Coercive control - utter domination

Whilst this may be seen as a relatively new term, it’s something that has been in the shadows for a very long time. Coercive control is abuse, not a physical action, but one that can include a pattern of acts such as threats, humiliation, intimidation or abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim. It is now a criminal offence which is a huge step towards making domestic abuse more recognisable and that abuse doesn’t only mean that it is physical.
Coercive control is exactly what it says, it is control. Designed to make a person isolated from help and support, perhaps also friends and family, isolating them from others, diminishing independence and controlling behaviour on a day to day process. 


What does it feel like for a victim of coercive control?

  • controlled
  • humiliated
  • lonely
  • desperate
  • fearful
  • captive
  • trapped
  • confused
  • human rights are limited
  • reduced ability for action

Often the victim who is in the thick of it would struggle to realise that this is what is happening. So let us explore a checklist to see if it’s happening to you or someone you know. 

The abuser may be doing the following:

  • controlling your finances
  • monitoring your time and activities
  • threatening you or intimidating you
  • isolation, from family, friends or work colleagues
  • spying on you, checking your phone or internet history
  • controlling your activities, where you go, how long for, who you see and where you sleep
  • depriving or limiting your basic needs such as food
  • controlling your access to medical support etc
  • putting you down such as “You are vile, you are repulsive, nobody would want you and nobody likes you”
  • degrading you and dehumanising you

How does it all start?

If you read my article on narcissism, you may recall the beginning of a narcissistic relationship. 
To begin with the abuser starts with love bombing and charm. They will seem like the perfect person and when you are completely sucked into the act then things will change. Gaslighting and other traits such as isolation and financial control may be introduced to begin with and over time others may be introduced. When the victim is right in the thick of the love bombing and gaslighting they may be in a state of confusion due to being emotionally invested in the relationship.
The rules that are pushed on to the victim are for them and them only. The abuser has double standards and ensures that the victim fears the consequences if they should dare break any of the rules. 
As the ‘relationship’ continues the coercive control drowns the victim’s sense of self and worth, confidence disappears, self-esteem evaporates and they are a shell of their former self.
The world that has been created by the abuser for the victim is consumed with confusion and fear, the victim no longer recognises the world around them, let alone themselves. The manipulation has been so severe that they are lost. More than half of the victims have no idea that they are in an abusive relationship. They have no realisation that they are a hostage in their relationship. 
This extremely dangerous and cruel form of abuse is about showering the victim with small ranges of abuse over time which is very subtle and underhand. It deprives the victim of their most basic needs, losing all sense of who they are, what they like and making them feel completely invisible to the world and themselves. 

Is coercive control brainwashing?

The short answer is yes! Everything the victim once knew, thought, felt or believed has gradually replaced with the abuser’s narrative. The victim no longer thinks for themselves, but their thinking is now of the abuser, their needs, views, desires and wants.   
Whilst the behaviours can vary from person to person, it is important to know that it can happen to anyone. The plan from the abuser is tailor made for their victim, carefully planned for their needs. 
In short, coercive control is about ‘utter domination’. 

How to escape the coercive control

No matter how many happy moments that you can recall in your relationship, you, the victim, do not in any way, shape or form, deserve the treatment that you have endured. 
Escaping the abusive relationship can be complicated, especially when there are children involved, but with some planning in a safe way, you can escape from the situation. 
Below is some helpful information to support an escape:

  • Call a domestic abuse hotline on a regular basis. There are several abuse helplines out there such as Women’s Aid. Perhaps by using a public phone to keep yourself safe and keep the conversation going. Weigh up the options regularly and discuss with a professional.
  • Use your support system. Check in with your family and friends on a regular basis. 
  • Have a plan. If you leave, when, where, how. 

If you are in immediate danger, call 999!  

Please know that there are therapists that can support you, helplines available and most importantly that you are not alone. Domestic abuse is not OK, you don’t deserve it and there is help and support available

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Telford, Shropshire, TF2
Written by Nicki Cawley
Telford, Shropshire, TF2

As I counsellor and psychotherapist I understand the issues in the articles I write. I try my best to keep my writing as simple as possible to allow anyone to have a read. No jargon needed! I feel passionate about all of my articles and write them so that I can help as many people as possible. Thank you for reading.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Emotional abuse

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals