Monday, August 12, 2013

Abused kid survival skills, & the abuse thereof.

So it's no secret that I was an abused kid. Like, a really abused kid. And that my adulthood has not been all grand treatment either. And that I had compliance training, the outcome of which looks a lot like the survival skills I developed as an abused kid.

Why talk about this now?

I had these survival mechanisms exploited this week, by folks who should know better-folks who have seen the outcomes of abuse, seen the outcomes of compliance training, who should be able to tell the difference between genuine enthusiasm and "anything to make it stop please make it stop".

Saying "no" is an early, basic way of asserting boundaries. Here's the thing about asserting boundaries: when you are dealing with manipulative, abusive-especially emotionally abusive-people, you have to keep asserting them. This takes effort. This takes a lot of effort in the face of unrelenting pressure and fear. It is hard, and when you are used to standing alone, it's scary as fuck.

In my life, emotional manipulation was often, though not 100% of the time, followed by sexual or physical abuse if I didn't respond to what the abuser wanted. I do have a defiant streak a mile wide, but the fact of the matter is, I feel visceral fear that one has to be a survivor to understand. Emotional manipulation is as much a PTSD trigger as telling me that my access needs don't matter (a thing that says "your life doesn't matter", given that I have a history of actually stopping that whole heart and breathing thing & a clustering tendency) and more triggering than someone twice my size screaming at me. Yelling? I know when to duck.

So, predictably, if one speaks the right psychological words, sounds the right kind of reasonable, it is very easy to get me to shut down. It is easy to get a stream of "I don't know", which should be a sign that no meaningful agreeing is happening-no meaningful anything is happening. All the "I don't know"s in that situation? They mean "tell me what to do, I don't know what to do to make this stop, just tell me stop stop stop please". That is what the string of "I don't know" means. I cannot access my own wants and needs in that state, because the parts of my brain that control such things are hooked into survival, not agency.

Once you have hit that particular string, it is easy, oh so easy, to tell me to do whatever the fuck you want. And I will likely do it. I have an autopilot for many many things that is better than the thought out manual pilot of other folks. I had to in order to survive. I was also taught that my own self care doesn't matter, only other people do, and it's so easy to override that with the right words about honoring commitments or disappointing others. I can talk a big game about not many shits given, but I, too, have programming. And the programming beneath what I have actively worked to build up in order to save myself? It says I don't matter. It says only other people matter. It says putting other people everywhere but last is how to survive. Survival trumps self care. It always does.

So, I shut down. It's so much easier to do what they want, all disconnected, then it is to continuously assert your boundaries. Saying no is how you get physically or emotionally beat to shit. Turning off means that it hits eventually, but in the moment you get whatever it is done and hate yourself for giving in afterwards. And I have started giving myself permission to acknowledge that people who take advantage of this are perpetuating abuse, too.

Taking advantage of my survival mechanisms is wrong. It is abusive and it is bullshit and it is a threat to my continued psychological health. Manipulating me without giving me time to think isn't acceptable behavior. Without processing time, without a chance to figure out what is going on, my agreement means nothing. This is not unique to me. Taking advantage of this is emotional abuse. Those scars are just as real as those from physical maltreatment-you just can't see them. But that doesn't mean using them doesn't hurt.

Do not violate my trust that way. It is bullshit.

13 comments:

Elizabeth J. (Ibby) Grace said...

Counselors and the like are trained in how to know this, and most people walking around can see the scars when this sort of thing is happening. They are *not* invisible. This is not OK.

Brenda Rothman (Mama Be Good) said...

Your well-being, your safety is the most important thing. You are an amazing person. ((many, many hugs))

aspinthegarden.com said...

true, this.

Lei said...

I can really, truly relate to this in so many ways. Being treated like that is never okay.

Alexander Cheezem said...

@Ibby Grace: As someone who's had a good bit of the training to be a mental health counselor, I'll just remark that the training you reference is often woefully inadequate and/or ignored.

Myria said...

What Ibby said. It is not invisible and people who do that know exactly what they are doing. That BS is straight from the (metaphorical) Professional Abuser's Script Book. Professional Abuser is someone like a counselor, pastor, teacher, etc who you go to for help who then uses abusive tactics to achieve their own ends. I have run into this script a time or three.

Corbett OToole said...

Your post really resonates with me. My abuse was initially in medical contexts and then later moved into my home. I always look like I am strong - because that is how I learned to survive. If I looked strong then maybe they would not even try to hurt me. But I am easily paralyzed by emotional manipulation. Thank you for saying what I cannot say.

ratherunique said...

I'm sorry this happened to you :(

Gail Wylie said...

It has come to my attention that you are looking for an apology from me. After I read this blog I can understand why. I am sorry that I used a flash in your presence without knowing you were in the room. I guess I didn't check well enough before I took the picture. I was also unaware that you had moved into the next room when I took another picture. It was not my intention to hurt you in anyway. I believe I apologized before we left Ann Arbor, but I may be wrong, or perhaps you didn't hear me - I understand how that happens too. I am sorry for taking the pictures and I am also sorry that you carrying this to such a degree today - it's been too long. Sincerely Gail Gillingham Wylie

Neurodivergent K said...

