Sarah Nilsson JD, PhD, MAS
Sarah NilssonJD, PhD, MAS

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This work is an attempt to explain the source of destructive behavior and how it manifests itself in personal relationships between men, women, couples, and families, and in the social arena.


Aggressive manifestations in human beings are primarily a result of frustration and personal torment.


The tragedy is that the same defenses that enable us to survive the emotional pain of our childhood are not only maladaptive in adulthood, limiting our personal potential for living a full life, but they also inevitably lead to negative behavior toward others, thereby perpetuating a cycle of destructiveness.


Living a life characterized by honesty, generosity, and love for those closest to us, and then extending those feelings outward has an optimal effect on one's sense of well-being. It is selfish in the best sense of the word.



This book explains the origin of psychological defenses in family interactions as well as existential concerns, and elaborates on the way in which the very defenses that initially protected us come to predispose alienation from ourselves and other people. It describes a multitude of toxic character traits and reveals their impact on children, couples, families, and nations. Unfortunately, much real damage is acted out in the name of love, family, God, and country. The authors contrast negative traits and behaviors that are commonplace in the world today with a description of an ideal ethical mode of living.


The authors present a position that offers a hope of altering the destiny of humankind's unethical behavior through better psychological understanding and education. They elucidate the concept of the destructive voice process: a series of angry, critical thoughts toward self and others that is in essence the language of the defensive process.


This book is divided into 5 sections:


1. An innovative approach to ethics

History and dimensions of the friendship circle, which serves as a living example of an ethical society and is the primary source of the personal accounts related throughout the book.


The authors believe that ethics and an ethical society can evolve separate from organized religious practices and belief systems about immortality or conceptions of an afterlife.

They discovered the importance of honesty in personal communications and noted that mixed messages and duplicitous communication have a significantly negative effect on a child's mental health. Damaging a person's sense of reality is extremely harmful to his/her development and therefore becomes a moral issue. Conversely, parents' emotional honesty and integrity foster a sense of trust and an open attitude toward life in their children.

Most people do not want what they say they want, and they are refractory to a better life. Paradoxically, they cannot tolerate their dreams becoming a reality and unconsciously work against their best interests.

People establish a defensive equilibrium as children in relation to emotional deprivation and stress in their developmental years and later react adversely to experiences that are more positive. Perversely, they may act out destructively toward people who threaten their defenses by contradicting their early experiences.

Most people tend to unconsciously recreate the painful circumstances of their childhood in their current relationships. To achieve this, they often manipulate those close to them by projecting negative characteristics onto them, distorting their intentions, or provoking negative reactions from them.

Many people have difficulty with their anger. Anger is a natural response to frustration and that is proportional to the degree of a person's wanting. In that sense, anger is an irrational emotion; the more we want something, the more we are angry at any impediments, regardless of rational considerations.

Events that are expected to bring people happiness and fulfillment can often have the opposite effect on a person's sense of well-being. 


Living a principled life involves a fundamental choice between striving to lead an honest life of feeling, meaningful activity and compassion for oneself and others or settling for a lifestyle characterized by maintaining illusions, defenses, and deadening habit patterns. 

Living without self-deception, fantasized connections, and self-protective mechanisms necessarily leaves a person facing a state of uncertainty and ambiguity. For this reason, most people cling to security behaviors and rely on fantasy bonds that offer form over substance in their personal relationships.

Cursed with the conscious awareness of the existential realities of aloneness and death, humans are a frightened species. They are reluctant to face the fact that life is terminal, that anguish and suffering are inherent in the human condition, and that their relations with others are often painful. 

Because of their unique anticipation of death's finality, people must choose between living a life of denial and self-protection or remaining open and vulnerable, thereby maintaining a feeling for life in spite of its painful realities.


Essential paradox: on the one hand, people who are not repressed and remain close to their feelings are better able to cope in life. They are able to respond with appropriate affect to both good and bad personal experiences. Because they are open, they are able to tolerate sadness, anger, competitive or other "unacceptable" feelings, and therefore are not compelled to act out these feelings on others. These people tend to have a positive influence on family and friends. Moreover, living less defensively and according to one's values and principles tends to be counter-depressive. On the other hand, responding emotionally to real events in life rather than retreating to a self-protective posture makes one more susceptible to real suffering. 


Emotionally healthy, mature individuals are acutely sensitive to events in their lives that impinge on their sense of well-being or that adversely affect the people closest to them. Pursuing a life of integrity requires remaining vulnerable to all aspects of living - sadness as well as joy, pain as well as comfort, fear as well as courage, insecurity as well as confidence. It also involves making a commitment to an ongoing search for personal meaning and transcendent goals.


When people are hurt early in life they tend to turn against their wants and needs and, as a result, are unable to be honest about their motivations. Later, they have difficulty trusting or even tolerating a better life or allowing for the satisfaction of their wants and needs. Real accomplishment and successes can interrupt fantasy processes and cause distress. For this reason, many people unconsciously avoid success; others dishonestly rationalize their failures, blaming them on external circumstances or other people.


Personality traits and behaviors we feel would characterize the "ideal" ethical individual:

Personal Integrity: She observed that in an intimate relationship especially, one must be brave enough to thoroughly know oneself, including one's deepest self-doubts and inner demons, and courageous enough to directly communicate these feelings to one's partner.

Honesty: fairness and straighforwardness

Lack of Duplicity: Integrity also implies congruence between an individual's words and actions.

Consistency and Reliability: Traits that are manifested by an evenness in temperament, non-melodramatic responses to events in one's life, and the lack or erratic swings in one's mood or state of mind.

