Social skills for autonomous people
You never had to prove them wrong

When you grow up with stigma, people tell you a lot of well-meaning things that actually cause problems. When you face people treating you like you’re less of a person, someone will often say something like:

  • "You’ll prove them all wrong some day".
  • "It’s ok. You’ll show them. You’ll prove that you’re better than they ever could have imagined."

And then, when you accomplish things, it often becomes, “Well, you proved them wrong, didn’t you?”

People who say this often mean well, but this is a form of victim-blaming, and it can hurt people who believe it really badly. The truth is:
You didn’t prove them wrong. You never had to prove them wrong. They were already wrong.
Prejudice is not something you have to earn your way out of. Dehumanization isn’t your fault. You don’t have to prove that you are human in order to be human. You don’t have to have amazing accomplishments in order to prove that you have worth. Everyone has worth. People who don’t recognize yours have always been wrong.
You didn’t prove them wrong. They were already wrong. About you, and about everyone else too.
You might have to fight to be seen as a person. You might have to fight for your life and your safety and for basic respect. That’s a fight you may or may not win. It’s a fight that, no matter how hard you try or how good you are, you will never win all the way. There will still be those who hate you and see you as subhuman.
But you can be ok, anyway. You’re ok. You’re whole. You deserve better. It’s not your fault they don’t see it. It’s theirs.
You have always been a full person, fully deserving of respect and equal treatment. People who treat you as a lesser being have always been wrong.
Knowing that helps.
About defining abuse
Hi, I saw your post about abuse. How can you tell if your partner is abusing you? I’ve been told by a few of my friends that what my boyfriend is doing is “abuse”, but I don’t think it’s that severe. I don’t know how to feel about the situation.
realsocialskills said:
I don’t know your situation, so I can’t tell you much about your relationship. What I can say is that friends can often see things going wrong from outside a relationship that are really hard to see from inside it. Whether or not you agree that what is going on is abuse, I think it’s important to listen to your friends, take their perspective seriously, and consider carefully whether they have a point.
If your friends whose judgement you respect think that you’re being treated poorly, it’s important to make sure that you understand why:
  • Your friends might be wrong, but I think you should hear them out
  • Let them completely explain what they mean
  • In the course of that conversation, don’t argue or defend your boyfriend
  • Listen, and make sure you completely understand what they are saying
  • Take some time to process and consider whether they have a point
  • What do they think is abusive about your relationship?
  • Do you think the things they’re talking about are actually happening?
  • If so (whether or not you’re comfortable using the word abuse) do you agree that those things are hurting you?
  • If so, do you think there is a way to get your boyfriend to stop doing those things? Is this something you and he can work out?
  • If he doesn’t stop, are you willing to tolerate those things long term, or are they dealbreaking?
  • If you’re having mixed feelings about this, it’s probably a good idea to go back and talk to your friends some more about what they’re seeing and what you’re seeing

If you consider what your friends are seeing and whether you think you’re being hurt, you’ll get a better answer than you’ll get by considering in the abstract which things are bad enough to count as abuse.

Shutting up won’t get you heard

fuzzyfault:

realsocialskills:

Tone is important. When you say things the right way, it can increase the number of people who are willing to listen to you. 

But that only goes so far. No matter how good you are at framing things, some things that need to be said will upset people who feel entitled to be comfortable. And, when you upset people who feel entitled to comfort, they will lash out at you. This is not your fault; it is theirs. Tone has its limits.

Also, getting tone right is really hard. No one starts out good at tone; it’s a very difficult skill that you can only learn with practice. And the only way to get practice is to spend a lot of time talking to people about controversial things. Which means that, in order to get good at tone, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time talking about these things while you’re still bad at tone. 

People who mean well and genuinely want you to be heard understand this, and will encourage you to keep speaking up and keep working on your skills at speaking up effectively. People who want you to shut up about the things you’re talking about will try to make you feel horrible about your tone and convince you that your tone means you have no right to say anything.

Sometimes, when people say that you should be more careful about tone so that you can be heard, what they really mean is “I don’t want to hear that, shut up and say something else I’m willing to listen to”.

Don’t believe those people, and don’t shut up. The most important thing is to keep talking. If you are bad at tone, some people will refuse to hear you. If you are good at tone, some people will still refuse to hear you. If you say nothing for fear of getting the tone wrong, no one will hear you.

Shutting up won’t get you heard. Speaking up might.

fuzzyfault said:

I am very bad at tone.  I nearly lost my job because of not using the appropriate tone with both staff and students.  I am sure some people don’t like me - and I think this is a major cause of my social anxiety - because of the tone I use for even non-controversial things.  But I have a lot of feelings about controversial things that I avoid communicating because I know the tone I tend to use will upset people/make them feel uncomfortable.  So, this is a really important skill that I need to learn, else start wearing a badge that says ‘the tone I use probably won’t be appropriate but please forgive it and listen to me anyway’.

realsocialskills said:

If you’re having trouble with tone in professional contexts, I’d suggest reading through the Ask A Manager blog. She has a lot of really helpful posts on how to communicate in professional settings, including how to give and receive effective feedback.

