Understanding Coercive Control: More Than Just Manipulation

Silhouette of a man manipulating people like puppets on strings, illustrating coercive control.

A lot of the survivors that we help every day have been coercively controlled. In the realm of relationships and interpersonal dynamics, not all forms of control leave visible bruises. Some seep in slowly, casting invisible chains that bind the victim in a stifling grip. Coercive control is one such form. While the term may sound technical, its effects are deeply personal, leaving scars on the soul that can last a lifetime. This blog aims to shed light on this often misunderstood form of abuse, taking you beyond mere manipulation to a deeper understanding of its intricate nuances. Through our exploration, we’ll unravel the threads of coercive control, empowering you with knowledge and empathy.

What Exactly is Coercive Control?

Coercive control is a menacing and deeply embedded form of emotional abuse. It isn’t defined by a single event. Rather, it’s a sustained pattern aiming to crush a victim’s sense of identity. It’s all about power. Abusers who practise coercive control aren’t content with temporary power gains. They yearn for consistent, overpowering control.

Victims aren’t just handling a fleeting hurt. Their essence, their very autonomy, is under siege. The victims world narrows down to a constant dance around the abuser’s moods and desires. Their perspective gets distorted. Every decision, every thought, begins to filter through the lens of the abuser’s view. They continually second-guess their actions, thoughts, and feelings. The damage is slow, but its depth is deep. Victims often find themselves lost, their voices drowned in the noise of manipulation. They feel both trapped and unseen, their essence fading as the abuser’s influence grows.

The Subtle Tactics of Coercive Control:

Coercive control often hides in the shadows. Many might dismiss it as ‘just words’ or simple disagreements. However, these actions create deep emotional scars, much more than visible bruises. This form of control doesn’t rely on overt acts of aggression. Instead, it thrives in the ambiguity of emotional and psychological manipulation.

Isolation from Friends and Family

One of the foremost methods employed by abusers is isolating the victim. By cutting off the victim from their support system, the abuser ensures the victim’s dependency on them. This isolation can begin subtly. It might start with expressing dislike for a particular friend or suggesting that family events are too stressful. Over time, the victim may find themselves alienated, with their social circle shrinking, and the abuser becoming the primary influence in their life.

Dictating Daily Activities

The abuser often enforces a set routine for the victim, defining what they should wear, eat, or even which hobbies to pursue. Any deviation from this routine can lead to criticism or more severe consequences. The victim’s life becomes a stringent script written by the abuser, leaving them little room for personal choice or spontaneity.

Financial Control

Money is a significant control tool. The abuser might prevent the victim from working or take away their earnings. They could also withhold information about household finances, leaving the victim in the dark about their economic situation. This financial dependency makes it difficult for the victim to see a way out.

Constant Criticism and Belittling

Eroding the victim’s self-worth is a key strategy. Abusers often resort to constant criticism, highlighting flaws (real or imagined) to keep the victim in a constant state of self-doubt. This belittling is not always overt. It can be hidden as “jokes” or “teasing”, but its effect is deeply harmful.

Monitoring and Surveillance

In the age of technology, abusers have found new tools to monitor their victims. They might check the victim’s phone, control their social media, or even use tracking apps to know their location. This constant surveillance creates an atmosphere of paranoia and suffocation.

Walking on Eggshells

 This phrase is commonly reported by those experiencing coercive control. They feel they must tread carefully, fearful that any minor thing might set off a negative reaction.

Loss of Autonomy

Decision-making becomes a challenge. From what to wear to how to spend your time or pursue a career, you feel your choices are constantly overshadowed by the will of another.


This psychological manipulation technique makes you question your reality. You’re made to feel like you’re “going crazy” or that your memory is flawed. Over time, gaslighting can lead victims to doubt their feelings, instincts, and sanity.

The Repercussions of Enduring Coercive Control:

Enduring coercive control has long lasting effects. It’s not just a fleeting negative experience; it’s an ongoing trauma that leaves its mark on a person’s psyche. In this section, we will delve into the deeper consequences that victims face, both mentally and emotionally.

Mental Health Deterioration

Prolonged exposure to coercive control can lead to various mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Over time, the victim’s mental well-being can degrade significantly, affecting their daily functions.

Physical Health Decline

The strain isn’t only mental. Chronic stress can manifest in various physical ailments, from tension headaches and stomach issues to more severe problems like hypertension.


As coercive control often pushes victims away from their loved ones, they may find themselves feeling alone, unsupported, and detached from their previous social connections. The very nature of coercive control often fosters a sense of dependency. The controlled individual may feel they can’t make decisions or navigate life without the controlling party.

Fear of Intimacy

After experiencing such a profound betrayal of trust, victims may struggle with intimacy in future relationships, fearing vulnerability and the potential for control.

Economic Impact

Coercive control often involves financial limits. As such, victims may struggle with financial independence, have poor credit, or lack the financial knowledge to function on their own due to long periods of financial control.

Understanding these repercussions isn’t just crucial for victims but for their support systems as well. Friends, families, and professionals need to realise the depth and breadth of the impact coercive control has, ensuring they approach victims with empathy, patience, and support.

Recognising and Responding to Coercive Control:

Recognising the signs of coercive control is a crucial step towards intervention and support. It’s often the more subtle nuances that go unnoticed. Here, we’ll uncover these signs and discuss how one can effectively respond.

Signs to Look Out For

  • Change in Behaviour: Victims may withdraw from social interactions, seem constantly anxious, or often second-guess themselves.
  • Loss of Autonomy: They may always wait for their partner’s permission or avoid making decisions without consulting them.
  • Isolation: Gradually, they might cut ties with friends or family or speak less about their personal lives.
  • Frequent Apologies: Victims might frequently apologise for their actions, even when unnecessary.
  • Economic Dependence: They might have no access to money, or always need their partner’s approval for purchases.

How to Approach a Victim:

  • Choose a Safe Environment: If you suspect someone is a victim, approach them in a safe, private setting where they might feel comfortable opening up.
  • Be Non-Judgmental: Use empathetic language. Instead of asking “Why don’t you leave?”, try “How can I support you?”.
  • Listen Actively: Sometimes, what a victim needs most is someone to listen without offering solutions immediately.
  • Avoid Confronting the Abuser: This can escalate the situation and put the victim at greater risk.
  • Encourage Professional Help: While your support is invaluable, professionals can offer expert guidance and resources.

Resources and Next Steps:

  • Helplines: Encourage the use of helplines which are specifically designed to offer support and advice to victims of coercive control.
  • Safety Plans: If a victim decides to leave their situation, help them craft a safety plan detailing how they’ll exit safely.
  • Stay Informed: Equip yourself with knowledge on local shelters, counselling services, and legal options.
  • Ongoing Support: Remember, escaping coercive control isn’t the end. Continued emotional and practical support can be vital during the healing process.

Awareness, empathy, and a proactive approach are important when addressing coercive control. The more informed we are, the better equipped we’ll be to support victims and add to creating safer environments for everyone.


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