A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Covert aggression is not the same as passive aggression

In George Simon Jnr’s brilliant book Character Disturbance  [*affiliate link],  he talks a little about passive aggression and distinguishes it from covert aggression.  On pp. 74-5 he says:

Passive-aggression is an often misunderstood and mislabeled personality type. The official psychiatric manual doesn’t even recognize this as a personality pattern any more. . . . Unfortunately, clinicians and lay people alike erroneously use the term passive-aggressive when they’re trying to describe deliberate (active) but subtle underhanded and covert attempts to dominate, exploit, manipulate and control.

And on page 211 he says:

Most of the time I hear people use the term “passive-aggressive” or “passive aggression” what they really mean is “covert aggression.” The term “passive-aggressive” is used incorrectly to describe the subtle, hard to detect, but yet deliberate, calculating and underhanded tactics that manipulators and other disturbed characters use to intimidate, control, deceive and abuse others. That’s what covert aggression is all about. Although this kind of aggression is often subtle or concealed, there’s absolutely nothing “passive” about it. It’s very active, albeit veiled aggression.

As Simon says, laypeople and professionals have been muddled on this terminology for a long time. Here at this blog we are immensely grateful to those like George Simon Jnr who are clarifying things for us all. When we talk to friends, family and bystanders about what abusers are like, they often don’t get it. They disbelieve the victims’ reports, they discount people like myself and Jeff Crippen who proclaim repeatedly about the mentality and tactics of abusers. They see us as extremist, one-eyed, horribly biased and therefore not worth listening to. But when victims (and the few blessed bystanders who truly care for victims) discover George Simon Jnr’s work, or Lundy Bancroft’s work, or this blog, they find the veils lifting. Lifting for the first time after who knows how many years of confusion and stumbling in not merely circles but descending spirals that go to black holes of despair and nothingness. Integrity destroying black holes. Personality shattering black holes. Guilt and shame black holes. Depressive and suicidal black holes. Paralyzing black holes. (nuff of that, I’m depressing myself just trying to find words for it all!) My point is: the abuser is master at covert aggression. And most people don’t like to see that – it hurts their worldview too much. It destablizes their optimism about life and the basic decency of human nature. For, while most unregenerate people have a common decency and respect for others in the way they go about their lives (albeit they are sinners), there are some people who do not have such basic human decency. We don’t want to believe this. We don’t want to think about abusers, or the morally corrupt, or the perverts in our midst, or the wolves in sheep’s clothing (which, curiously enough, is the title of Simon’s earlier book, even though it isn’t written from an openly Christian perspective). Our culture has paid a lot of attention to overt aggression: it’s dynamic, it’s meat and potatoes for Hollywood, there is lots of drama and special effects in overt aggression to keep us enthralled. It can even be charismatic and attractive in some of its forms. But covert aggression? The slow, incremental, hard to detect, tedious and petty stuff that covert aggressors do repeatedly to their victims, stuff that is not dramatic or eye-catching because the covert aggressive doesn’t want to catch anyone’s eyes, they want to keep veiled. . . Imagining that there is intentional malice behind a person’s outwardly ‘okay’ behavior is very very hard to do. No wonder victims stay in the fog for so long. Imagining almost any other reason for the ‘trouble at home’ is easier than imagining the truth: that this person wants to confuse, confound, hurt and disable me. Wrapping our heads around that intentionality is one of the hardest things to do. And once we’ve done it, we often feel like we’ve entered an alternate universe. People around us don’t see what we see; and when we talk about what we see, they treat us as if we have three heads. Or are speaking Swahili.  (no offense to Swahili speakers!)

* Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ  gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link

 

51 Comments

  1. stillhere

    This subject is so important and one that is not confronted or considered enough. I have fears for legislation fathers rights are promoting and the wellbeing of children who are entangled in this. The fathers want their rights protected and feel they have been unjustly removed from their childrens lives so they are pushing for laws for equal parenting time. I agree with that concept

  2. stillhere

    My point is covert abuse is real and until we have ways to identify this and are willing to see it for what it is, we must protect children first. I totally agree mothers can be guilty of much the same abuses as fathers. It’s an undeniable fact that men are committing more violent crimes in our society so we must keep this in mind and try not to punish innocent fathers or children as much as possible. Covert abuse has been said to me by my psychologist, the worst abuse as it messes with the mind. I had a very tough time posting this for some reason.

    • Laurie

      But the abuser is slick and trying to pin him in his web is near impossible. But God…!

  3. Lisa

    This is exactly how my children and I have been treated……Thank You for the clarification Barbara. Have been hoping and praying for years that someone somewhere would see what is happening. You and Jeff seem to be the first of many eyes that need opening to the abuse in the church.

