Sunday, April 13, 2008

Are You Passive Aggressive?

I know I am. I have to fight it. Most people are a little passive aggressive, especially in their marriage, but some people are masters at it, like me. I have battled it and I've gotten pretty decent at overcoming it, but there are still a few kinds of people that really turn on my passive aggressive faucets. Here is one of the greatest traits of a passive aggressive personality: Instead of confronting you on what is really bothering us, we will inadvertently attempt to punish you or correct you by either, 1. Ignoring you, 2. telling you that you are wrong by pointing out to someone else what we hate about you, without ever really addressing you personally.

Say, I'm at a party. And my neighbor is there. And my neighbor has been making a bunch of noise. Instead of directly confronting my neighbor, I will talk to another friend, while my neighbor is present, and mention how much I hate loud noise at night and how neighbors that play loud music after 10 should be shot. So, the neighbor is standing there, and they say, "Oh, I hope that wasn't me. I had loud music on the other night!" And you turn to your neighbor, sugar sweet, because you have avoided confrontation, and say, "Oh, no, you guys are great! It's those other guys that get on my nerves."

The neighbor walks away, but somehow knows that they were talking about them but just didn't say so.

The saddest part about that whole confrontation is what it does to the friendship. Because dishonesty was sown into the meeting, it is, until resolved, permanently damaged. Passive aggressive people try to teach others a lesson by teaching everyone else a lesson except the person that they are really trying to teach a lesson to.

In the deep South, (Alabama, Georgia, and some parts of Texas-usually from the Deep South but immigrated to Texas,) passive aggressive is called: "Politeness." It is taught and grafted into our genes. In the north, it is called talking out your ass. In the north they go the opposite way and the natural disposition is crabby. Whereas in the South it is a smile with a dagger waiting just under the petticoat. There are pros and cons to both, in my opinion, but in the end, I prefer the honesty. It hurts, but it is a much better treatment for the problem.

When I was going through my heavy metal phase in High School, I remember a certain Deacon's wife who always taught our Sunday School class. Instead of saying, "Seth, I don't think that Heavy Metal music is good for your soul," she would say, "So class, how is Sodom and Gomorah like listening to dangerous Heavy Metal music?" I do that stuff to Amber sometimes, if she has done something that has hurt my feelings. It is a good thing for me that she sees right through it, and not only sees through it, she just right then and there blows it out in the open. Its just awesome.

One of the MANY reason why I knew Amber was for me is that there isn't a passive aggressive bone in her body. If she disagrees with you, she says so. If she thinks she's offended you, she says so and tries to make it right. She is the truest person I've ever known (to quote Shadowlands.) When I try the silent treatment, she won't have it. She engages me until I spit out why I am mad. She forces me out of cowardice. Which in the end, is what passive aggressive is all about: Being a controlling chicken. You are too afraid of risking damage to the relationship so you try to control it instead of confronting.

I still work on it, to this day, but the biggest breakthrough came with one of my composition teachers at Rice. He was a substitute prof., sitting in for one of the professors on sabatical. Not only was he a great composer at 72, but he was a very skilled and sought-after therapist. I was having some issues about fear and leaving Houston, and he sniffed them out like a hound dog. This man sat me down and very kindly probed and probed until we discovered that it was my passive aggressive , fearful attitude that was keeping me from walking in obedience. It was a double whammy for me, because I'm also a people pleaser. I'll get around saying what I mean because I don't want the person to not like me. That's more cowardice.

I am also very susceptible to the passive aggressive person, because I'm a people pleaser. Passive aggressive people used to be able to do a serious number on me. Man, I mean it. But in the end, I learned that the way to disarm the passive aggressive person (even if they are doing it and don't know it) is a direct, head-on confrontation. It is the equivalent of punching the bully back, in a good way. At that point, the passive aggressive person has two options: They either adapt, and move on into a greater friendship, or they throw up smoke screens and never admit to being offended or affected. But as for you, you are free. You've done what the Lord said, and you can dust-off your feet and move on. If that means move on from the friendship, then sadly, so be it.

