Defusing the Passive-Aggressive by gabyion


									Defusing the Passive-Aggressive
By Chrissy Coleman

Ask, "What’s Wrong?" and the reply is, "Nothing . . ." followed by deafening silence that
means anything but nothing. Then a few minutes, hours or days later, hurtful remarks
are fired at you from out of the blue.

It is difficult to deal with passive-aggressive behavior, but you’ll find that a few
moments spent defusing the situation will improve the quality of your relationship.

Understanding Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Passive-aggressive behavior, at its heart, is the display of poor communication skills: a
person feels unhappy or frustrated but is unable to express those emotions clearly and
openly. Instead, the feelings seep out in maladaptive ways. Ironically, there is often a
strong desire in a passive-aggressive person to become closer to their partner; however,
their behavior tends to drive the partner away, adding fuel to the fires of frustration.

Passive-aggressive behavior in a relationship rarely appears overnight. Usually it is part
of a person’s personality, an emotional coping mechanism used for a long time. If a
person grew up in a household in which the expression of any negative emotion was
discouraged, frustration may have been routinely repressed until reaching a critical
point. When negative emotions are more uncomfortable to stifle than the risk of
expression, a volcanic explosion may occur – fiery, mean-spirited verbal attacks and/or
periods of withdrawal or pouting.

Passive-aggressive coping mechanisms often are learned from others who have
accepted this maladaptive communication style as the norm. These “models” could be
parents, siblings, friends, and even past partners. Passive-aggressive behavior may be
part of a dependent personality or an all-or-nothing approach to life.

However the communication style developed, the good news is that passive-aggressive
behavior does not make a person bad—but it does make for a person who has work to
do in the area of interpersonal communication and self-esteem. In a healthy relationship
both partners feel as though they can share their innermost thoughts and feelings —
including fears and frustrations — and that those thoughts and feelings will be taken
seriously by the other. Working on correcting passive-aggressive tendencies will make
for a more emotionally stable and healthy relationship.

Here is a guide to defusing the top two passive-aggressive behaviors in relationships:
1. The Silent Treatment
S/he says . . . "Nothing…" in response to “What’s wrong?”, while looking sad and
moping about.

S/he means . . . I am upset about something, but I am afraid to express myself because I
do not want to jeopardize the bond we share. I would really like you to inquire about
what’s wrong and pay attention to what I have to say because it’s important to me. I feel
more comfortable with you approaching me gently and with compassion. In nonverbal
ways I’ll ask you to approach me. I need your undivided attention and lots of
compassion as you listen to my concerns. I’ll repeat my non-verbal behavior until I am
absolutely sure that I have your attention. I really want you to understand and be
respectful of my needs.

What to do . . . The first few times you recognize this behavior, play by the rules s/he
needs in order to open up. It may seem like a hassle, especially if it happens a lot, but
realize that this person you love and care for is uncomfortable and is asking for your
help. Give your undivided attention, and make a concerted effort to understand.
Because the behavior most likely stems from having a hard time dealing with negative
emotions felt toward someone loved, constant reassurance will be needed as the good
habit of comfortably expressing frustrations and fears develops.

2. Emotional Dart Throwing
S/he says . . . One-liners full of blame and accusations and appears anxious and angry.
S/he may be unable to make eye contact while delivering these barbs, and so appears to
be focused on other tasks, such as reading a magazine in the passenger side of a car
while on a long day trip or performing small chores around the house. Or s/he may
make an intense and direct assault, followed by tears and apologies.

S/he means . . . I am really frustrated by something that you’re doing (or not doing). I
have been frustrated for some time but haven’t said anything -- or if I did it was only a
hint because I was afraid of "rocking the boat." Now this frustration is absolutely
intolerable. My emotions are so intense I feel like I could burst and I feel really bad
about it.

What to do . . . Even though it’s hard to stay calm when your partner is reciting a
laundry list of everything that’s wrong with you, try not to overreact. Hear out the
criticisms with undivided attention. Reassure your partner that you love her/him and
that any concern that s/he takes seriously is a concern that you do as well. Encourage
calmness. Resist the urge to be defensive, even if it seems warranted; also refrain from
asking the question that may be obvious to you: "But why didn’t you say anything until
now?" S/he has a hard time expressing negative emotions, so compassion toward this
inability is necessary.

If your partner has been bottling frustrations for a while the outburst may seem
monumental for both of you. Instead of turning an outburst into a large argument and
more hurt (which will only reinforce notions that negative emotions are damaging), use
it as an opportunity to help teach your partner that your relationship is a safe place to
express anything. The safer s/he feels, the less passive-aggressive behavior there will be
in the relationship. There still may be disagreements, but they will be handled with
maturity and in less hurtful ways.

(October, 2007)

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