When Others Don’t Like The ‘P’ Word

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

A few years ago, I asked to be on a national TV show to discuss the issue of psychopathy in relationships based on my book Women Who Love Psychopaths. They had looked at the website, read information about the book, discussed what the rest of the show was going to be about, and booked me for the show.

They didn’t invite me based on my other book, although equally as informational, How to Spot a Dangerous Man, they booked me to discuss and showed the book cover of, Women Who Love Psychopaths.

However, 20 minutes before going on air, a producer told me ‘they’ (whoever that is in TV world) were uncomfortable using the ‘p’ word – psychopath. They found the word to be controversial and sensationalistic and that my example of probably well known public psychopaths who are not recognized as psychopathic was too debatable and un-proveable to discuss.

This was, of course, sad for me to hear since so much of what The Institute attempts to provide is public pathology education. Truly the only way for people to avoid psychopathy is to develop the ability to understand the traits and learn to spot it in others. All of these are why our goal for the Institute is public education.

This is of course, not our first time to hear that the ‘p’ word is offensive, debatable, controversial, or judgmental, and it will not be the last time, unfortunately.

Several victims of incredible psychopathic abuse were also on the show and I was asked to comment on their cases but also asked to not use the ‘p’ word. I asked the producer what she thought those perpetrator’s behaviors should be called, or what disorders would motivate their behavior….or what was she suggesting I should call them? I told her I was at a loss to pick another label or motivation behind their lethal behaviors that would come close to helping others understand “who does that?”

I went on to say to her that psychopathy was a diagnosis, not merely a political argument, a theoretical ideology, or even a criminal judgment of character. I was confused as to why I was there when, what I do, what I write about, who I help, and who I help convict are overtly obvious from my professional background and from our website.

I was reminded again, when I heard “the p word” is controversial, that public pathology education is still in its infancy. I know that victims face this all the time when they struggle to figure out what is wrong with the pathological person only to discover the shocking revelation of the person’s disorder. But the victim trying to teach others what is wrong with the pathological is counteracted when others find the information to be disputable, distasteful, un-proveable, unlikely, and unspiritual to even suggest.

The ‘p’ word is now viewed as the new psychological slur of the 21st century. It’s correlated with the devastating racial slurs of the 1950?s, the cultural slurs of the 60?s-70?s, and the gay/lesbian slurs of the 80?s- s-90?s. Now, we face the ‘p’ word the way we faced the ‘n’ of the 50?s and the ‘f’ of the 60’s-70?s and the ‘q’ of the 80-90s. But with a huge difference!

There is nothing wrong with the ‘p’ word the way it was intensely wrong with the ‘n,’ ‘f,’ and ‘q’ words of decades gone by. But it is treated as if we are being racially insensitive, culturally inappropriate, or gender ignorant. We are looked at as the skin-heads of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual that we would dare to call someone a psychopath.

We are viewed as the rock throwers at the psychologically–disabled people with pathology, the Bible thumpers of the poor spiritually disenfranchised psychopath, and the socially clueless that we would spew a power-packing psychological label like psychopathy around that might actually strike and land on a human being.

I know, I know… after all, it’s daytime TV which we all recognize is about ratings and keeping pace with society’s Attention-Deficit-Disordered need for topics to be covered in three minutes no matter how riveting the storyline is. Daytime TV covers tsunamis of natural science as well as the tsunamis of psychological trauma in the same fast fall swoop of selling hair dye and lipstick in the same 30 minute segment.

After all, what did I expect?

… Well, I always hope that a victim’s trauma is recognized and embraced for the emotional and spiritual strength it took to not only survive, but to show up on that TV stage in order to tell their story to help others. …

…Well, I always hope that the need to teach others how to spot the devastating disorders that created the victim’s trauma is the guiding motivation behind why TV shows exist and that it supersedes the mere ‘storyline-as-business’ of TV.

Yes, I recognize that daytime TV is not the spokesperson for the planet, that there ARE those who really want to hear more of the victim’s story and learn more about how to spot them in their own lives… but I have to tell you, it IS a cold-water-splash-in-the-face, like a “wake-up-Sandra-we-aren’t-as-far-as-you-think” call that we are whispering the ‘p’ word backstage and off camera and are editing it out for public viewing.

The whole segment of discussion about low empathy, no conscience and “who does that” was removed. Not one word that explained the behavior of those lethal people was leaked to the viewing audience for public pathology education.

We still have miles and miles to go in educating the public that psychopathy is a disorder, not a verbal tirade. You know what… as offensive, debatable, controversial, judgmental, OR… as disputable, distasteful, un-proveable, unlikely and unspiritual as it felt to those merely producing a nano-second based TV show to say the ‘p’ word, the victims who have lived with the ‘p’ are the true authorities here. They would probably beg to disagree with the nay-sayers that the ‘p’ is a profound psychological slur.

I am sure the victims found the p’s behavior to be more offensive than TV-land will ever understand. The victims surely wrestled with their own need to overcome the debatable-ness of the disorder, or the controversy that swirled around the lethal behaviors of the psychopath. And I am sure the victim’s incurred their own judgmental views of outsiders.

I doubt today the victim’s find their story to be un-proveable or even disputable. After all, some of these stories ended up in murder or attempted murder.

All the adjectives that are associated with psychopathy as controversial as TV-land felt the ‘p’ word was do not even compare to the victim’s overwhelming need to shout from the roof-tops what the pathological IS ….a psychopath.

Using the ‘p’ word of psychopathy is not a slur. It is an education, a prevention, a DIAGNOSIS, and the reality for millions of victims in the world.

(**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).

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

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

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(**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).

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

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

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

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

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

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

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

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

But a WHOLE and complete memory is made up of ALL those files TOGETHER AT THE SAME TIME such as what you emotionally felt, saw, heard, and physically experienced.  Just one piece of it doesn’t make it a complete memory such as just a positive memory.

A complete memory = good + bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(**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).

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

When Am I Ready to Help Others?

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

At the heart of any grassroots effort or organization is the concept of the wounded healer. There wouldn’t be a women’s movement without those who have been victims of something or other helping newer victims. It’s not only the heart of grassroots organizations like ours, but of the victims-rights movement and many other strong and healing national movements in general. I think of Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12-step program—drug addicts helping other addicts, rape survivors helping new victims, domestic violence victims volunteering at shelters, Hurricane Katrina victims helping at Habitat for Humanity. And the list goes on. It’s the genesis of any giving organization—someone gets hurt, heals, and then helps. That’s how it all works. The trick is to know when you are well enough to help.

