Reclaiming My Life – Michelle Mallon’s Story of Healing

Recovering from therapist abuse is hands-down the most painful experience I have ever gone through in my entire life. Healing was incredibly difficult for so many reasons, some of which make me very angry and some of which have brought me great insight. Because of the impact healing from therapist abuse has had on my life, I find it impossible not to want to reach out to others who have been hurt by mental health professionals. Some people have told me that this is because I am unable to “get over” what happened. I explain to them that there is a difference between “getting over” something terrifying and callously moving on, leaving so many others behind knowing that you were very lucky to have ever healed. (I usually say this right before I tell them what they can go do with themselves.) The reality is that for most of us trying to overcome therapist abuse (regardless of whether it is sexual, emotional, spiritual, etc.), very few other people have any idea what we are going through (even the mental health professionals we finally get up the courage to see after the abusive ones to try and pull ourselves back together). And because of that, healing can be significantly more difficult than it should be.

Just recently, I began reading the Your Stories page on this site. I was immediately reminded of the isolation and fear I felt as I tried to find my way through the aftermath of therapist abuse. I drafted a message for the Your Stories page and then I immediately felt like it was just not enough. I then asked Kristi if I could write a piece that would hopefully reach more survivors. I have found the path to healing. I don’t really know how I ever found it because, looking back, I can see just how carefully hidden the path is. I don’t know if my path to healing will be similar to yours. In the hopes that there will be some similarities, I want to identify the things that helped me find my way through this in case it can help even one survivor.

This time last year, I was just beginning to feel my “old self” returning. I was finally able to leave my house for short periods of time without having panic attacks or near panic attacks. I was beginning to be able to focus on something other than what had happened in the years before. And I have to tell you, I couldn’t have been more relieved. The truth was that for a very long time before this, I wasn’t sure I would EVER recover from what I had been put through. In fact, I truly believed I was broken beyond repair. It was the most frightened I have ever been in my life.

This year, my life is very different. I look back at the woman I was a year ago and I can see tremendous growth. However, I can also see that even as I was beginning to re-find myself under all of the manipulation and destruction I had been through, I still had a long way to go. There were times when I first started out on this journey where I was making progress, but I didn’t realize I was making progress. I would frequently begin to feel stronger only to be dealt a cruel blow of fear and confusion that would set me back for days, sometimes weeks. If I would have known then that this was how the process went, I don’t think the journey would have been nearly as frightening. And perhaps, this time next year, I will look back and see that I have continued to grow, even from this year. It’s impossible to say. This journey to healing has been nothing short of miraculous. Just when I think I have “uncovered” all of the insight this journey has to offer, I am humbled by another incredible phase of insight. I don’t know if this growth and self-discovery will ever stop. Perhaps if I viewed all of this more as a journey and not as simply reaching a destination, I would have found more peace in the whole process. But to be perfectly honest, as I started out on this journey there was nothing peaceful at all about any of this.

The truth is that the very start of my journey, like many of yours, was incredibly painful—almost unbearable at times. I felt completely lost. I really didn’t know how I had gotten to where I was, and I really had no idea how the hell to get back to where I was before. Some of the worst parts of the journey to healing after therapist abuse had to do with trying to make sense out of what happened with the abusive therapist. And because I still missed him, I was convinced there must be something wrong with me. For almost a year after I refused to see him any longer, I replayed everything that happened during the time that I knew him, trying to make sense out of what happened. I tried desperately to understand what I could have done differently to prevent the relationship from crumbling the way it did. I would look at certain aspects of what happened and think, “He must have cared about me and just lost sight of what he was doing.” And I would be at peace with that thought for a few days. And then nagging doubts would creep in, “But if that were true, why did he just leave me to fall apart on my own? Why, after I told him just how much this had harmed me, did he choose to remain silent and not help me find closure?” A person who cares doesn’t leave someone they hurt (even if it was unintentional) to self-destruct in the aftermath. It seemed like no matter which way I looked at what happened, I could not come up with a “reason” for what happened that made any sense at all. And for that reason alone I was doomed to continue to replay the events in my head, searching for an answer I might never ever find. How else could I feel safe against something like this happening again in the future? The only way I could move on was if I understood what happened and why. And the person who needed to help me understand all of that made it very clear that he had no intentions of ever helping me get to that point. And because of that, it felt like he completely controlled my recovery from this.

And then it happened. Driven by a relentless desire to understand WHY, I had searched tirelessly online for something that would help me understand what the hell happened. I had been seeing a new therapist for about nine months (and I have to tell you, doing that took all of the courage I had in my body!). There were so many times that she seemed just as confused as I was about what happened with the abusive therapist. I was trapped in a cycle of reliving everything that happened over and over again, searching for answers. It was driving me to the point of insanity. As I learned more and more about this thing called “Narcissistic abuse” I began to realize that there was a reason why I had been spinning my wheels trying to understand what happened. There are people who exist who lack any ability or desire to feel any empathy or remorse. Even worse, they lack a conscience. They can cruelly destroy people who are loving, caring and honest and not feel a bit guilt or sorrow for having done so. In fact, in many ways they appear to be “annoyed” by the fact that the people they have hurt are making such a big deal out of what happened. Even worse, they are masters at making themselves out to be victims. Oftentimes, people like these leave behind them a trail of broken bodies and wounded souls as they continue on their destructive paths.

I began to learn new words—words like grooming, gaslighting, trauma bonding and soul murder. These were words that I either had never heard before or had never truly understood until I lived them. These words—words that described things that I experienced but couldn’t put into my own words—were a vital part of my healing. Suddenly I felt a lot less alone. I knew that if someone came up with these words and the definitions that explained my story, somebody, somewhere understood.

But learning these words and reading about Narcissistic abuse was really just the start of my journey. Taking all of it in was a different story. I would frequently find myself wanting to read as much as I could about Narcissistic abuse and then I would experience times where I didn’t want to look at anything at all about it. At first I would get angry at myself because I thought I needed to go through this process a specific way and it was not always the same way that I was feeling. I would get so frustrated with myself as I would read pieces that helped me begin to move forward in my understanding of what happened, but then feel like I was moving backwards. I remember thinking that maybe I was just making myself believe that I was feeling better and that I was really not making any progress at all.

It turns out that understanding and reprocessing what I had been through happened in phases. This wasn’t like any learning I had done before. In the past, if I wanted to understand something I would read about it and integrate it into my way of seeing things. With Narcissistic abuse, there were so many “layers” of understanding that were essential to my healing that this linear process of learning that had worked for me in the past was ineffective with this. There were many times where I would read an article or a book about healing from Narcissistic abuse and feel as if I had taken all of the important insight that the piece had to offer. And then later, I would stumble upon the work again and be shocked that there was insight in it that I hadn’t noticed before. It wasn’t that the piece had been edited. It was because my brain was allowing me to take in more of the picture of what I had been through. That brain of mine, that part of me that I thought had surely been destroyed in the abuse, was actually guiding me carefully through the process of slowly taking in what I could handle. In fact, I can remember times where my brain would almost “compel” me to read more about Narcissistic abuse and times where it would want to do anything other than reading about Narcissistic abuse. I slowly learned to listen to my brain and do what it seemed to be urging me to do whenever it would do this.

And there was another aspect to understanding what I had been through. As I began to understand what my abusive therapist had put me through I began to realize that I had seen this kind of abuse before in my life. In fact, many adult survivors of Narcissistic abuse eventually come to learn (if they can find the path to healing) that they have been primed by previous Narcissistic abuse to tolerate later Narcissistic abuse. For me, like so many other survivors of this type of abuse, I found myself not only healing from one emotionally destructive relationship, but several. The grief was overwhelming.

Perhaps one of the more difficult aspects of the abuse that I had tried to understand was where in the relationship with the abusive therapist that things went wrong. For a while, I believed that the therapist had somehow changed, since he seemed so competent for a long time before the abuse actively began. And I found myself searching for some point in time where I should have stopped trusting him. I think I believed that knowing this was important so I could have understood at what point my “screaming gut” was right. It wasn’t until a good friend of mine pointed something out to me that I hadn’t thought of before. He told me that there wasn’t any point in time when I should have trusted the abusive therapist. He said to me, “Michelle, he’s a predator. The only reason why he seemed so competent and trustworthy for so long at first was to gain your trust so he could effectively lure you away from your comfort zone. Tell me, would you have allowed him to say many of the things he said to you if he had started the relationship out doing that? No, your inner alarm bells would have been going off like crazy.” This was a pivotal moment for me because I had not given any thought at all to this possibility. I would never imagine hurting someone like that. It was finally starting to click in my head that I didn’t understand what happened for a reason. In fact, I never saw any of it coming because I never imagined anyone would ever treat another human being like this. My own profound compassion and deep empathy for others was something I assumed everyone else had. I am finding that many survivors of this type of abuse “suffer” from the same naiveté because of their own inner compassion and empathy.

At some point I finally began to understand that healing was going to take the time it needed to take, and the more I resisted it (and beat myself up for it), the longer it was going to take. And so I began to make a commitment to myself to give myself what I needed in terms of patience, self kindness and love—anything that I would give another survivor of this type of abuse. I had to be ready to give it to myself and to do so without apologies to myself or anyone else. If I felt like I needed to read all day long about Narcissistic abuse or browse pins on Pinterest from other survivors, then that’s what I would do. If I couldn’t read another word about Narcissistic abuse and just wanted to look at beautiful sunsets, then that’s what I would do. If I only felt capable of staring at a wall for 4 or 5 hours, then that’s what I did. And I did it knowing that I was actually helping the healing process. I began to trust that my brain knew the way to healing and that I just needed to follow it.

As I continued to do this and I allowed myself to reprocess the events themselves as my understanding of Narcissistic abuse grew deeper, I found myself eventually being able to stop replaying the events constantly. I began to focus on other things. My optimism, creativity, passion for everything good in life gradually came back. I no longer felt the need to hide away from an unpredictable and frightening world. I had emerged from this with a very clear understanding of what kind of person I had been dealing with and what parts of me they had manipulated to harm me. Most importantly, I had learned along the way that my perception of things that had happened, my “gut” instinct, was incredibly precise. I learned that I had a gift and it was the ability to connect with and understand other people. And someone who completely lacked any ability at all to do that, someone who was incredibly envious of the fact that I could feel deeply and they could feel nothing, had set out to destroy this beautiful gift I had been given. And they almost succeeded.

I do also want to mention that for me, I was never able to find justice for what my abusive therapist had put me through. And that added a very painful dimension of retraumatization to my journey to find healing. Together, with the subsequent therapist I had finally gotten up the courage to see after the abusive one, we submitted a 15-point ethical complaint to the Ohio Board of Psychology. The “investigation” they conducted was incredibly concerning. For me, one of the reasons why I finally had gotten up the courage to see a new therapist was because the abusive one, the last time I saw him, was in his office cursing, yelling and throwing things, telling me there was something seriously wrong with me that he couldn’t tell me until I came back the following week to see him. He told me that he had consulted with many colleagues about this (he said more colleagues than he had EVER consulted with for any client before) and they ALL saw the red flags. He began pulling at his hair telling me I was “castrating him” by not believing him and threw his glasses on the floor saying, “You don’ give me any F*ing credit. Please, Paaleease, Michelle. Have some compassion.” It was a frightening scene, really. Finally I said, “You’re telling me that there is some horrible thing wrong with me, some terrible concern that you failed to mention in the nearly two years that I have seen you, that would make all of this craziness you have put me through recently make sense and you can’t tell me until next week?” And he said, “Yes.” I got up and said, “You’re wasting my time.” He got up, acted like nothing happened, and I left. However, as the days went on, I began to worry that maybe something was wrong with me (besides the fact that I had just had my head messed with by a master manipulator). And actually, during the times when I would believe that maybe the therapist meant well and just lost sight of what he was doing, that maybe he was right—what if something horrible was wrong with me?

