Others Have It Worse Than Me: SELF-INVALIDATION

When I was small my mother told me, “Finish your dinner! There are children starving in Africa.” I promptly suggested that we box up my dinner, along with some of the food in the pantry, and send it to them. After all, how was finishing my dinner going to help those hungry children?

It couldn’t help them, because it had nothing to do with them. They were two different issues. Finishing my dinner would do nothing for them, and only give me a stomachache.

Likewise, thinking that others had it worse than you does nothing to help them, but it could hurt you.

The other day I heard from a reader who said, “I guess I just need to be stronger. When I read the comments on this site, I realize that others had it much worse than I did.” I’ve heard similar words from many others.

“Other people had it worse” doesn’t help because you are not other people. And it doesn’t help because you can’t heal an emotional wound with logic. Trying to do so will only isolate you from your feelings, and that’s very different than healing.

“Others had it worse than me” means you don’t think you should feel as bad as you do, because you don’t think you have a real reason to feel that bad. It’s a take on an invalidating statement that people say, far too often, to others–“Other people have it worse than you do, you know”— only now you might be saying it to yourself.

It’s self-invalidating.

Invalidation is the act of rejecting, diminishing, ignoring, judging or making fun of someone’s feelings. Unfortunately, it happens all too often and there even seems to be an epidemic of it in society. Many of us have learned to think invalidation is “normal,” because it’s so common. Not only do we come to think it’s normal, but we internalize it and do it to ourselves.

When others invalidate our feelings, it creates emotional distance. When we invalidate our own feelings, we create alienation from the self. We also create feelings of guilt and shame. Self-invalidation (and invalidation by others) makes recovery from depression and anxiety particularly difficult.

“Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated.”

~ Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey

Experts believe that invalidation is a major contributor to emotional disorders. A history of emotional invalidation is “significantly associated with emotion inhibition (i.e., ambivalence over emotional expression, thought suppression, and avoidant stress responses). Further, emotion inhibition significantly predicted psychological distress, including depression and anxiety symptoms,” according to a study titled, The Role of Emotion Inhibition in Psychological Distress, Thomas R. Lynch, PhD, Duke University

“Other people have it worse. This may, in point of fact, be technically true, but it only tells part of the story. Contemporary journalism often does this, pulling out the letter of the law but completely missing the spirit, the story, the truth. Knowing other people have worse problems doesn’t always help me emotionally manage my grief and pain. I need to come to grips with the enormity of the issue, not diminish my own mental health issues.

This stuff is important – for me – and that is not selfishness, quite the contrary. No one knows what I am going through but me. No one understands my part of the picture. No one knows how I am really handling this life, no one but me.”

~ Scott Williams, Clinical Therapist

Many of us got more than enough invalidation from the psychopath, and then from others afterward, and the last thing we need is to invalidate ourselves. Telling yourself you can’t be sad because others have it worse is like saying you can’t be happy because others have it better. And it makes just as much sense. Stop measuring how much of a right you have to feel bad and just let yourself feel bad.

There are plenty of other variations of self-invalidation beside the example used so far:

“I should be over this by now.”

“I should be ashamed of myself for feeling this way.”

“I should realize how much I have to be grateful for, not dwelling on this.”

“I need to just get over it already.”

“This is ridiculous, the way I feel.”

“I shouldn’t let this bother me so much.”

“I’m sick and tired of feeling this way.”

“I need to stop feeling so sorry for myself.”

“I need to get on with my life and move past this.”

“I must be crazy.”

“Therapists call the attempt to normalize one’s experience — the mental gymnastics that some people do to minimize their suffering — a kind of invalidation. By that they mean that the person is discounting his pain; negating his own feelings, usually by the intellectual exercise of comparing. And since he might well have been told at some point, in words or actions, that his feelings weren’t important, he now has the additional problem of saying it to himself. It is one thing to be alienated from the world, but self-invalidation adds a level of estrangement from yourself on top of that.

Stop running. It is the running that has given your vampiric emotions the opportunity to repeatedly torment you. If you give your wounds attention in the daylight, eventually the vampire who feeds on them will not come for you at night.”

~ Vampires and Buried Feelings: The Therapy of Getting Over Your Hurt, Dr. Gerald Stein, psychotherapist (*please see the article for a list of actions to take to resolve buried emotions)

Accepting the feelings that arise within us, and allowing ourselves to experience them fully along with the knowledge that we’re strong enough to survive doing so, means we accept ourselves and acknowledge the serious nature of our injury. It doesn’t mean we might not need help dealing with our emotions, though. Sometimes we need help. We can accept that, too.

Invalidation, whether it comes from others or from ourselves, lacks compassion. Compassion is what will help us to heal. Self-compassion is nothing less than a paradigm shift after involvement with a psychopath. It can be transformational. Being human becomes OK again (psychopaths despise that) along with all the emotions we feel. Compassion is healing; it’s the treatment for the harm suffered from being treated without compassion.

