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.
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.