#643: The stinking pile of wordpoop that is “I’m not going to choose a side.”

Evil bees and bad friends behind the cut.

Hi Awkward Army.

I am currently grappling with recently dx’d PTSD because my
ex-boyfriend abused me. The breakup was a long time ago and I’ve
blocked him on everything and he hasn’t tried to contact me in 10
months, thank God.

One or two of our mutual friends have cut ties with him. The rest
haven’t, and I don’t think they’re obligated to But they keep doing
little things like asking if I’ve heard from him recently (“no, he
abused me I cut contact”) or responding to my disclosure of abuse with
“I’m really sorry that happened but I’m not going to choose sides” or
tagging us in the same Facebook posts or offhandedly saying things
like with “you know, I really should give Lizard a call someday, see
how he’s doing” and it hurts every time, like a bad splinter.

I’ve already adjusted them to small-doses friends and I know I should
try harder to control conversation topics with them. I don’t want to
lose them because I care about them and I don’t want him and this
illness to take them away from me too. But it’s like every time
somebody mentions him, especially in a way that reminds me that he
gets to be a normal human walking out there in the world, I tense up
and get panicky.

Do you have any good scripts for being like “I love you and I’m not
asking you to choose sides but I need you to be a little careful to
not mention me when you talk to him and not mention him when you talk
to me.” Is this unreasonable?

Can’t Sleep Anymore.

Dear Can’t Sleep:

Your script, as written, gets the job done, so, good work! Here are some, to me, perfectly reasonable scripts in response to what is happening to you.

  • “Seriously, why do you keep mentioning that person to me? ‘Oh, I guess I should give him a call’ etc. WHY?”
  • “Why, when I tell you he abused me, would you feel the need to remind me that ‘you don’t want to choose sides’?”
  • “Could you, like, TRY to grow a filter? As a favor to me? Why do you think I want to hear about that dude?”
  • “Sure, call him up, do whatever you want. And then DON’T tell me about it. Seriously.”
  • “Maybe this is unintentional, but do you realize you bring up Lizard EVERY TIME we hang out? If you have some weird feelings about what went down between us, please work them out on your own time. When you bring him up during our time together, it’s an incredibly painful reminder.”
  • “So, you may not know this, but I have PTSD after what happened, so when I say that my one rule is ‘don’t talk about Lizard and your beautiful friendship,’ I mean it. You don’t have to choose sides, but if you can’t follow that simple rule, I have to choose my own side.”

Public Service Announcement:

If your friend abuses someone, and you know it, proclaiming to the victim that you ‘don’t want to choose a side’ IS choosing sides. You are choosing the abuser’s side. 

If the abuser is your oldest and dearest friend, or a family member, and you think they’re working on their issues, or you don’t want to cut them off for whatever reason (you just like them better), that is your choice. You know what is also your choice? Whether you remain a constant low-level toxic presence in the life of their victim. Whether you try to get the victim to be an audience for your guilt or your exaggerated sense of “fairness” or “loyalty” or whatever.

Let me translate what “I’m really sorry that happened but I’m not going to choose sides” means.

  • “I’m really sorry that happened, I am going to keep hanging out with your abuser, and I feel bad and weird about it, so, could you, like, absolve me of that in the name of fairness? I’d really like to keep seeing myself as a good person.”
  • “I know your life is in ruins, but why should that change anything about my life? How is that fair?”
  • “I know I’m supposed to say something supportive, but I don’t actually believe you about what happened.”
  • “I believe you about what happened, but I liked my ignorance about what happened so much that I’d like your collusion in pretending that my friendship with your abuser can continue normally even though I now know that they abuse people.”
  • “I feel guilty about not helping you enough before, and I feel guilty about not really wanting to make changes now, so here is this tired and generic phrase that allows us to pretend that this is about fairness.”

It’s self-serving bullshit, in other words. Saying that to a victim is you trying to justify your decision or make yourself feel better directly at the victim’s expense. Stop it. Make your choices, process all of the weird feelings that come up when you find out that your friend hurts other people on your own, without the abuse victim as your audience/feelingshelper. Don’t ask abuse victims for their blessing to keep your monthly “Abuser Bowling Night” going or do your processing of your feelings on their time.

And if you don’t believe that the abuse happened, do everyone in the world a favor, and stop meeting the victim out for coffee or pretending to be their friend.

</PSA>

Can’t Sleep, keep taking excellent care of yourself. Keep treating the PTSD. Keep track of who it is safe and unsafe for you to be around, and don’t be afraid to draw bright lines around this and be a little bit unreasonable when this keeps happening. It is totally fucking unfair that you may have to jettison some friends and unwind your social fabric on top of everything else that you’ve been through in the name of self-care. It is so fucking unfair that you are here, asking me whether you the reasonable one. You have a giant heart and I hope some of the fucks who are doing this to you actually hear you and try to deserve their place there.

 

 

214 comments
  1. The only advice I can give you, LW, is MAKE IT WEIRD.

    “You should call [DEMON EX]”
    “…………………You mean my ex?
    ……………………..The abusive one?
    …………………………You’re suggesting I call him?
    ……………………………WHY?”

    They made it weird. Let it be weird. It is not your sacred duty as a friend to soak up all the weird to stop their toes getting wet in the puddle that they created. Pull an affronted face. Use a sour tone of voice. Be obviously unhappy about being asked this question. Let. It. Be. Weird.

    And they will apologise and stop doing it, or they will Push. And if they push; “why are you making it weird just because I’m asking you to play nice with your toxic abusive ex?” then you know to Run.

    • Esis said:

      Infinity+ to this!

    • The Other Kat said:

      Yes. Giving yourself permission to NOT smooth things over is one of the most freeing things in the world when it comes to people like this. They want to comfort themselves at the expense of your peace of mind, so if you instead choose to grill them in their own shitty juices, they will usually (eventually) shut up. The question is, is it worth keeping someone in your life if the only way they’ll honor your feelings is if you browbeat them into silence? That’s a lot of pain and trouble to go through for the sake of what sound like some pretty goddamned inconsiderate people, and depending on the LW’s personal situation, it could be best to just let them go. Because the other most freeing thing in the world when it comes to these people? Is unapologetically cutting them out.

      LW, however you decide to handle this situation, please know that you deserve better than this!

    • YES! Sometimes it’s important to let yourself be “the bad guy” in the eyes of others. You’re NOT the bad guy here, but you seem to think you owe something to these people who are siding with a person who abused you and may in fact be abusing other people. I think leaning on the weird button until somebody hears you is great advice.

    • Hatchette said:

      Yes. Let the weird linger. Let it spread, and grow, and sling uncomfortably through the room. That weird does nor belong to you. Their horrible behavior spawned it, so they should get to suffer it.

      • stellanor said:

        Yes! Send the weird home to where it belongs, which is glooping all over the person who said “Oh yeah your ex who was so abusive HE GAVE YOU PTSD, you should totally catch up with him!”

        Because seriously? Seriously.

    • Jolly said:

      I think the same is true when someone says “I’m not going to choose sides.” It seems like it’s actually fairly necessary to ask for clarity on what, exactly, “not choosing sides” entails, and perfectly fair to make the other person explain to you exactly what it means with regard to your relationship with them. Does it mean they don’t believe you? That they believe you but don’t think that someone abusing their friend is a deal-breaker for being friends with that person? They should be the one to explain it to you, both so that you actually have the necessary information to decide whether they’re worth your time, and to make sure they’re fully aware and capable of airing of their own (probably pretty shitty) motivations.

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        Someone I’m close to had a friend TRY TO KILL HER and a mutual friend “didn’t want to choose sides”. (Obviously he was swiftly cut off, because really?) I personally would love to do this to him.

        • My former partner physically assaulted me in a way which came within seconds of actually killing me. Most of our friends “wouldn’t choose sides.” What one of them meant by not choosing sides was to use her authority as chairperson of a major event to threaten to throw me out of said event (when I’d paid for my membership already) if I wouldn’t agree to leave of my own accord halfway through, so that the Evil Ex who was not permitted by order of the court to come within 200 yards of me would have an opportunity to attend.

          I learned pretty quickly through that situation who my *real* friends were. I was, and remain, disappointed about some of those I have lost; but the disappointment is in finding out who they really are. Having the real-life version of them out of my life is a blessing; the grief was for the people I had erroneously thought them to be.

    • Courtney said:

      No kidding! In fact, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to FLIP THE FUCK OUT on someone doing this. In a situation like this, I think, “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU!!!!” can be an appropriate script.

    • jdrives said:

      Yes, this!! And if you need courage to Let It Be Weird, just imagine this whole Awkward Army behind you encouraging you to be brave and NOT let these folks off the hook for their shitty behavior.They created the puddle of weird. Let them soak in it.

  2. Virginia said:

    I am 100% behind the Captain on this one. I have been where you are, Can’t Sleep. Keep on swimming, dear heart. Wishing you sleep and for the No-Choosers to pop their heads out of their tiny butts and breathe the air of love and good sense. Jeebus.

  3. Policy of Madness said:

    I cannot emphasize enough how correct this post is. People who “aren’t taking sides” are, in fact, taking sides. They are taking the side of the status quo, in which powerful people/organizations/countries step on less powerful people/organizations/countries, because that’s the way power works when nobody questions it or thinks about it very hard. LW, I really think that when people tell you “I’m not taking sides” you need to hear that as “I am taking Lizard’s side” and make your friendship decisions accordingly.

    It’s terrible that you are the one who loses here. You’ve already been victimized and you are trying to recover from that, and your friends circle is victimizing you all over again by giving you this terrible choice between losing (more) friends and having to endure these constant unwanted reminders. I don’t want this to sound harsh, because I don’t mean it harshly, but have you considered trying to make a new set of friends? There are a lot of posts on this site with great advice about how to make new connections with new people. You may not feel up to that right now, and that’s legit. You may feel like it’s unfair that you need to do that, and that is 153.5% legit. Perhaps keep it in the back of your mind as an option.

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, and is happening to you. You don’t deserve it, and didn’t deserve it.

    • JenniferP said:

      NEW FRIENDS = 100% ENDORSED.

      Like, every time you have a shitty interaction with someone who refuses to hear your direct requests, make one tiny step toward meeting some new people.

      • ordinarygoddess said:

        So, so much this. I did this by accident, and it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

        My abusive ex and I were part of a social hobby in one place. We moved across country, left all of our friends behind, I was very isolated, things were very bad, I divorced him, and shortly afterwards I happened to have an opportunity to hook up with a different branch of the same club. I made a ton of new friends, lots of good things happened that I’ve talked about here from time to time.

        My ex decided that if I was going to have such a good experience reconnecting with this club, he could too.

        Some of my new friends’ reactions to him:

        “Oh, you’re friends with [prestigious mutual acquaintance from Former Place]? Funny, I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of you.”

        “No, you can’t go into [place where I am working and cannot easily leave]”

        “Why don’t you go [where something interesting is happening but in the opposite direction of where I am, socializing and having fun]?”

        “No, you can’t go to dinner with us.”

        “Funny, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that story [about awesome thing that happened in Former Place] and you weren’t in it.”

        “Oh. Yes, I know who you are.” [Long, awkward stare]

        He’s found his own niche – it’s a big club, and there are enough different smaller groups and things to do that we can both participate without tripping over each other – but it’s so nice that there’s a wall of NOPE between him and me. Unlike in other circles of our lives, like our neighbors/local colleagues (we work in similar and overlapping but not identical industries) who are always trying to communicate with me through him (“oh, I’m sorry, I don’t have a good phone number anymore!”) or pass gossip about him to me or encourage me to come to events where he’s going to be or generally make nice, UGH.

        I know it’s easy for my new friends to take my side because they DON’T know the guy, they’re not emotionally invested and they’re not a captive audience. I know that when people who work with him are feeling under pressure they’ll selfishly throw me under the bus if that’s what needs to be done to get the response they need from him to do their own jobs. I get that. But it certainly tells me where I want to put my own social energy. It’s a positive-feedback cycle and the ultimate outcome is his complete irrelevance in my life.

  4. Jae said:

    You know what worked for me? Not answering at all. The first few times I explained “you know, I broke up with him because I realized he was bad for me and I don’t want to spend one more minute of my life even thinking about him”. After that, my sole answer to anyone asking if I’d heard from him, knew how he was, or why not call him got a wry smile and no answer at all. I just started at them for a few seconds then started a new topic.

    It was meant more as a consequence of my own announcement – not one minute more – but it worked really well. People got weirded out by me just staying silent and they stopped. I guess they wanted gossip and didn’t get any and so it got boring and pointless.

    Good luck with recovery and eventually weeding out the bad friends from the good.

    • heffalumps said:

      ah, this is an excellent suggestion! you don’t even have to go to the verbal stress of coming up with the right words, or trying to parse what they’re saying and respond to it appropriately, just “…… oh hey how about that local sports team!” it’s a lovely way to combine “MAKE IT WEIRD FOR THEM” with not making it unbearably difficult *for you*.

    • Paulina said:

      Yes! I did this, with respect to both my soul-sucking revealed-after-the-fact-to-have-been-cheating ex and the ex-friend he cheated with. (Both entirely unapologetic and entitled, which I found to be the worst part.) I didn’t want to talk about either of them, and made good on that by not responding when someone else did, instead talking about something totally different. This may be much harder to do when abuse and PTSD are involved.

      Interestingly, of our circle of friends, one who was closest to him got with the program among the most quickly. One who had been my close friend for years did not, and gave me that blasted “can’t take sides” BS. It’s very disheartening to get that from someone who you thought was on Team You. We’re still friends now (ex is largely absent and ex-friend’s high self-involvement doesn’t make her a good person to hang around with), but I’m always going to know that her carrying on business as usual was more important than supporting me when someone treated me like crap. The “not going to talk about them, period” message eventually penetrated her obliviousness too.

      In some way, it felt that not only was my friend not wanting to take sides, she wanted *me* to not take sides. I wasn’t expecting her to not have anything to do with those people (though I admit it would have been nice), I just didn’t want to have anything to do with them myself and for her to respect that. And it sounds like that for the LW too, with the described pressure to talk about or to her abuser. The LW is entitled to take her own side and to have others respect that. Instead it seems like they want to avoid having to take sides by making the LW’s side disappear.

      • That’s an excellent point: it’s as if they want the person abused and suffering not to take her own side. ha!

      • Cactus said:

        I know that dynamic. When I broke up with my rapist, I wrote a lot of poetry about the whole traumatic debacle. One of those poems ended up in the school literary magazine. I wrote it a week after the breakup, about events that were only a couple of months old, but the magazine didn’t go to press until two and a half months after THAT. Which apparently made one of my so-called “not taking-sides” “friends” feel totally justified in asking “aren’t you OVER that, already?”

        • Sleepy (LW) said:

          Oh God, I’m sorry, that’s so awful. Like, no, I’d love to be over it, but I don’t have that luxury, sorry!

    • Sheelzebub said:

      I am a big fan of the long, cold, silent stare. Works wonders.

