About Coercive Control and Psychological Abuse

Men’s tactics of coercive control against female partners

– Posted in: Male perpetrators, Warning signs of abuse, Why does he do it

SpeakOutLoud.net men's tactics of coercive control Clare Murphy PhDToday I uploaded an extensive list of power and control tactics as used by those men who abuse and control their intimate female partner. (I’ve updated the list as at 1 October 2014 to include cyberbullying and other forms of abuse using technology).

Types of tactics

The following list of tactics of power and control summarises the list that you can view by downloading the pdf document.   I have written separate blog posts explaining each of the following ways men use coercive control against female partners:

Systematic pattern of power and control

As the above list suggests, physical violence is just one tactic among many that some men subject their female partners to. And not all these men use physical violence — ever. Rather they use some, or all, of the above psychological and structural forms of control.

Each behaviour, when looked at separately, could seem justifiable. Each singular behaviour could look like something minor. Each behaviour on its own could appear that the woman provoked it. Just one of these behaviours viewed from the outside — out of context — could appear like he was just having a bad day.

However, look at this short list in its entirety. Now consider this mass of behaviours as a systematic pattern. Also know that women who are subjected to this pattern of abuse and control experience MANY of these tactics — every day, every week, every month, every year — for years and years. Then ask yourself if you think this systematic pattern of power and control is about the man just having a bad day. Or is there a campaign (whether it is conscious or not) to win at all costs and to maintain power and control?

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15 Comments… add one

michelle January 14 2015, 4:46 pm

I have been dating a guy for about 5 years. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable. In ways that are hard to explain or justify. He will twist things I say in discussion back on me and I feel too overwhelmed to explain to him what he is doing.
I make very little money and spend most of it on him and the rest on gas for my car that he drives. He makes a great deal of money. When he drinks he often gets angry at me and seemingly makes up a problem to yell at me.
I feel like all I do is bend over for him. He will make inappropriate (and negative) sexual comments about me in front of all of his or my friends. When I confront him about it or tell him it hurt or embarrassed me, he gets angry and looks disgusted. He says things like “SO-RRY. I won’t joke around with you ever again. Fucking god”.

And if I can’t do something for him or his friends when they are over, he will get so mad but won’t confront me. For example he asked me if I would drive to the store and get everyone drinks, I told him that I was out of money (which I was) and he gave me the death glare that meant I would pay later for “embarrassing him in front of his friends”.

He also complains a lot. It’s not like he doesn’t have things to stress out about because he really does, but he seems unhappy whenever we are home alone. If we go out he is usually charming and fun. If I ever have a problem however, he either doesn’t listen or gets angry.
I’ve gotten really good at putting up with his stress and rude mean comments, but sometimes he will say or do something especially sharp and I will get upset. If I cry in front of him he yells at me for crying. Come to think of it, if I am ever not 100% chipper he gets upset at me.
And when it comes to sex he will put me in situations that I do not like. He will come home for a minute before needed to go somewhere, and ask for sex or oral and it comes down to 1) do it even though I don’t want to, or 2) have him be angry at me for the rest of the day. He does this especially right before we are about to go somewhere together.

And sometimes he will do things during sex that hurts me and I can’t tell him or else he will push me off and be very angry. I have to pretend I like it, or prepare to stay up for the rest of the night with his angry ranting.
He has never physically hit or pushed me. Except for one time but he played it off like an accident. He has however reacted violently around me. Throwing stuff, punching and kicking things, etc. Sometimes he breaks my stuff. One time he punched a hole into a painting I did while he was trying to fix the hanger for me. He said he wouldn’t have broken it if he didn’t “have to fix the fucking thing in the first place”.
He doesn’t even say super mean things to me like “you are a bitch” or “shut the fuck up” — he has, but not often.
He has minor psychological controls but they are really seeming to add up.
The rest of the time we are very happy, which makes the manipulation almost worse, because it comes out of the blue.
What do I do? Fight more, try to make a difference in his behavior, or walk away?

Clare Murphy PhD January 14 2015, 5:07 pm

michelle…..Walk away. I’ve been following women’s comments for 14 years. I’ve researched relationships like the one you are in for 14 years. I’ve counselled thousands of women who wish they got out of there sooner. It ALWAYS gets worse. Walk away while you have your sanity. Women lose themselves the longer they stay. The longer you stay the harder it will be for you to get out and develop a HEALTHY relationship with someone else. Walk away safely. He sounds like a controlling possessive man who might get nasty if you say you are going to leave, or if you do leave. Get support to leave and follow your gut instinct about how he might react. You do not have to inform him unless or until you are safely out of there. The balance of nice times and bad times that you describe WILL increasingly tip towards more and more bad, then all bad….Clare

Sharon January 4 2015, 10:26 pm

Sounds like my husband. Met when I was 20. We got married in 1997 and he went to university to do his degree while I worked. When he finished it was supposed to be my turn but there was always a reason I couldn’t.

