Stinkin' Thinkin' - The Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking

A popular list of common negative thought patterns from The Feeling Good Handbook, by David D. Burns, M.D.

If you've been living for a long time with a person who suffers from a personality disorder, like many of us, you may have developed a very negative or pessimistic outlook on life. You may have developed a habit of interpreting problems as failures. Dr. David Burns calls this kind of negativity "Stinkin' Thinkin'"

Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking

Excerpt taken from The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, M.D.

1. All-or-nothing thinking - You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, "I've blown my diet completely." This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream.

2. Over generalization - You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as "always" or "never" when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the window of his car. He told himself, "Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!"

3. Mental Filter - You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.

4. Discounting the positive - You reject positive experiences by insisting that they "don't count." If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn't good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positives takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.

5. Jumping to conclusions - You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion.

Mind Reading : Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you.

Fortune-telling : You predict that things will turn out badly. Before a test you may tell yourself, "I'm really going to blow it. What if I flunk?" If you're depressed you may tell yourself, "I'll never get better."

6. Magnification - You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the "binocular trick."

7. Emotional Reasoning - You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very dangerous to fly." Or, "I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person." Or, "I feel angry. This proves that I'm being treated unfairly." Or, "I feel so inferior. This means I'm a second rate person." Or, "I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless."

8. "Should" statements - You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, "I shouldn't have made so many mistakes." This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. "Musts," "ought's" and "have to's" are similar offenders.

"Should statements" that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general, lead to anger and frustration: "He shouldn't be so stubborn and argumentative!"

Many people try to motivate themselves with should's and shouldn'ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. "I shouldn't eat that doughnut." This usually doesn't work because all these should's and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite. Dr. Albert Ellis has called this " must erbation." I call it the "shouldy" approach to life.

9. Labeling - Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying "I made a mistake," you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." You might also label yourself "a fool" or "a failure" or "a jerk." Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist, but "fools," "losers" and "jerks" do not. These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration and low self-esteem.

You may also label others. When someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may tell yourself: "He's an S.O.B." Then you feel that the problem is with that person's "character" or "essence" instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves very little room for constructive communication.

10. Personalization and Blame - Personalization comes when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn't entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulty in school, she told herself, "This shows what a bad mother I am," instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman's husband beat her, she told herself, "If only I was better in bed, he wouldn't beat me." Personalization leads to guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy.

Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways they might be contributing to the problem: "The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable." Blame usually doesn't work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back in your lap. It's like the game of hot potato--no one wants to get stuck with it.

Ten Ways to Untwist Your Thinking

Excerpt taken from The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, M.D.

1. Identify The Distortion: Write down your negative thoughts so you can see which of the ten cognitive distortions you're involved in. This will make it easier to think about the problem in a more positive and realistic way.

2. Examine The Evidence: Instead of assuming that your negative thought is true, examine the actual evidence for it. For example, if you feel that you never do anything right, you could list several things you have done successfully.

3. The Double-Standard Method: Instead of putting yourself down in a harsh, condemning way, talk to yourself in the same compassionate way you would talk to a friend with a similar problem.

4. The Experimental Technique: Do an experiment to test the validity of your negative thought. For example, if during an episode of panic, you become terrified that you're about to die of a heart attack, you could jog or run up and down several flights of stairs. This will prove that your heart is healthy and strong.

5. Thinking In Shades Of Gray: Although this method may sound drab, the effects can be illuminating. Instead of thinking about your problems in all-or-nothing extremes, evaluate things on a scale of 0 to 100. When things don't work out as well as you hoped, think about the experience as a partial success rather than a complete failure. See what you can learn from the situation.

6. The Survey Method: Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and attitudes are realistic. For example, if you feel that public speaking anxiety is abnormal and shameful, ask several friends if they ever felt nervous before they gave a talk.

7. Define Terms: When you label yourself 'inferior' or 'a fool' or 'a loser,' ask, "What is the definition of 'a fool'?" You will feel better when you realize that there is no such thing as 'a fool' or 'a loser.'

8. The Semantic Method: Simply substitute language that is less colorful and emotionally loaded. This method is helpful for 'should statements.' Instead of telling yourself, "I shouldn't have made that mistake," you can say, "It would be better if I hadn't made that mistake."

9. Re-attribution: Instead of automatically assuming that you are "bad" and blaming yourself entirely for a problem, think about the many factors that may have contributed to it. Focus on solving the problem instead of using up all your energy blaming yourself and feeling guilty.

10. Cost-Benefit Analysis: List the advantages and disadvantages of a feeling (like getting angry when your plane is late), a negative thought (like "No matter how hard I try, I always screw up"), or a behavior pattern (like overeating and lying around in bed when you're depressed). You can also use the cost benefit analysis to modify a self-defeating belief such as, "I must always try to be perfect."

Intermittent Reinforcement

Intermittent Reinforcement - Intermittent Reinforcement is when rules, rewards or personal boundaries are handed out or enforced inconsistently and occasionally. This usually encourages another person to keep pushing until they get what they want from you without changing their own behavior.

Intermittent reinforcement affects the way we think about rewards. Think about slot machines. Slot machines are programmed to keep a small percentage (usually 5-25%) of the money and pay out the rest in "random" winnings and jackpots. If the payout was predictable, for example, if on every play the gambler entered one dollar and got back exactly 90 cents, the odds would be the same but the gambler would quickly get bored and annoyed. What keeps them feeding the machine is the frequent small payouts (2-10 times the bet), the occasional medium sized payouts (50-100 times the bet) and the dream of the rare payout (over 1000 times the bet). Most people will feed small and medium-sized winnings straight back into the machine and keep playing until they get bored or go broke. That's how intermittent reinforcement works. Slot machines account for approximately 70% of casino earnings.

Intermittent reinforcement also influences how most people think about risks. For example, consider people who build houses on beachfront properties, which lie in the strike zone of hurricanes. If a hurricane hit every year, nobody would live there. But hurricanes tend to be rare and unpredictable. The more time that passes between disasters, the more properties get built in the strike zone. People are attracted by the appealing locations and the low property prices and are willing to rationalize away their concerns. They may see others living happily on a beach paradise and fear missing out on a great opportunity. They may tell themselves: "It's been decades since anything ever happened here." That's how intermittent reinforcement works.

Most children know a thing or two about intermittent reinforcement. When a parent says "no" to a fabulous new toy the child will often keep asking until they are sure that "no" really means "no". They have learned that sometimes "no" means "not yet" and that if they nag enough, clean their room enough or throw a big enough tantrum, they will get what they want. In this case, the random event is the parent's decision and the intermittently reinforced event is the asking. Most experienced parents learn that once they say "no" they have to stick with it, even if they change their mind later, because if they change their mind under pressure, what the child will learn is that nagging works and they will nag even more next time. When we see a child who will not take "no" for an answer from a parent, we often say "that child is spoiled" but we should really say: "That child has been intermittently reinforced!"

Even experiments with animals has shown that if a behavior is intermittently reinforced (such as a chicken pecking at a button and occasionally getting a reward in the form of a treat) an intermittently reinforced behavior will prevail for much longer after the reward is completely removed than if the behavior had been consistently reinforced (such as a reward on every try).

Intermittent reinforcement can influence our decisions in all walks of life, including investments, careers, religion and relationships.

If people made their decisions on a logical basis only, they would calculate risk and reward on the same scale, and make their decisions accordingly. The stock market would rise and fall predictably - in exact proportion to the earnings of the companies traded. Casinos would go bankrupt. Everyone would drive at the speed limit. Natural disasters would be less costly. There would be a dramatic reduction in crime if every criminal was caught every time. And abuse victims would respond consistently towards the abusive people in our lives. But none of us are like Mr. Spock. We often make decisions with our gut more than we do with our minds and are sometimes driven towards believing what we want to believe rather than believing what we observe.