In 1983 my father was murdered. I was in my 20s and happily working in the field of marketing—far, far away from psychology or the self-help field. But after seeing the murder scene, acquiring Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), finding no help and getting worse, I decided if I EVER got better I’d help others with PTSD. Luckily, a national pilot project for survivors of homicide victims was forming to see if we responded to group counseling. I was fortunate to be in the first test group—I was helped and I did keep my word. I stayed on at the group… helped open an office, developed training programs to teach others how to treat surviving family members of a murder, did court advocacy with family members of murder victims, was a media spokesperson on large public murder trials, spoke at conferences, lobbied for new laws and went back to school to get my degree so I could do even more. As I began to heal, I slowly became more involved in the field of victimology.

That was over 30 years ago. Since then, I have worked not only with survivors of homicide, but those of incest, cults, domestic violence, rape, and every kind of trauma disorder imaginable. I have started nonprofit mental-health centers, the country’s first long-term residential treatment program for women with multiple personalities (now called Dissociative Identity Disorder), hospital trauma programs, outpatient programs, and church programs. I have worked in domestic violence shelters, women’s programs, and court-ordered battering programs for men. I have worked with the sexually addicted and the sexually traumatized. I have traveled to Brazil and helped start victim organizations there to help millions of abandoned street children. I have trained workers for Australia in cult deprogramming. I developed and hosted my own TV show called, “A Voice for Victims” and did regular radio shows with several stations. I have written seven books (and counting), numerous e-books, created CDs and DVDs, and written for several women’s online websites and programs.

Now I direct The Institute, conduct research, phone counseling, writing, therapeutic retreats and counseling. To tell the truth, I can’t even REMEMBER everything I have done to date! LOL! (Maybe that’s a GOOD thing!) The point is, many years ago my life was altered by a murder. For over 30 years I have given my life’s work to reaching out. I don’t want to make it seem like it’s all been easy or even financially supportive work. It’s been a financially ‘barren’ field of work—I’ll never make retirement. Whatever financial gain there is, I just dole it back out to other women’s organizations. BUT it’s at the heart of my own recovery and belief system that when we are ready enough and healthy enough, giving back strengthens our own recovery.

Someone once said, “You never help someone else without first helping yourself.” Every time I help someone else with PTSD, it helps me too. Every time I help someone recognize pathology in others, it helps me remember it too. At the core of recovery is the need and almost spiritual mandate to reach out and give others the hope that you now have. It’s only hope that keeps others going, not ‘end it all’ or want to give up and go back to him.

We don’t really have the answers for another person’s life; we only have information and hope. That’s what we give. But like Mother Teresa said, “Give what you’ve got.” The title, ‘wounded healer’ is a little misleading. It sounds like anyone wounded can be a healer; that any trauma leads to triumph, that any hurt can help others.

Over the years of running counseling programs and centers and teaching counseling classes, I heard fresh new interns come in and say, “I was raped so I want to help the raped.” It’s a great grassroots philosophy and, when it works, it works great. And when it doesn’t work, it hurts other people. I would try to explain to interns when they would really be able to EFFECTIVELY give back, but many didn’t want to hear me; if they wanted to do it, it must be time to do it.

When it matters more that you “just do it” than if you do it safely and effectively, then it’s probably not about the victim and more about your own woundedness that still needs healing.

The interns would volunteer to run an abuse group and the first story that hit too close to home or sounded like their own trauma, they ended up in a meltdown—crying in the group they were supposed to lead. They would go home and have nightmares or flashbacks or become so preoccupied they could no longer function well. We call this ‘vicarious trauma’ or Secondary PTSD—when PTSD becomes reactivated from working or helping too soon after their own trauma OR, like in the 9/11 attacks, when so much overexposure to other people’s pain causes symptoms of PTSD they didn’t previously have.

Jumping in too early leads to reactivation of PTSD and career burnout (like being in and out of the counseling field in only a couple of years). The helper can become so re-engrossed in their own trauma that they end up acting more like the people they are trying to help because they…

  • believe they can ‘save or fix’ someone else
  • tell their own stories in too much detail in group
  • become reactivated emotionally, physically, spiritually and sexually
  • feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of helping others
  • are too invested in helping other people change their lives
  • invest too much of their personal or family time in other people’s problems
  • go home re-traumatized as if they told their own story even though they hadn’t
  • neglect their own self-care, family, and their own emotional and spiritual needs
  • can become encased in a Messiah Complex

Then they end up burning out because their startle reflex is increased, their sleep is disrupted and their irritability is high. If this happened to a professional mental-health counselor, we would call this an ‘impaired practitioner,’ and she might be put on a hiatus for R&R. If you are a volunteer and you act this way, you get the Volunteer of the Year Award and are rewarded for burning yourself out. In too many self-help areas, vicarious trauma is applauded and upheld as a standard of devotion to a cause instead of an unbalanced act of self-neglect.

We need people in our organizations who WANT to give back. We need them to be healed enough that they actually HAVE something to give back, which is why I’m leery of online forums run by survivors who might not be in the greatest emotional shape themselves. Gauging your own self-health may be subjective… Am I ready? is a great self-exploratory question. Because at the heart of all of us who want to give back robustly, we want to do it with a right motive—giving, not expecting, to get anything back from extremely wounded people—AND with a healthy mental state that allows us to listen without triggers and to help without burning out.

If you feel you are ready, there are lots of great places to help. Go work at a women’s organization—answer the office phones, help with a fundraiser, work in the office, pick up donations. Get your feet wet and stay around the issue you want to work in and see how you do. Don’t offer to answer the crisis phone line if you are only a few months out of your own crisis relationship. That isn’t realistic.

Recovery from abuse is slo-o-ow… it takes longer than you think it does. But you probably have skills you CAN use now—in other ways. When I was too burned out to be of help to anyone, I knew I could plate food at a homeless shelter and offer a smile. I could do that much at that time. Do what you can, stay healthy yourself, continue to work on your own recovery—recovery isn’t an event, it’s a lifestyle. The opportunity to help others will continue to present itself. It’s just what happens when the hurt heals and the hurt helps others.

If you know you are ready give the best of yourself to a women’s organization in your own community, don’t volunteer to distract yourself from your necessary healing. Volunteer when you’ve achieved a healthy, strong recovery and can maintain it. If we can help you in your recovery, we’re here to help you strengthen so you too can pay it forward.

(**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.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

What We Believe About Pathology and Relational Health

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

“Some of the most disturbing realities are not that pathology exists, but that so little public pathology education for the general public exists.”

—Sandra L. Brown, M.A., The Institute

The Problem with the Unrecognized Face of Pathology

 We live in an age where “Positive Psychology” has ingrained a mantra into society’s psyche—which is:

If you think it

                     (i.e., the narcissist/psychopath needs to change his behavior)

Then you can make it happen

                           (i.e., your relationship will be successful when he changes)

That may be true when you are with a person who has normal psychology.  But it’s a long way from being true for those who have pathology.

For many years, people have thought that if they focused hard enough, loved long enough, tolerated more, and carried a positive attitude, their partner would somehow become unaffected by the personality disorder—even the psychopathy they bore. People believed this because they were often told this by professionals—all under the guises of different therapy approaches and theories.

