1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 5. Connection/ Community

5 Strategies for Surviving Psychological Abuse on a National Scale

This piece was originally posted on February 8, 2017 on the Society for Research on Adolescence Emerging Scholars blog.

Alternating between mocking and manipulative platitudes.

Outright lying.

These are all aspects of intimate partner abuse. Or, to speak in terms of adolescents, tactics of teen dating violence. This is what I study and teach about – what I work to prevent, understand, and address. This is something I’ve lived through, too.

I never thought it would be so politically relevant.

There is so much that is not normal that is coming out of the White House right now. The discriminatory posturing from the campaign trail is turning into actual discriminatory policies. What I’m talking about is not just those specific policies but the comprehensive pattern of behavior towards entire segments of the population (including scientists and academics). Repeatedly, survivors of domestic abuse and other abusive relationships have spoken up about the ways in which they are triggered and traumatized by Trump’s bullying, lying, victim-blaming, and other forms of psychological manipulation and devastation.

So from educators, organizers, researchers, and people who themselves have lived through these experiences – here are five ways we can use knowledge about surviving abusive relationships to guide our collective resilience in 2017.

1. Don’t blame – Recognize abuse of power for what it is.

When harm occurs, the people responsible for that harm are the ones who chose to use their power to exert undue control. This harm can include grief, fear, loss of resources, loss of security, injury, and death. Don’t blame the victims. No one deserves to be hurt. Keep the focus on the ones causing harm – and don’t let them off the hook.

2. Don’t gaslight – Believe people’s reports of their own experiences.

Gaslighting is an abusive tactic that denies a person’s experience of reality until that person can no longer trust their own truth. When people are getting hurt, or when people are scared of getting hurt, we must believe them. Even if we can’t see it, and we can’t imagine their fear or anger or distress being warranted in this moment. The psychological effects of abuse and trauma may seem like overreactions to people who aren’t living within that experience, but they are not overreactions. To best take care of each other, we need to first believe each other, and bear witness to the painful nuances of what is happening.

3. Don’t numb out – Name your feelings, and engage in active coping.

I’m asking you to stick with the hard stuff. We live in a world where fear, anger, abuse, and trauma are real every day, and we’re going to need ways to feel as much of it as possible. Naming difficult emotions helps us accept and move through them. Journaling, taking physical care of ourselves, and finding others to give and receive care with, can help us build our capacity to hold and live with these difficult feelings. Emotions carry important information about how we are doing and how other people are doing. We can’t ignore these signals – we must feel, and respond.

4. Don’t isolate – Reach out and connect with family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.

Isolation makes us even more vulnerable to psychological control and emotional despair. Avoiding blame and avoiding gaslighting are all about making space to actually listen. Paying attention to our emotions lets us share our emotions with each other. Talk to people about your truth and your feelings. Name what you see. Hear their feelings. Hear what they see. Be willing to hear more from people around you and notice more about other people’s experiences than you have before. Refuse to normalize – and insist on caring about all of it.

5. Don’t bargain – Hold firm boundaries around what is okay and what is not okay.

It’s insidious. Abuse is so unreasonable, and it’s so hard to believe that doing reasonable things will not lead to reasonable outcomes. “If I could only…” or “if I did it right next time then…” will not work. There is nothing we can do to change the behavior of an abusive person. We will want to think we have figured it out, but we haven’t. Holding boundaries is the primary thing that will get us out. We cannot end the abuse – we can only resist control.

One more thing that helped me, and that has helped many young people, is understanding how abusive relationships are produced through oppressive social systems. Patriarchy, racism, and imperialism are all systems of abuse in which power is used to exert undue control over others. We can work together to address abuse – from preventing teen dating violence to curbing this spiral of political violence – by ending these systems of oppression. And we can only get to ending these systems of oppression if we know how to survive the psychological abuse perpetrated through them.

9. Racial Justice (Smash White Supremacy)

Intersectional Leadership

The speakers at the Women’s March on Washington called clearly for intersectional movement building. Following the leadership of Women of Color is not an abstract directive. Here are 25 Black Women and Black queer people whose work I will read, watch, listen to, respond to, and be accountable to:

And I will also follow #Our100 Women of Color leaders for the first 100 days of this dangerous federal administration. I am deeply grateful for this leadership.

5. Connection/ Community, 9. Racial Justice (Smash White Supremacy)


I march to undermine White Supremacy and support the Movement for Black Lives. I march as a queer femme and as a Jew and as a survivor and as a White person committed to anti-racist work with other White people, in solidarity with People of Color. I march for health insurance and public schools and trans rights. I march to end rape culture, to end sexual assault, and to end other forms of gender-based violence. I march to build caring relationships. I march for unapologetic intersectional progressive movements in which we are all indispensable. I march because I am indispensable. Because if I’m not part of the solution, I’m part of the problem.

