What is Coercive Control?
There is a common misconception that domestic abuse is only physical, and if your partner is not violent, then they are not abusive, or that physical abuse is the worst kind and other forms of abuse are not as serious. This is not true. Abuse comes in many forms, and is not always physical.
Coercive control is an umbrella term describing a pattern of abuse that includes physical violence, but also includes manipulation, intimidation and threatening behaviour used to terrorise the victim. Many people choose to focus on the physical aspect of this as it is far better understood. Emotional abuse, however, is a lot more subtle, and utilises the drip drip effect. This is when abuse starts small and infrequent, such that incidents in isolation might not be considered abusive. Victims will often not recognise that they are in an abusive relationship, because it is so gradual. But then the abuse escalates, to the point where they become a victim of intimate terrorism, perpetually terrified to say or of doing the wrong thing for fear of their partner's reaction.
There are many forms of abusive behaviour that are not physical; we have listed 10 examples below.
This is where the abuser forces their partner to question their memory of events and begins to contradict and deny things they have said in the past. This manipulation causes the partner to doubt themselves and question reality and makes them feel like they are to blame for the misinterpretation. This often extends outside of the intimate relationship: friends, family and even services such as the family court are commonly implicated.
Your partner may disguise offhand insults as simple jokes, using them to undermine you in public and in front of your friends and family. They laugh hurtfully at your expense and then claim that you are just being too sensitive when you become offended.
They make you feel bad for their behaviour, manipulating the situation until you believe that you’re at fault. You are being too sensitive about the unkind things they say and need a better sense of humour; it’s your fault they don’t trust you to go out without knowing where you are because you’re untrustworthy; you should not have wound them up if you didn’t want them to get so angry, they claim.
They demand to know where you are and who you are with at all times. They insist on proof of where you’ve been and may even implement a curfew. They disguise it as caring behaviour and pretend that it is a form of genuine concern, when really it is a form of control.
They do not trust the friends you have around you, even though there is little explanation as to why. They think your family are trying to turn you against them, and that you should stop spending so much time with them. The key element behind this behaviour is ultimately complete isolation. Eventually your circle becomes smaller and smaller until it is just you and them because it is no longer worth the arguments you have when you try and see other people.
This may begin as helpful advice on how to be careful with your money, but may soon escalate. Your spending is monitored and questioned, and you are no longer freely allowed to spend the money that you have earned. You are not consulted on anything your partner wants to buy, but the option of purchasing anything without your partner’s consent is no longer valid.
Sometimes for days at a time, and often without any explanation, your partner may withdraw from you emotionally and physically. They are refusing to make eye contact, meeting your conversation only with silence and maintaining a constant coldness whilst making it implicitly clear that whatever it is, it is your fault.
If your partner feels they have acted beyond even what they see as acceptable behaviour, they may make a sudden grand gesture in order to try and appease you- this may be treating you to your favourite meal out or splashing the cash on an extravagant weekend away. The purpose is to overcompensate for that which they have done, and to buy your silence. They want to create a false narrative for outsiders that completely contradicts your reality, convincing all onlookers (especially those closest to you) that your relationship is perfect and that your partner is loving and romantic.
Preferring to be by yourself
You may start to feel a relief when your partner informs you that they are going out for the evening, or are spending a few days away for work purposes. This is because you are used to the constant stress of trying to please them and you no longer have the pressure of them controlling your every move. Being alone feels like a weight has been lifted.
Lack of empathy
Your partner is unable to show compassion for any of your problems, and you are judged for being too overly emotional and overreacting. This is a form of control which pressures you to forget your own worries and to retain your focus entirely on them.