This week, INC Magazine online published a nice feature article about passive aggressive behavior at work, featuring several strategies from my first book (co-written with Drs. Nicholas & Jody Long) The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools and Workplaces, Check it out here:
Is there a person in your life who procrastinates, carries out tasks in intentionally inefficient ways, is quietly manipulative, creates minor but chronic irritation in others, and makes you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster? If so, you may be working or living with a PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE person.
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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.
My friend Amy just filled me in on this perfectly passive aggressive website: www.lmgtfy.com. Have you heard of it? I’d tell you about it, but it would ruin the laugh you’ll get by taking 2 minutes to check it out. Suffice it to say we’ve probably all felt this way when faced with a person who finds it more convenient to bother us with their question than to just google it for themselves. Enjoy!
Amber had been giving her mother the silent treatment all week. She was angry about not being allowed to sleep over at a friend’s house. Late Thursday night, she left a note on her mother’s pillow, asking her mom to wash her uniform before Friday’s soccer game. When Amber returned home from school on Friday, in a rush to pack her gear, she looked all over for her uniform. She finally found it in the washer-perfectly clean, as per her request-but still soaking wet! Amber was late for her game and forced to ride the bench.
When all was un-said and done, Amber’s mother felt defeated. Having one-upped her daughter in the conflict, it was clear to her that she had lost by winning. As parents, most of us have been in situations where traveling the low road is irresistible and we become temporarily reckless in our driving. But anytime we mirror a child’s poor behavior instead of modeling a healthier way to behave, our victories add up to long-term relationship damage and lasting hostilities.
To read the rest of this post and find guidelines for how parents can maintain their calm in a passive aggressive storm and respond in ways that lay the groundwork for less conflictual relationships with their daughters, please visit my blog on Psychology Today.
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?
Check out this news story from “across the pond:” Friendship & Other Weapons is featured in an article in the Irish Independent newspaper!
Do you ever feel like you are riding on an emotional roller coaster with your child? Is your little one friendly and sweet one day, then sulky and withdrawn the next? Does your teenager consistently procrastinate, postpone, stall and shut down any emotionally-charged conversation? Do you, as a parent, ever resemble that same portrait? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are good that passive aggressive behavior has found a way into your home and family.
Check out my article in the Huffington Post Parents section to learn about eight of the most common passive aggressive phrases and to figure out if “sugarcoated hostility” exists in your home and family.