It turned out, I was never able to know what he thought was so “seriously wrong” with me. The records I finally obtained from this therapist were so sloppily maintained—there was no diagnosis, no treatment plan, no diagnostic work. And nearly every clinical entry was illegible. In fact, my subsequent therapist showed them to me. We were really surprised by how much they looked as if they had all been written at one time—same color pen used for each one, and handwriting very similar. (After working in a hospital for 10 years, I was well aware that at times I could chart on the same patient multiple times in the same day and, depending on the amount of stress I was under or the rush I was in, just the handwriting itself would look different.) My subsequent therapist even called the abusive therapist and asked him for the missing clinical information (like diagnosis, treatment plan, etc.), and he told her he’d given her everything she needed. When the Board of Psychology began to look into the complaint, my subsequent therapist and I asked for clarification about what he had been so concerned about that last time I saw him. At one point the Board asked my subsequent therapist for a copy of the notes the abusive one had sent to be mailed right away to their office so they could review what he had sent. My subsequent therapist told me she had gotten the distinct impression that what he had submitted to the board was different than what he had given us. But neither of us was ever to learn what the reason was. I have never been allowed to know what my diagnosis was, what the treatment plan was for me or what the reason was for the explosive scene in his office the last time I saw him. The Board of Psych refused to release any information—even information that should have been important for any subsequent therapist to treat a client. The board refused to return my subsequent therapist’s calls asking why she could not have the clinical information. Even worse, after over a year of “investigating” the 15-point ethical complaint, the Board completely dismissed the case—not even a slap on the wrist. So I was being told that this therapist did nothing wrong, but yet I was not allowed to know what he was working on with me in the time I had seen him. I have since contacted the APA, my state legislator’s offices, the Attorney General’s office, the Governor’s office and the state Inspector General. After finally getting a response from the Inspector General’s office and being told they were taking my concerns (there were actually more concerns than just the refusal to release the medical records to my subsequent therapist) to their legal team, I was later told that during a phone conversation (that never happened) they had dropped the case months earlier. They had originally asked me to wait patiently for a written report that would be mailed to me explaining the outcome. It wasn’t until I emailed four months later, when I hadn’t heard anything, to make sure that they had the correct mailing address that I was told about this fictional phone conversation.

There were many things that occurred during the course of the Board investigation (and even after) that were deeply troubling. Each failure of the system that was supposed to protect the public from predators like this set me back in healing. Perhaps when I finish writing my book, I will shine a light on those as well. Let me just say that I saw a whole side of humanity and the mental health profession that I would have preferred not to know about.

My point is that you do not have to get justice for what happened in order to heal. Not getting justice can certainly make the healing process more painful and take much longer, but you can still heal.

Another thing that made healing more difficult—no matter how tender I tried to be with myself—was the reactions of people around me. Whether people came right out and told me that I needed to just “forget and move on” or they just hinted around that I needed to “get over it,” the message was the same: People around me didn’t understand what I was going through. Even people who I believe wanted to understand me. They couldn’t. I hated the fact that I would continually search for answers in what happened. Replaying the events that happened was first on my list of things I wish I could stop doing. But the truth is that if I hadn’t allowed myself to reprocess everything that happened as I become increasingly more aware of all of the manipulative elements that made up what I had been through, I wasn’t helping myself “get over” anything. I was trying to “forget” what happened so that I would make people around me less uncomfortable. And that began to make me angry—angry enough that I stopped caring what other people thought I needed to do to heal. In addition, finding people—other survivors—I could reach out to, who did understand because they had been through it before, helped me to care even less what the people around me thought I needed to do to heal. And that’s what makes sites like this so important. Each of our stories and journeys to find healing are an integral part of what helps others to find the strength to keep traveling this road.

So my hope in writing this is to hopefully help make the journey to healing less lonely and unpredictable for at least one person. This journey to reclaim our lives after being harmed so callously by people who were supposed to protect us can be filled with some of the most amazing insight you could ever imagine. That insight oftentimes comes on the heels of feeling like we have taken a tremendous step backwards. I promise you, the view from where I am standing is breathtaking! There is room for all of us here. You can do this. I am holding my hand out to help you.

From one brave survivor to another!

Michelle Mallon, MSW, LSW

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Michelle Mallon has a Master’s degree in Social Work from Ohio State University and currently teaches in the Computer Science & Engineering Department at OSU. 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. Now an advocate for victims of Narcissistic Abuse, Michelle is currently working with the Ohio chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) to create a CEU program to prepare social workers to effectively help these victims. For more information about this endeavor, click this link http://www.naswoh.org/?page=mallon.

 

 

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64 Comments

  1. I soooo relate Michelle! The grief was beyond overwhelming. The new definitions fed me and yet made my head spin. I learned about narcissism, power entrapment’s, and certainly gas lighting. The experience was absolutely horrific for me, and in the end, I too found that my insights/intuition/gut feelings had been right on all along. It has been a process learning to honor these vast feelings. I experience confidence in my feelings and what happened, only to be haunted by patterns of self doubt. I have not only learned the definition of validation, but can now feel it in my body. I learned the definition of Stockholm Syndrome. I am learning about the failure of the system that is supposed to protect us. I am so sorry about your experience, and I hope that somewhere out there, Karmic Law will compensate. The fate of my case is yet to be seen…..Despite submitting hundreds of emails/written documentation from him, I hold a pit in my gut about it. Intuition? Time will tell.

    Thank you for helping me feel less lonely on this journey. I appreciate you sharing so authentically. We do need each other.

    • Dear Anonymous. I don’t know if you are still reading this message board. I hope that you do still periodically look at it. I just wanted to check in with you to see how you are doing. I have a feeling that by now you have probably heard back from the licensing board. My hope is that their response has validated your experience and safeguarded the public from the predator who hurt you. However, I know that if their response was neither of these things, you may need additional support to help process this part of your journey.

      Thinking of you,
      Michelle

      • I just had this happen to me in late Oct 2017, very fresh, devastating. Filed a case with the commonwealth of VA board LPC and it is so bad they expedited it. Should be discussing the case this month for her penalties. However, in the meantime I am a wreck, even at a place where suicide has crossed my mind alot. Not that I will but just so devastated and confused not sure how to deal. My husband is trying his best to help and my 12 yr old son is a reason to keep going but no one really under stands. When I read this it hit home. What she did to me was so vindictive and cruel. I wish there was a way to speak with you because it’s hard to explain in writing and be vulnerable with many looking on so fresh out of this.. Anyway, thanks for your honesty and sharing.

        • Sorry I meant late Oct 2016 (there are about 4 or more charges she is facing, at least, I’m just not sure how the Board will punish her. It looks like they normally give people no less than 12 months) However, this stuff is pretty bad what she did. So I will pray they give justice for future clients.

  2. Anonymous, I am so relieved to know that what I have described has been helpful to you! You sound like you have made it through some of the most agonizing parts of this process yourself and that is a tremendous accomplishment. May I ask if you were guided through this process by a subsequent mental health professional or if you had to discover all of this on your own? It seems to me that my own experience and the experiences of many other survivors I have connected with along this journey has been that finding this path to healing occurred primarily because the survivor herself (or himself) was determined to understand what happened and searched tirelessly for answers. Given the degree of paralysis and fear many survivors feel after being harmed by a therapist, it scares the heck out of me to think that healing for so many of these survivors would be contingent on their own ability to uncover all of the “clues” in what happened without guidance. I know for me at several points in time, my subsequent therapist told me that I just needed to brace myself for never understanding what really happened or why. I remember trying to explain to her just how impossible that would be for me. It’s not as if it’s a choice to just decide to move on without answers. Your brain won’t let you. She didn’t seem to understand that at all.

    I remember waiting to get the response from the Board of Psych regarding the lengthy complaint my subsequent therapist and I co filed against the abusive one. It was truly agonizing. Like you, I too submitted hundreds of email messages and other correspondences. To be quite honest, I don’t think the Board took the time to go through them. In my complaint, we also identified evidence of billing fraud (I only learned about this after I began seeing the new therapist and she had asked me to get an idea of how many times had seen this therapist in individual sessions versus in a therapy group he conducted. I went to my insurance website to just count up the EOBs and I found some really disturbing stuff). The concerns about billing fraud, I later learned from TELL, should have been forwarded to the Ohio Department of Insurance by the Board. So, at some point in the Board “investigation”, I notified the Department of Insurance myself. They confirmed for me that the Board should have notified them about the concerns soon after we submitted them. Since I was later told by the Board that because there was no “physical” violation by this therapist that what occurred was too “murky and confusing” and do anything about, you would have thought something as fairly black and white as billing for services not rendered would have been important to follow up on. I even had the insurance EOBs where the insurance company demanded their money back from him. I hope that the results of your complaint reveal a Board that truly cares about protecting innocent people from predators. But like you, I hold a pit in my gut about it too.

    Please feel free to reach out to me if there is anything I can do to help you as you brace yourself for a response from the Board. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

    Big hugs to you!
    Michelle

  3. Michelle,

    Thank you for this. About 3 years later and I still struggle with many of the things you described. The healing is happening, but much slower than I expected. It’s been hard because my friends want to see me heal, but like you mentioned no one understands the immensity of the abuse and how it’s left me broken.

    Thank you for putting this into words so well!
    Kate

    • Hi there Kate. Thank you very much for your kind words about what I have written. I am wondering if you have read very much about Narcissistic abuse specifically. The reason why I ask is because I am finding that for some survivors there can be a much longer journey to healing if they are not able to find information and resources that help them to understand the manipulation that is involved with Narcissistic abuse. I know for me, I was actually not making any progress at all for almost a year after the abusive relationship because I didn’t understand what even happened to me. I was replaying all of the events again and again with no real hope of understanding them. So truth be told, I don’t think my journey to healing even actively started until I found books and articles that explained what had previously made no sense to me. It’s one of the reasons why I write extensively about this type of abuse now- very few people even know what it is. I am thinking that perhaps it might be good for me to write another article outlining some of the articles and books that have been written that seem to have incredibly accurate information about Narcissistic abuse. Unfortunately, much like the fact that there are abusive therapists masquerading as competent, caring therapists, there are site admins and people writing articles that are misleading and in some cases down right destructive. In fact, one of the reasons I even started a facebook forum for survivors of this type of abuse was because I had recently been a part of a closed group run by someone that turned out to be incredibly abusive and harmful to the people who were a part of the group. One of my absolute favorite sites for accurate and reliable information about healing is NarcissisticBehavior dot net (I have to spell this out because replies here with links can’t be posted). The site was created and is maintained by an amazing woman in Ireland named Christine Louis de Canonville. She actually has a book coming out next month that helps to explain the different “faces of evil” (Narcissism, malignant Narcissism and psychopathy). I have read it and it is excellent. Also a colleague of mine named Andrea Schneider (in California) has written a number of articles for the GoodTherapy website that deal with Narcissistic abuse. To get a really good sense of how “unkown” this type of abuse is, read the comments under any of the articles that either of these two women have written and you will see heartbreaking stories of people going much of their entire lives carrying the burden of a failed relationship that wasn’t theirs to carry. I truly believe that healing can’t start until a survivor has the missing pieces of this puzzle of craziness to help them begin to reprocess what really happened to them.

      I hope what I am trying to say makes sense. I will need to try to write another piece for this site to help identify places where survivors can find the missing pieces to begin healing.

