The One Who Makes You Think You Must Be Losing It

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.

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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.


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Ending the Silence in Your Relationship

The use of withdrawal and refusal is a coping mechanism and learned behavior by someone who was not permitted to experience his or her feelings in safety, likely beginning in childhood. It is a damage response. It is also what these emotionally crippled people employ as a defensive, damage control device.

The person who uses this control technique does so often out of a feeling of hopelessness; they feel they have no other recourse. And many do not as they simply lack the emotional skills necessary to use two-way, emotionally open communication. They are terrified of being open because that is where they’re vulnerable. Chances are, as kids, the parental environment was one of emotional instability, covert retaliation, and continued manipulation and diminishing (which causes a hypersensitivity to it in the future).

The resulting adult will avoid these abuses, even if only perceived, using the only method of control they were able to generate as children: Silence and withdrawal (read internalizing). In this state, the emotional abuser can’t keep getting to them and the tables are turned. The trouble is, this behavior becomes a conditioned response that outlives its usefulness and is continued into the adult’s future relationships, where he or she then perpetrates the damdge instead of being the victim of it. And in all honesty, they self damage, but will rarely become aware of it.

Understand me clearly, the person who believes themself to be whole and fully functional but then employs this control technique is not whole, they are damaged. Internal scars and survival techniques are at play, deep beneath the surface. These people often live with partners who rountinely feel as though they must be crazy, because along with the harm done to the receiving end of the silent treatment is often a distortion of reality by the one who has withdrawn. The act of withdrawal is often accompanied by a very covert shift of blame. This can occur in situations where there was not even reasonable cause for any blame to exist in the eyes of the partner who doesn’t employ the technique. There is a cycle going here.

If you rountinely find yourself using the withdrawal and internalization method, you know that all the stuff you shovel down inside just stays there, piling up. Just like it did as a child. The difference now is that you could be on a level playing field emotionally with those you love and/or live with. You could choose to seek help in gaining healthy coping mechanisms and helpful methods of interaction at such intimate and vulnerable states as are created in committed relationships. You could choose to save yourself future hurt, spare your partner the anguish you cause them, and prevent any future generation you create from the damage. You can choose to stop the cycle of pain and harm, for all involved, including you. But chances are without that pain, conflict, it whatever causes the weight of your burden to remain, you would be lost. It would be foreign and therefore not safe for you to experience these sort of interactions with freedom to feel, security to explore, and trust that your partner doesn’t want to harm you. Fear of being hurt and harmed drives your reluctance, and for good reason, your fear is a learned response.

But you can change your responses. You can change perceptions and understanding. There is another option. An entirely other world that you could exist in that is safe and makes conflict useful. Where love and compassion are the ulterior motives. Trouble is that as long as you keep yourself securely in your hole, back against the wall, where you think you are safe, there is a huge likelihood you’ll never realize the love and compassion staring you in the face.

And the reason they will never see it is because they are indeed damaged souls. Deeply hurt during a time when they could not prevent it (childhood, naive first relationship, illness, etc). These people can change, but need help from an outside source that can teach them and help them develop the the tools they lack.

In the mean time, it you suffer the effects of another imposing their rejection, withdrawal, and/or isolation the best thing you can do is turn to education. Inform yourself of the patterns, the cycles, the experience of life through their eyes. If you can part ways, do so. If you are not in a position to separate and sever your relationship, find an educated source to talk to and locate your unending supply of inner strength. Most importantly, define your boundaries and set them at the place just in front of allowing yourself to become a victim.

If there are any on here that are struggling with this topic and would like to talk to someone via email, I invite you to contact me directly, or another unbiased, uninvolved person.  Don’t struggle alone, and in isolation. Reach out and find help, find someone with the necessary education and experience to talk with, so that you can rise out of the hurt and difficulty that surrounds you.

Helping Toddlers Locate Boundaries

choose to see the world through your toddler’s eyes.  Empathetically experience her world as she experiences it, and you will know harmony instead of struggle.

There seem to be a lot of discussions on how to keep toddlers in line lately, and the conversations in general result in my confusion and sadness. I have a two year old. She is a very complex, spirited, little person. She is communicative, emotional, thoughtful, and intelligent. And she has an opinion on just about everything. Keeping up with her is sometimes quite challenging, but it is a challenge I thoroughly enjoy meeting.

Consistency is an extremely valuable commodity and something that the toddler, especially, desperately needs.  Through consistency from her care giver, she can learn to establish herself in her world, discover her own thoughtfulness and desire to think of others, and develop her autonomy.  Security, self confidence, and the ability to thrive come from her knowing she is valued and worthy of being responded to, as well as being able to rely upon her environment and care givers.

