Ross Rosenberg is a psychotherapist, best-selling author and business owner. In addition to being a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor, and Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, Ross conducts in-depth seminars and keynote speeches focused on abuse and recovery. He has been made appearances on ABC Late Night, Fox News, WGN News, and Jenny McCarthy’s Sirius XM Show. His written work has been featured in the Chicago Tribune and Publisher Weekly, and he is a regular contributor to PsychCentral.com. and The Huffington Post.
SYJ: Tell us about the work you do, and the outlets you use to share your message.
Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed.: The work I do is multi-faceted. At the core of everything that I do is my psychotherapy background. I have been in the mental health psychotherapy field for almost 29 years now. I’ve had the great fortune to work at many different jobs and organizations as a therapist, a manager, and now owner of a counseling center in Arlington Heights called Clinical Care Consultants.
I am also an author. I wrote the book ‘The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why we love people who hurt us’, and that has been a very important focal point of my career. I am also a professional trainer. I own the training company Advanced Clinical Trainers and have been giving seminars to both professionals in the mental health field and to a general audience for about 7 years. I have traveled and done a lot of work both in the United States and overseas.
I’m also what they call a YouTube creator. In other words, I have my own YouTube channel where I post free videos for people, to help them grow and become the healed and empowered people I want them to become. And that YouTube channel has, I believe, 83 videos that have been viewed 4.5 million times, and almost 50,000 subscribers. So that’s been a big part of what I do.
SYJ: What topics do you primarily cover in your YouTube videos?
Ross: Narcissistic abuse is what I talk mostly about because my book outlines why people who are what I call “habitual or chronic caretakers”, or someone who is codependent, always fall in love with people who are pathological narcissists. In that relationship, the codependent is the recipient of narcissistic abuse. And they not only stay in that relationship, but they keep taking it.
I would say at least 50% of the information on my YouTube channel is about narcissism.
So I’ve become a spokesperson, although I didn’t intend to be, for recovering codependents, who I refer to as Self-Love Deficients, or SLDs. It’s interesting, because I never in a million years could I have imagined myself becoming an expert on narcissism. But I can see the statistics on YouTube, and people have gravitated towards my videos on narcissism.
So for that reason, I decided to do a 6-hour, full day seminar just on pathological narcissism, so people could find out more information about that.
SYJ: Do you think it’s important that everyone understands narcissistic abuse?
Ross: Absolutely. I think that everyone needs to understand abuse. And there are all sorts of abuse, and only one part of it is narcissistic abuse. I don’t think that any person, persons, organizations, or governments should abuse their power in a way that harms any individual, and to do it consciously, without regret, without empathy, or to maintain power and control is unacceptable in any realm, whether it’s in a marriage, a relationship, a family, or a government.
One of the major tenets of my theories and methods is that you can’t solve a problem if you can’t see it. That is why the Human Magnet Syndrome was so powerfully helpful to people. The book didn’t say anything about what to do. (In fact, that was a common complaint about the book.) But what it did was that it finally gave an explanation as to the role that the codependents have in these relationships, and how insidiously manipulative and harmful the narcissists are.
I actually changed the whole name about a year ago, from “Codependence” to “Self Love Deficit Disorder”, because codependency, the term itself, has a shallow sound to it; it doesn’t have a lot of meaning. So when I talk about Self-Love Deficit Disorder, the disorder itself is SLDD, and the person is someone who is Self-Love Deficient, or an SLD.
Now that I’ve become a spokesperson for SLDD recovery, I feel that it’s my responsibility to help people who don’t have access to psychotherapy and the services that could help them overcome this horrible disorder. Moreover, I don’t think a lot of therapists know (or ever knew) exactly what codependency or SLDD is. To understand SLDD, you have to understand why the SLD stays in these relationships and experiences narcissistic abuse.
SYJ: How has understanding narcissistic abuse changed your own life?
Ross: I’ve been married 3 times and divorced twice. The pain and the same of the abuse I endured in being in relationships with two pathological narcissists, (although I cannot formally diagnose them, that’s only what I think,) and then realizing ‘Something’s wrong with me,’ that’s compelled me to go to therapy.
