can cause the stress crack to re-fracture.

Survivors either highly identify with the analogy of the cracked vessel, or hate the analogy. Some have written me and said, “I don’t like what you said about being a cracked vessel—anyone can change.” I didn’t create the symptoms and effects of PTSD.  I have only learned to live with them.

People with PTSD need to live quiet, gentle lives. Their households, jobs, environments, and relationships need to reflect the tranquility that an overtaxed body needs. These are not people who need to have fast-paced, dramatic, traumatic and chaotic jobs, lifestyles or relationships. These are people whose bodies, minds, and spirits need to exist in a healing environment.

In our upcoming seven-part series on ‘Living a Gentle Life,’ we will go into much more detail about recovery from PTSD and other parts of the aftermath from a pathological love relationship.

(**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.)


Am I Pathological, TOO?

People who were raised by pathological parents, or with siblings who are pathological, are more likely to repeatedly date pathological people. Some of the patterns of partner selection have to do with learned conditioning—learning to normalize abnormal behavior until that is the norm.

Some pathology can also be genetically transmitted, so people are often concerned if there are down lines in their family tree where pathology exists. For instance, one of the Cluster Bs with a fairly high transmission rate is narcissism. Psychopathy, too, is genetically transmitted way too often!

Clients have two concerns about pathology and its effect on them:

  1. If pathology can be genetic and my parents were pathological, am I PATHOLOGICAL, TOO?
  2. If damage can be done when parented by a pathological, am I DAMAGED?

Pathology can be genetic. There are many people who are born to, and raised by, pathological parents who are damaged by this pathological parenting, but don’t grow up to be pathological themselves. There has been a lot of research and study about this issue of resilience in people and why some do become pathological and others do not.  Nonetheless, about half of the children of pathological parents do NOT become pathological from genetic transmission or from pathological parenting.

However, many of these 50 percent who do NOT become pathological from genetic transmission or pathological parenting are STILL negatively affected by the parenting they did receive. They may carry aftermath symptoms that affect their choices, patterns, feelings, and behaviors. You might be plagued with self-doubt, low self-esteem, chronic caregiving of others, and/or a total disregard for your own needs or self-care. You could battle depression or chronic anxiety, or fight nagging pessimism about your future or the world around you. You might be dangerously naïve, never trusting your own instincts, and constantly be taken advantage of.

You could have eating disorders, sexual addictions/other sexual disorders, or obsessive- compulsive behaviors. You could medicate your feelings with drugs or alcohol or find abusive religious affiliations to take up where your pathological parents fell away. You may have emotional intimacy problems, or jump from relationship to relationship, fearing abandonment or being alone. Or you may engage in what is known as “sexual anorexia”—the forbidding of yourself to ever be intimate or loving with someone else.

Whether you understand why your parents (or siblings) behaved like they did, or you are engulfed in compassion and pity for their illness, the rubber meets the road at the point where your needs went so chronically unmet that you now have your own emotional problems because of what you didn’t get at those crucial developmental points of your life.  Compassion, pity, forgiveness and understanding don’t help you with what you never got from the most important people in your life. If you recognize these symptoms in yourself you probably were/are affected from pathological parenting.

If you learned to normalize abnormal behavior, no wonder dangerous and pathological men look like pretty normal people for you to date! Pathological parenting instills a pathological worldview about yourself, others, and the world around you. The “others” part of the worldview is how you keep ending up with pathological men—narcissists, sociopaths, and other dangerous types. What you learned at the feet of your parents was that black was white and white was black. So many women find that their level of attraction to pathological men was largely generated and supported within the pathological family.

This is a complicated issue that has its roots in several factors related to your adult life. Some of these patterns are related to:

  • Your chronic pattern of selection in men
  • Your inability to recognize and respond to red flags
  • Your non-existent boundaries in intimate relationships
  • Your pathologized worldview that sees black as white and white as black
  • Your ongoing symptoms of relationship confusion, PTSD symptoms or other symptoms you might be having

Reading relationship books or going to relationship counselors is not going to address your pathological worldview and your corresponding symptoms and patterns of selection in men. Your unique family system and relating difficulties need to have the specific understanding and treatment associated with adult children of pathological parents.

We do recognize your unique needs. And we also understand your concern about having been so chronically exposed to pathology through your early years and its devastating results now in your adult life. Rest assured that if YOU were pathological, you would most likely NOT be reading this newsletter or seeking out treatment for your symptoms. Pathologicals don’t stay in counseling or treatment. If you see yourself in the list of symptoms from pathological parenting in this newsletter, rest assured they are VERY treatable!

The good news is that you can recover! Get the help you need in order to stop the cycle of pattern selection and the aftermath symptoms that plague you!

(**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.)


The Power of Relapsing

Never before in my 30 plus-year career have I seen more relapsing back into Pathological Love Relationships than I have lately.

“What’s wrong with me? Why do I do this?” they ask. My answer is—I don’t know… why DO you do it?

“I didn’t know what I was doing…” Yes you did. Contact is a choice.

“I just thought he changed this time.” No, you didn’t—you know pathology is permanent.

“I was lonely.” Ok, loneliness is not fatal—but these relationships often are. Your loneliness and need does not change his permanent disorder.

