You were the couples therapist my ex and I saw many years ago, and I reached out to you a time ago when I was reeling from the break up. Now a good time later, I have come to understand what actually took place and wanted to update you, both for my own sanity and in case this information may be of use to you (I know it may not - take what serves, leave what does not.)
I had two choices from the place I was in at the start of my final semester in my MDiv program - one was to drop out (I was drowning) and the other became to change my entire thesis and make it about what I was going through and had finally realized about my ex and our relationship. She was not, as you had hoped, just a scared person who lied to cover her fear of hurting me; that would have been a very lovely story - and one much easier to come to terms with. In fact, it turned out that she has a severe and frightening disorder, and I had been - for 7 years - the victim of a very particular and horrible type of abuse.
The point for me, of course, has been to use what I have learned (through hundreds of hours of research, study, interviews and more - under the amazing supervision of several of my fabulous professors and assistance from my spiritual director and psychotherapist) to examine more deeply my own psyche, why I was chosen by - and remained with - an abuser of this sort for 7 years. The arrows, of course and as you know, point back in time and the work for me has been deep and intense. Having the intellectual learning as a guide rail to keep me afloat as I simultaneously did my own psychological journey was a gift many survivors do not have the luxury of. (I am eternally grateful to my professors/supervisors/therapists etc. for their willingness to allow me the thesis switch at the last minute when I had planned for three years on an entirely different project.)
Sadly (and strangely), the majority of psychotherapists are NOT trained to recognize abuse of this type - I saw three, including yourself, who did not catch wind of what I was actually dealing with - and so most of the assistance to survivors who are lucky enough to find it comes from others who have been through the abuse themselves, found their way to the new glut of information out there (internet, books, etc), and educated themselves in the thing. The amount of time it takes to learn all of this is immense, and thus many who have done so go on to become counselors of one sort or another in order to make use of their knowledge and experience for the healing of others. Many, many survivors are misdiagnosed by well meaning therapists who have little to no training or experience with the disorder or it's effects on survivors. This is terribly sad. My hope is that the many who are now sharing on the topic will inspire more counselors/therapists to do some research and/or study on the subject.
My ex not only abused me, but also her other partners (while I am sad for them about this, I am infinitely grateful to have had access to this knowledge, because ultimately it helped me through the phase in which I wanted to pretend it was not true); I happen to know each of them and something of their stories as well - both those which my partner lead me to believe about each of the women, AND the women's versions. One of her ex's actually warned me - she blurted out the truth decades ago (long before I was interested in my ex), and told me "she will do the exact same thing to you!" I was - as everyone who has not been abused by one of these folks is - oblivious (and, like so many people are by these types) snowed by my ex's presence and charm.
I do not fault you for being one of those, however, I want to share this with you and implore you to be super aware as you proceed in your work. All is not as it seems.
While statistically the majority of folks with my ex's disorder are men, there are also women perpetrators (or perhaps fewer abused men come forward in these cases so women have not been counted). These perpetrators are all but invisible to most people until you learn to spot the dynamics - and have a chance to see them in action, which is rare, as part of the disorder is focused on maintaining an impeccable image of themselves. In fact, lawyers are taught specific ways of questioning these folks in a court room so as to circumvent their ability to appear to be the "sane" one while their partner appears to be "the problem". (I'll not go into this here.)
One of the most difficult aspects of overcoming the depth of harm done to survivors, is that there is no short way of answering the question "what did they DO?" so survivors are more isolated from friends and family than those who can say "He raped me" or "she hit me with a baseball bat" and thus be understood and find sympathy. What is called for is a 12 hour long conversation in which survivor shares every nuance of the relationship over however many years or decades (I learned at a week long workshop that many, many survivors do not get out of these types of relationships for decades 10,20, 30, 40 years is common!), a description of the psychological make up of the perpetrator, how and why they got that way, the psychological make up of survivor, how and why they got that way etc etc... if an ally is willing to hear all this, at the end they may - may - understand a speck of what the survivor has been through. But for the most part, those who have not been through it cannot fathom it and end up seeing the survivor as "just having a weirdly hard time of the break up". I cannot fault allies for this point of view - in fact I myself held this viewpoint when two dear friends of mine attempted to describe what they had been through to me some years back. I saw them as very hurt, having a particularly hard time getting through their break up, but I did not, even with my empathy and rich training, understand what had truly taken place. TV shows like Dr. Foster, You, and Dirty John (have a look at the trailers) all address abusers of this sort and portray aspects of the disorder very well, but are extreme cases. My abuser was not ever actively violent with me (though I do not doubt her ability to become so - her temper was terrifying and utterly out of her control).
