Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Emotional Phantom Limb Pain

By Sandra L. Brown, M.A.

In a session someone says "I really miss what we had. I could get over this if it hadn't been in the most wonderful relationship of my life. I just feel like something has been cut out of me. Like I'm missing a big part of myself now."

Pathology is marked by the issue of illusion. It's why our logo is a mask because it best represents the mirage of normalcy that pathologicals can often project, at least for a while. Cleckley from the 1940’s was a writer about pathology  and referred to it as "The Mask of Sanity." He states that pathology gives all the surface signals of deep connection, the most fun ever experienced with someone else, someone who is really into you yet behind the curtain you are being used as a distraction, a pay check, grotesquely as a "vaginal doormat" or some other form of "feeding" for the pathological piranha.

What you are experiencing you are internally labeling as "normal" or "wonderful" or "love" and yet it really isn't any of those things. It's just a label of experience you have tagged him with. If someone else was watching your relationship as a movie and watched the scene in which the pathological is exposed for what he is, your scene would be tagged and labeled by the watcher very differently than how you thought of your own experience.

That's because the watchers would see the pathological's behaviors and words as manipulative and the watcher would undergo a distinctly different view of the storyline. Your labeling of your experience isn't always accurate. As I often say, "Your thinking is what got you into this pathological relationship. Don't always believe what you think."

Being invested in being correct is part of the human condition and is in part, the way our brains work. The more important the question such as "Does he love me? Is this THE one?" The greater the pleasure will seem from labeling the experience as positive. The more positive the relationship is perceived, the more invested you will be to label the experiences and his behavior as positive and to get the reward of your label such as "him, marriage, or the relationship." Of course none of this is problematic except if you have misread the illusion, believed the mask, and labeled an experience with a narcissist, anti-social, or socio/psychopath as "positive."

The illusion is that:

* He was normal

* He was in love with you

* He was what he said he was

* And he did what he said he did.

In pathology, that's never the case.

* Their attachments are surface (which isn't love)
* They are mentally disordered (which is not normal)

* They never present themselves as disordered/sexually promiscuous/and incapable of love (so he wasn't what he said he was)

* And they harbor hidden lives filled with other sex partners, hook ups, criminality, or illegal/moral behavior (so they don't disclose what he's really up to).

What you had (that you can't possibly miss) is a pathological relationship.

What you miss, is the ability to wrap yourself up like a blanket in the illusion-to go back to the time before you knew this was all illusion.

Women often say when they try to break up they have the feeling that something is cut out of them. They feel like they are missing a part of themselves. This sensation is similar to what is called "phantom limb pain" that is a medical mystery of sorts. When a person has an arm that is accidentally amputated, the portion of the brain that use to receive sensory messages about the existing arm goes through a series of changes that causes it to misread the brain message and creates the "ghostly" illusion that the arm is still there and in pain.

Even though the patient can see that the arm is gone and what they are experiencing is an illusion, they can't stop the distressing phantom limb sensations of wanting to believe the arm is still there, the arm is in pain, the arm is anything but gone.  The amputee must learn to cope differently by beginning with relabeling the experience they are having which is the pretense of the arm is a perceptual illusion.

So it is with those leaving the illusionary pathological love relationship. The emotional pain you experience is based on the illusion the pathological presented, a perceptual illusion that was mislabeled, experienced as positive and invested in. Keeping that positive illusion is initially important to you. Learning to adjust the cognitive dissonance which is the ping ponging between he was good/he was bad is the challenge in overcoming the ghostly emotional baggage of phantom relationship pain.


  1. Great post,keeped me occupied..I'm here for the first time but will to sure check for new posts.In meantime you can check out my History Blog

  2. You really have deep thoughts. Its true , I am egoistic and that's a bad quality I have

  3. love to. It’s really exciting to actually contribute to post, It was nice and easy on the eyes and great content too.


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