There is a common notion that people who display passive-aggressive tendencies are flawed: afraid of conflict and even afraid of their own negative emotions. They hide behind covert acts of revenge rather than discuss their true feelings with someone. They say “yes” when they mean “no.” They don’t call when they say they will. They block you on social media with no apparent provocation. They make plans- then no show.
They are the “crazy makers.”
But what if they’re not?
What if their behavior is a learned peace-keeping strategy? What if their behavior is a survival strategy?
As frustrating as this behavior may be, stay with me for a minute. What if the passive aggressive friend, co-worker or mate that frustrates you so, has tried direct communication, openness and honesty before, only to be mocked or insulted? What if s/he has tried to express his/her feelings; to air his/her complaints in a respectful, compassionate manner only to be verbally bulldozed, name called or worse? What if that person, as a child, was chastised, ridiculed or even beaten when s/he did not agree with or conform to family norms?
Well, this confused and lonely child will do what all confused and lonely children do- try to adapt.
We have all heard of the child who acts out; who is aggressive and defiant. These kids get a lot of attention, albeit negative. They are seen. They are heard. They are acknowledged. Plus, their misbehavior serves as an outlet to diffuse the internal angst.
But what about the quiet ones? Some children who are raised in homes where they receive any variety of devaluing messages may learn to keep quiet. The risk of speaking up is not worth the cost. The loss of parental (or parental figure) love- or of enduring further rejection- is just too great. Their adaption style to is to conform, please and/or disappear.
They are usually the “good” kids and become friendly adults. But at a great cost. The smile they hide behind is fake. The pain they feel due to long-term, repeated emotional abuse, rejection and/or abandonment is real.
And the anger can be intense.
But remember, they are not able to show it. Since they subconsciously or consciously know that anger- in any form (confrontation, disagreement, and even their own opinion) is inherently wrong, they engage their (faulty) adaption strategy: smile… agree… acquiesce.
But their anger isn’t so compliant. Anger needs, no anger demands, release. Anger buried will find its way out, either by leak or by brute force. Life, in this case, has facilitated a near-constant leak. And, leaks look a lot like “passive-aggressive” behavior.
So, what can we do with our PA comrades?
Take heart, if you have read this far, you are most likely a compassionate type who cares deeply about someone in your life. This quality will assist you along the way.
Stay kind and brave, my friends -M
The Motley Ms.
Hi! My name is Melinda. I'm a saved-by-grace-er, lifelong learner, INFJ, health & fitness trynabe, Mom, #vanlifer, mental health vlogger, and Director & Clinical Supervisor at a Child & Family Therapy Practice in Northern California.
The Motley Ms
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