isolation

The dangers of “adults are terrible”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledging the unfixable

Many people face awful things.

Sometimes, those things aren’t fixable.

Sometimes you can’t make it better. Sometimes all you can do is try to find a way to live with it.

Living and enjoying your life doesn’t make the bad things irrelevant.

Often, people who don’t face the awful things want to pretend that everything is either fixable or already ok.

This leads to pressuring people experiencing awful things to smile and pretend everything is ok.

That doesn’t help. It doesn’t make anything ok. It just means that people are forced to face things alone. This isn’t right.

People shouldn’t force you to pretend that you’re ok when you’re not. People shouldn’t force you to pretend that the world is better than it is. If you’re facing that, I’m sorry that’s happening to you.

Sometimes we can’t fix the bad things. But there are problems we can fix. We can stop silencing people and we can stop isolating people. We can respect people, and stop expecting them to protect us from reality.

We can’t fix everything, but we can stop being jerks to people facing unfixable problems.

Dealing with isolation at school

Anonymous said to :

What do I do if my friends are rude to me constantly but they’re my only friends and I literally cannot make friends with anyone else cause I have a v v v small school and they’re the only people around my age? It hurts a lot and I get overlooked a lot and when I try to say something I get ignored or told to shut up:

realsocialskills said:

A couple of things:

These other people at your school might not be your friends. People who dislike you and are mean to you aren’t actually friends. Friends are people who you like, and who like you back. Friends are people who respect you and who you respect. Friends are people who are, generally speaking, nice to you (no one is perfectly nice all the time; everyone is mean or obnoxious occasionally. But people who are intentionally cruel are not friends. They’re bullies).

If people don’t like you, don’t want you around, and are mean to you, that’s probably not something you can change. It’s not usually possible to persuade people to be your friends or be nice to you if they don’t already want to.

Something you can sometimes do is assert boundaries. Sometimes if people are nice to you sometimes but not other times, you can limit your interactions to contexts in which they are nice.

eg:

  • If students in your school are nice when adults are looking and mean when they’re not, it might be best to limit your interactions to closely supervised settings (eg: hang out with them in the lunch room and not outdoors during breaks) 
  • Some people are nice in mixed-gender grounds but mean in single-gender groups, or vice versa. If you notice that pattern, it might be worth paying attention to the gender composition of a group you’re trying to hang out with
  • Some people are nice one on one, but mean in groups. It can sometimes be worth making a point of hanging out with those people only individually.

That said: Being isolated at school is horrible, but I think that being socially intertwined with people who are mean to you is a lot worse (I’ve experienced both). I’m not you and I can’t tell you what you should do - you are the best judge of that. But, from my perspective, I think you would probably be better off seeking friends elsewhere. That’s probably possible even if you’re in a small school.

Friends don’t have to be people who go to your school. Friends don’t have to be your age. Friends don’t have to be people you see in person. There are other ways to have friends.

I’m assuming that you’re a teenager and that you don’t have very much control over your life right now. I don’t know which of these suggestions are realistic for you, but probably some of them are:

One option you almost certainly have is to make friends online. Internet friends are real friends, and can be much better friends than people you know in person who are mean to you. If you take those relationships seriously as friendships, it will probably substantially improve your social life. One good way to meet people online is by participating in a fandom. If you really like something, finding other people to talk to online about that thing can be a good way to make friends and have fun interacting with people. If you’re being actively bullied at school, or if your parents are hostile, it’s probably best to do this in forums that don’t require you to use your real name. (Eg: Tumblr is likely better for this than Facebook.)

Another option is to join a club or group that takes you out of your school, or to take a class outside of school. For instance, many people enjoy the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts. (Unlike Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts is a secular organization and is not actively hostile to gay and trans kids.) It doesn’t work for everyone, but some people who are very socially isolated in school have a good time socially in the scouts or in other clubs.

If there is a community center in your area, you might be able to play a sport or take an art class. It doesn’t have to be a class specifically for people your age - it can be really, really good to meet people of a range of ages, especially if you have trouble connecting with people your own age. If you find a group of people doing a thing you like, you’re likely to have more friends than if you’re just relying on people who go to your school.

