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The Impact of Coercive Control on Mental Health

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Coercive control is a form of emotional abuse that involves the use of manipulation, isolation, and intimidation to maintain power and control over a partner or family member. This type of abuse can be difficult to recognise, as it often involves subtle and gradual behaviours that erode the victim's sense of self-worth and agency over time.



The impact on mental health of coercive control can be devastating. This blog post will explore the psychological effects of coercive control on survivors, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It will also discuss coping strategies for those affected by coercive control, as well as the importance of seeking help and support for those impacted by this form of abuse. By increasing our understanding of the emotional toll of coercive control, we can better support survivors and work towards preventing and addressing this type of abuse in our communities.


Definition of coercive control


Coercive control is a form of emotional abuse that involves a pattern of behaviour used by an abuser to gain and maintain power and control over their partner or family member. This pattern of behaviour can include a range of tactics, such as manipulation, intimidation, isolation, and threats. The abuser may use these tactics to control the victim's daily activities, finances, and social interactions, while also undermining their sense of self-worth and autonomy. Coercive control can occur in any type of intimate relationship, including marriages, partnerships, familial relationships, friendships and work relationships, and is often characterised by a gradual escalation of abusive behaviours over time. It is important to note that coercive control can have significant and long-lasting impacts on the mental and emotional well-being of those affected, and can be just as harmful as physical violence.


The Signs of Coercive Control


Here are some signs of coercive control:


Isolation: The abuser may try to isolate the victim from friends and family, limiting their access to communication and support.

Monitoring: The abuser may monitor the victim's movements, communication, and online activity.

Emotional abuse: The abuser may use emotional abuse such as belittling, name-calling, and shaming to control the victim.

Financial abuse: The abuser may control the victim's access to finances, preventing them from working or controlling their income.

Sexual abuse: The abuser may use sexual coercion, such as withholding sex or forcing the victim to engage in sexual acts against their will.

Threats: The abuser may use threats of physical harm, or harm to the victim's family, friends, or pets to control them.

Gaslighting: The abuser may use gaslighting tactics to make the victim doubt their own perceptions and reality.


It is important to recognise that coercive control is a serious form of abuse and can have long-lasting effects on an individual's mental health and well-being. If you or someone you know is experiencing coercive control, it is important to seek help and support


The importance of understanding its impact on mental health


Understanding the impact of coercive control on mental health is crucial because this form of abuse can have profound and long-lasting psychological effects on survivors, including a sense of powerlessness and an erosion of the victim's self-worth and agency. This can, in turn, lead to a range of mental health issues.


A. Psychological effects of coercive control on survivors


1. Depression


Coercive control can have a significant impact on mental health, and one common consequence of this form of abuse is depression. Depression is a mental health condition that involves persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness.


Coercive control often involves tactics such as gaslighting, where the abuser manipulates the survivor's perception of reality and undermines their sense of self-worth, which can contribute to the development of depression. Additionally, survivors of coercive control may experience social isolation and a lack of support, which can also increase the risk of depression.


The link between coercive control and depression is further compounded by the fact that many survivors may feel trapped in the abusive relationship and unable to leave. The prolonged exposure to abuse and the feeling of being trapped can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair, which are common symptoms of depression.


Overall, the impact of coercive control on mental health, specifically depression, can be severe and long-lasting. It is important for survivors to seek support and resources to help manage their mental health and heal from the effects of the abuse. With proper support, survivors can regain their sense of self-worth and work towards a brighter future free from the impact of coercive control.


2. Anxiety


Another common consequence of this form of abuse is anxiety. Anxiety is a mental health condition that involves feelings of fear, worry, and unease, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat and sweating. Survivors of coercive control may experience anxiety as a result of the prolonged emotional abuse and manipulation they have endured.


The tactics of coercive control can create a pervasive sense of fear and uncertainty for the survivor. The abuser may use these tactics to control the survivor's behaviour, leading to a constant state of worry about doing something wrong or not meeting the abuser's expectations. This can lead to the development of generalised anxiety disorder, which is characterised by persistent and excessive worry about everyday activities.


