Covert Behaviors Are Anything But Passive

Covert Behaviors

Covert behaviors are behaviors deliberately kept under cover. A covert actor doesn’t want you to know what he or she is really doing. If you knew, you might object or resist. You might also take steps to protect yourself. And like all aggressors, covert-aggressors want to win and to dominate. So, if you knew that’s what they were really up to, you would likely take issue with it. So they use tactics that do two things simultaneously: sway you, but keep you in the dark as to exactly how.  The tactics, of course, are actually covert behaviors, which is what makes them such effective manipulation tools.

See also, for example:

Covert Versus Passive Behaviors

For years professionals and laypersons alike have mischaracterized passive behaviors. And that includes passive-aggressive behaviors. Too many times, folks have confused passive and covert behaviors with one another.

The passive dimension of behavior is all about what a person doesn’t do. And not doing certain things in life can have significant consequences both for onself and one’s relationships. For example, some folks become excessively emotionally dependent because they simply don’t engage in enough self-assertion. In their excessive passivity, they don’t put themselves out there often enough. And in failing to do that they deny themselves the chance to learn important lessons and acquire important skills. A person lacking self-care skill is predisposed to overly rely on (i.e. be dependent upon) others in relationships.

Passive-aggression is a curious behavior. By definition, it’s about what a person doesn’t do that has an aggressive character to it. It can be expressed as simply as not speaking to someone because you’re hurt or angry. Or it can be manifested by not so accidentally failing to do something requested multiple times. And such behavior can indeed be a covert way to get back at someone. But passive behavior itself is not synonymous with covert behavior.

Covert behaviors are something else entirely. A covert behavior is something a person actively and purposely engages in. So there’s nothing passive about such behaviors. Covert operators actively plot and plan while concealing what they’re really up to. Keeping their intentions and purposes under cover helps assure their success. Operators in espionage world know this well.

Manipulation and Covert-Aggression

Covert aggression is active (as opposed to passive) aggression. It’s deliberately and actively fighting for advantage and/or dominance. But it’s fighting that’s slickly cloaked and/or disguised. That makes it an effective manipulation strategy. Moreover, habitual covert aggressors acquire a wide range of covert behaviors designed to manipulate and control others. And they can be ever so subtle in their machinations. While in your gut you may suspect they might just playing you, it’s often hard to objectively prove it. And that invites the “feeling crazy” experience we have come to call the gaslighting effect.

See also: Covert-Aggression and the Gaslighting Effect

The way to avoid manipulaiton is to know well a covert-aggressors typical tactics and not let them sway you. It’s also the way to overcome the gaslighting effect.


Next week I’ll post the date for the first live feed of Character Matters on my professional Facebook page. I’ll also provide instructions for how to interact with me live, ask questions, and have a discussion. Click on the flink that follows to access this week’s Character Matters podcast or find it in the Archives.

You can also access my interview with Pi Venus Winslow by following this link to the Trauma Summit.

10 thoughts on “Covert Behaviors Are Anything But Passive

  1. “Covert aggression is active (as opposed to passive) aggression. It’s deliberately and actively fighting for advantage and/or dominance. But it’s fighting that’s slickly cloaked and/or disguised. ”

    I have experienced this. They use sweet words but will not take “no” for an answer. They are insistent and will keep coming back to you about the same matter repeatedly until you give in. They do not respect your personal choices and boundaries to decline their demands.

  2. E,
    And when we do say “no” it is a challenge that a covert aggressor will take up like a bull facing a red flag.

    I’d like to add, this isn’t exclusive to people who are couples, or exes, co-parents or friends or with their children even. This can happen in every relationship with covert aggressive people.
    We said “no” to our DIL with a very logical and detailed reason. Our son even said “they’ve done enough.” From that day on we were covertly removed from our son’s life. Her made-up slights convinced him that a 50 year old relationship with us was not worth keeping.

    She has changed his perception of everyone in his life, not just us but everyone. She is quiet, agreeable, sarcastic, intelligent, unassuming, cold, shows zero empathy, envious, money and status driven, and pleasant as all hell to those who are not aware of her tactics. She would be nice to me in the presence of the people she smeared me to, so I’d look like the nut job, with my startled face and wide eyes after receiving a compliment from her, or when she’d show us affection. She was an ice queen in every way to us unless she was watched by outsiders.

    She displayed the most covert, bizarre and creepy behaviour I have ever witnessed but so very effective. We have not seen or spoken to our son in over 3 years. We have never regretted walking away to save ourselves.

