abuse

Disability is not an abusive roommate

Nondisabled storytellers often seem to think of disability as an abusive roommate coming and imposing its will on a disabled person. When they think about wheelchair users, they don’t think about the mobility that’s made possible by assistive technology. They think about how they’d feel if someone chained them to a wheelchair and forcibly prevented them from walking.

This misconception is dangerous. When people see disability-related limitations as similar to violent restraint, they don’t know know to tell the difference between the innate limitations of someone’s body and limitations being forcibly imposed on them by others. When people don’t understand the difference between living with a disability and living with an abuser, they assume that abusive experiences are inevitable for people with disabilities. 

In reality, there’s nothing inevitable about abuse. Coming up against the limitations of your body is fundamentally different from being forcibly restrained by someone else. Whether or not you are disabled, having physical limitations is part of having a body. Being disabled means that you have a different range of physical limitations than most other people do, but they don’t come color coded ‘normal’ and ‘disabled’. When you’re used to the way your body works, the disability-related limitations feel pretty similar to those that aren’t disability-related. 

Using assistive technology is pretty similar to using technology for any other important reason. Everyone uses technology to do things that their bodies alone would be too limited to do. Most people use cars to go further than they could walk; some people also use wheelchairs to go further than they could walk. Some people type or use communication tablets to say more than they could with their bodies alone; some people use musical instruments; some people use both. People with disabilities have different limitations, and as a result, often benefit from technology that wouldn’t be particularly useful to nondisabled people. 

When technology is associated with disability, people tend to have the dangerous misconception that using it is the same as being restrained. This can very easily become self-fulfilling. When people prevent disabled people from doing things, their inability to do it is often misattributed to their disability. For instance:

Wheelchairs as restraints:

  • Anthony lives in a nursing home.
  • Anthony speaks oddly, and most people interpret most of what he says as meaningless. They say ‘Anthony doesn’t communicate’.
  • Anthony can walk and wants to walk, but the nursing him staff don’t let him. 
  • George, the supervisor, tells Sage, another staff member, ‘Anthony wanders. We need to keep him in his wheelchair to keep him safe. Just lock the seatbelt. After a few minutes, he stops resisting.’
  • Every morning, Sage puts Anthony in a wheelchair that he can’t move, and ties him down so he can’t escape.
  • Sage tells Marge, a new volunteer, ‘That’s Anthony. It’s so nice to have a volunteer - he’s been spending most of his time in the hallway lately. He doesn’t walk or talk, but he loves visiting the garden! Can you take him there?”
  • Marge and Sage don’t know what Anthony actually wants, and it doesn’t occur to them that it’s possible to ask.
  • Anthony actually hates the garden and hates being pushed by other people. He prefers to spend his time in the library or with children in the children’s wing.
  • Marge assumes that Sage is the expert on Anthony, and assumes that Anthony’s disability prevents him from walking and communicating.
  • Marge doesn’t know that Anthony has stopped talking because he’s constantly surrounded by people who refuse to listen to him. 
  • Marge doesn’t know that Sage is tying Anthony to a wheelchair against his will to stop him from going where he wants to go.
  • Marge doesn’t know that she’s doing something to Anthony against his will.
  • When people see disability and restraint as the same thing, they fail to notice that people with disabilities are being violently restrained — and often unwittingly participate in physical abuse of disabled people. 

The disability-as-restraint misconception also causes people to fail to understand that when they deny people access to assisstive technology, they’re preventing them from doing things, eg:

Mobility:

  • Beck is an eight year old who can’t walk.
  • Beck has a wheelchair, but he’s not allowed to bring it to school.
  • At school, he’s strapped into a stroller that others push around. 
  • His classmate Sarah has *never* had a wheelchair that she can push herself.
  • At a staff meeting, Lee, their teacher, says “Because of their disabilities, Sarah and Beck can’t move around by themselves. Even though they stay in one place all day, they’re so fun to have in our class!”
  • Lee is missing the crucial fact that the reason Sarah and Beck are immobile is because they’re being denied access to assistive technology. 
  • When people see disability and externally-imposed limitation as the same thing, they don’t notice limitations being imposed on disabled people. 

Communication:

  • Rebecca types on her iPad to communicate.
  • Clay takes away Rebecca’s iPad.
  • Clay tells Sophie, ‘Rebecca is nonverbal. Her disability prevents her from communicating, but we’re working on improving her speech.’
  • Sophie sees that Rebecca can’t talk, and assumes that it’s her disability that’s preventing her from communicating.
  • Actually, it’s *Clay* who is preventing Rebecca from communicating.
  • When people see disability and abuse as the same thing, they don’t notice abuse of disabled people.

It’s important to be clear on the difference between disability and abuse. Disability is not an abusive roommate; people with disabilities are only abused if someone is abusing them. When people with disabilities are restrained against their will, this is not caused by their disabilities; it’s caused by the people who are restraining them. Restraint is an act of violence, not an innate fact about disability. When wheelchairs are used as restraints, the wheelchair isn’t the problem; the violence is the problem. When people are denied access to assistive technology, it’s not their disability that’s limiting them; it’s neglect. When we stop conflating disability and abuse, we’re far less likely to see abuse of people with disabilities as inevitable.

Image description: A photo of gloomy-looking stairs next to the text "Disability is not an abusive roommate".

A red flag: "I don't want you to see me as an authority figure"

If your boss or academic advisor says something like “I don’t want you to see me as an authority figure,” that’s a major red flag. It almost always means that they want to get away with breaking the rules about what powerful people are allowed to do. They’re probably not treating you as an equal. They’re probably trying to exercise more power over you than they should.

Sometimes authority figures say “I don’t want you to see me as an authority figure” because they want you to do free work for them. The logic here works like this:

  • They want you to do something.
  • It’s something that it would be wrong for an authority figure to order you to do.
  • If they were a peer asking for a favor, it would be ok to ask, and also ok for you to say no.
  • The authority figure wants you to obey them, but they don’t want to accept limits on what it’s acceptable to ask you to do.
  • For purposes of “what requests are ok to make”, they don’t want to be seen as an authority figure.
  • They also want you to do what they say. It’s not really a request, because you’re not really free to say no.

For example:

  • It’s usually ok to ask your friends if they would be willing to help you move in exchange for pizza. It’s never ok to ask your employees to do that.
  •  It’s sometimes ok to ask a friend to lend you money for medical bills (depending on the relationship). It’s never ok to ask your student to lend you money for a personal emergency. 

