It can be defied as anything that avoids a direct confrontation, but still allows anger to be expressed in unhealthy ways!
We can include here the following behaviours:
- Being grumpy and sulky
- Being upset all the time and hard to please
- Victim behaviour and continuous complains about life and people
- Martyr behaviour: “Go without me, I don’t count anyway!”
- Tantrums and childish behaviour as a form of request for attention
- Emotional blackmail, threatening others with losing our affection if they behave a certain way
- Avoiding conflict and any form of confrontation
- Speaking ill of people behind their backs
- The silence treatment (sometimes for days of weeks, especially to the partner – instead of communicating what is wrong, we just expect him to read our mind, in the name of “Love”)
- Blaming our partner for everything that goes wrong and refusing our part of responsibility
- Indirectly refusing to meet someone’s needs, by being avoidant: emotionally unavailable and sexually cold. This is a refusal of the other alongside the refusal to give an explanation or the reasons behind such behaviour. Underneath lies repressed anger, an inability to tolerate closeness and accumulated tensions about to explode any minute.
- Being late on a daily basis, even if it is only a few minutes at a time. This is a way of disturbing others and drawing attention to yourself; or can be due to the tendency to procrastinate.
- Extreme and harsh criticism of our partner in front of his family or friends
- “Forgetting“ important events, anniversaries, the car keys, the list of groceries on the table, the garage open at night, etc.
- Being easily offended by any form of criticism
- Being very sarcastic and using harsh humour, disguising feelings of hate, or disagreement, as joke
- Nagging – this is a form of manipulation and talking behind people’s back!
- Unsolicited advice and opinions: “If I were you, I would focus on losing a few pounds, you look like a polar bear!”
- Harmful and disrespectful comments: “Wow, the dinner you cooked was actually edible!”
- Changing holiday plans at the last minute, making sure you have control and power over people
- Very poor communication skills
These people want to show the world they are suffering and at the same time punish others with their behaviour. More precisely they are not happy because others make choices they disagree with.
Here is what Alain de Botton says about being sulky: “At the heart of a sulk lies a confusing mixture of intense anger and an equally intense desire not to communicate what one is angry about. The sulker both desperately needs the other person to understand and yet remains utterly committed to doing nothing to help them do so. The very need to explain forms the kernel of the insult: if the partner requires an explanation, he or she is clearly not worthy of one. This is what is left of the magical thinking we used a lot as children. We expect our partner to read our mind, without lowering ourselves to ask for what we actually need. Maturity begins with the capacity to sense and, in good time and without defensiveness, admit to our own craziness. If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun”.
Passive aggressive people prefer defused team work, because of their tendency to avoid too much responsibility and the possibility to be held accountable for certain behaviour, or direct failures in work projects.
They like to speak in the name of others: “I think many people feel, that it would be better if we did this and that…”, even if others do not really feel that way.
How come some people behave this way?
Most probably as children they were not allowed to express any form of anger. They were “forced” to be always civilized; explosions and tantrums were not tolerated. Any form of open conflict was in fact not tolerated, so they learned to express it subversively. There was bullying, and probably physical punishment, so they learned to express anger in a disguised or denied way, to make sure they don’t lose the relationship.
If they have been rejected or refused in the past, they learned not to express their needs directly, to avoid conflict, and many times even the most sane form of confrontation. But these unexpressed daily tensions and frustrations, accumulated over time, do occasionally lead to explosions of anger, disproportionate to the trigger.
Some parents continue to tell their children how to live their lives, even if they are 40 or 50 years old. They disagree with their choices and try to manipulate them, either subtly or openly.
I am convinced that most people do not do it completely consciously. But because they themselves are miserable, and do not have the life they want, it is hard to accept other people’s happiness, especially in ways that feel alien to them.
Passive people strongly believe in destiny, blame others, the circumstances and life for being harsh on them, refusing at the same time to make difficult choices that could drastically improve their life.
The more we blame, the more we stay away from our inner resources, our potential, cocooned in comfort, in “warm” situations that do not make us happy, under emotional anaesthesia, numb and indifferent to other people’s pain and sorrows.
If you care too much about what others people think about you, constantly seeking validation, you are not living your own life, but the life others expect you to live. You can be easily be put up or down with words. Momentarily they feed your ego, but you are easy to manipulate and they can get anything they want from you.
The passive aggressive behaviour is a form of refusing our responsibilities. Emotionally healthy people do not need to blame everything on others. They make choices according to their values; they do not expect magic in their life. They do not expect the other to change, do not want to save or be saved by anyone. They do not look for excuses, justifications and do not blame others for everything they couldn’t get in their life.
How should you react to passive aggressive behaviour?
The best way is to repeat directly the words of the offender, by saying: “Did you just offered me unsolicited advice about my weight loss?”
Or you might say: “You say something in words, but your face looks pretty unhappy. Could you tell me clearly what you really need or mean?”
Or: “Can you repeat what you just said? I wanna make sure I heard you correctly”. This is a subtle way of making them aware of their words, and behaviour.
Or ask neutral questions: “How could you look at this situation differently? What disturbs you so much about…?”
The passive aggressive person is missing something in his/her life. The thing they joke more about, they are more cynical about, the one that inspires most inappropriate remarks is the thing they envy more in another, is the one they feel is missing in their own life. It is usually a connection, a relationship. They feel they cannot get it, so they envy those who have them. They diminish their importance, by being very sarcastic and mean about women or men in general. Behind this behaviour lies unexpressed and repressed anger, disappointment, a feeling of not counting for anyone, of not being special, of not deserving to be loved. A feeling that life is slipping through your hands, that you have no special talent, that you don’t make a difference to anyone.
On some occasions you might need to be direct and tell them that you do not tolerate this behaviour. You have to place people face to face with the consequences of their actions. You can never allow your boundaries to be violated. They will probably hate you for it, but they will respect you. And this is your way to make sure you don’t lose your voice on the way!