victim blaming

Happiness is not consent to injustice

Sometimes manipulative people will use someone’s happiness to justify mistreating them. It works something like this:

  • Sometimes people force or pressure someone into a bad situation.
  • Then they tell them that it’s really a good situation.
  • And that they’ll like it if they give it a chance.
  • They’’re treated badly, in ways that no one should have to put up with.
  • Then they, through effort and creativity, manage to enjoy some things even though the situation is bad and they’re being mistreated.
  • Maybe they even find a way to be reasonably happy a lot of the time.
  • Then the manipulative person says: See? You gave it a chance, and now you’re happy!

If someone with power over you plays this kind of mind game, it can be very disorienting. They may be able to simultaneously make you feel ashamed of objecting to their injustice, and also ashamed of any happiness you might find. But actually, it’s ok to enjoy things, it’s ok to object to mistreatment, and it’s ok to do both of those things at the same time. 

It can help to keep in mind that the world doesn’t actually revolve around the people who have unjust power over you. You do not belong to them. Your ability to enjoy things isn’t a gift they’re giving you; it’s something you’re creating even though they’re putting you into a very bad situation. Your life is yours, and so are the things you have found ways to care about. 

If people treat you unjustly, dehumanize you, or otherwise mistreat you, that is wrong even if you manage to build some good things into your life. They’re in the wrong even if you are ok, and even if you are happy. If you make the best of a bad situation, that is an accomplishment that belongs to you. It doesn’t make the situation ok, and it doesn’t give others the right to treat you badly. You don’t have to earn the right to object to mistreatment by being constantly miserable. You have every right to object to injustice and wrongs being done to you even if you are happy.

Finding things you can value and enjoy is not consent; it’s resistance. That’s why manipulative people try to co-opt it.

Tl;dr Sometimes people forced into bad situations find things to enjoy, and maybe even find ways to be happy. That doesn’t make the situations good. Some people may try to convince you that injustices done to you aren’t really unjust if you are happy. Those people are wrong. It’s ok to enjoy things, it’s ok to object to injustice, and it’s ok to do both at the same time.

"They'll only spend it on booze"

Sometimes, people object to giving homeless people money, on the grounds that “they’ll only spend it on booze.“

That ignores something important: people who are dependent on alcohol still need and deserve help. Alcoholism is not a superpower that allows people to survive outdoors in subzero temperatures without food and warm clothing.

The idea that people have to be sober to be worthy of help kills a lot of people in other ways. Most transitional housing services require someone to be either sober or in treatment. The practical effect of this is that people who aren’t able or aren’t ready to get sober are often denied assistance with housing. It’s true the chronic alcoholism kills people, but exposure and starvation kills them a lot faster. 

Further, homeless people who are hardcore addicted to alcohol *need* to spend a lot of their money on booze. If someone is addicted to alcohol, then alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening. Suddenly cutting off their alcohol supply isn’t going to save them, and it may well kill them.

Also, people who are homeless and addicted to alcohol are often veterans who returned home from war traumatized and with no material or mental health support. They’re also often people who were abused as children, grew up in foster care, and aged out with no support. Or any number of other things. American culture creates circumstances that drive people to drink, then uses their drunkenness as a reason to deny them help.

Denying people access to housing and other forms of support necessary for survival not a good way to help them get their lives together. 

tl;dr Homeless people who are addicted to alcohol still need and deserve help. “They’ll just spend it on booze” is not a good reason to deny someone money.

red flag for being taken advantage of



Anonymous said to :

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

realsocialskills said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

gemdol said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

realsocialskills said:

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

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

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

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

Everyone gets blamed for their condition

People with depression and other mental illnesses get told that they can get over it with diet, exercize, and positive thinking. They also get blamed for having it, and told that it’s their own fault. This is wrong.

It’s also a common experience of everyone with every condition there is. This is not unique to mental illness. 

