Escape from the Emotional Black Hole

This is a guest post from one of our readers, Michelle A. Mallon, MSW, LSW.

August 2012:

Looking back, it was as if I went through months of someone telling me there wasn’t a massive black hole sucking me in. It felt as if he was telling me “Everything is fine. Keep walking. In fact, walk faster. Just trust me. Do you trust me?”

Even as the wind picked up, and I couldn’t see anymore as I got further in, he still kept reassuring me, “Pay no mind to the feeling of being out of control. That is normal. You MUST go through this to feel better.”

When I would turn to ask again if it was really safe to do this or make a plea to try and run out, I would find the exits blocked by threats. I would hear him say “If you run out, you will be personally hurting me and it will cause immediate harm to your family and people you love. They might get sucked into a real black hole. You wouldn’t want that now, would you? All you have to do is try harder, and keep walking. You just have to trust me. Don’t you trust me?”

 I had to trust him that the black hole wasn’t going to destroy me in the process. Even though I know that all black holes destroy everything in their paths, I was being reassured that this one would not. Though it made no sense to me at all and was completely contrary to what my gut was screaming at me to do, I felt as if I had no choice but to keep going, knowing full well that it was going to rip me apart in the process. I was essentially choosing my own death. I remember being consciously aware that no matter what I did, I was going to be annihilated.

-Michelle A. Mallon, MSW, LSW

Michelle Mallon earned her Master’s degree in Social Work in 1999 from Ohio State University. She worked as a medical social worker at St. Ann’s Hospital, primarily on the Palliative Care Unit, for 14 years and has taught (and continues to teach) in the Computer Science & Engineering Department at the Ohio State University for 16 years. Her understanding of therapist abuse came after she was emotionally abused by a psychologist to whom she had taken her two young children for counseling. The therapist lured her in and referred the children out. She endured nearly two years of extensive predatory grooming followed by horrific emotional abuse. She recalls that the last time she ever saw this therapist (in June 2012) he was yelling and cursing at her and throwing things in his office.

One of the most painful and challenging parts of this journey to recovering her life has been overcoming the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that developed as a direct result of the abuse. It has not been an easy process, but she is finally reclaiming her identity, passion and enthusiasm for all of the thing she held so dear prior to the abusive relationship. Now, she devotes much of her time to reaching out to other victims of emotional abuse, not only victims of therapist abuse, to help them in finding the currently hidden path to recovering from such insidious emotional abuse. Her interests include malignant Narcissistic abuse and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related to this type of abuse. One of the most important books she has read in her own journey to healing has been “Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion Of Identity” by Marie-France Hirigoyen.

Michelle says, “Without the detailed explanation of the intentional and manipulative aspects of the abuse that I was able to come to recognize from reading this book, I would still be reliving the events over and over again trying to understand what I missed that could have prevented the destruction of a malignant relationship that I had been deceptively led to believe was a supportive, helpful one. This book held the keys to open the prison door behind which this abusive therapist had locked me.”

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15 Comments

  1. Alice, thank you for the recommendation. I have not read that story, but I will do so. Unfortunately, I did not sue the abusive therapist. The Ohio Board of Psychology protected him when the complaint was filed, but dragged out the investigation for a very long time. Even when I asked the Executive Director of the board about my ability to seek legal action against the abusive therapist, I was given misinformation that led to the statute of limitations running out to do seek do anything. Currently, the Ohio Inspector General is investigating the Ohio Board of Psychology for their handling (“mishandling”) of this complaint. I was fairly shocked by how much covering up and deception occurred to protect this man. There are many innocent people in harm’s way because of this. It is deeply troubling.

