Dangerous Compassions

trauma as excuse

white rabbit

Trauma as excuse is a problem I see all the time.  I do radical mental health and encounter many, many crazy people–I love crazy people such as myself.  Especially the brilliant, creative ones.  How we talk about our traumas and use them socially affects everything.

trauma as excuse

I notice some people have a horrific trauma story they share upfront with the people they interact with as a way to get understanding and sympathy.

That sharing of their trauma story is not accompanied by respectful curiosity about the trauma of others and others’ resultant needs.  The story is set there on the table like a big, ugly rock.  Plop.  There it sits, nasty to the point that no one wants to look at it.  Most folx will do a lot to dodge focusing on it.

The trauma is undeniable and almost magical as an excuse for any bad behavior that person does, for all time.  Early communication of a horrific trauma story is a move–it works really well on most people.

bad behavior

But trauma is never an excuse for bad behavior.  My trauma is multi, and I don’t fly mine like a flag.  I mention my ACE score is 9, but I almost never tell stories of what’s been done to me.  It gave me cptsd and almost caused my death.  But with a ton of work and healing, I survived.

My trauma, in a round about way, has led to me being more compassionate and creative.  It fuels my values of consent, community, and love, as I work toward a world where no one does the kinds of violence that have been done to me.


Others use trauma as excuse to fuel their withdrawal, coldness, lack of responsibility, self-centered-ness, and inability to do intimacy.  They’ve gone the opposite direction, which everyone seems to think is ok.  Trauma as excuse is their unquestionable bottom line.  Their story is well-packaged.  Who would be so uncaring as to question a good reason for bad behavior?

The story is a fence keeping everyone away.  The story prevents criticism.  It’s a decoy.  Don’t look at what I’m doing here–look over there at the story.

It works like a charm.  When in doubt, attribute behavior to trauma.  It’s easier to substitute “of course they struggle–look what happened to them” with actual thought about the situation at hand.

gender trouble

I know women who have been violenced and violated for years in horrific ways.  But that’s pretty common–almost the norm.  We pick ourselves up off the ground and keep going, continuing to care for others, if not ourselves.  Often there are children to raise, parents to hospice, meals to cook, animals to care for.  The show must go on–somebody’s gotta do it.

There is no excuse for a woman to be angry, selfish, uncaring, closed off, and self-centered.  The folx I’ve known who have a dramatic trauma story and use it like a key to enter many doors that might otherwise be closed to them–they have been mostly men and a couple enbies.

I’d like to give you an example.  Feels scary, but here we go.  It involves domestic violence.

content warning: domestic violence

I met a man three years ago through radical mental health–it was right after my mom died.  I was extra vulnerable and barely hanging on, made of need.  He lived elsewhere and seemed deliciously kind and creative.  I liked the way he looked at me.

We had a lot in common–I believed I could pull him into my projects in a fun way.  I mailed him zines and art.  We moved toward friendship.

I remember our first phone call.  We were talking about psych meds and getting to know each other.  He disclosed that the long term relationship he was in had domestic violence.  His partner hit him.

Wow, that’s an intense thing to live with.  I felt special, that this new friend told me about it.  Usually domestic violence is a terrible secret.  “He must really trust me,” I thought.  Probably they would break up soon, and I could be a friend during the process.  This person needed love and support, and I was up for friendship.

He mentioned lying to his partner.  He found lying to her an ok thing to do–her hitting him seemed the reason it was ok, in his mind.  Wow, it was disturbing and confusing, that he would stay with someone who hit him, and who he lied to.

But he was an addict, and I respected how he was different from me.  His behavior didn’t make sense, but I trusted that he was doing what he needed to do.


I remember getting off the phone and thinking–what a shitshow.  I had some options.  One choice was: I could no longer engage this person.  But that felt like abandonment in a way, considering he was being domestic violenced.  The other choice was– I could stay friends and just not get too close.  I explained the whole situation to Ming, and Ming agreed to support me in staying slight friends with this person.

