In Sheep’s Clothing: Summary & Review

in sheep's clothing book cover

In Sheep’s Clothing (1996) analyzes the psychology of power-obsessed individuals, manipulative people, and covert-aggressive men.
George Simon, the author, also shares the signs to effectively spot the wolves of this world, and the techniques to deal with them.

Bullet Summary

  • Fighting as in competition is normal and natural and as long as it’s fair it’s OK 
  • Aggression can be defined as fighting with little or no concern about others
  • Manipulation is covert aggression
  • Most aggressive personalities don’t set out to hurt, but to win (aggressive sadists, the exception, are a subset of aggressive personalities)

Full Summary

About The Author: George Simon holds a P.hD. in clinical psychology. He is also an active writer on his blog.

Fighting Fair VS Unfair Aggression

We fight because that’s what we naturally developed to do when competing for limited resources or defending against enemy tribes (or enemies within).

However, there are many ways of fighting or defending our rights.

Assertively fighting for our rights is good and healthy.
Fighting fair while abiding laws and regulations in business is also good for the whole, and can actually foster good interpersonal relationships.

It’s when fighting happens without any concerns for others that it becomes pathological. That’s’ what can be called “aggression” and, when it’s hidden, it’s covert aggression and manipulative by its very nature.

Two Types of Aggression: Overt & Covert

George Simon differentiates between the overtly aggressive and the covert aggressive.

  • Overtly aggressive
  • Covertly aggressive

Of course people can swing between the two and, often, manipulators present elements of both styles.

Learning to deal with covert aggression is all about learning social calibration.

Also see:

A Definition of Covert Aggression

George Simon defines covert aggression as such:

When you’re out to win, dominate, get your way or control but are subtle , underhanded or deceptive to hide your true intentions 

Why Covert Aggression is Very Popular

Covert aggression is very popular and widespread, for several reasons.
Here are some reasons why people often resort to covert aggression:

  • Assertiveness and honesty takes courage 
  • Honesty can be more costly (or better: seemingly more costly)
  • Aggressor can fight without exposing himself too much
  • Manipulator can grab power while pretending he’s acting for common good

Take the example of firing an employee.
Going through HR can cost time and a lot of honest conversations where everyone must share difficult vulnerabilities.
Instead, the boss might simply use covert aggression to pressure the employee into quitting by himself.

If you want to see lots of covert aggression, I recommend the movie “Meet The Parents”.

Covert Aggression VS Passive Aggression

Passive aggression is often mistaken for covert aggression, but the two are not the same.

Passive aggression, as the name suggests, is passive and includes stonewalling, silent treatment, “pretending to forget”.

Covert aggression is veiled and masked, but it’s also active.
It includes guilt-tripping, minimizing, lying, or omitting.

See here an example of guilt-tripping a woman used on me:

an example of guilt tripping

And it was working.
I was feeling guilty, and also angry at the same time for the manipulation. People who are not aware of the game will only feel bad, without knowing why. And they might either comply or allow their whole day to be ruined because of the manipulation.

Manipulators’ Personalities

Manipulators have an impaired conscience because they don’t internalize social rules and are unable to see beyond their own self-interest.

Why not? 

It’s because, for them, internalizing social rules means obeying other people’s rules. And that’s the equivalent of a submission.

Manipulators indeed see social norms and rules as threats to their self-interest and, without any checks and balances from a well-functioning superego and conscience, they don’t see beyond their own self-interest. 

Manipulators are also power hungry: they want to win and conquer and they cannot stand any act of submissiveness

Narcissism and Manipulation

Not all narcissists are manipulators. Thinking highly of oneself doesn’t necessarily entail aggression or manipulation.
However, most manipulators and covert aggressive personalities present traits of narcissism.

Many Machiavellians are good manipulators though.

CEOs Might Have Character Disorder

Geroge Simons says that problematic aspects of personalities are egosyntonic, such as that people are happy with who they are (even if that causes troubles to others).

