The angry smile, the quiet attack - we all know the personality type. But it takes a while - and often many sleepless nights - to work out that we have one in our midst.
This individual might be a partner, a romantic interest, a social contact, a colleague, family member or friend - or maybe even ourselves.
Often described as "crazy makers", the passive aggressive personality can leave us feeling feeling frustrated, deflated and utterly confused.
So you know your partner is bored and frustrated - but when you ask her what's up she refuses to admit to the feeling. Or even discuss it. And whilst your father doesn't actually criticise you - he never, ever says how well you do. Your co-worker is always late - or sick the day before a public holiday and makes your work life stressful - and your boss just keeps forgetting to talk to management about your complaints about the erratic printer. And what about the friend who needs to tell you that your exuberance at her party caused another friend to criticise you. Or maybe you have just moved heaven and earth to find a way to have a happy weekend with your partner's family - and as she leaves, his mother says quietly to you "We know how busy you are but our visits to you are just so rare".
Actions speak louder than words and despite what is being said - or more likely not said - if you are seeing behaviours of forgetfulness, blaming, withholding, being the innocent victim and endless procrastination, then these are signs that you might just be trying to relate to a passive aggressive
At its heart, says Scott Wetzler PhD and author of Living with the Passive Aggressive Man, this behaviour is really a sugar-coated hostility. There is something very withholding about the interaction - you know something is going on and it is being denied This is crazy making for the recipient. Especially if you, as the recipient, struggle to assert yourself in the face of this behaviour. Problem is, you are dealing with acts of omission not commission. But make no mistake - this is aggressive behaviour. The dance that ensues will generate very real stress, which often and sadly erupts in a variety of very dysfunctional ways.
The main ingredient of passive aggression is fundamentally a fear and avoidance of conflict, driven by a feeling of powerlessness and helplessness on the part of the perpetrator.
In my practice, I often come across couples where one partner is feeling he is going crazy because he cannot get his partner to engage. She is avoidant. Low in self esteem and confidence - and does not give herself permission to be angry- but expresses it anyway in a variety of ways, most of which sabotage any hope of constructive communication.
"You have the problem" is the catch cry, "not me".
The tragedy is that a power struggle is at play and all evidence of 'wrongdoing' is denied. I work hard with these couples to find a way to take away any notion of 'Blame' because all it does is get in the way of a win: win result.
Worst-case scenario is that separation with a passive aggressive can - and often does - lead to a high conflict situation with long term negative consequences for all involved - including children.
A lot of stress related disorders such as depression, skin rashes, insomnia and substance abuse devolve from this silent foe. But once recognised for what it is, finding strategies to deal with passive aggression can do much to resolve what felt like an insurmountable impasse.
A few tips
• Understand that the behaviour you are experiencing from a passive aggressive personality is hostility
• Understand that it is important to deal with it if it is impacting your life
• Talk specifically - rather than saying "you are always this way", tell the person why their specific behaviour is upsetting you.
• Allowing a person to exact revenge from behind the safety of excuses will permit passive aggressive behaviour to flourish.
If you find yourself fearful of conflict
• Check out carefully that you are not engaging in passive aggressive behaviour.
• Listen to your own voice and give yourself permission to figure out what you want.
• Be aware of any disconnect between your actions and how you are thinking or feeling.
• Learn the skills of assertive behaviour and your right to express anger and frustration constructively.