January 10, 2013

Feature Article by Sandra L. Brown: Safe Support

Sandra sent this article to me last night, granting permission to publish it in full. We have been discussing the challenges of finding safe support in a self-help culture where anyone can hang a shingle on a website as an expert. It's crucial for the public to understand pathology and recognize signs that someone might not be a trustworthy partner, a healthy parent, a normal neighbor. What we don't know about human nature gets us in trouble. For that reason, Sandra created The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction & Public Pathology Education. (Try saying that three times without bruising your lips.)

So now that the cat is out of the bag (pathology exists!), people are talking, sharing, connecting. Sandra explains in her article that helping other people is part of our healing process. We want to give back to others. Reciprocity makes the world go round. Appreciating the support people have given us, inspires laypeople like myself to spend our free time writing books, blogs, and managing forums. Because of our desire to help, Sandra suggests ways lay people can safely give back to others. While you may not agree with everything she writes, her concerns about people with PTSD being 'coached' by a layperson is a serious concern. Sandra also warns readers about dubious coaching styles.

Sandra L. Brown, M.A. holds a master’s degree in counseling with a former specialization in personality disorders/pathology.  She is a program development specialist, lecturer, community educator, and award-winning author.  Her books include the award-winning 'Women Who Love Psychopaths:  Inside the Relationships of Inevitable Harm with Psychopaths, Sociopaths and Narcissists', as well as 'How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved', and 'Counseling Victims of Violence:  A Handbook for Helping Professionals'. Sandra L. Brown, M.A., is CEO of The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction & Public Pathology Education. 

The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction & Public Pathology Education

Finding Meaning in the Suffering of the Aftermath of Pathological Love Relationships 
and How to Pass It Forward 

by Sandra L. Brown

It is human nature to want to find meaning for why we suffered. At the core of our humanness is a desire to avoid being harmed and when we can’t do that, the next desire is to understand why.  Viktor Frankl a Jewish psychiatrist that survived the holocaust both experienced, and studied in others whom he was imprisoned with, the issue of finding meaning in suffering.  He went on to write one of the all-time great books called ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ and created a whole category of psychology now called ‘Existential Psychology’ that examines suffering and the need for gathering meaning.

There is nothing more victimizing than to have suffered ‘for nothing.’  That is, we were unable to transform the pain.  Without making the pain ‘account for something’, without the ability to mold it into meaning,  to learn from, grow through, or spiritually be ‘enlightened’ by the experience, then we are defeated again by the thing that defeated us the first time. Victimize me once, and I will rise again, victimize me by the inability to prosper from what hurt me, and I will wither and die.

Is it any great wonder that many of the empathy-based professions are hinged on the experience of having transformed personal pain? Pastoral care, social work, hospice workers, nursing, special education teachers, missing persons workers, counselors, crisis line volunteers, domestic violence advocates, crime victim supporters, or paramedics? Most have their own stories of life crisis managed through the cultivating of meaning from their pain that then motivated them to make a career of helping others transform their pain too. 

In order to not live through one’s entire life with the memory of untransformed pain, (which is essentially a view of oneself as a perpetual victim), survivors must find a way to emerge from broken. To protect the core self from a perception of a life experience of being nothing more than ‘damaged goods’ then the pain MUST be redeemed. This is not optional.  Unredeemed pain is unexplained suffering. 

Survivor’s overwhelming need in recovery is to first understand ‘why’ them, ‘why’ they were targeted, ‘why’ the partner is so disordered, ‘why’ this happened. This is the search for meaning that Viktor Frankl explained so well. 

The next overwhelming need is to make sure that even the most evil intent is metaphorically ‘born again’ in hope through helping others.  How many times have we heard “If this can help just one person then I will not have suffered in vain.”  This is the redemption of trumping evil with good---the need to recycle pain for the good of humanity. It is the redemption of pathology into grace for the survivor, the seared conscience of pathology into survivor’s insight, darkness into light.  It’s the more basic tenant of our own humanity and spirituality to work through the taking, breaking, blessing, and giving back of our own experiences so that pain does not have the last say in our lives. 

