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#454: Darth Vader is a tricksy hobbit.

Gandalf & Darth Vader

Who would win in a fight? A common question posed by The Internet.

Hello, Citizens of Friday.

First order of business, this great nod of solidarity for the socially awkward from Dorothy Parker.

‎”Those who have mastered etiquette, who are entirely, impeccably right, would seem to arrive at a point of exquisite dullness.” -Dorothy Parker

Second order of business: This great post from The Pervocracy, “How To Have Sex on Purpose.” It’s an essay form of the talk about consent and what people can learn about sex from kinksters that Cliff gave at U of Chicago’s Sex Week last week.

Third order of business: Great Darth Vader Boyfriend song or GREATEST Darth Vader Boyfriend song?

That should segue us nicely into this question:

Dear Captain Awkward:

My best friend at work is romantically obsessed with her douche of a boyfriend. He has been both mentally and sexually manipulative and verbally abusive. All of her friends at work realized this. We were asked on many occasions for advice by her or listened to her vent, but she only tightens her grip on him, and increasingly pushes her own friends away. Any advice? Is she a lost cause?

Thanks:

Don Draper

Dear Don:

Your selected username is pretty unintentionally funny, because Don Draper is TOTALLY a Darth Vader Boyfriend. He physically assaults Betty, and tried to convince her that she cannot leave him. He totally broods his way into getting sympathy sex with ladies who he does not treat very well.

Silhouette of Darth Vader replaces Draper in Mad Men opening credit sequence.

Awesome design by Dann Matthews.. P.S. There are T-shirts.

Don’t know how long you’ve been reading, but we covered Darths at length in one of the first-ever posts on this blog. And we also covered how to tell a friend that you have had enough venting for the time being.

The points I’d reiterate here is:

  • Your friend does not have to break up with her boyfriend to please you. Even if he sucks. That’s just not how people and their hearts work.
  • But also, you do not have to endlessly listen to her talk about him. Her sun may rise and set by the cycle of her bad boyfriend’s moods and behaviors, but yours does not have to.

What if, the next time she complains about something he did, you responded with some version or progression of:

  • Sympathetic monosyllables. Hmmmm, huh, wow…
  • Let her finish the story. 
  • That sounds pretty terrible/abusive/crappy, sorry you had to deal with that.”

In other words, let her know you are paying attention, validate her experience, but do not offer any advice or suggestions or do anything to get further involved. At the end of her story, once you’ve validated her, be silent for a bit or make some brief soothing noises, and then try to change the subject to something else.

If she pushes you to respond more in depth, say:

  • You already know what I’m going to say, right?”
  • That sounds pretty not normal and not okay to me.
  • When you tell me a story like that, what is it that you hope I will say?”
  • “It’s not my place to tell you what to do.”
  • “That sounds pretty serious. I wish you’d talk to a pro about it.”
  • I am very confident that you can decide for yourself what is best for you.” 
  • “I don’t want to give you advice, but I hope you find a way to feel better about things and get what you need.”

Translation: Listen to her, keep the lines of communication open, but maybe make it pretty boring for her to tell you about this stuff, and try to disengage from every detail of the day-to-day ups and downs.

If she really pushes you for an opinion, give her one.

  • When I hear stories about your boyfriend, it makes me sad, because in my experience people who love you treat you much better than that. I think you would probably be much happier down the road if you ended things. That is what I think. But you already know what I think about your boyfriend. More than anything, I want to be supportive of you, my friend, and that means being respectful of your choices. If you want to stay, I am your friend. If you want to leave, I am your friend. Beyond that, I don’t have anything to offer, and that includes advice about a situation that isn’t my business to decide.

That all sounds pretty cold, right? But you’re not her therapist, and you can’t have her relationship (or end her relationship) for her.

So, here is my reasoning:

People do not thank you for being right about their terrible partners. Dogging someone’s choice of boyfriend when they are totally infatuated can end your friendship with the person and leave them cut off from you when they need you the most.

Darth Vader holding a bouquet of flowers.

Roses are red/violets are blue/ it is so fun/to manipulate you

People in abusive relationships are used to being told what to do and how to feel. They are also used to having a lot of drama – extremely high highs and low lows – as normal. An abuser will try to convince a victim that their feelings aren’t real or don’t matter. And they will try to convince them that really outlandish, not okay behaviors are normal and okay. And that it’s normal & expected to have screaming fights, or be constantly dealing with cheating & jealousy & control, or to have sex when you don’t really want to. An abuser’s message is: This is normal and also the best you can ever expect from life. If you told other people, they wouldn’t believe you.

Sadly, Darth Vaders are the MASTERS of “You are the only person who has ever really understood me/Our love is different and outsiders wouldn’t possibly understand” and of getting their victims to defend indefensible behavior when it’s criticized by others and of isolating them from people who might give an alternate perspective.

That’s the precipice you’re on the edge of right now.

Criticize him too hard, and she’s put in the position of defending him. What seems obvious to you, like, “No one should put up with that behavior from a partner and it would be better if you left” is going to get twisted by Abuser Logic into “See, he thinks you are stupid for staying with me. You’re not stupid, right? So show him, by staying with me.” 

She might run things by you to get a perspective and then take that perspective home to Darth, as a way to fight back against what he’s doing to her by invoking outsiders. “Don Draper at the office says that it’s bad to do x, y, and z, and you shouldn’t treat me like that anymore.” In the hands of a Darth, this will become about how you are just saying that because you are jealous and don’t really understand and you pry into everyone’s business and probably trying to sleep with her and everyone has always underestimated and misunderstood him, is she going to be one of those cruel boring people who can’t see how awesome he is or is she going to join the special magic people who really get it?

Listen to the song. Listen to how Carly/The Narrator says she won’t cut fresh flowers/make the wine cold/put on cologne/change the sheets/sit by the phone. As soon as she says that she won’t do those things you know that she will do them. Believe in that sinking feeling. Listen to how she asks all of her friends to stop her from going back to Jesse/Darth. And then listen to the end of the song, where she goes back to him, like we all knew she would. She’s self-aware about her addiction.

In every abusive situation, there is love, or someone’s idea of what love should feel like and be like. If people didn’t love their abusers and crave their love in return, it would be easy to leave. Those feelings of love (along with lust and a good dose of wishful thinking) are real and important to your friend.  Whether you understand it or condone it, those feelings are part of the equation that an abuse victim is doing. “But I love him, and he loves me, and this hardship & pain is just a temporary cost of real, true, intense love like we have. You couldn’t possibly understand.” One of the most heartbreaking truths is that feeling love, hearing all the words you’ve ever wanted to hear someone say to you about love, having the most intense sexual chemistry, being able to stay up all night and have long, deep, intense conversations about the things in your heart do not necessarily mean that you can build a happy life with someone. They do not necessarily guarantee that the person who generates all those feelings will be kind to you and treat you as you deserve. So when someone describes abusive or unkind behaviors we’re quick to say “That’s not really love” or “You shouldn’t love him” or “he doesn’t really love you” or “DTMFA.” And we’re not necessarily wrong to think that or to say that. Obviously I personally think it’s important to fight against the way that our culture pressures people, especially women, to stay in romantic relationships even when they aren’t working. But when we treat someone’s feelings as unreal or unimportant in skipping to the part where they should do what we want them to, we forget that finding out that the person who makes you feel such intense feelings is not really good for you and that it’s not going to end well is fucking shattering. Breaking off a relationship that has been important to you, even if it was a dysfunctional one, entails feelings of extreme grief on the way to whatever relief and freedom is possible.

Toy Darth on a pedestal that says "I love you Sith much!"

I can change! I promise!

There’s a certain amount of contempt that creeps into the way we talk about abuse victims. We ask “Why does she stay?” or “Why does she keep choosing people like this?” instead of “Why did someone claim to love her and then turn around and treat her so terribly?” If you’re coming into work every day and getting the most recent Darth Blotter of Unconscionable Acts, you might find that contempt creeping into how you speak to your friend and speak about her. People get really mad when they offer help and/or advice and the other person doesn’t take it, like now that they’ve put in the time to listen and give the benefit of their perspective the other person owes them a certain course of action. If these feelings and attitudes are coming up for you (they are kind of seeping around the edge of your letter, like, we all LISTENED but she STAYS with him NOW WHAT), you can help your friend by examining them for what they are and not treating her like she owes you something.

The thing is, abusive partners start acting terribly after you already love them. And they don’t act consistently terribly all the time, so there is always the painful, exhilarating hope for the victim. “You mean, I won’t have to blow up my entire life/housing situation/hopes/dreams after all? There is good in him, I’ve felt it! He can change!” A Darth Vader is an expert score-keeper and advocate for “fairness.” Smart, kind people tend to be self-aware of their own mistakes and the ways they are less than perfect, and they own up to them and apologize for them. Darths use this admirable quality against us in some calculus where any bad act by him is cancelled out by you not being perfect + all the nice things he’s ever done + his really fucked-up childhood/history of depression/the unfair way everyone else in life has ever treated him = THINGS ARE TOTALLY OKAY NOW, RIGHT?

If, in the aftermath of some extreme fucked up behavior that makes you feel awful, you find yourself making pro & con lists of all the nice things someone has done for you and all the tiny imperfections you have, you may know a Darth.

So be the opposite of Darth. Don’t tell her how she should feel. Don’t tell her what to do. Remind her that she is smart and capable, remind her that you respect her work and like her a lot. At work, talk to her about work and treat her like a capable adult who does good work, and don’t let her personal travails bleed into your perceptions and treatment of her. Yes, I mean that even if she is bringing them up all the time. I mean that even if you cannot understand why someone would stay with someone who treats her so badly. Smart people get blindsided by emotional things that they can’t defeat with intelligence all the time.

You can’t stop her cycle and you can’t save her.

A Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head.

On an episode of Hoarders, I once saw someone jump into a dumpster to retrieve this thing. It’s a sith-a-phor.

You can like her for who she is. You can gently offer a reality check when it’s asked for. You can show her that normal is when someone likes you and respects you, they treat you well all the time and it isn’t really that hard to manage. You can set some boundaries about how & when you want to discuss Darth. “I’m sorry, I am not the right audience for this story today. Can we talk about something else?” Those boundaries might serve both of you in more ways than one, not least by making work a No Darth zone. You can put the number of some counseling services into her hand, and you can let her know that seeking such services carries no shame and no stigma with you. “I think that the behavior you are describing is really scary and not normal, maybe you should talk to someone who will be 100% on your side and help you figure out what you want to do about everything.” Maybe you can help break her fall when it comes with a couch to sleep on, a small loan, a moving van, a hot meal, a sweet recommendation letter for a promotion, covering some shifts. She might accept that help and she might not. She might accept that help and then go back a month or six later.

Just keep in mind that when someone is fleeing the exploding Death Star and they need help, they don’t call the person who made them feel stupid for staying in it so long.

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128 comments
  1. Tehanu said:

    “Darths use this admirable quality against us in some calculus where any bad act by him is cancelled out by you not being perfect + all the nice things he’s ever done + his really fucked-up childhood/history of depression/the unfair way everyone else in life has ever treated him = THINGS ARE TOTALLY OKAY NOW, RIGHT?”

    Yeah, wow, that was the person I was with from 18-20 years old (he was 8 years older). And hurting. And mean. And the more I opened up to him the more ammunition I gave him to target any vulnerabilities I had. He was also awfully good at withholding love except in teeny dribs and drabs, just enough to keep things going. Lots of sex, though, which I tried to fool myself into thinking meant something, other than that he liked to have sex.

    He did me a big favour when he dumped me, even though it was after we’d moved to another town. He did me less of a favour calling me up and getting together on and off for the next year or so.

    The interesting thing about all this though was that my form of “protecting” him was to shut down any kind of talking about him to friends and family … handy for him, because then they couldn’t criticize him, right?

    Anyway, lots of lessons learned in the 20 years or so since.

    Thanks for reminding us about the Darth Vader there-is-good-in-him-I-feel-it dynamic. Is it ironic that I had the biggest puberty-crush on Darth Vader in the original two movies? Mmmm. Pretty sure the big black swirling cape had a lot to do with it.

  2. This came at basically THE PERFECT TIME for me to use some of this in a conversation I’m having with a friend right now. I feel weird saying more about this situation in a public space, but thank you.

  3. whistlewren said:

    YES! To all of this!

    LW, I am fresh out of a seven year abusive relationship that I *knew* was abusive. As i, had researched and identified in-depth the cycles of violence and had tried for years to get away. A lot of the typical things were against me: he controlled all the money, had taken me to the opposite side of my country from my support network, and actively circumvented the formation of new ones.So, especially with two little kids, practical stuff was against me. But more than anything it was the trauma bonds that held me there. Whenever I tried to leave the Panic Attack to end all Panic Attacks would seize me. For a long time I would think that big gnawing empty horrible fear in my tummy was telling me ‘No! You really do love him! And look and how you feel now you realize how life will be without him! Silly girl. Say you are sorry and everything will go back to normal.’

    But then later, even when I knew what this funky little brainquirk was, it didn’t matter: I was still in bed shaking with fear, unable to eat or think or breathe.

    This was *so* humiliating. I was a capable, intelligent, feminist who couldn’t even leave an abusive douchecanoe?Yeah. My jerkbrain was giving me all kinds of prizes.

    So I would go through these cycles: really really really thinking things were not ok and wrong and bad and wanting out, at which point I would call a trusted friend or parent and declare “ha! The time has come! I am a scared little ball of scaredy-scared no longer!”. Cue actually trying to leave, panic attacks, trying some more, more panic, and calling my people back with: ‘sorry. I can’t. Next time will be the time I am so sorry’.

    And they would say exactly the right thing. They would say they love me, and that they think I am strong and great. They would say they want me to be happy, and treated well, and if there was anything I needed I could call them anytime. And this went on. For a few years. And often we would talk about other things even! My job, my uni work, their jobs, their relationships. It didn’t center on my Terrible Thing. I got to just be a person. And this experience made me very determined not to let that Terrible Thing become public knowledge, because I knew most people would not be so understanding, and I really needed some areas of my life where I could be me, not the woman who is in the Terrible Situation.

    Since getting out (and staying out-yay!) I have thought about what we can do for people in this situation. To echo/add to the already stated advice, here is a few things I have come up with:

    Resist victim blaming: An abused person didn’t ask for it, women don’t ‘just like jerks’, it is a complex pattern of manipulation and the gradual erosion of boundaries which plays on the minds trauma responses. If you find yourself falling into victim blaming, go do some research, stat.

    Be a friend: not just a person with a duty to be a resource of compassion or a place to stay. Enjoy your friend for who they are, and understand that being abused is a psychological trap, not a defining characteristic.

    Figure out what help you can offer, and leave it on the table. A place to stay, help finding a refuge, somewhere to store important documents, a hand to hold in the restraining order process: whatever it is, let that person know it is there for them *when they feel ready*.

    Be polite to the Vader: this has many caveats to it, but in general if I suspect a friend has a Darth Vader, I remain polite. This avoids the ‘us against the world’ dynamic outlined earlier, which gives Vader less emotional ammo and your friend more of a safe space with you. And also showcases how reasonable adults act.

    TL;DR: I concur.

    • THANK YOU. This is a great list for me to keep in mind while trying to help my friend. I really appreciate it.

    • Randomosity said:

      “Be polite to the Vader: this has many caveats to it, but in general if I suspect a friend has a Darth Vader, I remain polite.”

      I’m imaging the Dowager Countess kind of polite. Oh so polite, yet oh so biting.

      • cee said:

        no. vaders aren’t stupid. if you’re polite and biting they’ll find a reason to get you cut out. polite, and mild, or else your friend will be getting into trouble for being around you. Mahy vaders feel that they are entitled to “respect” and even a second’s worth of “disrespect” can be reason for a Vader to treat you as an enemy. Resist the urge to even backhandedly let a vader know that you regard them with contempt, because your momentary triumph over a sick burn could equal your friend needing emergency dentures and you never seeing your friend again. you’re fighting a war, not a skirmish.

        • whistlewren said:

          Yup. Well put.

    • k3ilyn said:

      I have so much I want to say to this! Someone must be cutting onions. Yay for you(!), yay for fantastic friends (!!), yay for looking for ways to help others in similar situations!
      I was lucky. I got out of a manipulative, emotionally abusive relationship pretty early (? It was still 5 years…from 17-22). I can guarantee it would’ve been longer had I not had some sort of support. Unfortunately, I was blind for the last 3 years to just how utterly miserable things were..”things are just stressful right now…he’s doing raids today, but he promised to job hunt tomorrow…he’ll be able to keep this job…no, it’s fair for me to do more housework, he’s got a lot on his mind..no, I can’t come out tonight…this weekend…this week…”
      I have mixed feelings about the other friends in our group. They saw what was happening and never said anything. I’m glad because I wouldn’t wish that sort of drama on anyone, picking sides and potentially getting put in the middle…but sometimes I wish they had spoken up before I finally broke free. I’d come to the conclussion that I wasn’t happy because I was broken. I thought loving someone meant tolerating them in your space. (Parents’ relationship seemed so, anyway, so that must be right…right?)

      Fast forward 5 more years, this year, I’ll be celebrating 4 years with a wonderful, supportive, amazing man. I still have some hang ups, but he’s been patient and worked with me on them since day one.
      So thank you for people like you and friends like yours.

      • “I have mixed feelings about the other friends in our group. They saw what was happening and never said anything. I’m glad because I wouldn’t wish that sort of drama on anyone, picking sides and potentially getting put in the middle…but sometimes I wish they had spoken up before I finally broke free. I’d come to the conclussion that I wasn’t happy because I was broken.”

        I have the same mixed feelings about certain family members, who saw and heard certain things and (I feel) willfully ignored them. There’s a huge leap between trying to rescue a person from a situation (big mistake) and fervently minding your own business (also a mistake). Like yourself, I feel a great debt of gratitude to the folk who were there for me, even though I wasn’t able to talk about the abuse until I was very much on my way out, but that stuff does pain me… it’s the kind of thing I sometimes worry about coming out with in anger and frustration, and make it sound like I blame those for what happened.

        I read The Thing About Abusive Relationships, the other day, where the author describes how abusive relationships can be really really great some of the time (this is not my experience; relief and hope were the best I ever got, but those two things were extraordinarily precious to me).

        I don’t want to plug my own posts on this, but they may be helpful to others and there’s a temptation to just repeat everything I’ve said in them (thus clogging up the thread here), so How to support people in abusive relationships: Part 1, Part 2 and Why Zero Tolerance is So Tough. The latter is about physical violence, but much of the same applies. It’s not just about a sense that you need this person, but that they need you, and you’re being a good person by sticking by them, loving them and giving them everything they (say they) need, no matter what.

        • LVM said:

          I’m glad you mention zero tolerance in your blog, and I agree with you – and one thing I’d like to add is that while our culture likes to push “forgiveness” at all costs, I don’t think it’s a good or healthy thing to do. It doesn’t just come up in abuse situations, either. Your family member got murdered? Forgive the murderer. You got raped? Forgive the rapist. Why, exactly, does the victim need to “forgive” someone who is likely unrepentant, never asked for their forgiveness in the first place, and is merrily going on with their life doing exactly the same thing to other people? Or even if they are repentant and asked for forgiveness – why does the victim need to be forced into forgiving them?

          The problem with forced forgiveness in the abuse situation is that it forces the victim to stay in the relationship. The abuser says he’s very very sorry, the victim does not want to go against the prevailing cultural narrative of “forgiveness”, so she forgives him and stays in the relationship. This leads to more abuse.

          I like the idea of being unforgiving. There are some things that are beyond forgiveness. That does not mean that you have to spend the rest of your life dwelling on past wrongs. You can let go. You can forget. But you don’t owe the perpetrator your forgiveness.

          • Forgiveness is tricky. I don’t think anyone should be pushed into it, and certainly not abused into it. OTOH, I think it can be genuinely transformative for survivors of all kinds of offenses and also the community that they and the perpetrators live in (especially when paired with reconciliation and reparative processes).

            An important thing, though, is that forgiveness does *not* require forgetting! It does not imply that the person who screwed up no longer has to make reparations! They still have to do that. They still have to go to prison or apologize or whatever.

            And even after everything has been appropriately apologized for and reparations have been made and forgiveness has been granted, that does not imply that trust is or should be re-extended. It does not imply that the person who suffered should drop their boundaries.

            That bit, all that is *reconciliation*, and it is different from forgiveness. Forgiveness is a required part of reconciliation… but it doesn’t go the other way around.

            Forgiveness is just when I, as a harmed party, let go of hurt and anger and rage. That’s it. It’s way more about me than about whoever hurt me. It can only happen when I am ready and willing to do that, not when anyone else wants it. If I never want to let go of that anger, or if I cannot, that is mine to choose and to hell with anyone who says otherwise.

            Abusers like to equate “I said or did something that I get to construe as something approximately an apology (even though it wasn’t, or wasn’t genuine) and so now you have to forgive me! And because you forgive me, everything that has happened before is all gone poof and you are a bad person if you ever mention it or even remember it!” with the word forgiveness. That’s just another abuser lie, and a terribly effective one.

            I have a hard time forgiving, sometimes. But I also don’t like the way it feels when I’ve got a ball of hate in my psyche. I do better when I remember that that person who I hate is a human being who is suffering too (and who should do that suffering far away from me and occasionally in a fire pit with spiders) who deserves compassion (and fire) along with the appropriate consequences (which, in my life, usually involves social ostracism, without fire).

            I’m not *good* at forgiving, but I use humor to get there, and I am vastly happier in myself when I do.

            YMMV!

          • LVM said:

            Hmm – maybe “forgiveness” means something different to you than it means to me. I find it very easy to let go – to forget – without necessarily forgiving.

            Without going into unnecessary details, there is a person in my life who has not been very good to me. At a certain point, after a last-straw sort of incident, I said “enough!” and cut off all contact. I have not had any contact with that person since.

            Does it mean that I am constantly consumed with anger and rage towards the person? Not at all. I almost never think about them at all – writing this message is the first time I’ve thought about that person in months. I can’t summon up any anger towards that person at all, in fact; just a sort of neutral feeling. I’ve moved on with life, and I hope they have done the same, and that’s all. No forgiveness or reconciliation required. I just don’t want anything to do with the person, that’s all. Doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, they’re just someone I don’t want in my life who has, at some point, done something very bad to me.

            I guess I define as “forgetting” or “moving on” what you define as “forgiveness”. I think that what “forgiveness” means to me is actually accepting the other person’s apology and allowing a relationship to be reestablished. So, if I step on someone’s foot by accident, I apologize to the person, and they accept my apology by saying something along the lines of “It’s OK” – that’s forgiveness. It reestablishes the relationship by smoothing over the hurt that was caused. To me, forgiveness cannot be one-sided, and it cannot be granted without the perpetrator’s request.

          • Gillian said:

            I feel the same way about how everyone pressures victims to forgive their abusers/attackers.

            I think there needs to be a different word, because “forgive” seems to have two different meanings mushed together: 1. that what they did was OK and you don’t mind any more and 2. putting the past behind you and moving on while still acknowledging that what they did was NOT OK.

            People who pressure the victims to forgive say they mean the second definition but a lot of people – probably including the attacker – would interpret it as the first definition. That’s what bothers me about it.

