you are not alone

Not being believed

Content note: This is a post about ABA, and not being believed about the harm ABA does.

Anonymous said to :

People don’t believe me when I say I was a victim to ABA abuse, not even my parents.

I was misgendered routinely, I could not drink water even though this was harmless and was often asked to write my name even though this was effectively pointless.

How should I convince people I was really abused?

Am I just whining and should I “get over it” because that’s not “real abuse” and I’m not autistic?

realsocialskills said:

It’s not your fault that therapists hurt you. It’s not your fault that people don’t believe you. What people did to you matters, even if no one believes you.

ABA is degrading on a level that it can be very hard to recover from or even describe. The basic methodology of ABA is finding out what you care about most and using it to get compliance with arbitrary demands.

I’ve written some here and here and here about the kind of damage that does, and that’s only scratching the surface.

Increasingly, one of the things behavior therapists demand is that you pretend that they’re not controlling you. They often go so far as to demand that you act like you like what’s happening and believe that it’s both necessary and enjoyable. And they do that even as they make you do obviously pointless things (like writing your name over and over), and even as they do obviously awful things to you (like denying you water and misgendering you).

That kind of thing can mess with your mind really badly, especially when you’re surrounded by people who don’t believe you.

It’s not your fault that people don’t believe you. They can refuse to acknowledge what people did to you; you can’t make it go away. It matters even if no one around you cares.

You will probably always have to deal with people who don’t believe you. Most people are reluctant to believe that therapists ever hurt people in ways that matter, and ABA has a particularly effective publicity machine. Some people will say that you’re whining, that you’re lying, and that the things you’ve described don’t happen. They’re wrong. It matters that people hurt you in the name of helping you. It’s horrible that people who you should be able to trust don’t believe you.

Some of them may eventually come to understand. Sometimes people come around, in the long term. But you don’t have to wait for that in order to be ok, you don’t have to explain it to them if you don’t want to, and what happened to you matters whether or not people believe you.

Also… You are not alone. What happened to you shouldn’t happen to anyone. There is a community of people who know that it’s wrong to treat people that way. Making connections with people who believe you might help a lot.

It’s much easier to hold on to your perspective if you’re not doing it alone. This is hard. It’s also possible. You’re ok.

tl;dr Abuse matters even if no one believes you. That said, making connections with people who believe you can help a lot. You are not alone, even if really important people in your life don’t believe you.

Doing what you must and feeling like you're faking

content note: This post is about the broad (inaccurate) perception that people with disabilities are faking, and ways that forces some people with disabilities to partially misrepresent the exact nature of their disability. Proceed with caution. 


Some people without disabilities believe that there are massive numbers of people faking disability, and that they must be caught and stopped. People who believe this usually don’t know very much about what disability actually looks like. They tend to assume that anyone with a disability who has non-stereotypical abilities is faking their disability. 


Real disability often doesn’t look like stereotypical disability. For instance, many wheelchair users can walk, and many people who have service dogs can read, and many people have different abilities on different days depending on their energy and pain levels. This doesn’t mean that they are faking. It just means that their combination of abilities and disabilities don’t look like media tropes, because they are real people.


People with non-stereotypical disabilities can be in a very difficult place when dealing with people who think this way. It’s a pervasive problem, and people with a misplaced dedication to rooting out fakers often have a lot of destructive power over people who need disability-related support.


Being thought of as faking can mean that you lose accommodations. It can mean that you lose services that you need in order to survive. It can mean you get harassed. It can mean people are violent. 


