Classic passive / aggressive behavior is usually an undercover operation. They try very hard not to show anger or exhibit malicious behavior. They often appear to be trying to help because they are very concerned with how others perceive them. Subtlety is their specialty and if you are dealing with someone that acts this way you will often end up feeling frustrated and confused because their actions aren’t in line with what their expressed intentions were. Guilt shifting by these people can often leave you wondering if you have done something wrong even though you aren’t quite sure what it might have been. This inconsistency can make you crazy because you never really know what’s going on with these people. Their behavior is designed to express anger and resentment in a way that disguises the intent.
An even more troubling aspect of their behavior is that they are usually unaware that they are being offensive; often they seem to think they are being helpful. When their so-called helpfulness angers or offends someone then it is always the offended person’s fault because a passive / aggressive won’t accept responsibility for their actions because they see it as you rejecting their attempt at being helpful.
The thinking is that this pattern of behavior is learned in childhood as a defense mechanism in response to extremely controlling parents. Since the child cannot express itself openly in this environment they adopt this strategy as a covert way to rebel against the controlling parents. Over time this pattern of behavior becomes ingrained in the individual and it becomes the way that they deal with their world.
Passive / aggressive behavior is usually involved in codependency, this involves a relationship where the passive / aggressive person has engaged another person who aids their seeking of control over their situation. Codependency usually involves a triangular relationship that has three distinct phases.
1. The first segment of this three sided nightmare would be the people pleasing rescuer, this person tries to do it all and will go through endless pains to try and make other people happy mostly at their own expense.
2. The second segment is the resentful stage where the codependent person becomes angry, hurt, and resents that their passive / aggressive partner will not change or accept their help.
3. The third phase would be where you start feeling like a victim and start doubting yourself. Questioning yourself with things like why does this always happen to me, or why can’t they appreciate all the sacrifices that I’ve made for them are typical responses for a codependent person. This can flow in either direction but it is a tool in the hands of the P&A person used to control the codependent and to keep them from questioning the behavior of the controller who are masters of distributing guilt to everyone but themselves.
A codependent functions in many ways as an enabler for the passive / aggressive person they often end up functioning much like the “whipping boy” who takes the punishment for the prince. While the passive / aggressive accepts this as the right and proper order of things.
In dealing with a P&A you will often find that they try to manipulate others to get what they want. This controlling behavior is necessary for them because they often feel that their needs won’t be met if they actually let their needs be known. They often resort to a strategy where they want to trade something for something, a quid pro quo arrangement where they set the rules.
Strangely these people have a very difficult time with saying no to someone else’s requests. Yet they engage in a pattern of procrastination because in reality they are paying you back for daring to make a request of them. One of their favorite tactics is to blame others for their shortcomings. For some reason when something fails it is never their fault, they always want to pass the blame to others. This turning things back on the person that questions their behavior is an extremely harmful strategy to anyone that is attempting to have a relationship with this person. It erodes their confidence and self- esteem and puts them in a very vulnerable position for further manipulation.
P&A people are often condescending of others and often make sarcastic comments designed to lessen the worth of others. They often have a distorted self concept which combined with low self esteem drives them to seek approval but when they get it then it has no value. These people have an underlying goal, which is to avoid all conflict or emotional intimacy and they will avoid confrontation at all costs. A favorite tactic when confronted with something that they will not deal with is to either go silent or to simply walk away which effectively ends the discussion.
So if you are in a relationship and you keep seeing these behaviors then perhaps you need to evaluate how this is affecting you. This behavior mode is horribly difficult to change and this can only be done with the full cooperation of the P&A person who will likely never admit that there is anything wrong or will blame it on you. Sometimes you got to know when to fold’em as that song says. But just knowing what you are up against can help you decide what you need to do for your own survival. But as codependent people pleasers it’s terribly difficult for us to tear ourselves away from these projects that we somehow believe that we can fix. The reality is that it’s not ours to fix and most P&A people don’t feel that there is any need to fix anything so it’s time to realize that it’s not in your best interests to keep hanging on.