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112 Comments (35 Discussion Threads) on “Beware the Covert-Aggressive Personality”
I am not covert, neither am I aggressive, neither am I ambivalent. What I am is indecisive and unsure, and I think about things from many different levels and angles. Millon’s descriptions of the active-ambivalent style describes me exactly, except for the motivation is wrong. My motivation for acting this way is not out of aggression. Like I said, it is out of indecisiveness, insecurity, and over examining many routes, along with being afraid to take decisive actions. I did drive my counselor crazy, and ‘up the wall’ by saying ‘but…’ every time she came up with what she thought was a good solution to my problem; but her solutions would always accidentally ‘forget’ to consider some aspect that was important to me- which is why the solutions would not have worked. I am indecisive in general in all of my dealings in life— it has nothing to do with aggression at all. I am indecisive even to myself, alone!
Additionally, to assume that someone’s indecisiveness must mean they are somehow aggressive, is a big leap to take. Indecisiveness is seen in people who are depressed, people who have been abused, and people who are anxious, or have low self esteem. Indecisiveness is also part of procrastination. This means that when I cannot decide which shirt to wear, I must somehow be aggressive. How can this be possible? Additionally, people with trust issues are also seen to not know whether to trust someone or not, to trust someone, then, to not trust them. But my feeling is that this is a trust issue, and a fear issue, it is not an aggression issue.
Millon does not at all suggest that the motivation for the ambivalent style is aggression. In fact, he suggests that fear, especially fear of taking a step that will invite feelings of shame, is the principal driver of the style. That’s why I have striven so hard to clarify exactly what covert-aggression is and how it differs from some of the other terms and styles. Both of my books and some of the other articles on these and related topics address this in greater depth.
Thank you Dr. Simon for your book “In Sheeps Clothing”. It made all the pieces of the puzzle come together and helped me realize I wasn’t crazy. Your book helped me to deal with a neighbor, who was a close friend. It made me realize I had to set some serious boundaries if I was to continue living in the neighborhood (and not going nuts).
I still struggle with the games she plays manipulating (or trying to) and our mutual friends who think I’m the bad guy (she ALWAYS behaves in front of them). Do you have any insight on dealing with this aspect of the manipulative person?
Thanks for your kind words about my book and my work.
While you can’t control the degree to which this person manipulates or impression-manages others, you can certainly influence perceptions of yourself by the manner in which you conduct yourself. Remain true, straightforward, trustworthy, etc. and in time all will become clear to all involved.
In my case, my father is a textbook covert-aggessive, if not a full-on psychopath. Very Machiavelian and manipulative. His favorite tool for dominating and controlling people is sleep deprivation, which is profoundly evil. And that’s just the groundwork. After someone is sleep deprived he moves in for the kill, doing and saying anything to hurt or provoke them. Any sign of weakness around him is like blood in the water. And of course he ‘casts’ himself as the victim whenever confronted about what he’s doing. He’s well known in the community and regarded as a very kind person, but behind closed doors he’s someone else entirely. My mother is also psychologically abusive, but seems to have enough of a conscious to keep her from doing the truly sadistic stuff, or maybe she just lacks the aggression men are capable of. Needless to say, i’ve been unraveling a lot of mysteries about my upbringing lately.
Thanks for providing these resources. Your site is the most accurate i’ve found so far. This stuff should be taught in elementary school. Would have saved me 30 years of confusion.
I’m so glad you’ve found the information helpful. There are several other articles on this and related topics on this blog and much more information in my books “In Sheep’s Clothing” and “Character Disturbance.”
