Covert Abuse

Covert Abuse

Covert abuse tactics are psychological and emotional in nature. Covert abusers cloak these tactics in concern, love, charm, praise, fake empathy, trustworthiness, smiles and pretending to be your biggest supporter. And they speak with total conviction and confidence. The tactics are under the radar and hidden so that you, the target, can’t easily identify what’s going on.

These tactics frame the ongoing, secret mind games that are meant to systematically manipulate your psychology and emotions. They are designed to get you to doubt yourself and your perceptions, and to get you to take on your abuser’s narrative, thoughts and perspective.

Abusers are skilled at understanding your insecurities and vulnerabilities and will tailor their tactics to destroy the foundation of who you are and your self-worth.

The covert abuser systematically manipulates your mind and your emotional responses using ongoing, secret mind games such as gaslighting, evasion, feigning ignorance, blame-shifting, word twisting and covert aggression because they are very hard to detect, describe or confront.

The abuser uses the pretense of love and caring to make sure that his subtle, covert tactics are off-the-radar and hidden. He knows all the right things to say and exactly what you need to hear. He is skilled at appearing empathetic and trustworthy.

You can be unaware that abuse is happening for years, and even decades. Not only has the abuser convinced people in your life that he is a great guy, but he has also convinced you.

Examples of Covert Manipulation

Smear Campaign

On-lookers of the relationship often believe the abuser when he tells them how he has to deal with the antics of the “overly sensitive ” victim. The abuser will often play the victim themselves and tell people that their partner is abusing them, rather than the other way around. 

The abuser can make up stories about the victim or change things around to make the victim appear at fault. 

Being in a state of anxiety and exasperation, the victim may appear distraught and it can be misunderstood by others.

Friends, co-workers, church members, even therapists believe that the abuser is being victimized. They see the victim as mentally ill or as “too sensitive” depending on how the abuser describes them to others.

This is the beginning of a smear campaign of the victim that can often continue long after the relationship ends. The abuser can ruin the reputation of the victim and strip them of any friends, allies or family support.


The manipulator denies and therefore invalidates reality. Invalidating reality distorts or undermines the victim’s perceptions of their world and can even lead them to question their own sanity.


A manipulator simply denies ever having said something they did indeed say.


Rejecting, diminishing, ignoring, judging or making fun of someone’s feelings. 


Also known as justification or excuse-making. The manipulator creates reasons for their bad behavior that sound logical and rational in order to make their actions more understandable, acceptable or appropriate.


Diminishing and belittling the victim’s opinions and ideas either verbally or non-verbally, (example: eye-rolls, scoffs, smug smiles, sarcasm or a mocking tone of voice.)


Purposeful manipulators lie frequently and without remorse.

People do not expect people to lie about their entire personality.

People understand little lies and lies to get out of trouble, but it does not occur to normal people that someone would lie about everything including who they are, what they want, how they feel and what they think altogether.

Shifting the Focus

With this tactic, you attempt to talk about a concern you have with the manipulator. Instead of dealing with the stated concern, the manipulator simply denies your allegations, expresses incredulity that you could even think such a thing about them, and then discusses the real problem which he purports to be your character flaw.