Coercive control is defined as a pattern of behaviour where an abuser dominates, humiliates, and isolates their victim. It’s a central characteristic of abusive relationships that strips the victimized person of their sense of self and freedom. This pattern of behaviour doesn’t always involve physical violence; still, it’s designed to inject fear and create invisible chains linking a victim to their abuser. Recognizing the signs of coercive control can help someone spot abuse early, before the relationship becomes too intertwined and difficult to escape from. Here are 7 red flags to remember:
- Isolation from friends and family: This can be slow and subtle. What does this look like? An abuser will insist on being present when their partner visits friends and family. They will guilt their partner for expressing an interest in spending time with others and will often show disdain for the other people in their partner’s life. The abuser will compete for their partner’s attention and insist on being a priority at the expense of other relationships.
- Exerting financial control: Financial abuse is a particularly powerful form of abuse that comes into play when the abuser is the sole or primary income earner and the victim is financially dependent on them. An abuser will restrict their partner’s access to money, requiring the victim to ask permission to spend money. They will hold the fact that they make more money over the victim. They will also scrutinize the victim’s bills and banking activity.
- Humiliating/degrading behaviour: This cracks away at a victim’s self-esteem. An abuser will call their partner names and bully them. They will humiliate their partner and put them down in front of others and they will use their partner’s insecurities against them.
- Invading their partner’s privacy: Having private thoughts and spaces is important for a person’s sense of self. It’s normal for partners to share thoughts and feelings, but one should never be made to feel unworthy of privacy in a relationship. An abuser will demand that their partner disclose account passwords and show them text messages and emails. They will make their partner feel unentitled to physical privacy at home or outside the home.
- Controlling everyday activities: We take for granted the number of decisions we make on an everyday basis. An abuser will control things such as what their partner wears, where they go, what they eat, when they sleep, when they shower, and more. These can all be instances of coercive behaviour in a relationship.
- Making threats: An abuser can use threats or intimidation to control their partner’s behaviour. A huge red flag in an abusive relationship is if one person fears for their safety or wellbeing at the hands of their partner.
- Destruction of possessions and property: This could be destruction or threat of destruction of items that hold sentimental value. An abuser can also destroy or threaten to destroy possessions that connect their partner to support systems such as phones, computers, and modes of transportation. Lack of respect for their partner’s property is a lack of respect for their partner.
Coercive control is a system of behaviours that can change and grow. Abusers will use manipulation tactics and gaslighting to keep their victims from leaving or reaching out for help. When assessing your own relationships or the relationships of people you care about, trust your gut. No one should feel like they need to break their personal boundaries of comfort and security in a relationship. If you aren’t sure whether you are being abused you can call the Interval House crisis line (1-888-293-5516) for 24-hour advice and support, or find other helpful resources here.