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Jan 222015
 

I’ve been reading some interesting books lately by some very interesting researchers in the field of psychology, (Dr. Barbara Oakley) dealing with the themes of altruism and (Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen) on empathy and others who are trying to discover what makes people altruistic and how empathy (or lack of it) effects how we behave toward our fellowmen. I’ve come to some interesting conclusions concerning my own part in my abuse by multiple people who were/are high in psychopathic traits and very low in empathy, compassion and altruistic behavior. I have wondered about my own ability to repeatedly “explain away” the abusive behavior that I experienced from family members and “friends,” and to expect that they would change their abusive behavior. What made me think that I could some how, by appeasing them, forgiving them, and being kind and caring to these people make them realize just how much they had hurt me, how much I had suffered at their hands. What made me think that I could effect a change in someone else’s character, or instill character into someone who so obviously had no conscience, empathy or remorse?

In my studying about psychopathic behavior in former associates and in family members who have actually repeatedly done horrific violence to others as well as toward me, including battery, rape, and actual murders, I have finally come to the conclusion, like many researchers, Dr. Robert Hare, Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, and Dr. Barbara Oakely, that there is little if any chance that a person who is very high in psychopathic traits and very low in empathy, without conscience or the ability to feel remorse for their behavior, is going to effectively change, either in their thinking or their behavior. That much finally got through to me. There are some things that are impossible to do no matter how capable you are.

When a person has had a life-long pattern of bad and/or violent behavior, who does not have effective empathy, which is necessary for a person to have a conscience, (a personality disorder) the likelihood of change is minimal. “The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior” is a truism that is not likely to change, no matter how “politically correct” it is to wish otherwise.

There are some instances when a person has a medical condition (either genetic or acquired) that keeps them from having empathy…autism or brain damage from a stroke or head injury, for example… but not all people who are without “normal” levels of empathy are violent or seem to enjoy hurting others. For those people lacking empathy and conscience who do seem to enjoy control over others, or simply seem to enjoy hurting others, there is no “hope.”

What about those of us on the other hand, though, who seem to have a desire to help others? It has been shown by medical and psychological research that “helping” others gives a chemical “atta boy” to the brains of those who are the helpers. This chemical “reward” for doing good reinforces the desire to “help” others. We are genetically programmed as a species to “do good.” It is rewarding to us and has helped keep the human race alive because we cooperate, help each other, and are to some extent altruistic.

The “pleasure” centers in the human brain respond to chemical stimuli from various sources….from orgasm, from doing good, from various drugs, and from various activities, such as “the runner’s high” that come from physical exertion. It has even been shown that working with your hands to produce something useful gives a chemical reward to the brain. That may be why people like to knit, crochet, or build things, fix food, etc. But why when the reward for “doing good” to someone, especially someone you love, is also accompanied by such intense emotional and/or physical pain do we keep on doing what causes us pain as well as the “reward” for doing good? Why are we willing to endure the pain in addition to receiving the “reward” for “doing good?”

One of the classic characteristics of people high in psychopathic traits seems to be a high level of narcissism as well. Some people high in psychopathic traits seem to be extremely high in narcissism, to the point that it is very obvious that they value themselves so far above others as to absolutely have no idea that anyone else has any value at all. They view others as lower than an object, but to the point that the very existence of other people is an insult to the highly narcissistic person. It seems as if the chemical reward for them for “doing good” is replaced by the desire for control.

If the narcissism is very apparent, people around the narcissist may notice this to the point that they don’t want to be around such a person. He is considered “stuck up” and we have probably been told from grade school on up that we should not “brag on ourselves” because it isn’t polite and others won’t like us. So the narcissism that is very apparent may be “off putting” to others around the person. Many people who are very narcissistic though have trained themselves not to appear as narcissistic as they actually feel though. In other words, they have learned “good manners” or to mask their true emotions. Those that don’t learn to conceal high levels of narcissism though, may not be very “popular.” A healthy level of narcissism though, is an accurate self assessment of your own abilities. The person who is very narcissistic may not be actually as smart or as competent as he thinks he is, however.

I’m smart. I know that. I am capable and very able in learning how to do complex tasks such as fly an aircraft, knit, crochet, built things, train animals, and have led a life that I based on being a “can do” person. I’m somewhat justifiably proud of what I have accomplished in my life. That narcissism is a healthy level of self-assessment of my talents and abilities…yet my narcissism went further than that, I think, into making me think that there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish. Because I could do so many things, and do them well, I over-estimated my ability to cope with the people in my life who were high in psychopathic traits and dysfunctional in relationships. I was too narcissistic in thinking I was able to accomplish the impossible….fixing dysfunctional relationships and dysfunctional people.

