Kremmling/Larry Banman " Silence can be very loud and destructive
April 29, 2008
Have you been victimized by passive-aggressive behavior?
Passive-aggressive behavior refers to passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to following authoritative instructions in interpersonal or occupational situations, according to Wikipedia. It can manifest itself as resentment, stubborness, procrastination, sullenness or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is assumed, often explicitly, to be responsible.
It is a defensive mechanism and, more often than not, only partly conscious. For example, people who are passive-aggressive might take so long to get ready for a party they do not wish to attend that the party is nearly over by the time they arrive.
Another form of passive-aggressive behavior is leaving notes to avoid face-to-face discussion or confrontation.
Passive-aggressive behavior takes a variety of forms. The term “passive-aggressive” was first used by the U.S military during World War II, when military psychiatrists noted the behavior of soldiers who displayed passive resistance and reluctant compliance to orders, according to MedicineNet.com. Looking a little closer to home, I believe there are a few fairly common varieties that occur on a regular basis. I am quite sure you will recognize them in somebody you know, or perhaps in yourself.
Giving somebody a piece of your mind, without actually talking to that person, is a common form of passive-aggressive behavior. It can often be used to lash out at a stranger. The next time you are in a busy restaurant and the waitstaff is overworked, get ready to observe some good old-fashioned, passive-aggressive behavior.
The inconvenience of waiting will cause somebody to crack. It will come from somebody who, in their mind, feels they have been asked to suffer the merciless ravages of the Black Death. Speaking in a voice just low enough for the harried waitperson to hear, they will say something like, “You would think these people would be trained well enough to do their jobs.”
Without directly confronting the person, a message is delivered. If the instigator of the passive-aggressive behavior is confronted, that person can deflect the confrontation and possible criticism by saying they were talking about somebody else. Remember, the purpose of passive-aggressive behavior is to avoid confrontation.
Similar taunts are often cast when somebody doesn’t get their way and they lack the desire to confront the situation or person directly. One form of passive-aggressive behavior that I observed was from a person who had been inconvenienced by a clerk in a retail store. The person moved two aisles away, made a quick cell phone call and started to narrate the whole incident, with special emphasis upon the inconvenience this person was suffering. The key was the conversation was “private,” but just loud enough for the offending clerk to hear. You would have thought the weight of the Great Depression was being suffered by this person and this person alone.
If another person can’t be found to whom a passive-aggressive message can be sent, pets are often drawn into the fray. The poor dog or cat becomes a pawn in a much larger game of chess. You can almost see the “What did I do?” look on the face of the innocent animal.
Sending a message without words is another powerful passive-aggressive approach. “Laying some rubber” or throwing gravel with your vehicle as you leave a scene or throwing tools around the garage also relay a message that you are really mad. Again, if you are confronted, you can say the accelerator “stuck” or you were just putting that hammer down “really hard” or it “slipped” out of your hand.
There is also the added advantage of sending an underlying message that there is at least the potential of physical violence. This helps decrease the odds of a face-to-face confrontation which, again, is one of the purposes of passive-aggressive behavior.
Another form of passive-aggressive behavior takes a bit more patience because it can take on the characteristics of a mime act. It is the “silent treatment” to get your point across. This can be difficult, particularly if the target of the “silent treatment” attack doesn’t pick up on those “silent” clues. You have to depend on a situation where you can cast a pall of “silence.” That can be difficult when you can’t say anything. You also have to be able to project your silence in a way that hints that you have been hurt, and hurt in a way that deserves all of the resources of the Red Cross to be called upon.
The beauty of this method is that you can easily deflect a direct confrontation. You haven’t said anything, so you can’t be indicted for anything. A statement, like, “I was just thinking” or “I just don’t feel good today” or “no, nothing is wrong” can be delivered with the innocence of a Sunday school child. The key is to deliver the statement with innocence but with a hint of martyrdom.
As much fun as passive-aggressive behavior can be initially, the fallacies of the tactic are almost always exposed. Using an attack that is better suited for a child can be really embarrassing when you get called out. The dreaded confrontation must take place and there is the added burden of addressing the passive-aggressive behavior that ensued in the interim.
I do not say these things because I believe I am above the use of passive-aggressive behavior. In fact, this is more of a confessional. While I was thinking about times when I have been victimized by passive-aggressive behavior, I was struck by a harsh reality. To my shame, I can remember several incidents of “heavy hammers” and accelerators that mysteriously stuck to the floor. However, it wasn’t those acts that struck me like a slap in the face.
Writing can easily become a form of passive-aggressiveness. One of the characteristics of passive-aggressive behavior is leaving notes instead of directly talking to somebody. Writing a column could be considered leaving a lengthy note. How many times, I thought, have I written something because I didn’t want to take on something or somebody, face-to-face. To a degree an editorial, almost by definition, is passive-aggressive in nature and is sometimes necessary to help create change.
Used incorrectly, however, it is a poor substitute for a face-to-face meeting. And, speaking from experience, I know what it is like to put something into print and then live in fear that those words will be brought back in a confrontation. I call that situation the “living dread.”
This column started as a “whine” but ends in a commitment to better communication. Introspection can be painful, but it can also be healthy. My goal is to use the pain as a stepping stone for growth. Plus, when I get home, I need to give the dog an extra bone.
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