in fact, I have watched the pilot. I'm still right.

Feb 02, 2014 14:05

I read through this post and would like not to let it pass without comment. In the first part of my response I will do my best to explain how Dean’s behavior toward Sam meets a lot of the criteria for intimate partner abuse, because the OP does not seem to grasp the argument we are making. I will assume good faith, though - this is a difficult subject for a lot of us to talk about, and so it’s possible that we may skate past the nuts-and-bolts stuff in usual conversation - and try to be as dispassionate as possible. The second part of the post will more directly address specific arguments made in the original post.

If a direct example came off the top of my head, I went back and pulled from transcripts. Otherwise, I have done my best to explain my character analysis. If there are areas of my explanations which are unclear, please let me know and I’ll do what I can to sharpen them. If you can think of a particularly strong example from the show for one of the criteria listed below, please do pipe up.

Looking through my Tumblr archives, it looks as if I’m not the first one to think to use this list to illustrate the problems in Dean’s behavior. I haven’t taken any content from the older post, but I still recommend checking it out. I also recommend this post.


Your Inner Thoughts and Feelings
Your Partner’s Belittling Behavior

Do you:
feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
Does your partner:
humiliate or yell at you?

avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
criticize you and put you down?

feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?

believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?

wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
blame you for their own abusive behavior?

feel emotionally numb or helpless?
see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?

Your Partner’s Violent Behavior or Threats
Your Partner’s Controlling Behavior

Does your partner:
have a bad and unpredictable temper?
Does your partner:
act excessively jealous and possessive?

hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?
control where you go or what you do?

threaten to take your children away or harm them?
keep you from seeing your friends or family?

threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?

force you to have sex?
limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?

destroy your belongings?
constantly check up on you?


Note: Sam and Dean are of course not in a romantic relationship, and so there are a couple of criteria that cannot apply. However, the framework of intimate partner violence, more commonly known as domestic abuse, applies. According to the CDC, “[t]he term "intimate partner violence" describes physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.” (source)

Sam’s experience:
Do you feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?

SAM: [Y]ou think I screw up everything I try. You think I need a chaperone, remember?
DEAN: Come on, man. That's not what I meant.
SAM: No, it's exactly what you meant. You want to know what I confessed in there? What my greatest sin was? It was how many times I let you down. I can't do that again. (Sacrifice)

Do you avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?

SAM: You want to know why I've been lying to you, Dean? Because of crap like this.
DEAN: Like what?
SAM: The way you talk to me, the way you look at me like I'm a freak! (Metamorphosis)

Do you believe you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?

SAM: Look, Dean, um...For the record...I agree with you. About me. You think I'm too weak to take on Lucifer. Well, so do I. Believe me, I know exactly how screwed up I am. You, Bobby, Cas...I'm the least of any of you. (Two Minutes to Midnight)

Remember, Sam is talking about GOING TO HELL here.

See also:

SAM: [T]hese trials... they're purifying me. (The Great Escapist)

Do you feel emotionally numb or helpless? These are things Sam is unlikely to say, or even think of himself as being. However, I think Sam’s emotional numbness and resignation are very present in the text. This is part of why I object to attemts at analysis of Sam which shrugs off his behavior as being a technical failure or a lack of interest in the character. I would argue we’re looking at a very accurate portrayal of someone who is in an abusive relationship. Sam internalizes, he knuckles under, he lets his hopes and desires and opinions fade to protect them from Dean's attacks.

Do you wonder if you’re the one who is crazy? I have talked about Dean’s gaslighting of Sam in S9, and also his gaslighting-equivalent control of Sam’s reality throughout S7. However, this behavior has been in place for much longer.
[Spoiler (click to open)]
It starts out with something that of course wasn't Dean's fault: that John decided to lie to Sam about the existence of supernatural monsters. Dean, because he was a small child himself, accepted the pretense that this was about "protecting" Sam from the truth. But as we see over and over, knowing about monsters is the least of their problems. It didn't protect Sam from the striga, not to know that it was called a striga. It didn't protect Sam from the difficulties of their lifestyle. And (most consequentially for Sam) it didn't protect him from what the monsters were doing to his family. Kids understand tone of voice and softness of touch well before they understand sentences. Tiny Sam would have known that John was unpredictable, angry, and violent; he would have known that Dean was always frightened. He wasn't protected from any of the ill effects of monster-hunting, he was simply deprived of the baseline facts of why. And when he did figure it out, John had committed Dean to the game of "me or your lyin' eyes?" which adult abusers use to undermine their victims.

