What do Passive Aggressive behavior and domestic abuse have in common? When someone hits you or yells at you, you know that you’ve been abused. It is obvious and easily identified. Covert abuse is subtle and veiled or disguised by actions that appear to be normal, at times loving and caring. The passive aggressive person is a master at covert abuse and, as a result, can be considered an abuser.
Passive aggressive behavior stems from an inability to express anger in a healthy way.
A person’s feelings may be so repressed that they don’t even realize they are angry or feeling resentment. A passive aggressive can drive people around them crazy and seem sincerely dismayed when confronted with their behavior. Due to their own lack of insight into their feelings, the passive aggressive often feels that others misunderstand them or, are holding them to unreasonable standards if they are confronted about their behavior.
Common Passive Aggressive Behaviors
Ambiguity: I think of the proverb, “Actions speak louder than words” when it comes to the passive aggressive and how ambiguous they can be. They rarely mean what they say or say what they mean. The best judge of how a passive aggressive feels about an issue is how they act. Normally they don’t act until after they’ve caused some kind of stress by their ambiguous way of communicating.
Forgetfulness: The passive aggressive avoids responsibility by “forgetting.” How convenient is that? There is no easier way to punish someone than forgetting that lunch date or your birthday or, better yet, an anniversary.
Blaming: They are never responsible for their actions. If you aren’t to blame then it is something that happened at work, the traffic on the way home or the slow clerk at the convenience store. The passive aggressive has no faults, it is everyone around them who has faults and that person must be punished for those faults.
Lack of Anger: The passive aggressive may never express healthy anger. There are some who are happy with whatever you want. On the outside anyway! The passive aggressive person may have been taught, as a child, that anger is unacceptable. Hence they go through life stuffing their anger, being accommodating and then sticking it to you in an under-handed way.
Fear of Dependency: From Scott Wetlzer, author of Living With The Passive Aggressive Man. “Unsure of his autonomy and afraid of being alone, he fights his dependency needs, usually by trying to control you. He wants you to think he doesn’t depend on you, but he binds himself closer than he cares to admit. Relationships can become battle grounds, where he can only claim victory if he denies his need for your support.”
Fear of Intimacy: The passive aggressive often can’t trust. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone. A passive aggressive will have sex with you but they rarely make love to you. If they feel themselves becoming attached, they may punish you by withholding sex.
Obstructionism: Do you want something from your passive aggressive spouse? If so, get ready to wait for it or maybe even never get it. It is important to them that you don’t get your way. They will act as if giving you what you want is important to them but, rarely will they follow through with the giving. It is very confusing to have someone appear to want to give to you but never follow through. You can begin to feel as if you are asking too much which is exactly what they want to you to feel.
Victimization: The passive aggressive feels they are treated unfairly. If you get upset because he or she is constantly late, they take offense because; in their mind, it was someone else’s fault that they were late. He/she is always the innocent victim of your unreasonable expectations, an over-bearing boss or that slow clerk at the convenience store.
Procrastination: The passive aggressive person believes that deadlines are for everyone but them. They do things on their own time schedule and be damned anyone who expects differently from them.
The Passive Aggressive and You
The passive aggressive needs to have a relationship with someone who can be the object of his or her hostility. They need someone whose expectations and demands they can resist. The passive aggressive is usually attracted to co-dependents, people with low self-esteem and those who find it easy to make excuses for other people’s bad behaviors.
The biggest frustration in being in a relationship with a passive aggressive is that they never follow through on agreements and promises. They will dodge responsibility for anything in the relationship while at the same time making it look as if they are pulling their own weight and are a very loving partner. The sad thing is, you can be made to believe that you are loved and adored by a person who is completely unable to form an emotional connection with anyone.
The passive aggressive ignores problems in the relationship, sees things through their own skewed sense of reality and if forced to deal with the problems will completely withdraw from the relationship and you. They will deny all evidence of wrongdoing, distort what you know to be real to fit their own agenda, minimize or lie so that their version of what is real seems more logical. This is why divorcing a passive aggressive can and often does lead to a high conflict situation with long-term negative consequences for all involved.
