Domestic violence is considerably more complicated than it may seem when we bring our awareness to the fact that not all abuse is physical.
In relationships where a partner mistreats the other emotionally or psychologically but never engages in physical abuse, the abuse can be more challenging to notice, and could easily leave a person second guessing his/herself. Nevertheless, these forms of abuse are no less traumatic for the victim. Domestic violence comes in various guises and since coercive control is quite an insidious type of abuse, it is important to be able to recognise it within a relationship.
What is coercive control?
As a form of psychological abuse, coercive control takes place when the perpetrator engages in a pattern of controlling and manipulative behaviours often involving intimidation or humiliation. Through these behaviours the perpetrator exerts power over the victim and takes away that person’s sense of freedom, self, and worth. As a result, the victim can feel more dependent on the perpetrator forming an invisible chain and cycle of controlling abuse. When it comes to coercive control, the victim is deprived of his/her liberty while the ability for action is reduced.
The element of uncertainty…
Because the nature of this type of domestic violence enforces self-doubt, it can be challenging to tell if it is happening to you and wonder if your concerns are even real – frequently second guessing yourself is natural whilst in a relationship where coercive control is taking place.
Let’s dive a little deeper here…
There are numerous subtle ways in which this can play out in a relationship however if the following signs are a part of your relations with another, know that your concerns are valid…
1. Isolating you from peers, friends, and family
This element of coercive control can be played out through the perpetrator making relationships challenging between you and your connections. Having contact with others becomes an issue as the perpetrator views others’ opinions as a threat to his/her need to control. Here the perpetrator attempts to put the victim in a position where he/she is alone.
2. Strictly monitoring your activity
Peeking at your social media or keeping an eye on your phone can sound innocent enough to some, however if the individual in question begins to strongly monitor your daily activities, something as innocent as these actions can swiftly spiral into complete coercive control.
This form of coercive control can include closely tracking where you are going, who you are with, how long you are with others, who your talking to on your phone or even installing cameras in the home.
3. Gaslighting you
Have you started to question your own version of reality? Gaslighting is a very subtle but crafty form of manipulation that results in a victim second guessing his/her own feelings, judgements and even sanity.
It can be a very dangerous and damaging type of emotional abuse where the perpetrator uses techniques to make the victim feel as though happenings are all their fault. As part of gaslighting, the victim is convinced that they have done or said things that they did not. The recipient of gaslighting can be left feeling confused, guilty, hurt and lost.
4. Frequently criticising you
A classic coercive control red flag can be seen when the victim is on the receiving end of constant put downs.
Here the individual responsible for the abuse can be aiming to break down the victim’s self-esteem and confidence. Criticisms can be carried out by the perpetrator both directly and indirectly.
5. Controlling your finances
Sharing a bank account may be seen as the next step in your relationship and may be very welcomed by you, however if an individual takes total control of your finances, then there could be something very amiss.
The perpetrator may do this as a method of making an individual more dependent on him/her or to ensure you have no means of going somewhere or doing anything without having to seek the finances from the perpetrator to do so first
6. Parental alienation
The use of parental alienation as a form of coercive control can be seen when a parent convinces a child to turn against the other parent without any valid reason.
This can be a way of isolating the victim even further as well as a method of ensuring that the perpetrator holds a hierarchical position in a family.
Escaping coercive control
Leaving an abusive relationship can be a complicated act which can require a great level of emotional resilience as well as careful planning. Some may feel they do not have the strength to leave as such relationships can truly disempower a person. You may have been put in a position where you feel that getting help from anywhere is a scary task, however realising that there is support out there and you do not have to go your journey alone may be your first step towards freedom.
The article is written by Darina, Trainee Counsellor at The DMC Clinic. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact The DMC Clinic to arrange an appointment.