imaginary friending

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.

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.

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.

There’s a boy at school who makes me uncomfortable. He seems to appear wherever I am. My 504 plan allows me to eat in a small back room in the library, and he’s even found me there and joins me for lunch. I’ve told him several times “I prefer to eat alone” but he responds with “That’s no fun! Come meet my friends!” I’ve tried ignoring him, but he just asks me lots of questions. My mom and therapist are happy I’ve “made a friend and stopped isolating!” and won’t help. How do I make him go away?
 
realsocialskills said:
 
I’m sorry this is happening to you.
 
He shouldn’t harass you like that, and your school shouldn’t let him. You’ve made it clear that you want to be left alone, and he’s following you and insisting on bothering you anyway. That’s not friendly. That’s harassment.
 
I’m not sure how to get him to stop. That depends a lot on the situation, and particularly whether or not there are any adults willing to help you. One thing that helps is to keep straight in your mind what’s going on. It’s perfectly ok that you don’t want to eat with this guy. He should leave you alone. You’re not doing anything wrong; he is being mean.
 
Since you mention that you’re eating in the library, I wonder if the librarian might be able to help you. Sometimes librarians care about protecting kids from harassment. It might help to frame it in terms of “This guy won’t leave me alone, and it’s making me really uncomfortable. He keeps following me in here. Can you please help me to get away from him?”
 
Another thing to consider: Who put the room in your 504 plan? Was anyone involved in that decision besides your mom and your therapist? Might someone else who was involved understand what’s going on and why you need help?
 
Another possibility: telling him to go away more forcefully, eg:
  • “I don’t want to eat with you. Please leave me alone.” might work better than “I prefer to eat alone.”
  • “Stop following me.”
  • “I don’t want to talk to you.”
  • “Stop asking me questions; I don’t want to have this conversation.”
If you’re more forceful in saying no, it’s likely that he’ll act all hurt and like you’re doing something terrible to him. It might also eventually work if you are firm and explicit about saying no, and don’t back down when he acts all hurt about it.
 
That’s a standard way that people who are willfully violating boundaries react when someone says no. (I wrote about this in the context of ways creepy guys make it impossible for women to say no politely.)
 
It’s okay not to care that your boundaries hurt his feelings. It’s okay not to care if he’s upset that you don’t want to be his friend or eat lunch with him. That is not actually your problem. You’re not obligated to provide him with attention, company, or validation, no matter how friendly he thinks he’s being.
 
Eating alone is not something you’re doing to him. Harassing you is something mean he’s doing to you.
 
Your parents and therapists should be supporting you. It’s terrible that they’re not (but unfortunately, this is not an unusual situation.)
  
tl;dr If someone follows you around and keeps trying to interact over your objections, that’s not friendly, that’s creepy. You don’t have to be someone’s friend or hang out with them if you don’t want to. Therapists shouldn’t try to convince you that being harassed is a positive development in your life. It’s okay to have boundaries. You get to decide who your friends are and aren’t.
Anyone else want to weigh in? Have you been harassed at school by someone who wanted to be your friend whether you wanted to or not? Have you been able to get them to leave you alone? (Or: have to found ways to protect kids who are being harassed by other students?)

Your feelings aren't your crush's or squish's obligation

So this is a common trope in movies and TV shows:

  • A (usually male) character has a crush on a (usually female) character
  • She’s not interested and makes this clear
  • He devotes massive amounts of time and energy to figuring out out to communicate the depth of his feelings to her
  • This is shown as sympathetic
  • With the implication that if she just ~understood~ how he feels, then she’d realize that she should be with him
  • Sometimes this eventually works

This trope is really creepy, and not something you should do in real life, because:

  • Someone can understand your feelings about them perfectly clearly and still not be interested in dating you (or in other forms of emotional intimacy)
  • Feelings are not automatically reciprocated
  • If someone says they’re not interested, that is a decision they get to make. It’s not ok to pressure them to change their mind
  • Grand romantic gestures are only good if they’re welcome. If you’re repeatedly invading someones boundaries and disregarding their consent, that’s not romance, that’s stalking

A couple of examples:

  • Fry and Leela in Futurma
  • John and Liz in Garfield

Or, in other words:

  • If she* said no, it doesn’t mean you need to find a perfect new way of expressing just how you feel about her.
  • She probably knows.
  • That doesn’t mean she has to reciprocate. Her feelings matter, and they don’t have to match yours.
  • She can understand perfectly well that you want her, and still be uninterested.
  • You can’t just rub your feelings on her and hope they stick.
  • (*Likewise with other gender configurations. The target of this kind of thing is almost always female in the media, and more often than not in real life. But people of all genders do this to people of all genders, and it’s never ok. Stalking and romantic coercion don’t become ok when they’re done in ways that subvert gender stereotypes)
  • (This is also the case for forms of non-romantic intimacy. Your desire to be someone’s best friend is not their obligation.)

