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  • Michaela Patel


Updated: Jan 12

crazy making

Although helpful, it isn’t essential to have a confirmed diagnosis of narcissism or sociopathy in order to start learning that others are tampering with our perceptions to their advantage.

From my own experience, and the experience of people I have helped, most abusers are unique. They show fluidity along the empathy spectrum, real or imagined, which makes their behaviour often inconsistent with the symptoms presented by professionals. Most aggressors don’t display abuse all the time which may make it more difficult to identify them. Furthermore, the smarter they are the more covert they tend to be in their approach...

So what makes us prone to misjudging someone?

When we are unable to evaluate people to be other than 'good or bad', instead of learning to evaluate behaviours, situations and instances, we tend to miss many important cues because they don’t seem to fit our perspective. When we see our partner, friend or parent as ‘good’, we look for signs to confirm that. This is called CONFIRMATION BIAS and it works like this: The mind likes to reach a fast conclusion for which it is capable to overlook, dismiss, quickly forget, or otherwise change reality to fit it’s current beliefs (in order to find rest). In other words, for us to feel safer we need to pacify our conflicting thoughts by rushing into a conclusion, rather than hoding back allowing things to crystallise which is exactly what manipulators count on.

A person's belief system can be prone to projection (blame/distrusting others) whilst another’s to self-reflection (self-blame/distrusting themselves). The more we are prone to self-reflection without understanding how can this quality be exploited by others, the less likely are we to spot a covert manipulator in action.

Covert aggressors (CAs) pick intelligent, empathic, capable, hardworking, kindhearted individuals for whom it may take a very long time to realise who they are actually dealing with for multitude of reasons.

Everyone has been manipulated and manipulated someone else. We even manipulate ourselves into doing things by talking ourselves into taking action, knowingly or unknowingly. When someone is being overtly aggressive we are more likely to be on guard, alert, because we feel threatened. The more covert the aggressor, the more is he or she skilled in creating a smoke screen, disabling our alarm bells methodically, over a course of time changing our reality by eroding our sense of healthy Self to serve him or her. Projection, mirroring, deflection, minimising, invalidation, sabotage, there are the many tools in the arsenal of the CA, insidiously damaging the psyche of others oftentimes over decades. Polititians, professionals, artists, religious leaders, CAs are everywhere.

purposeful deceit

Toxicity can come disguised, dressed in sweet words and thoughtful gestures, making us feel giddy and fascinated by the plethora of new exciting experiences. Intrigued by the magnetic pull, we get impatient to experience more of the electrifying, unique atmosphere we have not felt before. Covert aggressors are known to others as the amazing partners, entertaining friends and supportive parents. Our feelings towards them for how they treat us behind closed doors, how we feel about ourselves when around them(!) are just about the only cue that our life isn’t as it seems to everyone else. The disparity between what our life looks like on the outside and how we feel within is a maddening source of a profound existential dispair.

What makes us prone to enduring years of unhappiness?

  1. CAs pick particular type. Typically those who are a)more caring and empathic/self-reflective and at the same time b) insecure/not particularly confident/not believing in their abilities and naive (why this is I discuss later). Predators possess the ability to incredibly quickly and accurately read us (this is called cognitive empathy) to assess if we could be manipulated and how. They seem really interested [which we read as caring] - a particularly effective way to exploit our core insecurity of not being seen and heard! They draw important informations out to use them to asses, and later manage [use against] us. They ask deeply personal questions, they joke inappropriately to see how we react. They disclose deeply personal information early on in an attempt to make us open up to them too.

  2. CAs know how to make others like them. Flattery and mirroring the body language will quickly disarm most people, Them copying our body language subconsciously relaxes us. They are generous, attentive, thoughtful, seem supportive of us and caring. We experience what royal treatment really means because they really know how to spoil us! This is to ensure we see them the way they want to appear [the Mr or Mrs Perfect] so that when things suddenly change (and boy they will!) we don’t question who they are and start doubting ourselves.

  3. They confuse others by slowly tearing down their reality, making it increasingly difficult to stand up for themselves. Blame shifting and deflection are tactics to avoid responsibility for their actions. Projection is meant to make us believe that we possess their (and only their!) negative qualities. I was called lazy, deceitful, manipulative, selfish, drama creating, weird, in an attempt to make me feel ashamed and think that there is something wrong with me. (Not him, no!) But if all the drama and negativity just kept coming, I would have had enough pretty quickly. The insidiousness of covert abuse lies in the intermittent reinforcement which keeps the rollercoaster moving in, for us, unpredictable fashion. We are high until we are made to feel our lowest. We feel loved until we are given a cold shoulder for daring to go against their wishes. We feel cared for and supported until we feel guilty for daring to deviate from their agenda. We are hopeful and trusting until their promises are no longer valid. We matter until we don’t, our worth tied to the never predictable mood of the CA. The more sadistic they are, the more they relish in our pain, enjoying our wobbles and failures, loathing us needing their support. All they really want is an easy life which is why they have pursued us in the first place.

The punishment-reward cycle is confusing (yet highly addictive!) with us ending up feeling bad about ourselves, ungrateful, hence deeply indebted. This is called the trauma bond - a form of misconstrued loyalty and an invisible, emotional umbilical cord intertwining us with the abuser.

To detach and save ourselves, for us to start noticing the incongruities in someone's behaviour, we must start believing what we are seeing and hearing, trusting our own perceptions. The feeling in our gut tells us when things don't feel good. Whenever I find myself around toxicity, I feel all icky inside, my stomach contracts and my whole body feels like it wants to fold into itself letting me know I need to remove myself from the situation. When something feels off, even if I cannot quite understand things there and then to pinpoint with accuracy why (because on the outside things look fine), I become present - aware of my sensing. Our subconscious, Whole body sensing is of much larger proportion to our conscious perception, which if not matching up makes us feel uneasy. Together with our energy radar, sensing the angry, frustrated aura of a person hiding behind his or her smile, they are well developed to alert us that things are far from fine. In fact, we will feel strange, confused, unsettled internally.

Victims of emotional and psychological abuse who are consistently made to distrust their perceptions by gaslighting, minimising, and invalidating their inner experiences. 'Don't be so sensitive, it was just a joke. I didn't say that, you must have misheard me. You are making a big deal out of nothing yet again.' In time their methods further disconnect us from our inner truth, strengthening our affinity to the abuser’s point of view. We learn to trust the CA and he or she becomes the saviour, our centre, whilst our head keeps spinning with constant confusion…

Continue to part 2.

Thank you for reading. If my article contributed to understanding yourself, please be generous and share it with others.

Copyright © 2023 Michaela Patel


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