Passive Aggressive Anger

By Joe James, Ph.D.

Passive Aggressive Behavior is the exact opposite of Rage Disorder. There is no doubt when someone with a rage disorder is angry. People who use this defense mechanism are masters at expressing their anger or need for control in ways that, while infuriating, make it impossible for you to confront them in a healthy or direct fashion. They always have a seemingly innocent alibi which allows them to protest their innocence.

Passive Aggression is a defense mechanism used to protect a very fragile sense of self. The paradox of someone with this disorder is that they want to be loved, but because their sense of self is so fragile they have a fear of losing themselves in an intimate relationship. They often times grew up in a very rigid and controlling household in which expressing their true selves was discouraged and they learned the only way to express their feelings was through indirect means.

Signs of Passive Aggressive Behavior

Cathy Meyer of has identified 9 traits of the Passive Aggressive:

  • Ambiguity: Actions speak louder than words when it comes to how ambiguous people who use this anger style can be. They rarely mean what they say or say what they mean. The best judge of how a someone who uses this defense feels about an issue is how they act. Normally they don’t act until after they’ve caused some kind of stress by their ambiguous way of communicating.
  • Forgetfulness: Responsibility is often avoided by forgetting. How convenient is that? There is no easier way to punish someone than forgetting that lunch date or your birthday or, better yet, an anniversary.
  • Blaming: They are never responsible for their actions. If you aren’t to blame then it is something that happened at work, the traffic on the way home or the slow clerk at the convenience store. Everyone around him/her who has faults and they must be punished for those faults.
  • Lack of Anger: He/she may never express anger. There are some who are happy with whatever you want. On the outside anyway! People with this disorder may have been taught, as a child, that anger is unacceptable. Hence they go through life stuffing their anger, being accommodating and then sticking it to you in an under-handed way.
  • Fear of Dependency: From Scott Wetlzer, author of Living With The Passive Aggressive Man. Unsure of his autonomy and afraid of being alone, he fights his dependency needs, usually by trying to control you. He wants you to think he doesn’t depend on you, but he binds himself closer than he cares to admit. Relationships can become battle grounds, where he can only claim victory if he denies his need for your support.
  • Fear of Intimacy: Trust is a major issue. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone. They can have sex with you but rarely make love to you. If they feel themselves becoming attached, they may punish you by withholding sex.
  • Obstructionism: If you want something from your spouse you should get ready to wait for it or maybe even never get it. It is important to him/her that you don,t get your way. He/she will act as if giving you what you want is important to them but, rarely will he/she follow through with giving it. It is very confusing to have someone appear to want to give to you but never follow through. You can begin to feel as if you are asking too much which is exactly what he/she wants to you to feel.
  • Victimization: A hallmark of this anger style is a sense of being treated unfairly. If you get upset because he or she is constantly late, they take offense because; in their mind, it was someone else’s fault that they were late. He/she is always the innocent victim of your unreasonable expectations, an over-bearing boss or that slow clerk at the convenience store.
  • Procrastination: The passive aggressive person believes that deadlines are for everyone but them. They do things on their own time schedule and be damned anyone who expects differently from them.

Directly confronting a person who expresses his or her anger in this fashion is often a fruitless endeavor which leaves you feeling more frustrated than you were to begin with. There will always be what they view as a plausible excuse for their behavior and may try to turn the table on you by implying that you are overly sensitive.

Passive aggressives often complain that they are being held to unreasonable standards. They will avoid responsibility for any problems in a relationship. If forced to deal with problems in the relationship they are likely to withdraw from you.

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