joreth: (Purple Mobius)
The questions at the end of Chapter 8, Taming The Green-Eyed Monster in More Than Two describe an ex I had once so well that, if I didn't know better, I'd swear the authors peeked inside his brain and used that for inspiration. Only he would never have admitted to being that insecure. I had to get it out of him in bits and pieces and round-about implications and, in one case, pushing him into a corner so hard that he finally blurted out an admission, which he immediately back peddled on. I would never have guessed how insecure he was until I started dating him.

But then, the effort he put into hiding his insecurity was such a huge sign, it was kind of like how scientists discover things like dark matter or the "edges" of the universe based on how everything else around it are behaving. You might not be able to see the signs of the insecurity itself, but the signs of him hiding insecurity are pretty strong, once you know what to look for.

That was one of my few bad breakups and now I'm pretty gun shy about dating people with severe insecurity.

Now that I think about it, my worst breakups were all with guys with crippling insecurity and my abusive, pathologically lying ex-fiancé also had a deep, deep insecurity about his self worth. His abuse expressed itself in a restrictive, behaviour-controlling way and in enforcing strict gender roles. Because it wouldn't do to have his future wife be better at fixing cars than he was. Everything about himself hinged on comparisons to others, so he needed to control me in order to control his own sense of self worth. My ex-fiancé started out in small ways, like most abusers do. He started out with, what seemed at the time, a charming humility revolving around the idea that I was "out of his league", so my reciprocated interest in him made him feel "lucky" to have attracted "someone like [me]".

But that pervasive idea turns out to be far more destructive than charming. It escalated from a few comments here and there expressing his wonder at my interest in him, to constant, deliberate attempts to provoke jealousy in me, to literally making up entire social circles and several ex-girlfriends, to faking illness in an attempt to get me to cancel my plans (and not just social plans, but going to class and work too) to stay home and care for him, to outright sexual assault and the threat of physical harm and property damage if I left - not just him, but if I left the bedroom to sleep on the couch in order to get away from his advances.

It always starts out small, and charming. People don't get into abusive relationships because a stranger beat the shit out of them and they thought "hey, that was kind of sexy, I should date this person!" They get into abusive relationships because the abuse is incremental so the victim can't see that it's abusive until they've invested so much into the relationship that they become victims of another sort - of the Entrenchment Effect.

Unfortunately, the more exposure I have to abusive partners, the easier it is to see the warning signs. I say "unfortunately" because I can see the patterns in most of the arguments I get into online, and it frightens me to know so many people out there have destructive tendencies that could turn abusive with just the right trigger, like another ex of mine, who didn't abuse me but did abuse his other girlfriend because she had just the right combination of traits to push his insecurities to the breaking point where he became abusive in order to take back the control he felt he was losing.

Pretty much no one in our overlapping social circles sees the abuse lurking behind his closed doors. No one believes it when I mention it. More than one person has said to me, after hearing the story, that it sounds like I'm talking about two different people. Multiple people, including myself and his other ex, have expressed the idea that there are really two of him - the kind, funny, likable bloke we all know and love, and the dark, twisted, self-deluded, self-loathing manipulative man who managed to trap one of the most intelligent, self-introspective, progressive women I've ever met in an abusive relationship that spiraled out of control so fast that none of us knew what happened until it was over.

I think this abusive monster living inside his head was always there, but that not everyone could have called it out of hiding. I believe this because he didn't abuse me. When he tried to do the same things that he was doing to her, he also started out small and almost-reasonable, but I was already primed to be averse to his tricks and he dumped me after only a couple of days of beginning his attempt and my resistance to it. I think that his other partner was exactly the right mix of her own insecurities and button-pushing habits that made her vulnerable to the abuse spiral they found themselves in. And, as only hindsight can, the signs in him are now clearly matched to the signs in my own abusive ex-fiancé, and the ex I mentioned at the beginning, and a couple of other exes that didn't make it into this narrative.

I see those signs in people and it's terrifying how much social support they have for defending their insecurities and how few people are appalled at the inevitable train wreck when they ought to be. Even I brushed them off. I remember having an argument with someone who called what that ex did to his other partner "abusive" and I disagreed. I said that I was in an abusive relationship before, and he said that I ought to be able to recognize abuse in this case then, and I said it was different.

To my credit, there were some details that I was missing, but I am afraid that I still might have defended the abuse for a while before admitting it. I've now had quite a lot of exposure to abusive partners, and partners who may not be abusive, per se, but who are so insecure that they are toxic partners. And I see a lot of things in common; a lot of things that, with hindsight, clearly led to the patterns of behaviour that eventually became abusive or toxic. These things aren't just things *could* lead to abuse or toxic behaviour, these are things that are *missing* from relationships that are not toxic or abusive.

I see some of the early warning signs now. I see how certain things are symptoms of deeper issues. And I see communities and society being blind to the connections. So when these symptoms pop up, say, in online discussion forums, I can connect the dots. But people who haven't been through abusive relationships, or have only been through one and haven't developed the wider-reaching pattern recognition in the same way that I hadn't seen the pattern with the ex who abused his other partner, those people see only isolated, unrelated, unconnected elements that seem harmless at best, or even deceptively charming at worst.

So someone will display a trait that I now know to be related to a much deeper issue that could (if it hasn't already) lead to abuse or toxic behaviour, and I'll call it out, and the entire community will rally around the other person behind cries of "No True Way!" and "you're hurting my feelings!" and "you're picking on me!" and "it's just a joke, relax!" and a host of other things designed to dismiss, derail, or distract from a very uncomfortable possibility that maybe we have more abusers among us than we'd like to believe ... that maybe we, ourselves, have the capability of harming our loved ones with our own insecurities.

Insecurities are almost like living beings themselves. They fight for survival and they'll pull out any weapon they can to keep existing. They'll alter our perception of reality, they'll make us justify our actions, they'll make us dig in our heels and double-down, they'll make us turn our own victims into abusers and ourselves into victims, they'll displace blame, they'll make us believe that someone else is hurting us even when no one is doing anything to us but ourselves, and more.

This makes me very frightened and very sad when our entire culture springs up around to defend insecurities and the people offering help or suggestions for living more securely are ganged up on, usually for their "tone", "arrogance", or "militantism" when the reality is that more people ought to be frightened and outraged at the harm being done in the name of protecting insecurities.
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