Just as unpredictably as the appearance of a jackpot or a hurricane, people who suffer from personality disorders often experience dramatic emotional impulses and changes of mood. This randomness makes relationships involving people who suffer from personality disorders fertile ground for intermittent reinforcement, both on the part of the personality-disordered individual and on the part of those who are closest to them.

The personality disordered individual is often aware that he or she lacks appropriate self-control and that their abusive behavior is less than satisfactory in the eyes of the Non-PD. They may fear that their behavior will result in negative consequences, increased conflict, loss of trust and respect or even loss of the relationship. They often want to make amends and wish for a better result. However, most prefer not to confront the root of the problem and want to avoid the unattractive prospect of endless psycho-analysis, admitting their failings, being treated like a problem, being forced to take medications, being regarded as someone who has a "mental problem". So they straddle the line of acceptability, trying to maintain the status quo, occasionally trying to "make up for it" when they perceive they may have crossed the line. Once in a while, the Non-PD may blow a fuse and put their foot down or threaten to leave, but it is typically short-lived. Like the person who builds a house in the flood zone, they hope they can "ride out" the occasional storm and get what they want without having to change.

The non-personality disordered individual (or Non-PD) is typically worn out by broken promises and persistent abuse and looks for a sign - any sign - that their investment in the relationship is not in vain. They are like the person who goes to see a movie which turns out to be a big disappointment. Having spent the money to get in, they will stay seated to the end in the hope that there will be some redeeming quality to the movie before it is over. The Non-PD may hold out hope for a loving, reciprocating relationship and may amplify that hope to the point where they will overlook abuse and cling to any sign from the PD that there may be a chance of redemption. The personality-disordered individual may occasionally oblige, often out of a sense of fear, obligation and guilt, giving the Non-PD exactly what they want. Jackpot. Like the gambler in the casino, this will encourage them to keep feeding the machine long after the jackpot has been spent.

In both cases, the parties are victims of intermittent reinforcement, They have the tendency to amplify a belief in what they hope will happen over what they observe has happened. Intermittent reinforcement nourishes that hope and the status quo is preserved.

The antidote to intermittent reinforcement is consistency. Consistency requires you to detach your emotions from your intellect and make decisions that you will behave and respond in a certain way even if it doesn't feel good. Consistency requires sober judgment and a resolve to do what makes sense rather than to do what feels good.

Consistent reinforcement will rarely get you a reward in the form of a thank-you from the personality-disordered individual in your life. However, the reward will come in the long run in the form of consistent behavior of their part - if only to avoid bad consequences of bad behavior.

Coping with Intermittent Reinforcement - What NOT to Do:

  • Don't make empty threats. These are the rocket fuel of intermittent reinforcement. Don't threaten consequences that you are not willing to follow through with 100%.
  • Don't make rash promises. Commit to doing 100% of the things you say you are going to do.
  • Don't repeat threats or promises. Say them once and then follow through with them.
  • Don't make lots of threats and conditions. It's better to have one boundary that you keep than 100 that you intermittently reinforce.
  • Don't intermittently reinforce other third parties. This will only demonstrate weakness.
  • Don't nag. You are asking to be intermittently reinforced.
  • Don't beg. Ask for what you want once and if you don't get it then take back your power and go get it yourself.
  • Don't keep feeding a machine that only pays out 90% of what you put in.
  • Don't build your house in the flood plain. Offers that sound too good to be true usually are.
  • Stop trusting your gut. Trust what works.

Coping with Intermittent Reinforcement - What TO Do:

  • Forgive yourself for your past mistakes and learn what works.
  • Hold your boundaries and keep your promises even when it feels uncomfortable. Remember that you are investing in the "next time"
  • Like a person walking into a casino, decide how much you are willing to lose before you will walk away.

Circular Conversations

Circular Conversations - Arguments which go on almost endlessly, repeating the same patterns with no resolution.

Typically both parties take opposing positions over an issue, dig in and then reiterate their arguments and the merits of their own position until one or both of them is exhausted and gives up.

Circular conversations can last hours, days, weeks, months, years, even a lifetime. When you think about it for a moment, the only reason people would subject themselves to that is they retain the hope that at some point the other person will change their mind, see their point of view, learn something, recognize their mistake and be persuaded that they were wrong all along. Logic would suggest that after 2 or 3 times around the loop most people would give up - but many of us don't. We go over and over.

Why?

Because what we are defending or arguing over is often a "bottom line issue" or - perhaps more accurately - it represents a bottom line issue. Often, the argument is over something superficial - like, for example, who should turn out the light or who should say "I'm sorry". The reason these become circular arguments is that the issue expressed often represents an underlying feeling such as "I feel disrespected", "I feel hurt" or "I feel afraid". When we argue, we are often trying to communicate feelings but, because of the tension in the air and, because the other person is not validating our position, we often feel too vulnerable to express our feelings. Instead, we tend to abstract or represent our feelings in the form of a position, an issue or an event such as "you lied to me" or "you're being insensitive" or even "I hate you". While we may say these things, we will not be satisfied until we believe the underlying feeling beneath our statements is resolved, addressed or acknowledged.

Enter the person with the personality disorder and you sometimes have the recipe for a never ending circular discussion. That is because the person with a personality disorder does not always able to see the same reality that you see. To a person with a personality disorder, the way they feel dictates to them what the facts are. So to them if they feel betrayed then you are a betrayer. If they feelloved then you are loving. If they feel afraid then you aredangerous. If their feelings match up to your reality, that's great! You will be wonderfully validated, incredibly appreciated and deeply and sincerely loved. However, when their feelings do not line up with yours, then it is going to be a long night.

People with personality disorders have all the same human emotions as you do. They naturally want to be validated and accepted. The problem is that their representation of reality, while valid to them, is not always factual. They may start talking to you in a way that you can't accept, endorse or agree with. You may discover that you just can't reach resolution. It won't change until they feel different, which might take a few minutes or a few years.

So what can you do when you find yourself in a circular argument?

First thing is to catch yourself in one and recognize the pattern. Acknowledge that you are in a conversation that is just going around and around.

Second thing is to realize that feelings aren't inherently good or bad - they just are. The way you feel is just the way you feel. Feelings are a byproduct of circumstances, emotions, brain chemistry and a host of other things. You can't control the way you feel - neither ca the person with a personality disorder. The way you feel is just a natural reaction to what you are experiencing.

Then switch from stating facts to stating feelings - your own feelings not the other person's. Don't say "I feel like you are lying". That is not a feeling, that is an opinion. Say "I feel scared" or "I feel hurt" You don't have to say why - just say it. The wonderful thing about stating your feelings is that nobody can contradict you (although people might try) Nobody knows or owns your feelings except you.

Then end the conversation. Don't slam the door. Don't storm out. Don't try to get the last word or win the moment. Just stop. Calmly and with your dignity intact. If you like you can say "I need a break" or "Let's discuss this later" but just end it there.

Then get out of the way. Don't wait for your feelings to be validated. Don't wait for the other person to change their mind. Just get out of the way. You can't make that person feel differently. Their feelings are their feelings just as much as your feelings are yours. You have no more right to tell them how they should feel than they have the right to tell you how you should feel. Let them have their feelings. Judge them by their behavior - not by their feelings. After that, If their behavior is acceptable and safe for you to be near then that is great. If not, then you need to get out of the way and stay there until it is.

If you can do that - you can break teh circle of circular conversations. Congratulations! You deserve a big pat on the back!