The worst part about BEING passive aggressive is that you can never truly forgive if you never admit that you've been harmed or hurt. Your pride hides your hurt-ness and you tuck away the hurt and build up walls, so that no one will hurt you again. It is a dangerous defense mechanism that eventually fosters a bitterness that takes years to get over. And your body is an amazing healing mechanism. It will come out someday, just like an old splinter. It will come out, or it will rot your finger off.

I think if I would have grown up in a different family, I would have been helpless to fight my P.A. tendencies. My family is tremendously confrontational. If you tick them off, they really give you the what-for. If you are hurt, they get it out of you.

It is different for different people. We've all got those traits, I suppose, but Jesus tells us what to do about it: Confront. Walk into the fire. Walk into your fear.

There wasn't a passive aggressive bone in the Lord's body, and there shouldn't be in ours, I mean, YOURS, JOHN!


Kelly said...

[Applauds] Wow Seth, awesome post as usual!!! I am actually taking an Ethical Issues in Public Health course and boy, I am enjoying it because people are as you have termed, "passive aggressive." I can be too, but I thank God for slowly getting it out of my system to the point where I love being frank, transparent, and so forth. We had this discussion today about lying to someone if they are overweight by telling them they look great just so their feelings are not hurt.

Seriously, that upset me, but God calmed me down enough to express myself as candidly and sensitively as possible. Here is the gist of my post this morning:

"...How very true! The multicultural factors that are ever growing in our societies posit an umbrella of uniformity and yet diversity of thoughts, verbal communications, and behavioral principles that encompass moral/ethical precepts that may be unbeknownst to the majority. Thus, we apply sensitivity in societal settings. I notice how truth may be blanketed around me, which often leads me to directly inform mentors, departmental heads, friends, colleagues, family members,…to be frank with me and tell me what I need to hear not what they think they want (or I would like) me to hear. Out of kindliness, I also make sure they are willing to hear the truth (especially beneficial health-, relational- educational-wise) from me before I commit to as I actually delight in transparency, which again and as pointed out, are not easily accepted..."

I may quote you on my comment if all right with you because you, Seth, have hit the nail on the wall. As a matter of fact, we get so much peace of mind when we heed to the Lord by not beating around the bush, but being straightforward. As you have also indicated, it may hurt, but you know what, I prefer to know the truth than not. Don't tell me to believe in a Santa Claus when Jesus is everything and the One I ought to believe! Anyhow, I will suffice by writing hat's off for ever writing exceptional thought provoking posts...

By the way, when you mentioned Amber and the fact that she will say things as is, is something to be treasured...and the great thing is your willingness to listen and amend accordingly. I thank for uniting you two...Take care and have a blessed day!

Kelly said...

Oops, I meant the nail on the head...on the 4th paragraph; per
5th paragraph, I am thanking God for uniting you two...

Jeff McQ said...

Seth, fantastic post, and great truth-telling. I spent 6 years living in East Texas, and you have described the culture to a T. I couldn't stand knowing that no one ever said what they were really thinking--and if YOU did, you were immediately in the wrong. Not good.

It's helpful information for all of us. Thanks.

Seth Ward said...

Sure kelly! Quote away!

It's funny because a friend just emailed me and asked me what spurred this post on... I called them and they thought I was passive aggressively taking a shot at them.

I actually typed this up last night after I decided that I was going to write Oprah a letter. I actually got onto her website and registered. I kept feeling bad for knocking her on blogs and I got to thinking about how people use blogs to get at people and how I've done that in the past, which led me to think about my passive aggressive tendencies.

I thought, "what the heck, if I'm mad at Oprah, I'm going to email her." So I took an hour or so to figure out how to post and by that time I was too tired to say what I wanted to say and I wrote this instead.

