The UK definition of “Domestic Violence” covers: “Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.”
As part of Domestic Violence Awareness month, @50shadesabuse will tackle each of those forms of abuse – psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional – and provide evidence of it being displayed in the popular 50 Shades of Grey series. In this blog, we look at psychological abuse.
Psychological abuse refers to a person subjecting another to behaviour that intends to cause emotional or psychological injury. This form of abuse may result in anxiety, depression or Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. Abusers often play upon an imbalance of power within a relationship. As psychological abuse is intended to seep into the victim’s brain, causing them to doubt themselves and their own worth, the person experiencing the abuse often blames themselves for it and does not label what is happening to them as any kind of mistreatment, imagining instead that they have brought it upon themselves through their own behaviour and they must change in order to fix the situation.
From very early on in the 50 Shades trilogy, we see Christian Grey using classic psychological abuse against Ana. It could be argued that even the wording of Christian’s “contract” for their D/s relationship is designed to cause Ana to question her own wants, needs and even her own intelligence. Ana is thrown in at the deep end, with no knowledge of the kind of world Christian expects her to enter and she is handed a faux-legal document, which she is expected to sign. Christian applies emotional pressure on her to sign the contract, without giving her adequate time to consider her response. Ana thinks: “My head is buzzing. How can I possibly agree to all this?” In a healthy relationship, her partner would realise that she should not be pressured into agreeing to something that is possibly not right for her. Unfortunately, the relationship portrayed in 50 Shades is unhealthy and when Ana jokes that “it has been nice knowing” Christian in an email, hinting that she’s not sure she’s ready for the kind of relationship he wants, he responds by turning up unannounced at her apartment, ready to cajole her into agreement through sex. He is showing no consideration for her needs or her concerns, thus subtly giving her the psychological message that only his desires are important. This sets the whole tone for their relationship.
In their early dates, Christian controls where and when they meet; again subtly letting Ana know that she is secondary to his whims, causing her to question herself. When she asks, in chapter 13 of book 1, whether she can drive to their date, Christian responds by insisting that she is picked up. She thinks to herself: “Doesn’t he understand that I may need to make a quick get-away? …I need a means of escape.” Clearly, even this early on in their relationship, Ana is harbouring concerns about her partner. This is evidence that Christian’s behaviour is beginning to take its toll on Ana’s psyche. She is becoming anxious and nervous at a point in their relationship where she should be feeling excited about their dates. In the same chapter, when Ana suggests that they eat somewhere public, in the hope of talking, rather than being distracted by Christian’s amorous advances, he replies: “Do you think that would stop me?” Ana refers to this as a “warning,” albeit a “sensual” one. Again, this is designed to let Ana know that he is in control, not her. Another psychological blow from this supposed romantic “hero.”
Christian also toys with Ana’s emotions by promising her one thing and delivering something else entirely. He tells her “we’ll take this slow,” yet his actions prove that he has no intention of doing so. This leads Ana to admit to being confused about the state of their relationship and she refers frequently to the power imbalance between them. Again, Ana’s internal monologue is filled with anxious questions and self-blame, when in fact the cause of this is not anything she has done, but Christian’s deliberate psychological tormenting of her.
In order to explain away his behaviour, Christian tells Ana that he is “fifty shades of fucked up” (chapter 16, book 1). Again, this sets a tone for their entire relationship, as it puts Ana in the position of nurse to Christian’s emotional wounds; a job she is not qualified for and which puts far too much pressure on her. However, these are not issues that trouble the abusive Christian. Although we are supposed to feel sympathy for Christian due to his harsh childhood, the message the book gives is that what he experienced is an excuse for his behaviour towards Ana. Sadly, it is worryingly common for abusers to explain away their behaviour by citing abuse or distress in their own past. There is never an excuse – abuse is always a choice and it is deeply concerning to see a best-selling novel perpetuate the dangerous trope that a person cannot help their behaviour in the present, if they were abused in the past. This is one of Christian’s most consistent and dangerous psychological tools. He is aware that if he continues to tell Ana that he is “messed up” and not to blame for his actions, Ana will continue to try to “fix” him and won’t want to abandon him, the way he tells her that his mother did. It’s a subtle form of emotional manipulation, designed to ensure that Ana stays with him and never blames him for his persistently abusive behaviour.