Of course, the domestic violenced addict and I got very close.  Maybe you’re a friend who was around for this unfortunate foray into fuckery.  I ended up deeply connected to this person for more than a year.  He became the person I was closest to, besides Ming.  I emotionally supported him.  We collaborated, texted daily, had a weekly planning call.  I invited him to my projects, got hurt, pulled away, removed myself from collaborations with him, took a break, broke up, tried again in a new way, made progress, broke up again…

Yes, I learned a ton of lessons as this man played me.  I went down paths I never would have predicted.  He was destabilizing and horrible to invest in.  We did a weird long dance that culminated in him visiting Las Vegas during a possibly manic episode and seriously harming me.


Hmm, good explanation, Laura-Marie.  It took many months of friendship until I wondered about the domestic violence piece.  I was brave to question his trauma as excuse story.

Yes, she hits him.

  • Why does she want to hit him?
  • What is he doing to provoke her?
  • How does he protect himself?
  • Does he hit her back?
  • Why are they still together?
  • What is his family doing?
  • Why does he want to be with someone he has to lie to?
  • How does sex figure into all that?
  • Does this happen between him and all women he’s close to?

I definitely didn’t want to be the next vulnerable disabled woman he co-created a domestic violence cycle with.  But in a small way long distance, we were doing that already.

He would break up with his partner and announce it proudly, then get back together with her and not tell me.  I would figure it out from other things he said–I wasn’t supposed to have a reaction.  All the people who loved him would watch the nasty tennis match in agony, trying to pull away for their own emotional protection with “it’s his life to live” and “it is what it is”–whatever cliche philosophical distance.  “He’ll get away from her when he’s ready.”

Meanwhile he used the people who loved him in every which way.  Money, time, affection, support, housing, our very bodies.


Last I heard, this man I loved and had invited into my family was sober again and returned to his relatives in his homeland.  He sent me a semi-apologizing text, and I blocked him immediately.  Being jerked around and played that hard for that long–engaging this person became a way for me to self-harm.  If I care about survival, which I do, there’s no option but to save myself and cut the ties.

I feel ashamed that I was pulled in.  I was predisposed because of what happened in my own family of origin.  Of course, I had big needs that I was trying to get met, and this man was amazingly wonderful at the exact same time as he dragged me through hell.  The deeply original creative genius charm was Choice.  His dazzling brilliance was enough to keep me engaged for quite a while.  He really was that magical.

A lot of people show up for a while.  It wasn’t just me, who would try to put up with the bad to get the good.  But I did it to an unusual degree.  I was the long distance lady trying to keep the traumatized miracle on track.  The woman he was domestic violencing with was the local lady who was trying to keep him on track.  A sister or two did it in their own ways.

He was the irresponsible Peter Pan who would cry at strategic times and melt our hearts after he just fucked us over.  Yes, it happens that way.  I’m sure those tears were real.  If I treated myself and others so badly, I’d be crying too.

my point

Well, I’m sure you see my point, dear reader.  Thank you for showing up today.

Trauma leads to trauma, and I’m glad I’m in a position now in my mid-40s to say no.  I have better things to do than squander the gifts of my ancestors on deceptive white guys.  I have Ming who’s a mensch and a stable, way more trustworthy genius.  And I have myself, with Empress energy long term.

This dude was a shitty Magician.  Yes, I adore that energy, but get me out.  I’m not going to ruin my life on chaos.  Life throws enough crap at us with poverty, climate change, racism, death, cancer, ableism, nightmares.  I don’t need to look for trouble–enough trouble is inevitable.


My friend’s disclosure of living with domestic violence wasn’t a vulnerable truth shared with trust.  Likewise, it was not an accident.  It was a move to get my sympathy and loyalty.  I overlooked a lot of things based on that domestic violence disclosure–it worked.

He never knew most of my traumas.   My needs weren’t his concern.  The world existed for his benefit.  Are most people that way?  He was about security through money.  Everyone was a mark.  Hustlers believe everyone is hustling.

I thought modeling that Love is real would show him that love is real, and we can make a better choice.  He was eating every crumb, as soon as it arrived.  He gobbled everything up, burped a thank you, smoked some weed, and looked for the next distraction.


Have you seen trauma as excuse, reader?  It can be complicated.  I’m all about compassion.  But if I give at my own expense to the point that I run a huge deficit, I’m sacrificing my well-being for another person, which is not my life’s work.  I tried many times to do boundaries differently and find ways to keep the relationship possible.  Believe me.

If you watched all this, I apologize, reader friend.  I didn’t mean to play in a bad tennis match for you.  Thank you for helping me come out the other side alive.

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

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