Abuse within a relationship may actually be better understood these days in part due to the entertainment industry. One of the silver linings that exist when bad things happen to famous people is the spotlight it can bring to a societal problem. When Chris Brown brutalized Rihanna in 2009 it ignited massive attention to physical abuse among young couples. We’ll look more closely at the physical side of abuse later this week. However, the pain caused through emotional abuse can be just as real and leave deeper wounds in its wake. Hollywood has provided many cautionary tales.
Sometimes it’s difficult to separate physical abuse from emotional abuse, because they so often occur in tandem. Emotional abuse never garners the same coverage as its darker twin- probably because it rarely manifests itself through jpg-files and uploadable videos. It remains more hidden then traditional abuse, and as a result is discussed less freely.
Mariah Carey opened up on the subject, speaking with CNN’s Larry King about ex-husband and music executive Tommy Mottola. “Abuse has several categories- emotionally, mentally, in other ways. It’s scary. I just think you get into a situation and you feel locked in.”
Part of the abuse she described were heavy restrictions on her time and freedoms. “I was very sequestered… I wasn’t really allowed out of the house.” This is common behavior among abusers, building almost virtual prisons and conducting themselves much like a warden. Though just words, insulting and belittling messages can eventually distort a relationship from one of love to that of fear.
“It felt like suddenly I had a strict father,” Mariah continued, “With Tommy it felt like I had this controlling situation where I wasn’t allowed to be myself. This conversation that we’re having now would never have taken place.”
The true emotional abuser is one who specifically targets their partner, using intimidation and fear to control their options. This was a big factor of Tina Turner’s marriage to Ike, one often overshadowed by his physical rage. She has described him as a controlling and condescending presence, with the constant threat of things escalating into violence.
A sad reality of abuse in all its forms is just how long it can continue through fear and circumstance. Many victims feel emotionally and financially tethered to a nightmare, from which escape does not seem practical. The abuse can span decades, and the mindset generations.
It can also leave the victim feeling like a failed bride, as Whitney Houston openly discussed following the split with husband Bobby Brown. “That was pretty intense. Because I didn’t grow up with that, and I didn’t understand why that occurred. But he had such a hate in his eyes for me.” While Whitney did report some incidents of violence, she framed her experience as much more as a psychological assault.
This pattern seems to appear noticeably sharper in the music industry. Both Mariah and Tina, and countless others (including Celine Dion) have wound up hitched to men who essentially discovered them. Perhaps the industry functions under a different structure then film or television, but if that’s all it is, where are all the female executives with budding males artists as partners.
While abuse definitely takes on a different shade when fame is a factor, it’s still very much an ongoing societal concern. Just among teenagers, one in three report being the victim of either violent or emotional abuse, according to Pam O’Dea of California-based Safe Homes. Better awareness is the foundation for finding solutions, so any celebrity ink on the topic can actually perhaps bring about good. It can also serve to remind victims that theirs is a shared struggle, and that they are not alone.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Safe Horizon’s or a local abuse prevention agency.
Will King is a television and media critic who splits his time as a stand up comic. He collects conspiracy theories and claims to have invented Teflon. In his spare time he follows presidential politics and all traffic signs. He lives in Charlotte, NC.
Selma: Abuse is never okay… ever! Whether its emotional or physical… IT’S WRONG! People handle their anger in different ways but when it harms someone else, it needs to stop. Find out how your partner handles conflict by playing this DiscoveryGame.
Giulia: Emotional abuse wears away at a person’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions and self-concept. It affects every aspect of a person’s life, taking over their thoughts and actions with work, friendships, family… everything. I recommend this DiscoveryGame to use as a first step to understanding how emotional abuse impacts your time together.