The mother who acts like a martyr, manipulating her kids with guilt and helplessness. The cold and distant father, who never âgets madâ but withholds affection and approval to get people to do what he wants. The child who conveniently forgets rules or never follows through on his promises.
These are all forms of passive-aggressive behavior, which can ruin relationships and even lives. Unlike more obvious forms of abuse like yelling and hitting, it is so subtle that people (even the abuser!) arenât aware that they are emotionally manipulating each other. Unfortunately, it can drive families apart and create such deep wounds that children grow up either resenting their parents or becoming passive-aggressive themselves. Here are some ways of identifying the problem.
1. Passive-aggressive people rarely take a stand.
At first they seem very diplomatic and easy to get along with. They never argue and may even seem eager to please. But thatâs all a front. They donât keep promises, and even if they verbally agree with you, they will do what they want or complain about you behind your back. Or, they will simply shuffle along, and will only act if they are under extreme pressureâlike when you finally yell at them or give an ultimatum.
2. Passive-aggressive people are forgetful.
Itâs very difficult to trust or rely on passive-aggressive people. They conveniently forget what they donât want to do. Or, they âpunishâ you by dropping the ball on an important responsibility, and then apologize profusely so you feel guilty about being disappointed or angry.
People also use passive-aggressive behavior if they have trouble dealing with pressure. Instead of asking for help, or setting boundaries and saying no, they agree to everything but do nothing.
3. Passive-aggressive people like to blame others.
As far as theyâre concerned, everything is everybody elseâs fault. If they canât keep a job, itâs because âthe boss was crazyâ or âmy wife wasnât supportive enoughâ or âmy co-workers were out to get me.â They see no reason to change their actions and have no motivation to look for alternatives or opportunities. In fact, passive-aggressive people also tend to carry a lot of resentment and anger (âeveryone else ruined my life!â) and like to âpunishâ others for what happened to them. They also put a lot of pressure on others. As they throw a pity party for themselves, youâre expected to pick up the slack or to make them feel good about themselves. They can also be very critical, because they prefer seeing the faults of others over admitting their own.
4. Passive-aggressive people suppress feelings.
Many of them were raised to hide their feelings. Maybe they were punished when they got angry, or told to âstop crying and act like a man.â So they suppress their real emotions, and have a tendency to either suddenly blow up or to get back at you in subtle ways. For example, a wife may not confront her husband about his cheating, but will quietly undermine his relationship with the kids.
5. Passive-aggressive people are afraid commitment and dependency.
They are often control freaks. They donât want to admit that they need you or care about you, and usually sabotage relationships. For example, they will find reasons to break up with people, or use ways to retain control over a relationship (such as withholding money, sex or approval) so they donât feel dependent on others.
6. Passive-aggressive people are insensitive to othersâ needs.
Healthy relationships are based on give-and-take, but for passive-aggressive people itâs âall about me.â They may say âI love youâ and appear to be compassionate and concerned, but they either forget to follow through, or continue behavior that they know will upset you, or they make you very, very aware of the âsacrificeâ theyâre making. âOh, I didnât go to the conference, which couldâve really helped my career, and I probably wonât get the promotion, but thatâs what you want, right?â
7. Passive-aggressive people procrastinate.
They figure out that if they wait long enough, youâll give up and stop bothering them, or youuâll forget the promise they made. They also use procrastination as a way of ignoring problems or avoiding fears. For example, they may find ways to put off a project because theyâre afraid of failure, or theyâll wistfully talk about their dreams but not actually go for them because they want to continue blaming you for âholding them back.â
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