      Hugs to you, Kate :o)
      Michelle

  4. Michelle,

    Thank you for putting into words what so many of us have been feeling through our healing process. I want to comment later about the healing process, but wanted to write now about my experience in filing a complaint against a abusive therapist. (my story is under “Kelly’s Story”. After I received a small about of healing with a different therapist I decided to file a complaint with the LPC Board of Ethics. The investigation was actually reaffirming because the police investigator that interviewed me told me that he believed me and that he was very sorry that all of this had happened to me. After waiting 11 months after the initial complaint I found out that they charged the counselor with 6 ethical code violations. Wow, I thought, they see what happened to me…..they know it happened, they labeled it as wrong, they are going to get justice for everything that happened! But, I was wrong. The process after finding her in violation is that they start negotiating with the counselor (and her high powered lawyer) about her consequences. Yes, the abuser gets to have a say in what her consequences will be. The negotiations lasted 6 months…back and forth…..with me not getting any say or knowing what was being negotiated. (This is the first time I have talked to anyone outside my current counselor about all this and my insides are shaking as I type…)

    After finding her in violation of 6 ethical codes, they saw it fit to take care of the counselor and make sure she keeps counseling. She has to take a 3 hour ethics course (which I think they have to do every year anyway) and be supervised by a counselor of her own choice for 6 months. That’s it. I found out that the Ethics Board is not created to keep clients safe, they are created to make sure the counselor stays in practice. (I do think this is only if it is not sexual abuse….in that case I have seen numerous cases where the abusers license was taken away)

    Much of the abuse I endured came out of the support group that the abusive counselor puppeteered and the board knew all about that. (They also received evidence from another client concerning all this abuse, it wasn’t just my word against hers.) After all the evidence, she is free to continue creating support groups to feed what I now know is her narcissism. After finding out the Board’s decision my depression and anxiety came back full force but I can now say it didn’t stay as long as it did in the past. It is now almost 3 months since that last decision and I feel like I am finally seeing there are other things in my life and this last abuse has taken a smaller portion of my days/weeks.

    My current counselor thinks it was still a good idea for me to file a complaint. For one thing, it is on her record now and on the internet. So, if anyone ever types in her name, the complaint and the ethical violations are there to be seen. And I have to say that I have, over the past year, typed in her name over and over again to see that letter on the internet. It matters what happened to me and if the complaint affects her in even the smallest way, I am okay with that. Even if just one future client types in her name and sees that and runs away, well, I am okay with that. I can’t yet say I am happy. It would have taken her license being taken away for that but, this small thing helps a little.

    • Oh Kelly- It is wonderful to see your comment here! I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for the courage and strength you have had with telling “your story” here on this site. In fact, I believe that after reading about your experience and your journey to find healing, you have helped me to realize that I needed to be braver, too. There were experiences about which I had net yet had the courage to write. I don’t know why I felt that way. What I do know is that after reading “Kelly’s Story”, I was extremely grateful to hear another survivor’s account that shared unique aspects with mine. Actually, as I wrote a comment under your story, I too had to try and type with shaky hands as I recounted things I had not really felt the ability to share before.

      In terms of the sanction your abusive therapist is facing, the 3 credits of ethics CEUs is already a requirement for many mental health professionals in most states. So I think you may be right about this being something she has to do anyway. It’s deeply troubling to think the board would include something that is already a part of a licensure requirement in order to make it seem like she was being required to do more to rectify any deficiencies in her own ability to provide ethical care to the people who come to her for help. Since having to go through the process of filing a complaint, I have had a number of concerns regarding the appointed functions of the licensing boards for mental health professionals. There were so many times in the process where I was still reeling from what happened and trying to understand pieces of what happened (pieces that should have been clearly documented in the clinical information the abusive therapist finally gave the subsequent therapist), and the Board claimed that helping me or my subsequent therapist gather that missing information so I could begin to heal was “outside the scope of what they were designed to do”. At one point, really frustrated by this constant claim that they could do nothing to help me obtain crucial information to help with my healing while working with the new therapist, I questioned the role of the Board with the Executive Director. I asked him why it was that the Board could not investigate concerns of unethical behavior perpetrated by psychologists and ALSO help the victims of this abuse to heal. I pointed out that these two functions were not mutually exclusive, that it was possible for the Board to do both at the same time. The choice to focus exclusively on one or the other seemed to be one they were making and I suspected it had to do with not wanting to get their hands dirty with trying to help survivors. The problem is that often times, with therapists who have behaved unethically, the Board is the ONLY entity which has enough power to force them to disclose missing clinical that could help the victim heal. I explained to the Executive Director that by the very nature of the power the Board wields, they are in the exact position to help victims of this type of abuse heal. Sadly, my concerns were never addressed. The Executive Director ignored my message entirely as he had done with several other concerns I had expressed throughout the process of the “investigation”. In fact, at one point I asked if it were possible to get a referral for a psychologist who was experienced with working with survivors of therapist abuse. I was told they could not help me with this. I found this to be incredibly frustrating since it seems as if many mental health professionals do not even want to work with clients who have filed ethical complaints with the Board. This has not just been my experience, I have heard this from many other survivors as well. In my opinion, the current function of the Board should be reevaluated carefully.

      For me, one of the truly devastating aspects of what I went through had to do with being a part of a “therapy group” the abusive therapist conducted. I know I have already mentioned this in the comments under “Kelly’s Story”, so I won’t repeat all of it here. But I really want to reinforce what you just said about the group dynamics feeling “puppeteered”. For me, long before I even knew what Narcissistic abuse was, only weeks after refusing to see this abusive therapist, I can remember feeling very much the same way. And every bone in my body didn’t want to believe that this was true. But as I continued to heal, I began to realize that so much of that group had been carefully orchestrated- right down to the people who were in it. It was terrifying for me to realize that each of us had at some point been unwilling “actors”, unknowingly “auditioning” for our parts in this man’s “play”. We had been carefully chosen and carefully primed (some of us by individual sessions going on simultaneously) to play out specific productions for this man- whatever struck his fancy at the moment. It took me a long time to understand all of this because quite frankly, I didn’t think there were real people on this planet who would do such things. Even when I felt it in my bones that this is what was happening, I found it hard to believe that this would be true. I can’t thank you enough for helping me feel less alone.

      I too think that your courage in filing a complaint will definitely help to prevent some innocent people from going through the nightmare you experienced. Since my abusive therapist was not penalized at all for what he put me through, I have had to find alternative ways to alert other innocent people. I have made it a point to complete an honest, online review for this therapist anywhere I can find the ability to do this so that others will know the danger this man poses. I would encourage anyone who feels comfortable doing this to do so as well. I am not sure how many consumers of mental health services even know about being able to check board violations. It never occurred to me to do this until after I had to file a complaint against one.

      Thank you very much for your message here, Kelly. I feel honored that you took the time to write!

  5. Thanks for your post Michelle. I agree with Kelly that the difficult work involved in getting an Ethics Violation on record will have an impact. I will never see another professional again without looking at the board sanctions first. As a social worker I hope to be able to help people with this in the future. I did not file a complaint with my state board yet contacted them and found there is no statute of limitations…so as I heal.. and I am doing so, I consider sharing my story with the state board when I’m strong enough to have it not matter if they don’t validate the wrongs I endured. One of the interesting parts of my healing is being so much more aware of narcissists in my life. I’m in tune with this behavior and recognize it easily. While it’s painful to let some “old friends” go…I free myself to develop new relationships with people who are more considerate of my needs. ps. Michelle…My abusive therapist is listed on “Good Therapy”… He does TED talks…because you know, he’s “an expert” LOL…ROTFLMAO…

    • Hi there Mary! It is wonderful to see your message, too. I think your reasons for waiting to file a complaint make perfect sense and reflect the deep understanding you have about how difficult the process could potentially be (especially considering the risk that nothing will come out of it). Even though protecting other vulnerable people is important, it is not important enough (at least in my opinion) that it should be pursued at the risk of further harming the survivor of this type of abuse.

      In terms of your abusive therapist being an “expert” and being featured on professional sites, I have to tell you, I hear this a lot about some of the very therapists who have seriously harmed their clients. It is actually disturbing to think about. The charismatic charm and expertise that is presented to much of the world contrasted with destructive, terrifying face that a select group of others sees is troubling. For many of us who come to this site to heal, we have also seen a what appears to be a complete lack of remorse for the destructive actions perpetrated by these abusive people. It is possible that some of the “professionals” who have harmed the us would fit the diagnostic criteria for psychopathy. The term “psychopath” gets thrown around in daily conversation to sometimes describe lunatic murderers. However, not all psychopaths are serial killers. In fact, many of them find ways to live in society with the rest of us. While this would be information that, if learned, would likely never be disclosed by any licensing board to those filing complaints, it might be helpful for survivors to read more about the characteristics of psychopathy so they can develop a deeper insight into the dynamics of the abusive experience they endured. Dr. Robert Hare has written several outstanding books about psychopathy (“Without Conscience” and “Snakes in Suites”) and I would definitely recommend these to anyone who would like to learn more about what this.

      Again, we will likely never, ever know the if there is a diagnosis of psychopathy, NPD or any other mental health diagnosis for the mental health professionals who have harmed us. And quite frankly, that doesn’t truly matter for our healing. What I have found is that by helping myself to understand more about these disorders and the effects these disorders can have on people who are in contact with individuals suffering from them, I can identify important information that is necessary for healing from the abuse itself. What I am saying is that oftentimes, we can understand the type of abuse we have endured by learning more about what the aftermath of the abuse tends to look like. As we encounter others who tell their story and make us think, “Oh my gosh! That sounds like what I have been going through”, it helps us to begin to put some perspective on what we have been through. And I have found that as we begin to understand what we have been through, we can reprocess it, eventually stop replaying it and move on from it.

      However, it is still repulsive for those of us who have seen this “other” face of the professionals who seem to be so highly regarded for the “ethical” standards by which they proclaim to practice. If only the rest of the world knew what we have seen. They would never go near some of these terrifying people.

      Thank you so much for your message, Mary!

  6. Thank you, Michelle, for sharing this. So much of what you write resonates with my recovery/healing experience after a sexually exploitative relationship with my massage/bodywork therapist. The experience was truly life-shattering, and I am grateful that I had the support and internal strength to somehow work my way through it. It took more than two years.

    I remember those initial days of shock and anger alternating with feelings of affection for the abuser, after he pretty much tossed me aside like a used dishrag after manipulating me into a relationship during an extremely vulnerable, unhappy time in my (married) life. Like you, I needed to understand, and so I set out to figure out how this could happen to me at 57 years old, somewhat accomplished, and even with a masters degree! (as if that has anything to do with it) Professionals started to advise me to report him. At first, I couldn’t, since I still had feelings for him. As I started to learn about transference and power differential, I realized that what we had was most certainly NOT an affair but an abusive relationship. I read “The Sociopath Next Door” and saw this guy all over its pages. I couldn’t report him to the police,l so I opted for my state’s licensing board since he was unlicensed (he claimed he didn’t need to be licensed since he was an “energy worker.” He was just recently sanctioned — more than 2 years from my filing of the original complaint!) I remember having a terrifying sense that recovery was going to take a long time, and I kept hoping to wake up feeling normal, to wake up not thinking about him. Little did I know how long the process would take — which I now see as evidence that it was truly a trauma.

    As i started the slow process of healing — working with my therapist and an acupuncturist — I read even more. About trauma, about professional ethics, about sexual exploitation by helping professionals. I searched, like you, on the internet for support groups, for stories like mine. I went back to all of my old traumas: childhood abandonment, childhood sexual molestation, and abandonment after my beloved brother took his life when I was 26. This is where I found meaning in the trauma that happened at 57, from the abusive therapist, as it led me to places needing healing. But it was painful and slow. At times, I felt like I was literally dissolving, like I had holes in my body. I was terrified I would never return to my normal Self. It was Hell.

    And, like you, I also endured the suggestions to put it behind me, some even suggesting that I needed the affection and so I should take something good from it. All of this confused me even more. In the end, I listened to myself and took the time I needed.

    I personally believe this type of abuse needs more attention and also needs to be addressed more forcefully by our criminal codes. I look forward to your book bringing even more awareness. Thank you!

    • Linda,

      I too have been told to “get over it.” or “put it behind me”. My current therapist, who is wise and kind and has lots of experience in this area said “you were betrayed, and it’s not something you simply forget.” And to those who suggested that you needed the affection: I have no words. What you needed was empathy, understanding, and insight. Not what you have endured.

      Am happy you listened to yourself and took the time you needed.

      • Thank you, Anon.

