Coercive Control 
(Parental Alienation is Coercive Control)

What is Coercive Control?

Coercive control is a pattern of abusive behavior that is intended to control another individual by eroding their self-esteem, self-worth, and autonomy.


It's extremely dangerous because of its insidious nature, the damage it causes and the fact that it is often a pre-cursor to physical violence.


Not only is coercive control dangerous but it is also difficult for many to detect making it difficult for victims to obtain support and protection.


Often people wonder why the victim doesn’t just leave the situation or didn’t leave at the first sign of abuse.


The problem is that coercive abuse is so covert and insidious that many victims don’t recognize they are being abused or they recognize it too late


If you put a frog in a pot of

boiling water,

it's reflexes will kick in &

it will immediately jump out of the water.

Red Eye Frog

BUT if you

put it room temperature water

gradually turn up the heat,

the frog will remain in the water

until it boils to death.

This commonly used metaphor depicts how coercive control can be introduced into your life very insidiously and the critical importance of individual awareness of coercive control and it's signs.


But the frog analogy doesn't account for the countless victims who are aware they are being coercively controlled but can't get out. 

Kate Amber, Founder of End Coercive Control USA, has developed the Psycho Social Quicksand Model that depicts what it is like for a person who is aware they are being coercively controlled but can't get out.

The model indicates that just like quicksand, the more an individual resists or struggles against the coercive control,  the deadlier the response.


The Psycho Social Quicksand Model also addresses the many questions people ask of abuse victims such as:

  • "Why are they protecting their abuser?" "

  • Why didn't they stand up for themselves or tell them to stop?"

  • Why did they stay so long?"

  • Why didn't they just leave?"

You can't escape quicksand by swimming out of it or having a rescuer pull you out. The more you panic or thrash about the deeper you sink. The more you sink, the more you panic and so on.

When a victim stands up to their coercive controller,

sets boundaries or resists, they aren't rescued from the abuse...

the abuse doesn't stop...

the perpetrator doesn't all of a sudden see the error of their ways.


Instead, the victim suffers the consequences of not being compliant. 

Compliance is sometimes the only thing that keeps them alive.

This illustrates the need for systems charged with protecting individuals must be trauma & coercive control informed. Law enforcement, the Courts, Lawyers, Parent Coordinators, Mediators/Arbitrators, Child Protective Services, Psychologists, Social Workers & anyone else working with victims and families need to be Trauma & Coercive Control Informed in order to comprehensively protect and support victims. 

Coercive Control is ABUSE, plain & simple

& needs to be regarded as such.

Signs You May Be a Victim of
Coercive Control

  • You're in a constant state of stress.

  • You feel like you are walking on eggshells.

  • You feel like you can't do anything right.

  • You're blamed for everything.

  • You're never in control of anything in your life.

  • You feel you are losing your mind & will never find a way out.

  • You feel exhausted & chronically depressed.

  • You're an 'emotional punching bag'.

  • You have to justify/defend your feelings, attitudes or behaviors.

  • Your feelings & behaviors are used against you in a demeaning way.

The abuse is NOT a result of anything

you've said or done.

You are NOT responsible for fixing it!


YOU are NOT responsible for: 

  • Fixing other people's lives.
  • Making other people happy.
  • Catering to people's needs.
  • Managing other people's triggers.
  • Walking on eggshells.
  • Telling people what they want to hear. 
  • Trying to keep the peace.   
YOU ARE responsible for: 
  • Fixing YOUR life.
  • Making YOU happy.
  • Catering to YOUR needs.
  • Managing YOUR triggers.
  • Walking as freely as YOU want.
  • Speaking YOUR truth.
  • Keeping YOUR peace.

Types of Coercive Control
(not an exhaustive list)


Financial Abuse

  • Withdrawing funds from joint bank accounts, leaving you with no means to pay for food, clothing, or housing.

  • incurring debt without your permission and knowledge, which you will be jointly responsible for.


  • Preventing access to your financial documents.


Threats & Intimidation

  • Threatening physical violence against you, your children, your family, friends, or pets.

  • Threatening to publicly humiliate you by posting sexually explicit images or personal data online.

  • Threatening self-harm unless you stay in the relationship.

  • Threatening to destroy your belongings, particularly ones of sentimental value.


Legal Abuse

  • Refusing to follow court orders.

  • Threating court applications.

  • Failing to cooperate with dispute resolution (i.e. mediation).

  • Doing everything possible to increase your legal fees.


Using the Children as Pawns to Control Your Behavior.

(some refer to this as Parental Alienation)

a) Withdrawing love & attention from your children especially when the children show interest in you. 

​b) Interfering with communication between you and your children.

e.g. Blocking your calls & telling your children you haven't called.

e.g. Buying your child a cell phone & not giving you the number.

​c) Preventing the children from talking about you or looking at photos of you. 


d) Conveying to the children that you're unsafe.

e.g. Call me anytime you don’t feel safe and I will come get you.”

e.g. “Are you sure you feel comfortable staying with Mom/Dad?”

e) Throwing out gifts from you or buying the children bigger, better, more expensive versions of your gifts.


f) Dropping off or picking up children up early/late without any explanation - showing complete disregard for your time and for the children's time.

g) Allowing children to choose whether to visit you or not. Asking children where they want to live.

e.g. "Soon you'll be old enough to decide where you want to live"

h) Asking child to spy on you & keep secrets from you. 

i) Referring to you by your 1st name when speaking to your children. May also refer to their new significant other as Mom or Dad.

j)  Confiding in the child as if they were your ex's adult friend.

- Sharing personal & inappropriate info about the other parent.

- Sharing or allowing child to ‘overhear’ info about legal proceedings.

k) Undermining your authority as a parent.

It's much easier to protect a child

than it is to fix a broken adult.

Coercive Control now recognized in Canada's Divorce Act

Under the new Divorce Act, the definition of family violence now includes patterns of coercive or controlling behaviors & any behavior that makes a member of the family fear for their or someone else’s safety.


This change in the law is a critical step in protecting children.  Research indicates that children suffer even when they do not experience the abuse directly. Just knowing that one of their parents or siblings is being abused has devastating effects for the child. These effects can alter their brain development, social development, and physical and mental health. These effects are often long term.


The Courts must now consider the presence of family violence and the impact it has on children, when making decisions about parenting arrangements.

Coercive control makes everything much harder & more terrifying, but you don't have to do it alone. Book an appointment with Trish today!