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Borderline Personality Disorder and Polyamory: An overview May 12, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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In reading about borderline personality disorder, talking about my symptoms and finding solutions to the problems they cause, and in evaluating the mistakes I have made both recently and in the more distant past in terms of my relationships, I have come to worry about a few things that pertain to being polyamorous.  Over the unpredictable number of coming weeks while I will be writing about this issue, I want to tease apart some complicated, troubling, and ultimately interesting questions (at least to me) about how some personality disorders affect relationships, how relationships can best work for us regardless of such disorders, and what these things can tell us about how we should re-think the expectations of relationships as individuals and as a culture.

I want to deal with these issues in short bursts, rather than one large analysis (you’re welcome, readers).  Today, I want to paint a very tentative overview of the terrain I plan on covering in the next several posts.

There are 9 criteria for diagnosis of Borderline Personality disorder.  While many of them may seem disparate in many ways, they are linked in complicated and often distressing ways, especially in my mind.  There are 5 of these criteria which I believe have immediate effects on relationships whether they are  sexual, romantic, or platonic in nature.  I want to deal with each of these criteria one at a time, but here I just want to summarize them.  I’ll qualify that not all of these criteria are especially strong or problematic for me personally, even if they have some relevance for me.  I cannot speak for any other people who have symptoms consistent with this diagnosis, so the experiences and opinions of others may differ from mine.

(edit: I will add links to posts as they appear)


Fear of abandonment

For many borderlines, although not so much me (being an introvert), temporarily being alone can be perceived as part of a perpetual isolation.  The feelings which arise at times like this can include depression, but also rage at the world in general (depending on the specifics)  There are times, whether late at night, at a party with people who are not trusted or close, or merely between social visits where the feeling of being alone feels heavy and infinite.

I yearn for intimacy, companionship, and love.  When alone, I often feel empty (we’ll get to that next).  I want someone to help make that loneliness go away.  But I’m also too afraid, much of the time, to break the silence by actually reaching out, because deep down I’m afraid that they are over there because they don’t want to be around me.

Chronic emptiness

This is related, closely, with the above fear of abandonment. The overwhelming sense of being alone, rather than being able to simply enjoy the relaxing and uninterrupted freedom of that time, is sometimes potent.

Personally, I am able to enjoy some time alone, but sometimes I cannot do so happily.  Sometimes I can enjoy the time alone until expect someone to be with me.  Waiting for a date, a friend, or just Ginny to come home after I expected them home is among the hardest things I ever deal with day-to-day.  If I expect to be alone the next 4 hours, but then am alone for 6, the last 2 hours are often excruciating. If I have a date at 6, but they show up (especially without letting me know they’re running late) at 7, that last hour is often filled with anxiety, sadness, and feelings of lack of validation. What is usually a case of unforeseen delays or merely differing values of timeliness feel like lack of consideration and lack of care, which are huge triggers for me.

When someone is late in seeing me, the feeling I have is that they don’t care enough about me to be on time.  This, of course, is a perception, and not reality (most of the time).  It is a constant struggle for me, and I try to maintain perspective that someone being a little late is not really a big deal.

Unstable relationships

This, for obvious reasons, will be the most pregnant of issues in relation to polyamory, but because I want to keep this post short I will gloss over much of it today.

Essentially, there is a tension between the desire for intimacy and the fear of engulfment.  There is a dynamic of alternating between being clingy (or merely intimate) and avoidance (or merely distant).  One day I may be wanting all your time, thoughts, and affection, and the next I may be absorbed in a game, book, or other project and barely speak to you.  This is often hard for partners to understand, and has been a source of conflict and hurt feelings for people I care about.

Also here is behavior within relationships which looks manipulative (and sometimes is, but not always).  There is a kind of emotional amnesia that happens within the scope of BPD, related to a lack of object permanence (this may be a result of a problem with the separation-individuation stage of development), which makes borderlines behave in a somewhat self-absorbed and not-completely-empathetic way (I am certainly guilty of this, at my worst) which comes across as manipulative (for me, this is never intentional, although I can recognize it after the fact).

This criteria is where Borderline Personality Disorder is close to Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is a related disorder, in many ways.  One of the major differences is that with BPD, the subject is more likely to accept fault and responsibility, whereas the narcissist often shrugs off, rationalizes, or completely deny said responsibility or fault.

The result, with both disorders is often repeated mistakes, which for me is among the more frustrating parts of myself which I want to change. I very much want all of my relationships to be healthy, and sometimes I need more than I can give back.  As I progress towards potential remission of these symptoms, I hope to achieve this more than anything else.


This criterion, of the 9, is one which is less powerful for myself personally.  For many borderlines, this takes the form of addiction, including extreme sexual promiscuity (which is why I’m including it in a discussion of polyamory, because some people’s eyebrows will raise at the seemingly obvious relationship there), and other behaviors which ultimately seek to overcome the emptiness and lack of strong identity within the borderline.

Seeking that moment of excitement (NRE-junkies, anyone?) to break up the monogamy…I mean monotony…of life is a means to distract ourselves rather than solve a problem (assuming there is a solution).

Radical mood shifts

Anyone who knows me well knows I have struggled with this all of my life. One moment, I can be happy, fulfilled, and contentedly working on whatever I’m doing.  A trigger can change that quite suddenly, and the shift is almost unbelievable in quickness and scope, although this severity has softened very much since I was diagnosed.  What those triggers are, how they relate to being polyamorous, and how to deal with them are issues I have been struggling with very strongly over the last few years.

If you were to go back and chart many of the posts I have written about problems, conflicts, and fears of mine, many of them would be rooted in this arena of mood instability.  But the question I will want to tackle, when I get there eventually, will have more to do with how we might be better off shifting our expectations, defaults, and ideals about how different people can fill roles for us in our life.

If I have learned anything in the last couple of years, it is that no matter how much you love someone, no matter how much you want to be with them, some people are just not any good at certain roles in your life, and so you need to nourish your relationship with them in ways that are mutually beneficial for both of you, if that’s possible, rather than try to have all of your partners be everything to you. Intimacy does not have to cross all thresholds for all relationships. Each relationship needs its own type of intimacy.

Unlike monogamy, polyamory does not create a pressure for your partner to be helpful or great at everything you need.  Some people (for example) can handle wild mood swings, and others cannot.  And while the ultimate goal, for me, is to find ways to minimize those swings, the people who can help me get there will have to do so within their strengths, which may mean that some of the people in my life may not be able to help with all of that struggle, even if I very much would like them to.  Some people can’t be there for some of what I’m struggling with, that has to be OK.

So, that’s the road map.  This is barely a sketch, and I’m sure that I am missing many parts still and more of it will be filled in as I think more about these issues.  For now, I need to get over this insomnia (a result of feeling empty, anxious, and isolated as everyone around me sleeps) and try to get some sleep.

[I’ll be scheduling this post to go live for the morning, but as I finish this, it’s about 4:30 AM]

Thoughts from the Borderline: social fragmentation May 10, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
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In reading about Borderline Personality Disorder recently, I’m noticing a fair amount of conversation about a sort of lament for the loss of aspects of culture which have never really meant anything to me, personally.  The shifts in social structure, changes in the definitions and practices of family, and the contradictions of life, some apparently think, are contributing to behaviors consistent with Borderline Personality Disorder. I hesitate to label it as conservative, but it’s certainly more traditional than I like.

Take the following as an example:

For many, American culture has lost contact with the past and remains unconnected to the future.

…texting, blogging, posting, and tweeting all avoid eye contact.  Increasing divorce rates, expanding use of day care, and greater geographical mobility have all contributed to a society that lacks consistency and reliability. Personal, intimate, lasting relationships become difficult or even impossible to achieve, and deep-seated loneliness, self-absorption, emptiness, anxiety, depression, and loss of self-esteem ensue.

(I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me, page 79)

The overwhelming experience, for me, in reading about BPD is one of a nodding recognition.  Out of the 9 criteria for diagnosis, 7 are strongly consistent with my experience.  But when I read this, I’m left shaking my head and confused.  Is this a generational interpretation? I don’t know, but this does not resonate with me at all.  I will leave any conclusion about how I think about this view until I have read the rest of the book, but right now I’m feeling skeptical about this aspect of the analysis.

The sense of anxiety, loneliness, etc are things I feel but I don’t think the modern digital age, with technology creating some barrier to intimacy, is the cause.  I think I would feel the same way even with eye-contact.  You know why I think that? Because I do, in fact, feel that way when I have eye contact with people.  Being at a party with people I don’t know well is often cause for similar feelings.  An unhealthy environment with people unable or unwilling to understand or consider the complicated emotional landscape within me is as alienating as anything else could be. A person who demonstrates indifference, aggression, and lack of consideration is always worse than mere lack of direct eye contact.

Physical closeness is not the solution, because the problem is one of perceived emotional distance.  I can feel emotionally close to someone through texting, blogging, etc, but there are some times when i cannot feel close to someone when they are holding me, trying to comfort me.  The issue is not physical distance, the problem is that I don’t, often, believe, that anyone could possibly love me, or that I deserve it if they claim to.

The world can often be invalidating and cold, whether through a screen or in the face of human fears played out in little private rooms and public spaces everywhere.  I’m not yet convinced that modernity is exacerbating the problem.

Then there’s this.

Like the world of the borderline, ours in many ways is a world of massive contradictions.  We presume to believe in peace, yet our streets, movies, television, and sports are filled with aggression and violence.  We are a nation virtually founded on the principle of “help thy neighbor,” yet we have become one of the most politically conservative, self-absorbed, and materialistic societies in the history of humankind.  Assertiveness and action are encouraged; reflection and introspection are equated with weakness and incompetency.

(page 82)

This is more like how I feel; like a ball of contradiction.  I yearn for intimacy, but appear cold and indifferent to people who don’t know me well.  I don’t want to hurt the people that I love, but there are obvious examples of where I have.  I’m intelligent, educated, and often feel I can do anything I put my mind to, and yet quite often I find myself in a funk of inaction, depression, and I feel inadequate (yesterday was one of those days).

One of the most resonant aspects of this disorder is what is called “splitting.”  Essentially, it’s the kind of black and white thinking which occurs, especially during periods of intense anxiety (part of the physiology of BPD seems to be a hair-trigger for the fight/flight response, leading to times of sudden extreme anxiety and decreased activity in the Pre-frontal cortex, leading to less ability for nuanced thinking).

Splitting, for me, takes the form of seeing myself, others, or the whole world as either wonderful or fundamentally broken.  The name of the book I’m reading, I Hate You, Don’t leave Me, encapsulates this nicely.  Sometimes I hate myself and think myself worthless (which is not helped when I receive abuse, dismissal, or rejection from people I was or want to be close to).  Sometimes I demonize another person who has hurt me, and sometimes I try very hard to empathize and understand why they did so in an attempt to give the very consideration and empathy I did not receive from them. Sometimes I think the world is ugly and not worth fighting for, and sometimes I want to see it all, warts and all.

Because even the imperfections can be beautiful.

I much prefer when I can see myself, and others, that way.

But I’m not quite ready to throw modern culture, technology, and the shifts in our social structures away.  The lack of consistent identity within myself, as well as the shifting identities of our culture, are (perhaps) not necessarily bad.  Perhaps the solution, for myself and for us all, is not to seek an identity, but to recognize and accept the flux of the many parts of ourselves, good, bad, and nuanced.

Sure, structure is helpful and (at least for me) comfortable.  But perhaps one of the problems with traditional American culture, as well as who we are as people, is the reliance of singular identity, tradition, and consistency.  We all need a revolution now and then, after all.


Intersectionality: Polyamory and Borderline Personality Disorder May 6, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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This is not a real post. This is more of an overture to future posts about the intersection of being polyamorous and having Borderline Personality Disorder.

Ginny pointed out to me today that I have a fair amount of experience being polyamorous, and while I was diagnosed about 4 years ago, all of my adult relationships have existed within the milieu of having the symptoms consistent with BPD.  I have had relationships of varying degrees of intimacy, seriousness, and spans of time.  I can say that I’ve honestly failed as a partner, been failed as a partner, been very good to partners, and had partners be very good to me.

The more I read and think about my disorder, the more I think about how the factors which play into making relationships more difficult for me are actually quite central to a borderline diagnosis.  And this makes me want to delve into, chart, and analyze these waters where polyamory and BPD meet, not only for my own sake (of understanding myself better), but to possibly make some observations about the relationship between intimacy, fear, communication, and the nature of relationships in our culture.

I have already said much about how our culture views relationships in general, commenting on the expectations of monogamy and the perceived “perversion” of sex-positivity and non-monogamy.  And while I agree with much of that cultural criticism still (I’m sure I could find many of my previous  posts which I would disagree with now), I think there is more to be said about those issues.

I think the direction for me to go, in the future, is to take a closer look at the “emotional” and “dramatic” personality disorders, specifically Borderline but also Narcissistic, Antisocial, and Histrionic as well (which all have similarities), and take a look at how the symptoms which affect relationships might tell us more about mental health, social expectations, and relationship structures.

For now, I don’t want to say too much more.  Instead, I might want to go back and take some notes about how the literature documents how BPD (and the others, perhaps) affects relationship health, and take a look at some of the things that polyamory might have to help, hinder, or perhaps be neutral concerning those struggles.  I have certainly been able to understand (usually after the fact, unfortunately) how the symptoms of BPD were triggered, not communicated well enough, and were significant causes of the problems in a number of relationships (even the ones that didn’t end badly).  I have a feeling that charting such things might tease out some patterns, and I might be able to tentatively conclude some philosophical and social implications of non-monogamy on some of the personality disorders as well as vice-versa.

I’ll admit that this is a challenging and terrifying project, and I hope not to get blown away by the potential scope of it.  I know that each day I don’t succeed in brilliantly mapping out and explaining everything, perfectly, deep inside I will try to punish myself for this failure.

Because that’s part of being a borderline.

But I hope that I am able to work through those feelings and help myself (and hopefully some of you) understand a little more about the world.  I’ll try and remain optimistic.

Borderline February 4, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I don’t talk about everything about myself on this blog.  I try to keep it pretty focused on skepticism, polyamory, and religion.  But there are certainly more things about me than this.

Recently I wrote about my struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder, and the post went up today at this new blog which I have been following about Mental Health issues in the secular community.

Here is a link to my post.


Leaving the Poly Republic(ans): an open letter to the poly community February 7, 2020

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
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Dear polyamory community,

Especially Polydelphia, who booted me almost a year ago for a mix of (admittedly) good and corrupt reasons. And who made no attempt at restorative justice, despite your paying lip service to this very powerful and important concept.

OK, so right off the bat for the sake of clarity, I’m not becoming monogamous. My long-distance girlfriend, who is married to someone else and who is quite dedicated to sexual and romantic freedom, might have something to say about that. Not that she could prevent me if I decided to do so, but she would likely just laugh at me and think I’m being silly again.

(Side note; she somehow didn’t know I was silly until she was already dating me. Somehow, she got the impression that I’m very serious and lacked mirth from my years of writing. I wonder why she concluded that? In any case, in real life I’m extremely silly, irreverent (I think that might have been clear), and I definitely do not take myself very seriously at all.)

