Helplessness Need Not Become Hopelessness

Helplessness and Hopelessness

Helplessness is not hopelessness. But the two are connected. And one can certainly lead to the other.

Many folks in relationships with character disturbed people feel helpless. Helpless to change things. Helpless to get their partner to understand. They try all sorts of things to make things better. But nothing seems to work. So they end up feeling helpless. And feeling helpless for a long time can certainly invite you to feel hopeless. But feeling helpless shouldn’t in itself tempt you to abandon hope.

Helplessness, Hopelessness, and Depression

Feelings of helplessness are a big factor in many depressions. In fact, as I first described in In Sheep’s Clothing, there’s a behavioral formula for depression.  Whenever you invest your energy and attention in things you have no power over, you’re on your way to becoming depressed. First, you feel angry and frustrated. And you might initially direct that anger and frustration outward. But eventually your own powerlessness becomes the real enemy. And that’s when you’re likely to turn your anger inward and become depressed.

Lessons to Be Learned

Feelings of helplessness are meant to teach us something important. There are simply some things in life we haven’t the power to control. We can’t control other’s feelings, attitudes, or behavior. That’s completely up to them. Try as we may, no one comes to see things a different way because or our exhortations. We have to reckon with and accept that. Moreover, to really become empowered and recover joy in living we first have to stop trying. We can’t teach the disturbed characters the lessons they are slow to learn. Life has to do that. But we can learn a valuable lesson ourselves by giving up. And we can stay out of the way and not enable their dysfunction.

Throwing in the towel when it comes to the fruitless is the beginning of empowerment. Seems odd that winning actually begins with giving up. But finally directing your energy and attention where you really do have power solidifies a sense of personal efficacy. Taking action – loving action – on your own behalf – that’s the secret!. And it’s not just the secret to personal empowerment. It’s also the behavioral formula for joy. This is perhaps the most valuable lesson a person who’s ever been in a one-down position can learn. Staying in a one-down position always requires your assent. When you stop assenting, and stop trying to change what you can’t possibly change, things start getting a whole lot better.

Helping Yourself to Hope

Taking action and experiencing the results brings hope. That’s why helplessness need not be cause for hopelessness. Knowing why you feel helpless, and redirecting your attention and energy where you truly have power changes the whole game. (See also: Moving on after an Abusive Relationship.)

I’ll have much more to say on overcoming the path to increased hope and joy in the coming weeks.

37 thoughts on “Helplessness Need Not Become Hopelessness

  1. “We can’t teach the disturbed characters the lessons they are slow to learn. Life has to do that. But we can learn a valuable lesson ourselves by giving up. And we can stay out of the way and not enable their dysfunction.”
    There is so much depth and truth and help in this article.
    I’ve been there – done that.
    Thank you, Dr. Simon, for all the help I’ve gleaned from reading your articles.

  2. Great article. I see tremendous progress in my life when I remember to let go of my end of the rope, stop trying to make them see, etc. and remember I’m powerless to fix or change them. It’s a waste of precious energy to try and change/fix them. Instead, when I focus on what’s in my best interest and under my control, I do feel joy.

    I read somewhere once something that basically said that the most stressful thing is being held responsible for something you have no control over. For years I put undo stress on myself by taking responsibility for things I had no control over (like other people’s feelings/behavior).

    1. Mindful
      Bingo! Setting ourselves free from it was key. I’ve learned the same hard lesson. It’s s life changing lesson.

    2. Abusers know they are doing wrong, yet will almost never admit it, except to brag about doing such evil.

      Their supporters know the abuser is an abuser and would rather support the abuser, believe the lies, hate the victim than anything else.

      Then comes those who don’t know. Those who believe the lies of the abuser and the myths in society concerning abusers, DV victims, etc.

      Until you go through the hell on earth experience of being an abuser’s victim, you cannot possibly know or get DV. Even then, victims need a lot of support and education to unfurl the lies society tells about batterers, battered women, and DV dynamics. So many myths.

      And so, one of the big drains is hoping to get others to understand what all was done to the DV victim. To show that she didn’t have choices. To show that she was powerless and entrapped. To show that leaving doesn’t solve everything, nor does it stop the abuse. Leaving can easily be lethal with some batterers. All sorts of things like this.

      Lots of battered women have head injuries. Batterers love inflicting brain damage. Well hidden, easily denied, leaves the victim even more at a loss as to how to cope, how to escape, how to make sense of what is really going on and why she cannot function.

      Others are going to remain willfully ignorant because they don’t want to care or they cannot bear the pain of knowledge. Makes me think of celebrities or music stars who are batterers, and yet so many women throng to them, continue to support their misogynistic music, show up to see their latest movie, etc. Why support batterers? Why hate on the battered and not the batterers?

      1. dina,

        Well said and I agree with what you wrote. It sounds like that is what happened to you. If so, I’m so sorry that you were subjected to that disgusting, abhorrent (I can’t come up with a word that captures it) behavior. It is monstrous. The trauma is then continued by others by their ignorance, fear, apathy,etc.. As you said when you have a head injury it makes it that much harder to cope, escape, understand what’s happening and why. I didn’t have a head injury, but the conditioning/brainwashing and gaslighting were so effective that I could not seem to get my wits about me. (My daughter is still trying to threaten and trick me into having contact with her). I can’t even imagine having a head injury on top of that.

        Are you out and safe now?

        I’ve been working on healing my complex ptsd myself because I gave up on therapy after being re-traumatized too many times. I recently started reading Trauma and Recovery The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman M.D., and she explains exactly what you are asking about and some of the whys as well as how the abusers systematically do what they do. I’m only about 80 pages in and I’ve learned a lot and am looking forward to more insights for recovery.

        I wish you well, dina.

        1. Oh, and it is written from a feminist perspective. She doesn’t sugar coat the BS we have to deal with as women within the Patriarchal systems and how the laws do not protect women and children. She states that – paraphrasing here – the laws protect men from the system but do not protect women and children from the men. I find it very validating.

