Potential Signs of Coercive Control

We only ever want the best for our child, especially for their early relationships.

If something doesn’t feel quite right with your child’s relationship, follow your instinct.

There are behaviours of your child and red flags in the partner which can reveal whether the relationship is abusive and controlling.

These are not what should be a normal teenage relationship, but are all too common.

The Controller can use one or several of five behaviours at the same time to coerce your child into doing what they want.

These include

the Charmer, who tries to convince you and your child that they are the perfect, loving partner;

the Bully, who intimidates and hurts your child;

the Mindmixer, who plays mind games with your child;

the Taker, whose ultimate aim is to be sexual with your child without forming a healthy relationship;

and the Keeper, who tries to isolate your child so they can fully control them.

Whether it lasts a couple of weeks or several months, your child will feel the impact of the Controller’s behaviours.

Toxic Relationships - The Bully - illustration from When Love Bites

Your child has been receiving many gifts from their partner

The Charmer might spoil your child by buying them gifts- maybe clothes or a new phone.

This may be under the guise of your child ‘only deserving the best’- but where the Charmer is concerned, they will have an ulterior motive.

When you are made to feel special by someone, you are more likely to view them positively.

You have to ask yourself and your child: if the gift to genuinely treat them or was it given to make them feel indebted and to perhaps be used later as leverage?

If there is an expectation that you or your child ‘owes’ them as a result of the gift, then they are indeed a Charmer.

Toxic Relationships - The Charmer - illustration from When Love Bites

Your child is not sleeping well and is increasingly anxious

If the Bully has hurt or threatened your child, they will likely feel frightened and even sick with fear about what will happen next.

Your child may not get any rest or be able to sleep because the level of fear, nervous tension and anxiety they experience means they are constantly braced ready for action in the ‘fight or flight’ response.

After experiencing a frightening or traumatic incident (or pattern of incidents) at the hands of the Bully, your child can begin to develop an exaggerated stress response, which can anticipate danger even when it isn’t there- for example, hearing a loud bang, someone shouting at you, hearing others argue or tense atmospheres.

Toxic Relationships - The Mindmixer - illustration from When Love Bites

Your child starts to dress or act differently to their usual self

The Mindmixer focuses their abuse on the personal, making comments about the way your child looks, thinks and behaves- for example, “you’d look really hot if you wore these clothes rather than the ones you usually wear”.

This may lead to your child becoming more self-conscious than before and begin to change their appearance or behaviours, possibly including dieting (if told they don’t have the ideal body type or weight), changing their fashion or hairstyle, or exercising more (and obsessively so).

When you start changing things about yourself in order to satisfy your partner, you are being coerced by the Mindmixer.

Toxic Relationships - The Taker - illustration from When Love Bites

Your child has hickies on their neck

The Taker wants to mark and own your child sexually, and hickies can be way to demonstrate that your child ‘belongs’ to them.

Remember that these are actual physical wounds and bruises which can hurt.

The Taker might also be very sexual towards your child in public, groping them or grabbing their breasts or genitals.

If you note that your child looks uncomfortable with their partner touching them, it may well be that they are in a relationship with the Taker.

These bruises and physical acts may escalate to rape or sexual assault, for which you and your child can find support with recovering from and/or reporting.

Toxic Relationships - The Keeper - illustration from When Love Bites

Your child is distant

The Keeper may turn your child against you.

They may text your child constantly while at home, so they are preoccupied with their partner rather than being with their family.

You might worry about this and question your child or ask them to leave their phone outside of their bedroom at night.

However, because their partner is intent on controlling what your child does, they might try and persuade your child that you are being unreasonable and don’t care about them- that you don’t ‘get’ them.

This can be enough to drive a wedge between you and your child.

This could escalate to the Keeper asking your child to live with them and their family.

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