The link between coercive control and anxiety is further compounded by the fact that survivors may experience hypervigilance, which is a state of constant alertness and vigilance. This can be a result of the fear of potential harm from the abuser or the anticipation of abuse. This state of heightened awareness can lead to physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat and sweating, which are commonly associated with anxiety.


Survivors of coercive control may experience anxiety for years after leaving the abusive relationship. It is important for survivors to seek support and resources to help manage their mental health and heal from the effects of the abuse.


3. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)


A further result of this type of abuse is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. The trauma of experiencing coercive control can cause a survivor to develop PTSD, which can include flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts.


Additionally, the survivor may experience a sense of disassociation, where they feel detached from their surroundings or their own emotions. This can be a coping mechanism used by the survivor to distance themselves from the trauma of the abuse. However, this disassociation can also be a symptom of PTSD.


B. Understanding the long-term impact of coercive control on mental health


1. The impact on self-esteem and self-worth


Coercive control can have a significant long-term impact on a survivor's self-esteem and self-worth. The abuser may use tactics such as verbal abuse, criticism, and belittlement to diminish the survivor's self-esteem and create a sense of dependence on the abuser. This can lead to a long-term struggle with self-worth and a lack of confidence in one's abilities.


Survivors of coercive control may internalise the negative messages from their abuser and begin to believe that they are worthless, unlovable, or deserving of the abuse. This can lead to a negative self-concept, where the survivor has a distorted view of themselves and their abilities.


The long-term impact of coercive control on self-esteem and self-worth can be profound. Survivors may struggle with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, even after leaving the abusive relationship. This can impact their ability to form healthy relationships and pursue their goals and aspirations.


It is important for survivors of coercive control to work on rebuilding their self-esteem and self-worth. This can involve seeking support from trusted friends or family members, engaging in self-care activities, and working with a therapist or counsellor to process the trauma and develop coping strategies. It can also involve challenging the negative self-talk and beliefs that may have developed as a result of the abuse.


2. The effect on relationships with others


Coercive control can have long-term effects on a survivor's ability to form healthy relationships with others. The abuser may have isolated the survivor from friends and family, leaving them with a limited support network. This can lead to difficulty in trusting others and forming meaningful relationships later in life.


Survivors of coercive control may struggle with trust issues, as the abuser may have used manipulation and lies to control them. They may also have difficulty in setting boundaries and asserting their needs in relationships, as the abuser may have trained them to prioritise the abuser's needs over their own.


The long-term impact of coercive control on relationships with others can also include a pattern of repeating abusive relationships. Survivors may be more vulnerable to entering into new relationships that are abusive, as they may have learned to normalise the abusive behaviours and dynamics from their previous relationship.


It is important for survivors to seek support and resources to address the long-term impact of coercive control on their relationships with others. This can include therapy or counselling to work through trust issues and establish healthy boundaries, as well as support groups or community resources to build a stronger support network.


3. The potential for addiction and substance abuse


Coercive control can increase the risk of addiction and substance abuse among survivors. The abuse and trauma experienced by survivors can lead to intense emotional pain and distress, and they may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope or numb the pain.


In some cases, the abuser may actively encourage or enable the survivor's addiction, using it as another form of control. The abuser may use the survivor's addiction to manipulate and exploit them, or to keep them dependent on the abuser.


Additionally, the depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can result from the abuse can also increase the risk of addiction and substance abuse.


The potential for addiction and substance abuse as a result of coercive control underscores the importance of addressing the root causes of addiction and providing support for survivors. This can include therapy or counselling to work through the trauma and develop coping strategies, as well as addiction treatment programmes and support groups.


It is also important for loved ones and community members to recognise the potential for addiction and substance abuse as a result of coercive control and to provide support and resources for survivors. This can include providing a safe and non-judgmental space for survivors to talk about their experiences and seek help, as well as connecting them with professional resources and support groups.


Overall, the potential for addiction and substance abuse as a result of coercive control highlights the need for a comprehensive and trauma-informed approach to addressing the impact of domestic violence on survivors.


