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Covert Abuse

Updated on August 1, 2009

This is a tough write for me because the pain is still there, but maybe it might help someone else.

There are many forms of abuse. It can physical, like being struck by body parts or objects. It can be mental, using derogatory and/or hurtful words, or one not acknowledging your mate's feelings. Then there is emotional abuse, things like ignoring, exploiting, or rejection. Most people understand what abuse entails, but what if it is a covert behavior?

What I mean by this is the abuse is not obvious by others, even the victim. Some of the abuse is veiled by actions that seem normal, even loving. The abuser is characterized as passive-aggressive, which means having a passive resistance to reasonable requests for an reasonable effort in relationships, in which they resist by deliberately stalling, being stubborn, sulking, and/or not trying their best.

For example, lets talk about ambiguity in speech. Let's say it is your turn to cook one night, and you ask: "What would you like for dinner?" A simple, inoffensive question. He/she responds with "Why is it I always decide, you decide once in a while, you know what I like. You know that statement is untrue, but let it slide. You make the decision to what to cook. You take an hour to cook it, then serve it to him/her. He/she looks at it, then responds: "Why did you cook this when you know I don't like it.

You know he/she liked it before, but maybe you misunderstood. So you say: "I'm sorry my mistake, I will make something else. What would you like?"

"Well, if you asked me the first time, You would of got it right" He/she says.

Now you are perplexed. I did ask. Wait, maybe I just did not ask it right.

Now it just the two of you, and one was just abused but didn't know it. Even if the abused wakes up and realizes it, no one will believe them because there is no evidence.

Here is another example, Let's say you are artist. One of your paintings will be exhibited in a new gallery opening. You ask your s.o to come, and he/she tells you that he/she will be there. You are excited, this means the world to you.

He/she never shows up.

You are disappointed, but you make excuses to why he/she did not come. Maybe the boss was to demanding, or maybe he/she became ill.

The reason is that you wanted something from him/her, and they are not going to give it to you. They find it important not to give it to you. They might act like they care to meet you need, but they really don't. This is called Obstructionism, another way to control you.

Another example: Your birthday is today, and also happens to be Saturday. You sleep in. You wake up and you are alone in bed. It is 10 am. He/she is not home. You smile to yourself. You take a shower and then eat breakfast. You watch a little TV. He/she arrives home about noon.

"Wow, it is about time you got up." he/she says. You are now confused. "I must of done something wrong", you think to yourself.

"I'm sorry. I thought because it was my birthday I could sleep in."

He or she looks at you and says: "Your birthday is today? "I totally forgot."

Yeah right. They will tell you that because they are punishing you for some reason that you can't and will never understand. You will believe you actually did something wrong.

Do you see the pattern of the victims here? They believes the fault lies on them. So they will try harder than ever. They will go beyond what is fair, and give more than they should.

This, of course, will mean absolutely nothing.

The passive-aggressive is usually in a relationship with someone who needs and expectations they can resist. They are attracted to people with low self-esteem who find it easy to make excuses for the other person's  terrible behavior.

They ignore all problems in a relationship. They see things in a twisted way, and if confronted will withdraw. (i.e. cold shoulder or sulk). They are never wrong, and lie or minimize the real version of the truth to make fit their logic.

They never do what they say, and never take responsibility. They make it seem like they do their part in a relationship and are a loving partner. The victim is made to believe they loved and adored, but in reality, the abuser cannot be emotionally attached to anyone.

They do not clearly communicate their needs, expecting the s.o. to read their minds. They believe if their s.o. truly loves them, they should know what they need and want. They don't tell you how they feel, because they can't take any criticism, even it is made to be constructive.

It can be frustrating to live with someone like this. It makes you angry at yourself, wondering what you did wrong to get this kind of treatment? You think: "I must be a bad person."

It is not you, it is him/her.

He/she wants to connect with you, but the fear of this connection makes him/her self-destructive. These actions are covert, and his/her desired relationship with you is pushed further away.

The passive-aggressive never looks at problems internally. Instead, they externalize everything and see only the flaws of others as to blame. They live in denial of how their behavior causes pain and anguish in others.

They value you only to how you feed their emotional needs. They don't see you as having feelings, but rather as an object for their comfort and desires, and are useful as long as their needs are met.

They truly want love and attention but feel in returning it, they will lose their independence and indentity. They will never truly be intimate. They might have sex with you, if they want it and they are not "punishing" you, but making "love" to you does not happen.

There is hope though. They can change. It will take them looking within themselves and acknowledging their shortcomings and what they actual contribute to a relationship. They may have to face traumatic events from their past. Then just maybe they will find the cause of the problems in their life. This will help them to form deep emotional attachments with they can feel same with said emotions.

Do you love him/her enough to make it work?

Did you try to make it work, but the other person would not seek the help?

When did you realize you had to walk away for you own emotional stability?

Does this person still exhibit this in another relationship?

For me, it took a long time to realize what was going on. The biggest problem was I felt embarrassed to ask for help. My thoughts were that, as a man, I should be able to solve it on my own. My own self-worth was questioned.

I could not do it on my own. So, after a period of years, I became a person I never thought I would be.

