Hi, we missed you! Now, can you please STFU about… [TW: Sexual Assault]
July 3, 2012 10:56 AM   Subscribe

[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]

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?
posted by Someone Else's Story to Human Relations (37 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry this happened to you.

Why go back? It doesn't sound like this will be much fun for you, and if your friends don't respect your wishes, and are being all Switzerland about things, perhaps you should distance yourself from them, for the sake of your own mental health.

Let your partner go, and do what he's going to do. Stay behind and take care of yourself.

If you need to go for some reason, limit time with your friends, and leave if the conversation turns towards topics that are unpleasant for you.

Stop worrying about the feelings of others, and take care of yourself first.

As for keeping in touch at a distance, insist on your friends not discussing these people with you and again, if they don't respect your wishes, dump them. They're not your friends.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:05 AM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

The pattern I hear in both contexts of your story: your former "friends" disrespected your boundaries and punished you for having them, and now your current ones are doing the same on a smaller scale.

It is healthy to withdraw your attention from people who treat you like this. Don't spend time with them or on them. Focus on staying centered and connected with your partner during your trip, and on finding a therapist to work with when you get back.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:05 AM on July 3, 2012 [11 favorites]

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.

You can't make people not be assholes. Having cut off an abusive family member, people sometimes do this to me. My response in person: death stare and silence for as long as it takes them to start feeling shame. On the phone "I don't want to talk about them, you know that. Bye." Then I hang up without waiting for a response. Via email, "Do not tell me about them again."

I have quit talking to two other people who just will not shut up but most people get the hint.

(I suspect your partner is right about cutting these people off, by the way, at least until you're in a calmer place. You're being triggered regularly, it doesn't seem like you're currently at a good place, and sometimes giving yourself an easier time of it is a good choice).
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:06 AM on July 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

It sounds like you just listen and get upset when they start talking about your ex-friends (partners? I'm not really clear about this, it sounds like you were sleeping with your partner, Martin, and Peggy, but not interested in Ben or Hannah sexually, though maybe they were sexually involved with some other people in this circle). You need to stop sitting and listening while they do this. You can, in the interests of harmony, remind them initially when they first start talking about these people that you do not want to hear about them, then you need to walk away from these people because they are not your friends.
posted by jeather at 11:07 AM on July 3, 2012

What on earth can I do that will work?

"If you mention Ben or Hannah again, I'm going to have to hang up/leave the room" and then do it.
posted by desjardins at 11:07 AM on July 3, 2012 [8 favorites]

The actual details and witnessing my traumatic reactions haven't worked.

Let me get this straight -- and I'm only asking for clarification because I'm pretty dumbfounded. Your friends know for a fact that you were sexually assaulted, and they don't consider this a serious enough transgression to at least shut up about the guy out of consideration for you?

These people are not friends.
posted by scody at 11:08 AM on July 3, 2012 [57 favorites]

Your partner is right, trust him. No one else matters.
posted by fshgrl at 11:08 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

You will have to be explicit, and you will have to run the risk of giving up those social contacts.

1) "Please do not ever mention those people to me or my partner."
2) If they mention them again regardless, I'm sorry, you'll have to just cut off contact with them for your own health.

That's the only answer I can see.

I'm terribly sorry. =(
posted by kavasa at 11:08 AM on July 3, 2012

Oh, also, I have given you advice that might be useless because you've already set these boundaries explicitly, right? Meaning you've said something as explicit as "I don't care why or what it's about, never talk about those people to me. I don't want to hear it. I enjoy our friendship and will not be able to continue it if you can't respect this basic request."

If you haven't, that's where you should start. If you have and they're still not listening, you should end the conversation when it comes up. Hopefully removing the reward (your time, conversation, attention) will help them learn not to do it, but when you're at the point where you're using behaviorism on people because they won't respect your boundaries otherwise, well, there's not much to be salvaged there.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:10 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

How do I get the folks we know in Former City to stop talking about these people to us, online and during our visit?

In my experience, you can't. I went through a big breakup a few years ago, and every once in a while, a mutual friend will start to tell me something about my ex. (Oftentimes, this is a complaint about the ex, who has a talent for pissing people off.) I have taken to interrupting and explicitly stating, "I'd prefer not to talk about him," and yet STILL, every single person stays on the subject, because they truly believe that their insight/update is different.

It sounds like this experience will be truly upsetting to you. I'd consider excusing yourself and walking way.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:15 AM on July 3, 2012

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?

You can't. I don't want to be all DTMFA but... your friends are not respecting your boundaries. What do you do when they start talking about these other friends? Do you stop the conversation? Any other action is passive acceptance, as they see it, and gives them license to continue. They may not even see what they are doing as hurtful, but if it is, and they keep doing it, then you are really left with only one option - to end those friendships as well.

I think your partner has the right idea - seriously, consider cutting these ties once and for all. And I'd reconsider this trip, period, as it sounds like trigger-rama.

I seriously cannot imagine being told that someone sexually assaulted someone else and then carrying on with both people as though nothing happened. There is something seriously weird here.
posted by sm1tten at 11:32 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

You are lucky that you have a caring partner. You do not need any of the other people in your life, and you don't need to explain or convince them that you are in the right. Telling them once that you don't want to talk about it should have been enough. They clearly don't respect your boundaries and the more you enforce them, the more aggressive they will become.

Get them out of your life. I am so sorry, this story sounds like a nightmare. For real, just don't give a fuck about what they say.
posted by Tarumba at 11:36 AM on July 3, 2012

People want you to return to your old "friends" because that way they can pretend nothing went wrong. You are disrupting their peace by standing up for yourself and being honest. These people are not your friends.
posted by Tarumba at 11:39 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Drop ALL of these people from your life.

Problem solved.

(The reason is we can correctly infer you've grown and matured since you initially chose these folks as friends, and they clearly are not in-sync with who you are, today. Drop them all and the "problem" cures itself. Keep them, and the problem will persist. What are you waiting for?)
posted by jbenben at 11:40 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

What is it you are getting from this old circle of friends that is worth being triggered so badly and so often? That might help you get better advice here.

And I assume you have already looked into this, but if you have not there might be a greasemonkey script or browser extension that will allow you to block comments by a certain user for whatever platform you all use.

I seriously cannot imagine being told that someone sexually assaulted someone else and then carrying on with both people as though nothing happened. There is something seriously weird here.

That's what I would have thought too, until I saw it happen. From what I can tell, it's a bunch of people thinking "Rapists are bad people. I do not like bad people. Therefore, my friend cannot be a rapist." It's infuriating and upsetting.
posted by jeather at 11:48 AM on July 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

Sometimes whole social circles develop where almost every person in them has major emotional problems.

You suffered trauma as a child, but I can tell you've done a lot of work to heal from this. Your old friends are still enmeshed with morally bad people that any healthy person would shun; thus, I conclude that they have not done this difficult healing work. It is very probable that some of these people grew up in bad families and learned to deny and rationalize the behavior of abusers; now they are doing the same in their "family of choice".

I suppose it is possible that some of these people are just thoughtless in an ordinary way, or just cowardly in an ordinary way, and can be pressured into better behavior. But this isn't ordinary drama, this is rape. I think that maybe the people who won't respect your boundaries are doing it for deep psychological reasons rooted in their family dynamics, and their behavior isn't going to change until they examine that.

These relationships are important to you because you were deprived of a family and you are ill and vulnerable. But despite all this, you have found a loving and supportive partner. You have the ability to form healthy relationships. Not interacting with these people any more will create space in your life to meet the kind of emotionally healthy friends you deserve.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 11:58 AM on July 3, 2012 [11 favorites]

You can't control what they do or don't mention, and if it's that upsetting then you should cut off everyone who continues to mention Ben/Hannah. I get that you don't want to do that, but you've tried to get them to stop and they haven't - you are left with getting rid of the people or getting to a place where you are okay with hearing about Ben/Hannah. It doesn't sound like taking this trip is the best choice for you, as it's already causing problems with your partner and your mental health.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:03 PM on July 3, 2012

Why are you friends with these people?
You are wasting your time trying to come to terms with them. You need new friends.
posted by Flood at 12:15 PM on July 3, 2012

There are a lot of things going on here, but none of them are as important as a fundamental fact of it:

You've asked them not to bring these people up around you.
They've kept bringing these people up around you.

They know you're bothered by it and they haven't stopped and I see no reason to think they'll stop, even though it's a behavior so small and inconsequential, a change that costs them nothing.

I completely get where you're coming from in wanting to find a way to make them understand, but the problem is that they do understand, it's been communicated to them, and they aren't willing to respect your request. Screw it. Write them off.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:23 PM on July 3, 2012

"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."

Are these the same friends that you explained to that Ben assaulted you? If so, they aren't your friends. Drop them and move on.