The best way to stop invalidating yourself is by practicing validation. It’s about accepting your internal experience as valid and understandable. That’s very powerful. By looking at the truth and validating yourself, you affirm that you need to heal and that you have a right to heal. It is in facing your feelings, and validating them, that you will eventually find healing, wholeness, and freedom.

*I want to add that you can have empathy for yourself AND for those who have it worse. The two are not mutually exclusive. 

A reader named Linda had some wise words on self-invalidation:

“I now recognize this tendency in myself. It is habitual, and something I am working on correcting. I would not ask a friend to downplay her pain and suffering after such an awful experience; why should I do this to myself?

I have begun to understand that being “strong” actually means acknowledging the pain and accepting the reality of emotional damage, not denying it and thus invalidating myself in the process.”

 ♥ Thank you for reading.



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52 thoughts on “Others Have It Worse Than Me: SELF-INVALIDATION”

  1. Linda

    I am a strong woman, and sometimes that can be a trap: To maintain that self-perception I often tend to play down the effects of trauma or trouble. Because my time with the psychopath was relatively brief – about 2 months before I left him – I have told myself that the trauma and damage from this relationship was minimal. Actually, thanks to you, Adelyn, cautioning me about self-invalidation, I now recognize this tendency in myself. It is habitual, and something I am working on correcting. I would not ask a friend to downplay her pain and suffering after such an awful experience; why should I do this to myself? I have begun to understand that being “strong” actually means acknowledging the pain and accepting the reality of emotional damage, not denying it and thus invalidating myself in the process. Another inadvertent gift from the predator who wanted only to do me harm!

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Very insightful, Linda. I’ve added some of your words to the post!

  2. Lady Vigilant 2

    1st time with your previous post , i have became aware of detriement of severe invalidation i have been experiencing from myself & others especially in the formative years.
    Thanks for Awakening & Validating us!

    1. Adelyn Birch

      You’re welcome, I’m glad I could help! I only became aware of invalidation — and how rampant it is — a couple of years ago. Amazing how it goes unnoticed, yet causes so much harm.

  3. Christine

    Dear Adelyn,

    This post came up in my emails this afternoon just in time to save my sense of sanity…weak as it is. This morning I received an email from a friend with a link to a blog entry titled: “Why I am Glad that Everything Happens for a Reason”. I received this after an attempt to find words to explain to him what it like to suffer my current condition. ( I was diagnosed (finally) last June as suffering from dissociative Conplex PTSD). I wanted so badly for someone to “get it”. His response seemed trite and cruel…but I couldn’t sort out why until I saw this post. I feel so utterly alone. It is like being inside a sealed box and there is no way out. I entered therapy in 1981 with a psychiatrist who was a psychopath. I was in a “traumatic bond” with him for five years which ended abruptly with his suicide in 1986. Thirty years later I understand that is what happened to me after searching your blog today. I recognized it and found the words to describe it here. Invalidated. “It” has a name. Everyone has sought to invalidate my feelings and perceptions, perhaps no one more than I, all these long years. At present I am stunned by the enormity of this realization. There are persons who understand this…they are here on your blog. You get it. I no longer am utterly alone with this, but I have no idea where to go from here. Even my therapist has invalidated my perceptions. Who is going to believe me?

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I believe you, Christine! It’s good that you know you’re not alone, and that you now know what “it” is. I’m sorry to hear that your therapist invalidates your feelings; that’s the last thing a therapist should be doing. I know how important it is for you to have your traumatic experience and emtions related to the psychopathic therapist be heard and validated, and I hope you will find someone who can do that and give you the support you need. It is isolating not to be understood–I went through it myself, and I know what it’s like. My heart goes out to you xx

      1. Christine

        Thank you, Adelyn . I will reply to you when I am able to be clearer minded.

        1. Adelyn Birch

          OK, good. Please let me know how you’re doing.

          1. Christine

            Hello, Adelyn. I’ve returned.

            I wanted to clarify something…my therapist does not invalidate my feelings, but rather my perceptions, ie. my conclusions about the psychiatrist and what happened to me under his “care”. The problem I face is a therapist who does not want to believe that another professional in her field could deliberately try to destroy me. I know what he did was calculated and deliberate and at this point no one is going to convince me otherwise. She offers other possible explanations for what I tell her happened. She does say that she “honors my tender feelings” which frankly means nothing to me. I’m having a three week break from therapy with her, (she had an “emergency” out of town). I will see her on Jan 26th. The more I think about how she questions my conclusions, the angrier I am feeling. Your blog has confirmed in my mind what I always suspected about him. There are too many corroborating facts presented here for me to come to any other conclusion. The man was a psychopath who took pleasure in my suffering, while fragmenting my already wounded psyche…sitting back and looking down his nose at me without an ounce of empathy in his black pin-striped, authoritarian suit. He gave me nothing!
            I was referred to her in November because she is a trauma therapist with 23 years of experience. She was to do EMDR therapy with me. We have yet to start that, and I am wondering if I will ever be able to form a “trusting relationship” with her, which is a requirement for EMDR treatment.
            I honestly don’t know where to go from here. Have you come across any others who abuser was a psychiatrist?

