She Wouldn’t Respect Boundaries, Now Blames Me for Breakup

Reader’s Question

I’ve been trying to understand the behavior of my ex-girlfriend. We dated for 3 years, with the past year being on and off. The reason for it being on and off was because she met another guy friend after we started dating, and I was uncomfortable with how he was coming on to her. In fact, he got “too close for comfort.” She, however, seemed to love the attention, and sometimes I felt second in importance in our relationship. When I brought up things about her and this guy being too close, she would either deny them, or divert attention away from the subject.

The reason for our eventual breakup was because I finally set a boundary with respect to her involvement with this guy, and she stepped over it. When I brought this up to her, she tried to divert attention from that fact and to suggest I wasn’t treating her well, which was totally untrue. In addition, she would play “dumb” or “innocent” when caught doing something out of bounds with this other guy.

Within a month after I broke up with her, she was bad-mouthing me, lied to friends to get sympathy, and almost made it seem like she was bitter towards me for breaking up with her. I was astounded how she could come off that way when she knew very well why I had to break things off.

I ran across your book In Sheep’s Clothing. It talked about covert aggressiveness, and it seemed to fit the behavior of my ex-girlfriend. The problem I’m having at the moment, however, is that I might be “in denial” about whether she “became” this way during the issue that prompted our breakup or whether she always was this way. (She never seemed manipulative before we started having the problems that caused our breakup.)

One day, I bumped into her at the grocery store, and she tried to pretend that she didn’t see me. Yet I went up to her and asked how she was doing. She seemed a bit miserable/sad and only answered the things I asked her. A few days later, she was involved in a car accident, and when I called to see if she was OK, she rather blamed me and said that I had only called because she had almost died (she came out without a scratch!). I was shocked! It made no sense at all to me. I replied that I called because I cared. In addition, I asked her if we could meet face to face to gain some closure, and she replied “it is what it is” but gave reasons such as “I’m busy working tonight and tomorrow” etc.

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What is the best way for me to deal with covert-aggressives like my ex? I still have feelings for her but sometimes question whether or not she even has a conscience, has the capacity to be truthful, or even realizes that she is manipulating. I’m trying to understand people like her and to figure out whether she ever really loved me at all.

Psychologist’s Reply

Covert-aggressive and other manipulative behaviors are common not only to the character type I describe in In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] but also to personalities who thrive on attention and titillating interpersonal encounters. Such folks like to be fawned over by others and enjoy the “excitement” of fresh encounters, but they often have little use for more meaningful and stable relationships. Many times, they will “stoke the fire” of problems through exaggeration and other “games” just to put drama (albeit of a negative variety) in their lives. Relationships with such individuals tend to be very emotionally charged at first but are usually destined to lack substance. So, unless you value passion over intimacy, it’s probably best you keep your distance. I’ll have much more to say about these personalities in my soon to be released book Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].

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