It's a net you trap yourself in....while being totally able to drop it and walk free
Passive Aggression is the scourge of any relationship--romantic, familial, casual, or professional.
In the same dysfunctional and resentment-making family as the expectations for perfectionism and mind-reading, passive aggression is born from the same strain: need for control amidst perceived powerlessness, re-combined with immaturity, lack of awareness, difficulty regulating emotions, communication ineptitude, and a dash of disrespect a la superiority complex.
First, what does Passive-Aggression look like? Obviously it is being aggressive (in some form, whether resistance, delay, quiet sabotage, negativity, making a sign of disapproval instead of , constructive, respectful, tactful, up-front statement, or otherwise doing the negative opposite of what is reasonably expected or has been agreed to or assured) in a very subtle, usually non-confrontational form while claiming to acquiesce or comply.
I’m going to use a quote from Natasha Adamo of Post Male Syndrome’s post “Passive Aggressive: Are You? Is He? Here’s What To Do” because you can’t improve on perfection, and these examples are perfect examples indeed: “Does any of this sound familiar?…
Are you dating someone that makes you feel better than you’ve ever felt one minute and then somehow, gets you to feel more heartbroken, angry, psychotic, jealous and guilty than ever before?
Are you friends with or do you work with someone who’s totally accommodating and kind, making you feel like you’re 'in' one minute and then the next minute, withdrawals and turns icy while making you feel bad for doing some unknown thing that must have made them recoil?
Do you know anyone that has to continually take your loyalty temperature all in the name of 'I’m looking for something serious?' It’s like they put you through a series of never ending 'tests' to see what they can get away with, all while appearing to give a f*ck and passively disintegrating your boundaries & self-esteem?
Do you have any family members that say they’re fine with something, but then make you feel guilty for doing the very thing that they were supposedly totally fine with?
Do you know anyone that consistently gives you back-handed compliments?
Ever had a friend that out of the blue ignores you until you ask them if you did something wrong?
Do you feel like you’re dating a score keeper? Everything is counted. Tit for tat.
Have you ever tried to express yourself to someone and they answer with a 'are you kidding me?' 'you’re crazy to think that!' 'wtf is wrong with you?' or they accuse you of insecurity that they have passively contributed to over time?
Do you know anyone that has to announce that they’re doing a good deed for you (whether it be on social media or in person), with the sole intention of making you feel incapable, less than and inferior?
Do you know anyone that TALKS like they are deeply invested and care, but behaves like they’re too distracted to ACT according to their words?
Are you dating someone that says all the right things but consistently stalls, postpones their promises and shuts down the conversation whenever it becomes too emotional? Do they make you feel like you’re being too needy (even though you’re asking for basics like honesty and respect)?
Have you ever been that person? I can definitely answer 'yes' to everything. If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you’re most likely dealing with a passive aggressive person or you’re exhibiting signs of passive aggressive behavior yourself.”
Me too, Natasha Adamo. Me too.
Why do we engage in Passive-Aggression?
Passive-Aggression is how we maintain an inauthentic image (like being ”cool” when something actually bothers us), or how we get our way when we are afraid we won’t, or otherwise know we probably shouldn’t (it would be unscrupulous; we should be kind and generous; we agreed to a commitment; etc.). It’s a form of Voting With Your Feet, but instead of being honest and up-front about the direction you are going, the whole time you’re claiming that you’re going one way when, in fact, you are doing as much as possible to stand still or go in the other direction...and letting resentment build both in you AND the other person.
Usually we learn the advantages of Passive-Aggressive feet-voting in childhood. For many of us, it was the only logical and/or practical response to a lifetime dilemma of either surrendering our soul and dying as an autonomous individual, or to emotionally survive despite “authorities” who had no interest in who we actually were and what we wanted to be and do (and instead demanded we be what they wanted/needed/expected us to be at all times)--authorities who never allowed us to say the word “no” or to openly assert our independence, Real Self, or opinions. (In Chinese Face Reading, this leads to a single, deep crevasse between the eyebrows called "suspended needle", formed from holding in your power. I have had one since at least the age of 13).
Even if we still eventually had to do what we were told and were ignored or disdained, we had done all we could. We had made a statement as far as we could without severe repercussions, we had reminded ourselves that we still existed with a will of our own, and we had thrown a wrench, however small and brittle, into the works of whatever we disagreed with (but were coerced into anyways).
For a moment we were a one-man protest movement and we felt the thrill of our power and non-conformity and doing what we wanted (or doing what we didn't want to do HOW we wanted) in the ocean of our powerlessness.
That’s powerful, and that sticks with you.
Combine frequent practice with seeing the same behavior modelled over and over in the power dynamics between those same authorities resisting each other under the cover of platitudes and the image of “good manners”...
