The coercive, controlling behaviour of Alina’s partner was so extensive that it was hard to see the red flags until taking part in an Oasis Programme helped to make the invisible prison visible. Here’s her story…
Curiosity masked coercion
I didn’t realise I was in an abusive relationship. Having experienced domestic abuse as a very young child, I only thought it was physical. As a young adult, I vowed it would never happen to me, but it did.
Coercion and control
When I met my now ex-husband, he was exceptionally good at getting into my head. I told him too much about myself too quickly. Things about my past, deeply personal things. I even said that if a man ever hit me, it would be over. This gave him to green light to use all other abusive tactics. I was unaware what was happening to me.
I had a good job, my own house, my own car. I was very independent. He was someone I knew, a friend of an ex-boyfriend from a decade earlier. Strangely, I didn’t really like him then but when I met him later, he became someone different. He adapted himself into someone he thought I’d like, once he knew more about me, he was able to hone this, so I thought I’d fallen in love with him. I’d fallen for someone who wasn’t real.
He moved in, as a friend, living in my spare room but this didn’t last long. We were married within 10 months and our first child was born at the end of that year. He’d started displaying signs before we were married of the real person that he was, but I couldn’t see them. I now know these were red flags. Throwing his temper, getting angry and then being apologetic.
He coerced me into taking redundancy, playing on the irrational feelings that were developing about my job and co-workers, and it wasn’t long before I became pregnant. He wasn’t working but got a job. He coerced me into adding him onto the deeds of my house and mortgage. He coerced me into selling my car to buy another ‘family’ car, which was in his name. I felt I had no choice but to say yes.
Being pregnant escalated the abuse
His behaviour became more erratic, heightening while I was pregnant, when I was vulnerable. He started kicking walls and taking things out on himself or things around him in front of me. Never directly at me at the time but I was fearful of him, which is what he wanted. He was very good at twisting everything, gas lighting, chipping away at me. I was quickly losing my self-esteem, my independence, my identity. He took control.
Things then began to escalate. If he didn’t get what he wanted, he would shout. Sometimes I would shout back but soon learnt not to, as I began to fear him. We got marriage guidance counselling. Things settled a bit and we moved house. He would get drunk and become very loud and abusive, smashing things around me. Throwing dinner plates at the wall, kicking doors of hinges and so on. Much of this was in front of our child. He would come and go as he pleased. By this time, he was working in the city, was earning well and was often away on business abroad which became a relief.
- A third of domestic abuse cases against women start or intensify during pregnancy.
When he was home, he would spend most of his time in the home office and destroyed the paper trail from my house. I didn’t realise what he was doing. I got a part time job and things settled for a bit. Basically, when I did what he wanted, things were good. I still tried to be strong and would argue back sometimes but didn’t show people what things were really like. We had nice holidays, wore nice clothes, did all the nice things he wanted. I gradually lost my friends. To the outside world, things looked good, but on the inside, they were anything but.
Walking on eggshells
We had more couples counselling and moved house again to make a fresh start, but things didn’t improve. Everything we did was for him, and I tried to please him. I always felt like I was walking on eggshells, his moods would swing so much that I didn’t know who I was going to get. However, I got pregnant again, and again things escalated. This time, he would shout at the top of his voice, he wouldn’t do anything at home. He often used excuses not to come home and I would dread the key going in the door when he did. Whenever I raised how I felt he shut me down, told me it was my fault.
Our next child was born. He had a way of behaving around them; I was scared to leave them alone. I would hear them cry so much when he changed them that I began trying to do it all. I was scared that he was doing something to hurt them. I wasn’t allowed to have them next to me in our room from a young age. The baby cried so much at night when my ex slept, I had to try hard to calm them. If I couldn’t, which was often the case, he would wake, then shout and scream, slam doors, which was absolutely frightening. All in the middle of the night.
We got more couples counselling but this time it was different. The counsellor understood what was happening and set up individual appointments. This was the turning point for me. I began to identify what was happening.
I began to find my voice
One day our youngest was unwell. They would cry inconsolably at night, temperature spiked but settled the next day. My ex consistently made me out to be imagining it all; I was really confused and was becoming increasingly angry at him for not supporting our child so without his agreement saw a GP who couldn’t find what was going on. This gave him more ammunition. Things became so heated as I tried to stand up to him with me saying I couldn’t do this anymore. I left with the children and went to my parents but later rushed to A&E as our child’s temperature spiked again. Their ear perforated in hospital after a severe infection. It was then I realised I needed to believe in my instincts more and that things needed to change.
