Need Better Brain Control? 20 Minutes a Day of This Can Help

Who isn’t driven crazy by the brain aftermath of a pathological love relationship? Often referred to as ‘scrambled egg brain’, the inability to focus, think one congruent thought, ping ponging monkey mind, cognitive fog, trance, mind control-like symptoms – are all the norm after the powerful pathology ‘mind meld.’

Do you know the number one and number two reasons why people come to the Institute for help?

  1. Intrusive thoughts
  2. Cognitive dissonance

Both are a vicious cycle feeding into each other.

Traditional approaches to ‘thought stopping’ with intrusive thoughts have only been found to be minimally effective with this population. Consequently we are really focusing in on finding better solutions for treatment of aftermath symptoms.

However, in the meantime, why not go with a tried-and-true approach that has been around for thousands of years? Yoga has had consistently good results with depression, anxiety (that increases intrusive thoughts which increases cognitive dissonance), and physical benefits that help to reduce blood pressure, tension, and other physical problems associated with aftermath symptomatology.

Twenty minutes a day of yoga can render good results. It’s a great ‘no excuses’ kind of activity that anyone can weave into their day. You can follow along on TV with yoga shows, or there are yoga programs on the internet, as well as how-to DVDs. Some churches and libraries offer low cost yoga groups. A couple of yoga centers in my town offer a free class every week so I make sure to hit those. Regardless, find a program that works for you and commit to 20 minutes a day.

Personally, I can tell a huge difference in my own body, health and mood when I am using yoga. How about you? How is it working for 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.)


Dissociation Isn’t a Life Skill

“Dissociation isn’t a life skill.” ~ Sandra L. Brown, M.A.

Dissociation is described as:

  1. The splitting off of a group of mental processes from the main body of consciousness, as in amnesia.
  2. The act of separating or state of being separated.
  3. The separation into two or more fragments.

Let’s talk about dissociation a minute… it’s technically a defense mechanism—we separate from our memory things that we don’t want or can’t deal with. In trauma (like abuse or rape), that’s helpful at the time. If dissociation becomes your major defense mechanism, it can become one of several full-blown dissociative disorders which are very intense types of disorders. But outside of full-blown dissociative disorders, there is still the ability to heavily rely on dissociation even if you don’t have a disorder.

We can unknowingly learn to dissociate and use it against ourselves! Dissociation is when we separate the details of an event from our awareness. I think this happens with dangerous men as early as the first date – when we choose to not pay attention to our screaming red flags. We are dissociating their messages away from our awareness because, if we truly became aware, we might ditch them early on and we don’t want to.

Dissociation can become a primary defense mechanism if you grew up in a dysfunctional, abusive, addictive, or violent home. That’s because children can easily go on ‘overwhelm mode’ and check out—or dissociate—because they can’t handle what’s going on. If you never learned adult coping skills, it’s likely you use the ones you do know, which are from childhood. And, if your primary skill was dissociation, you’re probably using that now and it probably has gotten you into a lot of trouble in your patterns of relationship selection.

After a while, you don’t even know you’re dissociating. It’s just automatic. So you can dissociate away a lot of IMPORTANT stuff early on—like discrepancies in his stories, the not-so-nice words he says to you, the tone of his voice, or other behaviors that SHOULD cause concern but don’t.

Any time you separate a memory from all its components, you are dissociating from the whole memory, which is why remembering ALL the relationship issues—not just the good times—is important. The bad times are a part of the memory or the memory is merely a fragment of what REALLY happened. You can also separate other parts of the memory like sensations, words or phrases, physical or sexual pain inherent in the memory, things you tasted/smelled/saw, and various emotions that were prevalent in the relationship. That’s why women get these very skewed ‘snapshots’ of just the good times long after those times have passed. The whole snapshot would look very different indeed if it incorporated all the senses into the memory.

Sometimes women can dissociate—or fragment—the meaning, motive, or intent as well. So he uses all your money and your response is, “He meant well; he just doesn’t know how to handle money.” That’s not likely the situation, so the motive or meaning of what he was REALLY doing is fragmented so you don’t have to take action.

Dissociation can become an unconscious reason to say, “I didn’t notice…” because underneath, dissociation was naturally at work and it also worked for the ability to stay in the relationship and not notice. How long can you live on the reasoning behind dissociation which is, “I didn’t know, I didn’t notice”? This is why I say that dissociation is not a life skill. It doesn’t help you move forward. Instead, it keeps you frozen in time.

Women describe dissociation as a numbing or spacey feeling. They either don’t feel something or they are too spaced out to do much about it. In the middle of a traumatic event, spacing out and numbing is a good thing. Even as adults, I still advocate that there are times for ‘therapeutic dissociation’—like during a root canal. Who wants to be present and aware for that? But the problem is that dissociation becomes largely unmanaged. Then it becomes downright dangerous to you, robbing you of your ability to be aware, in tune, and vigilant.

Look back over your childhood for patterns of dissociation. Look back over your adult relationships and see how influenced your choices were by dissociation. Look at your life NOW for signs of when you check out, become aware, drift off, or stuff feelings at the speed of light so you don’t have to make a decision about something. These are all aspects of dissociation.

While it may have helped you in a time of trauma, as an adult your recovery is about growing healthier and developing stronger coping skills than mere dissociation. All of real life is happening now—are you missing it?

(**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.)


Verbal Bulimia and the Art of Over-Disclosure

by Sandra L. Brown, MA

I wrote about ‘verbal bulimia’ in my Dangerous Man book, discussed it again in Women Who Love Psychopaths, and frequently remind everyone of it in the newsletters, and yet I still see this embarrassing behavior among women that not only sounds inappropriate to anyone else listening, but also puts them at tremendous risk among pathologicals.

Years ago when I had a few psychopaths in group therapy, I asked them how they chose their ‘targets’ and they said, “I just listen. If you get them talking, they rapidly over-disclose. Women tell WAY too much! You pick up everything they just said—what they like, their values. Feed it back to them. Become what they are looking for and—VOILÀ—you’re in!”

On my flight back from our Dangerous Man Workshop Cruise to Cozumel a few years ago, I had one of those over-disclosing women sitting in front of me. Ladies, this is the kind of person that makes you want to switch genders so as not to be associated with the behavior! She was purposefully loud so that others would hear her. In fact, she was so loud, the rows around her couldn’t even have their own private conversations because she was ‘holding court’ in the middle of the plane where it was mostly men.

LOUDLY she announces to a girlfriend (who must have been deaf either before the conversation started—which is why she YELLED—or afterward from yelling in her ear) that she was going to THE CLIFFS where she OWNED a CONDO so she COULD GOLF on TIGER WOODS’s golf course. (I am illustrating the way she talked with her volume up on the important parts of her braggadocio story.) And that she FLEW back and forth to her OTHER HOME to THE CLIFFS to enjoy THE COUNTRY CLUB and GOLFING. (Just imagine if you were a psychopath sitting within hearing range of this conversation…)

Oh, and THANKSGIVING, she was going to have 35 people over AND HER LARGE DINING ROOM could easily accommodate them. She was going to HAVE A COOK COME IN and help her prepare the meal. And ANYONE WHO NEEDED A PLACE TO BE on Thanksgiving was welcome to come (as she offered with a gesture of her hand to those sitting around her). (The psychopath is totaling up how much her jewelry and big screen TVs are worth about now…)

Then it was on to her OTHER VACATION travels she had recently been on… while all those around her were rolling their eyes and sticking their fingers in their ears (except for the psychopaths on board who were checking to make sure they had packed their suntan lotion—dreaming of a future trip WITH her).

FINALLY, glory to God, the plane landed, and it seemed like I could get away from her. She stood up, adjusted her breasts, fluffed her hair, and sucked her stomach in as she noticed the guy in my row had a three-piece suit on (gag!), a gold chain and, to her, I guess, ‘potential.’ This highly accomplished multi-home owner who had been loudly touting her own virtues, all of a sudden couldn’t manage to get her bag out of the overhead, turning into Scarlett O’Hara: “Could some big strong man help little ol’ me here?”

