THE BOOMERANG RELATIONSHIP
Passivity, Irresponsibility and Resulting Partner Anger
Lynne Namka, Ed. D © 1998
One of the hardest patterns of behavior for all of us to deal with is passive aggressive behavior. Passive aggressive behavior happens when the person avoids responsibility and attempts to control others to keep them away through his passivity and withdrawal. It is a dynamic born of fear of being controlled, fear of confrontation, hidden anger and an inability to deal straight with people.
Passive aggressive behavior is complex and takes many forms. We all have passive behavior that comes up when we don’t want to deal with conflict directly or do a task. We all hedge, fudge and remain noncommittal on issues some of the time. That’s normal. It’s only when repeated passivity creates severe issues for others setting up continual tension and anger in the household that it becomes a serious problem that should be addressed. Common examples of this habitual, passive retreat style (read Silent Treatment) of dealing with confrontation and stress include:
- The person who says one thing but means the opposite.
- The man who acts passive but aggressively gets his own way by not doing what is wanted.
- The boss who squelches his anger then strikes out indirectly. (Perhaps by withdrawing.)
- The woman who says yes when she means no; then gets cold feet and refuses to follow through.
- The teenager who agrees up front then doesn’t do what he agreed to.
- The client who schedules an appointment but does not show up.
- The person who fears self assertion and confrontation, but says no by sidestepping responsibility.
- Anyone in the family who creatively gets out of doing his or her part of the chores.
- The Mr. Nice Guy who puts on the sweet face to agree, then does what he darn well pleases.
- The student who procrastinates with studying and does poorly in school.
- The parent who refuses to discipline the children and insists on the spouse being the ‘heavy.’
- The bored housewife who refuses to clean the house or cook for her family.
- The person who refuses to hear criticism, discuss his problems or read books about the issue.
- The dad who pushes one child hard but allows the other child to get out of responsibility.
- The not ready to be committed man wanting someone there for him but feels entitled to his freedom.
- Any individual who spends his effort into under achieving in school, in relationships and in life!
What all of these people have in common is that the significant people in their life become very, very angry at their resistant behavior. The negative energy in the relationship boomerangs from one partner to the other resulting in an unhappy relationship.
While women can have passive aggressive behavior, this condition is more typically found in men, therefore this article will focus on the typical male version of this dynamic. The typical passive aggressive man has not worked through his anger and power issues with his parents so he replays them in current relationships. His anger comes out in passive way of avoidance.
Psychologist, Scott Wetzler, in Living With the Passive Aggressive Man: Coping with the Personality Syndrome of Hidden Aggression From the Bedroom to the Boardroom, discusses the dynamic that sets up passive behavior. There are many childhood set ups for this way of coping but most often there is a domineering mother and a father who is ineffectual. Or there may be a passive mother who gets out of responsibility by her helplessness. There are power struggles in the marriage with one parent backing off and withdrawing. The boy feels trapped between choosing loyalties at home. He is afraid to compete with his father who is absent either physically or emotionally or perceived as being inadequate. In the typical mother dominant-father passive relationship, the boy learns that the job of being a man in relationship is to escape the woman’s needs and subsequent demands.
The young boy is not allowed to express his feelings and develop a sense of self. He wants his mother’s attention and care yet he resents her continual intrusion. His anger grows but he cannot express it so it becomes submerged and is expressed in an unconscious ‘You can’t tell me what to do.’ He is not allowed to get his way by direct confrontation and competition so he learns to displace his anger through resistance. He learns to use charm, stubbornness, resistance and withdrawal to protect himself in power struggles. He rebels by becoming moody, being an underachiever or developing behavior problems. His self protectiveness and duplicity from the squelched anger and hostility becomes a habit that he plays out with other women he meets. He desperately seeks a woman to meet his needs of being accepted for who he is, but puts her off with small, continual acts of rebellion. He replays the distancing drama of his original family In the relationship.
Agreement, Resistance and Hidden Hostility as Major Characteristics
The man with passive aggressive behavior needs someone to be the object of his hidden hostility. He needs an adversary whose expectations and demands he can resist as he plays out the dance he learned from his parents. He chooses a woman who will agree to be on the receiving end of his disowned anger. He resists her in small ways setting up a pattern of frustration so that she gets to express the anger that he cannot.