They Know What They’re Doing

During my many years working with victims in abusive relationships, I heard the same types of questions asked over and over again:  “Why can’t they see what they’re doing?”; “Do you think they really meant to hurt me?”; “Don’t they probably have ‘issues’ they’re unaware of and that they’ve never really faced before?”; and, “How do I get them to recognize the harm they do?” And because I had broad-based training as a therapist, including training in all the traditional approaches, at first even I believed that my role in helping disturbed characters change would be to assist them in getting in touch with the unconscious underpinnings of their behavior (e.g., early childhood trauma, mistrust of others, fear of intimacy, etc.).  What a surprise it was to learn how very different in every respect the disturbed characters were from their victims in relationships, especially with respect to their levels of awareness.

A couple of years ago I posted an article titled: “Confessions of a Covert-Aggressive Personality.”  It featured the testimony of someone who acknowledged many of the things I had been saying for years about certain personalities.  And it quickly became by far the most widely-read post on this blog.  I think that’s largely because it validated for a lot of folks what they had suspected in their hearts about their dysfunctional partners but still couldn’t bring themselves to believe.

At the present time, readers trying to access the original article are being re-directed to another article.  The other article has some great information in it to be sure, but it lacks the focus of the original article with respect to the disturbed character’s awareness.   The original article also featured the testimony of one person (though slightly altered and embellished with material from a few other sources to assure anonymity).  So it seemed important to fashion another article on the original topic, but this time blending the testimonies of no fewer than 7 individuals who have contacted me directly through the blog and several others with whom I’ve come into contact via other means.  Many have read one or both of my books and found themselves described accurately in them.  And, as is often the case, some had finally reached a point in their lives when they decided it was time to take a serious look at their character and to begin the process of character re-construction.  Their testimonies are remarkably similar, and in the “confession” that follows, I’ve taken great pains to borrow small passages and phrases from different testimonies, to edit the text so as to preserve gender neutrality, and to assemble the testimonies in such a way so as to make it impossible to identify any one individual while still illustrating the most notable characteristics these impaired characters have in common.  The text of this “confession” will read as one person’s self-admissions.  But it is actually a composite of many, fashioned in a way to drive the point home about the disturbed character’s level of awareness:

Dr. Simon,

I have read your book In Sheep’s Clothing and have to admit that I am the “covert-aggressive personality” you describe.  Every description you give fits me like a glove.  I have all the thinking errors you talk about.  I’ve always known I had them, but it was weird to see them laid out in black and white.  And I think I could illuminate you a bit on some manipulation “tactics” I’ve used that you don’t mention in your book.  I’ve always been a person determined to win and I’ve learned lots of ways to eventually get what I want or to get others to see things my way.  But that’s beside the point.  I’m now at the point in my life where I’m tired of all the trouble I’ve caused and I want to change the person I am.  That wasn’t always the case.  When my partner first gave me your book to read, I wanted to turn things around on them and make them think everything was all their fault.  My pride was getting the better of me and I didn’t want them to think they had my number.  So, I acted all offended, pretended I didn’t know what they were talking about, and tried to find as many examples as I could where I thought I could prove they were just as guilty, or maybe even more so, of many of the things they were confronting me about (guilting is one of my favorite “weapons”).  But I’ve had to admit that I’ve made quite a mess of things over the years and I’m really wanting to face some things about myself and to make some changes.

Dr. Simon, I’ve been in many types of counseling over the years.  And when I was younger, my parents put me into a hospital program.  But back then, I liked the person I was and didn’t want to change.  And it felt good to think I’d figured out how to get just about anything I wanted in life.  So I played the game, gave “lip service” to everything, but in my heart I was determined to be the same person I’d always been.  And I always knew what I was doing when I was manipulating others.  I also knew what I was doing to them in the process because their reactions were so obvious and clear.  The fact is I simply didn’t care.  The only thing that really mattered to me was getting what I wanted and saving face.  But I’m realizing more and more how much I have lost over the years because of that attitude.  The big question I have now is how to change.  I’ve read the “Ten Commandments of Character” you talk about in your other book [Character Disturbance], and I see where a lot of these things apply to me.  Still, I wonder what it will take for me to actually put the things you talk about into practice.

There’s a part of me that wishes I could share with you the many other stories that would drive home the point about the disturbed character’s level of awareness.  But I think the altered “confession” offered above illustrates matters fairly well.  In fact it illustrates quite clearly five of the important differences that characterize folks who are primarily best thought of as “neurotic” to some degree and folks who are primarily impaired in character (these differences are discussed at length on pages 30-58 in Character Disturbance).  Suffice it to say that if you’re dealing with someone in your life who fits the description I offer of the disturbed character, despite the fact that you might feel tempted to believe otherwise, they’re probably quite aware of the behavior that’s driving you nuts.  This is such a crucial thing to remember, because it’s usually your doubt about whether they really know what they’re doing that leads you to mistrust your gut instincts and to be manipulated.  And as to whether disturbed characters can or will change, I think the confession above says it all.  They certainly can.  The real question is whether time, circumstances, and personal reckonings have helped them acquire the motivation to do so.


94 thoughts on “They Know What They’re Doing

  1. The whole “I knew what I was doing… but I simply didn’t care” to me cancels out whatever motivation they have to change. If I was that person’s partner, I’d be gone. The lack of empathy is chilling. Do you think people can learn empathy? I’d worry they were still trying to snow you.

    My ex-husband (diagnosed NPD, FWIW) said in therapy “I LIKE being a narcissist!” Truest thing he ever said. He really did. Three failed marriages, his own sister saying, don’t come to your mother’s funeral, didn’t register. He thought he was stupendous.

    It takes a lot of humility to change. I’m very skeptical if CD people can maintain humility. Great if they can, but I wouldn’t hold my breath, and I certainly wouldn’t want one for a partner.

    1. Sincerity varies along a continuum, even with those purporting a change of heart. And I never (and I advise my clients likewise) accept words or professed intentions as meaningful (talk is incredibly “cheap”), only actions – and not just for a few days, weeks or even months, but sustained meaningful behavioral change over long enough time to rightfully earn some trust. And such motivation, desire, and accomplishment is extremely rare, though I have seen it several times. Remember, I’ve done this work a long time with literally thousands, and we’re talking about a handful here.

      With respect to the empathy issue, as you know there’s evidence that psychopaths’ brains work differently, affecting their capacity for empathy. But whether that’s the result of in inborn deficiency or a failure of neural networks to develop correctly is still a very unresolved issue. As far as whether empathy can be learned or not, I think you also have to factor in the stages of a brain’s development. I can remember when my young grandson would trip his younger sister and simply grin with no compunction at causing her injury. Two years later he cries whenever she’s hurt, sobs when he’s caused her injury by accident, and does everything he can to protect her. So, obviously some learning is involved. Still, the “capacity” has to be there to develop the empathy he’s acquired. And whether the right neural interconnections that lead to empathy “learning” can be made when a person is 50, or how easily such connections can be made – even in a person with the proper “capacity” to form the connections, are all still very much unanswered questions. In my years of work, I can cite only several dozen cases out of thousands where I thought a person’s once greatly diminished capacity truly did change. And in all cases, the road to doing so was most arduous.

      1. They think that it is empathy that makes us losers, makes us dupes. And as long as we go on behaving like dupes, then they are right. So why would they *want* to change? It must seem to them like shooting self in foot.

        1. Good points, Vera. It takes many factors coming into place just right and in the right time for any motivation for change to develop. And then it’s still an iffy proposition. But at least when enough others draw and enforce the lines, there’s a chance. In any case, for the once or would be victims, all that’s really important is claiming a life and not being done in by them anymore.

          1. But if you’re in a relationship with this person, and they want to “change” and for you to INVEST and stick it out to witness the change, why would you want to hold that gun to their head? To draw and keep drawing lines and enforcing boundaries?

            You wrote:

            “In my years of work, I can cite only several dozen cases out of thousands where I thought person’s with once greatly diminished capacity truly did change. And in all cases, the road to doing so was most arduous.”

            See, that tells me it’s bad odds. It’s a high risk investment, a volatile crappy stock.

            There are people who have the capacity. For whom respect and authentic living are not 12-step. People for whom learning kindness is NOT an “arduous” road. They’re nice people right out of the box.

            I say invest your time in those people. And leave the CDs alone. Let them forge alliances with other reforming CDs. I think that’s better karma. They should have to invest in people every bit as shaky, and crappy as they are.

          2. Your perspective is quite understandable, especially if you’re a person who’s been stung. And I never advise anyone to feel obligated to hang in there while a severely impaired character flirts with change. It’s certainly in everyone’s self-interest to take the safer bet. But character disturbance exists along a continuum, as does neurosis, and ALL of us fall somewhere on the continua. And while there’s some suggestion (from brain studies – although they’re far from conclusive) of a biological predisposition toward severe character disturbance, to suggest that good people simply emerge “out of the box” with their positive traits really denigrates those who despite some favorable gifts have had to work quite hard to forge their character. True, the capacity for some things important to socialization appears to come with constitution, but most of us are not civil merely as a result of birth. Socialization and acquiring all the things associated with it is a lengthy process. Human beings are unique among all creatures with respect to the length of time it takes to become fully functional. And even then, most of us, even the good folks, have their issues. I have many posts on these topics.