She was staring straight at the gold-chain guy, so he felt obliged. Then she inserted something that had nothing to do with her bag being stuck. She stuck her hip out and leaned into his face, “You know what I HATE?” “What?” he asks. “There are three lanes on a highway—one for 70 miles per hour, one for 80, the last one for me—which is get out of my way! The thing that drives me the MOST crazy in the whole world…” (I’m wondering—poverty? Abuse? World hunger? Obviously not psychopaths—what?) … is people who drive too slow so that I can’t roar my BMW Z4 at 95-100 miles per hour.”

She glances around to see who MIGHT have heard her. I have my ‘therapy gaze’ on her now—like, “Girl, GET a therapist!” The guy winces at that statement and stares at his shoes. However, several other guys in line shift their positions to move closer to her. Instead of heading out of the front of the plane they are turning around and going to the BACK of the plane, not out! What psychopath doesn’t want to con her out of a BMW Z4?? Or her country club membership? Or that dining room table that seats 35? Or those boobs she just pushed up?

OK, OK… not ALL women who over-disclose do it so garishly and obnoxiously as this woman did. But they DO do it! There isn’t a pathological who isn’t wired to hear the hints and home in on them. They don’t have to remember to listen—it’s as natural as breathing to them.

Maybe your disclosure is more subtle, like at church: “Pray for me, I’m going through a divorce.” Or in personal ads—“Recently divorced attractive woman looking for her soul mate.” Or on a chat forum: “Yeah, I was really hurt when he ran around on me. I’m just looking for a nice guy to settle down with—someone who likes children and animals, a church-goer—someone who shares my love of art and hiking.”

TMI! TMI! Too.Much.Information!!

It’s hard to remember that all the ears and eyes that are exposed to you are not ‘normal’ ones…that pathologicals are listening for the signs that are a green light to them to make a move on you. That includes any hint of what you’re looking for (Fine, I can be that! he thinks) or loneliness (I’ll solve that!) or pain (Oh, baby, you’ve gotta let me redeem the male species! We aren’t ALL like that!)

Some are listening for your financial info. Many are parasitic and are looking for ways to live with others so they can conveniently lose their job while with you or to just bilk you out of your money quickly and be gone.

Others are listening for your need of a partner, companion, ‘just friends’ status, a stepfather for your children, a spiritual mentor, a shoulder to cry on…

Others are listening to your unrealized dreams so they can ‘support you’ in your journey to being a writer, a painter, a therapist, or going back to college, or starting your own business…

Still others are listening for your needs: Sexually hungry? Emotionally needy? Bored? Not listened to? Abused? Abandoned? Lonely? Tired? Angry?

Remember the church song when you were little: “Be careful—little eyes what you see… Be careful—little ears what you hear… Be careful—little mouth what you say…” Remember that? It reminded us that our eyes, ears, and MOUTH need to be careful. The song went on: “For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little mouth what you say.” If we ONLY had the Father to worry about, this wouldn’t be an issue. One in 25 people have no conscience, and thus are pathological. There are ears and eyes watching and listening to you to make you their target.

So, you’re probably wondering what I did about the obnoxious, verbally bulimic woman on the plane. I flipped my business card at her with my finger and, as luck would have it, it landed in her cleavage, and I kept on walking. Imagine her thoughts as she read my card: “The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction & Public Pathology Education, Psychotherapist & Author of How to Spot a Dangerous Man and Women Who Love Psychopaths.”

Too bad the plane was too crowded to turn around and see her reaction!!

(**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.)


Chronic Personality Problems in Problem Relationships

by Sandra L. Brown, MA

A large portion of emotional and physical abusers (although not all) have some similar identifying disorders, traits, or diagnosis. They are not all created equal. That means each one of them brings a unique combination of traits, challenges, and problems to the equation of the relationship and even therapy. Therefore, not all abusers treatment is going to be effective because not all psychological problems are treatable. For instance, batterer intervention has often failed to make this distinction and lumps all violent behavior or psychological problems together as if they are not differentiated by their differences.

Some of the disorders have biological and neurological root causes that are not curable. Ultimately, not all problem relationships have a solution especially those that have biological/neuro problems at their basis. That’s not popular to hear. We live in an Oprah-age of psychology that believes all disorders are curable and if not curable, at least highly treatable. ‘Law of Attraction’ type thinking pulls many people into believing ‘if they think it, they can make it happen’ (their relationship will work, the pathology will be gone, or something curative will happen that will drive away the symptoms.) Like medicine, psychology faces the same challenges that not all disorders have a satisfactory treatment or a cure.

If people who are in problem relationships want to avoid future problem relationships, they must understand what contributes to some of the disorders and the signs within the behavior.  There is no doubt that chronic personality problems wreak havoc in relationships and the worst of these do have commonalities related to impulsivity, emotional dysregulation, and violence. (No abuse is mild. I’m not suggesting that. What I am trying to hone in on is the chronic and lethal nature of some of the relationships and what some of the contributing factors can be to those problems.)

Some of the more recent research in neuroscience helps us to understand the problems related to what Otto Kernberg (one of the renowned writers and researchers of pathology) wrote about as ‘severe personality disorders’ related to Cluster B disorders (see his books Aggression in Personality Disorders and Perversions; Severe Personality Disorders; Aggressiveness, Narcissism and Self Destructiveness in the Psychotherapeutic Relationships–to name a few).

However, neuroscience over the past few years has helped us understand the additional possible biological and neurological roots of some of these severe disorders as well as the disorders of sociopathy and psychopathy. MRIs of various Cluster B disorders and sociopathy/psychopathy have lead the way noting similarities in brain formations, brain activity, brain circuitry, brain chemistry and its relationship to the severe disorders, impulsivity, poor treatment outcomes, and poor relationship outcomes. Where therapy has spent decades (if not a century) focused on the very psychoanalytic and behavioral approaches, we have missed the very real potential of neurology and brain functioning challenges.

While the origin and etiology of these disorders has been widely debated for decades, neuroscience is providing many of the answers to biology that we previously didn’t have. This helps us delineate between the mind as a structure and process, and the brain as an organ. The brain as an organ has all the proclivity of being born with differences, challenges, and problems as any other organ in the body. Unfortunately, up until now, the view has been a very ‘psychological’ approach to the brain and its disorders without looking at the possible contributions of ‘nature’ such as being born with physical predispositions. While we don’t question that, when it comes to the heart or immune system, people can be born with abnormalities, people certainly have a BIG reaction at the thought of psychology being related to brain organ issues and not merely emotional issues.

When looking at the behaviors associated with problem partners with what is referred to as ‘severe personality disorders’ and the problems of sociopathy and psychopathy, we have to look broadly at the symptoms, but not so broadly that we find loopholes. Normally, one symptom off a behavioral list does not constitute one of the ‘severe personality disorders’ or even the no/low-conscience disorders of sociopathy or psychopathy. However, they don’t need to have ALL of these traits in order to be problematic in a relationship.

Those in relationships with problem partners often fall on the side of ‘too much empathy’ and give the problem partner more credit for not having these symptoms than what is warranted. Somewhere in the middle of one trait-too-many/and no-they-don’t-have-problems-at-all, is a snap shot of relationship problems and problem partners. Here are some of the behaviors associated with what is referred to as some of the severe personality disorders as well as sociopathy and psychopathy.

From the Diagnostic Statistical Manual–DSM V:

  • Disregard for, and the violation of, the rights of others
  • Failure to conform to lawful social norms
  • Deceitfulness Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
  • Irritability and aggressiveness as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
  • Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations

(Above are related to Antisocial Personality Disorder)

  • Lack of remorse as indicated by being indifferent about having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another
  • Glib and superficial charm
  • Grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  • Need for stimulation
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning and manipulativeness
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  • Callousness and lack of empathy
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioral controls
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Early behavior problems
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity irresponsibility
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Many short-term relationships
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Criminal versatility

(Above are related to Sociopaths/Psychopaths)

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • Intense and unstable personal relationships that over idealize and devalue
  • Identity disturbance with unstable self image or sense of self impulsivity in at least two areas (spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
  • Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-mutilation
  • Emotional instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (intense episodic irritability or anxiety)
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate intense anger or difficulty controlling anger

(Above are related to Borderline Personality Disorder)

  • A grandiose sense of self importance
  • Exaggerates their achievements and talents
  • Expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should only associate with, other special or other high-status people or institutions.
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement, unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his expectations.
  • Is interpersonally exploitative within relationships and takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends
  • Lacks empathy and is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him
  • Shows an arrogant, haughty behavior or attitude

(Above are related to Narcissistic Personality Disorder)

This list is not mild relational infractions, or merely what Dr. Phil refers to as ‘deal breakers’. In some of the more chronic features and behaviors, this pathology causes debilitating partner aftermath symptoms.