The other stuff is more or less "normal" relationship drama, which is not to say that you should have anything to do with those people, but you can't expect your other friends to necessarily take sides - especially since they're doubtless getting conflicting stories from you and Hannah/Peggy/Martin. If your friends bring them up, just keep repeating "I don't choose to have anything to do with these people any more and am not interested in hearing about them." If your friends can't handle not bringing them up after a few reminders, then they aren't interested in respecting your boundaries and you should consider seeking out a new group fo friends.
posted by tdismukes at 12:27 PM on July 3, 2012

What on earth can I do that will work?

Find new friends.
posted by headnsouth at 12:27 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thank you for your answers - I can see the wisdom in them, even if it's saddening in some cases.

To answer a question that's come up, we're going back for the wedding of some dear friends - friends who've been unequivocally on my side throughout all this, and flawless about not mentioning the former friends to us (the groom-to-be doesn't even know Ben, Peggy, et al). We're in the wedding party, and want to be there to celebrate with them.

This also became a chance to visit family members over there, like my Gran in nursing care, and other friends who were unconnected to the social circle and the situation. Of course, word got around as soon as we agreed to be in the wedding party - and we weren't keeping the visit a secret - so we've been inundated with messages of joy at our impending return, offers of accommodation, and hopes of catching up.

Much of my contact with the old social circle happens via e-mail and IM; we're geeks, and there's a time-zone difference in play. So when I've opened an e-mail or had a message pop up on-screen and I see the name of one of these four, the trauma-responses kick in and I need to read it to make sure it's not something like "Wanted to warn you, Martin & Peggy are coming to New City." (I'm working on this! But I still have the occasional impulse to go check their blogs so I can reaffirm that they're far away and I'm safe, even though I know better than to follow it. Stupid trauma.)

I've been doing the "Please don't talk to me about these people/I don't want to know/I can't cope with hearing about this, as I've said before. [logout]" sort of thing. It gets a heartfelt apology, and proof that the person feels crap about upsetting me... and then usually an explanation like "I really do get that you don't want to know about the others, I just didn't want you to miss knowing something that might be important." And I *headdesk* a bit.

ottereroticist, you're right about that being a pattern in my life - as another example, my abusive parent cut me off years ago (and will tell anyone who listens that I brought it upon myself) because I said I was only willing to accept a relationship with them that didn't involve further abuse. I still haven't succeeded in getting family to It's interesting to see you put things in terms of people punishing me for having boundaries, too; it's felt like that at times.

I'm not sure I'm ready to drop everyone who mentions our former friends yet - partly because I feel like maybe I haven't been explicit enough about my boundaries with all of them. My illness affects my cognitive processing, and finding the right words can be very difficult (this is part of why I go on at such length!). Even without that, it's hard to say things like "I need you to not mention these people to me ever again" to people when I've been smacked down for having boundaries before; I still tend to freeze when stressed. And it's harder still when I'm busy trying to control dissociative or traumatic reactions.

I don't think I have been as clear as some of the suggestions here with some of my friends. And while I know I find it hard to be that emphatic, I think I owe it to these folks to give it one last shot before I write them off? I have some hard thinking to do on that front, I think.

(Maybe I need to print out some of your admirably clear boundary statements on cards, so I can hand them to people if I can't form the words?)
posted by Someone Else's Story at 1:06 PM on July 3, 2012

I still haven't succeeded in getting family to

Oops, sorry. That should be "I still haven't succeeded in getting family to stop talking to me about that parent."
posted by Someone Else's Story at 1:10 PM on July 3, 2012

i just don't understand why these ppl are still friends with ben if he sexually assaulted you. do they just not believe you? and if they don't believe you, then why are you still friends with them?
posted by violetk at 2:52 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Everything is only worth how much life you spend on it, and you sound like you throwing a ton of your life into all this awful drama and to those awful people. Like the other posters I think you should step back, bow out, cut them all off and move on. Napalm those bridges with glee!
posted by meepmeow at 2:58 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't have to see any of these old friends who hope to catch up when you are in Old City, you know! It sounds as if you will be plenty busy enough, this trip. I regularly make returns to my home town and don't have time to catch up with everyone who I would dearly love to see.

This time, to make it easier on yourself, why don't you decide that you will focus on the wedding, visiting family, and friends who aren't connected with all this trauma.
No contact with people who may hurt you, even unintentionally.

It seems like you are suffering from a burden of anticipation - all these awkward conversations and boundary-crossings that might happen if you meet up with these friends. It's okay to free yourself from all that by deciding you won't see them, this trip.

You don't owe anyone, even the very best friend, a catch-up at the expense of so much stress and pain to you.

Practically, can you set up a rule to forward emails from potential trigger contacts to your partner to screen before you read them, and even to reply to catch-up proposals with a cheerful but firm "would love to see you, but this time, we will be so busy, we have practically every half-hour booked up, catch up next time?"