  4. Martin

    This is great insight about abusive behaviors from Simon’s book Barbara. Obviously, people willing to be covertly aggressive are deeply deceitful people. We can, with the surety of Scripture, speculate that such violent deceitful aggressors do not possess true saving faith in Christ (Galatians 5:19-21; 1 John 3:10; Revelation 20:27; 22:15). Too many victims are finding themselves married to this sort of unregenerate wolf in sheep’s clothing. Beyond the obvious and primary need for true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, what sort of advice does Simon give for dealing with spouses or family members who exhibit covert aggression?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Martin – I will let Barbara or maybe Megan answer your question. I just wanted to pat you on the back for reminding us all from Scripture that such people are not and cannot be genuine Christians. I really believe this is one of the gravest, gospel-denying issues in the church today. This whole matter of “well, we must assume everyone who says they are a Christian truly is” is totally against the grain of Scripture. God tells us just the opposite. He says that there are FEW who find the way. And that there are MANY who come in His name. We are to test the spirits to see if they are of God (1 John 4) because MANY deceivers have gone out. I think that a HUGE percentage of the abuse we are hearing about from Christians who have been or are the victims of it is very simply explained – it is the persecution of Christ’s people by the wicked who hate Christ. And if in fact as Scripture says, every Christian has the Spirit of God so that we have the ability to discern the spirit of truth and the spirit of error, then why is is that deceivers are being successful in their deception and victims are being labeled as the guilty ones? Perhaps the answer, which I think is obvious, is something most of the professing church simply does not want to face up to.

      • Martin

        Thanks, Jeff. One of my favorite quotes from John Calvin was related to his view of excommunication from the church, i.e. the first and primary purpose was “that God may not be insulted by the name of ‘Christians’ being given to those who lead shameful lives, as if his holy church were a combination of the wicked and abandoned. For seeing that the church is the body of Christ, she cannot be defiled by such fetid and putrid members, without bringing some disgrace on her head.” Of course he backs this up with abundant Scripture. I agree that most today would rather not face up to this reality.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Yes, great quote. Calvin would be hammered today for calling these people fetid and putrid. Hmmm…but didn’t Jesus say something to the Laodiceans like, “I will spew you out of my mouth.” Translated – “you stink, and you make me sick.” We think too highly of man and too lowly of God.

      • Laurie

        Try the Spirits, whether they be of God!

      • Desley

        “This whole matter of “well, we must assume everyone who says they are a Christian truly is” is totally against the grain of Scripture. God tells us just the opposite. He says that there are FEW who find the way. And that there are MANY who come in His name. We are to test the spirits to see if they are of God (1 John 4) because MANY deceivers have gone out.”

        This is actually quite funny because my husband doesn’t even really pretend to be a great guy at church. Him and a handful of other guys caused a huge rift in my church last year as they were undermining the church leadership and accusing them of “wanting to control everything.” The elder at the time (has since resigned due to the backlash against him) confronted the troublemakers from the pulpit. These same people then complained about what he did and tried to force his resignation for his “improper conduct” before the church. (They maintained he should not have let the congregation know that there were troublemakers in our midst.) They carried this on all year until one by one they all left the church to go somewhere else – all except my husband, who instead dropped out of church altogether until I left him. Then he sought the church to ally with him (which they did).

        My poor pastor is going through so many problems still today because of all of this. I was thinking as I was reading “A Cry For Justice” that this book just might help him in other areas as well.

        But you’re right…we don’t believe what the Lord has told us.

    • MeganC

      Martin — I have not read THIS particular George Simon book but I am working my way through “In Sheep’s Clothing” by Simon and he lists many ways to deal with the covert aggressive personality. It is lengthy . . . and I am still working through it (I am on number 17!). But, the list includes wisdom such as these points, which stuck out to me, in particular, as they are important for ME to remember:

      1. Remember that not everyone is the same (basically good). Aggressive people want to win and dominate.

      2. Accept no excuses — respect his/her right to fight hard to convince you but you will not accept the excuses.

      3. Judge Actions, not Intentions (judge the fruit)

      4. Set Personal Limits

      5. Make Direct Requests and only accept direct responses (yes or no)

      6. When confronting the aggressive behavior, keep the weight of responsibility on the aggressor.

      I can list more, if you’d like. But, both the book Barbara wrote about and this one are EXCELLENT.

      • Martin

        Thanks, Megan. Being married to an unregenerate abuser sure does take some dedication – and hard work! I think Simon is coming out with another book designed to help Christians in February. It will be interesting to get his Christian perspective as well.

      • MeganC

        So true, Martin. And, somewhere in there, George Simon admits that it is VERY DIFFICULT to live with a covert aggressive. And, I get the impression that, one almost has to treat the person with a CA personality like a child. :( (ex. “avoid hostility, stick to the task, avoid threats, take action quickly, make reasonable agreements . . . )

  5. Thank you so much for that post Barbara! I think one of the most exhausting and frustrating parts of dealing with this mentality is the need to communicate clearly what has been going on in our homes, but being so engulfed in that “fog” of confusion. The “fog” makes our credibility questionable, so we are often discounted and our concerns minimized. Often I pray for clarity in order to be able to understand what is happening now and what happened in the past. God is faithful to answer. This blog also gives words to the confusion in our lives and I am so grateful for the way it has helped me to understand my life…Thank you!

