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Learn About Coercive Control and Psychological Abuse

How to muster the courage to break free from bad relationships

– Posted in: Fear and shame Gender socialisation Male perpetrators Social Institutions & Abuse Why does he do it

Speakoutloud.net freedom Clare Murphy PhD_1Do you wonder what it would feel like to be free? Do you have a legacy of fear and shame? Has the aftermath of abuse led you to be a conformist? Or has it led you to be riddled with anger so bad that you rebel?

How to step out of the loop of coercive control

Fear and shame are the lifeblood of one-sided power and control – for both controllers and victims of abuse. It is pretty difficult for either person to muster the courage to step away from this pervasive social problem. Change requires courage.

  1. The first step towards change is courage and awareness. You have to be honest about the ways you are losing yourself. What are the costs to you of being controlled by others? Or if you control others what is the cost to you? Be honest. Do you truly feel the psychological and physical safety you had hoped for? Be honest – deep down can you actually trust the controller? Do you feel respected for your own opinions, your own values – do you even have any?
  2. The second step is naming a clear set of pro-social values for yourself to move towards. When you run away from situations without clearly defining what you are moving towards you repeat old patterns. Your new set of values needs to honour your aliveness and to honour the aliveness of others.

Linking freedom with responsibility

The perpetration of one-sided power and control means TAKING freedom from others. True freedom always means we have to take responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

  • True freedom entails responsibility for the rights of others as well as yourself – That means compromise. Win-win.
  • True freedom does not mean stomping on others.
  • True freedom means risking possible rejection, being scoffed at or ostracised. But who specifically are you afraid will reject you? You can and will survive rejection. That person was not worthy of your company anyway.

Perptrators and victims are often too scared to change because they are trying to gain acceptance from other people. Who do you try to please? Do you feel 100% free to be yourself around them?

Do you conform?

For those who conform, fear and shame depletes you. Fear and shame leads you to do as you are told, to do as the controller (or master) commands. Conformity leads to a gradual annihilation of yourself, your life-force, your aliveness. You become hypervigilant – always walking on egg shells for fear of doing something wrong – and then getting attacked because of it. The conformist is always aware of what others might be thinking and feeling. Always watching carefully in an attempt to keep safe. Too scared to feel the hurt and grief, so they grovel back to the abuser. Too scared to be without a relationship because our society gives high kudos to couples. If you’re single, dominant social ideas look upon this as weird.

Or do you rebel?

Rebels hate the status quo. Rebels buck the system. It is brilliant to buck values and ideas that don’t fit with healthy relationship values and behaviours. However rebelling can lead to joining gangs, taking drugs and alcohol, and to damaging yourself. Paradoxically, rebelling leads people to create the same system they were running away from …. what do I mean by that? You end up hanging out with other rebellious people following the rules of that particular group. So you are not actually free. You have not decided for yourself what you personally value. You have not named and pursued your own authentic hopes and dreams outside of the abusive relationship.

How to escape the pattern of being the underdog, the victim, the dormat?

Imagine you want to leave a toxic relationship. So you leave. You run. You’re out — now what? You’ve moved away from what you don’t want, but you neglected to name what you wanted to move towards. It is like stomping on a sticky piece of blue tac because you hate blue tac. Then you walk away and the blue tac on the sole of your shoe goes with you every step you take.

You have to take charge of your life. That means brainstorming a set of values for yourself, such as honesty, respect, courage, compassion, kindness, and so on. It means naming the basics of what you want … a safe home, a compassionate friend, an honest relationship with anyone — a neighbour, a hairdresser, a distant cousin. It does not have to be an intimate partner. Start to build healthy relationships with SAFE people, no matter what role they have in life.

This change is up to you. It is rare for bystanders to step in and take a stance against coercive control.

Why is this?

  • Family relationships are considered private
  • Bad school boys are left to their own devices so they can ‘toughen’ up and become so-called ‘real’ men
  • Some ‘bad’ girls receive honour, prestige and acceptance from so-called friends for being violent
  • Violent boys most certainly receive such kudos from particular complicit male and female friends
  • Some consider it okay that heterosexual people to make fun of homosexual people
  • Others believe men have the right to control women
  • Yet others believe it is a parent’s right to control children by demeaning them

Many people do not understand the subtleties of power and control and the harm it causes. Some people knowingly condone this form of abuse, whilst others just don’t see it. Following the principles of Deep Ecology I consider the richness and diversity of all humans should be allowed to flourish. But one-sided power and control not only diminishes the life-force of the victim, it paradoxically diminishes the life-force of the perpetrator.

I’ll leave you with questions that Mahatma Gandhi might ask:

  • Do your actions work against others’ freedom to flourish?
  • Do your actions enable others’ freedom to flourish?
  • Do your actions let you grow and flourish?

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  • Clare Murphy PhD 16 May 2009, 10:23 pm

    Hi Louisa … Yes, you’re exactly right – bystanders rightly have something to fear. Some men I interviewed for my PhD research said they believed they had the right to treat their partners the way they did, that it was no one else’s business and that they had physically beaten up some male bystanders who intervened (whether they were strangers, friends or family). On the other hand, a violent reaction was not always the case. Additionally, some of the men said any time others intervened, planted a seed that contributed to engaging in future change.

  • Louisa 16 May 2009, 8:30 pm

    In your list of reasons why you think bystanders do not do anything when they see situations of one-sided power and control, I think you also need to add that bystanders are themselves in fear of the controller/abuser and just want an easy life and not to get involved. It´s always very hard to see bystanders acting this way and specially if they are/were supposed friends, but unfortunately in situations involving bullying and instilling fear, this often happens, and they will be afraid to be targeted and made MORE afraid themselves. However if bystanders were to be made aware of the huge differences they could make by speaking up for truth in whatever way is appropriate in their situations, then they might do more. More awareness is needed in order to make the world a better place. Thanks for your intelligent website, I am sure many people find it helpful :0)