We never had a fight. I didn't move the remote. Monsters, what monsters?

The blame for this pattern starts to shift in S2 when Dean withholds the "save him or kill him" conversation from Sam until episode 9. Assuming roughly a week passes between episodes, that's two and a half months. This was, literally, life or death for Sam - and, more important to Sam, about some bone-deep issues of morality, identity, and agency - and Dean saw fit to pretend he knew nothing about it. Like the issues in their childhood, it's quite easy to see Dean's grief and struggle at the burden John's last great failure as a parent left on him. But he's not a child any more, he's a grown-ass man and he knows better.

Dean lies to Sam about Sam having died, he lies to Sam about having made a deal. He fully intends to withhold knowledge of the scene he witnessed in In the Beginning when Azazel first poisoned Sam with demon blood. These are all intimate, integral, life or death bits of information about Sam, to which Sam has an unquestionable right. I get that these things are hard to cough out, but the charm of the show is that Sam and Dean do six impossible things before breakfast on the regular. This is a highly distressing pattern of Dean avoiding difficult things that aren't worth the effort/don't suit his purposes.

S6/7 take the issues that are laid out in the earlier seasons and spin out just how much Dean has decided he gets to control Sam's self-image. I'm not going to get into a derail about the ethics of the forced re-ensoulment, because reasons. I will say this:

BOBBY: He's gonna find out, you know. One way or another, someone'll tell him, or he'll figure it out on his own. He's not dumb. He should it hear it from us.
DEAN: Can we just leave it alone for the moment, please?
BOBBY: Okay. But you better prep for the B side, 'cause when Sam realizes we're shining him, it ain't gonna be cute. (Like A Virgin)

IOW, Bobby tells Dean (and by extension the audience) that Sam has a RIGHT to know everything they do about what SAM HIMSELF has been through. Dean insists that he (not Bobby, who was almost just killed by Soulless and therefore really cannot be said not to get a voice here, and not Sam, who they both know would want to know about it) is the one who gets to decide what Sam does and does not know.

Quite the worst, though, is that when Dean really is needed to walk the walk on caring about his brother after Hallucifer drives Sam off the edge in S7, he goes right back into these problems. In light of all this, that "stone number one" speech should sound seriously goddamn creepy. Likely it was the least bad option in a very desperate moment, but still creepy. Dean comes out and says what he's been angling for all along, that he wants to be the filter through which Sam decides what is and is not real. After which he promptly does something terrible and lies about it. You can count on me, SOME RESTRICTIONS APPLY.

I'm distinguishing these lies from the regular Winchester secrets. ie, Dean keeping the truth about Hell to himself for some time doesn't really fit into this pattern, because that was a Dean thing to which he was entitled to as much privacy as their lives would afford. (Obviously his choice to blow up at a freshly-traumatized S7 Sam for keeping the same secret for a couple of days, rather than a couple of months, shows the stark double standard he has for their respective behaviors - Sam is supposed to be forthright, while Dean can lie all day and night if he pleases.) Gaslighting is serious way past lying, because it destabilizes a person, keeping them so busy chasing their tails on whether or not they're crazy that they can't stand up for themselves, or even trust their instincts that something is going wrong between them and their partner.

Moving onto Dean's behavior:

Does your partner criticize you or put you down?

DEAN: Your blood's supposed to be purified, isn't it? You ever, uh -- you ever done the "forgive me, father" before?
SAM: Well, once, when we were kids. Which is why I have no clue what to say now.
DEAN: Well, I mean, I could give you suggestions if you want.
SAM: O-okay. Yeah, sure.
DEAN: All right. Well, I'm just spit-balling here, but if I were you, uh... Ruby, killing Lilith, letting Lucifer out, losing your soul, not looking for me when I went to Purgatory....(Sacrifice)

Does your partner humiliate or yell at you?

DEAN: I just…I-I don’t believe.
SAM: In what?
DEAN: In you. I mean, I don’t. I don’t know whether it’s gonna be demon blood or some other demon chick or what, but…I do know they're gonna find a way to turn you.
SAM: So you’re saying I’m not strong enough.
DEAN: You’re angry, you’re self-righteous. Lucifer's gonna wear you to the prom, man. It's just a matter of time.
SAM: Don't say that to me. Not you...of all people.
DEAN: I don’t want to. But it’s the truth. (Point of No Return)

There's not a question on the chart for dehumanization, but this seems like a good place to bring up the fact that Dean does consider Sam less than human and isn't shy about sharing that opinion.