Sometimes, people with disabilities have no realistic option other than to allow people to believe that they fit these stereotypes: 


Eg: 

  • On a college campus, every dorm except one is completely inaccessible.
  • The main entrance to the partially accessible dorm has stairs
  • There is an accessible entrance for employees and residents with disabilities, but it’s always locked
  • In order to get a key, you have to convince Fred the building manager that you need one
  • Fred is very suspicious of disability claims, and is constantly trying to catch people faking disability
  • Fred believes that anyone using a wheelchair who can walk, stand, or even move their legs, is a faker who needs to be called out and prevented from using accessibility resources (if you don’t know why he’s wrong, read this post)
  • Wheelchair users who need access to that building are careful to give Fred the impression that they are completely unable to walk or stand. They never stand in front of him, or in a place where he might turn up unexpected. They carefully avoid referencing their ability to stand to anyone who might repeat it to Fred. 
  • They may even have to outright lie about this in order to prevent Fred from taking away their access to the only door they can use. (eg: If Fred asks them directly, or rants about fakers, or makes them fill out an intrusive form).


More generally:

  • Many, many people have strong attachments to stereotypical ideas about how disability works
  • They tend to think that people who don’t fit those stereotypes are faking disability
  • Most people with disabilities don’t fit disability stereotypes particularly well
  • It’s often dangerous for people with disabilities to be perceived as faking it
  • That’s a hard situation, because:
  • There may be times when you know that if you describe your abilities and access needs completely accurately, people are likely to think that you are faking
  • But if you somewhat misrepresent your abilities in a way that fits the stereotype, then they’ll believe you about your real access needs
  • Which can put you into the awkward position of having to choose between representing the nature of your disability fully accurately and being thought of as faking, or allowing people to inaccurately believe that you fit a stereotype and being believed
  • That’s degrading on a level it’s hard to understand if you haven’t experienced it
  • It’s also a common experience among people with disabilities, and if that’s what you’re dealing with, it’s not your fault.

Some additional examples:

  • Some people who can write a little bit by hand are careful not to write in front of most people, so they they will not be assumed to be capable of the kind of writing that is completely impossible for them
  • Some people who are not autistic but have similar support needs due to less well-known conditions end up with an inaccurate autism diagnosis in order to gain access to services that they absolutely need in order to access education or to survive
  • Some people with both physical and cognitive disabilities allow others to assume that they are more physically disabled than they really are as a way of getting their cognitive access needs met without having to face certain kinds of cognitive ableism
  • Some people who can speak only a few words are careful to avoid speaking in front of most people, lest someone decide to take away the communication system they need to communicate things that can’t be expressed in their few spoken words

If you have a disability and you are not free to describe it fully accurately lest you lose accommodations, lose services, or face frightening harassment, know that you are not alone. A lot of people with disabilities experience this at some point or other. It’s humiliating and corrosive to go through, and it may make you feel like you are faking or that your needs are imaginary. It helps to remember that this is not actually your fault.


You are not faking, and your needs matter. You are a real person with a real disability doing the best you can in a hostile world. You are not alone, and it helps to remember that. There are other people with disabilities who are there, or who have been there, who understand that struggle.


tl;dr People with disabilities are often forced to pretend to meet stereotypes in order to get their very real needs met. This is humiliating and degrading. If you’re dealing with that, it’s not your fault and you’re not alone.

abuse doesn't always go in cycles

Content note: This post contains graphic descriptions of emotional abuse and mentions physical abuse. Proceed with caution.

Often people describe abuse as occurring primarily in cycles (including specifically with the pronouns this way):

  • He is effusively loving
  • Then, he resents her being a separate person from him
  • Tension builds up
  • He explodes and hits her
  • Then he’s all ~remorseful~ and swears he’ll never do it again
  • Then he is effusively loving again
  • and the cycle continues

That’s definitely a real thing. But it’s not the only pattern (and even when it is, it happens in gender configurations other than male abusers and female victims, and it’s not always between romantic partners.) There are many, many patterns of abuse and they’re not all discussed very much.