Are there ways that you could temporarily cut down the avenues people have of contacting you? If you have to worry about triggers coming at you from email, IM, blog comments, Facebook, etc, etc, can you take a break from some of those things?

Learning to be kind to yourself - really make things as simple and easy for yourself as possible - is as hard as learning to set boundaries. You need time and mental space to heal, you deserve it. You don't have to carry on shouldering every emotional load - look after yourself first!
posted by Catch at 3:24 PM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with Catch. Limit your interaction with these people by planning your stay and filling up your time with what is important: the wedding and preparation activities, family and other friends, and then use the rest of the time to do some lovely one on one time activities with your wonderful partner. This will help limit the interactions you have and also give you times of knowing you are safe and not going to be blindsided by these folks.

Also, limit your emailing (sending and reading sent emails) to those people who you know won't bring up these people. You can absolutely create and shape your trip to optimize the positive and create your own buffer against these people. You can even ask your partner to handle all your emails at this time.
posted by Vaike at 4:11 PM on July 3, 2012

I would suggest setting up a new email address and gradually transitioning everything over to that.

I agree that you should cut off all of these people. I get how even mention of their names is triggering for you. If you're not connected to any of them they can't trigger you.

Block on Facebook, abandon Blogspot, kill off LiveJournal, block on Twitter, ignore with all your might and main.

If you can't do that right away, work up to it. Hide one at a time, then declare Block Day, for example. I get why it feels like you're scanning for your own safety but if you're not in their social circle any more they can't do much. The less you hear about them the less jumpy you'll feel. I started to feel better as certain milestones passed in time which meant the threat was getting less and less. In your situation, I think there really isn't any further threat, as long as you stop interacting with them.

I see why you don't want to be isolated when you're sick, but you should want to be isolated from people who hurt you.Clean 'em out, strip 'em down, no deposit, no return. THE WORLD IS FULL OF FRIENDS. You can EASILY make more friends who would never think of treating you like this. If you do this now, in a couple of years you will look back and compare the shitty friends you used to have with the great ones you have now and you will marvel about how much better your life is. But that's gonna mean doing some things now that you don't really feel good about now.
posted by tel3path at 4:47 PM on July 3, 2012

When people make those half-assed fauxpologies to you, what do you say? Think about "Well, it wasn't important, because those people are dead to me, and if you have the slightest respect for my feelings you won't mention it again" or some variation of that if you aren't already.

I get that your fabulous great friends who stood by you and did everything right have some friends who are either enablers of the rapist and his posse, or who don't know the whole story, and that you can't guarantee that the enably or misinformed folks aren't going to intersect with you because they're part of the fabulous and supportive friends' larger circle.

So although phasing out the shittily inconsiderate friends seems wise, you're going to encounter some of them at your supportive and wonderful friends' wedding, and I think you're wise to recognize that being with your wonderful friends is important enough to brave the possibility of shittiness.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:19 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also think the cards might be a good idea, but for yourself. Coming up with firm and self-respecting statements for you to make, even if you have to read them off the cards. "Ben betrayed my trust, and he's lied to everyone about why he and I aren't speaking" is one possibility for people to whom you don't feel comfortable about disclosing the sexual assault.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:23 PM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

My partner and I settled on "shit went down, he's not a part of our lives and it's really upsetting to talk about". People usually infer sexual assault after that, even without his notorious attitudes towards women and sex. We pretty much shut down conversation after that, and change the subject.

The situation was not the same (no poly relationships, not as many years) but it was an entrenched social circle that went under. We're still really close friends with most people because they respected our boundaries. I've talked about what happened in detail once with one of our friends. Once in the ten or so years since it happened. And there are about five other friends who were peripherally involved. Another one has talked about it in some detail with my partner and that's it. None of them pressure me for more information, or take it upon themselves to sort anything out, or to inform me of anything. A few mentioned things once but after the messy death of the conversation, it didn't happen again.

Don't be afraid to make things uncomfortable. People like this rely on the social conventions that will harm you, now and in the long run. There is no way to politely get around their lack of tact, emotional bullying and social ineptness. So make it uncomfortable. Like I said, we go with the "hey, we don't like talking about Dickface, shit went down and it's just something we don't talk about ever" and then change the subject. If they try bring it up again, we change the subject, again. And we will be obvious. Fuck subtleness, they don't care!

