The following article is reprinted with permission from Miriam Grossman, MD. It was originally published on her website miriamgrossmanmd.com.
In my previous blog, Part 2 of my Parent Survival Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey, I argued that emotional or physical abuse is never ok in an intimate relationship, even with both parties’ consent. Some people contend that if permission to be harmed is freely made, it’s a sound choice, and should not be challenged. I demonstrated how their reasoning is faulty.
In this post, Part 3 of the Survival Guide, I provide additional examples of dangerous ideas promoted by the film. (I’m assuming parents have a rudimentary knowledge of the film’s plot. If not, it can be found here.)
First, a central theme of the story: a good woman (Anastasia) can save a troubled man (Christian) from his inner demons.
Christian has demons alright. Trauma, abandonment, abuse – he’s had them in spades. And all those hours with therapists didn’t help a bit, he claims.
Where doctors failed, young, inexperienced Ana succeeds. With her by his side, Christian grows into a loving husband and father. So by the end, Ana was rewarded for picking a man whose inner life was in ruins. Could it be?
Anything is possible, but certain things are highly unlikely, and this is one of them. In the real world, it’s imprudent to expect people will change at all, let alone is a dramatic fashion. In the real world, Ana would pay for her poor decision.
Your daughter needs to hear a different message: it’s wise to pick a man based on who he is right now, not who she imagines he could be. If she is drawn to the idea of rescuing souls in distress, she might consider becoming a social worker.
Next: the idea that along with exercising her free will, Ana made a thoughtful, informed choice about Christian. The argument goes like this: she got to know him and considered the pros and cons of his demands. She read about sadomasochism on the internet, and reviewed the contract describing his rules. Therefore, the relationship was entered in a cautious, deliberate way.
Ana’s vision of Christian was blurred because very soon after meeting, they began having sex. Science suggests their intimacy jumpstarted her feelings of attachment and trust, before she knew if he deserved them. When Ana was with Christian, hormones told her brain: you’re with someone you trust now. You can relax. You can bond.
This was before the long discussions, research, and document review. By the time she got around to all that, she was emotionally connected to him. An impartial choice was less likely.
Neuroscience also demonstrates that emotional memories are encoded more deeply than neutral ones. Ana’s first sexual intercourse was with Christian – an emotionally powerful experience that more likely than not would affect her impression of him.
Another obstacle for Ana: she never confided in someone older and wiser before getting involved. Christian made sure that wouldn’t happen by insisting Ana sign a non-disclosure agreement very early on. That’s right, she had to enter a legal agreement preventing her from telling anyone he was an entrenched sadist. With some alcohol in her system, Ana agreed.
Sex, alcohol, manipulation – hardly the ingredients of a thoughtful decision. For young women to believe this endangers them.
Make sure your daughter understands the power of intimacy. Without her knowing, it promotes feelings of attachment and trust. Her first sexual experience is not something she’ll ever forget, and those memories can intrude when they’re least welcome.
Girls have told me: I found my soul mate, I love him with all my heart, but when we are intimate, I suddenly think of someone else – what can I do?
I tell them it takes time. Make new memories, I say, and they’ll replace the old ones.
I tell them that, but whether they’ll succeed, I don’t know.
Miriam Grossman, MD is a medical doctor with training in pediatrics and in the specialty of child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry. She is also the author of Unprotected and You’re Teaching My Child WHAT?