red flags

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

People act the way they think people act

Most people act the way they think people act. When people talk about what people are like, assume they’re including themselves.

For instance:

If a boss says that all bosses exploit employees, they’re likely to be terrible to work for.

If a man says that all men are rapists, misogynists, or abusers, he’s likely not a very safe person to be alone with.

If someone says that all marginalized people need to lash out at privileged people, it’s likely that they’ll eventually consider you privileged and lash out at you.

There are any number of instances of this. People tend to act the way they think people act. When people tell you how people act, or how people in a group they’re part of act, err on the side of assuming that they may act that way too.

Some signs that a place might be an institution

Lack of accomodation for disability:

  • An organization workign with disabled or elderly or sick people ought to have a clue about access and adaptability
  • If they don’t, it’s a major red flag
  • Some examples:
  • If there are a lot of people who need wheelchairs, and none of them have personally-fitted chairs, that’s a red flag. If everyone is using an institutional wheelchair, it’s probably an institution
  • If there are a lot of residents who have limited use of their hands, and no one has any adaptive equipment for doing things like changing TV channels, it’s probably an institution

People conflate patient/client opinions with family opinions

  • For instance, if they claim that everyone there wants to be, but then they only talk about what family members say about it
  • If it’s a place people can be put into by their family members without any attempt made to see if they consent
  • If all the information on a website is for family members or social workers, and none of it is directed at people who might live in or get services from a place, it’s probably an institution

If people need staff assistance or permission to contact the outside world

  • If people who can use phones independently don’t have access to phones without asking first, it’s probably an institution
  • If there are no computers available, or all the computers are in public places, it’s probably an institution
  • If you need a password for the wifi and the residents don’t have the password, it’s probably an institution
  • If nobody has a personal cell phone, landline, or computer, it’s probably an institution

Concepts of functioning levels

  • If a place claims to be a last resort for people who can’t function in a normal setting, it’s probably an institution and it’s probably doing horrible things

Bragging about mundane things as evidence of being wonderful places:

  • It’s very common for institutions to loudly proclaim that they have a pool, TVs, a barber shop, a charity shop people can work in, or other such things
  • If they think this is deeply impressive, something is wrong
  • Things that wouldn’t be particularly notable in an apartment building or neighborhood shouldn’t be particularly notable just because elderly or disabled people are involved
  • If people think they are, it’s probably an institution, and it’s probably intentionally confusing clients about what it means to be free and in the community

If people involved are required to regularly praise it

  • Everyone is disgruntled with workplaces or other aspects of their life sometimes
  • Free people express this sometimes
  • If everyone involved in an organization says it’s wonderful, and you can’t find anything people it serves are willing to complain about, something is wrong
  • This is particularly the case if the wall or website is full of testimonials about how great it is
  • And also particularly the case if people are regularly required to sing songs praising the place

If there isn’t serious regard for the privacy of people the organization serves

  • For instance, if there is a description of every single resident and their activities available on a public website, something is wrong
  • If you are brought into someone’s room without their freely given consent just so you can see what the rooms look like, it’s probably an institution

Ideological predators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

red flag for being taken advantage of

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

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

realsocialskills said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red flags vs fear of new things

I don’t know a solution to this, but this is a problem I think it’s worth discussing: It can be hard to identify red flags when you have a general fear of change and trying new things.

For some of us, anticipating change always or usually feels bad, regardless of whether there’s anything actually wrong. For instance, I hate all new TV shows until I’ve watched them with someone else at least three times. To use more weighty examples: for a lot of people, moving to a new apartment, taking a new job, starting school, getting close to another person, exploring a new hobby, eating new foods, or anything that involves change, will at first invoke an unreasonable sense of dread whether or not anything is actually wrong.

For most people who have routine fear of new things, it can sometimes be important to override that dread and do some new things anyway. Because sometimes change is necessary, or an improvement. But overriding and ignoring dread all the time causes a serious problem.

