The following article is written by Mellaril, a long time Shrink4Men community member, whom many of you may recognize from his insightful and helpful comments on the original S4M blog, website and forum.
In the article, Mellaril compares an intimate relationship with a high-conflict person to a phenomenon called insider threat, which gives new meaning to the phrase “sleeping with the enemy.”
About 15 years after my relationship with my high-conflict (HCP) ex-girlfriend ended, I was assigned to develop an insider threat program for my employer.
An insider threat is typically posed by a disgruntled employee or ex-employee who believes they’ve been “wronged” by their employer and thus feels justified seeking vengeance. An insider threat can also be posed by a malicious individual who infiltrates a system or organization in order to cause it harm.
There are usually 4 phases of insider threat:
- The individual gains access to the system.
- The individual studies the system to discover its weakness and vulnerabilities and where the most damage can be inflicted with the least amount of effort.
- The individual establishes a position within the system to conduct her/his malicious activity.
- The individual commences the destruction of the system.
Creating an insider threat program was one of the most interesting assignments I’ve ever had. As I was laying out the program, I found myself thinking a lot about my ex-girlfriend. Then it hit me, my ex-girlfriend was the ultimate insider. Once I understood the model, I was able to see how our relationship related to an insider threat and how to deal with it.
When I found Dr T’s Shrink4Men website, it amazed me that the information here and on the forums has all the strategies and techniques of a robust insider threat program, although, you have to know what you’re looking for to see it that way. Dr T covers all the elements of risk, threat, vulnerability, and impact.
Think about it, how much more of an insider can there be than someone you’re sleeping with?
We do risk assessments every day and usually don’t think much about them. When we change lanes on the freeway, we assess the risk that someone will change lanes at the same time. When we leave a key under the mat for a plumber, we assume the risk that someone else won’t find it and the plumber is honest.
Life is full of risk. Life with a HCP is loaded with it.
Here are a few things about insiders:
1. Threat = Capability x Intent. Threat comes from the adversary, i.e., the HCP. If either factor is zero, there is no threat. Capability is what they can do, intent is what they want to do. Since the threat resides in someone else, there’s not a lot you can practically do to alter it.
When you read an article where someone has killed their allegedly abusive partner, what they did was eliminate the perceived threat a la Julia Roberts in Sleeping with the Enemy. My ex-girlfriend was a Critical Care nurse. If she had intended to cause me physical harm, she had the medical knowledge to make it happen.
Dr T has a blog that talks about whether HCPs feel remorse and another that talks about whether they’re aware of what they’re doing. This can mask intent and make them appear less of a threat than they really are. The lack of empathy can cause a lot of problems in detecting an insider threat. HCPs often communicate indicators of their personality, but we often fail to see the red flags as indicators of a potential threat.
Underestimating what the HCP might do is bad, underestimating what they can do might literally be fatal.
2. Threat is contextual. There is a threat of an action (rip you off) by an adversary (the HCP) to a target (you/me). For example, I never lived with my ex-girlfriend and we had no co-mingled assets. The risk of financial harm to me by her was small. She could have gone through my wallet and stolen my credit card numbers, but by the time she had that opportunity, she’d gained my trust. I never felt any risk of physical harm.
3. Vulnerability = “Know Thyself.” This is what we bring to the table. There was something in me that attracted me to borderline waifs and allowed them to push my buttons. From an insider threat model perspective, failure to identify and eliminate vulnerabilities is what dooms us to keep making the same mistakes. We have control over this one, but identifying and correcting vulnerabilities, especially when she’s calling the cops on you or you’re dodging coffee cups, can be way more complicated than it sounds.
4. Threat x Vulnerability = Likelihood of Exploitation. What’s the probability that the threat and vulnerability will come together? This concept is the basis for NO CONTACT. Separating the threat from the vulnerability gives the best odds when dealing with an insider threat.
You have little to no ability to alter the actual threat and may or may not be able to reduce your vulnerability in the short term. The practical solution is to stay away from them, if you can. Sometimes it’s not possible, i.e., if you share children, but do the best you can. Even if you can shave a few percentage points off the odds, e.g., my implementing a parallel parenting plan, it will pay off over time.
5. Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Impact (Consequence). Impacts or consequences have to be assessed in context. If someone is a thief and you leave your empty wallet out, the intent, capability, and likelihood of exploitation are present. However, if the wallet’s empty, there is little financial risk. For people who are forced to maintain long-term relationships with HCPs, the risk may always remain high unless they can find some way to reduce their vulnerability or some way to mitigate the impact.