          1. Mindful,

            At one time, I read that. And I’ve given up on therapy, too, as the good counselor is a rare thing to find and the others re-traumatize you. So many counselors or those in the healing/helping professions are actually predators, narcs, abusers, and sadists themselves. So many wolves!

            Have you read “Loving to Survive”? It explains so much. Loving to Survive and Trauma & Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence are two good books.

            CPTSD is assumed by so many to be about traumatic childhoods, but CPTSD fits the severely abused, whose chronic, unrelenting, long term, entrapment and captivity and subjugation with a batterer/abuser was so severe it crippled them. I have CPTSD. All because of what happened to me in my adult years.

            What Dr. Herman says about the courts is really great. About violation. About coercion and what constitutes rape and how most men find a certain level of coercion, force, deception and trickery to be perfectly acceptable, so long as guns and knives aren’t held to heads and throats, it’s all good (to men, that is). Maybe she didn’t say that. Maybe it’s me. But still. It’s true. She talked about violation and the law and the court system being a perfect setup to ensure the victim is retraumatized. Just the way the men like it (my comment).

            I wish I had separated myself from men when I was young and never had anything to do with them. But then again, there’s been evil, wicked, predatory, psychopathic, abuser women who’ve harmed me, too. But if I’d not been victimized by men first, then perhaps I’d have weathered the women psychopaths better.

            Thanks for your comments, Mindful. And I hope you look at “Loving to Survive” as it explains a lot. It should be required reading for all women.

            I wish you peace and safety and whatever happiness or well being you can get.

        2. I agree, with everything being written here. I was telling a friend that when character disturbed try to harass and abuse you they really look like they think you’re stupid or you don’t know how to fight back or they have all the power and you have none. We reinforce their thinking if we appear frustrated, angry, resentful, tearful or depressed.
          The FACT that we MUST REMEMBER is that their power is an ILLUSION.
          Therefore, WE should NEVER let them see us as down, depressed, filled with anxiety, hurt, angry or in despair.
          My dil thinks just that. She thinks she has all the power holding my grandkids over us. Guess what we’re NOT playing that game.
          I told my husband to please stop asking for the kids to come over. I love my grandkids, babysat them 3-4 times per week since months old. That season is past, we enjoyed it immensely and we’re not going to play the kids are mine game!!!
          I was a court ordered supervisor for 4 kids to see their parent for 2 yrs, so I know a little about that. Thankfully, we have another grandchild on the way with my other son. He’s not character disturbed with ENDLESS power over us like some sort of evil villain in a fake cartoon!

  3. Dina,

    Yes, so many wolves! I understand the wish to have separated from men, I was so naive and a predators delight.

    I’ll check out Loving to Survive, thanks for the recommendation.

    Thank you for your comments and kind well wishes. I wish the same for you.

    1. For all women, I recommend Andrea Dworkin’s works. “Woman-hating” is a good one to start with, as it’s freeing to read truth being spoken about unapologetically.

      The male dominated world gaslights women to death and if more women took stock of all they’ve been indoctrinated into believing, socialized into behaving, and brainwashed, gaslit to death, perhaps women would fare better as a whole.

      Augment such with Dr. Simon’s teachings, as there are plenty of women Narcs/Abusers, who are but vampires and sellouts and abusers and prey on other women, in service to their evil desires, egos, and to get status with women-hating men.

      It’s up to you, but radical feminism principles ought to be applied so more women wake up, more women are able to see the ugly reality, and more women can be prevented from being abused, victimized, and/or violated to death.

      Wish I had read Andrea Dworkin’s works when i was still a kid. Lots of strong language, but the principles and hard truths are there.

      Same with Dr. Herman. She tells it like it is. DV, if severe enough, is but captivity and torture. Nothing short of prolonged captivity and out-and-out torture.

  4. It’s interesting navigating through situations now that I have more information and skills. It’s strange because in some ways it’s scarier (I’m even more aware of just how evil people can be) and in other ways it’s liberating.

    I’m struggling to find a safe sphere. I was hoping that I would find it in the cancer support community, but I’m finding that that is not the case. It’s filled with exploitation of patients. We are pawns for their fundraising.

    They recently had a card making party. Said they would make our art into holiday cards for us, and oh, by the way, could we sell your cards to raise money? That’s fine. But, when it came down to it, they didn’t give us cards! Never mentioned it again. They got what they wanted – our art. When I asked about it, I got puzzled looks. I reminded them that they said we’d make and receive cards. They put me off. I persisted, not pushy, but calmly asserting myself. After weeks of that, they likely realized I wasn’t going to give up, said okay.

    But, this is where it got ‘interesting’ for me. The social worker/art therapist who was supposed to upload the art to make the card, said she did not get an email from me. Said it probably went to her spam folder. I pointed out that we had exchanged emails before. She was quiet and said oh yeah. Then she said, oh yeah I remember getting something. I said is there a reason you didn’t respond? She didn’t answer at first. Then she said it went to her spam or something else that made no sense! Think word salad/circular conversation/crazymaking. I let it go because it was clear she was trying to gaslight me and it wasn’t going to change.

    Later in the week, she said she sent me an email that morning (to bring in my artwork again so she could retake the picture, as well as her phone number so we could schedule it) did I get it? I said no. This meant another delay and required another trip with my art. I didn’t allow it to provoke me. I sent her an email that evening letting her know that I did not get her email and to please let me know if she received mine. She didn’t reply, so I decided to contact the other art therapist and asked her to pass along the message.

    I decided to go to an art group the next morning and take my art with me. She was there and said that she received an email from me, but couldn’t open it! I call Bull Sh!t (all the excuses were starting to become both amusing and frustrating). So she took another picture of the art and I asked her to take a few just in case. I asked how long it would be and she said she didn’t know ’cause of getting access, etc. I got the feeling she was managing down my expectations/being covert aggressive. Mind you, the holidays are less than 2 weeks away!

    Then, get this, we were talking in the group (she is new to that particular art group of patients) about emails, and others were giving her their emails. After all her shenanigans and going around in circles, something in me said to ask her again, so I looked at her and said, you have mine, right? She said no!! I said yours is X, right? she said yes. I said then you have mine, because we have exchanged emails before.

    So this morning I get an email…one that says that artwork picture wasn’t clear, can I bring it in again(the one she supposedly sent on Wednesday). Normally, I would give a person the benefit of the doubt on this, but, all things considered, I say she is covering her bases. I simply responded (to all in case she BCC’d the lead social worker and was trying to paint me as the issue) to it acknowledging that I was guessing that it was an old email based on the fact she mentioned she didn’t get my emails and/or couldn’t access them when she did. And that since she mentioned that the picture quality wasn’t the best on Wednesday and we took new pictures on Thursday, we should be all set and to let me know if that wasn’t the case or she had any questions or needed anything else. I also left my phone number, so she can’t easily use the email excuse.

    I found my self struggling somewhat with it even though I could recognize what she was doing. I know it’s because of all the trauma that came before. It was interesting. It seems like such a small thing in the big picture, but it’s harmful. I recognize when basic communication is that challenging and/or I’m confused when dealing with a person, it’s a huge red flag. I think the feelings of helplessness/powerlessness often comes from the feeling that no matter what I do, they attempt to thwart me/any forward progress. For me now, it comes down to stepping back mentally and attempting to figure out if there is anything I can do to empower myself, asserts my rights, get my needs met, etc.. or am I better off cutting my losses.

    It’s so disappointing (and scary) because it seems like it’s everywhere, and I really like the art group. She leads some of the groups, so I certainly won’t share much in those groups. But it’s getting to the point where there is no safe space to share and that’s incredibly isolating. I may be liberated, but I feel very much alone.

    1. Mindful,

      Thanks so much for sharing. I’ve dealt with this nonsense, too. “Managing down expectations.” The whole series of lies… I didn’t get your email, or deliberately sending BS written emails claiming nonsense lies (fabricating an email trail of their supposed innocence and your supposed fault/blame), then the ‘must have went to my spam folder’ lie, and then the ‘couldn’t open it’ lie.

      I’ve heard those lies, too. It made me sick to read your comment because it came flooding back when other abusers (in my case psychopathic criminals) pulled these stunts, too.

      I think you are best served by cutting your losses. Support groups are dangerous territory. Especially a cancer support group, or so I would imagine, since anybody and everybody gets cancer, so there’s more likely going to be more bad individuals in it.

      Was she flustered? Was she seeking you out to get this thing worked out? Was she apologetic? No, no, no. That’s my guess, based on what you wrote.

      Cut the dead weight. I find that good, decent, upright people tend to be isolated due to the sheer number of bad people in this world. It sucks. Sucks big time.

      You are correct. It is everywhere.

      Go and do art. Expect and seek out nothing more. Know that it is merely transactional and keep it strictly business, strictly for facilitating your art making (art creating?).

      But then again, my life is a mess and my unsolicited advice is probably worth very little and possibly very dangerous to heed. Who knows. All I can say, for sure, is that I appreciated your post. It brought back some ugly things, but I saw that it’s them, it’s the liars, not us.

      Although support groups are supposed to be safe spaces, I don’t think they are and it’s really a rolling of the dice as to whether or not one should participate. Those who lead the support groups can also be wolves, manipulative, agenda-focused, covert-aggressives, exploitative people who should not be leading vulnerable others.

      1. Dina,

        Thanks so much for your reply and I’m glad if my post reinforced for you that it’s them, the liars, and not us.

        I swear they all go to the same school to learn this stuff! Or, perhaps it just comes natural to them, like breathing. Most, it seems, will do whatever it takes to get what they want.

        I understand what you mean about it coming flooding back when you read or hear about a similar situation. It’s so toxic, and unfortunately, cumulative.

        I appreciate your feedback. I agree, I’m coming to understand the support groups are not what I hoped they would be. I recently left another group because of one of the other members. Lesson learned.

        No, she wasn’t flustered at all, or apologetic. What I found the most bizarre was the rapidly changing excuses, that completely contradicted what she had just said. Rinse, repeat.

        I’m so glad that I’m finally to the point that I can usually get some emotional distance from this stuff and see it for what it is and not get sucked in (at least not too far).

        It does suck! It is everywhere. I think many folks seem fine until they run into one or two of these predators and then they make their world smaller out of self protection. Then again, I wonder how many have been taken to the cleaners and haven’t realized it.

        I think it’s sound advice, keeping it simple and more transactional. That’s what I was thinking too, because I don’t want to miss out on the opportunities to create art. I can also still enjoy the comradery of other folks without investing too much emotionally. We share tips and warnings about Dr.’s and treatments. There is something about being in a group of people with a shared experience, not unlike this site.

        I’m sorry to hear that your life is a mess. That doesn’t take away from your sound advice. It’s so understandable after interactions with these beasts. It’s amazing how much devastation, destruction and chaos these folks leave behind in their wake. It’s challenging to even know where to begin in the aftermath. And, of course, they did their best to make sure we don’t feel up to the task, but they are wrong.

        “Although support groups are supposed to be safe spaces, I don’t think they are and it’s really a rolling of the dice as to whether or not one should participate. Those who lead the support groups can also be wolves, manipulative, agenda-focused, covert-aggressives, exploitative people who should not be leading vulnerable others.”

        I think that’s true. I would also add that’s it’s not just the leaders of the support groups, but also pretty much everyone in the medical and cancer realm. Big profits and big conflicts of interests. Gilda’s club, even though they do receive support from pharmaceuticals and the like, still have some great social workers who support the patient’s interests.

        Thank you so much for your reply, Dina. I do not feel so alone and I appreciate your support and feedback. I’m grateful if it helped you as well.

        1. Mindful,

          The medical field is full of wolves and predatory people. It seems to be quite the go-to field for narcs and abusers.

          Same with so many other fields in contact with vulnerable people, or persons made vulnerable due to the circumstances/situation. Power-tripping individuals love to be in positions where others are at their mercy.

