If this is your reality, you may feel confused, afraid, angry, ashamed, or trapped. You may blame yourself or feel responsible for what has happened in your relationship. You may even feel responsible to fix it. These feelings are normal responses to abuse. There is nothing wrong with you. We know you are doing the best you can. We hope you gain a greater understanding about your experiences through the materials on our website, the links to other resources, and hearing other victim’s stories, you will step into the truth that the abuse you endured was NOT YOUR FAULT.
COVERT ABUSE: Hidden Original Abuse
Covert Original Abuse is considered one of the most destructive forms of abuse. This is because it significantly harms one’s perceptions, memories, thinking, and ultimately, one’s sanity. Covert Emotional Abuse is difficult to identify, name and, therefore, nearly impossible to confront. In overt emotional abuse, the verbal assaults and concrete manipulations are much more obvious to the victim. However, Covert Abuse is meant to confuse, causing one to experience profound self-doubt, often questioning their reality. Covert Abuse is intended to exert control over another. Being alone as a recipient of the abuse, the only true witness of it, causes a bewildering inability to sort out one’s traumatic experience.
Just a single covert behavior in a repeated pattern can be destructive to an individual or relationship, but multiple patterns are exponentially more harmful to a victim in terms of their ability to understand what is happening: the victim becomes unable to identify his/her experience, to find support, to confront the abuser, or to free themselves from these insidious manipulations. Even worse, prolonged confusion and stressful states not only compromise the victim’s ability to think and function, but cause greater consequences to their physical health through adrenaline and stress hormone spikes. This severely weakens their immune system, making them more vulnerable to disease and collapse. These patterns can vary between people and situations: one individual may break out in a rash, another may begin fainting, another may end up in the ER with a dangerously low white blood count. However these symptoms manifest in individuals, they are expressions of the impact upon one’s endocrine, immunological, and biochemical systems. If these symptoms are not taken seriously and are minimized by the medical community (see Double Abuse®), the consequences can be life-threatening. This is why when persons of authority over-confront the victim and minimize the truth and severity of their experience, they are contributing to an escalation of the victim’s decline. To begin to understand Covert Emotional Abuse, let’s first describe the characteristics of the abuser’s aggressive or defensive actions whose motives are to avoid authentic communication, accountability, and responsibility, therefore maintaining control.
EXAMPLES OF COVERT ABUSIVE BEHAVIORS
All or Nothing: Using black and white thinking to divert the focus off the perpetrator in order to disarm the victim.
Blaming and Reverse Blaming: In blaming, issues are one-sided or reversed with the responsibility always being laid at the victim’s feet.
Broken Promises: Making promises to do certain things or change, then denying ever making those promises, refusing to keep them, or saying they forgot.
Catastrophizing: Creating fear and negative dependence in the victim and blowing things out of proportion.
Cover-ups: Attempting to prevent people from discovering the truth about a person’s behavior or actions. For example, volunteering in the community or giving gifts to cover up destructive behavior done behind doors.
Crazy Making Behaviors: Intentional distortions of reality for the purpose of making the victim feel confused. A “cousin” of Gaslighting.
Creating a Cloud of Confusion: Telling false and grandiose stories to third parties in order to objectively undermine and manipulate the end result or outcome.
Deflection: Defensively refusing to authentically communicate, changing the topic, or inventing false arguments.
Denial: A fundamental refusal to accept responsibility by living in a false reality.
Disavowal: Belittling and devaluing of the importance of one’s abusive behavior.
Dismissivism: Getting rid of the other’s value and what they hold dear with a wave of the hand.
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VERBAL ABUSE: Overt Original Abuse
- Abusive Language
- Undeserved Accusations
- Harsh or Chronic Criticism
- Orders and Threats
Original Abuse is any physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological action or threat of action that manipulates and controls another person into submission and against their best interests. We call it “Original” abuse in order to distinguish it from the secondary layer of abuse that can happen when victims speak up or reach out for help (see “Double Abuse®” definition). Know more about Original Abuse.
Domestic Violence (also called Relationship Violence, Intimate Partner Violence or Domestic Abuse)
Domestic Violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship by one person over another person whether through physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological action or threat of action, that leads to the unfair treatment of the other resulting in psychological harm.
Many communities across the country still consider Domestic Violence to be solely physical violence, but this is not accurate. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and numerous scholarly studies describe domestic violence in a much broader definition, with an emphasis on the severity of emotional abuse. Know more about Domestic Abuse.
Covert Emotional Abuse
Covert Emotional Abuse (“CEA”) is the hidden, hard-to-name, regular, and repeated behaviors used to mistreat another person and cause harm to their heart and inner emotions.
These tactics are hard to describe, name, and therefore nearly impossible to confront.
Verbal Abuse happens when negative statements are directed toward someone, causing emotional harm. These statements are insulting, humiliating, or threatening and can happen in the form of harsh language, undeserved accusations, harsh or chronic criticism, intimidation, judgments, name-calling, orders and threats, put-downs, ridiculing, and/or teasing.
Physical Abuse is the intentional use of force that results in bodily injury; such as (but not limited to) punching, slapping, pinching, choking, kicking, or shoving.
Sexual Abuse is any nonconsensual, unwanted sexual contact or sexual maltreatment imposed upon another.
Spiritual Abuse refers to both (1) a church or faith leader using their position of power to manipulate and control congregation members, often by creating a toxic culture within the church or group by shaming, and/or (2) a partner using spirituality as a means of control, or to minimize or shame the other person. This includes when a partner ridicules or insults the other person’s religious or spiritual beliefs, uses their partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs or their own faulty beliefs to control, manipulate, power over or shame them, and/or uses religious beliefs to minimize or rationalize abusive behaviors.
Financial Abuse is pressure or force upon an individual to become financially dependent and controlled by one person. The abuser maintains total control of financial resources, by stalling or withholding financial information, access to money, or intervening without the victim’s mutual consent.
Institutional Abuse occurs when power is misused to intimidate, offend, degrade, or humiliate, resulting in the mistreatment of individuals who are part of its organization. Institutional abuse also occurs when an organization denies a victim’s story, justifies it or avoids it. For example, publicly promoting abusers attributes, protecting their position due to fear of retribution against the organization, working to preserve the employment standing of abusers and/or those who support them. Institutional abuse may attempt to minimize financial liability while often the opposite occurs.
These offenses significantly cause further harm and result in Double Abuse®, leading to longer and more difficult roads to healing. For more on institutional abuse and what you can do if you find yourself in an institutionally abusive setting, click here.
Unwanted and aggressive verbal, social or physical behavior creating a real or perceived power imbalance.
Verbal, physical, sexual, or emotional harm caused by action or inaction (or neglect) of a child, especially by a parent or caregiver. (The same is true for elder abuse and abuse of the disabled.)
This secondary form of abuse takes place when victims finally find the courage to speak up or reach out for help. Rather than being believed or receiving support, victims are minimized, criticized, ignored and even shunned by therapists, family, friends, church, or professional communities. Double Abuse causes more harm to victims and significantly exacerbates their trauma. For a greater description of Double Abuse®, please see Double Abuse PDF.
A victim is a person of any age who suffers physical, sexual, mental/psychological emotional and/or criminal harm.
An abuser is one who forces physical, sexual, mental, and/or emotional harm upon another.
A person who is able to go on living after having sustained dangerous and harmful behavior and abuse and/or who is able to stay alive after lethal harm of a physical, sexual,
mental, emotional and/or criminal act(s).
A first responder is any person whom a victim discloses their story of abuse, or any person a victim seeks help from. A first responder is typically perceived by the victim to be a safe person, entity, authority figure, or person of knowledge.