Sometimes authority figures pretend not to have power because they want to coerce someone into forms of intimacy that require consent. They know that consent isn’t really possible given the power imbalance, so they say “I don’t want you to see me as an authority figure” in hopes that you won’t notice the lines they’re crossing. Sometimes this takes the form of sexual harassment. Sometimes it’s other forms of intimacy. For instance:

  • Abusive emotional intimacy: Excepting you to share your feelings with them, or receive their feelings in a way that’s really only appropriate between friends or in consented-to therapy. 
  • Coming to you for ongoing emotional support in dealing with their marital problems.
  • Trying to direct your trauma recovery or “help you overcome disability”.
  • Asking questions about your body beyond things they need to know for work/school related reasons. 
  • Expecting you to share all your thoughts and feelings about your personal life.
  • Analyzing you and your life and expecting you to welcome their opinions and find them insightful. 
  • Abusive spiritual intimacy: Presuming the right to an opinion on your spiritual life. (Eg: Trying to get you to convert to their religion, telling you that you need to pray, trying to make you into their disciple, telling you that you need to forgive in order to move on with your life.) 

If someone says “I don’t want you to see me as an authority figure”, it probably means that they can’t be trusted to maintain good boundaries. (Unless they’re also saying something like “I’m not actually your boss, and you don’t have to do what I say”.) Sometimes they are intentionally trying to get away with breaking the rules. Sometimes it’s less intentional. Some people feel awkward about being powerful and don’t want to think about it. In either case, unacknowledged power is dangerous. In order to do right by people you have power over, you have to be willing to think about the power you’re have and how you’re using it. 

Tl;dr If someone has power they don’t want to acknowledge, they probably can’t be trusted to use their power ethically. 

 

 

 

Image description: Quote "If someone has power they don't want to acknowledge, they probably can't be trusted to use their power ethically" next to a picture of some power lines.

Abuse does not make you a broken monster

Our culture often sends the message that if you were abused as a child, you’ll inevitably abuse your children.

It’s not true. I know multiple people personally who grew up in violent homes who have chosen not to be abusive. They experienced violence as children; they do not commit acts of violence as adults. It is possible, it is happening, and people making that choice deserve more respect and recognition.

It’s easier to learn how to parent well from growing up with good parents. It’s also possible to learn from other people. I know this because I’ve seen people do it. To some extent, *everyone* learns from people other than their own parents. (Including their own children. Kids are born with minds of their own, and people who respect their children learn a lot from them about how parenting can and can’t work.) 

It’s a matter of degree. Everyone needs some degree of help and support in learning how to parent; some people need more help and support. Abuse (among other things) may mean that someone needs more help learning parenting; it does not mean that someone will inevitably become an abuser. 

I think we need to talk about this more. Abuse survivors should not be treated as broken monsters. Violence is a choice, and abuse survivors are capable of choosing nonviolence. Abuse survivors are full human beings who have the capacity to make choices, learn skills, and treat others well. 

If an abuser is making you take a ballot selfie, you can still vote the way you want to

If abusive people in your life are expecting you to take a ballot selfie, this doesn’t need to prevent you from voting the way you want to vote. You can fill out a ballot the way they want you to, take a selfie, spoil the ballot instead of casting it, and then vote a new ballot the way that *you* want to vote.

(Note: Taking ballot selfies is actually illegal in several states. In any case, I think taking ballot selfies is a really, really bad idea. But since I know people are doing it, I am writing this to help people protect their right to cast a secret ballot)

Here’s a step by step list of how to do this:

  • Step one: Get your ballot.
  • Step two: Fill out the ballot the way your abusers want you to. *Do not cast it*. Do not put it in the ballot box. (If you are using a voting machine, *do not tap vote* and *do not pull the final voting lever*. )
  • Step three: Take a selfie with the ballot filled out the way your abuser wants you to vote.
  • Step four: Spoil the ballot and ask for a new one (Or if you’re using a voting machine, go back and correct your vote). Draw a line down the middle, and bring the spoiled ballot back to the table where you got the ballot. 
  • Tell the polling person that you made a mistake, and ask for a new ballot. They should take back your spoiled ballot and exchange it for a new one.
  • (If they won’t give you a new ballot, tell their supervisor or call 866-OUR-VOTE for help. You have the right to start over with a new ballot if you make a mistake. *So long as you have not put it in the ballot box yet*. Once you’ve put it in the ballot box, you can’t take it back.) 
  • (If you’re using voting machines and aren’t sure how to start over, ask the polling officials for help. They are required to help you. (But make sure that you don’t press the Vote button or pull a final lever before you fix your ballot! Once you press Vote or pull the voting lever, your vote is final and you can’t undo it.)
  • Step five: Fill out your new ballot the way you want to fill it out. 
  • Step six: Cast your real ballot that you have just filled out. (Put it in the ballot box, pull the lever, or push the Vote button).

Tl;dr If abusers are trying to coerce your vote by making you take a ballot selfie, you can take the selfie and still vote the way you want to. Scroll up for step by step instructions.

Ableist hostility disguised as friendliness

Some people relate to people with disabilities in a dangerous and confusing way. They see themselves as helpers, and at first they seem to really like the person. Then the helper suddenly become aggressively hostile, and angry about the disabled person’s limitations or personality (even though they have not changed in any significant way since they started spending time together). Often, this is because the helper expected their wonderful attention to erase all of the person’s limitations, and they get angry when it doesn’t.

The logic works something like this:

  • The helper thinks that they’re looking past the disability and seeing the “real person” underneath.
  • They expect that their kindness  will allow the “real person” to emerge from the shell of disability.
  • They really like “real person” they think they are seeing, and they’re excited about their future plans for when that person emerges.
  • But the “real person” is actually figment of their imagination.

The disabled person is already real:

  • The helper doesn’t like this already-real disabled person very much
  • The helper ignores most of what the already-real person actually says, does, thinks, and feels.
  • They’re looking past the already-real person, and seeing the ghost of someone they’d like better.

This ends poorly:

  • The already-real person never turns into the ghost the helper is imagining
  • Disability stays important; it doesn’t go away when a helper tries to imagine it out of existence
  • Neither do all of the things the already-real disabled person thinks, feels, believes, and decides
  • They are who they are; the helper’s wishful thinking doesn’t turn them into someone else
  • The helper eventually notices that the already-real person isn’t becoming the ghost that they’ve been imagining
  • When the helper stop imagining the ghost, they notice that the already-real person is constantly doing, saying, feeling, believing, and deciding things that the helper hates
  • Then the helper gets furious and becomes openly hostile

The helper has actually been hostile to the disabled person the whole time

  • They never wanted to spend time around the already-real disabled person; they wanted someone else
  • (They probably didn’t realize this)
  • At first, they tried to make the already-real disabled person go away by imagining that they were someone else
  • (And by being kind to that imaginary person)
  • When they stop believing in the imaginary person, they become openly hostile to the real person

Tl;dr Sometimes ableist hostility doesn’t look like hostility at first. Sometimes people who are unable or unwilling to respect disabled people seem friendly at first. They try to look past disability, and they interact with an imaginary nondisabled person instead of the real disabled person. They’re kind to the person they’re imagining, even though they find the real person completely unacceptable. Eventually they notice the real person and become openly hostile. The disabled person’s behavior has not changed; the ableist’s perception of it has. When someone does this to you, it can be very confusing — you were open about your disability from the beginning, and it seemed like they were ok with that, until they suddenly weren’t. If this has happened to you, you are not alone.

Ideological predators

Content note: This post is about adults exploiting teenagers on the internet for validation. It’s about the ideological form; not the sexual form, but a lot of the underlying logic is similar. This is likely to be a difficult post for anyone who has an emotional connection to this issue.

Some some predators use vulnerable people as validation objects to make their  flawed ideologies feel true. This can happen between people of any age, but it’s particularly common for adult predators to do this to teenage victims they meet online. Adults with bad ideas manipulate teenagers into praising them. They offer false respect to teenagers who are starved for respectful adult attention. They make teenagers depend on them emotionally in completely inappropriate ways. Then they lash out when the teenagers start to notice flaws in their ideas. Teenagers can get hurt very, very badly by this.

From a teenage perspective, relationships with ideological predators can feel really good at first before the predator starts lashing out. As a teenager, you’re often at the beginning of noticing that there’s a lot wrong with the world, and that you and others have the power to make it much better. But seeing yourself as powerful enough to change the world isn’t the same as knowing how to do it. Changing the world is hard work that requires skills that are difficult to acquire. It also requires connections with others doing the same work, which can be really hard to build for teenagers without much control over their lives. And teenagers who want to make the world better are often surrounded by adults who think their desire to do so is cute, and certainly not something to take seriously. (And who may not be taking the teenager seriously on any level). That’s degrading, and very, very hard to cope with.

And then a predator shows up online. At first, they’re this really interesting adult who at first seems to take you much more seriously than anyone else does. Their ideas seem amazing, and they seem to be opening all kinds of possibilities for making the world better. They’re willing to spend endless hours talking to you. They listen to you when you are sad and lonely, and they tell you that you’re amazing and brilliant and that you deserve so much more respect than anyone is giving you. It feels really good to be exposed to an exciting new idea, and it feels even better when it’s coming in the form of conversations with an apparently experienced person you respect. And, support from an experienced person who really does respect you is an amazing thing. Sometimes teenagers get the real form of this online. And sometimes, a predator fakes respect in ways that end very, very poorly.

An emotional relationship with a predator falls apart at some point, because their ideas aren’t actually very good, and their respect for you wasn’t real. It turns out, they weren’t listening to you, they were using you as a mirror. They didn’t want respect and conversation, they wanted you to admire them. When you start noticing flaws in their bad ideas, you stop being useful as a mirror, and they stop wanting to support you. All the vulnerabilities you shared with them turn into weapons they wield against you. It’s excruciating, and it can be very, very hard to recover from.

Teenagers deserve to have adults in their lives who respect them and spend time talking to them about the world. Ideally, this should happen both on and offline. Ideological predators who want validation seek out teenagers who aren’t getting real respect from adults, and seduce them with fake respect. This shouldn’t happen to anyone, ever, but it’s unfortunately really common. (It’s not just teenagers this happens to, but teenagers are often particularly vulnerable because teenagers are often both very isolated and inexperienced with evaluating the merits of ideologies, political views, and effective approaches to activism.)

One of the most important red flags for ideological exploitation is: Do they respect your right to consider other perspectives, or do they want you to believe everything they say without question? 

Nobody is right about everything; it is never reasonable for someone to want you to believe their ideas without question. You have the right to think for yourself. It is never ok for someone to be mean to you for asking questions or for reading about other perspectives. (Even if they’re right and the other perspective you’re reading is a dangerously bad idea that has hurt them personally.) No one has to be willing to talk to you about everything; they do need to respect your right to think for yourself. If someone is trying to persuade you to agree with them, they should expect that you will want to think about it and ask questions. That’s how conversations work when you are explaining something.

No one is the boss of your reading or your other media consumption. You get to decide what you want to read (and what you don’t want to read, and you don’t have to justify your reading choices to anyone. It’s a red flag if an adult tries to monitor your reading or aggressively tells you not to read people they disagree with. Or if they try to dictate who you are and aren’t allowed to talk to.
It’s also a bad sign if they refuse to explain to you why they disagree with a particular position, especially if they’re encouraging you to see them as a mentor. “Why do you think that?” and “What’s wrong with that?” or “Why is that idea harmful?” or “Why is this important?” are reasonable questions, and it’s not ok if they lash out at you for sincerely wanting to know.

(Even if they regularly get asked that question insincerely as a form of harassment, they still shouldn’t lash out at you. You aren’t doing that. You’re asking a question because you want to understand. It’s not your fault that mean people do something superficially similar. If they’ve spent hours and hours talking to you and saying how insightful you are, then they know you well enough to trust your sincerity. It’s not ok if everything they know about you suddenly flies out the window when you ask an uncomfortable question. Also, if they’re presenting themselves as a mentor figure and want you to trust them in that role, then it *is* their job to educate you, and part of educating people is answering their sincere questions respectfully.)

Which is related to another sign to watch out for — trustworthy people with good ideas are able to disagree with others respectfully. If someone is only willing to talk about ideas they agree with and ideas they have withering contempt for, that’s a really bad sign. Reasonable people have some positions they disagree with respectfully, and they also know that people can mistakenly be attracted to bad ideas for good reasons. No one has to be willing to respect all ideas or treat all positions as honorable; everyone has to be able to tolerate *some* disagreement respectfully. Reasonable people know that they’re not right about everything, and that sometimes they will find that people they initially disagreed with had a point.

If they can’t tolerate disagreement with anyone else, what they’re feeling for you is probably not real respect. They’re probably using you as a mirror; expecting you to reflect everything they say back to them, using your sincerity and enthusiasm to make it sound true and important. But you’re not a mirror; you’re a person. Even if everything they’re saying to you right now sounds amazingly true; eventually you will disagree with them about something you both care about. (No one is right 100% of the time, and it is normal for people who care about things to have some degree of disagreement.) Their talk about how insightful and wonderful you are will very, very likely melt away when you stop agreeing with them about everything. If they could tolerate disagreement, they’d be tolerating it from other people too.

Tl;dr Some adult predators use teenagers as ideological validation objects. They offer false respect to teenagers who are hungry for genuine respect from adults. The teenage victims are expected to become mirrors, enthusiastically reflecting back whatever the adult says, making it sound true and wise. Inevitably, eventually teenagers figure out that the adult isn’t 100% right about everything, and they start questioning their ideology. The adult predator then lashes out, and withdraws all of their false respect, leaving the teenager they have isolated to pick up the pieces. This is a horrible an inexcusable thing to do to someone. People have the right to think for themselves, and to ask questions. Adults who take it upon themselves to teach teenagers about the world have a particularly strong obligation to support them in thinking for themselves. If someone effusively praises you at first and then lashes out at you for questioning them or disagreeing, something is really wrong. It’s not your fault, and you’re not alone. People should not treat you that way.

