This is gonna be a long, rambling blog, so what I’m gonna do is tell you what I’m gonna tell you, and then you can decide whether you want to read the rest of it.

I postulate that:

  1. The way people react to your actions and words is only partly the result of what those actions/words are, or their impact on said people’s lives. The reasons people ascribe to your actions/words is just as important. Mens rea, y’all.
  2. People will have a tendency to ascribe certain reasons to what you do or say depending on their opinion of you. That opinion can be based on careful personal observations, but it can also be based on guesswork, extrapolations, stereotypes, and prejudices. Once that opinion is formed, how fixed it is will depend more on the person holding it than on its accuracy.
  3. In many cases, some people can be more attached to their opinion of you than to reality. If your actions/words clash with people’s expectations based on their (mis)understanding of you, they’ll rather reinterpret the circumstances than admit that they’ve got you wrong.

So what? So, if you decide to come out as a survivor of violence or abuse, this could affect you. A lot. For a very long time.

Sorry to sound dramatic, but this is A Thing, and it’s A Thing people need to be aware of. I am not saying that survivors should stay silent; I am saying that it is important for them to know beforehand that, if they choose to go public, they might encounter a particular type of backlash, and that it’s not about them. It’s a thing people do, a bug in the human code.

Let me give you a silly example that isn’t violence-related. I’m pretty open about being neurodivergent, for several reasons. I happen to love my brain, though it’s not industry standard, and I’m not ashamed to talk about it. I think there isn’t enough positive neurodivergence representation out there. Most importantly, I’ve wasted most of my childhood to masking and dissociation; I’ll be damned if I do the same with my remaining years. Having said that, I’m not terribly proactive about the whole thing; I don’t have “ADHDer and proud” tattooed on my forehead. If the subject comes up, however, I’ll talk about it. Ditto with the unholy trinity of dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyspraxia that came free as part of the package.

It never occurred to me that this could be a problem. Bear in mind that I’m self-employed, so I enjoy a huge degree of privilege in that respect. The only consequences I could suffer are social, and those seem cheap. I mean, if someone has got an issue with me being neurodivergent, then we’re not going to get on, and that’s all there is to it. Falling out with them straight away because they dislike me in principle saves me wasting time just to give them the opportunity to dislike me in practice. So far, it’s worked out fine.

Then, a wee while ago, I happened to mention to my physio that I am dyslexic… And she decided that I can’t read. I mean, she knows that I am not totally illiterate because we have exchanged texts, but she is convinced that I do not read books because I can’t, because I am dyslexic. I have told her several times that that’s not the case, but her opinion seems fixed. She talks to me about books as if she was describing worlds I shall never visit – unless, as she urges me to do, I “manage to find the audiobook.” It’s gotten to the point that her last few texts were written entirely in baby talk and in the present tense – which, as they referred to appointments future and past, made interpreting them a bit of a challenge. Said difficulties have further reinforced her opinion that my ability to parse written communications is sketchy at best; and round we go, in a self-affirming spiral.

The situation is more farcical than it is upsetting because my relationship with the woman is extremely circumscribed: she prods my neck and ass, and I throw money in her general direction. We’re not friends. We don’t share as social circle. We don’t work together. I see her for an hour a week, max. If our relationship disintegrated tomorrow, she’d be a few pennies short until she found a client to fill my slot, and I’d have a sorer ass; that’d be it. The situation would be rather different if her role in my life was different. If she was my colleague or my boss, I’d probably end up flipping out at her, to be honest. If she was my professor, marking my homework with the assumption that I can’t possibly have read my coursework, I’d be screwed.

So what? So, if you proudly stick a label on yourself, or if you’re outed as being an <insert label>, a whole bunch of people will ascribe a bunch of attributes to you based on what they know of that label. From those attributes, they will craft their own personal interpretation of What You Are Like, and that interpretation will be a filter through which they evaluate your words and actions. Your activities won’t be judged in a vacuum: they will have the weight of an entire narrative as context. The narrative will determine your motivations and motives, and it is those motivations and motives that will determine how people treat you.

Say that you didn’t brush your hair today. You have ADHD? Then you probably forgot. You have chronic pain? Then you were too sore. You have depression? You’re in a mental health crisis. You’re genderqueer? You’re rejecting femininity. You’re a teenager? You’re rebelling. You’re elderly? You’re getting dementia.

Obviously, in each of these cases the messy hair means something different, and the appropriate response varies accordingly. Problem is, this is not a very accurate system for finding out what’s actually going on. It’s educated guesswork at best, and it’s often too simplistic. For instance, you could be a teenager and have depression, but only the former is obvious to the onlooker. Next thing you know, you find yourself getting yelled at because your lack of grooming is seen as an attack on the status quo, when it’s actually a symptom of your crumbling mental health. Or you don’t own a brush, because you’re temporarily homeless because of a family crisis. Or you did in fact brush your hair, but you nearly got hit by a car on the way to school and had to roll out of the way, and you’re still in shock. Etcetera, ad infinitum.