          I think most of the world is bad. I’m Christian. It’s pretty black and white, either you are for God or you are against God (and for the devil). Reminding myself of such either/or reality helps. Not any grey.

          I am very much isolated, as that’s about all the self-protectiveness I have available to me. Makes for hard times, when all alone and very isolated.

          Wish the abusers, narcs, and other predators would have to live out the damages they cause instead of the victims bearing it all. Ruined lives should be theirs, not ours, the victims.

          I’m so glad I at least get to be in contact with you, Mindful, despite it being on the internet and all. I worried that perhaps I had posted too much. I am otherwise so very alone. Too much victimization, predation, and abuse made for too much ruination, damages, and injuries in me. That’s a real jewel for the evildoers – to ruin a person. Just short of murder, and they can bask in the continued agony of the victim.

          1. Dina,

            It does seem to be the prevailing opinion that the Narcs/Psycopaths and other abuser gravitate to positions of power, and even better when someone comes in already vulnerable and dependent on them. Based on personal experience, I’d say it’s absolutely true. It’s terrifying to have a life threatening illness and be at the mercy of these folks. Lots of trauma in dealing with them and the realization of that fact.

            I understand why you think that. The evildoers are certainly much more obvious and, unfortunately, emboldened. I pray that it’s not true that there is more of them.

            I think I understand that place you speak of where isolating feels like the only self protection available. It does make for hard times when all alone and very isolated. I don’t know about you, but when I was in a similar place (about 2 years ago), I found comfort in small interactions with strangers. I began taking small risks, like small talk with the library staff, or with the helpful folks at Trader Joe’s (don’t know if you have them them where you live, they hire kind, friendly staff. I love shopping there it’s such a pleasant experience). These interactions gave me hope, solace and a break from the isolation and despair.

            Is that something you have experienced or do you think it would be helpful for you?

            Wish that too for the wicked. Still wrestle with why they are allowed to prevail. But try not to focus on that because it keeps me stuck and that’s not helpful to me, only to them.

            I’m glad to be in contact with you too, Dina. I understand the worry about posting too much. I don’t think you have/do. You have a lot to offer, and I appreciate your voice. You’re in my prayers.

          2. Mindful,

            Thank you for such a lovely, kind, encouraging, and validating comment. I’m really kind of overwhelmed and distraught and this is about as responsive as I can get at the moment. Nothing compared to how responsive you’ve been, Mindful. 🙂 Thank you so very much for that. I’m so very glad you exist.

            For some odd reason, I read this comment and it clicked with me, the oft-repeated “you are not to blame / you didn’t deserve it / it’s not your fault”

            “Just know you were sought out BECAUSE you are genuinely a good person. Those freaks seek out lovely people like mosquitoes and blood.”

            “Those freaks seek out lovely people like mosquitoes and blood.”

            “Those freaks seek out lovely people like mosquitoes and blood.”

            Indeed. And as God Lord says in His Holy Book, we are but sheep among wolves. We really are.

            And if a person has any sort of disability, the tantalizing factor goes up as rates of victimization on the most vulnerable are exponentially higher than those without disabilities.

            Predators. The world is full of predators. And it’s not the lovely victim’s fault the predators are evil and targeted her.

            All that being said, it’s incredibly hard to try and shake the self-loathing the predators instill in their targets and victims. I’m not sure it’s possible, after years of near constant victimization. Anyone have any tips on that?

            How does one rid oneself of the instilled self-loathing, the sting and wrenching pain of the degradation, humiliation, torture, torment, debasement, and defiling? It’s one thing to hear people say, “don’t let it bother you” or “keep your head up” or “get over it” but how does one recover? The emotional damage is so severe. It’s like they inject poison into one’s psyche and fill a person with so much trauma that all one feels is horror, mortification, humiliation, shame, embarrassment, dread, anguish, and abundant degradation and defilement.

            I think abusers should be subjected to everything they do to their victims, only it won’t affect them as they obviously have no conscience or ability to feel shame, remorse, guilt, concern, or embarrassment. All I see in abusers is pride, arrogance, contempt for others, and extreme self-love, unshakable self-esteem, and enjoyment of their sadism, cruelty, and evildoing.

    2. Your narrative about the email exchange was so interesting, because I once had a very similar interaction with a former “friend”. The evasion tactics were eerily similar, and I would support you in saying that this is a clear case of gaslighting (which is really just lying). When they say they “didn’t get that email” when you’d recently exchanged emails (and your email program kicks back rejected emails to you!), they are lying. When they say, “we never discussed that in an email exchange” when you can see it right in front of you, you know they are not only lying, but they also have NO respect for you. Anyone who will lie to you about something like this will lie about anything, so this IS significant. It shows lack of good character.

      1. Thanks, Grace. It does get less confusing one you’re aware of the techniques/tactics. It does demonstrate a lack of respect for me and a lack of character. I kept calmly but firmly asserting my request. They don’t seem to value people/relationships, just what they can get. I still scratch my head as to the why not just tell the truth, but it doesn’t matter, that’s on her and for her to figure out, if she chooses to. I’ve noticed a bit of a chill from one of the other therapists…oh well. I guess they don’t like it when you don’t just submit quietly and with a smile.

        1. Mindful,

          As long as you’re talking about it, do you ever find yourself feeling like you are losing your mind or otherwise feeling insane when dealing with gaslighting? If so, how do you move away from that auto-response of feeling insane and doubting one’s sanity into the healthy, ‘no, you’re lying, you gaslighting liar’ calm and firm assertion of what is real?

          Maybe I am simply so weak-minded now, having been beaten down to a such a low, damaged state, that I cannot help myself but feel insane when dealing with liars/gaslighters. I start to panic and worry if I’m losing my mind, and the anxiety levels are heightened and, of course, the abuser liar/gaslighters aren’t about to stop.

          Anyone else struggle with this?

          1. anonymous,

            Yes, I had repeated feelings of losing my mind or feeling crazy in the past. My daughter’s gasighting had brought me to the point of suicide. I can’t tell you the depths of insanity and despair I felt.

