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Domestic Violence: Big Little Lies Television Show

Summary of the Plot

The Big Little Lies is a popular 2017 television show that depicts the lives of five privileged and wealthy women residing in Monterey, California, who are involved in a murder investigation. The show presents actress Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright’s struggle with her marriage, although her life seems perfect (Kelley, 2017). Celeste has a perfect house, a successful and loving husband, and adorable twins. In the show, Celeste was initially a lawyer, but when she got married, she had to be a housewife while Perry was the sole breadwinner. Thus, the series shows the problematic life of Celeste, which is riddled with different types of domestic violence.

Description of Violence in the Television Show

Celeste’s husband, Perry, demonstrates various instances of domestic violence whereby he inflicts physical and psychological abuse on Celeste. Perry is a typical insecure man who utilizes his masculinity to establish authority in their home. Every challenge presented by Celeste is perceived to be a threat to Perry’s masculinity, and he often abuses her emotionally and physically (Kelley, 2017). Besides, Perry is a man who anticipates knowing Celeste’s every move resulting in him raping and abusing her when she fails to comply with his demands. Therefore, Celeste suffers from physical, sexual, financial, and emotional abuse caused by her husband, who mostly roughly pushes her, squeezes her throat, and assaults her.

The series also shows the lives of Celeste and Perry’s children, especially their violent behavior at school. This is influenced by their father’s domestic violence and the abuse he extends to their mother at home. For instance, there is a scene whereby one of the children assaulted a little girl and coerced her to blame someone else to avoid more violence. Besides, the television show reveals how Perry’s violent tendencies began before he married Celeste, whereby he is accused of rape. Celeste’s threats to leave the marriage are met with Perry’s remorse, whereby he blames her for the domestic violence she experiences at their home (Kelley, 2017). At one point, Perry threatens to kill himself if Celeste leaves the marriage, and Celeste is mostly obliged to leave for fear of separating her children from their father and the need to go back to her career. This results in Celeste’s belief that the violence inflicted on Perry is her fault.

Impact of Domestic Violence on Character

The characteristics and symptoms of domestic violence differ based on the kind of abuse an individual encounters. For instance, physical abuse includes symptoms such as insomnia, chronic pain, headaches, and bruises. In most cases, emotional and physical abuse entails similar symptoms. The Big Little Lies television show depicts multiple instances of psychological and physical abuse whereby the main character, Celeste, demonstrates various symptoms, especially bruises inflicted by her husband, Perry (McVeigh, 2019). Celeste is forced to cover them with clothing and makeup. Moreover, Celeste demonstrates withdrawal symptoms whereby she has to fake happiness in public. When she is with her husband, she has to show other people how happy she is as a married woman. However, when she was talking to a therapist or alone at home, she expressed the anguish she experienced in her marriage.

In addition, most victims of domestic violence often blame themselves for the abuse they encounter. This is evident in the series, whereby Celeste often blames herself for Perry’s violent behavior towards her. Despite Perry asserting dominance by sexually and physically abusing her, Celeste’s act of hitting back is one of the things that makes her blame herself (Paragis et al., 2019). Thus, the film emphasizes how most domestic violence affects the lives of victims. In this case, there is a link between emotional and physical abuse and the control that the perpetrator asserts on the victim.

Theoretical Explanations of Domestic Violence

Most domestic violence cases involve a cycle of violence whereby the perpetrator begins by establishing control or manipulation over the victim. When the violence begins, it becomes difficult for it to stop, and most individuals become psychologically, emotionally, and physically affected by abuse. For example, any threat extended to authority or control is countered by the use of abuse or imminent violence (Ali et al., 2020). In Big Little Lies, the abuse that Perry extends to Celeste becomes a norm until they are forced to attend therapy. The emotional and physical abuse becomes a cycle of violence, which is repeated from time to time in the marriage.

Cycle of Violence Theory

Most domestic violence cases involve a cycle of violence. Its initial phase is tension building. It starts when the perpetrator experiences things that make them unhappy or angry, and it escalates to incidents of verbal and emotional abuse towards the victim. The second phase is the acute explosion stage, whereby the perpetrator uses violence and hurts the victim. For instance, most victims of physical abuse acquire minor or major injuries, including bruises, and the perpetrator attempts to release tension through violence (Ali et al., 2020). In the television show, Celeste experiences occasional bruises, and she has to hide them by applying makeup or putting on non-revealing clothing. A conflict between Perry and Celeste causes threats, arguments, accusations, and finally, physical abuse, and this continues. The final phase is the honeymoon stage, and it entails blame, guilt, and remorse. In this stage, the individuals involved attempt to calm the tension between them, but this influences a cycle of violence again (McVeigh, 2019). Both Celeste and Perry undergo these three stages in their marital relationship, and the cycle of violence is a common theory that is demonstrated in various scenes.

