Since Valentine’s Day people have been either raving or raging about the controversial movie Fifty Shades of Grey.
After all of the hullabaloo I finally felt compelled to check out the movie myself. Walking into the theater one sunny Monday afternoon in Campbell, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that it had a lot of sex and many people weren’t too happy it.
As I sat in the theater I felt so many different reactions and responses to the movie, many of which started within the first 5 minutes when I had already profiled the main female character as a potential target for an abuser (all of that before I even learned her name!).
Parts of the movie were intriguing, definitely inviting us as a culture to explore our sexual nature a little further. But other parts of the movie brought up lots of different thoughts about the work I do with the women who come to see me.
Ever since I walked out of the theater in a complete daze about all of the different thoughts and feelings that had arisen within me over a week and a half ago, I have been sitting with and thinking about how I am going to share all of my thoughts with you. What I came up with is a multi-part mini-blog series about my reaction to the movie and a sort of in-depth look at the characters and how they relate to the clients I see.
This first blog is going to be about childhood sexual abuse. This issue is often on the forefront of my mind because this is a very serious problem in our society, and all too often goes overlooked. Even in the movie there were only two minor references to the fact that Christian Grey, the main character, had been sexually abused on an ongoing basis by his mother’s friend starting at the age of 15.
Although Christian is a male and I work with females, childhood sexual abuse is still childhood sexual abuse: the long lasting effects it can have on our ability to relate to others doesn’t change.
Now, I am not saying that every child who has been sexually abused turns into a dominant who looks for a submissive for his or her sexual pleasure, so please don’t get me wrong. Nor am I saying that engaging in the roles of dominant or submissive is shameful and should be shunned (it’s actually one of the things that we can invite ourselves to play with and explore…more on that in a future post). What I am saying is that Christian learned early on not to form healthy, loving relationships—one of the main challenges with survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
In the Sub-Dom agreement Christian asks the main female character, Anastasia or Ana, to review and sign, there were clauses about him not actually sleeping in the same bed with her, not allowing Ana to touch him, and not even allowing her to look at him directly in the eyes. Their time together was to be in his play room, how he wanted it and when he wanted it. Ana, who was a virgin at the time she met Christian didn’t understand fully why he was asking what he was asking. To Christian, this was purely a business contract for his sexual pleasure with no intimacy involved—a way to keep women away. To Ana, she was hoping to change him into the romantic she wanted (more on that in a future post as well).
Christian was unable to form a healthy loving relationship with Ana, a woman that he actually did appear to have some sort of feelings for to the best of his ability, yet he was unable to let his abuser go. For some survivors of sexual abuse, they are torn between loving their abuser and feeling completely disgusted by them. There can be a relational tie that is always present. For children this is often confusing and can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and even self-blame. These feelings can carry on into adulthood and make relating with others very challenging.
The scene in which Ana got upset with Christian for continuing to have a relationship with his abuser was the second mention of the abuse during the entire 2 hour movie, and even then, it was only a quick one line in which Ana said the woman was a child abuser. Yet, Christian was unable to recognize Ana’s concerns, nor was Ana able to recognize Christian’s attachment to his abuser. The relationship between abuser and victim can be very complicated.
That said, there are definitely children who are repulsed by their abusers and want to have nothing to do with them. They might even close themselves off so much that as adults they are unable to have healthy and loving relationships with others due to being so closed off. For example, a girl who was abused by her uncle may feel it was unsafe to be around men and therefore, she does not allow herself to fully trust and open up in relationships with men. This can lead to either many failed relationships with men or relationship discord because one partner (usually the man in a case like this) will feel unfulfilled by his partner (the survivor).
There are definitely other aspects of the movie that I will be discussing in other posts, but I felt called to write about the effects childhood sexual abuse can have on us as adults because I feel this may have been highly triggering for people who are survivors. If you are a survivor who saw this movie, you may have felt anger, guilt, fear, shame, or any other array of difficult emotions. You may have felt worried, “What if I turn out like Christian?” or perhaps you were repulsed by the whole thing. Or, perhaps it got you thinking about how you have been affected by your experience as a child.
Either way, I want to let you know that if you experienced sexual abuse as a child, you do not have to suffer, you do not have to live in fear, you do not have to live in pain. There is help available. If you have been impacted by the effects of childhood sexual abuse, reach out for help. There is hope.
At the Relationship Center of Silicon Valley we are starting a therapy group for Adult Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse on March 23, 2015. You do not have to face the effects of this on your own. Group therapy is a very powerful healing tool and I invite you to learn more by clicking here.