Resisting the Urge to Expose a Covert Abuser

Covert Abusers

Covert abusers are frighteningly common these days. They’re skilled impression managers who know how to look good. They might be charming, amiable, and charismatic. But as most survivors of a covert abuser knows, looking good is not the same as being good. Being a person of genuine integrity takes hard work, often for a lifetime. Looking good merely requires talent – a certain social skill set.

Covert characters of various types inevitably inflict great pain in relationships. In the beginning, they have you believing one thing about them. This raises your hopes and your expectations. But they can’t help eventually revealing who they really are or what they really wanted of you. And this can’t help but leave you feeling deceived and exploited.

The Urge To Expose

Once unmasked, you can find yourself wanting the whole world to know who your covert abuser really is and what they’re really like. This is natural. Besides, it’s often even more traumatic to have your therapist or others you know be bamboozled by them than it was to be suffer their abuse for so long. And that’s mainly because  in misperceiving them, these same folks might very well also misperceive you and the true nature of the relationship from which you fled. Most survivors want others to understand their pain and the reasons for it. It’s a way to feel positively connected again, and overcome the gaslighting effect.

The urge to expose is natural. However, it’s also frought with danger. Sometimes, the harder you try to get others to see what you have come to see, the more you can end up casting yourself in unfavorable light. Besides, skilled impression managers know how to win allies and make you out the villian, anyway. So, what you might get for all your efforts to expose your covert abuser is a loss of support and feelings of even greater loneliness.

Personal Empowerment

In my book In Sheep’s Clothing, I devote much attention to personal empowerment. And I describe the key to it in simple terms: direct your time, energy, and attention where you have power. Ultimately, that’s where your power lies – in what you do to lovingly care for yourself. Directing time, energy, and attention where you have no real power is the behavioral “formula” for most depressions. Survivors of covert abusers are generally depressed enough already! They don’t need to be wasting (i.e. misplacing) valuable time and energy. Instead, they need to love themselves better. And that means devoting time, energy, and attention to healing, growing, and, hopefully, inoculating themselves against future victimization.

Hear more about this on the latest installment of Character Matters.



39 thoughts on “Resisting the Urge to Expose a Covert Abuser

  1. I’m trying to prep myself for what I know will be on onslaught of drama and lies about allegations from a former co-worker, allegations brought out in an order of protection, against her.
    I don’t know how to shut down a conversation. I know it will be filled with lies, her trying to protect her reputation, which isn’t good anyway.
    From reading articles here, I’m under the impression to not call out the lies. It will lead to more.
    My goal is to not even be involved in any discussions of it.
    I’ve always tried to be cordial, and I think that got me in this place dealing with a person who is what I’ll call character disturbed.
    It’s been so peaceful having her gone from the workplace, now I’ve come to find out charges are brought against her, and it will be handled here at the workplace, being the courthouse I work at (she retired from).
    Any suggestions are welcome. I’m done with her drama.

    1. Well, hmm, that sounds like a difficult spot. Not sure how to handle it but I will say that nowadays, being polite is like giving someone permission to exploit you. I really struggle with this concept because I believe politeness is the backbone of civilized society. It’s almost impossible for me to be impolite. How do you cut someone off without coming across or feeling impolite, I do not know, but I’m hoping someone has the idea that I can also learn from.

    2. That is tough. I can’t tell if she will part of the conversations, or just other workers. In any case, my go to when I feel others want to get me caught up in gossip at work or in a group is to: politely excuse myself to go to the restroom (then not return, go back to work), or I’ve got to get x done, or I need to make a phone call. I don’t make it obvious, but it works to remove me from the situation without taking a side/getting caught in the drama. When I worked at a school, and gossip started in the teacher’s lounge, I became intensely focused on my lunch!

      If it is my friend and I know it’s not true, I will defend and say that is not my experience with the person and move on.

    3. “I don’t know how to shut down a conversation”

      This is one method I have used. As they SEE THEMSELVES AS BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE. A conversation in their eye’s is that YOU ARE SEEKING THEIR ADVISE AND OR PERMISSION IN SOME WAY. TO SHUT THIS DOWN.

      MY REPLY.

