Character Psych 101: Emotional Abuse is not Romance

So, let’s imagine a relationship between two people, a boy and a girl in high school. They meet and there’s instant attraction. The boy oscillates between flirting with the girl and telling her to stay away from him. Eventually he gives in. They date. She spends all of her time with him. Her family and friends don’t know where she goes or what she does with him. He disapproves of some of her close friends and tries to get her to stop seeing them. He tells her what to do because he wants to keep her safe. They alternate between blissful making out and extreme fights. He’s her only world. She’s his source of redemption.

Anyone else creeped out yet? Because this describes Bella and Edward in Twilight, as well as many of the relationships that are popping up in every teen or YA romance these days after that model. It also describes your garden-variety abusive relationship. And it’s not romantic. It’s not sweet. It’s glorifying a controlling union in which the boy is free to be possessive and controlling because it’s seen as sweet, caring, insert more delusional crap here. It’s sick. And it’s giving teen girls a very twisted idea of an ideal relationship. Girls aren’t guilt-free either. Our heroines are often guilty of many of the same controlling, possessive behaviors.

This isn't new.  This isn't groundbreaking.  But how many times do we have to talk about this before people start getting the hint?  Twilight.  Hush, Hush.  The Vampire Diaries.  50 Shades of Gray.  My Blood Approves.  Don't make me keep listing.

Sure, you don’t see a lot of YA heroes out there hitting their girlfriends. Most people know how to recognize that kind of abuse. But what about emotional abuse? Let’s take a look.

Common types of emotional abuse courtesy of The Hotline, and some Twilight examples:
  • Calls you names, insults you, or criticizes you
  • Does not trust you and acts jealous or possessive -- This is hugely common in YA. Edward gets annoyed that Jacob gives Bella a present (Twilight).
  • Tries to isolate you from family or friends -- Sounds extreme, right? Well, what about Edward disabling Bella’s truck so that she couldn’t go visit Jacob? Pretty creepy.
  • Monitors where you go, who you call, and who you spend time with -- See above about the truck. Also all of Edward’s annoyance over Bella’s relationship with Jacob.
  • Punishes you by withholding affection
  • Expects you to ask permission
  • Humiliates you in any way

These are just some examples from the top of my head, but the fact that they’re becoming more accepted and enjoyed is worrisome. What’s wrong with healthy relationships built on mutual trust? What’s wrong with girl power? I’m not saying that there aren’t examples of good relationships. I’m saying that too many unhealthy relationships are being upheld as the ideal of love.

What are some examples of abusive relationships or behavior in YA and teen books?
What are some examples of healthy relationships in YA and teen books?
What are your thoughts on the trend?

Other Links:
Twilight and the Abuse Checklist: In which a clever reader goes through the abuse checklist and finds that Edward and Bella fit nearly all of the warning flags.
Relationship violence in Twilight -- In which a psychologist discusses how Bella is the prototypical woman at risk for abuse.
Bad Romance -- A fantastic post about YA novels, particularly Hush Hush, and rape culture.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I've noticed this trend in YA as well and I have to agree with you that it is setting up the younger generation of girls to not know what a healthy relationship is. Hopefully they will at least have a good role model of it at home.