    • monologue said:

      This is awesome. If it’s too hard to say something confrontational, another option would be just keep doing this, as if you don’t even hear comments about your ex. And then people who don’t get the message might need a more direct approach or to be cut off.

      This is the worst. I lost a whole group of high school friends when I broke up with my abusive high school ex and didn’t want to be around them anymore. It sucked bc they were also my comfortable gay friends and I had to work hard to find a whole new lgbtq support network after that.

  5. Maggie said:

    I went through this about ten years ago when I left my abusive ex. I was trying to be the “bigger person” and not demand that people take sides, etc. (I have no idea what she did, because no one told me.) Then, finally, after a couple of years, I reached a conclusion. If people were still friends with both of us, supposedly “close” friends as opposed to casual acquaintances, one of three things was true:

    1 – We weren’t close enough for this person to have any idea why we split up. In which case, if they were still mentioning her a lot, etc. (especially after I’d said something like, “we broke up, it was not amicable, please don’t talk to me about her”), they were obviously closer to her than to me, and I was going to need to back away from this friendship for my own mental health.

    2 – They knew why we’d split up, because I’d told them, but they didn’t believe me about the abuse. In which case, the hell with them. I spent five years being gaslighted by my ex; I didn’t need it from my “friends” as well.

    3 – They believed me about the abuse, but that was obviously not enough for them to decide that she wasn’t their friend. In which case, well, that’s their decision, but fuck them; who needs “friends” who think “Hey, I know she used to abuse you in many different ways, but I really want to hang out with her anyway”?

  6. Yep. Yep. And HELL YEP!
    I wrote a post on my website about escaping a long-term marriage to a psychologically and verbally abusive spouse. One reader left a comment: “Forgive me if this is inappropriate, but is your ex also in the process of healing?”
    Wut?!?

    • paddlepickle said:

      That’s so perfectly phrased, placing “Forgive me” in the beginning of that sentence, basically saying “I know this is inappropriate so I’m going to state up front that you shall forgive me for it”. WUT indeed.

    • Esis said:

      0.o

      That commenter was way out of line

    • Policy of Madness said:

      Holy cow. WHAT indeed. Do you mind sharing your response? Was it, “Yes, that is inappropriate”?

      • I’m afraid I was so stunned that all I could think of was, “I am not in contact with my ex.”

        • RedCat said:

          My response would be even more terse: “Don’t know. Dont’ care.”

    • JenniferP said:

      “I’ll take ‘Who Gives A Shit?’ for $200, Alex.”

      • Wish I’d thought of that…!

    • curious86 said:

      “Forgive me if this is inappropriate…”= the new “No offense but…”. If you have to preface with that, there is a 99.9% chance that what you’re saying is NOT APPROPRIATE.

      • embertine said:

        Yep, it is the all-purpose asshole’s version of “I’m not racist, but…”.

      • Rowan said:

        See also “with all due respect…”

      • Liz said:

        ‘No offence’ before saying something really offensive! If you have to caveat a sentence to prevent a negative response, maybs a sign that you should STFU!

        • thelittlepakeha said:

          No one ever says “no offence, but would you like to hold this basket of kittens for a while?” and that’s a very sad thing.

    • Teetertot said:

      Ha! Yes, indeed, that was inappropriate. I had a friend once who said, after hearing how depressed I was from my divorce, “but don’t you think he’s hurting, too?”

      Um, #1, he is not in this conversation so why is that relevant? and #2, no, no, I do not think he is hurting, given that he moved his new girlfriend into our marital home…while I still owned half of it and my clothes were still in our closet.

      • Cactus said:

        Yeah, and if he WAS hurting he can find his own damn friends to hash it out with. His potential pain doesn’t need to intrude on every conversation had by the person he hurt.

  7. arcya said:

    Oh man. The Captain’s advice is really really good here: make sure you set hard boundaries regarding this and cut people who can’t respect them out of your life. Mostly though I just wanted to say that I am so, so sorry you are going through this. You don’t deserve it, please take care of yourself!

  8. Gonna come down on the side of making it weird. It’s an effective way of getting your point across, and all it requires is you being able to bear the silence for a *second* more than they can.

    There’s a persistent narrative in social relations that “not choosing sides” when two people in a social group have a disagreement is the good thing to do, and if it’s a disagreement, it’s certainly a valid option. However, these people are applying that idea to a situation it doesn’t fit. You didn’t have a disagreement, he abused you. If they want to keep being friends with an abuser, they’re adults, and they can do that, but asking you to justify or approve their choice is WEIRD, LW. SO WEIRD. If they really weren’t choosing sides, they wouldn’t feel like they had to bring him up all the time.

    • Anna Sthetic said:

      If the silence feels too hard to hold by itself, another piece of Captain genius I have totally stolen for my life is the phrase, ‘oh, wow.’

      Just that. Just, ‘oh, wow.’ And then you don’t feel like they’re waiting for you to respond, and you can just let the silence run…

    • Laughing Giraffe said:

      I think a lot of people have been in situations where a couple broke up for mundane and understandable reasons, sometimes as simple as a lack of compatibility, and one or both parties decided to be drama monarchs and demand that everyone else agree that the ex is a terrible person and if you don’t then we’re not friends any more. I think it’s pretty reasonable to go down the route of “I’m not taking a side” when the “sides” are He Hangs the Toilet Paper the Wrong Way vs. She Never Picks Up Her Socks.
      In a more serious vein, I will confess to “taking the side” of a person who was in the wrong and ultimately caused the destruction of her relationship (not abuse, but infidelity). My reasons for that aren’t wonderful and noble, I admit. It pretty much comes down to the fact that I like my friend better, have known her longer, and want to remain friends with her more than I do with him. I could add in other stuff about how I suspect him of his own wrongdoings that I can’t prove and hedge about whether or not he and I were ever actual friends or just acquaintances, but in the end those things aren’t what’s really important. In doing this, though, I try to acknowledge a few things.
      First, I’m honest about the fact that I’m taking sides, not being neutral. I own up to the fact that my reasons are selfish. I am not being “mature” and “fair” – I am giving my emotional support to the person I would rather give it to, not the person who deserves it more. My perspective might be different if I believed that one party *needed* it more than the other, but then again I really don’t know.
      I also don’t hang out with my friend’s ex-husband and talk about my friend, or try to get them to reconcile and get along for my sake. That relationship is none of my business. Similarly, I don’t behave as if the husband’s reasons for divorcing my friend are silly or pointless or something he should “just get over”. I accept his version of events, believe that he was justified in taking the course of action that he did, and don’t talk shit about him to other people.

      • Mary said:

        I don’t think you should guilty about that. You’re allowedto like your friend more! Staying friends with someone who cheated but still respecting the wronged party’s truth and not trying force him to live a narrative that’s more convenient for you is a totally honourable way to go.

        • Cactus said:

          Agreed. All of us screw up sometimes, infidelity is not the same as abuse, and you’re not compounding the guy’s pain with your continuing friendship. Your guidelines are good, Laughing Giraffe.

          • sunshine said:

            Infidelity as Abuse

            I would like to offer a divergent opinion on infidelity as abuse, in what is hopefully a respectful and helpful manner. The dictionary defines abuse as “treating a person or animal in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline says abuse is “a repetitive pattern of behaviors to maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” As I will explain, infidelity unequivocally meets both of these definitions.

            When someone cheats on their “exclusive” intimate partner, they lie to (either directly or by omission), backstab (this is an ugly word, but it seems appropriate here), often expose to life-threatening diseases, and likely steal joint monies and joint time (for non-joint purposes) from the person to whom they have promised their #1 loyalty and affection. By definition, a cheater must engage in a series of dishonest verbal and behavioral actions in order to control the betrayed partner’s perception of reality and to keep them from discovering the affair. Thus, cheaters inherently control and exert power over their partner both sexually and information-wise, because only the cheater gets to decide how many partners they each have, and only the cheater gets to have full knowledge of the non-exclusivity of their relationship.

            Accordingly, infidelity almost always causes the betrayed partner enormous and devastating emotional pain, which can take years to heal/ scar over. Many victims of infidelity suffer pronounced and prolonged psychological trauma, PTSD, and/or depression. They also may contract deadly diseases, experience financial problems, and shoulder an uneven burden of relationship “chores” as a result of their partner’s affair(s). People who have not been cheated on often do not fully appreciate the extensive damage that infidelity can inflict.

            Since infidelity is clearly abuse, blaming the victim of for the infidelity is tantamount to blaming any abused person for the abuse that they’ve suffered. A relationship may be unhealthy, an intimate partner may be awful, an abuser may be unhappy, or many other relationship problems may exist, but that doesn’t give the abuser a pass to abuse — whether it be physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, adulterous, or any other kind of abuse. Abusers (cheaters) always have other, healthier behavior options — like using their words, seeking therapy, breaking up/ getting a divorce, etc. The problem is that they instead choose to harm their “loved one(s).”

            To bring this back to the LW’s question, it’s very hard to stay friends with someone whose friends intentionally harm other human beings (i.e., they know that their actions are injuring someone, yet they continue to do them). This is especially the case when that person is consciously duping the human being they’re harming, into believing that they really have their back — when actually they are injuring them in one of the worst ways possible. It’s like promising to be bffs with someone, and then intentionally screwing them over behind their back — except that they’re doing this to their intimate partner. Really seems beyond cruel.

          • JenniferP said:

            Not to argue with this, but the issue at hand is if you choose to stay friends with someone who cheated on their spouse, you should not pretend that you haven’t chosen sides. Own the decision. Make your pick. Don’t try to play both sides as a “friend of the couple.”

          • There’s definitely some cases of infidelity that I would classify as abuse – risking an STD by having unprotected sex with your partner (who believed you were monogamous) and the person you were cheating with, while gaslighting the other person that they’re “jealous” and “imagining things” seems unbelievably reckless and abusive.

            But Laughing Giraffe and the Captain are right – you can decide that you’re closer to one person in the couple and do that without acting like you are the arbiter of moral blame and acting accordingly.

      • gmg said:

        We have a situation like this unfolding in my family (my dad’s brother and his wife are divorcing after he was unfaithful, but they’d been in bad shape for awhile), and I think an important distinction is accepting/acknowledging that your friend/relative made a mistake, instead of reframing it to blame the other person and therefore make it more comfortable for you. When I’ve talked over the situation with my mom on several occasions recently, it inwardly drives me BONKERS that, she can’t just say the equivalent of what you say here: “Yeah, the marriage wasn’t great for a long time, and that doesn’t excuse that he cheated but, well, he’s my brother-in-law and I just care about him more.” She has to focus entirely on whatever it is my aunt may or may not have done wrong (too obsessed with her job! different schedules! no time to talk! overly focused on the grandkids!), because I guess that’s the only way she can excuse my uncle’s mistakes in her mind.

        • sunshine said:

          Agreed. And as the Captain says, you can choose to stay friends with a cheater, a physical abuser, or whomever. Just own that you are consciously choosing friendship with an abuser.

        • Cassandra said:

          You’re articulating a phenomenon that also drives me bonkers but that I’ve never really been able to put into words, so thank you. It’s exhausting to deal with.

      • FlyBy said:

        Yes indeed. My husband’s in a kinda similar situation where one of his best friends physically abused his wife. She recently moved out and started divorce proceedings, and my husband’s entire friend circle cheered for her. All the guys in the group have zero sympathy for this dude and his temper. They’re also still friends with him. I’m not sure how closely any of them are in contact with her, but interactions generally consist of “I’m so sorry my friend is a violent asshole, what can I do to help you?” and then respecting her wishes. There’s no talk of ‘not taking sides’ – they all agree he’s 1000% in the wrong – but they’re also much closer to him than they are to her, and will probably remain that way, and everyone seems to understand that.

        • wordiest said:

          I think there’s actually a healthy role to be played by people closer to the abuser. The trick is to be honest, respect the victim’s boundaries, and never, ever help the abuser to minimize the abuse or write-off the abuser’s responsibility. You can stay friends with someone, while also letting them know that you deeply disapprove of what they did, think it was wrong, and sincerely hope they will get help so they do not do it again. You don’t need to keep bringing up the subject, but if the abuser does bring up the subject, you don’t play the game of pretending it wasn’t that bad or maybe both sides were equally to blame. And I think that’s an okay way to stay friends with someone who did a very bad thing. I also hold out the hope that having people the abuser trusts and respects saying, “No, it was wrong and yes, it was your fault” will help some abusers to get serious therapy and start changing. But when you just write-off the abuser, I expect they just find new stormtroopers. Not that you should stay friends with the abuser – absolutely not. Just that if you’re in a situation where maintaining the connection is more appealing, then I think it can be an ethical way to do so. However, it does lead to extremely awkward situations if the abuser does not get help and does start getting into a new relationship. Because then you’re watching the next victim slowly get sucked in. Although you can, at least, try to do things to affirm the new person’s viewpoints and treat the person with respect and not play the usual abuser’s ally role. I think that’d be very difficult, but I think it’s a potential option.

          • FlyBy said:

            That’s about my thoughts on the topic too. It’s easier in this situation because the friend group grew up together and they’re now geographically spread out, so maintaining the friendship mean occasional phone calls and playing games together online. Their ongoing friendship doesn’t result in any loss of resources or awkwardness for the victim, and (from what I can see) is providing good role models and encouragement for this dude to clean up his act. You can bet that I have some reservations about how closely I want this guy tied into my own life – people with tempers scare me, even when they don’t have a violent history – but the current arrangement seems to be functional.

          • adie said:

            The book I found through this blog seems to reinforce this; according to the author, the abusers most likely to reform are those whose family, peers, friends, etc all disapprove of the abuse and let them know it.

          • adie said:

            Sorry, forgot the book’s title: “why does he do that”

  9. Sleepy said:

    Hi guys, I’m the LW and I’m really touched by how…. clear? everyone’s made the issue, I guess. Like no, it is not super unreasonable for me to want these things. You know, I didn’t want to be Acting Crazy. What I’ve usually said before is a panicked “make sure you don’t mention me to him” and nothing about how uncomfy it makes me feel.

    • Hey! You know what, you are okay and you are doing good things for your health and well-being, and that is *awesome*, because sometimes that can be super tough. 🙂

      You’re not acting inappropriately, and it’s hard to talk about this stuff sometimes. I’d suggest role-playing with a good friend. Just very firmly say the scripts you’ve already thought of or the Captain suggests–I find that practicing really helps me when it’s a tough situation like this.

      Just in case you need to hear it: you have every right to do the things that make you feel safe and comfortable. It doesn’t make you a bad person or an Unreasonable Ex, it makes you a person with a reasonable regard for their own safety.

    • It’s definitely 100% reasonable! Here’s hoping that if you do give any more detail to your friends, or ask again, they cut this shit out. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this; it sounds like a really unpleasant situation, to say the least.

    • Marna Nightingale said:

      It’s not even a little tiny bit unreasonable.

      Asking a friend – correction, asking A PERSON – to tolerate being triggered *for no damned reason* is unreasonable. Like, they don’t even have to “take sides”, that vile, equivocal phrase, here.

