Tuesday, September 6, 2011


temporarily locked post, sorry


  1. Oh, Holly. This really resonates with me. I dunno, it just. I feel like crying. I don't wanna go too deeply into my experiences, but so often I feel like, because I was drunk, because I was high, because I was stupid, because I was weak, because I said we could make out, because, because, because, it wasn't *real.* That... it was something else. Not assault. Not the r-word.

    I dunno. Now I'm all weepy. *hugs*

  2. Hey, you know, good luck and stuff.

    I'd just like to point out that you don't always see the signs immediately. Sometimes you just have to keep looking out for yourself.

  3. Ice cream for breakfast is fine as long as you can nap through the rest of the day.

  4. I'm starting to have suspicions, but like you said I don't want to be dramatic. I grew up with a very comfortable lifestyle, my parents made sure we were always cared for and had everything we needed and wanted. But so often throughout my life I felt so frightened and upset because of the way they treated me. For not cleaning up after myself, when I'd forget a chore they asked me to do, when I resisted their advice or stepped one tow out of line, it was a nuclear meltdown. It still is. Last summer my mom didn't think I had enough hours at work, and I was afraid to talk to her because of the inevitable criticism. This summer I worked at a job with a clearly abusive boss for three days before I quit because I was afraid of my parents telling me I wasn't motivated enough for work. I wasn't getting job interviews to have a job, I was getting them because I was afraid of what my parents would say if I continued being unemployed. At the time I was only about a month out of college. When I was a child if I spilled my drink at dinner my father would explode. The other day I overheard a fight between my parents and I heard my father shout "I want a divorce" at my mother. Later that day they were fine. They never brought it up. When I was little and my mom took me shopping, if I complained that my feet hurt from standing and walking around the whole day she would tell me she was never going to take me shopping again. It's all so confusing when it's interlaced with images of the kindest parental love I could ask for. But it weighs on my mind.

    I love my parents so much. And they love me dearly and would do anything for me. But even now, having just graduated college and being very isolated from my friends, I can't talk to them about how depressed I've been. If I bring it up with my mom she'll dismiss me. She'll tell me it isn't healthy for a girl my age to lock herself in her room day after day, but then she will go and say that I'm not motivated and I'm not trying. She'll tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself because she recently lost her brother. The entire time I won't have said a word. I've never had a romantic relationship and I'm 22. I've never been able to keep a steady friendship for more than a few years. I don't want to call it abuse because I love my parents and they love me. But I know it's not normal to feel like I'll never be good enough for people to like me, and that the only reason people talk to me now is because they pity me. I really feel like I'm just typing this all out here because I don't think if I told anyone I know that they would take any of it seriously. I keep dismissing it, but it's hard to wake up at eleven a.m. and be afraid that your mom and dad are pissed that you slept in so late on a day off. If my mom enters my room in the morning I'll spring awake instantly, a reflex I developed out of the fear of being screamed at for laziness. I don't know, I'm just so confused and down on myself and I've always had such a deep fear of upsetting my parents or even just talking to them about my feelings. It's hard for me to talk to anyone about my feelings, really.

  5. Oh my, I certainly wrote a lot more than I intended. I thought I should also mention, my brother receives a lot of this treatment. Even the smallest offense on his part merits a massive screaming match between him and either of my parents. Usually it's with my father. When he was little he often ended up in tears, but as he's gotten older he's learned to fight back. About 90% of the time I don't have a clue where my father is coming from. He will berate and criticize my brother for the tiniest flaw. And trust me, I'm not usually one to agree with my brother. I'm the type to just stand and bear it silently. I never fight back, and I really never even speak when I'm being yelled at like that. Now that I'm older I can tell that the extreme reactions I'm used to in my family to small mistakes and accidents really aren't warranted, even when taking my parents' stress into account. They often make assumptions about our behavior and then berate us for not anticipating their needs. The greatest offense when I was little was talking back. I have never been able to physically tell people off for doing something I don't agree with.

  6. *hugs to Kate*

    For what it's worth... my mother and I went through a stage where our relationship was pretty much like this. It wasn't always, and it didn't last forever, but two things helped it a lot.

    The first was me getting out of the house. I adore my mother - she's one of my best friends - but past a certain age, we just could not live peaceably under the same roof. Our relationship improved a hundredfold when I found a nearby apartment.

    The other - and oh god, I feel so disloyal for even discussing this publicly, but it's under a pseudonym so what the hell - was my mom getting treatment for depression. Apparently a lot of what went down between us during those years stemmed from her feeling helpless and in pain - and, y'know, shit rolls downhill, so when she was feeling at her worst, sometimes we'd get the fallout.

    I don't know if any of this could help you in your situation, but if it's feasible you might want to seriously look into different living arrangements - and, if your relationship with your folks will let you do this, talk to them about possibly looking into counseling. If they're that on edge, they could probably use it - which would benefit all of you, it sounds like.

  7. I just wanted to point out: for the sexual abuse, you forgot the "do stuff to me or I'll think you don't love me and kill myself" scenario. I just thought I'd be nitpicky and mention it.

  8. To Julia...


    To me, emotional manipulation is why the term "rapey" was coined... it may not actually be rape, but damn if it ain't rapey...

