What does this word mean to you?
To be geeky about this specific word it has multiple meanings, why? Well as a noun it can mean that someone or something has the power to influence or direct the direction of events or even behaviour. It can also mean to have a ‘control’ level to measure something against. As a verb the word ‘control’ can be used to describe the behaviour of an individual in the supervising or running of something, or managing a situation.
What else can it mean though?
With personal experiences that we all have, one word can take on several different meanings based on memories, or events that have happened. When I began writing this I had one thing in mind, but I wanted to see what the actual definitions were. I was actually surprised when researching (yes I actually do research when I write these out) that every definition of the word ‘control’ was written in a positive light. All the examples were of senior managers being in their roles, or large events taking place, organisers having to organise multiple things at the same time.
Is it possible that ‘control’ is only used for good? Now we all know that isn’t true. There are many historical tales of dictatorship who have overused their power of control to the disadvantage of others. So why do all the definitions depict positives?
It was only when I started to look deeper and search for personal definitions of control I found what I feel is the truth. What people really feel is the true meaning of control, how it can affect individuals, groups, families, and communities. As I said, I had one type of ‘control’ in mind, this is due to experience, but I’m aware there are many others. My own journey of control has changed, evolved. The biggest thing being is I can now say the word, write it down, and talk about it.
So what was it about that one single word that created a ripple effect through my entire world and for a long period of time effectively left me with no control at all?
There was a time (and still occasionally now) when I could never say no. I would find it impossible to explain that I wouldn’t have time to do something, or that I needed some help. It was just something that couldn’t be done. In my head, at the time it was something that shouldn’t be said or done. I had always been surrounded by people who told me that I needed to do as I was told. That no was never an option, and that asking for help was pathetic and weak. So that was my mindset, I didn’t know any different. To me that was the right thing to do and the only way to react, so I never thought much of it.
At some point this completely took over, and me being the person who couldn’t say no, became the person who was afraid to say no. The person who couldn’t make a decision for the fear of it being wrong. I was a shell, a shadow of the person I once was and I hadn’t noticed. I had become this person who was so focused on pleasing one individual all the time I had forgotten about everyone else, including myself. I had become so tired with having to remember everything, that I wasn’t even noticing that the very things in front of me were getting damaged. Family, friends, work, everything was becoming different.
Now this wasn’t a quick process, this was a slow, painfully long journey. It took a really long time and many tears, conversations with friends, even some arguments with them before I realised that this was also a form of control. It took much longer before I eventually believed them too. Up until that point I had only ever heard of the term Coercive Control in training or on awareness posters. It wasn’t something I had ever thought I would see, or experience. At the time I didn’t see it, or believe it. To this day I still sometimes think it was all a horrid nightmare, or someone else’s life, until reality hits.
So what is it about this sort of control that makes it go unnoticed for so long? And why doesn’t it show up so easily under the definitions for the word?
It isn’t instant, it is one of those things that chips away at someone piece by piece. Slowly eroding away your character, your personality until you are no longer aware of who you’re staring at in the reflection of the mirror anymore. The voice of doubt and criticism moves in and through this drip feeding it grows up, intertwining itself into your thought processes, disabling any possibility of being able to escape from it. Igniting the anxiety and fear that we all have at time to time, leaving it burning at all times of day and night. This leaving a different person to effectively control your thoughts, emotions, actions, feelings, beliefs, and ultimately, life.
Why isn’t this there in the forefront of definitions of control? Why are the impressive definitions always put first? Well, lets be honest here. Who wants to read or hear about all the negatives when you can learn about the successes of being in control? There are positives, in moderation. One lesson I have been learning is that not all control is bad. Having to manage and control your own actions, thoughts and behaviours is a huge strength. There are always going to be some elements of management and control in situations that you need to be able to take hold of. This doesn’t need to be seen in a negative light, it is hard, and is very much like a yoyo at times. One minute will be absolutely textbook, calm and impressive looking, the next minute it is like everything that has been learnt has been vacuumed out of my head, my voice has gone and the only two letters I can muster is OK. Guess what? That’s OK.
I can’t help but wonder though, if from the very beginning the knowledge was there, the understanding was there, and awareness was there, would I have experienced what I had? But then would I be asking the questions I am now? Welcome to the rollercoaster of recovery!
Sugar coating everything so it always looks ‘normal’ doesn’t benefit anyone. Only teaching the positives can blindsight so many individuals, however making it hard to find the alternative information can also be hard. If you don’t know you’re experiencing coercive control, and you don’t know it is a form of domestic abuse you wouldn’t know to seek advice from the correct places. You wouldn’t know where to look, what to be describing, because it is ‘your normal’ so why would you?
Do you think there should be more awareness around coercive control, and the effect this has not only on other adults, but families, relationships, friendships, and life in general? If there was more information around, and it was more accessible, not just to those who are aware this is classed as domestic abuse do you think there would be more people coming forward, more people willing to talk?
Lastly, if you know something just ‘isn’t right’ but you aren’t sure what it is. Why would you search on a domestic abuse website for the definition of Coercive Control? That feeling of it ‘not being right’ can sometimes be the first inkling, so what can we do about it?
I have been slowly working at coming to terms of all that I have experienced, I can not say that if I could turn back time I would do things differently, because if I did I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have the experiences to share, I wouldn’t have the motivation to help and support those around me. I wouldn’t even know if this site would exist. I am not glad to have gone through all I have, but it is part of my journey and it is what I make of it now. There is support out there, and if anyone has questions, comments, or anything I am happy to respond. My contact me page has all my details on.