I think in part, my narcissism was because there were so few things I couldn’t accomplish if I set my mind to it and worked hard at acquiring the knowledge and skills to learn a new task, and perform it well. It never occurred to me that I could not also be “successful” in fixing a bad relationship with a person who had no conscience. Just as my psychopathic son, Patrick, who is extremely bright and also extremely narcissistic, never had any trouble in school, decided there was no one on earth as smart as he was, and that because he was smart, he could “get away with” anything. It never occurred to him that there were cops that were “smart enough” to catch him. Even when he was caught in his most violent crimes, crimes he didn’t even try to cover up, it never occurred to him that he would not be successful next time. When he was caught again, his narcissistic idea that he was the smartest, most capable person on earth, didn’t let him realize that he was wrong. His narcissism precluded him having an accurate self assessment or assessment of the capabilities of others.

I too was very narcissistic in my appraisal of my own abilities to effect change in these people no matter how many times I failed in effecting change in them. No matter how many times I failed, or how bad the pain was because of my failure, it never dawned on me that I wasn’t capable of success if I just tried harder in this endeavor. If I just gave more of myself, if I was just more self-less, more giving, surely next time I would succeed. My own narcissism kept me in the game. My own desire to effect change in someone else’s behavior was fueled by my narcissism, by my poor self assessment of my abilities.

If a horse or a steer was aggressive and I was not able to effect change in the animal’s behavior, I would eventually give up when the animal continued to try to hurt me. I could at some point come to the conclusion that the potential harm to myself was not worth the effort of trying to control the animal’s violent tendencies. Though I am an excellent animal trainer, I know that not even the best animal trainer in the world can make some animals safe to work with and the danger of trying to continue to do so foolish. Why could I not see that where it concerned dangerous humans?

Why was I willing to put myself, my life and my health, to say nothing of my happiness and peace, at risk in order to maintain a “relationship” with dangerous people for extended periods of time, decades in some cases? Why did I focus on the potential reward of changing their abusive behavior instead of on the pain they caused?

Part of the answer, I believe, lies in the way I was conditioned in my family, that the family “secrets” must be kept at all costs so that the “neighbors didn’t know.” This culture of shame, and covering up the general knowledge in the larger community that our family was not a “nice normal family” was handed down for generations by abusers and enablers working together to hide the family dysfunction. I participated in this “cover up” by keeping information about my son Patrick’s crimes from general knowledge of my extended family and “the neighbors” for years. I participated in the family myth that he had “found Jesus” when I knew otherwise. I participated in “family Christmas” celebrations that were a travesty and were anything except a “Norman Rockwellian Christmas.” I think partly because I was so narcissistic that I thought if I just kept up the pretense long enough it would become real…especially if the “neighbors didn’t know.”

My coming out of this FOG (fear, obligation and guilt) was traumatic for me as well as for my family members who were as invested in this fantasy family as I was. That change from the status quo on my part released the “hounds of hell” within the family dynamics and resulted in my psychopathic son Patrick sending one of his ex-convict buddies to try to regain control of the family since he couldn’t do this by emotional manipulation from inside his prison cell. To kill me if that is what it took in order for him to regain control. Several members of my family co-conspired with him or at least knew what was going on and did nothing to stop the attack on me. Maintaining the status quo within the dysfunctional family was of paramount importance for everyone involved. Maintaining the FOG without change felt secure to them. Life was predictable. Change was scary.

It was only the fear of actually losing my life that made me “see the light” and see just how dangerously I had been behaving in trying to convince myself that I could effect change in these people. People who had no conscience, no empathy, and enjoyed a high level of narcissism that made them believe themselves invincible. I too had felt invincible, and was way too narcissistic in my own self assessment of what my capabilities were. I could not control these people, I could not change them, and they were too dangerous to deal with.

Now I try to look at myself more realistically, and to see that while I am a smart, capable person, there are some things that I am not capable of, and I need to be aware of these things. While I was realistic and humble enough to realize that there are some animals I can’t safely train, I am now humble enough to admit there are some dangerous people I can’t afford to associate with either, no matter how altruistic I feel or how much reward I get from helping others. The rewards I get from being “helpful” to others must also be tempered with the humility that I am not all powerful in my abilities with people any more than I am with animals. Just as I must assess the potential benefit of helping a person or training an animal, I must also assess the potential “costs” in terms I can afford to pay. While I still feel good when I am able to help someone else, I am no longer willing to overlook the repeated bad behavior of others and convince myself that if I am just “helpful enough” that I can change them.

