23. Antisocial PDO in Cple Therapy - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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23. Antisocial PDO in Cple Therapy

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Conflict Control-Cple

Conflict, Control, and Out of Control in Couples and Couple Therapy

Partners join in a couple's relationship based upon some sort of reciprocal mutuality agreement.  While there are innumerable variations of the exchange including gender expectations, cultural roles, economic, and intimacy benefits, there is some expectation of each partner accruing some gain.  Couple relationships and problems are often dependent on the successful or ineffective negotiation of these expectations.  Although, the cost of being in the relationship may be severe, there nevertheless is the benefit that is considered compelling.  "I love and nurture you and you will love and nurture me" is a very egalitarian couple's contract; while "I will give you sex and children and care for the household. In exchange you will give me status as a married woman and protection from others exploiting me" is a male skewed but traditional patriarchal contract.  What is striking about partnership with a sociopath is the seeming lack of functional benefit to the sociopath's partner.

"A psychopath is parasitic and may expect his partner to assume the primary role of wage earner, and to engage in unwanted sexual practices.  That she is being used for his gratification is apparent when she learns to recognise and then disregard whatever he says to persuade and seduce.  Winning is all-important, and he will be immune to any damage he does and may even enjoy it (Babiak, 2004).  Although difficult for her to accept, he will discard her if something better comes along (Hercz, 2001)… We can all let people down on occasions, but psychopaths will do so habitually and at the most crucial times, because they do not experience such emotions themselves" (Wileman, 2008, page 116).  What should trigger a person to recognize he or she is interacting with a sociopath is also what can be key to the process of change.  The individual gets sensations and feelings from the interactions but seems to dismiss or lose track of them to maintain the relationship.  There should be congruence between mind and body about what is happening.  The frequent sense that something is not right- between what is said and what happens, between words and emotions, and so forth are signals of the fundamental antisocial energy from the other person.  Rather than doubting the sociopath, however the partner tends to accept his or her explanations and doubt oneself as missing something.  The sociopath blames the partner and the partner accepts the blame.  When hurt or sad, the partner turns to the sociopath and gets disappointed by a disconcerting and painful lack of empathy.  Moreover, there is a lack of emotional depth when he or she looks into the sociopath's feelings.  Therapy for the partner of a sociopath involves identifying his or her intuitive feelings, learning to stay in touch with and understanding them, and then, regaining trust in him or herself while accurately identifying the sociopath's manipulative disconnected process.

A validating process that facilitates the partner being in tune with him or herself is simpler to manage in individual therapy.  In couple therapy, the sociopathic partner is likely to sabotage the process whenever possible.  He or she has no interest in improving the quality of the relationship.  That is, if the antisocial partner is willing to be involved in couple therapy at all.  It is not surprising that "it is always the nonsociopathic partner who is occasionally successful in dragging his or her sociopathic counterpart to counseling.  The sociopathic partner, just as predictably, will have no collaborative interest in the relationship's improvement.  If involved at all, the sociopath is more likely to play his or her own manipulative games in the therapy.  The sociopath does not seek therapy from any real motivation for personal growth" (Becker, 2012).  In some cases, the sociopath has been formally or otherwise forced to through some ultimatum or threat that cannot be averted.  Sometimes, the sociopath has an ulterior manipulative agenda that he or she hopes to achieve through participation.  It may be alimony or child support payments, altering probation, legal, or contractual punishments or consequences, or some other tangible gain relevant to his or her antisocial needs.  The relationship may offer benefits- financial or useful social status or access for example that the sociopath does not want to lose.  The sociopath will not seek to address his or her sociopathy or the roots and causes for their damaged personalities- nor for the hurtful consequences to others of the antisocial personality disorder.

The partner may have somehow finally had enough and is ready to leave the relationship.  If the sociopathic individual fears losing tangible and substantial benefits from the inequitable partnership, the sociopath may become motivated.  Imminent termination is finally sufficiently compelling.  The sociopath may commit to work things out or resolve things with the partner in other to maintain relationship benefits, but not necessarily to actually improve the relationship that has worked so well for him or her.  Therapy however becomes less about better communication, improved intimacy, or healing but a therapy game of keeping the partner satisfied enough to stay.  Appeasement or begrudging concessions are meted out just enough to keep them together or delay the breakup to maintain benefits and/or avoid the hassle of separation or divorce.  The therapist should be vigilant that the individual is not engaged in a charade of voluntary therapy engagement.  This would be contrary to the therapist's normal experience of most clients purposefully choosing to be and invested in therapy.  Figuring out the actual motivations for therapy can be difficult in no small part because of the sociopath's excellent skills in deceiving people much if not all of his or her life.  The sociopath may lie about his or her participation in therapy, characterizing it as something he or she has wanted while hiding a court or probation mandate.  Or, claim to have always wanting to try therapy but not having been in the right situation previously.  The truth may be that he or she is there only because of an unavoidable ultimatum from the partner or from work. The partner may know of this subterfuge but not want to contradict the sociopath- hopeful and happy to finally getting him or her in therapy.  The therapist may end up operating under false premises that the partner is not sociopathic but is sincerely invested in personal and relationship growth.  Instead, the therapist may become the next fool in a long line of fools who may become unknowingly complicit in helping the sociopath stay off the hot seat.  The therapist may inadvertently restore and extend the sociopath's previous manipulative, exploitive, and abusive pattern of treating his or her partner.

