Sanctuary for the Abused

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

What Victims Call the "DV-PASS-THE-BUCK"

1. Ignore - 2. Refer - 3. Pass the buck

The title of this post describes the one and only process domestic violence organizations/ agencies/ programs seem to use to send victims in, what I call, the "DV run around".

In the past year of trying to reach out and get assistance from state funded DV organizations set up to 'help victims', I have first been ignored, then referred to someone else, then that person eventually passes the buck and sends me in a vicious circle, unable to assist me, never really addressing my issues.

One clear example I can give in my situation is with the NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. This agency is a state run office that assists victims and provides referrals. In the past 7 months I have been in contact with a representative from the office who has either ignored my questions, passed me off to someone else who could not assist me in my county, or answered questions I did not ask to change the subject and avoid certain conversations.

The problem is, I am already used to being passed off as a victim of DV, I am used to being ignored, referred to places I already know cannot assist me, and I am used to someone passing the buck, I am used to this circle of re-victimization.

Unfortunately, this is common among DV agencies, the OPDV is not the only organization to blame. Each and every agency is well stocked with pamphlets, they are armed with every last hotline you can think of, they can list shelters off the tops of their heads for victims to run to, they are well versed in safety plans, and exit plans, and warning signs of abuse, and they have great advice like "fill out a Crime Victims Board application!", but to this day, only one small organization has provided me with actual funds so that I could seek medical treatments.

Being a victim of domestic violence, and also an advocate for DV reform at the same time, brings me to a point where I must ask a question. What are these offices providing, what are these organizations providing, besides information I can easily obtain through a simple Internet search?

From being in contact with the Office for the Prevention of DV for 7 months, I have found that most of the work day on their end seems to be an evasion of issues through long email messages back to me. I find this to be true with Coalitions and other DV organizations that "claim" to help innocent victims of DV as well, no one is getting this right.

No one is paying attention to the truth, which is, DV organizations and programs are failing victims.

It's a powerful statement, but from my experience, which has been like pulling teeth, I find this statement to be true. And even when I address this exact issue with DV organizations/ programs that have failed me, they evade the truth and write around my question, again wasting my time and hoping I go away.

When are DV organizations going to stop ignoring, stop referring, stop passing the buck because it's easy?

When are DV organizations going to help victims, by using funding for the victims and not to fund these positions that are unnecessary and not helpful?

I don't need someone listing shelters out of a phone book, giving me hotlines numbers, referring me to agencies that aren't prepared to help me. I need real people helping me tackle real problems, I need real advocates that have one primary goal, which is to stop passing the buck and assist a victim from start to finish.

We are victims and we need help from those who claim to assist, those who are getting paid to help us from start to finish, those who are in positions to make a difference. This process must end, referrals must end, and people from DV organizations must step up and follow up.

Claudia Valenciana

Heather Thompson



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Monday, November 30, 2015

The Sociopath or Narcissist At Play

The Psychopath/Narcissist at Play (The Cyberpath)

Exploitation is easier to accomplish on-line. The level of exploitation is all over the place. Clearly the most dangerous are the Cyberpaths. These sociopaths, psychopaths -- unwholesome, psychologically scattered individuals -- can exploit you in truly damaging ways.

Despite common belief, a cyberpath is not always very easily identified, especially since you cannot see the person "in person." The more clever, the more intelligent the cyberpath is, the more you will not become aware of what you are dealing with, until it is too late.

What he (the psychopath) gets he spoils and wastes...

A psychopath, in this instance, the cyberpath, is merely looking for a way to fill in his time with empty exploits. They are highly narcissistic, and the internet provides fodder for them. I have known various cyberpaths, and they move from victim to victim, seeking people to feed their endless need for narcissism. When you've found them out, or they tire of you, they move on to the next victim, or target for narcissistic supply.

Dominance and power are recurring themes in the social relations of psychopaths.

Dominance, power, and having followers are very important to the cyberpath's need for total adulation and control. Cyberpaths absolutely bask in adulation, many using pity, in a most conniving way, to get the attention that they need. Sometimes the way a cyberpath asserts his control is done subtly.

