Non Monogamy as a Survivor: Part 1 – Trust

Trigger warning for rape, sexual assault, emotionally and sexually abusive relationships, victim-blaming etc.

FIRST:

This post, and the one following it, are a series which I have deliberated long and hard about writing. But I have thought it through over and over, and I think this is a discussion that I want to open up.

This is really difficult stuff for me to write about – especially so publicly – and some of it hits very close to home. Discussion is welcome, but I would appreciate it if people would be supportive or at least respectful. This blog is a space for debate and sharing opinions, yes – but it is NOT a space for rape apologism or victim blaming.

This may not come as a surprise to many of you, but to some of you it will: I am a survivor of all of the experiences listen in this post’s ‘trigger warning.’ The details don’t matter, but by the time I turned twenty-one, I’d been in (and, thankfully, escaped from) a series of abusive relationships. I’m ‘coming out’ as a survivor here because these kinds of discussions NEED to happen.

So here goes….

I’ve noticed that there seems to be a large amount of survivors in non-monogamous community. I don’t know whether the ratios are actually higher than they are outside of these circles, or whether we’re just more open to talking about it. It doesn’t matter for the sake of this post.

What I want to consider here is how past experiences can affect a person in relation to a non-monogamous relationship structure. Experiences will be varied and unique, and the issues I discuss here are by no means intended to be an exhaustive list. This is purely taken from personal experience and things I have seen and heard about.

TRUST

The single biggest repercussion I hear of from abuse survivors is the issue of trust.

‘I’m going to just be monogamous,’ I said to Nomad once, ‘because you’re the only person in the world I trust enough.’ He was wonderful and supportive and amazing, and advised me not to jump to conclusions or make rash decisions about the long-term future. He was right, of course – but only now am I very tentatively, very carefully making steps into starting to date new people again. It’s taken a long time and a lot of work to gain back even a small fraction of the trust in people – particularly men – that I once had. I don’t think I will ever be as trusting as I used to be. That’s a part of myself I can never get back. I try to see the best in everyone still, but the guard is always up until they give me enough reason to believe I can let it down. And even then, it’s waiting in the sidelines ready to jump back up again.

Surviving abuse or assault of any kind can absolutely destroy a person’s ability to trust others. This is especially true if the abuse perpetrator was a partner, a friend, a caregiver or any other person who was supposed to love and look after their victim. If they’ve been hurt by somebody who claimed to love them, it’s no wonder the survivor’s views of love and of their own worth get skewed.

Non-monogamy is about opening one’s heart to multiple loves. But how does this work for somebody who cannot imagine ever letting anybody into their heart again?

There are no easy answers. If there were, we wouldn’t need to have these discussions. The road to recovery is a long one and is often likely to involve the use of professional support alongside the support of friends and loved ones. A counsellor once told me that I was clearly using non-monogamy as a way to escape my dysfunctional past by way of having lots of people to boost my self-esteem. I have never believed this to be the case. Actually, choosing not to date anybody new for a considerable length of time after coming out of  a(nother) damaging relationship was the best choice I could have made for me.

But with time, I believe it is possible to gain back at least some level of trust. Perhaps never the same level as the person had before whatever their bad experiences were, but enough to begin to think about letting people in again. From what I have seen and experienced, I think survivors tend to be more choosy about who they will trust, and it takes longer for that trust to be earned. This is, at it’s most base level, a tool for self-protection.

I think one of the best things we, as a non-monogamous community, can do to help survivors is to have a zero tolerance policy. Be very vocal about how these things Are Not Okay. Whether someone chooses to talk about their experiences or not, a vital step in the recovery process is knowing that we are supported. But this is starting to stray into the topic of part two, so I’ll leave it there for now.

So what do you do if you’re the partner or potential partner of a rape or abuse survivor?

Firstly, you listen to them. You believe them without question. Don’t debate the facts of their story or attribute any of the responsibility for what happened to them.

Aim to empower. Ask them what they need, and act upon what they say. A very common example: they might want help getting legal advice. Then again, they might choose not to report what’s happened to them. Don’t pressure them either way. Trust them to know what’s best for them, rather than insisting you know what’s best. You can help and you can offer advice and you can be there for them and you can make their journey to recovery a little easier. You cannot fix it. And this is not through any failing on your part. It is a sad fact, and it is much healthier for both of you if you acknowledge it. Being a good, supportive, loving partner is vital. Being a rescuer isn’t a good road to go down – making someone dependent on you is disempowering to them.

What you can do is to help that person slowly start to regain their trust. You don’t do this by saying ‘you can trust me.’ (Well, you can say those words if you like, but back them up with actions!) Words are cheap. Chances are their abuser said that to them, too. You do this by showing them they can trust you. Keep your word. Follow through on promises. Respect their boundaries and their limits and who they are. Give them love, and give them space, and give them time. Don’t take it as a personal attack that they find trust difficult. It’s not about you. Be trustworthy, and their trust will follow in time.

