Can Character Disorders “Hit Bottom?” Do They Ever Change?

Members of Alcoholics Anonymous and participants in other 12-step programs are well familiar with the term “hitting bottom.” That’s the term that describes when someone’s life has become so dysfunctional and unmanageable under the throes of a raging addiction that they’ve simply lost all ability to cope and have to admit personal defeat and “powerlessness.” And there is ample history to suggest that many individuals have found the hitting bottom experience (and subsequent surrendering or “turning over” of their lives and wills over to another governing force or “higher power”) the key to making significant turnarounds in their lives.  This causes many to wonder whether disturbed and disordered characters might not also have the potential to hit an emotional bottom when their lives have become a shipwreck, and perhaps as a result, find the motivation to chart a different course for their lives.

In my book Character Disturbance (as well as in In Sheep’s Clothing) I outline how different folks who are mostly impaired in character are from those who are mostly “neurotic.”  There are many dimensions on which these two groups differ.  And one dimension on which they differ significantly is how they respond to adverse consequences in their lives (see also: Neurosis vs. Character Disorder: Responses to Adverse Consequences).

As a rule, neurotics try so hard to do right and to effect positive outcomes that they become anxious and upset quite easily when the endeavors they’re involved in go badly.  They are by nature hypersensitive to adverse consequences.  And if that hypersensitivity weren’t stressful enough by itself, they frequently bring additional stress upon themselves by making internal attributions about the reasons things might have gone wrong. When a neurotic office worker doesn’t get the “Good job!” comment he craves from his supervisor, he might well beat himself up with self-criticism, questioning how he fell short or obsessing about what more he might do to eventually secure the approval he desires. When the neurotic therapist doesn’t see the positive change she hopes for in the members of her therapy group, she might well start worrying that she is a sub-standard counselor who needs to learn a lot more and try a lot harder. Neurotics want things go well and for everyone to be happy.  And they take it hard whenever things go awry, all too readily blaming themselves for any failures. Because they have such a high level of social conscientiousness, neurotics often use their sensitivity and self-focus to propel themselves into action that might make almost any tenuous situation better.  Adverse consequences often prompt the neurotic individual to consider small “course corrections” or changes they might make in their ways of doing things.  They don’t completely alter their character, but they do modify their “style” a bit, trying to be a better person and perhaps becoming even more conscientious than they were before in the process.

By contrast, disordered characters are generally unfazed by adverse consequence. They have a characteristic imperturbability in their temperament that forms a significant part of their personality makeup and tend to remain relatively unnerved when it comes to dealing with adversity, especially when adverse circumstances are the direct result of their own behavior. So, when a judge reads the riot act to a three-time offender before sentencing, the criminal remains unflustered.  To complicate matters, unlike neurotics who tend to blame themselves, disordered characters are prone to making external attributions whenever anything bad does happen. They are quick to see others and circumstances as the source of problems. So, if they’ve lost another job, had another marriage fall apart, or even gotten in trouble with the law, they take it all in stride, blame everyone and everything else, and find little reason not to keep on behaving the same way they’ve always behaved, despite where it’s gotten them. Some of the most disturbed characters even pride themselves on the notion that they cannot be “beaten” and might even intensify their dysfunctional “style” of social behavior with every negative consequence that comes along.  They are both so comfortable with and married to their style of coping that they simply dig in their heels and try even harder in their same old ways to make things work (Some people would say this is the very definition of “insanity”).  They remain undeterred in their style of coping, even in the face of adverse consequences.

For significantly disturbed characters to have a hitting bottom experience sufficient to prompt them to reconsider their approach to life, two things must happen:   1) The experience must be of such devastating intensity that the disturbed character’s typical tenacity of spirit is at least strongly shaken if not broken; and, 2) There must be so many aspects of the experience that point so singularly to the culpability of the disturbed character that it’s virtually impossible (despite likely attempts) for him or her to blame anyone or anything else for the misfortune. And in such a rare circumstance there are two potential outcomes: 1) the ego-insult or narcissistic injury can be so great and the person’s motivation (and willingness) to do the work of self-reconstruction is so minimal that he or she simply gives up on life, possibly even preferring to opt out as opposed to stomaching the distaste inherently held for contrition, remorse, and the work of reparation (see also:  What Real Contrition Looks Like); or, 2) the person has the archetypal epiphany or “come to Jesus moment” where he or she faces the full truth about the true nature of problems and becomes “willing” for the first time (i.e. has the all-important change of heart) to both accept guidance and make essential course corrections. Many times, the guidance is provided by a faith system of some type.  And how genuine their “conversion experience” is can only be demonstrated with ample and consistent behavioral evidence over a significant amount of time (psychopaths are notorious for claiming they have found God or religion and for outwardly appearing to have changed their stripes while instead having only become even more stealthy, astute, and cleverly manipulative predators).  In The Judas Syndrome, I give examples of individuals who’ve either claimed (falsely) to turned their lives and wills over to the precepts of a faith system or sincerely embraced the principles advocated by some “higher power” that would make of them better persons.