The psychopath often plays jokes and tricks on others to humiliate them or to assert dominance.

Sadly, many are mistaken about the typical cyberpath. A cyberpath is not always looking for money or sex, quite often, he or she is merely interested in taking you along for a ride. I also do not believe that psychopaths/cyberpaths always know that they are hurting you. A psychopath behaves the same way with everyone. Most of them take pleasure merely in playing the rouse, and not much else. A psychopath has no interest in your inner emotional state because they themselves have no empathy. They merely enjoy "pulling one over" on people.

And to put rest to another common myth, very few psychopaths are stalkers, because they have no true emotional connections to anybody. They simply move on to another person who piques their interests. A psychopath cannot truly love and therefore cannot become obsessed with another individual. They are too egocentric, narcissistic, and lack emotional connection to any other human being.

The central theme of Don Juan's (the psychopaths's) seductions is not even the sexual enjoyment, but playing the trick... While he gives no real love, though he is quite capable of inspiring love of sometimes fanatical degree in others...

Again, this quote from Gordon Bank's work, "Don Juan as Psychopath," reveals that the cyberpath is mostly interested in playing tricks with his prey, almost in a playful way. To the cyberpath, such things are not really big deal, while for the victim, however, it becomes a rather big issue indeed.

Many of the victims of cyberpaths enter therapy as a result of this. Many victims believe themselves to be flawed after an experience with a cyberpath. Some of them are harrassed by the family and friends of the cyberpath, which makes matters worse.

He is motivated primarily by the need to dominate and humiliate either the person he is 'taking' or, very often someone connected to another person with whom he is involved.

Cyberpaths relish in another's humiliation, which may appear to us as a certain, perverse quality. They take pleasure in what we find obscene, because they are not like other people, they have no true connection to anybody, and are incapable of feeling real love. Messing with another person's emotions and life is merely a way to pass the time, pulling one over on you is fun and enjoyable.

Most of the crimes psychopaths commit, tend to be "crimes of the heart" and/or "casual cruelty", they are cruel, manipulative people who leave a trail of broken hearts and often broken lives behind them.

Again, most cyberpaths are common internet liars and predators. They are rampant on every single online dating site.  Do not be fooled by someone who tells you that there is such a thing as a "harmless liar." A liar is never harmless. A person who lies should never be trusted, and once you find out they've lied to you even once, it's time to break it off.

Once having drained what they can from one source, they turn to others to exploit, bleed, and then cast aside; their pleasure in the misfortune of others is unquenchable. People are used as a means to an end; they are to be subordinated and demeaned ...the pleasure they gain from their ruse often flags once the rewards of deceit have been achieved.

Before long, their true unreliability may be revealed as they "stop working at" their deception or as their need grows to let others know how clever and cunning they have been

A cyberpath may keep you hooked for as long as they need your narcissistic supply. Once you start getting "wise" to them, however, or once he or she begins to tire of you and find that your narcissistic supply is becoming inadequate, you will soon find out, through some subtle manuevers, that your absolutely "perfect" future mate is nothing but a charade.

Some of these con men also relish in playing more expansive games. Once you have fallen in love with him and accepted a marriage proposal, it is not uncommon for this type to sudddenly send an email explaining that he is dying of an incurable disease or that he is an FBI agent and has to move to another country, therefore ending all contact with you. I have heard of this happening to many women.

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Victim Blaming, Codependency, and the Analogy


Here's how I view this idea that the pain I feel in my relationship is "my fault", and stemming from "old wounds" or due to my "codependency".

Let's say when I was three I fell down some stairs and broke my leg. And let's say that I fell down those stairs because someone bigger than me, someone who was supposed to care for and protect me, pushed me.

Let's also say that as a three year old I couldn't get myself to a hospital and no one brought me so my leg never healed right leaving me with a bum leg that I could eventually walk on, but not quite right. In fact, my whole skeletal structure became compromised because I had to favor one leg over the other causing all sorts of other things to get thrown out of alignment. Back problems, neck problems, muscle problems, etc. But I learned to live with it, and I was functional as best I could be.