            1. Adelyn Birch

              Hi, Christine. It seems your therapist has a blind spot exactly where you need her not to have one. A person needs to feel completely comfortable with their therapist in order for it to be effective, and this is especially true for you since you are in therapy because you were victimized by a therapist. It is well known that there are psychotherapists who victimize patients, and it’s unfortunate that this therapist doesn’t want to believe that. Psychiatry even has a name for it — “Malignant eroticized countertransference” — which divides the pathology of therapists who commit sexual boundary violations into 4 groups. One of those groups is “predatory psychopaths.” I found this article (which psychiatrists can earn CMEs for reading) “Patient-Therapist Boundary Issues,” in the journal Psychiatric Times, by psychiatrist Glen O. Gabbard, MD (Foundation Chair of Psychoanalysis and professor in the Menninger department of psychiatry at the Baylor College of Medicine, and training and supervising analyst at Houston-Galveston Psychoanalytic Institute). The author writes the following about psychopathic therapists:

              “Predatory psychopathy and paraphilias: This category of therapists who engage in sexual boundary violations is not nearly as rare as the psychotic group. While some therapists who fit this category have DSM-IV antisocial personality disorders, others have severe narcissistic personality disorders but still engage in psychopathic behavior for which they feel no remorse or guilt. Paraphilias are included in this category, not because all clinicians with sexual perversions are predatory psychopaths, but because those who enact their perversions with patients they are treating tend to have the same underlying character pathology and superego deficits that typify the predatory psychopathy group. Therapists in this category, usually male, have sometimes risen to positions of leadership within professional organizations and begin to think that the ethics codes of their professions no longer apply to them. They take advantage of their position as a transference object and sadistically and exploitively abuse their power. They may have histories of corrupt or unethical behavior in other areas as well. They generally have multiple victims, and they lack the capacity to empathize with the patients they have exploited, so they typically deny that any harm was done to the patient… The therapists who fall into this category are unlikely to be amenable to rehabilitative efforts, and they often have their licenses to practice revoked because they are seen as a persisting danger to the public.”

              The type of therapist who victimized you is known, it has a name, supervising analysts know how to screen problem therapists for it, and the offending therapists have their licences revoked. Of course even if there is no sex involved, a psychopathic therapist can cause serious harm. They probably slip through the cracks most of the time since their abuse is covert.

              It’s no wonder you’re angry, Christine. You have the need to be heard and understood. And there is really no reason any therapist should doubt that some in their profession are predators; there is plenty of documented evidence of it. Yes, I have heard from several other people who were victimized by their psychotherapists, and it’s really devastating. I believe you will be able to find a therapist who is aware of the problem, and who will hear you and help you. I found it helpful with my own therapist (who didn’t believe psychopaths existed) to drop the P-word and simply describe his words and actions, and the effect they had on me. That did the trick. Don’t give up. You’ve made big strides lately. You’ve come to understand what you experienced, and that’s half the battle. It’s what makes healing possible xx

              1. Christine

                At last! Legitimate information with referrals that validate that these heartless people exist, and do great harm. I’ve had the thought that the kindest thing he ever did for me was to kill himself. He practiced out of a university hospital in a large city. His father was Dean of the College of Medicine. The psychiatric community here abandoned me after sending me to a private long term hospital in another city. When I returned, sensing that something had been amiss about my “therapy” with him,( although it had not been directly acknowledged to me), I asked questions, trying to understand how such an obviously impaired psychiatrist had been allowed to practice. They “threw me under the bus” which is putting it mildly. The consequences I suffered were tragic…
                inexcusable. I should be dead…

                Three years ago I had to get help for the life threatening depression I found myself experiencing. I got on the internet and searched for a psychologist who shared my faith and who had no connection to this city. I found a young man with a practice in NYC who agreed to do therapy with me on Skype. I did, with him exactly what you suggest…described what he did and how I reacted to it. Psychopathy had not entered my mind. After much time with me…over a year, he said that I had been manipulated and abused in the therapy. Therapy with this psychologist had to end last summer when I began to have serious dissociative symptoms…Skype was no longer a good venue. He referred me to a former colleague who had just located here for a full psychological evaluation where I received my current diagnosis. I was back in this city needing therapy. After two hospitalizations and one suicide attempt I landed in this therapist’s office in late October. I am at a loss as to how to go forward after being invalidated by her. My impulse is to go it alone which I know is not the answer. I will look into what you have referenced here. Perhaps if I present it to her, she will be enlightened (?)…I suspect she knows little about psychopathy. It may make no difference…but I will try.

                Thank you, Adelyn. If I have shared more detail than should be published here, I will leave that up to you.

              2. Adelyn Birch

                Going it alone doesn’t sound good given how traumatized you are, Christine. It sounds like the Skype therapist was very good and so was the colleague he referred you to, which means it’s possible to find another good therapist. I just found a really great website for people who’ve been abused by psychotherapists:

                TELL: Therapy Abuse Link Line “No matter why you have come to this site, we will do everything we can to help.” You can contact the volunteers there by clicking the “contact page” link on that site; maybe they’ll be able to make a referral to a therapist in your area, or tell you how to find one who is competent in dealing with people who’ve been abused by another therapist.

                Another website that looks good: Surviving Therapist Abuse

                I was able to enlighten my own therapist by giving her things to read, so you may want to try it and see how open your therapist is to the idea.

                As I said earlier, don’t give up. I feel confident you’ll be able to find someone who can help you. You’ve inspired me to write a blog post about the issue of abusive psychotherapists, and it should be finished later today or tomorrow.

              3. Christine

                Thank you so much, Adelyn.

                My therapist in NYC was excellent. His colleague was as well, but she felt I needed a trauma therapist, and referred me on. Since she was new to this city her referrals really weren’t good resources. I will not give up, but follow through with the info you have provided here. Blessings….

              4. Adelyn Birch

                You’re welcome, Christine. Be sure to let me know how you’re making out with all of it, OK?

              5. Christine

                It is such a relief to have found someone who understands and can give me information to follow. My therapist in NYC said I have a story to tell. I still miss him. I’ve thought about writing my memoirs…but given my present condition, that will have to wait. I will let you know how things proceed. Thanks for caring….

              6. Adelyn Birch

                You’re welcome, Christine. I’m so glad I could help. You certainly do have a story to tell, and one day you should write it. I’ll definitely read it when you do.

              7. Christine

                If I could ask something that I don’t see referred to anywhere on your blog…

                Before his death, the abusing therapist shared with me that his wife was divorcing him and that his daughter (age 10) was angry with him. I remember feeling a flash of anger for the countless times when I had shared my pain, and with no affect he just looked at me with not a sign of empathy…usually saying nothing . I said, ” I am sorry that is happening to you.” Nothing more…I fell silent. Responding in that manner was really not like me. My sister once said that I was the “most compassionate person she knew.”My question is, under what conditions might a psychopath commit suicide? or does that not fit into their psychological makeup? I believe I was not his only victim. He had a large practice. The only thing I came up with that would explain his suicide, was perhaps he was about to be exposed…
                The story circulated among the mental health community was that his suicide was due to the divorce. You can imagine how that explanation affected me, after cutting him off like I had. It is the only piece of the puzzle of his behavior that doesn’t seem to fit. I know you can’t know the reality…I’ve just wondered about him killing himself.

              8. Adelyn Birch

                “I’m sorry this is happening to you” sounds fine to me, and it sounds like more than an unempathetic abuser deserved. If you would have said more to a friend, please remember this man was not a friend; he had been abusing you for five years, and if you feel you somehow fell short with those words, consider that you did the best you could under the circumstances. I don’t know why he committed suicide, but I think you can be confident that it wasn’t your fault. Maybe he was tired of a meaningless life of abusing people who trusted him. If the P I knew had done the same thing, i’d be wondering about it too. But all you can ever do is speculate; you’ll never have the real answer. It’s definitely something to explore with your therapist. That’s what I would do xo

              9. Christine

                Yes…when I told them what I had done, they said I had done the right thing; he should not have shared his personal life with me…unprofessional.

              10. Adelyn Birch

                I couldn’t agree more.

              11. Christine

                Hi Adelyn,

                I wanted you to know that I made the decision to leave the psychologist I had seen since October 2015. I told her I didn’t want to discuss the psychiatrist who manipulated and abused me any longer. I wanted to move forward. My physical health needs attention and I want to focus on that. I wanted to take a break and attend to present issues. She was supportive and we parted on good terms.

                I will see my psychiatrist on Feb 23rd and will advise him of the decision. He has given me the name of another psychologist. so when and if I decide to begin weekly therapy again, I can contact him. I know this isn’t over for me…but I keep thinking maybe I can go it alone.

                I read your article on therapist abuse. I know it is important to get this information out there. Thank you for dedicating it to me.


              12. Adelyn Birch

                I was just thinking of you yesterday, Christine. Health issues do tend to take priority, and I hope you’ll be well soon. I’ve heard good things about EMDR; maybe you’ll reconsider it when you’re feeling better. I wish you the best of luck with whatever route you decide to take. Blessings to you, too xx

              13. Christine

                Hello again, Adelyn.

