Why Benevolence Can’t Be Our Way Out
Coming home yesterday, I stopped to pick up my mail.
While waiting for the elevator, I stopped on a hand-written letter addressed to me from a doctor’s office.
I opened it, and found a bill of about 3,000 dollars.
My face expressed my bewilderment at the amount alone, and I paused to look more closely at the sender.
The very first blog I published in October, describes a multi month horrifying experience with one of my surgeons, written in part as a way to validate that my experience was real. I wrote again recently about being contacted again by that surgeon, receiving a voicemail request to schedule an appointment.
What’s different about contact in the form of a bill is you can’t simply ignore it. The threat of escalation looms, leaving you with a coerced decision to reengage on some level.
At work this morning, said letter sits on my desk, reminding me that I have to deal with it.
When I realized initially that I was being gaslit by my doctor, I prioritized needing the relationship to end, understanding there would be other consequences. The biggest, apart from a disruption in my care, was a settlement payment to close out my bill after insurance. I engaged a lawyer, my parents, my other surgical team, my own boundaries and assertiveness, my insurance company, all in an attempt to find a compromise that I could realistically commit to, because it was clear that the gaslighting wasn’t ceasing. At a minimum, I needed to make sure I wouldn’t be billed for additional services or surgeries. The amount they said I owed was not an amount of money I could afford to pay on my own, and ultimately, I had to accept financial assistance.
Which brings me to a letter now sitting on my desk, a flooding of those fresh emotions returning.
There’s an illusion that when you give into a demand that there will be an end to it. That by doing what was needed, there will be the reward of it being behind you.
But frequently, that comes at the expense of a counter narrative being privileged, characterized by two factors.
1) An insistence that no harm occurred, an avoidance of accepting or admitting any responsibility
2) A display of faux benevolence, where as in this example a “reduced” sum payment amount was proposed and accepted
But because of the first variable, losing control of the narrative, you’ve green lighted the perspective of the other party, and become further dependent on their generosity.
I share this example, because it highlights again why consent violations can’t remain in our minds as only a sexual concept, or only an interpersonal concept.
To truly develop compassion for survivors and their responses to abuses of power of any kind, you have to understand power dynamics in the context of how they show up in tandem.
One thread becoming another, becoming another, leading you to choose the least harmful option as you understand it at the time, and yet never giving you confirmation that the experience will end there.
What is elevated is the power imbalance that continues to influence the chosen power dynamics, playing on a continued gaslighting that paints my reactions as overly sensitive, as reading something into it, as misunderstanding as I am said to before.
As required to remain engaged after I’ve said no.
As reminded that I am in an abusive relationship, and also the least credible perspective.
As told again that this hasn’t ended, and I don’t get to decide how it ends.
As shown again that this is a pattern of behavior, subtly and explicitly targeting me.
I look at this letter and I wonder how long this will be made to feel normal, and if our conversations about consent can grow beyond how they’ve looked.