Mona Eltahawy’s essay: Abortion is normal

Feminist Mona Eltahawy is nothing but brave. She is one of my heroes. I look up to her so much and try to model my own feminism on her fearlessness. Nevertheless, despite her bravery (which really is next level) she found herself avoiding talking about the topic of abortion and her own abortions until late last year. Her examination of why this was so difficult makes for compelling reading, even more so given Roe v Wade was overturned only a few days ago in the US. Read the essay here and don’t forget to sign up to Mona’s newsletter.

Knowledge and understanding: some thoughts on narcissistic abuse and the culture of victim blaming

Last month I was victim blamed by an old friend. Thankfully, after a few years of intensive therapy with a feminist, trauma-informed, DV-literate therapist, I was able to catch this in the moment, something I’m quite proud of, as victim blaming can be subtle, insidious, and is still widely culturally accepted. This incident happened one day when I was confiding in my friend about a toxic incident with an acquaintance that left me feeling upset and drained. I felt it was a perfectly normal thing to reach out to a close friend for support. Let me make it clear also that I don’t actually reach out to friends often for support (after bad experiences in the past), so when I do so, it takes some courage on my part. Sadly, my friend didn’t give me the support I was looking for, but rather, chose to question what I was doing to attract this “toxic” person (and others) into my life. Without going into the incident in too much more detail, I left the conversation politely, but feeling quite upset. And while I raised her victim blaming in the moment, I was frankly shocked that it had happened at all.

Being a victim-survivor of narcissistic abuse is a tough gig. While the term “narcissist” is bandied about all over the place these days and is used almost like a general insult, my educated guess is that most of the population actually has little idea of what narcissism actually is, in all its complexity. Nor do many know that there is a personality disorder that falls within the Cluster B spectrum of personality disorders, called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and that narcissism usually refers to that, or traits of that disorder, not just any random “bad” or toxic behaviour. Not many know what a personality disorder itself is, or the nine traits of narcissism listed in the DSM-5, or the red flags of how to spot a narcissist, or the typical dynamics between a narcissist and their abuser. Even fewer have first hand, lived experience of narcissistic abuse, or if they do, they may have little awareness of it (apart from a feeling that something is very wrong), and no way to identify it, label it, process it, disengage from it and heal from it. I was one of these people. While I grew up in an environment of such abuse, I learnt very little about NPD until I left a narcissistically abusive relationship a few years ago. The information that was out in public was scant even a decade ago. I know, because I ordered and read some books on the topic, but they still didn’t provide the kind of comprehensive, lay-person’s overview that is easily found today online on specialist websites, social media and YouTube. I was intelligent, university educated, an ex academic, a raging feminist of almost 25 years, had attended therapy since the early 2000s, was very self-aware, and yet, I didn’t know any of this vital information about narcissistic abuse when I left my abuser in 2019. Not until I actively hunted it out and found the relevant organisations, websites, books, YouTube channels, therapists, and so on, and actively studied it, did I fully understand what I had been subjected to my whole life.

The point of me stating all this is to clarify that public knowledge of abuse, especially narcissistic abuse, is still scant, even if you hear the word “narcissist” bandied about everywhere. A nuanced understanding of such abuse is even rarer. A feminist, pro-victim/pro-survivor understanding of such abuse is rare as hen’s teeth. When I first left my relationship in 2019, I made the rookie error of joining many online “support” groups for survivors of narcissistic abuse. They quickly revealed themselves to be toxic and judgemental spaces, and I found little support there. Predators roam and target victims in these spaces too. I found very little empathy or understanding, so I swore off them quickly. Finding friends and family you can talk to after such abuse is also hard. People mean well, but often don’t understand the damaging effects of such abuse on the brain, the dynamics between victims and abusers, and how hard it is to leave. Such people often fail to understand why you can’t just “move on” easily from trauma that has literally caused in you a form of brain damage, and which binds you to the very person you want to escape through biochemically-induced trauma bonds. Very few people understand trauma and the havoc it wreaks on the body and the mind. Very few. Very few understand victimisation, and very few hold the idea that perpetrators of abuse are 100% accountable for choosing to inflict abuse on their victim. Abuse is always a choice. Always. Abusers are always 100% responsible for abusing others. Always. If we fail to understand this basic fact and fail to hold abusers fully responsible, we will never be free from them and the toxic damage they inflict on their partners, children, families, work colleagues and friends. Abusers hurt all of us. Let’s stop giving them a free pass.

Soon after I left my abuser, I became very aware of the dynamics that form between abusers and their victims. There is a very common pattern in which a codependent relationship forms and goes both ways, that is, both perpetrator and victim are highly codependent with one another. Narcissistic abusers often choose victims who are exceptional: high achievers, good people, people who are giving and kind and loving and often highly empathic. They are in many ways the polar opposite of their abuser. And yet, there are similarities in their levels of vulnerability, fragility of the self, and often a shared experience of prior abuse, usually in childhood, that binds such people together. It can feel like a very natural and compelling fit: the empathic victim often wants to rescue the abuser and help them feel good about themselves, and the abuser will quite happily take this attention and nurturing from their victim, in order to feel good and prop up a poorly-developed and fragmented ego. It’s a symbiotic, parasitic relationship and it is one I have experienced since birth. I know it well. I do not only know it from textbooks and online materials, but from almost five decades of lived experience. I have spent three years reprogramming myself to no longer be codependent, to no longer give endlessly to others, to spot the signs early, to assert my own identity, to ask for my needs to be met, to assert boundaries, and to leave toxic relationships early. Without exception. It is exceedingly hard work, and I am not alone amongst victim-survivors of narcissistic abuse in having to process and rewrite an entire lifetime of abuse, in order to move on. It is an epic task, and one that people should be applauded for taking on, rather than giving up, or avoiding entirely, or resorting to comfort and vices instead of facing the raw pain that such introspection requires. Healing from narcissistic abuse is not for the faint-hearted. Please be kind to us and acknowledge the privilege you have been afforded if you have lived a life free of abuse.

So, when my friend accused me of not only attracting toxic people into my life (as if I was to blame for their behaviour in some kind of mystical, law-of-attraction way) but then instructed me to look at the relationship patterns that I am perpetuating, I felt justly hurt and offended. After all, could someone who was completely unaware of such patterns even write this piece? No, they could not. I am well aware of the dynamics at play, the patterns of my relationships, and narcissistic abuse, in an incredibly nuanced and detailed way. As an ex academic and someone with confirmed autistic traits, I have a laser-like ability to hyperfocus, to study a topic to the nth degree, and to understand it inside and out.

Speaking of which, this was meant to be a very short introduction to an excellent article by Kayleigh Robert in The Atlantic, titled The Psychology of Victim Blaming. But I’ve digressed, as it seems I have rather a lot to say on the topic. I wanted to say that Robert’s article focuses on victims of crime, and while psychological abuse isn’t recognised as a crime everywhere yet, it is starting to gain traction as such, and has incredibly detrimental, damaging effects on its victims. I would like to extend the principles and concepts in Robert’s article to include all kinds of toxic and abusive relationships, not just sexual assault and other (mostly physically violent) crimes. In short, and to put it very bluntly, we should never blame a person for someone else’s toxic, abusive, or criminal behaviour. Robert’s article provides an excellent and complex discussion of the psychology of victim blaming, and is well worth reading and pondering.

Knowledge and understanding: some thoughts on narcissistic abuse and the culture of victim blaming

Last month I was victim blamed by an old friend. Thankfully, after a few years of intensive therapy with a feminist, trauma-informed, DV-literate therapist, I was able to catch this in the moment, something I’m quite proud of, as victim blaming can be subtle, insidious, and is still widely culturally accepted. This incident happened one day when I was confiding in my friend about a toxic incident with an acquaintance that left me feeling upset and drained. I felt it was a perfectly normal thing to reach out to a close friend for support. Let me make it clear also that I don’t actually reach out to friends often for support (after bad experiences in the past), so when I do so, it takes some courage on my part. Sadly, my friend didn’t give me the support I was looking for, but rather, chose to question what I was doing to attract this “toxic” person (and others) into my life. Without going into the incident in too much more detail, I left the conversation politely, but feeling quite upset. And while I raised her victim blaming in the moment, I was frankly shocked that it had happened at all.

Being a victim-survivor of narcissistic abuse is a tough gig. While the term “narcissist” is bandied about all over the place these days and is used almost like a general insult, my educated guess is that most of the population actually has little idea of what narcissism actually is, in all its complexity. Nor do many know that there is a personality disorder that falls within the Cluster B spectrum of personality disorders, called narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and that narcissism usually refers to that, or traits of that disorder, not just any random “bad” or toxic behaviour. Not many know what a personality disorder itself is, or the nine traits of narcissism listed in the DSM-5, or the red flags of how to spot a narcissist, or the typical dynamics between a narcissist and their abuser. Even fewer have first hand, lived experience of narcissistic abuse, or if they do, they may have little awareness of it (apart from a feeling that something is very wrong), and no way to identify it, label it, process it, disengage from it and heal from it. I was one of these people. While I grew up in an environment of such abuse, I learnt very little about NPD until I left a narcissistically abusive relationship a few years ago. The information that was out in public was scant even a decade ago. I know, because I ordered and read some books on the topic, but they still didn’t provide the kind of comprehensive, lay-person’s overview that is easily found today online on specialist websites, social media and YouTube. I was intelligent, university educated, an ex academic, a raging feminist of almost 25 years, had attended therapy since the early 2000s, was very self-aware, and yet, I didn’t know any of this vital information about narcissistic abuse when I left my abuser. Not until I actively hunted it out and found the relevant organisations, websites, books, YouTube channels, therapists, and so on, and actively studied it, did I fully understand what I had been subjected to my whole life.