  6. Thank you so much, Barb, for posting this information. You know what’s currently going on in my life, and it seems that I’m surrounded by this. I naively assumed that once my husband was gone things would just get better. Wow! I could not have been more wrong. These types are everywhere, and they infect those whose lives they touch, spreading their “disease.” I desperately need to know how to spot this before I find myself in a vulnerable position.

  7. MeganC

    Barb . . . This is SUCH a great article you have written. I like this:

    Imagining that there is intentional malice behind a person’s outwardly ‘okay’ behavior is very very hard to do. No wonder victims stay in the fog for so long. Imagining almost any other reason for the ‘trouble at home’ is easier than imagining the truth: that this person wants to confuse, confound, hurt and disable me. Wrapping our heads around that intentionality is one of the hardest things to do.

    This was so hard for me (insert strained voice as I say “so hard”). I still struggle with it a bit, although I think I am 98% there. I see it now — and I truly have entered into that different universe. And, just this week, I have seen signs in myself that I am recognizing this covert aggression. That recognition protected me this time. I hope this understanding of covert-aggressives sinks into my very being and becomes as easy as spotting red vs. blue.

    • Leslie

      Thanks for this article. I just finished ” In Sheeps Clothing” and have Character disturbance on order. This was the most fog clearing, eye opening book for me. It all of a sudden became clear that his behavior is intentional. I feel so much clearer because of that …. And very angry. It truly is mind boggling, but makes sense of my relationship in a way nothing else has. Thank you all for continually posting insightful comments for us who are still working our way out of the fog and into Freedom.

  8. Barnabasintraining

    OK. You talked me into it. I got both books.

  9. Yikes Martin, I haven’t even finished reading Character Disturbance myself!

    But scanning the book, here’s what I can find. Bear in mind that the summary I’ve given below (taken from chapter 7) is Simon’s advice to therapists who are working with character disturbed and disordered people, not to those who encounter them in their everyday lives. I have put my summary into a block quote because it is basically Simon’s words. I’ve pulled the eyes out of what he says in chapter 7 and simply added few of connecting phrases and one comment of my own. Therefore this is not a totally verbatim quote, but it is an accurate summary of his main points in this section.

    Trying to treat a disordered character with traditional psychotherapy is like a neurologist trying to perform delicate brain surgery with a dentist’s appliances.
    Remember these important axioms:
    They already “see,” they simply “disagree.”
    How they feel is not nearly as important as how they think and act.
    Change occurs in the here-and-now. Here’s how you know you are making headway with disturbed characters: If they’re wiling to make any changes in their thinking patterns and behavior at the very moment those problematic patterns appear, and you confront or challenge them about them.
    Remember: position, position, position. Disturbed characters constantly jockey for advantage in all their encounters and the “fight” for maladaptive dominance often begins before they even enter the therapy room or engage with you. So it’s extremely important to set the “terms of engagement.”
    Endorse and enforce values, principles and standards.
    Know, honor and use the power of confrontation.
    Don’t accept anything at face value.
    Take charge and take charge quickly.

    Simon then lists frequently misused psychological terms: denial, acting out, defensive, shame, splitting, passive aggressive (that’s where I got my second quote from in this post), passivity, co-dependence, help, needs, and symptoms. [from Barb: Notice that this is laundry list of most of the psychological terms that victims and their ill-informed advisers have probably been bandying around to 'explain' the abuser's behavior. No wonder we enter an alternate universe when we understand the truth of the abusive mentality – the definitions of all these words changes. My analogy with speaking Swahili was pretty close to the mark, it seems.]

    He also lists (p. 215) Guidelines for Empowered Engagement with Disturbed Characters:
    Letting go of harmful misconceptions
    Becoming a better judge of character
    Knowing yourself
    Knowing the twisted thinking patterns and tactics of disturbed characters
    Investing energy only where you have power – choose your battles carefully; never succumb to the temptation to take on a burden belonging to someone else. Take charge of your own behavior. Set limits and expectations. Leave the burden for change where it belongs: on the person with the behavioral problem.

    And in addition, he gives these rules:
    Never accept an excuse.
    Judge actions, not intentions.
    Set limits and expectations very early on in an encounter.
    Make requests that are clear, simple and direct.
    Accept only clear, simple and direct responses.
    Stay focused on the here and now.

    P.S. Why did I write this post when I hadn’t even finished the book? Because Pepe, in another thread, had mentioned that she’d been reading about passive aggression, and I’d recently read something in Simon’s book about passive aggression that made me think I had to give Pepe the tip off, in case she was reading stuff from professionals who mis-name covert aggression as passive aggression.

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      I so needed to read this and read this comment TODAY!! In the past five days I have been sworn at, called awful names, threatened, lied to, had the kids lied to, had expected child support pulled right out from under me , threatened again then he wants grace and mercy and a compromise in his favor! NO!! I set my limits and expectations and am expecting actions or I will file with the state for wage garnishment. I am DONE with his excuses!!