I was angry and bitter. I became distant to my friends and family, not realizing I was now making the transition from the abused to both abused and the abuser.

Yes, you can be a victim and a perpetrator at the same time.

Staying in a this kind of relationship can change you for the worse if you let it.

Don't let this happen to you or someone else you care about.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Im am so sorry for what you went through:) But I know a few people that are going through the same thing, I will definetly use this to help them find better relationships in their life, because after all life is why waste it with someone who puts you down all the time. You should always surround yourself with loving and caring people at all times:)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      P.S. - the proper term for a person who emotionally abuses covertly (or overtly) is narcissist. Buy every book on the subject you can get your hands on. Literally saved my life!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      You hit the nail right on the head. Nailed it. I have been through this for a lifetime with three members of my family and just figured it out myself. Always thought there must be something wrong with me and that I was not worthy until I figured out it was pure emotional blackmail and abuse. Such a relief to have this wisdom. I went from abused self-hater to a liberated, self-confident person who is now loving life.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Yea my boyfriend was the same way. Anytime I disagreed with him he would give me the silent treatment for weeks and just break his silence to tell me that he was pissed off about something really trivial then continue to stonewall me.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      i need more info!! as a victim of a severly passive aggressive pathological lying spouse can being a long term victim of this covert abuse cause paranoid/schzoid disorder or behaviors???????????

    • Ray the Hope profile imageAUTHOR

      Ray the Hope 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thank you, Kay. Your story illustrates just how frequent this behavior has become. As you have written, it not just between two people in a romantic relationship, but friends and other family members can be just as abusive and not realize it. I hope your story inspires others to seek help that need. Thanks for reading and for your wonderful comment.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Okay, here is my story. I feel better having figured out the puzzle:

      Yes, this is indeed maddening. I was in a relationship like this for 5 years and I was always trying to make it better. I allowed myself to become a very angry, abusive person in my own right towards him in response to years of his covert abuse towards me. I was very disappointed at the person I allowed myself to become - I felt constantly attacked and so I attacked back. But I wanted to get back to normal again so I sought help and got out! He sensed my positive change before I left and became increasingly physically abusive - choking me and throwing me so hard into the wall that I almost ended up in the next apartment. Then he said to me "Bitch, look what you made me do". Once again, my fault according to him.

      That was the past, however, I find that looking back over the 5 years since then (and even growing up) I have always attracted this type of person in "friends", coworkers, bosses, and teachers. My dad is also this type of person (very painful growing up).

      Last week, a person I thought was my friend broke plans to meet using the same excuse she had used about 3 or 4 times before (consecutively). I had that really hurtful (and familiar) inner feeling that she was doing this purposely, but I didn't want to let on that I was hurt. It felt weird because she is always the one who is so gung-ho about meeting up in the first place only to give the EXACT same lame duck excuse.

      This was the last straw for me. I needed to find out what was behind this type of behavior. At one point in time, I labeled this "Hollywood" behavior - like people thought they were so important that they didn't have to keep their word about anything.... but I knew it was something much more sinister. In my search, I found out about Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder. The flood gates of emotions opened up for me as I relived COUNTLESS episodes of PA interactions with people. For a long time it seemed that everyone I held close in some way was PA and it caused me a lot of pain because I could never understand what it was about me that was causing this or why this kept happening to me. It's like being constantly attacked but you can't understand it. It's the worst feeling - like constantly being attacked, beat down, and punished for something I had absolutely nothing to do with, but made to feel guilty for addressing the issue, retaliating, or wanting to end the relationship. I was trying to "Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You"... the problem was, I was always following this philosophy and being forgiving and turning the other cheek and trying to focus on the good qualities in the other person and trying to be the bigger person, but I was the only one doing it. I guess I must have seemed pretty dumb and gullible - too nice - maybe even desperate. It's like I put up with it until it was unbearable, then ended the "relationship" with harsh words spoken. I told them exactly what bridge they could jump off of using an assorted variety of my favorite expletives.

      At any rate, I made the correlation Saturday night/Sunday morning (this weekend 07/10/10), so my emotions are still pretty raw right now. A lot of suppressed memories and emotions welled up inside of me - needing to be released. I am glad to know that it's not me (even though I must be doing something to attract these types of people), and that I'm not crazy, and that now I can stay away from these types of people. I figure that I have been WAY too tolerant and forgiving of this behavior - and have been in denial about how deeply this really does hurt. I'm sure there are plenty of NON-PA people out there who I can make acquaintance with, but it's going to take some time and healing on my part.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Interesting. Maybe a few more people could share their stories to reveal how widespread this kind of abuse is in all walks of life.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thank you for writing this! And thank you for seeing what so many never will.

    • Ray the Hope profile imageAUTHOR

      Ray the Hope 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thank you, Nicole. Some people never realize how often this occurs, even among their own friends, because this kind of thing is trivialized by people who never experienced this kind of abuse. Hopefully, they can look a little closer from now on.

    • Nicole Winter profile image

      Nicole A. Winter 

      9 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Excellent hub, Ray the Hope, you brought up a lot of fantastic points here. Abuse isn't always cut and dried, thank-you for publishing this so hopefully others can recognize themselves in your writing and seek help if needed.


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