How to Cope with Your Paranoid Ex

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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Your abusive ex is likely to cope with the pain and humiliation of separation by spreading lies, distortions, and half-truths about you and by proffering self-justifying interpretations of the events leading to the break-up. By targeting your closest, nearest, and dearest – your family, your children, boss, colleagues, co-workers, neighbours, and friends – your ex hopes to achieve two equally unrealistic goals:

1.     To isolate you socially and force you to come running back to his waiting and "loving" arms.

2.     To communicate to you that he still "loves" you, is still interested in you and your affairs and that, no matter what, you are inseparable. He magnanimously is willing to forgive all the "horrible things" you did to him and revive the relationship (which, after all, had its good moments).

All abusers present with rigid and infantile (primitive) defence mechanisms: splitting, projection, Projective Identification, denial, intellectualisation, and narcissism. But some abusers go further and decompensate by resorting to self-delusion. Unable to face the dismal failures that they are, they partially withdraws from reality.

How to cope with delusional, paranoid – and, therefore, dangerous – stalkers?

It may be difficult, but turn off your emotions. Abusers prey on other people's empathy, pity, altruism, nostalgia, and tendency to lend a helping hand. Some stalkers "punish" themselves – drink to excess, commit offences and get caught, abuse drugs, have accidents, fall prey to scams – in order to force their victims to pity them and get in touch.

The only viable coping strategy is to ignore your abusive ex. Take all necessary precautions to protect yourself and your family. Alert law enforcement agencies to any misbehaviour, violence, or harassment. File charges and have restraining orders issued. But, otherwise, avoid all gratuitous interactions.

Do not collude or collaborate in your ex's fantasies and delusions. You cannot buy his mercy or his goodwill – he has none. Do not support his notions, even indirectly, that he is brilliant, perfect, irresistibly handsome, destined for great things, entitled, powerful, wealthy, the centre of attention, etc. Abusers act on these misperceptions and try to coerce you into becoming an integral part of their charades.

Abuse is a criminal offence and, by definition, abusers are criminals: they lack empathy and compassion, have deficient social skills, disregard laws, norms, contracts, and morals. You can't negotiate with your abusive ex and you can't strike a bargain with him. You can't reform, cure, or recondition him. He is a threat to you, to your property, and to your dear ones. Treat him as such.

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The most dangerous class of abusers is the paranoid-delusional. If your ex is one of these, he is likely to:

1.     Believe that you still love him (erotomania). Interpret everything you do or say – even to third parties – as "hidden messages" addressed to him and professing your undying devotion (ideas of reference).

2.     Confuse the physical with the emotional (regard sex as "proof" of love and be prone to rape you).

3.     Blame the failure of the relationship on you or on others – social workers, your friends, your family, your children.

4.     Seek to "remove" the obstacles to a "happy" and long relationship – sometimes by resorting to violence (kidnapping or murdering the sources of frustration).

5.     Be very envious of your newfound autonomy and try to sabotage it by reasserting his control over you (for instance, break and enter into your house, leave intrusive messages on your answering machine, follow you around and monitor your home from a stationary car).

6.     Harm you (and sometimes himself) in a fit of indignation (and to punish you) if he feels that no renewed relationship is possible.

7.     Develop persecutory delusions. Perceive slights and insults where none are intended. Become convinced that he is the centre of a conspiracy to deny him (and you) happiness, to humiliate him, punish him, delude him, impoverish him, confine him physically or intellectually, censor him, impose on his time, force him to action (or to inaction), frighten him, coerce him, surround and besiege him, change his mind, part with his values, victimise or even murder him, and so on.

The paranoid's conduct is unpredictable and there is no "typical scenario". But experience shows that you can minimise the danger to yourself and to your household by taking some simple steps.

This is the subject of the next article.

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