Written by on January 31, 2012 in Conversations on the Journey with 10 Comments

Is this really happening?

This is often our initial response to covert abuse. The very covertness of covert abuse causes us to question our senses, our experiences and our reality. Doubt plagues us, at times paralyzing and rendering us incapable of responding in any meaningful way.

We think we must be mistaken
. Our friend, our loved one couldn’t hurt us like this…not intentionally. Even if the abuse becomes more obvious it can still be hard to call it for what it is if it involves someone we care about, who we believe cares about us.

We may refuse to connect the dots, telling ourselves each incident is an isolated one. Perhaps they just had a bad day…perhaps it was something we did. And it doesn’t help matters any, when the covert abuser tells us there’s nothing wrong, it is us.

So we continue to second guess ourselves, accepting flimsy excuses and miraculous repentances way too quickly and much too frequently. And each time we do, each time we are betrayed, we suffer damage to our self esteem. We come to distrust our own judgments at a time when we need them the most.

If covert abuse involves people we dislike, we may still be hesitant to accuse them of covert abuse. We may believe in “fighting fair” and forget that others don’t necessarily live by those standards. Or we may be uncertain as to whether we’re actually interpreting things correctly.

Did what I think just happened really happen?

What if we are mistaken? We’d feel awful if we accused anyone of such underhandedness and it turned out to be false. It’s easy to call out aggressive or ignorant behavior when it’s apparent, but when couched behind the subtlety of manipulation it can be tricky.

We might want to make sure we don’t wind up looking stupid or come across as paranoid or vindictive or overly sensitive…or just petty. Covert abuse can often involve petty acts. If we call them out, the attention can sometimes fall on us for our accusations and not the aggressor for their behavior.

That is a chance you take, but you can mitigate the fallout if you remember that calling someone out on their abusive behavior doesn’t have to be done in an abusive way. Even though covert aggressors will often accuse you of abusing them for merely being held accountable, you can still be mindful of how you handle yourself, and honor what you see instead of sweeping it under a rug of disbelief.

If you don’t tell anyone else, tell yourself the truth. If you’re falling and falling fast, you need to be cognizant enough to pull that ripcord or sprout wings before you hit the pavement. If someone is not your friend, you need to know that. If someone is not trustworthy, you need to stop trusting them.

But our disbelief doesn’t just come from us, our own reasons. Our disbelief is, also, a result of the covert manipulation of the covert abuser.

Covert abusers are adept at disorienting people. They want you to be confused. They throw dust in your eyes, use smoke and mirrors to confound and mislead. Their intent is to undermine you, to disarm you. And they’re really good at it. They need you to doubt your own senses.

It’s how they control the situation, and one of the reasons they choose covert abuse over overt abuse in the first place.

Whenever people talk about “denial”, they are usually referring to people with problems who refuse to admit it. Like the alcoholic who denies they have a drinking problem or the domestic abuse victim who refuses to admit they’re battered.

But denial is used by abusers, as well. Not so much to to deceive themselves (which they do), but to deceive you.

If a person has character, and you have a question about their behavior or motives, you can go to them. You can count on them to tell you how they feel, what they may or may not have done and why. You know the words you two speak will be for communication, to resolve the issue and to maintain or respect the relationship — regardless what direction it may go.

Whether you like or don’t like such a person’s choices or reasons is not the point. The point is you can trust them to be honest and real with you. You will know where you stand, even if you are standing where you did not want to be.

With a covert abuser, you will never know that. You will never get that sense of resolution, either a strengthening of your relationship or a departure. It’s never that clean. With covert abusers, words are not used to convey true thoughts or to validate real experiences or circumstances. Words are for control…and punishment.

And the worst punishment is not name-calling, which can be pretty bad, but invalidation. Telling you the sky is green when it’s blue…or dark blue when it’s pale. Not out of genuine difference in perception, but to mess with your head, or protect their own interests or shake your confidence, just a little bit more…and a little bit more…and a little bit more…

And when your confidence is gone, so is your independence, and with that, your strength.

Talking with a covert abuser, even if they tell you what you want to hear, will always leave a part of you feeling insecure and fearful. And you…will…change.

The bottom line is if you can’t believe what you think you’re seeing, then the solution is not to dismiss it but to look closer. Let your incredulity bring you vision.

Look closer at them, look closer at the relationship, and most importantly, look closer at yourself.

When you look at your abuser, turn down the volume, hit the mute button. You can always turn it back on. Don’t pay attention to what they say, at least, not until you’ve let yourself take a good, long, hard look at reality. I know to some this might seem to go against that practice of “deep listening”, and I’m a big time believer in that, BUT no one says you can only listen to words.

Sometimes words get in the way. In the case of a covert abuser, that’s what they’re for.

Listen to behavior. Actions do speak louder, and a pattern of hurtful actions, done with entitlement and no remorse (not to be confused with performance tears — more on those later) tells you exactly what they think of you.

Believe it.


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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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  • The Path To Peace-Recovery From Psychopathic Manip says:

    Wonderful CB! You have done an excellent job in researching articles! Thank you!

  • Rosie Rubble says:

    what a fantastic article about covert bullying – thank you

  • DreamSinger says:

    Path to Peace, thank you for your kind words again! Actually, I wrote these articles…they are part of a manuscript I’ve had for years, and have committed myself to finally polishing and publishing this year. I’ve been doing considerably rewriting since I started this, and created new sections, but I feel like I’m finally getting a handle on this very large almost overwhelming manuscript I have in my hands. Knowing the posts are being read is a TREMENDOUS motivator for me to keep a regular writing practice. I’m a terrible procrastinator. And writing for the blog helps me to say focused and to write clearly and succinctly, as I have a tendency to wander. 🙂

  • DreamSinger says:

    Rosie, thank you! So appreciate your comment 🙂

  • Covert Bullying (Abuse) says:

    Okay, I forgot to switch to post comments as Covert Bullying! DreamSinger is me…it’s my music :)…I got to get a hang of FB…

  • Rosie Rubble says:

    Look forward to more posts from you – fascinating, enlightening reading! I just can not put in to words at the moment how much your work hit the spot for me – my ex who i only split up with a month ago is exactly how you describe… i was with him for nearly 11yrs and am only just starting to see the relationship for what it really was 🙁 i only escaped the relationship because he attacked my daughter and she was brave enough to tell a teacher at school – if she hadn’t have done that i do not know how my son, my daughter and i would have broken free from the venomous relationship that it was. I was emotionally shut off and unable to react to what was going on after years of gradual decay etc as you so well described. It sure is hard to come to terms with but know we are on the right path for the future now. Just can not wait until it is all in the past…. still got all the logistics of the house and belongings and court case to face. It is helping so much to read so much wise advice, not to mention information about abuse etc as offered by you and the other wonderful groups i have found. I feel that the more i learn and understand it all the stronger i will be during the next few months or however long it takes to fully ‘get out’ of this mess that we are in right now. At this time i feel i am running through a forest in the dark in bare feet over thorns with my children with him chasing us as we head for the pin prick of light ahead that signifies freedom and happiness. Hoping he will trip and fall into a deep pit that he can not escape so we can be free of him forever. I dread a future of looking over our shoulders for the rest of our lives. The man is far more unhinged than i realized – blamed a lot of it on the ‘bad accident’ he had which caused a brain injury and physical injuries… it’s the pain he is in emotionally and physically, it’s his upbringing from his abusive father, it’s this, it’s that etc but now i can see much more clearly how things actually were – and what a fool i have been, not to mention weak etc. Though i only ever had good intentions ‘i can rescue him’ ‘give him happiness he had never had’ and so forth …as i said before THANKS to your article and other group’s information and support i see what a very manipulative, clever con man he was and is. He indeed has done no wrong in his mind – it is all my daughter’s fault and he slates her to everyone, lying about her and turning all those we knew all those years against us.. he certainly has such power over people like a magician. I can only take comfort in the fact that we are now free from having us living with us and if the police/social services etc do their job will never have to face him ever again… (i hope to God) and that we know the truth and have survived, saved from many more years of abuse, heartache and unending stress. I am now working on myself as much as i can as best as i can so that i can in time hold my head up and feel good about myself again… as well as helping my children to recover (which i can not at the moment imagine ever forgiving myself for putting them in that situation) My love to you and most grateful appreciation for so much insight. xxxxx

  • Covert Bullying (Abuse) says:

    Oh, my goodness *Rosie*. I am SO sorry for everything you’ve been through. Please don’t be too hard on yourself for “putting your children in that situation.”

    I know, I’m a fine one to talk, because it’s something I struggle with. But I am learning to have more compassion for where I was and what I had to work with at that time in my life.

    Sometimes it does take a traumatic event to finally jolt us awake. But know that the ground work for that day was being laid piece by piece. My sister had told me once, when I was lamenting at how long it had taken for me to realize the truth that sometimes it takes more than one strike of the hammer to crack that walnut. If it didn’t take until the 7th strike, you can’t begrudge yourself the previous six when nothing seemed to happen. The seemingly ineffective times all went into making the last strike be the one that worked.

    That this was the final straw that precipitated you to take flight tells me that you were already flexing your wings, whether you consciously realized it or not. That wellspring of strength was inside of you – gradual decay or not – and when the moment came, you used it.

    And that pin prick of light that is your freedom is a reality that will always be there. It’s wide and expansive. Remind yourself that its size and proximity is all perception. Some days you will see it larger and other days it may seem to have disappeared altogether. But know that you are moving in the right direction, and that you will experience more and more of it as time goes by.