Everyone with a disability, illness, or other condition gets blamed for it. People with every condition get told that it’s their fault, that they caused it by eating wrong, sleeping wrong, thinking wrong, or not being sufficiently careful.

People with every condition get told that medical treatment is toxic and wrong, and that if they just stop believing big pharma, they’ll recover. Even people with cancer. 

People with every condition get told that they’re causing their own problems by being too negative, and that they’d get better if they’d just think positively. Even people with spinal cord injuries.

People with every condition get told that they will be healed if they just have faith and pray hard enough. Even people whose condition is obviously genetic.

People with every condition get told that they’re imagining things. Even people with unmistakable visible physical conditions. 

People with every condition face this kind of prejudice. It’s not unique to any group. We should stand together and acknowledge that we all face it, and that it’s wrong to do to anyone.

tl;dr People with every condition get blamed for it and told that things like positive thinking and rejecting big pharma will make everything better. It isn’t unique to mental illness. It’s wrong to do to anyone.

Don't treat a jerk problem as a conflict skills problem

Conflict resolution training only helps when the problem is that people’s communication skills are weak in ways that cause them to escalate conflicts unnecessarily. In that situation, learning better communication (and especially listening) skills can make a big difference. But, not every problem is like that.

When someone is intentionally cruel, it’s not a problem with their social skills. It’s a problem with their values.

Teaching a cruel person communication skills will not cause them to become kinder or teach them to respect others.

Similarly, teaching victims of intentionally cruel people conflict resolution skills will not solve the conflict. It just teaches both parties to blame the victim. Cruelty happens because of choices cruel people make, not because their victims lack conflict resolution skills.

Putting abusers and victims together in a conflict resolution training *especially* will not help. All that does is send the message that no one is really in the wrong, and that there is just a communication problem that needs to be worked out. 

Sometimes, conflicts are not mutual. Sometimes, one side is in the wrong in all of the ways that are important. Sometimes, people are choosing to be mean. Treating a cruelty problem as a social skills problem makes everything worse.

"Don't let people get to you"

I don’t know about you, but I’ve experienced this a lot:

  • I’ll talk about someone being mean or bigoted towards me.
  • And someone will say something like “Don’t let them get to you”, or
  • “Don’t ever let people get under your skin like that, they’re not worth it”

And in my experience, that always makes me feel worse. This is what I eventually figured out about it:

Things hurt.

It’s not your fault that it hurts when people are awful to you.

It’s not your fault you care what people think of you sometimes. (Everyone does.)

Having connections to others matters. And when people we’re connected to are mean, it hurts.

Self esteem talk can end up being yet another stick to beat you with, and that’s not right either. 

Being hurt by mean people doesn’t mean you’re failing. It’s not possible to be completely invulnerable at all times. When someone’s shooting arrows at you, it’s not your fault for failing to make armor fast enough to stop them.

You’re ok. They’re mean.

more on bullying






this ask is about bullying and being an adult who kids ask for help:
i know from experience that it’s important not to teach bullied kids that the way to defend themselves is to mentally place themselves as superior to the bullies, because that can crush the kid’s self-esteem later, & can so easily turn them into someone who bullies a different kid to feel better.
but what should you say to support kids instead?
yrs, a past bullying victim, now older & trying to support kids thru the same thing
realsocialskills said:
I think, before considerations about teaching kids who come to you for help self defense, it’s important to consider what you might be able to do to protect them. You are likely in a position to offer them material protection as well as self-defense advice. This is a situation in which actions speak louder than words.
For instance:
Can you offer bullied kids a refuge?
  • If you’re a teacher in a school, can you start a lunch club or recess club where kids can eat and hang out in your classroom instead of going to the playground?
  • If neighborhood kids are coming to you for help, can you make your house or yard a safe space for them to hang out in away from bullies? 