Now I’ve written before (see, for example:  Disturbed Characters:  Can They Ever Really Change?) that some disturbed characters (especially those not severely disordered), can actually make significant changes in their typical modus operandi without having to hit an emotional bottom (especially if they’re exposed to the right kind of professional intervention). But for the most stubborn and prideful personalities, total defeat seems to be the only pathway to becoming a person of different and hopefully better character.

60 thoughts on “Can Character Disorders “Hit Bottom?” Do They Ever Change?

  1. Is it beneficial for us to know how disturbed the person is, esp spouse, or just keep putting conditions on the person? For example, they may have to attend a 12 step program and have accountability partner. I am very cynical as I expect every DC and/or addict to lie. So, they may very well do what is “right” or necessary (put by either spouse or judge) but it is up to the other how much they will put up with?

    1. Yes, it’s up to the person on the receiving end to KNOW what they will put up with and not put up with and if they want to police an irresponsible like a mother would a child………or be a parole officer to their partner. And yes you can expect them to lie about most anything that they don’t want to do, tell their partner they will do and then don’t do anyhow. Boy’s in men’s clothing. I think someone said this………….if they really wanted to change, saw the benefit to change, etc, etc, etc,,,,,,,,they would have initiated that change on their own. I think that when a man, or adult person in general, REALLY wants something/ someone,,,,,,,,,,,,there is no limit to what they can and will do to achieve it.

      1. The guy my brother was involved with when he was at the hight of his sociopathic devolution found God each and every time he went to prison and was so convincing each time that he gained his parole,,,,,,,,,,,key words here: EACH AND EVERY TIME!! LOL!
        If this would have all gone down in this day and age he might not have been able to pull it off as successfully but who knows…….they can be VERY motivated, just not in the direction that society would expect from them.

    2. Hopey, Dr. Simon has written a lot about what true contrition looks like, and it needs to look like that for a long, long time before you put your trust back in someone who has consistently abused it. Don’t gauge progress based on how “sincere they seem”. They are accomplished liars, and will always pass the smell test.

      Also, beware of the ‘you are a horrible person for being unwilling to trust me when I’m trying so hard’ guilt trip. Consider this a person who wants you to buy their lie and shut up, not someone who genuinely values you and is desperate to make amends.

      Personally, my guy hit “rock bottom” and “changed” — 15 or 20 times….I lost count.

      Recognize that there just isn’t a bottom low enough for some people.

      1. Hopey. Therapy does not count. Only changed behavior counts. No harm in giving him a bit of time to show his progress once he does go into treatment. But give yourself a deadline. From then on, expect changed behavior and don’t settle for less!

      2. Woww, perfectly put! This is the closest to rock bottom I’ve seen him in and I get the silent treatment. I just prefer to call karma Beautiful and know I will never trust HIM again.

  2. Right now, having what I want him to do (12 steps/accountability) is the condition I have put on him. Since they are master liars/deceiving, that is what I have to measure, so far. Also, trying, in my case, to understand addiction and the relapse of it, makes 12 steps a permanent part of his life or as long as we are together.
    I have read In Sheep’s Clothing which helped. Which one outlined contrition? I am guessing that true contrition puts the sorry into action.

  3. Hi Hopey,

    Dr. Simon had some articles on this site about contrition (shame, regret, remorse), which would start with something like HIM going to 12-step on his own, but I digress. Did he hit rock bottom, or are you hitting your limit? If you’re dealing with addiction (and I’m so sorry) you’re dragging him to a program hoping they can force feed him a cure. Addicts get help when THEY get sick and tired of being sick and tired. A CD never gets sick and tired of himself.

    You know when somebody has had a real epiphany, and when they are just acting in the hopes that you’ll give up on trying to cure them. They’re buying time….not on the path to enlightenment.

