Hi, On Stage Blog Fam: the following piece contains subject material that might not be suitable for everyone. Topics will include abuse in its various forms (emotional, sexual, physical, financial, psychological, etc.), coping strategies, and ways you help yourself after abuse. I am by no means a mental health professional, but I do know a lot about abuse, coping with abuse and recovering from abuse. I am also not in the business of impugning diagnoses without the authority to do so, BUT I do believe in recognizing red flag behaviour and approaching interactions with abusers accordingly (especially since so many abusers are wiley and evade detection of a proper diagnosis). This piece has been formatted as less of an article and more of a reference and resource guide.
use (something) to bad effect or for a bad purpose; misuse.
"the judge abused his power by imposing the fines"
Synonyms: misuse, misapply, misemploy;
treat (a person or an animal) with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.
"riders who abuse their horses should be prosecuted"
mistreat, maltreat, ill-treat, treat badly
Abuse is insidious; more often than not, your abuser is someone you know, love(d) and trust(ed), and has/had no issues with violating that trust, or their position of power over you.
Abuse is demoralizing, debilitating and isolating.
Abuse in its various forms in the arts is particularly heinous because the arts are more often than not are sacred, safe spaces for people.
Over the next few months, and even over the next year, the abuse victims of Broadway and beyond are finally going to have their day. More and more victims are going to be coming forward.
As previously stated in my CAROUSEL piece (linked at the end of this one), some folks [who haven’t experienced abuse] think they know what they would do when faced with situations of abuse, and have very condescending takes on what is the “appropriate” response to abuse. This is not the case here. I have a very realistic approach based on my own lived experiences that does not place judgement or victim blame.
For the purposes of this piece, I’ll be using terms such as “victims” or “abuse survivors,” and as gender neutral. (Not all those who has suffered abuse see themselves as “survivors,” and hopefully, I can do my best to be as respectful to those who have endured abuse as I can.)
I am very serious about protecting myself, and helping you protecting yourselves, from and after abuse. You should never feel bad about having to take precautions that are for your mental and emotional health.
Here are some strategies and reminders I can offer you to start protecting yourself:
One of the most crucial steps you can take towards taking healing into your own hands is through no contact. This is NOT a “dating” “technique” where you stop talking to your ex or your partner to manipulate them into contacting you. (That shit is gross, by the way.) This is a way to remove those who have manipulated our lives so we can heal and move forward, tabula rasa. Healing is already a really tumultuous thing, so removing any unnecessary triggers or reminders is imperative to your healing journey.
- Remove and block their email and phone number (s).
- Remove them from all social media, and block them. Also, if you need to, download browser extensions that block their relevant URLs (For Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Cold Turkey Blocker). You may also be able to block their names as keywords or replace them with other words. You don’t need to see them, they don’t need to see you.
- Block anyone close to them or that you know only through them to avoid triangulation and spying (see below).
- Delete photos of them, untag photos on social media. If you really can’t bring yourself to delete these photos, put them all on a USB, but remove them from your computer.
- Remove physical items that remind you of this person. If you cannot bring yourself to discard or them or give them to charity, mail them to a friend for safekeeping.
- Change your routines to avoid this person if they live in a close proximity to you. I know that this seems unfair, and it SUCKS to have to find a new gym/ grocery store/ coffee shop. Trust me on this one, accidental run-ins with these people are horrifying, especially if they’re the kind of abuser/ narcissist to make a scene--they are all actors and we are props.
- Do not check up on them; who cares what they’re doing or what they’re up to?! You don’t, and if you do, you don’t need to! DO NOT allow mutuals to mention how they’re doing or not doing. Do not ask about this person through mutual friends, do not allow them to ask about or contact you for your abuser --vice versa, etc.
- Also in re: checking up on them: seeing their new victim may send you into a spiral, but know that the image they’re putting out there on social media is a lie, and they aren’t treating their new victim or supply source any better. They will make a big production, on social media, for example, but I assure you, they are not treating their new victims any better, despite what Instagram conveys. More than likely, they are pulling the same shit they did with you, because these people are incapable of unselfish love, their new victim just being their Instagrammable trophy.
No Contact feels amazing. It is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself to combat abuse; it puts you in control. There may be backlash from abusers in form of a smear campaign and alternative narratives (see below) which can get particularly vicious and out of control (we’re talking full-blown temper tantrums), especially if you’ve caught on to their bullshit early enough and discarded them first. But you won’t really have to care about that because you have No Contact and don’t and won’t hear about it! :D
You might not be able to adhere to all of these right away, and that’s okay. You can ask your friends for help, set timeline goals, and reward yourself for adhering to them. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself.