Nothing has changed except your thoughts about him and the relationship. That’s the only change. Since pathology is marked by an inability to change and sustain positive change, your thoughts are the only change that there is in the relationship. And maybe your desire or need.

Relapsing begins FIRST in the mind long before it becomes a behavior-seeking missile that is fired off to destroy yourself and your recovery. This is why being in a Pathological Love Relationship support group is so important—whether it’s in a chat forum, an in-person support group you attend, social media group, or an online teleconferencing group. You need support that keeps your THINKING outside of the fantasy zone. Without support, you are likely to sink right back into the old fantasy hopefulness that keeps you glued to a go-nowhere and dangerous relationship.

Relapse thinking goes like this:

You take all the material you’ve learned from books or online back to the pathological and try to convince him he is pathological and needs help.

You tell him what your counselor has said about him, you, or the relationship—hoping the impact from a professional will change his mind about his condition.

You say, “Now that I think I know what might be wrong with him, I’ll wait and watch for him to do these behaviors.”

“Then I’ll have evidence for why I’m leaving.”

When he, in fact does one of the behaviors, you either point it out to him as proof you were right, or, you find reasons why the behavior isn’t exactly what you read and therefore, he may not be pathological after all.

You read the materials and literature looking to find all the traits he doesn’t have. You reread the literature on good days so you can cross off behaviors he isn’t doing today.

You find reasons to disbelieve the literature about the disorder.

You avoid your counselor, the Institute’s website, or anywhere there are others who know about the disorder.

You become ‘spiritually hopeful’ so you can stay in the relationship because God is going to heal him.

You begin reading Positive Psychology materials so you can hope he can change even though pathology is all about the inability to change.

You call his girlfriends or exes to get them to confirm or deny he’s pathological.

You hire a private investigator to follow him, ask friends to report back on his social media activity, break into his phone or computer, for ‘just a little more info’ on why you should leave him (but then you don’t leave).

You feel sorry for him more than you feel anger for your own pain.

You focus on the few good times and stuff your own feelings about the deceitful behavior.

You encourage him to carrot-dangle some future hope or potential to you, so you can say, “We’ll try it ONE MORE time.”

You think you are confronting him because you stand up to him, and so you are not being victimized by him if you are voicing your thoughts.

You minimize his previous deceitful, manipulative, dangerous, exploitative or lethal behavior by saying, “I was probably over-exaggerating it.”

You label yourself, “just as sick as he is” so you might as well stay with him. No one healthy would want you.

You envy his lack of conscience and remorse and see it as a ‘good life’ feature, and wish you were like that and cared less about what happened to you. Everything seems to go his way when he lacks conscience.

You hyper-focus on his behavior and avoid taking care of yourself. The relationship/he becomes the reason for your unhappiness, health, financial, and/or other problems.

You study to death all the traits of every kind of disorder you think he might have and don’t leave because you “want to totally understand it before you leave” and need just a little bit more understanding or validation from others—his family, his therapist, your therapist, your friends, etc.

You start softening, missing him, minimizing his behavior, focusing on your own loneliness, panic about who or what he is doing, make excuses to have contact with him. And ~VOILÀ~ you’re back in.

The ‘emergency therapy session’ call that everyone wants to have is AFTER they have done one of these behaviors and feel awful about relapsing. The emergency session needs to be WHILE you are having these thoughts and BEFORE you act on them. Every time you go through one of these cycles of relapses, it just numbs you more to why you should be out. It makes it easier and easier to relapse. And easier for the thinking to start back up in your head and be totally unrecognized by you.

Damage is done to YOU each time you are in and out of the Pathological Love Relationship, damaging your sense of reality even further—training yourself how to hypnotize your belief system with one of the thinking phrases listed above. You are also teaching the pathological how to get you back in the relationship. They aren’t stupid! They are master behavior analysts that study what works with you. Stop teaching them!

There is so much that the Pathological Love Relationship has legitimately done and damaged in you. But there is so much you DO TO YOURSELF in your relapsing. Relapse prevention requires work. It doesn’t just ‘happen’ that you declare you are ‘done’ and you stay gone. If “it takes a whole village to raise a child,” it takes a whole community to help you get out and stay out until MUCH TIME down the road and you are strong enough on your own. I said, MUCH TIME.

Day one of healing does not happen until you are out, and have been out and have been emotionally disconnected, for several months. I don’t consider people who say they are recovering but are in and out and having constant relapse contact, to have even day one under their belt. For those of you who are truly ready to start a new life, we are here to help you. Unwedge 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.)





Characterlogical Disorders: He is What He Does

Personality disorders are those permanent disorders that mar a soul. They impair a person’s ability to grow, to sustain enduring positive change, and to develop insight about how their behavior affects others. This is the path of pathology—when disorders so affect a personality that it leaves a person impaired and it disengages their character switch.

Personality disorders are often referred to as Character Disorders. No wonder! The problems associated with personality disorders largely manifest as inappropriate behavior associated as negative character reflection. We now know some of this inappropriate behavior is associated with poor impulse control. When low impulse control is not managed, a person begins to look like someone ‘characterlogically challenged’— displaying characteristics such as lying, conning, manipulation, overt or covert stealing, sex addictions, infidelity, violence, drugs/alcohol abuse, etc. These are all reflections on someone’s behavior which can reflect character.

