7 Signs Of Coercive Control In A Relationship, According To A Psychologist
How can you tell when a relationship has turned abusive? It's not always easy, and it's important to remember that domestic abuse isn't always physical. Bravo's new show Dirty John depicts a type of toxic relationship that experts call "coercive control", a form of psychological abuse that can involve manipulation, stalking, gaslighting, and financial abuse. You might be familiar with this type of behavior from TV shows and movies, but it can be difficult to spot in real life.
Coercive control is not just about trying to control someone's bank account or take over their lives, it's really the need for total emotional control that's driving the behavior. "Coercive control in a relationship is, by definition, not about any of the factors that are being controlled — money, social interactions, rules in the house, individual pursuits," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "As soon as coercion is involved then the goal shifts from practical to personal, from functional to emotional."
And it doesn't always manifest in one particular way. "Coercion can take many forms," Klapow says. "It can be aggressive or passive, subtle or obvious, benign or highly toxic. Coercion is an emotional power move. It is done to influence an individual usually because the individual who is using the coercion lacks the skills or the confidence to openly discuss, compromise or handle not getting what they want."
Here are the signs of coercive control, according to Klapow.
1. Your Partner Relies On You For Everything
One misconception about coercive control is that it's always aggressive. Sometimes, your partner can control you through reliance. "Your partner looks to you to solve all problems — they rely on you to the point where you literally have to conduct their lives," Klapow says. "They have no independence and see you as there to address their every need. They gain power by essentially having you do everything because they are so helpless."
2. They Claim To Be More Knowledgeable
With coercive control, you often end up handing over control of every area of your life. "They actively control money, time, friends, and individual pursuits," Klapow says. But they don't always force you to do it — coercion often comes under the guise that they are doing something to help, for your best interest. "They do this under the auspicious of them being better, more knowledgeable and in charge," Klapow says. They explain that they're just trying to help, while they're actually taking away your independence.
This often includes saying your friends and family aren't good enough for you, you're not good enough with money, and other ploys to limit your autonomy. They might even full-on gaslight to try to make you question your sense of reality.
3. They're Negative About Everything
Someone who's exerting coercive control is often trying to make you believe that your world is so terrible it's about to fall apart — unless they have total control of it.
"They see the world through a negative lens," Klapow says. "They have doubts about themselves, their relationship with you, the world and their future. They are looking for the next problem, the next let down, the next thing to go wrong."
4. You're Monitoring Your Behavior
Some signs of coercion come from how you feel about this person. "Do you have to think, act, or feel different then you normally do when you are discussing the topic or the situation?" Klapow says. That can be a sign your partner is exerting coercive control.
5. You're Anxious
Another sign of control is the anxiety or tension you'll feel. It might feel like it fills the air, weighing you down. "Do you feel frustration, tension, anxiety or the like frequently when you are with this person in a way that you don’t feel with other people?" Klapow says. If you're on eggshells all the time, something's wrong.
6. The Relationship Feels Like It Could Fall Apart
There's a volatility to relationships where there's coercive control. "Do you feel uncertain, scared, or afraid in the relationship?" Klapow says. "Does the relationship with this person feel fragile?" If it always feels like your relationship is on the brink of something, that can be a bad sign.
7. You're Exhausted
Dealing with the intensity and oversight of coercive control can take its toll. "Does interaction with this person make you tired, fatigued, exhausted?" Klapow says. That's not a sign of a healthy relationship.
If you feel like you're dealing with a relationships where there's coercive control, it's time to make some changes. "If these are true it is time to back off the relationship, ask them to make changes," Klapow says. "It’s time to address the control issues. [...] It’s time to stop allowing them to manipulate your emotions for their own compensation." If you're unable to leave the relationship, reach out to a loved one or a professional for help.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.