Jul 13

“Maid”: Emotional Abuse At Core of Series

While the highly acclaimed Netflix series Maid, based on Stephanie Land‘s memoir (Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive) has no shortage of important themes, e.g., single motherhood, poverty, childhood trauma, and mental health, what I want to single out in this post is the emotional abuse that lands 20-something Alex (brilliantly played by Margaret Qualley) into her multi-episode life-changing predicament.

Kristen Lopez, Indiewire, sets up Maid:

The audience meets Alex as she’s embarking on a transition far too many have to make: fleeing in the middle of the night, trying not to wake her boyfriend, Sean (Nick Robinson), in order to protect her daughter (and herself) from the emotionally abusive alcoholic. Alex and her child make it out, but that’s only the beginning of where series creator Molly Smith Metzler takes us throughout the series.

At first, though, even Alex herself seems unaware, or unwilling to admit, that Sean has actually been abusive. She doesn’t understand why a domestic violence shelter is recommended to her by a caseworker.

Amy Polacko, Ms: “…Alex is brainwashed by society to believe abuse is purely physical—so the young mom doesn’t even realize she’s a victim.”

The most stunning part of this series that’s taking America by storm is not that it expertly depicts the cycle of abuse. It’s Alex’s metamorphosis along the way—because this mirrors the forces at work in our country right now. Ultimately, Maid begs the question: If a few states are following the United Kingdom’s lead by passing coercive control laws, are we as Americans ready to put emotional abuse on par with physical?

Gina Michele Yaniz, Hollywood Reporter: “‘Maid’ challenges the government’s definition of domestic abuse and urges lawmakers to accept that abuse transcends just physicality and violence, it translates to emotional torture that can ruin someone’s life if they don’t have the resources to free themselves from the shackles of an abusive relationship.”

Psychologist Valeria Sabater, Exploring Your Mind, regarding the specifics of Sean’s abusive behavior:

He doesn’t ever physically assault Alex or her daughter. However, violence is exercised through shouting, threats, contempt, and the desire to isolate and emotionally control her.

An important post for abuse survivors by Amanda Kippert, Domesticshelters.org, first warns of the possible triggering viewers may experience while watching Maid. Then Kippert outlines “The 6 Things Maid Got Spot-On” (and one thing they got wrong).

1. Nonphysical abuse is abuse. 

2. Lack of money is a major barrier for single mom survivors to leave an abuser.

3. Nonphysical abuse often goes unreported.

4. Pregnancy can trigger violence.

5. Childhood domestic violence victims are at increased risk for abuse as adults.

6. Survivors are often treated less-than.

And the thing they depicted unfairly? You don’t need to have a police report to call a shelter.

If you or someone you care about needs help, please consider contacting The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or www.thehotline.org.

May 18

“Whole Again” After Abuse: Jackson McKenzie

Contained within Jackson McKenzie’s 2019 Whole Again: Healing Your Heart and Rediscovering Your True Self After Toxic Relationships and Emotional Abuse are strong quotes to help you heal. The following are some I’ve selected.

Note: References to C-PTSD below are about complex PTSD. See this link or this one if you’re unfamiliar with the diagnosis.

From Whole Again:

You’re so preoccupied with trying to make sure you’re reasonable and seeing all perspectives that you fail to throw in the towel when people are blatantly mistreating you. Oftentimes you notice something seems “off” for the longest time, but you feel guilty and dismiss it because the person is nice to you, or because they aren’t rejecting you.

…(T)he best gaslighting victims are those who doubt themselves.

Their partner can say and do unacceptable things on a daily basis, which the codependent will try to explain and understand (“they had a difficult childhood!”). But the moment codependents make a single mistake, they berate themselves for it, obsess over it, and wonder if they’re crazy. For this reason, they come up short in relationships, over and over again. Because they’re unable to recognize that the balance is skewed, and unable to recognize that they’re not getting what they deserve from a healthy relationship. Their self-doubt keeps things forever skewed in their partner’s favor.

How to Win Against an Abuser? I get this question all the time, and my answer is always the same: Don’t try to win. As soon as we engage in this win/lose mentality, we abandon our hearts and forget what’s really important: vulnerability and love. Yes, absolutely you should remove toxic people from your life, but it should be from the perspective of self-love, not “winning.” As long as we maintain this false illusion of control, we’re still connected to the person in our psyches. A hallmark of C-PTSD is fantasizing about gaining some power over an otherwise powerless situation.

If at any point your forgiveness process convinces you to invite an abuser back into your life (or even talk to them), this is not the kind of forgiveness we’re looking for. It will actually impede your own progress.

People cannot go from abusing and manipulating you one day, to magically being healed a week later. This is simply impossible. Especially when this change occurs as a response to possible abandonment or rejection, there’s just no chance this is authentic change.

Codependent forgiveness is this fantasized tear-filled beautiful reconciliation where everything is magically cured by love and compassion. As with most codependent issues, it’s focused on other people. Their problems. Their childhood. Their past. You think you understand them so much, maybe even more than they understand themselves! You make up excuses and reasons for them, your heart melts, you take them back, and then they hurt you again.

C-PTSD sufferers who experienced abuse may engage in mental arguments with their abusers long after the abuse has ended. Most people with C-PTSD experienced ongoing abuse from someone (or multiple people) who repeatedly betrayed their trust, and blamed them for this betrayal. They were made the scapegoat of someone else’s shame, which eventually caused them to absorb this shame themselves.

Dysfunctional Healing Approach: C-PTSD causes the sufferer’s thinking to become very rigid and analytical. This was (at some point) a necessary survival skill in order to identify threats and stay safe. However, once the threat is over, those with C-PTSD may still have a lot of trouble “feeling” emotions, and may end up trying to “think” them instead. As they begin recovery, they are likely to use this same analytical and rigid thinking against themselves, embarrassed or impatient by their inability to get in touch with their own feelings. They are also likely to have an extremely negative reaction to the idea of forgiveness, equating that with “letting them win,” and seeing forgiveness as something that abusers use to keep hurting victims.