Anyway, back to (not really) shedding the thing that is half of the portmanteau which is the URL of this (increasingly irrelevant) blog….

So, a number of years ago, while still a member of polydelphia, I started to notice the rifts and factions forming in the polyamorous community, especially online. Facebook has been awful for a while now (I’m barely on it, now), and polydelphia in particular has become increasingly awful since they decided to make up that I was threatening people within the group and banned me (which was annoying, but the place is a shit show so whatever? A number of my friends had already left, previous, for the same reasons I was being critical of the group). But like just about everything in our culture, now, we are more divided than ever, and each faction sees itself as righteous and the others as bad.

Remember when that happened in the atheist community? Yeah, look at it now. David Silverman, Rationality Rules, The Atheist Community of Austin, oh my! (I’ll leave my opinions on those particular people to the side, for now, as they are not pertinent to this post).

Well, the poly community is very much the same, and the various factions continue to fight and dismiss one-another, and have become toxic.

And I’m so done with that community in general. Polydelphia won’t have me back, quite likely (and I would be very unlikely to want to be back), but I’m done with the community in general. So done, that I’m contemplating just dropping the “polyamorous” identifier from my life. This was spawned during a conversation with one of my closest friends, with whom I was having drinks last Saturday. A long-time member of the lifestyle (swinger) community, and a person I met through the local poly scene several years ago, we have bonded over many things, including both of us being total geeks. But the silliness and toxicity of the poly community right now is among the things we bonded over.

And I have to ask; is there any benefit from calling myself “polyamorous,” anymore?


Labels describe

So, this is the point where my amazing girlfriend, as brilliant as she is, would remind me that labels are mere descriptions. And as she has argued that no matter what the association of the word ‘atheist’ has, and no matter how annoyed any of us would be with the community, the fact that she does not believe any gods exist means that she simply is an atheist, and that declining the word would be absurd (Someone tell Neil deGrasse Tyson!) and meaningless.

Which, well, is true. Insofar as I continue to maintain multiple sexual and romantic relationships, or at least intend to, and do so in a transparent way, then no matter my thoughts on the connotations of “polyamory,” I simply am polyamorous. Conceded.

And yet….

And yet my friend, who definitely does not self-describe as polyamorous (but who definitely transparently maintains relationships with multiple women), finds the whole damned thing to be ridiculous. He looks at our former friends in that community and just shakes his head. He gave up on you all a long time ago. Us re-connecting was a chance encounter, and one that has led to one of my closest friendships. And I can’t say he’s without a point in wanting nothing to do with any of you.

He is unimpressed and amused with all of the conferences, the self-righteous posturing, and especially the social mud-slinging over theory and control over such groups. And when he articulates such thoughts, all I can do is say amen, brother.

Shit, I think I just understood why Neil deGrasse Tyson refuses to adopt the label atheist.

Yeah, labels describe, but sometimes it describes who you are associated with. And I don’t wish to be associated with most of you. There are a few in there which I still love and will miss, but the community is too much of a mess to want to be associated with it, anymore.

Here are some reasons why.


The Republic and the thing about people….

get it? Res+Publica? Gah! Nevermind…

So, we might think of the leadership of the poly world as, in a sense, representatives of a set of ideas and the groups which form the groups which form the conferences, social events, and orgies which constitute the poly world. Such people are as potentially amazing and corrupt as anyone else (and are often both), but they are, at bottom, merely people (like I said, both awesome and corrupt).

But those people have a kind of power. Influence? definitely. Control? In some cases, especially of the rules of groups, choosing who speaks at conferences, etc. But most importantly they control the narratives. Those who speak first control the narrative, so I’m now very suspicious of certain people who are doing this loudly. We are on the eve of a time when those who manipulate will either be knocked from their pedestal or will solidify their influence with different tribes within the community, and those tribes will be ossified into tribes, with canyon-sized rifts between them, just like the atheist community.  You will stop listening to each other (Many already have), you will point fingers and blame, but it will be all of our faults (mine included, in case you wonder if I think I’m innocent here. I’ve waged war, and we all lost).

When individuals or political alliances form (sort of like parties in the poly republic, vying for control of the larger community) and are faced with individuals or parties with which they have disagreements, bad blood, or mere power-struggles based in nothing but a desire to be in control, then the rest of us are left siding with our friends, the first narrative we heard, or who aligns with our worldview more. People will fall into different factions or tribes. Those factions will not be divided by people with the truth and good ideas over here versus people with bad ideas and abusive pasts over there. Instead, it will be multiple, in some cases overlapping, factions who will all have good and bad ideas, people with various levels of harm caused to other people, and better and worse (and separate) conferences. Some might be better than others, but they will all think they are that one.

Just like in all politics. And right now, those vying for control of polydelphia, in particular (not the steering committe, per se, but those who drive the narratives) are a lot more akin to the Democrat and, perhaps more appropriately now, the Republican party than I’m comfortable with; dismissing evidence that doesn’t favor them, defending people they know are guilty within, and holding sway with many well-intentioned people who go to the rallies conferences to cheer for their idols. Idols who are as problematic as any of us who found themselves on the wrong side of a narrative-promulgation.

The general community are overwhelmingly lovely, funny, and cuddly people who I adore. They are the people out there just getting freaky with their many loved ones from day to day without concern for the politics around them, with little understanding of how the sausage is made. They may have opinions or allegiances but what most of them want is just to find people with whom they share one slice of their worldview, and maybe get invited to the cuddle party. They just want a community.

They don’t generally care about ideological purity or the definition of solo poly (for example). They get annoyed by squabbles and just stay out of the line of fire. And when wars erupt (and one is coming), they tend to tune it out, stop attending events as often, or leave groups. Many are left without a community, in that case. Many are left wanting that community, but see it as so toxic that they refuse to re-join. Many of them were hurt by those screaming the loudest about how the community needs to be safer, ironically.

And for what?

Well, all sorts of reasons. Let’s look at a few of them, shall we?

  1. Ideological purity: We have to make sure that the people in our group have the right ideas, are educated in the complexities of goodthink better ways to do poly, from people with experience. Never mind that people with experience disagree on these things. Never mind that we all fuck those things up. Purity is important at the level of ideas, if not action. I’m bothered by this, but have addressed this elsewhere (here and here, for example).
  2. Safety: These communities need to be safe for those who decide to participate, so we need to keep bad actors out. Agreed, in general. Of course, where the line is is a point of contention. Also, pretty much everyone hurts people, and if you make that line in such a way that minor issues become cause for removal, then nobody, especially those screaming for safety, are immune from accusations. I know, for a fact, that those screaming for safety in the local poly community in Philadelphia (polydelphia) are protecting their friends from accusers who have been bullied out of the community. Many of those hurt people are genuinely terrified to speak out. One of those people who have acted inappropriately is giving a keynote speech at Poly Living tonight. Yup, I’m talking about you, Kevin Patterson. You are no role model. Not because you made mistakes and hurt people (we all do. I certainly have), but because you take advantage of your popularity, charisma, and celebrity to brush off your mistakes while vilifying and push out others who do similar things. You do not deserve to be talking to a community about responsibility, sir. You need to take responsibility first. (I won’t be naming accusers because they asked for anonymity. It is up to them to come forward, if they decide to do so. But as I was told, the accusation is sufficient to hold the accused accountable, right?)
  3. Friendship: We know our friends make mistakes. But we love them, and they have wonderful attributes, so we are willing to over look or dismiss the accusations against them as overblown (and, perhaps they are). Just like the friends of the people that you pushed out of the community, like me (and perhaps you may have overblown our sins, as well). This is how in-group/out-group works. You defend your friends and vilify those with whom you have beef. It’s usually the bullies who gain control. That’s what has happened here, in Philadelphia. You are all amazing, talented, smart people who have made yourselves into bullies. I know you don’t see it that way. Bullies never do. Remember; how you see yourself is how Donald Trump, and his fans, see Donald Trump.
  4. Control: At bottom, some people just want power. They get drunk on it, and that power breeds righteousness and a large megaphone (in Trump’s case, a MAGAphone?). A very few of you just like the power it gives you. Most of you are trying to do the right thing and are making mistakes. But those who seek power and attention often find it.

There are others, but that’s enough to make my point.

It’s all for vanity. People being human, all too human.

And, in the end, those in control of the narrative, who have the masses on their side because they are charismatic and have a good story to tell, are equivalent to the GOP right now, in relation to the impeachment and Senate “trial” we just watched implode. You stick together, you vilify dissent, you remove people from your organizations for vastly inflated or made-up reasons (I’m not the only one), when (some of) you are guilty of the same things. And then you think of yourselves as defending the safety of the group. Good intentions, very poor execution. You are failing at the one thing you are screaming about. You are making the community toxic, and calling it social justice. It’s not justice, it’s tribalistic in-fighting. Youa re failing at justice because you are as unjust as those you vilify. You are human, and you’re fucking up. We all do it, but some of us know we are doing it and try to do better. You need to do that too.

You have done corrupt and unjust things and spun narratives which benefit you. The politics of the poly world are no different than the politics of the US government. And the people defending the “safety” of polydelphia, as well as other groups throughout the poly world, are acting just like the Senate Republicans. You have, are, and will likely continue to hurt people all the while screaming about “safety” (“what about the children!”). It’s a distraction. Clean your own friend-group first.

I hope that those you have hurt decide to finally rise up and speak out against you. Many of them are terrified, traumatized, and beaten down. You’ve stolen control of a group with your self-righteous bullshit. So, retaliate, against me, if you like. Become the Donald Trump of the poly world. It will hurt me, it will continue to traumatize me, and it definitely will cause me sleepless nights and anxiety (I’ve barely slept this week), but someone needs to call you out. Since I’m already a pariah and boogeyman, fuck it. Have at me, hypocrites.


Taking responsibility

I’ve made my mistakes. I’ve hurt people. I’ve been abusive, manipulative, and I’ve ruined relationships with good people who I cared about. I’ve struggled with mental health issues (there has been therapy and growth) which exacerbated problems in relationships and compelled problematic behavior .  I have allowed my temper to terrify people, I’ve manipulated people (it was never intentional, but I’m still responsible), and I have acted irrationally in ways that chased many people away. I understand why many of you are former friends, and I do not blame you for distancing yourselves; you made rational decisions, in many cases (though, not all). I have allowed my mental health issues (recent therapists don’t consider me diagnosable as a Borderline anymore) to cause likely irreparable harm to many many people in my life, and I am so very very sorry for all the hurt I have caused. To anyone who has been hurt by me who hears of this, I offer my sincere apology. I was awful at times, and those moments have haunted me for many years. If any of you want to reach out to me, I will extend the offer to talk. Otherwise , I will leave you alone.

But the irony is that some of the people who hurt me, and people I’m allied with, the most are the ones vilifying me the most. Many of them likely don’t even know that there are people out there for whom they are the abuser. It’s frustrating to me because they talk publicly as if they are the pinnacle of moral behavior and victimhood, but have done awful things themselves.*  The accusation is enough, right? Well, then it is the case that either:

  1. You are also an abuser who should be banned from the community, like all the people you point finger at. or…
  2. Your algorithm for who should be banned is self-defeating and ridiculous, because nearly everyone would have to be banned, and then there is no community.

Your “community standards” for safety are broken, toxic, and are the very foundation of the problems in the community as much as any Shaun McGonigal is. You all have, at some point, hurt, been abusive to, or manipulated people (myself included). Clean that log out of your eye before you bring out that ban hammer again.

I’ve done the work. I’ve improved myself. I’m healthier. I don’t know what work you have done, some of us have never felt as if you even acknowledge that you did anything wrong. I know you can do better, because you are all also intelligent and amazing people in other moments. We don’t want you banned or prevented from speaking, writing, or leading. We, the pariahs, the dismissed, and the banned just want you to stop pretending you are innocent when you aren’t. If you want safety, start with yourselves.

Much of what you have been doing in recent years is toxic and unhealthy, in my opinion (not that you care about my opinion, of course). I know you are better because I’ve seen all of you be amazing. Absolutely, brilliantly amazing. I loved all of you, I saw you all shine, and you are not doing so as well as you could now because you’re caught up in creating and maintaining a culture which also toxic, even if it’s not as toxic as that which you fight.

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”


You’re likely laughing at me and my arrogance, right? How dare I criticize you, right? I get it. I’m not expecting to convince you any more than I’d convince someone cheering for Trump at his rallies. I expect to be ignored, dismissed, and retaliated against. I know that’s what you do.

I, however, will not back down from you. Not because you are wrong and I’m right, but because we are both wrong and both right in different respects, and we’ll never know in what respects by dismissing each other. I’m not dismissing your opinions of me. I’ve, in fact, spent many a therapy session, sleepless night, and personal writing in order to work out what I can learn from you and what, I think, you are getting wrong. I know you are right that I have done many bad things and hurt people, and yet I have grown and done the work. If you actually believe in restorative justice, and I know many of you do (in the community in general, I mean here), then actually practice it. Many of you have no idea who I am now or what I have done in the last few years. I know you think you do (which is not to say I haven’t made mistakes and hurt people in those years, but–again–I’m human I we all fuck up), but you have blocked me and dismissed me at every intersection so your information is old and your intel colored by a lenses of your tribe. If you insist upon continuing to do so without actually finding out what I’ve done in the intervening time, then your opinion must be considered suspect and factionally biased.

People who fuck up, do the work, learn, and get better is the goal of restorative justice. What you seem to want is punishment, banishment, and to crystallize an image of our worst moments into a definition of who we, pariahs, are. That’s not justice.  I did, am doing, and will continue to do the work. I still have more to learn and to master, but I’m working every day to be better than I was the day before.  Isn’t that what I was supposed to do?  You have every right to ignore me, but if you come at me still, then you best be sure you know of what the fuck you speak.

We will never be friends again.  That’s not my goal. So, I’m not asking you to do it for my sake, though I think you might want to consider doing it for the people you might continue to hurt, as I decided to do for my own life. Goodbye, my former dear friends. I have missed you from time to time. Take care.


So, to the poly community in general, and Polydelphia in particular, I’m leaving you behind because you have failed to create a safe, fair, and healthy community. Not for a lack of stringent enough rules or number of ban hammers, but because you fail to realize that safety is not achieved through fear, banishment, or mere demonization of people who fuck up, disagree with you, or who you just don’t like. All you have done is create an environment of fear in which anyone who has fucked up (and you all have done so) must say the right things in support for the goal of “safety,” keep quiet and hope nobody considers them important enough to out them, or preemptively attacks their “enemies” by labeling such people as problematic in order to define the narrative before those “enemies” can do it first. Maybe a few of you are actually without fault, in this regard. Cool. But are all of the people you defend also innocent? Would you react differently to an accusation against your friend than you would someone you don’t especially know or like?

There is a culture of fear in much of the poly community, and in our culture in general (shout out to ContraPoints). If you don’t see this phenomenon around you then consider that in this case it might be you who is in the position of privilege and power and are oppressing people around you without seeing it. Take it from a cishet white dude; it’s really easy to miss, even if you think you are seeing it. Those structure are, indeed, real, but they can act in communities by anyone of any background, no matter their place in the larger systems of oppression.  Access to control over systems of power and oppression within communities is available to anyone if they reject the possibility that they have the ability to be blind to it. And we are all, at times, blind to our own power and control over people. Everyone. No exceptions.

