Four Key Elements To Identifying a Pathological Love Relationship: A Teaching Series on PLRs

Article One: Introduction

Copyright (c) 2016-2019 by Sandra Brown, M.A.

Research guides understanding. Until cross-sectional findings, studies, and research on Pathological Love Relationships, the dynamics of these relationships fell predominantly under descriptors like domestic violence/abusive, dysfunctional, codependent, or addictive. These broad definitions missed the intricacies that often separate the dynamics of other sub categories of these descriptors. What was absent was what differentiated relationships by what was unique to the perpetrator, survivor, or resulting trauma. Pathological Love Relationships (PLRs) as a different type of relationship remained generalized into the other descriptors.

Dr. Donald Dutton’s research on domestic violence abusers, for instance, helped us understand that the profile of all perpetrators is not the same. In a generalized way, the category of ‘abuser’ in domestic violence mostly described the abusive behaviors of ‘an abuser’ and not the personality aspects that generate behavior. Dutton, however, focused on those who were most likely to reoffend, fail treatment, or had high lethality risk—in other words, the most dangerous. This took a generic label of abusive and subdivided it. Not all abusers reoffend. But what is different about those who do? It has, or should have had, implications for instance, in batterer intervention for those identified as mostly likely to reoffend or kill compared to one-time offenders without the markers of recidivism or lethality potential.

Dutton’s (and others’) research helped the field look deeper into this one-size-fits-all description of ‘an abuser.’ It rightfully challenged that a broad category label misses the nuances of differences and danger; that deeper study can give us more information about wide reaching implications in batterer intervention, victim safety, probation, sentencing, etc.

Dutton’s research focused not on the generic labels of ‘abusive’ behavior on the beloved ‘Power and Control Wheel’ but the extremes of behavior or recidivistic behavior which revealed ‘who’ were the abusers in our systems we should be most concerned with. Below the labels of ‘physical or verbal assault’ were more concerning aspects of personality that generated bad behavior and could generate even more recidivistic or dangerous behavior. It wasn’t necessary to wait for the next violent act because there were clues in the personality that influenced not only behaviors but beliefs; not only beliefs but impulsivity; not only impulsivity but poor insight—it had predictive power to understand who was most dangerous.

Dutton did a unique and powerful thing. He dared to challenge the simple generic behavioral label of ‘an abuser’ and shifted it from being all about behavior to being more about abnormal psychology–less about one-time offenders and more about recidivistic offenders–less about a sociological assumed ‘learned behavior’ explanation of abusers and more about a DSM diagnosis.

Dutton’s division of a mere behavioral label helped us understand all abusers are not created equal. In some there is more callousness, more subterfuge, more poor impulse control, less conscience, remorse and empathy. These deficits is what produced more injuries and more death. These also happened to be diagnostic criteria.
His multiple researches returned the same results again and again. Behind the more impulsivity, more injuries, more recidivism, more death was a consistent set of disorders—Cluster B Personality Disorders (NPD, ASPD) and Psychopathy.

Despite these findings, the field has not hurried to study this sub-division of relationships. Clearly, if all abusers are not created equal, neither are the relationships of this category. Nor likely the trauma of its victims. Nor likely the relational dynamics of a low-conscienced offender compared to a one-time offender.

Dr. Robert Hare has long touted the dangers of psychopathy which never translated from behind prison bars to relational dynamics. Under the umbrella of ‘abusive,’ the relationships of inevitable harm in Pathological Love Relationships remained blended with other generic concepts of ‘abuse is abuse.’ And yet, everything else is seen on a continuum—from trauma to autism. But what has not been looked at on a continuum is this issue of Pathological Love Relationships as the far extreme of both abuse and trauma production, created from individuals with some of the most extreme disorders in the DSM.

We believe that these relationships are notably different and warrant the same division of labels that Dutton wisely researched. Decades of research on the personalities of Cluster Bs and Psychopaths in relationships has produced insights into the relational dynamics, its survivors and their trauma.

This of course, lead to the same assumptions that Dutton noted in abusers, that we have noted in victims. The generic ‘victim profile’ from socio-economic backgrounds, to violence histories, to assumed ‘learned helplessness/low self-esteem’ vary as greatly as do the generic labels of ‘abusers.’

Unresearched victims of Cluster Bs and Psychopaths were tossed under the generic label with not one shred of individualized research.

  • Is the victim of the psychopath/anti-social/narcissist the same as the victim of other offenders?
  • Is her trauma the same?
  • Is the relationship the same?
  • Is there something different in victims that can love a psychopath compared to a other offenders?

Consequently, without the examination, research or answers, victims are trauma-treated with the one-size-fits-all approach of ‘domestic violence.’ The Association believes there is a better way to not only understand but identify and treat these relationships of ‘inevitable harm.’ (More info is in the 3rd edition of Women Who Love Psychopaths.)

The Association, which is represented by multi-discipline clinicians in the field, is developing a training program that teaches what has been learned over the last few decades about Pathological Love Relationships (called PLRs). The information gathered from these clinicians includes data collections on PLR relational dynamics, results from cross-sectional findings on atypical trauma, and the research with Purdue University on the personality profile of these victims differing from a DV survivor profile. The training program will include an evidence-based, trauma-informed-care and best practices approach Model of Care for treating survivors of PLRs. It should be available sometime in 2019.

Sandra L. Brown, MA

** This is the copyrighted intellectual and research property of The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and The Association for NPD/Psychopathy Survivor Treatment and should be cited as such.