Coercive Influence & Control/Gaslighting
I've learned from working with individuals, couples and families that in some relational systems such as partnerships, marriages, teacher-student, family, groups, corporations and movements (political, "spiritual", "religious" or otherwise) similar dynamics of deception, manipulation, unequal power and disregard of personal rights and autonomy exists. A term that describes this type of process is Coercive Influence or Coercive Control . Another popular term is " Gaslighting ".
Tactics gaslighters use are flattery, promises, gifts, lying, denying, exploiting strengths and vulnerabilities, positive reinforcement alternating with abuse, projection ("You're cheating"), creating "us" vs. "them" strategies ("Your family is jealous of me and lying -- stop seeing them")
In an unequal power dynamic, the dominant authority figure defined by age, strength, position, influence, and/or cultural acceptances uses manipulation and exploitation to control the subordinate for his/her own gains, usually power, control, and money. This dynamic can occur in cults, relationships (including marriages/partnerships, colleague/colleague, teacher/student, guru/disciple) and groups (families, and professional organizations). Coercive Control is an ongoing and multipronged strategy, with tactics that include manipulation, humiliation, isolation, financial abuse, stalking, gaslighting and sometimes physical or sexual abuse. When does one recognize that what was initially perceived as ‘love,’ ‘care,’ or ‘spiritual’ is abusive?
Coercive Control involves an on-going and multi-pronged strategy that may include manipulation, humiliation, isolation, financial abuse, stalking, gaslighting, and physical or sexual abuse. -- C. Russell (2019) "Freedom from Coercive Control in High Demand/High Control Groups and Relationships", ICSA Conference, Manchester, UK.
Coercive manipulation can occur in any relationship -- intimate, friendship, work or student-related, high-demand group, family, or otherwise. An adult can be promised a better quality of life, enduring love, an easy solution to life's complex problems, a promise to actualize her dreams, a partnership in the service of helping others. Her (although it can be "his") strengths and vulnerabilities are exploited, she becomes more dependent emotionally and financially. A child in such a system may become "parentified" in role-reversal to take care of the parent's needs. It can be dangerous to assert personal rights and pursue healthy goals. Differentiation, self-autonomy and self-agency are not tolerated or diminished. The abuser is motivated for her own gains -- usually control, popularity, and money.
The abuser/perpetrator is good at what he or she does so beware! Over time anyone can be caught in the abuser's web. Her approach is seductive. Guilt and fear-induction is used to keep the victim in the abuser's control until those in her web "wake up" to her lack of empathy or genuine care. She is a divider and loves the fight! He can turn others against you should you declare your need to separate and this is what may make you stay involved. When you do leave, he/she shows the narcissistic rage and threat.
People who psychologically and physically leave or distance themselves from gaslighters, corrupt leaders, abusive partners or parents are courageous in seeking to establish a life of one's own. They may be partially unaware of their fear of the abuser's actions should they leave the relationship. And often when leaving, their fears are validated with the fury the abuser demonstrates. Physical distance is important to gain perspective of the oppressive system in which one was trapped. Survivors become educated about gaslighting, coercive influence and control, and learn more adaptive coping skills (communication, boundaries, self-care, etc.) Survivors begin to trust themselves and exert their personal rights in healthier systems and relationships.
DARVO is a tool that demonstrates how abusers/offenders react to someone who calls them out:
Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. This is a behavior studied by Jennifer Freyd, Ph.D. This reaction by those with narcissistic/sociopathic traits can be observed in offenders in any relationship or group.
I've come across an important article, " 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting " (click here).