Coercive and controlling behavior has recently been deemed a criminal offence, and it’s no surprise considering the mental and physical toll it can take on the victim. Mentally abusive behaviours can rear their ugly heads anywhere and everywhere. So, whether it be at home, at work, or in the world of friendship, it’s important that we know what they look like.

As a victim of these behaviours, it can be difficult to recognise whether you’re being controlled or coerced. This can be isolating, making it very uncertain as to how to, or even whether you should, get help.

With this in mind, how can we learn to recognise the signs of controlling and coercive behaviours to combat them early on? Here, we delve into the ins-and-outs of it all, so you can be sure not to fall into this trap…

The Definitions

Before we dive into the nitty gritty details further, we first need to ensure we know the differences between these two types of behaviour. Coercive and controlling behaviors can, therefore, be defined as the following…

What is Coercive Behaviour?

Coercive behaviour can be defined as the repeated act of humiliating, threatening, and degrading someone to the point where they feel completely worthless. This is very likely to become controlling behavior (see below), thus causing the victim to feel isolated and friendless. These acts may even lead to harming of the victim, sometimes to the point of physical abuse.

What is Controlling Behavior?

The controlling behavior meaning is a little different to the definition of coercive behaviour. Instead, this can be classed as the persistent act of making someone feel isolated, alone, and worthless through control. This can be achieved by monitoring the person’s everyday behaviour, including where they go, what they do, and even what they spend their money on.

Many people might be asking, is controlling behavior abuse? The short and simple answer is yes. If someone is making you feel worthless and isolated, to the point where you may even think about self-harming or committing suicide, this is detrimental to your health and wellbeing. Because of this, jailtime is now a very real consequence of committing a controlling offence, since 2015.

How do we Know Whether Someone is Controlling or Coercive?

It may surprise you to learn that the cases of coercive and controlling behavior in the UK come in large quantities. According to research, 34 percent of UK citizens have reported being in a coercive relationship, and over 53 percent reported having experienced controlling behaviors. These numbers are extremely high, and likely to be higher, when we consider that many cases go unrecorded or unreported.

That being said, how do we know somebody is exhibiting controlling or coercive behaviours, rather than just going through the emotions of a relationship? Well, it’s clear that, to define a relationship as coercive or controlling, these actions have to be repetitive, and damaging. So, if you feel as though the characteristics you’re seeing are a general trait of someone you know, this is most definitely abuse.

Want some more information on what classes as controlling or coercive behaviour? Below are some common acts which, if repeated, are most certainly abusive crimes:

Coercive Behaviour Patterns

  • Using verbal or physical abuse to belittle and dehumanise the individual.
  • Using facial expressions and gestures, such as smirks or eye-rolls, to make the person feel stupid and worthless.
  • Making someone feel guilty for wanting to go out with their friends, to the point where they come home early, or don’t go out at all.
  • Withholding conversation from the victim – basically, giving them the silent treatment – in order to get your way.
  • Enforcing rules in the house that restrict the individual.
  • Threatening the individual with words, or making them fear that you’ll physically harm them.
  • Blackmailing the individual, for example, threatening someone they love so they fear doing anything wrong.

Controlling Behavior Patterns

  • Depriving someone of basic needs, like medical care.
  • Stopping someone from communicating to anyone by taking away their phone.
  • Monitoring their calls, messages and internet access.
  • Controlling someone’s finances, by not allowing them to buy what they want.
  • Preventing the individual from going out of the house to see friends and family.
  • Punishing the person for not doing what you want.

The Different Types of Coercive and Controlling Behavior

As we’ve seen, it’s very common for coercive or controlling behavior in relationships to emerge. That said, these sorts of acts are, unfortunately, not just limited to the home. In fact, you may even experience these traits from other close individuals to you, including…

Coercive and Controlling Behavior in Family Relationships

Controlling or coercive behaviours can emerge between family members, like parents or siblings. An example of this might be your sister making you feel guilty for not attending a family gathering. This can get to the point where you only attend because you feel guilty for not doing so, thus missing out on something else important.

Another example of this might be if you are coerced to remain in the house and help your mother with a household chore because she’s lonely. This can be difficult to pinpoint as abuse. However, if you’re old enough to choose what you want to do, but you feel like you can’t, this could be controlled.

If these sorts of acts are repetitive and occur to the point where you’re working around someone else’s needs rather than yours, this may be controlling behavior.

Coercive and Controlling Behavior Friends

Friendships can also be classed as controlling, in a similar way to the familial coercive and controlling behaviors. For example, if your friend constantly makes you feel guilty for not doing something with them when you already have plans, this is coercive. It could even be as little as berating you for being late due to something you have no control over, like the traffic.

This is another one which may be difficult to recognise, as spending time with your friends is part of any healthy, long-lasting friendship. But, if it gets to the point where you’re cancelling plans to spend time with this friend, this is manipulation and control.

Coercive and Controlling Behavior at Work

It may surprise to learn that controlling behaviors can also transcend into the workplace. A controlling personality in the workplace might have some of the following traits:

  • Controlling the conversation to only talk about what they find interesting.
  • Obstructing people from getting a word in edgeways.
  • Having an aggressive nature, causing them to shout at colleagues for little reason.
  • Talking down and belittling your co-workers.
  • They are a control-freak, and have to micro-manage everything their co-workers do.

Although these acts are a little different to controlling behaviors within romantic relationships, they still need to be dealt with. After all, if it becomes damaging to your productivity and mental health, this is definitely worth sorting out. By getting in touch with someone from your HR department, you’ll be able to get the advice you need to take action.

Think You Might be in a Coercive or Controlling Relationship?

Now that you know the signs of a coercive or controlling relationship, do you think you might be in this situation? If so, it’s now time to take action.

If you’re struggling on where to begin, there are a number of sites available to you, so do your research on what your plan of action will be. If you feel as though you can’t tackle it alone, it’s important that you also bring a trusted and close friend or family member along the journey with you.

For someone who is being coerced or controlled, it can be difficult to break free from the isolation. That said, please bear in mind that, if you don’t feel like yourself, that is enough for you to ask for help. Remember, you are not alone, no matter how lonely you might feel.

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