The point of me stating all this is to clarify that public knowledge of abuse, especially narcissistic abuse, is still scant, even if you hear the word “narcissist” bandied about everywhere. A nuanced understanding of such abuse is even rarer. A feminist, pro-victim/pro-survivor understanding of such abuse is rare as hen’s teeth. When I first left my relationship in 2019, I made the rookie error of joining many online “support” groups for survivors of narcissistic abuse. They quickly revealed themselves to be toxic and judgemental spaces, and I found little support there. Predators roam and target victims in these spaces too. I found very little empathy or understanding, so I swore off them quickly. Finding friends and family you can talk to after such abuse is also hard. People mean well, but often don’t understand the damaging effects of such abuse on the brain, the dynamics between victims and abusers, and how hard it is to leave. Such people often fail to understand why you can’t just “move on” easily from trauma that has literally caused in you a form of brain damage, and which binds you to the very person you want to escape. Very few people understand trauma and the havoc it wreaks on the body and the mind. Very few. Very few understand victimisation, and very few hold the idea that perpetrators of abuse are 100% accountable for choosing to inflict abuse on their victim. Abuse is always a choice. Always. Abusers are always 100% responsible for abusing others. Always. If we fail to understand this basic fact and fail to hold abusers fully responsible, we will never be free from them and the toxic damage they inflict on their partners, children, families, work colleagues and friends. Abusers hurt all of us. Let’s stop giving them a free pass.

Soon after I left my abuser, I became very aware of the dynamics that form between abusers and their victims. There is a very common pattern in which a codependent relationship forms and goes both ways, that is, both perpetrator and victim are highly codependent with one another. Narcissistic abusers often choose victims who are exceptional: high achievers, good people, people who are giving and kind and loving and often highly empathic. They are in many ways the polar opposite of their abuser. And yet, there are similarities in their levels of vulnerability, fragility of the self, and often a shared experience of prior abuse, usually in childhood, that binds such people together. It can feel like a very natural and compelling fit: the empathic victim often wants to rescue the abuser and help them feel good about themselves, and the abuser will quite happily take this attention and nurturing from their victim, in order to feel good and prop up a poorly-developed and fragmented ego. It’s a symbiotic, parasitic relationship and it is one I have experienced since birth. I know it well. I do not only know it from textbooks and online materials, but from almost five decades of lived experience. I have spent three years reprogramming myself to no longer be codependent, to no longer give endlessly to others, to spot the signs early, to assert my own identity, to ask for my needs to be met, to assert boundaries, and to leave toxic relationships early. Without exception. It is exceedingly hard work, and I am not alone amongst victim-survivors of narcissistic abuse in having to process and rewrite an entire lifetime of abuse, in order to move on. It is an epic task, and one that people should be applauded for taking on, rather than giving up, or avoiding entirely, or resorting to comfort and vices instead of facing the raw pain that such introspection requires. Healing from narcissistic abuse is not for the faint-hearted. Please be kind to us and acknowledge the privilege you have been afforded if you have lived a life free of abuse.

So, when my friend accused me of not only attracting toxic people into my life (as if I was to blame for their behaviour in some kind of mystical, law-of-attraction way) but then instructed me to look at the relationship patterns that I am perpetuating, I felt justly hurt and offended. After all, could someone who was completely unaware of such patterns even write this piece? No, they could not. I am well aware of the dynamics at play, the patterns of my relationships, and narcissistic abuse, in an incredibly nuanced and detailed way. As an ex academic and someone with confirmed autistic traits, I have a laser-like ability to hyperfocus, to study a topic to the nth degree, and to understand it inside and out.

Speaking of which, this was meant to be a very short introduction to an excellent article by Kayleigh Robert in The Atlantic, titled The Psychology of Victim Blaming. But I’ve digressed, as it seems I have rather a lot to say on the topic. I wanted to say that Robert’s article focuses on victims of crime, and while psychological abuse isn’t recognised as a crime everywhere yet, it is starting to gain traction as such, and has incredibly detrimental, damaging effects on its victims. I would like to extend the principles and concepts in Robert’s article to include all kinds of toxic and abusive relationships, not just sexual assault and other (mostly physically violent) crimes. In short, and to put it very bluntly, we should never blame a person for someone else’s toxic, abusive, or criminal behaviour. Robert’s article provides an excellent and complex discussion of the psychology of victim blaming, and is well worth reading and pondering.

Predator: a poem about how to spot narcissistic abuse (spoken word poetry video + essay)

Predator is my most watched spoken word video, with over 8000 views across YouTube and social media. The poem is a simple one, and I released it as a spoken word video in mid 2020, close to the first anniversary of leaving an abusive relationship, as a way to pass on all that I had learnt about narcissistic abuse in that year. I’ve made it my focus, since leaving that particularly abusive relationship, to study narcissistic abuse and learn all I can about it and to pass that knowledge on to others. The poem aims to teach of some of the main red flags in an abusive relationship, so that you can spot a narcissist and keep yourself safe. It is by no means an exhaustive or nuanced list, so please do research this further if you feel you need to. This list by Jackson MacKenzie is a particularly good starting point. The red flags described in my poem include things such as love bombing (intense flattery coupled with very fast bonding), a gut sense that something’s not right, and learning to trust that gut sense, as well as waiting and observing to see if things add up.

I’ve learnt, from observing narcissists for my entire life, that they lie frequently and that these lies are usually quite obvious. They often back-pedal when caught out, and their attempts to cover over the lie with outlandish and long-winded excuses or even more lies that rarely add up, is usually a dead giveaway that they’re lying. I’ve discovered that when a narcissist is caught out in a particularly gnarly lie, they will often give you several reasons/excuses in quick succession, in a desperate attempt to convince you. Hilariously, these excuses are often quite obviously fantastical or nonsensical and can even contradict one another. It’s like they are cycling through excuses to find the one that you will believe or buy into, and they desperately scramble to convince you in one way or another so that they aren’t caught out. This desperate attempt to cover over their lies and convince you to doubt your own sense of reality is part of the gaslighting that narcissistic abusers engage in. They want you to doubt yourself and believe them at all costs. The waffling that they often partake in when caught out and trying to get you to believe their lies, is what some call word salad: a perplexing combination of words (tossed around randomly, like a salad!) that usually make little sense when measured against reality.

If you want to study and learn about how a narcissist tells lies, I’ve found the best thing to do is to call them out on something that doesn’t add up (preferably without any warning), then sit back and calmly observe their behaviour, appearing agreeable and hearing them out. You can continue to call them out as they answer if you like, countering each wild claim or excuse with the truth. For your own sanity it can be good to do this so as to not get sucked into their gaslighting. However, if you are able to observe without getting sucked in, it can be even more educational to sit back and let them waffle on. If you respond with a simple “oh, I see” or “yes, that makes sense”, then they will think you’ve believed them, and you can continue to observe over time how they choose to lie, collecting more and more data. It’s up to you. If you call them out and tell them they’re lying too much, they will change their behaviour and come up with new ways of lying, and then you’ll be left open to more manipulation and crazy-making behaviour.

I’ll tell you a little secret: narcissistic personality disorder is a shame-based disorder, and not a lot of people know this. People who have the disorder or who display high levels of narcissistic traits, have deeply fragmented, malformed egos and are actually very insecure (often as a result of childhood abuse). They need you much more than you need them. Their manipulative tactics and abuse make more sense when you think about how much they need you and the attention and energy you give them, simply in order for them to function. Their fragmented and vulnerable selves need constant shoring up by others and without you and your attention (commonly called narcissistic supply), they feel high levels of distress, emptiness, and will struggle to function at all. Sadly, narcissists get this attention through manipulation and abuse, which is designed to make it very difficult for you to leave them also. A healthy person will not behave in these ways towards you. Abuse is not love; abuse is never love, and narcissists never love, they only use and abuse, and will pretend that they love you so that you give them what they need.

I learnt as a young child to sit back and observe people. When I see myself in videos as a child, I see a quiet mini adult calmly sitting back and watching. I believe I had to adopt this practice in order to stay safe. Learning to observe and notice minute changes in behaviour helped keep me safe from abuse, or so I thought. It is one of the hallmarks of complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), which many survivors of long-term abuse end up with. The reality is, you are never safe around a narcissistic abuser. There is nothing safe about psychological abuse, and many narcissists inflict it in such a way that can be hard to spot and behind closed doors, so that others don’t see it and can’t warn you about it.

