“when he got there, I talked to him about it.” huh?????


Our culture villianizes teenagers for narcissistic incoherence in communicating but I witness it in many adults. Why is there such difficulty when speaking, in journalism, on-line? Here’s a few communication muddles:

  • Use of  pronouns. My quasi-spouse loves them: *”They had what I needed and I picked it up.” As if I know which ‘they’ he’s referring to and what ‘it’ he bought. Or, “He didn’t like what I’d said.” Who?? What had he said? At least I knew who the ‘I’ was. The Quasi starts in the middle of a story—one that he’s having alone in his head.
  • Stonewalling is a refusal to communicate fully (or at all)—think of the stereotypical teen or husband grunting one word “answers” to questions. More men than women regularly employ this non-action in stalled relationships. No resolution can be had using this “technique” as no one knows what the stonewaller wants because…they won’t tell you. Lots of rationalization is given for their disinclination, but the bottom line: they eliminate any possibility of getting what they need.
  • Evasiveness. Pretty self-explanatory but here’s a subtle example: “Has everyone paid you what they should have?” “I have been fairly compensated by all.” The answer suggests that everyone did pay but it’s equally possible that “fairly compensated” is an ambiguous cover. A direct “yes” would have left no ambiguity. Why obfuscate?
  • Illegible writing and SIRI-garbled texts go together. Sloppy writing, sloppy mumbling to SIRI. If you’re attempting to leave a note for someone or send a text, read over what you’ve written or dictated. Is it legible to you? Does the text make sense? The object is transmission, is it not?
  • Passive-aggressive is more complex [see: how to deal with pass-agg aggro] but suffice to say that this one often involves all of the above and more, like: agreeing to one thing then doing another, being sullen, surly, defensive. It’s awfully thorny finding accountability with these slippery people.

What would help?

  • Start communications with details, with nouns. Set the story up whether you’re talking or writing. If you don’t—unless you’re an actual child—you’re just revealing your solipsism. Most of us like a good story but more often than not we’re subjected to boring ones.
  • Speak up and ask for what you want regardless of your perceived hopelessness in being heard. It’s logical; it’s effective—whichever way it goes. Otherwise you’re apparently choosing to be a martyr.
  • Give a clear” yes” or “no” preamble in answers, especially if you don’t like to “process” much. There’s little sense in being vague. Expound if you wish but without defensiveness (smells of martyr, too).
  • Don’t blame SIRI for getting your dictation wrong. “She’s” not god.
  • Write so legibly that a beginning reader can interpret it.
  • Most importantly, communication isn’t just about you. Paint your ideas, stories, dreams, fears, loves with all the palette colors so another can almost see them as you do. Others may not agree but they just might understand.
  • Lastly, don’t be passive-aggressive. Sigh.

*actual true conversation starting points

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.”

shame shame go away

In my 35+ years of counseling, I’ve found that shame is virtually the most stubborn cage of psychic hell. A serious soul-sickness. The quintessential belief that one is intrinsically unlovable.

This is how adults often present shame:

  1. Afraid to share their true thoughts and feelings with others.
  2. Commonly block “negative” feelings through secret compulsive behaviors: sex addiction, eating disorders, retail therapy or substance-abuse. I call these “secret addictions” because the secret is as important (or more) than the illicit relations, the new shoes, the gallon of ice cream…
  3. Intimacy adverse, terrified of commitment and build hidden walls in their relationships.
  4. Convinced of their inferiority and compare themselves negatively to others finding themselves flawed or deficient. This core belief, that they cannot be “fixed,” bonds to their psyches.
  5. Blame others for their pain and find it difficult to impossible to trust. Often results in controlling behavior.
  6. Defensive in the face of the slightest criticism where they feel unfavorably judged even if it’s kindly constructive advice from a boss or mate. Leads to passive aggressive interactions.
  7. Perplexed as to how to establish and enforce healthy boundaries with anyone, giving up their power and abandoning Self as if they’re compelled to do what others want. Subsequently suffer humiliation, guilt or smoldering anger.
  8. Constantly looking for approval from the outside to counteract the hyper-critical voices within. Thus trouble saying NO.
  9. Often narcissistic, pretending they have it all together. However, they don’t strive for Self-fulfillment, only for self-Image fulfillment.
  10. Transversely, they can be selfless, nearly to the point of being a martyr.
  11. Experience little spontaneity due to the constant monitoring and self-judgment.
  12. Motivated more by what they want to avoid rather than what they want.
  13. Usually perfectionists which gives rise to procrastination and non completion of projects. Afflicted with performance anxiety, choking at the critical moment.

How does one dysfunctionally shield Self against that inner demon, shame?

How can you heal from shame?

