“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.

No guilt-trip, just good times

2 thoughts on “I talked about abuse and made you uncomfortable? Good.

  1. I think an aspect of abuse that people are often surprised about is exactly is variety. There are diffent kinds, not simply because abusers are people (they are — with good and bad sides, creative urges, philosophies about how the world works, inner lives, etc.), but because the abused are also people (and thus different from each other, with different reaction patterns, different degrees of patience, different levels/capacity for self-hatred, self-lying, smokescreen management, “look on the bright side”-ism, etc.).

    Which makes each situation quite unique. There’s a reason why Tolstoy’s “happy families are all alike; unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way” is almost a cliché: it is true.

    In America, threats tend to be simplified. Evil is evil, after all, so the problem is how to go away from this evil. In domestic abuse, all the ‘good’ qualities you mention — they aren’t 100% abusive, they can be charming, supportive… — are seen by Americans as ‘deceit’, hiding the evil inside, the evil that you should run away from.

    And indeed you should. But not because these things are deceitful, or meaningless. After all, those good qualities… they were part of the reason you fell in love with that person to begin with, weren’t they? They’re part of this person, just as much as the abusive part is…

    In my case, she (yes, a female abuser…) was charming and caring, and really liked animals. That is of course difficult to combine with the threats to kill the baby, the stabs with the scissors, or the crazy driving putting our lives in danger while screaming it was “all my fault” and I deserved it. But… and this may be the hard part for Americans… it must be combined, because the abuser is also a full person.

    You were in love with the abuser at some point. I know I was. I saw potentials in her that were indeed bright and deserved support. I wanted to help her, I wanted to make her become the great person I knew she could be, not simply because of “trauma bonding” or “Stockholm syndrome” or whatever, but because there was, there still is, a true person in there, a good person that for whatever reason (her past life — isn’t it horrible that being a victim of abuse makes you more likely to become an abuser yourself? If god existed, this would be one of his/her sickest jokes –, current-day events, “pressure” making your personal dissolve, whatever) is now “bad” and “abusive”… And there is some truth to that, to “it isn’t them”. Just as there is also some truth to the “yes, it is them, and they’ll never change”.

    Isn’t that amazing? Both things are true. And you have to make a choice.

    A choice you made despite having fallen in love, despite having glimpsed the wonderful person they could potentially be… In the famous cartoon show BoJack Horseman (which I recommend in its entirety, but especially its season 4, to anyone who is interested in the question of abuse and where it comes from), a character at some point tells a story from the time when she was a lifeguard: that she learned there are some people who are drowning, but that you, despite being a lifeguard, should not try to save; because they will kick and struggle in panic and grab you and pull you down and then you’ll die with them… so you should not try to save them.

    This person you love. Or loved. You can’t save her. Or him. You’ve tried. You’ve seen the wonderful things they have inside, because they are people. Like you. But you just can’t do it. Maybe a therapist, a psychoanalyst, maybe, but not you. Because you can’t.

    Even more heartwrenching: maybe there is indeed something you could do. Maybe. There are movies like that, aren’t they? Where someone saves someone else?… Maybe there is something. But you don’t know what it is. So you can’t do it.

    And you have to let go, and learn to forgive yourself, because the fact that you don’t know what that thing is you might do that would work… isn’t your fault. It isn’t your fault, and meanwhile there’s another threat, and another black eye, and another shouting match, and this time I’ll really kill myself and it will be your fault and you’ll rot in jail because you never really loved me and how can you be so horrible here let me bite you see it hurts it hurts it hurts…

    And you have to let go. Without losing self-respect. Without feeling that you are the monster. Because, you see — there aren’t any monsters either. No monsters. Just people.

    Some you can save. Some you can’t. And you have to think of yourself, because the one you want to save… s/he isn’t. S/he’s too much into her own problems to be really thinking about it.

    And you really have to think of yourself, so that you don’t become yourself like them. God’s sickest joke. Hah hah.

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