The problem is - sometimes the feelings of dread are because you’re noticing red flags. Sometimes the problem isn’t that you’re generally averse to change; sometimes the problem is that you’re noticing something that’s actually wrong.

I’m not sure what the solution is. Most people get told that the best way to avoid walking into trouble is to always trust your gut. That’s not necessarily viable for people whose guts tend to dread all change. Trusting all of those instincts would mean never trying anything new, and also never walking away from bad situations (since that would have to involve change). But disregarding your gut all the time doesn’t work well either, because sometimes it’s the only thing alerting you to trouble.

I think the best approach might be: listen to your gut, but don’t necessarily obey it. I think it’s a good idea to think, in as concrete terms as possible, what your gut feeling might be about. Some examples of questions that some people find helpful in that regard (not exhaustive, and not all the questions on this list are helpful for everyone with this problem):

  • Is the dread you are feeling the same way you always feel when you’re doing something new, or does this feel different?
  • (If it feels like a different feeling, it’s very likely something you should be taking seriously)
  • Are you afraid of a particular person?
  • Do you know why you’re afraid of them? Is it that they’re unfamiliar, or something in particular about them?
  • Are you afraid of a particular risk?
  • Does something seem physically unsafe?
  • Are there other available options that would be safer?
  • Do people seem to be treating you respectfully?
  • Is someone being mean to you, or to other people, in a way that’s making the new thing seem inadvisable?
  • Are people assuming that you can do things that you can’t?
  • Is anyone treating you like a child?
  • Is someone taking your private decisions weirdly personally?
  • Are you being pressured into spending money you can’t afford to spend?

I don’t think that there is a general answer to this. I think that deciding whether to go with your gut feeling, or whether to assume that you’re just fearing change, is something that you have to decide on a case by case basis. Either option involves risks; it’s ok to decide which risk you’d rather take in a certain situation. Sometimes that will mean you do the new thing (and risk ignoring a red flag); sometimes it will mean you don’t do the new thing (and risk avoiding a necessary or beneficial change for irrational reasons). Sometimes that will mean doing the new thing, but cautiously. Sometimes that will mean modifying the new thing. All are legitimate approaches; you’re the only one who can decide.

It’s ok to decide that something real is going on and that you’re not going to do the thing (even though it’s possible that you’re afraid for no good reason). It’s ok to decide that you’re going to risk doing the thing (even though it’s possible that you’re ignoring a red flag.) Both have risks. There’s no generalized answer to every situation; it’s a decision you have to make for each situation.

tl;dr If you’re generally averse to change, it can be really hard to tell whether your apprehension about a new situation is irrational fear of change, or a red flag you’re picking up on. It can help to evaluate in concrete terms what you think you might be noticing. 

For those of you who have a general aversion to change and want to be able to do new things sometimes: How do you deal with this? How do you tell when bad feelings are related to general aversion to change, and when they’re related to red flags you’re picking up on?

medical red flags

Content warning: this post contains graphic descriptions of medical ableism. Proceed with caution.
snouted replied to your post: Anonymous said to realsocialskills: …

Oh man yes and anyone who pushes you with THEIR goals (instead of working w you to push your OWN goals) is bad news.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, and that’s not mental illness specific either. Most conditions of any sort involve choices and tradeoffs.

For instance, if you go to a doctor for help with a functional issue and they keep pushing normalization-oriented surgery unrelated to your actual goals, that’s bad news. (“Here’s how we can make you look more normal” is not a good answer to “I’d like this to stop hurting.”)

If someone ignores your concerns about side effects, that’s also bad news. (Sometimes they will be entirely right that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. But if they’re not listening or respecting you, that’s bad news.)

If someone calls you drug-seeking when you ask for help managing chronic pain, that’s bad news. If they only care about addiction risk and aren’t at all interested in treating your pain, that’s bad news.

If someone pushes something like “quality of life” in order to dissuade you from having treatment that is clearly necessary to your survival, that’s *really* bad news. (This happens to people who need feeding tubes or tracheostomies to survive, among other things.)