It is our own tenacity that insists that evil and pain not have the last say in our lives. It’s why dying patrons leave millions of dollars for a hospital wing for children. It’s why John Walsh of American’s Most Wanted has worked day and night catching thousands of predators since his son was murdered. It’s why our colleague Susan Murphy Milano rescued women because she wouldn't rescue her mother. It’s why I have worked in pathology so that others would somehow benefit from my father’s murder. It’s why someone feeds the homeless or sits with the dying.  It’s our tenacity, our own demand if you will that this crushing, life-destroying pain WILL rise to help others.

So in essence, we are wired to ‘need’ to transform our crisis of pain. We do it through ‘understanding why’ it happened and then creating situations so that the pain turns to purpose. Most survivors go through this process: 

understanding---> pain into---> purpose 

These pro-active steps are actually part of recovery. People who will do best in their recovery are those who follow through on these most basic needs for them to heal.  

This internal drive to self-protect by understanding and then helping others culminates in the ultimate act of finding meaning behind why they lived through this. I have never met a survivor who said something like, “I lived through this horrible pain/violation/loss so that I can party-hearty or so that I can shop in Beverly Hills and buy the latest boots." The universal response for survivors no matter what they have experienced is to help others who are going through the same thing. Recovering addicts help addicts. Parents of missing children help other parents. DV survivors help DV survivors. Those who lost someone to cancer help others going through the loss.  The survivor flocks to the existential need to help with the very issue they are still recovering from.  Believing helping others helps themselves, they reach out to those who are going through the same thing.    

Over 25 years we have helped THOUSANDS of victims. It is rare if the victim DOESN’T eventually say, “I want to go back to school and get my degree in psychology. I want to be a counselor/therapist/social worker. I am going to volunteer at the DV Shelter. I want to take the training to be a volunteer crisis line worker. I want to start a blog about pathology. I want to write a book about my life. I am starting a radio show about domestic violence.” A week doesn’t go by when a survivor doesn't contact us about starting a support group, writing a book, speaking in the community. 

As we have seen, this is the natural process of healing—to find the meaning and pass it forward. It is at the heart of volunteerism within the tragedy-based fields of helping. The volunteers are their survivors. We have recognized this for many years—I am after all, a survivor of my father’s murder who went on to help other homicide survivors, went back to college to get a master’s degree in counseling, opened an agency and wrote books about it. The Institute was birthed out of the ‘existential crisis’ that produces the need to ‘do something’ about murder in America, pathology, and those that harm us most. 

Because our agency was birthed from this process and because it is one of the crucial steps in one’s own recovery, we have attempted to help survivors find their ‘meaning’ through understanding in our articles, books, and retreats. But we have also tried to help them take the next step in their existential recovery and give back, to pass it forward, to give voice to their experience, and for their meaning to have made the ultimate sacrifice by helping others.  This is as crucial a step in their recovery as is all the therapy they will ever do around their pain. 

How can survivors ‘help’ in ways that are meaningful for them but safe for the level of help they are capable of doing? This is the teeter-totter that many agencies who use volunteers, or help prepare them to help others, struggle with. We continue to tweak and re-tweak programs, trainings, and other ways that survivors can be involved to the level of their capacities. 

Some of the direction we have given survivors has done well and other opportunities that we tried briefly have bombed. As trained mental health providers our first and foremost focus has to remain that what we guide survivors to, has to be SAFE for them and for the others who they are reaching out to.  Passion and willingness is not a substitution for ability, unfortunately.

After 25 years of trying to help survivors find a niche to give back, our ideas are not always popular. They are ‘least’ appreciated by those who want to do their own thing no matter what their training is, or isn't  or the consequences of what they do.  These beliefs have not stopped our vocal-ness about trying to protect the quality of care that is offered to survivors, by survivors.  This article is no exception. While I think I have demonstrated that we understand the existential need for survivors to be active, and while we do believe it is part of the recovery process, what can be ‘safely’ done is another matter.  

Silver Teapot and Artichoke by John Paul Raine
It is hard to talk about survivor’s desires to give back and then talk about all the ways it back fires and the problems it can cause to other survivors. It’s a hard discussion that must be talked about. While I systematically talk about all the ways it hasn't worked, don’t give up, I do end the article talking about ways and places that I think survivor’s energies are needed and encouraged. 

