Personality Disordered Co-Parents and “The System” Part 1

Personality Disordered Co-Parents and “The System”, Part 1
Ways professionals can assist those who must co-parent with a sick person
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Copyright 2006-2018

This is Part One of a Three Part Series
As an attorney, a self-help author, a breakup counselor and a former psychiatric clinician, I can clearly see, in my clients and readers, the frustration and despair that comes from trying to deal and co-parent with a personality disordered (PD) ex, most usually sociopath, psychopath or narcissist. The disorder can also include some borderline personalities, abusers and some “Axis I” diagnoses such as Bipolar when it is complicated even further with features such as psychosis.

In most instances, bipolar disorder is a mood disorder and is not representative of the behaviors indicated in this article.  For the record, in very rare instances, mood disorders can have complications such as psychotic features where the person is in an altered state. Sometimes their psychosis seriously curtails their ability to control their mood disorder and they can become manipulative or extremely self-centered and irrational. This article is not, in any way, talking about people with mood disorders such as depression, bipolar, etc.

This is those who are not just defined only by the DSM Axis II diagnosis.  Instead, for this article, they are defined as extremely unhealthy, toxic, self-centered, manipulative individuals whose life goal seems to revolve around making other people miserable. Their ruse is one of long-suffering victim and caring parent, when nothing could be further from the truth. Continue reading

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Like Water: Why We Attract Who We Attract

The “water seeks its own level” posts were requested. Here are two of them:

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Look to your mate choices to better understand yourself

Carl Jung said that everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. People have twisted his words to mean that what we don’t like in another is what is wrong with us.  It’s not quite that simple.

In my books I talk about the concept that “water seeks its own level.” This means that if we want to know what is missing in us, what is lacking in us, what unfinished business we have, what our inner struggles are, we need not look further than the person we are involved with.

Usually our choice of a mate will tell us what we need to know about ourselves and the work we need to do if we listen carefully and look closely.  Sometimes one person can encompass all of what we are looking for and sometimes we change our choices to accommodate different issues.  As we grow and change, our choice of mate continues to reflect what we still need to work on.
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Water Seeks Its Own Level

Water splash

“It is a spiritual principal that we will continue to encounter others who will embody the opportunity for us to learn our most pressing lesson. When we learn to overcome the problem in ourselves, our ‘teachers’ fade away.” – Robin Norwood

It is uncanny that we can meet and be attracted to the exact person who is going to make us miserable exactly the same way our last partner did. There are so many conscious and unconscious things at play but water does seek its own level.

I met my best friend the first day of law school. I shared a little about myself and she pulled up a seat next to me in the very next class. She said, “I like you. You’re funny.” I was thinking WHO in the world is this person and why do I care if she thinks I’m funny? Continue reading

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5 Things You Must Do To Change the Quality of Relationships

It is possible to bridge the gap between horrible relationships and happiness

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Copyright 2017

There is societal pressure to be partnered. When you are not, you often feel as if the entire world is wondering what is wrong with you. If your best friend gets engaged, a cousin gets married, a co-worker has a baby shower, you may feel a twinge of jealousy and find it hard to be happy for them. Their outward signs of success may make you feel like a failure. Your relationships have not worked out.  Your partners have been terrible.

  • It’s important to understand that many people settle for a warm body with a pulse.
  • It’s important to understand that outward appearances do not truly represent behind closed doors.
  • It’s important to understand many people put more energy into planning a wedding than understanding how to have a happy marriage. The attention that wedding favors receive is much greater than most people give to their compatibility with their mate.  HOW CRAZY IS THAT????

In my book, Getting Back Out There:  Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding REAL Love After the Big Breakup (GBOT) I relay the story of a man who went to stay, for a short time for a business opportunity,  with his best friend who had moved across the country shortly after they graduated from college.

He had not really known his friend’s wife too well, but was excited to be staying with a guy who had been his best friend since junior high.  They had been each other’s groomsmen at their weddings and his friend had posted and boasted, via Facebook and Instagram, photos of a happy, loving family life.

