Like Mithridates, the ancient Greek King who–legend has it–ingested small amounts of poison to create immunity, it is the art of swallowing what we hate little by little, of being formed by it, developing an immunity to it and even learning to appreciate the rush it gives us so we can make it in this sick world. If it is no longer poisonous to us, it is easier to dish it out as we deny that it’s poison. It’s still poison though.
The powerful emotional link that binds families who grow up together often manifests itself in curious ways when adult adoptees meet their biological families. Yet as common as it is, few want to touch it because–well–incest. But this issue needs more awareness, and not only because according to recent reports it’s on the rise. Also because I believe that it’s a fertile ground for a particular type of abuse.
But the loss of religion, shame and guilt left me without morals. Quite by chance, I found that I was amoral by choice.
I explain that when you live as a woman, there is often a power imbalance. And that power imbalance means that I would in all likelihood let myself be raped if I perceived a threat. And seeing as the prevalent power imbalance means that threat is ever present, rape is always a viable possibility.
If you are not at the centre then don’t shit on the person whose been hurt – your job is to support them. If you yourself need support in order to do that, bitch to people who are less affected by it; comfort in, dump out… On a macro scale don’t give more burdens to those who have been oppressed. Don’t expect compassion from those who have been dumped on. It is not their job to show it.
Many abuse victims like me, have also demonstrated the same behaviours which can be tagged as emotionally abusive. Yet they are not abusers themselves. Why? At what point does hurt become abuse?
It had been a joke to my boyfriend, an anecdote from a fun evening out. They even have an expression for it in locker-room Swedish–‘gut-brothers’–for those men who’ve shared a vagina. But when he saw the expression on my face, he got an inkling that something, somewhere was very, very wrong.
I can understand of course, why that always has to be the line in our culture of legal, illegal. Ethical, unethical. But language both drives and is driven by, humanity and culture. Defining polar opposites of ‘yes and no’ means simply by their definitions these opposites are reinforced. Of course they do exist but as with everything else… they exist on a spectrum. Our positions of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are only two binary values in a world full of grey.
Yet we all do it even if we don’t realise it. There are some people who are more pleasant to be around because they don’t trigger those fears and insecurities in us. I’ve fallen in love with people whose presence is, like my writing, soothing. Or those who make me laugh. Or those–like my boyfriend–who are ideologically similar when it comes to vigilance over my children. It’s less about the dopamine high and more about the euphoria of finally feeling confident and capable. Trusting that my children are safe.
Yet emotional abuse is incredibly damaging, perhaps in part because it cannot be recognised and dealt with in the same way. Emotional abuse gets swept under the carpet because it is supported and perpetuated by society as a whole.
There’s a train. It’s a superb high speed train. It’s admired, a feat of engineering. The train is chugging easily along until, let’s say, a weakened valve breaks under pressure and suddenly the train goes faster and faster. Knuckles clench around the armrests. Panic ensues. People scream. Bolts loosen.
These are the piercing secrets we whisper to one another in our late night conversations, in those moments of vulnerability, before putting our metaphorical masks on again. Life is a game. A game driven by our kinks, our fascination with power and objectification.
We are programmed as human beings with a biological reaction called ‘disgust’ and as a society, have reinforced this through any number of mechanisms to be able to live together. It’s part of the reason why so many stories of abuse remain untold and why many abusers can go on abusing, sometimes over decades. Abusees become disgusting by their association to abuse. Their stories are often doubted, shunned or dismissed as inconsequential.
‘Couples can communicate without words,’ you said and you were right. I knew for instance that a raise of your eyebrow meant I had overstepped the fine line of being generously open and embarrassing myself… and you. A curl of your lip set me on edge wondering what I had done and where I had gone wrong. Our non-verbal communication grew until that night I didn’t understand that my refusal to participate in a foursome you’d organized without telling me, would mean that you would punch me.
I’m a veritable poster girl for reframing painful perspectives. One of my passions is to help people, particularly women break free from society shame, to help them love their bodies, so that they may be able to stand confidently and happily, no matter what they – or their vaginas – look like. I’m on my own journey, as I help others through theirs. How am I doing?