Terrorized Into Silence

Being told “you are the one that chose to have children with this man” is re-victimizing the victim. If you have said this to someone unknowingly, your ignorance about abuser dynamics is forgiven. Your kindness and compassion is requested. Your understanding and support invaluable.

If someone said this to you, this is what you want them to know. First, you did not choose to have children with the man he became. You chose to have children with the image he presented to charm, convince, con, and cunningly connive you into thinking that he was someone he was not. He hid the abusive part of himself until he could capture you and take you hostage.  You were “terrorized into silence”. Once he drew you into his web, you had to crawl and fight your way out.

It was difficult because he has two sides. The side he showed to everyone outside your marriage/relationship and the side he showed to you and your children. He used many tactics to keep you hostage. The same tactics hostage takers use with prisoners of war. These tactics are explained best with Biderman’s studies on prisoners of war.

What most friends, family members, and even professionals untrained in dynamics of abusers don’t understand is the cycle the abuser uses with their tactics to keep you hostage. Abusers start out relationships with charm that convinces their target (victim) that they are the most wonderful person you could ever hope to meet. They smother you with compliments, gifts, and exceptional courting behaviors. Their goal is to lure you into their web. They ask you all about yourself and show they are fully engaged and interested in what you like and your interests.

You’re swept off your feet. Underlying all his charm and courting behavior, he is motivated to learn all your vulnerabilities. Be wary because he will use all this information to gain power and control over you. You are so flattered by his interest in you, you fail to realize you know nothing about him. You are the focus of every moment together.

Once the abuser has manipulated you into this position, he proclaims his undying love for you. You are the soulmate he searched for and he cannot live without you. He asked you to commit to an exclusive relationship with him. What he doesn’t tell you is exclusivity means anyone in your family or social circle must be excluded. Watch out – he is about to cast his net over you and take you hostage.

All your time and energy must be devoted to him. You are told there is no time for family and friends. He now OWNS you.  He monopolizes your attention and you are fully his possession.

You’re probably wondering why he thinks he can possess you. For him, it is simply your commitment being interpreted as your agreement to be possessed by him. Now that he OWNS you, he uses all the information you gave him about yourself against you. Your doubts, insecurities, and vulnerabilities are his exclusive right to exploit. He feels entitled to do this so he can mold you into the image he wants you to be. You are never seen as an adult equal to him. You are less than and must be verbally, emotionally, and if necessary physically coerced to submit to him.

If he wants you sexually, you are his property to treat any way he chooses.

If he wants you submissive at a deeper level, he increases his demands on your time, energy, and emotions through the use of threats and intimidation.

If he rewards you, it is his way of keeping you tied to him. His rewards are motivated by his desire to gain greater power and control over you.

If he wants to prove his manhood, you must get pregnant and produce HIS children for him. You are nothing more than a reproduction machine to him to show how virile he is to the outside world.

If you try to protect your children from his angry outbursts, his cold, calculating and hurtful comments, remarks, and discounting you as a human being, he accuses you of being too sensitive. Then, he further terrorizes you by blaming you for how he treats you.

He professes his omnipotence and entitlement by letting you know how stupid and unintelligent you are.

If you threaten to leave him, he tells you he will take the kids and you will never see them again. He lets you know he can prove to Child Protective Services how you neglected the children, sat on the couch watching TV all day, and that you are crazy. He willingly lies to professionals and people in authority to get what he wants.

When you finally gain the strength to crawl out of his web, no one believes the cruelty and danger you lived through. They are unwilling to help you regain your emotional center. Helping you fight to protect your children from further harm is not their problem. You are re-victimized by the very people you expect to believe you and help you.

Doubts and second guessing your decision to leave fill your thoughts. You may even find yourself charmed back into the relationship with him. Many women who have gone back find his control even more oppressive. Getting out again can be even more difficult.

Let the experiences of abused women and mothers who have gone back and left again be the beacon of hope that keeps you moving forward with determination and resolve to never become entangled with an abuser again.

Go to well-informed professionals to heal from the trauma of the relationship. Learn how to set healthy boundaries and identify the red flags of abusers to remain free of entrapment.

