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