Written by on February 21, 2012 in Conversations on the Healing Journey with 8 Comments

Red Flag: Fatigue

Being with covertly abusive people is draining. Self-doubt and anxiety is draining. Tying yourself into a pretzel trying to rationalize other people’s behavior is draining. Fearing sudden reprisals or assaults is draining. Attempting to find coherency among contradictions is draining. Accepting excuses as facts over reality, dealing with lies are all draining.

It takes a lot of energy to be vigilant, to question what you are being told. It’s a lot of work to compare their stories with what you know. It’s tiring to have to always look out for contradictions and inconsistencies.

If you find yourself feeling more and more physically fatigued, then something is happening — something out of kilter, something not right. Certainly, fatigue can come from a physical condition, but psychological and emotional sources of stress can create fatigue. They can, also, create or exacerbate a physical condition that produces fatigue.

Being lied to, invalidated and belittled in all the ways covert abuse and relational aggression can has impact, and it will tire you out in all areas of your life.

Like anxiety, you may become so used to the presence of fatigue that you come to accept it as normal. I didn’t realize how tired I was, how drained I was of my life energy until I was able to put some distance between me and the source of toxicity. The difference was nothing short of amazing.

Yes, I had stress to deal with. There were survival issues. There were the logistics of living on my own, a child to care for and other issues that pulled on my attention, BUT without the constant drain of my energy by covert abuse, there was energy for me to face those things and to take care of them and to take care of myself — energy that had previously been consumed by the covert abuser or burned up by walking on eggshells and just plain having my heart broken.

I was always tired, but I accepted it. I couldn’t appreciate what an aberration that level of fatigue was until I put distance between myself and its source.

Do I get tired now? You bet I do! Are there days or stretches of time when I’m fatigued? Sure there are. Have I found myself needing to “crash” because of exhaustion? Absolutely. Pushing myself is a bad habit of mine. But the fatigue I feel in these situations is different from the fatigue I felt in my abusive relationship.

Fatigue for me now usually comes from having too much on my plate or finances. Fatigue from an abusive relationship comes from a drain on your soul. It goes deeper. It’s like having the life sucked out of you. You’re not just tired. You’re a shell of your former self. And it happens so slowly, so covertly that you don’t even realize it’s happening — like the metaphor of the frog in boiling water.

The story goes if you place a frog in cold water, and very slowly raise the temperature a small increment at a time it will acclimate to the subtle changes, and not jump out, eventually allowing itself to be boiled to death. In reality frogs have the sense to jump out, as soon as they can (unlike myself who stayed in the pot when I had many opportunities and indications I should escape). But still the analogy is appropriate. Unaware of the gradual onslaught of fatigue we can accept what is potentially deadly as normal.

A difference between the fatigue I can feel now and the fatigue that arose from covert abuse is that a good night’s sleep can take care of the normal fatigue. A good night’s sleep (when I could get it) did not take care of the fatigue from covert abuse.

While it’s normal for abusive relationships to involve a lot of emotional drama, it’s also, not uncommon for emotions to disappear, altogether. When you shut down or tune out, when you come to a place where you don’t feel at all, that’s a sign of emotional fatigue. If the intensity of being on an emotional roller coaster is too much, then self-preservation sometimes means shutting off the valve to all emotions.

If you are starting to “flat-lining” it, becoming emotionally blank or feeling numb, be aware of what’s happening.

And be alarmed, because unfortunately, emotional numbing is not confined to just one area of your life. Emotions don’t work that way. When you start to shut down in one area of your life, you will feel its effect spread out to other areas of your life with people whose relationships you may not want to lose in depth and feeling.

Not only does covert abuse drain you physically and emotionally, but mentally, as well. All the mind games, the lying, the toll constant vigilance takes on you can cause you to just stop thinking. It takes too much work to try to make sense out of the senseless, to deal with the backlash of anger or indignation when you do question.

It gets to the point where it feels better to not think than to be so profoundly confused. Just go with what is presented to you. This is mental fatigue.

Don’t argue. Don’t question. It’s you. Not them.

Easy, right? Yeah, and dangerous. Because if there’s any place or anyone you need to keep your senses about you it’s with a covert abuser.

Covert abuse will fatigue you on all levels from physical to emotional to mental. It can suppress your immune system. You’ll feel it in your bones, your heart and head, and when you shut down on all levels, you’ll feel it as depression. The best prescription for this depression is not found in a pill, contrary to pharmaceutical commercials.

The prescription for covert abuse induced fatigue and depression is not what you take, but what you finally get rid of.

* * * * * * * *

The following questions are an invitation for self awareness. Do as many or little as you desire. There are no right or wrong answers — just your answers. Write them in a journal, post them in a comment here, share them with a friend or keep them in the private places of your heart. ~ To you on your journey, Demian

  • In what areas of your life do you feel fatigue? How overreaching is it?
  • Is this fatigue recent? How long have you experienced this?
    Look back to a time when you didn’t feel fatigued, when you were more vivacious, when you had energy not only for those you loved, but for yourself. Then start moving forward. When did the picture start to change?
  • Is there a pattern to this fatigue, a trigger?
  • Do you ever feel better, a little more rejuvenated? How long does that last? Under what circumstances? If temporary, under what circumstances did you lose it?
  • Can you remember when you didn’t feel this tired on a regular basis? What did it look like? What were you doing? Who and what was in your life?
  • Do you engage yourself intellectually in satisfying ways? Do you even want to? Is your personal life set up to encourage or support that?
  • How much color is in your life? When you look at the sky, do you really see the blue or notice how white the clouds are? How much do you see? How much are you preoccupied?
  • When was the last time you saw anything with wonder? When did you last laugh spontaneously from your gut?
  • Where is your life energy going? If you were to create a list with a column for time spent with your children or your creativity or anything you love, and a column for time spent with or dealing with covert abuse, which column would have more entries?


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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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  • KathleenDonlonDort says:

    These words absolutely fit the bill…thank you again.

  • DemianYumei says:

    @KathleenDonlonDort I’m glad you found them helpful, Kathleen. Thank you for taking the time to let me know. I really do appreciate it 🙂

  • Covert Bullying (Abuse) says:

    Took me a little longer than anticipated, but I have a new post up at my blog. I’m still exploring the red flags of covert abuse, warning signs we should heed. Today’s topic is “covert abuse induced fatigue” as opposed to what we may call normal fatigue.

  • Empathy 2012: wake up - change yourself - change t says:

    I’m so glad you’ve posted again, I find your posts really interesting and helpful. Thank you

  • Covert Bullying (Abuse) says:

    Thank you, Empathy 🙂 I enjoy your page. It’s impressive how you can say so much with just a few words. That’s a real skill, and I admire it.

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

    CB, this was SUCH a good article and a great description, broken down into specifics about the fatigue we all experience in a pathological relationship. You really do have a writing gift CB and I so appreciate it and you too. You are just precious!

  • Covert Bullying (Abuse) says:

    Aww, thank you, Path to Peace

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

    CB, this is such a gift for you that I want to encourage you to write more. I can’t tell you how helpful your articles are for me personally and I’m sure if you wrote more, you’d be able to reach many more. It is a gift and you have it

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