“Acting Out” and other Commonly Misused Psychology Terms

I was listening to familiar ad on the radio the other day in which a self-proclaimed “behavioral therapist” touted that his methods could prevent all types of “acting-out” by children in school. And it once again struck me how often and egregiously this term is misused – even by professionals.  I posted an article on this topic once before, and by agreement, readers were redirected to an earlier article I’d written on the same topic on a different blog site. But having scanned several comments over the past year and having read many books and articles in which this and other important terms and concepts have either been misunderstood or misused, I thought it worth another attempt to clear the air a bit, starting with a discussion about “acting-out.”

The term comes from the old psychodynamic psychology of Freud and his followers.  It’s meant to describe a phenomenon by which person engages in some kind of behavior (as opposed to displaying a particular psycho-physiological “symptom”) that both manifests and mitigates the anxiety associated with an unconscious emotional conflict.  I give an archetypal example of acting-out in Character Disturbance on page 205:

After laboring for several days, and staying up all night the night before to complete the task, a man puts a business report on his boss’s desk.  In typical fashion, the ever-demanding boss retorts:  Well, it’s about time! And it had better be good!  Upon leaving the boss’s office, the man utters under his breath: “That SOB!”  Then, the man enters the men’s room and begins washing his hands – and washing his hands – and washing his hands.  He washes until his hands are red, raw, and blistered.  He want’s to stop but he can’t.  He’s developed a compulsion or ritual. And what’s worse, he’s completely unaware of the connection between his under-the-breath comment about his boss, the guilt that this evokes, and the compulsion he feels to make himself “clean” again.

The man in the story harbors some deeply conflicting emotions and is conflicted in conscience as well.  And he seems to engage in his stereotypical compulsive behavior whenever he feels bad inside for thinking ill about another, although he’s totally unaware of this. His relationship with his tyrannical boss only fuels this kind of conflict. On one hand, he wants to tell his boss where to go. On the other hand, he’s not only grateful to have a job but he’s also been taught that bearing ill feelings toward another is the work of the devil. So it causes him no end of anxiety when he “slips” and says hateful things under his breath. Still, he’s unaware of the real source of his distress.  All he knows is that it helps him feel better to some degree when he washes his  hands, and he does this over and over again in similar situations with absolutely no insight into the “dynamics” of the situation. In this case, we have a behavior (hand washing) that is a “symptom” (called a “compulsion”) that represents both an outward expression (or acting out) of an unconscious emotional conflict and a marginally effective way of mitigating anxiety and emotional pain. 

Now, there are some times when troublesome behavior can indeed represent some type of acting out.  For example, a child might be in the early stages of succumbing to depression but has not yet directed some of the anger underlying that depression fully inward.  And occasionally, when stressed, without thinking about it, the child might “slip” in self-control and express the anger outwardly in a behavior that’s out-of-character.  But the fact things like this can happen doesn’t mean they happen as often as some appear to think.  Even the example I gave above is rare. Most people suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are not raging “neurotics” acting out an unconscious emotional drama but rather unfortunate souls struggling with some brain biochemical imbalances.  And most of the time, misbehavior, is just what it seems: acting-up.  And acting-up is definitely not acting-out.

Unless a person is suffering from a brain disorder that prevents them from thinking in a rational way and conforming their conduct to acceptable standards, their behavior is likely to be both purposeful (i.e. directed toward a goal) and intentional (i.e. fully conscious and deliberate). And most of the time, when folks act badly, as irrational as their behavior might seem on some level, these bad actors know what they are doing and why.  It’s important to remember this and the difference between acting up and acting out.  Why?  Because when people make the erroneous assumption that their behaviorally dysfunctional relationship partner simply mustn’t realize what they’re doing, they inevitably not only “enable” the misbehavior but also fail to take the kind of action that would empower them and hold the bad actor to account.

Last week I mentioned the “industry” that’s developed around various kinds of behavioral “addictions” (see: (Addict or Malevolent Abuser?). And in reviewing the material that frequently accompanies these types of interventions over the years it’s common to hear therapists talk about the “denial” their patients have to overcome before “uncovering” the dynamics associated with their problematic “acting-out” and eventually “recover.” Such programs buy into a model and a perspective that’s often seriously divorced from the reality of the situation.  And just as proponents of these models sometimes misconstrue the true nature of their clients’ so-called “acting out,” they also sometimes make unwarranted assumptions about the presence and influence of “denial” (another commonly misunderstood and misused term talked about in another post) in their problems.  It’s bad enough that such erroneous perspectives can unnecessarily prolong and undermine the potential efficacy of treatment.   Unfortunately, they can also cause the victim of the bad actor’s behavior to suffer even more (I’ll have more about this in another post).

Words have meanings.  And having information is also empowering.  But having incorrect information and both misunderstanding and misusing important terms always works to one’s detriment.  One of the reasons I wrote In Sheep’s Clothing was to clear up misconceptions about manipulative behavior (including the difference between “passive” and “covert” aggression). In the coming weeks we’ll be looking at other concepts and terms that are, unfortunately, frequently ladled with misunderstanding.  And I invite the readers to pose as many questions as they can think of in the discussion forums about concept and terms they’ve either had a hard time comprehending or accepting.