After staying with them for a few weeks,  he knew that his friend was miserable and the Facebook photos a complete sham.  His friend’s wife was not a nice person and they bickered almost all the time.  The reality had no connection to the Facebook life that his friend bragged of….But, most of us don’t manage to get that close,–to stay IN the homes of our friends….but it does happen. Sometimes the truth does leak out….I know of another woman whose friends all beat her to the punch with weddings and children…so when she got married, she had the most SPECTACULAR wedding and when she had her children, her Facebook photos were just amazingly happy sweet family.
Continue reading

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Breaking Up and Making “The Turn”

Often the ability to move on is a choice we either make or we don’t.

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Any change, any loss, does not make us victims. Others can shake you, surprise you, disappoint you, but they can’t prevent you from acting, from taking the situation you’re presented with and moving on. No matter where you are in life, no matter what your situation, you can always do something. You always have a choice and the choice can be power. ~ Blaine Lee

Each of us has the power to decide whether or not a hurt, a loss, a change in circumstance is going to keep us down.

Each of us has the power to say, “NO MORE” to someone who is hurting us. Each of us has the power to walk away and look at our inner selves instead of trying to get whatever it is we are trying to get from the outside. It comes down to CHOICE.

Sometimes clients of mine wait for the day when they will wake up and “be over it.” They think it’s the equivalent of being tapped with a magic wand.  Presto Chango!  Move on!  But true moving on is a choice you have to make.  One that doesn’t come easily but one you have to affirmatively, cognitively and rationally make. 

It is normal and healthy to feel horrible after a loss or an unexpected and unwelcome change. We must do our work which involves crying, being angry, feeling depressed, unenergetic, hazy, forgetful, etc.

It is normal to recycle.

It is normal to “break the rules” of getting better.

What we need to do is to be VIGILANT when we’re recycling and when we are purposely or accidentally breaking the rules of relationship recovery.

One step forward and two steps back is a somewhat “normal” way to move forward. People ask me why, in my book Getting Past Your Breakup, I state that I hate using the word “stages” where grief is concerned.  It’s because “stages” connotes a neat crossing over from one to the next, it seems to suggest that grief is a linear process and grief is anything but linear or neat or understandable a lot of the time.  Beverley Raphael called the process of grief “phases.”  I read this first in Seven Choices by Elizabeth Harper Neeld (which I talk about more below) and then Dr. Raphael’s work became a cornerstone of my own. When you chase recovery, many times one book leads to another and another and another – which is why I include long bibliographies in both my books. 

So, grief happens in phases and we usually move back and forth, up and down, skip one, repeat three.  And on and on.  Rarely do we progress nicely through one stage and then the other. It simply doesn’t work like that. I urge people to think of it in phases where one might revisit any phase more than once for no clear rhyme or reason.  Continue reading

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Annual Responsibility to the World Community Post

Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander. -Sign in the Holocaust Museum, Washington DC

handsI’ve posted this every January for the past 5 years. It’s a rather long post, but I believe it’s an important one and, by writing it and re-writing it once a year, I try to impress upon others how helping others heals your own soul in a way that nothing else can. So if you’re bored, lonely, heartbroken, tired or just restless and feel as if the whole world has someone and you don’t, do some research to see the many causes and organizations who can use your help this year. It will help you feel grateful and being of use to others is to heal faster. As I always say, I never ask my readers or clients to do anything I haven’t done or don’t do, and I know this is a soul-filling opportunity when you extend your hand to others who need it.

As 2018 dawns, it is apparent that no matter where you live or what you believe in, we have work to do and I believe that part of your healing process must include volunteer work and commitment to others.

But even if you don’t want to be involved in major happenings or formal organizations, there is probably someone in your own life who could use some help and encouragement. Just saying, “It will be okay.” or being active in a group and encouraging others, even if it’s to say, “I feel very similar to how you feel.” it’s important to let others know they are not alone and others get where they are. One of the most important part of my initial healing was that there were terms for the way I was feeling (fear of abandonment, grief, unresolved loss) and if there were words for it then others had it too and if others had it too maybe there was a way out. And there was. Sometimes just HEARING that someone identifies with you can mean so much. Can make you feel so less alone.