Why would someone want to be with anyone whose character is ‘suspect’? Finding out about consistent lying or chronic cheating are all character red flags that, when heeded, could reduce the relational harm you experience; but ignored, become a path of pain. Character red flags are usually related to CHARACTER DISORDERS which are associated with personality disorders, which are permanent.

People who adhere to a ‘two-strike rule’ about character infractions could help reduce the number of people in therapy today because of Pathological Love Relationships. Behavior is often a reflection of character. What are you accepting as character and why are you shocked when they display more of the same behavior? And why do you end up making excuses for their behavior?

Over and over again I hear women of all ages say, “There isn’t anyone decent out there.” It seems to be especially true of this current 20-something generation in which “It’s all about me” has become a significant motto of the decade. Women give up and give in to the common dating practices that are prevalent right now, only to cycle through relationship after relationship not only not getting their needs met, but being damaged by their relationships as well. There HAS to be something better out there for women—but is that what you REALLY want?

Why do I ask that? I got a letter from a previous client who discussed the latest relationship she was in. While she was hoping she had overcome her previous relationship choice patterns, she was shocked to find herself in yet another relationship because “she didn’t want to be alone.” It wasn’t a crushing kind of loneliness—but a general “wanting to find the right guy.” She thought it started out well—and when problems arose, counseling was sought from several sources. Feeling like she had gotten a handle on what the issues were, and he had voiced his desire to work on the problems, she stayed trying to find the love that she was seeking. But after emotional and verbal abuse, a threat with a deadly weapon, a display of alcohol abuse, and some physical assaults—she decided the relationship was probably ‘dangerous or deadly.’ There went another couple of years down the tubes—another ‘dangerous man’ and her hopes and emotions dashed against the trigger of a deadly weapon.

In contrast, I am reminded of my foster son Cody’s character, who died at the ripe old age of 25. He was a young guy who, ironically in this day and age, never succumbed to the sex and drug culture.


He was gentle—with nature, with feelings, with people. His integrity was thorough, weaving a rich and deep seam through his character. In a blazing black-and-white contrast to what women have been selecting, I wondered why it’s so hard to see character. Yeah, yeah, I know—they hide and mask and do all the other subversive types of behavior that don’t allow you to see. It’s often said that “Character is who you are when no one is looking.” Well, a pathological could care less about that! They only want to fake character when someone IS looking.

But just knowing that character and its glaring deficits are often related to pathology should be enough to make people sit up and take notice. We live in a world that is numbing itself against any moral and behavioral absolutes. This numbing causes people to accept pathological behavior as the norm. “There aren’t any good ones left” is an excuse to accept the pathological culture that is developing before us.

It takes someone like Cody to make us realize that good people are worth waiting for. When you accept bad character, you get bad behavior. When you accept bad behavior, you accept being hurt because it’s inevitable. Thank you, Cody, for being a teacher to me about what good mental health looks like in a young man. I miss you, but always remember what you taught me.

Character counts, ladies. Don’t sacrifice.

(**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.)







Hate and Your Potential for Relapse, Part 2 – Moving Toward Detachment

Last week we discussed hate as an impassioned feeling that has a high connection to relapse. We are likely to act on anything we feel that embroiled about. Relapse prevention has to be more detailed than using mere feelings such as hatred as a tool for distancing yourself from the pathological. This usually doesn’t work because hate is passionate and increases your sense of attachment to him.

Instead, let’s consider emotional detachment and its powerful ability to change the course of your thinking and actions. Almost all religious traditions use some form of emotional detachment. Christianity, Zen, Hinduism, and other religions all have techniques for detachment. These religious interventions are referred to as detachment, holy indifference, non-attachment and asceticism, of which detachment is one practice. I particularly like the phrase holy indifference because it reminds me that the practice can be holy if approached with the right motive and heart.

The strength of detachment is that it gives you back the power over your emotions and the actions that come from your emotions. Women complain that they feel powerless over knee-jerk reactions in their emotions (hatred), their thinking (intrusive thoughts, obsessions) and their behaviors (impulsively contacting him). Detachment is a way of creating a spacer between a feeling, thought, or desire, and the action that follows. A spacer is the point of control and choice.

In emotional detachment, you step outside of the situation as if you were the third person watching what is occurring. I tell people to pretend they are ME! So, you are now Sandra, standing over here watching how YOU are going to handle this highly emotionally charged moment.  Taking a moment to say, “What would Sandra tell me to do?” or “What would my spiritual beliefs tell me to do?” gives you back the opportunity to act in your best interest. Your best interest is always non-reactivity—the ability to not have a huge reaction to what he has said or done (except in the case of physical violence, in which you should immediately escape). This emotional detachment is also what I teach in my Starve the Vampire technique—the stepping OUT of an emotional reaction and starving him with your non-reactions.

That’s because pathologicals live for this kind of drama. Every highly charged interaction reminds him of how much control he DOES have over you and your emotions. If he can get you emotionally cranked up, then he has your complete attention. Then he can crank you up further, and he can control you through what he does with your emotions. This makes him feel powerful and will increase his contact with you.

