The Definition of Passive Aggression
Like an open expression of anger, passive aggression is the expression of anger to build self up, draw attention to perceived unmet needs, or push for personal convictions at the expense of another person. Unlike an open expression of anger, passive aggression operates secretly. There are several possible reasons why a passive aggressive person chooses to react in such a reserved attack.
- Although they may not admit it openly, many of those who practice passive aggression do not feel competent to openly expressive their anger.
- It is far more common for passive aggression to be practiced by those who have seen the dangers of open expressions of their anger first hand and have discovered that the secret stabbing of a reserved attack is far more effective.
The Expression of Passive Aggression
The passive aggressive person chooses to make his points made subtly. Rather than the volatile expression of a visibly angry man, the passive aggressive man is content to slowly chip away in the background. The key to the passive aggressive is discovering what buttons to push. For example, a passive aggressive employee striving for ways to eliminate his competition for the VP job will look for ways to push his fellow employees buttons in front of the boss. He may take credit for a job that he didn’t do or poke fun at his cubicle partner while his boss is in the room. In this way he puts his fellow employee in a position where he cannot speak up for himself for fear that the boss may not approve of his demeanor.
In the church the expression of passive aggressive behavior can be seen when a person intentionally or unintentionally uses Scripture as a weapon. For example, the passive aggressive person who has created a rift with another member of the church will demand that the other member meet the qualifications set out in Matthew 18. What the passive aggressive fails to see is that he is responsible for the rift having been created in the first place. Rather than take responsibility for his sin he is forcing the other church member to wrestle with key biblical passages that really relate to his passive aggressive behavior and not the other church member.
Murmuring can also be an expression of passive aggressive behavior in the church. God does not want us to serve Him if we are going to complain or murmur. Murmuring can be an aggressive behavior but many times when we murmur we are really making a subtle point. We don’t feel loved or appreciated so we mutter under our breaths about the little things that aren’t going our way. The criticism that we are murmuring about is actually not the real point but we don’t want to come out and say what is lurking beneath the surface.
Believe it or not, forgetfulness can actually be an expression of passive aggression. The Bible tells us very clearly that we are to “let your yea be yea, and your nay be nay.” Basically, be genuine. Mean what you say and say what you mean. The passive aggressive will use forgetfulness as an excuse to not do things or to do things that contradict what he had previously said. Many times the passive aggressive genuinely believes he forgot but this is only because he has become so accustomed to forgetting what he doesn’t want to remember that it has become second nature to him.
Perhaps the greatest expression of passive aggression is gossip. The insidious sin of gossip has dashed the character of many men. Churches have literally been torn apart by this form of passive aggression. By definition, gossip is the malicious attack of a person when that person is not there to defend himself. This is the calling card for all passive aggressive. It is the easiest way to tear down someone without ever having to talk to that person.
Other expression of passive aggression can include being late, forgetting important dates, playing the victim card for the wrong reasons, acting “holier-than-thou,” etc.
The Dangers of Passive Aggression
The dangers of this kind of behavior are exponential are hard to put down in one short list. Here are just a few of the many dangers that passive aggression always brings.
- Obstructionism: The passive aggressive is well known for finding ways to block any form of progress. If in a team he doesn’t want to be in he will look for ways to do things but only at his own pace and in his own way. Typically he is not a team player and will refuse to cooperate with how you would like to have things done simply because you aren’t doing things the way he likes to do them. The impact of this obstruction can be chaotic. He will refuse to be told he is wrong and will create distrust and impede any cooperation. You will never be certain where you’re standing is with him which leads to the constant felling that you are walking on thin ice with him. All the while he wags his finger in your face placing the blame squarely on your shoulders.
- Playing the Victim: All passive aggression is marked by a refusal to take responsibility for any wrongdoing. The person accustomed to passive aggression in his own life will likely feel slandered, misjudged, and even oppressed. In all likelihood there will come a point in your relationship with him that he will tell you its all your fault. It can be difficult to find a foothold to talk to him about important issues when he continuously blames you for everything.
- Excuses: Even if you are to somehow convince the passive aggressive that what he has done is in direct contradiction with Scripture he will still come up with some excuse for why he did what he did. Excuse making is normal for him and if you’re not careful it can become normal for you as well. The more you may press him on an issue the more the excuses will pile up. Eventually he will likely blame you for not letting the issue go. This creates a dangerous dance around key issues that will likely make you doubt yourself, your motives, and ultimately the Scriptural principles you formed your beliefs on to begin with.
- Confusion: The passive aggressive person is a confusion creator. He will remember things different than you and if you try and dig for the truth you will become caught up in his confusion. He is a pro at twisting the facts, rewriting history, and putting a spin on things so that he always comes out looking like the good guy.
The Proper Response to Passive Aggression
With all this in mind, how are you going to ever be able to connect with a passive aggressive? Is it even possible to help a person characterized by passive aggression? Can a relationship ever be had with this kind of person? Trust me, this is not an easy task, but with the understanding that passive aggressive behavior is rampant in our society we must be prepared to face it with a clear biblical focus. Here are a few strategies to help you as you deal with the passive aggressive in your own life.
Acknowledge that it exists.
Sometimes we just don’t want to admit that our close friend or relative is a passive aggressive. It is vitally important that you acknowledge that passive aggressive behavior really does exist and really is hindering your relationship with that person. It is absolutely impossible to remain calm and clear headed if you do not know what is happening.
Passive aggressive people are really good at throwing so much stuff at you that it sometimes seems impossible to grapple with all the data. This is why it is so important to think clearly about key issues. Don’t get bogged down in all the nitty-gritty and certainly don’t go chasing all the rabbits that the passive aggressive lets run free. Keep your conversation clear and concise in an effort to allow yourself to have a clear head.
You might be the problem.
Think about it. If you have been reading this article and the whole time you have been thinking, “Okay. Yes. I see what he’s saying. I really can see _________ in this article. He/she is clearly a passive aggressive.” If that’s what you are thinking than I have news for you – you might be the passive aggressive in the relationship! You see we are all really prone to being passive aggressive. It’s easy to gossip about someone or pretend to be in the right even though we know we are in the wrong. Admit it. You very well may need to work on not been passive aggressive.
Be active, not reactive.
You have to make a choice to respond righteously every time you interact with a passive aggressive person. All of us get super annoyed with passive aggressive behavior and in our frustration we are all prone to lash out in a wrong way. Therefore, you have to make a conscious decision to avoid reacting wrongly to the passive aggressives wrong behavior. This can only happen through diligence in prayer and a constant communion with God in His word.
These restrictions are for you as well as him. You cannot allow the passive aggressive to manipulate your own deeply held, biblically based convictions. Further, you cannot allow the passive aggressive to twist or change your viewpoint on key events. It is imperative, therefore, that you maintain clear boundaries. If you have to, write down what you believe and don’t stray from those beliefs unless the Holy Spirit convicts you to do so. Clearly let the passive aggressive know where you stand on key issues and do not waver from that stance. No doubt he will entice you to change your stance and when he does so remind him yet again about where you stand.
Passive aggressive behavior is, and always has been, difficult to deal with. My prayer is that the simple overview of passive aggression provided in this post will be a help to you going forward.
Posted by Caleb