            I think it’s easy to forget that my work has always centered on the wide range of character disturbance, which is much more prevalent than pathological neurosis these days. I think that’s important to keep in mind with respect to my articles, as they are generally not exclusively about psychopaths and sociopaths.

      2. I experienced what Dr. Simon calls ‘talk’ vs. ‘action’. A former ‘best friend’ of 52 years is quick to apologize only when it is convenient for her & it’s a minor mis-understanding, but then she immediately attacks. I rarely speak to her anymore, I know she has no concern about anyone but herself.

  2. They certainly “do” know what they’re doing but they don’t care.

    This is their emotional cancer: lack of empathy. Once we can emotionally accept that they are the way they are because they want to be that way the closer we are to the path of freedom. I think people tend to beat themselves up because we can’t fathom that there are people in this world who are this parasitical and soulless. It’s a bitter pill to swallow and accept particularly when you think about humanity. I myself have debated the husk vs. human question. I now know that the charming man I believed he was was indeed a conman, a fraud, a schemer, a liar, a parasite, a user, a swindler and disgustingly entitled.

    I’m a believer that once you understand what you’re dealing with in terms of character disorders and narcissiism you have to get radical. Leave and never look back because they aren’t worth your life. You can’t leave any room for entanglement or manipulation because they really are experts at conniving, twisting and rigging the game to win at any cost. It’s almost like your thinking has to get black and white to truly understand that CD people really do not change. They’ve been at this behavior before you came into the picture and will continue to do so after.

    You have make the choice to love yourself, recognize your codependent traits and value the gift that is your life and know that a broken, empty, sad, and toxic poisonous soul will never have the key to your happiness. They are not capable of fixing, amending or repairing because their toolshed is empty.

    These kind of people do not deserve a seat at anyone’s table.

    1. Very well said, Melinda, and thanks for taking such care with the comment.

      One small request, please, to satisfy one of my quirky pet peeves: let’s substitute: “recognize your emotional vulnerabilities, including any dependency,” and strike the overused and generally incorrect “codependent.” The whole paradigm of co-dependence is one of the main culprits that kept people involved in destructive relationships, despite its good intentions. Seeing an abuser as in any way dependent along with you always makes the truth about them harder to see. Just saying…. 🙂

      1. This is a great observation. Co dependancy was originally about alcoholics and enablers, both dependant on the other. My ex wife simply used me, there was no dependance on her side.

        1. The dependant part of codependent is not part of the addicts behavior. They are dependant on their unhealthy behavior not their partner. Codepent means reinforcing dependencies, not the same dependencies

    2. yes Melinda, well put, a perfect copy of what I have been and still dealing with. Am not ready to walk away yet but am getting stronger everyday while the relationship with the NPD/CAD person nearly killed me….zero empathy, the gaslighting, lies, everything you mentioned is beyond anybody’s rational comprehension, but as I felt from the beginning; I can see and feel his paink, deep down, we both know about the source of the disorder too…sadly he doesn’t want to change, way too entitled and superior. Nothing but having to take charge of my own safety is key now and beginning to start enjoying life and trust people again, they’re not all like the partners we have been dealing with, the damage is great for those around NPD and Covert/Passive Aggressive Disorders…empty toolshed indeed

    3. Melinda, its true in that one has to emotionally accept the abuser knows what they’re doing and doesn’t care on the extent of hurt they bring to the one that loves them. I have the problem of not accepting the true insidious character and only reflect how sociable, caring he can be in the public arena. His true persona is reflected behind closed doors, faulting, punishing, isolating, playing mind games and swearing and saying intense harsh and cruel words to me. It’s a difficult journey, but you’re right, if he doesn’t acknowledge or want to change, he cannot be saved and find peace. At least for, me, I can be saved and find freedom, happiness as I deserve.

      1. Good luck to you Alison! I wish you well and hope you find your way to freedom and happiness soon. These types bring nothing good to anyone.

      2. The way for any of us to be saved is through Jesus Christ.

        “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
        ‭‭Acts‬ ‭2:38‬ ‭KJV‬‬

        “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
        ‭‭John‬ ‭8:32 KJV

  3. I have a question, Dr Simon. There is a particular experience that I have not been able to unpack. Sometimes, when in the presence of a CA (I am thinking of a vicious bully-boss I once worked next to), they are capable of unleashing… well, it’s like this black cloud. The feeling of menace in the air. It’s hard to breathe, hard to work. It’s almost as though they were projecting their anger at you in covert ways. And the weird thing is, they can turn if off like a spigot. This particular boss did. Suddenly, the atmosphere in the room changed, and life could go on. How the heck do they do it? I don’t remember any particular behavior on their part… but the feeling is so palpable! And no matter what I tried, I could not get out of that cloud… Is it some sort of evil magic?

    1. The palpable feeling you describe is more likely to be the result of nature’s “gift of fear” that folks like DeBecker tell us is our instinctual response to being in the presence of someone who means us harm. Rather than regard it as either evil or magic, probably best to respect your instinctual response, regardless of the bizarre form it might take. It’s nature’s way of telling you there’s danger present.

    2. Vera, I know exactly what you mean with this experience. It is shocking and chilling for those that witness it.

      And there are so many similar phenomena that it often does seem somehow more-than-normal.

      For me a key test (even before I knew what to call it) was when other relationships around the CA start to deteriorate, even if they were previously good; and where the person about whom you have concerns doesn’t even appear to be involved. Almost as if some toxin has been put into the water supply and everyone is affected and changed.

      I think there is one possible explanation for this, though, which is that some CAs are so skilled at targeting people’s weak areas and vulnerabilities and bringing them out; as well as people (as Dr Simon alludes to here) having instinctive fear or threat responses. People when threatened or stressed then start behaving and reacting to others in a less-than-ideal way, and react in ways that aren’t characteristic of themselves at their best but show signs of too much emotional arousal. Thus other relationships and matters all become adversely affected.

      I think maybe we need to focus more on the aggressive, manipulative personalities affecting the whole ‘ecosystem’ of human relationship networks, workplaces, homes. Not just themselves and their direct relationships. Just a thought.

    3. Vera, you are right on. I always used the metaphor of an elephant sitting on my chest. It’s very heavy. I’ve been dealing with it for 20 yrs. I am now free, well, sort of. Just beginning the divorce process. My daughter and I are living like gypsies for fear of going home. Who would believe we have anything to fear. I feel he’s shifted to something more dangerous, more menacing and I had to leave or not make it out alive. Then he cut off my cell phone service and cut me off from our joint bank account. He’s trying to flush me out. He’s sending me emails trying to bait me and trying to make it sound like he cares while in the same email, the same breath, he is trying to discredit me as a mother when he’s not been a father to his 17 y.o. daughter for the past 10 years. He won’t get a job, just plays violent video games all day and watches porn and if I don’t keep up he gives me the guilt trip. If I don’t make him happy, here comes the elephant on my chest and I would do anything to get it off, it’s so toxic and depressing and oppressing. So I let him rape me all those years. He even called my dad and my dad just thinks everything’s going to be okay. I sent him a link to this website so my dad could see what we’re REALLY dealing with and stop contact with my scary husband. He’s pulling crap and I gotta get a lawyer. I also have to find homes for all our animals. Of course he’s put the pressure on me to do this and survive in the world and all the b.s. that he’s pulling besides is an overload. Good thing I have a STRONG spiritual connection to my spirit guides and angels 😉 Or I might have had a heart attack by now, lol. Okay, not so funny. But humor seems to help. Connie

      1. Connie……PLEASE be safe and smart and take care of you and your children and pets above all else.
        I find this aspect SO frustrating………sex with someone who is pretending to love and care about you is no less rape than someone physically overpowering you. therefor what was done to me IS rape but there is no legal recourse. It has left emotional scars in my heart, mind and soul that being raped by a stranger would not. I don’t mean to diminish the pain, trauma and suffering of rape victims at all. In a sense, he is a stranger and I think that is one of the worst parts about this…..I have absolutely NO idea who he even is. I can well imaging though….behind closed doors….behind my back? I’m sure he was someone else entirely.

        Be safe Connie. I wish you well.

      2. Dear Connie, only found this site today, your story hits home in many ways, and I hope you have found the strength to get out from this situation, I was stunned when I found that when I could have died, he – on top of me being in hospital coming out of general – came to hurt me even more, denying me basic needs and having me crawl on the floor with 2 broken legs, there was zero support; the sex was on demand and no respect, I had to oblige. beaten up over “affairs” I never existed, punished over the same and more things that had never happened to me, You will come out of this so much stronger, I couldn’t have survived without the help of my friends who all had endless patience for me to start grasping what I had got myself into, it has taken years and only since last year and a lot of reading and sourcing later and I know can fine tune the protection I deserve from such people, humor does help!!!!
        this site is very helpful for me

  4. Dear Dr. Simon,
    please apologize my English, I am no native speaker, but I found no similar site in Germany and would be glad, if You answer me a question.
    Do You think the development of manhood or even western civilizations offer CD persons better chances to suffer?
    I wonder why, because my Ex boyfriend -thank You for Your great description of his sick gameplaying- is a very successful.
    And it seems to me, that he sheetes the society by using laws other CD people invented.
    I guess it was Dr.Hare who said, “I found my interview partners imprisoned, but there are also a lot of them at the Wallstreet.”

    And so what can the majority of citiziens do against this or do FOR a better and healthier society? In German publications, psychological and political articles, it is also common sense, that there is a drift to more “narcisstic” behaviour generally.

    Thank you for your attention.

    1. Thank you for the question, and I’ll try to be as clear as I can in my reply. Some of the behaviors that people learn in their character development are clearly dysfunctional when it comes to intimate relationships, but they can actually be quite adaptive in some environments, especially tough, competitive, and relatively unregulated environments. And this has a profound impact on the kind of society we have, especially in the western world. The fact that there are so many impaired characters in business is one of the big reasons for our current economic crisis. But it’s not the only one, because we also have other “takers” within the system who feel insufficient motivation to make a real contribution. And as for what good people can do to improve the situation, the one thing that won’t work is passing more laws, because irresponsible people always ignore them or find a way around them. So rather than doing more, good people actually need to do less and to hold the irresponsible among us much more responsible. Very rarely do we actually make irresponsible folks truly pay for their social crimes and make restitution. That needs to change, big time.

      1. Boy, do I agree with that. It seems to me the environment of “political correctness” cripples even saying things that need to be said! I wonder if this ever will change back again because there are so many people on the take, and it ruins their creativity and drive. Do nothing as a “sure thing” or challenge myself & my talents? Many people will chose the sure thing. It seems there is far more disability and welfare, not just food stamps and unemployment. As someone said “99 weeks of unemployment, that is an associate degree timeline, why not sponsor that instead?
        Many people on the take now are from foreign countries, and many of them don’t know how it used to be here, and we are too far away from major wars to have the younger generation appreciate the blood that has been shed for our freedom. Great information on the site. THANKS!

  5. That’s a tough one! Because the people in charge to hold those accountable for doing wrong are bought and sold by the guys who are doing wrong!

    We’ve arrived at a point where the only real value we have is money. Not honesty, integrity, character, hard work, etc. Those qualities are just for suckers.

    I’ve been reading a lot about Neil Armstrong. And it seems to be the consensus that he was a humble man, a man of character, a man who did something great and *could* have taken ultimate advantage of it, but chose not to.

    Such an old fashioned way of thinking. Makes me sad that those who choose that path today are not celebrated, or recognized, or held up as an example in any way.

    1. So very well said, and, unfortunately, so true. I make some of these very points in Character Disturbance. The good news is that we have the power to change this by recognizing and celebrating what really counts. Change only happens one heart at a time.

      1. I think the Penn State tragedy lays it all out! How heartbreaking.

        I was devastated when my son went off to college this time last year. It hit me that I had raised him with the ideas of integrity and character, and he had a great role model in his grandfather who he adored. I was devastated because I felt like I was sending him out into the world of wolves! That I had not prepared him for the way the world is *now.* (Although, the world as it is now has really snuck up on me. When I was younger, I thought we were all working to “fix” things.) Anyway, I (somewhat) got over my devastation and worry. He seems to be doing good. And if *he* makes good choices, well, then, he’s doing the *right thing.* And how could I be devastated by that? 🙂

    2. I was just saying this yesterday, that the qualities I was taught to have and value when I was brought up are archaic and make me a target for those without scruples. How sad for our Country and each other. Everybody is a trick bag and money is King! Kind of scary.

  6. I am being covertly abused by a direct supervisor I’ve allowed the abuse to continue for 2 years due to my fears about the financial impact it could have on my family and fiance if I were to leave. Instinctively and intellectually I’ve always known it was happening but due to outside stressful events away from work convinced myself it was just my perception and perhaps she was reacting to me. I was wrong there is nothing I did to incite this treatment and her behaviors would have been the same regardless. She is also suffering from an illness which paints a portrait of weakness and lends legitimacy to her victim role and makes it impossible for me to confront or seek help from her attacks. She is anything but week and recently even confessed to me she was bullied in school…almost excusing her own behavior which she is fully aware of. I feel demoralized that I have allowed her to scratch her groin while speaking to me at length, allowed her to incite into personal issues in my life thinking I might win her over if she saw my life wasn’t as perfect as she perceived. Instead of lessening her jealousy it gave her further ammunition and ability to not only threaten my job but to reach out and threaten my personal finances and relationship. I am fearful this woman knows my social security number and bank account. She is HR and has insinuated so many threats to me if they were direct I could confront and put her in place probably even sue her. Many times she has indicated missing deposit funds which she later finds after keeping me on edge all day thinking I made errors since I am in charge of these. I have fears that her threats may turn real. She stands very close to me all the time, my work is never good enough despite the owners satisfaction and praise of my work which then infuriates her jealousy. My health has finally been affected and my personality and relationships are suffering and I feel myself becoming scared neurotic angry and have thoughts that the world is horrible and life not worth it. I am becoming more and more withdrawn and my cup feels so full from the constant chess games I can’t handle the slightest bit of stress. I’ve studied yoga worked on myself introspectively and spiritually my whole life but now I’m turning hateful bitter and cynical I feel that running away after dealing with this so long is too easy and angry at the wasted time and what she has done to me that I feel I need to confront it still I don’t want to lose reference for job and don’t want her to exact personal revenge on my financial affairs outside of work …any advice?

    1. MY advise is that you should keep journal entries of all her manipulative behaviors. Find a new job. If there is an attack on your finances go to the police. They will investigate her if you give them enough reason. You do not need her as a reference for a new job. MOVE on and you will show her that she can’t reach you. She sounds like a coward. Your job is clearly damaging you. Manipulative supervisors will destroy any peace of mind you have and their destructive behavior will make your life hell. It’s called bullying, as you know, and if you cannot take them on you need to leave. It is a health issue.

    2. Get a small bank account where your paychecks get deposited and change account numbers on any others that you have. Simply tell her that you need to set up a new account for your paychecks to be deposited and use it only for that. Any malfeasance will be easier to track. If she is overcompensating for childhood bullying she may take things the wrong way and get back at you so be careful what you say and how you say it.

  7. it’s the deceit that really gets to me.

    how dreadful to live like that. I know we all deceive ourselves at times and hide from stuff we should deal with. but these characters seem to live in deceit.

    everything is fabricated, fantasy almost, altered to fit current requirements.

    what is truth? does it matter?

    no wonder i don’t feel like i trust my husband!

    i CAN’T trust him and mustn’t until he’s proved himself trustworthy and really shows consistant evidence that he’s put deceit as a way of life behind him.


      1. I’ve just done that! And now I feel guilty! Like I’ve overstepped cos the stuff in the book is so violent and about drink and drugs and my husband isn’t violent and doesn’t do drink or drugs, he shares the housework and never uses foul language.

        My husband appears to be a fine example of a upstanding Christian leader and is good at reminding me of the bad things he doesn’t do and the good things he does do. What have I got to complain about? I have to remind myself frequently what I’m complaining about in order to stick to my requests for change.

        Actually, I altered some of the contents of the 2 men’s chapters in “Should I stay or should I go?” to include manipulative and covert aggressive angles. I knew my husband would just dismiss it as irrelevant if I gave it to him as it was. He would be outraged at my comparing him with drunkards, drug addicts and wife beaters.

        Just now I’m constantly repeating to myself “I decline your invitation to feel sorry for you” as he goes around looking haggard and brow beaten. I’m also reminding myself of what he HAS done and STILL DOES SOMETIMES so as not to accept minimising tactics if/when they come.

        I haven’t told him I altered the material to include the covert aggressive angle; I know he would use it as an excuse to dismiss it.

        Was it unethical or manipulative on my part to alter the material I wonder?


        1. I think only you can answer the ethical question Rose. There are lots and lots of books and websites out there about emotional abuse. I read recently, The Emotional Rape Syndrome, by Michael Fox, Ph.D. and before that I read Stalking The Soul (this is translated from French so there are a few confusing hiccups in the wording but I recommend it). It’s by Marie-France Hirigoyen. There are plenty of people, myself included, who see that emotional abuse is just as, if not more destructive, as physical abuse. It is so covert and does invisible damage that can’t be “proven” like a black eye.
          You don’t have to strike someone or be an alcoholic drug abuser to hurt or damage someone severely. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to be physically abusive or on and on and on and on.

