Reeva Steenkamp texts to Oscar Pistorius teach us about emotional abuse


Here are texts Reeva sent to her boyfriend three weeks before she was killed.

I’m not posting this to make a comment about the legal side of the case but rather to help us learn how to spot the signs of emotional abuse in a relationship.
In particular notice her comment, “I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and of how you will react to me. ” 

This is very important.

If you are frightened of your partner and how they might react to you then you are in an abusive relationship.

This is intimidation and is one of the main aspects of an emotionally violent relationship. 

Emotional abuse is an attack on your personality and your character in order to control you. It can be really confusing if you are in a relationship with an abuser and you might keep trying to make things work.  If you change your behaviour because you are scared of how your partner will react you are being abused.



Here’s another text from Reeva to Oscar…

“I didn’t think you would criticize me for doing that especially not so loudly that others could hear. I might joke around and be all Tom boyish at times but I regards myself as a lady and I didn’t feel like one tonight after the way you treated me when we left. I’m a person too … I am trying my best to make you happy and I feel as thought you sometimes never are, no matter the effort I put in. I can’t be attacked by outsiders for dating you and be attacked by you — the one person I deserve protection from.”

Reeva talks of how she is trying so hard to make Oscar happy even though nothing she seems to do works. Classic signs of someone being abused are when they are trying to appease the abuser and always monitoring their own behaviour. Reeva is trying to reassure and placate her abuser. This is symptomatic of an abused partner tip toeing on eggshells and trying not to make their partner mad and keep the peace.

This is not a healthy relationship. 


Oscar was mean to his girlfriend, picks on her, puts her down -especially in front of other people. Reeva feels, “picked on … incessantly… I get snapped at and told my accents and voices are annoying … Stop chewing gum. Do this don’t do that…”

Oscar critisizes how she speaks, belittles her and tries to control her actions..

Control is the hallmark of an abuser. It is meant to make you question your own thoughts and feelings. These comments undermine her sense of self and also serve to isolate her from her friends. By creating scenes when she goes out with her friends he has started the process of isolation.

Many abusers publicly humiliate their partners, it’s a way of reducing their partners self esteem by making them feel small and humiliated. This is verbal abuse and you do not have to put up with it. This is an early red flag if you are dating an abuser. They might be charming most of the time until the mask slips down for a moment and they put you down in front of friends of family. Pay attention to this! This is the beginning of a slippery slope! If they publicly humiliate you this will not get better over time!

You might start to believe these put downs about yourself as your self esteem is gradually attacked and eroded more and more over time…  Consistent criticism from someone you love and admire might make you start working super hard to try and “improve yourself” for your partners approval as you internalise their criticism and start to blame yourself. This is a no win situation.

Sure, self improvement is important in a healthy  relationship of flexible give and take with a partner who is your EQUAL but trying to “fix” your supposedly terribly flawed self for the never ending lofty expectations of an abuser is a unbalanced game you can never win.

You will never be good enough for a person who chooses to abuse and you will lose yourself in the process of trying.

In a loving and healthy relationship your partner will want to boost you up not drag you down and put you down about petty things. If you feel pressured to fix yourself  to meet your partner’s high standards then you are not in a healthy relationship.

This is a very typical statement from an abused partner…. “But perhaps it says a lot about what’s going on here. Today was one of my best friend’s engagements and I wanted to stay longer. I was enjoying myself but it’s over now.” Reeva starts out by explaining her needs but then backs down and says it’s too late now. She’s not standing her ground or standing in her power because emotional abuse tears down that power and disempowers you. You lose the anchor of your selfhood and are left floundering.

Reeva also says that Oscar always talks about his various women he’s been with but if she mentions one long term boyfriend he gets very angry with her. She then mentions his tantrums. This double standard, possessiveness and jealousy is classic text book abusive relationship.

You can see that Oscar is very jealous and deals with that by controlling his girlfriends actions. It’s normal for people to feel a little bit jealous in a relationship however it is not normal to make their partner manage and hold up their jealousy and change their actions to deal it. If you’ve never done anything to make your partner suspect your devotion to them, never lied about seeing someone or cheated on them- then them dumping all this suspicious jealousy onto you, shaming your behaviour or attachments with friends is a big red flag for abuse.

I want to include examples now of how an abuser uses jealousy, possessiveness and isolation in an abusive relationship from the standard counselling text books to illustrate my point.

Controlling or manipulating her by controlling what she does, who she sees & talks to, what she reads, where she goes, limiting her outside involvement. 

Using jealousy to justify actions, using jealousy as a sign of love instead of insecurity. Unfounded accusations of cheating, unfaithfulness, infidelity.

Abuser treats her as if he owns her; he doesn’t want her to share her time/attention with anyone else.  Isolating the victim – controlling her schedule, limiting her involvement in activities, limiting access to telephone/internet, limiting access to enroll in certain classes, controlling her access to resources (e.g., health care, medications, car, friends, school, job, etc.).

