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emotional abuse

Hey there, Captain Awkward –

My dear roommate (Clay)’s ex-boyfriend was abusive. He had mental health issues, and emotionally manipulated roommate (they/them) in various ways. I spent a lot of time helping my roommate to process the feels and vulnerabilities emerging around what happened in their relationship – and potentially over invested myself in their emotional process.

This was complicated by the ex-boyfriend (Greg) still being a part of the community. He starting dating a different close friend of mine,(Sarah) I ran into him around town, we were on friendly terms.

We got into conflict around this when I shared some personal details about Clay’s life with Sarah, and I realized how much social navigating I was doing that was tiring me out. (Letting Clay know when Greg would be at parties / friends houses / keeping track of what information could / should be shared with who in the community around who was dating who etc..) I told Clay I was not willing to do this kind of social navigating and needed some space from the dynamics of the situation.

A few months later Clay and I were in an art show together. On FB, I invited Greg to the opening, which Clay was very upset and hurt by. From Clay’s perspective, because they had shared so much about their experience with me, they expected me to understand this was unacceptable. They were very hurt and shared that I had not respected their boundaries around Greg – but not until the show was over. (Which Greg did not end up attending). During the preparation / while the FB invitation was online, they did not say anything to me about this.

Around this same time, I also invited my friend Sarah (dating Greg) to an emotional-processing workshop I was hosting in our home, that Clay was also planning to attend. Clay was also very upset with me about this, and again from their perspective, not respecting their boundaries and experience with having been emotionally abused.

This conflict culminated in Clay moving out of our house, and three very dramatic and painful feeling months where we were not able to connect or work things through as we had previously done.

I take issues of emotional abuse very seriously, and am trying to learn from this situation. Was I being an inconsiderate friend? Do I need to learn to respect boundaries with more depth? Was Clay not taking responsibility for articulating their needs? Are all of these things true?

Looking for some insight and clarity –

Confused rooomie. (She/her)

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Hello everyone!

We’re doing the thing today, where people can submit short questions at Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday) before noon Chicago time and I will answer as many as I can this afternoon between noon and 2pm. Comments get turned on once everything is posted

Please enjoy this artsy photo of Daniel Striped Tiger hanging out in his new rainbow tunnel/bifrost.

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Image: Daniel Tiger inside a rainbow tunnel, walking toward camera like he’s in a Kubrick movie.

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Hi Captain Awkward,

Let’s call me Elizabeth. My dad and I have a strained relationship, and was not really much in my life for a good year thanks to my decision to have little to no contact. Why? He’s an emotional abuser, and so for the sake of my health I made boundaries. Just getting phone calls, or even texts were skyrocketing my anxiety. But…slowly…I have begun to interact a little more with him, my placating mother, & most importantly my little sister (who wasn’t speaking to me for cutting off our parents, because she didn’t know my side of the story or see the worse of how our dad treated me).

So in May, to my surprise my dad told me he was willing to go to counseling. In the past I practically begged him to go to counseling with me, but he wouldn’t have it. I talked to my therapist, and they were frank that based off what I’ve shared about my dad and their experience in family counseling that they doubt his intentions are genuine. I tried telling my dad, “how about we see how things go with how they are now, & try counseling if old problems come up.” I wasn’t entirely honest, I didn’t want to go to counseling at this point, I’d moved on emotionally a while ago, but couldn’t bring myself to be that direct (cause dad can be scary). He insisted, and next thing I know I’m looking up family therapists, cause I WOULD NOT let him pick a therapist cause I don’t trust him.

I found a family counselor (still seeing my regular one though), and have been dragging my feet every step of the way. I’ve met the therapist too now, and given their business number to my dad so he could make an appointment months ago, as we’re suppose to start going in separately for them to evaluate our different needs and perspective independently of each other. This was months ago, and dad has not seen the therapist yet, and claims to have called em but “the number doesn’t work”. I checked it works.

I’m now irritated, and anxious over this while trying to make progress in being the best version of myself in other areas but now feel held back. I haven’t even heard from dad in 4 weeks since giving him the number a 2nd time. I need scripts for when I eventually hear from him, or see him again, and he inevitably brings it up. I NEED HELP SAYING A CLEAR AND FIRM NO, WITH PREPARED SCRIPTS FOR PUSHBACK!

-Elizabeth

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Time for the monthly tradition where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions.