I love what you said about dep heads and professors. As a friend of mine has said, "we live in a 'good swing kevin' society." One of the best moments of my academic career was when I got to Baylor, and sat down in a class, raised my hand to answer a question, and the professor said, "nope, wrong, try again."

I was shocked. For the first time someone hadn't padded my answer with, "hmmm, not quite what I was looking for, but let's talk about how you are right." So what did I do? I went home and found out the right answer and studied my butt off.

It is the bold friend who tells me that I'm getting fat, in a nice way, that gets me on the treadmill. But, as far as women go... women are so conscious about their weight... I don't think they need any reminding. Encouragement? Yes. Reminding? No.

I think there are constructive ways on encouraging your spouse to stay healthy. One of them is to say "stay healthy," and not "stay thin." Anywhooooo, for some reason I'm feeling like I have entered the shadows some sort of dark dangerous forest and I should stop while I'm ahead.

Thanks for your encouragement and nice comments.

Seth Ward said...

Jeff, that kind of honesty, I'm finding, is a hard thing to learn. (only for people I care about.) Because I'm so used to doing it the other way. At first I came off as blunt, but then I think you can find nice ways to be truthful and as gentle as possible.

John said...

Personally, I get along better with people when they are polite than when they YELL at me in all caps. How about you folks?

Oh, well. I think I'll go bass fishing and try and forget about mean people who hate my guts amid the chess match on the lake.


MeR said...

I am absolutely passive aggressive..... eek.

Seth Ward said...

I'd say, yes and no. From what I've seen, you are pretty good about telling your friends if they tick you off and why. Especially Colton.

Popcorn said...

Interesting post. Interesting because there was a recent post on your blog that I looked at the picture, then read the blog, which because the reason for the random pic was not addressed, vaguely suggested that the picture was a picture of the person mentioned in the blog, but in fact was not, but some people might have assumed it was....I spent the rest of the night wondering if that's what you intended, and how passive aggressive it seemed... but thinking naa..that's not what that was..but now this confession of passive aggression. Humm. Maybe just a coinkidink, maybe protective wifely paranoia...Am I crazy or do you immediately know the post I'm referring to? Please write in code to protect the innocent...: ) That is not a passive aggressive smiley face, it is real. I'm just so curious...

Seth Ward said...

(Laughing my booty off!)

Popcorn, I have absolutely zero clue of what you are talking about. Zero. I have a policy against passive aggressive posting. It's been done to me and I didn't like it. However, if you ever feel like I'm passive aggressively posting against someone, please tell me. Even though I'm pretty astute, I am also horrendously aloof, so any help there is appreciated.

But seriously, email me and tell what you are thinking! Now I'm totally curious.

majorsteve said...

Seth, need help? Ok. Here you go. I've got a problem with what you said about East Texas, or maybe it was someone else who said it, about passive aggression being camouflaged as "politeness". You have got it all wrong, at least among the people I hang out with. What we do is practice being nice to each other, understanding that sometimes things are taken out of context, sometimes being honest and someone thinks you're being sarcastic, other times being sarcastic and someone thinks you're serious. These are common contextual errors that everyone makes. Not only that, everyone says things that they really do not mean. Our attitude is to let things ride most of the time. Things have a way of working themselves out. But let me say this, among my circle we don't call it being "passive agressive", we call it being a little bitch. I would urge anyone out there who has a problem with me to either give me the benefit of the doubt and let it go or come right up front and tell me exactly what it is you don't like. And once we've established what it is that you don't like, we can move on to the next question which is "what are you going to DO about it?" Do we understand each other, brother?

You see, you caught me on a bad night, and the above rant is the perfect example of why we don't go around being so NYC "honest" with each other about every little thing here in "the south". We feel that there is the need for a wide area of separation between politeness and aggression. The latter being very serious business. I think if you are confused you could just ask SCL and she could probably clue you in.


