Beware the Covert-Aggressive Personality

Beware the Covert-Aggressive Personality.


Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: Do They Really Have No Shame?

Shame is the “I just couldn’t live with myself” kind of sentiment that keeps a person from deliberately doing the unthinkable. The most revealing sign of a decent character is the trouble they might have even imagining how someone could not experience the same shame or guilt that they themselves would experience doing certain things. But the inability to accept the fact that different personalities are very different from one another, especially on key dimensions and attributes of character, is the main reason good folks get taken in and ill-intended folks are emboldened and enabled in their dysfunctional styles.

by Dr. George Simon via Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: Do They Really Have No Shame?.

Manipulators and Charm – Dr. George Simon


Original article:

Skilled manipulators can be quite seductive and charming. Still, I confess readily in my book In Sheep’s Clothing that when I first began my clinical research, I wondered how the victims of covert-aggressors could be so blind to their manipulator’s true character without having a lot of issues of their own. Only after I got much deeper into the study of covert aggressors did it become clear to me not only how adept they can often be at using various tactics but also how powerful the tactics themselves inherently are. So while there were exceptions to be sure, most of the time there were some pretty good reasons why someone fell under the spell of someone who would later be exposed as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Also during my research, I came to realize something rarely mentioned in mounds of information now available on disturbed characters: not all charm is of the same character. Moreover, the power a manipulator has to seduce and eventually exploit depends not only on their intended target possessing certain attributes that might make them more vulnerable but also on the nature of the charming behavior the manipulator displays. Because there are numerous, complicated issues involved in charm and seduction, it’s going to take more than just this article to really give fair treatment to the subject. But hopefully this article will serve as a good introduction to the topic and a fair springboard for discussion. Most of us want to be liked and valued. So, when someone shows us attention or behaves toward us in a way that invites us to feel somewhat special, we’re likely to be drawn to them to a degree. And we almost never assume the person is mounting a calculated “charm offensive” merely to get something they want or that perhaps they even have intent to take advantage of us in some way. Rather, we’d like to think there’s something really remarkable about us that is motivating the person to behave in an appreciative and kindly manner. Some folks are charming in the most benign and appealing way. They are not only sincerely well-mannered but also genuinely positively regarding of others. The very way in which they conduct themselves and the authentic respect they have for others is “attractive” in its own right. But there are those characters whose display of charm is a farce, part of a calculated use of seduction to take advantage of others. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s really hard to tell the difference between benign charm and malevolent seduction, but armed with sufficient information and with some careful scrutiny a person can distinguish the two (which will be the subject of a follow-up article). As a general rule, mature, non-disordered characters go after the things they want in direct, fair, disciplined, respectful, and non-destructive ways (the very definition of assertiveness). Disturbed and disordered characters lie, cheat, and sometimes “shmooze” to get what they want. They hate to be denied. So, rather than approach things in an open and direct manner with their prime agenda clearly exposed (which might raise the other person’s defenses and increase the risk of them not winning), they prefer to approach things on the sly and catch the other person unaware and with their defenses down. A disarmed target is a much easier to control target, so they’ll play to the desire of the other person to be valued and liked which becomes a powerful manipulation tool. Seduction and flattery devoid of malicious intent is relatively harmless. And much of the time, the person on the receiving end is aware enough to know that they’re being buttered-up and will enjoy the flattery while not taking it so seriously or being unduly swayed. But sometimes, seduction can be carried out in such a carefully crafted manner or with such intensity that the other person is completely swept away, blinded to the true character of the seducer. Only after the manipulator gets what he or she wants will their true character become clearer, and by then it’s generally too late. Great-sounding words and awesome gestures have been the eventual ruin of many a relationship. I’ve counseled many individuals over the years who’ve told me how completely swept off their feet they were in the initial stages of their relationship. But then slowly over time, the reality of their partner’s character and patterns of behavior once hidden but deeply ingrained became more evident and life changed from what seemed to be the promise of heaven on earth to a living hell. Words you see, simply cannot be trusted, especially in a character-impaired age. Even gestures can’t be trusted sometimes. Habitual behavior patterns alone can be trusted (for good or for bad), and there’s abundant scientific evidence supporting the notion that the best predictor of future conduct is past behavior. Someone’s words won’t really tell you what you can expect from them. But you can be fairly sure their behavioral history will. Because we live in a markedly character-impaired age, one of the main pieces of advice I offer in Character Disturbance is that folks pay much less attention what people say and more attention to their track record. I also advise that when we do listen, it’s often more important to listen for the subtle cues that character issues might be present (i.e. we need to listen carefully for various tactics and manifestations of problem thinking patterns and attitudes) as oppose to listening to what the person is saying. Listening in a receptive, accepting way to manipulative or other character-disturbed individuals can be quite risky. If we simply take what they say at face value, we’re likely to be unduly swayed. Once the irresponsible character has our ear, we become more vulnerable to all sorts of possible further exploitation. So, it’s important to listen for those subtle indications that a person is trying to curry favor without really earning it (through consistent, reliable actions) or trying to promote a positive image of themselves without demonstrating a legitimate basis for it. Next week’s article will examine the many ways we can be charmed, some of which are benign but some fraught with danger. And we’ll take a closer look at some of the more “charming” personality types – including those that are relatively harmless and pleasant to be around and those who, while capable of mounting impressive charm offensives, are primarily out to win at your expense.