Before we get to it, it’s Pledge Drive Time! Twice a year, winter and summer, I interrupt our usual programming to remind folks that fun stuff like the Search Terms posts and the Friday short answers are funded by my kind and generous patrons and readers who support the site via PayPal and other ways. These donations allow me to keep the blog ad-free, invest substantial time in maintaining the community, reading the mailbox, and moderating comments, devote time to answering questions and writing new content, pay guest writers, and keep us functioning as an independent site. This year I’m trying to pull back on teaching and be a full-time writer, and your support is necessary and much appreciated for the care and feeding of me & my family. Please make a donation or become a patron if you can. Every little bit helps. (If you can’t afford to, don’t worry ’bout a thing, I’m glad you are here and reading.)

As is traditional, let’s begin with a song to set the mood. Lyrics here :

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There’s a really interesting conversation about narcissism that popped up in a comment thread yesterday that made me think harder about the “Don’t offer diagnoses for people based on letters or internet comments” rule we have here and I’d like to expand on it.

At length.

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It’s time for that monthly thing where we answer the search strings people typed in to find this place as if they are actual questions. This feature is made possible through the generous support of 979 Patreon followers. They keep the blog ad-free and allow me to pay rent and eat cheese.

First, as is traditional: a song

Lyrics here.

1 “Cheating on your best friend by making another best friend.”

“Love is not a pie,” as the lovely short story by Amy Bloom tells us, and people can have more than one very close friend without taking anything away from anyone.

2 “How to ask your neighbor to text before she drops at your door.”

I know at cultural expectations and norms vary widely around neighbors popping in without calling first depending on where you live, and I fully admit my membership in the “If it’s an emergency or you need something real quick, please let me help you! But if you’re dropping by ‘just to chat’ that is my literal nightmare, sorry!” club.

Next time your neighbor drops by, open the door partway without letting her in and  – once you ascertain that it isn’t an emergency – say something like “Hi there! Forgive me, but I’m afraid now isn’t a good time! But let me give you my number, and let me take down yours, that way we can text first and make sure it’s a good time.” 

She’ll say something (hopefully something involving the words”of course”!), and then (and this is key) you say “Oh, thank you so much! So sorry I can’t chat today, bye!” and then you shut the door and go back to what you were doing. You can’t let her in once you’ve told her it’s not a good time, or she will never take it seriously.

It will feel very awkward and like you’re the one being very rude, but it’s important that you begin as you mean to go on once you’ve set this boundary. In the future, if she texts first, thank her for asking, and then tell her the truth about whether it’s a good time at that particular moment: “Hi, thanks for texting! I’m in the middle of something, so now isn’t a good time, but if you still need help hanging that painting I can pop by after 5, will that work?” Also, if you otherwise like this person, try texting her and inviting her over for a coffee every now and then when it is good for you. If she refuses to text first and keeps trying to drop by, there is no rule that says you have to answer the door at all.

3 “How to question a narcissist’s intentions.”

What an interesting question!

In my experience with narcissists, which I would list as “way more than I’d like to have,” I find it more more useful to examine a) their actions, b) the effects those actions have on me or the world and c) the future (what I would like to happen now) than to get sucked into trying to question or even determine their intentions.

If something makes a narcissist look good they will always pretend they intended it all along, if it makes them look bad they will claim that they never intended it (and that it didn’t happen like you said it did anyway, and that you’re stupid to think it did, and anyway, it isn’t their fault, and maybe also you kind of deserved it?). Arguing about their intentions just feeds them. Or tempts them to gaslight you. Or both.

But if you can truthfully say “You did x. Whatever you intended, the effect on me was y. From now on, please do z” you sidestep the discussion of their intentions entirely. They can say “but I intended a, b, and c, not y!” all day and you can say “Of course! But y is what happened, so I need you to do z from now on.” 

4 “Will my ex reach out?”

Yes and no. Yes = When they want something, or when you’ve already moved on, or when it would be maximally annoying. No = all the times you kept your phone by your pillow wishing they would.

5 “Want to break up but scared he will kill himself.”

If you seriously think a partner is in danger of killing themselves, hopefully you can direct them to relevant mental health resources and call in their family and friends to take care of them. You are still allowed to leave. 

Possible script for family/friends: “As you know, Alex and I broke up. They are taking it very hard, and have mentioned suicide more than once. I need the people who love them to check on them and support them in getting help. I can’t be the point person for that – for my own well-being, I need to take some space and make this a clean break – so can I count on you to call Alex/stop by and visit/encourage Alex to seek treatment and help?” 