Links:

http://forum.outofthefog.net/topic/7404904

Abuse Amnesia

Abuse Amnesia

Definition:

Abuse Amnesia - Abuse Amnesia is a form of cognitive suppression where an abuse victim has trouble remembering episodes where their boundaries have been violated.

Description:

Abuse Amnesia is a strange occurrence which is common among people who have been chronically abused.

When a chronically abused person is interviewed or asked about how they are treated by the abusive person they are close to, they will often generalize a positive response.

This positive response could be interepreted as denial, but it is also likely that the abuse victim just doesn't remember all the things they have been through.

Abuse amnesia is a natural outcome of Confirmation Bias, where information which contradicts what a person wants to believe is neglected or forgotten quickly and information which confirms a belief is amplified and paid attention to.

Abuse amnesia is common in situations where a person is still invested in the success of the relationship and is "rooting for" the abuser to turn the corner, for the situation to improve and for the relationship to succeed.

It is common when an abuse victim is given an opportunity to talk at length about their experiences in a validating environment that they begin to remember traumatic events which they had previously forgotten.

Amateur Diagnosis

Amateur Diagnosis - An Amateur Diagnosis is when a non-qualified individual confronts someone whom they suspect suffers from a personality-disorder and shares this belief with them, usually in the hope that this revelation will help to improve the relationship or the situation.

Description

It's common when individuals who care about someone who suffers from a personality disorder first learn about personality disorders and begin to understand the strange and frightening behaviors in a better way to experience a great deal of relief known. This is sometimes called the "Lightbulb Moment".

This is sometimes followed by a desire to share this new-found knowledge with the person who suffers with the personality disorder. The Non-PD may hope that the personality-disordered individual will see that the diagnosis is accurate and start working on their recovery.

This could be well received if the other party has approached you to ask for help or is already concerned about the consequences of the choices they are making. Then they may have opened a window where it can be discussed in an open way even if only temporarily in a moment of clarity.

However, it is often the case that a personality-disordered-individual becomes defensive when someone else suggests that they may have a personality disorder or other mental illness.

It's also common for them to turn it around and say that it is the Non-PD that has the problem or to create some diversion or list of excuses for their behavior. This typically leads to circular conversations which can lead to further conflict.

Another common result is for the personality disordered individual to hoover the Non-PD or agree to get help. This defuses the immediate conflict, but the follow-up may be short-lived. This often leads to an Abusive Cycle.

Despite these challenges, the urge to say something can be overwhelming and it's still common for people to try this - often in the heat of a conflict or as a last-ditch effort when they feel they have nothing to lose.

Avoidance

Avoidance - The practice of withdrawing from relationships with other people as a defensive measure to reduce the risk of rejection, accountability, criticism or exposure.

Examples of Avoidance

  • A woman leaves the home for a week when her in-laws come for a visit.
  • A man goes to his bedroom when his wife's friend comes over.
  • An employee habitually keeps their office door closed.
  • A woman refuses to attend social gatherings with her husband,
  • A man begins to shun an acquaintance after they express an interest in developing a closer friendship.
  • A woman hides her true emotions from others and pushes them away socially, for fear that not doing so would subject her to rejection.

What It Feels Like:

If you are in a relationship with a person who practices avoidance, you may feel frustrated at their irrational behavior. You may feel the pressure to choose between your care for the person who is behaving in an avoidant way and your desire for healthy social interaction. You may begin to resent the pressure to become a hermit with them.

What NOT To Do:

  • Don't blame yourself for the avoidant behavior and attitudes a loved-one may be showing.
  • Don't give in to pressure to isolate yourself from healthy relationships which are good for you.
  • Don't try to thought police the person with the personality disorder.
  • Don't try to control their behavior - focus on being healthy yourself.

What TO Do:

  • Learn about Personality Disorders and how that affects the person you care about.
  • Detach yourself emotionally from any dysfunctional attitudes. You don't have to agree with them and you don't have to fight with them. You can agree to disagree.
  • Maintain your healthy outside interests, recreational pursuits and supportive relationships.
  • Get support from people who understand personality disorders and who can appreciate what you are dealing with.

Codependency

A Codependency is a relationship in which an otherwise mentally-healthy person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected by an addiction or mental illness.

In Codependent No More, author Melody Beattie asks:

"Is someone else's problem your problem? If, like so many others, you've lost sight of your own life in the drama of tending to someone else's, you may be codependent."

Codependency is the tendency for the victim in an abusive relationship to develop dysfunctional patterns or habits in the process of trying to cope with a family member or partner who is abusive or neglectful or has an addiction. These patterns include denial of the problem, enabling or support of the abusive behavior, poor sense of self-worth, abandonment of personal goals or values and development of controlling or manipulative behaviors.

Codependents are generally unsatisfied with the status quo, yet often fear the consequences of trying to make a change, of trying to detach or put a stop to the abuse

.Codependence was first described as a problem observed in children of alcoholics, who developed distinctive patterns of denial, shame, avoidance, lack of boundaries, low self-worth and excessive sensitivity to the needs of others in an attempt to compensate for their parents' disorders. These characteristics often carry over into adulthood and s-called "adult children" often find themselves in patterns of unstable social relationships.The terms "codependent" and "dysfunctional " originally referred to families specifically affected by alcoholism. However, these terms have been popularly generalized to include any household situation involving a neglectful or abusive family member. Therefore, codependency often describes the characteristics of family members, spouses and partners of people who suffer from personality disorders and other mental illnesses

Characteristics of Codependency

Denial Patterns:

  • I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.
  • I minimize, alter or deny how I truly feel.
  • I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the wellbeing of others.

Low Self Esteem Patterns:

  • I have difficulty making decisions.
  • I judge everything I think, say or do harshly, as never "good enough."
  • I am embarrassed to receive recognition and praise or gifts.
  • I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires
  • I value others' approval of my thinking, feelings and behavior over my own.
  • I do not perceive myself as a lovable or worthwhile person. 

Compliance Patterns:

  • I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others' anger.
  • I am very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same.
  • I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
  • I value others' opinions and feelings more than my own and am afraid to express differing opinions and feelings of my own.
  • I put aside my own interests and hobbies in order to do what others want.
  • I accept sex when I want love. 

Control Patterns:

  • I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
  • I attempt to convince others of what they "should" think and how they "truly" feel.
  • I become resentful when others will not let me help them.
  • I freely offer others advice and directions without being asked.
  • I lavish gifts and favors on those I care about.
  • I use sex to gain approval and acceptance.
  • I have to be "needed" in order to have a relationship with others.

Source: Co-Dependents Anonymous http://www.CoDA.org

"Control Me" Syndrome

 "Control Me" Syndrome describes a tendency which some people have to foster relationships with people who have a controlling narcissistic, antisocial or "acting-out" nature.

Some people just feel more comfortable when they give the responsibility for making decisions to others.

It's sometimes tempting to allow others to make decisions for us. When:

  • We feel less successful than others.
  • We feel less capable than others.
  • Others project an air of confidence or authority.
  • Others appear more successful than us.
  • We are humiliated by past mistakes.
  • We fear the humiliation of making new mistakes.

Taking a passive "control-me" approach is a dangerous strategy for a number of reasons:

  • Other people make mistakes.
  • Certain people with personality disorders, including narcissists, controllers and other people who "act-out" are often attracted to "Control-Me" personalities.
  • Adopting a passive approach to decision making often leads to a passive-aggressive attitude towards problem solving.

It is also important to realize that when you give control over decision making to another, you have not really given up control so much as you have chosen to delegate control to another. This means that you are somewhat responsible for the outcome.

Examples of "Control-Me" Syndrome

  • A woman tends to get into relationships with men who will tell her what to do.
  • A man will not leave an abusive relationship unless someone he sees as an authority figure tells him to do it.
  • A young woman is relieved to move out and escape from her abusive home, immediately gets involved with an abusive boyfriend.

