“When Passive-Aggression isn’t Very Passive” Comments, Page 1

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21 Comments (4 Discussion Threads) on “When Passive-Aggression isn’t Very Passive”

  1. “…passive-aggression is a relatively self-defeating strategy, especially when it comes to getting what you need in a relationship.”

    Dr. Simon, My ex was described as passive/agg because he is not overt with his anger. He was diagnosed with Paran/Schizophrenia 7 years ago and is 60 now.

    Bottom line for him was that it didn’t matter what I needed in our relationship.

    This is how I saw it in regard to my relationship with my now, ex: He admitted to having a problem with anger, yet never raised his voice, or slammed a door or raised a hand to me or our kids. Yet he on occasion would take something special of mine and secretly destroy it, then let me find it.

    In your opinion is that passive aggression or covert? Is his behavior just PD that he was diagnosed?
    I’ve wondered about the term, ‘passive aggressive’, for a long time.


  2. I appreciate your comment and question, Mia. Unfortunately, it’s not possible or appropriate for me to give a definitive answer to your question, especially given my very limited knowledge of what appears to be a complicated situation. But to clarify matters, if your husband was labeled “passive-aggressive” merely because his aggression was not displayed overtly, then the term “passive” would not be correct. Covert-aggression is aggression displayed in non-overt ways. Passive-aggression is a special type of covert-aggression characterized by passivity or passive-resistance (i.e. not doing something, not cooperating, etc.) If someone is doing something deliberately to hurt you, but keeping their actions hidden from obvious view, there’s nothing passive about that, even though the term “passive” is frequently and inappropriately used.

    Now it’s important to remember that people with major mental illnesses (i.e. serious brain diseases) can do all sorts of things we neither understand or that can be hurtful and it’s often hard to tell whether these things are things they would do if they didn’t have a major mental illness. People who have major mental illnesses can and do have disturbances of personality and/or character as well. Sometimes, however, the major mental illness is the main reason for a person’s behavior. In those cases, what can sometimes appear to be deliberately hurtful behavior is really the result of a condition the person cannot help. It takes a very thorough and detailed clinical evaluation and diagnosis to make such determinations.

  3. Hi George,

    Could you use one of the looser characteristics for covert/overt/instrumental aggression. I’m not sure I am clear on their definations. Thank You.

  4. Thanks Dr. Simon,
    After the initial shock of realizing these issues would be permanent in his life, my approach to the situation was to detach and ease my way out over the period of 1.5 yrs while encouraging him to get whatever help he needs, and by maintaining civility.
    I certainly haven’t and probably never will fully understand his situation, but I do feel bad that I could not deal with it any longer.
    Although my way of dealing with this has been the best way, I still have me to deal with as I move on. That’s plenty!

  5. Hi, Diane. Having re-read the “Loser” material, I would say that Losers use all three types of aggression. Losers are essentially disordered characters whose dysfunction is so great that the only strategy they have to build themselves up in is to dominate, belittle, control, or degrade others. They have a smattering of characteristics from several of the most severely character-disordered personality types. In the Loser post, most of the aggression described was either overt or instrumental. One example of overt aggression would be outright beratement. This however, is also an example of instrumental (predatory) aggression. That’s because they’re not really angry when they do it. They brandish rage as a power and control tactic. It serves the purpose (instrumentality) of keeping the abused party in line. They do it on purpose, not in response to injury. They also use covert aggression in some of their more subtle or hard to detect manipulation tactics (e.g., shaming, guilt-tripping, blaming, etc.). In such behaviors, the purely aggressive intent is not obvious, so the victim takes it to heart. That’s why the covert tactics work. As I mentioned before, most of the examples of abusive behavior given in the Loser article involved instrumental and overt aggression. None of the behaviors described any sort of “passive”-aggression whatsoever. All of the aggression was very “active” indeed. I also don’t think the Stockholm Syndrome really explains why victims begin or stay in relationships with these sorts (although I have to admit the title is catchy). In some later posts, I’ll be speaking to the characteristics common to neurotics that disordered characters know well and use to ensnarl them in abusive relationships.

  6. Thanks, George! That really helped with clarity for me. I’ll be looking forward to reading the upcoming post as well.

  7. My Boss is exactly as you described covert aggressive would be.. Every interaction I walk into leads me to analyze the real motive. She has tried every way to belittle me infront of Senior Mgmt without direct feedback and in an indirect way. She would put me in projects that she has no intention of getting done and when she is asked by her managers she would simply ask me. She would have told me a million times before that the project would get killed and not be done. Her motive is to eliminate all threat to her title, whether it comes from her peers or subordinates. Anyone who can think logically and is sensible is a threat to her.

  8. “Victim” offers a fairly common example of a CA personality in action. However, I must point out that to presume that the motivation for covertly aggressive actions arises from a perceived “threat” to position, title, etc. is to buy into the old notion that all maladaptive behavior is rooted in fear. CA’s don’t generally back-stab, manipulate, etc. out of fear. They do it out of pure desire – the desire for self-advancement at whatever cost to others. When we buy into the notion that somehow we “threaten” them, we inadvertently and unconsciously cast ourselves as part of the problem, when in fact the reality is that they are the perpetrator and you are the victim. Seeing yourself as in any way the villain is one big setup for future victimization.

  9. I was married to a person with a Cluster B personality disorder for 17 years. He was NOT physically abusive, ever. He showed very little emotion. This, I erroneously attributed to him being “a rock” a me being too emotional. He was a master of covert aggression, and I was a willing “villian” always assuming I should do better, be better, understand him better. Turns out he was living a double life—he was a sex addict (which I would like to know if this is even possible, being addicted to sex, makes him seem like a victim). I was traumatized by this, but did end the marriage. Suffered a hideous divorce, as he “painted” me as mentally unstable—due to depression I had suffered b/c I had been unable to make him/keep him happy throughout the marriage. Then, when divorce was finalized, he immediately married one his “girls” who I believe is herself borderline personality disorder, and they BOTH started harrassing me…not outwardly and so that a police officer could take action, but covertly, so that I could continue to look “crazy”. I am still “recovering” from this….now 8 years. I have big “trust” issues with people, and also anxiety in the extreme. I had to go into “hiding” in effect, as my ex and his new spouse would not leave me alone. We shared custody of our son, and that was its own trauma. My son was diagnosed bipolar at age 11 (two years following the divorce) and never responded to the medication, and he did have counseling, but now I believe my son was traumatized by the covert aggression of his father and stepmother and we both experienced lasting distress due to this “double life” massive lies and deceipt and not ever knowing what was real from fake. Terrible, terrible loving someone so uncaring for anything or anyone except himself and his own pleasure in life. Thanks for your series and I look forward to all new information on this topic of character disturbed people. (BTW, I also look forward to any articles on how a person like me—faithful and hopeful and so very sensitive to shame and guilt, get ensnared by these people.)

    1. Thanks for your comment. Your story is similar to many I have heard. Some of the prior posts on the differences between “neurotics” and character disordered persons address some of your other questions. Also, I will have some future posts on how folks can become less prone to becoming ensnared in relationships with disturbed characters.

  10. I believe my ex is all the above. She never verbally expresses herself but will be real nasty in a text she is queen of the silent treatment she has canceled important things behind my back she has had 26 jobs durin r 5yrs complaining about the bosses and quiting she makes promises and never keep themshe has withheld sex and her latest tatic of betrayal has left me and my kid homeless she denies any of her malicious taticts and i wish i never met her and whats even worse she has told her son 4 many years that she would go to court to fite the dad 2 get custody but never has i told her about pa and she said and i quote i dont believe in that stuff. I wasted a lot of energy trying 2 fix the relationship and i feel like an idiot now im homeless and she moved back w her mammy so will she ever get help and why did i stay with this heartless bitch and whats even crazier is i still love her. Someone talk 2 me pleaze

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