You deserve a life of peace, serenity, and well-being. Your children deserve a life where they recover from the influence of an abusive parent. Stop the cycle and help your children do the same.

Peacefully yours,

Dr. Debra

P.S. Gain a clearer understanding of the abusers tactics to coercively control you in the book “Eyes Wide Open: Help! with Control Freak Co-Parents” written especially for you.

P.P.S.  Share the book with family and friends so they gain an understanding of what life with an abuser/hostage taker is like.

Solutions to Cyber Bullying in Child Custody Cases

I know what cyber bullying feels like. I learned this from women who experience cyber bullying from their former spouses.

Here is how it feels to be cyber bullied.

  • You are unable to breathe or make a move even if your ex or almost ex is no longer physically with you.
  • His verbal and emotional abuse, threats and intimidation, coercion and control is now being carried out electronically.
  • Texts and emails are used since he no longer has you in his physical presence.
  • You still feel suffocated by him and it is oppressive.
  • You are not depressed so much as just unable to breathe or make a move, or say anything for fear of his next attack.

It’s time to put a stop to it, but you don’t know how. If your responses to texts and emails aren’t fast enough or he doesn’t like your responses, you are still under attack. He bombards you with words, demands answers, and goes after you at every turn. He has no ability to wait for you to think, or for attorneys to do their job. All he wants is to manipulate and monopolize your time and attention.

Stop! Breathe! Wait! Consult! Respond!

This is your new motto as you step into your new life free from cyber bullying coercive control behaviors.

  • Stop! You have the right to your time.
  • Breathe! You have the right to consider your responses.
  • Wait! You have the right to consult with your empowerment support system.
  • Consult! You have the right to keep your own counsel and make conscious choices about what you share.
  • Respond! You have the right to respond with just the facts.

You no longer have to give reasons.

You no longer have to take care of his feelings.

You no longer have to feel oppressed and suffocated.

You broke free from your hostage taker. It’s time to live your life free of your attention being monopolized. You are free to make your own decisions without being concerned about what he thinks or feels.

This is setting boundaries. It takes time to learn to do this. It takes practice. It takes using your support system to keep you on track while you are connecting back to your inner strength and knowing.

Take it a step at a time. Talk with safe friends, family, and others who have walked in your shoes. See your therapist. If your therapist isn’t helping, find a new one. If your new friends are not supporting you, walk away and find supportive friends.

Step into your power and stop the cyber bully in his tracks.

Peacefully yours,

Dr. Debra

P.S. For more information about Coercive Control Tactics, check out the book “Eyes Wide Open: Help! with Control Freak Co-Parents”

P.P.S. Have questions or want to learn more, go to http://houseofpeacepubs.com/ 

Abusers Dodge Criminal Charges

Yesterday, I spoke to our local clergy about the “Brain Effects of Domestic Violence and Coercive Control on Children”. In 30 minutes, I covered the neurobiological effects on the brain that start pre-natally and continue as long as domestic violence and coercive control is present. When I talked about the different types of stress—positive, tolerable, and toxic, I relayed the impact of toxic stress that results in state dependent learning. Recent research on PTSD shows state dependent learning continues to trigger reactive responses even after the abuser is no longer present.

An example I provided was a son who started healing from the toxic stress after mother left the abuser. The son had minimal contact with the abusive father for several months, was progressing in therapy, and improving in school. When father re-entered the son’s life, his use of emotional and verbal abuse, and intimidation coercive control shifted the balance back to the son reacting to mother in an abusive manner and in her words “acting just like father”. Since mother filed for divorce, the son’s behavior has escalated and he appears to be coached by father to abuse mother.

Under the Colorado statutes, the criminal definition of C.R.S. § 18-6-800.3 Domestic violence means an act or threatened act of violence upon a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence also includes any other crime against a person or against property or any municipal ordinance violation against a person or against property, when used as a method of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation, or revenge [emphasis added] directed against a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship.