  9. @ Kate M: Thank you so much for writing what you did here. I am a victim and a survivor of very similar emotional abuse, and it means so much to hear someone else talk about it in a way that acknowledges that it *matters.* I may not have any physical scars from my abuse, but I have mental and emotional ones that will probably be with me for life.

    "The most painful part of recognizing non-mega-violent abuse is that sometimes you see it and you just have to let it keep going on, not because it isn't abuse but because most abuse is beyond the reach of simplistic "just throw the monsters in Monster Jail" solutions."
    No. No, no, no no no no no.
    I'm not saying this as a critic, I'm saying this as one survivor to another:
    What you're saying here sounds to me like you're being influenced by the idea that the kind of thing that happened to us doesn't matter. That it doesn't deserve addressing, that we don't need or deserve help, that the people who abused us don't deserve to be treated as abusers. Of course, there are degrees to abuse, and not every abuser should be thrown in jail. But people like us WERE abused, and we should NEVER be made or expected to "just let it keep going on." There is never one right way to address abuse, and sometimes the abused person might even choose to live with it for a while, for their own safety. But a person being emotionally abused shouldn't be expected to just accept it any more than a person should be expected to take repeated beatings or rapes.

    Emotional abuse is ABUSE. It can destroy who you are as a person from the inside out.

    I was, and still am, emotionally abused. I'm working on making a better life for myself, and I'm making it clear to my parents that they were abusers. I've started to use the terms "victim" and "survivor" to refer to myself. Because I am both of those things. For me, and to help anyone else who's had similar things happen to them have the courage to speak out.

  10. Anon, I think you misunderstand - Holly was talking about as a outsider. I can't do anything about someone that chooses to stay in a abusive relationship - if my neighbour gets into a relationship that is violent, I can call the cops whenever I hear them physically fighting.

    But I can't do anything about partner #1 telling partner #2 "you're an awful person, why haven't you done x? Can't you do anything useful at all? Why is it always *me* that have to do everything, you horrible partner. I must be the most the most patient person on earth for sticking with you".

    The above is abuse, definitely.

    But it's also something that I can't do jack shit about as a outsider. And it's something we as a society can't do very much about, apart from offering our help to those abused that want it. But making laws to prevent that kind of situation are really hard to make, and prone to not solving the problem, but creating more problems.

  11. I agree that there's no easy solution. I know it's a hard place to be in - I've been on the other side of it, having to watch someone I care about be abused. I admit that I honestly don't know what the best way to deal with it as a society is. But I think it's sad and reflective of greater attitudes that there are so often *no* options, no way to help someone get help or get anyone to care.

    I'm not sure of the best way to help, but I know that settling for not being able to do anything is not it.

  12. Anon 4:34 - Like Ulc said, I meant when you're an outsider to the relationship. Very often I'll have couples come into the ER who set off all the little warning klaxons in my head--couples where the sick partner seems to be devoting all their effort to soothing the healthy one's angst, or either partner seems to be terrified of displeasing the other, or either partner is going on a frothing tirade while the other one is quietly "yes honey"ing.

    And my instinct is to fix this, to jump in and save the day. I'll file a report, call the cops, bring everything to the attention of The Authorities and they'll stop this horror for good and all. They'll put the evil abuser away and the victim will be ever so grateful and immediately embark upon a bright new life.

    But the truth is that the cops can't stop this, that I can't write "gave me a skeevy vibe" on a report and expect anything to be done, that victims are often not grateful or even safe when their relationships are broken up by external brute force, and every kind of interference can be putting the victim at greater risk.

    Even talking to the victim is something you have to do when they're separated for some pretext like an X-ray because the abuser will twig to it if you just roll them out of the room "to talk," and the victims will almost never accept our little brochures and hotline cards. Whether that's because they don't think they need them, or because they're terrified they'd be caught with evidence of rebellion, is not something they always share with us. I offer these things anyway in hope that at least they'll show that outsiders recognize the situation as wrong, that it'll at least tell the victim I don't think they deserve being treated that way.

    I don't want to accept the fact that abusive couples walk out of my ER still abusing each other, but sometimes I have to let it happen, simply because there is no way for me or any other outsider to say "HEY THIS HAS TO STOP RIGHT NOW" and for that to magically happen.

  13. It's great to be reading this on my mom's birthday.

    She hit me a couple times, but whoop-de-doo. What she said to me left a far longer and more lasting impact. It sucks to conclude that your mom's life would have been better if she'd aborted you and then feel guilty for living by the time you're 10 years old.

    My family doesn't recognize verbal and emotional abuse, so I've pretty much stopped talking to them.

  14. How beautifully put. Seeing through the "exceptionality" of our own experiences is sometimes more than we can take.

    It's talking with Rowdy and knowing that I don't have to worry about saying something that will make him explode, because he does not explode and exploding is not a part of my life anymore. It's getting a parking ticket and realizing that the punishment is "now I have to pay the ticket," not "now I'm in a world of shit."

    On the last point I thought that for me it's also not having to think "This is my punishment for something" or having to fear that "I'll get punished for this". We're urged to blame ourselves and so we get really good at it.

    I won't be friends with an abuser and I'll try to give their victim any assistance I can without putting them at further risk, but I can't be Batman. The most painful part of recognizing non-mega-violent abuse is that sometimes you see it and you just have to let it keep going on, not because it isn't abuse but because most abuse is beyond the reach of simplistic "just throw the monsters in Monster Jail" solutions.

