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What Is Coercive Control?


Domestic violence is far too common in our society — and yet it is often poorly understood. It may include a range of different types of abuse, from physical violence to emotional abuse to reproductive coercion. It is characterized by a pattern of power and control, as opposed to a one-time or infrequent occurrence. This may also be referred to as coercive control.


Coercive control is a form of ongoing oppression that is used to instill fear in another person. It is a strategic pattern of behavior that involves micromanaging another person in order to create dependency and to dominate them. In other words, it is a number of seemingly small things — like insisting on having your passwords to social media accounts — that create an incredibly controlling environment. People who engage in coercive control often use a number of tactics, like violence, intimidation, control, degradation, and isolation.


This aspect of domestic violence is incredibly common. Between 60 to 80% of women who seek out help for domestic violence have experienced coercive control. Over time, people who are subjected to coercive control may lose their confidence, self-esteem, autonomy, and sense of who they are as a person.


Examples of coercive control include:

  • Isolating you from friends and family, such as by monitoring your phone and social media, lying about you to others, and convincing you that your loved ones don’t care about you

  • Monitoring your activity throughout the day

  • Turning your kids against you

  • Threatening your kids or your pets

  • Controlling your health and wellbeing, such as by putting you on a diet or demanding that you exercise

  • Limiting your access to money

  • Gaslighting you

  • Calling you names or putting you down

  • Complaining about the amount of time that you spend with other people

  • Denying you independence, such as by not allowing you to work or by changing the passwords on your phone

  • Reinforcing traditional gender roles to coerce you into performing certain tasks

  • Demanding sex or specific sexual acts

At first, coercive control tactics may seem caring: your partner is worried about your safety, so they want you to check in frequently, or they don’t want you to have to work. Ultimately, each of these things create dependence, to the point where the victim does not feel that they can do anything or make decisions without their partner’s approval. In this way, coercive control can be likened to brainwashing.


Understanding coercive control is crucial to supporting victims and survivors of domestic violence. This term highlights the distinction between domestic violence and situational violence, and shows how this type of abuse is about more than just a fight. It also shows that domestic abuse does not necessarily have to include physical violence. By looking at the overall pattern of behavior that is used to control and exploit another person, we can better support victims and survivors of domestic violence. And we can better understand what needs to change in order to stop this violence.


As always, if you need help, we are here for you. Reach out to us 24/7 at 1-888-832-2272. All calls to our hotline are free of charge and confidential.

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