Breaking Away From Coercive Control, Abusive & Toxic Relationship Patterns Course

I created the “Breaking Away from Coercive Control, Abuse and Toxic Relationships course” following a study on “experiences of coercive control” I led on and conducted in 2019. Some of my findings were published in an article co-authored with Dr Lisa Aronson Fontes, an expert in coercion, domestic abuse and coercive control, published in Psychology Today in August 2019. You can read the Article here.

Why Is this Course Valuable?

The two top reasons most cited by individuals experiencing mental health issues who approach me for assistance are: 1) abuse: in all its forms and complexity including coercion, coercive control and manipulation, toxic (severely dysfunctional) relationships, and 2) trauma. These are experienced in a variety of contexts and environments, at home, work or in leisure activities.

Like shame, abuse does not make for a popular topic of discussion! In fact when I am asked what I do in life and I say I work in neurodevelopment services in autism and research the body/mind connection with yoga, meditation and spiritual cognitive behaviour therapies people are really interested. However, when I say I also research abuse, trauma and coercive control, people excuse themselves and walk off!

However, breaking stigma and continuing to raise awareness around these topics is essential for prevention and recovery. Many mental health issues are the result of abuse and trauma with many of my clients citing being in abusive or coercive & controlling relationships.

Many of the sort of abuse which people report can lead to illness, including stress, post traumatic stress and complex post traumatic stress with many days of work lost. In addition to this, some of this abuse is illegal and can lead to reputational damage, legal and other actions. This course might therefore benefit anyone working in human resources, those responsible for managing others, lawyers and health workers.

Important Points to Note:

  • Abuse is a human rights violation.
  • Abuse can lead to trauma: with devastating consequences on mental health (higher levels of depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, suicide attempts and serious mental health conditions), which negatively impact performance, wellbeing, productivity and engagement, let alone reputation.
  • Abuse is rife: individuals who are experiencing abuse come from every socio/demographic/economic and protected categories (race, gender, sexual and beliefs orientation) and hierarchical positions.
  • Coercive control is illegal in domestic spheres in the UK. It does not just happen in the domestic sphere but in the workplace, leisure activities and places of worship too.

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
Nelson Mandela

Photo: Hadis Safari

What is Coercive Control?

Check our article in Psychology Today unveiling our research with co-author Dr Lisa Fontes here.

In simple terms, coercive control is, as described by Professor Evan Stark “a form of subjugation of the sufferer by the perpetrator” leading to the target being ‘entrapped’ in a relationship system, in whatever environment.

So why is the topic of abuse and coercive control still taboo?

Various reasons stand out from the research:

1. ‘Surface acting’ (the public observable ‘body and face’ one keeps) for day to day survival reasons,

2. Lack of awareness or denial around what abuse is,

3. Abuse is a ‘loaded’ term, wrongly equated to overt violence, often seen as mostly physical or domestic violence. There is therefore denial with other more subtle forms of emotional and psychological abuse especially in work environments. Bullying and harassment are a form of abuse.

4. Shame and its effects on survivors can not be underestimated. Those who are being abused, either don’t see they are being abused or if they do rarely speak up for fear of reprisal. They also do not have the skills to stand up to abuse especially when hierarchy is involved.

5. Lack of expertise, adequate training and skills to address and tackle it in some environments where certain behaviours are covertly still the norm. Because of this, and the legal ramifications, it is often the symptoms which are talked about, but the behaviours and the perpetrators rarely dealt with.

Aims of The 9 Modules Course

Our intention is to guide you, if you, or someone you care about, might be in the midst of, are thinking of leaving or have left, a painful, abusive, coercive or toxic relationship and to help take your power back.

The course provides:

  • A roadmap to help you identify signs of abuse and coercive control in their various forms.
  • Skills to help you spot the abuser, understand their mind-set
  • An understanding of how the cycle of abuse and violence operates.
  • Videos, audios, practices and reflective exercises to start you on your journey of healing and reclaiming your power.
    • You will have access to all this in the comfort and safety of your own home.
  • Additional Coaching and Email Options: the course is available with additional options if they are helpful to you including coaching calls and email support.
  • Intensive Workshop Format: this course can also be delivered in an intensive week end format in-person (by application only).
  • As part of 3 or 6 months Mentorship programme: this 9 modules programme can be offered as part of our 3 or 6 months coaching programmes also. Find out more Here.

