As many of you, I’m sure, who listened to Britney Spears’ statement, I am shocked. Of course, an investigation is needed to look into the factual accuracy, but from a psychological point of view the emotional impact of this conservatorship, and the fact that Britney has been chronically abused, is beyond doubt, in my opinion.
I say that because, as a person that has been abused by both my family and romantic partners, and specifically by people with disorders such as Bipolar Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, I can really empathise with the emotions she’s expressing and the processes behind them.
As a victim and survivor of abuse, I feel immense compassion for people that go through such situations, and anger that we live in a society where such things are allowed to happen. The lack of awareness is just absurd, given how much pain people go through daily. Pain that in many cases causes them to end their own lives.
I wanted to pick out some of Britney’ sentences, the ones that resonate with me and other victims I know the most, in the hope that more people can recognise the abuse they’ve been through. Recognising abuse is the most difficult and crucial step in my 4-part framework to Break Free. It’s only after this happens that people can escape, rebuild, and finally empower themselves.
Regardless of what mental health issues Britney has, no person should have to endure this type of abuse and lack of basic human rights.
Desperation and sense of no escape built by…
• Being scared of society
“Number one, I’m scared of people. I don’t trust people with what I’ve been through.” – B.Spears
As the people who abuse us are often the ones closest to us, we begin to stop trusting people. If those who are meant to love and protect us, are actually the ones causing us all this pain, it’s normal (though wrong) to think that people we don’t know will treat us even worse.
• Feeling like you have no options
“I feel weird if I say no, I feel like they’re gonna come back and be mean to me or punish me or something”. – B.Spears
(Note: Britney may indeed have had no other option as she claims she was threatened that she would not be able to see her children or boyfriend unless she did as she was told.)
When abused, you feel like you have to do as told, and there’s no other way. Initially you express your disagreement, but slowly you learn that it will have no effect. You will still be abused – emotionally, or physically – so why even bother. I remember being terrified of my ex announcing someone was getting married. I was immediately expected to go, regardless of where it was in the world or if I even wanted to go. I would ask friends how to tell him that I don’t want to go, and keep thinking about it, full of anxiety. It was all futile; if the abuser wants you to do something they will raise hell until you do it.
• Lying to yourself to be happy
“I thought maybe if I say that enough I might become happy, cause I’ve been in denial. […] You know, fake it ‘till you make it”” – B.Spears
Ultimately, we all want to be free of pain. And if our reality, the life we live in, doesn’t allow that, we try to find remedies. I used to think, why can’t I be happy? I live in such a nice flat, I have such a good job. I would immerse myself in hobbies and work to avoid thinking about the cloud of abuse that lingered over my home life. If I pushed it away, I thought, and show gratefulness for other things, it will be ok.
• Your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore
“And I allow these people to control what I do, ma’am. And it’s enough. It makes no sense at all.” – B.Spears
Because of the inadequate way society deals with abuse (explained below) and the gaslighting tactics commonly used by abusers, life begins to feel distorted - almost like you’re losing your grip on reality.
• Reliving your trauma
“It was like, it was identical to Dr. Benson, who illegally, yes 100% abused me by the treatment he gave me.” – B.Spears
Abuse can indeed lead to PTSD, and reliving your trauma is a symptom of it. It can take the form of repeated dreams, or memories coming back to you through spaces, objects or hearing about similar stories. It may also mean that victims are “triggered” by things that are normal for people who haven’t been abused.
Society & abuse
• Feeling of embarrassment
“It’s embarrassing and demoralizing what I’ve been through. And that’s the main reason I’ve never said it openly.” – B.Spears
It’s very common for victims of abuse to feel embarrassed about it. Even today, I rarely open up about my childhood abuse. I feel humiliated by the fact that someone took advantage of me in such a way, ashamed of the things I had to endure, and cannot stand the idea of other people thinking of me in such a helpless state.
• Feeling that no one will believe you
“And mainly, I didn’t want to say it openly, because I honestly don’t think anyone would believe me.” – B.Spears
Unfortunately, the lack of awareness around abuse means that victims very rarely feel heard. Reactions such as “it can’t be that bad”, “you probably misunderstood it”, are far more common than that of belief and compassion.
There’s a culture of disbelief, one that silences victims of abuse. I find that unless someone has been through abuse they often can’t get their head around someone being abusive. People act like it’s far worse to accuse and blame someone for being abusive, rather than believing the victim. Especially when it comes to emotional abuse, because it’s more difficult to explain, and to comprehend, usually there isn’t the appropriate reaction and support.