    1. Dear Connie, only found this site today, your story hits home in many ways, and I hope you have found the strength to get out from this situation, I was stunned when I found that when I could have died, he – on top of me being in hospital coming out of general – came to hurt me even more, denying me basic needs and having me crawl on the floor with 2 broken legs, there was zero support; the sex was on demand and no respect, I had to oblige. beaten up over “affairs” I never existed, punished over the same and more things that had never happened to me, You will come out of this so much stronger, I couldn’t have survived without the help of my friends who all had endless patience for me to start grasping what I had got myself into, it has taken years and only since last year and a lot of reading and sourcing later and I know can fine tune the protection I deserve from such people, humor does help!!!!
      this site is very helpful for me

    2. …and is met with hostility when we confront them with their lies…how do you manage every day life like that, I have good and bad days, my partner moved to another country/woman, however still dismisses it, there is no stopping nor levels that are not overstepped, the sky is the limit for them….

  8. I have been covertly abused for 6 months by someone I am seeing now but also saw for 2 years 29 years ago. I was naïve back then and always thought it was my fault. When I was reacquainted with him 6 months ago I thought is was a second chance from God. Not so. I did not pick up on the early warning signs. i.e. no phone calls , just text. mood swings with a variety of explanations or no explanation. Controlling when I saw him, separated and living with his mother claiming he had to take care of her. going for days without communicating, etc. etc. It was not until I started reading articles a month ago about covert emotional abuse and his real self starting appearing that I was able to start working on getting out of it. I was so in love with him 29years ago and so heart broken when he broke up with abruptly that I fell back in love with him quickly, so getting the strength to walk away is hard. All I can say it that in this short period he has changed my life with good times intertwined with emotional pain and loss of friends, family and finances. He is 59 so has many more years of experience doing this than I have recognizing it and getting out. He is just now starting to work on getting divorced but has manipulated his wife into having sex with him again and getting what he wants at the same time he was getting sex and what he wanted from me. I feel like the sick on and am starting counseling today. I advise anyone involved with a covert abuser to think about what all they have lost in self esteem, family, friends, finances an forget about the FAKE attention and good times. The CA is not capable of caring about you and certainly not loving you. It is all about them. My question is to the Dr. Are they tortured by their state of mind or do they just not care?

    1. CG, “living with his mother because he is taking care of her”………..Sounds familiar and i’m sorry to say it does. GET OUT!! Run for the hills! You got it right……FAKE! I understand your wanting to know the whats and whys. The bottom line when it comes to involvement is that the proof is in the pudding = their actions. I do think it is important to learn as much as you can stomach because it will “keep it real” and protect you in the future! At 59 (mine is 48) there is little doubt that he will never ever change one iota!

    2. Although there are the rare exceptions (i.e. mostly neurotic CAs) most of these folks simply lack sufficient concern for others to modify their manipulative style. Safer not to take the risky bet.

  9. Hello Dr. Simon, I have been married to my husband for 22 years and I have been reading about passive-aggressive behavior and no CA’s. I always had this black cloud that hangs around my house and for awhile I was lead to believe it was my daughter. Now, after reading about this Character flaws I believe now it is my husband. I have had these uneasy feelings about him for along time and just in in 2010 real sick icky feelings about him and what he does, his character, lies, leaving things out when obviously they should have been included.

    Now, I feel sick, depressed and tired very tired trying to put this puzzle together. As soon as I think I am close, I beg for him to straighten out and fly right. He has admitted to me that he does do all of the passive-aggressive weird stuff that makes a person feel crazy. I feel I am not going to ask you if I should stay or if I should go because I think you would say go. Anyways, like I said I have spent all my youth with this guy who at first everyone thought he was a gem but now since 2010 my mom said she can’t trust to tell a story to him because he seems to tell it back to me different and my best friend doesn’t like him at all now because she said he doesn’t love me because he treated me like he didn’t have no care for me at all, un-emotional when I had something wrong with me, and he must of been so determined to hurt me he got off track from his goal to make me feel alone in which I was alone but he messed up and did it in front of others. Went from “I’m the best husband in the world” to doing somethings that would raise an eyebrow and keep it there for days making you wonder something just doesn’t feel right made my family think “man there is something fishy, smelly and stinks here.”

    My thing is I have been working on me for years now and he hasn’t spent but maybe 3 days in counseling. Me, I have years invested in empowering our relationship, improving my communication, relentless over and over I have tried to make our marriage a great marriage. Technically it could be a great marriage but now I am realizing it is not going to be a great marriage if he doesn’t care to do anything for the relationship but to make my life here on earth a sad one.

    So I realize this and here are some questions I would like to ask you.

    If I decide to file for divorce is there a step by step book out there for getting a divorce from this type of man?

    Is there a step by step how to get everything in order before you file for divorce?

    I seem to get things in order somewhat and then I start trusting him but just to figure out or to be shown that he got me again with his tactics to keep me from leaving.

    I see how me being in a relationship with this man is bad for me but I love the thought of a marriage that lasted for years, I love the thought of two people together for years, through raising kids and grand kids. I love the thought of maybe this man will love me finally how I want him to love me and that I didn’t not waste my youth on this man, please Dear Lord tell me I wasn’t that dumb. Please tell me Lord that I wasn’t had. I think that is what gets me the most so if this does get me, if it is what is keeping me here how can I get quick answers. I did start the book should I leave or should I stay.

    Thank you for your write Dr. Simon I just can not believe that I may have, that I did, get caught up with someone that is emotional-less and to come to acceptance, figure out my next move and move on I guess.

    Does anyone feel used, feel deceived? Does people feel so embarrassed they could just stay because they are to embarrassed to admit that they was taken? Believe in love so much it is hard to come to terms that your in a bad relationship?

    Okay to all the people who left….. how did you leave, how did you come to terms? How did you leave? Did you do it in one radical decision or did you work up to it? I am interested how you left? How you got out?

    1. Savingmein20, I think the “how to get out” part is different for every individual’s situation but you have to put your safety first if you have any concerns AT ALL about that. Are you safe? If you know you absolutely want out do not confront your partner any more what so ever for right now. You need a plan of action before you do anything. Maybe Dr. Simon will have some suggestions or you can spend time reading some of the articles for now.

    2. The emotions you’ve experienced are, unfortunately, par for the course. And some of the feedback you’ve gotten already is quite correct in that how to extricate from a relationship varies from situation to situation. But you’ll find plenty of help in the articles here as well as the comments and links. And there are also a few general rules, including: 1) Take charge of and keep the focus on your legitimate wants and needs. That means be sure you have a safety/support network, a plan for your financial, emotional, etc. well-being, and a clear idea of the kinds of boundaries and limits you must establish and enforce. 2) Commit yourself to what you must do without regard to whatever kind of action the other person might take. Don’t fall into the trap that you can somehow control what you really don’t have control over. Empowering yourself is all about doing what’s necessary to secure your own security and personal well-being. That means doing what you have the power to do: make choices in your behalf. 3) Rather than question yourself and/or whip yourself for such things as being so blind, getting fooled, losing years of your life, etc., give yourself internal and sincere pats-on-the-back for every single step you take to take better care of yourself. For a time, this might seem like “blowing smoke.” But it’s the most essential and powerful thing you’ll ever do in your quest for a more empowered life.

  10. I have been following all these posts with great interest. I read “In Sheep’s Clothing” last year when it was sent to me by a wise counselor friend who recognized my husband as an extreme example of a CA. The pieces fell into place and my frustration, mood swings, sadness and feelings that I was losing my mind, suddenly made sense.
    I married my husband 12 years ago. He was a handsome. charismatic and very talented musician/entertainer and has a huge following. People, especially women, were always telling me how lucky I was to be married to such a great guy. Problem was, after the “honeymoon” period, I was unhappy much of the time, we were always fighting and he told me it must be my fault because everyone else thought he was wonderful!
    My background is in social work, so I spent years trying to help him come to terms with his abusive childhood and to try to “understand” where he was coming from and why he was so controlling and inflexible at home. yet so accommodating with everyone else. Meanwhile he became more demanding. lazy. verbally abusive and demeaning and my self esteem spiraled ever downwards.
    This summer I reached the end of the line. I felt sick and tired all the time and knew I had to leave. I am in my 60s and had moved from the UK to USA to marry him, giving up my home and a well paid job. I moved back to Britain while he was away on tour for a week, taking only 2 suitcases of clothes and shipping 4 boxes of personal books, CDs and photos.
    I have rented a house and started from scratch.I have no job and little money. When he got back he was furious. He told everyone I had stolen valuables, cleaned out his bank account and had a PERSONALITY PROBLEM! .. all untrue. Within 3 days he was on at least 5 dating websites, promising marriage, romance,love songs and long walks on the beach to the next poor soul who falls for him. He has “written me off” recognizing, I think that I am now out of his reach. The hurt and pain I feel is enormous, though I know I am not grieving for the man I left, but the man I hoped he would be. I feel empty and depressed and know he will bounce back and find someone else very fast.
    I re read “Women who love too much” which I found helpful even though I recognize myself in there too well.
    I just hope I will find me again some day. I have wonderful friends who are supporting me but I just feel grey and drained. Meanwhile, ladies. if you go looking for love online, please avoid Yankee Jack in Key West. Believe me, he is definitely wearing Sheep’s Clothing!

