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Identifying abusive relationships

In many ways, a coercive/controlling relationship is like a two-person cult.  The perpetrator attempts to gain control of their partner like a cult leader gains control of their followers.


According to the Crown Prosecution Service, behaviours that one might experience at the hands of a perpetrator in a coercive/controlling relationship are as follows:

  • Isolating a person from their friends and family

  • Depriving them of their basic needs

  • Monitoring their time

  • Monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware

  • Taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep

  • Depriving them access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services

  • Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless

  • Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim

  • Forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities

  • Financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance

  • Control ability to go to school or place of study

  • Taking wages, benefits or allowances

  • Threats to hurt or kill

  • Threats to harm a child

  • Threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to 'out' someone)

  • Threats to hurt or physically harming a family pet

  • Assault

  • Criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods)

  • Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working

  • Preventing a person from being able to attend school, college or University

  • Family 'dishonour'

  • Reputational damage

  • Disclosure of sexual orientation

  • Disclosure of HIV status or other medical condition without consent

  • Limiting access to family, friends and finances


(Crown Prosecution Service 2017)


You may also find that a coercive controlling intimate relationship is happening alongside or within a cult group.


Victims of an abusive relationship may experience some of the following emotions and behaviours:

  • Agitation, anxiety and chronic apprehension.

  • Constant state of alertness that makes it difficult to relax or sleep.

  • A sense of hopelessness, helplessness or despair because of beliefs that they will never escape the control of their abuser.

  • Fear that one cannot protect oneself or one’s children. They may turn down the assistance offered by relatives, friends or professionals.

  • Feeling paralyzed by fear to make decisions or protect oneself.

  • A belief that one deserves the abuse.

  • A belief that one is responsible for the abuse.

  • Flashbacks, recurrent thoughts and memories of the violence and nightmares of the violence.

  • Emotional reactions to reminders of domestic violence.

(Goldsmith 2018)

See also 'Impact of cult abuse'

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