The dangers of “adults are terrible”

Content note: This post is about abuse in a way that may not be obvious from the first paragraph.

I’ve seen adults and teenagers on Tumblr and other places saying things like “adults are terrible” or “never trust adults”. Sometimes it’s a joke, but often people mean it.

I think this is creating a dangerous situation for teenagers. Predators can use that sentiment to isolate teenagers, and to groom them for emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.

If a predator convinces a teenage victim that adults are inherently untrustworthy, they have made it much easier to get away with abuse by making it harder to get outside perspective:

  • If an abuser convinces a teenager not to trust any other adults, they’ve effectively prevented them from asking any other adults for perspective if something feels wrong
  • Which makes it a lot easier for them to convince the teenager that abuse is normal, and that they have to accept abuse in order to get close to anyone
  • It’s much harder to get away with abusing a teenager who can ask other experienced adults “I’m feeling uncomfortable with this. Is this normal? What do you think?”
  • Teenagers who believe that they have nowhere to turn can be very, very vulnerable.

For teenagers, I think this is worth keeping in mind:

  • The adult saying “adults are horrible” is an adult. Saying that doesn’t make them any less of an adult.
  • They want you to think that adults are bad, and they also want you to think that *they* are good
  • So what they’re really saying, usually, is “trust me, but don’t listen to any other adults”.
  • That would only be warranted if they were somehow the only good adult in the world. And they’re *not*.
  • There are a lot of good adults in the world. Adults who can be good friends to teenagers will not want to be the only adult in your life.
  • People who try to isolate you are not good friends.

There are a lot of horrible adults in the world, but adulthood is not horrible in and of itself. Being an adult just means that you made it to a particular age, and that you’ve hopefully learned certain things about the world. When an adult who spends a lot of time with teenagers also goes on and on about how bad adults are, it’s usually a bad sign.

Tl;dr There are a lot of bad adults in the world, and also a lot of good adults. Some adults try to convince teenagers that good adults are very rare. Those adults are dangerous, and it’s important not to tolerate that kind of attitude towards teenagers.

Triggers aren't always rational concepts

Sometimes people talk about triggers as though as though being triggered means having an extreme reaction to something that it’s perfectly normal for most people to find upsetting.

Some triggers are like that. A lot of them are not.

Triggers can be things that make no apparent sense at all from the outside. They can be anything. For instance, someone might find teddy bears triggering. Or being spoken to in a reassuring tone of voice. Or a certain song. Or wearing a t-shirt.

They are not necessarily about concepts.

Having trauma-related triggers does not necessarily mean that someone will have an unusual amount of difficulty discussing upsetting topics.

Discussing the concept of abuse or the particular kind of trauma they experienced *might* be triggering, but it might not be.

For instance, someone might be triggered by the smell of popcorn, but comfortable discussing abuse and abuse prevention policy. Or any number of other combinations.

Knowing that someone has experienced trauma doesn’t mean that you know anything else about them. Not everyone who has experienced trauma gets triggered. People who do get triggered, get triggered by a range of different things. You generally are not going to be in a position to know this kind of thing about someone else unless they tell you.

tl;dr Trauma-related triggers can be just about anything. They’re not necessarily conceptually related to difficult or politically charged topics. Some people who have triggers aren’t triggered by discussing the relevant concepts, but are triggered by otherwise-innocuous things they associate with their experiences. Trauma can be complicated and doesn’t always fit with the prevailing cultural narrative.

Being wary of women isn't always misogyny

It’s completely normal for people who have had traumatic experiences with women to be wary of women. Or to have triggers related to women.

For instance, some people can’t tolerate being touched by women. Or don’t feel safe with female therapists. Or feel safer around men than women in general. Or need activities they participate in to be co-ed rather than single-gender. Or any number of other things.

Sometimes people with those kinds of trauma responses are told that they’re being misogynistic, or that they have internalized misogyny. And that’s wrong. Having a completely normal trauma response is *not* sexism, and it’s not a moral failing of any kind.

(It would be sexist to think that women are inferior, or inherently incapable of treating people well, or something like that. Being wary of women as a trauma response is *not* the same as thinking that kind of thing.)

tl;dr Trauma is not a moral failing, even when your trauma responses are politically inconvenient. If you have been hurt by women and have trauma responses to women, it’s not your fault and it’s ok to take care of yourself.

Trauma doesn't make you any less of a person

Some people are really creepy about survivors. (Or people who they perceive as survivors, often inaccurately.)

They treat trauma like permission. Like it gives them the right to boundless authority over you.

They see you as broken, and they think that means they’re entitled to fix you.

They act like you don’t know yourself, can’t know yourself, and shouldn’t think for yourself.

(And they may repeatedly trigger you on purpose in an effort to make you feel disoriented enough to believe them.)

They think that every opinion they have about you is the insight that will heal you. They think that you are somehow obligated to accept uncritically any purported wisdom they decide to bestow upon you.

They think that their love can heal you. They act like their desire to heal you with love means you’re somehow obligated to gratefully accept whatever expression of love they want to bestow upon you.

They act like their perspective should replace yours. They act like their desire to help you somehow obligates you to agree with everything they think.

They act like you’ll be better if you let them take over emotionally. Like you somehow can’t be trusted with feelings. Like you shouldn’t have feeling of your own anymore. Like you should have theirs instead.

People shouldn’t do this to you. It’s wrong, it’s creepy, and you don’t have to cooperate with it.

You are a person. You are allowed to have your own feelings. You are allowed to think for yourself.

You are allowed to decide who, if anyone, you want to be emotionally intimate with. You are allowed to decide whose advice you want. You are allowed to say no. You are allowed to disagree with people, even if they mean well and want to help. You are allowed to make choices about what help, if any, you want to accept, and who, if anyone, you want to accept it from.

You are you. You are allowed to be you. And nothing that happened to you gives others the right to try to turn you into someone else.

you don't have to earn support with a diagnosis

If you were hurt and you’re struggling to cope with the aftermath, that matters. It’s ok to be struggling. It’s ok to need support.

You don’t have to earn support with a diagnosis of something trauma related. You don’t even have to fit diagnostic criteria for a mental health condition to be worthy of support.

Getting hurt matters whether or not it results in PTSD or other diagnosable mental health conditions. There are a lot of different ways that people respond to trauma. In particular, not everyone who experiences abuse or other trauma develops PTSD. It’s ok to want support and to talk to other people whose struggles are similar to yours, whether or not your experience involves PTSD.