Speaking about CEOs, he says:

CEOs like who they are and are comofrtable with their behavior patterns and how they act. 
Even though their behavior might bother others a lot.

And again:

CEOs most often have inflated self-esteem, and it’s not a compensation for underlying feeling of inadequacies.
CEOs are undetered by adverse consequences or societal condemnation

The author says that covert aggressors who get to the top are not different than most other manipulators: they’re just more extreme and better at it (also read: Bad Blood).
And the better they are at it, the easier to easy to climb.

This was another eye-opening moment for me.
Most CEOs have a strong need to win which, if left unchecked, is all too happy to trample on others.

And it suddenly clarified why CEOs score lower than average on emotional intelligence than most mid-level managers:

chart plotting EQ results by job titles

This is something that the authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (Bradberry) and Emotional Intelligence (journalist Daniel Goleman) never really understood.

Travis Bradberry, for example, says that that “CEOs weren’t doing a good enough job for not understanding emotional intelligence”.
Nonsense.

Also read:

Psychologist Must Stop Making Excuses for Manipulators

The author says many psychologists’ approaches tend to make excuses for manipulators and to actually make it easy for them to keep manipulating.

And that has found its way into our culture as well.

So what happens is that whenever we see someone aggressing or manipulating, we think that he must have some unresolved issues of his own and that he must be helped.

And instead of looking at the manipulation, we start making up theories about the psychological issues of the manipulator.

But while of course a manipulator can have unresolved issues -we all can!-, that does not and should not excuse his behavior.
And neither it should sidetrack us from addressing the main concern, which is the manipulation and aggression, and not his unresolved issues.

Neurosis Are a Thing of The Past: Today It’s Too Much Permissivism

George Simon says that we are all still too focused on neurosis, cultural baggage from Sigmund Freud’s times.

But things have changed since then and society is not nearly as repressive and restrictive.
Today we have few neurosis cases and many more cases of egocentrism and narcissism.

Psychologists today deal with more failures of controlling our urges and egocentrism than repressing our urges.

Today’s big egos and too much self-esteem (the author say there is such a thing as too much self-esteem) are not necessarily the defensive mechanism of unconscious fears or insecurities.

Similarly, the covert aggression we see today is not the result of neurosis. Covert aggression is simply the means to a manipulator’s ends.
George Simons refers to these different categories as exhibiting “character disorder personalities”.

At the extremes of character disorder personalities, we are dealing with sociopaths and psychopaths.

They’re Not Codependent: They’re Dependent

After making a mockery of psychologists defending and trying to “fix” manipulator’s Freudian issues, George Simon takes it on the popular definition of “co-dependent relationships” (also read: Codependent No More).

He says that albeit there obviously are plenty of dependent and codependent relationships, overzealous psychologists have expanded the definition to fit way too many cases.

In a relationship wit ha manipulator, the manipulator is often not really dependent but playing the part to keep the real dependant partner under their thumb.

In The Power Moves’ opinion: big yes! Thank you, George Simon, for writing this book!

Recognizing Manipulators

Here are some signs of manipulations:

  1. You are making too many excuses for someone
  2. Dodging the issue
  3. Distraction and misdirection
  4. Covert intimidation
  5. You find yourself defending and making excuses too often
  6. He/she can often and easily make you feel guilty
  7. Shaming (also read: beating the shame game, dealing with judgmental people)
  8. Feigning innocence and confusion
  9. Minimization, lying, denial, selective inattention
  10. Rationalizing their bad behavior 
  11. Playing the victim
  12. Playing you of their own faults

Also read: 30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics and:

Dealing With Covert Aggression

George Simon provides several tips for dealing with manipulators and covert aggressors:

  1. Know yourself well first and foremost
  2. Work on your self-esteem, ego emotional dependency
  3. Focus on their act, not their intentions
  4. Don’t get sidetracked: stay with the issue
  5. Demand and only accept direct responses
  6. Demand immediate change and set timelines
  7. Don’t get upset or aggressive: they are looking for an excuse to escalate (and blame you for it)

As a website on dynamics of power, social psychology and social skills, I deal a lot with covert aggression here.

