I’ve been thinking about the issue of passive aggressive behavior for quite some time, with full intention of writing on the subject, but continue to find myself stumped and perplexed.
Finally, I realized that the reason I kept finding myself that way is because literally nothing about the behavior makes any sense at all. Still, because it makes no sense, I found myself struggling to write about it. I mean, how do you write about something that makes no sense, apart from just writing about all the reasons that it makes no sense?
Coming to terms with that fact brought me to where I am. Sometimes the things we write about can’t be fluffy and pretty, because the thing itself isn’t fluffy or pretty.
And that’s the thing with passive aggressiveness. It’s not a pretty behavior. In fact, it’s incredibly ugly.
I think all of us have done this in one way or another, at one point or another. The problem is when this occasional (sometimes unintentional) behavior becomes an intentional habit. It becomes a pervasive and destructive means of communicating.
In my attempts to understand people in my life that behave in a passive aggressive manner on a regular basis, I did a little research on the matter. I was surprised to find that it is widely considered to be an actual mental health issue.
The Mayo Clinic has stated that passive aggressive behavior is “a persistent pattern of communicating your feelings in a roundabout way rather than candidly stating them.” I was even more surprised to see that the National Institute of Health takes it even further, stating that it is a personality disorder with a long-term chronic pattern. They say “a person appears to fulfill the needs and wishes of others, but in fact passively defies them, typically feeling upset and hostile.”
The more I process this, both from an earthly and kingdom perspective, it’s just plain wrong.
When we act this way, or better put, when we speak this way, we basically are enjoying the feeling of being smugly righteous, while avoiding conflict at any cost.
And the cost is paid in the toll it takes on the relationship.
A great blogger I love put it this way:
Essentially, when we speak in a passive aggressive manner, we are enjoying the feeling of having the upper hand in communication. We are saying everything we aren’t saying, but doing so in a sneaky manner rather than using our words. That way, when it’s all said and done, we can act innocent and declare that our intentions were pure. Without words to be held accountable for, we are innocent, right?
Psalm 55:21 says it like this: “His speech was as smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.”
Whether or not we speak the words, the heart behind the words is almost always evident.
The problem is, when passive aggressive speech becomes a weapon, the battle can only be one-sided. By communicating in a roundabout way, we are ensuring that we can never be held accountable for our words, or confronted in any way.
To be quite frank, it’s cowardice at its finest.
We make ourselves feel good by throwing discreet punches in what we say or don’t say. It doesn’t encourage depth in relationship, and it doesn’t solve the hurt or anger that motivates the behavior in the first place.
Basically, it just promotes a level of fear, misunderstanding, and insecurity in relationship that ultimately drives a wedge between people.
The sad part is that, often times, the need to be passive aggressive comes from a wound and a need to be seen and heard, and sometimes the desire to have better relationship, yet the behavior makes things worse. Rather than communicating the hurt or the wound, we are indirect and try to do things to make someone feel the words we are implying, and it inevitably pushes them away. We then find ourselves even more hurt and wounded because they didn’t ask us what was wrong or try to make it better.
The way I see it, I am responsible for me.
I am not responsible for my husband, my mom, my friends, or anyone else.
Only I can control me, therefore, if I am hurt or wounded, I am the only one that can communicate that.
To speak in a passive aggressive manner in the hopes that the person will recognize that I am hurt and wounded is just plain immature. Whether it’s what I say, or what I don’t say but imply in my tone of voice or even my punctuation (because we unfortunately live in a world that hides behind text messages and emails), it is a cowardly way to express my feelings.
The boldness required to speak up or share our feelings can be intimidating, especially if we are afraid of conflict.
But to do that- to speak up and share honestly how we feel- promotes trust.
Often times, in my opinion, this is avoided because of a fear of conflict. “If I share how I feel, they might have things to share, too.”
That’s a difficult one, and I will share more about that in another post.
The starting place is simply being open and candid.
In order to build trust and create depth in relationship, that honesty is a must. Without it, we will constantly be using our words and actions to meet our own needs and build ourselves up in that smug righteousness, and the way for deep relationship can’t be paved.
While we feel powerful when we behave in this way, the reality is that passive aggressiveness doesn’t hold the power to bring restoration or solve any problems. The power it holds is the power to hold us back in relationship.