I must take responsibility for my own life, my own behavior, and set my boundaries in such a way that I eliminate those dangerous relationships no matter how smart or capable I am in other aspects of my life. There are just some things we can’t accomplish no matter how hard we work, and changing someone else is one of those things.

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  11 Responses to “When we get too cocky, our strengths become our downfall.”

  1. Article up

    • Joyce, what a no-nonsense prose, and your last paragraph says it as well as I’ve seen it, anywhere: “I must take responsibility for my own life, my own behavior, and set my boundaries in such a way that I eliminate those dangerous relationships no matter how smart or capable I am in other aspects of my life. There are just some things we can’t accomplish no matter how hard we work, and changing someone else is one of those things.”

      One of the things that I struggled with in my recovery was MY responsibilities for my own choices, etc. Yes, yes, yes……..I had been targeted and victimized, repeatedly, by various nefarious individuals and partners, but that did not mean that I could blame every bad choice, decision, and reaction on THEM.

      In my recovery, I have been able to connect the proverbial dots in how my behaviors were a direct result of my childhood traumas. By carefully processing the traumas and discussing my choices, actions, and behaviors with a strong counseling therapist, I have come to the point where I can forgive myself for my frailties, and open space for a stronger, wiser Self to grow.

      Recovery is not easy. It’s not simple. And, it isn’t painless. Some of the most painful moments of my life have been in recovery. But, what happens after that is balance……..and, it’s very unfamiliar to me to experience balance. So, I’m just becoming acquainted with this and I am looking forward to being calmer, wiser, and centered.

      I never have to live the way that I once did, again. I can choose to go back there, if I wish, but I have no desire to be that angry, frustrated, resentful, and anxiety-laden person, again. Ever.

  2. Truthy, there are a MULTITUDE of things that go into what we “become” or don’t become.

    Childhood trauma is part of it of course, but we can’t “blame” everything on our childhood traumas.

    DNA is part of it, maybe a BIG part in whether we are prey or predators.

    Culture is another big part in how we think and behave.

    And on and on, I could name so many different contributors but you know…the thing is the very BOTTOM line is that WE are responsible for our choices, no matter WHY we made those choices.

    I don’t like the word “blame” but I DO like the word responsible and we ARE responsible. A lot of victims, and especially pseudo-victims get really up set if you tell them that THEY are responsible for their choices even though someone else did them wrong.

    I don’t blame a rape victim for being raped, BUT if an underage girl goes to a party, takes drugs and passes out and the highschool foot ball team gang rapes her and puts it on UTUBE then she bears some RESPONSIBILITY for what happened. That doesn’t mean the rapists should not go to prison, no matter what she did it was no excuse to rape her. But again, the PEER PRESSURE that young people are under today encourages this type of behavior.

    A survey of college men asked them if they would rape an unconscious woman if there would be NO CONSEQUENCES and the number that said YES is 30% THIRTY PERCENT—wow, that is a staggering number.

    I know a bunch of the reasons “why” I made poor choices and you know “why” you made some poor choices, but we must be responsible for those choices and the subsequent results, but we do NOT need to “blame” ourselves.

  3. Joyce,
    You’ve addressed several of the issues that create our victimization by abusers. Most important, I think, are the things we believe. To the degree that we are disconnected from reality, we become vulnerable to liars and manipulators. Narcissism is a form of disconnection from reality so that our degree of narcissism is what makes us vulnerable, as you said.

    Also though, keep in mind that abusers will “train” us to believe what they need us to believe. They will “train” us to think that our people pleasing behavior is having an effect on them so that we keep it up. This is very much like the casinos which let the players win some of the time so that they keep playing, when in fact, everyone knows that “the house always wins” in the end.

    Being smart isn’t always enough to protect ourselves. Abusers can have very low IQ’s and yet still be very talented at manipulation. It’s a different kind of intelligence. I don’t want to call it an Emotional Quotient because there is nothing Emotionally Intelligent about abusing and manipulating, perhaps the best phrase is EQ for “Evil Quotient”.

    Sadly, being disconnected from reality can occur for many reasons and I don’t know the answer to why or how to fix it. Being able to believe in lies can have short term benefits, while the slot machines are letting you win, but eventually there is a price to pay. All gamblers know this — they really, really do know this, but it doesn’t stop the addiction and it doesn’t stop them from feeling that the next payoff is just around the corner.

