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When most of us think of what abuse looks like, we imagine something that is obvious: a woman with a black eye, a man with a bruised jaw, and any other obvious wound. However, abuse, much like anything else in this world, falls on a spectrum.

And some abusers are far more covert than they are obvious. Now, let me be clear: covert abuse is no less damaging than obvious and outright abuse. Actually, one could argue that it’s even worse because there is no refuting obvious abuse. If a woman has a black eye, because her husband punched her, no sane person would argue that isn’t abused. But, when someone is a victim of covert emotional abuse, they are left to battle with themselves, and in many cases, overlook the abuse, because it doesn’t seem like what they were always taught was abuse.

It’s important to remove the stigma of what abuse is and get clear on the reality of abuse. Abuse is not always physical and abuse is not always obvious. Here are 12 signs of covert abuse to look out for.

1. They constantly criticize their partners.

Abusers are constantly working to undermine and belittle their partners. This may be in an obvious way or even a more covert form. Oftentimes, their criticism may feel passive-aggressive- but ultimately, the message is that nothing you do is enough.

2. They use threats.

Another tactic of covert abusers is to use threats to manipulate. There again, these threats may be obvious, or they may just simply work to intimidate you, insinuating that if you don’t bend to their will, something bad will happen to you.

3. They gaslight.

Abusers often gaslight, and this is especially prevalent among covert abusers. Gaslighting, put simply, is when an abuser works to make their victim doubt their own version of reality. Examples of this, is if you called them out on doing something harmful or bad, no matter how much proof you have, and no matter if you witnessed it first hand, they will say “That’s not what happened.” or “You are just too sensitive.”

4. They stonewall.

During arguments, abusers want to have the upper hand. You aren’t able to say their side, because they will either yell over you or shut down entirely and walk away, refusing to hear what you have to say.

5. They are emotionally cruel.

Abusers are also extremely cruel and callous. Even covert narcissists will call you names, and say awful and humiliating things to you, all the while acting as though they have done nothing wrong.

6. They turn everything around on you.

When abusers are called out, they don’t tend to accept responsibility. Even their abuse is your fault. When they are exposed- they turn the tables.

7. They antagonize.

Another trait of covert abuse is when the abuser antagonizes their victim. They do this to incite an extreme reaction from their victim, so when they retaliate and lash back, they feel justified. “If you wouldn’t have acted so crazy, I wouldn’t feel the need to _________.”

8. They are controlling.

Covert abusers are extremely obsessive and controlling. They go through their partner’s phones, they track their partner’s every move, and they tell their partner what they can do and where they can do it. Rather than their partner being an autonomous individual, they are merely considered to be an extension of themselves.

9. They are overly jealous.

Another trait of covert abuse is extreme jealousy. Examples of this may be if a girlfriend refuses to allow her partner to leave her sight because she is convinced he will cheat on her, even if he’s never cheated. Or a boyfriend who demands his girlfriend never go out with her friends, because doing so means she must be venturing outside of the relationship. Love does NOT mean ownership.

10. They isolate you.

Abusers work to isolate their victims and keep them away from the people they love most. They do this in many different ways- they might flat out tell you that you need to stay away from others, or they may slowly pick away at your closest friends and family. In other cases, they may initiate fights between you and your friends, causing separation to happen that you didn’t want.

11. They belittle you in front of others.

Emotional abusers often find ways to belittle and humiliate their partners in front of others, even going as far as to pick at them under the guise of a joke. And while we all pick at our loved ones sometimes, abusers take it to another level.

12. They shift the blame onto you.

When an abuser is called out, they will always shift the blame. For example, when they yell and scream and belittle their partner, they will say their partner deserved it. There is always a reason for their abuse- but let me be clear: THERE IS NEVER AN EXCUSE FOR ABUSE!