Have you ever read a book and either the timing was just perfect in your life or the material in the book highlighted a topic that was extremely intriguing to you? It’s an amazing experience to gain knowledge right at the exact moment that you need or want it. That happened to me when I read “Psychopath Free” by Peace.
The anonymous author, Peace, does something that is as hard as describing air; Peace shines light on the insidious nature of being in a relationship with a psycho/sociopath. The reason this is quite an impressive feat is because the psycho/sociopath intentionally mimics aspects of a normal relationship but with very different hidden intentions. Therefore, it is incredibly hard for a normal person to see the abuse happening while in the middle of the confusion manufactured by the psycho/sociopath.
As a counselor, I have been witness to many unhealthy relationships and sometimes they were the garden variety of a coupling between a jerk and a nice person. Other times, the relationship dance was very toxic. I do not buy into the belief that all relationship ills are “fifty-fifty” responsibility. I have seen time and time again that one person is usually dragging the relationship down. I would put the percentages closer to 60-40, 70-30 or even 80-20% of who is causing the issues and who is not. We all play some role when our relationships are struggling but usually there is one person that is the weaker link of the two. Feel free to visit my previous blogs on this topic at Weakest Link and Not The Weakest Link.
The book “Psychopath Free” states that it is for those “recovering from emotionally abusive relationships with narcissists, sociopaths and other toxic people.” I will say that everyone should read this book! Young, old, married or single. The reason I feel this way is because we all need a knowledge base of what is normal behaviors in a relationship and when should red-flags be going up. Being in a relationship with a psycho/sociopath throws all our previous understood laws of relationships out the window because the psycho/sociopath is intentionally wanting us off balance so we don’t see their game. Books like “Psychopath Free” help to show the pattern of what it is like to be in a very damaging relationship and therefore we are wiser when dating, giving advice to family or friends or within our own relationships.
Reading a book is like looking at a piece of artwork. Everyone will come away with something slightly different, even while looking at the same material. I encourage you to read “Psychopath Free” yourself but I will give you what were the main take-aways for me and paraphrase what I think the author was trying to share with the reader. There is so much goodness in this book and I am only highlighting a few of the points that jumped out for me.
The idealization stage for a psycho/sociopath is critical. This is where he/she will target a particular person to win them over and essentially brainwash them into thinking they had met the person of their dreams. Peace says “they will feed you constant praise and attention through your phone, Facebook timeline and email inbox.” Within a matter of weeks, the two of you will have your own set of inside jokes, pet names and cute songs.” Now, this might sound like the early stages of all normal relationships but the intent of the psycho/sociopath is very dark. He/she “never truly feels the things they display. They’re observing you, mirroring your every emotion and pretending to ride this high with you.” The psycho/sociopath “love-bombs” the target in order to quickly gain a hook into their victim. Not all psycho/sociopath do this overtly. Some are smart enough to know not to come on too strong or the normal person will flee. A psycho/sociopath is a master of reading people and figuring out just the right amount of attention to give during this idealization stage in order to gain the results of the victim believing that something very special is taking place between them.
During the idealization stage, Peace states that six major points will be employed by the psycho/sociopath:
1) We have so much in common
2) We have the same hopes and dreams
3) We share the same insecurities
4) You are beautiful (handsome)
5) I’ve never felt this way in my life
6) We are soul mates
That all sounds really great right? Sounds like two people falling in love and the normal beginning of a relationship. Sadly, for those involved with a psycho/sociopath, it’s all lies. The normal person believes they have met their soul mate who is so much like them, but in reality, they have met a con who is manufacturing love feelings within the normal person. The psycho/sociopath wants the normal person to be hooked on the attention because guess what is coming next? The stage in which the psycho/sociopath begins to create heartbreak for the normal person. It’s all part of the game and entertainment for the psycho/sociopath. Crazy right?
Once the psycho/sociopath is sure that he/she has the normal person on the hook, they will begin testing the level of dependency they have created within the normal person. Peace shares that the psycho/sociopath will flood the normal person with emails, phone calls, social media posts, texts or other forms of communication that creates an expectancy and routine but once the normal person is brainwashed enough, the psycho/sociopath will suddenly go silent for hours or days at a time and sits back to watch the normal person panic by the sudden change in behaviors. If the normal person says something to the psycho/sociopath, he/she will begin blaming the normal person and name calling such as needy, dependent, crazy, psycho, jealous and other unpleasant things. But the truth is that the psycho/sociopath did it all on purpose to create chaos for the normal person.