Emotional detachment reminds you that you don’t have to respond to the same old cycles of baiting from him. For your own sanity and dignity you can choose the path of peace, which is holy indifference, or in the 12-Step traditions, “turning him, the situation, and his behaviors over to God.” The old cycles of baiting you with taunts of, “you’re crazy,” “you don’t love me,” “you’re a witch and I’m with someone else,” can be the ending of torment instead of being the fuel for the fire of torment. When you practice non-attachment to these kinds of acts or words, there is nothing to fuel the fire to keep this taunting alive.

Additionally, when you practice the ability to hold your emotions in check, you are stopping the flow of adrenaline into your body. In the past I have talked quite a bit about anxiety, fear and aggravation and how these emotions release adrenaline in your body, which sets off even MORE emotional agitation, sleeplessness, hyper-vigilant reactions, and anxiety. Learning to not respond by stepping back from his words and thinking like I would think about that—(“Oh, Sandra would say he’s just being a pathological—look how he uses those feelings to try to make me react. The disorder is just being what it is. Wow, he really IS sick.”)—helps your body to not react and not create an avalanche of adrenaline crashing throughout your body.

The cycle of baiting, in the past, would have instead created thoughts in you like, “I HATE him—I could just kill him—He’s an ass! He’s doing this on purpose to hurt me, so I’m going to hurt him!” Then you would say something or go home and do something that would continue this cycle. Sometimes, you would re-contact him just so you wouldn’t feel your own hate for him—contact him to make you stop feeling so intensely.

Now, practicing emotional detachment or holy indifference, you can view it like you are watching a Lifetime for Women movie. You see this woman who looks remarkably like you being taunted by this extremely sick man. You notice her body language (relaxed and not tense), her facial features (flat and indifferent), and what she says (tonality of her voice is mono-toned and not angry). She simply walks away or hangs up the phone or does not respond to her cell that is ringing with him on the other end of the line. You see the shocked face of the sick man as nothing happens in the interaction. The screen fades to black. The scene is over.

If her mind is trying to allow adrenaline to be released, she steps back and reminds herself, “I am not responsible for this man’s disorder. He is being who he is—pathological. I don’t need to respond to a disorder.”

Emotional detachment and holy indifference remind us that we are not responsible for a disorder that is incurable and untreatable. This man’s needs and fate are in hands much larger than ours, which is exactly where his needs should be. Removing your hands and your interventions in his life allows God to do whatever He feels is necessary in this person’s life. You can’t influence the outcome. You can only influence how you react.

(**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).


Hate and Your Potential for Relapse, Part 1 – Hate is a Passionate Feeling

When a woman tells me, “That’s IT! I will never, ever, ever talk to him again. I HATE HIM!” I begin looking at my watch to see how long it takes for her to talk to him again. Why do I think her relapse, thus contact, is imminent? Because HATE is passion. Anything that feels that impassioned or has that much energy is usually acted on. If anger is the energy for change, then hate is the energy for hookups.

I am never hopeful when a woman spends all her counseling time talking about this deep- seated hatred for him. As you have heard, love and hate share a fine line of emotional attachment.

When a woman counts on hate to keep her away from him, she is setting herself up for a re-contact and a relapse. Feelings aren’t always facts. And your heart already knows you don’t HATE him—you may be disgusted, hurt, betrayed, bewildered or a lot of other emotions—but in the moment of the breakup you are probably not sitting in deep-seated hatred. Your passionate feelings of love for him, and your belief that he felt the same way toward you, may not have been any more factual than the feelings of hatred. Therefore, it’s not wise to use your emotions as the gauge for your ability to set limits, boundaries, and standards with a pathological. Your feelings are being pulled back and forth, and if your boundaries are being determined by your FEELINGS, they will quickly change with the next email, text, or phone call from him.

Feeling hatred for him and counting on that hatred to keep you from picking up the phone the next time he calls is a poor plan for preventing relapse. Hatred is fickle, and it will turn its back on you in a moment, throwing you from disgust into loneliness and fantasy. Before you know it, it’s make-up sex with all that impassioned hatred turned into hot steaming hormones. Afterward, there’s only confusion and disgust for yourself. Even the hatred you counted on to keep you strong has betrayed you. So, from this standpoint, your Relapse Prevention Plan needs to be stronger and more elaborate than mere feelings.

Hatred also keeps you embroiled in the storytelling to justify your hatred. The more you tell others the story, the more traumatically bonded you are to him and the pathology dynamics. That simmering hatred is causing anxiety and ongoing stress to your body through the releasing of adrenaline. He’s already cost you enough in your emotional health—the hatred just ensures he will also cost you in physical health.

Hatred increases intrusive thoughts, obsessive thinking and the inability to concentrate—not really what you need about now.

Hatred also causes you to neglect your own self-care when you are so consumed with negative feelings that you forget what YOU need right now.

And, finally and most importantly, hating him only disconnects you from your own spiritual connections. Any true recovery is a spiritual experience and you need spiritual connections right now.

The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference. Indifference holds the key to your healing and to the issue of emotional detachment which we will discuss more next week.

(**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).


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).


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 are emotional accomplices of his.