The Institute is involved in offering recovery to those coming out of relationships with narcissists, antisocial, sociopathy and psychopaths because the chronicity of their disorders often causes chronicity within their relationships. If that weren’t true, 60 million people would not be negatively affected by someone else’s pathology. We wouldn’t have support groups for “Partners of Narcissists” or “Adult Children of Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. There wouldn’t be self help books for those harmed by anti-socials or psychopaths. The Institute wouldn’t have felt it necessary to write ‘Women Who Love Psychopaths’ and offer coaching and retreats for survivors.

Some of those listed above are the abusers who are not created equal, who have permanent neuro, emotional, behavioral and psychological disorders that bypass what psychology can do for them. Anger management–nope. Batterer intervention–nope. Intensive psychotherapy–nope.

The permanent forms of pathology are noted for their Three Inabilities (Brown, 2005):

* Inability to grow to any authentic emotional or spiritual depth

* Inability to sustain positive change

* Inability to develop insight how their behavior negatively affects others

These inabilities are the hallmark of chronic disorders that create chronic problem relationships.

** Footnote: Research articles related to this topic: ‘Neural foundation of moral reasoning and antisocial behavior;’  ‘Into the Mind of a Killer: Brain imaging studies starting to venture into the research of criminal psychopathy;’ ‘Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire data on alcoholic violent offenders: specific connections to severe impulsive cluster B personality disorders and violent criminality” ‘The Relationship Between DSM-IV cluster B personality disorders and psychopathy according to Hare’s criteria: Clarification and resolution of previous Contractions;’ ‘Brain imaging abnormalities in borderline personality disorder’ (video)’ ‘Potentials implicate temporal lobe abnormalities in criminal psychopaths;’ Hypomanic symptoms predict an increase in narcissism and histrionic personality disorders;’ and ‘The Brain and Personality Disorders.’

(**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.)


Why It’s Not Just About ‘No Contact’ — It’s Much More — It’s ‘Disengagement’

by Sandra L. Brown, MA

It doesn’t take longer than five minutes into a break-up to know that having contact is not helping your recovery. I see lots of facebook pages and websites touting the benefits of ‘No Contact’ but the issue for recovery is far beyond merely ‘No Contact.’

The merits of ‘No Contact’ are obvious. It’s hard to retract yourself, rewire yourself, or recreate yourself when you are still having contact with the source of your traumatic injury – the pathological partner.

Let’s look at each one of these—

  • Retracting—Moving out of the injury of pathological exposure is the first step that most people associate with ‘No Contact.’ You remove yourself from the presence of harm—harm physically but mostly the harm of the psyche that is exposed to that much relentless pathology. Retracting is almost a physiological reaction to the harm and enduring pathology itself—like recoiling into one’s safe space.  So removing oneself is one way of moving into ‘No Contact.’
  • Rewiring—‘No Contact’ is also to soothe the fight/flight/freeze patterns of trauma. It’s so that the adrenaline and cortisol can stop pumping and the brain can calm down. The neuro impact from pathological love relationships is very real (see the book Women Who Love Psychopaths, or Dr. Rhonda Freeman’s material on Contact is perceived by the brain as threatening (even if it isn’t) and is autonomic, meaning it can quickly bypass the reason centers of the brain to become an automatic physiological trigger. Smells, sights, sounds, words, and memories are all vehicles for traumatic patterns of fight/flight/freeze that include emotions, neuro reactions, and physical reactivity. While you may think that speaking, emailing, texting, or seeing him is not likely to be ‘any worse’ than any other time you have seen him, trauma is an accumulative injury. Each exposure creates layers of trauma and each time there is exposure there are connections to memories associated with him. The cologne he is wearing, the shirt, the words, the tonality, the smirk, the smile, the glint in his eye—any or all of it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and causes the house of cards and all of its triggers to bring you to your knees. In fact, it is only a matter of time until that is likely to happen. ‘No Contact’ then becomes a necessity for traumatic symptom management so as not to expose yourself to more triggering effects of pathology. It helps to soothe the craving and pain centers of the brain that still ‘long for the pathological relationship (Dr. Rhonda Freeman).
  • Recreating—‘No Contact’ helps to reassign the sense of self that has been wrapped in the one-ness of the relationship. Self is associational in a sense, that is, it is relational. We see ourselves through our loving connections to other. The injury to one’s self-perception or how you see yourself is one of the items that takes the longest to heal in recovery.  You have to recreate how you see yourself and how you experience yourself. Much like grief when someone dies, you have to face the empty house, the empty bed, the empty coffee cup. You have to recreate the patterns of your life—what you do in the morning, after work, and on weekends.  You have to recreate how you date and mate. The more contact you have the harder it is to extricate your sense of self from the sense of couple-ness. So ‘No Contact’ helps you to get on with the necessity of learning to see yourself without the pathological partner.

But ‘No Contact’ is just the beginning of your steps in recovery.  First steps in recovery are to get your brain in a recovery condition that can guide and steer the rest of your recovery. If your brain doesn’t work, then it’s going to be even harder to get your emotions on board.  Brain first, and the rest will follow which is why No Contact for re-wiring is foremost. But it is not merely not texting, calling or emailing that creates havoc with the brain.  It’s why ‘No Contact’ is a first step but it is hardly the totality of recovery.  You must proceed to disengagement.

Disengagement, as The Institute refers to it, is 2nd Step recovery.  To help manage the pathology-exposed brain, to tame rumination, to calm intrusive thoughts, to not trigger fight/flight/freeze patterns is to disengage from things that stimulate memories, flashbacks, ruminations, trauma, and autonomic reactivity. What is the one thing that is related to memory/flashback/ruminations/trauma/autonomic reactivity? It’s the storyline related to the pathological love relationship.

The commonality of a trigger is the subject. Disengagement as an act of recovery and as technique for symptom management must include the disengagement from the pathological partner which includes the history, and its retelling, of the relationship.

Rumination occurs not only from the memory but from engagement with the subject which includes the compulsive need to talk about it, tell the story, seek validation, compare and contrast details of the events, or obsessively read other victim stories.

Survivors are compulsively driven back to the very item that gave them the traumatic injury. Discussed in Women Who Love Psychopaths, this can be related to traumatic replay or a dozen other defense oriented mechanisms. But just as in the saying “a dog returns to its vomit” survivors find ways of reengaging with the subject without ever having ‘contact’ again.   This is an emotional loophole. And this is why it is not merely about ‘No Contact.’

When our clients are maintaining ‘No Contact’ but are still highly symptomatic, I ask how much ‘engagement’ they are having with the topic of pathology. Most tell me they have purchased every book on the topic, are on multiple social media sites about the topic, in chat forums, and have ‘support friends’ with the same issues whom they met online that they talk to by phone.  Their phone pings every 5 minutes with a new article on ‘My Life with a Psychopath’ story. This is not disengagement. This is engagement with a deadly weapon.

I am honest when I say I am dismayed at the peer run websites and social media sites that are ‘validation’-only sites – that do nothing but post lists of symptoms of the survivor and behaviors of the pathological.  Let me say sensitively, there is a fine line, especially in recovery, between understanding what happened to you, having your experience validated, and re-injuring yourself with the same trauma that harmed you.

In the beginning, many survivors don’t know what can happen with over exposure on these sites. If a little information is validating, than a lot must be utterly therapeutic. Nothing could be further from the truth! We have had emergency sessions with plenty of survivors who binged on peer sites which triggered a PTSD reaction.

