[TW: Sexual Assault] One sexually assaulted me; the others hurt and abused me emotionally when close friendships imploded. I have PTSD after the whole experience. How do I get other friends to understand that I don’t want to hear about these people? [Snowflake configuration of details follows]
posted by Someone Else's Story to human relations (38 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A few years back, I was part of a social nexus. Three couples - Hannah & Ben, Martin & Peggy, and my partner & I. (Names have been changed because I'm not stupid.) We organised events for the broader social circle, holidayed together, and so on. We were chosen-family to each other - close enough that both Hannah and Peggy offered to be surrogates for me when doctors told me I was infertile. After my physically and emotionally abusive upbringing, this chosen family seemed like just what I needed. They were all polyamorous, and my partner and I decided on poly for ourselves; secondary relationships took place between several of us.
Things fell apart badly. To try and be brief:
- When my disabling neurological illness was flaring particularly badly and I was bed-bound several days a week, Ben sexually assaulted me, in a way that violated my identity as well as my boundaries and my body. One therapist I saw, a psychologist with over 20 years' experience in sexual assault & domestic violence counseling, called it "worse than rape." I froze up physically and dissociated mentally when it happened; since I was so incapacitated, and occasionally relied upon Ben & Hannah as close friends/neighbors for care, my brain did its best to pretend it never happened.
Afterwards, I tried to preserve the friendships because of I was terrified of social isolation while I was so sick; however, I got more emphatic about my boundaries in general. Interestingly, most of the broader social circle applauded my strengthening my boundaries; the other part, and most notably these four, started using words like "vicious" and "hostile" to describe me when I pushed back against their trampling my boundaries. Ben was one of these latter sorts.
He is telling people that I couldn't handle his wife's choice of gym and destroyed more than ten years of friendship over that of all things, dragging my supposedly-deluded partner with me (which is laughable to everyone else who knows my partner, and how strong he is in his convictions & values). Apparently Ben still tells people that the saddest part of the falling-out was that he lost the chance to have sex with me, and to get me into a threesome with Hannah (neither of which were things I wanted, but he didn't bother to check that for years).
- After I started getting more emphatic about my boundaries, Hannah took my partner out to coffee, spent 90 minutes telling him what a terrible person I had become, and then tried to swear him to secrecy over their meeting. (To his credit, my partner refused and came straight home to tell me what had happened.) I was devastated by this, since to me the secrecy part means she wasn't interested in actually addressing this with me, even indirectly. She continued to call me "sister" and "a best friend" to my face, say awful things about me behind my back, and tell the broader social circle that she couldn't understand why I was being so "casually cruel" as to be withdrawn and wary around her.
- Peggy and I had a 6-year relationship implode: I found out that she'd cheated on me, and when I got upset about it, she ended things by telling a dozen mutual friends that she & Martin were going back to monogamy - without telling me. So I found out when concerned friends started checking in to see if I was okay. She told people on her blog that I was "attacking" her in "screaming fury" when I told her I didn't think I deserved to be treated this way, and that I'd "put her in hospital" (she hadn't updated her asthma plan for years, she needed a few tests run at a hospital when her asthma flared). My therapists have described several of her actions in the relationship as emotionally abusive; she actively gaslighted me by lying about events and then blaming my "forgetting things" on my illness when I disagreed with her, threatened suicide every time I tried to raise issues in the relationship with her for months, and more.
- After Martin ended our 5-year relationship - by dumping me by e-mail two days before he visited my city - I asked for space to heal before attempting to revive our friendship; he called and berated me literally until my phone ran out of charge about how I'd let him down and why I was wrong for not letting him be there as a friend for me. (I know, I should've hung up on him, but my boundaries were young & fragile, and I was repeatedly being told by people I'd trusted that I was a bad person for having them.) After he pushed me too far and I told him exactly why I wasn't interested in just being friends as if nothing had happened, he withdrew for a while, then asked for another shot at rebuilding the friendship. When I agreed, he ignored my attempts at polite conversation during social events and told our friends that I was snubbing him at every opportunity.
As a result of the assault and all the rest of this, I have PTSD. You can probably infer from the above how much I'm still struggling to understand and process this, even when I'm not dealing with traumatic reactions to it. I've been attempting therapy for a few years, but had trouble finding the right professional to work with. I've found someone with good rapport at last, and have been seeing them for about three months.
A year ago, my partner and I moved several thousand miles away, and it was a relief to leave these toxic people behind us. I pulled them all off my blogroll, blocked them from my own journal, and was glad I'm not on Facebook so I don't have to see them there. I do still come across their comments on my friends' blogs/journals, however, and get triggered more often than I'd like by that. (There's no way on my social circle's preferred journalling platform for me to block all comments from a given user, so I'd have to drop everyone who knows these four to guarantee not seeing comments from them.)
Now we're going back to our Former City to visit family & friends; my therapist rightly points out that I will be triggered at some point during the trip. We're working on coping strategies. But the biggest thing I'm having trouble with is the friends I'm still in touch with in Former City, who won't stop telling me about these four people.
In general, my partner and I have tried to avoid talking in too much detail about what happened (including the assault), out of respect for the people our former friends once were, to avoid gossip & drama, and frankly because I'm scared of what would happen if I were more open about my perspective on the falling-out. It's clear that this discretion hasn't been mutual. But those who were close friends in Former City know just how awful things got, and how hurt I was by events - several of those friends supported me through the unpleasantness as things imploded, or watched me as I got triggered and dissociated, or went into flashbacks or uncontrollable tears.
Some of those close friends have come out with the "I expect my friends to be adults and be civil to one another/I don't choose sides unless some serious transgression has occurred" spiel. I accepted that was their position, although I'm sad that they apparently don't think sexual assault or emotional abuse is serious enough to reconsider their friendships with Ben or Peggy. I feel like they just want to pretend they never heard about it so that the social scene stays calm and easy to navigate.
Others have talked about how they don't want anything to do with Ben or Peggy ever again given what they did - and then a few weeks later they're enthusing at me about how Ben & Hannah came to their party, etc. That, I don't understand.
I've said explicitly to many of these people that I don't want to hear about our former friends anymore, but almost every one has taken it upon themselves to overrule my wishes at some point, because I "should" hear about this event they're organising for a sick friend, or about their new pet/kid/direction in life/etc, or how awesome the presents they've been giving out are, or whatever. Or they just forget I'd rather not hear (some of my friends do have cognitive/memory problems, but even though I don't fault them for being unable to remember, it still affects me).
I care about and miss our friends in Former City, but their actions are not helping my mental health. Every time someone wants to talk about our former friends to me, it feels like a slap in the face - a reminder that my wishes aren't worth remembering or heeding, even when they know I'm triggered by what they're telling me about these people.
My partner feels our friends are disrespecting the very boundaries they applauded me for having, and is ready to cut off everyone who won't shut up about Ben, Hannah, et al. I'm not ready to drop pretty much every tie to my old life, but I don't know what to do about this. It's making planning this trip stressful for both of us.
tl;dr - "We had a falling out, and it's still painful to hear about them," hasn't worked.
The actual details and witnessing my traumatic reactions haven't worked.
Repeating the requests not to hear about them hasn't worked.
What on earth can I do that will work?
How do I get the folks we know in Former City to stop talking about these people to us, online and during our visit? Ideally without having to go into the details of why to everyone, but only to those we choose to?