Someone wrote me this week 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’s a couple of things to consider here…first of all, your patterns of selection of dangerous, pathological, or not quite healthy people probably exceed just your intimate relationship selections–it might include your friends, cohorts, buddies, and even bosses. Women who enter recovery for 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 super traits in you I write about are just as active in ALL your relationships as they are in your intimate ones. So don’t be surprised to find these types of people hidden out in all corners of your life. Many women realize they got 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 USE 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, including friends and family. Women get confused when they gauge whether they should be with him based on what OTHERS say about him. Intimate relationships are just that—PRIVATE and 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…

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 those same HIGH traits of empathy, tolerance, and compassion are likely to fall for it. Top it off, that almost all the pathologicals also proclaim to be ‘sick or dying’ when the relationship is ending and you have a cheering squad who has lined up to back up his sad and pleading stories.

Then there’s the ‘finding religion’ guys who go to your pastor/rabbi and blow the dust off their Bible and are sitting in the front row of church week after week telling your pastor 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. The core of pathology is they aren’t wired to sustain positive 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 them again when people who haven’t got a clue what true pathology is tells you that you should ‘give it one more shot.’ You know what you know. Tell yourself the truth. Then turn to them…and tell them too. It’s called psychopathy education–teach what you know!

(**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 info.)

Beginning at the Beginning: Personality Formation and Dysfunction

Dr. Thedore Millon, The Pioneer of Personality Science

If Freud was the ‘Father’ of Psychoanalysis, Dr. Theodore Millon is the ‘Grandfather of Personality Theory’. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to interview Freud than I did Dr. Millon (pronounced Milan, like the city)!

Dr. Millon’s biography reads like a clinical and scientific manifesto with his prolific writing of an unusually large number of books and journal articles. His career has not only spanned decades but has changed how the world has come to understand personality and the disorders of it. His contribution to the understanding of personality disorders has earned him the title of one of the ‘Pioneers of Personality Science.’

I wanted to launch the magazine with my talk with Dr. Millon because everything we do at The Institute is related to the issues of personality and personality disorders. So to begin the magazine’s focus on the right foot, it would seem fitting to begin with talking about personality, theory, development, and why this is so important to you–the survivor in a relationship with someone with a personality disorder. This discussion should also be of interest to therapists trying to help a survivor with the aftermath of the relationship. In either case, what has troubled someone enough to seek out The Institute is their relationship with someone else’s personality disorder, pathology, or psychopathy.

But first, a little trot down memory lane for me about Dr. Millon and his importance to me and you!

  • My theory books in graduate school for my course in Personality Development were Dr. Millon’s.
  • My theory books in graduate school in my psychopathology course included Dr. Millon’s and his work was peppered throughout the other course books and personality disordered trainings that I have taken in over 20 years.
  • As a young therapist in a mental health clinic working in only personality disorders, it was HIS testing instruments we used to diagnosis personality disorders.
  • It was his information I used to describe the personality formations that make up personality disorders to my interns.
  • His charts help us distinguish characteristics between the various 10 personality disorders.
  • His ideas on ‘challenges of life’ that personality disordered people face.
  • His references about violence associated with psychopathy that warned us.
  • And his clinical reference books that lined my book shelves and the pathology library associated with our mental health clinic/

For me, there could have been no one else I would rather talk to than the person who has contributed so much to the understanding of personality disorders and what I have devoted my coaching work to. He has helped you as well–any informational help you have received about narcissism, borderlines, anti-socials, and psychopaths has probably stemmed from the work of Dr. Millon.

At 83 years old, his life time of dedication to the exploration of personality disorders has brought it out of the closet of ‘mystery’ and ‘assumptions’ and under the microscope of diagnostics. So on a personal level I thank this man for his contribution to what we know so far.

So what is it that we should discuss about personality disorders? Why is the issue of personality important to you, your future, and your therapist? You can’t deal with what you don’t know—as a survivor or as a therapist and so the first step in this journey associated with personality disorders is the ‘knowing.’ The difficulty about ‘knowing’ personality disorders is that its theories are still being hashed and rehashed (as it should) and what we are left with are some differing views. While Dr. Millon has clearly helped us understand what he calls ‘personology’ and the developmental aspects of the disorders, we still have a long way to go in understanding things such as,

  • Why do these disorders form?
  • What can be done if anything?
  • Who will be affected or even harmed because of them?
  • What societal effect does personality disorders have?
  • What cultural and political effect does personality disorder have on others?
  • What relational damage is done to others?
  • What parenting damage is done through personality disorders?
  • What type of parent, partner or prodigy does a personality disordered person make?
  • What are personality disorders doing to our systems—legal system, social service system, criminal justice system, mental health system?
  • Why are some of the personality disorders more destructive than others?
  • What commonalities do personality disorders share at their core?
  • Is there a common ‘after math of symptoms’ seen in the survivors of the high destructive Cluster B personality disorders?
  • How do survivors heal? What do they need? What do the children need?
  • Who doesn’t understand this and how can we teach them—the general public, the court systems, the mental health systems, social service systems, and child welfare systems?

These are existential type questions that survivor’s live with every day. Now our world is starting to live with these questions and the problems of these unanswered questions as pathology and its tyranny rises in the world around us. As our societal systems are being challenged by pathology and hood-winked by the lack of education it’s the survivors and children who feel the most impact of our ‘not knowing enough’ about these existential questions related to these disorders. The bleed-over is a conned legal system, a blinded child welfare system, an untrained mental health system, a tapped-out social service system, and a burgeoning criminal justice system. Education about these disorders has never been more vital to our own existence than it is today.