  11. Kate, Im so sorry to hear about your situation and know how much pain this all causes. I hope you can realize that even though he may find someone else quickly, it will be the same story you have told for the next person. Over and over and over till the day they die. It’s just the reality of their make up.
    You need to take care of yourself now,,,,,,,rest and regroup and feel what you need to feel. Let it move through and out and know that it’s a process that is different for everyone. No time tables……just have faith in yourself and be patient.

    1. Thanks Puddle for your kind words. I know he will do it again, but I feel so sorry for the next woman. I also feel impotent that I cant warn her and because all his so called friends who don’t really know him think that I was the problem because that is what he has told them.

      1. I know Kate……it will only come back on you. Arrrggggg!!!! so frustrating. It’s like being between a rock and a hard place…..the whole THING is! I have a few allies(sp) because fortunately i don’t hang around the same people he does since I quit drinking. BUT, he doesn’t fit the exact MO that a lot of them do……he does have his little fan club that are clueless to the reality of who and what he really is but since the ending of the relationshi* I have had several people comment about how creepy he is,,,,calling him a weirdo and saying they just get a gut feeling that he is bi and or gay.
        Thank God that people are able to see me for who I am. Actually I’m harder on myself than just about anyone but I’m sure he has spun me into the ground with the people he has fooled. He is such a great guy to the people who don’t challenge his mask.
        There is just so much to this that is even hard to put into words. My mental and emotional state was so diminished during most of the time I was with him. I know the truth and I’m not shy about telling other people but only people who I trust to really listen and who would believe me unquestioned.
        I think it’s important to be back in your familiar surroundings and have a good support system. That is very important. Do they have any domestic violence support groups near you?

  12. I have recently come out of a relationship with a girl that was highly manipulative towards me. She has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, but I believe she also displays traits of borderline personality disorder and anti-social personality disorder. I find the hardest thing to deal with was the fact that I knew something wasn’t right very early on, but I wanted to believe I was wrong, and that I kept on trying to make the relationship work, and allowing myself to be manipulated. I think I definitely fit into the neurotic character described here. It makes me question the part I had to play in the situation when I knew I was unhappy, yet felt a need to pour more and more emotional energy into the relationship, rather than withdrawing from it. I just kept on hoping that eventually she would see sense and treat me in a decent way, treasuring every nice moment and holding onto it as evidence that one day we could become happy together. 3 months on from breaking up and my heart still feels that way, yet my head had enough a long time ago. I am now trying to learn as much as I can about myself, and these types of behaviours, in the hope of avoiding this ever happening again. Its so painful to think that someone you love will never be capable of returning that love, and cannot stop themselves from hurting someone they profess to care about, in the most damaging way they can muster.

    1. To love truly in return is a small form of submission. You made it, Jonas, you made it.

      I learned of covert aggression myself after being bullied and harassed by some unpleasant people in junior high. One unpleasant(but retrospectively interesting) part was hearing them say innocent-sounding things to me. I intuitively knew they either had denigrative subtext or subtle demeaning/belittling implications, got their punch from a situational context in which they were said, were laden with sarcasm, irony or subtle digs, referred to some past mistake of mine or otherwise conveyed a subtle, judgmental message “I know better and I’m better than you and I want you to know it”. There weren’t even full-on covert-aggressives(they didn’t systematically screw others over for their own gain), but they were petty, emotionally immature and lacking in sense of responsibility(which they preferred to transfer to others; see, they were always right).

      I didn’t like feeling browbeaten, as nobody does. Luckily comprehensive school ended soon, so that was the last I ever saw of them. I decided to find out about how people can be subtle in being nasty. Took some time, but researching I discovered Dr Simon’s articles about covert-aggression. Years later yet, here I am, deepening what I know.

      What all ways are there to move on?

    2. Im curious Jonas,,,,,,welcome by the way!……Do you see any part that you played in the way things turned out? I mean what was she trying to gain by manipulating you?

      The reason I ask is this… ex accused me of being the problem. He said to me once that “the only way you feel in control is when things are out of control”. It was just SO not true! But he either really thought that or was accusing me of what he was guilty of. He was CLEARLY the problem in the relationship and every therapist and counselor hav confirmed what i didn’t want to be true! Even one if his ex in laws opened my eyes to the truth that he is quite disordered. But he tried and tried to paint a picture (mask) of him being an angel while making it all seem my fault for not being happy. He showed almost NO interest in meeting my needs…promises, excuses, etc but never any actions that really met up with his hollow words.
      Just wondering what you think.

    3. it is painful Jonas……I can relate. I loved him so much and valued him as a companion more than I can even describe but he palyed me, used me, toyed with my heart and head in a way I’ve NEVER had another human being do. THAT is part of what told me he was different somehow, something was very wrong with him. It hurts me deeper than words can even describe….what he did to me. The betrayal. The knowledge he had of how much I loved him……..he knew I was in deep and he played that card to the hilt. SO senseless.

  13. Thanks for the welcome….and yes puddle, the sense of betrayal is the hardest part. I’m very loyal by nature (a huge weakness in situations like this!)

    After a huge amount of reflection I have come to the conclusion that she was so insecure that keeping me on edge and using my insecurities against me was her way of maintaining control, and keeping the relationship on her terms. What I am still uncertain about was how much she actually cared for me, and how much I was just used for my affection, attention, ego boosting etc. It’s a very difficult thing to ascertain but I guess in the end its irrelevant. In terms of showing affection her actions never really reflected her words.

    I feel that I did play a part, manipulators can only manipulate someone who lets them. The relationship never felt right, yet my own need to be loved and needed kept me clinging to the good parts of the relationship and believing that by understanding her, showing her kindness and being patient with her during the difficult moments would eventually lead to her ‘seeing sense’. This was pure naivety on my part.

    I felt a very strong connection to her and either a need to rescue her or look after her when she needed it, or put up with the constant emotional push/pull and mind games. This became a huge emotional attachment/investment that became bigger and bigger as time went on. What kept me going was the hope that the ‘real her’ that I felt I had seen occasionally would eventually come through, if only I tried hard enough. It’s like a mirage on the horizon that never really gets any closer, but reaching it becomes an obsession. I was never directly accused me of being the problem, but it often suggested that I was overreacting to her behaviour. In hindsight I was actually underreacting. Had I become more aggressive with my accusations to her then quite possibly she would have been in return…..but I tried to argue as little as possible as I would never win an argument against her, so a calm discussion was my only negotiation tactic really. The lesson learnt for me is that sometimes you can see the good in people that they can’t even see themselves, but if they don’t want to change, then all the effort in the world won’t make them do it, and to pin your happiness on something out of your control will only end in misery. The problems were there before me, and will continue to be there in the future.

    1. Jonas…………..could there have been a mistake, in your interpretation of her? Right now I’m wondering as I read your words.They sound like they could be written by my ex but also it sounds like something I could say myself. I swear I think he thought these same thoughts which is what was so confusing for me. I think he interpreted me and my actions incorrectly. BUT, he was abusive to me too. Verbally and emotionally and I know I was not manipulating him. He flattered me ALL THE TIME and I didn’t LIKE it. He always told me I was beautiful but beauty is a superficial quality and that is NOT what I wanted to be valued for. And he misrepresented himself.
      I can’t tell you how much I wanted to be wrong about him and his intentions. I know in my heart that the ONLY thing I wanted from him was to feel safe and truly loved for ME! And to feel like I was important to him and worth making happy and holding on to.
      So we all have areas in out life that we need to grow and he showed no interest in helping me grow and learn……it was more like he created the very situation that would make me falter and then drop the emotional hammer on me when I did. It was SO confusing for me Jonas. I loved him SO much and now it’s painfully clear from his actions and what a couple have told me, that he NEVER loved me but only led me to believe he did so he could play his game.

    2. Jonas……I disagree about this statement you made………”I feel that I did play a part, manipulators can only manipulate someone who lets them. ”
      I do not believe that is true and basically, covert aggression is all about manipulating someone, for your gain, without them noticing. You may “know” something is off or feels different or hurts, or fill in the blank…….but unless you have had experience with these types in your past, you very easily can be manipulated un willingly and without allowing it.
      We all have human needs. the need for companionship, love, connection……no matter what the new age rhetoric says about meeting your own needs……humans are humans and we are a community based species. Except for Sociopaths and Psychopaths. THEY prey on our healthy normal innate human needs and desires, not to mention vulnerabilities.

  14. Puddle do you mean I made a mistake as in she was not manipulating me, it was just a misunderstanding? or do you mean that seeing the ‘good’ in her was a mistake?