                I was sending a comment to you earlier, but got interrupted. I have lost what I typed, so here goes again: I wanted to take a break from therapy as I said, to attend to other issues. I still plan to do that, but I think I was in denial when we parted. I want to believe so badly that this is over. It is not. EMDR was recommended to me by the psychologist who did my evaluation. I just did not feel secure doing it with the therapist I had. I am fearful of doing EMDR, so I will need to find another trauma therapist. I was scrolling through our comments and one of the resources you provided might be able to help me find someone. So I will pursue that. The psychiatrist who is seeing me does psychotherapy in some situations, but cannot see me weekly which he believes I need at present. So, once again I am at loose ends which in itself affects me psychologically. I see him on Feb 23rd, so I must “hang in there” until then. Thank you for your responses.


              14. Adelyn Birch

                I agree, you need to feel comfortable with the therapist; that will make a world of difference. I’ve never personally had EMDR, but I have heard people say it made a difference for them. I went to therapy weekly for about eight months after my involvement with the P. I had absolutely no choice of therapists–I was assigned one and that was that. My insurance didn’t cover mental health and I couldn’t afford therapy, so I went to the psychology clinic at the local university and was assigned to an MSW student in her last year. It cost $10 per session. I was so desperate I was just happy to have a therapist at all, and luckily she turned out to be wonderful; she was very genuine and empathetic, and I got a lot out of it. We’re really vulnerable when we go to them in a traumatized state of mind. I hope you’ll find someone like her, except that yours will be knowledgeable in character-disordered people and their effect on others. Mine had to learn during our time together. Good luck with it, and I hope you get the loose ends tied up soon. I know how stressful that can feel.

  4. BetterBe Anon

    ‘Other people having it much worse’ however is a way of coping. In an environment where our experiences are invalidated and everyone’s busily taking handfuls of blue pills pretending that nothing that they witnessed ever really happened or amounted to much it’s a way of creating perspective. Anger is a healthy emotion, and it acts as a boundary, pushing us away from pathological types. But sometimes we have to stay in the unhealthy environment. Our very own anger will push us AWAY from that environment if we’re not careful.

    By creating perspective we can diminish our anger. The anger’s still there. It’s not invalidated. But it’s easier to cope with. And that allows us to keep functioning.

    I channel my anger into my research. If it was too powerful, too overwhelming it would have pushed me away from the environment. That’s the danger. That’s how psychopaths work. It’s definitely part of their game plan. But just as psychopaths have their agenda we also have OUR agenda. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve written but I personally feel that sometimes there’s no choice but to try and make continuing contact with pathological people bearable by creating such a perspective.

    At least, it’s the best I’ve been able to come up with so far. :-)

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I guess if you must keep dealing with them, then you must find a way to cope. I agree that our agendas are important, and giving up a job or some activity we love could be part of their game plan in many cases, which maximizes our loss. Sometimes it’s intolerable to be in these situations with them. If it is, then we have to weigh the cost vs benefit, and leaving the situation might be the best thing to do. If it’s made tolerable by finding a way to cope with it that works, then there’s no reason not to. I wonder, though, if you are more able to compartmentalize than others might be. In other words, having to deal with this person for a limited period of time does not bleed over into the rest of your life and ruin your peace of mind, or keep you from healing.

      1. BetterBe Anon

        Yes, it does bleed over into the rest of my life. No, I’m not very good at compartmentalizing. Obsessive thoughts – definitely! I see it as a learning experience – I think eventually a lot of us do – and ‘putting things in perspective’ is the strategy that works at the moment. Hopefully I’ll come up with something better as I go along. It’s a paradox – maintaining calm and yet experiencing emotions. God knows how this experience is meant to work out. P’s certainly test us! I guess this is a test for me. I’ve now experienced the practicalities of dealing with this type, and all the hoo-ha that surrounds them, and that’s gone exactly as the books describe i.e. not well. But I think that getting a perspective on the chaos they churn up inside us is far more difficult. I need an attitude that allows me to feel outrage, to know the difference between right and wrong, to have the strength to be around them without being sucked into their games, and yet to feel at peace.

        If and when I get that attitude I shall be grateful to the P. While still recognizing him for what he is. An attitude like that would be worth its weight in gold.

        1. Adelyn Birch

          Outrage–that is the epitome of what they inspire us to feel, and it is normal and healthy to be outraged by what they do, at the utter lack of morals and conscience that allows them to do it; but then again it’s not healthy to be consumed with that outrage. What is healthy is using that outrage to protect ourselves, and perhaps to warn others of the danger, and to become more appreciative of our own qualities.

          I can’t say I feel grateful to the psychopath, even though I’ve gained much wisdom and strength from the experience — I feel grateful for the resilience I developed that allowed me to make positive gains (post-traumatic growth). I will always feel he is an amoral, outrageous madman, even though he was the catalyst for personal growth. I’m no longer angry at him; although I feel outrage at his behavior, I realize he has a serious disorder that made him into what he is. In fact, that realization helped me overcome the anger I felt. After all, we are talking here about people with a brain disorder, and not about normal people who could choose to act like the normal person they are if they chose to. They hurt everyone they get close to. Yes, they can have superficial relationships in which they treat people quite well, but it’s only for the personal gain of having supporters and staying hidden. It is said that they know right from wrong, but just don’t care. The truth is that they can’t care.