Sandra: “Dr. Millon, where are we today in understanding this diverse diagnosis of personality disorders? What is on the horizon, for instance, in psychopathy?”

Dr. Millon: “We are still dealing with the changes that happened to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual III when they changed from a psychopathic personality to what they now call Anti-social personality disorder. There are some flaws there because Anti-social is based on illegal activities and criminality when many of these persons don’t get caught to get labeled criminal so diagnostically would be missed.”

Sandra: “So what is being discussed for the next DSM version that will be coming out?”

Dr. Millon: “From what I gather, they are still discussing expanding Anti-social to include combinations of other personality disorders. Many persons with Anti-social also have other personality disorders associated with it which can make their presentation very different from others.”

Sandra “Such as?”

Dr. Millon: “Combinations of Anti-social + Paranoid, Anti-social+ Avoidant, etc. There could be as many as 10 factors or combinations of the disorder if we look at them in these types of configurations.”

Sandra “How will that help?”

Dr. Millon “It’s a clearer picture of the overlap of the disorders combined together and shows some of the diversity that you can see in the disorder when it’s influenced by other personality disorders.”

Sandra “There is a lot of talk about the genetic transmission of some of these personality disorders. What are your thoughts?”

Dr. Millon: “I think we are still trying to understand this. There are some of the personality disorders that are more strongly genetically transmitted than others for instance psychopathy. But for some of the other personality disorders, it is more socially learned.

Sandra “You mean ‘the nurture’ portion?”

Dr. Millon “Yes, sometimes family influences, and sometimes other types of social influences. It was Koch in 1890 that discussed biological aspects of psychopathy. He called it ‘constitutionally psychopathic.’ Then Birnbaun in 1910 discussed it as a ‘sociopath’ because he felt there were more social influences that caused the disorder than biology.’

Sandra “I am sure you are aware of the brain imaging techniques that are being used now to look at some of the possible biological differences in the brains of psychopaths. Do you think there is something this can teach us?”

Dr. Millon “I think it is some years away from being able to help us. While we can look at some of the biology of it, it doesn’t help us ‘yet’ understand personality apart from biology. This is still in a very primitive stage. What we also need to look at are the cognitive processes and how the brain activity affects personality. We aren’t there yet. It’s a course tool but I do see that it holds promise.”

Sandra “What do you believe about the permanence of personality disorders. Your Institute offers treatment to various types of the disorder. What changes do you see in them?”

Dr. Millon “This is difficult now days with insurance companies giving limited amount of sessions. Personality disorders take a long time to effect some change in their behavior.”

Sandra “But how are they down the road? The partners get very frustrated with their inability to sustain positive changes.”

Dr. Million “Yes, that’s a very good way to describe that. Consistency is difficult for them. It would be most helpful if they could come back several times a year for ‘tune ups’ to remind them what they should be doing. This is where treatment effects are often lost. Of course, some of the lesser personality disorders can have more modest changes than some of the difficult Cluster B’s.”

Sandra “So what are we really doing then? It seems we are offering their partners false hope when they enter therapy and the partner believes that the change will be permanent. They are staying because they believe that.”

Dr. Millon “No doubt that their relationships are heavily impacted by their disorders. They don’t always have good outcomes in their relationships. I understand why their partners are concerned if their treatment will be effective over the long haul.”

Sandra “How do you know it IS effective over the long haul? Do you hear back from your client’s years down the road? Is success merely being able to hold a job? Or is there a quality of life issue, even for the partner that needs to be evaluated?”

Dr. Millon “Some do contact me from time to time. It’s not always easy to be able to tell what is happening in their lives by a quick contact. It would be optimal for them to come back several times a year so we can really gauge what is happening.”

Sandra “You aren’t referring to anti-social, psychopaths, etc. when you are discussing this type of treatment, per se?”

Dr. Million “More with the narcissists, histrionics and borderlines.’

Sandra “Are personality disorders, in essence, attachment disorders?

Dr. Millon “In some ways, many of them lack intimate attachments or the ability to have attachments as we know them. Some of the disorders have low emotionality and constitutionally or biologically experience a sort of a-social emotionality. They don’t connect on the same level which effects their attachments.”

Sandra “This seems to me to be what the partners complain about most—the essence of the attachment is marred. This could lead into a whole other conversation about Attachment Theory, couldn’t it?”

Dr. Millon “Yes, yes indeed. Personality and their disorders clearly affect a wide parameter in interpersonal relationships.”

Much of the rest of our conversation was more clinical in nature about theory and cognitive-behavioral approaches.

What I think we can take away from this conversation with Dr. Millon is how far we have come in understanding some of the disorders over the last few decades yet clearly, there is still much to understand when we consider the overlapping nature of the clustered disorders and how each personality disorder can create an almost layered effect when someone has more than one personality disorder. (According to research, 60% of people who have one personality disorder have more than one personality disorder.) Understanding how multiple types of disorders effect the overall personality presentation (and its effect on others and resulting relational health) is important for survivors and therapists to understand. There remains a lot of debate as to the ‘treatable-ness’ of personality disorder largely related to the complexity of these overlapping symptoms.

Our thanks to Dr. Millon for a life time dedicated to understanding personality and its disorders.

(All articles are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced, however feel free to put a link to this page.)


