Is Passive Aggressive Behaviour Catching?

I don’t know that it’s “catching” in the clinical sense, but it is definitely catching in the “self defense” or “get even” sense. Between my BF and my mother, (we’re the caregivers) I have developed a little passive aggressiveness myself. I’ve been with the BF nine yrs. and had my mother for eight. You start to learn what works and what doesn’t, if you decide to stick it out. (I must say that if I was younger, I probably wouldn’t).

There are many theories on how to handle passive-aggressives, and at one point or another, I’ve probably tried them all. I have learned getting angry usually has more of an effect on me than on them, so I try not to do that very often. If I get totally upset with the BF, he reacts perfectly. He looks so rejected, hangs his head, says “What an idiot I am” two or three times, and then I’m the one who feels bad. It’s the perfect manipulation!

Another theory is to call them out on their behavior. I have gotten pretty good at that one, but alas, it doesn’t work all of the time. I’ve done that quite often and the reaction I have come to expect is “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was doing that.” Does the behavior change? Usually not. 

An example is anytime my kids come in our room either to talk to me, get the telephone, or use the computer. The reaction is always one of complete annoyance. The children are not hurting anything. Usually not interrupting anything. Does the BF actually say anything? Of course not. Remember, one of the causes of this personality disorder is not being allowed to express themselves as children. When they grow up, I don’t think they really know how. 

For fun, and hopefully to end this because the kids have gotten where they don’t want to talk to him if they can help it, let alone ask him for anything, I asked him “What about them asking for the phone (example) got you so upset?”

Reaction: “What? What are you talking about?”

I’ve had to do this one a few times, but it’s finally making a difference. Now if my daughter is at the computer or in the room talking to me when he comes in, he hesitates at the door for a second, (not too long because he doesn’t want me to address him), and then completes whatever it was he came in for. The kids have said he’s gotten nicer. I think it’s a combination of them getting older and him hiding his feelings better.

I never claimed to have the cure, just a way to make it easier to live with.


4 Responses

  1. Hi there.,

    How does one deal with the refusal to communicate when problems arise?

    This is one area in which i have found nothing that works. Ive tried the talking with ‘I’ statements and still no response, Ive tried getting angry and still nothing. Ive tried writing letters which he reads but doesnt respond to.

    He sits there, hangs his head like he is hard done by, sighs heavily then limps to bed like ive broken his leg!!!

    So frustrating!!

  2. I’ve been with mine almost 10 years and I can’t get him to talk either. I don’t know what the answer is. The way you describe yours (he sits there, hangs his head, etc) I would think we were living with the same guy. LOL.

    It is very frustrating and has caused quite a distance in our relationship. I ask him sometimes where he sees our future, or his retirement, anything, but there’s never a dialogue. I don’t know if he truly never thinks about it, or just can’t articulate it. Like you I’ve tried starting out with all the “non threatening” conversation starters also.

    Good luck to you. If either of us discovers something that works, let’s promise to pass it to the other, okay? LOL

  3. I too have now gone to trying to be entertained by the lack of decision making vs angry… b/c you are right NOTHING works. The only success I’ve had is a version of applying the preschool child behavior modification (remember, it’s just like having another child at times!) of 1-2-3. Meaning, I will email him with an upcoming need for input. I will literally say “This is my first email asking you for your plan for the weekend”. I wait… and a few days later I say “This is my second request for your input about the weekend. If I don’t hear from you then I will proceed with my plans. If you have input you have 3 days to provide it. After day three I will proceed with my plans.”. And then finally “This is my third and final time I am requesting your decision about this weekend. If I do not hear from you in the next 24 hours I will proceed with my plans.”

    What usually happens? I usually get some vague ‘do what you want’ message… and then I do what I want. Occasionally he will try to throw it back at me – at which point I now just simply cut and paste my previous requests back to him.

    My counselor is helping me to teach my daughter some strategies too- especially in terms of dealing with him telling her half truths, etc. ( bottom line is that he will avoid any conflict on any level at all times; he’ll skirt and lie LONG b/f he’ll say the facts – which has been quite confusing to our daughter – but we’re plodding through… humor helps!)

