Covert Verbal Abuse and How it Lives On

August 23, 2019 Katlyn Brinkley 

Covert verbal abuse is a type of verbal abuse which can come in many forms and at many speeds. But at any rate, it can be detrimental to your self-esteem both during that relationship and as you live your life even after the abuse has stopped. Covert verbal abuse can have lasting effects that are just as impactful to your psyche as severe verbal abuse. It was really hard for me to identify this as the root behind a lot of my problems with confidence afterward.

Covert Verbal Abuse Has the Potential to Escalate

Covert verbal abuse can make you dislike yourself. I've always been a little self-conscious about my physical appearance, but I remember certain times being harder than others. When I was 21, I moved in with my partner of a year. We had a great relationship, initially. He was motivated and interested in my success; we were partners always pushing each other to be better. However, after a year, he started making comments that I knew were inappropriate for a partner to be concerned about. It started small, like asking why I parted my hair differently. Later, he questioned if I was sure I wanted to wear certain outfits on a night out.

While these hardly seemed like comments to break up with someone over, I couldn't ignore my discomfort. I wondered why he cared about these tiny things. Did they really bother him so much that he had to say something? My unease started to stack up over time, and so did his comments. I began to feel like this was less about his lack of a filter and more about control; he was using covert verbal abuse to control me.

He started pulling my shoulders back when we would shower. He'd make comments about what I ordered at restaurants regardless of the presence of waiters. He bugged me about going to the gym constantly. I've always enjoyed staying fit and healthy, yet his relentless suggestions evoked a resentment in me that came in the form of stubborn resistance and I stopped exercising altogether. I also ate more, maybe to prove that I didn't need anyone micromanaging my decisions or maybe because I was unhappy. I discovered in therapy later that these were my ways of regaining control in these situations. I had let his comments build over a three-year relationship, and it was starting to affect my mental and physical states.

The Lasting Effects of Covert Verbal Abuse

When I ended the relationship, I eventually found my groove, working out and eating healthy again. However, although these were positive changes, they soon became extreme. I obsessed about what I was eating and the way my clothes looked. There was a constant battle of feeling like I should eat less to be thinner, but then feeling so hungry that I would eat a lot. This was followed by extreme guilt. Then the cycle would start all over again. Food and my appearance were at the forefront of my mind every minute of the day. I soon learned I was on the path of developing an eating disorder and started to seek help.

Better Late than Never: Addressing Prior Verbal Abuse

After lots of mindfulness techniques, therapy, yoga and time, I learned to challenge the maladaptive beliefs and anxiety surrounding my appearance. While, of course, some thoughts still peep their ugly heads out, I've learned that self-love doesn't mean working toward perfection, but accepting imperfection and celebrating individuality.

Verbal abuse doesn't always come in the form of cursing or yelling; gaslighting and emotional abuse are forms of it as well, and it can be all too easy to ignore small, but harmful comments. I had a hard time identifying covert verbal abuse, so I encourage you to listen to your gut and address verbal abuse in any of its forms.

Have you experienced covert verbal abuse? How have you dealt with your experiences since?

APA Reference
Brinkley , K. (2019, August 23). Covert Verbal Abuse and How it Lives On, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 20 from

Author: Katlyn Brinkley 

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