Sunday night’s Character Matters program (7 pm Eastern, 6 pm Central) will focus on the “new discipline,” its shortcomings, and its possible role in the increase in episodes of folks “going postal.”

47 thoughts on ““Acting Out” and other Commonly Misused Psychology Terms

  1. It’s a shame that In Sheep’s Clothing isn’t required reading. In this day and age, people are too touchy-feely for their own good, and go out of their way to extend kindness, patience and understanding to those who would just as soon chomp your kind hand right off.

    The difference between a garden variety narcissist and a serial killer? Socio-economic upbringing. Period. They would kill you in a heartbeat if it were expedient for them to do so. They may be swayed by something, but it wouldn’t be human decency, conscience or a sense of right and wrong.

    The public at large gets the depravity of a serial killer, but barring that they’re just some poor schmuck with issues. Makes them all sitting ducks if you ask me.

    1. Wait a minute Einstien………..where are you going here? 🙂
      Socio-economic up bring? I am really not following you. I do believe that upbringing changes the dynamics between a “garden variety narcissist and a serial killer” and can up the ante, but not in the way I’m understanding you here?
      Could you explain more?
      Also, the reason that the public extends kindness, patience and understanding to them is because they can’t see behind the mask until they are involved with them on a personal level. The more removed you are from anyone, emotionally, financially, etc, the less likely you will see the real person because you really have no reason to even look very closely. You might notice something but tend to just dismiss it because it poses no direct concern to you and unless this person has already targeted you for some agenda known only to them, their “issues/ disorders” will never impact you.

      1. I had read it in an article once. The guy said the only thing that separates a CD who kills from one that doesn’t is his background, current social standing….what ‘group’ he’s trying to impress. I think the point was that there’s no difference in attitude among them, there’s only societal expectations.

        My point is that people in general understand the obvious evilness when it comes to killers, but want to give everybody else on the planet the benefit of neurotic doubt.

        And yes….by the time you realize it, you’ve been there, done that. I think it’s incredibly sad that we were all so naive.

        1. I think we should take back giving people the benefit of the doubt and reclaim it as a good trait. I want to believe those are good traits in us. They just need to be upgraded, so to speak. I think it was good that you were trusting as we could not exist as a society without it. I think we developed a pattern of picking the most untrustworthy people, which can be changed.
          Maybe their are steps, similar to grieving, that people who have encountered CD people go through. I know one was the belief no one was trustworthy – black/white. Opposite of being naive. Even in the CD people I know, there are areas of trustworthiness. In my kids, what I am changing is verbally explaining over and over why they can’t do something – broke my rule – and when they can have it back – show they are trustworthy.
          Until my one child can process that his privileges were taken away because of his actions (dealing with computer), taking responsibility, and not some mean mom overreacting, he will not get it back, all privileges. Also, a young person is different in my book as they are still learning and why I wouldn’t call my son a CD, yet.

        2. Thanks for the explanation Einstien. I personally think that once you are in the group that kills people, be it a serial killer of a criminal, you are beyond a “CD”. A lot of Serial killers are not really even manipulative, more like opportunistic, a predator that is hungry for a meal basically. Pounce!
          I do think they know what they are doing is wrong and I do think they know what they are doing but I think something is SO tweaked, SO far gone, So deranged that they are in a sense not even human anymore.
          So here is a question for Dr. Simon…………how many serial killers have turned their lives around and changed their lives in a measurable way? I honestly believe that Spathtardx is THAT disordered………only he does not take lives, just wives and destroys them to the best of his ability.

        3. Thanks for the explanation Einstien. I personally think that once you are in the group that kills people, be it a serial killer or a criminal, you are beyond a “CD”. A lot of Serial killers are not really even manipulative, more like opportunistic, a predator that is hungry for a meal basically. Pounce!
          I do think they know what they are doing is wrong and I do think they know what they are doing but I think something is SO tweaked, SO far gone, So deranged that they are in a sense not even human anymore.
          So here is a question for Dr. Simon…………how many serial killers have turned their lives around and changed their lives in a measurable way? I honestly believe that Spathtardx is THAT disordered………only he does not take lives, just wives and destroys them to the best of his ability.

          1. Serial killers aren’t perhaps manipulative in the same sense as every-day covert aggressors, but I think serial killers can be their own level of manipulative, just like non-serial killing predators. Ted Bundy lured in women by looking suffering. Edmund Kemper lured his victims in by acting the part of a gentle giant.

            Then again, I guess some can be about as manipulative as a tiger. Still stealthy as all get-out.

          2. J, luring someone in so you can kill them doesn’t seem like manipulation to me. Maybe more like charming them. When I think of the word “manipulation” I think of it an a more long term, personal and insidious campaign kind of way.
            Just like any thing there are endless ways that anyone can do anything. There are many serial killers that just abduct their victims with no, or little, trickery involved.

  2. Mine, what I am dealing with now, is the thought that removing a stigma attached to a particular horrible behavior can/will aid in helping people receive the help needed.
    I guess I don’t know what they mean by removing stigma (take child porn as example).
    I want to compare it to mental health issues (talking about depression is good way to remove some stigma) BUT I also see how some morals our society has held as a good be replaced by “if we talk more about these deviant behaviors, everything will be ok”.

    IOW, it needs to be addressed in a specific place.

    There is just something that bothers me about removing stigma’s of some things in the guise of helping people come out and be healed. All to often, they, seriously deviant behavior, becomes accepted new norm – they prefer X so should be allowed to do it…

    I am not sure if that is the type of question/example you were looking for but it is something bothering me.

  3. Paranoia used in place of validating someone’s concerns, etc, but labeling them as irrational when they question something that is out of the norm, rational.

    I think people use paranoia incorrectly.

    1. Yes, Hopey, that’s definitely true.

      Someone, who’s suffered abuse, can be extremely wary lest they get hurt and abused again. That mistrust is understandable. A person doesn’t know who to trust, if they can trust anyone.

      Could paranoia be linked to the concept of reactive aggression in minds of many? You know, a person suspects/anticipates others are out to get them and gets ready to strike back. I’ve gotten the impression the word “paranoia” is used to describe that, but I don’t know how accurate that is.

      I once linked here an article from the website Heartless Bitches, listing all manner of red flags that a dating partner is not someone to get involved with any further. One red flag is “fighting a good fight” -mentality, always compulsively finding something that indicates there’s something to go against, twisting all facts to support “bravely fighting against a conspiracy” -delusion or something similar. I think that says it succintly that true paranoia has that “fight a good fight” -mentality as an essential part. It makes sense.

      1. Yes. It seems to me, I hope to be corrected if wrong, that it is a very small and specific category but people do use it too broadly. Or, I have seen it thrown around, in media and esp comments that so-n-so must be paranoid because they brought X to someone’s attention or just the fact they have a disagreement with the culture!

        For example, parents who may have a problem with the way sex ed is taught in some public schools or Common Core Curriculum. Those are two hot topics on blogs that I read. Some well written concerns about both, concerns how it will affect children, etc, have been labeled as paranoid. I guess it is easier to say, YOU MUST BE PARANOID, than actually stating you disagree with their idea and why or, gasp, see their concern and want to change it.

      2. Do people say that “levels of paranoia” are high in so-and-so aread when “levels of mistrust” or “levels of reactive aggression” would be more appropriate?

    2. Sorry, pressed Sumbit before I realized my mistake. I recall someone else here also posted the same HB -link before me.

  4. I wish people would say say someone is misbehaving. Easier to understand than “acting up” which may confuse folks.

  5. Here’s a bunch of synonyms for misbehave:
    act up
    fool around
    trespass
    deviate
    fail
    misconduct
    offend
    roughhouse

    sin
    transgress
    be at fault
    be bad
    be dissolute
    be guilty
    be immoral
    be indecorous

    be insubordinate
    be mischievous
    be out of line
    be out of order
    be reprehensible
    bend the law
    carry on
    cut up

    do evil
    do wrong
    get into mischief
    go astray
    go wrong
    make trouble
    sow wild oats
    take a wrong turn

  6. Pedophile/Pedophilia would be another one.
    In the media, it is not uncommon for them to use it as meaning abuse of anyone under 18, or if in another country, insert whatever the age they consider this.

    1. “Disorderly Conduct” is what Spathtard’s Domestic Violence got reduced to but only because he went through a program. Of course the details were never disclosed to me…………….

  7. I think Dr. Simon need an Inigo Montoya Monday or something (From The Princess Bride).
    His quote from the movie, after Vizzini’s answer to everything was “inconceivable!”, he responded, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
    I didn’t realize Acting Out was a specific term in Psychology to describe someone doing something, unconsciously, to deal with something they don’t like/hate.
    I am sure there are a lot more we use in society that isn’t correct.

  8. It’s just an excuse…really the covert aggressive person or dsturbed character must really think we’re
    stupid. I actually thought something myself like this. I was in a coffe shop with this covert
    aggressive man and he was looking at all the women coming in as if he had never seen anything like
    It. It was a very ordinary thing. I’ve had a considerate amount of dating experience and I
    kept looking at him like tell me what’s going on and he kept looking around at the women coming in
    and had a look like he had never seen anything in his life like that before even though in our
    business we encounter very attractive women all the time. Later I thought that maybe I had said
    something about an ex and he was jealous so that was his defense to make me jealous but I
    later learned it was really a method of triangulation. I never took the bait of getting jealous because
    I did feel an undercurrent that something wasn’t as it seemed. I’m not talking about a man looking
    or glancing at an attractive woman. .I know the difference. This story sounds so ridiculous but it happened
    at different times with different twist and then lo there is a name Triangulation.
    When something doesn’t feel right it isn’t. The nIce dinners at wonderful places were what I came to
    realize we’re dinner with the waitress, his attention was all on them. I might add this was a man
    claiming to be totally smitten with me. I’m still trying to get away from him..he’s in my business so I have to keep it on the nice. I don’t have evidence but feel he may be a stalker ..some unexplained things
    have occurred. This man has a huge ego and for the life of me could never figure out why other than
    some success in business but he’s rough and abrasive but can pretend to be a “giver” (his words). I’m very,much afraid of him and trying to keep away but he makes it difficult. He’s always conjuring up something to call me about. All I want is for him to go away.
    You can’t use normal psycology for these types..Looking at all the women as a reaction to something I may have said..NO

