joreth: (polyamory)

I had a match available to answer someone's genuine-seeming question on why some of the less-offensive unicorn hunting posts were also picked on. The thread is a good thread, with thoughtful yet passionate responses. My comments aren't that great, because I just typed quickly, trying to answer before I leave my house to the mercy of the coming hurricane. But there are some nuggets in there that I'd like to be able to find again, to write a more comprehensive post on the subject later. It is my opinion that couples-seeking-thirds is *always* coercive and disempowering and cannot be anything else. But it's really hard to explain why. Here are some of my comments touching on why:


Polyamory isn't an add-on to a relationship. Polyamory isn't something that COUPLES do, it's something that PEOPLE do. It's when a "couple" is seeking, as if that couple-relationship is a sentient being of its own. It's when the *relationship* is prioritized above the individual needs of the people.

When the relationship is prioritized over the needs of the individual people in it, and when any relationship requires any one person to have a relationship with someone else, those relationships are fundamentally, inherently coercive in nature.

People get all hung up on the configuration, as if we're complaining about triads, instead of recognizing the *nature* of the relationship itself. Unicorn hunting is coercive and disempowering. It just so happens to most often take the form of a MF couple seeking a bi woman for a triad.

It's not the triad that's the problem, it's the hunting that's the problem.

If you read any material on emotional domestic abuse, stuff that is a clear red flag for mono het relationships are things that the poly community just nods its collective head at, like, "well, sure, that makes sense, you totally need to organize your multi-person relationships that way in order to stay safe! What? It's just our preference! There are no wrong ways to do poly! Stop oppressing me for wanting to oppress others!"

Seriously, read Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft, and see how many couples-seeking-thirds do these kinds of things to their thirds.

For some reason, poly people like to reinvent wheels. Just because some of us are seeking to dismantle the monogamous paradigm, it doesn't mean that everything we've learned about monogamy needs to also get thrown out. We've learned a lot about what NOT to do, but the larger poly community seems to want to start over completely from scratch.

So now we have to re-learn what coercive relationships look like, because it's somehow "different when we do it". As if having 2 people in positions of power exerting coercive control over a third is less wrong than when one person does it.

Why Does He Do That is a book written by an abuse specialist who specializes in men-on-women abuse. He includes some nods to other demographics, but this is his specialty. It's tempting to write this book off because of that, but I think it's really important not to.

The reason is because men-on-women abuse has an added layer of culturally supported misogyny protecting it, and this book acknowledges that. How intersectional social issues affect abuse in relationships differs among demographics. White cis het men in particular are at the top of the privilege food chain, so it's important to see how all those privileged positions affect their ability to abuse and their type of abuse.

Even though we are polyamorous, we are still living in a monogamous culture. So we have couples privilege on top of all the other layers of privilege. Granted, couples privilege is not even in the same class as race or gender when it comes to oppression, but it is *one more layer* of a privileged class that affects abuse.

This is why I think we can take the lessons we learn from Why Does He Do That and apply it to unicorn hunting. In the microcosm that is polyamory, couples have the cultural support that white cis het men do, so we can draw parallels.

In addition to that, many of those unicorn hunters have white cis het men at the helm, having been steeped in the same culture that protects and excuses the abusers in the book. Throw in some internalized misogyny, and their women partners turn into enablers, funneling and directing the abuse out towards a third even while they are subjected to the very same coercion by their men partners. Like when child abusers turn their victims into accomplices later in life, only less dramatic.

So, as touched on in a comment above, because of the nature of most unicorn hunters just happening to be cis-MF couples (usually white but not always), it's bigger than just individuals being coercive and it's bigger than just "couples privilege".

Unicorn Hunters exist because we live in a culture that, through several axis of privilege and oppression, have spawned this one, little demographic of cis-MF couples seeking thirds that is a culmination of all kinds of intersectional privilege.

Which means that they are *inherently*, definitionally, fundamentally, harmful to the individuals they hunt and to the community as a whole. And this book is relevant for that point.

Related reading:

 

joreth: (boxed in)
Me: I need this information to assess where I should place my boundaries.

Them: It hurts me that you would even ask me about that! Don't you trust me to tell you? Your boundaries make me feel bad. Don't you care about me to let me in?

Me: Sure, it's cool, I'll just do the emotional labor so that you don't feel bad.

If people wonder why I'm so standoffish and hard to get to know on an interpersonal level, this is why. It's easier to keep people at a distance than get into fights over who should be shouldering the burden of emotional labor. If I push, I'm a nag or I'm disrespectful of someone's hurt feelings. If I don't push, then I don't feel safe so I place my boundaries farther out and then I'm "cold" and "emotionally distant". Which hurts their feelings.

When I was a portrait photographer in a studio, I used to have lots of clients bringing in their toddlers and babies. It was my job to make their bratty, cranky, frightened children look like the advertisement photos of baby models who were deliberately selected for having traits conducive to producing flattering portraits (including temperament and parents whose patience was increased by a paycheck). I would spend more time than I was supposed to, patiently waiting for the parents to get their kids to stop crying and fussing.

Every single session, the parents would exclaim how patient I was! How did I do it?! What I couldn't tell them was that I had built a barrier in my head to tune them out. I just ... spaced. I did not notice the passage of time and I wasn't really paying them any attention. I just let my muscle memory control the equipment and make the noises that got kids to look and smile. It's an old trick I adapted from getting through assaults by bullies as a kid - tune out, mentally leave the body, make the right mouth noises to get the preferred response.

That kind of emotional labor management takes a toll. I couldn't express any irritation or annoyance at the client and I couldn't leave to let them handle the kid and the photographing on their own. So I learned to compartmentalize and distance myself while going through the physical motions.

But the price? I now hate kids. I used to like them. I was a babysitter, a math tutor, and a mentor and counselor. I originally went to college to get a counseling degree so that I could specialize in problem teens from problematic homes. Now I want nothing at all to do with kids unless it's an environment where I am teaching them something specific and I can give up on them the moment I am no longer feeling heard or helpful.

That's not what made me not want children, btw. I was already childfree-by-choice at that time. I just still liked them back then. Now I can only stand certain specific kids who are very good natured, interested in my interests, and able to function independently (as in, introverted and not dependent on my attention).

So, yeah, I can do the emotional labor. But the cost is high. Doing the labor for too long, to the point where I have to shut myself off from empathy to bear the consequences of doing that labor, results in my emotional distance.

That's what happened with my abusive fiance. He wanted a caretaker, not an equal partner. Everything I did to remain an independent person "hurt" him. I bent a little in the beginning, as I believe partners are supposed to do for each other. But eventually catering to his feelings while putting my own on the back burner took its toll.

So I shut down. In the end, I was able to watch him dispassionately as he lay on the concrete floor of our garage, supposedly knocked unconscious by walking into a low-hanging pipe conveniently in the middle of an argument. And then calmly walk upstairs without even a glance behind me to see if he was following. He described my breakup with him as "cold", like a machine. I had run out labor chips to give, even to feel compassion as I was breaking his heart.

Of course, I didn't recognize his behaviour as "abuse" until years later, or I might have bothered to get angry instead of remaining cold. Point is, emotional labor isn't free, and if you don't pay for it in cash or a suitably equitable exchange, it will be paid by some other means. I don't mean we should never do emotional labor for anyone, just that it needs to be compensated for because it will be paid one way or another.

Since this method has served to end several relationships with abusive men where I never felt "abused" because it didn't "stick" (I just thought of them as assholes), I don't feel much incentive to change it, even though it would probably be better to either not take on so much emotional labor in the first place (which is hard not to do because I *want* to do some forms of emotional labor in the beginning as an expression of love back when I'm still expecting a reciprocal exchange) or to leave or change things before I run out of fucks to give.

But I do eventually run out of fucks to give and I do eventually stop taking on too much emotional labor. And it always seems to surprise people when I do. Because I was so accommodating before so that I wouldn't push "too hard" or seem "too selfish". But that always comes with a price. People are often surprised to learn that.

joreth: (anger)
https://wearyourvoicemag.com/identities/feminism/mindy-kalings-brother-slut-shamed-distract-bizarre-race-experiment

There's this thing that some people do. When they belong to a class of people that has some (or a lot) of discrimination against them, some people choose to embrace their oppressors, their oppressors' values, and their oppressors' worldviews.

My mom is a good person, generally speaking, and I love her. I consider her a friend as well as a mother, and I talk to her about almost everything. She grew up a poor Mexican in the '50s and '60s. Her father actually had money for a while, long enough to pay for the eldest daughter's extravagant Quinceañera and send her to private school.

But by the time the other kids were old enough for similar things, my grandfather lost all his money and the family became poor.

My grandparents were immigrants and never did learn English. Oh, they spoke a few words here and there, but they never really picked it up. They deliberately sent their children to English-speaking schools and encouraged assimilation, so that their children would have more opportunities in the US than they had. Which is not a terrible hope to have for children.

So my mom speaks English with no accent (unless she's just back from visiting her sisters who still live in Texas and still speak Spanish at home, and then the accent peeks out again). She also married a white man whose parents were financially comfortable, a little bit racist, and also believed in their children improving on the lives that their parents started them with.

I am a 2nd generation, US-born Mexican descendant. I didn't learn Spanish until high school - in school. And I learned Castilian Spanish (that means, the language spoken in Spain and taught from textbooks with "proper" grammar, not the language of my grandparents).  And my mother still never spoke it to me - she wasn't refusing, she just never remembered to. It was no longer "her" language. She has to convert to Spanish, like a native English speaker, in order to speak it now.  So, to this day, I can't have a conversation in Spanish because I still can't "hear" it and I can only remember a handful of words, mostly cuss words that I picked up in grammar school from my Mexican peers.

My accent, my look, everything about me screams "white & middle class" because that's how I was raised. I went to private school, I was told to expect a bright future full of academic achievements and middle class adventures. I listen to country music for fuck's sake. And metal, back in the '80s.

I wrote before about my recent acceptance of the label "chicana". When I was growing up, a chicana was a lower class Mexican - the 1st generation descendant of immigrants and someone who did not speak proper English, did not live in a respectable neighborhood, dressed slutty, did only "bad girl" things like drinking and smoking and having sex, was probably in a gang, and likely had no future to look forward to other than more of the same - blue collar jobs, lots of children, and an ugly house in an ugly neighborhood.

I was not one of *those* Mexicans.

I grew up in the suburbs in a white neighborhood where a lot of my neighbors probably had that outlook. But I also went to public school whose district zoning was written to include my middle class housing tract as well as those Latino ghettos. So I was exposed to plenty of chicanos in my early days.

And yet, I still had that view of them. Which I got mainly from my parents. They were people who didn't respect themselves. We did. They were people who didn't *want* a better future, because my mom and her parents did want a better future for their progeny, and since they achieved it, obviously it was available there for anyone who wanted it badly enough to work for it. Since they didn't achieve it, obviously they didn't want it badly enough.  My mom embraced assimilation. Being of the light-skinned variety of Mexican and having a white husband, white name (through marriage), and no accent probably helped a lot. But she improved her lot in life by assimilating. So, obviously, assimilation is a good thing, no?

My mom worries about me because I live in a poor neighborhood. She specifically asked me about the racial makeup of the neighborhood as part of her worrying. My parents are the sort who would nod approvingly at Cosby (before his fall from grace) when he declared that black people were hurting themselves by wearing baggy jeans and speaking with their accents. If they just cleaned themselves up (i.e. adopted white values of appearance and decorum), they, too, could reap the benefits that white people enjoyed.

I remember my dad complaining endlessly about baggy pants, especially in the car when he would see "gangbangers" walking down the street. I also remember my mom telling me the story of how, when they were moving from Texas to California while engaged, to start their new life together, my parents were refused service at some establishment or another (a restaurant, a hotel, I don't remember) because the establishment didn't serve "hippies".

Now, my parents were NEVER hippies. But they were married in 1968. So my mom had hair almost as long as mine, and it was very straight, and my dad grew a big mustache when he got out of the military and had that shaggy '70s version of "short" hair, which of course was not short enough for conservatives who were born 20 years earlier. And they drove a van. You know ... one of *those* '70s vans (but it had real seats in it, not a bed).  I also remember my mom telling me about the discrimination she experienced when some establishments recognized that they were an interracial couple. Hateful things screamed at my parents when they were together in public, once someone recognized my mom as Mexican.

Mom even refused to allow me to attend a formal dance at my high school called The Black & White Charity Ball ("black & white" being slang for black-tie, tux-formal) with a guy I was kinda sorta dating who happened to be black.  She was afraid that I would experience discrimination for being in an interracial relationship (the irony that *I* was interracial all by myself was lost on her although I did point it out) and she was so upset by the experience that she was willing to prevent me from having that experience even if it meant hurting me by forbidding me to attend a dance with a guy I liked because of his skin color.

The point is that my parents knew what discrimination felt like, but they also believed that they could *do* things that would reduce or remove that discrimination. As long as they followed the rules, they would be treated like the class whose rules they followed. This is what allows people to tell BLM protestors that the secret to not being murdered while black is to just comply with police. Be a good little Negro, son, and the White Man won't harass you.

Except my parents *could* benefit from following the rules, not because following the rules gets you privilege, but because there are other things beyond their control that determine how willing society is to throw them a bone that they mistake as a privilege. Like whether they're more Spaniard in coloring or indigenous in coloring. Or how much progress has been made in the culture at large.

This goes back to my other post about Godot not being a person of color, and how we are not all the same in our oppression. There are a lot of us with more melanin in our skin or who say words differently than Becky from Wisconsin, but our experiences are not the same as each others'. Some of us are afforded more, or at least different, privileges from the rest.

As was mentioned in the comments of that post on Facebook, this is how That Asshole who killed Treyvon Martin could experience discrimination as a Latino man and still enjoy an enormous amount of white privilege in the killing of Treyvon and his other racist assaults and insults.

People of Latin American descent are *legally* classified as "white", unless they identify as Afro-Latinx (and then they're just "black" like Gina Torres from Firefly, because y'all black people are all the same thing, right?). That gives us some privileges that people who are not classified as "white" don't get. Like being allowed to vote or marry white people before black people could do either.

So here is someone who looks a lot like the US's current favorite whipping boy who still manages to think that Affirmative Action hurts the "more deserving people" (whites and Indians, apparently) and that black people are unfairly privileged in this country.

Because, if part of your culture includes embracing assimilation the way that many Latinx people, especially older people, encourage assimilation of their children to trade for future success, a member of an oppressed class can find some amount of what looks like privilege under your oppressors. This is one of the many (and brilliant) strategies for perpetuating oppression.

It's much like benevolent sexism. "Act like a Lady and we'll treat you like a queen. But fall of the pedestal we put you on, and you'll learn exactly how much we really hate you by the long fall and the hard bottom. You are only deserving of privileges as long as you meet our qualifications for them.

And when we punish you, we'll even tell you that some of your punishments are actually privileges. Like what an 'honor' it is to be a stay-at-home mom. You're just so much naturally better at it than men! What do you need a silly thing like an education or a career or your own income for when you can have babies?!"

"No, but Asians are just good at math! And medicine! They're all doctors and engineers! What? It's a compliment! It can't be racism, I was being nice!" Toe the line, meet white standards, and you'll be thrown some table scraps that you've been convinced are gourmet meals.

"Whose a good boy? Whose a good boy? Do you want a treat? Sit! Speak! Shake! Stay! Good boy! Here you go, here's a treat for you! We love you! Just remember, though, if you ever step out of line and pee in our favorite shoes, it's the pound for you!"*

Keep us all distracted from the white upper class oppression by keeping us looking to the side and down. Engage us in their oppression like a bully finding a shy loner and getting him to do the bully's dirty work in the hopes of one day being accepted by the charismatic and powerful bully.

"Sure, you can join our club. Just as soon as you publicly humiliate your sister, and oh, by the way, the difficulty you're having joining our elite group? Yeah, that's these black people's fault. Might want to go do something about that too."
joreth: (Spank)
http://www.boredpanda.com/girls-stop-abuse-boyfriends/

Abuse is abuse. In heteronormative relationships, man-on-woman abuse has an additional filter layered over it that is informed by misogyny. The blogger Shea Emma Fett used to talk about this and Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft covers how the cultural power dynamic is inherently embedded in man-on-woman abuse in hetero relationships. It's there automatically because the power imbalance is there automatically, so there always needs to be a conscious effort to fight against power dynamics in romantic relationships.

But in heteronormative relationships where there is woman-on-man abuse, that is ALSO misogyny at play. That's an example of the phrase "the patriarchy backfiring on itself".

What that means is that PATRIARCHY, as an inherently misogynistic system, created two, distinct gender roles to force people into, one of which is required to be submissive and the other as dominant and aggressive.

So if people are only allowed to fit into one of these roles, then when we don't, society simply refuses to acknowledge it. Which leads to women doing abusive things because they don't recognize it as abusive (because of the power structure, they don't believe women *can* abuse), and which leads to men not understanding that they are being abused and so not having any tools to deal with the abuse. Because they don't think they CAN be abused.

So if you participate in any of these behaviours (and let's face it, our culture teaches us that many of these things are OK no matter what your gender is, so we ALL have the potential to abuse others buried in our cultural programming, even if we fight it), if you do these things then you are participating in and supporting misogyny and the patriarchy.

While this is demonstrably worse for our victims, it's also bad for us living in a patriarchal society.
joreth: (feminism)
There's this pernicious trope in the poly community.  It says "it's OK to restrict someone else's behaviour as long as they all agree to it" and "if one person doesn't want his partner to have sex with other men, and she agrees to it, then it's OK", etc.  For some reason, people seem to think that it's totally acceptable to tromp all over someone's agency, as long as the other person doesn't stop you from doing it.  But I have a BIG problem with this.

If everyone wants to "restrict" themselves, then there's no need for someone else to "restrict" them. If one person has to "restrict" another, that's where coercion comes from. The language is important. It leads to *excusing* abuse.

There's nothing wrong with 3 people who decide together that they all want a closed triad. There *is* something wrong with one person dictating on behalf of all 3 of them that they will be in a closed triad (or 2 people dictating to the third that they will be in a closed triad).  It would be just as wrong for one person to decide that the others *must* date or have sex with people outside the group whether they wanted to or not (or for one or two people to decide that another *must* have sex with that person if the other wants to have sex with this person whether the other is interested in both or not, i.e. the "package deal").

Our language affects how we think and feel and behave. The relationship configuration isn't the problem, the language is.

In studies of other languages and other cultures, they discovered that people's perceptions are actually different and that they are not able to do the same things that other people do simply because of the words that they use and the way they use them.

For example, in English, when we speak about time, we use language that measures physical distances, i.e. "short break", "long wedding". Time is perceived as a distance traveled.  But Greek & Spanish speakers use words referring to quantity - "small break", "big wedding". In Spanish, time is perceived as a unit of volume.

In studies, they found that learning a new language that uses different concepts for things like "time", people actually become aware of perceptual dimensions that people who only speak one of the languages can't perceive. Language and our use of it effects our emotions, our visual perception, and our perception of time, among other things.

In a study years ago, they looked at the language of primitive tribal cultures untouched by industrial societies who didn't have words for things that they had no context for, such as global distances. Because of this, they actually couldn't *see* things that they had no language for.  It's not as simple as holding up a smart phone in front of a tribes person and that phone being "invisible", but their brains literally couldn't see things the way that other people could.

One of the things they had trouble with was perceiving distance, because their concept of "distance" is very different from someone who has seen pictures of the earth from space, for example, and who regularly talks about distance in terms of thousands of miles or kilometers, compared to someone to talks about distance in terms of steps taken or the time to get there on foot.

So, back to the point. Language shapes how we think and what we believe. People who are prone to using language that disrespects the agency of others are *more likely* to have beliefs that disrespect the agency of others, and are therefore more likely to *do* things that disrespect the agency of others.  And they are also therefore more likely to be unable to *see* how they are disrespecting the agency of others.

We see this when people use words like "permission" vs. "checking in".  Some people casually throw out that they need to "ask the spouse permission" to do something, rather than phrasing it like "let me check in with the spouse to see how they feel about that."  That's SUCH a huge implicit difference in how the person being granted "permission" is viewed by the person granting it!

The big difference, I discovered a while back, is that there are basically 2 types of people in these discussions - one who focuses on the outcome and one who focuses on the method of achieving the outcome:

To people who focus on the outcome, it's an "end justifies the means" kind of mentality, where the outcome is the same so it doesn't matter how they got there because the result looks superficially identical.

To people who focus on the method, these aren't even in the same universe. When the method differs, the outcome is irrelevant because that superficial resemblance isn't the POINT. The tools and methods we use to get there is the whole purpose.

And I'm coming to learn that the people in the first group can. not. see. the. difference. 

This is why the language is so important. Their use of language wires their brain so that they are *unable* to see the difference. They literally can't see it, like the apocryphal tale of the South American tribespeople who couldn't see the ships that the Spaniards sailed in when they landed on American soil (of course that's not how it happened, but the tale has lasted as a fable with a moral anyway).

Their use of language is actually limiting their brains' ability to perceive things that other people can see.


The idea that anyone could actually "restrict" anyone else is an illusion. People only follow the "rules" that they want to follow. If 3 people made an agreement to be a closed triad, that agreement is only followed for as long as all 3 people *choose* to follow it. As soon as any one of them doesn't want to follow it anymore, it's over. The "restriction" is an illusion.

I once knew of a guy in a D/s relationship who insisted that his slave was his literal slave in every sense of the word - that it was "real" and that he "owned" her in exactly the same way that he owned his TV. And he kept insisting this right up until the day she served him with divorce papers. His "restrictions" over her only lasted for as long as she allowed them to last. It's all an illusion and he did not actually "restrict" her, she chose to self-limit her own behaviour. It was all her choice and it always was.

If people in a triad use language like "it's OK to restrict someone else", then they are more likely to believe that it's OK to restrict someone else, and that, by definition, is coercion. If the other person willingly "agrees" and *chooses* to self-restrict, then no one in that group is, or even can, restrict her. She is making her own choice. As soon as she decides not to self-restrict anymore, it's over.

Unless the others in the group *actually* have power over her to make her perform actions against her will. In which case, this is abuse and this is exactly the problem people are warning about with the use of language.

Someone will inevitably bring up D/s relationships in these discussions.  I prefer to keep D/s discussions separate - kinda like it's a 201 course and we're still talking about Abuse 101.  You can't get to the nuances of D/s in 201 until you master the concepts in Abuse 101.  But I'll mention why it's different here anyway, but if you don't grasp the underlying concepts, then the subject of D/s and why it's different will only confuse you.

We use the trappings of this kind of language in the context of D/s relationships because some people really want to feel that these things are true for themselves.  If two (or more) people have a D/s agreement, where they will use language like "I forbid you to do X" and the other person obeys, that's an exception to the rule.  But not really.  It's an exception to the rule that you should never use the phrases that imply ownership or that disrespect agency, but that's only because the very act of a D/s agreement is an act of empowerment and agency.

What I mean is that the submissive in a relationship *always* retains ultimate control over what happens to them.  They are choosing to enter into a role-playing agreement where they engage in a fantasy structure of their choice.  The power dynamic is an illusion.  It's called power *exchange* for a reason.  As soon as the submissive loses the power to revoke consent, that's when it becomes abuse.

But the fantasy requires the ability to use this sort of language.  In order to make the brain feel like it's real, we have to make the exception and allow language that is otherwise unacceptable.  The trick, then, is to balance the use of language with the internal respect for agency.  This is indeed a very tricky balancing act and not many people can do it.  So it's usually better to leave out BDSM exceptions when talking about the dangers of language and coercsion.

So, excepting D/s agreements (assuming that D/s agreement truly does value and respect the agency of the people entering into the agreement because that respect and value for agency is what makes it an illusion and therefore not doing what I'm complaining about here), no, it is never, ever, acceptable to "restrict" someone else's behaviour. That is literally the definition of coercion and abuse. If one person has a preference for a certain type of behaviour and another person *chooses* to acquiesce to that preference, that is not someone "restricting" someone else - that is one person choosing to self-restrict. The moment it is not acceptable to say no, that's the moment that consent is violated and that's when it becomes abuse.

The language that implies imposing one will over another is the language that leads to the belief that it is OK to impose one will over another. That belief is what *enables* us to abuse others. Without that belief, one is simply not capable of abusing someone else. Of being a dick in other ways, sure but not of *abuse*. You NEED that belief in order to abuse someone.

And that belief is formed by accepting language that excuses it.

So when we're talking about people who "agree" to various things, it's so important that I can't even stress how important it is, to use the kind of self-empowering language that discourages abusive beliefs and that discourages the community's ability to overlook abuse.  When we promote "but they agreed to it, so it's OK", we open the door to "why did she stay if he was abusing her?  She must have agreed to it."  This is how abuse gets excused.  This is how victims get blamed.  This is how an entire society builds itself on a structure that empowers abusers and disempowers victims.  

The whole reason why victims "stay" with their abusers is because the society around them will. not. let. them. leave.  And part of that is because we give them shit for "staying" even though we have removed any support to help them get out.  When coercion is part of the picture, they aren't "agreeing" to it, they are simply not allowed to not-agree.  And then we blame them for their own abuse because they didn't not-agree.  So we need to change our language so that we center the individual people and their choices over the other people imposing their will.  

She is not "agreeing" to be abused, she was abused and couldn't not-agree.  He didn't "agree" to be restricted by someone else, he chose his own limitations.  These aren't "agreements" between two people, these are things that each person is personally empowered or disempowered to do.  Those words are important.

Just like asking people of privilege to change their language use if they don't really intend to imply whatever racist or sexist or -ist thing that goes along with the words, it is important for our entire community to be cognizant of our own language use and to change it to accommodate belief structures that encourage freedom, choice, and empowerment.

If a white person were to defend his use of the n-word because "it just means a stubborn person" (someone actually told me that not too long ago), I would have to question his motives and why it's so important for him to use that word. Why *that* word, when there are so many other words for stubborn people? Why is it *so* important to keep a hold of *that* one word when people are telling him that it's harmful?

When we say that the language of choice vs. restriction is harmful to the community, I have to question the motives of those who insist "it's just a word" as a defense to keep using it. If it's just "a word", then it should be no problem to give it up.  Because we *know* that words have power. Otherwise it wouldn't be any big deal to switch using that word to another. We know that words are important. So we have to look at why there are even debates at all around people using disempowering language.

So please listen to people who might know a little something about abuse and coercion and disempowerment when we say that this language is problematic, and if you really want to refer to someone who is choosing to self-limit themselves, then say so instead of couching it in terms that imply disempowerment and abuse.

If you don't mean to support abusive and coercive structures, then don't implicitly support them with the language you choose.
joreth: (anger)
OTG don't start a relationship with someone who is in the process of leaving an abusive partner*! And for fuck's sake, don't get upset when they act inconsistent or seem to reconcile or "go back" to said abusive partner.

Abuse does all kinds of fucked up shit to a person's head and they really need to find their own identity before beginning a new relationship. Escaping one abusive partner into the arms of another partner creates a coercive dynamic because of the fucked up shit going on inside the victim's head, *even if you try very hard not to be coercive*.

The key part here is the loss of identity. Abuse wipes out victims' identities, and without a clear sense of who they are as an individual person, they are unable to create healthy boundaries for themselves in other relationships *which makes those other relationships coercive by nature*.