Traumatic Bonding Theory

The theory of Traumatic bonding significantly elaborates on Celeste and Perry’s relationship. It explores why domestic abuse victims stay with their perpetrators. For instance, the theory asserts that relationships that involve domestic violence have a power imbalance whereby the perpetrators see themselves as strong or dominant against the victims. As the relationship continues, most victims consider themselves powerless, whereby they encounter difficulties in leaving it and continue acquiring various kinds of abuse (Ali et al., 2020). Nevertheless, the theory shows that most women stay in abusive relationships or marriages because in between the cycle of violence, they experience displays of affection and love, which makes them bond with the perpetrators. This is based on the victim’s feelings, which are associated with the Stockholm syndrome. The victims express gratitude for the minor acts of affection and mercy they acquire from their perpetrators.

In Big Little Lies, the theory best describes Celeste and Perry’s relationship. Celeste stops working as a lawyer and becomes dependent on her husband, Perry, who is responsible for her halting her career. Perry does not allow or entertain the idea that he should continue working. Besides, Celeste reaches a point whereby she rationalizes violence and extends blame to herself for self-defense, hitting or provoking her husband. Thus, Celeste believes that her husband’s inability to control his emotions and anger is entirely her fault. This is one of the reasons she stays in the marriage despite frequent threats to leave it (Kelley, 2017). Celeste believes that hitting her husband back means that she also has a violent tendency and fails to acknowledge that her husband is violent and she is a victim. Although she experiences domestic violence, Perry demonstrates his love for her by constantly sending her gifts and flowers and taking her on luxurious trips. This makes Celeste believe that her husband has immense love for her despite the abuse.


Domestic violence intervention is crucial, and most victims should be subjected to intervention or treatment opportunities. When individuals of abuse are not subjected to intervention methods, the situation may escalate and lead to death. In the television series, Celeste attempts to seek intervention by talking to a therapist who attempts to alleviate her situation. However, there are multiple intervention strategies that could have helped with the domestic violence issue. Apart from the therapist, Celeste should have taken the initial approach of speaking to someone about the abuse she was experiencing (Howard et al., 2010). Most studies show that domestic abuse victims often isolate themselves and often express embarrassment for fear of stigma. Also, they express fear of sharing their situation because of how they can be seen as weak for not protecting themselves or fighting back. As a result, domestic violence victims continue suffering in silence, and confiding in someone else is vital to making the situation less critical.

In addition, reporting domestic abuse to the authorities is an important intervention strategy that seeks to stop the cycle of violence. Celeste should have informed the relevant authorities about the physical and emotional abuse that Perry subjected to her, which could have been a great step in investigating it and taking necessary measures (Howard et al., 2010). This could have made sure that Celeste does not continue being a victim of domestic violence.

Treatment and Resources

Victims of domestic violence, such as Celeste, should seek treatment, which encompasses acquiring medication for injuries or bruises and seeking the services of a therapist/psychologist. Celeste should also have joined a support group to share her story with other victims and learn that she is not alone and some other women have the same experiences. Furthermore, she should have explained the situation to her children and made sure they received therapy, which is crucial to minimizing the psychological impacts of abuse once they became adults (Howard et al., 2010). Moreover, Celeste should have sought divorce from her husband and left the marriage to avoid further abuse. Lastly, she should have gone back to being a lawyer to develop self-sufficiency and self-esteem, which is essential in helping her prevent domestic abuse that may occur in the future.

There are multiple resources that could help victims of domestic violence, like Celeste. The American Bar Association Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence organization is helpful because it educates on various categories of domestic abuse and assists survivors and victims in acquiring justice. Besides, the Battered Women Justice Project trains domestic violence survivors and offers them technical assistance in physical or psychological abuse cases (Howard et al., 2010). Children involved in domestic violence can be helped through the Child Welfare League of America organization, which assists children residing in domestic violence households. Therefore, these organizations are essential and helpful to Celeste’s situation.


Ali, P., McGarry, J., & Bradbury-Jones, C. (2020). Domestic violence and abuse: theoretical explanation and perspectives. Domestic violence in health contexts: A guide for healthcare professions, pp. 17–33.

Howard, L. M., Trevillion, K., Khalifeh, H., Woodall, A., Agnew-Davies, R., & Feder, G. (2010). Domestic violence and severe psychiatric disorders: prevalence and interventions. Psychological medicine40(6), 881–893.

Kelley, D. E. (2017). “Big Little Lies” HBO Entertainment.

McVeigh, M. (2019). Theme and complex narrative structure in HBO’s Big Little Lies (2017). Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media Special Issue.

Paragis, M. P., Cambra-Badii, I., Mastandrea, P., & Martínez, D. (2019). Big Little Lies: a contemporary TV series about the representation of feminine subjectivity and violence against women. Comuni-cación y Medios 2839, 14-25.


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