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Waiter, There’s a Fly in My Soup

By Jeremy Ireland on October 7, 2020 in Other

Great source of protein. Photo: Josh Flydenberg

Have you ever had a meal in a restaurant that was just terrible? How did you react? Imagine, you’re about to enjoy a spoonful of soup, only to discover a fly in it. A ‘passive’ type might avoid making a fuss and tuck in regardless, whereas a more ‘aggressive’ type might harass the waiter, swear at the chef and storm out. Others might take a spoonful and leave the rest in the bowl, refuse a replacement meal and leave without tipping, despite everything else being fine. This behaviour falls somewhere in the middle, and is known as passive aggressive.

Independently, both passive and aggressive behaviours are clearly defined and relatively easy to spot. With passive aggressive behaviour, however, there are no clear edges and it is often more difficult to detect. Perhaps the easiest way to describe a passive aggressive person is when they express their negative feelings subtly – if not skilfully – through their actions, rather than dealing with their negative feelings directly. As a result, there can be a difference between what they say and what they actually do, leaving those around them feeling angry and frustrated. To add fuel to the fire, the passive aggressive person is often unaware of their behaviour.
Signs of passive aggressive behaviours tend to revolve around pervasive patterns of negativism that are met with passive resistance. Some characteristics include complaints of being misunderstood, stonewalling, being sullen and argumentative, envy, resentment and general discontent. Other behaviours include being critical, disagreeable, resentful, cynical, stubborn, blaming others and complaining about being unappreciated.

Let’s paint a hypothetical scenario. Say it’s the wife that’s on the receiving end of some pretty shoddy behaviour from the husband. On the outside, she comes across as the adoring wife, but on the inside she is boiling over. She finds herself unable to look him in the eye, lets his dinner burn, hides his keys and blames him when he can’t find them, intentionally arrives late to annoy him, withholds sex and even spits in his coffee. All these behaviours would be classed as passive aggressive, even more so if she were to deny there is a problem in the first place.

What is the best way to deal with someone who is passive aggressive? I wouldn’t recommend telling them directly, as that would add insult to injury and may push them to put dog food in your dinner. Ignoring the behaviour is a good place to start; if they see you’re not reacting they’ll soon realise it doesn’t affect you, which in turn means there’s not much in it for them. If you do feel the passive aggressive person is getting you down, the next thing to try is creating a physical distance and maintaining minimal interaction – easier said than done if you live under the same roof.

Let’s spare a thought for our passive aggressive person though. At the end of the day, I doubt any individual would wake up one morning and say, “Hey, I want to be passive aggressive.” In truth, there are many underlying factors, with most behaviours developing during childhood. The family dynamic here is key; authoritarian parenting styles that may involve child abuse, child neglect and harsh punishments are a large contributor. Other underlying health concerns such as anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and even stress are also known to be associated with passive aggressive behaviour.
If you fear that you may exhibit passive aggressive behaviour, the good news is that there are treatment options including coping strategies, so seeking a mental health practioner is a good place to start.

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