For years, people who had gone through traditional forms of couples counseling came to us bearing the scars from not only the pathology in their partner who abused them, but by the wrong application of couples counseling therapy.  When there was the pathology of having no conscience, a lack of remorse, impaired insight, or low impulse control in a partner, traditional forms of counseling proved unsuccessful.  What occurred were often techniques in Mirroring, Love Languages, Communication Building, Intimacy, or Spiritual Reflecting for a partner who had no insight and lacked empathy for what his partner had experienced.  Equally prevalent were ideologies that “the pathological came into my life to heal me,” or “this is a spiritual manifestation for me to grow by,” or “he is in my life to heal my issues from early childhood.”

Equally damaging, lack of public information often occurs through women’s organizations that lump problem behavior in one category (abuser) and leave the impairment of pathology out of the equation.  People are then forced to conform to theories that do not fit their dynamics in order to get help, and miss the crucial ability to understand which disorders hold hope for change, and which do not.

There is emotional, physical, and relational danger in applying pop psychology principles to something as aberrant as pathology.  Trying to attract the positive to the relationship so the pathology is transformed leaves people ignoring the traits of pathology that can seriously harm them.  It is no wonder we are not further ahead in being able to spot abnormal psychology in others and avoid it.

The truth is, nothing impacts non-pathological people as much as being in a relationship with someone who is pathological.  Add to that the lack of understanding of how pathology manifests in relationships, and the manipulative behavior of those with pathology—and you have partners, families, and children who are devastated almost as much by the lack of information, as by the destruction that happens at the hands of the pathological.  Without the education of what the disorder is, how it came to be, whom it affects, and why it harms others—partners, families, and children live in the shadows of unspoken confusion and pain.  This also “bleeds over” to family court, mediators, social workers, and judges, who also do not recognize pathology, or care to understand it, leaving cases in limbo and in danger, labeled as “contentious” or “high conflict.”

Many who have found The Institute’s programs and products have said, “This is the first time anyone has ever explained this to me in a way I can understand.”  I have seen that when people finally found information that described their partner’s pathology, the awareness often gave way to crying, and then to anger.  It was the information they wanted that was out there all along, but was not easy to find, or was sometimes not easy to understand or explained in layman’s terms.

Equally as frustrating is such poor and inaccurate training generated out of generic approaches to pathology in graduate schools which leaves professionals with the inability to spot pathology in others, and a total loss about how to treat the survivors.  Consequently, the mental health field has done little to train the public about what pathology is, the limitation of wellness it implies, and what it looks and acts like in relationships, because they themselves do not know.

The efforts of The Institute are to bridge the gap in public pathology education to both survivors and treatment providers.  One of our bridges in public pathology education is for survivors and is achieved by providing the best and most up-to-date recovery options for their unique aftermath symptoms.  The second bridge is our approaches for victim service providers in the fields of mental health, criminal justice, nursing/medical, pastoral, addiction, and law enforcement.  Our products for service providers as well as our trainings have equipped professionals in many fields from many countries with the tools they need to help heal the aftermath of pathological love relationships.

An M.D. said to me recently, “I consider pathology and its untaught concepts to be the number-one health crisis in this country.”

 We couldn’t agree more.  We hope that the work of the many professionals who are involved with The Institute will be the part of the solution to the unrecognized face of pathology and its victims.

(**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.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Addictive Relationships

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

Let’s face it. If we were really good at choosing healthy relationships, we wouldn’t be here reading information about dangerous men. We would be happily somewhere else with a healthy guy! So let’s at least begin with the universal assumption that we haven’t done our best job at selecting potential relationships with men who actually HAVE potential!

There are a lot of ways to define relationships that don’t work well. Often they are called ‘dysfunctional’ or ‘abusive’ or ‘bankrupt.’ But, what I’d like to focus on are those relationships that, despite all the horrible things going on in them, the women are encased in a web they cannot climb out of because their relationships are ‘addictive’.

Some people do not realize that relationships/love/sex can qualify as an addiction or an out-of-control behavior. Addictive relationships are characterized by attachments to someone who, for the most part, is not available emotionally. In addictive relationships there is a single overwhelming involvement with another person that cuts the women off from other parts of their lives. The results of trying to be in an addictive relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable are:

  • Confusion
  • Fear
  • Franticness
  • Obsession
  • Loneliness
  • Despair
  • Anger
  • Feeling stuck

Addictive relationships have similar qualities to other patterns of addiction, which ‘rob’ people of the quality of their lives. They impact the ability to:

  • Have healthy communication
  • Have authentic enjoyment of one another
  • Love each other outside of dependency
  • Be their healthiest self
  • Be able to leave the relationship if it becomes unhealthy or destructive

Addictive relationships are described by women as “a feeling that I just cannot leave him no matter how bad he has been or how awful I feel”. There is a battle going on inside of them and, despite a normally rational approach to life, they still cannot unhinge themselves from this pattern of destruction that they know is bad for them. They often feel helpless to make the choice to leave. They are ‘hooked in’ in ways they do not even understand.

As is true in other addictions, you lose the ability to constructively manage your own life. Like drug or alcohol addiction, addictive relationships show the same signs of:

  • Magical thinking
  • Helplessness to stop the addiction/relationship
  • Feeling bad about one’s inability to stop
  • Passivity
  • Low initiative to stop the behavior and/or relationship

The inability to manage one’s life is often connected to belief systems that you hold about yourself, your future and relationships. Often these beliefs are what they call “stinking thinking” — that is, at the core of these, are erroneous beliefs often developed from childhood on.

Unmet childhood needs warp into adult ‘neediness’, which places a person at higher risk for developing dependent and addictive relationships as an adult.

If your childhood was affected by your parents’ relationship or someone your parent dated, please be aware that the same thing can happen to YOUR children. A good reason to work on yourself and to stop dating dangerous men is your children and to stop the damaging effects on them. Addictive relationships are always the destructive exploitation of one’s self and the other person which masquerades as love.

The following checklist is a guide to help you identify any tendency towards relationship addiction or unhealthy relationships in general. If you answer ‘Yes’ to most of the following statements, you probably have a problem with relationship addictions.

