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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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the Psychopathic Bond

Many victims  of psychopathic and other kinds of pathological individuals experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) both during and (especially) after the relationship is over. PTSD is a manifestation of the immense shock victims experience when they come to realize the relationship with the psychopath was founded upon lies, false promises, hidden lives or other fraudulent activities and sometimes even fraudulent identities.  I’m pasting below an article written by the staff of the Mayo Clinic about PTSD, its causes and its symptoms. You can also find this article on the Mayo Clinic website, on the link below:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

By Mayo Clinic staff

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms typically start within three months of a traumatic event. In a small number of cases, though, PTSD symptoms may not appear until years after the event.

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms are generally grouped into three types: intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, and increased anxiety or emotional arousal (hyperarousal).

Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:

  • Flashbacks, or reliving the traumatic event for minutes or even days at a time
  • Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event

Symptoms of avoidance and emotional numbing may include:

  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships

Symptoms of anxiety and increased emotional arousal may include:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Hearing or seeing things that aren’t there

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can come and go. You may have more post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms when things are stressful in general, or when you run into reminders of what you went through. You may hear a car backfire and relive combat experiences, for instance. Or you may see a report on the news about a rape and feel overcome by memories of your own assault.

When to see a doctor
It’s normal to have a wide range of feelings and emotions after a traumatic event. You might experience fear and anxiety, a lack of focus, sadness, changes in how well you sleep or how much you eat, or crying spells that catch you off guard. You may have nightmares or be unable to stop thinking about the event. This doesn’t mean you have post-traumatic stress disorder.

But if you have these disturbing thoughts and feelings for more than a month, if they’re severe, or if you feel you’re having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your health care professional. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse.

In some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms may be so severe that you need emergency help, especially if you’re thinking about harming yourself or someone else. If this happens, call 911 or other emergency medical service, or ask a supportive family member or friend for help.