“Crazy-making” that’s how people describe involvements with those who have narcissistic or antisocial personality disorders, psychopathy, and even borderline personality disorder.
After enduring deception, manipulation, bald-faced lies and gaslighting, people who are in these relationships often feel like they’re losing their minds. What they need most is someone who believes their stories and can tell them what is going on. So they go for counseling.
Unfortunately, many times they discover that the therapist really doesn’t understand what they are talking about.
Over the years, I’ve heard this from countless people who have been targeted by exploiters.
In fact, I’ve heard from therapists and other mental health professionals who themselves were hooked into involvements with personality-disordered individuals. They say that nothing in their training prepared them for the experience.
So the question needs to be asked: Why not?
How can psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals go through years of training, yet not know what to do with a client who is agonizing over someone who continuously proclaims love but behaves with cruelty? Or when they come across a charming liar themselves?
No one really knows why this happens, but I’ll take a few guesses.
Disordered don’t seek therapy
First of all, people who have antisocial or narcissistic personality disorder, or psychopathy, feel just fine, thank you very much. They don’t see anything wrong with themselves, so they don’t go for treatment. Clinicians, therefore, almost never see personality-disordered individuals in their offices, and therefore have no experience with them.
Only therapists who work in prisons, or deal with clients who are ordered into therapy by the courts, come across antisocials, narcissists and psychopaths.
But these disordered individuals are the ones whose behavior crossed the line, so that the authorities sent them to jail or treatment. Manipulators who are smart or controlled enough to fly under the radar such as the 3.5 percent of corporate executives who are psychopaths, according to Dr. Robert Hare don’t show up in a counseling office.
Unless their spouses drag them in. When that happens, the disordered person presents as cool, calm and collected, while his or her spouse is in meltdown. Therapists are frequently charmed, and conclude that the angry or weeping spouse is the one with the problem.
Skewed research populations
Almost all research on adult personality disorders is done using two populations: prisoners and college students. Why? Because those are the populations that researchers can access.
These groups do not represent the full range of disordered behavior. Prisoners broke the law and got caught. Students are usually young, and early in their careers as exploiters. Disordered adults who have years of experience getting away with their manipulations are not included in the research samples.
Consequently, some commonly held tenets of disordered behavior likely wrong, especially regarding antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy:
They are likely to have criminal records.
What about all those psychopathic corporate executives? These people usually manage to stay out of prison, at least until they decimate the entire company.
They abandon their young.
What about all the abusers who fight for custody of their children?
They don’t form lasting relationships.
I’ve heard from scores of people who only discovered after 20 or more years of marriage that their spouses lead totally double lives.
Maybe mental health professionals don’t understand exploitative personality disorders because something even more basic is at work. It seems to me that society in general just doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that human predators live among us.
The concept that millions of people are not interested in trust and cooperation, but instead want power and control, and that these people blend so easily into our communities it’s frightening. When information threatens our sense of safety and predictability well, maybe we just want to tune it out.
But when it comes to exploitative personality disorders, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance creates a target.
Lovefraud Continuing Education
Lovefraud Continuing Education now offers online courses for mental health professionals that explain the realities of relationships with disordered individuals and best practices to help clients recover from them.
All instructors are experts on personality disorders, through research, personal experience, or both. The courses are one- or two-hour webinars. The initial presentations are recorded, and are subsequently available on the Internet at any time.