  • To be happy, you need a relationship. When you are not in a relationship, you feel depressed, and the cure for healing that depression usually involves meeting a new person.
  • You often feel magnetically drawn to another person. You act on this feeling even when you suspect the person may not be good for you.
  • You often try to change another person to meet your ideal.
  • Even when you know a relationship isn’t good for you, you find it difficult to break it off.
  • When you consider breaking a relationship, you worry about what will happen to the other person without you.
  • After a break-up, you immediately start looking for a new relationship in order to avoid being alone.
  • You are often involved with someone unavailable who lives far away, is married, is involved with someone else, or is emotionally distant.
  • A kind, available person probably seems boring to you, and even if he/she likes you, you will probably reject him/her.
  • Even though you may demonstrate independence in other areas, you are fearful of independence within a love relationship.
  • You find it hard to say no to the person with whom you are involved.
  • You do not really believe you deserve a good relationship.
  • Your self-doubt causes you to be jealous and possessive in an effort to maintain control.
  • Sexually, you are more concerned with pleasing your partner than pleasing yourself.
  • You feel as if you are unable to stop seeing a certain person even though you know that continuing the relationship is destructive to you.
  • Memories of a relationship continue to control your thoughts for months or even years after it has ended.
  • Even though you know the relationship is bad for you (and perhaps others have told you this), you take no effective steps to end it.
  • You give yourself reasons for staying in the relationship that are not really accurate or that are not strong enough to counteract the harmful aspects of the relationship.
  • When you think about ending the relationship, you feel terrible anxiety and fear, which make you cling to it even more.
  • When you take steps to end the relationship, you suffer painful withdrawal symptoms, including physical discomfort that is only relieved by reestablishing contact.

SO—Are you addicted? Finding the true answer, while it may be concerning, is at least a step towards taking more control of your pattern of selection to stop the cycle with dangerous men. The first step is awareness. Here are some tips for overcoming your relationship addiction:

Robin Norwood, in her excellent book, Women Who Love Too Much, outlines a 10-step plan for overcoming your relationship addiction. While this book is directed toward women, its principles are equally valid for men. Stated here (reordered and sometimes paraphrased), Norwood suggests the following:

  1. Make your recovery the first priority in your life.
  2. Become “self-ish,” by focusing on getting your own needs met more effectively.
  3. Courageously face your own problems and shortcomings.
  4. Cultivate whatever needs to be developed in yourself. Fill in gaps that have made you feel undeserving or bad about yourself.
  5. Learn to stop managing and controlling others. By being more focused on your own needs, you will no longer need to seek security by trying to make others change.
  6. Develop your spiritual side. Find out what brings YOU peace and serenity and commit some time—at least half an hour daily—to that endeavor.
  7. Learn not to get hooked into games in relationships. Avoid dangerous roles you tend to fall into, such as rescuer/helper, persecutor/blamer, victim/helpless one.
  8. Find a support group of friends who understand.
  9. Share with others what you have experienced and learned.
  10. Consider getting professional help/counseling.

Some women get stuck trying to get out. Others get stuck trying to choose differently the next time by trying to not end up with a dangerous man AGAIN. Here are some signs you might need professional assistance for a short time to help you get unstuck:

  1. When you are very unhappy in a relationship, but are unsure whether you should accept it as it is, make further efforts to improve it, or get out of it.
  2. When you have concluded that you should end a relationship and have tried to make yourself end it, but remain stuck.
  3. When you suspect that you are staying in a relationship for the wrong reasons, such as feelings of guilt or fear of being alone, and you have been unable to overcome the paralyzing effects of such feelings.
  4. When you recognize that you have a pattern of staying in bad relationships and that you have not been able to change that pattern by yourself.

Know that, as your relationship addiction increases, it becomes more difficult to cope with anyone or anything else. This becomes all-encompassing. There is the rush of the addictive relationship that is absent from healthy relationships. Often women misread that sign to think it means there is a strong connection—it just might not be a healthy connection! Addiction is where two people use each other to fill their own loneliness. They are distractions from the inner pain of what someone is feeling.

The only way through pain is going through the middle of it. The only way to find healthier relationships is to work on yourself so that YOU are healthy and you are choosing relationships out of the healthiest part of yourself. (Thanks to the Counseling Center at the University of Illinois for information on addictive relationships.)

In closing, the only defense is self-defense. And the only self-defense is knowledge. We can help you realize your potential need for future insight into the area of dangerousness. Perhaps this article illuminates areas in which you need more knowledge, more insight or more information. If, after reading this, you recognize your own patterns, please avail yourself to more information through our products and services or through your local women’s organizations and counseling programs.

(**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.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Real Love, Not Just Real Attraction

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

So many people confuse the feeling of attraction with the emotion of love.  For some who are in chronically dangerous and pathological relationships, it’s obvious they have these two elements mixed up.  Understandably, not being able to untangle these can keep people on the same path of unsafe relationship selection because they keep choosing the same way and getting the same people!

Attraction is not only unconscious but also largely physical.  There is actually something called “erotic imprint” which is the unconscious part that guides our attraction (I talk about this in How to Spot a Dangerous Man.)  Our erotic imprint is literally “imprinted” in our psyches when we are young—at the age when we begin to notice and be attracted to the opposite sex.  As I mentioned, this is largely an unconscious drive.  For instance, I like stocky, dark-haired men. Whenever I see that type of image, I immediately find that man “attractive.” I can vary slightly on my attraction but I’m not going to find Brad Pitt attractive. I might forego the full “stocky” appearance, but I’m not going to let go of some of the other traits that make men appealing to me. We like what we like. For instance, I am attracted to Johnny Depp and George Clooney. I don’t like any of the blondes or overly tall and lanky body types.

If you think back to what your “attraction basis” is, you may find some patterns there as well.  Attraction, however, can also be behavioral or based on emotional characteristics.  For instance, some women are attracted to guys with a great sense of humor.  The attraction is based on that particular characteristic.  Other women may be attracted to athletic guys, not because of what physical exercise does to their bodies, but because of the behavioral qualities of athletes.

Attraction can be subtle—like the unconscious erotic imprinting that makes us select men based on physical attributes—or attraction may lead us to choose relationships based on behaviors or emotional characteristics like displays of empathy, helpfulness, or friendliness.  (I have discussed your own high traits of empathy, helpfulness, and friendliness in Women Who Love Psychopaths.)

Although these traits might guide our relationship selection, this is not the foundation of love.  It’s the foundation of selection.  Often, our relationship selection comes more from attraction than it does anything else.  So knowing who and what types you are attracted to will help you understand your patterns of selection.  Some people choose characteristics—helpfulness, humor, gentleness, or another quality that they seem to be drawn to.  Other people are more physical in their attraction and find the physicality of someone either a “go” or a “no.” Maybe you like blondes or blue eyes.  This may also drive your pattern of selection.

Also, in the area of attraction—sometimes it’s “traumatic attraction” that seems to drive our patterns of selection. Those who have been abused, especially as children, can have unusual and destructive patterns of selection.

This Valentine’s Day, be very clear about love and attraction.  This is a time when you might be likely to want to reconnect with him.  Let me remind you, NOTHING has changed.  His pathology is still the same. On February 15th you could hate yourself for reconnecting with him for one weak moment on February 14th, a day in which the world is focused on love, but he is focused on manipulation, control, or anything OTHER than love.  If you open that door, you will have weeks or months of trying to get him out and disconnect again.

