Updated: Jan 21
It starts with the little things, 'I don't like your hair this way' or 'I don't like that top'. Before long, it's taken over your life.
It's okay to accept someone's opinion on things, and everyone has a right to have their own point of view. When the statements get treated as 'law' in a relationship, then you have a problem. This creates a fear of what your partner might do when they don't like something. When their reactions dictate your behaviours, it has become controlling. Before long, you can't make decisions on your own, and you feel imprisoned by their rules and regulations. You feel like you have been taken by force and being held against your will.
Coercive control is about full power over someone else's body, soul and mind. From my personal experience, it's not about the elements of the control, such as; rules, the social interactions, money or what's best for the person being controlled. But, what the controller can get out of the relationship for themselves and how it makes the controller feel, it makes them 'all-powerful', and it feeds their needs.
It can manifest in many ways, passively, aggressively, subtly or even obviously. In every form, it is highly toxic and never benign. In this emotional power move, it is always used to manipulate the controlled in providing the controller with all their needs being met with little regard to the other person's feelings or needs.
Domestic abuse isn't always physical abuse. All because you can't see a bruise it doesn't mean that there isn't one. This kind of trauma leaves creates a different type of damage that sometimes is harder to heal.
Coercive control is an act or a pattern of behaviours such as threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to control, harm, punish, or frighten another person.
This kind of behaviour is designed to make one person dependent on another by; isolating them from their support systems such as family or friends, exploitation, taking away independence and regulating their every behaviour.
There are many red flags to this type of control, I have chosen the following 6 to help you to recognise if you may have fallen into a controlling relationship.
🚩Red flag number 1 - They portray an air of 'I know more than you'.
It is easy to claim you are an expert in any subject, but when they start to belittle your knowledge in all topics and belittles your ideas, then this should be a red flag. Eventually, you will end up handing control over in every area of your life. You begin to feel that you aren't good enough or smart enough to handle anything; such as money, time, individual pursuits and even friends and family.
Coercion often comes under the disguise of caring for you, doing something to help you, or that it is in your best interest. This is why it is so hard to spot before you are deeply involved, it is not often blatant abuse. The controller creates an 'I know better than you' attitude, or explain they're just trying to help while covertly undermining your independence and intelligence. They can make you question your sense of reality (gaslighting), they make you question your friends and family's loyalty or say you are too good for them or that you are not good with money. They put you down, subtly at first then more apparent as time goes by.
🚩Red flag 2 - They make you feel as if they can't live without you.
The controller creates a dependency on you that makes you feel like you can't do anything on your own. There is a difference between, a loving, healthy relationship being with one another and unhealthy dependency, that means they can't survive without you. Even going to work means they have to come and check on you or find reasons to call you. This is more to make sure you are where you say you are or so they can still make you feel that they still control you when you are apart. They create an environment that makes you think that they couldn't live without you. They'll say things to that effect or that if you ever leave, they'll commit suicide to make you feel like you can't go. They monitor your movements and activities. Your online communications are also often watched in some form.
🚩Red flag 3 - The make you feel as if you can't live without them.
They make you believe that your world is so bad, that it's about to fall apart — unless, of course, they have total control of it. The controller's doubts about themselves, their relationship with you, the world and their future is a constant nagging thought. They are looking for the next problem, the next let down, the next thing to go wrong. They continuously need to make you feel that without them, you couldn't survive.
🚩Red flag 4 - You begin to monitor your own behaviour.
You begin to question every move you make; Do you have to think, act, or feel different than you usually do, especially when you are with him? Are you careful with how you say things, what you discuss, how you look, etc, etc? This could be a sign your partner is exerting coercive control.
🚩Red flag 5 - Anxiety
Now don't get me wrong, we all have bouts of anxiety in one form or another. But, do you have anxiety specifically when you think or are around a particular person that you don't feel when you are with other people? Do you feel you are walking on eggshells all the time? You find yourself pacing the room when you know that they are due back home or that you're rushing around making sure everything is perfect, just as they like it when they return?
🚩Red flag 6 - Exhaustion
Being in a coercive controlling relationship is intense, and it takes its toll on the body. You are on edge all the time, jumpy and nervous with this person which makes you tired, fatigued, exhausted, and more.
It might feel pointless and scary to ask the controller to make changes; you may not know what their reaction will be. Maybe see if you can talk to them with someone or see if you can find another to discuss these issues. If they won't listen to you or refuse to let go of the control, then it's time to get out. It's time to stop allowing them to manipulate your emotions for their own compensation. Unfortunately, if they aren't willing to look at themselves and work on the relationship, then it will only get worse in time. If you're unable to leave the relationship, reach out to a friend, family member or a professional for help.
This blog is from my personal experience. Please feel free to contact me if you feel like you're dealing with a relationship where there's coercive control and or other abuse. You might not be ready to make any changes right now but find someone to support you while you are in the relationship and beyond.
If you feel that you are in an abusive relationship, please feel free to contact me or find someone you trust to help you. Some organisations will support you, so google organisations near you.
Read my 'Great Safe Escape blog for more information on leaving an abusive relationship safely.
If you have found this helpful to understand trauma bonding, then please share and link this blog. If you would like to know more about my own personal story, you can buy my book 'Broken To Be Beautiful' here.
Author information: Xenia Schembri
Along with her husband, Simon, are the founders of the charity At the Ark based on the Gold Coast Queensland Australia. Since 2010 At The Ark have supported families whose children have been abused and families impacted by domestic violence.
Previously, Xenia was in a 15-year domestic violent marriage. Xenia has become a voice for the voiceless and has a passion to prove that the past does not have to negatively impact the future, but positively propel anyone to change to their future.
Xenia was Woman of the Year 2020 on the Gold Coast Australia and one of the Westfield's Local Heroes in 2020. She is an international speaker and author of 4 published books. The Brave Little Bear series that equips families with self-protective behaviours and her own story Broken To Be Beautiful.
Here are links to some of her other blogs that you may find interesting.