The exact same mental process comes into play when someone comes out as survivor of violence or abuse. Many people make assumptions on what survivors are like, often based on what they’ve read or heard, which is often sensationalistic and simplistic. Next thing you know, everything you do or say is viewed through that filter. You’re not tired because you’re overworked; you’re depressed. Your boss isn’t really bullying you; it’s just your PTSD rearing its ugly head. That guy isn’t creepy; you’re just paranoid. That guy hasn’t made a nasty pass at you; you just misread his actions, because trauma. You don’t want to go to the pub because you’re withdrawing from social contact, not because you just hate that kind of thing, and A True Friend will make you go, for your own good. Your opinions and preferences don’t count, because they are tainted by Your Trauma. All your problems are imagined, exaggerated, or straight-up caused by said trauma, and should be treated as non-issues as a result. You don’t need actual help with actual problems: you need emotional support, bless your heart, there there. Contrariwise, if you actually feel OK, you’re either suppressing or lying: nobody with your past can feel that good!

Yeah, not everyone does this; but enough people do for it to be A Thing. Yeah, you can straighten things out with most people; but that isn’t something you will always have the time and energy for, particularly if you’re actually dealing with your ongoing shit. No, I’m not telling you to stay quiet: I’m just saying that things may go south at times, and it’s not your fault. Shit gets heavy sometimes, is all.

Creepology & ADHD

I’ve been listening to the 4th Annual ADHD Women’s Palooza (which I conveniently forgot to post about on here, and now you have to pay for. It’s worth it, though, if you have ADHD or care about someone who does). it came to me that a bunch of the issues being discussed can seriously affect our victim profile with regards to creeps, sexual-predators, and intimate-partner abusers, either by making us lower-risk targets or by making it harder for us to deal with the situation. I thought I’d try to list the main points.

Bear in mind that I’m ADHD, but that’s not all I’ve got going on. I was diagnosed very late, brought up by an emotionally abusive and anti-feminist family, and exposed to sexual predation from the age of 11. It is very difficult for me to disentangle what issues are caused by the ADHD per se, and which by the intersection of other factors. You could have ADHD and not have any of these issues, or you could not have ADHD and find that some still apply to you. If no part of this sounds remotely relatable to you, congrats. Seriously.

1. Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.

Discovering the existence of RSD was my main ADHD revelation. It’s not that I didn’t know that I had it; it’s a bit too obvious for me to ignore. I just assumed that everyone felt the same, and that they could handle it better.

RSD can impact our ability to deal with creeps and predators for two main reasons. Firstly, we can be incredibly frightened of any kind of upheaval in our social group. Given how badly whistleblowers are often treated, being wary of putting ourselves in that position when we know how crushing the resulting RSD will be is a reasonable concern. Secondly, we have a tendency to assume that other people will be equally crushed by rejection. We may resist giving out negative responses in order to spare people’s feelings, or soft-pedal our rejection to the point that it’s wholly ineffective, particularly against those who have no interest in respecting our consent.

2. We are trained to suppress or discount our feelings.

ADHDers may struggle with their emotional self-regulation. They may suffer from low frustration tolerance, temper outbursts, emotional impulsivity, and mood lability (rapid, often exaggerated changes in mood). In a nutshell, we tend to have a lot of feelings and struggle to hide them.

While learning to manage one’s emotions is an essential part of being a functional human being, there is a difference between learning to feel a feeling without acting upon it, and learning to suppress or to discount the feeling. Suppressing feelings may make our lives smoother and simpler, but it cuts us off from a very important source of information. In the context of creeps and sexual predators, suppressing our feelings can make us slow to react to bad situations, both in the short- and long-term. We may not respond to the fear we feel when a predator approaches us, or the icky feeling of dealing with a creep. We may also remain in an unhealthy relationship because we have lost access to the markers that would inform us that the relationship is unhealthy.

Doubting our feelings also makes us very susceptible to gaslighting – “a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and ultimately lose her or his own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth.” In a very real sense, by ignoring or suppressing our feelings, we’re gaslighting ourselves: we’re teaching ourselves that our perception of reality is wonky, and should be ignored. When someone who purports to love us does the same, we can fall for it without a moment’s hesitation.

3. We’re scared of all things awkward.

ADHDers are accustomed to fucking up in public. We’re emotional, we’re impulsive, we’re often loud, and words have a tendency to fall out of our mouths (or keyboards) before we have had a chance to apply any kind of filter. We know all about Foot-in-Mouth disease, and we know how much it hurts. This can make us way too tolerant both of people who fuck up “just like us.”

Unfortunately, some people fuck up on purpose, because they enjoy making us feel uncomfortable (i.e., predators). Other people don’t fuck up on purpose, but still fuck up in ways that can be very harmful (i.e., people who don’t fully understand consent, or who have been brought up to think that “no means maybe”, etc.). Both these groups don’t respond to subtle hints; if we want their behavior to change , we need to set clear boundaries and enforce them as needed.