Because this case will go through the civil courts, the father may not be held accountable for the criminal behavior he perpetrated during the marriage, post-separation, and most likely post-divorce. The son is being trained to be abusive and use coercion and control with his mother. The likelihood he will become an abuser beyond his mother is extremely high. Will he end up in the criminal justice system or just repeat his behavior in his adult relationships? Who will eventually hold him accountable? Or, will he dodge criminal charges just like his father?

We have to work together to coordinate the civil and criminal court response to domestic violence, and coercive and controlling behavior. We can no longer stand back and watch abusers dodge criminal charges when they commit a crime. They must be held criminally accountable.

The Leopard Who Constantly Changes His Spots—Emotional Abuse

“How do you explain to someone who has not experienced emotional abuse what happens in your relationship? This was the question one protective mother asked me after expressing her frustration that her attorney did not understand what she was saying when she told him she was emotionally abused in her relationship. Here’s where her communication was unclear and what the attorney failed to ask to clarify what she was saying. She lumped all the abuse she experienced in her relationship under the label “emotional abuse” because she did not realize the abuse she experienced also involved other kinds of coercive control.

“Her attorney interpreted what she was saying through his limited understanding of abuse and boiled it down to “he yelled” at her a few times and maybe “called her names” a couple of times. And, there were a couple of times he “threatened to kill her” if she left. Because her attorney viewed the abuse as a few isolated incidents and failed to recognize the abuse as a pervasive pattern in the relationship, he dismissed her concerns as not important to parenting time decisions.

“Using Emotional Abuse is any kind of abuse that attacks the other person without physical contact. Emotional abuse involves anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics, such as repeated disapproval or the refusal to be pleased about anything about the other person. It is a constant wearing down of self-esteem, self-confidence, sense of self-worth, or sense of identity. While there is no physical contact, there is still the sense of being hit internally. This may be a feeling of heartache, stomachache, or even feeling beaten down. Emotional abuse attacks the person through all of their senses.”

One tool that is very useful for survivors of coercive control is an assessment checklist that includes frequency ratings. For each type of coercive control discussed in “Eyes Wide Open: Help! with Control Freak Co-parents”, there is an in-depth checklist. The checklist allows you or the survivor to identify specific behaviors their partner or ex used related to the type of coercive control.

Now, let’s look at a few examples from the assessment of Emotional Abuse. When the assessment is completed, you will look at how frequently the abuse occurred and the severity. For example, how often did their ex do the following: “Your ex called you names, yelled at you, and/or refused to listen to anything you wanted to say.” If this happened daily, weekly, or more than once a month, you would start to identify this as a pattern of coercive control. If their ex increased the number of times he repeated this pattern and/or the name calling became more intense or hurtful, the yelling became louder and lasted longer, and the refusal to listen to anything she wanted to say may have turned into the silent treatment, this would be an increase in severity.

Here are other examples of emotional abuse: “Your ex created and enforced rules for everyday conduct.” “Your ex caused the sudden destruction or unexplained disappearance of familiar objects that had special meaning to you.” To review the 26 items in the Emotional Abuse checklist, you can find them in either the print or Kindle versions of “Eyes Wide Open: Help! with Control Freak Co-parents”.

If you are interested in training on the Coercive Control Tactics and Interpersonal Violence Assessment, there are several courses available through House of Peace Publications Virtual Training Center.

In peace until next time,

Dr. Debra

P.S. Find “Eyes Wide Open: Help! with Control Freak Co-parents” here

P.P.S. Look for courses at House of Peace Virtual Training Center

Emotional Abuse or Another coercive Control Tactic?

Often I hear survivors of intimate partner abuse say “he was emotionally abusive in our relationship”. When I ask the survivor to describe exactly what he did that was emotionally abusive, she describes some emotional abuses as well as other coercive control tactics (CCT).

To help her easily identify the coercive control tactics, I list the CCT covered in “Eyes Wide Open: Help! with Control Freak Co-parents”. These are often considered emotional abuse by someone unknowledgeable about the different types of CCT. To make them easy to remember, they are identified by their chief characteristic followed by their more well-known label.