That is a quite interesting turn from how you explained what happened to a number of folks who I talked to.

Perhaps you should consider correcting the record. The 2 sentiments are so vastly different it's like they came from 2 different people.

Pain in Paradise said...

Gail, ugh, cut that abusive shit right out. everyone sees what you did in that last sentence there. I am glad I don't have to deal with you in real life. NK, I feel for you.

NewtToad said...

I hate this idea that those who are bullied are wrong or "disordered." It's a system that encourages bullies. Though sometimes it is a system that doesn't appear to explicitly condone or encourage bullies (even though you know it does), but doesn't pathologize them either. It certainly doesn't correct them. While those who are bullied are the ones expected to change, or the ones who have to see psychiatrists and "professionals." It's as though bullying is a "necessary evil." It's almost as if bullies are seen as "norm enforcers," and there is a mentality of "while it may be wrong to bully, that doesn't mean that the kid being tormented didn't have some reason that should be "corrected." It's as though all differences are something sought to be eliminated through the gene pool, or else there is pressure to minimalize the differences as much as possible, and everywhere, hierarchy is enforced, and status quo. Religion doesn't do anything to transcend it, and as a matter of fact, also reinforces the status quo and hierarchy. Psychiatry is the new religion. It hurts Autistics like myself who see ourselves as different, not disordered. We don't want to assimilate and adjust to the surrounding NTs. I don't want everything about myself to minimalize to the point where I fit in, with some of my quirks and attributes intact becoming beneficial to "society." I don't want to be the supposed "successful Aspie/Autie," I don't want Bobby Hill to "bloom" into a Hank, or boys learning that there's one way to "be a man," I don't want Bill Cosby or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, men wearing suits, "fine upstanding young gentleman," "you're a woman now," Jesus Christ, Bill O'Reilly, Judge Judy, blah blah blah. Whenever Autistic individuals try to speak out, we are promptly silenced, told we are not Autistic, told that we are defensive or in denial. I hate that Good Morning America episode on Neurodiversity where one of the hosts described it as a way of "justifying heartbreak." NO. There ARE, in fact, other perspectives and not just one is the correct perspective. Autistics are DIFFERENT and we have a unique brain structure and neurology. Things CAN be different without being "wrong" or disordered. And it hurts me to see blacks acting conservative and going against their interests, as well, even though I'm not black. And I see this everywhere, with different races, LGBT, etc. They want to join this collective, they suffer from self-hatred, though I see nothing wrong with harmless separatism. We should WANT to be different without always striving to minimalize our differences, and being separate doesn't mean being hateful of those who aren't like us, either. If there's an "objective" way to behave, which is why the existence of other races is more acceptable and palatable than the existence of other brain structures (Because the acceptance of different brains as NOT disordered would mean broadening the definition of what it means to be human, and that SCARES folks), then the only "objective" way to behave would be the way of the masters, the ones in power. Take away one's individual perspective, and the path that was paved by the masters (often through conquering) is all you'll know as truth.

adair said...

Bleh, this is awful. I'm sorry that people do this to others, and I'm also thankful you wrote this, because I think I could use some of these manipulative scripts without realizing what I was doing was wrong. I don't entirely agree with Myria who says that "people who do that know exactly what they are doing"--I'm sure in many cases that's true, but I think manipulating people is one of the many abusive tactics that is normative in our society and therefore not considered abuse.

I'm sure this has been modeled for me over and over in the media and IRL for example--someone wants to go out and do an activity and invites someone else along. The second person says "no". The first person proceeds with emotional manipulation. ("But Ricky and Carla will be there and I said you were coming and you know how much Carla likes seeing you!") This isn't only presented as okay, but actually laudable--the first person is getting the second out of their shell and encouraging them to do activities they'd actually like. Additionally, it's such a common script that in some cases the second person is relying on it, and says "no" but means "I'm torn, convince me". Or if the first person accepts the "no" at face value, they're criticized for being too passive or accused of not caring.

I've tried doing rape prevention work by promoting explicit consent and have run into the same dynamics in that realm.

I'm not saying all this to excuse abusers, and I think that everyone should examine their thoughts and behavior and try to rip these scripts out of them. I think that someone who uses one of these techniques and gets called on it should apologize sincerely and work to understand WHY what they did was wrong. Which doesn't in any way mean the victim has to forgive or empathize with them once they do so. I think if they refuse to do so and instead turn to victim-blaming or gaslighting, that you start getting into the territory where there's cause to believe they're intentional or at in-denial systematic abusers. But I also think that it's extremely dangerous to assume that everyone who ever uses an abusive tactic is aware of what they're doing and is choosing to be a monster--for one thing, that belief will keep anyone who doesn't consciously decide to abuse from ever admitting when they do abuse and therefore learning what's wrong and discontinuing it. For another thing, it prevents understanding of how abusive behavior is mainstream and how most people are socialized to use it. (I'm not saying anyone here is arguing for or holds such a one-sided belief, just wanted to make sure that if that's what anyone's taking away from the conversation, that they don't go unchallenged).