Amber Ault, Ph.D. is s clinical sociologist and a psychotherapist, and also a member of the Lovefraud Continuing Education team. She’s written a book called The Wise Lesbian’s Guide to Getting Free from Crazy-Making Relationships and Getting On with Your Life.
Reading the book, I was struck by how much exploitative behavior is the same, no matter what community is involved. There are some dimensions to the experience of becoming involved with a sociopath that are specific to the gay community, which I’ll discuss later in this article. But for the most part, the games, deceit and manipulation are exactly the same as among heterosexuals.
So anyone can benefit from Ault’s explanations, like this one: “A personality disorder is a psychological problem that makes *other people* crazy.”
Ault also offers a concise explanation of the difference between personality disorders and mental illness. Mental illnesses, she says, parallel physical illnesses, in that before the people who have them became sick, they likely were healthy and functioning well, at least for a period of time. On the other hand, personality disorders are longstanding patterns of behavior, usually going back to when the disordered person was young. For these individuals, their behavior, perceptions and responses make it difficult for them to function well, especially in relationships.
Cluster B disorders
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association, 5th Edition) identifies three clusters of personality disorders. Cluster B includes antisocial, borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. Ault says that these three are the disorders “most likely to be present in relationships that are crazy-making or devastating for reasonably healthy people.”
Ault then provides the best explanation that I’ve ever seen about how people who have these three disorders are similar, and how they are different.
First she lists traits and behaviors that all exploitative personalities have in common, such as “deficits in empathy” and “skill at manipulating others for personal gain or power within relationships.”
Then, Ault describes the traits and behaviors of borderline, narcissistic and antisocial girlfriends, so that it’s easy to see the differences among the disorders. Here are some examples:
Borderline: An inability to be comfortable being single, being alone, and keeping her own company, paired with frantic efforts to prevent herself from being abandoned, even when others do not intend to abandon her.
Narcissistic: Because she believes herself to be special, she believes she deserves special favors, special possessions, special doctors and special deals. Whatever she has or decides to do, she’s confident that it’s the best or the most or the greatest. She lives for the superlatives.
Antisocial: “Right and wrong” don’t really register with her, and are not standards by which she makes decisions.
Ault also says this about the antisocials:
Because of her impaired and limited sense of self, she may not relate to the standard terms of male and female, straight and gay, but instead defines her sexuality in terms of conquest and dominance; her lovers and partners come from a fluid set of possibilities across genders, sexual identities, and races; she may especially be interested in sexual sadomasochism.
I’ve heard plenty of stories about the sexual escapades of both males and females with antisocial personality or psychopathy, and I came to the conclusion that they were neither straight nor gay, but viewed sex as just another tool for manipulating others. That’s essentially what Ault has described, in a more sophisticated fashion.
Focus on yourself
After defining the disordered personalities, with plenty of examples, Ault offers advice on what you should do if you realize you are in a relationship with one of these these individuals: Focus on yourself.
Ault offers advice on how to figure out what made you vulnerable to the exploiter, how to escape the person and how to move on.
But while you’re suffering from profound disappointment and betrayal, struggling to put your life back together, your personality-disturbed ex will change relationships like changing clothes. Ault writes:
Whether your girlfriend is borderline or narcissistic or sociopathic, she will move on from your relationship largely unscathed. Because these personality disorders all fundamentally reflect difficulties in connecting with and caring for other human beings, this girlfriend is likely only connected with you in superficial ways, no matter the intensity she initially showed up with or the ways she has learned to mimic what less disordered people do to give the impression of intimacy.
Most of what Ault has written in this excellent guidebook applies to anyone involved with an exploiter, either gay or straight. But there is one area in which gay women are at a serious disadvantage, which Ault calls “lesbian population pressure.”
What this means is that lesbian women are fishing for romance in a very small pond. Ault cites statistics indicating that less than 1% of the U.S. population is lesbian. So there aren’t many potential partners to choose from. For this reason, some women stay in dysfunctional relationships, reasoning that a bad relationship is better than no relationship.
Except it isn’t. Ault says that the only way to recover a sense of well-being is to end the relationship and have No Contact with the disordered individual. Which is exactly the advice that anyone caught in an exploiter’s web should follow.
This book is an excellent resource for identifying and escaping a dysfunctional involvement. Lesbian women will find great comfort and understanding in Amber Ault’s words.
For that matter, so will anyone who is trying to understand and escape a crazy-making partner.
The Wise Lesbian’s Guide to Getting Free from Crazy-Making Relationships and Getting on with Your Life is available on Amazon.com.