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112 Comments (35 Discussion Threads) on “Beware the Covert-Aggressive Personality”
Unbelievable. This is my Dad. I have spent years trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I blamed my Mom. I blamed my husband and very nearly divorced him. He could see what my Dad was doing to me but I couldn’t. I just knew I was miserable. My Dad is 86 years old and nearly blind from macular degeneration. My Mother has been dead since 1999. This has nearly destroyed me – now it all makes sense. This article as well as the excerpt from In Sheep’s Clothing has helped me to begin to heal and to understand and to, hopefully, begin to manage this situation.
I’m so glad you found the book illuminating and that the principles here validate your experience. I’m always heartened to hear these comments and only hope that you have discovered the tools of empowerment for your life that my writings advocate.
Five years ago I got involved with a British man who seemed to be the essence of kindness/goodness, but I see now was a Covert Aggressive. I should have paid attention to the red flags which included three previous marriages, 3 very troubled children, being sacked from several jobs in just a few years and starting 2 lawsuits. He had explanations for all of this and I chose to believe him.
I made the mistake of leaving California to make a new life with this man, and even went into business with him. The business was a success, but he still continued to receive disability benefits and refused to pay child support.
He began to pressure me to be his ‘slave’ and call him ‘Master’. It made me feel humiliated and frightened. I begged him to stop treating me like that but he laughed it off. He told me it was all just make believe and I was making too big a deal over nothing.
We had unbelievable arguments which always ended with me giving in to him, usually in tears.
I started to feel as though I was losing my mind and slipped into a combination of depression and extreme anxiety. Because I could not stay in the UK without marrying him, I knew I would lose everything if I left. I felt completely trapped. Then I came to my senses and walked out the door with nothing by a few clothes.
Sadly, his attempts to control me did not end there. In fact, they became far more intense. He called and sent emails full of accusations and threats to have me arrested for theft and have me deported for being in the UK illegally (I’m not). He contacted my family and friends to say I took advantage of his illness and his kind generous nature and have stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from the business. He was very good at making himself sound like such a sad victim!
Six months after I left he brought a suit against me that is still ongoing. His emails to me say that it isn’t about the money but rather that he is on a mission from God to stop me from every conning another man the way I have done to him! I believe that in reality what he wants is for me to be broken because I had the nerve to stand up to him.
OH, I forgot to mention that a year after we split he married a Chinese girl and is living in China.
The suit has gone on for 2 1/2 years. The legal fees have left me destitute and living on the charity of friends. It’s a hell of a way to live. But at least I have my sanity back.
[Editor’s Note: This comment has been edited slightly from its original form.]
Hi Dr. Simon,
What you’ve written here I think, describes my boyfriend whom I’ve been seeing for about 3 years now. My parents do not approve of him and always say that he’s only with me because I’m educated and thrifty whereas he was a highschool drop-out, doesn’t have a good job/or any ambition because he’s lazy and never has any money (spending it on computer games, poker and cigarettes). They think that he is secretly manipulative and is waiting to take advantage of me as soon as we get married or something. My mom has told me that she doesn’t want me to see him/talk to him/keep in contact with him and has said that I’ve changed and become such a b**** since I’ve met him. I honestly think she is upset about it all and is taking it out on me.
In the example you have mentioned, it sounds just like us. I try to talk to him about spending more time together or trying new things to improve the relationship but he always tells me that he’s trying his hardest and that no matter what he does, I always complain don’t appreciate it so what’s the use and that he’s “spoilt” me in the past. I feel that I’m pressuring him, which I don’t like so I try to hold back so we don’t end up fighting, and me in tears. Other times, in the other ‘where to go for dinner’ scenario when you described, he is like that all the time. He doesn’t ever make a decision and says that he’s giving me the choice because he loves me. I just feel that he can’t be bothered.
Recently, he gave me a promise ring, saying that when the time is right, he will ask me to be his wife. I know that I really love and care about him, but am unsure if I’m being manipulated? Have my parents been right all this time? I know that being in it, it’s harder for me to see outside the box, and would really appreciate your professional advice. Thank you. :)
DO NOT MARRY THIS MAN -GET OUT BEFORE HE SUCKS THE LIFE OUT OF YOU!