    • Martin

      Thanks, Barbara! It’s a great post and that’s some great advice. Helping people recognized these unregenerate abusers can be subtle stuff. Many, many, great tips here for both identification and interaction. Glad you hadn’t finished the book – timing is everything :)

    • Anonymous

      Barb, thanks for this post. I hardly ever use the term “passive aggressive” now, unless it refers to the kinds of unconscious behaviour that Geroge Simon talks about when explaining passive agression. This is partly due to well-intentioned, misinformed advice to the ex about him being passive agressive, prompting him to pursue books on that in his attempt to prove he was changing. He would not acknowledge domestic violence but insisted he was working on his passive aggression. Another example of misinformed counsel being dangerous and misleading.

      Thanks, Megan for the list, and Barb, for expanding on it. It made me realize that I am now engaging with the ex in those terms (eg. insisting on a yes/no response only, setting the terms of engagements), only because of the gradual awareness that nothing else works. I must admit that the first time I came across such information from Dr Simon, I liked the theory side of it but thought that the practical application was a bit from the left field, particularly after devouring Cloud and Townsend, who emphasize graceful, open exchanges.

      The part that is still difficult, which I assume Dr Simon has no problems with, is doing those things without getting angry. i think that for Dr Simon, there is no need to feel powerless or helpless because he can stick to the boundaries and if the client doesn’t comply, he doesn’t have to accept the client and that’s the end of that. If the client keeps harassing him he has legal recourses.

      For me, it is hard to dictate terms without being curt or cold because he takes advantage of anything that is not a brickwall boundary. Even a statement “Just a yes or no – what is it?” isn’t heeded – he either then continues to talk rubbish, which sees me walking away or hanging up (which is rude in front of the kids), or he doesn’t respond, but glares or shakes his head, which again sees me walking away. Which means I haven’t got the answer yes or no, which means there will be more communication to come, or the kids getting messed up because we haven’t clarified.

      The only way I see an ideal solution is to not have any engagement because of the history of breaking boundaries, which is what I would do if he were not the father of my kids. But the law is adamant that there needs to be communication (about the kids, eg, medical or educational issues), and that kids need to spend time with both parents. So i guess the bottom line with survivors who still have to maintain some engagement is that we can be armed with that information, but there is no expectation that life will be any easier because we can’t control abusers’ behavior, we can only limit the impact on our lives. And that’s a hugely empowering thing :)

      • MeganC

        And that is the key right there when still having to deal with post-separation abuse .. . . we can (and have the power to) limit the impact of his/her words in our lives. It is so hard but I have to believe it can be done. He only gets in my head if I let him get in my head. If I just remember what kind of person I am dealing with, maybe I can dodge the psychological trauma and darkness.

        Great comment, Anon.

      • I DID choose to have no contact with my ex., other than written flight information via mail. I had residential custody. I refuse to speak to him otherwise….what was the point. I made and paid for all religious, medical, educational, and dental decisions. I knew what the divorce papers called for, but let’s face it, they are totally ignorant when it comes to these types of individuals. That was thirteen years ago, and my two grown daughters know they have a choice of no contact.

    • Laurie

      Thumbs up, Barbara! Just this list here gives me hope of recovering myself from the years of emotional time bombs…I’ll send that one to your email.

      Thank you for your love and diligence on this blog. May God richly reward your service (and that of all the contributors here).

  10. Desley

    “When we talk to friends, family and bystanders about what abusers are like, they often don’t get it. They disbelieve the victims’ reports, they discount people like myself and Jeff Crippen who proclaim repeatedly about the mentality and tactics of abusers….the abuser is master at covert aggression. And most people don’t like to see that – it hurts their worldview too much. It destablizes their optimism about life and the basic decency of human nature.”

    I haven’t read through all the comments here so forgive me if it’s already been covered, but when I read this earlier today it really struck a nerve with me and it’s been on my mind all day. Would you say it was normal then, considering our aversion to the acceptance that there really is evil, for victims themselves to have a difficult time believing the abuser (who they think they know very well) would be so deliberately evil? For me, although I am often horrified at the cruelty of my husband, I can’t seem to bring myself to believe he would be so deliberately underhanded when doing these things. It’s just not the man I know (I think). But then again, my good friend and I have also often agonized over why it is he doesn’t seem to have a conscience about it either. And that makes my next problem doubly worrisome.

    My husband has been telling me about his plans to buy a gun (for hunting). I am probably making too big a deal out of it, but I suppose it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution. Given the circumstances, is there any way you think that I can prevent this from happening without him having a criminal record?

    • Yes Desley it is normal for victims themselves to have a difficult time believing the abuser (who they think they know very well) would be so deliberately evil. Most if not all victims have great difficulty believing that for quite a length of time.

