How Did I End Up in a Toxic Relationship Without Knowing?

You might even think you are at fault. More on coercive control.

By Madiha A.
How Did I End Up in a Toxic Relationship Without Knowing?

What is Coercive Control?

You might have heard stories of domestic abuse and violence. The abuse that gets reported is mostly of physical nature. Usually, the weaker of the partners and minors become a victim of physical abuse. There are cases where domestic abuse or violence is not physical; the type of violence that is meant to harm, punish or frighten the victim is called coercive control. Believe it or not, it is far worse than physical abuse. It does not leave marks and wounds on the skin, it is meant to torture the soul. 

Coercive control is a term synonymous with authoritarianism. Where authoritarianism is taking control of personal freedom, coercive control does the same along with making the victim feel threatened and scared. It is a kind of domestic violence where a very close person makes you feel dependent, controlled and scared through their acts and behaviors.      

Is Coercive Control Toxic?

A true relationship is built on the foundation of love and understanding. Love empowers you and gives you the strength to make the relationship work. It happens sometimes that one partner takes the steering of life in their hands and drives at their will. If this driving around respects the decisions and wishes of the partner; life goes on smoothly. 

There are cases where one of the partners takes control in a way that the wishes, feelings, and the needs of other partners are not only neglected but they are deprived of their independence; life can become a living hell.
Coercive control is toxic. It exploits the victim, isolates them from the support system, and deprives them of their most basic need as a human; their independence. The severity of the incidents that can take place during coercive control helped it identify as a criminal offense.

9 Signs That You Are in a Relationship with Coercive Control    

When a victim is under coercive control, they are forced to live in a way where their social interaction, bank accounts, and even their freedom to move around are controlled by the abuser. Mentioned below are 9 signs that will help you understand if you are in a relationship with coercive control. 

1. Isolation from social support

The first step the abuser takes in coercive control is social isolation. The victim is not allowed to attend family gatherings, meet up with friends, and even go out alone. The abuser will make this happen in a series of steps. They will take you to the area which is far away from your relatives and friends. They will not only monitor your phone calls but will suggest sharing one phone and even social media accounts. They will tell you lies about your friends and family and will try to make you hate them. 

2. Behavior monitoring

In a coercive control, you will always feel being monitored. Whether your abusive partner is home or not, they will keep a check on you through cameras. Monitoring gives the abuser added control over the victim. The victim feels harassed and it gives satisfaction to the abuser.

3. Manipulation and gaslighting

Another sign of being in a coercive control relationship is manipulation and gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of abuse where the abuser makes the victim question their memory and behavior. The victim will feel as if they are going crazy. The abuser will manipulate the victim into feeling worthless, lacking confidence, being apologetic all the time, questioning their memory and feeling helpless.

4. Take control of your freedom

The abuser, in a coercive control relationship, takes control of the victim’s freedom. It includes freedom of movement and thinking. It mostly starts with restricting the victim from going to school or work. In worst cases, the victim is taken far away from their friends and family and is kept in total isolation under strict control.  The victim is not allowed to go anywhere alone and are often followed if found going alone. The phone numbers and social media is either not made available or kept under surveillance.

5. Criticism and name-calling

The victim in a coercive control relationship is made to feel unimportant. They are being negatively criticized for everything. Name-calling is another way to make the victim feel worthless and deficient. 

6. Financial control

The victim in coercive control is not allowed to be financially independent. Their bank accounts, credit cards and other financial resources are controlled by the abuser. The victim is forced to follow a strict budget and the expenditures are sternly observed and monitored.

7. Enforcement of traditional gender roles

The abuser in a coercive control relationship will enforce traditional gender roles in the household. They consider men being the breadwinners and women being the home runners should be following the gender roles strictly. They do not approve of a career-oriented working woman and hence will pressurize the woman to stay at home and look after the kids.

8. Turn kids against you

Another tactic of the abuser is to belittle the victim in front of the kids and turn them against the parent. The series of hate comments, false accusations, and character assassination of the victim is a way to create a barrier between children and the parent.

9. Control of sexual relationship

Domestic violence isn’t just physical; mental torment also comes under domestic violence but isn’t reported often. The coercive control is a type of domestic violence where the victim is given mental torture through sets of actions and behaviors. One of the signs that you might be in a coercive control relationship is the strict regulation of sexual relationships by the partner. When to have sex, how to have, and how many times are decided by the abuser and the victim is forced to follow the routine against their will. The victim is threatened to follow the routine and may also be forced into pornography. 

Stories of Victims  

Coercive control is a criminal offense. There was a time when only physical abuse was reported and most people living in a coercive control relationship never got a chance to report the violence and seek help. Living under coercive control is more or less like a “hijack” or “house arrest” where the victims are kept hostage against their free will and are forced to do whatever the abuser wants. 

If you feel being tied up by invisible chains and deprived of your liberty, you need to make a move and seek immediate help before its too late. Here are some victim stories to help you understand more about coercive control and how it affects the victim.

Lisa’s Story

Lisa-Marie Flavin has shared her story on YouTube for public awareness. She has shared her experience of domestic violence in a household where everything seemed normal on the outside. She calls it psychological abuse. She believes that no one should live in control of another human being. Her story is a true depiction of what a coercive control relationship looks like.

The Kellie Sutton Story

There are several red flags in a coercive control relationship. The victim needs to learn and identify those red flags to save themselves for this invisible violence. The story of Kellie Sutton is shared on Narcissistic Abuse Rehab’s YouTube Channel. The story is the extreme case of coercive control where the victim was driven to commit suicide. It was reported that after being mentally and physically tortured by her boyfriend, Kellie committed suicide in August 2017.

How to Get Out of This Relationship?

Since coercive control is more or less like kidnapping or hijacking, getting out of this kind of relationship can be very difficult. The victims in coercive control are strictly monitored by the abuser and the abuser makes sure that the victim has no contact with the outer world so reporting this kind of crime will require a lot of courage and strategy. Here are a few ways to get out of this kind of relationship.

1. Try to remain in contact with the support system

It can be very difficult to maintain social contact but you should try and find ways to get in touch with a friend or family whenever possible. Although it will piss off the abuser but makes sure that someone keeps a check on you at regular intervals. Keeping in contact with the outer world will help you get out of the relationship when the situation gets out of control.

2. Call domestic violence hotline

Although it would be difficult to sneak out to make a phone call, it is absolutely necessary to reach out and get help. Even if you are not sure about the situation, talking to a professional will help identify the problem and a possible solution.

3. Work towards a safe exit

Practice how to get out of the house and do it whenever it is possible. Most abusers in coercive control strictly monitor the movement of the victim but there are always some loopholes. If you have children, make them a part of your safe exit plan.

4. Have a Plan

While you are staying with an abuser, keep making plans of getting out safely and update the planned overtime to make it better. The plan should include the strategies of safe exit, where to go, who to live with, who to reach out for professional help, and how to stay invisible until the abuser is no more danger.  

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You can end up in a coercive control relationship without even knowing. There are chances that the person you fell in love with isn’t what he seems on the outside. An apparently normal and happy go person can be a total freak and once you realize, they have completely isolated you from the outer world. Life can become a living hell in a coercive control relationship. You might blame yourself for falling for such a person, but believe me, it is not your fault. Your only fault will be living in such a relationship. You still have time; go out and get help while you still can.