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.