Directness and willingness to self-disclosure: People who have the courage to directly state their thoughts, opinions, feelings, and beliefs are more trustworthy than those who are indirect, inward, or secretive about their inner experience or perceptions.

Nondefensiveness: The proper response to criticism is, after careful scrutiny, to either reject the information if it proves to be false or to face up to one's faults or inadequacies if the criticism is valid.

Defensiveness is one of the most insidious character traits that disrupt harmony between people.

Love and compassion: Love implies internal feelings of affection and concern as well as external manifestations of kindness, sensitivity, thoughtfulness, physical affection, and respect. It is unreasonable to describe a relationship as loving when these observable manifestations are absent or when they are in fact contradicted. The ability to feel compassion for another person is largely dependent on the ability to feel for oneself and give value to oneself and one's experience.

Empathy: Simultaneously maintaining internal feelings for oneself and external feelings toward the other allows for real communication and rapport, "compresence". This condition is an essential ingredient of a positive therapeutic encounter.

Generosity: Altruism and generosity are the behavioral components of compassion and empathy.

3 steps involved in an appropriate response to a generous act:

1. Being open to accepting help and permitting someone else to meet one's needs

2. Expressing genuine appreciation verbally

3. Finding ways to respond or give back with thoughtful or loving actions. It is not necessary to respond in kind but rather in a manner that reflects one's own nature and capabilities and the specific needs or concerns of the recipient.

Independence: Can be considered a virtue because it is an energy source, offering vitality rather than draining energy from others and the society at large.

Vulnerability: Remaining vulnerable to feeling and exposure is actually an adaptive and powerful position to take in life because it implies self-acceptance, inner strength, and the capacity to deal with frustration. People who learn to be more vulnerable are able to take appropriate risks by pursuing their goals and asking directly for what they want in the face of possible rejection, disappointment, or frustration. The people are not idealistic or overly optimistic about having their needs gratified.

Flexibility, relaxed, easy style, and good sense of humor: Good-natured, enthusiastic people who are not rigid and who feel relatively free from the constraints of formality add life and energy to others. People with a sense of humor make life's situations more pleasant. A well-developed sense of humor has a counter-depressive effect. Being relaxed and free of anxiety are side effects of a good adjustment and are therefore desirable in their own right; however, they have an additional ethically positive effect on friends, partners, and family members.

Search for meaning and transcendent goals: Human beings are meaning-seeking creatures. When a person's defenses preclude this pursuit, he or she often suffers from a form of emotional poverty, feels empty, without a center, and exists in a state of despair, a despair endemic to the human condition. People cannot pursue happiness directly, but rather happiness is a by-product of investing in transcendent goals that give one's life personal meaning.

Tolerance and inclusiveness: Being tolerant implies open-mindedness, understanding, benevolence, and good-will toward one's fellows. 


Living with integrity, according to one's values and ethics, is a sound mental health principle.
It is useful to consider a specific action or communication as ethical when it respects, supports, and nurtures the basic human potentialities of another.
At the societal level, behaviors can be considered as ethical when they help create the conditions necessary for the evolution of a humanistic society with concern for the well-being and fulfillment for all people. 
People's distrust of love prevents them from accepting it as a reality in their lives.
A good deal of the harm that people inflict on each other in their relationships involves disrespect or disregard for each person's autonomy.
4 behaviors that are identifiable as diagnostic predictors of eventual divorce:
1. Defensiveness
2. Stonewalling or filibustering
3. Criticality
4. Contempt - this is the most serious

Parents who were damaged in their upbringing will inadvertently pass on this damage to their children in spite of their best intentions unless they work through their own developmental issues.


The neglect and the physical and sexual abuse that children suffer in the course of a “normal” upbringing are more prevalent, and the effects are far more destructive and long-lasting, than was previously recognized.

Parents’ hostile attitudes are often communicated to a child through sarcastic, derisive, or condescending comments. Derogatory statements directed toward children about their appearance, performance, and mannerisms are debilitating to children’s self-esteem and self-confidence. In addition, many parents repeatedly make unfavorable comparisons with siblings or peers. Many times, children are ridiculed in situations where they are particularly vulnerable. 

Parents and other adults often mistakenly believe and make statements implying that children are intrinsically bad and must learn how to be good. Children treated in this manner develop a negative image of themselves, maintaining a sense of guilt and “badness” throughout their lives. 

Most adults tend to view children in diminutive terms, as being less capable and competent than they really are.


During the socialization process, adults often mistreat children in myriad ways, ranging from mild irritability to sadism and brutality. Many parents believe that to be properly socialized, children must be made to submit to parental authority “for their own good.” 


Overprotective parents limit a child’s experience and ability to cope with life and instill an abnormal form of dependency. Parents who lack an understanding of a child’s need to grow and individuate tend to discourage or even oppose their child’s independent interests and pursuits. 

Some parents may attempt to isolate their children from peers or other extrafamilial influences that might have a negative impact. 


Emotional hunger, a strong emotional needs and dependency based on parents’ immaturity, must be distinguished from genuine love for the child. Yet it is often confused with love because emotionally hungry parents have intense feelings toward their children, are very concerned about them, and spend a good deal of time with them. Because of this confusion, both on the part of parents and outside observers, much innocent damage is perpetrated on children in the name of love.

Parents who are emotionally hungry act compulsively in relation to their children in much the same manner as an addict. They not only fail to nourish but actually drain the child of his/her resources. In this manner, their exaggerated attention and involvement have an ongoing negative impact on the child’s development. These parents often find it difficult to reduce the intensity of their contact even when they recognize that the contact is damaging.


