Jeannie Campbell

Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and enjoys working mainly with children and couples. She has a Masters of Divinity in Psychology and Counseling and bachelors degrees in both psychology and journalism. Jeannie started doing character therapy in March of 2009. Her Treatment Tuesdays feature assessments of fictional characters and plot feasibility while her Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts take a psychological topic and make it relevant to writers. She can be found at her blog, The Character Therapist, at, and website at, The Character Therapist, at

Fifty Shades???

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of E. L. James’s erotic trilogy. Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed have made their way around the social media sites like an airborne virus.

I read the book, gave a clinical analysis of it, and received flack because of what I said. But I’m glad I did, because now I can educate my readers on why I would encourage them not to read it.

This article isn’t to debate why Christians shouldn’t read the book. Those reasons are plentiful (sex outside of marriage is wrong, erotica can lead to lustful thoughts and damage interpersonal relationships, etc.) and have been extolled by Christian pundits the world over.

In contrast, this article is why everyday John and Jane Does shouldn’t read the book.

A caveat is needed at this point. As a marriage and family therapist, conversations with clients about sex are a regular part of my job. As such, whether for the good or for the bad, sex is as much a clinical subject as depression or anxiety, but I realize this is not the case with the majority of the population.

So on to the four reasons why people should not to read the Fifty Shades trilogy.

Warning: a few spoilers follow.

1) There is an abusive quality to the main character’s relationship.

As exciting and dangerous as readers are led to believe the romance is, Grey’s hold on Ana is more of an abusive one than a healthy one. One tactic of abusers is to isolate their victims. Grey engages in this . . . and does it so subtly that it is masqueraded as protection.

He wants her to sign the nondisclosure agreement, essentially rendering her mute to discuss any aspect of their personal relationship. Read: not normal. This isolates her from her friends/support system who care about her. Definitely an abuser tactic.

He stalks her whereabouts using her cell phone, changes plane reservations without her consent, flies to Georgia while she’s visiting with her mother (even though she had requested time away from him), and even buys the publishing business she works for so he can “keep an eye on her.” He gets insanely jealous if she spends time with any other guy.

Ana’s acts of “defiance” supposedly make her more independent, but her defiance is in her having very reasonable boundaries and expectations. Abusers try to mess with their victim’s heads in making them think they are crazy, or asking too much, or somehow lacking. Ana constantly worries that she won’t be “enough” for Grey.

One online writer said, “We’re supposed to think the way Christian [Grey] isolates Ana in luxury is romantic. A prison is still a prison when the sheets are 1200 thread count.”

2) Love at the price Ana pays for it is too high . . . even for fiction.

From toddlerhood, little girls are introduced to fairy tales and Prince Charming. Ana is no different. She wants “hearts and flowers,” which Grey freely says he can’t give her. He also tells her he’s not the guy for her and that she should stay away from him, all of which should make a girl run in the opposite direction.

But not sweet, virginal Ana, the character in the book with whom women are supposed to identify.

Ana gives up her very normalromantic notions, believing that for her to have her Prince Charming, she has to. His attempts to control every aspect of her life are tolerated by Ana because she knows early on that Grey clearly has issues, and later on because he loves her. This sends a message to women that settling for less is okay, even preferable, to walking away or being alone.

3) It perpetuates the lie of a female “savior.”

At one point, Ana thinks: “This man, whom I once thought of as a romantic hero, a brave shining white knight—or the dark knight as he said. He’s not a hero; he’s a man with serious, deep emotional flaws, and he’s dragging me into the dark. Can I not guide him into the light?”

No, the reality is that more than likely you can’t. Reading a book of this nature can more firmly ingrain this innate desire women seem to harbor to “save” men—bad boys, in particular. This desire is more about the woman being special enough, awesome enough, to make the man change than it is about the man. Books like Fifty Shadeswill only make this impulse worse.

4) Bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM) is pathologized.

The truth is that couples of all sorts (yes, even married Christians) engage in mutually beneficial BDSM relationships. People in the BDSM community feel marginalized, because apparently James did not utilize actual people who engage in BDSM for her research. Not all people who engage in what average people might call “kinky sex” are doing it to work out their childhood trauma or control issues.

So there are four reasons why I don’t think people should read the book. This is my way of saying that even though I reviewed the book, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for others, especially highly suggestible readers.


The Character Thrapist