Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 02:55 pm
A reply to this post about the importance of paths to redemption.

I agree with this but think there’s a few important things it misses that don’t go without saying. Specifically: no matter how much someone atones, the people they hurt have a right to want to avoid them anyway, and people in general are individually within their rights to still not like or trust someone post atonement.

I mean afaict people who’ve actually atoned generally accept this and are fine respecting those boundaries as long as they’re not so restrictive that it makes their life impossible eg they can’t find anyone willing to hire them. (And I don’t consider blanket mistrust of, say, anyone who’s been to prison to be reasonable or socially responsible)

So what causes problems is abusers who have learned the language of atonement but just use it as a weapon to silence anyone who criticises them or wants to avoid them. See: Hugo Schwyzer. These people are generally sneaky enough to avoid prison or any real negative consequences for their actions, but there’s no sure fire way to recognise them.

That doesn’t mean we don’t value redemption: if nothing else, abusers are great at taking advantage of this too, spinning one bad thing their critics did once into a excuse to dismiss them. It just means we can’t value redemption above all else.

This isn’t really a criticism of the original post, which was written as part of a broader argument. Afaict the OP and I agree very strongly on the basic principle that you can’t ever ignore all the real people involved in a situation in favour of simplistic political dogma. I’m just engaging with the post as a reblog shorn of that context, because tumblr. Also given the subject of the post, I do think it’s important not to use “abuser” as a synonym for “being of pure irredeemable evil”. I am using it to mean “someone who is currently abusing people”.
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 08:03 am (UTC)
Yes, this. One thing that's really clear about manipulative/abusive people is that they often don't want to change. Being abusive and manipulative has worked for them so far. So even when they go to therapy or learn these tools, they just use that training to be better at manipulating and abusing people.

I think that people can change! I think that people also have to have motivation to change within themselves.

... One thing that's kind of related is how redemption stories play out in books or TV shows or movies, the people who go through that arc almost always wind up being forgiven and reconciling with the people they hurt. But that's fiction! "Closure" feels good, but it isn't really necessary. And TV shows have a reason to keep an actor around interacting with the rest of the cast. So we're trained to expect these neat stories around redemption when like so many things on TV it doesn't work like that.
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 08:48 am (UTC)
Ooh, yeah. Like on tv the three options are (1) No redemption at all (b) 100% forgiveness from everyone, it's like they never did anything wrong (3) Death. Which is not a very helpful model for real life.

(I think this was handled relatively well in ATLA but I'm using my Zuko icon anyway :))
Edited (spelling is hard) 2017-06-03 08:48 am (UTC)
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 11:02 am (UTC)
This is one of the things I hate about the perennial flood of end-of-year "Holiday Special Episodes" that happen in every regular series, just before mid-season hiatus. First, all of the abused character's friends pressure them to forgive their abuser because "It's the Holidays!" and (usually) "They're Family!" And second, at the literal last minute before the end credits, the abuser shows up at the door with a shiny package hinting at something expensive inside (but it's actually empty, 'cause it's just a prop), and everybody hugs it out.

If that's not a perfect -- unintended -- metaphor for a harmful relationship, I don't know what is.

I understand the need to end on a single hopeful image before the show goes off the air for 4 to 6 weeks, but I'd prefer if it were something like abuser and abused sitting down to fix a broken thing together (like maybe gluing a vase back together).
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 09:26 pm (UTC)
...for the win.
Wednesday, June 14th, 2017 03:16 pm (UTC)
I recently went back and reminded myself of some of the myths of Hephaestus. And I think I'm gonna adopt him as my patron of "never forgive your abusers."

Dude wielded his righteous anger like his hammer and tongs, and never let go.

Hera threw him off Olympus because he was born deformed?

Fine. He's not gonna think of her as him mother, and instead accept Thetis (the sea-nymph who helped him recover from the fall) as family, instead.
Thursday, June 15th, 2017 11:00 am (UTC)
I wrote about Hephaestus and Aglaia, here, on Tumblr, and how he divorced Aphrodite after she was unfaithful to him, and married Aglaia ... She (one of the Charities) was a member of Thetis' retinue while he was recovering.

Here's a detail from a fresco from Pompeii, showing Hephaestus, Thetis, and Aglaia in his workshop.

Now, Hephaestus has sided with Hera, on occasion, when she's fighting with Zeus ('Cause Zeus), but he very pointedly lives as far from Olympus as possible, simply because he does not want to put up with the other gods' mockery.
Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 04:13 pm (UTC)
Ah -- no.

The one with his face missing is a cyclops, and helper in Hephaestus's workshop (the god had a habit of employing cyclopses and dwarfs, and other peoples who were marginalized by the Olympian gods -- solidarity, and all that, also: if you can't do it all yourself, hiring personal/professional assistants is perfectly okay).

Hephaestus is the one who's sitting down behind the shield ('cause he can't stand up very well -- and I notice that the fresco painter probably couldn't decide what his deformed feet actually looked like, so painted in a conveniently placed marble plinth instead. /artist work-arounds).

Here's another picture of Hephaestus that's one of my favorites (with normal looking feet). It's about 2 and a half millennia before the invention of the wheelchair proper, but someone asked themselves: "If I had trouble walking, and needed a personal transport tool, what would it look like?" and imagined a wheelchair (with wings, 'cause divine).
Wednesday, July 5th, 2017 03:09 pm (UTC)
I got more of a kick out of seeing a mythological figure
using an ancient wheelchair-y thing than I would have expected

Yeah. Me, too.

Also, there was a recent Tumblr post in praise of Hephaestus, and part of the praise was (natch): "He was never really crippled or deformed! That's just people who don't understand him trying to badmouth him!"

And I wrote a long reply saying: "Yes, he was too crippled!" and... I got unexpectedly teary-eyed when I wrote down how I felt when I first encountered the name "Hephaestus" in a mythology book, and how he was disabled "like me," as I thought about someone taking that away from me.

Having our existence acknowledged on the cosmic/Divine scale matters.
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 10:01 am (UTC)
Yes, though I think the abusers who are smart and sneaky enough to learn the right codes are also those who are never likely to be held accountable in the first place - often because they represent or can easily access institutional power. Shining a light on them is a good thing to do.
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 11:35 am (UTC)
I had an abuser who sent me an email after I cut contact with her a year later, and there were fourteen instances of 'I'm sorry' in that email. She also referred to herself as a hypothetical victim in that email, and me as a hypothetical monster, but in context of 'only a monster would think of me like X, and I know you're not like that' and in context as 'my friends are all so sympathetic to me for the way you cut me off, but I told them that they didn't understand.'

Anyway, I didn't reply to her email. Which I felt awful about. Given much of her control centred around online abuse, and I had been advised by therapists to go No Contact, I didn't reply.

Within twenty four hours she was slamming people like me (i.e. people who didn't respond to heartfelt emails) on Tumblr. Aggressively and vindictively.

What I've learned from that experience, is that some abusers are extremely good at co-opting the language of atonement - this person was very good at it even during the relationship itself - but that ultimately when you don't give them what their performance of atonement is meant to be for (i.e. forgiveness, a clean slate, contact, a new relationship) the ugliness and torment resurfaces.

I value redemption, I really do. But you can really tell a lot by how someone responds to *your* response to their apology. I always had a right to not reply to that email, she abused me pretty badly for two years and by and large used word games and verbal abuse. Perhaps she had truly turned over a new leaf and was working on herself, but I had a right to my boundaries and I maintained that right. She has the ability to go on and forge new relationships that aren't abusive. I really hope she's doing that.

I still feel terribly guilty for exercising my right to not have contact with her though, but anyway, that's what I have a therapist for. *sighs*

Meanwhile I read and write like a billion redemption narratives on AO3, lol. But I think that's me working out some internal stuff.
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 03:43 pm (UTC)
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 06:21 pm (UTC)
Total agreement both with your post and with the general point that OP is making.
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 08:18 pm (UTC)
Reading and thinking. Agree with the points you made. Want to learn more.
Sunday, June 4th, 2017 07:22 pm (UTC)
I agree with both you and the OP. It's important not to write people off as unredeemable trash, as a general principle; it's also important not to pressure the traumatized with rhetoric of forgiveness, as if we are responsible for the redemption of our abusers.