Shutting up won’t get you heard

Tone is important. When you say things the right way, it can increase the number of people who are willing to listen to you. 

But that only goes so far. No matter how good you are at framing things, some things that need to be said will upset people who feel entitled to be comfortable. And, when you upset people who feel entitled to comfort, they will lash out at you. This is not your fault; it is theirs. Tone has its limits.

Also, getting tone right is really hard. No one starts out good at tone; it’s a very difficult skill that you can only learn with practice. And the only way to get practice is to spend a lot of time talking to people about controversial things. Which means that, in order to get good at tone, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time talking about these things while you’re still bad at tone. 

People who mean well and genuinely want you to be heard understand this, and will encourage you to keep speaking up and keep working on your skills at speaking up effectively. People who want you to shut up about the things you’re talking about will try to make you feel horrible about your tone and convince you that your tone means you have no right to say anything.

Sometimes, when people say that you should be more careful about tone so that you can be heard, what they really mean is “I don’t want to hear that, shut up and say something else I’m willing to listen to”.

Don’t believe those people, and don’t shut up. The most important thing is to keep talking. If you are bad at tone, some people will refuse to hear you. If you are good at tone, some people will still refuse to hear you. If you say nothing for fear of getting the tone wrong, no one will hear you.

Shutting up won’t get you heard. Speaking up might.

When you have mixed feelings about an abusive relationship

tikken:

realsocialskills:

Content warning: this post probably uses language that gets used against abuse victims. I’m trying to avoid that, but I don’t think I’ve entirely succeeded, and some of these words might be triggering. Proceed with caution.

So, here’s the thing.

People are complicated, and relationships are even more complicated. Abuse victims are often pressured to pretend that things are simple. They’re pressured to believe that if there was any positive aspect whatsoever to an abusive relationship, then it wasn’t really as abusive as they think it was.

But it doesn’t work that way. People aren’t averaged. People can do some really good things, and some abusive things. They don’t cancel each other out. They coexist. Whatever else happened, the abuse was real, and you’re right not to tolerate it.

Sometimes… sometimes your abuser is also the person who taught you your favorite recipe.

Or something fundamental about how you understand the world.

Or a major skill you now use professionally.

Or maybe they gave you a lot of valuable criticism that made your art better.

Or maybe they supported you materially when you were in real trouble.

Or any number of other things.

And…

…none of that makes the abuse ok. None of that is mitigating in any way. It doesn’t cancel anything out. Sometimes people talk like the abusive interactions and the good ones get put in a blender or something, and like some sort of theoretical blended average is what really counts. That’s not how it works. It’s the actual interactions that count, not some theoretical average. The abuse is real, and significant, no matter what else happened.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other. If some things about an abusive relationship were positive, it’s ok to acknowledge and value them.

And you can still refuse to ever have anything to do with your abuser ever again. You can still be angry. You can still hate them. You can still decide never to forgive them. You can still warn people against them. None of these things are mutually exclusive.

And, most importantly, valuing some aspects of the relationship or having some positive memories does not in *any way* mean the abuse was your fault.

tikken said:

This is so, so important and I can’t believe it has less than 1,000 notes. This needs to be shared.

Bolded emphasis mine.

realsocialskills said:

Thank you.

I wrote this months ago, and I’ve gained around 3,000 followers since then. It occurs to me that some of y’all might not have seen this post and might want to see it.

