Lightbulb Moment

Definition

Lightbulb Moment - A Lightbulb Moment is the description many non-personality-disordered individuals use when they first discover the existence of personality disorders. For the first time, they have discovered a plausible explanation for the strange and frightening behaviors of a loved-one or family member who suffers from a personality disorder and learn that their situation is not uncommon. It is as if a light were just turned on.

Description

Many friends and family of personality-disordered individuals struggle for years trying to cope with their loved-one's destructive and often chaotic behavior with no help. Knowledge about personality disorders is growing but there is still a significant gap between what has been learned and how much of that information has been provided to the people who need it most - the people who are caring for a person who suffers from a personality-disordered individual on a regular basis.

These people often feel isolated - having no family or friends who they can talk to openly about the situation or having nobody who really understands the confusion and frustration they feel.

Even among mental health professionals they may come into contact with, there may exist a professional avoidance that prevents that person from helping them effectively:

Professional Avoidance - Professional Avoidance of Individuals who suffer from Personality Disorders describes a common reluctance among mental health providers to diagnose or treat individuals whom they suspect may suffer from a personality disorder.

When these people finally learn about the existence of personality disorders as a diagnosis and see many of the characteristics of their situation described and explained, there is often a great sense of relief. This is often referred to as the "light bulb effect" or "light bulb moment".

Potential Pitfalls of the Light Bulb Moment

While the Light Bulb Moment provides a welcome and much needed sense of relief to a non-personality-disordered individual, some Non-PD's make the mistake of thinking that all their problems will be easily solved now that they are armed with a diagnosis.

There are a large number of lightbulb moments described in our Introductions forum here:

Adult Children

Definition:

Adult Children - An adult child is a term commonly used to describe any grown adult who was exposed to emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child.

Description:

The term "Adult Children" was first coined by self-help groups supporting the grown children of alcoholic parents. However, over the years, the term has become generalized to include all grown children who grew up in abusive homes or dysfunctional families. Therefore, the terms "adult child" or "adult children" can refer to those who grew up in a home with a personality-disordered parent.

At "Out of the FOG" we often refer to adult children asUnchosen's. Unchosen's are people who are in a family relationship with a person who suffers from a personality disorder. They are called "unchosen" because they had no choice in entering into that relationship. Unchosen's include children, parents, siblings or relatives of a person who suffers from a personality disorder.

Characteristics of Adult Children

The following 13 characteristics of adult children was created by Dr. Janet G. Woititz.in her 1983 book "Adult Children of Alcoholics".

Adult Children: -

  • guess at what normal is.
  • have difficulty in following a project through from beginning to end.
  • lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
  • judge themselves without mercy.
  • have difficulty having fun.
  • take themselves very seriously.
  • have difficulty with intimate relationships.
  • overreact to changes over which they have no control.
  • constantly seek approval and affirmation.
  • feel that they are different from other people.
  • are either super responsible or super irresponsible.
  • are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is undeserved.
  • tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of control of their environment. As a result, they spend tremendous amounts of time cleaning up the mess.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape, such as in cases of:

  • domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • entrapment or kidnapping.
  • slavery or enforced labor.
  • long term imprisonment and torture
  • repeated violations of personal boundaries.
  • long-term objectification.
  • exposure to gaslighting & false accusations
  • long-term exposure to inconsistent, push-pull,splitting or alternating raging & hooveringbehaviors.
  • long-term taking care of mentally ill or chronically sick family members.
  • long term exposure to crisis conditions.

When people have been trapped in a situation over which they had little or no control at the beginning, middle or end, they can carry an intense sense of dread even after that situation is removed. This is because they know how bad things can possibly be. And they know that it could possibly happen again. And they know that if it ever does happen again, it might be worse than before.

The degree of C-PTSD trauma cannot be defined purely in terms of the trauma that a person has experienced. It is important to understand that each person is different and has a different tolerance level to trauma. Therefore, what one person may be able to shake off, another person may not. Therefore more or less exposure to trauma does not necessarily make the C-PTSD any more or less severe.

C-PTSD sufferers may "stuff" or suppress their emotional reaction to traumatic events without resolution either because they believe each event by itself doesn't seem like such a big deal or because they see no satisfactory resolution opportunity available to them. This suppression of "emotional baggage" can continue for a long time either until a "last straw" event occurs, or a safer emotional environment emerges and the damn begins to break.

