“When Passive-Aggression isn’t Very Passive” Comments, Page 2

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

  1. Dr. Simon: Thank you for explaining Covert-aggression. My EX acted the part of being kind, considerate, compassionate, decent, responsible, caring, loving, mature, every woman’s dream … to find out in my horror that everything he said to me was a lie, from start to finish. I only found out after he left and took me for everything I’ve ever worked for. Never once, did he let his mask slip.

    Hindsight being 20/20, this man has perfected his game, built himself a better mouse trap … acquiring more bees with honey. Incredible that they can play the game of being a real caring person, yet have all these aggressions clouding their perception of what life should be.

    He told me one story from his childhood. Whether this is true or not is anyone’s guess. I suspect that it is. As a child (never told me the age, I’m suspecting 8 or 9 y.o.) he and his brother (1 year younger) were playing in the neighbor’s garden (I believe it was at the end of the growing season). They were throwing old tomatoes at each other. The neighbor came over to their house and explained the situation to his mother. The mother called both boys into the house and made them apologize to the neighbor. Neighbor leaves … father arrives home from work. Mother explains situation to father. Father explains that both boys will rake the neighbor’s yard of fallen leaves for a full year, after the boys rake the parent’s lawn. Both boys will shovel the neighbor’s sidewalk and driveway of snow for a full year, after the parent’s sidewalk and drive are shoveled.

    I believe that this is when my EX’s ego took off … did not comprehend the reprimand (which was extreme in my opinion) of the parents … therefore, did not stay humble to understand the reprimand in it’s entirety (too young). I believe his ego (anger) took off and clouded any comprehension of wisdom (over all picture of situation(s)) needed to grow.

    I met his parents in their late 70s. Mother would always stand by her husband while husband spoke and mother never said a word. If this is what transpired through my EX’s upbringing, I believe my EX retaliates against his mother with all women (e.g. his ex-wife and 2 daughters … he professes to love them and has no contact with them … he could care less if he ever sees them again) … sociopathic/psychopathic?


    1. Hi, Wini. Sometimes we try waaaay to hard to understand. That in itself can set us up for victimization because we second-guess motives and intentions instead of actions. The legacy of traditional psychology also encourages us to hunt for the “underlying dynamics” of situations while ignoring the scientific law of parsimony (the simplest explanation tends to be the best). If someone comes from a family in which aggressive modes of interaction (undue power and control-wielding) are present, then learning or constitutional endowment might predispose the same pattern in them. Sometimes, the aggression is overt, but sometimes the aggressor learns they can be more successful exerting control by keeping their aggression under cover.

  2. My husband and I have been married over 30 years but I only realized what he was doing to our family and our relationship two years ago. He withholds affection. We have never argued about money, religion or politics etc. only about the lack of affection on his part. I went to counseling and realized that I WANT AFFECTION and am actively seeking affection and that it is him rejecting me, backing away,avoiding it, and abandoning me emotionally. I even asked him if he is gay but he said that he isn’t. He punishes me making me wait or never completing tasks. I finally realized the patterns to his behavior. He is a master at passive aggression and usually makes me think it is all my fault. My husband’s mother abandoned the family when he was about 11 and he never saw her or heard from her or knew where she lived most of the time. Once he visited her and then without telling him, she moved and again there was no contact for years. At age 17, he visited her for a 5 days, then left for college and she disappeared for another 5 years. Periodically, she pops into his life (about once a year now)and moves without telling him and abandons him again. He will admit that this has had an affect on his behavior but will not release the past and continues to be a victim. I have never been able to depend on him and find that 99% of the relationship and life in general is my responsibility. He does not participate or communicate. He went to counseling but quit and did not bother to tell me until I asked. He says he needs to talk to his mother and tell her how he feels about her treatment towards him but fears that she will cut him off completely. So I suppose he would rather have a disfunctional relationship than none at all with her. Meantime, he pretends to be more attentive to me but there is a line that he can not seem to cross and continues to withhold intimacy. I think he is just delaying, stonewalling and practicing another way and excuse to be passive aggressive. I have read extensively on the subject but can find no real information about recovery. Is there any possibility that he can really ever change? My kids are grown and I do not want to live the rest of my life like this. I love him but can not continue in this charade of a marriage.


  3. Very good article. I grew up with a controlling parent who treated our family and everyone else this way. I am beginning to recognize these traits in people that are part of my everyday life (coworkers, classmates, etc.) and the negative effects they are having on myself and my friends and coworkers. What is the appropriate response to this behavior? Whether they are doing it to me or if I notice them victimizing someone else?

  4. Two weeks ago my husband said that he needed to talk with his mother and tell her how he feels about when she abandoned him as a child and how he feels when she continues the same behaviors today. I asked him when he plans to do this? He gave a vague answer and I said then you have no plan to do it. So you are telling me that you can not go forward and will remain a victim of your past until you speak with your mother but you have no plan to do it. That sounds like a passive aggressive cop out…just another “wait” “I’ll do it later” which we all know never happens. Are you going to wait another 30+ years until she is dead? If you have no specific plan and date to do it then you are planning NOT to do it but still plan to use it as an excuse. I will not accept that as an excuse to remain in a passive aggressive relationship waiting until whenever for you to grow up.

    A week ago he decided that he is going to talk to his mother about how he felt as a child when she deserted the family. He is going tomorrow. I have cautioned him that she may not respond the way he wants her to respond. I told him that I hope that he is not trying to attain some sort of love and attention that he did not get as a child. I hope that he is not seeking a sincere apology and think that will make up for the hurt and pain he endured because it can’t.

    He called me at work yesterday to say he phoned his mother to tell her that he was coming to see her and guess what she has moved again. Now he just spoke with her a few weeks ago and she said nothing about moving and she has done it again without telling him. The only way he was able to get in touch this time was because she had not changed her cell phone number yet.

    I just hope and pray that he really does have the courage to speak to her and does not come home depressed or become more passive aggressive. I have let him know that I am too old and too tired of all of this to continue putting up with his behavior. I told him that it is now up to him to participate in the marriage or not. No more pretending for a day or two and lapsing back, it is now or never and he must take half of the responsibility in the relationship. I refuse to live with a passive aggressive any more. He has got to grow up and quit being a victim of his past. He said that he expects nothing from her but I suspect that he does. He said he just wants to get it off of his chest. I will let you know how this plays out. Will he really go? If he goes, will he really talk to her about his feelings of rejection? Will it be enough to allow him to move forward in our relationship? Or is this all just another excuse, delay tactic and ruse?

  5. What would you call the behavior of asking a question then talking over the answer and quick asking another question and keeping that up until the answer comes with some force at which time listening happens and the answerer is thought to be agressive?

  6. I’ve been studying the comments of a local paper, where people have usernames and never use their correct names.
    The comment are sometimes very insulting and belittling to people and if they reply they are heaped with more abuse.

    Is this also, Covet Aggression?

    1. Hi, Janus. It appears that in this case, the aggression is neither passive nor covert but quite open. Deliberately providing false information (false name) is, however, a covert tactic.

  7. Dr. Simon,

    I have been running into problems with my mother in law since my husband introduced me. She is also covertly aggressive. She has been trying to hurt and undermine our marriage right from the start and when confronted she would just cry and say things like she is losing her son and things will never be the same. She has threatened my life twice. Once she told me that she had a gun and a shovel and that if I ever hurt her baby no one would ever find my body. This was disguised as sort of a joke. It seems the more resistance she gets from me when she tries to control and manipulate our lives, the more covertly aggressive she gets. The lates threat was after a “text” correspondence between her and myself, during which she shut her phone off and ended up ignoring me for two days before she posted a pin online saying: Don’t mistake my silence for weakness, remember, no smart person plans a murder out loud. I know it was intended for me, but of course it cannot be proven. In front of my husband however she acts like she doesn’t have a problem with me casting herself as the victim saying I’m the on who has issues with her, which obviously at this point I do. Any suggestions on how to stop this viscious cycle? My husband is starting to catch on to her, but she is still his mother, so he knows something is very wrong but doesn’t want to be believe that she is actually being viscious. He simply thinks she is crazy and needs to control everything, which is why he joined the Army very early on in his life to escape her. Any help would be much appreciated. PS: We have a two year old child and she is also very busy trying to undermine me in front of my child.

    1. Sorry to hear about your situation. For a variety of important reasons, I can neither assess it or respond directly about it. Suffice it to say, however, that online message speaks for itself, and should be as salient a red flag for your husband as it was for you. And hopefully, the nature of your relationship with regard to its overall health and level of commitment is such that the two of you can set and enforce appropriate boundaries and limits with regard to these types of behaviors and protect yourselves.

      As I mention in my books, a common error is to focus too much attention externally on the person exhibiting the behavior of concern as opposed to taking appropriate action. Perhaps re-visiting those principles will also help you navigate through your situation.

      All the best.

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