It’s also ok if the thing that hurt you wasn’t abuse, or if you aren’t sure whether you think it was abuse or not. It’s ok to need help and support even if it *wasn’t* abuse, or even if things are ambiguous, or even if what happened to you wasn’t anyone’s fault. Not all trauma is the result of abuse. Not all trauma is anyone’s fault. You don’t have to earn support by fitting a particular narrative. You don’t have to earn support by being ideologically or politically useful, either. You matter, it matters that you got hurt, and it’s ok to want help sorting things out.

It’s also ok to relate to and benefit from things that match your experiences partly, but not entirely. (Eg: it’s ok if something written about homophobic bullying helps you to deal with the medical care you experienced in the aftermath of a car crash; it’s ok if something written for people with intellectual disabilities helps you to cope with being the target of transphobic bullying. It’s also ok to use a type of therapy that was initially developed or is usually used to address a different problem than the one you have.)

All of this stuff can be hard to sort out. It’s ok to be struggling. It’s ok to seek help and support where you can find it. You matter, and your experiences matter.

Not being believed

Content note: This is a post about ABA, and not being believed about the harm ABA does.

Anonymous said to :

People don’t believe me when I say I was a victim to ABA abuse, not even my parents.

I was misgendered routinely, I could not drink water even though this was harmless and was often asked to write my name even though this was effectively pointless.

How should I convince people I was really abused?

Am I just whining and should I “get over it” because that’s not “real abuse” and I’m not autistic?

realsocialskills said:

It’s not your fault that therapists hurt you. It’s not your fault that people don’t believe you. What people did to you matters, even if no one believes you.

ABA is degrading on a level that it can be very hard to recover from or even describe. The basic methodology of ABA is finding out what you care about most and using it to get compliance with arbitrary demands.

I’ve written some here and here and here about the kind of damage that does, and that’s only scratching the surface.

Increasingly, one of the things behavior therapists demand is that you pretend that they’re not controlling you. They often go so far as to demand that you act like you like what’s happening and believe that it’s both necessary and enjoyable. And they do that even as they make you do obviously pointless things (like writing your name over and over), and even as they do obviously awful things to you (like denying you water and misgendering you).

That kind of thing can mess with your mind really badly, especially when you’re surrounded by people who don’t believe you.

It’s not your fault that people don’t believe you. They can refuse to acknowledge what people did to you; you can’t make it go away. It matters even if no one around you cares.

You will probably always have to deal with people who don’t believe you. Most people are reluctant to believe that therapists ever hurt people in ways that matter, and ABA has a particularly effective publicity machine. Some people will say that you’re whining, that you’re lying, and that the things you’ve described don’t happen. They’re wrong. It matters that people hurt you in the name of helping you. It’s horrible that people who you should be able to trust don’t believe you.

Some of them may eventually come to understand. Sometimes people come around, in the long term. But you don’t have to wait for that in order to be ok, you don’t have to explain it to them if you don’t want to, and what happened to you matters whether or not people believe you.

Also… You are not alone. What happened to you shouldn’t happen to anyone. There is a community of people who know that it’s wrong to treat people that way. Making connections with people who believe you might help a lot.

It’s much easier to hold on to your perspective if you’re not doing it alone. This is hard. It’s also possible. You’re ok.

tl;dr Abuse matters even if no one believes you. That said, making connections with people who believe you can help a lot. You are not alone, even if really important people in your life don’t believe you.

A behavior modification aftermath

Content note: This post is written with parents and professionals in mind. It’s about a common way that rewards-based behavior modification hurts people, and the importance of being aware of that effect in work with people who might be ABA survivors.

I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning people who are trying to fix special education and adult disability services say things like “you have to find out what they’re interested in and incorporate it.”

This can be good advice. It’s also important to realize that this is loaded, and that not all disabled people are going to be willing or able to show you what they’re interested in.

For people with disabilities, “what do you like?” can be a deeply intimate personal question. It can be very dangerous to let people know what you are interested in.

Autistic people (and others with intellectual and developmental disabilities) are often subjected to intense behavior modification. This is often aimed at silencing them, getting them to pretend to be non-autistic, or otherwise change in ways that deny fundamental things about who they are.

You have to take some pretty extreme methods to get someone to comply with that kind of behavior program. One traditional way is to use painful punishment like starvation and electric shock. These days, that’s considered distasteful, and most therapists prefer to use positive methods.

In practice, what that often means is that anything a disabled person expresses interest in will be taken away and used as a reinforcer for a behavior plan. The more they care about something, the more their access to it will be contingent with compliance with what powerful people in their life want.

Even if the thing they care about is something like math. Or books. Or access to fresh air. Or their teddy bear.

People subjected to this kind of thing learn quickly that when they express interest in something, it will probably be taken away.

And beyond that, they learn that when people know what you care about, they will use it to manipulate you into doing awful things to yourself. In many cases, this includes being manipulated into maintaining a grateful affect and praising the therapist.

When people have experienced this type of violation, sharing their interests with anyone is a big risk. Particularly if that person has power over them. Particularly if that person is a member of a professional culture that largely approves of what was done to them. (And if you’re a teacher, therapist, direct support professional, or similar, you have power over them and your professional culture approves of misusing it.)

It’s important to keep in mind that people you work with have every reason to believe that it is dangerous to tell you what they care about. They don’t know what you will do with that information, and have every reason to believe that you will use it against them. (Or that information they give you will get back to people who will do so.) It might take a long time before some people are willing to share their interests. Some people may never trust you. The way you teach and offer support needs to take this into account.

tl;dr It’s important to be aware of the loaded nature of asking disabled people to express interest in things. It’s important to make space to incorporate interests; it’s also important to allow people to keep their interests private.

Women are not inherently safe

Sometimes people talk as though men are inherently dangerous, and imply that women are inherently safe.

Neither is true, because women are people, and people make choices.

Women can do anything that men can do. Including the bad things that men can do. Including abuse. Including violence. Women are people, and people can be dangerous.

It’s important to be able to acknowledge this. Women need to know that they have power, so that they can be careful how they use it.

People who have been hurt by women need to know that what happened to them matters, and that they are not alone.

being seen as "manipulative"

Hey! I was wondering what you think about adults thinking of neuroatypical kids as “manipulative,” “charming,” etc. surely not everyone who says that is wrong, but it can’t be a coincidence that it’s usually said about neuroatypical kids?

realsocialskills said:

I think that people jump to that conclusion really quickly with disabled kids. “Manipulative” can kind of become a catch-all category for ways to delegitimize a kid’s interests, opinions, and self-advocacy.