Thank for for putting this excerpt on the internet. I was looking at Amazon.com to buy this book & saw the rave reviews but wanted to see part of the book. I seem to attract this type of guy, trying to talk it out when things “go bad”. I never knew why they didn’t understand me since the answers seemed so simple to me…just do what you need to do to make the other person happy (within reason) to get along. I try my best to think of others & couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being heard when I would ask for something that seemed so simple & would make me happy. I just wanted to get along & be content. I even went to counseling because I was convinced by one man that there was something wrong with me & I wanted to fix it. We still had problems. I am a very caring, giving person, a perfect victim for these aggressors. Not anymore! I am definitely buying your book. No one is perfect but you’ve helped me see that it really can be that simple with someone who’s not manipulative. If both partners have the ability to empathize & have a willingness to have a healthy relationship it can work. These “wolves” just don’t have that ability. I also see a pattern going back to my father. My point is not to blame but to recognize it, learn from it & grow. Thank you!
I think this personality disorder describes Sarah Palin. She has a way of turning something completely around to serve her purposes. All with a wink and a smile and wrapped in an American Flag.
I have found this explaination of covert aggression enlightening. My husband and I made friends with another couple who have a son in our son’s class at school. We became friendly and all was well to start with. We are spontatious people and we did find them a liitle intense and ridged, but we dismissed these qualities and put them down to being quirky. I work full time and the women friend does not. Gradually and slowly they started to dominate our lives and always wanted to be involved in all we did. We woke to them phoning us to ask what we were doing in our free time and could they join us. They seemed to have no initative and wanted to tag along on our days out. On my weekends off I found that it was me that had my son and her son at my house for hours on end. She rarely returned the favour and if she did it was for an hour maxium. It was never conventent for her to have them. I was alone for 4 weeks when my son and husband travelled to New Zealand and this couple did not come near me at all or ask how my son and husband were, even on their return. They wanted to fall back in to social contact and never asked them how their trip was. I saw them then as users and not real friends. I want to now undertake the advice in the book but find I myself am so angry that I can hardly hide my rage towards them. I don’t care about loosing their friendship but my son would be so hurt if his best friend was no longer available to play. I feel trapped between asserting my rights as an individual and protecting my son.
I think this describes my husband. We started dating in high school and it lasted 6 years, then we broke up for a few years, and we ended up getting back together. We have known each other 18 years, married for 7. We have two children. I feel like he is manipulating me at every turn. He gets angry when I talk back. Recently, things have gotten so bad…and on May 12th, 2009, he came apart at the seems. He strangled me for what seemed like hours, letting go only to have me recite terrible truths (according to him) about myself. I was gasping for breathe and he still kept telling me how our marriage was until death and he would not let me give up. He threatens to keep my kids, he seemed to feel bad for a brief moment after it happened, and then it was gone, he just kept telling me everything I had been doing to make him feel bad. He had the nerve while my neck felt like it wanted to colapse from the weight of holding up my head, to tell me how hard he has been trying and he feels like I am resisting. He just kept talking and I listened, my head was spinning, I could not collect any thoughts, only listen. Then he walked around the next day like it never happened. When I would tell him how bad my neck hurt he just fed me ibprofen, I am finding it impossible to believe he really loves me. He has been so nice lately, monopolizing all my time, even to the point of making me feel bad when I am hanging out with the kids. He says I don’t know him at all. And I am thinking he is right. I am scared. I don’t feel free to talk it out with him, cause that is what caused the abusive behavior. He has been in and out of work since he got out of the military. I feel like I am soul-less for wanting to leave because of all he has been through, going to Iraq twice. He said he does not want counceling cause he never wants to talk bad about me to someone else. I want to talk to him, but I feel like the lines of communication have been cut beyond repair. When I even think about talking to him about my feelings, my neck hurts and I fear it may happen again. So I just put on a smile and try to keep life feeling as normal as possible for my kids.
What are you going to do?
Do you have friends and family that can help you?
Your life must feel awful everyday.
I hope you keep coming here for your sanity checks and find a way to get away from him. I know its a hard thing to become ok with leaving a marriage but you do not deserve to be treated like that. Abuse negates marital vows is what I have been told frequently. Its not your fault any of his rantings are not because of you at all.
Work to get your self well enough to leave him. Believe me it just gets worse if you stay. Your PTSD must really be hard on you and the fear that comes along with being abused like that is tremendous. My heart goes out to you and I pray you get help to get you safe again.