Engagement in similar stories of the same type of trauma a survivor has experienced themselves, sets off the autonomic physiological reactivity—on comes anxiety, depression, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, cognitive dissonance, hyper vigilance, sleeplessness and the worst – craving and longing.  But ‘no pain, no gain’ – the information and inundation in the subject matter they feel likely hurts because it is so true.  Your discomfort is normal because you are being triggered by the information.

Our clients are told that recovery is not merely about not contacting HIM, it’s also about not contacting the subject including story-telling sites or, as we call them, ‘sit and spin’ sites that are peer run and which allow people to just tell story after story of their pathological love relationship. They call this ‘validation.’ We call it a prescription for relapse and meltdown. The survivor spins their adrenaline and cortisol, stirs the agitated mind, and if that’s not enough, whoever is reading their story is also having the same reactions. Unguarded and unguided sites like these can do untold harm to those on the edge with anxiety, PTSD and complex PTSD.

Disengagement with the subject is far from not texting him, not driving by his house, or fly bys on his facebook page. It is disengagement in behavior related to the pathology subject so that the brain has time to catch up, slow down, and release its death grip attachment to the subject and memories. Behavior guides the brain.

Disengagement means the survivor has made a commitment to healthy forms of recovery –

  • Including finding sites that are not ‘sit and spin’ sites. Instead, finding sites and groups that are run by mental health professionals with historical relevance in the subject.
  • The survivor commits to choosing only behaviors that do not reactivate pain centers in the brain which includes not compulsively discussing the storyline with others who aren’t equipped to help them process the trauma—online or in person.
  • Not reactivating pain centers by compulsively reading other survivor’s stories on websites, social media and forums. Even forums about this topic create the same neuro pathways for the pain center in the brain as did the pathological partner.
  • The survivor finds alternative ways to getting pathology education information and trauma processing without re-traumatizing themselves through peers.

Dear survivors, ‘No Contact’ to help yourself retract, rewire, and recreate are great first steps.  But to really rewire in a neuro recovery way means more than just not texting or talking on the phone. It means recreating a new self with a new outlook on what hurts and harms you in your own recovery and not choosing (again) overexposure to pathology oriented information that inflames the craving, longing, reward and pain centers of the brain.

(**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.)


Your Medical Conditions—Are the Root of Your Relationships?

Many women don’t know that ongoing stress (whether it is recognized or not) leads to very predictable medical conditions. Our mental state is our physical state, so women with the worst health issues are often women with the worst emotional stressors.

Women who were in addicted, mentally ill, abusive, or pathological families often have the most severe and lingering medical symptoms and diseases. One reason is that they have a cumulative effect of stress-related disorders because of the length of time they have been stressed. Since many women who were in disordered families go on to pick disordered men, their stress simply rolls over into the next relationship. Or, if a woman is able to avoid the disordered intimate relationship, her previous exposure to the disordered family or resulting stress may go untreated. In those cases, the stress is still stored in the body.

We now know that stress has to go somewhere. It goes into your body as deep as the cellular level as well into your muscles and tissues. This type of stress storage can result in diseases that affect the muscles and tissues like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), lupus, or fibromyalgia.

Stress attacks the immune system and renders it ineffective. This can result in diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome, Epstein-Barr, and other autoimmune disorders like lupus and fibromyalgia, that end up moving from the immune system to the muscles and tissues. (Ever say, “He’s wearing me out!”?  He literally IS!)

Stress negatively affects blood pressure. And we know that high blood pressure can lead to strokes, heart disease, and other long-term diseases. (Ever say, “He’s killing me!”?)

Stress floods the body with cortisol that produces too much adrenaline in the body. This causes you to be irritable, have sleep disruptions, and fight-or-flight symptoms. Cortisol affects metabolism which produces weight loss or weight gain, especially in the stomach area, and blood sugar instability, which can lead to hypoglycemia or diabetes. (Ever say, “I just feel like I want to jump out of my skin!”?)

Stress negatively affects hormones, causing chronic menstruation problems, endometriosis, infertility, early menopause, PMS, and other female reproductive disorders.

Stress causes inflammation in the body, which we now know is the beginning of most disease processes. This can lead to arthritis and other inflammation-related diseases.

Stress causes tension which can be held almost anywhere in the body. This affects the skeletal system, resulting in back or neck pain requiring chiropractic adjustments.  Sometimes it’s stored in the face and produces TMJ or migraines. (Ever say, “He’s such a pain!”?)

Stress causes the release of gastric juices, which inflame the throat, stomach and colon, resulting in digestive disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (Ever say he was a pain in the butt?)

Stress negatively affects the absorption of vitamins in your body resulting in depletion during ongoing stress which can result in fatigue, hair loss, allergies, and skin problems. (Ever say, “He really gets under my skin!”?)

Stress screams to be managed, which is why so many women end up with addictions, trying to “manage” the chronic stress conditions—addictions to anxiety medication, pain meds, street drugs, alcohol, food, sex, religion, and overachieving. (Ever say, “He is going to drive me to drink!”?)

Over the past 25+ years of treating women, I’ve seen every one of these disease processes at work. PATHOLOGICAL RELATIONSHIPS ARE A LEADING NEGATIVE CAUSE IN WOMEN’S HEALTH ISSUES ON EVERY LEVEL! If we want to improve women’s health in this country, we need to address these pathological relationships that are literally killing them!

Stress hides because we are adaptive in some ways, and become used to the level of stress we are currently under, OR have ALWAYS been under since childhood. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t highly damaging our bodies with it. Some women only become aware of their stress if it jumps significantly. By then, you are in a severe category of stress disorders and, by that point, you probably have several of the conditions listed above.

By far, the condition of the 21st century for most people is stress. Women with histories of abuse or current pathological relationships have even higher stress levels than people without these contributing factors. Stress demands to be treated and then managed … either do it now or it will demand treatment in the form of medical issues.

Many women say they don’t even know where to begin in managing the stress that is contributing to their medical conditions because they have had it for so long. On our shopping cart is an mp3 download for Relaxation Techniques for Stress Disorders—that’s a good start. Consider physical exercise, yoga, or pilates as some ways of metabolizing all of those stress hormones. Learn deep breathing, relaxation techniques, or quiet meditation. Find a counselor or a group in order to verbally express the underlying issues of your stress. Learn how to manage addictions to sex, relationship hopping, drugs (even prescriptions), and alcohol.

When assessing your overall health, do consider the underlying possible reasons for your health issues—your emotional stressors and HIM!

(**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.)


Not All Abusers Are Created Equal

Just as not all victims are the same, not all perpetrators of harm are the same either. There is a temptation to ‘lump’ them all together making ‘who’ they are is what makes them abuse others the same as other abusers and what they ‘do’ as abusers the same as other abusers. Perhaps this is where Domestic Violence theory and pathology theory walk different paths.

Pathology is often the missing piece when looking at the domestic violence or abuse scenario. Pathologicals are part of the continuum of abuse but usually hover at the upper end of the continuum. They represent those who relapse into abusive behavior (emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual, and/or financial) no matter how many batterer intervention groups they are forced into. Their biology and hard wiring is often overlooked by the court system that mandates these groups and overlooked by the organizations who offer batterer programs. But it is exactly their pathology that differs from other abusers.

I have suggested repeatedly that those who run Batterer Intervention Programs need to personality disorder test those who are entering anger management, batterer groups, and other similar programs. That’s because we need to weed out those who will not only NOT be helped by the program, but as Robert Hare says, will only learn HOW TO USE the information learned in the groups against the victims, the system, and other organizations running similar programs.  There’s also no use in wasting tax payers money on treatment for those who don’t benefit from treatment.

Pathologicals (those with the ‘Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorders of Cluster B/Psychopathy) are those most likely to abuse the group by gathering info and becoming a slyer abuser. They are the ones most likely to use the information they learned in group later on the judge, their attorney, court evaluators, child evaluators, etc. If Hare didn’t think pathologicals should be given treatment in prison, why do we think they should be given similar treatment information outside of prison like groups that end up being ‘pre-prison’ routes for many pathologicals?