            After I cut contact with her, I read a bunch about it, how they do it, why they do it, etc. and techniques to protect myself. It takes practice and mindfulness. Like with other abuse tactics, once you are aware of it, you have a better shot at recognizing it in the moment and mentally taking a step back. For me, mentally taking a step back rather than automatically introverting (looking inside to see my responsibility), which was my conditioned response, has been life changing. It provides the mental distance I need to see what’s happening. I have also started to recognize that if I feel crazy around someone that it’s my cue that someone’s lying and to get away from them. As I’ve practiced, I’ve gained more confidence in trusting myself, my perceptions, and my judgements and as I do, it gets easier and easier to protect myself. It builds as you practice.

            It doesn’t make you weak-minded that you are struggling with this, it makes you human. It’s so understandable that you feel that way, that’s what prolonged abuse does.

    3. JMTC: I think the answer is in your original post: “…Said they would make our art into holiday cards for us, and oh, by the way, could we sell your cards to raise money? That’s fine. But, when it came down to it, they didn’t give us cards! Never mentioned it again. They got what they wanted – our art.”

      Once they got what they wanted, my guess is: they decided to forget about the artist(s) — you — so they could sell the art however they wanted, and reap all the profits. Sadly, that has long been a problem in the art world: not getting credit for your work. At least, I’d recommend signing *everything*, and maybe an agent or rep? Hope this helps.

  5. Dina,

    Aw, thank you, Dina, what a sweet thing to say, I’m so very glad you exist too. You re so worthy of love and support. I think you’ve been very responsive. 🙂 And you have a deep sense of awareness and knowledge that I really appreciate. I think it’s important that we share what we know with others to help empower, encourage and support them.

    That’s a good way to think about them…mosquitoes and blood.

    It is incredibly hard to try and shake the self-loathing the predators instill in their targets and victims. I tend to be an optimistic realist, and I can be incredibly stubborn when I believe in something, and I believe it’s possible. Of course we’ve all had different experiences and what works well for one may not be effective for someone else.

    Maybe the first step is believing it is possible? I’m not sure. One thing I did in the beginning (and still do) was to counter every one of those thoughts that popped into my head. Reminded myself it was a LIE planted their to harm me and sent it back to the sender and countered it with the truth. I practiced being my best friend in my head! Radical self compassion.

    As for the feelings, I accepted I felt that and examined the thoughts/events that triggered the feelings. It has become a habit now and to question the thoughts and trace the feelings down. I also mentally sent the poison back. (visualize the poison going back to them, (or the universe) to do with it whatever they like). It’s hard work. For me, resisting the thoughts/feelings and/or denying them or believing them, used up so my of my energy and kept me living so small that I had no energy left to move forward. I was sad and stuck.

    It’s a psychological cage of their making. I keep pushing the boundaries of the cage and feeling the fear/terror/guilt/shame etc.. of doing so and the liberation and joy when I face it and move forward. I also get a boost of confidence to keep going and, truth be told, sometimes mentally give them the finger afterwards. 🙂 (I try not to do that too often b/c I don’t want to give them any energy).

    I believe that in changing my thoughts and my attitude, I can effect change in my life, and that keeps me going. So far, so good!

    My abusers tend to use terror to try to keep me in line, so I have a quote I like to use for inspiration:

    You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.
    Eleanor Roosevelt

    I hope others can provide you with tips on that worked for them!

    1. Mindful,

      You are so lovely. Your comments are so great. I’m struggling, so I can’t write much. But in this very given moment, I wanted to thank you for your generosity in time and energy in writing such wise comments.

    2. Dina

      With the extent of abuse you suffered, I don’t have that background so cannot say I fully understand the recovery process it would take.
      However, I’ve suffered the emotional and economical abuse from the CD x husband.
      I can tell you how I’ve recovered. It came by understanding what had happened to me and how it came to be, how it progressed, and came to understand my frame of mind, why I didn’t get out sooner, what my role was in the marriage and the interactions. It’s a lot of interplay in a marriage. All the deceit, lies, gaslighting. I went through the process of understanding what happened.
      Then I accepted it. I accepted the fact that he victimized my kindness and trust and devotion. It’s a huge betrayal.
      Once I accepted it and understood it, then I could begin to heal.
      I will not ever let this happen to me again. I’ve changed. Pollyanna is dead. I understand now and believe they are awful people in this world who will take advantage of others without a care or guilt feeling.
      I look to the future now. Try my best not to dwell uncessarily at the painful parts. Although they are part of me. They won’t go away. You’d have to be brain damaged for it to just “go away”.
      I’m taking care of myself emotionally and physically. I’m On my own and love it. I’m in charge of myself. No one is attached to my back.
      So that’s how it’s played out for me. I hope you have success in figuring out your way of healing and enjoy what’s left of your life.

      1. Lucy,

        Thank you for taking the time to tell me all of that. Your words have helped me, as with Mindful’s words.

        “He victimized my kindness and trust and devotion.”

        That’s what they do. You said it very well. And thanks for telling me how you made it out and to the point where you are at now.

        Hoping you, Mindful, and Dr. Simon have a wonderful Christmas, abuser-free. Celebrating the joy of Jesus’ birthday.

  6. Dr. Simon, Your words in this post are the best I have ever read on this topic. Thank you so much. I suddenly realized that I was investing a lot of energy and attention on a few situations over which I have no control, began feeling helpless and angry, and was starting down the road to depression. I am going to focus on giving up on futile endeavors and let life and God take care of any lessons they may need to learn. Taking loving action on my behalf and the behalf of the people of good character in my life right now is going to be my goal and focus from now on. Thank you again for your words of wisdom.

  7. anonymous,

    I forgot to add that I still have trouble sometimes with my daughter’s gaslighting. She is very skilled and knows me well. When that happens, I take space and distance to sort through it and ask others for their take. For that reason, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to have a real relationship with her. She’s making it impossible.

    1. Mindful,

      Thanks for your advice and response. Paying attention to the internal feeling of losing one’s mind as a clue about the other person and what they are doing, and then to get away, assuming it’s possible.