    This is as important a point as the "not all rapists are strangers with a knife" is. That people like you exist makes me believe there can be change.

  15. Holly,

    I've been stalking your blog for the last week or so, and I just wanted to say, thanks.

    I was raped as a child by a distant cousin. It's not something I've ever been very hesitant to tell my friends.

    But my first 'real' relationship was with a girl who was sometimes rather abusive, and that has taken me years to realise; I'm yet to come to terms with it.

    So, yeah. Thank you for this post, and for your blog. <3

  16. One thing I have found very difficult in discussing abuse, and that I think is related to what you are discussing, is that similar levels of abuse can be perceived in *very* different ways by different people. Case in point, siblings who react very differently to the same abusive parents -- one winds up in therapy with PTSD, the other does not have triggers and flashbacks. I have witnessed siblings disagreeing on whether their parents were abusive, based on the same actions the parents took, and on the siblings' own mental states later one. It's a tough one.

  17. This strikes such a chord, especially the comment left by Kate. When you come from a family with a comfortable financial situation, with everything material you could reasonably expect to have, being able to take the opportunities for excellent education - it feels selfish, egotistic and exaggerated to say "I was abused as a child".

    Right now in the UK, the aftermath of the looting and burning is creating something of a wave of 'pro-discipline' sentiment. Average, normal people from all walks of life are calling for greater 'discipline' in school and at home. Some parents are speaking out about how furious they are that the government 'took away [their] right to discipline [their] children'. A lack or respect for property and people amongst some of the population is being blamed on this 'PC idea' that 'you can't ever discipline your children'.

    Is slapping your child on the bum for not cleaning their room discipline? What about slapping the backs of their thighs because they've spent too long in the shower? And slapping their face so hard that you break the hinges on their glasses because they 'answered back' on a cultural/educational family issue?

    I'm sure some of these people are concerned about increased levels of violence and disrespect and are advocating discipline within society to ensure peace on the streets. But every time I hear the word 'discipline' used to talk about children behaving badly, I cringe in fear. I worry that they are hiding behind the concept of 'discipline', and promoting violence against children.

    And I know it's not a delusion, because when my mother says "That kid needs some discipline, s/he's screaming in the middle of the street, for crying out loud" she usually follows it up with "And I'd give him/her a good slap around the face, so then s/he'd have something to cry about."

    Teaching children self-discipline, right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable, does not need violence, and the INEVITABLE fear and self-loathing produced in the child that comes with it. Violence disguised as parenting is not the only form of abuse: but I fear that it might soon become 'the thing to do' again, soon.

  18. "If you didn't want something sexual done to you, and they knew this and did it anyway, it was sexual assault. (It gets fuzzier if you can't be certain that they knew, but not much; if a reasonable person with a reasonable sense of context and nonverbal communication would have picked up that you didn't want it, I think you can go ahead and call that assault.)"

    @Holly: So would you describe the situation you posted a bit ago ("No means no") as sexual assault? He didn't know that you didn't want something sexual done to you (and in fact you did(?), but he didn't know that either, which is why it was not okay).

    Just trying to clarify; helps me work through these issues and labels in my own head. :)

  19. Heterodox - I think it was Not Okay to start having sex without asking or even warning, but because I wasn't unwilling (even though he didn't know this), I wouldn't call it assault.

  20. I went to a group for adult survivors of child abuse a few years ago. Just once. I felt like a weirdo there because, no, my parents weren't A Child Called It mean, but also because I never went through much self-blame stuff, which seemed to be the crux of most of the people in the group's issues. I dunno. I've just never been in a place where I felt comfortable talking about this stuff really. Plus I have a deep fear of being caught being sincere in front of anyone, haha.

  21. @Holly: Thanks; that makes sense. One more question: You didn't give consent, though you would have if he had asked; if you had been in some way unable to give consent/judge your own willingness (e.g. you were intoxicated), would that have changed how he should have assessed the situation/would that have made it assault as you see it now?

  22. Hershele OstropolerSeptember 6, 2011 at 1:57 PM

    I don't have an abuse story. I don't want to sound like I'm co-opting or anything like that.

    a weird sense of humility, I think. As if it would be somehow self-aggrandizing to call yourself a survivor of abuse.

    I read a book once in which the author mentioned, in passing, that he was a "Holocaust survivor." He was Jewish and he wasn't murdered as part of the Holocaust; the fact that he was in Connecticut the whole time was summarily dismissed.

    Shortly before reading it -- ten years ago this coming Sunday, in fact -- I ... well, I'm sure you see where this is going. So I have a slightly better claim on being a 9/11 survivor than he has on being a Holocaust survivor. I don't consider myself such, though, because I feel it implies certain things, none of which are true except that I was in lower Manhattan at the time and I'm not dead.

    And obviously that's not at all the same thing as abuse.

    It's no use advocating for emotional abusers, or she-never-said-no rapists, to all be locked up and the key thrown away. There's no law providing for that--there can't be a law, these things are so complicated and emotional--and there's no brute-force fix for it.

