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The Important Conversation in 'Grey's Anatomy' About Abuse

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We need to talk about the episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” that aired this week.

• What is PTSD?

Over the seasons, we’ve learned about Dr. Jo Wilson’s tumultuous past that involves an emotionally and physically abusive ex-husband. So when he — Paul Stadler, a brilliant, world renowned doctor — showed up at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, she was catapulted into the debilitating, crushing fear that she had finally learned to live without.

The sheer terror on her face as he said hello to her was palpable. If you’ve been a victim of abuse — emotional, physical or both — you could feel that fear through your screens. It wasn’t just fear; it was the considerable amount of PTSD that abuse leaves behind. Only two other people in the hospital knew about Jo’s past life with this man. She had to watch everybody else fall all over themselves greeting him and trying to make good first impressions. Her co-workers. Her friends. The new world she had created for herself had been infiltrated. Again. And almost nobody around her knew.

The storyline really happened over three episodes, and the end of it was simultaneously painful, gratifying and tear-inducing as an abuse survivor.

It had been revealed that Paul had a new fiancé, Jenny. It’s also revealed he has also abused her, both emotionally and physically. Now, normally I’d go into all of the details of the episode, everything you need to know, but I don’t believe all of the specifics are needed for the conversation that Jo and Jenny were able to have.

It went as follows:

Jenny: God! I’m smart. I’m a scientist. I’m a feminist! I never thought that I would end up in something like this. It happened so slow. I stopped talking to my co-workers, friends he didn’t like, then my family didn’t understand, they got worried so I brushed them off and then stopped talking to them too and then my circle got smaller and smaller and smaller until all I had left was him. And then I stopped believing myself. Things I had seen and heard, things I knew! Because he told me I was crazy and I just believed him. He knows me so well, he can zero in on an insecurity and make a whole argument turn on a dime. And now it’s my fault, it’s my fault again, I’m always the one that’s wrong. When he started hitting me, it was barely just a surprise. And he told me it was my fault and I actually believed him. Until you talked to me yesterday, I really believed him. How did I believe him?

Jo: Because he was good to you in the beginning! And on the good days! Jenny, we’re not stupid. We don’t fall for someone who beat us. We fell for someone who made us laugh and made us feel wanted and loved and seen. Paul is brilliant and charming and persuasive and the good outweighed the bad. Until it didn’t.

In a brief, 2- or 3-minute scene, “Grey’s Anatomy” eloquently and adequately described abuse and its workings. It’s something I’ve always struggled with — stumbling over my words as I try to explain why I stayed or why I never stood up for myself. The vast majority of people who have had the good fortune of not being abused don’t understand that it’s not as easy as it looks like from the outside.

Like Jo says, you don’t fall for the person who is is beating you. You don’t fall for the person who slowly but surely isolates you from the rest of your life. And there’s normally a time in the relationship where the bad days are so seldom or you brush off the red flags because all of the good still outweighs it.

I remember somebody on my blog asking me privately why I stayed for so long with someone like my ex, and it was so disheartening to feel like I was “stupid” and being blamed. And it was just as disheartening to know there are people out there who don’t get it. I stayed because I was in love. I stayed because he was my best friend. And then I started staying because he was all I had. And because he had stripped me of any self-worth I had. And because I didn’t feel like I had the competency or ability to take on the world without him. By the time you want to get out, by the time you know you need to get out, you feel so small that you can’t.

It was good. Until it wasn’t. And it happened so slow.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Originally published: January 27, 2018
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