Bullying, Gaslighting & Coercive Control

Recovering & Empowering the Future of Family

“In recognition of the severe emotional distress that this behaviour can cause, in 2015 the Serious Crime Act was updated for England and Wales to include coercive control offences. Under the new changes, someone found guilty of gaslighting could be fined or imprisoned for up to five years.” Dec 6, 2019 (google)


Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions.

“The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to “cause” the bullying.

APA Resolution on Bullying Among Children and Youth (PDF, 40KB)

Using Research to Prevent Bullying 
“Dorothy L. Espelage, PhD, discusses useful prevention strategies, including social-emotional learning approaches, and emphasizes evidence-based programs, as part of a series presented by APA to mark its 125th anniversary in 2017.” 

What You Can Do

Getting Help

  • InfoAboutKids.org
    A web resource center for behavioral science-based information on children, youth and families developed by leaders of seven divisions of the American Psychological Association.

Resource apa.org


“Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes such as low self-esteem.” Wikipedia

Tactic #1: Gaslighters override your reality. To sum up, if the gaslighter had a mantra, it would be, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes truth.”

Tactic #2: Gaslighters aren’t out to destroy you; they’re out to make things easier for themselves. Instead, gaslighting comes from the need—conscious or unconscious—to control. Gaslighters work to undermine you so you can’t challenge them. Then the relationship can go the way they want. They get to have their cake and eat it, too, without the inconvenience of having to discuss things, compromise, or work together.

Tactic #3: Gaslighting is often fueled by sexism. If a woman rings the alarm on sexist behavior, gaslighters use sexist stereotypes to undermine the woman’s complaints. Instead of taking her seriously, each of her complaints might be refuted as a silly misinterpretation or dismissed as her being too sensitive. In this way, the sexist stereotypes are used to reinforce themselves—an uninterrupted pattern of circular logic: “See, she’s just another insecure, overly emotional woman we don’t have to listen to.”

Tactic #4: Gaslighters make disagreement impossible. Once you are discredited, any argument you may have is casually written off. When credibility is undermined—you’re crazy, a liar, unstable, a failure, or have lost your mind—anything you say is automatically suspect and builds the case against you. Therefore, you can’t disagree or protest. And the louder your objections, the more your gaslighter can smile smugly and say, “See, I told you so.”

Tactic #5: Gaslighters make you agree with their point of view. Gaslighters need the world to conform to their standards. And they need the very individuals they gaslight to agree with them. Therefore, it’s not enough for gaslighters, for example, to insist that sexual harassers were just having a little fun. They need the target of the harassment to agree that it was all just a little fun. Ideally, the target would not only agree but also believe that she deserved to be undermined because she was being crazy, overly sensitive, or imagining things.

Resource psychologytoday.com

Gaslighting Warning Signs

1. They tell blatant lies.
2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof. 
3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition. 
4. They wear you down over time.
5. Their actions do not match their words.
6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you. 
7. They know confusion weakens people. 
8. They project.
9. They try to align people against you.
10. They tell you or others that you are crazy.
11. They tell you everyone else is a liar.

Resource psychologytoday.com


“Coercive control needs to be similarly named and recognized, so we can begin to address it. We all need to learn more, so we can offer the right kinds of support and not allow victims to become isolated. “

“Isolation. Threats. Humiliation. Sometimes even physical abuse. These are the weapons of coercive control, a strategy used by some people against their intimate partners.”

“Victims of coercive control often feel like hostages. Over time, being grilled, criticized, stalked, and monitored may seem routine and inescapable. Victims often blame themselves as they feel despairing and disoriented. It’s easy for a person in this position to lose confidence and accept a partner’s view of reality. They may feel confused as they are told again and again that they themselves have triggered their partner’s behaviors by doing something “wrong.” At the same time, to keep the peace, victims may suppress their own desires, silence their voices, and detach from loved ones.”

“Unfortunately, victims often do not see the connection between their partner’s control and their own isolation until time has passed. Losing self-confidence and close relationships at the same time can be paralyzing.”

“At times he may indeed act loving, if this seems like the best way to maintain his control. Loving acts become another controlling tactic.”

“Once a controlling man has caught a woman in his web, he will do everything he can to prolong the relationship. Sometimes he will threaten, stalk, assault, or even murder her if she leaves or he suspects she’s trying to leave. For this reason, even if there is no physical violence it is important for a person who is being controlled to contact a domestic violence agency and devise a safety plan.”