    I have a hard time reconciling my belief that certain sex acts -- not all of them acts about which I can say "only other people do that" -- should be illegal regardless of consent (or at least I don't find it objectionable that they're illegal regardless of consent), with the protection from unjust preosecution being that presumably someone who consents won't turn around and call the cops*, with my belief that there are certain things, like nagging someone into allowing you to have sex with them, that are wrong and rapey but that can't be made illegal. I think the distinction is that the latter is about something vague and inchoate whereas the former is not.

    *And the cops in turn shouldn't go looking for people doing that consensually, and nor should anyone else, which I guess is the flaw in this plan

  23. ...why would a sex act be illegal regardless of consent? I can understand in situations where consent can't legally be given (like statutory rape), but if it can and it is, why would it be ok for it to be illegal?

  24. Hi Holly, I've been reading and enjoying your blog for several months and I think this is one of the best posts I've read so far. Very well put, thanks!

  25. I'm the anon from last night. I'm sorry if anything I said was out of line. I guess I just got emotional - this is obviously a very emotional issue.
    I guess I just wanted to express my frustration that 1) sometimes there's really nothing that can be done, or doing something wouldn't make anything better, and 2) certain types of abuse are seen as less important or not abuse at all, so society doesn't give us ways to deal with it, even when it really should.
    Thanks for giving me and others a place to talk about this where we know our stories will be accepted. It means a lot.

    @Hershele: Couldn't it be made illegal, if it isn't already, to attempt to coerce or convince an unwilling person into having sex? I can see why that'd be unprovable most of the time, but I can also see how it could, in some situations, be proven. I'm sure there are cases where people are intimidated into not-really-consent, and a record of the conversations exists. The question, of course, is where is the line between that and someone just changing their mind?

  26. Being a "survivor" myself and wannabe tough guy. Part of learning to finally deal with what happened to me was giving myself permission to be hurt. Finally letting myself feel the pain was the best way for me to get over the pain. You shouldn't belittle what happened to you just because somebody been through worst, or because there's kids starving in Japan, or whatever. You're pain is real and it's ok to hurt. Giving my self permission to be hurt was the best thing I ever done for myself.

  27. For me, it was because it was only once... and only something zhe said... and because I ended the relationship immediately. I mean, it wasn't that bad, right?

    The fact that I haven't dated in the fourteen subsequent months is surely just coincidence.

    Holly, your posts on abuse are always a metaphorical punch in the gut (because of the "hey, wait, I... I recognize that") and are always very helpful. Thank you.

  28. Anonymous from last night: In all legal systems that I've seen, intimidation actually is illegal and classifies as rape.

    But look instead at mild coercion, say a partner that keeps asking about 50 times, and if partner #2 doesn't put out goes sitting in the corner and sulking. Creepy, abusive and problematic as hell. But it can't really be made illegal - nor should it fall in the rape category if partner #2 gives in at the 40th time, because then partner consented.

    If nothing else because any law that made to address this will have to draw a line, and any line you draw are going to be arbitrary and nonsensical.

  29. Holly, I can't tell you how much this post means to me. I'd been toying with the idea of emailing you about a similar situation, but I never got up the courage to do it.

    I have an ex who once didn't ask. We were lying in bed, naked, because, well, we both enjoyed sleeping without clothes. He didn't ask, just entered. I was shocked and didn't know how to respond. I hadn't been in a good mood prior to that, and he knew it. So I just laid there, not moving, not making a sound. Eventually, he realized I didn't want it and stopped.

    I have struggled for years with whether or not I could call this rape. Honestly, I think I will continue to struggle with it. He was a good, caring person. This was a one time thing. I don't want to call it rape because I know so many people have had it worse. I can't bring myself to say I was raped because of the all around situation and knowing that people have been treated worse.

    So I guess it helps, knowing that maybe it's okay for me to call it rape. But I don't know. It just doesn't seem right to me.

  30. One more comment from the anon from last night:

    Obviously, I need to gather my thoughts on these issues a little more. But I just wanted to say thanks to everyone here for being the best damn comment section on the internet. It's really nice to be able to have constructive and non-judgemental discussions about these things.

  31. Kate M:

    Survivor of the exact same shit from my dad. He never* did any of that stuff to my brother until just lately when I moved out. Because now he can't project his vision of the Ideal Daughter onto me as easily, so he'll move on to see if he can salvage an Ideal Son out of the situation.

    *Except for the time when he realized my brother was left-handed and splinted bro's left hand for six weeks to try to force right-handedness. He tended to focus on me, because in his mind "academically gifted" means "100% perfect, knows everything, Wonder Woman."

  32. Aimee: Get your head around this one: I lost my virginity to a guy who thought I wanted it, because I went along, because I thought HE wanted it, and really neither one of us wanted to have sex; we just thought it was expected of us.

    I'm not sure what you would call that. Reciprocal rape? Double-rape? Mutual masochism?

  33. w/r/t sex that you didn't want, but the other person didn't know you didn't want:

    Usually, this is an excuse used by people who don't want to admit to being rapists. But, occasionally, it does happen. And even if the other person is really, truly not at fault? Something bad still happened and you (or whoever it happened to) still has the right to be and feel hurt. You can still need help, feel traumatized, be a survivor.
    @goth-is-not-emo, although I'm not going to say whether what happened to you is rape or not, since you obviously know a lot more about the specifics than I do, this might apply to your situation.

    I had something happen to me that I'm not sure whether I can rightfully call rape or assault. I do know, though, that it was a traumatic experience for me, and that even if I eventually conclude that no one is at fault, allowing myself to deal with it is a good thing for me.

