"The MEND Project is a nonprofit organization focused on creating awareness and ending “Double Abuse,” a form of abuse victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse experience when they seek help among their support system (family, friends, spiritual leaders, counselors, doctors, teachers, etc.) and, rather than receive empathy and support, the victim is not believed, minimized, blamed and/or ostracized. The MEND Project was created to effect a movement to help victims of abuse, as well as those who are marginalized, so they can move from merely surviving to thriving.
When most women think about “intimate partner abuse” typically bruises or broken bones come to mind, but abuse is not always that black and white. In fact, the gray area of abuse can go undetected for months, sometimes even years or decades. It’s called “covert emotional abuse.” Prolonged abuse of this nature can result in very serious psychological harm, which can, in turn, manifest into serious physical illness. It is considered one of the most destructive forms of abuse, second only to life-threatening battery because it significantly impacts one’s perceptions, memories, thinking, and ultimately, sanity. Intended to exert control of another, covert abuse is difficult to identify and confront because it causes prolonged states of stressful confusion or is mistaken as unkindness.
Unkindness can be easy to sweep under the rug for a time by making excuses for your partner. You might overlook unkindness because your partner has a stressful job or is dealing with some other life problem. Or maybe they have tricked you into thinking it’s your problem and everything that goes wrong is your fault. Maybe your partner makes jokes at your expense or minimizes experiences or feelings that are meaningful to you. But you are not quite sure how to pinpoint the problem. In the back of your mind you know something is not right, but you’re confused and cannot conceive that your loved one might be intentionally manipulating you.
If this sounds familiar, you may be in an abusive relationship. The first step to healing is learning to identify and name the abusive behavior. If you can identify what is happening in your relationship, you become empowered and can then take the necessary steps get the help you need. Below is a list of the most typical forms of covert emotional abuse to help you identify exactly what is happening in your relationship.
1) Blaming & Reverse Blaming: Defensiveness or denial or phrases like “This is your fault” is common. Issues are mostly one sided. If there is a persistent pattern of blaming, domestic violence is likely present. In reverse blaming, the perpetrator may convert the concerns or corrections of the victim into being her problem: “If you’d stop doing… then I wouldn’t ….”, or claims that you are too critical or sensitive.
2) Broken Promises: Making promises to do certain things or to change, then denying ever making them. Justifying not keeping promises or forgetting promises that have been made.
3) Cover-ups: Doing a molehill of good to cover up a mountain of bad. The abuser may volunteer at the local church or charity to make up for the abusive behavior at home.
4) Crazy Making Behaviors: Intentionally distorting reality for the purpose of making the victim feel confused or “crazy.” Typically, a mix of passive aggressive behaviors that are meant to deflect and avoid responsibility.
5) Creating a Cloud of Confusion: Telling false and grandiose stories to third parties in order to undermine objectively and manipulate the end result or outcome.
6) Deflection: Your partner refuses to authentically communicate. Instead they establish what can be discussed, withhold information, change the topic, or invent a false argument. All of these deflection tactics scapegoat the victim and stonewall resolution.
7) Denial: Your partner refuses to accept responsibility by living in a false reality. While denial can be a dissociative defense, when covert abuse is involved, he/she uses manipulation to dismiss that the abuse is happening.
8) Disavowal: Your partner belittles and devalues the importance of his/her abusive behavior, as well as of what you think or feel, both for the purpose of avoiding responsibility.
9) Entitlement: Your partner places unrealistic demands on you based on the belief that he/she deserves privileges, special treatment, or double standards at your expense. He/she does not value you while his/her own value is inflated.
10) Faux Confusion/Abusive Forgetting: A form of manipulation that allows your partner to not remember any solutions to problems or promises made.
11) False Accusations: A negative lie told to or about you. These are usually unexpected attacks based on fictional conversations, problems, or arguments. The accusations may have a thread of truth, but are completely distorted. They seem to come out of the blue for the purpose of shifting responsibility from your partner’s behavior to you to make your partner appear innocent.
12) Gas Lighting: Your partner alters or denies a shared reality to confuse you or make you feel crazy or doubt yourself. He/she may tell you that your reality is imaginary or inaccurate, and that no one will believe you or give any credence to your story.
