In 1994 when General Hospital’s Sonny Corinthos told Brenda Barrett about his stepfather, Deke, beating him and his mother when he was a child, our hearts broke for him. We felt his pain and how haunted he was by the memories he carried. And how that pain manifested itself in his need for power and control to compensate for having none as a child. Deke was an evil man who tortured a young boy and his mother, and however Sonny needed to cope to survive, we understood.
So, when he was angrily possessive over Brenda dancing with Miguel at the Quartermaine mansion, we reasoned that he wasn’t given the tools to handle his anger. And when he shook Brenda violently, nearly throwing her to the floor, screaming in her face that she was making him turn into Deke, we grimaced but shrugged it off as a heat of the moment loss of control. And we did the same when he gaslit Brenda about his mob activities, dragged her from her chair at Luke’s, repeatedly called her a whore, and degraded her while shrouding himself in a cloud of pain to cover the awfulness of his actions.
In 2000 when he told Alexis about his childhood abuse, we felt his fear at the thought it could be used against him when it came to his own child’s welfare. We saw his desperation to not be held accountable for what had been done to him, for Deke to not be able to hurt him yet again and we applauded his determination to break the cycle of abuse and protect his child after his mother was unable to protect him. We rooted for him to be a father and for it to be part of what healed him.
Through all of our early feelings for Sonny and his trauma and his pain, something got lost, and that something was the women he was victimizing even as he relayed the story of his abusive childhood.
As the years have passed Sonny has related the tale of Deke Woods to many women…Brenda…Carly…Alexis…Emily…the list goes on and on. Long time General Hospital viewers know very well how Sonny was beaten and locked in a closet repeatedly by his stepfather. Just like we know that he has also told every woman he opened up to that he vowed to never be like Deke, to never abuse a woman, and while he may have never physically smacked or punched a woman, Sonny Corinthos IS physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive to women and has been for 30 years.
Sonny violently grabs women and shakes them and pushes them around. He throws things at them and in their directions and yells and breaks glass. Most of the women Sonny has had intimate relationships with have at one time or another, sometimes many times, cowered from him during one of his violent outbursts. They jump when he yells and close their eyes when the glass starts to shatter in their direction, and they cry and beg and plead with him to calm down and let them help him. He yells terrible things at them, calls them whores and tells them they are worthless. He beats them down verbally in more damaging ways than his fists ever could. He is frightening and they are scared of him.
He screamed and threw things at Carly before they were even a couple. Called her horrible names and treated her like dirt just because he could. Told her she was worthless and just like him. He put his hands on her violently and had to be pushed away by Jason. When they paired them, it not only continued but got worse.
In 2006 Sonny was diagnosed as bi-polar and supposedly began medication and therapy to treat it but his mistreatment of women continued.
When he was married to Claudia Zacharra in 2008, she received some of the worst venom he ever spewed toward a woman, and it was shrugged off because of her part in the attempted hit on him that resulted in his son being shot but her actions did not make the abuse she received from her husband any less real especially considering he didn’t even know about her involvement in the shooting until well after his abuse of her began. He was eventually called out for it by her son and his daughter, but he blew it off because he felt she deserved everything she got. As always, Sonny could justify his abuse of a woman and he was allowed to do so.
When his daughter, Kristina, was abused by her boyfriend in 2010, Sonny’s abusive nature was given the brightest spotlight it had ever received and the fact that he was abusive was said to his face by multiple people he loved and the therapist his daughter was seeing to deal with her own trauma. What could have been and should have been a moment of real growth and healing for Sonny was wasted and resulted, yet again, in no change. He continued to insist he was not abusive because he did not actually hit and continued to be abusive in all the ways he always had been before. Even Carly asking him if there was anything Kristina could do to deserve to be treated by a man the way Carly had been treated by Sonny had no effect on how Sonny saw his own behavior. He just ignored the question, maybe because he didn’t like the actual answer.
He asked Carly if she thought he had abused her, and she was painfully honest with him in as gentle a way as she could be. He repaid her honesty by turning it around on her and placing the blame for his actions on her “pushing his buttons” and making him do the things he did which is classic abuser behavior. Abusers always blame their victims for making them act the way they do. Sonny blamed Brenda, he blamed Claudia, he blamed Carly. He seems to have blame for everyone but himself.