    I knew she had a history of mental illness before we got together, and I had my own share of difficulties. I opened up to her fairly quickly, believing that she would understand and not judge me. I think I unwittingly revealed every weapon that could be effectively used against me, and these weapons were then systematically deployed over a long period of time.

    I don’t know about the ‘good’ part. There is two possible options in my opinion.
    a) That the behaviour is intrinsic to her character and she can’t help herself, and that she has subconcious personality traits that cause her to sabotage anything good/intimate in her life.
    b) That she has total awareness of what she is doing and I was just a pawn in a sick game of emotional torture.

    I just can’t bring myself to believe it was the latter.

    1. Jonas, I appreciate this conversation. I want you to know that.
      When I ask about you wondering if you could have misinterpreted/ made a mistake, I meant about the “bad”, not the good.
      I think my ex thought b) about me and at the very worst it may have been a), my part in it all that is. I have my share of issues and some of them are horribly deep and I know this about myself and INFORMED him of my roundedness. Basically opened myself up to him like I have NEVER even come close to with another man. I really thought he loved me which was STUPID of me because he was using those words right from the beginning. It was actually a red flag for me that I, not exactly ignored but just didn’t know it could mean something as bad as it can with a Ppath. When I said something to him about not feeling comfortable with those words being part of the relationship this early, he berated me and told me I had insulted him by indirectly saying that I didn’t believe him. He said……”are you calling me a liar”? I said, “i’m not calling you anything, I’m just uncomfortable with those words this early on”. They rolled off his tongue like the word “hello”.
      Anyhow, those words are like crack cocaine to me. My father has NEVER once said he loved me and there are other issues in my past that make me very vulnerable to being seduced by those words and on and on. So, I was hooked at some unconscious level very early on by that I think and the biggest hook for me was from day one he held me. I could absolutely so easily start crying just typing those words. I honestly think I bonded ti him in a way that I’ve NEVER even begun to bond with someone because of those two things AND because he was my constant companion practically the whole time we were together. If he wasn’t at work or we weren’t in a break up or fight, he was glued to my hip.
      Sorry to go on and on Jonas. I don’t want this to be all about me and my situation. I just find your assessment of your ex very interesting and it sounds like something my ex would think of me? Hard to explain! 🙂

      1. Actually Jonas, after rereading choice a) I don’t think that’s me deal either. I know I have much to learn. I’m behind the curve in many way, for many reasons. I was NEVER taught anything healthy about dealing with life and people and myself as a kid and everything i have learned has been on my own, through the school of life, at a snails pace. Progress seems to be one step forward and two steps back but I have been blessed with the fortune of having guiding angels placed in my life as the guides my parents weren’t. I try very hard and i strive to be a better person. I KNOW, as the people who have been in my life, some for over 30+years, they know that i have no bad intentions and they forgive me when I don’t color between the lines.
        I meant him no harm, was not playing any kind of game, was not manipulating for some devious reason…………….I was struggling to keep my head and heart above water and it seemed like every time I came up for a breath, he pushed me under again.
        I didn’t want to be his mother and take care of him like she does. I wanted a MAN who would walk beside me, protect me as a woman. I don’t know. These formats are kind of frustrating because you can’t really converse real time. I don’t know what your girl friends intentions were. I don’t know the particulars so it’s hard to really comment. But I can relate to your longing, craving her. it’s excruciating for me…… much of this! Mental and emotional Hell.

    2. Anyhow Jonas. My biggest fear and obstacle in all of this is that I just don’t KNOW. I don’t KNOW if my suspicions or interpretations about him are right and I don’t even KNOW what he thought or interpreted about me, my motives, etc… except for a couple things he did say which were very off base. It’s hard to FEEL the anger I feel about all of this and move on when there is so much open to interpretation. In spite of the opinions I have from trained professionals and experts, including very well respected individuals, AND a important conversation with someone from his past………I still can’t put it all together in my mind enough to really accept it. Dr. Simon’s description of denial fits me to a tee I guess. Maybe it’s just the the reality is to shocking and horrifying and heart breaking for me to actually take in yet. So the “what if’s” bounce around in my head endlessly. The “why’s” the “but’s” all of it in my head eroding my peace of mind and what I’m afraid is possibly going to be my sanity.
      Mean while he’s back to his adolescent drinking and partying life being taken care of by his mother…….

  15. reading all the above comments and knowing my own situation, when is enough enough…there is obviously a pattern where the NPD/CorPD abusers lose more and more respect for you as long as you comply and oblige…

  16. I am concerned about a friend. He is in a unique situation where someone who has been abused seems to be using that situation to manipulate him. He is on call 24/7 and is constantly being emailed, texted and followed up on by his previously abused partner because she needs his support. In the meantime he is not able to take care of his own needs and is slowly no longer being able to have a life. I am trying to make him aware of this but he thinks that I am being mean. I kind of feel mean too as I acknowledge her abuse and can see that she is struggling. That said, she is taking him down and I fear his future is in jeopardy because he has a need to support her. He believes it is the right thing to do and I agree but he can’t see what is happening. Any advice please?

    1. Jayne,,,,,,,People, all of us, have our own row to hoe and lessons to learn and it sounds like this may be the case with your friend. If he feels like he is doing the right thing than maybe that is all that is important right now…..time will tell.

  17. I think in my younger years I may have been a narcissist too. But I will say this: it was 100% a defense mechanism. Many of the things I did, while I was aware of them, I was so far removed from them – it was like I knew they were happening in a distant universe. I did not realize that I was in control of my behavior, that I could change and control how I behaved. Nor did I ever stop to consider that what I was doing was wrong. No, rather I was uber-defensive and insisted that I was never wrong. In retrospect, I think it was because I had been told I was wrong all of the time? I don’t know. It sounds like a cop out but it is true.

    I got help (yes we can change) and I am a much better person now. I even like who I am! But looking back, I cannot believe who I was or what I did. It baffles me to this day. I know I was a product of my twisted environment, but I also know that I ultimately pulled the trigger. I live with shame and remorse for what I did every day of my life. I will never be able to change the past but I am able to change myself and the future.

    In a perfect demonstration of karma, I have ended up suffering similar treatment at the hands of another. It has been eviscerating and has given me a new appreciation for what my own ‘victims’ had to endure. I understand that I deserve it; but I cannot shake the belief that while they may know what they are doing to us, they cannot stop themselves from doing it, because they cannot face it in the first place. And while they may see evidence of what they are doing to you or there is no denying that is wrong (in the case of something that is just plain wrong), they cannot stop or control themselves. Like I said, they can’t even admit it.

    So, do they know? Yes, sort of. But the denial is so strong it dampers their straight up cognition of the situation.

    I believe that I speak from experience. Like the article says, it takes time, multiple failed situations and the loss or threat of loss to something that matters a lot to them to motivate them to face their problems. That said, there is no guarantee that they will.

    My two cents.

    1. Very kind of you to share this and helpful also. But I must caution about over-generalizing. Everything you describe is accurate when it comes to individuals more on the “neurotic” as opposed to character disturbed part of the continuum, and indeed there are narcissists who lie predominantly on that part of the spectrum. But there are many more narcissists who lie on the opposite side of the spectrum, and in those cases the dynamics and experience you describe do not apply well. Where we’ve always gotten into trouble is in thinking OUR experience is EVERYONE’S and that truths we have discovered, as valid as they may be, must universally apply. Still, your two cents is both much appreciated and should be of benefit to both those seeking understanding as well as those, who like you, are trying to outgrow their narcissism.

    2. HM, thanks from me too. I really appreciate you sharing that. I’m trying to understand what you say about not being aware of what you were doing. It sounds to me as if you are saying that you acted in a habitual way and that you were so self centred during that time in your life, that you didn’t pause to reflect on the consequences of your actions to others, as they had little effect on you? Did you do therapy to change or did you just have a good hard look at yourself and get honest with yourself?

      1. HM, Yes,,,,,,I was going to ask you a similar question as Juliette. What initiated the changes you have made in your life and treatment of others?

  18. Dr. Simon,

    I just came upon your website and it is quite informative. I have read extensively on NPD, Sociopathy, and Psychopathy, and realized deep within my subconscious that these people do in fact know exactly what they are doing. But, after having it confirmed in this article, I started to wonder why I could not accept this notion on a fully conscious level. I believe that I’m on the Neurotic side of the continuum, probably more acute than I’m willing to admit out loud (lol). That being said, I think I’m beginning to understand why people have a hard time believing the CD personalities know what they are doing, continue to do it with full conscience, and don’t care. This realization is so horrifying that the normal mind simply can’t go there. It is one thing to be hurt by someone, even forgivable, when they don’t realize they are doing it. It is almost incomprehensible to know that you are being watched carefully, devoid of emotion, almost like a helpless lab rat, while you are being subjected to painful experiment after experiment, until the mad scientist gets the desired result. The intensity of that kind of emotional pain, inflicted by the one person whom you completely believed loved you, can nearly make you pass out. Not to make light of such a monumentally important event in history, but such infliction rivals the Holocaust in that at least the Jews knew that Hitler did not love them. My heart cries out at the mere thought of it!