Pathologicals are also those most likely to get sent to intervention groups over and over again. There is a danger in ‘graduating’ the pathologicals for having ‘successfully’ completed their weeks in batterer intervention and/or anger management. They return to the victim with a certificate in hand by an organization that says ‘They have completed the program’ when what really occurred was that they did not benefit in a long term manner from what they were taught. But the certificate helps the abuser get in the door again. Many victims think they are protecting themselves by mandating the abuser has to go through intervention to be able to come home again. It’s a mirage that we offer when we give a pathological a certificate of completion. Batterer groups and court ordered anger management need to be offered for those who can truly ‘complete’ the program because they have the capacity to sustain the positive change that the program says they need to change. I have known many a case in which the victim was killed after the batterer intervention program when they let the new ‘graduate’ back into their home.

Pathologicals are those most likely to convince others that they are not the problem–that she is, or  it’s the world, their job, their childhoods, their attorneys, etc.

Pathologicals are those most likely to stalk. They don’t take no or “go away” as answers. Instead, they take it as a challenge. When programs like DV are helping women with stalking, they need to understand that, by nature of what causes most stalkers to behave the way they do, they are either personality disorders/pathology or they are chronically mentally ill as in schizophrenia and often un-medicated bi-polars. Your run-of-the-mill unhappy husband who has been dumped doesn’t stalk.

Pathologicals are those most likely to abscond children and bolt. Giving partial custody or unsupervised visitation is to invite the natural outcomes of a pathological with poor impulse control.

Pathologicals are those most likely to expose children to abuse, neglect, and their pathological lifestyles. They are those most likely to ‘program’ children against the protective and non-pathological parent.

And last, but certainly not least, pathologicals are those most likely to kill or attempt to kill. Without conscience, empathy, guilt, remorse or insight, someone so ‘inconvenient’ like an ‘abuse tattler’ is likely to be seen by a pathological person as a swarming gnat and killed with the same amount of forethought.

Clearly, not all abusers are pathological. I have seen many people go through batterer intervention and ‘get it,’ go home, change their behaviors, positively impact their marriages and families and never do it again. But in pathology, there’s ‘nothing wrong with them’ so why change? In pathology, it’s always someone else’s problem – it’s never about their behavior. In pathology, it’s not merely about the Power & Control Wheel that explains their abuse of power. In narcissism and psychopathy, power is food. It’s not ‘a way of looking at relationship dynamics’ — it just ‘is.’ It’s biological, not dynamic.

The newest information on the Neuroscience of chronic batterers and other pathological types show us the parts of the brain that are impacted and that prevent them from change. This is not merely willful behavior, this is his hard wiring.

All abuse is an abuse of power. But not all abuse of power is treatable or curable. It’s not that there aren’t similarities in the abuse or even the abuser, but in pathology the abuse of power has no cure. Abuse, addiction, mental health issues all have the hope of treatment when there is insight and the ability to sustain change. But in pathology, the inability to grow, sustain consistent positive change, or develop insight about how their behavior negatively affects others precludes them from the benefit of treatment.

That IS what pathology is – the inability to be helped by medication, counseling, spiritually, or even love. Abusers who are not pathological have the ability to grow, change, and develop insight about how their abuse of power and control harms others. Pathologicals can never do that.

That’s why all abusers are not created equal.

(**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 Unexamined Victim: Women Who Love Psychopaths

“We can’t prevent what we don’t identify, we can’t treat what we don’t diagnose. And we can’t teach how to spot them unless we understand pathology ourselves.”

Millions of dollars have been spent researching and writing about psychopaths while almost nothing has been spent, either in terms of time or money, on the profoundly disturbing byproduct of psychopathy – its victims. Since male psychopaths outnumber the female variety by about 3 or 4 to 1, I’ll be talking mainly about female victims of male psychopaths in this article.

Despite the fact that psychopaths devastate everyone in their path including the women and children who love them, why have clinicians not seen fit to study and write about the single most obvious source of insight into this issue: the survivors of intimate relationships with psychopaths? The study of any disease involves carefully collecting and examining its symptoms, and psychopathy is definitely a societal disease. Even our legal system gathers information about criminals by taking testimony from on-site, first hand witnesses. So again, I ask: why is there no clinical material about – much less interest in – the psychopath’s partner?

I think one answer is that therapists don’t recognize her as a victim of psychopathy because they usually don’t recognize him as a psychopath! On the rare occasion when a psychopath’s victim is identified, she is lumped together with more typical domestic violence survivors; or labeled as co-dependent, a relationship/sex addict, and/or assumed to be suffering dependent personality-disorder. These inaccurate and often biased explanations of pathological love relationships have neither helped victims find specific treatment for their unique relationship dynamics and aftermath symptoms, nor have they contributed (as they could) to our knowledge of psychopathy itself. It’s a travesty within the clinical profession that the victims are not more readily identified or better understood and that this rich source of vital information has not been mined.

I came into the field of pathology through the back door – I was not looking to work with Cluster B relationships (i.e., with narcissistic, antisocial, histrionic, and borderline personality disorders; personality disorders are grouped into one of three clusters based on common characteristics) – I was just trying to offer counseling to victims of crime. However, going through that door led me into a whole career within the field of psychopathology and, after 20 years of ‘treating’ personality-disordered people, I gained a new appreciation for the depth of permanent devastation caused by what Otto Kernberg called the “dangerous and severe personality disorders.” These severe disorders affect not only the sufferer, but family members, partners, friends, children, and even the therapists themselves. I continue to be overwhelmed by the fact that the therapeutic progress of those with personality disorders is measured in millimeters, while the devastation they leave behind is measured in miles.

After years of working with the disordered, my focus began to shift; I realized that my time and energy would be far more fruitfully spent helping those who didn’t recognize the oncoming pathological in their lane of life. The problem was clear: women became victims because they didn’t recognize the difference between normal personality diversity and the signs and symptoms of pathology. Despite the fact that most personality disordered individuals can hide for some period of time behind a ‘mask of sanity’, there are signs and symptoms that the non-clinician can learn about and thereby avoid some of the most devastating life events known to our society. I noticed the ‘dangerous man’ experiences from which women were healing were largely due to two types of pathology: narcissists and the whole antisocial end of the pathology spectrum, which includes antisocial personality disorders, sociopaths and psychopaths. And so, I initiated psychopathology education for the community-at-large. Through one of my earlier books How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved I focused on the effects that Cluster B personality disorders can have on a relationship, coining the term ‘relationships of inevitable harm’.

As I counseled victims of the personality disordered, learning things from them that made my hair stand on end, I wondered why others had not bothered to study the persons who were exposed to the most dangerous relationships on the planet! If the field of violence prevention had been around since the 1970s, why wasn’t this pool of potential homicide-risk victims better identified for prevention or treatment at the very least? Why had no one ever thought to collect the precious data they – and they alone – could provide?

As one of the first therapists to extensively study the clinical aspects of the partners of psychopaths, I was fascinated to discover that these women were remarkably similar in personality traits. Their stories of their relationship dynamics were comparable, and their aftermath symptoms identical. At the same time, despite the therapeutic mislabeling mentioned above, and the societal misunderstanding of them, women who loved psychopaths didn’t turn out to fit any of those labels! It was ironic that there was so much similarity between all of them, but none of it had anything to do with the labels which had been assigned to them!

The Institute, which I founded, conducted an in-depth study of over 75 women worldwide (and has recently completed a study with more than 600 respondents that shows the same results). The initial intensive survey collected data, relationship stories, histories, symptoms, temperament traits, and characteristic behaviors along with the dynamics of their interactions with pathological partners. This victim-based research brought into sharp focus the long-missing issue of their unusual relationship dynamics and their often masked aftermath of symptomatology. (For more information read Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of Inevitable Harm with Psychopaths, Sociopaths & Narcissists 2nd ed., Sandra L. Brown, M.A.) It also highlighted some unusual aspects that only psychopaths could bring to, and perpetrate in, an intimate relationship. This was shocking insight into the dynamics of the psychopathic lifestyle.

