aftermaths

On trauma aftermaths that don’t advance the plot

The way TV shows trauma can lead people to expect every reference to trauma to be a plot point. This can be isolating to people coping with the aftermaths of trauma. Sometimes people treat us as stories rather than as people. Sometimes, instead of listening to us, they put a lot of pressure on us to advance the plot they’re expecting. 

On TV, triggers tend to be full audiovisual flashbacks that add something to the story. You see a vivid window into the character’s past, and something changes. On TV, trauma aftermaths are usually fascinating. Real life trauma aftermaths are sometimes interesting, but also tend to be very boring to live with. 

On TV, triggers tend to create insight. In real life, they’re often boring intrusions interfering with the things you’d rather be thinking about. Sometimes knowing darn well where they come from doesn’t make them go away. Sometimes it’s more like: Seriously? This again? 

On TV, when trauma is mentioned, it’s usually a dramatic plot point that happens in a moment. In real life, trauma aftermaths are a mundane day-to-day reality that people live with. They’re a fact of life — and not necessarily the most important one at all times. People who have experienced trauma do other things too. They’re important, but not the one and only defining characteristic of who someone is. And things that happened stay important even when you’re ok. Recovery is not a reset. Mentioning the past doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in crisis.

On TV, when a character mentions trauma, or gets triggered in front of someone, it’s usually a dramatic moment. It changes their life, or their relationship with another character, or explains their backstory, or something. In real life, being triggered isn’t always a story, and telling isn’t always a turning point. Sometimes it’s just mentioning something that happened to be relevant. Sometimes it’s just a mundane instance of something that happens from time to time.

Most people can’t have a dramatic transformative experience every time it turns out that their trauma matters. Transformative experiences and moments of revelation exist, but they’re not the end all and be all of trauma aftermaths. Life goes on, and other things matter too. And understanding what a reaction means and where it came from doesn’t always make it go away. Sometimes, it takes longer and has more to do with skill-building than introspection. Sometimes it doesn’t go away.

On a day to day level, it’s often better to be matter-of-fact about aftermaths. It can be exhausting when people see you as a story and expect you to advance the plot whenever they notice some effect of trauma. Pressure to perform narratives about healing doesn’t often help people to make their lives better. Effect support involves respecting someone as a complex human, including the boring parts.

The aftermath of trauma is a day-to-day reality. It affects a lot of things, large and small. It can be things like being too tired to focus well in class because nightmares kept waking you up every night this week. TV wants that to be a dramatic moment where the character faces their past and gets better. In real life, it’s often a day where you just do your best to try and learn algebra anyway. Because survivors do things besides be traumatized and think about trauma. Sometimes it’s not a story. Sometimes it’s just getting through another day as well as possible.

A lot of triggers are things like being unable to concentrate on anything interesting because some kinds of background noises make you feel too unsafe to pay attention to anything else. For the zillionth time.  Even though you know rationally that they’re not dangerous. Even though you know where they come from, and have processed it over and over. Even if you’ve made a lot of progress in dealing with them, even if they’re no longer bothersome all the time. For most people, recovery involves a lot more than insight. The backstory might be interesting, but being tired and unable to concentrate is boring.

Triggers can also mean having to leave an event and walk home by yourself while other people are having fun, because it turns out that it hurts too much to be around pies and cakes. Or having trouble finding anything interesting to read that isn’t intolerably triggering. Or having trouble interacting with new people because you’re too scared or there are too many minefields. Or being so hypervigilant that it’s hard to focus on anything. No matter how interesting the backstory is, feeling disconnected and missing out on things you wanted to enjoy is usually boring. 

When others want to see your trauma as a story, their expectations sometimes expand to fill all available space. Sometimes they seem to want everything to be therapy, or want everything to be about trauma and recovery. 

When others want every reference to trauma to be the opening to a transformative experience, it can be really hard to talk about accommodations. For instance, it gets hard to say things like:

  • “I’m really tired because of nightmares” or 
  • “I would love to go to that event, but I might need to leave because of the ways in which that kind of thing can be triggering” or 
  • “I’m glad I came, but I can’t handle this right now” or
  • “I’m freaking out now, but I’ll be ok in a few minutes” or 
  • “I need to step out — can you text me when they stop playing this movie?”

It can also be hard to mention relevant experiences. There are a lot of reasons to mention experiences other than wanting to process, eg:

  • “Actually, I have experience dealing with that agency”
  • “That’s not what happens when people go to the police, in my experience, what happens when you need to make a police report is…”
  • “Please keep in mind that this isn’t hypothetical for me, and may not be for others in the room as well.”

Or any number of other things.

When people are expecting a certain kind of story, they sometimes look past the actual person. And when everyone is looking past you in search of a story, it can be very hard to make connections. 

It helps to realize that no matter what others think, your story belongs to you. You don’t have to play out other people’s narrative expectations. It’s ok if your story isn’t what others want it to be. It’s ok not to be interesting. It’s ok to have trauma reactions that don’t advance the plot. And there are people who understand that, and even more people who can learn to understand that. 

It’s possible to live a good life in the aftermath of trauma. It’s possible to relearn how to be interested in things. It’s possible to build space you can function in, and to build up your ability to function in more spaces. It’s often possible to get over triggers. All of this can take a lot of time and work, and can be a slow process. It doesn’t always make for a good story, and it doesn’t always play out the way others would like it to. And, it’s your own personal private business. Other people’s concern or curiosity does not obligate you to share details.

Survivors and victims have the right to be boring. We have the right to deal with trauma aftermaths in a matter-of-fact way, without indulging other people’s desires for plot twists. We have the right to own our own stories, and to keep things private. We have the right to have things in our lives that are not therapy; we have the right to needed accommodations without detailing what happened and what recovery looks like. Neither traumatic experiences nor trauma aftermaths erase our humanity.

We are not stories, and we have no obligation to advance an expected plot. We are people, and we have the right to be treated as people. Our lives, and our stories, are our own.