Manipulative often translates as meaning things like:

  • “She resists doing what I tell her to do, and tries to distract me so I’ll let her do something else”
  • (without reference to what it is they’re telling her to do, why she doesn’t want to do it, and what she does want to do)
  • (Sometimes this means that she is 12 years old, and she’s resisting doing a preschool curriculum worksheet for the zillionth time)

Or this:

  • “He keeps trying to say things I don’t want to hear, and to convince me that what he’s saying is important even though I keep telling him it isn’t.”
  • (Without reference to what he’s saying, why it matters to him, or why it’s so unreasonable for them to listen to him about it)
  • (Sometimes this means that he’s in pain, and trying hard to tell them and get it to stop, but they don’t believe him or don’t care if he’s hurting.)

Or this:

  • “Other people sometimes believe her about things when I tell them she’s lying”, or
  • “Other people ask for her side of the story even after I’ve told them mine.”
  • (And expecting you to believe the adult automatically that it’s unreasonable to ever believe anything the kid says)
  • (Sometimes this means that they’re hitting her when no one who cares is looking, and they’re afraid that she might eventually convince someone with power that they’re doing something wrong.)

Charming can also mean “other people like this person more than I do, and more than I think they deserve”.

That said, being manipulative in a bad way is a real thing, and people with disabilities are just as capable of being manipulative as anyone else is.

Being manipulative in the bad sense involves doing things like:

  • Having highly developed skill at getting other people to like them and want their approval
  • Using that skill to ride roughshod over people’s boundaries
  • And/or get them to do things that they don’t want to do or shouldn’t do
  • Convincing people they want to manipulate that they are friends, and not actually reciprocating friendship in a meaningful way

Sometimes people with disabilities are manipulative. More often, they are manipulated. (For instance, adults often have nondisabled kids volunteer to pretend to be the friends of disabled kids. This usually results in the disabled kids being manipulated in really degrading ways and misled about what friendship is.)

Being manipulative is a real thing, but disabled kids are accused of it far more often than they are guilty of it. When a disabled kid is called manipulative, it often means that someone is objecting to their entirely justified attempts to get control over their life. (Which would be seen as normal and acceptable in a nondisabled person their age.)


Disability doesn't make it ok to be creepy

Content warning: This post is about sexual creepiness, sexual assault, and using disability as an excuse to violate boundaries. Proceed with caution.


Anonymous said to :

How do you call out a disabled person who is saying they should get to do creepy or mean things because of their disability, without being ableist yourself? I know a guy in a wheelchair who will grope and touch women when they sit down next to him, and he has done this to me. And he’ll say things like, “Come on, I’m in a wheelchair.” if you try to move or act uncomfortable. And he says because most women aren’t nice to him, he should get to know a female’s touch.

realsocialskills said:


This guy is using other people’s desire to be good people as a weapon to get away with groping women. That is not something you need to have any tolerance for whatsoever. He’s doing something awful and he knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s violating people and then manipulating them into feeling like bad people for objecting. That’s a horrible thing to do.


And it seems like it’s working, given that you’re concerned that you might be wrong to tell him to stop, or that you might have to be very careful about how you do it.


This dude is groping people and telling them off for objecting. There are absolutely no circumstances under which that is an ok thing to do, and you don’t owe him a pass on it just because he’s marginalized by ableism. That’s the most important thing about this situation. It’s absolutely ok and important to insist that he knock it off.


It’s not ok to grope people. Being lonely doesn’t make it ok to grope people. Being marginalized and desexualized doesn’t make it ok to grope people. People with disabilities are often seen as non-adult and therefore nonsexual, and that’s a horrible thing to experience. That doesn’t mean that others owe them sex, and it doesn’t give them the right to grope people. The only thing that makes it ok to touch another person in a sexual way is consent.


It’s ok to insist that this dude stop groping people even if you have some ableist attitudes towards him (You probably do. Most people, including people with disabilities, have some ableist attitudes, and most people are more ableist towards people they have good reason to dislike.) You don’t have to wait to be perfectly free of all bigotry before you’re allowed to decide who you do and don’t want touching you in a sexual way. 


If you want to tell this dude to stop groping people, I think the best way is to just completely refuse to engage with any of the excuses he’s making. The overriding issue here is that he’s violating people in a sexual way. It’s not ok for him to do that, and it’s not ok for him to tell people they’re wronging him by objecting. It’s better not to let him change the subject to ableism when you’re telling him to stop groping people.


I’m sorry you’re having to face this situation. He shouldn’t be acting this way.

abuse doesn't always go in cycles

Content note: This post contains graphic descriptions of emotional abuse and mentions physical abuse. Proceed with caution.

Often people describe abuse as occurring primarily in cycles (including specifically with the pronouns this way):

  • He is effusively loving
  • Then, he resents her being a separate person from him
  • Tension builds up
  • He explodes and hits her
  • Then he’s all ~remorseful~ and swears he’ll never do it again
  • Then he is effusively loving again
  • and the cycle continues

That’s definitely a real thing. But it’s not the only pattern (and even when it is, it happens in gender configurations other than male abusers and female victims, and it’s not always between romantic partners.) There are many, many patterns of abuse and they’re not all discussed very much.

Here’s another pattern (not the only other pattern):

  • The abusive person will be demeaning and effusively loving at the same time
  • They will do something degrading and something genuinely positive simultaneously
  • There won’t be a discernible cyclical pattern because both parts happen at the same time
  • This can be very, very disorienting to the victim, who might be tricked into seeing their abuser as loving, considerate, and insightful, and themself as not living up to their abuser’s love

eg:

  • Daniel: I love you so much. I brought you your favorite flowers. Not everyone would be so understanding of your irrational need for flowers.
  • Daniel hugs Debra
  • Debra hugs back 
  • Debra feels awful about herself, and feels good about Daniel

or:

  • Susan: Hey, the fair’s in town. Let’s go!
  • Susan: I made you a jacket to wear.
  • Bill: That’s beautiful! Thank you!
  • They drive to the fair, and it’s warm out, so Bill decides to leave the jacket in the car
  • Susan: Where’s your jacket? Don’t you know that it hurts my feelings when you reject my gifts? I just wanted to have a nice time with you.
  • Susan: I guess it’s not your fault. I know you’ve never been in a successful relationship before. We all have stuff to work on.
  • Bill then tearfully apologizes and promises to work on it.

tl;dr If someone is hurting you and it doesn’t seem to be happening in cycles, you are not alone. Abuse doesn’t always happen in a cycle of overt abuse and effusive love. Sometimes abuse is more mixed and constant. Scroll up for one example of a different pattern.

abuse doesn't always involve sex or romance

Anonymous said to :


A question about emotional abuse: Is it possible to be emotionally abused by a friend or somone who you aren’t romantically involved with? The person in question isn’t in my life anymore but when I think back to our relationship it seems abusive to me.

realsocialskills said:


Yes, it is definitely possible to be abused emotionally (or otherwise), by someone you aren’t romantically or sexually involved with.