Observing others carefully and that sense of trust in yourself is crucial in order to extricate yourself from such situations. The red flags I’ve mentioned in my poem are simple ones and hinge around trusting yourself. Narcissistic abusers intentionally wear down your ability to trust yourself and your instincts. I’ve learnt since leaving my abuser in 2019, to tune into that gut sense and to always trust it and myself, above all else. What I’ve learnt is that my gut is always right. It was always right when I was in the relationship, and I only figured out later, with the help of a good therapist and through extensive reading and research, that the relationship I had been in was highly abusive, and in many ways, criminally so. This is the power of the abuser. They can convince you that all they do is loving, and that the psychological instability you have when you’re with them, is innate to you, not a result of their systematic and often very calculated abuse. We also live in a patriarchal society that condones the control of women by men. Many narcissistic abusers are men and many rely on that power dynamic and the protection that patriarchy affords them legally and socially.

What can you do to keep yourself safe from these toxic, abusive individuals? Read up about the red flags of narcissism. Watch the videos of the following three narcissism experts on YouTube: Dr Ramani, Sam Vaknin and Richard Grannon. They are all highly trained and give outstanding advice. Reach out to trauma and domestic violence informed therapists and phone lines. Refrain from reaching out to friends or therapists who don’t know about narcissistic abuse or domestic violence dynamics, as this can actually be counter-productive, and in many cases people will persuade you to accept the abuse and doubt your perceptions. Narcissistic abuse is still an area that most have no idea about, sadly, so do please rely on experts who understand it, or connect with those who have lived experience and who have knowledge and self-awareness about narcissism and the dynamics of abuse. Seeking the help of the wrong person can be very detrimental to you leaving a narcissist and healing. I cannot stress this enough. I have had therapists who, while they meant well, were not trained to spot or correctly handle abuse, and who enabled me to stay in abusive relationships. Never, ever seek therapy with a narcissistic partner either. Their disorder is such that they will often use such therapy to manipulate the therapist and blame and further abuse you, and in any case, couples therapy with an abusive partner is something that is never recommended. Narcissistic abusers are unable to be helped with therapy; this is something that is generally agreed upon among experts.

Most importantly though, trust yourself. Trust that gut feeling that something is wrong. If you need to take time to observe and spot patterns of behaviour, and it’s safe to do so (narcissistic abuse can take time to spot, even for the most educated and aware observer), take that time. Keep some distance. Seek out those who know about narcissistic abuse and talk your situation through with them. I know this saved me recently, when I unfortunately became involved with yet another abusive individual. Luckily, I was quickly able to extricate myself from this person once I started spotting the signs (they started showing up quite obviously the very moment he gained my trust) and I left him after a couple of weeks. As well as love bombing, look out for slow grooming by an individual, particularly one who displays unsavoury character traits or who tells you about dubious things they have done in the past to others, especially previous partners. Listen to those things and don’t deny them. A genuinely good person will not set off your alarm bells. You won’t feel the need to question, make excuses for, or rationalise the behaviour of a normal, healthy adult. I made the mistake of rationalising away some very clear red flags in this most recent relationship, and fell for the promises that were made to me. This particular man engaged in hot/cold behaviour (intermittent reinforcement), and a couple of manipulative techniques known as bread-crumbing and future faking. This good/bad mix and inner confusion over your feelings for someone is also a really good sign to pay attention to, and can be a massive red flag that you’re dealing with an abuser. Please note: a narcissistic abuser will not only do bad things or treat you abusively all of the time, though their abuse will always escalate over time. Some of the time, and depending where you’re at in the cycle of narcissistic abuse, they will be charming, flattering, sweet, and at times even thoughtful. After all, nobody would even get together with an abuser if they only treated you badly, would they? These good moments are designed to lure and keep you hooked, and make you rationalise away the bad moments. This hot/cold behaviour can lead to cognitive dissonance, and can also be confused for romantic “passion”. But real passion and healthy adult romantic attachment doesn’t actually involve any of these things. A healthy relationship feels stable, secure, and safe. If you don’t feel safe, trust yourself, and leave.

I hope that these annotations to Predator, my most watched poem, have helped elaborate on some of the red flags touched on briefly in the poem. If you feel that you may be in an abusive relationship, please do reach out to a therapist trained in this field or a domestic violence helpline (1800RESPECT in Australia). Educating yourself and getting the right help and support are essential to leaving these soul-destroying relationships.

Social media: when algorithms manipulate and intersect with abuse tactics

I first heard about Jaron Lanier years ago when my housemate bought his book You Are Not a Gadget. I didn’t know much about him, other than what my housemate told me, but the title alone was enough to make me agree with Lanier, in principle at least. I am not a gadget, and neither are you. The notion of being a gadget is abhorrent to me, yet lately, I feel like I have become an extension of my smart phone, rather than the other way round. While Lanier’s assertion has stayed in the back of my mind, and though I’ve struggled significantly with social media in one way or another for years, I avoided looking into his work until now because I knew I was addicted to social media. Although I knew it was bad for me, and wanted to stop using it, I couldn’t. It filled a gap. Or, rather, many gaps. I have, however, only recently made the connection between the algorithms that control our use of social media and their correlation with tactics used by abusers, which, as a survivor of abuse, has given me just reason to pause my social media use and take time out to examine what this means for me, my work, and my healing.

For those not familiar with Lanier or his work, he is a computer scientist, philosopher, writer and composer, who advocates for significant changes to the ways social media is both structured and used. His most recent book is called 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. One of his earliest books, You Are Not a Gadget, was published eleven years ago in 2010. Back then I had a phone that was technically a smart phone but wasn’t actually very smart, compared to today’s little computers that we carry around everywhere and which do everything for us. I could look at Facebook and my email on it, and use Google. I was addicted to checking these things, all day. My phone, limited as it was, had become an extension of me, and I had already been using Facebook for several years. I remember thinking at the time that Facebook was also an extension of me: a record of my life, an avatar. My account contained folders of thousands of photos of me and my life that I kept meticulously organised and updated. I spent hours each day on the platform, chatting with friends, mostly. Then things started to change. Facebook branched out dramatically — shifting its focus from connections between friends and family and fun things like games that you could play with strangers, to adding more and more pages and features, creating more and more reasons for using the platform. All of a sudden businesses were using it in lieu of websites, interest groups formed and used the pages as (ill-functioning) forums, and a separate messaging app emerged. It seemed to me that Facebook wanted you to live your life within Facebook and do away with websites, online forums and groups that were hosted elsewhere (in much better ways), and even texting your friends. It confused me that you could use the messaging tool instead of texting or calling someone directly from your phone. Why would you want to do that? Then the other social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram) added them too, and it seemed to me that these social media “worlds” were designed to keep you dependent on them, locked within them, in order to perform basic functions such as contacting friends or looking at a shop’s wares. It felt invasive to me and as though these platforms (Facebook in particular) were like an out of control garden creeper, becoming entangled with and taking over all areas of my life.

One day, I simply got fed up and deleted my Facebook account, and never looked back. This was a little while after some nasty incidents had taken place in a couple of groups that I was in, including a group I hosted. I didn’t deactivate Facebook, I deleted it. What I witnessed there was shocking behaviour, the likes of which I’d never witnessed on any Web 1.0 forum. Sure, in the old forums you’d have trolls and arguments, but they were generally kept under control by moderators and the other members. They were outnumbered. No more. In a group I hosted on Facebook, the members ranged in age from roughly 35 to 50, nevertheless I saw all kinds of bizarre, immature and unruly behaviour including the taunting of other members, flouting agreed-upon group rules to test the moderators, jealous outbursts, triangulation, public bullying, and even a death threat. It was out of control, so I left. I now keep an anonymous account at Facebook that I don’t use, but the platform has grown so much, that if I don’t have one at all, there is no way for me to access certain kinds of information anywhere else on the internet. This is the kind of power and control over access to everyday information that I have a problem with.

Twitter is another matter entirely. I’ve been on the platform since 2009, and watched the culture there change dramatically. It used to be a safe space for cultivating friendships and having light chat with people. I don’t remember any algorithms obviously privileging certain tweets over others in the early days. You saw tweets as they happened, in order. There was less performativity because there was less competition over whether or not your tweets were seen. Your friends could and generally would keep up with whatever you tweeted as there were fewer users and the connections seemed stronger. There were no threads, and I don’t even remember the capacity to like tweets or message someone privately. Retweeting was clunky, and if you wanted to add a photo you’d have to upload it elsewhere and link to it. Links were not embedded, nor was media. Politics didn’t seem to factor in. You could only tweet 140 characters, so people stuck to that. As ridiculous as it sounds, I made some good friendships this way: pleasant and light, but decent. Fast forward to now, and, as comedian Richard Ayoade once said: “Twitter is a fast moving river of hate”. And that it certainly is.

