While Hollywood has yet again brought on another entertaining and titillating film that is likely popular among women and teens, this film, in my opinion, is a dangerous and false depiction of romance. In my opinion as a sex addiction therapist, I find that Christian and Anastasia are in a relationship that borders physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Here are some of the biggest problems I find with this film.
1. Unresolved Trauma
We learned in the second film that Christian witnessed his mother being battered by a perpetrator, and was witness to consistent domestic violence. Children exposed to domestic violence need to process that trauma because often witnessing violence can perpetuate violence within the individual if it is not processed or resolved. In addition, he did not receive positive role modeling on what a healthy and fulfilling relationship looks like and thus, this can cause an individual to re-enact or enter a similar dynamic that mirrors the unresolved abuse that occurred in the past.
We also learn in the second film that Christian found his mother over-dosed on drugs and he was the person to have found her dead. This is yet another traumatic incident in his life that can result in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Unresolved PTSD can manifest in a consistent state of depression, uncontrollable anger or acting out that anger, addictive behaviors, avoiding people, places, and incidents that remind the person of the traumatic event, anxiety or panic attacks, irrational fears of people, places, or things, and finally not being able to tolerate conflict. Suicidal ideation can also be a symptom of severe PTSD.
2. Unresolved Child Abuse/Sexual Abuse
I have a big, big problem with the woman named Elena (a.k.a. Mrs. Robinson) in the film. We learn in both of the films that Christian entered a sexual relationship at age 14 with Elena, a middle-aged woman much older than he was. Although, in the film, Christian portrays this relationship as consensual, I beg to differ. Whether Christian sees it this way or not, I view him as a victim of child sexual abuse; At 14 years old, he was a minor having sex with an adult woman. Every mental health professional would have to make a child abuse report if this case was real life. Also, he didn’t just enter a “vanilla” sexual relationship, he entered a relationship filled with domination and submission, kinks, BDSM, and pain as pleasure. I don’t believe a 14-year-old would have the wherewithal to consent to that type of sex at that age. It’s sad, really since he probably did not have the opportunity to truly explore what he liked sexually on his own. Also, because Christian did not grow up with a healthy parental attachment figure, it’s possible that he perceived his relationship with Elena as loving and attentive. It’s a false perception, and potentially he equated sex with love. This is misguided since he, again, did not have healthy role-modeling in his life.
3. Child of an Addict
We learn Christian’s mother had addiction issues. So I would hypothesize that Christian was neglected as a child. With neglected children, they learn the world is unsafe, their needs will not be met, and they have difficulty regulating any type of anxiety due to learning that they are alone in this world. Trauma from living with an addicted parent in childhood can seriously affect the development of a healthy self. Infants come into the world hardwired by genetics, but the environment and our relationships with primary caregivers finalizes our “wiring.” Every single interaction between a parent and child sets the neural wiring that becomes part of our brain and body network, and these interchanges are how we learn to “make sense of the world.” If learned expectations of how to function are chaotic or disrupted, then the broader world does not make sense. If children do not have a rational, safe, and secure parent who is able to provide, model and teach the skills of emotional regulation and appropriate self-soothing, the child may not develop the capacity to assess and understand what is happening in traumatic situations. This leads to inaccurate navigation of life-events and relationships. Christian hasn’t resolved his issues with growing up with an addicted parent. We see that he can barely state two words to Anastasia about his biological mother.
4. Unresolved Shame
We learn in the film that Christian has multiple relationships with women, BDSM in nature. We don’t know this for sure, but I wonder if he has any type of unresolved shame for inflicting potential pain on these women. We learn towards the end of the first film that he felt sadness and guilt over inflicting pain on Anastasia and experiencing pleasure while seeing her in pain. And magically in the second film they get back together. Did he ever resolve the pain and shame of inflicting pain to his supposed love?
5. Re-enactment of past trauma/sexual abuse
Victims of past trauma re-create and repetitively live a trauma in their present lives, often without consciously realizing it. Re-enactments are often spontaneous and are repetitions of events from pre-verbal experiences. Freud even noted that individuals who do not remember past traumatic events are “obliged to repeat the repressed material…” and he hypothesized that the obligatory repetition of painful situations from one’s past may result “an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things.” People who re-enact a past trauma are often seeking to test their limits in present day and engage in risky behavior to often rectify or achieve mastery from what they could not control in the past.
The unconscious aspect of re-enactment is that people don’t realize they are re-enacting a past trauma. But yet, they find themselves in situations of abuse, harm, and risky behavior and often the sub-conscious is trying to gain control and power over what could not be controlled in the past. But often they do not result in achievement of mastery or change of outcome from what occurred in the past. I wonder if Christian is re-enacting his past sexual abuse with his present partner Anastasia by becoming an abuser and controller. Reenacting past abuse by becoming an active abuser is a defensive stance that ensures that the terror and helplessness related to the old traumatic situation or relationship do not get re-experienced.In addition, the abusive act allows the individual to express and direct rage at others. This way of being in the world is an attempt to master the previous trauma, but it is a maladaptive one because it does not result in a reworking and integration of the individual’s traumatic past and it victimizes others in the process.
In addition, the abusive act allows the individual to express and direct rage at others. This way of being in the world is an attempt to master the previous trauma, but it is a maladaptive one because it does not result in a reworking and integration of the individual’s traumatic past and it victimizes others in the process.
6. Ana’s Love Healing Christian (Myth)
The film depicts Ana “saving” Christian by showing him how to love and being a positive person in his life. This concept of saving someone else is bologna. In the real world, this guy needs some intensive therapy, focused on tackling his past trauma and present day sexual behaviors. He would benefit from weekly individual therapy and from some sort of group, like perhaps a men’s group or 12-step group. He would need to be assessed for sexual compulsion. Yes, Ana can be a supportive figure, can share her love, and be a positive person in his life, but she cannot be his savior and heal all of his past traumas. It’s impossible, and furthermore a big responsibility that no partner deserves to hold the weight off. If I were his therapist, over time I would do some inner child work and connect to his younger ego states.
7. Anastasia and What She Attracts
The problems in this film aren’t all about Christian. Anastasia is not off the hook here. In the second film we also learn that her boss is attracted to her, and attempts to physically harm her in the office setting. He utilizes his manipulative tactics to make her feel guilty for missing a work opportunity and then hones in on her through violence and fear. While this is not Anastasia’s fault, and by no means am I blaming the victim (Ana) here, but this did make me wonder… She seems to have attracted very dominating, powerful in their careers, controlling, and abusive men. As a therapist, I wonder why? What is it about her that makes her, first off, attracted to this type of person, and why she attracts this type of person in her life?
8. Anastasia’s Sexual Freedom
If I were working with Anastasia, some of the questions that I would ask her include: “Without Christian, would you be participating in these sexual kinks? Are you truly open and okay with them? How do you feel before, during, and after having dominant and submissive sex? Any shame arise before, during, or after? Do you feel comfortable saying no? Do you feel equal in the relationship?” In my opinion, she needs to be
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