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How Jonah Hill’s Weaponised Therapy Talk Masks Coercive Control as Relationship Boundaries

by Ally McLaren

July was a bad month for men in Hollywood being exposed for controlling behaviours against their partners.

Firstly, Keke Palmer’s baby daddy Darius Jackson publicly shamed the outfit she wore to Usher’s Las Vegas show on social media. 


After a video was shared of Usher serenading Keke during his performance, Darius tweeted: “It’s the outfit tho… you a mom.”


Following the social media uproar that followed, with many criticising his comment as misogynistic and controlling, he continued: “We live in a generation where a man of the family doesn’t want the wife & mother to his kids to showcase booty cheeks to please others & he gets told how much of a hater he is.”

 

His comments are incredibly disappointing, but sadly, nothing new. 



It is commonplace for controlling men to take a beautiful, vibrant woman, praise how she’s sexy and they’re attracted to it, before deciding that because they are now in a relationship she cannot be that way anymore.

 

The explosive news then broke about Jonah Hill, as his ex-girlfriend Sarah Brady exposed texts between the two of them that showed him using therapy talk as a way to control her.

 

Hill has been open with his mental health struggles and his therapy journey. In 2022, he released a Netflix documentary film named Stutz, sharing his sessions with psychiatrist Dr. Phil Stutz, who he claims changed his life. Hill stated that he wanted to share the tools he has learned so that people can use them at home.

 

But it was these therapy tools that he used to control his girlfriend.

 

In the screenshots that Brady posted to her Instagram story, Hill can be seen explaining his ‘boundaries for romantic partnership’. These include her not ‘surfing with men’, ‘boundaryless inappropriate friendships with men’, ‘to model’, ‘to post pictures of yourself in a bathing suit’, and ‘friendships with women who are in unstable places and from your wild recent past’. 


He states that if she cannot commit to these boundaries then he is ‘not the right partner’ and that these are ‘my boundaries with you based on the ways these actions have hurt our trust’. Other texts showed Hill demanding Brady delete photos from her Instagram that he did not approve of, including images of her surfing in a swimsuit.

 

The issue with Jonah Hill using his therapy speak and learned technique in this way is that he is misusing the term boundaries. 


Boundaries are something you can set for yourself, or can be mutually consented to, but they are not something that you can impose on somebody else. Rather than setting boundaries, what Hill is doing is weaponising therapy speak to engage in coercive control. 


Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse, a pattern of behaviour which controls and isolates a partner until they are dependent on their abuser.

 

Hill’s texts to Brady demonstrate many of the classic signs of coercive control, which include:

 

Isolating a partner from friends and family - By isolating someone from their support system, they become more dependent on their abusive partner. Hill demands that Brady not spend time with friends that he doesn’t approve of, or any other men, which limits her to who she can spend time with besides him, others who she might share his abuse with or who might notice that she is being controlled.

 

Telling a partner who they can see and where they can go - Monitoring a partner’s activities such as who they see, where they go, and what they do, is an ultimate form of control. This way abusers are dictating the way that their partner lives their life, and this means that they have no autonomy over their own choices and do not feel like their own independent person.

 

Telling a partner what they can and can’t wear - Demonstrated in both Keke and Sarah’s cases, a common part of coercive control is dictating what a partner can wear and criticising them for ‘revealing’ or ‘inappropriate’ outfits. In Hill’s case, he demands that Sarah not wear any swimsuits or bikinis in photos, despite her being a professional surfer who wears these things as part of her job.

 

Controlling finances - By demanding that Sarah not model, post in bikinis, or spend time with other men surfing, Hill is effectively stopping her from doing her job. These are the ways that Sarah makes money as a professional surfer, so without this sense of freedom, she would be more dependent on Jonah financially. Stopping a partner from having a career of their own is a way to control them further and make them need you in more ways.

 

Gaslighting - Through constant criticism, putting someone down, and making them feel crazy, an abuser can manipulate their partner into questioning their own sanity and choices. They can make them feel like what they are doing is wrong and that they should be ashamed, even if they have not done anything wrong.  Hill showcases this perfectly by constantly trying to make Sarah feel guilty for disrespecting their relationship boundaries, though they are rules that he himself put in place.

 

If you recognise any of these signs of coercive control in your own relationship, or if something about the way your partner speaks to you feels wrong, it is important to seek help.

 

Therapy is an incredible tool that, when used in the right way, can be key to effective communication and working together through problems in a relationship. 


But it is vital to be aware of people misusing those terms to exert control in a relationship. This can give the abuser a perceived sense of authority or righteousness - if they learned this in therapy, then surely I am doing something wrong by going against their wishes? But that’s not the case.

 

If you want to set boundaries in a relationship, it’s got to be to do with you - not telling them what they can or can’t wear, do, or who they can hang out with.

 

Coercive control is now a criminal offence in the UK, because of the devastating impact it has on victim’s lives.

 

For more information and help on coercive control, visit: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/what-is-domestic-abuse/coercive-control/

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