6. Access and Boundaries. What do insiders have that outsiders don’t? Access.
To control access, you have to have boundaries. HCPs often don’t respect boundaries (threat) and we may not adequately set and enforce them (vulnerability). Whether the boundary is physical or emotional, they serve the same purpose. It keeps someone from having access.
Why are insiders so emotionally damaging?
Whether they’re spies, embezzlers, or cheating partners, they all involve a betrayal of trust. At the end of these relationships, we often feel like chumps because we let them in. Nobody likes to get hurt, but there’s that little something extra in knowing you did it to yourself. The next time you watch Meet the Parents or Meet the Fockers pay close attention to Robert DeNiro and the “circle of trust.” You can learn a lot.
Here’s a true example. When my ex-girlfriend was on her second hoovering expedition, she learned I was seeing the woman who eventually became my wife.
Ex-girlfriend: I want to meet her.
Me: Nothing good can come of that.
Ex-girlfriend: Why not? I’m harmless.
Me: You may be benign, but you’re not harmless.
Ex-girlfriend: What’s the difference? (This was one of the few times I ever remember a real edge in her voice)
Me: Harmless means you can’t cause trouble, benign means you’re choosing not to cause trouble.
Context: My relationship with my new girlfriend.
Threat Assessment: Although she denied intent, my ex-girlfriend and I had been crossing paths for over 5 years by that point. At the time, she knew more about me than anybody else on the planet. That knowledge gave her the capability to cause harm.
Vulnerability: My new girlfriend was 23 and we’d been dating about a month. My ex-girlfriend was 33 with 5 years previous history. My new girlfriend knew the ex-girlfriend was still around and told me she felt threatened by her. There was no way on the planet I was going to let the ex-girlfriend anywhere near the new girlfriend.
Consequence: It was all downside. There was no upside to this. Even if the meeting went well, allowing it in the first place would have been siding with the ex-girlfriend over the new girlfriend and the “likelihood of exploitation” was high.
I don’t know if a meeting between them would have changed anything, but it wasn’t worth the risk. In addition to protecting the new relationship, denying the request for a meeting sent a powerful message to my ex-girlfriend. I only saw her once more after that.
Hindsight is 20/20. It’s sad to think the person you’re sleeping next to poses a threat, but maybe they do.
Counseling with Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. Coaching individuals through high-conflict divorce and custody cases is also an area of expertise. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for more information.
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One of my biggest problems when I become involved in relationships is that I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t like having to keep my guard up, but I find myself doing it almost all the time. It is hard to view relationships with another person in a positive way after being involved with one or more HCP people. I hope to one day not let past abuse dictate my future. Am I the only one who feels like finding a genuinely kind and loving person is similar to winning the lottery? I hope loving relationships aren’t one-in-a-million.
Dr Tara Palmatier says
I’m sorry you’ve had such a difficult time of it. Loving relationships aren’t that rare, so please hold onto hope.
You don’t have to take crap from people to “prove” you’re “worthy” of love. You don’t have to make excuses for other people’s continued bad behavior to rationalize staying in a relationship with them either. You don’t deserve to be raged at, belittled or ignored for feeling hurt, angry or happy or forgetting to pick up a carton of milk.
If you’re not already, try focusing upon you and what makes you happy, passionate, at peace and/or gives you a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. If there are any people in your childhood who remind you of the kind of women you’re typically attracted to, try connecting the dots back and heal the old wounds. The happier (I don’t mean Disney happy, by the way) and more at peace you are with yourself, the more likely you are to attract good and loving people who are also at peace with themselves to you.
I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop as well. Not so much during the first part of the relationship, but especially after she broke up with me the first time. She blindsided me and did it through a text, with no response to my request to talk about what was happening. This is a little bit troublesome to me, I read on this site that, you don’t give any warnings when breaking up with an abusive partner, makes me wonder if I’m the problem. Even though we got back together two or three times more after that point.
I’m printing this one, framing it, and putting it over my desk.
I don’t really see as having your guard up as a bad thing. Isn’t that how we got where we are? I started dating this girl about a month ago and we hit it off quite well, although I didn’t let my radar turn off. Slowly but surely I noticed red flags. It started out with stuff like this; me: “well I’m gonna get off the phone (been on the phone with her for about an hour) and hit the gym” her: “but you can go anytime, wouldn’t you rather talk to me?” Then last weekend she slapped me twice, the first time I told her never to do that again…..her reply “ok princess” and she did it again with her emasculating taunt. Its getting to the point where she says “I love you and miss you” ever 10 seconds. Now I’m trying to figure out how to unload this nut. IMO I think they have to build trust with you, it isn’t an automatic given and just for these reasons. Guard is a good thing.
