I went to therapy today. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit that in a public forum, but I hope those of you that read this don’t think that seeking help when you’re struggling is something to be ashamed of. I’m not going to go into the details of what caused me to end up going to see a stranger and declaring “I feel like I’m loosing my mind”, suffice to say that I was entangled in the web of a passive aggressive.
Passive aggressive behavior is really hard to deal with. It’s acts of manipulation, done quietly so that you barely realize you’re being manipulated at all – until you notice that things that mattered to you have disappeared from the agenda, your social circle has shrunk and why is it that you’re living your life at someone else’s beck and call? I woke up to this, but some of the people around me hadn’t – they were still being manipulated. And so I started to doubt myself, was it me that had the problem? Was I being unreasonable? Therapy reassured me I wasn’t. In effect, I’m paying $100 every six weeks for someone to listen to my complaining and give me impartial advice. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.
Before I found myself in therapy, I didn’t know what passive-aggressive meant. If you don’t either, Wikipedia is a good place to start. Sound like anyone you know?
Obviously if your boss is passive aggressive, you’re going to either have to find a new job or learn how to deal. If it’s someone who won’t modify their behavior, for instance a “friend” who as a result isn’t their passive aggressiveness isn’t really, your lab partner, or a coworker… it’s different. Dealing with a passive aggressive is exhausting, so if you can avoid them – do.
A passive aggressive might seek to “Divide and Conquer”, so if you hear something from a passive aggressive about someone else, it’s worth speaking to that someone to find out what’s going on there. Why would they do that? Because the bigger the group, the harder it is to manipulate. By splitting you up, the passive aggressive makes you vulnerable to their manipulation. For this reason, it’s best to avoid being alone with a passive aggressive. I lost count of the times when I agreed to or offered something when alone or on the phone to the passive aggressive and my boyfriend said, “why would you agree to / offer that?” and I didn’t really know.
Passive aggressives often can’t believe they’re at fault; it’s always someone else behaving unfairly or putting on them in some way. This makes it hard to present a more balanced world-view to them. In my case, I know I’ve been cast as the bad guy and been complained about. The fact that I would admit some fault where she surely doesn’t has no doubt worked against me. That has been very upsetting, however I hope my integrity, intentions and the strength of my other relationships speaks for me. If someone’s never at fault, never in the wrong – but frequently wronged – doubt them. No-one is that perfect.
Ironically, the best way to deal with a passive aggressive is to be passive aggressive in return. I don’t enjoy that, but it can be a useful skill to have. For instance, when you passive aggressive lab partner tries to get you to do the bulk of your joint report be passive aggressive back; tell them you could but you’d have to work on it at 12pm because that’s when you usually do, or that you’re really busy this week and won’t do a good job.
Note – passive aggressiveness can be a healthy behavior in some situations – what I’m talking about here is when it’s taken to excess and becomes a way of life.