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RESOURCE PERSPECTIVES: Psychopaths, victims and therapy

Editor’s note: Resource Perspectives features articles written by members of Lovefraud’s Professional Resources Guide.

Sarah Strudwick, based in the UK, is author of Dark Souls—Healing and recovering from toxic relationships.

Re-traumatising and PTSD
(Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

By Sarah Strudwick

Sarah Strudwick profile in the Lovefraud Professional Resources Guide

Everyone always writes about the positive aspects of coming out of a relationship with a psychopathic personality. You read things about how as a result of being in such a toxic relationship, it empowers you and teaches you how to recognise and spot predators. If you have never learnt how to have boundaries in the past, you learn how to have them. You learn about healthy self-respect and self-love, and most people decide, if they have had proper counseling, that they will never come have this type of relationship again.

When it comes to future dating, if you have never been able to spot the warning signs of what could be a relationship based on power and control, you learn those, too. That way you never enter relationships that are likely to harm you again.

There are many, many positives that come out of the relationship with the narcissist or the psychopath, but what is the downside of having had a relationship with a psychopath? And do people really understand how the relationship has affected its victims?

Triggers

Few therapists really understand what goes on with a psychopathic personality and the damage they can do to their victims. Chances are, the abuser will often turn the tables on the victim and try to blame them. Sometimes they might even tell the therapist that the victim is crazy, and being such charming, convincing characters, it’s not long before the therapist is on the narcissist’s side, questioning the sanity of the victim.

Most victims of psychopathic personalities suffer from PTSD long after the event. It takes many forms, and it needs a very understanding therapist to understand exactly what is going on, and to not judge the victim for being triggered. It could be something as small as a smell that triggers them, or the fact that they bump into someone in the street who looks like their abuser. If a victim has had a history of attracting abusive types throughout his or her life, then the victim may start to develop the “girl/boy who cried wolf” syndrome, whereby if they want to tell the therapist something, they feel the therapist won’t believe them. Perhaps the therapist may appear to be disinterested in what the victim is telling them. They will say things like, “Well you should be happy, after all, think of all the positives.” “You have a nice job now, things are going good aren’t they?” “Think how lucky you are to be rid of (fill in the blank).”

A small trigger like the above is fairly easy for the victim to deal with. But what happens if something more serious happens within a few years of leaving a psychopath? Say, for example, you are put in a situation where you meet another psychopath who threatens your safety. This is challenging enough for anyone who has never even been in relationship with one, but its even more challenging when you have already had a relationship with one. Victims are often left hypervigilant, and know exactly how to spot abusers far better than they did before. So when another abusers slips through their radar, the victims will immediately blame themselves, and say things like, “Why didn’t I spot them?” “Why didn’t I see it coming?”

Why? Because the person doing it is a psychopath, and they can trick and con anyone. Even with the best tools, experts get conned by these people day in day out.  My friend is an “expert” on psychopathic personalities, and yet she still got caught out again by these insidious individuals. The therapist, on the other hand, may just pooh pooh it, and think it’s just another trigger.

My friend’s experience

Most recently a friend contacted me who was unfortunate to have had a run-in with another psychopath after her relationship with the previous psychopath had ended. It had been more than two years, so she was already well on her way to being completely healed.

What happened was pretty disgusting and would have been enough to upset any normally stable person, but this particular situation sent my friend into a tailspin. The therapist, not recognising that she had PTSD from her previous encounter that was re-triggered by this new event with a different psychopathic person, decided to prescribe her antidepressants. As a result of her interactions with the therapist, when she eventually went back for counseling she decided to tell the therapist she was okay and that nothing was wrong.

Nothing could be further from the truth. But what happens is that victims may start to feel like there is no point in even telling their therapist anything, because they just don’t get it. The therapist may put the victims reaction down to being “hypersensitive” or “reactionary.”

To change or not to change

I have been in a similar situation myself and it puts the target in a difficult situation. They don’t want to go and see another therapist, because the new therapist will ask why the victim has left the previous therapist. If they do find someone else it, then means churning everything all over again from the past that isn’t necessary, and that the victim doesn’t particularly want to talk about, thus reinforcing any old traumas that may well have been dealt with. The therapist may blame it on the victim’s old pattern, and not even understand that this is a “brand new trauma” with a “brand new psychopath,” complicated by the fact that they are also dealing with re-traumatising and probably a bit of PTSD thrown in for good measure.

(Notice I use the term target, as pyschopaths will target both people who have been victims of psychopaths and those who have never had the misfortune of meeting them.)

Options

As a result, the target feels helpless and victimised again, and although, like any normal person, they may wish to seek help because of their previous experiences, they are left with a couple of options.