If you leave and they do eventually die of suicide, it was not your fault. They had an illness, and you staying as their sole support system/guilt-hostage was never, ever going to be the cure for that illness.

Finally, if you have any reason to think you are also in danger from a partner who threatens suicide (a depressingly common thing in abusive relationships), you get to choose yourself. You get to leave and not look back if that’s what you need to do to keep yourself safe. Call a domestic violence resource like The Hotline and get to work on making a safety plan.

6 “Make your male neighbour notice you are ill and come to visit you.”

Well, learn from the mistakes in #2 and definitely text before you just drop by his place!

And maybe try just asking him out already when you’re feeling better?

7 “Is it abuse if my dad hits me and kicks me.”

Yes. You might also find the hotline useful. It is wrong for anyone to hit or kick you.

8 “How to tell my parents I’m bi but I’m married.”

My inbox was a Pride month explosion of similar questions, so I’m glad to answer them all in one place.

Maybe try “Throughout my life I’ve been attracted to both men and women. I’m married to [Spouse] now, so I’m assumed to be or mistaken for a straight person, but please know that when people talk about the LGTBQ* community, they’re also talking about me.” 

9: “I’m bisexual do I have to break up with my partner.”

A) No and B) This is one of the annoying questions people who come out as bisexual get asked a lot by people who don’t get it.

You can be attracted to people of all genders and still choose to have a monogamous sexual and/or romantic relationship with one person.

10 “Nice guy keeps texting and won’t take no for an answer.”

People who won’t take no for an answer aren’t really all that nice. Let’s just remove that plausible deniability shield for his really annoying and aggressive behavior once and for all, ok?

If you haven’t done this already, text him one time to say “I am not interested, stop contacting me.” Then, never respond to any communication from him. If he texts you 100 more times and you respond, you’ve just taught him that it takes 100 attempts to get your attention, so he’ll start again at 101. Block him on all social media and generally lock down your info so it’s not so public. Don’t threaten him or yell at him in reply to his messages even if they get really weird or seem to escalate – every time you engage with him you buy yourself 1-3 more months of harassment.

Save the texts he’s sent you already, save the one where you told him to stop, document everything in case he escalates. Tell other people in your life what he’s doing (but also set the “DO NOT ENGAGE” rule for other people).

Most times, if starved for attention long enough, these guys drop it and transfer their fixations to other people. Other times…well…we’ve all read and seen the news about the other times. Be safe.

11 “How to answer to someone who invites you last minute to his party.” 

Do you want to go to the party y/n Can you go to the party y/n

If both are y, “Great, thanks for thinking of me, I’ll be there.”

If either or both are n, “Sorry, can’t make it, thanks for thinking of me, though!” 

12 “Is it reasonable to break up because you don’t like his kids?”

Kids are a huge part of his life, and, depending on their age, probably occupy most of his thoughts/efforts/money/priorities/time. Not all kids are likeable or gonna like you, but if you don’t like the most important people in your loved one’s life, maybe he’s not for you?

13 “What to do if a friend forgets to send a birthday card?”

If you normally trade cards, and nothing else seems “off” about the friendship, what’s the worst thing that would happen if you chalked it up to ‘they were probably busy and forgot’ and then you sent them a birthday card as usual? What if you called them or sent a postcard or text to catch up about general life stuff?

13 “Short bob with side bangs”

My One True Haircut.

14 “My husband doesn’t _____, but I like it very much.”

I’m really gonna need to know what’s in that blank before I comment further.

15 “Dating sisters”

Why, why, why would you do this? Did you defeat every video game you have on hard mode/achieve the pinnacle of success in your career/cross literally everything else off your bucket list? Why would you set yourself and an entire family up for so much failure and weirdness?

 

16 “How to be supportive when your man is gross?”

Gross…how?

And how gross?

And why is “supportive” the thing you’re trying to be? And not like, “Hey babe, please stop doing gross things/please do these things to be less gross.” 

I have so many questions.

17 “Why does a woman turn and show a man their back while talking?”

First, thanks to the Twitter follower who was like “I’m a blind man and even I can read this body language.” You made me laugh.

Second, if you’re a man wondering this, in the absence of other verbal cues from the woman like “Please follow me” or “Please keep talking, I want to hear this, I just need to look at something over there for a second,” maybe, stop talking?