I am so grateful that I found this site w/ such wonderful insight and information! Thank you Dr. Simon! I plan to order your book. My husband in our 22 year marriage is the poster child for a Covert Aggressive and Passive Aggressive Personality. He has never enforced rules, discipline or boundaries, all to make me the bad guy. He formed an alliance with our two son’s early on against me, so they could do his work. He has only admitted wrong doing or apologized when prompted by a counselor; never in the home. Our sons who are now almost 20 and 22 years old have sided with him against me, and feel that they have entitlement and the same status as a roommate. I pray that some day they will come to realize that I was not the control freak and their father was not the victim. He has blamed, accused, played the victim role, and has withdrawn emotionally years ago. Unfortunately I didn’t put all of the pieces together until later. The worst part is the many counselors that we saw over the years were blindsided. They always tried to sit down with BOTH of us, get BOTH of our opinions, and see BOTH sides to bring us closer together. Their same answer was always “BOTH of you need to work together.” I now know, too late that a Covert Aggressive person will omit, lie, give half truths, manipulate, sabotage, play the victim, twist the facts, and play the role that the counselor wants to hear. I was confused as well. I now know he will NEVER change. I just turned 60 years old. I am trying to find a way out of this marriage without just walking away with the clothes on my back. I cannot beat myself up by thinking that I should have known better. I am thankful that I know now, what I should have known years ago. My plea to others is question what is going on, do your research, don’t assume, read books, get information, join groups, so you don’t have to be subjected to this behavior by a spouse who should not be treating you this way.
You’re welcome, Donna, and I’m so glad you’ve found the information helpful. I hope you will find my books helpful as well. I wrote each of them not just to help you validate your feelings and come to a greater understanding of what you’ve been dealing with in your life but also to learn more about yourself as well and what you likely need to do to more empower and fulfill your life. I hope you find what you need in the books and other blog articles.
Donna – I can relate to your circumstance: I am age 58, married 36 yrs; three adult daughters and two spouses are allowed to be rude to me.
From the very beginning I was in denial as to how my husband used other families to control me. He would never defend me when I was confronted for my faith, homeschooling, etc. His excuse has always been that I was an adult and could defend myself.
Finally, April 2013, he demanded I leave when he thought he had a mini-stroke; said it was too stressful living with me. This is a man who has admitted to ruining our marriage due to secretive sins; made three false professions of faith, hoping God would help him deal with family issues. July, 2013 a second neurologist diagnosed him as having a severe anxiety attack and after he refused anti-depressants he was discharged as a patient, however, the report highly recommended psychiatric counsel and medication. He refuses.
Many sympathize with him because he appears so quiet and feel he is reacting to his recent retirement. No, I have endured sexual abuse and emotional abuse but always valued the ‘permanence view of marriage’. I was unable to locate an apartment even though the local Women’s Resource center tried. He agreed to see another counselor, jointly, however, this gal knew the family and eventually she felt that he was trying; that he was just scared of ‘life’. Earlier, this same counselor was shocked when my husband eventually gave me permission to stay but said, “But I don’t know what that will mean for her – I can’t change.” The counselor looked at me and asked, “Well, how long are you willing to be the sacrificial lamb?”
I am still in a fog. Ill health due to years of stress has arrived. I have been counselled to leave. This is difficult as I tire easily and the prospects of finding a job overwhelm me.
When first married, I faithfully supported us as my husband was studying for his now very well-paying trade. He is often asked to do jobs, so does not have to financially worry about supporting himself. It hurts to know that my faithfulness is not even recognized by my daughters. I know this is because they have chosen a very different lifestyle than what we had professed to believe in. My husband doesn’t agree with them but he values retaining his relationship more than mine, thus will never question them.
I apologize for rambling – but I have very few who believe me or are able to help me. I guess I needed to just write this out and pray about the Lord’s will for my life?
I am just stunned. Finally, something that makes sense. I just left a person like this, after 7 years of trying. This will help me stay away. I have had all these things hurled at me for years…I’m just in shock right now. Thank you so much for this information.
And thank YOU for the validating words. Such validation is exactly what sustains my work.
