Neuroscience Behind Pathological Love Relationships

In the PTSD Zone: The Anti-Happiness Plague

Have you stepped down from a career? Feel like your life will never be normal again? Unable to take normal environmental noise and stress anymore? Are you asking, "What happened to me – I can't think straight anymore!" Do you have feelings of having lost identity? Are you barely managing to survive, let alone thrive?

The following are notes that I created while listening to the audio at the top of this page. It's a teaching by neuroscientist, Dr. Rhonda Freeman. I hope you add this to your own wisdom library, so that together we can create abuse-free zones around our homes, churches, and communities!

It's not your fault!

All you did was open up your heart to a pathological person who has fooled everyone else in your life, too. You loved someone who has no ability to love you in a moral, righteous way. You didn't do anything fundamentally wrong.

Many people commonly exclaim, "We married the same man!" It's because pathological people behave in a certain way, sharing the same personality characteristics, and employing the same strategies.

The best way to get closure is to gain a certain level of understanding of pathologicals.

Survivors of pathological relationships have impaired brains. It makes it very hard to make good decisions and it cause you to feel like you've lost yourself. Pathological relationships create a stress that is far beyond the human brain's capacity to cope. It's not anything like normal stress, even the normal stress of divorce and death, as tramatic as those events are.

You are stronger than you think, and your brain is designed to handle stress… but not pathological stress.

The executive function of the brain is designed to handle a lot of stress and to maintain a comfortable balance with your thoughts and emotions. The brain is an organ and it is not built to accept mistreatment. Just like other organs in the body it will have reduced functionality or even malfunction when exposed to toxic relationships. We are designed to detect abnormal people and to protect ourselves, but exposure to toxic people damages the brain.

The brain is not designed for chronic, intimate exposure to pathological relationships.

Abused spouses don't always recognize that staying in an abusive relationship is a continual series of traumas that changes the brain and prevents one from feeling happiness. Their ability to make healthy decisions deteriorates the longer they remain with the pathological person.

Remaining in a pathological relationship is a guarantee of permanent unhappiness.

Happiness is not situational. It's a neuro reaction. PTSD is one result of cummulative pathological stress. It's automatic to deplete your brain and not have the ablity to be happy… it's not your fault!

You ask yourself: "What happened to my personality? I used to be so happy. I feel like I'll never be happy again."

Your brain is designed to protect you during crisis. It's called a "Fight or Flight System". There's no way you can be in the process of fight or flight and to be happy at the same time. You cannot find happiness in the midst of fight or flight.

Toxic stress tends to plunge you into more and more abusive situations.

Toxic stress is cumulative. We're not talking about positive stressors, like getting a new job or moving to a new town. We're not even talking about major stressors like a stock market crash or the loss of everything you own. We're talking about toxic stress – the kind of stress that is a constant bombardment from a person who is controlled by evil forces – and you can't get away because society enforces the relationship. Each time is worse and your body, heart, and mind become even more and more sensitive.

You enter the PTSD Zone

Many women step down, or switch careers, because they are unable to handle even normal stress, like they used to. Some women can't take loud noises anymore. Can't listen to music. Need things to be calm.

You ask, "What is wrong with me?" It's too stressful to shop at the mall. You can't have music in the house. You're easily over-stimulated.

Toxic stress attacks the frontal lobe – the regulator of the brain. The frontal lobe controls emotions. People who have gone through traumatic stress have a disabled frontal lobe. It is not activated as it should be, so they are out of balance.

You might describe yourself as being hypersensitive. Always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The frontal lobe gives you the flavor of who you are. It keeps you from getting angry quickly. When the frontal lobe doesn't work well, it increases the flight or fight reflex. The frontal lobe becomes more and more disabled and less able to help you be your normal self.

The stress gains control of your life.

One of the shocking things to the families of a person who has PTSD is that they can no longer think their way out of an abusive situation. Unless you understand what happens to the brain of the victim of a pathological person, you won't understand how to support the victim. You might blame the victim, which is the most common result in our churches today.

It's why I wrote a "Healing Manifesto!"

Now she is seen as the woman who can't control herself. The pathological person laughs, because that was his intention in the first place. It's all part of "the game".

She asks herself, "What was I thinking? Why didn't I leave? When I found all this evidence, why didn't I make a better decision?"

