I used to think that my ability to get along and make peace with people who offered a multitude of varying viewpoints and perspectives was correct and admirable. I was wrong.

What changed it for me was going to intensive therapy for complex trauma stemming from childhood narcissistic, emotional, and sexual abuse. You see, rather than directly call out a bigoted friend, I thought I could try to win them over gently and influence them toward a more moderate viewpoint. Of course, that never happened.

As an abuse survivor, I often inadvertently put myself in the position I was most comfortable with: the mediator. Growing up, my method of survival was to be as non-reactionary as possible when crazy people shouted mean things at each other. My ability to see multiple perspectives and have empathy for others translated to being stuck, not wanting to inflame anyone who was out of control. When I became an adult, I tried to apply that same strategy in situations where verbally abusive people demanded to have their way. The end result was a shit ton of anxiety and stress for me, and a wake of destruction left by the unrepentant abuser.

When someone is acting in a bigoted way, the only response is to expose their behavior. Call it out directly. If the person is a narcissist, psychopath, or has some other Cluster B personality disorder, expect to be attacked for doing this. If not, calling out their bad behavior in a direct and firm way might be the wake up call they need to change.  If anything, it communicates what is right, good, and true to others.

As someone who still feels anxious about direct confrontation, I have learned that it is not only important for to do so out of justice, it is also important for my mental health. Every time I draw a clear boundary and confront someone more directly, I gain back a small piece of who I really am. I can reclaim the word no. I don’t have to behave like my abusers. I can confront in a calm, controlled, and even kind way. If someone attacks me for putting up a boundary, that’s their problem, not mine.

Of course, this has meant closing the door on friendships I cared about. By saying no to my bigoted former friends, I have said yes to myself, and I have said yes to the peaceful, kind, considerate life I want.

 

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