6. Expressing oneself creatively.
Dancing. Drawing. Gardening. Singing. Many victims shut down creatively during a coercive control relationship, busily attending to their partner’s every demand. Releasing one’s creative side can be a step on the path to recovery.
When her abusive relationship ended, Chris began drawing cartoons and then repainted her apartment with vibrant colors. She loved choosing the paint herself and—room by room—as she wielded the roller she felt as if she was covering over bad memories and reclaiming the space as “hers” in a new way.
Some survivors compile a list of the controlling incidents that they experienced. The list helps them appreciate what they’ve been through and realize their own strength. They can take pride in the courage they showed, and look forward to a full life as a free person.
Greg kept a list on his computer. He added to it as he remembered abusive incidents. After a few months, he printed and read the list and began to appreciate how completely he had been subject to his partner’s control. Reviewing the list fortified his gratitude for being free and his determination not to allow himself to fall back into the relationship again.
Survivors need to learn to put themselves at the center of their lives. After structuring their time around the abusers’ demands, it can be difficult for survivors even to remember their own opinions and wishes. Abusers convince their victims that their opinions are stupid and wrong, leading victims to change the way they view themselves and the world.
Stark (2007) has referred to this elimination of a victim’s perspective in a coercive control relationship as “perspecticide.” Survivors often hear the abuser’s critical voice in their heads. It is important to learn to replace that voice with a kind one.
When Maria finally persuaded her boyfriend to move out, at first she felt lost without him. She felt as if she wasn’t herself and couldn’t remember how she had once lived without her boyfriend’s constant demands and presence.
Over time, she rediscovered her own opinions and began to re-engage in hobbies that she had once loved. She began to enjoy spending time by herself and with friends and family, without having to check constantly for her boyfriend’s approval.
It is natural for survivors to feel fear and regret from time to time. Looking ahead will give them hope. It is usually best for survivors to separate themselves as much as possible from the controlling person and his contacts, so they cannot be controlled or monitored through someone else (Of course, this will take a different kind of planning if they share young children).
Survivors can look forward to a fulfilling life after ending a Coercive Control relationship. Recovery does not happen overnight but with time–it does happen.
For more information about Coercive Control, check out these books:
Fontes, L. A. (2015). Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship Stark, E. (2007). Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life
Written By Lisa Aronson Fontes Originally Appeared In Psychology Today
Trying to recover from a controlling relationship does not happen in the blink of an eye – it takes a lot of time to move on from all that toxicity and trauma. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and take one day at a time. Give yourself time, and treat yourself with kindness, and eventually, you will be able to go back to being the person you were before.