Theodore Millon, PhD, DSc, is a leading personality and developmental theorist. Dr. Millon was the founding editor of the Journal of Personality Disorders and is past president of the International Society for the Study of Personality Disorders. He has been a full professor at Harvard Medical School and the University of Miami. He is the principal author of many clinical inventories and testing instruments related to personality disorder testing. Dr. Millon has also written or edited more than 30 books and has contributed more than 200 chapters and articles to numerous books and journals in the field. Dr. Millon established the Institute for Advanced Studies in Personology and Psychopathology in Coral Gables, Florida, where he serves as dean. In 2008 he received the “Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in the Application of Psychology” from the American Psychological Foundation. The award recognizes Dr. Millon’s distinguished career and his enduring contribution to psychology through research and the application of techniques to important practical problems in psychology. You may view Dr. Millon’s vita here:

All content does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Institute.

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).



The Anniversary of My Plunge Into Pathology

by Sandra L. Brown, MA

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!

(**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.)


Intense Attachments – Why is this dangerous guy so hard to leave?

Women in these relationships and their family members who watch her relationship dynamics all wonder about **why** this dangerous guy is so hard to leave. While all the people around her have the easy and rational answers of how and why she should leave, the disengagement and detachment is harder with pathological persons than anyone else.

No one knows this better than her. At the heart of the attachment is the intensity of bonding produced in a relationship that has an emotional vortex pull. Much like magnets pointed towards each other, the draw and pull and staying power of pathologicals is not like other relationship dynamics.

As we studied these particular attachments we saw that there are unusual qualities to the relationships that even the women can’t define or adequately describe. This includes the dichotomous thinking often seen in mind control, the hypnotic engagement often seen in trauma, and the betrayal bonding often seen in sexual addiction. Combined, this power cocktail renders her not only entranced but paralyzed from action.

Normal motivations do not motivate her. Not her current roller-coaster mental health, her other family relationships, her declining health, her children, her job or any other force that would usually rally her to her own self care. No wonder people who care about her are baffled that a high functioning, bright, proactive woman has been reduced to a near catatonic/hypnotized/brain washed version of her former self.

An hour a week at the counselor’s office has done little to unwedge her from this super-glued relationship. It hasn’t recognized the hypnotic entrancement, the growing PTSD symptoms, the cognitive loops and entrenched dichotomous thinking. It hasn’t unveiled the death grip that pathologicals can have on a squirming victim. Or the mind control that sucks the willpower and brain function from her.

Physically and emotionally exhausted from the too-many-go-rounds with him, there isn’t enough left of her to fight her way out or even think her way out. Many women now suffer from Chronic Fatigue from the wearing process with the pathological.

Without the emotional resources and physical strength, her lethargy just allows the relationship to roll like waves over the top of her. Without help or intervention, she is likely to have a complete physical break down including severe medical problems, sleep disruptions, mental confusion, panic attacks, anxiety, depression and more. Women have developed auto immune disease and cardiac problems in the middle of these acutely stressful relationships.

With all of their resources sapped and their concentration at a near record low, many have had to quit their jobs, have been fired, been in car accidents, or have incurred sporting injuries because of the inability to concentrate. Taking an inventory of just what it has cost her to be in a relationship with a pathological is often the first step towards education.

The disengagement process is a function supported by counselors or The Institute in which education, acceptance of his diagnosis, self care re-initiation, symptom management and then the full recovery process is necessary. Some need short term programs that help them kick start their own recovery.

Many of the women have PTSD now from the exposure to the pathological. PTSD worsens without treatment, with added stress, and with time. Somewhere she has to find the counseling resources in order to return her to a life she used to know before the pathological. This includes finding support people, support groups, counseling, specific focused books and audios on the subject, and if needed, retreat or residential programs.

If this describes your current situation, get what you need to heal now–to minimize the effects of the growing PTSD and the intrusive and ping ponging thoughts. Most of all, in order to be broken, the intensity of attachment must first be understood.

(**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.)


Professionals in the Helping Industries and Their Personal Pathological Relationships

Are you a doctor, nurse, therapist, social worker, female clergy, paramedic, teacher, psychiatrist, certified nursing assistant, day-care worker, guidance counselor, speech therapist, missionary, physical therapist, psychology grad student, art therapist, writer, artist, musician, or work with at-risk kids?

Welcome to the group of people MOST LIKELY to end up in a Pathological Love Relationship.

Can your career be a risk factor for finding/staying with a narcissist or psychopath? Unfortunately, YES!

Look at that list again… all the ‘hearts of gold’ kind of people—the salt-of-the-earth women—the ‘Mother Teresas’ of the world—AT RISK for attracting and staying with dangerous, dark, and pathological men. Seems unfair doesn’t it? Normally, narcissists and psychopaths don’t migrate to their own kind. On rare occasions they do, and you end up with a sensationalized case of a new Bonnie and Clyde. But in most cases, they migrate to you!

Understanding this represents one of the largest breakthroughs in our understanding of dangerous intimate-relationship dynamics. For so long we understood him but we didn’t really understand her. She was wrongly labeled codependent, but codependency treatment didn’t help her. She was wrongly labeled a relationship- or sex-addict, and addiction treatment didn’t help her. She was wrongly labeled ‘mutually pathological,’ and yet she was never diagnosed with a personality disorder. Nothing fit and nothing explained her until we found the missing key… her ‘off-the-Richter-Scale traits’ that put it all into perspective. Once we understand her, we can help her.