For me personally, since I started a new account to share my writing in 2018, Twitter has been a nightmare. Initially created with the idea of sharing my work, I’ve been subjected over the past three years to bullying about my appearance, stalking and harassment by two exes and one of their sidekicks, and intense trolling by someone who set up a parody account of one of my friends, who was himself subjected to bullying and defamatory accusations. Also, due to the nature of my writing, I have been an obvious target for grooming and abuse by creepy men, who always hide their abusive behaviour well away from the public timeline, yet act as friends and “woke” supporters publicly. Is any of this OK? No. Add to this that Twitter is now a hotbed of political activity, which isn’t a problem in itself, but its political nature (or maybe Twitter’s algorithm – see the video link below) seems to promote aggression and argument, shaming and cancelling, simplistic black-and-white statements, bullying, and endless, saturated retweeting. Not to mention clumsy threads that go on and on in a platform only designed to support 280 characters. Twitter is not designed for complex arguments and one certainly cannot present a nuanced argument about anything in 280 characters, let alone a nested thread of many, many tweets. These things are not necessarily failures of Twitter’s users, but the platform and its structure. Like Facebook’s group discussion structure, it’s clumsy and hard to keep up with things. And yet people flock to Twitter in droves, sadly thinking their voices are making a difference, while in reality often only parroting the opinions of their friends (most seem too frightened to disagree or hold a different opinion for fear of being shamed and cancelled for even the slightest deviance) and retweeting only the voices they agree with, over and over. This is not a public forum of much value. Real debate needs dissent and disagreement and complexity. Twitter does not have the capacity to hold space for such debates, and sadly I believe it’s leading to a dumbing down in peoples’ critical thinking and communication skills. The space has become — or perhaps only ever had the capacity to be — intensely tribal and basic.

The majority of people on Twitter do not produce original tweets, let alone original creative content. Let’s talk about “content”. As an artist, highly trained in how to make music, and as an amateur and untrained poet, and a writer of some skill, I hate the word “content”. To me it conjures up an empty vessel that needs filling in order to have use or purpose. Content implies a filling, but does not specify the quality or nature of that filling. To me, it suggests that anything will do. I make art that is meaningful, personal, and has wider social implications. I studied music intensively from age 11 to 32. I make art, with all of the thought, history, study, skill, and design that goes into making a work of art. My art is not made to fill empty spaces, particularly not those empty spaces that exist in hostile, algorithm-controlled places like Twitter. So, my art fails on Twitter. And yet, I’ve found my art and my art practice as a writer has been defined and changed by Twitter, heavily, and in ways I’m not comfortable with, in my vain attempts to receive attention for my work there.

When I studied and practiced music and wrote music regularly, I did it alone. Mostly out of necessity. In the very early days I was part of two ensembles that regularly made and performed music together and that was magical. But when I returned to study later, due to my budget and the way my curriculum and course were designed, I had to make music alone. And this was OK with me. I spent 20 months making what I consider to be the best thing I’ve ever made, an electroacoustic composition called Pope Joan, and apart from my university supervisor and a few friends, nobody heard it. That was also OK with me. I made it for me and I felt no need for public validation or even a public airing, and though it did receive some significant public attention many years later (at an exhibition called Melbourne Now that 750,000 people attended), it didn’t change how I felt about the work. The attention it received was neither here nor there. The work was the same and my attitude towards it remained stable as I had only ever made Pope Joan for myself. This is the kind of creative purist I am; I make art for art’s sake and rarely for money, yet sadly, since writing poetry and pieces about abuse and MeToo over the past few years, I’ve felt a real shift in my own attitude toward making, which I believe comes largely down to social media. Part of this shift came from the desire to make my art very public, to make my voice and my lived experience as a survivor of abuse very public. Both for myself, as a gesture of validating myself and my experiences, and in the spirit of helping others. Many people relate to what I write. Many people thank me for writing what I do and for expressing the things they can’t express or won’t express publicly, as it is unsafe for them to do so. People applaud me for my courage and bravery all the time, but I’ve always been this way, and just not about sharing my emotions. I have no shame about my experience and I’ve learnt that abuse thrives in silence. I’ve also learnt that abusers are rarely held accountable for their abuse, by their victims or the legal systems, or by society even. So, my writing is an attempt to rectify that, to say: this is what happened and I have a right to say it and expose it. It’s a fine balancing act between safety and seeking justice and one that the MeToo movement started and which, I believe, must be continued and expanded upon. All of this sounds good, right? It sounds like social media might be a great place for me to share my work, gain traction and attention, and try to educate others on abuse, right? In some ways, yes. In many ways, no. My work gets largely ignored, especially on Twitter, by an algorithm that seems designed to reward aggression and hostility. If this sounds preposterous to you, utterly implausible even, please watch the Jaron Lanier interview I’ve posted below. My work also gets (seemingly randomly) boosted at odd times and in odd ways. I was heartened that a recent poem that I wrote called The rape, about my own rape, was viewed quite a lot on Twitter. It is probably the most powerful thing I’ve written and its message is important. My most viewed poem, Predator, which warns of the red flags of narcissistic abuse, is a good poem and has a good message. I’m glad it’s been viewed almost 8,000 times on Twitter alone. But the problem is this: it’s inconsistent. The algorithms are designed in abusive ways. And this is no exaggeration. They are built upon principles of intermittent reinforcement, which is a manipulation technique abusers use to keep their victims confused, disoriented, and ultimately, hooked. “Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals, a method that has been determined to yield the greatest effort from the subject. The subject does not receive a reward each time they perform a desired behavior or according to any regular schedule but at seemingly random intervals.” (https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/intermittent-reinforcement) This principle is also behind the intermittent payouts programmed into computerised slot machines at casinos, and is responsible for keeping gamblers hooked. It is also programmed into the algorithms used on the major social media platforms. Intermittent reinforcement leads to the production of dopamine in our brains, which is a feel-good chemical. Please watch the interview with Jaron Lanier below, and note that this interview is three years old, so my guess is, things have only intensified since then.

As a survivor of abuse, I’ve made a dedicated effort to study the mechanisms and dynamics of abuse over the past two years, since I left a particularly abusive relationship in 2019. Intermittent reinforcement featured over and over in this relationship in unpredictable and random ways, and always left me hanging for the good moments, the love, the happiness, to return. They did, but with increasingly frequent moments of abuse starting to dominate, in between. You remember the good moments, and while you’re being broken down by the abuse, by the put downs, by the emotional and/or physical violence, you come to believe you are the problem. Intermittent reinforcement is a manipulation strategy that modifies the behaviour of the recipient. You start to note which of your behaviours are rewarded by good behaviour, and you replicate them, to get the reward. Who wants abuse, right? We all want to be treated with validation, respect and love. We all want to have quality attention paid to us and to be heard. Abusers manipulate you with these techniques, and others, to get what they want out of you. As Lanier says in his interview above, the marketing/business models that social media platforms have based their algorithms upon, draw heavily on these principles, which, by their very nature are intrinsically manipulative and abusive. In this case, they act to reward advertisers with financial gain — understandable, given that we are living in late-stage capitalism; but what’s not normal, and what’s actually very sinister about this, is that we are modifying our behaviour on these platforms as a result of these algorithms, in order to be seen, heard and liked by others. This behaviour modification is inextricably bound up with the business model that drives and controls the algorithms that decide what gets seen and interacted with on social media, rather than us deciding what we see and interact with.

And so, we end up in frustrating cycles of performativity, in which human connection and validation become the reward. This is perfectly natural and human to want and need, but the problem is that only certain kinds of behaviours get rewarded, and these behaviours end up degrading our interactions. If the most simplistic and hostile takes on things are those that get shown to us on social media, before all else, and if we are rewarded for engaging with these things, what hope does gentle, quiet interaction, or complex, nuanced art have of being seen and interacted with? I know from my own experience of Twitter that people tend to respond more to brazen political posts and rants of mine than they do my actual work, generally speaking. It frustrates me as my work is intensely political and personal, and always has been. Twitter also devalues my posts that require people to click on a link, which would mean they end up potentially leaving Twitter and therefore the platform, resulting in fewer advertising dollars for Twitter, presumably. Twitter has also valued some of my more dramatic, simpler poems, versus those constructed with meticulous craft and originality. And so I’ve found myself pandering to the masses and popularity and (re)producing the kind of work that gets more attention. And guess what? Even doing that doesn’t, necessarily, get you more attention. Intermittent reinforcement doesn’t work that way. It’s less predicable than that. If it was predictable, and if you were rewarded every time for the same behaviour, how could Twitter and social media platforms hook you in? No, it doesn’t work that way. You need that push-pull dynamic of an uncommitted lover who is playing games with you: all over you like a rash one moment, absent and avoiding you the next. You want that hit, the rush of dopamine, when you finally get rewarded, and if you don’t, you blame yourself, not the twisted, psychopathic algorithm. And round and round you go, addicted, producing “content” that means little to you, in vast quantities, just to see if something sticks, just for validation. This is no way to make art and Twitter is no platform for one who is writing about and trying to heal from abuse. It replicates the dynamics of an abusive relationship so closely, while also opening one up to further abuse via trolling, targeted grooming, stalking, etc., that it is a potential nightmare of retraumatisation for abuse survivors.

For the past year in particular I have quite impulsively withdrawn from Twitter many times, despite it gaining my work extra attention, due to the platform triggering me. It’s that sense of never being enough that reminds me of my abusive upbringing, and that yearning to be seen and heard, that is frankly, unhealthy. I’m from Generation X. Thankfully I grew well into early adulthood before the internet was even a thing. I also know how to cultivate and maintain friendships offline, but I fear these days are numbered, especially for those my age and younger. So many of my friends seem to only want to maintain friendships now through these performative spaces, rather than in real life. So many want to use social media’s built-in messaging apps rather than the phone or face-to-face communication. So many now think of social media as real life, the default space to exist within, carefully crafting and curating selves that are pale semblances of the rich, nuanced humans we all are. And then there are those who create false selves and false lives online in order to pretend or deceive. And that pretending can come from a place of self-doubt and insecurity, or, at a more sinister level, people can use false selves online to predate on others, to target vulnerable people to use and abuse. This performing of self can be subtle (lies by omission or a favourable camera angle) or completely fantastical (catfish and fake accounts), and includes everything in between. I am happy to perform my art, but I am not happy to perform my self, inscribing my self daily, over and over, in order to feel seen, heard and deemed worthy by an anonymous public. It’s not healthy. As a survivor of life-long abuse, it’s important to me to build a strong self and to get validation from within. Just as I did when I was writing music that was for nobody but me. My creative expression and sense of self worth need to be fuelled from within, not tweaked and manipulated by the abusive algorithms programmed into social media platforms. As an abuse survivor, it is critical that I heal away from abusive spaces. This is why I am taking time out from social media.