You cannot force someone out of an abusive relationship before they're ready, and you SHOULD not encourage them to leap straight from the abusive relationship to a new relationship. Be "on call" for them to go pick them or their stuff up at a moment's notice, field or facilitate the finding of a new place to live so that their abuser doesn't find out about it, believe them and give them space, and most importantly, don't take it as a personal rejection or blame them when they inevitably backslide in some way including going back to their abuser.

Abuse does all kinds of fucked up shit to a person's head. If you can't be a proper support system for a victim, which includes not pushing them into leaving before they're ready and not complaining about how hurt you feel or that they "used" you or "played you" or "ditched" you when they end up not leaving or they gradually stop talking to you or they go back to their abuser, then back the fuck out of their lives. Otherwise, you risk making things worse for them.

For a better idea on how to be a "proper support system" for a victim, check out the resources in the back of Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft which includes books on how to be the loved one of an abuse victim.

Just a reminder: escaping from an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim. This is the time abusers are most likely to escalate the violence to murder.

This is not only dangerous for her, it's dangerous for everyone around her. She doesn't need to escape into your home, she needs to escape to a place that knows how to keep her safe from an escalating, now pissed off abuser and that fully understands the situation she is in.

Every time you hear about some woman and her kids or her parents or her new boyfriend being murdered by an ex, it's almost always during the time she is trying to escape the ex.  What do you think an abusive ex, hell bent on power and control and now extra pissed off that his little punching bag is leaving, is going to think of the new boyfriend *and girlfriend* who "stole her away"?

He's going to *blame* the couple and polyamory as being a bad influence on his girlfriend and believe that he needs to teach everyone a lesson and reassert his authority. This is the time when previously emotional-only abusers escalate to physical violence too.

I can't stress enough what a dangerous time this is for her and why the concern needs to be what's in her best interest. That's also why you can't force her to leave if she's not ready. Only she understands the extent of the danger she is in, and if her mind has to rationalize why she stays in order to keep herself safe, then that's what she needs to do.

Please, everyone here, read Why does he do that? by Lundy Bancroft. This is so much more serious than most people who haven't been there really understand.




*I'll be honest, I have known one relationship to work out where the new partner began dating the victim right around the time she was trying to escape. I'm not sure exactly of the timeline, so I don't remember if the new relationship started before the victim moved out or afterwards, but it was close enough in time to be within the range of "while trying to escape".  This relationship happened to work out and is one of the healthiest the victim has ever been in. This relationship was instrumental in helping the victim find her own identity again.

That said, this is an exception. Most people believe that they are exceptions to various rules, but statistically, most of those people would have to be wrong because "most" people can't be "exceptions".

So just don't do it. Be that person's support system, but for fuck's sake, let them find themselves before you immerse or enmesh them in another relationship. One of the things that abuse does is convince people that the relationship is more important than the people in it, and that you need to subsume your identity into the relationship. These patterns will be there, embedded in the victim's brain, and will play out again out of habit in your relationship with them.

And it won't even be your "fault" if the relationship turns coercive, or maybe you have a few of the same coercive habits that we all pick up just from our culture that most healthy partners can manage and work around without being damaged but that an abuse victim will have no skill in managing or deflecting.  So there doesn't need to be any intentional manipulation on your part for a relationship to still turn coercive and an abuse victim who hasn't healed yet to be damaged by a relationship with you.

So just don't. Even though "I know someone who was good for a victim" and "it worked out for me!", still don't.
joreth: (polyamory)
"But WWWHHHYYYYY are you all so mean to unicorn hunters?!? We just want to be loved, like everyone else!"

Maybe because we've seen more than one post where a couple wants to "add a third", except the sex doll, er, I mean new hire, er, that is the "lucky lady" is trying to leave an abusive relationship, and the couple starts asking advice on whether they should risk their hearts with her because it looks like she's flaky and may "back out" of their relationship?

Like, the concern here, folks, isn't that someone you know and presumably care about is IS IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP THAT SHE CAN'T LEAVE, but that she might break *your* hearts by going back to her abuser. Because you getting "played" or "dumped" by someone WHO IS IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP is the real issue here. 0.o

"Yeah, but we're people too! Our feelings matter!"

Uh, no, not so much, not in this case. Your feelings really don't matter here because ABUSE. This is *exactly* what we're talking about when we complain about treating people like things, disrespecting agency, couple-centrism, etc.

This is why unicorn hunting is a bad thing.

"But we're part of a couple looking for a third, and we don't do THAT!"

Yeah, it's not this very specific situation that's the problem, this is just an especially egregious example that 1) is totally obvious to most people that the unicorn hunters are the fucked up ones, and 2) the unicorn hunters STILL can't tell what's wrong with them because they're the ones who described the situation in the first place, so they obviously don't think they're being problematic here.

There is an underlying mentality that is the problem, and it's a problem because that mentality manifests in a million different, often unanticipated ways. We can't always predict in what way the unicorn hunters will mistreat their "third", but we can predict that they will, and that all reasonable people will recognize it when they do but they will continue to feel that they are the ones being victimized by the circumstances.

Today, with this hypothetical couple, it's a girl who is trapped in an abusive relationship so badly that even though she's in the process of trying to escape, she may not make it but the couple's biggest concern is how bad their feelz will hurt if she gets sucked back in, with maybe some afterthought to how much "drama" she's bringing to the triad because of her abuser's actions with regard to her leaving him and/or dating them.

Tomorrow it might be someone being gaslighted to believe that the triad fell apart because she was too "needy" or because she "changed" when she "knew the rules when she signed up", and what a "drama queen" she is for having wants/needs beyond what everyone agreed in the beginning.

The next day, it might be some poor guy who dared to fall in love with some girl who isn't allowed to feel her feelings because she signed a contract, maybe even literally, giving all her future feelings away to the couple, thereby introducing "drama" by developing feelings that she promised she would never have.

A woman tries to escape abuse, and signs point to a high chance of failure. But the issue on everyone's mind is ... what about the couple she promised to date once she escaped? What about their feelings about her flaking out on them? And what about the drama she'll cause if she does leave and he makes trouble for everyone and she flip-flops and possibly goes back to him later anyway? What about the couple?!

#UnicornHuntingIsProhibitedHere #CouplePrivilege #dehumanizing #NeedFulfillmentMachines #ThePeopleInTheRelationshipNeedToBeMoreImportantThanTheRelationship #EmbeddedCoersion #OutOfTheFryingPanIntoTheFryer
joreth: (BDSM)

I'm finally getting around to reading "Why Does He Do That" by Lundy Bancroft so expect lots of quotes in the next few days, and hopefully some longer blog posts if I ever get a computer again. I didn't want to wait on this one because it's relevant to the atrocity of a "kinky romance" movie whose sequel just came out.

In addition to being rape and abuse apologia, the 50 Shades trilogy is also extemely classist. Some tweet put it more succinctly, basically that this book wouldn't seem romantic at all if Christian lived in a trailer park. If a guy with tattoos and a construction job behaved like Christian, even the "soft" version in the movie, it would be glaringly obvious how controlling and manipulative he is. But give him a private jet and suddenly it's "romantic"

Bancroft addresses this very thing as early as the first section in the introduction chapter on The Mythology of abuse.

"The social stereotype of the abuser as a relatively uneducated, blue-collar male adds to the confusion. The faulty equation goes: 'Abusive equals muscle-bound caveman, which in turn equals lower class.' In addition to the fact that this image is an unfair stereotype of working-class men, it also overlooks the fact that a professional or college-educated man has roughly the same likelihood of abusing women as anyone else. A successful businessperson, a college professor, or a sailing instructor may be less likely to adopt a tough-guy image with tattoos all over his body [although that stereotype is gradually being overcome these days] but still may well be a nightmare partner.
 
Class and racial stereotypes permit the more privileged members of society to duck the problem of abuse by pretending its someone else's problem. Their thinking goes: 'It's those construction-worker guys who never went to college; it's those Latinos; it's those street toughs - they're the abusers. Our town, our neighborhood, [our class of man,] isn't like that. We're not macho men here.'
 
But women who live with abuse know that abusers come in all styles and from all backgrounds. Sometimes the more educated an abuser, the more knots he knows how to tie in a woman's brain, the better he is at getting her to blame herself, and the slicker is his ability to persuade other people that she is crazy. The more socially powerful an abuser, the more difficult it can be to escape."



This is Christian Grey. This is Hair Gropenführer. This is even my ex, who is not in the same class as the extremely wealthy, but has the social power of being a white-collar, educated, middle-class, white, likeable, social-justice-conscious, cismale.

The Orangutan-In-Chief has made the "Latino" argument explicitly. One of the reasons he wants to build his security-blanket of a wall is because he claimed that Mexicans are rapists, implying  proportionally more often than US men are. My ex uses social justice language to obfuscate and confuse his victims so that they get confused and start believing that their resistance to his control victimizes *him* and that they are the monsters.

Christian uses his money. He can afford to travel literally anywhere and with no notice or preparation to stalk his victim. He buys the company his victim works for so that her income is directly tied to pleasing him. In the movie, they gave him an excuse that he wanted to fire her "abusive" boss, but a non-controlling person would seek legal prosection means to help her, not replacing one abusive boss for another. He buys her a car against her wishes. He consistently thinks that he knows what's best for her in spite of her protestations and buys whatever he thinks she "needs" from clothes to food to transportation to her source of income, regardless of her own preferences.

He uses legalese to obfuscate his manipulation in the form of a non-disclosure contract (and again in his farce of a bdsm contract) and then uses literally the power of the law with those contracts to isolate her and prevent her from communicating outside or having an independent support system.

Healthy kinksters introducing a newbie to bdsm for the first time recommend that the n00b find a local dungeon and/or community for more resources and support during the learning process. One of the red flags in the community, or "lifestyle", is when a dom tries to be the only teaching source, often insisting that he alone is "responsible" enough to properly guide the sub. One example of an extemist who uses this tactic is a cult leader who is the sole source of wisdom (and sex or decisions about sex).

I once had an ex who insisted that only he could be trusted to recognize predators in the community, so all new subbies had to be collared by him so that any dom wanting to play with the newbie sub had to court his permission and approval, so that he could "vet" them. I've also seen "poly" men use this same excuse to infantilize their female partners saying that they have poor judgement so he needs veto power to make sure that she stays safe. Ironically, this is a warning sign that *he* is the one abusing her.

Christian also uses the "I was abused as a child" myth that Bancroft addresses in the immediately prior bullet point. This excuse pulls on a victim's compassion and makes her feel guilty for her resistance because she is then continuing to hurt an already broken person, as well as making her want to stick around to "save" him.

This book and movie trilogy would have actually made a good suspense thriller (if you excuse the poor writing). If the author wasn't such a piss-poor writer and if she hadn't gone on record multiple times defending her tripe as "romantic", I might have thought that she researched abusive relationships and used the domestic abuse checklist as a character outline. And if the Twilight author wasn't almost as shitty of writer, I might have assumed that *she* was the researcher and used the checklist that the plagerizer - er, I mean 50 Shades author just unwittingly copied into her fanfic version.

I'm not even past the introduction chapters yet and 50 Shades can already be seen in the warning signs. Abuse is about power and control. Money, education, job type, and other class markers are all ways that people obtain power. If anything, it seems like it would be MORE likely that Christian and Orangeface McTinyhands would turn out to be abusers.

Don't support the books or movies by spending money on the franchise or watching / downloading through a service that tracks its popularity like Amazon or Netflix. Don't recommend it to newbies or excuse it as a "gateway" into real kink. If you happen to be interested in the erotic fantasy of being controlled or trained, I can recommend better stories that don't neglect the subbie's consent even while she submits to a power exchange dynamic, even ones that include her resistance and him "knowing her better than she knows herself".

To put it simply (yet again), it's not the kink that makes it abuse, it's the manipulation and control, and what makes it particularly dangerous is that it relies heavily on the audience buying into the class myth of abuse. This myth is one of the tools that abusers use to gaslight their victims and convince them that they are not victims. By not taking a hard stance and speaking out against this franchise, our silence contributes directly to the culture which traps women in abusive situations. Women need to know that this is abuse so they can better recognize it when it happens to them.

He is not romantic. He is not sexy. He is not a dom. He is not a broken bird to be saved. He is not your fault. He is not exempt.

joreth: (Bad Computer!)

#Irony: #Polyamory is explicitly supposed to be about "more than two", and yet every resource we have, every discussion, every fear, every relationship rule, everything centers around couples. We have to "protect the primary couple"; we have to "respect the original or preexisting couple"; we have to develop communication so that we can improve our relationships (implied to be between couples); we assuage fears by talking about how the new relationship can improve the old *couple*'s relationship; singles and solo polys wonder how to get into couples "of their own"; and dog forbid we neglect to discuss how to "open up" an existing couple! ...

"The Couple" takes on a life of its own and soon it's a battle between The Couple and everyone who is not part of The Couple. That goes for the single interloper who is a threat to The Couple and yet is also the same person they want to "include in their relationship" and that goes for everyone who has seen this story play out a million times before and tries to warn The Couple that we already know the ending to this story.

Y'know what? Fuck "The Couple". I don't give a rat's ass about your relationships anymore. I certainly don't "respect" your coercive, destructive, exclusionary relationship. I care about the people in the relationships, and that includes everyone that the people in The Couple are about to sacrifice on the alter to The Couple. I have partners of my own. I have life partners. I have entangled partners. I have partners I care deeply about and who share significant portions of my life with me. Fuck those "couples" too.

I want to focus on building *partnerships* with my lovers and metamours and friends and family. A partnership isn't *inherently* limited to a "couple" and no one dyad gets to take precedence over anyone else and certainly no *relationship* gets to take precedence over any *person*. The partnership must always exist to serve the people in the partnership and never the other way around. Sometimes my partnerships do include just two of us, and that's fine, but fuck The Couple as its own entity. I care about the people, even the two who make up The Couple, but I do not care about The Couple as if it were a living, breathing person in its own right. I do not grant The Couple personhood status. People are more important than The Couple.

And fuck those cousins of The Couple who elevate The Triad or The Quad or The Tribe or whatever fucking group name you have to the same status as The Couple. You won't have as much social support as The Couple, so you might think that your little relationship unit deserves to be in a protected class, but a bully is still a bully even among minority groups so fuck your application of The Couple filter over your technically-more-than-two relationship too.

And if you try to argue semantics with me over what you think makes a "couple" and whether that's different from a "partnership" or not, fuck you too, you're missing the point.

joreth: (Purple Mobius)
* I am committed to prioritizing the happiness of the individuals over the longevity of the group if / when those two values are in conflict.
This is a new commitment. I have always advocated for a family-style of polyamory. The ex I mentioned in a previous post, who prioritized his own desires above my feelings or our relationship, I remember having conversations with him where he was offended and horrified at the idea of "censorship". I remember him demanding of me "so you think it's appropriate to censor me?!" And I remember my answer was "no, I think you should want to self-censor, that this is something you would choose because our relationship is worth making that choice for." The hard part for me is that I still feel this way. I still feel a strong desire for partners who are willing to weigh their options, and who value our relationship so highly that sometimes the other option is not worth the cost, that sometimes the health of our relationship and my comfort or preferences are too valuable to trade for the other option. I still feel this way even though I always have, even as a child, believed that staying together out of obligation (i.e. "for the children") was one of the worst things you could do for a relationship.

In the commitment about refraining from hurting my partners, I discussed a situation that a metamour and I went through separately but together. That story applies here too. That was a situation where, even though she and I both want to build a poly family, sometimes desperately need that family, we discovered just how dangerous desperation for family can be. We each learned the price of family obligation. We each learned that when the relationship is too important, it becomes coercive. It becomes coercive when any member feels that they can't leave, that their individuality and their individual needs are less important than maintaining the group itself. I referenced this point in a previous post, which further linked to an article on this very subject. This kind of coercion sneaks up on you even when you think you're on the lookout for it. With all my talk of autonomy and the new poly term "solo poly" and independence, I still didn't see it coming.

One very effective trait of abusers is isolation. An abuser isolates his victims from friends and family, from anyone who might be able to see what's going on and who might have enough pull on the victim to give them the strength or motivation to leave. Something I never even considered before was that this tactic can also be used effectively from within a family to keep a family together through force as well. That sounds counter-intuitive - isolating a victim from family in order to bind a family together. It's very subtle. What you do is you make the promise of a relationship, or a family, so desirable that the other person feels afraid to leave (the other person can give you a head start by desiring that family fantasy before they even meet you); that being without this family or this relationship is a terrible option they can't even consider. Then you turn everything that they do into them attacking and hurting the family group or relationship, even if what they do is for their own emotional or physical health or has nothing to do with the family.

When everything they do somehow manages to hurt everyone else in the group - the group that they desperately need to belong to - it drives a wedge between that person and the rest of the group. Soon, communication between the individual and the others in the group dries up because the individual feels a constant wash of disapproval. If you can orchestrate this so that the disapproval is coming through you and not the other people directly (because you're the one who said everyone else is mad, not them), and direct communication starts to become affected, then eventually it doesn't even have to be true and the group starts to blame the widening rift on the individual for pulling away because they're not aware that the individual is pulling away because they think the group has positioned themselves in an us vs. them struggle. So eventually, the individual becomes too afraid to do anything for themselves or for their own good because the consequence is losing the relationship. The individual loses their agency and subsumes their autonomy into the group. This makes the relationship more important than the individuals.

I still very much want a close-knit family style of poly. But I also still very strongly believe that one does not have to lose one's individuality to the group. I mentioned this very concept way back with the commitment to respecting my partners' life choices. But this one is less about focusing on my ability to let go of my attachment to my partners' decisions and more of a step back and a look at the bigger picture. This is an acknowledgement that there are two conflicting goals in my relationships - maintaining individuality and autonomy vs. building family. I believe that most of the time, in healthy relationships, these are not directly in conflict and both can be achieved simultaneously. But sometimes, they will come to a head and conflict. I am establishing a baseline for myself that, in the event of a conflict of these two goals, the one that serves the individual must be given more weight right out of the starting gate. Because if the individuals' happiness is not being served, I believe that the health of the relationship cannot be served either. The latter requires the former, but not necessarily vice versa. So the former must come first, and the latter will follow automatically as a result, or it will end in service of the former.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
I have a problem with our new trend of slinging around labels like "narcissistic" and "borderline personality" and even "abuse". I had the misfortune to observe up close several relationships that imploded under mutual accusations of abuse and personality disorder labels. And in many of those cases, I got it wrong. I backed the wrong horse. I heard the accusations and I chose a side to "believe the victim" and it turned out that the "victim" was not what they appeared to be.

To be fair, both sides in all the dramas that I watched *did* do some terrible things to each other. We all hurt others when we are hurting ourselves. But, when all the cards finally got laid on the table, the people I backed as "victims" were solidly, unquestionably, abusive and they were so either first (leading to their victim to lash out in whatever legitimately toxic ways the abuser accused their victim of doing) or were so worse (not that it justifies the other side if the other side was, in fact, abusive, but it does *not* justify my misplaced support of them).

Remember that post I made about abuse being about beliefs, not feelings? Here's the problem: in every case, the abuser honestly, truly, genuinely, sincerely believed that what they did was right and they ALSO honestly, truly, genuinely, sincerely believe, to this day, that they were the victims. Even when I *witnessed*, in person, live, someone gaslighting another, they sincerely believe that they have never gaslighted anyone and that their victim was really a narcissist who abused *them*. In that case, the gaslighter uses science articles about faulty memories as armor and accuses *me* of not seeing what I saw because they keep emails (nevermind that this all happened in person, not in email).

I had someone contact me once, crying, hysterical you might even say, over some disagreement they had. One person accused the other of doing something "wrong". So the one who did the thing was terribly upset over the idea that they had harmed their partner and was a horrible person. What they did, in my opinion, was not "wrong". In my opinion, the demand that they not do the thing is what was "wrong" because it was a controlling act. So, they were upset. Later, I confronted the other person, who tried to tell me that they were totally in the right over demanding to control the other in this way, and besides, the other is OK with it so keep my nose out of their business.

I told them that the other was most definitey NOT OK with the controlling behaviour, I saw how not-ok they were myself. So they called the other person over and said "now tell Joreth that we worked this out and everything is OK." So they said to me "It's totally not a big deal, we talked about it, and I really wasn't all that upset anyway." Uh, yes you were. I SAW you. You had a total and complete meltdown. You were barely even verbal, you were so upset. But no, the abuser had the victim convinced that, not only was the thing they were doing not a big deal, but that the victim wasn't even as upset over it as they really were.

So now, years later, I've had a chance to see how all these different people have evolved after their experiences in these doomed relationships. And here's the problem that I have: without exception, all the people I have now identified as "abusive" still believe that they were the victims and that they were abused. There are even therapists involved! Yet no therapist that I'm aware of in these cases has told anyone that they are using abusive tactics or holding them accountable for controlling behaviour. Although, and here's the really scary part, at least one therapist *has* told a victim that *they* were the abuser. And remember, this is one of the cases where I personally was able to witness and observe the relationship over time, and one of the cases where I originally would have agreed with the therapist until I saw the abuse myself, instead of the rewritten reality that is presented to the public after the abuse happens.

These abusers sincerely believe that they were victims. They hold onto this belief years later. They are attempting to "move forward" as if they are recovering from abuse. They have tons of sympathetic followers on social media, sending them *hugs* and "I believe you" comments. Meanwhile, their victims suffer in quiet isolation, forced to withdraw from social media and to slowly build up their support networks in person again, until they feel that they can creep back onto social media with fake names or locked down profiles or they keep only their work-related profiles active and hide their more personal activity.

How do we tell the difference from the outside? This is a rhetorical question because I guarantee that any answers anyone attempts to post in spite of the fact that it's rhetorical, I guarantee that those methods can be applied towards the abusers' stories and we can still interpret their side in their favor. I guarantee that because I'm watching it happen with these cases. Their friends lists remain large. Their comments remain sympathetic. People still "hear you" and "believe you" and "sending you sympathies" and "understanding" and "it will get better" at them. And the really ironic part? More than one of them have built a reputation for "ethical relating" and still post about consent and abuse in relationships. From the *victim's* point of view. Some of them have quite large audiences. Some of them even still get media attention for their writing about relationships.

So I see all these "they're a narcissist!" posts and I really want to support the victims and provide safe spaces for them, but all I can think of when I see these posts is "how can I trust that this time, your accusation is the real one and not the abuser calling his victim a narcissist?" Because, without exception, every case I have personally observed, the one who I believe is the real abuser, every one of them really and truly believes that they are the one who was harmed.

And I don't know what to do about it. I have no answers for this. Every bit of advice or research I've managed to dig up or had someone share doesn't help the outside observer like me because of those sincerely held beliefs. They honestly believe they have been wronged. So unless I was there to see the gaslighting happen, or to see them attempt to control another, from the outide or after the fact the stories they tell sound totally believable because *they* believe them. They can *tell* me a list of things that their true victim supposedly did, and it will sound exactly like narcissistic abuse or whatever. And their pain will be real. As I said in that other post, abusers are people in pain and fear. Their feelings are *real*, which is why abuse is not about "feelings" but about the belief that it is OK to address their feelings and fears using the abusive tactics that they employ, and why I strongly dislike the phrase "all feelings are valid" because of the slippery definition of the term "valid".

So I don't know what to do about all this, and that's the problem I have with our communities flinging around terms like "narcissism", "psychopath", "abuse", etc. I can look at all the checklists and I can say "yep, these are horrible things" and I can listen to someone tell me their grievances and I can say "yep, that sounds awful". But, if we stop there, then apparently EVERYONE is the victim, even when they're actually the perpetrators.

And THEN, on the very rare occasion when someone does come forward and admit to mistakes and makes changes or seeks help, since they're the only ones admitting to wrongdoing, that just confirms who the villain is and our collective response to villains is to ban them from community support and remove their platorms. And I'm not even saying this is wrong in all cases. I'm saying that we do not have the answers to handle abuse in our communities now that we are attempting to identify it. Now we know what abuse *is*, but we still have trouble identifying it and we definitely don't know what to do about it.

I don't have any answers and, as I said, the answers people keep giving me don't help with the first step, which is in telling apart two conflicting sides. "Believe the victim" is good advice to support victims, but only after we have identified the victim. I "believed the victim" several times when the "victim" I believed was actually an abuser. I am currently watching several abusers have major community platforms with hordes of fans and friends who believe them as "victims". Even they, themselves, genuinely believe themselves to be victims (or, at least, not in the wrong). So I have a problem with all these posts because, when I see them, all I can think now is "yes, that really sucks, but what if I'm wrong again and your sincerely held belief does not match reality? And all you did is just remove the support from someone who really needs it because the article you shared describes a horrible person and we're all supposed to 'believe' you automatically?"

And that's a terrible environment for everyone to exist in, but especially people who are on the receiving end of abusive behaviours.
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
[livejournal.com profile] margareta87 shared this website and suggested that everyone read everything on it. So I'm reading the most recent blog post and I want to share it specifically.

https://norasamaran.com/2016/08/28/variations-on-not-all-men/
"Sometimes he can’t tell the difference between him feeling bad because he hurt somebody, and feeling bad because someone hurt him. ... When Kyle is 20, or 30, or 40, or 60, and harms someone by action or omission, where will the ‘parent’ be who can say “you are good and loved and not shameful, and you did this thing, now stop acting like an ass and go make it right.”?"
I have an abusive ex that I talk about often. I *think* that I've done most of the emotional repair work so that I'm no longer acutely affected by my past relationship with him, but he makes such a good illustration of the messiness of emotional abuse that I continue to talk about him as a tool (heh, pun intended) to teach ethical lessons. This was basically what he was like. He was unable to distinguish between feeling hurt because someone hurt him and feeling hurt because *he* hurt someone and they reacted to it.

As the blogger, Shea Emma Fett phrased it, being victimized by acts of control is different from being victimized by my resistance to your control. In my most recent blog piece about beliefs vs. actions, I phrase it as raising your hand to slap someone and then having your hand hurt when you strike the arm that they raised to block your slap. Where was the grownup for my ex to say "people love you, and you did this thing, now stop acting like an ass and go make it right"? When I, eventually, tried to take that role, I got punished for it. I was lumped right in with the "bad guy" and we were both seen as "attacking" him. I was called "intolerant" and told that I was a One True Wayist because I told him that his method of keeping his partners small for his own comfort was unethical and hurtful and that *he* needed to do the work to let them grow rather than making them stay small on his own timetable.

"If you harm someone and then make it so that they feel afraid to tell you about it, be aware that women are likely coddling you constantly day in and day out in ways that exhaust them and that you take as normal and do not even notice."
He did this too. He made having a difference of opinion to him so intolerable that most of the family just let things go rather than argue. And they didn't make it clear that they were "agreeing to disagree" either. Often, he and I would have an argument, he would go away to complain to the others in the group, then come back and say "I talked to everyone else and we all agree that you're wrong", but then one or more of them would come to me privately to say that they actually agreed with me and disagreed with him but they didn't want to say anything because it was too much trouble to start a fight about it.