    You hold on to your right to be distrusting and suspicious. You’ve no doubt earned the right. Stick to your guns and if you don’t see genuine change being offered, cut your loses and leave him to his own devices.

    You can’t fix someone that doesn’t want to be fixed. You are not a bad person for accepting that.

    1. A huge part of genuine contrition is taking full responsibility for and being entirely willing to do the work of repairing the damage done, especially the damage done to trust. This means accepting that the party I injured has every right to be skeptical and nervous until I prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’ve really changed my ways. This means no whining and complaining, and especially blaming the victimized party. Anything less is not really contrition but rather upset about the consequences of behavior, and worse yet, blaming someone else and citing them as the cause of those consequences, instead of my behavior.

    2. Repeating my reply to Hopey here: A huge part of genuine contrition is taking full responsibility for and being entirely willing to do the work of repairing the damage done, especially the damage done to trust. This means accepting that the party I injured has every right to be skeptical and nervous until I prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’ve really changed my ways. This means no whining and complaining, and especially blaming the victimized party. Anything less is not really contrition but rather upset about the consequences of behavior, and worse yet, blaming someone else and citing them as the cause of those consequences, instead of my behavior.

    3. “Addicts get help when THEY get sick and tired of being sick and tired. A CD never gets sick and tired of himself.”
      Well put Einstien! And in Spathtards’s case,,,,,,Mommy was right there patting him on the back for being exactly they way he is (at least what she knows about).

      1. I think she sees him and values him like some impetuous puppy who just can’t be anything other than what he is and allowing him to continue unquestioned in this roll that he seems to have mastered ensures that he will always be right at her side!

  4. Thanks, Dr. S. So far, that is what I have seen, contrition. The 12 steps was a mutual agreement but one that is required on my part for the rest of his life as far as I am concerned. He will always be in recovery. I have experienced guilt, self, with what seems like I am putting too much on him. I also attend a local support group and they help me keep the guilt at bay. I have never conveyed that to him, it is just a feeling. Thank you for validating that suspicious feeling which his will have to earn in time.
    Einstein, I would like to hope this is rock bottom. So far it has caused him the loss of his job, our home, reputation, effects with our children, emotional problems and upcoming court – charges, that is just some. This is the rock bottom I am going through him with, I can say that.
    I get a lot out of Dr. S. especially something I would like to permanently put in a frame or something, “The only person you can change is yourself.”

    1. Hopey, it sure sounds like if there is a chance for him and your relationship with him, you are taking the right steps to give it a chance. Also taking the right steps to support yourself. I sure do wish the best for you and hope things work out. You must care about and value him or you wouldn’t be willing to go the extra mile.

    2. Hopey
      Out of curiosity and certainly not judging you, what is it about this man that makes you want to stay with him as a life partner? It sounds like enough to completely wear a person out.

  5. “They have a characteristic imperturbability in their temperament that forms a significant part of their personality makeup and tend to remain relatively unnerved when it comes to dealing with adversity, especially when adverse circumstances are the direct result of their own behavior. ”
    Boy did I see this about Spathtard……in so many ways. why would you be rattled if everytime reality knocks on your door you either lie your way out of it, set someone else up to take the fall, or mommy changes your dirty diaper and pats you on the head as you make your way back into the world to do it again?
    I asked him a question one time……”Don’t you ever get upset when things go wrong in your life”? (Given the train wreck of a past he had it was a genuine curiosity of mine).
    His response: “Nope! Things just have a way of working them selves out in the long run.”……………Little did I know what he really meant. Now I do.

  6. Yeah well this rings true with my ex…who’s now going back to his old ways….drinking, drugs etc… So what he knows best to get through, he doesn’t think he needs to change his ways at all. Blames, minimizes and just flat out lies…it’s incredible how he believes his own lies. I have no idea how we stayed together so long, my mind boggles.

    Though I still have trouble with deep feelings even now as I have left to a new place. Getting over all those traumatic events, trying to understand why I still care and just the loneliness. It’s hard not to be married even when the marriage was nothing but a disaster. Still, he’s on his merry way loving who he is and what he is and there’s no way I’d ever contemplate that way of life again. You would think it would be easy to get over but it’s so hard.

