A victim of controlling and coercive behaviour has offered this advice to anyone living with domestic abuse as she works to rebuild her and her children’s lives.
She has bravely shared her experiences as part of Dyfed-Powys Police’s winter campaign, which aims to speak to people affected by domestic abuse, stalking and harassment, empowering them to report incidents, and offering means to find support.
For Sarah, there were warning signs that something wasn’t right in her marriage. But like many others, she had been manipulated into believing her husband’s behaviour towards her was normal.
In reality, he was coercively controlling her. That means he was using threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse to harm, punish, or frighten her. These are behaviours perpetrators use to isolate victims from support, deprive them of independence and control their everyday lives.
“What I’ve learned is that it doesn’t need to be extreme behaviour for it to have the effect it does,” Sarah said. “He never physically hurt me, but he is a very strong man, and I knew he could have.
“He controlled me, manipulated me, made me feel and look worthless in front of my children and family. I was gaslit and brainwashed, and living a deluded life.”
Sarah explained that one of her friends witnessed some behaviour that made her suspect it was abusive, and sent messages with links to places she could find support. This intervention prompted her to take action, and she fled the family home with her children
“My friend told me she thought it was domestic abuse and that it wouldn’t be long until I left him,” she said. “A few days later, we were out.
“I think I had known for some time, but I didn’t have the support of my family. If I did raise concerns I was told ‘oh it’s fine’ because they don’t see the emotional abuse. It’s partly because of the way I was brought up that I ended up with someone like him. I had to shut up and put up with it.
“But because somebody else validated it, it was like a light had been shone on the situation.”
After spending time in a women’s refuge, Sarah found a new home and is now rebuilding their lives. However, as her ex-husband has contact with their children, she says she can never truly relax knowing he is still present in their lives.
“It’s hyper vigilance,” she said. “It’s emotionally and physically draining, and it’s not something you can sustain.
“It’s affected every area of my life. My finances, my housing, my emotional health, my children’s mental health, my work. Because of the brainwashing and the delusion, it’s taken me a long time to work out how to have safe relationships. Even with friends, it takes a long time to believe they truly want to spend time with me.
“You have to look for safe people – but you have to learn to trust yourself first. What he did to me was degrading and dehumanising. Looking back, I wonder how I could possibly have thought I could change him. The only person I could change was myself, and I’m doing that now.”
If any of Sarah’s story resonates with you, or you need to report domestic abuse, stalking or harassment, you can contact Dyfed-Powys Police in the following ways:
- Report online: https://bit.ly/DPPContactOnline
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Call: 101
- If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908
In an emergency, always call 999.
*If you feel you need support in contacting police, there are organisations that can help you. Click here to find them, or search online for Live Fear Free or Women’s Aid – both have free helplines available.