People in the group were constantly rearranging things in order to make him feel comforted or to accommodate him. If an argument got too heated, he would shut down, go into a semi-catatonic state, and when things got really tense he even reverted to self-harm and threats of self-harm. People in that group would literally force themselves into situations where they felt physically and emotionally unsafe just to prevent him from having a meltdown. Any attempt to tell him that his actions harmed them was met with said meltdown in which people had to back up and take back what was said. He called it "admitting they were wrong" and "owning their own shit" and he also called it "backtracking" and being "unreliable" which made them afraid because there was no right answer and no way to get out of the quicksand bog of arguing with him. I called it "badgering them into conceding." His victim called it "gaslighting". Whatever it was, he rewrote reality around him so that he was always right and everyone else catered to his "needs".
"Is it possible they have tried to tell you in a nice way, and you have clapped your hands over your ears or made it hard for them, and eventually they lose the capacity to be ‘nice’ while they are getting harmed? If you think back – really think back – how long were they trusting you and quietly asking you for help and empathy and support and compassion and honesty before they lost their buffer of capacity to speak kindly while drowning?"
This is what happens when people "blow up" seemingly "out of nowhere". If it looks like someone is "overreacting", there is a very good chance that they are actually acting appropriately if you add up all the times in the past, instead of taking this one instance in isolation. Regardless of how righteous you feel in your position (and believe me, I've seen plenty of people "blow up" at me on things that I'm dead certain that I'm right about - like gently pointing out something mildly racist and having them explode all out of proportion to what I actually said), embed this in your brain - if someone has lost their shit, there is probably something deeper going on. It is likely that they are reacting to an accumulation of things and your most recent encounter is just the straw that broke the camel's back. Now it's *your* job to step back and see if they are reacting to a lifetime of microaggressions and it's not personal to you or if they added together all the times they tried to talk to you about this and they're fed up with you not hearing them.
" if you make it hard for people around you to let you know you have caused harm, you’re going to invoke survival strategies in your friends and colleagues when you think you’re just having a regular hangout with your friend."
This partially explains when people of some sort of privilege get on their FB soapbox to preach about maintaining friends of different viewpoints. For someone with privilege, it's not a big deal to have a friend who has a different perspective when that person has less privilege because that different perspective doesn't affect the more privileged person directly. Their "debates" are all "academic" and they can take them or leave them. But the less privileged person is *harmed* every time they have that "debate" because, for them, it's not academic, it's personal. So one person thinks they're just having a friendly, spirited debate and the other person experiences it as one more cut in the death of a thousand cuts. So they have to employ fucking *survival strategies* in order to maintain that friendship, and eventually it becomes too much to bear. Think about that - the person you think of as a friend has to treat you like they're handling live plutonium and put on protective emotional "gear" just to be in your presence. I hope that makes you feel uncomfortable. Now sit with that discomfort because I'm not going to provide the coddling to make you feel better about yourself over it.
"I would actually apologize to him for having felt afraid. Because my hurt and fear hurt his feelings."
Being victimized by your control is not the same thing as being victimized by my resistance to your control.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
(If you are seeing white text on a black background and the reverse is more comfortable, you can read the Google doc that I used for my final draft here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jDo84msoBu74TQIW2OM4MLiILCoDIiQyzNllinU_FVg/edit?usp=sharing. The wording is identical.)

Modified disclaimer: "This is a personal post so it has extra rules. I don't want advice. I don't want condescension about my age or any other aspect of my identity or lifestyle or about not "seeing clearly" precisely because I've been through some fucked up experiences. I do not want devil's advocate. In fact, since this is all completely about lessons I've learned through very painful personal experience, I'm not interested in entertaining any debate over it. You are welcome to believe that I am wrong about my own life and experiences, if you keep that to yourself. If I see anything in the comments section that makes me regret having been open about my life, it'll be deleted without further explanation."

I have an ex-boyfriend. He abuses women. But he didn't abuse me. I'm not the kind to abuse easily. I'm not totally immune to it. I spent several years in my youth engaged to an emotionally abusive person who was successful at it. In fact, that's partially why I refused to believe it when his victim accused my partner of abuse. I had been through abuse, you see, so I should know it when I see it. And I didn't see it, therefore it didn't exist.

In general, I'm not the kind of prey an abuser looks for. I'm loud, aggressive, I have a strong support network, and I'm extremely confident in my memories and in defending my autonomy and my boundaries. Frankly, I'm too much work for an abuser to abuse. But, here's the thing I learned in my most recent lesson with abusive men: abusers aren't comic book villains twirling their mustachios and plotting out their Rube Goldberg-esque schemes to erase their partners' identities for personal gain. The term "gaslighting" is incredibly valuable, but not all gaslighting looks like the movie the name comes from. In fact, most gaslighting does not look like a film noir movie.

Abusers are often people in pain. They don't abuse because they hate their partners. They abuse because they're afraid. They're afraid of being abandoned. They're afraid that they're unlovable and if their partner ever discovers the "truth" about them, they'll lose that love. They're afraid of who knows what else. But a lot of us are afraid of things like that. So what makes them abusers and us not abusers?

They believe that they are right to address this fear by overwriting someone else's identity. There is also not necessarily a sharp dividing line between "us" and "them".

From the an article by Shea Emma Fett called Abuse In Polyamorous Relationships1 (all bold emphasis in all quoted passages in this post are mine):
"Most importantly, abusive behavior arises from beliefs, not from feelings, which is one of the reasons why people who are abusive are resistant to rehabilitation. I think this is a really important distinction, because people who engage in abusive behaviors can be kind and caring and gentle, and happy and wonderful to be around. They are not abusive because they are evil. They are abusive because the abuse makes sense and feels justified to them."

"[Lundy] Bancroft [author of Why Does He Do That?] says, “Anger and conflict are not the problem; they are normal aspects of life. Abuse doesn’t come from people’s inability to resolve conflicts but from one person’s decision to claim a higher status than another.”"

"What is this underlying thinking? Well, it’s all around you. It is the foundation of rape culture. It is the fundamental belief that women do not have a right to their own personal power. It is the fundamental belief that they can retain power over their bodies, minds and choices, only so long as we agree with those choices. ... It is the way we, all of us, men and women buy into the belief that we are entitled to women’s bodies, thoughts and choices. In polyamory, this belief makes it easy for us to treat our partners as things and not people.

But more than that, many of our fundamental beliefs in relationship[s] create a fertile ground for abuse. The goal of marriage is often longevity at any cost, and the presumption is mutual ownership over not just intimacy, but our partner’s choices, feelings and thoughts. And even if we take care to form our commitments outside of these assumptions, we still often carry a powerful sense of entitlement in intimate relationships. In short, intimate relationships often default to the power over model, and the relationship becomes a struggle for this power."

"The purpose of abuse is to erode a person’s ability to make choices for themselves. The abuser feels justified in taking proactive and punitive actions because of a fundamental sense of entitlement to their partner’s choices."
And from 10 Things I Wish I'd Know About Gaslighting2 by Shea Emma Fett:
"Gaslighting only requires a belief that it is acceptable to overwrite another person’s reality. The rest just happens organically when a person who holds that belief feels threatened. We learn how to control and manipulate each other very naturally. The distinguishing feature between someone who gaslights and someone who doesn’t, is an internalized paradigm of ownership. And in my experience, identifying that paradigm is a lot easier than spotting the gaslighting."
I'm not certain that identifying a paradigm of ownership is easier than spotting gaslighting, at least for me, because I've seen some people who are really good at twisting and using language to appear like they're on our side, but aside from that so, what? I've referenced these articles before, many times. Lots of people are talking about abuse nowadays. Why another essay on abuse that is basically just referencing something that's already been said? Well, because I don't think that the concept of "abuse is about beliefs" has really sunk in yet. I've spent many years yelling on the internet about why hierarchy* and rules in poly relationships are dangerous. People keep insisting that they can be done "non-abusively" or that everyone agrees to it therefore it's not abuse, but I don't seem to be able to get my point across - that it's not whether this specific action or that specific action is "abusive" or not or is "consented" to or not. It's about the underlying mindset and beliefs that allow people to think that hierarchy and rules can be done "non-abusively" in the first place.

From Relationship Rights: Can You Negotiate Them Away?3 By Eve Rickert:
"I believe that if you’ve come to a place in your relationship where someone has negotiated any one of their rights away, that relationship includes coercion, and that invalidates consent."

"There are certainly cases where you might choose not to exercise a right. It might be easy enough to say you don’t need the right to leave when, well, you don’t want to leave. But when you decide you do want the right? It’s still there.

And that’s what makes it a right."
That is the foundation of some later blog posts on whether or not hierarchy can ever be "ethical".

From Can Polyamorous Relationships Be Ethical? Part 2: Influence and Control4 by Eve Rickert:
"Healthy relationships are ones in which we can express our needs and desires, but it’s when we feel entitled to have our partners do what we want that things go off the rails. Entitlement makes us feel like it’s okay to overrule our partners’ agency (and that of their partners). If we’re part of a socially sanctioned couple, this is especially dangerous, because we’ve got lots of societal messages feeding that sense of entitlement. And the most damaging parts of hierarchical setups tend to come about when we enshrine entitlement into our relationship agreements."

"Once the tower of intimate influence is defended, however, we see the village once again reoccupied. The village is things that a person feels entitled to control in their partner’s relationship, or rules and structures that are put in place to ensure that one person’s needs are always favoured in the case of resource conflict."
I didn't recognize that my partner was abusive because he didn't *behave* that way towards me, and I didn't *see* him behave that way towards his other partners. So when this one person came forward and said he had abused her, I, along with his other partners, all stood up and said "He can't be! He's not like that! He's never done anything like that to us! The problem must be with you!"

But the truth is that he *did* do things like that to his other partners. They just looked a little different because we were all different people so he had to use slightly different tactics. His abuse was expressed differently with everyone so it didn't look like "abuse", but they were all expressions of the same set of *beliefs*. So when his other partners succumbed to his manipulation of them, it looked like everyone was consenting, therefore it couldn't be abuse. Because it wasn't necessarily the behaviour, it was the underlying belief that permitted the behaviour. "[I]f you’ve come to a place in your relationship where someone has negotiated any one of their rights away, that relationship includes coercion, and that invalidates consent."3
"Do abuse victims “consent” to be in their relationships? On the surface, perhaps it looks that way, but that is rooted in a victim-blaming, “why doesn’t she (he) just leave?” mentality and a serious oversimplification of the psychological dynamics of abuse. Abuse relies on tearing down your partner’s sense of self and personal agency to the point where consent is really no longer valid. And it doesn’t take physical violence to make a relationship abusive."3
The thing of it all is that this pattern was visible from the beginning. It wasn't invisible at all. It was just camouflaged beneath this community insistence that "anything" that two people "consent" to is A-OK. That whole YKINMKBYKIOK (your kink is not my kink but your kink is ok) mentality that I find so profoundly dangerous. I get why we started that. It's easy for people to place our own biases and judgements on other people even when we're trying to be all liberal and inclusive and shit. Look how often the furries get thrown under the bus by other kinksters, for instance. We had to teach ourselves that we don't have to agree or approve of someone else's preferences for those preferences to still be legitimate and valid and accepted. But instead of opening the door to inclusiveness, the door swung in the other direction and is now being used to bludgeon anyone who tries to critically examine toxic or harmful behaviour. It's like the religious extremists using "freedom of religion" to justify *imposing* their religious values onto other people by granting corporations personhood status to avoid covering contraception.

When I first met my abusive ex, he was in a hierarchical relationship that enforced triad structures only (FMF with bi-women, of course). So I thought "I kinda like him, but there's no way I'm touching that with a 10-foot pole!" Over time, their structure evolved until, many years later as our friendship grew, I was told that they had worked through their issues and they could now have independent relationships without each other and those relationships were allowed to grow on their own. So I thought "Hallelujah! People can change! People can learn and grow and break out of their insecurities!" Boy, was I wrong.

See, he and his wife still had a lot of rules with each other that I found ... disconcerting. But I wasn't told the full scope of all the rules, just that they found what works for them but that they had reached a point in their lives where they could accept that their other relationships couldn't work that way. So, in enters YKINMKBYKIOK - it works for us and we're not imposing it on you, so don't question it unless you want to be seen as intolerant of other people's preferences. So I didn't inquire too much, except to insist that this structure absolutely, without a doubt, no exceptions, would not work for me. They assured me they wouldn't try to impose it, and thus reassured, I entered into a relationship with him.

In the throes of NRE, I saw all the red flags, but I ignored them. Because he wasn't doing them *to me* and the person he was doing them to *said* she was OK with it and even claimed to be her idea in some cases. But they niggled at the back of my brain, so I stored these red flags in my memory (sometimes literally - a lot of our conversations were via chat, so I have the chat logs and I'm not relying purely on my memory) and when things came to a head years later, I was deeply ashamed that I hadn't paid more attention back then. And holy shit, when I learned what some of their rules were much later I was *really* upset with myself that I didn't press the issue in the beginning.

One of the red flags was that his wife didn't allow pictures taken of herself. Not just explicit photos, but any photos. Well, very occasionally she would pose for group photos of social events. But no candids and definitely no sexy shots. At the time, I thought this was just a quirk of hers. And it was, but sort of. She's also a very dominant personality, much like me in a lot of ways. Back in the beginning, when I thought "nope, not ever gonna go there!", I thought it was because *she* was calling all the shots and I didn't want anything to do with any relationship where the wife had more power over my relationship than I did. But they inadvertently introduced me to what I now call Relationship By Hostage Crisis. This is where two people get into a relationship with each other and one of them allows their partner to remove their agency in some way because the first person wants to remove the agency of the other themself. So they basically trade their own agency in exchange for controlling the other person's agency.

Some people seem to think that this is a fair power exchange, that it's not abusive if it goes both ways. But we're not talking about a D/s agreement where someone has the power to concede something. The reason why that's different is because *that person always maintains the power to take it back*. If they don't, it's abuse, by definition. I know this gets a lot of serious edge-players up in a snit when I say this, but kink is all about fantasy and illusion. None of it is real. Sure, it's real *enough* that it triggers the reactions in our brains so that it *feels* real. But it can end at any time. Franklin ([livejournal.com profile] tacit) once knew a guy who insisted his wife was his slave in every sense of the word and he owned her in exactly the same way he owned his TV. He insisted that it was a real slave relationship right up until his wife divorced him. You'll note that she wasn't summarily hunted down by the government and lashed or hung for leaving him.  But we do see cases where women try to leave their male partners and the men punish them by stalking, harassing, raping, and killing them.  He feels entitled to control her agency - her choices - and she is punished when she makes choices he doesn't approve of.  She does not have the power to take her agency back.  This is not a D/s consensual power exchange fantasy.

Giving up your agency in order to have control over someone else in trade is not a BDSM power exchange fantasy. You may indeed have power over someone else, but you *lose power over yourself* in exchange. This is not something you can renegotiate later when it's not working for you. You have become *powerless*, and it takes a great deal of effort to wrest that power back, if you ever get it at all. As they say, two wrongs don't make a right. Sometimes you can have two bad actors in the play instead of just one.
"Our brains are optimized to seek pleasure and avoid threat. It’s most of what we do. There’s nothing wrong with trying to avoid things that we believe will hurt us. However, most people would also agree that you can’t put a gun to someone else’s head in order to avoid the things you fear, no matter how uncomfortable the consequences. Sometimes we have to face what we fear because all other options require taking actions that we consider to be wrong. Therefore when we harm each other because of fear, let’s recognize that it was not the fear that was the problem. We all have fear. The problem was a belief system that said, well, maybe I can put a gun to your head."1
So, the wife wanted control over her husband in some way so she allowed her husband to control her body in this way (among others). He didn't want other people looking at her body in ways he didn't approve of. They held emotional guns to each other's heads. This is not a fair power exchange. No one was empowered by this situation, they were both disempowered *even while* they held power over each other. So, no pictures of her. Except that *he* obsessively took pictures of her. Of everyone.  At all times. And I mean at *all* times. I had ample opportunity during group sex to see him actually stop the sex, reach for a camera, and take a dozen pictures, all with her glaring at him in the picture because she didn't like having those pictures of herself taken. *She* wanted to control when pictures were taken and right then was not when she wanted to have pictures taken. But it didn't matter, because *he* wanted them.

I had a conversation with her about this once. This is where I learned that the no-dirty-pictures rule wasn't her own preference. She would have wanted to have posed for something for her own enjoyment, but he wouldn't allow it. She saw nothing wrong with his prohibiting her because, as her husband, he had that right to determine what happened to her body, but he also had that right (she believed) because she gave it to him. But there was no consideration for renegotiating that rule, at least not in practice. He made disagreement with him so traumatic to everyone in the family that everyone avoided disagreement with him at much cost. He literally made it a matter of life and death when people disagreed with him. So it was easier to capitulate than try to talk him out of one of his catatonic or self-harming states, and then they got to believe that it was their "choice" to negotiate that power away.

Later on, some other things were happening regarding her relationship with her boyfriend and my partner and I were arguing over his wife's autonomy and the boyfriend's rights in his own relationship with her, and we circled around to the subject of sex work, which led to the subject of dirty pictures. He was appalled, I mean *appalled* at the idea of a partner of his either "selling her body" or of his wife having nude pictures that someone else could see. We veered into all kinds of tangents, including me demanding him to explain how "selling one's body" through sex was any different from me getting paid to dance or to perform manual labor or how sex work was any more inherently demeaning than my soul-sucking retail job at barely above minimum wage.

I also had to watch him go through a series of mental gymnastics to explain why it was OK to be dating me, who has naked pictures of myself on a public website from when I posed as a tutorial model for [livejournal.com profile] tacit's BDSM site, but not OK to have a wife who might have similar pictures. The gymnastics got even more convoluted when I disclosed to him that I had been paid to pose for a nudie calendar years before and that picture is out there, floating around somewhere that I've never even seen and certainly have no control over what happens to it. The takeaway I got from that exchange was that it actually *did* bother him, but he was unable to admit it to himself so his cognitive dissonance forced him to justify on the spot why it was somehow different to be dating someone with that kind of exposure than to be married to someone with it.

But what really stuck in my memory was his explanation of why he believed he was in the right for not allowing nude pictures of his wife on the internet. He told me the story of the bowl of M&Ms. So, let's say you have a bowl of M&Ms on your desk at work. You love your M&Ms. They're your favorite candy. And sometimes you don't mind sharing your M&Ms with your coworkers, but you have this one coworker who you hate with a passion. He's a major asshole to everyone and he definitely doesn't respect you or your M&Ms. He feels entitled to them. You don't want him to have your M&Ms because they're not *his* M&Ms, and, in fact, you hate him so much that you don't want him to have any M&Ms ever because you don't want him to have the pleasure of eating M&Ms at all because he's such an asshole that he doesn't deserve the profound bliss that is the M&M.

I couldn't believe what I was reading (this was a chat argument). I couldn't believe this was coming out of the same person who was otherwise so aligned with all my values and beliefs and philosophies! So I said "but your wife isn't a bowl of M&Ms, she's a person who you can't own and she gets to make up her own mind about what happens to her own body." He tried to handwave away the objectification inherent in his analogy and pushed the "but he's an asshole and doesn't deserve to see the glory that is her body" angle.

He tried to appeal to my sense of justice but I don't actually want people I dislike to not have good things. I might often wish bad things on them, but all the times I can think of when I did that, what I wished was for the bad thing to be relevant to why I disliked them so that they would ultimately learn compassion and empathy from the bad thing, or at least be punished in the same way they were punishing others. I honestly don't give a fuck if Racist Joe in the next cubicle gets a lot of pleasure out of his cold Budwiser while sitting in his favorite recliner watching football at the end of the work day. I don't want to steal his Budwiser just so he can't have one. I'm not bothered by the idea that someone I don't like might actually be experiencing something pleasant or enjoyable or feeling happy. But I am deeply disturbed by the idea that other people are bothered by that.

There are so many other examples, that I have been using my experiences with him as moral tales for years since it all went down and I have yet to run out of examples. Argument after argument, random side comment after pointed discussion, there are a million different ways that he expressed his underlying belief that his partners could not be trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies; that if left to our own devices we would necessarily choose things that were not in *his* best interest; that what was in *his* best interest was therefore what was in *our* best interest; that what was "best" for the group took precedence over what was "best" for the individual; and that he was absolutely entitled, as the romantic partner, to have the power to make those kinds of decisions and to ask, demand, or manipulate his partners into doing what he decided we should.

I didn't see any of this because, for most of our relationship, what I wanted for myself and our relationship and what he wanted for me and our relationship were in alignment. "It might be easy enough to say you don’t need the right to leave when, well, you don’t want to leave. But when you decide you do want the right? It’s still there." Until one day, we weren't in alignment. He had no need to try any of the gaslighting or logic-circling or even more blatantly abusive tactics like threats of self-harm because I wasn't doing anything contrary to his vision of how our relationship ought to be or how I ought to be in our relationship. Until one day, I did. And then I saw it. I saw what his victim had been crying to me about just a few weeks before. I saw the entitlement. I saw the belief that he ought to be able to dictate my actions. I saw the carrot-and-stick game he played with her - using group acceptance as the carrot to get me to fall in line and group shunning as the stick if I didn't fall in line. "I talked with everyone else, and they all agree that you are wrong. You’re hurting the whole group, don’t you care about us?" I saw everything she said he had been doing to her for the length of their relationship, finally, in one day, directed at me.

And then I saw that I had always seen it. It had always been there.
"Therefore when we harm each other because of fear, let’s recognize that it was not the fear that was the problem. We all have fear. The problem was a belief system that said, well, maybe I can put a gun to your head.

The prioritization of fear arises when we replace a relationship of mutual support and co-creation, with one of parental protection. ... A relationship that is hostage to fear is one where everything, the relationship, the mental health of the participants, the future, everything hinges on the avoidance of something. Every relationship that forms on top of that avoidance, forms under the premise that the fear is more important than anything else. But just because you’ve agreed to never open the box, doesn’t mean the box isn’t there, informing the health and stability of every relationship that touches it."1
When we first broke up, it came as a shock to everyone. To everyone on the outside, he and I were the most compatible and stable of all his other partnerships. We were so similar in so many ways. And by the time we broke up, his relationship with the victim who came forward had gotten so tumultuous that all his other relationships were being affected, except, apparently, ours. Everything in his life seemed to be falling apart. He was so wrapped up in the drama with this one person that he had no more resources for maintaining any of his other relationships and they were all in danger of blowing up too. His last blog post prior to our breakup was lamenting the fact that his life was falling apart and I was his one port left in the storm. So no one saw it coming, because no one understood that this box containing his beliefs and fears was still there, informing the health and stability of every relationship including ours.

When I told people who had met him or who were privy to my gushings of my relationship with him during NRE, when I told them of how it ended, without exception everyone said that it sounded like I was describing two different people. It was a total Jekyll and Hyde story. His victim once said that she tried to reconcile these two people in her head. Part of what made her stay with him so long is that she kept thinking that she could get back to the nice Dr. Jekyll if she could only find the right way to behave that wouldn't let out Mr. Hyde. But her other partner pointed out to her, "He's not two different people. Your nice, sweet boyfriend is also the abuser. They're the same person."

I keep saying that patterns are important. But I also keep saying that it's the underlying beliefs that are important. People might be tempted to say "but look at all these other relationships he has! She was the outlier! The pattern is that he's a good guy and she's the problem!"  But that's not the pattern. The pattern is in his beliefs. Sure, he didn't try to manipulate me or control me ... as long as what I was already doing was something he approved of. So it may have *looked* like there was no pattern of manipulation or control because he didn't seem to try that on me. But the real pattern was that he *believed* that manipulation and control are appropriate methods of dealing with a partner whose behaviour was something he didn't approve of. "It is the fundamental belief that they can retain power over their bodies, minds and choices, only so long as we agree with those choices."

This is why benevolent sexism is still sexism and still a problem. The behaviour, on the surface, might seem like it's not oppressive because it supposedly elevates women. It rewards them. It "privileges" them. But only as long as women toe the line. Only as long as women fall within acceptable ranges of behaviour or dress or thought. A pedestal *seems* like a place of power and enshrinement, until you realize how confining it is to stand in one spot or risk falling to your death for daring to sit down or change positions.

It's tempting to say "he's not an abuser because he didn't abuse me!" I know, I said that at one time. But it's also tempting to say "but abusers don't abuse everyone yet they're still abusers". The thing is that they actually do, we just can't see it behind the camouflage. As [livejournal.com profile] tacit, and one of my metafores, are fond of saying, it’s not a problem … until it is. "Every relationship that forms on top of that avoidance, forms under the premise that the fear is more important than anything else. But just because you’ve agreed to never open the box, doesn’t mean the box isn’t there, informing the health and stability of every relationship that touches it." A racist who keeps his mouth shut when a black customer walks into his store is still a racist towards that customer. He's not a racist because he does racist things. He's a racist because he holds racist beliefs. And he holds those beliefs all the time, at everyone. A person who believes that they are entitled to control other people’s bodies, thoughts, and choices still believes those things even when they don't choose to exercise that entitlement, for whatever reason they choose not to in that moment. And those beliefs leave signs. It's not about whether or not he tries to manipulate a partner who is already doing what he wants her to do. It's about whether he *believes* he is right to manipulate her should she ever not want to do what he wants her to do. And that kind of thinking leaves footprints, if we only learn how to identify them.

The reason why this is important is because it is too easy to dismiss abuse when it doesn't look like how we think abuse ought to look. It's also too easy to accuse people of abuse when they are not, in fact, abusing anyone.

I wrote a paragraph in a recent post where I distinguished between "selfish" and "self-interest". That paragraph got quoted, and some people took exception to that distinction because abusers will just turn around and call what they're doing "self-interest" to justify their actions. What these detractors didn't seem to get was that this was my whole point.

What worked on my partner's victim was the accusation that she was being "selfish". That it was *she*, not he, who was the abusive monster. Her story is remarkably similar to the same one I linked to and quoted above. That's why I keep sharing Fett's writing - it really hits home with how similar it is to everything we (mostly she) went through. It all started unraveling for me when she called me crying, desperate that she had harmed him in some way, and how could she fix it? When she told me what she was afraid she had done, I was horrified that she could possibly think that she had done anything wrong at all. But how could she be such a monster? she wondered. How could she treat him so heinously? Are you fucking serious? I asked her. This had nothing to do with her at all. This was all about him.
"If you are being abused, there is a very high chance that you will be accused of being abusive or of otherwise causing the abuse. That’s because this accusation is devastatingly effective at shutting you down and obtaining control in a dispute. However, I also believe this accusation is often sincere. People often engage in abusive behaviors because they feel deeply powerless and that powerlessness hurts. But not everything that hurts in a relationship is abuse, and not everything that hurts your partner is your responsibility. It’s important to be able to distinguish abuse from other things that may happen in relationships that are hurtful, or may even be toxic or unhealthy, but are not fundamentally about entitlement and control."1
There are all kinds of things that are problematic to varying degrees. But they are not all about entitlement and control. And this is *very* important to recognize. And they should never be conflated. That harms actual victims of entitlement and control. It's not always just the abuser accusing his victim of being abusive. I see it in communities as well. Now that we're finally talking about abuse in my various subcultures, a lot of terms are getting bandied about - abuse, harassment, consent, violation, predator, narcissism, borderline personality disorder ... just to name a few. Not all of these terms are being applied where they should. When things that aren't abuse get mislabeled as abuse or "rounded up" to abuse, it makes it much harder for actual abuse victims to find proper support. When things that are indeed problematic but not "abusive" get labeled as "abusive" instead of their real problem, then we can't address the problem in ways that are effective for solving the problem.