    1. Tori……..your words came right out of my own heart. I understand your pain and the confusion of having the feelings you have over loving someone who was just an illusion. It’s impossible to say what the most painful part of this is…..just impossible. as soon as I think or say that X is the worst part of it,,,,,,Y comes into focus and it is just as painful. From what others have told me it’s summed up in the word betrayal. It’s a betrayal bond from what I gather and it’s the worst thing anyone has ever done to me.
      {{{Internet hug to you}}}
      Mine too……….right back to the same low life he was leading when we met and long before, in spite of the lies he told me about being done with all of that and wanting to leave drinking behind and be able to hold his head high like he once had…..REALLY? When exactly was THAT?? LOL!

        1. Internet hug to you too Puddle…can’t always get connection where I am at present so will look up that site when I can thanks so much! Appreciate your support as always x 🙂

          1. I just read it brought me to tears…I never would have thought I was in a trauma bond situation (though I don’t know why??) but Yes…it rings true. I really thought I was growing stronger and stronger…just shows you how deep the BETRAYAL goes.

          2. Most people have never heard of a “trauma bond” Tori, let alone been exposed to a person who fosters one developing, so you are not alone. I had never heard of it…….I had not CONCEPT that what happened to me could happen to me. Like I’ve said.. I didn’t fully GET IT untill long after it was over so how could I have sorted it out when I was still under his power and spell? Many people have HEARD of Stockholme Syndrome but really only have a vague idea about it as well. I’m so sorry for what you have been through Tori…….I really get a feeling we may be in the same boat because your words ring so true to my own experience.
            The whole reality of it is just something I can’t digest easily…

          3. Tori, Puddle,

            The key word is ‘trauma’. What you are feeling is a result of the ‘trauma’, not the ‘bond’. I remember well feeling so violated as a human being, and it took a long time to heal from that….to feel ‘normal’ again.

            You guys are still grieving for the things that should have been, they guy you thought he was. It’s hard to see a dream go to crap, there’s a lot of sadness and a sense of loss in that. It’s especially hard when you’ve been emotionally beat to hell….you just don’t have the inner strength you once had. Your down, AND getting kicked.

            It takes time, but it does get better.

  7. Einstien, Thank you for your encouragement. I do think it’s a bond of sorts….I’ve read that there is a certain addiction factor involved and like all addictions it can be mental, physical and in this case emotional. In these situations, the physical and emotional part are based on the love chemicals and hormones that women especially produce from close contact with a person. There are web sites that some men go to called PUA’s (pick up artists) and they speak of the first thing a man has to do is gain his victims trust and the fastest way to do that is through touch, the fastest way around distrust is through touch. It subconsciously, and hormonally causes people to produce oxytocin which is a bonding chemical. So add to the mix someone who is touch deprived and in my case touch deprived from my infancy, touch can be a very addictive element to being with a man.
    There is no doubt in my mind that Spathtard knew this and used it literally from day one, touch and constant contact (phone calls, texts, touch). When that bond and contact was missing or broken it created serious anxiety in me, anxiety and confusion. He played that for all it was worth. Sick.
    I know it is grief too and your right,,,,,there is such a depletion of strength and continuity in my life that dealing with this is horrible. it has been the most life altering thing I’ve ever been through.

    1. Puddle I think you do bond emotionally too and agree touch is a big factor…my ex was big on touching all the time too. Right from the start and I remembered thinking wow…I’d never experienced that sort of full on attention. I thought it strange almost like a possessive act which did unnerve me but again I waved concern away just thinking it was romantic and just his way. Whether or not it was deliberate I can’t be sure as I think it may have been more a habitual thing with him. But it’s hard to say. As when you come to the crossroads and looking back I do wonder now…as we come to realise do we ever really know these people at all.
      Einstein I think you’re also right too…the trauma of the situation keeps you there that’s part of the power (fear) and when you leave it just as you say the deep feeling of being violated makes this so hard to deal with…you know I really thought I was doing well and being in a different place that feeling still was strong and I do wonder if I’ll ever feel completely normal again. I do try to get over it and make myself engage with people as a part of me refuses to let it take me over…though I am very aware of someone who just feels a bit suss now and I walk away. I get a bit impatient with the one day at a time but realise that’s all you can do.

