Sanctuary for the Abused
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
(from Games Abusers Play at Cosmicwalk)
This term comes from a 40's movie called "Gaslight" about a man who plays mind games with his wife to convince her that she is losing her mind. It's a really simple game but an extremely effective way to gain mental control over someone because it causes them to question their own judgment and sense of reality.
Perhaps you suddenly start misplacing and losing things far more frequently than you ever have before. You are absolutely certain that you put the keys on the cupboard, but they're not there. It throws you off balance because you always put them on the cupboard and can't understand why you would have put them somewhere else. After much anxious searching, you finally find them in the most unlikely place. - Even now you have no recall of putting them there, perhaps you don't even remember entering this room after coming home.
This can happen to us sometimes, but gaslighting is when we did not misplace the keys in the first place. They were moved and we were made to believe that we had misplaced them.
Another example is that you start getting things wrong. You're supposed to meet darling bully at your favourite restaurant for dinner. You plan it well to make sure that you arrive exactly at 7pm as agreed. Now this can go a number of ways:
He is standing waiting and in a foul mood because you are so late, insisting that he told you to be there at 6:30. You are absolutely convinced that he said 7.There are many variations on the theme and they can sometimes get quite elaborate, with various details built in to make it more certain that you were the one who misunderstood. The added detail adds plausibility to his version and makes it seem more likely that you are the one who got it wrong.
He is not there and you wait and wait. He finally arrives at 7:30, insisting that this is the time he told you to meet him. As with the prior situation, you are convinced he said 7.
He is not there and you wait and wait. Finally you get a call asking you where you are. He insists that he had told you to meet him at the other restaurant. You are convinced he said this one.
Gaslighting is a game that can be played in a number of different ways and the key factor is that you begin to question yourself and feel as if you are losing your mind.
The initiator can do this to you for one of two reasons: because they find it entertaining to watch somebody getting distressed or because they are deliberately trying to make you and other people doubt yourself - and ultimately your sanity - as a strategic move.
The desired end result could be anything from simply having power over you to a deliberate preparation for a child custody battle.
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
The Man Vanishes or No Closure
More and more men are perfecting an infuriating alternative to the painful, drawn-out breakup: the disappearing act.
By Amy Sohn
Not long ago, I dated a guy who had a habit of calling from pay phones. He said cell phones were rude and caused brain cancer, and he’d call from loud street corners to murmur intimate things into my ear. One night, I was sitting at home thinking about him when the phone rang. I heard horns blaring. “Dan?” I purred.
“How’ve you been?” he said. We started catching up, and just as I asked him when he wanted to get together, his money ran out. The operator said to insert another dime. “I’m not sure I have one!” he shouted, and then he was gone. I waited a few minutes, calculating the amount of time it would take him to run into a bodega and get change. After five minutes, I decided the first bodega wouldn’t give change so he’d had to walk a few more blocks to a restaurant or a store. A half-hour passed. Then a few hours. After three days, I broke down and left him a message, saying I hoped he hadn’t been hit by a truck. He called back to say his ex-girlfriend had moved back in with him and not to call again. I realized then that she might have moved in weeks before, and that his final pay-phone call had been his cowardly attempt to wriggle out of my life without an official breakup talk. He’d been trying to pull one of the most insidious and common New York City dating practices: a fadeaway.
With the rise of Internet dating has come a new carelessness about dating etiquette, and serial daters are increasingly choosing to beg out of mediocre relationships by cutting off all contact. Generally, it’s the man who pulls the fadeaway, since the onus is usually on him to call. And though most fadeaway victims agree that it’s acceptable after a few dates, what’s surprising is just how many people end long-term relationships this way. It seems the breakup talk is a thing of the past.
Bryan, a marketing executive, 35, is one recent victim: “Last fall, I met this guy out at a bar, and we totally hit it off. He said he had just gotten over a relationship and didn’t want to get in anything serious. I was like, ‘Fine.’ We went out all of September, he went away in October, and we lost a little momentum. Then Thanksgiving came, we each went home and came back, and he would not return my phone call. I was like, ‘You rat bastard! I cannot believe you are trying to do a fadeaway after two months!’ I wrote this scathing e-mail a page long. Of course I received no response.”
He says that in any dating situation, even a short-term one, he would always prefer a courtesy call. “If you’re old enough to date, you’re old enough to say, ‘I’m not interested.’ Whatever their reasons are, they can keep them to themselves. But if someone doesn’t call, I’m left in this void that leaves me open to too much speculation. I become more self-critical.”
Heather, 31, who’s in magazine marketing, has had more than a few guys pull fadeaways on her—and says they’re a by-product of an overall lack of courtesy: “People don’t care. It’s a huge problem, especially in this city. It’s so bad that I’m actually waiting for a fadeaway right now. I’ve been on five dates with this guy, and I’m starting to feel like I’m never going to hear from him again. That would be awful, but I’m starting to expect it because it’s happened so often.”
“If you’re old enough to date, you’re old enough to say ‘I’m not interested,’ ” says one fadeaway victim.
Chris London, a 41-year-old lawyer, says he’s tried honesty—and it backfired: “I got set up with a friend of a friend, and almost immediately I knew that I didn’t want to sleep with her. We had some drinks and I dropped her off without trying anything. Later, I called her and she said, ‘Do you want to get together again?’ I said, ‘No, I didn’t really have a love connection, but I had a really good time with you.’ She said, ‘So let me get this right. You’re fucking calling me because you don’t want to go out? I don’t need any more friends.’ ”
These days, he’s not sure which approach is best: disclosure or avoidance. “In either case, they could be upset,” he says. “When you tell a woman there’s no chemistry, it means ‘I don’t find you attractive.’ Women don’t want to hear that. In some cases, leaving them in the dark is better. Then they can say ‘He’s a player’ and forget about it.”
Disappearing acts may be more common nowadays because in the age of Internet dating, people often get a false sense of intimacy through e-mail before they even meet. The woman who’s thrilled that Kazooguy is so hot in person may not know that he’s furious she posted such an outdated picture.
Some fadeaways happen because the two people really do have an intense connection, and then one of them reflects on it and gets scared. The same guy who asks you to spend the weekend with him on the second date is almost guaranteed to fall off the face of the planet before you ever reach the third. (This means you, Sullivan County Share House Boy.)
Those seeking to avoid fadeaways had better not sleep with a paramour early on, says Anastasia, a writer, 31: “If you sleep with the guy immediately, you almost have to assume he’ll fade away.” Anastasia has had three guys pull fadeaways—all men she met online—and found it infuriating. “I think when a fadeaway really is bullshit is when people start alluding to things down the line,” she says. “I dated this guy who said things like ‘It would be so much fun to take a road trip together.’ We went out four or five times, and then he never showed up to this party I invited him to . . . If men knew how bananas it drove us, they wouldn’t just cut off contact. It’s like that Glenn Close line: ‘I will not be ignored.’ ”
So what’s the mature alternative to disappearing? Anastasia thinks it’s e-mail. “E-mail is cowardly, but it’s so much better than nothing,” she says.
She is now seeing a man she met through mutual friends: “It was only when I started dating this guy who I didn’t meet online that the inconsistency stopped. He asked me out on dates and gave me no doubt about what he felt for me. I feel very lucky right now because he has behaved so well.” She pauses, as though trying to figure out what to make of it. “Maybe it all comes down to timing. Or maybe it’s because he’s Swedish.”
Saturday, November 06, 2021
Who Is This Person?
The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde phenomenon that occurs in relationships with narcissists is a regular theme among those who sent me their stories. Soaring with the extreme highs of new love with the most incredible, romantic, unbelievably perfect man or woman of your dreams is tantamount to a romance novel or soap opera.
So many of us pray and hope for such a relationship, but we never truly think it can really happen. Then, when it does, there is such fear of losing such bliss that many are blinded when Dr. Jekyll behaves like the deadly Mr. Hyde. They ignore the red flags and the gut feelings that keep trying to tell them something's wrong because they know "Mr. Perfect" was not a figment of their imagination. He was very real.And so, if he's suddenly Mr. Hyde momentarily, they are convinced it is a temporary situation and that their perfect partner will return any minute, if they are just patient enough
. In addition, victims keep going over and over in their own minds what they did "wrong" to sabotage the relationship. They convince themselves if they just figure out what not to do, that they can make everything "go back to normal" when all was magical, wonderful, and utterly perfect. If only they knew just how wrong their belief is!Another prevalent theme among victims is the feeling that when the perfect partner leaves (or she leaves him), that he will treat his next significant other differently. They envy the new person in the narcissist's life and are convinced the new love is being treated "perfectly," or at least better, than they were. Of course the new partner will know better than to ever do anything that might upset Mr. Perfect. She will live the life of the fantasy world that the discarded victim once held. She wouldn't dream of making the same mistakes that the first victim did. She's probably smarter, more beautiful, thinner, or more understanding than the first victim. Isn't everyone? Isn't that what he told his first victim over and over?
They remain paralyzed with guilt, confusion, and sorrow and continue to blame themselves for the loss. Despite the fact that most of us realize people don't change easily and that logic would dictate if someone behaves a certain way with one person, he will also behave that way with another, the fantasy of the lost "perfect" love now seemingly given unconditionally to another, permeates their minds like a malignant cancer. Many just don't seem to be able to irradiate their cancer and move on to a clean bill of health.
Perhaps Marti and Erica's accounts will help illuminate some light on this subject…
Marti and Erica…
Marti and Erica didn't know each other last year, yet this year they sit with me and we talk of how they were both involved with the same narcissist. The fact that they even fell upon each other is remarkable, as they live several hundred miles apart. Yet when they found each other and began sharing stories of the same painful dance, their laughter and tears merged in a unique sisterhood.
Marti: A bright, beautiful gal in her late 30s, with long, flowing locks and stylish professional fashion was well-educated and mature in the ways of the world. She had worked in business for years as a savvy sales rep and was very comfortable with both men and women.
Erica: Fresh out of an almost-19-year marriage and a bit cautious and still healing her wounds, she was none-the-less a strong woman with conviction and an independent streak. Her blonde hair and snappy, blue eyes sparked a spirit that was longing to get out, yet one that appeared a bit defiant and untamed.
Neither of them ever guessed they'd be swept off their feet by one very manipulative man.