People who go through life with a "Control-Me" strategy typically find themselves disappointed with the results as they stagger from one dysfunctional relationship to the next. They may find themselves repeatedly in abusive situations or trapped in relationships that do not serve their best interests. They often hook up with people who have a "Control-You" syndrome.

What It Feels Like:

If you are in a relationship with a person who has "Control-Me" syndrome, you may be flattered by their apparent "trust" in you but you may end up being frustrated when the inevitable disappointments come.

If you have the symptoms of "Control-Me" syndrome, you may enjoy the short cut of putting the responsibility onto another, but you may also become frustrated when they inevitably let you down.

Denial

Denial - Denial is the practice of believing or imagining that some painful or traumatic circumstance, event or memory does not exist or did not happen.

Most people find themselves in denial in everyday living situations, particularly in handling threatening situations, grief or loss. This is quite normal not to face reality - or pretend it does not exist, as one struggles to cope with difficult circumstances.

Non personality-disordered individuals (Non PD's) are prone to developing patterns of denial as they struggle to deal with the immense challenges they face in their relationship with a personality-disordered individual.

Denial is one of the one of the classic five stages of grief.

The 5 Stages of Grief - The 5 Stages of Grief - Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance - were first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to describe a process which many people go through when dealing with a significant tragedy or loss.

Examples of Denial:

The following are examples of statements Non-PD's may use which may indicate they are in denial:

  • "It's not that bad. Most of the time we're really happy."
  • "She's rough on me but she really cares about the kids."
  • "I feel like I have a connection with her like no other. "
  • "She's had a hard life."
  • "She's been working hard on our marriage lately"

Enabling

Enabling - Enabling is a pattern of behavior, often adopted by abuse victims, which seeks to avoid confrontation and conflict by absorbing the abuse without challenging it or setting boundaries. The perpetrator of the abuse is thus "enabled" to continue their pattern of behavior.

Enabling is a strategy often adopted by victims of abuse in an effort to try to placate the abuser by giving them what they want, fly "under the radar" or "keep the peace". The idea is that efforts to confront or set boundaries in the face of unacceptable behavior often result in an immediate escalation of conflict, therefore it is easier just to go along with what the abuser wants.

Enabling Pros...

While enabling does not completely eliminate abusive episodes, it does reduce the overall frequency and/or intensity of conflict in the home and establishes a stable and secure status quo where the abuser and the victim's roles in the relationship are clearly defined.

Enabling Cons...

While enabling suppresses short term conflicts, it carries the penalty of reinforcing and prolonging a dysfunctional controlling hierarchy in a relationship, where one person is free to use abusive behaviors to get what they want. Enablers often unwittingly become accomplices in their own entrapment which makes it all the more difficult for them to break the cycle of abuse.

Enablers who subsequently decide to establish boundaries are likely to face stiff resistance from an abuser in the form of angeremotional blackmailhooveringFOGthreatsfalse accusations etc.

What it Feels Like

Enablers often feel frustrated and trapped, because they have to suppress their own goals, and feelings to sustain the status quo. As a result, enablers are prone to depression, substance abuse, sudden unexpected angry outbursts and projecting their own anger toward innocent "safe" bystanders. Enablers sometimes become secondary abusers of children, family members, acquaintances or co-workers who they may regard as "weaker".

Examples of Enabling

  • A woman who makes excuses for her husband's violent rages.
  • Cleaning up someone else's mess.
  • Hiding a person's dysfunctional actions from public view.
  • Absorbing the negative consequences of someone else's bad choices,
  • Paying off another person's debts.
  • Refusing to confront or protect oneself when exposed to physical, emotional or verbal assault.
  • Projecting one's own anger and frustration from a dysfunctional relationship onto another, innocent third party.

Enabling makes it easier for an abuser to go on abusing - at great cost to the direct victim and to the innocent bystanders like children, other family members, friends, acquaintances and ultimately to the abuser themselves - who is kept on life support in the dysfunctional system just enough to have no real incentive to change it.

What NOT To Do:

  • Don't be an enabler!
  • Don't be silent about what you are dealing with.
  • Don't hide another person's mistreatment of you from others.
  • Don't turn your anger on children or other people who you consider to be "weaker" than you.
  • Don't shield someone from the consequences of their own behavior - that is not helping them.
  • Don't fool yourself into thinking you can "take it" or that you are strong enough to absorb another person's pain.
  • Don't try to take on the role of a rescuer or a person who can fix an abuser's behavior.
  • Don't assume that because your children are only observing what is going on that that they aren't getting hurt by it
  • Don't tell yourself that because the abuse is intermittent or occasional that it isn't serious.
  • Don't assume that because an abuser is friendly and kind most of the time that they don't qualify as a "real" abuser.

What TO Do:

  • Get support. Talk to somebody who understands what you are dealing with.
  • Protect yourself and any children from verbal and emotional and physical assault. See our Emergency Page if necessary.
  • Work to establish realistic and meaningful boundaries.

"Fix-It" Syndrome

Fix-It Syndrome is when a non-personality-disordered individual frequently puts themselves in the position of a caretaker who is responsible for compensating for their personality-disordered loved-one's behaviors, cleaning up any messes created by their actions and fixing any problems arising from their mental health issues.

A large number of Chosen Non-PD's are fixers, rescuers and well-meaning individuals who try to use their own ability to bring about change in others through the power of influence, persuasion, coercion or charm.

Examples of Fixers & Rescuers

  • A fiancé whose future spouse explodes in a fit of rage, but who chooses to go ahead with the wedding, thinking "I can change him/er after the wedding"
  • A husband in an abusive relationship who decides to "love her through the pain"
  • An abused wife who decides not to seek out professional help, preferring to "try harder to work on herself".
  • A partner in a relationship who tries to keep the peace through making everything "perfect" for their partner at home.
  • A parent with a personality-disordered child who seeks solutions by being a better parent.
  • A child of a personality-disordered parent who tries to win their favor through academic performance.

The Attractive Role of a Fixer or Rescuer

Fixers & rescuers often engage themselves in supremely noble activities. Like martyrs, they often sacrifice their own goals and hopes for the sake of the other person. There are a number of possible reasons why many of us, as Non-PD's cast ourselves in that role.

Nobility - This kind of self-sacrifice is sometimes encouraged by popular cultural and religious beliefs. There is a strong cultural narrative that teaches us that it is more noble to give than to receive and that those who adopt this philosophy will prevail in the end. Many of our cultural heroes are people who martyred themselves or sacrificed themselves for a cause. Some of us, while we are suffering in silence, privately hope that we are winning the admiration of friends and family for doing so.

Action - Sometimes, when the world around us seems to be imploding in a world of crazy destruction, it can seem foolish to do nothing. At least if we are hacking our way through a jungle we have something to do and a task to focus our energy on. It can be therapeutic to take our frustration and confusion out on a project and sometimes the extra adrenaline we get from frequent conflict with our personality-disordered family members can be channeled to give us a kind of "super-human strength" to accomplish amazing things.

Latent Justice - Some of us, especially those with a strong religious conviction, view the universe as a place where all will be made equal in the end. Like some kind of emotional bank account, we deposit our efforts and sacrifices believing that we will reap what we have sewn.

Guilt & Pride - Some of us, while we are working hard on ourselves or on "the relationship", harbor a hidden vengeance and secretly plan for the day when our loved-one will "See the light", "come to their senses" or "pay back what is owed". We may secretly imagine our loved one coming to us, acknowledging all that we have done for them, and asking or pleading for our forgiveness.

So What's Wrong with Being a Fixer?

