For the uninitiated, Helen Archer, is the daughter of Pat and Tony Archer and the character in the Archers with ‘mental health’ problems. She is currently in police custody after stabbing her boyfriend Rob Titchener. Helen has, in the past, suffered from an eating disorder. More recently the programme has followed the development of her relationship with Rob Titchener. To everyone outside of their relationship and to Helen initially, Rob presented himself as charming, strong and capable and probably most importantly, incredibly understanding and sympathetic of Helen’s past problems. However, over the course of the last few months we have seen another side to Rob Titchener’s character.
As his relationship with Helen has developed he has shown himself to be controlling, critical and abusive. He began by putting her in situations in which he knew she would fail and then criticised her for it. As their relationship developed and his position in her affections became more secure he moved on to criticising her appearance (despite being aware and apparently being sympathetic of her eating disorder), controlling what she wears and restricting her money. He then quietly took over the running of the family’s farm shop which Helen had previously managed successfully and made her stay at home. More recently he has become physically and sexually violent grabbing her and bruising her wrists, raping her and then getting her drunk in order to get her pregnant.
There are many questions that are being asked about why this has happened and why no one has done anything to stop it. In this series of blogs, I will look at some of these questions
Why is Helen Archer with a man like Rob Titchener?
Helen Archer’s eating disorder indicates that she has extremely low self-esteem and her choice of Rob as a partner supports this. People who believe that they lack value will expect to be treated poorly and will perceive this tendency in potential partners, even before it is demonstrated and be attracted to them. It will feel more ‘right’ for them to be with a partner that mistreats them than someone who treats them well. Helen Archer is with Rob Titchener because she believes deep down that she is worthless and deserves to be treated badly. It is likely that she wouldn’t have been attracted to a man who would treat her well and would have instead found him boring and possibly a bit creepy.
Why is Rob Titchener with a woman like Helen Archer?
Our choice of partner tells us a lot about our self-esteem. Rob Titchener’s choice of Helen Archer as a partner indicates that he has low self-esteem. Adults with low self-esteem are rarely able to find a close relationship that is balanced in terms of power, either finding themselves as the victim (in this case Helen Archer) or as the abuser (in this case Rob Titchener). Rob Titchener’s low self-esteem makes sense if you look at his parents Bruce and Ursula Titchener who are both very critical of others. Critical parents raise children filled with self-doubt and loathing as through their criticism they undermine their child’s sense of being good enough.
The other important element in Rob’s choice of Helen as a partner is his parent’s relationship. Ursula Titchener, who is initially presented as critical, manipulative and controlling becomes nervy and uncertain in the presence of her husband Bruce. Our parent’s relationship is our first experience of an adult relationship and as such provides a template for future adult relationship. In choosing Helen as a partner Rob is able to recreate the power imbalance he has observed in his parent’s relationship.
Why does everyone think Rob Titchner is blameless?
Throughout his time in Ambridge Rob Titchner has charmed the locals and managed to hide the abusive treatment of his partner Helen Archer. Most people have been fooled into believing that he is a kind and decent man towards Helen and has her child Henry’s best interests at heart.
Since Helen’s imprisonment for stabbing Rob whilst defending her son people have continued to hold him in high regard firmly believing that he is an innocent victim.
There are a couple of reasons that the people of Ambridge may struggle to believe that Rob has a significant role to play in what happened to him. The first, people do not like to believe that they have been fooled particularly not in the extremely comprehensive way that Rob Titchner has fooled them. To realise that you have misjudge someone so spectacularly will unsettle the most confident and self-assured individual.
The second reason is that our capacity for violence, particularly towards each other, is a sobering reality and one we like to distance ourselves from whenever we can. One way we do this is to dehumanise the perpetrator (in this case Helen Archer). We may think of them as mad or crazy or that they ‘flipped out’, anything that distinguishes them from the rest of us. The reality however is that human behaviour always makes sense if you look carefully enough at the context. Helen Archer’s actions followed many months of escalating emotional, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Rob Titchner, her actions did not exist in a vacuum but were the consequence of significant and ongoing mistreatment. To consider this, however, would leave the residents of Ambridge face to face with their own capacity (if pushed hard enough) for violence.
It is these uncomfortable truths which explain the frustrating responses we hear as listeners to the programme.
Why is Helen Archer Not Standing up for Herself?
Following her arrest for the attack on Rob Titchner Helen Archer is refusing to see her family and give information to her solicitor that would help them to defend her. We have talked in previous blogs about how Helen’s actions make some sense in the context of the prolonged physical, emotional and sexual abuse that she suffered at the hands of her partner, so why does she not stand up for herself and provide everyone with the details that they need to understand what really happened and help her?
There are probably two reasons for Helen’s behaviour. The first is that in the face of a threat human beings are programmed to respond in 1 of 3 ways, 1) fight the danger, 2) flee from it or 3) in the case of Helen, freeze. We have evolved to freeze in face of a threat because if we do there is a chance that the threat may pass by without noticing us. However, this fight-flight-freeze response was designed for a different time, when we lived much closer to predators and when freezing stood a chance of protecting us. Evolution is a slow process and so we often find ourselves automatically falling back on these coping strategies despite the fact that are usually unhelpful in the faces of modern day threats, like being arrested for attacking a partner after months of abuse. It is unlikely that Helen’s choice to withdraw from those that could help her is a conscious one but the result of an innate response to feeling threatened.
The other reason for Helen’s current behaviour is that she believes she should be punished for what she has done. We have discussed in previous blogs that Helen was probably in a relationship with Rob Titchner because her low self-esteem led her to believe that she deserved to be abused by him. Victims of abuse frequently believe that they have ‘asked for it’. It is quite possible that this way of thinking is once again influencing her behaviour and leading her to distance herself from people that could help her because she doesn’t believe she deserves help.