I’ve written a fair amount about abusive relationships, family estrangement, my own trauma history and unglamorous recovery, and even lesser discussed concepts like proto-abuse.
It has largely been a difficult area to talk about by the way. Not just because these are touchy subjects and emotionally difficult to write about, let alone publish (although that’s a factor). But there have been also some aspects of sharing those stories that surprised me.
For example, my essays about my own trauma history and the emotional fallout from it are the most plagiarized work I write.
Yes, my articles about surviving abuse are the ones that people have passed off as though they wrote them. This was incredibly unexpected on my end. (Readers found them and alerted me.)
My Reader Mail Turns Into a Nightmare Whenever I Write Anything About Abuse
I also receive the most negative reader mail and feedback regarding pieces whenever I write about abuse — whether it’s in technical terms or sharing a personal experience. When I write personal essays about abuse, I will hear both of the following criticisms from about an equal number of people, about the same writing:
- That I am painting myself as a blameless victim.
- That I am letting the other person off the hook too much and that I should be harsher on them.
There’s one school of thought that says that hearing both of these viewpoints means I’m probably doing an okay job at it. But another school of thought says it means I’m terrible at it, that I impressively fail in both directions.
I Also Get Consistent Pushback for Posting Mental Health Memes
And I also get pushback whenever I write about abuse and recovery in even general terms, with no details. Here are some of the common criticisms:
That I shouldn’t ever write or post memes about abuse, recovery, or general mental health because I’m a public polyamorous person, and it makes polyamory look bad, like we’re all damaged. (Which is like, wow, thanks for implying that surviving abuse or mental illness makes people “damaged.”)
That writing or posting memes about the recovery process is damaging to people who haven’t recovered, and especially any positive posts about progress or insights that I’ve learned in the past 20 years in trauma recovery is somehow shaming people who are early on in their recovery process or don’t think it’s possible to recover (for what it’s worth, recovery to me never really ends… it’s more like learning to cope better than it is presto-change-o and acting like it never happened; that’s not realistic).
Yes, really. It’s exhausting.
In the spirit of fairness, I should mention that I get more positive feedback on these writings than negative. It’s just that the negative letters can be real doozies.
Sometimes You Only Know Things Are Going to Turn Ugly — Not How
I give this background not to kvetch or garner sympathy but as an introduction. It’s why I do not relish publishing another piece in this arena today. (I never do.)
But I realized there’s something important I’ve never explicitly addressed, not in all my writing in this sphere. It’s a reality that is 100% essential to the conversations surrounding these heavy topics.
There are times when you get into a relationship that’s turning volatile, and you’re not sure what’s going to happen but you KNOW it’s going to be bad. I talked about this spidey sense feeling a bit in my recent essay on proto-abuse (which is a very long writing and easy to misunderstand if you just skim it and do not read it thoroughly — so fair warning).
But I neglected to mention something huge in that piece: Sometimes you’re in a relationship, and you get this same sense that things are going to turn ugly. But you’re not sure where the ugliness is going to come from (you, the other person, or both of you).
Because, you see, insidious damaging relationship dynamics can not only result in your suffering mistreatment at the hands of others. They can also easily lead to you personally doing things that you regret. You can snap and do something and realize with horror that you’re perpetrating abusive behaviors.
When You’re Worried that a Relationship Will Bring Out the Worst Side of You
That’s what I worry about more these days honestly… more than getting harmed or getting abused. Being hurt is no picnic, but I’ve been through that in my past (worse, really) and survived. And when I reach a point where I suspect proto-abuse, I become significantly less emotionally vulnerable. Something within me shuts down and begins to protect me. Because I’ve recognized the situation as unsafe. Unsafe for whom? Well, that doesn’t really matter as much as the perception that things are no longer safe.
No, being irreparably scarred is not what really worries me. I worry more about the potential of unhealthy relationships to bring out the worst sides of me. To result in situations where I’m doing awful things to the other person, or we’re abusing one other.
But here’s the thing. That same spidey sense feeling that things have gone off the rails that I talk about in my essay on proto-abuse? For me, it’s also an early warning sign that I could become so stressed, frustrated, or disoriented by a difficult situation that I do things I regret.
And whether I’m worried about incipient abuse that could worsen and come from them, me, or both of us, recognizing proto-abusive behavior serves as an early warning sign that the relationship probably needs to have some kind of reckoning: A massive overhaul or an ending.
It’s Usually Not Helpful to Beat Yourself Up or Fall Into a Shame Spiral
Anyway, regardless of the situation, it’s usually not helpful to beat yourself up or fall into a shame spiral. In that spirit, if you’re worried that relationships are bringing out the worst side of you, I’d recommend reading (or rereading if you’ve already read it) Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly.
I’ve read it multiple times over the years when I was in different situations and got different things out of it each time. It always either does the trick or it narrows down more what the SPECIFIC issue is, and then I can work on that.
Counseling, too, can be a wonderful tool (although I know it can be tough to access for some people, depending on financial situation).
Like my essays? You’ll love my books. I’ve authored many of them, including 3 nonfiction books on polyamory and the Psychic State series, murder mysteries with strong female leads that feature a large ensemble cast of polyamorous characters.