  34. This really hits home for me. I've been assaulted, no question, once, had a not very nice once, and am now trying to get out an emotionally abusive marriage with my sanity intact. And it is, so hard, to call it what it is. I did link to that post with the numbers that applied to my home, 19 being one of them, and my husband called me sick and delusional for it. Thank you for your brave voice, calling things what they are.

  35. 10:56- My parents called me mentally ill and said I needed help for calling what they did to me abuse. When you question what an emotional abuser does to you, they just might make you question your sanity.

  36. @goth-is-not-emo

    I would not call that rape. You both consented to and intended to have sex, even if it was for mistaken reasons resulting from miscommunication. There wasn't any violence, threat, or implicit threat thereof.

  37. Oh boy. This is going to be fun.

    When I was 6 the son of some people my parents knew licked me. Down There, as it were. He told me it was a greeting/farewell from his culture.

    That took me about half an hour to actually commit to writing. If I wasn't using an Anonymous tag, it would've taken much longer.

    Now for many years I've had a similar trouble. Sexual assault sounds violent. It wasn't rape. It was sexual not-niceness, and I've always had the lingering sense of doubt as to whether all the issues that have resulted from it are somehow less valid than the issues that rape survivors and systematic child abuse survivors have. Certainly it could never be validated by the judicial system, nor do I have any kind of proof aside from emotional troubles and special attention paid to trigger warnings. It's almost embarrassing to talk to people about because the second someone brings up sexual assault on children there's an expectation for a big story. A sense of "oh, is that it?" which comes from people who aren't quite close enough to me to see the damage, or haven't had contact with other people in a similar position.

    We definitely need new words for this. It's too difficult to phrase in the terminology that exists.

  38. @Anonymous 10:00: "I had something happen to me that I'm not sure whether I can rightfully call rape or assault. I do know, though, that it was a traumatic experience for me, and that even if I eventually conclude that no one is at fault, allowing myself to deal with it is a good thing for me."

    Thank you. That definitely helped clarify my own thoughts. Regardless of intent or fault, it was still traumatic for me. Maybe I don't have to call it something besides that. I don't have to feel guilty for saying it was traumatic, because trauma is a bit more...broad? I don't want him to go to jail, even if I never want to see him again. Our breakup had nothing to do with this incident, so I guess it's time to just move on. Hopefully.

  39. Thank you a million times for writing this post. It has affected me profoundly, in a good way.

  40. "If you didn't want something sexual done to you, and they knew this and did it anyway, it was sexual assault. (It gets fuzzier if you can't be certain that they knew, but not much; if a reasonable person with a reasonable sense of context and nonverbal communication would have picked up that you didn't want it, I think you can go ahead and call that assault.)"

    I wonder about this... can we really apply the standards of the average reasonable person to one specific person here? Maybe someone honestly didn't recognize something that most people would. Maybe they don't have the best nonverbal communication skills, maybe they just didn't pick up on it at the time for whatever reason.
    Of course, what someone else said about the survivor still being perfectly justified in their feelings and reactions still applies. But I don't really know if this can be counted as the same thing as assault with intent and full knowledge of what's being done.

    Ugh, I don't want to seem as if I'm making excuses for actual abusers and rapists. It's just that, reading that, I wondered about cases like these.

  41. I think the answer on questions like "what if your assailant didn't want it either?" and "what if they didn't know you didn't want it?" is that something can have the effects of an assault without having the intent. I don't know how that would stand up in court, but it seems that nothing remotely ambiguous ever goes to court anyway so never mind that.

    The point is that it doesn't matter much to you if your assailant was inwardly thinking "I want to ruin this person's life," "I want to have good sex with this person," or "TRA LA LA FLOWERS." The effect on you is still the same.

    (I also don't believe 90% of the stories about "how was he to know she didn't want it?" I think 90% of the people who claim to have interpreted frozen silence as consent are just straight up liars.)

  42. Yeah, I pretty much agree with everything you just said. :)

    I've been in one of those 'I don't know whether he was intentionally assaulting me or legitimately didn't know I didn't want it' situations. This is helping me work through my thoughts a lot.

    -Anon from 10:43.

  43. Thank you for this post. I'm in a similarly crummy boat in terms of not wanting to label experiences I've had (with an additional layer of the fact it was as a child and I don't remember most of it) and not wanting to cheapen it/step on toes in comparison, as well as being irritated by the 'oh, just that?' or the 'we should throw that person/everyone like that in jail!' reactions to disclosing.

    I also find the problem of being kinky/queer while also being a survivor to have its own obnoxious set of obstacles. Suddenly, here is the explanation for the queerness/kinkiness/poly - I'm just simply a broken human being! I can't legitimately have these desires, they were ingrained from my assault - they should be fixed instead! I don't even know what to say, what if the experiences did on some level contribute to those aspects of me? What difference would it make?

  44. Hershele OstropolerSeptember 7, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    Tenya: I think if a person who gets treatment for trauma finds they're no longer interested in non-normative sexual activities that's the only time you can demonstrate a connection, and in that case they're probably no worse off for it.

    After thinking about the Spanner Cases I've backed away from the idea that it's okay for laws defining, e.g., bondage as rape to ignore consent. I would be okay with consent being made an affirmative defense by statute.

