Covert Abuse: Warning Signs and Treatment

Getting Effective Help for Abuse-Related Trauma at Icarus

Domestic abuse can take many forms, including emotional, verbal, sexual, physical, and financial abuse. Increasing awareness surrounding abuse means that more people who have been abused can talk about what they’ve been through and get help.

The problem with covert abuse is that it can be difficult to identify. Whether or not you know you have been abused, abuse has lasting effects. Learning about covert abuse can help you understand your experiences and heal from abuse-related trauma. At Icarus, we are here to help.

First, let’s define covert abuse and go over the signs of covert abuse. Then, we’ll talk about the effects of covert abuse and how Icarus Behavioral Health can support healing!

What is Covert Abuse?

What is Covert Abuse

The word covert means “not openly acknowledged or displayed.” It can also be defined as “hidden or secret.” In other words, covert abuse is hidden abuse.

Often, covert abuse includes emotional abuse tactics that are easy to explain or hide, even in plain sight. For example, a covert abuser may play the victim to keep others from catching onto their abusive behavior or pretend that they’re doing something for your “own good” rather than to gain power and control over you. This excuse is just one of many a covert abuser might use.

Covert abuse relies heavily on manipulation and making you question your own reality. Someone who uses covert abuse tactics may blame you for your reaction when you feel hurt, which can lead to confusion and make you question whether or not you “have the right” to be hurt.

Like other forms of abuse, covert abuse can occur in a parent-child relationship, romantic partnership, or another type of relationship.

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How to Identify Covert Abuse Tactics: 6 Examples

Since covert abuse is deeply insidious and can be hard to identify, it’s particularly important to learn about the tactics covert abusers use. That way, you can pinpoint current covert abuse or covert abuse that happened in the past.

Examples of covert abuse include but aren’t limited to the following.

  1. Blame shifting: Commonly, covert abusers will shift blame to make the person on the receiving end feel as though it’s “their fault.” For example, “If you changed, everything would be fine.”
  2. Subtle ridiculing behavior: Covert abuse can involve subtle ridiculing behavior. For example, the person may use a condescending tone toward you, make jabs at your skills or intellect but frame it as “helping” you, or otherwise put you down.
  3. Love-bombing: It is very common to see love bombing in abusive relationships. Love bombing is when someone overloads you with nice things, compliments, or kindness but proceeds to use controlling or otherwise abusive behavior. This often leads to confusion. In some cases, the person could be your biggest supporter one minute but put you down the next. You may not leave because you think to yourself, “There are good times, too!”
  4. Gaslighting: Gaslighting is when a person makes you question your own reality. A covert abuser might say, “That never happened,” “You’re making it up,” “It’s all in your head,” or “I don’t remember that” about a very real event that occurred.
  5. Silent treatment: In some cases, a covert abuser will use the silent treatment or stonewalling as a form of punishment. Maybe, they don’t want you to see your friends. When you go out with your friends, you then get the silent treatment. Or, perhaps you want to discuss how you felt when your parents said something that hurt your feelings. They may give you the silent treatment instead of talking to you about it, potentially after using another abuse tactic, like gaslighting, to tell you that it “never happened” or that you’re “too sensitive.”
  6. Playing the victim: A covert abuser will often try to make you feel guilty, especially if you don’t go along with what they say or do. Sometimes, they may try to paint you as the one engaging in abusive behavior. People who abuse others do not take responsibility for their actions and may play the victim to feel okay about what they’ve done.

For many, the implications of covert psychological abuse and the mind games that come with it are lasting. Someone who was an abused child can experience these implications, as can someone who underwent abuse as an adult.

What are the Effects of Covert Emotional Abuse?

Effects of Covert Emotional Abuse

Once you acknowledge that covert abuse happened, you can start the healing process. Covert abuse is an emotional roller coaster, but it’s far beyond that.

Whether you experienced covert abuse as an adult or child, here are some of the potential effects that can emerge.