If you’re an adult with some kind of power over kids (eg: a teacher, a youth group leader, etc), you might be able to make some things better by supervising things more:

  • Can you pay close attention to what’s going on, and intervene when the wrong kid gets suspended?
  • (You know from being bullied that the kid who gets caught often isn’t the kid who started it.
  • If you pay enough attention, you might be in a position to protect the kid who is being unjustly punished.)
  • Can you pay attention to when harassment and bullying rules are being broken, and enforce them? Rules can actually make a difference when they are enforced consistently.
  • (For instance: if there’s a rule against touching people’s stuff without permission, can you pay attention to when kids take other people’s stuff and insist that they stop?)
If the bullies are taking or destroying the kid’s possessions in a place that’s hard to supervise, can you offer them a safe place to keep it?
  • Being able to store things in a place bullies can’t get to can make a huge difference
  • For instance, a kid whose science project keeps getting destroyed by bullies can complete it if teachers give her a secure space to store it and work on it
  • A kid whose dolls keep getting destroyed by his brothers will probably be much more ok if an adult gives him a safe place to keep his dolls.
If the bullies are preventing the kids from eating:
  • Can you provide a safe place for them to eat? 
  • If bullies keep taking food away from the kids who are coming to you for help, can you give them food?
  • If kids need to break rules in order to eat safely, can you allow them to break the rules?
Has the kid been physically injured or threatened in a way the police might take seriously?
  • Sometimes the police might take things seriously even if the school does not
  • Calling the police is not always a good idea, but sometimes it is
  • If calling the police might be warranted, can you offer to sit with the kid while they call the police?
  • Or to call for them?
  • Or to go to the police station and make a report together?
  • Going to the police is a lot less scary if someone is helping you; and children are more likely to be believed if adults are backing them up
  • If they have to go to court, can you offer to go along for moral support? (It makes a difference. Testifying is often terrifying and horrible and it’s not something anyone should ever have to do without support)
What else can you do?
  • I don’t know you, so I don’t know what the kids coming to you need, or what you’re in a position to offer.
  • But there are almost certainly things you can do that I haven’t thought of
  • if you think it through, you can probably think of and do some things that materially help bullied kids.
  • Actions speak louder than words. If you help protect them, you send the message that they are worth protecting.
You can also be an adult who believes them:
  • Being believed about bullying is incredibly powerful
  • So is listening
  • Kids who are bullied often have everyone in their life try to downplay how awful it is
  • If you believe them about their experiences and listen, you send the message that it matters that others are treating them badly
  • And that it’s not their fault.
  • And that they’re ok and the bullies are mean.
There is an emotional self-defense technique that works better than the destructive one we were taught as children. It was developed by Dave Hingsburger, and he describes it in The Are Word (a book anyone working with people who are bullied for any reason need to read.)
I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about how it works, and I will probably do so again in the future. 
Have any of y’all helped out bullied kids? What have you done?

fahrendengesellen said:

I am a music teacher who works with 8- to 11-year-old children.

This isn’t a total anti-bullying strategy, but I have found that it’s important, when you are talking to children about a particular instance of bullying, to talk to to the bully and the child who is being bullied separately from each other. Many of the adults at my school make a practice of talking to both children involved together and treating bullying like a disagreement that needs to be mediated. I think this harms the bullying victim in a couple different ways:

  • The bullying victim is unlikely to be as open with you when the bully is there because they are afraid of them. There might be facts about what is happening that will never come out unless you give the child who is being bullied a safe and private place to share them.
  • It sends the message (whether or not you intend this) that bullying is like a two-sided argument, rather than a directed form of deliberate harm. This emboldens the bully to think that what they are doing might have some legitimacy, and takes power out of the victim’s complaint.

realsocialskills said:

Oh wow, yes. This is *really* important. Mediation is not a solution to bullying.  

porcelain-horse-horselain said:

Ages 6-9, I was bullied relentlessly. The school was always like “just tell an adult! they’ll make it better! there are rules against all that!” but they would never enforce the rules, and mediation was always their version of a solution.