Here is what was discovered:

  • Educated and otherwise well-adjusted women described entrancement or ‘vortexing’ into relationships with psychopaths who have extraordinary skills for exploiting the suggestibility of others.
  • The psychopath lured them through a form of hypnotic induction into trance states which contributed to how strongly women can be ‘held’ in these relationships.
  • The role of intensity of attachment and fear affected her perception of sexual and relational bonding with psychopaths.
  • The ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ dichotomous personality of the psychopath coupled with ‘crazy-making’ relationship dynamics aided the development of cognitive dissonance in the victims, weakening an otherwise strong emotional constitution.
  • The victim aftermath symptoms either resembled or were in fact post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even without physical violence.
  • Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience explained brain differences in psychopaths (and other Cluster Bs). It aided the clinical understanding of the permanent hard-wiring nature of these disorders. While we hope this eventually adjusts the erroneous belief that psychopathology is not merely willful behavior, it is evident that the lack of education for victims has hindered their ability to understand the permanence of these disorders; victims continue to assume batterer intervention or therapy will change the psychopath.

The seminal aspect of the research was in detecting these women’s unique and astounding elevated ‘super traits’ of temperament, personality strengths and weaknesses. These proved to be an amazingly compatible match for the strengths and weaknesses of a psychopath and brought a natural ‘balance’ to the honeymoon aspects of the relationship.

While the uncovering of her innate traits and conditioned behaviors explained much about these dangerous relationships, and has brought huge intellectual and emotional relief to the victims, it does not seem to have gone very far in modifying the public misperceptions about psychopaths or their victims. On a recent radio show, after describing the huge elevation of some of the victim’s temperament traits and explaining how it could affect her patterns of selection and even tolerance in these relationships, the host said, “That’s a crock of crap! You’re telling me that a few temperament traits can do that? I don’t believe it. She picked him, she stayed, she needs to own it and she was probably abused as a child.” These simplistic answers are what have been, and continue to be, at the core of the abysmal lack of public psychopathology education.

As mentioned, my research has revealed that women who love psychopaths (and other Cluster B personality disordered individuals) possess rather unique and extraordinary ‘super traits’ of temperament that make them the perfect target/victim of the psychopath. While the following does not cover all of her traits, these were the ones most highly elevated and were thus likely contributing factors:

    • Extraversion and Excitement Seeking. (Psychopaths are also extraverts and excitement seekers.) In other words, these women started out being the least dependent types on the planet!
    • Relationship Investment. The victim gives great emotional, spiritual, physical, financial investments in any of her relationships, not just the intimate ones.
    • Attachment. She has a deep bonding capacity.
    • Competitiveness. She is not likely to be run out of relationships – she will stand her ground. Again, not the co-dependent type at all.
    • Low Harm Avoidance. She doesn’t expect to be hurt, sees others through who she is. In other words, not a person looking to recreate an abusive relationship of childhood. In fact, more often than not, these women were never exposed to abuse of any kid as children.
    • Cooperation.
    • Hyper-empathy. This can actually be genetic.
    • Responsibility and Resourcefulness.

I think we can all agree that these sound like outstanding women in all respects! These stellar qualities don’t look like a problem at first glance, but some of these traits were measured in the range of 97% higher than average, proving that even too much of a good thing can be bad.

What happens when you put all this together:

Too much empathy

+ high bonding

+ high sentimentality

+ and low harm avoidance?

= You get inevitable harm.

You get fabulous women who love deeply, who have a big heart, who get much out of their relationships and who tend to trust openly because they believe that everyone is as good and decent and loving as they are. What’s more, their super-traits make them able to hold fast to that belief in the face of some of the most horrifying evidence to the contrary imaginable.

While finding these kinds of off-the-chart trait combinations sounds foreboding, it is actually good news. We can’t prevent what we don’t identify. We can’t treat what we don’t diagnose. And we can’t teach how to spot them unless we understand pathology ourselves. With this new understanding we have the ability and possibility to use this information to develop targeted and appropriate survivor treatment programs and – more importantly – to design Public Psychopathy Education targeted at those who are most at risk for developing or sustaining relationships with individuals of the psychopathic ilk.

Since the first printing of Women Who Love Psychopaths, I have spent years using this specific information and developing new approaches in our treatment programs. I designed the programs exclusively for women emerging from relationships with psychopathic men. After treating hundreds of clients I have learned a great deal about the unique aspects of the destructive consequences that these women experience in the aftermath of these relationships. I have added that new data related to these findings later in the book.

Both my understanding and my clients’ intimate first-hand knowledge of psychopathy are different from many conventional and even clinical writings about the psychopath. Considering how the women came to know what they do know, it should be different. My understanding about the disorder has grown out of my unique experiences treating the psychopath’s victims who have shared their personal life-destroying lessons about their encounters. When you approach the subject of psychopathy through the outcome of victimization, the view and insights are wider and deeper.

My perspective may differ from other psychopathy researchers who work primarily with criminal psychopaths in the prison system or those researchers who work in laboratories, as well as from instructors in academia who teach about psychopathology. In most of those cases, the only psychopathic subjects available for study or report are those who were caught or incarcerated. In the cases in the book, the psychopaths are primarily not, and have never been, incarcerated. They are what you might call ‘successful psychopaths’.

This factor highlights one difference in the book’s approach. I based the psychopath profiles on information provided by their intimate partners – not through standardized research approaches which depend, to a great extent, on ‘self-reporting’ by the psychopaths themselves. (This is problematical at best since lying is one of the chief characteristics of the psychopath.) The women answered detailed questions about the psychopath’s behaviors and their unique relationship dynamics. Experience taught me that you can learn a great deal from how victims and witnesses describe the psychopath’s behaviors. Words and actions, closely observed over long periods of time, provide a rich source of data from which to infer the psychopath’s mental landscape.

I wrote Women Who Love Psychopaths to help the psychopath’s victims understand their unique and unprecedented at-risk status – past, present, and future. Since it was published, it has taught them how to safeguard themselves from other predators and prevent the devastation psychopathy causes. Over my 25+ years of providing counseling, I have sadly seen hundreds (if not thousands) of lives destroyed by varying levels of mixed pathology and psychopathy. This growing global pathology stands as one of the primary public mental health issues facing our world today simply because of the number of victims it will inevitably create – because that’s what psychopathy ‘does.’

More importantly, I believe this book has begun a process in the US towards Public Psychopathy Education. I believe the way to prevent psychopathic destruction within society is through public awareness education. Education can help women make better parenting choices by explaining:

  • the risk of psychopathic fathers passing their disorders on genetically
  • how psychopathic fathers emotionally damage the children they parent.

Pathological parenting always leaves its brutal and twisted world view imprinted upon impressionable souls.

To impact the public’s future knowledge, women must know what psychopathic traits look like in men. They can’t understand a psychopath until they learn what pathology in the psychopath looks like, acts like, and hides like.

(**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 a Divorce is Unexpected

By Susan Murphy-Milano

 You are now in a position where all your decisions will most assuredly impact your future. You must think logically and strategically while going through this period. If you feel you don’t know which way to turn and need advice, you may want to consult a relationship strategist or divorce planning expert before you take the first steps and consult an attorney. Be sure that the professional is someone who has your best interests at the forefront and represents you well. They should be able to advise you on a number of things, especially how to choose the right attorney and how to prepare yourself for your first consultation.

Follow these steps to keep on track:

  • Consult a lawyer immediately (consultation for the first half hour or so is usually free).
  • Bring with you to the lawyer a list of prepared questions to ask.
  • Try not to spend that free time crying or talking about your marriage. A lawyer is not there to be your therapist. Stick to only the facts as it pertains to children, finances and property. You are there to interview and possibly hire them.
  • Copy or scan all documents including wills, car titles, etc., and anything you find on the computer.
  • If you have an iPod, video camera or camera, take two pictures of everything including appliances, cars, artwork, antiques, jewelry, furniture etc.
  • Whatever you do, do not pack up and move out until the divorce is final (consult a lawyer first).
  • If you have never had a credit card in your own name, start applying now to establish a credit history of your own.
  • Try to remain as calm as possible when you tell the children. Do not speak negatively of or badmouth the other parent.
  • Do not use your children as a confidant. Do not involve your children in divorce preparation.
  • Try to keep the kid’s regularly scheduled activities and routines as normal as possible.

