Victim of Covert Abuse

Many people think of emotional abuse as slamming doors and throwing things, yelling and making threats—anything that is intended to intimidate another person. And certainly, it is all of those things. But there’s also something called covert emotional abuse, and this is what I want to discuss in this article.

What is Covert Abuse?

Why do we call it covert abuse? Because it’s subtle. And it usually happens behind closed doors. The perpetrator is often a well-liked and respected leader in the community who presents one persona in public and a very different one in private. Covert abuse doesn’t leave visible bruises or marks, so this form of violence often goes undetected, even by friends and family members who are close to the victim.

What does covert abuse look like? It takes the form of constantly blaming, criticizing, accusing, telling the other person that they’re wrong, scoffing at them, scolding them, and, essentially, diminishing what the other person thinks and feels. It can also be in the form of pouting, withdrawing, and withholding love. Now you may think, what real harm can that cause? I would say there is tremendous harm caused by these actions! It’s not easy to understand the debilitating impact of cognitive dissonance – the result when someone says they love you yet constantly criticizes you and makes you feel worthless. Can you imagine the inner chaos that creates?

Any attempt to share this information with friends, family members, and even pastors, leaves victims of emotional abuse feeling dismissed, blamed, and completely isolated. They’re often told that they’re making too much of things, that they just need to pray about it, or they’re given books to learn what they can do to be a better spouse and make things better. For victims of covert emotional abuse, the result is confusion, isolation, a sense of hopelessness, worthlessness, anxiety, and physical symptoms resembling PTSD.

So, if you can relate to any of these things, the first thing you must do is to get  honest with yourself.  In order to heal, you must first name the problem for what it is. The truth will hurt, but it will set you free.

8 Examples of Covert Abuse

Here are some ways to know if you are in a relationship with a covert abuser.

  • Constant criticism and humiliation: Nothing you do is good enough for him or her.
  • Overt and covert control: Everything must be done the way he or she wants.
  • Taking themselves too seriously: Even the slightest affront becomes trouble for you.
  • Name calling/rage reactions: When challenged or frustrated, his or her inner six-year-old comes out and throws a tantrum.
  • Emotional Distance: When hurt, he or she will punish you by withdrawing/stonewalling.
  • Playing the victim: Whatever problem you have, his or hers is bigger and worse.
  • Viewing you as an extension of himself/herself: He or she cannot/will not see you as an individual. You are an extension of his or her wants and desires.
  • Subtle or overt threats: Failure to conform leads to threats to your emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical safety. 

Do any of these traits sound like you or your partner? If you feel like you’ve been stumbling along a dark path and every sign along the way only seems to lead to more confusion, give us a call. We can help you make sense of what’s happening and gain clarity on how to find your way out of the mess and move forward in your healing. Contact our Client Care Team and ask about our Marriage Evaluation. You can also click here to schedule a free consultation with a Client Care Specialist right away.

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