Years later I meet a man who loves my quirky crookedness and we fall in love. He is kind. He is attentive. He makes me feel good. But then things start going a little awry. Then one day, with not a whole lot of warning, man walks up to me with a baseball bat and nails me on the bum leg, breaking it again.

So I've got a broken leg, a re-broken leg, and I go to the hospital.

Here are two possible scenarios.

What should happen:

At the ER the doctor takes some x-rays and comes back to tell me what's what. "You've got a pretty hefty fracture and we're going to have to set the leg and then put a cast on. After 8 weeks in the cast I'm going to want you to do some physical therapy. What I'm concerned with is that you also appear to have an old fracture that didn't heal right, and we're going to have to fix that too. The good news is that the new fracture is on the same line, so by fixing the new fracture, and with intense therapy, you'll be almost as good as new, in fact better than you have been for years. I'm sorry this happened to you. We'll give you something for the pain for a few days, and after that the pain will be bearable enough for you to handle on your own, but you'll be coming in for regular check-ups so we can be sure you're healing properly this time. Also, I think you might benefit from a self-defense class so that once you're healed you'll have a much better chance of keeping yourself safe from harm. Good luck and we'll see you in two weeks."


What happens in the codependent/co-addict model:

At the ER the doctor takes some x-rays and comes back to tell me what's what. "You've got an old fracture and that's what caused this new one, so really it's your fault that your leg is broken. As for the pain you're feeling, that's also your fault. Clearly you are focusing on the pain too much and if you could just detach from it you'd realize there's really nothing to fuss about. You're bringing up your old pain and that's simply not the correct way to go about this. You say you were hit with a baseball bat? Obviously you put yourself in a situation to get your leg broken again because you're addicted to getting your leg broken. Look at how many times this has happened to you? Given your history, it's likely your leg is always going to be getting broken, but if you learn to realize that the pain your feeling is just wrong thinking, and as long as you go to a support group for the rest of your life, you'll be able to learn how to not worry or feel pain when your leg is broken. We good here?"


'Codependency' with an Abuser is a myth! You are actually experiencing Trauma Bonding and NONE OF IT is your fault! 

"Abused persons are not co-dependent," writes Lundy Bancroft, "It is the abusers, not victims, who create abusive relationships."

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

How to Identify a Female Narcissist

Physical Appearance

1. She dresses provocatively, flaunting sexually suggestive body parts.

2. She focuses attention on makeup and hair, even for the most mundane tasks or events.

3. She is overly confident about her looks. Research shows that narcissists are no more attractive than other people, but they believe they are much better looking than other women.

4. She places high value on brand names, and feels entitled to wear “the best.” She frequently purchases new clothing, and does not distinguish between wants and needs.  (this is MORE than simply wanting to look nice)

5. She is more likely to have plastic surgery, most commonly breast augmentation.

6. She enjoys being photographed, and often asks others to snap her picture. She enthusiastically shares the best pics of herself on Facebook or other social media sites. She will sometimes invest in a professional photographer for a portrait that she uses on Facebook or for online dating.


1. She insists on being the center of attention, and is often the most charming person in the room. Narcissists are very outgoing and excel at marketing themselves.

2. She often seeks favorable treatment, and automatic compliance. She believes that she is special, and that she deserves fame, fortune, success and happiness.

3. She is highly materialistic.

4. She is prone to envy, though she presents as supremely confident. She seeks opportunities to undermine others, and enjoys sharing confidences about how the two of you are better than others.

5. She is convinced that others are envious and jealous of her, and often uses this excuse for her lack of real, intimate friendships. When her friends enjoy successes of their own, she finds ways to punish them by downplaying their achievements.

6. She lacks empathy, and even common courtesy at times. She puts others down, including you. She does not hesitate to exploit others.

7. She is very competitive.

8. She believes that she is intellectually superior to her peers.

9. She blames others for problems. Narcissists don’t believe that they make mistakes, and lack the ability to process shame.

