Recently, while in the Falmouth Bookseller, I bought Look What You Made Me Do by Helen Walmsley-Johnson. The book centralises on domestic abuse that is “not the kind of abuse that leaves a bruise” but of the “sort of coercive control that breaks your spirit and makes it almost impossible to walk away”. The introduction of the book delivers a list of behaviours that one would consider coercive or controlling. Many of the behaviours even include “isolating a person from their friends and family”, “monitoring their time”, “repeatedly putting them down”, as well as violent acts. I felt obliged to write this article as some of the behaviours listed can be easily overlooked in a relationship; therefore, it is important to make women aware of these more discreet, abusive actions.
The book is considered ‘a memoir’ in which Johnson describes the gradually abusive nature of her late husband, and her relationship with her new partner. She finds trust in her new partner, Franc, and tells him everything about her old life. He is more than aware of her reliance on him for comfort and support. Johnson makes clear that she felt lucky that during this time there was no Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat. She believes that it would have made her “mess” far greater. Since the creation of social media, abuse can now be conducted without the need to be around one another. Johnson claims that the abuse is “very simply” the game of “I’m nice, I’m nasty, I’m nice again. You must love me when I’m nasty because then I’ll be nice but if you love me when I’m nice I can still be nasty”. It is “highly manipulative” and “very successful”. They “need you to like them” so you will not see what they are up to.
Reading this book has made me realise that love and relationships can be grand but also extremely toxic and unhealthy. It is important to not become blinded and to realise that these behaviours are not natural or acceptable. The problem is that this kind of abuse is, indeed, gradual and discreet. Johnson likens this to the idea that if you place a frog gently in a “pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to deat.” I find this terrifying!
Johnson claims that if something does not feel quite right in a relationship, then, it probably is not. I feel that all women should read this book as it has been an insightful read.