Coercive Control – What is It and What to Do About it?

Photo by Sammy Williams

I trust most of you are having a lovely Valentine celebration with the one you love. My desire for you is that your loved one is treating you special, bought you a present AND flowers.

Today, however, I want to draw our attention to an insidious form of domestic abuse that many in government are too slow to address. In fact, too often it is overlooked in churches and business settings, as well.

Photo by Andrea Piacqudio

What IS Coercive Control?

Coercive control refers to a pattern of controlling behaviors that create an unequal power dynamic in a relationship. These behaviors give the perpetrator power over their partner, making it difficult for them to leave.

Louise Morales Brown

It is a form of domestic abuse that is designed to exploit, control, create dependency and dominate. The phrase coercive control was used originally by several feminist psychologists in the 70’s who worked with victims of domestic abuse. They recognized that the women had behaviors similar to those who had been hostages.

In fact, the purposes of coercive control are to:

  • Intimidate
  • Humiliate, shame (which is soul murder)
  • Exploit (a lot of financial abuse)
  • Isolate
  • Control partner
  • Gain power over partner
  • Dominate
  • Manipulate

 Initially, the perpetrator may begin with love-bombing. He makes you feel like your relationship is one you’ve seen in a romantic movie. You feel encompassed in love and a sense of feeling so special. Gradually, however, after he has you in a committed relationship, his behavior becomes more intimidating. His numerous daily calls become controlling, wanting to know where you are and who you’re with.

He may begin to criticize what you eat or what you wear…or your friends.

What happened to that guy who put me on a pedestal?!

Photo by Greg Rosenke

How To Recognize Coercive Control

It’s such a drip effect, each event gets a bit worse and a bit worse, and then someone has control over you, stated a victim.

Unfortunately, that is exactly how an abuser plans it, although it is difficult for us to accept. However, there are signs to watch for to enable you to recognize what is happening in your relationship. You are NOT crazy. There is a reason coercive control is considered a crime in several countries of the world, including the UK. (Unfortunately, the United States is dragging our feet with only 3 states with the law on the books. However, 2 others are considering it.) May God awaken our legislatures to this insidious form of domestic violence.

  1. Isolating you from friends and family
  2. Closely monitoring your activity – your cell phone and social media
  3. Denying your freedom of movement and autonomy
  4. Gaslighting – causing you to 2nd guess yourself
  5. Constantly criticizing and belittling you
  6. Controlling your finances
  7. Forcing you to live by their rules; victims feel like they’re walking on eggshells
  8. Parental alienation – turning the kids against you
  9. Policing your lifestyle – how much you sleep, eat, what you wear
  10. Making jealous accusations – about time you spend with friends or family, also a way to minimize your contact with them
  11. Regulating your sexual relationship – abusers make demands about when and what kind of sex
  12. Making violent threats – against children or pets if they don’t work on you
  13. Blackmailing you – abusers will do anything to get what they want, even if it means revealing something you told them in confidence at the beginning of the relationship
  14. Refusing access to help – they enjoy seeing themselves as all-powerful, but this is especially dangerous. It’s time to call the Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or text 88788.
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Now You Know, What Do You Do?

Leaving is necessary, but it’s also complicated – especially if children are involved. Controlling, power-hungry abusers will not allow you to leave without a fight, therefore, it is necessary that you have a safe plan. It IS possible. I work with women who have done so.

The first step is to prepare yourself emotionally, finally accepting that he will never change. Be prepared to grieve, despite the pain your relationship caused. There might have been some good times you remember. In addition, you invested a great deal into the relationship.

Next, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline or Called To Peace. They can connect you with an advocate who will help you plan your exit strategy.

Wendy Patrick, PhD, trial attorney and criminal law expert offers these tips, as well.

  • Maintain communication with your support systems whenever possible. This is important regardless of your abuser’s displeasure, says Patrick. You should also make sure family and friends have all of your contact information and check in on a regular basis.
  • Call a domestic violence hotline regularly. Keep track of where your nearest public phone is and periodically weigh your options with a professional. Our resource guide can provide you with more options.
  • Practice how to get out safely, and practice often. If you have kids, teach your kids to identify a safe place, such as a friend’s house or the library, where they can go to for help and how to call the police.
  • Have a safety plan. “When deciding to leave, victims should have a plan regarding where to go and who to stay with,” Patrick adds, “recognizing that the initial period of separation might be the most dangerous in terms of an abuser attempting to reconcile — through both legal and illegal conduct.”
light sea dawn landscape
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God often seems far away when we’re in the midst of painful situations. During those seasons my eyes may begin looking at my circumstances instead of at my Deliverer. In those moments, my problems seem overwhelming – perhaps even insurmountable.

But God…

He is our refuge and strength. We’re told this over and over in Psalms. Psalm 27:5, ESV says:

For he will hide me in his shelter

    in the day of trouble;

he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;

    he will lift me high upon a rock.

God will hide us and shelter us. That is a refuge.

Then one of my favorites to run to in trouble:

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present[b] help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. 

Psalm 46:1-3, ESV

Psalm 18:1-3 and Psalm 91:1-2 are two more passages that tell of God being a refuge for us.

He has not forgotten you. Let God be your refuge and strength as you seek a life of freedom.

I'm interested in what you think!