Charm Offensive or Offensive Charm? – Dr. George Simon

Ron Man the Con Man

Ron Man the Con Man

Original article:

Manipulators and and other significantly disturbed characters can be quite deceiving in their self-presentation. They can come across as amiable and charming. They can even appear to appreciate and value you. And when they mount their charm offensives, they can knock you off your feet and bowl you over. Only after they’ve gotten what they wanted are you likely to start seeing more of their true colors. But not all folks who mount charm offensives are offensive, reprehensible characters. And not all of the things that make a person attractive to us need be regarded with skepticism. As mentioned in the prior article in this series (see: Manipulators and Charm), it’s often difficult, however, to distinguish between a benignly charming person and a charmer harboring a nefarious hidden agenda. But there are some things to pay close attention to that can help you tell the difference, and that’s the focus of this week’s post.
There are lots of things we can find charming about someone. We might admire their wit or be drawn to their humor. We might envy their lightheartedness or apparent zest for life. We might find some of their physical characteristics both pleasing and alluring. And if we make the decision to become more deeply involved with someone solely or even primarily on these things, we have no one else to blame but ourselves if things don’t turn out very well in the end.
It’s also natural and not particularly unhealthy for someone to turn on the charm and put their best foot forward in the early stages of a relationship. Making a favorable impression is part of the “dance” of courtship. But the ultimate purpose of courtship is not wallow in those first, favorable impressions but to make a concerted effort to really know someone at a deeper level. That requires going beyond the charm and objectively sorting through all the dirty laundry. Before we give our hearts away, it’s more important to know who a person genuinely is in character than it is to be enamored of the manner in which they present themselves.
Psychopaths and the other disturbed character types harboring the most malignant form of narcissism tend to exude a superficial charm or glibness in their interpersonal manner. It often goes unnoticed as the huge red flag it is for the most dangerous kind of psychopathology, but it can be detected if you know just what to look for. The “smoothness” or social facility these individuals display is generally not matched by congruent and concomitant emotion. They may have a very easy “way with words” (sometimes accompanied by equally charming nonverbal gestures), but usually their smooth talk is not accompanied by any emotion that matches what they’re saying or that can be sensed and felt by others as genuine. Still, because they’re capable of deliberately letting down their own guard, and while doing so, simultaneously carrying out their charm offensive, you can easily doubt your gut instincts (thinking that they must be being genuine) and allow yourself to be unduly swayed.
The job of a “confidence man” is first and foremost to gain your trust. By opening themselves up and appearing vulnerable, and by expressing what appears to be interest in you and your welfare, you can feel like a fool for being hesitant. So, you go with your head and your ears instead of your gut (which is more likely to find the “charm” offensive in some way). Once you disregard your instincts, you’re effectively disarmed, and that’s when it’s game, set, and match for the con man (or woman).
Psychopaths have high social intelligence and awareness. Seeing themselves early on as a superior subspecies and finding us ordinary folks both interesting and amusing (although they also regard us as inferior due to our sensitivities and qualms), they’ve usually spent most of their lives studying how we operate. They know what makes us laugh, what makes us fearful, what excites us, what turns us off, and above all, what makes us vulnerable. Their game is to gain our confidence and prompt us to voluntarily disarm, so they can take what the want from us. After they’ve gotten what they want, there’s no more need for pretense.
In my book In Sheep’s Clothing, there’s a vignette about a man who, as the CEO of a company, knew how to make every employee feel like he liked and valued them. And in words and gestures, that’s the “message” everyone bought, hook, line, and sinker. But in reality this man had absolutely no use for people other than what they could possibly help him get in the way of power, money, and prestige. Eventually, that became more clearly apparent. But few saw it while he was doing his “schmoozing.” If they’d looked a little closer when he was saying things like “I really like the way you think!” – looked past the flattering smile and seductive twinkle in the eye – and paid attention to the lack of genuine emotion that might match the verbal protests of appreciation, they would have recognized his sweet talk was not a expression of genuine regard but rather a simple pitch for loyalty. And, as the those who’ve read the vignette already know, this man was himself loyal to no one. He was a seduction artist and confidence man par excellence.

