Apparently, someone I consider a very good friend thinks my family isn’t autistic
And that instead we have social anxiety (what, you can inherit conditioned social anxiety brought about by severe abuse in your parent’s life before or mostly before you were ever conceived!!!!!???! I’m thinking NO), habits (stimming, even blatant stereotypical stimming), and passion.
Because we’re “all too lovely and nice” to be autistic. And nothing like terrible people with the label or suspected of the label.
"You’re the opposite of them!"
Uggggghhhhhh, you have been my friend for eleven years! Don’t dooooooo this! That’s so wrong!
I remember being offended at people thinking me autistic. But that was before the prominent asshole stereotype. Look at me now.
Back in the nineties, a psychologist said “I don’t like people with Asperger’s, and I like your father, so he probably doesn’t have Asperger’s.” Of course this is the same psychologist who, at least officially, said that I was psychotic since infancy because of my mother, and who used to beat me on the leg, hard, until I made eye contact, so I don’t hold his opinions in very high esteem at all. But I couldn’t believe he outright admitted that bias. Once I found out that he’d make or unmake a diagnosis based on something as little as whether he liked a person, I wasn’t inclined to take any of his diagnoses seriously.
debunking an abuser myth
PROVIDING FOOD AND SHELTER IS NOT AN EXCUSE FOR ABUSE.
Just because someone gives you food and housing and any other manner of gift or possession does not give them the right to abuse you emotionally, mentally, or physically.
Often time abusers will use this as an excuse.
IT IS NOT AN EXCUSE. EVER.
Highlighting previous poster’s tags:
#forced dependency is a PART of abuse #giving people things they need to survive so they can’t leave
I’ve found that doubly so in disability situations and caregiver abuse, it can get horrible. And some of the most manipulative caregiver-abuse I’ve ever experienced has involved them making themselves invaluable in one area to try to make me not fire them. In both of the worst cases, they were excellent cooks and able to get me food for very little money, and make amazing meals out of it.
One of them went too far when he tried to convince me that he could help me commit Medicaid fraud in order to get a med I was prescribed but couldn’t get. I reported him, instead of being grateful to him for “helping” me again. It turned out he’d been doing similar things to lots of other disabled people.
One thing he also did — so did the other one like him — they would badmouth other staff and talk about how they were better than all the other staff. They would make mistakes and blame them on other staff. And they would make themselves sound better, while making other staff sound totally incompetent.
Which isn’t always a sign of abuse (I have had one staff person who is just arrogant enough she thinks she’s always doing a better job than others, that’s just her personality type, I worked around it, she was good). But it should always be a red flag.
Years ago, I had a weird conversation.
I was explaining to someone the history of left-handedness in America, the ways that left-handed people were treated, it was considered okay to beat us until we became right-handed, and other things like that.
And instead of listening to me, the person’s only response was to roll her eyes and say “Oh God, please tell me they’re not trying to claim to be an oppressed minority.”
Which, no, I’ve never heard a left-hander claim that. But at the time in question, we were part of an oppressed minority: disability. Because left-handedness was literally, in and of itself, considered to be a learning disability with symptoms that went well beyond using your left hand for things (there was an entire list of symptoms from clumsiness to language problems). My mother grew up in that time and she was definitely considered disabled just for being left-handed. The fact that things have changed and now left-handers are not disabled, does not mean we weren’t disabled then.
But I found that person’s response really obnoxious. She basically had this worldview where there were “real” oppressed minorities, mostly people of color, and that everyone else was just “copying people of color” and not really oppressed, or not really very oppressed, when she’d grudgingly acknowledge oppression existed. So her very first worry when hearing about brutality towards an entire kind of person wasn’t what happened to the people in question, it was whether they’d try and “steal” oppressed minority status from those who really deserved it.
Which, as a left-handed person very grateful to grow up in a time and place where left-handedness is not a disability? Rubbed me the wrong way.
And yes, my view of what is and isn’t a disability is that it’s heavily depending on society. I’ve gotten in trouble before for saying that for a long time, gay people were disabled because of our inclusion in the DSM and our treatment by psychiatry. But it’s true. We were disabled at that point. We managed to climb our way out of that category, just as left-handers and some other people have managed to climb out of that category. But it doesn’t mean that we weren’t disabled at some point in time. Because whether you’re disabled isn’t just about your body — that’s one part of it, but social status as disabled is equally as important as physical or cognitive status. And it’s perfectly possible to be disabled entirely because you’re put in the social category of disabled people, even if you have no particular bodily or cognitive impairments.
But whenever I try to explain that, I get someone who flips out on me and insists that I’m trying to bring back the idea of gay people as disabled under the DSM. Which, just, no. I’m saying that when we were in the DSM, we were disabled because we were in the DSM and faced ableism, especially psychiatric ableism, the same as everyone else in the DSM. So don’t bother flipping out, it’s been done, it doesn’t do anything except cause aggravation.
