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10 Signs of Covert Abuse & How to Find Help in NC

Hidden domestic violence is a silent destroyer that thrives in secrecy, leaving emotional scars. Domestic abuse is often misunderstood, and covert abuse can be insidious, hidden, and emotionally damaging.

By recognizing covert abuse, you can find the strength to break free. We’ll also equip you with invaluable knowledge about the resources and support available in North Carolina, ensuring you can access the assistance and protection you deserve. Read on to start uncovering the signs of covert abuse and find safety and hope. 

What is Covert Abuse?

“Covert abuse generally refers to abuse that is hidden or goes unacknowledged. This type of abuse can occur in any kind of relationship and often involves the abuser blaming the target of the abuse for their harmful actions. Covert abusers may isolate and gaslight their target. They may also threaten violence against them. Meanwhile, survivors of covert abuse often have low self-esteem and feelings of guilt regarding the situation.” (1)

Signs of Covert Abuse

Recognizing covert abuse is essential for identifying and addressing the hidden forms of domestic violence that can be emotionally damaging. In addition, many individuals suffer from physical health issues because of the intensity of emotional abuse.

Covert abuse refers to various manipulative tactics employed by individuals engaging in abusive behavior within relationships, whether romantic partnerships or parent-child dynamics. Unlike overt abuse, which is more easily identifiable, covert abuse operates out of plain sight, hidden behind closed doors, and disguised as seemingly innocuous actions.

Covert abusers utilize various tactics to maintain power and control, including emotional abuse, silent treatment, mind games, and condescending tones.

Victims of covert abuse often experience confusion, self-doubt, and feeling lost as their abuser distorts their reality and undermines their self-worth. Identifying covert abuse can be challenging, as the abusive behavior is subtle and insidious, leaving victims feeling trapped and powerless.

It is crucial to recognize the signs of covert abuse, such as feeling constantly hurt, experiencing a sense of being in the wrong, and the erosion of your own reality.

By acknowledging the existence of covert abuse and seeking support from trusted individuals, support groups, or professionals, victims can begin healing and establish healthy boundaries to regain emotional safety and reclaim their lives.

Ten Signs of Covert Abuse:

1. Gaslighting: The abuser manipulates your perception of reality, causing you to doubt your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

2. Isolation: The abuser systematically isolates you from friends, family, and support networks, making you increasingly dependent on them for validation and companionship.

3. Control and Surveillance: They excessively monitor your activities, invade your privacy, and dictate your daily routine, limiting your autonomy and freedom.

4. Emotional Manipulation: The abuser employs tactics like guilt-tripping, emotional blackmail, and manipulating your emotions to maintain power and control over you.

5. Intermittent Reinforcement: They alternate between affection and hostility, creating a cycle of reward and punishment that keeps you off balance and eager to please them.

6. Financial Exploitation: The abuser controls and restricts access to finances, creating financial dependency and making it difficult for you to leave the relationship.

7. Verbal and Psychological Abuse: They use demeaning language, insults, criticism, humiliation, and threats to undermine your self-esteem and sense of worth.

8. Neglect and Withholding Affection: The abuser withholds love, affection, and emotional support, leaving you feeling unimportant and undeserving of their attention.

9. Blaming and Shifting Responsibility: They consistently blame you for their actions, making you feel responsible for their abusive behavior and denying any accountability.

10. Intimate Partner Coercion: The abuser pressures or forces you into sexual acts or situations without your consent, disregarding your boundaries and violating your autonomy.

If you identify with any of these signs or suspect that someone you know may be experiencing covert abuse, it is crucial to seek help and support from trusted friends, family, or professionals specializing in domestic violence. Remember, you deserve to live a life free from abuse and oppression.


Domestic violence in North Carolina is defined as when your partner: 

  • Attempting to Physically Abuse: Tries to physically hurt you or an individual in your household
  • Physical Abuse: Physically hurts you or an individual in your household on purpose
  • Fear of Harm: Puts you or individuals in your household in fear of a serious injury 
  • Harassment: Puts you or individuals in your household in fear of continued harassment. The harassment is bad enough to cause substantial emotional distress.
  • Sexual Assaults Against You: Sexual assault happens when you do not consent to a sexual encounter, but your partner goes ahead anyway. Even if you agree to a sexual encounter and then change your mind, your partner should stop. If you cannot know what you are doing, your partner should not engage in a sexual encounter with you. For example, if you drink too much alcohol and pass out, your partner should not engage in a sexual act since you can’t consent.
  • Sexual Assaults or Encounters Against Others: Any sexual touch or encounters with you or anyone in your household that are not consensual or involve a child.


Many individuals are aware that physically striking someone constitutes a form of violence. However, situations become more complex when considering instances where individuals threaten to cause harm without physical contact.

Nonetheless, the laws in North Carolina explicitly state that certain types of threats fall under the category of domestic violence.