The problem with adopting a "fix-it" or "rescuer" attitude towards dealing with personality disorders is that personality disorders are real mental illnesses, with their roots buried deep in the neurology of the people who suffer from them. Just as you can't cure someone else's infection by taking an antibiotic for them, you can't cure someone else's personality disorder by changing your own behavior, or compensating for them. You can't rescue them, no matter how much you, or they, might wish you could.

Unfortunately, people who suffer from personality disorders are not able to fix themselves either. There are no known cures for personality disorders. What does exist is treatment programs to manage the symptoms, which can lead to a dramatically improved standard of life for those who suffer from them, and for those who live with them. However, just as a recovered alcoholic will always still consider themselves alcoholic and can never relax their commitment to sobriety, so is a recovered person who suffers from a personality disorder is still a person who suffers from a personality disorder and will always be in recovery - not finished recovery.

This is not written to cast judgment on those who suffer from personality disorders or on those who have worked on recovering from them. There are many who have worked hard to recover from personality disorders and shown great strength to prevail over their conditions. Some of them are friends and members of Out of the FOG and we salute them.

This is a reminder of the futility of taking someone else’s prescription. You can’t cure a personality disorder in another person. What you can do is learn what does work.

Some ideas are given in our sections on Setting Better BoundariesLearning how to effectively respond to Common Traits and Behaviors or Working on Ourselvesand our own personality.

Fleas

Fleas - When a non-personality-disordered individual (Non-PD) begins imitating or emulating some of the disordered behavior of a loved one or family member with a personality disorder this is sometimes referred to as "getting fleas".

Fleas comes from the adage “Lie down with dogs and you are bound to get fleas”.

Sometimes, when a person has been exposed to an abusive situation for a sustained period, they will look for ways to escape - and sometimes they will experiment or resort to behaviors which are not characteristic but serve as a mechanism to demonstrate their anger.

These behaviors are often destructive and counter-productive and rarely get the abuse victim what they want. These behaviors usually result in regret, shame and apologies from the abuse victim towards their perpetrator. Some perpetrators may seize on such incidents as justification for their own abusive behavior or as a diversion from it.

Some Examples of Fleas

  • An submissive partner who occasionally becomes violent towards an abusive person or towards their property.
  • A placid individual who engages in name calling, shouting or slander.
  • A faithful spouse who decides to have an affair.

What it Feels Like

If you have been living for a long time with a person who suffers from a personality disorder, chances are you have been living with the 3 dreadful companions - hopelessness, helplessness and powerlessness. Like an animal forced into a corner it is quite common to have the instinct to fight your way out of it.

Anger is a feeling that comes instinctively when we feel we aren't getting what we deserve. When we feel angry, our bodies produce adrenaline, our breathing rate and heart rate quicken. Our ability to think objectively and perform other maintenance tasks is reduced as our bodies instinctively divert resources towards our "fight or flight" mechanisms. We become like a tightly-wound spring.

However, most Non-PD's are more accustomed to "keeping the peace" than being aggressors and most of us are not comfortable or accomplished in winning arguments or fights.

We will often back down or feel remorse after lashing out. We may begin to compare our behavior to that of the person with the personality disorder and wonder if we are the ones who have "the" problem. It is common for Non-PD's to begin to question if they are the one who suffers from a personality disorder. It is also common for Non-PD's to greatly fear retribution after an angry outburst and engage in a manipulative campaign, similar to hooveringto try to deflect consequences or payback.

What NOT to do

If you find you are doing things that you are not proud of and think you may be getting fleas:

  • Don't fight fire with fire with a person who is abusing you - you will just feel twice the heat.
  • Don't use their poor choices as an excuse or justification for making bad choices of your own.
  • Don't allow your own bad choices to be used as an excuse for somebody else's bad behavior. Everyone gets to be responsible for their own stuff.

What TO do

  • Learn all you can about personality disorders and the abusive cycle.
  • Get yourself a support network where you can discuss things that concern you without feeling judged.
  • Work on setting Boundaries that will help you escape the feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness.
  • Take along a friend or therapist if appropriate and confront the behaviors of your abuser in an assertive, rather than an aggressive way.
  • Promptly remove yourself and any innocent children from any verbally or physically abusive situations.

Imposed Isolation

Imposed Isolation - When abuse results in a person becoming isolated from their support network, including friends and family.

Sometimes, people with personality disorders use a technique of "Divide and Conquer" to retain control over the people closest to them. One of the most effective ways to maintain an abusive cycle is to ensure that the abuse victim does not have access to outside support. People who represent social rivals or who have a close relationship with Non-PD's are often criticized, split black, and made unwelcome and the Non-PD is warned to stay away.

Often, those who are victims of abuse participate willingly in the isolation because they are afraid of what might happen if they reach out to others:

  • Other's might not believe them
  • Other's might spread embarrassing gossip about them.
  • Others might try to intervene in a counter-productive way.
  • The abuser may find out and punish them.

Examples of Isolation

  • A woman is afraid to spend an evening with her friends because she knows her husband is jealous of the relationship she has with them and is afraid of how he will react when she comes home.
  • A man is afraid to call his parents long-distance because he knows his wife is jealous of them and will complain about the cost.
  • A young girl is afraid to spend time with peers because she is ashamed of her family abuse and does not want others to find out what goes on in her home.
  • A mother of a girl who has attempted suicide does not attend social gatherings because she is afraid people might ask how her daughter is doing.
  • A man will not speak to others about his wife's abuse of him because he is afraid he will look weak.

What NOT to Do:

  • Don't assume you are the only person in the world who is going through what you are.
  • Don't be ashamed of your situation.
  • Don't blame yourself for someone else's bad behavior.
  • Don't let yourself become Isolated.

What TO Do:

  • Remember there are millions of people going through the same thing.
  • Find people who understand Personality Disorders and who understand what you are going through.
  • Find A friend, therapist, coach or mentor who you can trust and visit with them regularly.
  • Pick the lesser of two evils - it is hard to break the silence but it is even harder to struggle alone.

JADE - Don't Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain

To avoid circular conversations, don't JADE - Justify, Argue, Defend, or Explain.

Many Non-PD's are, by nature, consensus-builders. They can be notorious for having an over-developed need to explain themselves. They will talk and debate and rationalize until they are exhausted.

This trait is useful in many situations. A healthy debate between two individuals often helps to get all the issues on the table and can go a long way to avoiding misunderstandings. However, in order for this kind of dialogue to be productive, there has to be an underlying assumption that both parties can ultimately agree on what the facts are. This is often not the case.

A number of psychological studies have been conducted to demonstrate that eyewitness accounts in legal cases are often inaccurate. Everyone's memory is subject to biases of which they are not always aware and studies have shown that each time a person retells a story, their memory of the story will be rewritten slightly to better match the way they told it. The stronger the bias, the more the memory will be distorted each time it is recalled and rewritten. This helps to explain why some people's recollection of the facts can gradually skew further from the facts each time they repeat them.

This memory dynamic is at work in many situations, including:

  • When a person "talks themselves into" or "out-of" a difficult decision, and then iteratively reinforces the wisdom of that decision afterwards.
  • Romantic partners, who often selectively remember only good, (or bad) memories about each other.
  • Victims of abuse, who develop amnesia to events they do not wish to remember.
  • Political groups, who sometimes become systemically entrenched in a set of assumptions and become insensitive to alternative viewpoints.
  • Religious cults and groups - where mantras and creeds are used to reinforce doctrine.

Many people who suffer from personality disorders have heightened emotional drivers, or biases, which make them particularly susceptible to developing this kind of progressive memory distortion. This is sometimes referred to as Dissociation.

