Feb 12

Hidden Abuse: Recognizing Psychological Trauma

Most people have no clue hidden abuse is taking place right under their noses. It is being perpetrated by individuals who would never be suspected of being abusers. The concealed nature of this harm is what leaves its targets devastated. Shannon Thomas, LCSW, Healing from Hidden Abuse

Herself a survivor of psychological abuse, therapist Shannon Thomas, LCSW, offers help for other victims in Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse (2016).

The following is a sampling of quotes from Healing from Hidden Abuse. Included are explanations of psychologically abusive dynamics as well as what lies beyond for those seeking healing:

The stereotype is that only men are narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths. That is completely incorrect. There are many women who are the cause of intense relational harm.

Abusers like to target people who have something they do not or cannot possess themselves. Narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths are notorious for picking targets that initially boost their egos. It could be the target’s appearance, age, intellect, reputation, religious convictions, career success, family, friends, or something else.

Facing the truth about those we have loved (e.g., our parents, siblings, a treasured friend, or a spiritual leader) is unbelievably hard, but there is no glory in clinging to a lie because the truth is too painful to accept.

Frequently, the emotional homicide is happening while other people go on clamoring about what a great guy or gal the abuser is and how lucky the survivor is to be connected to the abuser.

Psychologically abusive people can only maintain normalcy for short spurts of time. Being an authentically caring, decent person isn’t baseline for them. They must fake the behaviors that would show these positive character qualities. These fraudulent acts of kindness have brief shelf lives before they expire and the abusers return to their normal state of affairs.

I saw a post online where someone said, “An abuser doesn’t abuse every day.” That, my friend, is intermittent reinforcement in a nutshell.

Survivors are wise to not fall into the trap of second guessing all of their actions because it is likely they could never show enough agreement to please a truly toxic person.

A Narcissist will run you over and scold you for being in their way. They will endlessly complain about how you damaged their car. A Sociopath will run you over, scold you for being in their way, and have a smirk because secretly they get entertainment out of the chaos they’ve created. A Psychopath will go to great lengths and take calculated steps to ensure they run you over, laugh while doing it, and back up to make sure the most damage is done.

In therapy, we start to literally deprogram the conscious and subconscious lies the abusers have planted in the survivors.

Rarely does a toxic person give an authentic apology. To do so would be too much evidence that they are just like everyone else and flawed.

Realizing toxic people are not actually insecure is one of the hardest concepts for survivors because thinking toxic people struggle with insecurities is a form of justification for their bad behaviors.

Research shows it takes people many attempts to leave unhealthy relationships.

After a survivor of psychological abuse has identified their Despair (Stage One), Educated themselves on the specifics of psychological abuse (Stage Two), and had an Awakening that recovery is possible (Stage Three), the next stage is implementing Boundaries.

Unraveling the lies and replacing them with truth is at the heart of the recovery journey for survivors of psychological abuse.

Oct 30

Sociopaths: How to Recognize the One(s) in Your Life

We do not have to be mental health professionals to identify the traits of the possible sociopaths among us. P.A. Speers, author of Type 1 Sociopath: When Difficult People Are More Than Just Difficult People (2015)

Jennifer Delaney, who interacted with a sociopath for decades, published a list of 25 possible traits (HuffPost) she can identify. Click on the article link for more details.

1. Seeks out Rescuers, Vulnerable, Gullible, Overly Loyal, and Dysfunctional People
2. Gets Those Around Them to Keep Secrets
3. The Truth Is Their Kryptonite
4. Like an Evil Energizer Bunny
5. Charms Those in Power and Hurts the “Little People”
6. Charming, But Only for a While
7. Pity, Pity, and More Pity
8. Manipulates You Into Letting Them Back Into Your Life After They Have Done Terrible Things
9. No Respect for Your Boundaries, Only Complies With Law Enforcement (Sometimes)
10. Senses Weakness and Hesitation
11. Mirrors Your Values
12. Drug and Alcohol Abuse
13. Constant Lies and Exaggeration
14. Lots of Promises, but no Positive Action
15. No Give. All Take.
16. Aimless and Looks for the “Easy Way Out”
17. Quick Temper and Violent
18. Blame Game
19. Accuses You of Their Actions
20. Criminal Record
21. Never Matures. Attracted to Superficial Signs of Beauty and Strength.
22. Feigns Empathy for Children, Animals, and the Elderly
23. Weak Intimate Relationships
24. Divide and Conquer
25. Drags Everyone Into the Drama

In her article Delaney refers to Martha Stout‘s 2005 The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us. From the publisher’s description:

We are accustomed to think of sociopaths as violent criminals, but in The Sociopath Next Door, Harvard psychologist Martha Stout reveals that a shocking 4 percent of ordinary people—one in twenty-five—has an often undetected mental disorder, the chief symptom of which is that that person possesses no conscience. He or she has no ability whatsoever to feel shame, guilt, or remorse. One in twenty-five everyday Americans, therefore, is secretly a sociopath…

Publishers Weekly recaps the following info from the book:

Stout argues that the development of sociopathy is due half to genetics and half to nongenetic influences that have not been clearly identified. The author offers three examples of such people, including Skip, the handsome, brilliant, superrich boy who enjoyed stabbing bullfrogs near his family’s summer home, and Doreen, who lied about her credentials to get work at a psychiatric institute, manipulated her colleagues and, most cruelly, a patient…

It’s highly possible that almost everyone knows at least one person who fits the bill. Self-admitted pseudonymous female sociopath M.E. Thomas, author of Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight (2013):

…(W)e are your neighbors, co-workers, and quite possibly the people closest to you: lovers, family, friends. Our risk-seeking behavior and general fearlessness are thrilling, our glibness and charm alluring. Our often quick wit and outside-the-box thinking make us appear intelligent—even brilliant. We climb the corporate ladder faster than the rest, and appear to have limitless self-confidence.

Although praised by some for its authenticity, Thomas’s book is hard to evaluate on such a level—after all, she says she’s a sociopath. As Julia M. Klein, Boston Globe, wrote in her review:

Talk about an unreliable narrator: Just what are we to make of a book by a diagnosed sociopath that functions alternately as a warning against sociopathy, an apologia for it, and an embodiment of its worst manipulative tendencies?

This intermittently fascinating, if rather disjointed, account is part memoir, part psychological treatise, and entirely not to be trusted…

Just like those other sociopaths you know (or see every day on the news, if you know what I mean).