Recognizing Coercive Control

In the context of abusive intimate partner relationships, we often talk about physical abuse, but a lesser known and discussed form of abuse, known as coercive control, can be just as damaging. Coercive control is a pattern of behavior that allows one partner to dominate and dictate the other’s life. It is about power and manipulation, creating an environment of fear and dependence that can strip away the victim’s autonomy and self-worth.

Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten someone. Coercive control can make a person feel subordinate and dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance, and escape, and regulating their everyday behavior.

Recognizing the Signs of Coercive Control

Understanding the signs of coercive control is crucial for both victims and their support networks and may help break the cycle. Here are some key indicators:

  • Isolation from friends and family – The abuser may control who the victim can see, where they can go, and what they can do. They may also express jealousy at time spent with others. The purpose of this isolation is to cut the victim off from support networks, making them more dependent on the abuser.
  • Monitoring and surveillance – The abuser may constantly check the victim’s phone, emails, and social media accounts, or use GPS tracking to monitor their whereabouts. This creates a sense of being constantly watched and controlled.
  • Financial control – The abuser may give the victim an allowance, take their earnings, or prevent them from having access to bank accounts or even from holding a job. Creating financial dependence can make the victim feel like it’s impossible to leave the relationship.
  • Degradation and humiliation – The abuser may inflict emotional abuse such as belittling, constant criticism, and humiliation. This wears down the victim’s self-esteem and makes them feel worthless.
  • Manipulating children – The abuser may use the children as a tool of control, threatening to take them away or turning them against the victim.
  • Gaslighting – The abuse may use psychological manipulation to make the victim doubt their own reality, memory, and sanity. The abuser may deny events, lie, or twist facts to make the victim question their own perceptions.
  • Restricting personal freedom – The abuse may control the victim’s daily activities, including what they wear, what they eat, and when they can sleep. This level of control erodes their sense of independence and personal autonomy.
  • Threats and intimidation – The abuser may use threats of violence, self-harm, or other dire consequences to instill fear and compliance.
  • Sexual manipulation – The abuser might make demands about the number of times to have sex each week and the kinds of activities performed. They may also refuse to wear a condom or demand to take sexual pictures or videos, threatening the victim with public exposure and humiliation.

The Impact of Coercive Control

The insidious nature of coercive control means it can be hard to recognize, both for the victim and for those around them. It doesn’t leave physical scars, but the psychological wounds are deep and enduring. Victims often experience severe psychological trauma, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The constant stress and fear can also manifest in physical health problems, such as chronic pain, gastrointestinal issues, and sleep disturbances. The effects of coercive control can be devastating and long-lasting.

Seeking Help and Support

The effects of coercive control can be devastating and long-lasting and no one deserves to endure it. Recognizing coercive control is the first step toward breaking free from its grip. If you or someone you know is experiencing these signs, it’s important to seek help. Confide in friends, family, or colleagues who can offer support and help you to see the situation more clearly. Organizations such as domestic violence shelters, hotlines, and support groups can provide resources, advice, and safe spaces. Therapy can help victims process their experiences, rebuild their self-esteem, and develop a plan for moving forward.


The Greene County Family Justice Center is a non-profit collaborative of local agencies offering comprehensive services to survivors of domestic, sexual, and family violence. Our services are trauma-informed, survivor-centered, and we welcome survivors at any point in their process. We partner with local non-profit service providers as well as local law enforcement, the Prosecutor’s office, and Children’s Division to make victim services more accessible and completely voluntary. If you do not want to participate in the criminal justice process, we support you.

Our vision is a future where we all work together to meet the needs of domestic violence and human trafficking survivors through comprehensive and accessible services, education, and perpetrator accountability. Through a coordinated framework and co-located response, we strive to break the vicious generational cycle and community impact of domestic violence and resulting victimizations.

We can help you plan for your safety whether you plan to stay in the relationship, or you are actively trying to escape. All our services are free, confidential and survivor centered. Have questions about what services are available? Visit us at 1418 E. Pythian Street or give us a call at 417-874-2600. We are open 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday. For after-hours assistance, call the Harmony House/Victim Center’s 24-hour safe line at 417-864-SAFE (7233). If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.