Given this understanding, the practice of having a debate with someone who has strong biases can actually have the counter-productive effect of reinforcing their biases, as they repetitively remember and state the facts from their own point of view. This is what makes the idea of JADE - Justifying, Arguing, Defending or Explaining - such a bad idea.

Instead, it is recommended that on any given issue, state your point of view once and once only. Provide any clarifications that are asked for. Anything more than this is likely to be counter productive.

This is not to suggest that you should say nothing at all or back down in an argument. It is critical to take whatever action is necessary so that you, and any children under your care, can live in a safe, happy, healthy and productive environment. It's just not that necessary to talk very much about it.

The JADE acronym is attributed to the Al-Anon group.

Learned Helplessness

Learned Helplessness- Learned helplessness is when a person begins to believe that they have no control over a situation, even when they do.

The mantra of the person who suffers from Learned Helplessness is: "What's the point in trying?"

Learned Helplessness was discovered in 1965 by psychologist Martin Seligman while he was studying the behavior of dogs. In the experiment, which was designed to be a variation of Pavlov's famous "classical conditioning" experiment, Seligman restrained the dogs for some time in a hammock. Every time a sound was heard, the dog would receive an electrical shock. Later, the dogs were put in a confined box which they could easily jump out of. Seligman wanted to see if the dogs would have learned to jump out of the box when they heard the sound to escape the shocks. What surprised him was that the dogs just lay there and did not try to escape.

What Seligman had discovered was that the dogs had "learned" from the early part of the experiment that the shocks occurred at random, were unavoidable and didn't depend on their own behavior. The dogs could, in fact, just jump out of the box to escape the shock but they had learned otherwise.

This kind of behavior pattern has since been demonstrated in humans if they have been exposed to punishments or discomforts which seem random and unavoidable. A feeling of helplessness and no power to improve one's circumstances is one of the key factors in depression.

Learned Helplessness can lead a person to falsely believe that they are more powerlessness than they really are. This can lead to them making poor choices, resulting in a worse situation and a vicious cycle of depression sets in.

The Connection Between Learned Helplessness and Personality Disorders

If you are in a relationship with a person who suffers from a personality disorder, chances are that you have been exposed to repeated disappointments and discomforts which appear to occur at random. The actions and attitudes of a person with a personality disorder often do not make logical sense to others and it is common for those close to them to look for answers with little success.

Some people search for causes and correlations to explain the behaviors of a personality disordered person. Sometimes correlations are identified - but often these discoveries break down as the behavior of the PD really can't be controlled that easily. In most cases the Non-PD will experience further disappointments and over time begin to feel that the situation is helpless.

The reality is that the person with the personality disorder is the one who is in control of their own behavior. While people with personality disorders usually do not have direct control over the way they feel, they do have control of the way they behave.

So what's the problem here?

Non-PD's often struggle with how to deal with behavior of a loved one which they deem unacceptable. It's very common for the Non-PD to try to figure out ways to try to change that behavior. However, changing someone else's behavior is a bit like trying to control the weather. You can try and you will have good days some of the time and bad days some of the time. You really have no control.

Armed with this disappointing realization and facing possible further abuse, it's common for the Non to begin to feel that they themselves are helpless - in other words, they begin to apply the lesson learned about their loved-one with a PD into other areas of their own life. Instead of thinking. "I have been unsuccessful in getting my loved one to change" they may begin to think "I can't getanything to change" or even "I am unsuccessful".

Like Seligman's dogs, they have decided to lie down.

Examples of Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness occurs when a person has experienced a specific series of negative events over which they have no control, despite their best efforts to improve the situation. Over time the person may begin to believe that no matter what they do, bad things will happen from time to time in a random fashion. Dysfunction arises when a person's negative experiences are generalized to their broader situation or outlook.

Let's say that a man with a spouse who has a personality disorder notices that on the last few occasions that he returned home from work punctually and complemented her appearance that she treated him very well, fussed over him and paid attention to his needs. He tells himself that coming home early "seems to be working".

The next day he decides to surprise her by coming home an extra 2 hours early. Excited at his plan, he arrives home only to discover her with another man. His model for how his world works is devastated. He no longer has a sense of control over his wellbeing and personal security. He may tell himself "I'm so stupid!"

In reality his wife's unfaithfulness had nothing to do with him. It was rooted in her need for attention and her low self-worth. An opportunity arose when a stranger showed an interest in her and she succumbed. Along with the thrill, she has been feeling some guilt over her behavior and fear of getting caught and has sub-consciously over-compensated by being extra nice to her husband when he comes home.

In this example, the husband's behavior had no influence or control over the situation. However, in an attempt to rationalize what happened, he may begin to review all the things he has done to motivate his wife to hurt him so much. He is making the mistake of looking at himself to explain the random actions of his wife. He is learning to be helpless.

In another example, a woman fears her father's angry outbursts. Sometimes he becomes violent but usually his weapon of choice is a verbal torrent of criticism. The woman tries to avoid her father as much as possible, and tries to be quiet when he is present, hoping he will not notice her. She may begin to feel shame and avoid talking to others because she does not want them to know what is happening.

This situation is more complex because the Non in an unchosen relationship (in this example, with a parent) may have a history where they didn't have the same power of independence as an adult. However, when she tries to become invisible, a cycle of depression and shame has begun. This cycle may then be carried outside of the home and into other areas of her life, where she is not being abused. This may contribute to feelings of depression, isolation and helplessness. In reality, she can do nothing to control her parent. She can, however, work on her own safety and protection.

How to Deal with Learned Helplessness

If you have lived for a long time with a person who suffers from a personality disorder, your self-esteem may have taken a hammering. You may have spent a lot of your energy and focus on the other person, trying to change their behavior. You may be feeling powerless, hopeless and helpless.

However, it is important to remember that while you may have almost no control or influence over the other person, you still have complete control and influence over your own behaviors. You need to try to get the focus off of the other person's "stuff" and onto your own "stuff". Otherwise you are likely to lie down and become depressed.

This means that in order to stay mentally healthy yourself, you will have to begin to act more independently of the person with the mental illness. Perhaps you need to stop seeking their approval for your decisions, stop asking for their permission to take care of yourself, stop letting them take the lead in your relationship. After all - if you are the one who is mentally healthy, you need to be the one who is making the decisions about what is best for you.

This may sound selfish. Many Non-PD's express discomfort or resistance at first to doing this. They may feel guilt or shame at "abandoning" or "neglecting" a PD partner or parent. Even worse, the person with the PD may react negatively to any independent thought and begin to accuse them of not caring, abandoning them or worse.

If you feel reluctance, guilt or fear it is important to remember that by taking care of yourself you are not acting selfishly. On the contrary, you are doing the most loving thing possible for the person with the PD. After all, no mentally healthy person would want a loved one to neglect themselves or make themselves sick or powerless. That just leads to two people being sick.

Jumping out of the box takes some effort on your part.

Obedience

In 1961 and 1962, Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram performed a famous series of experiments which demonstrated that about 2 out of 3 people will perform a cruel action towards another person if instructed to do so by someone whom they regard as an authority figure. This demonstrated that most people are prone to doing something they do not want to do, even something they would normally regard as "wrong", just because they are told to do it by an assertive or authoritative person.

In the Milgram experiment, participants responding to an advertisement were asked to participate in what was described as an experiment about learning and punishment. They were told that one person would be the "teacher" and the other person would be the "learner'" and drew lots decide who would be who. In reality, the "learner" was an actor following a script and the draw was rigged so that the real participant was always "randomly" chosen to be the "teacher".

The participant "teacher" was then seated in front of a fake "electrical shock machine" which had switches labeled in 15-volt increments, from 15 to 450 volts. The "learner was seated out of sight in an adjacent room but could communicate verbally with the teacher. The teacher was given a list of word-pairs to read to the learner. Then the learner would be asked to remember the pairings and communicate his answer by the correct button out of four. The teacher was instructed to administer progressively higher levels of electrical shock each time the learner made a mistake.

