'Ambient Coercion': The Viral Tactic Explaining How Toxic People Avoid Accountability

Conflicts and explaining your emotions to someone else can be extremely vulnerable and uncomfortable for all parties involved. While Healthline says 1 in 10 people struggle with alexithymia — a broad term for conditions that cause people to be unable to feel and identify emotions — what about the times that someone understands the emotion of a situation, but chooses to ignore it? This can be a classic sign of manipulation.


Have you ever tried to express your feelings to a partner, friend, or loved one, only for them to begin another task as you talked? If you have, it most likely made you feel like your emotions were invalid and that what you were attempting to express was unimportant. Perhaps a partner picked up their phone to scroll Instagram the moment you began to express a situation that was lingering in your mind or a parental figure dozed off as you spoke about a topic that was important to you, leading you to wonder if what you were saying was an overreaction. According to TikTok user @tiyechambers, this is a tactic used by toxic people to avoid accountability known as "ambient coercion."

What is ambient coercion?

Tiye Chambers garnered over 60,000 likes upon posting a video — just over two minutes long — where she speaks on a clip featuring a couple in therapy. In the video, as soon as the therapist begins to listen and validate one person in the relationship, the other person stands up and begins to walk around the room. According to Chambers, the person who stands is practicing "ambient coercion," which they describe as a manipulative tactic to remove attention from the situation at hand and dismiss the importance of what is being said. They explain that ambient coercion can be any form of a person disengaging when someone is trying to hold them accountable or show emotions about a topic that is important to them.


It is important to note that while Chambers offers courses and books on toxic behavior in relationships and has over 90,000 followers on TikTok, they have no credentials that back up their statements. While they use the term "ambient coercion" to describe minimizing the feelings of another person, many people would already call the same situation "emotional manipulation."

Is ambient coercion just another term for emotional manipulation?

Licensed professional counselor at Mindpath Health Brandy Porche tells Shape, "Emotional manipulation is the complete disregard of someone else's feelings while strategically trying to persuade them to feel otherwise." Sounds familiar doesn't it? Though emotional manipulation is a broad term and can come in many forms, one of those forms is giving someone a "cold shoulder." In the same Shape interview, licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Exploring Therapy Therese Mascardo says, "This is the common practice of ignoring or 'icing someone out' who has acted in a way you [the manipulator] find undesirable, such as stonewalling (not speaking to) or withholding affection." This is one of many tactics used by abusers to make their victims feel unimportant and like their feelings are invalid.


Other forms of emotional manipulation involve guilting the victim into feeling bad for their decisions or words, love-bombing the victim with incredible gestures to show them affection, or bullying them with name-calling. While emotional manipulation is already used to describe the complete disregard of one's feelings, "ambient coercion" could easily be a subset of the term to describe how people minimize a situation without using words.