I first met Gus online. While I'd done the Matchmaker scene for quite a while, it usually took a lot to get me to actually take the next step to meet someone. I was in the early stages of running my own small business, so time was a commodity and the thought of wasting it on meaningless coffees and dinners with guys who were nothing like what they appeared to be online, just didn't excite me. I would periodically reply to an email, take a phone call and meet someone, but was more often frustrated than excited. Sometimes I'd just walk away from the whole dating process for months at a time. For some reason Gus was different. Once we connected, it was like we couldn't stop. After only 24 hours of emails and phone calls, I just had to meet him. Our first obstacle was that we lived six hours apart, but we knew we had to get together as soon as possible. We agreed to meet in a town halfway between us for a dinner date. As his email had led me to believe, he turned out to be absolutely charming. He just "got me" instantly. Dinner was fabulous! We had this intense connection – a chemistry that was indescribable – both intellectually and physically. Two days later we rendezvoused for the weekend and we both knew what we were anticipating. I knew something special would happen once we connected overnight and of course it did. It was indescribable! I stayed three days more than I had planned. I barely thought about my business and even cancelled a speaking engagement just to stay with him. I was so caught up in his charms … in the magic. It was like I was hypnotized. All I could think about was him … and us. By the end of seven days he asked me to marry him, and I had to say yes! How could I ever find someone like him again? I wasn't about to let him go! I sincerely believed there couldn't be another man like him in the world. We immediately went ring shopping because Gus insisted that he didn't want me to go home without "proof" of how serious he was about us. As we excitedly hurried into the jewelry store, Gus, grinning ear to ear, announced to the clerk, "Today's our anniversary!" She smiled and said, "That's wonderful! How many years?" To which Gus replied, "Seven days!" I was flying. I guess I must have completely missed the quizzical look she gave us. We got a ring with seven stones to always remind us of our life-changing seven days together that had sent us in a direction we knew would last a lifetime.
While my rational mind kept sending me caution signals that no one got engaged in only seven days, my optimistic nature couldn't get over the wonderful gift God had given me. In fact, when friends (and even strangers) learned of our whirlwind romance they often told us their stories of love at first sight, quick engagements, and dozens of happy years of marriage! I could not imagine anything going wrong in this relationship because it was so absolutely perfect! Nothing could be so terrible that we couldn't possibly work it out. One of Gus' strengths was his incredible ability to listen, understand both sides of any issue, and to remain calm and compassionate no matter what the situation (even when I spilled red wine on his carpet). His demeanor was gentle, kind, and so polite; opening the car door for me each and every time, even buckling me into my seatbelt, which he made a big deal about doing so that he could "keep me safe," at the same time he'd sneak a kiss.I felt so adored. It felt like he hung on each of my words and knew just what to say every second we were together. He made me feel like royalty. It was hard carrying on a relationship with a six-hour drive between us, but we were so in love we knew we could do anything necessary to keep it alive. He was so romantic. He would write poetry that swept me off my feet. He even bought a Webcam for my computer – a device rather like a video camera – so we could see each other while we emailed or chatted by phone. It was so great just to see him and hear his voice when I couldn't be with him. We were grateful to the latest technology for keeping us connected. He was attentive to every detail; every word I wrote, every thing I said. It was like he lived just to make me happy. He even insisted on buying new tires for my car, as he was concerned that if I was going to be driving to see him very often, that he wanted me to be on the safest tires available. Then came the flowers. I was hosting a big event and he was unable to make the trip. I understood completely and didn't give it a second thought, so imagine my surprise when I arrived at the conference center and there was the largest arrangement of flowers I had ever seen! The note said, "If only I could be there with you tonight … All my love, Gus." Romance, flowers, love letters, planning our future … He was my Prince Charming. He could do no wrong in my eyes. He had won my heart.
And then I started noticing subtle changes …
Quite honestly I really didn't get it at first. It started with little comments that seemed a bit quirky and out of place. For example, he told me one day that my actions spoke more to him than my words and he gave the example that he knew my favorite color was yellow, even though I'd told him it was purple. I laughed and said, "Actually, it really is purple." "Of course it's not, Marti. Just look around your house. You have yellow things everywhere," he replied, almost speaking down to me as a parent might scold a child. I agreed that, yes, the bedspread we were sitting on was yellow, but there was far more green everywhere, purple in some places, and even red. All decorating choices I liked, but truly if I had to pick a favorite color, it was purple … even in my company logo.
"No, it isn't," he countered. "I can see that plain as day. But if that's what you want to believe, you go right ahead and believe it. I know better." I thought that was really odd, but harmless. Not so harmless, in reality – as I would later realize. He would say, "I will watch your actions, not what you say, to determine what you really mean."
On his first visit to my home I was overwhelmed with work, and as my office is in my house, it showed the effects of my stress by looking as though a tornado had struck. Although the rest of the house was in perfect order, I figured I'd just close the door to my messy office and not worry about sorting through the stacks of papers to tidy it up before he got here. Well that idea didn't fly with Gus at all. He pressured me to let him see my office. I brushed off his request a couple of times, telling him that the room wasn't fit for man nor beast, but he became defensive and told me I was "shutting him out" of a part of my life. I "must" be keeping secrets from him. What was I hiding? I promised him that I wasn't hiding anything, but that I was very embarrassed to have him see my office in such shambles. I finally gave in and opened the door. Of course there were no secrets or anything of particular interest other than the mess, but he became very quiet and withdrawn for the rest of the day. I thought this behavior a bit odd, but again, was so overwhelmed with the deep and incredible love we shared, that I just figured it wasn't a big deal. If he didn't mind my messy office, I guess I didn't mind showing him. Only now have I begun to realize that what he was showing me by that behavior was that he had absolutely no respect for my boundaries. By giving in, I never told him "no" and meant it. Thus, he just kept pushing my boundaries further and further – always testing the waters to see just how far he could go. He often said things like "I'm going to be your husband, so I have a right to …"
One particularly busy day he was back at his house, so many miles away, so we'd check in with each other often via the Webcam; longingly looking into each other's eyes, wishing we were together. After talking for quite a while I told him that I really had to get some work done, so we said goodbye and I shut the Webcam off. He called back instantly and insisted that I keep it on so he could see my "beautiful face" any time he wanted. I smiled that he was so passionate and interested, but I told him I really found it hard to concentrate and I'd get nothing done knowing he was so close and distracting. He really insisted, but I stood my ground. So we said goodbye and agreed we'd talk later in the day. When we got on the phone that night he was cold and silent. I couldn't figure out why he was angry. After much coaxing on my part, he confessed that he felt "hurt" that I wouldn't leave the Webcam on all day so that he could watch me. I held to my earlier points about needing to focus and kept the discussion light, but I was really uncomfortable, even creeped out by what felt like voyeuristic and controlling behavior. He tried to make me feel that his interest was caring and romantic, but the little pangs of nausea I was getting didn't seem to be related to any foods I ate.
Most of the time things were great – amazingly great! Overwhelmingly great! Beyond description great! But over time, things became stranger and stranger. Our plan was to spend a few months dating, decide what changes one or both of us would make to bring us closer together geographically, then marry and move within a year. I began to learn that his grandiose plans were wishful thinking at best. It also became clear that if I gave up my business and life here to move to him, he'd never value or appreciate that I did so. He seemed to have great respect for my work unless it took me away from him for even a minute. While he wanted to know every minute detail of my life, it turned out that he didn't always like to share his. Sometimes he'd share with great depth, even on difficult issues and I'd feel really connected to him, yet other times a seemingly superficial question would make him furious. Several times he abruptly ended a conversation (not an argument) by saying he refused to talk about that subject any longer, period. Also, when I'd get a business call from a male colleague during business hours, he would instantly become jealous or cold and demand to know all about the person who called, yet a woman would occasionally call him at 3 a.m. and when I asked him about it he would get defensive and angry at my curiosity. Although his feelings were easily hurt, he was indifferent when mine were. He appeared to care less and less about my needs and my life. All those first nights of listening to every word I said seemed to disappear. One night he called after I'd just found out that my stepfather had died. He was very sympathetic for about three minutes, but then he asked a question that made it obvious he wasn't listening. He admitted he was distracted and I nicely asked him to call me back when he was finished and we could talk.
I really needed to feel that I had his full attention in my time of need. There was a sudden chill at the other end of the phone. He icily said "fine," hung up, and never called back. I was stunned. In my darkest hour I was looking for a comforting partner and he suddenly turned into a cold, uncaring stranger. Then for the next several days we exchanged emails and voice messages whereby he chastised me for suggesting he call back when he was distracted. He said I was rude in pointing out his lapse of attention. "It's like pointing out to someone when they've farted," he quipped. He even said I should have been grateful for his "generosity," as he had called knowing I'd be hurting and I should have just kept talking even though I knew he wasn't listening. Never, not once, did he ask how I was feeling about my stepfather's death.
I couldn't believe the words coming out of his mouth. This mouth that had kissed me like no one else in my wildest dreams. This mouth that had whispered romantic poetry to me for hours on end. This mouth that had tasted my body and all its crevices. Who was this person attached to this mouth?! Certainly not the person I was choosing to spend the rest of my life with. Where did that man go? These are a few of the "choice words" he emailed me after this incident:
Dear Marti,I physically wanted to throw up. I had just returned from a visit with him and was still "under the ether" – madly, crazily in love and thinking of every way possible to be with him. There was no contention in my words or my heart. The intense coldness of his email and the unreasonable reaction to our conversation was so confusing. It just didn't make sense. In fact, one moment we'd have a loving phone call, then I'd check my email and there'd be a hurtful note that he had to have written before we talked! Then he'd send a note about a house we should buy together. Talk about Dr. J and Mr. Hyde! Although my worries increased, I was still convinced that my perfect partner would return if we just understood each other better. I blamed the distance and limited time together and decided not to address certain issues until we were together, for surely it would be easier in person. I found that if I just "dropped" a tough subject, so did he, yet I felt more and more distant from him.
I will be guarding my heart and emotions from this point on. I feel I have opened myself up prematurely to your personal attacks and therefore must protect my own feelings. The Bible says "it is better to have only a crust of bread to eat upon the rooftop than to feast with many in a house of contention" and I believe that to be true.