  9. J, you state, “I’m very much afraid of him” and of course, the reality you are in the same industry and may indeed have to interact with him leaves me thinking you need to come up with a specific plan for protecting yourself. Typically, Targets/Victims who are intimidated who don’t have a well-conceived, workable and realistic Plan end up endlessly placating, hoping against hope the CD will find another Target and essentially giving away their own personal agency. Targets/Victims tend to engage in somewhat magical thinking as their fear ramps up. Your reference to possible Stalking behavior is another huge indicator he’s mind-f****** you and keeping your anxiety level elevated which further impedes your ability to conceive and implement a realistic Plan.
    Since the only Control you have in this situation (or any actually) is YOU, what specifically can you do NOW to limit his ability to contact you? Your concern with keeping it “on the nice” is a huge vulnerability, IMO and certainly needs to be addressed as well. Are you continuing to meet with him for purely “social” reasons, ex: going out for drinks/dinner etc. that are NOT clearly work related? I mention this only because sending mixed messages (of which “trying to do it on the nice”) is a common response are more deleterious than helpful. Please be as specific as possible: The more ownership of your options vs. your vulnerabilities (fears/concerns etc.) the less helpless you’ll feel and actually BE. HOW exactly is he “making it difficult” for you to “get away?” What Boundaries is he able to push with you-another source of vulnerability. When CDs find out what “works” with a particular Target, they’ll work it to death, ex: Perhaps your need to be seen as “nice?” “He’s always conjuring up something to call me about.” Plan Response: Screen all calls. If it’s him or unknown, they go to your VM.
    Thoughts? Feelings? Experiences? Anyone? Thanks.

  10. Hi Tundra, Thank you for responding. I’ve come a long way since reading in Sheeps Clothing. I
    have made my contact with this covert aggressive man as minimally as possible. When I first made it known to him that he should not call me everyday and that maybe once every two weeks would be ok, but anything more makes me very uncomfortable….a few hours later I started getting all these unknown calls…blocked calls.. ect. ..also calls from area codes where I’ve never known any one. Some trivial things happened around my house that were unexplained. Not anything that seems worthy to tell the
    police. Also he started calling my best friend. This man tried to appear so nice but I was never taken
    In . We are in the same business and he is very aggressive. He is successful but does not have the
    artistic abilities and so he learns from others then with his aggression takes it to a $ higher level.
    I have never answered one of those strange calls and they have stopped. His calls are less frequent
    and I don’t respond to most of them unless I know it is something valid.
    My main concern is vandalism to my property when I’m away for long periods. As for slander, smear
    campaigns and turning people against me I’m prepared to ignore it and keep on going..what else? Any
    tips welcome. Yes I am afraid of him and that’s why I’m steering away. There is calm at the moment
    but then he calls and I stretch it out to return his call and sometimes I don’t. Also he can’t leave a message my voice mail is conveniently filled up.
    Another concern is how dangerous can these men be?..I’ve read that your not allowed to reject them.
    I have been to the DV and was advised to change all my locks just in case so I did.

    1. Jenny……GOOD thinking! I have EVERY text message he ever sent me saved like that. I doubt most people would think someone (us) would be saving texts like this.

      1. by the way……be sure to back up your phone screen shots to a computer and then to an external hard drive kept somewhere safe. I did loose a few things I had wanted to keep because I didn’t do that……learned the hard way but prior to this mess. If this guy EVER tried to harm me he would be done because I have taken all precautions to see that he would be busted. I would at LEAST inform the authorities of the situation. You do not have to file a report at this time unless you want to but you can ask them to make note of it, his name, etc.

    2. Sounds very good! A few more thoughts:
      -Vandalism to Your Home: A Security System is a great investment. There are many, many different types, some of which you can easily install yourself, some of which you need to have installed. Perhaps you can arrange to meet with a few different security firms in your area to get some idea of what’s available, costs etc. Minimally, you can install sensor flood lights or purchase them and have an electrician install them. Anything that “lights up” your residence is a deterrent. Can Sensor Lighting be defeated? Of course. But it’s a start. There are also Apps you can use to monitor your home from a distance via your phone/internet.
      -Personal Risk Analysis: I don’t think any of us are really adept at determining/managing risk when it involves us personally regardless of our background, education, experience. I brought my documentary evidence to a professional Risk Analysis Firm for a Forensic Review. It was an *excellent* investment: These people do nothing BUT Personal Security/Safety and can formulate an objective analysis as well as advise you what you can do to limit your risk. No one can “100% Guarantee” your safety but they can help you in very practical ways. My other concern is he may have been in your residence already-you mentioned some strange things “happening around (your) home” and then changing your locks. You may need a security professional to sweep your home and electronics. (ex: I found out later my phone was tapped.) Please consider engaging their services. You’re not “over-reacting,” you’re being pro-active.

