Bk1 Ch4: Fire Behind the Smoke wtss1-006

An overview of some characteristics of covert abuse — its inherent violence, stages it may go through in a relationship, the major role it plays in  defining any relationship regardless what the another person does or doesn’t do and the people who engage in covert abuse.

I’m late in publishing this episode, my apologies! It’s even more incredulous because it was ready for publishing — I shared it for early access a couple weeks ago in Patreon, but I never got around to writing up this blog post to publish it here or upload it to Blubrry.

There are a couple reasons for that — one is a matter of serendipitous good fortune and the other is a necessary but begrudging acceptance that I needed to return to work, and I did. The job is in mental health… I had originally resigned from a longstanding job in mental health, last December due to burnout, but finances compel me to return. It’s a different program, which presents both positives and negatives, but I’m giving it a go. Doing well, but training and re-entering caregiving, especially in mental health has been pretty stressful to me, not to mention emotionally exhausting.

The other reason is a sudden out-of-the-blue opportunity to move into an incredible environment that is green, supportive and aesthetically beautiful. It’s the perfect writing and recording place! So at the same time I’m getting used to a new job, I’m moving. And downsizing… like half of what I own and have carried around with me that has to go.

So, I’m publishing this episode, and may not have another episode till late November or early December.

Changes aren’t just happening in my life. They’re happening for this podcast too. I think they’re good ones, and I’ll be making a separate announcement soon.

So anyway, this episode, Episode 6, Fire Behind the Smoke, takes a closer look at covert abuse



Opening and closing song is an original piece by, myself, Demian and my friend and music partner, Stacey Young, the title song of our first CD together, “DreamSinger – For the Sake of Love”


Demian’s Website: www.keepingthedream.com
Demian’s Patreon Site: www.patreon.com/keepingthedream

[0.0] Intro Music

Episode 6; Chapter 4, Bk 1 Covert Abuse and the Art of Discernment from the Where There’s Smoke Series. Written and narrated by Demian Yumei of KeepingtheDream.com. Intro and closing music composed and sung by Demian Yumei and Stacey Young

I’m Demian Yumei, singer/songwriter, author, artist and human rights activist. And I’m an incest survivor. Though I will share very little if any details about my abuse, I do draw correlations between what I went through as a child and the dynamics of covert abuse. If you’re prone to being triggered, even if you aren’t, just be aware that the topic of sex abuse and my personal sharing, will come up intermittently throughout this podcast.

I recommend starting with Episode 1, but you can start here if you like.

This is Episode 6: Chapter 4, Fire Behind the Smoke


[1:07] Covert Abuse: The Art of Manipulation

The subsequent books in this series dissect and analyze covert abuse in great detail. In this introductory book, I’ve talked mostly about my personal background with covert abuse and the aspects of the healing journey.

I want to bring covert abuse, itself, just a little bit closer in our focus here.

A simple definition for covert abuse is manipulation. That’s what covert abuse is — manipulation motivated by personal agenda and fueled by entitlement. It can be arbitrary or purposeful, and often both.

When covert abuse uses the manipulation of words or emotions or your perception, whether of yourself or others or reality, these are different forms of covert abuse — namely verbal, emotional and psychological or mental abuse, respectively.

The phenomenon known as gaslighting, also referred to as head games, is a form of psychological or mental abuse.

Some people think of covert abuse as stabbing you in the back and smiling to your face, and it is, but it’s more intricate than that.

Covert abuse is about timing and necessity. When it operates “under the radar”, it’s because it’s needs to. Maybe he or she is scoping you out or maybe they fear the disapproval or censuring of others if their true intent were known. It’s, also, a way of disarming their targets or disorienting them.

Perhaps they’re covert only to a select audience or individual. If you’re a target of covert abuse you may be able to relate to this and know the frustrating experience of seeing something no one else can — or at least the people who matter.

Eventually, when the smile after the insult, the pretense of friendship, the cover up of real intentions, become less or not necessary, covert abuse will become more overt in its presentation. No fear of consequences, no advantage? No need for facades. But until then, covert abuse will use all the smoke and mirrors it can with great skill.

[3:41] Reality Denying and Redefining

There are two main dynamics that operate in concert with one another in covert abuse — denying reality and redefining or recreating reality. Every act of covert abuse utilizes some form of these dynamics or go to support these dynamics to whatever degree.

With people, covert abuse can deny the truth of who they are and replace it with their own characterizations. Targets are recreated into whatever suits covert abuse.

In situations, reality is rewritten. Facts, are substituted with what is sometimes laughingly referred to as “alternative facts”. But the propaganda power of these fabrications is no laughing matter.

With words, their correct definition and accurate use is discarded, used inappropriately to defile, usurp or discredit powerful ideas.

