Written by on February 6, 2012 in Conversations on the Healing Journey with 3 Comments

Red Flag #1 Disbelief
Red Flag #2 Loss of Discernment Part 1 and Part 2

Red Flag #3: Anxiety

With loss of discernment comes anxiety. They walk together hand-in-hand.

If you can no longer tell up from down, when you must depend on someone to define reality for you, when that someone is the source of your confusion, then you cannot but help feel anxiety.

Covert abuse derives power from secrecy and denial. And that secrecy and denial drains you of your power, leaving you feeling disoriented, confused and anxious.

Covert abuse is intermittent and often unpredictable. It hides behind smiles for you or an audience. It plants knives in your back and shakes your hand. It spits in your face and then looks at you as if you are crazy when you object. What are you talking about?

Covert abuse tells you it loves you then cheats on you, or you’re its best friend then sabotages you. It hits and runs, and if caught claims it never happened, or they didn’t mean anything by it, or it had nothing to do with you.

When covert abuse takes the form of relational aggression, it slips the knife in someone else’s hand, or passes out a cache of knives to anyone willing to hold one, then steps back to watch the havoc it created spread exponentially.

Covert abuse is designed to keep you off balance and off guard. The uncertainty and intermittency of covert abuse, and the various sources for that abuse through relational aggression can disorient you and fill you with growing and increasingly prevalent anxiety — anxiety that follows you throughout the day and haunts you at night.

You can’t trust yourself, because you either can’t discern or are losing your ability to discern, and you can’t trust your environment, because it’s always changing.

The impact of covert abuse in its various forms doesn’t just affect your state of mind. It can affect your physical world, restricting your mobility, your ability to go where you want to go. It can erect boundaries that keep you locked in your house or steer you away from certain places just as effectively as bars made of steel or futuristic force fields.

As a target of relational aggression, I found myself making extra effort to avoid putting myself in the path of the aggressor and her collaborators. During the times it could not be helped, the anticipated encounters invoked great anxiety within me.

If I spotted the aggressor or her collaborators accidentally, even at a distance, a sudden shot of adrenalin would course through me. It took concerted effort to stay focused and maintain an appearance of calm, because inside I was a wreck.

I felt stupid and I hated it, but this is what relational aggression can do to you. This is what manipulation, slander, lies and emotional/verbal abuse can do.

Anxiety can stay with you long after the source of it has gone. It can linger, always in the background, or suddenly resurface on a trigger. This is the long-term affect of intermittent abuse, the never-knowing-when, on again/off again trait of relational aggression, the stealth of covert abuse.

When you live in anxiety you live in a state of fear. Even if you never experience full-blown anxiety or panic attacks, it is damaging. Anxiety affects you mentally, emotionally and physically.

Everyone experiences anxiety at one point or another. That’s normal. But to not turn toxic, anxiety needs to be short lived or at least hold some kind of resolution possible, even if not ideal. When you live with a covert abuser or frequently have to deal with one (or several or many), there’s a fear that nothing will end, because we’re not even sure how it began! Nothing makes sense.

Anxiety arises out of meaninglessness. We give meaning first through our ability to discern. Without that, we will experience anxiety.

Anxiety is telling us something. For those who can discern their reality, it is a friend, telling them it’s time to make a change or that something needs to be taken care of.

But for those who have lost or are losing that ability, anxiety is left standing at the door knocking and knocking and knocking. Because it is not heeded, it becomes an oppressor.

While anxiety can take the form of panic attacks, often its symptoms, while pervasive, can be subtle. We can become so used to its presence that we don’t even realize it’s there. It becomes a natural part of our emotional environment. We come to see it as normal as breathing, when it is actually slowly sucking the very breath of life out of us.

If you can’t recognize anxiety for what it is any more than a fish can recognize water, then imagine you are looking at its opposite.

What is its opposite? Has it been so long you don’t even know? When was the last time you felt at peace? Never mind at peace, when you just felt contented, secure. When even though you were faced with challenges and concerns, you knew everything would be all right? When you were sure of your ability to navigate through life, to take care of things, yourself, your children, your life? When you knew who your friends were, who you could turn to and trust?

Is that your reality now? Or do you live waiting for the other shoe to drop despite the sunshiny day and everyone in bare feet?

You’re not crazy. Because you never know where you stand with a covert abuser or where they stand with you, and their behavior defies conventional responses, your ability to read your environment and the people in it has been compromised.

Under these circumstances it’s normal to live with anxiety. It would be weird if you didn’t.

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About the Author

About the Author: Demian Yumei, author, singer/songwriter and artist activist, using spoken, written word and original songs in her human rights activism. Demian is a traveler on the healing journey with a lifelong love affair with the creative process. .


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  • Covert Bullying (Abuse) says:

    I hope everyone is having a beautiful beginning of a new week, and that in this week you discover your personal sense of contentment and peace.

  • Tamara Steck says:


  • Covert Bullying (Abuse) says:

    Hi Tamara, and welcome 🙂

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