It's not her fault!

There is a neuroscience to the aftermath of a pathological relationship. The pathological person has set up the normal, balanced person to look crazy. She used to be okay, but now her decision-making ability is greatly impacted.

The victim usually tortures herself by asking, "Why didn't I leave, back then, when I first noticed ____?" "Why did I choose to look the other way, to not notice ____?" "Why didn't I see that I could have done ____ instead?"

She will blame herself. She thinks she's weak… as opposed to a nuerological issue after so many years of trauma.

PTSD is neurobiological… your survival system has been overworked.

PTSD is often diagnosed as a psychological disorder, but, more correctly, this isa NEUROBIOLOGICAL disorder. This is not something you can make happen or not happen. PTSD is an automatic response to chronic pathological relationships in your life.

It's not your fault.

Four Systems (Regions of the Brain) that are impacted by a pathological relationship – These four systems become completely invalid after pathological relationships.

  1. Reward System (dopamine makes you feel "intensity" and it addicts you to someone.) You crave the person. Goal-directed behavior. If it's a psychopath or a narcissist you are walking into more pain, but it's a hard system to fight. This person holds "happiness" in the form of dopamine. You will go through withdrawal when the relationship breaks up. When a normal relationship breaks up, there is no betrayal – mistreatment – abuse – smear campaigns – gaslighting – so the normal brain is not damaged and the frontal lobe is activated to help you to balance out.  When you're rejected a psychopath, your dopamine is released in a higher dose. Now you want the psycho more than ever! So you call, you text, you stalk on Facebook, etc. It doesn't matter the educational level
  2. Stress System
  3. Brief System
  4. _____ (She couldn't remember the 4th system)

Women turn a corner and experience relief when they begin to understand what is happening to them.

You must be educated in pathology in some way. Understand the blame-shifting, the smear campaigns, the gaslighting… Understanding the pathology helps women to turn a corner.

You can't get closure from the pathological person. No amount of communication will make the slightest difference. You are the only one who can give yourself closure. There is a brain system that handles morality, and in psychopaths, this part of the brain, as confirmed by MRI's, is not developed. That's why standard counseling, seminars, and books do not work in pathological relationships.

It's very hard for the victim to process the information about a psychopath. She has an impaired brain, so it can take years for a survivor to fully understand the psychopathic relationship.

Complex PTSD further compounds her recovery. PTSD has some radical effects; for example, auto-immune disorders, cancers, and joint problems that affect the body. The pathological effects spread from the brain to other parts of the body. Long-term effects of exposure to a pathological person begin with brain impairment but spreads throughout the body.

Even those most loving, patient woman who stays with their pathological partner will experience devastating effects in her brain and other organs of her body. Some of these women are falsely labeled "hypochondriacs" … or "She's a drama queen." It's unfortunate, because misunderstanding further compounds the pain, emotionally and physically.

Trauma is stored in the body at the cellular level. Women who choose to remain in an abusive relationship may experience devastating consequences in her mind and body.

Many women end up with inflammatory disorders. The immune system is compromised and it results in deep, physical pain they must live with. Physical and mental abuse register the same level of pain, in the brain as a physical trauma such as a car accident.

The brain uses the same neuro pathways to conduct emotional pain as physical pain. The brain registers either a slap in the face or an angry word with the same level of pain. Verbal abuse registers on the same neuro pathways as physical abuse.

Ways to Heal Your Brain

1. Get educated about pathological relationships. It really helps to gain perspective of what happened to you.

2. Well-meaning people sometimes use "tough love" and they "tell it like it is". For now, you need to stay away from people like that, because they don't understand that they are enflaming your brain. Your brain has been impaired and needs far more gentle touches than most people realize. It will keep you stuck and hurt you, if you are around people who are not gentle enough.

3. Be around people with healthy limbic systems. Someone can walk into the room and you can tell immediately if they are a good or bad person. You can feel a healthy person. You might call it "good vibes". Your limbic system will naturally repair itself on its own, just being in their presence. Being around children can help a lot, in this way!

4. Get a professional therapist, if you have associated problems such as depression, which is a frequent effect of PTSD.

5. Be proactive with your diet and nutrition. Everything in your body goes out of whack when you are with a pathological person long-term. Meet with a doctor who can help you with natural herbs and nutrients to help your brain.

