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A Structure for Recovery From Victimization by a Personality Disorder

Updated on September 5, 2017
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I am a licensed professional counselor. My practice focus is in general counseling, depression, anxiety, couples, custody issues, and LGBTQ.

For anyone who has been a victim of any of the four personality disorders in what is known as the “Cluster B” personality disorders, the recovery process can be one of confusion and frustration. Though a greater level of awareness is beginning to focus for the public, personality disorders continue to remain in the shadows of the consciousness of most people.

In addition, in the literature there is far more material that is descriptive of the personality disorders and damages to victims than there is sound advice about how to approach healing from having had contact with them. The following structure is intended to move a victim to survivor status, and from survivor status to that of a skilled relationship warrior when confronted with any personality disordered individual.

The traditional counsel is for victims to ‘end contact’ with their perpetrator, and while this is still very good advice, not all victims are able to simply end contact, especially if they are legally responsible to share custody of a child with the perpetrator. In any endeavor, formation of a basic framework from which to move forward is a useful and positive tool. This article will build that framework from which a victim might be able to elaborate upon for their recovery. For such framework tools to be effective, they need to simple enough for any non-professional (in psychology) to understand; the proposed recovery framework is divided into three sections. These sections can be addressed in any order, and probably are best done simultaneously.

Education

Even a casual review of on-line material about personality disorders can yield a very wide variety of content that ranges from the amateur to the professional. Like any topic, it is important to understand the source of the information that you are reading. There are some good pieces written by victims who have no other qualifications, some pieces created by “recovering personality disorders”, and some good pieces by professionals that have no experience personally or professionally with personality disorder. The best information comes from writers who have both professional and experiential qualifications.

Education is a powerful tool for victims of personality disorder. In most cases, buy the time the victim becomes sick and tired of being sick and tired, they are well positioned to be open to education and the insight education can bring to their situation. Many victims are completely startled to make the discovery that they are, in fact, victims of a personality disordered perpetrator; most never even knew that there was a word or diagnosis for the person abusing them.

The first order of education is for the victim to learn about the disorder and understand how their perpetrator is expressing the disorder. Again, locating quality material is important, and the victim would do well to follow the guideline of examining just who is providing the material that they are reading. There is a tendency in the literature and popular culture to latch on to “catch-phrases” that while sometimes a helpful shorthand, can degrade accuracy of education. So it is important for the student to understand that there are four different types of personality disorder as well as un-official concepts of “psychopathy” and “sociopathy”. Less than quality educational sources may use the word “narcissist” or the buzz-word “narc” to cover a variety of related diagnoses.

The differences between diagnoses in the Cluster B disorder group can be subtle and are important for victims to understand. In addition, the variations of definitions for “psychopath” and “sociopath” can vary widely and are as much legal terms as they are psychological ones. For example, these two terms do not appear in the manual used by clinicians in the field of mental health, and the symptoms are shared under the designation “Antisocial personality disorder”. There is truth, though, in the fact that many of the behavioral signs from one diagnosis can be very much present in another diagnosis. In fact, some practitioners in the field of treating victims and personality disorders consider that Cluster B disorders may be better understood as a “spectrum disorder”, meaning that there are a myriad of expressions and intensities to Narcissism, Borderline, Histrionic, and Antisocial personality disorders.

In addition, individuals with one of these described disorders will have varying, unique ways of expressing their disorder. Studying a perpetrators’ unique pattern of behaviors and the reactive-interactive dynamics of the perpetrator-victim pair is a necessary part of being able to learn to manage the personality disorder if a victim is in an unavoidable contact situation.

Since it is not unusual for victims of personality disorders to discover that they are victimized multiple times by the same perpetrator or even multiple perpetrators, it is essential that a victim learn what it is about themselves that made them an attractive victim to a predator. This educational process is best done with the help of a qualified and experienced clinical counselor, and is not a pleasant task, because the victim needs to be brutally honest about some of their own behavioral traits that may be serving to advertise their vulnerability to predators.

Also with the help of a clinician, the victim can formulate a larger strategy for recovery from the devastation that perpetrating personality disorders leave behind, as well as specific tactics to use in the management of contact if the victim has no choice but be in contact with their perpetrator.

People Support

A hallmark tactic of Cluster B personality disorders is to isolate their victims from other people, to make their perpetrations of control and victimizing easier and unobserved. As a result, when victims “come to” and begin to take action about their situation, they need to reestablish and rebuild relationships with supportive people who can help them break free and provide real help.

