There was a meme that got really popular a while back that advised people who were dating folks who had been abused in the past. They’ll be grateful for little things, the meme said. And they’ll try to thank you for that.
You need to discourage that kind of behavior, the meme advised. Because the bare minimum shouldn’t be praised. And those people need to learn that good treatment should be standard, not deserving a trophy or something.
It went wildly viral. Got massively popular. People really clung to this idea. I saw them trying to do it in the wild even, online to strangers.
I think I see why. It’s a lovely idea. And people are often very much eager to help abuse survivors but at a loss as to how — it doesn’t help that abuse and trauma are idiosyncratic and no size ever fits all when it comes to recovery from them. So I think on some level, people were desperate for something straightforward they could do.
But like many other things, this advice sounds great but performs differently in practice. Now, there’s nothing inherently harmful in it. I don’t think it hurts to do that. And I can conclusively say that, after having many people do it to me.
But I don’t think it really achieves its intended purpose. Because I continue to be grateful for teeny, tiny things that other people likely wouldn’t be. Small gestures of kindness. Yes, on some days, I even find myself reflecting on how grateful I am that the people in my life generally treat me decently — because I can remember a past where that wasn’t so, and I know the differece.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget this. I think the unnecessary gratitude will always be there.
But I think at the end of the day, that’s fine. Because at the end of the day, something else has changed. I’m worlds better than I used to be at identifying harmful, hurtful, abusive behavior — and loads better at rejecting that. And personally, I think that’s enough. I’ll keep my sense of wonder re: how supremely decent folks who actually care about me can be. And avoid those who aren’t.