I bought “In Sheep’s Clothing” in 2009 …pulled it out of the bookcase last year and took a seat. Never moved until the last page. I was completely shocked – it might as well have been my father’s biography. Finally, I understand what he is and how he operates – and what I and my siblings have been subjected to for almost 50 yrs. Every trait you outline is there. The one about deliberately brandishing anger to get his way was, and still remains, particularly effective. Disagree with him about anything today or dare to express your own opinion and the eyes start to narrow – I just feel like a scared 7 yr old all over again. As a retired Christian Minister his former parishioners still talk about what a kind and caring man he is…..if only they knew the story from our side of the front door. Absolutely no genuine interest in us as individuals. We all worked hard at school, all have university degrees and good jobs. I have a Ph D and years of productive medical research and peer reviewed papers behind me. Yet I cannot remember one single occasion when I’ve heard him utter the words “well done” or “I’m proud of you”. As for “I love you” – that would be unimaginable. Never had time attend school concerts, sports days or prize givings (extended to the grandchildren as well) . Yet, would fall over himself to help and support anyone outside the immediate family – I can only surmise that is because these good works were “seen”. For a child to come home and announce that they’d achieved 95% in an exam and to be met with the reply “what happened the other 5% ?” is just plain hurtful. I finally began to see the light when my own son became an adult and moved to his own home – the relationship my husband & I have with him couldn’t be more different from what I grew up with. Our son visits often and knows that he is loved without condition. When my father started to make subtle sarcastic & belittiling comments about my own son some months back I think that’s when I decided that enough was enough. I have to accept that he will never change and have already begun extricating myself from this toxic relationship using the methods you suggest in your book. Our mother suffered too – “you’re stupid” & “you don’t know what you’re talking about” being the mantra I remember all through my childhood and teenage years. Yet, I have anger towards her too….she never stood up for us, never took our side, just let him constantly criticise and berate us. In my teens I also remember her once saying to me that if it was “a choice between him and us” she’d choose him. Unfortunately, she now has dementia and only sees him through rose-tinted glasses. He’s now in his late 80’s and cannot live forever. When he finally passes, the funeral will probably be huge. Already wondering how I’ll deal with all the lovely comments that mourners will, undoubtedly, make. And how will I feel come the day? From where I stand today, only one word sums it up. That word is “Free”.
Thanks so much for the kind and validating words about my work, Lizzie. But thank you even more for sharing your story and providing such a vivid and poignant description of the liberating aspects of coming to the kind of awareness of which you speak. I’m sure many others will benefit from your sharing.
After much digging for truth and several years of feeling attacked and confused, I read Dr. Simons book. I am convinced our youngest son has character disruption and is covert-aggressive. We have more invested in the rearing of his children than he does after a nasty divorce from another character disruptive person, who exposed his 7 year old son to group pornography of herself with others on her phone. She left this child and his 4 year old sister with a convicted felon with an ankle bracket while she went out. Now he has married a woman who treats his children like dirt, his own words. She allows her daughter to wear any clothes my granddaughter owns, play with any possession. This woman takes electronics away from my grandchildren and sells them and steals their birthday money. We tried keeping her fatherless daughter for several weekends but she listened to nothing we said and wrecked our belongings, stole from us, and left us exhausted. We have refused to keep this child due to her behavior. Our son now refuses to let us see his children who mind us without us taking the step daughter. He has used every form of covert-aggression imaginable. I am not going to take this child to allow her to lord over my grandchildren as she is allowed to do in his home. Any comments?
First, Delores, let me say that I truly hope you find my books and other work helpful and empowering. You might find “Character Disturbance even more helpful than “In Sheep’s Clothing.” But if I may, and with some reservation because I certainly can’t know enough about your situation to comment adequately, let me emphasize a principle in my writings that might resonate with you and your situation: People of impaired conscience and character development are inadvertently “enabled” to remain character-arrested because their conscientious loved ones and acquaintances are always picking up the slack. It’s so important to hold folks accountable and to help ensure they experience the right constructive consequences of their irresponsible conduct. While you are noble to refuse to sit idly by while an innocent is mistreated or neglected, it’s even more crucial that you hold your son to account, and that often means calling out clearly and labeling accurately the specific behaviors and tactics that need to change. It’s also important to recognize the limits of your power. You have power over your own actions and the power to set reasonable expectations and to enforce reasonable boundaries, limits, and contingencies. But you have to “let go” of the outcome, because over that you have no control and hanging on to a delusion of control will only end up frustrating and depressing you. You also have the power to model responsible behavior for your grandchildren and to cultivate a healthy relationship with them to the best of your ability. You might want to carefully consider what battles you’re willing to carry to the mat, because some simply can’t be won.
