The Deepening Deliberate Destructiveness of Coercive Control
Coercive control as a system of harm: the 1st anniversary of "Decoding Coercive Control with Dr Emma Katz"
Welcome back to Decoding Coercive Control with Dr Emma Katz.
To begin with, I wanted to share some exciting news.
The most comprehensive WEBINAR training I have EVER offered to the public is going LIVE WORLDWIDE in just two months.
Book here. Includes virtual ticket to live event and 90-day on-demand streaming.
The total package is approximately (depending on currency exchange rates):
$60 US Dollars
$85 CAN Dollars
$95 AUS Dollars
The live event happens Thursdays 1st and 8th February, 9–11am Australian Eastern Daylight Time (AEDT).
In Europe / North America, that is:
New York/Toronto: 5–7pm, Wednesdays 31st January and 7th February
Los Angeles/Vancouver: 2–4pm, Wednesdays 31st January and 7th February
London/Dublin: 10pm–midnight, Wednesdays 31st January and 7th February
Paris/Berlin: 11pm-1am, Wednesdays 31st January and 7th February
Remember that booking entitles you to 90-day on-demand streaming — so the event is available on catchup even if you cannot access it live due to other commitments.
Apart from wanting to share that news with you, today is also the first anniversary of Decoding Coercive Control with Dr Emma Katz. It was exactly one year ago today I decided to have a go at writing on Substack, and wrote my welcome message.
So, today, I wanted to write a new post that wraps together some of the key threads that have been running through some of my recent posts.
These posts are:
How Domestic Abusers Distort Obligations and Fairness in Relationships (July 18th, 2023)
Domestically Abusive Men Describe WHY They Criticize Women’s Mothering (August 23rd, 2023)
Why Coercive Control Gets Worse During Pregnancy, Childbirth and Breastfeeding (September 14th, 2023)
While each of these posts has had a specific theme, in reality these themes are all connected and held together by the menace of the perpetrator.
The title summarizes this central message: that coercive control is defined as a deepening deliberate destructiveness by the perpetrator.
And that middle word, deliberate, is a good place to start.
Abuse of women and children as a FUNCTIONAL choice by the male abuser
Men usually use violence and abuse against women and children because it is FUNCTIONAL for them to do so.
It serves many functions in their lives and it brings them many benefits, benefits which they can name and describe in depth.
This basic truth that the violence is functional goes against a lot of common “understandings” of domestic violence.
How do people often attempt to “understand” the male abuser?
They try to “reveal” that he is not intentionally abusive, but instead:
is under the sway of a childhood trauma that haunts him;
has problems controlling his anger and temper;
is being provoked by a bad girlfriend or wife into “snapping” or “seeing red”;
can be a good father despite being an abusive husband.
None of these sympathizing (or HIMpathizing) excuses for domestic violence and abuse stands up.
The abuse is not a “mistake” from the abuser
It is a clear and strategic intention.
Coercively controlling men want:
to have power, control and domination over their families;
to dictate ‘reality’;
to put their wives and children in highly weakened and vulnerable positions so that they can systematically exploit and manipulate them.
Criticism of mothering as a deliberate FUNCTIONAL tactic of male abuse
Because perpetrators want to put their wives and children in highly weakened and vulnerable positions to systematically exploit and manipulate them, they attack mother-child relationships.
One key way they do this is by criticizing the mothering of the victim-survivor mother.
They conjure up a fake reality where she is a “bad mother”.
Because they know it is highly damaging in the way they want it to be. They want it to serve as an effective attack on her identity.
As Professor Heward-Belle (who has interviewed abusive men) has shown us, abusive men are well aware:
that society gives women messages that they have to be good mothers; and
that by disrupting these women’s ability to be good mothers, they can deeply upset and distress women by making them feel that they have behaved wrongly.
The key point is this:
For abusive men, attacking the victim-survivor mother’s mothering is INTENDED as an effective tactic of emotional abuse.
Heward-Belle explains how, in conversation with her, abusive men “reported deploying DELIBERATE attacks on their partner’s identity as a competent mother in order to lower her self-esteem [and] make her feel inadequate.”
Making a victim-survivor mother feel like she is a “bad mother” has a crucial effect for the abuser: It makes it easier for the abuser to continue entrapping and abusing her.
Taken as a whole, abusers’ criticisms of victim-survivor mothers show no consistent pattern or logic. Victim-survivor mothers are criticized by abusers for anything and everything:
for being not nice enough as a mother (“too aggressive”);
for being too nice (not effective in disciplining the children — a “f*****g slack mum”);
for being not involved enough with the children (“too passive”);
for being too involved (“too concerned for the happiness of their children”).
Whatever the criticism is, the point is that these abusive men are criticizing victim-survivor mothers for not being competent in their mothering.
In making these criticisms, abusive men benefit from sexism.
Because of the limited expectations of care placed on fathers in our culture (the classic idea of the Dad taking care of the BBQ while Mom does everything else), abusive men are able to judge mothers in a devastating way while ignoring or minimizing their own destructive actions as bad fathers.
