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 &
will immediately jump out of the water.
BUT if you
put him in 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, in fact, aware they're being coercively controlled. Their problem is, they 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.
Why do they protect the abuser?
Why don't they fight back?
Why don't they just leave?"
It's a known fact that you can't escape quicksand
by swimming out of it or having a rescuer pull you out.
The more you panic or move around, the deeper you sink.
The more you sink, the more you panic and so on.
Standing up to their abuser, setting boundaries or resisting or do not free a victim from the abuse, nor does the abuse stop.
Instead, the victim ends up suffering consequences for their non-compliance.
Compliance can be the only thing keeping a victim alive.
It is unrealistic and ill-informed to assume or expect victims to rescue and protect themselves - what is required is for systems responsible for protecting people to become trauma-informed as well as coercive control informed.
Law enforcement, 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
- You feel you can't do anything right
- You're walking on eggshells all the time
- You're blamed for everything
- You're never in control of anything
- You feel you're losing your mind
- You feel you'll never escape
- You're always exhausted
- You're an 'emotional punching bag'
- You have to justify everything you say & do
- Your feelings are minimized
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:
Making other people happy.
Catering to other people's needs.
Managing other people's triggers.
Telling people what they want to hear.
Trying to keep the peace.
YOU ARE responsible for:
Making YOURSELF happy.
Catering to YOUR needs.
Managing YOUR triggers.
Speaking YOUR truth.
Keeping YOUR peace.
Types of Coercive Control
(not an exhaustive list)
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, 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.
Refusing to follow court orders.
Threating court applications.
Failing to cooperate with dispute resolution (ie. mediation)
Doing everything possible to increase your legal fees.
Using the Children to Control Your Behavior.
Withdrawing love/attention from your children when they show interest in you.
Interfering with your communication with the children.
Blocking your calls
Telling your children you haven't called.
Buying your child a cell phone & not giving you the number.
Preventing the children from talking about you.
Conveying to the children you aren't a safe parent.
“Call me anytime you don’t feel safe. I will come get you.”
"You sure you feel comfortable staying here?”
Throwing out gifts from you.
Buying bigger, better, more expensive versions of your gifts.
Allowing children to choose whether to visit you or not. Asking children where they want to live.
You're old enough to decide where you want to live"
Asking child to spy on you & keep secrets from you.
Referring to you by your 1st name when speaking to the children.
Confiding in the child as if they are an adult.
Sharing personal & inappropriate info about you.
Sharing info about legal proceedings with child.
Allowing child to 'overhear' same info.
It's much easier to protect a child
than it is to fix a broken adult.
Coercive Control Recognized by 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.