Mediation basically worked like this: I would go to a teacher for a “solution” as I was told to do, the adult’s solution for my safety was always to then (no matter how much I begged them not to) bring the group of bullies into the room with me, out-number me with them, and tell them all word-for-word what I told the adult. Then the mean kids would put on their super convincing “nooo it was just a big misunderstanding!!!” charade, and the adult would fall for it, and then (best case scenario) they’d be like “see? it was a misunderstanding!! now run and go play.” or (worst case) they would assume that, since my story differed and was “more negative” than the bullies’ versions of events, that I was a liar, and tell me off for “lying.”

Then my parents pulled me out of that tiny shitty school and put me into an equally tiny school with an even smaller budget, fewer adults, and roughly the same written rules on bullying… but the difference was that the adults actually knew what they were doing. 

They would SUPERVISE the kids and ENFORCE the rules against bullying when it happened, rather than just waiting in an office until a bunch of kids came to them crying followed by making a half-assed attempt to make the situation go away. 

That second school was the best middle school I have ever heard of. They took such an amazingly pro-active stance against the epidemic bullying rather than treating it like some marginal, pesky issue that they don’t feel like being distracted by.

thequeergoblinking said:

Never ever ask a kid to explain what happens to them when the bullies are around. Because all you’ll do is make the bullies want revenge. They did this with me in early high school, in front of the entire class. It’s scary, and could even lead to some kids pretending they aren’t bullied just to not make things worse for themselves.

Make sure that if you’re a teacher or a parent or any authority figure, that kids KNOW they can talk to you about it. That you’ll listen and try to help them as best as you can - and then also come back to them with whatever you did or try to do. My parents didn’t tell me they tried to talk to my bullies’ parents, and I always wondered why they didn’t do anything until I heard it yeeaars later. Even if nothing changes, the victim needs to know you’re on their side. And they need to know you have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, because otherwise they might just not tell you.

"As a last resort"

Content warning: This is a graphic post about brutality towards people with disabilities. ABA and justifications for abuse are discussed. Proceed with caution.

People do a lot of brutal things to people with disabilities, including children.

Some examples: pinning them to the floor, punishing them with electric shocks, medicating them into immobility, putting them in 10-40 hours a week of repetitive behavioral therapy, taking away everything they care about and making them earn it by complying with therapy, taking away their food, and confining them in small places.

These things are now somewhat politically unpopular. We identify, as a culture, as having got past that point. We think of this kind of brutality as something that happened in the past, even though it is still common.

What this means in practice is that whenever people do brutal things to someone with a disability, it will be called the last resort. People doing the brutal things will claim that they minimize them, that there are protections in place, and that they only do them when necessary.

For example, this is an excerpt from the (as of this post) current ethical standards for BCBAs (certified ABA experts):

“4.05 Reinforcement/Punishment.

The behavior analyst recommends reinforcement rather than punishment whenever possible. If punishment procedures are necessary, the behavior analyst always includes reinforcement procedures for alternative behavior in the program.

4.06 Avoiding Harmful Reinforcers. RBT

The behavior analyst minimizes the use of items as potential reinforcers that maybe harmful to the long-term health of the client or participant (e.g., cigarettes, sugar or fat-laden food), or that may require undesirably marked deprivation procedures as motivating operations.”

In other words, the current standards of ethics for ABA practices explicitly allow punishment, harmful reinforcers, and “undesirably marked deprivation procedures”. But, they claim to “minimize” it, and only do it when they consider it necessary in some way.

This is an empty claim. Everyone who has ever used harmful reinforcers and brutal punishments has claimed that they are only used when they are necessary. Even the people who deprived children of food and made them live and study on electrified floors (graphic link, proceed with caution.) Even the electric shocks and food deprivation used by the Judge Rotenburg Center do not violate the BCBA ethical guidelines, because they claim that they are necessary and only used in extreme cases (even though they shock people for things like standing up from chairs without permission.) 

