Taking a Spin Around the Power and Control Wheel

Taking a Spin Around the Power and Control Wheel

We recently debunked the myth that abuse can be described as a cycle. If we can’t describe it that way, is there a more accurate way to talk about abuse?

Yes! It’s called The Duluth Model, and at its core is the Power & Control Wheel.

Relationship violence is a combination of a number of different tactics of abuse that are used to maintain power and control — which are the words in the very center of the wheel. The center is surrounded by different sets of behaviors that an abusive partner uses in order to maintain this power and control.

These sets of behaviors are:

  • Coercion and threats
  • Intimidation
  • Emotional abuse
  • Isolation
  • Minimizing, denying and blaming
  • Using children
  • Economic abuse
  • Male privilege

A lot of these behaviors can feel subtle and normal — often unrecognizable until you look at the wheel in this way. Many of these can be happening at any one time, all as a way to enforce power within the relationship.

Think of the wheel as a diagram of the tactics your abusive partner uses to keep you in the relationship. While the inside of the wheel is comprised of subtle, continual behaviors, the outer ring represents physical, visible violence. These are the abusive acts that are more overt and forceful, and often the intense acts that reinforce the regular use of other subtler methods of abuse.

How and why do we use the power and control wheel?

Our advocates use the wheel to help teach callers about the dynamics of an abusive relationship. It shows a victim that they are not alone in what they are experiencing, and that these tactics of maintaining power and control are common to abusers.

We also use the wheel to help other callers like friends, family members or even someone who may identify as abusive to better understand the complicated components of abuse and the many forms it can take. This can be really helpful in explaining the difficulties and dangers of leaving an abusive relationship.

To learn more about the Power and Control Wheel, visit the Home of the Duluth Model online.

Comment section

25 replies
  1. The Cycle of Violence Wheel seems pretty accurate. When I first saw it I realized that sometimes that cycle might run its course in a short amount of time, when at other times in the marriage it may take a longer time to get through it … meaning each stage can last a long time or short time depending on circumstances. I would like to add the phrase, “Psychological Violence” to describe the seriousness of insidious baiting, gas-lighting and terrorization and the toll it can take on victims

  2. I came to this site because a coworker has been verbally abusive (screaming at me and ordering me about) for over a month. Finally I screamed back at her. She did not stop but this, as I thought it might, but made it worse. The next day I apologized for my part in the screaming fest. She stunned me by saying I had exploded in her face for “no reason”. Her husband came into the workplace to check that she was OK and for moral support in case I had attacked his wife again. She also went to our boss’s house with her husband to complain about her innocence and my violent behavior. About a month prior to this outbreak I had let the manager and our “boss” know how disturbed at my coworker’s agressive behavior and how it was so “out of character” for my coworker to yell at me and order me around. She and I had worked together on an equal footing for over 5 years, now she yells and orders me around. I wrote a letter to the “boss” and apologized for my part in the incident, appraized her of the two attempts to make peace with my coworker, which were summarily rebuffed and rejected as “not good enough” by the coworker. Then I begged for my job. I’m scared of my coworker because of her “playing innocent” and blaming me for everything. Over the years she has related to me of four incidents where long-term friends have “blown up in her face for no reason”, one incident resulting in my coworker being sued resulting with a Summary Judgment issued against her. The “Wheel” exactly describes the “Mr. Hyde” side of my coworker that has surfaced. I’m very afraid at what is to come.

  3. Laurie,

    Thank you so much for sharing with our blog community. You are totally right, psychological violence definitely takes a toll on victims in abusive relationships. That is why it is featured on the power and control wheel under emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, among many others. Abuse takes many different forms. The main reason The HOTLINE uses the power and control wheel instead of the cycle of violence to educate callers on the dynamics of abuse is because abuse is unpredictable. Many different tactics are used to maintain power and control in the relationship and those tactics are not easily identified on a timeline.

    If you have any further questions concerning the power and control wheel feel free to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1800-799-7233. We are available 24/7 and are completely anonymous and confidential.


  4. Nan,

    This sounds like a very frustrating situation. Unfortunately, it may fall beyond the scope of what we can help with. Here at the HOTLINE we focus on intimate partner violence.

    One program that may be helpful is the Job Survival Helpline, 1800-522-0925. I hope they are able to help.

  5. I am trapped in a very abusive relationship and now I fear I’m in serious trouble. I am the owner of my house and when I asked him to leave he became extremely abusive. Verbal, physical, sexual and psychological. He told me if I told anyone he would torcher me. He’s hurt me already so I know he will. If he got locked up he’d just send someone else. He knows most of the officers in our area. I’ve been staying away from home as much as possible but my job won’t let me get the overtime anymore. He’s acting like nothing happened. Idk what to do.

  6. Scared and Trapped,

    Thank you for reaching out. I know this must be so scary and difficult for you right now. It sounds like you’ve been really trying to do the best that you can to keep yourself safe. The threats and abuse that he is doing is, unfortunately, very common.