13) Withholding: One of the most toxic and habitual forms of abuse. Your partner refuses to listen to you, denies you your experience, and refuses to share himself or his good fortune with you, putting himself first in all circumstances. He is stingy with affection, respect, and energy, disregarding your feelings, views, individuality, and personhood.
If one or more of these covert behaviors are present in your relationship you are being emotionally abused. Do not take this lightly. Do not make excuses for your partner. Even one single covert behavior in a repeated pattern is enough to be destructive to you and your relationship. Multiple patterns are exponentially harmful. Because of the subtleties of covert abuse, it can cause confusion and self-doubt. Your partner is likely working very hard to make you feel responsible for any abuse or negativity.
Steps To Take If You Are Experiencing Covert Abuse
1) Get Clarity: You are one step closer by just reading the descriptions of covert abuse above. Continue your research so you fully understand what is happening to you. Go to www.themendproject.com and read about the different scenarios of covert abuse.
2) Journal Abusive Behavior: Start noticing. Keep a diary or journal (that is safe from prying eyes) and begin documenting all the interactions that feel abusive to you in their varied forms. While you may need this data for future legal reasons, the main purpose is to see clearly what is happening, as moment-by-moment as possible. This document will help you get out of the swirl of stressful confusion and give you important feedback. Check these behaviors using The MEND Project website’s glossary of terms. You will also begin to notice the patterns that are occurring as you see how the abuse is repeated and the cycles within it.
3) Choose Wisely Whom to Confide. Be mindful of the potential for Double Abuse, which can occur when your support system that you confide in does not offer you empathy and support, does not believe you, and minimizes, blames or ostracizes you. Confide in a truly trustworthy family member or friend, who will listen without judgment or easy solutions, and offer validation and support.
4) Find Your Voice. As you become more and more aware of what is happening, you will become empowered to speak about your experience to others who can offer you help.
5) Identify Appropriate Intervention.
Work with an experienced therapist or social worker who is seasoned at conducting interventions that deal with abuse. DO NOT attempt an intervention on your own, with your children (even adult children), with your partner’s friends or family, or small group in which he is a participant. If those you approach to help you are unable to listen, validate, and support you, thank them for their time, and do not turn to them again. This is the time when your voice and your words need to help you hold onto the truth you have learned.
6) Couples Therapy or Not? Active abuse cannot be healed in conjoint therapy. Most therapists are not professionally trained to identify covert emotionally abusive behaviors. Abuse is not a mutual marital issue. Abuse is always a choice. It is never a mistake, and it is never the victim’s fault. Collaborative therapy can help support and empower the victim, as well as confront the perpetrator, provide accountability and support efforts to change.
7) Be Prepared to Enter Into a ‘Controlled Separation’ During Time of Healing. Separating serves two purposes. The first, establishs a firm boundary showing that the victim will not compromise or accept further maltreatment. The second, is to step away to gain clarity on what is happening in your relationship. It is harder to identify patterns when the perpetrator consistenlty adds new chaos into the relationship. Be prepared to experience retaliation. A controlled separation may help to thwart over reactions. You can learn more about controlled separations at www.liveabout.com/what-is-a-controlled-separation-1103153.
8) Extricate. If you are in a critical situation that you must extricate yourself from as soon as possible, follow these four steps for immediate help:
· Call the national hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) or find a local shelter
· Create an exit plan
· Have a separate, private cell phone
· Have cash and a bag packed
9) Batterer’s Prevention Training. If the perpetrator is willing to change, prolonged participation in a domestic violence batterers prevention program can be very helpful to take responsibility, deal with and change abusive attitudes, faulty belief systems, and patterns of harmful behavior. Batterers prevention programs do not only serve physical batterers. Emotional abuse is battery of the mind.
10) Couples Therapy After Intervention: If your partner completes a domestic violence training program, or is many months into a program and you can see significant changes, and you are not experiencing severe trauma symptoms, this may may be a time to decide to work on the relationship while remaining separated. Couple’s therapy with an experienced therapist can be invaluable at this stage. Whether or not a victim can consider reentering therapy should be determined partially on the severity of their trauma symptoms. The risk of exacerbated trauma is important to not underestimate. Often the marriage union is incorrectly placed as the highest priority when the emotional and physical health of the individuals within the marriage are marginalized. Only 3% of all domestic abuse perpetrators are able to change their behavior."