10. She displays a haughty attitude when she lets her guard down or is confronted. She will act impatient, arrogant and condescending. She will often excuse her own shortcomings by claiming that others are pressuring her or expecting too much of her.

11. She is dishonest and often lies to get what she wants. She will never admit this.

12. She is “psycho:” She engages in risky behaviors, has an addictive personality, and is prone to aggressive behavior when rejected. (Note: This is most common with Histrionic Personality Disorder.)

13. She is unpredictable in her moods and actions. You have trouble figuring out what she wants and where you stand.

14. She is capable of short-term regret, and will apologize profusely if backed into a corner. However, she will quickly rationalize her behavior and return to narcissistic patterns.

A woman doesn’t need to have all 20 of these traits to make a lousy relationship partner. If you can check off even a few of these characteristics, you should head for the hills at 60 mph. 

The six traits related to physical appearance should be apparent immediately, or within a short time of meeting.

Narcissistic personality traits can be difficult to detect at first. Narcissists always make a strong showing right out of the gate, and it takes time for them to reveal their negative qualities. They will only do so w

Please don’t date one. I beg you not to fall in love with one. And never, ever marry one.


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Friday, November 27, 2015

How Language is Used to Abuse


"Where the hell do you get off tellin' me your mama said I'm not what you need. If she knows it all, that's where you need to be" --Toni Braxton

If you are still in an Abusive relationship you probably have millions of things running through your head right now. Hopefully, you've left him and you're gaining back your clarity of mind.

Learning how an Abuser uses language to attack and dismantle your self worth can protect you from dating an Abuser again. An Abuser uses language early in the relationship to create or worsen your self esteem issues. His tactics get more devious as time goes on. If you're still seeing one of these guys, get out now. The longer you wait, the harder it is to repair yourself.

Some sites give advice on how to respond to abusive language. I do not. I believe all abusive language should be avoided by leaving the situation. In my mind, there is no reason to argue with an abuser, because there's really no way to win other than to say, "This is not acceptable. If you do it again, I am leaving." When he does it again and he will, leave and stay gone.

An Abuser Uses Language to:

Hallmarks of Abusive Language:
* Outright Language such as name-calling, put-downs or verbal assaults.
(yelling, "Slut!" or "You're a selfish whore!")

* Throwing your past at you.
("Remember when you f*cked up?" or "I can't believe you used to..." or "You should feel lucky I'd even date someone who...")

* Using others as validation for the Abuse.
("You're the dirt on his shoe." or "Your late grandfather would sure hate to see the liar you turned out to be." or "None of your friends care about you.")

* Using imagined others to validate the abuse by using "we", "they" and "everybody."
("Everybody thinks you're pathetic." or "We don't think this conversation is important.")

* Lies that directly challenge what you know to be true.
("You don't care about me." or "You're selfish." or "I was not at the bar last night." or "I never did/ said that" or "that never happened" or "Of course I love you, care about you.")

* Lies about you to friends/family.
("I told my grandmother you cheated on me." or "I told my mother you said..." or "I told everyone you...")

* Usually hints, never asks for information, avoids answering questions. Forces information from you.
("I'm supposed to answer that when you're just a lousy..." or "I know what you did last night. My friends keep tabs on you.")

* Constantly tries to threaten you into doing degrading things to "prove" your worth.
(Says he'll leave if you don't swear on a Bible or take a lie detector test)

* Constantly threatens to leave, hurt you or someone you care about.
("You wait until I find him. He'll never speak to you again." or "Open your mouth again. I dare you." or "If you cry. I'm leaving.")

Once an Abuser has demoralized you, there is nothing you can do to restore your relationship to the false glory it was in the beginning.

Using language, the Abuser tears you apart slowly, until you are so hurt and shattered you don't know which way is up or down.

Seek help and you'll discover your soul, mind and heart have been ravaged by a force stronger than even the toughest of women; the monster rotting the Abuser from the inside out. It is not your job to heal him. It is your job to heal yourself, especially if you have children who need a whole mother.

I say this often, it is never the victim's fault she was Abused, but now that your eyes are open and you realize you are being abused, it is your choice to stay or leave.

