Last week, we were introduced to Married At First Sight 'intruder couple' Susie and Billy. And while the program is usually unsettling to watch regardless, the development of this particular couple is hard to watch for different reasons. Instead of the usual ups and down's most couples face during the experiment, like having 'the talk' about their future together and confirming whose blueberries are whose, we saw a grown woman bully and belittle her husband, resulting in him sobbing to camera.
At the beginning of this years season, Ines Basic was branded as the series 'villain' but left the experiment after her failed relationship with Bronson Norrish and then Sam Ball. Susie has now been given the title of 'villain', but it's evident that her behaviour is far more serious than picking a fight over artificial sweetener or when Billy last went surfing.
Rather than placing Billy's mental health first, producers allowed Susie's behaviour to progress and continued to let her break down his self-esteem until he was unable to cope any further.
"What is the problem?" Billy tells the camera. "I'm trying to do everything that I can for her. It's not good enough."
"I'm really fucking trying", Billy says through tears.
Many viewers were quick to point out that Susie was displaying telltale signs of emotional abuse while talking to Billy, a form of abuse where the abuser aims to chip away at a person's feelings or self-worth.
On reality television, we're often used to seeing signs of manipulation employed by either contestants or producers. Gaslighting is the most commonly portrayed, even having made its way onto Married At First Sight earlier this season. The manipulation tactic saw groom Sam gaslight wife Elizabeth by mocking her, belittling her and making her feel like she'd done something wrong (when in fact, she hadn't). Last year on The Bachelor, contestant Romy was called out for gaslighting Tenille, so much so Tenille decided to leave the series and head home.
Most troubling though, is that these programs seem to continually forget the triggering affects seeings these forms of abuse on television can be. "There are several ways that viewing emotional abuse on reality television can have an impact on the viewer," says Lysn psychologist Tahnee Schulz. "For instance, it can have the potential to normalise or even promote emotionally abusive behaviour for attention or fame. It’s important to understand that this behaviour is NOT normal, and whilst emotional abuse does happen in some relationships, it should not be considered an acceptable way to treat a person or encouraged as ‘entertainment’."
Schulz adds, "Whether it’s seen in a TV show, movie, news report, or in real life, it can be very triggering for someone who has experienced emotional abuse before. Those with a lived experience of abuse can often experience sensations or flashbacks where they feel like they have been transported back to that traumatic time, often stirring up old emotions."
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is one of the hardest forms of abuse to recognise and is a pattern of behaviour that involves manipulation. It can be subtle and insidious or overt and manipulative, and in either form, it chips away at a victim's self-esteem until they begin to doubt their perceptions and reality. In the end, the victim feels trapped. They are often too wounded to endure the relationship any longer, but also too afraid to leave. Thus, the cycle repeats itself.
While men are much more likely to use emotional abuse on a partner, that does not mean women cannot also employ the manipulation tactic. "Unfortunately, it is a perception that males are often the perpetrators but this isn’t always the case," Schulz says. "This can happen in family households too, with mothers and sisters even perpetrating abuse."
What is the impact of emotional abuse?
When emotional abuse is severe and ongoing, a victim may lose their entire sense of self, sometimes without a single mark or bruise. "Emotional abuse can have a dramatic and long-lasting effect on a person’s psychological well-being. Over time it can diminish a person’s self-esteem and alter their perception of reality. The person can be left with an overwhelming sense of self-doubt and can even start to question their own sanity," Schulz says.
What are the signs of emotional abuse to look out for?
Emotional abuse can often be harder to spot than physical, making it hard for a victim to identify. There are many signs to look out for when it comes to emotional abuse., Schulz points out. "In order for a relationship to be healthy, respect and dignity need to be reciprocated," she says "If you suspect that you’re being emotionally abused, talk to someone you trust to help you process how you’re feeling in an objective way.
"Sometimes a perpetrator of emotional abuse can normalise the behaviour, making the person think they’re crazy or letting them question their own sanity."
Shulz points out the signs to look out for:
- A person tries to shift blame.
- A person makes threats.
- A person withholds affection as punishment.
- A person makes nasty comments which they shrug off as a joke.
- A person tries to isolate someone from their friends and family.
"Perpetrators of emotional abuse may also use triangulation techniques which involves them using a third party, such as a child to manipulate the situation," Shulz adds. "They may also use gaslighting techniques, manipulating situations repeatedly to trick them and making them question their own sanity."
If you are impacted by assault, domestic or family violence call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. If you need help immediately, please call 000.
WATCH: 'Married At First Sight's' Susie Hits Back At Claims She's A "Bully".