In her recently published book, Amherst psychologist Lisa Aronson Fontes writes of a couple, Mandy and Tom, who were married after a whirlwind courtship featuring gifts of flowers and cards. But following their wedding Tom began complaining about Mandy talking with her sister and mother on the telephone, and obsessing about how she spent her time away from him. Later, he grew angry when she cut her hair without consulting him. Loving moments were replaced by anxiety. Mandy felt trapped.
The story of this couple, whose names have been changed by Fontes, is among several stories the author presents in “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship.” The testimonials are meant to shine a light on emotional control, which, Fontes says, occurs in personal relationships more commonly than people realize.
“Coercive control is a problem that is hard to define,” Fontes said. “But the anguish women feel because of their lack of freedom is very real.”
Though more difficult to see than physical violence, it ruins lives, too.
“Coercive control strips away victims’ independence, sense of self and basic rights,” Fontes writes in her book. It robs victims of the ability to make decisions about their own time, friends and appearance through combinations of degradation, isolation, micromanagment, manipulation, physical violence, sexual coercion, threats or punishment on the part of the controller.
“Victims feel anxious, dependent and afraid.”
Fontes is a counseling psychologist who has worked in the areas of violence against women and child abuse for 25 years. She now teaches at the University of Massachusetts’ University Without Walls in Amherst. She also has been a victim of some of what she writes about.
Fontes drew on that as well as her work as a researcher, activist and psychotherapist in writing “Invisible Chains.” In the book she explores the questions: What is coercive control? Why does it happen? How can victims overcome it?