A couple years after my second divorce is when I started to really go 100% all out in my own psychotherapy. And once I changed my focus, and started looking at myself to try to figure out- what is it about me that always gets into these relationships– that was, although I didn’t know it at the time, the beginning of my Human Magnet Syndrome discoveries.
I had to figure out why a guy like me, who I believe is a loving, caring, generous person, kept falling in love with people who were harmful, hurtful, and selfish. And it all starts with me understanding why I’m attracted to them. The codependent giver is attracted to the narcissistic taker.
I didn’t know it at the time, but everything has been this linear, sequential and connected path. One discovery led to another.
SYJ: Can you share with us the ways in which a pathological narcissist abuses others?
Ross: To understand that you have to first understand who they are. There are 4 categories of pathological narcissists. One is the sociopath or psychopath, with something formally known as Antisocial Personality Disorder; the second is someone with Borderline Personality Disorder; the third is someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder; the fourth is someone who is an addict. And they all abuse people with SLDD differently.
Within Narcissistic Personality Disorder, there are different subcategories including the covert narcissist, the malignant narcissist, the productive narcissist, and what I call the ‘garden variety’ narcissist. They are all about themselves. They feel entitled to take from other, hurt others, to lie, to cheat, as long as it makes them feel good.
One of my favorite tools to help my new clients to identify the abuse (because it’s easy to know what’s physical abuse, it’s more difficult to know what’s emotional or psychological) is a circle called the Duluth Wheel. At the center of the wheel is power and control, and around the wheel are all sorts of categories explaining how a narcissist can emotionally, verbally or psychologically abuse you, whether it’s isolation, minimization, brainwashing, threats, or turning the kids against you.
I have to first have to help my clients understand their SLDD. Because if they don’t, all of the information in the world about narcissism won’t help them. I could tell them all day what’s wrong with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but if they don’t understand that they are part of the dance, and that they as metaphorical passive followers of the dance are always going to pick the leaders, then the knowledge of the different types of abuse is unimportant.
SYJ: What is your role in helping SLDs to understand themselves and their role in that dynamic?
Ross: SLDs carry a lot of shame. They beat themselves up. Narcissists, on the other side of the coin, blame everyone.
So if you are by nature an SLD, who has really bad self-esteem, you have a lot of shame that you carry around, and you’re prone to being manipulated into thinking that you’re the bad person, then the information about narcissism and these disorders empowers you to move in the direction of disconnecting from your relationship pattern, and doing the psychological work to heal or resolve the problem that compels them you repeat the same insanity.
(By the way, the saying “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting the same results,” is not actually from Mark Twain or Einstein, it’s from a 1981 Narcotics Anonymous book.)
Traditional codependent therapy focuses on the narcissistic abuse and the narcissist, and they talk about being unlucky. . . having bad luck! What I do is I teach my clients, or anyone who’s impacted by my work, that until we resolve what I call our own ‘attachment trauma’, our own shame and our own pathological loneliness, we’re going to continue being pulled towards the people who hurt us most.
SYJ: And how do you help your clients release that trauma in order to stop gravitating towards abusive people?
Ross: I created a technique called the ‘Observe Don’t Absorb’ technique. That is actually my most viewed video on YouTube; it’s got close to around 450,000 views. And I’m just a therapist, I’m not singing songs or doing whatever gets a lot of views . . . But what that tells me, what the world’s reaction to it tells me, is that people are hurting so much, being trapped in the sticky, difficult-to-disentangle-yourself-from web of the pathological narcissist, and they just need some guidance to get out of it.
Through a lot of my trainings and writing (I’m in the process of writing my second book called ‘The Codependency Cure: Self-Love Deficit Recovery’, and I have a 6-hour seminar by the same name,) I help people address their internal wounds and trauma that compels them to repeat what happened to them as a child.
I’m also helping people to create a foundation of self-love. If you love yourself, you do not subject yourself to narcissistic abuse. This is why I call it Self-Love Deficit Disorder. Because every codependent or SLD will tell you that at the very core is this self-hate: they despite themselves, they don’t like themselves, they feel inferior. And you have to solve that, not the problem itself but the source of it, which is much deeper, in order to disconnect from the Human Magnet Syndrome attraction pattern.
