To disarm a covertly aggressive manipulator, begin by reading this book

Today’s gem comes from a short little book, “In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People” by George Simon Jr.

If you live with, work with or know a manipulator, get thee to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and order this book.

Passive-aggressive behavior drives me nuts.

I am a very direct person, and I don’t like people who can’t tell it like it is. Did I do something wrong? Just tell me. Are you angry with me? Don’t just avoid me — tell me you’re angry and let’s resolve our differences. Don’t want to come to my party? Don’t tell me you’ll be there and then don’t show up.

I can come on strong sometimes, but people who respect that have told me they appreciate knowing where they stand with me. My contempt is not usually a secret. As I’ve aged and my rough edges smooth, I have come to appreciate diplomacy (being direct doesn’t necessarily mean using a lot of four-letter words, for example) but I remain direct and respect a direct approach.

Author George Simon’s definition of standard passive aggression vs. covert aggression — a manipulator’s preferred form of aggression — illuminates a lot of crazy-making behaviors I recognize in past relationships:

Passive-aggression is, as the term implies, aggressing through passivity. Examples of passive-aggression are playing the game of emotional “get-back” with someone by resisting cooperation with them, giving them the “silent treatment,” pouting or whining, not so accidentally “forgetting” something they want you to do because you’re angry and didn’t really feel like obliging them, etc. In contrast, covert aggression is very active, albeit veiled, aggression. When someone is being covertly aggressive, they’re using calculating, underhanded means to get what they want or manipulate the response of others while keeping their aggressive intentions under cover.

After reading this definition, I realize (too, too late in some cases) that I was labeling serious question-my-own-sanity manipulation as run-of-the-mill passive-aggressiveness. Not the same things at all. And coping with a manipulator requires, if you will, aggressive vigilance.

Simon devotes an entire chapter to a manipulator’s covert techniques and another whole chapter to coping with and successfully challenging them.

It’s an enlightening book. If anything you’ve read in this post piques your interest because you recognize covert aggression in an important relationship, get this book today.

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11 responses to “To disarm a covertly aggressive manipulator, begin by reading this book

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. “Minnesota Nice” is the epitome of passive aggressive behavior.

    • minnesotatransplant

      I never thought of Minnesota Nice as being passive-aggressive, but you’re right — it is! How many times have I stood dutifully in line, like a good Minnesotan who doesn’t make waves, seething at the jerk who stepped in front of me. I should just say something!

  2. Yeah, like the comment. “That’s interesting,” or “I’ll think about it,” or “I don’t want to talk about it.”

  3. I am searching for it on my Kindle right now! Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. Very interesting! I could have used this book about a year and a half ago!

  5. I’ve had a copy of this book for over 6 years. My copy is highlighted, underlined, written in the margins. I have even bought copies for my friends. I have had to go back to it time, and time again to refresh myself with the tactics covert-agressors use.

    I especially re-read the “slot machine syndrome” analysis. Also, the last 1/3 of the book is amazing at showing specific examples of how aggressors “aggravate” to get what they want and then how to “overcome” them with direct tactics, ignoring, etc.

    Biggest lesson — Narcissistic covert-aggressors, do NOT change unless it benefits them. Learn how to recognize and “covertly” defend yourself.

    • I’m so glad you commented, Twokitties. This particularly blog post, though written a while ago, still gets hits daily here on Minnesota Transplant. Unfortunately, I take that to mean the world is filled with covert aggressors with whom we all need to know how to cope.

  6. This is good, does anyone have more links or leads for how to deal, particularly is there any way to have a healthy relationship with a C-A once you recognize them and their tactics?

    • Jimbo, you have my condolences. Unfortunately, I can’t help you on this subject, but I invite readers’ responses here. Both my second husband and I ended up divorcing the covert aggressives to whom we were married. There was no changing them. I would hope, however, that someone who WANTS to change can do so.

  7. I lived in Minnesota for years and people were surface nice but not interested in deep friendships with anyone outside their circle. At first I thought it was just me, but then I met a few others who said the same thing. And, I lived in a neighborhood with 30 something moms with children. It was so strange because it felt like high school and the mean girls group all over again. Only they weren’t obviously mean. They would simply shun the ones who didn’t get on board with their way of thinking. Very covert aggressive. I was in a marriage with a man that was covert aggressive. It took years for me to see because he kept me off balance. He could be very supportive. At least seemingly so. Yet, my self-esteem and health kept going down hill. Now, I keep my distance and even with a grown daughter, will not have anything to do with him because every single time we meet he makes some sort of off-handed, off-putting comment that makes me feel bad. Its only later on that I realize what happened and get so mad at myself for not recognizing it at the time. His family totally supports him and believe everything he says and that makes sense since this poisonous way of being is a learned behavior.

  8. I had both a close friend and have a boss who fit this description. It is terrible because people like this have no other way of gaining a sense of personal power other than hurting others and trying to “keep them down.” My friend and my boss both feared the talent and intelligence of others was greater than their own. Unfortunately that motivated them to work to get in a position of petty power where they could manipulate other people to fulfill their need for emotional control. I now avoid this friend even though he had some very decent qualities. But because he was so unable to assert himself in a healthy manner he wrecked all his relationships including the two with women he sincerely loved. My boss — well I’m still looking for strategies to cope with her while I look for a better work environment somewhere else. I am the kind of person who doesn’t really get bothered if a boss occasionally yells in my face (I was a newspaper reporter for years.) But manipulative behavior wrecks constructive human relations. There is no way to “cure” a person like this. There is no way to have a healthy relationship. Having a healthy relationship means mutual trust. A person like this is not able to have trust in you — and when you are misled into trusting them, you will end up exploited and hurt.

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