The "Complex" in Complex Post Traumatic Disorder describes how one layer after another of trauma can interact with one another. Sometimes, it is mistakenly assumed that the most recent traumatic event in a person's life is the one that brought them to their knees. However, just addressing that single most-recent event may possibly be an invalidating experience for the C-PTSD sufferer. Therefore, it is important to recognize that those who suffer from C-PTSD may be experiencing feelings from all their traumatic exposure, even as they try to address the most recent traumatic event.

This is what differentiates C-PTSD from the classic PTSD diagnosis - which typically describes an emotional response to a single or to a discrete number of traumatic events.

Difference between C-PTSD & PTSD

Although similar, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) differs slightly from the more commonly understood & diagnosed condition Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in causes and symptoms.

C-PTSD results more from chronic repetitive stress from which there is little chance of escape. PTSD can result from single events, or short term exposure to extreme stress or trauma.

Therefore a soldier returning from intense battle may be likely to show PTSD symptoms, but a kidnapped prisoner of war who was held for several years may show additional symptoms of C-PTSD.

Similarly, a child who witnesses a friend's death in an accident may exhibit some symptoms of PTSD but a child who grows up in an abusive home may exhibit the additional C-PTSD characteristics shown below:

C-PTSD - What it Feels Like:

People who suffer from C-PTSD may feel un-centered and shaky, as if they are likely to have an embarrassing emotional breakdown or burst into tears at any moment. They may feel unloved - or that nothing they can accomplish is ever going to be "good enough" for others.

People who suffer from C-PTSD may feel compelled to get away from others and be by themselves, so that no-one will witness what may come next. They may feel afraid to form close friendships to prevent possible loss should another catastrophe strike.

People who suffer from C-PTSD may feel that everything is just about to go "out the window" and that they will not be able to handle even the simplest task. They may be too distracted by what is going on at home to focus on being successful at school or in the workplace.

C-PTSD Characteristics

How it can manifest in the victim(s) over time:

Rage turned inward: Eating disorders. Depression. Substance Abuse / Alcoholism. Truancy. Dropping out. Promiscuity. Co-dependence. Doormat syndrome (choosing poor partners, trying to please someone who can never be pleased, trying to resolve the primal relationship)

Rage turned outward: Theft. Destruction of property. Violence. Becoming a control freak.

Other: Learned hyper vigilance. Clouded perception or blinders about others (especially romantic partners) Seeks positions of power and / or control: choosing occupations or recreational outlets which may put oneself in physical danger. Or choosing to become a "fixer" - Therapist, Mediator, etc.

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

Blaming - The practice of identifying a person or people responsible for creating a problem, rather than identifying ways of dealing with the problem.

Catastrophizing - The habit of automatically assuming a "worst case scenario" and inappropriately characterizing minor or moderate problems or issues as catastrophic events.

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

Denial - Believing or imagining that some painful or traumatic circumstance, event or memory does not exist or did not happen.

Dependency - An inappropriate and chronic reliance by an adult individual on another individual for their health, subsistence, decision making or personal and emotional well-being.

Depression (Non-PD) -Depression is when you feel sadder than your circumstances dictate, for longer than your circumstances last, but still can't seem to break out of it.

Escape To Fantasy - Taking an imaginary excursion to a happier, more hopeful place.

Fear of Abandonment - An irrational belief that one is imminent danger of being personally rejected, discarded or replaced.

Relationship Hyper Vigilance - Maintaining an unhealthy level of interest in the behaviors, comments, thoughts and interests of others.

Identity Disturbance - A psychological term used to describe a distorted or inconsistent self-view

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

Low Self-Esteem - A common name for a negatively-distorted self-view which is inconsistent with reality.

Panic Attacks - Short intense episodes of fear or anxiety, often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as hyperventilating, shaking, sweating and chills.

Perfectionism - The maladaptive practice of holding oneself or others to an unrealistic, unattainable or unsustainable standard of organization, order, or accomplishment in one particular area of living, while sometimes neglecting common standards of organization, order or accomplishment in other areas of living.

Selective Memory and Selective Amnesia - The use of memory, or a lack of memory, which is selective to the point of reinforcing a bias, belief or desired outcome.