I have written about social media in the past and my belief that it is detrimental to human connection and relationships. If you’re interested, please read my essay Online culture, narcissism and the death of human connection and my poem Who am I? which you can also watch below. I am leaving comments open for this post, which I generally don’t do any more due to ongoing spam and abuse, but I welcome your thoughts on this topic, so please let me know what you think below and I’ll be sure to engage.

When God Was a Woman – Three Readings, Three Women

When God Was a Woman was written in 2019, as part of a writer’s prompt set up by poet Christine E Ray, based on titles of important books by women. I chose to write a poem based on the title of this book by Merlin Stone. I didn’t read the book, and I still haven’t; I simply used the title as a starting point for what is essentially an atheist poem about the damage patriarchy causes, and a fantastical musing on how the world would be if it was run by women. Right now, this poem is especially relevant, with the interwoven nature of war, patriarchy, capitalism and all kinds of oppression starkly apparent in current events.

I felt compelled, when Christine republished my poem the other day, to record a new spoken word version. I had recorded this poem three times already before, twice as a spoken word video, and once as an audio recording for iamb wave four. What struck me the other day was that this poem, which is one of my most popular, needed a new recording to do justice to the words and their meaning. And also to do justice to the woman I have become since I wrote this.

I am stunned at the change in both my demeanour and my delivery in my spoken word videos since I recorded this first spoken word version. When I wrote When God Was a Woman, I had been out of an abusive relationship for barely a month. In that month I had contracted severe bronchitis, from the stress of the relationship and the fear I had around the time I left it. I knew it was a potentially very dangerous time for me, and I was sick and exhausted and mentally worn down from a year of intense abuse. Writing poetry was a way to keep my mind occupied and myself busy as I anticipated payback for leaving my abusive partner. Looking back, I am surprised and somewhat saddened by my demeanour, how I don’t express the meaning of the words fully, and how much I look away. I can see how fragile I was. Nevertheless, something in me told me to record this, and it was actually the very first spoken word poem I recorded for my Feminist Confessional YouTube channel, which now has almost 300 spoken word poems on it. A month after this recording I started therapy with a new, trauma-informed feminist therapist, which was a major turning point in my life.

The second time I recorded When God Was a Woman was about six months after the first recording. It was late March 2020, and Australia was just starting to lock down its cities and impose restrictions after the start of Covid-19. Children were kept home from school and you can hear them playing in the background of this video. I recorded this version for The International Poetry Circle, an initiative started by poet Tara Skurtu on Twitter, in which poets from around the world shared spoken word poetry videos as a way to cope with the isolation and loneliness of the pandemic. Recording videos soon became a daily event for me and my spoken word YouTube channel really started to take off. This video was my most viewed online for ages and was watched by around 4000 people. Writing and recording poetry for me was a godsend and gave me routine and creative solace during the first very long lockdown in Victoria, Australia. When I made this video, Covid-19 was new and we had no idea what to expect. There was a sense here in Victoria that we were all in this together and working towards something for the collective good. In this video, I can see more spirit in me than in the first. Despite the lockdown, I was feeling better and better the longer I’d been away from my abusive partner, though I was still undergoing abuse after I had left. Narcissists have a way of covertly punishing you if you leave them, and this was in full swing at the time. I see a timidity here that I no longer recognise in myself, though given what I was going through, I’m not surprised.

The third version of When God Was a Woman was recorded a few days ago, almost two years after the previous video. I have been through a lot in these two years: intensive therapy for lifelong abuse, another abusive relationship with a man who took advantage of me when I was at my most vulnerable, and more epic, soul-destroying, disorienting lockdowns. There was also a situation that occurred with my housing that I still don’t feel safe enough to discuss publicly, but which involved taking legal action. These events took their toll, but I learnt to stand up to abuse and the abuse of power. And while it was exhausting, I knew that if I didn’t do this, I would lose all respect for myself. I learnt exactly how far I could push back and how to fight both inner and external demons with spirit, tenacity and strategy. I also learnt how to keep going when I thought I could not possibly keep going any more. I witnessed a strength in myself I have never seen and I know now that I can endure anything. During the last year in particular, I have improved the quality and production of my spoken word videos, and now prefer a more direct style of delivery. I think the personal growth I’ve been through is apparent in this video. I think my strength is too. I am proud of the woman I have become and the adversity I have overcome, especially in the last year. This is healing in action.

Social media: when algorithms manipulate and intersect with abuse tactics

I first heard about Jaron Lanier years ago when my housemate bought his book You Are Not a Gadget. I didn’t know much about him, other than what my housemate told me, but the title alone was enough to make me agree with Lanier, in principle at least. I am not a gadget, and neither are you. The notion of being a gadget is abhorrent to me, yet lately, I feel like I have become an extension of my smart phone, rather than the other way round. While Lanier’s assertion has stayed in the back of my mind, and though I’ve struggled significantly with social media in one way or another for years, I avoided looking into his work until now because I knew I was addicted to social media. Although I knew it was bad for me, and wanted to stop using it, I couldn’t. It filled a gap. Or, rather, many gaps. I have, however, only recently made the connection between the algorithms that control our use of social media and their correlation with tactics used by abusers, which, as a survivor of abuse, has given me just reason to pause my social media use and take time out to examine what this means for me, my work, and my healing.

For those not familiar with Lanier or his work, he is a computer scientist, philosopher, writer and composer, who advocates for significant changes to the ways social media is both structured and used. His most recent book is called 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. One of his earliest books, You Are Not a Gadget, was published eleven years ago in 2010. Back then I had a phone that was technically a smart phone but wasn’t actually very smart, compared to today’s little computers that we carry around everywhere and which do everything for us. I could look at Facebook and my email on it, and use Google. I was addicted to checking these things, all day. My phone, limited as it was, had become an extension of me, and I had already been using Facebook for several years. I remember thinking at the time that Facebook was also an extension of me: a record of my life, an avatar. My account contained folders of thousands of photos of me and my life that I kept meticulously organised and updated. I spent hours each day on the platform, chatting with friends, mostly. Then things started to change. Facebook branched out dramatically — shifting its focus from connections between friends and family and fun things like games that you could play with strangers, to adding more and more pages and features, creating more and more reasons for using the platform. All of a sudden businesses were using it in lieu of websites, interest groups formed and used the pages as (ill-functioning) forums, and a separate messaging app emerged. It seemed to me that Facebook wanted you to live your life within Facebook and do away with websites, online forums and groups that were hosted elsewhere (in much better ways), and even texting your friends. It confused me that you could use the messaging tool instead of texting or calling someone directly from your phone. Why would you want to do that? Then the other social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram) added them too, and it seemed to me that these social media “worlds” were designed to keep you dependent on them, locked within them, in order to perform basic functions such as contacting friends or looking at a shop’s wares. It felt invasive to me and as though these platforms (Facebook in particular) were like an out of control garden creeper, becoming entangled with and taking over all areas of my life.

One day, I simply got fed up and deleted my Facebook account, and never looked back. This was a little while after some nasty incidents had taken place in a couple of groups that I was in, including a group I hosted. I didn’t deactivate Facebook, I deleted it. What I witnessed there was shocking behaviour, the likes of which I’d never witnessed on any Web 1.0 forum. Sure, in the old forums you’d have trolls and arguments, but they were generally kept under control by moderators and the other members. They were outnumbered. No more. In a group I hosted on Facebook, the members ranged in age from roughly 35 to 50, nevertheless I saw all kinds of bizarre, immature and unruly behaviour including the taunting of other members, flouting agreed-upon group rules to test the moderators, jealous outbursts, triangulation, public bullying, and even a death threat. It was out of control, so I left. I now keep an anonymous account at Facebook that I don’t use, but the platform has grown so much, that if I don’t have one at all, there is no way for me to access certain kinds of information anywhere else on the internet. This is the kind of power and control over access to everyday information that I have a problem with.

Twitter is another matter entirely. I’ve been on the platform since 2009, and watched the culture there change dramatically. It used to be a safe space for cultivating friendships and having light chat with people. I don’t remember any algorithms obviously privileging certain tweets over others in the early days. You saw tweets as they happened, in order. There was less performativity because there was less competition over whether or not your tweets were seen. Your friends could and generally would keep up with whatever you tweeted as there were fewer users and the connections seemed stronger. There were no threads, and I don’t even remember the capacity to like tweets or message someone privately. Retweeting was clunky, and if you wanted to add a photo you’d have to upload it elsewhere and link to it. Links were not embedded, nor was media. Politics didn’t seem to factor in. You could only tweet 140 characters, so people stuck to that. As ridiculous as it sounds, I made some good friendships this way: pleasant and light, but decent. Fast forward to now, and, as comedian Richard Ayoade once said: “Twitter is a fast moving river of hate”. And that it certainly is.