Children who are not provided with the necessary age-appropriate supervision are involved in more accidents and sustain more physical injuries than other children. Later as adolescents and adults, they tend to be more accident prone and self-destructive. Neglect appears to amplify the destructive impact of abuse. “Love-food” refers to the desire as well as the capability on the part of the parent to provide for need-gratification of the infant, which includes love, affection, necessary care, direction, and appropriate control or structure. Love-food is necessary for survival in both the physical and psychological sense.


Parents who are cut off emotionally are necessarily insensitive to the needs of their children.


Fathers and mothers who role-play, offering “proper” responses rather than authentic reactions, tend to mislead and confuse their children. Talking and behaving in a manner that differs from their true feeling state has an adverse effect on the child’s sense of reality. 


When parents fail to provide an adequate role model their verbal prescriptions carry little meaning.



2. Coping with unethical ways of living

How to deal most effectively with angry emotions.

Delineates a method for identifying and changing toxic personality traits.

Mastering anger is a primary concern for a person who is attempting to live a life of integrity.

Considerable attention is devoted to elucidating both healthy and unhealthy manifestations of aggression.


The management of anger is a primary consideration in relation to ethical issues. The inappropriate acting out of anger and hostility in interpersonal relationships is pervasive and plays a destructive role within couples and in family life. It can lead to antisocial and criminal behavior and ultimately to national and ethnic violence. 

Anger is an automatic response to frustration and stress.

The acceptance of anger and the ability to tolerate angry feelings, whether rational or irrational, make anger accessible to control and regulation. Intolerance of angry feelings leads to acting out behaviors and the internalization, projection, and displacement of anger. 


2 primary types of aggression:

  1. Angry or affective aggression in which harming the victim is the main motive for the act
  2. Instrumental aggression, which may or may not involve strong emotions but is motivated by concerns more important to the aggressor than the harmdoing itself


The incorporated parental anger can be manifested in the adult individual in many different ways: 

  1. It can be directed against other people
  2. It can be experienced as self-hatred and expressed in indirect or actual self-destructive behavior, depression, or psychosomatic symptomology
  3.  It can be acted out in a manner that provokes abuse from others
  4. It can be projected or externalized onto other people

In the latter situation, individuals disown anger in themselves, externalize it, and as a result, perceive others as being overly angry or aggressive toward them.


Anger is experienced in proportion to the degree of frustration a person feels regardless of whether it is rational or irrational.


Men who engage in interpersonal or domestic violence often do so as a reaction to abandonment anxiety. A man’s extreme dependency on his wife or partner is usually masked by isolating strategies designed to make her dependent through intimidation, threats, and actual physical assault. Jealousy is frequently mentioned by battered women as an issue that incited violence. 


Many individuals indirectly express anger or hostility through passive-aggressive manipulations. Others develop a variety of physical symptoms or psychosomatic illnesses. For example, individuals who habitually suppress their anger may develop migraine headaches, ulcers, hypertension, arthritic conditions, asthma, or heart problems. When anger is turned inward it often leads to feelings of depression and worthlessness. Psychoanalysts have traditionally described depression as primarily due to anger directed against the self. 


Violence, the extreme manifestation of externalized anger, and suicide, the ultimate expression of internalized anger, tend to overlap to a certain extent.


Many drugs, both legal and illegal, are associated with heightened aggressive responses.


Pseudoaggression refers to the type of anger that is used to provoke rejection, create distance, and restore psychological equilibrium. This end is achieved through acts of defiance and hostility, verbal aggression, and the acting out of withholding behavior patterns that provoke and alienate others. 

Pseudoaggression differs from anger that is a reaction to frustration in that it is often a response to the discomfort aroused by positive acknowledgement or being especially loved and valued in an intimate relationship.


Acknowledging angry emotions can avert long-term misunderstandings and conflict in interpersonal relationships.


Thoughts and feelings should not be subjected to moral scrutiny; they are internal processes that do not hurt anyone. Only actions, including verbal actions, cause harm. Accepting and even enjoying “nasty” mean thoughts and fantasies are part of a healthy orientation. Acceptance of negative feelings leads to better control over these negative emotions and is therefore moral.

Dogmatic religious beliefs that are suppressive of sexuality and pleasure contribute indirectly to the expression of aggression and/or violence. Findings from anthropological research have shown that politically, religiously, or sexually suppressive societies are especially restrictive in relation to anger and sexual behavior. These restrictions in turn lead to increased crime, sexual assault, rape, and deviant forms of sexuality. Research supports the point of view that the deprivation of physical pleasure is a major ingredient in the expression of physical violence. 


Mastering anger essentially involves a process or re-education: dispelling false assumptions about anger and learning fundamental principles about aggression in relation to mental health issues. There is a logical approach to dealing with anger and aggressive feelings that the authors have used with their clients. They have emphasized: 

  1. That anger is a normal and inevitable reaction to frustration
  2. That feelings must be allowed free reign in consciousness while actions are subject to moral considerations
  3. That decisions regarding the outward expression of anger involve both reality issues and moral concerns

The ultimate purpose for engaging in an honest exchange of angry feelings in an intimate relationship is to heal the fracture, not worsen it. The goal is for people to feel free to communicate any aspect of emotional pain they might be experiencing, clarify the area in which they feel distress, and ask for what they want.

Unilateral disarmament strategy: one partner unilaterally makes a move toward reconciliation before the argument has gone too far, an act which requires considerable self-discipline at a time when emotions are running high. Applying this strategy does not mean that the person surrenders his or her point of view or gives in to the other. Instead, it represents a powerful expression of vulnerability and nondefensiveness and suggests that it is more important to restore harmony than prove one is right. 


