a post by The Survivor
I came across an interesting article called Beyond “Witnessing”: Children’s Experiences of Coercive Control in Domestic Violence and Abuse (Callaghan, Alexander, Sixsmith, & Fellin, 2015). This article introduced me to the concept ‘coercive control’ which I thought was intriguing. Academically, these words were new to me, but personally I found they were affiliated with my childhood experience. Helen Walmsley-Johnson on This Morning shared her experience on coercive control. Helen’s story seemed familiar to my mum’s story. The common factor they had was that they both did not recognise they were being emotionally battered by their husbands. I did not recognise it either. Helen’s story left me in a state of epiphany.
Coercive control is defined as the abuse that leaves no bruises but breaks spirits and robs victims of their sense of identity (This Morning, 2018). Lee (2016) informs that coercive control is more than violence, it is slavery. In Ireland and the U.K., it is a crime (Tsouros, 2017).
Stark developed these terms to help us understand that domestic abuse is more than physical abuse. It is emotional and psychological abuse (Stark, 2009). Coercive control is similar to other crimes, such as kidnapping, stalking, and harassment (Stark, 2009). It is ongoing, and perpetrators use different means to hurt, humiliate, intimidate, exploit, isolate, and dominate their victims (Stark, 2009). Stark (2009) argued that coercive control is gendered. Women are usually the victims of coercive control, but Stark makes it clear that women are also capable of coercive control.
As a child, I saw that my mother was not allowed to have any friends, and if she did have friends they were not allowed to come home. She could not even visit her family without permission from her husband. This spilled out to how mum treated us as children, we were isolated from friends. Our social lives were restricted. I remember feeling mostly afraid, confused, sad, anxious, angry, and developed trust issues. Living in constant fear for many years was like living on eggshells.
The consequences that coercive control has on victims is devastating (Katz, 2016). My mum projected her pain on her children through coercive control and physical abuse. Perhaps it was a way for her to keep her sense of self-worth and power. Children can develop behaviour, emotional, relationship, trust, and memory problems that can affect them as adults (Battered Women’s Justice Project, 2009). These are some of the manifestations I have seen in my own life. Particularly, having insecurities, low self-esteem, lack confidence, always seeking approval for what I do, and being hypersensitive to the extend that it affects other relationships. I have even seen myself trying to control those around me because of fear of rejection. Also, there is no deep relationship between my parents and our siblings. According to Sousa (2011) children who experience family violence are less attached to their parents.
Discovering these terms was a blessing because it brought profound revelation in my life. I realised that this new knowledge is a powerful tool that can be used to identify and recognise coercive control anywhere.
As a social work student, developing knowledge on coercive control gives me the ability to help other families who have similar experiences. This ability is partnered with compassion and empathy towards others. Maybe coercive control should be made illegal but there should be education on it. Building awareness and learning to identify signs/symptoms of coercive control may give victims the power to break free and walk the pathway of recovery. Survivors who are free to sweep away broken eggshells.
Battered Women’s Justice Project. (2009). Parenting in the context of coercive. Retrieved from https://www.dhs.state.or.us/caf/documents/Parenting_in_the_Context_of_Coercive_Control.pdf
Callaghan, J. E. M., Alexander, J. H., Sixsmith, J., & Fellin, L. C. (2015). Beyond “Witnessing”: Children’s Experiences of Coercive Control in Domestic Violence and Abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33(10), 1551-1581. doi:10.1177/0886260515618946
Katz, E. (2016). Beyond the physical incident model: how children living with domestic violence are harmed by and resist regimes of coercive control. Child Abuse Review, 25(1), 46-59. doi: 10.1002/car.2422
Sousa, C., Herrenkohl, T. I., Moylan, C. A., Tajima, E. A., Klika, J. B., Herrenkohl, R. C., & Russo, M. J. (2010). Longitudinal Study on the Effects of Child Abuse and Children’s Exposure to Domestic Violence, Parent-Child Attachments, and Antisocial Behavior in Adolescence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26(1), 111-136. doi:10.1177/0886260510362883
Stark, E. (2009). Coercive control: The entrapment of women in personal life. New York: Oxford University Press.