How to Spot & Stop Covert Aggressors in Their Tracks

By Chelsea Calello, LAC

Do you have that one family member that seems to always be on your case about something? Or maybe two or three? Dealing with these relationships can be especially difficult around the holidays, even more so if you’re the one hosting!

Psychologist George Simon talks about covert aggressors; individuals who attempt to control and manipulate others. While some people may look at this pattern of behavior as passive aggressive, Simon feels there is nothing passive about it. Take a look below at some tactics these individuals utilize. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • Denial: aggressors use this tactic to make others back off or feel guilty about implying they did something wrong. They will play the innocent role and make others feel unjustified in confronting them.
  • Shaming: putting you down by using indirect sarcasm or critical comments that make you feel inadequate or unworthy. Aggressors are experts at doing this in subtle ways, even through nonverbal cues.
  • Minimization: through a combination of denial and rationalization, the aggressor will make the person feel that their behavior isn’t as harmful or reckless as someone might be claiming.
  • Playing the Victim Role: this tactic involves trying to gain sympathy or compassion by pretending to be the victim. For example if a wife says to her husband, “you don’t spend enough time with the family” he might say something like “it’s because I work so hard but no one seems to appreciate it.”
  • Guilt Tripping: in this tactic, the aggressor attempts to keep you in a self-doubting, anxious, passive position through manipulation, “you don’t care about your family.” The manipulator may simply suggest to the conscientious person that they don’t care enough, are too selfish, etc., and that person in turn starts to feel bad.
  • Covert Intimidation: threatening their victims with implied or subtle threats to keep them apprehensive and disempowered. This tactic involves a combination of guilt tripping and shaming, “You’ll never find a man that way. Why can’t you be more like your sister?”
  • Seduction: manipulation through charm or flattery. This involves overly supporting others to get them to lower their defenses and give in to your request. This tactic is especially used on someone who may already be seeking approval or reassurance from loved ones.

Were you able to relate to any of these ideas and maybe identify that specific family member who makes you feel this way? Being cognizant of these patterns can be empowering and help you recognize them before getting hurt or feeling manipulated. Here are a few tips to deal with these individuals:

  1. Be assertive – The key here is to get your point across in a respectful, calm way. By standing up for yourself in an effective manner, this well help boost self-esteem and confidence. The aggressor may think twice about using manipulative tactics with you.
  2. Don’t Get Persuaded into Playing the Game – Rather than trying to outsmart the manipulator, be straightforward and utilize healthy communication. It can be helpful to articulate your feelings, without letting the other person down or criticizing them.
  3. Utilize Your Support System – Identify those friends and family that can relate and share your feelings. Providing empathy for each other can be an excellent form of support and help ease some tension for us.