Control Freak Tactics in Relationships

The Constantly Changing His Spots Leopard Co-Parent (Using Emotional Abuse)

The Lion King of my Castle Co-Parent (Using Male Privilege)

The Sneaky Snake Co-Parent (Using the Children)

The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing Co-Parent (Using Minimization, Denial, and Blaming)

The Pompous Hog Co-Parent (Using Economic/Financial Abuse)

The Intimidating Badger Co-Parent (Using Intimidation)

The Threatening Skunk Co-Parent (Using Threats and Coercion)

The Laughing Hyena Co-Parent (Using Isolation)

The Prickly Porcupine Co-Parent (Using Spiritual Abuse)

If the survivor is involved in a custody battle with the abuser, I add these as well.

Control Freak Tactics in Family Court

The Slippery Weasel Co-Parent (Using Litigation Abuse)

The Lying Rat Co-Parent (Using Court-Appointed Professionals)

The Charging Rhinoceros Co-Parent (Using Family Court Judges)

Then, I double check to make sure whether any physical or sexual abuse occurred in the relationship. Too often, there is a huge misunderstanding that physical violence is the only type of recognized abuse. That is why I leave it to the end of my list before I bring it up to her. Also, these CCT don’t happen as often as the non-physical abuses. It is one of my goals to bring out the other CCT and help the average person spot them as well.

Control Freak Tactics with Physical and Sexual Violence

The Stalking Fox Co-parent (Using Non-Physical Sexual Abuse)

The Chest Beating Gorilla Co-Parent (Using Physical Abuse)

The Territorial Tiger Co-Parent (Using Physical Sexual Abuse)

Once we’ve established the general areas where CCT occurred in the relationship, I use the separate assessments in each chapter to drill down on the specific behaviors the abuser used. I want to help the survivor describe in behavioral specific terms exactly what happened, how often it happened, and what level of escalation occurred between each incident.

If your clients or you are experiencing any of the CCT daily, weekly, or monthly, please learn more to protect the safety of everyone impacted, both adults and children. More about impacts of intimate partner abuse on children to come in future messages. Keep a look out for future posts where I will discuss each CCT in-depth.

For questions that can’t wait, contact Dr. Debra here.

Peacefully yours,

Dr. Debra

P. S. Anxious to get ahold of the various assessments now? Check out “Eyes Wide Open: Help! with Control Freak Co-parents” here.

P.P.S. For in-depth training and use of the assessments, go to the Virtual Training Center and register for courses on CCT and IPV Assessments at http://houseofpeacepubs.com/


What is Coercive Control in Co-parenting?

In 2010, I began talking at workshops and conference presentations, and most recently in the book “Eyes Wide Open: Help! with Control Freak Co-Parents” about coercive control. For those of you with many years in the domestic violence movement, you will recognize these patterns from the power and control wheel. Why the change in language? Domestic violence is still thought by many nondomestic violence professionals and the average person on the street as strictly “physical violence”. Sometimes “emotional abuse” is acknowledged as well.

However, those experienced in domestic violence dynamics know there are many other tactics abusers use. The term coercive control was explained in depth by Evan Stark in “Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life” in 2007. He defines coercive control as a “Pattern of oppression…an offense to liberty that prevents women from freely developing their personhood, utilizing their capacities, or practicing citizenship, consequences they experience as entrapment.” (pg. 4) Stark explained the multiple coercive control tactics through case studies to show the impact on the lives of abusers’ victims.

Since I started working with protective parents (primarily mothers), I have identified how coercive control tactics are patterns that continue after the adult relationship ends. These patterns are used to maintain control through the children, litigation of child custody (parenting time) proceedings, and marital dissolution. Very often, I see the coercive control tactics used at a minimum until all the children reach the age of majority, and sometimes beyond that, when children are manipulated by the abuser as adults.

Learn more about how coercive control tactics are used by co-parent abusers, in “Eyes Wide Open: Help! with Control Freak Co-parents” now available in print and Kindle versions here. Case studies provide a look at how abusers use the 15 coercive control tactics. Assessments allow you to determine some of the specific behaviors abusers use in each of the tactics. Also, you can determine the frequency and severity of tactics used. Utilize the assessments to guide your work with parents who are being coercively controlled.