Abuser seeks to destroy her social support system-not allowing her to spend time with family or friends, criticizing her friends, so she won’t spend time with
them, discouraging her from being close with anyone else.

Isolation is intended to make the abuser the center of the victim’s universe, as well as to limit purposefully the victim’s access to others who might attempt to help her/him escape.

(As females statistically are more likely to be victims of dating violence, these items are addressed toward female victims. Please note males can be victims of dating violence as well.)

You can forget that these texts are anything to do with Reeva or Oscar Pistorius for a minute. I’m a psychotherapist not a legal expert!

This story is all about the language that underpins emotional abuse in an intimate relationship.

Recently, I read these texts to a client who recognised the words as if they were her own.

If you have a friend who is being critisized so much by their partner that their self esteem is disappearing then please reach out for help.

If you are in a situation where someone is making you feel small, controlled, worthless and like you can’t do anything right and they critisize you for small, petty things like how you dress, housework, how you talk, how loud you laugh or you feel trapped, afraid and powerless then please get in touch.

There is a way out.




Fifty Shades of Grey. The difference between BDSM and abuse.

As a kink friendly sex therapist I’m frustrated with the book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Now that the movie has come out and everyone is talking about it, I wrote this column for Ciao magazine.

I understand the book has assisted many women to reawaken their sexual side and I’m glad that it’s bringing issues about female desire out into the open to talk about. I’m glad it addressed issues of female orgasm and desire and it’s good that  it’s brough kink into the mainstream for discussion but after reading it, here are my concerns.

Fifty Shades camouflages/romanticises abusive relationships under the pretence of BDSM. As a psychotherapist I’m worried when I meet clients who have partners who use BDSM as a cloak for their abusive behaviour. Healthy consensual BDSM should not be abuse.

1.) Consent is sexy!

Consent has to be clear-not assumed. Consent can be withdrawn or mediated at any time. If your choice to say no to is not respected or listened to, then it becomes violence. A submissive always has the right to say no to sex. Engaging in sexual activity you’re not comfortable with simply to keep your partner is not healthy BDSM.

2.) Intimate partner violence and abuse can be physical, mental, sexual and emotional.

Abuse in a relationship goes through a cycle from honeymoon stage  to planning to set up to abuse to guilt to excuses and then straight back to the honeymoon again. This cycle is played out throughout the book. In the honeymoon stage an abuser is affectionate to their partner as an apology for what they’ve done. In Fifty Shades, Christian often compliments Anastasia after he’s forced her into a non-consensual sexual situation.


3.) You cannot rescue an abuser.

I cannot emphasise this point enough. Repeat it outloud if you need to, “I cannot rescue an abuser.” 
Ana wants to save Christian. Despite the temptation of many of us to fall for someone damaged in the hope of changing them, it just is not possible.

A broken person can only fix themselves when they’re ready and willing.

Christian says he’s “fifty shades of fucked up,” admits he was sexually assaulted by an older woman when he was a minor and calls his mother “the crack whore.”  Christian oozes psychopathic and sexual sadist symptoms, has extreme mood swings and his anger terrifies Ana.  Rather than being attracted to the potential of a partner after we “save them,” let’s look at the present reality. How are they now? How do they treat me right now not how could they treat me in the future with some work.
4.) A healthy BDSM relationship is about consent, communication, negotiation and aftercare.

BDSM goes through a cycle of communication through to agreement through to scene or play through to after care and then to debriefing. You don’t see this in Fifty Shades of Grey.

Ana is an innocent, inexperienced virgin student and Christian is an experienced, narcissistic millionaire who threatens and stalks her to get his way.

In a healthy, consensual BDSM relationship no submissive should feel terror at being beaten by their angry partner if they do the “wrong thing.”

Walking on eggshells is a common feeling in an abusive relationship.  Unlike Ana, submissives don’t have to agree to sex they’re fearful of just to get information or gifts.
It is NOT consent if you say yes because you are too scared of their reaction if you say no. It’s not  consent if you feel like if you say no you will have to plead, bargain and strongly present your case.


4.) Abuse is about control.

Christian wants to control what Ana wears, eats, what Doctor administers what contraception he chooses for her, how many hours she sleeps a night, who she sees, and whether she drinks or takes drugs. Christian bugs her phone so he can track her down in his trademark all or nothing manipulative style. Christian buys Ana very expensive gifts that make her feel pressured and obligated to him.  These are hallmarks of an abusive relationship.
We aren’t taught about healthy relationships at school or growing up. We receive so many mixed messages from our parents, friends and the media about romance and relationships. We are often taught that if we pursued relentlessly then that’s romantic when often it can be the trademark of a highly possessive and narcisstic partner. Learning to know the difference is important to ensure you have healthy and fulfilling relationships.

I hope this gives insight about healthy relationships and consensual BDSM.

Please contact me today to transform your relationships or if you’d like to learn more about consensual BDSM and play in your relationship.