Disturbed Characters and Making Amends by Dr. George Simon

My last post dealt (See: The Importance of Making Amends) with how important it is for the health of a relationship for the parties to be willing to make amends for injuries inflicted whether intentionally or inadvertently.  But when character disturbance is present in a relationship, the process of making appropriate amends can get quite complicated.  Overly conscientious, “neurotic” types in relationships with disturbed or disordered characters can get lured into accepting too much of the responsibility for problems and going the extra mile to try and fix them, in the process only “enabling” the dysfunction in their relationship to continue. And as anyone who’s been involved with a disturbed or disordered character knows, how such characters approach the whole idea of acknowledging fault and making amends for damage they’ve done is as hard to comprehend and accept as it is reflective of the nature of their character dysfunction.

In my book Character Disturbance, I present a vignette featuring the interaction of a divorced mother doing her best to raise her already significantly character-impaired teenage son.  Tho mother is a very conscientious type who has big sense of guilt and shame, even for things she probably shouldn’t harbor much of either.  Her son knows this, and uses many of the manipulation tactics I describe in In Sheep’s Clothing, including minimizing, shaming and guilt-tripping to skirt responsibility and maintain an abusive upper hand in their relationship.  In my office, their interaction (which I’ve edited considerably for this post) went something like this (again, as always, the vignettes depicted in all my writings have been altered in unessential ways to preserve anonymity):

  • Therapist: What brings you both here today?
  • Adolescent: She (looking glaringly at his mother) thinks I have an attitude problem.  But she’s always doing stuff that makes me mad.  She knows just what to do to piss me off.
  • Therapist: Of course, no one can make you be angry, and anger is a normal, healthy emotion, rarely a problem in itself.  What is it you do when you’re angry?
  • Mother: He curses, says vile, hateful things to me.
  • Adolescent: She starts it.  And look, this whole thing is because I shoved her once and not hard and only because she got in my face again.  I’ve told her a million times about that.
  • Therapist: Are you telling me you’ve been physically aggressive with your mother?
  • Adolescent: I barely touched her.  But she wouldn’t leave me alone.  I kept telling her to back off but she wouldn’t. She knows how to get me upset.  She never has anything good to say about me. She’s constantly on my back – on my case all the time.
  • Mother: Perhaps he has a point.  I do gripe at him sometimes.  He’s always getting in trouble.  I try to help him learn.  Maybe I’m too critical, so maybe it is partly my fault.

