WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR?
We offer here a guide to understanding the hidden motivations that push a person to behave in a passive-aggressive way.
You know that this behavior has a very high cost in relationships: basically is a sure-fire way of destroying intimate connections. Provides such a contradiction: how can you be saying you want to be married and share your life with someone, while at the same time walling out this person from your own self?
There have to be powerful causes of passive-aggressive behavior, given that this behavior is basic to the personality.
Any example of passive-aggressive behavior, even when learned in the first year of life is not a free voucher for any spouse. We don’t accept or believe that passive-aggressive behavior is a valid connecting strategy. What we say here, is that this self-defeating strategy is the ONLY one model of interpersonal relations the person has…
He can’t connect with others in a different way, if he doesn’t realize the impact of present behavior in others, and make serious efforts to learn how to behave in a different way.
In the “fog of love,” a spouse may believe that this behavior is a choice; that her spouse is choosing to exclude her from his inner self on purpose; that he is sending with this behavior a message where she is not the right person for him; she is not worthy of his attention; or she does not have what it takes to make him love her…
ALL those interpretations are coming from her brain, as ways to make sense of the destructive connection they have:
She can be thinking: Is he intending to drive me nuts, offering cooperation, and sabotaging it at the same time? If this is so, WHY?
The most common question is WHY? "why if he says that he loves me, then he ignores and puts me down before his friends"?
"WHY, if we are supposed to share everything, he makes a mystery of normal things as his phone connections list or his bank account reports"?
"If it is normal to make plans together, WHY is he so resistant to share with me what he wants to do in the weekends, only to accuse me of not doing enough for his fun"?
Perhaps we need to refresh here some of the stronger indicators of passive-aggressive behavior: Examples of passive-aggressive behavior:
having a generally negative attitude towards others
going against other people’s wishes and beliefs, on principle
forgetting, complaining, disliking, or ignoring other people’s ideas
giving sarcastic comments and feedback instead of loving support
blaming other people for his own problems
What do you need to read, here, is his mental model of the world:
“Others can’t be trusted; I need to defend myself from others; nobody is good enough for me to respect, value, or cherish him/her…”
Where is this model coming from? Your partner may have not learned how to be in an equal, mature relationship because of unresolved personal pain and repressed anger from childhood, as you can learn from knowing the story of his family.
Now, we are on the right path! now you are going to discover who primed him to be so defensive, so suspicious of other human beings around him, including you: the first relationship was with his mother or caretaker!
We know a lot now about attachments, and perhaps you read our first article here.
Now, you need to learn how to read people with insecure attachments:
If they were shaped by early experiences in which they could not expect constant attention from their mother to solve such basic needs as eating, being held, soothed, and comforted, the model of human interaction they learn is: “Others can fail you and let you starve to death; is better not to trust, take care of your things yourself, and don’t let anybody get so near as to frustrate you.”
It is from this very primal model that your partner manages his world: he has only this restricted view of relationships to apply when adjusting and creating relationships with other people
The main point of this article is to make clear that passive-aggressive behavior indicates having an unhealthy personality, based on a childhood model of the world. If you really look at your partner using this frame, you will begin to see a child dealing with challenges he can’t manage (as the emotional demands of a grown-up spouse) using his only and one strategy: retreat, hide, clam up, withdraw into your cave.
And if you push him to deliver, you can get the whole gamut: negative, sarcastic comments and put-downs, blaming “everyone but me,” promising but not delivering, and a wide variety of clever procrastination and sabotages to activities you want and he can’t enjoy.
If you are still dating this person, there is cause for you to pause and reflect on your own future. Do you want to raise this rebellious but needy child and make that a heavy task for the rest of your life? If you are already married to him, can you find in yourself the strength to understand him and manage him in a way that doesn’t reject him, but doesn’t accept his shenanigans?
Is a very difficult balance… The answer can depend on his own degree of awareness: if he can link his connection difficulties to his past childhood experience, and doesn’t consider his passive-aggressive behavior the right way of connecting with you, there is some hope. He will understand that finding and contracting the help of a coach, counselor or therapist is his duty
If you are still gathering your courage to raise the talk about “passive-aggressive behavior” with him because he continues with his denial, you should consider ways of detaching and recover some of your lost self-esteem.
If you are investing too much time and effort in a relationship that lacks intimacy, closeness or/and cooperation, take a good look at your need to live with frustration. Ask yourself: what kind of person would I be if this loneliness and frustration were not in my life?
WHY LEARNING THE SIGNS OF PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR IS A GOOD STRATEGY!
To Understand Passive Aggressive Behavior, we need to abandon our rational and logical way of thinking.
We all have developed mental models of people relating to each other. We even have clear definitions of what different styles offer in a relationship…and we expect that everybody can follow the models that the culture around us provides:
This is the plan, right? Marriage is the be-all and end-all: we will find someone to love, get married, and develop a deep and nurturing relationship together.
Romantic stories often reach their closing with marriage and the resulting “happily ever after.”
We believe that, within marriage, we will find harmony and know or learn how best to relate to one another. We will find someone to love, get married, and develop a deep and nurturing relationship together.
The common ideal concept is that when people are mature and truly ready for closeness and secure intimacy, then they get married, so they can be happy ever after…
Sorry, this is a hugely erroneous assumption… Even loving very much each other, both partners can misunderstand and frustrate each other immensely because they only have available to bond with each other the behavior they have learned in their past attachments.
We have explained the particulars about attachment in several postings…, and also here we invite you to take the attachment style test:
We even look at the connection between attachment style and passive aggression, here.
The concept now that is needed here to completely grasp the idea, is this: each one of us connect with our lovers and partners using the attachment style learned then and there…When we fall in love, we happily buy the myth that everybody has the same attachment and is ready to bond because has the same capacity for intimacy.
So, we don’t look carefully at the behavior of the person we love, to try to identify which style of attachment the person has and how that style will o will not prevent the satisfaction of our emotional needs. Truth is, we need to find the “perfect partner,” part of that perfection is that he or she might have intimacy needs similar to our own.
Now, reality sets in, after some time of living together: now we know that we have different degrees of needs for love and affection; a different approach to intimacy, disclosure, and openness. All the degrees of the scale can be present: from emotional unavailability to extreme emotional need and search for intimate contact.
When one person’s need for closeness is met with another person’s need for independence and distance, a lot of unhappiness ensues. Perhaps you are puzzled by certain behaviors of this person in your life? Or are you wondering why everything seems not quite right when you have a conversation with him?
Many women struggle within destructive relationships with their own husbands, faced with a partner who is often angry, silent, and brooding, without being able to put the picture together…
This is what they need to know: this hostile behavior is actually passive-aggressive behavior, a psychological state in which pent up past anger and frustration at his primary attachment is expressed in unhealthy ways within the present relationship.
In order to discover that he is coming from an attachment that is not secure, but anxious or avoidant, that pushes him to use passive-aggressive behavior you need to stop listening to his words and only watch what he does.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS REVEALING PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR?
a) He is emotionally unavailable, avoids talking about feelings;
b) As his focus is his needs for control and safety first, he needs to stay distant and disengaged from you and from the marriage obligations;
c) When you ask for connection and emotional response, he only can react with anger and frustration so deep he can’t own them and needs to blame you for “provoking him.” Wife is at fault for his rage, sabotage, or silent treatment;
d) He will create imagined negative situations against him, and he will seethe in silence for days;
e) Will sabotage family projects or necessary tasks with no warning, damaging relationships with others in the group, and having difficulty to apologize and repair.
HERE IS AN EXAMPLE IN THE WORDS OF A CLIENT:
Says Joe: "Last Halloween Lizz worked for weeks putting together a trip to New York plus to see a concert while we were there. It was so we could maybe start over in the relationship but within two days I became sullen and withdrawn and my dark mood wrecked the whole vacation.
IS THERE A SOLUTION?
Looking at the few printed books and articles with NO practical solutions on how to help this trust gap in both sides of the marriage, Creative Conflicts has introduced a new e-book called “How to Spot a Passive-Aggressive Partner,” written specifically for women in this type of debilitating marital situation.
The e-book, which focuses on helping women recognize, identify, and confront passive-aggressive behavior, encourages them to become their own instrument of change in the relationship.