    1. Hello Dawn — welcome. It is really heartbreaking to realize that this abuse goes on and on and on. I read on the web nearly every day about yet another child victim — just yesterday a father was arrested for homicide in the beating death of his 3 month old daughter. I’m a survivor — won’t go into details here, would take too long. Just wanted to say that the best we can do is to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. I own an alterations shop, and my customers include attorneys, teachers, law enforcement officers, mental health therapists, etc. I make sure to at least mention Dr. Simon’s books to everyone I can. If you look around you in your community, what can you do to spread the word? Everyone who is informed will spread the word, you never know how far it will ripple out to other people. If you let the accumulated heart break cripple you, nothing will be accomplished. Peace and hope from Elva

    2. Welcome Dawn. It is an indescribable realization indeed and I don’t think anyone who is not like they are can fully grasp it. We can only feel the damage and empathize with others who are suffering what we have.

  19. Dawn

    My heart goes out to you. I ‘felt’ truly loved for the first time in my life, by a man when I was targeted by a stealth sadist. He encouraged me to get as much help as I could to work through unresolved trauma from my childhood. He furthered his training in hypnosis and NLP, partly to help me, he claimed.

    After he gained thorough knowledge of me, by having me write long involved essays about whatever; my life, worldview, fears, etc…he began to play on my vulnerabilities in the most jaw dropping cruel way.

    As he and I were both married, I would have felt nothing but a bit of, “well, it serves me right.” attitude. I would have sucked it up and moved on…easily…had it been a simple ‘affair’ After he ended it, in a way that raped my soul, essentially, I realized that it was in no way a normal situation. Unless somebody has been through it, they really can’t understand intentional ‘for fun’ sadism. I really want to believe the man who targeted me was angry because I frustrated his attempts to get his hands on my husband’s money. I want to believe it, because cruelty as a byproduct of anger makes sense. Cruelty for fun is so mind bending it threatens our peace of mind and mental health. It’s an emotional Abu Graib!

    It took me about 6 months if intensive further therapy to get over the shock. That was 5 years ago. You will heal. Be patient and kind to yourself.

  20. Oh My Goodness! I am the ultimate sociopath target! I was married to a sociopath for 16 years! I just thought he was mean and crazy, and a compulsive liar, we have been divorced 6 years. But I fell madly in love with another sociopath! We have been together 4 1/2 years, and he made me so happy. He never yelled and was fun and exciting and patient. I knew there was something “off” about him, very selfish, very ego centric, and he is NOT nice to his elderly parents. Flags are up, radar is on, but I was completely happy and duped. Well a couple of nights ago I found out he had another girlfriend and a whole other life. For 2 years. I am a day nurse, she is a night nurse. So it was easy to live the dual role. I was gone for 3 months caring for a sick relative so he had a lot of time to spend with her. I found all their texts in his phone, and my heart broke for her. Because he never missed a day with me. If I was home he was there, we traveled and had holidays and dinner every night. And when I asked him to come to me, across the country, he did. And she was just alone and waiting. And she loved him too. So I told him I found out and he just said “shit” and went back to sleep. Then he said I will move out on Sunday. Very cut and dry. BUT I couldn’t just let him leave my house and move into hers without her knowing. So I stole his phone while he was packing his things, took pictures of all their texts, and texted her from his phone. I was as kind as I could be and apologized for causing her more pain but she had to know the truth. I gave her my phone number, said contact me if you want and deleted everything I had done. She hunted him down and threw the phone at him. When he came back to get more stuff he was giving off that quiet smoke anger that someone mentioned above. I got very afraid and started being very calm and nice. I helped him pack some breakable and just acted normal. He calmed down and tried to convince me the other woman was crazy and would first shoot him and then me. He said “she can find you now through your phone number”. It was amazing to watch him back petal and try to at least save his life with her. He asked me to send him a text saying “so now I know why you’ve been impotent the last year”. He said that would calm her down so she won’t shoot him. So I sent it. He drove his trailer full of stuff to her house, showed her the text – and said- I was living with another woman – but I just left her, and now I can marry you. Lol! She sent him away and texted me. So we supported each other, and we are both rid of him, we will both heal. I cannot help his next victim (s). He showed no guilt, remorse, regret, hurt. Just basically, you caught me, I am out. I did not know about sociopaths. I found out on Friday from a friend who is a psychologist, did some research and was prepared on Sunday when he came. BUT in my research I learned that my ex husband was a sociopath, and one of my girlfriends is exactly like the one I just threw out. She has a husband and family, and then leads a whole second and now third life on the side. She can rationalize it, the boyfriends knows about her family. Her husband has caught her. She has that thing where she just throws out sex hormones and men drop at her feet. We were friend in college where it was a handy gift. But now we are 50 and she is gross. And she knows exactly what she is doing, and she schemes and manipulates and spends as much time deceiving as I do working. So what do I do for me now? I am clearly a target for sociopaths. It’s pretty devastating to learn that the two men I loved most, and one that I truly believed was my soul mate are incapable of loving. During our divorce my husband and I had a psyche eval over custody. He came out paranoid and depressed, and I was excessively happy almost manic. And I am always happy always a positive, always a bright side. I forgive easily but never forget. Through this ordeal I was shocked and numb, then I educated myself, then my main focus became getting in touch with that other woman so I could “save” her, empower her, help her. I saw the full blown crazy in my boyfriend today. I saw a glimmer of it twice before , but nothing I could pinpoint. Today, I knew beyond a doubt that he is a full blown sociopath, with an underlying danger and I am so ready for good riddance. He has a few pieces of furniture left here that he will get tomorrow. I am sure I need some kind of therapy to help me learn to protect myself from becoming someone else’s victim. Because I really just want to love and be loved. I saw some books on here that I will load into my kindle today. But can someone tell me what kind of therapy or support group or education I need to protect myself. Because when it is fun it is great! And when it is scary- it is scary. And when it is gross, it is really really gross. And when it is perfect, and you just don’t see it, it is devastating. And I need guidance on what information to share. Because I have knowledge that would destroy a family that is perfectly functional, they will all be hurt if she gets caught. For my ex-boyfriend I know his brother and son and one other friend are his alibi people, because I was that for my friend. And it took me years to figure it out. But I know the one true friend of this man, his one true friend since childhood and his wife. Do I tell them what I know? Educate them? I have proof, and they have been around his whole life they know other stuff, but they did not know this. Maybe they could warn his next victim, but is that a fair burden ? And hurting that bond might make him snap, which may put me in danger. He is not violent (but he was in his youth-he is very controlled) but who knows. My head says good bye and leave it. But my “crazy” says expose the predator. Protect. And I need guidance because I know I cannot fix any of them. But I try! Which makes me the perfect target!

    1. Claire,

      So tragic, isn’t it? All of it.

      IMHO, if you have even the slightest indication that someone might snap if you rip off their mask to friends and family, don’t do it. Your intent is positive but could backfire.

      Informing the other woman was great, though. Good for you.

    2. Claire,

      I think you should go through a cool-off period before taking on someone who can potentially go to any length to protect his mask.

  21. Dr. Simon,

    I am in an interesting position of having been a child raised by an overt/abusive manipulator and then the wife of a covert manipulator. I won’t go into the details of all that, but what I came out of my divorce was that I needed to trust my gut … that if a person wasn’t CONSISTENTLY KIND OVER TIME, then they were presenting a facade that “would” fail within a year. By the time I divorced, I had been a school teacher for many years, and I was recognizing what I like to call “the beginning of school” facade. You know what I mean, everyone shows up on the first day of school on their best behavior, but by the end of the year, you have everyone pegged. I think relationships are a lot like that. Everyone shows up on their best behavior. That being said, after my divorce, I steadfastly held to what I call my “one year rule” … I absolutely would not date anyone who I did not know for at least a year.

    Have you considered writing something geared toward adolescents, perhaps a youngster such as I had been, who had been raised in a manipulative environment and knew no other style of relationship? I’ve been reading what you say about the victims are usually neurotic and have conscientiousness … but what if the victim is a naive child? To be frank, I knew my father was manipulative and abusive, so I was on the lookout for men like him, but because I was naive about men like my ex-husband, he fell through the cracks in my life and hurt me also. I believe if there had been something/anything to widen my horizon I may have judged my ex as unworthy and written him off because there WERE things I saw, but discounted. I did know understand the nature of character.

    Rather than merely salvage the damaged adult, would it be possible to somehow transform the child?

  22. Recently divorced, married 18 years. My ex husband, has what I consider truly “evil ways”. Not at first. He charmed me like a Cobra, and I was sold. We didn’t talk much about ourselves at first, which I regret. We got married before I knew much about him.
    He was always a victim, nobody took time to be with him, he wasn’t allowed to have friends, his Mother was abusive, his first wife was a witch, and so on. He never mentioned HIS part in the stories. Much later, I learn from his Mother and a family friend, he was argumentative, would not listen, did not care about anything but himself, and always denied wrong doing. I asked him if he knows wrong from right, he changed the subject. He often refused to talk. Ignorant me, kept trying to wake him up to reality, but the more the tired, the worse he was. Lies, backstabbing, flirting, attempts to sway my family and friends away from me, and he successfully turned my kids against me. I became so angry and confused I couldn’t function.