tl;dr: If someone says no to dating you, or to other forms of emotional intimacy, it’s important that you take no for an answer. Trying over and over to ~explain how you feel about them~ will not magically cause them to reciprocate. They can know perfectly well how you feel, and still not feel the same way. Stalking, harassment and other forms of attempts to coerce intimacy don’t become ok when you have strong feelings.

warlocksexalways:

Social skills for autonomous people: Anonymous asked realsocialskills: Do you have any tips on how to…

realsocialskills:

Do you have any tips on how to figure out who is trustworthy and who is not? As in whether or not someone intends to cause harm to you, etc. I find that I never realize I’m being mistreated until it’s too late, and it makes it really hard for…

warlocksexalways said:

Thank you for this.

It’s also important to not think about things in terms of whether or not you’re being fair in your assessment of someone, or whether or not that person can help what they do. If what they do hurts you, and they can’t help it, that’s not a call for your understanding, that’s a call for you to leave. You can’t be around someone who is going to endlessly hurt you and compassion for them is not going to help.

I think we have a tendency to think of rejection as punishing someone, or judging their character, but it doesn’t have to be either of those things. You always have a right to go.

Do you have any tips on how to figure out who is trustworthy and who is not? As in whether or not someone intends to cause harm to you, etc. I find that I never realize I’m being mistreated until it’s too late, and it makes it really hard for me to find good friend, especially IRL. Advice/tips?
realsocialskills said:
Here are some things I consider to be red flags:
Having a strong self-image as not being the kind of person who does bad things:
  • We all do bad things, even awful things, from time to time
  • People who think that they’re “not that kind of person” actively avoid noticing when they’ve done bad things
  • People who deal with one another regularly hurt one another from time to time, and it’s important to be able to acknowledge this and fix things
  • If you’re dealing with someone who can’t bear the thought of having done something wrong, you’re not going to be able to tell them when they’ve hurt you
  • Because they will blow up at you and hurt you worse when you try, or else they’ll cry and convince you that you’re a terrible person for making mean baseless accusations.
  • Either way, it will make it impossible to deal with problems, and you’ll end up tolerating things that hurt you badly
  • I wrote about that some here
Expecting immediate trust
  • Trust is developed over time
  • If someone wants you to talk about deeply personal things right away, and gets upset when you don’t, they’re not respecting your boundaries and that’s dangerous
Asserting that a deeply intimate relationship exists without considering your opinion on the matter relevant
  • Close friendship only exists if you *both* think it does
  • You are only dating if *both* of you think that you are dating
  • Someone can’t just decide that they’re close to you and that you have a deep close committed relationship; you both have to want it
  • If someone considers your opinion of the matter irrelevant, run.
  • I wrote a post about that here 

Wanting you to depend on them

  • If someone tells you that you couldn’t function without them, do not trust them
  • If they want you to fix your life, do not trust them
  • If they think your sanity depends on their loving understanding care, *seriously* do not trust them
  • If they get angry, or hurt, or cry when you don’t do what they want you to do in your personal life, don’t trust them

Being under the impression that they’re doing you a favor:

  • If they think that they’re doing you a favor by being friends with someone like you, they’re not likely to treat you well
  • Friendship is not a charitable act. It is a mutual relationship between people who regard one another as equals.
  • Similarly, when someone thinks they’re doing you a favor by employing you, it will probably end badly

If people you trust dislike them:

  • If you have people you know to be trustworthy, and they don’t like a new person in your life, it’s important to find out why
  • Sometimes they will be wrong, but often they will be right
  • It’s important to figure out what’s going on, and why they think that – then if you disagree that’s fine, but it’s not a good idea to dismiss it without thinking about it

I’ve also written a lot of posts relevant to this issue. It might help you to read through my abuse tag and my boundaries tag and my red flags tag.

mosaicofminds:

Social skills for autonomous people: Socially stigmatized people still have to respect boundaries

realsocialskills:

Here’s something I’ve seen happen among autistic folks. I think it probably happens in other groups too.

  • Someone is subjected to a lot of social violence
  • People don’t want to talk to them because they’re autistic and weird
  • People mock the idea that people like them could ever be a good friend…

Yes, I’ve seen this sort of feeling of entitlement on Wrongplanet before and completely agree with you.

Everyone needs, and in a sense is entitled to, friends.  But that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to have any particular person as a friend. Same goes for romantic relationships.