As their relationship progresses, Christian uses the word “mine” to describe Ana. This would be sweet, if done in a mutual, romantic manner (perhaps), but he is possessive, jealous and controlling. He tells Ana in chapter 19 of the first book that she was “denying me what’s mine” when she refused to allow him to touch her sexually at the dinner table, whilst in the company of his family. Such a decision was entirely her right, but her choice to exercise that right causes Christian to angrily suggest that she belongs to him and he tells her that he wants her “frustrated” as punishment. Christian uses the word “mine” so frequently throughout the trilogy, that, inevitably, Ana begins to use it to describe herself. Seeing herself as “his,” she gains self-worth. This is Christian’s intention; to take a woman who sees him as too good for her and to plant the thought in her head that her only real worth is from being in a relationship with him. This means that Ana won’t leave him, in spite of his treatment of her – why would she? She is nothing if not “his.” The psychological use of the word “mine” also ensures that Ana is too afraid to freely see her friends and family without seeking permission from Christian first. She cannot make her own decisions anymore, because she belongs to Christian, not herself. When she goes out without asking him, she describes herself as having to sneak out of the house. This does not show romance or passion. It shows fear on a deep, psychological level.
Christian’s insistence on controlling every aspect of their relationship – from where (and what) they eat, to what topics of conversation are acceptable – ensure that Ana is kept in a constant state of confusion, never entirely being able to judge what Christian may say or do next. Her anxious state of mind is testament to the psychological mind games that the supposed “hero” has been playing on her. In chapter 19 of book 1, when Christian begins to speak intensely about their relationship, rather than being pleased or excited, Ana does not know how to “correctly” respond, musing: “What do I say? Because I think I love you and you just see me as a toy…Because I’m too frightened to show you any affection in case you flinch or tell me off, or worse – beat me?”
Again, we see use of fear. Christian has moulded Ana’s responses so much with his psychological tricks, that she is now afraid of admitting to her true feelings, or behaving in a way that is natural to her, in case he reacts badly.
Ana is, we are told, a bright and intelligent young woman. Christian should be encouraging these traits, yet there are several points within the trilogy where he is seen to talk down to her, or mock her for her lack of worldly experience. Again, this is a psychological trick, in order to ensure that Ana continues to think that he’s too good for her and that she should feel grateful for his “love” and attention. Christian even goes so far as to buy her place of work and have her promoted. When Ana discovers that her promotion was bought, rather than earned, she feels belittled and angry and understandably begins to question her own intelligence and skills, thus furthering the anxiety she already feels.
In book two (chapter 5), Ana expresses that she wants to “run, fast and far away. I have an overwhelming urge to cry.” Again, this level of anxiety, this constant state of uncertainty within a relationship is deeply worrying and further evidence that 50 shades should not be held up as any kind of romantic ideal. Psychological abuse, as mentioned earlier, refers to behaviour that is intended to cause anxiety, depression or mental injury. Ana is, in this quote, expressing exactly these feelings as a result of Christian’s behaviour towards her. He has taken her to a hairdressing salon, run by an ex, to which he has taken all of his other exes. Ana is intimidated and hurt by this. His behaviour has made her feel minimised and as though she is just another of his subs and although Christian is described as “having the grace to look contrite,” he later dismisses her in order to take a phone call and then tells her she is going back to his apartment, even if he has to “drag you by your hair.” Again, Christian is showing little concern for Ana’s welfare and she is left confused, hurt and silenced. As always, Ana explains away her feelings, citing Christian’s terrible childhood as well as her own inexperience – a very typical response from someone who has been psychologically conditioned not to blame her abuser for his own actions.
As things become more serious between the couple and they look towards building their own mansion together, Ana shows very clear signs that she still harbours doubts and insecurities. She wants to discuss the problems they have within their relationship, but every time she tries, Christian distracts her with sex – psychologically reaffirming the idea that Ana has just one role in life: To satisfy him and to allow him to give her any self worth. This is evidenced in chapter 18 of book two, when Ana muses: “I slightly resent how easily I fall under his spell. I know now that we won’t be spending the evening talking through all our issues and recent events… But how can I resist him?” Christian is using the sexual chemistry between the pair to distract Ana from the complications in their relationship. Since she has no prior sexual experience, Ana is unused to being so desired, or to fulfilling a man’s needs. As a result, this becomes more important to her than it otherwise might and Christian uses this to his advantage, rather than nurturing a warm, caring relationship with more to it than lust. Yet another sign that Christian Grey is playing a psychological game with his young partner, rather than treating her with any real respect. He even uses sex games as a way to ensure that Ana agrees to his proposal of marriage, asking her whilst in bed: “What can I do to make you say yes?”