          • Gillian said:

            (argh, can’t edit-to-add)

            Another aspect of it that makes me uncomfortable is that it seems like the pressure on the victim to forgive is about everyone except the victim – the people around them, the bystanders, are all waiting to hear that the victim forgives the abuser, because then they can all go “OK, it’s all settled then, everything is fine and we don’t have to think about it any more.” They put pressure on the victim to forgive and they say it’s for the victim’s own good but they wouldn’t push so hard for it if they didn’t benefit from it themselves.

            And I think that’s why people who’ve done wrong often ask to be forgiven; it’s not for the benefit of the people they hurt, it’s because if they hear “I forgive you,” they think that means the slate has been wiped clean and it’s as if they never did anything wrong.

            Carbonatedwit, you make a good point, but I think the healthy, beneficial meaning of forgiveness that you’re talking about gets muddled up with the other version in a lot of people’s minds. I think (not that it’s likely to happen) it would be good if we had two separate words for it, so we could be clear we mean the one that’s about healing. I just get this visceral “ugh” reaction when I see someone — like on Dr. Phil, argh, I know, why do I watch Dr. Phil?? guilty pleasure, that’s my only excuse ;) — being told “you have to forgive them,” even when they don’t want to. Like, coming from a good therapist it’s great, but too often it’s coming from people who aren’t really thinking about the victim’s best interests.

          • ona555 said:

            This conversation is bringing up thoughts for me on how forgiveness has so often been used as a weapon against the victim, demands for forgiveness followed by accusations of holding a grudge if the victim does not comply, a way to force a victim out of sympathetic light and into the Bad Person Who Does Mean Things box. Like, this person is sorry they were a horrible to you, so now you are horrible for not letting them back into your life where they can keep being horrible because they were sorry and you are obligated to forgive them.

            The above is very much how my family dynamics work. Any series of terrible things are canceled out by one act of caring and a demand of forgiveness (which can come from anyone, not just the aggressor) from the victim or the victim’s ally. Non-forgiveness is punished by rejection of the victim and/or their ally.

            My own take is that it is all well and good to say one is sorry for a thing, but one also has to stop doing that thing and try to make amends if possible, otherwise it’s just words, and even if one really is genuinely sorry, the person or people hurt are still in no way obligated to accept an apology they aren’t ready for. Feeling pain does not make a victim a bad person in reality, but it does in my family. Being unable to heal on command gets twisted into being a person who holds grudges and won’t let things go. It’s yet another dynamic in which blame for a thing gets passed onto the victim of that thing. So when I hear someone talk about forgiveness, my knee jerk reaction is usually “eff you,” and it can take me some time to sort whether that person is trying to pass the blame and demand healing on command so they won’t have to do anything to help.

            I agree we need a different word. Forgiveness is too triggery.

          • LVM said:

            I think we already have a different word – or a phrase – “moving on”. One can move on with one’s life without necessarily forgiving. Moving on just means that the anger no longer consumes you, that you are no longer preoccupied with what was done to you, that you are continuing on with your life – basically, the healthy outcome after trauma. But moving on does not mean that you forgive the perpetrator or that you’ve forgotten what was done to you. You accept it, process it, deal with it, and move on with your life.

            And ona555, the dynamic you describe is exactly what I hate about “forgiveness” as a concept. I think a much healthier thing for an abuse victim to do would be to say “I do not forgive you; in fact, I want nothing more to do with you, and I do not want to hear from you ever again” and move on with her life without the perpetrator.

            I am an unforgiving sort of person. I do not tolerate bad behavior, and do not hesitate to cut people out of my life for bad behavior towards me. This does not mean that I am consumed by rage all the time, or in fact, at all – I am a fairly mellow, peaceful creature. But I know that I need to protect myself so that my life remains mellow and peaceful. The way I do that is by being unforgiving. If a person in my life intentionally hurts me, they do not belong in my life – if I want my life to be mellow and peaceful, I do not want it to contain people who hurt me.

          • Q said:

            Okay, so I had this big long thing written out about the version of forgiveness I was taught, but carbonatedwit basically said it much better than I did. So all I will add is that if you do decide to forgive (it’s okay to forgive, and it’s okay NOT to forgive), that doesn’t mean the bad behavior should continue. Even my church was like “yeah, forgiveness is cool, and you should definitely do that, but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with their bullshit.”

      • whistlewren said:

        @k3ilyn Yep, they are pretty great :-D It was so amazing after so long to able to tell them I had left. I was broke, and exhausted, terrified about what would happen when the restraining order got served, and living in a shelter, but as long as I will live I will never forget how awesome it was to call them up and say ‘Go ahead and dance the Dance of Happy! I did it! Come over when I get a place, we will drink wine and build pillow forts without the spectre of a heavy breathing man-bot in the background.’

    • Neddy the Stylish said:

      I’d like to echo this “lay on the table what you have to offer”. And be as explicit as you possibly can: got a spare bedroom she can stay in? For how long? Tell her. You’ll pay her cab fare to get her there? Tell her. Etc. It sounds obvious that a friend would do this kind of thing but people in abusive situations hear over and over that nobody will help – that they are completely alone.

      When I was a teenager my best friend told me about the horrible situation she was in at home and I said “you can always come and live with me” and then pretty much forgot about it until a few months later when things really blew up at home (I won’t go into details) and she really had no choice but to leave. At which point she remembered me as the one person who’d made her such an offer, and did come to live with me and my family for a year or so. However, when she snuck out of her parents’ house at 3am she had no money and ended up getting into a car with a random stranger who pulled up beside her. And the stranger actually did nothing with this vulnerable teenage girl except drive her to her destination, but obviously I was horrified that she’d get into the car. “Didn’t you realise we’d pay for the damn cab to get you here?” She didn’t. Of course she didn’t. Why would someone who’s been taught they don’t deserve anything expect anything like that? The crazy thing is that if I hadn’t said, in as many words, “you can come and live with me” I think she would have ended up on the streets.

      So yeah, spell it out. People often say vague things like “If there’s anything I can do…” “If you need something, just tell me…” because they think that people know they can ask. Make the offer, and make it clear that they don’t have to take it up now, but if they want it later that’s fine.

    • sasha said:

      I’m so glad that you got out, whistlewren! Your advice: I second ALL of it.

      • This. I’m glad for the people who get out of abusive relationships, and sad for the people who get into them, and grateful as fuck for the people who help others get out.

    • Oh man, this. It would have been so great to have friends like this. (Would be?) I know that for me, when the time came to get out and go, I panicked and couldn’t, and the backlash was that clearly I didn’t want to leave, had been lying about the (family) relationship being abusive (despite the fact they were the ones who explained to me that things were Not Okay), etc. I’m now working on cutting ties much more slowly, and having even one friend around who accepts and supports that and me is great.

      Don’t underestimate the power of just being there and of not judging. It can make getting out, getting away, or even just the beginning steps of the Dance of Oh, Maybe I am Worth More and This is Not Quite How I Should be Treated so much easier. In short, all of the seconding. And I’m glad that you were able to get out!

    • ambivalentacademic said:

      I would just like to add to the list one thing that really stuck out for me when I left my Darth. I drove out to a parking lot and called one of my friends because I just didn’t know what to do – what happens next? How do I tell people? etc.

      What she said to me still sticks with me: “I want you to know that *whatever* you decide to do, you are a strong intelligent person who knows what’s best for you. I will never judge you for whatever decision you make here. Also, I think he’s being a real jerk to you right now, but you should also know that I will never judge you if you get back together with him in the future. Because you are a strong intelligent person who can make your own decisions.”

      I had no intention at the time of getting back with the guy after I left, and I never did. But in that moment, trying to decide to make this decision that seemed so large and permanent and holding all the potential for all the judging in all the world, it was SO LIBERATING to have a friend say to me, “I will be your friend no matter what you do. These things are complicated and they don’t always stick the first time and if that’s the case for you there is no cause for you to be ashamed.” I knew then that I could survive whatever victim blaming might happen, and that’s what made it possible for me to walk away.

  4. Silent Darth Hater said:

    Awesome advice as always CA, however I don’t recognise the DTMFA what is it?. One piece of experience I’d like to share, friend asked/whined after divorcing Darth Vader “Why didn’t you tell me about Darth Vader?” My response was even if we had you wouldn’t have listened, to which they agreed and we (their friends) can’t tell them what to do to which they also agreed and made me promise to tell them next time before big explosions/Death Star escape…(you can see where this is going…) They are now with another Darthish like person and when pointed out to them after reminding them about the previous late night DMC (deep meaningful conversation) “Oh no Darth Sidious is nothing like Vader,” they said. After pointing out the congruencies I left it at that, to be fair Sidious doesn’t seem as anywhere near as bad as Vader. I’d kept my promise. They moved states so I don’t see them often but as far as I’m aware they are still together. I hope it works out for your friend.

    • JenniferP said:

      Dump The Motherfucker Already – a Dan Savage-ism.

  5. “Smart, kind people tend to be self-aware of their own mistakes and the ways they are less than perfect, and they own up to them and apologize for them. Darths use this admirable quality against us in some calculus where any bad act by him is cancelled out by you not being perfect”

    This right here COMPLETELY describes my past experiences with Darth Vaders. I could seriously hug you for this right here. Thanks for doing what you do!

  6. twomoogles said:

    I really liked this article, and I liked that it went beyond the usual ‘leave him!’ lines we give someone who’s in an abusive, or even just *bad*, relationship. How to be a friend to someone in these situations is something that doesn’t get talked about much, because so often the immediate and only answer is ‘end the relationship’. But, very often that’s like telling someone ‘stop being addicted to alcohol (gambling, drugs etc)’.

    It’s also not always easy to tell if a relationship is abusive, terrible, or what from the outside. Some situations that look perfect and wonderful to all the friends are rotten to the core. And other times we look at a situation that we wouldn’t want for ourselves and jump to the worst possible conclusions–sometimes ‘but you don’t understand him/her’ is at least partly accurate.

    Someone in my life right now is constantly ranting about her husband, and it sounds like she really just doesn’t like him much, they fight all the time, and it just doesn’t seem good. But I also know she tends to talk that way about *everything*, so it’s so hard for me to judge what’s actually happening in her relationship, let alone tell her how to run it. She doesn’t say anything that sounds as red-flag laden as the original post here, but still…I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with screaming matches and name-calling on both sides, so I find it troublesome to listen to, particularly as I have a childhood history with this sort of thing that was really not OK.

    So, while outside perspective is very useful for certain things, if you’re not giving the friend information he or she doesn’t have, sometimes the best thing to do is just be a friend, and disengage for your own sanity when you have to. Figuring out when to make that call is where I have trouble much of the time. People tend to like to talk to me because I don’t say things like ‘just break up with him or her’ when they’re hearing it from everyone else, but there’s a point at which it’s just not something I can deal with.

  7. If any of you watch the Lizzie Bennett Diaries (YouTube adaptation of Pride and Prejudice- link: http://www.youtube.com/feed/UCXfbQAimgtbk4RAUHtIAUww), their version of George Wickham is the most complete Darth Vader Boyfriend that I hope I will ever see. Big trigger warning on Lydia’s videos there.

    • Linda Lupos said:

      Oh god this. This Wickham is the most revolting Wickham of any adaptation I’ve ever seen, and that includes P&P05 Wickham who was implied to be physically abusive. The MINDGAMES LBD’s Wickham does, and the way Lydia has changed… :(

      • clodia said:

        To be fair! I don’t think that all of the Lydia change was bad. She was lowering her shell of brittle “I’m happy and joyous and fun all the time so no one knows about my crippling self-esteem!” into a “I can be low key and relaxed and not as perfect as I normally am around everyone else, because he loves me no matter what I do.” While his mindgames that made her twist herself around him completely were objectively awful, not all of the changes in behaviors were her becoming subsumed by him.

