If you just want a list of examples of coercion in relationships, click here.
Before we look at specific examples of coercion in relationships, let's agree on what coercion actually is.
From the Mirriam-Webster dictionary:
Number one is interesting. It says nothing about force but instead references compelling. The reason I point it out is that many people in controlling or abusive relationships have no sense of being forced. There may be no outright physical force applied and most victims in such situations believe that they are making their own decisions, especially in the earlier stages of such relationships.
The reason I think this is important is that it's one thing to list examples of coercion in relationships but that does not necessarily help to change anything, unless you understand how the coercion works. Only then do you have options in how to respond.
As an example, many people in controlling relationships will almost run to answer their phone if they know it is their (controlling) partner. Were they ever told to do this? Usually not. Then how did it happen? How are people coerced into answering their phone as quickly as possible for the manipulator?
Let's say early on in a relationship, the person doesn't answer right away. The controller wonders, nicely, if they are losing interest because they always answer straight away. The victim assures the manipulator that they are not losing interest and will answer immediately next time. When it happens again, the manipulator asks if the person is ok, if they are ill, feigning concern. The victim reassures then thet everything is fine. The following time, the manipulator complains that they were looking for information and because they did not get it in time, they have lost an opportunity. The victim feels bad. They make a mental note to answer promptly to avoid problems. The next time, the manipulator gets angry complaining about something else.
After that, the manipulator demands to know what is so important that the victim cannot make time for them. Depending on the skill of the manipulator, the victim quickly learns that not answering their phone immediately leads to problems. Therefore, when it rings, they think, "Oh, I better get that quickly..." and the unspoken part is that otherwise there will be problems. The victim thinks they are making the decision to answer quickly. The reality is that the manipulator has trained them over time how he or she wants to be treated. The message is "Don't waste my time by keeping me waiting!" without having to spell this out. That's how coercion works. It's often subtle and insidious.
Now, when you consider some of these episodes, he needed information on some document at home to make a decision, for example, that's not your responsibility! If he should have brought the paperwork with him, it's actually his own fault. But he puts all the blame on you. That's why it's insidious. But how come you didn't realize this at the time? Well, it's actually more insidious than it seems...
At the start of an abusive or controlling relationship, the major act of coercion by the manipulator is to pretend to be kind, caring and loving. They pretend to be everything that the victim wants. They offer exactly what the victim is looking for. They act like the perfect partner for the unsuspecting victim. They appear to be Mr. Right or Miss Perfect.
Think about it from the victim's point of view. Here is this person who is interested in them, praises them, makes them feel special, who 'comes bearing gifts', who pays them a lot af attention and makes them feel like they would be perfect together. What's not to like? The victim feels compelled to say yes to starting a relationship, moving in together with future plans for marriage, a house, kids and so on. After all, they have met someone fantastic and their experience is that 'this person gets me!'
There was no physical force or threat, nor was anyone holding a gun to their head. The conditions in which they found themselves led them to believe that the best decision they could make was to start a relationship with this person. This is how most people are tricked, or coerced, into starting a relationship with an abuser, a psychopath or a narcissist.
The manipulator poses as the ideal partner and lies about lots of things to make the make the victim believe certain things are true. The victim then makes decisions based on this false information.
This whole set up is the first step in the coercive relationship. Once the victim is committed, the manipulator's behavior changes.
All the kindness and attention now becomes conditional. By this I mean that the victim has to start doing and saying things a certain way if they want the good times to continue.
For example, the manipulator might say something along the lines of, "My ex used to do this and I hated it." The new victim makes a mental note not to do that particular thing, because, of course, they want the nice times to continue. The manipulator says that a particular thing the victim says is upsetting so the victim stops saying it. To the victim, they seem like small concessions which are easy to accommodate.