For your sake I hope you leave and never, ever look back.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

How to Help Those Abused by a Narcissist

by Kathleen Krajco

Those abused by narcissists usually need two kinds of help: expert help and comfort/validation.

The expert help needed varies widely. Narcissistic abuse and slander inflict psychological injury (not to be confused with mental illness) and therefore the victims often need psychological counseling. Women abused by their husbands or boyfriends often need practical advice and help getting themselves and their children away safely. Children need help from Social Services. In any case the victim may need legal advice. Especially when the abuse is a bully in the workplace in a private institution (e.g., a parochial school), the victim has usually been lynched and needs pro bono legal aid. Indeed, no lawyer expects to profit battling the interminable stonewalling such a secretive institution throws up to escape accountability. The same goes for narcissistic abuse in the form of pedophilia.

When signing up for any group, I also suggest using a screen name and an email address from a free Webmail account like you can get at Yahoo or Gmail. This is just a precaution when interacting on a message board: Remember that you never know who all is out there reading your posts. You don't want any weirdo trying to contact you, so it's best to be anonymous. You do this through a fee Webmail account under a screen name. You can create one of these Webmail addresses just for group memberships. Through it nobody can find out your real name or where you live. Doing this also helps keep your regular email account free of spam.

Comfort anyone can give. The word comfort comes from the Latin word for "to fortify." That's what comfort is. It's the strengthening embrace that supports a person weakened by injury or abuse. It's the strengthening embrace that helps them to their knees and then to their feet. It's not rocket science. All it takes is compassion.

Those abused by a narcissist have had their self-esteem brutally bludgeoned by a bully who jumps up and down on their back to break it and then thump his or her chest.

What they need is someone to be there.

To say that the narcissist's value judgment was wrong.

They need somebody to treat them like a human being.

Somebody to say that they are NOT nothing and that stomping on them is NOT nothing.

Somebody to say and show that it matters.

That's all. Any real human being is qualified to lend this aid. And it's not too much to ask.

All you have to do is listen. Show that you're listening by responding now and then. Say something that amounts to "Boy what she did to you really sucks," showing that it makes you sad or angry or both to hear about it. Then just show that the victim means something to you, that he or she is NOT a hunk of dirt in your eyes. It's not hard. It's easy and natural.

What the victim doesn't need is any more criticism or fixing. They don't need you to tell them how they should feel. They don't need you to act like it didn't happen. They don't need any preaching that they should forgive an unrepentant abuser who fully intends to keep right on abusing them. If you need to do things like that, then you are the one with heavy-duty needs and are in no condition to fulfill anybody else's needs.


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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking

From "The Feeling Good Handbook" by David D. Burns, M.D.

1. All-or-nothing thinking - You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, "I've blown my diet completely." This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream.

2. Overgeneralization - You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as "always" or "never" when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the window of his car. He told himself, "Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!"

3. Mental Filter - You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.

4. Discounting the positive - You reject positive experiences by insisting that they "don't count." If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn't good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positives takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.

5. Jumping to conclusions - You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion.

Mind Reading: Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you.

Fortune-telling: You predict that things will turn out badly. Before a test you may tell yourself, "I'm really going to blow it. What if I flunk?" If you're depressed you may tell yourself, "I'll never get better."

6. Magnification - You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the "binocular trick."

7. Emotional Reasoning - You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very dangerous to fly." Or, "I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person." Or, "I feel angry. This proves that I'm being treated unfairly." Or, "I feel so inferior. This means I'm a second rate person." Or, "I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless."

8. "Should" statements - You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, "I shouldn't have made so many mistakes." This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. "Musts," "oughts" and "have tos" are similar offenders.

"Should statements" that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general, lead to anger and frustration: "He shouldn't be so stubborn and argumentative!"

Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. "I shouldn't eat that doughnut." This usually doesn't work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite. Dr. Albert Ellis has called this " must erbation." I call it the "shouldy" approach to life.