Friends can abuse friends. It’s not rare, and it’s often not taken nearly as seriously as it should be.


For some reason, most conversations about abuse seem to assume that abusive relationships are romantic (and that the abuser is male and the victim is female.) But abuse happens in all types of relationships, and among people of all genders.


Abuse isn’t romance gone bad. Abuse is someone pervasively mistreating and harming another person. 

when joking teasing is a trigger

Anonymous said to :

Having grown up with abuse, and having been in an abusive relationship after that, I have a lot of trouble dealing with “normal” teasing. I was used to being accused of all kinds of terrible things out of the blue. So if, for example, I accidentally take something that belongs to someone else, and they say, “Haha, you just wanted it for yourself!” I want to cry and beg forgiveness. I’m terrified and I can’t laugh. I feel I can’t ask people not to tease me, but I don’t know how to deal with it.

realsocialskills said:

It’s ok to be bothered by this, and it’s ok to tell your friends not to tease you.

Playful teasing is only friendly if everyone likes it. A lot of people don’t like it, and a lot of people don’t do it. It’s entirely possible to be friends without insulting or teasing one another. If someone teases someone who they know hates it, that’s not a joke anymore, it’s just being mean. It’s not ok to be mean to other people for fun.

It’s ok to say “I don’t like jokes like that; please don’t say things like that to me.” You don’t have to explain in order for it to be ok to tell people to stop teasing you. Continuing to do stuff like that is already a jerk move, even if people don’t know your history. Not liking it is a good enough reason.

It’s also ok if you do want to disclose (and for some people, it might make it more likely that they’ll take it seriously and realize how important it is not to make jokes like that with you). But you don’t have to disclose in order for it to be legitimate to insist that people stop. If you do want to disclose, it’s usually better if it’s not in the heat of the moment, but when you’re relatively calm.

Most people don’t want to say intentionally hurtful things to their friends. Some people realize that some people find playful teasing hurtful, and will readily stop if you tell them you don’t like it. Some people don’t understand that some people don’t like it, and will probably have to be reminded several times before they take it seriously. Some people are mean and will keep saying things like that to you even after you say to stop, and some people might even start saying them more because they think it’s funny that it bothers you. Part of the solution to this might be to make sure you’re hanging out with people who care about treating you well, as much as possible. Having friends who are kind makes life a lot better on a number of levels.

A possible script for disclosing:

  • “Hey, I know you weren’t intending it but playful teasing and joke insults really scare me. Too many people in my life have accused me of ludicrous things in order to hurt me, so I have trouble telling when it’s a joke and I tend to freak out. Can you please not say things like that to me?”

Another possibility: finding ways to tell whether they mean it or not:

Think about the person you’re with, and what’s likely to be their intention:

  • How well do you know the person you’re with?
  • Have you seen them joke insult people before?
  • Have you seen them actually aggressively accuse people of ludicrous things out of the blue?
  • If you’ve seen them tease people in a way intended to be friendly and haven’t seen them make horrible baseless accusations out of the blue, they’re probably not trying to hurt you
  • That doesn’t make it ok, and it doesn’t mean you’re wrong to object
  • But it does mean that they’re probably not trying to hurt you, and you’re probably not in any danger 

Look at body language:

  • This isn’t possible for some people who get scared in this situation, but it can work for some people
  • Look at their face: Does it have an angry expression, or do they look happy?
  • Look at their hands: Are they held in a way that looks angry or violent, or do they look like they’re just socializing?
  • Think about their tone of voice: Did they sound mad? Was their voice raised? Or are they talking in a tone that seems more friendly?
  • (Many people have a specific tone of voice that they only use for teasing or joke insults)
  • Are they looking at you in a way that’s demanding an answer?
  • If their body language and tone of voice doesn’t seem aggressive, they probably didn’t mean the words they said aggressively either.

Check how other people are reacting:

  • Do other people seem to notice the offense you’ve supposedly committed, or are they continuing the conversation they were already having?
  • Does anyone look mad, or do they just look like people socializing?
  • Have other people in the group stopped what they’re doing to look at you, or are they continuing as they were?
  • If other people in the group don’t look mad, or don’t look much interested, the teasing was probably meant as a joke rather than a serious insult or accusation

Another possibility: using a standard script to create some distance:

  • It can help to immediately change the subject when someone says something like that
  • If they were just joking around, they will likely be receptive to the subject change
  • Changing the subject can show you that you are safe and not under attack
  • It can be hard to find words in the moment to change the subject
  • It might help to memorize some subject-changing scripts and use standard ones every time this happens
  • Then you won’t have to think of something to say in the moment while you are freaking out
  • Which scripts are most effective will depend on you and your group
  • (This post on deflecting fight-pickers has a lot of subject-change scripts.)
  • You can also change the subject back to what people were talking about before
  • Eg: “So, you were saying about the cats we’re all here to talk about? What do you think about the fluffy ones? I see your point about their hair getting matted easily, but they’re so pretty and soft.”

Another possibility: asking what they meant:

  • Sometimes you can defuse fear by asking people whether they mean it
  • ie: “Do you really think I was just trying to take it for myself?”
  • This can be awkward, but it can also be effective
  • Whether or not it’s a good idea depends on your friend groups
  • Some people might get offended and sarcastically say yes, of course they think that.
  • If you can’t read sarcasm when you’re scared, this might backfire
  • But when it works, it can work really well

It would probably also be a good idea to work on having perspective when other people are angry at you. Your friends and people close to you will be angry at you sometimes. That doesn’t always mean that you’re in danger or that they are going to hurt you. It also doesn’t always mean that you have done something wrong. Finding anger more bearable will help you in a lot of aspects of your life, including when people tease you. If anger is less terrifying, teasing will also be less terrifying.

tl;dr Teasing is only friendly if everyone likes it. Doing it to people who don’t like it is mean. It’s ok not to want to be teased or insulted, even as a joke. It’s ok to ask people to stop. Some people will take that request seriously and some won’t. (Everyone should, but not everyone does). If teasing scares you because you have trouble telling the difference between real insults and joke insults, there are things you can learn to look for that make it easier to tell the difference. It also helps to learn how to keep perspective in the face of other people’s anger. Scroll up for some more concrete information.

red flag for being taken advantage of

gemdol:

realsocialskills:

Anonymous said to :

I’ve had an issue in my life with people who take advantage of me, and only recently have I been able to start recognizing a few of the red flags of that. Stuff like: You always end up paying more than (or getting less than) your fair share if you go out with them, they pressure you into doing stuff you can’t afford, etc. I think it’s wrapped up in emotional abuse, but I’m bad at seeing it. Are you better at recognizing red flags that you’re being taken advantage of, and if so, what are they?

realsocialskills said:

I think the biggest thing to watch out for is what happens when you don’t want to do something, get angry, or try to say no:

  • Is there ever a polite way to say no to something, or do you always have to either do what they want or be rude?
  • Is “I can’t afford that” something they are willing to take for an answer without arguing or guilt-tripping?
  • If you’re angry about something, do you always end up apologizing for being angry/blowing something out of proportion/etc, or do people sometimes agree that you have a point and apologize to you? (If only one of those things ever happens, that’s a problem).

