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.
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.