Voice therapy is a technique in which individuals express the voice process in the second person as though they are being spoken to by someone else. Putting words to this voice process reveals the specific aggression underlying negative attitudes toward oneself and other people. It is valuable for people to learn to identify the specific hostile, cynical thoughts that intensify anger and lead to the acting out of aggression.


Teaching children about anger is a vital part of helping them to adapt to life. Children need to learn about emotions as much as they need to learn about academic subject matter and the practical aspects of life. Every child should be taught about adaptive and maladaptive forms of aggression and become skilled at handling angry feelings.


The primary prevention of destructive forms of aggression and violence begins with parenting. Parents who have the ability to handle angry feelings constructively are able to serve as positive role models for their children. They are far more effective than parents who merely lecture or apply disciplinary measures when children act up or act out. The processes of identification and imitation are more powerful than parents’ words, rules, rewards, and punishment. 


Overpermissiveness is counterproductive because the child who is neglected in this way is denied the opportunity to learn self-discipline and self-control. Flattering a child or building up his or her vanity also interferes with optimal psychological development. Vain individuals are particularly vulnerable to feelings of shame and narcissistic rage when negative when negative events threaten their inflated self-image.


Being firm and refusing to shield children from the inevitable frustrations of life helps them develop the ability to experience everyday frustration with equanimity.


Aggression is not a basic instinct or innate human response – it is a response to frustration and shame.


Learning to deal effectively with anger does not mean suppressing it, swallowing it, or becoming “nice,” submissive, or compliant, as many people assume. To the contrary, if one is able to experience angry feelings and is comfortable with them, one becomes a much stronger person. 


A toxic person is anyone who has poisoned your life, who is not supportive, who is not happy to see you grow, to see you succeed, who does not wish you well. In the corporate world, toxic managers divert people’s energy from the real work of the organization, destroy morale, impair retention, and interfere with cooperation and information sharing. In this sense, individuals who possess a preponderance of objectionable or toxic traits could be conceptualized as being psychologically corrosive or poisonous to others in a wide range of situations and settings. 


A close relationship with an overprotective, intrusive yet emotionally distant parent has been implicated in serious mental health problems.


Inwardness: when interactions with a toxic individual reinforce a person’s destructive thought process, the person often retreats to a more inward, self-protective stance. Becoming inward and alienated from one’s experience cuts one off from feelings of compassion and empathy for oneself and others. It represents a retreat into oneself, leading to various degrees of a depersonalized state of mind. Inwardness involves a reluctance to engage in give-and-take exchanges and is characterized by an impersonal style of relating and a tendency to rely on painkilling habit patterns and substances. Manifestations of inwardness also include a preference for fantasy gratification at the expense of reality concerns, passivity, a victimized orientation toward life, and treating oneself as an object. In addition, it leads to increased tendencies toward isolation, withholding and self-denial, a negative self-image, cynicism toward other people, lack of direction in life, and a diminished sense of values. 


The positive experience of being loved and appreciated can arouse painful, poignant emotions based on past personal trauma.


A process for altering objectionable personality characteristics evolved involving 4 distinct, yet interrelated, components:

  1. Direct confrontation
  2. Expanding the capacity for feeling
  3. Identifying destructive voices that govern toxic personality traits
  4. Collaboratively planning and applying corrective experiences that counter the negative prescriptions of the voice.


Communicate anger or hurt feelings appropriately, that is, in “I” statements, which allowed each person to take responsibility for how he/she handled feelings of anger or disappointment.


People tend to react defensively when the negative feedback they receive corresponds to their own self-attacks or destructive thoughts.


Verbalizing one’s negative thoughts towards oneself in the second person often elicits strong emotions and leads to spontaneous insights. In switching the mode of expression of negative thoughts about oneself from “I” to “you” one is able to distinguish one’s own point of view from the incorporated one.   


Changing a toxic trait is always accompanied by anxiety. Modifying character traits that reflect one’s negative identity formed in the family inadvertently interferes with the idealization of one’s parents. 


Respond to feedback: “Thank you for the information.” 


Many people are also reluctant to conceptualize definitive goals and take specific actions to move in a direction that brings out their positive attributes and traits. They are plagued by strong voice attacks and guilt reactions when they manifest positive behaviors and characteristics that differ from those of their parents. 

Individuals must give up their protective armor, their negative traits and behaviors, before they learn, on an emotional level, that there is no actual threat. They need to hold on to the new territory and learn to tolerate anxiety states and the increased voice attacks that inevitably come with any positive change. If they persist in the new behavior, sweat through the anxiety, and refuse to give in to their destructive thoughts, they can make substantial progress. 




3. Dynamics underlying unethical behavior

Key concepts of the authors' theoretical approach

(1) the fantasy bond - an illusion of connection to the mother or primary caregiver

(2) the voice process - a secondary defense - that supports the fantasy bond.

The chapter "The fantasy bond in couple and family relationships" explores manifestations of the fantasy bond in these relationship constellations and focuses on how partners tend to use each other for security and imagined safety, a process that gradually reduces each member's sense of independence and leads to a deterioration of feeling.


Separation theory: early trauma and separation experiences lead to defense formation.

The primary defense against the pain of childhood deprivation, separation anxiety, and the fear of death is the fantasy bond, an imaginary fusion or illusion of connection with one’s parents, family ethnic group, nation, or religious or ideological cause. 

Separation theory explains how the voice process – the secondary defense – supports the fantasy bond and illusions of self-sufficiency and regulates self-destructive and aggressive behaviors.