    But you don’t need to face this by yourself. I would encourage you to call us at 1(800)799.7233. We are here 24/7 and we are completely confidential. We can come up with a plan for your safety and get you connected to local resources like shelter and counseling. I know in this moment this can seem very daunting but you can get through this, one step at a time.

    Until then,
    Hotline Advocate MC

  7. My hunsband kicked me out and I am homeless now. He bought for me a car while we marry but after he kicked me out he reported car as I stolen from him.But the car is not on my name.I was drove my car the police officer stop me and arrest me and I was in the jail for 12hours.I need to go to the court for trial.
    The police gave him back the car.I lost my job,no money,no place.I don’t have a any support from my husband while I left home.It’s been 3month now.
    I don’t know what I have to do now.Please help me .

  8. I just wanted to say, this wheel is VERY biased toward women being abused by men. While that may be the case most of the time, my best friend (a man) is trapped in an abusive relationship where his gf is using many of the things described on the wheel to manipulate him. Recently, she used the fact that she is a woman to call the police on him, claiming he was abusing her. I was with him the whole time this was happening, and have seen the messages she has sent saying that if she leaves him, she will call the police and say he is abusing her, say that the drugs in the house (hers, he is clean) are his. The police tend to side with the woman in a domestic abuse situation, regardless of who is at fault and this is incredibly harmful to men in a domestic abuse situation. I’m not trying to say that this is the case all the time, I’m just trying to say that the wheel, police and other people are biased toward a woman being abused by a man. when the situation is reversed, it is harder for the man to receive help. God bless, and good luck to you all. -R.

  9. Hi Ashley,

    I’m so glad that you reached out to us. It sounds like you’re dealing with a very difficult situation and we are here to help. It may be easier to talk about the challenges that you’re facing over the phone, especially since online communication can be unsafe. Please give us a call at 1 (800) 799.7233 anytime; we’re here 24 hours a day, everyday. Our Hotline is confidential and anonymous to be a safe place for you to talk. We’d be happy to give you all the information and resources we can.

    Take care,

    Hotline Advocate AS

  10. Hi R.,

    Thank you for taking the time to write about your and your best friend’s experiences. While most domestic violence cases do involve a woman being abused by a man, we know that abuse isn’t limited to any sex or gender, income level, age, or sexual orientation. As a Hotline, we provide support, information, and resources to anyone affected by an abusive relationship. It sounds like your best friend is dealing with an incredibly scary and challenging situation. We’re so glad that he has you supporting him through this. If you or he would like to talk, we’re here, anonymous and confidential, 24/7 at 1 (800) 799.7233.

    We know that many stigmas exist around domestic violence, and they should never keep someone from receiving the help and support they need. It takes a lot of courage to reach out when you’re being abused by your partner, and our hope is that all of the resources and assistance needed are provided.

    Take care,

    Hotline Advocate AS

  11. My abuser doesn’t work, Will not work, feels entiled to receive any monies, credit ect that I have, he Will blame me for everything, head but me, smack me, chock me, put my head through a window, has fired sex emotional blackmails me, tells me I’m a waste of skin, old, ugly, all the female name. I have been sick physically, anxiety, depressed, headaches, keep saying he rather he in jail… He threating to leave take everything when our powerfully is due, I have a 4 yr old daughter, uses her as well in fighting w me, tells me she’s stupid, retarded, ect, I’m stuck her outside in the country of Texas with no where to go….

  12. Holly,

    Thank you so much for sharing with our blog community. It sounds like so much has been going on. From what you have described, it sounds like this is a very abusive relationship. People who are abusive will often intimidate and humiliate their partner to make them feel as vulnerable as possible to continue to gain control in the relationship.

    I am so glad you have contacted us and I encourage you to give us a call at 1800-799-7233. An advocate is available 24/7 to offer guidance and support and your call is completely anonymous and confidential.

  13. Qhen someone leaves you continually and homes back with no explanation or apology or any meaningful dialogue are they abusive? Feels like it, esp. after I told him the first time he left me thats what I hated most. Is it a power and control move now that he knows it? I am no angel but I never knew why he would leave me and never really could find out. Gus answers always seemed to make it clear that I should not ask or it would happen again.

  14. Dear Barb,

    Abusers use different tactics to try and have power and control over their partners. The fact that your partner leaves and comes back with expanation could very well be a form of emotional abuse. The fact that you shared this with him and he continues to do it seems like a red flag. In healthy relationships people are able to raise concerns and discuss them with consideration and respect. It sound like he uses leaving as a threat so that you won’t ask him any questions. Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline to discuss what is happening to you. The phone number is (800) 799-7233.

    Hotline Advocate MT

  15. Thank you so much for this article. I was in an abusive relationship for over 26 years. Even though I was miserable, afraid and depressed all the time, I didn’t think I was abused because he wasn’t beating me. I am now safe, but disabled from PTSD, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Maybe if there had been information like this out there, I’d have recognized my situation and gone for help earlier. God bless you for what you do.

  16. Diana,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It sounds like you’re working hard on healing from an incredibly traumatic experience. We are so glad that you’ve found our website and online community. Support is so important when you’ve been through something so difficult. If you’d like to talk or find additional resources in your area, please give us a call at 1 (800) 799-7233. All of our calls are anonymous and confidential, and our advocates are here 24/7.

    Take care!

    Hotline Advocate AS

  17. Diana,

    Thank you so much for sharing with our blog community. It is so great to hear that you are out and safe! We know that leaving an abusive relationship is very difficult. Leaving is definitely a huge step but we know it is not the last. It is the beginning of the healing process and there is no timeline to this. If you would like to explore different strategies or local support services feel free to contact us, the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1800-799-7233. An advocate is available 24/7 to offer guidance and support and your call will be completely anonymous and confidential.

    Until then,

  18. Thank you very much for sharing your view on psychological abuse. I have been and am being gas-lighted. This man I met in Oct 2012, he came to work with me. I thought surely I do not have to worry about a college grad with only a year to go at his masters degree.
    Boy was I wrong… after 4 months the work was over and I was totally in love with him. Now mind you he said he would keep keep me safe and warm. It was not long after he moved me me to Santa Rosa. Then the first red flag came up and I took the bait. He had my car rePod so I was trap in a city I do not know 3 hours from my home
    I loved him so much I lost myself in doing for him. I had been alone for ten years and I did it by choice. He is using the gas light against me. My man is the smartest people I know and he is capable of anything from lying me to stealing from me. I have to sleep with seraquel but I wish I did not have it to take a drug that knocks me out then he shoots me up with something I do not know what but when I come too I have an adhesive over my body including places you would not go on your own. I come to and these cartoon character pressed in my skin on top of the adhesive strips they are not funny. Each and everyday I get up to this. he has put holes in my tongue and smiley faces. I most run he’s coming in………….be back when I can

  19. Hello Shannon,

    Thank you so much for reaching out to our online community about your experiences with gas lighting and psychological abuse. We understand how incredibly scary it can be when a partner chooses to use gas lighting as a form of manipulation and control. You have the right to be safe at all times, even when you’re sleeping, and no one should take this right away from you.

    We know that domestic violence has no boundaries when it comes to who chooses to be abusive, or the partners they choose to abuse. It can occur between people of any educational or income level, socioeconomic status, age, race, or religion. Abusive relationships are rarely abusive from day one. Instead, people have described them as being “head over heels in love” and like being in a fairytale. With intense emotions like these going on, a person who chooses to be abusive may work to isolate their partner from supportive relationships, and areas that they’re familiar with, just like you experienced.

    It sounds like what you’re experiencing now is very difficult and confusing. I encourage you to give us, The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 800-799-7233, a call to talk this through as well as explore strategies to stay safe. Our hotline is available 24/7 and is completely anonymous and confidential.

    We’re here when you need us.

    Hotline Advocate AS

  20. Thank you so very much. I have been terrified most of my life and I know that I must get out but I have my cats here. I could not even fathom leaving them. As of now he has used hairspray to make their hair lay flat or stand out in the shapes of faces. This has been a very bad situation and I did not realize
    how long he has been building his attacks on me.
    I think at this point it has been all I can do just to survive and hold myself so no one finds out anything.
    In my past I have been raped, abused physically, abused verbally and and the to top the cake I have no dignity. I guess when I get brave (no very often) I ask him when this is going to stop, he said when I stopped looking for the faces. This would mean closing my eyes to it all and I cant do that and function.I have tried all I know to get away and there is no one willing to step in to get me out and I have no friends here in CA My family and friends are in Fla. All the people he knows are sick because I tried to confide in a few of the female friend and as far as they are concerned he can do what he wants if I do not like that leave. I then ask for a ride LOL….
    This would and could take a month of Sundays just to find out what he planned. Some of the things I have found are very bad yes he even went to my vagina and used a needle to poke holes in my flesh to look like a face. How do get away from this???????I terrified of leaving and of going.
    Thank you for your kindness

  21. This is a very helpful graph. I was with someone who was using half of these techniques. He knew that violence would be too much and make me leave, but the more subtle manipulations would be more effective. I’ve had depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, the last of which saw me in the E.R., all as part of the horrible twisted control of that relationship. Now that it’s over (after many tries to end it and being talked back into the relationship) I feel such a sense of relief. A heavy cloud has lifted and I really didn’t recognize the person I had become. Now I can find myself again, and know the warning signs for the future. I am a smart person, but vulnerable in relationships. I beat myself up for falling for a situation like that but I have to be more kind to myself, anyone can be manipulated with the right techniques if used for long enough to prey on weaknesses. This year will be a new start, a new me, a new life.

  22. Dear A,

    The power and control wheel is a very useful tool in understanding why and how abusers function. They are extremely manipulative and can severely effect your mental health. Many callers mention suffering from depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and even heart attacks due to emotional and verbal abuse. I am so glad you are out of the abusive relationship. Your courage has led you to a better place. You’re right that we are often hard on ourselves instead of being kind and forgiving. The New Year is right around the corner and we wish you the best. If you ever need to talk to somone please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233.

    Hotline Advocate MT

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