Guest editorial: ’50 Shades of Grey’ from the perspective of a trauma therapist
February 24, 2015
Like millions of others who fled to the theaters to see "50 Shades of Grey" on Valentine’s Day weekend, my fiancé and I were excited to experience something a little not like us an erotic story line, promising to heat up and set the tone for our romantic weekend. Unfortunately, it did the exact opposite. On the car ride home, we didn’t feel compelled to snuggle. Instead we hashed out the trauma we had just endured. I get that I am a trauma therapist and that my view of the movie might be too clinical for most, but I also think that I am a young woman who wants to be loved, respected and shown positive attention by my partner in a healthy way. I don’t mean for this to be a feminist rant either, actually, I am taking the contrary position and that is to defend Christian Grey; a child survivor of sexual abuse himself, knowing no other way to be loved.
I was sitting in the back row next to two teenage boys, who likely snuck into this movie. Although I understand the anticipation for this movie’s release and the massive crowd that it claimed, I am not certain that it lived up to the erotic practices and techniques it assumed to teach us, especially these young men. "I can’t wait to try these out," said one of the boys. While the other rebutted, "I know this is awkward [referencing the two of them watching the movie together] but at least we will learn some things."
What were they hoping to learn? Because I can’t imagine that seeing a girl cry as she is being whipped is something they really think is flirty and sexy. I highly doubt that they left thinking they could try handcuffing their girlfriend to the bedpost and blindfold her and that she would ask for more, without thinking that their boyfriend had some serious control issues.
Maybe these two young men learned something that I hope we all had the opportunity to learn from this movie, which is where I will share Christian’s defense. Childhood trauma in the form of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or even neglect, if it goes dismissed, unacknowledged, or untreated, has the potential to develop into variations of Christian Grey. It can lead to a continuing cycle of abuse in which either they grow up to be violent people or continue in abusive relationships. It can lead to maladaptive coping techniques like substance abuse or other addictions — like sex. Glamourizing Christian Grey’s sexual fantasies and fetishes inherently glamourizes child abuse and rape. Behaviors are learned and Grey prove it. We are fooling ourselves and doing a huge disservice to future generations if we fail to recognize early trauma in our youth and instead blame them for acting out when they might know nothing else.
Christian isn’t the only vulnerable character in this movie. Anastasia was groomed and her weaknesses were played up to make her an easy target for seduction. Clearly there were some severe insecurities there most likely stemming from something much deeper. Do you know an Anastasia — a young person that is seeking to be wanted, loved, and needed at nearly whatever cost? Needing to feel wanted so badly that they might take whatever they can get to fill that void? They finally have a role to play in someone else’s life if which they feel needed by them, with yearning to help them or even "fix" them? We all know an Anastasia, or a Christian Grey.
"50 Shades of Grey" made talking about erotica and sexual fantasies OK and even popular. Let’s use it to talk about the other elephant in the room.