Covert abuse is death by slow poison, administered by toxic dysfunctional human beings. Usually, it occurs in close relationships. Since, there is no physical violence, at first, you try to ignore it and try to brush it off.
Moreover, as a child, you have no point of reference. You tolerate, deny rationalize and even empathize the bad behaviors. Because it is insidious and deceptive your mind takes a long time to accept that something is off.
Unfortunately, by the time we realize that this is abuse it is too late, Because steadily, bit by bit it has destroyed your trust in yourself. and your world. Covert abuse slowly chips away your sense of self
Covert abuse is considered one of the most destructive forms of abuse. This is because it significantly harms one’s perceptions, memories, thinking, and eventually, one’s sanity. We internalize the abuse and believe the toxic behavior is our fault. Or maybe we are inferior beings. Confusion, self-doubt, and conflict fries our brain synapses. We question our reality and literally feel as though we are going mad.
Covert/Ambient Abuse – The Game of Deception
Like other abuses, covert abuse also known as ambient abuse or hidden abuse is about disrespect. The diminishing of a human being’s worth
This is particularly devastating when it happens in the dynamics of family relationships. Moreover, in families, there is usually one member who ends up being scapegoated or becomes the receptacle for all of the family’s shit.
What is particularly devastating being scapegoated is you know that the person treating you badly is treating everyone else decently. It really distorts your view of your self – something must be really wrong with me to be treated like this. And to fit in you give up on your needs, feelings, and dreams. We slowly obliterate our authentic self. After all, our need to be loved and accepted is a primal need overriding everything else.
Growing up with covertly abusive caregivers is damaging to a child’s growing brain. The cognitive dissonance of what is one’s actual reality skews the wiring of the child’s brain. And lo, we have a mental health epidemic.
Covert Abuses Constitutes:
1) Gaslighting, lying, deceit, feigning ignorance, stealing your ideas and claiming them as their own. not keeping appointments or just changing plans last minute without reason or apology and crazy-making.
2) Subtle maltreatment, favoritism, neglect, silent treatment, stonewalling, triangulation (talking about you to someone and vice versa)
3) Parentification, inducing guilt and obligation for any small favor, uses you but fails to acknowledge your contribution, pretending helplessness and playing the poor-me card
4) Invalidating your feelings, contempt, sarcastic and disparaging remarks, diminishing you and your accomplishments
5) Sexual innuendos, inappropriate looks of lust, uncalled hate, irritation, anger, disgust. (the evil eye is real, looks can kill)
6) Does not reply to texts/messages in a timely manner and lastly ghosting/denying your existence when they have no need for you.
Passive-Aggressive and Lacking Empathy
The abusers are usually, passive-aggressive personalities who have a shit-load of repressed rage within them. They are two-faced snakes who want to keep up their pristine image. Many of them are high on the narcissistic spectrum who have no qualms of destroying another human being just so they get their needs met.
They feel entitled, lack empathy, feel superior, want an easy life. At the core is their superiority and you being the inferior being. They use intermittent reinforcement to keep you trauma-bonded and in a state of life-long obligation. However, whatever you do is never enough.
If you grew up abused, particularly psychologically you invariably end up being having codependency issues. Unable to say ‘No’, always being nice, being a people pleaser. This kind of putting everyone else first slowly erodes the belief that ‘I matter.‘
Furthermore, there people out there who have no qualms about taking and taking – totally disregarding your rights, feelings, and needs.
Sadly, very few of us were taught boundaries when growing up. We were trained to be good girls/boys. The obedient child who submits to authority.
It is all about the abuser’s superiority and keeping you in that subservient state.
Why Covert Abuse is So Destructive
Now all abuse is damaging but with physical, verbal, or sexual there is no doubt that it happened. But covert is done without us realizing that the other person is hurting us or using us. And what is particularly disorienting is their seeming benevolence, kindness, and generosity which is doled out intermittently. It keeps trauma bonded and deluded that the person is not really evil. And that’s the big mistake we make.
The phrase ‘killing us with fake kindness’ is an apt description for the modus operandi of these types of abusers.
