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.”

the world’s going to pot

This will probably be an unpopular post. No…I’m not going to diss the holy grails of coffee or cell phones—though I could.

Nope. Worse. The sacred “herb,” marijuana.

Six years ago, a dinner guest asked my 18-year-old son why most people his age don’t experience activism like we did in the 60s & 70s. In a somewhat judgy tone he asked, “What happened to you?” meaning Dario’s generation. I didn’t speak at the time but I suspected it had a lot to do with the explosion of hella-potent weed use (and the decline of psychedelic use). The former lulls you to non-perturbed non-action.

As a counselor of 35+ years, I can tell you that there’s a substantial growth in the use of weed and the negative effects it has on people’s lives whether you’re the one doing it or on the other end of someone else doing it. The U.S. consumes three times what the rest of the world uses and in a June 2012 CDC study, pot surpassed tobacco in popularity with teenagers. Indeed, when they say, “Let’s go smoke,” they mean weed.

We all know potheads who talk big but do little, ingest “cheetos and goldfish” and have a jolly, if lethargic, take on life. Then there’s the other: anxiety ridden souls, emotionally removed, in perpetual adolescence, avoid sociability unless with pot-smoking friends, unreliable, creatively stunted, must smoke to do their “horrible job,” are moody and restless if they temporarily refrain and—in the pot-rocky-relationship-realm—will usually choose weed over their wife.

Before I go on, I’m adamant for legalization of said “herb’ and I’m nauseated that U.S. prisons are crowded with non-violent users or sellers of weed—not talking Cartel here. I mean, potheads may not be exactly productive but geez they surely aren’t dangerous. I’m also not discussing the casual weed smoker or anyone using it for medical reasons.

However, I doubt that all those males [National Survey of Drug Use and Health found that adult cannabis ‘abusers’ are 74% male] in their 20s and 30s who’ve gotten doctors to sign off for their Medical Marijuana cards because they “suffer” from debilitating pain, depression, nausea or other relatively benign conditions are truth-telling.

And I don’t want to hear about how natural it all is. Huh?! I know people who’ve grown for 25+ years and they’d laugh in your face. The highest weed sample ever tested between 1975 and 2009 had 33.12% THC (domestic), 37.20% THC (non-domestic). The average potency of all marijuana in the U.S., according to the UMPMC’s Dec. 2008 – Mar. 2009 quarterly report, was 8.52% but potency continues to surge. Reality check: the national average THC content in 1978 was 1.37%! That’s when it was natural, people.

Now, there’re all sorts of ways to get your THC hit if you don’t feel like smoking a joint (approx 5 mg THC): cookies, brownies, fudge, pasta sauce, suckers, caramels, animal crackers, ice cream… Here’s the THC content on just two ‘edibles’: soda—120 mg, chocolate truffles—300 mg!! Who could emotionally connect or otherwise function with that dosage?

Why bother to wake and bake? Just stay asleep.

i’m not upset that you lied to me, i’m upset that from now on i can’t believe you ~ friedrich nietzsche

A half truth is a whole lie ~ Yiddish Proverb

Honest people are a rare refuge in a culture where we have to swim the sea of lies euphemistically called “social skills”: white lies, lies of omission, manipulations, passive aggression, denial, deliberate cons, ass-covering deceptions… [see: neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering ~ carl jung]

To lie is to intentionally mislead others—while they presume we’re giving them candor—so that they’ll form beliefs that are untrue. To some, the thrill of deception and manipulation is sexy; it’s also a pitiable way to shroud.

This constantly happens in politics, with sales people, military recruiters,  some journalists, lawyers, contractors. That’s precarious enough for us all but it’s downright lethal within relationships. [see: now we’re cooking with gas(lighting)] Especially with children. They look to us to reflect the world authentically so they can form realistic patterns of behavior. [For a “minor” version, see: the reason for the season is jesus and other lies]

Manipulators tend to be self-serving and tamper with the truth usually to get their immediate gratification “needs” met but they commonly confuse control with power as well. [See: more power!!!*] Conversely, in their repressed insecurity, liars care way too much what other people think of them, worrying neurotically about what impression they’re making. They often have more vanity and practice how to “be” in front of a mirror. Aaaand…we’re moving into the realm of sociopathic behavior.

