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Are you in a relationship with a passive-aggressive person?

Photo: Quotes Gram
Written by Zara K

Passiveness and aggressiveness and everything in between

When I was younger, I learned that you could react to certain situations in one of three ways – by being passive, by being aggressive, or by being assertive. I was also taught that passiveness and aggressiveness were the two extremes and that I had no business being any of these.

To be passive means to just accept or allow what people do to you without standing up for yourself. Being aggressive is being on the other end of the spectrum. When you’re aggressive, you’re always ready to attack or confront. An aggressive person could also be very pushy. Of course, assertiveness falls in the middle of this spectrum. An assertive person is confident. An assertive person is also self-assured. To communicate assertively, one must have respect for the boundaries of oneself and other people. According to the textbook Cognitive Behavior Therapy (2008), “Assertive communication of personal opinions, needs, and boundaries has been … conceptualized as the behavioral middle ground, lying between ineffective passive and aggressive responses. Such communication “emphasizes expressing feelings forthrightly, but in a way that will not spiral into aggression”.

Assertive communication actually goes against these extremes and so. it focuses on the actual issue, not the person.


Passive Aggressivia

One thing I wasn’t taught about, though, was “passive-aggressiveness”. I remember watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy some years ago and Addison Montgomery said: “There is a land called Passive Agressiva, and I am their queen.” *chuckles*

Being passive aggressive means being indirectly hostile. People who are passive-aggressive are also malicious and try to “fight the system” through malicious ways, procrastination, stubbornness, looking downcast, and so on. Imagine being with someone who constantly exhibits passive-aggressive behaviour.

Passive-aggressive people act passively but are actually aggressive from within. Their anger then unconsciously gets transferred to you, and you end up being frustrated. The passive-aggressive partner might even ask: “Why are you even angry? Why do you always get upset when I’m calmly trying to talk to you?” Then, they will go ahead and blame you for provoking you. Sounds familiar?

Generally, passive-aggressive partners usually suffer low self-esteem probably arising from being co-dependent. Their behavior is designed to please to appease and counter to control. Passive-aggressive partners are also abusive, so you might actually be in an abusive relationship and not know it. This is because such partners are usually strategic in their hostility. They are manipulative and covert.


Is it a personality disorder?

The American Psychological Association describes passive-aggressiveness as a personality disorder. “Passive aggressive” actually has roots in psychology. Sometimes, children are taught to be passive-aggressive. While children growing up, especially in a country like Nigeria, some of them ae taught to keep quiet and do as they’re told.

What’s that thing they say again? “A child should only be seen and not heard.” (By the way, they say this about women as well…but’s that’s a story for another day)

So, if a child like that grows up with an authority figure who always makes unreasonable demands, the child will not resist openly but will resist in a subtle manner.

Unless steps are taken, that child will grow up to continue expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There will then be a disconnect between the thing that a passive-aggressive person says and what he/she actually does. For a passive-aggressive person, their true feelings will be shared by the way they act and not what they actually say.


How can this be treated?

The best way to go about things like this is to speak to the person calmly and let them know what it is they’re doing wrong. Let them know that their actions affect your relationship and that if they still want to be with you, they would need to unlearn a lot of things. Let them know that they can talk to and open up to you. Counseling may also help the person identify and change their behavior.

It is also important to note that certain complications might arise. If your partner is abusing or dependent on alcohol and/or drugs, it might be a bit more difficult to tackle this issue. Other things that could cause possible complications are things like poor career development, impatience, and poor personality traits like not wanting to accept correction.


Is your partner passive-aggressive? Are you? How would you handle this situation? Let us know in the comments section.






About the author

Zara K

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