  45. This post has come at an interesting point in my life - about a week and a half after realizing that I've gone through another form of abuse.

    I identify with so much of this. It wasn't until my second year of college that I was able to acknowledge that my parents were really emotionally/verbally abusive, with a dose of neglect mixed in there. I got spanked all of once that I can remember, and I was almost always very well provided for, so it took me a while to say "No, that was really Not Okay." Around the same time, I became a survivor of attempted rape by someone I had been seeing. I minimized that for about a year because he stopped (just) before I had to scream or hurt him. And now... I've realized that my last boyfriend, who I was best friends with for two years and lived with for about 8 months, had some abusive, Not Okay behaviors. He never hit me, but he said and did (or didn't do) some messed up things. It's hard to really believe because I 1) can't remember a whole lot (which is scary because that's dissociative), 2) I wasn't at a place myself where I could have had a healthy relationship with *any* partner, and 3) got along with him so well much of the time. I still believe he's a Good Guy, and we still talk as friends - but I'm starting to see all of these things he needs to deal with, anger issues and behavior patterns that he absorbed from his childhood.

    I've just started my third year of being an activist, trying to change the world, and my focus has been in DV/sexual assault stuff all along. I believe in breaking the silence and breaking the cycle, but it can be so hard to feel like a survivor with experiences like these. It's hard to trust that people will take me seriously. Thank you for posting this. It's reassuring.

  46. Wonderful, wonderful post.
    I wish there could be a discussion about the reality of rape as experienced by the vast majority of victims without talking about prosecution and jail and legal standards of proof.
    The times my ex-husband raped me (I had to make myself type that because I wanted to minimize it), I had no category to put the feelings I was feeling. I was furious and violated, but I experienced it as just another part of the whole pattern of our relationship where he felt, and explicitly stated, that he had control over me. That is, I should be "submitting" to his "leadership." I wouldn't have called it rape because, duh, if you get raped you have to call the police and what's happening here is me being a total failure as a wife. So much of our relationship fits the Not Okay pattern and yet even at the time of our divorce I would have said, "Oh, no, he's never abused me." And the fact that I would randomly think of those rapey incidents years after the fact and burn and imagine doing things differently - it took years and then hearing, of all things, the Oprah episode about spousal rape to say to myself that that is really what happened.
    What IS is what IS, regardless of what can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

  47. As a person who is both kinky and a victim of sexual assault, but was assaulted *after* I developed an interest in kink, (and the assaults weren't even in a kinky context!) I find it kind of hilarious when someone insinuates that I must be kinky because of rape or abuse. Hilarious and sad and stupid.

  48. Tenya: are you me? Because these are the exact issues that always seem to crop up. Does sexual abuse count if I barely remember it? Does it matter if I'm kinky, so long as I enjoy myself? Blech.

    Anyway, great post! It really put a lot of my somewhat unexamined feelings into words.

  49. A friend sent me to read this post with a "in case you're still hesitating to call it abuse".

    I guess I'm not hesitating any more. I've been planning my escape for a couple of weeks, all the while wondering if I'm a massive drama queen. I'm due to leave in the next couple of days, to go to stay with friends until I can find work. I'm absolutely terrified, but a dream of the things you describe in the last paragraph is keeping me going.

    Thank you for helping me give my daily terror a name.

  50. What I went through wasn't "as bad" as what my best friends went through and they got over it, why was I making such a big deal of things?*

    I mean, I only had one physically abusive step-mother and one emotionally abusive step-mother, a dad who played along and a mom who wasn't around much...

    Besides, didn't I get along them now that we weren't living together?

    *Oh hai, long-term chronic depression, starting when I was a teenager!

  51. Vita: I hope everything goes well for you. You're in my thoughts and probably those of everyone else here. :)

  52. Thanks for this post. I was never sexually abused but was emotionally and physically abused to the extent. Its odd because its not something I discuss with my parents because I guess physical abuse was something that was part of their generation. But they were old enough to know better. As an adult I am now aware how damaging it was and its hard storing up all this resentment because I can feel it inwardly and it effects my relationships with people. So I guess what I went through, the "not niceness" was abuse. I don't know if I can call myself a survivor though as I feel fairly warped and backward as a person.

  53. I've been verbally/emotionally abused for yeats now and today, I filed a report against my father. The cop was very honest with his answer "We can't do anything unless he actually hurts you."


    I'm so fucking scarred by all the things he said and did (or didn't do.) How can there not be a law against this?

    And hell yes, after all the shit I've been through (and am still going through), I truely consider myself a survivor. I used to think I was weak, but I am STRONG.

  54. This one broke me.

    Thank you.


  55. Reading this article reminds me again how much of my life is shaped by the mental scars of my childhood. Repeatedly drilled into me the uselessness of not only myself but of any attempt to rebel, I've come a long way- but it's still an effort.
    I was never hit as a child.
    It took me years to understand it wasn't normal, and even now that I'm mostly well adjusted it still lingers, catch myself thinking "not so bad" not REAL abuse, not like I have any scars. I wasn't even the one treated worst of the children.

    My mother ignored all the signs until my sibling had to go in for a surgery and he said he'd rather see their child die than go through the effort of donating a pint of blood for a possible transfusion. (Wasn't worth his time, what had the kid done to earn this favor? Would prolly grow up to be useless anyway.) And even then she had to actually ASK a professional if that was normal or not.