And when people live in fear that any possible misstep might get them cast out of communities under accusations of "abuser", especially if those people are actually victims who have been told by their abusers that they are the abuser themselves, it makes it way more difficult for anyone to seek help or to seek correction for things that might actually be correctable (or not even offensive at all).

I think we're on the right track now that we're sensitive to abuse and harassment and control in our communities. But I think we're also in danger of slipping off the track too easily. We're not quite at the destination yet and we still have further to travel. One of the dangers is in stopping too soon. Now we know all these words, and now we have started supporting victims and accusers in order to break the previous chilling hold on victims from finding the support they needed when they come forward. But we still don't quite have our finger on the pulse of the problem yet.

Patterns are important, but it's the underlying beliefs that those patterns reveal that are the real key. Those underlying beliefs are what enable abuse and harassment and control and oppression and all the other bad things we're finally starting to look at and combat. Those beliefs set up the foundations that allow abuse and control and manipulation to happen. But not all bad things are about entitlement and control. It's the beliefs that make abusers so resistant to rehabilitation, so it's the beliefs we need to confront. If we don't confront the beliefs but instead attack the behavioural patterns, abusers will simply change their behavioural patterns to continue avoiding detection. It's the beliefs that need to change, and the behaviour changes will follow naturally as a consequence.

At the same time, if those beliefs aren't present, then not only is the attack the wrong way to approach the situation, the behaviour itself also has different chances of correction. It's much more likely to correct someone's behaviour if the behaviour doesn't stem from a deep belief that their behaviour was, in fact, already correct. I’m repeatedly told by those with social anxiety and other social awkward issues that we need to stop excusing bad social behaviour by labeling it some mental illness because people who aren’t predators but legitimately socially awkward often feel horrified when it is brought to their attention that they have done something wrong and they want to learn how to do better. That’s because they don’t have an underlying belief that they were right, they were simply unaware, and they don’t want to do these wrong things. These issues are correctable, but not if we ostracize everyone who does something wrong without first finding out if it was a social awkwardness / anxiety thing or if it was a boundary-pushing predator masquerading as socially awkward thing. One of them believes they didn’t do anything wrong and the other doesn’t. One of them can have their behaviour corrected with guidance and the other can’t because they don’t believe their behaviour was wrong.

How we address the problem needs to be changed if the belief underlying it isn't about entitlement and control, if we want our efforts to be effective. And, as my partner's poor victim learned the hard way, if there are no underlying beliefs about entitlement and control, then there's a good chance that she wasn't doing the abuse she was accused of in the first place. She, like Fett, wracked her brain trying to figure out how to stop this "abuse" she was doing to him, and that only made things worse for her. Fett describes many times about the extreme self-loathing and self-hatred they felt because they believed themself to be an abuser when they weren’t. Because they weren’t actually abusing anyone, the intense searching for the root of non-existent abuse only deepened the wound and left them more and more vulnerable to their abuser’s manipulation.

As Fett says, being victimized by your control is not the same as being victimized by my resistence to your control. His victim wasn't abusing him because, no matter how much he felt hurt, she wasn't the one doing any hurting of him. She did not have any underlying beliefs that she was entitled to control him. In fact, all of his hurt stemmed from her very strong belief that no one was entitled to control anyone else. She was resisting his control and that made him feel hurt. If your hand hurts after slapping someone who raised their arm to block the slap, that person didn't hurt you; you hurt yourself by slapping them.

But *his* underlying beliefs of entitlement were always there, and were always visible. When he first accused her of abusing him, almost everyone who knew her were shocked and suspicious. What do you mean she abused him? She had never exhibited that kind of behaviour before! They had relationships with her that weren't abusive at all! When she later accused him of the same, people said the same thing about him.

But she did not have those underlying beliefs, and her supporters were not wrong to question the accusation. It *was* contrary to everything about her. And because it was so contrary to her very nature, it was a sign that she was actually a victim of abuse herself. When his supporters questioned her accusation of him, well, I don't want to go so far as to say it was "wrong" to question, because serious accusations deserve to be treated seriously, which includes inquiry into the situation. But their dismissal of her accusation in favor of their personal experience with him *was* misplaced because they were looking at the wrong thing - his actions and feelings vs. his beliefs.

When her supporters questioned his accusation of her, they investigated her beliefs. In light of what she believed about entitlement and control, the accusation was patently absurd. The absurdity of the accusation is what led to the situation finally being identified accurately - that he was gaslighting her and emotionally abusing her. He accused her of abuse. Some people who knew her (not me, to my great shame), questioned that accusation. It didn't fit what they knew about her. She had never done anything like that to them. But, more than that, her *beliefs* were so contrary to the accusation, that her supporters were able to start piecing things together for her when she was so mired in self-doubt and illusion that she couldn't do it herself. So they started adding things up and told her "you are not this person he says you are. He is gaslighting you."

She finally broke free and accused him of abusing her. Some people who knew him questioned that accusation. It didn't fit what they knew about him. He had never done anything like that to them. But that's where they stopped. They did not question his *beliefs*. If they had, like I eventually did, they would have discovered that his beliefs are not actually contrary to the accusations at all. And they would have discovered, like I eventually did, that signs of his beliefs had been visible from the beginning. So no one else started adding things up, and to this day people believe that she abused him and that I also abused him because I withdrew my support and then resisted his attempt to control me when I withdrew that support. Because they looked at actions and feelings and not beliefs.

Those beliefs were visible, and showed a pattern, if you knew how to look for them. Without those beliefs, she could not have abused him. Hurt him, sure, because we all hurt people, especially when we are in pain ourselves and especially because the people who are the most vulnerable with us are also the most susceptible to being hurt by us precisely because of that vulnerability. But she *could not* have attempted to control or manipulate him because she *does not* hold any beliefs that she is entitled to his thoughts, his body, his choices. Everything she ever did in that relationship was an attempt to escape his control, not exercise it. But her attempts to escape that control were *felt* by him as "harm". And misunderstood by everyone else as "selfishness". And I, of all people close to that dynamic, should have been able to see the difference, since that is essentially my very existence within the context of romantic relationships - constantly attempting to escape control and being labeled "selfish" for the attempts.

The problem is that this subject is so complex and so nuanced that I don't think I'll ever be done writing about it. And so this post now becomes a mini-novel. All to explain that patterns are easy to disguise or misinterpret if we only look at actions and not at underlying beliefs. When we look at patterns of *beliefs*, things appear very different. Someone who seems totally affable becomes a manipulative monster (everyone's favorite TV dad, for instance). Someone who is accused of being that monster turns out to be a victim themself. And within communities concerned with social justice, it's hard to see sometimes because those monsters learn to co-opt the language of social justice. But the beliefs are still there, and they show up, if you know how to look for them. So when you go looking for them and they don't show up, it's time to wonder just who is the attacker and who is being attacked and maybe all is not as it seems.

When a bunch of people all stand up and say "I looked, and they didn’t perform those actions on me!", maybe we can question the validity of the group defense. But when a bunch of people all stand up and say "I looked, and those beliefs just aren't present", maybe we ought to question the validity of the *accusation*, like when my abusive ex accused his victim of being abusive for daring to resist his control of her. She (and later, I) was ostracized from her community and her support group because everyone automatically believed the "victim", meaning he called dibs on the label first and everyone jumped to his side by default, without critically examining whether his claims were even plausible, given the beliefs of the people involved. Her actions were deemed "abusive" simply because he felt hurt by them, without looking to see if there were any elements of entitlement or control present and, if so, which direction they flowed.

But those who cared enough to look beneath the surface finally saw the truth. Those who took the time to look for patterns of *belief*, not actions or not simply whether someone felt "hurt", when we saw the patterns of belief, we knew that she could not have been abusive, even if she might also have caused harm. And my refusal to see this pattern when it was first shown to me, that led to consequences of my own. Consequences that could have been avoided, and possibly even resulted in better protection for his victim sooner, had I learned to look for belief patterns and had I learned to recognize that internalized paradigm of ownership rather than quibbling over whether or not specific actions "counted" as "abusive".

Maybe, had I done that instead, I wouldn't today be wracked with guilt and self-doubt, all these years later. Maybe his victim would have escaped sooner and healed faster had I not backed the wrong horse and had I not challenged everyone else who said "but she can't be an abuser because our experience of her is different!"  Maybe she wouldn't have been so easy to isolate had I listened to *her* other supporters instead of arguing that they just didn't see how much drama the family had only when she was brought into the fold. Instead of questioning their support of her on the basis that they were too close to her to be "objective" and not close enough to the situation to see all the hurt feels he had. Maybe if I had acknowledged that, as people who knew her so well for so long, they might actually have had some insight into her belief structure and been exactly the right people to know if she had the beliefs necessary for her to abuse him. Maybe, if I had known that it was the beliefs that were important, not actions that happened behind closed doors that can be interpreted in many ways or rationalized and not simply “feeling” hurt by someone, things could have been different and we both could have been spared at least some of the damage that dating an abuser left us with. Maybe, had I understood all this back then, I wouldn't today feel like that house with broken windows**.

This is not the only time I made this mistake, either, although I was closer to this situation than to others. There was another time someone cried "abuse", and I believed them automatically because I was told I should, and only many months later did I learn that he was, in fact, an abuser. He was just the one who cried foul first. But, again, it took a confrontation with him personally where his beliefs that it was acceptable to overwrite another person’s reality became visible for me to see the pattern. Two people accused each other of abuse, and I took this side because I now "knew", thanks to my experiences dating an abuser, that abusers often think of themselves as victims. So, obviously, his abuser was just doing that, right? Except that later, he tried to gaslight me too. After telling him multiple times my feelings on something, he continued to insist that I did not feel those things, and to insist on his own narrative of what I felt. Now his "abuser’s" accusations of gaslighting sounded more plausible. He *believed* that he was entitled to control another person’s reality, and patterns of that belief were visible, if you know what to look for. That doesn’t let the other person off the hook for whatever wrongs they committed in this very messy situation. But it does mean that I was wrong to "believe the victim" without treating all the accusations flying around seriously and critically examining the situation even though I thought I did at the time. My bias towards "believe the victim" and my personal experience with abuse telling me that I should now know what abuse "looks like" fogged the matter and I did not examine the situation critically enough, or with enough information (knowing the difference between beliefs vs. behaviours or feelings) to be able to examine it properly.

So I yell on the internet, hoping people can learn very expensive lessons without paying the high price I paid to learn it first. After I believed the wrong "victim" more than once, I'm not positive that "believe the victim" is the right response. *Support* the victim might be a better response, because support allows for the ability to examine the situation and then provide the *right type* of support based on that examination. Had I "supported" all the actors in that messy double-accusation drama instead of "believed" just one of them, I might have been able to provide better support for the actual victims in the story, given that I had some community authority and responsibility in the matter. Had I "supported" my then-boyfriend instead of "believed" him, I might have discovered the truth sooner and been able to support him by holding him accountable instead of inadvertently contributing to the gaslighting of his real victim. Had I "supported" him instead, I might have been able to hear the chorus of "she couldn't have done that because we know her!" and looked into it more clearly instead of dismissing it out of hand, and I might have then learned about this beliefs vs. actions/feelings problem.

And maybe we might both have escaped without breaking first.



* I will not be hosting any debate in my comments about the definition of hierarchy. That’s why I linked to the definition I’m using here. If your definition differs, then you’re not doing what I am calling "hierarchy" and I don’t care. I absolutely refuse to hold space for this endless circular argument because it has managed to keep the entire community derailed for over 20 years. I’m insisting on moving on. Any comments that include anything even remotely resembling "but sometimes hierarchy is…" or "but I don’t do that…" or "but my kids really do take priority!" will be summarily deleted regardless of what other content the comment may have. If you’re feeling the desire to make a comment like that, go read the link I provided for the definition of hierarchy, and then parts 1 and 2 of Can Poly Hierarchies Be Ethical first. If you still feel the desire to make those comments, re-read all three posts. Continue re-reading until you no longer feel the need to make those rebuttals.

** This is in reference to an essay that might not be available. The essay is an analogy to living in a house with windows that aren’t perfect but that do the job. They’re good enough and the house is sound. Then one day, someone comes along and breaks the windows. And you spend a long time ignoring the broken windows, and then working around the broken windows, and then finally learning how to fix the broken windows. One at a time, you repair them. They’re not all repaired yet and some rooms are still unusable because of the broken windows, but the house is getting fixed, the new windows look great, and you learned a new skill. But the windows were fine to begin with. You didn’t need to learn this skill or replace the windows until someone came along and broke them. So you’ve had to spend all these years learning how to fix windows that shouldn’t have had to be fixed in the first place, and all these years ahead of you continuing to fix each window, when you could have been using that time to learn a different skill, to get better at something new, to grow or improve. Instead, you spend all this time just trying to move backwards to get back to a place you were before because you can’t move forward until you get there first. The breaking of the windows was a huge step backwards and now you’re playing catchup. And it all feels unnecessary because the windows were fine to begin with.



1. Abuse In Poly Relationships by Shea Emma Fett - https://medium.com/@sheaemmafett/abuse-in-polyamorous-relationships-d13e396c8f85

2. 10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Gaslighting by Shea Emma Fett - https://medium.com/@sheaemmafett/10-things-i-wish-i-d-known-about-gaslighting-22234cb5e407

3. Relationship Rights: Can You Negotiate Them Away by Eve Rickert - www.morethantwo.com/blog/2015/01/relationship-rights-can-negotiate-away

4. Can Polyamorous Hierarchies Be Ethical? Part 2: Influence and Control by Eve Rickert - www.morethantwo.com/blog/2016/06/can-polyamorous-hierarchies-ethical-part-2-influence-control
joreth: (Misty in Box)

http://the-orbit.net/brutereason/2016/08/16/selfishness-valid-response-entitlement-boundary-crossing/

In a completely different context, I have been known to say to my coworkers:



"I can totally tell you're a straight dude, because you've *obviously* never dated another guy.  Y'all think you're all rational and logical and shit, and that you're all about the sex and not the romantic stuff, but I know what y'all say to women when your dudebros aren't around.  You whine about not 'connecting' and missing the romance and all the fucking talk, talk, talk.  After a while, it's like 'do we have to talk about our relationship ONE MORE TIME?  Can you please just shut up with all the relationship talking?  Is it too much to ask to just come home, have some dinner, watch a little TV in quiet, have a little sex and go to bed?  Jesus fuck, you guys with all the talking!'  You sit there and complain about girls doing that but as soon as a girl doesn't WANT to do that, y'all turn into the whiny little bitches you complain about!  And don't tell me it never happens, unless you've dated as many men as I have, I'm pretty sure I have more experience with how dudes behave in relationships than you do.  You're getting the story your dudebros TELL you and the side they want you to THINK.  You're not seeing them behind closed doors.  I am.  Y'all are just as whiny and emotional as any of the girls you complain about."

Now, keep in mind that, when I phrase it like this, I'm talking to dudebros.  I'm talking to guys who are working in a masculine industry, talking to other guys, and doing that toxic masculinity bonding thing where they complain about how girly girls can be.  But the story under the language is true - I have spent a lot of time in relationships throwing my hands up in the air, yelling in frustration, "what the fuck, dude, I don't want to talk about our relationship anymore!"

Before I started dating [livejournal.com profile] tacit, about 13 years ago, just about every relationship I ever had ended in accusations of being a cold-hearted bitch.  I've had a few since then too, but he sets a high bar and my tolerance for partners who can't even come close to meeting that bar is rapidly dropping as I age, so my other partners since dating [livejournal.com profile] tacit have been a better ratio - with only a couple of outright abusive assholes using that accusation and the rest breaking up for other reasons.  By the end of things with those who accused me of being a cold-hearted bitch, I was no longer interested in hearing about their day, in listening to them whine (because that's how I thought of it by the end) about how much they "missed" me, in making them dinner, in sitting with them to watch their favorite show, in, really, doing anything at all kind or compassionate for them.  There would come a point in the relationship where I would just ... check out.

And I bought into this idea that I was some kind of borderline sociopathic monster (or, a dude in a girl's body, because the other common accusation is that I act like "the guy" in the relationship, which "forces" them to act like "the girl", because there always has to be one of each? Oh right, if *I'm* not performing the emotional labor, *someone* has to, and it's just not *fair* that it has to be the actual penis-holder!).  So I would warn people up front that I'm "the guy" and this is what I do.  But, in the beginning of a relationship, I like performing some amount of emotional labor - I like hearing my partner's inner most feelings.  I like baking for them.  I like validating them.  I am actually pretty schedule-oriented so I will keep the calendar and schedule events and remember (or get calendar notifications for) people's birthdays and anniversaries.  I even like the cuddling and the sex, in the beginning.  So they get used to me behaving in a way contrary to my warning words.  Then they start to feel entitled to that behaviour, and that turns me off.  So then they're surprised when I start acting exactly like I said I would because they weren't hearing my words, they were seeing my actions which contradicted my words and they put a filter over their interactions with me that projected their own biases onto my actions and filtered out my words.  Then they accused me of being "cold" and I would yell right back at them "what part of 'I'm a cold-hearted bitch' that I said in the beginning didn't you understand?"

The Five Love Languages theory claims that everyone has one primary Love Language that they use to express their love for people or that they feel love when expressed towards them.  It claims that it's possible to learn the other languages just like it's possible to learn actual languages, but that there is always The One.  I disagree.  I think that there is no limit (upper or lower) to the number of languages any given person naturally "speaks".  Some people have a single language and all the rest will always be a struggle for them.  Others, like me, speak all five fluently and naturally.  And most everyone else is somewhere in between.

Here's something I learned about the Five Love Languages - if a person has a particular Love Language, and that Love Language gets abused from an early age, and/or often, then that person will develop a strong aversion to the expression of that Love Language precisely because that Love Language is so important to them.  It's like touching an exposed nerve almost.  Maybe not quite, but touching something sensitive - if you do it exactly right, it will make them melt with pleasure, but if you do it wrong, it'll be a screaming, painful experience for them when the rest of us are all like "I don't get it, what's the problem? This doesn't hurt *me* that much!" (we see this very clearly in the "can't you take a joke?" defense where some people have no problem slinging insults around as signs of affection, but get confused when someone they love takes it "personally").  If that Love Language gets abused early enough, before the person is aware that this is a Super Important Way To Express Love, this person might believe that they are actually opposed to it completely, instead of it being extremely important to them.  And then, because they are avoiding the expression of that Love Language out of self-defense, their "love tank" runs on empty for most of their life.

A "love tank" is often compared to a car's gas tank or a bank.  It's this metaphorical space that gets "filled up" when you do things that makes the person happy.  When the tank is "full", they have a reserve to fall back on when things are tough.  When the love tank is full, and you have a fight, they are more likely to be charitable or compassionate during the fight and get over it afterwards because they have this extra cushion to fall on, this extra reserve to draw from, so they can afford to bend more, be more flexible, give more during a conflict.  This is why conflict, anger, or arguments are not necessarily a sign of a bad relationship - all relationships have these.  It's contempt that is the big warning sign.  Contempt, and similar emotions, are what gets brought out when these love tanks are running low.  Contempt and disgust lead to a lack of empathy, and that lack of empathy leads to "selfish" behaviour.  If you can't empathize with someone's position, you prioritize your own safety or your own security or your own escape route.

These behaviours are labeled "selfish" because you are putting yourself ahead of them.  I, personally, make a distinction between "selfish" and "self-interested".  "Selfish", when I use it, means putting WANTS ahead of someone else's NEEDS, and doing so either knowing that your actions will harm another and not caring; or thinking of yourself to the exclusion of the other person so that it doesn't even occur to you that someone else might get harmed.  When I say "self-interested", I mean that you are putting your NEEDS ahead of someone else's WANTS.  I might include "putting your needs ahead of others' needs" as well because sometimes there are situations where two people have legitimate "needs" that are incompatible and someone might have to choose themselves over someone else.  I don't consider that to be "selfish" so much as "self-interested".  Often, the person putting their own needs ahead of someone's wants is aware that someone else might feel hurt by it, but they feel it is a regrettable necessity.  They aren't lacking empathy, they are making a choice about priority.

I think this distinction is very important because the accusation "selfish" is a very powerful tool of abusers to maintain their victims.  Being "selfish" is one of the worst things a person, especially a woman or someone coded as "female" or "feminine", can be.  So it's easy to keep her in line by grooming her for her entire life to not be "selfish" and then drawing on that grooming whenever she acts self-interested.  Meanwhile, the actions of the abuser are, in fact, "selfish", by this definition.  I think it's important to note these two similar but distinct actions and belief systems with their own labels.  This is not a criticism of the original article's use of the term, but an explanation of my own position on the subject and how I normally use these terms.  Regardless of which term is used, I completely agree with the posted article's position on this subject, which is why I'm sharing the article.  It prompted me to take a look back on all the times I've been called "selfish" and "cold" in relationships and to be critical of those accusations.

So, back to the Five Love Languages - I apparently speak all 5 fluently and naturally.  Which might sound awesome at first hearing, because there are so many ways that people can express their love for me and I can speak naturally to any of their individual ways so you'd think that I'd get along well with a whole bunch of different people.  But, as I like to joke, it's actually more like there are so many *more* ways that people can fuck this shit up than those who only speak 1 language.  Because there are *5 separate love tanks* that people have to keep filled, not one, if they want me to feel secure in our relationship.

So, I would start out in a relationship with the NRE filling the role of the "cushion" or "reserve" in the relationship.  Kinda like how lactic acid works when there's an oxygen deprivation to keep you physically moving, only in reverse - I start *out* with the NRE giving me a boost just long enough for the new partner to start making emotional "deposits" that I will eventually start drawing on when the NRE wears off.  So, the NRE makes me all physically affectionate, verbally validating, intensely interested in everything they have to say, interested in doing things for them, and even wanting to give tangible things to represent my feelings for them or to show them that I was thinking of them when they weren't around (in order, the Love Languages of Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Gift Giving).

But here's something that the Love Language theory doesn't cover.  I propose that "entitlement" can actually draw *out* any saved reserves from love tanks.  So, even if my partner is actually expressing love for me in ways that might otherwise fill up my love tanks, if he is acting *entitled* to any of these expressions of love from me, that entitlement will start to siphon off some of those reserves.  So, he may be showing his love for me by wanting to spend Quality Time with me, but if he's also *demanding* that time of me because he feels that I owe it to him as part of our relationship bargain, that Quality Time now starts to act as a deficit instead of a deposit.

"Leaving aside the fact that it’s still her phone and she still gets to decide who gets to use it and for what–a very important fact that I’m only leaving aside because I’m writing about something else–our brother has a pattern of entitled, demanding behavior towards her. He treats her time, belongings, and energy as if they’re his to take. Unfortunately, that happens a lot to selfless and caring people.

Because of that pattern, my sister has stopped being as giving with our brother as she used to be. Often she angrily refuses to do even tiny favors for him, like letting him borrow her phone for a few minutes to take some photos. Occasionally he makes his requests in a more appropriate way, but sometimes she still reacts with knee-jerk irritation and, raising her voice, tells him no."

I have been quoted as saying that I have a long fuse, but a huge blast radius.  This means that I seem to have these endless reserves of patience and caring and compassion and empathy ... until you reach the end and then I blow up in what appears to be a totally disproportional way.  I have yet to find a way to fix this, because I actually have gotten very good at clearly stating my boundaries and warning people that I'm nearing the end of my rope.  But that seems to make it worse for me, because then when they overstep my boundaries, they're doing it *knowingly*, from my perspective, and I take it now as a deliberate blow.  But, there's something else that gets added on top, it's just that very few people ever get to see it these days because I've gotten more comfortable with the banhammer and burning bridges.

When I have finally lost my patience with someone on a particular thing, but for some reason I haven't decided to nuke the entire relationship, I never again build up any resources to deal with that particular thing.  So, for example, my family.  My family doesn't do anything so horrendous that I'm willing to cut ties with them.  They're not abusive, they're not racist (at least not all of them, and the ones who are aren't overtly racist), and since I live 3,000 miles away I can enjoy their company in small doses of my own choosing.  But when we were kids, my sister used to steal my stuff.  My clothes, my cassette tapes, whatever I had, she would steal it whether she liked it or not.  One day, I'd had enough and we got into a fight about something probably not even related, and I shoved her bedroom door through the connecting wall.  I got grounded forever and I had to do the repair work on the wall when my parents got home.  To this day, I am extremely short-tempered about my stuff going missing and I'm incredibly territorial about my stuff.

Another example is my parents not respecting my agency.  In a million tiny ways almost too hard to describe, my parents have never respected my autonomy and my desire or ability to make my own decisions or be an independent person.  It's hard to describe because any one example is minor enough that many people just don't get why it's a big deal.  The big deal is the aggregate.  It takes a lifetime of tiny little chips away at my autonomy before I finally blew up about it.  I got into a huge fight with my mom and moved out (and into the arms of my first abusive fiance, but that's another story).  My mom tried to physically restrain me from leaving the argument and, for the only time in my life, I pushed her back and into the hallway wall.  My sister came running down the hall and broke up the fight and I left.

My mom and I have repaired things and I consider her a good friend in addition to being my mother now, but every time she does even the slightest thing to remind me of an infringement on my autonomy, I get red-faced, temperature-raising, pissed off.  The most common example is that, every time I visit or they visit, mom asks me if I need her to wake me up in the morning to get to whatever we have to do that day on time.  She doesn't believe that I can do it myself just because my sleep disorder showing up in my teen years took me some time to learn how to compensate for.  No, I don't fucking need mom's help to wake up.  I'm motherfucking middle-aged and I've been getting myself up for two-thirds of my entire life.  Don't fucking wake me up before my goddamn alarm.  I have a system that works for me, don't fucking do it.  See?  Totally unreasonable reaction if seen out of context and in isolation.  But I have never been able to build up any extra reserves to my mother infringing on my autonomy, so it is *always* that exposed nerve, that empty tank.

"Once I realized that my partners thought that it was my job to do emotional labor for them, I started rapidly losing the desire to do it."

"Even now, even to myself, I sound selfish and cold. But so does my sister, out of context. Neither of us is selfish or cold. What we are is exhausted. What we are is tired of being unable to set any boundaries. What we are is totally done doing things for people who have never, ever asked us what we need."

"When someone’s reserves of compassion get drained like that, they start setting boundaries that are much stricter and tighter than what they would’ve been otherwise. No, you can’t borrow my phone for even a few minutes. No, I don’t want to listen to your feelings at all. No, I honestly don’t even have enough emotional energy to give you a compliment to make you feel better about yourself."

"Because others’ entitlement often shuts down our desire to help them, and when we’re constantly afraid that our boundaries will be ignored, one strategy that many of us feel compelled to use is to start loudly, bluntly stating and defending those boundaries, as if to remove any plausible deniability from the person who continually crosses them."

The author goes on to say that they're not very optimistic about salvaging a relationship after the point at which it has collapsed from one person just flat out giving up on doing any more emotional labor.  I can relate there too.  Once I "go cold" like that, once I'm just done giving a shit about their feelings in the matter - any matter - I really have no interest in trying to repair the relationship and I don't see it as being very likely that anyone else will have any success in their own relationships after someone reaches that point.  I'm reading a book now that claims to be able to help people come back from that precipice, but I'll be honest, I have some reservations about it.

