Mar 02

Toxic People, Says Author, “Idealize, Devalue, Discard”

And despite some differences between each disorder, the bottom line is that their relationship cycles can be predicted like clockwork: Idealize, Devalue, Discard. Jackson MacKenzie, Psychopath Free (Expanded Edition): Recovering from Emotionally Abusive Relationships With Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other Toxic People

Author Jackson MacKenzie‘s expanded edition of Psychopath Free: Recovering from Emotionally Abusive Relationships With Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other Toxic People was published in 2015. He wants you to know that if you’re willing to take a look at how and why you’ve been intimately connected with any of these types of victimizers, there’s hope. He’s, in fact, survived it himself.

From an excerpt on the book’s Amazon page, the following are “30 Red Flags” to help you recognize whether you’ve been overly involved with a toxic individual. Click on the link for detailed explanations.

• Gaslighting and crazy-making.
• Cannot put themselves in your shoes, or anyone else’s, for that matter.
• The ultimate hypocrite. 
• Pathological lying and excuses.
• Focuses on your mistakes and ignores their own.
• You find yourself explaining the basic elements of human respect to a full-grown man or woman.
• Selfishness and a crippling thirst for attention.
• Accuses you of feeling emotions that they are intentionally provoking.
• You find yourself playing detective.
• You are the only one who sees their true colors.
• You fear that any fight could be your last.
• Slowly and steadily erodes your boundaries.
• They withhold attention and undermine your self-esteem.
• They expect you to read their mind.
• You feel on edge around this person, but you still want them to like you.
• An unusual number of “crazy” people in their past.
• Provokes jealousy and rivalries while maintaining their cover of innocence.
• Idealization, love-bombing, and flattery.
• Compares you to everyone else in their life.
• The qualities they once claimed to admire about you suddenly become glaring faults.
• Cracks in their mask.
• Easily bored.
• Triangulation.
• Covert abuse.
• Pity plays and sympathy stories.
• The mean and sweet cycle.
• This person becomes your entire life. 
• Arrogance.
• Backstabbing gossip that changes on a whim.
• Your feelings (are becoming increasingly uncomfortable)

Pertinent Quotes from Psychopath Free:

Everyone messes up every now and then, but psychopaths recite excuses more often than they actually follow through with promises. Their actions never match up with their words. You are disappointed so frequently that you feel relieved when they do something decent—they condition you to become grateful for the mediocre.

No matter how much they screw up, they will always pass off their pathetic behavior as comedy—a mask to minimize their failures.

In normal relationships, flaws are flaws and strengths are strengths. In a psychopathic relationship, their strengths are fake and your flaws are manufactured.

Like sandpaper, the psychopath will wear away at your self-esteem through a calculated mean-and-sweet cycle. Slowly, your standards will fall so low that you become grateful for the utterly mediocre. Like a frog in boiling water, you won’t even realize what happened until it’s far too late. Your friends and family will wonder what happened to the man or woman who used to be so strong & energetic.

Unlike any other mental disorder, psychopaths are keenly aware of the impact that their behavior has on others. That’s half the fun for them—watching you suffer. They pick up on insecurities and vulnerabilities in a heartbeat, and then make the conscious choice to exploit those qualities. They know right from wrong, and simply choose to steamroll straight through it.

Dec 05

Psychological Abuse and Coercion in Relationships

Just because Trump won, that doesn’t validate the actions of controlling or abusive partners. Rather, it is an opportunity to learn about coercion from his public behavior that makes up psychological manipulation, and why we need to see such behavior as unacceptable or even outlaw it, as has been done in the United Kingdom. Carol A. Lambert, Psychology Today, “Trump and Coercive Persuasion”

Therapist Carol Lambert, an expert in intimate partner abuse, is the author of the new book Women with Controlling Partners: Taking Back Your Life from a Manipulative or Abusive Partner. From the official introduction:

Research shows that psychological abuse affects women’s overall well-being more than physical abuse, is a bigger contributor to inducing fear, and can be a precursor to violence. To make matters worse, having a controlling partner often results in hidden injuries like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, trauma, and low self-efficacy—feeling like you can’t make a difference in your life.

As she writes in another Psychology Today post, incidents are alarmingly common: “According to a study by the Center for Disease Control, nearly half of all women in the U.S. (48.4 percent) have experienced at least one form of psychological aggression by an intimate partner during their lifetime.”

Examples of psychological abuse include the following, per Lambert:

  • demeaning put downs that are meant to humiliate and shame such as being told, “You’re worthless” or “You’re crazy”
  • ridiculing personal traits such as attacking a person’s appearance or personality style
  • intimidating gestures
  • ignoring
  • controlling behavior that causes isolation from family and friends
  • intensely blaming when things go wrong
  • intentionally doing or saying things even publicly that cause embarrassment
  • withholding important information to undermine someone

Women, of course, aren’t the exclusive victims of psychological abuse—men can be controlled too. Moreover, this type of abuse occurs within gay and lesbian couples as well as heterosexual. Andrea Bonior, PhD, has listed 20 signs of controlling partner behavior (Psychology Today). Click on the link for details (and of course there’s overlap with the above-cited article):

  1. Isolating you from friends and family
  2. Chronic criticism—even if it’s “small” things
  3. Veiled or overt threats, against you or them
  4. Making acceptance/caring/attraction conditional
  5. An overactive scorecard
  6. Using guilt as a tool
  7. Creating a debt you’re beholden to
  8. Spying, snooping, or requiring constant disclosure
  9. Overactive jealousy, accusations, or paranoia
  10. Not respecting your need for time alone
  11. Making you “earn” trust or other good treatment
  12. Presuming you guilty until proven innocent
  13. Getting you so tired of arguing that you’ll relent
  14. Making you feel belittled for long-held beliefs
  15. Making you feel you don’t “measure up” or are unworthy of them
  16. Teasing or ridicule that has an uncomfortable undercurrent
  17. Sexual interactions that feel upsetting afterwards
  18. Inability or unwillingness to ever hear your point of view
  19. Pressuring you toward unhealthy behaviors, like substance abuse
  20. Thwarting your professional or educational goals by making you doubt yourself

The first step in getting help is recognizing it’s happening to you. Books such as Lambert’s as well as individual therapy can help you process this issue further and take steps to deal with it. Another resource is the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE).