 

Stanley Milgram's fake "Shock Machine"

Stanley Milgram's fake "Shock Machine"

The learner intentionally made mistakes to put the teacher in the position of having to administer increasing shock levels. As progressively higher "shocks" were administered, the "learner" reacted audibly by screaming, shouting for it to stop and complaining about his heart condition. At even higher levels the "learner" refused to answer then fell silent. The teacher was instructed to continue by delivering shocks if no correct answer was given within a few seconds.

As the experiments progressed, most of the participants became visibly uncomfortable and began to question the wisdom of continuing and expressing concern for the wellbeing of the "learner". Whenever this happened, the experimenter would calmly instruct the participant to continue with a series of responses such as:

  • "Please continue teacher."
  • "The shocks may be painful but they're not dangerous"
  • "The experiment requires that you continue."
  • "whether the learner likes it or not, we must go on until he learns all the word pairs."
  • "It is absolutely essential that you continue."
  • "I'm responsible for anything that happens to him."
  • "You have no other choice, you must go on."

If the participant absolutely refused, the experiment was stopped. If not, it continued until the maximum 450-volt shock had been administered 3 times.

Milgram found that 26 out of 40 participants (65%) went all the way to the highest shock level.

Milgram set up the experiment as a way of investigating why extreme acts of cruelty were committed by so many people during World War II and hypothesized that people will obediently do things they would otherwise consider wrong if they feel that they will not be held responsible for what happens happening and if they instructed to do so by an authority figure.

Milgram's experiment is also an illustration of Learned Helplessness, where a person is influenced to relinquish their power to someone they perceive to be an authority figure.

Connection between Stanley Milgram's Experiment and Personality Disorders

Stanley Milgram's experiments illustrate what can happen when an otherwise ethical person finds themselves under the influence of an authority figure who instructs them to behave in an unethical way.

An example of this is when an abusive parent influences the other parent or siblings to join in the mistreatment of one child. The other family members may not have acted abusively without this influence, but within the family system abusive acts may become “normal” and they become "Abusers by Proxy".

Abusive parents may also recruit proxies from outside the home. Many people regard a parent as an authority figure over their children's lives and consider that the "parents know best". Using this social trust, abusive parents sometimes successfully recruit people from outside the family including teachers, doctors, pastors, counselors, friends and acquaintances to participate in the abuse of a child. A famous example of this is Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome in which a parent persuades medical staff to overmedicate or mistreat a child by claiming the child has illness or symptoms of an illness.

Another example of this is when someone in a relationship with a personality-disordered individual begins to reject people whom they would otherwise consider as friends, steal or break laws in order to please or placate the demands of their partner or spouse.

You can watch Stanley Milgram's Movie "Obedience" which documents the experiments here:

The Milgram experiment was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.

 

 

Rescuer Syndrome

Rescuer Syndrome - Rescuer Syndrome is when a non-personality-disordered individual assumes that their own strength, skill and knowledge are adequate to compensate for a personality-disordered individual's behavioral issues.

Many Chosen Non-PD’s are fixers, rescuers and well-meaning individuals who try to use their own ability to bring about change in others through the power of influence, persuasion, coercion or charm.

Examples of Fixers & Rescuers

  • A fiance whose future spouse explodes in a fit of rage, but who chooses to go ahead with the wedding thinking "I can change him/er after the wedding"
  • A husband in an abusive relationship who decides to "love her through the pain"
  • An abused wife who decides not to seek out professional help, preferring to "try harder to work on herself".
  • A partner in a relationship who tries to keep the peace through making everything "perfect" for their partner at home.
  • A parent with a personality-disordered child who seeks solutions by being a better parent.
  • A child of a personality-disordered parent who tries to win their favor through academic performance.

The Attractive Role of a Fixer or Rescuer

Fixers & rescuers often engage themselves in supremely noble activities. Like martyrs, they often sacrifice their own goals and hopes for the sake of the other person. There are a number of possible reasons why many of us, as Non-PD's cst ourselves in that role.

Nobility - This kind of self sacrifice is sometimes encouraged by popular cultural and religious beliefs. There is a strong cultural narrative that teaches us that it is more noble to give than to receive and that those who adopt this philosophy will prevail in the end. Many of our cultural heroes are people who martyred themselves or sacrificed themselves for a cause. Some of us, while we are suffering in silence, privately hope that we are winning the admiration of friends and family for doing so.

Action - Sometimes, when the world around us seems to be imploding in a world of crazy destruction, it can seem foolish to do nothing. At least if we are hacking our way through a jungle we have something to do and a task to focus our energy on. It can be therapeutic to take our frustration and confusion out on a project and sometimes the extra adrenaline we get from frequent conflict with our personality-disordered family members can be channeled to give us a kind of "super-human strength" to accomplish amazing things.

Latent Justice - Some of us, religiously or otherwise, view the universe as a place where all will be made equal in the end. Like some kind of emotional bank account, we pay in our efforts and sacrifices hoping and believing that some day, in this world or in the next, we will reap all that we have sewn, with interest.

Guilt & Pride - Some of us, while we are working hard on ourselves or on "the relationship", harbor a hidden vengeance and secretly plan for the day when our loved-one will "See the light", "come to their senses" or "pay back what is owed". We may secretly imagine our loved one coming to us, acknowledging all that we have done for them, and asking or pleading for our forgiveness.

So What's Wrong with Being a Fixer?

The problem with adopting a "fix-it" or "rescuer" attitude towards dealing with personality disorders is that personality disorders are real mental illnesses, with their roots buried deep in the neurology of the people who suffer from them. Just as you can't cure someone else's infection by taking an antibiotic for them, you can't cure someone else's personality disorder by changing your own behavior, or compensating for them. You can't rescue them, no matter how much you, or they, might wish you could.

Unfortunately, people who suffer from personality disorders are not able to fix themselves either. There are no known cures for personality disorders. WHat does exist is treatment programs to manage the symptoms, which can lead to a dramatically improved standard of life for those who suffer from them, and for those who live with them. However, just as a recovered alcoholic will always still consider themselves alcoholic and can never relax their commitment to sobriety, so is a recovered person who suffers from a personality disorder is still a person who suffers from a personality disorder and will always be in recovery - not finished recovery.

This, by no means, is said to cast any kind of judgmental or mean-spirited condescension on those who suffer from personality disorders or on those who have worked on recovering from them. There are many who have sacrificed greatly to recover from personality disorders and shown great strength to prevail over their conditions. Some of them are friends and members of Out of the FOG and we salute them.

This is said in order to convince loved-ones and family members, Non's, of the futility of taking someone else's prescription. You cannot, by yourself, cure a personality disorder in another person. What you can do is learn what does work. Some key ideas are given in the links of this site, such as Setting Better BoundariesLearning how to effectively respond to Common Traits and Behaviors or Working on Ourselves and our own personality.

Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome - Stockholm Syndrome is when a hostage, kidnap victim or abuse victim develops a sense of loyalty or co-operation towards their captor or abuser, disregarding the abuse or the danger and protecting or sustaining the perpetrator.

Stockholm Syndrome got its name from a 1973 bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in which 4 bank employees were taken hostage for 6 days. During their captivity, the victims were strapped in dynamite and locked in a vault. while the bank robbers negotiated with local authorities. However, during the stand-off, much to the surprise of their rescuers, the hostages developed more trust in their captors than in the police who were trying to rescue them, publicly stating afterwards that they feared the actions of the police more than those of the bank robbers. The term "Stockholm Syndrome" was subsequently coined by Swedish psychiatrist & criminologist Nils Bejerot who was involved in the case.

