Sonya Thomas lcsw

Passive Aggression in Relationships – Part 3

What are some of the causes of and underlying issues that contribute to passive aggression?  Many people who exhibit passive-aggressive tendencies have two things in common:

  • A highly critical, demanding and difficult to please parent or parents, resulting in a high sensitivity to being judged on performance.
  • A lot of painful disappointments in life, resulting in a coping mechanism that severely restricts hopes and desires.

Minimizing or repressing desires is an unconscious attempt to avoid getting ones’ hopes up only to have them dashed.  Current disappointments tap into a reservoir of painful memories of previous disappointments that are stored in the emotional brain.  The cumulative effect of this over the years is to lose touch with what one actually dreams of, hopes for and aspires to.  What one doesn’t want is easier to identify, and often the passive aggressive partner will state what they want in the form of a negative.  Examples look something like this:

  • “I don’t want to spend my free time on a bunch of menial tasks” instead of ” I want to figure out a way to spend some of my weekend playing golf.”
  • “I hate visiting your family and I don’t want to visit them over the holidays” instead of “can we come up with a plan where we rotate holidays or begin making some new traditions of our own?”
  • “I don’t like going to the gym” instead of “I know I need to exercise more, but I am having a hard time finding the motivation to do so.”
  • “I don’t like anyone telling me what to do” instead of “I struggle when people depend on me, and I have work to do in this area.”

The frustration of living a life in which desires are pruned or pinched leaks out by being obstructionistic, undependable and oppositional with those who might have legitimate requests or expectations of them, such as a spouse, boss, friend, family member or a therapist.  Passive aggressive behavior can show up in more nuanced ways, as well.  A passive aggressive person may rarely initiate doing joint fun activities, buying things for themselves or others, going places, celebrating special occasions, planning surprises or giving compliments.  Think; restriction in being giving, to others and possibly to self.

In our next post in this series, we will look at the role the spouse/partner of a passive-aggressive person plays.  Until then, peace.