      1. TORI……..Wow! Unreal………….SO similar. Just so similar. Day one with Spathtardx was all about him just holding me……Just let me hold you Puddle, and he would always ask me to put my head on his shoulder, let me hold you. Like crack cocaine to me and it stuck. So it was that wonderful fulfillment of a deep deep need of mine interspersed with wtf moment after wtf moment, rinse and repeat. it’s so easy for me to feel like such a fool but I didn’t know. He was in possession mode, infatuation mode……like a cat that wants to capture a mouse. Maybe that drive to possess is what he experiences as love and when the victim doesn’t respond the way she should and actually needs responsibility and intimacy as well, they go into full on abuse mode. I will never understand it entirely but he has so many red flags on him there is no doubt he is a ppath. All the indicators are there and if he is not? Then it’s even sadder to me than it is now because i know in my heart that I would have done anything IN PARTNERSHIP with him for things to have worked out. Like you have said though…………..his life style after we split paints a pretty clear picture of what he is really all about.

        1. Puddle that touching is all about creating trust too I believe. I was listening to Dr Simon’s podcast last night how he was saying that trust is extremely important to a character disturbed person. Particularly when it came to them wanting treatment which I found to be very interesting as from their doctor they want that absolute hard edged truth of what they are yet from their partners they gain the trust so they can later abuse and manipulate to cause confusion, power so that their partner will keep silent and they can keep up their charming facade. It seems like two extremes. I believe that when I started seeking help for myself and tried to get him into help to him I’d broken that bond of trust. I told someone and from then one he was callous and nasty. He is def not ready for change and probably never will.

          1. Tori,,,,,,,in my confusion and despair and frustration I told a lot of people a lot of things. I KNOW it did something to the trust but you know what? At this point I don’t care. If I look back to the very very very begining of the situation, I see (and people who KNOW about these monsters) VERY clearly that he is abusive, manipulating, parasitic and fill in the blank. He was not open to criticism, suggestions, etc but pretended to be. He never took one step forward towards getting help ON HIS OWN the entire time we were together. He never even sat me down and said,,,,Puddle, here’s the deal……he always eluded to things that he didn’t like about me but never was honest in a way that would have helped me grow…….it is a slam dunk Tori……I hate it but it is clear that he is extremely disordered and abusive. He is off on his little adolescent life style because that is where he is content. He cant handle the truth and doesn’t want the truth. Mommys there to change his diapers just like she always has and he has his peeper to keep him happy that way. I say at this point,,let someone else have him and good luck and good riddance. I never could have said that until very recently and it still breaks my heart to say it. He’s a liar a fake and a fraud and in my eyes a monster for what he did to me mentally and emotionally.
            SO, as far as saying what I have said to people, making the calls I have made to try to figure out what the truth is? No apologies. Funny……… the beginning of the ordeal when he was running his ex’s into the ground, I asked him what their version of the story would be if I talked to them! He said I could talk to who ever I wanted. I’m sure he was thinking I wouldn’t but I did and thank God I did the research I did and spoke with the people I did because it validated the nagging feelings that I couldn’t shake. The truth always comes out and the truth has been very painful to hear BUT it saved me from him……I loved “him” so much I don’t think I could have ever walked away from his crap until I found out what I did.
            Sorry for the rant Tori. I just want you to realize that what they expect from you (i.e. trust) and what they expect from themselves in the way they treat YOU are two different things. I sensed this when I was still involved with him but my mind and heart were so cluttered up with confusion I couldn’t sort it out! I can remember trying to find the words in my head to put it into words and couldn’t. Basically, they will NEVER operate or treat another person in the same way they expect and demand to be treated.
            {{{internet hug to you}}}

          2. I want to clarify a bit about the issue of trust and character disturbed individuals. Many CDs will use the issue of trust as a manipulation tactic, either acting as though their behaviors is both justified by and prompted by legitimate mistrust of others (when in fact they know full well how much more reliable and trustworthy many others are in contrast to them). And the old paradigms that postulated that all character disturbed folks operate from an unconscious mistrustful place, which explains their hostile view of and approach to the world, are, as I have pointed out, most often in error, as many CD’s come from backgrounds where there was no basis for pervasive feelings of mistrust. That said, when the issue of trust is in fact paramount for the CD is when they have finally become faced with enough incontrovertible evidence that the shipwrecks in their lives are the direct result of their character impairments that they are now at least to some degree willing to let a higher power or authority (e.g., a guidance counselor, therapist, or treatment program) help steer them in a new direction. It’s THEN when the whole issue of trust becomes a huge issue. And it’s my experience that a CD will only find such a level of trust in a therapist who was willing to call them on their stuff from the beginning. They simply can’t trust a therapist who they know misperceived the true character of their problems, or who they managed to manipulate or impression manage, or who lacked the courage to confront them. It’s at that rare moment in time that the CD voluntarily makes him/herself vulnerable that the issue of trust becomes really important, and perhaps for the first time.