Dr Tara Palmatier says
I think keeping your guard up is a good thing until you have established trust.
If you later find out that someone isn’t worthy of your trust; get them out of your life as best you can. If it’s someone you have to work with, keep your interaction with them to a bare minimum and keep it strictly business. Also, in a work setting, document their unscrupulous or bullying behaviors in case you have to go to HR.
Jason, I can’t believe she hit you and then called you princess when you complained/told her to stop. I mean I believe you, but seriously, WTF? Whenever I read a story about a woman behaving in an abusive fashion, I always switch the gender roles in my head and imagine, “How would people (in general) react if a man did the same exact thing to a woman?”
Imagine a man hitting a woman and then saying, “Okay, princess,” if she complained told/him to stop. There’d be outrage. He’s be labeled an abusive, sexist creep. But when a woman does it, for instance on a sitcom, a laugh track accompanies it.
Yes…wtf was my reaction and I did the same exact thing. What would be happening right now if the tables were turned. I know exactly. The more I learn about her the more it screams immaturity…..”maybe I’ll just find a hot guy at the bar tonight to f***….” Go right ahead. My gut is screaming run.
I also see nothing wrong with having a guard up, as pertains to ALL interactions with other people (personal as well as business). Trusting everyone is naive.
There is also nothing wrong in admitting that you hooked up with an HCP. Most of them hide their sinister side in the beginning. However, there is something VERY WRONG in not removing yourself from the relationship (i.e. Sleeping with the Enemy), once you’ve realized the predatorial nature of the HCP. This is especially true if you have children with the HCP. The old age of “keeping your enemies close” is bunk. By staying with and continuing to be a target of abuse for the HCP, you are also forcing your children to endure her abuses. At least by divorcing, your children will have a refuge and a safe place to land.
Dr Tara Palmatier says
There is also nothing wrong in admitting that you hooked up with an HCP.
I agree, MB. Unfortunately, many of the men I work with feel a great deal of shame for having been snookered into these relationships. Also, unfortunately, that shame is what keeps a lot of these guys stuck in these toxic relationships, which only serves to compound the shame they feel. Our culture not only makes it okay for a woman to say, “I was victimized by my partner,” we seem to reward these women for it (which is why I also think some women make false allegation claiming their victims of rape, dv, etc., because they get so much sympathy and attention and, in some cases, money.”
While we treat men who have been hurt and abused by their partners at best, with awkward silence and half-assed support, and at worst, with disbelief and scorn.
THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING MIXED UP WITH A HIGH-CONFLICT PREDATOR. It’s the abusive, creepy jerk who ought to be ashamed, not you. It takes a great deal of strength and courage to admit the truth to yourself and others and if the people you reach out to can’t acknowledge that, they’re unsympathetic, ignorant blockheads—especially since most of the people who treat men who admit to being abused are the fist ones to offer support to their female counterparts. In my opinion, shame on them.
B Experienced says
I think the appropriate question to ask yourself is, “If I knew all that I did about HCP and the Cluster B’s, etc. before I entered the relationship, would I have committed to it or run? I find that question can clearly identify more dangerous pathology that the victim as well. It is usually the case that most people would run.
You have to try and keep your learning and healing process with the Cluster B’s as compassionate as you can towards yourself in order for it to be productive. I believe that the B’s depend on you to carry on their abuse by beating yourself up, feeling ashamed, etc. because they want you to experience what they do. It is a form of leveling. Therefore, the best vengeance is kindness towards yourself, and living well.
“Hell hath no fury”
Being away from my ex high-conflict, narcissistic gf has been good for me. My mind is actually getting a calm, peaceful feeling. She, on the otherhand, I believe is getting worse and regressing back to a 16 year old although she is 47.
I helped her financially even when apart and she did pay me back, but there comes a point when she has to learn to stand on her own 2 feet and tell her kid “No” when he wants something. I refuse to help her out anymore as she does not appreciate this help as per following text messaging:
Her: You”re meesly 15 dollars is in your account>>>whoooo hooo now you can put gas in your car
Me: I work hard for my money and I have certain goals I want to achieve. Now I gave you many opportunities to join me in achieving those goals…you chose not to and that is your decision, but don’t you dare and turn around and talk to me like a spoiled 16 year old adolescent who didn’t get her way. I’ve helped you out of very sticky situations and you talk to me like that? Shame on you…
Her: OMFG! LOL…shame on you…LOLOLOLOLOLOL cya!