I am a fairly active participant in charities, causes and rescue organizations. As a former DV victim, I’ve always worked in the area of Domestic Violence and have the GPYB scholarship program and book matching programs for DV shelters (If you don’t know what that is, if you send a book to a DV shelter or organization I match it for either that organization or another of your choosing).  I did legal pro bono work for DV victims, for Hurricane Katrina victims, Hurricane Sandy, immigration and others.  Continue reading

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Going Downhill. Fast.

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Requested Repost.

I was raised in the Bronx where, last I checked, skiing was not a street game. So I actually reached adulthood without ever having skiied or even knowing the first thing about it.

When I was in my late 20s I worked at a job where people went skiing in Vermont and New Hampshire. The first time they invited me I was about 28 and said okay. The ONLY thing I knew about skiing was that there were jokes about broken legs. I assumed the way to avoid a broken leg was to stay upright. Continue reading

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Gratitude, Support Groups & Getting Better

gratitudeJohn F. Kennedy once said that as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

M. Scott Peck said that love is an action.

Both love and gratitude are actions. It doesn’t matter what you say, it matters what you DO. Every year I post the YouTube video HERE for my readers on gratitude and I was touched, and grateful, for both the public and private response to it. I am always humbled by being in a position to give even one person a small ray of hope, especially on a difficult day like a holiday. We may be fine before the holiday, but holidays and anniversaries and birthdays can trigger all kinds of unexpected sadness and anxiety.

My life would not be possible without others who helped me during those very bleak and dark days when I was depressed, anxious, borderline suicidal and feeling hopeless. I remember driving down the road and the only way to avoid driving the car into a wall was to keep chanting, as tears streamed down my face, “I am a child of God and God loves me.” Someone gave me that to say when I was sitting in a therapist’s waiting room and my hands were physically shaking. This man, someone I didn’t know and had never met, turned to me and said, “Just remember, you are a child of God and God loves you.” He said it in this sweet and kind voice, almost a whisper, that was incredibly soothing. I wasn’t even sure if it was true or even if there was a God but I held onto it, and I said it like a mantra whenever I didn’t think I could go on another minute.  Many of the techniques I’ve taught over the years – affirmations, mantras, acceptance statement, “even though” statements are in the workbook.  I couldn’t fit them all in the books, but all of them are in the workbook (order HERE), and in that dark moment, before anyone taught me anything, I held onto that mantra like it was the only lifeline I had.  At the time it was.  But I learned the importance of all of them.

I’ve told the following story when I’ve done speaking engagements and in seminars and on the blog. It’s a story that really has stayed with me all these years.
Continue reading

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Torch Song Trilogy

A perennial favorite on the blog and requested repost:

I saw this movie in the theater when it came out and I was pretty tortured and depressed at the time. I had just ended my marriage and was wrestling with my relationship with my adoptive family. I remember crying at the relationship between Arnold and his adopted son David…I wanted a mom like Arnold (Harvey Fierstein), bunny slippers and all.

But I didn’t UNDERSTAND the sentiment, “Love and respect me or get out.” It did not compute. I had not yet learned, as Arnold knew, that love is an action. And I had not yet insisted on it from absolutely everyone.

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A New Year…a New You

      1. The annual GPYB New Year’s Post

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential. – Ellen Goodman

The most important part of rebuilding after a major breakup is to plan out what comes next. For many it may be hard. We might be feeling lost, alone and not “up” to thinking about being the cheerleaders of our lives. We may be kicking and screaming our way through the idea of going it alone. In the past few weeks we’ve felt absolutely shipwrecked by the holidays. We just want them to be over (and they almost are!)

Continue reading

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6 Ways to Become the Best Version of Yourself

Befriend people who have what you want, and do what they do.

If we are incapable of finding peace in ourselves, it is pointless to search elsewhere. ~ Francois de la Rochefoucauld

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

It is impossible to find real love and true friendship until we first love ourselves and are a friend to ourselves. People who have been in bad relationships are usually trying to find something outside themselves to fill up the emptiness, and it will never work. People who are empty attract others who are empty (or who are predators who prey on empty people).

