top of page

Empathy, Coercive Control, and the Art of Boundary Setting

Updated: Jan 15

Journeying towards empowerment and sovereignty as an empathic individual frequently means navigating a sea of challenges. Among them, the deceptive waters of coercive control and manipulative tactics such as gaslighting and triangulation can be particularly treacherous. This piece explains the importance of understanding these harmful practices and the vital role of establishing firm boundaries to protect oneself.

De-weaponizing Control: Empowerment and Sovereignty

Every individual deserves a life free from manipulation and coercion. By setting and maintaining boundaries, individuals can effectively de-weaponize control tactics. This process entails reclaiming personal power, autonomy, and well-being, thus attaining the status of an empowered sovereign being.

In essence, setting boundaries is akin to taking the bullets out of the gun of manipulation and coercion. Whether the control tactics are societal or domestic, disempowering others' ability to have control of any kind over our lives is essential for well-being.

Empowered individuals can diffuse gaslighting and triangulation efforts, and more importantly, they can establish a protective barrier against coercive control. They can confidently assert their rights, defend their reality, and ultimately, maintain their sanity and peace.

Understanding Coercive Control, Gaslighting, and Triangulation

Coercive control is a strategic form of ongoing oppression and abuse, often occurring in domestic or familial relationships, but also seen in broader societal contexts. It is a complex pattern of assault, threats, humiliation, and intimidation used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim.

Gaslighting is a deceptive and manipulative technique that makes the victim doubt their own perceptions, memory, or sanity. This tactic is named after the 1938 stage play 'Gas Light', in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing she's losing her sanity.

The gaslighter uses persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying to make the victim question their own reality. Over time, the victim may start to question their memory, perception, and even their sanity due to the constant manipulation. This can lead to feelings of confusion, anxiety, and depression.

For instance, the gaslighter might deny that certain events occurred or claim that the victim has misunderstood or misremembered situations. They might also use subtle tactics to shift the victim's reality, such as misplacing items and blaming the victim for their disappearance.

The ultimate goal of gaslighting is to control and manipulate the victim by making them doubt their own thoughts, perceptions, and reality. This can make the victim more dependent on the gaslighter and easier to control.

One of the insidious aspects of gaslighting is that it's often masked with praise and love bombing, making it more challenging for the victim to identify what is truly happening. Love bombing is a manipulation technique where the gaslighter showers the victim with excessive affection, attention, gifts, compliments, and promises of a perfect future together during times of conflict.

The purpose of love bombing is to create an emotional bond that makes the victim feel special, loved, and connected to the gaslighter. It can cause a whirlwind of positive emotions that can blind the victim to the gaslighter's manipulative intentions.

As the relationship progresses, the gaslighter alternates between periods of love bombing and gaslighting. After a gaslighting episode, where the victim is made to doubt their reality, the gaslighter may return to love bombing, creating a vicious cycle that confuses the victim and makes them question their judgement.

The contrast between the positive (love bombing) and negative (gaslighting) experiences can lead to cognitive dissonance in the victim, making it even more difficult for them to recognize the manipulation and abuse.

In severe cases, gaslighting can lead not only to the perception that a person has lost their sanity, but the person themselves may start believing that they have indeed lost touch with reality. The constant questioning and undermining of their memory, perception, and judgment can create a profound sense of confusion and self-doubt.

This can further isolate the victim, as they may feel embarrassed or scared to share their experiences due to the fear of being perceived as 'crazy' or 'unstable'. This isolation can make the victim more susceptible to the gaslighter's control and abuse, trapping them in a vicious cycle of manipulation.

Recognizing gaslighting is the first step towards addressing it and protecting oneself from its harmful effects. It's crucial for victims to understand that what they're experiencing is a form of psychological warfare, and the feelings of confusion and self-doubt are not reflections of their sanity, but rather the intended result of the gaslighter's manipulations.

Triangulation is a passive-aggressive manipulation tactic often used by narcissists and sociopaths. It involves using another person or people (known as the 'third party') to communicate or create conflict with a target individual. The objective of this tactic is to assert control and maintain power over the target individual by manipulating their emotions and inducing feelings of insecurity and jealousy.

In most cases, the manipulator cunningly exploits the target's vulnerabilities, such as feelings of inadequacy, fear of abandonment, or a desire for validation. By introducing a third party into the equation, the manipulator creates a sense of competition, questioning the target's worth and position in the manipulator's life.

For example, in a romantic relationship, a manipulator may hint at an involvement with a third party to induce jealousy or insecurity in their partner. This toxic dynamic can lead to the partner striving to 'win back' the affection of the manipulator, thereby allowing the manipulator to gain control.

Similarly, in a workplace scenario, a manipulator may use triangulation to pit colleagues against each other, thereby ensuring their own position remains secure.

Understanding this tactic is critical to recognizing and defending against it. Awareness allows the target to identify instances of triangulation and address them directly or disengage from the manipulator, helping to break the cycle of control and manipulation. It is also a crucial step in setting boundaries and reclaiming personal power.

Creating Boundaries to Shield against Manipulative Tactics

Creating boundaries is an essential step in protecting oneself from coercive control, gaslighting, and triangulation. Boundaries serve as a clear line that defines the limits of acceptable behavior from those around you.

Here are some practical steps to create boundaries:

  • Identifying your limits: Trusting your feelings is one of the first steps in setting boundaries and protecting yourself from manipulation and control. It's crucial to understand what makes you feel uncomfortable and violated - these are your personal boundaries.

  • Example 1: If someone consistently interrupts or talks over you, you might say, "I feel disrespected when I'm interrupted. I'd appreciate it if you would let me finish my thoughts before responding."

  • Example 2: If a friend frequently calls you late at night, you could say, "I need to get a good night's sleep, so please don't call me after 9 pm."

  • Example 3: If your boss continually asks you to work late, you might assert, "I'm committed to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I can stay late occasionally, but not regularly."

In each of these examples, the individual is clearly and politely communicating their boundary while also expressing their feelings or needs.

Initially, you may feel uncomfortable expressing your boundaries, particularly if you're accustomed to putting others' needs before your own. You might fear causing upset or being perceived as selfish. It's normal to feel this way. However, remember that setting boundaries is a necessary part of self-care and personal empowerment.

Recognizing Disrespect of Boundaries: A Red Flag in Relationships

Over time, as you practice assertive communication, it will become easier. You'll also likely find that most people will respect your boundaries when they are communicated clearly and assertively.

However, it's important to note that not everyone may respond positively to your boundaries. If someone consistently disrespects or dismisses your boundaries, this is a significant red flag. It indicates that this person may not value your feelings, well-being, or rights.

For instance, if you've clearly communicated that you're uncomfortable with a certain kind of joke or conversation topic, and the person continues to disregard this, it demonstrates a lack of respect for your feelings and boundaries. Similarly, if you've stated that you need private time and someone continually infringes on this time, this is a clear violation of your boundaries.

Such behavior is indicative of a toxic and potentially harmful relationship. It's crucial to recognize that you deserve to be around people who respect you and your boundaries. If someone consistently fails to respect your boundaries, it may be necessary to reevaluate or even end the relationship for your own well-being.

Remember, your boundaries are a reflection of your needs and values, and you have every right to enforce them. A healthy relationship is characterized by mutual respect and understanding of each other's boundaries. Any consistent disregard of your boundaries is a clear sign that the person is not healthy for you to be around.

Overcoming people-pleasing tendencies and learning to assertively communicate your boundaries is a crucial step towards personal empowerment. It allows you to honor your needs and feelings, fosters healthier relationships, and contributes to a stronger sense of self-worth and respect.

The Power of 'No': Avoiding Resentment and Martyrdom

Practicing the art of saying 'No' is an important aspect of enforcing boundaries and protecting your well-being. Remember, you have the right to refuse without feeling guilty. 'No' is a complete sentence, and it doesn't require justification or explanation.

