In my last post I spoke about the aspect of childhood sexual abuse that nobody wants to recognize. The feedback I got was mixed, all the way from, “Wow, lots of survivors may have felt triggered,” to “Why did you have to ruin the movie by pointing THAT out?” Well it’s my job as a therapist is to bring light to that which is dark, and point out the things that we may not be looking at so that we can expose them and work towards healing them.
In today’s post I would like to address the topic of manipulation and the profile of a victim. Many of my clients come into therapy with relationship dynamics like this and are ready to change. Through the healing work we do together they are able to strengthen themselves from the inside out and no longer play the victim role, so this is a very important topic to me and one that I love.
As I sat in the theater one sunny Monday afternoon in Campbell, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into by watching this movie. I knew nothing about the movie or the books other than the criticism about how much sex they contained. However, within the first 5 minutes of the movie, I had already profiled the main female character, Anastasia or Ana, as the perfect candidate for manipulation and possible abuse.
*Gasp* “How could I tell so soon?” You might be thinking. Well, as a therapist my job is to use my skills and knowledge to pick up on the nuances of behavior.
From the very start of the film, Ana was portrayed as a woman with low self-confidence who was an easy target. From the way she carried herself to the way she did her make up to the frumpy clothes that she wore (don’t get me wrong, I like sweaters too, but there was just something about her…) all of her screamed, “I DON’T BELIEVE I’M GOOD ENOUGH!”
The moment Ana walked into Christian Grey’s office, he knew she was different. The push and pull dynamic began and so began their dance of manipulator and victim.
“WHAT?!?!?! How can that be?” You might be thinking. “They had a consensual relationship. She reviewed the contract. She verbally agreed. How can it be manipulation? How could she be a victim? What makes her a victim?”
Ana was the perfect target for Christian. Her lack of self-confidence and self-worth oozed out of her pores. Her entire being and the vibe she put out into the Universe was that of, “I’m not good enough.” Ana was a great student, but from what was portrayed in the movie, she didn’t have the best or most stable family relationships.
I have to disclose, I have not read the books, but what I gathered from the movie, Ana’s mother was possibly an alcoholic who may have been a sex and love addict too. Ana mentioned that her father left her life when she was young and her step-father raised her most of her life. However, by the time we watch the movie, her mother is on her 4th husband (and Ana's only barely 21!)…and she’s seen with an alcoholic beverage in her hand in every single scene she appears in. Not only that, but Ana’s mom missed her college graduation because her current husband had a broken foot and so therefore she could not possibly leave him alone. Who doesn’t go to their only daughter’s college graduation??? Ana’s difficult relationship with her mom was also portrayed in the way that she responded every time she received a phone call from her mom.
Often women who come from homes with a lack of stability and absent parents lack in self-confidence (even though parents may have been physically present, their emotional presence was absent). They learn early on that they are not good enough, they are not to be seen or heard, they are better off not being a bother. This sets them up for easily falling prey to manipulators and abusers because they are not taught what healthy looks like.
With messages like this it’s no wonder that Ana made a great target for Christian!
"Basically, when women have not received the message that they are lovable, valuable, and worthy as children, they learn to turn outside of themselves for love and affection, seeking that which is lacking in them due to not having received love and attention from primary care givers in the way that young children need and deserve."-Shirani M. Pathak
Every person gives off a vibe into the Universe based on their individual thoughts and beliefs. When the message you put out to the Universe is, “I am not good enough,” the types of people you attract into your life are people who will reinforce that message of not being good enough. Women who believe they are not good enough often end up in relationships with men who are not emotionally available, try to change that man into becoming available and falling for her and giving her the love that she so desperately feels lacking in her life, and then ending up heart broken when the man does not change and she ends up repeating the pattern of getting involved with another unavailable or unsafe man.
Are you confused yet?
Basically, when women have not received the message that they are lovable, valuable, and worthy as children, they learn to turn outside of themselves for love and affection, seeking that which is lacking in them due to not having received love and attention from primary care givers in the way that young children need and deserve. This in turn can lead to feelings of unworthiness which she will subconsciously project into the Universe through her actions and she will end up with men who are also not able to love her, in turn recreating the dynamics of childhood.
In the example of Ana and Christian, just like any other relationship for women with low self-esteem, Christian senses the unworthiness that she feels and easily picks her out as his next target.
I will also say, in the first sex scene between Ana and Christian, the sex was not was consensual. Yes, Ana had been contemplating sex with Christian. However, when Christian learned of Ana’s virginity, he proceeded to take her virginity without her consent in that moment—Christian raped Ana and made it look glorified. Women with low self-esteem are often easy targets for rape and other abuse, but manipulators and abusers do a great job making it not appear as such. Due to her low self-worth, the woman involved will not realize the abuse for what it is.
To make matters worse, manipulators are also great gift givers and they will figure out what is lacking in a woman’s life and provide them with just enough “good stuff” (material gifts or emotional gifts like praise and compliments, which feel good to the woman with low self-worth because remember, she does not have it within herself so she seeks it outside) to make the abuse and manipulation appear to be false. (For an additional post on abusive behaviors, click here.)
Manipulators are great at picking out women with low self-confidence. Women who are truly confident in themselves will never appear on the radar of men who are manipulative and abusive. Think about that…