  8. This has given me MUCH food for thought! This is inspired, Dr. Simon! As you pioneer this stuff, please know that folks are lifting you up. I believe in my heart that soon, this concept is going to be blown WIDE OPEN!

    I hope.

  9. Thank you Dr. Simon for that clarification and i can understand why it would be important for them to not only trust someone in that position but also respect them. Maybe the two go hand in hand in a therapist worthy of such a monumental undertaking as to even attempt to help someone like I was infected by. Interesting to me that the two qualities are almost a prerequisite for each other.

  10. Hi Puddle, don’t worry about your rant…had one of those myself today! Had a bit of low week so didn’t reply earlier. I get what you’re saying…when I read your posts although I know it’s impossible but I could almost say we are talking about the same person. Mine would pretend to be open to criticisms or suggestions about changing his behaviour too! But I found he’d harbour them and never let them go…in the end that would usually be some foundation for later abuse. Also the eluding to things he didn’t like about me but not be honest…I can very much relate to that and again it would eventually come out in an abusive way.
    He will sit there and say how much he supported me in everything I ever wanted to do…and sometimes it appeared that he did BUT never admit to how he also sabotaged those same things.
    I think on the trust thing I would say I felt I owed him that trust…he was my husband and now I do feel rather silly for keeping so much secret, for protecting him the way I did. I don’t now… and will not. With him there was no one in his past who was still in contact with him (should have spoke volumes). He did tell me once that his best friends growing up no longer spoke to him because of things that happened as a direct consequence of his erratic behaviour.
    My gut tells me that there are some dark skeletons in his past that he holds close and does not reveal.
    Big hug to you too Puddle 🙂

    1. Tori………..HUG!! 🙂
      I am SO on the same page about his past and I do know about some of it NOW…….long gory story and i’m in a hurry this morning. I have “friends” that I have know my entire life! He had none….RED FLAG!!
      If you would like to speak sometime Dr. Simon might be able to arrange an introduction via email. Up to you, I understand if you don’t.
      Gotta run!

        1. Tori, I will contact Dr. Simon on the back channel ( “Contact Dr. Simon”) and tell him that I am ok with him giving you my email address. You would do the same and then he would send each of us an email with the other’s email address in it, IF he is willing to do this. I have never done this on this web site but have on two other occasions on different web sites and it went just fine. There is always a certain risk because no one really knows who people are over the internet, so I usually don’t unless I get a “calling” to do so! LOL

          1. Tori, Go to the “Contact Dr. Simon” link at the bottom of the page on the right. You can email him through this back feature and your email address will be privately shared with me through him.

  11. Dr. Simon wrote, “They simply can’t trust a therapist who they know misperceived the true character of their problems, or who they managed to manipulate or impression manage, or who lacked the courage to confront them.”

    I found this to be very true. My ex and I saw at least 5 marriage counselors before the long overdue demise of our 15 year marriage in 2012. One time he found one (who he saw 4 times before bringing me in)who “sided” with him and called me out for not respecting him, showing me pictures he had brought of dirty dishes in our sink and piles of laundry. I said, “You don’t understand, I have to get this black cloud out of my life.” I was emotional. After that session, my ex said we needed to find a different counselor. I believe it is because he realized how easy it had been for him to manipulate her that he could not expect her to “solve” our problems.

    I have done a lot of work to move on after this devastating event in my life. What a great opportunity to define myself and my life in an authentic way. Exquisite pain however.

    Here is what I would like to see more discussion about: how to not get stuck in the victim mentality and how to really take responsibility for your life. It is supremely difficult after removing yourself from a relationship with a CD to be gentle with yourself. That includes not beating yourself up for getting into it in the first place, not ruminating about what you could / should have done differently while at the same time realizing what you got out of it in the first place. For many of us, the role of martyr became all to present. He was so bad. I “loved too much.” I was too caring. Bla bla bla. Sometimes the flip side of co-dependence can involve very narcissistic motivations that are not self-care-centric. It’s important to see the good and not so good in yourself while not allowing your inner-critic to continue bashing you for it. You’re not in survival mode anymore.

    My advice is as follows:

    Be compassionate toward yourself: True compassion must begin with yourself. Consider yourself as you would consider your child; would you want your child to accept the treatment you allowed yourself to accept and likely thought you deserved?

    Address your inner critic: Mindfulness can help bring the inner critic into the foreground. Start questioning what it says about you and only accept what you know to be true.