Voice: an overlay on the personality that is opposed to one’s self-interests and to the ongoing development of the self, and that is hostile toward other people.

Fantasy bond: the primary defense against separation anxiety and psychological pain. It is an illusion of connection to one’s parent or primary caregivers that is formed early in childhood as an attempt to compensate for frustration and hurt in the family constellation. The fantasy bond helps alleviate separation anxiety and the fear of being alone.

The self-parenting process: the imagined fusion with the parent is highly effective as a defense because a human being’s capacity for imagination provides partial gratification of needs and reduces tension. 


The fantasy bond is a maladaptive solution that occurs not only in seriously disturbed individuals but also, to a lesser degree, in “normal” people. No child has an ideal environment; thus, all people depend to varying degrees on internal gratification through self-parenting mechanisms and illusions of connection. 


When one or both partners sacrifice their individuality to become one half of a couple, their basic attraction to each other can be jeopardized. As this process of deterioration continues, the couple’s emotional responses become progressively less appropriate, friendly, or kind. Often all that exists after years together is a fantasy bond that both partners protect by maintaining the form of love while giving up the substance.


The voice is the language of the defensive process. It refers to a systemized pattern of thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs, antithetical to the self and cynical toward others that is associated with varying degrees of anger and sadness and is at the core of all forms of maladaptive and aversive behaviors. 

Although the negative self-statements of the voice may at times seem to parallel one’s value system, they often have a distinctly judgmental, harsh, or malicious tone. The voice tends to increase one’s self-hatred rather than motivate one to alter behavior in a constructive manner. The voice is not an actual hallucination but an identifiable system of thoughts. It is a form of intrapsychic communication that ranges from minor self-criticisms to major self-attacks and fosters self-nurturing habit patterns, isolation, and a self-limiting, self-destructive lifestyle. Voice attacks are sometimes experienced consciously as an internal running commentary that is belittling or sarcastic in tone. Most people are aware of calling themselves a “fool” or “clumsy” or “stupid” after making a mistake; however, these minor critical thoughts are merely the tip of the iceberg. The average person is largely unaware of the extent to which negative thoughts influence or control behavioral responses, interfere with the pursuit of personal and career goals, and contribute to a depressed, antagonistic mood. 


  • People’s destructive propensities toward self and others could be accessed by using the methodology of putting voice attacks in the second person
  • Formulating harsh judgmental thoughts in the second person led to valuable insights regarding the sources of the voice and its effects on one’s behavior and lifestyle
  • Verbalizing the voice in this format not only brought out deep feeling but it also helped people separate these alien attitudes from their own point of view

Once articulated through this mode of expression, the specific attacks could be more effectively evaluated and countered by establishing new behavior patterns.


When individuals protect themselves from anxiety, pain, and sadness – emotions that are inherent in all personal relationships – they push away, hurt, and punish the people who care for them the most. The majority of people are unaware that they are living out a negative destiny according to their past programming, preserving their negative identity formed in the family and, in the process, pushing love away and hurting other people. Punishing one’s partner to preserve a negative fantasy of who one is represents a basic dynamic in personal relationships and is more common than most people would like to believe. 


We seem to experience the most hurt, distress, and turmoil in our interpersonal relationships – dissatisfaction or rejection in a relationship or marriage is perhaps the most common reason people enter psychotherapy.


Selection, distortion and provocation within couple relationships: Circumstances that are more positive than those experienced in one’s formative years can cause painful feelings of sadness and anxiety to emerge. To avoid feelings of anxiety, people must modify the loving responses of their partner to maintain their psychological equilibrium. There are three basic ways that people maintain this equilibrium in their primary relationships.

  1. People tend to select partners who are similar to significant figures in their early lives because these are the people who fit in with their defenses and who they feel most comfortable with.
  2. People distort their mates and see them more like the people in their past than they really are. This primarily negative transference phenomenon does an injustice to one’s partner and causes friction.
  3. If these two defenses fail to recreate the past, people will elicit familiar responses by provoking a loved one to respond like one of their parents or family members. By inducing their partners to criticize or attack them, they are evoking their own self-attacks from the other person. 


Opposites attract: the opposing characteristics that draw people to each other also play a significant part in their sexual attraction. At first, each person feels a sense of wholeness or completeness. However, as these couples come to rely on each other’s complementary qualities, they become progressively more dependent on each other. They often come to hate the very qualities that originally drew them together.


Each of us is essentially alone and there is no way to effectively become one-half of a couple by merging with another person. When we attempt to connect to another and give up our individuality, we are of little or no value to ourselves or our partners. In becoming selfless, immersing or losing ourselves in relating to the other, we gradually disappear and have little to offer in the way of emotional sustenance.


In contrast to the fantasy bond, real friendship and loving relationships are characterized by freedom and genuine relating. In a friendship, a person acts out of choice, whereas in a fantasy bond he or she acts out of obligation or attempts to manipulate the other. 


In the “ideal” couple relationship, each person would feel congenial toward the other’s aspirations and would try not to interfere, intrude, or manipulate to control the relationship. Both partners would recognize that the motives, desires, and goals of the other were as important as their own and would conceptualize their own personal freedom and the freedom of the other as a congruent, not contradictory, value. 




4. Destructive lifestyles

The diverse ways in which individuals act out unethical behaviors in their everyday lives through addiction, withholding, self-denial, a victimized orientation, vanity, and narcissism.


Most addicts appear reluctant or unable to seek satisfaction in normal interpersonal relationships and instead remain aloof and independent and use the drug to induce a blissful, symbiotic, narcissistic state. The drug replaces interpersonal relationships as a primary source of achieving satisfaction and pleasure.