For me personally, since I started a new account to share my writing in 2018, Twitter has been a nightmare. Initially created with the idea of sharing my work, I’ve been subjected over the past three years to bullying about my appearance, stalking and harassment by two exes and one of their sidekicks, and intense trolling by someone who set up a parody account of one of my friends, who was himself subjected to bullying and defamatory accusations. Also, due to the nature of my writing, I have been an obvious target for grooming and abuse by creepy men, who always hide their abusive behaviour well away from the public timeline, yet act as friends and “woke” supporters publicly. Is any of this OK? No. Add to this that Twitter is now a hotbed of political activity, which isn’t a problem in itself, but its political nature (or maybe Twitter’s algorithm – see the video link below) seems to promote aggression and argument, shaming and cancelling, simplistic black-and-white statements, bullying, and endless, saturated retweeting. Not to mention clumsy threads that go on and on in a platform only designed to support 280 characters. Twitter is not designed for complex arguments and one certainly cannot present a nuanced argument about anything in 280 characters, let alone a nested thread of many, many tweets. These things are not necessarily failures of Twitter’s users, but the platform and its structure. Like Facebook’s group discussion structure, it’s clumsy and hard to keep up with things. And yet people flock to Twitter in droves, sadly thinking their voices are making a difference, while in reality often only parroting the opinions of their friends (most seem too frightened to disagree or hold a different opinion for fear of being shamed and cancelled for even the slightest deviance) and retweeting only the voices they agree with, over and over. This is not a public forum of much value. Real debate needs dissent and disagreement and complexity. Twitter does not have the capacity to hold space for such debates, and sadly I believe it’s leading to a dumbing down in peoples’ critical thinking and communication skills. The space has become — or perhaps only ever had the capacity to be — intensely tribal and basic.

The majority of people on Twitter do not produce original tweets, let alone original creative content. Let’s talk about “content”. As an artist, highly trained in how to make music, and as an amateur and untrained poet, and a writer of some skill, I hate the word “content”. To me it conjures up an empty vessel that needs filling in order to have use or purpose. Content implies a filling, but does not specify the quality or nature of that filling. To me, it suggests that anything will do. I make art that is meaningful, personal, and has wider social implications. I studied music intensively from age 11 to 32. I make art, with all of the thought, history, study, skill, and design that goes into making a work of art. My art is not made to fill empty spaces, particularly not those empty spaces that exist in hostile, algorithm-controlled places like Twitter. So, my art fails on Twitter. And yet, I’ve found my art and my art practice as a writer has been defined and changed by Twitter, heavily, and in ways I’m not comfortable with, in my vain attempts to receive attention for my work there.

When I studied and practiced music and wrote music regularly, I did it alone. Mostly out of necessity. In the very early days I was part of two ensembles that regularly made and performed music together and that was magical. But when I returned to study later, due to my budget and the way my curriculum and course were designed, I had to make music alone. And this was OK with me. I spent 20 months making what I consider to be the best thing I’ve ever made, an electroacoustic composition called Pope Joan, and apart from my university supervisor and a few friends, nobody heard it. That was also OK with me. I made it for me and I felt no need for public validation or even a public airing, and though it did receive some significant public attention many years later (at an exhibition called Melbourne Now that 750,000 people attended), it didn’t change how I felt about the work. The attention it received was neither here nor there. The work was the same and my attitude towards it remained stable as I had only ever made Pope Joan for myself. This is the kind of creative purist I am; I make art for art’s sake and rarely for money, yet sadly, since writing poetry and pieces about abuse and MeToo over the past few years, I’ve felt a real shift in my own attitude toward making, which I believe comes largely down to social media. Part of this shift came from the desire to make my art very public, to make my voice and my lived experience as a survivor of abuse very public. Both for myself, as a gesture of validating myself and my experiences, and in the spirit of helping others. Many people relate to what I write. Many people thank me for writing what I do and for expressing the things they can’t express or won’t express publicly, as it is unsafe for them to do so. People applaud me for my courage and bravery all the time, but I’ve always been this way, and just not about sharing my emotions. I have no shame about my experience and I’ve learnt that abuse thrives in silence. I’ve also learnt that abusers are rarely held accountable for their abuse, by their victims or the legal systems, or by society even. So, my writing is an attempt to rectify that, to say: this is what happened and I have a right to say it and expose it. It’s a fine balancing act between safety and seeking justice and one that the MeToo movement started and which, I believe, must be continued and expanded upon. All of this sounds good, right? It sounds like social media might be a great place for me to share my work, gain traction and attention, and try to educate others on abuse, right? In some ways, yes. In many ways, no. My work gets largely ignored, especially on Twitter, by an algorithm that seems designed to reward aggression and hostility. If this sounds preposterous to you, utterly implausible even, please watch the Jaron Lanier interview I’ve posted below. My work also gets (seemingly randomly) boosted at odd times and in odd ways. I was heartened that a recent poem that I wrote called The rape, about my own rape, was viewed quite a lot on Twitter. It is probably the most powerful thing I’ve written and its message is important. My most viewed poem, Predator, which warns of the red flags of narcissistic abuse, is a good poem and has a good message. I’m glad it’s been viewed almost 8,000 times on Twitter alone. But the problem is this: it’s inconsistent. The algorithms are designed in abusive ways. And this is no exaggeration. They are built upon principles of intermittent reinforcement, which is a manipulation technique abusers use to keep their victims confused, disoriented, and ultimately, hooked. “Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals, a method that has been determined to yield the greatest effort from the subject. The subject does not receive a reward each time they perform a desired behavior or according to any regular schedule but at seemingly random intervals.” (https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/intermittent-reinforcement) This principle is also behind the intermittent payouts programmed into computerised slot machines at casinos, and is responsible for keeping gamblers hooked. It is also programmed into the algorithms used on the major social media platforms. Intermittent reinforcement leads to the production of dopamine in our brains, which is a feel-good chemical. Please watch the interview with Jaron Lanier below, and note that this interview is three years old, so my guess is, things have only intensified since then.

As a survivor of abuse, I’ve made a dedicated effort to study the mechanisms and dynamics of abuse over the past two years, since I left a particularly abusive relationship in 2019. Intermittent reinforcement featured over and over in this relationship in unpredictable and random ways, and always left me hanging for the good moments, the love, the happiness, to return. They did, but with increasingly frequent moments of abuse starting to dominate, in between. You remember the good moments, and while you’re being broken down by the abuse, by the put downs, by the emotional and/or physical violence, you come to believe you are the problem. Intermittent reinforcement is a manipulation strategy that modifies the behaviour of the recipient. You start to note which of your behaviours are rewarded by good behaviour, and you replicate them, to get the reward. Who wants abuse, right? We all want to be treated with validation, respect and love. We all want to have quality attention paid to us and to be heard. Abusers manipulate you with these techniques, and others, to get what they want out of you. As Lanier says in his interview above, the marketing/business models that social media platforms have based their algorithms upon, draw heavily on these principles, which, by their very nature are intrinsically manipulative and abusive. In this case, they act to reward advertisers with financial gain — understandable, given that we are living in late-stage capitalism; but what’s not normal, and what’s actually very sinister about this, is that we are modifying our behaviour on these platforms as a result of these algorithms, in order to be seen, heard and liked by others. This behaviour modification is inextricably bound up with the business model that drives and controls the algorithms that decide what gets seen and interacted with on social media, rather than us deciding what we see and interact with.

And so, we end up in frustrating cycles of performativity, in which human connection and validation become the reward. This is perfectly natural and human to want and need, but the problem is that only certain kinds of behaviours get rewarded, and these behaviours end up degrading our interactions. If the most simplistic and hostile takes on things are those that get shown to us on social media, before all else, and if we are rewarded for engaging with these things, what hope does gentle, quiet interaction, or complex, nuanced art have of being seen and interacted with? I know from my own experience of Twitter that people tend to respond more to brazen political posts and rants of mine than they do my actual work, generally speaking. It frustrates me as my work is intensely political and personal, and always has been. Twitter also devalues my posts that require people to click on a link, which would mean they end up potentially leaving Twitter and therefore the platform, resulting in fewer advertising dollars for Twitter, presumably. Twitter has also valued some of my more dramatic, simpler poems, versus those constructed with meticulous craft and originality. And so I’ve found myself pandering to the masses and popularity and (re)producing the kind of work that gets more attention. And guess what? Even doing that doesn’t, necessarily, get you more attention. Intermittent reinforcement doesn’t work that way. It’s less predicable than that. If it was predictable, and if you were rewarded every time for the same behaviour, how could Twitter and social media platforms hook you in? No, it doesn’t work that way. You need that push-pull dynamic of an uncommitted lover who is playing games with you: all over you like a rash one moment, absent and avoiding you the next. You want that hit, the rush of dopamine, when you finally get rewarded, and if you don’t, you blame yourself, not the twisted, psychopathic algorithm. And round and round you go, addicted, producing “content” that means little to you, in vast quantities, just to see if something sticks, just for validation. This is no way to make art and Twitter is no platform for one who is writing about and trying to heal from abuse. It replicates the dynamics of an abusive relationship so closely, while also opening one up to further abuse via trolling, targeted grooming, stalking, etc., that it is a potential nightmare of retraumatisation for abuse survivors.