From what you say, there appears more character disturbance at work here than just covert-aggression. Hopefully, the scenarios in “Character Disturbance” will help illustrate for you he kind of perspective and approach that might empower you more in your dealings with your son. There are also many articles on this site that I’ve written, especially the series on character disturbance, that you might find helpful as well.
Of course, dividing these personality styles into varying dichotomies does nothing in the way of a behavioral guide for them, or a medication.
It is my experience that people who have sustained dealings with sociopaths or antisocial personality disorder or passive aggressive disorder or oppositional defiant disorder–these lists get exhausting, don’t they? need assistance from the local police far more than they do psychiatrists or doctors.
I have been struggling with this issue for years as I care for my elderly mother who is now almost 96. She lives alone but I live nearby and now check in on her daily. The more I do for her, the more abusive she becomes. I am at my wits end (unlike me to join a blog!) and, like others on this website, I am highly educated (Ph.D.) but still find a lack of coping skills to deal with this. As much as I would like to attribute her behavior to old age, she had done this for years. When she offers help and you accept it, she makes you pay a high price. I am doing what I can at this point to hire caregivers to help so I can limit my visits. I have told her many times in no uncertain terms that I will not tolerate her abuse but it falls on deaf ears, it seems. It is so difficult I find myself thinking about how relieved I will be when she is finally gone. How sad is that? My sisters (who are long-distance) enable her by excusing her behavior so that doesn’t help.
Dear Dr. Simon
Having read your book in Sheep’s Clothing I believe my husband is covert-aggressive. It does seem that PA and AS disorder tendencies are also stirred in the mix, but it’s difficult to conceive that one could have so much going on under the guise of a sweet and loving man. We have not been married long but the changes in him started in our first week of marriage. After having been met with blames, excuses, deception and finger pointing, I stayed quiet for some time about anything and everything. It seemed pointless. After reading your book, I began again, using tips you suggested. Initially it seemed to help, but I’ve seen since that he, in the end, sometimes several weeks later, can find ways of excusing himself once again. And again. And again. The sweet talk of how much he respects me and how he would do anything for me Has reached almost silly proportions. Considering actual behavior that often shows a different story, and the fact that he is VERY concerned about what others think of him, it still feels very much manipulative. He knows that I’ve spoken to my sister about us and that she frequently visits my brother, who has been a long time friend of his. That’s how we met. He also knows I’ve been seeing a counselor.
After all the reading and research I’ve done, I can see how my personality helped attract him to me. What he didn’t see is that I’m not co-dependant and not so neurotic that I am willing to tolerate any kind of abuse. What he does see, is that I didn’t get married to get divorced and he has even brought things up from our marriage counseling at just the perfect time.
Not quite sure where to go from here. On one hand I’m ready to get out. On the other, I can see there are ways of protecting yourself emotionally from all this. What I’m afraid of is that I will become increasingly bitter which will only add more problems. I guess there’s more for me to understand and learn yet.
Despite that he seems to know how to work around your tips in dealing with these people, I appreciated your book very much. It showed me that I am not seeing things and that I can stand up for myself without guilt. Thank you so very much and look forward to reading your book on disturbed characters.
Thanks for the kind words. And I’m glad you found In Sheep’s Clothing helpful. I trust you’ll find Character Disturbance even more helpful because of the added content about how such problems are best addressed.