      All they have to do is respect your damn’ request, the respecting of which does nobody any harm whatsoever. (It would be perfectly reasonable for The Lizard to be inconvenienced in the wake of having abused you, but you’re not even asking them to do that! Or to put themselves out beyond “remembering that you asked them this thing.” )

      In other words, you’re expecting them to respect your boundaries, as you respect theirs.

      For which, LW, if you do not mind me saying, I love you, because reclaiming and enforcing your boundaries is awesome, wise and wonderful.

      I take it all back. You’re not being reasonable. You’re being awesome, wise, and wonderful.

      People have suggested some great scripts – here’s one more that may be of use.

      I’m guessing that when you first told your friends the situation they all agreed to your INCREDIBLY REASONABLE REQUEST, they just added “but I don’t want to take sides.”

      I feel like I need to say that this script is slightly manipulative. Obviously I think it’s on the right side of the line, as it’s making it very hard for someone to break their word, not trying to make them do what they haven’t agreed to, or I wouldn’t offer it, but, yes, it’s slightly dirty pool and if used to enforce an unreasonable agreement would be very dirty pool.

      The next time Friend A mentions/invokes The Lizard, since they have already agreed once not to do that, say “you agreed not to do that. Please don’t do that.”

      If they’ve managed to equivocate to the point where they never agreed with your COMPLETELY REASONABLE request, then ask them one more time not to do that. If they won’t agree not to do that, they probably cannot be saved.

      Thereafter, refuse to revisit any part of the discussion whatsoever except for the part where they agreed to a thing, and must now do the thing or tell you flat-out that they will not do the thing, at which point you drop them. Like boundary-violating rocks.

      Good luck!

      • “All they have to do is respect your damn’ request, the respecting of which does nobody any harm whatsoever.”

        Exactly. I have friends and family members who have subjects which make them uncomfortable – sometimes it’s a phobia thing, sometimes it’s squeamishness, sometimes it’s just a sensitivity. I have family members I never tell blue jokes to or swear around. When two mutual friends have broken up *for any reason*, it’s basic etiquette to avoid mentioning them to each other unless it’s absolutely pertinent (e.g. warning one party that the other is attending an event, so they don’t get a nasty surprise).

        In other words, polite and friendly people should not mention the Ex because

        (a) they know it’s a sore subject
        (b) even if they didn’t, these two broke up, so it’s kind of assumed. Why mention one to the other?

        This is before we get into any mention of abuse. I was very lucky in this regard as when I told my friends and family about the abuse, they reacted as if I had given them permission to finally cut him off.

        One friend, I didn’t tell, because he was in a vulnerable state and I thought I could put him in a very awkward position. But he had two notable reactions to our split: First, he reassured me that we would remain friends (this felt it was missing a “whatever he says”, but I didn’t ask). Secondly, after that, he didn’t mention my ex ever again. I know my ex went to live close to him. I don’t know if they’re still in touch but my friend and I still are.

        As I say, I was very lucky – my ex had very poor Stormtrooper retention. But there’s no excuse for mentioning someone who is an ex and a subject LW has said makes them uncomfortable. The fact that there’s abuse involved lifts this from rude to downright cruel.

    • You are not acting crazy. Your requirements are sane and healthy and reasonable.

      Yay you!

    • lasers said:

      I commented at length below, but– it’s OK to decide the reality that you want to live in, and what constitutes acceptable friendship behavior. Abuse trains us to live in other people’s realities instead of our own, but Abuse can go take a hike.

    • wordiest said:

      This is pretty close to the minimum I expect someone who has been abused to ask of people they interact with. You could ask for more from friends, and it’d still be quite reasonable. If I find out someone I know was abused, then I may offer to talk with them about it, but if they do not want to talk about it, then that’s their business. And even if we do discuss it, when we’re hanging out generally, I’m not going to just casually touch on their past abuse. So, any topic related to their abuse should be under their control. To regularly bring up somebody’s history of abuse and spring that at them when they don’t want to is… I’m not even sure what words to use for that. If you hadn’t stated what your preferred boundaries were (don’t mention him to me), then it would be reasonable for friends to ask you what you wanted the boundaries to be. But once they’re clear… I mean, you’re not even asking them to do anything or help you in any way. All you’re asking is that they not bring up a topic of conversation that you have an issue with. Most people will do that for far more trivial reasons. For example, I have some issues with a particular species of animal… they really bug me. So, I generally ask people not to discuss them with me (fortunately, they don’t usually come up in conversation anyway). I don’t have any traumatic past history; it’s just a topic that makes me uncomfortable. And yet, people manage to respect this boundary. I try not to bring up certain topics that I know are issues for some of my friends. This is a reasonable request even were it not linked to a serious health issue. Having it linked to abuse and PTSD… it’s so vastly reasonable of you. I can’t emphasize how reasonable you are being right now.

    • Anon, goodnight said:

      It’s not unreasonable AT ALL.

      I had some issues with my divorce a few years ago–it was a poly relationship that blew up, and the spouse I was divorcing was staying with (and later legally married) our other partner. It was not an abusive relationship at all, but I was reeling emotionally. In order to start healing, I needed to NOT hear about them and NOT run into them when I wasn’t emotionally braced for it. I ended up missing out on some large gatherings and ended up spending time with our mutual friends one-on-one or in very small groups. After I let them know the boundaries I needed, they didn’t bring up ex-spouse or ex-partner unless I initiated the conversation. If I did bring them up, the mutual friends just listened to me–they didn’t try to defend ex-spouse and ex-partner, and they didn’t repeat the things I had said. This included a mutual friend who later served as a member of their wedding party. No one EVER suggested that I “give them a call” or otherwise reach out to either of them, even though our split pretty much stunned our entire (fairly large) friends group. (We were super private about our problems, so only 2-3 people had the first clue that our relationship was on the rocks.) A couple of them set their own boundary of “I can be your ‘need-some-company’ friend but not your ‘venting about the ex’ friend” and that was good too.

      That is how friends who are on your team behave.

      Given that there is abuse in your situation – it is the most reasonable thing in the world for you to set these boundaries. In fact, I will say with little fear of contradiction that the unreasonable thing in this situation is that you even have to tell your friends who know about the abuse not bring up the ex. That should be a given.

      I know you care about your friends, but these people are not on your team. It’s time for a new team.

      *hugs*

      • Nanners said:

        “I can be your ‘need-some-company’ friend but not your ‘venting about the ex’ friend.”

        That’s how to ACTUALLY not take sides, right there. Respecting your boundaries, and establishing their own.

    • TK said:

      Of course you’re reasonable! IME, the whole “Acting Crazy” thing is just more bullshit from mutual friends who don’t want to feel weird about being friends with an abuser and their victim– so they gaslight the victim. “He couldn’t be THAT bad, she’s just acting CRAZY! Nothing we can do about that!” It’s just another way of foisting the blame of your hurt feelings and pain onto you, because they don’t want to face the fact that they are being hurtful and causing you pain.

      I’d also like to second the suggestion of “make new friends” about ten million times. When I left my abuser, I joined a new fandom and got into some new hobbies, and moved to different hangout spaces, and it helped a ton. Even if you don’t want to drop these friends, it feels amazing to have new people to talk to, without being worried about hearing Bees every time you do. Some of those old friendships might not survive, but for me, I didn’t feel the loss as keenly when I had all these new ones. And the ones that did could be set aside while I did some healing and they extracted their heads from their asses.

      Oh, one more thing I’d like to contribute: a lot of these people might come to accept some hard truths about what happened and what the Right and Moral thing to do in this situation is. They don’t have to do it on your time, and they can just as easily get that lesson from the loss of a great friend as the continued forgiveness and explanations and coaching from that friend. You don’t have to explain to them in great detail WHY you don’t want to hear about Ex; they can figure that out for themselves.

      And honestly, they should be respecting your boundary even if abuse isn’t part of the equation. You don’t have to be allergic to something to be “reasonable” in refusing to eat it!

    • unlurking said:

      You are not “acting crazy”. And, also, I don’t like to bring this up, but knowing in advance may help you: You cannot control his story. He may tell people you are acting crazy, and you cannot control it, and just know in your heart that it is not true. It is not the truth of you.

  10. PeterG said:

    About a year ago I broke up with M. Recently a friend of mine was having her own issues with M. She wanted to vent at me about M. Normally when my friends tell me their problems I listen and give them sage advice. But since I had a bad breakup with M I couldn’t do that. So every time my friend complained about M I listened carefully and said. “I am not able to be neutral on this subject.” Sometimes four or five times a conversation. It was my way of reminding them that I had issues without inviting examination of those issues. Much later they were very thankful that I had handled it that way.

  11. Those translations of “I’m sorry but I’m not choosing sides” are so amazingly accurate and poignant. Wow.

  12. Victims need people on their sides. Abusers just need people to stay out of it. Neutral is code for condoning abuse.

    • Digital Sidhe said:

      Holy shit, yes, THIS! A thousand times this, because it puts its finger precisely, and succinctly, on why “not taking sides” equals siding with the abuser. Thank you.

    • I disagree. I’ve decided I can have my own side, which does not include either of them I did not suddenly start liking someone in my social circle because her partner abused her. I disliked & distrusted her before the abuse, and I still dislike & distrust her now. I also distrusted the abuser before the abuse, so again, not a change.

      This post has made me think through my “I’m not choosing sides”. I interact with both as “person at events I help organize that I am civil to when I can’t avoid being cornered.” If victim (who insists I’m a friend despite my “I don’t consider us close, we’re Facebook friends”) continues to consider that “friendship”, and that my being civil with both of them at different times means that I’m a shitty “friend”, well I can’t change how she thinks or what she believes. I’m OK with that.

      (On the event organizing side, I am reminding people as often as needed that if the victim’s restraining order prevents the abuser from being present at events the victim attends, that’s the abuser’s fault, not the victim’s.)

      • Hannah said:

        I think your situation is a little different though. You aren’t actually friends with the victim, so your “not choosing sides” doesn’t carry the same weight. And, from your description, even though you *don’t* consider yourself a friend to the victim, you are still treating her with more respect than the LW’s friends. You’re not name dropping the abuser when you talk to her.

        Also, you are taking the victim-in-the-abstract’s side by reminding people that restraining orders are the fault of the restrained, not the restrainer. To me, that actually seems like a stand against the narrative that “ladies be cray, always raining on their abusers parades.”

        But in any case, choosing your own side: always admirable.

  13. Chiaro said:

    First of all; thank you Captain! Although aimed at the LW I really needed to hear those things!

    After my abusive relationship ended I had to deal with a lot of people not “wanting” to pick a side. “He was so ‘charming’ and nice how could he be abusive?” was what I often heard. I tried endless ways to get through them and convince them that yes he was abusive, nothing worked. Eventually I stopped and asked myself if I really would be happy having friends like that. My answer was no. It made me miserable to be around people who would happily be friends with someone that treated me so badly that I even had nightmares daily. I tried to focus more on the people that were there to support me and who respected my feelings. Joining two different sports really helped too.

    You mentioned they bring him up quite often in all sorts of ways, even if you had had a healthy relationship with him but weren’t friends I can’t imagine that being nice, I can’t imagine enjoying that topic. Considering you have PTSD and you feel panicky when they do it, it’s even worse and to me it seems they are completely ignoring your feelings. Friends should be supportive and respect your boundaries. Your own examples of replies were good just as Captains. If someone doesn’t want to pick sides (which I think is impossible in this case) their wisest way would be to tell someone ‘I want to be friends with both of you, so I think it’s best if we don’t discuss the other person together or anything related to them’. Which also makes it impossible to have a very tight friendship but it’s someone you can have coffee with and chat about work/whatever with. I imagine it’s hard to make these people realize what it’s doing with you if they mention him considering their current behaviour and possibly they won’t ever get it and change.

    I really wish you the best! It is completely unfair that you’re the one having to deal with all of this and you really deserve awesome people around you!

  14. Penelope Widdowson-Bonefat said:

    Okay, this is my experience only, your mileage may vary, objects in mirror may be closer than they appear, etc. etc. But as a ….off-center data point, I will say this: my abusive biodad introduced me to his then-girlfriend when I was a child; they stayed friendly after they broke up (he explained the breakup in wildly inappropriate terms for a ten-year-old, jesus h. christ, what was his problem); she and I have ended up working in the same field and she’s been a real mentor to me, whom I consider a genuine friend; she has absolutely respected my request to not try to mediate between me & abusive biodad; they’re still in contact, but he and I are not, by my choice. It works okay. I don’t love that she’s a friend I can’t process that topic with because I can’t assume that my baseline stance of “the relationship I had with him is irretrievably broken and he broke it” will be completely respected (she’s good about it but she’s not perfect, because she never experienced his abusive behavior and because she occasionally falls into the script of “but faaaaamily”), but I like this person and I want to keep her in my life.

    But the only reason it works is because I can trust her to not bring him up unnecessarily (like, I don’t mind acknowledging that he exists or that she sees him sometimes, but that’s just me) and not pass messages. If either of those were not the case, we wouldn’t be friends.

  15. Joan of anon said:

    I love this post. I agree with everything in at and feel like it has given me words to accurately describe why I cut someone out of my life. LW, I wish you all the luck in the world. Put faith in your instincts. I can tell from the way you’ve written the letter that you honestly feel mad at these’friends’. You’re right to, your instincts about their behaviour are right. I found it really hard to trust my own judgments again after I got out of an abusive relationship, but you will feel really strong when you start doing that.

    There a a very simple rule that I’ve got from therapy, introspection and in all honesty, reading this website: if someone doesn’t make you feel good, they can fuck off. I am so mad at your friends but really proud of you for questioning their bullshit.

    • Anna Sthetic said:

      ‘if someone doesn’t make you feel good, they can fuck off.’

      Yes this yes this yes this. Sleepy, you say in your letter that you don’t want to cut these friends out because you care about them.

      Thing is, though, that’s not a sufficient metric for keeping them in your life on its own. Do they also care about you? Do they care about making you feel safe and happy and protected? Because you deserve that from the people around you – it’s important to care about your friends, but there might be other things which need to be present in a friendship for it to fulfill you.

  16. Tatiana said:

    Great post! I hope she can put those so-called friends in their place.

  17. radical scientist said:

    More votes for ‘make some new friends.’ Even if you do want to keep these people in your life, it could be very freeing to have some cool be people to play Parcheesi with, safe in the knowledge that they will never talk to your ex, will never have a high opinion of him, and if you prefer, will never even know he exists. You deserve to have friends that are just yours, who are fully on your side in an uncomplicated way.

    • unagi said:

      Another vote for new friends. LW, you seem to be doing quite well overall at rebuilding a life for yourself without the Lizard. Feel deeply how much better life is without this kind of creep. Now that some time has gone by, and you feel stronger, I want to assure you that you’ll feel even better without any Stormtroopers in your life either. You’re not crazy, you’re being held down. I don’t suggest just getting rid of them all at once :-), which could be a bit traumatic and leave you feeling needlessly lonely, because it might be there are none left of this batch in the end. But if you can start cultivating some new people, while fading out the worst “not taking sides” offenders right away, you can gradually improve the friend pool. And eventually work up to a totally clean one.
      Did I mention how much I love both the CA’s and the commenters’ advice? Hang in there LW!

  18. The Captain is generous of spirit and I endorse that as a way of living your life overall. However I think there’s one translation of “I’m really sorry that happened but I’m not going to choose sides” that I think is being left out: “I know you think something happened, but I think you’re making a big deal about it unnecessarily and I’m going to keep worrying at this in your presence as a way of validating this position.”

    You can interpret that sorta generously and think maybe they’re trying to convince themselves as much as they’re validating your abuser’s side and arguing with you without arguing. But I think it’s not unfair to say they’re arguing with you about your experience without even the forthrightness of admitting it. So it’s basically just as shitty as doing that with a side order of chickenshit.

    If you really care about them and want to be super sure they’re violating boundaries that they don’t realize are there, by all means, use scripts to make it clear. But personally I think people who consistently choose not-your-side by making a production of not choosing a side are doing it on purpose and there’s a good chance they’re not good friends, period.

    • FlyBy said:

      Yes. If you really think someone’s blowing something out of proportion and is engaging in unnecessary drama, the appropriate way to handle it is to avoid the topic. Not keep making digs about how you disagree with them. Because that’s shitty.

    • Marna Nightingale said:

      Sadly, in this particular case, I can report from experience that there is also a small but distinct chance when someone does this a lot that they have started dating your abusive ex and therefore need, for their own comfort, you to be crazy, wrong, and possibly bad.

      • Cactus said:

        Oh, you went through that too? Fun, ain’t it?
        (My comment above about the “friend” who didn’t approve of me processing my pain through poetry? Yeah, she was that type.)

    • Paulina said:

      Yes, this could be a form of gaslighting or bullying. Once they know you have PTSD issues about this guy, to bring him up (especially in such pushy ways) could be translated as them pushing that how you feel isn’t really as bad as you think, or that they just want you to “get over it.”

      People who only respect your feelings if they agree with their basis are not good friends.

    • unlurking said:

      Right, like, okay, let us imagine an alternate scenario, where dude was not abusive, but WL & dude broke up as a couple because things just weren’t working out or whatever. On WHAT PLANET would friends-of-LW ask about dude to her, bring him up all the time, put both people on co-tagged posts, and, even more to the point, ignore specific requests of, ‘Hey, that was a bad breakup, so please don’t mention him, because I’m trying to get over it.” ????

      Like, the people doing these things may not be self-aware enough to see it this way, but they are acting *worse* *because* there was abuse in the situation, they’re acting in ways they *never* would with a ~regular ~breakup, they are showing that they do not believe LW and feel that she has “wronged” dude or something (gross), and regardless of their motives or rationale, that is some pretty sucky behavior.

      LW, you sound awesome, and I am so sorry you are going through this.

  19. Alex said:

    You know, LW, most of the things your friends are saying in regards to him could be forgiven as slips, but actually asking if you’ve heard from him? Not a slip. Not okay. That just smacks to me of whomever said that not really believing you about the abuse, or that it was that bad and are hoping with time that you’ll just act like it never happened. Tagging you both in the same post? Unless they tagged everyone in the post, that was a choice, too, and for the same reason. Seconding what the Captain said about “not” choosing sides. It’s in Lundy Bancroft’s book, too. Not choosing sides when one person is an abuser is actually taking the side of the abuser. Because as you said, HE gets to live a normal life and keep most of his friends. YOU can’t sleep. They’ve chosen all right. They’ve chosen him. I know you care about them and want to keep contact with them, but they’re the ones who need to make some major adjustments in their behaviour if they want to remain friends with you, rather than requiring it of you. I’m sure your ex hasn’t had to make a single adjustment in his behaviour in order to remain friends with them, and even if he has, that’s the least he can do as an abuser. You shouldn’t have to be. Nthing the make new friends comments. If they really want you in their lives, they’ll come to you and apologize for being shitty friends. If they don’t and they let you go, then they were never very good friends to begin with (though I think that’s already the case).

    • Marna Nightingale said:

      I would find it extremely difficult, in the case of my personal Abusive Ex, not to respond to “have you heard from Darth?” with “Do you hear sirens?”

      • Cypress said:

        This is possibly the best reply in the history of ever, and I am stealing it for future purposes, just so you know.

      • Heh! My mom once said to me (about my child abuser brother, molester of my daughter), “Oh, you don’t really mean you never want to see him again. I wish he could just walk in the door (he was in prison) right now!” Me: “No, you don’t, Mom. Blood is really hard to get out of the carpet.” Her: “FINE! Then we just won’t talk about it ANY MORE!!” Of course, she DID…. *sigh*

    • neverjaunty said:

      So much this. They’re not “not choosing sides”, LW, They are choosing HIS side, and trying to pretend they’re doing it in in the interests of Being Fair and Staying Out Of Drama.

      Those people are not your friends. They are deliberately poking at a wound so you’ll shut up and let them pretend there’s nothing wrong with being friends with your ex. Screw them and the bees they rode in on.

  20. Marna Nightingale said:

    So, here’s a thing I’ve never quite put into words before: generally speaking, where you find Darth Vader, you find Stormtroopers.

    Darths dislike operating completely alone with no cover: they may isolate YOU, but they like to have THEIR team firmly in place.

    The No Sides/No Drama Squad make awesome Stormtroopers. They can be relied upon to go into protective fits as soon as somebody starts using actual plain words about what Darth has done – don’t say abuse! Or rape! Or predator! Or be BLAMEY! TWO SIDES! – or sets up boundaries – you’re asking me to change my behaviour! Darth never asks me to change my behaviour! (No, honey, Darth doesn’t ASK.) – or otherwise stands up and says THERE IS A HEAVILY ARMED DUDE IN A BLACK MASK IN HERE AND I AM GRABBING MY LIGHTSABER AND GETTING THE FUCK OUT ARE YOU COMING OR WHAT? – UGH DRAMA WHY ARE YOU MAKING SUCH A BIG DEAL OF THIS!?!?

    • JenniferP said:

      STORMTROOPERS. BRILLIANT.

      I am going to kick myself for a year for not thinking of that. :bows down:

      • I blush. 🙂

        To be serious tho’ I think there’s a certain difficulty – not quite a GSF but something – in crossing that line from thinking of The Problematic Friends as people who just need some gentle nudging to assigning them a name that dumps a big pile of Agency and Bad Choices on them.

        And yet. The people who Wouldn’t Take Sides wrt my dear friend’s abusive ex 15 years back have since gone on to NTS wrt my abusive ex and two known harasser/predators in my community.

        So I no longer think of them as innocent bystanders, Fooled by Darth.

        I conclude that they enjoy the work, think the uniforms suit them, and are otherwise actively available for HenchPerson gigs.

        • Owl Whispers said:

          What is GSF and NTS?

          • Marna Nightingale said:

            Geek Social Fallacy/ies and Not Taking Sides, respectively.

        • Owl Whispers said:

          Thank you for the clarification! 8D

        • Courtney said:

          “I conclude that they enjoy the work, think the uniforms suit them, and are otherwise actively available for HenchPerson gigs.”

          Yep. They couldn’t make the cut for the Evil League of Evil, so they settled for the Henchmen’s Union.

          • neverjaunty said:

            Indeed. (Also, yes, Stormtroopers: brilliant.)

        • Melanie Chorisglossa said:

          “So I no longer think of them as innocent bystanders, Fooled by Darth.

          I conclude that they enjoy the work, think the uniforms suit them, and are otherwise actively available for HenchPerson gigs.”

          Yes, this.

          Skipping over a long personal-history intro, to the point where after a serious, hobby-related dispute, I simply walked away from the group, as there was nothing left to save, and there were plenty of other interests I could pursue and build on.

          Something like a year later, one of the secondaries made an approach to me regarding Original Perp, in the frame of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” She wanted to whine to me about how Original Perp, who she backed in the first dispute, had something of hers and was refusing to give it back. I had no patience with this, saying that I was not prepared to listen, and she should stop messing around and involve the police to get back her property.

          “But we know now that Original Perp was a Really Bad Person.”

          The good captain’s work here gave me the necessary foundation to respond: “Yes, that’s nice that you know now that Original Perp had been acting manipulatively. But however bad you say he is, my point is that he had *ALLIES*.”

          The people in LW’s life who are trying all that stuff? Captain Awkward has them *so* sussed. I’m really sorry, LW, that you’re the one being forced to give up those connections due to the continuous toxicity, but it is NOT YOUR FAULT. It hurts to have to move on, but I can second from direct experience the extra advice of the Captain’s about making a promise to yourself, to respond to every one of those instances where a “friend” attempts to force a dose of that toxicity on you with a small step to expand your world in a different direction. (I sometimes choke at the notion of something so global as “Find new friends!” – it’s too intimidating!)

          • unlurking said:

            Agreed. I have definitely had the gf-of-dude-immediately-after-me come up to me much later, after *they* had broken up, to tell me, “It wasn’t you.” And I’m likewise thankful that by that time, I had enough of a foundation re-built, to respond: “Yes. I know.”

    • Oh, I *like* you.

    • helbling said:

      YES. YES, SO MUCH THIS.

      And you know what abusers love getting a kick out of? Turning your Team Me into their Stormtroopers. Thankfully I shared 0 friends with my abusive ex so when I waltzed off into the sunset I left behind no one I gave a fuck about, but I’ve watched friends go through this and lose pretty much their entire social circle in the process, even if the social circle was theirs and not the Darth’s before they got together. It generally starts with the Darth isolating them from their friends, but then blaming that lack of contact on their partner if ever questioned about it, and then they use that opening to ply for sympathy from said friends and gradually a wedge is inserted and grows through underhanded gaslight-y tactics, and if they’ve had YEARS to work on this, or those friends were not particularly close to start with, you can lose EVERYONE. And all because Darths seem to focus in on anything that is important or dear to you and do what they can to CONTROL OR REMOVE THAT TOO.

      It’s what drives me up the wall about some of the crap the ‘why don’t you just leave?!’ brigade comes out with sometimes. ‘Surely you can stay with a friend?!’
      ‘No, no, I can’t, because Darth TOOK THEM ALL.’

      • Sleepy (LW) said:

        Yeah. Most of the people who are doing this were small-doses friends already, in part because he didn’t like me to be around them without him, but also wanted all of my time spent with him to be just with him, etc, but when I tried to come back, it looked like I was the one who had pulled away (because he went out to visit them when we were dating and I never did)

      • Jami said:

        This happened to me, with the only slight difference being that the “Darth” in my situation was a male “friend” from my church friend circle who started out as just a sensitive, and overly-interested/caring guy, turned into being extremely possessive of my time and attention for YEARS, and ended after some very harassing/hostile behavior during the final weeks. We were serving on the same ministry team together, and even tried to start our own business together…so during the last year we spent A LOT of time together, and that’s when the controlling behavior really started to escalate. (That’s a creepy story by itself…I’m glad that after 4 years I was able to extricate myself from this situation, and had JUST enough support to do it). All the while, he’d tell me unflattering things about our mutual friends, under the guise of concern…or just “randomly” point out to me how it was obvious that I felt like I didn’t fit in with the rest of the group (everyone was having kids, and my husband and I weren’t), so that he could reassure me that he was the only one that really “got” me. UGH. In hindsight, I realize that this was totally his way of driving a wedge between me and the rest of the group and still looking like a wonderful person doing it.

        After I decided to seriously pull-back from this friendship, I got crap from the allies (my former friends who “didn’t want to take sides”) who told me that I was unfair for putting distance between him and I without giving him an explanation. (Part of the creepy story I mentioned above includes the fact that he was a repeated boundary violator, and that I confronted him multiple times about the specific things he was doing.) Not one person actually asked for my side of the story. I knew it was too late, and the water had been poisoned. I didn’t handle this well, and basically made an ass out of myself by outting him and his behavior in a long and angry Facebook post. While I wouldn’t advise dealing with anger about gossip & lost friendships by stooping to this level, it certainly is one way to make it weird (for the whole world…) and weed out several of those “neutral” friends. Some of them unfriended me on social media and completely ignored me at church. I probably confirmed their suspicion that I was a toxic troublemaker. Oh man, it hurt. But that was over a year ago and husband and I have since moved far away and have new friends. 🙂

        • Guava said:

          I am sorry this happened to you. Something like it has happened to me too. A former friend would throw a big old guilt trip fit every time I’d spend time with another friend. She’d cry and pout and act hurt that she wasn’t invited or included – even when I spent time with friends who didn’t know her, or had never been introduced. And if it was a mutual acquaintance, the guilt trip was even worse. I realized early on that she wasn’t a good or safe person to include in my friend group, so I mostly spent time with her in one-on-one settings. Even so, she was so needy that I ended up not having the time or bandwidth to make many new friends. Little did I know that she was socially targeting all of the mutual acquaintances that she’d been ‘training’ me to avoid. Once I cut her out of my life, she had a ready-made group of new friends, some of whom believed I was standoffish because I’d avoided getting to know them better — because I was afraid of being punished by her.

          It also doesn’t help that, after you’ve been around someone like that, you end up feeling really unsure of yourself and distrustful of putting yourself out there with other people, so the making new friends part and the social games with the ex get even more challenging.

          • Jami said:

            “It also doesn’t help that, after you’ve been around someone like that, you end up feeling really unsure of yourself and distrustful of putting yourself out there with other people, so the making new friends part and the social games with the ex get even more challenging.”

            Absolutely, Guava. The friends, who I once had respect for, were doing all the perp’s dirty work for him now, by putting the onus on ME to make sure we were all one big happy family again. Throwin’ the “Christian unity” and “grace” daggers at me in long eloquent emails. I had to fight hard to not believe that I was the source of what Perp made into a big stupid fiasco. Eventually, I chose to leave the things I enjoyed just to get some clarity. I think the hyper-vigilance I carried with me when we moved has been wearing down though…the world is full of wonderful people, and especially where I’m at now, there isn’t as much risk of “groupthink”.

            I hope you’re healing up from your situation. Man, it must be exhausting for these abusive people to commit to a lifestyle of impression management and covering their ass, when they could just put the work into being better people.

          • Guava said:

            Hey Jami, this is a response to you, but I couldn’t figure out how to nest it beneath your comment. Ah, the old “Christian unity” and “grace” daggers…in my town, it’s all about “good karma” and “don’t hold onto bad vibes! Forgiveness/Namaste!” I still have to see my Darla Vader on a weekly basis, we have kids at the same school. The only plus side to the constant contact is that enough time has passed that Darla’s new friends are starting to see her true colors, little by little. I am starting to get curious looks and covert smiles from these people, like they’re maybe realizing I wasn’t the problem after all. I agree, it takes so much effort and commitment to be a PR Darth. Glad you moved to a new place and have new friends!

