Kitty Stryker here, bringing you a guest post from BoldlyGo that I felt strongly should be hosted here on Consent Culture. It discusses the various complications of friends who stay friends with those who have hurt us… or our staying friends with those who we know have hurt others. Why might people do this? Why might people be upset by this? It’s certainly complicated. I’m personally thinking a lot about how it’s possible to be compassionate to those complications while also having strong boundaries, and will be bringing a piece soon about that.
I’ve got this huge post on accountability sitting my queue and right now I’m waiting to get a copy of Why Does He Do That so I can cite the references on steps abusers make to change their behaviour and how to tell the difference between a genuine effort at recovery and a false attempt to sway an audience. But right now, there’s something related to this type of thing that I want to talk about and that’s going on with a variety of my friend groups and me in particular. This is about “shunning”. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to talk in generalities about hurt, rather than “abuse”. Not only because I believe this is still applicable when we’re talking about “hurt”, but because I think it makes the discussion more accessible for people who get hung up on the definition of “abuse” and to decide to police that.
After we’ve done the long and hard work it takes to realise that someone has hurt us, and sometimes it takes a long time and a lot of work for you to not only realise but admit to yourself that someone is hurting you, we often have a lot of choices to make about how we’re going to use this information. Are we going to stay in the same environments with this person? Are we going to talk to this person? Initially, just for yourself, these decisions can be difficult, if not impossible, to make. For example, those of us who have disabilities where we require the care of those who hurt us to survive don’t have the luxury to exclude people. But if we do have that privilege, we wonder about exacting it. And sometimes we make this choice right away, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes the boundaries of that choice shift and we feel comfortable with them in our circle, and then we change our mind. But that’s one stage of the process.
I’m not the only one who’s often wondered how Lily could befriend both Snape and the individuals who continued to bully him, by their own admission, purely for amusement. It would be understandable for Snape to feel abandoned by Lily’s friendship with them (before he decided to throw a slur in her face, at least).
Another process involves our friends and acquaintances. It’s perfectly understandable for us to believe that the people who love us or care about us also care about when we are hurt. It is understandable for us to feel disappointed when people make decisions that reflect to us that they don’t care about our feelings – or at the very least, our feelings are not among their top priorities. So sometimes we wonder about how we handle the situation with our friends. Do we tell our friends all about it? Do we stay silent because it’s easier? While no one wants to say, “Either you believe me, or you’re not my friend,” one cannot deny the emotional repercussions of what happens to a relationship when someone makes a choice that you don’t feel supported by. It’s inevitable, regardless of their intent or their true meaning, that feel abandoned in some way by them. While logically we may understand that friends may have very good reasons for the choices they make, it doesn’t erase the feelings you have.
To put it plainly, I’ve been involved in a lot of situations where people have expected me or I have expected others to not associate with someone anymore. Now, in my case, I’ve not always voiced this. I’ve just told people about the hurt I’ve been through and watched and waited. I’ve never actually gone to the point of expecting people to not associate with individuals who hurt me because in all honesty, I’ve either been uncomfortable being so public about things or I’ve just felt like I didn’t want to bear it if people just outright refused. That’s a different kind of hurt and a different kind of pain. But even though I’ve never asked outright, I have still felt incredibly unsupported and abandoned when people continue to associate with individuals who have hurt me, while KNOWING that those individuals did hurt me. Every single time it happens, it kind of kicks my morale down a peg. I’ve all but given up on the idea anyone would go through the awkwardness and trouble it sometimes takes to say, “Hey, so you did this thing to someone I care about and that makes me feel not so happy to be around you.” I just don’t think anyone’s going to do that any more, so I’ve kind of given up hope.
While Anakin’s choice to turn to the Dark Side seems understandable in light of what we see him experience, likewise Padme’s choice to not support Anakin in his decisions is also understandable.
On the flipside, I have been asked by friends of mine to stop associating with certain individuals. I’ve either been asked outright or it’s been heavily suggested. Sometimes, I have made the decision to not associate with that person. And there have been situations where, because I was concerned about the safety of other friends of mine, I have chosen to disregard those requests. Sometimes I made a choice about associating with someone, but then changed my mind when I gained new information. Sometimes I’ve waited to make my choice until I gained more information. And other times, I’ve only associated with a person because I’ve not had the energy and support to confront them just yet. But in all of these cases, I’d like to think that I own my choices and their consequences.
Likewise, I’ve also witnessed friends of mine being ignored or not talked to because they’ve chosen to associate with some people and I’ve been angry and frustrated by the isolation that creates for them, especially when I feel they are in vulnerable positions. When I choose my associations, I’d like to think I make my choices in the best way I can to ensure that if there’s someone at risk, they don’t feel as though I’m trying to hurt them and yet – I understand perfectly if they feel as though I do not actually support them.
One of the biggest issues with talk about “abuse” is the idea of “shunning”, which I do write about in my accountability article, is that I feel like people use the word and mean different things by it. There’s a huge difference, for instance, between someone making a public call to oust someone and someone making a decision to not associate with a person and also not associate with anyone who does associate with that person. If I choose to not associate with someone and decide that, actually, I don’t want to be friends with a person because they associate with someone, I don’t think that’s me calling for everyone to shun that person. That’s me making a choice about who I’m friends with. Now, if my friend feels I’m forcing them to make a choice, that’s unfortunate. But in the end, I get to decide the circle of friends I want to be around. And if that circle has to include people who aren’t also including someone who hurt me, than that’s my choice to make. Painting me as someone who’s trying to force people to choose isn’t fair, because if I had the choice in the matter, I wouldn’t want to force anyone out of my circle – including the person who hurt me. Very few individuals seek to bring this type of drama and pain into their lives.
Although it’s more of benign example, Darla’s decision to not be with Alfalfa when he tries to hide their relationship isn’t necessarily about Darla forcing Alfafa to pick different friends, but more about her choice in how she wants her partner(s) to show that they value her.
I personally make the choice of being friends with people, sometimes even partners, who continue to associate with people who hurt me. Others won’t make that choice because they don’t want to. I think both approaches are equally valid. I personally make the choice just because if I had to restrict my choices, I might end up having barely any friends at all. And since a lot of people who have hurt me are sort of popular and ubiquitous in my groups, there’s a lot of parties I don’t end up going to and a lot of places I avoid. To lose what little people I have on top of that would mean I’d lose what tiny social life I have. But I won’t deny that, for the most part, I feel very unsupported by a lot of my friends and partners. Because they continue to associate with people who hurt me, it does hurt. I often feel like no one cares and it’s a large part of why I feel hopeless about the situation.
The politics of these situations are nuanced and difficult, and I get that. Most people get that and understand that. But I feel like there’s a big taboo over the head of anyone who goes through pain who makes a request for friends to show their respect of that pain by not associating with certain people. I feel like that’s seen as manipulative and harsh. Maybe the fact that I can’t do that and honestly would like to in certain situations makes me re-think this, because it’s not actually that harsh. Because I think that there’s something understandable in wanting your friends and the people you associate to respect your pain enough to realise that they at the very least should show you that they respect it, even if they weren’t involved.
When you’re forced to make a choice about who you want to interact with and forced to defend why, it brings up a lot of defensiveness. I certainly understand that. I think people feel so defensive, guilty, and unsure about making the choice, that they fling those feelings back on the person who makes that request. So instead of them feeling bad that they continue to associate with someone who hurt someone, they make the request seem audacious and out of line. Now, I wouldn’t doubt there are people out there who request something like that and don’t respect the fact that we’re all dealing with certain issues that we can’t escape or avoid. If I associate with someone who has hurt my friend and they’re also a work colleague that I see constantly, it might be difficult or impossible for me to not associate with that someone. I think for the most part, when we’re making that request, we need to be understanding of people’s limitations.
One of the things I dislike about the treatment of Hermoine is the way that Harry and Ron constantly either rely on her to do their work or, especially when it comes to S.P.E.W., constantly put her down for what she thinks. In many cases I find myself asking why she’s friends with either of them when they disrespect her so much and the issue of S.P.E.W. really puts her in a difficult place. Should she befriend people with such polar opposite views? Practically no one supports S.P.E.W. with her.
But also, I think we need to own our associations. If you make the choice that you are going to associate with someone, I think it’s only fair you realise the effect that choice has. It’s only fair to understand that the person who’s been hurt might feel more hurt, abandoned, or unsupported. For someone like me, who’s accepted it and doesn’t expect anyone to stop talking to people who have hurt me, it makes it much worse to have people expect me to be happy about associating with people who hurt me and to give that my blessing. I won’t give it my blessing. I will be unhappy when I see people associating with others that have hurt me. That’s how my feelings are. And I think it’s unfair to expect me to change my feelings or be happy about something like that. Ultimately, I get to define how people can best support me. And if people make choices, despite their best intentions and feelings, that I feel do not support me, I have the right to decide that and feel unsupported by it. I don’t have to operate by someone else’s definition of caring and support.
When it comes to who we decide to associate with, I think the most important thing for us to do is take ownership of it and to understand that, while we can’t control others’ feelings, we can at the very least understand the feelings others have about our choices.