During the devaluing stage, the psycho/sociopath will utilize methods to cause distress in the normal person. The silent treatment is one but so is triangulation. According the Peace, this is where the psycho/sociopath will ignore you but spend lots of time on social media interacting with exes and people the psycho/sociopath had previously told you were “crazy” or of no importance to him/her. But they are ignoring you to engage with them so something must be going on. The bottom line is that the psycho/sociopath wants to emotionally destroy the normal person for their own entertainment and in the process make the normal person feel and look crazy.
Another favorite trick of a psycho/sociopath is called gas-lighting. This is where the psycho/sociopath out right denies previously known facts and will attempt to make the normal person doubt their own memory and re-counting of history. This type of brainwashing can take on different forms but the ultimate outcome is that the psycho/sociopath has fun by suddenly changing the facts and watching the normal person squirm in confusion. Remember though, the normal person thinks he/she has met their soul mate and is deeply committed to the relationship so all these games are intensely painful for the victim.
Wait for it…the bottom is about to fall out for the normal person. The psycho/sociopath had successfully love-bombed the normal person into believing they had found their soul mate, started pulling the strings of the normal person for their own entertainment and now the psycho/sociopath is ready for the next victim so he/she must discard the useless one or the one who started to see the game. According to Peace,
“the psychopath carefully selects the most indifferent and heartbreaking way imaginable to abandon you. They want you to self-destruct, cleaning up any loose end as they begin the grooming process with their latest victim. They destroy you as a way to reassure themselves that their new target is better. But most importantly, they destroy you because they hate you. They despise your empathy and love – qualities they must pretend to feel every single day. To destroy you is to temporarily silence the nagging reminder of the emptiness that consumes their soul.”
See why I love this book so much? It describes a hidden agenda within some relationships that is so hard to pin-point that it often leaves the victim blaming themselves and deeply wounded. But there is recovery from intensely toxic relationships with a psycho/sociopath. The last section of “Psychopath Free” goes into great detail of how to walk out of an abusive relationship with a psycho/sociopath and how to get your feet firmly planted back on the ground and actually come out of the experience healthier, wiser and truly happier.
Due to the hidden and dark agenda of a psycho/sociopath, it is important that people educate themselves on the warning signs that these types of people put out and to follow through on No Contact with such individuals. If you find yourself relating to some of what you have read above or have a family member or friend who may be in an emotionally abusive relationship, please reach out to a counselor or trusted confidant and share your story. Isolation is one of the main tools used by abusive people and breaking out of that loneliness can be just the thing that starts the healing process.
Finally, a big THANK YOU to Peace for your work in writing the book, keeping the Facebook page and website going and everything else you are doing to help people heal and be restored from psychopathic abuse. You are a gift to many…
People are unique and strangely similar all at the same time. By this I mean that although no two people are identical, the way in which individuals go about certain aspects of life are very much alike with other people. There seem to be patterns and clusters of options with how people respond to life. I especially see this with personal growth.
Having been working with individuals and families since 2000 and in private practice since 2007, I have had the opportunity to observe how people respond to and live past life events. I have noticed that people either fall on the side of giver or taker, that people either get better or bitter from significant stress and four distinct options have emerged when it comes to personal growth.
It always fascinates me as to why someone can go through horrendous events and yet come out of the experience a vastly improved version of themselves. They shine from having gone through the fire. While on the other side of the coin, another person can go through what would be perceived as less trauma inducing life events and they seem to have gained little to no personal growth from the experience. Why do some people pull themselves up by their boot straps and others in defeat lay down on the ground next to their boots? I think it has to do with the four levels of willingness to change that I have noticed in all people.