We know it is empowering for women to have a name for the disorder, as well as a description, an explanation, and the strategies to deal with it; only then can wives know how to overcome their position as unexpected victims of their intimate relationships. Watch the peace and control that is restored in the relationship, simply by knowing the realities of such behavior.
When you begin reading “How to Spot a Passive-Aggressive Partner” you can begin to accurately judge your situation and relationship status. If you find yourself mired in this confusing situation, being in the painful role of a spouse in a passive-aggressive marriage, and you are looking to gain relief and support from the strategies offered, then you are a good reader of this "How to Spot a Passive-Aggressive Partner e-book."
How much is possible TO CHANGE PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR?
Listing the signs and understanding root motivations, we can ask this question. First, sharing with you the passive-aggressive behavior definition we use at Creative Conflict Resolutions, suggesting the importance of including the basic framing of passive-aggressive behavior as:
“the lifelong defense against feelings of abandonment generated by insecure connection with the first caregiver. The effects of being born into an insecure or avoidant attachment with the significant figures of his childhood determine a mental model of relationships as basically secure and trust able, or insecure and risky.”
Of course, the fact of having an insecure view of life where others can frustrate, abandon, and in general not be trusted to provide emotional connections is not so obvious for this person. Defense mechanisms in his reasoning attribute this situation of “relationships failure,” to others’ lack of warmth and support, never to his own way of experiencing relationships. He can say that others are provoking this defensive behavior, over and over again…finally, it’s a way of not taking responsibility for his own actions.
Connecting with his mental models means basically to get a look at the emotional misery produced by an attachment that allowed a baby's survival but not the development of an emotional core where from to experience the feelings and emotions produced from loving and being loved by others…
The insecure attachment produces a style of connection that is not nurturing or satisfactory of human needs as the real, secure attachment does. This is to say, that it will become a problem only in intimate passive-aggressive relationships, where connecting to satisfy human needs for love and deep intimacy is the basic need to be addressed. And the impact of this lack will be felt by the spouse.
Is very easy to discover the inherent pain that a relationship based on passive aggression brings. Dealing with passive-aggressive people is very frustrating! At the perception of a failure in connecting with core emotions, it is added the isolation and denial of the humanity of the spouse. Probably there is a cycle of long silences, secrecy, and no communication at a personal level, followed by some desperate attempt by the wife to elicit some response, which forces the husband to retreat into more silence and rejection of her advances.
HERE IS THE BASIC PLAN FOR YOUR LIFE:
To help you identify the kind of relationship that he can realistically offer, you need to go through a process with several stages:
1.- The first is going through the gradual process of the frustration of your fantasies about how married life would be for you;
2. The second is your search for reasons for his rejection, which can take a long time because you could be blaming yourself for his cold shoulder or his progressive withdrawal of sexual connection;
3.- The third is to process the fact of his emotional immaturity, the root cause preventing him from performing his role as a grown-up man, being tied to childhood frustrations.
All this process meanwhile requires you -the innocent spouse- to process confusion, anger, rejection, and a lot of loneliness.
The final point is to accept that you are not responsible for his attitude, learned in his childhood, way before you both met and fall in love.
And what is your task now? can you change your husband’s attitude?
A passive-aggressive intimate connection is a cruel puzzle. Exactly in the heart of the relationship that promises love, companionship, and support, we humans encounter a huge obstacle that denies and blocks all your needs of intimacy and connection.
At the level of daily interactions, there are multiple opportunities in which this passive aggression will rear its ugly face.
HERE ARE SOME OF THE BEHAVIORS, AND THE RESPONSES:
1.- Comments always focused on negative aspects of life: for him, life is a miserable experience and there is no joy to be expected, so we are victims of a cruel destiny. Others (first the cold mother and now you) are responsible for the circumstances he is in, and little can be done to change. He needs to focus only on the empty cup, his negative appreciation of life, so he will ignore or reject life’s positive aspects.
Exercise Number 1: To counteract passive-aggressive behavior’s impact on your self-esteem, you need to be sure of your own accomplishments, and be proud of them. When your partner ignores your own successes, you have to reinforce your self-esteem with positive appreciations from others. Remind yourself constantly about your good qualities, before it’s too late and you begin to accept your partner’s negative framing as the mirror with which you perceive yourself.