Until next time,

Debra Wingfield

P.S. To learn more about coercive control tactics and how to use interpersonal violence assessment, check out our training courses at http://houseofpeacepubs.com/dv-training.htm

P.P.S. Find instructions to download the Kindle app for PC and tablets on the Amazon.com book page if you want this version of the book.


Powerful Courageous Expose of Spiritual Abuse

In this excellent, first-hand portrayal of the extremes that spiritual abuse can take, Coral Theill shares the tragedy of her experience in her attempts to protect her children from their abusive father. Bonshea is an extraordinary account of the horrendous injustice to the Warner children and their mother. Coral Theill shares her overwhelming account of how the fundamentalist Church aided and abetted her ex-husband to do the unthinkable, remove her nursing infant from her along with her other children because she refused to submit to her ex-husband’s abuse and control over her life.

Coral recounts in detail how the insidious spiritual and ritual abuse was compounded with a multitude of other abuses. These coercive control tactics were perpetrated in the home, the church, and the community by a power-hungry, greed-filled cast.  People Coral Theill sought out for help from her abusive marriage used her cries against her to perpetrate one of the most heinous cases of abuse and coercive control I have come across in my work with survivors of domestic violence and coercive controlling abuse. A must-read for anyone impacted by abuse in marriage or relationships. Coral prepares you to fight for your children’s lives when you divorce in the current Family Court system.

Advocates, attorneys, judges, and other professionals working in Family Court must read this account to understand the lengths abusers will go to continue to control and torture their abuse victims. I applaud Coral Theill for the courage she shows making light of the dark secrets within the fundamental churches and the collusion of the family court system. Of note are other types of coercive control tactics used under the guise of acceptance by these groups. I noted emotional abuse, isolation, using children, economic abuse, male privilege, threats, intimidation, sexual abuse including marital rape, limited physical abuse due to fear induced control, litigation abuse, court-related professional abuse, and judicial abuse.

Coral continues to be stalked after more than 18 years by her ex-husband through the family court system. I highly recommend reading Theill’s expose of fundamentalist church groups use of spiritual abuse.

Debra Wingfield, Ed.D., LPC

P.S. House of Peace Publications provides in-depth training in coercive control and domestic violence

P.P.S. Check out our virtual training options for professionals here


Eyes Wide Open: Help! with Control Freak Co-Parents Available


Just published! Please share widely and beyond.

Eyes Wide Open: Help! with Control Freak Co-Parents available here on Amazon.

Even though you are divorced/separated from your children’s other parent, do you still feel controlled? Do you feel like your ex is still trying to control you through your children? Do you think of your ex as a “control freak” co-parent?

Look for answers to these and other questions about co-parenting with a control freak ex.

What people are saying:

Omg. Just read the free look….I had an ex with all four C’s. You nailed it. Lori C.

Dr. Debra has created an enormously important tool that can potentially save thousands of lives from very preventable forms of abuse. As society we have been ignorant to what has been happening in the family court system and how it affects our most vulnerable people – children.

This book is a life offering born out of complete dedication to the subject and unconditional love to every child and every parent who dared to stand up and speak up. It helps those parents better understand the reality they find themselves in, and navigate through it to a safer harbor with the least damage.

Educate yourself and pass the knowledge on ! Anna S.

I found this book Extremely helpful and informative. It is very easy to read and understand, and it kept my attention. I definitely can relate to it. I highly recommend this book to everyone. If it does not fit you and your life chances are there is someone you know who could benefit from this book. Please let others know about EYES WIDE OPEN:Help! with Control Freak CO-parents ….. especially Judges, Lawyers, and Law Makers. Michelle M.

Anybody can read Kindle books—even without a Kindle device—

with the FREE Kindle app for smartphones and tablets.

Happy New Year,


P.S. See more reviews here

P.P.S. Share with family court professionals to help them understand what happens when abusers are co-parents.





Use the term Abused Instead of Victim

Hello Dr. Debra,

May I ask a quick question?