Ok now that was please forgive me Jesus, Seth, Amber and anyone else who read that. Now I can let this go.

Seth Ward said...

Now that's what I'm talking about, brother! Just let it out. I much prefer it to sugar sweet talk and then waiting until you are at home with friends or the fam and taking stabs at my doppelganger! If I've offended you then just say so. And I agree. "being a little bitch" works just fine too. However, I don't consider Texas being the South. See, what you described is a pretty Texas kind of attitude. "Shoot me straight. But don't expect me not to shoot back." I don't know, maybe Tyler is different. I did hear Phil Lineberger say that people from Tyler tend to have a chip on their shoulder. But again, nada clue here.

I'm not talking about manners. I'm talking about aggression. Passive aggressive people only like it if you are playing the way you want them to. And that's what passive aggression is all about! Control! They don't really want to see it from your perspective. They want you to come to them and submit to the way they are seeing it, no matter if they are wrong or not. There is no give an take. No trust. No risk. Only control. Quicker, more seductive... the Dark Side.

Because if you aren't finding a nice way to be honest, then the resentment never really goes away. I'm not talking about understanding or forgiveness. I'm talking about fakeness and control. I'm not talking about being kind when you don't feel like being kind, I'm talking about acting kind but taking out your aggression on the person you are being nice to in a deceptive way. I'm talking about passive aggression baby. I'm talking about instead of calmly telling the person you love, how you were hurt by what was said, or saying, in Love and gentleness, how you think they are wrong, you do harm to them in a dishonest, manipulative way by agreeing but manipulating with guilt. You take aggression out on them without owning up to it. And the worst part is you do it deceptively, thus either driving wedge in the relationship, or by building an unhealthy control. Guilt will eventually push people away or draw them closer but the person you manipulate with guilt will only harbor resentment.

Whole families are built upon this kind of communication and it isn't healthy, one bit. Yes, because passive aggression wasn't allowed, me and my family had some hum-dinger fights, but let me tell you, 3 minutes later, we were yucking it up over an ice cream cone. Passive aggression is one big reason why fathers and sons get so where they don't talk to each other anymore. The guilt or resentment is so intense that they can't bear to be around them anymore. It is why mothers and daughters can't have a conversation or even go shop together. Unresolved passive aggression is the silent killer of love in a relationship.

I probably picked on the South a little much, and I know you are trying to go to the extreme here to give some perspective, which I appreciate.

And that "Things have a way of working themselves out." works if honesty is still there. Sure you wait till you've cooled down. Sure you try to see it both ways. And then after, if you are still offended, you tell your friend or family member how you were offended or you apologize because you might just see that you were in the wrong. The key is "working it out," and not "acting like it's fine but taking out aggression passively." It is the difference between firing you, and moving someone into your spot until you decide to quit. I prefer getting fired. One is honest, I can learn from it. I can deal. The other eats away at my self-esteem and silently kills my confidence.

Anyways, I think we aren't really disagreeing, but I probably wasn't as clear as I should have been. Hope that's clear'd up!

Super Churchlady said...

I think we're talking about apples and oranges here.

Certainly, if you've experienced a grievous injury - you should address it with the one who has allegedly injured you. But...if we're talking about everyday annoyances- I personally think it best to leave it alone. I don't think this is being passive agressive. I think it's being mature.

It's like a mosquito bite.'s bothersome, but if you leave it alone, it will get better. However, if you continue to pick, pick, will scar and you will never forget that you had that mosquito bite.

To quote Oliver Wendell Holmes:

"Don't flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become. Except in cases of necessity, which are rare, leave your friend to learn unpleasant things from his enemies; they are ready enough to tell them."

Seth Ward said...

