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.”

Pathology is marked by the issue of illusion. It’s why our logo is a mask because it best represents

the mirage of normalcy that pathologicals can often project…at least for a while. Cleckley, one of the writers about pathology from the 1940’s called it ‘The Mask of Sanity’ which gives all the surface signals of deep connection, the most fun ever, someone really into you—while behind the curtain, you are being used as a distraction, a pay check, grotesquely as a ‘vaginal doormat’ or some other form of ‘feeding’ of the pathological pyrannia. What you are experiencing you are internally labeling as ‘normal’ or ‘wonderful’ or ‘love’ and yet it really isn’t any of those things–it’s just a label of experience you have tagged him with. If someone else was watching your relationship as a movie and had watched the other scenes in which the pathological is exposed for what he is, your scene would be tagged and labeled by the watcher very differently because their experience would be different and they would see all those behaviors and words of his that you experienced in a different context and see them as manipulation. 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 actually part of the way our brains work. The more important the question “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, the more invested you will be to label the experiences and his behavior as positive and to get the reward of your label “him, marriage, the relationship.” Of course none of this is problematic except if you have misread the illusion, believed the mask, and have labeled an experience with a narcissist, anti-social, or socio/psychpath as ‘positive.’

The illusion is that he was normal, he was in love with you, he was what he said he was, and he did what he said he did. In pathology, that’s never the case. Their attachments are surface (which isn’t love), they are mentally disordered (which is not normal), they never present themselves as ‘disordered, sexually promiscious, and incapable of love (so he wasn’t what he said he was) and they harbor hidden lives filled with other sex partners, hook ups, criminality, or illegal/moral behavior (so they don’t disclose what he’s really up to). What you had (that you can’t possibly miss) is a pathological relationship. What you miss, is the ability to wrap yourself up like a blanket in the illusion–to go back to the time before you knew this was all illusion.

Women often say they have the feeling that something is cut out of them–that they are missing a part of themselves. This sensation is similar to what is called phantom limb pain that is a medical mystery of sorts. When a person has an arm that is accidentally amputated, the portion of the brain that use to receive sensory messages about the existing arm goes through a series of changes that causes it to mis-read 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, the arm is anything but gone. The amputee must learn to cope differently by beginning with relabeling the experience they are having which is the presense of the arm is a perceptual illusion.

So it is with those leaving the illusional pathological love relationship. The emotional pain experienced is based on the illusion the pathological presented, a perceptual illusion that was mis-labeled, experienced as positive and invested in so keeping that positive illusion is important to her. Learning to adjust the cognitive dissonance (the ping ponging between he was good/he was bad, the relationship was good/the relationship was bad) is the challenge in overcoming the ghostly emotional baggage of phantom relationship pain.

For more information on this, we have added a book to the magazine site under Resources/ExpertsBooks/General which is called ‘On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You Are Wrong.’ The book is about “Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” are sensations that feel like thoughts, but arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that function independently of reason.” By Robert Burton, neurologist and neuro-scientist.