I want to learn more about other cultures. I started bc i am a writer and realized my writing was inexcusably non-diverse, but found i wanted to keep on bc i find it rly interesting. There’s a problem tho. I grew up in an abusive family. Seems like many of the cultures im learning about place more emphasis than mine on loyalty to family and respect for elders - something that, when i read about it, i find REALLY triggering. How can i learn when i keep getting panic attacks?
realsocialskills said:
I think the problem might be that you are reading the perspectives of people who aren’t talking about abuse, particularly if what you’re reading is apologetic narratives aimed at presenting a culture to those outside it. Those kinds of narratives don’t have a lot of space to acknowledge that abuse is common, wrong, and needs to be addressed. I suspect that you would find similar writing about your own culture equally triggering.
Maybe what’s triggering you is the feeling like there is no voice for survivors and no way to respond to abuse?
If that’s the problem, I think the solution is to seek out the voices of survivors within the culture you are trying to learn about. What do they say about their culture? How are they addressing abuse? How do their culture’s concepts of family play into that?
Whatever culture you are learning about, there will be people within it who are seeking responses to abuse within their own culture on the terms of their culture. I think that, for you, learning about other cultures probably needs to involve listening to those survivors.
I have a sorta-friend who’s aspergers. My other friends and I try to be understanding about stuff (she wears earplugs so sometimes we have to remind her she’s getting loud) and has a few things she really likes, but she isn’t interested in talking about other stuff than what she likes, and interrupts a lot. I’ve been debating about showing her this blog for a while but I don’t know if that would offend her. I don’t know how to tell her she’s annoying because I’m bad at confrontation stuff.
realsocialskills said:
What would you be trying to do by showing your sorta-friend my blog?
I kind of get the sense that you’re thinking that, maybe if you showed it to her, she’d learn that the things that annoy you are bad and stop doing them. It doesn’t actually work that way, though. You can’t just point someone at instructions that will make them better. Friendship is something you work on together.
The point of friendship is that you figure out ways you like interacting, then do those things together. My blog posts can’t replace that. 
If someone’s doing stuff you don’t like in a friendship, you have to work that out with them, either by talking it through or by redrawing the boundaries of the relationship so that it doesn’t cause you intolerable problems.
Some specific stuff: your friend is allowed to only want to talk about certain things. You’re allowed to want to limit how much you talk about those things. But this is a negotiating the boundaries of friendship thing, not a getting your friend to change so you’ll like her more.
Figure out what you like doing together, do that, and draw boundaries around the things you don’t want to do.
A thought about tone and comfort

If you speak about injustice and privileged people get offended, people will condescendingly explain to you that things are easier to hear if you are nice, and that you are more likely to convince people if you speak to them respectfully.

This is true, and often important to keep in mind – but people who say that to you in a conversation about injustice are usually missing the point.

They’re ignoring something fundamentally important about addressing injustice: Sometimes, the goal is not to convinced privileged people to treat others better. Sometimes, the goal is to convince marginalized people that the way they are being treated is unjust and that it’s possible to resist.

There can be a tradeoff between saying things in a way it is easy for victims to hear and saying things in a way that it is easy for privileged people to hear. Sometimes, no matter which way you say it, upsetting one group or the other is inevitable. 

When you choose to say things in a way that is easy and comfortable for marginalized people to hear, you are likely to upset privileged people who are used to being addressed deferentially in these matters. And they will make their displeasure known, and other people will lecture you about being kind and building bridges.

When you choose to say things in a way that is easy and comfortable for privileged people to hear, you are likely to hurt marginalized people who are accustomed to having their feelings disregarded. They are unlikely to complain, because complaining rarely helps and often invites retaliation. When you choose to make your words comfortable for privileged people at the expense of marginalized people, no one will lecture you about kindness, tone, or saying things in a way people can hear. It will not occur to them that it matters how the victims of injustice feel in conversations about injustice.

This dynamic will be invisible to those who lecture about tone and kindness, but it should not be invisible to you. Do not let others pressure you into disregarding the feelings of marginalized people for the sake of the powerful.

Thoughts on aging, assisted living, and death

When people age, they often move to assisted living facilities, either by their own choice or in response to outside pressure. Often, these facilities present themselves as being basically just like living in your own apartment, except that they clean for you, provide meals, and offer enjoyable activities.

And, when people first move in, this is generally true. People who can do the activities of daily living without help retain control over their lives, can come and go as they please, and live very similarly to people who live in their own places. But as residents age, they loose physical and cognitive abilities, and often lose control over their lives. What once looked like an apartment can look like an institution really quickly when you start to need more help.
On TV, we never see aging or death depicted very accurately. People who die on TV don’t decline over time, they’re just there until they’re not, and sometimes they look perfectly healthy in a hospital bed before they aren’t there. And sometimes, not being there isn’t dying, sometimes it’s being put into a home.
Real death is not like that. Real death is not usually sudden. People who die of old age normally become disabled first. On TV, when you become disabled enough for it to matter, you disappear. In real life, you are still there, you are still a person, and you still care about your life. 
So, if you’re old enough to be considering moving into an assisted living facility, you’re old enough that you need to plan for what will happen as you become more disabled. Don’t assume that the people who run your residence will know what to do; you will be better off if you make the decisions rather than outsourcing them to other people.
On valuing your life:
If you are old, people might pressure you to refuse treatment for medical conditions you have so that you will die sooner. They might euphemistically call this dying naturally or not prolonging the dying process. But there’s nothing unnatural about using a feeding tube, treating an infection, or any number of other things people might try to talk you out of. Do not get all of your medical information from people who see the world this way. Medical decisions are yours to make, and make sure that the people advising you on your care believe that your life is worth living.
Pay attention to the disability community as well as the aging community. Some people feel like they would rather die than come to be impaired in a way they’re dreading. Hearing the voices of people who live with those impairments and value their lives will make it much, much easier for you to get past that fear.  Everything you face physically as you age is something that some disabled folks live with long-term. They know a lot about how to be disabled and still be free, self-respecting, and live. Disabled adults who live free lives and avoid nursing homes have had to gain a lot of skills that you are going to need. Not all of what they know has reached the aging community. Learn from both. 
In particular: There’s a lot of fear and misinformation about feeding tubes. When people ask you to fill out a form indicating which treatment you do and don’t want, feeding tubes are one of the first things they ask about. People often see eating with a feeding tube as something like being a zombie, being undead, and living an unacceptable life. But feeding tubes are really just a way to eat and stay alive if you can’t use your mouth to eat. Similarly, breathing support is just a way to breathe. It doesn’t make you a zombie. It lets you stay alive and gives you more time to live and love and care about things.
Questions to consider:
  • When I am no longer able to walk as far as I want to go, how will I get a good wheelchair and learn how to use it?
  • If I lose the ability to speak, how will I communicate? 
  • If I develop dementia, how will I communicate as I decline cognitively? What do I need to do now to make sure that if I develop dementia, I will still be treated like a person?
  • If I need assistance in the activities of daily living, will I still be able to decide how and when to do them, or will those decisions be governed by staff convenience?
  • If others decide that I am a fall risk, will I still be able to make my own decisions about when and how to get out of bed, and whether to use a bed alarm?
Just, generally speaking - your life does not end when you become disabled. It just changes. When you become disabled, your life will still be worth living, and you will still care what happens to you. Don’t let anyone talk you into devaluing it, and plan to keep your freedom.
Stop using mental illness as an insult