My stake in this is pretty obvious from the first-person, there... I am in fact engaged in this dance with family members, around an abusive relative who has afaik shown no sign of real repentance or desire to change his behavior, but has done the dance of feigning-sorry well enough to mobilize others to badger me on his behalf. Because the real problem, they seem to think, isn't that he abused me but that I dare to be angry about it and refuse to "reconcile" with him.

I wish him all the luck and grace in the world if he wants to work on real atonement and redemption.* The first step on that path would be respecting my boundaries, staying away from me, and not trying to make me responsible for absolving him.

*This may sound like I'm being sweet and nice, but I'm not really. Facing up to being a selfish destructive asshole is a grueling and painful path, and I do want people who embark on it to have the strength and support to keep going. It's also the most just and appropriate punishment for his wrongdoing I can imagine - understanding exactly how wrong he's been and how much harm he's done.
Tuesday, June 6th, 2017 06:35 am (UTC)
My sympathies. Strength to you.
Monday, June 5th, 2017 10:45 am (UTC)
If you're truly repentant for having wronged someone, one of the things you have to accept is living with the consequences of your past mistakes, and accepting that you can't undo what you have done, and maybe that's just the way it is.

But there's a second part to it.

I sometimes get conflicted about this, because situational factors.

My older sister was abusive. "Awesomely", apparently studies have shown that in terms of long-term damage to abuse victims, outcomes are worse for being abused by a sibling than pretty much anyone else, parents included.

My sister remains unrepentant, as far as I know - I haven't talked to her in about seven years. I offered her simple terms. Either she could treat me with respect, and we could have a healthy adult relationship, or we could have no relationship at all.

She not only refused, by characterised my offer as a vicious and cruel attack on her by me, and I got yelled at - it could have destroyed my relationship with my parents except I had done it by e-mail and could forward what I actually said to my parents.

(She is really, really good at manipulating our parents.)

And the thing is, we're first-generation immigrants. She's a third of my family, basically, because growing up it was just our parents and her and me, and if she somehow managed to get to a point where she was willing to make the effort on this, it would be really, really difficult for me to say no.

Even though she's the source of most of my truly significant damage.

She's been toxic for most of my life and I can't imagine her being a healthy relationship in the future, but I also think it's possible I might have caved by now if my friends were less supportive of my refusal to resume a relationship with her on anything less than equal terms.

So I think it's not just important to acknowledge that people who have been hurt by someone have a right to want to avoid them thereafter, but I think it should be put in different terms.

Fundamentally: If someone has previously been abusive, and seeks atonement, it shouldn't be that their past victims have the "right" not to want to see them. I think the assumption should be that the abusers, if their regret is sincere, should accept the obligation to try to avoid them unless the person they've hurt has explicitly invited them to do otherwise.

Expecting people who've been hurt to have to advocate themselves, to find the strength to take the stand against that exposure, knowing that it risks negative reactions from other bystanders as well as potentially provoking someone they may not yet have been able to stop fearing?

That's not really okay for me.

If I encountered my sister in a random social situation, I'd feel overwhelming pressure to be polite and nice, because otherwise it would make it awkward for other people around us, and I would still also be freaked out and upset and scared and it would be a traumatically awful thing.
Tuesday, June 6th, 2017 06:40 am (UTC)
Expecting people who've been hurt to have to advocate themselves, to find the strength to take the stand against that exposure, knowing that it risks negative reactions from other bystanders as well as potentially provoking someone they may not yet have been able to stop fearing?

That's not really okay for me.

Nor should it be. Modern 'Western' society is deeply messed up about abuse and how it treats victims.

My sympathies for what you have/are going through, and my respect for the amount of strength you've shown so far. May you always have at least as much as you need.
Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 02:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

I am currently blessed with wonderful friends and, more-or-less, a replacement sibling; my housemate/best friend's husband/dear friend Chas has affirmed with certainty that he's my big brother now and he loves me and he thinks I'm wonderful and no those are not supposed to be mutually exclusive.

