Saturday, June 04, 2016

Dealing With the Hatred of Passive-Aggressive Behavior

When Linda and I were at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary where I was working on my M.Div. degree we had many excellent, brilliant, caring professors. One of them was David Augsburger, the Mennonite professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care. David was one of the great influences on our lives. Linda and I were in a small group with Dave and his wife Nancy for two years. We house-sat for their Irish setters. A few years after we left Northern Dave moved to Pasadena to teach at Fuller Theological Seminary. Whenever Linda and I counsel people I sometimes have the feeling that most of whatever wisdom I have was from Dave (and John Powell and John Peterson), and I was simply his muse.

One of Dave's specialities was understanding anger and helping people deal in a healthy, biblical way with it. I felt that Dave's Mennonite background with its deep commitments to reconciliation and waging peace gave him a special edge when it came to anger issues. (See, e.g., Hate-Work; and the simple yet deep Caring Enough to Confront.) 

Hanging around Dave - as my professor and as one who befriended me - showed me that I am an angry person, and that it would be to my benefit as well as the benefit of others that I understand and address the anger within me. One form of this inner anger was passive aggressive behavior. Here are some things I have learned about this.

Passive aggressive behavior is a way to show our anger in a subversive, seemingly consequence-free way. (Derived from Andrea Brandt, 8 Keys to Eliminating Passive-Aggressiveness)

Passive-aggressiveness is rooted in unforgiveness. Passive-aggression is an act of hatred that makes the other person pay, accompanied with a smile.

The passive aggressive hater may deliberately be late for appointments, or stall when it's time to go somewhere. They may "forget" to keep promises, for the joy of watching the promisee suffer. The passive-aggressive person is the Queen of uncompleted tasks. 

Passive aggression is revenge. It's another way of getting back, cloaked in sheep's clothing. ("I'm so sorry I overbaked the brownies and they chipped your tooth and it hurts"; "I'm so sorry I forgot to invite you to the birthday party and this made you feel sad and angry"; "I feel so horrible that the poison accidentally got mixed into the delicious cheesecake I made for you and you died"; "I'm so sorry that I failed/neglected/"forgot"......, and this made it hard for you.")

Passive aggressive people may use a lot of sarcasm, and may display chronic feelings of victimhood. All of this, for the pleasure of seeing other people suffer. 

Self-depreciating behaviors are often passive aggressive acts, such as hurting yourself to get back at others. 

Children who are taught to be submissive to elders and not express anger can develop passive aggressive behavior. (From Brandt.)

Passive aggressive behavior avoids dealing with anger and getting at the root of it. The passive-aggressive person cannot therefore function as a peacemaker and operate in a ministry of reconciliation.

Because the passive-aggressive person specializes in avoidance the sun is always going down on their anger. Passive-aggressive persons seethe in the juices of their unforgiveness.

Part of my personal transformation towards Christlikeness (Gal. 4:19 - not there yet!) has been timely revelations of my inner cesspool (from C.S. Lewis). It's humbling, and always accompanied by hope, because Christ comes to rescue and save.

OK. So what can I do about this? Rule #1 - DO NOT AVOID IT!!! David Augsburger writes: "The more we run from conflict, the more it masters us; the more we try to avoid it, the more it controls us; the less we fear conflict, the less it confuses us; the less we deny our differences, the less they divide us."

I can choose to...
Understand that passive aggressive behavior is rooted in a feeling of victimhood & selfishness 
Understand that at the heart of passive aggressive behavior is a choice to not forgive
Speak with compassionate assertiveness, saying: “I believe my thoughts are important, and I also respect your thoughts.” 
➤ Be assertive and direct, but also speak with empathy and kindness 
Listen, listen, listen!


Realize conflict is healthy and natural, don’t be scared 
Take responsibility for your actions
Express appreciation for the other person 
Be open to feedback
Pay attention to body language 

Argue about the past 
Raise your voice or swear 
Tell the other person what to do
Respond to provocation; those with passive aggressive behavior will deliberate to justify their own behavior