If you’ve had an intimate partner hurt you emotionally, physically, or sexually, you may not have thought of it as terrorism. But I bet you’ve felt terror.

Sociologist Albert D. Biderman constructed the Chart of Coercion decades ago to describe tactics designed to break the will of captured pilots. Advocates working with intimate partner violence have used this 8-factor chart to describe how the abuse affects victims. Below is CWA’s adaptation of his Chart in the first three columns and what happens with Domestic Violence[i] in the right column. The effects of coercion are the same whether it’s an intimate partner or a stranger.


Amnesty International, Report on Torture (New York: Farra, Strauss, and Giroux), 1973.
General Method Effects (Purposes) Variants Methods of power and control used in abusive relationships
1. Isolation Deprives victim of all social supports and of his ability to resist. Develops an intense concern with self. Makes victim dependent upon interrogator. Complete solitary confinement. Complete isolation Semi‐isolation. Group isolation. Denies participation in leisure activities. Restricts contact with family and friends. Excessive jealousy that reduces social interaction or discredits the victim to friends and family. Controls or restricts use of transportation, phone and/or finances. Confines to the home.
2. Monopolization of Perception Fixes attention upon immediate predicament, fosters introspection. Eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by captor. Frustrates all actions not consistent with compliance. Physical isolation. Darkness or bright light. Barren environment. Restricted movement. Monotonous food. Blames victim for the abuse, often reinforced by social and familial response. Victims become focused on how they “caused” the abuse and their own weaknesses. Unpredictable behaviour. Constant calling, texting or emailing.
3. Induced debility and exhaustion Weakens mental and physical ability to resist. Semi‐starvation. Exposure. Exploitation of wounds. Induced illness. Sleep deprivation. Prolonged interrogation. Forced writing. Overexertion. Assaults to body image. Restricts finances for food and other necessities. Withholds access to medical care. Disrupts meals and sleep patterns with physical and verbal assaults, e.g. “you’re going to stay up all night and listen to me”. Rape and assaults during pregnancy.
4. Threats Cultivates anxiety and despair Threats of death. Threats of non‐return. Threats of endless interrogation and isolation. Threats against family. Vague threats. Mysterious changes of treatment. Threats to kill her or her family. Threats to take children away. Threats of suicide. Threats of abandonment. Destruction of property or pets.
5. Occasional indulgences Provides positive motivation Occasional favours. Fluctuations of interrogation attitudes. Apologizes for the battering, sends flowers and gifts. Promises to change or it “will never happen again”. Becomes “Disneyland” parent.
6. Demonstrating “omnipotence” Suggests futility of resistance. Demonstrating complete control over victim’s fate. Confrontation. Pretending cooperation taken for granted. Physical assaults. Manipulation of legal system. Using male privilege. Stalking.
7. Degradation Makes cost of resistance appear more damaging to self‐esteem than capitulation. Reduces prisoner to “animal level” concerns. Personal hygiene prevented. Filthy, infested surroundings. Demeaning punishments. Insults and taunts. Denial of privacy. Public humiliation. Forcing participation in demeaning or degrading sexual acts. Verbal abuse, “put downs” or name calling. Frequently tells victim that they are “stupid”, “worthless” and unlovable.
8. Enforcing trivial demands Develops habit of compliance Forced writing. Enforcement of minute rules. Punishes for noncompliance with “the rules” which are rigid and unrealistic. These rules often govern the victim’s appearance, housekeeping, parenting, timeliness, etc. Frequently changes “the rules”. Plays “mind games”.


Most survivors of intimate partner abuse recognize some, if not all, of these coercive behaviors along with their effects. Sometimes they blame themselves for how they’re affected. Recognizing how they’ve coped in order to survive opens the door to stop blaming and instead work toward making any changes desired.

One example many identify with is being “codependent” because they try to please other people over themselves, even when no longer in the abusive relationship. This coping strategy is demanded by abusive partners but often outlives that situation.

Unfortunately, sometimes those we go to for help don’t recognize how we’ve been affected. They may use the effects of our abuse as a reason to not believe we’ve been abused. One example is when we deny abuse because we’re dependent upon the perpetrator or are fearful of what he will do if we report it, and then later acknowledge it.

Change is possible when we break through isolation and are able to talk about what happened with others who understand. Whether that’s family members, friends, a therapist, an advocate, or support groups—we all need those who give us another perspective from the abuser. Partners who permit themselves to hurt us are successful largely because they are able to isolate us from resources and support. They often actively prohibit contacts with family or friends, but we also begin to isolate ourselves because it takes too much energy to insist or because we take on shame about how they treat us.

Please seek allies. See my Resources page for agencies in my community or national ones if you’re in another locality.

If you’re interested in my Women’s Voices group, a 20-session therapy group that addresses how abuse affects victims, please email or call using the contact information on this site.









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