        • Anna said:

          It is not so much Lydia’s change from outwardly extremely upbeat and unserious to someone who is putting her feelings out there for everyone to see that I see as worrying. It is the very visual change from video to video as Wickham no-so-gradually builds up the thoughts that isolate her. She looks worn down. You can practically see the dark side smothering her.

          • Yes, indeed. I absolutely found those videos to be horribly triggering. While they do really well in showing this behavior for what it is, I’m bothered by the way Lydia’s situation (and Gigi’s) is handled. The families, while well-meaning, treat both women as though they are broken things instead of people. And that’s not okay either, even if their intentions are noble. (William Darcy, I am looking at YOU.)

          • This. It’s so important, because one oft-neglected aspect of abusive relationships is how draining it can be to the victims. I was in a verbally abusive relationship last year, and though I got out of it, I remember how he’d just suck all the fight right out of me. He fed on my anger, and left me with no energy to fight for myself.

            One thing I don’t like about TLBD portrayal of Wickham’s abuse is how Lydia and Gigi are treated by their families–like they are broken things in need of fixing, not people–and that is not okay. (William Darcy trying to keep Gigi out of it by saying that she’s ‘too vulnerable’ is a perfect example of this. NOT. COOL.)

  8. Isabel K. said:

    ” it’s normal & expected to have screaming fights, or be constantly dealing with cheating & jealousy & control, or to have sex when you don’t really want to. An abuser’s message is: This is normal and also the best you can ever expect from life.”

    “A Darth Vader is an expert score-keeper and advocate for “fairness.” Smart, kind people tend to be self-aware of their own mistakes and the ways they are less than perfect, and they own up to them and apologize for them. Darths use this admirable quality against us in some calculus where any bad act by him is cancelled out by you not being perfect + all the nice things he’s ever done + his really fucked-up childhood/history of depression/the unfair way everyone else in life has ever treated him = THINGS ARE TOTALLY OKAY NOW, RIGHT?”

    Wow, that sums up creepy-rapist ex-boyfriend phenomenally well. Particularly the score-keeping bit. Anything that didn’t fit with his plans for the day (usually involving painful, awkward sex I didn’t want) was evidence that I was a terrible human being who was ruining his life with my selfish heartless evil.

    I was too embarrassed to tell people about those bit while they were ongoing, but holy hell, it made ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD when there were people who had disliked him but stayed my friend and were happy to have me around when I got free.

    If you want to be a good friend, wait for her to find the way out and remind her (without blaming her!) that she isn’t actually the worthless sack of shit he keeps trying to make her believe she is. The Captain’s advice is spot-on.

  9. GirlBob said:

    One of my friends had a Darth Vadar GF. Said Darth Vadar hauled her halfway across the country and shut down her whole support network. I took one look at the situation and went NOPE. Took a huge step back. Didn’t actively contact her, although I did do things like leave comments on LJ posts, and when I went interstate I hung out with her for a day and we had an awesome time. But I didn’t call her and she didn’t call me, and I watched as one by one the friends that did try to keep in contact with her got abused out of existence by said friend.

    And then one day, five years later, a post appeared on her LJ that basically said “I do not think that what is happening to me is alright.”

    So I got on gmail and type-talked to her for over an hour, despite the fact that I was having an unbelievably stressful and busy day myself, because five years prior I’d said, as I’d stepped way back, “ok, I don’t like that I have to do this, but I can’t get through to her now. But as soon as I can see a way in, I promise I’m going to do it.”

    She broke up with her Darth the next day and came home a month later. And just gotta add that she’s now brilliant friends with all the people that got pushed away during the whole thing, and we are super mega glad to have her back.

    I don’t think this is hugely useful for the OP, but I hope that maybe it is of some value to other people dealing with a friend with a Darth Vadar. If she’d still been in my state I would have done a bit more to keep the lines of communication open, but I think that being a passive friend — one who cannot be driven away because she is kinda the consistency of jelly — is incredibly useful. Retreat when they advance. That way, even if you’re a long way out, you’re still there when you need to be.

    • Isabel K. said:

      Oh man, relevance!

      After I escaped from my dickbag abusive ex, a friend of mine got involved with a GF who was emotionally abusive (full of evil mind tricks and running my friend down, (though so far as I know, the abuse never escalated to physical violence, and it is super-depressing that this is the best I can say about that relationship, and I’m only assuming it’s true). Our entire social circle came to despise VaderGirl, and (as not-so-clueful-people in out late teens and early 20s) would occasionally ask Friend why she put up with VaderGirl’s dickery/if she was really happy. But when friend would reply with “I don’t know what you’re talking about/this is true love/stop saying mean things about my GF”, we’d stop commenting (eventually, some of us took longer than others), but not go away. When my friend finally escaped her evil VaderGirl, and was in the vent-about-VaderGirl’s-evil-ways stage of healing, she did once ask why we never said anything to her if we recognized this toxic dynamic. We had. Again and again until she (Friend) shut us down. But she just *could not hear it* until she extricated herself from VaderGirl’s nasty manipulative no-one-understands-our-love clutches.

      It doesn’t mean friend was clueless or dumb – she’s fucking brilliant and works as a lecturer at one of the top schools in our state! – just that abusers are MASTERS of the mind-fuck, and will turn EVERYTHING into “proof” that they are the only ones who understand you, so as to try and cut you off from the people who worry about you.

      So LW? Hang in there. The lady you describe is going to need someone on Team Her when she gets free, and she’ll need people to *stay* on team her even while she works through the lingering aftermath of the Sith mind tricks her Vaderpartner is pulling.

      • Isabel K. said:

        Aww, crap, posted to the wrong comment thread. Sorry GirlBob! I fail at threading tonight :(

        • GirlBob said:

          Hah! That’s ok. Thematically we are quite similar.

  10. whistlewren said:

    Also LW, if she were to leave and looked to you for help, please remember that the ending of an abusive relationship is statistically a type when severe violence is most likely. If you are in the position of front-line ally, err on the side of paranoia for a bit and keep safe. You might want to get some numbers at the ready for advocacy services and the like.

    • whistlewren said:

      *time

  11. LW, I canot stress enough how important the whole “treat this person the way that people who genuinely care about people treat the people they care about”. Be a model for what non-abusive interactions look like. Acknowledging the contrast there, and being reminded what it felt like to spend time with people who actually loved me, is what gave me both the awareness and the strength to leave my Darth.

  12. Ystir said:

    Oh, man. I have a friend with a sort of Vader-esque situation – the other party is mostly refusing to be In A Relationship (or even Sleeping Together – aside from the odd confusing fumble followed by OH NO WHY DID I LET THAT HAPPEN??) but they have ongoing PANTSFEELS and ANGST and my friend already felt FOREVERALONE so other person doesn’t even have to try to push those buttons, just by occasionally making it obvious that they don’t find my friend utterly revolting, that does it (even though friend is excellent and gorgeous). I have not been doing very well at not rolling my textual eyes and saying NO REALLY, THAT’S NOT GOOD. I guess I need to try harder.

    Sort of relatedly, I’ve only realised in the past few months (after reading stuff relating to the abusiveness of 50 Shades/Twilight, and reading around blogs like this) that actually, my ex (went out for 6 years, broke up 4 years ago) was kinda sorta emotionally abusive/controlling. I broke up with him quite suddenly when I had a moment of “this is making me feel like crap” but I didn’t really understand until I started unpacking my feelings over the following few months WHY, and even then, it’s taken me this long to realise that his behaviour wasn’t just Not Okay and A Bit Misguided, but Actively Bad. I still don’t honestly think he meant to be Actively Bad – he’s a bit of a Nice Guy, but I think he genuinely believed he was Being Helpful And Realistic when he rolled his eyes and said I’d never stick with whatever project I was enthusing about, and so on. Anyway. Yuck. Intent is not magical and all that.

    • Yeah, I think one of the things that happens when people talk about abuse is they frame it as though the abuser knows that all the things they are doing are wrong/controlling/abusive. It’s not necessary to think you are evil to be abusive! People find themselves in all kinds of bad patterns without meaning to. But that doesn’t change the fact that WHAT THEY ARE DOING is abusive. You don’t have to prove that someone is Snidley Whiplash to know that their behavior is harmful.

  13. Skydancing said:

    So relevant and helpful right now! Two days ago, a friend was describing her preparations for the visit of her ex-but-we’re-giving-it-another-try-boyfriend. I don’t know him and never witnessed their relationship in action, but everything she’s doing seems to go against who she is in order to meet ex’s standards. She even told me that other friends are against the reunion, but “they only hear the bad stuff when I’m venting and don’t see how good he is when no one is around”. Vader red flags, yes?

    This post and the comments offer great advice on how to be a friend even when I don’t agree with my friend’s course of action. This entire blog, in the months since I discovered it, has been eye-opening and mind-expanding. I was, I now know, judgemental and victim-blamey of people who stay in abusive relationships. Many thanks to the Captain and commenters, from whom I’ve learned about the myriad of manipulation that goes on behind the scenes and how hard it can be to get away from. Big lesson learned – I don’t have to like my friend’s choices, but I need to focus on loving and supporting my friend instead of passing judgement.

  14. clodia said:

    “One of the most heartbreaking truths is that feeling love, hearing all the words you’ve ever wanted to hear someone say to you about love, having the most intense sexual chemistry, being able to stay up all night and have long, deep, intense conversations about the things in your heart do not necessarily mean that you can build a happy life with someone. They do not necessarily guarantee that the person who generates all those feelings will be kind to you and treat you as you deserve. ”

    This is something I wish someone would have told me when I was a teenager. I don’t know if I would have listened. But this is the most fundamental truth that I’ve learned in the past few years. Not that I have to sacrifice that intense love for stability or any bullshit like that, but that deep and intense love does not necessarily make for long-lasting, stable, loving relationships. It can end, and you can find it again, and it can be better or worse. But until you find that person that loves you like that and is healthy for you and you can communicate with even after a long day, then it’s not worth staying in long-term.

    • Astral said:

      Exactly! This should be like a surgeon general’s warning circulated through every possible media.

      I think when we’re young, we get messages (or at least I did!) that it’s not okay to be intellectually deep and have a sex drive – especially when female. Add on all the “one true love” mythology, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I ran into so few people who “got me.” So when that first intellisexual connection came along, wow! It’s a drug, for sure. Plus my home dynamics were rotten, and I really had no clue what an environment of healthy attention and affection was! That first guy was a serial cheater, so it was relatively easy (but took much too long) to justify ending it. But others emanate this intellisexual drug. I did briefly date someone where I had the healthy version, so I know it’s possible, but long-term compatibility has been difficult to find, and I’m not immune to the Intellisexual Vader Gravity Beam when my defenses are down. I need sites like this to continue to resist this use of the force; sadly so many smart, sexy, people dance around waving red flags!

      The “Jesse” link is golden; I also call upon “You’re So Vain” for vigor.

      • JenniferP said:

        Intellisexual! Amazing word!

    • LVM said:

      Yes yes yes! I spent several years of my life longing, with all my heart and all my pants, for someone who did not love me back, but would have made a terrible partner even if they did. I knew, intellectually, that the person would have driven me absolutely bonkers within two months and broken my heart even if we did end up together – so my brain, unlike my heart and my pants, was quite happy that the person was unavailable. I’m now with someone who is much better for me, and I’m happier for it. The feelings I have are nowhere near as intense, but the relationship on the whole is much more satisfying.

  15. That Girl said:

    Having my friends there, picking me back up as if we were never apart when I finally left my abusive ex, was the kindest gift the universe ever gave me. Whenever I think about all the sucky things life has brought my way I think about my friends and think “you also got this.”
    I too, bitched and moaned about my ex. My friends saw the bruises and marks, and witnessed his violence first hand. I didnt even love him after a month of abuse but I stayed with him for 6 more years, for reasons. One of the most life-changing things my friend ever said to me was “Girl, you are a bad friend. You help me and listen to me and would do anything for me but you won’t ever let me help you.”
    Sometimes the same perfectionism that’s makes us slaves of the abusive person also keeps us from asking our friends for actual help, because we think asking for help (or even needing it) makes us bad friends, when in fact it makes us good friends. So you may want to remind your friend in order to BE a good friend she has to ask you for things. Then you get to decide whether you can give them to her or fade away until she is free of him.

    • hellanova said:

      So late, but idgaf.

      This line:
      “Girl, you are a bad friend. You help me and listen to me and would do anything for me but you won’t ever let me help you.”

      MIND BLOWING.
      My gods, I hope to remember that, for myself, and for my beloved friends. Thank you. :)

  16. bluecandles said:

    After seeing this thread, it reminded me that the UK government has been doing some ads on UK TV lately about abusive relationships, aimed towards younger people but still relevant to all ages. I did some googling & they have a website with the ads/message board/’myths’/etc.

    http://thisisabuse.direct.gov.uk/

    The TV ads are trigger warning-worthy, but I just thought I’d point out the site for those in GB (though there may be info on there relevant in general, I haven’t looked into it deeply).

    I would just like to agree the others: the best thing you can do for your friend is make her feel worthy and special and awesome without showing any judgement towards her as a person. He is tearing her down gradually, what you can do as a friend is not add to that but build her up when you do happen to talk to her. That’ll help her out more than any negative comments.

    • Ystir said:

      I’ve seen a few of these (maybe not all) and generally they’re pretty good – the one that makes me a bit sad is the girl version of the “Bedroom” one, where it’s the girl banging on the window trying to get her real self’s attention. On the one hand, I think it’s an important message to show that many abuse victims don’t recognise what’s happening to them (not because they’re not smart, but because it starts subtle and builds up, or because feelings blur things, etc) but what makes me sad is that she’s yelling “you’re pathetic!” at herself. Yes, that is quite possibly what she’d be thinking, but wouldn’t it be (subtly, perhaps) so much better for her to be yelling at herself “you don’t deserve that!” or “he’s treating you like crap!”? Still, it’s brought up some interesting discussions with my 13 y.o.

  17. Karyn said:

    I would jump into a Dumpster to retrieve that Darth Potato Head.

    • right?! I do not perceive that as unreasonable behavior.

    • manybellsdown said:

      I want to know if that “Sith much” figurine is real and where I could purchase said item.

      • popesuburban said:

        They have them at Blockbusters, so maybe the closest one to you?

      • Guava said:

        Yes. That thing is awesome. I need one too!

  18. Copcher said:

    This is really important advice. When I had my Darth Vader Boyfriend (not as bad as what some people have mentioned, but pretty crappy), I really hated the comments my friends would make about how horrible he was and how I should leave him. I could see that those comments put me in a position where I felt like I had to defend him, and I think that actually prolonged the relationship. Also, I did not like people telling me that my feelings were wrong, so I felt like I needed to stay with him to show them all how right I actually was. Not a great place to be.

    My parents, on the other hand, were really supportive of me and everything I did, relationship or not. They always treated DVB with respect and they took an interest in his life even though they could see how miserable I felt with him. They didn’t say anything to me about dumping him until I brought it up with them. And the fact that they never took a stance against him meant that, when I told him I wasn’t happy in the relationship and he accused my parents of talking me into ending it, I could quite honestly say that I had come to the decision on my own. It took power away from him because he couldn’t use the Us Against The World tactic that he had counted on.

    • sasha said:

      Yes, this. I also learned the hard way just how valuable CAs advice to friends/family of someone with a Darth in their life is. CA here, and Aphra_Behn in The Thing About Abusive Relationships (which The Goldfish also linked above) have described my Darth to a T. I was with him over the course of ~6 years, and I lost track of how many times I left then, inevitably, came back. As I commented over at Shakesville, my relationship with Darth was all highs and lows – things were either REALLY, REALLY good or REALLY, REALLY bad. But the good parts, combined with the manipulation, isolation, and shredding of my already-fragile self-esteem kept me coming back.

      While I can’t blame them (they didn’t know any better), my family didn’t help at all through the leaving process (which took several years). When I would leave I would tell them some of what was going on. Then when I would go back – OMG, the JUDGEMENT!! What’s wrong with you, you need help, how could you, I thought you were smarter than that, I thought we raised you right, you’re going back to him AT ME!!1! where did I go wrong?!?? They refused to interact with him in any way, and explicitly made me choose between them and him, meanwhile he was playing the same game from the other side. It made me even MORE isolated physically (spending time with family meant leaving Darth at home, which meant another huge fight) and emotionally (I couldn’t talk with them about what was going on, without even more judgement). Even after I left him for good, I still can’t talk to my mother about him, because she just gets all judgey and “wtf were you thinking, where did I go wrong??”. I was finally able to get my sister to understand a bit, 5 years later, which means a lot to me.

      TL,DR;: don’t be THAT friend/family member who piles even more judgement on an already struggling person

    • J. Preposterice said:

      Smart parents. My mother, when I was dating a guy who was…not a DVB, but not good for me, not right, and the relationship was contributing to a depressive episode, ordered all my siblings and my father not to say a word against him. “Unless you want her to run away and marry that guy, SHUT IT”, basically. They all obeyed, perhaps able to tell that my mother was speaking sense!

      What this meant, for me, was that when I was ready to leave, I didn’t also have to deal with saying “I was wrong”, with any “I told you so”s, or with losing face. It was a bad relationship, and I figured that out, and figured out how to end it (HAHA AWKWARDLY IT WAS SO AWKWARD YOU GUYS) — with no digging in of emotional heels. There was nothing to dig my heels into. Just some people on the sidelines, quietly being Team Me, waiting for me to drop the rope and say “why am I trying to do tug-of-war in an antifriction arena anyway, you guys? physics doesn’t even work like this.”

      • Copcher said:

        Yes! I think the threat of dealing with “I told you so”s from friends might have kept me with him longer. In the end no one really said that, which made the breakup easier.

        Seriously, though, when your partner says shit like “I know you better than you know yourself,” it really doesn’t help to have a friend say “I can see better than you can how bad this person is for you.” Just don’t.

      • griffykate said:

        A world of yes. A couple years back I was in a relationship that was nowhere near abusive but oh my gawrsh was it in a terrible place and needing to end. My fiance and I had attempted a relationship migration to polyamory; he was ecstatic, I was miserable. Mostly I tried to make it work because I loved him and we had a fantastic relationship, and I wasn’t prepared to walk away unless I was 100% sure it couldn’t work out between us. Which conclusion I knew I would probably arrive at in time, but in the meantime, I was shooting for the 1% chance of eventual rainbows and unicorns for all I was worth.

        But partly, too, I hung on so grimly for so many months because almost everyone in our (joint!) social circle kept telling me what a deviant pervert monster my fiance was and lecturing me on how I should put my foot down and/or just DTMFA, like it was all so cartoon-heroes-and-villains. Like it was totally reasonable that he should abandon his profoundly life-changing new sense of identity to make me happy. Like they had a clearer understanding of what was going on in my relationship than I did. It was fucking infuriating. So, naturally, I was determined to prove that they were WRONG, WRONG, ALL SO VERY WRONG, and when I finally did break up with my fiance, which was gut-wrenching for both of us, I avoided being emotionally open around those friends like the plague. I licked my wounds in silence (read as: on a secret emoblog) rather than provide them with the opportunity to give me hugs and dripping sympathy that stank to high heaven of them being smugly satisfied that they’d been right all along, and of how pitiable it was that I’d been too busy being love’s pathetic slave to listen to their superior wisdom.

        I would have cut out my tongue before letting those friends see how vulnerable I felt in the wake of my breakup. I would have gagged on the humble pie that was by then required eating if I was to go to them for emotional support. Please don’t be that friend, LW. Sometimes the cost of being ‘right’ is more than you really want to pay.

        • Manatee said:

          ‘Sometimes the cost of being ‘right’ is more than you really want to pay.’
          Thank you for saying this so perfectly.

          I wrote a long reply to your question in my comment which is currently waiting in the spam filter. I hadn’t read this at that point so want to add that I think you get it anyway and a lot of this applies.

          Also, what you went through both with your relationship and support system sounds heartbreaking and terrible. I’m so sorry you went through this and hope you’re ok now. Solidarity.

        • J. Preposterice said:

          Right? Dealing with the emotional crap of a breakup is terrible enough on its own, without knowing you’re leaving yourself open for the “I Told You So” shooting gallery.

  19. Manatee said:

    ‘we forget that finding out that the person who makes you feel such intense feelings is not really good for you and that it’s not going to end well is fucking shattering.’

    So much yes. Leaving abusive or manipulative relationships was always so much harder for me than leaving relationships that didn’t have this dynamic. For me, as well as grieving the lost relationship, I also had to grieve for the fact that what I’d thought were truths about the relationship had not been real. Letting go of the relationship meant admitting I was wrong, that my understanding of reality was wrong, which was painful and scary. And I felt so stupid that I’d put up with things for so long. I was so lonely but I found it so hard to reach out to friends because (aside from the isolation thing which meant I wasn’t used to doing this) I felt so ashamed and uncertain.

    LW, one of my friends recently said to me when I told him about the abuse, ‘I wish you had come to me about it’. This immediately made me realize I couldn’t talk to him about the abuse and that if I was ever in a similar situation, he would not be someone I could go to for help.

    Huge thanks to the Captain for this post and all the others on abusive relationships. This site has helped me immeasurably in understanding and recovering from my own past.

    • griffykate said:

      ‘LW, one of my friends recently said to me when I told him about the abuse, ‘I wish you had come to me about it’. This immediately made me realize I couldn’t talk to him about the abuse and that if I was ever in a similar situation, he would not be someone I could go to for help.’

      Manatee, could I get you to expand on this? The rest of your post really struck a chord with me but I don’t think I understand this paragraph. Why would ‘I wish you had come to me about it’ send up such a red flag? Was it more to do with the tone he used? I can see it being a problem if he was acting reproachful or butthurt, but I’m struggling to see why it would upset you if it was said with warmth and compassion, as an expression of wanting to help you in any way possible.

      I think I may be facing a similar situation at some point, so it would be great to have a better honed understanding of What (Not) To Say. Thanks!

      • Manatee said:

        Hey Griffykate, glad to expand and sorry for not being so clear first time around.

        I included it as it was an illustration from my experience of what the Captain said in her advice about not telling people in abusive situations what to do or making your advice/help about you.

        This line from my friend comes in a larger context of mansplaining and a desire for me to fall into line with his expectations and wants for how I should think and act. It also struck me that those were the words he chose and not, ‘I wish that had never happened to you’, or ‘I’m so sorry you went through that’, or even ‘If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, please know you can come to me for help’. His first response was appropriative, to make it about him and his role as rescuer and his disappointment at not having been able to fulfil that role. It also made me feel a bit stupid and judged, like if I’d just done things his way it would have been ok. Which is an all too familiar feeling, both from the abusive relationship itself, and from me beating myself up about not leaving sooner.

        What you said about reproach and butthurtedness is definitely there (subtly), and the red flag that was raised by that conversation played itself out exactly as I feared it would in a subsequent situation where I was depressed about a problem (albeit in a non-abusive, far less serious situation) and he got angry and hurt that I didn’t take his unsuitable advice, so I had to spend a lot of time and energy dealing with that rather than my actual problem. I know that this person really cares about me and would gladly help me, eg with money or a place to stay, but his response and general attitude make me feel that it would be emotionally unsafe for me to go to him.

