Coercive control is a form of family and domestic violence and abuse. This emotional abuse is a pattern aimed at asserting power and control over another person. Coercive control is targeted and relentless – and these tactics work.
Perpetrators may appear to have some undesirable personality traits; however, these behaviours are dangerously purposeful. These behaviours are serious red flags – the goal is to gain total control over your life. Once achieved, further violence can escalate, including physical, psychological, sexual, and financial abuse.
The impact of emotional abuse and coercive control can be devastating. For many women, uncertainty and instability caused by fear and intimidation can have profound effects. As a result, a decline in mental health can often result in the victim experiencing anxiety, panic, depression, low self-worth, and suicide ideation. While there are many ways an abuser can use coercive control, here are five signs you need to know.
1. Intimidation And Control – Walking On Eggshells
Intimation is aimed at power over you while controlling you with fear. The feeling of walking on eggshells is a very natural response to the tension in the home. Your partner has created an environment where their reactions and behaviour are unpredictable. As a result, you are constantly treading lightly to avoid potential conflict.
Your partner’s mood dictates the home environment. You become aware that their reactions are not in proportion to situations. Therefore, fear of the unknown controls you as you anxiously wait and wonder if things will erupt. Because your partner has poor emotional regulation, it is only time until the eruption occurs.
The goal is to create fear. An unstable environment, unpredictable reactions, disproportionate responses – all aim to create anxiety and tension. While you are in a heightened state of anxiety and fear, you are more vulnerable.
2. Blame – You Are The Problem
Another part of coercive control is psychological abuse. One part of this is the preparator blaming you for everything or gaslighting you. You are to blame for problems in the relationship, regarding the children and even things beyond your control.
Soon you are to blame for your partner’s behaviour (look what you made me do!). You are the scapegoat for this abusive behaviour because everything is your fault. Your partner may tell you that if you did things right, he would not react this way!
Blaming you means that your partner is not taking responsibility. Constant blame is not congruent with changing abusive behaviour. The intention is to hold you to account for anything and everything, making your partner appear faultless. This behaviour can progress into blame for any escalation of abuse, including physical abuse.
A failure to take responsibility has two outcomes. Firstly, this demonstrates an unwillingness to change. So long as your partner blames you for everything in the relationship, he is not willing or able to change this behaviour. Secondly, blaming you is a way to knock you down emotionally and keep you there.
The goal aims to chip away at your emotional wellbeing and coping. Poor coping skills mean that you will become more emotionally dependent on your partner, begin to lose your identity and feel worthless.
3. Isolation – No Support
Isolation and dependence often work together when used as coercive control. You may not be permitted to see friends or family, hold a job or study, or leave the house without permission. If you are away from home, you are not as controllable, and that’s a problem for the perpetrator.
Creating isolation is also a planned tactic to distance you from your loved ones and support network. Your partner may badmouth your family and friends, which may escalate to not allowing you to see them.
Isolation also creates a sense of dependency. For the abuser, if you are dependent on him for money, a home, and your necessities, you are less likely to leave the relationship. Similarly, suppose you have no support, family or friends. In that case, you are less likely to seek help or support for your situation and try to leave.
The goal here is to create total dependence on your partner. If you ever want to leave the relationship, it will be more difficult when you have no one to turn to for help.
4. Punishment – Emotional Abuse Using The Silent Treatment
The silent treatment is a powerful psychological and emotional control tactic. Punishment through silent treatment sends you a message: I can control you simply with silence. Your partner may withdraw affection, not engage in conversation, and even pretend you are invisible.
Punishment through silence is covert aggression that creates confusion. You begin to wonder how long this punishment will continue, how long the silence will endure. Often, if you ask your partner what’s wrong, they may reply, “I’m fine”, actively avoiding discussion of the problem. This avoidance can never lead to any resolution of the problem, leaving everything in limbo.
The goal is punishment and control. Your partner wants to teach you that you have upset him and that your behaviour is unacceptable. He wants you to be compliant and agreeable in future. You may believe that if you are agreeable and do nothing wrong, this will prevent future silence. However, it doesn’t work that way. Trying to be on guard and behave “correctly” only tells your partner that his silence worked and, therefore, he will keep doing it.
5. Gaslighting – It’s All In Your Head
Gaslighting takes many forms. Above all, it makes you question your sanity. You are unsure about what is real and what isn’t. You question yourself, your sanity and what you know to be true.
Your partner knows your insecurities and will use these against you. Your partner may purposefully say or do things to increase your anxiety and then criticise you for having a panic attack. You may have an abuse history, and your partner will deliberately trigger you.
Your partner may tell you that your reactions to the abuse are “all in your head”. Your partner may lie or fabricate scenarios that cause you to question your reactions or even the claim’s legitimacy. Even worse, your partner may label you the abuser if you react to the abuse. They may call you crazy or say they are scared of you.
The goal here is to create further psychological and emotional instability. If you are not coping or feel confused, you are more vulnerable to other forms of abuse and intimidation.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.