You can see one example here:

To Read After In Sheep’s Clothing

If you enjoyed “In Sheep’s Clothing” -and you should because it’s awesome-, you will also like:

Quotes

These are some of my favorite quotes, but please keep in mind they are not always verbatim:

On the nature of humans:

When human beings aren’t engaging in some kind of love, they’re waging some kind of war

On the importance of policing our own basic instincts:

Evil arises from the failure of owning and disciplining one’s own basic instincts

On neurosis healthy in little doses:

It’s our capacity for neurosis that keeps us civilized. Neurosis is a very functional phenomenon, in moderation.

On power and power’s ability to corrupt:

Altough it is often said that power corrupts, power by itself doesn’t have the ability to corrupt a person’s character.
It’s the character flaws already present in people’s character that lead people to pursue power and abuse it once they have it.

On power dynamics:

The most fundamental rule of human engagement is that the aggressor sets the rules. 
It’s impossible to deal with anybody once we start out in the one-down position.

On our future as a species:

Our aggressive tendencies and behavior are not necessarily evil. 
(…)
With the dawn of civilization, the need for aggression as a necessary instrument for human survival has lesseend considerabily. But as mankind’s long history of warfare illustrates, this basic human instinct is very much still with us and is likely to be for some time to come.

Therefore if we are to successfully advance in our social evolution, we will need to fashion cultural and environmental mechanisms that will help in harnessing and managing our effective instincts.

Exactly.
We need a new breed of enlightened leaders. Fundamentally good, but able to turn evil when having to face and rebuff evil.
This is The Power Moves’ credo.

in sheep's clothing book cover

Real Life Applications

  • Know Yourself to Stop Manipulation

I can’t stress this enough.
Power begins with self-knowledge.

  • Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar…

And an ahole is just an ahole.
Don’t make too many excuses for ass-holish behavior.

CONS

  • Finger-Pointing on Religion?

The author says that some professions, like cops and priest, attracts aggressive individuals and manipulators who are freer to use aggression and covert aggression.

Fair enough. But when he doubles down with a few examples on priests it felt to me like it was unnecessarily pointing fingers towards a specific category.

  • Mixes sociopaths with psychopaths

The author briefly talks about sociopaths and psychopaths, but as if the two were the same thing.
Of course, there is overlap between the two, yet they are two very distinct 

However, the author had not the time and space to dig deeper. I think that digging deeper might have been too long of a detour. So take this as a mention rather than a pure “con”.

PROS

This is a fundamental book to understand people, aggression, power dynamics, manipulation and the psychology of power-hungry individuals.

There is no point in listing “pros” of must-read books, but here are some:

  • “Aha-moments” with deep psychology 

The idea that manipulators don’t internalize society’s rules because for them that’s an act of submission was pure genius.
A true “aha” moment for me that connected different neural islands in my brain from personal thoughts, information and life experiences. 

  • Greater clarity on psychology

The author makes the point that fear of social rejection is a sign of neurosis as they have extra capacity for guilt and shame as a consequence of their overactive conscience.
I had never thought of it that way, but it does make sense indeed.

  • You will understand Donald Trump

The deeper you get into “In Sheep’s Clothing”, the more the psychology of Donald Trump and other power-obsessed individuals becomes clear.

Review

I absolutely loved In Sheep’s Clothing and this is a seminal book both for this website and for anyone who wants to understand psychology.

As a matter of fact, it’s with “In Sheep’s Clothing” that I decided of making a new book series called “The Power Moves” recommended. 

This will be a list of books that underpins the philosophy behind this website. 
But whether you like or not this website, you will certainly like In Sheep’s Clothing, which is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand people and psychology.

Also see:

Or get the book on Amazon

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