Power and Control Wheel: Isolation


Controlling what she does,
who she sees and talks to,
what she reads, and where
she goes. Limiting her
outside involvement.
Using jealousy to justify

Isolation is a powerful tool for the abuser.  If he keeps his victim alone, with no support, she’ll stay right where he wants her because she won’t have the strength or support to get out.  

Bubba was not a typical abuser in this area.  He worked so much that he couldn’t control where I went or who I spent my days with.  He didn’t control what I read or who I talked to (for the most part).

Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, and where she goes.  Bubba did try to control what I talked about.  I used to love to discuss theological topics with a friend of mine.  We’d talk on the phone about it everyday.  We got into some really good conversations.  When Bubba would have a day off, he’d hear me talking to her on the phone and get very angry that I was trying to convince him to be a Christian.  That always baffled me.  I was having a conversation with my friend, in another room – he had nothing to do with it.  Yet because he had massive issues with Christianity, he always thought I was having these conversations to try to persuade him.  Nope.  I just enjoyed discussing theology.  He asked that I not talk about that when he was home.  I asked that he not eavesdrop on my conversations if he didn’t like the topics.  Guess who won?  I stopped talking to my friend completely when he was home.  It isn’t a good thing to know that no matter what you talk about, your conversations are being listened to and if he doesn’t like what he hears, you’re going to be told about it.

Limiting her outside involvement.  Bubba used this in two ways.  When our second child was born, I became a stay-at-home mom.  Over the years, Bubba would complain that I needed to get a job.  We’d agreed that when we had more than one child that I’d stay home and raise our children.  When Liam was born, I began my career as a stay-at-home mom.  As the years went on, I did dream of going back to school.  However, Bubba had gone back to school and we were repaying his loans so there was no money for me to go back.  Bubba also worked extremely long hours.  I would often want to go do fun things in the evenings – get some “me time” in.   I joined a club once that met one evening, every other week, for two hours.  I talked to him about it before I joined.  He assured me that he could come home to stay with our children so I could go.  Somehow, each time the club rolled around, Bubba would either be 30 minutes late or I’d call when he was supposed to be home and he’d tell me he was swamped at work and couldn’t possibly come home.  On the very rare occasion that he made it home on time, he’d call after I’d been there for an hour and tell me to come because either he missed me or Shane needed me.  

If he couldn’t make it home for me one time every two weeks, how did I expect to be able to get a job.  By that point, we had three children.  We couldn’t afford child care expenses for me to return to school or work if he wasn’t willing to be home when I wasn’t.  This was a perfect Catch 22 he had me in.  Complain that I needed to work and bring in more money but make it totally impossible for me to do so, then blame it on me.  He got to put all the responsibility on me while accepting none of it yet he got to play the role of offended husband that I was “unwilling” to work outside the home.  

When I filed for divorce, we had our first appearance in front of the judge.  He had the audacity to bring up to the judge that he couldn’t possible support me because it was my fault for filing for divorce before I had a job.  Again, he’d continued to make it impossible for me to get a job then he used that as a weapon in the divorce.  Sadly, I learned that family court does NOT understand abuse nor does it care to.  The judge ripped me up for not having a job.  I had plans to return to school and he said that I had to get a job instead.  Too bad that there were no jobs to be had in our area so instead of continuing to stagnate while looking for a job, I did, in fact, return to school.  

Using jealousy to justify actions.  Bubba was a very jealous man.  I didn’t recognize it though because I’d always associated jealousy in regards to other men and there simply weren’t any in my life.  However, Bubba was jealous of anyone who came between him and me, even our children.  

I was responsible for our children.  We didn’t live near any family so I rarely had a break from the children.  At points we were homeschooling and I was solely responsible for that.  At points he would be on business trips for weeks or months on end.  There were points that I was desperate for a break.  I begged him for breaks.  I remember asking him if  I could take two hours every week to go read in the library – alone.  I never got to go every week and when I did go, I never got the entire two hours.  He would call after less than an hour usually and ask when I was coming home.  He missed me, or one of the kids wanted me, or the house was a mess and I needed to clean it.  He was jealous of any time that I spent that was not with him.  He could be away as often as he liked and I was not allowed to question it, but I wanted two hours a week and that was too much for him to allow me.

He was insanely jealous of the relationship I had with our children.  Of course, the children were afraid of him, even while they tried to get his approval and love. (A child’s relationship with an abusive parent is a topic I hope to get into later – it is very complex.)  I am committed to peacefully parenting our children.  It was a paradigm shift I’d made about 5 years ago.  I’ve been learning how to stop punishing my children and letting natural consequences teach my children.  I want my children to make good decisions for themselves, because it is the right thing to do and not because they are afraid of punishment.  Because of this commitment to not punishing my children, my children aren’t afraid of me and I have a great relationship with each of them.  For Bubba it was easier to try to break down my relationship with the kids instead of doing the hard work to learn a different way of parenting that would encourage relationship.  But Bubba was not wiling to relinquish the control he had over the children in order to love them how they need to be loved.  

Serenity and I are extremely close.  I think it is because we were Bubba’s main targets so we stuck together.  We have a bond that it not typical of the mother/teen daughter relationship that is mainstream in our society.  Bubba hates it.  If we wanted to get away from the boys and have some mother/daughter time, he’d call and tell me to come home because he missed me so much.  It would be one thing if it only happened every once in awhile, but he did that all the time.