Stockholm syndrome is often referred to in common culture as "brainwashing" or "brainwashing the victim".

Examples of Stockholm Syndrome

Since that time, there have been a number of well documented cases of kidnapping or abuse of an individual in which the victim has begun co-operating with their captor to which the label of "Stockholm Syndrome" has been applied by the media:

  • In 2003, abducted teenager Elizabeth Smart was identified with Stockholm Syndrome after she was discovered to have had multiple opportunities to escape or seek help from strangers ,but moved around freely with her captors in public places and even told the police when interviewed that the captors were her parents. Source: New York Times Article.
  • In 1977, teenage hitchhiker Colleen Stan was abducted and held for 7 years by Cameron Hooker and his wife Janice. During her captivity, she was tortured, raped and made to live in a box underneath the couple's bed. Kept as Hooker's sex slave, she was occasionally allowed to leave the couple's home, on one occasion visiting her family, yet she covered up what was happening to her. When she escaped after 7 years in captivity she did not immediately report the crimes, which were eventually reported by Hooker's wife, Janice. Source: TruTV Article.
  • In 1974, 19 year old Patricia "Patti" Hearst was abducted in California by a guerilla group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army (or SLA). Her captors beat her, raped her and held her in a closet. Over her 17 month captivity she became a sympathizer with the group's cause, even participating in a bank robbery with them, for which she later spent 2 years in prison. Source: PBS "American Experience" Article.

While these are dramatic examples, the principles of Stockholm syndrome are common in domestic abuse scenarios.

Here at Out of the FOG, we have met a number of non personality-disordered (Non-PD) individuals who have defended the actions of abusive partners and family members. And many of us have, ourselves, rationalized, defended, even facilitated or co-operated with our abusers in a desperate attempt to reduce conflict, let sleeping dogs lie and keep the peace.

Why does Stockholm Syndrome happen?

First, it is important to remember that most abuse - even severe abuse is intermittent - that is to say that it doesn't happen 24/7. Abusers are often nurturing, helpful or co-operative - even likeable people 90% of the time. However, it doesn't take a lot of abuse to do a lot of damage to a person. See our article on the Abusive Cycle.

Second, it helps to understand the principle of Cognitive Dissonance. Cognitive Dissonance is a psychological term for the discomfort that most people feel when they encounter information which contradicts their existing set of beliefs or values.

Third, it is important to remember that the innate instinct of most people is to survive, and issues of personal comfort and safety will sometimes take a back seat to issues which are perceived as "life and death issues". Sometimes, a person's ability to think objectively, rationally or logically becomes impaired when they are in a survival mode.

Coping with Stockholm Syndrome

If you find yourself defending or rationalizing away the actions of a partner or family member whom a friend thinks is mistreating you, it may be a good idea to think about Stockholm syndrome and whether your judgment is being clouded by your instinct to survive.

Ask yourself:

  • If this was happening to my friend what would I want them to do?
  • What is it that I'm most afraid will happen if I confront the person who has hurt me?
  • Are things likely to be better 5 years from now?
  • Am I too afraid or ashamed to tell people what my life is really like?

And then:

  • Talk about it. Seek the objective advice of someone who is outside your situation, such as trusted friends, family or therapists.
  • If you are afraid to discuss your situation with anyone else then you especially need to try.
  • See a therapist.
  • Talk anonymously on our Support Forum.

Articles & Resources:

Love and the Stockholm Syndrome - article by psychologist Dr. Joe Carver.

Thought Policing

Thought Policing - Any process of trying to question, control, or unduly influence another person's thoughts or feelings.

The term "Thought Police" Comes from the classic novel Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell. In the book, Orwell describes a society in which a person's thoughts is regulated and manipulated by the government and thinking the "wrong" thoughts is legislated as a crime known as "ThoughtCrime". Orwell demonstrated in his book how in order to maintain control over a people, dysfunctional governments try to influence and control not just the way they behave - but how they think.

The same is true in dysfunctional families and relationships, where a controller or abuser tries to maintain power and control by first controlling a persons behavior then their thoughts. Independent thought, questioning, reasoning, rationalization, comparisons, just free thoughts may become a threat to a controller or abuser who may seek to interrogate the victim and repress their right to free thought.

When a person starts to police your thoughts you may feel offended - or you may feel the urge to hide your true feelings, deny your own thoughts to keep the peace, change your own set of values and beliefs to try to live in harmony. This may work in the short term - but it's not that easy to change your core values and beliefs and is a recipe for future conflict in your relationship and loss of self esteem for yourself.

It can be tempting to try to thought police others in relationships. However, thought policing is an unhealthy way to try to control others and, if sustained over time, can become a form of emotional abuse. 

At Out of the FOG, we believe that a person's thoughts are their own property - and that nobody has the right to control, interrogate or legislate another person's thoughts.

We believe this is true both for personality disorder sufferers and for those who are in relationship with them. So a person with a personality disorder has no business trying to read the mind of a family member or partner and a person who does not have a personality disorder has no business trying to read and control the mind of a person with a personality disorder. If a person has a feeling - let them have it!

If a person chooses to believe something that you know isn't true - that's their business - not yours! Let them believe what they want to believe and feel what they want to feel. That's their stuff! Your own feelings and your own thoughts - they are your own stuff and your own property and that's where your focus belongs and is most fruitfully spent. If you find yourself becoming upset with someone over the way they feel or over the way they think you may be guilty of thought policing yourself and you may be better served focusing on behaviors that you find unacceptable rather than thoughts.

If a person is policing you thoughts - we recommend doing what you can to be who you are, think what you want and believe and feel what you feel and believe what you believe. You can't easily change what you think, feel and believe and you don't owe anybody an explanation for how you think, feel or believe. We are accountable for our behaviors - not our thoughts.

If a person is railing at you over how you think feel or believe the best policy is to say to them - "that's just how I think" or "that's just how I feel" and agree to disagree. It usually does no good to try to convince another person that your feelings or beliefs are any more valid than theirs or that your thoughts are any more accurate than others. It's best just to try to "agree to disagree" and if the other party can't accept that then walk away from the negotiation and end the conversation.

Self-Doubt

 

It's common for people who have lived a long time in a highly charged environment with a personality-disordered individual to begin to doubt their own moral compass and their own mental health.

Description:

I'm not the crazy one... am I?

It's common for people who have lived with a personality disordered person to secretly fear that they may have some form of mental illness themselves.

Perhaps they have seen themselves mimic or copy some of the behaviors of the person they are living with (a phenomenon often referred to as getting fleas).

Perhaps they have seen their own anger at their sense of powerlessness and hopelessness occasionally boil up into acts of inappropriate violence, or verbal lashing out.

Perhaps they have seen symptoms of depression in their own lives and recognize that everything is not OK.

Perhaps they have read the criteria for various personality disorders and recognize some of their own behaviors in them.

Perhaps they have made poor choices in dealing with a personality disordered loved-one that have made life difficult.

Examples of Self Doubt

  • A Non-PD habitually apologizes for their mistakes, while not holding their partner accountable for theirs.
  • A Non-PD seeks therapy, believing that because they are not perfect, they are worthless.
  • A Non-PD seeks and sustains relationships with abusive partners, believing that they deserve poor treatment.
  • A Non-PD no longer trusts their own judgment, yet blindly accepts the opinions of strangers and people who do not know their situation well.

What NOT to do

  • Don't ignore your own judgment.
  • Don't blindly accept the words or opinions of others as "the truth".
  • Don't assume the worst about yourself.
  • Don't believe every bad thing you hear applies to you.
  • Don't allow your feelings to drown out your thoughts.