Medical treatment involves choices. A doctor who doesn’t think that your choices matter is bad news.

In reply to anon (who asked about how to tell the difference between good and abusive OCD therapy): I have OCD & other mental illnesses & have been treated w CBT. Wrt triggering on purpose, nonabusive ERP requires freely given consent to exposure to a trigger & the choice of whether or not to respond to the trigger. Good therapists respect nonconsent, don’t prevent you from or punish you for compulsions, & don’t demand explanations. The irrationality thing is hard. I would try to remember that you have the right to have boundaries even if they’re influenced by mental illness.

Thoughts on good therapy

perfectcoma:

realsocialskills:

[…]

Followers with OCD: Are there things that you would advise someone who wants to find a good therapist to look for? Are there red flags you would advise them to watch out for? How do you tell the difference between abuse and legitimate uses of invalidation?

perfectcoma said:

Hi! I’ve had OCD for 11 years. I also have Asperger’s Syndrome, however, so my communication style and preferences may be somewhat different from a neurotypical person with OCD.

Particularly terrible therapy experiences I’ve had:

  • The guy who wouldn’t work with me at all until I admitted that I wanted to get better. Of course I didn’t want to get better, I was in the grip of immense self-hatred and believed at the time I deserved everything I was going through and more. If he’d started working with me I’m sure I would have reached a point where I was able to say that and mean it, but I’m stubborn so I refused to lie just to move on with therapy.
  • The woman who took an angry and confrontational tone and made me feel like I was wasting her time by not being an easier patient to treat.

This isn’t a personal experience, but something I’d also be wary of is:

  • Anyone whose awareness of OCD is limited to the stereotypical physical compulsions of tidying, arranging, counting and cleaning. Not that these aren’t part of OCD and terrible things to deal with, but OCD can manifest in an incredibly broad variety of ways and this may be a sign that your therapist will be unwilling to accept your particular struggles as ‘proper’ OCD.

When organizations do and don't take abuse seriously

At this point, most schools and organizations know that they are supposed to take abuse seriously. Most of them have abuse policies. Most of them have orientations that talk about the abuse policies. Often, they do all of these things without actually thinking the abuse is a real possibility within their organization, and without being sincerely prepared to deal with it.

An organization that actually takes abuse seriously will not spend the entire training talking about how seriously they take abuse. They will not emphasize “these rules protect you from false allegations”. They will not emphasize internal punishments and discipline committees. 

They will spend most of the training time talking about abuse itself, how to prevent it, and how to report it.

They talk about practical things like:

  • What you’re not allowed to do to other people
  • What other people aren’t allowed to do to you
  • How to tell when you’re crossing a line
  • How to tell when someone else is crossing a line
  • When and how to report things
  • That you should call the police if you have reason to suspect that a crime has been committed, and that you should report to your supervisor *after* you call the police.

They will also be able to give examples (in a way that protects the privacy of the people involved.) Eg: “A few years ago, a camper told me that a counselor touched him in the shower. I called the police and then told my supervisor.”) If an organization has existed for a long time and says that they have never had a serious abuse incident, that’s a sign that something is wrong with their procedure for detecting and reporting abuse. Abuse is not rare, and no abuse prevention program is 100% effective.

Organizations that take abuse seriously do not expect to handle everything internally. They will tell you that if it seems that a crime has been committed, that you should call the police *before* you report it internally. Non-criminal forms of misconduct can be handled internally; crimes should not be. When crimes are investigated only internally, organizations cover things up.

An organization that takes abuse seriously will care more about protecting people than protecting its image or identity as a safe place where abuse doesn’t happen.

adepressionresource:

Abusers in shining armor

apologetikerfeind:

An important lesson I have learnt in 2013 is that abusers are often your knights in shiny amor.