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.

Aftermaths of social skills lessons

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

I’m autistic, I went to a group that was supposed to help me with autism-related issues, and they gave me some social skills advice that I honestly think was terrible. And the group was pretty terrible in general.

I ended up quitting for various other reasons, but it’s still sorta bugging me ‘cause what if they’re RIGHT.

The advice went like this: It’s okay to disagree with someone, but it’s never okay to explain WHY, because that’s pushing your opinion on them and that’s wrong.

realsocialskills said:

That rule is way too oversimplified to be useful. It’s true in some circumstances, and completely wrong in others — and completely useless at helping you to understand when it is and isn’t ok to contradict people.

The truth about social skills is that all rules are approximations at best. And often, as in this case, rules taught in social skills classes are completely useless and misleading.

Learning to be good at social interactions isn’t a matter of Learning the Rules; it’s a matter of learning to develop your judgement. Approximations and rules of thumb can help with this. They can’t replace the need to think for yourself and rely on your own judgement.

Social skills classes often teach people really destructive things about themselves and about social interaction. Here’s one way that can happen:

  • They tell you that autism (or whatever else) is preventing you from understanding social situations
  • They tell you that there are rules and that everyone else knows the rules naturally
  • They give you some simplistic rules and tell you to always follow them
  • The rules might sometimes be plausible-sounding or half-truths
  • Following the simplistic rules does not actually get the results they claim it does (because life is more complicated than that)
  • This can be really confusing
  • If you express this confusion to them, or say that it isn’t working, they attribute it to your autism and tell you to try harder or trust the process or something
  • They sometimes say this in a harsh way, they sometimes say it in a gentle or encouraging way. That difference is mostly aesthetic.
  • Either way, it amounts to the same pressure to believe them unconditionally and stop thinking for yourself

I suspect that something like that is going on here. The rule itself is useless. There’s no way to use it to tell whether or not it’s a good idea to explain your reasoning to someone you disagree with.

But it sounds just-plausible-enough to fuel self doubt, because there are some situations in which it really is mean to explain things to someone. (An example that’s been circulating on Tumblr recently: It’s ok to dislike Minions. It’s not ok to hassle kids about liking Minions or try to convince them that it’s bad and they shouldn’t like it.)

It can be hard to remember that these tiny kernels of truth aren’t actually meaningful. But they’re not. Kernels of truth in a simplistic rule don’t make it useful — and they don’t make the people pushing simplistic rules right.

Also - people who are wrong aren’t always wrong about everything. They may have told you some things that were true. They may have told you some true things that you didn’t know. And they may have told you some true things that you *still* don’t know. That doesn’t mean that their overall approach was ok, and it doesn’t mean you should trust them or doubt yourself.

I think, push come to shove, you have to think for yourself and develop your own judgement about these things. And sometimes that will mean that you make social mistakes — but they will be *your* social mistakes, and you will learn from them. It’s ok for autistic people to make social mistakes. Everyone has to learn this stuff, not just us.

tl;dr Social skills groups can really undermine your ability to trust your own judgement. They give you simplistic rules that are impossible to follow, then blame you when it doesn’t work. It’s not your fault if this happened to you, and it’s not your fault if you’re having trouble recovering.

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.

ABA therapy is not like typical parenting

withasmoothroundstone:

realsocialskills:

Content note: This post is about the difference between intense behavior therapy and more typical forms of rewards and punishments used with typically developing children. It contains graphic examples of behavior programs, and is highly likely to be triggering to ABA survivors.

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

I just read your thing about people with disabilities and their interests. Don’t people do the same thing to typical children? Restrict access to things enjoyed until act ABC is completed? For example, growing up, I was only allowed to watch tv for 1 hour a day IF I finished all of my homework and schoolwork related things first.

realsocialskills said:

It’s not the same (although it has similar elements and I’m not a huge fan of the extent to which behavior modification techniques are used with typically developing children either.)

Here’s the difference: Most children actually should do their homework, and most children have interests other than television. Typically developing children are allowed to be interested in things, and supported in pursuing interests without them becoming behavior modification tools.

(Another difference: intense behavior modification is used on adults with developmental disabilities in a way that would be considered a human rights violation if done to typically developing adults.)

Using behavior modification tools for one or two things in a child’s life isn’t the same as doing it with everything in someone’s life. Intense behavior therapy is a violation on a level that it’s hard to describe.

Intense behavior therapy of the type I’m talking about typically involves:

  • Being surrounded by people who think that you’re broken, that all of your natural behavior is unacceptable, and that you need to be made to look normal in order to have any hope of a decent future
  • Having completely harmless things you do pathologized and modified (eg: having hand flapping or discussing your interests described as “a barrier to inclusion”)
  • Having those things conflated with things you do that actually *are* a problem. (eg: calling both head banging and hand flapping “sensory seeking behavior” and using the same reinforcers to eliminate both)
  • Being forced to stop doing things that are very important to you, by people who think that they are pointless and disgusting or “nonfunctional” (eg: using quotes from TV shows to communicate)
  • Being forced to do things that are completely arbitrary, over and over (eg: touching your nose or putting a blue ball in a red box)
  • Being forced to do things that are harmful to you, over and over (eg: maintaining eye contact even though it hurts and interferes with your ability to process information)
  • Having everything you care about being taken away and used to get compliance with your behavior program (eg: not being permitted to keep any of your toys in your room)

(Behavior therapy often also involves legitimate goals. That doesn’t make the methods acceptable, nor does it make the routine inclusion of illegitimate goals irrelevant.)

Here’s an explicit instruction from a behavior expert on how to figure out which reinforcers to use for autistic children:

Don’t assume that you know what a child with ASD likes. It is important to ask a child, observe a child or perform a preference assessment. When asking a child about reinforcers, remember that multiple reinforcement inventories can be found on the Internet.

