Covert Abuse and It’s Hidden Damage

Are you wondering if you’re being psychologically and emotionally abused?

Have you been searching the internet trying to understand what’s going on in your confusing relationship?

Do you feel like you’re you living on a merry-go-round?

Have you been reading about emotional abuse and narcissism but the descriptions don’t fit because he’s not arrogant and selfish and he doesn’t call you names, yell at you, threaten you, or control where you go?

Are you living with

~ profound confusion and pain about your marriage?
~ severe emotional distress and instability?
~ self-doubt, anxiety, guilt, and loss of self?
~ blaming yourself for how you feel and act?
~ the paralyzing fear that you are slowly going crazy?

Does this sound like you?

“I just can’t explain what he’s doing but I feel like I’m walking on eggshells.”

“I doubt my perceptions and feelings, and I question my sanity all the time.”

“I’m desperate to know, ‘Is it me or is it him?’”

“I don’t feel safe with my own husband but I can’t even decide if he actually mistreats me.”

 “He’s just so nice that it’s hard to believe he could be an abuser.”

 “Is this even a thing? Is there a name for this?


With covert abuse, it isn’t obvious you are being abused because it’s very hard to identify and describe.
The covert abuser is systematically manipulating your thinking and emotions using ongoing, subtle mind games.

This leaves you feeling crazy and confused.


You know something is wrong in your marriage and you can’t explain it. You’ve read examples and definitions of emotional abuse and they haven’t described your experience. That’s caused you to be thrown into the craziness of thinking “Something is wrong in my marriage but it can’t be emotional abuse, so it must be me.”

You are in the right place.  Something IS wrong in your marriage, and it’s NOT you.


Covert abuse is emotional and psychological abuse that doesn’t involve outwardly controlling behaviors such as raging, belittling, threatening, and blaming. It is also called ambient abuse, stealth abuse, hidden abuse, and passive/aggressive behavior.

The covert abuser systematically manipulates your mind and your emotional responses using ongoing, secret mind games such as gaslighting, evasion, feigning ignorance, blame-shifting, word twisting and covert aggressionbecause they are very hard to detect, describe or confront.

crazy-making, gaslighting abusers fool everyone

The abuser uses the pretense of love and caring to make sure that his subtle, covert tactics are off-the-radar and hidden. He knows all the right things to say and exactly what you need to hear. He is skilled at appearing empathetic and trustworthy.

You can be unaware that abuse is happening for years, and even decades. Not only has the abuser convinced people in your life that he is a great guy, but he has also convinced you.


Covert abuse is very tricky to identify because the behavior can be interpreted as either normal or abusive depending on your perspective. 

Targets of covert abuse are usually trusting, kind women who give others the benefit of the doubt and try to not be critical. Because of this, you attribute the same motive for your abuser’s behavior that yours would be. For example, if he’s silent and withdrawn, you probably think he’s trying to not argue.

In addition to this, your abuser has been brainwashing you into doubting your perceptions and believing his narrative – that his behavior is fine, that your response is wrong and that you are the cause of the problem.

As a result, the voice of your heart and instinct has gradually been overruled by his voice in your head.

Because his outward behavior doesn’t give away his abusive personality, you’ve spent years mislabeling and normalizing his behavior while you were becoming smaller and more confused inside.


psychological abuser brings doubt and torment to you

The abuser knows your insecurities, joys and desires and he’s been destroying the foundation of what makes you who you are. He’s been undermining what gives you joy, bringing doubt to your areas of weakness, and destroying your sense of self.


Often there’s no obvious abuse cycle, just a roller coaster of ups and downs, of trusting your husband and then not trusting him, but not knowing why.

You try to discuss marital problems and leave the discussion deeply confused and vowing to work harder on yourself, mad at yourself for feeling defensive, and wondering if you are crazy. For every issue you brought up, he had a perfectly good response and reason for why he does what he does, why the relationship problems are either your fault or your imagination and over-sensitivity.

He is calm, self-assured, and even kind, yet you feel intimidated and can’t pinpoint why. He rationally explains why the problem is your perception, yet you know that isn’t right. Or is it?

You feel so defensive against what appears to be nothing that clearly the problem lies with you and you must be unstable.

the roller coaster of covert manipulation. What’s going on? Dr Jekyll/Mr. Hyde

You are in torment, wondering why you can’t trust this “loving, kind husband who has your best interests at heart.” Your weaknesses and insecurities seem to grow larger over the course of the marriage. And he is so “caring” that he wants to help you overcome them.

The roller coaster also consists of times of closeness and times of distance. The times of closeness draw you in. He is once again acting like the kind man you fell in love with. But then things change, and you don’t know why. He seems distant and negative and you wonder if you did something.

You feel like you are living with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and that adds to your confusion.

During the entire relationship there’s been an insidious wearing away of your identity, value, and personhood. His tactics are a never-ending moving target and when you think you’ve identified a pattern, he changes tactics.


Many emotional abusers use covert tactics as well as overt tactics. But some abusers ONLY use covert tactics. The covert tactics are the most difficult to identify yet they are the ones that brainwash you, make you feel crazy, and destroy you.

As Don Hennessey, author of “Steps to Freedom: Escaping Intimate Control”writes, abusers “take control of the thoughts and emotional reactions, and subsequently behavior, of the target person. This process… goes on during targeting, setting up and grooming of the target person. The abuser who uses these tactics will not admit to them, as they are only of value if they remain hidden. The target is unaware of them, and so is unable to describe them.”

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  1. I am going through this right now with my daughter. Thank you for putting a label to it.

    • The very best of luck dealing with your daughter. I hope you get a good outcome. I am glad the article was useful. All the best Erin

    • Thanks for commentating. I appreciate it. I am glad the article resonated with you. Hope it was helpful. All the best Erin.

  2. This is happening to me and it’s my wife doing it to me. So please don’t just put this on men only. It can happen the other way around and it is to me

    • Hi Chris, I am so sorry to hear you are a victim of covert abuse. It is so hidden that it affects your self esteem. I hope you can find a way of getting out of the relationship if she doesn’t stop. It’s not healthy for you. You are absolutely right it not just men that are responsible for covert abuse. I’ll be thinking of and please don’t hesitate to contact me again if I can be of any help. All the best Erin

  3. I think this kind of abuse stays with me the most, it makes me so angry when I think about how much time I wasted thinking I was the problem. How hard I tried to ‘be good enough’. I won’t ever understand why narcissists are like this.

    • You absolutely right. Narcissists weave a web of doubt, destroying your selfesteen. Remember you are a survivor who should be proud of themselves. He didn’t break you and won’t. That’s not to say you won’t have rough days but you are strong and can overcome them. All the best Erin

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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