Self-Loathing - An extreme hatred of one's own self, actions or one's ethnic or demographic background.

Tunnel Vision - The habit or tendency to only see or focus on a single priority while neglecting or ignoring other important priorities.

C-PTSD Causes

C-PTSD is caused by a prolonged or sustained exposure to emotional trauma or abuse from which no short-term means of escape is available or apparent to the victim.

The precise neurological damage that exists in C-PTSD victims is not well understood.

C-PTSD Treatment

Little has been done in clinical studies of treatment of C-PTSD. However, in general the following is recommended:

  • Removal of and protection from the source of the trauma and/or abuse.
  • Acknowledgement of the trauma as real, important and undeserved.
  • Acknowledge that the trauma came from something that was stronger than the victim and therefore could not be avoided.
  • Acknowledgement of the "complex" nature of C-PTSD - that responses to earlier traumas may have led to decisions that brought on additional, undeserved trauma.
  • Acknowledgement that recovery from the trauma is not trivial and will require significant time and effort.
  • Separation of residual problems into those that the victim can resolve (such as personal improvement goals) and those that the victim cannot resolve (such as the behavior of a disordered family member)
  • Mourning for what has been lost and cannot be recovered.
  • Identification of what has been lost and can be recovered.
  • Program of recovery with focus on what can be improved in an individual's life that is under their own control.
  • Placement in a supportive environment where the victim can discover they are not alone and can receive validation for their successes and support through their struggles.
  • As necessary, personal therapy to promote self-discovery.
  • As required, prescription of antidepressant medications.

What to do about C-PTSD if you've got it:

Remove yourself from the primary or situation or secondary situations stemming from the primary abuse. Seek therapy. Talk about it. Write about it. Meditation. Medication if needed. Physical Exercise. Rewrite the script of your life.

What not to do about it:

  • Stay. Hold it in. Bottle it up. Act out. Isolate. Self-abuse. Perpetuate the cycle.
  • What to do about it if you know somebody else who has C-PTSD:
  • Offer sympathy, support, a shoulder to cry on, lend an ear. Speak from experience. Assist with practical resolution when appropriate (guidance towards escape, therapy, etc.) Be patient.
  • What not to do about it if you know somebody else who has it:
  • Do not push your own agenda: proselytize, moralize, speak in absolutes, tell them to "get over it", or try to force reconciliation with the perpetrator or offer "sure fire" cures.

C-PTSD Support Groups & Links:

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.

The 5 Stages of Grief are:

  1. Denial
  2. Bargaining
  3. Anger
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Most Non-Personality-Disordered Individuals go through our own version of the 5 stages of grief as we come to terms with the reality that we are dealing with someone in our home who suffers from a significant mental illness and whose personality disorder brings long term struggles and difficult choices that we have to face. In a way, we face a death - death of the dream of coming from a "normal" home and the expectation of being loved the way we deserve by those closest to us.

Examples of Denial Statements:

  • 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

Examples of Anger Statements:

  • You psycho bitch! 
  • You only care about yourself!
  • You'll be sorry someday.

Examples of Bargaining Statements:

  • If you don't keep to our agreement I'm going to divorce you.
  • I came home early from work every day last week. How can you say I don't care?
  • I forgave you when you hit me!
  • I love you (thinking - please don't hurt me)

Examples of Depression Statements:

  • Maybe she's right
  • I could never leave, my life would be ruined
  • I have to stay for the sake of the kids.
  • At least I have a good job.

Examples of Acceptance Statements:

  • I still love you. I'm leaving because I don't want these fights to continue.
  • I know I've made mistakes too. I'm sorry for that.
  • I wish her well and hope the best for her.
  • There were some things I still like about him, there were some things that scared me.
  • I'm not happy I'm divorced, but I'm glad I went through with it.

Learning to Cope with Grief:

Grief is a consequence of loss and much as we want to we often find that we can't go over it, can't go under it, can't go around it and have to go through it.

Mourning

It's OK to mourn. Think about the way it should have been, could have been, might have been. Imagine your life if the abuser in your life had had a healthy mind, a sense of responsibility, a conscientious kind heart. Write it down. What dreams did you sacrifice? What pain did you swallow? Mourning is the time to cry. And when you are done, if you want to, cry again.

Rant about it. Talk to a safe group of friends about it. Tell somebody what happened. Get it off your chest. Why was it wrong? What happened? How in the world did you put up with that for so long? Take a load off! Tell someone your story.

There are lots of people here at Out of the FOG who have been there, who are still there - who are trying to find the courage to say: "I hurt!", "That was wrong!", "It didn't have to be that way!", "I deserve better!" Somehow we feel stronger when we hear from others who have faced or are facing the same struggles as ourselves.

Anger

Read more on processing anger here

What NOT to do:

  • Don't be ashamed of your grief. It is something that makes us all very human.
  • Don't be ashamed to admit your grief to others or to seek assistance.
  • Don't believe that you will always feel this way. The only thing that stays constant is change.
  • Don't isolate yourself or cut yourself off from people who really care about you.
  • Don't pressure yourself to snap out of it. Celebrate who you really are.

What TO do:

  • Remember that the person you are today is no less valuable than the person you were on your greatest day.
  • Remember that grief is a process which takes time.
  • Be good to yourself - give yourself something every day that you will look forward to.
  • Get help and support from people who understand what you are going through and who care about you.

FOG - Fear, Obligation & Guilt

Definition:

FOG - Fear, Obligation & Guilt - The acronym FOG, for Fear, Obligation and Guilt, was first coined by Susan Forward & Donna Frazier in Emotional Blackmail and describes feelings that a person often has when in a relationship with someone who suffers from a personality disorder. Our website, Out of the FOG, is named after this acronym.

Description:

Fear is a mental process that that triggers a physical response in humans when confronted by a threat. Fear produces adrenaline that prepares us for the classic "fight or flight" response to threatening situations. When we fear, we anticipate the possibility that something bad might happen soon. Our bodies shut down all long or non-critical functions as we prepare for immediate physical action. Our digestive systems shut down and expel unnecessary waste. Our immune systems and growth systems are put on a lower priority as we prepare to deal with sudden, immediate threats. Our heart beat and breathing quickens to provide increased oxygen to our muscles. Our senses heighten and our peripheral long range thoughts are relegated. Fear is a survival instinct that preserved some of our ancestors in moments of extreme danger. So fear can be a good thing. However, prolonged fear - also known as stress or anxiety, is not so good for us and can lead to increased risk of long term health problems.

Obligation comes from an innate sense of community responsibility. We are born with an instinctive sense of obligation to those around us. Historically, humans who isolated themselves from a community were in much greater danger of perishing. Only those who contributed to the community were accepted by the community. As a result, our communities have evolved in such a way that those who have a strong sense of community responsibility are more likely to be accepted by others and ultimately to produce children. Obligation has served our ancestors well in forming communities. However, when a ruthless person takes advantage of our instinctive sense of obligation, they can manipulate our gut reactions to do things which do not always help us thrive and prosper.

Guilt comes from the same root as obligation. Most of us feel guilt when we do something that we think hurts others or disappoints of others. Our societies have evolved in such a way that it is not socially acceptable to deliberately hurt another person and those who do are often incarcerated, ostracized and condemned by others. However, our instinctive gut reactions of guilt can also be activated when we refuse to help another person. This is where most Non-PD's experience guilt because often in the process of setting boundaries, Non-PD's will have to make a choice of whether or not to give another person, who suffers from a personality disorder, something which they want, which comes at a great personal cost to the Non-PD if they say "no".

Examples of FOG - Fear, Obligation & Guilt

  • A man tells his wife - "I will kill myself if you ever leave me"
  • A mother tells her adult children "You can't possibly care about me if you won't come to Christmas Dinner"
  • A teenager tells his parents "I hate you - you've ruined my life!" when they refuse to grant a request.
  • A young girl overdoses on pain killers after her boyfriend ends the relationship
  • An office employee falsely states "everyone in the office agrees with me" after a disagreement with a co-worker.

What it Feels Like

FOG can produce a sense of dread and hopelessness and make you do and say things that you are uncomfortable with. People have stayed in abusive homes and marriages, lived in squalid conditions, suffered physical pain without medical care, sacrificed their entire wealth and some have sacrificed their lives because of FOG.

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 FOG and her 3 dreadful companions - hopelessness, helplessness and powerlessness. Like a defeated animal backed into a corner it is quite common to have the instinct to just lie down and take it. This can lead to a form of Learned Helplessness.

