Somebody said that I am passive aggressive… What’s that about?
Well, first of all, passive-aggressive is a behaviour and not a person. It is not good practice (at least where I come from) to label people based on a behaviour they exhibited at some point in time. So passive-aggressive speaks about a specific behaviour that somebody exhibited and is not a permanent characteristic because we might lose sight of all the other behaviours that someone uses or has.
So what is passive-aggressive behaviour?
Have you ever found yourself being angry towards a certain someone and yet you had to say hello to them despite the fact that you hated their guts?
If you can remember that time, this is what passive-aggressive behaviour feels like. I would like to tell somebody off, or insult, or shout and yet I don’t do that; either because of a power differential in the relationship or because of the context I find myself in. And probably wanting to be “nice” might have also something to do with this.
In order to get an idea of what comprises passive-aggressive behaviour, I thought of giving some examples here. I think you might be able to relate to some of them.
How is passive-aggressive behaviour connected with anger?
The first example has to do with anger. Suppose you are really angry with someone who just told you something that made you mad. For example, that they used your car without taking proper care and made a small scratch to it. And instead of shouting at them or telling them that they have made a huge mistake and are unjust towards you, you just say “That’s just fine!”.
You probably think one thing and are acting out as if something else were true. In this example, you are thinking how unthoughtful and disrespectful this behaviour is and yet you are acting as though everything was indeed “fine”.
Beware: our non-verbal communication is not so adequately controlled as our speech so we might be saying one thing with our mouths and yet communicate something totally different with our body language and non-verbal communication.
Is passive-aggressiveness connected with double-messaging and can you give me some more examples?
Yes, passive-aggressive behaviour is connected with double-messaging. Double-messaging is connected with saying one thing and meaning something totally different that is communicated through the body language or what actually takes place.
Take this as an example:
Somebody says “Sure mate! We’ll speak soon. I’ll call you,” and yet they never give a phone call. That’s because they actually don’t really want to. Message one: I’ll call soon. Message two communicated by what actually takes place: I don’t really want to call you.
Double-messaging can be connected to passive-aggressiveness when there is some kind of anger behind what actually takes place and some kind of being revengeful or resentful towards someone. Of course, we are not always aware of our revengefulness, aggressiveness, resentments etc. especially if we are used to being overly nice with everyone all of the time.
Consider the following examples:
In this example, somebody thinks that something is not quite right for them. Actually, he thinks it might be unrespectful, disgusting, inappropriate or whatever (or just a piece of s#&t as the image suggests).
Yet at the same time, they think it is only “proper” or “politically correct” to say something nice about it (which in this case is the exact opposite of what they are thinking).
Another example is when somebody receives a suggestion that is not really something they think is a good idea. They might have a strong reaction to that and feel that it is not helpful for them and not actually the way to go. The inner reaction is quite strong. This reaction is due to the fact that they think the suggestion is something totally unacceptable to them. Yet, they say something totally different as a way of managing the disagreeableness they feel about conflicting such a proposal.
In a way, instead of conflicting the environment I choose to conflict myself. You can understand that something like this is not going to end well as I am constantly compromising my inner life.
The last example has to do with the most powerful example of passive aggressiveness that we can sometimes bypass or fail to notice. Think of somebody saying something that you consider an insult for some reason. If instead of bringing it out in the open and discussing this with them, or rebutting the statement in a possibly angry manner, you give them the silent treatment and never speak to them again (EVER!)
You have “killed” them inside you so you will never communicate with them or have some kind of meaningful contact with them. This creates the ultimate revenge of erasing someone from your list of friends or acquaintances.
Is there something wrong with being passive-aggressive?
The behaviour of passive-aggressiveness creates some kind of inner split as there is an underlying belief which basically says that: “I cannot say what I think. I have to cover up what I truly believe because it (or I) won’t be accepted”. This creates inner conflict that can accumulate over time and even at some point create psychosomatic symptoms.
How can relationships suffer because of passive-aggressive behaviour?
Based on what we discussed so far, it is not difficult to guess how relationships might suffer because of passive-aggressiveness.
“There are three principles in a man’s being and life: The principle of thought, the principle of speech, and the principle of action. The origin of all conflict between me and my fellow-men is that I do not say what I mean and I don’t do what I say.”
I see therapy as a way of aligning our thoughts, speech and actions. Of course, I don’t mean that I have to say what I think all the time. Being considerate and compassionate toward others is important and might require to keep some things to myself. However, being able to know what my shadow looks like and not to take it out on others, can create a powerful change that transforms the way I am in the world.