  4. A psychologist did some early research on this “intermittent reward” being very addictive. And it is. I use it with my dogs and donkeys in training. At FIRST (like a love bomb) I give them a reward EVERY time they even approach doing what I want them to, and they get better and better at the desired behavior, then when they have it learned, I give them a reward only every other time, but each time they do it they think “Oh THIS is the time Ii will get the reward” and then I gradually slack off the rewards until they are never getting it and they still live in HOPE. They are bonded to me. LOL Trauma bonding is the same way, the abuser gives you UNCONDITIONAL LOVE for a while until you fall for them, then they start the abuse and it is interwoven between abuse and “love” so that you are like the animals, TRAINED and ADDICTED.

    Slot machines use the same thing. Intermittent rewards.

  5. Joyce and Sky, the interesting thing about this immediate discussion is that they are techniques to TRAIN – I used similar techniques with the horses that I worked with, and the sooner the foal began training, the better for everyone involved.

    ****Please, note that my use of CAPS is for emphasis, only. LOL!!!****

    I learned how to train a foal by watching other trainers and handlers. So, abusers and users must have learned in the same manner. Certainly, the propensity for genetics is a factor – certain genetic information is GOING to produce a human being that is MORE PRONE to predatory behaviors. But, they aren’t born with the intricacies and nuances that abusers and manipulators employ! Intermittent rewards! If I had not watched handlers and trainers using that method, I would never have sorted that out, myself.

    I think that there are many factors involved, including victim profiles. The second exspath would NEVER have chosen someone who was confident, self-sufficient, and emotionally healthy. Just as a duck hunter isn’t going to choose a pup to train that is shy, or skittish, the second exspath TROLLED for his targets.

    And, I agree that personal beliefs played a huge factor in how I made my choices. Well, that’s not written in stone, anymore – I can change and alter my beliefs at any time to better protect myself and my own best interests. I didn’t know that I had that option BEFORE the second exspath! LOL!!!!!!!!!!

    With Victor, the “unconditional love” was just as you described, Joyce. For a while. Once the marriage was sealed and the contract was binding, that began to change and it was a very, very insidious route. It began with the emotional dismantling, and ended up with the physical and s-exual abuse being primary. By the time I got OUT of that marital contract, I was hollow and terribly broken, which is precisely how the second exspath set me up using my own vulnerabilities and strengths to do it.

    Having typed ALL of that, I want to reiterate that I am actually grateful for these dreadful lessons. I’m no longer the person that I was 3 years ago, and even 9 months ago. My levels of anxiety aren’t constantly crippling, now. I’m taking tiny, tiny steps to address the agoraphobia, as well as my physical/medical health. I’m finally – at long, long last – CARING about MYSELF, which is something that I never, ever did prior to 2011. And, I’m grateful for all of it. I don’t LIKE it, but I’m grateful for it. LOL!

  6. Truthy, I think under great stress we ALL neglect ourselves. Many people who are depressed do as well. For the first year after the aircraft crash that killed my husband, my son Michael (who was in the plane and badly burned) were in total SHOCK. We sat and stared at the wall, only moving to feed the dogs and occasionally feed ourselves…I don’t know how long I went without bathing. Holed up with our pain. I can definitely relate.

    Some events are pretty terrible but we can none-the-less take lessons from them. I don’t wish I’d never had these things happen I can’t wish them away, but I am darned sure going to find that there is a lesson in there. Self neglect is not the answer. We must find the strength (however slowly) to come out of the funk and start taking care of ourselves FIRST. We have choices even if it didn’t seem like we did.

    • Joyce, I think that it’s so vital to realize that there are, indeed, always options, even if none of them are pleasant.

      Separating one’s Self from harmful associates or family members is SUPREMELY unpleasant……….nobody wakes up and thinks, “Today, I’m going to go ‘No Contact’ with my family member,” and looks forward to it. Going NC is one of the most challenging hurdles to personal recovery and healing that I know of, especially if it’s a loved family member or friend.

      But, self-care requires me (personally) to make difficult choices, and I have finally begun basing my choices and decisions upon information and facts, rather than the knee-jerk feelings and emotions that were previously in charge.

      Having typed that, it doesn’t make it any easier, simpler, or at-all-pleasant to come to a difficult decision like going NC with someone that I care about. I still grieve. I still feel sad. I still wish that things had turned out differently. The difference today is that I “accept” that things COULD NEVER be different, and that I made whatever decisions that I did for my own benefit and well-being, instead of basing them on what other people might think.

      Now that I’m concerned about my own well-being, I’m taking tiny, tiny steps to get hold of my overall health. From emotional to spiritual to physical, I’m taking steps, even if they are wee, tiny steps. I didn’t get to where I am all in one great LEAP, so I cannot and will not expect myself to get better in one great leap, either.

