By Erika Webb
She wakes up feeling beaten. Though her husband has never hit her, she has flashbacks of a lot of painful events with him, happy thoughts about him, and then sad, angry thoughts about him. Things he's said or yelled at her intrude; he questions her perceptions and undermines her.
In the beginning, he was loving and attentive, but now she sees a lot of reasons not to trust him. He's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. She wonders what she is doing wrong. She fears she will never find someone else if she leaves him. He has a nice white-collar job and has never been in jail. Who would believe her?
Her psychotherapist believes her. He says this is all evidence of mind control and emotional abuse. He says many other women have survived this kind of relationship and that she can too.
William Brennan is her psychotherapist. "She" is the many patients Mr. Brennan has treated, brought back from the brink of emotional incapacitation -- the result of relationships with "dangerous people."
Mr. Brennan is also a trauma specialist and certified addiction professional with 24 years of clinical experience in inpatient and outpatient care. His practice is in Ormond Beach.
"I was facilitating a group for survivors of trauma four years ago when one of the clients told me about the work of Sandra Brown and her book, 'How to Spot a Dangerous Man.' She has also published an e-book titled, 'How to Avoid Dating Dangerous Women.' This was the beginning of a profound learning adventure for me," Mr. Brennan said.
Ms. Brown is CEO of The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction & Public Pathology Education. According to Psychology Today, Ms. Brown is recognized for her pioneering work on women's issues related to relational harm with Cluster B/Axis II disordered partners.
Axis II is part of the DSM "multi-axial" system for assessing personality disorders and intellectual disabilities. Cluster B comprises antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders.
"When I studied with Sandra, she confirmed a lot of what I had learned after 20 years of clinical experience about the effects of trauma," Mr. Brennan said. "However, I learned a lot that I didn't know about the nature of psychopaths, anti-social, borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, and how they affect people they are in relationships with. It isn't about co-dependency; it's about mind control and its effects."
A dangerous person is anyone who harms his or her partner's emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual or financial health, Mr. Brennan said.
He identified nine types of dangerous people: the permanent clinger, the parental seeker, the emotionally unavailable person, the person with the hidden life, the mentally ill person, the addict, the abusive or violent person, the emotional predator, or a combination of any of these.
Mr. Brennan said some dangerous behaviors -- addiction, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders -- tend to be chronic and may be treatable with medication, therapy and stress management.
Personality disorders, including antisocial, borderline, narcissistic and psychopathic, are permanent and will not change with medication, Mr. Brennan said.
He added that soon these four disorders will fall under one classification: psychopathic.
Antisocial personality disorder is far more common in men than in women, and is characterized by a callous unconcern for the feelings of others. The person disregards social rules and obligations, is irritable and aggressive, acts impulsively, lacks guilt, and fails to learn from experience, according to Psychology Today's website.
Whether these people were born with the disorder or whether it manifested from environmental conditions during formative years, Mr. Brennan said it is important to note the spouse or partner is not responsible for the pathological person's personality or behavior. Victims must understand the condition "just showed itself in the relationship."
Some traits of a psychopath, Mr. Brennan said, include: lack of empathy and remorse, grandiosity, self-importance and self-preoccupation.
He said this person fantasizes about power, success, brilliance and money, requires excessive admiration, is entitled and exploits all relationships. The psychopath demonstrates a superior attitude and contempt for authority, uses power and authority over others. The person is also prideful, splits people against each other, destroys and deceives others, and enjoys doing it.
Charming and attractive, the individual tends to have a history of breakups due to past behavior, masquerades as anything you want them to be, likes to scare others and show power so others fear him, Mr. Brennan said. This type of individual is also bold and cunning. While truly self-ambitious and self-willed, a psychopath fakes being wonderful, helpful and virtuous; accuses others, is adversarial, lies and steals.
Psychopaths have three inabilities, Mr. Brennan added: to grow to any authentic emotional and spiritual depth; to sustain positive change; to develop insight about how their negative behavior affects others.
Mr. Brennan said those likely to find themselves in relationships with dangerous people generally have histories of abuse or neglect, excessive dependency, vulnerability or incompetency issues, excessive self-sacrificing, perfectionism or high levels of self-expectations and persistence.
"They are highly susceptible to the hypnotic effects of the persistent manipulation and abuse of a pathological," Mr. Brennan said.
There are physical warnings: a flash of fear, sweating, a tight stomach, a pounding heart, hair standing up on the neck, or an unnamable general feeling of discomfort, he said.
"Friends may point out the victim seems different in a negative way since the relationship began, more anxious than normal, awaiting the call or worrying about where he is, feeling melancholy without knowing why, feeling confused about the relationship, difficulty sleeping, eating or concentrating, a general feeling of unease without knowing why," Mr. Brennan explained.
He added that a persistent sense that something is not right is an example of a spiritual red flag.
Mr. Brennan cited the term gas lighting, a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity.
"They lie and say you didn't see, hear or experience something that you actually did experience," Mr. Brennan said. "They manage your impression of them while they function without a conscience."
And, he said, repeatedly his recovering patients have admitted ignoring signs of danger early in the relationship.
In psychotherapy, Mr. Brennan uses several components to facilitate recovery: education, examining patterns of selection, knowledgeable and consistent support, symptom management, EMDR, self-awareness, self-care, intrusive thoughts/cognitive dissonance and relapse prevention.
Mr. Brennan stressed that with the right treatment, recovery is possible.
"When Sandra and I gave a retreat together, we worked with high-powered executive women whose lives had been devastated by the pathological men they have been with," Mr. Brennan said. "As Sandra taught, as I worked with these women in psychotherapy to facilitate their recovery from the traumatic effects of their pathological men, I came to realize that while this branch of psychology is in its infancy, we already have enough information about dangerous people to empower survivors to save their own lives."