But what if it turns out that this person that we pegged as a creep was just awkward? What if they never meant to upset us at all, and our reaction triggers their RSD? What if we do set those boundaries, and the person gets upset at us, and everyone finds out, and the whole situation degenerates into a giant social clusterfuck? Just thinking about that can trigger our RSD!

Being reluctant to put our foot in it until we’re absolutely sure that we are really dealing with a problem person can put us in grave danger. If we’re dealing with a physical predator, we might find ourselves having to fight ourselves out of a situation we could have avoided. Alternatively, if we’re dealing with a non-physical predator such as a creep, we might find ourselves suffering in silence for extremely long periods of time, never quite feeling safe but never giving ourselves permission to ensure our safety.

4. We’re dopamine fiends.

ADHD has been linked to low dopamine levels. Dopamine is a feel-good hormone: it is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward, and allows us to regulate emotional responses and take action to achieve specific rewards.

Dopamine levels shoot up in the early parts of a relationship, and peter off over time as the relationship stabilizes. Alas, dopamine levels also increase in response to stress. Now, this is purely my hypothesis, but I think that when you have a crush on a Bad Boy/Girl/Person, you risk getting a greater dose of dopamine than you would by falling for someone who makes you feel safe and secure. Even if that’s not the case, in the early stages of a relationship it can be hard to tell whether you’re getting the lovestruck dopamine, the stress variety, or a bit of both. To me, at least, they “taste” the same, which means that I may actually remain infatuated in someone for longer if they stress the heck outta me; i.e., I sometimes feel better in a relationship because that relationship is stressful.

5. Whirlwind romance or love bombing?

Love bombing is the practice of “overwhelming someone with signs of adoration and attraction…designed to manipulate you into spending more time with the bomber.” Basically, it’s setting off on a relationship way too fast and too intensely with the specific purpose of getting someone hooked on you before they really know you well enough to realize that actually you’re a manipulative douche.

Thing is, for a lot of ADHDers falling head over heels is the normal way to start a relationship. We’re fast, we’re impulsive, we can hyperfocus on people just as much as we do on anything else, and we looove that sweet, sweet dopamine that a new relationship gives us. For us, though, that’s not a tactic: it’s just the way our head/heart works. It’s not something we’re doing; it’s the way we are.

When an ADHDer crosses romantic paths with a manipulative love-bomber, they may fail to realize that there’s a problem because the two behaviors are, on the outside, quite similar. It’s only the motivations that vary. By the time those motivations are uncovered, the ADHDer may find themself in a very bad situation.

6. We’re accustomed to being punished in the name of love.

On average, children with ADHD receive a full 20,000 more “negative messages” in their lifetimes. On one hand, that makes sense: ADHDers can be utterly aggravating, because we just can’t behave properly. On the other hand… we just can’t behave properly. We don’t choose to be distracted, easily bored, forgetful, impulsive, fidgety, hyperfocused on the wrong things, perennially late, and so on and so forth. Those aren’t things we choose to do: they’re just how our brain works, and all we can do is learn how to work with it. Scolding a child with ADHD for spacing out is not unlike scolding a short-sighted child for failing to read something on the board. You’re punishing someone for the way they are. This is particularly fun for those kids with RSD, for whom the knowledge of having done wrong is in itself a terrible punishment.

When this punishment is routinely presented as “for our own good”, we may end up buying into that. We may learn to believe that being cared for means being hurt, that the people who love us and look after us will also punish us for being ourselves. If that doesn’t prime us for intimate partner abuse, nothing else will.

7. We believe there’s something inherently wrong with us.

This is connected to the above point, but it’s its own thing. Being constantly told that there is something wrong with us can, unsurprisingly, lead us to believe that there is something wrong with us. This is particularly true for those of us who are diagnosed later on in life, because we don’t even have the comfort of a diagnosis to explain to us what’s going on, and to help us work around it.

Being constantly exposed to a barrage of negative comments can turn us into people-pleasers. We try to make up for our perceived shortcomings by doing whatever it takes for people to like us, even when it has a negative impact on our life. When other people’s behavior hurts us, we ignore that hurt and accept it as the price of admission in the relationship. In a nutshell, when our world is hurting us, we try to change ourselves instead of trying to change the world. If part of that hurt is caused by being in a relationship with an abuser, that can take us to very bad places.

8. We have unsupportive support networks.

ADHDers are more emotional than the average person. That doesn’t mean that we feel the wrong emotions! We may just feel them more intensely, or struggle to modulate our reaction to them. Unfortunately, our emotionality can lead to the people in our lives discounting not only our feelings about our problems, but the problems themselves. We are probably making a mountain out of a molehill. It can’t really be that bad. It probably wasn’t that bad to start with, and we made it worse by panicking. Hell, it’s probably our fault: if we could just chill out and act normal…

The result is that if we find ourselves in a difficult or even dangerous situation, we might find ourselves unable to get any help from our social network. By the time we’ve accumulated enough evidence to support our concerns, we may have gotten needlessly hurt.

Please note that this list is NOT comprehensive – it’s just some stuff I thought about today. I’ll add to it if anything else occurs to me. Feel free to add your bits in the comments.