      Ramping Up The Abuse/Increasing Contact is a very typical response from CD individuals. *ANY* contact with you, negative or positive is affirming to them in that from their POV you’re still engaging with them. Calling friends, family members, colleagues, neighbors etc. (even if they’ve never met them) is another indicator you’re dealing with a CD individual. You’re right: There’s really not a whole lot you can do about a Smear Campaign or their attempts to Recruit Others to “Their” Side.
      Here’s two other CD maneuvers you may encounter: In Person Ambushes, i.e., Showing up unexpectedly at your home or place of employment or some other public place they know you frequent is not uncommon as they increase their attempts to engage you. You will need a plan for this as well. Sending unwanted Gifts etc. to your home/place of Employment is IMO best met with absolute silence from your end. Don’t be surprised if either of these occur: I’m not trying to increase your anxiety, but give you some other possible CD maneuvers you may need to manage, OK? I do understand how deleterious Smear Campaigns can be, particularly Professionally. One of the tactical mistakes I made in terminating completely the relationship with the CD I was dealing with was in not using an attorney to send a Cease and Desist Letter. (For ~ $100. I could have saved myself endless problems.) I realize you’re attempting to limit as opposed to terminating this relationship but I’m not certain if ultimately, this will be possible or realistic. That’s why again, I’d suggest a consult with a Risk Analysis Firm.
      Ultimately, the people who do know you and your Character will not respond to the CD’s attempts to engage them and will not believe their characterizations of you. The others? These are not people you want to have in your life in any capacity or if they are due to Professional considerations? At very “Arms’s Length” from you, not in your immediate, intimate circle. This CD is *not* treating you as a Professional Colleague-let’s be very clear about that, OK?
      A CD will NEVER accept a “No” or your attempts to Limit Contact no matter how directly, how politely, (or rudely) or how clear you are: This is all about Power and Control. As Dr. Simon has repeatedly stated it’s about “Position, Position, Position.” (I call this “The Dr. S Mantra.”) Being pro-active, documenting *everything* as other commenters have suggested, securing the professional advice and services regarding your unique situation is not only a Peace of Mind Issue, it may very well save your life. Many firms will offer free initial consultations which allow you to “audition” them and compare prices, services and your comfort level with them. The average adult does not frighten easily nor do they express concerns for their safety. Your concerns are IMO warranted: Please act on them. Best wishes!

      1. Also….in addition to adequate liguting at night, BOTH flood lights that activate at dark and motion detector activated, a half way decent motion camera if you really think he may be behind the odd things happening around your place. To be able to prove who it is might be invaluable. but it has to be a decent one and not one of those grainy image ones.

    3. Sounds very good! A few more thoughts:
      -Vandalism to Your Home: A Security System is a great investment. There are many, many different types, some of which you can easily install yourself, some of which you need to have installed. Perhaps you can arrange to meet with a few different security firms in your area to get some idea of what’s available, costs etc. Minimally, you can install sensor flood lights or purchase them and have an electrician install them. Anything that “lights up” your residence is a deterrent. Can Sensor Lighting be defeated? Of course. But it’s a start. There are also Apps you can use to monitor your home from a distance via your phone/internet.
      -Personal Risk Analysis: I don’t think any of us are really adept at determining/managing risk when it involves us personally regardless of our background, education, experience. I brought my documentary evidence to a professional Risk Analysis Firm for a Forensic Review. It was an *excellent* investment: These people do nothing BUT Personal Security/Safety and can formulate an objective analysis as well as advise you what you can do to limit your risk. No one can “100% Guarantee” your safety but they can help you in very practical ways. My other concern is he may have been in your residence already-you mentioned some strange things “happening around (your) home” and then changing your locks. You may need a security professional to sweep your home and electronics. (ex: I found out later my phone was tapped.) Please consider engaging their services. You’re not “over-reacting,” you’re being pro-active.