Many of you are blind to your own power in this community, right now. One of you is about to give a keynote address at Poly Living 2020. Taking responsibility, indeed. Will you, really?

I’m seeing this all over the polyamorous community, and it will lead to ruin of the entire enterprise. I hope you are able to fix this going forward, while you still can.

I no longer have any hope for the polyamorous community to thrive.  I know you are capable of it. Many of you are fucking it up right now, despite your good intentions, but you are also (all of you) smart, talented, and beautiful people who have the power to make the world a better place if you have the courage to do so. But you have to start with yourselves, your friends, and your tribes. Just like all of us as a species, nations, etc, we have to fix our own houses first before we start offering advice for how to build a bigger house for us all to live in a happy poly commune of love.

I wish you all the best. You’re going to have to do it without me. I’m sure you are relieved that this “abuser” is gone (wasn’t he gone like a year ago? Who is this nobody, anyway?). Now, you just have to deal with the ones in power in your community, doing lip service to safety.

Good luck.

-Shaun McGonigal, former abusive partner, current pariah, future unknown (but optimistic)






*I was very close to publicly outing some very bad behavior of some former very close friends and lovers, here. I believe I have every moral right to, given what that have done to me, but have decided it’s wiser to leave that aside, for now. Sorry for the disappointment, drama-lurkers.

Forging an iron(ic) self: putting the border behind me October 24, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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The blog has been quiet for a while. There are reasons for that, which are not relevant to the world, but I wanted to say a few words relevant to my own personal life.

Previously, I have written about Borderline Personality Disorder. It was a time when I was doing a lot of reading, thinking, and talking about what I perceived to be the closest diagnosis which fit what I was experiencing emotionally, behaviorally, etc.  It started with a therapist I saw years ago, who suggested this as an explanation, and I sort of grabbed onto it as a part of my identity.

One of the criteria of BPD is a lack of solid self-identity, and this was something I had struggled with throughout my life (as, I believe, most of us have). Earlier in my life, I associated it with the concept of an existential crisis, and even wrote, recently, about how Sartre’s book Nausea always resonated with me in many ways. But in more recent years, I just piled it onto a diagnosis which helped define the emotional and behavioral struggles I have have to deal with much of my life.  I started, in essence, to identify as a borderline.

That description sat as a place-holder for any real sense of self.

I’m in therapy again, and in talking about these issues and trying to find a set of strategies and concept to move forward with, I have been confronted with the fact that I, perhaps, have too closely associated with such a diagnosis. My therapist has said to me that he does not think I am a borderline, even if I have some borderline symptoms. The fact is that most of us have some symptoms consistent with all sorts of potential diagnoses, and that perhaps we are not best served by identifying with those potential diagnoses. It’s so easy to just lump yourself into a box than to struggle with the actual hard things in life on their own terms.

At this point, my best guess is that previous therapy, thinking, growing, etc have already moved me further away from being diagnoseable. I am different than I was 5 years ago. Hell, I’m different than I was a few months ago.  At the same time, I do still have some real patterns of behavior which I need to struggle with towards becoming the person I want to be.  That struggle will probably be one without end, as growth is a thing which must continue because life changes, our needs and desires change, and so the struggles change.

I am fearing that fact, that reality of change, less than ever before. Change, growth, and uncertainty are often terrifying realities, but these days I’m starting to understand their importance as well. There will be certain things about me which will probably always be true. I am still afraid of many things, and there are specific certainties which I will always want, but I very much want to stop making excuses for not being the human being I want to be.

And, in a strange way, thinking of myself as a borderline was just another excuse. It was a way to essentialize who I was, rather than see the particular issues as challenges to work through. My ultra criticism of myself bled onto my criticism of others; because I wasn’t good enough, I became frustrated by the imperfections in others. But it’s not about being good enough, and that critical nature blinded me to so many other things I could have been focusing on. And I rationalized it all as an essential person who could do no differently.

I am a person people like. I am a person worth knowing and being close to. I’m also not trying to convince you (dear reader) of those facts, those are things I’m trying to believe myself. Those beliefs will be more things that the person I want to be will have as attributes.

That person will not be weighed down by mistakes and traumas of the past, but will move forward and look at solutions. Those who have actively tried to make my life harder and demonize me will fail. Those who insist upon defining me by embellished and fabricated events from my past will have to seek a new target for their abuse, because I will not be limited by either the illusions of others or through my own fears. Instead, I will be motivated by what I can do, what I will do, and I will enjoy a life with people who care for me despite my flaws, and I will succeed one way or another.

I needed a swift kick in the ass, and now I have the bruises there to remind me that whenever I try to sit comfortably in the self I have grown complacent within, the need to get up and keep moving will become part of who I am, not who I want to be. The need to never receive such a kick again will compel me to remember that I don’t need to be perfect, better than others, nor even do I have to insist upon not resting for a while and see how far I have come.

Even the job of growing and learning needs a vacation for a little while, now and then. Otherwise, we risk burnout.

The illusion of perfection, feelings of superiority, and the need to never stop moving are all related. I’m glad that I know this, and I hope that such realizations are not forever bereft in others.


I think now, identifying as a borderline is too strong of a claim.

And so it’s time to move on from that part of my life, and be the person I want to be. Do or do not. There is no try.

In retrospect, I was trying to solve a lack of strong self identity by clinging to a diagnosis which wedded me to not having one. That was dumb.

No more.

Our account of the Fenzorselli-McBrownigal Fallout July 18, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in .

Addendum (November 2014):

Since I have written this, I have discovered many new facts and perspectives about Wes Fenza. I now believe him to be possibly sociopathic/psychopathic and potentially dangerous to anyone around him. He has sexually assaulted people, lied on many accounts, and continues, to this day, to attempt to control the narratives around him. The details of how I came to believe this are too complicated to dig into, and I will leave that for private correspondences.  I believe the original account is too forgiving and fair towards him, but wrote it in an attempt to heal, not to blame.

Wes has retaliated with his own story, again, since this account was first published. His narrative includes many private correspondences, embellishments, and outright lies. Wes Fenza does not seem to care for the truth. He and (from what Hilary has subsequently told me) Gina as well, are concerned with “winning” more than anything else.

Wes Fenza has no concern for consent. He will lie, harass, and even insist people ignore what we say in order to make sure that his side of events is believed and that his willingness to use people for his ends is hidden. When confronted about his sexual abuse of people, he laughs, denies, and then finally pseudo-apologizes. When he does not get the responses he wants from people, he harasses, abuses, and ultimately traumatizes them. He’s done it to us, he’s done it to Hilary, and he’s done it to others, many who prefer to remain unnamed.

And I know that there are people who still like and respect him, and probably think poorly of me. He, and to a large degree Gina (Hilary insists she is nowhere near innocent, as Hilary has been harassed and force to demand no contact from her as well) have settled into an unhealthy and immature status of feeling superior to others and to make sure that I don’t win. But they are playing a different game.

I will make sure that anyone who wants to hear knows that Wes is a sexual predator, liar, and an abusive narcissist. The trauma he has caused me has been significant and ongoing. A time will come, hopefully, soon, when I will no longer avoid him. I’m not strong enough for that yet, but that time will come. And when that time comes, I will not back down from him, and I will not allow his tendency to control his surroundings to prevent me from speaking publically, loudly, about who Wes Fenza really is.

Wes Fenza is potentially dangerous to women. Wes Fenza is possibly a psychopath with no actual concern for anything except that which gets him what he wants. He has no compunction about lying, manipulating, and using the combination of truth and lies to spin a narrative consistent with his interests.

I once thought Wes was a deeply insecure and flawed man who might be able to learn, grow, and mature. I no longer believe that. Now, I understand that he’s just an awful human being who uses people for his own purposes, and I was fooled for all too long.

I once loved Gina. The fact is that I still do, at least the Gina I knew. Gina, while not innocent by any stretch of the imagination (I’ve read Hilary’s draft email she never sent to Gina’s last unwanted correspondence, and it’s pretty damning to both Gina and Wes), is largely a victim here.

There are many victims, here. And while I have made many mistakes myself, I do not have the delusional sense of superiority, willingness to lie and manipulate in order to get my way, nor the cold calculating ability to construct a narrative based upon selfish desires and lies which could allow me to keep up the illusions that the cult of Lord Wesselton has built. Wes is not merely flawed, he intentionally manipulates, lies, and abuses people. Disbelieve me at your own risk.

This article is now public.




July 2014

Written by Shaun McGonigal, with contributions from Ginny Brown

For months now Ginny and I have chosen to be quiet about what happened between us and the Fenzorsellis (AKA, Wes, Gina, and Jessie). Ginny and I have talked about the fallout many times between ourselves, and we essentially agree about what went wrong.  Ginny, however, has been able to move on with better success than I have. Quite simply, she moved on emotionally, at least in some ways, long before we moved out. She had come to conclusions about their dynamics, behaviors, and characters before things went bad. I was still in a place of hope, and therefore experienced more pain, when things went badly.


So, while public displays of drama are often only interesting to interested parties, and to everyone else they probably look like immature behavior, I feel compelled to tell my own (admittedly biased) side of the story. This will be long, it will be unpleasant, and it will almost certainly provoke feelings in the people involved. I do not wish to hurt anyone further, but I feel that this is part of the means of moving on. I am sorry for any awkwardness, hurt, anger, or continued silly drama this perpetuates.


Gina has written her side of the story on their new blog (a blog I, in good faith, supplied an XML file for their PolySkeptic posts, but now wish I had just told them no when they asked for it).  Wes wrote something similar as well, as a draft post on PolySkeptic.com (which was never published), as a threat to me after I referred to him as a “bully” on a post of mine back in February of 2014. His account of things was full of half-truths, exaggerations, and blatant attacks on me as a person. Wes insists that it’s all true, and I’m free to be wrong if I disagree.


In response to this draft post, Ginny sent an email to everyone in our former family, expressing her anger and concerns for Wes’ attitude and views.  Ginny’s frustrated attempt to address Wes’ thoughts, in a private email correspondence, led to Wes writing a response a few days later with an expanded version of that draft post which was much meaner and which Gina apparently checked for factual errors, because her memory is “impeccable.”  It was after that when I cut off ties with Gina, and I have not spoken with her in person since then.  What happened between then and her own complete cut off of me (when she posted her own account later on) is largely a mystery to me.


I do not know how many people out there have any idea how hurt, angry, and beaten down Ginny and I have felt over the last couple of years. You may know about how much Wes hates me, how hurt and angry Gina is at me (she has reason to be), and you may not want to know more than this. I don’t blame you. Nonetheless, I would urge you to read the whole account which follows.


I won’t blame you if you never do so. This is mostly for me and the interested parties. This is a project created in order to make sure that anyone who is interested has a place we can point to as another version of what happened between the Fenzorsellis and the McBrownigals. This is my biased account.





For the last several months I have been struggling with symptoms consistent with PTSD in addition to my diagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder which I have already written about extensively on PolySkeptic.com. The last few months, for me, have been dominated by nightmares, triggered emotional responses, intense stress and anxiety, and unhealthy levels of anger. The source of these feelings stems from the treatment by and behavior of Wes Fenza, primarily, especially during the 18 months or so while Ginny and I lived with him, but also the subsequent months where he used their blog, social media, and word of mouth to continue a campaign to make me look unstable, abusive, and untrustworthy. And while I did make mistakes which hurt Gina, Wes is as responsible as anyone else for the amount of awkwardness, enmity, and trauma which this situation has caused us all.


His inability to accept or even acknowledge responsibility for his behavior—whether towards Ginny while they dated and after, myself for most of the last two years, and towards other people who have come, independently, to the same kinds of conclusions that Ginny and I have come to about his character, behavior, and personality—is unacceptable.


What led to the five of us falling apart in such dramatic fireworks was due to mistakes on all parts. No one of us is wholly or overwhelmingly responsible, although I also don’t think the blame is equal on all counts by any measure. I share a large amount of responsibility for the fallout myself, and have accepted such responsibility in the past and will continue to accept what responsibility is mine. However, assigning specific degrees of blame is a silly game which I do not wish to pursue. This said, what has not been addressed, despite the early efforts by Ginny and I, is the culpability of Wes in particular.


The remainder of this account will overwhelmingly be about him. Gina, in her account, seems to have concluded that she was, in the end, a pawn in a battle for good and evil; where I apparently saw myself as good and Wes as the evil. This is obviously simplistic and a straw-man. Wes and I grew to dislike each other, and our inability to communicate directly was one of the many causes of the severity of the fallout. Gina was not a pawn, but she was the obvious person in the middle of this unfortunate state of events being involved with both of us, previously.


My utilizing her as a mediator was a terrible mistake, one which I shall regret for many years. But for reasons I hope to articulate, I believe that attempting to negotiate boundaries, discuss, or even talk with Wes about the concerns I will articulate here was largely pointless. Negotiation must happen between equals, and Wes does not and apparently never saw me as an equal. Thus, this account is by no means an attempt to convince Wes of anything, to prove myself right in the end, or to escalate any drama. The point here is to offer another thumb on the scale, as it were.


I have sat idly by, watching a narrative emerge from afar through friends, social media, etc which proposes a set of facts, interpretations, and conclusions which are so arrogantly and myopically biased that it defies belief that anyone could be so blind to their own flaws and mistakes. But nonetheless the facts are irrefutable; this dramatic situation of enmity, accusations, and character assassinations has reached silly proportions.


With that, let’s get to my own silliness.





From the very beginning of our cohabitation, Wes was dismissive, mean, and disrespectful towards me. From the beginning, I was dealing with effects of a personality disorder which have effects on how well I communicate, how safe and loved I feel, and how easily I can find myself to be dis-proportionally emotional. Most, if not all, of us in that household had our own mental health issues; that was mine. Instead of rising to the best we were capable of, and helping each other do the same, we fell prey to our various flaws, poor communication habits, lack of consideration, and as a result frustrations and eventually enmity emerged.  It was, in short, a dismal failure on all of our parts. Moving forward, I will try to learn, grow, and change based upon what I have learned from my own mistakes and I hope everyone else will do the same.


From the beginning, even before we moved in, I saw behavior patterns from Wes which worried me. But because he’s socially skilled and intelligent, I did what most people do; I overlooked it. I thought he was insensitive and arrogant, but those are forgivable flaws, and with time I hoped he’d grow and it would not be a problem down the road. What I didn’t understand, something which Ginny had to explain to me later on (because she spent much more time talking with him than I) was that while Wes claims to want criticism and honesty from other people about his flaws and misbehavior, the majority of the time any actual criticism reaches him, it is met with defensiveness, rationalization, and counter-attacks (in some cases).


His request for criticism is disingenuous, and it seems quite possible that even he is not aware of this. In my opinion, self-awareness is where Wes is weakest, and his ability to empathize and understand other people is extremely stunted. As a result of these realizations, I eventually stopped trying to communicate with him because it was too frustrating and only led to my disorderly triggers being pulled. Whether by accident or by design, Wes’ behavior was a perfect set of emotional triggers for me.


Perhaps a good friend of mine is right; perhaps I should pity him, and not be angry at him. Maybe I will get there some day.