I hope this article helps recovery-seeking survivors to find the kind of care they need in order to heal. I hope it also helps survivors who are seeking opportunities to give back in responsible and safe ways, some recommendations. But let’s first talk about the uncomfortable parts---the ways it sometimes goes terribly wrong. Here are some of the reoccurring themes we have seen over the decades when existential need overrides trained ability. 

Survivor Helper 1:  Ava Avoidant
Although crisis and pain makes us the master of our own experience, because it is us and us alone, who lived through our disaster it does not necessarily make a person technically capable to help others master their own pain.  That sounds like an oxymoron. But victimization does not always produce healers.  Sometimes it produces victims avoiding their own recovery by plunging head first into frantic efforts of helping others to back pedal away from their own unprocessed trauma.  For agencies, this spells disaster.  

CLUE: You find survivors who are offering ‘victim services’ ‘mentoring’ or ‘coaching’ who have done not day one of true therapy with a mental health professional. There is no measurement of their own healing. However, the same avoidant survivors who have not worked on their own healing with professionals may consider they are healed because they have spent hundreds of hours on chat forums about the pathology, submerged in the reliving of their pathological relationship (which, by the way, actually increases their stress disorder reactions).  Or perhaps they feel they are healed because they have read a lot of books about the topic and believe since they have invested hundreds of hours in chatting or reading, they are ready to be a helper in the field.  Some unhealed survivors start their own programs trying to lead other survivors where they haven’t gone themselves. 

Newly traumatized survivors who have fallen into non-professional coaching are often harmed by approaches that are counter-productive for stress disorders. A good portion of our clients are those we are ‘cleaning up’ after a well-meaning, but untrained non-professional, the survivor has attempted ‘help’ with.

When a survivor has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Major Depression, Anxiety Disorders, or a Dissociative Disorder and hits a trigger and decomposes quickly, coaches not only will not know what to do (as this is a mental health crisis intervention at this point) but they are ethically prevented FROM doing anything that requires the knowledge and training of a professional mental health clinician. Well-meaning coaches have been sued by their clients who have ended up in psych units, self-harmed after sessions, or feel they are much worse from the coaching experience. 

This is where a survivor’s own personal experience is not experience enough for someone else. It is why mental health persons have spent six years in training to do the work. Not only does the client-survivor suffer by the lack of the ‘coaches’ training but it is often so triggering to the coach who has never worked on their own issues that you now have two people in crisis.

Survivor Helper 2:  Thelma Therapy
Some survivors feel as if they can help others because they have, after all according to them, ‘spent their entire life in therapy.' They feel they are a better helper than their therapist.

CLUE: Survivors who have spent many years in counseling may have some level of mental health chronicity.  Most mental health disorders, which are not chronic and are treatable, means that clients are in and out of counseling within a couple of years, at max.  Those who have spent most of their adult lives in counseling usually have a type of disorder that requires monitoring, or frequent intervention. 

While it might be obvious to others that a survivor with a long history of mental health problems need not be a ‘coach’ to someone else (other than maybe peer support in a facilitated group therapy scenario with a professional present), these are often the types of survivors who will try to ‘give back’ through their existential needs of making meaning out of their own pain.    

Survivor Helper 3: Penny Para-Professional
Some survivors have gone through some training for general coaching. General relationship or life coaching training is good training to access the basic foundation and rules of working with others but would not be enough training to work with those who have significant crisis and likely current mental health disorders such as PTSD, Major Depression, etc. which is the typical disorders when emerging from a pathological love relationship. 

CLUE: Coaching organizations that teach Peer Coaching offer certification in the basics of how to coach. The problem exists when survivors take coaching certification that is meant for issues not related to the severity of the aftermath of pathological love relationships, PTSD, etc. and apply it to these situations. It becomes an ethics issue to offer a level of care that is not equal to the level of need.  