Instead, plan ahead for your potential relapse by setting up an accountability partner AND something to do! Go to a movie with a friend, go out to dinner—do SOMETHING that takes responsibility and action for your own loneliness at this time of year.  Whatever you do, don’t have a knee-jerk reaction and contact him.  One day on the calendar about love is just an ILLUSION!

(**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.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Relationships Found On the Internet

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

With the need to date fast and find quick relationships, on-line dating and the internet have taken on the role of ‘hook-up’ locations. Unfortunately, it is also a potential stalking ground for relationship seeking gone awry.

There are some inherent problems with on-line and/or internet relationship seeking:

  • It is difficult to read body language, eye lingo, and verbal pacing of sentences via email.
  • One of the ways people can keep themselves safe in dating relationships is to feel and respond to their red flags. Red flags are greatly reduced by the inability to see firsthand someone’s immediate response to statements or questions.
  • Texting and email, which are usually how people first talk when they’ve met on-line or via the internet, impair the ability to get early insight into potential relationship problems.
  • You never know, for certain, that the other person is really who they say they are.

People have created false senses of intimacy via on-line and internet relationships. I know of one woman who met a man from Iran on the internet and went there to marry him without ever having met him in person. It was a disaster and hard for her to get back to the States. He was nothing that he had represented himself as.

A false sense of relationship intimacy contributes to rapid disclosure of personal information. The relationship connection with someone on-line (that you have no idea if he is safe or not or who he says he is) becomes privy to a bulimic-like purge of personal problems and detailed information. This is very common for women to rapidly disclose, and over disclose, personal and historical information.

Dangerous and predatory men have stated that “women who rapidly and overly disclose make my approach easy.” Men who are not highly verbal in person may be very verbal online and the woman mistakenly perceives this as a relationship, connection, truth-based knowledge about the person, and intimacy.

These dating venues increase relationship fantasy–anyone can be whoever they want you to think they are, and someone you aren’t sure you will ever meet. The increase in non-credible information about someone is significantly higher. People can lie about where they live, their marriage status, previous relationship history, career, appearance, or criminal history.

People who are unhappy in their marriage find on-line and internet relationships to be the perceived escape out of misery they have been seeking. Many are disappointed (or even horrified) to find the relationship on-line is all fantasy and not much reality. Women have left husbands for on-line men who never materialize. When it comes to who the person or what the relationship is, they find it’s more about what the person has projected and fantasized the relationship to be – not what it really is or will become in the future.

In the beginning of on-line dating, many women report it’s how they found their current husband and are very happy with him. But as time has gone on, more and more predators and con artists have learned that it is an easy place to hide their true self and identities and use it to find their next victim.

While it is unlikely that on-line and internet relationship seeking will ever disappear, women need to understand the risks of using these methods for meeting someone and the ways they put a woman at a distinct disadvantage in reading body language, hearing the tone of voice, and being alerted to red flags.

Be vigilant in your attempts to get back into dating and stay safe!

(**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.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

What Do You Tell Them

By Jennifer Young, LMHC, Director of Survivor Services

“Staring at the blank page before you, open up the dirty window,
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find.”  ~ Unwritten
by Natasha Bedingfield

“I was in a relationship with a psychopath.”  What an opener, right?  Starting with the harsh truth isn’t always the best way to begin a conversation.  One of the most difficult parts of moving on with your life is figuring out how you are going to tell your story.  The truth doesn’t always come easy.  And let’s face it, the vast majority of people in your life will never understand.  But their lack of understanding does not prevent them from asking what happened to you.  So, you might as well figure out what you are going to tell them.

There are a couple things to consider when deciding what you are going to tell others.  You might be tempted to tell everyone the severity of the manipulation, or the details of every gaslighting incident, or the shame he made you feel for HIS affair.  But this temptation is often driven by your need for validation.  You can temper this desire by validating yourself.  You have to come to accept that he is what he is.  When you fully understand Cluster B, you will know that it is a complicated disorder.  You will know that, really, it is a disorder of social hiding.

Cluster Bs, by nature, do not make themselves known as such.  The disorder is marked by a perfectly placed mask.  This is what they want others to see.  They have worked their whole lives creating that mask.  It was created through a process of learning what works, what can be believed and what is socially acceptable for their environment.  It is pure survival for them—life or death.  It is not intended that someone outside of their intimate partnership will see who they are.  And it certainly is not intended that someone outside of their intimate partnership will understand the two sides.

If they don’t show it, how are others expected to understand it?  Because of this mask, only you might know.  You will know the good and the bad, the sweet and the sour, the lies and the truth.  You saw the behaviors, you heard the contradictions, you felt the fear.  Essentially, you don’t need anyone to tell you that.  And if you believe yourself, the need for validation ends.

Once you have established a pattern of self-validation, you can begin to determine who needs to know what.  First, consider your audience.  Everyone does not need to know everything.  You might want to evaluate who needs to know what.  Your co-worker might not need to know as many details as your sister.  Your boss may not need to know as much as your co-worker.  Your acquaintances may not need to know what your neighbor needs to know.

Each of these groups may have very different experiences of your Cluster B; therefore, proving to them who he is may put you in a defensive position.  That’s the last place you need to be in the recovery process.  So, be honest with yourself about what your Cluster B gave to the people in his life and the people in your life.

Think about telling some people nothing.  What a novel idea—not talking about your trauma.  This strategy can be helpful in keeping your mind in a place of validation and away from defensiveness.

You can maintain recovery thinking by not looking outside of yourself for answers once a traumatic memory has been resolved.  You have done the work; you know what you know, so now use it to validate yourself.

To say nothing can also protect your recovery.  The co-worker who questions, “Why didn’t you leave sooner?” might not need to know all the horrible things that he did which prevented you from leaving.  But worse than that, the co-worker may not need to know that you did not leave because he continued to build a fantasy for you.  That every time you finally decided to leave, he pulled you back in with roses, a romantic getaway or a sentimental recounting of your first Christmas together.

If you decide to launch into positive memories with your co-workers… you are re-traumatizing yourself. You have now taken the leap back into cognitive dissonance just to explain to someone else what you already understand.  What if you just said to your co-worker, “I left when I was ready to leave and I’m glad he’s gone.  How was your weekend?”

Once you’ve determined who to tell what, you can then begin to craft the language that you will use.  Some people can understand the clinical words and explanation.  These are the people who can understand what it means to be with a psychopath—someone who might read some of the books you’ve read or read an article about pathological relationships.

Other people may need more common phrases like, “I was in a dangerous relationship,” or “I was psychologically manipulated.”  Still others may respond to the use of a metaphor.  Sometimes it helps just to say, “He’s like a little child,” or “He’s like a bad case of the flu … I just can’t shake him.”

There is never really a script that can convey what you should say or even could say to help those around you understand.  Truth be told, most won’t ever understand.  They can’t validate you.  Sometimes it’s best to just find one person who might get it, or at the very least, is willing to listen when you need to talk.  The rest of the time, the focus doesn’t have to be on telling your story, but rather, living your life.