          It is a learning experience, but there is no requirement to endure ongoing harm in order to learn. Eight months did the job for me. I cold not imagine still being exposed to his toxic behavior. Obsessive thoughts are maddening, as I’m sure you well know, and relief from them was the best part of recovery for me. In having distance from him, I was eventually able to detach. I know it’s very important for you to continue the activity that brings you into contact with him, and I hope you can do that without the personal cost to you being too high. I realize you’re capable of making your own decisions and acting in your best interest, but I’m just a worry wart like that. It is a challenge, for sure, and I keep my fingers crossed that you are able to meet your goals and have a good outcome xx

          1. BetterBe Anon

            You’re an empath, and that’s a good thing! (re. the ‘worry wart’). It shows in every one of your replies to people’s comments. I’m borderline between high sensitivity / empath at the moment – but with boundaries like steel. And usually an attitude to match. Falling gracefully and going with it is the key to standing up again. Getting knocked over and going with it is the key to bouncing back in life. I EXPECT to get knocked over by life. Getting knocked over by a psychopath however was completely new to me, so I didn’t fall so well, and I crawled back up rather than bounced. But right now, today, I feel bouncy! :-)

            1. Adelyn Birch

              Yes, an empath! Boundaries are especially important for us, and can be more of a challenge, at least until we get used to them.

              We were blindsided by the psychopathic KO — it was not how we expected we might get knocked down. It’s good you’re feeling bouncy. That’s a good sign.

  5. Totallybel

    Hey Adelyn, I didn’t realise how much I missed you and your posts until I read this. You certainly validate my life with your wise words. And I’m proud and happy to say that. We can’t do it on our own, because humans were never meant to. David Bowie knew this, he was always reaching out in his words and music to each and everyone of us, validating the different, the young, the old, always daring us to love more. His death has made me so sad, over a week later the tears still come, an ordinary human being, and being himself made him extraordinary. So glad ur back xxx

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I’m glad to be back, too! I feel refreshed after my break. Although I have been here daily behind the scenes, tending to tech stuff that keeps the site secure and online, and updating my books and posts and links.

      I’m glad that I validate you. You and all the others validate me, too! What if the only comments I got here were things like, “You were involved with a psychopath? Oh, puh-lease… “ “Aren’t you being overly dramatic? I think you’re just borderline” (yes, I do get those). But instead, here you all are, having gone through the same thing, validating my experience! It works both ways, and I thank you for that. I have always said this website has helped me as much as it has anyone else.

      It is a shame that David Bowie has died. Ordinary yet extraordinary, a rare genius and one who could reach out and touch so many people with his work. He will be missed by many xxx

  6. LrjRN

    Thank you… I often feel guilty for not being “over” my experience with a psychopath, telling myself I should be; it was only 6 years where others had experienced 20 plus years. Reading the emails/post, people’s comments and your replies have let me know I am not alone in my experiences and it gave what happened to me a name. Its been over a year since I walked out and though taking on my life as my own, learning to set boundaries, there is this place inside that haunts me. Your article has given that a name too. What a journey to come back at learning to value my life for me and only me. I am still at times in shock at what happened and how it “took me down”. Thank you and glad you are back and posting. These post give me strength and definition as to who I was, what happened and who I can be or better yet who I am moving forward. Bless you.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I can still return to that state of shock sometimes in thinking about what happened. So unexpected and bizarre it was, straight out of left field, or out of some different world, more aptly.

      It’s very helpful to be able to give a name to something that bothers us but that we can’t quite identify, so I’m happy to hear I helped you to do that. Distinguishing such things enables us to understand what it is we’re dealing with. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Road Map page, but that’s where I tried to distinguish the issues we deal with in the aftermath. It’s a lot, really, and if you’ve only been out of it for just over a year please don’t expect yourself to be over it. That’s not humanly possible, at least not that I know of. You are making significant progress though, if you’re valuing your life and yourself and your well-being once again. The time period you were involved with him really doesn’t matter; they can do a lot of damage very quickly. There’s an author named Thomas Sheridan who was traumatized so severely in just one month that he was able to write the books Defeated Demons and Puzzling People. I assume you’re an RN by your initials. I was for many years. The stress got to me eventually. I have a lot of admiration for my fellow nurses! Best wishes to you. May you be kind and compassionate with yourself xx

  7. lola

    Love this.

    I love this because so much of the time I have spent punishing myself for not being over “it.”

