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This is What Covert Hidden Abuse Looks Like

by | Jul 1, 2019 | Articles, Emotional Abuse, Learning, Survivor Identity, Waking Up | 11 comments

The following poem was written by a member of our private Flying Free community. To learn more about this education and support group which opens up every few months, please go HERE.

If you’d like to hear her read this in her own voice followed by an interview, head over to Podcast Episode 26. There is a transcript download that includes this poem over there as well!


By Brenna

copyright 2019

I think

I might

Be going crazy

I never was before

But now I am

I think something is wrong

The something must be me

I must be going crazy


There’s nothing black-and-white for me to rest my finger on

Nothing cut and dry that will explain my sense of dread

Instead there is a litany of good that I have memorized

He has always bought amazing gifts

Remembered my favorite drinks

Made sure there was plenty in the bank

Which he never kept from me

Never cheated on me

Never screamed in my face

But yet

I think something is wrong

I must be going crazy

After all

It’s not like

He’s ever really hurt me

I can’t quite wrap my heart around the shock

The searing pain

Of hearing those cruel words about my body

I can’t quite grasp how to respond

When he turns away with sorrow in his eyes

For himself

To be stuck with a wife

As ugly as me

For a second I am angry

That he can grieve for himself and then go to sleep

While I am left in the dark



I realize he just hates himself for hating me

It’s not his fault I gained those pounds

A size 8 is far larger than the 4 he married

So I comfort him until he falls asleep

And try to silence my heart’s screaming

I catch sight of myself in the mirror

And I understand his pain

Now I see it too

How awful I am

He is right, just trying to help

So why can’t I shake this unending pain

I think I’m too sensitive

Or maybe going crazy

After all

It’s not like

He’s ever really hurt me

He tells me with tears in his eyes

That he uses videos of other women

To make up for what I lack

He is so sad

So grieved about his failure

There is no allowance for me to be angry

I must offer grace and forgiveness

So I do

At each new confession; each new failure

Year after year

But his words ring in my ears

The comments about my weight

my size

my looks

They cut like a knife

His eyes above me looking down

Disgust pouring out

My body lying there exposed


Found wanting



But later the cruelty taken back

Never meant; should be forgotten

Promises made

Promises broken

A cycle repeating

If only I could be better

If only my skin could bring him joy instead of pain

I cringe at every glance

Cover up

Switch to the guest bathroom

So I won’t have to wonder

If his gaze will hold desire, indifference, or disgust

I hide myself

I hate myself

I think I am going crazy

After all

It’s not like

He’s ever really hurt me

I do my best to be the best

To be what he knows he deserves

After all he is better than me

At life

at looks

at knowing me

I cook but make a simple mistake

Now he won’t look at me

Won’t speak to me

I wander around, anxiety pulsing in my veins

Trying to figure out the best way to be the best wife

Stay quiet or try to talk

Walk away or stay near

The minefield I tried to avoid

Has exploded

The eggshells

I so carefully tread across

Are slicing my feet

But he tells me he never wanted me to walk across them

He never asked that of me

So I wonder why I am

I think I might be going crazy

After all

It’s not like

He’s ever really hurt me

We have fun together

Laugh and talk

Go out with family

And to our friend’s homes

But then I catch that tightening around his lips

The way they get a bit taut

And white around the edges

And suddenly I am on edge

I cannot think clearly

I must have said something stupid

Or my double chin is showing

Or this shirt is too tight

Or this dress is all wrong

I should have remembered that swim-suits are a no-win option

I cannot relax

I can no longer have fun

My legs begin to bounce

And I pull my shirt to loosen it

And silence my laugh and my voice

In case they are the problem

Because if I don’t

Then I will be ignored

Not touched

Not loved

A disappointment not even worthy of a goodnight kiss

But why is my heart racing over a simple tightened lip

A shade whiter around the edges

No one else would ever notice

I think I might be going crazy

After all

It’s not like

He’s ever really hurt me

My breath comes faster

My heart beats quicker

And as I listen to him cry and pour his out heart

About how much it hurts him

That I am this way

That I do not match the hope in his mind

The expectations he knows I can meet

If would stop being lazy

And just try

My nails press into my arms

Deeper and harder

Cutting skin but grounding my mind

I must stay focused

I must not become emotional

I must not be hard-hearted

I must face my own short-comings with humility

I must care for him

I must not be angry

So my arms are dotted with crescent moons

That won’t fade away

Permanent reminders of how

I am going crazy

After all

it’s not like

He’s ever really hurt me

He works so hard

And he needed that pillow

I was trying to be strong for myself

But strength doesn’t seem to work out in my favor

I gave it to him

But it wasn’t enough

I tried to cuddle up and make the tension go away

But I should have known that he needs space when he’s been angry

I thought he said before that he likes to be comforted when he’s angry

I must have been confused

And now that soft touch

Has been used against me

His arms

Once so trusted around me

Locked down


I think I must have exaggerated

It really wasn’t bad

But it hurts to take a deep breath

It hurts to turn or lift or bend

Not terribly though

And he is sorry

Terribly sorry

He truly just didn’t know he had the strength to hurt

He asks me to forgive him

Demands that I forgive him

I cannot bring myself say the words

And so

I am branded an unforgiving wife

Who does not love him

At least, not as much as he loves me

But I have always forgiven

And I have always loved

I have always tried so hard

It doesn’t seem to be enough

I think I’m going crazy

After all

He’s just barely hurt me

I don’t want a tight hug

Last time that brought pain

I’m learning about boundaries

So I simply say no thank you

But he doesn’t like that answer

His body doesn’t match his face

His smile is genuine and kind

His voice hurt and confused

His body tall and overpowering

Step after step

Walking into my space

Wondering, asking, kind, curious

Why I don’t want his hug?

Why do I seem scared?

What has he done to deserve that?

