Coercive control in its very nature places its victim in an almost impossible situation when it comes to taking back control of their own life and moving towards a situation where they can leave their abuser and get a divorce.
What is coercive control
Coercive control is defined in the Domestic Violence Act as, “Psychological abuse in intimate relationships that causes fear of violence of serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse impact on a person’s day-to-day life, manifesting as a pattern of intimidations or humiliation involving psychological or emotional abuse.”
How that manifests itself for the victim is in a severe loss of freedom, isolation from friends and family, losing control of your daily activities, losing any ‘economic’ autonomy, or responsibility and control (and thereby independence) over day to day basics such as food, shopping, bills, work.
The problem with coercive control is that it is often slow and insidious. It is rarely physical, which means that are no physical bruises or injuries. But the psychological damage is deeper and more painful, and often more difficult to prove.
How to escape from a relationship of coercive control
By its very nature, even the simple act of seeking divorce advice from a lawyer is incredibly difficult of you are in a coercive relationship. Often those victims only have limited and highly controlled access to the internet and any other form of communication, so any search history is monitored.
Equally, the self esteem and sense of self agency and control has been completely eroded due to the controlling behaviour. Getting to that point where they can actually make the decision that they need to leave requires a massive amount of strength and courage. If it goes wrong, it could lead to a tightening of the control.
Here are a few small steps that you need to take to prepare your escape route from a controlling relationship.
- As much as you can, keep open channels of communications with loved ones.
One of the main behavioural abuses of coercive control is to isolate the victim from friends and family. Turning someone against their family allows you to exert greater control, fundamentally destroying your very foundations. Recognising that you have been isolated is a major step forward. The next stage is to start to repair those ruptures so that you have some support when you do leave.
- Know your escape routes
You need to identify those places where you know you have safe passage, aided by people you trust. If you have children you need to know that they are factored in and are kept safe.
- Keep in touch with a domestic abuse hotline
As much as possible keeping regular contact with domestic abuse hotlines will give you the advice and support you need from trained professionals. They will have access to the resources you need to get away safely, and build the legal framework around your case to ensure that you and your children are protected in the future.
- Stand your ground
Once you have left, the next few weeks are probably the most challenging. Abusers will often revert to remorse to demonstrate their changed ways and entice you back. This is a continued form of gaslighting. They may also then start threatening, or emotionally blackmailing you through your children, withholding money, seeking support from more sympathetic friends and family.
Removing yourself from a coercive and controlling relationship is a long and emotionally draining road which is fraught with psychological potholes. Give yourself as much armour as possible.