Once Ana has agreed to the marriage, the psychological abuse does not stop. In the first chapter of the third book in the series, Ana admits that she and Christian have rowed over whether or not she’ll agree to “obey” him as part of her marriage vows. Although the argument is unseen and Ana tells the reader that she won it and didn’t use the word in her vows, the point is moot, given that Ana still does everything Christian tells her to and demonstrates fear when she exercises free will. The psychological effect of Christian’s controlling nature from the outset has led to Ana frequently questioning her own decisions; wondering whether things she chooses to say or do will make her husband angry with her. She is self-censoring due to the anxiety that Christian has caused her. There is nothing romantic, or sexy about that.
Christian also once again refers to Ana as “mine” on their wedding day. During their honeymoon, in a supposedly tender, sexy scene, he kisses various body parts, saying “mine” to each one. This may seem passionate or romantic to some, but is in fact a subtle reminder to his new wife that she is his property, to do with as he sees fit. Ana is already psychologically conditioned to believe that her only real worth is as his partner, yet Christian feels the need to ram the point home as often as possible. Another symptom of this possessiveness, is that Ana begins to alter her own thinking and “parrots” Christian when referring to him. She begins using the word “mine,” as she has heard him do so many times. In chapter 8 of book three, she thinks: “He’s mine. Annoying – infuriating, even – but mine.” Thanks to Christian’s manipulation, she no longer sees his negative traits and instead simply repeats his own patterns of ownership. This need for “ownership” comes to light most startlingly, when Christian notices that Ana has not changed her surname at work; he berates her for not showing the world that she belongs to him. This is incredibly unhealthy and shows a complete lack of respect for Ana as a separate human being.
As the final book in the trilogy continues, so does Christian’s excessive control over Ana. His manipulation of her is such that whilst he is away on business, Ana feels she must ask his permission to go out for a drink with her best friend. She tells him:
“I’ve only seen her a few times since you and I met. Please. She’s my best friend.”
Ana is effectively reduced to begging her husband for his permission to go out for drinks with her friend. Christian attempts to emotionally manipulate Ana by saying his concern is for her safety, when in fact, it’s a barely concealed attempt to maintain control over his wife, even when he’s in a different state. After an argument, Ana tells him that she’s going to stay in and her internal monologue tells the reader: “I feel guilty for worrying him.” This is just one of several examples of Ana taking responsibility for Christian’s negative behaviour and is another classic sign of abuse within a relationship. Christian has succeeded in making his wife believe that she is to blame for all of their troubles and that she is also responsible for fixing them.
This message is rammed home further when Ana announces that she is pregnant. She ponders giving Christian the news whilst their security are on hand, showing that she still has a deep-rooted fear of how her husband might react to her. She is concerned that she may need protection from him. She even considers telling him about the pregnancy during sex, as that is her most important value in Christian’s eyes and subsequently in her own.
Ana is right to be worried. Christian is the father of her child; he is responsible for having gotten her pregnant. However, when he discovers her condition, Christian reacts violently, screaming that she is “stupid.” This is another buzz word, designed to make Ana question herself and her decisions. On a deeper level, once the storm has passed, psychological abuse such as this makes a victim feel that they should be grateful for their abuser staying with them, when they are so undeserving. This is an emotion which Ana conveys frequently throughout the trilogy and is not a healthy attitude to have in a relationship.
When Ana cries after Christian’s violent outburst, he screams at her: “Don’t turn on the waterworks,” thus implying that her emotional response is somehow not real or valid. Again, this is a device used in psychological abuse – the abuser may mock or question their victim’s honest response to his/her cruelty. As is so often the case in these situations, Ana apologises, in spite of the situation not being solely her fault and in spite of Christian’s hurtful reaction being entirely his responsibility.
Christian goes on to show signs of jealousy towards his unborn child, ensuring that his psychologically damaged wife feels it’s her duty to make him feel better, despite the nastiness he has displayed towards her. Again, he plays upon his own tragic childhood as an excuse for his abusive present.
The marriage that Ana and Christian have is an abusive one. To suggest that there could be a “happy ever after,” is a dangerous lie and the introduction of children into this toxic relationship would, in reality, be potentially catastrophic.
Christian Grey is an abuser, psychologically belittling his wife, leaving her fearful, anxious and feeling as though she must somehow “cure” her husband of demons she cannot begin to understand. To idealise a man like this is to ignore the reality for women across the world, abused and manipulated by the men they fell in love with.
50 Shades is not romance. 50 Shades is abuse.