Passive Aggressive Husband

The Story Behind Dr. Nora’s Work

This is my life story and the story of the events that shaped my view of who I am and defined the kind of work I do. This short story shows how I came to be passionate about the issues of relationships, waging conflicts, and resolving them. I had three basic questions keeping me awake at night:

  1. Why were women and girls not equal to men and boys?

  2. Why was there so much aggression and abuse directed to children?

  3. How can I survive violence and transform my experiences into happier relationships?

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to know why there was so much injustice in the world. Why do people abuse the ones they say they “love”?

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I grew up in the fifties, in a working-class neighborhood in Mar del Plata, Argentina with my family: my mother, my father, and my younger brother. There was no TV, we had only a radio, school, church, and some other girls around the neighborhood. In this town, there was also a group of young boys who would hang around us. For their amusement, they would tease and taunt me and the other girls. I liked to play outside, but each time I went out, there were the boys, ready to begin their nasty games.

Playing with the boys was a no-no, but just ignoring the boys didn't work. And there weren't enough girls my age to form our own larger group, so I only could dream of ways of fighting back. I had this enormous sense of helplessness. When I complained to my mother, she said, "Why don't you defend yourself?" So, confusion was added to my helplessness: how could I defend myself if I was not allowed to hit back, because I was a girl?

How was I supposed to defend myself, under such contradictory mandates? I was in the dark. There were no clear rules to manage violence between people, no other examples to follow; my own mother would beat me down herself when I did something against her mandate, like hitting my younger brother. And she expected me to take in the punishment, don't make challenges to the fairness of such punishment, and be obedient, and shut up.

Unable to engage in tit-for-tat even in fraternal combat with my brother, I grew up dreaming of being powerful enough and strong enough to return slap for slap, punch for punch, whipping for whipping. I nurtured my imagination with action movies where the hero would impart much-needed justice. My greatest dream was to be the female heroine leader of a pack of good boys that would beat the bad boys down. I was quite willing to join that aggressive game if only I could figure out how.

But the sad fact was that, whether outside with the boys or inside with my parents and their whippings, brute force was a currency over which, as a child, I had no control or defense. I was helpless in confronting abuse and could not learn more effective self-defense methods. Dreaming, withdrawing into schoolwork, and silencing my own comments were the only ways I had of coping, and those ways were very ineffective for teaching me how to engage in conflict and defend my own needs/interests! I did learn the lesson that somehow, sometime in the future, education would free me from that environment.

My marriage proved to be no different. After an argument and beating from my husband, my mother was still saying, "I never would have tolerated such a thing. How stupid can you be?" However, by the time I was married, I had learned something important about what my mother was saying to me.

When I was young, it was so easy to believe her. I could see myself as the ugly, stupid girl, the one with asthma and eczema scars on my face. The self-blame narrative was ready and waiting for me to identify with it, but I also knew that it wasn't the only narrative at my disposal. I felt it in my bones that there had to be another more dignified way of becoming my own person, but couldn't find it yet.

How I viewed myself changed magically when I was ten years old. I was a good student, a regular at the library where I read everything in sight, and my mind always asked the right questions in class. One day, my fourth-grade teacher called a parent-teacher conference. My parents arrived ready to respond to my teacher’s behavioral complaints, ready with a well-worn, leather-based disciplinary plan.

Instead, they were astonished to hear about the magazine I had written and illustrated for the class, and the poem I had authored about the fading rose whose soft petals had given such pleasure to people, copied by the whole class. When they heard the teacher say that I was smarter than anybody in the classroom, my parents were shocked. How could they reconcile the "unruly, disobedient girl" image they had of me, with this new image of an “intelligent child”? It took a little work on their part!

By praising my intelligence, my teacher allowed me to see myself in a new light, and everything now made perfect sense. It seemed to me then, very clearly, that all my problems were coming from the fact that I could see the world in different ways, more open-minded than my parents!

This is how I began to understand how formative your parent’s perceptions of you are when you are a child:  what someone thinks about you, what they say about you frames the whole of your childhood experience! When my teacher framed me as a "bright student who needs to be appreciated/understood,” she influenced me to see myself that way - just as I been influenced to see myself the way my parents saw me before! Being under their negative views of myself was hurting me big time, leaving me helpless and unappreciated.

A positive framing saved my life and rescued my young self from the grief of not knowing my own value as a person. The insight that we can unconsciously see ourselves as others see us, even when this image is not the one we perceive ourselves to be, carried me through many of my life situations ahead, when I began to deal with the thousand ways humans make sense of events and construct their life stories.

This is my story of feeling impotent, of not knowing how to defend myself against other people’s violence or their negative framing of me. Out of this story is another story: my years researching human conflict and why people either support or hurt each other.

I began to study psychology, working in both the field (a psychiatric hospital) and academia, witnessing the various ways that we punch each other around in the family, the military, the asylum, the church, and the workplace. A common thread was developing through all those different interactions: a thread of humans connecting either to help or control each other, where “love” and “violence” were sometimes indistinguishable. Now, as a grown-up, I can more clearly see how my previous situations and experiences knit together. Now, I understand how people work to oppress each other and hide their own humiliation by pushing it onto others.