Wanting it all
Perpetrating fathers are greedy.
They want it all: they demand their family live by their oppressive rules, yet they ensure that they minimize their responsibilities or commitments to their family whenever it suits them.
Not only do these men want extreme levels of control and dominance over their family. They also want to be able to totally ignore and disregard their family at will.
They want to be able to live in a highly selfish, self-centered way:
thinking only of themselves when spending money;
getting out of making contributions to childcare or housework;
coming and going at any hour of the day or night;
having zero care for their families’ feelings or views (except when they wanted to manipulate them).
Here are some examples of what an abusive man will do. The abuser will:
have hundreds of rules for his partner/wife and children but he will stick to zero rules himself.
insist that his excessive control is entirely justified, but find it outrageous if the people who he is controlling make any attempts to hold him to even his most basic obligations as a partner or parent.
expect his partner/wife and children to spend time with him at any hour, often causing great inconvenience, but frequently make-and-then-break plans to spend time with them.
expect his partner/wife to show up at his whim, but also expect her to show zero upset when he promises to spend time with her but then disappoints her by canceling or not turning up.
impose limits on his partner/wife based on how she is supposedly going to be unfaithful to him, but think little of being unfaithful to her.
make demands about faithfulness that get worse, going from ‘don’t post sexy pictures of yourself’ to the more extreme ‘stop talking to all other men’. But HE will contact other women, swap explicit texts and make secret rendezvous with them.
The abuser usually behaves worse during and after the victim-survivor’s pregnancy.
It makes perfect sense.
If you are a victim-survivor mother, the abuse-perpetrating father wants your life to completely revolve around pleasing them and serving them and their needs. They want themselves to be the absolute center of your life, attention and resources (like a baby).
The arrival of a newborn baby disturbs this. Pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding pulls the attention of the victim-survivor mother towards something else (someone else) other than the perpetrating father: the fetus/baby.
Perpetrating fathers tend to become more abusive at this time:
They want the victim-survivor mother to continue to be completely devoted to pleasing them and serving them and their needs;
They therefore try to scare, confuse and overwhelm the victim-survivor mother into continuing to center them;
This means that the attention and resources of the victim-survivor mother are diverted from the fetus/baby back onto the perpetrating father.
What about when the children are older ― can coercive and controlling abusers be adequate parents?
We know that they can’t be.
But when it comes perpetrating fathers, victim-survivor mothers are told things like:
‘He may have been violent with you, ma’am, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good father to the children.’
‘Yes he hit you, but he never hurt the children; he’s no danger to them.’
‘The domestic violence is in the past — you need to stop dwelling on it, move on, and focus on co-parenting in the present.’
‘You are the problem for talking about domestic violence. You are standing in the way of the children having a healthy relationship with their father.’
There are a couple of basic myths.
These MYTHS are:
MYTH: Children are not seriously harmed when they have one parent who attacks and abuses the other. The actions of the perpetrating parent, committing violence and abuse against the victim-survivor parent, is not having a significant impact on the child.
MYTH: A parent who commits violence and abuse against their child’s other parent is capable of parenting in adequate ways.
These myths are WRONG.
Coercive control has major negative impacts on children. It damages their everyday lives. Every tactic that the coercively controlling parent uses against the victim-survivor parent harms the children’s lives.
There is one basic logic to everything that happens in a situation of coercive control: the coercive controller will be doing something because they think it will get them more power and control and will weaken any resistance they face.
Children are therefore very often essential to the perpetrators’ strategy to dominate the family.
Directly connected to this, it follows that perpetrators of coercive control in a family setting are not able to parent adequately. They act in ways that both directly and indirectly affect children, doing things towards children that are emotionally, and sometimes physically, brutal and manipulative.
In-depth examples are provided in my post “The Myth That Coercive and Controlling Domestic Abusers Can Be Adequate Parents”, part of the “Explaining Coercive Control to People Who Don't Quite Get It” Series.
For a research-based analysis of this, see my book Coercive Control in Children’s and Mothers’ Lives, especially chapters 2, 4, 5 and 6.
Not happy ever after
The key word here is entrapment.
When girl meets boy, it is easy for a male abuser to sell a relationship as if it is healthy.
That is how we have been trained by Hollywood: where, of course, behind the camera the gender politics are anything but healthy.
We want to think of relationships as wholesome and full of mutual honor — wedding vows or “happily ever after” are generally what we think of when we think of a “relationship”.
We do not want to think that hiding in the picture of joy is an abuser with a clear and strategic intention to entrap the victim-survivor.
But, chillingly, often there is.
Goodbye for now
Thank you for reading this post. As always, I hope you have found this post illuminating and validating. Feel free to share this blog far and wide so more victims and survivors and those who work with them can read it.
I will be back soon with another post, as we begin the second year of Decoding Coercive Control with Emma Katz.
Thank you for your support.