You can also simply sit down with a child and ask them questions like “What do you like to do after school?” or “What’s your favorite food?“or “What toys do you like to play with?”

When observing a child, set up a controlled environment to include three distinct areas: food, toys, and sensory. Then allow the child somewhat free access to this environment.

Watch and record the area that the child goes to first. Record the specific items from this area that the child chooses. This item should be considered highly reinforcing to the child.

Continue this process until you have identified three to five items. Remember that simply looking at an item does not make it reinforcing, but actually playing with it or eating it would.

Notice how it doesn’t say anything about ethics, or about what it is and isn’t ok to restrict access to. This is about identifying what a child likes most, so that it can be taken away and used to get them to comply with a therapy program. (Here’s an example of a reinforcement inventory. Notice that some examples of possible reinforcers are: numbers, letters, and being read to).

People who are subjected to this kind of thing learn that it’s not safe to share interests, because they will be used against them. That’s why, if someone has a developmental disability, asking about interests is often an intimate personal question.

This isn’t like being required to do your homework before you’re allowed to watch TV.

It’s more like:

  • Not being allowed to go to the weekly meeting of the science club unless you’ve refrained from complaining about the difficulty of your English homework for the past week

Or, even further:

  • Not being allowed to join after school clubs because you’re required to have daily after school sessions of behavior therapy during that time
  • In those sessions, you’re required to practice making eye contact
  • And also required to practice talking about socially expected topics of conversation for people of your age and gender, so that you will fit in and make friends
  • You’re not allowed to talk about science or anything else you’re actually interested in
  • You earn tokens for complying with the therapy
  • If you earn enough tokens, you can occasionally cash them in for a science book
  • That’s the only way you ever get access to science books

Or even further:

Being a 15 year old interested in writing and:

  • Being in self-contained special ed on the grounds that you’re autistic, your speech is atypical, and you were physically aggressive when you were eleven
  • Having “readiness for inclusion” as a justification for your behavior plan
  • Having general education English class being used as a reinforcer for your behavior plan
  • Not being allowed to go to English class in the afternoon unless you’ve ~met your behavior targets~ in the morning
  • Not being allowed to write in the afternoon if you haven’t “earned” the “privilege” of going to class
  • eg: if you ask questions too often in the morning, you’re “talking out of turn” and not allowed to go to class or write in the afternoon
  • or if you move too much, you’re “having behaviors that interfere with inclusion”, and not allowed to go to class or write
  • or if you mention writing during your social skills lesson, you’re “perseverating” and not allowed to go to class or write

Or like: being four years old and not being allowed to have your teddy bear at bedtime unless you’ve earned 50 tokens and not lost them, and:

  • The only way to earn tokens is by playing in socially expected ways that are extremely dull to you, like:
  • Making pretend food in the play kitchen and offering it to adults with a smile, even though you have zero interest in doing so
  • You gain tokens for complying with adult instructions to hug them, touch your nose, or say arbitrary words within three seconds; you lose two for refusing or not doing so fast enough
  • You lose tokens for flapping your hands or lining up toys
  • You lose tokens for talking about your teddy bear or asking for it when you haven’t “earned” it
  • You lose tokens for looking upset or bored

Or, things like being two, and loving books, and:

  • Only having access to books during therapy sessions; never being allowed unscripted access to books
  • Adults read to you only when you’re complying with therapy instructions
  • They only read when you’ve pointed to a picture of a book to request it
  • You’re required to sit in a specific position during reading sessions. If you move out of it; the adult stops reading
  • If you rock back and forth; they stop reading
  • If you stop looking at the page; they stop reading
  • If you look at your hand; they stop reading
  • Adults interrupt the story to tell you to do arbitrary things like touch a picture or repeat a particular word. If you don’t; they close the book and stop reading.

Here are a few posts that show examples of the kind of thing I’m talking about:

tl;dr Intense behavior therapy has some things in common with methods that are used with typically developing kids, but it’s not actually the same. Intense behavior therapy involves violation and a degree of control that is not considered legitimate with typically developing children.


withasmoothroundstone said:

I was part of a behavior program where I was locked, with only one other child (we were banished from the adolescent unit for being too socially immature or some crap like that, I think the real reason was we’d banded together to take a stand against abuse that was happening in the institution on a daily basis), on the children’s ward of a mental institution,, and not allowed to go outside or walk to the cafeteria or do damn near anything normal unless I earned enough poker chips.  I also had a therapist who systematically struck me harder and harder in the leg until I made eye contact for a certain period of time.  These things are real and they are not like having to do your homework before you can watch TV.  At all.  Even slightly.  

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.

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.

Perspective in the face of other people's anger

This is a thing that happens with some people:

  • People get angry
  • They tell you off in mean ways that make you feel horrible
  • Or their anger scares you, even if they’re not actually being mean
  • You feel like the way you’re feeling is evidence that you’ve *done* something horrible
  • Or you’re afraid, and feel like you have to grovel for forgiveness in order to be safe

It’s really, really hard to tell whether you’ve actually done something wrong when someone is being mean to you. (Or when you’re terrified by anger or conflict.)

If you’re afraid or hurting, or especially both, it’s hard to have perspective. Especially if you feel like acknowledging that you’ve done a horrible thing might make that person stop hurting you. *Especially* if you’re really good at reading what someone wants to hear.

This is doubly true for people who have been abused. If you’ve been hurt by someone who demanded that you stop thinking in the face of every conflict, it’s hard to think when other people are angry with you. 

There are countermeasures. It’s possible to learn to deal with anger and conflict without falling apart.