      Good to know, also, that I’m not weak-minded in and of myself. Indeed, I do think it’s because of the effects of prolonged abuse and what it does to a person’s mind and psyche. I feel so defective!

      I really appreciate the wisdom in your comments. I hope you have a good Christmas and if it’s spent apart from your daughter, than so be it. The celebration of Jesus’ birth. A babe in the manger.

      1. anonymous,

        You’re welcome. I hope that it helps you. It’s a terrible feeling to feel so defective. It’s not true though, it just feels as if it is.

        Thank you, I hope you have a good Christmas too. Yes, it’s spent apart from my daughter, and the rest of my “family”, something I’m still mourning. Lots of losses to grieve as this freedom comes at great costs. Still, I’m grateful for the freedom and the peace it provides.

        1. Mindful,

          Although I’m not keen on Dr. Phil, he did say something once, about how he’d rather be all alone, than with someone who is sick (toxic). Something about sleeping under a bridge, in peace, rather than with someone toxic. Of course, a man can sleep under a bridge with a whole lot less trouble than a woman, who is basically guaranteed to be raped, and who knows what else. But anyhow…

          Freedom doesn’t come free. It’s expensive. Same with peace. I find both to be short-lived, but anyhow.

          And maybe the shame should be on the predators, for preying on the innocent and/or vulnerable, instead of victims being shamed as ‘defective’ or ‘weak-minded’. Even if such is true, who cares? In the absence of predators, such wouldn’t matter.

          Merry Christmas, Mindful, and all the rest of the victims and survivors out there.


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  9. This has been (and still is in a way) a very hard thing to do in many ways for me;

    I couldn’t accept those people had lied to me for so long and misused the dearest thing I had to give which was my love/friendship and what comes with that. Those people took all of it without hesitation ‘in the name of love or friendship’. Till it became my time of need (after a heavy car-accident e.i.). Then they not only let me down by not helping/supporting me at all but also by showing their horrible true face by gaslichting me to believe I had it all on myself what happened to me. Their easy way out to discard a person who was (temporarilly) not able anymore, by circumstances, to provide them the attention/love and the person they needed and were used to all the time.
    They ran like hell to get away from me but not before trying to guild-trip (gaslight) me in letting me believe it was all my fault and I was the one who had been fraudulant taking willfully advantage of them instead in the past. Even when confronted, with me spending thousends of Euro’s on them through the years to get them out of trouble or to enhance their personal situation.
    I felt betrayed like hell and conned by some cheap criminals.
    No way they were getting away with this without consequences.
    I knew by the time I couldn’t change them with my ‘revenge-actions’ but I wanted to be sure they didn’t get away with it unscatched.

    Many years ago I would just take the obvious abuse in, not seeing it for what it was, and getting very depressed in the aftermath for a long time.
    Those days are gone. I confront them with direct (or covert- indirect) consequences of their behaviour (in a thoughtfull, honest but very clear way). I know it won’t teach them much but for me this active stand is more empowering then the passive stand (like you advocate) which encourages to let them of the hook.

    I agree you cann’t go on with this very long for you’ll shoot yourself in the foot, if this state of mind takes too long. I agree you have to let it go someday and concentrate on yourself again. But not without a fight imo. You have to fight and stand up for what you believe in and fight unjustice. That makes- or keeps you strong whatever the consequences. They have to know you’re not one of those same loving ‘fools’ they tricked before, in handing over the most prescious thing you’ve got. They have to be punished like in the legal Justice-system by preferrence but it’s all still completely legal how they operate. No-one gets off the hook there if they are caught red-handed. And we should let them go unconfronted without any consequences? Come on. You at least should try to give them some trouble imo. It’s not that hard doing something undetectable to feed their paranoia and make them think twice.

    What’s your work about? Your new attitude/approuch in dealing with these people? Seeing them for the calculated manipulators who they really are and to confront them with the consquences of their behaviour. That’s what your therapy is about. Not let them off the hook by no means.

    I could totally agree you’ll better leave the confronting part to the optimistic specialists, like you, if you still have the hope/illusion you can affect the abuser in a way by your confrontation/revenge-actions, so he/she will change their behaviour. This expectations must be totally done with before you take actions like this.
    It’s only ment (imo) to give rightfull voice to your rightfull anger.
    Fighting back instead of taking the position of a shut-down ‘slave’ who isolates out of fear of those abusers and gets really depressed.

    Those actions empowered me. I’ve lost all my family in the wake of confronting some of them. I’ve lost a lot of ‘friends’ also including my girlfriend ‘partner’ for 9 years. But now it has been my consious choices and not theirs.
    It’s been very hard but I had to stop the abuse. There was no other way to stop it than confronting them with my truth and anger finally. Otherwise they would come back some day I knew.

    That was all what was needed to ring their bells that the game was over. Non of them made an effort to discuss my thoughts at all although I left them some space.
    They knew it was over. They knew I finally had figured them out.
    They knew they couldn’t trick me anymore.

    I still feel the loss profoundly sometimes. But I know I did my very best to create another outcome for plus ~30 years.
    It has been completely invane the way I approuched the problem in my family and some ‘partners/friends’.
    I approuched them with regard, love and care. This is something what’s totally lost on character-disturbed people. They just take this for granted and something to misuse/abuse also. They even have a lot of contempt for this attitude. Seeing it as weak and stupid.

    We still have a long way to go as human-kind to cancel-out this anti-social mindset in many people and culture.
    One importend way of doing this is not letting them off the hook.

  10. To add.
    Then you also name the AA ’12 step program’.
    This program has indeed some very good guide-lines for character-disordered anti-social/narcissistic abusers.
    But not at all helpfull for victims of those abusers.

    When they enter such a program they get indoctrinated in believing again it’s all their own mistakes and they have to repent and show humbleness to their abusers by taking ‘responsibility’ for their own behaviour towards them.
    Nothing is more ridicouless. Blaming and shaming victims of abuse solely by focussing on their ‘own part’ in ‘causing’ the abuse. This is again traumatizing victims of abuse profoundly.

