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The Hidden Scars of Coercive Control on Children

coercive control

In the shadows of homes where coercive control reigns, children often become the unseen victims of a silent and insidious form of abuse. Coercive control, characterized by a pattern of domination through psychological, emotional, and sometimes physical means, leaves deep and lasting scars on the children within the household. While the immediate effects of such an environment are distressing, the long-term impacts on children's development and relationships can be profoundly affected.

This blog delves into the often overlooked consequences of coercive control on children. We'll explore how these toxic dynamics shape their inability to form healthy self-esteem, develop healthy relationships, and navigate the complexities of life. Understanding these impacts is crucial not only for those directly affected but also for educators, family court, mental health professionals, and anyone committed to breaking the cycle of abuse and fostering resilient, well-adjusted individuals. Below we uncover the hidden scars and advocate for a future where every child has the opportunity to thrive free from the shadows of coercive control.

Here are some of the long-term effects:

Psychological and Emotional Impacts
  • Low Self-Esteem and Self-Worth: Children may develop feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy, leading to low self-esteem and a lack of confidence.

  • Anxiety and Depression: Exposure to constant stress and fear can result in chronic anxiety and depression, which may persist into adulthood.

  • Emotional Dysregulation: Difficulty managing emotions, leading to outbursts, mood swings, or emotional numbness.

  • Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD): Experiencing or witnessing coercive control and abuse can lead to PTSD, characterized by flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety.

  • Trust Issues: Difficulty forming trusting relationships due to betrayal and manipulation experienced in childhood can lead to insecurities and feeling less-than. 

  • Guilt and Shame: Feelings of guilt or shame, often internalizing the blame for the abuse or coercive control. This can lead to self-harm, self-sabotage, and unhealthy coping skills through numbing and escaping. 

  • Maladaptive Coping Skills: They may feel the need to lie, people please the coercive parent, or become sneaky to avoid getting in trouble. These maladaptive skills can eventually lead to personality disorders into adulthood. 

coercive control

Behavioral and Physical Impacts
  • Aggression and Violence: Children might imitate abusive behaviors, leading to aggression and violence towards others, as a learned behavior or as a result of the suppression of anger and pain for too long.

  • Risk-Taking Behavior: Increased likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, such as substance abuse, early sexual activity, or criminal activities.

  • Self-Harm and Suicidal Tendencies: Higher risk of self-harm or suicidal ideation and attempts as a means of coping with overwhelming emotions. They may also have been body-shamed by the coercive parent, leading to extreme dietary restrictions or workout regimens as a means of searching for control in their life.

  • Attachment Issues: Difficulty forming healthy attachments in relationships, often leading to clinginess, withdrawal, or fear of abandonment. They will most likely develop an insecure attachment style of anxious preoccupied, dismissive avoidant, or disorganized attachment style.

  • Regression in development: Children may regress through bed wetting, holding of bowels, speech delays, or the development of nervous tics 

  • Physically ill due to distress: They may develop headaches, stomaches, nervous stomach, panic attacks, loose bowels, or flu-like symptoms on exchange days 

  • Insomnia: Children of coercive parents may struggle with getting good sleep due to stress or lack of safety within the home.

Social Impacts
  • Social Isolation: Children may become socially withdrawn or isolated, finding it difficult to connect with peers and make friends.

  • Difficulty in Social Interactions: They might struggle with basic social skills, such as communication, empathy, and understanding social cues.

  • Trust Issues: Difficulty trusting others can lead to problems in forming new relationships and may result in a lack of close friendships or a romantic partner as they mature.

  • Avoidance of Social Situations: Fear or anxiety about social interactions may cause them to avoid group activities, gatherings, or new environments as they fear they will be rejected or judged.

coercive control

Relationship Impacts
  • Difficulty in Forming Healthy Relationships: The modeling of unhealthy relationships can lead children to struggle with forming stable, healthy romantic relationships in adulthood.

  • Repetition of Abuse Patterns: There is a risk of repeating the cycle of abuse, either by becoming abusers themselves or entering relationships where they are victims of abuse

  • Attachment Issues: They may develop insecure attachment styles, such as being overly dependent (anxious attachment) or distant and self-reliant (avoidant attachment).

  • Fear of Intimacy: Fear of being hurt or controlled can lead to difficulty with emotional intimacy and closeness in relationships

  • Conflict Resolution Issues: Lack of healthy conflict resolution models can result in either avoiding conflict altogether or engaging in destructive conflict behaviors.

  • Communication Problems: Challenges with open and honest communication can arise, making it difficult to express needs and emotions effectively.

  • Boundary Issues: Difficulty understanding and maintaining healthy boundaries, either by allowing others to overstep their boundaries or by overstepping others’ boundaries.

How Do You Help Your Children
  • Develop their emotional intelligence and emotional regulation skills: When they understand their emotions and have healthy ways to cope they are less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors or develop personality disorders because they have the freedom to express rather than suppress their emotions 

  • Operate on values: Create a value system to operate in your home based on mutual respect, honesty, trust, integrity, kindness, etc. (focus on three for kids)

  • Teach Boundaries: Children who learn boundaries at an early age develop a stronger and more authentic inner voice that will confidently guide them through life. 

  • Strengthen their self-esteem: Teach them new skills or create family engagement around new activities. Learning new skills develops confidence and resilience in kids. Believing in themselves will carry them far in life. 

If your children are showing any of these signs, it’s best to get them into activities or programs where they can learn positive self-esteem and skill building. Additional support may look like therapy/coaching support or even practicing emotional regulation techniques in the home - you’re their biggest role model. If you need further assistance in documenting coercive control, please set up a discovery call.


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