As singer Natasha Bedingfield says—your story is “unwritten.”  In every moment you decide what to say and what NOT to say.  There are so many layers and intricacies to a pathological relationship.  And each moment, each experience that you had, was traumatic.

It is crucial that you manage the story you tell.  With a blank page before you at each new opportunity to speak about what happened, remind yourself that speaking the words represents your power.  That should not be considered lightly, and with each word that leaves your mouth, you are risking your power.

(**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.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Just Because You Believe It DOESN’T Make It True

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

In the past we have talked about how your defense mechanisms affect your emotional suffering. We’ve looked at denial and fantasy. Today we are going to look at how your own distortions in thinking can also cause emotional suffering.

I am frequently reminded that this statement: “Just because you believe it, that doesn’t make it true” is accurate when it comes to denial in Pathological Love Relationships. There’s just something about narcissists and psychopaths that can make you forget all about their pathology and return you to your previous ‘fog’ of beliefs:

F.O.G. = Fear, Obligation, Guilt

Entrenched in your desires is to have a normal partner. Couple that with the NPD’s (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and PP’s (Psychopath’s) ability to convince you of their—at least fleeting—normalcy, and you have a woman who has dug her fingernails into the nanosecond of his normal behavior. And she’s not gonna let it go!

An otherwise highly educated, bright, and successful woman can be reduced to a blankly staring hypnotized believer when it comes to believing her mate is normal and can be normal, or that it’s her that is really the messed up one.

Just when you feel you have made substantial headway in understanding the nature of the ‘unchangeability’ of his disorder—wham!—out of nowhere, you are staring blankly, hypnotized yet again.

While pathology never changes, what does change is your belief system. Obviously, narcissists and psychopaths are not capable of true sustainable change. He didn’t change. Your desire to believe he’s normal and to deny his pathology is the only thing that has changed. It’s not so much a ‘change’, per se, as it is a return to straddling the fence about your belief system.

Most partners live a life of cognitive dissonance—this conflict between ‘he’s good/he’s bad’ which is so distracting they never resolve the internal conflict of whether he is MORE good than bad, or MORE bad than good. They live in a fog of circulating memories that support both viewpoints—remembering the good, but still feeling the bad. These circulating memories keep them straddling the fence with the inability to resolve a consistent faulty belief system about him.

This inability to hold a consistent belief system is what causes cognitive dissonance. It’s also what increases the cog diss and also causes intrusive thoughts. Dissonance is caused by thought inconsistency which eventually leads to your behavioral inconsistency—constantly breaking up and making up.

Inconsistencies in thought and behavior increase dissonance which increases intrusive thoughts. No wonder you can’t get symptom relief!

Your desire to believe it doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t make him normal. It doesn’t cure his NPD or Psychopathy. It only keeps you stuck straddling a belief system that has caused you emotional paralysis.

Joyce Brown (the mentor in Pathological Love Relationships for The Institute) once said, “The only thing that happens when you’re straddling a fence is you get a fence post up your butt!” Try moving when you’re paralyzed by a fence post!

Just because you believe it, doesn’t mean he’s okay, that he’s going to stop doing the things he said he’d stop, that counseling is going to work, that there never was anything wrong with him, that it’s probably you—or any of the other things you tell yourself in order to stay in a relationship of pathological disaster.

Even Benjamin Franklin said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” For us in the field of psychopathology, these self-evident truths are that pathology is permanent, whether you believe it or not.

(**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.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

How Long is Recovery Going to Take?

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

 

Raise your hand if you believe that, if you were run over by a train, you could reasonably expect to heal in 6 months, a year, even two years. If you suffered a traumatic brain injury from
being run over by a train, would a neurologist say to you, “You’ll be good as new – like nothing ever happened – in a year”? Highly unlikely…

You have been run over by The Pathology Train. And anyone hit by this train will have acquired a trauma disorder from it (re-experiencing it over and over). You will have medical conditions and a neurological impact. Your core self will have been shattered at a deep level and all those aspects will need to be treated.

Can you expect to treat a trauma disorder, medical conditions, a shattered self, and a TBI all in a year or some pre-conceived time frame? No one has a magic wand to wave over you to get all that damage zipped up in a short period of time.

The problem is your level of expectation is not equal to the level of damage you have experienced. This isn’t just “a bad break up”. You have been harmed emotionally, physically, psychologically, sexually, spiritually, financially, existentially at your core self level, and neurologically.

Survivors say, “I have been no contact for 2 years, why am I not better?” Or, “I have been out 4 years and dating why am I not better? Why do I still have triggers? Why do new triggers begin? Why am I triggered by dating?”

The question should not be ‘why.’ The answer is your experience–you aren’t well yet. You have a level of expectation that, because time has passed, you should be better – but you aren’t. That you aren’t better in a short period of time, in and of itself, points to the reality that this is extreme damage. Extreme.

There is no Oprahology positive psychology approach that wipes this away. It is the arduous task of rebuilding your life, not making symptoms simply go away. There is no drive-thru healing despite all the ridiculous books that claim simply to go no contact or breathe and it will all be ok.

Believing this is recovery from a bad break up sets you up for unrealistic expectations that, yet again, make you doubt your judgment which sets off more cognitive dissonance about trusting yourself and your recovery.

This is the most complicated form of trauma I have ever seen in 30 years. But among your Super Traits is resourcefulness and resilience. You will have some levels of recovery but obviously not as quickly as you think.

If it were easy, you wouldn’t be here. If everything else had worked, you wouldn’t be here. If you had gotten up and walked away from being run over by The Pathology Train, you wouldn’t be here.

‘Why’ is not the question, it’s the answer to the extremity of your experience.

Trauma is not only calculated by the depth of his disorder. It has just as much to do with your own previous levels of trauma (childhood, adulthood, etc.) and your own mixture of resiliency and inner resources. Everyone is different. Some people with earlier trauma are taken down hard and fast by these relationships while others, who had no previous trauma but might have had a more pathological partner, may fare better. You can’t judge, it just is what it is.

Recovery depends on previous traumas, inner resources, resiliency factors and other things that feed into the equation on recovery. Recovery is not linear with ebbing and flowing as periodic challenges highlight what is left to work on because trauma is like an onion. As you peel down the layers and get different symptoms in different layers, it might be getting to the core and some of the final symptoms that need treatment.

Some of these recovery challenges are due to the emotional dysregulation that comes from PLRs. It is either dysregulation from not having learned recovery skills or it is dysregulation that has been created from now being very sensitive to pathology in which you become highly reactive to situations that stir up those emotions. Either way, skills for dysregulation is what is needed. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is effective for developing these skills.

When you try to get people who have not experienced a PLR to affirm your situation, it’s like war vets trying to get others to know what it was like to have served in a war. It is a set up for non-affirmation and rightfully so because others never lived it. While they may have compassion for your situation, they cannot have empathy for something they haven’t experienced. It isn’t possible to get affirmation from people who haven’t walked in our shoes.