What NOT to do

If you are living in FOG - Fear, Obligation & Guilt:

  • Don't forget that it's harder to see everything clearly in fog - so everything you see isn't everything that is there.
  • Don't rely purely on your gut instincts or your feelings to guide you, because your feelings are mostly negative.
  • Don't allow yourself to be isolated and for the person with the personality disorder to be the only person you talk to on a regular basis on the subject.
  • Don't stop doing things that are good for you, healthy behaviors, friends, work, recreation etc.
  • Don't sustain any situation or relationship where you do not have the option to say "no" where it is reasonable to do so. Nobody who is a true friend will demand "yes" 100% of the time. Healthy relationships are two-way streets - not one-way streets and anyone who is a true friend or who truly loves you will give as much as they receive.
  • Don't sacrifice taking care of yourself in order to help another person. That just makes both people poor.

What TO do

  • Learn all you can about personality disorders.
  • 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.
  • Try to add logical rational thought to every emotional thought of Fear, Obligation & Guilt.
  • Try to substitute "what really works" for "what feels right" when you are making decisions.
  • Promptly remove yourself and any innocent children from any emotionally abusive situations.

Feeling Trapped

Definition:

Feeling Trapped - Most people who have a relationship with someone who suffers from a personality disorder would like to bring an end to the relationship but are unable to or afraid to end it because they feel trapped in some way.

Description:

It's common for people who have never experienced verbal, physical or sexual abuse to wonder why the victims of abuse don't do more to protect themselves.

People who live in abusive relationships often stay in them because they feel trapped. They may feel like to stay in the relationship is bad but to leave would only make things worse - and that staying is like choosing the lesser of two evils.

Examples of Feeling Trapped

  • A teenage girl lives with her verbally and physically abusive mother but feels trapped because she depends on her for food and shelter.
  • A religious man wishes he could separate from his verbally abusive wife but feels obligated to stay because of his wedding vows.
  • A woman in an abusive marriage is afraid to leave in case he finds her again and is even more violent.
  • A father would like to divorce his verbally abusive wife but fears that the courts will grant custody of the children to her and he will be unable to protect them.
  • A woman would like to take the children and leave her narcissistic husband but fears that she will be unable to provide adequately for the children if she leaves.
  • A parent of a violent teenage daughter feels obligated to do everything for her and cannot just walk away from her.
  • A sexually harassed employee is afraid to complain about the way she is being treated in case she loses her job or loses her chance at promotion.
  • A man wants to cut off all contact from his abusive parents but feels obligated to look after them in their old age.
  • A woman would like to leave her boyfriend who abuses drugs but feels like she is the only one who can help him.

Many people who are trapped in abusive relationship do so because of unrealistic expectations placed on them by themselves or others such as:

stigma of divorce
scandal of abandoning a sick or elderly relative
absolute religious condemnation for breaking the marriage vows.
social stigma of admitting a child to a mental health care facility.

What NOT to do

If you are feeling trapped in a relationship with someone who suffers from a personality disorder:

  • Don't isolate yourself or cut off contacts with supportive and trustworthy friends or family.
  • Don't narrow yourself down to 2 choices. Life usually offers an abundance of possible futures.
  • Don't focus on trying to change the person who suffers from the personality disorder. You can't change another person. They can only change themselves.
  • Don't become dysfunctional yourself - this is known as "Getting fleas"
  • Don't rely purely on your gut instincts or your feelings to guide you, because your feelings are mostly negative.
  • Don't allow yourself to be isolated and for the person with the personality disorder to be the only person you talk to on a regular basis on the subject.
  • Don't stop doing things that are good for you, healthy behaviors, friends, work, recreation etc.
  • Don't sustain any situation or relationship where you do not have the option to say "no" where it is reasonable to do so. Nobody who is a true friend will demand "yes" 100% of the time. Healthy relationships are two-way streets - not one-way streets and anyone who is a true friend or who truly loves you will give as much as they receive.
  • Don't sacrifice taking care of yourself in order to help another person. That just makes both people poor.

What TO do

  • Learn all you can about personality disorders.
  • 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.
  • Try to add logical rational thought to every emotional thought of Fear, Obligation & Guilt.
  • Try to substitute "what really works" for "what feels right" when you are making decisions.
  • Promptly remove yourself and any innocent children from any abusive actions, conversations or events.