      • Rowan said:

        Urgh, yes. My ex spent the whole time we were together saying he was uncomfortable with going out local to us (because he’d moved to my town, his old town was a much more sociable place blah blah) so we almost NEVER went out. Then, when we broke up, I thought “ooh, I can go to all of those places again” but NO because he suddenly decided they were now his favourite places ever. And promptly took his new girlfriend there. Thanks for that, cockmunch.

      • warmfuzzydyke said:

        Holy crap, this goes a long way toward explaining what happened to me in queer community when I was in college after I slept with someone I shouldn’t have. And then what happened when I stupidly slept with them again after we’d graduated. The first time they took my main friend-circle of dykes and gay men, who suddenly, under their influence, started being flakier about our plans, having weird pockets of silence when they hung out with me, and excluding me from social events–only one of them owned up to it when I talked to them about it, which–was honest of him, but confirmed that I pretty much couldn’t trust any of the people in that circle anymore. The second time, they aggressively pursued friendship with my housemate that ostentatiously excluded me but meant they were in my house ALL THE TIME. They ended up living with him after our housing arrangement dissolved, and I am still glad to have learned my lesson the second time around.

    • Courtney said:

      Win. You Win the Internet!

    • Cactus said:

      Yep. And since Darth is used to being in charge, and gets to continue to live a normal life, he appears more stable. Meanwhile the victim’s life will be a shambles. And the more stormtroopers Darth has, the more normal he seems, because normal people have friends, of course (which conveniently ignores the fact that Darths isolate their victims). It all plays into his hand.

      • Sleepy (LW) said:

        That’s one of the things that gets me. I know I look crazy next to him because he looks normal and nice! (and his narrative of the breakup was that he wanted to get married and have kids one day and I didn’t, which is this horrible weird half-truth) and I had previously dx’d psych stuff and a lot of the abuse stuff is hard to explain and he never hit me so here I am almost two years later still flinching and panicking over what looks like little nothing-things while he’s the same as always. I’m so afraid of looking Crazy that I don ‘t communicate my boundaries very well, but then again I’m afraid of everything.

        • wordiest said:

          It gets recommended around here a lot, so I’m going to recommend it to you. Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He Do That? I read it recently myself, and I think you may find it helpful. One of the things it can help do is to put words and explanations to the harder to explain parts of abuse. A lot of abuse does look like little things that are hard to verbalize. Many abusers are good at figuring out ways to hurt, while each individual incident seems minor or like the part that was a problem isn’t clear. I wouldn’t necessarily bother explaining the abuse better to everyone you know (although possibly to some of them – I’d probably take it case by case to see if it feels right to do so), but I think having better ways to explain what happened can be useful for yourself. It won’t undo anything that happened, but I think it’s easier to understand how it happened and why it hurt so much when you can more clearly see what was done to you. And odds are good that some of the examples given in the book will resonate.

          • newlife said:

            I also on found that The Gaslight Effect by Robin Stern and The Verbally Abusive Relationship
            Book by Patricia Healy Evans along with Why Does He Do That? to be super useful. None of them were spot on with my abusers behavior, but between the three of them I could triangulate a better understanding of what happened to me. Having the words to describe the experience, to myself and friends, has been quite healing.

    • TK said:

      THIS IS ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT.

      It’s so perfect because often they’re not just volunteering for the duty of “Daily Reminder to Luke About Darth’s Life and Feelings”– Darth will actually SEND them. After I left my Darth, we both had a lot of each other’s stuff that we had to return, and he used that to keep in contact with me as long as he could; after I stopped responding, he would whine to mutual friends about how I supposedly owed him money and he JUST wants to get his MONEY back guys he NEEDS it and TK isn’t RESPONDING can’t you HELP????

      I know this because these friends told me after they got away from him, because they eventually came to realize it was FUCKING WEIRD that he would always bring me up and ask after me when I clearly wanted to move on and they didn’t want to get involved. It took a while for them to all take off the uniforms, though.

      Stormtroopers are often following orders, though it doesn’t excuse their shitty behavior.

    • Hannah said:

      This actually expands in a really great way to the name dropping thing the LW’s friends are doing. They aren’t just not helping her escape the Darth, they are blocking the exits and keeping her in the room with him! So like, yeah, they aren’t whipping out their own lightsabers, but they are preventing her from getting away from Darth’s, which is the henchmen’s job in EVERY movie where the bad guy says “*insert hero name here* is mine!”

  21. lasers said:

    Four years ago, I was sexually assaulted by a mentor in my artistic community. The community is national/spread out but tightly connected via facebook. He had a reputation for being edgy, sexual, still acting like a 20something at 40something, etc.– so people have had an easy time believing me. A lot of this is particular to the way my PTSD affected me, but here are some things that worked for me.

    1. Talking about my PTSD, and the way it makes me feel to see people associate with him. All the time, to everyone, including strangers, including people who are still “torn.” This has made it clear to people that I’m *still in pain* and that the window of time where their behavior can help with that pain is not over. When someone upsets me in person, my instinct is always to smooth it over, so this provides a controllable window on how I really feel, and communicates what is and is not OK behavior. Sometimes this can also build connection at a time when your PTSD wants you to be a fortress; sadly, sometimes it can retraumatize.

    1a. I became really vocal about sexual violence and trauma in general. This gave me an outlet for all of the thoughts I was having about boundaries, consent, etc, in general, let my friends know what my baseline standards were, and attracted people to me who had similar perspectives and would support me. (This was at college, so I had a big pool to draw from. YMMV, as always)

    1b. As I started to talk about my assaulter in particular, I suddenly started hearing a lot of people voicing issues they’d always had with him, or sharing their own stories of inappropriateness.

    2. I pulled away from people who are still friendly with him. The assault didn’t happen inside a friend group, which made it easier, but doing this has ended the career I had planned in that field. I once had someone confront me about this– I had invited a couple of people out to drinks, and left him out in a somewhat conspicuous way. He FB messaged me to say “What, am I not cool enough?” I said, “It’s not that, it’s that X, Y, and Z have all distanced themselves from Abuser and supported me, and I have no information about where you’re at on that.” He said, “Oh, yeah, we are still friends. We don’t hang out as much, though.” I said, “Then I’m sure you understand why I’m willing to be friendly but not friends with you.” He’s left me alone since then. (Actually, he told me once that he owed me an apology email, but it… never materialized.)

    2a. It helped me to pre-develop some phrases for African Violet With Extreme Prejudice. There was a subthread on ultimatums in the last letter– FWIW, I find them useful in a case like this. My basic formats are “Ex is abusive. It’s weird that that doesn’t affect your opinion of him,” and “Ex is abusive and left me with PTSD. If you choose to stay close to him, I’ll wish you the best of luck, but we will no longer be friends. I’m sure you can understand my position.”

    3. I moved communities. For me, it was Writing Outlet A to Writing Outlet B, but it could also be that cool friend of a friend you meant to get coffee with, who doesn’t know your abusive ex. It’s tricky to know when to disclose– I always disclose immediately, because then I get information as soon as possible about if this person is capable of being on my team. I also moved across the country a few years later. That’s likely not possible for you, but can you do all the New In Town, Need To Meet People activities?

    4. I was as nice to myself as I could be. Eating good food, watching Netflix if I wanted to, forgiving myself for things that would normally make me ashamed. PTSD can make us really run ourselves thin, so I needed to consciously tell myself it was OK to give myself what I wanted. Sometimes I wanted things in a way that seemed like a product of trauma. For me, the best thing was to note that it might not be the most sustainable want, pursue it cautiously, and check in with myself a lot. What made me feel good six months after the fact was retraumatizing to me a year after the fact. It’s OK to fill short-term wants, and it’s OK to change your mind.

    It’s not clear how long ago you and Abusive Ex broke up– at least a year? These are things I started doing 6-18 months after I was assaulted, and are ongoing. I don’t know how helpful it’ll be for you as advice, but hopefully it is at least helpful to see how somebody else navigated these poison waters.

    • damadafaka said:

      I’m so sorry that happened to you. The way you are dealing with this is impressive and inspiring, you should be proud of yourself.
      *Hugs*

    • Courtney said:

      “he told me once that he owed me an apology email, but it… never materialized”

      Why do people think that “I owe you an apology” actually *IS* the apology? It’s really not.

      • mehting said:

        I actually got “I wrote you an apology email but I guess I never sent it” once. He got mad when I held out for a real apology.

  22. Anne Shirley said:

    LW, I just want to cradle you in a nest of fluffy blankets and Jedi hugs. This happened to me a long time ago, except I was sixteen, he was my first ever boyfriend, and I had barely gotten the courage to break up with him– I wasn’t nearly able to articulate that the way he treated me was abusive. I remember the hurt and sick-to-the-stomach feeling when my friends told me that they weren’t picking sides, when our youth pastor publicly shamed me for dumping him over the phone, when a few years ago my best friend dumped me because they had started dating, and why couldn’t I just hang out with him ///for her???///

    I’m so proud of you for breaking up and getting free and for dealing with your PTSD. I hope you find some nice, worthwhile friends soon; friends that don’t have to “pick sides” because their side is firmly Team You.

  23. Anisoptera said:

    I’m not sure I understand the thought processes of the not-choose-a-side people. I mean something bad has clearly happened – either a) one of your friends abused another of your friends (most likely scenario) or b) one of your friends is lying about being abused in order to harm your other friend (extremely rare, and please note I am not for a second saying I don’t believe the LW, I’m talking about the hypothetical thought process – I err heavily on the side of believing people who report abuse).

    So given those two options for what’s real, how can you not make a decision about what you think reality is, and act accordingly? Would people be all “so and so said such and such murdered their friend, so I’ve decided not to take sides”? Ugh.

    So yeah. A possible response to the not taking sides people – “Do you think I’m lying or exaggerating?” Probably not a helpful conversation to have (and a very stressful one) but perhaps its useful to keep in mind that these people are *acting* as if they don’t entirely believe you, or they think what the abuser did was OK. And those are probably not people you can safely keep in your life.

    • (in a similar situation right now, so this is cutting close to the bone. This is only tangentially related to LWs situation.)

      Sometimes you have a relationship with a person, you hear their account, and you believe it. Your friend/acquaintance is a lovely person, they appear to be genuine, they talk about having problems with someone else (an ex, a boss, whatever), but not in a way that sends up red flags.
      And then the other party says something like ‘I really don’t get on with x’ or ‘we had a bad breakup’ and you think, well, that’s between them. So you continue to have friendly relations with x, which makes you an unsafe person for y to say ‘look, this person deliberately hurt me, badly’, so you *don’t* hear about their abusive nature. And every time someone brings up that x is not a nice person to know, they present evidence… of things that you already knew – hitting a depressed third party’s buttons, but how were they to know that their brusque interaction was a punch in the stomach for that person? and you look at the evidence and conclude that, well, there’s a lot of drama in the world and in the meantime you observe x having perfectly healthy interactions with any number of people, including yourself.

      And suddenly someone else breaks the silence, and you find yourself in a position where you have provided silent support – lurkers supporting in e-mail – for someone who harassed and manipulated members of your community, and you had no idea. And if you’re like me, not wanting to jump into the fray at the first sign of trouble, and feeling completely confused over whom to believe and how bad the situation really is (particularly if the people doing the unveiling of trouble send up red flags) you probably need a while to process that the person you thought was your friend also did some pretty abhorrent things.

      And in the meantime, you may end up wondering how to react and reacting in all kinds of ways, including reaching out to your friend.

      When the stakes are abuse, harassment, stalking, and the like, most decent people *will* take the side of the victim. When asked outright not to mention x, because x is triggering you, and they continue, they’ve picked a side. But there’s a lot of morass in the middle, which when you’re stuck in it is anything but clear, and if anyone has any idea how to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of ‘this person seems like a good person, I want to be friends with them’ and ‘people I trust don’t like this person but can’t (or won’t) give me a significant reason why I should disengage’ then I’d be happy to hear it.

      However. I think here the situation has long moved beyond plausible deniability: tagging people in FB posts, mentioning them in your hearing, and otherwise shoving them in your face are acts that say ‘I do not respect your boundaries one little bit’. Which is a side-choosing in itself.

      • JenniferP said:

        As you say: Not having the whole story is one thing. Constantly needling the victim with friendly “tags” and reminders that you don’t choose sides is another.

        What it comes down to, for me, is that you don’t get to make the choice that you know in your heart is probably the dick move AND seek validation from the victim that you’re still a Good Person and Everything is Fine.

        • tessiselated said:

          I think this is a really good way to put it.

          Something I’ve noticed recently is abusers who are versed in social justice language, and feminist abuse and domestic violence work. There was one breakup in my extended friend circle where both parties were telling wildly different stories – but both claimed that the other was the abuser.

          My personal opinion? That the abuse wasn’t mutual and that one party was responsible. But I am fallible and I could be wrong.

          And in this – I have removed myself from the circles of the person I believe to be the abuser – out of respect for everyone involved. Because if I am wrong, it really does nothing helpful, productive or healing for them to see me close to someone who damaged them.

          It’s late – I hope this reads clearly. I’ll try rephrase if it doesn’t.

      • anon said:

        if anyone has any idea how to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of ‘this person seems like a good person, I want to be friends with them’ and ‘people I trust don’t like this person but can’t (or won’t) give me a significant reason why I should disengage’ then I’d be happy to hear it.

        i find this disingenuous. people will make up all sorts of reasons why the victim’s “reason” isn’t significant (or isn’t nicely enough put, wrt your “red flags”), because they want to explain away why they’re still bffs with an abuser. when the post is “my friends are being my darth’s stormtroopers,” that’s not an invitation for mealy-mouthed rationalization of stormtrooper behavior.

      • wordiest said:

        I can’t tell you how to determine who to trust, but I think, “I’m going to need some time to think about this.” is a fairly good response that is understandable and lets the victim know that you are not firmly on their team, but you aren’t outright siding with the abuser either. It’s not making a decision to treat them as equal, which would be taking a side. And I think needing a bit of time to process a surprising and difficult situation is reasonable. Obviously, work through it without expecting the victim to assist you in your process.

      • Inflectionpoint said:

        This is a hard one for me as well. One thing I have noticed myself lately is that there are some people who are really good at Performing Victim. They’re very good at establishing a reputation as fragile, damaged, delicate, and needing all sorts of help. Lots of people are delicate, fragile, and needing extra support, but we don’t all Perform it as a full time viewable way of living. For me, showing vulnerability is something that has historically been unsafe, so I’m not likely to Perform Victim in a way that’s visible, consistent, and believable.

        It would be neat to be in circles where a person could get help and support by… asking for help and support, and saying, I’m upset, or I’m concerned, or this feels unsafe for me. But in the circles I recently left, that doesn’t work. What does work is Performing Victim in a particular manner. So, these folks who Perform Victim, in some circles, are seen by well meaning, community minded folks (who don’t understand that help and support are things to offer to someone who asks for them, regardless of whether you Perform Victim or not.)

        And yet, these folks can have a different side, a secret side, where they bait, troll, and harass other folks, but that part isn’t done in public. It’s done in secret, it’s done on the down low, and it’s done where noone but the victim sees it.

