It’s not been long since coercive control was actually made a criminal offence in the UK. Yes, men (and women) can now be prosecuted if it’s proven that they have exerted coercive control over their partners. Are you becoming a victim of coercive control? The red flags when dating or even in a long-term relationship are often missed until it’s too late.
So what exactly is coercive control and what is all the fuss about?
In its mildest form, which you may encounter at the beginning of a relationship, it might be something as simple as a comment about your clothes, or your friends.
It might go something like this, ‘That top is a bit revealing, why don’t you put something different on’, or ‘That mate of yours Jenny, she’s such a flirt, I think you should stay away from her’.
Similarly, ‘I don’t like your best friend, Tom, he drinks too much, I don’t think you should see him anymore’. Or ‘you’ve already eaten pizza twice this week, I don’t think you should have it again’.
At first glance, the comments may appear for your own good, you may choose to see them as coming from a caring place, when in fact they are coming from someone who is trying to exert their opinions or wishes over you, to make you do as they suggest.
At its worst, someone who is coercively controlling you might isolate you from your friends and family, they might stop you from leaving the house, or even going to work. You imagine it can’t happen, but it can.
As hard as it is to believe, when you enter a new relationship, there are often warning signs that your new partner might try to exert some control over you later on down the line – little things they say or do, words they use, maybe even with body language.
It might seem innocent enough, but as you get deeper and deeper in, and begin to see a future together, the little things become bigger, and before you know it, small suggestions become big demands and caring turns into controlling. It can become so extreme that you can start to doubt your own version of reality and start to believe theirs. This kind of psychological abuse is also often referred to as ‘gaslighting’.
In the first rosy glow of getting to know a new love interest, we are often blind and deaf to things that we see and hear. We make excuses for them to our friends, such as ‘oh it’s just how they are, it’s fine’. But it’s not fine to tell another person how to think, what to do, how to dress, or just how to be.
Although it would be a brave man who tries to control me, one did try – once, but I spotted the warning signs. Needless to say, he never progressed past the friend’s zone, and in fact, he was pretty soon in the blocked and ignored zone!
I was living abroad and had been introduced to this man by a mutual acquaintance… He was newly divorced, and extremely bitter, believing that he’d been the innocent party in the whole thing. His voice took on an aggressive edge when he talked about this ex, and whilst I suggested holding out some olive branches for the sake of his children, he was adamant that he never wanted to be in the same room again as his ‘ex’, as he always referred to her, never by name.
The first red flag for me was actually quite a small incident but was to me really indicative of the way things ‘could’ go.
We used to visit a market every Saturday and would have a full English breakfast, (or a dirty fry-up, depending on which way you look at it!) in one of the local bars before wandering around.
This particular day, after a huge plate of bacon, eggs, and all the trimmings, I spotted a stall I’d never seen before, selling the most amazing fresh cakes, full of creme patisserie and other unctuous fillings.
I veered off to buy some goodies, but this man put his hands on both my shoulders and tried to steer me away, in the other direction and said, ‘Oi you’ve just had a full English breakfast, you’ve had enough, you don’t need to buy cakes, you’ll put on weight, keep walking’.
Oh, my days! I shook off his hands, and told him in no uncertain terms, and quite loudly, NOT to tell me what I can, and cannot do. If I want to buy a frigging cake, I will, and I suggested he go away, but not so nice.
The second time he attempted to exert his will over me, was even worse, as it was about my dog. Nothing, not anything, or anyone would ever come between me and my beloved dog.
We rescued each other and if this bloke thought cake wars was bad enough, he had reckoned on trying to tell me what to do with my dog.
Spanish winters are invariably colder than you may imagine, and it’s often damp and cold, not crisp and sunny like it tends to be in the UK. We had been to buy some very warm blankets for the bed in my rented apartment. A bed that we had never shared I might add, and never would!
As I made up the bed with fresh sheets and the new blankets, ‘he who had to be obeyed’ appeared with a wafer-thin sheet he’d got from his car, laid it on the floor, and said ‘and now you’ve paid for new blankets, the dog (THE dog!) will sleep on the floor’.
I don’t think so mate! My dog has never slept on the floor, and never will. He was my soul mate and nobody, but nobody would tell me how to treat him.
I picked up the manky sheet that my dog was expected to sleep on, rolled it over and over into a crumpled heap, and flung it back at him. Take your orders and stick them where the sun don’t shine, oh and go away yourself at the same time.
There were more examples of how this bloke wanted to exert control. Minor things, but together adding up to bigger things. All red flags to me, but to a more passive woman, maybe not so. He wanted his own way and clearly had been used to getting it. It wasn’t long before he was history.
The word ‘narcissist’ is often mentioned in the same sentence as coercive control when the person tries to convince you that their behaviour is YOUR fault or that they are doing it for YOUR own good. This is another example of gaslighting. Narcissists are controlling, self-obsessed, and have little or no compassion for anybody else. They are selfish and will often stop at nothing to get their own way.
In my case, this was classic narcissistic behaviour from this guy. ‘You don’t need the cake, you’ll put on weight’. ‘You’ve just paid for these new blankets, the dog will sleep on the floor’. Both comments were made seemingly for my own good, but in reality, they were his thoughts, not mine. What he wanted, not what I wanted.
We go into new friendships and relationships with open minds and hearts and want everything to be on equal terms, ideally without one person being more dominant than the other. Sometimes, no matter how gorgeous your love interest may be, they are flawed in such a way, that sharing a healthy relationship may be beyond reach.
So do watch out for those little warning signs in the very early days, they are often an indicator of just how things might turn out. If you’re not receiving respect in the relationship at the outset then it won’t come later.
As soon as you see or hear anything that seems like controlling behaviour, even if it is just over a cake or a dog, take my advice, run for the hills!
This post was kindly written by Jane at stupidlemon.com