I have listened to your voice mails and am disappointed with your efforts at communication. I am growing weary of what I perceive to be a pattern of nitpicking over my phone etiquette. You must acquire a more effective method of conveying your thoughts…I am not stupid.
I believe about you what I have observed about you. I am not swayed by words to believe something I have not seen demonstrated, regardless of the frequency with which I hear the explanation. If I believe, after observing your behavior, that you are irresponsible, then I will not change my mind when you simply say with words that you are "a responsible person." In this regard you will only sway me with your actions. Furthermore, the continuous droning of statements not backed with observable behavior or perceptible intentions, only serves to shut me off.
Perhaps if you were to recognize these communication failures on your own I would not have to hang up on you and wait for your emotions to subside. Even better would be for you to restrict these intense emotional diatribes to written words in an effort to limit your verbosity and to focus on the important points and issues.
On another matter, you still play hide and seek with secrets only you can know. The fact you hesitate to allow me into certain areas of your house when we have promised to spend the rest of our lives together, is quite disturbing to me. This is not how a loving relationship should look.
Please be assured that I am standing by to help in any way that I am able, in spite of the impression I may have given by words or deeds, up until this moment.
Love always, Gus
Things sort of fell into a pattern of Gus getting upset and me being confused about why. Then came an interesting weekend where I was being honored at a banquet for my work with the non-profit community. Gus was coming and I looked forward to including him in a special moment in my life. However, one of my growing worries was related to his heavy drinking. It wasn't uncommon for him to pour himself a vodka at 9 a.m. and I worried that alcohol could become a problem between us. I gingerly shared my concerns with him and he promised that drinking wouldn't be a problem because of his love for me. Of course he was in the limelight at the dinner, being on the arm of the guest of honor. He basked in my glory and I even introduced him to the audience as the man I was going to marry. Unfortunately, my fears were realized when he embarrassed himself and me by getting drunk. I was hurt and fearful that I was going to have to leave my perfect love because of alcohol, but in the morning he lovingly apologized, saying he never wanted to see that look of disappointment in my eyes ever again and he thanked me for not giving him a hard time. Once again, I melted.
Then one night, the red flag got bigger. It was past midnight and I was getting ready for bed. I had put on a cucumber mask, slipped into my flannel PJ's, and was about to fall asleep when the phone rang. It was Gus, and I was happy to hear his voice before falling asleep. After nearly an hour on the phone he surprised me by telling me that he was a mere four minutes away from my house! (He had been driving nearly six hours and hadn't given me a clue he was coming.) He wanted to talk all the way to my driveway, but I begged off in order to wipe the mask off my face and look presentable when he arrived. I would have to scramble to get it all done in four minutes!
He suggested I leave the door unlocked for him, but I said I'd just meet him at the door. (Living alone I wasn't comfortable leaving my door unlocked and I was racing for time as well.) He rang the doorbell and I opened the door within seconds, but when I saw his face I was startled. He was furious. He had transformed from my sweet, romantic man into someone I didn't recognize. His eyes shot bullets at me as I held the door opened for him and I softly questioned, "Gus, what's wrong?" "It was extremely inconvenient for me to have to wait outside your door!" he cursed. "But Gus, it was only a few seconds," I countered. "It's just not right that you treat me that way, Marti. I'm your fiancé, for God sake!" We argued and by that time I really didn't care if he stayed or went. In fact I remember saying that I was aghast that he would say he was "inconvenienced" when he was the one showing up in the middle of the night. "I'm outta here," he bellowed, and then turned to go, but I could tell he didn't really want to. We talked it through and as it turned out, his sister had passed away and he told me he was on the way to her funeral. Of course my heart softened immediately. As we were making up, he shared with me how he had hated his sister and was torn about even going to the funeral. In the end, he didn't go and said it would be a "lesson" to his other siblings that if they didn't "straighten up" he wouldn't show up at their funerals either. (Can you say huge red flag?) He could never give me a reason for the intensity of his hatred, and although we made up once again, that red flag stayed with me and was perhaps the one that eventually began to get my attention. As of weeks later, he still hadn't even called his mother to see how she was handling the death of her daughter! I couldn't help but wonder how he'd treat me if he ever really got mad at me. For the first time I allowed myself to wonder what the truth was about why his children hate him – a fact that he had shared with me early-on. Somehow, we spent a blissful weekend once again and then came the final straw. We were having such an incredible time together that I decided to cancel everything for the next week and drive back to his home with him. I was going to miss some huge meetings, but had decided it was worth it. I told him I'd go, but that I would need to get a little bit of work done before leaving. He agreed. While Gus waited for me to finish up that morning, he got bored and went to the store. When he came back he announced, "Clearly spending time with me is not important to you, so I'm going to take off." And he made motions to leave … right then. I was totally shocked and taken off-guard. We'd discussed and agreed to the plan only a couple of hours earlier. So where did this angry response come from? I just didn't get it. Couldn't he see that I was canceling meetings, rescheduling work, printing paperwork to take along? I was totally rearranging my life and business to spend time unscheduled time with him. Didn't he appreciate all that I was doing? I was expected to understand when he had work to do. On one hand I wanted to talk it through and work something out, rather than give up on our week together. Yet on the other hand, his irrational behavior made me actually fearful that his anger would lead to something I couldn't handle. What if he drove like a crazy person and we ended up in a wreck? What if he just decided to throw me out on the side of the road? Or worse, what if, once we got to his house he decided he just didn't "feel like" driving me all the way home again? We had planned to take my dog and the thought of having to buy a plane ticket and bring my dog back in a crate on a plane made me think twice. The caution signs started hitting me over the head. I finally recognized that I no longer felt safe and didn't know what to expect from this man. At the same time I struggled with my own sense of integrity – I was wearing his ring and my word had always meant a lot to me. Knowing that if things were this chaotic so early in the relationship it would only get worse, I decided to hold my ground. When I told him that it just wasn't working out between us, he was astonished. Then, in defiance he asked, "Are you really breaking up with me?" Interestingly, he never asked why. He just stated that he was in this "for the long term" and that clearly I wasn't as committed.
Fortunately, a knowledgeable friend had begun to educate me about narcissism during the few weeks before that awful moment. She knew I was head-over-heels in love with Gus, but had seen the terrible signs in our relationship, so had been careful to feed me little bits of information whenever I had called her in tears and confusion. Her support and information gave me the strength to know that the situation would never change. So, instead of torturing myself with doubt about the "what ifs," I was able to end the relationship with certainty and the reality that a better future was waiting for me elsewhere, once I let go.
The education she gave me about this serious personality disorder literally saved my emotional well-being. I started to understand the roller coaster ride I was on and see his behaviors for what they really were – controlling, manipulating, and outrageous. My "Perfect Gus" was just an act – nothing more than what Brad Pitt or any other movie star was capable of. One minute a knight in shining armor and the next minute a heartless, blood-sucking vampire. It was all just a wicked deception.
The sad difference, I realized, was that Brad Pitt knows he is acting. Gus doesn't. I felt terribly sad for him, for I knew he would never change nor understand who or what he really was. Yet, I understood my empathy for his "illness" didn't mean I had to marry him. That would have been the biggest mistake of all. No matter how incredible the good stuff was with us, the bad stuff wasn't tolerable.
If you do not feel sane or safe in your relationship, get out. Listen to your gut. Don't ignore the warning signs. I was lucky. It only cost me 12 weeks of my life. It could have been so much worse. Now I'm a bit hypersensitive to potentially narcissistic behavior, which makes dating even more challenging, but I'm so glad to have a healthier perspective and I'm sure that I learned this lesson with Gus for a reason. Perhaps it was just to enable me to develop the even stronger bond I know have with my girlfriend who educated me about this terrifying disorder.
I met Gus on the Internet as well. I was new to the online dating scene, after having recently divorced my husband of nearly 19 years. I was cautious but hopeful. It actually took Gus a while to respond to my email and when he did reply he apologized and said that he had just experienced a tough break-up (with Marti, I realized later), and he was pretty melancholy about the whole thing. He explained that he was taking his time before he "stuck his neck out again." Of course, I felt sorry for him immediately. "The poor guy must be sensitive and emotional for him to react that way," so said my heart. I loved sensitive guys! I just always thought they were a myth. We emailed for a couple of weeks and then he suggested we meet for ice cream on Saturday. I apologized, but said that I had already made plans for the weekend. "No need to apologize, dear," he wrote. "I understand you have a life. We'll get together in time, if this is meant to be." I was so impressed. He respected my boundaries and needs, and that was rare in my past relationships with men. We kept the email doors open and kept chatting, learning more and more about each other in the process.
As with Marti, Gus and I lived hours from each other. While one of the joys of living in quiet, laid-back New Mexico is the slower lifestyle and the friendly people, the vast emptiness between towns makes going anywhere a lengthy ordeal. The logistics of a long-distance relationship had its ups and downs in my mind, but I wasn't ready to rule it out. He kept offering other times when we might be able to connect, but for the longest time I was busy with my teenager's sporting events or school schedules, in addition to my own work schedule at the credit union during the day and the local pub at night. "Is there ever going to be a time I will get to meet you?" he wrote. I felt guilty. He had shown himself to be so patient and understanding that I finally gave him my phone number so we could at least talk.
Our first phone conversation ended up lasting for hours. It was like we had known each other for years. Maybe even all our lives. There were no tentative opening lines or worries that either of us wouldn't meet the expectations of the other. It was fabulous. When next he asked me if we could meet, I was still hesitant. Talking with someone over email or on the phone was one thing – in the flesh was quite another. I was still new to this dating thing, after being married so many years, and I didn't want to get in over my head. I asked him what his expectations were. His answer was perfect – Absolutely no expectations. Lunch only. Friends for as long as necessary. Purely platonic was just fine with him. He would get a room at a hotel and whatever time I could give him around my hectic family and work schedule, he would accept. No questions asked. We agreed to meet for lunch on Thursday and on Wednesday afternoon he surprised me by waltzing in to the credit union where I worked. I didn't know he was there and when a co-worker told me there was a man asking for me, I was completely amazed. He told me that he just wanted to be "early" for our lunch date the next day and would it be OK if he stopped at the pub where I worked in the evening and had a few beers while I was stuck there? Of course I didn't object at all. I was so impressed he had gone out of his way to come early to spend as much time with me as possible! I had never expected it. What a wonderful surprise! He obviously was a man who cared a great deal.
My friends were overjoyed for me. "Oh, Erica – he's adorable," they said. I had to agree. When I walked into work that evening, he was already at the bar and had a big map lying open on the counter. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was looking to invest in some land and was studying the map of the area to get a better understanding of the big picture. Of course, I was immediately impressed that he must have enough money to invest in anything. (Little did I know the truth was he didn't have a dime in his pocket.) We chatted a great deal while I tended bar throughout the course of the evening and I found him to be delightful. By the time our lunch date came around the next day, I couldn't wait to see him again. He mesmerized me, without a doubt. He was like a drug. I would sit and look at him for hours on end. It was like I was a different person when I was with him. He kept encouraging me to tell him everything about myself. He listened so intently. He shook his head compassionately if I spoke of something painful from my past, then would pat my hand gently in understanding. He eyes grew teary in sympathy when I discussed an extremely difficult moment during my divorce. As he'd been divorced too, I felt he knew my pain first-hand. He was so polite. He held the doors open for me. Kissed my hand. Even wanted to buckle my seatbelt for me, which was the only thing that left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. Yet, at the end of that first date when he said, "Would you mind if I give you a kiss on the cheek?" I knew I was hooked.
The minute I left him to go back to work, all my mind could do was figure out how to spend every possible moment with him. Just as we were about to say good-bye, he had an idea. He was attending a birthday party that evening back in his small town and on impulse he suggested I join him, and if I wanted, I could spend the weekend. My mind whirled! I had just promised my ex-husband I would take care of our 16-year-old daughter while he was out of town, but I instantly considered possible alternative options concerning what I could do with her. He could see me hesitate and he said, "It's all about what's important to you, dear. Do this only if you're comfortable. There's no pressure." Within seconds I had made up my mind to go. The weekend turned out to be something out of a dream. Romance. Scented oils. Tender kisses. Incredible bliss.
I wanted to marry this man after only knowing him 48 hours!
I took him home to meet my mom right then and there. I guess I should have thought something was a little out of the norm when he walked in her house and said, "Should I call you Mom?" when he hadn't even officially met her yet. Hindsight is a marvelous thing and I realize now that my mother had been in a relationship for 19 years with a narcissist and the first thing she commented was how much Gus reminded her of her ex-husband! Fortunately the reality of an instant marriage was not possible for us, as I already had a life plan I was working around. I was due to move to Phoenix within a few weeks, where I was registered to begin a two-year court reporter course. Nothing was going to deter me. Not even Gus. However, I swore to him that if all remained the same, I would promise to marry him at the end of that time. He was thrilled!
I look back at that momentary lapse of sanity and wonder how the heck he pulled me into his web so easily. Was it the charisma? His great acting job of being such a knight in shining armor? What? To this day, I can't even figure it out. The fact I so quickly farmed out my daughter to friends without hesitation, just to spend the weekend with a man I had only met 12 hours before, still boggles my mind to this day.
He was very good at what he did. We were instantly boyfriend and girlfriend. I would drive several hours to his house to be with him every weekend I could possibly get away. Of course we had endless phone calls and emails that were filled with romantic language and love poetry he wrote for me.
The red flags started showing up by the third weekend I spent with him. By the time I had driven to his house I realized that I had forgotten some necessary toiletries and knew I needed to stop at Wal-Mart to pick them up. I decided to go to Gus' house first and figured we could stop and get the supplies when we went out. He agreed we should stop at the store on our way to dinner and kill two birds with one stone. We had a great conversation on the way and I figured I'd just rush in and out of the store so we could be on our way. With that in mind, I jumped out of his truck once we parked, and hurried into the store. He seemed to lag behind and I just figured he'd stroll around until I got my things and we'd be out of the store in no time. Yet, once inside the store I could feel his personality change like a light bulb flickering out. I shook off the weird feeling, but there was no denying it. He had suddenly become very angry over something and I hadn't a clue what it could be about. I tentatively asked him what was wrong and he jumped down my throat. "How dare you not let me open the truck door for you?! You know that's my job. You absolutely ignored me on your way into the store!" At first I thought he was kidding. Like he was playing the hurt little kid who had tried to do something right and no one had noticed, but I quickly realized he was dead serious. His eyes were cold and seemed to throw missiles at me. I had never seen him like this before. My gut told me this was terribly wrong and I decided right then to return home that evening. I made him take me back to my car and I left. It had become quite clear to me that we just weren't compatible and I told him that.
As I drove the many hours to get back home I gradually started doubting myself. I kept going over and over the situation, trying to decide if it was a figment of my imagination or if it had really happened that way. It seemed too ridiculous to be real. Then I remembered this lovely man that had swept me off my feet and I blew the entire episode off as a complete misunderstanding.
I decided to call him up and apologize. It wasn't worth throwing away all the good we had over some silliness. He accepted my apology and we went on as though nothing had ever happened. The next weekend it was his turn to drive to my town. I was all excited to have him meet my friends and was sure they'd like him as much as I did. We were all meeting at the pub I worked at and I could barely contain myself all day awaiting his arrival. When at last he showed up, I was shocked. He was wearing tattered clothes, a beat up old cowboy hat, and had a cigar hanging out of his mouth. I knew that he understood that it was a non-smoking bar, and yet he flaunted his cigar like he was above the rules. I didn't know which surprised me most – the fact that he looked like a homeless person for his first appearance with my friends, or the fact that he thought it was OK to push the rules of the bar with his cigar. When I reminded him that he wasn't allowed to smoke inside, he said, "That's OK, honey. I'll just hold it, okay dokie?"
Now I realize that growing up in New Mexico I should be used to the cowboy look, but it has never really done anything for me. I had shared that with Gus in one of our first days together, so I was mildly surprised that he would wear his cowboy hat, knowing how I felt about it. Much less not take the time to clean up a bit for my friends. At first I was a bit disappointed and angry and then I said to myself, "Come on, Erica. You're being a real bitch. He just drove four hours to see you and you're going to get upset over this?" I tried to let the whole incident go. It wasn't worth it. I was looking forward to our time alone together, and that was worth everything to me. Yet, the next day when he insisted I accompany him to the local ranch-wear store to buy a new cowboy hat and clothes, a little bell started going off in my head. That little bell rang even louder when he made me take a picture of him in his new outfit which he knew I disliked. I just didn't get it. We continued to take turns driving to each other every weekend. The next weekend we decided to meet at a small restaurant I had never been to before. I got there before he did and had a couple of beers before he arrived. When I asked him what was good on the menu, indicating I'd never been to the restaurant before, he insisted, "Oh, come on, you know you've eaten here before." I thought that was a strange statement and I reaffirmed that I had indeed not ever been there before. His eyes suddenly grew cold and the conversation ceased. As the silence hung between us like a brick wall, I couldn't believe what had just transpired. Apparently my disagreeing with him had sent him into "angry land" and now I was being punished for it. In addition, I realized that he was playing the cowboy outfit again. All I could think was where did my REI outdoorsman go? And what is he trying to prove with the cowboy stuff? I asked him if he knew where the bathroom was and he wouldn't answer me. So, out of spite I fought back in a rather defiant way. Still wearing my dress and heels from work, I walked over to a table of men sitting near us and asked them where the bathroom was. They were most happy to tell me and Gus' rage only multiplied. Needless to say the evening was a disaster and the end result was that he blamed it all on me drinking too much. The red flags had begun to wave furiously and I was refusing to see them.
The roller coaster pattern had begun. Wonderful days. Terrible days. Passionate lovemaking with candles and scented oils. Cherry wine with chocolate on the rim. (Come to find out, Marti had taught him that one!) Angry nights with hours of the "silent treatment," for infractions I wasn't even aware of. Moments of rage, with eyes so black and deep, I feared I might get sucked into them. I think part of the reason I stayed so long is that I'm a caretaker by nature. I love doing things for other people. Helping them. I have spent so many years putting other people's needs before my own that it just came naturally for me. And of course there was always that deeply imbedded memory of Mr. Perfect. I knew he had to be in there somewhere, if I only knew how to get him to come out and stay out. I guess that means I kept looking for his potential to change, which I've since learned is one major mistake. Never enter a relationship looking at someone for their potential. Look for what is.
Then he began with the ongoing sermon about my "actions." He would tell me how it was his "observations" that told him who I really was. "I will watch your actions, not your words, Erica," he used to taunt me. Then there was the other sermon about his "needs." "I have independence and you will acknowledge that." I never was entirely sure what he meant by that one. I would go crazy with the mind games he played with me. Yet, every time I considered leaving, he reeled me back in with his charm. It was an amazing phenomenon, now that I look back on it. The beginning of the end occurred one night when he was going to meet me at the bar for a drink before we went home.
I knew an old friend was coming in that night and I told Gus that I'd love to have him meet George, a 60-something-year-old friend of my mother's. Gus said fine and showed up a bit before I was finished. He jumped into a conversation with another guy at the bar and by the time I clocked out, the only empty stool at the bar was one seat away from Gus and next to George. Since Gus was obviously deep in conversation, I sat next to George and waited for my opportunity to introduce the guys to each other. When he finally finished chatting and walked the three steps over to us, I could barely wait to introduce him as my "boyfriend" to my dear friend George. They shook hands and then Gus threw me another curve. He turned to me and said, "Hon, I'm really tired. I've got a long trip ahead of me. I'm going to head on home. It's OK. You go ahead and chat. Take the time you need. I'll let your dogs out when I get home."
All at once I realized what was up. He was jealous and was playing the hurt little boy. He was punishing me for talking to my old friend and not dropping everything for him. So he was going to leave without me and I would have hell to pay later. I was livid. This was too much. I didn't need a child having a temper tantrum in my life. I had already raised three children of my own. I simply didn't need another one. So he left and I stayed. By the time I got home an hour later, he was nowhere to be seen, nor had my dogs been cared for. I called him on his cell phone to be sure he was OK. After all, he had been drinking for a couple of hours and that, combined with his anger when he left, caused me concern. I certainly didn't want him to be off the road in a ditch somewhere. But he wouldn't answer his phone. I drove around looking for him and at last saw his truck at a local motel. I called his room from the lobby phone and asked him what was going on. In a cold, calculating voice he simply said, "I'm going to bed. Why does it matter to you? You were obviously more interested in your old friend than you were in me." I replied that I hadn't done anything wrong and he assured me that if I would just think about it longer, I'd realize just how wrong I was. After all, I was a smart person, he assured me. "If you just look at it from my side, you'll know you're wrong," he snarled. What was I supposed to do? I loved this guy. I blamed myself. I sucked up my pride and apologized if I had done anything to hurt his feelings. He acted wounded for quite a while and once again, we made up.
The next day he fell into reeling me in again. He fixed my car, which I was so grateful for, as I really didn't have the money to pay a mechanic. He took me to lunch. He bought me flowers. I hoped that whatever stress had caused him to lose himself, that it was moving out and the "old Gus" was returning. My ex-husband and I lived in the same small town and still shared custody of our children, so that mandated we still communicated on a regular basis. At times things were pretty emotional for me and Gus suggested that I might benefit from taking some time off. "Why don't you move in with me for a while? It will give you some time to rest and put a little space between you and your ex too. Might be just what the doctor ordered." He also highly suggested that I really had no reason to ever talk to my ex again. I sort of blew the comment off, not believing that he really meant it. How could he? We still had joint custody of our kids. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving when I moved in with him. I had to borrow my ex-husband's truck to move my big items and was on the phone with him arranging the details when Gus called and I picked him up on call waiting. I told him I was on the phone with Brian and Gus agreed that I should call him back when Brian and I had finalized all the details. When I called him back he was cool and distant. I didn't figure out until much later that he was furious with me for not taking his call over my conversation with Brian. I later paid for that mistake with several hours of the "silent treatment."
On Thanksgiving Day I cooked a huge dinner for Gus and a bunch of his friends. The day seemed perfect and he bragged to his friends about what a good cook I was. Yet, after they all left he immediately returned to giving me the cold shoulder. Except for one thing…
Since I was a new member in his household he took me by the hand (literally) and walked me through all his expectations. How he wanted his laundry washed and the clothes folded. How I should clean the toilets. Exactly how the food was to be stored in the refrigerator. I couldn't believe that he was treating me like a child who knew nothing when at age 41 with nearly 19 years of marriage behind me and raising three kids, I thought I had learned a few things by now. My gut was screaming at me that something was drastically wrong, and I was finally starting to listen. I decided to go to bed and think about it with a fresh mind in the morning. Gus wasn't tired yet, so decided to stay up and watch some TV before he joined me. I felt emotionally and physically drained. I kept remembering his suggestion to move in with him so that I could rest. Somehow I didn't see that happening. My mind kept reliving all my "transgressions," trying to make sense of it all. I finally couldn't deal with it any further and fell asleep in sadness. About an hour later Gus came to bed and started screaming at me, wanting to know where his cell phone was. In a groggy daze, I realized he must be talking about his extra cell phone he had lent me after he had accidentally driven over mine and broken it. I told him I thought it was in my car, all the while wondering why it was such a big deal in the middle of the night. When he insisted I go get it, I refused and rolled over to go back to sleep. Well, that was entirely the wrong thing to do. "By God, you go get it right now!" he bellowed, as I lay there wondering, "Who is this man?" Again I refused to get out of bed and at that point he grabbed me and physically threw me out of the bed, insisting he would not sleep with me. "I refuse to sleep with a contentious woman!" Then he began screaming scripture to me, "It is better to have only a crust of bread to eat upon the rooftop than to feast with many in a house of contention." I looked at him in amazement one last time while he yelled, "Why do you insist on defying me and not showing me respect?"
I left his bed and slept in the guestroom, knowing full-well that I was leaving in the morning, never to return. I was scared, confused, depressed, and full of self-doubt. What was so wrong with me that he would treat me this way? I had moved in on Tuesday and I moved out by Friday. It still amazes me when I rethink the whole thing. How did the man I wanted to marry within 48 hours of meeting him become a Frankenstein monster who destroyed everything in his path? And furthermore, how did I fall for it?
The one thing that saved me from thinking I had gone completely crazy was finding Marti's business card and an old email of hers that Gus had left lying about. As soon as I got to a safe place I summoned up all my nerve and called her. It was like finding a life line. She told me about the turbulent relationship she had lived through. (She lasted 12 weeks – I had only made it 9.) But the pattern was exactly the same in both of our relationships. We laughed together and cried together. We compared stupid details and stories of his behaviors that left us amazed. We realized how he tried to parent both of us in his own way. "Now, darling, if you'd just realize I'm trying to help you," he loved to tell us. In my case he always told me how he just viewed himself a little further along in the divorce education than I was and so he could "teach me the ropes."
In Marti's case he attempted to be the all-knowing businessman. (He had no credentials or background in business – he was a plumber by trade.) Yet he insisted on showing Marti how to run her business and her finances. The behaviors relating to him having control were absolutely like déjà vu. We marveled at how the whole, pathetic process had evolved. After I left Gus he didn't try to contact me. About a week and a half later I emailed him and said I was sorry things had turned out the way they did. He blasted me back with a scathing email, blaming all our problems on my drinking. (This from a man who used drugs and alcohol freely.) All I can say is thank God I discovered the issue I was dealing with was NPD. Understanding the behaviors and motivating factors behind his actions has helped me quit carrying the guilt that seemed to follow me like a stalker. I kept believing that everything had been my fault. Now I know better.
The sad thing is that both Marti and I know he will find another victim and we just wish there was a way that innocent women could be warned. It's easy to spot loud, rough, pushy men. You know to stay away from them. But these actors are another matter. They're so insidious. They're like quicksand – you don't know you're in danger until it's too late and then it seems close to impossible to get out
As I finished the interview with Marti and Erica that night, I mentioned that since I had never met Gus, I could only use my imagination as to what he must look like. Erica instantly pulled pictures of him out of her wallet. Marti and I were surprised and asked her what on earth she was doing, still carrying his photos with her. She honestly couldn't say. I also found it interesting that I saw a rather plain looking man when they both commented on how "handsome" he was. The photos obviously stirred deep, emotional responses in both of them.I suggested they burn them ceremoniously right there..
They each took one and lit a match to it, watching it melt and shrivel up symbolically into the ashtray, as the bartender curiously watched the powerful event unfold. Hopefully, the imagery will translate into moving on for both of them. It can be done. It just takes time and a belief that they can.
"Narcissists have no feelings of any kind. You must remember that above all. They are simply actors on the stage, pretending with all their might. Yet, it is all a lie. There is no real emotion of any kind. Any actor can act and these folks win the Academy Award in that category."
Michael – survivor
Thursday, June 17, 2021
There are people who rely on learned helplessness as a means to cope with negative events happening in their life. Keith Joseph McKean points out that learned helplessness is based on three things:
Internal blaming - "It's me!"
Global distortion - "It'll affect everything I do!"
Stability generalization - "It will last forever!"
Parents/caretakers play major roles in whether or not a child develops learned helplessness. Learned helplessness can develop early in one's life. Therefore, adults need to be aware of how their type of criticism they use will affect children.
If adults are continually using negative criticism, the child will eventually have low self-esteem and will come to a point to want to give up trying. This can lead to the child having negative viewpoints throughout his/her life.
The type of reinforcement given to the child by the caregiver can determine whether or not the child will develop learned helplessness as a coping mechanism for everyday life events. The child will eventually feel he/she has no control over these events.
Heyman, Dweck and Cain confirm the influence of constant negative criticism on children by revealing how young children in their study assumed when they were receiving negative criticism they must have been "bad" children. Therefore, the children felt they were deserving of such negative criticism.
But, researchers claim as a child gets older the child feels the negative criticism is based on their lack of abilities, not based on if they were "good" or "bad." This study cites that children who have a secure attachment will demonstrate positive self-evaluations whereas children who don't have this positive attachment will demonstrate negative self-evaluations.
Learned helplessness can develop in any stage of one's life, not just childhood - it affects behavioral, cognitive and affective domains at the same time.
When a person is wanting to give up or has a continuous habit of putting things off, this is learned helplessness affecting his/her behavioral domain. A person's self-esteem will be low and feeling of frustration will be high. With these effects a person's ability to solve problems will be very low due to the fact that the person has no confidence in themselves.
These factors affect the cognitive domain. The affective domain is when a person will show signs of depression. When one fails, the blame will be that person's lack of abilities and when one succeeds this will be due to "luck."
Also, a characteristic of a person with learned helplessness is low self-esteem. Low self-esteem will decrease one's confidence in trying to change negative things that are going on in one's life. When a person with learned helplessness experiences success he / she will make themselves and others believe it was due to "luck" and not based on ones' own abilities.
This pessimistic explanatory way of dealing with events can affect a person's job performance and a student's academic performance which can eventually lead to wanting to give up. As stated earlier, learned helplessness can develop at any age.
Learned helplessness can be seen when comparing depressed elderly women and non-depressed elderly women (65-96 years) on successes and failures. The non-depressed women would describe their success due to positive reasons such as, their success was due to their own abilities. Whereas, the depressed women would use more of a negative reason by saying their success was due to "luck" and not based on personal abilities.
When it came to explaining failures, the non-depressed women would blame them on "bad luck" and the depressed women would blame it on their so-called lack of abilities. The depressed women would blame negative outcomes due to inner forces and positive outcomes due to outer forces. These depressed women show how people with learned helplessness will use these reasons to give up and not put an effort to take control of their lives.
Strube emphasizes a situation where learned helplessness traumatically effects lives. Women in abusive relationships have developed at some point in time learned helplessness. These women have low self-esteem and blame themselves when things go wrong, therefore, they feel they deserve the physical and mental abuse (similar to the young children who felt they deserved the negative criticism they received because of being "bad").
Society and family play a partial hand in this abuse by putting unnecessary pressures on the woman by making her feel it is her responsibility to make the relationship work. These pressures need to be removed and support from family needs to be increased.
Society as a whole needs to take a stand against abuse. Just as these studies show how learned helplessness can develop during early childhood and continue through adulthood, I know of a woman who has overcome learned helplessness.
There was this little girl who wasn't afraid of anything. She didn't even know what fear was. Then one day a traumatic event happened in her life. After that she knew what fear was.
She was made to feel what had happened was her fault. She tried hard to thing of what she did to deserve being treated so badly. For many years she felt she was a "bad" girl. After that experience came many other negative experiences. She felt she caused them because she was "bad" therefore, she deserved these bad experiences. She decided to be so "good" that nothing bad would ever happen again. But, bad things kept occurring. She figured it didn't matter if she was "good" or "bad" because she had no control over anything that happened in her life.
All through life whenever she failed she would just decide that was expected, so why try?
When she did achieve anything good, she would count that as being "lucky" - not because of her abilities. At times of success she didn't like to acknowledge it to anyone because she knew there would be someone there to remind her how "bad" she really was. She got to the point whenever she would achieve anything in life she never gave herself a chance to enjoy the precious moments. She felt she didn't deserve any praise for accomplishments. She even blamed herself for a relative's death.
For some reason, she felt she must have done something bad and she was to be punished by having him taken away from her. She continued for a number of years failing to achieve any goals that were set for her. She tried to finish college a number of times but continued to fail. She did not fail necessarily in grades but in giving up on everything in life. She just figured there would be something that would stop her so she didn't try.
During her early adulthood years she had no goals set and would just go along in life doing what it took to get by. She constantly placed herself in negative situations; abusive relationships, other relationships that were doomed to fail, and she felt any mistakes on the job were due to her lack of abilities. She felt she had no control over any events in her life.
She felt she was doomed for the rest of her life. She felt her family didn't expect anything from her since she was a woman. She was to get married and raise a family - nothing else. She became engaged numerous times but failed at actually going through with the marriages.
No matter how hard she would try, she always failed. Her negative surroundings and negative reinforcements over many years caused her to develop learned helplessness.
By her late twenties she knew something had to change.
After receiving professional help and joining a support group [see below], the once frightened little girl has turned into a woman who knows now that she has control over her life. Now in her thirties, she has gone back to school and has set short-term and long-term goals to help herself succeed in life. Now her belief is that if she has given it her best she has succeeded (no matter what others would rule as success and failure).
There are still days when she feels she has failed. At first she will start to blame herself and she will stop and tell herself over and over she is not to blame. She will then look back to analyze why she did not achieve what she had set out to do and if she didn't do her best, she would do her best to try and correct this. but, when she did her best, she will tell herself she must accept it and go on.
She is learning to accept that when she does something good, she knows she worked hard for it and deserves it without feeling guilty, and she didn't get it from the luck of the draw.
She has a new life after thirty years of living with learned helplessness. Society and parents play major roles in making sure a child avoids learned helplessness. Children must be encouraged to use their cognitive abilities to their fullest, be given positive criticism and be shown adaptive ways to cope with negative events that happen in their lives.
A person's self-esteem is very important to one's future. No one can eliminate negative events in anyone's life but one does have the power to help someone cope in a positive manner.
Tuesday, June 08, 2021
Leaving a High Conflict Person
by Randi Kreger
It's been tough. After many months or years, you see no alternative but to separate from your high conflict partner (HCP). The process of leaving an HCP is tougher than you may be used to. These guidelines, developed over the years by people who have separated, will help.
Make sure you're ready to leave. Some people leave impulsively. Later, they miss the person or feel guilty. If you've tried a variety of techniques designed for high conflict partners and they haven't worked, or you and your children are suffering, it's time to let go.
No take backs. Once they see you are really going to leave, HCPs usually back off from their abusive tactics. You may receive gifts, flowers, and all kinds of promises to change. Not buying in is tough, because everything in you will desperately want to believe them.
But restructuring a personality takes years. While people with borderline personality can get better, narcissists seldom do. Insist on therapy. You have issues you need to face too, and your own recovery to undertake.
To stay in reality, keep a notebook of all the reasons why you want to leave. List all the ways you've tried to change things, along with their results. Make a list of all the hurtful things your partner did and read it when you feel weak.
Avoid contact. Whether you reach out to your ex or vice versa, the results will be confusing and painful. If you contact them, you might find they've moved on. Don't invite contact or respond to it, no matter how curious you are or how validating you may think it might be.
Now is not the time to tell your ex you think they have a personality disorder. Don't write letters to their therapist or family. Don't tell your ex what to do or continue to try to fix them. It's over. Move on. If you feel guilty about leaving your partner, remember, your partner functioned without you before you met them--as did you.
Take care of yourself. You've been through an extremely stressful experience and you need time to heal. You're probably dropped the habit of caring for yourself, or have developed serious problems with depression--even traits of post traumatic stress disorder. Seek professional help if you haven't already.
Go for a walk. Go to a coffee shop and be open to conversation. If you have hobbies (especially creative and expressive ones) use this new-found time to pursue your interests. Look upon this as a great new beginning. Go back to school. Set some new goals. If you've learned unhealthy coping techniques, like drinking, seek help.
Isolation may be one of your biggest problems. Even if you don't feel like it, make new friends, reconnect with old ones, and reach out to supportive family members. Ask them for what you need. They may say you should have left long ago; on the other hand, they might tell you you're doing the wrong thing. Stay true to yourself. Be specific about what you need and don't need from them.
Continue therapy. Self-awareness is actually one of the "gifts" received from having been in an abusive situation. With enough work, you may actually come out of the experience as a stronger person.
Take time to process this journey. Even if the relationship was bad and you're happy about getting out, you may go through the stages of grief characterized by Dr. Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages don't happen overnight, and you will go back and forth between them. Give yourself time.
Whether you were together for a long time or a short, intense time, you had hopes and dreams. You thought this person was a soul mate and you're convinced you'll never find someone you'll love as much and who will love you. This isn't true. A new relationship may not be intense, but it will be more intimate.You need time to grieve both the loss of what was and what you hoped would be.
If you were married, anticipate a difficult, high conflict divorce. You need the booklet Splitting: Protecting Yourself When Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist by attorney Bill Eddy. (He also has a CD.) There simply is no better source.
Prepare for a distortion campaign. An abandoned partner may try retaliating and starting a "smear" campaign or distortion campaign. This consists of making false allegations or exaggerating the negative in things that may have happened years ago. If your partner degraded previous partners, assume the worst.
While you can't prevent this, you can do damage control. Quickly anticipate what your ex might say--think of old arguments and false accusations. Next, have short, informal chats with people who may be on the receiving end. Briefly mention they may hear things and ask them to talk to you to see if they're true.
If you are getting divorced and your spouse is making false accusations and gathering negative allies, you need to respond at once. See Splitting for a step-by-step process on what you must do to protect yourself and your children.
When you start dating again, be aware of red flags.of potentially abusive people. You know this person acted abusively. So why does it hurt so much now that they're gone? Why do you feel almost addicted to the other person, even missing all the drama and intensity of the relationship?
The reasons for this are complex. You brought certain issues into the relationship; so did they. The combination of trauma with intermittent good time creates a strong bond--an unhealthy one. You may be mistaking intensity for intimacy.
People who have patterns dating high conflict people may be trying to resolve issues stemming from important childhood relationships. Explore this with a therapist before getting into another relationship. This is critical.
People can be great at hiding their illness in the beginning of a relationship, but in retrospect, you will see that some early signs were there. Don't rush into any new relationships before you have fully processed the previous bad one.
In the end, you will be amazed that you even allowed yourself to stay in such a relationship, and even more amazed to find that you now have the inner strength and awareness to avoid repeating it in the future.
Wednesday, June 02, 2021
Narcissists are Projection Machines
Narcissists really know only a few tricks. One happens to be projection, and they practice it so much that it becomes second nature. Hence narcissists love to commit character assassination by calling the party they're tearing down (to look better than) the narcissist. A joke.
Where is the character assassination coming from? Where is the inflated measure of self importance (grandiosity) coming from? Where is the envy coming from? Where is the grandiosity shamed by needing the other party's help? Where is all the dissing and denigrating coming from? Where is the rage over nothing on a regular basis? Where is the dehumanizing charicature coming from? Who's making all the wild accusations?
That's yer narcissist. Every time. Always a living, breathing Projection Machine. Your first clue? He or she is trashing somebody else.They just cannot get the difference between true greatness and grandiosity. You can tell them a million times that grandiosity is a gross overestimate of importance and greatness. They always get it exactly backwards and accuse the great one (like the great leader or the great inventor or the great builder or the great nation = America) of being "grandiose". It is too complex an idea for them to comprehend that you are not grandiose because you are important: you are grandiose because you're a piss-ant who thinks they're important.
Never expect narcissists to comprehend that.
And who cares more about their fellow human beings than those who spend their blood and treasure saving them? Those who make a virtue out of looking the other way while dictators mass murder their own people would have us think that sacrificing your blood and treasure for others is the very opposite of what it is. They characterize it as, of all things, "selfish" and "brutal".
And the punch line is that they characterize their looking the other way as the "humanitarian" behavior. They keep a perfectly straight face while saying this! They call that (of all things) "loving peace."
Enough to make the head spin.
There is just enough room in the skull for the brain to get twisted all the way around backwards and upside down. All you have to do is arrive at your desired conclusion first, and then think backwards to justify it.
People who just think whatever is popular today will swallow it whole without ever noticing how absurd your "reasoning" is.
Sunday, May 30, 2021
CHILDHOOD STRESS AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE ADD UP TO ILLNESS LATER IN LIFE
If you saw Laura walking down the New York City street where she lives today, you’d see a well-dressed 46-year-old woman with auburn hair and green eyes, who exudes a sense of ‘I matter here.’ She looks entirely in charge of her life, but behind Laura’s confident demeanour lies a history of trauma: a bipolar mother who vacillated between braiding her daughter’s hair and peppering her with insults, and a father who moved out-of-state with his wife-to-be when Laura was 15 years old.
She recalls a family trip to the Grand Canyon when she was 10. In a photo taken that day, Laura and her parents sit on a bench, sporting tourist whites. ‘Anyone looking at us would have assumed that we were a normal, loving family.’ But as they put on fake smiles for the camera, Laura’s mother suddenly pinched her daughter’s midriff and told her to stop ‘staring off into space’. A second pinch: ‘No wonder you’re turning into a butterball, you ate so much cheesecake last night you’re hanging over your shorts!’ If you look hard at Laura’s face in the photograph, you can see that she’s not squinting at the Arizona sun, but holding back tears.
