Some of the hardest tasks in healing the passive aggressive man are dealing with his various ways of denying his own behavior.
What are the ways a passive aggressive may deny his toxic behavior?
There are four main kinds to discuss here:
• Denial of Facts
• Denial of Awareness
• Denial of Responsibility
• Denial of Impact
Denial of facts: many passive aggressive people will try to rearrange or fabricate past events to suit their present situation. They may (when the two of you recount it later on) change what was said in a fight last week, so that you are now the one who comes out looking bad this time. Sometimes, a denial of facts will mean you hear this go-to response: “I didn’t say that. I didn’t do that. That never happened. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Denial of awareness: this is the “poor me” or victim card. When confronted about their behavior, a passive aggressive may say, “Yes, I see that I did x, but it was because I care about you and want to make you happy… how come you aren’t happy with me buying a new TV for you?” In this way, he makes himself out to be the misunderstood victim, full of good intentions but with a demanding spouse like you.
Denial of responsibility: a passive aggressive person may deny he has any responsibility or obligation to watch what he says or does (much like a child). He refuses to believe seriously that there are grown up responsibilities of his role as husband and father…It’s exhausting for you to remind him over and over that he has 50% of responsibility for the marriage moral, emotional and financial upkeep. This is also part of the power games that passive aggressive people play; denial of responsibility involves maintaining a facade of power and control while doing the less he can, so he has time and resources for his playful interests.
Denial of impact: a little similar to denial of facts, a denial of impact occurs when the passive aggressive insists that his behavior is not really harming any one. In this type of denial, it is the wife, the children, and the friends who are wrong/controlling/demanding/over-reacting. He will say that the wife is the one who is going crazy, that her depression is from some other source, (surely organic, genetic, etc) and that perhaps she should be the one to see a therapist, not him.
Which leads us to one last point: even with these stages of denial revealed, what else is at work when a passive aggressive man denies having a serious problem and is in need of some deep changes in order to stay married? Why does he deny in the first place?
What we learn when we study passive aggressive behavior is that there is often a fear of shame involved when he thinks about admitting any kind of fault. As a child, the passive aggressive man would have been exposed to large doses of shame – either shame for his own mistakes, or seeing others shamed for theirs. The end result may have been public humiliation from peers, private abuse in the home, or other events that instilled in him a fear of making mistakes or looking “bad.”
Ultimately, it is this fear that leads the passive aggressive man to deny that he has done anything wrong. It is this fear that leads him to say, “I don’t need therapy, you do.” The best way for him to avoid admitting a mistake (and thus, feeling shame) is to not only take attention off himself, but direct it at someone else.
This is the passive aggressive’s tragic state of affairs – he is the person who most needs an affirmation of self-worth, but he is also the person who continually rids himself of the best chances of having help by persisting in behaviors so toxic as to risk losing the spouse’s love.