“He became more attentive every day, always phoning her to see how she was, asking who she was with and where she was going. In the end, you never saw them apart. Why he’d even have his hand around the back of her neck all the time, like he was “steering” her. So attentive and charming, it was so intense it became terrifying.” (1)
“She felt controlled, isolated from all other supports, dependent on him. He said he was the only one she was safe with, that he could protect her from everything and everyone. He would badmouth and ridicule everyone to her but continue to be charming to their faces. Slowly, as the years rolled on, the terror escalated and she soon heard the serious threats of: “If we separate, I’ll get everything! I’ll get the house, the car, the money, the kids and I’ll stand up in court and tell everyone you’re mad and get you locked away.” (1)
This real-life account, written by a Broken to Brilliant author, provides just a snippet of what it feels like to be coercively controlled.
So what exactly is coercive control? Here is a quick summary - Isolating you from your support system; Monitoring your activity; Denying your freedom and autonomy; Gaslighting; Name-calling and putting you down; Limiting your access to money; Reinforcing traditional gender roles; Turning your kids against you; Controlling aspects of your health and body; Making jealous accusations; Regulating your sexual relationship; and Threatening your children and/or pets. (2)
Our 32 Broken to Brilliant authors have all experienced coercive control and abuse. They are domestic violence survivors and thrivers who’ve generously shared their strategies and tips on how to rebuild your life after abuse. It is possible to recover from coercive control. And if they can do it, so can you.
Here are their top ten strategies:
1. Personal Growth
Focusing on YOU is the first step. This includes being kind to yourself. This will boost your resilience and help cultivate your self-worth, which is often destroyed by the abusive relationship. Meditation and mindfulness helps with dealing with the stress and anxiety of the abuse. Self-care Routines are also vital. You are important and you deserve to be cared for. Remember, baby steps are good. Take it slowly.
2. Lifelong Learning
Educate yourself about domestic violence, including the warning signs and the impact on you and your children. You’re educating yourself right now, by reading this blog! What topics are you interested in? The library is free and you can borrow paper and online books, journals, DVDs and magazines. Or why not get that qualification you always wanted but were stopped from pursuing by the abuser? Lots of courses are online now, so study can fit in around family and work life. Hone your communication skills so you can ask for what you want in an assertive manner. And finally, a positive mindset is a must. It’s difficult, but it gets easier with practice. You can do this!
3. Self Knowledge
Understand what your survival patterns are. You have done an amazing job keeping yourself safe so far and that deserves congratulations. Keeping yourself safe can look like staying in the relationship or leaving. You are the expert in your own life and only you know the best way to keep yourself and your children if you have any, safe. Learning how to set and enforce healthy boundaries is vital to protect yourself emotionally. Being able to forgive yourself is also important. This was not your fault and you did not deserve the abuse. You may have had the real you squashed down for years so now is the time to find the real, authentic you again. What are your strengths? You may need the help of a counsellor or therapist to unpack all of this.
Who lifts you up and keeps you going? Who do you trust? These could be your friends who’ve stuck by you through the good and bad. Or maybe it’s that old school friend you’ve been dying to reconnect with. Support groups are a great place to make new friends with people who are struggling with the same issues you are. Cultivate healthy relationships. You’ve devoted so much of your time to that abusive relationship that tears you down - now devote that time to your awesome relationships that build you up! And then there’s pets - they offer unconditional love. Finally, professional support is a must. You can never underestimate the support of a professional who can validate you and give you a safe space to talk. Psychologists, domestic violence counsellors and psychotherapists can advocate and be your champion if needed.
5. Safe Nurturing Home
If possible, move away from your abuser and keep your new address secret. Wherever you are living, it is your home now and yours only. This is your safe place for a new start. If you can’t move away yet, look at creating a safety and emergency plan.
6. Financial Fitness
If you have been in a relationship where your finances have been controlled, then it is important now to have your own money – that means financial independence, where you earn your own money; you manage it; you decide what to spend it on; how much to spend; and how much to save. Learning how to make money and how to budget is also a must. It may be overwhelming and scary at first, but you’ll love the feeling financial freedom gives you.
7. Designing Future
Rebuilding your life starts with looking to your future and deciding on a course of action. What are your aspirations? Is it to start a business, buy your own home, audition for that community theatre production, start cycling again, grow your own garden, put your kids through private school, retrain for that career, travel to that place you’ve always wanted to go? Decide your goal and then set out a plan to achieve it. Accept that it’s a journey to get where you want, but you can achieve it with courage and determination.
8. Physical Health
Coercive control causes trauma that can take a toll on your emotional and physical health. Combat the effects by exercising and increasing your physical activity. What do you enjoy? It could be walking, cycling, Zumba classes, swimming, tennis or weight training. It makes you feel better and it’s a great stress relief. Being abused is exhausting so you need to sleep, relax and spend time on restoration. And don’t forget you need nutritious food to recover.
9. Meaningful Connection
Make meaningful connection with others by throwing yourself into work – it could be volunteering or paid employment. It’s a great way to meet others and make new friends, as well as make you feel like you’re part of the community. If you’re not sure what sort of career you’re suited for, why not try career counselling?
Even if you’re not religious, spirituality can play a key part in your recovery from coercive control. This encompasses celebrating your successes, not matter how small. They all add up. Appreciate the beauty in your surrounds. Cultivate gratitude. Even when things are looking bad, your sense of hope can keep you going. Survivors who believe in a higher power have found their faith has helped them recover.
To find out more about how you can recover from coercive control and abuse, read our books - Broken to Brilliant, Terror to Triumph and Shattered to Shining - written by our very own survivors. All proceeds from book sales go towards supporting domestic violence survivors.
(1) Andrews, K. C., 2019, Broken to Brilliant.
(2) Lamothe, C., 2019, Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP, How to recognise Coercive Control, Healthline, 10 October, https://www.healthline.com/health/coercive-control, Viewed 7 February 2021.