Covert abuse generally refers to abuse that is hidden or goes unacknowledged. This type of abuse can occur in any kind of relationship and often involves the abuser blaming the target of the abuse for their harmful actions. Covert abusers may isolate and gaslight their target. They may also threaten violence against them. Meanwhile, survivors of covert abuse often have low self-esteem and feelings of guilt regarding the situation. They may not realize they have experienced abuse in some cases. Online therapy can be an effective way for survivors of covert abuse to work through their complex thoughts and feelings regarding their experiences.
What Is Covert Abuse?
*If you or a loved one is experiencing domestic abuse, please know that help is available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
What Does Covert Abuse Look Like?
The two definitions of covert abuse (hidden and not openly acknowledged) may reveal different aspects of this form of abusive behavior. The first definition (simply “hidden”) can be a common characteristic of violence. The perpetrator often hides it to avoid getting into trouble and to maintain an image of having it all together or being an upstanding citizen. This isn’t to say that all abuse is kept hidden; there have been plenty of instances in which abuse has been committed in the company of others, or in plain sight. Nevertheless, the nature of abuse is usually secretive.
According to the second definition, covert abuse is often not openly acknowledged in the relationship. The perpetrator and survivor may not discuss the harm being done. If it is discussed, the perpetrator may gaslight the affected individual and make them feel guilty or confused. Consequently, survivors of covert abuse can feel as though they are losing their minds. They may feel as though they have brought the abuse upon themselves because they are unlovable, unworthy of affection or attention, or too dramatic to cope with normal relationship behavior. Individuals who have experienced covert abuse may not realize that they have been abused.
Covert abuse often looks like blaming the individual being abused. If a child is hit, for instance, they may be told, “You made me angry, so I didn’t have a choice. I had to hit you to get you to stop.”
This can be considered covert abuse because the perpetrator refuses to acknowledge that abuse has occurred and instead suggests that the child being abused is to blame for the abusive behavior. Covert abuse can apply to all types of cruelty, manipulation, and harm inflicted on another person, whether that harm leaves physical scars or not.
Covert abuse can also apply to multiple types of relationships. It does not have to be a romantic partnership or a parent-child relationship. Children can abuse parents, friends can abuse friends, supervisors can abuse colleagues—there doesn’t have to be a specific type of relationship for there to be covert abusive behavior. Recognizing this may be an important part of seeking help, healing, and moving forward.
Coming forward for help after domestic violence can be difficult due to the nature of covert abuse. It may be difficult for those who have been abused in this manner to recognize that they have experienced abuse because abusers are often skilled at twisting scenarios and manipulating people. Also, covert abuse may be kept hidden not only by the abuser but also by the survivor of the abuse.
Common Signs Of Covert Abuse
The signs of covert abuse can be varied and vast. Covert and overt abuse may differ primarily in how they are carried out. Consequently, there can be common threads found in covert domestic violence that mirror the symptoms of overt abuse.
- People who perpetrate domestic violence often isolate their partner to keep their abuse intact and under wraps. Isolation may be extreme, such as moving a person to a new town or city, with no nearby friends, relatives, or allies. It may also be less conspicuous, perhaps involving the suggestion that the individual’s family and friends don’t actually want to be around them.
- Covert abusers often use gaslighting to keep their partners quiet, docile, and stuck. Gaslighting usually involves destabilizing the individual to push them to question their sense of reality. This can be a perfect strategy for covert domestic violence because it typically damages the survivor’s sense of credibility and self-worth.
- Covert abuse is rarely (if ever) a one-time occurrence but is often an ongoing, regular series of pain and distress for the individual being abused. Domestic violence perpetrators typically select partners, friends, or others close to them who will not stand up to abuse, in order to keep themselves in a place of power. Covert abuse frequently relies on the destabilization of the person who is being abused.
- Low self-esteem and guilt are common in the person being abused. Because covert abusers usually aims to keep the individual on edge to retain the upper hand, individuals who have experienced covert abuse may feel shame, guilt, and confusion toward themselves. They may think they have brought the abuse on themselves or that they are in some way broken or unlovable. They may not understand why someone who was previously kind and considerate would suddenly change their behavior.
- Threats of violence may be common with covert abuse. Not all domestic violence erupts into visible altercations. Instead, domestic abuse can inflict emotional or mental violence, which can damage a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and sense of normalcy. Covert abuse can be violent in that it may inflict harm on another individual’s mental, emotional, or physical state.
Getting Help For Covert Abuse
Although covert abuse may be difficult to get out from under—in part because of its secretive, well-hidden nature—there are many resources available to survivors. Support groups are often recommended for people who have experienced any type of abuse, as survivors often feel isolated and alienated from their peers. Support groups may help these individuals feel less alone in their experience. They may also help with recognizing the patterns of abuse and the behavior that was once considered normal.
Getting help often means getting away from the abuser. This may not always seem possible immediately; jobs cannot always be left behind, and families cannot always separate. However, finding safety can be of the utmost importance, so seeking financial, legal, or law enforcement assistance is frequently a part of moving forward from abuse. Meeting with local law enforcement officials, consulting with a lawyer, and seeking out local and federal financial assistance programs can all ease the difficulty associated with leaving an abusive relationship.
Online Therapy May Help You Safely Get Therapy
If you are experiencing trauma, stress, or other complex emotions arising from abuse, online therapy may be an option for you. When living with these difficult emotions, it can be challenging to get out of the house and visit a therapist’s office. Online therapy can simplify this process by allowing you to receive the help you deserve from a location that is convenient for you. If it’s not safe to talk to a therapist from home, you can participate in therapy from anywhere with a stable internet connection via audio or video chat. Also, with BetterHelp, you can contact your therapist 24/7 via in-app messaging if you have questions or concerns, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can.
Several recent studies have shown that online therapy can be beneficial for those who are experiencing complicated emotions arising from abuse. In one study, researchers examined the usefulness of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in helping individuals manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Most of the participants had experienced some type of abuse by their partner. Researchers found that, after treatment, 81.5% of participants no longer met the criteria for PTSD. Additionally, the results were sustained at a one-year follow-up. Participants also reported a decrease in feelings of depression and anxiety and an increase in overall quality of life.
If you have experienced abuse, covert or otherwise, you don’t have to face it alone. Online therapy may be one option for you to work through your experiences and emotions with a licensed mental health professional. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist with experience helping people who have experienced abuse. Take the first step toward healing from abuse and reach out to BetterHelp today.
What is covert and overt abuse?
In general, overt abuse is obvious and easy to identify. Covert abuse tends to be subtler and more challenging to see. Often, physical abuse can be considered overt abuse, and many types of emotional abuse are categorized as covert.
A covert abuser may employ tactics like covert emotional abuse, which may slowly chip away at a person’s sense of self-worth. This covert tactic can lead a survivor to lose their sense of self. Criticism and gaslighting may be two types of covert emotional abuse.
If you or a loved one is witnessing or experiencing any form of abuse, please know that help is available. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
What is an example of overt abuse?
Overt abuse may include shouting, swearing at, or berating someone.
What is an example of covert behavior?
According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, covert behavior can be defined as “behavior that is not directly observable and can only be inferred by the observer or reported by the subject.” Using your imagination can be considered covert behavior.
What is the definition of covert violence?
Covert violence can be defined as violence that is kept hidden and isn’t obvious.
Can you give an example of the word covert used in a sentence?
An example of the word covert in a sentence is, “Covert abuse can be just as harmful as overt abuse.”
What is an example of overt vs. covert?
Overt can be thought of as clear or obvious, while covert can be considered subtle or hidden.
What are two examples of overt and covert behavior?
Overt behavior may include physical actions and speech, while covert behavior can include actions that cannot be seen, such as remembering something or processing information.
What does covert action mean?
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, covert action usually refers to “taking secret measures aimed at influencing political, economic, or military conditions abroad, all while concealing the U.S. role in those measures.”
What is an overt-covert personality?
While an overt-covert personality doesn’t necessarily exist, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) may fall into overt and covert categories. Both types of NPD typically involve a lack of empathy for others and an inflated sense of self-worth.
However, those referred to as overt narcissists are usually extraverted and have high self-esteem, whereas covert narcissists tend to be more insecure. Overt narcissists tend to display symptoms of NPD in obvious ways, but covert narcissists are usually subtler.
Are feelings covert behaviors?
Feelings are usually categorized as covert behaviors.
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