        In the wake of my abusive relationship I have been a lot more sensitive to power dynamics and even low level manipulative or controlling behaviours in all of my relationships (friends, co workers, family etc). As time passes I am getting better at getting back to a ‘normal’ way of interacting with non-abusive people and not always reading too much into the smallest things, but for a while there was a lot of hyper sensitivity to potential manipulation because I’d just proven to myself I was very vulnerable to it and not great at identifying it until it was too late.

        I hope this helps clarify things. I don’t think I’m saying anything different from the Captain’s advice. I wish you all the best in supporting your friend – for what it’s worth, the fact that you asked for this clarification suggests you are really good at being a true ally.

        • Astral said:

          Manatee, I definitely hear you on the hyper-sensitivity to potential manipulation in all relationships. My recent spate of “attempts to manipulate” spanned romantic, professional, and family realms, so I had a whole lot of unpacking to do. There could be so much more emotional energy for positive things, if not for the need to be vigilant against this!! And I’m someone people generally see as strong and resilient.

          It sometimes makes me wonder if a lot of people are blind to this stuff, or just choose from being manipulated, being passive-aggressive, and trying to dominate (not necessarily consciously)? And I have to work to think about those situations with healthy dynamics. They exist, for sure, but don’t seem to be the default setting. I often feel so much more guarded than I’d like. Although now that I know I was living in a high alert/fear primed state for so much of my life (easy to confuse with nervousness, etc.), I’ve learned to recognize fear for what it is (Oh, yeah, Gift of Fear plug). So now I can recognize when someone is NOT triggering this response and know I’m feeling comfortable and potentially safe. But I’m still reading into a lot and have to check out stuff with trusted others.

        • Copcher said:

          I don’t think I’ve ever been in an abusive relationship, but I also feel uncomfortable when someone says “I wish you had told me,” or “You should have told me,” or “Why didn’t you tell me?” or a variation of any of those phrases after I tell them about a problem or an upsetting or traumatic event that I had. They probably don’t mean it, but they just come across as criticizing me for not filling them in. And it also feels victim-blamey, like, since I didn’t tell them earlier, I’m partly at fault.

          And I think it also bugs me because it takes away my ability to handle my problems the way I choose to. If someone says, “I hope you know you can tell me if that ever happens again,” or something similar, they’re still offering me help, but they recognize that I get to decide who I tell and when I tell them. I find that much more supportive than someone telling me what I should have done.

          • Leela said:

            Agreed. The most effective help is offered, not imposed.

  20. ona555 said:

    I guess the part that confuses me is that I find it impossible to be polite to someone who is (for an example from my past) punching a loved one and trying to slam her head in doors. How does one do such a thing without making it seem like you are on the abuser’s side and are gaslighting the abused? How does one go about being polite to a horrible person without making the victim question their reality and think, oh my friends/family don’t have a problem with Darth, so it must all be in my head…

    • Oh god, that’s a horrible situation.

      I still suggest being polite to him. Not friendly – polite. The kind of polite you are to that colleague who is an asshole but getting mad at him won’t help, the kind of polite you are to the gas company who has fucked up your payment for the 5th time. When he’s there.

      When he’s not, I would follow a modification of the Captain’s script – let your friend gently know that his behaviour is Not Okay, that you think she is smart and capable and deserves a happy and not-abusive relationship, and that you are there for her if she needs you. Then, as the captain said, I recommend shutting up unless she initiates a “okay, I think maybe this is a situation that is bad for me/I need to get out” sort of conversation.

      Hard. Really, really hard. I am not sure whether this is a call-the-police sort of situation, and I guess I would do that if I thought her life was in danger. But as to what you asked – yes, be polite to him. Be polite about him (not the same thing as Nice or Complimentary, but very neutral). Book yourself ten minutes of screaming in the bathroom to cope with the bubbling rage, or a half hour of writing viciously furious rants into a journal, or something.

      My heart goes out to your friend.

    • Manatee said:

      In this situation could you maybe ask the person being abused how they want you to react? If you’ve witnessed or been told about that sort of an act, that sounds like an appropriate time for one of the ‘I don’t think that’s normal/ok’ scripts given above to acknowledge that the behaviour is wrong but without telling them what to do. I think it would be ok to follow that with a question about what they want to do about it and about what you can do/how they want you to behave to support them. If they ask you to be polite (perhaps to avoid further violence to themselves) then you can do so knowing you are supporting your friend and not the abuser. You could even acknowledge to your loved one that this is what you are doing, ‘I don’t think what happened to you is ok, but if what you need is for me to behave as if nothing is wrong in front of X then of course I will respect and support you in that. Please know that I am on your side though and if you ever decide you want out I’ll be here for you.’

      It’s hard to not react in the way that you want to to protect your friend, but letting someone who is being abused make a decision for themselves can be very empowering and an important part of preparing themselves to leave.

    • Laura said:

      Also, if you are witnessing the violence yourself, it is reasonable to call the police and make a report. Third party reports are one of the best resources for prosecuting domestic violence cases, if/when it comes to that.

      You have a right not to be a party to violence, regardless of what anyone else is choosing/suggesting you choose to do.

    • Commenter said:

      I think the main thing is to talk to your friend.

      When friends have discussed possibly-maybe-breaking up with their partner, (not for Vader reasons, necessarily) my standard reply has been a variant of “That sounds like a difficult situation, and I’m sure you’ll find the best solution. Just so you know, though, I’m YOUR friend, not theirs. So if you want to be with them, I’ll be polite and nice, and if you want to burn their picture in a glade under the full moon while dressed as goats, I’ll do that too.”

      For a serious Vader situation, I would add some of the Captain’s magnificent “I don’t think that’s OK”-scripts, for example. (Or be explicit about offers of help, should you have any: “and if you want me to pay for a taxi here and sleep on my couch for a few months, we’ll make that happen. It’s entirely up to you.”)

      AND! If this person is violent and makes you feel unsafe, you are allowed to not have anything to do with them. Invite your friend to some just-us time.

      • Xenophile said:

        “AND! If this person is violent and makes you feel unsafe, you are allowed to not have anything to do with them. Invite your friend to some just-us time.”

        Yes! I think it’s possible to both avoid badmouthing/antagonizing Darth while also avoiding seeing them in person. The Just-the-Two-of-Us time with your friend could be super important in its own right. When I was in a verbally abusive relationship, all of our mutual friends kept inviting him to EVERYTHING in the name of not taking sides, so I couldn’t get away from him and felt like I had to make peace with him to make my life bearable. Meanwhile, I also resented that they would bad-mouth him behind his back, but never call him out to his face. That’s the other problem with bad-mouthing Darth Vaders: if someone is willing to criticize a Darth in private but not to their face, then they don’t look like a reliable ally. My friends at the time just looked two-faced to me.

        Naturally, after I reconciled with him, these so-called friends then said, “What was she thinking?” behind my back, all the while patting themselves on the back for being good little feminists who would never do what I did. Wow, I’m glad I don’t have contact with them anymore.

        • Badsack said:

          Here is an excellent excerpt from Lundy Bancroft’s “Why Does He Do That”(page 287), called the “Myth of Neutrality” that I think is excellent:

          “It is not possible to be truly balanced in one’s views of an abuser and an abused woman. As Dr.Judith Herman explains eloquently in her masterpiece “Trauma and Recovery” “neutrality” actually serves the interests of the perpetrator much more than those of the victim and so is not neutral. Although the abuser prefers to have you wholeheartedly on his side, he will settle contentedly for your decision to take a middle stance. To him, that means that you see the couple’s problems as partly her fault and partly his fault, which isn’t abuse.

          ” I was speaking with a person one day who was describing the abusive relationship of a man and woman, both of whom were friends of hers. “They each want me to side with them” she explained to me, “but I refuse to take sides. They have to work out their own dynamics. I have let both of them know that I am there for them. If I openly supported her. he would just dig his heels in harder.” She added, “People need to avoid the temptation to choose up teams” in a tone that indicated that she considered herself to be of superior maturity because of her neutrality.

          “In reality, to remain neutral is to collude with the abusive man, whether or not that is your goal. If you are aware of chronic or severe mistreatment and do not speak out against it, you silence communicates implicitly that you see nothing unacceptable taking place. Abusers interpret silence as approval, or at least forgiveness. To abused women, meanwhile, the silence means that no one will help – just what her partner wants her to believe. Anyone who chooses to quietly look the other way therefore unwittingly becomes the abuser’s ally.

          ” Breaking the silence does not necessarily mean criticizing or confronting the abuser regarding his behavior. It certainly doesn’t mean going to him with anything that you have learned from her, because the abuser will retaliate against her for talking about his behavior to other people. It does mean telling the abused woman privately that you don’t like the way he is treating her and that she doesn’t deserve it, no matter what she has done. And if you see or hear violence or threats, it means calling the police.”

          • Xenophile said:

            In this case, the problem wasn’t a lack of support in private, but in public. They would tell me in private that they were on my side, but then when he would insult me in front of them, they ignored it and continued to be friendly/flirty with him. They complained about his general douchiness behind his back, but continued to invite him to everything because of Geek Social Fallacies. At the time, I was even more morally outraged on his behalf than on my own, because only a Bad Friend would complain about a person’s failings without trying to at least talk to them about it.

            TL;DR: Criticizing an abuser in private but not behaving in a similar manner in public will just make one appear an unreliable ally, and lose the victim’s trust.

          • Commenter said:

            @xenophile

            Oh wow, that’s terrible. Yeah, absolutely, avoid Gossipy “Support”.

            I suppose it’s one of those things that’s always going to come down to what the exact situation is and how you are dealing with it.

            But in general, I think there is a difference between saying “I think this behaviour is inappropriate, and I don’t get along with X. I will be polite to him for your sake.”, followed by being polite to X, and saying “X is such a bastard! Why haven’t you broken up!” and then being smiley-smiley-flirty-friendly with X.

            The first is being explicit with the friend that your politeness is for their sake, not because you find X irresistibly charming, while the second is pretty much the definition of being Two-Faced, and is fairly close to gaslighting territory.

  21. darthtrina said:

    My Darth Tater is about a foot from me at the moment, and I am both laughing at how apt a metaphor diving for it is for going back to Darth Vaders and horrified that someone would put it in a Dumpster instead of a donation bin. But that’s why I cannot watch Hoarders or the like: I get anxious and super-judgmental about things going in the garbage that could be donated or recycled.

    So recently when I was a houseguest of someone who chose not to recycle, though, I bit my tongue and merely kept my own empty beer bottles in my room and took them out on the town till I found a recycling bin, so that I was taking care of my own business and leaving them to run their own household. Similar to what the Captain said, if I had lectured them, they’d never come to me for advice when they wanted to start recycling. And that’s just stuff, not relationships.

    • gmg said:

      Slight veer OT, but you might feel differently if you had someone with hoarding tendencies in your life and saw what happens when the “but that can’t go in the garbage, it needs to be donated or recycled!” thing starts to get out of hand. I’m a big saver/recycler/reuser, but right now, if she’d let me, I’d back a dump truck up to the front door of my mom’s house and just start throwing everything in because the alternative is frankly way too daunting.

      But re your recycling-at-the-friends’-house strategy (and its wider applicability), yes. Agreed!

      • mintylime said:

        UGH YES. When they’re down to little pathways between the stacks of recyclables and bins of junkmail that can’t be thrown away OR recycled because it contains Personally Identifiable Information … just get out the matches and have a bonfire in the backyard or something. OMG.

        • Ystir said:

          Yeeeeeees… Well, I definitely agree that when one is hoarding, getting it out of the home is the priority (and recycling can fuck off as priorities go, unless someone can literally drive up and take it away and make it be GONE)… But, if you just destroy/remove/whatever everything all at once? The stuff WILL BE BACK. It may take a little while, depending on funds, availability of free crap in the local area, etc, but it will. I have mild hoarding issues compared to some folk, and am pretty self-aware about it, but I still fight an ongoing battle with STUFF creeping back in, piling up, and not getting gone, usually when I’m ill, or depressed, or otherwise not looking. But if someone just gets of everything all at once, without the person who hoards’s involvement/consent/enthusiasm/realising it was even a problem to have all that stuff, in most cases I think that’s pretty much a guarantee of a huge amount of acquiring new stuff at best.