First Level: “Nothing is wrong with me”
It is exceptionally hard to change what we do not see as an issue. People at this first level might come into counseling, for just a few sessions, because a loved one externally motivated them to come in or they are coming to counseling by the order of a Judge. These types of folks are a counseling nightmare. They have no true interest in changing much, if anything, about themselves. They might throw out a few things they could see that they need to work on but quickly they rationalize away any need for personal growth. The extreme end of this level are the psycho/sociopaths and narcissists. They can not change because they do not authentically see anything in themselves to change. In their own minds they are the personification of perfection. I know. It’s startling to think that people actually roam the earth with this much arrogance but trust me, they are out there. A few have landed in my office and to know me is to know that I am kindly blunt. At least with me, first level folks never stay in counseling long. They might stay slightly longer with a counselor who is willing to do their perfection dance with them but eventually all counselors will need to get to actual growth and that’s when the first level folks will tap out of counseling.
Second Level: “I know I have some issues, but I won’t actually do anything to fix them. Ever”
These people are not necessarily narcissists but rather people who see areas of change and can talk about those areas but won’t actually do any work to change them or their life situations. You will hear these people say things like “I need therapy” and “I want to master my thoughts and actions better” but then they also say “I am exceptionally lazy.” In their laziness or lack of motivation to improve their lives, second level individuals will be living much the same today as they did ten years ago and ten years from now. The seasons change, the calendar changes but not second level folks. The saddest part is they know they need to improve their lot in life. They are keenly aware, and at times painfully aware, that healthy steps are needed. Yet, they talk about it but make no physical advancement towards doing anything about it. My heart goes out to the second level folks the most because it’s much like being in a cell but the door is open. They just won’t stand up and start to walk out.
Third Level: “I am going to see change in my life and I am excited! Until it gets hard”
Third level people are those that are willing to invest their time and resources into counseling and will see aspects of growth and that can be very exciting. Unfortunately, this level is where some people retreat and return to the second level. No one said change was easy. As the saying goes, if it was easy everyone would do it. Third level people often get hung up with fears, inconveniences and social pressures that tell them that change will cost them greatly in some area of life. For instance, I have seen clients who really wanted to improve their physical health and lose significant amounts of weight, but as they start walking towards their personal goal, people close to them start sabotaging their growth. The client has a dilemma to be faced and must decide to keep walking towards health or succumb to their environment and slip back into old habits. I also see this regarding wanting healthier relationships. Third level folks might be willing to make radical changes if the people around them don’t treat them better or engage in the relationship. As pressure gets put on the client to not want more out of the relationship, they are faced with a choice. Third level people see glimmers of personal growth but it is never lasting. Weight may be lost but it’s put back on, relationships don’t improve and they settle for what is or some other version of throwing in the towel on reaching their hopes and dreams.
However! Don’t loose hope yet. Some third level people will fluctuate from second to third and back to second but then sometimes jump over third to the fourth level!
Fourth Level: Lasting Change!!
Awe. Now this the level that as a therapist is the most rewarding. It’s where people go from the second level to the third and then ultimately to the fourth. If we look back over our own personal growth, we can see that we each were probably at all the levels at some point; including the dreaded level one. We have all been in denial about ourselves and the need for change (first level), we have wanted change but didn’t make the effort to make it happen (second level), we have tried a few things to change but didn’t see it happen quick enough or gave up at some point (third level) but then we miraculously started over and eventually made it to the fourth level of seeing real significant personal growth in ourselves. It’s so exciting when that happens! But believe me, it doesn’t come without a cost. All change requires us to give up things. It’s just a fact. Hopefully what we are letting go though will be far less valuable then what we are gaining.
Take some time and reflect on these four levels of personal growth. Be honest with yourself. Today, where are you? Happy with your level? If not, what are you planning to do about it? I truly believe in small incremental steps toward reaching our goals. Some of you know that my life story includes overcoming some major obstacles and I promise you that one step at a time truly does work. Today is a great day to get started towards your own hopes and dreams. I know you can do it if you want it bad enough.