I raised the kids and we stayed with my mother in law. I never had control of the money nor proper access to it and I’d get put down constantly, criticised and made to feel like dirt.

My husband refused to get a house of our own and if I pushed the issue he’d threaten to kick me out penniless.

Their family and my children went on holidays and I had to climb through the window to get inside as they refused to give me a key to the deadbolted house. They actually had asked me to leave and I’d inquired as to where and my husband told me it wasn’t his problem.

My husband once punched my stomach, then two punches to the head.

Today after 15 years I have severe anxiety, still no degree, my husband finally got a house, but an investment house with his sister. We still live with his mother. There is apparently no money saved (it’s hidden) and I’m stuck here. If I leave I leave my kids, with no money, no education and no hope.

P.S My real name is Daniel, my husband is really my wife. It’s not just women who suffer though I acknowledge it’s primarily women.

Rachael January 1 2013, 10:56 pm

I have just left my ex who used many of these tactics plus a few different ones. He is now using our children to get to me. I wish I had known or realsied the signs. Now it is just his words against mine. I have been fortunate to get suppport and help from a number of DV services and the police domestic liason officer or I would still be stuck with this man and my children would grow up subjected to his abuse towards me.

IM1229 September 22 2012, 3:29 am

As a retired police officer, I know that emotional abuse can be worse than physical, mostly because its harder to prove. But it can be done. Write down things he said and what your response was. Try to avoid saying how it made you feel and focus more on what was said and in what context. A judge can understand that, rather than saying you feel depressed and worthless as a result. That’s pretty much a given. I have been the victim of psychological abuse, so I know its effects. There is great book on Verbal Abuse, I wish I had the book with me. But if you can’t buy one, go to the library or look thru the Internet. You’ll be shocked at what is considered abuse that you probably never thought of, things like getting the “silent treatment” or being the butt of a joke and being told you are too sensitive.

Sherry September 4 2012, 12:34 pm

My daughter has this happening to her – but how do you prove it in court. They are going through a divorce and custody battle and live in the same house until the first hearing in two weeks. He has never been physical but degrades her about everything and says stuff in front of her 3 year old son.

lady July 23 2013, 4:15 pm

Have your daughter watch the movie ‘Gaslight’ with Ingrid Bergman. It’s a 1940s b/w movie about psychological abuse. And a classic. She shouldn’t watch it with her husband, but at a friend’s house.

As far as documenting abuse, what I did with my gaslighting ex is . . . I used the Voice Memo on my smartphone. I turned the Sound OFF so he wouldn’t hear the ping when I began recording.

Thankfully I wasn’t married to my abuser, nor did we live together or have children together. When I decided to leave, I did so without warning. Two weeks later I went to my abuser’s house to get a few personal items. My very wise therapist suggested I bring a friend along, so that I wouldn’t be alone with him. I made a detailed list of items I wanted, brought big bags to carry things and we were in-and-out in 4 minutes. He was speechless. And powerless. Perfect.

I would also recommend the book: The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. It’s about how abusers groom their victims. And also how NOT to live in fear, but to trust your intuition.

kieran February 21 2012, 12:40 pm

My boyfriend continues to use every power and coercion technique known to all military personnel as his brother was in the military and learned very confusing, mastermind psychological tactics…he continues to beat me physically using punching, slapping, choking, throwing objects, spitting, pouring water on me then throwing the bottle at my head, publicly humiliating me, in front of his friends, to stop talking back saying ‘nobody wants to listen to me’…ingoring and withholding affection and attention, cheating, lying, manipulating.
Just recently, I called his work and found out he had been calling out because he was busy taking the girl he is cheating on me with, to dinner and out spending money on her. The same night I called him only several seconds after his text message because I was on the side of the road with no gas and needed help. I was only one mile away from his house. He didn’t pick up and refused to give me just ten dollars for gas when he had over $1500 in his pockets and I was broke because I just spent all my 300 dollars to my name on him. He just didn’t ‘feel like helping me’ or lending me a measly ten dollars.
He then turned the whole thing around on me and said I’m cheap and didn’t spend enough money on him and how dare I contact his work…I’m a sneak and I must ‘be hiding something if I’m digging’ then threatened me and is currently using three of the above tactics.
Another time, he punched my in my face and banged my head against the car window, spit on me, slapped my face hard and threw me into the street because I shaved my private area against his wishes. My own privates are not mine, they are his and belong to him, all while he’s cheating on me.
He searches through my phone, intimidates me, spins things around on me, changes the subject and hangs up in the middle of my sentence when he simply ‘doesn’t feel like LISTENING’ to me. I have been physically, mentally, psychologically and sexually as well as financially used and abused for three years and he continues to use marriage over my head, because he’s playing on my emotions and using my heart and mind against me. Everything I’ve ever explained about my past and relationships have been thrown into my face and twisted. He uses this never ending ‘campaign’ of power and control, making me prove myself and jump through constant hoops to benefit him directly and if I go against his wishes, he will somehow twist what I say in such a way that makes me confused and speechless.

Carol Crawford September 18 2011, 12:00 pm

I’m a survivor of domestic violence and I can give an example of mental, verbal, or physical abuse for almost each bullet point. My ex continues to deny the abuse. The list is very accurate.

charmaine May 18 2011, 10:15 pm

I should have seen the red flags a long time ago, but ignored them all. My partner always tells me – “It’s not the end of the world”, “I don’t need to listen to you crying”, “I have a lot on my plate” – whenever I try to explain to him when he has hurt my feelings or simply try to communicate with him. I’m scared at times to even ask, or say anything to him, feeling he will be mad at me, and won’t speak to me. Right now, Im so emotionally drained in our relationship, that I’m hating who I am. I have lost myself, and don’t know what to do. To keep myself sane, I do a lot of praying.

sylvie February 16 2012, 5:02 am

I hear you, sister. Exhausted and feeling stuck, I do a lot of praying too! Good luck to you in the future. I remember what a teacher once told me: “People will only treat us a certain way if we allow it.” In other words, we need to value ourselves first!

K April 1 2011, 2:51 am

It should be included that physically preventing a person from walking out the door (by blocking the door, restraining them, or carrying them back into the house) is considered domestic violence in some states.

MM September 15 2009, 9:14 pm

This list is something I have longed to see. Abusers have a list of tactics that seem to come out of a manual for abuse – which is kept hidden from victims! Here’s one more: my ex husband used to make agreements with me in private which he would completely contradict in public. And, being a polite sort, I would not tackle him on it in public but waited until I could do so in private. Alas, it meant that he won. The one time I reacted immediately and said, “Hey, that’s not what we discussed”, he turned on me viciously and said I was going to do what he said. End of discussion. He did that to me in front of his ex-wife and daughter! I was humiliated and angry. Later, in private, he resorted to wheedling to get his way, and promised to make it up to me. From his point of view, the tactic worked – and he did it again and again, over my protests. Finally, I said that if he tried it again, I would humiliate him in public. I wrote down my experience of this pattern, and he acted shocked and replied, “That’s not very flattering”. I noticed he didn’t say it was untrue…

Well, I am a proud woman and his treatment did not go down well. His goal was to charm and be beloved by others, and I was nothing more than his accessory. My needs and feelings simply were not a consideration in his life. His charm was amazing. When I left him, he tried to steal my friends and family. It almost worked on one of them, and I suspect he might have told my cousin something I said to him in private that might hurt her. They are friends these days…

The last straw I think was his more frequent drinking, falling down in the snowbank drunk, at events we both attended. He defended himself by saying, “I was just having fun”, setting me up as the woman who only wanted to spoil his fun. I left, finally, after a winter of that treatment.

I left him without notice. That, somehow, is supposed to be a bad thing. According to some “rules”, leaving is something you’re supposed to discuss, or be declared a coward. This, I think, is important to address.

If I told him I was leaving, I would have to leave on his terms, not mine. For many women who are leaving, this is the most dangerous time, including the possibility of murder. This is not to be underestimated by anyone who might say, “Oh, I know ____, and he would never do that.” The TV image of a woman grabbing a suitcase and hauling it out the door past the guy they’re leaving, who actually gets out of the way and lets her go just because she tells him to – is a fairytale.

So, I left him “for nothing” and was roundly condemned for it. Of course, I knew that would happen due to his charm. That was four years ago. I smile now to think about that, but it still bothers me that he may have influenced my cousin. The fact that he tried to take my friends (the higher status ones) bothered me. He wanted to charm them into his fold. I can do nothing about this. I can only accept it as the price paid to get my life back, and it is painful but still worth it.

No, the guy never beat me. About our relationship, I can say this, “A guy doesn’t have to beat a woman up to beat her down”.

Ruth February 9 2013, 12:51 pm

Whew… this sounds like my brother to a T. Two-faced and trying to win everyone’s favor at my expense (by smearing my reputation).

I think it’s a matter of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. If you HAD discussed it with him (which would have probably consisted of him denying everything and refusing to take responsibility) he would have found some other way to paint you in a bad light.

It’s great that you left. I’m in the process of cutting my brother out of my life as well and, like you, I know there will be a price to pay (people who believe the crap he’s spewing).

I’m reading articles like this to educate myself as much as possible. I want to be able to spot this sort of behaviour a mile away. Thanks for the information Clare.

B August 3 2009, 1:38 pm

I see these things and they do match some losers that I have been with. Ever since – I’ve been single for a long time and it is hard to trust anyone after that. It is very sad that when a good man can’t even get a chance to treat a woman right all because somebody else ruined it for him a long time ago.

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