How to Discern Covert Abuse Without Becoming Paranoid

Written by on October 15, 2012 in Conversations on the Healing Journey with 7 Comments

publicdomainpictures.netBefore I write any more articles in the “Feigning Series” or analyze any more types of manipulation and covert abuse, I would like to address the question of how to protect our idealism, our positive outlook on life in a world where covert abuse exists.

It’s necessary to be able to discern covert abuse, to arm yourself with knowledge and awareness, but what a tragedy it would be if in attempting to do so we lose our optimism and basic trust in humanity. To become paranoid, cynical or suspicious of everyone’s motives is hardly a way to live, and protects us from nothing.

How can we protect ourselves, our ideals and our desire to see the good in others from those who would take advantage without losing those very positive traits in the process?

There are two ways to become victimized by covert abuse. One is directly and the other indirectly. Direct victimization involves being in the line of fire as a target. Indirect victimization involves a more circuitous route, either by being impacted as a bystander or witness, or through being manipulated for the purpose of hurting another. This is referred to as relational aggression, the use of social relationships as weapons.

People who are used as weapons are called collaborators.

Sad fact is some people do enjoy being mean and jump at the opportunity to assault others. But most of us may find ourselves doing the same thing, not for sadistic pleasure, but for the sake of friendship or in the name of justice. Either way we become instruments of abuse. When your friendship is taken advantaged of in such a fashion or your sense of justice is manipulated to serve the agendas of another, that is a form of covert abuse, even if the ultimate target is someone else.

How can we protect ourselves from falling into this trap without abandoning friendship or our sense of justice or fairness?

In this article, I’d like to explore this question. In a subsequent article I’ll address how to maintain our idealism while being vigilant against the direct-in-the-line-of-fire covert abuse.

Two things to follow:
1) Know Thyself — Don’t try to second guess someone else’s motives. Be aware of your own.
2) Honor Thyself — Don’t compromise your principles. Live them.

Certainly, being able to recognize the symptoms of covert abuse, its effects on us, the smoke screens it hides behind and the red flags that alert its presence are important. But we can’t always second guess other people’s motives, nor should we.

Short of being a psychic or capable of reading other people’s minds, knowing who you are and being true to what you believe is the greatest way to protect you from betraying yourself even as you honestly intend to stand up for someone else.

Every step toward becoming a collaborator or a target involves some kind of giving up of your own power. Either you are not truly thinking about what you’re doing — giving up a principle or ideal and justifying it, or you are not applying your principles — respect, kindness, value and so forth — to you, even as you may never compromise them for another.

Protecting yourself means taking back your power…

To protect yourself from becoming a collaborator be mindful. Develop self awareness. Ask yourself, “What am I getting out of this?” Be aware of your vulnerabilities. Perceptive abusers can pick up on them and manipulate them to their advantage. Invest your time and efforts in meeting your vulnerabilities in healthy and empowering ways, and others will be less likely to benefit from them.

What are your fears? Your desires? Do you fear abandonment or rejection? Do you desire approval or acceptance? How proud are you in the choices and conclusions you draw, in your ability to be a good judge of character? Would you rather assault someone to prove you were right in your original positive assessment of someone else? What investments do you have?

I remember a time I refused to have any contact or conversation with someone I was convinced had only bad intentions towards a friend of mine. I even justified my decision to exile her from my life by portraying her as fundamentally evil to others and not wanting to be poisoned by her.

But underneath my very real sense of loyalty to my friend was, also, a fear that I’d discover more than I wanted to, if we ever sat down and talked. How much easier it was to demonize that person and keep them frozen in my judgmental perception than to risk the investment I had in my friend.

Look at those needs within you. Fill up any empty space within so someone else won’t do it for you for a less than ethical purpose.

If you are fiercely loyal to family and friends, if you believe in taking a stand for justice, that’s beautiful…but only if done with integrity. Be wary of any request for you to compromise some of your principles for supposedly other principles. These are very difficult decisions that need to be made carefully and mindfully for reasons that are true for you, not convenient or desired for someone else.

Even if what is said is true, even if an injustice has been done, even if the person talked about is just downright horrible or the act committed truly egregious, do not cross the line and compromise your values. That person is not the exception this time.

There are no exceptions, no time when it’s ever right to be cruel in whatever form — to gossip or spread rumors, to taunt another, to withhold kindness, or at the very least, civility, when otherwise you would have given freely, or to participate in any act that you know full well would hurt you if you were on the receiving end.

Before you do anything, hold it up to the light of the principles you hold dear. If you believe in kindness, if you believe in love, if you believe in truth, see if any act you are contemplating or ready to engage in can stand in that light.

If you believe in accountability does your method of accountability hold up to integrity or exclude it? Are gossiping, slandering, taunting, choosing to alienate and enlisting others to do so, compatible with what you believe in?

If so, you need to take another look at your principles. If not, then you better reassess your contemplated choices.

“But this person really did this and this! They really are despicable!”