Imagine walking into church and in the lobby, you see a sign-up area for getting a tooth extracted or a root canal. You go up to the counter to learn more and the pastor of Family Ministry says “Hi! Want to sign up to get your dental work done right here at church?!” You might be somewhat excited about this because you hate going to the dentist’s office so you ask more questions. The pastor assures you that even though a licensed dentist will not be actually performing your procedures, the church has a real dentist on staff. He has done training classes for some of the pastoral staff and a core group of peer leaders on how to take out teeth and perform other dentistry functions so have faith that you are in good hands. What?! Are they serious? Your interest in receiving dental care at church might be waning at this point. We could even exchange the dental service at church with cancer treatment. Instead of a dentist on staff teaching pastors and peer leaders to pull teeth, the oncologist that is employed by the church is showing people how to mix just the right chemical cocktails to treat a few well known cancers. This way, the church can positively impact more people “for God” and hold a group class where everyone who has cancer can come, each get hooked up to a medication drip and the church is serving a great function, right? What could possibly be wrong with this picture? It’s actually very scary isn’t it?
Do these scenarios sound outrageous? They shouldn’t at all because this is precisely what is happening in churches regarding mental health. Open up some church bulletins and you might see classes offered such as “Freedom From Depression,” “Inner Healing From Anxiety” or “Learning to Stabilize Your Moods.” You see friend, there are church leaders across the country who have no formal training in mental health or how to recognize risks, and yet they are offering to treat mental illness. Depression, anxiety and mood disorders are not just some fad words that should be taken lightly. I would imagine that the recent death of a beloved actor and comedian might have served as a spotlight for the general public that depression has at times very serious risk factors associated with it. Those of us who have made assessing, treating, diagnosing and evaluating mental health as our profession are reminded every day that depression can be dangerous.
Churches need to be taking mental health issues as serious as they would take physical health issues and stop advertising that they are equipped to treat these conditions.
In a church setting, where does the responsibility and liability fall when a dental extraction, chemo session or depression treatment goes badly? I can guarantee you that for those churches who are advertising that they treat mental health conditions, if something goes wrong, church leadership will be very quick to point out that they are not in fact licensed professional counselors. Back away, back away, back away. That’s what happens in churches when they overreach their skill set by offering to treat mental health issues and bad things happen. That’s just wrong. As licensed professional counselors, we can’t just wash our hands of a “mistake.”
With my own ears I have heard church staff members literally say “Why do people call the church office like we are some suicide hotline?!” Yep. My mouth dropped open too. Well, when churches advertise that they treat mental health issues, people are going to assume they treat mental health issues! It’s pretty simple actually.
What does a church do who genuinely want to help their congregation members live better lives and want to offer group classes in order to reach the most people? Call the classes something like “How To Enjoy Your Life More” or “Changing Thoughts Changes Feelings” or “Learning To Live Stress Free.” See, not one of those titles implies a treatment for a mental illness. Big difference. Churches should be a place for folks to gain Bible based encouragement of how to overcome life’s challenges. The moment church staff start to believe they can treat depression, anxiety or mood disorders, they might as well put up their booth for root canals and cancer treatment because they have gone too far.
What is my point of this blog? People who need help are getting hurt in churches that are trying to treat mental health issues with pastors and peer leaders who have no formal counseling education. It’s unethical.
I have no doubt that I will hear from people who have gone to a Freedom From Depression class or Inner Healing From Anxiety and they will tell me how much it changed their lives. I will not deny that some good truth is being shared in these sort of classes. The bottom line is that no church should be offering to treat depression or anxiety unless the leader of the group is a licensed professional and the group standards are those that meet ethical licensing guidelines.
Through the recent suicide of a famous actor, I hope that there is a collective understanding that mental illness should not be taken lightly. I hope churches across the country will start re-evaluating how they address these issues within their congregations because people are getting hurt by ill-equipped leaders. Those of us in the mental health profession see it on a regular basis. We see how people’s faith is called into question when they are dealing with depression, anxiety or even abuse.
We hear when people are told that if they are grateful enough, they won’t deal with depression.
We also see how inadequately trained leaders are digging through people’s personal history without the skill set to keep that history from imploding in on the person. Many individuals deal with trauma in their life story and untrained church leaders have absolutely no business unraveling hurts they do not know how to therapeutically manage.
We also see that people are advised to not take their medication because God will heal them. We see that spouses in unsafe homes are spiritually abused into staying where it is causing more emotional and physical harm. We are seeing it all because after folks leave a church class or pastor’s office and have been hurt, guess where they go next? Christian counselors who are trained professionals and can help put together the mess that has been created. We are hearing and seeing the aftermath.
Please know it is not escaping our notice.
Have you been hurt in a church setting regarding your own challenges with depression, anxiety, mood disorder or abuse? If so, what helped you move forward and not allow the wounding within the church to affect your relationship with God? Always remember that the works are men (or women) are very different than the grace, unconditional love and hope that are the promises of God.
Sometimes the best counseling moments happen when working with kids and teens. There are helpful insights that are so universal that people of different ages can benefit. I find that the simpler explanations that work with kids also make it easier for us “complicated” adults to grasp and apply to our lives. One of these truths is what I refer to as Green, Yellow and Red people.
These are the people in our lives that are the most emotionally safe for us. We can be really honest with our personal short-comings and not water them down so no one in the room is uncomfortable. We can be ourselves around them and don’t feel the need to put on a fake front. If we are miserable, we say we are miserable. If we are proud of something we have overcome or accomplished, we say it with self-confidence. If we have failed in some area of life, we don’t hesitate to share it because we know our transparency will be met with love, support and hopefully humor to lighten the mood. Green people are amazing! We all could use more greenies in our life.
Stop what you’re doing and go get a piece of paper. Put “GREEN” at the top of the paper and write the name(s) of whoever comes to mind when you think of a friend that you can bare your soul to and they still love you. Go ahead. Go do it. I’ll wait…Done? How long is your list? Is it long or short? Having counseled with clients for many years now, I have had the privilege of hearing about the most intimate parts of people’s lives. For most folks, the list of green people is going to be short. Real short maybe. That’s perfectly ok. If you can put one person on your Green list, you’re lucky. Any more than that is a huge blessing. True friends are a gift and they should be valued for what they bring to our lives.
Ok, so we now know what Green people look like so Yellow is the not reliable cousin of Green. Yellow people are a little like playing Russian Roulette with our own emotions. Sometimes we can pull the veil back on our public persona and it is met with all the wonderful qualities of a Green. However, other times, we do the exact same thing and watch out because the green friend has awaken on the wrong side of the bed and now is yellow. They now want to tell you all the reasons you and your life are broken. Ouch! Perhaps they are not that blunt and rude but instead of being supportive of your messy life, they seem impatient or maybe go so far as to not even reply when you start to talk about a tender subject to you. Instead, they change the subject to something they are more comfortable with. Ever been there? I have. I can remember it clearly because it stung so much. Did I ever really share my heart and life struggles with that friend again. Nope. I closed up just like a clam and don’t plan on opening back up. Are we still friends? Sure. But from a further emotional distance. It just has to be that way.
Yellow people are where a lot of hurt feelings occur in the world of relationships. It’s the uncertainty that causes the damage. We are uncertain if the person will be a friend or a foe. It’s risky to miscalculate and fall into a ditch. Yellow people are unreliable with our emotions. They may not just flip-flop on their support of us, but they might flip-flop on the amount of time they spend with us. The yo-yo of being super available to then almost disappearing. There are a lot of ways someone can be a Yellow. Can you think of some other yellow-like behaviors? Go back to your sheet of paper that has Green written on it and the people who are greens in your life. Now do the same for Yellow. This list will be a lot longer.
There are different degrees of yellow and some people on your list might be yellow with a hint of green. On the other hand, some people will have some yellow and red!
These are the truly emotionally unsafe people. They may have moments that are ok but we can never forget that ultimately these are relationships that should be in small dosages, if we must see them at all. Red interactions leave us feeling drained, confused and often times anxious. I am a huge advocate of limiting contact with people that cause our lives to flourish less because they are in it. There are times when we can’t or don’t want to completely cut contact with Reds so what should we do? We have to spend time with the Greens in our lives before we interact with the Reds. We have to make sure our emotional well-being is taken care of before exposure to Reds. For the love of all things, we can NOT seek acceptance or affirmation from Reds. Some of them actually enjoy rejecting us and will do so at every opportunity. They don’t think we see the games but in fact, we do. It is up to you whether you share with the Reds in your life that you’re on to them or to simply take measures to maintain your own self-care while interacting with Reds. Go ahead and write RED on your list and fill in the names that you know belong there. It could be sad to write the names down but the truth is the truth. Might as well just acknowledge it openly and honestly with at least yourself.
