Recognizing Coercive Control: Identifying Subtle Signs of Abuse

by Tammie Nielsen



In the realm of abusive relationships, not all signs are glaringly obvious. Coercive control, a form of domestic abuse, is characterized by subtle manipulative behaviors that gradually deprive a person of autonomy and independence. Unlike physical violence, coercive control operates through psychological tactics, making it challenging for victims and those around them to recognize the abuse. As we observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 2023, we must shed light on this insidious form of abuse, understand its impact, and equip ourselves with the knowledge to recognize the signs. In this article, we will delve into the concept of coercive control, provide examples of its manifestations, and offer tips to support potential victims.

Understanding Coercive Control and Subtle Signs of Abuse:

Coercive control is an abusive pattern where the abuser exerts power and control over their partner through manipulation, intimidation, and undermining their self-esteem. The goal is to instill fear and dependency, making it increasingly difficult for the victim to escape the relationship. Unlike isolated incidents, coercive control is a sustained pattern of behavior that can escalate over time.

Recognizing the Subtle Signs of Abuse:

  1. Isolation: The abuser may subtly isolate the victim from friends, family, and support systems, using derogatory remarks about loved ones, discouraging social interactions, or insisting on exclusive control over the victim’s time and decisions.
  2. Gaslighting:  The abuser may deny events, minimize their actions, or accuse the victim of being overly sensitive or imagining things. Gaslighting involves making the victim doubt their perception of reality, memory, or sanity.
  3. Financial Control: Controlling the victim’s finances is another tactic of coercive control. This can include withholding money, limiting access to bank accounts, and preventing the victim from working or having financial independence.
  4. Intimidation and Threats: The abuser may use subtle threats or intimidation tactics to exert control. This could involve veiled threats of violence, harming others or even a pet, creating a constant atmosphere of fear.
  5. Emotional Manipulation: Emotional manipulation can manifest through guilt-tripping, blaming the victim for the abuser’s behavior, or leveraging the victim’s vulnerabilities to maintain control.
  6. Surveillance and Stalking: The abuser may monitor the victim’s activities, such as tracking their location, reading their messages, or engaging in stalking behavior in person or online.

Supporting Potential Survivors:

Recognizing coercive control and subtle signs of abuse is crucial in providing support to potential victims. Here are some steps we can take:

  1. Educate Yourself: Learn about the signs and tactics of coercive control to identify potential cases more effectively.
  2. Listen and Validate: If someone shares their experiences, lend a supportive ear, and believe their story without judgment.
  3. Avoid Blaming the Victim: Understand that the victim’s actions are survival strategies, not signs of consent or willingness to be abused.
  4. Offer Resources: Provide information on local helplines, support groups, and domestic violence shelters where victims can seek help.
  5. Encourage Professional Help: Suggest professional counseling or therapy to help the victim cope with the emotional aftermath of coercive control.


Recognizing coercive control is essential in supporting potential victims and breaking the cycle of abuse. By understanding the subtle signs of this sneaky form of abuse, we can intervene early, provide necessary resources, and help survivors regain control of their lives. As we commemorate Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 2023, let’s commit to creating a safer, more compassionate world for all.


For help anywhere in the United States contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

#EveryOneKnowsSomeOne #Every1KnowsSome1

The Bridge’s Mission: To offer support, provide safety and prevent domestic and sexual violence.