SYJ: What are some red flags our readers can look out for that might indicate they or someone they love are in a narcissistically abuse relationship?
Ross: The narcissist knows that if someone has good self-esteem and self-love or self-respect, they won’t take that crap. You see these movies on prostitution – the pimps have to keep the prostitutes down and out and feeling horrible about themselves, because if you start feeling good about yourself, you start to think, “Well I don’t deserve this!”
So not only do they do what helps them, but to maintain power and control they have to weaken the other person to not only break them down externally, like taking away their finances or turning people against them, but also breaking them down internally.
That could be they monopolize on conversations, they always talking about themselves, they criticize what the other person says while emphasizing that what they say is better. They make everything about them. They’re selfish. They’re self-centered. They’re entitled. They always need to be better than anyone else.
They always feel like they have to be involved in something that’s good. They are always either trying to join something they think is good, or if they can’t somehow be a part of it, they diminish it or they criticize it.
Any self-serving power and control strategy that makes the narcissist feel good for who they are, while diminishing another person’s self worth and respect for themselves, keeping them stuck in this “I’m not a good person, and without this individual I would be lonely” type of mentality, is a red flag.
SYJ: For someone experiencing this type of abuse, what is the long-term effect or consequence?
Ross: This is the most insidious form of narcissistic abuse. It isn’t the overt lying, cheating, screaming, hitting and pushing. It’s when you systematically beat someone down and make him or her believe that who they are, what they have to say, or what they bring to a relationship is not good enough.
After a while, they starts to believe that there IS something wrong with them, that no one DOES loves them, that they ARE pieces of crap, and as long as they believe that, they start to act that way; the narcissist has created the weakness, insecurity and fear that guarantees that they won’t leave.
They need to be in a relationship in order to feel good about themselves. And of course, the only relationship partner they’re going to find, because of the Human Magnet Syndrome, is a narcissist. That’s the saddest consequence- the perpetuation of Self-Love Deficit Disorder, self-contempt and self-hatred, or what I call core shame- hating who we are. Core shame is hating who we are. Core guilt is hating what we do.
But the primary reward of SLDD recovery is the acquisition of self-love, and the healing of the wounds that created the disorder, so that self-love and self-respect can replace core shame and core guilt.
SYJ: How did you start teaching people about Narcissistic Abuse & recovering from Codependency?
Ross: I came from a dysfunctional family, with a pathologically narcissistic father and a codependent mother. I didn’t know what codependency and narcissism was back in the day, but I knew I was an extremely lonely, horribly insecure, and anxious teenager who turned to drugs to make himself feel better.
Drugs never solved the problem, and when I was 17 I found myself in a rehab hospital setting. It was the people in that hospital who got me to see that I was in a lot of pain, I had horrible self-esteem, and I had to solve that problem to stop doing drugs
It was a miracle. It was God talking to me, and I see that now. So by the time I got out of the treatment, which was about 3 months, I realized – when I grow up, I want to be a therapist – because they kept telling me how good I was at helping people solve their problems, and how sensitive I was, and this that and the other, and I made a promise to myself that when I grew up, I was gonna be a therapist, and I was gonna help other teenagers.
SYJ: Therapy is such a vast practice. Did you know you would specialize in codependency? How did you find yourself where you are now?
Ross: Again, talk about a spiritual moment. Going back to my very first client in Boone, Iowa, in 1988, I was working on that before I even knew what it was! I was drawn to understanding pathological loneliness and shame and attachment and trauma. Something drew me to the problem, and I now know it was that I had the same pain as they did, I just wasn’t completely aware of it yet. I hadn’t made all the mistakes, got married, got divorced, got married and got divorced . . .
So I see that this has been my mission in life. I was destined to come to terms with this as who I’m supposed to be. I think God works in mysterious ways, and in order for me to be a spokesperson for narcissistic abuse and SLDD recovery, I had to have it myself, and I had to recover from it in order to learn what I did and be able to teach that to others.
And though I no longer consider myself a person with Self-Love Deficit Disorder, I’m still working on it. In fact, in my codependency cure work, I’ve come up with the concept that there’s a point in SLDD recovery when you transition away from SLDD, Self-Love Deficient, to SLA, Self-Love Abundant. And that’s a permanent change.