Coping Strategies for Survivors of Coercive Control


A. Seeking therapy and counselling


Seeking therapy and counselling can be an important step in addressing the impact of coercive control on mental health and well-being. Therapy and counselling can provide a safe and supportive space for survivors to work through the trauma and develop coping strategies.


There are a variety of therapeutic approaches that can be helpful for survivors of coercive control. These can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviours, as well as trauma-focused therapy, which helps survivors work through the impact of the trauma on their lives.


In addition to individual therapy, group therapy and support groups can also be helpful for survivors of coercive control. These groups provide a safe and supportive space for survivors to connect with others who have had similar experiences and to receive support and validation for their experiences.


It is important for survivors to find a therapist or counsellor who is knowledgeable about domestic violence and the impact of coercive control. They should feel comfortable discussing their experiences and working collaboratively with their therapist to set goals and develop a treatment plan.


It is also important to note that seeking therapy and counselling is a personal choice, and survivors should not feel pressured to seek help if they are not ready or if it is not the right time for them. Survivors should make decisions about their healing and recovery based on their own needs and experiences.


Overall, seeking therapy and counselling can be a valuable tool in addressing the impact of coercive control on mental health and well-being. Survivors should explore their options and find a therapist or counsellor who is knowledgeable and supportive of their healing journey.


B. Establishing boundaries and developing a support network


Establishing boundaries and developing a support network are crucial steps in breaking free from the cycle of coercive control and promoting healing and recovery. Here are some ways in which these strategies can help:


Establishing boundaries: Setting clear and firm boundaries can help survivors regain a sense of control and autonomy over their lives. Boundaries can take many forms, such as limits on contact with the abuser, restrictions on certain behaviours or actions, or guidelines for communication. Setting and enforcing boundaries can also help survivors feel empowered and more confident in their ability to protect themselves from further abuse.


Developing a support network: A strong support network can be an invaluable source of strength and encouragement for survivors of coercive control. This can include family, friends, therapists, support groups, and other community resources. Having people to turn to for emotional support, practical assistance, and encouragement can help survivors feel less isolated and more connected to others.


Creating a safety plan: A safety plan is a personalised strategy for staying safe in the face of ongoing abuse. It can include measures such as identifying safe places to go, creating a code word to signal when help is needed, and developing strategies for managing triggers and coping with stress. A safety plan can help survivors feel more prepared and empowered in the face of ongoing abuse.


Implementing boundaries and developing a support network can be key strategies in breaking free from the cycle of coercive control and promoting healing and recovery. Survivors should explore their options and seek out the resources and support they need to regain control over their lives and move forward towards a brighter future.


C. Practicing self-care


Practicing self-care is a crucial step in promoting healing and recovery for survivors of coercive control. Here are some ways in which self-care can help:


Reducing stress and anxiety: Survivors of coercive control often experience high levels of stress and anxiety, which can take a toll on their mental and physical health. Practicing self-care activities such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga can help reduce stress levels and promote relaxation.


Building self-esteem: Coercive control can erode a survivor's self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Practicing self-care activities that promote positive self-talk, self-love, and self-acceptance can help rebuild a survivor's sense of self-worth and confidence.


Promoting physical health: Survivors of coercive control may neglect their physical health as a result of the abuse they have experienced. Practicing self-care activities such as exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep can help improve physical health and overall well-being.


Fostering positive relationships: Coercive control can often isolate survivors from their support networks, leaving them feeling alone and disconnected. Practicing self-care activities that foster positive relationships, such as spending time with friends and loved ones, joining support groups, or engaging in hobbies and interests, can help rebuild a survivor's sense of connection and community.


Practicing self-care is an essential aspect of healing and recovery for survivors of coercive control. By prioritising their own well-being and engaging in activities that promote mental and physical health, survivors can rebuild their sense of self-worth, foster positive relationships, and feel empowered to move forward towards a brighter future.