People who are empty are prone to abusive, manipulative, chaotic types who keep them off their pins — or they are prone to withholding people who punish them when they don’t “act properly.” In any event, these types just add to the emptiness. While they might fill the void for a while, they usually make it quite worse in the long run.

The only solution to finding healthy relationships with others is to develop a healthy relationship with yourself first. This solves two problems at once: First, you get healthier, so you are attractive to, and attracted to, healthier people. Second, if you find yourself in a situation you don’t like, you know how to be alone and are less afraid of getting out. Healthy people are not attracted to anyone who is ready to make them their world. They steer clear of that level of neediness. If you want to find the right person, meaning a healthy and loving partner, you have to be the right person.

Continue reading

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Resolving Our Anger At Narcissists

Ten Steps to Feeling Okay Again

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D. , M.Ed.  Copyright 2014

I receive a lot of email and can’t answer them personally so I ask that those who write give me permission to publish the email (with identifying information removed) so that others with similar issues can benefit from the discussion. Lately I’ve received a lot of emails and comments on the this blog about breaking up with narcissists.  This letter represents a lot of themes I have heard throughout the emails and comments.

This response was to the person who wrote and much of the response is for her and for others who write similar things. It reflects me and how I respond to these situations. If you need kinder or gentler advice, please look somewhere else. There are many articles on the internet by an array of therapists. There is a style to suit you if mine doesn’t.  Take what you like and leave the rest.

If you want to write me with your situation please do so at

Hello Susan:

I lived across the street from my ex who seemed to be watching me, as well as his mother who visits him often. I moved out of there 3 months ago after taking a trip to the US to visit family.  My mother and I have never really gotten along and the trip was no different.  We had a huge falling out and have not spoken since.

Please keep in mind that during the past few months I have been struggling with the break-up with my ex, who is a full-blown narcissist. I am not exaggerating and he meets, I believe, 8 of the criteria for narcissism. I joined the support group on the net called The Web of Narcissism and this seems to be helpful. I even find myself giving support and helpful advice (I hope so) to others who are just coming out of their relationships.
Continue reading

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Questions from the Questions Post

I know we used to have Questions from the Questions Post and some of you may have found this on YouTube. I STILL will answer Questions on YouTube….just email me at  – and when I make videos, it will be in the queue.  Thanks!

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Social Media Detox

I “left” Facebook several months ago. I still have a page and the GPYB support group, but I rarely post.  When I access FB, I click on the FB Support group immediately when I go on and that’s about it. I don’t post much and I don’t read most other people’s posts.  I think it’s insane the amount of time people spend on there. I think it should be called NoLifeBook.

I know I’ve harped on this before but I have seen social media turn my clients into knots. They can’t seem to use it without witnessing something about the ex or a friend of the ex or a relative of the ex. I’ve seen the havoc it plays with those trying to get over a relationship.
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Replaced by the Ex in a Very Public Way?

Time to #GetOverIt!

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Copyright 2017 All Right Reserved

This may not be copied or duplicated without the express permission of the author

One of the most common questions I receive every single month since I started writing my blog in 2008 is, “My ex has moved on so fast, what do I do?” Since the advent of social media, it has gotten so much worse.  It seems the “replacing” behavior is now very public. Now it has become, “My ex has replaced me in a very public (social media) way.  What do I do?” 

In the Getting Past Your Breakup book I ask, “Does it hurt when you do?” and if the answer is “Yes.” Then the response is “Don’t do that.”

The other thing I hear, a lot, is “It’s not about (Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, whatever the hell, the ex, the ex’s new partner)…” and when I hear that, I usually say, “Chances are, yes it is.  That is exactly what it is about.”  If you’re being slammed by your ex’s social media posts, it’s time to detox from social media until such a time when you can handle it. It’s time to block the ex and (temporarily) any mutual friends.  If you can’t do that, it’s time to get off social media altogether. Continue reading

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