      ” When they starts talking and noises start coming out of their MOUTH”.
      You adopt the position of a PARENT.

      ” AND SAY”

      I did this to my niece. it shuts them down straight away. but causes a MASSIVE EGO INJURY.

      1. “You adopt the position of a PARENT“

        Wonder what it would look like if you responded as a different type of parent? One that does not take their behavior personally, so feels no need to be aggressive/dominant, or put them in their place.

        1. This is a person who drolls on and on and on and on. It’s more than annoying. It puts me in a place of being angry.

          1. He was trying to help you. The advice may have been misguided, but he was trying to help. Judging him is not helpful and just discourages.

      2. Joey,
        I recently received a thingy for putting in my computer, the word escapes me. My long lost narc cousin sent it to me for my narc brother. I went NO contact with my 6 siblings 3 and more years ago. 1 by one I had to exclude them from my life as they were trying to gaslight me all the time and never once had any real conversation with me.
        My purpose for replying is this, I thought to myself now whyyyy would I ever take anything from my rotten cousin who abused my grandparents terribly and stick it in my computer. (so he says were wonderful family pictures) LOL. Haven’t seen his family since 1993!!!
        I promptly put it in a bag and threw it onto his driveway with a note…Thank you but I’ll decline!
        In the past I would’ve NEVER treated my family this way, but it felt good!

    4. If the order of protection was filed by someone else and not you, I would answer her by saying I’m not aware of the details of the situation and so I can’t give you an opinion on that.
      Best to give generic short and repetitive answers if you’re cornered by her.
      Good responses to a narcissist:
      Hmm I don’t really know about that.
      I’m sorry to have to cut you off but I have something pressing to attend to.
      I wasn’t aware of that.
      Hmm hmm, (nothing else just that)
      A polite somewhat bewildered look in your eyes. (Shows disinterest)

      1. Priscilla
        The order of protection was filed by the recently retired co-worker’s brother. I did the things you say there in your post when she called me. I did answer one text stating how good things are with me and peaceful. I pretended like I didn’t know anything was going on. And since I have not responded to messages and texts left for me. she realizes I’m ignoring her and for now is leaving me alone. However, she’s still calling our supervisor asking her to destroy her personnel file, or give it to her! She’s got an order of protection hearing coming up in a couple weeks here at the courthouse. I know her. She’s going nuts right now trying to minimize the appearance of her being bat — crazy.

  2. When in a situation listening to a lie, I respond with eye contact and say “ok.” My tone is not soft, nor harsh it’s simply said. It shuts everything down.

    You know and I know whatever was said was a lie, it is absolutely futile to be contrary or be defensive. So, when I say “ok” I often witness the liar putting way too much effort in making their lie more believable.

    I don’t need to say one more thing after “ok.” (then silence). It has been the only tactic that works for me.

    (I’m not suggesting this maneuver within a legal context)

    1. D
      That’s interesting. I’ve done this with her. And it does quiet it down a bit but not stop the onslaught of verbage.

    2. D. I do that as well it seems to be all a narc needs to do is hear themselves spout off. When I do it to 2 people I know they just seem to fade off. It’s quite relaxing!

  3. To All
    thanks for the suggestions. I do have a problem with the tendency to be polite. But she’s not polite to me, inundating me with lies. So the politeness has a place, but not in these situations. I think that’s part of my problem, not shutting things down because I want to be polite and not cause friction. I hate confrontation. It’s so uncomfortable to me.
    I don’t even want to begin to listen to her “story”. I’m even getting agitated thinking about this discussion that will certainly be had in the future.
    I’m going to shut it down. Tell her I don’t believe her and don’t want to hear it. I’m not going to be used for her to try to make herself feel better and look better than she is. And this is not a friendship worth keeping anyway. She’s bad for me emotional health. I’m ready to let it all go.

  4. To All
    Well, I got a phone call and didn’t shut her down. I didn’t have it in me to do that. I did, however, use few words, lots of I don’t knows, um-hums, no real banter, no advice, kept it very minimal and the converastion ended quickly. This isn’t the end of it though. I’m afraid, though, that it will come to the point where I’ll get ugly in order to make this “friendship” go away, a “friendship” of 40 years that no longer serves me, a “friendship” that beats me down.