• Feeling of indignation
“They all said I wasn’t participating in rehearsals and I never agreed to take my medication — which my medication is only taken in the mornings, never at rehearsal. They don’t even see me. So why are they even claiming that?” – B.Spears
As if they’re children, victims – especially if they also suffer from mental health issues – are manipulated and lied to (“They were nice to me, they said if I don’t want to do the new Vegas show, I don’t have to”), disbelieved, distrusted, and regularly checked on. Like a Kafka novel, they feel “played” by society and rightfully angry about it.
• Feeling alone against everyone
“But I wish I could stay with you on the phone forever, because when I get off the phone with you, all of a sudden all I hear all these nos — no, no, no. And then all of a sudden I get I feel ganged up on and I feel bullied and I feel left out and alone. And I’m tired of feeling alone.” – B.Spears
All of the above, leave the victim feeling alone, trapped like a hostage without the means to escape.
• Desperate measures
The fact that Britney wanted all this to get as much attention as possible, against her lawyer’s advice, was a desperate attempt to get people to believe her, and to take action. It looks like her abuse has only been validated by her fans, and that she hopes that by making everything public there won’t be any doubts.
It’s common for abuse victims, because they’re gaslit, to desperately try and gather as much evidence as possible to make people believe them. I was once not allowed to go to sleep by my ex and his father. My ex would repeatedly deny it, even to our therapist, or say that they only kept me up for half an hour. I felt such indignation that I asked AirBnb to send me all my data to prove that I was searching for a place to rent late that night.
All of the below are common traits of people with personality disorders.
“My dad acted like he didn’t know that I had to be tested […] He was the one who approved all of it […] It also took a year, during COVID, to get me any self-care methods. She said there were no services available.” – B.Spears
This is one of the most commons tactics. Abusers deny reality and manipulate someone by doubting their own sanity. The victims are then often left to play detective, trying to find evidence that prove their version of events – which is why Britney mentions that she could see her maids having her nails done. They may also start recording conversations or filming, to prove that something happened. When that level is reached, it means that the gaslighting has reached extreme levels. Read more here
• Feeling that the people meant to protect you take joy from your pain
“I cried on the phone for an hour and he loved every minute of it. The control he had over someone as powerful as me — he loved the control to hurt his own daughter 100,000%. He loved it.” – B.Spears
We can tell that someone takes joy from our pain, by the slight smiles on their face, or knowingly talking to us in a way that they know will make us cry more and more.
• Taking away your privacy
“They watched me change every day — naked – morning, noon and night. My body – I had no privacy door for my room.” – B.Spears
Depraving people of something so basic as privacy achieves two things: giving the abuser full control, their ultimate goal, and breaking down the victim’s sanity. For me, the way it was done is that they wouldn’t leave alone. I would walk away and tell them to stop and leave me alone, but they would either find a way to unlock the door, and keep shouting at me while I was standing naked in the shower.
• Not being allowed to be your own person. You’re there to please them.
“But my precious body, who has worked for my dad for the past fucking 13 years, trying to be so good and pretty. So perfect. When he works me so hard.” – B.Spears
For me, the best way to describe this is feeling like a keychain. For your abusers, you’re there to fulfil their purposes. Someone to show off. To brag about. To make them feel good. To drag whenever they need you to be. You constantly feel like you need to be perfect and fulfil their needs, in hope that you will finally get their validation and love.
• Feeling you’re not allowed basic human things
“All I want is to own my money, for this to end, and my boyfriend to drive me in his fucking car. […] I was told right now in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby…” – B.Spears
The abuser does not care about your needs. Your needs are a burden. Feeling tired is unacceptable, because then you can’t do what they need. Being in a bad mood is annoying, because they want a woman who’s pretty and smiley all the time.
• Not being allowed to reveal the abuser
“I also would like to be able to share my story with the world, and what they did to me, instead of it being a hush-hush secret to benefit all of them. […] I’m told I’m not allowed to expose the people who did this to me…”– B.Spears
It’s quite funny that abusers deny the abuse, yet you’re told to never talk about this. If there’s no abuse, surely there’s nothing to tell?
The abuse cannot be revealed, because it would reveal the fragile public image of the abuser, which is all they care about. This is so absurd and angering. My ex had an anger outburst, saying that I’m ruining his reputation, by talking to my friends about his alcohol abuse which made me feel unsafe in that house. When I told my dad, his reply was that, yes, I shouldn’t ruin his reputation. This shows how, once again, abuse is culturally silenced.
“And I’m not able to see my friends that live eight minutes away from me” – B.Spears
Isolating people is again a tactic of the abuser to gain complete control and deprave the victim of a healthy, normal life. Having healthy relationships would mean that the victims can share their story, get validated, find support, and plan their escape, which is against the abuser’s interests.
Britney Spears’ statement was an honest, emotionally charged story of what it’s like to be severely abused. It’s amazing that a celebrity can take the risk to show such vulnerability. I hope that this can lead more and more people feeling safe to share their story, so that victims will find the support they deserve and there is more awareness in society.