I am left handed, and I grew up with family friends who had lived through this period in the US. Their hands had been tied down, and they were beaten severely, in one case to the point of broken bones. One of these family friends would still write with her right hand, which I couldn’t understand at the time (I was a little kid) but now understand that writing with her left hand gave her flashbacks and panic attacks.
It was a bad scene.
There are still countries where left-handedness is considered a disability! China, for one. I have had a lot of conversations with left-handed Chinese people when they see me writing Chinese characters with my left hand (the myth that “you can’t write Chinese characters with your left hand” is used to justify a lot of this shit.)
I remember a particular conversation with a fellow tourist in Kunming, who saw me signing hotel forms left handed. The conversation was in Chinese, I’m translating loosely.
"You’re using your left hand?" (I got asked this a lot, because it’s so unusual.)
"Yeah, I’m left-handed."
"They told me I couldn’t do that! That that was impossible! I’m so mad! So fucking mad!"
in case anyone is wondering if this stuff still happens.
I want a movie where…
…a disabled person’s anger at their caregivers is viewed as justified, rather than displaced anger and self-pity regarding the fact that you’re disabled at all.
Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Passion Fish.
Which, by the way? When I complained (years and years ago) about caregiver neglect/abuse/incompetence on an autism forum where most people did not have caregivers? A “helpful” person recommended that movie to me, told me I’d like it and find it useful.
The basic story is about a paraplegic woman who keeps having problems with caregivers and firing them, until she gets one caregiver (a Magical Negro, IIRC) who “sees through” her anger and recognizes it as self-pity over being disabled, and then proceeds to get her to quit drinking and become a happier person and all this shit.
This is what I was recommended by my fellow auties when I complained of caregiver abuse and neglect and incompetence.
This is what I was recommended by my fellow auties when I complained that I was only getting two meals a week.
One autie, who had never seen me in my life, proposed the idea that I passed as neurotypical (I don’t and to my knowledge never have). And that the reason I was being neglected was that I “didn’t look like I needed help”. And that I should look at it from the perspective of a hard-working, working-class caregiver who has always had to work for everything they’ve got, who has to come into the house of someone who “doesn’t look like anything’s wrong with them” and is getting something for nothing.
I never did get an apology from this woman when she saw exactly how autistic I look.
Not that it should’ve mattered. Even if I’d passed for NT, my caregivers were literally starving me. They were not following their own job descriptions. And when they did actually cook for me? Sometimes they were so incompetent that they’d put large chunks of rock salt in my rice, or for “beans and rice” they’d give me rice with entirely uncooked, rock-hard beans. So even when I was given food, it was often inedible.
The recommendation that I watch, and gain ‘wisdom’ from, Passion Fish, under the circumstances especially, was insulting and offensive. Fortunately I didn’t actually see it until years later, or I’d have been so furious I’m not sure what I’d have done.
So I want a movie where a disabled person’s anger at their caregivers turns out to be justified because of abuse or neglect or something along those lines. Not one where it’s just displaced anger that is “really” just anger because they’re disabled, or something along those lines. (Because you know that when disabled people get mad, it’s really because being disabled makes us angry and bitter and self-pitying, and what we really need is a good kick in the ass from an abled person to help us see what we are doing in a new light.)
Also just the fact that I was on a mailing list for autistic adults where I was the only regular poster who had caregivers, said a lot. As did the fact that people who’d never been in the situation felt perfectly justified lecturing me about it, based partially on really bad movies they’d seen about disability. I did try to tell them “I heard that movie was full of really bad disability stereotypes,” only to be told something like “stereotypes have to come from somewhere, it’s a good movie, you’ll really relate to the main character”.
Yeah I’ll relate to the main character who is painted as too picky about her caregivers and too angry at them for no reason, while I’m starving, and being fed literally inedible food, when I get fed at all. And I’m supposed to “understand” how these “hardworking” caregivers see me, which this person is only guessing (badly) at anyway. (From what I could tell from actual conversation with caregivers, most of them assumed I had serious brain damage, if they weren’t told my disability. So, no, they weren’t thinking I was nondisabled.)
So. Again. Movie where at least some caregivers are abusive, neglectful, incompetent, or some combination of the three. Because that’s not rare, but is rarely portrayed. And where the disabled person or people get angry about this. And where the disabled person’s anger is portrayed as justified. And not as displaced anger at their own disability. Maybe their anger even makes them do something like file a successful APS complaint or something. This would be wonderful.
Also knowing more autistic adults with (formal or informal) caregivers would be wonderful. I know there’s at least more of us here than there were among the active members of that list all those years ago. If there had been people with a lot of paid caregivers coming in and out a lot, there would’ve been someone who related to what was going on with me, because you can’t have more than a certain number of paid caregivers without running into some who are either neglectful, abusive, or incompetent. Sometimes all three at once. I’ve got a really good set of caregivers right now — utterly wonderful people — but I never take that for granted.
