When Andrea Smith got her first tattoo, she met a guy called Dave. A few days later, they bumped into each other again at a party, and he invited her to go on a date. Thus began a whirlwind romance that is all too familiar to survivors of coercive control, the urgency, the love bombing, and the entrapment.
Moving Through The Cycle of Narcissistic Abuse
Dave had showered Andrea with attention and artfully gathered information about her ideal partner, which he then used to craft a false persona to ensnare her in his web. For the victim the love bombing stage is utterly intoxicating. The perpetrator mirrors their best qualities, building a strong but counterfeit affinity. There are performative displays of love, loyalty, and trust to soothe the victim’s anxiety and gently lull their senses to sleep.
Speaking to the Derbyshire Constabulary, Andrea recalled the frantic pace of their relationship:
“Within a couple of weeks, he’d moved in, but it was just far too soon. Within three or four weeks he started to show his true colors. But by then there was no way he was going to go.”
Once Dave had succeeded in establishing a presence in Andrea’s personal space, he began to engage in behaviors to infiltrate her mind. It was subtle at first, he was jealous and demanding. Like many coercive and controlling partners his first line of attack was her self-care routine.
Andrea explains what this looked like:
“I wasn’t allowed to do anything. I used to go trampolining, but I had to stop that because he was threatening to hit the coach.”
The transition from the first stage of narcissistic abuse (love bombing) to the second (devaluation) began with jokes at Andrea’s expense. Left-handed compliments soon became outright put-downs.
Soon, Dave escalated his actions to openly making advances towards Andrea’s friends in her presence. This was a tactical move to triangulate her with the people she was close to. His overarching goal was to isolate her from her support group and seize total control of her life.
The Effects of the Traumatic Bond
Like many victim-survivors, Andrea longed to return to the delicious and intoxicating love bombing stage of the relationship. This is an expressed on the trauma bond that keeps people stuck in toxic relationships. She held on to hope because of the occasional glimpses she caught of the soul mate persona Dave had invented to entrap her.
This aspect of abusive power and control has parallels to the Greek myth of Orpheus who descended into Hades to rescue his beloved Eurydice. Some survivors are willing to go through hell because they hold the mistaken belief that they can resurrect the persona of their soul mate that the perpetrator portrayed during the early stage of the relationship. By the time they realize they are dealing with an imposter, it’s too late.
To pacify Dave’s jealousy, Andrea married him less than a year after they met. She remembers:
“The first ten years of marriage were horrendous. I didn’t really want to get married to him but you don’t say no to Dave so I basically just went along with it. We were married within nine months. I thought maybe he’d feel more secure and things would settle down because it was all over his jealousy, god knows why.”
Domestic Violence in the Context of Coercive Control
Domestic violence is instrumental in coercive control regimes. It is a tool used to affirm the perpetrator’s dominance over the victim. Andrea soon discovered that in addition to being emotionally abusive Dave was a batterer. He assaulted her so severely that on one occasion he dislocated Andrea’s jaw. He repeatedly raped her, sometimes while she was awake and other times while she was sleeping.
Andrea recalls how Dave introduced and normalized domestic violence in their relationship after their were married.
“Even sitting watching TV he’d just start punching my leg. I’d just sit there thinking I’ve not done anything.”
“His favourite thing was to grab me by the throat. He was always very careful where he hit me. He only ever once blacked my eye.”
Andrea also spoke about instances of reactive abuse when she stood her ground and resisted Dave’s aggression. Dave then used the DARVO tactic on Andrea, framing her as the perpetrator and himself as the victim. She says:
“One night he sat for about half an hour just punching my leg and I got up and just smacked him straight in the mouth. So then he was saying ‘you’ve hurt me, you’ve made me bleed, you’ve got to take me to hospital.’ I just thought I should have actually gone to hospital and said this is why I’ve retaliated because my leg was black and blue. But I didn’t say anything to anybody.”
Why would anyone do this? Perpetrators of coercive control are not seeking relationships based on mutual affection and respect. They regulate their emotions by preying on people they can act upon. By dominating another, they affirm their grandiosity and soothe their narcissistic psychological wounds.
The Risk of Coercive Control Induced Suicide
Dave’s coercive control of Andrea had a devastating impact on her mental health. Living in a state of perpetual devaluation diminished her sense of self and made life seem hopeless. She came dangerously close to succumbing to coercive control induced suicide.
“It got to the point where I just didn’t know a way out. And I did on three separate occasions, try to commit suicide. After that I got some help from the doctors and got counseling. But he always said that he would get my kids if I left because of my mental health and the fact that I tried to commit suicide – never mind the fact that what he’d done and was doing to me is what got me to that stage. And I actually believed him. So I was totally trapped.”
When Andrea manage to escape the isolation of her relationship with Dave and receive mental health support, she learned to see through Dave’s deceptions and perceive the reality of the situation.
“When I went to counseling with the doctors they said it was him who had got the problem so it was him who needed counseling. That was 20 years ago and he never bothered because he said it wasn’t his problem, it was all mine.”
The Transformative Impact of Awareness
It took a long time for Andrea to understand that the soul mate persona Dave had used to infiltrate her life was just an illusion. Her counselor encouraged her to seek support at the Derby Women’s Centre. She recalls what happened next:
“I went down there and spoke to a woman who said I needed a housing advisor and asked if I would give a statement to the police. I said yes and he was arrested that night. I didn’t even know about Derby Women’s Centre and if it wasn’t for my counsellor telling me to go there I’d still be in the situation now, that’s if I was still here at all.”
Dave was arrested and charged with rape, sexual assault, intentional strangulation, and controlling and coercive behavior. At first he denied the charges but eventually he came clean to avoid going to trial. During police interviews Dave refused to acknowledge the error of his cruelty toward Andrea. Instead, expressed a hateful view women.
Detective Constable Sophie Wallace, serving as Temporary Lead Investigator, remarked:
“I have no doubt that he is a very dangerous individual and Andrea’s life was in real danger had she not been able to get out of the relationship.”
The Derby Crown Court handed down a seven and a half year jail sentence for Dave’s crimes against Andrea in September 2023. Dave will only be considered for release after a serving a minimum of five years. Furthermore, Dave is now a registered sex offender and a restraining order has been put in place to prevent him from contacting and harassing Andrea again.
Andrea Smith’s experience of coercive control reflects the common tactics perpetrators use to inflict harm on their victims. For years she suffered dehumanizing abuse at the hands of her former spouse but she was able to break free from her isolation. Thanks to effective and compassionate support, Andrea’s story didn’t end in tragedy; rather, it stands as a triumph, serving as a beacon of hope for those seeking to escape abusive power and control.