I just want to say this now, upfront, and I'll say it again later, but to be crystal clear: There is no ethical or moral duty to protect your abuser. I said this to a friend a couple days ago, but I didn't realize until just as it was coming out of my mouth how true it is. Because silence is deadly. Other people, more eloquently and in writing about more terrible occurrences, have said that about silence, but it holds too in all the small, "private" tragedies. It is, after all, the reason this blog exists.
My mother, for those of you who are new readers (Hello, new readers! Welcome!), has borderline personality disorder. She is difficult to deal with. That is probably an understatement. A couple years ago, when I restarted therapy, my mother decided she was going to stop speaking to me for 6 months, because she was FURIOUS at me. Why? I refused to tell her what I was discussing with my therapist. So she just KNEW that I was going to a therapist to tell lies about her, she said. She KNEW this must be why I was going to see someone. And she was ANGRY, and she refused to speak to a daughter who was so "fucking selfish" and "unkind" and "a liar."
Of course, the funny thing is, I almost never discussed my mother with the therapist.
But it didn't matter what was actually being discussed in therapy. What mattered was that my mother realized she couldn't control the relationship anymore. She couldn't keep power over me if I was going to speak to someone else. She couldn't threaten or cajole me in the same way, because it wasn't just the two of us in the relationship. Other people had come into the equation, and they weren't necessarily on her side. There was probably embarrassment, too: no one likes to be shamed in front of anyone, whether they know the third party or not, for their bad acts. But the thing is: my mother knew she had done wrong. She wouldn't care if I were talking to others about her if she hadn't done anything wrong. The problem was, I was seeking help. I might put up boundaries. I might get perspective. She was losing her ability to dominate me and define the relationship.
What abusers want most from their victims is their silence. It's much easier to control those who have no support, help, other perspectives, and who are dependent.
This always ends up so gendered. Men who control women often cut the women off from friends or family. My partners or friends who have been the most abusive have been the most secretive about our relationship; the abusers are the ones who have gotten angry when I've told other people what is going on. And, of course, secrecy hurts men, too, as they usually have less of a support system to help them when their relationships go wrong, meaning that men actually pine over lost relationships longer than women. But abusive men, they don't like when you reach out for support, because they think you are "making them look bad." By telling the truth about them.
It never ceases to amaze me, when abusive men in my life have called me immature and selfish for merely telling the truth. The gall is stunning. As if there is a right to "privacy to enable abuse."
These men are, obviously, not interested in my recovery, my well-being (even though they have often told me they love me). They are merely interested in retaining control and saving face after being bad human beings. They don't want other people to know what they did. They never argue that I am not telling the truth; no, they merely argue that what happened between us was private. And it is inappropriate for me to tell anyone. Notice who the bad guy is now - not them, for the abuse, but me, for not keeping their abuse of me secret. I somehow had an ethical duty to keep their "private" acts of abuse from public scrutiny. Because god forbid they be held responsible or accountable for their actions by others. Since they are clearly not interested in holding themselves responsible or accountable.
Privacy in relationships can be really dangerous. For so long, domestic violence was considered a private dispute between a couple, and women continued to suffer inside abusive relationships. It took time for activists to rally enough support around the issue of domestic violence to bring it public; they pointed out, correctly, that such widespread abuse wasn't merely a private issue, it was a public one. There are public ramifications to abuse in private relationships. Besides, calling abuse a private dispute makes it sound like the two people are merely at disagreement, and there are no inherently unbalanced power dynamics underlying it. We know that's not true. The public narratives on masculinity and gender contribute to private abuse, and private abuse has ramifications in the public sphere. There is no dividing line. There is no set boundary between public and private. No relationships exist in bubbles.
Speaking of which: this blog. I created it as a space to recover from "private" abuses. And what's been amazing is how not private those abuses have been; so many people have commented or written emails saying yes, their abuser had done the same thing. They had a similar experience. They knew what it was like. And that has been comforting, for me, to know that I am not alone, and for others, to find out they are not, either.
It has become hard, lately, to speak here. I considered not adding fuel the fire, currently, of someone is very mad that I have gone public with his mistreatment of me. He is furious that I published anything about his abuse. And I thought maybe I would let the fire die down, and maybe not post what I was really thinking and feeling. But I thought about that, and realized, well first, that would be contrary to everything I have committed myself to doing in this space, but also, I have no duty to protect him. If he doesn't want to be called an abuser he could, you know, stop being abusive. My only duty is to protect myself. And recover (and what has been so brilliant in the past couple of days, since this kinda blew up in my face, are the recent comments from ladies who said, "Yeah, I totally had something similar to this happen to me, too." Thank you, ladies. You have helped so much).
Abusers want us to remain silent, so that they can retain their control and ability to abuse. They argue that their victims should protect them, shield them from judgment and accountability. But there is no ethical or moral duty to protect your abuser. When what happens in your private relationship becomes abuse, it is not private anymore. It is the story of far too many women now. We need to keep going public. We will not be complicit in our own abuse. We need to tell these stories. We need to reject those who tell us we are immature or selfish for outing their abuse. We are trying to survive, recover, thrive. And it is easier when we find we are not alone.