oh-dear-thumbs:

recoveringsjw:

realsocialskills:

So, there’s this pattern. People hear about someone doing a horrible thing, or being systemically abusive to another person, or being bigoted, or being generally hateful, violent, or evil, and then express their disapproval by saying things like:

  • She *needs help*
  • He needs serious therapy
  • I hope he gets the help she needs

And, that’s a horrible thing to say. Because mental illness is not the same as being an abuser. Having a mental illness is not a moral failing, and treating others horribly is not a mental illness. Conflating those categories hurts people badly.

Some people do need therapy, medication, or other forms of treatment. Some people who need mental health treatment are also terrible people, but that is not because of their mental illness. It’s because of their choices and values. And many abusers and other dangerous people are not mentally ill at all.

Many, many good people struggle with serious mental illness and depend on medical treatment. Similarly, many good people struggle with mental illness and have no access to treatment for various reasons (eg: lack of insurance, lack of safe providers, fear of losing their jobs due to stigma). These people deserve better than to have their struggles thrown up as a way to insult abusers.

Mental illness is real, serious, and horribly stigmatized. It is not the same as being an abuser, and it’s really important to stop equating the two.

recoveringsjw said:

It really bugs me when people tell others to go to therapy as a way of insulting them or telling them there’s something wrong with them. And then say that they mean well and just want that person to get better.

I recently got a loved one into therapy. It’s hard on everyone, and it’s the beginning of a long and arduous process and it’s still super stigmatized.

oh-dear-thumbs said:

While all of that is true, there are people whose socially maladaptive or harmful actions are in part due to mental illnesses, which could often be helped by therapy. I know a number of people who are lovely overall, but who can enter fits of rage and even become somewhat abusive during difficult mental health times. I am also saying this as someone with a pretty serious diagnosed mental illness—I have a vested interest in mental illnesses being taken seriously and not stigmatized.

While it’s obviously no good to treat mental illness and behaving badly/abusively as the same thing (in the vast majority of cases, there’s no connection), there are cases where mental illness negatively impacts interpersonal relationships and behaviors, and in those cases, therapy could be seriously helpful. 

Also, I’m well aware that most people who say “S/he needs therapy” aren’t actually expressing concern for the person in question—I’m just pointing out that saying that all bad/maladaptive behavior  is completely  ”because of [the perpetrator’s] choices and values,” without any input from other stressors like mental illnesses, is a little overly simplistic. 

realsocialskills said:

Mental illness definitely can complicate all aspects of life, including interacting with other people.

Or, in simpler terms: having some forms of mental illness can sometimes make it harder to treat others well. 

And for some people who have mental illnesses that make it harder, getting therapy or medical treatment can make it a lot easier to treat other people well. That’s important to acknowledge.

It’s also the case that people with really intractable mental illness can still learn to treat others well. Not all mental illness is currently treatable; not all people with intractable mental illness are jerks. Even people with intractable mood disorders.

Even when therapy or medical treatment helps, it doesn’t work in the way that people who say “he needs ~help~” as an insult think it works. It’s not, like, someone goes to therapy or gets medicated and then the treatment fixes their illness and makes them into a good person.

Good mental health treatment can help people to function better, including treating others better. But it’s not magic, and it’s not direct, and “he needs ~serious help~” is not referring to that.