Coercive Control is the malicious subjugation of one person by another. The aggressor uses a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation, and intimidation to inflict harm and punishment on the person they wish to dominate through fear.
The aggressor takes control of the other person through a series of acts aimed to make the other person subordinate and dependent. These acts include isolation from sources of support, exploitation of their resources and capacities for personal gain, deprivation of the means required for independence, resistance, and escape as well as regulation of their everyday behavior.
The term was coined by Dr. Evan Stark, professor emeritus at Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration, to describe the hidden psychological violence many survivors experiences in toxic relationships with abusive partners.
Coercive Control at the root of most toxic relationships and cases of domestic abuse. It’s also one of the eight key indicators in cases of domestic homicide. The method was used by the Chinese Communist government who called it “thought reform”. It is also known as identity modification. It is the Narcissist’s weapon of choice because it’s a subtle method of obtaining power and control over others, often without raising a hand to them.
Signs of Coercive Control
- Isolation – The abuser will keep you away from family and friends.
- Monitoring your time – They abuser will want to know where you are, where you are going and what you are doing at all times
- Deprivation of Basic Needs – The abuser will restrict your access to healthcare and/or food.
- Monitoring communication – Your abuser may use spyware to track your online communication tools.
- Taking control of your daily life – They may control where you can go, who you can see, what you wear and what you eat.
- Put-downs – your abuser may repeatedly tell you that you’re worthless or useless. They may call you degrading names or make comments about your appearance, your body, your intelligence, etc.
- Gaslighting – a kind of psychological manipulation that causes the target to question their reality.
- Rules and regulations – the abuser will create a set of ever changing rules which they enforce by humiliating, degrading or dehumanizing you.
- Financial abuse – the abuser will control your finances, making sure you have little access to money and making you dependent on them.
- Threats – an abuser may threaten to hurt or kill; to take away your child; to reveal publish private information such as intimate photos or revelations about your sexuality.
- Criminal damage – the abuser may destroy your personal property. For example, they may destroy your cell phone or an article of your clothing.
- Assault or rape – the abuser may physically abuse you or violate you sexually.
- Obstruction of employment – the abuser may stop you from working and earning your own money.
Gaslighting as a unique feature of Coercive Control
Gaslighting is a kind of psychological manipulation aimed to make the target question their reality. The abuser denies the targets ability to remember events and facts as well as their perception of events.
Forensic criminologist Dr. Jane Monckton Smith regards gaslighting as the hallmark of coercive and controlling behavior.
Consequences of Coercive Control
Coercive and controlling abuse harms the survivor’s sense of identity, safety, autonomy and their attachments to other people. It’s impact is long lasting.
It’s so subtle that many times Survivors don’t realize what’s happening to them. They often compare it to the fable of the Boiling Frog because in their isolation it can be difficult for them to have any perspective.
The impact can be so psychologically devastating that Dr. Robert J. Lifton described it as performing “surgery on the soul.”
Because of the high levels of stress brought on by Coercive Control survivors often suffer from chronic anxiety, major depressive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and complex post traumatic stress disorder.
Coercive Control is criminal behavior
Coercive Control was first criminalized in the UK in 2015.
In the United States, New York State Senator Kevin S Parker is sponsoring an historic coercive control bill and it is part of the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill currently being proposed in the British parliament.
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is experiencing Coercive Control from your partner or a member of your family, please visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline or your local domestic abuse hotline for advice about your situation.
You can also find more information about Coercive Control on our YouTube channel Narcissistic Abuse Rehab.