    Recovering from a psychopathic relationship can be rather isolating. I have told so many people. “I am over it,” but that has been a lie. Only I know how maddening it has been to have him still be on my mind. I don’t want him there. I don’t want to think of him, but there he still is, lingering…. . I can’t be honest about it. I can’t tell anyone because it has been too long. I should be well over it by now. And yes, I am over him. I can’t imagine being with him… The thought of him repulses me… and yet he still lingers. I hate how he lingers.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      It is isolating. Few people understand, and too many of us are left to go it alone. They do linger! Long after they repulse us, they linger, and it’s maddening. For me, it gradually diminished over time. I still think of him daily, but not to the point that it bothers me. I wrote an article recently on intrusive thoughts–I don’t know if you saw it.
      May your lingering thoughts of him dwindle and fade away into nothing, Lola.

      1. lola

        Yes, I did read it. I found it very soothing.

        It’s interesting how the thoughts have changed. I no longer pine and wish a new and better version of the man would appear with some grand gesture and fight to win me back. Ha! Those thoughts are gone ( thank goodness). Today, when I think of him, I feel sorry for the woman he is currently with. I think of all the ways he must be conning her and how she must be suffering. I wonder how many woman and men he’s rotating in his fan club and if all the lies are catching up with him. I also fantasize how he’ll die. Will he grow old and lonely? Will he die of AIDS? Or, will his reckless behavior lead to some calamity and death?

        Eventually, the thoughts have to end.

        1. Adelyn Birch

          I set a Google alert for his obituary. It may sound ridiculous, but it helped somehow; I stopped wondering about it. Last time I said this, others said they’d done the same thing and that it helped them, too. Although one day when I actually got an alert–which turned out to be for someone with the same name–it was not the celebratory event I imagined. For a moment I just sat there, frozen, barely breathing and unable to click the link.

          When I think of him now, it’s usually just some random thought about something he said, and sometimes I even laugh at the absurdity of it, of him. I never thought a day would come when I would do that, but it did. You’re definitely progressing through the thought stages, though. It sounds like the worst is over. Hang in there.

    2. Christine

      The psychopath who so impacted my life is dead, by his own hand. This fact has made it even harder for me to understand why he “still lingers”. I have lived fearful for decades that somehow he still had control of me in a very dangerous way…that he left a self-destructive impulse that could be triggered given the right circumstances, outside my control…outside my “free will”. So, for me, in a sense, he is not dead but still somehow able to affect me. I’ve tried to explain this to my therapist, but I’ve not been given a response that eases my fear. I wonder if I will ever feel safe.

      1. Adelyn Birch

        I can understand why you could feel the way you do, Christine. After all, he had a lot of power over you for a long time. That can make them take on a supernatural type of image in our minds. I went through a period when I was sure he was the devil, but when I figured out how he used manipulation to control me, he became just a person with psychopathy. I think the fact that your abuser is dead means he has no control over you at all. As my mother used to say when I told her I was afraid of ghosts, “Forget about ghosts! It’s the people who are alive that you should be afraid of.”

        It’s not him who has power over you; it’s the belief that he does that has the power.

        Have you read this post? It might help you to see things in a different light: Psychopaths are Not Supernatural Beings With Superpowers

        1. Adelyn Birch

          According to Sartre, magic is dominant when control over our experience is weak:

          “Magical beliefs and the fearful reactions based on such beliefs are the result of the state of uncertainty we are in, created by this challenge and by the negation of our expectations. Our feelings come from the conviction of loss of control and the sense of helplessness we feel when our cognitive system can neither assimilate our experience into its own structure nor adapt itself to the structure of the experience.”

          1. Christine

            Adelyn, I believe that the state that Sartre describes did happen to me…but it was some time after his death…several months…and I had been hospitalized in a “hospital from hell”, under the care of a psychiatrist who knew nothing about me. I was so traumatized there that my NYC therapist deduced that I had been psychotic given how I described my experience of it.
            I was admitted there the first time when no psychiatrist at the university hospital would admit me. The second hospitalization there was after the suicide attempt that I don’t remember. The entire university psychiatric community “threw me under the bus”. This was the consequence of what they did.

            I was terrified beyond description.

            1. Adelyn Birch

              You’ve been through a terrible ordeal, and I’m sorry that you are suffering so deeply. It’s a lot to deal with. My thoughts are with you, Christine, and I wish you strength, peace and healing.

        2. Linda

          “It’s not him who has the power over you; it’s the belief that he does that he does that has the power.” There it is! The core of his power – even from the grave – is the belief in him that he instilled in you Christine. But he is gone and any actual power he may have had is gone. If you can work with your therapist to grasp this profound truth that Adelyn has given you, I believe you will be free of him at last! Sending love to you! Do not give up! – xx

        3. Christine

          I don’t believe he has any supernatural control over me. He was a human being who did commit manipulation and abuse that was outside of my experience and even beyond my comprehension to understand. I did not know there were people who had no conscience who would intentionally set out to destroy me when I had done them no harm. His actions were evil, but not supernatural in that sense.