9. Racial Justice (Smash White Supremacy), Charlottesville

Remove the Statue: The Struggle to Regain Lost Humanity

Dear Mayor Signer;

I hope you feel shame. I hope you could not sleep last night. I hope you stayed awake wondering why you shut down citizens who were telling you to your face that you are failing them. I hope you are struggling to regain the humanity that you have lost. Because by dehumanizing other people, you dehumanize yourself. I was dehumanized by just sitting in the City Council meeting, too. Now I am struggling to regain my humanity. Now I can’t sleep.

I lost my humanity in the name of decorum. I wanted to shout across the room to you – “ending racism will require ending business as usual.” Because it will. And you, last night, were all about business. The business of the City Council. The business of maintaining decorum. The business of hiring consultants to design a bigger, bolder monument, as if to compete with the structural racism perpetrated by the statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee.

Structural racism: racism perpetrated by the very structure of the city. Listen. Listen to how upset people are. Listen to how much it matters. Every day Black people in Charlottesville live their lives in a city that is complicit with their dehumanization. You know it, and I know it, and it’s on us to do something to change it.

I am a White person. When I moved here, the pattern was clear: Other White people told me how much they loved Charlottesville and how much they wanted everyone else to love it, too. People of Color I talked to, Black friends and colleagues, told a different story.

That park matters. The psychological toxicity of racism – minority stress and trauma – impacts everything from academic engagement to physical health to simply feeling okay as a person.

That statue is dehumanizing. Just as slavery is dehumanizing. Just as a registry and a wall would be dehumanizing. (I could go on.)

When you are complicit in dehumanizing Black people, your own humanity is compromised. That’s why I hope you can’t sleep. I hope you are mourning the loss of your own humanity and struggling to get it back. You can get it back! But you’ve got to try really hard, in ways you’ve never tried before. And it’s got to mean an end to business as usual.

Black lives matter.

Remove the statue.

Or step down and have Wes Bellamy lead instead, if you’d rather grasp at rhetorical unity than take real risks in pursuit of justice.

Here to help if I can.
Mimi Arbeit

I sent this letter to the Charlottesville Mayor, Mike Signer, after attending the January 17th City Council meeting. From about 9-11:30pm, the meeting focused on The Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces. The room was filled with people asking for the removal of the Confederate Robert E. Lee statue and the renaming of Lee Park; the demands were denied.

5. Connection/ Community

Cravings, 2017

I crave love letters.
I crave touch.
I crave community dinners where we stay up for hours
holding our hopes and dreams together.
I crave the moment of being held.
However that comes.
With talking, dreaming, dancing.
With hands, arms, legs, waist.
I crave the chance to hold.
Yesterday I held a sleeping baby,
while friends spoke with me of political resistance.
That felt good.
I crave courage and kindness and maturity and presence.
In myself, for sure.
And also in other people.
I crave other people who have and share these things, and who crave me, too.
I crave mutuality. I desire to be desired.
I’m nervous and eager, and I’m sure I’m messing it up for myself
by not being responsive enough.
Or maybe I’m too responsive. Too needy. Too eager.
I’m never quite sure.
I crave confidence.
Scratch that – I’m basically quite confident in myself.
I crave confidence in others.
That sounds like a terrible thing to say.
I crave the time and space that all of this takes.
Building trust, building confidence, building togetherness.
I crave this with the sharp pain of my own body.

5. Connection/ Community, 9. Racial Justice (Smash White Supremacy)

This #GivingTuesday, Give to the Resistance

Give a lot. Give more than you have in the past. Give to more radical places than you have in the past. Give in significant amounts right now, this week, because it is needed immediately. And set up recurring monthly donations, too, because this work needs to be sustainable. See more guidelines for giving here, and let me know if you want to talk through what giving plan might be right for you right now.


  1. Give to multiracial intersectional movement building, led by Black activists and other People of Color.


  1. Give to youth.


  1. Give to Queer and Trans People of Color.


  1. Give to the fight for sexual and reproductive rights.


  1. Give to independent media by Black folks and other People of Color.


  1. Give to individual movement builders with bills to pay.


  1. And give some more.


I welcome additions to this list, if you’d like to add a comment or contact me. I am thinking of organizations founded and led by People of Color – especially queer, trans, female, and feminine People of Color – doing intersectional movement building and resistance work.

Please let me know if you have any questions about people or organizations you might support, or if there specific goals you have for your giving/donations that you think I can help you achieve.

And I invite you to leave a comment when you do give, because I’d love to hear.

5. Connection/ Community, 9. Racial Justice (Smash White Supremacy)

Why and How and When to Give your Dollars

I’ve seen a lot of fellow White folks ready to donate money since the election. This is important. The redistribution of resources is urgent. See here for suggestions about where to donate money.