Consulting with a legal professional before you are served with divorce papers will better prepare you in the days and months that follow. A good attorney will be able to provide you with a clear understanding of your legal rights.

For more information refer to “Moving Out, Moving On.” You can order the e­book from

Important Note: If you have been in an abusive marriage you should inquire as to the lawyer’s expertise as it relates to domestic violence, orders of protection, stalking, and whether or not s/he has represented women who have been abused.

(**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.)



Not long ago I had a conversation with another pathology blogger who was adamant that isolating herself is what she needed. I recognize it’s what she wants. I want it too. I struggle with wanting to isolate especially when I’m triggered.

But really recovering from ALL of the PTSD symptoms means we have to challenge ourselves and deal with the parts that we are avoiding. Avoidance and it’s aftermath of isolation, is after all, a big part of PTSD and other stress related behaviors.

If our recovery was based on only doing what feels ‘good’ then we will only get partially recovered. The need to reduce hyper vigilance through isolation is paramount but it often squelches real legitimate needs for dealing with our avoidance and reaching out to build support and community.

Hyper vigilance feels horrible and many survivors get stuck in just trying to deal with that one symptom by isolating to the exclusion of dealing with that very real thing of isolation and avoidance. Isolation is used to manage hyper vigilance but if isolation is then dealt with it might not be what’s used to deal with hyper vigilance and forces another solution to be sought other than isolation.

Hypervigilance is one of the categories of symptoms in PTSD. But so is isolation. So as an example, the blog owner is essentially using some of the other categories of symptoms, isolation and avoidance, to try to deal with the category of hyper vigilance. It is like trying to use anxiety to manage depression. You can’t use one of the symptoms of the disorder to manage the other symptoms of the disorder.

PTSD recovery is not just about reducing hyper vigilance as this one blog owner stated. It is often a reflection of where our recovery stops, where we are stuck in getting to one place that we feel we can semi-control, like hyper vigilance, and the absence of that symptom feels as if we are ‘there’ or conquered some mountain in our symptom-lives. Or we become satisfied that if ‘at least’ we are not hyper vigilance it feels ‘good enough.’ It is unfortunate that we stop at managing one symptom and think ‘it’s enough’ and our avoidance swells at the thought of taking the next step to deal with the next set of symptoms.

Recovery is about ways of managing symptoms such as hyper vigilance, but as we know, there is MUCH MUCH more to PTSD or other stress disorders than one symptom. We can’t use one of the symptoms of our aftermath to try to manage another symptom. The answer is a full recovery, facing those things that are uncomfortable for us knowing that in the end, we will build mastery.

(**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.)



Grief and Its Impact on Relationship Selection

If you are still actively grieving the loss of a previous relationship, that grief can have devastating effects on the type of person you choose for a new relationship. Many people do not realize they are grieving when a relationship ends, which actually places them at risk of choosing dangerously while being impaired by their grief.

Some people assume that grief occurs only if your partner has recently died and if you are currently still saddened by the loss. But actually, grieving occurs when any relationship ends—whether it is anticipated, desired, prepared for, or not. The longer the relationship existed, the longer the grief normally takes to run its course.

People are often distressed to learn that there should be a ‘time-out’ from dating or future relationships when a relationship has ended. The rule of thumb is 6 months’ time-out for every 5 years of relationship. So if you were with someone (married or not) for 10 years, that would mean you take 1 year off (at least) from being in a relationship or dating. I get horrified reactions to that because most people think, “just get back out there; the best way to get over someone is with someone else.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many of my clients ended up in counseling with me because they did exactly that. While still grieving from a previous relationship, they made some bad choices in the selection of their next relationship which caused them even more problems and pain. When you are coming out of a relationship, you are in pain even if you aren’t acknowledging it, even if you wanted out of the relationship, even if you had planned for the ending of it. When you are in pain, you are not in your best decision-making mind. When issues of the previous relationship are not resolved, many people go on to choose someone just like the person in the relationship that just ended. Subconsciously they are trying to work out those relationship issues—but with a new person instead of the one they just left.

Drastically, many people jump from one relationship to the next to avoid being alone. Alone does not necessarily have to mean loneliness. But in these cases, people don’t really care about the quality of the next relationship. They only desire to avoid themselves and the feelings of the lost relationship. These are issues for the person to work out with a professional because people who cannot be alone are at a significant risk of choosing anyone to avoid being alone.

The baggage we carry from the last relationship has the ability to impact current and future relationships. Ideally, none of us want to hurt new relationships with our old relationship issues that are unresolved. That’s why time off between relationships helps us get some distance where we can assess the good and bad things of the relationship—our part in it, the types of people who we tend to select and whether we need to make some changes. These insights do not happen overnight or even within a few weeks. That is why following the formula listed above protects you from your own impaired relationship choices. Sometimes it allows enough time for you to see that you might need a few counseling sessions to work out your anger or fear, or look deeper at your relationship selection patterns.

The longer we wait and the more we work on ourselves between relationships, the better chances we have of bringing a more healthy self to the next relationship and being able to spot potential bad dating choices.

(**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.)



Emotional (Phantom Limb) Pain

In a session someone says, “I really miss what we had.  I could get over this if it hadn’t been the most wonderful relationship of my life.  I just feel like something has been cut out of me—like I’m missing a big part of myself now.”

Illusion is the mark of pathology.  It’s why our logo is a mask, because it best represents the mirage of normalcy that pathological individuals can often project … at least for a while.

Dr. Hervey M. Checkley, a psychiatrist and writer of pathology from the 1940s, entitled his famous book, The Mask of Sanity, and tells of pathology giving all the surface signals such as having a deep connection, having the most fun ever experienced with a person, of someone who is really into you—while behind the scenes you are being used as a distraction, a paycheck, grotesquely—as a “vaginal doormat,” or some other form of “feeding” of the pathological piranha.  What you are experiencing, you are internally labeling as “normal,” “wonderful,” or “love,” and yet it really isn’t any of those things.  It’s just a label of experience you have tagged with him.

If someone was watching your relationship as a movie, and watched scenes in which the pathological individual is exposed for his true self, your scene would be tagged and labeled very differently by the viewer than what is labeled in your own experience.  That’s because the viewer would see the pathological individual’s behaviors and words as manipulative and would have a distinctly different view of the storyline.  Your labeling of your experience isn’t always accurate.  As I often say, “Your thinking is what got you into this pathological relationship.  Don’t always believe what you think.”

Being invested in being correct is part of the human condition and is, in part, the way our brains work.  The more important the questions are—“Does he love me?”  “Is this the one?”—the greater the pleasure will seem from labeling the experience as positive.   The more positive the relationship is perceived, the more invested you will be to label the experiences and his behavior as positive, and to get the reward of your label, whether it is of him, the marriage, or the relationship.  Of course, none of this is problematic, except if you have misread the illusion, believed the presented mask, and labeled an experience with a narcissist, anti-social, or socio/psychopath as “positive.”

The illusion:

  • He was normal.
  • He was in love with you.
  • He was what he said he was.
  • He did what he said he did.

In pathology, that’s never the case, because:

  • They are mentally disordered (which isn’t normal).
  • Their attachments are shallow (which isn’t love).
  • They never present themselves as disordered, sexually promiscuous, and incapable of love (so he isn’t what he said he is).
  • They harbor hidden lives filled with other sex partners, hook-ups, criminality, or illegal and immoral behavior (so he doesn’t disclose what he’s really up to).

What you had (that you can’t possibly miss) is a pathological relationship.  What you want and miss is the ability to wrap yourself up in the illusion like a blanket—to go back to the time before you knew this was all illusion.

Women often say, when they try to break off the relationship, they have the feeling that something is being cut out of them.  They feel like they are missing a part of themselves.  This sensation is similar to what is called phantom limb pain, which is a medical mystery of sorts.  When a person has an arm that has been amputated, the portion of the brain that used to receive sensory messages about the existing arm goes through a series of changes.  This causes it to misread the brain message and creates the “ghostly” illusion that the arm is still there and in pain.  Even though the patient can see that the arm is gone, and what they are experiencing is an illusion; they can’t stop the distressing phantom limb sensations of wanting to believe the arm is still there.  The arm is in pain, but the arm is gone.  Amputees must learn to cope differently and begin to re-label the experience they are having that the presence of the arm is a perceptual illusion.

