Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Trait Examination OR Character Assassination?

By Sandra L. Brown, M.A.

Part of the problem we face in trying to get to the nitty-gritty of pathological love relationships is that
"how we do it" or "what we call it" is judged so severely that it impairs sharing the valuable outcomes that are learned.

There are groups of professionals, women's orgs, and service agencies that tip toe around what we "call" patterns of selection in relationships. There are unspoken rules and heavily weighted opinions about "what" we can discuss and "how" we discuss the outcomes.

What am I talking about? Since the 1970's which largely kick started the women's movement, the way society discusses specifics about women's choices in relationships’ their patterns of selection; her personality traits, mental health,  and sexual addiction/deviancy has been largely discouraged and semantisized as "labeling the victim" or "victim blaming." It has put the victim off limits for any in depth understanding other than a victimology theory that was developed in the 1970's.

It is hard to get around the billboard image of "victim" to talk about any kind of relationship dynamics or other psychological aspects of the pathological love relationship including biology, temperament, or engrained/learned, or conditioned traits. We may study him but we already have a "theory" for her which is not to be disturbed.

Compare this to any other field of mental health and it's absurd that we would say "We already understand depression, no more theories, no more studying! Don't call it depression or you are blaming the patient for their own depression."

To study her is to blame her. To measure her traits to see if there are vulnerabilities or pattern typing is to suggest she is flawed.

* The victim assuredly has been through trauma.

* Studying the victim in no way says they have not been through trauma.

* The victim is not to blame for what happened to them.

* Studying the victim in no way says they are responsible for what happened to them.

* The victim did not "choose" the victimization, but in relational dysfunction, she did pick the victimizer.

Could we learn something about that?

How will Cancer be won or a cure for AIDS found if we don't study the problem from all angles? If we conclude that studying the victim blames them, then we have cut off one entire segment of research that can help us in prevention, intervention and treatment, whether it's a medical disorder or a pathological relationship.

  • Studying victimology, including aspects of the victim, is not victim character assassination.
  • It might be trait examination or pattern of selection analysis.
  • It might be a lot of things that have nothing to do with blame and shame and everything to do with understanding or creating new paradigms in which to see these relationships.
  • It might piggyback off of other theories developed in the 1970's.
  • Surely we have learned SOMETHING new about relationship dynamics, pathology in relationships, personality disorders as intimate partners, violence and addiction and their part in these relationships!
  • Surely we can UPDATE a theory without our own assassination or that of the victim?

In some ways, I envy the Scientific and Research communities that look at the data and pass all the darn political correctness and emotional politics of "labeling" it something that certain groups find offensive. They test and crunch numbers and put it in a journal without all the rig-a-ma-roy. But in our case, where we are a notch below the researchers, what we study, how we describe what we found, is subject to so much scrutiny that many clinicians and writers hesitate to publish what they found.

So it has been with many of the things that The Institute has studied, found, reported, and written. In many organizations the first book "How to Spot a Dangerous Man" was rejected for looking at family role modeling, patterns of selection, and other aspects that women themselves said contributed to their pathological relationship. (On the other hand, it has been hailed by many domestic violence agencies and used widely in shelters, treatment centers and women's prisons.)

We stepped it up a huge notch in the "Women Who Love Psychopaths" in which we used testing instruments to test women's traits to see if there were temperament patterns in women who ended up in the most dangerous and disordered of relationships. This caught huge attention from some groups as the ground-breaking trait identification that it was and yet still; the victim groups saw it as labeling.

How can we help women if we don't understand their own biology?

Ironically, what we found was significant; super-traits so perfectly and symmetrically seen in 80 cases. Did we hurt a victim by studying that? Or have we helped now thousands of women who have read the books, been counseled by our trained therapists, come to our treatment programs?

How would we have gotten here today without daring to look deeper-to even risk looking at her! Not to blame her, but to understand her.  Some of the biggest breakthroughs that have been happening are in understanding the biology of our own brains and the consequences of our biology on our behavior, choices, and futures. We know that MRI's are being done on psychopath's brains revealing areas of brains that work differently. Some day, I think that may cross over and other personality disorders and chronic mental illnesses will be MRI'd as well so we understand how those disorder effect biology and brain function.

But what about victims?

* If we put the word "damaged" away and instead looked at how "different" brain regions in victims function, over function, under function, are influenced by stress, PTSD, adrenaline, cortisol, and early childhood abuse--could we come to understand how their brain might function in their patterns of selection in dangerous relationships?
* Could we come to understand that even temperament traits might give proclivity to how the brain "chooses" or how the brain categorizes (or ignores) red flags, danger, or is highly reactive to traumatized attraction?

