How to spot and break free from coercive control in relationships

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How to spot and break free from coercive control in relationships

Does your partner undermine your confidence, put you down, crush your spirit, make you feel small, use sly jokes, criticise, blame or intimidate you? Are you often treading on emotional eggshells, doubting your own integrity, feel like you are kept in isolation away from friends, family or your own support network? Is your partner trying to influence what you think and do, who you see and how you behave?

Abuse in a relationship isn’t always physical. If one partner in a relationship is controlling and manipulative, puts you down, undermines and humiliates you, that is called coercive behaviour. It is not acceptable. 

If you’re in a relationship that feels like this, it’s time to make a change before their psychological abuse gathers momentum. You may have been swept off your feet by a partner who was initially charming on the surface as well as very loving and caring, but quickly changed as the other side of their character surfaced – moody, intimidating, manipulative and much more. 

Dripping Tap

Coercive relationships are unhealthy. Like a dripping tap, the abuse will start off in a subtle way before escalating. Your partner might make you think everything is your fault by subtly blaming you if something goes wrong – this is usually in a passive aggressive way. These are usually snide or sarcastic comments, always uttered behind closed doors, with phrases like “it’s all your fault” or “you shouldn’t have done this”. 

However, because they intersperse these manipulative behaviours with kind and generous acts in front of other people, it can make their abuse almost completely undetectable to anyone else? Furthermore, if you dare to question their gaslighting tactics, they will lie or 

accuse you of being overly sensitive. So, of course you start second-guessing yourself. It’s a spiral of behaviour designed to keep you all to themselves, ensuring they remain in control of your every thought and action. Remember what starts off as coercive behaviour, can easily escalate into physical abuse, where you become fearful for your safety.

Traumatic childhood

Controlling and manipulative behaviours, which result in psychological abuse, stem from a dysfunctional and often traumatised childhood. Essentially it happens because of a deep-seated fear of abandonment, rejection and/or not being good enough. Treatment can be a lengthy process and is also extremely challenging. This is because the perpetrator is not honest, with themselves or others. They simple cannot recognise their own failings and flaws and have a genuine fear of relinquishing control.

Free to be yourself

In a relationship you need to feel free to be yourself. No one should make you feel small, insignificant or unsafe. And no matter what anyone says, it is not your fault and you do deserve better. 

If you find yourself in this situation, you need to:

  1. Start by being honest with yourself and the situation you are in. 
  2. Reach out to your closest friend, even if you’ve lost touch for a while. 
  3. Contact specialist organisations who are experienced at dealing with your situation (see list below)
  4. Get in touch with a qualified therapist who can work through the issues with you. 

Act today

I’ve worked with many women who have fallen victims to controlling manipulative behaviour and coercive control. Often the perpetrators are men, but I’ve also seen these behaviours in gay couples – both male and female. I believe it’s more about the personality, than the gender or sexual orientation.

Recovering from an abusive relationship needs therapeutic help and support. If you are ready to take a big step, so you can live a better life, then give me a call on 0121 745 9044 to book an appointment.

Organisations offering support:

National Domestic Abuse Helpline –

Citizens Advise –

Mind –

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Psychotherapy delves deep into the root causes of your symptoms.  Psychotherapy in Solihull, encompasses a multitude of approaches, each offering a wide range of tools that help different people.