Survivors often get the recovery process backwards–they are still having symptoms and haven’t learned consistent symptom management but are dealing with loneliness or boredom and friends suggest the best way to get revenge is to get back out there in the dating scene. Or they are symptom managing but they haven’t learned how to rein in their super traits with normal people much less intimate others. They don’t understand or ‘hear’ their super traits. Their PTSD still has their intuition numbed or hyped up so either they don’t receive red flags or all they see are red flags.

All of these are indicators of work still to be done before you are ready to date. The Institute has some dating bylaws we go by or you can have a session with Jennifer who prepares people for dating and assesses whether they are ready. But until you have built a strong recovery and a GREAT and GENTLE Life and are living it, you are putting the cart before the horse.

Recovery requires the ability to reclaim your previous self and remove yourself from the storyline of victimization.

Recovery isn’t just about no contact with him or learning and using breathing exercises. It’s about disengagement from the whole topic. It’s about learning what your Super Traits are, what they ‘sound like’ in your interactions with others, and learning how to manage them in order to protect yourself from harm. It’s about learning how to calm your raging physical symptoms and how your physical health is at risk if these symptoms are left unmanaged. There are multiple facets to recovery.

Recovery is about building a new life, a different life – one in which you will be safe from this kind of harm in the future.

(**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.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Testing the Edge

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

Women who end up in dangerous and pathological relationships often end up there because they like (or find interesting) “living on the edge.” They don’t like their boring lives, and that extends to liking men who are edgy as well.

No boring normal geek men—Nope! The more the edge/bad boy/outlaw/rebel (or the more you perceive they need some support to keep an honest life afloat) the more you like them.

This “edge-walking” landed you right in the lap of a dangerous and pathological man. In the beginning, edgy seems neutral—it’s too early to know that his edginess is going to cost you. All you know is he’s a long way from boring and that’s okay with you. It is long time before you know that his “edge”:

  • Is emotionally addicting for you
  • Is narcissism (or worse!)
  • Is about rejecting authority
  • Is all about him
  • Isn’t the cool “James Dean” type of edge
  • Isn’t artsy, educational, intellectual, musical, poetic or religious
  • Isn’t about riding fast in his convertible, or having daring sex or making risky financial investments
  • Isn’t about you or your own enjoyment of everything edgy
  • Isn’t about his party lifestyle or his commanding presence when others are around
  • Isn’t about sad stories he told about his life to use as emotional bonding with you

And it’s a long time before you realize his “edge”:

  • Consumes your self-esteem for lunch
  • Doesn’t make YOU cool for being with him
  • Doesn’t mean you are an “in” girl to love someone like him
  • Didn’t mean you were supposed to “tame” a bad boy or “heal” a wounded one
  • Can’t be fixed, counseled, medicated, or churched
  • Can’t be loved into something less savage and more soothing
  • Was really just a trail of wounded women behind him
  • Was unrelenting lying, broken promises, and changes he could never make, no matter how long he promised or how hard he tried
  • Was not really brilliance unrecognized, charm unspoiled, or love unrequited
  • Was one thing … and one thing only …

His edge was pathology.

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know. The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Triggers and Knee Jerk Reactions During the Holidays

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

The holidays are stressful under the best of situations. Add to it a dangerous and pathological relationships and you can have a prescription for **guaranteed** unhappiness.

The pathological relationship never lies dormant during the holidays. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with you–of course “just to wish you a Merry Christmas.” He has a million hooks he will use to get you back in…and here’s a big one! Christmas!

A text message of Happy Holidays is not good cheer. It’s a hook. A Christmas card is not a mass card to everyone–it is a targeted approach for you. A gift left on your doorstep isn’t a thoughtful gift–it’s a manipulation because being the good-mannered girl you are, you’ll call and thank him and then he’ll have you on the phone….and it all goes downhill from there.

Then there’s the mistletoe, and the date for New Years Eve, and the gift he left for your child or your parents….The holidays are one BIG OP-POR-TUN-ITY for Mr. Opportunistic.

He’ll be testing your boundaries to see if your no contact rule applies during the holidays. If it DOESN’T apply and you respond to him or send him a text/card/call, you have just taught him where your loophole is. You have also said something very LOUD to him. You just screamed in his ear “I’m Lonely! Come snuggle with me.” And you know what he’s thinking, “You don’t have to ask TWICE!”

Ladies, Christmas is ONE day of the year that is laced with a lot of triggering memories. Maybe from childhood where you believe “miracles happen on Christmas” or “everyone should be together then” or the sights, smells, and memories of past Christmases with him are rehashing in your mind.

Don’t stay stuck in that ‘air brushed Christmas memory’ — how about you pull out your memory list from the other 363 days of the year and how he behaved then? Not just one night with the twinkle of Christmas tree lights and a ribbon on a gift…that doesn’t make a pathological man stable!

Get out of the fantasy. Christmas has a way of hypnotizing women into the fantasy of his positive behavior and his lack of pathology. Nothing changed because we hit Christmas season. It’s just a BIGGER opportunity for him to hook you.

If you’re still with the pathological person, they can be very sabotaging at this time of year wanting to strip every little piece of joy you can get from the season away. They get drunk, pick fights, say mean things to your family, yell at the kids, and don’t participate in the festivities.

Don’t react. Have a great Christmas while he wallows around in that puddle of pathology.

You know one of the things we found out in our research? You ladies tested unbelievably high in ‘sentimentality’. What are the holidays all about? SENTIMENT! If your sentiment is on caffeine, what do you think it will do? Be restrained or have a knee jerk reaction because all that sentiment is coursing thru your veins?

One slip up now could cost you a year of trying to get rid of him again. Call a support person and tell them you VOW to them not to have contact this season. Then make plans to fill up your time so it’s not even a possibility.

I have ‘lectured’ our readers about loneliness because this 4-inch stack on research sitting on my desk that you ladies completed tells me that you lapse and lapse and lapse again when you feel lonely. Holidays induce loneliness. Plan ahead and safeguard. “I was lonely” is not an excuse for starting something that will once again destroy your life!”

Instead, do something wonderful with your kids. Get outside, take a walk, go to a movie with friends, do some scrapbooking, get some of our books to read, go to a nursing home and visit someone! Sit in a chapel alone and count your blessings, walk your dog more, go to the gym!

Do anything except have a knee jerk reaction to your excessive sentimentality gene!!

Wishing you peace and joy this Holiday Season!

(**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.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

The Damage They Do

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

For the unlucky women, months turn into years as they ride the roller coaster going nowhere. From heart stopping curves to death wish drops, they hate the ride but don’t know how to get off.