Not only did Bubba try to keep me isolated, he demanded that any free time I had when he was available I had to spend with him.  It never mattered that I couldn’t get child care to get some time off when he was working and could only do that when he was home to parent his children.  He believed he owned me and my time.  Sadly, I believed it too.  Isolation is a powerful tool.



  1. Thanks for this. It is really helpful to have examples of this kind of thing. My x did not isolate me with scary power plays, but more subtly. He hated my friends. He would get pissy when I visited my single mum friend and say that she wanted me to leave him, and accuse me of spending the whole time bitching about him. So I would have to reassure him. He would also go in to his room if I had people over and just not socialize with them. It was embarrassing. Anyone who he perceived to be my friend he would say hateful things about, even online friends he had never met. I am enjoying reconnecting with people that I had slowly lost touch with, because it was just too hard.

    Any man who talked to me, especially if they made me laugh, became the target of his paranoia. This was mich worse in the early days. He was in a band, and once smashed his bass into the drumkit and all over the stage because the drummer had been friendly and joking with me. As the years passed, he became much less dramatic. But i had learned my lesson well, and barely spoke to men for the next eighteen years. Only a few men that x must have deemed “safe” for me to talk to. Two years after we split, I still have trouble just having a conversation with a man.

    • I’m so sorry you understand this all too well.

      You have a very good point about things being worse in the early days. Often, the abuser does not need to maintain that level of scary because we’ve learned our lesson and stay right where we want them. They tend to escalate if we do things to get stronger or to break away from them, like join a gym. He didn’t need to maintain a huge level of control because you were properly cowed. Once you joined a gym there was a great possibility that you would discover that your tiny world was wrong and do something about it. That threatened his control over you so he had to escalate to get back to the status quo.

      I also find myself struggling to talk to men. It is an area I’m working on right now. If I don’t take that leap and just do it, I don’t think I ever will. I started out small – smiling and saying hello to every man I see when I go to the grocery store, for instance. It is just one exercise I give myself as a means of overcoming the fear. I will get there eventually and so will you! We will not let those “men” win. (I use that term very loosely as a real man would not treat anyone the way our ex’s treated us.)

    • Amanda

      I hear you Ozmummy – I asked a guy for a light for my cigarette once, a fellow Marine of his and he threw the guy up agianst the wall and told him to never look or speak to me again. I was conditioned not to ever look one of his male friends directly in the eyes and to this day could probably not identify even his closest friends. For years if he had friends over I had to be in another room, or if he went to get more to drink he sent me by myself or took every guy in the house with him. It was a joke “never leave a fellow Marine with your wife or your gun” I thought it was cute at the time, but then it was how I dressed, why am I putting on make up who am I trying to impress am I cheating on him. If I went to go talk to a neighbor I was always gone too long. He would check up on me all the time. Once the plumber came out to the house at noon for a leak and by 1pm he called me and wanted to know who was in his house and if I was having sex with this person. He had a cell phone, I wasnt allowed to have one, well in his mind I didnt need one. We shared an e-mail account and he would read everything anyone sent me, we shared a facebook account and he went through everything I posted. It was ok with him to meet up with a girl who went to his college for coffee, how dare I read into that, but I was not allowed to add a family friend from high school becuase I was trying to hook up with him in his mind. Sigh – why was I so stupid for so long???

      • You were not stupid. You were stuck in the cycle. Each honeymoon phase that you went through with him bonded you more to him. If you haven’t yet, please read up on traumatic bonding. It helped me to feel not so stupid when I was struggling with the same thing.

  2. Also, i got depressed and isolated myself. As I got better in the later years and started doing things, like joining the gym, he started to show those tactics again. Telling me to “be careful” at the gym, because of the men there. He eventually started accusing me of sleeping with someone there. This continues to today, he will keep asking and asking the kids about my “boyfriend at the gym.”

  3. The isolation portion of the abuse wheel can be managed pretty passively, and subtly. It can be managed using financial abuse, and terrorizing of the woman’s friends. His behavior can also cause the woman to willingly isolate herself- so as to avoid embarassment, and shame from her family and friends. This is probably the most insidious form of emotional abuse, and the most easily hidden.


    • I would actually be more interested in reading about this. Would you be willing to write more (as a reply here) and expand upon this concept?

  4. I chose life

    My ex did a little of what Bubba did, but he also flew into rages and was generally so terrible, it simply was not worth it to leave the house without him. I hated even running errands without him because I knew I would pay later. But of course, because I chose not to go anywhere, it was all my fault. He did not stop me from leaving. I was free to come and go as I pleased. What a lie. How I wish I knew then what I know now. My life would look so different.

    • Exactly. They can make us so afraid of repercussions that it looks like we are freely choosing to spend all of our time with them. The truth is that we are choosing the lesser of two evils. They are very effective at making us aware of the penalty for going against them, all the while proclaiming that we are free to choose. It is a crock! We aren’t free to chose because we will always choose what we perceive to be the least likely to set them off.


  1. The Beginning « Hope Wears Heels
  2. We Enter the World of The Family Court « Hope Wears Heels

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