Enjoy your condo in Barrie…live with the white trash in Barrie…
This is a 47 year old woman…
B Experienced says
It is interesting that she uses the lingo that teenagers use. I have known Cluster B’s in their 50’s who talk like that. Everything is an acronym and the F word is a noun, adjective, verb, etc. When their kids reach teenage years the so called parent starts to behave and talk like them.
You wouldn”t believe the way she acts….her 16 year old is the parent and she is the child…total role-reversal…just pathetic to see. He was never given any boundaries and at 16 years old, he binge drinks, calls his mother, “Bitch” and he walks and talks like a Rap Singer…not a very pretty site in that household.
This fits with a growing theory of mine that Borderline Personality Disorder is arrested development disorder where the person halts emotional development at some point in adolescence. Among other things, this explains the varied sexuality of those with BPD. Some are sexually aggressive like a sixteen-year-old, others, like my ex-wife, are sexually timid, more typical of a thirteen-year-old.
This also explains an interesting aspect of my ex-wife’s behavior and that of acquaintances, including one on this site, namely the ability to be very good with younger children and not so good with teens. My two oldest children have both independently made similar observations.
Interestingly, I presented part of this theory to my oldest, now in her twenties. She thought I was being a little silly, but a few weeks ago she brought it up and said that a few days previous, her mother had a mini-tantrum just like a typical thirteen-year-old–not just in behavior, but the words and mannerisms used.
I know I am three years out of the gate on this one, BUT… I’ve long had a theory that early sexual activity can halt emotional development in young people. Suppose two circles in a Venn diagram are 1) immature sexual activity; and 2) Genetic/Environmental contributors to Cluster B tendencies. I’d put $20 that the net result is halted emotional growth and weaponized sexuality.
Well I’m 10 months into my first serious relationship since the maniac and I dont know if I’m ever gonna trust again. I see the red flags all the time. She seems great but her mother and sisters are all fully blown! How did she manage not to be?
We talk about this disordered stuff all the time but I’m permanently thinking she’s just making the right noises. I talk about consideration and she seems to understand and she seems to care about me. But I’m never going to know for sure. How long before she turns? In my experience, they all turn. Sad.
Hey Ozymandias (great handle by the way),
I recommend you read “Understanding the Borderline Mother” and particularly the section on the paths that the children can go – because not all children of PDIs become PDI themselves – but they need to do lots of personal work to overcome the enmeshment if they are going to avoid being hoovered back into the situation.
Is your GF low contact with her family? Is she in therapy/had therapy? Is she willing to take responsibility for her own stuff in relationships?
10 months is a pretty good sign she may be OK. Unless of course you ignore the fact that she needs to just get away from you when things get contentious. This would be a sign that she is “white knuckling” it. My ex had to bolt from the table a couple times early on- over minor disputes. Looking back, she was getting away because the mask was about to come off. After we were married, nuclear meltdowns were hair-trigger reactions over minor issues…..culminating in much craziness, and ultimately divorce.
From Dr T’s last blog “Should You Marry Her? Relationship Red Flags for Men, Part One”:
“14. Give that family tree a good shake. As Bill Maher once said, “the shit doesn’t fall very far from the bat.”
How do her parents treat one another? How does she treat her parents? Is she on speaking terms with her family? Her father? Of course, this warning sign isn’t foolproof. Sometimes cutting abusive family members out of your life is actually a sign of good mental health.”
For what it’s worth, my exgf’s family was one red flag after another with an occasional flashing light and siren tossed in. I thought my exgf was the “normal” one in her family. She may have been the “quiet” one but over time she showed a lot of the same traits I saw in her mother. Check out Dr. T’s blogs Covert Abuse: How to Handle the “Quiet Ones,” Part One & Part Two. My exgf has a half-sibling I never had a lot of respect for until she moved away. I think she saw more than I gave her credit for.
Don’t underestimate the family.
B Experienced says
Very good article. Your perspective clearly points out that BPD’s and N’s are willfully manipulative and their true intentions.
Did you pick the name Mellaril after the drug?
Good catch. My first summer job in HS was working in a pharmacy.
Great article – I found it easier to read and understand on here than the original on the forum.
Interestingly I am aware we have an insider threat in my office at the moment and my boss and I are taking some active steps to disarm her. I think I will be printing this off for my boss to give her a good context of what we are having to do.
B Experienced says
It is a first generation antipsychotic. Most people wouldn’t recognize it because the newer ones are largley used. They are coming out with a third generation soon if you would like to change your name!
A big chunk of the business was nursing homes. One of my jobs was to keep the unit dose system stocked. I’d dream about it. I’d start with Aldomet and usually wake up between Percodan and Placidyl.
