June 13, 2007

Lesson The First: You are an Object

Posted in abuse, borderline personality disorder, mental health, recovery at 6:36 pm by nevavegan

I’ve been working on this forever, and I still don’t feel completely comfortable posting it. What I’m doing here is delving into a huge topic, which is so big and requires so much background that it’s almost not appropriate for blogging. However it’s extremely important to me, so I’m going to give it a try.

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and articles lately about sexism and violence against women. There are a lot of theories floating around out there about violence and general and violence against women in particular. I’m really not qualified to comment on many of these theories. I keep adding titles onto my reading list and I hope that shortly I’ll be able to say more in a much more authoritative manner.

What I do feel qualified to say is that the topic of mental health should be central to this discussion. There is an epidemic in our culture of untreated and often ignored mental illness, and one side effect of pretending this problem doesn’t exist is rampant violence and abuse. This includes abuse of all types, verbal abuse, physical abuse, stalking, and so on.

In animal work, as in feminism, as in the fight against violence, or to improve situations for poor and displaced all over the world, we often find ourselves using the word “objectify.” We use this to explain how someone is able to make a living from hurting animals, or how someone is able to do unspeakable things to another human being. We talk about the ways in which the media or certain philosophies objectify women, minorities, or animals.

But for me, the word objectify has another meaning and it really shakes me to my core. Because there are people out there who carelessly objectify others and can be woken up to the harm they’re causing when they hear the stories of the exploited. But there are also people who by reason of mental defect cannot do anything but objectify others. These are people who are completely cut off from empathy.

When I’ve tried to explain this to some people the first thing they think of is a serial killer, a sociopath, and that is one example. However, most people affected by this are not serial killers, but they are still dangerous to us in various ways. I feel like when that guy tried to grab me and force me into his car while I was out walking, that I was probably dealing with a sociopath at that moment. What I didn’t know was that people who are much less obvious might also view me (or you, or your sister, or your son, or their cousin) as only an object to be used and then discarded. These people might be able to put on a great show of empathy, but they usually do not feel it.

I will never forget that afternoon in the therapist’s office when I described a particularly abusive episode from my past and she brought up a topic that would change the way I thought about everything: Borderline Personality Disorder. I left her office and got several books, hit the internet hard, talked to friends, talked to strangers in support forums, and started wrapping my head around this topic.

My first reaction however was to run back to the therapist and hold up a book. Pointing to a paragraph I read to her “victims of abuse often develop Borderline Personality Disorder as unresolved trauma accumulates.” What does this mean, I wanted to know, does this mean that I might have Borderline Personality Disorder?

The therapist patiently explained that while many people with BPD do have histories of abuse, the diagnosis of the disorder is based more on their distorted thinking and erratic behavior. There are certain criteria they must fit to fall under this disorder. There is also an entire continuum of disorders, such as other personality disorders like narcissistic and histrionic, and then other mental illnesses like bipolar disorder. A person can have bipolar disorder with one or two traits of BPD, or they can have BPD but exhibit traits also of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Very few people are a perfect textbook case of any one mental illness, there are degrees of severity and a whole host of symptoms from the common to the rare.

The therapist reassured me that I didn’t show symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder, which was exactly what I needed to hear. We all need to keep an eye on our behavior and getting the green flag that I’m not mentally ill doesn’t mean I can do and say whatever I like all the time. However, it does feel good to know that I haven’t inherited a serious mental illness.

The trickiest thing about personality disorders is that people with personality disorders often don’t fit out stereotypes of how “crazy” people look and act. People with personality disorders, again on that continuum of severity, can hold down demanding jobs, don’t mutter to themselves or forget to bathe, don’t wear tin-foil helmets. They can be charming and nice; they can seem perfectly normal much of the time.

The main thing that will distinguish the personality disordered from the “mentally healthy” are the things going on inside their heads that the rest of us can’t see, like disordered thinking and unusual reactions or distorted emotions. Most important though is the complete inability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. The thing that you or I would notice would instances of unusual behavior that are hard to classify.

The reaction of a “normal” person (I put normal in quotes as there is a wide range of thinking styles and personalities that differ greatly but are considered ok, ie not mentally ill) to being around the personality disordered is often to start to wonder if they themselves are the crazy ones. Those of us who have been through this often use the phrase “welcome to Oz” to describe the experience, because suddenly you find that all the things you believed about human behavior and how the world works simply don’t apply.

As I said earlier there are varying severities of personality disorders, and it’s very hard to generalize about all people affected by them. Some people with milder cases do feel empathy sometimes, but find it hard to connect to that feeling during the worst times when their disorder really acts up. However, if we are discussing the just the most serious cases, and just those that fall under the definition of Cluster B personality disorders, we are talking about people that are very mentally ill. Even if they don’t necessarily act like they’re mentally ill, there are some extreme problems going on.

Because I grew up with a parent that falls under this definition, or to be more exact a low-functioning, out-acting Borderline Personality Disordered individual, I more or less grew up in Oz. Everything is backwards and upside down and nothing makes any sense. A further consequence of growing up in this environment was that later, as a teenager and then an adult I didn’t always pick up on the fact that some people around me weren’t behaving in normative ways or were engaging in damaging behaviors. Those things were actually very familiar to me. In other words I’d built up a tolerance to crazy in the same way other people have a tolerance for heat or cold. I didn’t really notice it any more.

The downside of not picking up on the fact that others had personality disorders was that people with personality disorders certainly picked up on my tolerance. To some of the most ill, my tolerance, my patience, and my vulnerability were like a drug, and so I attracted some pretty damaging people into my life. The therapist says that people who have been abused have a lower pain threshold sometimes. We might put up with more abuse than others would, but we are also totally crushed by it. Because we are already hurting, insults and harsh words are like rubbing salt in an open wound. A person who hasn’t learned some degree of helplessness by being stuck in a home with an abusive parent will likely stand up and defend themselves. For those of us who have learned, time and time again that there is no escape and that to defend ourselves makes things worse, we tend to ball up and wait for the attack to be over.

For years and years I asked myself “What did I do wrong? Why do people I love hurt me?” But the question was the wrong question. The fact was there was nothing I could change to alter those situations. The people who hurt me hurt me for disordered reasons that make no sense to normal people. Those reasons varied from enjoying the feeling of power they got from reducing me to tears to lashing out against imagined hurts. For someone in the grips of paranoia, simply being myself or smiling or insisting on being treated with respect could be the trigger for an all out attack, in some cases verbal, in some cases slander, in some cases physical. But the real issue is that the reasons never mattered, and staying in a damaging situation wondering why the same bad things kept happening was simply a waste of time.

Since this realization I’ve witnessed friends go through the same thing, wondering why a relationship simply won’t work no matter how hard they try, wondering why someone in their lives keeps hurting them over and over. Why doesn’t matter. When you realize someone in your life tries to crush you when you’re happy and uses moments when you’re down as an excuse to kick you, that’s all you need to realize. Just get out, get away. Move, don’t leave a forwarding address, change your phone number. Whatever it takes, just get out.

Some will argue that it’s not the fault of people with personality disorders that they have this mental illness and it’s unfairly punitive to them to cut off contact. I agree it isn’t their fault. Many have been victims of abuse themselves, though abuse doesn’t cause personality disorders and most people who are abused will not develop personality disorders. In fact, recent studies utilizing brain scans on people with Cluster B personality disorders show that their brain activity is altered as compared to someone without a personality disorder. Whatever the cause: genetic, organic, psychological, we can all agree that nobody ever asks to suffer from a serious mental illness. And certainly in cases where someone in our lives wants to get better, does not have such a severe case, and is not continually harmful to us, there are good reasons to support them during treatment. But that’s not what I’m talking about; I’m talking about the cases where people are severely affected, harmful to others, and very resistant to treatment.

The reason that this is so bad is that to people severely affected by cluster B personality disorders, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or Antisocial Personality Disorder, I am an object. I am something to use for their amusement, or for their personal gain. But they don’t feel empathy toward me and they never will. They don’t worry about how I feel. They might enjoy my pain or they might be indifferent to it, or so lost in their own confusing world they’re unaware of anyone else’s pain, but the point is that I don’t matter.

With that as a starting point, there is no fixing it. Anyway I’ve rambled on in this impossibly long entry, because this is the building block to things I want to post about in the future. I want to talk about how ignoring mental health is harmful to our society. I want to talk about abused animals I’ve rescued personally and wondered how a person could break a rabbit’s bones for example. I want to talk about why bystanders are afraid to confront abusers. I want to talk about how concepts of objectification and ownership affect all of us. But this is the first step, to talk about the worst of it and where it comes from, and then later I can talk about how these things go from a place of mental illness and confusion to taking up residence in the minds of the otherwise healthy people.


June 10, 2007

Wherein I use a rape analogy and contradict myself

Posted in abuse, animal advocacy, rape, rape analogy, vegan, veganism at 4:31 pm by nevavegan

So, yesterday was hectic and as I was running up the stairs with an armload of laundry some stuff knocking around in my brain came together into something resembling a coherent thought.

I’ve said for a long time that even as we bring more attention to issues like rape and domestic violence there are still people out there who don’t know as much as they should, or don’t understand the underlying issues. However, we have made significant progress in that most people do seem to recognize women as independent human beings who don’t deserve to be hurt. There are exceptions of course, but there is increasing understanding.

Then I thought about some old journals and stories that I read while in undergrad and how it had struck me then that as little as a 100 years ago many people didn’t think marital rape was possible. This was because rape wasn’t seen as a crime against a woman (though people might have sympathized with the woman); rape was seen as a crime against another man by dishonoring him or devaluing his property. To rape an unmarried woman was a crime against her father who then might not be able to marry her off, and must also endure the shame the rape brought upon his family. To rape a married woman dishonored her husband and devalued his property, his wife. But for a man to rape his own wife seemed impossible. She was his wife after all, how could he possibly rape her? No other man was being dishonored. He owned her body after all, you can’t steal what you already own.

Slowly attitudes in society changed and many people came to realize that women are human beings with their own will, their own needs, and their own rights. They came to see that some men terrorize their wives or partners through sexual violence and the threat of sexual violence. But none of these changes would have been possible without first recognizing that women belong to themselves. We own our own bodies; nobody else owns us.

Even today, there are some people who don’t understand the concept of marital rape, and it’s more difficult to prosecute than stranger rape, a crime people have a more ready understanding of.

But even as the attitudes about ownership and about rape shifted, a strange secondary prejudice slipped in that allowed many people to ignore just how widespread domestic violence and sexual violence were. People started saying “If it’s so bad why doesn’t she just leave?”

I encountered this attitude at work when two male co-workers discussed in front of me their opinion on a highly publicized domestic violence case, concluding that the woman had gone back to her abuser several times so she must like the abuse. I was so shocked and even hurt by these words that I wasn’t able to interject myself into the conversation to clear up that misunderstanding.

Connected to “why doesn’t she just leave” is an assumption that someone who has been abused will show it in obvious ways, which allows people to believe that their neighbors and co-workers aren’t at risk. I’ve heard people say of domestic violence cases “but she doesn’t look hurt” or “how can she be telling the truth when she seems fine.” We like to think violence is so rare and so horrible that we will be able to immediately tell victims from “normal people” and likewise that we should be able to tell who is an abuser, because they certainly won’t look like us.

These are problems with public perception that many groups are working tirelessly to combat and we do seem to be making some real progress on them.

However, and now for my dreaded hypocrite moment, I wondered if such blind spots also applied to our perception of animals. I really do think the same fallacies in thinking are huge problems in making people aware of how badly we treat animals in our culture. First there’s the problem of property. If you are raising chickens to produce eggs and someone else kills your chickens, that’s a crime against you and that person would be prosecuted, not for hurting the chickens but because hurting the chickens hurt you, a person, the owner. However, if some of your chickens die because you continue forced molting too long or the cages are too crowded, that’s not a crime, because you damaged your own property. Therefore, you’re a bad farmer, but not an abusive monster. See the problem?

(Oh, and see the recent Compassion Over Killing case for further evidence of this)

Many groups are desperately trying to make the public aware of the harm being done to animals and to tell people that animals matter and shouldn’t be made to suffer. So we start to make some slow progress with public attitudes, but we are far from the finish line.

Now the other fallacy comes in: “If it were so bad the animals would all die and the farms would fall apart.” This is what the industry tells us. Even though investigation after investigation shows nightmare conditions, egg-laying hens living on top of the dead bodies of their sisters, pigs that can’t ever turn around, cows with open bleeding sores, and so on… Even with all of that, the industry tells us “It can’t be that bad, if we mistreated the hens they wouldn’t lay eggs, if the cows were suffering they wouldn’t produce milk, the fact that you have a ham on your table proves the pig was treated well.”

Sigh, and yet we all know this isn’t true, and yet people buy into it. How do we fight this misinformation that allows people to feel good about their choices, and lets them keep living in a fog, blocking out the truth?

May 31, 2007

Interesting conversations and offensive posts

Posted in abuse, recovery, violence, women's issues at 12:18 pm by nevavegan

Some thoughts here might be controversial, hence the title: offensive posts. I’m trying to honestly look at issues that affect my life and probably affect the lives of many others as well.

One thing that I try to keep in mind as I wander through my life is the concept of equality. Not that all of us are the same, because that’s patently ridiculous, but the idea that the differences between us don’t automatically rank us on some kind of hierarchy. Instead we all bring different things to the table and in an ideal world our different viewpoints and different skills could fit together like a jigsaw puzzle and we’d all be able to contribute and participate.

Then the cold hard world shows her face and I know that all around me I’m surrounded by people who in one way or another are cut off from participating in our common culture. The sense of powerlessness became palpable in some communities. In other situations, people with all the trappings of being important may in fact feel very shut out. They keep their ideas to themselves, potential contributions are never made.

Clearly the “isms” can shut people out of participating in society: racism, sexism, ageism, and the not-an-ism, homophobia. Some people struggle against these forces and insist that their voices matter, others get discouraged and retreat to the quietness of family, chosen family, or small communities where they can feel accepted.

There also comes with this the strange phenomenon where people start to think that prejudice is acceptable, if it’s good prejudice. Yet in any case, to assume that we know something about someone based on external factors, like race, gender, age, or socio-economic status is always prejudice. Because quite literally we pre-judge them. We think we know who they are and their capabilities before we ever actually get to know them.

This leads me to another point. I have been thinking lately about the topic of how women hurt each other and hurt children, and yes, even hurt men. Which is a no brainer, because women are human beings, and all human beings probably hurt someone else at some time, and there are some human beings who practically make careers out of hurting other people, and then there’s the whole spectrum in between.

But when I’ve talked to some of my friends in the past about female on female abuse, or child abuse perpetuated by mothers, I often run into this wall. Many of my female friends will insist that women are natural nurturers, that we are automatically filled with compassion and love. So if a woman turns violent or abusive, it is only because she herself has been abused to the breaking point.

I rankle at this because 1) I do think most abusers were abused themselves, but this applies to men as well, and we don’t tend to excuse their behavior because of that. Instead we ask that they act like adults, get help, and take some kind of responsibility for their actions, and 2) Women can be pretty awful sometimes even in the absence of abuse (again with that being human part).

This lead me to a fascinating exchange with Angie Reed Garner, and I just have to quote her, because she said it perfectly:
“I have always thought that one of the primary ways that women are stunted and deformed by sexism is that there is a lack of literature and general awareness in the culture about the ethical issues pertaining to women’s behavior. There is more about how women go crazy, but not much about how women fight against each other and children for power, control and resources.”

How very, very true. We decry sexism and yet at the same time we allow certain damaging behavior to go totally unchecked because we are attached to the myth of the perfect mother, the madonna and child, the female angel of mercy. So we cannot accept the idea that women also fight for power and prestige, and that they may backstab, slander, or shun other women to achieve those goals. We don’t like the idea that a mother might look over the limited resources of her family, and put herself first and her children last. We give a resigned sigh when a father spends his money on alcohol and doesn’t pay child support, but we neglect the whole concept that women might make similar decisions.

I want to explore this topic more over the next couple weeks, well not just this exact topic, but aspects of sexism, aspects of abuse, and just the general lack of research and documentation on issues within female culture in this country.

I also got some information from the moderator of the Survivors forum, though I’ll leave her anonymous for the time being. As expected, she said, most members when they sign up for access report abuse or attacks perpetrated by men. But it was not so lopsided as you might expect. She told me the split is about 60/40 in favor of men as the abusers. Further she said that about 25% of the community is actually male, which was a surprise to me as most males in the forum are very, very quiet. I expect though that rates of abuse for men, especially men abused as children, are probably fairly high, but just going on anecdotal evidence from my own experience, men are less likely to seek therapy, and less likely to join support groups or forums.

I’m not sure where all of that fits into my thinking other than a kind of general “wow, our culture can be violent.” But hopefully I’ll be able to form more thoughts on the topic as time goes on.

May 1, 2007

Accepting What Isn’t Acceptable

Posted in abuse, animal advocacy, recovery, vegan at 2:09 pm by nevavegan

Just an odd little note. I have no idea who is reading this blog. I really thought nobody was reading it, which was probably true for the first few months. Now I think a few vegans drop in and check on it, because I love, love, love to read vegan cooking blogs and I comment. Apart from that, I have no idea who is reading or why. Should that make me nervous? Should I feel less open?

My original intent had been to follow along with the weekly writing assignments from the survivors forum, but to post them here, not on the forum. This was partially because my answers always somehow come back to animals and veganism. Suddenly I feel less comfortable with bleeding my angst all over the internet, and yet, I don’t want to abandon the original idea just because I’m paranoid that someone who doesn’t have my best interests at heart is reading.

Blogging is a weird thing, huh? I thought I’d stick all my writings here. Stuff I was sort of proud of but didn’t have a home elsewhere. I thought that if other vegans found something of value, or other people who’ve found themselves in similar situations to mine, all the better. Some of the stuff here winds up being formal essays; some is just meandering mind-dumps.

Well, that was a long opening note. Here’s the real topic.

Those of us who have encountered abuse are often trained from a very young age to accept things that are not acceptable, that are harmful to ourselves, that are harmful to others. In much the same way, our culture indoctrinates us from a young age to accept doing harmful, cruel, even terrifying things to animals. We are told this is simply how things are and we can never, and shouldn’t want to, change it.

This is especially true for me in many ways. I’ve written prior to this about abuse issues and I won’t rehash them here, except to say that emotional and verbal abuse is a form of brainwashing and can set you up for a lifetime of regarding the aberrant as normal.

When this comes to animals, my story might be a tad different than other people’s. I’ve mentioned before that my father is a hunter, and when I was growing up I raised beautiful chickens and ducks that my parents killed and served us for dinner. I remember sitting on the floor next to the body of a lovely deer, stroking his fur. I remember piles of dead ducks and geese, rabbits even. I went fishing myself as a child.

This was something huge to overcome, to get to a point where I was able to see that something that was acceptable, admirable even, to my family was not acceptable to me. It’s not easy to break away from the mind set in which one is raised.

For me the environment was the wedge issue. I grew up surrounded by beauty. As a child I’d go to the pond on my great uncle’s property and there were so many frogs, I had to be careful where I stepped. So many song birds of every color and old magnificent trees to climb. Then one year the frogs just weren’t there. There were older frogs, but all the little frogs were just missing. The shallow waters no longer teemed with tadpoles. It seemed like I saw fewer and fewer birds. Then the trees started dying from gypsy moths. Then I read in the newspaper about the rainforests being clear cut to graze cattle, and how all these species were going extinct as a result. I read that our song birds had no place to go during the winters anymore. That’s the day I resolved to give up eating cows. And when I read about all the pollution from poultry farms, I gave up chicken as well.

That was the first chink in all the armor I’d built up around myself. So often we’re so terrified that we might be wrong about something that we can’t even consider the ideas logically. It’s silly actually, that so many people subscribe to this view that we are either right about everything or we’re wrong about everything and therefore bad people. We don’t want to believe we’re bad people, so we refuse to ever reconsider any of our actions or habits in the face of new information. It’s actually a symptom of mental illness, but I find it widespread among the otherwise sane as well.

Once you allow that one moment of doubt in, there’s a possibility that the whole web of rationalizations and lies will fall too. I found myself, now that I wasn’t looking forward to a steak at my next meal, able to realize: hey, I don’t need meat to survive, there’s nothing “natural” about the way we raise and butcher animals, and hey, I’m actually pretty happy doing this. You know, another of those jaw meets floor moments.

Meanwhile, I see all around me people that are less accepting of death even than I am, people who love animals, but who continue to eat animals because of all that armor they wrap around themselves. These are the people who don’t want to hear terrible stories about how animals live and die. They don’t want to see pictures. They really don’t like the thought of dogs and cats dying in animal shelters. But they are able to insulate themselves from those truths and continue living as they have always lived, because to change would mean admitting something was wrong in the first place.

And so they say things to me like “The Native Americans were very good to the environment and they ate meat” (yes, and show me a hunter/gatherer in NYC) or “I’m really comfortable with my position in the ecosystem” (and how does your luxury house, 2 cars, high rise office, and buying imported foods fit in the ecosystem?). But at all costs, we cannot be wrong, so we have to bend our minds around to force the unacceptable to be ok.

Of course, I think I’m right about veganism, but I’m still wrong in so many ways. Part of making peace with my own mind was understanding that I have been wrong before, and will be wrong in the future, and that it isn’t about being perfect and always right, it’s about doing what I can and learning from my mistakes. I think veganism is a good starting point because it helps on so many levels: it saves so many animals and prevents so much environmental harm. But I still need to do better in other regards; it’s a process, not an end point.

A sort of funny concept to me is the stereotype we have of the curious toddler and the exasperated parent. It’s in movies, TV shows, books, and ads. “But why?” the small child asks and the parent sighs and says “Just because. That’s what we do.” But what if we took that question seriously? “But why do we eat meat?” and the answer isn’t “Because we just do” but is something more like “I don’t know, I never thought about it. Why do we eat meat?”

April 29, 2007

Survivors: Does Recovery Change How We Communicate

Posted in abuse, recovery, survivors at 3:07 pm by nevavegan

I was late with last week’s writing assignment from Survivors and hopefully I’m early with this one.

This week’s topic is language and how our perspective on it has changed.

The first part asks if I’ve noticed a change in the language I use. To some extent this is true. I don’t like to use certain words except in their correct context, and when I use analogies I like to be certain they carry enough weight for me. I’m uncomfortable when someone uses the word rape for purposes other than to describe rape, as evidenced in prior entries. I also, though this might not be related, really hate to see terrorism used out of context. It irks me to see it applied to anything except, well, violent terrorists. I recall an acquaintance saying his ex was an “emotional terrorist” because she dumped him, refused to tell him why, and immediately started seeing someone else. No, she hurt you, but she doesn’t appear to killing people and spreading mass panic, so back off the T-word already.

But more than casual use of the language, the thing that really bothers me are the assumptions and misinformation that so often underlie this careless speech. When the office manager screams that he’s being raped because the paper supplier is raising the prices again, you get the impression that he actually has no idea what rape is, or the long-term effects of violent crime. Even with rising paper prices I think he’ll probably get to sleep tonight.

Specific words aside I think the biggest change in me that I notice when it comes to words and communication is that I’m a lot less tolerant of the little word games people play. Because abusers use word games to both abuse and discredit their victims at the same time. The prime example of a stupid word game is that whole Clinton thing with “I did not have sex with that woman,” etc. though I don’t mean to classify that in with verbal abuse. It’s just an example of someone trying to pick apart and manipulate speech to his advantage despite the clarity with which anyone, even a 10 year old, would be able to tell you exactly what that statement meant.

The abuse aspect of word games comes in when the person appears to be “gaslighting” you. You know what you heard, you’re pretty sure you know what was meant, but the other person denies it. I’m wondering how wise it is to give out too many personal details here, but I can’t think of any other way to illustrate this point. When I was growing up my mother was frequently extremely critical of my weight and general appearance. At the same time she would reminisce about her glory days, when she was in college and her nickname was “Miss Petite” (even though she was tall, at least two inches taller than I am, it was in reference to her very low weight), when she did some modeling, when people kept asking her to do more modeling but she turned them down to concentrate on school, when all the boys were so enamored of her beauty that they brought her present after present. Then one day when I was washing dishes she came into the kitchen and made a face like she was smelling something really distasteful and said “Sometimes I just can’t believe that someone who looks like I do could have a daughter that looks like you.”

Now I was pretty sure I knew exactly what she meant by that, with the tone of voice, the look on her face everything. But when I got upset she denied any ill intent. “I’m not being critical of how you look,” she insisted, “I’m just saying that sometimes I can’t believe that MY daughter looks the way you look.”

And then the onus is pushed back on the listener—“It’s not that I said anything wrong, it’s that you listened wrong.”

As I came to realize just how often in my childhood and adolescence these kinds of word games were played at my expense, I now come to a point in my life where I don’t want to play word games anymore. I lose my patience. I want people to say what they mean. I’m probably overly sensitive at this point to any attempt to manipulate me through words.

This brings us to the next aspect of the Survivors writing assignment. Does this new view of words change the way I communicate with others?

Maybe. My tendency is to keep certain things to myself, and while I definitely would prefer to keep damaging, insulting, or hurtful comments to myself, there are times where I should speak up. I’m trying to learn to do that more and to do it more effectively.

Writing about my issues with the rape analogies was part of that. I don’t really know how relevant or valuable my own thoughts are on that issue, but I give myself permission to express my concerns so long as I try to do it in a respectful way. Communicating more doesn’t have to mean just unloading emotions onto other people, but trusting my instincts to the point that I can say something simply because I want to. I don’t need to wait for the perfect opportunity, I don’t need to worry so much that someone will misinterpret what I say, because I can and should communicate.

This also means that I can try to call people on their word games. Sometimes people do things like that without any real clue they’re doing it, it’s just a habit they’ve fallen into. But that doesn’t mean I need to be intimidated or silenced by word games. If I’m dealing with someone who is otherwise well-intentioned, sometimes all it takes to end a word game is to ask “What are you actually trying to say to me?” Because that pushes the other person to be mindful of their words and if they must rephrase their statement sometimes the manipulative aspect of it will necessarily fall away. But if I’m dealing with a pro-manipulator/abuser, the answer to that question will always be an attempt to put the blame back on me. This is still a positive though, because at least the intent is more in the open and I have a better idea of just what I’m dealing with.

And this leads me to some tips on being mindful of our own speech and how to derail manipulative speech from others.

Mindful Speech:
*Say what you mean. This is very difficult for most of us, because we’re really socialized to not say what we mean. A lot of psychological studies show that people will say they agree with statements they clearly know are false (such as calling a red car green or agreeing with a wrong answer on a simple math equation) if everyone else in the room is agreeing with the false statement. We’re smarter than this. We know that speaking with integrity is always the right answer, it’s just some deep instinctive fear in us that urges us to go along with the pack, even when we know the pack is wrong. Say it politely, say it kindly, but say what you mean.
*Try to stick to “I” statements rather than accusing other people
*Be mindful of your mood and try not to push your mood onto others through harsh or loaded words.
*Sometimes mindful speech does mean just walking away from a non-productive discussion.

Stop Playing Games You Don’t Want to Play
*If someone says something inappropriate to you try to call their attention to that without escalating the battle (often people say inappropriate things because they are hoping for a fight). *Examples of this include “Why would you say/ask something like that?” “I think I must be misunderstanding you. What are you really trying to say?” or even “I’m sensing some hostility here, so I have to go now.”
*Don’t take the bait. Sometimes people want to avoid addressing the real issues at hand, so they change the topic to something about you, or just engage in insults. Don’t fall for it. Try to bring the topic back to the appropriate topic and if that fails, simply remove yourself from the situation.
*Don’t always assume. Sometimes people say things that sound loaded, but that wasn’t their intent. Give them a chance to clarify and correct any misstatements.