Examples of clearly illegal domestic violence include these offenses against you or members of your household:

  • Hitting, kicking, or shoving 
  • Using weapons or other objects to hurt 
  • Threatening to use weapons or other objects to hurt
  • Any sexual offense 
  • Threats or intimidation that makes you fear future harm
  • Harassment that causes serious emotional distress

Is Verbal Assault Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence encompasses any form of assault, including verbal abuse. However, the legal landscape in North Carolina can be intricate and subject to interpretation by law enforcement and the judicial system. Consequently, taking advantage of protective measures provided by the law may prove challenging unless you experience explicit threats of bodily harm or persistent harassment.

Nonetheless, if you find yourself experiencing verbal abuse, it is crucial to assert your right to seek safety. Given the complexity of the legal framework, it is wise to seek assistance from a counseling center or shelter that understands the potential consequences of exploring various coping strategies.

Discussing your concerns and available options with a knowledgeable attorney specializing in domestic violence cases can clarify the legal avenues accessible in your particular circumstances.

Making informed decisions is pivotal in determining the best course of action for your next steps. 

Am I In An Abusive Relationship??

According to the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCCADV), domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behavior by a partner aimed at instilling fear to exert control. 

This can manifest in various forms, whether through verbal or physical means. The underlying intent remains consistent: to manipulate and dominate through fear. Such behavior may encompass physical aggression, emotional manipulation, or other controlling tactics.

Domestic violence extends beyond the boundaries of legality, as its impact on your well-being and safety matters! Regardless of legal recourse, finding help in an abusive romantic partnership is crucial!

According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, examples of verbal abuse may include:

  • Threatening to hurt you or others
  • Controlling what you do and who you see in a way that interferes with your work, education, or other personal activities
  • Using technology to track, monitor, or frighten you
  • Threatening to have you deported
  • Stealing your belongings
  • Destroying your belongings
  • Constantly criticizing you or calling you names
  • Threatening to tell others personal information
  • Constant put-downs
  • Making you feel afraid
  • Threatening to disclose your sexual orientation
  • Denying you basic needs such as food, housing, clothing, or medical and physical assistance

You may live in daily fear, thinking there is no recourse for verbal violence and threats. You may believe you will lose everything, including your children if you speak to anyone. Often there is also a fear that verbal violence will escalate to a physical level. However, there are many resources to help you define what is happening with your partner and stop the abuse.

Why It’s Time to Stop Your Partner’s Abusive Behaviors

Experiencing covert abuse, particularly in the form of covert psychological tactics, can profoundly impact individuals who have gone through abusive relationships or domestic violence situations.

It is crucial to acknowledge that those affected by domestic abuse may feel guilty or experience feelings of shame. Acknowledging that abuse happened and that a partner uses covert tactics to hurt you is difficult. Thinking you can fix the situation by being your partner’s biggest supporter is normal. 

Covert abuse includes various manipulative tactics, such as using a condescending tone to cause you to doubt your perception of your reality. The covert abuser may involve family members by insinuating harmful ideas about you. Or if you felt hurt by something they did, they may try to convince you that your feelings are invalid.

These common tactics can be crazy-making, so talking with those who’ve walked in your shoes is crucial. Getting in touch with the NCCADV or calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 can be a good start to discovering your best next steps to stop the abuse.

Whether within romantic relationships or other personal connections, establishing a healthy relationship free from common abusive tactics is crucial. Support from mature individuals who’ve found safety from a past abusive relationship can play a vital role in helping you find your way.

Start Your Healing

Many individuals who suffer from hidden abuse struggle with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and need time for healing to recover. The first step is to identify covert abuse in your relationship.

Recognizing abusive behavior and its impact is essential, as you may feel trapped, confused, or have a loss of self-worth. Identifying and acting upon covert emotional abuse is crucial, rather than accepting it as a normal part of life. That’s why talking to a supportive and understanding individual at a recognized organization can help you begin to understand what is happening and find relief.

And talking with an experienced domestic violence attorney can help you take the legal steps to stay safe and protect yourself and any children. By holding covert abusers accountable and seeking support, you can begin your journey toward healing and once again establish a sense of safety and well-being for yourself and your loved ones.


Whether or not you can prove in a court of law that you were verbally assaulted (causing fear of bodily injury or continued harassment causing you substantial emotional distress), you have the right to seek help. 

It’s essential to recognize that help is available even when dealing with hidden abuse. Whether or not the legal system categorizes your circumstances as abusive, if you are confronted with a recurring pattern of domestic violence, you deserve the opportunity to find potential solutions. 

Your well-being and safety should always be a priority, and resources are ready to support you in navigating your challenges.

Let Our Experienced Domestic Abuse Legal Team Help

At Scharff Law, we aim to assist you toward a life free from violence by providing comprehensive support within the framework of domestic violence laws.

Whether you experience intimidation through verbal threats or physical harm from your partner, we are committed to standing by your side and ensuring your fundamental human right to safety.

We firmly believe that the challenges you encounter are not a reflection of your actions. You are not abused because of something you did or did not do. And domestic violence can affect anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, age, gender identity, education, religion, or cultural background.

Get in touch today for a free consultation to discuss your concerns regarding your partner and discover how we can help.