While still living there, Ginny and I started to see through Wes’ facade, and we simply didn’t know what to do. In the last few months we have heard from many other people who also saw through this facade of his, and many of these people have subsequently kept their distance from him and said nothing about their opinions about Wes as a person. What do you say to someone who is that seemingly un-self-aware?


One common conclusion from people that have come to know the Fenzorsellis is that they really like Gina but often feel sympathy for her, they generally like Jessie as well, and then when they mention Wes….


Some simply dismiss him as an insecure asshole, not worth their time. Some like him mostly, but notice that he treats some people pretty badly, at least sometimes, and so they don’t want to get too close. Some utterly hate and despise him, and were glad to see us get out of their house. A couple of people at least, besides Ginny and I, have been directly, seriously, mistreated by him and have decided, like we did, to stay quiet about it because they felt like confronting or accusing him turns into a rationalized debate that always leaves him feeling like he’s done nothing significantly wrong, while the other simply feels bullied into submission.


That is exactly the feeling Ginny and I have when we have considered whether it was worth trying to communicate with him about his behavior; it’s pointless.  He’ll just rationalize his behavior and argue with you until you either agree with his point of view, or you don’t and will therefore slowly become more and more ignored by him. If he can’t get your agreement, then he’ll get distance from you.


This pattern is a form of bullying, and in some cases it’s gaslighting. I’ve seen him do things like the above to many people, including myself, Ginny, Jessie, and Gina at separate times (not to mention many other people who spent time around us).  He argues with people, especially about specific things about him, relentlessly out of what I perceive as a deep insecurity consistent with some aspects of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I am not convinced he’d be diagnosable as a narcissist, but this personality disorder is fairly close to describing some of the behavior patterns that he employs, especially when he’s not getting his way or is around someone he doesn’t like or respect.


He’ll have a rationalized explanation for this, of course.


Here’s what Ginny has to say, recently, about her experience with Wes while dating him:


When Wes and I were dating, we had a couple of conflicts that left me feeling uncomfortable and dominated. When I expressed a desire that was contrary to his wishes, he argued with me about it for hours, insisting that my account of my motivations was dishonest and warning me of the damage it would do to our relationship if I insisted on setting that boundary. This argument was couched in terms of honesty and rationality, but it left me feeling browbeaten and gaslit. At the end of the night, after nearly an entire day arguing off and on, I gave in and told him that his account of my motivations was correct, just so I could end the argument and sleep. When I later told him that that’s what I’d done, he got angry with me for lying to him, without taking any responsibility for the fact that over twelve hours of badgering and disbelieving my honest accounts had left me feeling like I had no choice.


There were other occasions where I expressed a feeling and it turned into a huge referendum on whether that feeling was reasonable and rational. I knew from both talking and observation that this was how Wes and Gina interacted, and Gina considered it a very positive dynamic. It was not positive for me: I felt I was being treated like an emotional infant, that my account of my own feelings was not going to be trusted or respected, and that my feelings would never be honored or considered unless Wes deemed them reasonable.


Believing that I have a right to my own feelings, wishes, and boundaries, even if they conflict with someone else’s value system, was a very new thing for me then. (It still is in many ways.) I was, and am, extremely vulnerable to any suggestion that no, in fact, my feelings are not legitimate or reasonable or acceptable, and that I need to suck it up and change them to match someone else’s idea of what’s right. So, in much the same way that Shaun’s emotional outbursts function as abuse to Gina, Wes’ insistent and often relentless challenging of my feelings (when they contradicted something he wanted) functioned as abuse to me. Gina, by talking about how much he’d helped her and praising in him the exact things that were causing me strain, made this a lot harder to deal with (although in no way intentionally.) I felt that I’d be on my own if I ever expressed my hesitance about this mode of operating, and often I doubted myself, wondering if they were both right and I was, in fact, an emotional infant in need of Wes’ superior wisdom and guidance. I knew deep down that that wasn’t true, but it was a hard mode of thought to resist, because of how neatly it fit with the damaging messages I grew up with.



When Ginny first tried to break up with Wes, it didn’t go well.  Here’s Ginny writing about this back in February, privately. Ginny is talking about how Wes responded when, after weeks of feeling bad about her feelings waning from him, she finally talked to him about wanting to break up.


What I wasn’t expecting to be blamed for was the feelings themselves. But Wes immediately started telling me that I should have done more, should have worked harder to get close to him, should have tried harder to cultivate feelings for him. He insisted that I was lying about my motivations, that there must be some deep-rooted personal issue rather than just an absence of physical and romantic attraction. He demanded to know what it was that I disliked him for and judged him unworthy of dating for. I tried to tell him that I didn’t know, I just wasn’t feeling it, and he insisted I was being dishonest. I told him I was very uncomfortable with the idea of having a conversation about every little thing I disliked about him — I didn’t think it would be helpful to either of us. He pushed for such a conversation anyway.


I felt very strongly that I didn’t want to have that conversation, but Gina was also urging me toward it, and said that the reason he and [name redacted] were no longer friends was that she’d refused to do the same thing. I didn’t want to lose any friendship with him that was possible, and I didn’t want to jeopardize the other relationships that were involved, so I gave in, even though I had a lot of misgivings. I started to list things, and he responded to every one with defensiveness, with “you’ve got me all wrong” and assertions that if I’d only paid more attention I’d have seen that those things weren’t accurate expressions of who he was. He insisted that these protests weren’t attempts to get me to change my mind about breaking up with him, but they certainly felt like it to me. I felt like I was being maneuvered into a position where I had to justify my reasons for breaking up, and then all my reasons were being shot down.


I guess maybe it doesn’t sound that bad, but I still have panicky flashbacks to those conversations. I am not exaggerating when I say that they were traumatic to me. I felt that I was being forced to defend my right to feel the way I felt, and I was trying desperately to do that while also being respectful of the fact that he must be hurting. There was a lot of whiplash, a lot of Wes declaring me to be a fundamentally dishonest and untrustworthy person who he might have to seriously warn Gina against dating, and then later being kind and understanding to me. I understand now that he was more hurt and angry than I realized, but he took out his hurt by pinning all kinds of guilt and shame on me.


They did get back together.  Here’s Ginny again:


So for the first few weeks everything was great. The emotional high of relief and reconciliation carried me forward. I viewed Wes through a lens wherein everything bad that had happened between us was my fault, and he was gracious and forgiving and kind and far more patient than I deserved. Again, it was all completely sincere: just also completely dysfunctional.


I still felt like the repentant sinner, hugely guilty for everything that had happened. So can you imagine how it felt when my newly-rekindled feelings for Wes again started to wane? I could not possibly put everybody through that again. Gina was still having issues trusting me after everything, I could already hear all the accusations Wes would throw at me of dishonesty and inconsistency and untrustworthiness. This time there was no way I could possibly justify my feelings, so I just suppressed them, denied them even to myself. I felt completely trapped. I had already confessed that the feelings I was having, or wasn’t having were wrong, and everybody had agreed with me (as I perceived it. I probably was projecting somewhat.)


The months from January to March are a total blur to me, but it’s then that I started having suicidal thoughts. I’m sorry for how dramatic that sounds, especially in what looks from the outside like a trivially simple situation (just break up with the guy if you don’t want to be with him, Ginny!) but in my head it was that serious. I thought I was basically a piece of shit, and if everybody knew how I was feeling they would agree, and since I was so miserable in my piece-of-shit existence it would probably be best all around if I just stopped existing. So ran the logic.



In essence, any rejection or criticism of him is interpreted as something wrong with the other person, not Wes. Wes thinks he’s awesome, and if you disagree then you’re just wrong.  This isn’t confidence, it’s arrogance at very least.


There was another aspect of the first time that Ginny broke up with Wes that is relevant here. Wes became overwhelmingly emotionally inconsolable and Gina told me, at the time, that she had never seen him so affected.  Gina didn’t know what to do, because she had never seen Wes this emotional. Her response was to put tremendous emotional pressure on Ginny to get back together with a person who was being (in my opinion) abusive to her. Ginny was hurt by both Gina and Wes during this time, and was never able to feel fully close or comfortable with either of them again.  Related to this, Ginny and Gina eventually broke up as well.


As an aside, I didn’t know about many of the details of all of this, as well as other things which Wes did while dating Ginny (including sexually assault her), until the last few months. Had I known previously, I would have been angry and distrustful of him much earlier. Of course, his actions to other women later on would continue to be a problem.


Then there was the time when Wes pulled a woman–a woman who had recently rejected his sexual interest–out  of bed with me, at 4:30 in the morning, to essentially berate her for defaulting on some commitment that she had made with him which was related to what she would do in the condition that she and I had sex. I understand being upset and annoyed about the violation of an agreement (regardless of whether the agreement was wise for her to agree to or not), but the need to interrupt her sleeping time, in bed with me, in order to have that conversation with her at 4:30 am is inappropriate (at very least).


In relation to this type of behavior, Wes has sexually crossed lines with women more than once. Most of the time it’s the “harmless” playful (for example) pulling of a woman onto his lap (I know for a fact that at least a few didn’t want him to do this, but were afraid to stop him from doing so). In one case, while I was talking to a woman who Wes was also interested in, he literally picked up her chair (with her in it), moved it closer to his (facing her towards him, rather than me) and then said “that’s better”, and started talking to her. He literally interrupted a conversation she and I were having to do this, and from his point of view he probably saw it as saving the woman from my company (since I’m “terrible”).  The woman, over the next few minutes, inched her chair back over towards me, and she gave me a look of disbelief. She and I dated, briefly, and stayed on good terms.


There have also been at least two occasions where he directly crossed consent lines with different women (who do not want to be identified). Based on the circumstances, it’s unclear how aware he was that the person wasn’t consenting, but at the very least he showed a profound lack of sensitivity or concern for the safety and emotional wellbeing of the women involved, even afterward when the violation was pointed out to him. In both cases he laughed off the incident once he was made aware, and he was (at best) careless and insensitive enough that he re-traumatized the women in question in later encounters.


[I, Shaun, will note that the previous paragraph was added by Ginny. I, personally, do not know many of the details of those situations]


[Added July 25th — Since the writing of this, he has been confronted about one of these incidents of consent violation. His response removed all my doubts: I now firmly believe that these violations were knowing and deliberate, and I can bear witness to the fact that he blatantly lied about and blamed the victim of one of them. This, needless to say, alters my and Shaun’s feelings about some of the more charitable statements made in this document, but apart from this paragraph we have left it unedited. If anybody wants more information about the situations being discussed, they may ask me personally. — Ginny]


This is not an attempt to demonize Wes or paint him with irremovable colors. I don’t think he’s irredeemably awful, but I do think he needs to recognize the problems which affect him and cause him to mistreat others.


I very much regret not allowing myself to be more open with him in the beginning, in order to try to develop a potential mutual understanding and co-supportive relationship within the family we were trying to create. The reasons I did not do so were partially my fault, and partially his. I erred in being afraid to open myself up to someone who was not inviting it, and he erred in not creating a safe space for me, emotionally or psychologically, to open up. I am not convinced he was, or is, capable of the vulnerability or openness (especially with men) that such a co-supportive relationship would have required, but I should have at least tried. And, in time, he grew to strongly dislike me, and eventually such a relationship became impossible to attempt.


Please understand, while I am extremely hurt by and angry with Wes, I do not hate him.  OK, I do sometimes, especially when I’m really angry or hurt by some action of his.  Wes has good qualities. He’s funny, outgoing, confident, and he’s very good at networking and selling himself and what he cares about. But those qualities are not tempered within him, and it often spills over onto him making fun of people, making everything and every space about him, tribalistically carving out an in-group/out-group mentality, and rationalizing things he wants to be true, but aren’t (what we philosophers call ‘sophistry’).


He creates, through his treatment of people and selective gracing of certain people with the prize of being worth his time, a kind of bubble of people who help him feel good about himself. Anyone who doesn’t follow along with this scheme becomes subject to a convoluted rationalization and becomes a persona non grata in his social circle, a circle in which such disgraced people will become teased, mocked, and trivialized.


Just like with Ginny’s attempts to break up with him, if your reasons for not wanting to give him what he wants do not please him, then you become not worthy of his time, attention, or concern. The effect is to push people away who are not submissive to his perceived superiority, and keep close people who idolize him, do not threaten him, or simply quietly allow his perceptions to persist.  If I were being less charitable, I would call his bubble a cult of personality (at least one person I have heard from, someone Wes apparently dated very briefly some time back, used this exact phrase), but I think that’s too strong a term if I’m trying to be fair.



A little background about Shaun, for context.


I grew up with a broken family. My childhood was emotionally problematic for a few reasons. My father was not around, and when I finally got to know him he turned out to be abusive (my mom has later told me stories about him which are too terrible to repeat here). He became the foil for all the things I didn’t want to be, but we were so much alike in so many basic ways. He used to look like me. He laughs the same. We both have bad tempers (I’m not sure what he’s diagnosed with, if he is diagnosed). My step-father, while often fun and who provided well for us, was emotionally unavailable and extremely defensive about anything intellectual or “touchy-feely”. My mom was genuinely caring and present, but her own issues got in the way sometimes as well. I know she loves me and did what she thought was good (and it mostly was great), but such a familial background set me up for some emotional issues related to family.


I yearned for a loving, emotionally close, and safe family environment. But family for me growing up was lots of emotional tension, violent arguing, and then I had my personal foil of a father who is a racist, homophobic, and abusive Tea Party type who refers to himself, proudly, as a redneck. I understood why he became this way very early on in my adulthood, and I wanted to not be like him even if I had a lot of the same impulses and proclivities that he did. I yearned to do better (and have, with a few exceptions I’m working on), and we have not talked recently.


So ever since then I’ve yearned for a real family of my own. A loving family full of people whom I could trust to not dismiss me, make me feel unsafe, or have their own emotional walls to create a closed and unhealthy home, relationship, and pathways of communication. Over the years, I have projected this hope onto many people, some who have not disappointed me. Most have. Myself included.



An invitation, and Expectations


So when I found myself in a place, about two years ago, where people were willing to take us into their family, who might care for me and who I cared about, I blindly and unwisely poured these hopes into that invitation. But because of lingering fears, I was unable to be emotionally open myself. Being too scared to instigate emotional openness with everyone else (I’m still working on this), I hoped others would. And I had good relationships with my partners (even with Gina, for most of our relationship), but I was terrified to open up to either Wes or Jessie, and this created uneasiness, distance, and the stifling emotional environment began to cause pain within me, and eventually anger (essentially at myself, but it’s aim was wide).


Daily life in that house felt cold, to me. From the beginning, Wes was continually mean to me. Micro-aggressions, dismissive behavior, lack of consideration for my concerns or feelings were common from Wes specifically.  Because I’m insecure and easily adjust to being mistreated, it went on for a long time without comment. You see, I was at a point in my trying to understand my disorder where I was trying to not allow emotional reactions to dominate my life.  I was trying to have small, common, every-day offenses not become a focal point of my emotional health. I was trying not to be aggressive, reactive, and it amounted to my never standing up to myself when I was being mistreated.