        How I wish I had discovered this reservoir of support in the early days! Just hearing others’ stories is itself helpful to victims. I’ve learned that the people who suggest to us that we nee to “get over it” and “put it behind us” — they simply do not understand unless they’ve been through it. I think they do not intend to hurt us, but the average person cannot understand something like this. Even I couldn’t understand how I fell victim to such abuse, which is why I read everything I could get my hands on to help me understand. One thing I did that I think was helpful was to give the information to some of the people in my circle so that they WOULD understand. In my case, I found some very good information on PTSD was available in an easy-to-understand, concise format. I emailed a friend who I felt had little patience with my episodes of crying, depression, and talking about it. I asked her to read the information so that she would understand what I was going through, and that I simply needed to take as long as I needed. It helped her to be more empathetic. I also realized I had to let go of those that couldn’t understand, at least temporarily.

        It’s interesting, experiences like this inevitably lead to distinguishing the wheat from the chaff in our relationships with others. I’ve learned a lot about others, and of course also about myself.

        What your therapist said reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about lately. When I was getting my undergrad degree — in my 40s — I was studying philosophy and religion. One of my favorite courses was “Medieval Philosophy.” The professor taught this course using Dante’s “Divine Comedy” as the model for medieval thought. Dante’s Inferno consists of 9 circles of Hell. Now, one would think that murderers are right there at the bottom, in Circle 9, right? No — it’s the Deceivers, Betrayers, those who perpetrate fraud who are right there with Lucifer at the pit of Hell. I believe this insight speaks to a profound truth, because when those we implicitly trust betray that trust, they take a part of our soul, of who we are. And it’s incredibly painful and difficult to find that part and reclaim it. And it takes a long, long time because as your therapist said, you don’t simply forget. In my mind, the “memory” lives in our bodies, our hearts, our souls — so how in the world COULD we possibly just think it away?

        I wish you well in your effort to find justice through your state board. Good for you for pursuing it. And, I suggest that you definitely send that letter to the abusive T. I did the same, after starting as a therapeutic exercise. After I learned what this therapist did to my friend, I was so outraged that I knew I had to “confront my abuser.” And so I did. It was incredibly healing — and probably the first tie since the abusive relationship ended — that I felt empowered rather than a weak, scared little girl. I had a long path ahead of me, for sure, but I think that step was essential to my recovery. Of course, he never wrote back, and in the end, he saw himself as a victim (it all came out in the Department of State hearing) and that I was just trying to get back at him because our “relationship” ended. He is not only narcissistic, he definitely falls into the category of sociopath.

        Let us know how things go for you. And take good care of yourself and know that you are not alone.

        Linda

        • Linda,
          Your word are incredibly empowering! Have you thought about writing something for this site? I know for me personally, I find incredible strength in what you are saying. I have to believe many, many others will too…

          • Thank you Michelle.

            Yes, I have been thinking of contributing my story. I’ve just recently read Kristi’s story, and I was so moved by it, as I was by yours. It all makes me wonder how many others are out there like us!
            I am going to write to Kristi soon about her story and also to ask about contributing mine. And yes, in response to your other post, please do connect with me offline about the awareness-raising.

            It took me 2 years to find this resource, and only a few months ago I discovered http://www.healingethics.com, a different site than this one but so helpful to me. Somehow we need to find a way to get these stories out there before clients and patients fall into the web of narcissistic, predatory therapists. Maybe we can somehow make that happen — it seems it’s time!

            Linda

          • Linda, thank you for your wonderful comments! You are welcome to contribute your story or other writing. Contact me through the Contact page and we can arrange something.
            ~Kristi

  7. Hi there Linda. Thank you so much for your message and for your personal story about your journey to healing after being harmed by someone who, above all else, was to do no harm to the people he was supposed to be helping. I am deeply moved by what you have written. I truly believe that your journey is similar to the path that so many are walking (or crawling) now. Thank you for taking the time to share it with us.

    One of the things that you have touched on that worries me quite a bit has to do with the length of time this journey to healing takes coupled with the suggestions by many around us (and sometimes even the mental health professionals we might eventually get up the courage to see in the aftermath of the abuse) that we just need to “put it behind us”. This, in my opinion, is a dangerous combination of factors that I fear leads many survivors to not be able to fully heal. The tremendous pressure from those around us to just “move on” can reinforce the belief that there is something wrong with us because it is taking so much time to “get over” what happened. And I believe you really hit the nail on the head when you mentioned “At first, I couldn’t [report him], since I still had feelings for him”. For so many of us, we are traumatically bonded to our abusers and we just don’t understand how we can still have feelings for or even miss someone who has abandoned us in the depths of hell. If I had known when I first refused to see this abusive therapist anymore that what I was going through was NORMAL given the severity of the trauma, I don’t think this journey would have been as agonizing as it was. Further, I don’t think there would have such risks that I might never make it all the way through this journey- stopping prematurely to make everyone around me less uncomfortable with what I was going through. I can look back and see just how far I have come in my journey to reclaim my identity. And from what you have described, you can see the same growth in yourself from your own journey.

    And so I want to ask you, and hope you don’t mind this part, whether or not as you were trying to heal from this abuse if you were able to see forward to where you needed to go next on this journey? By this I mean, as you were healing, did you know that you might have further to go? I know for me personally, I could not see head. In fact, as I made my way further along this path to healing I realized that I was really only able to see how far I needed to go by looking backwards to see how far I had come. Truth be told, I am not entirely sure where this road ends. As I think about where I am now compared with where I was a year ago, I know I have grown. I know that I have stopped considering this whole process as leading to a destination and I have begun to consider it a precious journey filled with some of the most tremendous pain I have ever known and some of the most amazing insight I could ever imagine. But what worries me is that if I have not continued to learn all I could about Narcissistic abuse and ignored the requests of those around me to just “move on”, I would never have known how much further I was going to go in reclaiming my identity. All I would have known was that I was at least “better” than I was when I first started the journey. And quite frankly, what scares me even more (and you touched on this as well) is the significant risk to survivors who have not fully healed from this type of abuse of being revicimized by another Narcissist in the future. The “priming” effect this type of abuse seems to have on survivors who do not discover the truth about how they were able to be manipulated by someone who sought to destroy them is truly terrifying. I worry that the crucial self-discovery and profound understanding about how a predator of identities was able to take a strong, loving, honest, capable, compassionate person and leave them completely and totally uncertain of who they even are anymore will not happen for many survivors. As they try to recover the shattered pieces of their lives and move on, they do so incredibly vulnerable to this type of manipulation in the future. And I want to make it clear, this is not an issue of survivors “asking” to be abused in this manner. This is entirely about a predator searching out a victim who is so desperate to prove that the previous failed relationship(s) was not due to a lack of them trying hard enough. Survivors who do not understand how they were set up to fail in the previous relationship(s) may go through life determined to listen EVEN more carefully, love EVEN more unconditionally, try EVEN harder, etc… in their later relationship(s) not at all aware that there are people roaming the earth who are looking for them to take advantage of this desire to prove their worth.

    I hope you don’t mind me asking you about this. You seem to have a very good sense of what this journey to healing is like and I would love to get your thoughts on this.

    Thank you so much, Linda!

    • Thank you, Michelle, and I am happy to address the specific questions you raise about the long healing process. I apologize in advance if this is overly long.

      You ask if I was “able to see forward to where [I] needed to go next on this journey …” No. My experience was very much like yours, namely, I could not see ahead and could only assess how far I had come in retrospect – which holds true even now, more than two years from the beginning of my journey to wholeness (and since the end of the abusive relationship). It was an utter feeling of terror, wondering “how long will this take?” Day to day, I simply got through, anticipating nighttime when I could go to bed and sleep, hoping to not experience the terror when I woke up. I did have a gut sense that it would be a long journey, but knew it would be different from anything else I had experienced. It was only when I started reading about trauma that I started to understand that not only was there a name for what had happened –TRAUMA – and that what I was going through was PTSD; but also that my feelings were normal and that it would take a very long time to recover (Healing from Trauma by Jasmin Lee Cori; and a book by Judith Herman, one of the first to write about PTSD in the ‘90s — both books helped tremendously). I was also fortunate to have one friend who was always there for me and who understood the process. And I was fortunate to have a therapist who understood and worked through it with me. She is a holistic therapist and approached it a bit differently than a traditional therapist, and in some ways that was a huge advantage, in other ways I do think I could have benefitted from a trauma therapist in addition to her.

      But even with my wonderful, caring therapist, there were many passages during this journey where I felt a little too pushed by her to move out of the trauma, when I didn’t feel ready for it (even though I knew she had my best interests in mind). And that is, to me, a key to recovery: allowing ourselves whatever time we need to heal. Our bodies are the source of that information, and it will be different for everyone depending on our histories, the abusive relationship itself, and the length of time that we are captive to the relationship. The healing process is not one of getting rid of the trauma by convincing ourselves it’s not there, thinking it away; it’s a slower process of the trauma slowly diminishing as we replace the space it takes up in our bodies and our souls with love and healing. By that I mean that we must first meet the painful part of our being – generally the child in us – and set about loving that part of ourselves. After all, this is the vulnerable part that was taken advantage of and abused in the first place. This takes a lot of focused work, and it takes the right therapist to work through it. It takes an acknowledgment that it IS a trauma, and that the aftermath IS PTSD. We would not tell a child who has been molested to “just get over it.” It’s the exact same thing in these situations of professional exploitation. It’s just harder for the average person to understand it.

      And this brings me to your comment concerning the risk to survivors who have not fully healed from this type of abuse. It concerns me too, and I will add here another part to my story that is especially disturbing, and that touches on your concern. After the 6-month exploitive relationship ended, I learned that he had sexually exploited yet ANOTHER client – a friend I had referred to him! Only two weeks before my first sexual encounter with him. He had tricked her into coming to his house for a massage session, telling her he had an office there. He even took money from her! The rest of the story is so disturbing that I actually became physically ill when she finally told me. I said to her “[her name], he raped you…” She told me that she had become suicidal because of what happened. I cried, hearing what he did to her. It was a second shock to my system, realizing I had been involved with a man who could do this. My friend, however, blamed herself, saying she was partly responsible, that she must have done something that made him think he could have sex with her. She talked about how maybe there was a reason for it, and that her meditation was helping her through it. I sent her articles and book suggestions. At first, she read some of the articles and started to understand. She even agreed to give an anonymous testimony to the investigator on the Dept. of State case against this predator. And even the day she was scheduled to meet the investigator, she called me – terrified, doubting herself, she said “But Lin, maybe it’s my fault…” It was heartbreaking. She did give an anonymous testimony but within 2 weeks after her report, she was back to trying to find something good in the perpetrator, putting it behind her, and not wanting to “be a victim.” I could not sway her, and realized she simply was unable to see that he had horribly abused her trust. At that point, there was nothing I could do if she was not willing to open herself to a different way of seeing it. It ruined our friendship, and I have no idea how she’s doing. I reached out to her recently but did not hear back. Even the investigator referred her to a local trauma therapist that deals with this kind of sexual abuse in particular. But she never went to see the therapist, as far as I know. After going through the process of recovery, I now know how much work is involved, how deep it goes, and how much healing needs to take place to truly understand that the people who do this are very sick individuals that had no right to abuse us. We do not owe them an apology, and we do not have an obligation to see good in them. And it takes time to see that, it takes education and understanding, it takes support. In the case of my friend, for whatever reason, she was not ready to meet her own childhood pain (abuse).

      So how do we prevent it? And how do we help those who have already become victimized? Of course, education is at the top of my list, but the problem is that we usually fall victim before we get the information. And as we know, most victims never come forward. So we have to start with awareness-raising, which happens with websites like this one. We have to get the information out there. Ben Benjamin, a somatic therapist in Massachusetts, writes about ethics in the field of bodywork. He wrote a book called “Ethics of Touch” that is required reading in many massage schools throughout the country. He has a list that he calls the “Bill of Rights” that lays out what patients are entitled to and what they do not have to tolerate in the professional relationship. One idea I’ve had is that therapists (both mental and physical) should be required to have a list like this posted in their establishment and given to their clients to read. I’ve actually presented this list to my district representative, who I’ve approached about changing my state’s massage licensing laws to specifically address the obstacles I encountered in the 2-year process of holding this predator accountable. I would also like to see every state include this kind of activity – sexual, psychological, and emotional exploitation by any kind of helping professional – criminalized. This part requires a lot of activism, but it simply has to start somewhere. And, I would like to see the names of these therapists published somewhere – a kind of list like the ones that are available for those who have committed sex crimes. Of course, this could only be done if the therapists have been sanctioned in some way (like the one that I reported – his name will be published next month on our Dept of State’s website list of sanctions against licensees, though the final court document sanctioning him is available to anyone who wants it via request.)

      With social media we can do a lot, and I offer my assistance to you and anyone out there who wants to get involved. Personal stories are powerful, and we need to share them. It was through stories like yours, Michelle, that I realized I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t crazy, and that I had a place to put my trauma. NO ONE should ever have to suffer such a theft, such a ravaging of their soul by someone that had trusted would care for them and help them in their healing.

      Thank you, Michelle, for your incredible strength and work you’re doing to bring awareness to this.

      • Linda,
        First I want to thank you for taking the time to respond to the questions I posed. I can’t thank you enough for such detailed insight into what your experience felt like. I can see that it has already resonated with other survivors here and that is absolutely beautiful! It is so apparent from your words of encouragement to other survivors and from the journey you have described that you have found the path to healing from this nightmare. And your ability to communicate all of this is incredibly eloquent. I truly hope that you will continue to write about your journey so that your strength and your courage can inspire others who are just starting out on this journey.

        I also want to tell you how much I agree with what you described in terms of this experience being trauma and the aftermath involving PTSD. I do not believe that many of the therapists who end up working with survivors of therapist abuse truly “get this”. And that worries me. I know from my own experience that the PTSD component of the abuse was not recognized by the subsequent therapist I saw. And because of that, I continued to believe that my severe reaction to what happened with the previous therapist was a further sign of something being wrong with me. In fact, I can remember being so upset with myself when I couldn’t just “move on”. I would begin to feel a little stronger for a while and then something would happen and I would encounter a horrible setback. I recall that just after Thanksgiving in 2012 (about 5 months after I last saw the abusive therapist), I had been feeling a little bit stronger. My oldest daughter wanted to make Christmas cookies and I was excited that I actually felt up to doing this with her. We were listening to Christmas music and having a wonderful time when she looked at her phone and said, “Mom, it looks like there’s been a school shooting somewhere.” She turned on the TV and we watched in horror as the Sandyhook Elementary shooting was unfolding. Over the next couple of days, I felt like my whole word had crashed around me again. I remember telling my subsequent therapist that it seemed like whenever I was confronted with feelings of strong emotion, especially grief, I was immediately taken back to what happened with the abusive therapist. Even then, after telling her this, “trauma” was never mentioned and neither was “PTSD”. I learned that on my own 4 months later…

        I can’t tell you how sorry I am for what all of this has done to your relationship with your friend. That is truly heartbreaking on so many levels. I can’t imagine how helpless you must feel in trying to help her understand that this was not her fault. It is possible that in time, she may eventually begin to find the strength to begin this journey to healing. I have a feeling that your words to her were not “lost”. She was just unable to act on them then.

        I love your suggestions about how to help others who have been harmed and the steps you have taken already to make a difference in your own state. Perhaps Kristi can connect us offline so we can talk a little bit more about all of this- if you are open to that?

        • Hi again Michelle. Just letting you know I did contact Kristi in the “contact” section of the site, to connect the two of us. Not sure if you got that information so just letting you know that I do want to connect.

          Linda

          • Hi Linda,
            I’m not sure I got your message. Did you use a different email address on the contact form? It’ll be easier to put you and Michelle in touch if I have your correct email address.
            Thanks!
            ~Kristi

          • Hi Kristi — yes, I sent two messages with my email. That is strange that you didn’t get them. I am going to send one again now, through the “contact” form on the site. If you don’t get it, please let me know.

            Thanks,
            Linda

  8. Thank you for sharing your story, Michelle, and for creating this website, Kristi.

    It has been over a year since I left my ex-therapist and I am still reeling. Did well for a long time, and here I am obsessed over what happened to me. Am in the process of writing a letter to him which I will send when/if I feel ready.

  9. Dear Anonymous,

    First I want to tell you how sorry I am for what you have been through and how much you are hurting. A year seems like a long time, but I don’t think it’s unusual at all to still be struggling after a year. I really want to tell you that not being able to move on from what happened isn’t really the same thing as being obsessed with what happened. A huge component of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (which I believe is incredibly common with survivors of therapist abuse) is the replaying and reliving of events again and again. It is not uncommon to feel stronger for periods of time only to be brought to your knees by triggers or reminders of the person or the abusive relationship. I know for me personally, specific dates and even times of the year served as perpetual reminders of things I hated remembering. That first year was the most difficult in terms of those “anniversaries”.

    I don’t know if you have read a lot about Narcissistic abuse and Narcissistic Victim Syndrome, but I believe these may hold some valuable information for you in terms of healing. I know they have been incredibly important keys in my own healing. One book that made a tremendous difference for me was Stalking The Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity. Perhaps it could be helpful for you as well.

    Please let me know if I can help guide you to other reading which may be helpful. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

    Michelle

  10. Michelle,

    You story sounds so very very similar to mine, especially your emotions in the aftermath, and I can’t thank you enough for sharing.

    I am in the process of writing my ex-T a letter; I am not filing a complaint for many reasons, not the least of which is fear that what happened to you will happen to me. You were so brave to file, though and I hope you give yourself kudos for that.

    My best to you,
    Anon

    • Anonymous,

      Please know that you are not alone in your journey to find healing. One of the main reasons why I “share” my experience is because I remember how frightening it was to think I might never reclaim my identity again. I had no idea how I got to where I was and I sure as hell had no idea how to get “back” to who I was. Knowing how certain I felt that I would never pull the pieces of my shattered life back together, I never thought I could ever emerge from this horrendous experience stronger than when I went in. I KNOW this terrifying feeling and it’s because I know that there are other people in that same hell right now, I will continue to “share” my experience. In fact, the main reason why I was able to get through this painful journey was because of other courageous survivors before me who “shared” their stories.

      Please know that filing a complain with the licensing board is a very personal decision. You have every right to not want to potentially put yourself through more trauma. As Kelly stated in her comment above, these boards do not seem to exist to protect vulnerable clients. I am that sure somewhere in their “official” responsibilities it says that this is what they should be doing. However, the experiences of so many who come here for support seems to indicate otherwise. And sadly, these boards operate with almost no oversight at all.

      I think that writing your ex therapist a letter is a very good idea. I did that as well. It can be incredibly therapeutic to do this. I wrote one a few days after the 1 year anniversary of the last time I saw my abusive therapist. At that point I had already learned so much about how predatory and destructive pathological Narcissists can be. (Like Linda mentioned above, I too have concerns that my abusive therapist might be more along the sociopathic/psychopathic spectrum- but the truth is I will never know for sure.) To be honest, I am still very proud of the letter I wrote to him after that one year anniversary. I can tell that I had turned a corner and had moved from being a “victim” to a “survivor”. And quite frankly, I have never looked back….

      Please continue to reach out for support as you make your way through this. And never forget, you are not alone in this journey!

      Big hugs,
      Michelle

  11. Michelle,

    I just now saw your response to my earlier post, which for some reason I didn’t think was posted.

    At any rate, whenever I feel alone, or crazy, I re-read your story. You are an astute good story-teller and I hope you continue to help other victims through this website.

    • Hi there Anonymous. Are you “Anonymous” from March 23rd or March 27th? I want to make sure I don’t mix you both up.

      I want to thank you for your kind words about my writing. To be honest, I used to do the same thing- find an article or a piece written by a survivor that really resonated with me and read it when I struggled greatly. It seemed like it helped me to get through those times when the people around me just didn’t seem to “get it” at all. I at least knew that somebody, somewhere understood. And I have to tell you, to not feel alone was really one of the greatest feelings on earth! And so as I have made my way along the path to healing from this nightmare, I am very sensitive to fact that there are so many survivors just beginning to make their ways on this journey who feel utterly alone. That’s really the part that keeps me writing- just that sense of emptiness and loneliness that I remember so well. It breaks my heart to think that there are other people stuck in that part of the aftermath of this hell! It isn’t enough to say “I understand” because so many people in our lives say that thinking they understand. The truth is they don’t. They can’t. But they don’t know this. So I am doing what I remember helped me- I am telling survivors what it is I understand. I know that none of us will walk the exact same path to healing. However, I do believe that there are many “landmarks” that we will all see along the way. These “landmarks” (or as I like to call them, “Milestones”) are the parts of this journey that it seems only survivors could understand. In my opinion, each of these Milestones represents a turning point in the healing process that will eventually make us stronger for having been through it. When I struggled the most to understand what I was feeling inside, I would write. And as I began to write, I would feel some of the pain inside me flood out onto the pages in front of me. I kept all of these writings and journal entries believing some day they might help others. I am honored to know that I wasn’t wrong about this.

  12. Michelle,

    I submitted a skeletal piece about my experience with J some time back. I savored your comments and followed your advise: read Narrasisticbehaviors.net and “staulking the soul”…done!
    I’ve done my own research too. My clarity has increased. But I am still suffering daily with obsessional and intrusive thoughts. I can hardly sleep because it all bothers me so much. I want closure that I can’t have and so the events spin in my head then I imagine ways to close this: write a letter, spread the word, write his wife, his co-workers! Get justice! It was wrong. But…it’s all wasted internal energy. In the end, I want that energy spent on my healing. I want this pain to STOP!

    Interestingly, I also wrote to Christine on her blog about my narrastic husband (under ” Aintsayin”)…and in on of her replies she mentioned you 🙂 and your list of therapists. And you helped her with her book! So your name has been ringing in my head…maybe Michelle can help!

    I live in NM and I’m so petrified to get another therapist, since the last one has shaken me so badly! I know everything is seeming worse because of J. Do you know of an Albuquerque NM therapist that gets all this?

    Thank you for all your help! I feel you and Christine are saving me!

    • Hi there Amy. I just wanted to touch base with you again. I haven’t forgotten about you. I am trying to find mental health professionals in Albuquerque. I have put out some messages to people I know, but I am coming up empty. I am still looking though. I did not want for you to think that I had forgotten about you.

      Bug hugs,
      Michelle

  13. Hi there Amy! It is wonderful to see your message here. I am so excited to hear that you have reached out to Christine Louis de Canonville. She is truly an amazing resource when it comes to healing from Narcissistic abuse. Her experience and wisdom have made a tremendous difference in my life and so when other survivors are struggling, she is one of the first people I recommend to help them with healing.

    I want you to know that even though you are still having a lot of thoughts about what happened and getting justice it sounds like you have made a lot of progress! I can definitely relate to the feelings you just described. As I became more and more aware of the awful manipulation tactics that were used against me to nearly destroy me, I became incredibly angry and fearful for all of the other people who might unsuspectingly become a victim of this monster. I was really uncomfortable with that anger at first. In fact, I think I might have been trying to convince myself that I was “above” being angry, that anger was for “other” people. That seems to be a common thing with survivors of this type of abuse- they are very compassionate, loving, honest people who tend to be very slow to anger. In fact, for many of them, if they could go through their entire lives not being angry at another person, they would be incredibly relieved. What I began to realize for myself as I was trying to prevent myself from being angry at the therapist who harmed me was that I seemed to have this underlying anger about everything else in my life. I was incredibly cynical and pessimistic. I’ll never forget the moment that changed- and this was months after I learned what Narcissistic abuse was and had read quite a bit about healing from it- I was outside trying to plant flowers in my garden. There was a stump from a small tree I had chopped down in my way. I was trying to get that thing out of my flower bed so I could plant this beautiful trellis and climbing flower. It seemed like no matter what I did I could not get that ugly stump out of there. And then I took the shovel and I hit that stump as hard as I could- it was like I was taking every ounce of energy to get that thing out of there. It felt so good! I hit that thing again and again and again. I am sure the neighbors thought I was nuts. With each strike that I hit that stump I thought about the God awful pain and agony that man had put me through. I thought about the time he took away from me with being available to my children emotionally. I thought about the licensing board that was moving at a snail’s pace to do anything about the danger this man represented to so many other innocent people. I was not successful at getting that ugly old stump out the garden. I didn’t realize then that this was actually a good thing because over the next few months I found several occasions where I needed to go beat the hell out of that thing again. In fact, it is still there now. I haven;t needed to beat it for a long time and I don’t think that this is because I haven’t felt angry. I do occasionally feel anger bout what happened. However, I think that the permission that stump gave me to release the anger allowed me to slowly be comfortable feeling the anger. And in some ways I think what that stump represents is poignant. That stump is still there in my garden. I couldn’t move it. At some point it will wither away and be easy to remove but not now. And as I explained in my story of healing, I didn’t get justice for what happened with this therapist either. And while that made healing a whole lot harder, it didn’t make it impossible. It just meant that I was going to have to give myself more time and space to heal. And my garden, while still having an ugly stump that can’t yet be removed, has a beautiful trellis flower that is growing and ready to bloom. It is a perennial flower. And this year, it is growing more full than it did last year. And that stump is harder and harder to see….

