Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D.



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January-February 2021

Cinema Therapy — Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D.

What's Love Got To Do With It?

“What do you do when all the odds are against you? You keep going. You just don’t stop . . . if there’s one slap to the face, turn the other cheek. And the hurt you’re feeling? You can’t think about what’s being done to you now, or what has been done to you in the past. You just have to keep going.”
Tina Turner

Approximately 1.5 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted and/or raped by an intimate partner each year. American women are twice as likely to suffer domestic violence as breast cancer, writes Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D., in his book, The Body Keeps the Score. And, as we have been hearing in the national media, the Covid-19 crisis has resulted in a significant rise in domestic abuse cases worldwide.

A searing example of domestic violence is the 1993 biographical film What’s Love Got To Do With It?, starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. It’s about the abusive marriage between singer Tina Turner and her musician husband, Ike Turner, and was adapted from Tina’s biography titled “I, Tina.” It details her early love-starved life, rise to stardom, abusive marriage, and how she finally gained the courage to break free and regain her lost soul.

Tina, born Anna Mae Bullock in the backwoods of Nutbush, Tennessee, was abandoned by her mother and raised by her grandmother. Blessed with the gift of a strong singing voice, Tina spent her childhood singing her heart out in the church choir, which gave comfort to some of her emotional pain. At the age of 16, after her grandmother died, Tina moved to St. Louis, reuniting with her cold, emotionally-demanding mother and her “sexy” older sister, Alline. Even though later on she’d find success, fame, and money, it never got her “Muh’s” approval and the two remained emotionally at odds until her mother’s death.

In St. Louis, Tina’s dream of becoming a professional singer materializes after watching the talented, charismatic, street-smart bandleader, Ike Turner, perform at Club Manhattan. Later on when Ike hears Tina sing onstage, he gives her a spot in his band, Kinds of Rhythm, and begins mentoring her. This quickly morphs into him charming and seducing her. Starstruck, young, and naïve, she doesn’t see the danger in his infamous dark side, though she knows Ike is a womanizer, with a wife and two sons. Their relationship intensifies and in 1962 Tina gives birth to their son. Ike leaves his family and he and Tina marry in a quickie ceremony in Tijuana, Mexico. Once Tina is Ike’s wife, he behaves as though he owns her, and begins treating her like an object. He is always with her, becomes jealous of the attention she is getting as a rising R&B superstar, and the abuse intensifies into violence ― sudden rages, slapping her, beating her on the head with his fists, dragging her around by the hair, and then raping her. After the first time he hit her, Tina says in her book, he ordered her to bed and it was “like rape.” The film also illustrates many of the abuser’s toxic strategies, one being Ike’s blaming Tina for his violent rages, stating, “You made me do it!”

When Ike turns to drugs, his violent behavior worsens. Tina later seeks solace from her chaotic life in Buddhism. Reciting the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo calms and centers her to look inward and begin to evaluate her life. Finally, after many, many years, which includes a suicide attempt, Tina comes to grips with the lethal situation she is in. In a final fight with Ike, which takes place while they are in their limo on the way to a hotel, Tina, her face and clothes now bruised, battered, and bleeding, musters up the courage to defend herself and then escapes and runs across a busy street to her freedom.

This is the pivotal moment in her journey; she decides she has stayed overtime in this horrific marriage and creates the space for the healing of the deep wounds to begin. In divorce court, Tina gives up everything material ― but wins the right to retain her stage name after their divorce. She continues working solo and gets a break after meeting Australian manager and music producer, Roger Davies, who helps her realize her dream of rock stardom. Despite Ike's attempts to win her back, Tina prevails and finds solo success, accomplishing her dreams without Ike.

Psychological Implications
What’s Love Got To Do With It? is an enlightening film into the world of domestic abuse and offers hope to victims of domestic violence. It demonstrates how ending the cycle of domestic abuse can offer victims courage and inspiration about the possibility of a new beginning. The film clearly illustrates the couple’s dynamic of control and submission. It also illustrates two dynamics used by abusers, the perpetrator/victim/rescuer dynamic, and the stages of abuse as described in researcher and psychologist Lenore Walker’s Cycle of Abuse. There’s the honeymoon stage, the tension building, and then the explosion ― and then the cycle repeats with sweet talk, candy and flowers, giving the victim hope that “he”, in this case Ike, will change.

As do many abuse victims, Tina lived in two worlds, inner and outer, presenting two faces: one, the high energy musical performer we see on stage, and the other, the persona she presented as a wife to Ike ― walking on egg shells, fearful, hypervigilant, and shamed, while at the same time feeling drawn to him, and bonded, constantly seeking to gain his approval as she’d sought the approval of a mother who had abandoned her. (Tina promises never to abandon Ike.) Instead of defending Tina, “Muh” became “team Ike,” minimized Ike’s abuse of her, plus loved being “the mother of a celebrity” because she benefited from it, gaining both social status and a home that Tina’s success bought.

It was hard for Tina to see her own reality. In her book at one point, she tries to reject the picture of herself as “a woman who was a victim to an abusive con man.” She says she believes she was in control every minute. “I was there because I wanted to be, because I had promised.” She added, “O.K., so if I was a victim, fine. Maybe I was a victim for a short while. But give me credit for thinking the whole time I was there. See, I do have pride.”

One part of Tina bonded with the positive side of Ike, the talented musician. The victim part, unconsciously attached by their mutual trauma of abandonment, became vulnerable to Ike’s seduction. Once the trauma bond and the resulting dependency formed, Ike pulled back “love” and offered Tina intermittent reinforcement to cause panic and instability (denial, blame, gaslighting, infidelity, triangulation, etc.). Ike got a lot out of the fact that he could control Tina, and like other abusers, he got the victim (Tina) to behave in a certain way, blaming herself for his rages at her. Tina is pushed/pulled between fear and love and their common wound, childhood trauma and abandonment.

Tina and Ike presented as flip sides of the same coin. Tina acted-in, became a good girl, adhering to the rules of society, including perfectionism and achievement, while Ike acted-out, with alcohol, drugs, womanizing, and a drive for power, control, and material success. He lacked the tools required for a committed, empathic, loving relationship. Instead, he’d pull back “love” (such as the silent treatment or disapproving, critical looks), and cause Tina panic, instability, self-blame, and a loss of what was real.

The question is often asked in domestic abuse situations: Why did she (or he) stay? The answer is emotionally complex. Tina had limited expectations of protection, and lacked both community and family support. As a naïve young woman in a fast-paced company of musicians, she believed she couldn’t succeed without Ike. It’s not terrible every day. There are periods of calm, friendly persuasion, and even generosity. That, the safety of her children, and her promise not to abandon him, kept her hanging in there for nearly two decades ― until she finally got the help and insights to break the spell.

Tina Turner survived her ordeal thanks to her resilience, iron will, her drive for personal and professional identity, and her quest for soul survival, which meant facing the truth. “There’s always been emotion in my voice because it reached back to the life I was living,” Tina later said. “Where there were tears onstage, it wasn’t Hollywood, it was real.”

Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D. (PSY22909) is a clinical psychologist who practices in Encino. She leads Women's Empowerment Groups that help women learn the tools to move beyond self-destructive relationship patterns. She may be reached at 818.501.4123 or Her office address is 16055 Ventura Blvd. #1129 Encino, CA 91436.

San Fernando Valley Chapter – California Marriage and Family Therapists