passive aggression in relationships
When I co-wrote The Angry Smile, I did not intend it to be a How-To book. In fact, I know lots of ways to be assertive, direct, and emotionally honest with others. But let’s face it, sometimes a situation calls for a little passive aggressive behavior…
My 8-year old daughter has a frenemy. She has known this un-friend–and experienced the girl’s on-again, off-again spitefulness–since they were in pre-school together. The girl, in fact, is the subject of a previous article that I posted on Psychology Today back in 2010, entitled Sticks and Stones: A Little Girl’s First Experience with Bullying.
Things haven’t changed much with this girl over the last four years. At times she is delightful and I must credit her with having an uncanny knack for charming her peers and making them want to please her. Even in her mean girl moments, she is so subtle and innocent-seeming (her extra-small stature seems to play into this) that I understand fully how she gets her covertly cruel jabs in before her targets even realize that they have been mistreated.
Unlucky for her, I study girl bullying, so I’m on to it.
My daughter is too–sort of. On at least a dozen occasions this year, my third grader has come home from school with stories about how the frenemy mocked what she was wearing or teased her about something she had made in art. As a spirited young upstander, my daughter is even more impassioned when she describes how the frenemy relentlessly bullies a classmate with special needs–and covers it up with a sugarcoated “Just kidding!” if an adult should overhear.
Being the therapist that I am, I always try to turn these conversations into opportunities for empathy and teachable moments about coping with mean behavior, reaching out to the bullied, and seeking out kind friendships. So, yes, I am very conscientiously teaching my daughter all of the right things to do. And above-the-radar, I do my best to be a great role model of kindness and assertive behavior.
Anyone who never acts undignified should stop reading at this point. Seriously–if you are compelled to lecture for a bit of misbehavior, it’s time to click away. Believe me, I don’t need you to tell me that my actions in the following situation were wrong. I know it. I chose it. That’s right–like most passive aggressive people, I was aware of what I was doing and yes, I took a little pleasure in it. That’s why I am bothering to tell you; it’s part soul-cleansing confession, part funny-what-a-Mama-bear (or Papa bear)-will-do-to-avenge-her-young.
So, simply put, I took my daughter and her frenemy to see a movie yesterday. Before the film, I bought them each a box of candy–Skittles for my daughter and Sour Patch Kids for the un-friend. Both thanked me graciously. At the end of the movie, the frenemy approached me and said the roof of her mouth was “all scratched up” from the Sour Patch Kids.
Perhaps it’ll be harder for her to use her mouth to say mean things now.
What? At least I didn’t send her home with a box of super-sour Sweetarts to wash it all down.
Signe Whitson is the author of Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Aged 5-11 to Cope with Bullying, in which she provides engaging activity and discussion ideas to help kids assertively (not passive aggressively!) respond to girl bullying. For more information, please visit www.signewhitson.com, Follow her on Twitter @SigneWhitson, or Like her on Facebook.
So, my sweet eldest child just muttered something about “I hate you. You’re the meanest Mommy in the whole world” as I was leaving her room. (Apparently she didn’t agree when I told her that homework was her responsibility.) Guess passive aggression and indirect anger are no longer something I need to be concerned about with her… So much for this approach I had just mastered:
How do you approach passive aggressive behavior with your kids?
This November 18th, the New Hampshire Center for Effective Behavioral Interventions and Supports (NH CEBIS) will host a one-day training on The Angry Smile (see Workshops & Speaking Page for full details).
Do you live or work with someone who:
- Denies or represses feelings of anger
- Withdraws and sulks
- Sends hidden, coded and confusing messages when frustrated
- Procrastinates or carries out tasks inefficiently
- Is quietly manipulative and controlling
- Makes endless promises to change
- Creates a feeling in others of being on an emotional roller coater
This workshop takes an in-depth look at the roots of passive aggression, exploring the behavior at five distinct and (more…)
I’ve got a busy Fall planned, with several training workshops featuring The Angry Smile. Although I’ve got a good number of stories about sugarcoated hostility, excessive civility, defiant compliance, and plain old passive aggressive behavior to share, I am always looking for fresh, new examples. If you have a good example of passive aggressive behavior from a friend, family member, co-worker, parent, child, mother-in-law (those are the best!), boss, on Facebook, via e-mail, on a post-it note, or all of the above, I would love to hear it!
Please e-mail me your story to Signe@SigneWhitson.com or better yet, leave it here via the Comments section. Be sure to leave me your e-mail address; I will be sending a free copy of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed. to the best example I receive.
Spread the word. It’ll be great for my collection of real-life examples of passive aggressive behavior and probably worth several laughs for you as well, as you hear about the hilarious lengths some people go to avoid expressing their anger directly and assertively.
PLEASE NOTE: By submitting this story to www.signewhitson.com, you grant Signe Whitson a permanent, royalty-free license to use and/or reproduce this story for any purpose.
Backhanded Compliments and Sugarcoated Hostility: How to Recognize the 10 Common Passive Aggressive Phrases581
Is there someone in your life who consistently makes you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster? Do you know a person who is friendly one day but sulks and withdraws the next? Does a family member or friend consistently procrastinate, postpone, stall, and shut down any emotionally-laden conversations? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are you may be interacting with a passive aggressive person. (more…)
One of my favorite stories about passive aggressive behavior in a marriage goes like this:
“Cash, check or charge?” I asked, after folding the items the woman wished to purchase. As she fumbled for her wallet, I noticed a remote control for a television set in her purse. “So, do you always carry your TV remote?” I asked. “No,” she replied, “but my husband refused to go shopping with me and I figured this was the most evil thing I could do to him legally.”
In relationships, passive aggressive behaviors are often used to avoid the direct confrontation of short-term conflict, but in the long-term, these dynamics can be even more destructive to marriage than outright aggression. To keep assertive communication
Some days, I troll around on Facebook browsing at the silly, fun goings-on in the lives of my friends. Other days, I stumble upon the most interesting, powerful links. Today was a lucky day–one that makes me ask: with all of my work around girl bullying, how did I not know about this group?? Please check out the Kind Campaign and their incredible documentary film, Finding Kind:
>Check out this article about how to effectively confront passive aggressive behavior in your relationship, posted on Mom It Forward