What I want to say is: Please, please PLEASE become informed so you might spot this type of abuse should it ever again end up on your couch. I came to you for assistance in breaking up with my ex. The type of therapy you practice is not designed this way, I know - it is designed to facilitate communication and assist couples in seeing themselves - indeed, every relationship is a perfect mirror for what each member needs to look at in their own healing - - however, it is not always best for couples to remain together for this work. After we left you, the relationship lasted 5.5 more years - years of horror couched in beauty. I have, in fact, lost 7.5 years of life to something I will be working to heal from for a time to come. If somehow it had been evident that something much more serious was afoot, I might have gotten out sooner. Maybe not, but likely so. If this note can be even a molecule of an impulse for you to learn more, and thus be available to another person in my situation, I would be glad.
The frightening diagnosis - so deeply and intelligently hidden by these abusers - that I would hope you might explore further (no matter how much you may or may not already know) is named in the Links listed on this site. However you do this - if indeed you chose to - hurrah. If you need a place to start, here are some links for books, videos, blogs and vlogs (all designed for survivors - but perhaps that is a good place for a therapist to start): https://unbamboozling.weebly.com/helpful-links.html
Thanks for taking the time to read all this. I hope and trust you are well and reasonably happy.
Note: The letter below was written to the sister of my abuser. I wrote it because I needed to write it for my own integrity. Whether she reads it or not is of little consequence, unless she is, indeed, still my friend and wishes to reply, which I would welcome. My aim in posting is two fold: 1. There is personal healing in this for myself and 2. It is my hope that there may be something in this letter for my readers. Your comments are welcome - at the end of the post or privately, by email.
Names in this post are changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.
Long time no see – I hope you and family are well.
I now fully understand why Kerri did what she did (ended up doing my thesis on this) – but I am not sure about you and wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt and check in with you.
I once truly believed that you were my dear friend and trusted sister. Friends tell me I should dump both those beliefs now, but I recognize that I honestly do not know where you stand. . . never ever in my life have I had friendships (or lovers, or anyone for that matter) with whom I was unable to remain friends. It is not my nature to cut people off – in fact, I find it heart breaking and deeply disturbing to have to do so. SO. . . I wanted to take a try at connecting with you – and ask you a question or two in the hopes that you might reply, and in the further hopes that you are still who I thought you were. . . a kind and compassionate human, friend, sister.
What I would like to know is why you did what you did . . . Did I ever say or do something to you to warrant the treatment you gave me? If so, whatever I did is a mystery to me and I would love to amend it. I never ever meant to do anything to upset you. As mentioned, I had counted you among my dear people and thought you felt the same. That doesn’t just go away.
And what of Pat and Tim? Were/are they innocent bystanders that week in your home (or months, or years), or were they part of the awful thing?
I had so wished that Kerri and I would do as we (well, obviously NOT “we” – it was always only I, oblivious fool that I was) had worked so hard to do: remain friends through our break up. I had imagined my home being a hang out place for her forever, imagined us introducing each other to our new people one day, hanging out, you and Tim and Pat being in my life as buddies, us continuing to be doggie watchers for each other when needed too (I miss that Tula!!). I had imagined keeping Kerri in my will as a statement of what we meant to each other, offering her time at my cabin with whomever she moved on to, laughing together about old times. I thought our families would remain friends. (Yes, we might both need a time apart to assimilate the new dynamics, but we - or so I thought - worked SO HARD to set it up so we could keep the friendship. She had sobbed and sobbed and begged that she not loose me as a friend. And so I went the extra mile to make this possible. . . Now, of course, seeing the truth about her, I wish I had dumped her in the first few months of our relationship when I had the first inkling of who she really was, and before I stupidly “turned off” my intuition around her. But that is another story (found elsewhere on this site).