  3. Hi D.

    I heard a counselor on Youtube talk about a kind of person who say or do something nasty to you in private to get you to react publicly.

    For example, she would say something to upset you right before guests start showing up at a party. And when the guests arrive, she acts all nice, and since the guests do not know the “inside story,” they wonder why you seem to be upset and are acting “unfriendly.”

    And when she smears you to guests saying that you have mood issues, are over-reactive, etc. her lie seems believable to them.

    When such person is within your inner- circle, it’s hard to cut off the relationship, but sometimes this becomes necessary in order to live your life in peace.

  4. E,
    The type you described pretty much sums up our experience but ours was more insidious. Our DIL had enjoyed a positive following in our extended family. At first our DILs focus was on me because I was the one who initially said “no” to her request, and I stood my ground. Then she made me feel isolated and I started doubting myself.
    My husband started noticing her behaviour towards me, her family didn’t even acknowledge me at their wedding, and our daughter noticed it too.

    To test a theory my husband eventually turned the focus on himself, her goal all along was to divide us and conquer. He turned an accusation towards me onto himself. The accusation they used was a deflection and a projection of their own behaviour and my husband had called them out on it. (They do not like it when you hold up a mirror.) When my husband took the blame I asked for irrefutable facts to back up their accusation towards me, my son and DIL said ”you have never ever been the problem mom, it’s always been dad.” It was such a telling moment. All along I had been disregarded by her and her family, my own son grew coolish, his friends grew distant to me, all since she came onto the scene. But my husband was treated with warmth and inclusion. It was that moment my husband’s heart went cold. We didn’t recognize or know our son anymore. He is a victim we know, but we think he might have some traits like her as well. Very few people know we are estranged. Those that know us are incredulous that we are. I can honestly say we sleep better now, we know the phone calls aren’t coming, we don’t have to try and figure out the silent treatments, and we don’t have to wonder what we did wrong either. We simply never talk about him anymore.

    1. I think you did the right thing, D.
      There is no longer a need to wonder, or try to figure out how to please a person who will never be satisfied.

  5. I’ve found there is no way the gaslighting effect can be effective if I accept that the person is a liar. The gut feeling we speak so much is actually something in the fourth dimension, that is, the spiritual one. We can’t see it but we feel it. As long as one of the two is truthful, and the truth is Yhwh, and the other one is a liar (hypocrite/narcissist) there will always be a repulsion; like magnets. When close to one another there is repulsion because there is no intimacy/comunion between light and darkness, truth and lie. So basically, as long as one person has the light of Yhwh and His Holy Spirit, because He is the Truth, the person will always be repelled in the presence of this demonic powers. They are evil spirits acting through people because they are spirit and they typically need embodiment to manifest. For example, if a demon wants to fornicate it can’t do so without a human body; so they tempt and when the person agrees is this spirits of fornication or lust acting. We can still of course oppressions directly, Yahshua Ha Mashíaj rebuke them, but these are spirits embodied in people. Eg. spirit of lie, of deception, of cruelness. Etc.

  6. Something I’ve become aware of and have worked hard to get my mind around is the subject of aggression. I have found a tendency to label someone as overt, covert or passive aggressive can create a gas lighting or perhaps a cognitive dissonance effect. I believe it’s better to category the behavior than the individual.

    My experience has taught me to recognize someone as either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. Everyone can become aggressive when feeling threatened I.e. Defensively aggressive. Offensively aggressive is a way of life, a way to get what one needs and I’ve found that an individual will choose the aggressive method that best suits their purpose even if they tend to favor one method over the other.

    So one situation may call for overt aggression in the form of intimidation and another situation may call for passive aggression by making the target of said aggression ask for the same thing multiple times. Overlying all of it is covert aggression which is the plan of aggressive strategery to get what they want without being held to account for their behavior in getting it. I think we need to be cautious in labeling so we don’t miss the other aggressive methods being employed.

  7. Hi,
    I was wondering if there was a facebook group or similar where people discuss covert aggression with no shaming. Going out of my mind.

    1. Lynn, It’s really been a positive experience here to tell my story and let others chime in and help out. Covert behaviour is extremely damaging and it creates self doubt because you are most likely being targeted, whereas other people don’t recognize it. That’s why it’s covert. This is better than Facebook in my opinion.

  8. lynn, D.

    D. I agree this site is better than FB. Dr. Simon has reference articles to read and study, and people with life experience will disclose their experiences.
    The sharing of experiences has helped me tremendously. And there is no judgment here. Opinions, but not judgements. We are all struggling with character disordered people of one form or another.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *