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Leaving abusive relationships is especially hard for people in minority communities

Leaving abusive relationships is especially hard for people in minority communities

Amber AultBy Amber Ault, Ph.D., MSW

Partners in abusive relationships — with psychopaths, narcissists, and other disordered individuals — often suffer in silence. This is especially true in marginalized communities.

Partners’ silence reinforces their isolation and reduces their capacity to end abuse and exploitation in these relationships.

What stops a partner from seeking help? Among the barriers to reaching out for a reality check — and support for leaving — are these common factors:

Shame. Partners worry that their association with a toxic person reflects poorly on them, and that others will judge them if they know about the abuse they are tolerating. If they’ve left and returned, the shame feels greater. Partners also often want to protect the “good reputation” of their toxic mate or the status the couple enjoys within a family or community. If friends or family opposed coupling with the toxic person, the partner faces the shame of acknowledging the decision to ignore good advice, and feels unworthy of support now.

Fear. Partners of personality disordered people experience many kinds of fear as they contemplate seeking help. Fears range from the fear of retribution or stonewalling by the partner to the fear of being seen as crazy when they describe what is happening. They sometimes fear that they cannot trust their own perceptions, or that they aren’t really seeing what they think they are seeing.

Hopelessness. Partners may trust their perceptions that a relationship is toxic, and believe that others would sympathize with their situation, but still feel trapped by financial, cultural, and familial limitations. As a result, they continue to suffer in silence, assuming that nowhere they turn will offer practical help in ending an exploitive relationship.

These three limitations affect partners of psychopaths and others with toxic personalities across categories of gender, sexual identity, race, religion and relationship status. For members of minority groups, barriers to seeking help are even greater.

Because members of marginalized groups are already stigmatized by society, they often work to “protect the reputation” of their communities, thinking that calling attention to dysfunction or violence within them reinforces negative stereotypes. For this reason, domestic violence and sexual assault are frequently under-reported within communities of color, religious minority groups, and LGBTQ communities.

In addition to the common forms of shame, fear, and helplessness that many victims feel, members of minority communities also experience fear that others will judge them for calling negative attention to the community.

They also fear that the legal system will not protect them as it should. Because people from majority groups dominate criminal justice, legal, property, and financial systems, turning to people in authority to seek help with a toxic relationship is an extremely courageous and vulnerable act. But it could result in the system being unresponsive or shaming — or actually siding with the perpetrator.

In a worst case scenario, a victim could alienate friends, family, and community members by naming the problem and seeking help, only to find themselves treated poorly by the systems to which they have turned, resulting in more isolation and danger than if they had remained silent.

A famous example of how minority status increases vulnerability to psychopaths occurred in the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous Milwaukee serial killer of gay men.

Dahmer was white. Many of his victims were poor men of color, men whose “missing” status would be less a priority to for white authorities to resolve. One of them, a 14-year-old Southeast Asian boy, Konerak Sinthasamphone, escaped Dahmer’s apartment, drugged, naked, and bleeding. African American witnesses called the police asking for assistance on his behalf. White officers responded, only to return the minor to Dahmer, who had assured them that the two were a couple and everything was fine, despite the victim’s obvious distress. Within moments of the police leaving the boy in Dahmer’s apartment, he was killed — a victim not only of the psychopath, but also of police ignorance, incompetence, and hostility toward minority people.

Aware of situations like these, victims from minority communities often seek help only with great caution, both when they face “stranger danger,” harassment, and hate crimes, and when they are victimized by intimate partners or family members. It is vital for people in the helping professions to be prepared to respond skillfully when people from minority populations take the risk of seeking help.

Police officers, lawyers, doctors, therapists, and clergy need an awareness of the patterns of victimization created by psychopaths and other troublesome people, as well as the special vulnerabilities of people in minority populations to exploitation and abuse. When victims of toxic partners decide to reach out for help, we have a professional obligation to understand not only psychopathic abuse, but also what it means for a person in a minority community to come forward, to seek help, and, possibly, to exit their relationship.

Minority victims of toxic partners, like all victims, deserve to know that competent help is available when they take the important step to seek help, despite the barriers of shame, fear, and hopelessness.

Biography

A sociologist and psychotherapist with a coaching and training practice based in Madison, Wisconsin, Amber Ault has taught in the School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On October 10, 2016, she will present a coure for Lovefraud Continuing Education called, “Helping Lesbians Leave Crazy-making Relationships: Addressing Barriers to Treatment and Delivering Effective Support.”

Dr. Ault is author of “The Five Step Exit: Skills You Need to Leave a Narcissist, Psychopath, or Other Toxic Partner and Recover Your Happiness Now,” and “The Wise Lesbian Guide to Getting Free from Crazy-making Relationships.”

 

 

 

Leaving abusive relationships is especially hard for lesbians — what therapists need to know

Leaving abusive relationships is especially hard for lesbians — what therapists need to know

Due to shame, fear and hopelessness, anyone caught in an abusive relationship finds it difficult to leave. But for lesbians, who already feel stigmatized, the barriers to seeking help are even greater.

“Therapists may hold stereotypes that intimate partner violence doesn’t occur in same-sex relationships between women, or that in the absence of physical violence, same-sex relationships do not include cycles of abuse,” says Dr. Amber Ault, a clinical sociologist and psychotherapist based in Madison, Wisconsin. “Women in same-sex relationships often hold the same beliefs.”

Plus, lesbians often worry about protecting the reputation of their community — calling attention to dysfunction or violence may reinforce negative stereotypes. They fear that the legal system, dominated by majority groups, will not protect them. They’re afraid to alienate friends, family and community members, resulting in more isolation and danger than if they had remained silent.

“Emotionally abusive relationships in queer communities continue to be very low-profile for a host of social and psychological reasons,” says Dr. Ault. “And in the excitement about the legalization of same-sex marriage in the US, it may be more difficult than ever for members of our communities to seek help.”

Dr. Ault believes that those in the helping professions — police, lawyers, doctors, therapists and clergy — need to be aware of the patterns of victimization created by narcissists, psychopaths and other disordered individuals, and the ways that being in same-sex or queer relationships and communities changes the experience.

“When victims of toxic partners decide to reach out for help, we have a professional obligation to understand not only the abusive strategies of people with personality disorders, but also what it means for a person in a minority community to come forward, to seek help, and, possibly, to exit their relationship,” she says.

Dr. Ault is presenting an online webinar to help professionals meet this obligation.

Helping Lesbians Leave Crazy-making Relationships: Addressing Barriers to Treatment and Delivering Effective Support

October 10, 2016 • 12 -2 pm EDT
Lovefraud Continuing Education
More information

Dr. Ault is author of “The Five Step Exit: Skills You Need to Leave a Narcissist, Psychopath, or Other Toxic Partner and Recover Your Happiness Now,” and “The Wise Lesbian Guide to Getting Free from Crazy-making Relationships.” She works with clients across the US and internationally to help them make sense of toxic relationship dynamics and to move into lives that are happy, abundant, and joyful.

“Minority victims of toxic partners, like all victims, deserve to know that competent help is available when they take the important step to seek help, despite the barriers of shame, fear, and hopelessness.” she says.

 

By September 14, 2016 0 Comments Read More →
Helping children overcome genetic risk for externalizing disorders

Helping children overcome genetic risk for externalizing disorders

 

Liane_SSSP_crop copyBy Liane J. Leedom, M.D.

Imagine loving someone, having children with that person, and then realizing that you’ve gotten yourself involved in an abusive relationship.

Imagine suspecting that your partner, the mother or father of your children, has a personality disorder — and then hearing that personality disorders are highly genetic.

If you’re a therapist, imagine this person is your client. What do you do?

I believe we can and should intervene in the lives of children who are at risk of developing externalizing disorders, such as ADHD, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and substance use disorders. If we do, we may be able to prevent these children from developing personality disorders as adults.

When we study large numbers of people affected by externalizing disorders, and personality disorders in particular, we see that about 50 percent of the risk for these disorders is genetic. That means the environment children grow up in, including their interactions with parents, siblings and peers, also strongly influences the development of disorder.

With the right environmental influences, the genetic risk may be mitigated. Most programs to support victims of partner abuse do not address the issue of genetic risk. If we start early, and if we put a little energy into helping children, both the child and the family can be spared a lot of anguish due to emotional and behavioral problems later on.

By and large, programs that teach parenting skills are good. But for this particular group of children, parenting approaches that emphasize rules, consequences and discipline, may not be the most effective.

Research is finding that internalizing disorders, such as anxiety and depression, relate to the inhibition system of the brain, whereas externalizing disorders relate to the dopamine reward system.

What we want to do with this group of children is to train their brain reward system to respond to positive rewards — most importantly a loving family and affection. It’s very difficult to train a child to respond to affection in a good way when you’re punishing the child every five minutes for something the child is doing.

Still, love is not enough. We also have to train the child to enjoy doing things that are productive, like work — because life involves work — and hobbies, such as music and sports.

I advocate a two-pronged approach, although one of the prongs of my approach has not been thoroughly researched.

I believe in teaching the parents and the children — in developmentally appropriate language — what genetic risk is about. In the case of externalizing disorders, it involves difficulty with self-control. I think it’s important to teach children, when they show problems with self-control, to identify their issue, and to help them understand that it’s something they can work on.

This teaching has not been well researched, but it is similar to cognitive behavioral therapies that are used for children.

The other part of my approach is teaching parents to interact with their children in a positive way, and to enjoy their children. Now, I understand that this can be difficult when the children have issues with self-control. But we’re focusing on training that reward system, and if there’s no enjoyment, you cannot train the reward system.

I will explain this intervention approach in a four-part series of online webinars beginning Sept. 14, 2016:

Overcoming Children’s Genetic Risk for Externalizing Disorders

  • Part 1: Externalizing disorders of childhood and adulthood, including ADHD, conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy
  • Part 2: What genetic research says about behavior and the risk of developing externalizing disorders
  • Part 3: How the environment, including parenting, siblings and peers, affects the development of externalizing disorders in children
  • Part 4: Brain systems, social learning, and using the Inner Triangle to immunize children against externalizing disorders

For more information, visit Lovefraud Continuing Education.

Of course, sometimes the genes express themselves so strongly that no amount of loving parenting can overcome the genetic risk. But if we try, we may be able to save many children from a lifetime of disorder and antisocial behavior. I think the effort is worth it.

Biography:

Liane J. Leedom, M.D., is a psychiatrist and an associate professor of counseling and psychology at the University of Bridgeport. She is author of Just Like His Father? A Guide to Overcoming Your Child’s Genetic Connection to Antisocial Behavior, Addiction and ADHD, and Women Who Love Psychopaths: Investigating the Relationships of Inevitable Harm. She is also author of multiple peer-reviewed studies, including The Problem of Parental Psychopathy, and Did He Ever Love Me? A Qualitative Study of Life with a Psychopathic Husband.