As you might guess, the result was that the behavior continued, my resentment grew, and distance between Wes and I became, eventually, palpable. There were good moments. There were times, especially in the beginning, where there were signs that this experiment of ours could work. These were times when I was able to be more open, feel a little safe, and think of that house as my home. There were signs that this arrangement could be a family.


When we were approached about the documentary, it was another sign that things might work out.  And the times around then were fairly good, and we were mostly doing well. I thought, then, that maybe my instincts were wrong. I began to grow a little more hopeful, all the while repressing the pain of the constant mis-treatment.


What I didn’t know at the time was that Ginny was not happy there, mostly due to her experiences with Wes and Gina previously. While no open tension existed, mostly because Ginny is very good at internalizing and ignoring emotionally difficult concerns, Ginny was still hurt by what Wes had done to her and how Gina, being dependent upon Wes in a number of unhealthy ways (although she became less so as time went on), had exacerbated the problem. Ginny never fully trusted either of them the same way, and she secretly thought we’d be better not living there.


Slowly, it started to become clear to both Ginny and I that there was a level of emotional immaturity going on among the rest of them that Ginny and I felt powerless to fix, and so we went on with our lives hoping that they would grow, as we all hopefully do, in time. I, being the oldest, had seen a lot of the behavior I was witnessing in that house, within myself included. Wes, reminds me, in some ways, of what I was like 10-12 years ago; selfish, insecure, defensive, arrogant, and very focused on having women in my life who could give me the illusion that the feelings I was repressing deep inside were not real. How could they be real? Look how awesome my life is! (I would say in my head).


I had some hope that in time he would figure it out, and then his genuinely good qualities would even out his behavior. There are times when I think this will still happen, and other times that I think he’ll maintain the bubble forever since he receives little to no pressure to change at home. I, mistakenly, tried to express my frustrations with Gina about his behavior. This was a mistake because Gina tends to take on too much blame, responsibility, and mistreatment from people, and this attempt at intervention through her turned into worse and worse behavior on my part, rather than anything that could have helped the situation.


However, the alternatives were not good, either. Wes’ treatment towards me had made me not inclined to communicate with him. I came to see that he would not listen to me or respect anything I would have to say. In a correspondence with a former mutual friend, Ginny had this to say:


My experiences with communicating sensitivities and emotional vulnerabilities to Wes have not been positive.


Which is an understatement, to say the least. Ginny is often too diplomatic, in my opinion, and sells herself short all too often. Ginny was a person that Wes actually liked, and when she communicated any vulnerabilities he made her feel manipulated and, I would argue, abused. Why would I have ever opened up to him, given how hostile he was to me?


Wes has said that I’m not only untrustworthy and abusive, but that he has nothing to learn from me and that I don’t understand him.  So given that, why would I have tried to communicate with him at all? He did not create an environment which was conducive to that kind of communication. He would not accept that there was a problem, and so I was left with a frustrating circumstance and an increasingly hostile living situation. Wes was not a safe person for me to try and communicate with, especially when doing so would have necessitated making myself vulnerable.


Here’s Ginny again, from that same email as above:


I had been planning to begin addressing the issues between me and Wes once we were moved out. I didn’t feel safe doing so until I had the possibility of complete escape if it went badly. Shaun wasn’t exaggerating when he said I am terrified. Thinking about re-opening that conversation still makes me shaky and teary. I realize that this is largely because of my own issues and vulnerable spots, but that doesn’t make it easier.


We both needed a safe, welcoming, and loving home environment, and we didn’t get one. Not even close. There was a time, a while back, where even Gina would ask Wes to stop being mean to me, and Gina is largely blind to Wes’ awful behavior and forgives it endlessly (so if she saw it, it must have been pretty bad). After our first (or second, perhaps) podcast, a long-distance friend (who had not met either Wes or I in person) remarked how mean Wes was to me. It was constant.


Ginny very recently recounted a time last Fall (2013) or so, when I wasn’t around, in which an argument occurred about how poorly Wes treated me. He said he’d stop doing so, and perhaps to some degree he did, but by then the damage was done. I didn’t feel safe, welcome, or loved at home. I felt bullied, dismissed, and hated.


Here is one example of a typical kind of Wes-behavior I lived with.


If Jess or someone else stayed over with me, because we had limited bedroom space we would stay on the futon on the first floor. This creates a logistical problem because Jessie often liked to stay up late, and does so in the living room where the futon was. So, there were times when she’d stay up late when my guest and/or I had to get up relatively early (or just wanted some alone time!), meaning that by the time we could go to bed it was quite late. And then, come 6-6:30 in the morning, Wes would come downstairs, turn on the TV to watch Buffy/Angel/etc while he exercised, 10 feet from where we had been sleeping.


He seemed completely unaware that this would be perceived as a problem. Jess, being the kind of person she is, didn’t care much (although she did say it was a “douchey thing to do”) except for my sake since I was always irate when he did this. Now, I had a choice here. I could talk to him about this and subject myself to the triggering pile or rationalized bullshit he’d spew if I did so, or I could talk to Gina about it. It was really a lose-lose, but in the end they are correct that I should have talked to Wes, and not Gina, about this behavior.


I don’t think it would have mattered, but at least it would have been the responsible action to take. I take responsibility for that mistake. But the fact is that he still did it even after he knew it pissed me off. That is not an acceptable way to treat a person you live with, especially since Jess came over maybe once a week. It would be different if this was something that happened a couple or few times a week (which it may have, once or twice) , but it was once a week the majority of the time and he was unwilling to sacrifice any of what he wanted to not be immensely inconsiderate of other people.


He did the same for other overnight guests, as well.


This on top of the jokes at my expense (which were not said lovingly, because he never actually liked me), the mocking of me he’d do nearly daily, and the plethora of other behavior that made me feel small, sad, and made me retreat further into myself led to my life there becoming anxiety-ridden, marked by depression, and caused me immense self-doubt. When I would eventually leave, it became clear to me that I had been mistreated, and the PTSD started to show itself. I think, most of the time, that ‘abuse’ is too strong a word, but it was not loving, welcoming, or home/family-building behavior at very least.


I know now that he didn’t like having me there. The kicker is that it was his idea to invite us to live with them. Wes made no attempt to get to know me (he thinks he knows me, but his description makes anyone who does know me laugh or angry, depending), he made no attempt to make me feel welcome, and I suspect that there was some level of patient effort on his part to wait for any sign of a problem which he could use to get me to leave.


And, eventually, he got one.





I fucked up. There is no way around that. I made some mistakes which were legitimate reasons for concern, and them being upset with me for those mistakes is completely acceptable.  Gina has outlined some of what I did, and I won’t address all of it here. To start, at some point in my relationship with Jess, I stopped using condoms.  Due to completely irrational and immoral rationalizations I told myself, I didn’t tell Gina until some time later. My reasons for this lie of omission were bullshit, the error was forgivable had I come clean immediately, and I regret hurting Gina in this way very deeply.


Later, when things started going badly, I threw a stool.


I was having an extreme borderline episode related to what I thought was Jess and I breaking up (we’re still together, as I write this, months later). Ginny was not around to calm me down (as she has done once or twice before), and Gina was never comfortable or good at doing so. Gina was afraid of me. Now, there was actually no way I would have physically hurt her, not even after she broke up with me, but she was scared and I wasn’t helping.


I was freaking out, and Gina and I were talking. I was also dealing with hurt feelings related to Wes’ treatment of me, and in anger I said “Wes is abusive, and if you don’t see it then you’re delusional.” It was a hurtful, mean, and wrong thing for me to do. When she, understandably, got upset and walked away crying, I fell into a hole of deep sadness and depression, and later that night when Wes came to me for an explanation of how he was abusive, I threatened to punch him.


I didn’t actually want to punch him, I wanted him to go away. I was completely and utterly wrong in my actions, and when they all left me to go upstairs, my height of despair led to me throwing a stool. As a borderline [or, at least, as someone with some borderline symptoms], the idea of being abandoned is a major trigger. So here I was, in the downward spiral of a household where I was being mistreated by Wes, afraid that Gina was going to leave me, and also dealing with the possibility of Jess leaving me. I also don’t handle rejection well.


This incident was a scream for help, which was not recognized for what it was (which is understandable). Jessie came down, not long after, to talk with me. I was alone, curled on the floor and crying when she got down there, and she brought me back from the abyss by talking with me. But the damage was done. Wes wanted me to get medicated or to leave. Gina was afraid of me, and our relationship was on the rocks. I did not do anywhere near enough to rectify any of this damage to my relationship with Gina, and soon after this happened, shortly before we moved out, Gina broke up with me.


After we left, Ginny and I talked about all these things endlessly. We were both hurt and angry, but we thought that in time we might be able to reconcile. Initially, some people thought that Gina and I would eventually get back together. I wanted that, but also knew that the nature of Gina’s relationship with Wes would make this hard for me to be with her again. We needed time, space, and perspective.


I turned to writing, at this point, to find an outlet for my pain, loss, and regret. Much of this writing was angry, but most of it was self-critical. Wes thought that much of what I wrote was about him, when in fact only one post was about him specifically. The other posts that he thought were about him were, to some degree, about the pain he had caused me, but I had been hurt in that way by many people and so the primary intent was to talk about that pain in general. Wes was just the most recent and thus emotionally present example to which those vague posts referred.


I suspect that he’d laugh at that, and point to it as another example of my bending and twisting the truth for my purposes. The truth is that Wes was able to hurt me more deeply than most other people who had done similar emotional damage to me because it was an ongoing, every-day, constant stream of hurt in which I lived. Because I had poured my hopes of a loving family into him as well, he could cut me more deeply.


One post, in particular, was not even about my anger or Wes even a little bit, but was a post based upon a conversation I had had several years before with my friend Staks. In trying to distract myself from the hurt I was living through, I tried writing posts which were philosophical (and thus calming), in nature. Wes thought it was about how I was criticizing him for being too smart, or something, because there was apparently a Facebook conversation about that topic which I had not even seen yet.


In retrospect, I imagine Gina reading some of those posts at that time and seeing it as a continued attack on her husband, and started to see it as proof that she was that pawn in the battle between good and evil. It was never anything like that for me. My writing, whether about Ayn Rand, BPD, Wes, etc, was always about articulating pain, trying to give my mind something calming to focus on, and continued introspection. I honestly know almost nothing about what was happening with them during that time, and with a few exceptions my writing then was not about Wes.


A while after that, Gina wrote her post. Most of what she wrote is true. I do not wish to make an complete account of what I think was true and what wasn’t, because that’s pointless now. In any case after I read Gina’s post, I responded with an email to Gina which said the following:


I just want you to know I am not mad at you for posting that on your new blog (Ginny alerted me to it. I may not have noticed it otherwise). I would have preferred you emailed me privately, but I understand your anger and need to say it publicly. I had wished for us, in time, to talk about this with the better perspective I have gained since then, but it’s pretty clear that probably will not happen now.


I’m sorry things went the way they did, and I’m sorry that I acted in ways that lost your trust. You are a wonderful person, and I wish I had known myself better in order to not have fucked this up as badly as I did. There were ways that we could have communicated better, ways I could have handled the stress I was under better, and a lot of that was my fault for not happening.


I harbor no anger at you. A lot of hurt, but I’ll manage. The last couple of months have been among the hardest of my life. I miss you every day. I still love you, and I probably will as long as I live. I’ll leave you alone after this email, as that seems to be what you would prefer.



And, at the time, I wasn’t angry at her. I am now.


I didn’t get a response to this, nor did I expect one.  Instead, I heard that Wes was talking about the fact that I had written this email to her as evidence that I was an awful, terrible person. This was part of an ongoing campaign against me, by Wes, which would continue as he linked to Gina’s post repeatedly in subsequent posts of his. He seems very interested in making sure his dislike of me is publicly known and justified.


I did hear back from a former mutual friend [with whom I have reconnected since], who wrote me what I consider one of the most abusive, mean, and unfair pieces of writing I have ever seen leveled towards me. She was mad, it seemed, that I wrote such a thing. I won’t quote that email, because it’s not really relevant, but what I do want to do is quote part of the letter I sent recently (after a couple of months or so of reflecting) to this same former mutual friend.


When I first read the post [Gina] wrote, I was unable to internalize what she was saying. I was too raw, emotional, and I was carrying too many things in my head to really understand. And despite my willingness to take responsibility for my misbehavior, it was all too mixed up with other feelings to come through cleanly. I did not understand her anger, even though I knew she was angry.

When I wrote Gina after reading it, my intentions were to express that I would not be attacking her or retaliating (nor did I want to). She had expressed fear concerning what I might do after she broke up with me, and I wanted her to know that anger was not how I was feeling towards her. I wanted her to know that I was just feeling sad and that I was sorry. I wanted to say goodbye.

There was a sort-of shock for me concerning the difference between between the Gina which I had last spoken to weeks before and the Gina that I had just read in that post, now around 2 months ago. I was not prepared, and perhaps have not been prepared until recently, to understand that the woman who came to hug me at the Poly Living convention in February was not the same woman who wrote that post, and that the reason for the change had a lot to do with how I had treated her. I had hoped we could be on good terms again in the future, and the thought that it wouldn’t happen was overwhelming.

That is not an excuse. I knew, deep down, that I should not have sent any email to her, no matter the content. I desperately wanted some sort of closure. I wanted to say good bye. I wanted what had been good between Gina and I to mean enough for that, but I had already threw those good things away by hurting her. I didn’t deserve a goodbye, but I selfishly wanted one and the hope that I might get it compelled a poor decision. It was a mistake to do so, born out of selfishness, sadness, and fear. Intentions are not enough, and no matter how well-intentioned the email was, it was a mistake which I regret deeply.


I regret, more deeply than I can articulate, hurting Gina. She was an integral and important part of my life, and I pushed her away.  Here’s more from that same letter:


[Gina] deserved better. She deserved every ounce of attention, patience, and love I could give, but I allowed what I selfishly wanted to override that and create a rationalization for asking for things I should have known were going to be emotionally taxing to her. I needed to put her feelings, desires, and concerns at least on par with my own, and I did not do so. I acted selfishly, and as a result I hurt her.

Here was, in front of me, Gina’s description of what I had done, and in reading it I was deeply ashamed for acting in a way that hurt her. I had taken my own selfish feelings, fear, and hurt and directed it at a person who loved me rather than open up when I needed help. Rather than deal with my hurt and fear in a way that would have been loving, intimacy-creating, and healing, I allowed myself to hurt one of the most important people in my life.

I did snap at Gina sometimes, rather than express what was bothering me. I did act in a way that made her feel secondary and unimportant, rather than do all I could to demonstrate how important she was to me. I made her feel like crap and I gave her reasons to be afraid of me, rather than do all I could to make her feel loved, appreciated, and safe. I lied because I was afraid and ashamed of something I had done, rather than admit the moment I had made a mistake. I made selfish decisions in order to avoid the difficulty of resolving problems that existed in my life, including within my relationship with Gina. It was my fault, and there is no excuse for any of it.

There is so much more I could have done to not only treat her better, but to make our relationship stronger and closer. I failed, miserably, in my relationship with Gina and I regret it every day.