The book I'm reading is all about the scientific research being done about "trust" in interpersonal relationships, and it actually had me for about half of it.  I was on board, I was nodding my head as I read, I was already trying to come up with ways to work some of its theories into my Love Languages and Breaking Up workshops.  And I *still* think those parts have merit, so I may still reference them.  But then I got to this one part where he lumped kink into "impersonal sex", which tells me that he has no fucking idea what kink is, which means that he really doesn't understand what's going on in the minds of people regarding trust at all.

He moved away from kink and went back to just talking about repairing trust and betrayal and I thought, well, OK, the 5 Love Languages is deeply problematic too, coming as it does from a heteronormative, couple-centric, deeply Christian perspective, but I managed to strip it of all that bullshit and find something usable to present to the poly community so perhaps I can pick and choose with this book too.  But I'm not entirely sure I agree with his premise for using his research on trust and betrayal to mend broken relationships.  He seems, from my perspective as someone who has been thrust down the rabbit hole of abuse in poly relationships, to be fetishizing the couple and prioritizing the needs of the relationship over the needs of the individuals in the relationship - a core axiom of ethics violation in poly relationships.

We go through so much trouble to try and salvage relationships after things have gone sour.  There is a point before which things are rocky but there are enough good parts to a relationship that things can be improved and bring value and joy to everyone involved, and there is a point after which I'm not so sure it's worth the effort even if it *can* be turned around and start bringing more joy than suffering again.  And that's not a hard and fast point that I can just say "if X happens, it's not worth it anymore, for anyone, no matter what!"  I think that's something only the people in the relationship can decide for themselves, and I think it's possible for it to be true for one / some of the people and simultaneously not true for the other(s).  But I think that point exists, and I think it's very important that we as a society acknowledge this.  Relationships and love are abundant.  We can find them all over the place.  But we can't *see* them, or won't be open to receiving them, if all of our resources are tied up in Scotch-taping broken relationships back together.  Sometimes, we might just be better off by using our resources more efficiently by giving up on a broken relationship and spending those resources in other places that aren't so broken.

In this book that I'm reading, the author talks about this point where someone in a relationship starts comparing what they have to what they could have elsewhere, either a real person / relationship that they know of or a fantasy in their head of something that might exist elsewhere if only they could go look.  I really want to expose this researcher to healthy poly relationships where believing there is "someone else" out there who can do or be this other wonderful thing *isn't relevant* to whether or not we choose to stay with our current partners.  But there is a nugget of truth in there, that if we are too busy spending all of our resources on a sinking ship, we don't have any resources to maintain or repair all the other ships in our lives, whether it's other romantic partners, family, friends, hobbies, or jobs.  This even has a name - the Sunk Cost Fallacy, where we keep dumping in resources after resources into an endless pit because we feel that we have to justify all the resources we have been dumping in so far.  To cut our losses and run is to have "failed" and to invalidate all those spent resources.  So we keep spending.  And that contributes to people staying in abusive or toxic relationships (among other things).

I think we need to stop romanticizing the Forever After and accept that relationships, even successful ones, may not always last until Death Do We Part.  I think that it is not necessarily a bad thing to reach this point of No More Fucks To Give and decide that, even if it's possible, it's not desirable to try to "fix" the relationship.  I think that, not only is not a bad thing, but it's actively a good thing in many cases, and that it's also not a bad thing to decide it's not desirable *before* reaching that point in order to meet a different goal of maintaining a civil breakup and post-breakup relationship.  Better to walk away still remembering the relationship fondly and perhaps even harboring some loving feelings, than to wait until the only feeling you have left for them is contempt, disgust, or anger.  Assuming, of course, that you can choose when to walk away, but that's a different discussion.

When we have someone who repeatedly violates our boundaries, or regularly draws upon our emotional reserves in the relationship without putting enough of their own back in to compensate, "selfish", or as I have termed it, "self-interested" behaviour is a valid response.  If you're wondering why someone seems to have "checked out" or why they seemed to have lost all their compassion for you, it may be because you've been drawing on their "love tank" reserves instead of filling them up.  If you're being accused of being "selfish" and you're wondering why you seem to be this heartless monster around this person in particular but you either remember not being that person or you aren't that monster around other people, it may be because this particular person is crossing your boundaries in small, almost unnoticeable ways or because they're acting entitled to your emotional labor or because they're withdrawing your love tank resources instead of depositing into them.

And if that is the case, it may be for everyone's benefit that you act a little more "selfish", or at least self-interested, and remove yourself from that relationship.  If full removal isn't possible at this time, I'd recommend embracing the accusation of being "selfish" and/or looking into ways that you can get away with enforcing as many of your boundaries as possible and acting in your own self-interest in as many ways as possible, as often as you can.  If "reclaiming" the label of "selfish" gives you the strength you need to do what you have to do, go for it.  If just reminding yourself that "selfish" and "self-interested" are two different things and that people who have a vested interest in keeping you under their control often use the "selfish" accusation when you're really being "self-interested" - if that reminder is enough make you feel better about taking care of yourself in the face of boundary-crossing and entitlement, then hold onto this until you can improve your circumstances and keep reminding yourself of it.  It is not a bad thing to take care of yourself in the face of this kind of violation, even if that means you have to "shut down" something in order to cope.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
I have, on occasion, offered to host "guest posts" for people I know who wanted to write something they felt was important but didn't feel like their own platform was the appropriate place for it, for whatever reason. I'm not really known as a blogger with a large audience, and LiveJournal isn't really a popular blogging platform these days, but I figure with my history of topics I can probably afford to host certain posts when others can't or would rather not.

So, today I'm providing a platform for Jess (Burde) Mahler over at Polyamory On Purpose:



Had a conversation today that pulled into focus some thoughts on “boundaries” “control” and, most importantly, “choice.”

I’ve said in other contexts that every day we choose to be in our relationships. I didn’t decide to be with Michael one day seven years ago and that was it. Every day we have been together, I have decided to be in a relationship with him and to make our relationship healthy(er).

In the same way, every (social) relationship you are in is one you choose to be in. Work, military and political relationships can be forced on us. Who we love, befriend, count as family, and bump bits with cannot. Every day we choose to be in those relationships.

Usually, we aren’t aware of these choices. If you choose to be in a relationship with Wanda, you aren’t going to wake up every day and say “Do I want to be in a relationship with Wanda today?” You default to the established choice. Somewhere in your subconscious a decision tree runs “I decided to be in a relationship with Wanda yesterday and nothing has changed (or things have changed for the better) so I’m still in a relationship with her today.” We only become aware of this choice when things go wrong. "Wow, I can't believe Wanda did that. Maybe this relationship isn't the best idea. No, I'm going to stick it out, we can make it work!" (Or "...Yeah, I'm not sure I can do this anymore. I think it's time to leave this relationship.)

People always have the right NOT to be in a relationship. At any day, at any moment, we can choose to end an existing relationship. Starting a relationship takes agreement, ending a relationship does not. No one can require you to be in a relationship with them.

Remember that.

Okay, so this conversation I had today, someone was bothered by the distinction between controlling and consideration for a partner’s feelings. The specific phrases were “My bf/gf won’t let me….” and “My bf/gf would be hurt if I did ____, so I won’t.” The person I was talking with basically saw the second phrase as emotional manipulation. Emotional manipulation is a way of exerting control on someone and is a form of abuse.

I, on the other hand, saw the second phrase as respect for a partner’s boundaries. My partner will be hurt if I do this, I don’t want to hurt my partner, I won’t do this.

The difference, the critical difference, (and why I still think I’m right ;) ) is choice.

Let’s break those two phrases down a bit.

“My bf/gf won’t let me...” In this statement, you do not have a choice in your actions. Your partner has made the choice for you. This is controlling. It would not surprise me to learn that this relationship is abusive. (Controlling relationships are not always abusive—you can choose to give control to your partner, a la power exchange relationships, but controlling relationships where the control is coercive are always abusive.)

“My bf/gf would be hurt if I did...” In this statement, you have a choice. You may choose to do this thing. You may choose not to do this thing. All your partner has done is give you information. In this case, the information that if you do this thing, they will be hurt. In consent, giving additional information is called making sure your partner is fully informed. Same applies here.

Now, if you choose to do the thing that hurts your partner, and your partner punishes you for it, that is abuse. Your partner is trying to control your choices. The next time you think about doing something that would hurt them, they want you to choose what they pick for you to choose. Not what you would choose for yourself.

Telling a partner what to do: controlling.

Telling a partner your feelings and preferences: informative and important for fully informed decisions.

Telling a partner your feelings and preferences and punishing them if they don’t do what you want: controlling and (outside of consensual power exchange relationship) abusive.

With me so far? Cause the next step is a humdinger.

“If you do ____ I will not be able to be in a relationship with you.”

I’ve been told in the past that this kind of statement is automatically coercive because it is an ultimatum. But if I fill in the blank this way:

“if you hit me I will not be able to be in a relationship with you.”

Suddenly the same people who were saying it is controlling or coercive language agree that you are making a perfectly reasonable statement.

Let’s drop something else in the blank:

“If you talk with your ex I will not be able to be in a relationship with you.”

All of a sudden, those same people will once again see it as controlling or coercive. But it’s the same language, the only thing that has changed is what your partner is talking about.

So the idea really seems to be “asking your partner to do or not do certain things in order to be in a relationship with you is controlling.”

And this is where we come back to where we started. No one can require you to be in a relationship with them. I can break up with you tomorrow because you have a hangnail. I can break up with you because your voice is squeaky. I can break up with you for no reason at all. And you can do the same, in all of your relationships.

It’s not asking your partner to do or not to certain things to be in a relationship that is controlling—they are asking you. The idea that “asking your partner to do or not do certain things in order to be in a relationship with you is controlling” This is controlling and coercive because it implies “you can’t break up with someone because they do something you don’t like.” Fuck no, I can break up with who I want, when I want, where I want. And so can you. And so can your partner. And their partner. Ad the nauseum.

But-but-but-

I can hear the objections. “Saying ‘if you do this I can’t be in a relationship with you’ isn’t asking! It’s telling them what to do if they want to be in a relationship with you!”

big sigh

Rather than argue, which I so could, I accept this framing. And?

Seriously, so what? I have the right to lay out requirements for the relationships I am in. This goes back to (again) No one can require you to be in a relationship with them.

If I want to, I can say that no one can be in a relationship with me unless they shit gold and fart rainbows, while dancing the rumba. That is my right. Deal with it. (It’s also your right. And your partner’s. And their partner’s. Ad the nauseum.) If I say that, chances are I’m not going to find anyone to be in a relationship with. That’s my choice. If I relax my standards to only people who shit and fart while dancing the rumba, I might actually find someone to be in a relationship with. But if I don’t want to relax my standards, I don’t have to. (also, ewwwww.)

So let’s go back to “If you do ____ I will not be able to be in a relationship wit you.” If it’s not controlling, and it’s not asking, what is it?

It’s laying out a decision tree.

It is saying “You have choices. You can choose to do this. You can choose to not do this. Those are your choices. After you make your choice, I get to make a choice. I get to choose (again, just like I do every day) whether or not to be in a relationship with you. If you do this, I will probably choose not to be in a relationship with you. If you choose not to do this, I will probably choose to continue being in a relationship with you.”

In this can, your partner is not taking away your choices. They are not controlling or coercing you. They are clearly stating “These are your available choices. These are the choices I will make depending on what you choose.”

This, like “My bf/gf will hurt if I do ...” is providing information. It is providing information that you need to make an informed decision. You can choose to do this, knowing it will probably end your relationship. You can choose to do this and coerce your partner into continuing to be with you (abuse) or you can choose to not do this because being with your partner is more important than doing this. These are your choices. These have always been your choices. The only difference is, they have now been stated clearly, so you understand them.

“But not letting me talk with my ex is coercive!” Yup. And if your partner said “you aren’t allowed to talk with your ex,” that would be controlling and wrong. (Again, assuming not a power exchange relationship.) However, your partner is allowed to say “I will leave this relationship if you talk with your ex.” Why? Because your partner can leave this relationship at any time. Because you cannot require your partner to be in this relationship. All you can do is choose to be in this relationship with them and make the right choices for you.

What if something your partner wants is harmful to you?

Well, then we have an incompatibility. One of the incompatibilities that gets talked about a lot is children. I want children. You don’t want children. We are incompatible. We have two choices. One of us can give up what we want to keep the relationship together, or one (or both) of us can choose to leave the relationship. Some incompatibilities can be worked around. “I am a vegan, I need to be in a relationship where I don’t need to eat meat.” “I’m not a vegan, I need to be in a relationship where I don’t need to eat tofu.” “Okay, how about we each cook our own meals, and we can make sure our families are on board with us bringing some vegan/non-vegan chow for the holidays.”

Now, someone saying they can’t be in a relationship with me if I talk with my ex would be a major incompatibility for me. I couldn’t give up talking with my ex even if I wanted to (we have kids together). So what would I do? I would not be in a relationship with this person.

What if I’ve been in a relationship with someone for a while and they say they can’t continue the relationship if I talk with my ex?

We go back to that decision tree. Being able to talk with whoever I want is a major deal for me. So I would reluctantly decide “I love you, but if you need me to not talk to people in order for our relationship to continue, I’m afraid I can’t do that. If you need to leave our relationship, I understand.”

Maybe they leave the relationship. Maybe we talk about it and they realize it was never about my ex, it was about their insecurity. Or maybe they tell me that every time I talk with my ex I’ve been picking a fight with my partner and didn’t realize it. (in which case, they kinda could have phrased their boundary better, but hey we’re all human). Maybe if there is an underlying cause of their boundary that isn’t directly about talking with my ex, we can find a compromise. Or maybe not. Maybe this is just an incompatibility that can’t be worked through. Or they aren’t willing to work through it. And they go their way.

And none of this is controlling. Or coercive. It’s just two people making the best of a hard situation and doing what is right for us.
joreth: (Self-Portrait)
www.xojane.com/sex/dating-a-social-justice-warrior-made-me-more-vulnerable-to-abuse

"I know that he's going to convince himself that everything that has happened between us was OK and that he is a good guy. He's going to pursue other women with his enlightened talk about feminism, polyamory, kink, and consent."

"Meanwhile, the person I left is sad that our "relationship failed" and will use my story to gain the sympathy and trust of women he can do this to again"


My ex was not this person. He did different things. He didn't do those things to me, he did them to someone else. When he tried to do his usual thing to me, I didn't react the same way he was used to women reacting so he dumped me instead. My anger and rage and confidence has always saved me from prolonged attempts at gaslighting and manipulation.

But these quoted sentiments - I still feel this way as a result of my last brush with an abuser. On paper, everything about him was "right". He was feminist, poly, kinky, secular, he cared so much for other people both those he loved and in the abstract of humanity. I thought he was safe. Instead, it was harder to detect the subtle misogyny that made him believe his female partners were not capable of making good decisions without his input or control, with the assumption that "good decisions" automatically meant "decisions that benefit him and never make him feel icky". Instead, it was harder to see his forms of gaslighting because he sounded so *reasonable* with his talk of science and brain chemistry and independent verification. Instead it was harder to recognize his need for control with his Warrior Woman Worship - a form of objectification of women related to Goddess Worship but specifically aimed at the "strong independent woman" as opposed to more traditional forms of femininity or womanhood in general or, even worse, "female sexual energy" that is more typical with Goddess Worship. How could he feel the need to control his partners if he was so appreciative of women with minds of their own? How does that even work?

I don't have a solution to this. I don't have some kind of checklist or test to weed out abusers who use whatever social constructs are available as manipulation tools. I don't have a way to fix those constructs that we need such as feminism or social justice or even polyamory and kink so that abusers can't warp them for their own use. I just want to add my voice to those saying that we have reasons to be fearful and distrusting. I try very hard not to let my fears shut me down and to begin my relationships with the winning game strategy of "trust first and only defect if they do", but it's hard. Things like this are why.



Just so it's clear to everyone, I'm not asking any questions or trying to understand something or even still processing bad feelings. Anything that ends with a question mark here is rhetorical. I've already done my personal work on my past experiences. This post was made to share with others the dangers and to help illuminate a problem in our communities. The only thing I've seen so far have even a chance of helping is a personal concern and fear of being "that person" and keeping people close who are willing and able to call us on our shit. My ex *thinks* he has people like that in his circle, but his circle has come to me on many occasions to say that they disagree with him but it was too much effort to contradict him, so they don't. So he is unaware this his circle disagrees with him on things, or even that he is viewed as "too much trouble" to disagree with.
joreth: (Misty in Box)

I talk a lot about how the language of abuse gets co-opted by abusers and how they create the narrative that they were the victim. I reference often the article by Shea Emma Fett and the quote where they say that being victimized by one's control is different from being victimized by another's resistance to one's control. I give a lot of sample examples, with identifying features modified or removed, but they're always simplified or summarized for the sake of analogy or making a point.

I'm going to give a real world example of what it looks like when someone uses social justice language to build a narrative that they were the ones who were victimized when someone attempted to resist their control.  So that you can see what it actually looks like and why someone could interpret that position sympathetically.

I was living in a room in a larger house where the owner of the house decided he didn't like me personally and wanted me to leave, but he refused to actually *tell* me that, so he started messing with the climate control to my room which caused my terminally ill-but-then-stable cat to go into heat stroke and shock and she died shortly thereafter. When I discovered he was deliberately fucking with me / my cats in this way, I hurriedly tried to escape, seeking a new place to live and trying to move out "secretly" so that one day I would just be gone and he wouldn't know where I was or how to reach me. Naturally, I had confided in my then-partner all of my fears and concerns and worries about my cats and how this living situation was unfolding. I was also tweeting about it, and my then-partner obsessively read my tweets.

So, while I was trying to escape and while I felt that my cats were in danger of this person when I wasn't home and while I was trying to vacate without him knowing what stage of moving I was in, my then-boyfriend broke up with me when he insisted that I had agreed to allow him to mandate the speed and progression of any new relationships I had, and I insisted that I never made that agreement.

Also, of importance to note, is my position on Dividing Property in a breakup. I have a THING about separating our stuff when I break up with someone. It actually kinda falls into my OCD because of how compulsive I am about keeping track of whose stuff is whose so that we can separate our stuff. I *do not* keep other people's things. I can't stress this point enough. I fucking mark my books, music, and DVDs even when I live alone just in case I might one day live with someone and have our things get mixed up and I will want a way to identify whose things are whose.  I have one of those "diamond" pens that scratches into any surface so that I can mark my property, and I'm fucking poor with old, outdated shit that no one would steal unless they wanted to hurt me.  

I'm not exaggerating about how much this is A Thing for me. I made my fucking *fiance* mark his books separately so that when he merged our Stephen King collections into one massive library, I could still tell them apart and when he emotionally abused me for months before I escaped, I made damn sure that he got all his books back, even though keeping his books would have made my nearly complete collection more than complete (which was a goal of mine at the time). I'm not exaggerating about how much this is A Thing for me.

So, my ex decided that I couldn't be trusted to return his spare toiletries that he kept at my house for overnight stays or his extraneous DVD burner that he told me I could keep for as long as I wanted because he had no use for it. He sent this house-owner into my room to retrieve his things while I was out. Yeah, you know that face you're making right now?  That shocked "he did what?!" face?  That's how everyone looks when I tell this story.  But to this day, he does not see how this action is wrong.  Even though (as I found out later), all of his other partners including his wife (who never takes other people's side against him) told him that he went too far.

This violation into my personal space was the last straw for me in a series of him attempting to insert himself into my personal space (trying to control my other relationships & my emotions). I told him that I did not want him to contact me in any way without first giving me an apology for sending the house-owner into my room and assuming that I wouldn't return his shit. Nothing about our relationship or our breakup, just an apology for this one act. I felt (and still do) that he couldn't possibly begin to understand what went wrong in our relationship unless he could understand how this act was a violation and why it was a violation, and I wanted an apology that reflected this understanding. Without this understanding, I feel that there is nothing more to talk about because we are at an impasse.

He contacted me twice more over the next several months. One time was to express sympathy at the death of my cat, which I told him was not sufficient, I still expected an apology if he wanted to talk to me. So, for those keeping track, that's twice that I laid out the conditions under which I would consent to hear from him - an apology for sending someone I was trying to escape from into my personal space. The third time he contacted me was just to reach out. He felt that "life was too short" to remain angry with each other and we should start rebuilding our friendship.

He did say that if he had known how upset I would get at the intrusion of the guy I was trying to escape into my room, he wouldn't have "taken him up on his offer". Since I happen to know that the two of them were not independent friends and did not have a correspondence with each other prior to our breakup (unless he had kept this hidden from me), this means that one of them had to contact the other *for the purpose* of discussing our breakup and / or my vacating the house, so I call bullshit on that. But, notice that his concession was about how "upset" I was, not any sort of validation for being upset, not an understanding of *why* I was upset, just that he didn't want to deal with my rage.

I said:

"No, it doesn't count. I want an apology that shows that you understand why what you did was wrong and expresses remorse for your behaviour, not a not-pology where you're just sorry I feel hurt without taking any responsibility for having hurt me and where you simultaneously try to defend your actions.

 

I don't know what's wrong with you that you can't see why I wouldn't feel violated by you sending in the asshole who tortured and killed my cat, for fuck's sake, while I was *in the middle* of trying to escape from him or deeply insulted by the accusation that you couldn't trust me to return your fucking spare hair dryer and extra drive that you weren't using and you said I could use as long as I needed because it was so extraneous to you.

I don't want to hear any more bullshit defense of 'he offered', any more 'I'm sorry you feel bad' not-pologies, or anything else about our relationship or breakup except a sincere apology for the final straw in what was the worst behaviour I have ever personally witnessed during a breakup. Not a single word of 'explanation' or defense. The only possible exception might be if you really don't understand and you sincerely want to understand why you were wrong but then it depends on how you ask for clarification and if I believe you are sincerely trying to make amends and not just trying to get me to spell out my argument so you can better argue your side. I don't want to hear your side and I don't care if you think I'm being unfair.

I've said at least twice now not to contact me without that apology or I'd block your methods of contact and I'm not going to repeat myself again."

So he contacted me a third time, just to get in another defense of how he wasn't really "wrong" and how I'm the villain here:
"I will not consent to a conversation that starts out with restrictions being placed on what I can and can not say. It's wrong of you to make such demands and ridiculous to think that I would accept such terms. Along with your having deleted my last message unread, it's clear that you're less interested in achieving understanding and finding the truth than you are in defending the narrative that you've spun for yourself about the circumstances surrounding our breakup. That's not setting personal boundaries. That's trying to dominate the conversation by threatening to take your ball and go home."
You see that? "I will not consent to a conversation with you". "you're not interested in finding the truth". "That's not setting boundaries, that's threatening to take your ball and go home."

"I will not consent" - that's co-opting the language of the victim. He doesn't *have* to "consent" to any conversation with me because I'M TRYING TO GET HIM TO STOP FUCKING TALKING TO ME. I don't *want* a conversation with him, I want him to go away. I left the door open a crack for future conversations by offering him an avenue to start a dialog with me (which, frankly, was more than he deserved), but I am not *asking* to have any more conversations with him. I am demanding that he leave me the fuck alone, which he ignored 3 goddamn times. He's not so concerned with *my* refusal to consent to talk to him, but tell him he may talk to me under certain conditions and suddenly I'm violating his "consent" because he wants to talk to me without any conditions for what he can talk about. That's entitlement.

He considers himself a rational and a skeptic, as do I. The part about not being interested in "finding the truth" is a jab at that, because it assumes that he has some "truth" that I'm unwilling to acknowledge and I'm just being "emotional", compared to his so much more legitimate "reason" (and you SO don't want to get into the irony of that, considering the whole thing happened because he had an emotional reaction to me beginning a new relationship and I refused to modify my new relationship to suit his emotional state).

It's yet another defense of his position, which I said I didn't want to hear. Entitlement - he thinks he has a "right" to be heard. As I told him when I first issued my no-contact boundary, I do not believe that we can even begin to get to the "truth" of our relationship until he understands what was wrong about sending the house-owner into my space. That entitlement into my space and the assumption that I am not capable of making rational decisions or choices that are in my best interest (whether they "hurt" him or not) without his guidance or intrusion is the WHOLE POINT of the conflict in the first place, and an example of his sexist-based abuse that he inflicted on other partners of his who are less resistant to this form of control.

This is another point that the blogger Shea Emma Fett said in another piece about how misogyny informs certain types of abusive relationships. He had a pattern, that I had just discovered at that time, of not trusting his partners to make decisions about their lives and he needed to be a part of that decision-making process to ensure that they made decisions that he would approve of.

I know that this is hard for some people to understand, but I, and women in general, am capable of making decisions for myself that are in my best interest including when to not engage with someone anymore. The so-called "truth" of the matter of our breakup is less relevant than the fact that he repeatedly intruded on my boundaries - my physical space of my room, my emotional state, my other relationships - and took personal offense and victim status when I rebelled against his intrusion. There's more to his "truth" claim, but that involves other people and other situations that I don't feel free to share. Suffice to say that I warned him of something that would come to pass if he didn't change his ways, he very condescendingly told me that I had no idea what I was talking about, and then the thing happened. But in this email, a few months later, he still maintains that I don't know what I'm talking about and I'm missing some "truth" about the course of events that I am willfully ignoring (which, of course, he must provide for me).

That bit about taking my ball and going home is just ... it's hard to know where to start with how off-base this is. This email exchange happened 10 months after *he* broke up with *me*. The whole reason why I wasn't speaking to him is because he LITERALLY took his shit and left, and I was pissed at him for doing that (or, rather, *how* he did that). There is nothing left for me to "take" away from him and leave, except myself. And, that's exactly the point - he feels entitled to my attention, my "understanding", and I'm saying that he doesn't get those things, and he stomped his feet and threw a tantrum because I'm taking myself out of his reach.

Also, this phrase is often used as if taking one's toys and leaving are a bad thing. Two little kids are playing ball, one kid owns the ball and the other doesn't, and the kid with the ball gets pissed off at the kid who doesn't own the ball and takes his toy and leaves. We're supposed to feel sorry for the kid who doesn't have a ball to play with now and we're supposed to disapprove of the childish behaviour of the child taking his toy away, but, frankly, more people ought to feel empowered to pack up their shit and go when they're not having a good time anymore. The idea that we owe it to the other little kid to play with OUR toys is a toxic, abuse-apologist idea that needs to die.

This is *different* from the idea that we should be teaching people empathy and compassion and sharing our privileges, which I suppose is what the analogy is supposed to teach. If we see a homeless person on the street, we should be more willing to share our financial bounty, and not take our cash out of his hands if he mumbles something that we don't like. But the only time I see this analogy actually used is when two adults have a conflict and one adult removes themselves and access to things they own from another. As they should.

Yes, I am taking my ball of my time and energy away from you, because I don't want to share my time or energy on you anymore, and I'm "going home" in the sense that I'm telling you to get the fuck out of my house and stop coming around here anymore, just like THE LAST TWO TIMES I SAID SO.

"I will not consent to a conversation with you" - good, strong, boundary setting and the c-word - consent! Ooh, Joreth is violating consent! Obviously she's the bad guy!

"You're not interested in the truth" - see? Emotional! One might say 'hysterical' even! Joreth isn't reasonable or rational! I'm being abused because she won't hear my side of the story!!

"You're taking your ball and going home" - infantilizing, condescending, paternalistic. Now now sweetheart, you're just not seeing the big picture! Let me tell you what reality really is. What do you mean, you don't want to hang on my every word? You're silencing me!!!

