Coercive Control

What is Coercive control?

Many women we speak with find coercive control very difficult to describe.

It is a persistent pattern of controlling, coercive and threatening behaviour including all or some forms of domestic abuse (emotional, physical, financial, sexual including threats) by a boyfriend, partner, husband or ex. It traps women in a relationship and makes it impossible or dangerous to leave.

Coercive control can damage a woman’s physical and emotional well-being, and is designed to make her world small.

Method Purpose / effect Examples
Isolation Deprives victim of all social supports and of their ability to resist.
Makes victim dependent upon captor.
Develops an intense concern with self/survival.

Preventing contact with friends / family. Being followed everywhere they go, being stopped from working, studying 
“my mam eventually stopped coming around, because he'd kick off”

Monopolisation of Perception Fixes attention upon immediate predicament, and fosters introspection
Eliminates stimuli / influences that compete with those controlled by captor
Frustrates all actions not consistent with compliance

Being told you’re a failure, that the abuse is deserved; that nobody cares, that nobody will believe you
“he grabbed my throat, spat in my face, he said ‘see what you’ve made me do!’
“he said I was selfish and lazy and too stupid to go to college’

Induced debility and exhaustion Weakens mental and physical ability to resist

Being expected to manage with little food, money or support, made to account for all activities/spending, meal/sleep disruption
‘he started to text and ring me much more…If I didn’t answer within a couple of rings, he wanted to know why’
‘ I struggle to manage on the money he gives me, the kids need things he just doesn’t want to pay for’

Threats Cultivates anxiety and despair

Threats to harm children / family / friends, to find her if she leaves, to kill them all  

‘I saw him speed off in the car; I was really upset but I didn’t want him to get hurt...I tried calling and texting but his phone was switched off’.
‘He got our daughter out of bed and insisted she got into the car. I begged him not to take her’

Occasional indulgences Provides positive motivation to comply with captor

Apologises for an assault, sends flowers/gifts, promises that things will change

‘sometimes he can be lovely’
‘I just buy her some flowers and tell her how much I love her and then we go to bed and things are fine’

Demonstrating omnipotence Suggestions / reinforces futility of resistance

Being shown displays of total power, being physically prevented from leaving, manipulating what others see/believe 
‘when he got our daughter out of bed and insisted she got into the car. I begged him not to take her, he said that if I wanted to go to college I clearly didn’t want children’

Degradation Makes cost of resistance appear more damaging to self- esteem than capitulation.
Reduces victim to “animal level” concerns.

Having appearance controlled, forced to participate in demeaning acts, being verbally abused/humiliated

'I'd stopped going to the gym, because he said it was too expensive, but then he’d accuse me of letting myself go;

of growing fat and ugly, he said I was selfish and lazy and too stupid to go to college.

Enforcing trivial demands

Develops habit of compliance

 ‘I’d always cooked the evening meal, but he started to criticise what I was making and to complain

if it wasn’t on the table when he got in; which was hard to judge when he often got held up at work’.

He would say I hadn’t hoovered if he couldn’t see lines in the carpet. Or I hadn’t cleaned

the kitchen if he couldn’t see his reflection in the work surface.