    It’s amazing to watch an equipped 6 year old ‘succeed’ in it; she has NO IDEA what subterfuge is- so it doesn’t ‘work’ on her – which throws him- and then you add on that she’s being guided early – and well- on how to thwart a PA tactic. I think sometimes I’m learning more from teaching HER the things my counselor is bestowing upon her!

    She’s starting to process the inconsistencies in him and his world – and verbalizing them… FASCINATING. I have to bite, bite, bite my tongue to not speed her along… I’m being counseled to make one statement of what I believe (i.e. “Daddy told me something different. He told me ________”) then pose the set up to her to keep thinking about it, keep asking daddy questions, and most importantly- keep watching him… it is meant to teach her to make her own conclusions based on someone she CAN trust (me), her own processing, and his actions. TOUGH STUFF.

    I do still get angry at him – angry though isn’t the right word- DISGUSTED is a better word (as in ‘Really? You are capable of lying to your own kid? Really? Wow. Coward.’) most recently it has been in conjunction with his passivity / avoidance of the truth with our daughter ( he is the MASTER of half truths, omissions and non-full disclosure ). When this happens I call him on it- yes, sometimes angrily- and with specifics about WHY this happens ( “I am upset b/c you didn’t tell the full truth. If, in the future, you make a choice to tell the full truth in the first round, I will be less upset. In the meantime, your choices have consequences and one of the consequences is my anger and this phone call.”) Perfect? Not at all b/c we all know that me being angry is some sort of frosting on his cake… but I have also found that if I state clearly and openly that I am upset- it helps ME- and I don’t really give a rat’s pa-tooty what it does or doesn’t do for him anymore. I state my feelings. State what I think needs to be done, tell him I look forward to whatever plan he might come up, and hang end the conversation. (I’ve also entertained myself recently with considering saying to him ‘You and your girlfriend can say ‘thank you’ to me whenever you’d like- to which he’d say ‘What? Why?”- and I would say ‘A P-A man needs an antagonist in order for his rescuer to provide rescuing; so each time I confront you and get angry, you go back and get rescued by her; she feels needed, you get sex, etc… so really, it’s a win-win for both of you, yes? The day I stop being angry with you, you’ll aim your PA at her- so for now, I’m doing her a favor. She’s got plenty of time ahead of her to go crazy.”

    He’s 38 and dating a 23 year old NAIVE former friend of mine (Pattern Lather, Rinse, Repeat) ; she’s playing the CLASSIC rescuer role right now – which can be so frustrating b/c he has no need to deal with me or our daughter b/c at the end of the day he’s gettin’ what he needs – parasitically- from his Rescuer. Right now he can literally just sit dormant, dumb and sullen, then hang up the phone and be rescued. Makes everything much, much, much more challenging – and for awhile it made me nuts- now I can honestly say is all I that goes through my head is I’M SO GLAD I’M NOT HER!!!!!!!!!!

    I have also labeled every direct request email as ‘choices’. I keep all of our correspondences in a folder labeled ‘choices’. This REALLY helps me to see the pattern and provides documentation of communication, etc.

    Really, nothing has changed with HIM at all- but ME is a different story… the freedom and joy and happiness I feel about being free of his behaviors ( and managing myself in terms of co-parentlng) is awesome!

    I’m gushing I now- but finding this blog makes me feel so LESS ALONE!!!!!!!!!!! Wait til my counselor hears!


    • Ppeggy- Thanks again for telling so much of your story. I’m sure it’s an inspiration to many of us along with a little teaching of what we can do for back up. LOL. I love it the way you do your emails, although you would think with any grown up person that would be unnecessary. Of course we all know differently when dealing with a passive aggressive.

      I feel bad that your daughter has to carry such a burden at her young age, but this should help her spot the tactics when used on her later on by a boyfriend, etc. Also may help keep her from getting so messed up the way a lot of children from passive aggressive parents do.

      It’s great to hear how happy you are and how well you’re doing. We can’t change them, but we can certainly do something about ourselves and how we handle them. Great job. Glad to be getting to know you.

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