Subtle abuse is the most damaging because it is difficult to point a finger at what was really going on. In my case, it was expecting me to always help out because I was a girl. My mother being dead gave my extended family a free pass to put me to work.
First-Hand Experience Of Covert Abuse
The classic example of this type of abuser was an Aunt who in front of my mother’s dead body put her arm around me saying. ‘think of me as your mother’, I was so relieved. One month post my mother’s death, she came over and told my father she is taking me to her place for the weekend – I was thrilled.
At her place, she instructed me to gather the old newspapers and neatly arrange in order to sell them as scrap while she went off on her church errands. The whole weekend was one steady stream of housework. I had many such weekends all through my teen years. In addition, I had to play a marriage counselor, her favorite line was ‘ If anyone was in my place, they would have left Rudy(her husband) long back.’
Not once did she ask me how I was doing, nor did she guide me through my transition to womanhood. To add insult to injury her birthday gifts were always cheap panties. No thank you or appreciation for the help I rendered. Oh, yes she included me in her outings because I was the convenient slave to do her bidding. As a child you know it is wrong but then she was the church leader and key member in the Marriage Encounter group – ironic. Oh, I could write a whole book on her.
Dealing With the Jekyll-Hyde Personality Disorder
Then there was my grandmother, the perfect example of Jekyll-Hyde personality disorder. And an expert in the art of silent treatment. When there were other family members around she’d be so generous but at the times when it really mattered would hide food and play dumb charades. In fact, before my mother died, she was the best grandmother in the world. The total change in persona unhinged me. My child’s mind kept rationalizing, ‘I must have done something wrong.’
Then there was an uncle whose kids I had to take care of because his wife was a great career woman. Now he’d bring the choicest fruits for his kids, while I and my brother watched them eating.
I really struggled to get over my food trauma. Mind they never paid me for babysitting or even thanked me. What was most devastating was when these ingrate kids grew up and became successful they refused to help me when I was a struggling single mom.
How can I forget uncle lustful and his narcissistic wife She accused me of trying to seduce her husband. What was particularly damaging is he continued to check me out without being called out for his lust. I was just 13, at the cusp of becoming a woman. It was the final nail in my coffin – my development was arrested at that age.
By the time I realized that what I was dealing with was a bunch of selfish, mean, and uncaring human beings all my life-force had been sucked out dry. I was a shell of the bright, happy, and trusting girl I was just before my mother died.
After all, how can one get around the fact that these people promised my mother, their sister that they would look out for her kids? The bitter truth was they were only interested in looking out for themselves.
Seeing The Painful Truth
It was so damn painful to see my true reality. However, healing can only happen when we shed the blinkers on our painful truth. That family does not always mean love, caring, support, understanding, and acceptance.
I had to accept the painful truth that human evil is real. And often one will encounter it in your own family. These personality disordered toxic people do not deserve second chances. They never change.
Covert abusers are subtle, cunning, and understated. They are real wolves in sheep’s clothing
Take Care of Yourself First and Stop Catering to Draining People
Retrieving My Lost Self
Spiritual author Iyanla Vanzant has said,
‘Don’t make someone else’s crazy about you, take care of yourself first.’
It is an ongoing struggle overcoming my earlier Christian programming – that I need to put other people first. That I have to forgive and turn the other cheek. And not hurting people’s s feelings even though they are inconsiderate assholes. I had to get over my codependency and learn self-love.
The setting of boundaries has been difficult and challenging. Overcoming the guilt-shame cloud that hangs over me whenever I put my needs and feelings first requires constant effort.
It really helps to listen to videos like the above. Getting validation from the online survivor community and having one enlightened witness has helped me heal my psychic wounds. Slowly, bit by bit those parts of me that had been chipped away are slowly coming back together stronger and brighter than ever before.
My advice, never give a pass or tolerate bad behavior. Pay attention to your gut-feelings. If you get a sense that something does not feel right speak out immediately. Moreover, if there is no apology or change in behavior walk away from this toxicity. Don’t allow someone to destroy your spirit and your life.