    I think for me, after I was able to harness the anger I felt but had been pretending wasn’t there, I realized that I wanted or maybe I needed to pursue other avenues for trying to bring justice for what happened. It was as if I began to feel a new sense of self worth that was screaming that happened wasn’t okay and that I had every right to be angry as hell and want to pursue justice. I think my beliefs about what I thought I needed to do to feel as if I had tried to get justice changed over time as I learned the extent of what happened.

    Healing takes a lot of time. There are so many “layers” of healing that are taking place that we aren’t really aware of until we move beyond them and look back. Some of the thoughts that you have that continue to intrude your thinking are there for a reason. There are most likely aspects of what happened in those events that are still being processed by your brain as you learn more and more about what this type of abuse is. Even now, nearly 3 years after the last time I saw this terrible man, I still occasionally think of something that happened and realize there was something in what happened that I hadn’t realized before.

    One thing that I found really helpful was to allow myself to read and take in as much as I could about Narcissistic abuse during those time when my brain seemed to NEED to read more about it (and even rereading something you have already read will sometime have different meaning as your understanding about what happened changes). I have a Pinterest board that represents much of what I found during times where my brain just needed to read things that told “my story”. And then during times where I didn’t think I could take in anything more about Narcissistic abuse or therapist abuse, I would just look at beautiful sunsets or pretty wedding cakes (other Pinterest boards I have). At some point, I just began to trust my brain that it would lead me where I needed to go. I just had to tune out everyone else around me who was telling me it was taking too long.

    I also put out some requests to see if any of the mental health professionals I know are aware of anyone in Albuquerque. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear back.

    Big hugs to you Amy! You’ve come a long way :o)
    Michelle

    • Brilliant! I love reading what you write!
      I, too, have had a hard time dealing with anger. Like many women, I was brought up to “take care of” others by not getting angry at them (and letting them walk all over me). And I was also afraid of my anger, which seemed to be too strong — afraid of being rejected or abandoned for it, afraid of pushing people away when really what I wanted was love. I’m still dealing with all of this. But I’m learning how important it is to feel the feelings and not reject them, because when I reject my feelings, I’m rejecting myself. It’s like the stump you couldn’t get rid of. I keep wanting to “get rid of” parts of myself, cut them out of me, “let them go” — but they’re ME. I am learning to accept myself and my feelings and all the ways I am. It ain’t easy, but if I can’t accept myself, well, who else is going to fully accept me? Such a big lesson! Makes me crazy sometimes, until I realize everyone else is working on it, too!

  14. Kristi,
    You know, I have found that this very phase of healing- allowing ourselves to feel the anger we have every right to feel- is the most complicated phase of healing. Sadly, I think it is often the most misunderstood. And because this type of abuse is not widely recognized in the mental health profession, it leaves much of the learning about how to heal from it to the social media forums that have popped up to fill in the void for survivors. And I don’t think some of these groups understand the important role anger plays in healing. As a result I have seen groups that advocate for survivors to find a way to heal without allowing themselves to feel the anger or even rushing through the anger phase as quickly as possible. What worries me is that I am not sure full healing is possible without going through it. There is some element of self discovery that happens in this phase that allows survivors to begin to see the incredible need to take care of themselves and not feel selfish doing it. I fought this phase so hard! I mean I wanted so badly to not be angry- to find some reason why I didn’t have to be angry. And somewhere along my journey I started to see how the anger was there regardless of what I wanted to feel. And then I just stopped fighting it. When I did that, I found that healing took on a whole new dynamic. Looking back, I can see how much my resistance to feeling the anger prevented me from moving forward. I was holding up my own healing and I didn’t even know it!

    I think one of the reasons why survivors tend to resist this phase of healing is because they are fearful that if they allow themselves to feel the anger related to what happened, they might never stop feeling angry. To be honest, I have yet to see this happen with any survivor. Most survivors of abuse like this tend to be compassionate, loving, hardworking, honest and giving people- perhaps giving too much. I think that’s a part of what leaves us vulnerable to this type of abuse. Those beautiful qualities don’t disappear after the abuse. They are still there. In fact, if anything, allowing ourselves to feel the anger we have ever right to feel in some ways allows us to feel okay with not allowing others as we move on to hurt us so we can continue to live as compassionate, loving, hardworking, honest, giving people. I know for me, after the abuse I thought I would have to hide all of those beautiful qualities behind heavy duty, bullet proof glass. I knew someone had taken advantage of my kindness, but I wasn’t sure exactly how they did that. Learning about Narcissistic abuse and allowing myself to heal at the pace I need to heal has given me the clarity, insight and sense of power to move ahead with my life free to be that same sweet, caring, loving person I was before. I don’t have to hide any of those qualities. And that is very much what I see in many of the survivors with whom I have communicated who have made it through this process of healing. In fact, I am hoping Linda is following this thread of messages and can chime in about her experience.

    • Yes and yes and yes.
      About two months after I had my “wake-up call” (which had only woken me up about 20%), I tried to take a workshop in Non Violent Communication (NVC), which is a very popular modality for communication. I thought I needed it, that it would help me deal with the feelings I was only just starting to have about what had happened. The problem was I did not feel non-violent. I could not get in alignment with what the course was teaching, because it was about learning to communicate with others in a non-angry way and being very kind and compassionate. I did not feel compassionate. I quit after about 2 classes. I realized later that I had been trying to “jump over” my anger, go around it rather than through it. I did not want to be angry.

      Plus, I was seeing some healing arts practitioners who were telling me how detrimental anger was to my body, me health and well-being, and that I needed to let go of it and forgive. It felt like blackmail. I hadn’t even gotten in touch with my anger and they wanted me to get rid of it! This is one of the things that really upsets me about some of the current positive psychology/spiritual/new age philosophies and how they’re taught — because the WORST thing for your health is to repress your emotions. Period. If you don’t feel your emotions and you shove them down and away, they do not go away. Oh no. You may think you’re “letting them go” but they are still there, living on inside of you. They fester and rot and come back up in all sorts of ways you wouldn’t believe, and bite you in the ass. And so I was angry not only with Dr. T, but with all these people who were telling me not to be angry. I was so relieved when I found healers and teachings that were about accepting yourself AND your emotions, and being with what was going on. That when you allow yourself to feel something, and you accept it, without judgment, without making yourself bad, without trying to make something go away, without trying to fix it — that’s what will heal you. Easier said than done, of course. Oh, I wish I could just learn this already and be done with it and be happy! But I have a lot of emotions that I have repressed (about so many things) and now I need to just be with them. Learn to love myself and take care of those parts that are so unhappy.

      And I do think that when we repress our true feelings and instead try to be what others want us to be instead of who we truly are, we set ourselves up for being taken advantage of. Because we’re not owning our true selves — we’re catering to others’ needs or trying to be “good.” And we need to be who we are. Messy. Imperfect. When we are not ourselves, others will try to mold us into who they want us to be. And if we don’t know how to stay in our own bodies and minds, they will succeed. And we will become confused (because we don’t know who we are) and resentful and…angry. This is how we give our power away — by not being our full selves, with our needs and emotions. And when we abdicate our power, well, guess what? Some insecure, power-hungry controller is there ready to pick it up and use it for us.

      What’s so evil about so many of these abusive therapists and narcissists is that they get us to think we’re in our power, when really we’re not. They cast this illusion of power and choice and you think your eyes are open, but really, they’re illusionists, charlatans, hypnotists, manipulating your mind and getting you to see something that is not real or true. And it’s so devastating when we come out and realize it’s all been a lie. It’s such a betrayal. And then we feel so horrible because we bought the lie and there must be something wrong with us… And we have to be with those feelings, too. It’s being with ALL the feelings — the anger, the grief, the sadness, the humiliation, the devastation, the despair, the longing… And some of the feelings conflict with each other and we need to be with that, too.

      It’s hard. But feeling all those feelings is the only way through.

  15. Kristi,
    It’s so funny you should say something about feeling blackmailed into not feeling the emotions you need to feel to process all of this. I had a similar experience as I was healing. This must have been a few months after I learned what Narcissistic abuse was and I began to see the extent of the complex illusion my therapist had created. (Because really, just like you said, they are very good at creating the perception that we are in control. It makes the aftermath of this type of abuse incredibly painful as we try to understand what we could have done differently to have prevented the deterioration of a relationship we had once cherished.) So at this point in my healing process, I was beginning to see the extent of the heinous, deliberate hell that man put me through. But like many survivors, I didn’t want to believe that I was “angry” about it. Seems kind of silly now looking back, but I think I had hoped I could get through the healing process without having to “stoop to his level” (whatever that meant then). My faith upbringing is Catholic and I am still very much in touch with my faith life. The priest at our church, Fr. Petry, who had been instrumental to me and my family through the past 8 years or so, was helping me try to make my way through the process of healing from this what this therapist had put me through. I remember his telling me to pray for the therapist. And so, during the million times a day, I would remember this therapist and what happened (as I tried so hard to piece together and understand what the hell happened), I would pray for him. And that would instantly make me feel a little bit more at peace. Well at some point, I didn’t want to pray for him anymore. And it made me very upset that when I thought about this therapist, that I was doing something that would “push back” the feelings I felt like I needed to feel. So I went back to Father Petry and I told him my “beef” with the whole praying thing. On the one hand, I didn’t want to upset God. But at the same time, I was pissed as hell! I remember Father Petry telling me, “Then pray angry. God wants to here from you when you’re mad too!” And so I did. I would pray angry. Shortly after this, I experienced the episode in the yard with tree stump.

    I don’t want anyone to think that I am suggesting that you should have to pray to get your anger out. The point of what I just said has to do with the growing recognition of being seriously harmed and the anger that comes with it. I can look back and remember being aware that I was tired of “sweeping everything under the rug” about what happened when I would pray. At some point, I didn’t want to do that anymore. I think somehow I knew I was going to have to go through the anger to finally conquer it. I had fought off feeling it for a long time…..

