Britney Spears has told a court in LA that she “deserves” to be freed from the legal arrangement that has controlled her life for 13 years.
Spears, 39, called the conservatorship “abusive” and said: “This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good.”
She also criticised those who have controlled it – including her father, Jamie.
Experts say that having a sense of autonomy over our own lives is essential to our overall wellbeing, and living in what could be perceived as a controlled or controlling environment, can have a huge impact on a person’s mental health.
Whether as a result of an overly-critical partner, overbearing boss or parent, feeling controlled can have a huge impact on an individual.
In light of Spears’ testimony, we asked relationship counsellor Ammanda Major, head of service quality and clinical practice at Relate, to explain how to spot warnings signs and regain independence in your own life if you are concerned about a situation you might be in.
What are the signs that you might be in a controlling environment?
“One of the main problems with being in a controlling environment is that often people don’t realise they’re in one – because it has become their norm,” says Major.
“Relationships where a partner or parent is perpetrating coercive control often start with the victim feeling that the other person is really caring and worries about their wellbeing.
“Over time though, the victim comes to feel like they can’t really function without the control of the person doing the controlling, and because the process is gradual, the victim often doesn’t see it for what it really is.
“They might suddenly realise they’re not able to go out or haven’t seen their family and friends in many months, because the perpetrator has given reasons and excuses why normal, everyday things aren’t good for them. The emotional power in those sorts of situations can be immense.”
Why is it so difficult to leave?
“In controlling environments, perpetrators chip away at the self-esteem of victims so they can be in a position of total control.
“People often ask, ‘Well why don’t you just leave?’ but it’s not always as easy as that. Over time, your self-esteem and confidence may have been knocked, or you might be emotionally or even physically intimidated in the controlling environment.
“Often it can also be difficult to acknowledge that you’re a victim of coercive control as it can lead to a sense of great shame.”
What should you do if you think you’re being controlled?
“I think the most helpful thing for a person who believes they are under coercive control is to seek professional support
“When you become aware that you’re being controlled, and you start to take steps to distance yourself, that’s when you might be putting yourself in the most danger – as the controller will often up the ante in order to try and maintain control.
“They may threaten you with consequences such as not seeing your children, or threats to your finances or safety.
“Every situation is slightly different and unique, but speaking out to a coercive controller could lead to all kinds of serious outcomes, so I would always advise seeking professional help.
“Asserting your own voice and talking to someone who is showing signs of controlling behaviour could be constructive, but very often it isn’t, because the level of risk is too high – so it’s not about approaching it with a broad brushstroke here.
“Whether you’re in a physically abusive relationship or not, it’s about thinking of the safety and welfare of yourself, and any children too.
“The most effective way to do that is talking to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline [part of the charity Refuge] or speaking to a local domestic abuse resource – as each area will have different options available.
“These resources will help you with advice and information for safely navigating your situation.”