Now, here we are almost 30 years later and recently on General Hospital, Sonny Corinthos had another violent outburst that terrified another woman he is romantically involved with, and he relayed to her, almost by rote, the tale of his stepfather’s abuse of him and his mother and repeated his fears of being like him, even saying he saw him reflected in her eyes, only to be reassured, once again, that he was nothing like that and none of it was his fault, but this time one thing was very different and that was the reaction of a fair amount of the online fanbase.
This time we didn’t feel his pain, our hearts didn’t break, and we certainly didn’t cry for him. His cracking voice and eyes filled with tears about to spill did not move us. This time many of us rolled our eyes and shook our heads in disgust at him. Some even asked if this story was some sort of pickup line for Sonny. It just didn’t hit the same. Which begs the question: What has changed?
Have we become so jaded or cold-hearted that the plight of an abused child left us completely unaffected… or are we just sick of seeing a grown man who has supposedly been in therapy for almost a decade and a half, still refusing to see the abusiveness in his behaviors and even more importantly, refusing to do anything to correct it… all while still expecting some sort of pass because he too had once been the abused?
When he has told women about Deke, he has said he hit him and his mother but also that he would grab his mother and shake her and pushed her and call her nasty names. Did he not see that as part of the abuse she endured or is it only abuse when Deke did it?
Abuse is ultimately about power and control, the two things that Sonny craves the most. He has found a way to exert that power and control over the women in his life without actually hitting them which he uses to convince himself that he is not like Deke. By his own repeated retelling the only difference in their behaviors is that actual act of hitting. Sonny clings to this singular difference like a lifeline and perhaps it is.
He insists on claiming that the only type of abuse is the type of abuse he endured and nothing else qualifies, which furthers his goal of painting himself as the ultimate victim, another classic abuser trait. To Sonny no one has suffered the way he has suffered, no one’s pain matters but his own and the pain he inflicts could never compare to the pain that has been inflicted upon him and therefore doesn’t matter to him. Very rarely has Sonny even expressed feigned remorse for what he has done to a woman he abuses and when he does it is usually framed in a way that ultimately benefits only him or is really him just blaming them for ‘making him’ do it.
What Sonny continues to fail to understand is that no one is any more to blame for the abuse he inflicts on them than he was to blame for abuse Deke inflicted on him. As a child he did nothing to deserve being locked in a closet or beaten. In the same vein Brenda did nothing to deserve being grabbed and dragged around by him. Carly did nothing to deserve to have glass thrown at her while she was pregnant with his child. Claudia did nothing to deserve being called a faithless bitch, a lying whore, or a psychotic piece of trash in a roomful of people on her birthday. Not one of these women made Sonny say or do these things. Not one of these women could have ever done anything to deserve him saying or doing these things to them. If he did not want to be with them, then he always had the option to leave them. The fact that they remained in these relationships with him does not give him a pass.
Knowing what we know now, one has to wonder… when we watched all those years ago, did we feel so deeply for Sonny because he actually deserved it back then or did we just not know any better because we were younger and the world was a different place? Much more is known and spoken about when it comes to intimate partner abuse than was known or spoken about 30 years ago so there is that. General Hospital did a Public Service Announcement about the issue in 2010 when Kristina was abused by her boyfriend, Kieffer. Yet even after their PSA, Sonny’s abuse of women has continued. He continues to grab them and shake them. He continues to break glass and terrify them. He continues to degrade and demean them. His continued abusive behavior after all these years has even tainted how we view the old scenes we once felt so much empathy while watching.
Sonny Corinthos is the undisputed lead character of General Hospital. The fact that he can continue to act this way after almost 3 decades and still be considered a viable romantic leading man is an embarrassment to the entire genre. It is way past time for him to either actually address his abusiveness of women honestly or to be treated and called out as the abuser he chooses to continue to be onscreen by other characters. Soap operas have a reputation for being dramatic and over the top and there are many things that are ok on soaps that would never be ok in real life, intimate partner abuse is not one of them. Soaps may be campy and fun escapism, but they have also always been on the forefront in representing real life issues in a way that can make a difference and with women being the overwhelming majority of their viewership this should be an issue they always strive to get right, to make sure that not one viewer thinks that how Sonny treats so many of the women he is involved with is admirable, desirable or even acceptable. Maya Angelou told us “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” General Hospital, you have known better for a long time now, the time has come for you to do better.
If you or anyone you know either are, or think you are, involved in a situation that involves intimate partner abuse, please know that help and resources are available. The National Domestic Violence hotline is confidential and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Just call 800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788.