The Institute briefly offered coaching training to non-professionals for Pathological Love Relationships. After frantic calls from coaches not knowing what to do, having clients who were triggered/in flashbacks/dissociating/having suicide ideation, and our staff ending up working with the coach’s clients to stabilize them, we discontinued the offer to train. The coaches were freaked out, the client was freaked out, and we were freaked out.  We soon realized that over 50% of the clients who come forward for services have PTSD.  In fact, even though they don’t know they have PTSD, it is the disorder that is propelling them to seek help. PTSD is a treatment issue for mental health professionals.

Seeking the least restrictive and most cost effective route, survivors often pick coaching. It seems less threatening and there is the relate-ability factor that those coaching them are another survivor.  However, with 50%, or more, of survivors with PTSD (in its most chronic activity) seeking help, it became clear that Pathological Love Relationships ‘coaching’ is not practical or even safe without a mental health professional doing it. We changed our training which is now only offered to graduate level mental health professionals. Those that work for The Institute or those that we refer to have a Master’s Degree or higher in a related field. It was a tough learning curve for us.  

Additionally, most coaches who do not have a mental health background do not know the difference between merely symptomatic behaviors of the Pathological Love Relationship and that which are those of reoccurring PTSD and need more intense treatment, normally in a face-to-face format.  So it is often missed and the coaches move ahead with a client only to trigger them. While Penny Para-Professional has had training for coaching, stepping over the line into actual ‘treatment issues’ brings her and the survivor into harm’s way.  Sometimes coaching training or symptom reduction training (learning one technique for one symptom and use it in all the coaching situations) can give the feeling that the coach ‘has this’—the ability to handle anything. A few techniques and some generalized coaching skills is not enough for this aftermath clientele of trauma. Para-professionals often were crossing the boundaries of their training, unknowingly. 

Survivor Helper 4: Stacy Spiritual
Some survivors who have found solace in spirituality seek to bring that ‘path’ of healing to others---no matter what the survivor currently, and/or psychologically needs. 

CLUE: ‘Spiritual’ counselors often come with a certification that is not a degree but acquired ‘elsewhere.’ Much like Para-Professional counselors, they have some training in how to work with others but their approach is clearly related mostly to the spiritual. That could be any religion.  The helper can have various levels of clergy, pastoral, or merely self-proclaimed backgrounds. Some are clairvoyants trained in the healing arts of New Age. Others are from different denominations. 

While spirituality is almost always a part of a survivor’s recovery, it is not the only part and it is often the part that is best incorporated after PTSD treatment or symptom management has been effective. However, when ‘spiritual’ coaching is the only tool in the tool box, then it’s the only approach.  Again, PTSD is a treatment issue that should be treated. The spiritual recovery is important and should be addressed in the proper order of a treatment plan.

Spiritual helpers have found a path for their own understanding of what happened to them and have found meaning from suffering in the context of the spirit realm but may be insufficient for a survivor’s needs who has a trauma disorder.

Survivor Helper 5:  Twilia 12 Stepper
God bless the 12 steps who have ‘restored the sanity’ of millions and for the best peer support program on the planet. I love the 12 steps and I believe in them. 

CLUE: Coaches who work only through 12 steps as peer support face the same challenges of other coaches which is what is wrong with a survivor at the time they reach out is often the problem with PTSD symptom management or other stress reactions. If they are using substances, of course 12 steps can and should address that. 

However, the rest of the trauma that the survivor is experiencing is a treatment issue, not merely, and only, a 12 step problem. Admitting (Step One) that one is overdrinking to medicate the aftermath is not the same as symptom management for PTSD. 12 steps are a wonderful ancillary support system during the aftermath and should be viewed like the kinds of additional things a survivor might use such as a support group. 12 steps spiritual and structural program has helped millions with the existential crisis of their lives and passing it forward to others as their help and hope and meaning. But it cannot replace other needed trauma recovery principles.  
Moroccan Teapot and Azaleas

So If Not Like That, Then How?

Those are some of the ways that have not worked with this population of Pathological Love Relationship survivors and their needs, symptoms, and trauma disorders.  Quite frankly, the aftermath is just too severe which is why many attempted approaches are not successful. But we still have the survivor’s ‘existential’ need to help to deal with. And we must find a place for them to give back.  What is appropriate? 

Survivor Helper 6:  Bella Balanced 

There are great ways for survivors without clinical mental health backgrounds to actively participate in the issue of recovery and pathology. The most important issue for survivors, as I have repeatedly stressed in this article, is to understand your limitations, to strive to stay within those boundaries, to not risk your own legal or mental health or that of the survivors you are helping, and to ethically not engage in practices you are not trained to do. 

The Institute is the pioneer in the field of Healing the Aftermath of Pathological Love Relationships. We developed the Model of Care that is utilized for treatment in DV agencies, drug rehabs, women’s center, inpatient hospitals, private practice therapists, etc. But even we consider our mission to be two-fold: 

1. To train therapists in our Model of Care 
2. BUT equally as important, to teach Public Pathology Education for everyone.  

What Survivors Can Do

The most pressing preventative need this world has is to understand the danger of pathology—dangerous relationships, how to spot them, and why they are dangerous. Without the ability to spot them, victims will never leave nor will they be able to prevent picking pathology again.  A huge need we (society who wants to see pathology better understood) have is for more community educators. Community Education is a noble and urgent place for survivors who are ready to give back.  There are a number of different ways Community Education can be offered.

1. Community Educators gives talks/workshops/lectures in their community for general public awareness about pathology and dangerous relationships. Survivors have given them at schools (especially middle, high and college), lectures that are open to the public at the library, to DV agencies or their clientele, really anywhere there is an open door. Many have used The Institute’s community powerpoint presentation on dangerous relationships (see our website ) or they create their own.  They use sound research for their presentation and present relevant information about pathology and relationships. They often provide professional resource information for those seeking further services. 

2. Public Education as a Blogger/Website gives relevant information about pathology, the signs of a dangerous relationship, and will often supply recommended reading resources, and survivor websites and professional services for therapy. 

3. Public Education as Telling Your Own Story— through your blog or website, or write your own book as an e-book and put it on your blog. Each story about pathology IS public education. 

Although chat forums and Face Book pages are popular, we get our most complaints from survivors acting as mental health professionals in these venues. We do have a few forums that we recommend that seem to have a handle on the difference between support and crossing the line into therapy. 

It’s not hard to slip up—you have a participant in your chat forum who is unraveling. You as a survivor who understand how that feels and being hyper empathetic, dig into your arsenal of what worked for you and you begin trying to help stabilize her.  The more you work the farther she slips until you are in a panic and wondering if you should call 911.  For many survivors there is an issue of secondary PTSD that happens when they are frequenting online chat rooms and sites reading other people’s trauma which triggers their trauma.  Facebook pages that want to responsibly participate in community education can provide information, research articles, or written recovery tips by reputable sources and steer clear of advice giving that can step over the line. 

And as a general warning:  your risk for meeting pathologicals posing as ‘victims’ online is, of course very high, because that’s what pathologicals ‘do’.  Many online support programs, chat forums, and coaches have indicated there are groups of proclaimed ‘victims’ who travel in the circle of pathology services and their sole purpose is to wreak havoc in your group. Some have you provide services to them and then try to sue you or begin slandering your blog, chat room, etc. Needless to say, these people are pathological but it serves as a reminder that working with victims is not always smooth sailing. 

4. Research Assistant.  Established mental health or victim service agencies who also create products, workshops, or articles on the issue of victimization, pathology, DV, or other mental health issues frequently need volunteer researchers who will comb the internet and keep an ongoing file of the most recent information out there on these topics.  Researching for organizations is very satisfying to many survivors who get to stay on top of the latest findings and know they are hand selecting great information for new survivors. 

5. Documenting Volunteer.  The Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit (created by Susan Murphy Milano) is a process that volunteers can be trained in to assist victims to document their abuse for future prosecution using The EAA.  If the victim is abducted, put in a coma, or is killed, her recorded testimony of her abuse can be used in court as evidence. www.DocumentTheAbuse.com  

6. Court Support.  Many DV agencies use trained volunteers to sit with victims at court hearings. They help victims understand the court process, keep perpetrators from approaching her, and give emotional support through the process. Contact your local DV agency for training.