  16. Pingback: “Reclaiming My Life”– Michelle Mallon’s Story of Healing | Lucky Otter's Haven

  17. For Michelle and Kristi (this is long): He told me if I wanted war he would give me war. He told me he’d made me and he could break me. He told me I was wilful and needed to be reduced. He told me it was no wonder my father had been compelled to whip me with a belt. He told me he’d been fooled into thinking I was loving and I’d been hiding my true character from him. He smirked and sneered with cold contempt when he forced me to see that I wasn’t who I thought I was, that I was now a shadow of my former self, that he’d (literally) blown my mind. He goaded me into trying to get help from others, but told me flat-out that given his position no one would believe me. I knew he’d get an even bigger charge out of destroying me publicly as he was doing privately in the hidden cove of his office if I tried to file a complaint or seek justice and recognition of what had happened to me. And I knew I’d be no match as he’d already reported to my insurance company that I was this and that and everything else when the war between us started. And what started the war after ten years of brilliant mentoring on his part as an M.D. psychoanalyst with an Albert Ellis style rational-emotive therapy practice and my unfurling and blossoming as a writer-artist under his tutelage? The shift in our relationship came when we were both without partners from recent break-ups and to this day I’m unsure how calculated that was as he also saw my partner (and most of my friends) in private sessions of their own. It started with inappropriate sexual jokes and escalated to unequivocal seduction. I resisted. I was 33, he was 50. He was proud, tall, dark, handsome, an academic and a philosopher—all good I thought at the time, but he wasn’t spontaneous or creative or fun as I was and he told me flat-out when the war began that he had no empathy which was news to me. He was controlling and a bit cavalier, but not so untypical of powerful guys in the 1970’s when feminism was in its infancy. Still, the seduction with his hypnotic eyes was as exciting as it was confusing. It went against everything I’d worked so hard for in therapy (coming from a Southern Baptist dominating and wounded father) unless I could somehow turn around the power imbalance which I took on as my task, which I believed he expected from me, but which I now know he saw as rejection and impertinence and disrespect of his rightful authority in my life. And even though he was my hero (and his own God, if not quite mine) this felt wrong and I felt guilt for wondering if I really wanted the “reality” of him after years of mutual idealization. This was the beginning of cognitive dissonance for me and the beginning of six months of heart-banging terror, adrenalin flooding, no sleep and psychological regression way beyond what I’d started therapy with. But I kept going, was sucked back in by phone calls when I tried to flee and finally I experience an electrical storm in my brain that lasted a couple minutes and ended in my psychological death, a flatlining that is not fully captured by labels like C-PTSD, dissociation, depersonalization, ego death although my experience had all these symptoms and more (likely a mini-stroke of some kind as there were neurological and physical symptoms that no one in 1978 could assess as anything but mental breakdown given the context). I prayed it would only last a few days, but deep down I knew both intellectually and intuitively that there was going to be no coming back from this devastation as I no longer had the emotions for attachment or desire or grief or rage. Gone! My options were to throw myself in front of a bus and be done with it or to live “as if” and hope that one day I’d find a way to reconnect and reintegrate. Beating up parking meters with my purse, hitting a tree with a pipe, breaking glass bottles against a brick wall and every somatic form of body therapy on offer didn’t help. In this frozen state, I carried on what looked to outsiders like an amazing life, living 14 years in Africa, founding my own educational media NGO there, having two series on NPR here in USA and a play at the Smithsonian’s Discovery Theater. All good, but all done without a “me,” without emotional memory to use my survival achievements as identity, and without help. Just the opposite. Every single attempt to tell my story or get help resulted in retraumatization. Yes, discovering the literature on narcissism and the dark triad five years ago began to unravel what had never made sense. Grooming, gaslighting, devaluation and discard, narcissistic injury, retaliation were great insights and affirmation. I always knew these things had been done to me, but I thought it was my fault somehow and that in some way I deserved his contempt (never ever would this covert, intellectual, arrogant God have lowered himself to show actual embodied anger which would have been beneath him). So having my abiding sense that he was “nuts” confirmed and supported was a relief, but it didn’t break my isolation from others. Most of this literature on narcissism focuses on domestic partnerships and there was no relief for the cognitive dissonance of having been obliterated by a highly respected (in his day) psychoanalyst even though I myself knew the truth (and always had). The question that was always asked when I went to other therapists was “Did he have sex with you?” That was all they could wrap their heads around. The fact that he set out to destroy me because I had the will to resist having sex with him in what was clearly a power imbalance that he himself had taught me was not workable, seems so obvious if you understand narcissism, but to my further shame, despair, isolation, no one I’ve talked to personally has “gotten it.” And much of the online support and literature just doesn’t fit my story in so many other ways and feels like the “blackmail” Kristi described. All of which is to say that I truly appreciate it when I find that rare someone who has shared the cock-up of a narcissistic therapist and want you to know your articles, your FB forum and the radio show with Christine, Andrea and Kristin have meant a lot to me, as did your dialogue here with Kristi with the tree stump metaphor, the blackmail from others and so on. For a host of reasons, I have never written or posted my story before, although I have the outline of a book, Apollo’s Web: A Giant Misstep on the Journey to Love. A journey, by the way, which may not be fulfilled in this lifetime as I’m now in my early 70’s having lived more than half my life post-therapy without intimacy or pleasure or authentic connection that is anything but “as if” effort on my part. I have gathered endless tools and daily practices for owning my exiled parts, for self-compassion, for gratitude at what I can experience with presence (a little more each day) and resources (non-people) that I have so this is not a request for input although it is a request for witnessing and connection and sharing experiences. Little by little! (ps/when you’re ready to do the article on resources, I have hundreds and hundreds)

    • Pam,
      Just wanted to write a quick reply to say THANK YOU for sharing your beautifully written and terrifying story. We are all here as witnesses. I am glad to hear that Michelle’s and my resources and writings have been helpful to you. Would love to have you share whatever you feel inspired to, whenever you feel inspired to.
      All the best to you!
      ~Kristi

      • Thanks for your kind response Kristi and a huge wave of gratitude for your labor of love in building this informative, supportive website and community. When I said “no input” I didn’t mean to close out feedback or dialogue or shared information and experiences. I meant no “fixer” stuff, which I realize isn’t the way most people here are responding to each other, but is the only way most people know how to respond when they really have no idea where you’re coming from. This was my very first time to share even a tiny part of my experience publicly and it’s essential to me to move outside myself and to begin to link to others. It’s very grounding and I’m ready (I hope). It is the next step in overcoming the dehumanization and frozen shock that have been my life for decades. But risky and very terrifying as you know.

        To this day, 37 years later, the “Did he have sex with you?” question has been used as a weapon to keep me from seeking justice and full recognition of the devastation I experienced. If there wasn’t sexual penetration or physical violence then it isn’t easy for most people to understand the violation I was dealt. Which is why bringing “narcissistic abuse” into the dialogue as Michelle has done, has been so liberating for me. Resisting a dark triad monster when he drops his mask of being your best psychic sidekick and trusted mentor is a whole other story and one that hasn’t really been told in the way that mirrors what I encountered. Mine to tell?

        Hearts to you for all your work in establishing a forum to share your journey and help others on theirs.

    • PamB, I don’t even know where to start in replying to what you have written! I am absolutely humbled to know that something I have written has helped you feel less lonely in your journey to heal! I was in tears as I read your message because I can remember how I felt when I finally found other people who seemed to understand what I was going through. I can’t tell you how much the things that you have just said have been a part of the retraumatization I have experienced through healing as well. Without any physical violation with the abuse, other people seem to believe that it couldn’t have been that bad. I even had a therapist (whom I saw after the abusive one tell me that she wished the abusive therapist would have slept with me so then we would have known if he had feelings for me). I have honestly never felt so alone as I did in the months after I refused to see this abusive therapist. Even after I found information about Narcissistic abuse, I too found it to be only somewhat helpful at first because much of it is directed towards pathological Narcissism in romantic relationships. Over time I began to make the connections to how pervasive this type of abuse was. And as I watched so many coverups take place in trying to get the Board of Psych to do anything about this monster, I began to see a bigger picture of why this type of abuse seems to be so poorly understand within the mental health profession. That was when I started to write. I couldn’t sleep at night. I knew there were many, many people who were just like me- struggling to make sense out of something that made no sense. They believed what happened as their fault and they would continue to self destruct because of this lack of understanding about what they were dealing with. I don’t think I will ever be able to stop speaking out about this. There are too many people with no guidance for how to get out of this nightmare! It just shouldn’t be like this. The abuse is bad enough. But not being able to heal from it is just as bad, if not worse.

      I have more that I want to say. I will write more as soon as I can. I want you to know that your courage and your strength are an inspiration to me, Pam. Your words are eloquently written and your story is remarkable. I hope to see more writing from you here on this site. I have to believe that there are other frightened survivors who are reading your words and beginning to find the strength within themselves to speak up.

      You are not alone, my brave survivor sister!
      More soon,

      Michelle

      • Michelle, thanks for sharing your experiences and your discoveries along the way of trying to make sense of things enough so that you can build a healing narrative and tell your story! I think you’ll agree that the common ground for anyone who’s been overwhelmed by any soul invasive trauma or victimization is the loss of identity which Michele Rosenthal captures so brilliantly in her work on behalf of PTSD recovery. Our experiences are all so different on many levels, but the thing that binds us is this struggle to restore our identity, to recover from the shame of helplessness so we can once again be an active part of the big world.

        When my psyche and neurobiology shattered into a zillion pieces, it was (and is) like trying to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle without the full picture on the box to guide you. The pathological narcissism I was ill equipped to deal with is one part of the puzzle and thankfully I now have a secure mental image of what that’s all about. But, for me, it’s still just a part of what I’ve been puzzling my way through. Actual brain damage is another part of my experience and I’m grateful for the daily advances in brain science that are slowly helping me name the way in which my central nervous system overheated and shut down. Neuroplasticity brings such hope and promise to the table for those of us who have this kind of work to do.

        And yet another part is composed of all those big issues that Jeffrey Masson brought to the table in his book Against Therapy and we all know how that worked out for him (not). Elizabeth Gilbert raised some important issues in her blog a few months ago on tribal shaming and apparently this hits home for many as it went viral instantly. And so on. So much to process, so many pieces to try to locate and reassemble in this journey to rebuild identity and to create a new narrative to replace the one we lost in our devastating experiences. Your contribution is so valuable and I love how you’ve found your voice and your role in advocating for others.

        • Pam,
          I have to tell you, you have given me some new websites to check out and books to read! Thank you very much for these. I just checked out Michele Rosenthal’s website and I am just amazed by her story! Thank you for introducing me to her work. I hope that the survivors reading these messages take a few minutes to check out her site too.

          But I also want to tell you how incredible I believe your insight is. So much of what you have said and described is quite frankly, profound! What you have been through and the way in which you survived it are a testament to the strength you possess. As you continue to emerge from the rubble of the aftermath of this abuse, I am certain your journey will provide important insight that can help guide others through this very painful process. I am very excited to work with you to put together the resources that have been helpful to you so that we can publish them here for others on this site.

          Hugs to you!
          Michelle

  18. Dear Michelle,

    I want to thank you for posting your story, you are a true inspiration. I have been searching the internet for answers when I stumbled across your story, I have not yet found anything as open, honest and with so much detail, I can not express how thankful I am. The amount of research you have invested and then shared is life saving.. I am still struggling on a daily basis and I probably won’t get all the answers as to why my abusive therapist did what he did, this is all very recent and I do know I have a huge journey ahead of me… Please let me know when you have finished your book, I would love to buy a copy.

    Thanks again x

    • Becky,

      Along with the support and valuable information you’ll find here on this website, I’d like to recommend a book I just finished reading. I wish I had discovered this book 3 years ago when I started my long and painful recovery from sexual exploitation by my massage therapist.

      The book is “Sex in the Forbidden Zone” by Peter Rutter, M.D. The book is out of print now (written in 1989) but you can get it used from Amazon (I purchased mine for $1).

      I wish you all the best as you move forward, Becky. It may seem you are alone in this, but know that there are many of us out there who are with you all the way.

      A fellow survivor,
      Linda

    • Hi there Becky. I am really sorry it took me a few days to see your comments posted here. I am so grateful to Linda and Kristi for seeing your comments right away and replying to you. I know for me, feeling validated and understood was a huge part of what helped me to heal from all of this. And so I believe it is really important for every survivor who comments here to know that they have been heard. I think it is incredible to see that even when this comment board does see any action for a number of months that there are concerned survivors keeping a close watch out for messages like yours Becky. My heart leapt for joy when I saw that your comment already had touched the hearts of other survivors here! You are among some incredibly compassionate people here. I can see from your other messages after this first one that you are already beginning to feel understood and validated. I am so happy that you found your way here!