If you’re in high school, taking college classes at a local community college might also be an option. That might be both more interesting than what you’re doing at school, and a way to meet people who don’t go to your school and might be nicer than you. (It doesn’t always work that way, but it does for some people.)

Another option is to volunteer. Is there a cause in your area that you care about? It might be worth finding out if there’s anything that you can do to help them. Again, that could bring you into contact with other people who care about the same things you care about, and it might be something people with power over your life would approve of. Volunteering to visit elderly people might also be something you could do. There are a lot of isolated elderly people who don’t use computers who want social contact, and some of them are really awesome. Some groups that match people accept teenagers as volunteers. (Again, not for everyone, but this is a good thing for some people.)

If you’re religious or your family is, there might be things you can get involved in at your place of worship that you’d enjoy and that would expand your social options beyond kids your age at your school. If you have a youth group that is largely populated by the same kids who are mean to you at school, it might be better to get involved in something else. For instance, there might be a social action or charitable group that you could join. Or an all-ages study group. (Definitely not for everyone, especially not if religion is something you’re unpleasantly coerced into participating in. But can be good for some people.)

tl;dr Mean people aren’t good friends. It’s usually better to seek out the company of people who are nice to you than to try to make friends with mean people. Even if you are young and go to a tiny school, there are options for finding friends. Scroll up for some ideas.

Anyone else want to weigh in? How do you cope with being surrounded by mean people at school? How do you find friends?

About anger and social violence

Those of us who experience routine social violence can’t afford to become enraged about it every single time. We also can’t afford to fight it every single time.

If you don’t experience social violence, this can be hard to understand. It can be easy to think we’re under-reacting and that we ought to be flying into a rage and reporting it. You might want to get furious on our behalf.

As furious as you think you’d be if that happened to you. The thing is, when it happens to you multiple times every day, you can’t always afford to make a big deal of it. If we did that, we wouldn’t be able to do anything else. It’s important to fight sometimes, but not always. There are other things to be getting on with.

So telling someone “wow, you should report that!” is not necessarily a helpful response.

Similarly, it also isn’t helpful to try to calm someone down or come up with lots of ways to interpret what happened as just an innocent misunderstanding. 

Misunderstandings aren’t so benign when they happen to you several times a day and prevent you from doing what you need to do. Particularly when people become hostile when you tell them that they’re creating a problem, no matter how polite you are about it. Sometimes things really are that bad, and sometimes you’re not in a position to fix them.

Sometimes we don’t need help adjusting our perspective, or help filing a complaint. Sometimes what we need is to know that you are willing to listen to something that happened to us, and that you will believe us and understand.

Sometimes, you can’t make it better in that moment. Sometimes, we can’t make it better, and all we can do is survive it. We can’t fight every battle. And sometimes, the battles we don’t fight can take as heavy a toll on us as the battles we do fight. It is not easy to let things go when they are unjust and in which we’d really like to fix things. But, the only thing to do is see it as unjust *and* go on without fighting a battle then and there.

Just as no one should ever have to fight these battles alone, no one should have to be alone when they decide to sit out a particular battle. We need support every time this kind of thing happens, not only in instances in which we’re directly fighting.

If you want to be a good ally, don’t pressure people to fight every battle. Instead, stand with them consistently, when they chose to fight, and when they regard discretion as the better part of valor. Presume that they are capable of making those calls, listen respectfully, and offer support that is appropriate to the situation and consistent with the choice they are making about it.

Sometimes, in a situation, all you can do is listen, understand, and be someone who understands that they are being treated unjustly and that it isn’t their fault. It hurts not to be able to do more, but it’s important not to let that pain get in the way of offering the support, respect, and listening that can help some in that situation.

You can’t always fix things, either by fighting or by explaining things away. Sometimes there is no ready solution. But, you *can* always be a respectful ally.

You are not alone

If you are being hurt by a person, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your relationship.

If you’re being hurt by your family, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your family.

If you are being hurt by a community, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one from outside the community can possibly understand.

It’s not true. You are not alone. There are others outside your relationship, family, and community, who can relate to what you’re going through and who can help.

Some aspects of your relationship, family, or community are unique. Some of them are probably unusual, positive, and hard for outsiders to understand. But that is not the barrier that those who are hurting you want you to think it is. It is not insurmountable.

People do not have to understand absolutely everything in order to relate to your experiences in important ways.

You can make connections with others, and a lot of things you have experienced will be very, very similar. Some aspects of abuse are universal. Others are very common. (One very common aspect of abuse is that there is often something about the relationship that is positive, unusual, and secret or hard to describe.). 

The people who you can relate to may be very different from you in a lot of ways. They may be a different age, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, or culture than you. Maybe they are disabled and you aren’t. Maybe their disability is different, or more severe, than yours. Maybe the particular horrors they faced took a different shape. That matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters.

It is ok to relate to the experiences of people who are very different from you. It is not appropriation. (It is not ok to pretend that your experiences are identical; but it’s completely possible to relate without doing that.) Don’t let anyone tell you to only listen to people who are just like you. We all need each other.

People may be trying to isolate you, but you are not alone. Other people can and do understand and care about the ways in which you are getting hurt.

on figuring out what's wrong

I don’t know what exactly is wrong with me (as a child, i was forbidden to even mention mental health or autism, and now it’s prolly too late to bother). But I find a lot of useful and relatable in this blog (that was thanks). Thing is, I end up just cutting all connections with society (aside from parents). Not leaving my home, being happy only in solitude. But I still need to provide for myself, so I do some coding. Except often I just can’t force myself to work for unknown reason. Any advice?
realsocialskills said:
First of all, it’s not too late to bother. Understanding yourself better is always helpful. It’s a lot easier to manage unusual things about yourself if you have the right words to describe them. Among other things, having the right words allows you to connect with others like you and learn about things that work for them.
Also, some mental health or neurological issues are treatable, even in adulthood. (For instance, many adults with depression, ADHD or OCD find that medication improves their lives).
Most of us spend most of our lives as adults. This stuff doesn’t go away when we grow up, and it doesn’t stop mattering, either. So - it’s not too late, and if you think that you have a mental health or neurological condition, it is worth taking that seriously, whether or not you pursue formal diagnosis or medical treatment.
I can’t tell you why you’re having trouble working. There could be any number of reasons. Some include:
Do you like your work?
  • If your work requires a lot of intense focus, and you find it intensely dull, it’s likely to be hard to make yourself do it, particularly if no one else is around
  • If you’re so bored with your work that you regularly can’t force yourself to do it, it’s probably time to start trying to find different work
  • Which might still be coding if that’s your skillset - not all programming projects are the same
  • There’s only so long you can work against yourself by brute force

Is being alone all the time bad for your work?

  • Some people need to work with or alongside other people in order to get stuff done consistently
  • Not everyone is like this, but some people are, even many people who enjoy solitude
  • If that’s part of your problem, it might be important to work on ways to have company that you can stand
  • This could be virtual, like one person you’re on IM with while you code
  • Or physical, like working out of an office or hackerspace
  • It doesn’t necessarily need to be intensely social
  • This might not be a problem you have, but it is a problem some people have

Are you depressed?

  • If being unable to force yourself to code is a new problem, it’s possible that you’re depressed
  • Particularly if you’re also *generally* disinterested in most things you used to like
  • For some people, depression is a treatable medical problem
  • If that sounds likely to be part of your problem, and if you can go to a doctor safely, it might be worth bringing up the possibility that you’re depressed

Do you need better cognitive cues for work?

  • For some people who work alone from home, it can be really hard to *tell* when you should be working
  • I have this problem and I don’t have a great solution to it, so I’m not sure how much I can suggest
  • For some people, making a schedule helps
  • For some people, always working early in the day helps
  • For some people, using LeechBlock makes it easier to focus
  • Some people find that HabitRPG helps them to keep track of tasks and stay motivated

Are you ok physically?

  • It’s hard to work when you feel horrible physically
  • And a lot of neurodivergent people have trouble telling when something is wrong physically
  • Do you eat enough? Do you get your nutritional needs met? Going without sufficient protein or iron can quickly make everything difficult.
  • Do you remember to drink liquids?
  • Are you in pain?
  • Is your working environment comfortable? (eg: are the lights bothering you? is your chair painful to sit in? is your keyboard at a comfortable or uncomfortable height?)

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.