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