  2. I appreciate hearing your story. I’m a Social Worker too and went through something similar. The amazing thing I find is the commonality of how people feel after going through this. My therapist also used to ask “Do you trust me”. I described my experience as falling into a black hole. I think many therapists don’t understand the nuances of this dynamic. One Social Worker told me I had “an emotional affair” with my abuser. I wish you well in your healing. I would post my story here but its already up to 2000 words and I’m not quite finished! Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Mary,
    I don’t know how familiar you are with malignant Narcissism, gaslighting and trauma bonding. Learning those words have been the turning point of my recovery. It took me far too long to learn these words and to be able to construct a picture of what had really happened in that abusive relationship because the therapist I finally got up the courage to see after the abusive one did not know much about malignant Narcissism. She clearly knew something was wrong with what happened with the abusive therapist and helped me file the complaint with the Board of Psychology. I was seeing the subsequent therpiast for about 9 or 10 months before I found TELL (therapyabuse.org) and began to learn the words that would set me free from the after effects of the abusive relationship. Once I learned what trauma bonding was, I was finally able to stop getting so upset with myself when I would be hit with something that would trigger a setback. It was only then that I learned that the slow back and forth progress forward and setback pattern were a hallmark feature of PTSD and trauma bonding. Really until I learned what predatory grooming and gaslitging were, I was trapped in a process of reliving everything that happened nearly every minute of every day looking for somehting I must have missed that would explain somehting that I was really never going to wrap my head around. But the sad reality is that very few mental health professionals know what these terms mean. Malignant Narcissistic Abuse is terribly common and not just in therapeutic relationship. Malignant Narcissists are also our parents, siblings, teachers, co workers, lovers, etc. The path of devastation they leave is terrifying. And what’s worse, the typical victim of this type of emotional abuser is a compassionate, honest, open, hard working, loving person whose very strengths are used against them. In fact, many of us who endure this type of abuse as adults (if we become aware tha this is in fcat what we have endured) will at some point recognize that this was not our first encounter with a malignant Narcissist. We were primed by previous such abuse and it left us wanting to try EVEN harder, to listen EVEN more carefully, to be EVEN more patient than we were in the previous abusive relationship. Our identities depend on us proving to ourselves and others that the previous failed relationships were not for a lack of trying by making sure this one didn’t fail. And malignant Narcissists have a very keen radar for finding vulnerable people who are primed and ready to try even harder, be even more patient, etc. They know the ending to the realtionship well before we do. They have picked someone ready to take on the blame when the relaitonship inevitably fails. Unfortunately, many mental health professionals are not aware of this type of abuser or the symptoms their abuse leaves on the victims. Unless awareness about this type of abuse increases, many, many good, caring people wil be left in harm’s way- an easy target for the next malignant Narcissist. As a social worker, surviving this type of abuse has created a strong desire within me to help others who are stuck where I was last year- reeling from the lost relationship thinking I was somehow to blame. The abuse itself was bad enough. The reliving it constantly searching for answers was equally horrendous.

  4. Mary,
    I meant to comment about your story. Please, regardless of the number of words, please find a way to tell it. I am currently writing a book entitled, “Left In Harm’s Way: The Help that Survivor’s of Emotional Abuse Are Not Getting” to help give others courage to do the same. There is a very strong resistance to getting awareness about this out. Until enough of us who have endured this and found the road to healing hidden and covered- taking far too long to find- this will continue to be something that gets “overlooked” by mental health professionals. Currently, social media sites are the primary source for information about malignant Narcissistic abuse (at least in the US). Sites like http://narcissisticbehavior.net/, http://afternarcissisticabuse.wordpress.com/ and http://www.melanietoniaevans.com/ are currently doing the bulk of the advocating for victims and survivors of this type of abuse. In fact, if you take a look at some of the rare articles out there about Narcissistic Abuse, you will find dozens of comments from readers saying, “Oh my gosh! This sounds like exactly what I have been through!” This is where people are first learning the terms that will help them begin to heal. It is extremely frustrating to know that this is the primary source of help for so many people. These sites should be adjunctive to therapy not the only support they can find. I too have been told upsetting things about what I endured with the abusive therapist. At one point with the subsequent therapist was still trying to wrap her head around what happened, she told me that it was like I was going through “a breakup”. Unfortunately, for a while I believed her and that made me even more upset at myself for not being able to get passed what happened. After I found TELL and learned the truth about what happened (and shared all of this with the subsequent therapist) I reminded her about that comment she had made earlier on and the effect it had on me. She apologized. However, had I never found answers, I would still believe I was just going through a bad “breakup” and that for some reason, I just couldn’t deal with it properly.

