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PTSD Questions & Answers
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Joyce Boaz & Dr. Frank Ochberg, M.D.

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Dealing with Psychopaths & Narcissists

Q: Dear Frank, People who have been through a traumatic event or series of events seem to be more vulnerable to people with narcissistic tendencies and even sociopaths. I've also heard from people over the years dealing with employers or fellow employees who are narcissists. How do we protect ourselves? Sometimes you just can't quit your job and your family.

A: Dear Joyce, There certainly are toxic personalities out there and we can't get through life without several close encounters. Some of us are "raised by wolves." I don't mean to insult wolves, a reputable species. But the metaphor works for adults who look back on a wretched childhood, populated by hideous abusers and clueless bystanders who didn't have the sense or the morality to intervene.

Exposure to prolonged abuse causes regular PTSD and complex PTSD. Complex PTSD may result in a distorted social instinct. You trust no one or you trust the wrong one. It takes a long time to change feelings and behaviors, to stop accommodating to the "wolf" and to stop seeing a wolf when the person is genuine and trustworthy. I'm working with several people right now who fit this pattern. We do talk about narcissism and psychopathy.

We use various tools to keep the predators and the selfish exploiters at bay. Sometimes it takes a restraining order. I've written elsewhere about finding a good attorney who can help with civil matters: (http://giftfromwithin.org/html/findlaw.html). Sometimes it takes a resolution to NOT go home again, despite guilt-evoking phone calls from a sister or mother who won't admit that her boyfriend was a child molester (http://www.giftfromwithin.org/html/FAQ-Relationships-Toxic-Family-of-Origin.html).

But avoiding the narcissist or the psychopath who may be a boss or a co-worker is a special and difficult challenge. It certainly helps to know who they are, what they are, and how little they care about you. And then you need to learn how to keep your distance, physically and emotionally. If a psychopath is entrenched in a position of power in a workplace, and you lack the resources to have that person disciplined or removed, you may have to consider moving yourself. It is unfair and unjust. It may be financially devastating. But there may be no other way.

My role as a therapist and an advocate, when I am the counselor for the person in danger, is to explore alternatives, to open doors to experts in other fields, to do my best to "rally the village." These are dangerous circumstances and it takes a village to dislodge a despot. There are good websites that describe narcissists and psychopaths.(http://house-of-mirrors.blogspot.com/2011/09/dangers-of-malignant-narcissism.html) My YouTube video on the psychopath gets more hits than anything else I have ever produced: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hon3AzMO6vs I wonder why this one is so popular. Perhaps many people encounter the exploiter who has no conscience. Perhaps we have a fascination with this soul-less monster who masquerades as human. All I can say about dealing with the psychopath is to avoid him (or her). They do not have the capacity to care about you. But they become very skilled at lying, at charming, at pretending to have compassion.

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Page created on 28 July 2014
Last updated by on 18 May 2017