I was the only friend and girlfriend for a while of a socially stigmatized person.  It didn’t work out.  Eventually, both of us became unhappy with the relationship.  The sad thing was, I had a feeling from the beginning that the relationship might not work, but went ahead with it anyway, because I did like that person and didn’t want to deprive them of the opportunity for a romantic relationship. Yes, there’s that entitlement idea turned on its head, because I was the one acting on it instead of him.  

When you are someone's imaginary friend

aura218:

minionier:

aura218:

realsocialskills:

aura218:

realsocialskills:

theaccidentalnonconformist:

realsocialskills:

Friendships require two consenting people. Someone can’t be your friend unless you also want to be their friend. Friendship is a relationship and it has to be mutual.

Some people do not understand this. Some people want to think of themselves as your friends, and don’t care what you want.

In effect, people who do this are treating you as an imaginary friend. They don’t want *you*. They want an imaginary different person who wants to be their close friend. (And, they probably want a number of other differences, too.)

If they wanted you, if they were interested in friendship with the person you actually are, they’d respect it when you said no.

You can’t usually stop someone from perceiving you as an imaginary friend, but you don’t owe them your cooperation, either. It’s ok to ignore them. It’s ok to refuse to listen to lectures on why you’re being a bad friend. You don’t have to give them a chance and you don’t have to convince them that you’re right to distance yourself. You don’t owe it to anyone to help them pretend you’re their friend.

You can’t stop them from thinking whatever they want to think about you. If they send you lots of email. Or letters. Just don’t read them. Because they’re interacting with an imaginary person. Not you. And the real you doesn’t have to play along.

Ouch. I have to admit I’ve done the “imaginary friend” thing to other people, though mostly when I was younger and a lot more clueless. I have to say, it’s something that happens when a person doesn’t have any idea how to actually make friends and doesn’t understand why a person doesn’t want to be friends with them. Also, I think it comes out of being blamed for not being able to make friends easily, and being told that you have to “make an effort” and “put yourself out there” and not understanding what any of that means.

I’m not really against anything this post is saying, but I would like to point out that most people never have to think about how to make friends at all. It comes beautifully and naturally to them and most people have never experienced wanting to be friends with someone with the other person not wanting to be friends back. That just doesn’t happen to normal people.

It’s hard to learn good boundaries when you have a disability that makes it hard to initiate friendships. This is especially true if lots of people in your life have power over you and pressure you really hard to socialize. Especially if they then praise every interaction or connection you have, without regard to whether it’s actually a good thing to be doing.

Some people who do the imaginary friend thing really do deserve sympathy. It’s just that they aren’t entitled to anyone’s friendship, and people who are their targets don’t owe them cooperation or friendship or attention.

That said - rejection is something everyone experiences. Everyone has experienced wanting to be someone’s friend who isn’t interested. Everyone has experienced wanting to be closer to someone than that person is interested in being. These are normal experiences, not something that only happens to people with disabilities that complicate social interactions.

It’s harder to deal with this when you’re lonely and isolated and no one seems to want to be your friend. It’s especially harder to deal with when you’re isolated because most people are prejudiced against people like you.

But.. Everyone has to learn to deal with experiencing unrequited feelings for someone. Everyone needs to learn to respect boundaries they wish the other person didn’t have.

This is harder for some people than others, but it’s not optional for anyone.

I dont’ think “everyone” has experienced being the target of being an imaginary friend.  I don’t think that’s universal experience at all. And I think you’re ascribing agression to this behavior when it’s an innocent misunderstanding. I think think it’s worth having an angry reaction at someone who’s trying to be nice. If there’s something wrong with how that person is treating you, that’s a different story, but you’re conflating two issues — an abusive, manipulative person, and a unrequired friendship.

If you’re finding yourself frequently at the target of people who are treating you as friendship tofu, despite your wishes, then there’s something else going on. I think you may need to work on your own ability to clearly indicate your ‘no.’ 

I don’t think that everyone’s been the target of imaginary friending. That happens to some people and not others.

Everyone experiences an unrequited desire to be someone’s friend, at some point or other. That is not imaginary friending.

Imaginary friending is when someone insists that someone is their friend regardless of that person’s feelings or consent or desire for interaction.

For instance:

  • Albert thinks Brian is really cool and wants to be his friend
  • Brian isn’t especially interested
  • Albert acts like Brian is his best friend anyway
  • And expects Brian to act like a best friend back, and gets really angry when he doesn’t

This can continue to the point where Brian asks Albert to stop contacting him, and Albert *still* insists that they are best friends and that Brian is doing something horrible.

Friendship is a relationship, and relationships require consent. Unilaterally declaring someone to be a friend, and considering their opinion on the matter irrelevant, isn’t an innocent attempt to be friendly.

I see what you’re saying. That’s a twiggy situation. 