  5. Hi Michelle , I appreciate your feedback and maybe we can connect with each other. Right now I’m a hospice Social Worker and could see a future in assessing and impacting the licensing boards’ handling re: this issue. It varies by state and I think our profession is very young in it’s understanding of how to handle incompetent and abusive therapists. I’m pretty much beyond the ridiculous nonsense I experienced with the “Expert Psychologist” who is quoted in popular magazines and heard on the radio. He is a narcissist and I’ve educated myself ad nauseam on this topic. I’ve learned from my experience and am in the process of moving on. e-mail me your contact info if you want to connect if that’s possible…

  6. “I remember being consciously aware that no matter what I did, I was going to be annihilated.”

    Absolutely! Thank you for sharing your piece. Your words help me. I too have learned the definitions of gas-lighting, grooming, and narcissist by the hands of my abusive ex-therapist…..as well as omnipotent, power-entrapment, emotional blackmail, Stockholm syndrome, and soul mongrel. Sometimes you can cognitively know words, but when you experience their meaning it takes on a whole new form.
    Thank you.

  7. Hello there Anonymous. Thank you so much for your message. I am truly sorry for what you went through. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know that something I have written about with respect to this ordeal can bring comfort to others who been through similar experiences. I have begun to realize that after going through something like this, most survivors search to find some way to make something worthwhile come from something that seems so destructive. It is interesting, I believe, how certain words and ways of expressing feelings after something like this take on a totally different meaning. For me it has felt like there is a “before” and “after” now in my life- the way I looked at the world before the abuse and the way I see it now. I keep wondering if over time, I will eventually not look at my life that way. Each phase of healing seems to bring about different insights about the world in general.

    All of those words you just mentioned were a crucial part of my healing as well. Actually, I can still remember where I first learned several of those words because they had such a profound effect on my ability to recognize that what I was going through wasn’t my fault and to know that I wasn’t alone. And your comment about cognitively knowing certain words but understanding them at a totally different level after abuse is so consistent with what I have found in my own journey to recover from this as well. It has been a truly amazing feeling to finally learn throughout this process that I am not alone. That feeling of knowing understanding may have been the worst part of the abuse recovery for me. Learning new words that explain what had previously been unexplainable to me were in some ways the key to me getting to the “after” phase of this abuse. I was finally able to say “this is what I experienced” with words that explained it. And I knew that someone else had gone through it because they gave they named the phenomenon. Sometimes I get angry that it took so long for me to learn these new words. But then I realize that it could have taken me longer.

  8. I suffered years and to this day I still suffer from a painful scar caused by an abusive therapist that an ignorant, dumb, illogical, and irrational member in my family forced me to going to years ago, this family member chose this cruel therapist for the wrong reasons and at first as it seemed like he and I established a good relationship he made no effort whatsoever to helping me, he gaslight me on a few occasions when I explained problems in my past and deliberately did other things such as deliberately end some topics on a cliffhanger as the “session” was over and promised to resume it next session and when it came he acted clueless on purpose and then I had to re-explain to him the situation.

    There were also days he would answer the phone in the middle of the session and kept gawking at the clock, he never took notes and one time as I felt my life was completely on edge, he took my strongest fear that I wanted to get over and he WORSENED it to the 10th power and the lowlife hurt me very, very bad. He tried to excuse what he did as his office being “like a lab”. I’m not a guinea-pig I’m a human being for christ’s sake. Plus even when I informed him that I was bullied back in my teens he had the inhuman satanic audacity to “turn it around on me” and tell me “what if it’s not them it’s you”. He’s a wicked man.

    I wanted to file a lawsuit on him so many times but I had no support from anyone and not even from the people who stupidly chose him for me to go to. People tried making excuses for him like he’s scot-free saying “he didn’t work for you” or “it was just a bad experience” but they utterly FAIL to realize what a lowlife criminal scumbag he is and he needs to lose his license and go to jail for his abusive behavior. If he knows that gas lighting is a form of mental abuse, then how dare he use it on his clients he should’ve known better and I’m sure he’s abused other clients as well.

    I still have painful insecurities and to this day PTSD because of him. I want to overcome those insecurities but because of him he took a wound and vulnerability and drilled it deeper without any regard for my well being at all. I hope him and other therapists end up in jail for these heinous actions. No one should ever be abused by a therapist period. Mental abuse is very damaging and can leave permanent mental scars and is hard to recover from and is nigh impossible to FORGIVE!

