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Coercive Methods For Enforcing Compliance

Individuals who have experienced abuse often focus on their own actions (or inactions) and blame themselves for their own abuse. This client information handout encourages a focus on the actions of the abuser and details the methods by which abusers exert control over their victims.

Abusers use a variety of techniques in order to coerce others into behaving the way they want. In 1956 the psychologist Albert Biderman developed a framework for understanding the methods foreign armies used to extract false confessions from prisoners of war. Psychologists now believe that abusers in many different situations use the same methods to achieve control over their victims. For example, victims of domestic violence or childhood abuse often report having experienced similar treatment. These methods include:

  • Isolation
  • Monopolization of perception
  • Induced exhaustion / debilitation
  • Threats
  • Occasional indulgences
  • Demonstrating ‘omnipotence’ and ‘omniscience’
  • Degradation
  • Enforcing trivial demands

This is a Psychology Tools information handout. Suggested uses include:

  • Client handout – use as a psychoeducation resource
  • Discussion point – use to provoke a discussion and explore client beliefs
  • Therapist learning tool – improve your familiarity with a psychological construct
  • Teaching resource – use as a learning tool during training

This information sheet gives details of methods of coercive control used by abusers. A checklist allows clients to report what methods of control they were subject to. These can be used as an assessment measure, or are helpful as starting points for therapeutic conversations.

  • Biderman, A. D. (1957). Communist attempts to elicit false confessions from Air Force prisoners of war. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 33(9), 616-625

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