Verbal abuse as covert abuse is not simply saying mean things. It’s lying to your face about a situation and acting like you’re crazy, when you state what you actually see. It’s telling you it’s dark when it’s light or claiming they’re not angry after they almost busted a vein in their neck yelling at you.

This form of lying is called gaslighting, and it’s an integral part of covert abuse. Gaslighting is denying reality and recreating it to suit a personal agenda, large or small. The concept of gaslighting is more well-known these days, due to our current political climate, but I think it’s important to see the actual dynamics behind it: denying and recreating/redefining.

In the manipulation of covert abuse, visual cues and normal assessing of stimuli are rendered meaningless as they’re supplanted by the covert abuser’s agenda. This is damaging to adults, but devastatingly so to children who rely on adults to give them words to interpret and make sense of their physical world and emotional state of being.

[6:03] The Violence of Covert Abuse

By definition, covert abuse is not physically violent, but make no mistake, it is often a precursor to physical violence, and in and of itself, it is violent. Covert abuse is an assault. It attacks your soul and tears down your spirit.

Covert abuse is subtle and explosive. It’s the sleight of hand and the heavy handed.

Covert abuse is a calm appearance and sudden outburst of rage. It’s in-your-face insults followed by “just kidding”.

Covert abuse is the curse hidden inside a blessing, the friend who shares your secrets, the slander that shreds your reputation.

Covert abuse whittles away self-confidence and grows self-doubt. It creates conflict and crisis and arrives on the scene as the hero.

Covert abuse is cruel. It takes you down or entices others to and then sits back and watches… or dares to commiserate with you.

In its many different expressions, covert abuse seeks to tear you down — all at once or piece by piece.

Piece by piece, the culmination and synergistic impact of covert abuse can become a kind of psychological and emotional “death of a thousand cuts”. No single cut capable of killing you, but inflicting them, consistently and intermittently over time, causes great suffering and eventually death — to your spirit most certainly, and to your body potentially, through chronic and debilitating stress and the illnesses that arise from it.

It’s no surprise that many targets of covert abuse don’t say they left a covertly abusive relationship. They say they escaped, and some speak of a deciding moment — when they knew if they didn’t escape now, there wouldn’t be enough of them left to do it later.

[8:13] Stages of a Covertly Abusive Relationship

There are stages to the manipulations of covert abuse, when it’s seeking to worm its way into a relationship. They don’t always run in order nor is every stage or phase present in every encounter with covert abuse. It all depends on the nature, longevity and purpose of the relationship, but generally speaking, they are as follows:

[8:44] 1) Calculated Seduction Phase
This is the courtship that goes beyond the normal wanting to make a good impression of a new relationship to the setting of a trap. Courtship in covert abuse is a reconnaissance mission to gather information about you or another subject of interest. This allows the covert abuser to determine your strengths and weaknesses, how to “handle” you and how far you can be pushed.

The abuser in seduction mode can come across as a dream come true or a lucky break, a good friend or a long awaited savior. The seduction is for you to trust them, to let your guard down, to buy into whatever they’re selling — their trustworthiness, a product, an investment or a happily-ever-after.

And the information covert abuse collects about you? — fodder for tailor-made manipulation or weapon with a special formulated poison-tipped end just for you. If they want to assault you, they will… and they know how. You told them.

[9:55] 2) Getting Tired Phase

Not necessarily getting tired of you… yet, but getting tired of keeping up the facade. It’s a lot of work, you know — pretending you’re something you’re not, so eventually they just get tired of putting all that energy into being nicer, kinder and more principled than they actually are.

When that happens, and they become more confident of their place or situation in your life, a covert abuser can let their facade slip from time to time or just toss it altogether, at least for the moment, in a good rage.

Hopefully, by this time, you’re hooked enough that you’ll overlook or forgive inappropriate behavior and rationalize yourself back from the initial shock.

And if you do, your abuser knows they got you.

They’ll push the envelope further and further. And you? You become witness to an increasingly uncomfortable or horrifying level of cruelty and selfishness from your once-too-good-to-be-true-love or friend or business partner, now turned abuser.

[11:03] 3) Staying Afloat Phase

You can’t let your dreams sink. So you do everything you can to keep them afloat. You don’t yet understand that you have no control over their behavior. Nothing in your behavior will prevent their anger, their rage, their contempt or cold shoulder.

You hope it gets better. Whatever happened, the sudden outburst or the uncomfortable slip, you convince yourself it was a glitch, an aberration — not like the real person you know he or she truly is.

At least in the beginning, things may seem to go back to normal after the outburst or slip, except you’re not quite the same.

Perhaps you feel a little insecure, just a little more anxious to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Perhaps you start to feel a little run down… Ignoring red flags takes a lot of work, too. All that dodging.

But as you show your determination to make this relationship work despite how you’re treated, the need for covert abuse to secure you becomes less and less necessary. You secure yourself to them. Abusive episodes not only happen again, but with greater frequency and longevity.