* Could we understand brains that have higher tolerance levels because of certain brain areas that operate differently than other people?

* Could we understand traumatic memory storage and why good memories of him (even as awful as he might be) are so much stronger than the abuse memories?

* If we know what part of the brain distorts memory storage, can we work with that?

* Could we come to understand trait temperaments as risk factors or certain brain functions as possible victim vulnerabilities?

* Then would we know who is at risk?

* Would we understand better, how to TREAT the victim in counseling?

* How to develop prevention and intervention?

* Or how intensity of attachment could be either a temperament trait or a brain function instead of merely "victim labeling."

I am not only interested in the psycho-biology of the victim but how the psycho-biology affects patterns of selection and reactions in the most pathological of relationships. When we start really dealing with an open dialogue about these survivors, looking past ridiculous theories that asking questions is victim blaming, then maybe we can really offer some new theories into victimology that by passes band aid approaches to complex psycho-bio-social understandings. This is what The Institute intends to do. 


  1. As a victim turns survivor are they not considered as such? Survivor, surviving from victim-hood to survivor-hood.
    However, inasmuch even within Survival comes triggers that may or may not re-traumatize that survivor and for an instant- therefore becoming victim all over again. This is not to suggest for example, that if a victim leaves an abusive situation to somewhere down the line getting into another abusive situation, that they are damaged, or are choosing to stay in a set relationship modality. Nor do I think that they somehow bring this to themselves or even are pathologically prone to do so. Whereas,
    the reality of statistics that represent how many abusers exist, and how easy it is to get reintroduced to abuse by no fault of the survivor only complicates this notion.

    In a duplicitous and societal permeated paradigm there would remain the answer for characterization assassination for the victims turned survivors. Therefore posing the question would be is Society to blame? Would not the study of those who study need to also be studied? For the mere fact of society values that promote abuse, promote violence, and collectively do not necessarily provide the safety from re-traumatic incidents? PTSD for victims can be effected by any remote trigger depending on individual emotional response, memory, and reaction to that bio-physiological connection within that individual. Need we mention the ability to re-learn, re-structure, re-establish, and re-adjust one's own thinking processes? It can happen if one is willing to work at it.

    I am a survivor of abuse, rape, domestic violence, and although have dealt with other abuses by no fault of my own by systems led by people..I encourage that the systems be re-evaluated in how they unknowingly effect individuals in ways that are not even considered. Science, and Sociology, followed by ramification that effects the victims needs to be studied. More than this is how victims still choose to be proactive survivors. Instead of Flight response, you can see Fight response.

    Since PTSD , anxiety, and other combined illnesses, are relatively misunderstood and that often co-exist in victims, let us push forth in studying the underlying basis for getting them there in the first place. The variations from one person to the next is so complex that pinpoint focus would need to be developed to study what you are aptly suggesting.

    In being a survivor, and supported by much self help and positive actions for health and well being, re-wiring my brain has proven effective to putting the positive before the negative. Reducing memories, extinguishing a victim mentality, and speaking up for those who are unable to do so for themselves, helped me help myself...but I am only one.

    Harm reduction for oneself is knowing that refusing to become a victim means changing what once was into what will not be tolerated. I have a brain and it has been banged, slammed, thus effected. Just because victim had been an element of life thus far...does not mean it will continue to ruin any hope of being well regardless of my being remotely triggered by any situation. Theory this with vulnerable as the headline, emotionally sensitive people are more likely to be harmed due to their sensitive nature. Yes relative to that would be status, past history, medical status, mental stability, and induced stress stemming from experiences both past, present and outside of personal choices.

    Victim labeling is re-victimizing, just as must as generalization is on what it is to be rich or poor, old or young, black or white, male or female, gay or straight. Remove the labels and what is left are people who feel differently for different reasons.

  2. How do you suppose to look at those who have been abused and determine what traits they had prior to the abuse that predisposed them to violent relationships? Domestic violence has a major impact on how a person thinks, feels and reacts in different situation. Abusive men often claim that the relationship's problems are because of the particular women they are with though the research says they are likely to abuse whom ever they happen to be with. Abuse changes the way a person thinks, feels and reacts. If I had I guess at what traits might predispose a women to domestic violence I would guess that those who are trusting and hold the view that people are good deep down would be more likely to fall for the charms of an abusive partner. Still, considering abuse will effect such a large portion of the population and considering that an abuser's charms work on a variety of people outside of the relationship as well I suspect you would be hard pressed to find statically relevent personality traits that exsist prior to abuse that predisposes one to becoming sucked into an abusive relationship.


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