People who are involved in an addictive lifestyle are focused primarily on the gratification of their addiction at the expense of their personal relationships.


Alcohol is known to have a disinhibiting effect on impulsive behavior and facilitates the acting out of suicidal and homicidal impulses in individuals of all ages. 


When children are deprived of emotional sustenance, they gradually compensate with fantasy gratification. The methods that people adopt to numb their pain or reduce their emotional distress become habit-forming and, to varying degrees, generalize to an addictive lifestyle.


Addiction is an emotional relationship with an object or event, through which addicts try to meet their needs for intimacy.


A healthy, outward lifestyle is characterized by one’s involvement in goal-directed behaviors that lead to self-affirmation and self-fulfillment.


Addictive reactions associated with a self-nourishing lifestyle can be divided into 3 groups: 

  1. Addiction to physical substances
  2. Addiction to ritualistic behavior and routines
  3. Addictive attachments


The determinants of substance addiction are varied, yet all addictions are attempts to numb both pain from the past as well as suffering due to present-day frustration and stress. However, in repeatedly turning to these habit patterns for relief and for a sense of control over their pain, individuals progressively block out important emotional reactions. For this reason, they become more incapacitated in their ability to work productively or to function adequately in social situations. Family members and friends experience considerable suffering and become increasingly alienated as this process spirals downward.


There are two essential conditions that work together influencing a propensity toward addictive behavior:

  1. A significant degree of emotional deprivation 
  2. Parents’ reinforcement of painkilling and self-nourishing habits


Addiction often come to prevail over more adaptive actions and seriously limit personal relating. Giving primary importance to addictive substances or routines is the key factor that predisposes the acting out of hurtful behaviors in close relationships. People’s fantasies of omnipotence and self-sufficiency, the rationalizations that they use to justify and preserve their addictions, the blame that they project onto others, and the negative role model they offer their children, all cause serious damage.


As connoted by the phrase, “we only hurt the ones we love,” the more intimate the relationship, the higher the likelihood that aversive interpersonal behaviors occur.


Withholding is a complex phenomenon that encompasses a wide range of interrelated behaviors that are both inner-directed against one’s self-interests and outer-directed against others. There are 4 major aspects of withholding that can be differentiated. All aspects of the mechanism have a negative valence, tend to provoke anger in others, and are hurtful. Although these categories overlap at times, clarification of the primary forms of withholding is helpful.

  1. Withholding as a manifestation of passive aggressive aggression, an indirect way of manifesting anger
  2. Withholding as an attempt to maintain distance and insulate oneself from being vulnerable
  3. Withholding as a form of self-denial
  4. Withholding in relation to death anxiety and existential concerns, a fearful reaction to individuation, independence, and self-realization


Passive aggression due to suppressed anger is a type of withholding behavior that is characterized by the presence of oppositional, negativistic traits and actions and subtle controlling behaviors. 


Control through weakness is perhaps the most insidious form of passive aggressive withholding. It is a subtle form of terrorism that induces guilt in one’s partner and supports destructive voices and self-attacks. 


Becoming more conscious of being leads to increased awareness that life is terminal.


Death anxiety masks a lack of fulfillment and satisfaction with one’s life.

Increased death anxiety correlates with the degree of emptiness in people’s lives. 

The authors disagree - confusing existential guilt with death anxiety.

Existential guilt stems from regret about denying life’s satisfactions to oneself and from withholding actions that would have led to the fulfillment of one’s desired goals.

The authors contend that consciousness of death anxiety is proportional to the degree one feels especially successful, valued, and admired. It is heightened when one prizes life, experiences significant recognition, and achieves self-realization. 


Several stages in people’s retreat to self- sabotaging, withholding patterns:

  1. Initial reaction – after a significant accomplishment, an individual usually experiences positive feelings of excitement and a sense of personal achievement
  2. Self-consciousness – exacerbated by the public acknowledgement of success, and after such recognition, individuals often experience guilt reactions
  3. Anxiety and fear of loss – something terrible is going to happen
  4. Actual retreat to withholding behavior – an almost imperceptible retreat into dependent, immature functioning and withholding behavior commence as the person gradually withdraws from the favorable recognition


Positive events may be even more important than negative ones in bringing out withholding tendencies.


Whenever there is progression toward individuation, a person becomes acutely aware of his or her aloneness and fragile existence.


Neurotic guilt can be distinguished from existential guilt. Neurotic guilt involves feelings of remorse, shame, or self-attack that are precipitated by seeking gratification, moving toward one’s goals, and pursuing one’s wants. Existential guilt is precipitated by holding back or withholding one’s natural inclinations. It is generally experienced by individuals when they turn away from their goals, retreat from life, or seek gratification in fantasy.


Passive aggression and withholding behaviors promote discomfort and bad feelings, provide emotional distance, and act as a manipulation, inducing guilt and exerting an emotional pull on other people. They cause anger and confusion and tend to increase voice attacks in recipients, who tend to blame themselves for the changing emotional condition.


People can learn to value themselves and stop denying themselves pleasure and enjoyment.

They can overcome destructive voices that limit them and realize that it is moral and ethical to pursue one’s goals in life.


Constructive action is the opposite of victimized ruminating.


Playing the victim has ethical implications. It creates a negative social atmosphere, prevails upon others, and supports a passive, paranoid attitude that is personally maladaptive and dysfunctional. It leads to a dependent style of relating that alleges that others are responsible for one’s troubles, makes associates feel guilty or angry, and tends to drain the energy from positive enterprises. Victimized, self-righteous, judgmental individuals are generally unlikeable, make others fell inferior, and when they achieve power they may castigate or actively persecute people whose ideas or ways of life differ from their own.