After her father left the family, he sent cards and money, but called less and less. Meanwhile, her mother’s untreated bipolar disorder worsened. Sometimes, Laura says: ‘My mom would go on a vitriolic diatribe about my dad until spittle foamed on her chin. I’d stand there, trying not to hear her as she went on and on, my whole body shaking inside.’ Laura never invited friends over, for fear they’d find out her secret: her mom ‘wasn’t like other moms’.
Some 30 years later, Laura says: ‘In many ways, no matter where I go or what I do, I’m still in my mother’s house.’ Today, ‘If a car swerves into my lane, a grocery store clerk is rude, my husband and I argue, or my boss calls me in to talk over a problem, I feel something flip over inside. It’s like there’s a match standing inside too near a flame, and with the smallest breeze, it ignites.’
To see Laura, you’d never know that she is ‘always shaking a little, only invisibly, deep down in my cells’.
Her sense that something is wrong inside is mirrored by her physical health. During a routine exam, Laura’s doctor discovered that Laura was suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy and would require a cardioverter defibrillator to keep her heart pumping. The two-inch scar from her surgery only hints at the more severe scars she hides from her childhood.
For as long as John can remember, he says, his parents’ marriage was deeply troubled, as was his relationship with his father. ‘I consider myself to have been raised by my mom and her mom. I longed to feel a deeper connection with my dad, but it just wasn’t there. He couldn’t extend himself in that way.’ John’s poor relationship with his father was due, in large part, to his father’s reactivity and need for control. For instance, if John’s father said that the capital of New York was New York City, there was just no use telling him that it was Albany.
As John got older, it seemed wrong to him that his father ‘was constantly pointing out all the mistakes that my brother and I made, without acknowledging any of his own’. His father relentlessly criticised his mother, who was ‘kinder and more confident’. Aged 12, John began to interject himself into the fights between his parents. He remembers one Christmas Eve, when he found his father with his hands around his mother’s neck and had to separate them. ‘I was always trying to be the adult between them,’ John says.
John is now a boyish 40, with warm hazel eyes and a wide, affable grin. But beneath his easy, open demeanour, he struggles with an array of chronic illnesses. By the time he was 33, his blood pressure was shockingly high; he began to experience bouts of stabbing stomach pain and diarrhoea and often had blood in his stool; he struggled from headaches almost daily. By 34, he’d developed chronic fatigue, and was so wiped out that he sometimes struggled to make it through an entire workday.
John’s relationships, like his body, were never completely healthy. He ended a year‑long romance with a woman he deeply loved because he felt riddled with anxiety around her normal, ‘happy family’. He just didn’t know how to fit in. ‘She wanted to help,’ he says, ‘but instead of telling her how insecure I was around her, I told her I wasn’t in love with her.’ Bleeding from his inflamed intestines, exhausted by chronic fatigue, debilitated and distracted by pounding headaches, often struggling with work, and unable to feel comfortable in a relationship, John was stuck in a universe of pain and solitude, and he couldn’t get out.
Laura’s and John’s life stories illustrate the physical price we can pay, as adults, for trauma that took place 10, 20, even 30 years ago. New findings in neuroscience, psychology and immunology tell us that the adversity we face during childhood has farther-reaching consequences than we might ever have imagined. Today, in labs across the country, neuroscientists are peering into the once-inscrutable brain-body connection, and breaking down, on a biochemical level, exactly how the stress we experience during childhood and adolescence catches up with us when we are adults, altering our bodies, our cells, and even our DNA.
Emotional stress in adult life affects us on a physical level in quantifiable, life-altering ways. We all know that when we are stressed, chemicals and hormones can flush our body and increase levels of inflammation. That’s why stressful events in adult life are correlated with the likelihood of getting a cold or having a heart attack.
But when children or teens face adversity and especially unpredictable stressors, they are left with deeper, longer‑lasting scars. When the young brain is thrust into stressful situations over and over again without warning, and stress hormones are repeatedly ramped up, small chemical markers, known as methyl groups, adhere to specific genes that regulate the activity of stress‑hormone receptors in the brain. These epigenetic changes hamper the body’s ability to turn off the stress response. In ideal circumstances, a child learns to respond to stress, and recover from it, learning resilience. But kids who’ve faced chronic, unpredictable stress undergo biological changes that cause their inflammatory stress response to stay activated.
Joan Kaufman, director of the Child and Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) programme at the Yale School of Medicine, recently analysed DNA in the saliva of happy, healthy children, and of children who had been taken from abusive or neglectful parents. The children who’d experienced chronic childhood stress showed epigenetic changes in almost 3,000 sites on their DNA, and on all 23 chromosomes – altering how appropriately they would be able to respond to and rebound from future stressors.
'Kids who’ve had early adversity have a drip of fight-or-flight hormones turned on every day – it’s as if there is no off switch
Likewise, Seth Pollak, professor of psychology and director of the Child Emotion Research Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, uncovered startling genetic changes in children with a history of adversity and trauma. Pollak identified damage to a gene responsible for calming the stress response. 'This particular gene wasn’t working properly; the kids’ bodies weren’t able to reign in their heightened stress response.,’
Imagine for a moment that your body receives its stress hormones and chemicals through an IV drip that’s turned on high when needed and, when the crisis passes, it’s switched off again. You might think of kids whose brains have undergone epigenetic changes because of early adversity as having an inflammation-promoting drip of fight-or-flight hormones turned on every day – it’s as if there is no off switch.
Experiencing stress in childhood changes your set point of wellbeing for decades to come. In people such as Laura and John, the endocrine and immune systems are churning out a damaging and inflammatory cocktail of stress neurochemicals in response to even small stressors – an unexpected bill, a disagreement with their spouse, a car that swerves in front of them on the highway, a creak on the staircase – for the rest of their lives. They might find themselves overreacting to, and less able to recover from, the inevitable stressors of life. They’re always responding. And all the while, they’re unwittingly marinating in inflammatory chemicals, which sets the stage for full-throttle disease down the road, in the form of autoimmune disease, heart disease, cancer, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, fibroid tumours, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, migraines and asthma.
Scientists first came to understand the relationship between early chronic stress and later adult disease through the work of a dedicated physician in San Diego and a determined epidemiologist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. Together, during the 1980s and ’90s – the years when Laura and John were growing up – these two researchers began a paradigm-shifting public-health investigation known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.
In 1985, Vincent J Felitti, chief of a revolutionary preventive care initiative at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care programme in San Diego, noticed a startling pattern in adult patients at an obesity clinic. A significant number were, with the support of Felitti and his nurses, successfully losing hundreds of pounds a year, a remarkable feat, only to withdraw from the programme despite weight-loss success. Felitti, determined to get to the bottom of the attrition rate, conducted face-to-face interviews with 286 patients. It turned out there was a common denominator. Many confided that they had suffered some sort of trauma, often sexual abuse, in their childhoods. To these patients, eating was a solution, not a problem: it soothed the anxiety and depression they had harboured for decades; their weight served as a shield against undesired attention, and they didn’t want to let it go.
Felitti’s interviews gave him a new way of looking at human health and well-being that other physicians just weren’t seeing. He presented his findings at a national obesity conference, arguing that ‘our intractable public health problems’ had root causes hidden ‘by shame, by secrecy, and by social taboos against exploring certain areas of life experience’. Felitti’s peers were quick to blast him. One even stood up in the audience and accused Felitti of offering ‘excuses’ for patients’ ‘failed lives’. Felitti, however, remained unfazed; he felt sure that he had stumbled upon a piece of information that would hold enormous import for the field of medicine.
After a colleague who attended that same conference suggested that he design a study with thousands of patients who suffered from a wide variety of diseases, not just obesity, Felitti joined forces with Robert Anda, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC who had, at the time, been researching the relationship between coronary heart disease and depression. Felitti and Anda took advantage of Kaiser Permanente’s vast patient cohort to set up a national epidemiology laboratory. Of the 26,000 patients they invited to take part in their study, more than 17,000 agreed
Anda and Felitti surveyed these 17,000 individuals on about 10 types of adversity, or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), probing into patients’ childhood and adolescent histories. Questions included: ‘Was a biological parent ever lost to you through divorce, abandonment or other reason?’; ‘Did a parent or other adult in the household often swear at you, insult you, put you down or humiliate you?’; and ‘Was a household member depressed or mentally ill?’ Other questions looked at types of family dysfunction that included growing up with a parent who was an alcoholic or addicted to other substances; being physically or emotionally neglected; being sexually or physically abused; witnessing domestic violence; having a family member who was sent to prison; feeling that there was no one to provide protection; and feeling that one’s family didn’t look out for each other. For each category to which a patient responded ‘yes’, one point would be added to her ACE score, so an ACE score of 2 would indicate that she had suffered two adverse childhood experiences.
To be clear, the patients Felitti and Anda surveyed were not troubled or disadvantaged; the average patient was 57, and three-quarters had attended college. These were ‘successful’ men and women, mostly white, middle-class, with stable jobs and health benefits. Felitti and Anda expected their number of ‘yes’ answers to be fairly low.
The correlation between having a difficult childhood and facing illness as an adult offered a whole new lens through which we could view human health and disease
When the results came in, Felitti and Anda were shocked: 64 per cent of participants answered ‘yes’ to having encountered at least one category of early adversity, and 87 per cent of those patients also had additional adverse childhood experiences; 40 per cent had suffered two or more ACEs; 12.5 per cent had an ACE score greater than or equal to 4.
Felitti and Anda wanted to find out whether there was a correlation between the number of adverse childhood experiences an individual had faced, and the number and severity of illnesses and disorders she developed as an adult. The correlation proved so powerful that Anda was not only ‘stunned’, but deeply moved.
‘I wept,’ he says. ‘I saw how much people had suffered, and I wept.’
Felitti, too, was deeply affected. ‘Our findings exceeded anything we had conceived. The correlation between having a difficult childhood and facing illness as an adult offered a whole new lens through which we could view human health and disease.’
Here, says Felitti, ‘was the missing piece as to what was causing so much of our unspoken suffering as human beings’.
The number of adverse childhood experiences a patient had suffered could by and large predict the amount of medical care she would require in adulthood: the higher the ACE score, the higher the number of doctor’s appointments she’d had in the past year, and the more unexplained physical symptoms she’d reported.