A word of caution: if your accounts are public, like Instagram or Twitter or if you have a Facebook fan page or something, and you block them, they can still see if your stuff if they are logged out and using through a web browser. Also, you cannot block anyone from your Facebook fan page UNLESS they’ve commented, and if you’ve already blocked this person on your personal page, you might not see if they comment. You may want to consider going private for a little while. (I mean, if this person is really going to go through all that trouble, at that rate, I say SHINE ON, CRAZY DIAMOND). Don’t post passive-aggressive messages related to them you not-so-secretly hope they see. I would advise mutuals (if there are any left) to be mindful of their interactions with these people, as they may be used, again, as conduits (cognizant or not) for spying (see below).
You might not be able to avoid your abusers entirely; you might not be able to control Playbill.com sending you an email with their face in your inbox, but you can curate what you can as you see fit. You have complete and absolute control of your social media feeds, and you don’t owe anyone space on it.
More of than not, abusers, though particularly narcissists, have to surround themselves with a supply of yes-men (and women) (also known as “flying monkeys”) who enable their terrible behaviour, feed their self-aggrandizement, and act as their built-in fan club. If someone who is a “mutual””friend” doesn’t believe your accounts of abuse or doesn’t want to “take sides” as a measure to make you feel safe: it is completely within reason and your best interests to say in the infamous words of the late, great Mac Dre, “get out my face” to these people. In order to avoid triangulation (or recover from a previous triangulation), your abuser using them as a conduit for spying on you, or accidently “run-ins” with images of your abuser online (which can also trigger you), it’s best to remove these people, especially if you don’t have a relationship with this person outside of knowing them through your abuser. Treat them like you would your abuser, remove them from your life, and block them if you have to.
Again, these measures are not vengeful, petty, or immature, these are precautions to protect yourself so that you may heal more smoothly in an already horrifying demoralizing process. If someone isn’t understanding about your need to not see these people in your timelines because they’ve abused you, you might want to reconsider being that someone’s friend. Removing them is also quite possibly one of the healthiest and fairest things you could do: you don’t have to secretly resent or distrust them for maintaining their relationships with your abuser(s).
- Ultimately, that’s something only you can decide for yourself.
- Naming your abuser comes with the ramifications of reliving your traumas all over again, only this time paraded in a public arena, for complete strangers to “decide” its “legitimacy.”
- Your abuser (probably) has a much greater social capital than you, and can control the narrative. Your abuser has also probably preemptively spun an alternative, revisionist history of what happened, and/ or run a smear campaign with just enough of a sliver of truth to make it seem believable or credible. Overcoming from a smear campaign is like saving yourself from drowning.
- There might also be a small part of you that can’t name them because you may still love them somewhere deep down.There is no shame in this; people are complicated beings with complicated emotions, and abuse is such an ugly complicated thing. Admitting that is very difficult. Understanding that there are no neat answers is very difficult. Understand that your abuser was someone whom you may have loved, and were close to you, like an intimate partner, close friend, or family member. You may have trauma bonded with this person, because this person used their position over you, or their place in your life and violated your trust to take advantage of you. It can be an ongoing internal struggle, one that may never be fully resolved.
- Naming your abuser may put you or loved ones in direct danger of physical harm.
- Not being able to name your abuser publicly with a #metoo moment doesn’t make you weak or cowardly. Ultimately, you have to consider what is safest and best for you. If this person poses physical danger or has an unlimited access to wealth and the world’s best (victim shaming) legal team, you might not be able to. Survivors of malignant narcissistic and other abusers don’t always get the justice they deserve, and this isn’t a mark against you the victim, but speaks directly to the heinous nature of abuse.
Know this: if you can’t name them, because of safety or other reasons, know you are probably not the only one. Abusers very rarely have only one victim, and if you don’t “out” them, they’ll slip soon enough and won’t be able to talk their way out. There is also strength in numbers in reporting abuse.
GET PROFESSIONAL HELP; AVOID DRUGS AND ALCOHOL AS COPING METHODS.
Getting help can be absolutely humiliating; you’ve done nothing wrong, and yet you’re the one who has to pay for it (literally). It can be a daunting, draining task finding help. Get a friend or family member to help you. You can look into seeing what your insurance covers, look into sliding-scale counseling facilities, well as affordable over-all wellness like acupuncture. Many psychologists and psychiatrists offer FaceTime and Skype sessions. RAINN.org provides instant messaging with a trained staff member who can walk you through support. There are also free YouTube therapy videos (but be sure to check them out for legitimacy, because anyone can upload to YouTube). There are also a ton of self-help books and self-help audio books (as well as workbooks). Everyone is different and everyone’s needs are different. Therapists personally don’t do anything for me, but books and acupuncture do. It’s about finding what works for and helps you.
Kati Morton (a licensed therapist)
Peggy Oliveira (MSW)
SOMEONE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF OR ABUSING YOU DOES NOT MAKE YOU WEAK, IT MAKES THEM AN ABUSER.