If you are being hurt by a person, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your relationship.
If you’re being hurt by your family, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your family.
this was the primary tactic of my abuser. an abuser will go out of their way to train you into this thought pattern:
"If you are being hurt by a person, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your relationship."
the thought pattern that your “special” and “unusual” and “magically extraordinary and totally unique” relationship you have together cannot be understood by anyone else and- let me paraphrase my abuser- “everything about us would be ruined if we talked about how special this is.” They train you into this so that when the abuse escalates, you feel isolated and alone, as if no one could possibly help or understand you. The abuser is invalidating the help others may give you before you have even approached someone for help!
it took me years to realize that this was what he had done.
Wow I’ve had that done to me too.
It actually resulted in a situation where… I now have an amazing and very special and unique relationship with someone. And the two of us were afraid to even admit to ourselves how amazing and special and unique it was, because we were aware of my past experiences with such, some of which had eerie parallels. Like false things that were said in past abusive relationships, were true in this current non-abusive relationship. (Friendship, by the way, not romantic. But highly intimate friendship.) So we were for a long time afraid to admit to those things, for fear that somehow it would be like the abusive relationship. But the real thing is totally different than the false thing. It uses the same words to describe it, but the core reality is different.
And that’s important to know too.
You can have amazing special unique relationships that few other people can understand. And those can be real. But when you have a real one, the entire feel of it is totally different from when you have an abuser who is just saying those things. And it’s also totally different from when you have an abusive relationship that has components that are similar. It’s still totally different. The real thing is beautiful and rare and not at all abusive. And I honestly think that one thing that abusers do, when they say all these things… is they convince you that the real thing can’t exist. They may not do that on purpose, but they do it. They convince you that if you do have an amazing special unique relationship then it’s time to look over your shoulder because something must be wrong.
And that’s… a serious violation. It’s almost a worse violation than the original abuse, because it makes you afraid to form some of the most amazing friendships you could possibly have in your life, and afraid to trust the people you should trust the most. And afraid that the other person won’t trust you. And generally afraid to just experience something beautiful.
That makes sense. And I understand why some women would not want men in certain positions of power over them. It’s just my experience has been very different, and so has madeofpatterns.
You are not alone
If you are being hurt by a person, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your relationship.
If you’re being hurt by your family, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your family.
If you are being hurt by a community, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one from outside the community can possibly understand.
It’s not true. You are not alone. There are others outside your relationship, family, and community, who can relate to what you’re going through and who can help.
Some aspects of your relationship, family, or community are unique. Some of them are probably unusual, positive, and hard for outsiders to understand. But that is not the barrier that those who are hurting you want you to think it is. It is not insurmountable.
People do not have to understand absolutely everything in order to relate to your experiences in important ways.
You can make connections with others, and a lot of things you have experienced will be very, very similar. Some aspects of abuse are universal. Others are very common. (One very common aspect of abuse is that there is often something about the relationship that is positive, unusual, and secret or hard to describe.).
The people who you can relate to may be very different from you in a lot of ways. They may be a different age, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, or culture than you. Maybe they are disabled and you aren’t. Maybe their disability is different, or more severe, than yours. Maybe the particular horrors they faced took a different shape. That matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters.
It is ok to relate to the experiences of people who are very different from you. It is not appropriation. (It is not ok to pretend that your experiences are identical; but it’s completely possible to relate without doing that.) Don’t let anyone tell you to only listen to people who are just like you. We all need each other.
People may be trying to isolate you, but you are not alone. Other people can and do understand and care about the ways in which you are getting hurt.
Short version of the problem with Nonviolent Communication (NVC)
- In a conflict, sometimes one person is right and the other person is wrong
- In such cases, it is important to judge the situation and figure out who is in the right
- Emotional abuse exists
- Working to meet an abuser’s emotional needs will not stop them from abusing others
- Genuinely felt emotions can come from an abuser’s abusive values and mentality. Expressing those feelings can be a form of abuse in itself.
- It is possible to say horrible things about and to other people under the guise of talking about your own feelings and needs
- It’s important to be able to judge abuse as abuse. Calling it “behavior that does not meet my needs” is not always sufficient.
- People need emotional boundaries. Your feelings are not always anyone’s business, and you are not always obligated to care about or listen to the feelings of others.
All of these things are vitally important to understand. People who don’t understand these things abuse their power over others. People who don’t understand these things are incredibly vulnerable to being abused by others.
NVC culture denies all of these things. That does tremendous harm to vulnerable people.
People are abused because there are abusers out there. We pass policies limiting the behavior of people with disabilities instead of passing policies limiting the power of staff.
This is really intense and really thorough and really good.
And really, really triggering to me because the author is an abusive horrible woman who tried to ruin my life as well as she possibly could. And I’m still afraid to tell the whole story because I’m not sure anyone would ever believe the extent to which she fucked with my head. Especially when she has such a wonderful progressive reputation for interviewing Dave Hingsburger about sexuality and power and all that. She was a monster.
