What is covert emotional abuse?

It does not leave any visible bruises or scars. Often it is a confusing, hidden and shameful experience. It can happen to anyone.

  • Do you feel like you were constantly walking on eggshells around your partner, never knowing what would trigger an explosive reaction?
  • Do you find yourself constantly trying to please your partner, but no matter how much you gave, it was never enough?
  • Do you feel like you were losing your sense of self in the relationship, and that your partner was trying to control every aspect of your life?
  • Do you feel like your partner was projecting their own flaws and insecurities onto you, making you feel like you were the one who was always at fault?
  • Do you feel like you were constantly giving and giving in the relationship, but never receiving the love, appreciation, and support you needed in return?
  • Do you feel like you were in a constant state of anxiety and fear, never knowing when your partner would lash out at you or punish you for something you didn’t even do?

Covert abusers will often target intelligent, caring, warm-hearted individuals who try hard to make relationships work.

Victims can have great careers, plenty of friends and a solid income.

These may also the people less likely to admit what has happened to them as the shock, confusion and shame is too overwhelming.

“How could this happen to me?”  In the latest Crime Survey in the UK, 83% of partner abuse was not reported to the police. Most people who experience covert abuse do not know what they experiencing, many think the problems they are experiencing are their fault.

The effects of covert abuse (such as Gaslighting) are often profoundly destructive and can devastate the sense of self, our physical well-being and often result in depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms.

What does covert abuse look like?

Some examples might be:

  • Putting down what’s important to you
  • Criticising your loved ones
  • Ruining or being absent at important events
  • Ignoring you when you’re speaking
  • Making you the butt of hurtful jokes
  • Micromanaging or jealously
  • Ruining your belongings (“accidentally”)
  • Not backing you up in public

Emotional abuse can happen in friendships, romantic relationships, within families, in the workplace and in religious or spiritual communities.

  • If you feel isolated, confused, drained, powerless and joyless you may be experiencing emotional abuse
  • If you are controlled, disparaged, punished, ridiculed and criticised you may be experiencing emotional abuse.
  • If you live your life walking on eggshells in order not to experience intense rage or criticism. You may be experiencing emotional abuse
  • If cruel, barbed comments are wrapped up in ‘jokes’ and you are humiliated publicly you may be experiencing emotional abuse.
  • If you are always referred to with insulting ‘pet names’ that make you uncomfortable, it is likely you are experiencing emotional abuse.
  • If you are unable to express your true feelings or have to constantly change your behaviour to please someone it is likely you are experiencing emotional abuse.
  • If you are exhausted, confused and miserable trying to make someone happy, who, no matter what you do, is never happy it is likely you are experiencing emotional abuse
  • Or if there are brief glimpses of kindness (that feel like intense relief) before the emotional pain or isolation returns. It is likely you are experiencing emotional abuse.
  • If your body is breaking down (pain, inflammation, exhuastion, immune disregulation) and you don’t really know why, you may be experiencing emotinal abuse

For the most part, the nature of emotional abuse is misunderstood by society, with many (including victims) not really understanding exactly what it is and what is happening to them.

The biggest problem many survivors face is being believed or taken seriously. We often think that everyone argues, worries about their relationships or has problems in life,…right?

It is very common for survivors to have been carefully ‘drip fed’ abuse over many years.

Often targets think that the draining, painful relationship they are experiencing is their fault, that, in fact ‘everything’ is their fault. If only they could just try a little harder to change themselves, then everything would be ok….and the painful cycle continues.

Covert Abuse and Physical Wellbeing

Often targets of this type of abuse are disgnosed with autoimmune dysfunction or chronic pain. This could be attributed to the long term exposure to cortisol and adrenaline in their systems.

When we live life walking on eggshells it takes its toll on our physiology. We don’t run out of cortisol – we just make more of it and the body starts to break down. This causes inflammation, which causes pain or in severe cases immune system dysfunction.

Part of the recovery journey from emotional abuse is nervous system regulation. For more information about how to help the body to become more regulated explore my work with Trauma Release (TRE)

For many, the first, and challenging step, is to acknowledge that something is wrong. 

Often the word ‘abuse’ is too shameful to admit, or is something that only happens to ‘other people’.

It is a common misconception that ‘weak’ people are targeted for abuse.

It is often the reverse, and nothing to do with weakness of character, lack of intelligence or spirit.

I Can Help

If this is your story and you would like to get in touch to discuss your needs or to understand more about emotional abuse, please get in touch for a free 30-minute consultation

2 + 2 =

I felt sceptical that I would achieve my aim of feeling more positive about the difficulties I had encountered. However after just one session, I started to feel better, and by the penultimate session, I felt like I had completely resolved my issue.

This marked the start of a ripple effect, with other aspects of my life starting to move forward in a more positive way. So the benefits have not just been about resolving the trauma and negativity it has also led me to enjoy the positive impact on my life and work in the present and feeling ready to move towards to a more positive future.”

“I’ve been working with Kate for 18 months now, and can safely say that I’m more ‘me’ than I’ve ever been. To want to stay in my body and not fly away. Feeling myself as a safe place, for myself and others? Unbelievable to me a year ago. 

I feel I’ve run rings around CBT therapists in the past (and not consciously either) because I can all-too-easily use words to distract & deflect, to fill time, to keep my security bubble intact. I can see that now that these are skills I’ve learnt to protect myself. I’ve a narcissistic parent so running rings became… important. Honestly, I wouldn’t have known a boundary in a police line-up of boundaries.

With Kate, I can heal and engage without the ‘what, why, how, where’ of my whole life (a lot of which I just don’t remember), because I can now experience my emotions without the narrative, and experiencing my emotions in a safe environment is the healing.

As is being able to take my emotional self out into the world and know I (and others) will survive. And then more than survive…”

I went to see Kate to get some help to understand why I was experiencing some unhelpful and negative feelings and to explore a particularly difficult part of my past that has been haunting me for some years.

This was not an easy thing to do but Kate helped me to feel immediately at ease and I was really pleased with how quickly we started to address some of these issues.   She creates a safe and non-judgemental environment and gently asks the right questions so that I was able to unpick and better understand why I was feeling the things I was and to understand them in a different way.!