Tag Archives: personality disordered parents

Beliefs Prejudicial toward the Abused in Abusive Relationships

cartoon couple with telescopeOne of the problems people have who have grown up with emotionally abusive parenting or who have lived with an emotionally abusive partner is that when they try to describe their experiences to others, people think that they are exaggerating. Others will try to normalize the abused person’s suffering, saying that everyone loses their temper occasionally. Much of our popular psychology advice addresses relatively normal problems between people. Even family and couple’s counseling addresses emotional abuse as a matter of problems that gradually escalated out of hand over time, whereas, when one party is an emotional abuser and personality disordered, the abuse suddenly escalates after the other partner has been swept off their feet and the “honeymoon” phase is over.  For someone with an emotionally abusive partner or parent, the abuse can be relentless and/or over-the-top and out-of-proportion every time the abuser is upset. If a person hasn’t experienced it, it is highly difficult to imagine.

Another caveat of family and couple’s counseling that fails people with emotionally abusive partnering is the die-hard conviction that people in a relationship are equally sick. And sometimes that is true. And often, it is not. Subconsciously, people with personality disorders sometimes seek partners who are highly flexible and highly patient and good-natured. They have uses for these traits and can readily manipulate their partners’ benevolence toward tolerating their rigidity and self-centered insistence that others tolerate their difficult moods and need to control.

While the abused may be “too good for their own good,” that is a far cry from being personality disordered. Often the abused partners in these relationships are highly functional, but somewhat uncertain of themselves and their boundaries after growing up with a highly critical or otherwise abusive parent. The abused partner often has worked hard on themselves and has all or most of the basic skills needed to maintain a satisfying relationship, but are partnered to someone whose disorder makes it impossible to maintain a healthy relationship. In counseling, an abuser may present charming, flummoxed, or may perfectly model the role playing exercise prescribed by the therapist in session, only to berate their partner all the way home. With counseling, emotionally abused partners in my practice go on to find much more loving partners after leaving their abusive partner. All too often, abusers drop out of counseling and go on to find another victim or someone who is also personality disordered.

These are not patterns that would be predicted by the theory that both parties in a relationship are equally dysfunctional. Yes, everyone has issues, but that is far different from equally disordered. A common complication is that the abused party in an abusive relationships often develops an anxiety and/or depressive disorder due to the stress of the relationship. Both courts and counselors may target the abused as the problem, ignoring the personality disordered person who presents well because they have developed intense defenses like being super charming, highly skilled at lying, being highly resolute, etc. (and have unloaded all of their stress on their partner and/or their children).  Counselors and the court system need to become more sophisticated about the dynamics of abusive relationships, including emotionally abusive relationships. Otherwise both the mental health field and the legal system collude in enabling abusers and persecuting the abused.

Losing Your Cool with Your Teenager Too Often

This post is in response to Worthless Teenagers and the Parents Who Make Them

Parents who Emotionally Abuse to the extent described by the teenager in “Worthless” have severe psychological problems like personality disorders and/or chemical dependency. Sometimes the style of emotional abuse is more subtle, but every bit as relentless. Inside, many of these parents are terrified hurt children who cope with their own fears of powerlessness, helplessness, and lack of self-worth by projecting onto others and by trying to have control and power over others instead of themselves. They can’t parent effectively because they haven’t grown up yet themselves and haven’t taken responsibility for their own healing.

Instead of taking a position against abuse, like many survivors of childhood abuse do, some may have subconsciously aligned with their abuser. Most abusive people have their own histories of childhood abuse and/or abandonment. They often do not remember their own abuse due to the age at which they were abused and/or to the psychological phenomenon of dissociation, by which the brain blanks out upsetting memories.

In addition, the age at which they were abused affected the development of their brain. Due to new imaging technology, we now know that the brains of people with borderline personality disorder have different sized amygdalae, which probably contributes to intensity and frequency of triggering that they experience.

All of the above factors contribute to the development of personality disorders.

My heart really goes out to the teenagers like the one in “Worthless.” She is in the worst position because both parents are abusive. It is going to take a lot of effort for her to recover. Having one loving, relatively emotionally stable parent who is loving and supportive can counteract a lot of the damage done by the out-of-control abusing parent. This is also true for involved grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family friends. Even teachers can have a significant impact through words of encouragement and being supportive of a troubled teen’s talents.

ARE YOU A TEENAGER WITH A PARENT WHO YELLS AT YOU or CONSTANTLY PUTS YOU DOWN or CALLS YOU NAMES? It you are an adult or a teenager that has experienced this level of emotional violence, please know that it is not your fault. Also, please contact a counselor or other trustworthy adult. There are a number of books written on the subject of Verbal Abuse and Bullying. I have written a workbook on Healing from Verbal Abuse for Adults and older teens who have had Emotionally Abusive childhoods: http://toolkitforhealing.com.

IF YOU ARE A PARENT who recognized your behavior, there is help available. While you may be overcome with feelings of shame or guilt or be tempted to deny your reality, DON’T. There are reasons for why you have these issues and there is help available. It will take a lot of courage and a good dose of humility.

 If you are addicted to alcohol or other drugs, seek treatment: SAMHSA; AA; NA, MA; or SOS. But don’t stop there. If you are emotionally abusive, get a good assessment. Then find a counselor who specializes in working with your issues.

If you have a personality disorder (which I prefer to conceptualize as complex PTSD – Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) find a counselor who specializes in working with personality disorders. Sometimes there are other psychological issues involved like bipolar disorder or cognitive processing disorders. Sometimes a combination of Aspergers and narcissistic traits looks like Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but isn’t and the therapy is different. Other resources include National Alliance on Mental Illness; Support for family members and partners of people with Borderline Personality Disorder; and NPD Family.

I know that it is scary to consider, but You and your family will all benefit if you seek help.

©Noreen Wedman 2011