With the help of trauma treatment centers like our programs at Icarus, the good news is that you can overcome even the most profound of these effects successfully.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Abuse is a traumatic experience. Many people who have experienced covert abuse will develop post-traumatic stress disorder or show signs of complex PTSD.
  • Low self-esteem: Since covert abusers often tear down a person’s self-esteem, many people exit abusive situations with low self-esteem or an impaired sense of self.
  • People-pleasing behavior: After covert abuse, you may engage in people-pleasing behavior. It may be scary for you to let someone down, say no, or not go along with what others say, even if you disagree. This is a learned survival mechanism for many people who have been at the receiving end of diverse abuse tactics.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety disorders are more prevalent among those who have experienced any type of abuse. Social anxiety symptoms can emerge as a way of coping for victims; you may fear that you have done something wrong all of the time, even if you haven’t. Multiple anxiety disorders are known to occur frequently in victims of abuse.
  • Depression: Similar to anxiety, depression is more common in people who have experienced abuse. Feelings of guilt, sadness, and low self-esteem can all feed into thought patterns commonly seen in those with depressive disorders. Like with PTSD and anxiety disorders, depression is more common in those who have been victims of abuse.
  • Patterns of unhealthy relationships: Abuse can skew your idea of a healthy relationship. At times, a person will have been the victim of abuse multiple times. You may have undergone abuse from a family member as a child and went on to enter relationships with an abuser as an adult, perhaps multiple times.
  • Guilt: Once you acknowledge what happened to you, you may experience guilt for feeling angry at your abuser or go through a range of other emotions. Guilt is a common PTSD symptom and often emerges for victims of covert abuse. Treatment can help you understand that your feelings are valid and express them healthily.

How Trauma Treatment Can Help You Overcome Covert Abuse

Trauma Treatment Can Help You Overcome Covert Abuse

Healing from abuse takes time and care. Our trauma treatment programs can help you heal from abuse. In complex trauma treatment at Icarus, you can learn to set healthy boundaries, build or rebuild confidence, and form supportive relationships with others. We’ll help you create a strong toolbox of coping skills.

With the support of staff members and others in treatment, you will grow to understand your experiences and the way they affected you. You can then get to a place where your nervous system is at ease, and you’re less apt to experience the fight, flight, or freeze response, in everyday situations – a common challenge that stems from abuse.

Our staff members use a range of evidence-based treatments to help clients like you overcome covert emotional abuse. In our programs, you will work with your assigned individual therapist and engage in groups, recreation, and other supportive activities.

Levels of Care Offered in Trauma Treatment

We offer multiple treatment options for those who have been abused or who experience various mental health concerns, including those that may co-occur with trauma and trauma disorders.

Here are the types of treatment programs offered at Icarus Behavioral Health and how they can help you.

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Medical Detoxification for Clients Using Substances

If you have a co-occurring substance use disorder, we can help. Clients actively using substances will enter medical detoxification or “detox” first so that they can do the healing work necessary in our programs for substance abuse and dual diagnosis concerns.

Residential or Inpatient Treatment

Residential or inpatient treatment can be used for substance abuse, trauma, and mental health concerns, whether you experience one or several of these concerns. Our residential inpatient treatment for trauma is an immersive experience.

You will eat, sleep, and live in residential inpatient housing at Icarus Behavioral Health. During the day, you’ll have a regular schedule of treatment activities. At the end of the day, you can take advantage of our on-site amenities and relax.

Partial Hospitalization Program: Our PHP

Partial hospitalization programs are the most intensive kind of outpatient treatment. The partial hospitalization program at Icarus Behavioral Health requires that you attend care multiple days per week, for more treatment hours total than a traditional outpatient program. The time commitment is a lot like that of a typical work or college schedule.

Intensive Outpatient Programs: Flexibility and Support

Intensive outpatient treatment is more flexible than partial hospitalization. While you’ll attend fewer total treatment hours per week, you will still get to engage in a comprehensive set of individual therapy sessions, groups, and other treatments as an intensive outpatient client.

Get Help for Trauma From Covert Abuse at Icarus Today

Get Help for Trauma From Covert Abusive Behavior

Through our trauma treatment programs, you can rebuild your life and well-being after abuse. To get in touch with Icarus Behavioral Health, call the admissions line on our website today.

When you reach out, we’ll help you verify your insurance coverage, book a tour, or answer your questions for free. If we miss your initial call, a staff member will reach out to you shortly.

All calls are confidential, so please reach out and get options for a brighter tomorrow, today!

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FAQs on Covert Abuse vs Overt Abuse

What is covert and overt abuse?

While covert refers to something that is hidden, the word “overt” means “obvious.” Covert abuse is insidious, and it can be harder to see covert tactics of abuse for what they are.

Overt abuse is not concealed. Often, overt abuse will include things like hitting. You likely know that hitting someone is abusive, but you may be less apt to notice covert emotional abuse tactics used to control or hurt you.

What is an example of overt abuse?

Physically harming someone is an example of an overtly abusive act. All forms of abuse can come with overt or covert components, however.

What is the difference between overt and covert violence?

Covert violence is heavily manipulative, and it is concealed. It is easier to detect overt violence compared to covert abuse tactics.

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