Finding find my voice
I went to the Citizens Advice Bureau and explained my situation – I was at a loss as to what to do. They gave me a leaflet about Domestic Abuse and one on Oasis’s Freedom Programme. It was during this 12-week course that my true turning point occurred. A friend of his persuaded him to leave the house so the children and I could move back in. However, for months, he used a wide range of tactics to try to move back in, but the facilitators pointed out what was happening. I started to see things for what they really were.
The road to freedom
I am so grateful to the facilitators of the course. I started to realise he couldn’t be trusted.
I didn’t take him back but then his tactics changed. He stopped paying the mortgage, so I contacted child support. He left jobs to reduce payments. I felt I had no choice but to move out as I couldn’t pay the expensive mortgage we had. He lied saying he’d agree to sell the house but he didn’t, moving back in. The children and I moved to rented accommodation but he used the system to stop paying maintenance all together, which left us in a vulnerable position all over again. It was then I realised that the system allows the perpetrator to continue their abuse so I started to do everything for myself. I worked really hard in my job and progressed up the ladder, I bought a new home with the support of shared ownership and we settled into our new lives. I did the recovery course with Oasis and finally became independent again. I realised that I needed to work on myself to heal so this would never happen to me again.
Rebuilding our lives
It has taken many years to rebuild our lives. I have learnt not to rise to it, to set strong boundaries. I put the children first, so they don’t get put in the middle, they are starting to see things for themselves.
Ruled by domestic abuse since my childhood, I always felt my life wasn’t my own and that others control everything I do. However, after a great deal of work on myself, I now see things differently. I’m now with a very supportive partner and we encourage each other every day to be our best selves and to strive to fulfil our goals and dreams. I’m in control of my own life and it is a blessing as I’m now re-training to be a counsellor so I can support others on their journey out of the invisible prison that is domestic abuse.
And Still I Rise
“I’ve found the strength and determination to get my life back, finding people around me and tools that lift me up rather than tear me down.— Alina, Survivor
I have realised that I matter; I can achieve the things I have always dreamed of achieving”
The biggest battle has been with my own shame but now I’ve let that go
Finding the support services opened doors for me. The understanding I gained from the Oasis’s programmes literally woke me from my nightmare.
As my ex mostly used coercion and emotional abuse as well as sexual and financial abuse, I did not understand I was experiencing domestic abuse as it wasn’t violence directed toward me. If I had not been on Oasis’s Freedom Programme, I’m pretty sure I’d have taken him back.
The Programme really opened my eyes to my understanding that I’m in control of my own life and why I got to where I was. It’s something I never realised until more recently. I’ve had ups and downs along the way, but I’ve re-built my life and am now with someone that respects and supports me. I’m truly grateful to Oasis and other domestic abuse charities for doing what they do. Thank you!
My own shame and confusion kept me from speaking out for so long because I was so concerned about what others thought of me. This, coupled with the fear I was feeling and the confused state I was living in, due to the coercion, meant that I did not realise the gravity of the situation I was in. I felt lost and embarrassed about the state of my own mental health. On some level, I thought I was the one at fault. I felt isolated and had no one to turn to as he’d made me think even my family didn’t care.
“Think about why you find it hard to speak out. Besides the fear you are feeling, what are you telling yourself is stopping you? You deserve to be able to move on safely and live your best life.“
For a victim to be able to move on and become a survivor, they need support not judgement. It’s highly likely the perpetrator has driven a wedge between you and the person you suspect is experiencing domestic abuse. Especially if you were close. Try not to be judgemental around them, as you’ll be playing into the perpetrator’s hands and the victim will become even more isolated. They need you to not give up on them.
Alina’s story is all too common, and coercion and control often undetected. This crime, like all domestic abuse, is about control – it means using force or threats to make you do something that you would not normally want to do. Coercive behaviour includes threats, humiliation, intimidation, violence or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten you. In 2015, England and Wales became the first nations in the world to criminalise controlling behaviour within relationships.
If you need help, we can support you at any point in your journey. There is light, you too can rise.
Call our helpline on 0800 917 9948 (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 09:30–11:30am, 12:30–2:30pm
Thursday and Friday 09:30–11:30am, except bank holidays) or email email@example.com (if it’s safe to do so)
If you or your family are in immediate danger please call the police on 999 (if you can’t speak, cough or tap the handset then press 55 on your phone – the police will know it’s an emergency)
In a non-emergency situation, you can call Kent Police on 101.
*All images used on this website are representative. All names are anonymised for people’s safety.