I loved Gina, but I didn’t act as if I did sometimes. Towards the end, I mostly acted as if I didn’t love her. I cannot undo any of it, and I have been working very hard to understand the causes of that behavior (with a lot of success, I’ll add). I will make every effort to make sure that I never treat someone I love the way I treated Gina. The way I acted was not proportional to how I felt, and there is no excuse for that. I fucked up, and I’m so very sorry.


I still am sorry. It doesn’t matter anymore, I suppose.



Guiding Philosophies and Double Standards


Especially in the beginning of our living experiment, there were a set of guiding principles, ideals, and quasi-agreements about how we were expected to grow together. Essentially, we were supposed to challenge our comfort zones. Emotional concerns were secondary to being rational people. All of us talked, some of us wrote, and Wes especially was in favor of being willing to try and live rationally, which apparently included making emotional concerns secondary. It wasn’t a healthy guiding principle, and I’m glad I eventually abandoned it.


This was an appealing guiding philosophy for me for a while, but the implications were very problematic. If you read Gina’s post, you read about how I put Gina in the position to not use a condom, which she did at the time without complaint. Over the next several months we went from using condoms to not, and Gina seemed, all of that time, to adjust well to that decision despite the problematic way it started. I knew it was a big deal to her, but I didn’t know that it continued to be a problem because she never told me so. Reading her account of that was a bit of a surprise to me; that it bothered her so much that she would include it as an example of abuse didn’t fit with what happened at all.


Here’s the problem. One, in making requests to stop using condoms, I was asking for what I wanted and negotiating safety boundaries with a woman who I intended to spend the rest of my life with. I was expressing a desire for something which had strong emotional implications for Gina, and so of course I understand, in retrospect, that it felt like I was arguing with or trying to manipulate her. Two, her own husband, Wes, defended endlessly asking for what you want, and he perpetually, as we saw above, would argue with people when what he wanted did not mesh with what other people wanted. In other words, even if her account is accurate here, all I was doing was following the ideal behavior that her own husband used on everyone, including Gina.

While I now recognize the dynamic as unhealthy and harmful, at the time it was the standard we were all supposed to be living by: ask for what you want, and if someone’s resistance to that is irrational, push them to get over it. It was the standard Gina and Wes had apparently been living by for years, and Ginny and I subscribed to it in those early days of our cohabitation, before we came to see how harmful it was.


In retrospect, it seemed like from their point of view this guiding principle and standard for communication was primarily a standard for Wes. Others could use it insofar as Wes was not bothered by it, in any way. Wes was our leader and he got special privileges, is what it felt like.


Now, I understand that Gina and Wes were together a long time before I was around. I understand that Gina considers Wes to be her “savior,” and that I had not earned the same level of trust as he did. But when it comes to us literally behaving the same way (whether that behavior is fine or abusive) but it was fine when he did so and with me it’s an example of abuse, I have to call bullshit.


Yes, I made mistakes. But in this case at least (and there are others), I was following in the family code of asking for what I wanted. Wes is almost never sensitive to the emotional considerations of others when it comes to his needs (he’s even actually argued, with laughable levels of philosophical sophistry, that his selfishness is superior to sacrificing his needs for other people), and I think this is unfortunate. I also happen to believe that I should have been more considerate about how such requests of Gina were handled, especially within our intimate relationship, and I do wish I had approached the issue with more compassion, patience, and love.


But if I was fucking up, so was Wes with many many other people. If this behavior of mine was abusive, then so was Wes’ similar behavior.


I was being insensitive, I admit. But that insensitivity is exactly what Wes does all the time, and he’s not emotionally abusive, according to Gina. Double-fucking-standard. Gina’s blindness to Wes’ flaws is epic. She saw and dealt with it sometimes, but the vast majority of the time she simply overlooked, forgave, and sometimes even praised it.


And what’s worse? Wes rationalizes his behavior.


Wes talks about the issue between “ask culture” and “guess culture” fairly often. He believes that asking/telling what you want is superior to expecting people to guess, or trying to anticipate the feelings and needs of other people. The problem with this is that Wes actually practices, at least sometimes, what Ginny has called (in response to her own frustrations with his arguments around this subject) “take culture”. That is, he does what he wants, without asking for permission or telling people he wants to do it, and he expects other people to communicate that they don’t like that action.


Remember how he argues with people who have issues with what he wants? Well, imagine the result. A man who does what he wants and asks for communication about why you don’t like that, but since he will argue you into the floor if you do, most people simply don’t say anything. That is the epitome of boorish, obnoxious, bullying behavior, and Wes did it all the time when we were around. I doubt he’s changed, but I could be wrong.


There are so many other stories, examples, and concerns I could lay out. There are many more pages I could write, but it would start to be redundant and tedious. For now, let’s wrap up.





Wes has been very open with his criticism, evaluation, and caricature of me as a person. I’ve heard stories, through friends that maybe Wes doesn’t know I still have, that he and Gina talk openly about how I’m emotionally abusive, untrustworthy, and a liar. They have had no compunction about speaking this way to and around friends of mine, and many people have found this behavior to be immature and beyond the pale.  I have mixed feelings, but in general I don’t have a problem with calling out abuse (hence why this exists).


Gina is obviously very angry with me, and she refers to me as her abuser. Wes obviously dislikes me very strongly, but he did long before any of that. I imagine that Jessie has negative feelings towards me as well. Ginny and I are also extremely angry and hurt by them, but specifically Wes. I have become angry at Gina after reflecting upon how long it took her to stand up for me at all, and how little she seemed to notice or care in the face of Wes mistreating Ginny or I, as well as many other people the vast majority of the time. In the end, Gina has been an enabler for Wes’ misbehavior and seems not to see most of it. Gina may be one of the only people that Wes would listen to concerning his abusive behavior and rationalizations, and unfortunately she is almost completely blind to these flaws most of the time. Perhaps some people don’t see them as flaws; easy for them to say when he hasn’t been abusive to them.


Not so much anger at Jessie, actually. I have almost nothing negative I could say about her, in all this. She’s easily the least responsible for the worst of this fallout, as far as I’m concerned.


The rift between our families is vast, and probably settling into a long-term encampment where we will not talk to each other, but we’ll continue to spin our narratives in isolation. Tribalism wins out, in the end. It’s not my preference, but frankly I don’t know what else to do. We tried to open up communication after we moved out, and Wes dropped a grenade of demonization of me in the middle of the floor then sat off to the side with an arrogant smirk while the relationship imploded. We were pushed out of his bubble.


Gina ended her post with a little quote which, I assume, is intended to be empowering:


Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great. You have no power over me.”


In other words, I, Shaun, have no power over her anymore. She’s seen through me and she’s now just shaming her former abuser. However, there are two things about this quote that I feel compelled to share.


By pure accident, one of Ginny’s boyfriends quoted this exact quote to Ginny because she was going to see Wes at some social event that very evening, and she was feeling anxious. He had not seen the post, Gina’s use of this quote, or her new tattoo related to it, because it didn’t exist yet (at least not publicly).  He understood that Ginny felt fear and anxiety about seeing Wes at this happy hour (she’d end up seeing Gina too), and he seemed to be saying that Ginny was strong enough to face him. Wes no longer had power over Ginny, was his point. It was a complete coincidence which when he saw Gina’s post, couldn’t help but find ironic.


Here’s the other thing; I never wanted any power over Gina. My behavior was not always healthy or loving, but I never sought power. I don’t feel comfortable in a place of power of control over people. I never wanted to manipulate, coerce, or argue anyone into the ground. I, in fact, tried hard to not be manipulative. I, obviously, failed because she felt abused.


Neither Ginny nor I are sure to what extent Wes is aware that he does wield manipulative power over people, but he does wield power over at least a few within his bubble and he does make many people feel abused outside of it, including myself. But whether he does it consciously to any degree or not, he did it very often in the time we spent around him and I’d be very surprised if he has stopped since. I actually hope he has.


Gina may have found Wes’ behavior helpful, but I find it immature, selfish, and overwhelmingly unacceptable. I don’t trust Gina’s judgment, especially about Wes, and so it is irrelevant if her memory is impeccable (it isn’t) because even a perfect memory can be formed by imperfect judgment. What I did to hurt her was not her fault, and she has right to be angry at me. What I did to hurt her was my fault. But if she insists to call it abuse, then I cannot see how Wes’ behavior is not abuse as well.


We would prefer to not use the word ‘abuse,’ however. We feel like this word should be reserved and used more carefully.


And yet I feel abused. But how I feel (and I feel traumatized, hated, mistreated, demonized, and bullied) is not always proportional with the truth.  The truth is my behavior towards Gina was sometimes pretty awful and inexcusable. The truth is I hurt someone I really cared about. The truth is also that Wes hurt us, as well as many other people, and he has never (to my knowledge) taken any responsibility for, and almost no acknowledgment of, that.


But to call him an “abuser” is too final, too teleological, in my opinion. People change all the time, grow, and hopefully what was abusive behavior stops happening. So I won’t call Wes “an abuser,” but I will say that he was abusive to me in the past, and I think that he was abusive to Ginny and other people as well, sometimes. And if he ever took actual full responsibility for that, I would be willing to forgive him. I cannot speak for anyone else, of course.


And yes, Wes does have many other people who like and love him very much (and that is good! I would not ask people to stop loving or liking him). He’s even very good to many of them, most of the time. This does not excuse when he’s been terrible to people, and I will not allow our experience to go unsaid anymore.


Here’s a little haiku I wrote a while back, while processing some of this.


He, sore in the err

She, mist in angry distance

Past, one, another


The result of all of this is that a rift has developed, with some people straddling both sides and trying not to get involved. Each side of this rift has created a set of narratives, rationalizations, and blame. Gina’s account is biased, Wes’ views are also biased and the story that I am telling here, with significant help from Ginny (and yes, shes checked it for accuracy), is also subject to biases we cannot see. This account is not all true; not intentionally, mind you, but because memory is bound to emotion, self-justification, and cognitive biases. I also don’t completely trust my own judgment, at least not all the time. But I’ve tried to be balanced, fair, and honest.


Bottom line: I regret acting badly and losing Gina’s trust and love. I don’t see much reason to trust her or Wes, as they not only have acted poorly (as well have I), but their inability to see their own flawed personalities and relationship dynamics has seemingly hardened into a story about what I, Shaun McGonigal, did to make everything terrible.


We are willing to share that blame. It’s time they did the same.



Checking Ourselves: Mental Health, Cognitive Bias, and Rifts July 7, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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Mental health and cognitive errors are the foundation upon which we struggle with interactions with groups, individuals, and ourselves. Whether we are diagnoseable in a mental health context or not and whether our cognitive biases are significantly problematic or not, how these types of factors interact with each other will influence how we understand ourselves and the world around us. These individual concerns will supervene into group dynamics, whether for good or bad, and if we are interested in any kind of cohesion, cooperation, or truth as any kind of group then we must pay primary attention to our personal tendencies towards cognitive errors and mental health concerns.

confirmation-biasIt’s pointless to merely defend our position with logical argumentation if our very position is subject to biases and potentially mentally unhealthy attitudes. Before we can be concerned about being right philosophically, we have to first be attentive to the effects of mental health, cognitive biases, and self-justification. Being a skeptic means first being skeptical of our own internal processes, because if an error lies there then that error will expand exponentially at every level of our argument, very likely.  The very basis of motivated reasoning, self-justification, and rationalizations arise when we fail to recognize our own errors in forming opinions.

To trust ourselves or other people, we have to pay attention not only to our intentions and overt logical steps, but also to the emotional and cognitive foundations of our ideas. Thinking we are being rational, honest, and forthright is pointless if we don’t pay attention to the self-correcting steps we need to take in order to be truly authentic as feeling and thinking beings. Intention and honesty are not enough if we are blind to biases which lie under those intentions and our desire to be honest. Honesty is impotent if we’re wrong.

In terms of this, I agree mostly with Peter Boghossian in the following video:

Yes, we need to be forthright.  But in addition to being forthright, we also need to be willing to be wrong, to self-correct, and to head off cognitive biases, whether they take the form of emotional or  rational patterns. If we start out being unwilling to self-correct, this will have obvious ramifications for how we interact with the world, other people, and with our own internal concerns.

Cognitive Biases

mediocreWhen I started writing in blog-like form more than 15 years ago (college newspaper columns mostly, but also some essays I wrote for various publications as well), I was writing almost exclusively about atheism. I was writing screeds against religion, “new atheist” style, back in the lat 1990’s. In college, I studied world religions, cultures, and some philosophy, and my senior thesis was about the philosophical and cultural influences of Greece/Rome on the development of the Catholic Church. I had heard all the apologetics (I have not heard anything really new in years), became fairly good at responding to them, and this helped me discover and become part of the atheist community in early 2002, when I started graduate school.

In talking with theists and other atheists, I had come to witness all sorts of rationalization, motivated thinking, and cognitive biases. I became fairly good at spotting when people are subject to these cognitive errors.  I’m not immune to such things myself (none of us are), but I’m fairly good at noticing it during or at least shortly after doing so (especially with Ginny around to help point it out), and I try to correct it as best I can. The more emotional I am, the more likely I am to be subject to biases. But exposure and attention to these things has helped make me less prone to such things, even if I do occasionally find myself twisted up in logical rationalizations from time to time.

So, when I later started hanging around polyamorous people at meetups, private parties, etc, I started to utilize those tools which I had honed within the atheist community, and started to notice patterns of motivated reasoning, biases, and rationalizations there too.  it’s not just theists (or atheists) who are subject to these concerns.

Most of the motivated reasoning, biases, and rationalizations I ran into was pretty low-level every day stuff, but occasionally I would spot a behavior which was really dug deep in self-justification. And over the years, I have gotten to know various levels of these types of cognitive errors in belief, behavior, and preferences which exist among polyamorous people.

What I have come to believe (tentatively, of course) is that we bring cognitive biases, rationalizations, and self-justification with us into whatever communal or social networks in which we spend significant time.  Those cognitive concerns influence how we will interact with other people, how we will think about issues which come up, and will be the foundation of where we will stand in the case of any disagreements, rifts, or enmity. When things go bad, where you will be stand relative to an argument will be at least partially based upon what kinds of cognitive errors you are prone to.

Going back to the atheist community for a second, let us take a moment to recognize the various splits, rifts, and arguments which have raged over the last several years. A-plussers, slymepitters, and freethought blogs, oh my! Now, I have not seen any significantly complicated analyses of how things like cognitive biases, self-justification, and personal preferences determine where a person will lie on these battle lines, but I’d bet we would start seeing some correlations if we did (which says nothing about causation, I know).

We’re all subject to cognitive errors.  We all have to be cautious with certainty, whether we err on the side of servility or arrogance. We all have to improve at making sure we are paying attention to how our cognitive biases and mental health issues help determine our opinions, behaviors, and relationships. All too often people will demonize another person out of a need for self-justification.  We will idolize someone else for similar reasons.

We need to have the bravery to demand complete honesty, vulnerability, and willingness to be wrong (or right) when not only the facts support it, but also various perspectives on those facts support it. Because facts are also subject to bias. That is, they may seem like simple facts, but memory is subject to emotion and bias, and perhaps we don’t remember that “fact” correctly. When people disagree over events, I’m willing to bet that all sides are not only subject to memory fault, but also with their ability to think intersubjectively about the issues well enough. That is, even if the actual facts are not in dispute, certainly our values, preferences and biases will shade how we skew how those facts interact with the world.

And then all we have is arguments steeped in motivated reasoning, mental health issues conflicting into personality disputes, and rifts with people who do not understand each other. We can do better.

Mental Health

keep-talking-about-mental-healthConcerning mental health, we have a similar problem at hand. The symptoms of mental health concerns are common among all of us, to varying degrees. Even if we are not diagnoseable per se, we may have behavior patterns, emotional issues, or cognitive impairments which cause us to miss seeing important influences on how we perceive and interact with the world. We should all be willing to recognize the symptoms of our behavior, how we are seen by people, and how we can improve.

If you suffer from symptoms consistent with anxiety, depression, or even a personality disorder, then you need to understand how those symptoms effect how you behave and think. You don’t have to be diagnoseable as a borderline to be subject to problems with emotional management, for example. You might not fall under 5 out of the 9 symptoms to learn something about yourself as a person, if you struggle with some of the symptoms.

Consider the difference between having to interact with a person who displays symptoms which cause conflicts but who is aware of them and is trying to solve them, rather than behave defensively and deny or rationalize their behavior as if nothing was wrong. I know that when I have been defensive and have rationalized my behavior, I have caused immense tension for other people. I care about that and I care about my mental health, so I work to overcome such struggles.  Because I know I am capable of rationalization and self-justification, I have to check myself in order to see if I’m not just emotionally or cognitively compromised when I’m in conflict with someone else. Learning how to see past your own biases is perhaps one of the hardest things we have to do, as humans.

Watching someone who is in defensive denial about their behavior is among the most frustrating and powerless positions I have dealt with in my life. For a person to get better, they first have to admit there’s a problem. If they are not willing or able to see the problem, any conversation, criticism, or attempt to help is met with a wall, emotional reactions (feeling “attacked”), or a counter-attack. Combine this with with intelligence and you have a recipe for bullying, enmity, and potential abuse. I’ve seen both sides of this, and we can do better.


Please, be willing to look honestly and fully at yourself. Do not merely invite criticism, but hear it. Do not merely argue your case, but try to understand your interlocutor as well. Learn as much as you can about not only logical fallacies but also cognitive biases, memory, self justification, cognitive dissonance, and mental health.  If we all do this more, there will be less drama in the world (wouldn’t that be nice!).

There are genuine causes for personal and cultural rifts. Sometimes, people are just harmful and wrong. But sometimes those narratives we tell ourselves about how terrible someone else is are based in cognitive errors and may be related to mental health concerns. Sometimes, when all sides are a little wrong, we can convince ourselves that it’s just them.

Own your mistakes, try and mitigate our blame of others’ mistakes, and do not allow tribal thinking, self-justification, and anger to shape how we interact with each other. Because even if you have reason to be angry with someone, there is often room to step back and realize why they are angry with you, and what you both might learn from each other if you just stop drowning in your own emotional and cognitive crap. If we fail to do so, we risk exacerbating conflicts rather than potentially solve them.

Of course, I don’t expect some people to hear or understand what I mean here. That might mean that I’m just wrong, but it could also mean that those people are just too biased to comprehend.

More likely, however, is the possibility that I’m a little wrong, and they are a little biased.

I still have to try.


Being optimistic about radical mood shifts May 28, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: , ,
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Overwhelming emotion has been a story of much of my life.  From a bad temper as a child to the likelihood of anxiety and traumatic memories suddenly paralyzing me or causing dramatic behavior today, it is a thing I deal with most days.  I can be calm one moment and in a minute I can be full of flurries of fear, hurt, and am shaking so much that it’s hard to type. This, in fact, happened to me while I was composing the draft of this blog post, because I received news that triggered fear, anxiety, and anger in me. I had to walk away from the post for several hours before continuing, knowing that had I continued as was, the post would have been full of anger. Parts may still contain a bit of that.


The Cause

drowningThe neuroscience of BPD says that borderlines tend to have smaller amygdalas, and when a stressful stimuli occurs what happens in the parts of the brain responsible for emotional managements (amygdala included) is that it acts sort of like a small engine which revs up really fast, putting the person in a situation where they pass the appropriate level of emotion for that situation and often towards emergency levels of emotion. This, combined with the decreased activity in the pre-frontal cortex, where executive decision making, complex problem solving, and the ability to cognitively distinguish between nuanced ideas happens, causes a potentially explosive situation.

It’s like having the fight/flight reflex happen merely at hearing bad news. Wait, no, it’s not merely like that; that actually happens to me sometimes..

This state of affairs leads to a mood where impulses become much more problematic. For me, these impulses feel like swimming within an ocean of a new mood which I am drowning in. It’s like I was suddenly inundated with the waters of fear, anxiety, etc and the sudden desire to say something, do something, or hide in a corner alone is like being near something which is floating. To have the wherewithal to recognize that I’m not actually drowning and the floating thing is actually a hungry bear is a difficult challenge.

These sudden changes in the emotional environment within me may persist over an extended period of time, which for me is usually hours rather than days or longer (as with, for example, bipolarity, where the mood may last for weeks or longer.). Often, the mood will pass within minutes, depending on the severity and the cause. Adjusting to the emotion, allowing it to calm over time and through positive stimuli (affection usually helps), and preventing it from perpetuating via re-engaging the triggers all help avoid giving into the impulses.

Essentially, radical mood swings can sometimes mean going from calm to crazy in a few seconds.  And because the parts of the brain responsible for emotional control and rational thinking are suddenly compromised, suddenly and often without much warning, one doesn’t always have time to prevent the emotion from taking over. The real strategy is to avoid triggering stimuli where you can, which can hard when sometimes that stimuli is a memory or a person (who might show up at any time at a social event, for example).

While there are medications which might help with this, for many borderlines the medication sometimes has little to no effect or the side effects may be worse. I am currently on no medication, and given my progress I am not convinced that I will need to start taking them. I will continue to monitor how mood shifts continue in the future, and re-evaluate whether I might want to consider medication in the future as that monitoring continues.


Stress, Anxiety, and Trauma

mood swing dbt opposite actionBeing me, some days, is like walking around with a box full of fireworks in a warehouse partially on fire. If I pay enough attention, am diligent and careful, and if the fires around me are not too close, I will be fine. Triggers can range from specific people, being treated a certain way, having plans I was looking forward to cancelled, etc. One minute I’m fine, but hear some news, see a person, or am reminded of something painful. The next thing I know I’m (at worst) crying, alone, fighting of really strong impulses which will probably not end well, even if they are sometimes meant with the best intentions.

I don’t always succeed in resisting such impulses. Sometimes the radical mood shifts lead to dramatic behaviors. Sometimes it just leads to periods of depression punctuated by moments of intense hurt, unloving behavior towards people I genuinely care about, and further distance from everyone.

We all have things which cause anxiety, stress, and many of us have traumatic memories. I have lots of all of these. One specific traumatic event which happened shortly after college and involved a woman who I was engaged to, a daughter we had and gave up for adoption, and my finding out that my fiance had taken me for every cent I was worth and put me in massive debt was probably the major event that pushed me over the line of being diagnoseable (although it was years before I was diagnosed).

And as more traumatic life circumstances perpetuated, the amount of raw emotion present in my day-to-day life increased. Over the last few years of my life, I have dealt with being abandoned in a city where I knew almost nobody by someone I decided to trust. There was one bad living situation where Ginny and I were treating like servants, living in a basement and permitted to come upstairs only at allotted times. And while the events of a few years back still sting, they don’t have the potential, most of the time, to hijack my mood completely. More recent events of another unhealthy living situation are still quite fresh and have caused me a lot of trauma which have caused a variety of radical mood shifts over the last few months.

Those experiences existed alongside the many other complications of coming to grips with a diagnosis which excavates many deeply buried feelings, triggers, and memories. Much of the last few years have been a mine-field of sadness, trauma, and anger for me, especially very recently.

TrustWhat I need from people close to me is some level of genuine consideration, and ideally care and love. (It’s fair to point out that this is also what I need to be giving, rather than allow the effects of these mood shifts to cause bad behavior on my part).  And I get these things from many people, and my appreciation for that is immense.

But I cannot receive this from every direction, nor would it be rational to expect or hope that it would. We need to pay attention to where the love comes from, where the abuse comes from, and also that just because love or abuse came from somewhere it does not mean it will always come from there. People change, especially after formative events, and we should allow for the possibility that people will grow or that we had them wrong all along.

This is something I am constantly trying to remind myself of; the people that hurt me are not all evil nor will they necessarily always hurt me. I cannot lock in my view of a person for all time based purely on previous behavior and treatment, even if this is a significant or primary factor. I must also consider factors such as their willingness to change, their continued behavior to other people, and what they also did that was good towards me. Loss of trust, in other words, can be compared to how we think about prison; we can think of it as a pace to keep dangerous people away, or a place to give people a chance to be rehabilitated.

Because I recognize that I am a person who is capable of very good things but have also done terrible things, I have to accept the possibility that people who have hurt me might be equally capable of good, even towards me. Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic right now (where earlier I was much more cynical), but most of the time I want to give people an opportunity to surprise me and to prove my estimation of them wrong.

Of course, there is always a line beyond which forgiveness and opportunities is too far removed. I would not advocate for this mentality to be applied to all situations, and am not precisely sure where the line is. I do, however, believe that when trust is attached to pain, it rarely will grow back. When trust is attached to our ability to grow, it slowly heals pain.


Causes and Types of Mood Swings

On Monday (Memorial Day), Ginny and I were driving back from Delaware where we had been visiting my mom for the weekend. We had been doing holiday weekend beach-bumming and drinking happy hour drinks, and on that ride back we were listening to one of my favorite albums (Collective Soul’s Dosage, if you’re curious). This is relevant for two reasons.

One, this album always makes me feel good (just like Counting Crows’ August and Everything After and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, among a few others) so it is a good example of a trigger than can effect my mood. But in this case, it’s relevant because despite the previous reason, I was suddenly, while driving and listening, struck with some recent and painful memories which started to suck me into a hole of hurt, anger, and depression. I had to fight them off by singing along, which got easier as I forced myself to ignore those memories. I was in a tug of war with the sadness, hurt, and overwhelming sense of existential loneliness inside me as well as the music which I love surrounding me and with my lovely and amazing wife next to me.

Such juxtapositions are very common for me, and they can be confusing for people close to me. There may seem to be a contradiction about being surrounded by people who love you and feeling crappy anyway, but it happens. Close temporal proximity of moods with conflicting natures is just part and parcel of my borderline existence.

Music can be a trigger for emotions, sure, but what about other things?

Clutter, disorder, and mistakes (especially if I make them) are a big source of mood shift for me. Staying too long in a messy place has a visceral and powerful effect on my mood. I may appear calm and normal, but if the space I’m in is especially dirty or disorganized (and not in a minor way; it has to be pretty significant to bother me) then I will be fighting back feelings of discomfort and the constant struggle against such feelings will make me more susceptible to other kinds of triggers, since I’m already taxing my mind by managing strong feelings.

If I make a mistake, I often  punish myself internally. I have been known to get really angry if I miss an exit on a highway, especially if it’s because I got distracted. Not rational or proportional, I know. Remember the emotional management part of the brain going from calm to crazy? Yeah, it’s that. What should be a minor annoyance at most turns into heightened anger at myself or others for minor issues.

click for an unrelated, but interesting, story

click for an unrelated, but interesting, story

Dismissal or inconsiderate behavior is another. The closer someone is to me, the more powerful any level of rejection will feel. If a girlfriend were to dismiss a a struggle of mine, a desire of mine, etc it would really hurt. Luckily for me, all of my partners are very unlikely to do such a thing, so this is not a major concern for me. If a close acquaintance perpetually ignores me or scoffs at me, this is also painful and can trigger all sorts of mood shifts, but usually hurt and anger. This also does not usually happen (anymore), so it is not an every day concern.

A person who is coldly indifferent to the needs, preferences, or desires of others is also a major trigger from me. It’s one of the reasons one of my values is attention and empathy.

What about every day things? Well, as Ginny can attest, any annoying problem with (for example) one of my computers, especially if it was just working, makes me hella cranky. If I’m writing, being interrupted also makes me cranky and I will more likely ignore or be rude to someone who does so. Also, if I’m thinking really hard about a problem I have not yet solved, being asked about it makes me (you guessed it) cranky.

Why? Well, in these cases it is because I have managed to avoid radical mood shifting events for a while, and have settled into a place of some peace, order, and productivity where I am capable of moving forward and creating something worthwhile. But one idiosyncratic aspect of my mind is that (for many complicated reasons) I can lose a whole idea very very easily.  Ideas form in my head like holograms, the whole is in a part, and the parts contain the whole.  If I lose a train of thought and lose an idea, I might not get it back. Losing that train is one of the most powerful triggers, day-to-day, which can cause me to feel a lack of control and brings forth feelings of incompetence and frustration.

So, given this, one would think that the best thing to do, if I look like I’m concentrating and alone, would be to leave me alone. But then theirs the other side of this.

If I’m feeling crappy, I’ll sometimes lose myself in a game (although not always a game) as a sort of escape from the pain for what’s getting to me. If I stay there too long then I don’t want to leave, due to the numbing effect of the escape. The problem is that from the outside, telling the difference between the two can be hard, and even Ginny does not often know the difference all the time. If depression and deep contemplation look the same, what is a partner to do?

This, oddly, seems appropriate here.

This, oddly, seems appropriate here.

Well, as I have told Ginny, if a person comes over to me and touches me affectionately in order to get my attention and I don’t respond in any way or I pull away, then something is wrong. If I respond, but make it calmly , lovingly, verbally clear I’m working on something, then I’m fine. When I’m not fine, however, I sometimes need a tug away from the funk I’m in. And here is where these mood shifts have always become a problem for relationships, especially if we’re cohabiting.

One of the easiest ways that I can reel towards unhealthy and abusive behavior is when I continue to not be fine for extended periods of time, and then when I finally pull myself up a little bit the mood has not lifted and I am, you guessed it, exceedingly cranky. Then any communication becomes hard, and my deep feelings surface in the form of lashing out. If I’m in the funk, my behavior becomes erratic, hurtful, and sometimes mean. And I hate that part of me. I need to stop hating that part of me because hating it only makes it worse.

I have so many horrible memories of being in deep funks of depression and having a loved one try and reach out to me for attention, affection, and time together only to have me push them away.  This, over time, turns into a cycle of emotionally abusive treatment which I desperately want to avoid. The problem is one of lack of communication about how I’m hurting, and it is unacceptable and needs to stop. I may occasionally need a loved one to pull me out of a funk. but it’s my responsibility to communicate about feeling shitty before I get sucked into that funk in the first place.

Which means that I need to exist, most of the time, in an environment conducive to emotional openness and vulnerability. I need not to be scared, feel bullied, or out-right abused myself. And if I’m not feeling scared, bullied, and abused then I am much better at communicating and not treating partners badly due to a mood swing sinking me into a depressive funk. Depression will still happen, but so long as I can communicate on the way down and keep my loved ones close, walking out of it in a few hours will be easy and the ensuing communication will lead to more intimacy and closeness rather than distance, hurt, and damage to trust.


