By Sandra L. Brown, MA
Raise your hand if you believe that, if you were run over by a train, you could reasonably expect to heal in 6 months, a year, even two years. If you suffered a traumatic brain injury from
being run over by a train, would a neurologist say to you, “You’ll be good as new – like nothing ever happened – in a year”? Highly unlikely…
You have been run over by The Pathology Train. And anyone hit by this train will have acquired a trauma disorder from it (re-experiencing it over and over). You will have medical conditions and a neurological impact. Your core self will have been shattered at a deep level and all those aspects will need to be treated.
Can you expect to treat a trauma disorder, medical conditions, a shattered self, and a TBI all in a year or some pre-conceived time frame? No one has a magic wand to wave over you to get all that damage zipped up in a short period of time.
The problem is your level of expectation is not equal to the level of damage you have experienced. This isn’t just “a bad break up”. You have been harmed emotionally, physically, psychologically, sexually, spiritually, financially, existentially at your core self level, and neurologically.
Survivors say, “I have been no contact for 2 years, why am I not better?” Or, “I have been out 4 years and dating why am I not better? Why do I still have triggers? Why do new triggers begin? Why am I triggered by dating?”
The question should not be ‘why.’ The answer is your experience–you aren’t well yet. You have a level of expectation that, because time has passed, you should be better – but you aren’t. That you aren’t better in a short period of time, in and of itself, points to the reality that this is extreme damage. Extreme.
There is no Oprahology positive psychology approach that wipes this away. It is the arduous task of rebuilding your life, not making symptoms simply go away. There is no drive-thru healing despite all the ridiculous books that claim simply to go no contact or breathe and it will all be ok.
Believing this is recovery from a bad break up sets you up for unrealistic expectations that, yet again, make you doubt your judgment which sets off more cognitive dissonance about trusting yourself and your recovery.
This is the most complicated form of trauma I have ever seen in 30 years. But among your Super Traits is resourcefulness and resilience. You will have some levels of recovery but obviously not as quickly as you think.
If it were easy, you wouldn’t be here. If everything else had worked, you wouldn’t be here. If you had gotten up and walked away from being run over by The Pathology Train, you wouldn’t be here.
‘Why’ is not the question, it’s the answer to the extremity of your experience.
Trauma is not only calculated by the depth of his disorder. It has just as much to do with your own previous levels of trauma (childhood, adulthood, etc.) and your own mixture of resiliency and inner resources. Everyone is different. Some people with earlier trauma are taken down hard and fast by these relationships while others, who had no previous trauma but might have had a more pathological partner, may fare better. You can’t judge, it just is what it is.
Recovery depends on previous traumas, inner resources, resiliency factors and other things that feed into the equation on recovery. Recovery is not linear with ebbing and flowing as periodic challenges highlight what is left to work on because trauma is like an onion. As you peel down the layers and get different symptoms in different layers, it might be getting to the core and some of the final symptoms that need treatment.
Some of these recovery challenges are due to the emotional dysregulation that comes from PLRs. It is either dysregulation from not having learned recovery skills or it is dysregulation that has been created from now being very sensitive to pathology in which you become highly reactive to situations that stir up those emotions. Either way, skills for dysregulation is what is needed. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is effective for developing these skills.
When you try to get people who have not experienced a PLR to affirm your situation, it’s like war vets trying to get others to know what it was like to have served in a war. It is a set up for non-affirmation and rightfully so because others never lived it. While they may have compassion for your situation, they cannot have empathy for something they haven’t experienced. It isn’t possible to get affirmation from people who haven’t walked in our shoes.
Survivors often get the recovery process backwards–they are still having symptoms and haven’t learned consistent symptom management but are dealing with loneliness or boredom and friends suggest the best way to get revenge is to get back out there in the dating scene. Or they are symptom managing but they haven’t learned how to rein in their super traits with normal people much less intimate others. They don’t understand or ‘hear’ their super traits. Their PTSD still has their intuition numbed or hyped up so either they don’t receive red flags or all they see are red flags.
All of these are indicators of work still to be done before you are ready to date. The Institute has some dating bylaws we go by or you can have a session with Jennifer who prepares people for dating and assesses whether they are ready. But until you have built a strong recovery and a GREAT and GENTLE Life and are living it, you are putting the cart before the horse.
Recovery requires the ability to reclaim your previous self and remove yourself from the storyline of victimization.
Recovery isn’t just about no contact with him or learning and using breathing exercises. It’s about disengagement from the whole topic. It’s about learning what your Super Traits are, what they ‘sound like’ in your interactions with others, and learning how to manage them in order to protect yourself from harm. It’s about learning how to calm your raging physical symptoms and how your physical health is at risk if these symptoms are left unmanaged. There are multiple facets to recovery.
Recovery is about building a new life, a different life – one in which you will be safe from this kind of harm in the future.
(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know. The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions. See the website for more information.)