Now the dysfunction in this case is relatively easy to see.  One party is perhaps overly willing to take responsibility and the other minimizes, blames, heaps on the guilt, shames, and uses every tactic in the book to resist taking any responsibility while simultaneously manipulating his “opponent” back into her customary one-down position. And as those who’ve read this vignette in my book already know, the first step I took to restore a proper balance of power in this relationship was to work closely with the person who at the time I felt was most amenable (i.e. the mother) in an attempt to restore a proper balance of power in the family. And by denying visits to the youngster until I felt he might be sufficiently motivated to work (At the time, he would have only wanted to come in to attempt to manipulate me and ensure he retained a position of power), I gained therapeutic “leverage” by defining firmly and adhering to the terms of engagement and I also set the stage for future work.  That work would not merely focus on him surrendering his resistance to accepting responsibility for his actions. Doing that was actually the least demanding thing for him to do.  The bigger challenge was developing in him a sufficient sense of obligation to repair the damage he’d done to his mother, his relationship with her, and to his own character development.  And how committed he was to the work of making amends would be the best barometer of his progress.

Researchers on character disturbances have long known that a hostile attitude toward accepting obligation is perhaps the single biggest predictor of problematic social behavior.  Disturbed characters with narcissistic and antisocial tendencies tend to feel both above the need to accept obligation and disdain for the notion of submitting to what they know are society’s expectations of them. Owning shortcomings is distasteful enough for disturbed characters.  But making amends involves work, which they don’t gravitate toward easily.  As I’ve written before (See: When W-O-R-K is a Four-Letter Word) about the negative attitude disturbed characters have toward work.  And it’s not just any work that to which they’re adverse.  They’ll expend all kinds of energy in self-serving pursuits.  But they simply detest work they perceive is primarily on someone else’s behalf, or working for something that’s not clearly and intentionally self-serving, despite the potential benefit they might derive in the long run.  That’s why they tend to give assent or “lip service” to the natural demands of a relationship (Assenting is one of the responsibility-avoidance tactics I outline in In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance) while resisting the real work of making amends.

Next week’s article will feature some additional vignettes illustrating the importance of making amends and what can happen when disturbed characters appear like they’re working to make amends and to change but their efforts are less than sincere.

Original article:

The Importance of Making Amends – Dr. George Simon

Original article:

I’ve counseled many couples over the years whose relationship bonds had become strained to the point of possibly breaking. Generally this happened because the parties had allowed themselves to cross certain boundaries and violate certain limits that inflicted deep emotional wounds. Some of the things we allow ourselves to say to one another can really pierce the heart. And there are things we can let ourselves do or refuse to make ourselves do that can inflict a lot of injury, too. Over the years, I’ve been really taken aback by some of the things folks have allowed themselves to do or say without sufficient appreciation for the damage caused and without a due sense of obligation to repairing the damage.
Making amends in a meaningful way can be a particularly arduous task. But in a loving relationship, repairing any damage done (whether inadvertently or intentionally inflicted) is not only a person’s duty but also essential for maintaining integrity of character. Relationships never survive or prosper unless the parties embrace this obligation both willingly and freely.
I once counseled a couple who’d been blessed in many ways. Well-educated, and coming from somewhat privileged backgrounds, they had it all: wonderful careers, financial security, beautiful, healthy children, etc. But like most couples they had “issues” between them and unfortunately they didn’t do very well in addressing those issues in a respectful way. One major bone of contention between them had to do with how the children should be disciplined. The husband tended to be the rule-setter and “enforcer” whereas the wife tended to be the coddler and “rescuer.” The children, recognizing the the lack of alliance between their parents, knew very well how to play one against the other. But it’s how the couple addressed their differences with one another that really caused the trouble. Dropping expletives, name-calling, withholding affection, chastising and belittling were common, and when there appeared no compromise, there’d be the inevitable “threat” to end it all. Now both of these individuals were a lot alike: Neither liked to lose a fight. Both were strong-willed, opinionated, and most of all, they had their pride. And in their determination to win, and especially to vindicate themselves, each was willing to go to the mat, even over matters that could rightfully be considered pretty trivial. And they knew very well each other’s deepest emotional vulnerabilities, and sometimes they just couldn’t seem to stop themselves from going too far (“Going for the jugular,” is how they put it). As a result, their marriage was really in trouble. Too much hurt, too many scars – these things had taken their toll. And it’s not like either of them hadn’t felt sorrow over some of the things they’d done or said. And it’s not like each hadn’t apologized, sometimes over and over again. But the wounds they’d both inflicted and sustained went deep and were a testament to the fact that being sorry or even saying you’re sorry simply isn’t enough. For a relationship to work, each party needs be able to trust. Partners need to know they’ll be safe in the arms of the other and free of the threat of the worst kinds of wounding. Inadvertent slights are one thing. But repeated acts of cruelty just to prove a point or to try and intimidate the other into doing what you want them to do, or to feel the pain you believe they’ve caused you is quite another. And unless you’re truly willing to make amends, and you demonstrate that willingness quite clearly in your efforts to change your approach, there’s no way to restore or rebuild that necessary trust.
I’ve written before about what genuine remorse and contrition look like (See, for example What Real Contrition Looks Like, Contrition Revisited, and Shame, Guilt, Regret, Remorse, and Contrition), and what it really takes to make amends. In counseling this couple, I called their attention to the work that had to be done and made it clear there could be no excuses. If you really love someone and fancy yourself as having any real integrity of character, you have to be willing to repair damage you’ve done. It’s like when you were a kid playing baseball in the street and you accidentally knocked a ball through someone’s window, your responsibility is to do more than apologize. You need to sacrifice and underwrite the repair of the damage. And there’s always a cost to damage you inflict, a cost you have to be freely willing to bear. It’s never ceased to amaze me how many people are willing to pay the price for something like breaking a neighbor’s window but not be willing to do what it takes to repair damage they’ve inflicted on a person they purport to love.
In the next few articles, I’ll be having more to say about making amends with examples of how folks who not only accepted the responsibility to repair damage they had done but also did the work it took to nurture their relationships back to health. In the process, they didn’t just save their partnership, they developed greater integrity of character.

