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Recognising coercive control

What are the signs you may be affected?  

  1. You become isolated from friends and family – your partner may dissuade you from spending time with your loved ones. This can take the form of persuasion and pressure for example, if you really loved me, youd spend all your time with me. It may also include persuading you that your circle of friends and/or family do not have your best interests at heart. Sadly, as people pull away from their friends and family, the abuse can escalate unchecked.  

  2. Depriving someone of their basic needs – your partner may pressure you to stop working, to stop engaging in local life, to stop living your normal life and instead to orientate your day around them. They may also deprive you of your medical needs. This could be presented as a caring and generous gesture you dont need to work anymore; Ill take care of you. Ultimately it can result in a victims life being unwound and areas where they would normally gain self-esteem and fulfilment being lost.  

  3. Monitoring of your movements, time, communications – again, this could begin as an abuser positioning their control by stating their wish to protect you. It can be explained by them as designed to keep you safe but can serve to do the opposite. An abuser can seek to micromanage a survivors life, but this can happen incrementally and is therefore more likely to go unnoticed. Maybe they ask for the password on your phone, maybe they have your social media passwords too. Pressure can be applied and framed as a reasonable request, we trust each other dont we, so why wouldnt we share this information. Weve got nothing to hide from each other. The victim may feel unable to request that this trusting gesture be reciprocated.  We have also worked on cases where survivors have been monitored using car/bag trackers, the find my phone app, some perpetrators even monitor fitness watches or use social media geo-location tags. In such cases, we would always recommend that victims have their homes, cars, and devices physically/cyber swept and debugged by security professionals to make sure that they no longer remain under surveillance. 

  4. Your everyday life could start to be controlled – maybe it starts with the seemingly trivial dont wear that, this is better, ah, dont go there today, lets stay at home. However, this can escalate until entire areas of your life are being controlled: what or when you eat, what you wear, where you shop, when you can go out, who you can see or speak to. There have been cases where, post-separation, survivors have to readjust at a very gradual pace to having their independence restored. For example, having spent years making sure a meal ready for 7pm, else face an evening in silence or explosive outbursts from her partner, a client spent weeks adjusting to having meals at other times. Over 35 years, her partner had never done any housework or ever used the kitchen, and it took time for her not to feel compelled to obsessively clean her new accommodation. The residual fear of the ramifications of not doing something meant that progress was gradual but with support and time, the freedom of having autonomy was restored to many areas of the victims life. Sometimes new clients call and it has become apparent that they are being listened in on. We have contingency plans in place to ensure survivors who have built up the strength to try and leave their situation can be contacted in the most discrete way, minimising any risk that the abuser becomes aware that they may be planning to leave.  

  5. Financial control - with the Domestic Abuse Act of April 2021, financial control also falls within the definition of domestic abuse. It is imperative that banks and financial institutions provide training to their staff on how to assist victims who can be hamstrung in exploring leaving a relationship if they have no access to financial resources.  On this front, although we do not offer Legal Aid, a qualifying criteria is the ability to evidence domestic abuse and this is a further reason for survivors to engage with their GP/domestic abuse charities/the police as soon as they feel able to keep copies of all relevant paperwork, even if this means asking a friend or relative to keep these documents safe for you.  

  6. Degrading and humiliating treatment – needling comments, especially about someones personal insecurities, for example, their weight, appearance or age can start. Ignoring people or enforcing periods of silence can be common. Purposefully embarrassing behaviours may also become expected. There have been clients who had to beg for bus fare, having no personal bank accounts and no saving, have been made to sleep on the floor because they went out without permission, have been subject to tense evenings of misery because they have said something in the wrong tone of voice and need to be punished.  You may also experience gas lighting and you can begin to feel that you are losing yourself as your abuser provides repeated denials, deflections and lies denying your reality. Such behaviour acts to erode a survivors sense of self and can result in people not feeling able to ask for help because they can regard themselves as the problem or worrying that they will not be believed and even becoming concerned that they themselves are mentally ill. It is a tragic feature of such abuse that survivors can feel unable to speak about what they are experiencing by virtue of it being embarrassing. This underscores why it is so crucial that the stigma of shame around being subject to such abuse is dispelled.   

Why dont people leave?  

This is a common but unhelpful misconception – if this is happening, why dont survivors move out? This view fails to understand the crippling dynamic which an abuser seeks to perpetuate, by making a survivor feel increasingly disconnected and worthless, they can begin to feel that they are lucky to have a partner. Clients commonly make reference to having felt grateful for their partners for putting up with them, there is a sense that you trustingly emotionally invested in this person and they would be the least likely to seek to do you harm despite evidence to the contrary.   

It is a grim feature of this abuse that it can so successfully affect what the abuser seeks to achieve, to comprehensively dominate the survivors existence and for the survivor to feel thankful that they are tolerated.  

This can also make assisting a friend or family member who you consider may be subject to abuse very challenging. People can remain in denial for years, sometimes decades. Victims can suffer years, or decades of abuse, and only recently realise that they have been victimised. The normalisation of this treatment for the survivor means it can continue unchecked.  

Who can be affected?  

Anyone. At any age and of any class, ethnicity, gender or  background. Coercive control does not discriminate and it is wrong to perceive this as being abuse suffered by a particular demographic. Similarly, an abuser can be anyone from any walk of life. There are cases where abusers are well regarded in the community, have high profile jobs and are perceived as popular but behind closed doors it can be a completely different story.  

It is a misconception that abusers will target those with low self-esteem. More confident extroverts can also be subject to abuse as perpetrators can perversely perceive such personality types as more of a challenge.  

There should be no shame or guilt associated with having been subject to abuse however given the difficulty in evidencing the impact the abuse can have there can be a reluctance to seek help.  

Further coercive control can operate by reinforcing and threatening a victims most private fears and vulnerabilities. Coercive control can take hold by an abuser initially showering a survivor with love and affection, this is sometimes called love bombing. It is vital to appreciate that the personalised and bespoke nature of this type of domestic abuse can make it all the more insidious. There have been cases of victims being enamoured by a partner spending time at the start of a relationship talking candidly about their secrets, their greatest fears and concerns. They feel listened to and accepted, sometimes for the first time. This has a two-fold impact it engenders trust, someone is taking a seemingly sincere interest in you, they want to hear all about you, you think youve finally found a keeper. This can prompt survivors to emotionally invest in the relationship and it can therefore progress more quickly. However, in time, these confidences can be turned against a victim and leveraged to try and control them. It is a horrible paradox that people trustingly and lovingly provide information or photos that are later used against them, with the awful twist that the victim can be made to feel foolish for having trusted that person in the first place. Survivors can then feel to blame for their own abuse.  

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