And I’m afraid to tell you even that much. I’m still afraid of her. I’m still afraid of everything she did, I’m still afraid she could hurt me now, and I’m still afraid that telling you this will somehow bring on more hurt from her. She was a master of abuse and neglect and above all, lies and lies and lies.
Do not believe anything good about her based on this interview. Do not believe anything good about her. She says all the ‘right’ things in this interview, but she is horrible beyond anything.
She was my first exposure to the Regional Center system and she could have gotten me killed for all the work she did to keep me alive. It’s a very good thing that services in California are two-tiered — there’s your case manager at the Regional Center, who manages your money, and there’s your case manager at the actual service agency. I had a good case manager at the service agency and that saved my life. If I’d only had this woman, and her alone, I don’t think I’d have survived. She also threatened to throw me in a level three group home when I complained. (For those unaware, that’s “Care, supervision, and ongoing training for persons with significant deficits in self-help skills, and/or some limitations in physical coordination and mobility, and/or disruptive or self-injurious behavior.” There’s only one level of group home beyond level 3.)
I can’t read this without being triggered.
I can’t read it for what it is.
Because it’s the first thing I ever found when I searched her name on the web.
And it still just throws me into blinding terror that I’m going to die and nobody’s ever going to believe anything I say about myself and stuff. She used to write lies down in my file and then claim I told them to her, and if I said I never told them to her, she’d tell me there was something wrong with my memory. And when my doctor faxed her my list of diagnoses, she just made up a bunch of diagnoses that had nothing to do with the list my doctor faxed her, and claimed that I’d told her these diagnoses as well. (“Chronic Epstein-Barr virus” was one of them — something I’d never even heard of, let alone been able to tell her about, and it certainly wasn’t in my medical records because I have my complete medical records and I have the fax he sent her.)
Even though I had tape recorded the meetings with her, she’d still tell me later that I’d said things in the meetings that I never said. Like, things that couldn’t even be said to resemble anything that had been said by anyone in the meeting at all. I eventually had my other case manager formally request her to stop calling my house because it stressed me out too much, and then that same case manager watched in incredulity as she kept calling me over and over and over again.
And this is besides the “You’re your own case manager now, goodbye!” stunt she pulled. I later found out it was all a lie. She told me I was my own case manager so that I would stop trying to communicate with her. Then she told me I had to write my own IPP, which I was incapable of doing. I had Cal Montgomery, who’d worked in the field herself and had experience writing such documents, write my IPP. Because the one written by this case manager was full of lies to the point that if anyone who knew me, either through the system or through friendship, read it, they couldn’t believe it was about me. Like they literally could not find anything about it that resembled me in the slightest. Anyway I found out years later that to become your own case manager requires training and a whole process, and that what she’d done was tell me I was my own case manager, and then stop doing any work for me at all, because she knew I didn’t know enough about the system to contest what was going on.
Without having a case manager in another agency I’d have starved to death among other things. Or been put in that level 3 group home. One or the other.
And all the while, people from the Regional Center were telling me what a saint she was for doing things like writing this article. This article makes me want to slam my fist through a wall. Because all it is, is a vehicle for her hypocrisy, I don’t even know how many lives she has ruined. Everyone kept telling me “There’s a certain kind of client she’s very good with” but I don’t believe it.
Oh also speaking of this article?
She wrote in my IPP all this stuff about me being a lesbian and wanting help making contact with the lesbian community. This was without my permission to disclose to anyone, and it’s not something I even asked for her help with, she just knew I was a lesbian. This was part of her sexually progressive image. I just remembered that, just now, after years of blissful forgetfulness. That is the sort of thing she did after making this article.
NVC, cognitive ableism, and abuse
People who struggle interpersonally, who seem unhappy, or who get into a lot of conflicts are often advised to adopt the approach of Nonviolent Communication.
This. Other issues is that NVC can be used by abusers to abuse… “nonviolently.” Especially if you’re standing up for yourself to them.
Like by using their I-statements to redirect from the issue to them. Like, if I’m saying, “Please don’t [x] because [y],” then the abusive NVC user responds with an I-statement about how hurt they feel about what I just said. Suddenly I’m the bad guy for telling them not to [touch me, interrupt me, roughhouse, etc].
Or using their I-statements to gaslight. I say, “Please don’t [x] because [y],” and they respond with an I-statement about how they feel attacked when I “yell” even though I wasn’t yelling. And then the conversation is suddenly about whether or not I was yelling at them, not about the thing I’m trying to get them to stop doing. And again, I’m the bad guy for establishing a boundary.
Or using their I-statements to engage in ableism and tone policing. “I don’t like being spoken to in such a harsh tone.” when I can’t word something any differently because I’m trying to hold off a meltdown. And then convo is redirected to whether or not I’m being “too harsh” and away from “I need to get out of this situation yesterday,” however I phrased it.