Make sure to get your partner on side though, I couldn't have deflected nearly as many of the conversations if he hadn't been there deflecting with me.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:57 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you still want to be struggling with this five years from now? If not, it's time to put the whole thing away into the "things I lived through even though I didn't think I would" cabinet, forget about these people and make new friends where you live now; in short, time to start looking forward instead of backward.

I'm old, and my cabinet is pretty full of horrible things - including a brutal, forcible rape. I've finally decided that each nightmare we manage to get through should be given about a year of suffering to reach recovery; after that, it usually just becomes rehash and doesn't actually get any better. Eventually I come to regret, to some degree, the loss of valuable living time I wasted in bitter reflection and hurt. Still, a year is understandable for most issues, the exception (for me, anyway) being the loss of a child or suffering/death of someone very dear to me.

Not that you'll ever completely be free of this horrible experience. It will always be a part of you, but it needn't be something you continue to live over and over indefinitely. You really are missing out on the potential for incredible joy and excitement about life, new experiences and new friends/loves while you continue to relive such a poisonous situation.

If you do go, let these people see a new you. Let them be amazed at your strength and your involvement in other things and the fact that you now consider them trivial, asinine troublemakers, not worth your worry or interest. In short, fake it 'til you make it - it works every time.

Rock on, my dear - you're above all this.
posted by aryma at 7:02 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I found out that some of my friends were still friendly with the person who had assaulted me, I confronted them about it. One or two of them tried to give me the same bullshit "I try not to take sides" stuff.

I promptly cut all ties with those individuals and have never looked back.

However, as you say you don't want to lose all ties with these individuals, I suggest you may want to use a tactic I used for associates. I obtained a lot of very simple books on PTSD, highlighted and bookmarked relevant pages, and handed them to the individuals with the suggestion that they read them. It doesn't require you to talk about all of it, but it still gets the job done.
posted by corb at 7:46 PM on July 3, 2012

From the depths of my heart and the depths of my own experience, I want to tell you:

It's going to feel so, so good when you cut these people off. Like cold water on a sunburn. Like taking off ill-fitting shoes. You haven't done it yet because you don't know the relief, the clarity and the wide-open spaces which come into being inside you when all this struggle stops. When you stop asking "why do they do it?" and "how can I change them?" and "how do I need to change to become a person whose needs will be respected?"

They do it because they do it. You can't change them. You don't need to change yourself. It's going to feel so, so good to let go of these questions.

And you don't owe them another chance. You are the one who deserved so much more, so much better. You are the wronged person.

Someone said it above: don't be afraid of making people uncomfortable.

If Ben didn't want people to know he'd sexually assaulted you, he shouldn't have done it. If your friends and lovers didn't want to be known as people who supported a predator and turned on a survivor, they shouldn't have done it.

I gain a lot of strength from Audre Lorde's The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action. There are so many silences to be broken.
posted by endless_forms at 9:02 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

If cards help, use them. Either cards to hand out or cards to read from. I actually thought of this blog post on adaptive technologies and boundaries when I was reading about your difficulty forming words in the moment.

But whatever you choose, please, don't do it because of what you think you owe other people. Do it because you deserve more, you deserve better, and you always have.
posted by endless_forms at 9:37 PM on July 3, 2012

"There is no way to politely get around their lack of tact, emotional bullying and social ineptness. So make it uncomfortable."

I just want to add - politeness is not only about "making people comfortable" as legend has it. Etiquette holds that there are times when it's essential to make people uncomfortable and this is one of them. Geek anachronism's script is spot on.
posted by tel3path at 4:17 AM on July 4, 2012

I'm a therapist who works with people with PTSD. Boundaries are hard for everybody, but especially hard when the people we trusted the most are the ones who hurt us. I hope you can remind yourself in hard times that what you are doing is for your own health. And that your friends are doing your relationship a disservice by ignoring your clearly stated boundary.

It is not easy to get from "It bothers me that they violate my boundary" to either "I am okay ending this friendship" or "This relationship is important enough that this is acceptable". As hard as that in-between spot is, try to remember that it takes time. It is a crappy place to be, but if you can, be compassionate with yourself as you try to make choices that are the best for you.

PS. I can't resist: If you haven't already, check out Cognitive Processing Therapy or Prolonged Exposure. Also, groups based on Dialectical Therapy Skills Groups will help you develop the skills to cope with the effects of your trauma on your life, and life in general. 1/4 of the group is focused on interpersonal skills. If I ran the world they would teach these skills groups in every high school :) All of these treatments have been proven to be effective for people with PTSD.
posted by gilsonal at 2:55 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

« Older For some reason googling "the pretty dress that I...   |   Hyde Park or Flossmoor? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.