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I bet there is someone in your life right now who deserves to be taught a lesson. Someone who said something snide about you? Someone who is making your life difficult? Are you already planning what you can do to pay them back and even the score?
The Passive-Aggressive Personality—Getting Even
If the answer is yes to any of the above, you are almost certainly going to need a lesson from the passive-aggressive’s handbook. Before you do that though, let me warn you, it is not likely to turn out the way you want it to. There is a good reason why novels cast the revenge-seeking character as the villain and never the hero.
It seems like a contradiction in terms because it is! We think of aggressive people as forceful and confrontational and passive people as laid-back and nonconfrontational. A passive-aggressive person manages to do both.
Passive-aggressive is about paying someone back for a real or perceived injustice. Passive-aggressives justify their revenge tactics because they believe they have been victimized and have the right to get even.
It is often difficult to identify a passive-aggressive person because they are sneaky and devious. Passive-aggressives act one way to your face and another behind your back. They often go unnoticed as we focus our attention on the more obvious aggressives in our lives. At some point, our intuition takes over and we begin to have a suspicious feeling that someone is not quite who they appear to be. As we become more observant, the subtle and not-so-subtle signs begin to appear.
Although they do not want a face-to-face confrontation, they usually cannot resist dropping clues that indicate their dissatisfaction with us, such as heaving long, heavy sighs, rolling their eyes or shaking their head in mock frustration. They are usually small clues—in fact, so small that we often feel stupid or petty even addressing them. “It must be my imagination,” we think.
When someone is obviously upset, the natural question for us to ask them is, “What’s wrong?” Passive-aggressives love this question. They wait to hear it because it means they did not drop those subtle clues in vain. The object of their revenge took the bait. Now they can give their pat answer: “Oh, nothing’s wrong.” They do not want to fix the problem; they want revenge.
Giving someone the silent treatment is a technique of the passive-aggressive. Gossip and tattling are also common forms of passive-aggressive behavior. In every case, someone is being taught a lesson by the passive-aggressive; however, because the other person is not even aware there is a problem, the lesson is lost and nothing changes!
Never underestimate its power.
Passive-aggressive behavior can sneak into a relationship whenever someone feels angry, betrayed, jealous, threatened, intimidated, or maybe when they are being competitive and want to be in control. It is the communication style most likely to destroy a relationship. It is hard to forgive and forget someone who intentionally tries to get their needs met at our expense and does it in such a sneaky way that we do not even know what hit us. We are left feeling used and betrayed.
Unfortunately, passive-aggressives are rarely sorry for their behavior. In fact, the passive-aggressive usually feels totally justified using revenge tactics. They believe they have been mistreated and have a right to get even.
The irony of passive-aggressives is that in their blind passion to get even, not only do they fail to get their needs met, they usually end up hurting themselves. Plus, the issue that made them spiteful and vindictive is never even dealt with and thus, never resolved. That is why this communication style is such a sad waste of time and energy.
Children who fail their classes in order to show their parents they are in control end up spending their summers going to school rather than being with their friends. The spouse who withholds love and affection to teach a lesson misses out on being held and touched. The co-worker who gossips, trying to create a clique of supporters, loses the trust of everyone who hears the gossip.
Resist the temptation to feel yourself wrongly treated. Instead, ask for what you want and then be willing to assertively work toward healthy, respectful relationships.
Identify a relationship where you have used passive-aggressive behavior. What did you do in your attempt to get even or pay them back? Did it work?