One mantra that can help reinforce this concept is: "If it's not a 'Hell Yeah', it's a 'Hell No'". This means that if you aren't enthusiastic or completely on board with something, then it's perfectly okay to say no.

When you agree to do something you don't really want to, it can lead to feelings of resentment and a sense of martyrdom. You may feel as though people are taking advantage of you or walking all over you. This can lead to diminished self-esteem and self-worth, perpetuating a cycle where others have control over your well-being.

For instance, if you constantly find yourself agreeing to tasks at work that you don't have the capacity for, or maintaining relationships that drain you, resentment can build. Over time, this can lead to burnout, dissatisfaction, and a sense of injustice.

By saying 'no' to things that don't align with your needs or values, you're taking control of your time, energy, and well-being. It's an assertion of your worth and a demonstration of self-respect.

Remember, saying 'no' doesn't make you selfish or unkind. It means you're looking after your mental and emotional health, which is crucial for maintaining healthy relationships and a balanced life.

Practicing the art of saying 'no' when something doesn't resonate with you is a powerful tool for maintaining boundaries, preventing resentment, and promoting self-esteem and personal empowerment.

Reinforcing Boundaries: Recognizing Disrespect and Asserting Your Worth

Reinforcing your boundaries is an important step in maintaining your personal space and well-being. If someone crosses your boundaries, it's crucial to reinforce them by expressing the breach and your expectation for the future.

The way someone reacts to your boundaries offers powerful insight into what type of person they are. If they consistently disregard or disrespect your boundaries, it's a clear sign that they may not value your feelings or rights. This is a significant red flag and indicative of a potentially harmful relationship.

Recognize that you're effectively 'interviewing' the people to whom you give your time and energy. It's not about being grateful for their attention, but about assessing whether they treat you with the honor, dignity, and respect you deserve.

Remember, you are the prize. Your time, energy, and feelings are precious, and you deserve to be treated with respect. If someone fails to meet this fundamental expectation, it's completely okay, and often necessary, to walk away.

For example, if someone continues to make derogatory comments even after you've expressed your discomfort, you might say, "I've told you that these comments make me uncomfortable. If you continue to disregard my feelings, I'll have to limit our interactions."

This not only reinforces your boundary but also communicates the potential consequences of disrespecting it.

Reinforcing your boundaries and understanding how others react to them is a pivotal step in personal empowerment. Recognizing your worth and demanding respect is not only an act of self-love but also a deterrent against those who seek to manipulate or control you.

The Role of Shadow Work and Subconscious Exploration in Empowerment

An important part of the journey to empowerment is the exploration of our subconscious and the undertaking of 'shadow work'. This is a deep dive into understanding the nature of the trauma we have endured over a lifetime that may have made us susceptible to coercive control and people-pleasing behaviors.

Shadow work is the process of acknowledging and understanding our darker, suppressed side. Through this process, we can identify and address the root causes of our vulnerabilities, thus strengthening our defenses against manipulation and control.

As we realize we are empowered sovereign beings, we de-weaponize control. We take the bullets out of the gun. We diffuse the bombs. Whether it is from societal control tactics or in a domestic relationship, disempowering others' ability to have control of any kind over our lives is essential.

Understanding the mechanisms of coercive control, gaslighting, and triangulation, undertaking shadow work, and implementing protective boundaries, are critical steps towards becoming an empowered, sovereign individual.

77 views2 comments

2 opmerkingen

I can't think of one person who wouldn't benefit from a better "inner"-standing of this well written literature. Well written and very important, especially where our world is now. Thank you,


Reageren op

Thank you Kimberlie! That truly means so much to me. I agree, in these times it is so important that we understand our sovereignty and empowerment!


"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Imagination is Everything. It is the preview of Life's coming attractions."
                                                                                                                                                -Albert Einstein 

bottom of page