Story of Passive Aggressive Pattern and Assertiveness Capacity

Passive Aggressive Pattern Description

If you have the Passive Aggressive Pattern, you tend to act in a way that looks like you are agreeable and pleasing, on the surface, but in the end your behavior either hurts people or frustrates them. You may only be aware of your surface desire to please people. You may even realize that you’re afraid of not pleasing someone, especially your partner.

The clue to help you realize if you have this pattern is when people you are close to regularly get frustrated with you or feel hurt by you. You may feel wronged when this happens. You may even say to yourself, “I’m doing my best to be nice and agreeable, but my partner doesn’t seem to get this. She keeps getting on my case for doing things that upset her. But I don’t have any idea what she is talking about.”

If you have a Passive Aggressive Pattern, there is an unconscious part of you that is resentful and perhaps defiant. This part is irritated at how much you kowtow to what your partner wants. Or it may be angry at her for things she said that resulted in your feeling undervalued or unappreciated. But you don’t feel that you have any right to be angry or defiant, so it all goes underground in your consciousness. You act in seemingly agreeable ways, but you add a little mean twist to your behavior that frustrates your partner.

For example, your partner asks you to do something for her that needs to happen by a certain date. You agree to do it, but then you forget about it until after the date has passed, and she then has to suffer the consequences. Consciously, you just forgot, but your Passive-Aggressive Part did this on purpose to punish her for something unspoken that bothered you.

Another example: There is a woman at work who you are somewhat attracted to. You have no intention of acting on this because you are faithfully married. Your wife has met her and is jealous of her beauty, and so she has made it clear she doesn’t want you to even have a friendship with her. You say yes to a lunch with the woman without telling your wife, rationalizing, “I know I’m not going to have an affair, so what is wrong with just having lunch?” However, you “accidentally” leave a clue that alerts your wife to the lunch. She is very upset.

It isn’t easy to know if you have this pattern because it is often  unconscious; and it also is not something that any of us want to admit to. You may need to explore the unconscious motivations of your behavior to find out for sure.

Passive Aggressive Story

Whenever Joe’s wife, Marge, asks him to do something around the house, he always seems to go along and agree to do it. But the task rarely gets done. He either conveniently “forgets” about it, or he does a little bit of it, but doesn’t finish the job. Sometimes he does the job but in a way that isn’t really what she wanted. In all instances, Marge is left feeling frustrated with Joe.

Joe appears to feel vaguely guilty about this, but it keeps happening; and Marge is getting increasingly angry. She begins to wonder: “Does Joe really care for me? Because I feel like I can’t trust him anymore.” Marge has a vague feeling that he is getting back at her, but she can’t figure out exactly why.

Joe keeps saying, “Hey, I’m only human. I just forget sometimes.” He claims he would really like to give her all the things she wants.

This is passive-aggressive behavior in action. What is really going on with Joe?  He has a part that is a People Pleaser. This part of him really wants to make Marge happy by doing everything she asks. It is actually afraid of not pleasing her. It fears she will become angry and judgmental, that she will withdraw from Joe and reject him. Therefore, when Marge asks Joe to do something, the Pleaser doesn’t stop to consider whether or not he wants to do it, or if he has the time. It automatically says “Yes.” It wants to protect Joe from the pain of being judged or rejected by Marge. And Joe isn’t aware of what is going on.

However, this is only half the story. There is another part of Joe that is Passive-Aggressive. This part has very different feelings about Marge’s requests. First of all, it doesn’t see them as “requests”. It feels that Marge is “demanding” things from him. It resents Marge for pushing Joe around and telling him what to do. And the Passive-Aggressive Part is even more resentful when Joe gives in. It feels angry at Marge and wants to say, “How dare you tell me what to do!”

However, the Passive-Aggressive Part is overruled by the Pleaser. It isn’t allowed to defy Marge or get angry at her because the Pleaser would be terrified about what would happen. So the Passive-Aggressive Part is silenced. It doesn’t get to act in a direct way, and Joe doesn’t even know that he has a part like this. The Passive-Aggressive Part is completely unconscious.

In addition, Joe has a lot of anger and rage held over from his childhood, especially directed at women. So now this anger sometimes gets directed at Marge, even when she hasn’t done anything. However, Joe has protectors that are terrified about what would happen if he expressed his anger directly, so it is hidden away, where Joe doesn’t know about it. It feeds into the feelings of the Passive-Aggressive Part, again in an unconscious way.

However, the Passive-Aggressive Part is not without some power.  Even though it can’t be directly aggressive the way it would like, it can be passively aggressive. It can prevent Joe from giving Marge what she wants. It may cause Joe to forget what he has promised to do. The Passive-Aggressive Part may influence Joe do a job in a willy-nilly way that will frustrate Marge, or even scare her by leaving it precariously half finished. It knows how to get back at Marge in an indirect way that Joe isn’t even aware of. And when Marge does get frustrated or scared, the Passive-Aggressive Part feels satisfied because it has expressed its anger and rebellion. Ha-ha! It has “gotten” her.

Joe has two sides that are at odds with each other. They are conflicted about the best way to deal with Marge. The Pleaser takes charge directly when Marge asks Joe to do something, and the Passive-Aggressive Part takes charge indirectly (subconscious revenge) later on.

Assertiveness Story

Through IFS, Joe got to know his People Pleaser and his Passive-Aggressive Part and what they were trying to do for him. He was very surprised to learn that all this was going on beneath the surface and without his knowledge. He connected with the Pleaser, and learned about its fear. He helped it realize that: “If I don’t always please Marge, and she does get angry at me, I can handle it. I won’t crumble to pieces. I can stand my ground and talk to her about it.”

He connected with the Passive-Aggressive Part and saw how determined it was to avoid being controlled. He talked to this part and helped it realize that: “Marge isn’t really trying to control me most of the time, so you can relax your vigilance. You don’t have to be so testy about being dominated.”

Joe reported:  “I also discovered just how angry this part was at times and how this got acted out indirectly. I began to learn how to be aware of my anger, so I can practice expressing it directly rather than underhandedly. Sometimes,” he realized,  “I wasn’t actually angry at Marge at all. I was on, like, automatic pilot.”

Once these parts became conscious and learned to trust Joe, his pattern of passive-aggressive behavior was much easier to change.  “I learned to decide for myself if I wanted to do what Marge asked. I can now have a discussion with her about what should and should not be done, rather than feeling like a soldier, obliged to just salute and obey. Now, when I agree to do a task, I am more engaged in the decision, so I have no trouble carrying through with it, and I make sure the task is done the right way. Furthermore, instead of grumbling, ‘This’ll fix her wagon!’ I do it with a feeling of joy and pride in my workmanship. Even if it is something as simple as vacuuming.”

Joe also worked on developing his Assertiveness Capacity. “If there’s ever something about Marge’s attitude that registers as controlling, I am able to talk to her about it in an assertive way without being either overly pleasing or aggressive. I can also assert myself  with Marge when asking for the things I want rather than being sneakily vengeful. Never again will I have the need to act out my anger on her. I can be open and direct with Marge, which encourages her to be the same with me. Who knew some IFS work could affect such a radical-and wonderful-change.