Friday, August 10, 2018

The Case of the Damaged Woman

Aristotle once said that friends see our best. This implies that we ought to present our best to our friends and shield them from our worst.

To translate it into today’s cultural vernacular, this means that you do not need to show yourself at your worst. You should show your best and keep the rest for yourself.

The woman who calls herself “Recently Realized Daddy Issues” has written to New York Magazine’s Ask Polly. She wants a lifeline, an affirmation that she is not as damaged as she thinks she is.  She wants to know how she should get back into the social whirl now that she has withdrawn from it.

Truth be told, Polly’s advice is fair. It might even be helpful. And yet, Polly accepts the premise that is making RRDI so miserable: namely, that she cannot get close to anyone if she does not share her history of sexual abuse. On this account, I disagree.

Curiously, RRDI suggests that she had something of a spiritual awakening, thanks to the #MeToo movement. Hearing all of the horrific and horrendous stories of sexual assault and harassment, she recalled her own. They were not inconsiderable and they have, she believes, made her who she is. Thus, she feels that she must share them with anyone she gets close to, because otherwise that person will not know her for who she really is.

I suspect that more than a few people have chosen to feel inspired by #MeToo to share information that their friends do not want to hear. It is a self-sacrificing gesture, one that martyrs one individual in the interest of advancing a narrative, that toxic male sexual predators are running wild in our society. Which means that we must punish all men and have a police state to repress them.

It does no real good for the person who has been induced to confess. It does even less good for the person, like RRDI, who has been persuaded that she is broken and damaged, unworthy of human connection.

Examine some of the highlights of RRDI’s letter:

Over the past year, I’ve only just begun to acknowledge how very damaged I am. Whether the constant reminders in the news (#MeToo was less uplifting for some of us who were comfortably living in denial for multiple decades), increasing self-awareness, or finally becoming fed up with the horrible, toxic relationships I continue to nurture, I finally realized I could no longer hide from my history of sexual abuse.

This abuse/assault spanned over two decades and was the doing of multiple abusers, from being molested by a babysitter as a child for many years to losing my virginity in a date rape (also known as just “rape,” I’m trying to remind myself) as a teen, and beyond. On top of all of that, I grew up with a narcissistic father and a neglectful mother, though I do think they were trying their best.

Fair enough, RRDI was the victim of dreadful sexual abuse. She does not really have Daddy issues, because her father, as far as I can tell, had nothing to do with the abuse. As for the severity of the events, we do not know enough to offer a definitive judgment. We imagine that the babysitter was a female, and we do not understand why no one knew of molestation that was ongoing for years. The story is not entirely persuasive.

Now, RRDI believes that these experiences defined her. And that they obliged her to undertake a series of bad relationships, relationships that appear to be what young people call friends-with-benefits:

I’ve embarked upon unhealthy relationship after unhealthy relationship, culminating with a full year of are-we-aren’t-we-dating relationship with my best guy friend (surprise: I thought we were, and he didn’t). I was stuck in a male-dominated job where I was unappreciated and the victim of workplace sexism. I increasingly realized my friends always expected me to drop everything when they were in need, but rarely returned the favor. I felt like I was silently drowning in despair.

The paragraph is all over the lot. She had a relationship that was not a relationship. As it  happens, such is common in today’s young people. The culture has declared that such relationships are perfectly normal… so they do not necessarily limit themselves to people who have been sexually abused. Blaming it on the molestation absolves RRDI of responsibility for her choices.

She tells us nothing about her job and we do not know what constitutes workplace sexism. If her friends were using her and not returning the favor, she might have found a way to deal with it. Declaring herself to be a  broken victim is not going to help her to do so.

RRDI continues that she chose to move back home-- or, at least, it appears that she moved away from the big city back to a more familiar territory:

I decided recently to make a big change and relocate to a town where I have a network, but a much smaller one. I got my own apartment and get to work from home. I think spending a lot more time by myself will make me happier and allow me to embark on what I know will be the really difficult work rebuilding myself. My first order of business is to find a therapist I can see regularly.

Working from home is a mixed blessing. It is far more difficult and far more isolating than working with others. One prefers that she had a job where she would have had more occasions to have more professional encounters with coworkers and colleagues. Since RRDI imagines that she must expose her past history to anyone she gets close to, the solution to her problem lies in the kinds of cooperative relationships she would have with work friends… in a situation where people would appreciate her for reasons that had nothing to do with her victimhood. One does not have enough details to know why it did not work out at her last job.

As for finding a therapist, it’s dicey. She might fight a good therapist. But she might find a therapist who wants her to define herself as a broken victim. And who will encourage her to share her history with people who do not want to hear about it-- because they want to see her at her best.

As for confessing to friends, she has tried and has discovered that it doesn’t work out very well:

I’ve only ever told two people about my history of abuse, and they were two love interests, ten years apart. Worse still, I only told them after I knew without a doubt that things weren’t going to work out between us. The most recent, of course, was that guy friend, who gradually started pulling away when I divulged this information, despite my having been there for him through some really difficult family stuff this year — a real double whammy for me. I think I chose them because I knew they wouldn’t ever bring it up again; they had already decided I was unimportant to them.

In fact, RRDI’s instinct is to keep the secret. Correctly. And yet, she believes that her failure to share is isolating her and making her lonely:

Many, I think, see me as strong, independent, and successful. But the truth is that I’ve been burned so many times in very serious ways by friends and family, I don’t feel like I can trust anyone. Even among my two or three closest, most understanding friends, I find myself making excuses to not share with them (will they just think I’m whining?). I am deeply, profoundly lonely. I know part of the reason I keep seeking romantic relationships is to have a secret keeper to confide in, but that never works.

On this point, Polly is correct to see that this woman has been traumatized to the point where her sense of other people is warped. Rebuilding trust is clearly the way to go, but it ought never to include oversharing about experiences that do not, despite what she thinks, define who she is.

Of course, thanks to #MeToo she believes that they do:

I feel like an absolute fake and that nobody really knows me in any real way.

I honestly have no idea where to start or how to change and be more open. How do I begin to trust a world full of people who have always disappointed me? How can I become someone I wholeheartedly think I’m not? Realizing how deeply fucked I am at age 29 after being in denial for my entire life makes me feel like I’m standing at a fork in the road, where one path leads to a pit of snakes and the other to a jagged cliff.

Unfortunately, #MeToo has taught her exactly the wrong lesson. She knows that she is damned if she overshares and is damned if she says nothing. She has undergone the kind of wild therapy that #MeToo is offering and has suffered for it.

She ought, as Polly suggests, improve her current relationships and develop new ones… slowly and deliberately. But, she should not, Polly notwithstanding, believe that sexual abuse has defined her life and has made her who she is. She would do better to disassociate herself from it and to move forward. And to get over the idea that she can only be real if people can envision her being molested or raped.

1 comment:

Sum Ting Wong said...

She needs to get herself to a good Baptist church.