And ableism in that they don’t accept that sometimes it’s hard to impossible to phrase stuff in a NVC-acceptable way. On a bad word day, something like 70% of my conversational brainpower is focused on getting the mouth to make the word-sounds in the order, volume, cadence and smoothness that makes the gist of what I need to communicate understood. The remainder of my conversational brainpower is about evenly split between understanding what the other person is saying and trying to figure out how to phrase something so that I can get it out of my uncooperative mouth. NVC phrasing is almost always wordier, more oblique, and therefore harder to conceptualize and say than direct/blunt phrasing. On a bad words day I don’t have any brainpower left over to figure out how to phrase things tactfully/gently. If I stumble onto it because it’s in a preexisting script that I think I can say, great. If not, communication > etiquette. I will point and say “Shut it” about a fume hood sash at work, even if it’s blunt to the point of rudeness, if it’s what I can say at the time. Because the alternative is dangerous at my work. NVC does not as a philosophy allow for this being a situation that might happen.
It’s also harder to parse what the other person is actually wanting from me in the conversation when they choose to hint and talk around it with NVC (e.g., “I’m sensing anger” can mean “Did I upset you?” or “Are you angry?” or “Why are you angry?” or “Is something bothering you?” or “am I misreading your body language?” or “I don’t like your tone of voice.”). When I’m in a high-stress time, I’m unable to correctly parse body language and subtext. I will misread what the other person is hinting at, and then they get annoyed when I don’t follow their lead in the social dance. When I’m stressed, I’m either oblivious to or I’m hearing only part of the metaphorical music, and therefore I can’t follow the subtleties and intricacies of what they want me to do. NVC also does not as a philosophy allow for this being a situation that might happen - I need direct, explicit, and downright blunt-to-the-point-of-rude communication at times. NVC practitioners (for want of a better word) have a tendency to assume I’m being purposefully obtuse at such times, when in reality I’m just not understanding what they’re trying to get at.
Lastly: I’m a survivor of various forms of abuse. Learning how to judge my abusers for their abuse was a necessary part of the healing process. NVC takes the assumption that it “takes two” to have a blow-up about something. And in some cases, it does. But in other cases, NVC is a philosophy of victim-blaming.
It did not take two when I was being sexually harassed by a kid over twice my age on the school bus. It took him. Choosing someone to victimize. It did not take two when someone held me by the throat as they put a hole through the wall beside my head. It took that person, choosing to victimize me. It did not take two when I had kids slam my head in the locker and beat me while I lay on the ground stunned and counting stars out of the blue, for no reason other than that they thought it would be funny. It took my bullies choosing to victimize me. Judging their actions as wrong and harmful and just plain mean let me learn to stop blaming myself when it was done to me. And that, in turn, opened me to taking more radical action, which I eventually did upon graduating high school.
Judgement is a necessary skill when you’re in an abusive situation. Full stop. You need to judge others so that you can stop victim-blaming yourself and stop believing that if you’re just perfect enough - if you fit in enough, if your hair and clothes are good enough, if you’re well behaved enough, if your marks are good enough, if you practice physical coordination enough, if you never even sneeze wrong or breathe funny - you won’t be abused anymore. That won’t happen. You will never be perfect enough for them. I could walk on water, and they would call me a r***** for not knowing how to swim. And it’s not my fault. It’s theirs, for choosing to victimize.
Learning how to judge, and that judgement is okay in some situations, even necessary in some situations, allowed me to leave those abusive situations. Expressing my judgement of their actions allowed me to establish boundaries in a way that was unmistakable by bystanders. And it got others to acknowledge and more importantly learn from my experiences. A school-aged relative of mine did not have a bullying situation in school go unchecked because I expressed my judgement of how my parents handled my bullying situation in school. My parents were hurt by my words, I’m sure. But that relative was saved years of torment. I tried with I-statements, I really did. And they didn’t work. And I tried talking about the scientific studies on the harms of bullying. And that didn’t work. What worked was sitting down with the kid’s parents and telling them in so many words (I rehearsed it a lot so I’d be able to get it out right the first time), “Your child will hate you in ten years if you don’t do something about this now. Not in a month or two in case it gets better. It’s been going on for months. It won’t get better. It will just get worse if you don’t do something, and in a month it might be too little too late. Trust me on this. You need to do something now. I was in [kid]’s shoes when I was that age, and by the time I was a teenager, I hated my parents with a passion for not doing anything about it when I was a kid. Don’t ignore it and pretend it’ll go away. Do something. Even if it doesn’t work, [kid] will know you’re there and trying, and that means something. “
NVC is a good tool for certain situations. But it is not and should not be the only tool. If it doesn’t work, you need to have something else to turn to. To use a metaphor: If all you have is a hammer, you’ll wreck your damn plumbing when you try to tighten a nut. Likewise, if all you have is NVC, you’ll make the situation worse when forceful verbal action is required.
