The Mask of Happiness: Unmasking Coercive Control in Intimate Relationships

J Psychiatr Pract. 2018 Jan;24(1):48-50. doi: 10.1097/PRA.0000000000000281.


While most mental health professionals know how to recognize the obvious and most concerning presentations of possible intimate partner violence, there are numerous ways in which a partner may be controlled, bullied, isolated, exploited, and manipulated that do not present such observable signs. The literature pertaining to domestic abuse has increasingly moved away from injury as a necessary marker and instead has begun to highlight the importance of more covert but similarly deleterious processes within certain intimate relationships. It is crucial that mental health professionals inform themselves about other ways individuals are exploited with or without physical injury to ensure resources are made available to those who may be being harmed through manipulation, threats, fear, and isolation. This article defines and exemplifies the dynamic of coercive control, a more insidious and difficult to identify process of domination and exploitation that victims have a hard time labeling on their own. Further reading and resources are also provided.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bullying / psychology*
  • Coercion*
  • Female
  • Happiness
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Spouse Abuse / psychology*