    1. Hi, Lucy,

      That’s using the grey rock method. It may continue to work or not depending on what type of person you’re dealing with.

      But I’ve been thinking, you could be honest with her. I’m assuming she knows your history if it’s a 40 year friendship. You could just be honest and tell her the conflict she’s embroiled in is triggering you from your bad marriage and strained relationship with your daughter. Apologize for not being able to support her and say that you can’t be involved, it’s outside of your ability to handle at this time. If she doesn’t respect that then that would definitely be your cue to cut it off.

      With my politeness variable, I find situating myself into a defense position like I described helps me make the hard choice. I absolutely do not feel comfortable as the aggressor nor being impolite. It actually creates more vulnerability because I feel bad and guilty after so I’ll cave to make amends.

      Don’t know if that suggestion will help you but it may be closer to your comfort zone.

    2. Lucy,

      I was not helpful at all! Misunderstood it to be the folks at work would be gossiping about it. Oops.

      Good for you, you got through it. It’s practicing a new behavior. You’ll get better at it if it didn’t quite feel right. Grey rocking it is an excellent way to do it. They don’t get the reaction they are looking for. She’ll look to others for that now most likely.

      1. Healing,
        It is an employee who recently retired. Now three weeks into retirement, she has an order of protection filed against her. So I had a very pleasant three weeks with no issues, no contact, no drama, no lies, and now this. It was so pleasant and calm without her here, stirring up drama. Now She’s calling me about this OP filed against her. I don’t want to deal with her. Negative again. Drama.

  5. Wow! Dr. Simon’s post really hits home this week. If I only knew then what I know now.

    “Besides, it’s often even more traumatic to have your therapist or others you know be bamboozled by them than it was to be suffer their abuse for so long. “

    “Most survivors want others to understand their pain and the reasons for it. It’s a way to feel positively connected again, and overcome the gaslighting effect.”

    “So, what you might get for all your efforts to expose your covert abuser is a loss of support and feelings of even greater loneliness.”

    Honestly, if I knew then what I know now, I probably would have done the same thing. The gaslighting is so disorienting, I needed to have someone believe me, someone truly see him so I could trust my own perception again.

    Now that I trust my own perception again I don’t need anyone else to see him as he is and maybe, in an unkind way, I’m now amused at people being taken in by him. It’s validating and if they are the same people who supported him it’s a bit of justice as well. Let them be used by him.

    1. Charlie

      Sorry you had to go through that, with counselor even believing him, then throwing it back at you. That was insult upon insult.
      I fortunately had a counselor who saw right through him. In fact, I just spoke with her at a dinner party recently (she was an acquaintance before my counselor) and the topic of liars came up, i.e. Clarence Thomas and Oliver North, her saying how she can spot a liar so easily. We only had a couple appointments together, till I found out he was lying in Marriage counseling and decided to divorce him. Marriage counseling was the last thing I felt I needed to do before I left him.

      Isn’t it a good feeling that as long as you know, you don’t need validation.
      So much energy was put into trying to make sense of everything – when it was all a front.

      I’ve had people say they feel sorry for him, what a sad life he must have. That maddens me. If you want to feel sorry for someone, let it be me, whom he victimized. It’s those people who I just could not talk to.

      We’ve come a long way haven’t we?

      1. Thanks, Lucy,

        We have come along way! Indeed!

        And like you I can’t focus on the therapy topic for too long or I still get rattled.

        Clarification: two of the counselors were his. They would meet with him and then need me to come in to ‘help’ him and them understand what was going on with him. He was being treated for anxiety (for goodness sake! And side note, I would find pills in the toilet because ‘he dropped them on the floor’ so I’m pretty sure he didn’t take any of the medication! I don’t know why he would as he told me over and over again, nothing wrong with him, even the counselors couldn’t find anything wrong with him.

        His first counselor told me he found ‘Paul’ very believable and he was very good at spotting liars. The second one told me she could work with me on helping me change so our marriage could be saved.