Countermeasure #1: recognizing feelings that indicate that your perspective is off, and creating distance

  • If you’re panicking and feeling inclined to make an abject apology, it’s probably time to step back
  • Even if it turns out that you were in the wrong, a panic apology is unlikely to make the situation better
  • Because when you’re panicking, you’re not really capable of apologizing sincerely anyway
  • It’s ok to need time to think
  • It’s ok to realize that you’re panicking and need to back away from the situation to be able to think
  • Someone who won’t let you do this is probably not someone you should trust

Countermeasure #2: considering reversal:

  • Think about what you did, and how the person who is angry at you is reacting
  • What do you think you’d do if the situation was reversed?
  • In light of that, do you think their reaction is reasonable?
  • And do you think you actually did something terribly wrong?
  • (The answer to this might be yes even if you think you would have reacted differently. But thinking about reversal can still make the situation easier to understand)

Countermeasure #3: Think in concrete terms:

  • What, specifically, does the person who is mad at you think you did?
  • Do you think you actually did that thing?
  • If not, do they have a reasonable basis for thinking that you did that thing?
  • Are they understanding correctly? Are they listening to your explanation of what you think you did? (eg: if they think you said a slur and you actually said a different word that they misheard, are they screaming at you and saying you are just making excuses?)
  • If you did do the thing, why are they angry about the thing?
  • Do you think it’s reasonable that they are offended?
  • Do you think it’s reasonable that they are *as* offended as they are?
  • (Think about this seriously, especially if they think you are being racist, sexist, transphobic, ableist, etc towards them. Your initial reaction to this kind of thing is likely to be off base. But it is also possible to be wrong about these things, and ultimately, you have to think for yourself about whether you think you’re guilty of what you’re accused of.)

Countermeasure #4: Considering the perspective of someone you respect:

  • Think of someone who you know well and respect as someone who treats people well
  • If you’d done the thing to them, how do you think they’d react?
  • Does that match how the person who is angry at you now is reacting?
  • If you’d hurt the person you respect in a similar way by accident and they were upset with you, how do you think you’d be reacting?
  • Does it match how you’re reacting here? (Eg: are you more afraid? more inclined to panic-apologize? more defensive?)
  • In light of all of that, what do you think about what’s happening now?
  • Do you think that you did the thing you’re being accused of?
  • Do you think it was wrong? 
  • Do you think that the way they are reacting to you is unjustified or otherwise objectionable?
  • Do you think you should apologize? 
  • Do you think they should apologize?
  • (These are all real questions. Considering the hypothetical perspective of someone you know doesn’t give you automatic answers, but it can be helping as a way of getting unstuck when you’re afraid and inclined to panic about something you’ve been accused of. You might find that, even after you’ve stopped panicking, you still think that you have done something wrong and that you should apologize for it.)

Countermeasure #5: Outside perspective:

  • It can help to discuss the situation with people who know you well (especially if they’re not parties to the conflict)
  • Particularly if they are people who you can trust to tell you when they think you actually *have* done something wrong
  • Some friends are mutual check in people for one another. 
  • Some people get outside perspective from therapists. 
  • When you’re panicking, it can be hard to tell from the outside that you’re panicking. Panic in response to conflict can feel like you’re just accurately recognizing that you are terrible or something. 
  • It’s much easier to tell from the outside when that is happening
  • So, if you have people you trust to help you check your perspective, it is tremendously helpful in staying oriented and figuring out what’s actually going on

tl;dr: Some people find other people’s anger terrifying. If you experience that, it can be really hard not to automatically try to fix things by conceding that you are terrible and did a terrible thing. There are countermeasures that can help. It helps to work on noticing how you are feeling so that you can get distance when you need it. It helps to think about what you’d do if the roles were reversed. It helps to think as concretely as possible about the specifics of the situation. It helps to think about what you think someone you know well and respect would do (and what you would be doing if the conflict was with that person). It helps to get outside perspective from people you trust about what’s going on. 

Is it still considered abuse if the person doesn’t mean for it to be, or doesn’t think it is? My parents have always been really harmful for me (manipulative, intimidating, not taking my health concerns/disabilities seriously, screaming at me, etc.), but they won’t even say that the stuff they said/did caused harm.
Or they will say they didn’t know/couldn’t hve known. And now that I’m an “adult” they’re a lot better, but it just makes them deny them ever being harmful to me.  like, some of it I can kinda get.
They didn’t know I had fibro, so me sleeping too much they thought was just me being lazy. And like they didn’t know how them yelling made me shut down because Id just sit quietly.
They didn’t know I was queer and that the shit they’d say was hurtful to me.
But at the same time I’m just like, it all messed me up so bad. But was it “bad enough” to be considered abuse? Does it even matter now?
realsocialskills said:
It sounds like, whether or not it was their fault, you’ve been hurt very badly by people who had the responsibility for caring for you. 
It also sounds like they haven’t acknowledged that.
I think that “is this bad enough to be considered abuse?” is probably a counterproductive question (because no matter how bad something was, you can *always* find a way to convince yourself that it was Not Real Abuse if you try hard enough). I think a better way of framing it is:
  • Was I hurt?
  • Were the people who hurt me culpable?
  • Are they still hurting me?
  • Where do I stand with them?

It seems like getting clear in your own head that you were hurt will help you. And that, regardless of the conclusions you come to about the extent to which your parents were at fault, your suffering is real and your hurt is real and things happened to you that shouldn’t have.

Even if all their mistakes were innocent, even if they had no culpability, that doesn’t erase your trauma. What happened to you matters. Finding a way to erase their culpability would not erase your hurt.

Further, denying that they hurt you in the past is something they’re doing to you *now*, in the present. Keep that in mind, too. It might have a lot of bearing on how you relate to them.

I don’t know them or you, and I don’t know how you should relate to them now. That’s a very personal choice.

Some people find that it’s better to drop the subject (either by not bringing it up or by refusing to discuss it). It might be that you can’t get them to understand, but that you can avoid the subject in the way that makes a relationship possible. If you go that route, it doesn’t mean that you have to forgive them or concede that anything that happened was ok. It just means that you’re not discussing it with them. 

There are other approaches, but I’m not quite sure how to describe them.