A particularly psychologically astute sociopath may be able to present as deeply invested in personal and spiritual growth.  He or she may convince the partner and the therapist that he or she has had a spiritual epiphany and is now dedicated to a pursuit of meaning and fulfillment in life and the partner relationship.  This is a farcical ploy since sociopaths are fundamentally unable to strive for personal growth.  They can seek personal advantage, control, reward, or benefit in terms of various antisocial criteria, but not personal growth.  The sociopath may become unrecognized predators of vulnerable individuals at 12-step programs, encounter groups, religious gatherings, and the like.  The sociopath poses as open, sensitive, nurturing, and caring souls seeking to comfort others in their trauma and confusion.  Little do such vulnerable individuals realize that the sociopath is trolling for easy targets to manipulate and control.  "Summoning guises like Mr. Sensitive, Mr. Wounded, Mr. Relationship Builder, Mr. I'm In Touch With Vulnerability, Mr. I'm In Recovery From Co-Dependence, and countless other pseudo-evolved raps, these sociopaths can be magnets - and they know it - for genuinely vulnerable women seeking sensitive, emotionally available, vulnerable men with whom to partner in their own recovery" (Becker, 2012).

Court-mandated therapy can become a game for the sociopath to play.  Rather than actual participation, the sociopath manipulates the court's mandate to participate in some sort of therapy: anger management, couples or group therapy around domestic violence issues, or therapy for sexual offenders.  The court-mandated sociopath will hold therapy in disdain.  He or she is likely to fake sincere involvement and profess humble ownership of a need for help.  Playing at therapy is more likely than any real cooperation.  Court-referred couple's therapy for domestic violence can be a landmine for the therapist and the victim-partner.  The therapist needs to discover at the beginning of therapy whether there is any legal requirement for couple's therapy.  A couple- the partner, under the threat or intimidation of the perpetrator may hide the true motivation behind presenting for therapy.  This secret may not be disclosed until the court-mandated number of sessions is completed (unbeknownst to the therapist).  At that point, the individual or the couple asks for the therapist to sign a letter of completion.  The integrity of the therapy is totally compromised.  The court mandate for domestic violence therapy was subverted.  Couple therapy is not de facto domestic violence therapy, and not been conducted to address domestic violence.  If the therapist had known, the entire process of therapy would necessarily been altered.

In this case, the therapist should explore if he or she has an ethical right to refuse to sign off the therapy; refer the couple out; or, start therapy again under more explicit conditions focusing on domestic violence.  "You did not tell me this was court-mandated domestic violence therapy.  I cannot sign off for domestic violence therapy since we did not conduct domestic violence therapy.  We have to start over to have sufficient sessions focused on domestic violence issues to fulfill the court mandate."  This therapist response may trigger the true face and toxic soul of the sociopath.  "In these, and other, therapy games, the sociopath's range of cooperative participation in therapy is rather wide - on one hand, he may present as compliant and receptive, effectively concealing his underlying insincerity and deception. Alternatively, because after all it's incredibly inconvenient that he should have to take time out of his life to appease his exploited partner, he may make no disguise of how put-out he feels, and may visibly brandish his indignation, agitation and resentment" (Becker, 2012).

While some sociopaths may present as smooth and glib, others may under duress be more annoyed, angry, and aggressive.  When and if the therapist sets an inconvenient and challenging boundary such as refusing to sign off on therapy conducted under false premises, the therapist may experience the verbal abuse and violence that the partner has lived with.  While less likely to trigger physical violence, the sociopath's charming façade may drop and his or her true nature be revealed.  The therapist must take care for his or her personal safety in face of the potential rage of the frustrated sociopath.  The partner may have both wished for the sociopath's rage to be revealed and yet terrified at how it may direct towards him or her.  The therapist must assess for the potential of violence and take measures to protect the partner from retaliation from the triggered sociopath.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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