Pathological Relationships

Dealing with a problem partner

Living the Gentle Life, Part One

There are numerous types of therapies that can help PTSD.

"Be gentle with yourself.  The rest of your life deserves it." (Sandra L. Brown, MA)

As discussed in previous newsletters, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a trauma-related anxiety disorder and is often seen as an aftermath constellation of symptoms from pathological love relationships. Exposure to other people's pathology (and the corresponding emotional, physical/sexual abuse) can, and often does, give other people stress disorders, including PTSD.  Our psychological and emotional systems are simply not wired for long-term exposure to someone else's abnormal psychology. Often the result is a conglomeration of ‘aftermath’ symptoms that include PTSD, which is described as 'a normal reaction to an abnormal life event.'

The profound and long-term effects of PTSD create what I refer to as a 'cracked vessel.'  The fragmentation caused by the trauma creates a crack in the emotional defense system of the person.  While treatment can 'glue the crack back together', and the vessel can once again function as a vessel, if pressure is applied to the crack, the vase will split apart again.  This means, that the crack is a stress fracture in the vessel—it's the part of the vessel that is damaged and weakened in that area.

There are numerous types of therapies that can help PTSD. If you have it, or someone you care about has it, you/they should seek treatment. PTSD does not go away by itself, and if left untreated, can worsen. People often have missed the opportunity of treating PTSD when it was still relatively 'treatable' and responsive to therapy. The sooner it's treated, the better the outcome. But any treatment, at any time, can still help PTSD.

However, what is often not recognized is the 'continual' life that must be lived when living with the aftermath of PTSD. Because the cracked vessel can crack again, a gentle and balanced life will relieve a lot of the PTSD symptoms that can linger. I have often seen people who have put a lot of effort into their recovery and NOT put a lot of effort into the quality of a gentle life following treatment. This is a mistake, because going back into a busy and crazy life, or picking another pathological, could reactivate PTSD. As much as people want to 'get back out there', and think they can return to the life they use to live, often that's not true. 'Wanting' to live or do what you did before does not mean that you will be able to.  I know, I know … it ticks you off that the damage is interfering with the person who you use to be … Before Pathology Exposure (BPE). But wanting it to be different doesn't make it different. If you have PTSD, you need to know what to realistically expect in your prognosis.

Consequently, many people's anxiety symptoms return if their life is not gentle enough. Much like a 12-Step Program, 'one day at a time' is necessary, and understanding your proclivity must be foremost in your mind.

Living the gentle life means reducing your exposure to triggers that can reactivate your PTSD.  Only you know what these are. If you don't know then that's the first order of therapy—to find your triggers. You can't avoid (or even treat) what you don't know exists.

Triggers are exposure to emotional, physical, sexual, visual, auditory, or kinesthetic reminders that set off anxiety symptoms. These triggers could be people, places, objects, sounds, phrases (songs!) tastes, or smells which reconnect you to your trauma.  Once you are reconnected to your trauma, your physical body reacts by pumping out the adrenaline and you become hyper-aroused, which is known as 'hyper-vigilance.'  This increases paranoia, insomnia, startle reflex and a lot of other over-stimulated and anxiety-oriented behaviors.

Other triggers that are not trauma-specific, but you should be on the alert for, are violent movies, TV, or music, and high-level noises. Also, be on alert for lifestyle/jobs/people that are too fast-paced, 'busy' environments, risky or scary jobs, bosses or co-workers who have personality disorders and are abrasive, or any other situations that kick-starts your anxiety. Women are often surprised that other people's pathology now sets them off. Once they have been exposed to pathology and have acquired PTSD from this exposure, other pathology can trigger PTSD symptoms.  Living 'pathology free' is nearly mandatory—to the degree that you can 'un-expose' yourself to other known pathologies

The opposite of chronic exposure to craziness and pathology would be the gentle life.  Think 'Zen Retreat Center'—a subdued environment where your senses can rest … where a body that has been pumped up with adrenaline can let down … and a mind that races can relax. Where the video flashbacks can go on pause, and fast-paced chest panting can turn into slow, diaphragmatic breathing. Where darting eyes can close, soft scents soothe, and gentle music lulls.  Where high heels come off and flip-flops go on. Where long quiet walks give way to tension release … quieting of the mind chases off the demons of hyperactive thinking … so when you whisper, you can hear yourself.

Only, this isn't a retreat center for a yearly visit … this is your life, where your recovery and your need for all-things-gentle are center in your life. It doesn't mean you need to quit your job or move to a mountain, but it does mean that you attend to your over-stimulated physical body. Those things in your life you can control, such as the tranquility of your environment, need to be adjusted. Lifestyle adjustments ARE required for those who want to avoid reactivated anxiety.  This includes psychological/emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual self-care techniques.

The one thing you can count on about PTSD, is when your AREN'T taking care of yourself, your body will SCREAM IT!  Your life cannot be the crazy-filled life you may watch others live.  Your need for exercise, quiet, healthy food, spirituality, tension release, and joy are as necessary as oxygen for someone with PTSD.  Walking the gentle path is your best guard against more anxiety, and your best advocate for peace.

Because of this overwhelming need, The Institute offers retreats several times a year that focus on your recovery. If we can help you live a gentle life and heal, please let us know.

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

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Gender Disclaimer: The issues The Institute writes about are mental health issues. They are not gender issues. Both females and males have the types of Cluster B disorders we often refer to in our articles. Our readership is approximately 90% female therefore we write for those most likely to seek out our materials. We highly support male victims and encourage others who want to provide support to male victims to encompass the issues we discuss only from a female perpetrator/male-victim standpoint. Cluster B Education is a mental health issue applicable to both genders.
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Sandra L. Brown, M.A., is CEO of The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education.

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