Any of y'all want to weigh in?

about apologies

When you’ve been inadvertently rude:
  • Eg: If you carelessly bump into or trip someone
  • Or if you take away a chair away that a scooter/wheelchair user wants to sit on
  • It’s good to say “excuse me” or “sorry” in that situation
  • That kind of apology says implicitly “What I did was inadvertently rude. I don’t mean it as an insult, and I don’t think it’s ok to be rude to you.”
  • (It’s better not to say that explicitly, because saying it explicitly sounds like you’re pressuring them to reassure you that you’re a good person)
For the sake of someone you’ve hurt:
  • Sometimes when you hurt someone, apologizing is a way to undo some of the hurt.
  • Because it can be a way of saying “That wasn’t your fault, it was my fault, you deserved better and I’m sorry”
  • (That can be powerful, because people often think that it is their own fault when someone hurts them, and they are in fact often pressured into thinking that it’s their fault or that it didn’t happen by their entire social circle. If you apologize without offering any defense, that can go a long way towards fixing that, particularly if you are also honest with third parties)
  • If you hurt someone without apologizing, it can be an implied threat that you will do the same thing again in the future.
  • If you realize that what you did was wrong and apologize for doing it, the person you hurt might feel safer and be spared the stress of living under the implied threat of harm you’ve created
  • (but this is something you do for their sake, not yours. The point is to stop threatening them, not to get them to feel better about you, forgive you, or trust you. You don’t have any right to any of that and shouldn’t put pressure on them to give it. They’re allowed to be afraid of you, whether or not you feel you deserve it)

For your own sake:

  • Sometimes, you offend someone with power over you (eg: a boss, a teacher, a nurse, a social worker) without actually being in the wrong
  • Or a group with power over you (eg: an activist group)
  • And, in that case, it is often a good idea to apologize even if you have done nothing wrong
  • The point of apologizing in this case is to appease powerful people enough that they will stop hurting you
  • Everyone does this at some point; there’s no shame in it even though it can be humiliating
  • Sometimes it’s also good to draw a line and refuse to apologize and take the consequences of taking a stand. But you’re not going to be able to refuse every time you offend someone with power over you

It’s very important to be clear about which type of apology you are making:

  • If you’ve hurt someone, it’s important that the apology be for their sake and not yours
  • Sometimes if you hurt someone, they will be angry at you. They might also tell other people what you did. They might be afraid of you. They might avoid you. They probably think of you as a person who does the kind of thing you did to them (because you are: if you did the thing, you are the kind of person who does that thing). They might be afraid of you.
  • None of those things are wronging you; they have the right to do all of those things and you don’t have the right to stop them
  • Since all of those things hurt, it can feel tempting to use the scripts you use when you’re apologizing to a person who is wronging *you* to get them to stop. 
  • It is not ok to do that when you’re the one who is in the wrong.
  • The point of your apology is to give them something, not to get something from them or make them stop doing something

If you’re really sorry, you have to be willing to admit what you did to third parties without defending yourself:

  • Eg: “Yes, they’re telling the truth. I wish I hadn’t done that, but I did, and they have every right to be angry with me”.
  • This will mean that some people *other than the person you’ve hurt directly* won’t trust you either
  • It means that some people whose respect you value will have a low opinion of you
  • You have to be willing to accept this without trying to gloss over what you have done; anything less is continuing the harm done to the person you hurt
  • Even if you have sincerely changed, you still did what you did, and no one has to trust you. Everyone gets to decide for themself

Sometimes it’s important not to apologize:

  • If you have reason to think that someone would find contact with you terrifying or otherwise unwelcome, leave them alone
  • In particularly, if someone you have hurt has told you not to contact them, do not contact them with an apology
  • When they said “don’t contact me”, they meant it. They did not mean “don’t contact me unless you’re sorry” or “don’t contact me unless you feel like you have a good reason”
  • It is not ok to violate that boundary, no matter how much you regret the circumstances leading up to it. Your victim does not owe you help in your healing.
  • If you’re considering contacting your victim to apologize even though you know they don’t want you to, you probably haven’t improved nearly enough to be capable of offering a sincere apology anyway. Go work on understanding boundaries and your actions some more before you think you’re all better.

A question about pain

liquidcoma:

daughterofprometheus:

realsocialskills:

Some autistic or otherwise atypical people show pain differently than most nondisabled people do. 

For instance, some people show pain by laughing, or by getting really quiet.

How do y’all show pain? What are some ways of showing pain that get misinterpreted that would would like others to know to look for?

daughterofprometheus said:

I learned to simply stop showing it.

When i did show pain people would only make it worse.

So i stopped showing it.

liquidcoma said:

yeah same

or i kinda space out temporarily due to the feeling of an urgent need to not express pain

It’s not the abuse that made you awesome

If you’ve been abused, and you’ve also learned a lot and done awesome things, some people might try to tell you that the abuse made you stronger. That your awesomeness came from the abuse in some way.

But it’s not the abusers who made you awesome.

You did that.

You’re responsible for all the things you’ve learned and done. Not people who hurt you. They don’t get credit for any of what you’ve done.

And you don’t have to be grateful for any of it.

A Christmas message

In December, every aspect of mainstream culture says that Christmas is important and that it makes people happy and that it is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

And for some people, that’s true.

But this can be a really hard time of year for a lot of people.

For people who are alone, it can be horrible to get messages that this is the time of year you should be with family.

For people who have family they can’t safely be with, this can be especially difficult.

And some people have family they can’t safely be with, and have to spend time with them anyway this time of year. That’s especially hard. Especially when the whole culture sends the message that all good people are close to their families this time of year.

Christmas isn’t magic. It doesn’t make any of that go away. The family you have at Christmastime is the same family you have the rest of the year. Christmas doesn’t solve that, and it’s ok to be aware that the problems are still there.

And in some families, presents are used to hurt and humiliate people. Even when presents aren’t used to hurt people, they can still be a painful reminder that family doesn’t understand you and care about what you want as much as you’d like them to. It’s ok to be sad about this. It’s not the same as being an entitled materialist. Presents can hurt, just like any other form of social interaction. If you’re being hurt, take that seriously.