My voice still speaks

No thank you, please listen

But it’s shaking

My hands outstretched

Trying to hold my ground

But they’re shaking

My back reaches the counter

Suddenly his face matches his body

He is furious

But calm

Demanding to know

Why I’ve pushed him across the kitchen

Why my shaking hands

Hit him in the chest


I’m so confused

What just happened

I don’t understand

I think I’m going crazy

Really truly crazy

Something is wrong

But he stands by his version

Maybe mine is wrong

Maybe both are right

Perception is reality

That’s what they say

I have mine; he has his


It doesn’t make sense

I think I’m going crazy

After all

He’s just barely hurt me

The crescents on my arms grow deeper

I know what the carpet

Covered in old dust

At the back of the closet

Under the clothes

Smells like

It’s a place I can escape and breathe

I think I’m going crazy

I plead my case to him

The nearest glass meets its fate

splintering crash

Against the wall

I plead my case to him

The corner of my cake is smashed

My birthday night ruined

I plead my case to him

He is sobbing on the floor

while I am standing numb

Not knowing what to do anymore

I think I’m going crazy

He is sorry

I have to believe him

This is hurting him

I am hurting him

I think I’m going crazy

I have forgotten how to breathe

I go to a doctor, and then another

I try a medication, and then another

I cannot sleep

I cannot breathe

My heart will not slow down

My hands shake and fidget

My eyes dart and jump

My mind cannot find paths to solutions that work

I do not know what to do

I want to run out of my skin

But I do not know how

If I did, I would have done it long ago

10 years ago

5 years ago

Last year

I don’t know

Good and bad tangled together

Sinister twister of confusion and pain

Leaving nothing but chaos in my brain

So much good

So little bad, really


Always an apology

A reason

And it doesn’t make sense

I am going crazy

After all

He’s just barely hurt me

I try to tell him I am hurting

But I only wound him in the process

I reach out to comfort his sobs

But he shies away

Not wanting my touch

Because he can’t see that I still love him

I am so confused

I thought we were talking about my pain

But now I’m just causing him more pain

I start to imagine what it would be like

To fade into the black

To fall into the sleep

That comforts and heals

And stay there

But it doesn’t make any sense to feel that way

There’s no logical reason

I think I’m going crazy

After all

He’s just barely hurt me

With tears in his eyes

And grief in his voice

He confesses to me that he doesn’t like who I’ve become

That he thinks our decade together

Should have been as only friends

I have hurt him too deeply

For him to see a way forward

Before I left

I filled up the fridge so that maybe

He wouldn’t hate me

I hung up new pictures on the walls

And scrubbed the toilets

So that maybe

He would see that I still cared

I didn’t want to walk away

I’m not sure even now that I did the right thing

I broke his heart

But mine was already broken


So it’s beyond that now

It is crushed


Barely alive

He returned to our home

His home

With our dog

And our beautiful yard

And our comfortably worn bed


He did not see that I cared

He did not see that I tried

He simply saw that I left

He never meant what he said

About being friends

I should have known that

I should just come home

I hurt him so deeply

I should just come home

I’ve been unforgiving and imperfect, too

I should just come home

I’ve misunderstood and misjudged

I should just come home

I’ve been led astray and misguided

