Therapeutic value or endless rumination?

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I have spent five years of my life, from December 2007 to January 2012, reading about, researching and writing on the subject of psychopathy. To write my own books about psychopaths, the nonfiction Dangerous Liaisons and the novel The Seducer, I read hundreds of books on the subject: both specialized books by authorities in the field, such as Robert D. Hare’s Without Conscience and Martha Stout’s The sociopath next door, and victim testimonials. I also regularly read blogs about pathological relationships, therapy advice columns and comments by victims. This blog, Psychopathy Awareness, contains articles that reflect these readings as well as my own processing of this information from a personal perspective, as a victim of a psychopath myself.

After five years of intense focus on the subject of psychopathy and toxic relationships, however, I began to feel like I was digging myself into a hole. By this I mean that psychopathy started to color my perspective of the world; it became a filter through which I read pathology in life. It also triggered painful memories and obsessive rumination about my past. It was as if I were seeing the world through a monochromatic optic, which was very dark. Perhaps worse than that, I felt that my thoughts became repetitive and my worldview became narrower. To write about psychopathy, I dug over and over into a well of painful memories that part of me wanted to forget. Because of this, aside from the occasional interviews I have posted here, I have taken a long, seven year, break from writing about psychopathy. I felt like I needed to shift focus to other subjects and to reboot aspects of my life that had been damaged by the toxic relationship.

This made me think about an issue that is relevant to many victims of psychopaths or of any PTSD or serious trauma in life, for that matter. My question was: Is focusing on that painful event or period of your life healthy or does it, at some point, become a form of endless and self-defeating rumination? This question is also relevant for family members who have been traumatized themselves by those who have fallen victim to psychopaths and other dangerous individuals. Often the victims, while under the influence of a psychopath, in turn behaved in a cruel or unethical manner to those around them. For instance, there are hundreds if not thousands of websites dedicated to those who have been cheated on, such as Surviving Infidelity and dozens of relationship comment and advice sites. It is so tempting to dwell on the painful events of our past day after day. It is also possible to relive our pain, hoping that the therapeutic process of accepting and understanding our past will bring us some relief. Part of us seeks illumination: learning about personality disorders certainly explains a lot of the toxic behavior that may have seemed contradictory or incomprehensible at the time. Part of us seeks solace in the comments and advice offered by experts and fellow victims. Perhaps what we seek most, however, is a sense of closure: a way of coming to terms with the painful past and finally putting it behind us so that we can move on with our lives.

And yet, in continuing to dwell on that painful period or event day after day and year after year, closure is precisely what we may never reach. It’s difficult to prescribe to anyone how much focusing on their particular trauma is too much; how long seeking therapy or solace via psychology professionals and fellow victims is too long. The answer is individual. At some point, we may find that we are going round and round in circles over the same traumatic events or problems, without acquiring much further illumination or solace. At that point, even helpful therapeutic information begins to feel like an endless process of rumination. As mentioned, I began to reach that sense five years into my nearly daily focus on the subject of psychopathy. Some people, however, never come to that conclusion. They may, for instance, find new ways of helping others that give them a constant sense of satisfaction and growth. I also found immense personal satisfaction in knowing that my research and painful experience gave me some insight and experience that could help others. But after five years, I felt it was time to take that interest in a new direction, about which I’m going to tell you in my next post.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

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