Domestic abuse survivors tell me all the time they have to stop watching the HBO miniseries “Succession” (which I am devouring for the second time) because of being triggered by the narcissistic main character, patriarch Logan Roy.

Emily DiBartolo, a Bates College senior and member of the school’s Public Health Initiative student club, puts up one of the Finding Our Voices posters geared to youth that are going to 135 high schools and colleges this week. Photo by Patrisha McLean

But good luck finding in the reviews or official website or show itself a flagging of the domestic abuse – emotional, physical, sexual and financial – that is paraded across almost every frame of the three seasons.

Just as domestic abuse in real life is everywhere, but hidden in the shadows, so it is on TV, as well as in movies, songs and books. Open your eyes, and you will see. 

A prime example is the autobiography written in 1990 in Belfast by Ali MacGraw, who is best known for starring in one of the most popular romantic movies of all time, 1970’s “Love Story.”

The dust jacket of this book, “Moving Pictures,” cites MacGraw’s “passionate love affair” with “legendary actor” Steve McQueen. But the relationship she recounts is a case study in domestic abuse. Love has nothing to do with it. 

Here are anecdotes MacGraw relates in the book about the late actor, followed by the name of the tactic that abusers universally use to get and maintain control over the person who loves them. Rich or poor, reviled or revered by the public or their community, abusers are all the same.  


“In the beginning there were wonderful, romantic moments.” Sweeps you off your feet.

McQueen’s father abandoned him and his mother at birth, and “for the rest of his life he acted out his rage and distrust on all the women he met, particularly his wives.” Excuses for inexcusable behavior.

“My girlfriends were afraid to call the house because Steve always sounded irritable when the call was for me.” Isolation.

“Steve made it clear that he did not want me to act once we were married. It was not in writing but it was pretty much understood and my acquiescence to that wish had cut off my career at its very height.” Manipulation to make you dependent on them.  

I made up a kind of woman I thought would appeal to him and hid most of what I was … only half of me was allowed to live.” Turns you into a shell of yourself.

Steve McQueen, left, and Ali MacGraw, right, attend a Dec. 7, 1972, press screening of their movie “The Getaway,” a crime melodrama directed by Sam Peckinpah. Best known for starring in the 1970 romance “Love Story,” MacGraw wrote in her autobiography that she gave up her career and friends for McQueen – among the tactics commonly used by abusers to control the people who love them. Associated Press, File

He was angry at his first wife “for taking an enormous amount of money from him when they divorced even though she was incredibly fair.” Vilifying the exes.


“He insisted on a prenuptial agreement” even while “I gave up my career not only at its peak in popularity but also earning potential.” Financial abuse.

“We would go along peacefully for days on end, and then suddenly find ourselves in a horrible fight.” Yup, this is the cycle: honeymoon phase, escalation, rage. Also: Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. 

“Steve inadvertently backhanded me on the forehead. I had a healthy fear of Steve’s temper and physical strength and while there is no way I would have provoked another incident like this one there were times that Steve would get so angry that I was afraid of him.” Physical abuse. Keeps you on edge and afraid. Makes you believe everything is your fault: Note her words “inadvertently,” “healthy” and “I provoked.”

“After we divorced I was told by more than one friend of the parade of women he slept with. Liars and cheaters, all. 

“He started a jealous, rather sinister diatribe and did not let up all the way back to LA. He was convinced I had been flirting and nothing I said could convince him otherwise. It was sick and horrible and continued the next day at home. There would be a lull for an hour, a suspected truce, and then he would start in on me again like the Inquisition. Excessive and irrational jealousy. Gaslighting. Terrorizing.

“I missed what he meant to me: Safety from everything I might ever fear. Through the use of the above tactics, they make us believe they are protecting us from danger. In fact, they are the danger. 

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