Supernatural meta, reviews & fic recs

Supernatural: Violence Begets Violence

I’ve talked about the issue of abuse in other posts, but this is in response to a Tumblr post here, which argues that Dean was abused by John but Sam never suffered abuse. I beg to differ.

The greatest evidence we see that Sam was abused is revealed in his relationship with Dean. Throughout the series, we’ve seen Dean hit Sam in anger or fear. Abuse is a learned behavior, and much as we hate to think that Dean abused Sam as a kid, the punches that he throws as an adult and Sam’s reaction to them suggest that the behavior didn’t begin after Stanford.

If we argue that John abused Dean, then it is very likely that Dean learned that behavior from his father and hit Sam. I’m not suggesting that Dean habitually abused Sam, but I think that just as he does as an adult, he hit Sam when he was angry or fearful for him. Dean was just a child when he was made responsible for his younger brother, and young kids have low impulse control. He would have regretted hitting and hurting his Sammy the way his dad hurt him. It would have been another thing that fed his self-loathing.

One of the most famous fights scenes in the series is when Sam throws the first punch in 4.21 When the Levee Breaks, but in 2.03 Bloodlust, 4.04 Metamorphosis, 6.11 Appointment in Samarra, and 7.03 The Girl Next Door, it is Dean who throws the first punch and in almost every case, even as soulless!Sam in 6.06 You Can’t Handle the Truth, Sam doesn’t defend himself. Why is that? Certainly, he’s big enough and old enough. He argues with Dean in other respects, but when Dean hits him, Sam rarely hits back. My guess is that it is an established pattern. Sam was a tough little shit and stubborn. Dean would hit, and Sam would take it.

Sam: You can hit me all you want. It won’t change anything. 2.03

and

Sam: Are you leaving? Dean, come on… (Dean whips around and punches Sam in the mouth)
Sam: (turning back, lip bloody) Satisfied? (Dean punches him again) 4.04

Personally, I don’t think that the fact that Sam argued with John is evidence that John didn’t hit Sam. Sam and Dean are just very different personalities, so their reactions would have been very different. Dean struggled to do everything right and not anger his father. I’ve no doubt he put himself between Sam and John, but that doesn’t mean John never hit Sam or that Dean didn’t lose his temper as a kid and hit Sam too. There’s no logical reason for why he wouldn’t have. It might not have been often, it might not have been severe beatings, but the occasional slap or punch because Sam could be so stubborn and mouthy and infuriating … yep. Perhaps from experience himself with John or watching John with Dean, Sam figures that he’ll get hit either way.

We’ve seen Dean hit Sam in anger and we’ve seen him hit Sam out of fear for him as he did when Sam took off with the Impala in The Girl Next Door. We also saw him slap Ben in 6.21 Let It Bleed. The Winchesters are violent men who can justify violence even amongst themselves, even with children, in order keep each other safe. I doubt that any of them would call it abuse, but from the outside, it is.

Of course, John went beyond physical abuse to verbal and emotional abuse. Dean bore the brunt of it as the oldest and the one who was made responsible for the younger sibling. I wouldn’t say that Dean was emotionally abusive to Sam. Although in he is very controlling with Sam. While that may be attributed to over-protectiveness, from Sam’s perspective it is what it is. He bristles at it throughout the series.

We know that John continued being verbally and emotionally abusive to Dean even in adulthood. This has already gotten way longer than I intended, so I won’t go into a long explanation for why I think it is that Sam reacted so differently to John’s verbal abuse, but I suspect it goes back the initial trauma that Dean suffered over his mother’s death and his over-protectiveness of Sam.

Ironically, Sam never felt safe in spite of all Dean’s attention. That may go back to Dean not being a completely safe haven for Sam. Despite the way Dean protected Sam from outside threats, he himself could be a threat. At times he was the aggressor and to a small child who doesn’t completely understand the reasons they are being hit, that can leave long-lasting distrust. It may explain why he ran not just from John but from Dean as well. The fact that Dean hits Sam doesn’t make him a horrible person, not within the context of their lives, but it also helps explain Sam’s behavior of walking or, in some cases, running away that so many fans have criticized him for.

While John’s anger and abuse may have concentrated most heavily on Dean, no doubt it reached Sam either directly or through its influence on Dean. While John’s anger and abuse may have concentrated most heavily on Dean, no doubt it reached Sam either directly or through its influence on Dean. It’s clear from John’s journal that while he was not as hard on Sam when it came to training and toeing the line as Dean, which led Dean to the mistaken conclusion that his dad doted on Sam, we know that John and Sam had some ugly fights, and on at least one occasion, John sent Dean on a hunt in order to have it out with Sam when Dean wasn’t around.

It is really difficult to analyze Sam’s deep-seated fear, apprehension, anxiety, sleeplessness, etc. because of the outside threats in the lives, but I think it is a mistake to ignore the signs of abuse Sam exhibits just because he reacts differently from Dean.

 

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4 responses

  1. Abuse is a very hot-button topic, especially given the range of opinions on John Winchester. I personally feel like I see a lot of generalizations on abuse victims, and uninformed opinions on abusers. “John was a good man therefore he was not an abuser” and the like.

    That being said, I definitely agree with what you’ve said here. Dean’s treatment of Sam has been bothering me a lot recently, especially when he has reached new levels of controlling with Zeke. His continual use of violence to escape uncomfortable emotional situations (and Sam’s lack of response, or the way he expects it) has been troubling me a lot lately.

    November 8, 2013 at 5:43 pm

  2. lkeke35

    Yes, this! This is the second post I’ve read on this topic about how Sam never hits dean unless he’s being acted upon by an outside force, (I’m not sure if the demon-blood addiction counts.)

    I do find it very disturbing, Not so much that Dean does it but that Sam expects it and makes no effort to fight back. (I first noticed this in You Can’t Handle the Truth.)

    Excellent topic. Definitely food for thought.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    • Yes, it’s the part about Sam not fighting back that is disturbing because ordinarily a sibling will hit back. The fact that he doesn’t suggests to me that he accepts it as if an it’s extension of ;he “discipline” that John meted out. As a kid it might have been Dean acting as his father expected to keep Sam in line. I wonder. What we’re seeing from Dean the past two seasons is much more like John that he was in the early seasons. He’s more controlling and less in tune with Sam’s feelings. That really bothers me because two seasons ago I saw him moving away from that.

      December 16, 2013 at 7:58 pm

  3. crichee

    My only thing on this is: a lot of siblings hit each other occassionally. If this is the standard for abuse, then I was abused, as were my siblings, and both my parents, and just most of the people I know. Even my parents occassionally gave me a spanking. And P.S. not all personality types will fight back. Some (like me) are better at using words to shoot you down. Some like my younder sister are just naturally passive. Others, like my other sister, will run and tell on you every time. Sometimes you just see a need to diffuse the situation because you don’t want to fight, or you feel guilty for hurting thier feelings.

    I guess it just matters what your definiton of abuse is. Because, I would NEVER say that I was abused as a child. I think the nuance is something that is very touchy and delicate, and differs from situation to situation. Usually if the person feels they were abused, they were. If they grew up in fear or feeling dominated, hated and restricted, they probably were. But that’s a hard thing to determine outside of the situation (and of course with characters on a TV show). All I’m saying is, I don’t think there’s even a need to prove physical abuse here. The emotional abuse and neglect is apparent enough. When we get into the broad specualtion (based on such little evidence), it starts getting really uncomfortably iffy to me.

    February 12, 2015 at 12:29 am

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