Apr 13

Understanding Abusive Men: Quotes From Lundy Bancroft

Before the brand new book called Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That?: Encouragement for Women Involved with Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft, there was its logical predecessor, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men (2002), which addresses abusive patterns in both straight and gay relationships and which has been lauded by many for its non-victim-blaming. And readers have appreciated Bancroft’s ability to understand the men who’ve hurt them.

Lundy is the former Co-Director of Emerge, the first program in the U.S. for male batterers, and a leading consultant regarding domestic violence issues.

Although I haven’t seen Daily Wisdom, the following quotes from Why Does He Do That? (as found on Goodreads) are likely to be representative of Bancroft’s offerings of inspiration and guidance.

The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds from punches or slaps but are often not as obvious. In fact, even among women who have experienced violence from a partner, half or more report that the man’s emotional abuse is what is causing them the greatest harm.

One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you—as will happen to any abused woman from time to time—he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.


Abusive men come in every personality type, arise from good childhoods and bad ones, are macho men or gentle, ‘liberated’ men. No psychological test can distinguish an abusive man from a respectful one. Abusiveness is not a product of a man’s emotional injuries or of deficits in his skills. In reality, abuse springs from a man’s early cultural training, his key male role models, and his peer influences. In other words, abuse is a problem of values, not of psychology. When someone challenges an abuser’s attitudes and beliefs, he tends to reveal the contemptuous and insulting personality that normally stays hidden, reserved for private attacks on his partner. An abuser tries to keep everybody—his partner, his therapist, his friends and relatives—focused on how he feels, so that they won’t focus on how he thinks, perhaps because on some level he is aware that if you grasp the true nature of his problem, you will begin to escape his domination.

Abuse counselors say of the abusive client: “When he looks at himself in the morning and sees his dirty face, he sets about washing the mirror.”

The woman knows from living with the abusive man that there are no simple answers. Friends say: ‘He’s mean.’ But she knows many ways in which he has been good to her. Friends say: ‘He treats you that way because he can get away with it. I would never let someone treat me that way.’ But she knows that the times when she puts her foot down the most firmly, he responds by becoming his angriest and most intimidating. When she stands up to him, he makes her pay for it—sooner or later. Friends say: ‘Leave him.’ But she knows it won’t be that easy. He will promise to change. He’ll get friends and relatives to feel sorry for him and pressure her to give him another chance. He’ll get severely depressed, causing her to worry whether he’ll be all right. And, depending on what style of abuser he is, she may know that he will become dangerous when she tries to leave him. She may even be concerned that he will try to take her children away from her, as some abusers do.

Alcohol does not a change a person’s fundamental value system. People’s personalities when intoxicated, even though somewhat altered, still bear some relationship to who they are when sober…ABUSERS MAKE CONSCIOUS CHOICES EVEN WHILE INTOXICATED.

An abusive man who is adept in the language of feelings can make his partner feel crazy by turning each argument into a therapy session in which he puts her reactions under a microscope and assigns himself the role of ‘helping’ her. He may, for example, ‘explain’ to her the emotional issues she needs to work through, or analyze her reasons for ‘mistakenly’ believing that he is mistreating her.

The abuser’s mood changes are especially perplexing. He can be a different person from day to day, or even from hour to hour…As so many partners of my clients have said to me, “I just can’t seem to do anything right.”

When a man starts my program, he often says, ‘I am here because I lose control of myself sometimes. I need to get a better grip.’ I always correct him: ‘Your problem is not that you lose control of yourself, it’s that you take control of your partner. In order to change, you don’t need to gain control over yourself, you need to let go of control of her.’

Sep 13

Therapy Following 9/11: Therapists and Clients React

Therapy following 9/11. What I now remember most about the period immediately following 9/11 are my partner and I reaching out to each other to see how each was doing (at work), my own reactions to the crisis, and the reactions of some of the clients I was seeing back then. Fortunately, none of us had experienced the loss of a loved one.

The clients who seemed the most affected by the terror attacks were those who already had a history of victimization of some type, most notably childhood abuse—whether emotional, physical, or sexual. For them, the sensation that the United States wasn’t as safe in the world as previously believed was a strong trigger for re-experiencing past episodes of personal unsafety.

Something else I remember is that there was somewhat of a shift in my level of clinical detachment. The attacks had happened to all of us, not just to my particular client in the particular moment. So, when someone in session said words to the effect of, “I’m so afraid it will happen again,” or “I’m afraid it will happen closer to home,” I could think, and possibly say out loud, “I know.” I felt that too.

Admitting this wasn’t meant to make the issue about me but to validate that we were all in this together.

Not many events that involve us in this universal kind of way occur in the course of a client’s therapy; in fact, often none do. However, recently something else affected everyone who comes to see me—the powerful tropical storm Irene, which did some significant damage in my region.  Many of my clients wanted to know, each asking in his or her own way, “Are you okay? Did anything bad happen to you?” Just as I wanted to know the same about them.