(Important notes: if you suspect that your life is at risk please contact the authorities immediately. If you have experienced severe abuse, it is not recommended you take this course or attempt this journey alone. Take care of yourself as you read what follows as it might be painful. Please take care of yourself and seek assistance if needed. We provide resources at the end of this article.)

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”

Dr Brené Brown

What is Abuse? What is an Abusive/Toxic or Coercive Controlling Relationship?

Did you know that abuse is “any act which violates your human rights” (NHS England)?

Signs You Might Be Facing an Abusive and/Coercive and Controlling Person

If what you say is often twisted, you have felt put-down, shamed, blamed, criticised, felt used and mistreated continuously over time, you might have been at the other end of abuse/dealing with an abuser and coercive control.

Abusive behaviour and violence is a choice to gain control (the only exception is if they have medical conditions affecting their brain). Those perpetuating the abuse use a range of tactics to manipulate others and exert their power.


(Please take care of yourself especially if you experienced severe abuse. You might need help from a therapist or counsellor. You might not be in a position to do this alone. Check in with yourself.)

Module 1 – Introduction

This module introduces the course, provides background into abuse and coercive control and introduces key concepts which will be explored further during the following 8 modules.

Module 2 – Recognition & Admission

Recognising and admitting to yourself, and others, including those who are supportive and a healthcare professional, that you are being abused or are in toxic interactions is brave and vital for change to occur and lead a happy fulfilling life.

Module 3: Understanding

This is the beginning of taking our power back by taking 100% responsibility for our end, the 50%, of the relationship system. It is a continuation of the ‘recognition phase’ but this time we’re going deeper by preparing to really face what has happened to us, and why we’re in an abusive relationship.

Module 4: Why You Stay

You’ll learn more about why people tend to stay in abusive relationships, identify your own pattern with compassion uncovering the possible reasons you might be where you are today. In this step we do practices and exercises to help us uncover the reasons why and start deep healing.

Module 5: Effective Modalities To Start Healing

In this module, we share evidence-based modalities which work over time. We provide advice on finding the right, trauma informed practitioner for you. We also provide practices and exercises to accompany you whilst you continue your exploration to get in touch with “the unlived life’ that’s within you”, that you’ve been avoiding.

Module 6 – Going Deeper Into Our Experience

In this module, we delve deeper in our practices to start reconnecting with our feelings, bodily sensations and experience. We allow ourself to start feeling “our shadow side”, our anger and pain too, in a safe and effective way, which can be practiced in the safety of your own home.

Module 7 – Reframing Our Experience and Transformation

In this module, we use all the tools we’ve learnt so far and practice challenging our erroneous beliefs about ourself, our worth and values. We also learn to set new boundaries because abuse is a human right violation therefore a boundary violation. You will be guided throughout to empower yourself again.

Module 8 – Putting it All Together

In this module, we go over what we’ve learnt with exercises and new foundations.

Module 9 – Optional – Coaching and Q&A

This module is for those who have chosen the coaching call option which gives you an opportunity to ask questions and consolidate your learning.

‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’
Eleanor Roosevelt

If you are interested in learning more about this course or you wish register your interest, or experiencing working in more depth one on one with Irena, please email us at: We aim to reply within 48 hours.

We run regular in-person weekend workshops in London, including this course. Below is a testimonial from one of our workshop participants:

“The two day workshop with Irena was illuminating. Irena created a nurturing and safe space to facilitate the exploration and healing of the false beliefs and unhelpful habits I had unconsciously been living by. The depth of work achieved in the space of the course was profound; although challenging, Irena was there to support and encourage through every step of the way. At the end of the workshop, I left with a profound sense peace within and the knowledge that I can continue this work myself having created a deep love an understanding of myself with Irena’s guidance. Thankyou for the wonderful blessing that this workshop has been”.

CB Healthcare Professional, Australia

Read what our clients have said throughout our website.


UK: Call Women’s Aid UK at 0808 2000 247.

U.S &Canada: National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

UK: ManKind Initiative at 01823 334244.