    Define yourself: What are your values and principles?
    Accept your emotions: Do I even know what I’m feeling? Get in touch with your emotions and resolve patterns you have developed in order to “escape” or avoid pain.

    Be authentic: Do my behaviors stay true to my values and principles?

    Set boundaries: Check in with your core often. Is the behavior I’m faced with ok me? Does what this person said about me match with my core view of myself? If no then address it directly. Do not accept someone else’s definition of you if it does not match who you know yourself to be.

    Forgive your transgressor: This is the hardest part. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. Remembering what we have gone through helps us learn how to avoid similar treatment in the future. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.


    1. BTW, I apologize for using the term co-dependence. What I really mean to highlight is the narcissistic motivations that may be present in the “victim” and that contribute to staying stuck. Hard to give up the role of the consummate martyr. Very painful to realize about yourself.

    2. I don’t know of narcissistic motivations, but there are many reasons why a victim can get stuck.

      Thanks, Dee, for this list.

    3. What a lot of people fail to really acknowledge about these relationships is that the victim is at a complete disadvantage due to being covertly manipulated and deceived. It is truly like being drugged and once you are no longer with this person, the “drug” wears off, then everything you have been through with this person gets revisited only under a whole different light.
      I honestly don’t even see myself when I revisit the nightmare of my involvement with Spathtardx who is now nothing but a complete stranger in my mind.

      1. I happily forgive people who show remorse or accountability for their behavior. The type of person I was involved with will never be forgiven by me……I’m ok with that.

        1. In my opinion, you only hurt yourself by not forgiving. Forgiving is not contingent upon the abuser showing remorse, which for sure in my case will never happen. Forgiveness need not involve any communication with the abuser. Forgive yourself for accepting it. Forgive your abuser and let it go. I don’t believe one can move on until forgiveness is achieved. It is a give you give yourself. It’s the final piece of the moving-on puzzle.

          1. Sorry Dee,,,,,,I disagree but respect your right to your view. I don’t need to forgive myself for accepting anything because I didn’t “accept it”. How can you say you accepted “it” if you didn’t know what was going on?
            I don’t need to forgive behavior or a person who does what these low lifes do to other people to move on.

          2. Forgiveness is for those who repent and turn around. And in any case, most of the time, forgiveness is for God to grant, not humans. But we can let go and let God. 🙂

            Blessings all around on this board, and all the comfort given.

          3. Hello Dee — You are certainly entitled to your opinion. However, I must disagree.

            According to Mark 1:4 (NIV) “…preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The study note for this verse says “repentance. Involves deliberate turning from sin to righteousness, and John’s emphasis on repentance recalls the preaching of the prophets (e.g., Hosea 3:4-5). God always grants forgiveness when there is repentance.

            Luke 17:3 says “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” So, according to the Bible, God will forgive sins if the sinner repents, and acknowledges his sins.

            Most character disordered people will never acknowledge they have sinned, much less repent and try to atone if that is possible. However, if anyone harbors negative thoughts in their mind, those thoughts will in the end, undermine and erode their health. For me, the obvious answer was to ask God to free me of all negative emotions such as anger, hatred, envy, malice, jealousy and the like. He did just that. I later realized that for the narcissist who made my childhood a hell on earth, there was no greater punishment for her than to be ignored by me. I am at peace with the decisions I have made in my life. I wish you well in your life. Peace and hope from Elva

  12. The disordered person in my life, on one level, seemed “imperturbable” but at other times was very easily upset. When things went badly, it sometimes looked like he was internalizing blame, but it was in a very generalized and melodramatic way. He would immediately start saying awful things about himself, like calling himself an idiot and worthless, but nothing that specifically addressed the situation or his actions. Then the people around him (including me. Ugh.) made every attempt to verbally soothe him. Usually, he’d make some sort of dramatic exit. Upon his return, his behavior showed no evidence that he’d learned anything from his experience. I was just glad he was feeling better (again, ugh.) It was almost like nothing ever happened…until the next crisis. And I kind of feel at fault. I wish I’d had enough courage to nip the melodrama in the bud and steer the conversation in a more constructive direction.

    So, is the “imperturbability” the idea that, though this guy thinks he is constantly being misunderstood, blamed, wronged, etc., he does nothing to see his part in the problem or work toward a solution?