    There is nothing good about these type of people. Their lives are too easy. They rarely lose, and when they do, they just skip off and find something else to mess up.
    No big deal! I think they are a menace to society, and they should have tattoos on their foreheads to warn us not to get involved. Good people should not have to be subjected to abuse. Emotional abuse is not quick or easy to recover from.

    1. Colleen
      These jerks have so much in common. You notice they don’t seek each other out? They choose trusting clean people and try to suck the life out of you. I’m in process of divorce hell. You think they were wicked before the D, but they get worse! I am happy for you to be divorced from him and hope he now stays out of your life.

      1. Lucy,
        The reptilian lizards, predators can smell each other, and like easy prey. I think its a great idea to put them all together in a prison cell and let each one of them rotate being King for the Day. This way each will have their chance to met out perceived punishments and orders. Eventually, the problems would be solved by elimination of the fittest, seeing they have no humanity.

          1. jeannie,

            I said they have reptilian brains. I have scorpions a friend gave me and one night when they come out in the dark the CDN reminded me of them. When I don’t feed them enough crickets they attack and eat each other. I was always fascinated with bugs and studied entomology, I have a collection of pinned bugs, butterfly’s, moths and my favorite way my female Praying Mantis I had for a pet, specimen.

            Lucy, said they the CDN would make good automobile ornaments, I got a real belly laugh out of that one. Hope you do too.., I am laughing now she comes up with some good stuff…. How are you today?

  23. Regarding the covert aggressive personality type.

    I am the step mother-in-law of a covert aggressor. I was bitter because we’ve spent so much time trying to figure out what we’d done wrong but through sites like this I’ve realized it’s not us. I now have a very low tolerance level for people like her and I’ve implemented strict boundaries, let’s just say she’s not my first rodeo. I don’t have an ounce of emotional investment in her either so I can happily keep my interaction to a minimum.

    This person I speak of has done covert things that have caused a lot of hurt. I’m positive I’m a victim of scapegoating. We have a strong reason to believe she has gone to her family, friends and spouse and covertly suggested that no matter what she does she hasn’t been accepted by me. This is so untrue as I was thrilled to see my stepson happy but wow did she show her true self in the most covert ways. Her father did a speech at her wedding he said ” she will do anything to get her way”. My husband and I just stared at each other and that one statement confirmed everything.

    I find it near to impossible to interact with her because I despise what she is and the damage she has caused. Does she know she’s in a win win position because her family are enablers and her husband is as blind as a bat? Any enlightenment would be a great help and appreciated.

    1. Sydney,
      You have already done defensive things like, setting up boundaries, minimizing your emotional investment in her. In my opinion, these are most important actions to reduce the impact on yourself.
      And, you are right, she will continue her destructive ways as long as she has enablers around her. There is very little that you can do to help her as long as she has those enablers and she keeps getting her ways. If you like, you can try confronting her on her behavior at least the ones where you are target. Look up posts on “benign confrontation”.

  24. Sydney,
    You have already done defensive things like, setting up boundaries, minimizing your emotional investment in her. In my opinion, these are most important actions to reduce the impact on yourself.
    And, you are right, she will continue her destructive ways as long as she has enablers around her. There is very little that you can do to help her as long as she has those enablers and she keeps getting her ways. If you like, you can try confronting her on her behavior at least the ones where you are target. Look up posts on “benign confrontation”.

  25. Thank-you Andy D for your input and because of your suggestion I’ve read up on benign confrontation and it helped me understand what I could’ve done when it was happening. Now that time has passed and I’ve removed myself as the target I know I won’t ever be in a position for it to get close enough to hurt me again.

    Since we suspect scapegoating any future benign confrontations would have to come from my husband to be effective and because he is afraid of alienation from his son then he won’t risk it. “Our” covert manipulative aggressor is a pro when it comes to acting the generous, smiling, pleasant person that we welcomed with open arms and time and again proved how covert she can be to get her way. She gives with one hand and rips the rug right out from under you when no one is looking with the other.

    Does she know that I know what she is? How are some people so affected by these types and others can simply say “well that’s just how so and so is” as if to say the behavior can be ignored?

    1. Sydney,
      My son is married to a woman like this, it is all about her and her family. She has complete control over my son and I don’t even dare say anything. She is very good at manipulating things to her advantage and keeps people separated so it is always her statement of facts one make their conclusion on.

      These type of women are excellent at alienating whole families. I think my son is on a small level aware of her manipulations and in my words to cowardly to stand up to her. My grandson slipped on time telling me how he resented how his father will do anything she says.

      In situations like these we really don’t have much of a leg to stand on. I feel for my son, he has to live with and supports the black widow spider. It’s his life and his choosing. Since I am only used for what material or financial aide I can be used for I cut off all gift giving, sure enough, I don’t hear from them.

      I feel for you, this is a very difficult position to be in. Take care of you and your husband and the people in your life that are deserving. Otherwise, you will be dragged into a miserable relationship of triangulating and believe me from what you described you will end up at the bottom.

      AndyD has given you some good insight too.

      1. To BTOV ,
        Thank-you so much for telling me your story and it sounds like we are in a similar situation.
        I know what the SDIL is and I have no interest in confronting her. My husband’s son I suspect is also on some level aware of her manipulations but has not even one ball let alone two to stand up to her. I think they have their battles but we’d never know about it and frankly I don’t want to.
        My husband’s son has an adult daughter whom I suspect has experienced this covert manipulation from her “new mom” but probably hasn’t caught on and most likely just can’t put her finger on what’s wrong. This young woman is a people pleaser and will be dragged from hither and yon if she doesn’t learn to stand up for herself. Me I’m the wicked stepmom ( coincidentally just when she came along) so they are on their own, every man for themselves.

        Thank-you again for your input and validation. I’d like to add that this site is invaluable to those that are in a situation that many people cannot even begin to get their heads around.

        Respectfully, Sydney

    2. sydney,

      My take will be

      Does she know that I know what she is?
      Most probably yes. She very likely knows that you know what she is like.

      How are some people so affected by these types and others can simply say “well that’s just how so and so is” as if to say the behavior can be ignored?
      I guess the main difference will be if a person cares about her. If one does not, he will simply shrug off the problem as long as she does not come in his way. If one cares about her, he will suffer at her hands.

  26. Just one more question,

    Can someone explain to me why some people go to great efforts to not be the first person to acknowledge the presence of another person whether it be an acquaintance or a family member or even a good friend, not even to simply say hello? To act as if it’s such a surprise to see someone yet setting up a scenario so as not to make eye contact first.
    This is a trait of one particular person I know and she will go as far as to make people feel invisible. This isn’t only to me and it isn’t to everyone so what triggers her behavior. The last time I encountered her she had to have seen me first because of a glass wall and she’d set up the telltale scene so that she looked preoccupied, and so I walked right by her without saying a word. It’s not an avoidance of conversation between us because after I greet her she is fine but there have been situations where she has looked right through me and I’ve witnessed her doing it to others. It is very off putting because it’s habitual. Is she just too cool to be the first or what is it?? Man there are weird people in this world.

    1. Sydney,

      It just seems to be peculiar behavior, especially if she has no other defects. Everyone has one or another quirk. Just seems that for her this is one odd part that is invisible to her and clear visible to rest of the acquaintances.
      Such things are sometime rooted in some childhood thing and people follow them unconsciously… something like, my grandmother told me never to greet people first, otherwise…

    2. To Sydney,

      I am one of the “. . . some people [who] go to great efforts to not be the first person to acknowledge the presence of another person whether it be an acquaintance or a family member or even a good friend, not even to simply say hello”.

      I don’t acknowledge people because I am Aspbergers. To me, people are confusing figures in a fog of visual noise. I can’t figure out who someone is until she or he speaks. This includes my mother. It is a horribly rude, embarrassing, shameful, and humiliating form of blindness. When I was a child, it was terrifying.

      It is also an open invitation to the bullies of the world. I learned very early on that it is far better to be scolded for “rudely” not saying hello that it is to greet a total stranger as if they were someone I knew. My failure to say “hi” is not weird, it is purely self-defense.

      1. KLC,
        Thank-you for explaining your condition and I understand why you don’t acknowledge people.

        The person I’m referring to is someone I’ve known for 33 years and even in familiar surroundings and in social gatherings she can be like this, you never quite know which one you will encounter. It’s not just me that she treats like this. There is no reasonable explanation for why she goes out of her way to stage scenes so that she won’t have to greet someone first. It’s become her signature move and it comes off as petty snobbery.

        I’m going to do a “benign confrontation” next time and ask her.

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