In this way, little by little, step by step, unbeknownst to the victim, they are adapting themselves to the manipulator in order to stay in the relationship. Over time, the victim's behavior, thinking, perceptions, decision making and emotions change. Basically the victim undergoes a personality change. They have a false personality forced upon them, a personality that is programmed to take care of the wants and needs to the manipulator. You can read more about the specific dynamics of how this happens in these articles about narcissistic boyfriends and narcissistic husbands.
This pseudopersonality idea is a very useful way to understand the coercion that happens in abusive relationships. The pseudopersonality is programmed to love the manipulator. It is programmed to trust and believe the manipulator. It is programmed to put the wants and needs of the manipulator before it's own. It is programmed to be subservient to the manipulator. And it is programmed to be dependent on the manipulator. This last point is very significant. It helps to make sense of a lot of things. The details of how it happens are here. Take the time to read it. I will wait!
Read it? Great! Let's move on.
Referring to our definition of coercion above, the second part refers to threats. One of the more nasty threats in controlling relationships is the threat by the manipulator of leaving, or throwing the partner out. Many people might say that if someone threatened to leave them that they would tell them to go ahead and get out because they would not put up with blackmail.
But remember that dependency of the pseudopersonality on the manipulator? The victim literally needs the manipulator to know that they are ok. Therefore the threat of separation or divorce is terrifying to the victim. They do not want to lose the manipulator under any circumstances. So what happens? They quickly give in to the demands of the manipulator in order to try and calm things down. Losing the relationship works as a phobia for the victim. It is a horrific prospect that must be avoided.
Therefore it is relatively easy for the manipulator to coerce the victim in all sorts of ways by even referencing divorce. "If you continue that behavior, I am not sure I can stay in this relationship," are words that will get a person in a manipulative relationship to step up to the plate and try harder! The opposite of what most people imagine would happen. I know, it's twisted, but that's how mind control works.
This dependency also explains why people stay in abusive relationships for years, why battered wives end up gong back to their physically abusive husbands time and again and why it's so difficult for victims to separate from the abuser even when they know they are in a bad situation.
Isolation from family and friends is typical in mind control situations, too, whether it's a destructive cult or an abusive intimate relationship (think of this as a cult of 2 or 3 or 4 people). The manipulator coerces the victim into spending less and less time with others in various ways. The manipulator might make frequent disparaging comments about a particular friend, pointing out all ther faults on a regular basis. They criticize the victim for having chosen this person as a friend. "You are not a good judge of character, are you?" Or the manipulator starts an argument before the victim goes out to meet the friend or when the victim returns home after spending time with this friend.
Things are made so uncomfortable for the victim in relationship to this friend that the victim spends less and less time with them. The victim believes it's their own decision, "If I go out with him, there will be an argument when I get home. Do you know what? It's just easier not to go out with him. I will go another time." In this way the victim is coerced into not going out with friends and family and does not recognize the psychological force being applied to their decision making.
If you are in an abusive relationship and someone tells you to 'just go out with your friends more often' it's not so easy, is it? Thinking about it still makes you feel bad because you know it will cause arguments. But now, recognizing the tactics behind how you are being coerced, changes how you think about the whole situation, right?
Another coercive tactic is that of repetition. This is used in various ways and one particular situation in which it occurs is when there are repeated arguments in the relationship about the same issues. The victim may be blue in the face trying to explain what the problem is and the manipulator seems not to understand. The victim thinks that they cannot get through to their partner, their partner doesn't get it or the victim feels that they cannot communicate properly to their partner what the problem is. The manipulator just keeps repeating their point of view in different ways or adds in other (often unrelated) issues. The victim gets exasperated and eventually gives up complaining and suffers quietly or may even accept the manipulator's point of view. The fact is that the manipulator understands perfectly what is going on. They just don't care what the victim wants, they are not giving in. They just take the opportunity to repeat their ideas until the victim gives up. And they can keep this up for years!
With all this in mind, let's list some other examples of coercion in relationships, some with shorter explanations.
There are lies and more lies. Information is distorted and lots of information is withheld. If you don't have all the available information, it makes it easier for the manipulator to influence your decision making.