D. Seeking legal and community resources


Seeking legal and community resources can be an important step for survivors of coercive control. Here are some ways in which seeking these resources can help:


Protection and safety: Survivors of coercive control may fear for their safety and that of their children. Seeking legal resources such as restraining orders or protection orders can help provide a sense of safety and protection.


Legal support: Survivors of coercive control may face legal challenges, such as divorce or custody battles, that can be overwhelming to navigate on their own. Seeking legal resources such as a lawyer or legal aid clinic can help survivors understand their legal rights and options.


Financial assistance: Survivors of coercive control may face financial challenges, such as a lack of access to joint bank accounts or job opportunities, that can make it difficult to leave an abusive relationship. Seeking community resources such as financial assistance or job training programmes can help survivors gain financial independence and stability.


Counselling and support: Survivors of coercive control may benefit from counselling or therapy to help process their experiences and build resilience. Seeking community resources such as support groups or counselling services can provide survivors with a safe space to share their experiences and receive support.


Education and awareness: Seeking legal and community resources can also help survivors of coercive control learn more about their rights and options. This can include education and awareness campaigns about domestic violence, as well as community resources that promote healthy relationships and prevent violence.


Overall, seeking legal and community resources can be an important step in promoting healing and recovery for survivors of coercive control. By accessing resources that provide protection, legal support, financial assistance, counselling, and education, survivors can gain the support and tools they need to move forward towards a safer and brighter future.


The Importance of Seeking Help


A. The stigma surrounding abuse and mental health


There is a significant stigma surrounding abuse and mental health, which can make it difficult for individuals who have experienced abuse to seek help and support. This stigma can manifest in a number of ways, including:


Blaming the victim: Some people may believe that individuals who experience abuse are somehow responsible for the abuse, or that they should have been able to prevent it. This blaming mentality can make it difficult for survivors to come forward and seek help, as they may fear judgment or ridicule.


Minimising the impact: Others may believe that abuse is not a serious issue or that it only affects certain types of people. This minimisation can lead to a lack of understanding about the long-term impact of abuse on mental health, which can make it difficult for survivors to receive appropriate care and support.


Fear of disclosure: Survivors of abuse may fear that if they disclose their experiences, they will be ostracised or labelled as "crazy" or "unstable". This fear of disclosure can prevent individuals from seeking help, even when they desperately need it.


Lack of awareness: There may also be a general lack of awareness and understanding about the signs and effects of abuse, which can lead to a lack of resources and support for survivors.


All of these factors can contribute to the stigma surrounding abuse and mental health. To combat this stigma, it is important to raise awareness about the prevalence and impact of abuse, as well as to provide support and resources for survivors. This can include education and awareness campaigns, counselling and therapy services, and legal and community resources that promote safety, healing, and recovery for survivors of abuse. It is also important to create a culture of empathy and understanding, where survivors are not judged or blamed for their experiences, but instead receive the support and compassion they need to heal and move forward.


B. The importance of recognising the signs and symptoms of coercive control


Recognising the signs and symptoms of coercive control is crucial in preventing and addressing abusive relationships. Coercive control is a pattern of behaviour that is used to dominate and control another person, and it can be difficult to recognise because it often happens gradually over time. Here are some reasons why it is important to recognise the signs and symptoms of coercive control:


To protect yourself: By recognising the signs and symptoms of coercive control, you can take steps to protect yourself from an abusive person. This may include seeking support from friends, family, or a professional counsellor, or reaching out to community resources for help.


To help others: If you recognise the signs and symptoms of coercive control in someone else's relationship, you may be able to help them get the support and resources they need to leave the relationship safely.


To break the cycle: Recognising the signs and symptoms of coercive control can help break the cycle of abuse. By identifying abusive behaviour and addressing it, you can help prevent future generations from experiencing similar abuse.


To hold abusers accountable: Recognising coercive control and holding abusers accountable for their behaviour is important in promoting justice and preventing future harm. This may involve seeking legal action or reporting abuse to authorities.


Some common signs and symptoms of coercive control include isolation from friends and family, controlling finances, monitoring phone and internet use, constant criticism and put-downs, and threatening or violent behaviour. It is important to trust your instincts and seek help if you suspect that you or someone you know may be experiencing coercive control.


C. The availability of resources and support


There are many resources and support options available to help individuals experiencing coercive control in their relationships. These resources are designed to provide emotional support, safety planning, and guidance on how to leave an abusive relationship. Here are some examples of resources and support that are available:


Hotlines: There are several national and local hotlines that provide support to individuals experiencing coercive control. These hotlines are staffed by trained professionals who can offer confidential advice and support. Some examples of hotlines are listed below.


Counselling and therapy: Professional counselling and therapy can be a valuable resource for individuals who are experiencing coercive control. Counsellors and therapists can provide emotional support, help with safety planning, and assist with building self-esteem and self-confidence.


Support groups: Support groups can be a valuable resource for individuals who are experiencing coercive control. Support groups offer a safe and supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences and receive emotional support from others who have gone through similar situations.


Legal assistance: Legal assistance is available to individuals who are experiencing coercive control. This may include assistance with obtaining a restraining order, filing for divorce, or seeking custody of children.


Community resources: There are many community resources available to individuals experiencing coercive control. These may include shelters, crisis centres, and advocacy groups. These organisations can provide safe housing, financial assistance, and other resources to help individuals leave abusive relationships.


It is important to remember that no one should have to experience coercive control in their relationships, and there is help available. If you or someone you know is experiencing coercive control, it is important to reach out for help and support.


Conclusion


In conclusion, coercive control can have a devastating impact on an individual's mental health and overall well-being. The emotional toll of coercive control can lead to depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other long-term effects on self-esteem, self-worth, and relationships with others. It is essential to recognise the signs and symptoms of coercive control and seek help and support when necessary.


Seeking therapy and counselling, establishing boundaries, developing a support network, practicing self-care, and seeking legal and community resources are all essential steps towards overcoming coercive control. It is also important to recognise the stigma surrounding abuse and mental health and to provide a safe and supportive environment for those who have experienced coercive control.


No one should have to experience coercive control in their relationships, and it is important to seek help and support for those affected by it. With the right resources and support, individuals can begin to heal and rebuild their lives. Let us work together to break the cycle of coercive control and create a safer, healthier, and happier future for all.


Hotlines


There are several domestic abuse hotlines in the UK that offer support and advice to those affected by domestic abuse. Here are some of the hotlines available:


National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247 This free, 24-hour hotline is run by the charity Refuge and provides support, information, and advice to women experiencing domestic abuse. The helpline is confidential and can be accessed by phone or online chat.


Women's Aid: Helpline 0808 800 0028 or Text Service 18001 0808 800 0028. Its aim is to end domestic violence against women and children.


Men's Advice Line: 0808 801 0327 This confidential helpline provides support and advice to men experiencing domestic abuse. The helpline is run by the charity Respect and is available Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm.


The Mix: 0808 808 4994 The Mix provides support and advice to young people aged 13 to 25. They offer support on a range of issues, including domestic abuse, and their helpline is available from 11 am to 11 pm every day.


Galop: 0800 999 5428 Galop is a national LGBT+ domestic abuse helpline that provides support and advice to anyone who identifies as LGBT+. The helpline is available Monday to Friday, from 10 am to 8 pm.


Karma Nirvana: 0800 5999 247 Karma Nirvana provides support and advice to victims of forced marriage and honour-based abuse. The helpline is available Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm.


It is important to remember that help and support are available for those experiencing domestic abuse. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 999.



 


Sally Edwards Counselling

I am a fully qualified counsellor based in Orpington, Kent

I work with clients with problems including: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, identity issues, relationship problems, self-destructive behaviours, self-harm, childhood sexual abuse, sexual violence, domestic violence, domestic abuse, trauma, PTSD, eating disorders and body image problems.

I am easily accessible from local areas near me including Orpington, Bromley, Chislehurst, Petts Wood, Sidcup, Beckenham, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Knockholt, West Wickham, Chelsfield, Swanley and Bexley

Face-to-face in person or online counselling


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