    12 step programmes are tailored for abusers to try to teach them some morals and humility. They are totally destructive to victims of abuse like this. Allready guild-ridden and doubting themselves in every vain they get tought it’s really about them and their failures instead of the abusers. And THEY should ask for forgiveness!

    It’s the most sick modern health-care institution I encountered.
    Making many millions of dollars supported by the political legal system.
    It’s just a hoax. A simple ‘religion/cult’ invented ~80 years ago by two alcoholics. Not based on science at all.
    But still you referre to those 12 step programs.
    I guess you like the religous Christian dogma’s on morals that ring through clearly in those programs. I guess they fit your own Christian morals.
    Non the less you know morals are very flexible depending on circumstances, culture etc.
    There’s not something as a fixed (human) moral. It all depends on circumstances.

    We now in the West lived for about ~70 years in relative democratic freedom and growing prosperity. Allowing us to get rid of dealing with our primary needs in the first place.
    We all got our heating, food, water, shelter/housing from private-companies or state-companies to provide for them.
    This was so much easier. And of course it was in many cases.
    But we didn’t see we handed over our freedom and self-surfiving skills to some crooks who only wanted to take advantage of us.
    On every scale it’s the same.
    And that’s the state were in now as a society. There’s no way back.
    It has to collapse. The modern human-species has allready proven he’s not worthy of even occuping the World-stage for ~200.000 years. He managed in less than ~15.000 years to wipe out ~70% of living creatures or their populations.
    He managed to change Earth-climat on it’s own in just 200 years.

    This species is doomed. Going down under their own ‘success’. Like the Irish deer that had grown such a huge antler in the Ice-age to impress the ladies. When the forest and trees came back when the climat got warmer he had to fled in the forest more. Which broke his skull hitting the trees.

    The same with humans. What seems like a powerfull genetic adaptation turns out to be a huge disadvantage the moment circumstances really change.
    Great rational intelligence might not be adaptive enough anymore if don’t know how to make a fire and find and cook your own food.

    Those skills are all far beyound the present young generations.
    They don’t know any better than that everything is available all the time, cheap and without much effort.
    It’s of all times. The Roman Empire dealt with the same degrading of morals like the Greek (and many others before them) did.

    With every succesfull socially/democratic organized society at some time egocentrism and hedonism gets the hold of that society and ruins it. Togehter we stand divided we fall is a great saying in this regard. It’s almost inevitable. We get used to the freedom and luxury we’ve accomplished together. And the moment we have we take it for granted asif we accomplished it all of our own.
    Not giving credit to all that came before us to make this even possible. No humbleness at all.
    It’s the general human condition to live in the present and what’s up now. These times are mostly narscissitic/self-inflating orientated/demanding or you’ll miss the boat. It’s clear.
    So if it’s that what it takes you’ll conform. You don’t want to be left out, excluded. Even it takes to betray your self.
    Being excluded from society is almost the same as dying and no-one is choosing that perspective as a prime option. We all want to relate and feel bonded to other people.

    The mess we are in today; we’ve lost real contact. We all are directed by virtual reality these days telling us what’s ‘happening’ while the real world around us, our neighbours, people in the street, our friends and family, people from other countries and cultures become strangers to avoid and be scared of.

    It’s sad and scary.

  11. Your perspective and thoughts in ‘A sheeps clothing’ have been a ‘light-bulb’ I was looking for.
    Trained as a psychiatric nurse at the end of the 80’s early 90’s I was still fed also with the traditional psychiatry/psychology from Freud and his followers. Although back then a lot of other (better) information was allready available, psychiatry in Holland was still firmly stuck in those traditional ways of seeing- and adressing patients (and the field at large).
    Then I also note; I and most of us at the time grew up in a Christian-moral culture where ‘turning the other sheek’ and ‘forgiveness’ were the highest moral standards. All could be saved if we loved them enough and ‘forgive’ them their sins to grant them another chance.

    How wrong we were.. How this believe and attitudes played in to the advantage of those character-disordered people. They were laughing at us (covertly) about the foolishness of our loving attemps and believes and soon addapted them for their own use in gaining power, control and material wealth.
    It has been working for them for ~2000 years now and still does for many.

    I also thought people with those kinds of aggresive behaviour must have been traumatized one way or the other. We all spent lots of ‘loving/understanding’ energy in them. But they took it all in with lots of gratitude and promisses to change but never did actually.
    In fact I’m sure we only taught them more sofisticated ways to manipulate people. We taught them well. Many converted from overt- to covert manipulators once they learned the lessons we taught them.

    Your book is so inspiring. It sheds a whole new light on the problem. I conclude that basically those people lack a proper developed conscience. Nurture or nature doesn’t matter that much. It just hasn’t developed enough.
    This makes all their extreem egocentric, callous, lack of empathy, lack of guild or remorse and often sadistic behaviour explainable.

    They are totally aware though. Their rational brains are just sound. They know exactly their way of ‘feeling’ and ‘thinking’ is quite different from the majority of people and they’ve learned to work around this and use the moral ‘weaknesses’ of the majority of people to their own advantage.

    They are a kind of different human-species. A minority still but with huge aggresive power capable of manipulating millions of unaware people to do their bidding.
    It’s from all ages. But in this age of 24/7 ‘social media’ their power is without limits. They seduce billions of kids and adults to fall into their narcissistic, superficial traps.
    There’s no return from this train going. The younger generations aren’t at all ready to deal with what’s coming within ~10/20 years.
    They are not prepared at all with their inflated ego’s. No-one prepared them. No-one taught them in this age they are not special at all but just a very small part of human-society. Almost completely dependent on their fellow humans.
    Just a drop in an ocean of 8 billion people. Completely depended on what others work for and provide. From the post-man to the farmer and everyone in between.

    This has been lost on new generations since the early 80’s. They don’t know any better for no-one taught them.
    This is why we have all these ‘Narcissists’ now since the turn of the century. We’ve raised them since the 70’s and most of parents still do the same. Letting their children believe they are ‘very special’ and are entitled to have everything they want without any effort done. Their parents provide them with all their ‘love’. But don’t provide them with the skills needed to tackle frustration and how to deal with it. Or teach them good skills to privede for themselves.