Does your partner treat you as property, rather than a person? Contrary to popular belief, the term "objectification" does not refer solely to unwanted sexual attraction. "Objectification" is quite straightforwardly what it sounds like - the treatment of a human being as a thing which is incapable and/or undeserving of autonomy and subjecthood. As with other aspects of this relationship, this is something which started out ambiguous but understandable. The seeds for this were (most likely inadvertently) laid way back in AHBL2. I don't think it's an accident that this scene which is supposedly the ur-example of Dean's attachment to his brother doesn't actually feature Sam at all. It's just Dean and a rotting carcass. Dean's obsession with his brother depends upon Sam being literally objectified. This comes full circle with Gadreel in S9, when Dean not only objectifies but literally dehumanizes Sam by fraudulently forcing him to become a vessel for an angel.

Does your partner blame you for their own abusive behavior? Dean’s nonpologies often skillfully (or bluntly) turn blame back around on Sam.

DEAN: What do you want to hear, Sam? That I was wrong? Fine. I was wrong. Okay? But if you'd have just heard me out, if you'd have trusted me, all of this could have been avoided. (8x10)

Does your partner ignore or put down your accomplishments? DOES HE EVER. Sam's not-insignificant academic accomplishments have been not only devalued in his relationship with Dean, but a liability therein, since very early in the show. Sam's use of his intellect toward hunting is "geek" stuff which Dean disdains and derides. When Sam uses his knowledge and reasoning to make intuitive leaps which end up saving their asses, Dean snipes at him for having acted on untested thought processes - see the incredulous "you took a shot?!?" in 4x7.

Does your partner have a bad and unpredictable temper? hurt you or threaten to hurt you? Dean's long pattern of violent outbursts toward Sam has been well-documented, so I won't dwell. I do want to draw attention to this:

Dean: If I didn't know you, I would wanna hunt you. (Metamorphosis)

Make no mistake, this is a threat. Leave me and I'll have no reason not to kill you. Leave me and someone else might up and kill you. You deserve to die; sticking with me is your only hope for retaining my undeserved indulgence.

Does your partner threaten to commit suicide if you leave?

DEAN: I can't do this alone. (Pilot)

With hunting, this is not figurative. REMEMBER, IF YOU LEAVE ME, I'LL DIE. It's the same emotional blackmail as a direct suicide threat. As quoted above, Dean also blames Sam for Dean's own suicide attempt in S5.

Does your partner keep you from seeing friends or family? As early as episode 1x6, Dean pressures Sam throughout the episode to sever ties with his friends from Stanford.

This is also a big part of the problem, not with the writing but for the characters, which comes of Dean being the one to interact with guest characters: Dean becomes the primary contact betwen the family and the outside world. Sam's contribution to ther work is crucial but undervalued by Dean (AHEM), and it keeps him inside the "home" of the week, isolated from any potential friends.

I'd argue this pattern even shows up with Cas. Throughout 8x10, Dean repeatedly insists that Cas not contact Sam. Arguably we could just put it down to monumental pettiness, that Samandriel being tortured is less of a priority to Dean than having to face that he'd probably pushed Sam too far this time. But in context, it's tough to ignore that Dean is actively discouraging someone else from forming a relationship with Sam. (Compare this with Sam's behavior about Benny during this arc: he waits to put his foot down until Dean's entanglement with Benny has gotten them into trouble not once but twice in just a couple of months, and Cas is back in the picture so Dean wouldn't be cut off from the world.)

All of this comes to the ugliest possible head in The Girl Next Door. As Dean admits backhandedly ("family does the dirty work"), Amy was collateral damage in the Winchester power struggle. I've seen a lot of confusion over the idea that Dean could kill her after she'd saved Sam's life. Alternative explanation: the characterization is perfect there. I think consciously Dean is telling himself that it's just about being a monster, and it JUST SO HAPPENS to be this woman who saved Sam's life, someone Sam knows he can depend on who is not Dean. It is a TOTAL COINCIDENCE that Amy Pond is the first thread of a support network Sam has had in years, which Dean cut brutally and unnecessarily. That's not explained by the "family business" excuse he gives Sam eventually, but it is entirely consistent if his subconscious calculations there are about retaining as much control over Sam as possible.

Does your partner limit your access to money?

CHUCK (VOICEOVER): In between jobs, Sam and Dean would sometimes get a day -- sometimes a week, if they were lucky. They'd pass the time lining their pockets. Sam used to insist on honest work, but now he hustles pool, like his brother. (Swan Song)

The show frames the boys' lifestyle as small-r romantic: life on the open road, beholden to no one, so far outside of society that even the economy can't touch them. But then there's this: Sam is discouraged and effectively prevented from paid, legal labor. Not only that, but he is the target of a decades-long shaming campaign for even harboring a desire to achieve some measure of financial independence. Because we need you here, because your home life is good and holy and the most! important! job! in! the world! How could you be so SELFISH, as to think you are ENTITLED to the level of self-determination that an education might earn you?


Now, of course the angels and demons were always going to make sure that long-term stability was out of their reach. But there's no realistic assessment of that fact, or a good-faith attempt to work something else out.

Does your partner limit your access to the phone? I've gone on about this a lot, but something that most people seem to miss about the phantom text in 8x9 is the fact that in creating his backup plan/revenge scheme, Dean at some point "a while back" took Amelia's number out of Sam's phone - that is to say, he cut Sam off from a potential support network. If Sam had missed her, or was having second thoughts about the life, or anything else, he could not have called her even if he'd wanted to. He would have gone to voicemail and never gotten a call back, and figured she never wanted to speak to him again. He could have emailed her, I suppose, but as early as 8x03 Dean was making a point of reading Sam's email. When someone is monitoring and controlling all your usual methods of correspondence with others, THAT IS A RED FLAG.

Does your partner limit your access to the car? Dean manages to do this even though they spent seven and a half seasons living in the car. Should they ever split up - on good or bad terms - Dean is the one who takes or keeps the Impala, leaving Sam to fend for himself. This is true even in, for example, episode 8x5, when Dean leaves Sam stranded out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with only a mean barrage of insults as explanation.

Does he control where you go or what you do?

DEAN: Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole. (Pilot)

We never hear music in the Impala that's not Dean's, not because Sam doesn't like music but because Dean's music is a dominance display that their home is HIS car and Sam can shut his cake-hole. There's no reason they can't have taken an opportunity to swing by a couple of roadside farmer's markets once in a while, but DEAN thinks they should ALWAYS go to diners. I've seen some disappointment that we don't get as much insight into Sam's tastes and leisure activities, but that's - if not consciously deliberate, then at least extremely consistent with the rest of this relationship. If true, that's not THE WRITURRRZ marginalizing Sam-the-fictional-construct, that's Dean marginalizing Sam-the-in-universe-person because HE does not like the idea of Sam having independent interests which do not hinge on HIS tastes.

Maybe because Dean is the POV character, people seem to forget that the Winchester lifestyle is ENTIRELY on Dean's terms. Dean wants to be on the road, Dean wants to fight monsters - they do these things, 100% of the time. Sam wants Dean to do as Dean pleases while Sam figures out something that isn't quite so hard on him as hunting full-time; Dean wants Sam to do as Dean pleases, full stop.

That’s a clear majority of the listed warning signals. Dean’s behavior is abusive.

What the OP seems more concerned with is not whether Dean’s behavior constitutes what IPV experts consider to be a pattern of “coercive control,” but whether one believes Dean subjectively feels himself to be an abuser. I could simply point out that this is irrelevant, and that would be true, but in the interests of clarity I’ll take the post point by point. Arguments from the OP are in quotation marks and italics.

“He’s been programed [sic] to save Sammy. Considering the age it started, his brain may be hardwired that way.”

The cognitive “hardwiring” the OP seems to be referring to does not exist in the natural world. Human beings can certainly be conditioned by formative experiences, and rotten ones can increase a person’s risk of becoming abusive as an adult; however, people may make moral choices to go against conditioning which has proven to be harmful to others because we have free will. (I’ve heard that phrase somewhere, I’m sure of it!)

But of course, the show isn’t called “Natural.” I do not believe, though correct me if I am wrong, that the OP is suggesting Dean’s brain was supernaturally altered at that young age in order to compel him to take the above coercive measures against his brother as an adult, but this gestures toward an interesting hypothetical: what moral expectations would we have of a being in the SPN-‘verse which is programmed to impose a particular agenda on other autonomous beings?

On second thought, “hypothetical” might not be precisely accurate. We know for a fact that Castiel was hardwired to treat Sam in a particular way, and we still - IMO rightly - expect him to acknowledge that it is damaging to Sam and knock it the fuck off. Were I to accept the “hardwiring” hypothesis for Dean, I see no reason that I would have lower standards for him.

“When added to the love he feels for Sam, how can he be expected to act differently?”

This appears to be an assertion that the totality of Dean’s behavior - including the multiple physical assaults - is due to Dean’s love of Sam. Dean hits Sam because he loves him?