1) Sharing their experiences with people who have been through the same, i.e., other victims/targets. This can be okay, but sometimes this can prolong the healing, especially if they go on forums where the victims actually enjoy being stuck in victim mode and then they have to churn up all the old stuff again, which they don’t want to do.

2) Sharing their experiences with friends and family, most of whom do not understand at all and really don’t want to hear it all again, least of all that the victim may have met another psycho.

3) Internalising it and trying to figure out for themselves why they are being re-traumatised again, and dealing with it the best way they can.

The third option is okay IF they have done enough healing and had a good therapist in the first place. But what if the therapy they got in the first place wasn’t enough? The victim is back to square one, and may have to start their healing all over again.

Getting it

My hope is that one day, therapists really start to understand what it feels like to be in a relationship with a psychopath, and not just to lecture their clients about what victims should and shouldn’t do. Most therapists may have had a few run-ins with the odd narcissist, which although unpleasant enough in itself, compared to the psychopath is pretty easy to spot and a walk in the park to some degree. However few, if any, therapists have ever had to deal with a true psychopathic malignant narcissist.

Having had more than a few run-ins with psychopaths, when I wrote Dark Souls it took me many months after thinking I was completely healed to realise that PTSD was what was keeping me stuck, and not that I was some kind of psycho attractor. A colleague finally reminded me that the only types of people who are likely to read a book like mine are those who have been victims, or those who are psychopaths thinking they are buying a book that will teach some new tricks.  Sadly for them, my book is to empower victims of psychopaths, not the other way around.

The general public is not aware of psychopathic behaviour. Very few therapists, on the other hand, understand psychopathic behaviour at all ,unless they have worked directly with them, or been on the receiving end of one of their scams.

There is no quick fix when it comes to getting over a psychopath and you will only heal as quickly as you allow yourself to. The good news is that therapy works for neurotics who have been victimised by these people, so by seeking therapy you are on the first step to recovery.  My advice to anyone seeking help, if they have been with someone they know to be a psychopath, is to make sure you seek someone that understands their disordered personalities and has dealt with victims of psychopaths, sociopaths or narcissists, or you could be in for a long bumpy ride.

 



170 Comments on "RESOURCE PERSPECTIVES: Psychopaths, victims and therapy"

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  1. slimone says:

    One step/joy and Hens,

    Thanks for the acknowledgement. I never post…mostly cause I am too critical of my own thoughts and input. But I am here at least a few times a week…

    Though my life has stabilized and for the most part turned ‘happy’, I am ever aware of my experiences at the hands of psychopaths. I still get triggered by people with disordered tendencies. I am never far, in thought, from my experiences with the Infinitely Fucked Up. I continue to be ‘vigilant’. But I am no longer scared at every turn.

    And I am, in the weirdest of ways, grateful for the knowledge that has finally become real for me. Grateful not being in the dark about what is REAL. Grateful that I am no longer laboring under the illusion that all of us have an equal chance at self-actualization. But instead, that some of us are inherently disadvantaged. Some of us will never live authentic lives.

    And I don’t have to invite those people who cannot be authentic to share in my life. I can say no. And mean it. FI-NAL-LY. On the other side of the coin I have come to terms with the idea that I can be manipulated, brainwashed, and played like an out of tune piano, by someone who is a master at the game of deception. Both things are true. This helps me remember to stay in tune with my own feelings, intuition, response to others’. This blog, and all of you, are part of my fine tuning.

    I applaud everyone here who is going through the steps to fully grasp the truth of their existence, their frailties, their ‘old’ belief systems; outdated role playing which no longer serves them.



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  2. forgivemyself says:

    Nolarn2bcop:

    This link helped me to understand what the dynamics were in my relationship with my parents. It put words to my feelings.

    http://daughtersofnarcissisticmothers.com/daughters-of-narcissistic-mothers.html



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  3. darwinsmom says:

    I had my first therapy session – intake interview – today with the therapist I worked on my ID crisis 12 years ago. I last saw her on 2 conversations after my break up with Inspiring Soul, months after actually the whole depression period then, and so I was back on my feet again after that.

    She’s a psychiatrist specialised in therapy, and during the ID group therapy I had as a 20 something, the group included victims of incest and such. So, there was a good chance that she would have experience with aftermath issues from relationships with spaths and psychos.

    I told her that I recognized I could not diagnoze someone, but that at least my ex checked in on every psychopathic trait. She let me tell my story about the relationship, and for herself asked after examples of typical issues: crime, fighting… and when she heard it also included infidelity she said, “ah that too as well.”

