The harsh reality of “perspecticide” in a coercive control relationship

This Is What a Controlling Relationship Is Really Like

 Martin Novak/Shutterstock Living with an abusive and controlling partner can feel like living in a cult—except lonelier. Victims’ ** own viewpoints, desires, and opinions may fade as they are overwhelmed by the abusers’. Over time, they may lose a sense that they even have a right to their own perspectives. This is calledperspecticide—the abuse-related incapacity to know what you know (Stark, 2007(link is external)). Perspecticide is often part of a strategy of coercive control(link is external) that may include manipulation, stalking, and physical abuse:


Abusers insist on controlling minute aspects of their partners’ lives. Over time, victims internalize the rules and forget what life was like when they were freer to make their own choices.

  • Herman drew up an extensive chores chart and insisted that Marta keep a detailed log of her activities.
  • Ken gave his partner, Steve, a list of expectations for his diet, workout routine, and grooming, and implied that their relationship would be over if he did not comply.

Liz Bannish with permissionDefining you.

Abusers make their partners feel badly about themselves. Because they are isolated, people victimized by perspecticide begin to believe the negative descriptions of themselves and lose self-esteem.

  • Imani’s husband told her repeatedly that she was a gloomy, depressed person bynature. He told her that she was selfish to ask for changes in their marriage since she would never be happy anyway. Over time, she stopped asking.
  • Lori’s boyfriend told her she was oversexed and that he needed to keep an eye on her or she’d be out of control. He had sex with her at least once on most days, which was more than she wanted, but he told her it was what he needed to do to keep her “honest.” Over time, she stopped protesting the way he monitored and forced himself on her. She accepted the idea that the sex was “for her own good.”

Setting the terms of life in a couple.

Abusive partners create the expectations. The abuser demands certain acts as proof oflove and over time, the person being victimized gives in.

  • Kelly’s husband insisted that they share a toothbrush and that they use the same water or wine glass at all meals. He couldn’t seem to tolerate her having anything that was hers alone. Kelly dreamed of being able to close the door when she showered but her husband wanted to be able to see her at all times.
  • Lily pushed her boyfriend to share all his social media and email passwords and when he refused, she secretly installed a keystroke logger so she could access them against his will. When he found out and confronted her, she replied, “Loving couples keep no secrets.” He gave up on the idea of Internet privacy.

People subjected to perspecticide often blame themselves, as they feel despairing and disoriented. It can be hard for them to figure out exactly what’s wrong. Controlling partners serve as a filter for the outside world, gradually forcing their victims to lose the support of family, friends, and coworkers. Isolated and controlled in this way, victims lose self-esteem and have trouble remembering what they once thought, felt, and believed.

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