Written by on June 13, 2012 in Conversations on the Healing Journey with 7 Comments

Covert abuse: the assaults, the pain…did I do something to deserve this?


I could leave it at that and end this post, but I’ll delve into it a little further in case you’re not convinced. And if you’re a victim of covert abuse, chances are you aren’t.

Covert abuse, with its systematic erosion of your self-worth through continuous invalidation can train you to gradually believe all the negative messages about yourself.

Let me say this. Even if you did something that hurt or offended someone, nothing you could have done merits the lack of respect and the cruelty that covert abuse entails. Choosing to respond with manipulation is not appropriate. When someone does, that choice reflects on them, not you.

And just because there may be others who agree or contribute to that abuse (as in relational aggression) does not make it right. Numbers do not justify these actions any more than if they were done by one.

Let’s say you did commit some transgression on another. They have the right to object. They have the right to tell you how they feel and how your actions affected them. They have the right to hold you accountable. They have a right to seek a resolution or to make a decision to walk away from what they find unacceptable or to secure a remedy through appropriate channels.

They do not have the right to be punitive. They do not have the right to complain to everyone but you. They do not have the right to put you down or spread rumors or assault your reputation. They do not have the right to twist facts, fabricate stories or blatantly lie, selectively or through omission. They do not have the right to play mind games with you, sabotage you or in any way assault you, verbally, emotionally or psychologically.

They do not have the right to invalidate you in such a way that you slowly begin to think you are going insane.

These things are cruel and there are no good reasons for cruelty. There are, however, excuses.

There may be triggers for the abuser, but triggers are not reasons. Triggers are personal. They are about the one triggered, not the perceived catalyst for it.

Sometimes, just who you are can trigger feelings of jealously in a person. You may find yourself on the receiving end of covert abuse for your positive outlook, the things that make you unique, your intelligence or creativity or perspective on life.

Perhaps you are targeted because of something you have — a job, a coveted partner or good friends or a loving family. It isn’t a crime to be fortunate or different or exceptional in whatever way others may perceive you to be. These are not punishable offenses. But a covert abuser may see them as such and that “seeing” reflects on them, not you.

Now, it’s always a good idea to do a self assessment if you find yourself in the midst of conflict. Evaluate your behavior, honestly determine if there is anything you may have done that could have had a negative impact on others or been perceived in a negative way.

Communicating in good faith — sometimes with mediation, sometimes not — is a necessary process in any healthy social interaction. Conflicts can arise from different coping skills or misunderstandings that you may or may not have had a part in.

However, the key word here is healthy. If you are not in a healthy relationship, if you are in a covertly abusive relationship, then communication can be futile, because you are involved with someone who is driven solely by their inner agendas.

You won’t be able to make things better if it’s not convenient for them to have things better.

These are the people with whom you are always standing on shifting sands. You, in good faith, attempt to communicate to understand. You listen deeply. You try to hear what the other is saying, because you want to meet their needs and honor yours, come to a place of resolution — a mutually beneficial meeting of two hearts or two friends who are supposed to care about their relationship and each other, or two coworkers or partners who are supposed to be on the same team.

But in covert abuse communication means using words to achieve its ends. Anything and everything can be changed in the blink of an eye, from one conversation to another, from one breath to another. They leave their loved ones and peers confused and bewildered. There is no common ground, no agreement, nothing to stand on, no commitment to honor truth to one’s best ability.

They care only about winning, in whatever way that means to them.

And if you do find yourself in such a relationship, know that objecting to this abuse isn’t abuse!

You have the right to object.

Holding someone accountable for their actions is not an assault — no matter how much they want to claim it is. Objecting to something unfair or unjust or unkind is not being unfair or unjust or unkind. But a covert abuser will claim that it is, and some will feel entitled to punish you for it, though they have no right.

They do not have the right to lash out at you in righteous indignation and/or play the part of the victim to distract you and others from their culpability. They do not have the right to project their negativity onto you or engage in any other kind of punitive behavior.

Each of us is responsible for the choices we make. Be responsible, but do not mistake taking responsibility for taking blame for someone else.

Taking responsibility is acknowledging your strength to make empowered choices for your life, regardless how others behave. Taking blame is actually condoning the inappropriate behavior of others, because you give them a free pass of justification signed by you.

You’ve carried that burden of a lie long enough, maybe not even realizing it was being slipped onto your back. Time to shake it off.

The question isn’t Did I do something to deserve this?

The question is, Am I receiving what I truly deserve?

Because if you are receiving anything less than kindness, respect and acknowledgement of your dignity as a human being, you’re not.


How are you to blame for any bad treatment? Who gave you that idea? Where did it come from and whose voice is it? If it’s yours, whose voice is under it? What would it mean if you no longer believed it? How would your life look like, and why is that attractive? Why is that scarey? What do you want to be responsible for and how does that look to you?

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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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  • Elizabeth Peeler says:

    “if you are receiving anything less than kindness, respect and acknowledgement of your dignity as a human being, you’re not receiving -what you deserve.” CORRECT/WORD

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


  • Lori Douthit says:


  • Ruqayyah Akta? says:

    so true!

  • Demian Yumei says:

    Thank you! 🙂

  • Tracy18 says:

    I blamed myself all the time because my ex made me believe that things were my fault.  He said to me once, after coming home and being irritated that the house wasn’t tidy, “You’d think that since you know that I like the house tidier, you’d try to clean up before I came home.”  I immediately thought he had a point and thought that I was being insensitive to his wishes.  I felt awful that I was so insensitive.  The thing that made the manipulation even more covert was that he wasn’t raging at me.  I would have recognized that as abuse.  What made him such a master was his calm.  He was just mildly irritated so I didn’t recognize it for the manipulation it was.  Had he yelled at me, he knew I’d be gone.  He knew me well enough to know what worked on me and what wouldn’t.  Toward the end of my marriage, when I was struggling with deciding whether I should stay or go (we have two kids), I often thought, “If he would just hit me or call me a name, then I’d be able to leave without question.”  He knew this about me and exploited it constantly.

    • DemianYumei says:

       @tracy18 Manipulation through guilt is very effective. It may seem innocuous at first, innocent. But when it defines your relationship and continues throughout however long you’ve been together it’s toxic. Yes, covert abusers do use their knowledge of you to their advantage. People who care about each other cherish what they learn about each other. It adds to the richness of their relationship. Manipulators use what they learn about each other. It adds to their power to control.

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