Fuck you and your theft of marginalized people, oppressed people, actual REAL victimized people. You are not victimized by resistance to your control.  You are not entitled to anyone else's time, attention, emotions, patience, body, or even their subjective experiences.  When someone tells you to go away, YOU ARE NOT VICTIMIZED by that.  When someone tells you that you hurt them and they will not engage with you without an apology for what you did, YOU ARE NOT VICTIMIZED by that, even if you personally feel hurt by it.  You can feel hurt, you can feel offended, you can feel dismissed, you can feel angry, you can feel misunderstood, you can even disagree about the circumstances, but you are not the victim when someone tells you to apologize or GTFO, particularly after you did something to hurt them.  Stop throwing around terminology like "abuse", "victim", "consent", etc.  It only devalues it for when we need to use it legitimately.

joreth: (Purple Mobius)
Here's a surprisingly effective gaslighting tactic that I find in poly groups that is less likely to be appropriate in monogamous pairings:

First, either find people who want desperately to belong to *a* group or your group specifically, or build a group of people who learn to place belonging to that group as an important part of their identity or goals (i.e. make the relationship more important than the people in it; protect "the marriage" or "the family" at all costs, etc.).

Next, whenever someone does something that you don't like, get the rest of the group to side with you against the other person.

Finally, make the act of disagreement a hinge issue that can affect the other person's inclusion into the group, whether it is or isn't.

This places an additional burden on the person as an "outsider", as someone who could lose, not just this argument or this concession, but their place in the group entirely. Simply by having a disagreement, their position as a member of the group becomes threatened. It's not enough that they have a disagreement with someone they love or that the outcome of the disagreement may mean that they lose something (either the thing they're disagreeing about or the partner in the event of a breakup), but that the very nature of having that disagreement means they *have* lost something - belongingness.

When the importance of belonging to the group is high enough, individuals will backpedal on the issue they disagree about. They will either make a concession for the "greater good" or they will "decide" that the issue isn't all that important anyway. It becomes more important to maintain group cohesion than it does to protect and maintain one's individuality.

Once one's own individuality is less important than the group, one's own needs and rights are less important. This is how you get people to subsume their identities in a relationship. This is how you can coerce a poly person into an abusive relationship even with "multiple sets of eyes" watching.

Example:
Riley: I'd like to start dating someone new.

Quinn: The group doesn't agree. Why would you hurt all of us like that? Don't you care about us? Doesn't all our history and our commitments mean anything to you?

Riley: I'm sorry, I won't date anyone new. It wasn't that big of a deal anyway, just an idea I was tossing around.

-----

Jordan: So, things with Sam have been going pretty well lately. I think we could be taking things to the next level.

Alex: Wait a minute, what about us? Your time with us is already stretched thin. Can't you see how much this hurts Shannon? You made a promise to us to put us first. Between this and your school and your part-time job, you don't have enough time for everyone. Besides, what about safer sex? *We* don't feel comfortable with *you* taking on extra risk. That's not a choice that we would make for the group. You're endangering the people you care about. You need to break up with Sam right now.

Jordan: OK, you're right, I'm sorry, I didn't realize how much I was hurting you. I'll end things with Sam.
In both of these examples, the needs of the group were more important than the needs of the individual, and the otherwise good and wonderful quality of compassion within the individual was exploited to get them to give up something of themselves in favor of maintaining the group. Jordan's relationship with Sam wasn't anything done TO the group, but Jordan was convinced that the relationship was a direct, active action to harm the group. Riley hadn't even done anything yet but was convinced that what they wanted to do wasn't really what they wanted to do because Quinn re-framed the argument to be about what Riley once said they wanted before circumstances or feelings had changed (or to rephrase what Riley had once said to make it seem like Riley had said those things).

Both of these examples are things that I either personally witnessed (as in, I saw the arguments in question, I'm not just "believing" someone's personal retelling of a story that I wasn't there for) as an outside observer or was subjected to myself. Both of these examples represent more than one case. Both of these examples flew under my own radar for a while because I thought I knew what abuse would look like based on my own experience with abuse but I didn't. It took extreme scenarios before I could finally connect dots and see that coercion exists in the very foundations of certain poly community "principles" and "values" - namely those fear-based principles that got grandfathered into the poly community by people still carrying around their Monogamous Mindset.

I am *still* a proponent of family-based polyamory. I still greatly prefer the network style of poly that includes close friendships with metamours and a balance of group cohesion with independence. But I rail against couple privilege and polyfi and unicorn hunting because those systems are set up from the beginning to undermine that balance. It is absolutely possible to be part of a close-knit poly group and to compensate for the pressures of the group on the individual. But the key here is that you have to *compensate* for them because they are built into the foundations, between our cultural privileges and our own human tendencies towards tribalism, these are things we have to guard against.

But in poly forums, I see too much protection for these systems and not enough safeguards. This is how abuse runs rampant in our communities.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
http://polyamoryonpurpose.com/theres-no-right-way-to-do-polyamory/

It's about time other people are making blog posts on this subject. I've been saying this for years (it's even the catch phrase for Miss Poly Manners), and a handful of people have been saying it in online arguments for years, but there aren't very many articles, blog pieces - reference-able statements that take this position. Some try to be too conciliatory, as if they're afraid to alienate or piss off the people who are using this phrase as a silencing tactic.

We need more literature on this subject, particularly by names with larger audiences, and we, as a community, need to show a growing awareness and a harder stance against abusive tactics. These tactics masquerade as "reasonable", which is how they get entrenched; they co-opt well-meaning but misguided or simplistic philosophies because people who are trying to be well-meaning don't generally consider how they can be taken advantage of by those who aren't so well-meaning. We need to be uncovering them, revealing them for the manipulation that they are, and eradicating them from our lexicon, our philosophy, our communities.

"And for many people who do polyamory in a way that harms others “there’s no right way to do poly!” has become a useful tool to shut down conversation and deflect attention. As soon as someone says “There’s no right way to do poly,” the person confronting them has to defend their right to express their concerns. The conversation becomes about polyamory theory rather than whatever is concerning the person who spoke up.

This tactic can be used to shut down a secondary upset with the way their voice is being silenced, a mono partner who has agreed to try polyamory and is uncomfortable with the direct the relationship is going, other people in the local community calling out abuse or unethical behavior, and much more."

Abuse in polyamory is also a theoretical discussion, and this phrase is a useful tool to shut down conversation about that. When we talk about abuse in poly abstractly or generally, not speaking about a specific relationship, inevitably, someone comes along with "there's no right way to do poly" to justify gaslighting, manipulation, disrespecting of agency in the form of rules & hierarchy, control, and unequal distributions of power, even racism and sexism and other -isms that find their way into interpersonal relationships.

We are too afraid to say "there are wrong ways to do this", and we need to get over that.

In this article that was referenced in the previous link, Jessica Burde illustrates Shea Emma Fett's lesson that being victimized by one's control is not the same thing as being victimized by one's resistance to your control.

"In dealing with abusive relationships, it is important to recognize that playing the victim can be an extremely useful tool for the abuser. A classic example of this in polyamory is when one person tries to control their partner’s relationships. When their partner objects to this attempted control, the abuser responds with, “There is no one true way to do polyamory—you are just trying to control me and force me to do polyamory your way because you don’t like rules.”"

I ran into this a bunch of times in my past, but my most recent brush was also my most obvious example. He was so good at manipulation that I couldn't tell that he was doing it to others. I was convinced that he was ... well, not a "victim" because he had built up such a comfortable little power dynamic that everyone within it enabled each other so it didn't look like anyone was a "victim" of anything, but I was convinced that he was not in the driver's seat when it came to who controlled the group.  Ask me about poly-by-hostage rules sometime.

So when he employed those same tactics on a new partner and there was more turbulence than their little insulated, co-dependent group usually gave back to him, I, along with everyone else, assumed it was the new person's fault. The new person was the disruptive one, obvs, because things were running smoothly until they came along.

But the new person made large enough waves that the red flags finally started popping up in my field of vision. Not quite enough for me to have recognized it, but enough to have *primed* me for when he finally had the opportunity to turn his tactics on me. It was only when he accused *me* of victimizing him for resisting his control that I could finally connect the dots and see what he was doing to everyone else.

The kicker for me was when my life was falling apart by events totally out of my control - my landlord selling the house after my lease was up and not giving me enough notice to move out, the person who "rescued" me by offering me a room until I could find a new place to live torturing my cats while I was at work, a new partner who I was deeply in love with and deeply insecure about deciding to move away before the relationship had even gotten established, shit like that - when things were out of my control and I was flailing around trying to hold onto anything that wasn't sinking, he said to me "how could you do this to me?" It was in that moment that I finally realized that this was not a case of two people with different but valid styles of polyamory. This was a case of one person trying to control another, and the other resisting that control, and the one person then crying "victim!" when he didn't get his way.

Every argument we had where I tried to explain how his rules were hurting other people, he responded with "you're just trying to make me do polyamory YOUR way - this way works for us!" Yeah, in the way that any abusive situation "works" for the people in it - the one in control gets to stay in control and the one being victimized gets gaslighted into thinking that they're being abused for their own good.

"You don't get to arbitrarily decide how to take new partners without my approval" - uh, yes I do. You have choices you can make based on how I decide to take on new partners, but those decisions aren't about you, they're about me. I do have full control over those decisions that affect me.

"You don't get to decide the terms of when I speak to you" (said to me when I told him he was not to contact me again unless it was to apologize for something) - uh, yes I do. Again, I have full control over decisions that affect me. I absolutely get to decide the terms of how you interact with me and you are not "victimized" when I resist your attempts to control me or your access to me. You are not a "victim" when I fall in love with someone new and our relationship moves at a speed and in a direction we didn't anticipate.  You are not a "victim" when you violate my space and I refuse you access to me without an apology for it.  You don't have to like my decisions, you can feel hurt by my decisions, but you are not *victimized* by my decision to not interact with you or when I resist your attempts to direct what I do with my body, my mind, or my emotions.

Things that I do with my body, mind, or emotions are not things that I do TO YOU. They can affect you (which is why I'm so adamant about building friendly, or at least civil, metamour relations), but they are not done TO YOU. They are not about you. They are things that are happening to me. And you have no right to control those things or cry victimization when you don't like what happens to me.  Manipulation, intimidation, and control are, in fact, the wrong ways to do polyamory.
joreth: (Kitty Eyes)
In response to some comments I have seen on several other people's threads where they shared that graphic trying to explain that no one *owes* you their time, attention, love, sex, relationship, thoughts, etc. these blog posts are relevant.

Discussions about agency and abuse in relationships tend to get sidetracked by the minutia and strawman arguments of people pursuing *selfish* (i.e. not self-centric, but selfISH where it requires a lack of concern for how one's actions affect others) hedonism. In other words, there is some defense of "but if the other person is doing things for their own pleasure and it hurts you, that's not OK!" Of course it's not, but that's a different discussion.

"This is my experience. You can not know my experience.
That is your experience. I can not know your experience.
These are my choices. You are not entitled to control over them, you are not victimized by them.
Those are your choices. I am not entitled to control over them, I am not victimized by them."

"When we really understand the difference between these statements, we will understand how to support both survivors and abusers.

'I was victimized by acts of control' is not the same as 'I was victimized by the other person’s resistance to my control.'
"

http://emmfett.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-community-response-to-abuse.html

And then in the article they reference:

"“An abuser’s behavior is primarily conscious — he acts deliberately rather than by accident or by losing control of himself — but the underlying thinking that drives his behavior is largely not conscious.”

What is this underlying thinking? Well, it’s all around you. It is the foundation of rape culture. It is the fundamental belief that women do not have a right to their own personal power. It is the fundamental belief that they can retain power over their bodies, minds and choices, only so long as we agree with those choices. It is the way in which we punish women if we feel they’ve stepped out of line. It is the way we always suspiciously ask “what is she getting out of this?” when a woman reports abuse, harassment or assault. It is the reflexive dismissal of female anger as irrational, and female pain as imaginary. It is the way we, all of us, men and women buy into the belief that we are entitled to women’s bodies, thoughts and choices. In polyamory, this belief makes it easy for us to treat our partners as things and not people
."

https://medium.com/@sheaemmafett/abuse-in-polyamorous-relationships-d13e396c8f85

This part is relevant because most of the objection to that graphic is in the idea that someone just has the *right* to go off and do whatever they want to do. OMG what is the world coming to that anyone can just LEAVE whenever they want?!? What if I don't want them to go?!?

"It is the fundamental belief that they can retain power over their bodies, minds and choices, only so long as we agree with those choices". It doesn't matter if we think they are making a poor choice for themselves. It doesn't matter if we are hurt by their choice to leave us, stop loving us, not liking us, revoking consent to sex with us.

They do, in fact, have that right. They might be behaving like dicks about it, but they still have that right. If someone gets involved in an explicitly monogamous relationship and then decides to have an unsanctioned sexual relationship with someone outside of that relationship, their monogamous partner does not own their body and they have the right to do with their own body what they will.

They're being a dick and I will harshly criticize and name-call and publicly shame people for making choices that infringe on other people's right to consent. *That* is not what they have the right to do. The choice to *remain* in an explicitly monogamous relationship without giving their partner the information necessary to give informed consent is what they don't have the right for. But they, and they alone, hold the rights to what happens to their own body and mind.

That graphic does not address the content of the person's character when it says a person has the right to leave, to not love, to stop loving, etc. It only addresses the one seeking to exert control over that person trying to leave.

"Understand, that when your reasons for disrespecting the boundary become more important than the boundary itself, you are displaying a belief of superiority, entitlement and control, and these beliefs are the foundation of a culture that tolerates rape and abuse."

"But what if…
It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether it was unjust. It doesn’t matter if it hurt you. It doesn’t matter in reference to whether or not you respect the boundary. It’s their right to set the boundary because they are a whole and complete and autonomous human being. When you don’t respect the boundary, you are telling them in no uncertain terms, that you think that they are less than this.

But…
No.
"

http://emmfett.blogspot.com/2014/11/how-to-respect-boundaries.html

Yep, it absolutely sucks to have someone want to leave a relationship that you want to keep. It absolutely sucks to have feelings for someone who doesn't reciprocate. It absolutely sucks to have a partner make partner selection choices that involve other partners who do not respect your own relationship with the mutual partner. They are still allowed to make their own decisions about their own body, mind, and emotions, just as you are allowed to make your own decisions about your own body, mind, and emotions, including whether or not to remain connected to someone whose choices result in your pain.
joreth: (BDSM)
Dating Site Dude: Will you be my Mistress?

Me: What does that mean for you?

DSD: I dunno, like, be in control of stuff.

Me: What do you want me to be in control of?

DSD: Um...

Me: Do you want me to control what you eat? Tell you what to wear? Act like your mom and tell you to get off the Xbox and do your chores? Direct your career choices? Humiliate you? Do you want me to be in control of you in public? Just for a scene in a dungeon? All the time?

DSD: Tell me what to eat? WTF? No, I know how to feed myself! You're the Domme, you're supposed to come up with these things!

Me: Oh, I see. You've been reading 50 Shades. In the real world, it doesn't work like that. See, in *healthy* D/s relationships, the Dom might be the one crafting the scene, but the subbie is an equal agent in this collaboration and is required to provide the parameters. That's how the Dom knows what kind of scene to come up with and what things are off-limits.

DSD: Off limits? But you're supposed to dominate me! That doesn't make any sense if there are things I can tell you not to do!

Me: Oh, sweetie, if you think it's safe to give me complete and total freedom to do whatever I want with you without discussing limits and boundaries, you have a profoundly limited imagination. I guaran-fucking-tee you that I can come up with things that you will not want me to do. It's best that you decide what those things are *before* I do them to you.

DSD: But if I can tell you not to do something and you have to obey me, then you're not really in control of me!

Me: Give this boy a gold star! That's the difference between healthy D/s and 50 Shades. D/s is a mutually beneficial relationship between two (or more) individuals who all want to be there, choose to be there, and consent to every single activity that happens. The control is illusory. If you can't say no, then it's not consent, it's abuse, assault, and / or rape. That's what makes D/s a healthy expression of one's sexuality and not abuse - the ability to consent and to revoke consent.

DSD: But I'm consenting! That's the whole reason why I contacted you!

Me: You still haven't told me what you are consenting TO which, by inference, tells me what you're NOT consenting to.

DSD: I'm consenting to you controlling me!

Me: Do you mean that you plan to just stand there motionless while I position your body? What do you want me to control? And what happens when you try to resist my control or fail in your assignments? How am I supposed to punish you?

DSD: Now we're getting somewhere! Yes, punishment!

Me: But how? Impact punishment? Humiliation? Restraint? Silent treatment? Predicament scenarios? Erection torture? Forced delayed orgasm? Chastity devices?

DSD: I dunno, come up with something!  I don't even know what all that is!  You're the Domme!

Me: And here we go 'round again. If you can't understand the difference between abuse and consent, if you don't know how to maintain your own agency, then you are not safe to play with in a power exchange dynamic. You are unable to give consent.

Unlike Ana and Christian, a good Dom isn't in the relationship to work out anger and resentment at maternal figures of their past whether the victim likes it or not. A good Dom is an artist, crafting a scene like a playwright, designing the setting and costumes and dialog for their protege, their ingenue, their star. The "play" becomes the masterpiece intended to highlight and showcase the *star's* unique talents.  The star isn't acting exclusively for the playwright, the playwright is writing *for the star* and the star gets to stretch their skills, abilities, or interests.

But the Dom / playwright can't do that if they don't know anything about their sub / star. Are they a singer so they should craft an opera? Are they a comic so they should craft a comedy? What kind of comedy - high brow? slapstick? If this isn't a collaboration with the star being allowed to give input, telling the playwright and director when they feel uncomfortable, when they feel the character might do something different from what's written in the script, when they feel that their creativity is worn thin and they need a break to rejuvenate before they can bring their A-game back to the stage, when they have an idea of their own to add to the character or the dialog or the setting or the costuming - when the star isn't allowed to give that kind of input, then we have the sort of abuse we see in Phantom of the Opera. And look how well that turned out for everyone!

Power exchange only sounds like it goes in one direction to those who don't understand that it's an EXCHANGE. While the subbie agrees to voluntarily give up control in certain ways, they ultimately retain their agency and complete autonomy - that's what makes it not abuse. They have the right to say no at any time to any action, they have the responsibility of setting the limits, and they have the freedom to renegotiate the boundaries and details of the arrangement at any time in order to get more out of the experience.

While it's true that Doms do, indeed, get something out of being "in control", the sub is who drives the arrangement. If the subbie ain't happy, it ain't healthy. D/s is as much for the sub (if not more) as for the Dom. It's an equal partnership. You may be taking on complimentary roles, but both roles are equally important and equally present. A good Dom might very well enjoy controlling another human being, but a good Dom also takes pride in crafting excellent scenes that leave the sub feeling satisfied and content with the arrangement - sometimes even more than whatever that feeling of "controlling" might give them. And for that, the sub has to contribute, and has to retain their agency.

Which is why this is not like 50 Shades, why that whole series needs to drown out of our culture and be seen for the abusive apologia that it is, and why you are not currently capable of consenting to a D/s relationship and I will not even consider you as a sub until you can at least give some parameters to start with.

The sub may be "dominated" by their Mistress, but they also hold all the power over their own body and mind, D/s illusion to the contrary. Once that agency is relinquished, it is no longer D/s and it becomes abuse.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/08/things-wish-known-gaslighting/

Awesome article just got republished on Everyday Feminism​ by a terrific online blogger I discovered a year or two ago, Shea Emma Fett​:


"Gaslighting does not require deliberate plotting. Gaslighting only requires a belief that it is acceptable to overwrite another person’s reality."

"The distinguishing feature between someone who gaslights and someone who doesn’t is an internalized paradigm of ownership."

"Gaslighting Doesn’t Always Involve Anger or Intimidation"

"Losing spots in your memory makes it very plausible when someone tells you that they cannot trust your memory. It makes it very plausible when they tell you that you are abusive."


I once knew someone who was abusing his partner, and I knew the partner as well, but I didn't see the abuse. Because I couldn't see the abuse, I unwittingly enabled it, for which I feel deeply ashamed and guilty to this day. That guilt is a good deal why I write about abuse so much more now - to prevent anyone else from unknowingly enabling abuse.

One of the ways in which I enabled the abuse is because of this principle. As a skeptic, I am fully aware of how fallible our memories are. This often leads me to demanding proof before believing something. When it comes to real-but-invisible things like abuse or oppression, that's a dangerous mindset to have.

This abuser that I knew also considered himself a skeptic. So, naturally, we shared an understanding in the fallibility of memory. In fact, his memory was so fallible, that if it didn't exist in pictures or a chat log, his brain would erase the memory all together.

So, when he said that his partner was remembering things wrong, I saw no reason to contradict him. Of course she was remembering things wrong - we all remember things wrong! Except in this case, he wasn't being scientifically pedantic about memory, he was using her natural fallibility to *rewrite history* and therefore erode her own sense of self.

I remember one time in particular when she even came to me and told me that he was doing this. I had been in full protect-my-sister-empathize-with-her-fully mode, but then she brought up the memory thing. I instantly backpedaled and tried to "explain" that he wasn't gaslighting her, he was just being a good skeptic by reminding her of the fallibility of memory.

If I could go back in time and smack myself upside the head when I said this, I would. This was the equivalent of "oh, he didn't mean anything by it! He's harmless! You shouldn't feel creeped out by him inappropriately touching you!" I'm still working on the balance between scientific accuracy of how memory works and supporting victims of abuse. I have not mastered this trick yet.


"Change should make you bigger. It should increase your tank of self-love. It should make you stronger, clearer, more directed, more differentiated, and more compassionate. The pain of growth is different than the pain of destruction. One will fill you with love and pride, even when it’s hard, and the other will fill you with shame and fear."

"It’s ridiculous when someone tries to tell you who you are, what you feel, what you think, what you intended, or what you experienced. When it happens, you should be angry, puzzled, or maybe even concerned for them."

"You can solve a lot of things with communication, so long as the objective of both people is understanding. But the minute someone tries to replace your experience, it’s time to stop communicating, at least on that subject."
joreth: (Misty in Box)
This whole article is amazing and a must-read, and there are so many points that could be picked out and reflected upon. But I'm picking out one particular point, and it's not even one of the main points. I'm picking it out because I have a personal association with this particular point.
"So, even though I had meant to tell him what happened between me and Peter, I didn’t. When Nathan gets upset at me, I tend to recoil. He’s intimidating, though he would never physically hurt me. ... That was another Huge Mistake.

Nathan was totally fine with Peter and I becoming partners as well, but he said that he thought it would be best if we didn’t do anything sexual yet. That created a lump in my throat and a questioning in my mind. After much stewing, the next night I told him what happened, and he Flipped the Fuck Out. He punched the wall, told me I cheated on him, and that I had totally broken his trust. " ~ Advice Asker

"You are a woman who wanted something, and you went after it in a way you thought was within the bounds of your relationship. You found out later that your partner didn’t agree. You didn’t do anything to deserve the amount of humiliation and worry and fear you are feeling right now." ~ Advice Giver
I wish I had known about this years ago.  I have ridiculously high self-esteem.  I am supremely confident in myself and my ability both to handle romantic relationships and to leave them if they go bad.  This means that I've missed people's attempts to manipulate and emotionally abuse me in the past.  I just thought they were jerks.  It took seeing someone I love dearly get emotionally manipulated, and to eventually see how my own ignorance of the situation contributed to it, before I finally started to learn anything about emotional abuse.

I know what physical abuse is, and I've always done the "the second someone raises a hand to me, I'm outta here".  And I've held to that my entire life.  What I didn't know was that doing that kind of mental calculus, "the calculus called Would He Hit Me?", is a sign of emotional abuse.  I never *felt* emotionally abused by my partners getting jealous and punching things in their rage.  I knew, without a doubt, that they'd never hit me.  But I thought their jealousy was unreasonable (not the punching the wall - that was a totally safe outlet for anger, I thought), so I'd leave them for that reason alone.

I once had a partner.  Like the questioner above, who wrote into Captain Awkward with her story, I had a partner with a mismatch in poly relationship expectations.  Unlike that questioner, it wasn't because I told him my boundaries but he refused to tell me his, so I would bump into them on accident.  No, we talked about it.  And we still didn't see eye to eye.  But because we talked about it, I *thought* that we understood each other and it was only until I smacked head-first into his massive armored tank of insecurity and abuse that I learned otherwise.

I found myself in an incredibly unstable situation.  I was experiencing loss left and right.  The situation that led to the discovering-my-boyfriend-was-an-abusive-monster thing was only the beginning of my series of losses, and the whole series combined threw me into a deep depression that I hadn't experienced since I had been bullied as a kid.  I not only thought about suicide, but I started planning it.  This was the time that I needed my partner the most to be supportive and compassionate.  But this was the time that frightened him the most, so he lashed out.

I went after something that, at the time, I felt I needed to help cope with all my chaos and loss and pain.  And it did help.  It was honestly the right thing for me at the time and I don't regret it at all.  It directly led to another series of events that eventually contributed to my healing, and to pulling myself out of the bleakness that was consuming me.  It turned out to be absolutely necessary for me, although I couldn't have known that at the time - I thought it was something I should do, but I didn't realize how it would start a snowball effect that would ultimately lead to saving my life.  The details are not mine alone to share, even anonymously, but I will also say that the thing I "went after" is not actually the thing that I was accused of doing that lead to my partner "Flipp[ing] the Fuck Out".  But I did pursue another relationship, and its progress frightened my abusive ex.

Something that Captain Awkward doesn't mention in their response is a lesser known truism - if you make it unsafe for your partner to tell you the truth, they are likely to start hiding things from you.  My ex made it very unsafe for people to share difficult things with him.  Some things were difficult because they triggered his insecurity.  Some things were difficult because he felt strongly about them and argued tenaciously (a trait I share with him) so that his loved ones stopped giving their contrary opinions on those subjects because it simply wasn't worth the argument.  He made sharing difficult subjects with him a very scary thing.

In addition to that, he was largely unavailable at this time, both temporally and emotionally.  This was part of the chaos that had entered my life - a small part, but a contributing part.  He had begun working longer hours, long enough that he essentially was at work for all but one or two waking hours a day.  This pissed off his live-in partner, because she never got to see him anymore, and their tradition was for her to wait for him to come home so they could eat dinner together and this meant that she was now waiting until 9 or 10 at night before she could eat.  He was trying to manage a total of 4 romantic partners and two of them were emotionally turbulent, to give the understatement of the year.  We used to chat online throughout the day, but his work situation had recently put an end to that.  So I was allocated the 10-minute drive from his office to his house to talk to him on the phone in the evenings.  Except on those nights where one of his other partners was in the car with him because there was also car trouble in the group and some car sharing had become necessary.

So, here I was, in a relationship with someone who was giving me about 30 minutes of his time per week, knowing that I would only have his attention for 10 minutes at a stretch, which would have a pretty hard cut-off time otherwise his live-in partner would get pissed (and I'd have to deal with the knowledge (that he insinuated to me) that it was all my fault she was pissed because he was giving me more attention than her, whether that was true or not), most of that time would be taken up with his anguish over the troubles his other relationships were giving him, AND that, because of how he reacted to difficult news, telling him about my own emotional tailspin and the subsequent Incident would be a very Unsafe Conversation and definitely take more than 10 minutes, further ruining the night for his live-in partner who was waiting for him so she could finally eat her one big meal of the day.