Once you commit to speaking the truth, you begin to notice how rare it is to meet someone who shares this resolution, except for kids. And animals. No wonder many people in the States—our American philosophy being based on passive aggression or its flip side, machismo/individualism—opt for pets in lieu of forming long lasting human relationships. A simple breath of spring air in our polluted world of associations.

Honesty is an offering we can extend to others and a wellspring of power. It provides an opportunity for ease of interaction, not the complex muck of duplicity no matter how “benign.”

Studies have shown that responsible people are less likely to tell lies, especially the self-serving type, the ones we spin to make ourselves look better or to avoid unfavorable responses like blame, shame or discomfort. Lots of denial happens here. The more “altruistic” lies are told to make others feel better: “Nice haircut!” “You look great in those pants.” It’s been shown that men tend to do the former and women, the latter.

Am I lying as I write this? Maybe. It’s the written word; apparently words in print are given more credence, as are statements conveyed by a person in medical or other authoritative attire. I’m wearing a sweatshirt so I’d be suspect.

The bottom line is if you lie, you disturb the trust of another and those ramifications spread suspicion and wariness like undesirable pollen that contaminate our society’s underpinnings. Think hard before you glibly lob any sort of fabrication—unless you’re writing fiction. And even then, be wary, as all decent fiction should uncloak deeper truths.

neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering ~ carl jung

As a counselor, I usually have compassion for the variety of coping mechanisms people use. But with Cognitive Dissonance—that’s trickier. In short, it’s believing one thing yet doing the reverse; it’s the reality between who we are and who we think we are. I find it a fancier name for denial, for lying, for hypocrisy, for delusion. Translation: the client doesn’t want to do the necessary work.

When most of us confront opposing wants, we have two choices: change our conduct for inner alignment to achieve integrity, or alter our attitudes and rationalize our behavior. Unfortunately, many are more prone to do the latter.

It’s “uncomfortable” to bring fantasy and reality together because suddenly it’s obvious what needs to be done and these depressing realizations mean we have a lot of work to do. Worse, we might have to face the fact that our “designs” are unfeasible. We might have to make an integris choice! We might feel pain! Yes, we will. Growth only happens in the land of reality.

Some examples: to be anti-birth control and yet pronounce abortion a sin, to believe in the sanctity of a glob of cells within a women’s body and yet adamantly endorse the death penalty, to be a vegetarian but eat chicken—poof! sleight of mind—conflict resolved. You no longer see it.

Unfortunately, I can, and so do most others. Cognitive Dissonance does reconcile our mind’s discomfort with incompatible thoughts and actions, but in a magical thinking kind of way. We hate to have our inconsistencies pointed out and will attempt all kinds of mental contortions to avoid them. Still, there’s a perverted leap over the truth. And a lot of secrecy, too.

This often occurs in marital affairs, where those involved are adrift in their created fantasies and fabricate a chimera rather than deal with the reality of their lives, their choices. Feels pretty immature and, honestly, spineless.

Because whatever you’re not dealing with, you’re passing on to someone else. Whether you intend to or not. See: now we’re cooking with gas(lighting). One of the major principles I taught my kids: If you throw a rock, don’t hide your hand. This meant they had to line their actions up with their thoughts and articulately stand by them. It taught them critical thinking skills which make it harder to inhabit the land of delusion. I respected my kids and their choices even if I sometimes disagreed with their “rock throwing.” Why? Because, at whatever age or stage of development, their intention was aligned with their whole Self.

I understand the need for resolution, I do. But I believe in conscience, too. Since when do people who compartmentalize not know what they’re doing? They do, and then they lie. To themselves, and to us.

men can ‘hate’ patriarchy, too


Over dinner one night, a (male) friend teasingly said, “But you hate men.”

I laughed and said, “No, not men—patriarchy, and entitlement which harms both genders.” I paused then continued, “It’s not my fault that the most entitled group in the U.S. happens to be white males.” He nodded.

Not counting my jesting friend, I’ve found it amazing that when I point out the evident, others inject an assumptive opinion about what I mean or think, often trying to discount me personally for noticing and speaking up.

This is especially true if I verbalize anything to do with patriarchy. In my experience, the tetchiest people in the world are men. I’m old-ish now and I’ve been talking about the damage patriarchy has had on women, men, children, fauna, flora, dirt and the galaxies since I was a teenager, yet I can count on three fingers the times a man wasn’t defensive about this. You know, the tired (and dismissive) trope, “Not all men.” This is especially true as income level rises.