Oh gods the first fourth-grade teacher I ever had (I repeated the grade)… he always said “it takes two to tango” or “it takes two to tangle” or something. I didn’t have the language skills to parse out what that meant, but it always consisted of this girl beating me up or otherwise bullying me and then him forcing us to “talk it over” while she cried sweet little crocodile tears about getting caught and the teacher would tell me “Look at her, she’s CRYING,” as if that meant any damn thing at all.
Nonviolent Communication can be emotionally violent
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) culture facilitates abuse in part because NVC culture has very little regard for consent. (I said a little bit about this in my other post on ways NVC hurts people.) They call it nonviolent, but it is often a coercive and emotional violent kind of interaction.
NVC has very different boundaries than are typical in mainstream interactions. Things that would normally be considered boundary violations are an expected and routine part of NVC dialoging.
That can be a good thing, in some contexts. There are settings where it can be very important to have different emotional boundaries than the default. To have intense engagement with people’s emotions. To hear out their emotions and state yours and try to refrain from judgement and just hear each other, and then talk together about what would meet your mutual needs.
In a NVC interaction, you have to regard your needs and the other person’s needs as equally important, no matter what they are. You have to regard their feelings and emotional reactions as equally valid and worth hearing as yours, no matter what they are. That is a good thing in some contexts, but it’s dangerous and deeply destructive in others.
That kind of interaction can be a good thing. I understand the value. But here’s the problem:
One way NVC can be abusive is that it supports coerced emotional intimacy, and coerced consideration of someone’s feelings even when their expressed feelings are abusive. This isn’t actually a good thing even when someone’s feelings are not problematic in and of themselves. Coerced emotional intimacy is a violation in and of itself, and it’s a violation that leaves people very vulnerable to greater violations.
I recently challenged an NVC advocate to answer this question:Consider this situation:An abuser has an emotional need for respect. He experiences it as deeply hurtful when his partner has conversations with other men. When she talks to other men anyway, he feels betrayed. He says “When you talk to other men, I feel hurt because I need mutual respect.”Using NVC principles, how do you say that what he is doing is wrong?This was their answer:"You’ve described him as "an abuser". Abusing people is wrong because a person with abusive behaviour doesn’t or can’t hold with equal care the needs of others.Is he doing something wrong? Or is he being honest that he feels hurt when his partners talks to other men? His partner can become his ex-partner if she doesn’t agree to what he’s asking for.”
That, in a nutshell, is the problem with NVC philosophy. This abusive partner’s honest expression of his feelings is actually part of how he is abusing his partner. NVC has no way of recognizing the ways in which expression of genuinely felt emotions can be abusive. It also has no recognized way for someone to legitimately say “no, this is not a conversation I want to engage in” or “no, I don’t consider that feeling something I need to respond to or take into consideration.”
Part of what it would take for NVC to stop being an abusive culture it to recognize that NVC-style dialogue and emotional intimacy require consent every single time people interact that way. Like sexual intercourse, this kind of emotional intercourse requires consent, every single time. Having a close relationship is not consent to NVC. Having a conflict is not consent. Anger is not consent. Having found NVC helpful in the past is not consent, either. Consent means that both parties agree to have this kind of interaction *in this specific instance*.
NVC can’t be the only kind of interaction allowed, even between people who are very close to one another. And it’s not ok to coerce people into it.
And yet, NVC culture is not careful about consent at all. NVC tactics are routinely used on people whether or not they agree to have that kind of interaction. (Some NVC advocates may say otherwise, particularly in response to criticism. But actions speak louder than words, and NVC proponents do not act in practice as though consent is important. They are case in point for When Your Right to Say No is Entirely Hypothetical) This is wrong. Emotional intimacy requires consent.
NVC practitioners express deeply felt emotions and needs to non-consenting others. They do this with the implied expectation that the other person experience their expressed feelings as very very important. They also expect that person to respond by expressing their feelings and needs in the same pattern. They also expect that person to refrain from judging the NVC proponent’s expressed feelings and needs. It is not ok to force this pattern on someone. Doing so is an act of emotional violence.
It’s not ok to force someone to be emotionally intimate with you. It is not ok to dump your deep feelings on someone with the expectation that they reciprocate. Other people get to decide what they want to share with you.
An example: White NVC proponents sometimes express feelings about their racist attitudes towards people of color, to people of color who have not consented to listening to this. They do so with the expectation that the person of color will listen non-judgmentally, appreciate the honesty, and share their intimate feelings about their experiences with racism as a person of color. This is a horrible thing to do to someone. It is an act of racist emotional violence.
NVC people also use empathy to violate boundaries. They imagine what someone must be feeling, name that feeling, and express empathy with it. Then they either insert a loaded pause in the conversation, or ask you to confirm or deny the feeling and discuss your actual reactions in detail. These are not really questions. They are demands. They do not take “I don’t want to discuss that” as an ok answer. They keep pushing, and imply that you lack emotional insight and are uninterested in honest communication if you don’t want to share intimate information about your feelings. That is coerced intimacy, and it’s not ok.
For instance, an NVC advocate with power over someone might say in response to a conflict with that person: I can see that this interaction is very difficult for you. I’m sensing a lot of anger. I’m saddened that your experiences with authority figures have been so negative. (Expectant pause). I think you are experiencing a lot of anger right now, is that right?
That is not ok. When you have power over someone, it is abusive to pressure them to discuss their intimate feelings rather than the thing they object to in your behavior towards them. Emotional intimacy requires consent; it is not ok to force it on someone as a way of deflecting conflict. And when you have a lot of power over someone and they aren’t in a position to assert a boundary unilaterally, you have a much greater obligation to be careful about consent.
NVC advocates may tell you that they are just trying to have an honest conversation, with the implication that if you want ordinary emotional boundaries, you are being dishonest and refusing to communicate. They are not right about this.
You do not have to be emotionally intimate with someone to listen to them, or to have an honest conversation. It is ok to have boundaries. It is ok to have boundaries that the person you’re talking with doesn’t want you to have. Not all interactions have to or should involve the level of intimacy that NVC demands. It is never ok for anyone to coerce you into emotional intimacy. Using NVC-style dialogue tactics on someone who does not consent is an act of emotional violence.
“Later, when asked about patients whose brains appeared to be damaged by the [lobotomy] surgery, [Dr. Walter] Freeman had this optimistic spin: “Maybe it will be shown that a mentally ill patient can think more clearly and constructively with less brain in actual operation.””—
Dully, Howard; Fleming, Charles (2007-09-04). My Lobotomy (p. 66). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
This is a book by a lobotomy survivor, by the way, and so far it’s been really interesting in a horrific sort of way. I’d recommend it if you can stomach it. Be aware, though, that it’s one of those books like “The Last Time I Wore A Dress”, where part of the horror for many readers is that the guy in question wasn’t actually mentally ill, he was just a high-spirited child of a highly controlling mother who was told by every psychiatrist she took him to that he was fine until she found one that would do a lobotomy on him. So it’s one of those stories, and if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing, be aware of it before reading.
This would have been just as horrific if done to a mentally ill person, and I think the author is aware of that, but I’m not sure all the readers are. I had a really hard time reading The Last Time I Wore A Dress, because all the reviews I heard were “isn’t it horrible that they did this because of her gender expression, she wasn’t even crazy” rather than “isn’t it horrible that they did this to anyone at all”. It’s like… in Canada there were all these people who were locked up and brutalized and raped and they got a public apology after it was determined they weren’t mentally ill or intellectually disabled, but the people in the same institutions who were mentally ill or intellectually disabled got no apology even though they were brutalized and raped as well.
Nonviolent Communication can hurt people
People who struggle interpersonally, who seem unhappy, or who get into a lot of conflicts are often advised to adopt the approach of Nonviolent Communication.
This is often not a good idea. Nonviolent Communication is an approach based on refraining from seeming to judge others, and instead expressing everything in terms of your own feelings. For instance, instead of “Don’t be such an inconsiderate jerk about leaving your clothes around”, you’d say “When you leave your clothing around, I feel disrespected.”. That approach is useful in situations in which people basically want to treat each other well but have trouble doing so because they don’t understand one another’s needs and feelings. In every other type of situation, the ideology and methodology of Nonviolent Communication can make things much worse.
Nonviolent Communication can be particularly harmful to marginalized people or abuse survivors. It can also teach powerful people to abuse their power more than they had previously, and to feel good about doing so. Non-Violent Communication has strategies that can be helpful in some situations, but it also teaches a lot of anti-skills that can undermine the ability to survive and fight injustice and abuse.
For marginalized or abused people, being judgmental is a necessary survival skill. Sometimes it’s not enough to say “when you call me slurs, I feel humiliated” - particularly if the other person doesn’t care about hurting you or actually wants to hurt you. Sometimes you have to say “The word you called me is a slur. It’s not ok to call me slurs. Stop.” Or “If you call me that again, I’m leaving.” Sometimes you have to say to yourself “I’m ok, they’re mean.” All of those things are judgments, and it’s important to be judgmental in those ways.
You can’t protect yourself from people who mean you harm without judging them. Nonviolent Communication works when people are hurting each other by accident; it only works when everyone means well. It doesn’t have responses that work when people are hurting others on purpose or without caring about damage they do. Which, if you’re marginalized or abused, happens several times a day. NVC does not have a framework for acknowledging this or responding to it.
In order to protect yourself from people who mean you harm, you have to see yourself as having the right to judge that someone is hurting you. You also have to be able to unilaterally set boundaries, even when your boundaries are upsetting to other people. Nonviolent Communication culture can teach you that whenever others are upset with you, you’re doing something wrong and should change what you do in order to meet the needs of others better. That’s a major anti-skill. People need to be able to decide things for themselves even when others are upset.
Further, NVC places a dangerous degree of emphasis on using a very specific kind of language and tone. NVC culture often judges people less on the content of what they’re saying than how they are saying it. Abusers and cluelessly powerful people are usually much better at using NVC language than people who are actively being hurt. When you’re just messing with someone’s head or protecting your own right to mess with their head, it’s easy to phrase things correctly. When someone is abusing you and you’re trying to explain what’s wrong, and you’re actively terrified, it’s much, much harder to phrase things in I-statements that take an acceptable tone.
Further, there is *always* a way to take issue with the way someone phrased something. It’s really easy to make something that’s really about shutting someone up look like a concern about the way they’re using language, or advice on how to communicate better. Every group I’ve seen that valued this type of language highly ended up nitpicking the language of the least popular person in the group as a way of shutting them up.
tl;dr Be careful with Nonviolent Communication. It has some merits, but it is not the complete solution to conflict or communication that it presents itself as. If you have certain common problems, NVC is dangerous.
Yes. And the man who molested me, for instance, would never — ever — let anyone excuse his actions because of a disability. I think he’d find it insulting if anyone even suggested it.
I’ve been reading some fascinating posts critiquing the idea of “nice guys” as often ableist, or at least of descriptions of them as ableist because they often mention or key on things some men with disabilities might also do or be or have: living in mom’s basement, having a “neck beard” or otherwise poor hygiene, missing social cues, etc. Some women who share those traits have mentioned they get the message they are unloveable from descriptions of Nice Guys that focus on those traits rather than on this kind of man having an entitled attitude.
I don’t want to derail those posts since I don’t have the sort of disability that would lead those things to be true of me, and think there’s merit to the point being made.
But I did want to ask if any women with disabilities have ever had the experiences I’ve had where men with disabilities have felt entitled to them because they have disabilities and are women? Because I’ve straight up had men with disabilities tell me that because I have a disability too, I “understand” them and can comfort them and therefore should be their girlfriend. I’ve had guys literally follow me around doing this. It’s like they think their disability gives nondisabled women a reason to scorn them, but all men are entitled to a girlfriend, so they’re automatically entitled to me as a woman who has a disability, and I don’t get to say no.
Like these dudes have literally never said to me “we can comfort one another about disability-related issues or commiserate about the ableist world; I get you too.” It’s always about the guy’s pain and how women are emotional caretakers so I’ve been volunteered to make Dude feel better.
Like I think there is such a thing as Disabled Entitled Guy, too.
I think the descriptions people use for Nice Guys are frequently ableist, but that has nothing to do with the fact that there are also disabled Nice Guys. Two separate issues.
It’s a notorious problem in autism support groups. (Note: I’m going to include myself in ‘women’ here because that’s what I’m treated as.)
We’re usually outnumbered by the men.
We usually have more sexual experience than the men, but more of it was bad or abusive or outright rape. (And the men usually don’t understand why this is a problem, and may even tell us they’re jealous of our sexual experience.)
And… the guys really often have some serious boundary and social skills issues that make things utterly horrible.
I’ve had a guy follow me around Autreat, telling me over and over things like “I wish you weren’t a lesbian, because I’m in love with you…” and thinking he’ll get a different answer the fiftieth time he says it. And that’s one of the least offensive encounters I’ve had.
Another support group just could not keep women there. Because of the guy problem. And the leader, being a guy, couldn’t see the guy problem. He just wondered often why women would show up a few times and then disappear.
And while I really don’t like to bring this up, because it fits too many stereotypes, the man who molested me was an autistic man with horrible horrible boundaries when it came to women. He basically saw women as a means to an end. And when he couldn’t get a real woman, he took it out on me by molesting me and pouring all his misogyny into me. Like I was his scapegoat for a world that had ‘rejected’ him.
I don’t like to bring autism into that because there’s a really nasty stereotype about developmentally disabled men, and our story falls straight into the middle of that stereotype. But suffice to say I have met my share of disabled male creepers when it comes to sex.
There was also the three guys who sexually assaulted me, in front of witnesses, in special ed or institutions, and where I was blamed because I “should’ve seen it coming”. At one point I told a teacher what a guy named Sandeep had done to me, and she laughed and said “that’s so Sandeep”. (He had stuck his foot up my butt and wiggled it around.)
The thing is… even though there’s plenty of disabled male sexual assholes and rapists and perverts, I still don’t think that it’s good to throw the stereotypes at them like “still living in his parents’ basement”. For a lot of reasons, including the fact that it makes people more complacent around people who don’t fit the stereotype. And I guarantee you for every creepy disabled guy out there there’s ten creepy nondisabled guys.