    The things we learn to look away from.

  56. Oh, wow. My heart (and increasing fury) goes out for everyone in this thread.

    I was molested by a close family member from younger than I can remember until I was 6, when I figured out how to fight back. I told adults, was told that my "dirty story" was impossible and not to lie about people. It would be the last I would speak of it until detectives showed up a few years later after more children came forward to people that believed them.

    I was thrown into counseling with I'm sure well meaning therapists who seemed determined to communicate that who I would be for the rest of my life was ONLY tied to what that man had done. I hated it. I refused to be defined by it.

    What I didn't know was that my experiences, especially all the apologists for my abuser who continue to insist he is only a victim to be pitied, and that it happened to me so young, would make a blind spot - a freeze response - to lots of other predators.

    So yes, raped as a teen. So yes, a few years in an increasingly abusive marriage to a man that revealed more and more of his desire for domination at all costs - even spousal rape.

    I've spent most of my life watching my cousins go through their own coping processes, my aunts and uncles destroyed by the abuse they themselves experienced and then were blind to where their children were concerned.

    I don't have any good answers. I only know that I've used my experiences to protect my children as much as I can. I know that watching their childhoods, so drastically different than mine, has been stunning and beautiful. I know that we love each other in the way I imagined existed but never saw.

    My heart breaks for you all. I understand.

  57. Thank you, so much, Holly, for writing this, and thank you to all the commenters. I was rarely hit as a child, and I had no idea that what I experienced growing up could count as any form of abuse, or not-niceness,. But I now recognize that it was, and it's had an effect on me, and it did twist my perceptions of what's okay and not okay, especially in relationships.

    Thanks to amazing friends, I've begun to learn and heal. I am better at not being terrified of conflict, at not being alternately frozen or pushy, at TALKING to people I am close to. It turns out that you can disagree with a friend, but you're not a terrible person for disagreeing, nor will they hate you forever. Turns out you can make a mistake and apologize and not just suffer in silence.

    It's just so good to be able to share with other folks on this site, hear their stories and post mine. It's so nice to know that what happened to me wasn't okay, nor was it something that Doesn't Happen To Anyone Else So You're Just Being Weird. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

  58. hi, i just want to thank you for this.

    me and one of my best friends went through nearly identical situations of abuse when we were teenagers. it's helped us bond.

    the difference is that while my abuser suddenly stopped years ago, and has been kind and utterly non-abusive to me ever since, hers has continued.

    having your abuser suddenly stop with no explanation or acknowledgement is... well, when the abuse is occurring, it'd be a godsend. but when it actually happens, it's a jolting case of confusing emotional whiplash.

    i can't hate my mother for her abuse. i can't confront her because she refuses to acknowledge it. i can't... do anything except remember.

    but i can help my friend get out. and i am. all of her friends are. we love her unconditionally and we'll always support her. we'll make sure that when she leaves, she'll leave for good - and she'll never need to go back.

    R, i don't know if you'll ever read this, but we love you and support you. we'll never give up. i just hope that you won't either.

    - T

  59. Man, Holly, this and your gender posts both resonate with me so much.

    My dad was an occasional child-treat-meaner in direct ways.

    Rarely anything major. He hit me a few times, but whatever. It was scary but not so bad. He enraged me, and frustrated me, and ignored my emotional and psychological needs and developmental abilities sometimes, and that was worse.

    What really, really got to me though was the sense that I existed to be his foil. That he arranged conversations and experiences so that it felt like my role in his life was to constantly be wrong, and to be his captive audience, so that he could demonstrate how awesome he is.

    That we are now close, and that I now genuinely enjoy his company makes it difficult to think about and discuss how much his casual disregard for me hurt, as a child, because it just feels so *mean* to say things like that about somebody I now like.

  60. I almost could have written this post, because it echoes my experience so closely. I had the mom who could be nice and fun and always came up with cool presents for my birthday but would inevitably get angry about something and tell me I was worthless and repulsive and that she wished I'd never been born. I had the geeky guy who was sweet and funny and charming when he wasn't telling me no one could ever actually love me considering how terrible I was, and how I had no right to object to the cheating or the lying or the times I said, "Stop, please, you're hurting me" and he didn't stop, because I was lucky he put up with me at all. And years later, I still struggle to wrap my mouth around the word "abuse" and say it out loud, because abuse is something that happens to other people, people with broken bones and black eyes rather than just some occasional bruises from punches and slaps, people with parents who never got them nice presents and boyfriends who never hugged them and called them silly pet names, people who didn't deserve it all like my gut still tells me I did.

    It's getting better, largely due to having someone in my life who genuinely loves me and acts like it - but every time we have a fight, a normal, healthy fight, I still feel this incredible surprise and relief that once again, he just said things like, "I'm really annoyed about this thing you did," instead of hitting me or telling me I was garbage or threatening to hurt my dog if I didn't agree with him. (Threatening to hurt or kill my pets if I didn't do what she wanted was one of my mom's favorite tactics. I made the mistake of calling her bluff once, when I was about 10. It wasn't a bluff.) It's still a shock, every single time, and I suspect it'll take years yet before I figure out how to expect respect and be surprised by abuse rather than the opposite, but at least I'm trying to learn.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you for this post - and thank you to all the commenters, too. It helps to be reminded that my experience isn't unique (even though it also makes me sad, since none of you deserve to share this particular experience).