Aug 18

“I Hate You Don’t Leave Me”: BPD Books

Starting with the classic I Hate You Don’t Leave Me, the following are three of the most widely read and recommended books for those wishing to have a better understanding of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

I. I Hate You Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality by Jerold J. Kreisman, MD, and Hal Straus (updated in 2010)  

Around a long time, I Hate You Don’t Leave Me “…now reflects the most up- to-date research,” states the publisher, “that has opened doors to the neurobiological, genetic, and developmental roots of the disorder as well as connections between BPD and substance abuse, sexual abuse, Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, ADHD, and eating disorders.”

II. Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul T. Mason, MS, and Randi Kreger (updated in 2020)

From the blurb: “This fully revised third edition has been updated with the very latest BPD research on comorbidity, extensive new information about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), the effectiveness of schema therapy, and coping and communication skills you can use to stabilize your relationship with the BPD or NPD sufferer in your life.”

Beverly Engel, LMFT, author of The Emotionally Abused Woman and The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: “…It identifies two types of BPD—conventional and unconventional. While conventional BPDs typically exhibit overt behavior such as self-harm and suicidal ideation, unconventional BPDs don’t believe they have any problems. They project their pain onto others and refuse to take responsibility for their harmful actions. As an expert in emotional abuse, I have identified this behavior as emotionally abusive.”

III. The Borderline Personality Disorder Workbook: An Integrative Program to Understand and Manage Your BPD by Daniel J. Fox (2019)

Psychologist Daniel Fox has created a workbook that’s received great reviews from readers.

And, from I Hate You‘s author Jerold Kreisman: “Daniel Fox won’t let you off easy. The Borderline Personality Disorder Workbook is truly a book that expects you to WORK! If you think you might have some symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD), and are willing to address these problems, and, most of all, are truly committed to working hard at fixing them, this is the book you need.”

Oct 18

“A Star Is Born”: Why You Might Feel Triggered

What does remake-of-a-remake-of-a-remake A Star Is Born, with Lady Gaga (Ally) and Bradley Cooper (Jackson), depict that some viewers may find troubling? Ahead are possible triggers and spoilers from review excerpts.

The Coupling

Britt Hayes, ScreenCrush: “…a perfect reflection of institutionalized misogyny; it is a movie that is very much of our time, but we are living in a time that demands so much more — at the very least, criticism of a world in which the best a woman like Ally can hope for is marrying into fame with an alcoholic because he’s the only person who ever admired her nose.”

Misogyny and Boundaries

Headline by Aja Romano, Vox, is A Star Is Born has a problem with consent”:

Throughout the film, Lady Gaga’s character, Ally, says no, and her ‘no’ is always converted into a ‘yes’ by men. This happens again and again, from every man around her: her father and his friends…

Narratives where a woman’s no always means yes directly contribute to rape culture. Sexual harassment and assault occur in part because men are taught to view women as saying no when they mean yes, and to wear women down through repeated asking until their no changes into a yes.

Ally’s Mental Health

Aja Romano, Vox“Despite the number of lines given to its female star, no version of A Star Is Born has ever cared about her psychological makeup, pivoted around her decisions, or given her much agency over her own career.”

Jackson’s Addiction and Emotional Abuse

Robyn Bahr, Vice: “…It’s truly one of the best cinematic examples of an emotionally abusive relationship I’ve ever seen. And much like real life, it’s hard to detect when toxic behavior crosses the line into systematic emotional abuse.”

Jackson’s Mental Health

Elizabeth Cassidy, The Mighty: “While Jack goes to rehab, which happens in other renditions as well, we could expect Jack to seek more mental health treatment than would have been available in the ’30s, ’50s or ’70s.”

Aja Romano, Vox: “When he ultimately realizes his disgrace is hurting Ally’s career, he decides to die rather than continue hindering her rise. It’s framed as a tragic, noble sacrifice — but while it’s absolutely a tragedy, it’s anything but noble, because it’s brought about in part by his inability to see Ally and her career as existing apart from him.”

Britt HayesScreenCrush: “While the impetus for his relapse (Ally’s producer makes a couple cruel comments) seems flimsy, the actual relapse and subsequent suicide are deeply upsetting — and borderline triggering for anyone who’s lost a loved one to addiction.”

Concluding Thoughts

Li Lai, Mediaversity Reviews:

By all means, go and enjoy A Star is Born. Cooper and Gaga bare their souls in this film, and that level of vulnerability is brave and laudable. But know that its 1937 story goes wholly unchallenged and can be discomfiting to watch in certain scenes, especially given these current times where, much like Ally, women continue to be controlled by broken men with too much power in their hands.

Robyn Bahr, Vice: “Jackson Maine is a tragic character because of the childhood neglect he suffered and the heartbreaking choice he makes at the end of the film. But his inner demons don’t absolve him from inflicting devastating control over the woman who loves him and, hopefully, viewers see that message loud and clear.”

Aja Romano, Vox:

A Star Is Born keeps being remade because Hollywood is besotted with the mechanics of stardom, refracted here through a lens of male power and female submissiveness. It’s deeply frustrating that this story has reappeared, with all its problems, at a moment when we’re taking a hard look at the very kinds of power imbalances and consent issues within the industry that this film reifies, and even romanticizes. Maybe by the time the next remake comes along in another 20 years or so, we’ll have finally figured out that it’s really just a bad romance.

Mar 02

Toxic People “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 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 either narcissists or sociopaths or other toxic people, 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 toxic people. 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.