      Step one is saying to myself, “Okay, this is this and it is what it is – I cannot force it to be any other way, no matter how I try to negotiate or bargain.” Without that one, monumental step, I still would believe that I am not worthy or deserving of concern and care, and that I can administer care to and FOR myself.

      What a long, strange trip it’s been…………

  7. Your comment about not “getting this way” over night made me think about losing weight. NO one gets “fat” over night, and there is no way to LOSE IT over night. We have to lose it one calorie at a time. I think that is why many people find dieting so difficult. There is always the temptation in front of us, and no “VISIBLE” progress if we skip the pie and no visible weight gain if we eat it. It is only through the “day to day grind” that we make progress and it is one millimeter at a time. And of course there are “back steps” which we may beat our selves over the head with, and then say “Oh, to heck with it, I’m never gonna improve, so I’ll just go back to the (“easier”) way I was and not put out all this EFFORT and spend all this time working on examining my life, I’ll just “forget” about it all.

    • Whether it’s about losing weight, losing toxic relationships, or gaining self-confidence and self-worth, it takes time.

      One step at a time has been maddening, at times, because I wanted to be recovered and healed, YESTERDAY. But, I didn’t “get like this” in one fell swoop, and it’s a complete mind-body-spirit emergence for me.

      I am sorting out the “mind” aspects, and I’m getting a handle on the spirit, and I’m finally taking time to sort out the “body” approaches. In all ways, it’s a matter of caring FOR myself because I’m worth caring ABOUT. I didn’t believe that this was true for most of my life, so it’s a lifelong journey to keep learning, keep improving, and keep caring about myself.

      For me, any attempt at self-improvement was exactly as you described, above. And, I finally “get it” why I was so black-or-white about every aspect of my life. Knowing that most of those beliefs and perceptions were flawed has given me tremendous courage and desire to replace the flawed beliefs and perceptions with HEALTHY ones that are positive and based upon truth.

      Yepper………..the effort is tremendous, at first, but I’m feeling (actually feeling it) the inertia of forward momentum. Sure, I’m going to stumble and, sometimes, fall – but, being human does NOT make me a failure, nor does it make me a “bad person.” And, that has been the greatest blessing in my recovery – to be OKAY, even when I make mistakes. 😉

  8. Truthy, the mind set of “i’m not okay” (and even VERY successful people may feel that way) gives rise to a lot of toxic behavior being allowed to descend on our heads by abusive people.

    Also, the poor choices we make can lead to horrible consequences. I’ve been watching that Vanderbilt rape trial. WOW what horrible choices on everyone’s part….the girl for getting blind drunk in the first place, and the young man’s for thinking rape was a joke (and also being blind drunk) and videotaping it as well…They were convicted, but now their lawyer has raised a question about one of the jurors having been sexually assaulted as a child, so guess they will have to retry them again, but I have no doubt that they will use the juror as a lever to try to get the DA to make some sort of lesser sentence than the 20 years they were expected to get before the deal about the juror. I personally think the attorney found out about this during the trial and kept it secret, because if he had disclosed that information, an alternate juror could have been used to replace that juror and whatever the verdict would be would stand. Legal tricks! UGH! Not about guilty or innocent, just about legal tricks. UGH!!!!

    Our bad choices, regardless of the reasons we make them, are not going to bode well for our welfare or our lives. So we should strive to run our lives more by logic than by emotional cues….but who among us can say we are “Mr. Spock?” LOL

    Our emotional needs are important, and we need to strive to meet them IN A HEALTHY WAY, but so are good sense items…such as not drinking (or doing anything else) to excess that will harm us….young people as they are emerging from youth into adults frequently test the boundaries (I know I did) and do stoooopid things, but sometimes these things pass from being stooopid to being CRIMINAL the young lady at Vanderbilt was stoopid, but the young men were CRIMINAL, and yes, I think the college/atheletic culture was part and parcel of this event, but the bottom line is we are all responsible for our own behavior and choices and the consequences.

    As for the young men’s parents…I grieve for them at the loss of their son’s “shining future” because no matter what happens, junior is going down in firey flames one way or another. I can definitely IMAGINE their pain because I too was in such pain when Patrick killed Jessica, because I knew no matter what happened it would not go away, but even then I didn’t give up “hope” Maybe these young men were high in P traits and the alcohol being added in fueled the thing turning criminal, but the parents are having to process what they know to be true, and what the consequences are for their beloved sons.

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