      Ramping Up The Abuse/Increasing Contact is a very typical response from CD individuals. *ANY* contact with you, negative or positive is affirming to them in that from their POV you’re still engaging with them. Calling friends, family members, colleagues, neighbors etc. (even if they’ve never met them) is another indicator you’re dealing with a CD individual. You’re right: There’s really not a whole lot you can do about a Smear Campaign or their attempts to Recruit Others to “Their” Side.
      Here’s two other CD maneuvers you may encounter: In Person Ambushes, i.e., Showing up unexpectedly at your home or place of employment or some other public place they know you frequent is not uncommon as they increase their attempts to engage you. You will need a plan for this as well. Sending unwanted Gifts etc. to your home/place of Employment is IMO best met with absolute silence from your end. Don’t be surprised if either of these occur: I’m not trying to increase your anxiety, but give you some other possible CD maneuvers you may need to manage, OK? I do understand how deleterious Smear Campaigns can be, particularly Professionally. One of the tactical mistakes I made in terminating completely the relationship with the CD I was dealing with was in not using an attorney to send a Cease and Desist Letter. (For ~ $100. I could have saved myself endless problems.) I realize you’re attempting to limit as opposed to terminating this relationship but I’m not certain if ultimately, this will be possible or realistic. That’s why again, I’d suggest a consult with a Risk Analysis Firm.
      Ultimately, the people who do know you and your Character will not respond to the CD’s attempts to engage them and will not believe their characterizations of you. The others? These are not people you want to have in your life in any capacity or if they are due to Professional considerations? At very “Arms’s Length” from you, not in your immediate, intimate circle. This CD is *not* treating you as a Professional Colleague-let’s be very clear about that, OK?
      A CD will NEVER accept a “No” or your attempts to Limit Contact no matter how directly, how politely, (or rudely) or how clear you are: This is all about Power and Control. As Dr. Simon has repeatedly stated it’s about “Position, Position, Position.” (I call this “The Dr. S Mantra.”) Being pro-active, documenting *everything* as other commenters have suggested, securing the professional advice and services regarding your unique situation is not only a Peace of Mind Issue, it may very well save your life. Many firms will offer free initial consultations which allow you to “audition” them and compare prices, services and your comfort level with them. The average adult does not frighten easily nor do they express concerns for their safety. Your concerns are IMO warranted: Please act on them. Best wishes!

  11. As I read this and the man continuing to wash his hands as a way of releasing his inner emotional distress or loathing of himself for thinking such bad thoughts…is that much the same as say self harming to release emotional distress? Or that this same distress eventually turns inward causing depression or other mood disorders?

  12. Without calling to let me know, my Dad drove over 600 miles for what I thought was a surprise visit, and I was delightedly surprised. We sat on my couch talking. I was grinning from ear to ear to see him, hear his voice in person and all the things that made my Dad, Dad.
    When he put his hand in the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small gun, I was very surprised and no question did I have to ask because it was on my face.
    I’d mentioned very little but turned out it was enough for him. He was from Tennessee and could see the Smokey Mountains from his home. He enjoyed dancing, we both did, and danced together since I was a child to songs from Frank Sinatra, Sachmo, and great other singers. He looked a lot like Clint Eastwood so he was a head turner to women of all ages. He was a gentleman, and loved to joke. But this was no joke. He wasn’t a “mountain man” but knew how easy that one wrong move could bring serious harm, or worse.
    He sensed I was in harms way and although I knew it was possible, I wasn’t afraid. I think that was another reason he brought a gun. That he was concerned I wasn’t afraid or savvy enough to be prepared to defend my life.
    Where I lived there were no stalking laws, yet. No laws for that matter, that could help me. I called the police every time. Because it was my former spouse and his wife, they didn’t take me serious. “Just a little do-mes-tic problem, little lady. Yu’all will be fine. Besides no-thing will happen ’cause you are too purty.” A wink, tip of their cap and they would leave. But I insisted they write up a report.
    I knew I had to create a paper trail. Other than photographs I took discreetly from inside, (I sensed if they saw me with a camera, it would incite their craziness) and other things I could not prove they were the perps. The officers politely said as far as they knew, I was the perp trying to hurt THEM!
    I knew my former spouse was a sore loser. So I stopped playing cards or any games with him. He lied, was always “innocent.” Never accepted responsibility and justified, justified justified.
    If I would have walked in our bedroom and caught him in bed with another women, he would have tried his best to make me think I was crazy. Stupidly I got pregnant when 17 years old.
    I had a shotgun wedding even though I begged, pleaded and cried to my mother to not force me to marry him. Thirty eight years later my son took his life with a shotgun. The shock almost killed me. Six months after he died, my mother told me I had “grieved enough.” I haven’t spoken to her since.
    As for his wife, I knew she was a dangerous manipulator. And more. But I’m not a psychologist and haven’t read the book, yet. I just learned about it today.
    To make my Dad feel better I accepted the gun. Dropped it in my purse (unloaded) but said a prayer before I did. Then forgot it.
    They did get arrested. It wasn’t what I wanted, I wanted us to live in peace. I wanted him to be a father. I wanted his wife to be a kind and gentle stepmom. And wanted all these things for my children’s sake.
    I learned that I was not the only person she had caused a lot of turmoil.
    My children NEVER knew about the gun my Dad bought for me. The detective said the shotgun my son used was so old, rusted and rickety, they didn’t know how it managed to fire. Serial number filed off long ago and value was $10.00 on the street. He knew nothing about firearms.
    The home I raised my children in is middle to upper middle class. I chose it because it has the best school system of all other school system in the area. The neighborhood is quiet, quaint, and lovely. We have seven majestic pine trees in our yard that stand 40 feet tall.
    Several months before my son died we were talking about his childhood sans the troubled times. He started talking about things I did I had forgotten. “Mom, everything you did for us was wonderful. You know why?” I shook my tired head. “Because of all the love you put in everything.”
    It was the greatest compliment I ever received in life. God, how I miss him!
    So you take care of your self. That man is nuts. And you can bet you’re not the first woman he’s fixated upon. Do not show fear. Stand tall. And if you can, go up to HIGHER management and make them aware. Get a dog. Take it with you if you can. If not, you can board it.
    Or set out large water and food dishes for large dog. Get recordings of large dogs barking and growling. Take photos if you can. Watch your back. Take different routes.
    And…call out for angels and affirm they are protecting you from all evil and harm. There are a lot more angels than there are people. LOL (I am not religious)
    With Sincere Regards,
    Linda