What do you think, dear readers? I know this is a heavy topic, but it’s one we should talk about.

Part Two: Community, coming up soon.

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12 thoughts on “Non Monogamy as a Survivor: Part 1 – Trust

  1. Lola Olson says:

    I think issues become compounded when there are still abusers within our community. I think your advice about partners or potential partners about listening can be applied to anyone – friends included. Support from the community is really also needed. I often wonder if it would be useful for survivors to be “out” about their histories. I’m also a survivor of a lot of what you warned about, but I hesitate to tell people because I don’t want them to see me as a victim or judge me or my responses through the lens of what I’ve been through.

    At any rate, thanks for coming forward and posting this. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

    • missamaranth says:

      Yes – absolutely. The issue of abusers within the community and the need for community support is part of what I’m going to be writing about in part 2.

      I think that’s a good point about the advice. It’s useful for friends as well as partners.

      I wonder about that, too. I think in some ways it can be really useful for survivors to be ‘out’ because it helps to create discussion and conversations about difficult stuff that really need to happen. On the other hand, it certainly can make others judge the person through the lens of their history. I’ve experienced that first hand.

      Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, I’m working on the second part now.

  2. pir says:

    I don’t mean to derail what is obviously a very important topic by commenting about a small part of it, but this is something I feel quite strongly about.

    A counsellor once told me that I was clearly using non-monogamy as a way to escape my dysfunctional past by way of having lots of people to boost my self-esteem.

    I was told things in the same vein when I saw a clueless counsellor while at university. Put me off that kind of thing for years. Much later when trying to work out issues in my marriage we found someone to talk to who listened and actually helped both of us.

    Poly people in general shouldn’t take that from those in authority, there are some resources and papers about poly and therapy that they can be pointed at and if they still try to be judgemental about it then see someone else.

    http://www.ejhs.org/volume5/polyoutline.html

    http://www.charlieglickman.com/2010/02/what-psychology-professionals-need-to-know-about-polyamory/

    Unfortunately many of the people I’m close to have been through very traumatic experiences and getting the help you need shouldn’t make things worse.

    • missamaranth says:

      Yes, that’s true – my experience put me off seeking professional help for a long time, but when I eventually did I was lucky to get a much more understanding and open-minded therapist.

      Thank you for the links.

  3. cattiva says:

    Trust is actually what made me feel safe to be able to be poly. Finally realizing that I had someone in my fiancee that actually wouldn’t use my past to continue to harm me allowed me to feel safe to explore what interests I have had. Trusting him made me feel safe enough to tell him when I realized I had fallen for another couple also and that I wanted to be able to be with them as well.

    • missamaranth says:

      Yes – I feel very similarly to you. A year ago, my ability to trust was absolutely shattered. It’s only through trusting my partner and slowly meeting new people who feel trustworthy that I’ve been able to think about opening my heart again.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your experience.

  4. Thank you for writing this. I’m sorry to hear that people have put you through so much shit. :/ I hope that people treat your posts here with respect, and that if not, you feel comfortable deleting troll comments. (I always find that kinda satisfying.)

    I’m not a survivor of anything all that significant, so I don’t say this with much authority, but I think your writing on “So what do you do if you’re the partner or potential partner of a rape or abuse survivor?” is really well put and excellent advice – I’ll be linking people to it!

    • missamaranth says:

      Thank you. So far, people have been really respectful and awesome. I don’t think I’ll have too much trouble deleting troll comments if I encounter any, though!

      I’m really glad you found the advice helpful. I’m sure there is a myriad of advice on the subject out there, but this was taken from personal experience and I’m hoping it will be useful to other people too. Please feel free to link! :-)

  5. Adam says:

    This is something I have really being trying to understand more and more over the last few years. It is not an experience I have been through myself, but I know those who have and being able to be supportive means a lot to me – I really appreciate you choosing to share this.

    • missamaranth says:

      Thank you for taking the time to try to understand this stuff and be supportive to the people you know who have been through it. That’s really important and really awesome. I’m glad you found this useful. :-)

  6. Dragonmamma says:

    “you cant fix it” Wow! th.at’s a really important thing to tell the friends/lovers of survivors. I had never thought when trying to “fix” things for people I cared about that this might also be disempowering. Thank you for pointing this out. I shall try to be a more objective support to my friends in future

  7. Dan Jasper says:

    wonderful piece, and series. i’ve not been sexually abused, but i was emotionally abused for many years by my parents, and have struggled with trusting ANYONE with any emotion, or ever demonstrating vulnerability. both of my partners, for several years now, have been amazing in doing exactly what you said: empowering me to come to an awareness of my abuse, and in supporting me in however i felt most comfortable in charting my recovery. i really appreciate your focus on ‘survivor’ vs. victim, b/c i am NOT a victim of their abuse any more. i have survived, gritted my way through it, and have leaned on my partners until i was strong enough to claim my own strength. thanks for talking about such an important topic!

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