For the past year in particular I have quite impulsively withdrawn from Twitter many times, despite it gaining my work extra attention, due to the platform triggering me. It’s that sense of never being enough that reminds me of my abusive upbringing, and that yearning to be seen and heard, that is frankly, unhealthy. I’m from Generation X. Thankfully I grew well into early adulthood before the internet was even a thing. I also know how to cultivate and maintain friendships offline, but I fear these days are numbered, especially for those my age and younger. So many of my friends seem to only want to maintain friendships now through these performative spaces, rather than in real life. So many want to use social media’s built-in messaging apps rather than the phone or face-to-face communication. So many now think of social media as real life, the default space to exist within, carefully crafting and curating selves that are pale semblances of the rich, nuanced humans we all are. And then there are those who create false selves and false lives online in order to pretend or deceive. And that pretending can come from a place of self-doubt and insecurity, or, at a more sinister level, people can use false selves online to predate on others, to target vulnerable people to use and abuse. This performing of self can be subtle (lies by omission or a favourable camera angle) or completely fantastical (catfish and fake accounts), and includes everything in between. I am happy to perform my art, but I am not happy to perform my self, inscribing my self daily, over and over, in order to feel seen, heard and deemed worthy by an anonymous public. It’s not healthy. As a survivor of life-long abuse, it’s important to me to build a strong self and to get validation from within. Just as I did when I was writing music that was for nobody but me. My creative expression and sense of self worth need to be fuelled from within, not tweaked and manipulated by the abusive algorithms programmed into social media platforms. As an abuse survivor, it is critical that I heal away from abusive spaces. This is why I am taking time out from social media.


I have written about social media in the past and my belief that it is detrimental to human connection and relationships. If you’re interested, please read my essay Online culture, narcissism and the death of human connection and my poem Who am I? which you can also watch below. I am leaving comments open for this post, which I generally don’t do any more due to ongoing spam and abuse, but I welcome your thoughts on this topic, so please let me know what you think below and I’ll be sure to engage.

The radical act of liking yourself as a woman

Liking yourself as a woman is a radical thing to do. The patriarchy tells us, from the moment we are born, that we are here to serve and that we are fundamentally flawed. Liking yourself as an abused woman, is even more radical. I am a survivor of abuse, as many women are, due to the intrinsically abusive, imbalanced nature of patriarchy. Abusers systematically break girls and women down (and boys and men too) so that they are easier to abuse. The abused then loathe themselves and perpetuate this abuse through self-abuse. It serves the abuser well to have victims who don’t like themselves. The disliking of the self is not conducive to good mental health, in anyone. Conversely, a robust self esteem is critical to the development of a healthy self and also helps us notice and be less susceptible to abuse from others.

Liking yourself is taboo. We are discouraged from doing so in Western society. We are told that we should not speak or think well of ourselves, that it is arrogant to do so, but that we must love and serve others. Especially if we are women. Even more so if we are abused women: we exist merely to serve our abusers and exist only as extensions of them, not as fully fledged humans in our own right. Patriarchy is intrinsically abusive. Patriarchy is narcissistic. It denigrates, subjugates and uses women so that they serve and bolster men.

When I was thirteen, I went to a friend’s slumber party. We stayed up all night, telling jokes and stories, all lined up in sleeping bags on the floor, crammed in like sardines. I had an idea and raised it with my friends: “let’s go around the room and each say one thing that we like about ourselves”. The room fell silent. Awkwardly so. I have no idea what inspired me to say this. I had little self awareness, but there must have been an innate, wise, mature part of me, that knew this was a lovely thing to suggest and do. We didn’t. After a few awkward murmurs and giggles, the topic changed. Even under the cover of darkness, we didn’t dare state that we liked ourselves. We probably didn’t know how. Or if some of us did, we already knew, at thirteen, as girls, that it was taboo to make such proclamations. I remember feeling sad and embarrassed that I’d even raised it. It was, after all, a radical thing to do and it still is.

Today I wrote a poem about my body. My majestic, overblown, patriarchy-defying body. I am supposed to hate my body and torture it into submission. To whittle it down with starvation and gruelling exercise in order to make myself fit the patriarchy’s preference for small women. Women who do not take up space. Women who make themselves smaller and smaller while the men make themselves bigger. I take up space. I am tall and I am not thin and I am an automatic affront to patriarchy. And I am beautiful.

Today I looked at my naked body and I thought it was beautiful and I wrote a poem about it. It took me over forty years to do so, but I did it. I said something I liked about myself, out loud. And you know what? It felt glorious to do so. It felt even more beautiful than when someone dearly beloved gives me a genuine and heartfelt compliment. Except I said it to myself. And that love, the love I gave to myself, is greater and more sustaining than the love any other person can give me because the source of that love is always there, within me. Liking the self, or even better, loving the self, is a radical, feminist act. It defies the patriarchy, fosters a healthy sense of self and helps us cultivate better relationships.

Do you like yourself? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts: tell me one thing you like about yourself in the comments below. Go on, see how good it feels to do so.

Predator: a poem about how to spot narcissistic abuse (spoken word poetry video + essay)

Predator is my most watched spoken word video, with over 8000 views across YouTube and social media. The poem is a simple one, and I released it as a spoken word video in mid 2020, close to the first anniversary of leaving an abusive relationship, as a way to pass on all that I had learnt about narcissistic abuse in that year. I’ve made it my focus, since leaving that particularly abusive relationship, to study narcissistic abuse and learn all I can about it and to pass that knowledge on to others. The poem aims to teach of some of the main red flags in an abusive relationship, so that you can spot a narcissist and keep yourself safe. It is by no means an exhaustive or nuanced list, so please do research this further if you feel you need to. This list by Jackson MacKenzie is a particularly good starting point. The red flags described in my poem include things such as love bombing (intense flattery coupled with very fast bonding), a gut sense that something’s not right, and learning to trust that gut sense, as well as waiting and observing to see if things add up.

I’ve learnt, from observing narcissists for my entire life, that they lie frequently and that these lies are usually quite obvious. They often back-pedal when caught out, and their attempts to cover over the lie with outlandish and long-winded excuses or even more lies that rarely add up, is usually a dead giveaway that they’re lying. I’ve discovered that when a narcissist is caught out in a particularly gnarly lie, they will often give you several reasons/excuses in quick succession, in a desperate attempt to convince you. Hilariously, these excuses are often quite obviously fantastical or nonsensical and can even contradict one another. It’s like they are cycling through excuses to find the one that you will believe or buy into, and they desperately scramble to convince you in one way or another so that they aren’t caught out. This desperate attempt to cover over their lies and convince you to doubt your own sense of reality is part of the gaslighting that narcissistic abusers engage in. They want you to doubt yourself and believe them at all costs. The waffling that they often partake in when caught out and trying to get you to believe their lies, is what some call word salad: a perplexing combination of words (tossed around randomly, like a salad!) that usually make little sense when measured against reality.

If you want to study and learn about how a narcissist tells lies, I’ve found the best thing to do is to call them out on something that doesn’t add up (preferably without any warning), then sit back and calmly observe their behaviour, appearing agreeable and hearing them out. You can continue to call them out as they answer if you like, countering each wild claim or excuse with the truth. For your own sanity it can be good to do this so as to not get sucked into their gaslighting. However, if you are able to observe without getting sucked in, it can be even more educational to sit back and let them waffle on. If you respond with a simple “oh, I see” or “yes, that makes sense”, then they will think you’ve believed them, and you can continue to observe over time how they choose to lie, collecting more and more data. It’s up to you. If you call them out and tell them they’re lying too much, they will change their behaviour and come up with new ways of lying, and then you’ll be left open to more manipulation and crazy-making behaviour.

I’ll tell you a little secret: narcissistic personality disorder is a shame-based disorder, and not a lot of people know this. People who have the disorder or who display high levels of narcissistic traits, have deeply fragmented, malformed egos and are actually very insecure (often as a result of childhood abuse). They need you much more than you need them. Their manipulative tactics and abuse make more sense when you think about how much they need you and the attention and energy you give them, simply in order for them to function. Their fragmented and vulnerable selves need constant shoring up by others and without you and your attention (commonly called narcissistic supply), they feel high levels of distress, emptiness, and will struggle to function at all. Sadly, narcissists get this attention through manipulation and abuse, which is designed to make it very difficult for you to leave them also. A healthy person will not behave in these ways towards you. Abuse is not love; abuse is never love, and narcissists never love, they only use and abuse, and will pretend that they love you so that you give them what they need.

I learnt as a young child to sit back and observe people. When I see myself in videos as a child, I see a quiet mini adult calmly sitting back and watching. I believe I had to adopt this practice in order to stay safe. Learning to observe and notice minute changes in behaviour helped keep me safe from abuse, or so I thought. It is one of the hallmarks of complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), which many survivors of long-term abuse end up with. The reality is, you are never safe around a narcissistic abuser. There is nothing safe about psychological abuse, and many narcissists inflict it in such a way that can be hard to spot and behind closed doors, so that others don’t see it and can’t warn you about it.