Resource psychologytoday.com

“While most mental health professionals know how to recognize the obvious and most concerning presentations of possible intimate partner violence, there are numerous ways in which a partner may be controlled, bullied, isolated, exploited, and manipulated that do not present such observable signs. The literature pertaining to domestic abuse has increasingly moved away from injury as a necessary marker and instead has begun to highlight the importance of more covert but similarly deleterious processes within certain intimate relationships. It is crucial that mental health professionals inform themselves about other ways individuals are exploited with or without physical injury to ensure resources are made available to those who may be being harmed through manipulation, threats, fear, and isolation. “

Resource ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

“Coercive control, also described as “intimate terrorism,” “coercive controlling violence” (Johnson, 2008) or “battering” (Davies & Lyon, 2014Pence & Dasgupta, 2006Smith, Thornton, DeVellis, Earp, & Coker, 2002), refers to a systematic pattern of behavior that establishes dominance over another person through intimidation, isolation, and terror-inducting violence or threats of violence (Dasgupta, 19992002Dutton & Goodman, 2005Johnson, 2008Pence & Dasgupta, 2006Smith et al., 2002Stark, 2007). Through systematic restrictions on freedom and independence, individuals experiencing coercive control are often isolated from friends, family, or other support systems; entrapped within the relationship due to financial, logistical, social, or emotional barriers to escaping; and fearful for not only their own safety but that of family members and other people in their network (Kelly & Johnson, 2008Pence & Paymar, 1993Stark, 2007). Coercive control can instill fear even in the absence of physical violence and can continue after the relationship ends (Crossman, Hardesty, & Raffaelli, 2016)…

Women who had experienced coercive control were also at greater risk of re-victimization (danger), based on Danger Assessment scores, as was predicted with Hypothesis 2. The scores of women who experienced coercive control were statistically significantly higher than those who did not experience coercive control (Median [IQR]: 12 [7–19] vs. 4 [1–7]; p <.0001; r =0.52)….

This study expands the current knowledge about coercive control in several important ways. First, findings provide additional evidence demonstrating a strong association between coercive control and frequency of victimization as well as with the risk of future victimization. Second, this study is one of a few to examine the use of violence by women experiencing coercive control. Third, by including and independently examining multiple forms of IPV (physical, sexual, and psychological violence), we are able to gain a more nuanced picture of IPV experience. Finally, whereas much of the research on coercive control has relied on measures of the partner’s controlling behaviors (Myhill 2015Bubriski-McKenzie & Jasinski 2014Hardesty et al 2015), we use the WEB scale (described in Methods) to assess coercive control based on the survivor’s experience of being controlled rather than on the behaviors identified. This is important because the construct of coercive control is based on the individual’s experience of being controlled (Dutton & Goodman, 2005) and it is possible that a behavior that may be intended as controlling (e.g., demanding a partner’s whereabouts or attempting to limit a partner’s freedom) may not have the effect of coercive control and, conversely, that behaviors that contribute to coercive control are not measured as such. Overall, a key finding of this study is that a woman’s use of violence in a relationship does not negate the possibility that she also experiences coercive control within that relationship.

Our finding that coercive control is associated with elevated rates of psychological, physical, and sexual violence victimization is consistent with prior research (e.g., Anderson, 2008Coker et al., 2001Myhill, 2015) and further highlights the variety of tactics and acts of violence used within this context. Crossman and Hardesty (2017) emphasize the importance of recognizing and assessing coercive control as an independent component of victimization, not dependent on co-occurrence with experience of physical violence. We note that the majority of the participants in this study who were identified as experiencing coercive control based on their experiences of their partner’s behaviors did not, in fact, also report experiencing physical violence in the most recent three months. That nearly one-quarter of the women experiencing coercive control also reported recent experience of sexual violence is significant given the profound adverse health and safety impacts associated with sexual violence from an intimate partner (Dichter & Gelles, 2012Dichter, Marcus, Wagner, & Bonomi, 2014).

The finding of association between coercive control and risk of ongoing severe and lethal violence highlights the seriousness of this type of IPV, regardless of the other forms of violence experienced. That one in three women experiencing coercive control scored within the “extreme danger” category on the Danger Assessment scale indicates that this is a population that may require careful safety planning and protection. At the same time, however, the fact that nearly 22% of women in the no coercive control group scored higher than the minimal danger category (with nearly 3% in the highest danger category) is an indicator that it is also important to attend to risk among those reporting no coercive control…

Use of violence among women experiencing coercive control may, in fact, reflect higher levels of fear, risk, and isolation leading to use of violence as a safety and survival strategy. Cook and Goodman (2006) found that women who experienced coercion and conflict in their relationships were considerably more likely to engage in formal and informal safety strategies compared to women who experienced conflict without coercion. Although the two groups in that study did not differ in their use of resistance-type strategies, this might have been because resistance was conceptualized to include violent and nonviolent strategies. It is also possible that the higher rates of physical violence use in our sample reflect observed demographic differences, specifically in terms of income. Women in the coercive control group were notably more economically disadvantaged. While the directionality between poverty and coercive control is unclear, poverty and discrimination can limit options for coping and help-seeking (Goodman, Smyth, Borges, & Singer; 2009Kennedy et al., 2012). Women in the coercive control group, therefore, may have had fewer resources for escape and independence thereby leading to greater reliance on violence for self-protection…

This study advances our understanding of coercive control as a particular form of IPV, adding to the growing body of knowledge that supports a differentiated and multi-faceted view of IPV. Women who experience coercive control are likely to have also experienced violence victimization in various forms. Their victimization, however, does not indicate their passivity; they may also use violence against their partners. It is critical, therefore, that we do not view a woman’s use of violence as negating her own experience of being violently victimized and coercively controlled. The findings from this study support the arguments that we need to move away from thinking about victimization and agency as an either/or dichotomy (Dunn & Powell-Williams, 2007Schneider, 2000).”

Resource ncbi.nlm.nih.gov