    Simon puts the finger on the problem of this age quite profoundly.
    I wish I learned this 40 years ago when studying psychiatry.
    I knew something was wrong with the theories I got fed with and my expierences with many clients. Just some of them seem to lack conscience at all. Whatever you said their eyes stayed empthy and cold without any reflection. They were not psychotic at all or anxious. Just collected and at ease but totally without any expression of emotion in their eyes or face. They could tell you the most horrific things and still have this non-expression.
    Still we were trained to approuch and treat these people like this as some kind of victims of circumstances that made them do the horroble things they did. Even then it didn’t make sence to me.
    There was surely something very essential lacking in those people I saw.
    A complete lack of empathy and conscience. And there was no way to make them understand the gravity of what they had done to people. They just asked for it in their view, most of them told me. Case closed.

    Finally someone stood up to professionally object the accepted professional standards with a completely different view and aprouch towards (Cluster B) personality-disorders. He named them Character-disorders. Disorders that were not due to personality-differences primarilly or neuroses but due to moral deficits (taught or inherited) in our age of Narcissism since ~40 years to the younger generations.

    I hope the nature of social dependency on eachother will get the upperhand finally. We all are social creatures who cann’t survive without eachother or without all other live on Earth.
    This knowledge has to surpasse this age of ‘Narcissism’. And it will one way or the other. Live will go on with- or without us.

  12. What has changed mainly after WW2 since the 1950’s is the rise of a new ‘God’ for all; plain materialism to provide for all our needs.
    This new ‘religion’ started in the U.S. Proclamed and sold by their capitalistic, indivualistic ‘liberal’ (but therefore often anti-social) basic laws. The whishes/’rights’ of the individual ego got placed on top and got a protected foundation in your legal/political system.
    The ‘rights’ of the ego/individual were placed above the needs of society at large.
    The culture this anti-social political system spread around the world since the 50’s made the rise of unlimited Narcissism and ego-centricity in the decades to come possible.

    The ‘Hippies- and Provo scene’ during the sixties and seventies have only been a peacefull revolt against this new culture of worshipping materialism and the ego.
    They lost their voice and had to submitt to the new reality when the 80’s started.
    The materialistic/commercial ‘rat-race’ was just starting to take over almost all ‘modern’ societies.
    If you still refused to conform you became an outcast, weird, oppositional, a loser, ‘character-dis-ordered’, mentally disturbed.

    That’s the state our ‘Western’ cultures are in today. Inspired by the U.S. political- and cultural system and therefore mainly ruled by now by material ‘profits’ and power motivated by politicians/people who only work to protect their own simple egocentric goals of getting even more material assets and power.
    And they are smart, as you say. They know all the right buttons to push to lure the masses in to their game.
    They all are great ‘car-sellers’ and many of them are pure con-artists.

    Meanwhile, the problem of our times is not that there are more ‘character(moral)-disordered’ people. I think you actually mean; people without a well developed conscience or non at all. They’ve been there always through the ages but were kept generally in line by social/religious morals and the (severe) laws that punished anti-social/religious(anti-christian in the west) behaviour.

    The Victorian era was extreem in socially- and legally rejecting and punishing every open display of sexuallity and non-conformity.
    The reaction to that political/social system came after WW1 and grew to the extreme oppossit we find our culture in today.

    A culture/policy giving all room to extreme egocentrism and materialism/hedonism. A culture/policy actively raising it’s children to only worship those superficial values of materialism and ‘ego-power’. Many (young) people (with conscience) got/get very depressed under this pressure to conform to this cultural standards.
    But many (young) people (with lesser- or no conscience) take their dominant egocentric opportunities when supported by politicians, governments, the media. They are not only supported by them since a few decades but actively taught by them (and many parents) this is the way they should live and are entitled to.
    The best thing you can have to show your ‘special’ personality is a new smartphone every year to show-off or the number of ‘special’ countries you’ve visited at 20 or so. Or the amount of money you make.

    This culture raised those children. But did not raise more ‘character(moral)-disordered’ people. This culture only gave a lot more room to those moraly underdeveloped people (by character; inherited/developed like Autism). That’s what happened.
    The naive masses once again get lured by them. Trump almost succeeded.
    It’s not Trump that was the real problem. It was almost half of a countries population that supported him.
    It shows the state of the culture we’re in (in many countries). With almost half of a population alluding anti-social behavior and politics there’s a long way to go to reverse this thinking in many naive people. The higher ground is lost on them when only considering their own possesions and egocentric way of living.
    But this is basic human nature. And those manipulators sure know how to push those buttons.

    Summerising, it’s not that ‘çharacter(moral)-disordered’ people are on the rise these days. It’s the changed culture that allows/supports/teaches them to take the most dominant positions in today’s society.

    This is what will bring down our human societies to destruction.
    Those numerous, millions of people without a well developed conscience (or conscience at all) will ‘win’ just because they lack this social conscience. Fighting without conscience is a lot easier.
    Fighting without guild or shame.
    And they are backed-up by billions of naive people who are eager to support them.

    I admire your optimism but I’m sure it’s a game lost. Jezus tried, Buddha tried, Mohamed tried, thousends of others tried. They mostly died as ‘martyrs’ on a cross or otherwise; alone.
    Anyway no-one succeeded in changing the morality of humankind at large. You won’t either.
    But your views are an eye-opener in these times. They are not new but we’ve forgotten them since decades.
    You again called ‘the beast’ by it’s name in ‘Sheeps clothing’.

    Very important work you did in trying to change views on ‘Character(moral)-disordered’ people. Opposing all this bla bla about all those unconsious/compensority drives those people would have to explain their manipulative/agressive behaviour and get away with it unscathed.
    In other times and cultures they sure knew/know how to deal with such behaviour. No confronting therapies needed like the ones you offer. But those were other times and cultures.

    Thanks a lot for your refreshing insights!

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