“That, I think, is where the gaslighting came in. Sam seemed happy at first, and the angel said he wasn’t healed enough for him to leave. Dean put off telling Sam in part, I think, because he feared that even if Sam didn’t reject the angel, he’d reject Dean, and Dean just wanted to be with him a little longer before that happened.” [emphasis added]

I do not contest that Dean would offer similar responses if questioned about his behavior after the initial possession. However, this does not mean that the gaslighting was not actually abusive. Quite the reverse: “if I control them less then they will leave me” is exactly how abusers think.

“Dean Winchester isn’t just some callous abuser however abusive his behavior may appear from the outside. He is a deeply damaged person who holds grudges and takes out his pain on others, but he’s also a caregiver who loves his brother deeply.”

“His behavior appears abusive but it’s not because I believe he feels affection for Sam” is the same excuse people use for John and they are wrong.

“he came back from purgatory with survivor’s guilt and PTSD and proceeded to tear Sam to shreds emotionally for not looking for him.”

PTSD is a serious psychological condition, certainly. But it does not force a person to become abusive, and an abusive person can also suffer a trauma and develop PTSD. “Irritability and outbursts of anger are common in PTSD, and some individuals may become physically violent when they are emotionally triggered, startled, or having a flashback. But violent behavior is not common, and there is no evidence that PTSD causes anyone to engage in a pattern of coercive control.” (source)

IPV experts suggest that a person consider such factors as the following to tell if someone’s behavior is a symptom of PTSD or a manifestation of coercive control:
  • Which came first - his violence or his trauma?
  • What was he like before he was traumatized?
  • Does she try to control you in many non-physically-violent ways, yet still claim her abusiveness results from PTSD?
  • What is he like when his PTSD is not being triggered? Is he still cruel and controlling? Does he still feel he has the right to be the boss?
  • Is he also violent toward non-family members?
As discussed above, the pattern of coercive control stretches back a long way before Purgatory, and in fact has roots in the very earliest episodes of the series. As the OP acknowledges, the bulk of Dean’s abuse of Sam in S8 was emotional abuse, not unplanned, startled outbursts around triggers. Dean does not struggle to control himself around Garth or Aaron or even Meg. He easily plays nice with Charlie and the LARPers. This strongly suggests that PTSD is neither an explanation nor an excuse for Dean’s pattern of coercive control toward Sam throughout S8.

“We saw how devastated Sam was by Dean’s behavior in the first half of season eight and the consequences of that - his greatest sin being all the times he’s let Dean down and willingness to die for that.”

I agree that Dean’s behavior throughout S8 was likely the largest factor which drove Sam to the brink of suicide by the end of the season, but I am unclear as to how this constitutes evidence that he is not abusive.

“Sam is as caught up in this codependence as Dean.”

Yes, Sam is caught up in it, because Dean has employed the whole barrage of tactics listed in the first part of this post to ensure that Sam is caught up in it. That does not make it Sam’s fault.

“Dean’s greatest fear is losing Sam. We saw the results early in season eight and again with the gaslighting, and Sam’s reassurance that he’s not rejecting Dean causes Dean’s change in behavior.”

Dean may be afraid of losing Sam, but that does not cause or excuse his behavior. Fear of abandonment is a common excuse for IPV. “When abuser’s partner tries to leave, the abuser’s behavior represents a reaction to loss of control, not just to loss of love. And he/she is likely to either quickly go on to abuse another partner, or try to get the previous partner back under control.”

“It was great that Sam caught Dean in a lie and called him on it. Lying and keeping secrets is something they’ve both been guilty of, and they both need to work on it - Sam as well as Dean.”

This is victim-blaming, as it implies that past behavior meant that Sam deserved Dean’s behavior this season. It is a false equivalence, because lies Sam has told in the past did not constitute gaslighting of or violation of bodily autonomy for Dean. As de-nugis has so eloquently stated, referring to the congo line of violations Sam has suffered this season as “lies” is in and of itself a lie.

“Sam also needs to quit allowing himself to be ordered around by Dean”

So Sam is letting himself get abused?

“Dean’s ugly descent into over-protective, controlling brother is understandable given nearly every season of the series has increasingly compromised Sam’s abilities and/or judgment.”

You seem to be under the impression that the behavior listed above - including but not limited to gaslighting Sam (which CAUSES compromise of the target’s abilities and judgment), yelling at Sam (same), belittling his intellectual contributions to the partnership (again), and beating him bloody - is behavior that is reasonable when directed at a person of “compromised…abilities and/or judgment.” It is not.

.....questions? Comments?

spn: sammay!, supernatural, spn: dean what even, abuse

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