  13. Jenny — all the suggestions listed by other people sound very good. To which I would add the 3 D’s: Document, Document, Document. Start a journal or notebook, list all your concerns, list anything odd (like suspicious happenings on your property), date all entries, etc. Pray for God’s guidance and protection. Yes, some of the things that have happened to you sound innocuous when mentioned one by one, but as part of the larger picture, they show this man is bad news. Best wishes from Elva

  14. Thank you all for your feedback and especially Dr Simon for writing about the covert aggressive in Sheeps Clothing. I had always suspected something wasn’t quite right. This man grew weary of pretending to be Mr nice guy when he wasn’t getting anywhere except friendship . Then one day he as been said let the mask slip and it scared the day lights out of me. It was so cold and vile.
    That was it for me I didn’t want him in my life in anyway. He had a beautiful wife that died of cancer and
    have since gained knowledge that he was seeing a women when she was dying.
    He had pictures all over his home of her and presented himself as grieving (tears and all). This
    was 5 yrs later after her death and had several relationships since. Something just didn’t ring true about the grieving. I have often wondered if being married to someone like him cause the immune
    system to bring on cancer. It was an 8 yr marriage 4 yrs into it she was diagnosed.
    It’s unfortunate that he is in my business and some what respected for his success.

  15. Jenny,
    “Something just didn’t ring true about the grieving. I have often wondered if being married to someone like him cause the immune
    system to bring on cancer. It was an 8 yr marriage 4 yrs into it she was diagnosed.”

    ABSOLUTELY! Stress of any sort is so destructive to the whole body, then add to that abuse, mental and emotional turmoil……sure. I got shingles when I was with Spathtardx, became constipated, depressed…….. my body H A T E D him and what he was doing to me but my brain didn’t understand yet and my heart was hooked.

    1. Aiye! The “Sympathy” Hook and The Home As A Shrine to the “Dearly Departed Spouse” 5 yrs. later. FWIW, I agree with Puddle (above) in terms of the potential for deleterious physical effects secondary to long term engagement with a CD. However, from your description this guy is shamelessly, intentionally leveraging his “loss” to prop up his “Selfless Good Guy” Appearance and manipulating your/our natural sympathy for the bereaved. We all grieve in our own time and in our own way. There are vestiges of personal loss that will remain with us until our own deaths. And there are also Professionals who deal with Complicated Grief/Bereavement if in fact this is his experience-and frankly, I sincerely doubt it.
      Please don’t confuse “somewhat respected for his success” with self-promotion or intimidation of others on his part. He may also have been using *your* success/professional contacts as a way to Level the Playing Field (he views you as competition or a “Leg Up”) or manipulation of the Halo Effect generated by association with you. My sense is he’s also a name-dropping, status seeking bully. He’s not “all THAT” successful or he wouldn’t endeavor to convince others (possibly including you) he indeed is even “somewhat respected.” The more you disclose, the more he appears to be a Legend in His Own (Blind) Mind as well as a Predator.

  16. Even Ask Amy columnist Amy Dickinson seems to confuse acting out for acting up. See the first half of the May 7, 2014 Ask Amy column, below:

    Teen guest needs supervision, by Amy Dickinson

    Dear Amy: Recently, I had a relative’s teenage daughter come stay with me over a holiday weekend. She had been having issues with her parents and at school, so I thought this would give everyone a rest and a breather.

    The teen is close to my older kids, and I thought they might be able to mentor and nurture her.

    The entire weekend reminded me of the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

    I haven’t had that much drama in my house since my own daughter was a teenager — and to top it off, my own kids gave her alcohol when I wasn’t with them. I was truly disappointed when I found out.

    I thought for sure that I had taught them to know better! When I tried to talk to them about it, they actually tried to defend it! They believe that it was better for them to buy her liquor and let her drink it supervised, rather than with strangers. Seriously?

    It took someone coming into my house and staying for two days to upset the balance of the household.

    Now I’m at a loss to explain to my two adult (ages 24 and 22) children why this was a colossal mess-up. They are adults and should know better, right? Can you please give me some guidance? — Horrified

    Dear Horrified: Your heart was in the right place, but your hubris seems to have overwhelmed your judgment.

    You cannot take a troubled teenager into your house for a long weekend and “fix” her. You should only expect her to behave the way she usually behaves, only in a new environment that offers new ways to act out and new co-conspirators with whom to behave badly.