  61. Hey Holly, I read this post a while ago and didn't really comment. I loved it, by the way, but at the time I just don't think I could have responded the way I wanted to. But I just keep thinking back to this part:

    "It's talking with Rowdy and knowing that I don't have to worry about saying something that will make him explode, because he does not explode and exploding is not a part of my life anymore. It's getting a parking ticket and realizing that the punishment is "now I have to pay the ticket," not "now I'm in a world of shit." It's saying "don't touch me like that" and having Rowdy immediately stop touching me like that. It's being free to live, free to make mistakes, free to make my own decisions even if they're silly ones, free to eat ice cream for breakfast (which isn't that appealing once you get over the novelty), free to set boundaries, free to speak honestly."

    I just love those lines. They fill me with such incredible hope. And they really resonated with me, because they describe exactly what I'm looking forward to, hopefully soon. I could say a number of things here, but they're all kind of tangential, so I'll just wrap up by saying thank you for this little bit of inspiration. Actually, thank you for this whole blog full of inspiration (- and thank you to the commenters above for sharing their experiences.) These lines, and hopefully the joys that lie ahead, put a little smile on my face every time I think about them.

  62. All these comments are just as essential a read as the original post. I still suffer today from the feelings of worthlessness instilled in me by my parents, especially my dad, and it makes me sick to think about how long I stuck with my last boyfriend who so strongly reinforced them. At the same time, of course, he always said he wanted me to feel better about myself; yet he brought me down in so many terrible ways, and it's unsettling to think that I would have stayed with him for far longer if I didn't leave school temporarily -- in part to deal with this horrible way that I felt about myself. I felt as if there was something that needed to be "fixed," and then I wouldn't be such a terrible person. Part of that, though, is realizing that I'm actually not a terrible person. I'm not so worthless and not everyone thinks that of me like I always expect that they do, because that's how my parents always made me feel.

    An earlier comment really resonates with me, about how emotional and verbal abuse destroys the person you are inside and out. It encourages you to inhibit yourself, to render yourself crippled, because letting yourself expand at all is a threat to your abusers, and they make damn sure you can't do that. Who are you as a result? Someone who can't stand up to other people, who thinks that everyone is constantly disappointed in you, and who tries so hard and has so much anxiety over avoiding that. An abuser not only keeps you in a box, but teaches you to care for those walls and add to the mortar yourself.

  63. Hey, Holly~

    Been reading your blog (linked up from a forum I go to so doing this semi-anonymously under a handle I sometimes use and not my regular one, lawl) for the past week or two and I'm loving it. At first, it was just the Cosmocking (which I still read as 'cock smoking'), but I hit this post and I had to go back and read everything. This one really resonated with me because like almost everyone else here, I was abused. In my case, raped on top of some other stuff. It was a date rape thing. I definitely said no. He knew it, but we'd been preparing to have sex before and I was backing out. He did it anyway. Took me a long time to realize, yes, it's still rape. (side note: "date rape" is a term I get and understand: it's rape by coercion rather than force. "Grey rape"? WTF? It's either rape or it's not! Jeez...)

    One thing I wanted to add, especially in the case of parental emotional abuse, is that even when confronted, the abuser ("Not-so-nice-to-you-personer") might not acknowledge it for a variety of reasons... or was handling some tough things themselves and might be all over themselves apologizing...even if people don't "think it's that bad" or it's not acknowledged... it's still *fact*. It still *happened*, and just having people saying, "Yes, this happened to me too. I understand." is a great relief. As you said, I don't want to be a drama queen. I don't think the emotional abuse I went through was "that bad". People certainly have had it worse. That doesn't matter though... because it's still something I have to deal with. Whether or not it was unintentional (and I do believe that was the case with my parental emotional abuse... it was unintentional) or on purpose, the fact of this hurt has to still e addressed straight on, and the first step is admitting, "Yeah, I had some bad things happen to me." It's nice to be able to say that, and not have it downplayed.

    Lil rambly. Love your posts. :)

  64. Hello,

    i found this thread really helpful cos i'm starting to try and like a normal guy who seems pretty kind and supportive but i keep waiting for him to end up being nasty when i least expect it.

    i was looking for something to read that might help and this has helped. I've never shared my experiences before but I'm the oldest of 4 kids whose mum was probably really depressed and used to run away and had a suitcase packed that she'd tell me about if we were annoying her. Or she would say all those things about wish you'd never been born, ruined my life, you repulse me etc, and she used to physically attack my dad and threaten to kill him when he was sleeping so i was afraid to go to sleep. And then she might be really nice and say she would take us to the park but i could never properly trust it. And then she might do something mean or hurt one of my younger siblings and I'd be trying to stop her

    but the worst thing now as an adult is i end up with partners who have that same unpredictability thing going on. What do people do to help them make better choices now we have choices about who we build relationships with? any advice? And if this guy is nice how do i stop having heart failure that he's going to leave me or suddenly turn psycho on me or he's going to see the psycho mum bit deep inside me and i'll hurt him if he is nice. That might be the scariest thing about it actually. The idea I could turn nasty and hurt him/ruin his niceness or make him despise me. Any advice would be great.

    thanks x