    She wanted to know how I met him, and she totally got the switch from my initial “no, he’s a bad boy” to “oh, the poor guy, he’s just clumsy with a golden heart.” When I told her, “Was it just me reading into it, or did he actively faked it… but suddenly..” and she said… “looked at you with puppy eyes.” She nodded with a smile when I used the term “targeted” me, instead of the more romantic “pursued”.

    At the end, she said… “So, from what I gather, you escaped a nigthmare before it could have become that.” She even specifically mentioned I was lucky I had no child by him, and she even specified she didn’t just think I was lucky of not ending up being a single mom, but that I would otherwise have damocles’ sword hanging above my head wondering what may have been passed on by the father.

    She felt too that the damage done is more on the surface, that he was unable to totally warp my mind, and that the illusions were already being demolished by myself for a while, but I had not yet been ready to believe the truth.

    I told her that indeed I had once had looked at the psychopathic trait list, while in doubt about continuing the relationship a year ago, but that I then could not yet identify lack of empathy to him. And she said, “They are very good at faking that.”

    So, though she never used the term herself, because she cannot clinically do so herself without him being there, she knows the specific traits, the behaviour, what it does to their victims, and how they do it, and made clear that she believes my assessment of him.

    I have a new appointment in another 2 weeks. She specifically asked me whether I was angry at times (I used to have a lot of problems at allowing myself to be angry, to allow myself the recognition that I had been a victim). And I told her, oh gosh, I’m filled with utter rage at times, but it’s incredibly hard to express it, cause the best thing is to give him nothing. If I were to express my rage to him, it would only feed him. She suggested to write a mail full of anger and bile as if I were saying it to him, but not to send it. But somehow that trick does not seem to work for me. I need to physically and vocally express it to someone who can read, hear or see it.

    But, yeah, I’m pleased to know that the therapist I worked so well with in the past is a capable woman on this subject.



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  4. Darwinsmom –

    It sounds like you found a therapist who understands. That’s terrific. Perhaps after you work with her a bit longer, if you find she is helpful, you could recommend her to the Lovefraud Resources Guide.

    http://www.lovefraud.com/resourcesguide/Professional_Services_referral.html

    About the anger – you are right in that anger needs to be physically released, although I found that it doesn’t need to be released to the person who caused the pain. I wrote about this awhile back – maybe it will help you.

    http://www.lovefraud.com/blog/2007/02/18/releasing-the-pain-inflicted-by-a-sociopath/



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  5. one/joy_step_at_a_time says:

    Slim – just saw your above post. It sounds like you have managed to ‘contain’ your experience and are able to function in the world; and are still working on the integration of the fact of evil and your potential to be prey to it. The little you said, sounds really positive.

    ‘cept the i don’t post because i ‘mostly cause I am too critical of my own thoughts and input.’ i would hazard a guess that most of us are critical of ourselves in this way. it is hard to feel safe inside our own heads and in this forum, after what was done to us. But i would encourage you to post more often – as a way of becoming less critical of your thoughts and input…and it would be nice to see you around again!

    best, one step



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  6. darwinsmom says:

    I will ask her whether she would mind or like that when we’ve progressed to at least mid-term of the therapy (I don’t know how long she projects the trajectory yet)… She seems to indicate that it will be more than just 2 sessions like 10 years ago, but also mentioned that I came across as strong and not damaged in that center chore of mysef… not as ID-lost as I was 12 years ago. She probably will do several sessions with me, every 2 weeks to help me deal with the emotions.

    Do know that she’s a Belgian therapist… but then spaths are an international problem



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  7. superkid10 says:

    skylar

    I just saw your post now about needing a database rather than a list to organize behaviors. I think you are right. Everything here is on a spectrum, and they’re not clear cut.

    superkid



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  8. DUPED_IN_SOCAL says:

    Such a BLINDING LACK OF REMORSE!
    I think that is one of the very telling aspects of dealing with an sp. I thought about that, this morning. Absolutely NO sense of remorse or attempts at anything by them. They just do what they do and then they are finished with you. Period. I got a foot-stomping “I am sorry” which was more another slap in the face than not.

    When a relationship, any relationship, turns so toxic, the only salvation is saving ourselves from it. I mean, it’s not like THEY are ever going to change. “GET A CLUE; GET A LIFE”. Yep, that’s right. Only thing is: “I” have a life and always have had a life where “IT” hasn’t. It lurks from victim to victim sucking souls and not really caring but actually finding it ‘amusing’ so see how he can work people.

    You know, until I met “IT”, I did not believe that such evilness actually exists in the world. Truly. I have seen it and experienced it for myself, first handed and I am here to say it does.

    Have a great evening everyone.

    DUPED



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