how to deal with pass-agg aggro

alex-gregory-passive-aggressive-street-signs-new-yorker-cartoonI write about passive aggressiveness fairly often because in the USA that’s considered the “reasonable” way to convey one’s dissatisfaction. It’s the safer method of disapproval because its expression is more obfuscated than anyone who shows how they really feel when they feel it.

O, the negative judgments that are levied upon those brave souls who dare to display directly. Are they trouble makers? angry? hysterical? verbally abusive? too emotional? Yes, sometimes they are. But one thing leads to another. Meaning, those yellers, those huffing-puffing persons, those tantrum-ing children don’t always materialize through parthenogenesis; they’re forged.

I’m not suggesting that any of the above actions are acceptable, or superior to a stiff upper snoot but they are more frank and visible which makes them possible to address and—hopefully—resolve.

Pass-Aggs thwart their mate/boss/kid by regularly doing that which they deny they’re doing but so indirectly they can circumvent accountability when confronted. They’re as oppressive and controlling as the most hostile, angry person only they do it insidiously and dishonestly.

My mother spouted this Italian proverb when one of us kids would attempt to tell on another: Giovanni, toccarmi! Come on—you afraid? Do it! Poke me, come on! until the goaded sibling finally touches him…and: Mamma! Mamma! Giovanni touched me! My wise mother would rarely interfere with me and my brothers’ squabbles because she realized that for every pinch, unkind word, foolish action there was a not-as-easily-seen one that probably proceeded it.

Systemic, consistent passive-aggressive actions like these:

  • says one thing, does another
  • talks in ambiguities and generalities
  • agrees to something, then “forgets”
  • procrastinates/ “waits”
  • sulky, surly, sullen
  • dismissive, minimizing, lying
  • defensive in the face of requests
  • “designed” incompetence
  • pessimistic
  • gathers excuses, blames others for their own inabilities/unhappiness
  • poor decision making
  • stubborn
  • usually late

bring forth an inferno of frustration and helplessness due to the futility of finding sincere solutions. One can’t even get the pass-agg to admit they feel what they feel let alone move towards rectification. They didn’t learn to respond appropriately to conflict and scarcely look internally to examine their role in a relationship problem. Pass-aggs externalize and blame others. They deny their self-destructive behaviors, the consequences of those behaviors and the choices that cause others suffering.

What can you do? Kids/teens are commonly powerless—given our child rearing practices. Empower them with choice and a voice. Make it safe for them to speak, and then listen. They usually become more direct in relatively short order. And let their brains develop. Have patience.

With adults…honestly? Not favorable prospects. Two reasons: 1) pass-agg behavior is a deep-seated childhood coping strategy 2) They’d have to want to change their pattern of avoiding their pain.

  • Help them attain insight into the negative ramifications of their behaviors by persistently calling them out but speak from your needs, your feelings instead of what they do or don’t do.
  • State your boundaries clearly and refuse to budge if they don’t follow through; let them experience consequences.
  • Don’t allow “soft” bullying, contemptuousness or victim-hood.
  • Lastly, leave the “relationship.”

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