The Solution (a work continually in progress)

Healthy_habitsSo, how can this mess be fixed? How can I, as a person who struggles with symptoms of a disorder which fills me with fear of abandonment, feelings of emptiness, has the potential to make relationships difficult, makes me impulsive, and which subjects me to radical mood shifts succeed in the environment of polyamory? How can I navigate these harsh seas without sinking the ship?

In many ways, it’s akin to writing a symphony.  Or, since I’m not a composer, it’s akin to appreciating the complexities, inter-weavings, and beauty of a symphony. If you have an idea of a theme for a piece of music, you can both anticipate and be moved by it. It may not do exactly as you’d expect or like, and there may be moments when you yearn for a note or a phrasing which will either be left silent or returned to later in beautiful and often emotionally powerful ways.

Over here, we have a deep, trembling, emotional tone (perhaps of a cello) which demands patience but is also capable of providing a sense of grounding and power to the music. Over there is the dancing quickness of the violin (for example), capable of soaring to emotional heights of joy and depths of sadness, but it’s part is different from the low tones and can often grab a hold of your attention in order to drags you along  with it. The people in our lives play different parts, in different ways. And sometimes, according to what piece of music you want to play, the bassoon, piano, or timpanis may not work where in another they would be an appropriate addition.

But more important is the fact that we are not any one piece of music. Perhaps today I’m a playful divertimento, but tomorrow I’ll be a morose requiem (I’m been listening to Mozart today). With each mood, comes a different kind of music, and different people can play different roles in these moments. The people who keep coming back to play parts in our lives are the people we will develop close ties with. They fit us in different ways, at different times, and they help fill out the whole of our lives. Each mood, even the unpleasant ones, have people who can play parts within them.

heraclitus-quoteWe are complicated beings. We are not one thing, and we cannot (and should not) be defined by a single ideal or goal. We have to learn to move freely between our selves, including our moods, because they will happen whether we like it or not. We will change as people, both in the short term ups and downs of mood as well as the slow progression of intellectual, emotional, and social growth over years. We will learn new things about ourselves frequently, and we have to become comfortable with the fact that we are not people defined by either our past (our mistakes or successes), our present (how we are currently feeling), or our future (our ideals or goals). We are in flux, a Heraclitean river unto ourselves.

I am not a borderline. My disorder, as it exists right now, does not define me in any ultimate or unchangeable way. My past mistakes do not define me. The mood I’m in now will not determine who I am, because I know that it will change and I will float through sadness, happiness, and all the spaces around from day to day. My future is not limited to neither the ideals I might hold nor the symptoms which seek to imprison me. Ideals and anxieties of the future are not reality, and they don’t have to become real.

As a person who does not believe in free will as a possible state of affairs, I must recognize that the deterministic processes around me are the ultimate choosers.  At the same time, I cannot see all of what those factors are.  My will is as much a part of that process as it is a result of it. I cannot know the future, so there is no difference, from my limited scope, from being free and being constrained by the laws and forces of a deterministic nature..

My disorder is not an excuse, it is not a definition, and it is no more permanent, in the larger frame of time of my life, than my mood is right now to the frame of time of this week. I have hurt people, I will likely hurt people in the future, and I have many regrets in my life. My goal is not to never hurt anyone again because that would be futile and the prophesy it’s own failure. My goal is to continue to be aware of the geography of my mental landscape and to find the people who will contribute to the many symphonies which I am capable of playing.


Ludvig van Beethoven

And when hard moments, days, weeks, and months come (and they will), I will hope to allow them to pain my heart the way that Beethoven does in his 7th symphony, second movement; it will ache, it will make me want throw myself to the fire, but when that next piece of music come son I’ll be ready to dance. Those moments of paralyzed distance, where I need to be pulled out by loved ones, need to be moments of perspective and opportunities for intimacy, not potential for lashing out. Where I’m hurting, I need to recognize that there are people close by who wish to see me dance as well.

What the world has to offer, whether self-centered jerks, beautiful creative people, or all the NPCs of our lives, will give us all sorts of boons and banes. But the jerks can’t always hurt us nor can the beautiful people always raise us up. And remember; sometimes the jerks and the beautiful people are interchangeable from year to year, month to month, and maybe day to day. We are, all of us, legion. They, like you and I, are not defined by their past, present, or future. There may be many parts of them unseen by us. Remember to allow people to surprise you and I will try the same..

In the end I will continue to be optimistic about the people who have hurt me, knowing very well that this consideration may never be returned to me. I will not resign to classify others any more then I will allow them to classify me. Caution, not borders, is what is needed. I’ll try to remain cautiously optimistic, and not allow any person to define me any more than my moods.

And hopefully, soon, I will be on the borderline of not being constantly afraid, hurt, and angry.

I look forward to that day and I hope there will be many others with me along the road. The road to recovery is difficult but manageable with appropriate levels of compassion, empathy, and willingness not to define each other merely by the hurt we cause.



Impulsiveness: The invisible villain within May 21, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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Amygdala-hippocampusI have never had an MRI or any other brain-imaging done to verify this, but I have reason to suspect that I may have a smaller hippocampus and possibly a reduced amygdala.

Why would I suspect such a thing? Well, people who have symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder tend to have these brain regions of reduced size, especially those with comorbid PTSD (source). People with reduced hippocampi tend to be more impulsive.

Borderlines tend to be impulsive.

Emotional management and impulsiveness are, in many ways, the hallmark of dealing with BPD. If you know a borderline, what you expect is a person who can shift moods quite quickly, and you might see a pattern of destructive behavior. For many borderlines, this takes the form of heavy drug use, unhealthy levels of promiscuity, etc. In other words, impulsive and potentially destructive behavior.


Perpetual fighting and flighting

Fight-Or-FlightHave you ever been suddenly scared and felt yourself become overwhelmingly alert, reactive, or anxious? Your adrenaline spikes, your fight/flight instincts kick in, and while you are more alert you may find that if you tried to apply some rational analysis to the situation you may be unable to do so. Some series of events have kicked up the parts of your brain responsible for quick decision-making, such as defending yourself or running away, but your resources towards rational thinking are temporarily compromised.

Now, imagine that this happened to you frequently, as a response to mild sources of stress or social situations. Imagine that this happened at a party or around certain (types of) people. Imagine if you grew up with this always happening to you, and so you didn’t realize this was abnormal. There are reasons I choose writing as an outlet, and tend to be quiet in person.

Living within a mind populated by fears of abandonment, chronic feelings of emptiness, and drastic mood swings (we’ll get to that in the next post) puts that mind on high alert all the time. Most of the time, I can easily manage impulses, whether they are to eat that whole container of ice cream, responding to that idiotic post or comment on the internet, or punching that douche-bag.  In my life, I have eaten whole containers of ice cream, responded to idiots on the internet, and while it has been very rare (attending a Quaker school probably helped this) I have thrown a couple of punches.

But these types of impulses are not the largest concern for me. In my case, the larger concern is what I will call the potential monster lurking under the dark waters, barely seen but always present. This is the monster that interferes with rational thinking, probably due to the abnormal brain physiology consistent with BPD. You may have known me for years and never realized it was there. A few people do know it well, some of which do not speak to me any more. And yet, some both know about it and are close to me, probably because those people are amazing and awesome.

And, of course, my impulses, great and small, have led to amazing and awesome people leaving me. Hence my intense desire to understand, treat, and heal from the pain that often causes my impulses. Emotions and desires lead to impulses. Impulses can lead to both good and bad actions, but also to a wide range of radical mood shifts.

I have intentionally planned this post directly before the last in this series, wherein I will talk about radial mood shifts and emotional instability, because that instability and shifting is largely due to the presence of an aspect of my mind which sometimes terrifies me and forces me to be perpetually vigilant against an impulsiveness which is usually not a problem.



In stead

I need one of these

I need one of these

The fact that we all want to think of ourselves as good, smart, rational people means that we might lean towards self-justification in most cases, and this is also true of myself. But in my case, and I have no idea how this is true for other people, I’m almost always aware of the monster swimming under the murky surface which might, at any moment, cause me to make a poor decision, lash out suddenly and without apparent cause (there is a cause, it’s just usually buried under tons of emotions), or to spend hours or days parrying impulses towards a person who has severely hurt me. These feelings are the source of rationalization, self-justification, and cognitive biases.

When I first drafted this section, I spent some time composing examples of impulses, struggles with internal impulses to act in ways which might hurt people (because I’m being hurt by them), etc. As I kept writing, it became clear to me that the writing itself was a metaphor for itself. I was succumbing to the impulses that I was speaking of, and the tone of the section was highly aggressive, angry, and ultimately full of deep pain.

Because Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. After I wrote several paragraphs, I realized I was writing out of pain, anger, and I was suffering. And I wanted to redirect that suffering elsewhere. Those impulses to redirect pain (and abuse) are what has ended many of my relationships. I found myself doing that here, in writing about impulsiveness. Funny how that happens.

My writing was becoming an attack, not only upon people who have hurt me, but also upon myself. This is the largest, for me, result of my impulsivity.  For me, being impulsive does not play itself out as drug abuse,gambling, or unhealthy sexual promiscuity. I don’t seek fights, stay out all night drinking, or go home with someone from a bar whom I hardly know.

Instead, my impulses lead to a frequent state of mind where the possibility for a rational or philosophical analysis are hindered. I find myself arguing between options which are all impulse-based, led by raw emotion, and I have to calm myself down to think rationally. Often anger and pain are the dominating emotions at such times, but not always. I am aware of this, most of the time, so I can catch it in order to calm myself down and re-evaluate (as I did here). As the years have gone by, this struggle and the subsequent need for re-evaluation has ended up making me too afraid to act in most cases just in case my decision might be made in a compromised state of mind.

That is, just in case my rational attributes are compromised (because if they are, I probably don’t know it) I have learned not to act, most of the time, rather than to act poorly. Of course, I do things quite often and sometimes a poor decision slips in, despite my trying to not allow poor impulses to make the decisions. The problem has become how to act wisely. How can I trust my ability to make decisions when I occasionally make really poor ones? Would trusting myself more make me more or less likely to act impulsively?

My intentions are good, the vast majority of the times (which is to say, I occasionally have impulses which don’t come from good places). I don’t want to hurt people, I want to treat people well, and I want healthy relationships. These are all trustworthy attributes, so long as I’m capable of practicing them in actual behavior (which is the vast majority of the time).  I trust my ability to act morally and responsibly when I’m able to think clearly and rationally. And despite the fact that I usually act rationally and responsibly, that I make mistakes weighs heavily on my mind most of the time. I’m sure none of this is different from most of you who are reading this.

But my having a (likely) abnormal brain physiology, the skills to manage such human impulses require more honing and attention than with most people. We all can occasionally give in to an impulse, hurt someone, and then have to find a way to atone. The problem for me is that the little impulses every day lead to a habit of doing things which create day-to-day struggles for people close to me, which are often the result in tiny slippages of impulse control.

These slips can come to look like I’m a person to be afraid of, to not trust, and at it’s worst can turn into abuse. It is my most important day-to-day concerns to treat people well, anticipate their needs and triggers, and to listen and be self-critical.  When things are very stressful for me, especially when I’m experiencing abuse myself, I have hurt people. I have lost relationships. I have lost trust.

I cannot take back my actions, but I can continue to be self-critical, listen to people around me, and be more aware of the causes of my behavior. And despite my mistakes, I have many people who do trust me because they know that I don’t deny responsibility for my actions, I am working to be better, and that trust is about who we are as people–if we are self-critical, if we are empathetic, and if we seek to learn from mistakes– as much as what we merely do.

And as my environment improves, I learn more about my disorder, and as I heal from traumatic experiences, my ability to manage normal levels of impulses becomes easier and I am less anxious and stressed. Where I, in unhealthy environments, had to be vigilant 24/7, now I just need to be aware of potential stressers and prepare for them when necessary.

Just like everybody else, except I probably have some abnormal brain physiology that makes it harder for me than most people. Lucky me.


Impulsiveness and relationships

communication-problemsWhat does this have to do with polyamory? Well, insofar as a person might be more impulsive in terms of pursuing sexual contact with more people, it might be a problem is some cases. Where increased drug use, gambling, etc affects relationships, it is relevant as well. It will effect communication and other aspects of interaction within relationships, but so long as that polyamorous environment is healthy, emotionally open, and everyone is aware of the issues and adjusts (to some reasonable degree, of course) to those issues, these symptoms are manageable.

Outside of the rare case where impulsiveness might lead to a decision which hurts a partner, most of my concern with impulsiveness comes from how I react to a recurring stressful situation or person. For me, the biggest concern about impulsiveness has been problems with a tendency to communicate with, react to, or act upon partners and metamours in ways, day to day, where I have not taken enough time to govern my impulses. That is, this is relevant to polyamory in the sense that it is relevant to any relationship.

Impulsiveness, and the subsequent shiftiness of moods, make communication difficult much of the time. Despite my desire for intimacy and emotional openness, because I’m managing impulses frequently this will sometimes interfere with my ability to communicate effectively. The resulting anxiety will have effects on my relationships.

I communicate my desires and needs poorly as a result of such anxieties. If I’m being hurt by someone, my ability to address this is hampered by a constant slew of impulses to say or do hurtful things in response. If I’m hurting someone, my ability to make amends is interrupted by an impulse to self-justify. If someone is walking away in frustration or fear, personally attacking me, or I’m being misunderstood or demonized then the problem is that I’m so busy fighting off the strong emotional impulses to lash out due to the fears and emptiness this brings to mind, that I am more likely to confirm any negative opinions of me than to demonstrate otherwise, if I do respond

This, unfortunately, leads to inaction where action is sometimes needed. And while I recognize that the ability to act, when appropriate, is healthier and better, sometimes it feels impossible to do so.  Sometimes it may be unwise to do so, as a borderline, where for otehr people doing so would be good. Having these symptoms, I know that acting in some circumstances will expose me to overwhelming amounts of stress, anxiety, and my ability to manage impulses will probably be broken.

For people with mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, or a personality disorder which makes speaking up, demanding right treatment, or self confidence hard, to be told that we are somehow failing because of our inaction only rubs salt into the wound, because we already know that.

Any person proceeding with comparable ease in asserting oneself and not being paralyzed by fear, anxiety, or emotional management is in a place of privilege. A place of privilege should be a place of compassion and understanding, not accusation and superiority. I’m in a place where I need understanding, encouragement, and care and not judgment, abuse, and demonization. I’m trying very hard to manage intense impulses, mood swings, and fears every day. If you are not, then making assertive decisions, requests, etc is easy.

Communication will often be hard for me until I reach the point of remission; until I am no longer diagnoseable. Until then, please remember that my disorder may not give me a free pass on my mistakes, but it also does not define me in any essential or fundamental way. Don’t allow anyone to only be defined by their mistakes, because we all make them. We all sometimes succumb to the worst impulses within us,and we all need to remember that each of us has also done good as well as bad.

My impulses, when I’m in a healthy place, are manageable and often good as well as bad. I’m hoping for more impulses to say hello, to give hugs, and to force myself to move past my fears and develop relationships of all kinds. Because some impulses should not be resisted.

Right now, I’m having an impulse to stop writing.