6. Get outdoors. Appreciation the beauty of creation. Victims often feel like the world is a dark place, so go out and find beauty in nature. It will help to bring you joy!

7. Get creative. Write. Heal. Tell you story!

I hope this audio teaching by Dr. Rhonda Freeman has helped you as much as it helped me! Even if you are not a survivor of a pathological relationship, this information can be helpful if you hear of a situation in which you suspect pathology is in play.

Education is the difference between Now and Wonderful!

My Full Story     What I Believe    Contact Me

With all my love,


Susan Schiller knows how it feels to lose everything: marriage and family, church and reputation, finances and businesses, and more. Susan's upcoming, interactive memoir, "On the Way Home," tells the story of how she came to be known as "the most abused woman" her counselors had yet met and how she learned to navigate to freedom and fullness.  

Today Susan helps people write their life stories, unearthing the treasures of their past and sowing them into their future, creating new family legacies.

Copyright © 2010 to 2017 Team Family Online, All rights reserved.   For reprint permission or for any private or commercial use, in any form of media, please contact Susan Schiller

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Cirami January 25, 2015 at 2:39 am

Dear Mary,  

i have just come out of an abusive marriage of 20 years.   I am still young as I married when I was 23. I have 2 children who are 3 and 4 years of age.   I had to leave home without them due to circumstances.  I know my husband won't hurt the boys but I miss them every day.  I haven't seen them for 3 weeks now and the hurt is too much.    I am also having withdrawal symptoms from my husband and I have frequent panic attacks.   I am trying to get visitation rights to my children ,  this is what my husband has offered.    I miss them so much but a t the same time fear meeting my husband.    Can you please, please give me some advice.     All my things are with my husband even my passport and finances.   I am living with a friend.   I am devastated.   Please write back ASAP ….. It feels so bad that I can't help myself I am a lawyer and so is my husband.    I sometimes wonder why this had to happen to me.    My family are distant about my break up and only my friends are supportive.  I don't understand this at all ….. Please help


Susan Schiller January 25, 2015 at 6:59 am

Dear Cirami,

I feel your pain and confusion and it’s not your fault. I’m going to write a fresh post for you and a few other readers who have asked the very same questions. It will not be personalized to you, so as to keep everyone’s story confidential. I’ll be back in the next 24 hours with something that may be helpful for you.

You’re not alone in this excruciating pain, and what you describe as the after effects of a break up are, indeed, only the beginning of what could be worse, apart from educating yourself about what happened and why. I’m so glad you have supportive friends and you’re reaching out for understanding.

I cannot give you counsel or professional advice. I can only share my story and what I’ve learned as a result of listening to hundreds of such stories over a period of 15 years now. But I can tell you there is hope… and that you’re going to be all right. I hope your friends will also assist you by learning with you, because you will need them to be strong for you when you feel like returning home, going back to what you’ve always known. We all go through that.

That’s one comforting thing, actually… that evil is not creative. It employs the same strategies over and over, so much that we often exclaim, “We married the same man!”

With each story this evil is exposed to a deeper level, and I’m so glad you have the courage to speak up, even as you have today! 

I’ll be back soon with a link to the fresh post, which will go more in depth in answering your questions.

Thanks for sharing, Cirami!



Susan Schiller January 26, 2015 at 8:32 am

HI Cirami…. my computer or some cyber-monster ate up my post and I’m going to have begin again. Note to self: Hitting “save” sometimes means losing all your words with a technical glitch and I so much hate this when it happens! I’ll be back shortly!


Susan Schiller January 27, 2015 at 9:54 am

Yay, I got it done! – I hope you are doing better today 🙂


makhoola January 16, 2015 at 2:14 pm


I am a victim of domestic violence which is not incriminated in my culture I live in Iraq I am a depressive patient and on medication I need your help to overcome the trama of leaving a pathological marriage which last for 13 years please please  help me


Susan Schiller January 18, 2015 at 11:55 am

Hello Makhoola,

I’m so sorry you are living in a culture that condones domestic violence. I’m afraid I don’t have experience in the physical and financial logisitics of leaving an abusive marriage in your culture. I am praying right now that God moves mightily in your life, leading you to the right people and resources.

For me, I had to first become free spiritually, as I realized that my religious system and indoctrination bound me to the abuse even more than my outward culture. I had to be willing to allow my whole belief system to undergo a transformation, led by God himself. What I had believed to be true was found lacking. Like someone who had built her house on the sand, a storm came in and washed it all out. 

Since then, I have been building my life only on Truth that I have applied and personally experienced to be Truth. It began with trust – a relentless trust – in my Father God. I had to trust Him with everything – housing, food, friends – since I had lost everything, if I was going to live, it would be His responsibility to show me how.

I still do not trust very many people. Most survivors don’t trust easily. I’ve learned not to trust anything or anyone except as God leads me. It’s been a walk in the dark. But each step brought me into more and more Light. It’s a steep, arduous climb. There seems to be no end, but there is an end… and that end is a new beginning in the life you have dreamed for yourself.

In some ways, you could say it begins with dreaming… dreaming the life you really want to live. Starting at the end and then working toward that end.

There is not room here to share everything. I am not equipped or qualified to advise you, except to encourage you by sharing my own story. And my prayers go with you, Makhoola!


Mary May 29, 2014 at 11:41 am

Hi, Susan,

I am listening to the talk on neuroscience behind patholog.  I missed the webaddress, the lady gave at the beginning with tje word magazine at the end of the web address.  I should ask how to keep my last name from one post I made, if not possible, I will just use Mary from now on.  Thanks for writing me.  I also would like to ask you about sending me your private email address, and as well as the one from the speaker at the beginning.  Thanks


Susan Schiller May 29, 2014 at 11:25 pm

Hi Mary,

I was able to remove your last name, and you are welcome to post using a "stage name" or "anonymous" if you wish.

You can email me using this link.

I look forward to getting to know you, Mary – thank you for being here 🙂



mary May 27, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Thank you so much for all of your insight.  I dont laugh as much, and I sure could benefit by knowing what to do to help my healing.  I have pretty much isolated myself to protect myself , I guess.  I fatigue easy, not as much as before, and only one of my three kids understands at all.  I was outgoing, and am not, first it was high blood pressure, then high stress, then extreme fatigue, now off and on low self esteem, and over sensitivity.  If you know of the supplements to take, or where to read about them, please let me know.  I want my strength, and joy back, and also I will read more, but even though knowledge is power, my daughter that is a nurse thinks I am lazy, and hypochzndriac at times, but I dont want guilt or shame of hearing do more, go out more, I just need to know that I found the right information, and not to exhaust myself reading it too fast, aometimes it makes sense so much, even tho I am relieved, I feel drained.  Excuse typos, mary in oh


Susan Schiller May 28, 2014 at 3:43 am

Dear Mary,

Thank you so much for sharing today. I know I can relate to what you are saying, about being misunderstood. Being misunderstood carries a heavy load of grief and pain with it, and it afflicts our minds and bodies with a torrent of negativity. Over time, we lose our joy and peace. We lose our health. We lose our identity. 

Loved ones don’t know what to say or how to help, so they give cliche advice, which on the surface sounds great, but true wisdom is to say nothing, to remain silent, until you can FEEL empathethically what another person is feeling. We must walk in each other’s moccasins for a season to truly understand another soul. 

Information and knowledge are a key to moving forward, but even the pursuit of education – trying to understand and navigate the stormy waters of pathological abuse, is totally exhausting…. If people could see us as soldiers lying bloody and broken on a battlefield they would carefully tend to our wounds and give us what we need to return to life. But for us, our wounds are invisible. At best, they walk on by. But others kick and bruise us more, with verbal assaults that they do or don’t understand are wounding.

Mary, it sounds like you’re so weary. I just want you to know you are seen. You are loved. You are not too much.

This is for you:  and

You’re not alone. You can email me privately, if you wish. We all need someone to walk with us, to see us, to hear us. 

Shalom… nothing missing, nothing lacking, wholeness – is a blessing I send to you, dear heart.


Sara @ Content in the Meantime November 1, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Wow very interesting information. I need to send this to a friend.


Susan Schiller November 1, 2013 at 1:40 pm

I hope it helps your friend, Sara, as I know it made a huge difference in my perspective!

Thanks for stopping by and sharing 🙂


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