Sometimes, the victim still has family and friends who are in the wings waiting for the victim to simply ask for the help they need, but sometimes the victim needs to begin a brand-new support system to make their relationship escape.

Any friends and family need to be very much “on board” with the facts and truth about what the victim has experienced. Often, people unfamiliar with the situation find it very hard to believe the accounts that the victim relates, as they are often quite striking and almost unbelievable. The victim does not need support people who are doubters. It is likewise important to avoid having people in your corner that are simply blindly agreeing with everything you say; you want friends and supporters who can give you good, honest and fair criticism of your thinking and actions as well.

As mentioned earlier, finding a qualified, experienced, and professional clinical counselor is a real asset in recovery. Be sure to research your prospective counselor carefully, and do not hesitate to ask many questions about their education, experience, therapy approach, and success rates. Look for a counselor that is willing to meet with you in an initial session at no cost, just to see if you are good match. Any quality counselor will not be disturbed at all by your thorough inquiry, and if they are, find someone else to help you.

Because of the mentioned isolation, victims often get the impression that they are quite unique in their experience, as they may not know anyone else who has experienced what they have experienced. Even though there are usually hundreds, even thousands of people that a single personality disordered individual harms in their lifetime, victims will very often never share their stories with others, out of the embarrassment of their victimhood, or the behavioral shaping that the perpetrator has achieved. Victims do well for themselves when they seek out to find a community of other victims who are a bit further along in their recovery. Victims helping victims can be a powerful tool in recovery and moving from victimhood to survivorship and even thriving once again.

Training and Practice

Alongside education and finding supportive people, the first and most important step in training and practice is for the victim to learn how to “center” themselves in such a way that the perpetrator has less success in bumping the victim from established emotional balance. This is key, because personality disorders rely on the emotional reactivity of victims as a manipulative tool.

Centering training consists of helping the victim to find a spiritual path and discipline that is acceptable, comfortable, and workable for them. This may make use of their previously chosen religious or spiritual tradition or practice by expanding upon it in ways that fit into their spiritual model. Or, a victim may choose to embrace a less religious, but none the less spiritual approach that focuses on meditation, self-calming, and strength in emotional centering. While simple to understand and practice in low stress situations, it does require training practice and patience to develop in such a way that the practitioner can remain anchored in calm, undisturbed, under most all conditions, even intense contact with a personality disorder.

Part of the “anchoring” process for victims to move from victimhood through survivor to warrior status is to learn the powerful skill of self-validation. Human beings learn from “other-validation”; for example, you learn to tie your shoes because someone in your life encouraged you with praise for you attempts and early successes. We like the praise, and so learn to continue to get the validation by working hard. The dynamic between a personality disorder and victim twists this human tendency, and the perpetrator continually presses the victim to work harder to get validation from the perpetrator (which never comes). Because perpetrators take very opportunity to invalidate their victims, stripping them of the ability to even validate their own sanity, rebuilding and recovering the ability reliably self-validate is time well spent in training for the victim.

Strong self-validation skills are needed to continue training into other habilitation areas, such as recovery of a healthy self-esteem, gaining filters to avoid any further perpetration by other personality disorders, development of new and healthy relationships, and practical areas such as gaining the knowledge, skill, and self-discipline to become financially solvent and secure. Remember that all of the steps are intended to move a victim to survivor status, and from survivor status to that of a skilled relationship warrior when confronted with any personality disordered individual.

The last stage of training and practice entails learning specific skills of interaction to engage the perpetrator with as little disturbance to the survivor as possible; this is the training and practice that might be called “Relational Aikido”, because the aim is to protect yourself from harm during a relational attack, but also not to harm the perpetrator, which tends to escalate their attack. Relational Aikido is a set of relational and verbal skills that take time, dedication, and especially drilling practice to attain. Essentially, the once victim is now in a powerful position to turn the tables on the perpetrator, but instead of using cruel tactics, uses a skill designed to train the perpetrator to leave the once victim alone. Eventually, when the perpetrator comes to realize that their usual, predictable, and reprehensible methods of control exertion are no longer effective with this once-victim-now-warrior, the perpetrator will begin to attack less.

The very last step for the warrior is to always remember to pay forward the knowledge and experience that they have gained to other victims who are still suffering.

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