Let’s Talk About the Power and Control Wheel


I love learning! So recently, when I was made aware of some changes that have happened in the advocacy field of domestic violence, I got really excited to share it with you!

As a survivor, and then as an advocate, one of the first things I learned about was the cycle of violence. I think we’ve all seen it…


This model was used for a very long time, since 1979 in fact, to help victims understand and make sense of the abuse they were living through. The idea was the violence they experience working on a cyclical basis that started with the tension building phase. The tension building would lead to an explosion that included intense emotional, verbal and mostly physical violence. Which was then followed by the honeymoon phase, where the abuser would be loving, kind and beg for forgiveness.

The problem arose, however, when victims claimed this model was not a reflection of the abuse in their home, or they’d claim that, although this may have been true at the beginning of their relationship, it was no longer applicable. Few relationships seemed to follow this pattern exactly, especially when no physical violence was involved.

The other issue with this model was that it really focused on physical violence. The explosion phase was mainly about being physically abused and so it left out addressing the other, ongoing forms of abuse like emotional, financial, spiritual and verbal abuses. I remember looking at this cycle of violence and trying to fit all my experiences into this cycle.

I was so excited when I learned that the cycle of violence is no longer used!!! This cycle has been retired and in its place is a marvelous tool called the “Power and Control Wheel’, also called the Duluth Model because of the community where it originated.  This wheel was designed in 1984 by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project.

Let’s look closely at the wheel and see exactly how it applies to victims, survivors, and perpetrators of abuse. I want you to think about this tool as an actual wheel, with the center supporting the spokes and the outer rim holding it all together. This wheel not only expresses what victims live through but also makes it clearer as to reasons why victims stay in an abusive relationship longer then society would want them to.

First is the ‘inner wheel’. This is labeled with the words ‘Power and Control’ since that is the core of all abuse. Abusers believe they must have power and complete control in a relationship with another person. They are entitled to use whatever means they deem necessary to maintain that power and total control. Abuse starts with this core belief, and so does the wheel. It is the anchor on which all the abuse hinges.


Next, the wheel goes around the spokes and describes the many types of behaviors and abuses perpetrators use to maintain the power and control that is so essential to their relationships. Note that these abuses, techniques, and behaviors include far more than just physical abuse. These are abuses that are coercive, insidious and difficult to spot. The wheel also addresses the more obvious abuse tactics that most of us are aware of, therefore covering many aspects of abuse and making itself an extremely useful tool for counseling, advocates and victims alike. Some examples are:

INTIMIDATION: Making her afraid by using looks, actions, and gestures. Smashing things. Destroying her property. Abusing pets. Displaying weapons. More about intimidation

EMOTIONAL ABUSE: Putting her down, Making her feel bad about herself, Calling names, making her think she’s crazy, mind games, humiliating her or guilt-tripping her.  More about Emotional abuse

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 actions. More about isolation

MINIMIZING, DENYING, AND BLAMING: Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously. Saying the abuse didn’t happen. Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior. Saying she caused it. More about minimizing etc.

USING CHILDREN: Making her feel guilty about the children. Using the children to relay messages. Using visitation to harass her. Threatening to take the children away

ECONOMIC ABUSE: Preventing her from getting or keeping a job. Making her ask for money. Giving her an allowance. Taking her money. Not letting her know about or have access to family income. More about controlling behaviors

MALE PRIVILEGE: Treating her like a servant: making all the big decisions, acting like the “master of the castle,” being the one to define men’s and women’s roles.  More about patriarchy

COERCION AND THREATS: Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her. Threatening to leave her, commit suicide, or report her to welfare. Making her drop charges. Making her do illegal things. More on threats and coercion

“Physical and sexual assaults, or threats to commit them, are the most apparent forms of domestic violence and are usually the actions that allow others to become aware of the problem. However, regular use of other abusive behaviors by the batterer, when reinforced by one or more acts of physical violence, make up a larger system of abuse. Although physical assaults may occur only once or occasionally, they instill a threat of future violent attacks and allow the abuser to take control of the woman’s life and circumstances.

The Power & Control diagram is a particularly helpful tool in understanding the overall pattern of abusive and violent behaviors, which are used by a batterer to establish and maintain control over his partner. Very often, one or more violent incidents are accompanied by an array of these other types of abuse. They are less easily identified, yet firmly establish a pattern of intimidation and control in the relationship.” NCDSV

PowerControlWheelThe outside band of the wheel is a very important part of the tool. Physical and sexual violence are what holds the wheel together. An abuser believes he can use any of these tactics to force her to submit to him, but in the end, it will always escalate to physical and sexual violence. Physical and sexual abuses are the final control and power moves holding all the other tactics together, they reinforce psychological abuses toward the victim. Therefore, the outer wheel is what holds it together since it intersects with every other type of abuse in the spokes. Physical and sexual violence is where she gets hurt, ends up in the ER or is even killed. Physical and sexual abuse are the ultimate ways of dominating a woman and that is the ultimate goal of the abuser.

The more I read, research and use this Power and Control Wheel, the more I love it! It clearly shows in a visual way how multiple abuse behaviors coexist and intersect with one another. It drives home that abuse is really a continuum, not just a series of individual events that take place in isolation. I love how it addresses the escalation of abuse, as well as the motivation behind it. Each part of the wheel drives home the complexity and severity of domestic abuse while keeping the ultimate goal in mind…for the abuser to maintain power and control over his victim.


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