What a GREAT article this is, Mellaril. This is a good way to look at it, also. Is there an upside? What is the downside and the fallout if the threat is not properly assessed and negated? Good lord, I wish I had all the knowledge and ability to access knowledge way back when that I do now.
What’s the downside? If the context is pregnancy, you may become a co-parent with a HCP that links you to them forever.
She can tell you she doesn’t want to get pregnant (intent) but if she’s a healthy fertile woman, she has the capability. She can say she’s on birth control or using some other method but it’s really tough for you to verify. Those could be breath mints in the pill box. BC isn’t 100% effective. If you’re using condoms and you’re controlling access (it’s always about access) to them, you’ve reduced your vulnerability somewhat.
We’re not the only ones assessing risk. They are, too. If the driver of HCP is fear of abandonment, they try to mitigate the risk of you leaving. Pregnancy is a risk management tool. By getting pregnant, it binds you to them and reduces the threat of you leaving by modifying your intent. You can still leave but with a child around, you’re less likely to.
When I was in the relationship, I was pretty good at assessing intent. Many of us who grow up in dysfunctional families are. We don’t understand the other components, vulnerability, impact and risk.
You can never know for sure the value of trouble you avoided. I suspect my life would have been worse had I continued my relationship with my exgf but I can only say for certain that it would have been different. One value in understanding threat and risk, is that you may be able to leverage their vulnerabilities against them.
I meant to add that the downside depends on context. Pregnancy was an easy example.
Listening to the remaining cast of NewsRadio is enlightening…y’know, Phil Hartman was shot to death by his wife, Dave Foley is being financially fleeced and married a Boderline wife….
The podcast is a little long, but quite frightening. I thought Dave Foley gave a very apt and concise description of the horrors of dealing with borderlines and the court system (thank God I live in a relatively decent divorce state and not in Canada.)
Perhaps Dr. T could get Dave Foley on as a guest!
(I knew Phil Hartman’s wife was a basket case, but I didn’t know she was as bad as she really was.)
I just read a very scary article…
All I can say is…men, if your night suddenly turns into fodder for a Penthouse Forum article…you’d better be suspicious. Easy, loose, trampy women who are hot for you (I know you are hot, however…)… ARE emotionlly f’d up.
From today’s Huffington Post:
“La Touche confessed to killing Pornpilai Srisroy, 28, in April at their house in Leigh, Greater Manchester. He told Preston Crown Court that Srisroy tried to make his life miserable by, among other things, smashing a collection of “Star Wars” memorabilia he had built up since childhood.
He claimed that Srisroy had previously hit him with with a pool cue, and had threatened to kill him while he was asleep and “cut him up and eat him,” according to The Daily Mail. She also threatened to leave him and return to her native Thailand, in La Touche’s account.
‘We argued and she said she was going to make my life hell. She’s put me through it before. I couldn’t let that happen again,” he told the court. “I then just remember getting up from on top of her. I think I’ve choked her,’
The threat is gone but she’s dead and he’s going to prison.
Melarill – so sad, but that (not to that extreme) seems to be the ‘lightbulb’ most people need to wake up…when they (we) become abusive ourselves, like we just sort of ‘snap’ one day and all hell breaks loose.
I felt that way about my NPD AXH – had a chat with my gf the other night–about a mutual male friend with an abusive wife, to whom I have given articles from this site–and she said that she actually went violent on her very controlling, lying cheating ex…
I wish there was another way–a way to get people in abusive relationships to see the light, walk out of the FOG and start to heal, without it getting that far.
“It Sucks” doesn’t even begin to describe how it feels to watch people you care about keep going back / defending their abusers, changing into self-hating mouses…and there ain’t one damned thing anyone, even someone like me who has been there, can do about it.
Wow. Thank goodness for archives. Nice back-to-the-basics review of this article. I needed it. Have been feeling quite ashamed for having fallen in with a few HCP/Cluster B women. The most recent one was a neurologist-neuropsychiatrist. Talk about someone who could mind f–k you.
Prim, proper, stern and disciplined appearance, yet intimately, always dropping the ‘F Bomb’, talking teenagerish, temper tantrums, shit tests, psych warfare, emotional torture…to name a few.
She had talked about settling down and having a baby too. Dated her for a year. Cortisol increase, testosterone decrease, misery.
In reading about the guy who killed his partner in UK, also reminds me how serious this really is. I try to play humor into my experiences to help assuage the carnage, yet, forget that things can go very bad very quickly and people get hurt and die with this sh-t.