Observing others carefully and that sense of trust in yourself is crucial in order to extricate yourself from such situations. The red flags I’ve mentioned in my poem are simple ones and hinge around trusting yourself. Narcissistic abusers intentionally wear down your ability to trust yourself and your instincts. I’ve learnt since leaving my abuser in 2019, to tune into that gut sense and to always trust it and myself, above all else. What I’ve learnt is that my gut is always right. It was always right when I was in the relationship, and I only figured out later, with the help of a good therapist and through extensive reading and research, that the relationship I had been in was highly abusive, and in many ways, criminally so. This is the power of the abuser. They can convince you that all they do is loving, and that the psychological instability you have when you’re with them, is innate to you, not a result of their systematic and often very calculated abuse. We also live in a patriarchal society that condones the control of women by men. Many narcissistic abusers are men and many rely on that power dynamic and the protection that patriarchy affords them legally and socially.

What can you do to keep yourself safe from these toxic, abusive individuals? Read up about the red flags of narcissism. Watch the videos of the following three narcissism experts on YouTube: Dr Ramani, Sam Vaknin and Richard Grannon. They are all highly trained and give outstanding advice. Reach out to trauma and domestic violence informed therapists and phone lines. Refrain from reaching out to friends or therapists who don’t know about narcissistic abuse or domestic violence dynamics, as this can actually be counter-productive, and in many cases people will persuade you to accept the abuse and doubt your perceptions. Narcissistic abuse is still an area that most have no idea about, sadly, so do please rely on experts who understand it, or connect with those who have lived experience and who have knowledge and self-awareness about narcissism and the dynamics of abuse. Seeking the help of the wrong person can be very detrimental to you leaving a narcissist and healing. I cannot stress this enough. I have had therapists who, while they meant well, were not trained to spot or correctly handle abuse, and who enabled me to stay in abusive relationships. Never, ever seek therapy with a narcissistic partner either. Their disorder is such that they will often use such therapy to manipulate the therapist and blame and further abuse you, and in any case, couples therapy with an abusive partner is something that is never recommended. Narcissistic abusers are unable to be helped with therapy; this is something that is generally agreed upon among experts.

Most importantly though, trust yourself. Trust that gut feeling that something is wrong. If you need to take time to observe and spot patterns of behaviour, and it’s safe to do so (narcissistic abuse can take time to spot, even for the most educated and aware observer), take that time. Keep some distance. Seek out those who know about narcissistic abuse and talk your situation through with them. I know this saved me recently, when I unfortunately became involved with yet another abusive individual. Luckily, I was quickly able to extricate myself from this person once I started spotting the signs (they started showing up quite obviously the very moment he gained my trust) and I left him after a couple of weeks. As well as love bombing, look out for slow grooming by an individual, particularly one who displays unsavoury character traits or who tells you about dubious things they have done in the past to others, especially previous partners. Listen to those things and don’t deny them. A genuinely good person will not set off your alarm bells. You won’t feel the need to question, make excuses for, or rationalise the behaviour of a normal, healthy adult. I made the mistake of rationalising away some very clear red flags in this most recent relationship, and fell for the promises that were made to me. This particular man engaged in hot/cold behaviour (intermittent reinforcement), and a couple of manipulative techniques known as bread-crumbing and future faking. This good/bad mix and inner confusion over your feelings for someone is also a really good sign to pay attention to, and can be a massive red flag that you’re dealing with an abuser. Please note: a narcissistic abuser will not only do bad things or treat you abusively all of the time, though their abuse will always escalate over time. Some of the time, and depending where you’re at in the cycle of narcissistic abuse, they will be charming, flattering, sweet, and at times even thoughtful. After all, nobody would even get together with an abuser if they only treated you badly, would they? These good moments are designed to lure and keep you hooked, and make you rationalise away the bad moments. This hot/cold behaviour can lead to cognitive dissonance, and can also be confused for romantic “passion”. But real passion and healthy adult romantic attachment doesn’t actually involve any of these things. A healthy relationship feels stable, secure, and safe. If you don’t feel safe, trust yourself, and leave.

I hope that these annotations to Predator, my most watched poem, have helped elaborate on some of the red flags touched on briefly in the poem. If you feel that you may be in an abusive relationship, please do reach out to a therapist trained in this field or a domestic violence helpline (1800RESPECT in Australia). Educating yourself and getting the right help and support are essential to leaving these soul-destroying relationships.

Online culture, narcissism and the death of human connection

personal-1087838_1920

What are we doing to one another? At a time when we have the capacity to connect more than ever before in human history, we’ve come undone. We pull away, we ignore, we miscommunicate, violate basic, shared social codes and manners that were the norm only ten years ago. We blame the technology (which we created), we blame age (it’s old fashioned to treat others with respect, and totally “normal” to treat others with disdain), we blame anything but ourselves, our own choices, behaviours or cowardice. We fail others online by failing to see their humanity, by failing to employ empathy, by treating others as flippantly as if they were products on a shelf to be chosen from, picked up or rejected, consumed, returned, exchanged, liked, disliked and thrown away when we tire of them. We idealise, devalue and discard both strangers and friends alike*. We hide behind screens, pseudonyms, and advertisements of our selves. We play up our good bits, hide the bad, and some of us outright lie and manufacture false selves. We are commodities, we are products. We are the pawns and by-products of late-stage capitalism. We perpetuate and feed the finely calibrated machine of consumerism that we created by selling our selves as products to one another. We publicise and perform our selves in ways that were previously only available to the famous, to celebrities, to performers. Andy Warhol’s prophetic 15 minutes of fame has morphed and mutated into fame all the time for all of us. Fame 24/7. We filter and pose our exteriors into acceptable versions of us, dictated by still-more-famous-than-us plastic people who have literally sculpted themselves into non-human, semi-artificial life forms, people who define the new “beautiful”, who define the new behaviours. People who seem to do nothing other than perform false versions of themselves to high acclaim. These are the people we emulate in this visually-focussed, superficial, virtual, performative, narcissistic world we have created.

We are all performers now, all the time. We willingly gloss over privacy agreements and give consent to god-knows-what’s-in-the-fine-print, not being fully aware of what’s being done with our information, our representations of self, our most private messages and photographs that we exchange without a moment’s care with strangers, all because we are so desperate to connect, to belong, to love, to share, to feel included. We are attention hungry and many of us are not prepared to do the self-work required to improve our selves and our self worth. Self worth is more dependent on ‘other worth’ than it has ever been before. We are addicted to it. The chemical rewards from the dopamine and oxytocin hit we get every time someone “likes” what we do, while intermittent, is enough to keep us coming back like junkies. Intermittent reinforcement is a principle casinos operate on to get gamblers addicted, as do psychopaths and manipulative abusers. The principle goes like this (and it’s been studied): give someone a reward, randomly, but not always and definitely not consistently, and they will return to you, or your pokie machine, for more of that reward, no matter how infrequently you give it, and no matter how much it costs them, and no matter how much you violate them in between the moments of reward.

What are we giving up in the desire to connect, and why are we so blind to the fact that we are in fact, more disconnected than ever? Do we think that 24/7 connectivity in the palms of our hands via multiple social media or dating platforms makes us connected?  Messages stunted by limited character counts ping out on Twitter, bounce around the virtual walls and echo before dying, largely unheard and not responded to. Not only can we not say as much as we want to, the tiny messages we are permitted to send get largely ignored in the ever-flowing stream of self-expression and content-rehashing that whizzes on by. It’s overwhelming. I believe (and hope) we’d all rather cuddle up on a couch with a loved one, breathe in sync with one another, heart rates aligning, sharing words and experiences. I also believe that’s all we are seeking from these technologies and platforms, which promise so much, but deliver mostly heartbreak and superficial human connection of a magnitude I never witnessed in the pre-internet era. If I have this distance and perspective by virtue of my age, then what on earth is happening to “digital natives”? Have their brains developed in atrophied and stunted ways? Do they even know or appreciate the depths that friendship or intimacy can plumb if conducted offline without technological intervention? Or only as an adjunct to the shallow online default we’ve all become accustomed to?

All of these outbound one-way, superficial messages, all of the filtering and commodification of the self that is encouraged by social media, has led to an unnatural growth in narcissism, which is now endemic in such modes of communication. Narcissism has become normalised through social media and online dating interactions and threatens to become a global disorder that ruptures the fabric of society as we know it. The tech tools we’ve created encourage it and social media fuels and exacerbates it. Narcissism, in its most extreme form = the death of relationships. You cannot have a relationship with a narcissist, or not a healthy one anyway: a healthy relationship is one that goes both ways, in which both people’s needs are met. Narcissism is a solitary mindset that involves self-promoting to others or manipulating others for the sole purpose of receiving attention and admiration. It is a one-way transaction. Without attention the narcissist feels empty, hollow, meaningless, like they don’t exist. Just as we all feel when our posts don’t get “liked” enough online. There is a real danger in this way of thinking. With a narcissist, there is no genuine exchange; the narcissist’s disingenuous attitudes and extreme fakery render any authentic exchange or connection totally void. The equation goes like this: I pose, you applaud. There is no depth to the exchange beyond flattery and self-congratulation. It is a toxic and addictive cycle for those devoid of self worth or internal fulfilment. Read More