Full stop. No victim blaming, and that includes yourself. It will never cease to amaze me how the narrative will always be that the abused is stupid/gullible, when it should just be that their abuser was/is a manipulative piece of shit. Often abusers seek out intelligent and strong people. Often abusers groom their victims. Even really intelligent and seemingly compassionate people will still blame you, the victim. If someone, with their especially high-handed, smug self-assurance, is lording over you being blindsided by abuse because they were blessed by some God-given foresight, it is perfectly okay to remove these people from your life. If someone if going to be that way when you are at your least stable and most vulnerable, remove these people from your life, immediately.
You may have an abuser who takes advantage of previous abuses. That’s right! Your abuser may have singled you out as their target because you have a history of childhood sexual abuse, neglect or trauma. If someone is going to blame you for someone preying on your previous abuses or vulnerabilities (“daddy issues”), there is not a pastoral or agreeable way of saying this: you don’t need these people in your life, and they can GTFO.
This isn’t about “disagreeing,” this is about them not supporting your healing process. You have been so intimately violated, you are so vulnerable, and you need to know that you are surrounded by those whom you can trust and can help provide you with stability. If you can’t bring yourself to completely remove these people from your life, take a break from them, and limit their access to you.
How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage To Forgive, the Freedom Not To by Janis A. Spring is one of the damn finest books I have ever read, and it will change your life.
Look, I get it. Your survival instincts did what they had to to keep you afloat. In order to heal appropriately, you have to recognize and hold yourself accountable for the mechanisms you learned as an abuse victim. These may be the final obstacle for your healing process because it requires a lot of self-introspection, accountability, honesty and self-empathy.
HEALING IS NOT LINEAR. HEALING IS NOT UNIVERSAL.
It may takes years, even decades, to heal from your experiences and the damages these people have caused. You may never completely heal at all, and that is perfectly okay. This is not a reflection on you. Sometimes events happen in our lives that are so seminal, it changes who we are forever. (Intergenerational trauma, for example, has been repeatedly shown to change our very DNA.
“Dating again” after trauma doesn’t necessarily have be your end goal, either. You don’t have to “love again,” and you might not be able to. Everyone is different, everyone’s timeline of healing and needs are different, and the people in your life need to respect that, and respect that something terrible has happened to you that no one, and I mean no one truly is equipped with the tools to deal with. Be gentle with yourself, and don’t listen to people who are trying to pressure you into healing at their convenience. Your healing goals should be focused on whatever you see fit, not other people’s mandates. SO, if YOU want to focus just on yourself and healing for you just means who are a content and fulfilled person, that is all you need. If someone gives you shit about never wanting to date or trust anyone again, remove them immediately from your life. Also is someone smugly says, “I told you so” when/if you ever decide you might be ready start dating or seeing people again after trauma, remove those people immediately, too. If they really cared about your happiness and wellness, it would be on your terms and whatever forms it takes for you.
I say this candidly as someone who has endured layered trauma throughout my lifetime, and the abuse within the last several years has left me with the inability to feel attraction. I haven’t felt any sort of romantic, emotional or physical attraction in over a year. (We’re talking about watching Aidan Turner on Poldark and not even so much as an increased pulse.) I was genuinely sad at first, and thought that if I put in good, hard work of healing and being proactive in my healing that naturally when my life came back together that it would return. Over a year later, it hasn’t, and that is okay. That is my new normal and I’m perfectly okay with it. I don’t feel like I am missing anything at all. If it comes back someday, okay, great! As of right now, I am just happily trying to live my life. I understand that I’ve been dealt a bad hand, and sometimes, enough is too much. Sometimes childhood sexual abuse and having people throughout your life repeatedly pray on your vulnerabilities abuse has created will push you passed a precipice you can’t return from. That is okay. That is a perfectly reasonable and acceptable reaction to horrible things that have happened to me, and to you.
You heal how you need to.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
When You’re Betrayed… (a great piece by our own Chris Petersen about dealing with betrayal in the arts)
Self Care Checklist (Compassion Strengths.com)
Self Care Checklist (Girl Boss)
My Daily Self Care Checklist (Danika Brysha)
Here are some more important resources (in no particular order):
Male Survivors of Sexual Assault (Via University of Michigan)
WomensLaw.org Legal Resource Master List (support for victims of all genders)
The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN.org)(US)
Tips for Survivors on Consuming Media (RAINN.org)
Self-Care Haven by Shahida Arabi (Wordpress)
Self-Care Haven (Shahida Arabi)
Abuse in Intimate Relationships (Vera E. Mouradian, PhD, National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center)
Some other writings by yours truly that may be helpful:
Sick & Tired of Forgiving and Forgetting When It Comes to Sexual Misconduct (includes links and resources about abusers who are public or semi-public figures, as well as how to hold yourself accountable if you are an abuser)
A Man’s Who’s Bad or Good: The Complexities of CAROUSEL, Abuse, Trauma (speaks to the complexities or trauma, victim blaming, & different forms of abuse)
and Darling Mister Snow
Protect and take care of yourselves, .raza