First, no one is talking about You unless You identify with what is being seen/said.

Secondly, if something is obvious, it’s still not personal. It’s just obvious.

Thirdly, I’m not the only person who can identify this as a problem [see: testosterone: the most lethal substance on earth (george carlin)]. Observing something—female or male—doesn’t mean anyone’s choosing sides. Just because I see it and I’m female doesn’t mean I fabricated it or that it’s erroneous.

I’m on the side of ‘truth,’ not gender, the side of repeated empirical and anecdotal evidence. I just want “it” to get better, people—not to be right, which, BTW, tends to be more of a male concern.

Zen tenet suggests that misery comes from not accepting “what is.” If you can’t look out at our world and not see that women are often prey, do 70% of the world’s work, bring home 17-30 % less than men (look it up)—just because, have males trying to regulate their wombs with laws and panels to discuss reproductive rights populated only by men, carry the emotional bulk of ‘relationships,’ put in 4-5 more hours per week of domestic-related work than men, and that 95-97% of mainstream media, movies, TV are created by men most of which rarely pass the Bechdel Test, ad infinitum, ad nauseum…then you don’t have senses.

Women don’t cause the majority of the world’s conflict, are rarely terrorists, attackers, molesters, mass shooters nor do they blow the tops off of mountains, clear-cut, create CAFOs or—basically—throw Planet Earth under the bus. No, they don’t. See rabble, rabble, rabble : : women create, men destroy for more rant-ress information.

How about stepping out of denial and step up to acknowledgment. The first course of action in healing anything is to accept “what is,” to name it. If you won’t do that, there are no other moves.

As Schopenhauer said: All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Let’s race for Self-Evident, okay?

pollyanna is passive aggressive


Why is it when you have a complaint about the world, governmental ineptitude, hair, academic insularity, overcooked spaghetti, other people, xmas glut, phones, public toilets, the arts industries, parties, dumb guy movies, vampires, the patriarchal paradigm or religion some people feel compelled to nullify it by shoving the “bright side” in your face? Or dismiss your “sad, cynical state” with a gentle-yet-smug head shake.

Pollyannas aren’t interested in profound darker truths about life; just light ones. It seems that a day without nighttime is fine with them, and maybe they only prefer inhaling. But, realistically, that isn’t the full, round ambiance of our planet. Shadows materialize and are more “lustrous” in the sun, yet the pollyanna seems blind.

The problem is not just that pollyannas excrete a positive viscosity over life but that they’re illogically optimistic; you can’t discuss serious issues or philosophies and opinions that might touch those nasty banished parts of themselves. They get visibly anxious, start projecting and see you as Debbie Downer. No resolutions can be found to most of life’s events from large to small except: “it’s meant to be” “is god’s plan” or “it all happens for a reason.”

I, too, believe things happen for a reason but not from denial of what is. Contrarily, engaging in what is—be it deemed “negative” or “positive” by the pollyanna—helps me make rational sense of that reason. BTW, my definition of good and bad: what wakes me up is good, regardless of whether or not it feels good, and what’s bad is what puts me ‘to sleep’ even if it feels great.

Pollyannas take genuine truths but twist them into sappy sentiments because they’re not infused with living pain. I didn’t say pollyannas don’t have pain, they’re just so afraid of and powerless in the face of their anguish—apparently never having been taught how to be with it—that they cage it in the cellar and have Golum feed it saccharine: I am the master of my fate! It takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown! Chin up! It’s not happy people who’re thankful but thankful people who’re happy!

I’m sorry for children who aren’t taught to embrace all of their emotions with compassion and I’m sorry for all the rest of us who are judged as being too intense, sad or—heaven forbid—negative. But mostly, I feel sorry for pollyannas and their delusional half-lived state. We can’t really touch them because they’re not yet fully formed.

You can only participate in life’s bliss—which often feels few and far between—if you willingly cuddle with your shadows. Pollyannas seem a long way away from this acceptance as they ‘bright-side-of-life’ their suffering away and discount anyone who reminds them of their ostracized despair.

Let Monty Python take it from here: always look on the bright side of life.