9. Labeling - Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying "I made a mistake," you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." You might also label yourself "a fool" or "a failure" or "a jerk." Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist, but "fools," "losers" and "jerks" do not. These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration and low self-esteem.

You may also label others. When someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may tell yourself: "He's an S.O.B." Then you feel that the problem is with that person's "character" or "essence" instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves very little room for constructive communication.

10. Personalization and Blame - Personalization comes when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn't entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulty in school, she told herself, "This shows what a bad mother I am," instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman's husband beat her, she told herself, "If only I was better in bed, he wouldn't beat me." Personalization leads to guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy.

Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways they might be contributing to the problem: "The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable." Blame usually doesn't work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back in your lap. It's like the game of hot potato--no one wants to get stuck with it.

Ten Ways to Untwist Your Thinking

From "The Feeling Good Handbook" by David D. Burns, M.D.

1. Identify The Distortion: Write down your negative thoughts so you can see which of the ten cognitive distortions you're involved in. This will make it easier to think about the problem in a more positive and realistic way.

2. Examine The Evidence: Instead of assuming that your negative thought is true, examine the actual evidence for it. For example, if you feel that you never do anything right, you could list several things you have done successfully.

3. The Double-Standard Method: Instead of putting yourself down in a harsh, condemning way, talk to yourself in the same compassionate way you would talk to a friend with a similar problem.

4. The Experimental Technique: Do an experiment to test the validity of your negative thought. For example, if during an episode of panic, you become terrified that you're about to die of a heart attack, you could jog or run up and down several flights of stairs. This will prove that your heart is healthy and strong.

5. Thinking In Shades Of Grey: Although this method may sound drab, the effects can be illuminating. Instead of thinking about your problems in all-or-nothing extremes, evaluate things on a scale of 0 to 100. When things don't work out as well as you hoped, think about the experience as a partial success rather than a complete failure. See what you can learn from the situation.

6. The Survey Method: Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and attitudes are realistic. For example, if you feel that public speaking anxiety is abnormal and shameful, ask several friends if they ever felt nervous before they gave a talk.

7. Define Terms: When you label yourself 'inferior' or 'a fool' or 'a loser,' ask, "What is the definition of 'a fool'?" You will feel better when you realize that there is no such thing as 'a fool' or 'a loser.'

8. The Semantic Method: Simply substitute language that is less colorful and emotionally loaded. This method is helpful for 'should statements.' Instead of telling yourself, "I shouldn't have made that mistake," you can say, "It would be better if I hadn't made that mistake."

9. Re-attribution: Instead of automatically assuming that you are "bad" and blaming yourself entirely for a problem, think about the many factors that may have contributed to it. Focus on solving the problem instead of using up all your energy blaming yourself and feeling guilty.

10. Cost-Benefit Analysis: List the advantages and disadvantages of a feeling (like getting angry when your plane is late), a negative thought (like "No matter how hard I try, I always screw up"), or a behavior pattern (like overeating and lying around in bed when you're depressed). You can also use the cost benefit analysis to modify a self-defeating belief such as, "I must always try to be perfect."

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Attachment to the Perpetrator

The Problem of Attachment to the Perpetrator

Colin A. Ross, M.D.

Over the last few years I have come to believe that a core problem in the psychotherapy of dissociative identity disorder is the problem of attachment to the perpetrator. This is also true for survivors of severe chronic childhood trauma who do not have D.I.D. The treatment that follows from this new model is different from the treatment of the ‘90s which focused more on memory recovery and abreaction. My sense of things is that the dissociative disorders field as a whole is shifting in this direction, away from “memory work” as such.

Memories are still a major element of therapy, and the trauma of the past is still talked about a lot. It’s a matter of a shift in emphasis rather than a change to a whole new way of providing therapy.

In the old model, which goes back to Pierre Janet in the nineteenth century, the idea was that the blocked memories were driving the symptoms – uncover the memory, process it and the symptoms go away. The key thing was to recover the information about what happened and all the feelings that go along with it. The old model was not wrong, it just wasn’t complete. For one thing, recovery involves learning a lot of new skills, not just abreacting trauma.