Abuse becomes normal.

[12:25] 4) Spreading the Net Phase

Just because it may no longer be necessary for covert abuse to perform for you, doesn’t mean it necessarily stops performing, altogether. It simply shifts its performance to where it is needed.

Covert abuse widens or narrows its field of manipulation at will. Or it performs only when the curtain rises in front of a specific audience. How it treats you backstage is a different story.

Covert abuse will continue to work a crowd, forming alliances and enlisting collaborators through false empathy and other manipulations.

They may do this to isolate you from others. Or they may do it for self-protection. Someday, you may need to be discredited. If you show any signs of independence or objection to their treatment of you, covert abuse will need vindication and allies.

[13:25] 5) Destruction Phase

A covertly abusive person will eventually destroy everything he or she touches. Even if they get what they want. Even if you become what they say they want you to be.

You actually destroy yourself in the process of becoming what they want you to be, because being anything than what and who you truly are is a kind of dying.

The need to manipulate others rather than to authentically connect is based on fear. And fear destroys. The casualties can be your relationships with other people, your work, your art… or you.

And the most destructive thing isn’t the fights or conflicts you may have with covert abuse but the cost of maintaining peace — when you need to censor your words, emotions and actions. Your authenticity is a terrible loss.

The only destruction that can’t be counted as a loss would be the end of your relationship with your abuser.

[14:37] 6) The Cyclical Phase

Which is easier said than done, to end your relationship with your abuser, because covert abuse does not easily let go… unless they’re done. And sadly for you, many covert abuser are like relationship hoarders — not really getting rid of anything or anyone (in their mind), because you never know when you might need them again.

Count yourself lucky if your covert abuser is really through with you.

For targets who still hold hope in their hearts, this can be a dangerously tricky stage. Re-entering the seduction phase, no matter how long or short, can be that intermittent reinforcement that causes you to give it “one more try”. The cost of which is high with lower self esteem and less trust in your ability to make decisions or discern, when covert abuse screws you over again.

Because for covert abuse, as Joni Mitchell sings, speaking in “sorry sentences” and “miraculous repentances” is less a change of heart than reeling you back in to where he or she wants you to be. It’s not a sign that they finally appreciate what they have with you or are ready to move ahead in the relationship or follow through on anything they promised.

The cyclical nature of covert abuse is dotted with serial seduction phases that are often punctuated with a fight out of the blue, then followed by “the exit”.

With you wondering what the hell happened.

Covert abuse happened. And there’s no good destination but for you to get off this ride.

It Doesn’t Take Two to Tango in Covert Abuse

It takes one person to make a relationship abusive, not two. There is mutual responsibility in healthy relationships, but there’s nothing healthy about covert abuse. You can be as mindful as you can be with how you interact with your abuser, but it doesn’t change the nature of what you’re dealing with.

Covert abuse isn’t fair, it’s not just or rational, and it doesn’t hold to the values that make relationships mutually supportive.

You’re probably trying in good faith to do your part to make things better and your abuser is probably letting you. But you can’t succeed, because it’s interested only in getting its way, whatever “its way” may be in the moment or in the long run.

You can work on your communication skills all you want. You can use all the “I” sentences in the world, and all the “I feel” phrases and address only actions and make no comments about them personally, and none of that will help. A covert abuser will hear what they want to hear.

I was once involved with someone who I swear was having a conversation with someone other than me, because no matter what I said, he would respond to stuff I didn’t say.

I thought that was honest miscommunication. It wasn’t.

He could respond with anger to something I didn’t say, that the average person would not have heard, because being angry or offended gave him the excuse to leave or go out with someone he wanted to in the first place. He wanted the justification. When I didn’t give it to him, he took it anyway. What I actually said or how I said it was irrelevant.

You might think maybe they just didn’t understand your intention. Maybe they just read you wrong. But covert abusers are great at reading signs when they want to. And they are adept at being intuitive. That’s part of their charm, why they may have even seemed to be like your soul mate in the beginning.

Because they’re reading you, because they’re picking up every little signal you send, because they hang on to every word you say to make you feel heard. And all this goes to shit once they have you.

Then suddenly, they don’t understand what you’re saying? Now they can’t read you?

They read you perfectly. They read you as someone who cares, and they don’t, and that makes the relationship unequal.

Who Engages in Covert Abuse?

A covertly abusive act as a bad choice for dealing with negative emotions or conflicts or desires can be initiated by anybody. But that doesn’t define who you are. At various times, everyone has been less than truthful or honest about what they say or have done. These incident specific acts of covert abuse can be addressed openly among people who desire good faith resolution.