The bottom line is that we must recognize who are emotionally safe people and who are not. We make the biggest mistakes when we confuse colors and have expectations that are not realistic. There is nothing rude or mean by allowing our true feelings to be put down on paper for us to reflect on. It is in this transparency that taking care of ourselves and boundaries can really take place.
A week doesn’t go by that during a session, someone will say that they need to just let something go or that they have tried to let something go but they keep “picking it back up” or even that they are “taking it back from God’s hands”. Each time a client shares this type of thinking, I get the impression that the client believes that life hurts and heartaches are tangible objects that they willfully choose to carry around with them. There is a lot of guilt and self blame that goes along with the idea that we are unsuccessful in letting go of those things that bind us.
I find many errors in the belief that we will one day just be able to let go of certain pain and memories and that we are at fault if we still struggle from time to time with those things we were “suppose” to be letting go. Sadly, this let-it-go message gets preached from many pulpits across the country and people live with the burden that they are doing something wrong if they, at times, have to revisit the same old wounds. Emotional hurts don’t just go away because we want them to or choose to push them aside under the guise of letting it go. It’s just not how humans process things like disappointments, sadness or even trauma. Many people are left struggling with the initial hurt and the secondary guilt that they are not spiritually mature enough or tough enough to let it go.
Now, there are some folks who nurse emotional harm inflicted on them by life and people. We have all met these individuals and it is clear that they find comfort in identifying as a victim. I have found those folks to be the minority though. Most people want to heal and be free from regularly dealing with the things that have harmed them.
So, if “letting it go” isn’t aligned with how people are psychologically hard-wired, then what are steps for someone to take to work through past hurts? I will list out a few options that are good starting points:
1) Be Honest With Ourselves:
I recently saw a picture of someone that I had been close to many years ago but the friendship ended with a tremendous amount of hurt for me. I don’t live with a conscious daily thought-life of this former friend, but when I saw the picture, a lot of feelings came up. I had to be honest with myself and deal with them in the moment. Denying what I was feeling or trying to put a pleasant, but not authentic, spin on my inner thoughts was not going to do me any good in the long run. I looked at the picture for some time and then shared with someone close to me how seeing the picture was making me feel. What our culture and especially church culture teaches us is that I should have immediately pushed off my real feelings and replaced them with more “acceptable” feelings because my feelings of annoyance, frustration and resentment were not very pretty and lady-like, right? Instead I have been subconsciously trained by the culture that surrounds me that I should have immediately shoved down those feelings and pretended I felt things like forgiveness and grace. Instead I was irritated by the memories of a very difficult season. I am glad that I know better than to expect myself to just “let it go” and was able to metaphorically sit in my true feelings and then eventually came to be reminded that forgiveness had come to that friendship, even if restoration had not. But I didn’t leap frog over the annoyance, frustration and resentment that surfaced at first.
The person I had shared my feelings with had told me that I needed to “let it go” and that’s when I knew I had to write this blog! Instead of talking about what was happening for me, we instead starting talking about the true nature of emotional healing.
2) Healing Is A Choice:
We have to choose to not nurse our wounds and traumas so much that we can never imagine living life without them tagging along. Even though we are NOT just going to let it go, we have to let those emotions dissipate as they will do naturally if we give ourselves the right environment. How can this happen? We have to choose to stop associating with toxic people who keep inflicting more pain. we have to take ownership of our lives and not allow other people to ruin it and we must choose to allow the healing process to happen. How we live our lives will either help or hinder our recovery from life hurts.
3) Don’t Rush The Process:
True emotional healing, not just some temporary band-aid that falls off, takes time. That doesn’t mean we should accept being emotionally bound for years and years. We should be looking at “letting it go” as a gradual process that will happen slow and over time, but at a consistent steady speed. It’s not unlike watching a mossy green pool that has been neglected by the homeowners and seeing it become a clear blue inviting spring of water. Things have to happen for the moss to clear up and healthy water to take its place. This is similar to how harms and hurts are replaced by healing and wisdom. It’s a gradual process that requires us to do our part to turn the green emotional mossy pit into something better.
Next time someone tells you that you should just let something go or you find yourself wanting to give that advice, stop and really consider the implications of that statement. Hopefully we can start replacing the Let It Go concept with something more like Letting It Go. The steady consistent process of healing is much more authentic to the human experience.