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What is Coercive Control?

Most survivors of relationship abuse have probably not heard the term “coercive control,” but they’ve almost certainly experienced it. 

What is coercive control exactly? It sounds like something you might learn about in a defensive driving course, or perhaps a method of classroom management that teachers might employ to discipline unruly students.

In fact, it’s a form of domestic abuse that slowly psychologically diminishes the victim until his or her actions are significantly curtailed and bend to the will of the abuser. The victim often feels a large amount of fear about what the abuser will do if he or she doesn’t comply.

From experience, I can say that coercive control hides the abuse from the victim, even as it feels like you have chains wrapped around your throat. This is because it’s easy to believe while you’re experiencing it that it’s not as bad as you think it is. Or you’re overreacting. Or if you just do the right thing, it will all come to an end. You spend your days in an emotional hell of anxiety and confusion, locked in an invisible cage, drowning in plain sight.


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Kristen Milstead

Kristen Milstead is a narcissistic abuse survivor who has become a strong advocate for finding your unique voice and using it to help others find theirs.


  1. Can I just say you are amazing and really the only one that describes narcissism so accurately it’s scary!! Therapists have no clue. I told a therapist how he slowly took all my responsibilities away with my children because I didn’t do them well enough and She told me “ but he’s also helping you out, right?!” How crazy is that??? Then she dumped me at a heightened level of anxiety and never even checked on me.
    I find you so comforting and can’t thank you enough. I’m still in a trapped place but try to have hope.

  2. Interesting read, how does this differ from other forms of manipulation?

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Hi Eric: This is a great question! I am working on some additional writing that talks about this very thing. I do not believe that narcissistic abuse and coercive control are the same thing, but that the definitely they overlap and the concept of coercive control is useful for understanding the concept of narcissistic abuse, but it’s not sufficient. For instance, coercive control is largely about the devaluation aspect of narcissistic abuse. Yet, one of the most important aspects of narcissistic abuse is love-bombing, which is also a very important form of manipulation. Narcissists can rely upon a lot of deception to manipulate–like con-artistry. And in some forms of con-artistry, there may be no elements of coercive control at all, for example, romance scams. I think narcissists use both love and fear to manipulate people—and coercive control captures the fear element perfectly. Thank you for asking this question.

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