A few of the possibly more critical and aware fans around have pointed out how many key signs of abusive relationships can be seen in Edward’s treatment of his human girlfriend Bella in Twilight, so I thought I’d have a look at the UK’s advice on recognising abuse and see what I could find in the quadrilogy of books.
Below is a nationally recognised list of 10 warning signs for abusive relationships from Women’s Aid, a national UK charity that works to stop domestic and sexual abuse. How many traits of Edwards can we see here?
When you’re done having a look through, take a look at some fan reactions here.
1. Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name calling/verbally threatening…
‘Ordinary people seem to make it through the day without so many catastrophes.’
‘Bella, it’s not my fault if you are exceptionally unobservant.’
‘Don’t be offended, but you seem to be one of those people who just attract accidents like a magnet. So try not to fall into the ocean or get run over or anything, all right?’
‘Must I always be the responsible one?’
2. Pressure tactics: sulking; threatening to withhold things, commit suicide, etc.; lying to your friends and family about you; telling you that you have no choice; intimidation…
How many times does Bella fear Edward’s reaction to something? How many times does Edward recite dangerous consequences to her actions? How many times does Edward lie to her dad about her whereabouts and welfare?
Didn’t he know me at all? He wasn’t expecting the force of my reaction, that was clear. He pressed his lips together and his eyes narrowed. ‘Don’t be difficult, Bella.’
‘Edward, let’s just talk this through.’
‘You don’t understand.’
‘There are options.’
Edward turned on her in fury, his voice a blistering snarl. ‘There-is–no–other-option!’
‘Damn it, Bella! You’ll be the death of me, I swear you will.’
In what strange parallel dimension would I ever have gone to prom of my own free will? If you weren’t a thousand times stronger than me, I would never have let you get away with this.
‘Well, I wasn’t going to live without you… I was thinking maybe I would go to Italy and do something to provoke the Volturi… Anyway, you don’t irritate the Volturi. Not unless you want to die—or whatever it is we do.’
‘I thought I’d explained it clearly before. Bella, I can’t live in a world where you don’t exist.’
3. Disrespect: putting you down in front of other people; not listening or responding when you talk; interrupting your telephone calls; refusing to help…
The extracts in #1 contribute towards a general lack of respect, along with his general air of always thinking he knows what’s best for her and making decisions on her behalf.
4. Breaking trust: lying; withholding information; being jealous; breaking promises and shared agreements…
Withholding information about things that directly concern her own safety, being jealous of her relationship with her best guy-friend for the entirety of the novels…
5. Isolation: monitoring or blocking your phone calls; telling you where you can and cannot go; preventing you from seeing friends and relatives…
Forbidding her to see her best bud, Jacob, bribing his sister to follow her during times that he couldn’t, sabotaging her truck so she couldn’t leave…
‘No werewolves.’ ’I’m not going along with that. I have to see Jacob.’ ’Then I’ll have to stop you.’ He sounded utterly confident that this wouldn’t be a problem. I was sure he was right.
‘Overprotective isn’t he?’ Jacob said, talking just to me. ‘A little trouble makes life fun. Let me guess, you’re not allowed to have fun, are you?’
6. Harassment: following you; checking up on you; checking to see who has phoned you; embarrassing you in public…
Breaking into her house to watch her sleep without her permission (before they’ve even started dating), following her…
‘I followed you back to Port Angeles,’ he admitted, speaking in a rush. ‘I’ve never tried to keep a specific person alive before, and it’s much more troublesome than I would have believed. But that’s probably just because it’s you.’
I twisted them hard to the left, but instead of roaring deafeningly to life, the engine just clicked. I tried it again with the same results. And then a small motion in my peripheral vision made me jump. ‘Gah!’ I gasped in shock when I saw that I was not alone in the cab. Edward sat very still, a faint bright spot in the darkness, only his hands moving as he turned a mysterious black object around and around. He stared at the object as he spoke. ‘Alice called.’ he murmured. Alice! Damn. I’d forgotten to account for her in my plans. He must have her watching me.
‘I wasn’t about to send you off alone. With your luck, not even the black box would survive.’
7. Threats: making angry gestures; using physical size to intimidate; shouting you down; breaking things; punching walls…
He lowered the automatic window and leaned toward me across the seat. ‘Get in, Bella.’ I didn’t answer. I was mentally calculating my chances of reaching the truck before he could catch me. I had to admit, they weren’t good. ‘I’ll just drag you back,’ he threatened, guessing my plan.
‘Now relax before I call the nurse back to sedate you.’
8. Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts; having sex with you when you don’t want to have sex…
9. Physical violence: punching; slapping; hitting; biting; pinching; kicking; pulling hair out; pushing; shoving; burning; strangling…
Thankfully, no. He does well to restrain those urges until they spend their first night together.
10. Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen; saying you caused the abusive
behaviour; being publicly gentle and patient; crying and begging for forgiveness; saying it will never happen again…
His actions are never questioned by anyone in the books, so there is no suggestion that denial is ever needed.
Grand Total: 8 out of 10
Conclusion: Edward’s possessiveness might be seen as romantic and caring, and his mood swings might be seen as a symptom of his predatory nature, but you cannot deny the presence of these abusive themes.
It’ll come as no surprise that the fans haven’t reacted too kindly to these ideas. What do you think?
I love psychology, and I love movies. Every couple of years, I teach a class called "Psychology in Film." When I tell people about it, they often ask, "Are there enough movies about psychology for an entire class?" My response is first shock, then slight annoyance, then my vocal response of, "Every movie is about psychology."
As my initial posting for this new blog, I'd like to focus on the "Twilight" movies (based on the books by Stephenie Meyer). In the past decade, the rise in popularity of vampire-themed books, TV shows, and movies has risen dramatically. While some vampire stories are rich with sexual and cultural lessons, the "Twilight" series, in my opinion, can be used as a display of behaviors that put people at risk for abuse in dating relationships. The popularity of the Twilight series shows just how much attention girls are giving to the examples of lovers displayed in Edward and Bella's world. To them, Edward represents the troubled soul who is waiting to be tamed by just the right woman; it's the modern "Beauty and the Beast." Unfortunately, the course and characteristics of Bella's relationship with Edward are actually templates for violence and abuse, and Twilight fans may unwittingly model a relationship that is far from healthy. While relationship violence is extremely complicated and every case is different, some warning signs have been identified by researchers.
Bella: A Future Victim of Relationship Violence
Let's start with how Bella, the main female character, displays three characteristics common in victims of violent relationships. The first and perhaps most obvious trait is her consistent low self-esteem. Bella constantly reminds herself that she's uncoordinated, unsocial, and unattractive. When Edward shows interest in her, Bella's low self-esteem puts him in a position of power over her; he can treat her however he'd like, because she perceives that he's out of her league and is lucky to be the dirt on the bottom of his shoe (or the blood on the bottom of his fangs, I guess).
The second quality Bella displays which is common in victims of abuse is that she is particularly attracted to men who are forbidden. Many readers of Psychology Today will be familiar with the "Romeo and Juliet" effect: Lovers who are not allowed, disapproved of, or are simply unattainable sometimes become even more desirable. Bella is thus drawn to the "bad boy" who is more likely to abuse her. Her interest in Jacob also goes up when he decides not to see her anymore (due to his sudden increase in hair and his sudden decrease in shirts).
Third, and most unfortunately, Bella is simply excited by violence, aggression, and danger; she finds it all thrilling. Bella's attraction to anything dangerous is clear in many cases through her human life. She rides a motorcycle because it's dangerous. When Edward tells Bella that he'll literally kill anyone who tries to hurt her, she's attracted to his violent nature. And, as anyone on "Team Jacob" will note, she's only interested in Jacob after she learns that he's a violent werewolf who might rip off her face.
Edward: Why He's an Abuser
Now let's take a look at the male "love" interest. Edward also displays many stereotypical characteristics of abusers. First, one of his hallmark characteristics is his control over Bella and his attempts to isolate her from others. Abusers often use this tactic as a way of ensuring that their victims have no way to escape should they attempt to do so. After he decides that he wants her, he's quick to get her alone, and for the rest of the series he constantly shields her from any other interactions, including from her father and friends. Edward consistently forbids her from seeing Jacob (a potential rival), and he even sabotages her car so that she has no avenue of escape. Not my idea of romance.
Next, the use of coercion to accelerate the development of closeness is another common warning sign of abuse. If an abuser can get full commitment from his (or her) victim as early as possible, this basically "locks in" the victim and cuts them off from escape. Once Edward and Bella have decided to be together, they spend every night together in her room, and he tries to follow her in others' thoughts (using his vampire superpowers) when she's not present. He proposes to her when he knows she's not ready and refuses to listen to her reasons for delaying the marriage.
Finally, a classic warning sign of partner volatility is high levels of jealousy or possessiveness. When Bella learns that Edward was only in Port Angeles (in the first movie) because he followed her there, she was appreciative for being saved from attack by random dudes, but does not seem to notice that it is stalking behavior. Edward continues to treat Bella in ways that mark him as a jealous, potentially violent predator.
Why is Twilight so popular? Since the Victorian era, vampire legends have been part of pop culture. These legends emphasize forbidden desires, illicit sexual metaphors, and adventure. Unfortunately, they also often include messages that support sexism and the abuse of power. In the case of Twilight, it's possible that the millions of screaming fans might be learning how to fall victim to a violent relationship.
For more information about relationship violence, my book "Voices of Hope: Breaking the Silence of Violence" is now available on Amazon.com and other major online bookstores (co-authored by Pamela Lassiter Cathey).
Copyright Wind Goodfriend, Ph.D.