People with an ACE score of 4 were twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer than people who hadn’t faced any form of childhood adversity. For each point an individual had, her chance of being hospitalised with an autoimmune disease in adulthood rose 20 per cent. Someone with an ACE score of 4 was 460 per cent more likely to face depression than someone with a score of 0.
An ACE score of 6 or higher shortened an individual’s lifespan by almost 20 years.
Researchers wondered if those who encountered childhood adversity were also more likely to smoke, drink and overeat as a sort of coping strategy, and while that was sometimes the case, unhealthy habits didn’t wholly account for the correlation Felitti and Anda saw between adverse childhood experiences and later illness. For instance, those with ACE scores greater than or equal to 7 who didn’t drink or smoke, weren’t overweight or diabetic, and didn’t have high cholesterol still had a 360 per cent higher risk of heart disease than those with ACE scores of 0.
‘Time,’ says Felitti, ‘does not heal all wounds. One does not “just get over” something – not even 50 years later.’ Instead, he says: ‘Time conceals. And human beings convert traumatic emotional experiences in childhood into organic disease later in life.’
Often, these illnesses can be chronic and lifelong. Autoimmune disease. Heart disease. Chronic bowel disorders. Migraines. Persistent depression. Even today, doctors puzzle over these very conditions: why are they so prevalent; why are some patients more prone to them than others; and why are they so difficult to treat?
The more research that’s done, the more granular details emerge about the profound link between adverse experiences and adult disease. Scientists at Duke University in North Carolina, the University of California, San Francisco, and Brown University in Rhode Island have shown that childhood adversity damages us on a cellular level in ways that prematurely age our cells and affect our longevity. Adults who faced early life stress show greater erosion in what are known as telomeres – protective caps that sit on the ends of DNA strands to keep the DNA healthy and intact. As telomeres erode, we’re more likely to develop disease, and we age faster; as our telomeres age and expire, our cells expire and so, eventually, do we.
Researchers have also seen a correlation between specific types of adverse childhood experiences and a range of diseases. For instance, children whose parents die, or who face emotional or physical abuse, or experience childhood neglect, or witness marital discord between their parents are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, lung disease, diabetes, headaches, multiple sclerosis and lupus as adults. Facing difficult circumstances in childhood increases six-fold your chances of having myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome or CFIDS) as an adult. Kids who lose a parent have triple the risk of depression in their lifetimes. Children whose parents divorce are twice as likely to suffer a stroke later down the line.
Laura and John’s stories illustrate that the past can tick away inside us for decades like a silent time bomb, until it sets off a cellular message that lets us know the body does not forget its history.
Something that happened to you when you were five or 15 can land you in the hospital 30 years later
John’s ACE score would be a 3: a parent often put him down; he witnessed his mother being harmed; and, clearly, his father suffered from an undiagnosed behaviour health disorder, perhaps narcissism or depression, or both.
Laura had an ACE score of 4.
Laura and John are hardly alone. Two-thirds of American adults are carrying wounds from childhood quietly into adulthood, with little or no idea of the extent to which these wounds affect their daily health and wellbeing. Something that happened to you when you were five or 15 can land you in the hospital 30 years later, whether that something was headline news, or happened quietly, without anyone else knowing it, in the living room of your childhood home.
The adversity a child faces doesn’t have to be severe abuse in order to create deep biophysical changes that can lead to chronic health conditions in adulthood.
‘Our findings showed that the 10 different types of adversity we examined were almost equal in their damage,’ says Felitti. He and Anda found that no single ACE significantly trumped another. This was true even though some types, such as being sexually abused, are far worse in that society regards them as particularly shameful, and others, such as physical abuse, are more overt in their violence.
This makes sense if you think about how the stress response functions on an optimal level. You meet a bear in the woods, and your body floods with adrenaline and cortisol so that you can quickly decide whether to run in the opposite direction or stay and try to frighten the bear. After you deal with the crisis, you recover, your stress hormones abate, and you go home with a great story. For Laura and John, though, that feeling that the bear is still out there, somewhere, circling in the woods, stalking, and might strike again any day, anytime – that feeling never disappears.
There are a lot of bears out there. Chronic parental discord; enduring low-dose humiliation or blame and shame; chronic teasing; the quiet divorce between two secretly seething parents; a parent’s premature exit from a child’s life; the emotional scars of growing up with a hypercritical, unsteady, narcissistic, bipolar, alcoholic, addicted or depressed parent; physical or emotional abuse or neglect: these happen in all too many families. Although the details of individual adverse experiences differ from one home to another and from one neighbourhood to another, they are all precursors to the same organic chemical changes deep in the gray matter of the developing brain.
Every few decades, a groundbreaking psychosocial ‘theory of everything’ helps us to develop a new understanding of why we are the way we are – and how we got that way. In the early 20th century, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud transformed the landscape of psychology when he argued that the unconscious rules much of our waking life and dreams. Jungian theory taught, among other ideas, that we tend toward introversion or extroversion, which led the American educationalist Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers to develop a personality indicator. More recently, neuroscientists discovered that age ‘zero to three’ was a critical synaptic window for brain development, giving birth to Head Start and other preschool programmes. The correlation between childhood trauma, brain architecture and adult wellbeing is the newest, and perhaps our most important, psychobiological theory of everything.
Today’s research on adverse childhood experiences revolutionises how we see ourselves, our understanding of how we came to be the way we are, why we love the way we do, how we can better nurture our children, and how we can work to realise our potential.
To date, more than 1,500 studies founded on Felitti and Anda’s hallmark ACE research show that both physical and emotional suffering are rooted in the complex workings of the immune system, the body’s master operating control centre – and what happens to the brain during childhood sets the programming for how our immune systems will respond for the rest of our lives.
The unifying principle of this new theory of everything is this: your emotional biography becomes your physical biology, and together, they write much of the script for how you will live your life. Put another way: your early stories script your biology and your biology scripts the way your life will play out.
Unlike previous theories of everything, though, this one has been mind-bogglingly slow to change how we do medicine, according to Felitti. ‘Very few internists or medical schools are interested in embracing the added responsibility that this understanding imposes on them.’
With the ACE research now available, we might hope that physicians will begin to see patients as a holistic sum of their experiences and embrace the understanding that a stressor from long ago can be a health-risk time bomb that has exploded. Such a medical paradigm, which sees adverse childhood experiences as one of many key factors that can play a role in disease, could save many patients years in the healing process.
But seeing that connection takes a little time. It means asking patients to fill out the ACE questionnaire and delving into that patient’s history for insight into sources of both physical and emotional pain. As health-care budgets have become stretched, physicians spend less time interacting one-on-one with patients in their exam rooms; the average physician schedules patients back-to-back at 15-minute intervals.
Still, the cost of not intervening is far greater – not only in the loss of human health and wellbeing, but also in additional healthcare. According to the CDC, the total lifetime cost of child maltreatment in the US is $124 billion each year. The lifetime healthcare cost for each individual who experiences childhood maltreatment is estimated at $210,012 – comparable to other costly health conditions, such as having a stroke, which has a lifetime estimated cost of $159,846 per person, or type-2 diabetes, which is estimated to cost between $181,000 and $253,000.
Further hindering change is the fact that adult physical medicine and psychological medicine remain in separate silos. Utilising ACE research requires breaking down these long-standing divisions in healthcare between what is ‘physical’ and what is ‘mental’ or ‘emotional,’ and that’s hard to achieve. Physicians have been well-trained to deal only with what they can touch with their hands, see with their eyes, or view with microscopes or scans.
Just as physical wounds and bruises heal, just as we can regain our muscle tone, we can recover function in underconnected areas of the brain
However, now that we have scientific evidence that the brain is genetically modified by childhood experience, we can no longer draw that line in the sand. With hundreds of studies showing that childhood adversity hurts our mental and physical health, putting us at greater risk for learning disorders, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, depression, obesity, suicide, substance abuse, failed relationships, violence, poor parenting and early death, we just can’t afford to make such distinctions.
Science tells us that biology does not have to be destiny. ACEs can last a lifetime, but they don’t have to. Just as physical wounds and bruises heal, just as we can regain our muscle tone, we can recover function in underconnected areas of the brain. If anything, that’s the most important take-away from ACE research: the brain and body are never static; they are always in the process of becoming and changing.
Even if we have been set on high-reactive mode for decades or a lifetime, we can still dial it down. We can respond to life’s inevitable stressors more appropriately and shift away from an overactive inflammatory response. We can become neurobiologically resilient. We can turn bad epigenetics into good epigenetics and rescue ourselves. We have the capacity, within ourselves, to create better health. We might call this brave undertaking ‘the neurobiology of awakening’.
Today, scientists recognise a range of promising approaches to help create new neurons (known as neurogenesis), make new synaptic connections between those neurons (known as synaptogenesis), promote new patterns of thoughts and reactions, bring underconnected areas of the brain back online – and reset our stress response so that we decrease the inflammation that makes us ill.
You can find ways to start right where you are, no matter how deep your scars or how long ago they occurred. Many mind-body therapies not only help you to calm your thoughts and increase your emotional and physical wellbeing, but research suggests that they have the potential to reverse, on a biological level, the harmful impact of childhood adversity.
Recent studies indicate that individuals who practice mindfulness meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) show an increase in gray matter in parts of the brain associated with managing stress, and experience shifts in genes that regulate their stress response and their levels of inflammatory hormones. Other research suggests that a process known as neurofeedback can help to regrow connections in the brain that were lost to adverse childhood experiences.
Meditation, mindfulness, neurofeedback, cognitive therapy, EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) therapy: these promising new avenues to healing can be part of any patient’s recovery plan, if only healthcare practitioners would begin to treat the whole patient – past, present and future, without making distinctions between physical and mental health – and encourage patients to explore all the treatment options available to them. The more we learn about the toxic impact of early stress, the better equipped we are to counter its effects, and help to uncover new strategies and modalities to come back to who it is we really are, and who it was we might have been had we not encountered childhood adversity in the first place.
This is an adapted and reprinted extract from ‘Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal’ (Atria), by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. Copyright © Donna Jackson Nakazawa, 2015.
Labels: abuse, ACONs, adrenal fatigue, adult children of narcissists, autoimmune, brain development, CFIDS, emotionally abusive mothers, fibromyalgia, illness, migraine, ptsd, toxic parents, trauma, unhealthy, woundedness