          • Exactly! That’s why rehab for hoarders should be available like rehab for other addictions. Take the hoarder OUT of the hoarded environment, give him /her some home training like picking up and cleaning up on a regular basis, and get him/her get used to a non-hoarded home. He/she will also learn how to “survive” without all that junk, and that even without a ton of “souvenirs” to remind him/her of his/her past, he/she still has an identity and still exists.
            There will be Separation Anxiety, Guilt, and
            Feelings Of Betrayal from throwing out all that Stuff. There will be fear that The Hoarding Gods will become angry.
            The phrases “Do I need this, will I use this, why do I think I should keep it?”, “Put that away”, and “Throw That S#!t Out It’s Garbage.”” must be repeated every day.
            The pure joy of seeing the floor AND walking on it without tripping , slipping, and/or falling is the greatest thing to a recovering hoarder.

      • Sara (JC) said:

        Yes agreed. Stuff that is sitting in a giant pile on your back porch or in your living room waiting to be ‘recycled’ is not actually being recycled. It’s just sitting there gently bio-degrading.

        • Ystir said:

          This is definitely true. Unfortunately, I’m not yet (may not be for another ten years, honestly) at the point where I can recycle more than the odd bag of pop cans, because it will become two or three separate piles of “stuff I can probably recycle?” “stuff I can recycle but needs washing first!” and “stuff I haven’t yet taken out to the recycling bin OH GOD I AM DISGUSTING PLEASE KILL ME NOW”, and then everything goes to shit because SHAME SPIRAL.

          • Ystir said:

            (But I am generally perfectly good at saying “this is rubbish. The rubbish goes in a bag. The bag of rubbish gets taken out ASAP.” Simple, no processing either physical or mental required. In a perfect world, I’d recycle. In this one, I need to just throw stuff out. Given the number of non-hoarders who just throw stuff out, I can’t really let myself feel too guilty about that.)

  22. Deoridhe said:

    I was thinking recently that all of the Darth Vaders take advantage of a severe, basic psychological quirk – the variable reinforcement schedule.

    For people not steeped in Cognitive Psychology, the variable reinforcement schedule is when you get a reward, but it’s unpredictable over time. It is the absolute best way to “set” a behavior. You start out with all rewards all the time, then once the person is doing what you want, you begin to vary when they get a reward. They had doves in studies that would neglect sleep in order to obsessively hit the bar for food hundreds of times without a reward. By giving out love in drips and drabs, a users make use of the same horrifying impulses in other humans, using human nature against itself. When that lightbulb went off for me, I was horrified by how clear it was that people who victim-blame blame people for being human instead of blaming abusers for being cruel and manipulative.

    • Manatee said:

      This comment made me cry. Thank you so much for sharing this information. It made me feel like a human and not an idiot.

    • Astral said:

      Yes, plus, people don’t even have to intentionally try to do this for it to work! (Eerily enough, some do, and I’ve stumbled upon a web forum where it was discussed in a “Hey, guys, use this tactic, way.” Oh so throwing up a little in my mouth ick…And of course the entire gambling industry is designed to control people this way) They just learn they get what they want and repeat. I’ve also seen the angst break when it doesn’t work, which is when the crying, pleading, threatening, verbal and physical attacks emerge.

    • Xenophile said:

      Wow. This needs to be a Thing We Talk About Whenever We Talk About Abuse. Seriously, you just blew my mind. It’s amazing how complex abuse is…it’s a precise combination of gaslighting, carrots and sticks that makes another person doubt their reality completely. I wonder how many people manage to do it without even thinking about it, just acting on anger and entitlement.

      I’m struggling with a friend who recently found out that her father used to beat her mother, and is blaming her mother. I want to validate my friend’s feelings of shock and confusion, but it’s also really unfair of her to say, “Well, she was the breadwinner at the time, so she could have just left him at any time. I’m so disappointed in her.” I might suggest to her that she reads up on the variable reinforcement schedule in addition to other aspects of abuse. Thank you!

      • BadDaughter said:

        Variable punishment also works as variable positive reinforcement — the times when one is not punished (when one is not beaten) are seen by the brain as rewards and reinforce the behavior (staying in the relationship). (This is an important part of the puzzle on behaving like a human, as well as the dribs and drabs of good interactions which happen in most abusive relationships.)

  23. Cloaked said:

    Thank you for this. I have also been friends with people who were in relationships with Darth Vaders and had the type of will-she-leave-or-won’t-she type of frustration (one friend was sometimes very manipulative — putting words in my mouth, getting mad when I referred her to services rather than offering [help] myself, consistent disregard for certain boundaries, lots of FEELINGSBOMBS, etc.). I relate to the LW’s frustration — I have also overinvested myself in helping friends in other ways (around addiction issues, helping people get jobs, etc.) and it almost always ends with both parties resenting each other a bit, or a lot (for reasons well addressed in other posts on this site, including the African Violet post).

    A mantra I have found very useful is, “You have to put on your own oxygen mask first.” I am not allowed to “help” people so much that my own self-care goes on the back burner (nor are others allowed to make me feel like I should — I think I might understand why my [now former] friend interacts with people the way she does, but I do not have to like being treated that way myself). The LW gives me the impression of caring a lot but not being overly invested in their friend’s situation, which is very good. But I think it is worth saying that if you do find yourself deeply affected by a friend’s bad situation (which I think is likely happen if you are very close to the person, have familial issues or other prior experiences with the sort of problem they are having, etc.), owning and working through those feelings — with a therapist, in a journal, in a letter you burn or tear up or delete, ANY way that makes sure your friend is not the audience for your hard feelings — is PART of your self-care.

  24. cricket said:

    Hoping not to derail but what do you do when, from the outside, it appears great to others and your friends think you’ve got nothing to complain about and wish they had someone like that? When you try to talk to them they wonder what’s the matter with you, it’s not like he hits or yells or cheats? When it’s in what he doesn’t do, or does do that’s passive, dismissing and denying? Is it still abuse? Does it ‘count’? Is that still a Vader?

    • whistlewren said:

      There are certainly types of abuse that could exist within that. Emotional or financial for example. But you don’t have to be abused to be hurt. And, as the Captain has said previously, you don’t need a reason at all to want out. Or to want couples therapy, or whatever. You get to make the call on what constitutes hurt, what constitutes adequate care, and what your boundaries are.

      PS, abusers and manipulaters are the kings of all douchy kings at maintaining a smooth front and playing the good guy. Sometimes people know when their friends are in abusive situations, but sometimes not.

      • “PS, abusers and manipulaters are the kings of all douchy kings at maintaining a smooth front and playing the good guy. Sometimes people know when their friends are in abusive situations, but sometimes not.”

        ^This. I’ve heard a ton of stories about relationships where the abuser was so good at covering the abuse, no one believed the victim because they all thought he was such a great guy. Sometimes they even manage to twist it around to seem like they’re the one being abused and the victim is the badguy. But seriously, cricket, does it matter? You’re clearly not happy, and your friends are not a better judge of your relationship than you are. If you are ready to be done with this relationship, you have every right to end it. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.

    • Laura said:

      I think it’s a Vader if you feel diminished. But a person doesn’t have to be a grade-A Vader for it to be worth ending the relationship, if the relationship isn’t bringing you joy and comfort and all those things a good relationship does. You don’t need anyone’s approval to say, ‘this isn’t for me. we don’t have to discus why. it just isn’t.’

      Best of luck, cricket.

    • It counts.

      Reason to be in a relationship: it makes you feel good, and more like you can achieve your non-relationship goals because you’ve got somebody in your corner you can count on

      Reason not to be in a relationship: it makes you feel crappy and insecure, and like you are less likely to achieve your non-relationship goals because the other person/relationship is a net energy drain, not occasionally when your love is going through a rough patch that has Reasons (and reasons the patch will end), but as the norm.

      Not the only reason not to be in a relationship, of course. And more succinctly, “it’s not making me happy” is all the reason you need. But definitely a valid reason.

    • Xenophile said:

      “One of the most heartbreaking truths is that feeling love, hearing all the words you’ve ever wanted to hear someone say to you about love, having the most intense sexual chemistry, being able to stay up all night and have long, deep, intense conversations about the things in your heart do not necessarily mean that you can build a happy life with someone. ”

      Like the Captain said, the presence of good things in a relationship does not negate the presence of bad things. Your friends are seeing the good things in public, but not the bad in private. I think you’re the only one who can say definitely if it’s abusive or Vader-y, but all that matters is whether or not you’re happy with this person. I’m sad to say it sounds like you aren’t happy, and just like “No” is a full sentence, “I’m not happy” is also a full sentence. Good luck to you, and Jedi Hugs.

    • Marie said:

      I have a friend whose live-in boyfriend and father of her son seriously insulted her mother publically on Facebook last week. He got at least 50 supportive comments from his friends. Nuff said.

      • That’s horrible!

      • Quinapalus said:

        I don’t see why that’s “nuff”. Mothers aren’t necessarily above criticism. If I told you what my girlfriend’s mother has done wrong, you might agree with my opinion of her.

        • Marie said:

          Yes, but do you call your girlfriend’s mother rude names in public, on Facebook, where all your and your girlfriend’s friends can see?

          • Quinapalus said:

            Depends what she did. If she killed my girlfriend’s dog (NB! this is not what my actual girlfriend’s actual mother actually did!) then hell yeah I don’t let decorum stand in the way. I am not at all claiming that even 90% of disputes with your girlfriend’s mom justify such lengths, but some mothers are Evil Queen Bees and being too polite to mention that only gives them cover.

        • Marie said:

          (sorry to respond to an earlier comment, but we seem to have reached the end of the comment indentation).

          My friend’s mother had the temerity to visit on the boyfriend’s birthday. What a witch, right? I bet that she even got him a present that wasn’t entirely to his liking.

          • Quinapalus said:

            Now that’s “nuff said”. I just thought it wasn’t really quite “nuff” before.

        • Marie said:

          Sorry. I suppose that theoretically, there are things that mothers do to their children that are worthy of public denouncement by their children’s significant others, but fortunately I don’t know anybody like that.
          However, I’ve seen several Darth Vaders go public in their recriminations against their victim’s mother, and my own Darth Vader couldn’t stand my mother either. So for me, it’s a huge red flag, although not enough to convince me that someone is a Darth Vader, obviously (this guy in particular has shown many, many red flags – his insults were just his latest crime).

          • Using social media to air one’s grievances is bad enough, but using it to get validation of one’s Vader-ness is at best, childish, and at worst, threatening harassment. Besides, Having 50 or so other people agree with one’s dislike of one’s in-law is NOT going to solve ANYTHING.

    • memetikchik said:

      This is exactly what I’ve always struggled with when I read descriptions of abuse, and try to compare my first serious, live-in relationship. My Darth, he didn’t hit. (Not me. Not people. He’d hit walls, he crushed a microphone once, with a previous girlfriend he threw his cellphone – but not people. That would make him too much like his abusive parents for his liking.) He didn’t cheat, he was above that. He avoided yelling: no, it was enough just to constantly disagree. Every conversation we had about my dreams and ideas, he’d logic me out of them, because clearly I wouldn’t follow through, and I was obviously doing it wrong. And he’d tell me that if I was upset about the way he was acting, that was just on me.

      But he talked to me. He’d talk through all his issues with me, because he knew he had them. He’d bring me gifts. He’d cook for me, and he was an excellent cook. He’d throw dinner parties and invite friends. He was generous, and kind, and thoughtful.