In this new model, the core problem is attachment, not dealing with memories and feelings as such. All baby birds and mammals must attach to a caregiver in order to survive. The attachment systems that control the behavior of mother and child (also father and child) are built-in genetically. The baby bird does not decide to chirp for food, and the mother bird does not decide to go out collecting food. All this just happens. The same is true for human children. A baby does not conduct rational adult analysis of human interaction patterns and then decide that crying has positive survival advantage. The baby just cries.

Similarly, the nursing mother who has a letdown reflex when her baby cries does not consciously decide to release more oxytocin from her brain in order to make her milk flow. Her body just does that for her. There are countless attachment behaviors that are built-in biologically. The parents also make conscious decisions about how to take care of the child for which they are responsible as adults. But the little child just attaches naturally in order to survive.

The basic goal is survival. Attachment serves that goal. This is true biologically, emotionally, humanly, spiritually, however one wants to look as it. To thrive and grow the child must attach to its caretakers. Separation and individuation from these caretakers is a task that is down the road developmentally, from the perspective of the newborn baby.

In a reasonable, healthy family this works out reasonably OK. The parents are imperfect and everybody has the usual neurotic conflicts about not having gotten all the love and nurturance that would have been ideal and perfect. We all have ambivalent attachment to our parents to some degree; we all are faced with the task of separation and individuation and none of us are complete successes.

In a family with active physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, however, things are different. The young child in this family – say it is a girl – must attach to her father for her survival. She cannot run away from home, get married, or go away to college because she hasn’t even gone to kindergarten yet. She depends on her parents for food, clothes, a roof, and her basic survival needs. She also needs her parents for her emotional and spiritual development. The problem is that the father she must attach to, in order to survive, is also the perpetrator who is abusing her.

Just as love, approach and attachment to parents are built-in biologically, so is the recall reflex. If you touch a hot stove by mistake, your brain pulls your hand away even before you consciously experience the pain. Your biology does this for you, without any conscious analysis or decision-making. Similarly, your body goes into recoil mode from child abuse automatically. You just automatically withdraw, pull back, and shut down.

One way to cope with the abuse would be to go catatonic. This would be developmental suicide. Except possibly in rare cases (which therapists never see in their offices) the body will not allow permanent catatonia – the attachment systems must be kept up and running for the organism to survive whether it is a child, a kitten, a bird, or a rabbit. There must be an override of the withdrawal reflex.

How can this be accomplished? By dissociation. The fundamental driver of the dissociation, in this way of looking at things, is the problem of attachment to the perpetrator. In order to survive, the child must attach to the person who is hurting her. There is no escape and no other option. In order to maintain the attachment systems up and running, they cannot be contaminated by the traumatic information coming in through the sense; that reality must be dissociated.

What difference does this model make in therapy? First, the focus of therapy is not on the content of the memories – the target is the ambivalent attachment. This ambivalent attachment is visible in current relationships and in the structure of the internal world.

This is true whether the diagnosis is DID, PTSD, DDNOS or borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality is an inevitable consequence of the problem of attachment to the perpetrator and is a biologically normal human response to severe chronic childhood trauma.

A focus on the problem of attachment to the perpetrator sidesteps most of the controversy about false memories since the content of the memories is not the main concern. If the memories are accurate, they explain how the problem of attachment to the perpetrator arose; if they are inaccurate, they symbolize that problem. Either way, the ambivalent attachment is the focus, not the content of the memories.

In the new model, there is much, much less abreaction in therapy, if any. By this I mean, the kind of full-tilt abreaction where the person is back in the past, reliving the trauma as if it is happening all over again. Within the new model, abreaction is unnecessary and retraumatizing. What does occur is what I call intense recollection. The description of the trauma is still intense, vivid, and difficult, but it is grounded. Even in relatively pure cognitive therapy, as I do it, there is lots of intense feeling.

The first goal of therapy is to hold both sides of the ambivalent attachment in consciousness at the same time – to feel both the love and the hate. The love is always there, somewhere. I believe it is biologically impossible to extinguish your love for your parents, no matter how abusive they were.

