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7 May 2024

Surviving Abuse: Estrangement and Grief

Written by Bridget Harilaou  

  

Content note: suicidality, suicidal ideation, intimate partner abuse, estrangement, rape culture  

  

An aspect of surviving abuse that is rarely expressed or understood is the experience of estrangement from friends, family or community when they side with your abuser. The bystander effect can occur in both public spaces and private spaces. People stand by and watch as victims are harmed, without any offers of help. In the case of intimate partner abuse or mass social violence, there may be those in your community who would prefer to ignore, enable or defend the actions of an abuser rather than hold them accountable or confront the abuse they have witnessed.   

  

This is an aspect of rape culture that can have deeply harmful impacts on the mental health of survivors. Coming out as a survivor can have a huge impact on your social network. Sometimes an abuser will cut you off, often to avoid accountability, and they will convince every person who has a closer relationship with them than with you, to do the same.  

  

Many people will ostracise victims rather than confront the reality of an abusive situation. For some of us, the violation of losing people to our abusers and the lies they have told, is a trauma in and of itself. It is not just the abuse but the estrangement from your own friends and community that can compound the trauma of abuse, beyond the harm that was inflicted directly by your abuser.  

  

There are so many questions that ran through my head when I was mass excommunicated and socially isolated by dozens of ‘friends’ and queer community members who I had been in community with for about 10 years.   

  

“How could they believe my abuser over me?”  

“What lies have they concocted about me to justify my excommunication?”  

“Why won’t anyone stand up for me and the truth?”  

“Why am I being cut off, when I am the victim?”  

“Don’t they remember everything I have done for them? Don’t they remember that I’m a good person?”  

“Why is everyone just standing by and letting this happen to me?”  

  

There was one question that truly led me down the path of suicidal ideation and mental health crisis, “If I am truly the problem in the eyes of all these people, it would probably be better if I was gone.”  

  

One of my biggest mental health accomplishments was getting through this period of suicidal ideation and not letting the slander, estrangement and betrayal affect who I knew myself to be.  

  

I came to the conclusion that people who truly know and love you, will not participate in rape culture by protecting abusers and cutting off their victims. They will not believe unverified lies spread by people who seek to harm you. 

  

I learned to lean on friends who were open to listening, who offered reciprocal emotional support. They were able to give me the love and support I so desperately needed in that time. I learned that a queer community who would mass abuse a victim and estrange them, was not a community I wanted to be a part of and that I did not want to be ‘friends’ with bystanders and enactors of rape culture.  

  

I started to build a new support network full of people who embodied values of compassion, empathy and connection. People who understood mutual care and saw me as someone deserving of love and support. 

  

I have spent the better part of 3 years rebuilding my life from the mass estrangement that occurred after my abuser wrote and signed a 3000 word essay of lies about me. I have done my best to move on from the betrayal of those who stood by and watched as this abuse unfolded. 

  

The friendships I have now look nothing like relationships I used to surround myself with. I have worked on developing reciprocal healthy friendships, enforcing boundaries and distancing myself from people and behaviours that look like they might begin to encroach on my sense of self.  

  

One mental health crisis, a chronic long-term disability diagnosis and new partnership later, I feel so much more confident about what a healthy romantic relationship looks like, what supportive and trusting friendships feel like and the limits of my own capacity for giving. I know I will try my hardest to maintain a nourishing and loving family, queer community and support network that will never ask me to sacrifice myself and who I am for the benefit of an abuser.  

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