I should just come home

I want to go home

I cannot go home

I’m hurting so badly

Ripped and destroyed

Damaged to what feels beyond all hope of repair

I am sure that I am crazy


As I sit on my bed in my new sparse apartment

Looking around at the shards of my life that are left



My phone lighting up from text after text

Begging and accusing in turn

Deepening the agony

I glance at my arms

Fit my nails onto the reminders

Of life before medication

Remind myself to take my pills

That somehow now I cannot function well without

Try to sort through the fog

Wonder how I got here

And for just a second

Half a second

I wonder

If maybe

Just maybe

I’m not crazy

I wonder

If maybe

Maybe he has hurt me

If maybe


This is what hurt looks like


  1. Christina

    My narcissist ex told me the final time he left that “I was no good to him now I’ve had a baby I’m ruined down there” hurt me so bad abd he made sure i will never be with another man in saying that

  2. Sandra Wright

    More tears, they just keep coming. Made me re read poems I wrote. I am still in the process of divorce. Its expensive and emotionally painful. Totally get the need for drugs to cope. Hope for freedom on the other side of this.

  3. Susan

    Honey…it was always about him…never you!!!

  4. Jennifer

    Amazing, it paints a picture. the hug scenario happened to me nearly exactly like the poem, except he hugged me so hard i couldnt breathe or mive and i bit his shouler that my face was pressed against, he used that one time as evidence that I was abusive, I remember apologizing for that hundreds of times…

  5. Christy

    Spot on. Lovely.

  6. Lu-Lu

    God bless you & Brenna for sharing this. Although I fled the Psychopath in 2009, the poem was still painful. Much was familiar (forgetting how to breathe, doing special things for him as I was fleeing, so many mixed messages, blaming myself, feeling like I was going crazy, too skinny/too fat, left shattered in the dark while he slept peacefully, etc.). My spouse had an ulterior motive for every “positive” thing he did, some way that he could gain. So even the “good” times were a lie. Years after I fled, I was still becoming aware of ways that I was abused by the man who “loved” me. The marital abuse would be bad enough for a survivor, but as you well know, the abuse doesn’t end when she flees – he just changes tactics. Mine was limited by a 6-month Restraining Order & a later warning that if he contacted me in any way, there would be a permanent RO, so he turned family/friends/church family against me, tried to destroy my reputation & used the legal system a lot. He even planned how to continue legal harassment after he died in 2011. Unfortunately, the judicial system allows this waste of time & money. I can now look back with gratitude to God for giving me resources, wisdom, integrity & strength to flee & to recover.

  7. Deb

    Powerful. Tears flowing down my face. I thought I couldn’t cry anymore.

  8. Keridee

    As an avid poetry reader I know when I see effective work and when I see low -impact work. This is definitely very effective. It has a stunning way of working up to the point where the author feels for a fact that she is in serious trouble. What a well executed poem.

  9. Debby

    I thought I was past the really ugly crying stage…

    • Natalie Hoffman

      I know – wasn’t this profound? She will be on this week’s podcast episode reading it herself. I love the way she reads it. Then I interview her about her own experience with covert abuse.

      • Shirley Marlene Allbrook

        Man oh man


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