Her involvement in Britney’s conservatorship has been called a betrayal. But what if Jamie Lynn was a victim of her family’s abuse, too?
Advertisement
Jamie Lynn Spears Isn't What We Think an "Abuser" Looks Like
Credit: Getty Images

In her shocking public statement to the court in June 2021, Britney Spears said, "I would honestly like to sue my whole family." 

Her father, Jamie Spears, has been cast as the primary villain of the story. However, on the rare occasions when the rest of the Spears family commented on the singer's 13-year-long conservatorship, they do so on behalf of the family as a whole — not just Jamie.

In her interview with Good Morning America to promote her memoir Things I Should Have Said, Britney's younger sister Jamie Lynn told interviewer Juju Chang essentially what her father told the media: If Britney had really wanted out of the conservatorship, she would have supported her. "I went out of my way to make sure that she had the contacts she needed to possibly go ahead and end the conservatorship and end this all for our family," Jamie Lynn said. "If it's gonna cause this much discord, why continue it?"

I haven't been able to get this idea out of my head. Family? Discord? It also reminded me of one of the interviews Britney's older brother Bryan gave in 2020. On the As NOT Seen on TV Podcast, he called the conservatorship "a great thing for our family, to this point, and [we] keep hoping for the best," adding, "we've had to work together as a family to keep it all going. One person might be on stage and doing this, but it's a sacrifice from everybody. Everyone is putting in, to some degree, a little bit to keep everything going." (Of course, unlike Jamie Lynn, Bryan admitted that Britney had always wanted out.) 

But what if there's more to this story than a simple betrayal? What if Jamie Lynn was also a victim of family abuse?

Jamie Lynn Spears Isn't What We Think an "Abuser" Looks Like — It Doesn't Mean She's Innocent
Credit: ABC News

We cannot know the specifics of the family dynamics, nor of Jamie Lynn's direct involvement or lack thereof in the conservatorship. But the interview, in which she also said she waited to speak out until Britney got a chance to speak first, and that she had also been pressured and controlled by the family, hints at a type of abuse shielded from view by a "family first" ethos. 

All types of domestic abuse have historically been excused away by the justice system as "private family matters." While that may be changing, a head of household may still be able to instill a sense of unbreakable loyalty within the family, allowing other members to excuse or look away from abuse happening right in front of their eyes. It feels very Sopranos, but a case could be made that this kind of blind family loyalty is what kept the Duggars from reporting Josh, even when they themselves were some of his victims. The British royal family is also famed for their tight-lipped unity, hiding a seething nest of interpersonal issues just beneath the surface which was brought to light first by Meghan Markle and then, more troublingly, by Prince Andrew's association with Jeffrey Epstein. 

The idea of putting family above all else seems rational at first, even natural. But it may also be a particularly insidious form of social conditioning that keeps children beholden to abusive parents, and encourages them to keep abusive behaviors hidden. 

"I see a lot of 'what happens in the family stays in the family,'" said Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in teens and families. "People are very reluctant to come out with what's going on in the family because they've gotten the message that, 'In this family, loyalty to the family comes first.' As a result, people who are being abused in the family emotionally, physically, and otherwise remain quiet for years and even decades just because of that familial loyalty."

The message received is that if you speak up about the abuse, you will be severely punished. The family first ideology may also gaslight other family members into excusing or overlooking the abuse happening to someone else. "I've seen siblings tear each other down, say, 'Why are you lying about mom and dad?' People who report things get cut off from the family," said Dr. Greenberg, which in turn compounds the gaslighting the abuse victim already feels. "They feel like, well, if my sisters are not acknowledging what happened to me, did it really happen to me?" 

In the GMA interview, Jamie Lynn doesn't outright deny that her dad had been abusive to Britney. In fact, she described "the family" exerting similar control over herself when she first became pregnant at age 16. According to the interview and her memoir, it sounds like Jamie Lynn was first pressured to get an abortion. When she decided to stay pregnant, she said she was sent to a remote cabin in the woods and cut off from all contact with the outside world in order to avoid media scrutiny during her pregnancy. She likened the feeling to"suffocating."

"I felt like … what was I going to do, I was a kid, and maybe this is in my best interest and maybe this is what I'm supposed to do, because of course I don't want to be, you know, hounded by the paparazzi or the tabloids or allow them to control my narrative. But it felt like I was really being alienated."

It sounds a lot like a small-scale version of what happened to her sister. If Jamie Lynn believed that being sent away and cut off from the outside world might have been in her best interests, maybe she truly believed that the conservatorship was in Britney's. Maybe Jamie Lynn was being gaslit, too. Maybe she was scared. Or maybe she was simply selfish. Maybe this memoir is as much of a cruel capitalization of her sister's pain as it appears to be. It's probably a little bit of everything. Whatever the reason, the Spearses are keeping it in the family.