If there’s a pattern where you have to be rude in order to say no, something is really wrong. Some people manipulate the rules of politeness to stop people from having boundaries or saying no to them. Some people are really good at making you feel like you’ve done something wrong every time you say no to something.

If things are going well in a friendship, everyone involved will say no from time to time. Everyone will get annoyed from time to time. Everyone will have inconvenient preferences from time to time, and everyone will compromise to accommodate the others from time to time. If you’re the only one compromising, something’s going wrong. If you’re always doing what others want even if it makes you really uncomfortable or hurts you, something’s wrong. If you’re not able to express feelings or say no, something’s wrong.

The thing going wrong might not be that people are taking advantage of you. There are other possibilities. For instance, some people are trained in childhood to never say no, and it can be hard to learn as an adult that you don’t have to want what others want, that it’s ok to say no, and that friendship involves compromises in both directions. If you haven’t learned that, it might be hard to communicate and negotiate, even if no one is intentionally taking advantage of you. That said, all of this is a major red flag for people taking advantage, and it’s worth taking the possibility very, very seriously. (And both problems can be happening at once - manipulative people usually prey on people who already have trouble asserting boundaries.)

And in any case - if you’re not ok with what’s happening, that’s a problem that matters, because it matters what you want and what your boundaries are. If you’re not ok with what’s happening, then the situation is not ok. You’re allowed to have boundaries whether or not anyone is wronging you. 

gemdol said:

 I’m currently reading a book by Gavin de Becker called The Gift of Fear; it’s problematic for a lot of reasons but it’s also really good in equal measure (to me, personally)  in talking about signs of manipulation and how to recognize them.

Observing how the person takes rejection is critical, and as mentioned by a commenter that another sign may be the person doing you unwanted favours. Some others listed by de Becker in the book I mentioned include:

  • Forced Teaming.
    This is when a person implies that he has something in common with his chosen victim, acting as if they have a shared predicament when that isn’t really true. Speaking in “we” terms is a mark of this, i.e. “We don’t need to talk outside… Let’s go in.”
  • Charm and Niceness.
    This is being polite and friendly to a chosen victim in order to manipulate them by disarming their mistrust. In his book de Becker notes 
    “niceness is a decision, a strategy of social interaction; it is not a character trait”.
  • Too many details.
    If a person is lying they will add excessive details to make themselves sound more credible to their chosen victim.
  • Typecasting.
    An insult is used to get a chosen victim who would otherwise ignore one to engage in conversation to counteract the insult. For example: “Oh, I bet you’re too stuck-up to talk to a guy like me.” The tendency is for the chosen victim to want to prove the insult untrue. I think this or a similar strategy is also known as negging in the PUA circles, where the PUA approaches his “mark” with an insult or a backhanded compliment. Basically this is a common way of getting the chosen victim or mark to become engaged and invested in the interaction on the manipulator’s terms.
  • Loan Sharking.
    Giving unsolicited help to the chosen victim and anticipating they’ll feel obliged to extend some reciprocal openness in return. This is what the commenter mentioned, and is one way of, as mentioned above, stacking the situation in such a way that you look bad if you refuse.
  • The Unsolicited Promise.
    A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, “I promise I’ll leave you alone after this,” usually means the chosen victim will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited “I promise I won’t hurt you” usually means the person intends to hurt their chosen victim.
  • Discounting the Word “No”
    Refusing to accept rejection.

All of these things can be very hard to spot on the fly. This is not the fault of you or anyone else dealing with anything similar. Especially if you’ve been the victim/survivor of past emotional trauma or abuse. That’s normal.

Because it can be so difficult to spot all of these on the fly de Becker talks about the importance of intuition. More often than not we don’t need to actually intellectualize our decisions as we make them (although this may be affirming, or comforting, or whatever, it’s also not always practical), we just need to let our intuition lead us. He also proceeds to list what he calls “Th Messengers of Intuition” from lowest to highest intensity, and instructs the reader that these are the feelings that are important to listen to when you’re trying to appraise a situation or a person’s behaviour. They are as follows:

  • Nagging feelings
  • Persistent thoughts
  • Humor
  • Wonder
  • Anxiety
  • Curiosity
  • Hunches
  • Gut Feelings
  • Doubt
  • Hesitation
  • Doubt
  • Suspicion
  • Apprehension
  • Fear

I’m sure there’s more that I’m forgetting probably but this is what I’ve been reading lately and what I’ve got for now. This type of stuff can be really difficult because abuse/manipulation/coersion is so ugly and steeped in deception, so the tactics can be really nebulous and hard to decipher a lot of the time. What’s easier to unravel, I think, are one’s own feelings in the midst or aftermath of everything. “When he suggested ___ I had a nagging thought that ___”; I’m slowly learning to appraise uncomfortable situations in these ways instead of trying to tack on a “because” to the sentence I mentioned and just act on what I feel. So far I haven’t been disappointed even once.

ETA: Possible strategies of getting out of these situations are, off the top of my head:

  • A single, crystal-clear, direct “NO”. Anything less as a first volley is open to negotiation. Backing down from it later just makes you weaker. You can do this by saying that you wouldn’t feel comfortable with whatever the person is trying to drag you into doing, so that way they look like the jerk who’s being pushy.
  • Forcing the person to be explicit. If extortion is the goal, “I don’t understand what you’re getting at” forces the asshole to be explicit. Many would rather back down rather than be clear about the evil they want to do.

realsocialskills said:

That book has a lot of useful information in it, but it’s also a seriously dangerous book for people who are being actively abused. His attitude towards abuse victims is incredibly condescending, demeaning, and victim-blaming. (It literally says “the first time a woman is hit, she is a victim and the second time, she is a volunteer.”)

I think that it’s probably, for most people, a better idea to learn these ideas from Captain Awkward than to read the book directly. Captain Awkward takes most of hist good ideas and leaves out most of the destructive parts.

I also think that if you read The Gift of Fear, you should also read Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. It’s in most ways a much better book.

It counters a lot of the victim-blaming, and has a much more respectful attitude towards abused women, with more realistic and respectful advice. (Major caveat about that book: the only abuse dynamic he really takes seriously is a man abusing a female partner. If you’re currently being abused in a different pattern or are a survivor of a different kind of abuse, that might be difficult. Most of what he says applies, but he doesn’t seem to know that, and it can make the book painful to read.)