“People mistake vulnerability for intimacy. It’s not just annoying, it’s damaging.” — these words from my friend and Anti-Nihilist Institute co-founder Anna Lind-Guzik have been knocking around in my head lately for a reason.
Vulnerability is a useful tool of connecting to one’s audience. This isn’t just true of confessional writing. When I began to open up about leaving Russia/an abusive relationship, I did so with an explicit goal in mind: Draw attention to the problem, and show people how abuse *really* works.
It was also obviously important for me to emotionally connect with my audience and friends in general. Pain becomes more manageable when you feel less alone. All of this is normal — mundane, even.
I wasn’t surprised by the amount of odd, insensitive, prying and condescending messages I received. A lot of them came from men who have trouble processing vulnerability — in all of its forms — and prefer to think of it as mildly distasteful/not respectable.
When a certain type of man thinks of you as not worthy of respect, he may write you off, or he may also attempt to hit on you/crowd you in a demeaning way. Because a man like this reads “vulnerability” as “she has no boundaries.”
Certain women also mistake vulnerability for a lack of boundaries, but they more frequently attempt to aggressively mentor the person they deem as having a lack of boundaries. Heaps of unsolicited advice, carefully worded to remind the individual of their lower/more ignorant status in relation to the self-appointed mentor, are the norm in this situation.
While it’s not surprising, this process has nevertheless been fascinating for me to observe, due to the fact that the Anti-Nihilist Institute is an organization that promotes emotional intelligence, not only because feelings get hurt and relationships are damaged when people refuse to be smart about emotion, but because real life issues get obscured in the process.
People who misread my tweets and posts about abuse missed important points, such as: Abuse is literally everywhere. It frequently doesn’t look like abuse from the outside. A victim can and will take cute Instagram photos with her abuser, for example (in fact, the abuser will insist on them —making sure that things look “normal” is important). Cues can be subtle. Trauma bonding is real. Bonding is real in general — nobody is abusive 100% of the time. Abusers can be charming, caring, and supportive when they’re not busy abusing someone. Making excuses for what’s happening is common. Bluntly telling someone, “Just leave him, girl,” will often have the opposite effect. Leaving can be so very dangerous. Patience and understanding are key to helping someone leave.
When we talk about abuse, we don’t just risk public ridicule. We risk breaking down the wall we have built between ourselves and the people who abused us. We risk revenge. We don’t want medals, but we do want the risks we take to be worth it.
I am better, much better now, than I used to be. These last few months didn’t just teach about survival, they taught me about what great friends I have. How lucky I am to have my country to go back to — the States is still beautiful, even under a cloud of Trumpism, even with all of the crap we have to deal with back here, and we have much left to lose. And I know know much more about my own resilience and, above all else, capacity to love. No matter what.
That’s the other part about vulnerability that people frequently fail to understand. Being vulnerable is not just about opening up to other people — it’s about opening up to yourself. Knowing yourself. Knowing what you are actually capable of.
So now that abuse is on the agenda again thanks to the likes of Rob Porter, please consider it not just as a subject you cluck your tongue at before turning away. Consider it as part of a narrative that many, many people — including your friends and neighbors — are living through. Consider the reality of it and the horror of it and how that horror can, with lots of patience and hard work, be slowly overcome.
Reality is, in many ways, a story we tell ourselves. True stories go beyond respectability politics, and keeping up appearances, and even beyond bravery. True stories take their roots in the fabric of life, in the universal latticework. They reach deep inside you and yes, they can cause discomfort and hurt, especially when they are about a topic such as abuse. But there is more than wisdom on the other side of the discomfort — there is also greater peace and understanding. If you let yourself be led there, if you trust the narrative. It can be daunting — but please do try it sometime.
The existence of this blog is made possible by the fact that you are good-looking and generous.