Kerri came home from her therapy sessions all jazzed up when Carla told her she was “so proud of” her/us for the work we were doing on our “conscious uncoupling”. I was proud of Kerri too, as I knew it was a stretch for her to be that emotionally aware and present. (Little did I know she had other intentions throughout our entire relationship…looking back I can see it all clear as day, but from within the relationship I was totally snowed.) Obviously, Kerri had no clue as to what “conscious uncoupling” really was/is (at one point I think she mentioned something about thinking it was about a bunch of “rules” – which is not the case, certainly not MY case, and very much her own projection as she lives by so many binding rules herself)… Anyway, now knowing what was actually underneath everything, I cannot fault Kerri for how her past set her up to be what she is, though I do hold her accountable for her actions and hope (but am not holding my breath) that she may – for both our sakes (and the sake of any of her future partners) – find her way to some self realization, a desire to heal and, if she can grow enough, to have the courage to communicate and make amends. My prayer is for her healing (I made a large painting of her in healing process), and that I not see her until such time as she might be ready to communicate as a healed adult. (Again, not holding my breath, but still wishing and intending this for her.)
But the point of this letter is not Kerri at all. I woke the other day, remembering long conversations you and I had had at the big table at my house, in your various kitchens, on walks. . . thought about the ways we had supported each other, been present as friends and sisters. . . and I realized that the last time I reached out to you had been in the days directly following the horror of realizing that Kerri was not who I had though she was for the past 7 years – it was an insanely traumatic time for me. Not for the loss of Kerri as a girl friend – for we had been planning that – and not even for the loss of her to a child my daughter’s age – for honestly, that is about the emotional age of Kerri and it makes sense to me. The horror and loss was the fact that the person I had most trusted in the world – had given my everything to – had seemingly turned into the exact opposite of everything I had thought she was. What wounded Kerri so deeply and made her what she is (her irreversible childhood wounds), had utterly unearthed my sense of the world. That anyone could do what she did was counter to everything I believed about human life on earth. (Honesty, chivalry, kindness, compassion, friendship, etc. – you name any of the things she spends so much time professing to be all about – and every single one of them was GONE.) So, yeah, when I wrote you to say “Kerri was not telling the truth” (you had sworn that she was being and would be honest with me) I fully thought you would write back or call me immediately – and be horrified yourself by all this. When you did not, I could only conclude that you must have been in on the Machiavellian gas lighting as well. . .
It is difficult to imagine otherwise at this point – but this morning I realized that I wanted to give you a chance that I was not able to give you back then when I was so utterly decimated. I am well now, loving my life, and cleaning up loose ends. You were a person I cared deeply about. Your sister did some unimaginable things to me (and also to each of her ex partners – and will, sadly, do the same to current/future ones as it is part of her affliction to do so, but that is another chapter all together!), which you may not have a clue about…
Truthfully, you, too, deeply hurt me – BUT – perhaps you also were only a pawn under Kerri’s spell? If this is true, if you were unaware of what was taking place, and thus to some degree innocent of it all, I want to let you know that I would love to clean this up between us, and still care about you as a person and possibly friend.
I imagine that your views on life are such that you will not want to actively remain friends with me (whether some kind of loyalty to your sister, or some belief that break ups mean everyone in the family breaks off too - - ?), but these are not my views. IF you wished to remain friends, I would love that. If you cannot, but would like to clear up what took place back in October, I would deeply appreciate that. I am all about clearing up glitches so that all involved may go on freely, whether we maintain contact or never see each other again.
My guess is Kerri cannot face what she has done (I believe this inability is part of the affliction that made her do what she did in the first place, an affliction that sadly, has very little chance of being healed), but I do not know what is true for/about you. My hope is that you can – and will – want to clear things with me.
I am not expecting any reply, so please do not feel any obligation unless you are moved to respond. I just needed to give this a shot because I believe everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt until they prove or chose otherwise.
Here is wising you, Tim and Pat health and well being on every level.