I am now more confident using a larger map of human conflict, always developing, which includes issues like:

  • how our unresolved emotional needs are always crying for attention and satisfaction;

  • how we need to develop a positive self-image to be able to thrive and be happy;

  • how many of our experiences are shaped by pain and by the way we respond to pain;

  • how, by responding to pain, we can learn basic life lessons;

  • how we help each other either grow or destroy their self-esteem based on unconscious, competitive rules of behavior.

As a child, I could only dream of action-movie ways of pursuing recognition, justice, and self-development, as a means of rising against the power of brute force.

As a grown-up, I recognize the deeper needs for acceptance and recognition unsolved in my childhood, and honor them every day.

I have learned to heal myself, and I now know how to heal and reconcile others, so that at some level my clients learn to stop hurting themselves and hurting others so deeply.

Today, this is the main interest in moving Creative Conflict Resolutions ahead. We provide technology, ideas, and support for those individuals and groups who are willing to transcend their pain and humiliation by doing creative conflict transformation rather than destructive responses.

By learning more about how to manage conflict, as I did, and using the strategies I’ve created, it is my hope that my clients will stop using their life time  making enemies and defending from them, and instead start using their energy for building a better world for themselves and those around them.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
12 years ago

Thanks for the key reminder Nora that “if marriage is not geared to help you grow as a person, then why marry”….when we are young who understands that concept? Perhaps the very emotinally mature…..I suppose in a twisted kind of why the road we have travelled has caused us to grow though….my understanding of so many areas of life has grown exponentially over the past 3 years….the blinders are off and I see so clearly now….I have emotionally grown up and perhaps that was only going to happen through adversity…..I’m aware of my “false ego” now and core issues and verrry aware of my husband’s false ego and core issues which has allowed me to make sense of all of this.  Through this experiene my “real” friends emerged and the others I have let drift away for now as it appears they have let me drift away also as my experience has made them uncomfortable.  Perhaps this is the shift that is necessary for “nice” girls to move foward with less naviety of life…..that being nice doesn’t guarantee us a healthy marriage as we are overly nice for reasons that aren’t valid.  Through this experience we find ourselves and our boundaries with everyone….we have learned what we stand for and are able to express ourselves in a way that may never have come to pass any other way perhaps.  I’ve learned we come into this world to learn….life is filled with hills and valleys and I held a child-like naivete that everyone played by the same rules.  So at the end of the day we have all grown via these marriages….we initially twisted ourselves into a variety of ways of being to please our partner and in the end it didn’t achieve what we wanted…..this led all of us to question our lives and how we got here….now that we are fairly steeped like a good cup of tea we can move forward with or without a man. We have received the greatest gift…..self awareness!

Reply to  Jmbriere
12 years ago

Dear Janet,thanks for your empathy..It took a while for me to get together my courage and share personal aspects of my life, and then you confirm that those aspects are not only mine but universal! As young girls, we have been put down, given less opportunities than our brothers and in general, sent the message that we as girls don’t count…Blessed are the adults who broke that frame shaping our self-perception and also our destiny, and allowed us to see ourselves as the creative, purposeful creatures we were….
I try now, very much on purpose, to let young women around me know what are their most valuable  aspects, congratulate them and don’t allow them to deny them under a cover of shyness….It is the role that we can have now: encourage girls to depend only on their own perception and avoid or reject those that destroy their possibilities, even in marriage.  If marriage is not geared to help you grow as a person, then why marry?
Again, thanks for your support; I appreciate your postings very much!

12 years ago

Thank you for your sharing your life story with all of us Nora. The more stories that are shared allow us to realize we are all actually closer together than we realize. I do think you zeroed in on a good point and that it only takes one key player in our lives to shift our thinking and allow us to blossom. I’m sure we can all look back on our life situations and find that person who made a big difference in our lives….who allowed us to believe in ourselves beyond our own biological family if that wasn’t provided for.  Like you I also saw the injustices between men and women….how I saw men trying to hold women back and I didn’t want that for myself and yet I ended up in a marriage with a passive aggressive men.  So as much as we change those early imprints are a part of us, albeit unconscious. We do live in a culture where people prefer oppressing each other, something I find more disturbing each day.  The more I push with others to open up the more they push back.  People push against being vulnerable….they push against emotional intimacy because it requires them to “feel” and to feel they learned in their life was dangerous. So people live those lives of quiet desperation never showing up real with themselves or others.  It’s because of this that personal boundaries need to be in place because sharing does not go back and forth with relationships or friendships due to the early emotional charge that is carried within each person.  People either decide to take the leap of faith and shift or they stayed mired in the story of their life.  I have learned over the past few years that people I once saw as strong in my own life simply have very clever defenses to disguise their real being.  The masks are off and the illusion has been removed….I see them as clearly as I see myself.  I have compassion and empathy for others but will no longer enable them.  We have to make a decision in this life….to live a life of authenticity or live that life of quiet desperation.  From my seat the choice is obvious but I realize for many now that leap of faith is out of their realm of thinking.  I am slowly finding my own ‘tribe’ as I like to call it but pray that people will step out from behind their masks and false egos and the imprints that their families left on them….that the weight you will drop after doing this is so freeing….one’s energy can go into more worthwhile endeavours that can help our world evolve and step out of this passive-aggresive model where people seem to be showing up as mere robots in their own life.