Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Abuse Survivors: Stop Contributing to Ableism!

I was sexually molested by two different people - one from the time I was 10 months old to three years, and the other started the same time but continued until I was five.

Both of them were adopted. Both were cisgender, one female and one male. Both were Metis but passed for white, and both showed characteristics of a variety of psychiatric conditions falling under the general umbrella of trauma-related and attachment-related disorders - one had symptoms of dissociative identity disorder and borderline personality disorder, the other had symptoms of borderline personality disorder, conduct disorder, and possibly alcoholism as well.

When I talk about any of their characteristics, I try to consider how my words might impact other people who share characteristics with them. Because it’s the right thing to do - the moral thing to do.

If I were to, for example, generalize that since they were Metis and abused me, Metis people must be inherently dangerous, and go on to make a bunch of dehumanizing and stigmatizing comments about Metis people in general based on the characteristics of my abusers, people would call me racist, and rightfully so. However, if I did the same with borderline personality disorder, instead of their race, I’d have a bunch of people nodding along, applauding me for “speaking my truth”, and chiming in with their own stereotypes and generalizations.

Incidentally, both of those characteristics, statistically, are linked to a higher risk of committing abusive acts. Of course, the link is stronger for BPD, but Metis people, due to the intergenerational impact of racism both today and in the past, are at higher risk of committing a variety of crimes, including ones that harm vulnerable individuals.

But in both cases, what’s true for some is not true for all, and people can and are being hurt by stereotypes based on the worst behavior of others who share stigmatized characteristics with them.

No psychiatric diagnosis automatically translates to abusive behavior. Some diagnoses signal a person at higher risk, but even people with conditions such as borderline, antisocial and narcissistic personality disorder are not guaranteed to abuse others. Not everyone with a certain condition has every characteristic associated with that condition - just as not all people with BPD attempt suicide, not all people with BPD abuse people.

In addition, no form of abuse is inherently unique to a certain diagnostic category. The same actions can be done for a wide range of reasons. Not all child molesters are motivated by sexual attraction to children (pedophilia), for example - some just want to hurt someone sexually and a child makes a convenient target, some want to hurt a child specifically and sexual abuse is a convenient means, some have things so twisted in their mind that they don’t see sexual abuse as hurting, some are pressured into sexual acts with a child to please someone else, some are performing in order to sell child pornography, the list goes on.

Similarly, hitting someone, verbally belittling them, neglecting the needs of a dependent, and any other abusive act you can think of can also be done for a variety of reasons by people with a variety of motivations and/or diagnoses. It's even possible for people with no diagnosable mental health condition to abuse others - for example, on the recommendation of misguided parenting or therapeutic philosophies.

And being in pain and needing to vent never excuses harming others. Whether that is directly by abusing them, or indirectly by encouraging societal prejudice and stigmatization of characteristics they have.

So, the next time you’re about to talk about “narcissistic abuse” or call your abusive parent “borderline”, take a moment to think. Is what you’re about to say harmful to people who share similar psychiatric symptoms and aren’t abusive? If you were saying a similar thing about a member of an ethnic group with a higher crime rate, would that statement be racist?


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