      I am guessing that victims of a MIW (Monster in Wedlock – like Memphis’s ex-husband) might come to the realization that their abuser is intentionally being evil and malicious sooner rather than later. But victims whose abusers are at the less extreme end of the spectrum would have more difficulty seeing and believing the truth about their abuser. If an abuser ‘only’ uses emotional/psychological abuse, it is REALLY hard to see it for what it is:– intentional malice. The more covert an abuser’s tactics are, the more they sprinkle in plausible ‘excuses’ for their behavior, the more they treat their victim okay from time to time even out of the public gaze, the harder it is to see through the fog.

      As to the gun issue, I have no idea, not knowing much about American laws in that regard. Perhaps some other readers can make suggestions.

      • Desley

        Thanks Barbara. That makes sense. It will probably take some time to come to terms with it though.

        I am actually in Canada, so if anyone knows anything about the gun laws here…I’ll see if I can make some calls and find out who to talk to about this.

      • I never thought to myself “this person is the devil incarnate” I never actually believed he was “wanting” to hurt me, after all he mourned every act of violence against me and my kids? After all he could not help himself? (gasp, choke, weez) I still to this day think “he thinks he loves his wife” when everyone around you is rushing to emotionally repair HIM, your fog is then the hope of change everybody else is telling you he is capable of. So for the sake of marriage, God and family, you remain foggy, you start believing your love is going to save it all. The sickest ploy, well not the sickest but one of the many sick ones. Was he did nothing but bad mouth us after he abused us, THEN when that even got too distasteful for him he would flip the switch back to crying over his deep love for us. He was so highly aware of exactly how people reacted to his professing his great love for me….so he pulled it out in words and tears for all to hear at exactly the moment he sensed he had lost their attention. Of course he loved to reserve those fake emotions for when I was present in counseling, so as to add the pressure for me to be sympathetic towards him.

        What a set up for victoms right? I think I heard the passive aggressive term when one pastor was trying to diagnose the MIW as having an “explosive personality disorder” .so yeeeya? there is not much passivity in aggressiveness?……so covert aggression is direct intentional pre meditated acts of manipulation, by using tools such as anger, tears, verbal assaults, lies, moodiness whatever it takes to control somebody else?…..makes sense that aggression cannot be passive?

        Who originally coined the term? What was their original purpose for it? Were they related to the same person who coined “”Parental Alienation Syndrome?” Seems that even in the world of psychology they can come up with 100,000 different terms for avoiding the word abuser……just ask Dr. Phil.

        I believe I heard it all. I remember being terrified when somebody recommended for the MIW to see a psychologist, I knew they would give him some slappy happy label, some depression medicine, then ask me to attend so I could attribute to their divine little illusion of fixing this person. I think its funny now, but back then all I wanted was for somebody to put a name on it, didnt matter if it was so far off the mark, or if it was “Passive Explosive Depressive Abandonment Addictive Manipulative Aggressive Compulsive Disassociative Pathalogical Delusional Mentality Disorder Syndrome. Or in short- PEDAAMACDPDMDS. Whew!

        Can you say A B U S E R?

      • PEDAAMACDPDMDS

        ROFLOL!

    • Desley,

      Although I am not an expert on gun laws, your husband is telling you he wants a gun and he most likely knows of your objections to that. He is putting you on notice. You have to error on the side of caution. If you object, and he laughs or belittles your objection, then you have your answer as to wether or not to be concerned. My ex, terrorized me with the thought of him owning a gun.

      If your spouse EVER threatened you verbally, or physically in ANY way you HAVE to be concerned of his intentions…..my MIW wanted a gun for “hunting too” he also would tell others I was ridiculous, and he would always ask around to see who else owned one at church so he could buddy up with them as if it was no big deal for him to have one.

      If he has a restraining order it is a felony for him to apply for a gun license(unfortunately my MIW did anyways without any ramifications) he used it as a power play, he felt power that I did not know he had it, then he used it to show my kids in private as a threat, then he used it by placing it under my side of the bed so I would find an “empty” case. Then he would say he took it back, when in fact I never had any way of knowing for sure….all psychological terrorizism ….and it doesnt matter if he has ever been physically violent or not, that matters little as we know.

      Short of objecting strongly, telling others of your objections and concerns, telling him if he gets one you will leave is what I did, and I do not reccomend telling an abuser he cannot do something, then expecting him to respect your request….then its just a game to him. and he would most likely be more determined to get one.

      Im probably not much help here other than I REALLY think you should listen to your initial thought and intuitiveness on this one. He is going to make you believe you are being completely un realistic or insane about the matter. You are not.

      Whats he hunting anyways? Elmers? or Wabbits? lol

      • Desley

        When it comes to myself, I am really not afraid that he would use it on me. I guess I’m more afraid that he would use it on my son – and I really do believe he would. So far he has only had a temporary restraining order that is currently not in effect (as I have been letting down boundaries, I know…stupid me) so I don’t know if that is enough.

        As far as threatening goes? The only thing he said that might be construed as a “threat” is when he told my step-father that he would do “whatever it takes” to keep my son away from his kids. But he denies saying that and maintains that my step-father is out to get him and is causing trouble. I don’t believe him though because when I was in the shelter he called everyone I knew (including the Children’s Aid Society) to find out where I was and get them to ally with him. When I first talked to him he was very manipulative on the phone; he began asking me how I was “mentally” as if he was very concerned for “crazy” me, then he began to insinuate that I was hurting my kids by taking them out of the home, and then when that didn’t work he would hint around at some kind of plans he was making to take my kids from me. But that could have been court plans too that he was never able to pursue. But this alleged “threat” was consistent with what I was hearing from him.

        This was also when I had cut ties with him completely. Since then I have given in and he is now “unofficially” staying in the home again. The difference now is that I have the legal recourse this time to call the police and have him removed if he fails to respect the conditions (that he not engage at all with my son if it is not positive) since I have exclusive possession of the matrimonial home. This has been pretty much keeping him in check, though it is also true that he is increasingly slipping back into old patterns very gradually. I don’t want to undermine all the progress the kids and I have made since I left him, so I already know I have to put my foot down and force him to leave before I lose that legal leverage altogether. (I feel like such an idiot to have let him back in here again after having the strength to leave him and after everything everyone did for me). So yeah…him having a gun really makes me nervous to cut ties again because he seems to turn into a completely different person when I do. I seen a side to him that I had never seen before. Sheer vindictiveness. Of course, I made the excuse that it was the particular group of men he was hanging around that had that influence on him. (ugh!)
        And he has also hinted around about killing himself. But then I don’t want to over-react either and make the situation out to be worse than it really is either.

        Anyway, now that I gave a long answer to a question you didn’t actually ask, I think I will just take the above advice, err on the side of caution, and make the call. Sorry for being so long-winded. I guess I am just thinking out loud.

        Thanks all. :)

      • Desley I had a hard time getting past your first paragraph. My MIW talked about suicide all the time, killing us, then killing himself. YOU are afraid for your son and you should be!! I may be way ought of line BUT if your spouse ever even mention suicide that is a clue, you are not making it MORE than it is. It is WHAT it IS!!!

        HE is what HE is. Please be OVERLY cautious rather than having ANY regrets.
        Im praying he wont be able to acquire one.

      • Yes Desley. Suicidal behaviour or threats of suicide is one of the things that the professionals say makes the victim at higher risk. I understand you having softened the boundaries unwisely; I think most of us have done that at some stage or other. I understand how much you can regret having done that, and want to kick yourself, and feel like a bit of an idiot. But since we’ve mostly all done it, we don’t judge you. All you can do now is use the wisdom you have gained from all that, to make decisions for the future.

        I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)

    • It about winning for them..about feeling powerful. I believe it becomes addicting, but mostly it just works over and over for them……instant gratification at someone else’s cost but so what. We don’t think like they do. I am rapidly learning how to so I can protect myself. I think of it like profiling CSI style.

    • br0nz18

      Thank you for expressing what I’m feeling. It is hard to accept that I man I loved, who professed to be Christian, would deliberately want to hurt me. I have made excuses for him saying that I didn’t believe he meant to hurt he, even though he did actually hurt me very badly without a blow being struck or a word said in anger. I know now that I need to call this for what it was – intentional abuse.

  11. Now Free

    Desley, I’m in Canada also, and my “husband” had a closet of guns that he would terrify me with…covertly aggressively. As for the learning the gun laws, I strongly suggest you ask knowledgeable people for information, and the police would be a trusted source. I don’t see where asking the police for gun information would give your husband a criminal record.

    Barbara, thanks so much for this post. It just about blew me away, it is so relevant. I just don’t have words right now…

    • * When I said “You are afraid for your son and you should be” that may not read as I intended, I only meant I would feel the same way as you do, and that you have EVERY right to your valid concerns, and that you should trust yourself = )

      • Desley

        Oh I got that, Memphis. No worries at all. Thank you for your support. I just spoke with my CAS worker and she is going to find out what can be done about it. On another good note, she is also going to do the hard work for me and insist, with the backing of CAS, that he not return to the family home. That solves my false-guilt problem.
        Thanks again.

  12. Now Free

    Finally, someone who can describe what I have been experiencing for decades, and others too. I had heard about “passive-agressive” and the months before and after the separation had decided to research this characteristic. I looked on Wikipedia, and it had
    listed ALL the characteristics described for a passive-agressive person. But somehow, I felt this “passive-aggressive classification was not really an accurate description of his tactics. Covert aggressive is spot-on.

    See, it’s so HARD for me to describe his manipulative, devious, sly behaviour towards me. It was totally corrupt, in the way he would pretend to be so “nice” at times and then when he had enough of the “nice” behaviour, he would launch in to his covert aggressive mode.

    You see, he would seldom call me names and never punched holes into a wall. He knew exactly what he was doing. He didn’t get drunk or use illicit drugs. He went to church with me and acted very gracious and friendly to others. People thought he was a wonderful guy. He wanted to look good, to look better than me, not to be an equal partner in this marriage, but to be BETTER.

    He would stay away from home for work reasons which I learned to accept early on. Not one time do I recall him ever teaching our children any positive life lessons. He practically ignored them. He did not abuse them in the classical sense.

    So it’s ironic now that days after I left him, our daughter became bonded to him. He recruited our 18 year old grand-daughter , who lived almost 1,000 miles away, to phone the police and report me missing! I had fled to a cheap hotel. My “husband” and daughter (who lived 175 miles away and rushed over) was at my home, our son was called to my home, along with the police!

    I had previously let my daughter know I had left my home, and she knew my cell phone number. Our daughter could have easily contacted me. I was expecting her call. I had asked her to not become involved in our separation..to let us deal with it ourselves.

    But somehow my “husband” manipulated our daughter, son, grand-daughter and police to participate in this mess. It should not have been a mess but the “husband” made it into a mess. He pretended to be so worried about his “crazy” wife. The police he called was the one who 3 days earlier came to my home and urged me to leave! Yet somehow my “husband” manipulated this police officer into calling me!

    Later on I was in counselling for awhile. I showed the new counsellor a nasty lie ridden letter from him to our son, calling me not at all well in mind and body, etc. She actually believed that he was seeking my welfare until I gently explained his tactics. She was very apologetic but I understood…he can so very easily ingratiate himself with others and manipulate them so that they believe his lies.

    He has been spreading lies to me to others around this city…my family, business associates, organizations such as a crises centre, pretending to be so very concerned about his crazy, suicide driven wife. I did not lie about him. I find it hard, and sometimes impossible to tell others, even people who had known us for 40 years and more, about his abuse.

    Yes, he was not so covert aggressive when he punched me in the face multiple times, causing me to stay home for almost 2 weeks to hid his abuse. But he didn’t do it again.

    He became more emotionally abusive as time went by, and the verbal abuse was an under-handed thing…no “you’re ugly, fat’…well, maybe a few times “stupid, crazy woman”…Sometimes stuff like repeatedly telling me how wrinkle free some women were on TV, and how “young “he” looked.

    Hey, I don’t have many wrinkles for a woman my age but soon as I started talking about a face-lift (and I really did not want one, but hoped he would shut up), he must have thought about the $$ it would cause and promptly stopped. He would also talk about men and criticize their facial “faults”. Until I had the gall to let him have it…that I didn’t think his remarks were kind. That stopped him too.

    I could go on and on and recount other nasty actions he chose to instigate. Sometimes in order to defend yourself against these covert-abusive people, you need to be very up-front, as Barbara mentions in Paul SImon’s book.

    • With an abuser like that, Now Free, no wonder you are hesitant to tell people in your church what really happened!
      Slippery, slimy, arsenic. That’s what people like him make me think of. Arsenic delivered in such small doses over a long period of time that the person doesn’t realise they are slowly being poisoned.
      “His words were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart.” Ps. 55:21

  13. Barnabasintraining

    Barbara,

    I’m reading the Sheep’s Clothing book and it is excellent! Two things he says in chapter 7 that jumped out at me are:

    “In any abusive relationship, the other person is never the real object of the aggressor’s desire, the position is.” Meaning the position of dominance.

    And

    “He doesn’t fight to keep the woman he loves, wants, or needs. He fights to stay on top.”

    I think that is very much the case. The main concern is nothing but winning, however they define it.

  14. This is mostly the way my dad operates, and it is so insidious. When he finally got called out on a bunch of stuff he admitted that his actions and attitudes were wrong, and I was hoping he might really change this time (yes, I know) but I really wanted there to be something left, some way to save him. I made all the excuses, he was a wounded broken person himself, he needed help and healing, etc.

    The problem was that he had already chosen his own method of healing, and he has no intention of abandoning it after forty years. His method is subjugating and controlling his wife and kids, erasing their personalities as far as he can and ignoring them if he can’t, and micromanaging things at work and in every other professional setting. Even in the church, since he was asked to step down as pastor, he was patient and laying his plans, deceiving people until he could start taking back power and authority, acting as ‘co-pastor’ in all but name. I do not attend that church anymore, so I did not see or understand this part until I went back for one service a couple months ago, and since then have talked to my brother and sister enough to know what he has been doing.

    And he’s been lying, straight up, about what he thinks and what his motivations are, gaslighting every which way, trying to sow confusion and dissension, and basically being as unregenerate as possible while pretending to be humble and repentant.

    This week I caught him talking to his ‘therapist’, which work comp mandated since his accident has caused major changes in his life and mobility, and he may never get it all back – which, so far so good. But they let him choose the therapist, and guess who he picked?

    The same guy he was seeing six years ago while he was having an affair, who validated and enabled him in all his messed up ideas, and who ‘diagnosed’ my mom without ever having seen her and the two of them proceeded to try and prove she was crazy. He’s a vicious, horrible little vermin of a man, and if my dad thinks it is in any way okay for him to go back to seeing him for any reason whatever, then he is broken beyond repair.

    I heard a little of their conversation, as they were having the ‘session’ at dad’s house because he has trouble going places any more, and what I heard was more than enough. They weren’t talking about anything that Dad is going through right now, the physical limitations or the consequences of the accident, no. They were having a mutual pity party about how he’s just not getting the ‘respect’ he deserves, and how society used to understand that a man was the head of the household and deserved to control it how he saw fit, and it’s just so sad that women are allowed to speak up about being victimized now.

    I only heard about 12-15 min of it and I was so sick I couldn’t even listen, I had to get out of there. I didn’t even know who he was at the time, I just thought he looked like a snake and the things they were saying were vile. I just left, and when I talked to my mother and sister later I found out that he was the same guy from six years ago, and I just lost it. I’m done, I’m so done. He’s never going to change, he hasn’t changed his mind one bit or really feels deep down like anything he did was wrong, he’s just bitter that the rest of the world doesn’t agree with him.

    I am truly, completely, absolutely done. I’m sick of his lies and his false fronts, I will never believe him about anything again unless I see some concrete, actual proof in his behaviour that lasts longer than a few months. Even then, maybe not, because one of his put on faces lasted five years. So yeah, maybe I will just never believe him about anything again. But I can’t keep hoping and then being gutted and devastated when I find out he’s still in the same place, mentally and spiritually, and thinks he is and has always been totally in the right – it’s just our fault for provoking any wrong reactions out of him.

    Now I just worry about my mom, even more so, because she IS still believing him this time, she’s buying the latest round of ‘making it up to her’ with cheap ‘romantic’ tricks and sweet talk that is just words, only ever words, and nothing about his attitude or behaviour has actually changed. He’s still treating her like crap in between making nice with her, and I hate that she’s still falling for it after all these years. I wish they would get divorced, honest I do, she has more than enough reason and he’s just…not salvageable. I’m convinced now; his conscience has been seared, and there is nothing left to save.

    • I am moved by what you wrote here, Kagi. hugs to you.

      • Thanks. *hugs back* It’s been a rough, troubled angry week. It is hard to get completely out of the fog and lose your illusions, even if they were false hope and never really there at all.

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      Hugs from me too, Kagi! Such a hard road to walk for you!

      • I missed this comment somehow…thank you, SS!

  15. Rideshorses

    I read somewhere that with an abuser, if he doesn’t say “yes,” it always means “no.” Knowing this has saved me from being dragged down the rabbit hole countless times. My abuser would spin and spin words until I was caught up in a tornado of frustration. He loved to see me whirl. I don’t anymore.

    • Hi, Rideshorses, welcome to the blog! I can see you’re saddled up and well equipped for a long ride!

      And if I were British, which I’m not, I’d say “Tally ho and all that!” LOL

  16. Sharon

    Thanks so much for this & other articles at this site.

    I was married for almost 20 years. I met him when I was 20 & married a few years later. He was manipulating me from when I met him. He used my desire for marriage against me prior to proposing (even his proposal was dodgy & circumstances manipulative). It took me a year away from him to realise he was an abuser. Even though when we first separated I wondered why I felt calmer despite circumstances-another woman involved. He still tries to manipulate me around our child-dropping the child home before I have said I would be home, leaves the child alone at his place at night, and if I change or try to change arrangements he agrees & then “forgets” or brings the child home early. It’s hard for me because my child has begged not to go to Dad’s & there are no options. I have no way to restrict access & my ex puts on big dramas at any suggestion of child not wanting to see him-despite the fact that he will leave child home alone, or get grandparents to babysit or just leave with 1 of his friends so he can “do stuff”.

    Some friends are aware of situation & what my ex is like. Haven’t told close friend about in marriage abuse as she married a few months after me. She knows some of child access problems & witnessed some of his verbal abuse towards me + told me recently that he wrote her a letter when we were first dating. But she often saw us together & is unaware of the covert (mainly) aggression or the manipulation he used.

    I am not as scared of him now but haven’t yet found a counselor I can talk to. First one was our marriage counselor-sucked in by him (not the affair part-she called him on not repenting just before he left for other woman). She tried to tell me that his affair was a “way to get his power back”. When I saw her after my marriage ended she tried to tell me I was reacting to childhood triggers (I had some sexual abuse & a critical parent as a child-perfect target in other words) rather than realising he was the problem-never got to tell her about the marital rape stuff. My 2nd counselor just wanted me to look after myself & move forward so never spoke about other stuff despite realisation of abuse myself whilst still seeing him.

    (Eds note: Some identifying details and info given by the commenter have been removed for her safety.)

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  1. Light’s House: a resource for adult children of difficult and toxic parents, and maybe for victims of domestic abuse as well | A Cry For Justice

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