And for some people, Christmas is triggering because they associate it with abuse.

It’s ok if Christmas is hard for you. It’s not your fault, and it’s not a moral failing.

And if Christmas really is wonderful for you, that’s ok and good too, and you should enjoy it as much as you can.

No matter what today is like for you, try to be good to yourself.

What it means when kids aren’t allowed to know about bad things

There are a lot of things kids are often considered too young to know about. For instance:

  • Rape
  • Violence
  • Racism
  • Sexism

The problem is, almost every bad thing kids are considered too young to know about happens to some kids.

The rule that kids should be shielded from these things has some really negative effects on the kids who are most vulnerable.

It hurts kids who have been abused, because they’re considered dangerous to other kids if they ever talk about it. Their peers aren’t supposed to know about it, so they’re supposed to just never talk about it ever. That creates a lot of shame, and living with that kind of shame hurts people.

It also hurts kids who are currently being abused. They get the overwhelming message from everyone that kids are not allowed to talk about these things. That makes it hard to tell adults what’s going on, especially if they don’t quite know the right words. If they try to tell indirectly, they might even be hushed and told that they’re too young to be thinking about that kind of thing.

It hurts kids of color, because they’re often required to put up with racist things rather than have the white kids find out about racism. Because they’re old enough to have to deal with racism, but their white peers aren’t considered old enough to be told about it.

There’s also parents who don’t want their kids to play with disabled kids, because they think their kids are too young to know about disability or serious illness or injury. Or even, to the point that a kids’ show hosted by an amputee actor got a lot of complaints that her missing arm was upsetting to children. This kind of attitude is all over the place.

Preventing kids from thinking about bad things hurts all kinds of kids, all kinds of particularly vulnerable kids. And I don’t see how it does much to protect the safer kids, either.

I’m not sure what the solution is. But I think it is a problem.

I’m going through a breakup and am dealing with pretty crippling anxiety and depression despite the fact that my ex and I didn’t end on bad terms. I am a very socially awkward normally and my ADHD sometimes causes me to act impulsively. I have three questions: 1.) How/when/who is it appropriate for me to discuss my problems with (Like when people ask how I’m doing I normally lie but I think that may not be good for me.) 2.)How long should I wait before spending time with my ex, seeing him is like tearing off a band-aid and 3.) What is a good way for me to cope with my loneliness when my social anxiety prevents me from being able to be around most people?
Realsocialskills answered:
A few thoughts:
First and foremost, there is no one solution to this problem. You’re going to have to slowly find ways of making your life better. You’ll probably feel better if you think of it that way.
I get the sense that you might be thinking of the problem as “How do I get over my ex, stop being so impulsive, not be depressed, not be anxious, and not be so isolated, so that everything will be ok?” That’s a really overwhelming problem, but it’s not actually the problem you have to solve. The problem you have to solve is “What things can I do to start making my life better?”
And there are a lot of things that might be worth trying, and other things worth avoiding. I’ll start with the things I think you should avoid:
Don’t rely on your ex for emotional support:
  • It’s not good for either of you
  • Part of what being broken up means is that you need to separate emotionally and regain your own space
  • Relying on your ex for emotional support makes it damn near impossible to do this
  • Especially if you don’t have much else in the way of support
  • It is not your ex’s responsibility to make your life ok post-breakup
  • It’s probably not a good idea to spend time with your ex until you’re past the point of the breakup feeling like an excruciating loss when you see them

Respect other people’s boundaries:

  • Someone asking you how you are isn’t necessarily an invitation to share
  • “How are you” is usually a fairly meaningless socially greeting.
  • Sometimes people ask because they are concerned and really want to know. These are usually people you are already close to, or people you’re related to.
  • If you’re not sure whether they really want to know or if it’s just social noise, you can say “It’s kind of hard right now” or something similar, and see if they ask follow up questions
  • If they ask follow up questions, it’s usually ok to tell them what’s going on
  • But keep in mind that it’s ok for people to decide they don’t want to be your support system
  • And it’s important to respect that
Meetup.com
  • Meetup.com can bee a good way to meet new people in an unthreatening way
  • It’s easier to talk to new people when you know that you share an interest and are gathering to talk about it or do something
  • It’s also often ok to go and listen to other people talk
  • And it’s ok to leave if you need to

Interacting with people on the internet

  • A lot of people who can’t interact easily in person get a lot of social interactions from Tumblr
  • This counts as social interaction. Don’t devalue it
  • It also might help to seek out some other type of forum, like a message board about your interest/fandom/whatever
  • Email lists can be good too, especially if they’re the kind that don’t have archives that can be googled
  • Even with people you know, it might be easier to interact on chat or Facebook or some other internet based way

Religion

  • If you have a faith tradition, it might help you to go to church/temple/synagogue/mosque/place of worship.
  • If you have a bad experience with the place of worship you grew up with, you might be able to find one that works better for you
  • Most communities have a number of places of worship. Some of them probably have nice people
  • Unitarian Universalist churches work for some people who don’t feel comfortable in the organized forms of the religion they grew up with, but don’t want to reject it either
  • Going to a place of worship can be a way to meet people
  • It can also be a way to be around people without having to interact too much directly
  • For some people, being near people without having much conversation can be a way to feel less lonely without anxiety-inducing pressure
  • There also might be things you can volunteer to help with that aren’t too socially intense
  • There also might be study groups that work for you, because you can talk about the topic or just listen
  • Prayer can also help some people. Talking to God can help, even if you can’t talk to people.
  • Organized religion is not right for everyone, but it can be really good for some people

Reading fiction or watching TV

  • For some people, stories are a good way to cope with loneliness
  • Reading or watching stories is sort of like vicarious social interaction
  • It can also help you to learn a bit more about people and relationships
  • There’s a reason why lonely isolated kids coping with growing up by reading novels is such a pervasive trope
  • This isn’t helpful for everyone. Fiction can be really misleading and not everyone can understand it. But for some people, it can be good.