What we do understand, is that by nature of your own tender and helpful personality traits, you migrated to a career in which you could use your abundant traits of empathy, helpfulness, compassion, resourcefulness, cooperation, and tolerance. Where best do these great humanitarian traits get used? In helping professions like social work, ministry, nursing, other medical professions, psychology, teaching, child care… where you find people with big hearts trying to give out of their own abundance. By virtue that you even ended up in one of these professions means you are probably more at-risk for these types of relationships than others.

In almost ALL circumstances, women from these relationships are either IN these types of professions or are trying to get into them… (they are in school or trying to move out of their job into a more ‘giving’ field).

Many of the women who are in these types of professions ended up with the narcissist or psychopath during the course of their actual jobs. Nurses hooked up with patients, doctors married someone they met in the field, psychologists dated mentally ill men, missionaries dated someone from one of the street missions where they worked. Every once in a while we get stories from very left-brained women like CPAs but, even then, they’re not typically left-brained. They still have a lot of the abundant humanitarian traits.

This has a lot of implications for possible prevention work. Knowing that women in these professions are more likely to have the high-risk personality traits means education can begin within these professions.

Women need to know that sometimes even their career selection is indicative of what their relationship selection might be as well. So while women may be out of the Pathological Love Relationship, it doesn’t reduce their overall risk because temperament traits are innate.

While you are out of any intimate relationship is a great time to learn more about your abundant traits and how to safeguard yourself the next time around.

(**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.)


The Successful Pathological’s Evil Twin: The Parasite

Last week, we looked at The Successful Pathological and how he flies in under the radar while women are looking at his success and missing the red flags concerning his character or behaviors. Women can get sidetracked by his degree or noble career, or blinded by his business bling. The Italian-made shoes aren’t the only loafer—LOL!

Another way pathology manifests is what we call ‘parasitic’ behavior—which means, like a tick, they live off of others. Some pathologically disordered people are underachievers and require much financial assistance, some are not employed at all, and in fact, some are successful AND parasitic.

Wealthy and parasitic pathologicals have all the radar-busting combinations to come gliding in under a woman’s relationship radar. Wealthy pathologicals may be as parasitic as the poor ones, but are usually less identified. It’s not that wealthy ones need the housing assistance by living with you—it’s that they are able to get you to let them. It’s a power game and when you say ‘yes,’ he wins. It’s a ridiculous game that most women don’t even pay attention to in the beginning, until it begins to happen over and over again. Most women don’t care about power struggles; not so with him, because it’s his source of entertainment.

Parasites can latch on for the ride, the entertainment, or to drain you dry. The financially challenged ones try to hide that they are broke and underemployed until they are already living off of you. Or they get in by playing the pity trump card—needing a “little time to get on my feet.” Many of them appear to have the worst luck when it comes to getting or keeping a good job or somehow manage (according to him) to always find horrible bosses. In any case, it’s never his fault, and a new potential turn of events is “just around the corner,” if you will just “wait it out” with him.

The interesting thing about the parasitic life is that it has more to do with conning than it has to do with any legitimate need. The proof is that even the wealthy ones play the same game.

For the overt parasite, a red flag for women would be men who are always living with someone else, including family. Of course they have a good reason usually associated with what appears to be helping others (older parents, helping with rent for a single mother, sister, etc.).

What is suspicious is that you never see where he lives or how he lives. Why? That “great condo with the roof deck” is really a room in someone’s mobile home. Or there’s a wife and three kids at the house, which are his. Or his house is really a meth lab. Pick a reason… the bottom line is there is a reason you don’t see it. And it normally has to do with living a different life, perhaps living off of others, that he hasn’t quite disclosed to you.

A huge red flag would be that he wants to move in or marry quickly. Is it because he is so into you? Nope. It’s because he wants to betroth your checkbook before you can verify his income, his job status, his debt load, or anything else. In a blink of an eye you are sipping rum drinks with umbrellas in glasses in the Bahamas (oh, and did I mention, on your credit card?).

A flashing billboard would be when he asks you to invest in his potential business (with your love bundle!) so that you can help finance the “rest of your lives together” business.

Here’s a clue: If he’s over 28 years old and not living up to any part of his potential, there’s a reason and it’s usually pathology or addiction or both. If you are over 30, don’t fall in love with anyone’s potential. Either they’ve got the goods or they don’t. And if they don’t, there’s a reason bigger than the sad, empathy-producing story they have.

The more covert parasite, if wealthy, may give a storyline that he is “giving you an opportunity to invest in his business,” so you can make some of that return capital that you see him living on. He’s successful—so he must be doing something right. Right? Do you remember Bernie Madoff?

Pete the Parasite sometimes needs money to send his ailing mother out of the country to see relatives. Or he may need money to cover the costs of his children’s needs because his psycho ex-wife is not using the child support she receives. (Uh-huh…)

If these tactics and lines didn’t work, he wouldn’t use them and I wouldn’t know them. Parasites need hosts. The body where a parasite lands (like a tick on a dog) is called the host. Here’s a time where being a BAD HOST is a good thing!

(**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.)