    • Khalid,
      I couldn’t agree with you more- no one should ever be abused by a therapist. In my opinion, this is one of the most cowardly acts of destruction I have ever encountered. When a person in a position of trust uses that position to learn very important information about people they intend to try and harm, that is unforgivable! That is exactly what occurs with therapists like this- they use the very powerful skills they learned which should be used to help people- to destroy others. And somehow, they also leave us believing that there is something wrong with us. People around us add to the humiliation and pain of what happened because they don’t “get it”. They frequently don’t believe us. But the reality is you are not alone and I believe you. I have seen the same kind of monster you have seen. I know how difficult it was for me to come to terms with the reality that another human being could be so evil and destructive. The worst part was the reactions of the people closest to me when they didn’t seem to understand the extent of what I had been through. No matter how I explained it, they didn’t understand. It was very difficult coming to terms with the fact that I had voluntarily “given away” so much information about myself to this therapist during the time when I first met him when I thought he was caring and competent. So much of what he had learned about me- my deepest fears and desires- were systematically used to nearly kill me. It is incredibly difficult to ever fully explain to another human being just how much this type of abuse shakes us to the core. Ever learning to trust others- or even learning to trust ourselves again- seems impossible.

      But I want you to know that you can make it through this. One of the most important first steps in my journey to reclaiming my identity was reading the book, “Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity” http://www.amazon.com/Stalking-Soul-Marie-France-Hirigoyen/dp/188558699X As I became aware that this type of abuse has a name and a post- abuse course that includes all of the awful things I was feeling, I began to feel some level of control over what the rest of the journey held for me. The chapter entitled, “The Victim” was probably one of the most important chapters. It gave me insight into the reality that I was targeted not because there was something wrong with me, but because there were so many beautiful, amazing qualities within me that threatened the hollow, evil existence that someone else was trying to run from. I believe it would be truly helpful for you to see for yourself just how much you were targeted for your inner beauty and strength.

      I hope this helps you. Please feel free to reach out again if you have more questions or comments. You are not alone in this!

      Sincerely,
      Michelle Mallon, MSW, LSW

  9. I came across your comment Ms. Mallon as I was searching for something else. I belong to an e-mail group of mostly Group Psychologists and no one would believe how they have mis-treated people. This is a group of ppl who talk about the aspects of Group Therapy, it isn’t a group doing group therapy. I think the only reason I stay in the group is to help others not to become abused. I should copy the groups archives because no on would believe the emotional abuse I received from them over the years.

  10. Hi there somebody (I just can’t bring myself to refer to you as “nobody”). Please call me “Michelle”. I am having difficulty understanding the dynamics of the email group of which you are a part, so I am hoping my reply doesn’t seem way out in left field. My biggest concern from what you have described is that you are directly in the line of fire to be harmed (and you have indicated that you have endured emotional abuse already). I don’t know that the sacrifice you are making to help prevent others from being abused is really able to protect people. I could be wrong and that is where I am concerned my reply may seem off target. I think it may be that I am not sure how you are connected to the email group. But regardless of any of those details, I believe very strongly that your well being is just as important as any other person you might be trying to protect. This sounds like a situation where you may want to consider taking the evidence you have to an overseeing authority to whom this group is accountable. I don’t know if there is anything I can do to help you with this situation. Please let me know if you think there is and I would be happy to try.

    Respectfully,
    Michelle Mallon, LSW, MSW

    • Hi Michelle,

      I have been in this e-mail group since 2003 so its difficult for me to leave. There are about 400 members in the group and out of all those I have found about 5 that are really “real.” The others have as many issues as any of us, and probably more serious emotional dis-orders but play it off as if there is nothing for them to work on in therapy. A few “real” ones have left the group which leaves the toxic core group sort of in charge. There are mostly about 15 in this core group as I have labeled them that mostly converse. Sometimes I do feel overprotective of new people. I recently had an experience with one that backfired on me. When I first entered the group I didn’t sound like them and got ripped apart emotionally. I went back to the archives to see why presently some of the core people still “hate” me and found that the archives didn’t really offer me the reasons for the cores hatred of me. I wanted to talk to you in private e-mail but felt paranoid since this group is public on the internet. I found your group by pure mistake as I was reading a comment by you about a former therapist. I am so glad I found this group because unless one has gone through something like this personally very few believe our experiences. I can tell you some really crazy stories about former therapists. I finally found an excellent therapist online whom I have been talking with since 2007. He is a pure gem.

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