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Monday, 25 May 2020

What is Coercive Control?

By Dr Becky Spelman

Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse, or rather a combination of many different forms of abuse that are used to manipulate and force the victim into certain behaviours. Often, physical violence, and the threat of physical violence, is one strategy used by abusers to keep their victim compliant. Other strategies used by coercive abusers (often in combination) include:

  • Financial abuse, such as withdrawing financial support, confiscating earnings, or limiting access to money (for example, by maintaining control of ATM cards and other ways of withdrawing money).
  • Forced isolation, when the victim is forced to reduce or limit their contact with friends, family members, and other potential supports, and may also have their phone and other forms of communication withdrawn from them.
  • Gaslighting and manipulation, when the victim is repeatedly told that they are going mad, that they are worthless, that nobody likes them, and that they can only rely on their abusers, and so on.
  • Ongoing monitoring of communications on the phone, on social media, and so on, with the risk of violence or other forms of “punishment” if any of this communication is not to the abuser’s liking.
  • Extremely controlling behaviour, which might include limiting or controlling food intake, deciding for the victim when they can go shopping, go to sleep, and so on, and demands to be asked for permission before doing anything.
  • Threats of humiliation. For example, an abuser might take nude photographs of their victim and threaten to post them online if they do not comply with what they are told to do.
  • Being forced to engage in certain types of behaviour without wanting to—for example, coerced sexual activity, criminal activity, and so on.
  • Convincing the victim that they really want to be treated in an abusive manner.

When someone is suffering in an abusive relationship and experiences coercive control, they typically feel that they are trapped—that they cannot leave or try to change their circumstances, because if they do, they will suffer a physical attack and/or other penalties. Often, they accurately believe that their health or even life are at risk if they try to leave.

Abuse of this form is found in all sorts of relationships: for example, heterosexual, same-sex, and parent-child. While abusers can be either female or male, the most common pattern found in coercive control is that a male exerts power in an abusive fashion over his female partner. In all cases, victims typically suffer severe mental health consequences, especially when the abuse is over a lengthy period of time. They can lose all contact with their support network, lose access to or confidence in the workplace, and suffer devastating consequences for their self-esteem and levels of anxiety. There can also be profound consequences for their physical health.

Leaving an abusive relationship can exacerbate risk in the short term; typically victims need substantial support to leave such a relationship, and often need a “safe house” where they can go for a period of time while they transition back to normal life. Most will also need extensive therapy to address problems such as depression and anxiety, and to develop a sense of security and mental wellness.


For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.

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