And by adulthood (especially in the heat of the moment), it’s easy to have forgotten that there are any other feasible or effective ways to handle conflict.
The idea that it is never safe to verbally assert your right to say “no”, leave, or to openly, honestly express ourselves or negotiate or re-negotiate is thoroughly imbrued in thought patterns that, when examined and questioned as a logical adult (instead of a dependent and malleable child), reveal themselves to be insane: *It seems perfectly logical that the only way for people to know what you want or what you are thinking is to read your mind. Speaking your mind is not safe, plus they should *know* you (and your ideas are really the only ones that can possibly make sense in the situation anyway). If they don’t read your mind it is THEY who are willfully passively-aggressing against YOU, and you have every right to become angry, resentful, and attack in kind.
*Instead of truly sticking up for yourself; walking away and being okay; allowing (and being okay with) the other person to have the option to walk away; or finding a compromise that is mutually satisfactory...YOU force YOURSELF into doing something you don’t want to do WHILE creating the same resentment and helplessness in the other person that you are so familiar with.
They feel helpless because you are sending so many mixed signals and cloaking your defiance that they aren’t sure what is going on or what to do next.
You self-sabotage your reputation because word quickly gets around that you always somehow manage to inexplicably cause a multitude of problems and are a (very polite, congenial) pain in the ass to deal with that, despite being “very nice” still leaves everyone feeling dirty somehow...
And you find yourself ghosted, avoided, excluded, dumped, moved out on, and/or fired/let go.
All those negative consequences and at the end of the day, you still not only did something you didn’t want to do, you drew the length of it out.
PLUS your fear of being easy to abandon and dislike have again been CONFIRMED. There were no winners.
*Any victories you do have feel hollow because the honorable, kind, consistent TRUE you can’t really enjoy something steeped in an integrity-less, toxic, trauma-filled past.
It just feels like “blood money” and you feel dirty and less-than because sub-consciously, you know your behavior was very unbecoming.
In order to quash the feelings (and because it's impossible to think of anything else to do while you feel your emotional survival is at stake because you feel the shame of being “bad”), you cling to your “victory” harder, double-down because you convince yourself that you just didn’t win “big enough”, and take up unhealthy or detrimental coping mechanisms to deal with the depression (“celebrating” by overspending or overdrinking, etc.).
*When faced with the passive-aggression or toxicity of others, even and especially if they are forthright about their dysfunction and unwillingness to concede to whatever you know you want and deserve, you either do everything you can to out-passive-aggress them in a war of attrition, OR you put on your one-man brass band suit and do everything possible to “be good enough” for them to change.
This in and of itself is, you guessed it, a form of passive-aggressiveness since, instead of letting them be as they are, you are trying to manipulate them into what you want them to be (and crossing their boundaries they clearly stated).
NEWSFLASH: This never works! Once again you self-sabotage by YOU putting YOURSELF in a situation that YOU don’t actually want (while feeling bad and out of control the whole time), then blame the other person.
The tendency to passive-aggress runs so deep we often have no idea we’re even doing it in the moment. What worked “fine” in the artificial, closed system of our childhood home has become the undefinable “bad luck” in our relationships and career that we just can’t seem escape, no matter how promising it starts out, how good our grades were, how much fun we have together, or what we do in general.
Why? Because we create insecurity (and therefore fear and anger) in everyone around us because we can't be counted on to be consistent at anything except disappointment, stress, and a frustrating hassle (which is always remembered by the brain stronger and more vividly than positive interactions...that's just the world we live in).
What matters most, at the end of the day, is how we make people CONSISTENTLY feel overall (the most golden of all feelings is ‘respected’), how reliable we are, how well we deliver. Being an adult boils down, in many ways, to the following:
“Nice guy? I don't give a sh*t. Good father? Fu*k you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here - close! You think this is abuse?...You can't take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a sit? You don't like it, leave. I can go out there tonight with the materials you've got and make myself $15,000. Tonight! In two hours! Can you? Can YOU? Go and do likewise. A-I-D-A... Go and do likewise, gents. Money's out there. You pick it up, it's yours. You don't, I got no sympathy for you. You wanna go out on those sits tonight and close, CLOSE. It's yours. If not, you're gonna be shining my shoes. And you know what you'll be saying - a bunch of losers sittin' around in a bar. 'Oh yeah. I used to be a salesman. It's a tough racket.' These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they're gold, and you don't get them. Why? Because to give them to you is just throwing them away. They're for closers. I'd wish you good luck but you wouldn't know what to do with it if you got it.”
--Blake, Glengerry Glen Ross (1992)
That’s a pretty tough Dutch-uncle speech but...in many ways, life will tell you the same thing (with a kick to the pants).