    I don’t know if you will ever be “free” in the sense that you won’t ever have to deal with him again. That you have children together makes it very unlikely…although you could get EXTREMELY lucky and he can find another source and forget you and the kids totally.

    The thing is, whether or not he’s still around, you will continue to change, and so your experience of him will be different.

    It’s not surprising that he refuses to take responsibility. That, unfortunately is a common occurrence. He may have “magic” over others, but not if he hangs around too long. Eventually, some of those friends may see through the facade. But in the meantime, as you’re ready you can make new ones who can accept the new you.

    Make sure you have GOOD counsel who understands this type of personality. Document everything. Take advantage of any resources you have in your area. And do what you are doing. Learn as much as you can. Listen to the voices and the stories of others. I know, for me, that made ALL the difference and for months after I initially left, I would stay up to 2 or 3 in the morning just going through the internet reading the stores of other people in my situation. I was SO hungry for that validation. It saved me.

    Thank you for the generosity of your heart in sharing your story. Your children are very lucky to have you. And just so you know, I think you can start feeling good about yourself NOW. You’ve been through a lot, you’re taking the steps to your empowerment, you’re doing what you can for your children, being there for them, and you’re stretching yourself to learn and grow. I admire you and am delighted to meet you!


  • Rosie Rubble says:

    Oh thank you so very much for your kind and insightful reply. Luckily they are not his children… that was part of the problem – that he could not let go of the fact i had been married before to a man who kept having affairs – which i can see now attributed to why i was so weak with ‘the abuser i’m talking about’ – just a few months after spliting up from my husband i met ‘him’ when my self esteem and health was rock bottom and he swept in to ‘rescue me’ — I knew straight away when i think back that i should have given him a very wide birth but so wanted to believe he was my ‘knight in shining armour!’ I also felt so sorry for him for all that he had been through and believed i could ‘save’ him from the suffering. Well i could go on and on with the story but i won’t lol! The point now is that it’s over thank goodness – it is hard to keep the ‘poor bloke’ thoughts out of my head and not to miss the ‘good times’ but i just keep my strength for my children now who are wonderful and deserve so much more. I am sure that despite the horrendous side of this situation we will benefit in time from the many lessons we have learnt. We certainly value so much the calm of homelife now – without being constantly picked at or crushing more egg shells! I am so grateful that you took the time to reply to me and to say that you ‘admire me’ – although i can not see that at this time – i do appreciate your kind and thoughtful words and advice. I hope one day to be able to help others in some way. OH and also you were spot on that the incident when he attacked my daughter (for the first time), was indeed the very last straw.. i had knew i had to get out for some time – just had no idea how to achieve it safely. He is ‘not the type of man’ you mess about with and i was just too scared of the repercussions if i ended it. He played straight into our hands when he lost his temper that night.. gave us the way out so i thank him for that! He expected me to choose him or my daughter! He believes she is some venomous,lying, manipulative etc creature and has huge hatred for her – he intends to get his revenge apparently. As for the friends..he knows hundreds of people due to the ‘scene’ he is in… he has known many of the for years – most of them stick by him and swallow it all as they are scared of him too. I’m not bothered about losing all the people after 11yrs of knowing them… they make me sick and i don’t need people like that in my life. The man is very twisted for sure. We are relying on support groups, police and social services etc – but i suspect they will not be able to protect us enough and that we will need a new – secret start somewhere 🙁 This isn’t my real name either LOL!! What will be will be – one day at a time at the moment..at least we will always move forward and upwards. Best wishes to you xxxx

  • Covert Bullying (Abuse) says:

    Well, thank goodness then they are not his children! Like you, my ex had it in for my daughter as well. My older kids were not his. He, also, accused her of the same things. As a teenager, she did develop some issues, but 1) she was a teenager, and 2) he wasn’t the best role model and he played a major role in alienating her. These two things I struggle with to today for bringing him into her life.

    However, it sounds like your daughter is still young, so I’m very glad you are taking this step now, and not until after she’s already moved out and on her own. That is wonderful, Rose.

    It does sound like a new start is what you all need. From what you said, moving does seem to be a good idea, as he does sound scarey. You know best.

    Also, most of what I post here will be from the project I’m working on. I only know a few support groups here on FB, but I believe Path to Peace-Recovering From Psychopathic and Abuse is one of the best. She not only posts a lot of outside information, articles and news from other sources, but she is personally involved, posting her thoughts and engaging with people who come to her page.

  • Covert Bullying (Abuse) says:

    I posted a little too quickly. I just wanted to say that I wish you the very best in your new journey, and see a beautiful new beginning for you in the near future. That is what I hold for you.

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