The inability to accept one’s angry feelings or to appropriately express them increases an individual’s sense of powerlessness. This posture fosters attitudes of blame and righteous indignation that progressively incapacitate the individual. It gives rise to a chronic low grade, internalized anger that feeds on itself and has no outlet. 


People who assume a self-righteous stance are acting out a sophisticated version of the child-victim or martyr role.


People who play out the victim role feel that they have an inherent right to have their needs met. They think they are entitled to fair and proper treatment. 


When children fail to receive affection and regulation, both of which are basic needs, they grow up feeling unloved and inadequate. If parents are overly permissive, they create a sense of entitlement in their children.


A person who attempts to help a paranoid individual by offering a realistic picture of the situation will tend to become included in the paranoid system. If it is pointed out that it is the individual’s own actions and not some outside cause that is bringing on his or her problems, the paranoid person will react with anger. 


Anger is an appropriate response to frustration and stress. When people can accept angry emotions they are less likely to act them out destructively. Ideally, rather than suppress the emotion of anger, one would acknowledge angry responses while clearly distinguishing between feelings and actions. In a healthy response to anger, one does not attempt to justify these emotions by becoming self-righteous. 


It is adaptive for people to realize that they do not inherently deserve to receive anything in the way of good treatment from others. It is functional to accept the idea that the world does not owe them anything – neither a living nor happiness nor pleasant surroundings. 


There is a distinction between sympathy and empathy. Both giving sympathy and arousing sympathy in another person are damaging to self and others in that they reinforce victimized thinking. This type of commiserating with a friend as contrasted with having empathy or compassion for his or her misfortune can be counterproductive and unhealthy for both people. Responding with sympathy to people’s complaint’s and their tales of woe can be harmful. The same can be said for soliciting sympathy for oneself. It is possible to share another’s sorrow and pain and to listen with sympathy in a way that enables that person to have a compassionate, objective view of him or herself. A friend who is sensitive and compassionate without being overprotective or excessively sentimental empowers a person. For this reason, an individual’s choice of friends can be crucial at the time he or she is giving up a victimized role.


Drop certain words from your vocabulary: “Fair” – “Should” – “Right” – Wrong” 


Absolutism, feelings of superiority, rigidity, and defensiveness are barriers to good relationships. Nothing has more power in changing a relationship for the better than “unilateral disarmament” – occurs when one or another partner puts the goal of maintaining loving feelings ahead of proving he or she is “right” and becomes more open and vulnerable in the heat of an argument.


Many individuals, especially those from abusive or violent families, react as though the person who provokes or frustrates them is responsible for their angry reactions. They mistake the stimulus for the cause. “YOU MAKE ME ANGRY” is a statement that reflects the assumption that they conceptualize anger as a passive process in which someone else is always to blame for their aggressive feelings. They refuse to accept active responsibility for their own emotions.


Vanity can be defined as a fantasized positive image of the self that an individual uses to compensate for deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. It represents remnants of the child’s imagined omnipotence and invulnerability that live on in the psyche. Vanity also acts as a mechanism that attempts to cope with the feelings of vulnerability and stress associated with one’s consciousness of the fragility and impermanence of life.


Contempt is any statement made from a higher level. A lot of the time it’s an insult. “YOU ARE A BITCH. YOU’RE SCUM” it’s trying to put that person on a lower plane than you. It’s hierarchical. Benjamin Franklin: Pride that dines on vanity sups on contempt.


Narcissism: self-centered orientation, a fascination with the self – more specifically, with an image of the self – and a corresponding lack of interest in and concern for other people.

Narcissism denotes an investment in one’s image as opposed to one’s self.


Vanity and narcissism are often used interchangeably. There is some overlap in DSM-IV: Narcissism is a disorder – more serious or more pathological disturbance than vanity;

Vanity is one of criteria required for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.


Rubber-band Management: The practice, shameless exploitation, of stretching employees until they break and then getting rid of them 


Among the personalities that present problems for society in general and for the corporate world in particular are narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy…. Sometimes referred to collectively as the dark triad.




5. Ethical and unethical social practices

Broad social issues including the ethics of business and politics, the nature of power, and toxic leadership.


The basic qualities that contribute to outstanding leadership potential – charisma, competence, integrity and authenticity, a creative vision or goal, high energy level, and even a sincere desire to serve people – are essentially neutral in relation to ethical considerations. 


Characteristics of effective leaders:

  • Competence: highly valued in a leader – the capable leader has a positive effect on the overall project because people tend to feel more secure when led by a person they perceive as skilled and knowledgeable in his or her area of expertise
  • Vision: guiding vision of what he or she wishes to accomplish as well as a driving passion to bring that vision to fruition – vision can be defined as an inspired, long-run strategy that is not obvious to managers and executives until it is revealed by the transformational leader
  • Ability to inspire others: once you have a clear vision you have to free people up. This is where autonomy comes in. People need to be free to make sense of the vision according to their own understandings and their own sensitivity to what’s needed
  • Authenticity and energy: leaders who are authentic and sincere are able to inspire others to follow them because they are perceived as genuine and truthful. The absence of phoniness, superficiality, and hypocrisy in the leaders’ personalities relieves people of much of the suspicion and cynicism they might otherwise feel toward an authority figure.
  • Action-oriented approach: effective leaders are active and highly competitive, not simply for the sake of being competitive, but in the pursuit of their goals. Rather than inspiring cut-throat competitiveness, they focus on striving for excellence. These individuals tend to be wholly committed to whatever endeavor they are involved in, with an emphasis on implementing actions to get things done. A willingness to take risks and the ability to be decisive are characteristic of action-oriented individuals. 
  • Foresight: the good leader has the ability to sense what lies ahead, to perceive opportunities that should be the target of action, and to see threats before they materialize
  • Integrity: leaders whose actions correspond to their words and are thereby able to inspire trust in others. Integrity is perhaps the most important characteristic that an effective leader needs to possess or develop


Characteristics of ethical leaders:

  • “Great” leaders possess ethical principles, have a strong moral compass, and consistently attempt to do the “right” thing and be the “right” kind of person. 