The impact of a thoughtless or bad choice may range from hurt feelings to disrupted relationship, but resolution is an actual possibility, when healthy dynamics exist. Some individuals may show a greater propensity to engage in covertly abusive behavior than others, depending on factors such as social skills and integrity, but as long as there’s good faith attempts, healing is always possible. And in cases where it’s not, if a genuine attempt has been made, the ending, no matter how painful, is better if it’s clean and done with some integrity.

Covert abuse in these situations is a choice or reaction of the moment. It’s not a part of a pattern of behavior nor does it make up a person’s character. Covert abuse that is a part of a person’s make up or character is person specific and inflicts the greatest damage on others.

The dynamics of covert abuse become such a part of who they are that they cross the line from “just being a jerk” or thoughtless or mean in the moment to “This is who they are — run.” This type of person may fit into the psychiatric category referred to as personality disordered. Their abusive acts are not just choices or reactions, but reflections of their abusive and entitled nature.

I like covert abuse defined more than personality disordered because I like the acknowledgement of what they do more than just what they’ve become and it leaves room for people who may not fit the psychiatric diagnosis but for all practical purposes, live as if they were. Their lives, their interaction with others and the damage they inflict on people can be just as devastating.

Such covert abuse defined individuals or influenced individuals come from all walks of life, from all socioeconomic levels, races, sexes, gender identities, ethnicities, lifestyles, groups, religions, philosophies, institutions, businesses and politics, and any other category you can think of.

It might be a matter of perception and semantics, but my preference is to focus on behavior regardless the category you may fit into.

Which leads to the focus of my next chapter, Chapter 5, where we explore this perspective, the approach I take in the study of covert abuse.

[22:29] Something to Think About: The Proliferation of Covert Abuse

In episode 2, I talked about the serpent and the dove and what they represented to me in the healing journey. The serpent is the negative experience, the trauma, the wound which can be transformed into an elixir of healing through the meaning we give it.

My serpent, covert abuse, reared its head and struck when I was only a child behind closed doors. Today, I see it out in the open. I hear it over the airwaves, watch it on television and see it online.

It seems the bad behavior that comprises covert abuse is not only met today with more tolerance but is openly celebrated or excused. Where people used to be more conscientious about, at least, appearing to be respectful toward one another, utter contempt is now not only acceptable but seen as a badge of integrity and honesty.

It’s crazy. But what’s happening on a national scale reflects what many people experience on a daily basis in their intimate relationships. Their human dignity is denied, their value determined to the extent they benefit another, their dreams diminished, their desire to live and to love looked upon with suspicion.

Our collective closets are open and all the garbage and trash stuffed away have come spilling out into the living room.

Like destroying a relationship or a family or a business, the stuff behind covert abuse can destroy a country, a nation. And with the power we have to impact our world and each other like never before, we can destroy our planet.

Right now, covert abuse appears to be hiding in plain sight. It doesn’t need to create a facade, because there is little or no consequence for it, in fact, rewards are given to those who engage in the animosity that no longer needs to be hidden.

It’s my commitment to shine a light on covert abuse, whether it slithers in the dark or spews its venom in the light.

If you can recognize covert abuse in its camouflaged hiding places – rocked by people’s behavior, inked into institutional policies, delivered on politicians’ speeches, slung by people you don’t know or “gifted on a smile” by those you think you do – you’ll be better able to disengage, and where necessary, expose or take action. You can do this and protect the beauty of your own spirit.

People don’t know the house is catching fire. The smoke hasn’t stirred them awake yet. People have died in their sleep. But you can wake up. Put out that fire in your own life and take steps to extinguish the flames from spreading any further.

Armed with knowledge and better gear, you can make a difference.

You can save lives.

[25:31] Outro & Song
Thank you for listening! Don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast, and I’m in iTunes now, so if you could leave a review there that would be really helpful. The more reviews I get, the greater exposure this podcast will get.

You can find me and all the episodes plus show notes on my website, keepingthedream.com — I’d love to see you there — and if you’re so inclined, please consider becoming my patron at Patreon.com/keepingthedream to keep these episodes coming!

Until next time, stay strong and stay true,

This is Demian Yumei, Keeping the Dream

Support Demian Yumei on Patreon

About the Author

About the Author: Greetings, fellow dreamer, and welcome! I’m Demian Yumei, author, singer/songwriter and artist activist. Some of my creative projects are a CD of healing music, “For the Sake of Love” and a children’s book on the interconnectedness of life, “Little Yellow Pear Tomatoes” published by Illumination Arts. Currently, I’m in the process of creating podcasts for my book series on covert abuse. My commitment is to the creative process especially as it relates to the healing journey. Whether I’m singing at a vigil for asylum seekers, memorial for political activists or sitting around a table sharing tea and conversation with friends who just want to talk heart to heart, I am always deeply moved by the human spirit to love and live with authentic beauty. Thank you for being here, for reading my posts and/or listening to my podcast. There’s much to share, much to create and the journey has just begun! Meet you on the path. .


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