          What he did have was training in the “science” of the psyche, a position of power and authority, my trust that as a physician he was committed to my well-being, and that his intent was to heal and do no harm.

          I think I remain fearful because I was dissociated much of the time when I was alone with him and have no conscious memory of much of what happened. He had access to me for some time before I reached this state, but I do have a fragment of memory of an incident that was so shocking and such a departure from his usual demeanor, that I remember it clearly. I also remember comments he made to me that were odd and I didn’t understand, but I never questioned him…He was very intimidating.

          I made a suicide attempt after his death of which I have no memory. I still don’t know what it was that I did. I only know about it because I found myself hospitalized and in the presence of a psychiatrist who was very angry at me because I had made the attempt. I had no idea what he was talking about. Last April I blacked out and had a dangerous incident while driving that I did not recall the next morning until I was triggered by my husband’s anger…I had parked too close to his workbench in the garage the night before. So, I have not driven since.

          1. Adelyn Birch

            Thanks for clarifying that. It’s beyond what I know, but I can understand that it must be terribly frightening to have periods of time you don’t remember, especially if bad things have happened during them. The lapses began during your time with your abuser, and you don’t know what he may have said to you during them. I see how you could make a connection. Whatever the answer is, Christine, I trust you will find it with the help of the right therapist, and that you will heal from this trauma xxxxxx

            1. Christine

              I do believe that I can heal, and my condition is complex. However, Adelyn, your blog and the references you have given me have clarified and validated so much that I did not understand about my abuser. You have given me words for what I experienced with him and that is huge! It is empowering! Now I can approach my therapist with confidence that my perception of what occurred has substance and is well documented! That is exactly what I plan to do when I see her on Tuesday. I will let you know how that goes.

              Until she understands that what I believe I experienced is valid, and is willing to approach the therapy from that standpoint, my trust in her cannot be established soundly. I certainly hope she is open. She is a well qualified trauma therapist and has the skills I need to help me heal.

              Thank you so much for taking the time with me that you have. Your blog is providing legitimate and extremely valuable information which is sorely needed. You cast a light on what has been a very dark reality for so many. Blessings….

              1. Adelyn Birch

                I’m truly glad that I’ve been able to help you, and that you feel empowered! Best of luck with your therapist on Tuesday. I look forward to hearing about what happened. Blessings to you, too xx

              2. Christine

                Hi, Adelyn,

                I hope you don’t mind if I update you on my situation. I ended therapy with the trauma psychologist three weeks ago. I contacted one of the websites referred to by you, TELL. I did get a response to my initial email, from a woman who had been abused by her “training psychoanalyst”. Like myself, she had been in a dissociative state as I was with my psychiatrist. Apparently she did complete her training to be a psychotherapist, but is now retired and is one of a number of “volunteers” who respond to email inquiries. I wrote back to her but she did not communicate with me again. Unfortunately this website does not give referrals to therapists. So it proved to be something of a dead end.

                I feel I am in a state of limbo at present…uncertain how to proceed. The psychiatrist who follows my medication gave me a name…but his location is too distant. I’m thinking of contacting the Counseling group where my psychological evaluation was done last summer…perhaps I could consult with someone there.

                My husband encouraged me to end therapy and was pleased when I did, but he doesn’t believe I need continued therapy. He is of the mind that I should put it behind me. I don’t know…maybe he is right. I see my psychiatrist on Tuesday, so I was thinking I would ask my husband to meet him with me so we could get his advise together.


              3. Adelyn Birch

                Hi, Christine. Sorry that website wasn’t helpful. I think your idea of bringing your husband to your appointment is an excellent one! All of you will be on the same page with however you decide to proceed, and that will no doubt be helpful. Thank you for your update, and feel free to let me know how things are going. I wish you all the best and I’m rooting for you xo

  8. Adelyn Birch

    On the contrary—a lack of empathy is one of the signs that a person has a serious disorder. It may take some time for a psychopath to drop the act, but drop it he will, and realizing that is the key to figuring out what is really going on.

    As far as your ex not knowing what to do to help you, empathy isn’t about telling someone how to solve a problem-–it’s supporting and comforting someone, being able to feel their distress and saying something as simple as, “I’m sorry you’re feeling so bad, sorry that you have such problems with your mother.”

    A lack of empathy would be saying something like, “why don’t you just forget about it,” or “are you bringing that up again?”

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Sorry about that—everyone seems to talk about their “ex” around here. I never meant to imply that your husband said something invalidating; I have no idea what he said. I agree that knowing someone’s diagnosis goes a long way in explaining their behavior, which helps ease the pain. We’ll just have to agree to disagree about empathy. I don’t think sharing a difficulty with someone close to you is burdensome, in general—unless it becomes excessive, or unless you feel it’s burdensome; if you do, and you don’t have a need for it, then there’s no arguing with that.

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