All of this added up to the fact that he was unreachable to talk to immediately after the Incident (again, too busy at work, putting out relationship fires at home, just not available), and he was very "intimidating" to talk to when I did finally have his attention.  So I know that I handled my end of the conversation poorly several days after the fact when I could finally have that conversation with him.  I was accused of "cheating" on him when I A) didn't do what he said I had done and B) acted completely within my own ethical framework that I thought I had conveyed to him but I found out because of this that we had different relationship frameworks.  He immediately tried to impose restrictions on me.  He was very slick about it, though.  Unlike the abuser in this advice letter, he didn't do it punitively, exactly.  He tried to *retroactively* impose restrictions on me.  He wanted me to obey some restrictions that he claimed had *always been there* that I had now broken.  Those restrictions violated the agency of my other partner because they imposed limitations on his own behaviour and he was not present to negotiate for them, nor would he have accepted them had he been present. I felt (and still do) that I would never have agreed to such restrictions had I understood that's what *he* thought our relationship was operating under.  As they were not restrictions that *I* wanted either even self-imposed, that should have settled the matter.

But, instead, my ex told me that I could not just arbitrarily "change" the nature of our relationship without his permission.  Since the so-called "change" he was speaking of was regarding my own behaviour, yes, actually, I can.  He can choose to remain or not, but I am the sole arbitrator of my own behaviour and, as such, am the *only* one who has the ability to "change" it or not.

I do not believe he had ever encountered any romantic partner who faced that kind of challenge from him head on with "yes, I can make, re-make, and re-arrange the boundaries around my own behaviour without input from you" before.  Whenever I had seen him challenge one of his other partners in such a manner, without fail, they backtracked and apologized and, in many cases, grovelled for his forgiveness, and accepted all kinds of restrictions and limitations in order to "prove" their worthiness of remaining in a relationship with him.  He called it "accepting responsibility for fucking up".  I call it "falling victim to gaslighting", at least in these cases where I witnessed it and where I have details of the situations that I'm not sharing here.  I believe my refusal to bend on the issue of who can command my behaviour is what ultimately saved me.  As a blogger once said, "'I was victimized by acts of control' is not the same as 'I was victimized by the other person’s resistance to my control,'" and "These are my choices. You are not entitled to control over them, you are not victimized by them."

He felt "victimized" by my resistance to his attempt to control my behaviour.  He felt "betrayed" because I behaved in a manner that didn't affect him directly at all, was something that I needed to do for myself in a time of need, but was something that he found frightening because it was not under his control.  When I gave no quarter, the relationship ended swiftly, without build-up or warning.  Everyone was surprised by how quickly things escalated to a breakup.  And I can't be more thankful for that, because I saw what happens to his partners when the breakups are slow in coming, and when they try to negotiate and seek compromise in good faith with him.

There is no "in good faith" with an abuser.  I did not recognize him at the time as an abuser.  I do not feel abused by him because his attempts to control me were met by my stubborn refusal to give up my autonomy.  I am quite unyielding about that.  And when people feel "victimized by the other person's resistence to my control", that unyielding feels cold, hard, calculated, uncompassionate, uncaring, and other words that are supposed to be bad adjectives for a romantic partner.  But those are the adjectives that have rescued me from several abusive relationships.

And, strangely, those partners of mine who have not attempted to abuse me or who do not have abusive tendencies don't feel that those adjectives describe me in the slightest.  Funny, that.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
https://medium.com/@sheaemmafett/10-things-i-wish-i-d-known-about-gaslighting-22234cb5e407



"Gaslighting doesn’t have to be deliberate ... We learn how to control and manipulate each other very naturally. The distinguishing feature between someone who gaslights and someone who doesn’t, is an internalized paradigm of ownership."


"I believe that gaslighting is happening culturally and interpersonally on an unprecedented scale, and that this is the result of a societal framework where we pretend everyone is equal while trying simultaneously to preserve inequality."


"The book The Gaslight Effect refers to a type of gaslighting called glamour gaslighting. This is where the gaslighter showers you with special attention, but never actually gives you what you need. They put you on a pedestal, but then they are not there, in fact they may get angry at you, when you need a shoulder to cry on."

This is one of the many reasons why I have a problem with so-called "goddess worship" or the belief that women should be worshiped as "queens" or that they are "better" than men. Women are put on pedestals, but only until they do something that shows how human they are, and then the anger comes out - "slut", "whore", "bitch", "crazy". You're only a "queen" until you step out of line, and then you're lower than dirt.

"In another type of gaslighting, the gaslighter is always transformed into the victim. Whenever you bring up a problem, you find yourself apologizing by the end of the conversation."


"Losing spots in your memory makes it very plausible when someone tells you that they cannot trust your memory. It makes it very plausible when they tell you that you are abusive. But, it is normal to lose your memory when you are being gaslighted. In fact, it is one of the signs that you should look for."

This is one of the biggest problems with abuse in skeptical people or skeptical communities. Because we know that memories are fallible and malleable, an abuser can use that information to justify his gaslighting by pointing out that his victim's memory can't be trusted. But, somehow his memory can be? Sure, having holes in one's memory is normal, but when someone uses that fact to dismiss what you're saying about how you *feel*, which is an internal, subjective process that they have no control over and no direct observation of, you should be wary.

It's particularly subtle and effective when something bothers you, but you don't talk about it right away, or if the thing that bothers you is a *pattern* that has developed over time. That makes it so much more plausible and easy for the abuser to quiz and harangue you about the details of *factual events* about which you might be fuzzy after some time has passed.  This way, they can focus the argument on the details of your memory instead of the bigger issue, which is that you feel hurt or angry or whatever emotion you're feeling that needs to be addressed.  Why bother addressing your pain if we can establish that whatever caused you pain didn't really happen the way you remember in the first place?

This is particularly effective because our emotions are *not* always "valid", in the sense that they are not always a reflection of reality.  They're always "valid" in the sense that you really do feel them.  But we can, and do, feel hurt, for instance, when no one actually hurt us.  This particular tactic is also useful for an abuser, and is quite a common justification for a lot of abusive and toxic relationship rules in poly relationships.  They justify punitive behaviour.  So it's very important that we learn to use our feelings as signposts that something is wrong, and then address what's wrong.  That way, we can't get sidetracked by an abuser attempting to gaslight us by interrogation and the discovery of totally natural holes in memory, and we also won't use our emotions as blunt objects with which to beat our partners over the head when we are feeling insecure to make them change behaviour that isn't really harming us but which may be harmful to *them* if we make them stop (i.e. impositions on autonomy issues).

"The problem was that I did not realize that sometimes empathy is not the right approach. Sometimes the right approach is to not engage and instead to make space. Make space for yourself and your gaslighter by setting boundaries. Make so much space for your abuser that they can no longer effect you."

This is exactly what I do when I block someone on social media, although I wouldn't call every altercation "abuse".  Sometimes empathy is not the right approach.  Usually, the reason why I've gotten into the argument in the first place is because I'm empathizing *with someone else* which makes my opponent out to be (or feel like) a "bad guy".  Although I *do* empathize with my opponent, my empathy for the other side is both stronger and more important because they are the ones getting hurt more.  When I block someone, empathizing with that person is no longer the right approach to take, and making so much space for them that they can no longer affect me is the necessary tool.

"It is ridiculous when someone tries to tell you who you are, what you feel, what you think, what you intended, or what you experienced. When it happens, you should be angry, puzzled, or maybe even concerned for them. You might stop, stunned, and ask “what would make you think that you could know what’s inside of me? Are you OK?"

I actually had a whole other post on this topic that I couldn't make because FB disabled my account, so I'll address it here instead.  I've been pondering over my most recent blocking of a friend who insisted on telling me what Im thinking.  Normally I just rage about it for a while and move on.  But today, my brain drew a connection, so I'm considering the validity of that connection and I don't have it all worked out yet, hence the dwelling.

I've been talking about abuse a lot lately, and I recently got into a discussion about how pretty much everyone exhibits some behaviours that could be described as abusive, simply because our culture accepts those behaviours as normal.  I've also been hinting at a series of blog posts I have in the making, explaining my own experience with abusive men and how the particular combination of traits that add up to my self-esteem seemed to have saved me from being abused by these abusive men.

And it occurred to me that there is a connection to these three things - blocking a friend, abusive behaviour being cultural, and being less susceptible to abuse than other people.  Gaslighting is where someone breaks down another person's sense of reality by insisting that the things that a victim knows are true really aren't true.  With factual claims, that's really hard to do, but with *perceptions*, it's surprisingly easy.  Very generally speaking, it's the dismissal of someone's experience until they no longer believe their own experience and instead look to the abuser to provide the framework for their reality.

So, for example, when a kid hurts themselves, telling them that they don't feel hurt or that "it isn't that bad" is a form of gaslighting.  If successful, eventually the kid learns to dismiss their own experience of pain and could lead to not treating something serious because they don't identify pain anymore.

Telling me what I think or feel in contradiction to what I've said I think or feel is a form of gaslighting.  Online, it most often takes the form of seeing someone's behaviour, and then projecting motivations onto that person to explain their behaviour.  People who tak welfare assistance are lazy.  People who are late think their time is more valuable than others.  Women are just crazy.

So, back to the part where I believe that I have a particular combination of traits that interferes with people's ability to emotionally abuse me, I think that part of the reason why I flip my lid and get so pissed off at people online is because I intuitively recognize this behaviour as abusive without having the cognitive, conscious understanding or language for this behaviour.  When I feel cornered, I lash out.  Telling me what I think or feel causes me to lash out as if I were being cornered.  This reaction seems to many to be a complete overreaction to what appears to be a simple exchange from a nobody on the internet.  But, to me, I react as though I've just seen someone deliberately push a baby into traffic.  So that's the connection my brain made - I think that people are participating in gaslighting all the fucking time and it's socially acceptable to do so.  Which means that it's really difficult to identify gaslighting when it's being done to you "for real", i.e. in some kind of intimate relationship like a partner or family member, because, to most people, that's just how discussions and arguments go.  We've probably even said those things ourselves.  When it happens to me, I get angry.  Maybe if we all got a little more "unreasonably angry" when this happened, our culture wouldn't treat it as "normal".
joreth: (Purple Mobius)

www.elephantjournal.com/2014/10/when-emotional-abuse-looks-a-lot-like-love/

"Because abusers see their partner merely as an extension of themselves rather than their own person with every right to their own opinions and limitations, boundaries are often blurred."

This. This so clearly and succinctly explains the problem I have with our culture's view on relationships. And this toxic attitude has seeped into the poly community. It starts as the One True Love fantasy. It morphed into the Soulmate dream and the "two halves of one whole" myth. When we subsume our identity into the relationship, and when our partners accept that submission, that enables abuse even if the abuser never *intended* to abuse or be malicious.

The act of viewing a partner as an extension of oneself rather than an independent person who has chosen to entangle their life with one is an abusive act. Merely seeing a partner as an extension is a dehumanizing event and robs them of agency, even if you are "benign" about what you do with that view.

When it moves into polyamory, we see this in closed groups and in typical unicorn hunting "add a third to our relationship". I shouldn't have to say this, but I will because I do have to: this is not a commentary on the *structure* of triads or of core couples with secondaries. This is about the *mentality* that often leads to a particular structure rather than other structures because those structures are so compatible with abusive mentalities. It is possible to be in a triad that is not abusive. I was in one myself. But the structure of a pre-existing couple wanting to add a very specific sort of person to "complete" their household has, at its very foundations, the script for abuse.

It's right there in the descriptions - "complete us", "add to our relationship". This could be a quad or a quint or anything else. It's the context, which is why motivations are so important.

Abusers see their partners as extensions of themselves. Couples who see their secondaries as an extension of themselves or an extension of their relationship are starting out with the exact same dehumanizing, agency-removing viewpoint as abusers. People in quads that put the "family" group above the needs of the people in it are dehumanizing their partners, which removes their agency, which *fundamentally* removes the ability to consent.

I was in an "open" 6-person tribe. Some members viewed the other members as extensions of themselves via the family group. This led directly to abuse.

It's not the structure, it's the mindset. It's just that there aren't a whole lot of dehumanizing abusers out there deliberately setting up *open* networks. That's too difficult to control.

But a triad filled with unexamined gender assumptions and gender and/or racial privilege, with a dash of cultural discrimination in the form of couple privilege is much more logistically easier to control, as well as including built-in support for isolation and other common abuse tactics.

Poly folk are so busy reinventing the wheel and thinking that mono-based scripts don't apply to us, that we're all too ready to ignore and rationalize away abuse under the well-intentioned but very damaging rose-colored lens of "there's no Right Way" and "truth is relative" and "we are trailblazers making up our own society as we go".

It's so very easy to hide abuse when the culture has its own persecution complex mixed with our fucking stupid American Rugged Individualism. Galileo Effect, Dunning-Kruger Effect, No True Scotsman, and our fantastically good innate ability for self-deception - it's past time to stop harboring abuse in our communities and in our relationships.




joreth: (Purple Mobius)
I saw a post that I just can't get out of my head. A married hetero couple has decided that they will be expanding their attempt to have a baby by allowing the wife's boyfriend to try to father the child too. Sounds wonderfully poly, right? Well, this couple has also already decided that they won't learn who the bio-father is, and no matter who that bio-father is, the married couple is who will raise the child. And they're going to announce this decision to the boyfriend soon.

I just can't properly express my horror at this situation. There is so much wrong here that I'm having trouble knowing where to start. This is exactly the kind of thing we're talking about when we complain about not being an equal partner. I want to be very clear about this: I am NOT suggesting that the boyfriend MUST be an equal co-parent to the child. What makes this a disempowering relationship, what makes the boyfriend not an equal is not what role he will play in the child's life, but that the decision on that role has been made without his input.

Here's the thing. I'm adopted. I strongly believe that my bio-parents made the right decision in giving me up for adoption and I have always believed that. This is not about who gets to be the parent. The decision to give me up was made by my bio-parents, not my adopted parents. My adoptive parents did not decide that I should be their child and then they found my bio-parents and announced to them from on high that they shall bear their child for them. I have a relationship with my bio-mom, so I actually do know the circumstances of my adoption. She decided, on her own, without any coercion from anyone, that giving up her parental rights was the best thing for me. Her parents would have supported her if she had decided to keep me. It was a hard decision for her, but she made that decision because she believed it was the best thing for me. She chose my adopted parents from a list of hopeful parents. My adoption was a case of everyone involved coming together and choosing each other voluntarily. My bio-mom had full agency in the decision to not be a parent. If anything, she had more power in the decision than anyone else in the equation.

I am a firm believer that not everyone should be parents, even if they contribute the gentic material to the child. I support parents who leave their children and spouses because I believe it frees the kids and spouse up for building working families and prevents children from being raised by parents who don't actually want to raise them. I don't approve of leaving children in financial straits, but that's a different rant. I wholeheartedly support people who do not want to be parents, for whatever reason, and I believe that children are better off not being parented by people who don't want to be parents.

I keep reiterating that my argument is not that the boyfriend ought to be the father because I know that some people are going to hear my objection and come back with "but what if he's OK with not being the dad?" That's not the point. That's SO not the point. The point is that the decision has been made for him by people, at least one of whom is not even in the relationship and who will not be biologically related to this man's child. Imagine if a divorced woman remarries, and her new husband has the ability to go back in time and tell his new wife's first husband "this kid that you're about to father? Just so you know, it'll be my kid. Legally, and in practice, and from before it's even born. You don't have a say in this, if you don't like it, you can just avoid impregnating your wife, or you can divorce her now before she gets pregnant and we'll find someone we like better to father my child for me."

"But he doesn't have to accept! He's free to say no, or to leave if he wants to." Again, missing the point. Once someone has given their heart to another, they are not as free to say no as it seems. Especially when that person is already entangled with people who, judging by this situation, have set him up in an inherently disempowering situation. If everyone involved believes they are happy with their current arrangement, and if he is in love, it's all too likely that he'll look at the situation and think "sure, I don't mind not being the 'father' because I'm still the boyfriend and I'll still be a major part of my child's life." Because when one is in love, imagining the day when the relationship goes sour and custody battles get wicked seems so ridiculous, so absurd, that one usually doesn't even consider it as a possibility.

"Of course my partner would never be one of those frightful, evil witches who would keep me from my own child! If I thought they were that kind of person, I wouldn't have fallen in love with them in the first place!" No one who ends up in divorce court, bitterly tearing their children in half and using their children's bloody pieces to whack each other over the heads with ever thought their spouse was the kind of person who would do that sort of thing. When we're in love, we can't even imagine our partners doing anything so horrible. This is why people are able to say stupid things like "unconditional love". I guarantee that there is something that your loved ones can do that will make you stop loving them. The problem is that you don't think they are the kind of person to do that sort of thing. And you are also terrible at predicting your future emotions - everyone is. What we think is acceptable when we're in love, we often don't think is acceptable after the love is gone. I've certainly agreed to things in my relationships because I was in love and I didn't think it was really that bad, but after the relationship ended, I was disgusted at myself for having agreed to it and for not seeing how that thing was really a prelude to exactly those things that led to our breakup and it was actually far, far worse than it looked from the beginning.

Things like veto, and this situation, are like that - they don't seem that bad when you haven't gone through it and you're in love so you can't see how the other person could possibly have bad motivations or would possibly take advantage of the situation and harm you. It's usually not until you've gone through it and are out the other side that most people even have the opportunity to see it for the bad thing that it is, and even then usually the only people who do so only do because it didn't end well. It's like when people don't wear their seatbelts.

I know a guy who refuses to wear a seatbelt. Apparently he was in a car accident once and got ejected from the car, and someone told him that it was a good thing that he did because if he had stayed in the car, he would have been injured worse or killed. So he never wears a seatbelt. He's been ticketed multiple times for it, but each time he goes before a judge and says that he absolutely will not change - that he's only alive today because he didn't wear a seatbelt. The only way he will ever learn what a bad idea it is to not wear a seatbelt is if he gets in some horrific wreck that makes it obvious that a seatbelt would have prevented his permanent paralysis or loss of limbs or the death of a loved one or something. And even then it's not guaranteed that he'll learn that lesson, but it will take something awful to get him to see that not wearing a seatbelt is inherently a bad idea if anything can convince him at all.

Some people go their entire lives never getting into car wrecks. Maybe they get into a fender-bender or narrowly miss another car or something. But, out of sheer luck and the mysteries of the statistically probable, some people manage to not do something like roll their car down a hill (not that I would know anything about that). And they will go through their life believing that something they're doing or not doing is responsible for not dying in a car crash. I knew another guy who tailgated something awful. Because of him, I learned how to sit in the front seat of a car and never once look out the front window. I was terrified of him rear-ending someone and having my legs crushed beneath the dashboard as the car crumpled underneath the rear bumper of the car ahead of us. He thought he was a good driver. He insisted he was a good driver and that he had certain skills that prevented him from rear-ending anyone. A couple of years after we broke up, he totaled his car by rear-ending someone. I dated a first-responder and we were always pulling somebody out of a broken wreck of a car because he was obligated to respond to any accident he came across and we came across a lot while out on dates because we dated in California - home of the original Road Rage and the CA freeway system. I have a dozen stories just like this - some idiot thinks they're bulletproof and that they are because of something they're doing or not doing. And many of the people we hauled out of mangled steel and burning hulks came out of there still believing that it wasn't some failure of theirs that got them into the accident.

What I'm trying to say is that if, and that's a big if, but if this boyfriend just happens to be OK with impregnating his girlfriend and not being allowed to be the kid's father, that's coincidence. It's not proof that the hierarchy is working. If he was really OK with it, then it wouldn't have needed to have been decided ahead of time. And if he is OK with it, then he probably isn't in a position to understand his own disempowerment. He probably believes that he has all the choice because he chose to be in a relationship with these limitations. So this couple will parade him about with "but our secondary says it's OK, therefore it's not disempowering!" Yeah, and I know some black people who don't mind if their good white friend calls them nigger either. It's still fucking racist. If the boyfriend agrees to this, it's likely because he can't imagine the married couple doing anything to make him regret the decision. So it will probably take them doing something to make him regret it before he'll understand what's wrong with this whole mess and how the deck was stacked against him from the beginning.

That's the problem with abusive structures, as I'm coming to learn, unfortunately from first-hand observations - they seem reasonable at the beginning, or from the outside, because if they seemed unreasonable at the beginning, no one would get into them. We often can't recognize them until it's too late and we're neck-deep in alligators. Some of us will even vehemently defend the swamp because we can't see the alligators from our vantage point. We'll insist that we have agency and that we are empowered, because we can't see the invisble threads being woven around us that will hold us down while the aligators eat us, and we won't see those threads until we try to move out of the little niche we think we carved for ourselves.

And, even worse, we often can't see when we're the ones weaving the sticky spider silk around our prey, because it's just what we do so we don't know anything different. Hey, he wandered into our web, didn't he? We couldn't have trapped him if he hadn't stood right where we could build our web. It's his freedom of choice. So why should we bother to change our ways when there are victims just lining up to stand where we can weave our webs around them? Oh, I dunno, maybe because it's not good enough to be a spider, trapping prey in a swamp filled with alligators? Maybe because we should be trying to become people who are willing to help lift up our partners out of swamps instead?

If your relationship structure includes the ability to make decisions for people without their input, your relationship is inherently, fundamentally, unethical. Period. It doesn't matter if those people are willing to accept those decisions. If they were not able to come to the table with you as an equal and say "here's what I am interested and willing to do with you", then you are, by definition, disempowering your partners. The final configuration is irrelevant. It isn't about who gets to be the primary and what if someone likes being a secondary. It's about who gets to decide who gets to be the primary or the secondary. If the answer includes people who are not in the relationship that the decision is affecting, and it doesn't include anyone who is in that relationship that is affected by the decision, then it is an unethical, unequal, disempowering structure. It's not the configuration or the end-result roles that make it so, it's the process.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
So this is interesting. I've noticed a trend now, that I started seeing many years ago, but had less nuanced and accurate language to describe.

In the poly community, there are frequent debates on how much information we are supposed to share with our partners, usually regarding our other partners. To me, this completely sidesteps the issue. It's like Franklin's blog post on Radical Truthers where the question isn't between "truth vs. white lies" but about compassion and empathy. I've noticed that the following people tend to side with the following argument:

Pro - you should share EVERYTHING with your partner and keep no secrets ever! This includes no password locks on cell phones or emails or computers, or if you do, both parties should have the password.

I've noticed that this position is overwhelmingly held by people who are in primary-style relationships (or desire one) and only applies to the primary couple (or group if they're equilateral poly types) but not to anyone outside the couple, regardless of length of time of that "outside" relationship. These people nearly always disregard the suggestion that this level of entwineness is actually an invasion of privacy on the poor "secondaries" who do not receive an equal level of snoopiness into the couple's privacy. Sometimes this is not held by both members of the couple, and usually after some digging, it comes out that the one who does hold this position would rather that their relationship be more couple-centric hierarchical than it is, while the one who doesn't hold this position doesn't favor the couple-centric hierarchical model.

This position also finds favor more among straight cis-men whose female partners aren't exclusively interested in dating other women. Maybe they already do date other men, maybe they only date other women but they're bi, or maybe they even *say* that they don't want to date other men but their primary male partner picks up some "vibe" from them that makes them afraid that the woman might want to in spite of what she says she wants. That "vibe" could be completely in his head, too, as misogynistic men don't really believe that women can know what they want or make valid choices for themselves, and may suspect desires of their female partners that their female partners explicitly state they don't have.

I wanted to include the other side here, but it turns out that there are a whole bunch of different kinds of people who favor the con side, with several different motivations, and it's a mixture of both reasonable / respectful rationales and unreasonable / abusive rationales. So I'll explore that perhaps in another post, maybe on my blog where I can go into more depth.

Basically, as someone who fully embraces transparency and honesty in relationships, it's really disturbing to me to see so many people swing to the abusive and controlling side of the "honesty" spectrum, and use "honesty" as a blunt instrument with which to beat their partners & metamours over the head by disrespecting autonomy, privacy, agency of both their partners and their metamours. These sub-categories of people aren't really about "honesty" so much as they're about control and objectification, but it's couched in "honesty" language because that's more reasonable (and they perhaps don't even know that they're motivated by control because they may not have examined their insecurities deeply enough yet).

Demanding passwords and sharing accounts and the like is about controlling their partners and dehumanizing the metamours. This is *fundamentally different* from actual transparency in relationships, which still seeks to protect the privacy and agency of all involved. When it's motivated by compassion and respect for agency, then there is no conflict between transparency and privacy.

When desire for knowledge about one's partner is motivated by respect for agency, the desire for that knowledge is not about preventing people from "keeping secrets", but about sharing your life, your intimacy, and your vulnerability with someone. Because this person understands that it's about intimacy and vulnerability, this person also understands the need to protect the privacy of their partner and metamours BECAUSE they know that what is shared between the partner and metamour is ... get this ... intimate and vulnerable. If you respect intimacy and vulnerability, then you should also understand why it's so fragile and must be protected in others.

If you have empathy, then you understand that another couple's relationship (your partner and metamour) has the same right to have its privacy settings be set wherever that relationship needs them to be set just as your relationship with your partner does, regardless of your personal preference for *where* that boundary goes. if you have empathy, then you know to respect the other person's perspective, not to insist that whatever *you're* comfortable with is what everyone else should be comfortable too.

But when the motivation for information is about controlling other people, it's all too easy to rationalize why one person is privileged above another to invade their privacy and to force their way into another couple's intimacy and to demand a third party's vulnerability. Because, with this motivation, it's all about YOU, the person making the demands for information, not about the intimate experience that's shared between two fully-formed, vulnerable, sentient human beings. YOU need to "know" this. YOU need to feel "secure". YOUR feelings trump any space set aside for other people to be intimate or vulnerable and your feelings trump consent.

It doesn't matter if the other people involve acquiesce to the demand. It doesn't matter if the metamour says "sure, I have nothing to hide, so go ahead and share all our text communication with your wife." This only means that the person making the demands happened to find someone whose boundary is so far back, that it hasn't been stepped on yet. But the demand is still an attempt at boundary-pushing. The demand is still invasive, still intrusive, and still dehumanizing. And if the insecurity driving all this behaviour isn't dealt with, it'll only escalate until they DO find the boundary. And suddenly they'll wonder why everyone is yelling "abuse!" at them. When the truth is that they were abusive the whole time, it's just that no one ever pushed back at their boundary pushing before.
joreth: (Super Tech)
https://positivejuice.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/an-anonymous-open-letter-to-people-in-abusive-relationships-who-want-to-stay-in-the-relationship-despite-the-abuse/

I've made comments before about having been in relationships with abusive men before, but their abuse didn't "stick" to me, so I didn't recognize what they were doing as abusive tactics until much, much later. I might say that we weren't compatible or I might even say that someone was a jerk, but I don't always recognize patterns of abuse when I see them and I don't identify as an abuse victim because I don't feel as though I *have* been abused. Instead, I feel as though people have attempted to abuse me and they were unsuccessful (with the exception of my second fiance).