I’m not joking. The person who jumps to your rescue without asking for anything in return (at first glance), making it out to be only their golden heart that makes them do it,…

adepressionresource said:

I have had two friends like this. I think all of this is very good advice, but it also may be helpful that, in my experience, they tend to offer ridiculous amounts of help very early on in the relationship, before you have had a chance to become very good friends or get to know someone very well.

For example, I have had two emotionally abusive roommates who did this. One would do my laundry and stuff for me because I have sensitive skin that is irritated by even hypoallergenic detergent, which became us only doing our laundry together, which became us doing everything together and her getting upset if I did anything without her. Another offered me and others to help ourselves to her weed whenever she wanted, but when her lack of boundaries showed, she would cry, “But I gave you free weed!” which of course we couldn’t deny, so we gave up arguing, thereby enabling her to continue behavior that made us upset and uncomfortable.

This is different than with my best friend/roommate of two years, who comes over and cooks for me any time I ask her to. This is because 1, she knows that I struggle to feed myself sometimes after having lived with me and 2, she loves to cook for other people. We are far enough along in our relationship that I know she wouldn’t try to use this to guilt me, and also I know that she would feel comfortable saying no if she was busy, didn’t feel like it, or felt that I was asking too much of her.

Moral: I am not saying that you should be distrustful of people, but it may be good to be wary of those who give way more than the situation warrants very early on in a relationship.

scumprince:

Keeping your touchy-feely off others.

realsocialskills:

“I’m a touchy-feely person.”

Some people say this a lot. Some of them are really, really scary and dangerous people.

Sometimes what people mean by this is “I’m the kind of person who is allowed to touch and feel people, and I don’t have to consider whether it is…

scumprince said:

yeah the first time I ever encountered sexual assault was from a male friend I’d known for years who was famously written off as (and self-described as) “just a touchy-feely guy.” He was a hair-stroker and I remember other female friends sitting on his lap sometimes. “Touchy-feely” people now generally make me feel panicky and unsafe and I think there’s good reason. (Also, this was 4? years ago and he still sometimes sends me anonymous messages on here. These people have real boundary issues, and again, I do not trust them.)

realsocialskills said:

People who violate boundaries openly in public tend to violate boundaries in much more dangerous ways in private.

And people who make their lack of regard for other people’s boundaries part of their identity are dangerous.

Abusers in shining armor

apologetikerfeind:

An important lesson I have learnt in 2013 is that abusers are often your knights in shiny amor.

I’m not joking. The person who  jumps to your rescue without asking for anything in return (at first glance), making it out to be only their golden heart that makes them do it, often over-dramatize the “rescue” and hold you accountable to it even years later like they are now entitled to you for having done something good to you once.

They know, when you’re in a pinch, you won’t say no. They take advantage of your situation in the worst way possible.

Often that’s because these people need validation and they boost their ego and little self-esteem with your gratitude.

Almost no one would say to someone helping them with a difficult situation: “sucks to be you, now get out of my life”. And it’s going to turn into a ritual of “I HELPED YOU, BE THANKFUL” (abuser) and “OF COURSE I’M THANKFUL I’M NOT AN ASSHOLE!” (abused)

Very seldomly do people understand that gratitude is nothing physical, nothing you can grab and hold onto. People feel that way for you or they don’t. You shouldn’t coerce them into being thankful.

What I’ve also learnt is that most of your problems are solveable without someone jumping to your rescue and that friends don’t put your well-being before their own because they don’t define themself through what they do for you.

Sometimes it may even seem hard to see people as friends who don’t jump to your rescue when you’ve been through several of those friendships and relationships with abusers or grew up knowing nothing else, but friends don’t not jump to your rescue because they don’t like you. They don’t because they know you’re a human being with their own resources, autonomy and that you are strong. Friends will listen to you, and help you find a way in which you will deal with your problems, not solve them for you. 

realsocialskills said:

I’d add the caveat that sometimes people do need large amounts of help, and that sometimes friends can and should help one another in major ways, even over the long term. And when a friend helps another friend in a major way, it can look superficially similar to what a heroic abuser does. But it’s not the same. 

