sevenhelz: photo of me snuggling a cat. my face is not shown (Default)
A good friend of mine has been through quite a lot of abuse in her life. I won't go into detail, but it makes the emotional abuse and manipulation I went through a few years back look like just a bit of playful fun. We talk sometimes about patterns of abuse, and red flags - we each have specific things we notice, those things that are so common to abusive relationships that to notice one happening makes us re-evaluate the whole relationship in that light. Sometimes it's unknowing triggering. Other times it's symptomatic of something more problematic. Either way, neither of us can stop analysing these things, nor would we want to, because this is a protective behaviour for us.

All sorts of people can be slow to open up to one another, when they first meet. People who've never been hurt or abused can find this difficult to understand. People who want to help each other can find themselves being snapped at or pushed away when they're just trying to be supportive. I've been on both sides of this, and lately me and my good friend have been talking about the pattern of vulnerability. Some (if not all) of her abusers met her when she was vulnerable, perhaps emotionally, financially, or physically. Mine met me when I was particularly emotionally vulnerable. We were more trusting then, and we leant on these apparently lovely new people for comfort. Gradually it became apparent that they were only lovely when we were vulnerable, and that they liked us like that so much, they would go to great lengths to make us vulnerable. Perhaps because women are meant to be sweet, defenceless little things, their princesses to rescue and protect? Unfortunately for these abusers, we are both strong women, too big for our skin, and we aren't taking it any more. We left. Poor menz, no more dolls to play with.

I don't know if the next part is obvious to people who haven't had their heads messed with, if it's a realisation I would've come to otherwise, but it's important. No matter how positive and strong a person you are, no matter how much you want to be optimistic and trusting and open, after abuse you will be wary of being vulnerable with people. Especially new people. It's the moment where you break from a hug with someone and something flashes in your eyes while you assess your history - how much time has been spent actually having fun with that person, and how much just coping with life? When you do try to talk about issues you're having, do they listen enough, too little, too much? I have my good friend's trust because we've known one another for years and years and she knows I don't have an ulterior motive. I'm not trying to change her, I don't want her sexually, I don't... actually I don't understand the motivations of abusive folk so I'll stop comparing myself. But another reason she trusts me is that I don't always want to listen. I'm a friend, not her counsellor. I'm a friend, and I'm human too, and sometimes I'll interrupt, talk about my experiences, talk about something different, or decide we're doing something else that day. Let's go climbing. Let's talk about other people's Christmas presents. Let's plan some daft weekend away. I'm her friend, and sometimes I know that she needs to stop thinking so hard about things, but also, I'm human, and sometimes I just don't want to hear it. I'm not emotionally bound up in everything happening to her. That's healthy. That's useful. Over the course of a friendship, it can be bloody reassuring.

I'm not saying everyone should stop each other talking about painful subjects. Of course not. But you've got to strike a balance - any kind of relationship is at least two-way, and the moment when you're listening even though you don't care is useful to neither of you. It's what makes you the Nice Guy (TM), who thinks he (or she) is morally superior because they're so supportive. It's also what makes people, particularly people who've been abused, back off and wonder what the hell your angle is. What you're trying to get from them. Why you assume you're the only person who can give someone comfort, anyway? I have a support network of more than just one or two or three people, and my friend has something similar. While she may be one of the first I turn to in times of crisis, if she's busy or just has enough difficult shit going on in her life already, I have other people I can turn to. I wouldn't want to build a relationship with somebody which was so needy, often mutually needy, that there was no fun involved - even if that didn't make me distrustful. It just defeats the point of loving someone, to me, if you want them to be okay, but don't want to go further than that and make them happy. For a while. For as long as you can.

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