    1. Nitpicking: Unless he just so happens to be CD enough not to learn anything, but also genuinely oblivious/stupid/self-unaware/dimwitted/intellectually lacking/etc, chances are he’s doing anything to avoid admitting and accepting any responsibility. He knows, he sees, but he couldn’t care less.

      I guess some manipulation tactics could be more pre-emptive. “Get off my back” and “You better not get on my back in the first place”.

      I actually found a well-descriptive term for such self-pitying from one book: implosion. Seeming self-“blame” that looks like someone’s catching on to what they’re doing wrong is in reality a torrent of self-pity.

      For all we know, he could be loudly wallowing in self-pity to avoid closer scrutiny from others and defuse their possible movements to hold him accountable.

    2. Mildred…..yes, yes and yes. I can So relate. As I say, they make mountains out of molehills that don’t even exist in the first place.
      Please don’t blame yourself. You did what you thought was best at the time not knowing the true nature of who and what you were dealing with. Remember,,,,,you are looking at the situation in hindsight, knowing things you didn’t know then. They are pathetic little babies who rarely step up like a real man does and take responsibility for anything. It’s easier to get their selfish way by using and manipulating others. The only time I saw Spathtardx upset is during a melodramatic manipulative display.

    3. Mildred…..more than likely, and this is just my guess without having first hand experience with the person in your life, the times he seemed upset were probably just manipulative displays. I just thought of a potential reply to something like the example you gave……….If you said (you, me, whoever!) “You know, it really sounds like there are a lot of things you would like to change about yourself. Is this something you have been thinking about for a while? Is there anything I can do to help”? Or, “So, what would make you feel less worthless”?
      Put the ball back in his court and make him step up or shut up.
      Yeah……..Spathtardx…….”I couldn’t do anything right”! He apparently didn’t know that I knew the difference between “couldn’t” and “wouldn’t”.

      1. The worst thing about extreme self-centered crazy-making folks, is their adverse effects upon normal sinners (saved only by the Lord’s Grace) is personality-disordered people have a real talent to needle the Lord’s people into sin. For instance, ya finally get fed up and tell the narc to go [expletive] his or herself – then have a negative attitude all day. There are preachers about, who tell their flocks, basically, to keep being doormats – and i seriously wonder if such messages without mercy are actually given by wolves in sheep’s clothing. There is a man at my church who has suffered years of manipulation / invalidation in his own household. Have had enough of my own experience with cruel – hearted people, and so choose to avoid them – because the Lord does not approve of His children telling some bully or bullies to [expletive].

      2. Yes, Sue.

        Sounds like such controlling differs only in degrees and technique from downright cultic thought reform(brainwashing).

        One of the ten commandments, respect thy mother and father, comes to mind. This is not an original thought and I feel others have said this, too. What if parents are physically, emotionally, verbally or otherwise abusive?

        Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, drawed from the hypocrisy and double moral standards demonstrated by some self-professed Christians.

  13. With regard to forgiveness, I take a leaf out of the books by Alice Miller. In testament to her writing and practice, many psych experts write into her website and thank her because they were finally able to begin healing children of abuse/adult children of abuse/npd, etc. Alice Miller’s answer is evil doesn’t require any forgiveness. They are for the grace of God and God will deal with what they do. Lastly but most importantly, we who are victimised, betrayed and deceived have to only forgive ourselves that we didn’t know. We couldn’t have known and the greatest specialists in narcissism, psychopathy and sociopathy are also sometimes blindsided. I do not forgive my Husband of 25 years but I forgive myself for believing and for trusting and for all the love I gave. Forgiveness is for those who repent and those without empathy/without humanity – never, ever repent. I have yet to find genuine remorse in any disordered character after years of research. The act/the false self is many, many walls/ego layers deep. I forgive myself and I did the very best I knew how. I didn’t slander or betray or cheat or lie. I spoke up and I spoke the Truth evidenced and I am the scapegoat which cost me and our sons more than we can ever explain. I hope this and Alice Miller helps. Best Wishes, Hazel

    1. Hazel; thank you for this. I have completely forgotten about forgiving myself. I look over my past with in my marriage, and I have been so hard on myself for all the things I gave in to, etc. Your comment really brings fresh to my mind something Jesus said in the Bible that went something along the lines of “forgive them, they know not what they do.” I am going to hold onto your words and those of Jesus on those days I am “beating myself up” emotionally and mentally.
      thank you.

  14. Thank you for this Hazel, very helpful words. I’m so sorry for what you have lost to one of these creatures and for your suffering.

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