That’s why I call it the codependency “cure”, or Self-Love Deficit Disorder “cure”, because when you solve the trauma that created the loneliness and the addiction and the shame, there’s no turning back. Once you start to love yourself, you don’t let narcissists hurt you anymore.
SYJ: Sometimes the journey of becoming more conscious is bitter sweet. Can you tell us about the hardest realization or stage in your path to recovery from narcissistic abuse?
Ross: The hardest thing was to realize that it was my fault, and that I wasn’t this victim, I was actually choosing these people because there was something wrong with me. It’s one of those moments in my life- it’s a Hallelujah moment and WTF moment.
To understand: I keep falling in love with these women because there’s something really fucked up about me, and I haven’t fixed it . . . It gave me the opportunity to try and solve it, but it also meant I had to understand and embrace my pain and suffering.
That’s what I try to teach all my clients and those who follow my work, that there’s no easy road to Self-Love Abundance. When you heal a wound that has been hidden from yourself, and you finally look at it, you’re looking at, metaphorically speaking, a wound that has been festering your whole life that you haven’t been strong enough to look at.
SYJ: Can you tell us about boundaries? There seems to be disagreement, especially in spiritual communities, about how to assert boundaries while maintaining compassion and acceptance for others.
Ross: Well first of all I want to say – and I’m an opinionated guy – that I believe that any religion or spiritual doctrine that says we should have no external boundaries or internal boundaries, and just be there for other people, is a belief system that reinforces Self-Love Deficit Disorder and perpetuates codependency, and I challenge that.
Because God did not put us on this planet to have other people hurt us. God wants us to love others, to love ourselves, to love Him or whatever we see as God. So boundaries and universally important, no matter who you are or what religion you believe.
But there are people who have unreasonable boundaries, who have too rigid of boundaries or have too loose of boundaries. There are people who focus on one particular set of boundaries, but have no boundaries in other areas. And then there are physical boundaries and emotional boundaries, and a lot of people don’t know the difference.
SYJ: Give us a clear picture of physical vs. emotional boundaries.
Ross: If you and I are in the same room and I put my hand on your leg and I put my hand on your knee and you feel uncomfortable, and you don’t move it, you’re letting me violate your physical boundary.
But if I put my hand on my knee and you move my hand, which is a good physical boundary, but you keep saying to yourself, “Why am I so selfish? Why did I do that? Why did I hurt his feelings? He was just trying to be nice to me,” and you have this barrage of thoughts that are telling you that you did something wrong, that is where an emotional boundary would stop that voice and protect you from those thoughts.
What drives codependents or SLDs in these abusive relationships is that they diminish their own belief systems and their own thinking. So if you tell yourself no one loves you, you’re not beautiful, and you’re not worthwhile, that’s much more harmful than someone putting their hand on your leg and you letting them keep it there, because your thought processes are going to perpetuate your physical boundaries.
SYJ: Can you say some words of encouragement for those who may just be recognizing or coming to terms with abuse in their life?
Ross: My words of encouragement are that you can’t change anyone; you can only change yourself. And I often say, “What is the sound of a clap with one hand?” And they go, “What??” And I say, “Well, you can’t clap with one hand.”
Codependency requires there to be the dancer and the leader, you need the narcissist and the codependent. And the only way that you’re going to solve this problem is by looking inside yourself, and realizing how much shame and loneliness you carry, and how addicted you are to running away from it.
Once you can understand what the Human Magnet Syndrome is, which is why I highly recommend my book, you finally have the ideas and the concepts you need to realize that you are indeed self-loathing and self-hating.
That’s your bottom, and that’s the moment when you actually start to love yourself – when you finally decide, I’m gonna do the work that I need to do to find a way to love myself and to heal my wounds. That’s the beginning, and it’s a remarkable process, and I wouldn’t change my career for anything because of that.
Ross Rosenberg, Clinical Care Consultants
All of my video seminars and my book are available at www.AdvancedClinicalTrainers.com.
Find Ross online:
Find more information on:
Ross’s counseling center: www.ClinicalCareConsultants.com
Ross’s professional training services: www.AdancedClinicalTrainers.com
The Human Magnet Syndrome: www.HumanMagnetSyndrome.com