Saving Beauty from the Beast: How to Protect Your Daughter From an Unhealthy Relationship
By Vicki Crompton, Ellen Zelda Kessner
"EMOTIONAL ABUSE ABSOLUTELY predominates in unhealthy teen dating relationships," says Karen Harker, who has worked with abused women and teens for almost twenty years.
Like Karen Harker, I meet girls after each school presentation I give who come forward to describe the various kinds of emotional assaults they have suffered at the hands of their boyfriends. Until the signs are pointed out, they are usually not even aware that they have been abused.
Verbal cruelty frequently exists alone, but it is always a component in sexual and physical violence. Experts agree that even if a girl has not experienced the other forms of battering, she will be deeply damaged by emotional abuse. Her family and many of her close friends will notice marked changes in a girl's bearing, changes that will have a ripple effect on everyone around her. In this chapter, we will explore the dynamic of emotional battering and its many facets.
"It's Only Because I Love You - You Know That"
How does love turn to abuse? "The relationship with an abusive boyfriend usually begins on a heady romantic note, with high emotional intensity. He is Prince Charming, immediately smitten," says Dr. Edna Rawlings, professor of psychology at the University of Cincinnati, who specializes in abusive relationships in her private practice. "There's an almost-too-good-to-be-true, too-loving quality about him. He starts out by being seductive and charming - completely involved in everything wonderful about her. The girl is flattered. She finds him exciting and interesting."
Maria Fedele was sixteen years old and a sophomore in high school in an upper-middle-class rural area in New Jersey when she fell in love with another sophomore, who was two months younger than she was. "Mr. Popularity," she describes him, "handsome, athletic, a member of the wrestling team. He spoiled me with roses, jewelry, and dining out. Everyone in school thought we were the ideal couple. But little by little he started controlling me."
He began with clothes: "Do you know that if you wear that skimpy skirt, guys will look at you?" He would insist she wear a pair of baggy jeans. "These look good on you, right?"
Maria, whose Italian-French ancestry shows in her exotic looks - dark eyes, olive skin, and brown hair flowing down to her waist - always preferred clothes that outlined her tall, slender figure, but she did not want to anger him. She would nod and put on the baggy jeans. He was always "right." And he would invariably say: "I love you, you know that."
But Maria's clothing compliance would not stop her boyfriend's mounting accusations that she was trying to attract other boys.
"He'd be ranting and raving if I wasn't home from school as soon as he thought I should be. He couldn't believe I missed the bus." Her simple hello to a male friend, his best friend, would bring on his "how can I trust you" speech. Her tears would follow, then his apology with a red rose and a quiet dinner in a restaurant, where he chose her "favorites" for her from the menu. With dessert came his "sparkling look - the perfect gaze for getting his Friday night way, the way to my bedroom."
"Everything was always my fault," Maria says. "The issue was trust." The cycle of her apologies and tears, his apologies, roses, and jewelry would repeat. So would his passionate declaration: "It's only because I love you - you know that."
"Under the guise of love, the abuser is a 'master of manipulation,"' says Dr. Rawlings. "If a girl has no experience with love, ultrapossessiveness feels like love."
As Maria tells her story, certain words and phrases resonate with me from Jenny's relationship with Mark Smith: handsome, popular, considered the ideal couple in school. And of course there are the roses. They appear and reappear in many of the girls' stories. They have come to represent a potent symbol of apology for abuse. I refer to them as "deadly roses," because Mark had sent roses on several occasions. In my ignorance at the time, I thought: How exciting, how romantic! I had no idea that those roses were an attempt on his part to get back into Jenny's good graces. Whenever I hear "He sent roses," I sense a chill up my spine.