Emotion Commotion: Covert-Aggression

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Written by Kimberly Elmore

That charming side to their personality is merely a manipulative tactic, designed to encourage someone else to let their guard down, reveal insecurities and fears that the covert-aggressor will likely “prey on” later. Covert-aggressors are not motivated by helping others, although at times they may portray themselves that way.

Covert-aggression is this month’s emotion top. This section is all about emotions. Kimberly Elmore, an Identity Staff Writer has dedicated her time to educate and discuss a particular emotion in each issue. It’s a great way for women to open up and become more aware of our emotions, feelings, and human behavior. All of these emotions help us understand how to Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.TM and to Feel Beautiful Everyday!TM


You’ve heard the phrase “covert operation” before, right? Those operations are designed to slip under the radar, undetected — getting you when you least suspect it!

Well, that same strategy applies to people who use covert-aggression as a means to an end – the end being getting what they want. Covert-aggressors are on a self-serving mission in life. Sadly, these manipulators are masters — therefore they are hard to detect. They can sometimes come across as overly supportive; however, that is just a strategy to mask their true intentions.

That charming side to their personality is merely a manipulative tactic, designed to encourage someone else to let their guard down, reveal insecurities and fears that the covert-aggressor will likely “prey on” later. One of the covert-aggression characteristics is they the aggressors are not motivated by helping others, although at times they may portray themselves that way.

People Who Employ Covert-Aggression are Slick

Their motivation is strictly their own personal agenda — anything and everything they do is solely about them, their wants and needs. Many people rarely recognize they’re being manipulated because people who employ covert-aggression are slick, clever, and highly skilled at masking their true intentions. So much so that not only does the person on the receiving end of this calculated behavior not realize what’s really going on — rarely do any other people recognize this manipulation. “In Sheep’s Clothing” by George K. Simon Ph.D. addresses the tactics of covert-aggression.


Simon says there are reasons as to why those being manipulated don’t realize they are being manipulated. It’s easy to become oblivious to the fact that you are being duped by a covert-aggressor.

Here are some reasons, according to Simon, for why people are deceived: ~A manipulator’s aggression is not obvious. Our instinct tells us that the aggressor is either fighting for something, trying to get power over us, or simply get their way; however, because we can’t pin point clear, objective proof that they’re aggressing against us, it’s hard to validate our feelings.  A manipulator’s tactics are hard to recognize as merely clever ploys. Manipulators make just enough sense to make a person doubt their hunch that they’re being taken advantage of or abused.

Covert-Aggression, Anything but Aggressive

They may come across as hurting or caring — anything but being aggressive. Their tactics make it difficult to consciously and objectively tell that a manipulator is fighting. It’s a psychological battle field that anyone can be vulnerable to.~All of us have weaknesses and insecurities that a clever manipulator might exploit by knowing what buttons to push. Sometimes other people know us better than we know ourselves and manipulators make it their business to do so. Taking advantage of others’ fears, doubts, and insecurities are key components of this kind of “victimization.” ~We’re more inclined to give someone the benefit of the doubt than to question the manipulator’s character.

No one wants to consider them self to be a callous, mean-spirited, manipulative person, and we also don’t like thinking that someone else could be that way. We don’t want to believe that someone could be malicious, so we doubt our feelings instead of facing the truth about someone else’s motives and intentions.

When dealing with someone with covert-aggression it’s important to realize that their behavior is not a defense mechanism. People who use covert-aggression are on the offensive — which is a deliberate tactic to ensure they “always get what they want.” It’s a power play, so to speak.

Covert-Aggression Tactics

In Simon’s book, “In Sheep’s Clothing,” he explains the tactics covert-aggressive personalities use to ensure they get their way and maintain a position of power over their “victims.” According to Simon the covert-aggressor utilizes the following tactics, which often times are hard to spot because of the well-conceived manipulation. Denial. The aggressor refuses to admit to any wrongdoings or insensitivities. This tactic allows the aggressor to “play innocent,” in turn, the “victim” feels unjustified in confronting the aggressor about their inappropriate behavior. This tactic also allows the aggressor to feel entitled to keep right on doing what they want to do. Playing Dumb.

The aggressor actively ignores the pleas or wishes of others. Often times the aggressor knows what you want from him/her but will refuse to own up to his/her behavior because that would lessen their power over their “victim.” So to deflect from that, the aggressor deploys a dismissive tactic, the “I don’t want to hear it” attitude. To admit to wrongdoings would put him/her in a submissive position, and as previously stated; the aggressor refuses to admit to any wrongdoings to maintain their dominance and control. Rationalize and Minimize. A rationalization is the excuse an aggressor offers for engaging in an inappropriate or harmful behavior. This tactic can be effective because often times the aggressor’s explanation will make just enough sense that any reasonable person is likely to fall for their justification.

Covert-Aggression = Blaming Others

However, pay close attention — you may notice that often times the rationalization is based on projection (blaming others). Also, an aggressor minimizes, which goes hand in hand with rationalizing. This is when the aggressor claims that his/her abusive behavior isn’t as harmful as someone else claims (i.e., the aggressor attempts to make a molehill out of a mountain).

Aggressive personalities are always looking for a way to shift the blame for their behavior and are highly skilled at finding scapegoats in subtle, hard to detect ways. Divert. Divert. Divert! When we try to keep a discussion focused on a single issue or behavior we don’t like, he/she’s expert at knowing how to change the subject or dodge the issue.

Manipulators use diversion techniques to keep the focus off their behavior. Guilt. If you’re a sensible and conscientious person, the aggressor will pick up on these traits and use them to escalate their power. Aggressive personalities know all to well that other people have very different consciences and moral codes than they do.

Manipulators are often skilled at using the conscientiousness of their “victims” as a means of keeping their “victims” in a self-doubting and submissive position. The more conscientious the potential victim, the more effective guilt is as a weapon. Shaming.

Covert-Aggression and Sarcasm

The aggressor uses sarcasm and put-downs as a means of increasing fear, self-doubt, and inadequacy in others. This tactic allows the aggressor to maintain a position of dominance and keeps the “victim” in a submissive capacity. Playing the Victim.

Covert-aggressive personalities know that less hostile personalities can’t stand to see anyone suffering or hurting. So, this tactic is quite simple. Convince your victim you’re suffering in some way, and they’ll try to relieve your distress. Charming. Covert-aggressive personalities are clever at charming others in order to get them to lower their defenses.

Be Aware of the Behavior and Tactics a Covert-Aggression Personality

Covert-aggressors are also aware that people seek approval and reassurance and by appearing to be attentive to these needs, provide the manipulator with power over others. The best way to deal with covert aggressive personalities is to be aware of their behaviors and tactics — this will prevent you from being “victimized.” When trying to determine if someone you know is a covert-aggressor pay attention to how they habitually act.

People, from time to time, may act in a covert-aggressive way — it’s when someone consistently behaves this way that it’s reason for concern. Information taken from: http://www.rickross.com/reference/brainwashing/brainwashing11.html Dealing With Manipulative People, An Excerpt from the book: “In Sheep’s Clothing ,” By George K. Simon

About the author

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Kimberly Elmore

Identity writer Kimberly Elmore is currently employed by Delta Dental of New Jersey in the corporate communications department as the community relations coordinator. She serves as one of our top and longest contributors.

Kimberly has been a huge part of Identity's success since the beginning of 2006. During Kimberly's college years she served as the arts & entertainment editor of her college newspaper and interned in the public relations department at the March of Dimes.

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