Today was a difficult day because I was too impatient.  I still am.  My daughter knew it.  And as if my own mood wasn’t enough to just end all today, she decided she was going to launch an all out protest, by returning it.  Every impatient action or outburst I shot her way, she reflected right back at me.  And can I fault her in any way?  Nope.

At some point during my day, I began to really get to the point of just wanting to scream.  My little one was just being little, but I wasn’t handling it well.  I have a habit of purposefully falling silent and staring off in the distance in effort to gain the attention of my little bug, or regain my own, or both. Trying to gain the full picture, I will often do this while sitting on the floor, which makes my head about level to hers.  

Today when I decided to attempt to gain control over my own impatience and try to regain control of the rapid downward spiral that would lead to my daughter losing it in a fit of emotion that she doesn’t know what to do with, I discovered something.  My little girl was afraid. She was afraid of me, afraid of what she was doing or not doing, afraid to just be in her own little world (where she is usually very comfortable). She was on edge.

I realized in that moment what I was putting my little one through, and what I didn’t want to continue. I decided we needed a breather, so we put on a movie and just sat together on the couch. Before long, I became impatient again (a result of a hormonal imbalance that I am still trying to get a handle on after the pregnancy) and I picked up my laptop. This is a signal to my daughter that she is no longer my focus.  And some days she tolerates this for a while, and others she hurt by my diverted attention.  So, in response, she sulked.  Then I sulked.  Then she rejected my attempts at cuddling.  So I put the computer away.  But by then, she knew I was annoyed and not wanting to really watch the movie with her, remember she’s 28 months old and perceives well.  She in turn became fully annoyed with me and told me as much.

I allowed myself to see through her eyes, and I felt her hurt.  She was disappointed, felt like she wasn’t as valuable as my stupid laptop, and just didn’t understand why her mama was being so unpredictable today.  I did (understand), and there was nothing I could do about it, but keep trying to remain calm.  Eventually, we decided together that it was time for snuggle/sling time that would lead to a nap.  She knew I needed a break, and so did she (from me).

She fell asleep very quickly, snuggled into my chest.  I consciously made the decision to just hold her this time instead of reading something on my phone while waiting for her to fall asleep.  Sometimes I get away with that, but often she lies in my arms, in the sling, and stares right at my face (the same face/eyes that are looking at something other than her own), waiting.  She waits for me very quietly.  When I realize I’m being stared at, I direct my gaze into her eyes and usually see relief and comfort, and a sense of security in her.  Today, I saw apprehension and a guarded little girl.  It broke me apart, again.

Just imagine if, instead of realizing her behavior today was in direct response to my own, I assumed the position of authoritarian power-demanding, righteously angry parent.  How damaging to my little person I could have been. I’m so thankful I didn’t resort to forcing my way or punishing, I would have crushed her spirit severely.

I am convinced that my child generally wishes to be in harmony with her environment. She can be self focused at times, some of which are very useful and necessary, others are just whims. I can become frustrated with her too, but as soon as I stop thinking and seeing through only my own eyes and start seeing through hers as well, I can again appreciate her. When I relate to the world as this little does, I no longer struggle.

I have an amazing little bug, who perceives things at a level way beyond the depth of what we expected at this age.  Early on, even during her first few weeks, others shared that when they looked into her eyes, they felt connected and that she sensed them fully.  

“She has an old soul”, some said, and I have to agree – she often seems to have an awareness that eludes me.  

I felt her strength, and her desire for harmony and peace well before she was born.  And after her birth, her general demeanor gave me such a sense of peace and awe that my respect and admiration of her existence came without force or even conscious thought. I am on this earth for her.  Her papa and I are committed to joining in her explorations, sharing tools as she discovers her world.

She impresses me every moment I am in her presence.  She impresses me even when I’m not in her presence, because these times allow me to reflect on experiences with her, and I invariably gain an understanding and perspective that gives me even more to admire in her.

She knows we won’t hit her, or come after her.  She seeks the boundaries and we help her see them, and we explain why in terms she can comprehend. She is tiny and has little experience to draw upon to formulate her own conclusions; if your thoughts are communicated, connection will result.  She is highly intelligent, but explain yourself as if she is also brand new. Respect her. Remember what it is like to be a two year old? Take a moment to stop what you’re doing, get down on their level, and ask them what it’s like being them, and listen to their response (whether in word, expression, or body language).

See the world through your toddler’s eyes and experiences. Once you have chosen to do that regularly, you will find that you approach your child differently and they will respond in turn.   Grow their trust and deepen your connection.

If all else fails and your toddler is just driving you nuts,
go take a look in the mirror.
Then, take responsibility for your own behaviors,
and realize that your toddler is the world’s greatest mimic.

Eye to eye, cheek to cheek,give them a moment of yours that is just for them.