    You should also not have left her under the supervision of two young adults who have no parenting experience and questionable judgment.

    You don’t need to continue to explain to your kids why what they did was wrong; unfortunately, many older adults also feel as they do about “supervised” underage drinking. This is why parents of teenagers need to be aware of the values and judgment of all of the people (parents as well as kids) their teens hang with.

    * * *

    1. she didn’t get it too wrong in my opinion. She did cal it behaving badly which she was. It also sounds like she got scapegoated by “Horrified’s” daughters possibly…….maybe they were involved more than she realizes.

      1. and seriously???????? your have to explain this to a 24 and 22 year old?? Something is rotten in the state of Denmark if you ask me!

      2. Yes, she got it mainly right, but she also made the all too common mistake of using the term act-out synonymously with behaving badly (even within the same sentence!), which is just another example of how confusion regarding this term is perpetuated.

  17. Dr Simon,
    Pls refresh my memory with the term Passive Aggresive and would you say that it is as damaging
    as a Covert Aggressive DC. I do know the difference but is it as damaging? I did have a relationship
    with someone whom had a lot of passive aggressive behavior and according to my therapist was most
    likely a narcissist. I don’t feel he was as damaging the covert aggressive. He would take advantage
    of women who were willing to give but I don’t think he set out to destroy.

    Also to Lin I am very sorry about your son. Life is so difficult and the stories one hears are heartbreaking its amazing what we can endure. You are a survivor and I feel this is a very good site for guidance and
    support.

    1. Jenny, without knowing more detail, it’s hard to give an accurate answer. That said, it’s highly likely that the term “passive-aggressive” was inappropriately used to describe the behavior of concern. Even therapists often confuse passive with covert aggression. Passive-aggressive behavior is frustrating to deal with but is generally not as damaging, and the coping style of passive-aggressive personalities is mostly a self-defeating coping style. So, generally speaking, when someone is passive-aggressive in style, they hurt themselves more than they hurt others even though they frustrate others a lot. Although as I mentioned earlier it’s hard to be sure, my best bet is that you’re dealing with just another example of a therapist applying the passive-aggressive term incorrectly. This is unfortunately so common it’s no longer funny. And with respect to the kind of damage done, remember character disturbance and character styles both exist along a continuum. So someone could have some degree of character disturbance (perhaps even with narcissistic and covert-aggressive traits in their character) and not display a covert-aggressive style that’s as virulent as the archetypal examples I give in my books.

  18. I have to say Dr. Simon I wish there were more professionals with your understanding of CD individuals. Your site is the most accurate that I found and yes I have read your books and given them to others. Question is it good to give your book to the CD or does it just make them smarter. I went through years of thinking it was me, when in fact it was him.

    When I left I practiced NC even though he stalked me and tried to find me. As I keep reading the pathology of these individuals it just kept getting scarier and where do you draw the line for when this individual will cross the line. So far I have read and believe that most NP are just big mouths and push people to there limit because normal people just don’t act so aggressively.

    At times I have a hard time determining what is good judgement because it’s hard to view ones own emotional situation. Since my divorce and my X said he did not want a divorce,( I do have a DVI in place with all firearms turned in.) has bought firearms. My X refuses to use a wireless telephone and says that I am not his real wife nor is his mother his real mother. He says we are impostors. When we go back to court he says the judge is an impostor. I don’t know whether he is playing a game or is in and out of reality. I don’t whether to take back the home we owned he received another one if he is so double minded he would become violent. Where is the breaking point. Most of his friends have deserted him and told him he needs mental health care.

    He is acting so chaotic, the relatives he has now helping him are basically helping him move to get his things. The relatives are stopping him from hitting bottom. My X can be very ruthless, I just don’t know if he is all talk and no action. He is very good at playing the victim and next going into a rage. My X never drank, smoked, did drugs, gambling, womanized. He had many good traits. I do realize where his anger comes from. I just feel so lost.

    Thanks to all this is a great site.

    1. Jeeez Jaycee……….sounds to me like to the best of your ability you might want to consider dropping him like a hot rock and doing your best to get as far away from him as possible??

  19. Can someone of good or even exemplary character become unscrupulous, remorseless, perhaps even depraved, without any help of complicated manipulative maneuvers, a poor character messing with their head, cult mind control, anything like that?

    1. Spontaneously Spathagenized? Don’t you think ANYTHING is possible? I do! But my guess would be no…….not if someone has a truly sound character as opposed to wearing a mask of charm and decency to all but their victims.

    2. I could imagine it to be very hard for someone, who actually is a good character, to start crossing lines knowingly. Even if they unknowingly did and realized it, that person would likely make amends.

      I’m being theoretical here. Could person X get caught up in cognitive dissonance and keep crossing lines while keeping up an illusion that those line crossings(let’s say shoplifting or telling lies about someone they dislike) dont’ mean much? Could person X keep crossing one line after another, getting more and more okay with it, until they no longer have problems with what they before could have considered unconscionable? Could this be an actual possible real-life scenario?

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