Monday, May 27, 2013

When you don't know what to do, choose the path with fewest regrets

 I had a nice visit from an longtime client the other day; it was great to catch up. She detailed the challenges she is facing now, lots of complicated factors and issues. As we talked, she eventually asked me, "Ok, so what should I do?" Turns out, this is one of the harder questions to answer in therapy.

I really believe that the best therapists help you make the decision that's right for you, instead of making the decision for you. It's your life, you should always be empowered to make your own choices. It's easy for me to give you my answer, but much better for me to help you make your own.

What I ultimately told her was that in a situation where you don't know what to do, where both choices seem bad or complicated, choose the one with the fewest regrets. None of us can know exactly how a situation will play out in the future, but I believe that you'll feel best if you can stand back in the future and look at the outcome and say, "I did everything I possibly could to make this work."

I hope this helps you make the choices you're struggling with. We should all be so lucky to lead a life with few regrets.

Dr Kathy

Monday, May 6, 2013

How You Can Spot An Abductor

How You Can Spot An Abductor
What you can do to recognize child predators like Ariel Castro, the man who held Amanda Berry, Gina De Jesus, and Michelle Knight captive for over 10 years in Cleveland, Ohio.

Today's great news is that Amanda Berry, Gina De Jesus, and Michelle Knight have been rescued. I'm thrilled to hear this; I wish all of these brave, strong, triumphant women a full and speedy recovery.

As we listen to the details of this case unfold, one of the most significant questions we can ask is how we can prevent this? And further, how we can recognize and report suspicions of abductions?

It's hard to create a specific psychological profile for people who kidnap and abuse children. The group of people who commit this type of crime is diverse; they do so for a variety of reasons. Given this, one of the best things we can do is be look-outs. We can all be on the watch for certain behaviors that may suggest someone is an abductor.

Amanda, Gina, and Michelle were all rescued because one man decided to pay attention to something he saw and act on it. I'd like to encourage you to do the same. Be a look-out and if you know someone exhibiting many of the behaviors below, call law enforcement and make a report. Many people don't report suspicious behavior because they're afraid of falsely accusing an innocent person. I understand this, but I really think it's better to be wrong and slightly embarrassed than to be right and not have saved a child.

 Characteristics associated with abductors:

1. Selfish, self-centered behavior. An abductor will feel like he has the right to have what he wants, when he wants it. This may not manifest itself in every situation, but I would expect to see an abductor display poor impulse control at times and act out in ways we'd categorize as inappropriately selfish.

2. Feelings of entitlement. An abductor will display narcissistic tendencies, where they act in ways that take advantage of other people and put themselves at the center of attention. They will also feel entitled to having their way, putting themselves in advantageous situations or having an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

3. Craves control, power, and significance. Almost all abusers want to be in control and thrive off of dominating someone else. Abductors crave this control and power over someone else; possibly because they feel emotionally safe by keeping another person in an inferior position, possibly because they get some psychological satisfaction from demeaning someone else. Interestingly, abductors often crave significance. We see this in the Amanda Berry case; Ariel Castro wrote in to the local paper about her abduction and how it had changed the neighborhood. Abductors want to be seen as rare, valuable, experts.

4. Lack of empathy. The most significant sign to look for when trying to recognize someone who could be an abuser or abductor is a lack of empathy. Empathy is the ability to imagine and relate to what someone else is feeling. Abusers either cannot recognize the emotions of another person or they do not care. In some sad cases, abusers and abductors can recognize the emotions of another, but enjoy tormenting their victims. People who lack empathy seem unaware when they are hurting others, cannot/do not relate to fear and worry felt by others, and they do not feel compelled to help someone who is suffering. Many abusers begin to show lack of empathy as young children, when they hurt other children or animals and feel little to no remorse.

5. Inappropriate secrecy or boundaries. A person who has something to hide will often maintain rigid rules, have an excessive need for secrecy, or hold firm boundaries that don't seem to make sense. If you're a neighbor, I'd be suspicious if you encounter someone who will never let you in their house (even if it's an urgent situation, like you're locked out of your place and need to use the phone). I'd also be suspicious if your neighbor has rules that seem excessive, like "We don't go in the garage, no one is allowed in the garage." I'd also worry if you see what seems like extreme physical boundaries, such as excessive gating or locks around a section of their yard. These boundaries might also be hard and fast rules that your neighbor insists on following: like being home at a particular time, only opening 1 window at a time, or anything else that seems odd.

There is a mountain of research on what factors contribute to and characterize an abuser/abductor and if you'd like to know more, I suggest this article:

I certainly hope that you will never be in a situation where you need to make a report of suspected abuse or abduction, but if you are, please do. Much better to be right and a little embarrassed, than wrong and miss out on saving a life.

-Dr Kathy

Dr Kathy Nickerson is an expert marriage counselor in Orange County, California. Her practice focuses on preventing divorce, helping marriages thrive, improving communication in couples, and affair recovery. You can learn more at