        I had it happen to me.

        And then I had a discussion about it with a well meaning person, and had to tell them, I’m very sad that you’ll call me out on your concern about (behavior I consider harmless), but you are OK and friendly and warm to a person who baits, trolls, and sends scary creepygrams in private. (I got called out for calling out a creepy harasser who sent me a private creepygram. I consider private harassing messages as threats, and my first response to them is to publish them to the group – I want the group to know what people are doing, and I want it to be undeniable that yes, that is a missing stair.)

        And because the creepygram person is very good at Performing Victim, my former friend told me, oh, they’ve got Damage, and they do Things when they feel spooked.

        And so I learned that in some social circles, if a person Performs Victim in public, they can do all sorts of lousy things in private, and people will keep befriending them and poor-babying them, while folks who call it out will be shunned.

        It’s really hard – I think many abusive people, and people who act in abusive ways are very skilled at doing it on the down low, where it’s deniable, and where it isn’t clearly and unequivocally visible, which means that as a person who calls it out, you are then at risk at being told that you are the bad person.

        Folks who don’t want to get involved in drama, or who want to only talk about what they’ve seen themselves, or who are giving a lot of extra credit to folks who Perform Victim are at risk of being taken in by these people. And when one of these people has targeted you and harmed you, the frustration and pain involved in calling it out and expressing boundaries about the behavior can be maddening.

        • Huh. This is interesting. I’ve seen some Performing Victim behavior, but I’ve never known them to be secretly abusive — I’ve never been the target for their abuse, and I’ve never heard about anything abusive secondhand. Do you think there’s a positive correlation between PVing and secretly abusing, or do you think the PVs are just more successful at getting away with it?

          • Keksen said:

            Butting in to say there is definitely a correlation between abusers and Performing Victims (do not know about the other way around), because entitlement and woe-is-me are often part of the abuser’s mindset. Also, many an abuser will claim to have been abused by their victim. Lundy Bancroft even specifies The Victim as an abuser type:

            “Life has been hard and unfair for the Victim. To hear him tell it, his intelligence has been chronically underestimated; he has been burned by people he trusted; and his good intentions have been misunderstood. The Victim appeals to a woman’s compassion and desire to feel that she can make a difference in his life. He often tells persuasive and heart-rending stories about how he was abused by his former partner, sometimes adding the tragic element that she is now restricting or preventing his contact with his children. He maneuvers the woman into hating his ex-partner and may succeed in enlisting her in a campaign of harassment, rumor spreading, or battling for custody.”

            https://www.facebook.com/notes/becka-nan-amos/abuser-profiles-from-why-does-he-do-that-by-lundy-bancroft/480862655302912

          • Abusers believe they are justified in their abuse. They believe that you have taken something away from them that belongs to them. After I left an abusive partner, and went into solitude and hiding, he publicly proclaimed, any place online that I might see, that I had been abusive. I call this “chasing the van” after Michael Dunn, a man who chased a van full of unarmed teenagers down the road and shot one of the passengers because he felt “threatened” by them. I left all social media. I didn’t talk about it, not wanting to do to him what he was doing to me. Most friends sided with him, never knew what happened, never asked me, never even asked me how I was doing. I internalized responsibility for the abuse, believing that if he said that I had been abusive that I must have been. I didn’t realize that what was happening was just a continuation of the abuse and was very effectively keeping me tied up in a ball of shame and guilt, unable to reconcile what had happened to me with the story that he was telling and keeping me intently focused on him. My understanding now is that this behavior is very very common.

          • ZeldasCrown said:

            I don’t know if all Performing Victim’s are secretly abusive, but since they’re openly manipulative (it’s just disguised so well that people miss it), I’d have to say they generally are abusive in nature (i.e. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the abuse is all that secret-it’s just that people don’t want to see their behavior for what it is). I mean, they’re masters of emotional manipulation, doing so with pretty much every single person they ever meet. They suck up all the available support, and whenever somebody else has something happen that they legitimately need support for (whether or not it involves the PV person directly or even at all), the PV always has something else come up and sucks away all the support from the person who really needs it. It’s always All About Them, and if there’s ever a chance for even one second that it might be about somebody else, watch out. It takes a long time for other people to get wise.

        • Anisoptera said:

          It’s certainly common for abusers to claim they’re the actual victim of abuse. I know a lady who went to anger management training to deal with her own terrible problematic behaviour, only to realise with the help of the training that the problem was her physically abusive husband and he’d spun her head so much she thought it was her fault.

          • winter said:

            Yeah, you can get “weirdly emotional” or “lash out” very easily when you are being abused.

          • Chiaro said:

            I went to a therapist saying I reacted too emotional to situations with my ex and needed therapy so she asked me to give an example and the same thing happened as with your lady. Abusive people are great at convincing the other they are the problem. Which often just gets worse because they’ll have their army that happily agrees with them because they tend to be quite charming.

          • MamaCheshire said:

            I’ve BEEN that lady. Just one of the many things that made Darth Ex a Darth was that he was quite firm in his belief that I was emotionally abusing him, making unreasonable demands, etc.

        • Book Girl said:

          ::flails:: Are you me??? This is exactly what I’ve been dealing with most of this year, the Performing Victim who is a Secret Bully. And who also likes to attack people who don’t, or often can’t, jump to help them with everything they say they need help with. This person is very smart, and very mean. It’s triggered a return of my PTSD. I am very very lucky with this Performing Victim, as for the first time in my life I do have a Team Me, who are willing to run interference (that was part of what made PV target me, I think, they were VERY jealous of my support network). Unfortunately the city I live in is not very big and the area of social justice I work and socialise in is very small, so there will be the ongoing risk of encountering this person, and at the moment they have decided out of the blue that they want to be involved in organising a group event, so I have to think about them more than I would like to. But again, having a Team Me helps.

          And thank dawg for the block feature on FB and email filters…

          Your last two paragraphs, oh, yes. Such manipulative people.

          • Inflectionpoint said:

            I’m so sorry to hear that this resonated for you. It’s awful to experience.

            I’m very hurt how it went down, and heartbroken that the person who chose to call me out for Thing A, did not take any action at all, even after I brought the attack by the person who Performs Victim to their attention. I got told, to my face, that they only take action on things that happen in front of them. OK then. Good to know.

            I am super proud of myself that I called them out and told them – no, it’s not OK to call me out for Thing A (which did not hurt anyone, but doesn’t fit with their idea of “civility)” while you write a pass for nasty trolling and creepy secret threats because a person has “Damage.”
            They were shocked. I guess this is the first time it’s been brought up that no, Damage, doesn’t excuse doing nasty threatening things.

            I don’t have much of a Team Me, and I’m still heartbroken at losing what I thought was a friend, but would now call a “friend.” I don’t know what to do next, because after how this went down, I’m apprehensive to even try to make new friends. I don’t want to go through this horror show again.

        • Yup, and when it involves colleagues and career it just gets worse. I once had a friend tell me “I believe you, I just don’t know what you want me to do about it” She was referring to the woman who had ignored my spouse’s boundaries & eventually stalked him because she wanted a special secret friend for narcissistic supply. Well, don’t invite us to dinner at the same time you have invited her & her spouse for starters. Don’t talk about them all the time like they are awesome people. But the allure of the one who looks sane – no drama when you aren’t the one running away and putting up walls and nursing your psychic wounds- and of being the bigger person at work, who “gets along with everyone” is too much for most people. I understand *why* she wants to remain “neutral” because she has big ambitions and the perpetrator is an up-and-comer who has not shown her dark (online) underbelly. Sadly, my spouse and I have had to pretend that nothing happened at work too, so as not to look “crazy.” We only confided in this one colleague and she totally let us down, so we know better now.

          • Chris said:

            “But the allure of the one who looks sane – no drama when you aren’t the one running away and putting up walls and nursing your psychic wounds – and of being the bigger person at work, who ‘gets along with everyone’ is too much for most people.”

            This is very true and, I think, where the second wave of problems comes in (even if you’ve distanced yourself from the initial problem). It can be so hard to dig out of these situations.

        • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

          Oh, absolutely this! My ex-Darth could whip out the Tales of Woe and Crocodile Tears on demand as he needed for new (and usually female) audiences, but in real life behind closed doors I never once saw him cry from grief or remorse or sorrow–but I saw PLENTY of simmering rage and cruelty. Performing Victim is the best phrase I’ve ever heard to describe it, thank you for writing this.

          • Inflectionpoint said:

            I’m glad it was helpful. It happens to hit my old damage very hard. I was neglected (and a lot more) as a child, and this probably shaped me into a person who doesn’t Perform Victim, and has trouble asking for support in more regular ways, because I had years of experience teaching me that it wouldn’t help and probably would hurt me.

            I’m disgusted that there are people who are taken in by it, but I can see how it happens. I did confront the person who was hurtful to me while writing the Performer a total pass for their secret creepy threats, because… I thought they might change their ways if they were alerted to the presence of a giant Missing Stair right there in front of them.

            And nope. They just dumped it on me. Apparently, some people “lash out when they feel someone is threatening.” Oh really? That is heading toward the territory of, “You made me hit you/yell at you/hurt you, because I lash out when I feel X.” I think it’s best if people can feel their feelings without it harming others. And the statement seemed to write a pass, saying that this person can do so without consequence.

            How about a giant, steaming, endless cup of NO?

            I’ve learned I should avoid both the Performer, and the person who said that to me, but it’s heartbreaking. There’s a part of me that wants them to admit, dude, what I did to you was lousy. And wrong. But that isn’t going to happen. I don’t think that learning to Perform Victim is a good strategy for me, and I’ve bailed on that toxic circle.

            I just don’t know what to do next. I excised the whole thing, like a toxic growth. And now I’ve got a big old wound there.

        • Cassandra said:

          Ugh. I don’t know the specifics of your situation but this REALLY resonates with some stuff I’m dealing with right now, so it’s reassuring to read.

          • Inflectionpoint said:

            I’m sorry to hear that and good luck getting through it. If you find anything that works well, would you be willing to share the method or tactic? I am at a loss myself.

      • “When the stakes are abuse, harassment, stalking, and the like, most decent people *will* take the side of the victim.”

        That is not something that is borne out in reality. Not to jump on you but far too much of the time it’s the victims who are left out in the cold because a vast majority of people do not want to deal.

        • Chris said:

          I agree and I think twodactyls hit the nail on the head in terms of why this happens (not that it is right).

      • twomoogles said:

        Oof, yes. I have also been in a very confusing situation involving two people both accusing each other of bad things at different times, but the stories would change on both sides, and it was…very very hard to know if I was ever ‘supporting the Darth’ because I legitimately *did not know* who the Darth was, or even if there was one, or if they both were.

        this is a really different situation though, because in my situation, both people *did* try to get other people involved (and not just in a ‘I cant’ be friends with people who still talk to ex’ way) whereas the LW is very clearly doing the opposite and trying to avoid all of that. I think in this case there’s some really clear issues here that go farther than “person is still friends with my ex” which are more like…person keeps completely ignoring my stated wishes and brings up ex all the time, which just…*why*???? (OK I can think of a few reasons, and none of them are good and many of them involve the ex asking friends to fish’ for information.)

        • monologue said:

          This is the key I think. Even in situations like you describe here where you honestly don’t know if there is a darth or who the darth is, you can still respect a friend’s wishes if they say, “I’m not friends with this person anymore and want no contact. Please do not mention them to me.” Or if you can’t, you can do them the courtesy of ending the friendship.

          • winter said:

            +1 All of this stuff is very actionable. You don’t have to understand, believe, know anything about this situation to listen to Sleepy’s requests.

        • FlyBy said:

          Yes, there’s a difference between “I’m not sure what’s going on here” and “I’m not taking sides”. Only one of them claims to know how to handle the situation better than the people involved in it.

      • Anisoptera said:

        I’ve been in the situation of having a friend tell me someone was terrible bad no good but refuse to give me even a vague outline of why. I get that sometimes a story isn’t yours to tell, but I would accept “he assaulted someone I knew” (that’s what it turned out to be in the end when I got the story many years later) even without naming names or providing details I could use to identify the victim. I agree that it’s very difficult to choose to shun someone when you have absolutely no information at all other than one other friend insisting that person is bad in an unsoecified way. Especially when “bad” could mean anything from doesn’t take his turn buying rounds up to is definitely a rapist. I feel like I at least want to know the vague outline of what a person is known to have done before I decide to shun them for it just because I don’t know how well my criteria for shunning line up with my friends.

        Having said all that, when I say I’m freaked out by the not take sides people, I mean the ones who were literally told what happened. I once lived in the same block of flats with a friend whose ex was physically abusive to her and their children (I literally saw it happen) and even though this lady had me, my boyfriend, and some of our other friends backing up her story as eye witnesses mutual friends still insisted on remaining neutral and continued to welcome this (insert rude words here) scumbag to our shared hobby community. And that is just…what.

      • Here’s a rubric I use. Like any rubric, it’s imperfect, but it works a large percentage of the time.

        When A & B break up, and both of them say things like “yeah that didn’t end well” or “that was a bad break up” or “I don’t know, we’re trying to be friends but we need time”, probably these are normal people having a normal breakup.

        When A & B break up, and they both have (possibly conflicting) stories about it involving abusive behavior from the other person, the one who uses slurs like “crazy” and “bitch” is the abusive one.

        When A & B break up, and A says B was abusive, and B says they don’t know why the breakup happened and they really want everything to be fixed, B is the abuser.

        When A & B break up, and A says B was abusive, and B says normal things like “yeah that didn’t end well” or “that was a bad break up”, reserve judgement, because about half the time B is abusive and trying to make sure they look normal, and about half the time A is abusive and trying to make B look bad. Eventually, if you keep quiet and respect boundaries, their other behavior will let you know which one is which. This is the morass, of course, but respecting boundaries is the only way to end up out of the morass, because eventually you’ll notice that A has a million stories in which they are always the victim, or that ALL of B’s exes seem to hate them, or whatever.

        • JenniferP said:

          I think this is how I mostly roll intuitively, awesome to see it laid out so clearly, especially the “S/he who smelt it dealt it” factor of calling exes “crazy,” etc.

        • Ginny said:

          This is a pretty good rubric 🙂
          It would not have worked with my Darth Ex though, because he actually did not use the word “crazy”, but told people how much he respected me and how talented I am, and how it was such shame that I had such a wrong view of events and what had happened! And how it was saddening to him to see that I had created this rather odd story about what had happened. He told me this as well. I felt like I was going crazy, because I could see what happened, I experienced it, I was still experiencing it and he was telling me that my experiences — of the things that he was doing — were totally wrong or not happening.

          He is a very senior academic at a large institution and is VERY convincing — people believe what he says. He managed to get people to believe he was running a startup that was worth millions, when it was all a total sham.

          • secretrebel said:

            I dunno. From the first line of how you describe him I find his reported speech very paternalistic and unconvincing. I hope I wouldn’t have believed him in person. I’m sorry that people did.

          • Someone linked the abuser profiles from lundy bancroft somewhere, and it does seem like it fits some warning flags from those, though!

            “I can easily convince other people that you’re the one who is messed up.”

            “A man who has left a relationship with bitterness should nonetheless be able to talk about his ex-partner as a human being, with some understanding of what her side of the conflicts was and some ways he might have contributed to what went wrong. If he speaks in degrading or superior ways about her, or makes everything that went wrong in the relationship her fault, be careful, because it is likely that he was the abusive one.”

            I don’t think I’ve run into your particular Darth Ex type, but it sounds like that kind of weird talk is worth keeping in mind. *shudder*

          • nada said:

            I’m not the original rubric poster, but reading your story (I am so sorry that happened to you) I would actually match you up with scenario 3, which does make it actually work with you.

          • Ginny said:

            @secretrebel (I can’t reply to your comment directly because the nesting reached its maximum) — thank you, this makes me feel better, actually — the possibility that someone would see through him is reassuring.

          • random said:

            Yeah this is a super roundabout way of saying “crazy” which is more convincing than saying it outright.

        • MamaCheshire said:

          Wow. That…shed tremendous light on a really messed-up breakup between two of my once-close friends. Very useful!

      • Anyonemouse said:

        …you probably need a while to process that the person you thought was your friend also did some pretty abhorrent things.
        and
        how to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of ‘this person seems like a good person, I want to be friends with them’ and ‘people I trust don’t like this person but can’t (or won’t) give me a significant reason why I should disengage

        It seems to me that if your friend is doing “abhorrent” things to people, that in itself qualifies as a significant reason to disengage, no?

        That said, I have had the experience of finding out that a long-time friend (call him Bob) had been abusing another friend (call her Alice), including heavy use of gas-lighting… and I was not immediately ready to drop Bob from my life and give up on him completely. (He put on an impressive show of being all torn-up sorry about it and willing to change and so forth.) And even then, I thought it was COMPLETELY OBVIOUS that when hanging out with Bob my role was to encourage his reform, NOT let him downplay the seriousness of his abuse, and NOT EVER be a conduit for him to get a voyeuristic glimpse into what Alice was up to. And when hanging out with Alice, I never for a second tried to argue that WHAT HE DID was anything but abuse and unequivocally unacceptable. I never brought Bob up, though I was fine with discussing him when she wanted to, and I most certainly would not have pushed her to reconcile or “get over it already”. This reached the point where I told Bob to his face that Alice wasn’t comfortable being at social events with him, and as the abuser he was going to have to take the hit, not her. So Alice got first refusal to all group events, and if she said she was coming, Bob was not invited.

        This solution was obviously imperfect for a few reasons, such as a) it expected a LOT of trust for Alice to discuss her recovery process with me and take me at my word that none of it was leaking to Bob, when she knew I was still associating with him, b) it put the onus on her to decide whether to exclude herself or exclude Bob when social events came up… Fortunately, this scenario didn’t last too long before Bob decided he wasn’t okay with these terms and removed himself from the scene.

        I hope my experience provides a helpful example of the difference between “not taking sides” which is BS for all the reasons already given by the Captain and various commenters, and being unready to hit the SHUN button as soon as you discover a friend is engaging in abusive behavior. I think the minimum standard for “how to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis” is a lot of attention to boundaries, a lot of reminding yourself with brutal honesty that you are in a friendship with an abuser, and a hard-and-fast rule to prioritize the needs of the abuse survivor(s) over the needs of the abuser when the choice comes up, even though that will be very uncomfortable. And that’s all premised on the condition that you believe the abuser is actively taking all needed steps to not be an abuser any more, of course.

        • Once I knew the extent of the behaviour, I disengaged; but until then, I had on the one hand a person who showed some negative personality traits, but who seemed otherwise a decent person with whom I and others had positive interactions, and people going ‘avert, NO’ without giving reasons.

          And my fence-sitting provided an abuser with an environment in which they could operate. But I’m also coming to see that they were manipulating people well: one the one hand, you had side A, saying ‘I know this is a no-good, horrible person, here’s some fairly mild public evidence that surely backs me up’, on the other you had side B saying ‘I’ve seen the ‘evidence’ and don’t think it’s a reason to shun person X forever; A is being unreasonable’.
          And the people who knew of the abusive behaviours could not understand why others kept defending X, and people who knew only the public face of X could not understand the hostility, and X didn’t really have to do anything other than keep their abuse well hidden.

          “a hard-and-fast rule to prioritize the needs of the abuse survivor(s) over the needs of the abuser when the choice comes up, even though that will be very uncomfortable.”

          I don’t think I can do that right now, and I’m not certain I ever will. (Which does not mean I don’t wish the abuser friends, because everybody needs them; I just wish them friends who were not duped and who have excellent boundaries; and as you say, there needs to be some reform involved.) Right now, the person I thought I was friends with has turned out not to exist, which pretty much dissolves the friendship. (Which is not to say that I didn’t have FEELS about that. But that’s for me to process.)

  24. InContemptoftheSocialNiceties said:

    Not picking a side = these folks are taking a complicit attitude towards abuse and violence. It is easier than implementing social consequences for heinous actions such as those of your abuser. Tacit social acceptance means that they are too lazy to appropriately SHUN that person for being a terrible human. These people may not (yet?) have the character you want in your friendships. Keep it in mind when you allow your interactions with them to hurt you or take up your mental space.

    Time helps with this shit. Sorry you have had to go through this, it is a freaking nightmare.

  25. tawg said:

    I’ve gotten increasingly direct about how much I don’t want even mentions of my ex in my life. “Hey, have you seen what [ex] is up to?” “No, because I work very hard to keep him out of my life. How about you never mention him to me again”.

    Sometimes people get huffy about it. “Wow tawg, you sure are overreacting. You should have gotten over this by now!” “Nah. Stop talking. Change the subject. Don’t talk to me about this again.” I’ve just… I’ve run out of fucks to give about ~other people’s feelings~ when it comes to my gaslighting and manipulative ex. You bring him up to me, I’m going to make it an incredibly awkward experience that you will regret. If that harshes our hangout for you, you can stop bringing him up or you can stop hanging out with me. Whichever you prefer.

    No, I get that getting into someone’s face is not for everyone. It took me a year and some therapy to get to that point. But you can call it out. If you get tagged on FB, just say in the post “Hey, don’t tag me in stuff with my ex. You know how I feel about him, and why I don’t want that. Quit doing it”. Or you can get just lie about how effective extensions are – “I didn’t see this until someone told me about it, because I’ve blocked one of the names you tagged on this post. I don’t see anything with that name attached to it, which is how I want things. So if you specifically want me to see posts or respond to stuff, please keep that in mind. Or just don’t tag me in stuff – that also works for me.”

    So yeah. People who “haven’t picked a side” are not on your team, and you don’t have to take that shit with a smile and sweet manners, you know?

    • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

      YES! You, and LW (and all the other Alderaanians whose planets were blown up by Darth & co.) are not responsible to nursemaid other people’s feelings *about YOUR feelings*! They want to do as they please with your sanction/compliance, and that is not cool. By now you’ve already spent enough time cutting your life into smaller and smaller pieces to suit Darth and his stormtrooper buddies, so big old NOPE to that.

    • jdrives said:

      There is a graveyard for Fucks About Other Peoples’ Feelings and I hope LW’s fucks can see themselves there.

  26. Courtney said:

    Wow, this is so spot-on, Captain! You PSA needs to be spread far and wide.

    There is no such thing as not choosing sides once you know about an abusive situation.

    There is not knowing about the abuse. There is also knowing what happened and not being in a position to completely stop contact with the abuser (like being a neighbor or co-worker or a relative in a family where cutting off the abuser means cutting off the rest of your family too.)

    In my opinion, the only ethical thing to do if you know about the abuse and are maintaining contact with both the abuser and the victim is to commit yourself to being an abuser-free zone when you are hanging with the victim. No bringing the abuser up, no FB tags, no invites to the same events, nothing. Imagine a bubble around the victim where the abuser is not allowed. You are only allowed inside that bubble if you bring nothing of the abuser with you.

  27. booke_belle said:

    I haven’t read any of the other comments yet, but holy shit, LW, do I feel for you!

    My situation is sort of similar: recently got myself out of a sexually, emotionally, verbally and financially abusive poly relationship, and was diagnosed with PTSD, but have to see them every week if I want to attend my religious meetings. (I am Pagan in a hostile environment and there are few other groups in town, and none I know how to contact.) They assassinated my character with the group, and have nagged the president to get me to talk to them, who has in turn approached me about it and urged me to consider talking to them because apparently the hostile environment created by their smear campaign is destroying group morale and it is my job to fix it for some reason.

    Tl;dr Your situation sucks so much. Your friends are not being very friendly at all here! I think they are feeling awkward about knowing that your abusive Lizard is abusive, and they don’t know how to handle wanting to be friends with both of you, and are trying to pressure you to kiss and make up or at least pretend for the sake of their own peace of mind that you still like him and are interested in hearing about him so they can sleep better at night and look at themselves in the mirror without seeing a monster enabler staring back. In a way it seems like they are trying to get you to join them in their fantasy world where Lizard isn’t such a bad abuser person so they can go on believing their own make-believe bullshit and not have to do make a choice that with heavy moral implications.

    You are NOT being the unreasonable one at all. They are. Completely. And it sucks that you might have to lose them to gain back your peace. It’s not fair. I hope for your sake they are decent people and will do as you ask, because gods does it suck to believe that someone had your back and find out that maybe all they had was your elbow, or a finger.

    The Captain is spot on here. I just want to add, Captain, that this is so timely for me also in my struggles with my group and my frustration with the unfairness of maybe having to give up my social religious life and go solitary all because my abusers are pillars of the community and well-liked and well-respected not only by those in power, but by others generally.

    Jedi hugs LW if you want them! Keep on being amazing.

    • Anisoptera said:

      AAAAGH! That thing where people ask the victim of someone else’s terrible behaviour to talk to the person victimising them and “sort it out” because the abuse they’re suffering is harshing everyone else’s vibe and why won’t they fix it already.

      That specific behaviour can die in a fire. Soon please. I am very familiar with it from growing up, where whenever I stood up for myself to my emotionally abusive mother, my dad or my brother would tell me that I was just making it worse and don’t get her worked up and you know how she is and just let her have her way…. >:-(

      I’m sorry people are doing that to you. And I’m sorry you don’t feel like you have options other than this group because it doesn’t sound like a very healthy one. 😦

  28. the cat in the mask said:

    That PSA is the absolute truest thing ever.

  29. Ginny said:

    Oh wow, reading the advice and the comments has been really moving for me. Thank you Captain and all the commenters who shared their stories.

    I went through a similar experience earlier this year and your advice and the comments made me realize (1) I am not alone and (2) it’s NOT OK to “not take sides” and (3) and it is OK for me to be scathing or ditch those who behave like this.

    I lived with a man who was in the process of getting divorced from his 2nd wife. He is very charismatic. Like, very very very. He told me I was the love of his life, that he wanted to have a child with me. He told me his marriage was over. I believed him. I also worked with him on a project he created and was paid a very low wage for that by the college where he has a senior position. Then without even telling me, he dumped me — I was on a short trip thousands of miles away at a place I had lived before I moved to live with him. The day before I went he insisted on having sex with me. All my things were in his apartment; he would not let me come get them. He just said, oh we’re done — I’m so pleased you are enjoying your life in [place 1000s of miles away where I had no job, family, friends, or home].” I soon found out he was NOT getting divorced and that he had been seeing/ sleeping with his not-very-ex wife all the time we were together. He expected me to continue working on the project (though he tried to get his college to pay the wages I was owed into his bank account). He mailed me some of my stuff but they were torn and broken and in one case covered in a white sticky substance. He also sent me someone else’s underwear. There’s lots of other stuff he did as well. I told some of this story before.

    So I told him never to contact me again. But he got some of the friends I made when I was working with him to contact me on his behalf and try to get me to do more work for free on his project. They knew a lot of what had happened & that I was in a bad situation and that I had asked this man to not contact me again. When I said that I didn’t want to talk about him or the project they said that they did not want to take sides and were just passing on messages. So I felt bad, as if maybe I was being hysterical and unreasonable. He even got one of these “friends” to film him making a video address to me, which disclosed some very personal things I told him, and put it on YouTube.

    • winter said:

      What the fuck?? :O I am so sorry. Any one of the things this man did is outrageous, but the whole is so so much worse. Also, these friends/connections are scum. Like, no. None of this is okay. The only reason they would have needed to not run intereference is the info that you don’t want to be contacted by evil ex. That should be the sign to go “No, can’t help you.” But they knew details?! They have treated you really badly and you have all the reasons the be angry, I promise.

    • Anisoptera said:

      Oh my god what!!! I’m so sorry that happened to you. This is a good reminder that passing on messages can be seriously problematic when you know that someone is trying to cut someone else off.

      Also. Wow. That guy. :-O

  30. Grundy said:

    I love that PSA. A lot of the things on this site you can find in other places online if you look for them, but not that. At least, not easily. And it is absolutely something that is needed.

    Here are the “sides” in an abuse situation:
    Abuser: I want to abuse the victim and/or other people and have no-one try to stop me or otherwise make my life difficult for doing so. I want everyone to just keep going about their business and not interfere so I can abuse people in peace.
    Victim: I need to be away from the abuser and for people to not compromise my safety by passing on my personal details. Also, I need people to not constantly pressure me into a relationship with the abuser or otherwise act they endorse me being abused.

    The abuser wants to keep the status quo. The victim wants people to respect their need for personal safety and to be treated like someone who doesn’t deserve abuse (i.e. every person ever), which both often involve a change in the status quo, albeit a minor change for many people.

    The sides basically involve keeping the status quo, or changing it.

    Saying, “I’m not choosing sides,” “I’m keeping out of this,” “This isn’t my business,” “This doesn’t concern me,” etc. are taking the “maintain the status quo” side, which is the abuser’s side. It absolutely is taking a side, when one of the sides involves doing nothing. It sounds unfair, but abusers don’t tend fair people.

    • Ginny said:

      This.

      And “personal safety” can mean emotional safety not just physical safety.

  31. thathat said:

    Beyond everything Cap said, I gotta add that I HATE it when people say “I’m sorry that happened” in regards to something like abuse. Because accidents happen. Storms happen. Abuse doesn’t “happen.” It is something somebody DOES TO someone else.

    • Chiaro said:

      While I agree with you that it’s not the best thing to say from what I experienced a lot of people really don’t understand abusive relationships and what it can do to someone. I just tell myself every time that someone says something I don’t like to tell myself ‘they don’t understand it’. I feel you though, I had someone say to me: ‘some people aren’t meant for each other’. Nobody is meant for an abusive relationship and it’s not just personality traits not matching that causes abuse.

    • Thank you! I always thought there was something off about that phrase and you’ve just made very clear what it is.

    • FlyBy said:

      What’s a better way to phrase sympathy without making assumptions about how the person defines their experience or how they are currently affected by it? I’ve been using “I’m sorry you went through that” when traumatic stories come up in casual conversation, but I’m not sure if that’s the best either.

    • What phrase would you pick? I tend to say ‘I’m sorry you had to go through that’ because ‘I’m sorry your ex was a scumbag’ doesn’t seem appropriate; ‘I know how you feel’ isn’t always the right thing to say (half the time when someone says it to me I go ‘good, so I don’t have to explain’, but the rest of the time I think ‘this isn’t about you’ especially if they go on about it). So when someone wants to acknowledge that you went through something horrible, what is helpful for you to hear?

      • Carmilla said:

        Personally, I think ‘I’m sorry they did that to you’ is better. The sentiment is exactly the same but you’re not disappearing the abuser.

        • Even “Wow, that’s so horrible!” is better.

          • thathat said:

            Yeah. “I’m sorry.” “That’s awful.” things like that if you’re not sure if the person in question classifies their former relationship as abusive. “I’m sorry you went through that” works. “I’m sorry they did that to you” if it is a case of someone doing something to that person.

            “I’m sorry that happened” just seems like to sort of thing you say when no one’s to blame for something.

        • FlyBy said:

          Good suggestion, thanks.

    • I feel this way about the phrase “getting raped.” No. You don’t “get” raped. Someone rapes another person. A victim might be raped. But it’s not a thing you get. Ugh.

  32. Ookling said:

    What the fresh shiny fuck? How hard is it, if someone says “I don’t want to see/hear/talk/witness an interpretive dance about Ex”, to not do that? It’s not an unreasonable request. It’s not unusual. It’s not crazy of you to ask this of anyone who knows both you and ex, whatever level of friendship they have with you or Ex.

    You’d think people who “don’t want to take sides” might also not want to stir the shit.

  33. storyranger said:

    Ditto for the people who say “I’m sorry you feel that way” when you admit that no, you are not in fact “over it” and need people to stop mentioning that person/inviting both of you to the same place/bugging you to re-establish contact with your abusive ex.
    IS THERE ANOTHER WAY TO FEEL ABOUT THIS? Feelings are never something that need to be validated or excused, but especially sad/weird/angry thoughts about people who hurt you. People who say this are trying to put the responsibility for the weirdness they created back on to your shoulders.
    “I’m sorry you feel that way” = “I know you’re upset but I want you to be done being upset so I can go back to guiltlessly being both of your friends without it being weird.” Try subbing in “I’m sorry I brought that up, I won’t ever do it again” (and then DON’T), “Wow, that must have been some hard shit you had to deal with, I’m sorry to make it worse”, or better yet respect boundaries in the first place.

  34. I don’t have anything new to add about the original issue because it has been covered wonderfully well. I’m just joining in to comment on how much it sucks when the person you want very badly to not ever hear about again is your brother (felon/child abuser to my daughter) and the person who WON’T shut up about him is your mom. I’m pretty glad he died unexpectedly, actually. It makes it easier to go along with my mom’s fantasy about how THIS TIME he really had become a Christian and so is surely in heaven now. Yup. Surely.

    • Vicki said:

      *sympathy* and virtual hugs if you want them.

      • Thank you, Vicki. Sometimes it’s nice just to get to SAY what you are feeling and thinking, even if only virtually….

  35. some guy who's made some bad decisions said:

    I have a question for the always-wise commentariat here, and I hope it’s not derailing the thread. (If it is, feel free to ignore.)

    I’m in a friend-of-LW type position; a mutual former friend (call them Alex) was emotionally abusive to my best friend (call them Bailey), which escalated to physical violence recently, which me and a lot of other mutual friends witnessed. I haven’t voluntarily interacted with Alex since, but Alex has contacted me multiple times (in pretty benign/minor ways; liking a post on tumblr, sending a reply about a pun I made, etc). I’ve been supporting Bailey through this and have made it in no way unclear that I think Alex’s behavior was unconscionable, but I haven’t directly told Alex that we won’t be in contact anymore. How do I tell someone who is not only emotionally volatile and abusive (I have a history of being abused myself and have gotten pretty fucking anxious and paranoid about it) to fuck off after what they did to Bailey?

    • JenniferP said:

      My first thought is that Alex knows EXACTLY what they did and that you saw it and know about it, and they are testing the waters to see if the social group will let it ride (Stormtrooper recruitment), which is why they’re all up in your business as the world’s friendliest and most jocular friend all of a sudden.

      Therefore, my first suggestion is to let the “block” button do a lot of the work for you to create some distance. You don’t have to warn Alex that you’re doing it, and you don’t have to respond to anything. Just, to the extent you can, disappear from their view online and make it very difficult for them to contact you.

      It’s possible that will be enough.
      It’s also possible that they’ll reach out directly to you to ask whyyyyyy, which gives you an opening to say some version of “Alex, I think our friendship has run its course. Goodbye, please don’t contact me again.”

      The first draft I wrote was “Alex, your behavior last (week/month) was a dealbreaker for me, and our friendship is over. Goodbye, please don’t contact me again” but I am less worried that they’ll do something to you and more worried that if they’re still harassing Bailey.

      Ultimately, though, there is no script that we can write that can prevent Alex from doing something obnoxious or weird, so the script we’re looking for is one that works for you, to say what you need to say, which is “We’re done here.”

      • some guy who made some bad decisions said:

        Alex definitely isn’t still in contact of any sort with Bailey, for what it’s worth. But the three of us all live in the same neighborhood so sometimes we run into each other, like by accident at the grocery store or something. I’m definitely going to start making judicious use of the block button though. Thanks for the advice!

    • Jamethiel said:

      Keep yourself safe.

      Do you see Alex in real life often? Because if not, then block block block and ignore them. Filter Alex’s emails. You don’t need to tell someone you’re Peace-Out-ing.

      Try not to be in a situation where they can corner you, but let key friends know and ask them to run interference/be your Team You.
      If Alex does manage to corner you, try to just shrug and disappear as soon as you can. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY ZERO SHAME IN RUNNING AWAY. If you feel you have to say something more, just say “I don’t want to be friends or see you anymore” and walk away.
      If you’re feeling able to, you could say “You’re a creep who abused Bailey and I never want to see or talk to you again. Goodbye.”

      You’re not required to put yourself in danger to get someone dangerous out of your life.

    • Bee said:

      I don’t know what the best or right thing to do is, but something like this happened when two of my friends broke up. One of them behaved in a way that I considered abusive. I was concerned that anything I did could make the suspected-abuser angry, making my other friend’s already terrible situation worse. I did the slow fade so that there wouldn’t be any repercussions for my friend.

      • some guy who's made some bad decisions said:

        Slow fade is my current strategy actually. I’ve used it successfully on two other awful people from my past and a whole host of people who weren’t abusive per se but were definitely of the “clingy dude who doesn’t take no for an answer” variety. A++ would buy again

  36. kaathe said:

    You can disable tagging as far as i know. So changing that to the likes of ‘people arent allowed to tag me on photos’ could be helpful. Also I’d block those from your feed aswell.

  37. homeruncommitment said:

    So my first thought (after, WOW, your friends are acting like dicks and they need to can that shit ASAP), was: feel free to get angry, and show it. (I’d be really curious to see the Captain’s and/or other commenters’ thoughts on this, because I’m not sure if it’s a good idea). It may not be the right thing for you LW, if you don’t like showing anger or you’re not feeling angry so much as hurt and tired and struggling. But I think being sharp with them, especially if you’ve deployed scripts like this in the past and they’ve not taken it on board, could feel really powerful. And could *make* your friends see how non-negotiable it is that they stop bringing him up to you.

    “For fuck’s sake, why would you bring him up with me again, after I’ve already asked you not to?”

    “Pretend like he’s dead. Pretend that mentioning him upsets me and makes me sad, because, you know, it actually does. And then NEVER DO IT AGAIN.”

    “Do you get that you’re actively hurting me by bringing him up with me? Do you think that more hurt and pain around this guy is really what I need right now?”

    “I don’t actually need you to get how badly your friend hurt me and fucked me up. I don’t need you to choose sides. The very minimum I need from you is to never mention this person to me ever again, in conversation or in Facebook posts. Can you do this one thing I’ve asked?”

    I think if they can see you be so hurt, and so angry, and still try the “not choosing sides!” and “we’ll just keep mentioning him because reasons” thing, then you’ll have far more – potentially far shittier – information about those friendships.

    I’m so sorry that you’re having to deal with this, on top of recovering from the abuse and PTSD. We’re all rooting for you. ❤

  38. Spc. Agent Bluejay said:

    So true, every word, Captain!

    LW, you wrote “I don’t want him and this illness to take them away from me too,” and I wanted to remind you that even if you weren’t feeling panicky or experiencing PTSD that what these supposed friends are doing is still completely shitty, and frankly kind of weird of them. Like, why are they so invested in you having contact with this ex?

  39. Peerless said:

    My family is dealing with a situation I’m now worried is similar to LW’s: my mother’s sister recently divorced her husband and she was clearly the wronged party. (She found out he was often drinking while taking care of their son, and sometimes driving drunk with their son in the car – maybe not abuse but unambiguously shitty behavior.) Since the divorce my family has made a lot of effort to reach out to both my aunt and her ex-husband, calling and talking to both separately and trying to remain friends with both. The couple times we invited both to the same social gathering my mother called her sister to make sure her sister was okay with it first, but we’ve also hung out with my aunt’s ex without my aunt once or twice.

    I always kind of thought that this was making the best of a bad situation by trying to give my ex-uncle as much support as possible while he battles alcoholism since he really has no friends or family outside of my family, and by (I wince) not choosing sides in the divorce. Is this behavior wrong? Should we be cutting my ex-uncle off from our social group? Are there more opportunities we should offer my aunt to be setting boundaries? Part of what has me worried is that my aunt is a very non-confrontational person and if she is uncomfortable with our behavior I’m not certain she would tell us.

    • Vicki said:

      Without knowing any of the people involved, I’d suggest not inviting them to the same social gathering unless your aunt specifically asks you to. Make that the default, rather than setting it up so she has to explicitly say “no, I don’t want him there.”

    • My mother would invite my uncle Thanksgiving morning & my aunt Thanksgiving afternoon (or vice versa) when they didn’t want to be in the same space.

    • unagi said:

      Allow me to be a bit beside the main point here (although I’d like to strongly encourage you to cut off the jerk). But as someone whose entire life experience of car accidents has been at the hands of violent father/drunk stepfather, I’d like to emphasize that what you’re describing is clearly abuse, not just shitty behavior. It’s definitely abuse toward the child (I was in my 40s before I manage to surmount my terror of cars enough to actually drive). And it’s just as much abuse toward the mother, who’s usually legally required to hand over her child for visitation to this jerk for him to abuse/possibly kill.

      If this guy was really your uncle, I’d feel for your dilemma. But if he’s just an ex, please try to think more clearly about why you could possibly be putting your aunt through the wringer of knowing her family prefers inflicting her abusive ex on her to a bit of discomfort in not inviting him. Surely you have other, better friends? How about helping your cousins feel that they have -some- family to feel safe with?

  40. I’d question whether the LW’s “friends” see the LW as a friend or primarily as “so-and-so’s ex”. If the latter, it may show why they are invested in thinking of LW in terms of the ex.

    The title of this did make me wince, since I use “I’m not choosing a side” to reinforce boundaries. I superficially know 2 people through [recreational activity] who both maintain the other is an Evil Ex. Both try to use me as a shoulder when they get me away from the group and get reassurance that I’m on their side. Guess what? I don’t care! I don’t see either of them outside of the shared activity. I’m not a friend, I’m an acquaintance, and I don’t care! “I’m here for [activity]” and “I don’t feel comfortable with this conversation” doesn’t stop either of them, but “I’m not choosing sides so you shouldn’t tell me” does.

    • jdrives said:

      I feel like your use of “I’m not choosing a side” is different, like an evasive maneuver to attempts at triangulation. Which, carry on, cuz ain’t nobody got time for that. Not the same situation as the LW, though. These Stormtroopers are supposed friends of LW who respond to disclosure of abuse with “I’m not taking sides” AND continue to violate LW’s requested boundaries about Ex. I think in LW’s case, the Captain’s translations of “I’m not taking sides” are spot-on.

      • True. Which is why I was calling out “If you’re going to not try to take sides, DON’T ask about the ex.” Boundaries, people!

  41. got gingham said:

    Excellent advice.

    Some great take-aways in the comments here. Wow.

    Performing Victim and the behaviour associated with them–very good information to watch for.

    Describes a scene I was in 20 years ago but didn’t have the vocabulary for. I had to sever ties with an entire friend group and start all over again, because they didn’t want to ‘choose sides’.

    I was in a new city, and they were my only friends.

    It was worth it.

    Not recommending scorched earth for everybody. But in this case, for me–one of the best things I ever *didn’t* do was stay friends with that group.

    Many years later, I bumped into one of the “neutral” people on a trans-continental train. Massive co-incidence. He tells me that the group was sad ‘for years’ that I abandoned them. The PV had been banished from their group soon after I had cut ties. So! That means they followed my lead.

    It’s funny, but a decade or so ago, I would be fine meeting new people who wanted to talk about their mental health, traumatic past, and therapeutic process. The analysis, the pondering of personality/pathology etc…

    But then something clicked. After being exhausted and drained by two people in particular, who turned out to be PV’s, I tread very cautiously with new people I’ve met who want to get into a conversation about “personality/social history/childhood experience”, in the fear that they might just be another PV, while still wanting to remain open, compassionate and empathetic etc.

    What’s more… as an aside. Here in Canada, after the Jian Ghomeshi story broke out, the word “Survivor” is coming to the fore, in terms of describing those who’ve suffered.

    Thanks CA for another terrific PSA.

  42. April Marie said:

    LW,

    I’m so sorry that you’re in a similar situation to what I was in a few years ago. It really sucks.

    I had a similar thing (we’re still not sure if I have PTSD from it or not and I’m thinking I might need to change my therapist because of how indecisive she is about diagnosing things but different topic for different day) happen in which long story short an ex abused me mentally, emotionally, and only once physically (not counting the rape near the end of the relationship) and all of our mutual friends couldn’t understand why I wanted nothing to do with him. Not to mention that none of them believed what I had gone through (especially the gaslighting). Eventually, I had to take all but two out of my life (those two actually sat down and asked me explicitly what happened and then afterwards were so horrified that they broke off contact with him too which was unexpected and unasked for).

    And I’ve found with me, that the ONLY time I’ve ever used the phrase not choosing sides is when I only have one side of the story and something about it doesn’t feel right (like it feels like they’re purposely trying to make themselves a victim or something) and it’s usually followed with/by ”

    I’m not choosing sides right now until I get the other side of the story”. If it’s a simple breakup and I’m friends with both people I make it explicitly clear that I won’t choose sides in their breakup (unless it’s a case of abuse on the side of one of them. but if it’s two people more or less mutually splitting, I shouldn’t have to choose a side when I like both equally).

    But I wish you the best LW and hopefully either your friends stop being kind of shitty and triggering or that you can get some new friends who are better for your own health.

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