What Do You Do When Someone You Love Is Outed as an Abuser? 5 Tips From Our Therapist

  Image by The NY Times

Image by The NY Times

The above image is a quote from Sarah Silverman's moving monologue on November 16th. She's referring to her longtime friend and fellow comedian, Louis CK, after he was outed for decades of sexual misconduct. Turns out one of my favorite comedians had a knack for going up to women and asking if he could jerk off in front of them...and then proceeded to jerk off in front of them.

There's no excuse for this behavior, as Sarah reiterates. And while I'm totally in favor of outing abusers and holding them accountable regardless of who they are, I must admit that I've experienced a few moments recently that have given me pause. As it turns out, when someone you look up to or maybe even love in real life is outed as an abuser, the emotions that follow aren't so simple – even though the line between morally right and wrong is unwavering. 

I was a fan of Louis CK. I was a fan of Senator Al Franken. And in the case of my longtime friend Luke, I was more than a fan. I was a close friend.

But we know this is all part of the process. If we are going to create real and lasting change in our society, if we are going to redefine the standards in which we support survivors of sexual abuse and hold perpetrators accountable, then we must set and adhere to this new, higher standard. We must have a zero tolerance policy. But that doesn't mean it will be easy. That doesn't mean it won't be painful. As Sarah Silverman says in her monologue, "Some of our heroes will be taken down. We will discover things about people we like, or in some cases, people we love."

And when it comes to people we love, deciding whether or not to end the relationship or set new boundaries can be one of the most difficult decisions many of us will ever have to face. To help us process these the complexity of this situation, we sat down with our favorite therapist, Janie McGlasson, once again. (And we will keep doing so until she stops answering our calls.) Here are her tips for moving through this painful process:

1. Don't make excuses. There is never a good reason to abuse another person. Never. Morally we know this and must always remember it.

2. Remember their humanity. Many perpetrators, especially abusers or those that have committed crimes against children, are seen as animals or robots when people find out. You are allowed to hate the decisions they have made while still acknowledging that they are human and should be treated accordingly.

3. Understanding is NOT the same as justification. If the outed abuser is someone you are close to, you can seek to understand the motive or impulse – only if and when you are ready. For some, it may be helpful to understand if your friend or loved one has a history that impacted their decisions. Many abusers were abused themselves or were treated with unhealthy power dynamics that they then play out with people who they perceive to be “less powerful” than they are. Remember that you are not making excuses for their actions, but doing this for your own process. It can shed light on how someone you care about could make such inconceivably hurtful decisions.

4. Set boundaries. If you plan to stay in contact with this person, you need to have clear boundaries in place that make you feel safe and protected. The other person should be seeking professional help before they are allowed to contact you. Your new relationship and interactions will look very different going forward. How often you talk, what topics you feel comfortable discussing, how often you see one another – these are all conscious choices you must make to feel safe and comfortable.

5. Process. Find a safe person to process with. It will take time to process your sadness/anger/fear/confusion whether you decide to stay in touch with this person or not. Find a friend, loved one, or therapist who you can open up to and process these complex emotions with.

If someone you love has been outed as an abuser and you want help processing, contact Janie McGlasson, LMFT at janie.mcglasson@gmail.com to set up an appointment.