7. Guardian Ad Litum. Through training you can learn to gather data on situations regarding child custody and child wellbeing and render opinions to the court about the best suggestions for the child’s needs. Contact your local Guardian Ad Litum program.

8. DV Center Volunteer. DV agencies use a lot of volunteers from manning the front office, event coordinating, public education, and sometimes volunteers sit in on groups and help prepare for groups (hand outs, etc.) 

9. Crisis Line. You can be trained to take incoming calls related to violence and abuse. Crisis line workers make community referrals while offering hope. Find a community crisis line in your area to help. 

10. Girls groups.  Some volunteers have established groups for middle age girls to teach them about dangerous dating. Unfortunately kids are dating that early! One great project using our Dangerous Man products teaches middle and high schoolers from the inner city, in a local community center every week. They enlisted older women from the projects to be mentors to the young girls and sit in the Dangerous Man classes with them. A powerful program! The Institute has available a 10 week group structure for girls that breaks down the Dangerous Man book for weekly groups (on our website under products called The Facilitators Guide )  

These are 10 great ways for every survivor to get involved and affect the world through pathology education. These are much safer ways of avoiding entanglement in providing services you are not trained to provide and that increase your risk of litigation. 

Reginas Roses by John Paul Raine

Giving and Healing

As we have seen, the very core of all of us is to find the meaning behind what we lived through and to recover by helping others through what we learned. The healthiest survivors are those who work the process of finding meaning and then pass it forward—moving themselves from survivor to thriver. 

Much continued healing to you from The Institute.

Copyright © 2013 
Sandra L. Brown, MA
The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction & Public Pathology Education


  1. Gosh, what a great article, I read every word and I think I agreed with all of them. First, I thought of my narcissist sister, who took layperson counseling training through her church. I just cringed when I thought of her trying to counsel people when she was so out of touch with her own shame, rage, and anxiety. This article points EXACTLY to what I couldn't put into words back then. Excellent.

    Then, I thought of the 12 Steppers. In the AA meetings I went to, there was a sort of anti-intellectual bias against therapy. Which I always knew was wrong, wrong, wrong (according to the literature itself!). And being a sponsor was often a popularity contest, with the most charismatic, but not necessarily the healthiest, people having the most sponsees. I knew this was wrong too. Not saying all 12 Step groups have these biases, but many that I went to did.

    Finally, I thought of myself (well, actually I thought of myself throughout the article), wondering if I give too much advice on my blog without coaching it properly in terms of "what worked for me might not necessarily work for you" and "please seek professional help." I always try to do this, and to be humble in my approach, but I know I don't always succeed. Thanks for an eye-opening post and educating post. I am also going to look into some of the community outreach she talked about.

  2. Replies
    1. "[I am] wondering if I give too much advice on my blog without couching it properly in terms of "what worked for me might not necessarily work for you" and "please seek professional help.""

      Oh dear Kitty, you are a Bella-Balanced-Blogger! Your blog is superb. You never give the advice Sandra is referring to. You talk about yourself, your struggles, your insights and you offer information. Blogs like yours (and mine) are not the issue here. The issue is lay people setting up shop as experts, charging fees for their services when they are not qualified to practice psychotherapy!

      Spend some time browsing the web. You will see what has happened the past few years, as cottage industries specializing in pathological relationships are hanging out their Lucy shingles on lemonade stands. "Psychiatric Help. 5 cents."

      Some websites have the audacity to state that their lay-person program is more effective than psychotherapy. They even purport to 'cure' personality disorders. Scary to think about if someone is with a malignant narcissist who could pretend to be Mother Theresa if she needed to (for awhile that is). SAD to think about if someone wants help healing their NPD and during that 'window of opportunity', takes the easier route reading articles than signing up intense and longterm psychotherapy.

      If NPD could be cured in a book or series of articles, it wouldn't exist today. Some brilliant clinical psychologists have tried solving the NPD riddle and these is no easy fix. Geeze! (There are however, an endless supply of desperate people!)

      The anti-intellectual bias we've seen in our populace lately, speaks to our increasing narcissism as a society. Do we really want someone who has never gone to school or practiced therapy under direct supervision of qualified psychologists, coaching us? We saw this during our election year when people who'd never held political office, believed they were qualified to run the nation. THAT, imo, is Narcissism Run Amok.