Here’s another pattern (not the only other pattern):

  • The abusive person will be demeaning and effusively loving at the same time
  • They will do something degrading and something genuinely positive simultaneously
  • There won’t be a discernible cyclical pattern because both parts happen at the same time
  • This can be very, very disorienting to the victim, who might be tricked into seeing their abuser as loving, considerate, and insightful, and themself as not living up to their abuser’s love

eg:

  • Daniel: I love you so much. I brought you your favorite flowers. Not everyone would be so understanding of your irrational need for flowers.
  • Daniel hugs Debra
  • Debra hugs back 
  • Debra feels awful about herself, and feels good about Daniel

or:

  • Susan: Hey, the fair’s in town. Let’s go!
  • Susan: I made you a jacket to wear.
  • Bill: That’s beautiful! Thank you!
  • They drive to the fair, and it’s warm out, so Bill decides to leave the jacket in the car
  • Susan: Where’s your jacket? Don’t you know that it hurts my feelings when you reject my gifts? I just wanted to have a nice time with you.
  • Susan: I guess it’s not your fault. I know you’ve never been in a successful relationship before. We all have stuff to work on.
  • Bill then tearfully apologizes and promises to work on it.

tl;dr If someone is hurting you and it doesn’t seem to be happening in cycles, you are not alone. Abuse doesn’t always happen in a cycle of overt abuse and effusive love. Sometimes abuse is more mixed and constant. Scroll up for one example of a different pattern.

It's ok to need help

Anonymous said to :

I know that sometimes there aren’t words for a thing but it’s still a thing. I was just wondering if trauma response to, well, trauma and abuse counts as a disability/mental illness even if you don’t have PTSD? Or is it like breaking your arm so does not count? I’m confused on where I stand on things so even though I’m starting to identify a thing as abuse and I know I’m having reactions I'm not sure if it’s okay to look at stuff meant for disabled people to deal with it, I guess.

realsocialskills said:


You are welcome here.


It’s ok to look at stuff made for people with disabilities and mental illness. If you’re having enough trouble that those resources help you, then you’re having enough trouble that it’s ok to use them.


You don’t have to have an official justification.


And also - labeling stuff appropriately can take years. And you need help now. Not later once you’ve figured out a justification for why you need help. It’s ok to focus on learning as much as you can about what’s going on and what’s helpful to you.


Hardly anything is completely unique to one group. Almost everything has applications much broader than what whoever wrote it had in mind. It’s ok to learn from people who figured out something to cope with something else.


You are not alone. And you don’t have to be in this alone. Dealing with abuse is terrible. The last thing I would want is for you to feel like you’re unworthy of support in dealing with abuse. It doesn’t matter whether you have PTSD or something else or even nothing diagnosable. What matters is that you’re being hurt and you are having trouble, and there is knowledge avaiable that can help you.  


When outreach programs don't get it or don't help you

So, when I read abuse prevention and recovery things, something that’s almost always recommended is “call a hotline”.

That’s good advice, as far as it goes. Hotlines help a lot of people, a lot. I don’t want to downplay that.

But I also know this: a year ago, I was afraid that someone in my life would become physically violent towards me, and a trained mental health professional close to the situation told me that I really needed to take that fear seriously. I called a domestic violence hotline looking for help figuring out how to assess risk and make a safety plan. They didn’t help me. The general attitude I got was “well, what do you want us to do about it?”

I had friends in my life who understood the situation. I had a certain amount of mental health support. I had access to validation and perspective and support from other sources. I was ok. But it hurt. And if I had been alone, if I hadn’t had other support, I think it would have been devastating.

I know that many other people don’t have the kind of support I did, particularly if the abuse they’re facing doesn’t fit stereotypical patterns. Some people are isolated and have no one in their life who gets it. And sometimes they call hotlines for help and the hotlines help them. But sometimes the hotlines don’t help either. Sometimes the hotlines are just another person who doesn’t understand. And that’s a horrible thing to go through, particularly if you fought through fear and feeling unworthy to find the courage to make the call.

So, if that’s happened to you, I want to tell you that you’re not alone. Hotlines don’t always understand abuse, they don’t always understand other problems, and they don’t always help. If they didn’t help you, you’re still worthy of help. It’s a reflection on them, not you or the problems you’re facing. If they didn’t understand, it doesn’t mean that you are wrong, and it doesn’t mean that no one will ever understand or help you.

If a hotline didn’t help you, all it means is that they didn’t help you.

You are not alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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