I'm doing better than I have in a very long time, maybe ever. But it did set me up for, reading this post, the immediate reaction above, and hey, maybe this is one of those ways in which my damage positions me to be helpful to other people.
Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 02:18 pm (UTC)
You're welcome.

(note: the rest got really long and I apologise)

On that point, in case it helps: it can be difficult to recognise abuse from a sibling when it isn't physical, because it's a long pattern that gets dismissed as "sibling rivalry" and "kids being kids" and things like that and "teasing". In my case, apparently my sister is protective of me and terribly concerned about me so long as I'm not actually present, which is one of the things that builds the expectation for others that no, she loves me really.

(I've heard that from my parents *and* her friends.)

Some of the things my relationship with my sister included:

- she'd tear me down any time I was feeling particularly good about myself

- anything I felt bad about she'd mock me for or belittle me for. (Example: I had to repeat year 12 of school twice in order to get into university. It turns out I had undiagnosed ADHD, as well as my mother being very very ill in those years. My housemates - and my housemate Chas's mother - think that this was an impressive feat of dedication and determination and will. My sister used it as an example of my weakness and inadequacy and it's taken me years not to be ashamed to tell people it happened.)

- She fostered narratives - from very early childhood - that I lacked talent at just about everything. Because I believed it, I didn't start proving her wrong until adulthood.

- She was very controlling. Rebellion was punished, physically (but never leaving a mark) or verbally.

- She'd tell a lot of "funny" stories that just happened to have the side-effect of public humiliation.

- As of the last time I spoke to my older sister, she has never complimented me for anything, told me I'm good at anything, ever been proud of me. She's told me she loves me twice in my life: once when she was very drunk at a party, and she wrote it in my 21st birthday card.

- One time I asked her if she cared about me, at all. She told me that she tries to, but I make it very difficult.

There's an important pattern evident in that part: all the problems in our relationship are my failures.

I just asked Jen and Chas about the important things in this:

Jen (voice dripping with furious anger): "She imbued you with a conviction that you are worthless."

Chas (who has four younger siblings and is a loving big brother): If a sibling never gives any kind of praise or affection, that's a huge red flag.

He reckons that's possibly the biggest one: siblings can be kind of horrible to each other (especially as children), but there should always be something that balances that out. Siblings should sometimes be loving and defend each other even if they don't get on.

He says relationships are toxic, even with siblings, if one party always tears the other down and never builds them up.

I think this point is strong. Like, I know Jen and her older sister Pam didn't get on at all for years, but I *also* know that even at the worst times in that period, they did things for each other that were, to me, mind-blowingly loving.

Chas has three brothers and a sister, and even though I don't even know his siblings that well for the most part, I've heard him casually and offhandedly say nicer things to them than my sister has to me in my entire life.

He says that relationships with siblings can be difficult, and interactions with your siblings can sometimes leave you drained, or angry, but they shouldn't ever leave you feeling miserable.

He's absolutely certain that an interaction with a sibling shouldn't leave you feeling bad about yourself.

A relationship can be toxic without being abusive, at which point it's still likely to be a good idea to step away if they're not prepared to change.

He came up with more ideas for the things that suggest a relationship is NOT abusive: if the other person will make sacrifices sometimes for your happiness, if they do things that show you that you matter, if they make you feel better about yourself more often than not.

I've been doing better lately, so we're likely to be inviting you for a visit if you'd like to come, and we can discuss it more, if you like.

I'd note that I also don't think my sister should be the sole metric for judging whether a sibling is abusive, since some of my stories about her genuinely shocked and horrified my excellent and extremely experienced former therapist.

There needs to be a word for the disbelief people express when they absolutely definitely do believe you but are struggling to reconcile the idea that someone could be that awful.
Tuesday, July 18th, 2017 05:33 am (UTC)
That's... great seems like the wrong word, but positive?

I'm glad that was helpful, because when I read it back it seems really inadequate. It's so hard to find ways to express how pervasively and intensely sibling stuff can be damaging. There's not one thing I said in all that that I haven't had people dismiss as not that big a deal.