So it is with those leaving the illusion of the pathological relationship.  The emotional pain you experience is based on the illusion the pathological presented, a perceptual illusion that was mislabeled, experienced as positive, and invested in.  Keeping that positive illusion is initially important to you.  Learning to adjust the cognitive dissonance (which is the ping-ponging between thinking “he was good/he was bad”) is the challenge in overcoming the ghostly emotional baggage of phantom relationship pain.

(**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.)



Don’t Fake the Funk

“Don’t fake the funk.” ~Sandra L. Brown, M.A.

“Put a smile on your face no matter what.” “Turn your frown upside down.” “If you keep your face like that, it’ll freeze. Whoever came up with these statements was never in a relationship with a dangerous man.

The predominant thing women want to know in their phone counseling sessions is: “Is what I lived through in my dangerous-man experience normal?” “The effects I suffer today from that experience—do others have those experiences too?” “Why am I so depressed/anxious/obsessed/paranoid?” “What is it called that I have, and will I always be like this?”

Women greatly underestimate the damage done in dangerous and pathological relationships. Why? Often because they have been in so many of them that it’s now normal… being with someone so dangerous is normal to them AND feeling this bad is normal. It’s been so long since they didn’t have depression, anxiety, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, obsessions or paranoia—they have no idea what it feels like to not have these symptoms.

Some women also underestimate the damage because they were raised in families where dangerous behavior was also the norm. The chaos, drama, trauma, stress, and instability were the foundations of their home lives. Their childhood simply melded into their adulthood of the same kinds of relationships—except now, by their own choosing.

Women who have gone from pathological families into Pathological Love Relationships have been chronically depressed for so long that the biochemistry in their brain is currently altered. They have been anxious for so long that their biochemistry is altered by all the adrenaline they have lived on for so long. Long-term exposure to chronic stress, so often seen in dangerous relationships, eventually can create medical disorders. Some of the disorders suspected of being linked to unrelenting traumatic exposure include: autoimmune disorders like lupus, chronic fatigue and the Epstein-Barr virus.

Stress manifests in TMJ pain from teeth grinding, digestive disorders, migraines, hives and female disorders like endometriosis, phantom pelvic pain and other similar disorders. Stress has to go somewhere and often it is crammed into the body to wreak havoc on the body’s systems. Even when trauma has been so severe that much of it is not remembered, the body still remembers what the mind has chosen to forget. Your body always tells the truth.

Mood disorders are among the most common disorders associated with life in disordered relationships. Women are often in denial of the extent of their depression and/or anxiety—either it now feels normal or they don’t want to face what the relationship has cost them in medical and emotional disorders. ‘Faking the funk’ is just one way of coming to the truth of how ‘bodily expensive’ that relationship was. You can’t heal what you don’t see. So, taking your own inventory about how you really are is the first step in recovery. Mood disorders are often manageable through various means but you won’t be managing anything until you stop faking how affected you are by your own relational history.

Many women emerge from these relationships either diagnosed, or not yet diagnosed, with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—an anxiety disorder so extreme that the core concept of self is often fragmented. The cracked vessel must try to now function as an undamaged vase—but push on the crack and the vessel will break again.

The Institute’s books and programs are all geared to helping you face the aftermath damage of what you have experienced and helping you to recover from it.

(**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.)



Mutual Pathology: Gasoline and Fire

Pathology is a mental health issue, not a gender issue. Women have just as much pathology in some areas of personality disorders as men do in other areas of personality disorders. Some of the 10 personality disorders present more frequently in men, while some of the disorders present more in women.

As you have heard me say over the years, pathology is pathology—meaning that each personality disorder has its own problems and challenges in relationships, but mainly holds to the central three aspects that I talk about related to pathology:

  1. The inability to grow to any true emotional or spiritual depth.
  2. The inability to consistently sustain positive change.
  3. The inability to have insight about how one’s behavior negatively affects others.

Given these three aspects of personality disorders, we can easily see how each of the different types of personality disorders can be linked together by them.

While men may be more bent towards Anti-Social Personality Disorder or psychopathy, women may show more of a bent towards Histrionic, Dependent, or Borderline Personality Disorder. When you have a man with a personality disorder coupled with a personality disordered woman—it equals Jerry Springer dynamics!

There is no guarantee that there is only one pathological in the relationship. Women have just as many mental illnesses, addictions, and personality disorders as men. It’s quite common for people with a personality disorder to hook up with another disordered individual. When this happens you have two people who can’t grow to any true depth emotionally or spiritually, two people who can’t sustain positive change, and two people who don’t have insight about how their behavior affects others. These relationships are dramatic fire-beds of emotionality, addiction, and violence.

Women’s pathology is just as damaging to men as men’s pathology is to women. Women’s pathology may present differently than men’s overt aggression related to their pathology, but it is not any less problematic. Women’s pathology can sometimes (and I use the word “sometimes” lightly) be subtle when it is masked behind emotional dependency, sexual addiction, sexual manipulation, financial dependency, or high emotionality. Those types of symptoms can be associated with more than just a personality disorder. But women’s pathology is just as damaging to a partner, a boss, their family, friends and, God forbid, the effects it has on their children.

While women are more likely to be diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder, borderlines are often misdiagnosed and are really underdiagnosed psychopaths and anti-socials. There seems to be somewhat of a gender bias when it comes to diagnosing women with psychopathy. Unless they have participated in a Bonnie and Clyde-type episode, or made the America’s Most Wanted television program, they are likely to be downgraded in their pathology. Dramatic, highly emotional, or self-injuring women may be downgraded to Histrionic, Narcissistic, or Borderline Personality Disorder. Those with a little more flare for hiding their real lives may warrant the same diagnosis as male psychopaths. Their ability to hide it better, or having less violence associated with their behavior, goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

But not all female psychopaths are nonviolent. Many are horribly violent—to their children and their partners—yet always present themselves as the victim. These are the women most likely to press unwarranted domestic violence assaults, cry rape that didn’t happen, and abandon their children. The point is, both genders can have personality disorders, and each personality disorder may or may not present in a slightly different way in the other gender.

Beyond mutual pathology, a woman’s own mental health can influence the dynamics within a relationship with a pathological man. A woman who has bipolar disorder that is untreated, and who is in a relationship with a borderline male, can bring unusually dramatic dynamics to the relationship. Their fluctuations in mood can ignite a feeding frenzy of boiling anger in both which is likely to lead to violence. Both partners having a substance abuse or alcohol problem can certainly fuel the relationship dynamics in further, severely negative ways.

Let’s not overlook the “model” of pathological behavior that a woman often gets from being raised in a home with a pathological parent. She brings to the relationship the pathological-like behaviors that are learned within pathological families. I have seen this in sessions with women (and read it a lot in the emails I receive) where the pathological affects of her childhood, adult life, or past or current relationship is negatively affecting her worldview, current level of functioning, as well as the entitlement attitudes she brings to the table. Couple any of HER mental health issues and situations along with HIS pathology, and you have some of the most volatile and difficult relationships and breakups in history.

There have been many times in working with a woman that I recognize the man is not the only problem in the scenario. Not all women in pathological relationships are mentally ill. However, some women in pathological relationships ARE mentally ill. Some of their own mental illness can be the gasoline on the fire of the pathological love relationship that fans the flames of danger for them. Red flags, for me, that show there are possible mental health issues with women include the following:

  • Entitlement
  • Chronic victim mentality
  • Unregulated mood issues not amenable to treatment/medication
  • Chronically returning to the pathological relationship
  • Replacing relationships with more pathological relationships
  • History of unsuccessful counseling/treatment
  • Lack of responsibility for her own behaviors/choices

These represent only a few of the many symptoms that could indicate a possible mental health issue in the woman as well.

Clearly, pathology is not gender specific. Pathology and other mental health issues in both parties can accelerate the dangerousness and problems seen in pathological love relationships.

(**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).