I actually have a whole series of blog pieces I'm writing now on abuse in the poly community, and one of the pieces is devoted entirely to that concept - being in relationships with abusive men but not being actually abused. I'm finding this series very difficult to write, precisely because I don't consider myself to have been abused so I don't feel like I'm qualified to really talk about it, at least not in depth like that. This article was pointed out to me, and I think that it is giving me a little clarity on the subject.
"My abusive behavior started because I thought I was entitled to control what people thought and how they reacted. A lot of people fuck up there – even people who never hit anybody, they still think it’s ok to mess with your mind and make you feel bad so you’ll do what they want. That counts as abuse. Abuse is about putting someone down, not just physically hurting them."
I find that a lot of people's control issues have sexist roots. We are told from the beginning by some sources that the Man is in Control at all times. He is in control of himself, he is the head of the household, he provides for his family ... control, control, control. If I acted in a way that someone felt was inappropriate, my male partners might be told to "get your woman under control." In fact, this is actually a direct quote.

Once, a person was having some personal emotional issues and, just by coincidence, I and two of my metamours just happened to touch on those subjects in conversation with that person in very close proximity to each other. So, like, I said something to that person's partner, then my metamour said something to that person, then another metamour made some kind of suggestion. Keep in mind that we weren't offering any sort of advice like "hey, your hair is dumb, you should change it." No, I mean that I talked to that person's partner once about, oh, I dunno, let's say being adopted. Then my metamour mentioned in passing something about babysitting. Then another metamour said something about wanting kids. And this person had, let's say, an emotional crisis about being sterile, or something. Obviously this wasn't the subject, but I think it's still a fairly accurate analogy.

So, just by coincidence, we all happened to have these totally unrelated conversations about kids, and we all did so without knowing that the others were having their respective kid conversations and without any of us knowing that this person was having a sterility issue. This person then had a massive freakout, accused us all of attacking them, and then emailed the partner that made us all metamours and told him "get your women under control". He, not having any idea what this was all about, responded "have you MET my partners?!"

So, to get back to the point, control. Our culture has a deeply rooted relationship with the word "control", in a variety of ways - sexism is just one of them. We fetishize control. And I say this as a self-admitted control freak myself. The reason why I'm harping on this point is because wanting to be in control, by itself, doesn't make anyone a bad person. Wanting control, disliking feeling out of control - I'm not making a negative judgement on that alone. There are completely valid and legitimate and appropriate reasons for people to feel that being in control is a good thing and something to aspire to.

However, here's where we can start to have problems. If you start with the mindset that control is good, and you follow that up with the idea that you need to be in control, it is not a very big step to keep going with "in order to be in control, I have to control other people around me, or else my life will not be in my control". We have examples of this all around us - from the police maintaining civil order, to parents being expected to "control" their children in public, to wrangling our office minions in order to increase next quarter's sales, etc.

What I'm trying to say here is that, with all our cultural and familial influences, it may seem perfectly reasonable and a sane and rational adult might not see anything wrong with wanting control even if it means controlling other people. As [livejournal.com profile] tacit said in his keynote at PolyLiving this week, we are not all divided into Good Guys and Bad Guys - we are all both. And if we could just get comfortable with the idea that good people can sometimes do bad things, we might all find it easier to correct our own mistakes when confronted with them.
"Abuse grows from attitudes and values, not feelings. The roots are ownership, the trunk is entitlement, and the branches are control"

~ Lundy Bancroft in "Why does he do that?"
This quote is saying that abuse isn't about feelings. Feelings can be changed. An abuser doesn't feel like being an abusive dick. Abuse is about attitudes and beliefs, and that's much harder to change. If we have a controlling attitude, if we think that we need to be in control all the time including in control of other people, that leads to abuse. That's much harder to change because, to the abuser, they aren't doing anything wrong. A man who hits his wife does so because he has an attitude or a value that women need to be "put in their place". In his mind, he's not doing anything wrong because women need correcting and it is right for him to correct his wife.

But what does all this have to do with my original premise? What does this have to do with my self-identiy as not an abuse victim? Well, this next quote from the article is what caught my attention and prompted this piece:
You wanna know why we continue to abuse? Because getting your way with someone can’t be a one-time deal. If I abuse you once and give you time to really think about it, you’re probably gonna be better prepared the next time, more confident, with a plan. We gotta feel like we control you.
So the reason why I say that abuse doesn't "stick" to me is because I go into my relationships already "prepared" and "confident" and "with a plan". See, I have ridiculously high self-esteem, as I have said many places before. Self-esteem doesn't come from believing that you're the cat's pajamas. I mean, sure you can think you're awesome, but self-esteem actually comes from honesty. Self-esteem comes from truth. It comes from looking at yourself, seeing your flaws and vulnerabilities and warts and wrinkles and thinking "hey, I'm a pretty awesome person and it is totally OK that I have these flaws and vulnerabilities and warts and wrinkles because that's just who I am."

I'm a pretty thin person. But my weight fluctuates and I have been different sizes over the years. I am currently a larger size than I'd like to be and larger than I have been at other times in the past. I am also lacking some of the muscle tone and definition that I have had in the past. This bothers me and I'm working on it. That's not the important part. The problem is that, when I talk about this, I get a lot of responses along the lines of "but you're not fat!" and "please, you don't need to lose weight, you're so thin!" and even worse, "I think you look great!" and "you're so pretty!" Look, I'm not fishing or compliments and I'm not passing negative judgement on myself. I'm stating facts - I *am* a larger clothing size than I have been in the past and I am not as strong or well-defined as I have been in the past and I have reasons for wanting that fact to be changed. Those are simply facts, and facts exist whether we like them or not. That's what I mean about self-esteem. I accept these facts about myself. I'm not hurt or upset or depressed at these facts. I'm not bothered by the fact that some people find me unattractive. These facts just are. I am aware of how I look and I accept it. The same goes with other of my attributes.

Again, I'm running off on tangents to better explain my point. So I have this ridiculously high self-esteem. That means that abusers try their abuse on me and I don't react to their abuse in ways that benefit them, that don't give up control over me to them. When someone attempted to gaslight me, I'm far too confident in my memory of events, even while acknowledging the flaws in human memory to succumb easily to gaslighting. So I don't recognize gaslighting when I see it, sometimes. When someone attempts to control me, like setting rules that dictate how my other relationships should go, I resist that control.

Now, if I'm all in the middle of NRE, and we're talking about our preferences and goals for our relationship, I might miss someone's attempt to control me, and I might sound like I'm agreeing to give up control. I'm human, after all, and things that might present as a red flag when I'm sane may sound just peachy-keen when I'm all hopped up on happy brain chemicals at the beginning of a relationship and not necessarily thinking straight. But you can always tell, when the rubber meets the road, that I do. not. give. up. control. When it comes time for that new relationship to start, for example, that relationship goes in whatever fucking direction it's going to go, and suddenly the controlling partner is left bewildered and panicked and wondering how the fuck they lost control so quickly.

You never had it to begin with.

"Because getting your way with someone can't be a one-time deal." Abusers typically build up to abusing. They don't start out on the first date smacking someone around and they don't bring a 40 page contract to the restaurant and insist you sign it, except when we build communities that support abuse and consent violations (*cough*Christian Grey*cough* *cough*unicorn hunters*cough*). They start out small, by pushing boundaries just a little to see what they can get away with. And they push the boundary just a bit, so that your boundary has to move now. And now that it's moved, they push it just a little bit more so that it's over just a tiny bit more. Until eventually you're sitting at home one day trying to figure out how your life got to be such a mess and how will you ever get out of it?

Like most people, I have some soft boundaries and some hard boundaries. So abusers might push on some of my soft boundaries and, thinking that I'm someone they can manipulate they're compatible with, we get into a relationship. And they use all their charm and cute puppy dog eyes, so I think they're a great person and we have so much in common. So they keep pushing on the soft boundaries. But something that I do differently, is that every little soft boundary that gets pushed back is kind of like a small papercut. I might not notice it right away, but it'll start to irritate me the more it gets touched and the more I think about it. So that the next time he tries to push on a soft boundary, I'll be more resentful and more impatient about it. It won't take too many of these soft boundary pushes before I've lost my patience, so that when he hits a hard boundary, I push back.

And here's where that quote is relevant. It "can't be a one-time deal. ... We gotta feel like we control you." When I start to feel like someone is trying to control me, whether it's even true or not, I push back and I mean I push back hard. Their tactics don't work. So I find that one of two things happens: 1) They recognize me as someone that they can't control and they bugger right off. Not that they're necessarily thinking of it like this; they may be thinking of me as a stubborn, selfish bitch who won't compromise or consider their feelings. But as the blogger Emma Fett said, "I was victimized by acts of control" is not the same as "I was victimized by the other person’s resistance to my control." People get really defensive when I resist their control.

So, either that or 2) They double-down on their efforts which makes me dig in my own heels and we spiral very quickly into an impasse, usually ending with me getting fed up and leaving. Either way, my relationships with abusers seem to be fine, fine, fine, BIG FUCKING BLOWUP OUT OF NOWHERE. They will think things are going just fine because they're getting away with some soft boundary pushing, but I'll be building up resentment. I'll be thinking things are just fine because it's only some soft boundary pushing that I can rationalize away as "compromise" and learning to adjust to someone who is different from me. Then they'll push on a hard boundary and I'll be surprised at their audacity to want something so awful, and they'll be surprised at my sudden lack of passivity or acceptance.

See, most of my relationship partners remark, in the beginning, about how easy I am to get along with. I know it doesn't seem like that to people who only know me from my rants online, but I am actually fairly easy going and generally a happy person. I'm cool with a wide range of things and I don't particularly need to be in charge all the time or make a lot of decisions. So, like, what's for dinner? I don't know, what do you want? I legitimately don't know and don't have a preference most times. Want chinese? OK, I'm cool with that. Want Indian instead? Sure. Want vegan-gluten-sodium-free? Well, OK, but not as a daily diet please. Point is that I seem like I'm pretty easy to get along with and most of my partners agree. At first. Until they push on a hard boundary. And then they blink in shock at Joreth suddenly showing up. Hence all my "hello, have we met?" posts on Twitter and Facebook. That's why I keep showing guys who are interested in me my online social media - I'm sick of them acting surprised when they push me and I push back.

So they'll push a boundary and I'm like "I had no idea you actually think trying to control me in this way was a good idea, haven't you read anything I've written?" and they're all "whoa, where did the pliable, happy, nice girl go and who is this selfish bitch who won't even compromise with me? Can't she see how much she's HURTING me that she won't let me control her?!" and I'll be like "OUT, OUT YOU HELL DEMON, OFF YOU MUST FUCK!" and they'll be going all "dude, that Joreth is totally crazy, everyone block her!"

So ... this is my very long and rambly way to say that articles like this one are helping me to recognize, acknowledge, and understand my past experiences with abusive people, and why things became abusive or failed to become abusive with me. Articles like this one are making connections for me so that I can look back over my history and see the abusive patterns in people that I didn't see before. And this is helping me to recognize abusive patterns in people that I meet now. So I write about these connections because I see too many people who, like me, don't recognize a whole bunch of abuse as abuse. They defend it, they enshrine it, they hide it, they offer it shelter and dark places to grow and fester like fungus or bacteria. Why? Because being in control is good, right?

Well, perhaps being in control of oneself is a desirable state for most of the time. But losing control doesn't have to be the end of the world, and controlling others is both inherently unethical and ultimately impossible. So I am trying to highlight all the myriad ways in which we justify, rationalize, and accept controlling other people. Maybe, if it doesn't shine a light on the motivations of an abuser and get him to stop, maybe it'll shine a light on a victim or an abuse apologist and get them to stop accepting it.
And if it sounds like your partner has a long way to go to get there with you, well, now you know why people say it’s pretty much impossible. Abusive people don’t just “stop abusing.” They have to change completely. They have to go through a transformation in which they completely leave behind many of the core values they had before, values that make it ok in their mind to act abusive.
This author may not be willing to suggest that a victim leave, and I understand why it's hard to leave. So I'm also not going to suggest that any particular victim leave at any specific time - that's not my call to make. But I am going to hope that reading posts like mine and the ones that I've been linking to and referencing will encourage enough victims to leave and enough apologists to leave off that we will eventually change our culture to one in which abusers are held accountable and no longer have hiding places to get away with their abuse, and people who genuinely want to be Good People won't ever develop the attitudes and values that lead them to abuse in the first place. Because abusers do think they're Good People. It's just that their abuse comes from attitudes and values that lead them to abuse (and many abuse victims develop attitudes and values that lead them to accepting abuse, or at least not fighting or fleeing from it, which is a whole other rant on society priming victims). And that's what I'm hoping to see changed.
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
I think I might be zeroing in on why it pisses me off so much that people are defending 50 Shades.  This is still rough, but I think I'm getting closer to what's wrong with these defenses.  I've been spending a lot of time learning how to support abuse victims over the last couple of years.  Over and over, the message to victim supporters is "just listen, and accept".  Believe victims, listen to them, accept their story.  You don't have to "take sides" by accusing the abuser or doing anything active against the abuser.  You can even reserve some empathy and support for the alleged abuser.  The important part is that you make a safe space for the victim to heal and to feel.

In all the various rants and criticisms of 50 Shades, what I'm hearing is pain.  Sometimes it's from abuse victims being triggered, and sometimes it's from people who feel such empathy that they feel fear and pain on behalf of all the women who have been abused or who will experience abuse because of the rape culture that 50 Shades contributes to (or, as in the 2 articles I read recently, the abuse and murder of women that were directly linked to 50 Shades).

So, here I am, being told that we need to hear victims and to listen to people's pain and to support them, on one hand.  But on the other hand, when it comes to 50 Shades, I hear "oh, lighten up, it's just a book!" and "geez, don't take things so seriously, it's FICTION for fuck's sake!" and "c'mon, nobody REALLY believes this, so just back off and stop making me feel bad for getting turned on by something that other people are afraid of" with a handful of Dear Muslima responses thrown in (in reference to Dawkins' famous reply basically suggesting that there are worse problems in the world so we shouldn't waste any time talking about the less-worse problems until the worse ones are solved).

In other words, all the defenses of 50 Shades sound exactly like rape apologism.  But, more than that, there are people who are trying to say "this hurts me and this hurts others", and yet people, even those who are normally right there on the support-the-victims side, people are hearing those cries of pain and dismissing them out of hand.

As with polyamory, not having a One Right Way does not necessarily mean that there are also no Wrong Ways.  Some things are morally wrong, some things are factually wrong, some things are less likely to succeed than other methods and therefore "wrong".

And a story that romanticizes abuse, as opposed to a story that simply tells of abuse, is wrong.  So is opposing all those voices crying out in pain.  It's OK to enjoy problematic media.  It's not OK to silence and dismiss criticism of that media, and it's especially not OK to dismiss the cries of abuse that the media is triggering.



This is a comment I made on the FB post for this blog piece.  I'm still trying to find the right words to express what's in my head about this, and the following comment got me another step closer, so I'm adding it to this post:


This revelation is coming from a different angle [from the usual criticisms that 50 Shades is how actual abusers break down their victims which is being touted as "romantic" instead of dangerous], and I'm still teasing it out. I'm seeing a lot of defenses of 50 Shades coming from people who are usually right there on my side in the domestic violence discussions. But when it comes to the book, they suddenly switch sides.

And I think what's niggling at my brain is that this is more than just the standard rape apologism rearing it's ugly head. This is the book itself doing harm, and the defenders aren't being rape apologists for real, but it's as if the *book* is the "abuser" itself and its victims are crying out through their book reviews and criticisms, and people who normally fight against rape culture are now defending *the book* as if the book was an abuser that they are desperately trying to ignore is an abuser simply because it's popular and they don't want to lose access to it.

Like, in the kink community when all those rape accusations started coming out a few years ago. A bunch of people defended the rapists because they were leaders in the community, and if you cut off ties to the rapist, then you couldn't go to the awesome bondage parties anymore because the rapist was the only one with a dungeon who threw parties. So people refused to "take sides" or support the victims, and defended the rapists because they stood to lose something socially if they did so.

The defenses of this book are feeling like the exact same thing. People who are totally in favor of SSC or RACK (Safe, Sane, & Consensual or Risk Aware Consensual Kink for those reading this & who don't know) nevertheless defended rapists in the community because the rapists provided stuff that the defenders didn't want to lose access to, so they did the usual sorts of rationalizations that people do when they're invested in a concept and need to hold onto it in order to protect their investment.  I'm sure many of those rape defenders absolutely believed their own arguments, but they were still doing well-known and well-understood logical fallacies, rationalizations, and other mental gymnastics to avoid facing the fact that someone they knew, trusted, perhaps liked and probably needed for something, did a Bad Thing.  It even has a name - the Sunk Cost Fallacy.

The defenders of this book, who are normally supporters of abuse victims, are defending the book in much the same way, where the book has "abused" people and the victims & supporters are crying out, but the defenders don't want to lose their precious jerk-off story or examine their own attachment to unhealthy relationship patterns, so they're dismissing the cries of pain from those who are feeling harmed by the book.



Hypothesis: Some defenses of 50 Shades may be an example of a Sunk Cost Fallacy, where people dig in their heels to defend something they are invested in, resulting in treating the book in the same way one might treat an accused abuser that one wants to deny is an abuser (usually when one receives something beneficial from association with the accused abuser, such as social status, access to social events, even love or a relationship) and dismissing claims of harm from its victims and victim-supporters.
joreth: (Bad Joreth)
This week's episode of Poly Weekly is on abuse in relationships. EVERYONE NEEDS TO LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE, not just poly people. It's not about abuse in poly relationships, it's about abuse in relationships, because poly relationships are really just relationships like any other.

In addition, everyone needs to read this blog post on the community response to abuse: http://emmfett.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-community-response-to-abuse.html

"When I first tried to articulate what I thought the community response to abuse should be, the only thing I could really think was that abusers need good friends. The kind of friends who are willing to tell them when they are not being the best that they can be."

I knew an abuser*, only I didn't know he was an abuser at the time. He had very good, close friends. But his friends were not willing to tell him when he was not being the best that he could be. After stumbling into a handful of roadblocks with him myself, some of his friends actually contacted me privately to tell me that they supported me, they thought he was being unreasonable, they wanted me to know that, but they wouldn't tell him about it because it "wasn't worth the argument".

Each argument I had with him resulted in him going to his group and telling them about the argument, then coming back to me to say "I talked to everyone else, and we all agree that you're wrong." Even knowing that wasn't always true, it's a horrible, isolating feeling that drove a wedge between me and our mutual friends. When I broke off contact with him, I lost my entire social circle because of the isolating effect that siding with an abuser has on his victims, and I wasn't even a "victim" because his abusive tactics never took a hold on me. But I wasn't immune to the effects anyway.

"Both survivors AND abusers need community support.

Specifically, survivors need protection and validation and abusers need support for accountability.

Abuse does not always look like what you think it should look like, and it usually occurs behind closed doors. As a community member, it is important to get rid of the idea that you will know abuse when you see it. It is ignorant to think that we will always be able to spot abuse in our communities."

I thought I knew what abuse looked like because I've been on the periphery of relationship sociology and psychology my entire life. And yet, when it happened RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, I missed it. I couldn't see it, and as a consequence, I contributed to it - I enabled it. To my horror and shame, I didn't hear and I didn't see someone very dear to me being abused right in front of my own eyes.

"People who don’t want to change will often tell you that they don’t change because of the way that you are asking. This is horse puckey. Change is a personal matter, and it’s hard no matter what. If you want to change, no amount of assholery will be able to stop you. If you don’t, no amount of gentle crooning will make it happen. ... The methods that will get through to someone are varied. I don’t buy the idea that if we were just all nice that we could stop the bullying."

There are 2 basic camps in the atheist communities - those fire and brimstone atheists and those who walk around telling everyone not to be a dick. The thing is, the fire and brimstone atheists are not telling the DBAD guys to shut up. We know that it takes a wide variety of methods to change the minds of a wide variety of people. Go with your strengths. Mine is anger.

"Be willing to distance yourself from people who display abusive behaviors

Sometimes you can’t be a friend of someone who is abusive unless you support their beliefs. It’s hard to fracture your community that way, especially when it is already small. It’s hard when you realize that maybe you can’t just invite everyone to your party."

I'm glad there are people out there with a softer touch who are willing to be that bridge and try to help others back on the path of Greatest Courage and Integrity. I, however, am the one who will throw the party who doesn't just invite "everyone". When I created the local poly discussion group, I deliberately held our meetings in our local LBGTQ center because our previous community had a problem with homophobia. I created an environment that made homophobes uncomfortable. They were not invited to my party.

Sometimes, I *am* in a position to be connected to both sides of a toxic relationship, because the circumstances give me enough space to do so safely (I am not a target, I am not personally affected by the abuser so I can maintain my temper and be that "softer touch", the victims have enough distance with me to not be overly affected, etc.). But when there is a conflict, I am choosing the safety of the victims of abuse.

"'I was victimized by acts of control' is not the same as 'I was victimized by the other person’s resistance to my control.'"

This is SO SO SO SO important. I cannot stress enough how important this statement is. This is the difference between real abuse and entitlement. This is the difference between racism and "reverse racism". This is the difference between misogyny and "misandry". This is the difference between oppression and privilege.

As someone once told me, the victim in an abusive relationship is the one who is struggling to escape. The one holding on is not the victim. This is *obviously* an oversimplification, because there are plenty of reasons why victims remain with their abusers, as even a cursory glance at the #WhyIStayed and similar hashtags will tell you. But, underneath all the complexity and all the confabulations and all the confounding factors, if you are being hurt by acts of control, then you are being harmed. If you are being hurt because someone is resistant to your attempts to control them, then you are doing the harming - both to your victim and to yourself. Theists are not being oppressed because gays want to get married.  Those theists are feeling hurt because gay people are resisting their control.  When you attempt to impose rules on your partner, and your partner says those rules are hurting them and they behave in ways that are resistant to those rules, and you feel hurt because they are rejecting your attempts to restrict their behaviour, you are the one doing the hurting, even if you are doing it out of your own feelings of pain or insecurity.  You need different types of support. And I will hold you accountable.



*I've actually known quite a few abusers, and have been in relationships with several abusers. I have a whole post in the can elaborating on this very subject. I have a particular quirk that leaves me somewhat resistant to abuse - not totally immune to their effects, but abuse tactics tend to backfire when people try them on me. So, for much of my life, I was not aware of what emotional abuse looked like even when I saw it first-hand because I do not react to attempts to manipulate and control me the way that an abuse victim does when the abuse attempts are successful. So it is only much later that I learned to recognize what emotional abuse looked like in my previous relationships, and I am still learning. What I have learned so far is that I have actually had numerous encounters with abusers throughout my life, and that thought is rather chilling. Pulling the wool over my eyes, tricking me, and making me not see what's right in front of my nose tends to make me angry, and when I get angry, I get stubborn and impatient, so I have very little compassion or tolerance for abuse now that I know some things to look for. I'm sure many of my regular readers are familiar with my low-tolerance reaction by now.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
In our collective fear of "looking like the bad guy", of being unwilling to say "you're wrong", in our social insistence that we "educate" people who are doing harmful things using a kind tone and hand-holding them to a "better" way, instead of flat-out condemning harmful behaviour, I wonder what kind of impact that has on abuse victims.

When a person has spent a lifetime, or even just a few months of being gaslighted and having their self-esteem eroded and disempowered and programmed to subsume their own needs and concerns to another, how much harder is it for them to learn how to advocate for their needs and/or gather the strength to leave a harmful situation when the message they receive from their community is that, on top of all their pain and suffering, in addition to their own self-doubt, they also have to consider the feelings of their abuser (or other abusive people who remind them of their abuser because they do similar things) and lead their abuser to a "more successful strategy"?

Because, remember, we're talking about people who are already not well; people who have already internalized massively destructive amounts of negative feelings like guilt and shame.  Someone who is in healthy relationships or someone who has a healthy sense of self can afford to hear the message "be nice to people who just don't have good relationship skills yet and teach them how to improve" and they can identify those situations for which that advice is useful and when it's not.

If you ever wanted to know why they stay, it’s probably because of a deep sense of responsibility and compassion, overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame, and a deep and pervasive confusion about how to make it right. If you ever wanted to know why it’s hard to talk about it, it’s because the thing you always seem to remember the most, the thing that really hurts the most, is the guilt over hurting them, abandoning them.

But someone who has been broken by another person, someone who is fucked over, someone who has lost themselves, someone who is trapped, someone who isn't as strong, someone who needs help themselves, all those people - how can they hear that message in their state and not similarly internalize the, perhaps unintended, subtext "the person you are in opposition to has delicate feels and it's YOUR JOB to treat those delicate feels like precious Fabrege Eggs, no matter what you're feeling.  It's rude to lose your temper, it's rude to call them names, it's rude to arm yourself with condescension or to defend yourself with sarcasm, and you don't want to be rude, do you?"

There's a heart-breakingly beautiful blog post about what it feels like to be emotionally abused.  After reading that, I find myself getting even more enraged than usual at the relentless admonitions to be "nice" when we come across posts in the community with all the same, tired old tropes that those who have been in abusive situations are all too familiar with as the first steps towards abusing someone - dehumanization, objectification, disempowerment.

He pulled his arm back again and I covered my face again. "Why are you doing this to me?" he pleaded, coming at me over and over. Finally, I stood up and pushed him back. "Stop abusing me!" he shouted. I stopped, stunned. Why did I do that? I looked at his arms, red from where I had blocked him. Why was I hurting him so much?

"Be nice."  "Try educating them instead of name-calling."  "They just don't know any better, you should make yourself vulnerable and tell your own story so that they understand."  "Don't say it's wrong, explain gently that there are lots of different ways to do things and some of them are a little better."  Fuck that. As activists in the feminist and anti-racism communities have been arguing about for decades, stop getting mad at people for yelling when the reason they're yelling is because someone else is stepping on their toes.  Or, as Tim Minchin said in a totally unrelated song:

And if you don't like the swearing
That this motherfucker forced from me
And reckon it shows moral
Or intellectual paucity
Then fuck you, motherfucker
This is language one employs
When one is fucking cross
About fuckers fucking boys

I'm wondering how many abuse victims, and how many people in perhaps toxic or unhealthy but not quite "abusive" relationships, are hearing the constant message to be "nice" to people doing bad things, and have not been able to adequately stand up for themselves because they don't want to be perceived as "not nice"?  I'm wondering how many people we, as a community, are enabling people to remain in bad situations because we're so fucking pathologically afraid of calling others "bad" or, not even calling them bad people but just telling them that they're wrong or that they're doing something wrong or bad?  And I'm wondering how many people dishing out this advice can do so because they've never been in the position where advocating for their needs in any tone has been equated with being "rude" and where their deep sense of compassion and guilt has been manipulated so that they can't tell the difference between standing up for themselves vs. actually hurting innocent people so they don't do the former out of fear of the latter?  I'm wondering how many people playing the Tone Card are living in the privileged position of never having been abused and are speaking from their position of privilege when they tell other abuse survivors how they ought to experience their survival and how they ought to react to their triggers?

How many people continue to go unsaved because we're more concerned with etiquette and delicate abuser-feels than with creating an atmosphere that encourages people to believe that their feelings are not less important than being polite to those stepping on their toes?  How many people remain lost because we don't give them the space to be angry, to be strong, to fight back, because it's "rude" and we mustn't ever be rude.  Anger and defensiveness have no place in polite society because the people who are doing things worth getting angry about might feel bad, and we can't ever let them feel bad about hurting you, can we?
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 gf 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, likeable 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.  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 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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