  • Face your pain! Own the sorrow and anger, incorporate them and grieve the loss of true nurturance. Your shame and pain are memory components living within your cells. There’s no escaping any part of your unique history.
  • Speak your shame aloud to safe, mature people. Therapy is invaluable for this practice. Teaches trust.
  • Have compassion for Self. Focus on your intention, not the result. You’re a “good” person so if you’ve made mistakes it must be for complex reasons. It’s never too late to make amends, to add back.
  • Try to eliminate good/bad thinking. Replace “This pizza is good” or “That dog sucks” with “I like this thin pizza” or “I don’t like this dog.” The pizza and the dog are what they are regardless of your personal preferences.
  • Create consistent boundaries. Practice saying NO to others and YES to your Self (not your compulsions).
  • Accept that things are what they are and not what you think they are.
  • Feelings live in the body, not the head. If you can’t “feel” it, they aren’t “feelings.”
  • When you can laugh at your foibles, especially when you’re “revealed,” then you’re on your way to “healed.”

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.

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

mi dispiace, i apologize, i’m sorry. was that so hard?

When my brothers and I were little and we’d argue, my mamma would usually have us work it out ourselves. If we couldn’t, we’d bring the injustice to our beneficent, definitive adjudicator and her judgment was routinely the same: listen to each other, say sorry, then kiss and make up. Yes, kiss. It’s thorny having to kiss someone if you aren’t really sorry.

Apologies: we need them not because we’re coming from a prideful place, or we want someone to grovel or feel shame, or because we’re blaming, but as an assurance that our hurt is understood, acknowledged and thereby create a lessened chance for repetition.

Saying, “I’m sorry,” doesn’t have to mean you agree; but it does mean you recognize the other’s wound as valid. This should be mandatory in raising children if you want to develop their empathetic side. Having empathy for another’s suffering is essential to a functioning society. Just observe the “compassionate” side of conservatives to see what self-righteousness spawns.

Someone said to me recently that you can’t ask for an apology because when s/he gives you one it won’t be real. Huh? That would just be passive aggressive agreeing, and how sad is that? If it’s not sincere, it’s not an apology, is it? And does he really think most of us over the age of six can’t tell the difference?

Asking for what you need is key to getting it.

If you request an apology, an understanding and your friend/family member refuses to give you one, then the message you’ll be getting is that “being right” is more important than resolution, more important than you. Who wants a relationship with a person that doesn’t care about your feelings, no matter who they are? Life is hard enough without others who won’t speak straight or act like adults when in conflict practicing smug contention.

When I was five, I rushed in the back door, my hard plastic headband—you know the ones with those sharp spikes inside—snapped in half dangling from my little fingers and burst out half sobbing, “You’re wrong, Mom! It’s not fair! It’s not FAIR!” My mamma’s first instinct was always to meet me and my emotions first, only later, when I was calmer, coaching me on my presentation.

“Mary hit me on my head, broke my favorite red headband,” I said holding the two pieces out, “and it hurt. And because you said to put myself in the other person’s place I couldn’t hit her back,” I shout-wept. “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

My mamma held me as I cried, said that I’d done well but—she was sad to tell me—life isn’t fair. I remember my response vividly as I moved back to stare at the blurry image of her through my tears, “Well, it should be.”

I still feel like that. I’ve stated that when I die, I want my ashes buried, then crowned with a wide-winged gravestone that will read: IT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING.

pejorative you! you mother-pejorative-er!—what? i didn’t curse you…

I’m sick of dismissals, discounting, disregards. Dissing in general.

And I’m tired of the “disguised diss” most of all. This is where the passive-aggressive techniques really come in handy. Fortunately, I’m of Italian-Toscana descent (there’s so many reasons this is fortunate) and I wasn’t taught passive-aggressive; I was trained to speak openly.

Unfortunately, because of my upbringing I don’t always realize when I’m in the gaseous area of the poisonous pass-agg. This type of “communication” can be exasperating because I’m often unsure what has actually been said, and feel incapable of responding directly without seeming overly sensitive, emotional, dramatic. See calm down? f@#k off!

Need some examples?

  • I’m sorry you don’t get what I’m saying.
  • Don’t mind me. I’ll wait out here in the cold.
  • Whatever you say is fine, honey.

But the part of pass-agg I want to discuss today: “embellishing” someone’s behavior by inserting loaded words that criticize you as a person but are disguised as saying how one feels. This bit really sucks.

Instead of frankly saying something like, “It’s difficult for me to listen when your voice is escalating/mumbling/whispering,”—all of which could be valid complaints—the “disguised diss” assertion is as follows: “When you’re ranting/have marbles in your mouth/whining like a baby, I can’t hear you.” Three things are going on in this sentence:

  1. what you were saying is dismissed as a “rant,” “having marbles in your mouth,” “whining,” instead of something you’re legitimately trying to say
  2. your character is denigrated
  3. you’re categorized as the aggressor because they “can’t hear you”

Other phrases/words used as pejoratives: she’s intense, he’s a drama queen, you’re badgering me, nag, railing, raging, harsh, zealous, hostile, emotional. All used to discount what a person is saying. Basically, the pass-agg person is controlling the situation: “If you don’t say it appropriately—the way I want it said—then it’s not valid and I won’t be listening to you.” How many parents have thrown similar statements in our faces when we were children?

But, we’re not children now or—hopefully—a-hole adults. So, let’s start speaking as respectful people. You’re free to complain about what’s not working for you but do it in a kind, straightforward manner and make it about what you need not about our nature.

Hear Oscar Wilde, “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”