      And so several girlfriends said to me, along with my mother, variations on: “He so clearly loves you, I’m so jealous.” (This despite the fact that one of his claims during the break-up was, “You know, I don’t think I ever DID love you.”)

      Not one of them, except for my sister, wanted me to break up with him. Everyone thought we were so good together.

      But am I ever glad that I got away. And calling him Darth Vader, letting myself call it abuse even though no one else will, that’s a decision I get to make. At first I wasn’t sure, wasn’t clear if I was able to make that choice, but it is mine to make, and Cricket, I dub thee also with the magical ability to recognize Darth Vader.

      Sometimes Vader doesn’t wear a cape. Sometimes his mask is so good that he tricks everyone around you. To this day, there are several friends who I loved and enjoyed while we were together that I don’t see anymore, because while they don’t like him much, he’s still successfully charming his way through a social life. He’s still “part of the group”, even though no one there is particularly fond of him. But I am not, because I call it abuse, and they aren’t willing to go that far.

      Cricket: I am so sorry that your friends don’t believe you. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Sometimes it looks like it might just be misunderstanding. My motto through all of that relationship was that communication takes two people, and that we just repeatedly had misunderstandings. Let me tell you: I have not had a miscommunication that went that wrong, since.

      I liked the Captain’s description many posts back, that what she loves about her current (assuming, sorry!) relationship is that “he never caused me a day of extra anxiety in my life” (paraphrasing). That is how it should be! Relationships should be a source of support, not strife. Not to say that it’ll be perfect, but if it feels bad? It’s because it’s bad. Trust yourself.

      best of luck, and I wish you all the best relationshipping in your future life!

      • Xenophile said:

        “Sometimes Vader doesn’t wear a cape.”

        I think part of what makes Vaders so charming is the whole “But I know there’s still good in him!” trope. Many Vaders aren’t pure evil, and have very wonderful qualities. They might even have good intentions some or most of the time, and don’t realize how much harm they’re doing, or if they do, they rationalize it as for the victim’s own good. Some don’t think at all and just operate on impulse. So many people see the smallest bit of good and are satisfied that at least Vader isn’t a psychopath, so it must all be okay.

        But the content of Vader’s character really doesn’t change the effect on the victim. It’s possible to say, “I don’t think you’re a bad person, but I also don’t deserve to be treated like this.” Or even more general, “I don’t think you’re a bad person, but I’m not happy in this relationship.”

      • cricket said:

        Thank you everyone for the input. It’s a lot to think about but helpful. :: jedi hugs ::

    • LVM said:

      You can still leave. It does not matter if it’s a Vader or not. If you’re not happy in the relationship, it’s OK to leave.

      I wish I knew that before I wasted 10 years on a relationship that certainly wasn’t with a Vader, but definitely wasn’t making me happy. I couldn’t even point anything out that was making me unhappy in that relationship – there was certainly no abuse, there were seldom any arguments, and from the outside, it looked just like the perfect relationship. But I wanted out. To me, the relationship felt smothering; I had no life and no friends outside of the relationship, and my SO was extremely clingy and dependent on me. I wanted to break up with her – long before the 10-year mark – but I couldn’t think of a good reason why. Surely a vague feeling of unhappiness or of being smothered wasn’t enough?

      Well, if I’d known then what I know now, I certainly would have fled for the hills years ago. Don’t make the mistake I did. You don’t owe anyone any reasons for leaving a relationship.

  25. UnsuckableButtercup said:

    What worked for me was the friend who said, “If this is truly what you want, I support you fixing the relationship. I don’t think what’s going on is good for you, though, and I don’t think you partner really wants to be Darth Vader. We’ll work on talking about reality and keep YOU making good decisions. You’re awesome and I love you.” When enough was enough, my friend was there and I didn’t go back.

    A bit OT, but a good book for a situation like this is Patricia Evans’ _The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change_? It deals with how abuse tends to occur when one’s partner is not dealing honestly with reality, and gets frightened by that, and how to change this pattern. It’s really an excellent book for removing the illusory corner some people feel backed into by an abusive partner— a first step out or to a better place.

  26. jessandrea said:

    As a recovering hoarder, I, too, refused to throw away anything that could possibly be recycled/donated/given away/made into some fantastically useful household storage item to store more stuff.
    The anxiety and guilt of throwing away anything overtook common sense and became I Don’t Mind Living Like This (I.e. When Was The Last Time I Saw The Floor/Those Clothes/Those Important Papers, and Oops I almost fell into a pile of something what is it?) I swear I could hear hat wail when I tossed it down the garbage shoot.
    When I was told by building managent I had to clean it up, terrified as I was, I hired a company to help me clean out my stuff. I was never more happy in my life to throw stuff out. I would have gladly set fire to all of it!

  27. Many thoughts on many things said:

    Super essential is to actually follow through on any practical help that you offer! When I finally left my extremely abusive ex, the friend who offered to help me move bailed, and the friend who said I could stay with her decided that her own personal safety was at risk (her mother was a police officer and believed my ex would try to kill me and anyone I stayed with – fair enough, but it left me with no where to stay). Leaving is hard enough but becomes much harder when friends/supports are unreliable! So really, well and truly do not offer any help unless you can follow through with it. Since that time, it has been really important to me to cultivate friendships with people who have my back and are actually able to be there for me when I need them.

  28. duaecat said:

    One thing I dealt with, with my Darth Vader Ex, and I’m wondering how common it is overall. Taking some small request that should be the sort of thing you can ask of someone, like “Hey, could you give me a phone call later?” and they act shocked and horrified like you’ve personally asked them to dig up their grandma and desecrate the corpse. You know they hate the phone. How dare you demand something that huge of them? They are tight on their minutes as is, they’ve told you. How could you be so stupid and selfish and demanding asking for a phone call? They’re so angry they can’t even look at you right now.

    And you grovel and beg and say how sorry you are, don’t hate me, I will never ask for something so selfish and stupid again. And then the next time you go above and beyond to prove your devotion to them, they give you a phone call. And you think they’ve thrown you a ticker tape parade and declared your birthday a national holiday, because your bar’s been set so low.

    One reason I ask is because years ago there was an episode on a TV show where the guy character goes “We’ve been dating for 6 months, is it ok if I start leaving a toothbrush and change of clothes here?” And she freaks out and gives him the same lecture of how he knows she’s terrified of commitment and he was a turdhead for asking something so horrible of her. He spends all episode doing anything and everything she asks of him, including illegal things that could destroy his life, and at the end it shows her giving him An Entire Empty Drawer for his clothes! And it’s this big romantic moment. And I stared at the TV in horror and tried not to hide behind the chair.

    • Leela said:

      In my experience- very. It’s part of the variable reinforcement schedule. You can “earn” something- this time. But the bar always gets set higher and/or differently next time. You accede to X request that makes you feel like crap, you get the reward- the phone call, whatever. You’re thrilled! You’ve done it right!

      But if you want another phone call, X isn’t enough. Now, it’s X+, or X and Y, or A- “How could you do X? You know I hate it, you horrible pond scum person! You’re supposed to do A!!” And back you go to the starting line, only you feel more beaten down.

  29. panda flannel said:

    I got all excited and typed out my response to Who Would Win in a Fight and then googled “gandalf vs. darth vader” and realized that This Horse, it is Dead.

    But seriously, Gandalf.

    Laugh to keep from crying, ya know? Respect to everyone who has been solid support, I have a lot to learn from you.

  30. hari said:

    Reading the comments and the Captain’s advice kinda sucked, because it made me realize that I have not been the helpful-kind-of-friend for a friend in a not-so-great situation.
    Thanks for the reality check, y’all. I’m going to work at being a better friend.

  31. cthuluci said:

    WRT “Why does she stay?”: I read a book a while back called “The Illusion of Love: Why the Battered Woman Returns to Her Abuser” by David P. Celani. (http://www.cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-10036-6/the-illusion-of-love) It comes from the perspective of a clinical psychologist, and is reasonably accessible even though it goes pretty thoroughly into things. My biggest take-aways from the book are these:

    When one has a pattern of getting into/going back to abusive situations, there is a pattern of alternating seeing the situation as completely negative or as completely positive. (The book describes this pattern in both the abuser and the abused) This pattern includes not reconciling positive and negative experiences to form a whole, integrated impression of their partner.

    There is a pattern of people who are compatible in this unhealthy way easily finding each-other.

    Dealing with the underlying factors that lead someone into repeated abusive situations is a long and serious effort.

    • unlurking said:

      Oh, that’s interesting- ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking is such a thought-habit with me that I hadn’t recognized it as a factor in that situation, but you’re right.

      If you see the positive in someone, or that they themselves are hurting, ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking can cancel out the negative factors, and you get trapped into subsuming yourself in extensive efforts to not make things ‘worse’ for them. But it’s a trap, because in reality, in certain situations there is just nothing you can do that will result in no one feeling hurt.

      >easily finding each other
      I’ve created a list of specific things to look out for in myself, to catch myself before I get into a situation in the future, like red flags in my /own/ behavior & feelings:
      * Feeling afraid if I don’t do xyz
      * Feeling compelled to drop other things that are important to me for the sake of the relationship (or actually dropping those things); Changing my routine to accommodate them; Swallowing of my self.
      * Feeling like I’m the only one who can help or will help; Feeling that my love will help them; Caretaking; Trying to ‘make it better’
      * Feeling that “I can’t convince them that xyz”
      * Worrying excessively about communication, action, word-choice, etc
      * Making myself smaller and/or bigger than I am
      * ‘Protecting’ the other person by not telling them things, or not telling others things
      * Basically, anything that feels like I am holding onto broken glass /tighter/ in an effort for things to hurt /less/.

      (I have a list of red flags of others’ behavior, too, but I think it’s healthy for me personally to focus on recognizing my own experience of situations.)

  32. LVM said:

    While I agree with the advice given – the abuse dynamic is a complicated one, and there’s nothing that can get an abused person out of an abusive relationship until they’re good and ready for it, and you can’t reason them out of that relationship – I also think that every child needs to be taught at an early age the idea of zero tolerance. I.e. the moment that a partner behaves aggressively towards you, you walk out. Period. No forgiveness, no redemption, no love. Even if you still love them, aggressive behavior is never okay, and is always unforgivable.

    This narrative is never heard in popular culture. We push “forgiveness” at all costs, we discourage the ending of relationships (whether by divorce or by breakup), we applaud the couples who stay together for decades without asking just what kind of relationship they’ve been in for these decades. Offhand, I cannot recall a single book/movie character who gets out of a relationship at the first sign of aggressive behavior and who really does treat that first sign of aggressive behavior as something that is not to be tolerated, ever.

    I will note that this is NOT something to push on someone who is currently being abused, or even to mention to someone who is currently being abused. By the time someone is in an abusive relationship, it is too late for preventive measures. But I do think that if this narrative were heard more often in popular culture, and if children and young adolescents heard this idea more often, it would prevent people from getting into abusive relationships in the first place.

  33. I always lend this type of advice to other people. “Be there for them when it all falls apart,” I say. “Let them work out their own issues.”
    BUT whenever I am concerned about someone in a situation like this… I can’t take my own advice. I’m especially terrible with my Mother. I’m always trying to give her space because we tend to have a tumultuous relationship, but I still end up calling or emailing her at least once a week.
    I’ve been working on it, though. Having NOT taken this advice has given me the ability to look back on the times where I intruded into situations that didn’t involve me. Those memories are usually pretty… bad.
    Live and learn, I suppose. No matter how many advice columns I read or things that I see, I just never realize until it happens to me. Ten times.

  34. Ah, yes. The Shame And Guilt of Knowing You’re A Hoarder. And that You Can Never Let Anyone See It Because They’ll KNOW.
    And when people laugh about hoarders, and you say, “I’m One Of Them, Too”, they laugh and say, “Haha! You’re not that crazy”, and you think, If only they knew…

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