Killing Me Softly

I discovered a truth about myself and my experiences that has changed everything for me. I literally felt like NEO in the Matrix when he saw everything around him as code. It’s like I finally see the world as it really is instead of how I always thought it was.

I was doing some research online which is probably one of my favorite things to do. I ran across an article about Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder. As I read about it and the symptoms, I quickly realized that I knew it and I have been surrounded by it. Passive Aggressive is basically when someone acts as if they agree with you and that they will give you what you want, but then passively refuses to allow you to get your way. It is someone that denies their anger and instead covertly pays you back for things without ever telling you that it pissed them off. Another aspect of it is that the person holds a belief about himself that he is a good person so he does his dirt in secrecy to maintain the belief of that image. This means that it is very difficult to convince the person that they are doing these things. You will be met with denial and the person may twist the truth to maintain the belief that they are not at fault. They make even mask the bad deed in a good deed to preserve their image.

For example, if you are waiting for someone to show up at your event. Instead of telling you that she doesn’t want to go, she doesn’t show up. When you call her to find out why, she tells you that she had to take her little cousin across town and it took longer than they expected. You can’t be mad because she was doing something helpful for her cousin.

Here are the symptoms* of Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder:

  • Contradictory and inconsistent behavior—A person with this behavior pattern may appear enthusiastic to carry out others’ requests, but he purposely performs in a manner that is not useful and sometimes even damaging.
  • Intentional avoidance of responsibility—Some behaviors that may be used to avoid responsibility include:
    • Procrastination—to delay or postpone needlessly and intentionally
    • Deliberate inefficiency—purposefully performing in an incompetent manner
    • Forgetfulness
  • Feelings of resentment toward others
  • Stubbornness
  • Argumentative, sulky, and hostile, especially toward authority figures
  • Easily offended
  • Resentful of useful suggestions from others
  • Blames others
  • Chronically impatient
  • Unexpressed anger or hostility

I can say that I can be passive aggressive at times, but I have often found myself on the opposite side of this behavior. As I read more and more about examples of Passive Aggressive behavior, I started to see things that happened in my life in a new way. I had all these moments in my life that I never could understand. I remember times when people would tell me they were going to do something or show up for me and then they would be missing in action. When I called the person, I received excuse after excuse. I can pick out instances in various relationships in my life. I always thought that it meant that I had to try harder to be a better friend or do something to get them to be there for me. I was always chasing their love and attention. I took all the blame. Now, I understand that it had nothing to do with me. It was their own passive aggressive behavior.

From what I have read, passive aggressive personality disorder is a form on controlling someone by refusing to meet their needs. It can begin in childhood when a child is controlled by an aggressive parent and not allowed to express himself. The child learns to deny their feelings and anger, but find covert ways to punish the authority figure by creating frustration and chaos through inaction. It’s a coping mechanism. As the child gets older, they use it to keep anyone that they love and view as an authority figure from getting too close out of fear or that they perceive as trying to control them through expectations. Passive Aggressive behavior can also involve sarcasm, masking insults in humor, or spreading rumors. It can be very damaging to relationships.

As the person on the receiving end of the treatment, I now understand that it affected my self-esteem. Imagine how confusing it is to have someone smiling at you and telling you that they are happy to do something for you, while inside they are hating you for it. Then later, you are attacked with criticism or abandonment and you don’t even understand what you did wrong. Then when you question them about it, they act as if you are overreacting and they don’t understand why you are upset. It’s very unfair and hurtful. So, why am I so happy to find this out?

I am excited to find this out, because I can look back at all those situations and pull my personal feelings out of it. It wasn’t me that was the problem. I have gone back over all these moments and experiences and have rewritten what I believe about them.  All the blows to my self-esteem are gone. I asked for what I wanted. I told them what I needed. I accepted the answer they gave me. I did my part. They didn’t do their part, because they lied about how they really felt. They missed an opportunity for my love and understanding by making me the bad guy in their head. The reality is that there is no bad guy. No one has to do anything. No is an answer that requires no explanation.

I suddenly felt free. I put the blame where it belongs and restored my self-esteem. I recognize the behavior in my relationships. Now, I don’t have to care about the reaction. I don’t get upset anymore. I feel sympathy for the person that they don’t know that they can express their feelings or anger and it wouldn’t change our relationship. But, I don’t want to be the receiver of someone’s silent attacks. I will be careful about who I choose to be in my world from now on and limit my exposure to others that I know are passive aggressive. I know that I deserve to have my needs met, so I would prefer to surround myself with people that care about my needs rather than punish me with them. I am aware that I have to change my inner energy. I was obviously attracting people passive aggressive people to myself. So, I have to do the work to change that. I have to believe that I deserve better and my needs deserve to be met. But, this was a breakthrough for me.

It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.”- William Arthur Ward

Do you think there are passive aggressive people in your midst? Can you rewrite those hurtful experiences to see that it wasn’t about you? What are you telling yourself that makes it okay for someone to deny your needs? Are you passive aggressive and do you know that you have the right to express your fears?

*Diane A. Safer, PhD ( Feb. 2012) Passive-Aggressive Behavior (pdf) Retrieved from http://