One major difference is how people react to no. A helpful friend recognizes that you are a separate person, and that you might disagree with them about how to live your life.

An abuser in shining armor will be emotionally committed to a particular plan for saving you, and they will get angry/upset/punitive when things you do don’t match their rescue plan.

For instance: If you are homeless and unemployed, an abuser in shining armor might offer you a place to stay and then insist that you wear their style of makeup daily and grow your hair long in order to be more attractive to potential employers. Or try to enroll you in classes that have nothing to do with your work, and get angry when you don’t think that will help.

And they will often also get especially angry or explosive if you try to move out or stop depending on them as much.

It’s important to learn how to detect and avoid people like that. 

Wishful thinking

If you think someone is a jerk.

And then you’re attracted to them sexually.

Or they offer you a job you really want.

Or they introduce you to a really cool group of people you look forward to spending time with.

Or you otherwise want something from them.

And then you stop feeling like they’re a jerk.

They’re probably still a jerk. You were probably right the first time.

If you think you’re right now, think through why that is. Why did you think they were a jerk before? Do you have new information? Has anything changed?

Don’t just assume your now-good feeling about them is right.

Wishful thinking is a powerful thing, and it can lead you astray.

I told my therapist about how I was affected by things a parent did that hurt me. He said that they were “normal” parent things. He compared me being called a “failure” (among other things) to his boss making him do tasks he didn’t feel like doing, saying that “just because you’re hurt or uncomfortable doesn’t mean you’re being abused”. He also said that if someone is hurting me, it’s up to me to decide what my emotional reaction is to it & that there’s nothing I can do about it. Is this true?
realsocialskills said:
No, it’s not true.
Parents shouldn’t call their kids failures. Calling a kid a failure is not at all similar to making an employee do their job even when they don’t feel like it.
Everyone has to do things they don’t feel like doing sometimes. Everyone feels uncomfortable sometimes. Everyone hurts others in relationships, including parents. All of that is true, but there is a line. And calling a child a failure is over it.
Also, don’t get too caught up in whether something is serious enough to count as abuse. If someone did something to you that they ought not to have done, it’s ok to object. It’s ok to say that it’s still hurting you. It’s ok to want help dealing with the ways its affecting you. If someone is hanging everything on what’s technically abuse, that’s a major red flag. (Especially if you said it was hurting you and they responded as though you were accusing someone of abuse even if you never said that.)
I don’t know what your life circumstances are, but it sounds to me like maybe you’re a teenager and this is a therapist that your parents are sending you to in hopes that it will make you more compliant. If so, this post might be helpful. 

When your right to say no is entirely hypothetical

aura218:

realsocialskills:

Some scary controlling people will tell you over and over how important consent is to them. They will tell you that they want to respect your boundaries, and that if anything makes you uncomfortable, they will stop. They will say this over and over, apparently sincerely.

Until you actually say no.

And then, suddenly, they create a reason that it wasn’t ok, after all, and that you’re going to do what they wanted anyway.

They will tell you that it *would* be ok to say no, and that of course they’d respect it, but you said it wrong. And that you have to understand that it hurts them when you say it that way. (And that you should make it better by doing what they wanted).

Or they will tell you that of course they don’t want to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but you said yes before. And that this means that either it’s really ok with you, or that you don’t trust them anymore. And that you have to understand that it hurts when you withdraw trust like that (and that you should make it better by doing what they wanted.)

Or that they have a headache. Or that they just can’t deal with it right now. That maybe when they feel better or aren’t tired or grumpy or had a better day it will be ok to say no. (And that meanwhile, you should fix things by doing what they wanted).

Or that by saying no, you’re accusing them of being an awful person. And that they’d never do anything to hurt you, so why are you making accusations like that? (And, implicitly, that you should fix it by doing what they wanted.)

If this kind of thing happens every time you say no, things are really wrong. 