      I have witnessed some bad situations during my tenure on the web. I have learned what can safely be provided and what can't. I believe earnest and good people are naive about the problems their "clients" may have, including pathological disorders. (For the record: I have always had a professional counseling me when I needed help).

      I believe 12-step has influenced our acceptance of lay-people support. As far as being a 12-step sponsor, I have done that. And I realized right away that I was in over my head which made me worry about some of the people replicating what appeared to be another 'codependent relationship' between sponsor and sponsee. The problem is that people don't recognize their limitations and resist valid criticism.

      It is entirely possible to VALUE 12-step and CRITICIZE the dangers at the same time.

      I would encourage people who want to 'give back' to read Sandra's list at the bottom of her article. She has some great suggestions! And if anyone reading this thread can offer other ways to 'give back', please leave a comment.


    2. All excellent points, thanks for this thoughtful reply. Okay, I won't worry about my blog, although your word "excellent' makes me blush and squirm just a bit. But thank you, thank you, thank you!

      I have been tossing around ideas in my head for a post on the Internet, something about "not all voices are the same." I absolutely agree that the 12 Steps have contributed to our acceptance of lay people support. And I absolutely agree that it is entirely possible to both value and criticize the 12 Steps. I couldn't have said it better myself, and have addressed this issue on BNK, although not for awhile. It's something I've been concerned about for a long, long time. It's a delicate thing to write about. (And you are much better at than me--that must be your tremendous sense of equanimity.)

      Anyway, thinking about the simple truth that not all voices are created equal. Keith C. talks about this in TNE, and it's come up a lot for me lately. Not sure exactly what I'm saying at this point but it has something to do with "egalitarianism infected with narcissism." That is, just because anyone can start a web page doesn't mean what they have to say is helpful to others. Another point is that the comments to online news stories now carry the same weight as the story itself, even though they often deteriorate into name-calling and profanity. On the Internet, charlatans, predators, and those who simply do not know their own limitations stand on an equal footing with people who've spent decades studying a subject. It's kind of an alarming situation.

      No need to reply here, just kind of musing out loud. Thanks again for this reply. I found it very helpful and comforting.



  3. This is an amazing article. Especially the point that not all victims are cut out to be healers. Identifying ourselves as victims of narcissism is itself a big step. For most of us, it's taken many years to actually SEE that this is what's happened to us. But identifying as victims isn't enough. The next step has to be taken. But what that step looks like will be vastly different, depending on who we are. It's too tempting to think of oneself as a "healer"; I'm certainly not. I'm working on healing myself by eradicating one narc flea after another. It takes a long time to find and squash 'em.

    1. I agree with CS. Working on oneself is work enough. I was also thinking whether the subtitle for "healer" (in some people's cases) is "rescuer".


    2. I don't want to put words in Sandra's mouth, so please know that the commentary on this thread is purely my opinion and experience. That's my disclaimer absolving ALL concerned professionals from liability for my opinions, even my big fat ones. ;-P

      Dear CS,

      If I don't restrain myself, I could write a book about "Wounded Healers." A quick google suggests Carl Jung used this term in reference to the relationship between analyst and analysand.

      I remember this idea being written about many years ago, describing people who had suffered child abuse yet grew up to be compassionate beings 'of light'. It created an alternative view to feeling damaged and worthless. As usual though, people take it to an extreme and now being wounded means you're Gandalf, leading people to the promised land.

      I think we need to admit we have limitations we may not be aware of.....yet! Being humble without feeling worthless is the task, don't you think?

      I also think there may be a period of compensatory inflation of our self-esteem. We need to watch for it without assuming our feelings of competence mean we are ready to counsel victims. I went through something like that for awhile before restoring my equanimity. Perhaps it depends on the degree of trauma someone has suffered...I have lots of questions and few answers.