See below for thoughts about why and how and when.

I will not address the “how much” question in this post, aside from encouraging you to give a lot. More than you gave last year. And to more radical places. I acknowledge that financial traumas and related anxieties are real for many of us, no matter the numbers that define your current financial context. Check out these awesome resources from Hadassah Damien on financial fearlessness and healing while doing this work.

And then, give.


Give in significant amounts ASAP.

Now. Giving Tuesday. This holiday season. Before the end of 2016. Organizations and activists are recovering and regrouping and strategizing for how to approach the coming year. The money raised in the next month will shape what they can plan and how ambitious they can be. And we all need to be very ambitious.


Become a monthly sustainer.

Organizations and activists need to know what money they have now – and also what they can count on coming in down the line. Becoming a monthly donor shows them that you are in the process with them, and is helpful as they plan ahead. It helps them figure out how to make their work sustainable.


Give tax-deductible donations as well as not-deductible contributions.

This information should be clear on the organization’s website or on the automated thank-you note you receive. Although getting a tax deduction is certainly a perk, please consider also contributing to places that are not tax deductible – perhaps because they are new and not yet sponsored (read: institutionalized), because they want or need to remain political/partisan, or perhaps because they are individuals trying to get by in the world who sorely need your support. If you are tithing or using another system to set a goal of how much you want to give each year, consider setting separate goals for tax-deductible donations and non-deductible contributions.


Give because you mean it.

Get in touch with your most visceral reasons for giving. What are you yearning to accomplish, or to be a part of accomplishing? Are you motivated right now by plans for emergency management, doing damage control? Are you motivated to build a deeper and more radical grassroots movement? Do you want to make sure we are better networked and better organized before the next election? Do you feel an imperative to redistribute the wealth accumulated by your or your family’s participation in American capitalism/ colonialism/ imperialism? Are you ready to start the process of giving reparations to indigenous communities and to Black people whose families were enslaved and who are persistently targeted by multidimensional structural oppressions?


Give here.


For those of you who have the opportunity to move large amounts of money, or want to further get involved in mobilizing people with wealth, check out the book Classified and the work of Resource Generation.

5. Connection/ Community, 9. Racial Justice (Smash White Supremacy)

For White people asking me, What do we do?

Taking it step by step. Here’s where I was the first day.

I’ve had many White people – friends, colleagues, Facebook friends – ask me what we do. So here’s what I’m doing now, at least this first week.

Note: I am a queer femme survivor of sexual assault with an advanced degree and enough money. I write and love and work from all of those places. I write with the hope of engaging other White people. I also welcome feedback, pushback, and connection with folks of color who may be reading this, and I want to repeat over and over that I value you and I am with you.


1. Self and community care reminders

  • Water, sleep, food, movement, human company.
  • Offer support – particularly to people who have been the primary targets of this campaign and of American White Nationalism. Pay attention.
  • Reach out – to the extent that you are able – share your own emotional response with people who may be or feel more secure than you do right now – I specifically ask upset White people to reach out to other White people in your life. Maybe you’ll get some real, useful emotional support. And maybe also showing them why you’re agitated will get them agitated. And we need them, too. We need them with us.

***trauma triggers trauma***

We’re all going through different kinds of shock and grief and fear and betrayal and trauma right now… triggering different kinds of shock and grief and fear and betrayal and trauma that we’ve experienced previously… especially all that systemic stuff that is so interconnected. Hold that, give space for that, for yourself and for the people around you.

2. Action planning

  • Our 100 — An open letter to Our Nation from 100 women of color leaders — read and sign
  • Showing up for Racial Justice — engaging White people in racial justice work across the US — sign up, get connected
  • I am also planning a Skype series for anyone who wants to talk, to move from reflection to action. We will talk about Whiteness and the Vision for Black Lives and all that is happening around us and whatever else you/we need to talk about.

***White people need to listen to People of Color leadership and be ready to respond***

And by ready to respond, I mean ready to risk more and to contribute more than we ever have before. Professionally, emotionally, financially. To do that, we will need teams of people we love and trust who will hear us when this gets hard and push us and guide us through it. Let me know if you want me on your team.

3. Moving money

***pay folks of color for their labor and leadership***

Many people who can lead us out of this are right now unable to pay their bills. Medical bills. Student debt. Big bills. They are educators and activists and organizers and writers and designers and more. Hire them. Give them jobs, speaking gigs, consulting gigs. Give them money. And do not ask them to do anything for free.

That’s not to say there won’t be a lot of unpaid labor by folks of color in this process. There will be. It’s just that White folks shouldn’t be asking for their unpaid labor. At the same time, White folks who can should be investing more and more of our own unpaid labor – and we should be reorganizing budgets so we can pay folks of color for theirs.


More soon. Let me know if you want in on the Skype series, of course.

Thank you for reading. Be in touch. And please, please… stay alive.

5. Connection/ Community

First response.


Originally posted on Facebook, 10:00am Wednesday November 9th.

I’m here and I care about you and I’m worried about you. I’m fighting to dismantle White supremacist patriarchy and I’m in it with you and deeply grateful to those who are in it with me.

And I’m here for the work of taking care of each other. My heart goes out to the counselors and therapists and educators and activists and organizers and writers who are spending today holding space for others and making a plan. I’m here to offer care for you, too.

I’m paying attention and I’m ready and I don’t quite have plans yet but I’ll be in touch. I’m ready to act. I invite you to text or message or call if you have feelings or questions or plans or requests or just want to connect.

Black lives matter. I stand with Muslim folks and indigenous folks and refugees. Trans and queer and nonbinary and gender non conforming humans, I value you. I trust survivors. And there’s so much more and I will do better by you because you deserve better.

Lastly, trauma triggers trauma. I’ve heard from a lot of people already who are dissociated and I encourage you to try not to be alone today, and to check on your loved ones too.

7. Research & Academia, 9. Racial Justice (Smash White Supremacy)

Make-your-own Keynote: A Tool for Interactive Academic Conferences

This piece was originally posted on November 3, 2016 on the Society for Research on Adolescence Emerging Scholars blog.

Elise Harris, Lisette DeSouza, and I were three Emerging Scholars collaborating to run a one-day SRA preconference addressing anti-Black structural racism: #BlackLivesMatter: Can Adolescent Researchers Contribute to Racial Justice? (Emerging Scholars are encouraged to contribute to conference planning and related events!) Following conventional wisdom, we invited a senior scholar to provide the opening keynote. But with a few weeks to go, this person became unable to attend, and it was time to get creative…

Enter the Make-your-own Keynote activity.

What’s the purpose of a keynote? Or at least what were we, as event co-chairs, hoping would be accomplished by a morning keynote address? First, we wanted to ground the group in the urgency of the event’s topic. Next, we wanted to show the explicit connections between the topic at hand and the field of adolescent research. Finally, we wanted the keynote to provide a call to action that we could build on throughout the preconference session and beyond.

The day was organized such that the morning was for researchers to reflect with each other on our roles in addressing racism, in preparation for the afternoon panel of community organizers from Baltimore followed by a collaborative critique of four specific research projects. We started the morning by anchoring the discussion in its historical context and presenting the critical frameworks that informed our design of the day. That allowed us to set the tone, provide transparency for our intentions, and let people settle in. Then we started the activity.

  • Small groups: At the conference tables, in groups of about 4-8 people.
  • Plenty of time: We had planned 15 minutes in small groups, 15 minutes to share, and 15 minutes of discussion. In actuality, people wanted more time in small groups, and it was fine to only have 5 minutes for discussion because we still had the rest of the day together.

The full version of the Black Lives Matter keynote activity is here. Below, I offer an outline that can be adapted to address urgencies within racial justice and within social justice more broadly.

Part 1. Urgency

  1. What, for you, most signals the urgency to address [topic]?
  2. What theories or frameworks, if any, do you use to understand this urgency?

Part 2. Research and Application

  1. What do we already know, as adolescent researchers, that can be applied in response to this urgency?
  2. What further research, if any, is needed?

Part 3. Call to Action

  1. What are our options for responding to this urgency, in general, including in our personal lives?
  2. Can we contribute to these efforts as adolescent researchers?
  3. If so, how? And what are the potential unintended or negative effects of our “contributions”?

We had our own positions on the urgency of addressing anti-Black structural racism, the many layers of relevance within developmental science, and needed responses. Transitioning from our introductions to an interactive group activity benefited us as facilitators as we gathered participants’ needs, intentions, and pressing questions. In the room, we had around 50 people who were emerging scholars, senior scholars, and a few folks from local schools. There were many Black scholars, other scholars of Color, and several White scholars present. But how were we to know each person’s understanding of race and racism in adolescent research? The activity connected participants to each other and to the group, which expanded where we were able to take each other throughout the rest of the day.

Note: Although this activity can be adapted to a variety of topics, anybody using it is requested to promote a commitment to racial justice. As I prepared the “adaptable” activity outline for this post, I struggled to rewrite the last question on the worksheet:

  • In what ways do adolescent researchers perpetuate “business as usual,” and how can we reimagine our roles in striving for racial justice?

I can’t rewrite this question to erase the centrality of racial justice in our need to examine “business as usual” within academia. As I share this activity with you, I want to hold space for the content of this question. I hope you enjoy Make-your-own Keynote (and please let me know if you try it!) and I hope you consider, whatever topic you are using it to address, how that topic connects to the urgency of identifying and eradicating anti-Black racism from academia and from adolescent research.