Passive Aggression as a Defensive Skill?

leave a passive aggressive man

Why using a defensive skill in a personal relationship?

I now think passive aggression behavior is selected to be used as a defensive skill to protect against a controlling parent or person from the past. The child, unable to leave, or to confront, takes this third way: to simulate compliance while rebelling internally….and facilitating acts of “innocent rebellion” that cover up the sabotaging of the parent’s mandate.

This is a very successful strategy to survive in the battle with a demanding, controlling parent who is obtuse to the child’s needs. It avoids getting punished for not going along with the request, presents a facade of innocence, and develops a germ of freedom inside the child that makes he think he is somehow doing a counter attack, sabotaging either the intentions or the results of the parent’s will.

Passive aggressive behavior is a learned coping skill as a result of this interaction between the self-determination of the child and the pressure imposed by the parent’s will. And perhaps we can slightly understand better why is this the male best defensive tool to avoid control, humiliation and external demands? Because instead of having to choose between fight (impossible for being little) or flight (impossible because where can a child escape to?) this skill preserves self-esteem: “I’m not giving in to those oppressive demands, I’m doing what I want or need.”  Girls have a bit more accommodating nature and prefer to go along and obey for now, and dream of getting their own freedom later.

NOW, look at your spouse. If his/her parents are alive, watch the interaction of your spouse with them. Probably parents need something, and child doesn’t contradict them.

It’s never: “Oh, what you ask for is impossible because I don’t want to do it…”

It is, “wonderful, we are doing what you ask for when…” and here comes the impossible condition: when we have time, when we have money, when the weather is better…”

Creates the illusion of both sides on the same page? you bet! Will it ever happen? No way!

If you do this exercise, it will be easier for you to see the whole scenario: a controlling parent, a child that having no other way but to submit, decides to avoid submission and makes believe he will deliver, but reserving for himself the last decision about when, how and if it will be delivered. In short, the will of the controlling parent is thwarted, without punishment for the child…victory for the child!

Now, can you see why this “legitimate defense” of a child against overbearing parents can survive in adulthood and be used against you? Even if you don’t perceive yourself as controlling? It’s because it was a successful strategy, that got incorporated in the male mindset! Is his easy way of managing the world, when it becomes overbearing…and sometimes marriage can fit into this category, because its many challenges offered  in order to push us to grow up.

If you get this point, at least, you will accept that this passive aggressive response is not caused by your behavior: it has been there from childhood, deeply engraved in his mindset and deploys automatically when your husband feels the pressure to deliver something still not accepted by him.

And you are asking me again what can you do to change this behavior? Let me repeat myself: First, this is the way he manages the world; he is the only one who can change it. Does he want to change something that is his “normal reaction” (proven successful for ever) ? Probably not by himself, but motivated to stay in a marriage he values, yes! … But, of course, that is the message for another story!

About Nora Femenia

Nora Femenia, Ph.D, is the CEO of Creative Conflict Resolutions and the author of the book: "The Art of Living with a Passive Aggressive Husband," a field guide for women that have to deal with passive aggression in their partners. Nora also posts regularly on her blog Creative Conflicts. Visit her blog and join the community to discuss issues related to Conflicts, Relationships and receive also Free her book “Breaking Free From The Silent Treatment.” You are warmly welcomed here, because we care for your happiness!

Comments

  1. Connie Wetzler says:

    I guess my ex-husband (recently divorced) of 20 years decided his “legitimate defense” (actually his choice “offense”) was worth his family, unfortunately. My daughter and I are starting a new life over… just the two of us. And it’s okay. I couldn’t take anymore of his tactics and refusal to grow.

  2. Mrs Wallpaper says:

    I’ve know for a while my hubby is a PA. Since downloading the eBooks and reading them I’m handling things with him slightly better. I’ve not been able to change his behavior in anyway (obviously) but I’m controlling my expectations of him and trying to always have a Plan B that doesn’t depend on him. I’m getting to the point where his PA behavior is comical.

    Several months ago I asked my husband to purchase or make planter boxes for me as we are trying our hands at organic gardening. He asked when I needed them and I told him. Do you think he bought or made any? No, he did not. He had many excuses regarding time but found time to do crosswords, solitaire, and read pipe smoking websites. Fast forward to yesterday. He isn’t going to get the promotion at work he expected and will actually be getting a pay reduction. We are both disappointed. I asked him about starting his own business and he said–wait for it–“Funny you mention that because I’ve been thinking about starting a business building planter boxes.” LOL I didn’t take the bait but was very enthusiastic about it. Why? Because he doesn’t know a drill from a hammer and unless he gets training won’t be able to do this and I am certain he only said this to push my buttons. He probably expected me to balk at his business idea and I didn’t. So I’m expecting the planter business idea to quietly go away.

  3. Nomoretears says:

    And that is exactly where I am at after 28 years of marriage. Years of marriage counseling and his diagnosis of schizoid in addition to passive aggressive have almost done me in. I’m looking forward to a new life.

  4. Connie Wetzler says:

    Nomoretears, 28 years is a long time to experience, experiment with and exhaust all possibilities. I did everything I could but in the end he refused to take any responsibility whatsoever. When we agreed to separate or rather I lovingly convinced him that there’s no point in US creating any more bad karma, he kinda went a little crazy shortly after,so he made up my mind a little sooner. I used it in the context of “us” because PA’s take constructive criticism better if you place the blame on yourself, too. At first he was agreed and was okay, then he was overly happy but acting funny then things went downhill from there. I may have enabled him unwittingly in the beginning. Organized religion, or rather the one I was involved with created the perfect circumstance for enabling. I was expected to be a good (religion not named) wife and not deny his needs. My body was not my own, etc., etc… I was so young. But it took until just age 40 to start seeing that I needed myself back. I needed to find my personal power. It was calling me and I HAD to listen. The more I evolved the more he de-evolved, if that’s even possible. Well yes it is and he did, to the point I was scared for my life. My daughter saw the signs, too. Time to go! So we did. All is well now. I no longer have to sleep each and every night with an “elephant” on my chest with all of his guilt-tripping, blame, victim-play and his favorite…reject before (perceived) rejection. Classic. Started on our wedding night. But like I said I was young. What did I know.

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