Your partner has been giving you the cold shoulder for most of the morning. When you ask what’s wrong, the answer is a very chilly ‘I’m fine’.
We’ve likely all been on the receiving end of this type of response, and some of those reading this may recognize themselves in the scenario above.
Passive-aggressiveness is fairly common in our culture, and can range from subtle (the silent treatment, use of sarcasm, hiding ‘digs’ behind the veneer of humor) to more overt and serious (withholding affection and attention, constant verbal negativity/hostility, manipulation, sabotage).
Passive-aggressiveness, like many other unconscious behavior patterns, is largely a learned response to an environment in which a child or youth was not permitted to express their needs, desires, or emotions freely because they feared reprisal (punishment, abuse, neglect, loss of love and affection) for doing so.
Alternatively, one or both parents may have been passive-aggressive. In this environment, the child might learn that it’s not ok to express anger or frustration, to say no, or to ask for what they need. In response, the child learns to suppress his or her true feelings and desires. Hostility and resentment build as a result.
Unfortunately, these suppressed feelings and desires don’t disappear, and instead leak out in unhealthy ways, sometimes in an overtly aggressive manner, but often in more subtle but no less damaging passive-aggressive behavior. While many of us may resort to this type of language or behavior on occasion in our adult relationships, the passive-aggressive personality type uses it as their primary means of expression, and as a way to maintain control and power through manipulation.
The hidden or indirect hostility, and often toxic negativistic attitude of the passive-aggressive person is a harmful defense mechanism that can slowly destroy relationships. Here are six ways passive-aggressiveness does just that:
1. Less Intimacy
The passive-aggressive typically fears intimacy, and so has difficulty establishing close, personal relationships with others. This creates distance and isolation for the passive-aggressive as well as for those in relationship with them.
2. Lack of Trust
Because passive-aggressive behavior is deliberately ambiguous and indirect, others have great difficulty trusting those who exhibit it, sometimes without being fully conscious of why.
The driving force behind much of the passive-aggressive’s behavior is to manipulate situations and other people in order to get their needs met. They use manipulation to maintain a sense of power and control; unfortunately, power struggles require the ‘other’ to submit and take a lower position, which is ultimately damaging to their self-esteem.
The passive-aggressive will typically be very uncomfortable and unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions and behaviors. Instead, they blame their partner for any relationship issues, leaving no room for the partner to have their own needs met.
5. Frequent Fighting
Because passive-aggressive behavior and language often sparks defensiveness in others, these relationships will be marked with plenty of fighting and arguing. In addition, there is seldom any resolution because the passive-aggressive refuses to accept responsibility.
Quite often, the passive-aggressive person is overly negative, engaging in frequent criticism of and complaining about others, which breeds a toxic environment from which support, playfulness and fun are largely missing. This can be particularly damaging to children of passive-aggressive parents.
Ultimately, the passive-aggressive individual is no different from anyone else in that they are simply trying to get their needs met, though they subconsciously lack the confidence to do so directly. Their actions, albeit often painful and destructive to themselves and others, are motivated by a basic need for acceptance and love.
If you are in a relationship with a passive-aggressive, or if you recognize many of these behaviors in yourself, it’s important to understand the underlying motivation. In this way, you can maintain a level of compassion for those involved, even as you work towards addressing the problem and changing the behaviors.