My experience of coercive control, both on a personal level and in listening to the experiences of those I support and have supported over the years, is more often that not a silent power which makes it extremely difficult to spot - which is of-course intended by design.
At the end of this blog post, I will ask a couple of questions in relation to your experience and understanding of coercive control, which I value your input on. You can either reply in the comments section of this post, or if you would rather not share your view publicly, you can email me privately to firstname.lastname@example.org and your input will be kept entirely confidential. The purpose of this post is to gain a better understanding of Coercive Control and how it presents itself, so we can better support and protect victims.
While I am sharing my own experience of Coercive Control, I understand that similar situations do not necessary mean similar experiences - as individuals, our experiences often differ. This does not mean that one version is correct and the other is incorrect - it only means that our experiences may vary; they are equally valid.
It is not wrong, stupid or selfish to share our experiences and truths. It is okay If others disagree with your viewpoint, it does not make it any less valid or any less important. It is not okay to attempt to silence people whose views we disagree with.
THE OUTSIDE VIEW
To the world on the outside of an abusive relationship - whether that's, partner, parent, boss or other; coercive control in my experience is often invisible, and it can appear to be invisible regardless if the person viewing the situation is a trained professional or not.
Coercive control is regularly overlooked by Social Workers, Judges, Police officers etc, tasked with supporting victims. It is my opinion that it appears invisible to anyone who has not had first hand experience of it. You may accurately describe an island you have never visited and only read about but can you truly know what it feels like to be there? Can you know how it feels to feel the sand between your toes, the wind in your hair, the smells, signs and sounds of the sea if you have never been to a Beach?
Coercive behaviour is all about the senses - its about how an individual thinks & FEELS!
We often make the assumption that a trained professional is able to recognise the signs of an abusive/coercive relationship on the basis that they have studied and trained for the role and so must therefore understand it fully. In my experience it has been not been the case. Judges who ask victims why they have stayed in an abusive relationship if it was really as bad as they say it was' - being a perfect example of a lack of understanding around the issue of coercive control. It is often devastating for the victim who comes to realise that the people who are supposedly 'on their side', alleging helping them do not understand the first thing about their situation or their circumstances and so assume the problem is them. The feeling of hopelessness is magnified by this realization further damaging the victim.
It is almost as if the outside world is watching a 3D moving in 2D - and they are not seeing, or are not able to see the whole picture. Whereas the victim on the other hand is viewing in 3D and seeing something entirely different. The abuser is fully aware of this and lets the victim know that they cannot be helped because no-one cares enough to help. The victim may well believe this as there is nothing to suggest otherwise; in reality the issue is a lack of understanding.
In the STAND workshop, I call this coercive control 'The Invisible Seduction' as the aggressor presents for all intents and purposes as a kind, caring, trustworthy, reliable individual. Only the victim and those who have experienced this type of toxic behaviour are able to see the aggressors true identity. This is extremely damaging for the victim who has no support, because for all intents and purposes it is the victim who appears to be confused, paranoid and irrational to an outside world that cannot be trusted and does not feel safe. The aggressor takes great pleasure in observing as the victim struggles to make themselves understood. The communication from Abuser to Victim is silent, subliminal and toxic.
I have sat face to face with victims who have smiled and laughed along with their abuser, confirming verbally that everything is fine, whilst at the same time attempting to speak to me with their eyes whenever their abuser isn't looking. Silently signalling that they do not feel safe to speak. The aggressor, looking every inch the caring, smiling & friendly partner - plays the part faultlessly. The fact that the victim feels unable to say what is on their mind to say is a sure sign of coercive control. The problem is, unless you know this, the victims smile often gives the impression that everything is fine.
During situations like this, the victim is experiencing a whole range of negative emotions that cannot be witnessed by the onlooker; Panic, Anxiety, Stress, Embarrassment - all being held together by a well-rehearsed, painted smile. The victim has learned to appear calm and smiley while falling apart within. In my experience victims themselves often do not recognise how controlled they are, it is only when you ask why they feel unable to speak their truth in front of certain individuals that they begin to see the situation for what it is.
Even now, I find it very difficult to articulate the strength of this silent power that controls the victim. There is no need for the perpetrator to speak, or even be present - just the idea that the perpetrator is aware of what is happening, is enough to set off the negative emotions and panic within the victim who will readily conform.
In my experience, I was able to determine from the sound of the footsteps on the floorboards above me, whether today was going to be a good day for me or not. I instinctively knew what to say and what not to say to keep myself safe. I was highly skilled at navigating my way around the landmines, but I hated myself for being so weak because I would say or do whatever it took to keep myself safe. I had no control over the silent power that decided my every move and thought and I was always the loser as a result - not only losing the fight, losing important relationships, integrity, worth, financially, home, job, and so much more, time and time again.
I have sat in a room full of people where untruths are being spoken aloud but no one dare contradict for fear of upsetting the aggressor. A silent pull of toxic energy that everyone, regardless of age or gender, goes along with, even when they disagree or know the truth - rather than having to face the wrath that will surely come should they speak out. They have learned over a long period of time that it is far safer to smile and nod than contradict and fall foul of the humiliation, embarrassed, ostracized & targeted.
HOW THE VICTIM IS FEELING INSIDE
These are some of the words that victims use to describe how they are feeling inside at a time when they are being controlled by another/others. These same words are repeated by different victims of coercive control;
INCAPABLE OF STANDING UP AGAINST
I am interested to hear your thoughts, views and experiences, if you could please answer the question below and return
Have you ever experienced Coercive Control?
What is your understanding of Coercive Control?
Do you have anything more to add?
If you would like support or more information in relation with the issues raised in this post - please get in touch.
Deborah J Crozier
Dip. Coun (BC) Registered Member M.ACCPH (Snr. Accred.) EFT Practitioner
CEO /Founder A Positive Start CIC