So, in solidarity with my daughter, I have been watching this season (2019)'s The Bachelorette (ABC). I cannot say it is my favorite show to begin with, but there is an added horror to this season's episodes - to the point, in fact, of triggering for me notable PTSD. Here is why: ONE OF THE SUITORS IS AN ABUSER OF THE SORT THIS WEBSITE IS DISCUSSING - of the sort that my ex is (and I shall guess many of my readers' are).
If you are here because you are on your own journey of seeking to understand this type of abuse, let this be a trigger warning for you as well: THE SHOW DEPICTS, WITH AMAZINGLY HORRIBLE AND USEFUL ACCURACY, THE BEHAVIOR OF THIS TYPE OF ABUSER. It is, by episode 5, still subtle if you do not know what you are looking for/at, but none the less, the insidious intention and actions are present and may bring up intense feelings for some victims.
Luckily, Hannah Brown, this seasons Bachelorette, is a smart, grounded and self respecting woman who, I hope (no spoiler alerts) has the chops (read: respect for her own intuition) to recognize that she is not dealing with a healthy individual. If you are curious to see this type of abuser in action, watch this show. So far, in only 5 episodes, the suitor in question has displayed to perfection the first stage of this type of abuse (see "13 Stages"): Love Bombing. He has gone on to morph from magical perfection of a prince charming in the Love Bombing stage (including the classic behavior of moving the relationship along at a bizarrely rapid pace - in this case by saying he was in love with his target when they had known each other barely a few hours), into a diabolical liar, gaslighter and showing no remorse about throwing fellow players under the bus with his lies.
If you watch carefully, you will also see the classic "empty vacuum" eyes - when he is speaking "deeply" with Hannah, what should be loving energy coming from his eyes, but it is, rather, the (terrifying, once you know what it is) blank, hollow, energy-sucking stare of emptiness so familiar to those who have been targets of these abusers. He holds a practiced "sad" or "compassionate" face while speaking, but his expressions are empty and do not seem to be in sync with his words. Further, another classic reveal is his inability to discuss - let alone actually feel - his emotions. He is incapable of truly deepening into feelings because, ...well, because these abusers do not have a deep inner Self from which to feel or recognize feelings if they had them. (Though they may have learned to affect feeling so well it is hard to see at first that there is no real connection going on there. See "How We Got That Way" for more information on this, and/or watch the well-spoken video by Michelle Lee Nieves on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0rFZDPYBOI&feature=youtu.be)
Other bits displayed by this suitor that illustrate classic behaviors are a specific type of volatile rage (whether acted out physically or emotionally - in the case of our suitor it is both), vapid stare, and even the notorious smirk/crooked smile.
A less self-assured, less self-loving human being, one who is not so in touch with - and trusting of - her intuition, might not allow themselves to see beyond the charismatic, vibrant (and often extremely exciting) energy of the abuser... choosing the fairy tale HOPE of what they wish this relationship would be OVER what their intuition is telling them it actually IS.
It will be interesting as we proceed to see how far this suitor gets - will Hannah see through him and let him go, or will she, like so many do, fall for the fairy tale hope that has been so deeply planted within most of us from early childhood? Will the fact of TV cameras and a bunch of round-the-clock witnesses in the form of other suitors (who are, so far, not standing for this guy's attempts at gas lighting everyone) make a difference? Will the suitor in question prevail, implode or explode?
While it is unlikely that the general public will have a name for what ails this suitor, it will also be interesting to witness how he is perceived as he makes his (again, classic) "poor me" case in his efforts to remain on the show . . . valor or villain?
If you want a good example of this type of abuse in the making, with all it's complexities layered on with each coming episode, watch this show! (and again, if you are still in or only recently out of a relationship with this type of abuser, the show may very likely be triggering. Watch with a friend or maybe not at all.)
Here is to TRUSTING THAT GUT FEELING - AND HONORING YOUR INTUITION AT EVERY TURN!
Blessings to All.
SPOILER ALERT: If you have not seen the episode, and want to, do not read this!
OK, folks, not good news. . . Hannah continues to fall for the fiend! As with many of us, the draw and allure of the abuser's SUPER-WELL-CRAFTED FALSE SELF looms larger than what our intuition is telling us.
(Note: even the abusers themselves are victims of their disorder. Some may be almost completely dissociated from the truth of what they are doing, while others are anywhere from 1-100% cognizant of the harm they do, but can feel no remorse about doing it.)
We WANT that seemingly fairy tale magic so badly that we override, again and again, what we actually know: THIS PERSON'S DISORDER IS DANGEROUS TO ALL WHO ARE UNLUCKY ENOUGH TO GET IN THEIR ORBIT.
And so it is with Hannay B; her intuition has told her loud and clear that things are not OK with this suitor in question . . . and still. . . she keeps him for yet another round!!
Regarding the suitor, the main difference between this scenario and scenarios with these type of abusers in regular life, is that in regular life the abusers are able to shun - and get away from - other people who are on to them. On the show, the suitor cannot escape his fellow contestants who see through him and his games. In regular life, this suitor would likely run far from those men, seeking out "friendships" only with people whose eyes he could also pull the wool over. On the show, he is trapped, and uses the others' dislike of him to play the "poor innocent, misunderstood me" card.
As a person interested in the psychology of all this, I find it fascinating to witness so clearly how deep and far-reaching our human desire to override what we know is - in favor of what we wish were true. And, as someone who did this very thing myself, for 7.5 years no less, I find it both horrifying and a relief to realize how pervasive and difficult to avoid this behavior (denial) is.
What to do When the Prince turns out to be Bluebeard. . .
...and you realize that YOU welcomed him into your sphere, even when your bones said "not a good idea"?
I invite your replies below in "comments", or, as many of you have chosen - I am guessing for privacy reasons (though I applaud you if you share publicly for every time we share our stories, another person benefits) - via email/the contact page.
Also, here is to prayers that Hannah B. makes a healthy choice ASAP.
So. . . have you been watching the show? If you are a survivor and are watching, no doubt you are being triggered - at least to some degree. For me, watching Hannah see clearly what she is dealing with, and then overriding her inner knowing, is really hard - - because it mirrors precisely what I myself did with my abuser. And, if the many interviews I conducted during my thesis/research on this topic are any indication, pretty much EVERY ONE OF US who was abused by one of these folks knew, at some point, on some level. . . while the mind so so badly wants to believe the fairy tale story, the lies and the mask the abuser is so desperate for us to uphold, the body/intuition KNOWS.
Why do we override our deeper knowing? There are many reasons, of course, but one for sure is that we have been well trained to do so. And here, on The Bachelorette, we see this played out in Hannah's response to the suitor in question. She is literally - and visibly - revolted by his behaviors, arrogance and inability to feel or share his real feelings. . .. yet little by little she makes allowances for him. She allows his twisted stories and false "sweetness" to poison her coffee. . . she drinks it, wincing a bit at the strangely bitter taste as it goes down, but somehow - like each of us who was similarly bamboozled - tells her self over and over what he told her - no, its not bitter - I just put sugar in it. So, even though the actual taste is bitter, since her mind believes the "sugar is in there", she overrides the knowing in favor of the story.
A strange (and validating) thing happened to me after the other night's episode:
I spoke with a friend on the phone who normally does not watch this show. She had read the previous blog posts and was curious (being a survivor herself). . . we discussed the show at length, and agreed on the many layers of horror going on around the suitor, his behavior, and the responses of the other guys competing etc. And then she blurted it out: "Its really amazing and totally creepy how MUCH he looks just like your ex!" She went on "I mean his lovely - yet bizarrely hollow - eyes, his manufactured facial expressions, his calculated body movements, even the way he cocks his head when he is doing that fake niceness and the "poor me" thing..." and "his arrogance, his falsehood, his fake charisma and scary volatility..." She said more, but I wont add it all here. I had been creeped out by this for weeks, and it was great to have someone see it too.
I want to encourage survivors to seek out someone - even if it is only one person, or even someone on line you don't know - but someone who GETS what you have been through. Someone who GETS what it is all about, how deep the wound is, how powerful the healing is. Being SEEN and UNDERSTOOD is a crucial step to healing. Getting vulnerable enough to share is hard - and I do NOT advise you share with those who have not been through this stuff. I myself - with all the training and experience I have - did not get it when friends of mine went through this - - until I went through it myself. The risk of being victim-shamed or simply being misjudged is huge. But with the right person, sharing your story is a good road. Pick a trustworthy person and take that walk.