No isn’t a theoretical construct. In mutually respectful relationships, people say no to each other often, and it’s not a big deal

aura218 said:

Totally agree with the above. Also want to add, sometimes people are more subtle, esp in work situations, or if the intimidation has gone on for a long time, like in a family. Sometimes, the message is, “You’re a really great person and we trust you totally, but only if you never fall out of line.” If you say no to someone who thinks you shouldn’t disagree with them, then you’ve disappointed them terribly and you’re a bad person and you’ll lose status.

Sometimes you’re stuck in a situation like this, and you can only defy them internally. The best thing is to get out as quickly as you can. Don’t stay in a job or a relationship where your ideas are constantly denegrated as less intelligent or less important, or you aren’t allowed to say no because someone else’s yes is the only important or rational accepted choice. 

When your right to say no is entirely hypothetical

Some scary controlling people will tell you over and over how important consent is to them. They will tell you that they want to respect your boundaries, and that if anything makes you uncomfortable, they will stop. They will say this over and over, apparently sincerely.

Until you actually say no.

And then, suddenly, they create a reason that it wasn’t ok, after all, and that you’re going to do what they wanted anyway.

They will tell you that it *would* be ok to say no, and that of course they’d respect it, but you said it wrong. And that you have to understand that it hurts them when you say it that way. (And that you should make it better by doing what they wanted).

Or they will tell you that of course they don’t want to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but you said yes before. And that this means that either it’s really ok with you, or that you don’t trust them anymore. And that you have to understand that it hurts when you withdraw trust like that (and that you should make it better by doing what they wanted.)

Or that they have a headache. Or that they just can’t deal with it right now. That maybe when they feel better or aren’t tired or grumpy or had a better day it will be ok to say no. (And that meanwhile, you should fix things by doing what they wanted).

Or that by saying no, you’re accusing them of being an awful person. And that they’d never do anything to hurt you, so why are you making accusations like that? (And, implicitly, that you should fix it by doing what they wanted.)

If this kind of thing happens every time you say no, things are really wrong. 

No isn’t a theoretical construct. In mutually respectful relationships, people say no to each other often, and it’s not a big deal.

In general, I find most organizations that are worth doing business with can simply be asked “What are the most common complaints about [your organization]”. Obviously, they will still present any weaknesses with a positive spin, but they should have an answer, and any evasiveness or a complete lack of response should strike one as very suspicious
realsocialskills said:
That sounds promising, but I’ve never tried that.
Are there answers you’ve received that you regard as green flags?

Clarification regarding praise as a red flag

Obviously people don’t badmouth their organization to outsiders their organization is trying to recruit; doing so is unprofessional.

I’m talking about a different thing.

The thing where staff spend an extraordinary amount of time praising the organization and press people it serves to do so as well.

And in which it’s really hard to find any criticism *anywhere*, and where people are really forcefully saying how great it is, in a way that goes way beyond professionalism and recruitment spin.

Does anyone know a better way to describe the thing I’m talking about?

Two kinds of praise that set off red flags are - lots of praise for normal things like “we have a cafeteria with varied, healthy food!!! And the menu changes!!!” or something similar. And also a lot of buzzwords and words that sound happy like “empowerment” etc. But they don’t ever tell anything they *do* to empower people. It’s just show without substance.
realsocialskills said:
Yes, those are good examples.
I think there’s also a thing where testimonials can be a red flag. Sometimes testimonials are just examples that illustrate that an organization can work for people, and that make it clearer what it does. Sometimes testimonials are brought as evidence that the organization is purely wonderful and that it is absolutely great for everyone involved no matter what.
All real places suck for some people, and organizations that are committed to not noticing this do some scary stuff. It doesn’t mean that good organizations talk about who they suck for on their promotional materials - most don’t and shouldn’t.
Good organizations don’t try to prove that they’re perfect for everyone, though. They try to show that they have something valuable to offer. That’s a huge difference.