Coercive control resulting in severe traumatic stress

Published on 5 February 2023 at 14:25


Coercive control (now a crime in the UK) is a form of psychological abuse often engaged in by those of a psychopathic and severely narcissistic nature (Mollon, 2020). Typically, the perpetrator begins by ‘love-bombing’ the target victim, with extravagant romantic gestures and implied promises of devotion and adoration. Once the victim has been hooked, the perpetrator engages in a slow campaign, sometimes initially very subtle, of undermining her self-esteem and confidence. This may occur through periodic and unexplained withdrawals of affection, or mildly critical comments, or expressions of disappointment. Since the victim has become addicted to the prior intense expressions of love (which create real neurobiological effects indistinguishable from those of addictive drugs), she is likely to try harder to please and to reinstate the now craved-for affection. As her self-esteem and self-image begin to deteriorate, along with increased feelings of shame and inadequacy, the perpetrator’s sadistic scorn and denigration intensify. This malignant pattern will include strong moves by the perpetrator to cut the victim off from sources of support, such as friends and family. He will tell the victim that these people are not good for her. His increasing control of the victim’s mind is presented as motivated by love and care – it is ‘for her own good’. Eventually, the victim succumbs to a chronic state of depression and anxiety, functioning at a much lower level than previously. At this stage, the perpetrator’s contemptuous denigration will become ever more overt, sometimes now including physical as well as psychological violence. The victim’s daily life, and access to money will be controlled. He will tell her, and she may believe, that she cannot manage without him. Eventually a person who once had good self-esteem and success in life may come to see herself as truly inadequate and worthless. The parasitic greed of the narcissist has consumed her very essence.

Although this malign pattern plays out commonly with a male perpetrator and female victim, it can occur within all gender pairings. In the case of a male victim of a female perpetrator, it may be even more hidden since it violates social norms of masculinity more starkly, creating even more shame which impedes seeking help – a vulnerability that is further exploited and mocked by the perpetrator.

The real, but unconscious, purpose of the perpetrator is to use the victim as a kind of psychological toilet, a receptacle for his (or her) own toxic emotional waste. These unwanted contents may include unbearable feelings of shame, inadequacy, and rejection. They are forced into the victim through a combination of an unconscious phantasy of projection and interpersonal manoeuvres of coercion – so that the victim actually comes to feel what is projected. The perpetrator will have developed this as a long-standing characterological pattern in support of his grandiose self.

These abusive relationships of coercive control are immensely damaging and often not well understood if the victim does manage to seek help. It can seem difficult to understand how the victim allowed the process to happen – but the truth is that it happens small steps at a time. There may have been few indications of the true nature of the perpetrator initially. If the perpetrator is interviewed, he or she may appear very kind and caring. Profound deception is involved.

Appropriate psychotherapeutic steps include helping the victim to understand the process, the psychological tactics and strategies of the perpetrator, and how these have affected her. In addition, it is necessary to deal with the key traumatic damage to the victim’s mind. Energy psychology modalities can be excellent for this purpose – addressing significant moments of emotional injury and the beliefs and self-image that has arisen from these. This helps to free the person from the quasi-hypnotic programming she will have been subject to. Another important step is to expel the feelings of toxic shame and inadequacy that have been projected into her by the perpetrator. Finally, it is usually necessary also to sever the energetic cords that may still tie the person to the perpetrator – these may still be active and function as a continuing means of control and energetic vampirism. For all these therapeutic tasks, I find a combination of psychotherapy, acupoint tapping, and Blue Diamond Healing can be helpful.

Phil Mollon PhD

Past President of ACEP

Psychoanalyst and Energy Psychotherapist


Mollon, P. (2020). Pathologies of the Self. Exploring Narcissistic and Borderline States of Mind. London. Confer.