When we experience covert abuse, the very subtlety of it can make us feel embarrassed or even apologetic to bring it up. We — and others — may make us feel silly as if we were making a big deal out of nothing.
Trivializing is a kind of invalidation. It is one of the techniques covert abusers use to abuse you. Be careful you do not do that to yourself.
Manipulation, deception and the punishing nature of covert abuse, whether from a single source or multiple as in the case of relational aggression, is no small thing. The impact it can have on you, especially as the abuse continues over time, can be a very big deal.
Covert abuse hurts. It’s not silly. What’s silly is to expect that that should have no impact on you! If you find yourself on the receiving end of covert abuse, you are not being petty for objecting or “too sensitive” for hurting or somehow failing yourself for “letting” other people get to you.
When it rains, you get wet. When people are mean, it hurts. It’s not your shortcoming for feeling hurt or confused or upset! It’s their shame for being mean! Yes, you are responsible for what you do with your feelings, but you are not guilty or weak for having them.
Do not diminish what you feel. In whatever form covert abuse takes — subtle put downs, darting glances, muffled laughter at school, reputation damaged at work or smeared by an ex — acknowledge its impact on you.
The law does. The law calls malicious gossip and false assertions slander when spoken and libel when written. The law recognizes these things can inflict considerable damage to a person’s peace of mind, reputation and social standing to the point of allowing for legal recourse and monetary compensation.
Can it be any less injurious because you’re a kid in school or less devastating because the rumor spread isn’t published in a tabloid? You don’t have to be a target of covert abuse or relational aggression in the world to feel devastated — just your world.
Victims of covert abuse and bullying suffer the same long-term effects as victims of physical abuse and bullying. Targets can suffer emotional and psychological distress. The very foundation of trust, the willingness or ability to trust again, is often damaged, and how you see yourself, as well as your sense of self-worth can be severely shaken.
A traumatic experience can set up an expectation of failure in all relationships, including with life. But an experience doesn’t have to be traumatic to have a long lasting affect. Abuse, covert or otherwise, only needs to go deep enough into a person’s psyche at a vulnerable moment to impact a person in significant ways.
This is referred to as “learned helplessness”. Dr. Charisse Nixon, assistant professor of developmental psychology at Penn State Erie, and Director of Research and Evaluation for The Ophelia Project, illustrates this phenomenon in a video on YouTube, the Ophelia Project Channel.
Neither covert abuse or relational aggression are trivial, and neither are the feelings you feel as a result.
Own your feelings. They’re real and they’re yours, but so are the choices you can make to deal with them. You are not powerless.
Even when it pours, you can get out of the rain. Or you can take out an umbrella. You can put on a rain coat…and if you choose, you can dance in the rain! You have options, and we will explore them later. But for now, it is important to remember that it’s normal to feel hurt when someone is hurting you, and when they’re hurting you through others. It’s nothing to feel ashamed about.
Enlisting others to hurt someone is devastatingly effective…and calculatingly so, even if the methods used are childish as they often are.
It’s difficult, though, to tell someone about your experiences without feeling or coming across as childish, yourself, isn’t it? The nature of covert abuse sets it up that way. It is rather incredulous to believe in this manipulation and subtle aggression that is never quite out in the open, and just as quickly denied. The temptation to trivialize what you are experiencing is great.
And remember, no one will maintain “it’s nothing” more than the abuser.
So, is it nothing? Are you childish? No. You’re a target, and there’s nothing childish or trivial about that or the pain you feel as a result. You are not making a big deal out of this.
It already is.
POINTS TO PONDER:
What is your level of comfort in accepting your emotional reality? Can you be with it and listen to what it’s telling you or do you try to ignore its voice by trivializing or diminishing it?