A few hopefully helpful comments. Using displays of rage and violence as weapons of intimidation and control is not the same as anger. Despite all the talk about marriage and commitment being the issue, the reason folks do these kinds of things and then act like nothing has happened the next day is precisely because there is no genuine emotional anguish motivating their behavior, only the disgust of “losing.” Trust your intuition about not knowing what to expect and take concrete steps to ensure your safety. It’s so easy to blame such behavior on trauma, stress, war, PTSD, etc. IIIIIFFFFFF in fact such behavior were an out-of-character aberration prompted by overwhelming emotion, HE would be the first one to be outraged with himself and would be in such pain about what he did to the one he purportedly loves that he would knock down the door of the nearest therapist in town and beg for treatment instead of making ludicrous excuses you mention. Don’t second guess intentions. Judge actions. Limits have to be set and a viable and sound safety plan put into effect. As Ang says, a support network is crucial. That’s because the most risky time is when it becomes clear that “the jig is up.”
The best to you.
My fiancee is a textbook case of covert-aggressive. She used almost all techniques presented on me and my family. Before reading “sheep’s clothing”, I though it was her insecurities but now I know better. As I read the book, I relived the encounters and see them for what they really were. Thanks Simon.
Thank YOU for the validation and feedback. It’s because of such feedback over the years that my work has continued.
Dr. Simon, I dont know if this is the right forum to ask but I need to understand self-defeating personality disorder. I look back at my life and believe my actions always focussed on making myself most unhappy in any circumstance. Could you please refer a good book/ site/ forum/ group that I can refer to on the subject? Appreciate your help.
Hi, Nik. A good start would be Dr. Theodore Millon’s “Personality Disorders in Modern Life.” Sometimes the language is rather academic, but his descriptions and discussions about contributing factors are the best around. Besides, he is one of the few that recognizes this particular personality variation. Wiley is the publisher and I have to warn you, the book is not cheap, even when purchased used.
I believe that my partner of 6 years has a covert aggressive personality. We have recently bought a house together and there have been lots of stressors on our relationship — he is studying for a doctorate as well as working full time. I have just completed an undergrad degree which I studied whilst working full time.
I have always felt him to be the dominate party in our relationship, but in recent weeks this has become increasingly apparent to the extent that I am feeling emotionally drained, anxious and self-doubting.
During heated discussions, my partner has recently taken to repeatedly patting me on my head and telling me “ssshhhhh, calm down, just be calm, there there…” I have explained to him that this is patronising and makes me feel angry and he tells me I need to lighten up and stop fishing for arguments.
Another example I believe may be covert aggression is that he very rarely admits if he is in the wrong and for a quiet life and for wanting of a harmonious atmosphere at home, I am always the one to offer the olive branch. I know this only reinforces his behaviour.
Frequently, if I try to initiate a general conversation, he belittles me by giving one word responses of a totally unrelated topic. For example — “how was your day at work”…response — “sausages”. He will continue do this until I become frustrated with him. He then points out how serious I am and that I need to lighten up and stop fishing for arguments. Funny at first, but not so after weeks and weeks of this type of behaviour. Two weeks ago I was so annoyed that I decided to give him a taste of his own medicine with the one word random answers and it did not go down well. He became quite verbally aggressive and told me how pathetic I am for trying to ruin his weekend.
Yesterday, we spent the morning niggling. I had to go to the shop and forgot to take my keys. When I returned I rang the doorbell and waited…nothing. I rang and rang the doorbell and stood waiting in the rain. Eventually my next door neighbour came out — she had heard the doorbell ringing from inside her home. I waited outside in the rain for 10-15 mins and he eventually answerwed the door. Naturally, I was very angry and he told me he hadn’t heard the doorbell. When I told him I didn’t beleive him he became verbally abusive toward me. I asked him to go downstairs and ring the doorbell whilst I waited upstairs just to prove that the bell could not be heard. He then accused me of trying to ruin his weekend and get in the way of his studies, etc etc. We haven’t been in our new home even 2 months and I think I have made a huge mistake.
It’s very difficult to identify whether my partner’s behaviour is covert aggression or simply a result of the pressure of our current situation. I have purchased a copy of In Sheep’s Clothing and hope I can find some resolution….