        The marriage counselor (until I stopped going then he switched to individual) would respond to ‘Paul’s’ upsets by suggesting changes I could make to help ‘Paul’ be less unhappy. Even though our stated goals for therapy were I was unhappy, wanted a divorce and was there for closure and ‘Paul’s’ goals were he was happy and wanted to save the marriage. Funny, the happy guy had all the complaints and the unhappy girl needed to make all the changes. It took me a long, long time to figure that twist out.

        I stopped further traumatizing myself with individual therapy when my new therapist told me I liked being treated badly which is why I stayed so long in the relationship.

        I don’t trust therapist anymore so won’t go even though I probably still need help dealing with PTSD and what is most likely periods of significant depression. There were more than a couple of days during all this I struggled with serious suicidal ideation. I would dream about it and be surprised and disappointed when I woke up that I was still alive. It got really, really bad for me. (Hopefully, not too much TMI and doesn’t freak you out. It’s so strange to me after my experiences that suicide is somehow this dirty word or term that always indicates mental illness. My experience is it’s the last resort for extreme despair. But maybe I’m off kilter on this sensitive, taboo topic.)

        It was all so awful and even thinking about it now rattles me and creates a sense of doubt. If these experts don’t see what’s happening, could it be I’m wrong in what I’m thinking and seeing? Am I misunderstanding what he’s saying and doing? He told me much later, when I finally recognized what was happening, he was just manipulating the counselors to get me into marital counseling so he could manipulate them into changing me. He said it with an amused smirk and the comment that they’re so easy to ‘manage.’

        Ugh!! What a freakin nightmare that was! So glad it’s over and I never have to go through that again!

  6. Max, Joey
    I’m not sure about your comment about him trying to help. I wasn’t speaking of Joey. Joey is helpful. I was speaking of the person I’m having problems with, drooling on and on and on.

    1. Lucy,

      “I was speaking of the person I’m having problems with, drooling on and on and on.”

      I’m confused. Do you mean me? I responded before Joey?

    2. Lucy, you mean droning on and on right, I just can’t get the mental image of your coworker drooling on and on and you being too polite to say anything:)
      (please take this in the humour in which it’s intended)

  7. This article hits home, this is what I discovered when the narc has convinced others that I am the abuser. These people did not even know me, and took the word of the narc and the only way I knew what had happened was the way these people for no reason, acted towards me the first time I met them. Talk about crazy making.

    1. kat,
      I know what you mean. And what’s nice is that we get to the point that we really don’t let what others think about us affect us. Yes, their circle only hears the one side, but it’s not our circle.
      My last BF put a bunch of stuff out there that I came to hear about, even made a super long post on Facebook that was immediately shut down because a friend of mine reported it. He entitled it Beware of (then my name) What a baby. Sick. I heard from his friends how shocked and appauled they were of him, not me.

    2. Kat, I’ve been through this as well, and the common denominator is the covert manipulative narcissist. It is so bizarre to be visibly disregarded by people who are complete strangers and being introduced to them for the first time too.
      It’s the tried and true smear campaign doing its magic on behalf of the CD. Then the CD acts sweetly and tolerant towards the victim so everyone can get a false perspective. It’s diabolical!

  8. Lucy,

    I would just tell this person you have dealt with to much drama in your and are still dealing with difficulties of your own and are unable to deal with anymore disfunction.
    Just be polite and also tell her if need be you can’t take on anymore stress and leave it at that. Just keep it short and sweet and excuse yourself, the more you continue to talk to her you will feel compelled to defend your position and she will try to pull you back into her conflict. Just keep it short and take care of you.

    I also think Charlie gave you some good advice along with Joey and everyone else. We can never really heal if we keep letting others pull us into their dramas which many times are self created.

    I have decided to cut all ties with dysfunctional people, so many of them emotional vampires that steel our precious energy. It may not be that easy to do since you are a caring person, but the word “NO” goes a long way to be at peace and happy.

    I hope this was of help to you.

    1. BTOV
      Good advice. I do plan on telling her just as you’ve suggested. Honest and short and concise, with no room for her to try to draw me back in.
      Also, I’ve realized the part that I’ve have played in this dysfunctional relationship, owning up to it, and trying to be more conscious of who I spend my time with and how to relate to people who are dysfunctional.

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