Albert sounds like a stalker, frankly, and I wonder why he keeps persisting if Brian has stopped taking his calls, stopped responding to his emails, not made any plans with him. It’s been my experience that it’s hard to make and maintain relationships, at least past schooling. Both parties have to make an effort or theyfizzle out.

So I wonder if Brian is encouraging Albert by being too polite, responding to emails, returning texts, taking calls, and agreeing to meet Albert places. For the reasons you said above, Brian has been told that he must respond favorably to all social overtures. He’s sending a mixed message to Albert, who sounds very lonely or very confused or perhaps has a crush on Brian. If Brian had been a bit more honest from the start, by never giving Albert his contact information, he wouldn’t have his creepy shadow.

Wow this is a lot of victim blaming.

First of all, we don’t need to call Brian a victim yet. He hasn’t been assaulted and in this scenario, Albert hasn’t really upped his creepiness to stalking.

Second, I didn’t say that Albert’s behavior was appropriate or okay. Albert is responsible for his own actions.

But so is Brian. It isn’t victim blaming to recognize that you have power and control in your own life. You don’t have to be powerless and call yourself helpless every time someone does something you don’t like. You can come up with a way to react and adapt. 

Even disabled people will have to get along with a lot of people in their lives, and learned helplessness isn’t the answer. Learning adaptive skills is. And the first step is realizing that your behavior can have an impact how other people treat you. Your ‘no’ can be respected.

Harassment needn’t escalate to assault to constitute abuse. When someone’s insisting that they are your friend, even over your objections, that’s abusive.

And saying that it’s their own fault for ever giving that person contact information is victim blaming.

Sometimes there really *isn’t* anything you can do to get someone else to willingly respect no. Some people are committed to ignoring no.

That’s the kind of scenario I’m talking about here. Are you claiming that this doesn’t happen?

I once thought I was dating this friend of mine while he thought we were really close friends who went to the movies and hung out all the time. He was fantastic and sent me a very nice email saying he heard rumors that we were dating and he just wanted us to be and remain friends. Incredibly embarrassing, and completely unintentional on both of our parts!
Yes, that’s a kind of thing that can happen. People misunderstand each other in all kinds of embarrassing ways, especially since our culture makes it hard to talk about these things explicitly.
Everyone honestly misreads things sometimes. Imaginary friending is different. Imaginary friending is when you are unwilling or unable to consider the possibility that someone doesn’t want the kind of friendship you want. (Even if they’ve said so explicitly).

When you are someone’s imaginary friend

Friendships require two consenting people. Someone can’t be your friend unless you also want to be their friend. Friendship is a relationship and it has to be mutual.

Some people do not understand this. Some people want to think of themselves as your friends, and don’t care what you want.

In effect, people who do this are treating you as an imaginary friend. They don’t want *you*. They want an imaginary different person who wants to be their close friend. (And, they probably want a number of other differences, too.)

If they wanted you, if they were interested in friendship with the person you actually are, they’d respect it when you said no.

You can’t usually stop someone from perceiving you as an imaginary friend, but you don’t owe them your cooperation, either. It’s ok to ignore them. It’s ok to refuse to listen to lectures on why you’re being a bad friend. You don’t have to give them a chance and you don’t have to convince them that you’re right to distance yourself. You don’t owe it to anyone to help them pretend you’re their friend.

You can’t stop them from thinking whatever they want to think about you. If they send you lots of email. Or letters. Just don’t read them. Because they’re interacting with an imaginary person. Not you. And the real you doesn’t have to play along.

If you want to avoid making enemies, it’s important to be careful about your friends

If you want to avoid making enemies, it’s important to be careful about your friends

Most personal enemies start out as friends, or apparent friends.

When you treat someone as a friend, it makes you vulnerable, because:

  • People you’re close to know things about how your mind works that they can use to manipulate you
  • Friends count on each other to actively treat one another well. If you count on someone and they aren’t actually trustworthy, you get hurt
  • Friends give each other the benefit of the doubt. If you give someone the benefit of the doubt and they don’t actually mean well, this gives them a large opening to do you harm.

It also means they know private things about you that they can use against you if they decide to be your enemy, and that people who perceive them as close to you might trust their opinion.

Sometimes you shouldn’t give people a chance to get close to you. Sometimes it’s not a good idea to allow yourself to become vulnerable in that way.

Not everyone is a good friend.

I wish I had known this sooner.

About friendship

About friendship

If someone doesn’t like you, they aren’t your friend, and you shouldn’t be hanging out with them.

If someone is always telling you why you’re not good enough, they don’t like you.

If someone is always telling you how special it is that they like someone as flawed as you, then they don’t like you.

If someone consistently expresses contempt about you to mutual friends, they don’t like you.

Life is better when you spend your time with nice people who like you.