  • Emotional maturity – the ability to integrate emotions and rational thought – ethical leaders are emotionally mature, fully adult in their orientation, and take responsibility for their own well-being. They approach problems from an independent or interdependent stance and do not rely on subordinates to solve core problems for them. They have an intuitive sense of what others need, based on their ability to remain close to their own feelings.
  • A lack of vanity and narcissism – the absence of egotism and narcissism in a leader is vital to the smooth operation of an organization or effective diplomacy in international relations. Leaders who are not self-centered or vain tend to inspire positive feeling and cooperation rather than anger or defiance.
  • Appreciation of the uniqueness and humanity of each individual – in addition to possessing a compassionate understanding of oneself and others, the ethical leader would have an appreciation of the human condition, emphasize the equality of all people, and have an all-inclusive philosophical view that “WE’RE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT.”
  • The desire to serve – “Great” leaders possess a strong desire to be of service to others. However, this service orientation is not limited to the specific group, but is all-inclusive, extending to people outside of the organization. 
  • Valuing the means as well as the end – good leaders take into consideration the means as well as the ends when applying their ideology to social and economic problems. 
  • Teachers as ethical leaders – by inspiring others to think creatively about life and to develop new ideas and a fresh perspective on the world, they have generated a revolution of ideas that has had positive effects on humankind. Opposite personality traits: a truly great leader is confident yet humble, assertive and patient, analytical and intuitive, deliberate and decisive, principled and pragmatic.


Ethical leadership in business:

  • Personal strengths make social benefits


Traits and behaviors of ethical business leaders and their effects on employees

  • Respect for employees
  • Honest communication between leaders and employees
  • Consideration of employees’ needs and goals 


Ethical leadership in the political arena

The issues of political leadership differ from those of business leadership. In business, the bottom line is profitability, whereas in government or the political sphere, the ultimate goal is public service. 

The purpose of a government is to meet the needs of its constituency, to maintain their welfare, and to protect the country against outside threat. Ideally, serving people’s basic needs, both physical and economic, would be the goal of ethical political leadership. The truly moral leader can be conceptualized as being bipartisan in the sense that he or she would ideally serve the needs of the majority while respecting the needs of the minority. 


3 major characteristics of the ineffective leader:

  1. Incompetence
  2. Rigidity
  3. Intemperance

Leaders with these negative characteristics and weaknesses tend to have histories of poor performance, poor decision-making, and/or addictive, self-nurturing personalities.


Charismatic leadership: A relationship between a leader and a group of followers that has the following properties:

  • The leader is perceived by the followers as somehow superhuman
  • The followers blindly believe the leader’s statements
  • The followers unconditionally comply with the leader’s directives for action
  • The followers give the leader unqualified emotional support 


Power is the capacity to ensure the outcomes one wishes and to prevent those one does not wish.

Power per se, like leadership, is neither positive nor negative; it is neutral or amoral.

There is a clear distinction between the accumulation of power as part of one’s self-development, self-assertion, and a neutral, healthy striving for love, satisfaction and meaning in one’s interpersonal world, and the amassing of power as part of a defensive process. 


3 basic types of power:

  1. Personal power: based on strength, confidence, and competence that individuals gradually acquire in the course of their development. This type of power represents a movement toward self-realization and transcendent goals in life; its primary aim is mastery of self, not others.
  2. Covert negative power: based on passive aggression and is manifested in behaviors indicating weakness, incompetence and self-destructive tendencies that manipulate others in the interpersonal world by arousing their feelings of fear, guilt and anger. This type of indirect power differs from aggression, force, domination, or an oppressive authority. The exercise of covert negative power through subtle manipulations may be even more destructive in interpersonal relationships than direct force as a means of controlling others.
  3. Overt negative power: characterized by aggressive tendencies and is exercised through the use of force and/or coercion to control others. It can be manifested within a relationship or become a significant part of a political or social movement. Totalitarian governments and tyrannical leaders are examples of this type of destructive power.


Knowledge is the most democratic source of power. Which makes it a continuing threat to the powerful, even as they use it to enhance their own power. It also explains why every power-holder – from the patriarch of a family to the president of a company or the Prime Minister of a nation – wants to control the quantity, quality, and distribution of knowledge within his or her domain.


Inclusion, not exclusion, is the key to our survival.


4 major functions that the ideal society would fulfill:

  1. The good culture provides for the physical needs of its people within limits of its technology and resources.
  2. The good culture provides opportunities for as many people as possible to feel good about themselves.
  3. The good culture fulfills the first two functions without damaging others, either inside the culture or outside.
  4. The good culture teaches its people how to die well. It provides people with answers to cosmological questions.


The concept of spirituality usually refers to various belief systems about life after death, nirvana, religious faith, relegation to heaven or hell, reincarnation, and such. Sometimes it relates to contact and communication with the dead or with one’s past lives. In an extended context it refers to a deep concern about matters of morality, how to live one’s life and find meaning, and about one’s essential connection to oneself, others, one’s natural surroundings and the universe-at-large.



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