I suppose I agree and disagree, Superchurch. I do believe in maturity and forgiveness. And I'm really not talking about that. I'm talking about what you do when you've been hurt. Passive Agression does not equal blowing it off. Passive aggression is getting even in a deceptive and nice way. I don't think the grievous is the only thing that drives one to passive aggression. Passive aggression is what splits seemingly perfect looking marriages. They say that it was the smoking, but it was really the years and years of passive aggression that neither person was able to honestly address. Because it is the little stuff, and little passive aggressive retaliations that add up and then explode later at a level that destroys the whole mountain.

If you have been hurt by someone, then you should either try to forgive and get over it, or you should talk it out. And most times, when I talk it out, I realize I'm just being too sensitive and that the other person didn't mean what I thought they did.

I'm not talking about "Hey, you took my spot." I'm talking about a man shutting down his emotions and closing his wife out instead of saying: "honey, when you cut me down in front of other people, that makes me feel like you don't respect me." I just talked to a friend about this the other day. He didn't know how to say it and he was finding other ways to express his frustrations to his wife. Very bad and secret ways that he didn't even know were ways in which he was retaliating.

And yes, there are times when someone is in a bad mood, maybe they just need to be left alone. But I'm not talking about that stuff. I'm talking about what you do about it if someone is in the bad mood. I'm talking about retaliation. I'm talking about when you've been hurt, what you do back to the person. In my opinion, you have four choices. Two are good, two are bad. You either: 1.Let it go, by blowing it off, and forgiving. 2. You address the friend or loved one who offended you and communicate why that comment hurt, or even THAT it hurt at all, thus making yourself even more vulnerable, and when resolved, deepening the friendship or love, or ending an unhealthy one.

This is usually done if someone snobs you off, or if you feel like you were slighted, or if you feel like you were left out, or if you feel like the person was rude to you or someone you care about,

The trickiest thing is finding a nice way to express this. THEN THERE ARE THE WRONG WAYS.

3.You try to get even with the person by being equally as cruel. Like: "Your fat." "Oh yeah, well at least I can spell and my dad didn't get fired and I don't wear Wal-mart clothes." - I've heard that conversation. The last way, and I think it is the worst, is passive aggression.

4. Instead of being overtly aggressive, you lure the person in by making them think you like them, only to ignore them or to hurt them back. Or if that person has harmed you, you give them the silent treatment to teach them a lesson, and most times the person who harmed you does not know what the heck you are being quiet about. Then you string it out until you've made your friend or spouse or sibling or parent or child completely miserable. THAT is catty, cowardly and manipulative. That is taking advantage of someones love only to turn it around on them to harm them back. Because the whole reason you did it was because you care about the person and you want to harm them back they way that they have harmed you. Both types of aggression are bad. Not a soul will convince me otherwise. The passive aggressive person believes that the other people have just moved on and gotten over it, but little do they know, they have sown seeds of mistrust, guilt, anger and division. Yes you can still love past it, but it ain't healthy I tell ya! I've experienced it and done it!

Seth Ward said...

Wikipedia on Passive Aggression:

"When the behaviors are part of a person's personality disorder or personality style, repercussions are not usually immediate, but instead accumulate over time as the individuals affected by the person come to recognize the disavowed aggression coming from that person. People with this personality style are often quite unconscious of their impact on others, and thus may be genuinely dismayed when held to account for the inconvenience or discomfort caused by their passive-aggressive behaviors. In that context, there is a failure to see how they might have provoked a negative response, so they feel misunderstood, held to unreasonable standards, and/or put upon."

Fork said...

Okay. As one of the many passive-aggressive Johns whom you MAY be referring to, here's me NOT being passive aggressive...



Wow. I feel...better.


FancyPants said...

Aww Fork!! We are really really bad at calling people. REALLY REALLY bad. And Seth is also really really bad at remembering to tell me that you were gonna be at church on Sunday night. I'm really sorry about that.

August Osage. I'm waiting in anticipation. Truly.

Fork said...

Aww! I'm totally teasing, y'all!

FancyPants said...