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Del Morrill, M.S. C.C.H


A Center for Counseling & Hypnosis
Tacoma, Washington, USA
(253) 752-1506

The Passive-Aggressive Person

I sometimes have a client or a client with a spouse who falls into the category of passive-aggressive. Can you tell me more about this "condition?"

My experience with Passive-Aggressive people is that, when they aren't getting what they really want, they'll find a way, consciously or unconsciously, to set up a situation or crisis that demands action from the "other" person, so that they don't have to take action themselves, and, thus, risk displeasure from another human being, Therefore, they'll tend to place the guilt or fault for anything upon the other person, rather than seeing themselves as someone who is faulty, or guilty, or who actually caused the negative situation. Some other information about and characteristics of the P-A (understand that these can be in varied degrees, and not necessarily always negative in the way they're carried out): A Passive-Aggressive person usually is a result of someone who fears or gets distressed from the possibility of losing their own freedom to do as they please. This probably developed as a way to cope in their particular family of origin. He, or she, often comes from a household where they either had rigid restriction, and/or were prevented from ever expressing their own opinions and feelings. Also, they can come from a hyper-critical family, in which the child is never right, nor does the right thing - in other words, can never please, no matter what they do. P-A's seek the good will and support of authority figures, and will avoid, at all cost, responding to them in any negative way, in front of that authority. If they have an issues with them, they'll handle it by either talking about it with someone else who has an "in" with the authority, hoping they'll be the ones who go to the authority; or by writing their displeasure in a letter; or by doing something against the person which satisfies the P-A even if the other doesn't know about it - anything to avoid confronting a person directly. P-A′s are often submissive, even passive, preferring that the other person take the offensive, including any discipline or reprimand of children. Extremes even "put down" the other parent in front of their children. They don′t want to come off as the "bad guy" with their children; and in their marriage, not be shown as the spouse who ?wrongs.? P-A′s often will submit easily to authority, control or dominance of others, while hiding great resentment and anger. Or they will resist their domination, while trying to maintain the authority figure's approval and acceptance. One way or another, they've found that, to be affective, for them, is to assert themselves indirectly, such as not carrying out instructions exactly as requested. In other words, show displeasure by not conforming, but not enough to be clear-cut in a way that severs a wanted relationship. If the relationship is one they no longer want, then they'll find a way to give enough displeasure that forces the "other" person to act, thus, letting themselves off the hook as the "bad guy." Many passive-aggressives have trouble working for others, because they hate any rules or guidelines that in any way control them or hamper their "freedom." They find rules stifling, and don't respond well to people who are "demanding." It's not uncommon for a P-A to disregard the commands of someone who is more aggressive in their style. They may not even respond, but may change the subject or answer the question that wasn't really asked. (Do you suppose they make good politicians?) On the other hand, P-O's can be strong leaders, as long as they aren't interfered with a lot. I suspect that they probably wouldn't make good consensus-builders. If they're the over-conscientious sort, they may be workaholics or get so absorbed in their work that they exclude their family and other activities. They may have a lot of difficulty truly relaxing, and lack certain spontaneity. They can be perfectionists on themselves and seek approval and emotional support from others, even decision-making. They may have difficulty adapting to change, and have a low tolerance or understanding of other's points of view or lifestyles. When I lived in Japan, I found that most of the women there are passive-aggressives and supreme controllers. They had learned to be, in order to survive in a publicly male-oriented society. If a Japanese woman wanted you to do something, you found yourself doing it, without knowing quite how she managed to get you to do it - definitely persistent. And yet, they never were overtly commanding. At home, it might not be the same, methodologically, for some could be real shrews - we'd hear the one next door, frequently!





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