When I give the DV trainings to my colleagues, I sometimes talk in terms of “offenders and victims” of domestic violence. This may be because of my Criminology background.  I only use this term when referring to it in the present circumstance. In other words, if someone has reported recent abuse. Dr. Debra, I have never liked the term “victim.” I know it’s a criminal justice term and used for reporting purposes. I know about using the term “survivors of domestic violence” and celebrate that. I use it whenever it may apply- when people are fighting and moving forward. Is there another more correct term other than victim of domestic violence that I might use? I also use, person being abused and abusive partners. In your professional opinion, should I leave the word victim out completely?
Thanks for your help,

Warm Regards,


You pose a very interesting question that I struggled with while writing my current book, Eye Wide Open: Help! with Control Freak Co-Parents. It should be published by the end of December.

Here is what I decided to do with the word “victim”. Some of your ideas of talking about the abuser and the abused were terms I used as well. Also, I changed the word offender (the book relates to Family Court, not Criminal Court) to abuser or abusive partner or abusive spouse. This made it easier to talk about the abused partner or spouse.

Whenever possible, I use the term survivor instead of victim. I like this better because the person who was or is being abused is a survivor. When the abused person survives the abuse and starts down a healing path, I refer to that person as a thriver. This indicates someone who went beyond surviving to taking their power back and thriving outside an abusive relationship.

When we talk about an abuser, we are clearly naming the behavior. When we talk about an abused person, we are clearly saying what that person experiences.

Now, to make it a little more complicated, the domestic violence field is shifting from the terminology “power and control” to “coercive control tactics”. The purpose here is to move away from the mistaken notion that domestic violence is only seen as physical abuse. By using the term “coercive control” or “coercion and controlling behaviors or tactics”, we are able to expand the dialogue and describe in behaviorally specific terms the nature of the abuse. When coercive and controlling behaviors are assessed using a frequency measure, we are able to document repeated patterns that the abused partner experiences.

This is important because there are two viewpoints in the literature. One is that men and women are equally abusive with their partners. The other is that men are the primary abusers. The literature that supports men and women being equally abusive toward each other is based on survey responses that focus on situational violence.

The literature from assessments of victims seeking safe shelter from their abusive partner shows these are primarily male abusers and females who are abused. The means to assess the second group use tools that ask about frequency and severity of abuse and violence. This literature goes beyond physical violence to look at coercive control in the relationship. Thus, showing on-going patterns of specific behaviors that have some level of predictability for being repeated.

Let me know if this helps you.

Peacefully yours,

Dr. Debra

Debra Wingfield, Ed.D., LPC

Author, Trainer, Speaker, Consultant


P.S. Discover how to easily receive your professional training through the Virtual Training Center.

P.P.S. Become an effective professional when you gain knowledge, skills, and awareness of the impacts of Domestic Violence across multiple societal systems.



Child Witness of Domestic Violence (DV) Shares Recovery

Jerome Elam’s story came to my attention just as I am training on the Effects of Domestic Violence on Children. What the research shows is how often boys between ages 7-10 adopt the characteristics of their abusive male parent. Then, in their teen and adult relationships, they continue to follow the same patterns. They abuse their partners and often their children.

When I read Jerome’s story of witnessing his mother being beaten by his father, I was deeply moved. Jerome understood the effects of DV on his young mind and chose to get the therapy he needed to create a healthy life. He chose a road many men who are effected by DV could definitely follow.

Now, as a first time parent, he can create a different life for his child; a life free from witnessing domestic violence. His willingness to seek help and break the pattern of DV in his family is definitely a role model for other men who witnessed DV as children. Thank you Jerome for taking steps to heal and sharing your life story.

What are you doing to create healing in your life if you were abused?  How do you encourage your family members and friends to seek help if they witnessed DV as children?

Still looking for ways to help? Check out “From Darkness to Light: Your Inner Journey”, a workbook to help you or someone you love to move forward on their healing journey.

Peacefully yours,

Dr. Debra W. and the VTC Team

P.S. Learn more about Domestic Violence through the Virtual Training Center

P.P.S. Please leave your questions or comments for Dr. Debra here.