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Emotional Abuse and Control - 'I am Nicola'

View profile for Liz Headley
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Did you watch the Channel 4 programme “I Am Nicola” aired on 23rd July 2019 starring Vicky McClure and Perry Fitzpatrick? It was extremely powerful viewing offering great insights into the insidious nature of emotional abuse.

Nicola and Adam’s relationship started off presenting as a happy, healthy one, but slowly behaviours began to emerge that suggested things were not as wholesome as they seemed. Vicky McClure drew on her own personal experiences of having a coercive, manipulative childhood friend in order to offer authenticity to the role of Nicola, in my view she got it just right.

There was never any threat of physical violence from Adam, but a sense of underlying menace pervaded throughout. As in many cases of emotional abuse, the partner who is being abused will interpret their partner’s coercive, dysfunctional behaviour in such a way that will allow them to excuse it. They may well take the blame for their partner’s reaction, labelling themselves as deserving of criticism and disapproval or they might minimise their partner’s reaction or put it down to them being stressed or anxious.

 Most of us, quite naturally want to believe that our chosen relationships have longevity and we will seek to find ways of interpreting negative events in order to reinforce that belief. It is only when the belief that the relationship is a healthy one starts to break down, that calculating, manipulative behaviours can be seen for what they are. We saw this in the case of Nicola who began to feel more and more uneasy with Adam’s comments and his need for control. Where previously it may have felt quite flattering to have someone so interested in where she was going, who she was seeing and what she was wearing, it began to feel an intrusion into her freedom and individuality. In the later stages of the programme when Nicola started to challenge some of Adam’s behaviour, we saw him apparently remorseful about his behaviour. He acknowledged he was jealous and needed to change but interestingly this was at the point where Nicola was saying that she needed some time away from him. His statements that he would change seemed to lack validity and were intended to keep Nicola firmly where she belonged – by his side. Suicide was also suggested, which is a form of control that some abusers do resort to when they are feeling that their power is under threat.

Thankfully we saw Nicola escape this abusive relationship, but as some of you reading this will know, it will have left its scars. These scars are not visible as the marks left by physical abuse are, but they can be as excruciating.

I sincerely hope that this programme might help some individuals who are experiencing emotional abuse; it might help them recognise the signs and maybe persuade them to seek professional help so that they can make an informed decision about their next steps.


If you are concerned about your relationship please contact the Family Department on 01295 270999 or 01788 579579.