    3. "I agree with CS. Working on oneself is work enough. I was also thinking whether the subtitle for "healer" (in some people's cases) is "rescuer"." ~Kara

      Healer or rescuer? Since I am a rescuer-type woman and my marriage certificate of 34 years proves it, I ask myself this question all the time: Am I helping or rescuing? There may be a very fine line. If our motivations are unconscious to us, we're probably 'rescuing'. By the way, Alanon (12-step) was PROFOUNDLY helpful in getting me to accept my helping tendencies for what they were: rescuing.

      I love rescuers though and would never encourage people to become indifferent. Just know that you are one of those people who wants to rescue people from suffering (help) and then remember this rule: Never do for others what they can do for themselves.

      Even my nephew's therapist reminded me of this guideline because it's easy to "help/rescue" someone with a disability.

      Thanks for commenting!


    4. I love your motto of " Never do for others what they can do for themselves." I am a "recovering rescuer" myself. It took me a long time to realise the difference between "rescuing" and "helping". It has been a long process, made even longer by the pressure from my FOO to continue in my role of "rescuer". I think it takes humility to acknowledge one's limitations and to realise that even though we might have been through something, it doesn't mean we are in the position to give what professional people are trained to do. This became very obvious to me when one of my friends worked in a drug and alcohol detox facility centre. The training he received was very specialised. The issues that come up when dealing with trauma are very serious and not to be handled by amateurs, but by people who know what they're doing and have actual experience. I think Sandra's article is very balanced, outlining all the pitfalls in this field. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

  4. CS wrote: "Not all victims are cut out to be healers. Identifying ourselves as victims of narcissism is itself a big step."

    I will tell you the conclusion I came to about people wanting to help/heal other people. Assisting someone else's healing is a natural instinct in 'communally-oriented' people, people with a moral conscience. When you see the impact pathology has on a family, a business, an entire society, you WANT desperately to stop the suffering. This earnest and beautiful desire inspires me because I witness it frequently on our forum.

    Longterm forum members support new members by offering their "experience, strength and wisdom" (12-step). I just LOVE it when that happens...when someone realizes they have something worth offering others. Not to mention the miracle of their empathy---sending hugs when words fail.

    However, not everyone is interested in creating long-term relationships on a message board. They may not have time; they may hate writing; they may dislike attaching to someone and having that person move on after awhile. There are valid reasons why a message board community doesn't interest people.

    How can they give back? They have jobs, kids, financial problems (usually), busy lives and maybe they just don't WANT to work with DV victims or remain focused on pathology once their lives are in order. I tell people this, to sooth their desire to 'give back':

    Take care of your family and don't be a narcissist.

    Sounds simple...but in the aftermath of pathology, raising healthy children IS a full-time job. We have to work on ourselves, and as Kara said, "that's enough."

    Just go live your life as best you can and be the person you want to be and "Don't Be A Narcissist!" That IS giving back even if we never see evidence of our impact on society.

    1. This post may interest readers:

      "Healing Our Narcissistic Society: Ten B's"


    2. CZ, I think this is a simple almost holy grail--"take care of your family and don't be a narcissist." Or--be there for your friends and don't be a narcissist. Or--be gentle with those who have narc wounds but not at the cost of your self-respect. Or--do your work with all the craft and care you can bring to it, and don't be too full of yourself. All these things help society, I think.

    3. Or, put another way, by a Tibetan Lama, "the best way you can help someone else is to become a whole person yourself." This is one of my all time favorite quotes. Merely by working on ourselves we are bettering the world. I believe that.

      Also, I remember my first AA sponsor talking about balance, and about how we sometimes "go overboard" with a new behavior because it feels so good or we make the mistake of thinking we've "arrived." She was big on balance, and even though I didn't understand everything she said at the time, much of it has stuck with me. So I really understand what you're saying CZ, at least I think I do. Equanimity, knowing our own limitations, and a healthy sense of humility (perhaps that's redundant!) are all essential for helping others. But most of all is the desire to help ourselves, I think.

    4. I'm with Kitty here. Equanimity. Always returning to a place of balance. Buddhism describes this as bending like a strong reed, so you always return to an upright position. I've said it before, but CZBZ has remarkable equanimity. It's a quality that emerges like a thread that's always there.

  5. This is excellent information and good advise for those of us wanting to help others, yet not cause them (accidentally, of course) more pain. Thank you.


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