      I can remember in the aftermath of what happened with my abusive therapist, I was desperate to uncover the answer to “why?” And there were many times in all of this that I did not believe that I would ever understand “why?” and that alone left me feeling that I might never, ever heal from what happened. However, what I found is that once I began to understand some important things about other people, I was able to start unlocking the prison door my abusive therapist had locked me behind. This learning is so important. In fact, I would like to add one other book to the suggested reading list that Linda has mentioned. The book Stalking the Soul by Marie France Hirigyen, was crucial to my healing. Perhaps it could be helpful to you as well?

      Please stay connected with other survivors. It will help you immensely as you make your way through this.

      Big hugs to you Becky :o)
      Michelle

  19. Hi Linda,

    Thank you so much for your support and information.. I just saw your story in the comment section and I am so sorry you have had to go through that hell… Mine was also sexual exploitation by my very trusted psychologist. It’s true, no one really understands how devastating therapist abuse is… I am still so very numb and struggle every day with the different emotions. I am so incredibly angry, but then I miss him? I dream about him every night…. It is just so cruel…

    Thank you again for your kind words, I hope in time I am able to be as strong as all of you and discuss my story in detail. x

    • The emotions you’re experiencing are exactly what I experienced too. We were essentially children in these relationships (the transference), and yes, it was the worst kind of cruelty for these men to harm us in this way. I strongly suggest you report this man to your state’s licensing board. Some states have criminal statutes that would allow you to file a criminal action as well. I know you may not want to do that right now, feeling a sense of loyalty to him and not wanting to hurt him. Before reporting my abuser, I struggled too with feelings of affection for him and not wanting to hurt him. But as I look back now 3 years later, I can see that reporting him was part of my healing process.

      I also highly recommend reading “Sexual Exploitation by Helping Professionals” by J. Susan Penfold. And mostly, Becky, please find a trauma therapist (female) who can help you through this process. Trust that you will find your way through. You’ve already started the process by sharing on these pages.

      Blessings to you,
      Linda

    • Becky,
      Just want to let you know that you can find these books and others on the site’s Amazon store via the Books & Media page. Check it out for lots of great resources. If you purchase anything after clicking through from this website, we get a small commission on the sale, so it’s a great way to support the website.
      Kristi

  20. I hope this doesn’t come out as I am selfish but I am very lucky to have found all of you, it is so incredibly sad and painful reading all of your stories as I can relate to each and every one.

    Linda, you don’t know me but yet you have supported me in so many ways already and I don’t know how to thank you. I will purchase those books you have recommended… I have researched countless amount of information on the internet which explains the transference and I understand how this can happen (I too, at 31 couldn’t understand how this could happen, I’m well educated as you but yet we ended up being victims by someone we trusted) I now feel violated mind, body and soul… who was this person? A stranger? Who didn’t care for me as I thought he did… before this happened I never realized how sacred my mind was.

    Yes, I am still struggling with the thought of reporting him, every day is different for me at the moment it has only been a few weeks since I had the courage to tell him no more contact. Where I am, there is no criminal action in place for this act (which is wrong!!) but he can lose his license for a couple of years.

    I really didn’t believe that there are people out there that would pray on loving, empathetic, loyal and caring people like us… I always see the good in everyone. It has put a whole new spin on to my life, I was already struggling with other abuse that happened when I was younger. I still find it difficult to understand my feelings and unable to really express them.

    Thank you so much Kristi, I have never purchased anything off amazon I will have a look.

    • We are glad to be here for you, Becky! As Michelle commented, it is critical to be heard and validated. The only way I found myself emerging from the nightmare was through sharing on sites like this one, and through the many books and articles that helped me understand what I had been through. Even close friends and family did not “get it”, and they sometimes left me feeling even more alone. I’m grateful that I can now be on the other side and able to offer some support to victims like you who are in the initial stages of shock and pain.

      I wrote my story for Massage and Bodywork Magazine, and it was published in their Sept/Oct edition. It is written pseudonymously, as “Emma K.”, and is introduced by Ben Benjamin, a leader in the bodywork field and author of articles and a book on ethics (The Ethics of Touch). You can find my article online — google the magazine name, and you might have to subscribe but it costs nothing and is easy. Then go to the Sept/Oct edition, start at page 74 with Mr. Benjamin’s intro. I think my story will resonate with you and hopefully help you feel a little less alone.

      Thank you for your words of thanks, Becky. No, we don’t know each other, but sharing this particular kind of loss and pain brings us — and all the others out there who have suffered similarly — together in a field that exists outside of the physical realm. It’s where we can reconstruct ourselves back to wholeness.
      It seems impossible to you now, but you will get there.

      Blessings to you,
      Linda

  21. Hi Linda, Michelle and Kristi,

    So sorry it’s been so long since I have visited your site.. Thank you so much for all the advice.. I have purchased “Sex in the Forbidden Zone” off amazon today. I have never purchased off this site before, looks great!

    Linda, I’m looking forward to reading your article, I will definitely look for it today.

    I found myself just reading continuously on the internet, and thinking I was strong enough to deal with what happened resulted in a major meltdown.. Reason why I haven’t responded to your messages 🙁

    I did get the courage to seek another Psychologist (so scary) and quickly realizing the difference between a rogue and a good therapist..
    I finally found someone who cared enough to guide me through my behaviours and patterns that were created when I was younger… To ensure that I am stronger, that I would never tolerate this kind of abuse again… I am so aware now, and even though I have very low self esteem, I know that this was his own doing and was not my fault in any way, something I couldn’t understand a few months back.
    Michelle, thank you for replying.. I experienced everything that you said.. the “why” was just tearing me apart, thinking I could somehow understand his behaviour… Took a while to just let that go, and to accept that he has major unresolved issues that would stem from his childhood… I put this psychologist on a pedal stool, thinking he had his life together… Took every bit of advice and somehow added it into my life, that’s why you go to therapy, right?!
    So, even though I still have really bad days, I have decided to take the positive out of this experience… I know myself better now than ever, I am now able to make good changes in my life.
    I wouldn’t have had this growth without you all, I am so grateful!
    Thank you for the other book suggestions, I will definitely purchase.

    Thank you again, I hope we can stay in touch..

    Becky x

    • Becky,
      Thanks for letting us know how you’re doing. It sounds like you have been doing some deep healing. That’s wonderful! I’m so glad to hear you are doing better and moving forward! Healing is a process and we all have good days and bad days. (For that matter, EVERYONE has good days and bad days!) Remember to always take care of yourself and don’t push yourself too hard. Pay attention to what works and do more of that, and let go of what doesn’t.
      All the best to you!
      Kristi

      • Thank you Kristi. and again, thank you for starting this site and sharing your experience… and others sharing theirs…To have somewhere to go when you’re are going through your darkest moments.. to read all the comments and see the similarities… It does help knowing that others do understand.
        Becky x

    • Becky,
      I am so sorry it has taken me a while to respond to your reply. I didn’t see it until just this morning. I can’t agree with Kristi more- healing from trauma is such a lengthy process and it can be so upsetting to be feeling stronger for a while and then to be knocked back on your butt again. But this really is normal for trauma healing. I remember getting so frustrated with myself when I would feel like I was falling apart again just after I had felt so much stronger! I kept thinking it was sign that here must surely be something wrong with me. But somewhere along the way, I started to realize that each time I “fell apart” I gained some incredible insight to help me reach a new phase of healing. And that made me less angry with myself when I would go through those rougher phases of healing. I strongly encourage you to read the book “Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity”. That book helped me so much. My hope is that it can be really helpful to you too.

      I am just so happy that you are feeling stronger and moving forward on the path to healing. Please always remember you are not alone on this journey.

      With love,
      Michelle

      • Hi Michelle,
        Thank you so much for replying and please don’t apologize.
        Yes, the healing of trauma… If anyone warned me the stages of trauma healing that I would experience, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.
        I have purchased the book you suggested and wow… it’s an incredible read… it’s hard to believe that type of behaviour is real!! If that makes sense?
        How are you coping now Michelle? I know you have come such a long way but I have never asked how you are going now?
        Thanks for all your support.
        Becky x

        • Hi there Becky. I am doing much better now. Thank you so much for asking. I still have tough days though where the seriousness and pervasiveness of this problem really hits me. I run a survivors page on Facebook for survivors of Narcissistic abuse. It breaks my heart to read the stories of other survivors who have been through so much. I think about the abuse they have endured and how awful that has been. But the added agony of not being able to find the path to healing from this is just unforgivable. It shouldn’t be this hard to heal from this type of abuse and yet it sometimes feels like finding a needle in a haystack.

          I am so happy that the Stalking book has been helpful to you. It made such a difference in my life! I was hoping it could do that for you too!

          With live,
          Michelle

          • Hello Becky and Michelle,

            Becky, I am glad to hear that you are coming along with your healing and that you have found much support on these pages and in your readings. I too have been helped by so many books along the way, so I encourage you to keep reading whatever helps you. It’s a long road, yes, and you have many of us with you sharing the journey. I hope it gives some comfort to know we are there for you in this way.

            Michelle, what is the name of your Facebook website? I entered your name but so many entries come up that I didn’t know which one is you. I also entered “surviving narcissistic abuse” but did not find anything. A fellow survivor of exploitation by her therapist started a Facebook site called “Surviving Exploitation by Helping Professionals” if either of you are interested in joining that one. It’s a small, closed group with only a few members at this time.

            Stay well and travel gently,
            Linda

            Linda

  22. I am trying to find a way to reach Michelle Mallon. Can you pass this email to her? She is not on facebook or any other source that I can locate. I would like to get her permission to use a quote (with total credit to her) on the title page of my website. I have recently completed a book (s) on childhood abuse and narcissistic abuse that I am hoping will help many. Her article was enlightening. If you could pass this on to her I would so appreciate it. It is as follows: Turning Point in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery “The moment I discovered that I was targeted not because there is something wrong with me, but because there are so many things right with me…..That was the moment I finally began to truly heal.” –Michelle Mallon MSW, LSW, Survivor, Narcissistic Abuse PS.. I would so appreciate a timely reply. Thank you!

    • Hi there Nancee. I am really sorry it has taken me so long to see your message here. I think you and I have connected since you initially posted this message looking for me :o) I am so happy to know that my quote made a difference to you with your healing. I actually made a number of “pins” (for Pinterest) with quotes that I came up with while I was healing. I had kept a journal of my healing (I found that sometimes when I didn’t know how I was feeling inside or what was bothering me so much that writing would help me connect with it) and was able to pull out those AHA! moments and put them into quotes to share with others who may be helped by my epiphanies along the way. It was a pivotal moment for me during my own healing when I went from a survivor who saw the writings of others and connected with them to someone who could share parts of the healing journey that could help others. It looks as though you have made your way to this part of healing as well. With your book, you will be holding a hand out to other survivors who are just starting out on their journeys to show them the way through this God forsaken process. Helping survivors to know that they are not alone is such an important part of healing. Thank you for the work you are doing to help survivors know they are not alone!

      Hugs to you brave survivor,
      Michelle

  23. Michelle,
    I had my first session with the same therapist that you were abused by. There were some red flags for me during this session. I would like to talk to you more in depth, if you wouldn’t mind. Some of the things that were said to me totally caught me off guard and made me wonder “why is this even being discussed? This is not the reason I am coming here to see you!”

    • Hi there Shari. I appreciate your message very much. I have really not openly stated who the abusive therapist was so I am a little worried about responding to your message on this message board. Perhaps you could email me privately at mallon.3@osu.edu

      I will say openly that in hindsight, there were a number of red flags with right from the very first session with the therapist who emotionally abused me. But they were subtle. I can only understand them in hindsight knowing what I know now. Some of the most dangerous predators come disguised as very good therapists who take the time and energy to really earn your trust before slowly turning the tables. They do this, I believe, to cause their victims to manually silence alarm bells that will eventually start going off when the covert attacks begin.

      If you truly are seeing the therapist who nearly destroyed me and you’ve read my accounts of some of what took place, you may want to listen to your inner voice right away. If you feel like something is not right with what is taking place, then something isn’t right. Trust your gut!

      Again, please feel free to email me if you have more questions or want to talk more.

      :o)
      Michelle

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