Shame, Guilt, Regret, Remorse & Contrition By Dr. George Simon

Original article can be found at this link:

Shame, Guilt, Regret, Remorse & Contrition By Dr. George Simon 

This is the second post in a series of articles on psychological terms and principles that are often misunderstood or applied inappropriately. And because the concepts of shame, guilt, regret, remorse, and contrition have been the subject of great debate within the professional community of late and also because they have such importance to matters of character, even though these terms are not strictly psychological in nature, and even though I’ve written some on the topics before, I thought a renewed discussion of the topics to be not only timely but also of great potential benefit to the discussion to come.
Regret is the unpleasant emotional response (generally, sadness or unhappiness) we have to an external event or circumstance. It comes from a French word meaning to “complain” or “lament.” You can have regret about not being able to attend an event because of a prior commitment. You can also regret an unfortunate happenstance, a bad stroke of luck, or disappointing turn of events. You can even have regret for a situation that arises purely as a consequence of your own behavior. But in any case, the regret response is a purely “amoral” one. That is, feelings of regret have nothing to do with the perceived moral rightness or wrongness of anything. Rather, regret is only about the displeasure you feel about the circumstance itself and the negative impact it may have on you.
Remorse is very different from regret. Remorse is the experience of deep anguish over something you’ve done that has created a bad circumstance or caused injury to others (whether that injury was intended or unintended). The word comes from a Latin word meaning “to bite with more force,” and refers the gnawing feeling or gnashing of teeth a person of conscience who knows they have done wrong might experience. It’s a moral response to a moral failure and as such, it arises out of a sense of guilt.
By definition, character-impaired folks have deficient or sometimes even absent consciences (I go into this in detail in Character Disturbance). So, genuine remorse is usually not in their vocabulary when they do things that hurt others. They might well have some regret for the practical consequences of their actions, but that’s not at all the same as being remorseful. And, because they are predisposed to use their typical ways of coping (e.g., denying, lying, “justifying,”blaming, etc.) to deal with situational stressors, while they might experience momentary regret over an adverse consequence of their behavior, they usually only dig in their heels and become more determined than ever to have their way, primarily because they lack remorse. That’s precisely why they don’t seem to learn from experience. They actually do learn, and learn plenty. They just don’t learn the lessons we’d like them to learn. It’s because of their lack of remorse that they don’t re-assess their general approach to things and seriously consider modifying their style (I have a lot more to say about this both in In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance).
Guilt is feeling bad about something you’ve done, whereas shame is feeling bad about who you are. The popular wisdom for some time has been that guilt is both essential and often helpful to moral functioning but shame is to be avoided because it’s counterproductive at best or outright toxic at worst. Some folks have extended the meaning of shame to include feelings of humiliation, embarrassment, or disgrace. But shame is not synonymous with any of these things (Words have to have meanings and it’s important to distinguish terms). And only recently have some researchers bucked the long popular trend by presenting evidence that some shame can indeed be good. When we appraise ourself as lacking in some way, especially with respect to the integrity and solidity of our character, it can be an occasion for us to renew a commitment not just to do better, but to be better. And as I have written about often (see, for example: Neurotic or Character Disorder? – Criterion 4: Shame) while I have known thousands of “repeat offenders” over the years who felt badly each and every time they misbehaved, I’ve never known anyone who really turned their lives around just because they felt guilty (The great psychologists Jung and Adler are famous for regarding most guilt as a rather cheap substitute for legitimate suffering [i.e. the much harder work of real change]). Regret and remorse weren’t enough to make them change either. Rather, it was only when they could no longer live with themselves and the kind of person they’d allowed themselves to become that things finally turned around. Shame saved them where guilt, regret, and remorse all failed. It prompted them to undertake the arduous task of forging a better character. The groundbreaking research of Samenow and Yochelson on the criminal mind pointed out that one of the major cognitive distortions or thinking errors that kept recidivist criminals on the antisocial path was believing themselves to be “still a good person” despite continually and unhesitatingly violating the major rules and trampling the rights of others. And while they might be momentarily embarrassed at being found out, these “career criminals,” like the corrupt politicians, serial cheats, die hard swindlers and various other recalcitrant disturbed characters out there, can be best described the same way: shameless. For more on the topics of shame and guilt see: Neurotic vs. Character Disorder? Criterion Three – Guilt and Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing: Do They Really Have No Shame?
Contrition is a poorly understood concept despite how essential it is to repairing damage in relationships. I’ve written about it a few times before (see, for example: Contrition Revisited). The term comes from a Latin word meaning “crushed.” The contrite person feels crushed in spirit – crushed under the weight of their own moral deficiency. And the contrite person recognizes and accepts the work it might take to rebuild a sense of self they can live with. You know contrition is genuine by the actions a person takes. The contrite individual 1) doesn’t make excuses, minimize, justify, or try to save face but humbly acknowledges their failures and shortcomings and sincerely strives to make amends, and 2) makes genuine and sustained efforts to not only to do better in the future but also to be a better person. Contrition is much more than saying you’re sorry or appearing sorrowful. It’s proving through your actions that you really are sorry and working hard not to find yourself feeling sorry for the exact same failure in the future.
I can’t count the number of times therapy has failed to be effective or gone awry in some way because a therapist misinterpreted regret for remorse, equated embarrassment with shame, or presumed contrition to be present just because a person showed some signs of unhappiness (You’ll find an excellent example of this both in Character Disturbance and in the article: Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing: Do They Really Have No Shame?). You always have to look for the clear signs (I’ll have more to say on the meaning of this term in an upcoming post) that someone is not only genuinely sorry for what they’ve done but also sorry in a way that can prompt them to make changes in the future. It’s all to easy to say you’re sorry and that you “take responsibility” for your actions but all too difficult to actually accept the need for change and then to display how seriously you’ve taken responsibility by working like the dickens to make necessary changes. All too often I’ve heard disturbed characters claim that they have taken responsibility for their actions yet provided no behavioral evidence of a sincere desire to make amends or change their ways (scenarios illustrating this can be found in both Character Disturbance and The Judas Syndrome).
Perhaps the readers have some examples of their own or other experiences to share. And, as always, the discussion will continue on Character Matters Sunday evening at 7 pm Eastern on UCY.TV.
Original article can be found at this link: