In the News: How Abusive Relationships Take Root

Much of the time, this blog is aimed at the intricacies, subtleties and complexities involved in coercive control dynamics. This is important and where we feel we can make a contribution, however, just as vital are simple pieces that get straight to the point. This New York Times article gets at some of the poignant experiences that people who are victimized by severely controlling relationships experience.

We believe this article explains well the deceptively slow process in which critical thought is disabled and abusers are able to exact control over their victims. Of particular note is the cycle the author lays out, where small demands on the part of the abuser grow larger, while each concession made by the victim leads to greater self-doubt, and doubt, reinforced by the abuser, serves to make the victim even more vulnerable.

The following select quotes are worth highlighting:

  • On growing demands from abusers: “In this case, as in so many others, no single request was offensive on its own — at least, not early on. Each person in a relationship makes room for the other’s quirks, to some extent, male or female: that’s what couples do.

It’s the incremental ceding of control on one side that can prime someone for abuse, therapists said.”

  • On self-doubt and cognitive impairment: “Even as smaller confinements begin to lead to larger infringements, enough self-doubt has accumulated to feed the temptation to downplay the offense. It becomes increasingly difficult to see abuse for what it is.”

  • On the skills of abusers: “Some guys are very slick, they know how to groom women, know how to manipulate them, they promise to help their career,” Dr. Pape said. “And no matter how bright she is — she freezes, and takes on all the shame, the responsibility for what’s happening.”

This article may very well be the most succinct, plain-language, brief description of how abuse takes hold of a victim that we have seen and should be required reading for everyone. For those you know won't read much on this topic, this is the perfect article to send. 

Written by Chelsea Brass & Abigail Hazlett