Therapists can make a mistake by identifying with and supporting one side of the ambivalent attachment only. A not uncommon error is to validate and identify with only the anger, and push the love, attachment and approach underground. A pseudo-resolution of ambivalent attachment can occur when there is an artificial complete separation from the parents – this can be just a cover for unresolved ambivalence.

This error by therapists is a fertile ground for false memories.

In some situations, the parents are in fact so manipulative and abusive in the present day that complete separation is the only healthy option. That’s not what I’m talking about. I am thinking of people whose parents are semi-OK in the present and who are missing out on a limited positive relationship in the present because they have shut down the positive side of their attachment.

Once both sides of the ambivalent attachment are held in conscious awareness at the same time, and processed a bit, the next step is grief work. One must mourn the loss of the parent one never had. The task is to dissolve the unrealistically all-good or all-bad parent, deal with the actual disappointment and loss, and complete the task of separation and individuation. This is a job we are all working on. Those who were not severely physically, sexually, or emotionally abused as children have a much easier time because they did not have to dissociate in an extreme way to survive extreme conditions.

One reason I like this model is because it makes the extreme nature of the trauma clear, but emphasizes the fact that the core of therapy is a common human problem.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Smear Campaigns - Part V in a Series

A summary of important points to remember about smear campaigns:


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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Smear Campaigns - Part IV in a Series

If you should become the subject of a smear campaign, you may find the following practices to be helpful in reducing or eliminating the damage.

1. Immediately discontinue speaking to the smear campaigner.

If you can’t possibly do this because it’s a work situation, limit the time spent talking to this person alone as much as humanly possible. Abusers lie and manipulate, and prefer to have all their conversations with their victims when the victim is without the benefit of witnesses. Abusive people don’t like witnesses, so avoid being alone with them at all cost. That’s when the abuse will be at its worst, and that’s when you’ll say the things they will cruelly twist into lies later. 

Deliberately approach them to have any unavoidable conversations in public, while standing in line at the water cooler, in a busy hall, while in a vehicle with others, or in a packed elevator. They may attempt to weasel out of the conversation by suggesting you have it later, in their office, at their house, or another isolated environment. 

Avoid this by cutting comments down into very small pieces. For instance, don’t ask what the plan is for the big sales project while flying by their door. That’s a conversation for later, when the two of you will be sitting down alongside Jane (surprise!) whom you thoughtfully arranged to have join you to help take notes. Right now, as you race by their office, you just need to know “one quick thing”. If you’re invited into a more lengthy discussion, let them know you’re rushing and you’ll get back to them. Then carefully plan that interaction, too, or they’ll take the upper hand.
2. Put things in writing.

One of the great benefits of the electronic age is, we can have an instant copy of every piece of correspondence we send. If you absolutely must speak to the smear campaigner and you have the option of saying whatever you need to say in writing, do it. Having a record of exactly what has been said by you is invaluable protection against distortions and misrepresentation. Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) what you send to the smear campaigner to a third party whenever possible. When writing the content of the correspondence, do not say anything you would not want everyone to read. If you do, it’s guaranteed that everyone will soon be reading it (or what’s left of it after the smear campaigner’s creative “editing” work).

3. Know the lay of the land, and act accordingly.

If the abuser is a coworker, you have two options: sit down with management or leave the position. If the abuser is a supervisor, you can approach senior management, however you may still have to leave the employer (or at least that particular role). 

If the abuser is a family member, your options are similar: approach others to see if you can get support, and stop seeing abusive/unsupportive members. Unfortunately, the great majority of families in which there is an abuser are not at all supportive of members who demand that the abuse stop, and members of these families often turn against the abused member. Dysfunctional families are irrational and incapable of meeting requests for healthy boundaries, and no contact with some or all of the family may be your only option. 

If your work environment is similarly dysfunctional and the abuse is not seen through, not looked into, or you’re not taken seriously, then the problem, like with abusive families, is a deeper and more systemic one, and leaving will be your best option, no matter how much you may have wanted to keep the job otherwise.


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