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Coercive control and Gaslighting: the other types of domestic abuse.

Domestic violence comes up regularly in the news as unfortunately it is still very much present in our life. Statistically, 1 in 4 women will go through domestic violence in their life.

I was one. But it took me years to realise what had happened to me. I was 18, I could feel the relationship was not healthy but I did not come out. It ended when he left me. It is when I started working in the women’s sector, and supporting women survivor of domestic violence that I started to understand what had happened to me. You see, he never hit me. The violence was not physical but it was psychological and emotional. The term for it are coercive control and gaslighting, but what do they mean?

Coercive control

coercive control | Domestic violence | counselling

It is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. Physical violence can be also present but it is not always the case. The threat of violence can be used to control.

Your partner might start controlling who you see, who you talk too. They might start telling you that they don’t like this friend, or that your family makes them feel uncomfortable, that they prefer to spend time alone with you.

Slowly you might start putting distance with others, you might stop seeing people and become more isolated until there is just your partner in your life. Because of what your partner is telling you, you might even start being angry at family and friends because they are not accepting of your partner.

In a relationship with coercive control, your partner might also force you to do task over and over again like cleaning or rearranging the cupboard, making you feel like you are not good enough. Your partner might also control your finance, control what your read, what you watch on Tv, in some case even control your routine and when you are allowed to go to the loo.

In those relationships, the controlling partner might appear on the outside like the best husband, a loving person, always helpful, regarded highly in the community.

How many times do you read on the news about surprised friends and family saying but he was such a lovely man… He might appear nice but the other partner understands the message of threat behind the behaviour. I remember reading the story of a woman in a controlled relationship. She was part of a sport team, and after her team won the tournament, her husband came to her in the middle of the celebration and gave her a jumper so that “she would not get cold” however she understood the message, that she will soon need to cover the bruises.

Some other common examples of coercive behaviour are:

  • Depriving you of basic needs, such as food

  • Monitoring your time

  • Monitoring you via online communication tools or spyware

  • Taking control over aspects of your everyday life, such as where you can go, who you can see, what you can wear and when you can sleep

  • Depriving you access to support services, such as medical services

  • Repeatedly putting you down, such as saying you’re worthless

  • Humiliating, degrading or dehumanising you

  • Making threats or intimidating you

(source:Women's aid)


The term come from a play (also a movie) where the husband turn the gas light down and when is wife point it out, he makes her feel like she is losing her mind. It is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner a lot of power.

The aim is to get the victim to question herself, doubt herself and her sanity so that it is easier to control her.

“You’re crazy – that never happened.” “Are you sure? You tend to have a bad memory.” “It’s all in your head.”

There are a variety of gaslighting techniques that an abusive partner might use:

  • Withholding: the abusive partner pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Ex. “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “You’re trying to confuse me.”

  • Countering: the abusive partner questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. Ex. “You’re wrong, you never remember things correctly.”

  • Blocking/Diverting: the abusive partner changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. Ex. “Is that another crazy idea you got from [friend/family member]?” or “You’re imagining things.”

  • Trivializing: the abusive partner makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. Ex. “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?” or “You’re too sensitive.”

  • Forgetting/Denial: the abusive partner pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. Ex. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “You’re just making stuff up.”

Signs that you are being gaslighted includes:

  • You constantly second-guess yourself.

  • You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.

  • You often feel confused and even crazy.

  • You’re always apologizing to your partner.

  • You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.

  • You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.

  • You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.

  • You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.

  • You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.

  • You have trouble making simple decisions.

  • You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.

  • You feel hopeless and joyless.

  • You feel as though you can’t do anything right.

  • You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.

(Source: national domestic violence hotline)

Escaping a relationship where you are being controlled and gaslighted can be difficult, you first need to recognise the signs and build back trust in yourself. You might need to rebuild some relationships with people that can offer you support. Getting support from agency might be necessary, and it might be difficult to believe that you can trust them; it might involve taking the risk to trust other and yourself.

If you need support:

Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

In a emergency, call 999

If you need emotional support, get in touch and we can look into counselling session together:

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