May 20, 2012

Sandra Brown and the Sisyphean Commitment to Social Change through Public Awareness

Wikipedia: "...Sisyphus was a king punished by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever..." 

If you've loved someone with pathological behaviors that improve and regress without warning, you may connect Sisyphus with narcissism. You may view the narcissist as an unlearning fool, "repeating the same behavior expecting results to change." Up the mountain, down the mountain, up the mountain, down...never changing behavior and beliefs while expecting changed outcomes. 

As the myth goes, Sisyphus was condemned to to push a boulder up a hill. His hubris asserting himself as more clever than Zeus (as the rumor suggests), resulted in an eternity of unending and unrewarding struggle, his vision never achieved. His efforts never satisfied. The Sisyphean metaphor describes the pathological inclination for continual reinvention: chasing idealistic fantasies, losing interest (re: boredom); devaluing the fantasy; discarding it for another fantasy. 

This picture on the right is a good illustration of my marriage. I'm the littler boulder squashed between a rock and hard pavement when my x-husband took us down his path of least resistance. He's still pushing his Sisyphean boulders and so am I. Why am I? Because there's more than one way to read this myth.

Interpretation #2: The fate of Sisyphus mirrors the Boulder-Pusher's relentless commitment to social change 

Social change is a process of again-ing: doing the same thing over and over again and experiencing minimal results. Sisyphean describes the challenges people face when writing and talking about pathology. It's as if we're pushing a massive boulder up a hill in the belief we're making progress, only to experience the inevitable roll-back. We push the rock again because we're committed to educating people about pathology. Why? Because pathology results in "inevitable harm." All of society suffers because of ignorance about human pathology. 

"Twenty-nine years ago, my father [Frankie Brown] bled out in a grungy gutter in Cincinnati after a psychopath plunged a knife into his aorta outside of his jazz club.  I was initiated into a victim-hood that would turn my life and career in a direction I hadn't much interest in before that particular day. Much like pathology in anyone else's life, you don't get to pick how it plays out in your life. "
We don't get to pick how it plays out in our lives. We may have chosen a pathological partner but the truth is: we chose a person, not a pathology. That person just happened to come with warts that didn't get better in time. No matter how harshly we're chided for seeing changeability in a beloved's pathological traits, we were not choosing to be harmed. We made choices based on what we knew. When we discover there's such a thing as pathological personalities, we generally feel a need to share what we've learned. 

Conscientious people are driven to take action because we care deeply; we are motivated by our moral nature---the desire to alleviate harm for others. My effort to create gentle websites granting safe space for sharing, learning, and healing is the result of feeling isolated and lacking knowledgeable support when I didn't get to pick how pathology would play out in my life. 
"Every new blog that goes up," Sandra writes, "every newsletter, every website, every talk, every social networking post, every private moment of your knowledge shared with another another message to another ear that has heard the message.  You learned it because someone cared enough to make sure you learned it."
Rather than mocking the absurdity of our Sisyphean labor, let's assume the ultimate goal of social change is worthy of successive failures. Many of us see the summit of public awareness, but few of us are willing or able to commit to the arduous process getting there. That's not a condemnation of anyone. I would never suggest everyone-who-is-affected-by-pathology enter the public arena. There are valid reasons for stepping away. You must be able to roll with the boulder when it descends---for it will. For those of us who are able to speak for others, we should buck up and do it. For those of you who are motivated to tell your story, don't expect a welcome committee for breaking the silence. The Gods will be angry! Ignore the God of Pathology undermining your voice, invalidating you & your efforts, remember: 

Speaking out is Meaningful Work. It is not pointless. It is not futile. 

You never know whose life you have touched because you dared push the ignorance boulder six inches higher before slip-sliding three. You needn't be a specialist in psychology or the social sciences, either. You are the expert on your life. Your story ripples through people's lives in ways you'll never realize. It takes faith to believe your life experience matters enough to make a difference in the future of a more civilized and 'just' society. Sandra Brown asks us to:
"Help me celebrate my father's death anniversary in a way that brings meaning and hope to many.  Tomorrow, share what you know with just ONE person—someone that you have felt in your gut needs to know about the permanence and the pain of pathological relationships...His death should never have been for nothing—and as long as people have been helped, it hasn't. "
Maybe all social change begins with a simple story: "Once upon a time, I believed all people were capable of change, if we only loved them enough. And then one day..........." 

Sandra encourages people to email her so she'll know readers "Passed it forward." If you want to comment on her blog, I added her blog link below. If you'd like to post on my blog, I'll let Sandra know about your comments. We have a long way to go educating people about pathology, that's true; but already, Sandra Brown's work has made a difference in people's lives and our children's lives, too.

Rest in peace, Frankie.

Hugs all,


Sandra Brown's PsychologyToday Blog: Pathological Relationships

Sandra Brown's The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education Website


  1. Right on Systarh!!!!!

    and... today is 9 years to the day the psychopath was arrested. And I'm still shining bright, casting light on the darkness.

    Shine on CZ! You illuminate the path for all of us to follow.


    1. Nine years to the day?! That's something to celebrate! You've got longevity, Systarh! You've got stamina, commitment, dedication, fire in the belly and COURAGE. OOOOH yea, lots of courage. You don't do this work without lots of that.

      U Haz kurridge!


  2. Great post. I've read Brown's books and they've given me so much insight on problem people I know. She's right, every bit of awareness helps.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Ricky.

      My book "Women who love Psychopaths" by Sandra Brown, has been loaned out, bookmarked, underlined, and discussed at length over sweet tea and cookies. Lots of cookies. And Kleenex...though we didn't eat the Kleenex but might have had we talked much longer.

      I bought my third copy recently and may never loan it out. People conveniently forget to return her book after they borrow it. That's why I'm on my third copy! There's a lot of information to absorb about psychopaths AND about ourselves.


  3. Thank you for the validation that me not shutting up, even in the face of "those looks," is a good thing. When I first became sure of what was happening to my children and I, I decided there was safety in numbers. I wrote a long letter to my family members, with proof from my kids. I also felt the great need to stand on the rooftops and scream about this injustice. If it's okay that I post a link to my story (still unfolding, for sure!), here it is.

    I Did Not See I Was Being Abused by My Husband for Over 20 Years

    Thank you, CZ, for already doing what I feel the need to do. You have wonderful insight and a kind heart.

    1. Hi Janienne!

      Good for you! We can begin restoring our self-respect the first time we Stand Up For Ourselves.

      People don't want to hear about husbands abusing wives (or vice versa). It kinda messes with everybody's Fantasy, ya know? Speaking up and 'breaking the silence' isn't met with universal validation and to me, it's always an act of courage when someone dares being honest about 'what goes on behind closed doors."

      I have added your site to my list of blogs below which always fills my heart with joy when it continues growing longer each day as more and more people Wake Up and Speak Up.

      Blessings to you for caring enough about our world to write about your life. It would be easier (some days) to hang our heads in shame and allow injustice and abuse to flourish. I think it's such a miracle when people refuse to do that because I am SURE you have dealt with your share of insults and criticisms. People don't want to hear about things like this...we'd rather stick our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn't happen. OR, pretend 'abuse' only happens to people who are complicit.

      Continue daring to say "I am a good person and there was nothing weak or wrong about me, other than meeting and marrying an abusive man. I am an everyday person, just like you. If it could happen to me, it could happen to you."

      And then, give them lots of hugs. *wink*




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