Therapy is helpful for some people

  • Some people find it helpful to talk to a therapist
  • Sometimes therapists can help people manage social anxiety and depression better
  • Or figure out executive functioning strategies
  • Or learn appropriate boundaries that make friendship easier
  • Therapy is not a good idea for everyone.
  • For some people, it isn’t helpful.
  • For some people, it’s a matter of finding the right therapist
  • For others, it’s actively anti-helpful and damaging.
  • For some people, it’s sort of helpful but not worth the costs
  • Therapy is something that can help some people to get support that helps them to figure out how to improve their life incrementally
  • Only you know whether therapy is a good idea for you (and it’s ok to decide to stop going to therapy if you decide that would be better)
  • In any case, therapy isn’t magic and it’s not a cure. There isn’t actually such a thing as “getting help” and that fixing your life. There’s just trying things and seeing what works.

Medication can be helpful for some people

  • Anxiety, depression, and ADHD are all conditions that some people find easier to manage with medication
  • For some people, medication is useful in the short term even if it’s not good in the long term
  • Some people don’t benefit from being on medications regularly, but do benefit from having medication available for occasional use to control anxiety or panic attacks
  • Medication is not right for everyone.
  • For some people it doesn’t work
  • For some people, it works, but has intolerable side effects
  • For some people, it works, but it takes a lot of experimentation to find the right medications and doses
  • Only you can decide if medication is right for you
  • Medication is not a cure or a way to become a different kind of person. It’s a strategy for managing things that works well for some people
  • If medication doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t imply that you don’t really have depression/ADHD/anxiety.
  • It also doesn’t imply that your condition is mild
  • Or that you’re not serious about making your life better
  • All it means is that medication is not a good strategy for you

miaokuancha:

not actually achilles: “I would never abuse anyone!”

kaalashnikov:

realsocialskills:

tropesarenotbad:

realsocialskills:

faunils:

realsocialskills:

This kind of conversation is a major red flag:

  • Bob: I’m going to go to the mall.
  • Stan: Don’t go to the mall. I want you to stay home.
  • Bob: Um, why not? I need new trousers.
  • Stan: Why are you taking that tone?! Are you saying I’m abusive? You wouldn’t be upset if I wasn’t abusive, so you must think I’m abusing you. I’d never abuse anyone! How dare you?!

Another version:

  • Bob: Could you not make jokes about my weight? It makes me feel bad.
  • Stan: I would never do anything to hurt you! How dare you call this bullying!

It’s especially bad when:

  • It happens every time Stan and Bob want different things.
  • Because it gets to the point where it’s impossible for Bob to say no without accusing Stan of being abusive
  • Or where Bob can’t express a preference that conflicts with Stan’s. 
  • This means that Bob has to always do what Stan wants, or else call Stan a bad person
  • This is an awful way to live

In a mutually respectful relationship:

  • People want different things from time to time
  • People hurt each other in minor ways
  • People make mistakes, and need to be told about them
  • Everyone understands this, and can accept that their friend/partner/whatever wants something different, or is upset about something they did
  • They understand that wanting different things, or being upset about something, is not an accusation of abuse.

If someone close to you claims that you’re accusing them of being abusive every time you have a conflict with them, they probably are, in fact, being abusive.

A variation of this is when the other person doesn’t get offended/angry so much as immediately turns the situation so that you are in the position to assure them that they are good people. For example, as a child it was always my job to reassure my abusive mother that she was, in fact, a good mother. I was not even allowed to think that she might not be. In fact it didn’t even occur to me to consider wether or not her behaviour hurt me or not, because she always displayed a weird kind of fragility and I always had to focus on her self esteem or make it so she didn’t have to feel guilty/ like a bad person.

It’s difficult to explain because she was such a master at manipulation and gaslighting. But she always turned any topic that was about my wellbeing as influenced by her around immediately so that it was about her and her guilt and insecurities and how she always “tried her hardest to be a good mom" etc and even if I didn’t accuse her of anything she would start crying and I would have to comfort her, even though the start of the conversation was about how certain of her behaviours might be harmful for me.

Oh, yes, this.. Weaponized fragility is definitely a variant on this. And it can be a lot harder to notice.

I’d say one thing that’s a red flag is that if you *always* end up apologizing and offering comfort whenever you have a conflict with that person, something is probably wrong.

Yet another variant: As soon as you give them any sort of criticism on how they are treating you, they leap right into “I am a HORRIBLE person I’m sorry you’re absolutely right please tell me how I should behave.“

This is designed to make it look like you were overreacting. Apologizing to them and saying that it wasn’t that bad and they’re blowing it out of proportion gives them power again. It tells them their behaviour isn’t an issue.

Basically, anything that makes you come running to them saying “Oh no it’s okay I’m here I’m trying to be friends please don’t leave.”

I usually call them on being emotionally manipulative and laying out the expectations of the situation, but that isn’t always possible. 

Yes, this.

I actually wrote a post about that variant a while back.

ah look, a series of posts that perfectly sums up my mother

——————————–

The saddest part of all is that those who accuse others of accusing them of abuse whenever the other asks for regard and consideration (or who use weaponized fragility, or who derail any addressing of others’ needs by requiring constant reassurance that they are good and loving) are often past victims of abuse themselves, and very likely learned this strategy from their own abusers. It’s a dreadful, crippling pattern in which those who wish to offer them love are thwarted, and they themselves are trapped in the injustice of their past pain, transposed into a projected injustice of being accused or found wanting. Oh, what a tangled web the soul weaves. Oh, what economy of threads are used.

~ In memoriam

Yes, that’s true. I think probably most people who do those things have been abused. This can be really, really hard to unlearn.

That doesn’t mean other people should tolerate this kind of behavior, though.

