Joanne had been married for twelve years, and had got used to her husband’s constant put-downs. He had started, years ago, by calling her stupid, ugly and worthless. Now, after two children and multiple daily insults, she believed him. She felt that she couldn’t do anything without his approval, and that she was unable to hold down a job. Her self-esteem was shot to pieces and although she had been confident and fun-loving in what felt like a past life, it now took all her wherewithal to get through the day.

She struggled to explain to herself, much less to others, what was wrong though. If someone tells you that you are worthless every day for twelve years, you start to believe it. Joanne had been convinced that she was at fault, and that she was dependent on her husband.

Have you heard about the frog that boiled?

There’s a fable about a frog which was in a pot of cold water with the heat on underneath. The frog swam around, quite enjoying it. The water slowly warmed up, and the frog didn’t perceive the danger, and slowly boiled to death. This is how I often explain coercive control to people. It’s a pattern of abusive behaviour that, over time, worsens, becomes unbearable, and as a whole is part of the picture of domestic abuse.

Coercive control was made a crime in 2015, to acknowledge the damage that it can do. What does it look like? A partner repeatedly and coercively putting someone down, telling their wife that they are stupid, holding them to account for every penny spent. Constantly criticising how they parent the children, keep the house tidy, cook dinner, do their job. Exerting constant control over a partner’s life.

Joanne is a classic example. You may ask why she doesn’t leave – yet you can understand why she feels trapped.

So, how can you support someone like Joanne?
Gently challenge her about her self-esteem, ask how safe she feels, suggest counselling through a specialist domestic abuse agency like JWA.

Tread carefully though, because research tells us that abusers like Joanne’s husband will increase the abuse if they sense that Joanne is planning on leaving. This is why the advice of a domestic abuse agency is so important. Specialist caseworkers can support women like Joanne whilst they plan next steps in their lives, so that they can live safely, in a future free from fear.

If you are worried about yourself or a friend who may be in a similar position, please go to our Helplines page and contact JWA.

This blog first appeared on the Latte Lounge