Whenever any of this is done to someone, it will be justified as “a last resort”. Even if it’s an explicit part of their plan. Even if it’s done regularly with no attempt to transition to another approach. Even if nothing else has ever been tried. Someone who is treated brutally will be assumed to have deserved it.

People call things last resorts to justify doing them. They choose to do brutal things to a vulnerable person, but they think of it as inevitable because it is “the last resort”. Calling something “the last resort” means “it’s that person’s fault I’m doing this; I could not possibly do otherwise.”


Treating someone in your care brutally and then blaming them for your choices is inexcusable. 


To those treated brutally and told it was a last resort: I’m sorry that happened to you. I’m even more sorry if it’s still happening. It’s not your fault. It’s not because of anything you did, and it’s not because there’s anything wrong with your mind. You were abused because others chose to abuse you.

When you don't hide

Some people are bullies. 

Many bullies target people who have apparent stigmatized characteristics.

If you choose to stop hiding a stigmatized part of who you are, some people will be actively mean to you who weren’t mean before.

For example:

  • If you are gay, coming out will make some homophobic bullies more interested in hurting you
  • If you are autistic, stimming in public will make some ableist bullies more interested in hurting you
  • If you wear clothing associated with a stigmatized religion, some bigoted bullies will be more interested in hurting you

This is not your fault, but some people will blame you. Some people will tell you that you brought it on yourself by being visible. You didn’t. Bullying happens because mean people choose to hurt others. 

You were already getting hurt by bullies, because hiding hurts too. The way bullies hurt you when you are more visible is a different kind of hurt. Both are equally real.

Some people in some situation find hiding more bearable. Some people in some situations find being visible more bearable. Both are valid. It’s a personal choice. And the consequences are never your fault.

It’s not the abuse that made you awesome

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

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

You did that.

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

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


Putting the “No” in “Autonomy”


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…

wisdomengine said:

Lots of good thoughts in realsocialskills’ post, but it seems to me it misses the most crucial thing.

I learned this gem from Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear which I recommend highly; it’s about dealing with extremely dangerous people, but some of the lessons apply more generally, and this one does.

The single most important sign that someone is likely to be a danger to you is that they ignore your “no”. You tell them “no” about something, even something trivial, and they discount it. Maybe they:

  • Ignore your “no” and do anyway what you told them not to do.
  • Try to argue you into whatever you refused.
  • Throw a temper tantrum or out-right threaten or assault (intimidation).
  • Threaten to hurt themselves or imply they’ll be devastated by your refusal (emotional blackmail).
  • Etc.

So the thing is to evaluate what happens when you tell someone “no”. Not just what they say (though pay attention to that, too) but whether your no “sticks”.

Let me give you a little example of what I mean by that. I was starting a new job, and the person I was supposed to be shadowing for my first day was negotiating with me when it would be. I explained that I had a previous commitment all day on Tuesday, but I could come in on Monday and then return on Wednesday. He was initially resistant to the idea, but then suddenly changed his mind, saying, “Oh, actually that would work well, because it won’t be busy so I can focus on showing you the paperwork.” So we agree I’ll come in on Monday. I’m there bright and early on Monday morning… and he never shows up. I leave various messages on his cell’s vmail. Then, after I’ve left after lunch, there being nothing for me to do, I get a call on my way home, him being so very apologetic, and asking if I could come in to make it up on Tuesday. The day I had told him I wasn’t available, but which now it was somehow my responsibility to make available to him because of his screw-up turning this into an emergency. I remember thinking at the time, “NICE try, sunshine. Still not coming in on Tuesday.”

The thing is to evaluate whether, after you’ve told someone “no”, it winds up happening anyway – one way or another. If it does, that’s not someone to trust.

de Becker describes in his book how batterers looking for partners use an escalating pattern of discounting nos when trawling for potential partners, to filter for those who will tolerate their boundaries being overridden. It’s chilling – and illuminating. He describes a scenario in which a man approaches a woman at a bar, offers to buy her a drink and she says “no, thank you”, but he buys one for her anyway. Maybe then he buys her dinner over her objections, or insists she’s cold and put on his jacket. Then he’s insisting on driving her home. If she doesn’t insist on her “no” being respected, it just keeps escalating:

He will next try one a notch more significant, then another, then another, and finally he’s found someone he can control. The exchange about the drink is the same as the exchange they will later have about dating, and later about breaking up.

What a boundary is is a place (metaphorically speaking) where you say, “this far and no further”. It’s a “no”. Saying “I don’t want to go with you”? That’s a boundary. Someone who doesn’t hear and honor your “no”? They aren’t aren’t someone you should trust, and you should let them into your life only so far as you have reason to believe you can control them and enforce your “no” with them, because that’s what not respecting your boundaries looks like.

The corollary to this is that it’s pretty simple to check to see how someone handles your “nos”. If you told someone you prefer not to go out for Chinese, but somehow here you are at the Chinese restaurant with them, anyway, without any sort of agreement on your part to go along with them… something is wrong. If your expressed preferences, wishes, limits – even small ones that you might be inclined to shrug off as “well, it wasn’t that important to me, I don’t want to make a fuss” – are routinely ignored, challenged, or overridden one way or another, your “no” is being discounted and your boundaries trespassed.

(BTW, you don’t necessarily have to make a fuss if you don’t want to to protect your boundaries, you know. You can simply quietly and to yourself factor this observation about another’s behavior into your own decision whether to continue engaging with them. Were situation permits, it’s entirely legit to decide, “You know, I don’t like how this person treats my ‘nos’, so I’ll just elect to spend further discretionary time with people who respect my 'nos’.

After I read The Gift of Fear and started noticing how certain other people ignored my "nos”, my friends circle changed significantly; it was surprising to me how the profile of the people I hung with changed. For one thing, a lot of quieter, more easily overlooked, people started being more prominent in my life. They weren’t flashy, they didn’t necessarily express care in showy ways, but once I started paying attention to who respected my “nos”, these are people who shone.)

Obviously, this is a really challenging issue for anyone who was raised to believe that they don’t get to have opinions, don’t get to refuse care-givers, or don’t get to have a say in their lives. In fact, I would say it’s absolutely core to why those things are so terrible to experience: they are all examples of having one’s “no” discounted, not merely on occasion, but systematically. They are terrible because they train people treated that way to believe they don’t get to have “nos”. And people have a right to have “nos”.

That’s what autonomy is: getting to have “nos”.

Another way to put all this is that someone who doesn’t respect your “nos” is someone who doesn’t respect your autonomy.

realsocialskills said:

Agreed that people ignoring or disregarding your no is the mother of all red flags.

The only thing I’d add is that I think _The Gift of Fear_ is a seriously flawed book, and it has a pattern of – something I’m not sure how to describe, but it’s a kind of pattern that can be dangerous to some people. Some people describe this as victim-blaming, which it is, but it’s a particular *kind* of victim-blaming – like that you have to accept the ~harsh realities of life~ according to his views, or else you’re just asking to be victimized over and over.

And he also strongly hints that you can reliably protect yourself by following his advice – and while a lot of it is genuinely good advice, that’s not true. You can do absolutely everything right and still have someone hurt you. And, even if you didn’t do everything right (and in practice nobody does), it’s still not your fault that someone hurt you. It’s important to do what you can to protect yourself,, but it’s also important to remember that it’s criminals and not victims who are ultimately responsible for crimes.

So, it’s a useful book with a lot of helpful advice - but be careful reading it. Think through things for yourself; use your own judgement. Don’t feel like you have to agree with him just because he’s yelling at you.

Not everyone can leave

Not evyone can leave abusive or otherwise toxic situations.

For instance:

  • Someone who depends on care to survive might have to endure abuse from caregivers or staff
  • Minors usually can’t leave (unless they’re being sexually abused and someone powerful believes them)
  • Even when minors can leave, they’re often worse off in their new situations than their old ones (eg: an autistic kid being abused at home may well be worse off in an autism-specific group home, especially if it’s a placement that they’re expected to stay in even after reaching the age of majority)
  • Or people who can’t figure out a way to get their children out safely. For instance, if someone’s abusive spouse is far more socially powerful than they are, and would probably get custody of the kids, they might not be able to leave
  • Or any number of other reasons
  • This stuff gets complicated

And… not being able to leave doesn’t mean that you’re weak. Or that the abuse you’re suffering isn’t real. Or that it’s mild. Or that it’s your fault. Or that you’re somehow volunteering for it, or that you somehow want it. Or that you’re just making excuses.

It just means that you’re in an awful situation. And that maybe protecting yourself has to come in forms other than leaving. Leaving is the best way, if you can, but it’s not the only thing. 

When you have mixed feelings about an abusive relationship

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

So, here’s the thing.

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

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

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

Or something fundamental about how you understand the world.

Or a major skill you now use professionally.

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

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

Or any number of other things.


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

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

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

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

TW: ABUSE // Sometimes distance is better than forgiveness





Sometimes, someone hurts you in a way that’s permanently and forver dealbreaking.

Some people will tell you that you have to forgive the person who hurt you in order to move on. Sometimes, they will put lots of pressure on you and tell you that if you’re still suffering, it’s your own fault for bearing a grudge.

But… you don’t have to forgive someone to get distance. You can do that by creating a boundary. Sometimes that means you limit contact with them to areas in which they’re safe for you. Sometimes that means you break off contact entirely. In any case, it’s something you can do unilaterally. 

You can break away and build a life that has nothing to do with them. They don’t have to loom large in your life forever. 

And you don’t have to get closure or resolution or anything like that in order to move on. What you have to do is move on and do other things.

It takes time and it doesn’t fix everything (neither does forgiveness, despite cultural tropes). But it allows you to build space for yourself, without that person’s hurt taking over everything. And you don’t have to forgive them or do anything at all regarding them to get that space.

Your life is about you, not the person who hurt you.

I needed these words.

edit: though while re-reading it, I dislike the part that says “What you have to do is move on and do other things” since it’s kind of impossible to just “move on” (in the same way that it can be impossible to or just beside the point to forgive)

I wonder if you’d be willing to say more about that? 

I agree that you can’t make what someone did stop mattering by an act of will. Because it matters, and if you’re hurt, you’re hurt.

What I mean by moving on is finding things to do that aren’t about that person. Even if they’re small at first. Even if it takes a long time. Even if the hurt doesn’t go away. It is possible to get distance, I think.

Am I still getting something wrong?

Well, I had a similar bad reaction to that part of the post but because I know this blog I was able to see other meanings to it, saying move on can make me feel  uncomfortable because people use that in other contexts to say that someone who was affected by abuse or trauma is choosing to think about it and dwell on it.

For me, saying to move on has been used in an invalidating and simplistic way, to say I should forget about it, stop thinking and being affected by a traumatic or abusive experience. It’s similar to the use of telling someone with social anxiety to be social or with depression to be happy, the same people who told me that use the term move on ignoring how hard and complex this is and how abuse and trauma are different than everyday life and leave different kinds of memories and effects.

This is the reasons why this made me uncomfortable, I obviously can’t speak for the other person.

That’s a fair point, thank you for explaining.

I didn’t mean to invoke that trope; that trope is horrible. People tell others that they just need to get over it already all the time, and it *really* doesn’t work that way.

I’m talking about something else, but I can see how it looks similar. 

I need to figure out a better way of referring to the thing I’m actually trying to talk about.

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.

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?