The passive aggressive will say one thing, do another, and then deny ever saying the first thing. They don’t communicate their needs and wishes in a clear manner, expecting their spouse to read their mind and meet their needs. After all, if their spouse truly loved them he/she would just naturally know what they needed or wanted. The passive aggressive withholds information about how he/she feels, their ego is fragile and can’t take the slightest criticism so why let you know what they are thinking or feeling?
God forbid they disclose that information and you criticize them.
Confronting the Passive Aggressive
Beware, if you confront the passive aggressive they will most likely sulk, give you the silent treatment or completely walk away leaving you standing there to deal with the problem alone.
There are two reasons for confronting the passive aggressive. One, if done correctly you may be able to help them gain insight into the negative consequences of their behaviors. Two, even if that doesn’t happen, it will at least give you the opportunity to talk to him/her in a frank way about how his/her behavior affects you. If nothing else you can get a few things “off your chest.”
Below are 8 constructive ways to confront someone with passive aggressive behavior
- Make your feelings the subject of the conversation and not their bad behaviors. Use “I” statements and not “you” statements. More than likely you will get a more productive response from the passive aggressive spouse if you make the communication about the marriage and how you are feeling.
- Don’t attack their character. You may feel angry and want to strike out but, doing so will only cause the passive aggressive to withdraw and refuse to engage in communication.
- Make sure you have privacy. This is only common sense. Do not call out your passive aggressive spouse in front of others.
Shaming someone never gets positive results.
- Confront them about one behavior at a time, don’t bring up everything at once. You may have a laundry list of grievances but that doesn’t mean you have to communicate the entire list in one sitting. Remember, the passive aggressive fears conflict so, take it one grievance at a time to help them feel comfortable.
- If they need to retreat from the conversation allow them to do it with dignity. Tell them you understand their need to leave the conversation but, before they do you’d like to agree on another date and time to continue discussing the topic.
- Have a time limit, confrontation should not stretch on indefinitely.
- If they try to turn the table on you, do not defend your need to have an adult conversation about your feelings. Having dealt with the passive aggressive you know that one of their main tactics is to try and turn the tables. Be on the lookout for that to happen and instead of becoming defensive insist that they stay on topic.
- Be sure they understand that you care about what happens to them, that you love them and that you are not trying to control them. You are only trying to get to the bottom of your disagreements and make the relationship better.
Nothing is more important than helping the passive aggressive to feel safe in engaging in what they will view as a conflict.
Inside the Passive Aggressive’s Head
The passive aggressive has a real desire to connect with you emotionally but their fear of such a connection causes them to be obstructive and engage in self-destructive habits. They will be covert in their actions and it will only move them further from their desired relationship with you.
The passive aggressive never looks internally and examines their role in a relationship problem. They have to externalize it and blame others for having shortcomings. To accept that they have flaws would be tantamount to emotional self-destruction. They live in denial of their self-destructive behaviors, the consequences of those behaviors and the choices they make that causes others so much pain.
The passive aggressive objectifies the object of their desire. You are to be used as a means to an end. Your only value is to feed the passive aggressive’s emotional needs. You are not seen as a person with feelings and needs but as an extension of them. They care for you the way they care for a favorite chair. You are there for their comfort and pleasure and are of use as long as you fill their needs.
The passive aggressive wants the attention and attachment that comes with loving someone but fear losing their independence and sense of self to their spouse. They want love and attention but avoid it out of fear of it destroying them. You have to be kept at arm’s length and if there is an emotional attachment it is tenuous at best.
The only hope for change in the way they deal with relationship issues is if they are able to acknowledge their shortcomings and contributions to the marital problems. Facing childhood wounds, looking internally instead of externally to find the cause of problems in their life will help them form deeper emotional attachments with a higher sense of emotional safety.
By Cathy Meyer
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- Why Do Passive Aggressive People Usually Play the Victim Role?
- Wondering How Your Passive Aggressive Got That Way?
- Married to a Passive Aggressive: 4 Reasons You Feel So Lonely
- Is Your Passive Aggressive Husband Withholding Sex?