Well, maybe. In all fairness, I know if I had heard the story about me from a long ago aggressor, as only she could tell it, I, too, would have thought I was a thoroughly despicable person. But even if I were convinced, and even if I were right I’d have to ask myself regardless of how her behavior reflects upon her, how does my behavior — actual or contemplated — reflect on me?”

Because that’s what I’m responsible for.

Perhaps action is called for. In such cases, it’s important to ask yourself, In what way can I respond with integrity? If the injustice is real, what steps can you take to address it that is in harmony with your principles? Is it appropriate to confront or engage this person in conversation? Can it be done in such a way to induce honest communication? Would it be appropriate to report the situation to someone in a position of authority? Can you suggest mediation? Would that be a waste of time? Does it merit walking away? Is it your business?

Can you be a real friend to your friend and listen to them without charging into battle on their behalf or filling your own heart with contempt and judgment?

Can you help and encourage your friend to find their own way?

It may be hard, especially, when your friend is clearly distressed or offended. You want to make things right for them or to punish the one responsible, but stop — empathize as a good friend should, then take a deep breath and remember who you are.

Handle this and any situation in a way that reflects your own dignity as a human being. That this person your friend is crying about, may not act like a decent human being is no excuse for you not to.

Sometimes there are people who are just too toxic. These are the people who are not into honest communication. They are the game players, the covert abusers who drain you of your time and energy. The best thing to do in this situation is to establish no contact.

But no contact when used as the first line of response isn’t really no contact. It’s the silent treatment, its censure. No contact is reserved for those you cannot deal with in good faith and have become too toxic to continue with.

But no contact means no contact. It doesn’t mean engaging in activities that negatively impact that person at an arm’s length. Be mindful of what you are doing to another while you’re “not having anything to do with them”. If in your no contact, you’re engaging in relational aggression or group bullying, then you’re only kidding yourself.

The truth is you are fully engaged, and as such, are fully responsible for your behavior.

Just be careful. And more than careful, be mindful. As tempting as it is to cross the boundaries of your principles and take just one strike against someone who really, really does deserve it, for all you know, by refraining, you may very well save yourself a good deal of embarrassment and regret, when you discover you were wrong.

Even if you discover you were right, honestly, is there ever a time when cruelty can truly said to be a good thing?

Whether you are right about another person or not, you are still responsible for you and your actions. You are responsible for what you do and how you choose to live.

Address injustice with integrity.

If you do these things, you won’t have to be paranoid about other people’s motives. You will be clear about your own. And you won’t have to ask whether another person is telling you the truth in relation to how you should act.

You will act in accordance with your principles every time.

With peace,
Demian Yumei

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About the Author

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


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  • dharma bum says:

    brilliant article. insightful and useful. thanks.

    • DemianYumei says:

      @dharma bum  You’re welcome!  Glad you found it helpful 🙂

      • dharma bum says:

         Although I would add that knowing oneself, motives, acting with integrity etc etc is no guarantee against pain. Those curve balls from abusives will likely still keep coming but not reacting in kind is important like you said. The only thing helps me is having the trust and faith that doing the right thing is always better than reacting. The truth always wins out in the end.

        • DemianYumei says:

          @dharma bum  @DemianYumei Hi dharma bum, I missed this reply from you. I’ve been only to this blog intermittently in these past several months balancing other things in my life, but still I usually get some kind of notification and for some reason I didn’t.
          Just wanted to say that you are absolutely right. There is no guarantee you will not get hurt. Unfortunately, there are too many people who are manipulatively abusive…and if there was only one and you were the one to become their target then that would be too many people.  I think manipulation is one of the worst abuses to go through, because your love, your trust, faith and goodwill is taken advantage of. You’re not just assaulted, you’re played.
          I do believe doing the right thing is better than reacting! It’s important that you don’t lose who you are while someone else is trying to take advantage of you. Because then you heap a greater tragedy upon an already very sad situation.
          Having said that, I understand it’s easy to forget…So easy to judge and condemn yourself for slipping, for responding in kind or taking the bait to behave in a way you normally would not. Then you go from being naive to feeling stupid, because once again you didn’t see it coming.
          You know, people will talk about the importance of forgiveness. This is true, but in manipulative relationships, sometimes you have to save the biggest portion of forgiveness for yourself.

  • guest says:

    Dear Demian,
    Your articles are so well written and meaningful. I am very happy to have stumbled upon your work while trying to understand the manipulative mind. Thank you for sharing. This article I found particularly helpful as I have been feeling twinges of paranoia after years of living in a relationship filled with passive-aggressive and control tactics. I am trying to remember your advice to focus primarily on my own motives and live by my own principles. Please continue sharing your wisdom.

    • DemianYumei says:

      @guest Thank you, kind stranger, for your encouraging and supportive words. It means a lot to me. I struggle writing here sometimes. It’s something I know I need to do, but it can be hard to not spiral down emotionally, when I take really close looks into these dynamics. So having positive feedback like yours validates my efforts and makes it possible for me to continue. Thank you for your kindness.

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