What I mean when I say “I can’t do that”- Anxiety Version:
- I am unable to do that
- I am too stressed out to do that
- I cannot face the humiliation of attempting to do that
- My body will physically not allow me to do that
- I am on the verge of a panic attack
- I cannot do that
What people hear:
- I am unwilling to do that
- I am just shy
- I am overreacting
- I am lazy
- I need to get more experience in social situation to help my anxiety
- I need a push
- I don’t want to do that
Inspired by X
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.
…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.
This has not been my experience. I have had multiple female bosses, and I have loved working for all of them.
My first job out of college started as a temporary position at a reception desk. When I started, the president (a man) and vice-president (a woman) of the firm were traveling out of the office for a few days. I was told they’d be calling in for messages, and I was warned—repeatedly—that the vice-president, Helene, was a dragon lady, a bitch, a holy terror. The nicest way it was put to me is that she was “difficult.” I was admonished to be very careful about how I gave her messages to her, because she would destroy me if I made a mistake.
I made sure to provide her messages in precisely the way I’d been instructed, and she was perfectly polite to me over the phone. But, by the time she was due back in the office, I’d been warned about her so many times, in so many blunt and nasty ways, that I was, frankly, terrified of her.
Helene returned to the office one morning, an hour late as I would discover was her habit. She was a beautiful, fashionable, confident woman. She introduced herself brusquely, but welcomed me to the team. I was intimidated by the sheer force of her presence, but she seemed nice enough. I waited for the other shoe to drop, for the dragon lady to reveal herself.
That day never came.
Within a couple of months, my position had been made permanent, and I was quickly promoted to an assistant position in Helene’s department. Helene was tough. She had high expectations of me. But she was also an incredibly generous mentor. I was eager to learn, and she was keen to teach me. She wanted things done a certain way, but she was open to suggestions and encouraged me to challenge her. And if I ever came up with a better way to do something, she was grateful for the idea and let me know she was proud of me. She never took credit for my ideas; to the contrary, she championed me.
By the time I left, I was the director of her department, and I had my own office overlooking Lake Michigan. From reception to an executive office in five years. And it was in no small part because of Helene’s eminent willingness to teach, support, and empower me.
The thing is, Helene could indeed be “difficult.” But not with me. She was “difficult” with the male executives who treated her like shit, with the male staff who undermined her authority. She was “difficult” with people who treated her, the only female executive at the firm, fundamentally differently than they treated the men.
Funny that I developed a reputation for being “difficult,” too.
This has been my experience working for and with “difficult” women. I’m sure there are shitty female bosses in the world; of course there are. But lots of what supposedly constitutes a “difficult” female boss, or colleague, is frequently a reflection of dynamics to which she’s reacting.
Dynamics like the one in which people reject female bosses, instead of rejecting workplace misogyny."
The people who lead the organization’s branch I volunteer for are all women color and it is amazing.I wouldn’t have it any other way.