Someone’s abusive behavior may well have been learned from people who abused them. This doesn’t mean you have to let them abuse you.

rosewhite6280 said: some people with anger problems do so because they themselves are being triggered, help them deal with their past problem, compassion helps

That’s good advice in some situations, but I don’t think it’s applicable in the situation they asked about. I think what you’re saying makes a lot of sense in situations in which you’re responsible for another person’s physical and emotional wellbeing. For instance, if you’re raising a kid, or working with a kid who has been through traumatic things, the first thing to keep in mind is that they’re doing things for reasons and that compassion goes a long way.

But you can’t have that relationship with every traumatized person you encounter. It’s not appropriate with a roommate.

And that person was asking specially about what to do about the fact that they are triggered by their roommate’s depression and anger. It was a question about how to make a living situation work, not a question about how to make a support relationship work.

Getting involved enough to help someone deal with their past problem is a completely different kind of relationship than they were asking about. And there’s no indication that either they or their roommate wants that.

And, when you are triggered by someone even at a relatively distant relationship, it’s generally not a good idea to establish an even closer relationship with that person.

Their roommate’s past is not their problem, and helping their roommate get over their past is not their responsibility.

Hi. I’m triggered by outbursts of anger and by people being majorly depressed around me. My roommate has outbursts of anger and major depression. Help?
My first thought is that you’re probably not compatible roommates. Living with that person probably means you’re inevitably going to get triggered by them a lot, which isn’t good for either of you.
That said, it might depend on how being triggered works for you:
  • Some people can learn to detect when something is about to become triggering and avert it.
  • It might be possible for you to do things like figure out which kinds of contact with your roommate are triggering, detect when it’s about to happen, and extract yourself
  • For instance, if it’s about seeing facial expressions your roommate makes when they’re angry, it might work to leave the room when things are getting too close to the edge
  • But not everyone’s triggers work this way.
  • It may not be possible to find ways to avoid being triggered while still living with someone who does a lot of triggering things
  • If that’s how it is, it’s not a personal failing, it just means you probably can’t safely live together.
  • Not everyone is compatible, and that’s ok

It also might depend on how often it happens, and what the consequences are:

  • If it’s infrequent, it might be bearable. Depending on how that is for you personally
  • It also depends on what kind of trigger it is, and how you feel about it
  • Like, if it’s the kind of trigger where you have to spend an hour freaking out and convincing yourself that you’re safe, you might decide that that’s bearable
  • It’s totally ok to decide that being regularly triggered in that way is deal-breaking, though. Either is ok, it’s a matter of what you want
  • If it’s the kind of trigger where you spend a week fighting suicidal feelings, it’s probably really important to get out of that living situation as soon as possible

Aside from what to do in the roommate situation, some thoughts about being triggered by anger:

  • Anger is a particularly difficult trigger to deal with
  • Because anger is an inevitable part of just about every relationship ever
  • Sometimes people will be justifiably angry at you, and have a legitimate need to express it
  • And sometimes you have to deal with the thing they’re angry about even though you get triggered by the anger
  • Even though it’s not your fault, even though you can’t avoid getting triggered
  • The underlying thing they’re angry about still has to be dealt with
  • Getting triggered by things people can’t reasonably avoid doing is really awful

Further thoughts about anger:

  • Having to deal with anger sometimes doesn’t mean that you can’t ever avoid it
  • Sometimes people have a legitimate need to express anger about something you’ve done, but most ways you’re likely to encounter anger in your day-to-day life aren’t like that
  • Not all anger has anything to do with you, and when you’re not the person someone is angry at, it’s usually reasonable to avoid engaging with anger
  • For instance, it’s ok if you don’t want people to vent to you when they’re angry at someone else or angry about politics
  • And it’s ok to avoid watching angry movies or following angry blogs
  • Or to block angry bloggers who trigger you, even if they’re good people who you respect
  • Or to use tumblr savior or xkit to block tags etc that are mostly people being angry
  • Or to decide not to spend time with people who get angry with you over minor things
  • Or to decide not to spend time around people who are frequently angry or appear angry much of the time
  • In particular, you might be better off not sharing living space with someone who gets angry a lot

I’m not sure what else to suggest. Do any of y'all have thoughts?

When you have mixed feelings about an abusive relationship

Content warning: this post probably uses language that gets used against abuse victims. I’m trying to avoid that, but I don’t think I’ve entirely succeeded, and some of these words might be triggering. Proceed with caution.

So, here’s the thing.

People are complicated, and relationships are even more complicated. Abuse victims are often pressured to pretend that things are simple. They’re pressured to believe that if there was any positive aspect whatsoever to an abusive relationship, then it wasn’t really as abusive as they think it was.

But it doesn’t work that way. People aren’t averaged. People can do some really good things, and some abusive things. They don’t cancel each other out. They coexist. Whatever else happened, the abuse was real, and you’re right not to tolerate it.

Sometimes… sometimes your abuser is also the person who taught you your favorite recipe.

Or something fundamental about how you understand the world.

Or a major skill you now use professionally.

Or maybe they gave you a lot of valuable criticism that made your art better.

Or maybe they supported you materially when you were in real trouble.

Or any number of other things.

And…

…none of that makes the abuse ok. None of that is mitigating in any way. It doesn’t cancel anything out. Sometimes people talk like the abusive interactions and the good ones get put in a blender or something, and like some sort of theoretical blended average is what really counts. That’s not how it works. It’s the actual interactions that count, not some theoretical average. The abuse is real, and significant, no matter what else happened.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other. If some things about an abusive relationship were positive, it’s ok to acknowledge and value them.

And you can still refuse to ever have anything to do with your abuser ever again. You can still be angry. You can still hate them. You can still decide never to forgive them. You can still warn people against them. None of these things are mutually exclusive.

And, most importantly, valuing some aspects of the relationship or having some positive memories does not in *any way* mean the abuse was your fault.