Interestingly, no matter how long women are in the relationship, the aftermath symptoms are the same. This means any exposure to pathology is psychologically devastating. The aftermath severity happens because the pathological uses forms of mind control. It is hard to fathom, but the pathological’s goal is to succeed in controlling and destroying a woman, not to have a successful relationship with her.

A pathological performs devious kinds of acts to try to make his woman think she is having a nervous breakdown or is mentally deficient so she relies on his “take” of reality. If mind control is psychologically damaging to prisoners of war, it is just as damaging to the intimate partners of pathologicals who will go to great lengths to inflict psychological devastation – simply because they enjoy the process.

He claims that he “knows people” who get information for him. This increases her paranoia and fear and adds to the psychopath’s mystique. He plays “nice guy” to make her doubt herself and to deflect her thoughts that there’s anything wrong with him.

He will gaslight her by agreeing to changes and then act as if they never had the conversation about those very changes. He will admit behaviors when caught and later deny he admitted them. He will get caught red-handed and later deny she ever heard or found out what he did. He will use other accomplices to validate his stories to increase her sensation that she is going crazy. Wealthy pathologicals will financially bribe others to control the outcome of situations that continue to support his mirage of lies.

Women may have PTSD symptoms resulting from mind control and coercion. All of these conditions result from a victim’s bonding and emotional connection to her captor/abuser, symptoms that are often seen in prisoners of war, hostages, and cult members.

But she is not an easy woman to take down. Self-control will hold her strong even in the face of these pathological-created delusions. Some women indicate they stayed far too long trying to figure out what was going on or to go toe-to-toe with him so he couldn’t get something else over on them. Most women say they are baffled by the strange dynamics in the relationship and stayed until they had some kind of cognitive understanding of what they had been living through.

As the emotional stress, physical, and sexual exhaustion are taking their toll, her failed reality testing continues. She begins thinking paranormal things are happening around her. The constant ups and downs of the relationship are now eroding this strong woman’s sense of self-confidence and resourcefulness – just what the pathological intended!

As she starts to psychologically decompensate, she experiences the same dynamics that are seen in Stockholm Syndrome:

  • She perceives (and has already experienced) a threat to her physical or psychological survival and believes he has the ability to carry out his threats. By now, she has already lived through months of him carrying out his ability to harm her.
  • Perceived small kindnesses from him set the emotional tone for her letting down her guard and. once again, seeing him as kind or even human. This also increases her relationship investment and hope in him.
  • Isolation from outside perspectives other than his. She has already experienced not only isolation from others but the indoctrination of his pathological world view.

As she decompensates, she is an easier mark for continued manipulation by the pathological. It is uncertain if psychopaths have a natural ability by nature of their pathology to simply unconsciously perpetrate these types of mental set-ups, or if the set-ups are systemically planned so that just watching her psychologically melt before his very eyes is a huge power pump for him. Our guess would be the latter.

If pathologicals didn’t like the game of manipulation, they would consistently choose women who are introverted and who would be a far easier capture than taking on powerful extraverted women. But that is, in fact, exactly why most (not all) pathologicals choose the powerful extraverted woman. To that end, we have to assume that the pathological predator enjoys watching a previously high-functioning woman turn into a reality-doubting, exhausted, bundle of nerves which he finds pretty erotic.

Sadly, some of the pathological’s women only make it out of their torment through suicide. The ultimate power triumph for a psychopath, he conquered her spirit and won. He scoops up and moves on to the next woman/victim.

Inevitable Harm

Every woman is harmed. “I realized I had been seduced by a con man and I spent months in shock, trying to figure out just who he really was.”

A relationship with a pathological man is not like any other failed relationship. The women who loved pathologicals are not just ‘bitter women scorned’. It is simply not possible to have a relationship with a pathological and not be harmed and damaged to a significant degree.

One woman expressed, “It has been over four years since our relationship ended and I still get anxiety attacks at the thought of dating. I am still single and have adopted a hermit lifestyle to make sure I never go through anything like this again.” The relationship with a pathological has resulted in many women living out their lives alone without a partner.

The medical side effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that many women develop from the relationship (as well as other acute stress disorders) will long manifest in her body. Medical side effects that continue on, long after the psychopath has left, include:

  • Auto immune disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Migraines
  • Digestive disorders
  • High blood pressure

As one survivor said, “This relationship has taken a grave physical toll on my body. I have several conditions and I look about 20 years older than I actually am.”

Sexual damage

Many women experience sexual damage and negative effects on their sexuality. This stems from having been exposed to deviant sexual practices, humiliated about their sexual performance or bodies, compared to other women, and often sexually harmed.

Long term damage

Women who have been in relationships with pathologicals universally experience some form of acute stress. The acute stress may have evolved into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other types of stress disorders. The lingering disorders serve as reminders of past pain and are likely to cause the women symptoms for years – and maybe for life.

(**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.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

What’s the Problem with Problem Partners?

By Sandra L. Brown, MA

Problem partners create problems which manifest as problem relationships. These relationships are often referred to as ‘bad relationships, ‘drama,’ or ‘dysfunctional’ when, in fact, often the dynamic at play is a result of what I have coined ‘Pathological Love Relationships.’

These relationships are related to the permanent personality structures and disorder of one (or sometimes both) of the partners. Mislabeled, undiagnosed, or misunderstood, these relationships churn out problems for the partners, their children, their families, and the therapists who try to help them.

Neuroscience has helped us understand some of the brain processes and problems involved especially in Cluster B patients referred to as the ‘Erratic and Dramatic’ disorders. The partners who are challenged by faulty brain processing and negative behaviors often associated with narcissism and anti-social personality disorders and the no conscience disorder of psychopathy make for some pretty lousy relational material.

I refer to this lousy relationship quality as ‘Inevitable harm’ because when someone’s brain processes are hard-wired, and they lack the ability to sustain positive changes through therapy or develop insight about how their negative behavior hurts others, there’s only one way this relationship is going to end up – harmful.

Even the court system now labels these relationships uniquely as ‘High Conflict Cases.’

In our work at the Institute, we have looked at Inevitable Harm related to partners who have problems bigger than what psychology can do for them and:

  • The traits of those with chronic personality problems that wreak havoc in the relationship
  • The unusual pathological love relationship dynamics specific to these disorders
  • The neuroscience about what is wrong with their brain
  • The elevated temperament or ‘super traits’ of those who have gotten into relationships with people with this kind of disorder
  • The affected language, communication and meaning in these relationships and how it drives the other partner crazy
  • Understand why these relationships feel more intense than others
  • Realize why break ups are so hard and why they are fraught with ‘Boomerang’ attraction.

Along the way we have reviewed the characteristics in the disorders related to impulsivity, sexual acting out, interpersonal exploitation, low to no empathy, excitement seeking, and conning. And of course, we have also looked at the physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual and financial harm of these emotionally lethal predators and parasites.

Next week we’ll talk in greater detail about the damage they do.

(**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.)

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com