You are made to feel guilty about a range of things, your characteristics, your past, your family, your thoughts, your actions, and so on. This emotional distress means that you are more likely to follow the manipulators wishes in order to avoid such upsets in the future.
You are made to feel afraid on many occasions, too. Fear of losing the relationship, fear of not seeing your kids, fear of their vicious temper, fear of failure, fear of their disapproval, etc. etc.. Again, trying to avoid feeling afraid means that people are more susceptible to manipulation and coercion
We have seen earlier how the combination of tactics can be very powerful. Here, again, the combination of fear and guilt is very significant. Governments have for centuries used this combination to control whole populations.
If you talk about leaving, they make noises about committing suicide. This is particularly nasty because no one wants to feel responsible for another taking their own life. The thing is that the manipulators never actually do it. But the threat is often enough to get people to stay, sometimes for very long periods of time. They may not use the word suicide but you know that's what they mean. If called out on it, they claim that they never threatened suicide, they never meant that, but you know that their message was very clear.
In order to make good decisions, you have to have good, consistent information and you have to be able to think clearly. Victims of psychological abuse are kept on an emotional rollercoaster. With emotional highs and lows, it's not possible to think well. Add in the lies and distorted information (there's the combination thing again) and victims will often end up making decisions that go against their own best interests.
The emotional rollercoaster also means that the victim feels like they are crashing around in their lives from one crisis to the next. They have no time for themselves. They have no time to reflect on their lives. Their decisions are hurried. This also leads to poor decision making. None of this is the fault of the victim, obviously, because the manipulator is the one creating all the drama! And of course, who comes to the rescue with solutions? Why, the manipulator, of course! All this sets the scene for lots of coercion.
There is a power imbalance built into such relationships. The victim is made to feel inferior, unworthy, less than. The manipulator is allowed to criticize, humiliate and belittle. The victim is not. The manipulator makes the victim apologize for many things. The manipulator does not apologize. The victim has to forgive the manipulator anything and everything. The manipulator does not forgive. In fact, the manipulator will trot out all the wrongdoings, sins, errors and mistakes the victim has committed on a regular basis to make the victim feel miserable in order to coerce them into doing the manipulator's bidding.
Another coercive tactic is the idea of thought stopping phrases. The manipulator finds something that makes the victim squirm inside, we'll say, or makes the victim so embarrassed that the victim feels unable to continue the conversation. This is then trotted out when the manipulator does not want to talk about something. For example, the victim complains about a particular thing. The manipulator then explodes, asking the victim if they are not satisfied with all the things the manipulator provides in the relationship. The victim is made to feel incredibly ungrateful and feels that they should not be complaining about anything (no matter how valid their complaint may be!). This shuts down the thinking of the victim and they stop complaining about that particular thing.
The manipulator will coerce the victim into telling them everything. If the victim is not forthcoming, the manipulator will complain that they feel left out of the relationship, they will accuse the victim of not telling them everything or even call the victim a liar. The end result is that, in order to appease the manipulator, the victim reveals information to prove that they are not a liar and not withholding information. The flip side of this is that the victim often knows very little about the manipulator and may not even know the whereabouts of the manipulator a lot of the time! Some abusers disappear for days on end without giving any explanation whatsoever.
If somebody ever offers you 2 options and tells you to pick, consider this a coercive tactic unless proven otherwise. Life is full of options and 2 options is not a real choice. Typically the 2 options have been carefully chosen and both suit the manipulator, not you! However, after making a choice in such a situation, if anything should go wrong, the victim is invariably blamed because they 'chose' that particular option. And the second manipulative factor here is that once a choice is made, the victim is forced to put up with any consequences because, "Well, it was their choice!!"
You can explore more examples of manipulation in relationships here.
If you think you might be in a coercive relationship then it's vital to figure out exactly what is going on.
What is mind control? Get more information about the signs of coercive control, what is a controlling relationship, the stages of an abusive relationship, dealing with controlling people and what's involved in recovering from an abusive relationship.
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