Do some breathing exercises and tell yourself how good you are at what you do.
- Keep a folder handy with your papers, pictures, etc. related to the good things you do.
Keep your good friends around, so they can also remind you of your good qualities.
2) Be ready to take care of the induced confusion in your own brain. While you are trying to understand what is going on with the relationship, he will deny that there is a problem, and if you push a lot, he will say that yes, there is a problem, produced by your pressure on him. You can’t win this battle, hence the mental fog: did you ever come across the term “gas-lighted”? This is pure and unadulterated gas-lighting your brain.
Exercise Number 2: Accept confusion and emotional pain as indicators of being in a relationship with a passive-aggressive (PA) person. Another kind of person would make you feel totally different; the truth now is that this person is confusing and manipulating you! DO take your confusion seriously: go for a walk; do something alone; write in your diary; learn breathing exercises to calm your brain and heart; watch a positive romantic movie in TV; talk with your best friend; anything that fills you with mental clarity and peace is welcome!
3) Be aware of the possible sabotage of your best projects: If you are excited and enthusiastic about some project of yours, be ready to receive the complete list of its possible failures. Because your partner will see your projects as taking you away from him/her, this person will offer help only to sabotage it later. As in the case mentioned above, as much Joe watches her joy, the more he resents her being happy, and the more he transforms into a dark stone, able to dampen all her fun. If the project is important for you, describe it using neutral terms, without affection, and diminish its importance.
Exercise Number 3: It is very difficult but necessary to learn emotional detachment. The more detached you can be from the final outcome of any shared project, the more protected you become from manipulations that will eventually disappoint you.
So, you need to present your heart’s desires in a way that is detached from the emotions they produce in you. Of course, looking at this recommendation it can be a contradictory suggestion: Aren’t the two sides supposed to get more and more connected with each other? Not with a passive-aggressive person… Is better to control any visible emotional connection or desire, while you move ahead with your projects simultaneously. The passive-aggressive person will notice this detachment and will be forced to answer some questions about why it is happening. Ideally, he could be already in a therapeutic conversation where he can receive some answers.
4) If he is resorting to “Silent Treatment,” in daily communication, it is not casual. Maintenance of aloof silence is an expression of one’s anger or disapproval: a deliberate discourteous act that punishes you. If he is someone who’s normally eager to speak to others but now keeps couple conversations to the bare minimum, he is using the cold shoulder. This can be hurtful, frustrating, and confusing.
Exercise Number 4: Asserting Yourself in light of the silent treatment. You are not responsible for his behavior, he is accepting to be cold and distant and controlling as the way to be in this marriage. Don’t fight or try to ask for different behavior. Again, detaching yourself by having your own projects and friends, can help you protect your core from the isolation forced unjustly on you. If he is asking about what is going on, then confront him explaining the impact that this behavior has on you, and on the future of the relationship: "You are choosing to detach from our shared good times...please, own your behavior and accept that it is hurtful. I prefer not to take responsibility for your own negativity. If you can't feel happiness, don't attack mine."
5) Always “not being completely there” In a time of need, the PA person will always be, as the saying goes: “an hour late, a dollar short, or a block away.” He backs off at the right moment, doing nothing when something is expected from him. He hides behind a curtain of good intentions…”I tried to, but…” He “was meaning to go with you to the doctor's…but something else came up.” He can give you a dozen reasons why he could not do what he promised. The first excuse is that he forgot about the deal. This leaves you confused between believing him or listening to your hurt feelings.
Exercise Number 5: Every time you receive this excuse; each time he says that he “forgot”, substitute the words: “didn’t want to” instead of “forgot.” You then can properly realize what is going on and can move on with your decisions. You put an end to the confusion and paralysis provoked by his mix of good intentions and omissions.
Living with a person so insecure of his relationships that needs to use the shield provided by passive-aggressive behaviors can induce pain, confusion, and loneliness. Regardless of that, you might be very well deciding to look at his good aspects and trying to make a good effort to develop a stable and long term relationship, while at the same time learning to ignore and neutralize its worst aspects.
To help navigate this difficult path, you can use the book: How to Spot a Passive-Aggressive Partner