Having parents who treat us in a passive-aggressive manner can have an extremely adverse effect upon our mental health; indeed, Scott Wetzler PhD, an expert in these matters, based at Montefiore Medical Center, has said, quite unequivocally, that being on the receiving end of passive-aggressive behaviour can lead to the victim feeling as if s/he were ‘a crazy person.’
What Is Passive-Aggressive Behaviour?
To sum up, in just two words, passive-aggressive behaviour is disguised hostility.
Examples Of Passive-Aggressive Behaviour :
– THE SILENT TREATMENT (to read my article on this, click here)
– INSULTS AND CRITICISMS MASQUERADING AS HUMOUR (to read my article on this, click here)
– UNDERMINING OUR SENSE OF REALITY / MISREPRESENTING THE TRUTH (this is sometimes referred to as ‘GASLIGHTING’; to read my article on this, click here)
– STONEWALLING – i.e. completely ignoring our point of view, as if we are not worthy of a response, or, even, as if we are ‘beneath their contempt.’
– PLACING US IN A ‘DOUBLE BIND’ (the long-term psychological effects of this can be devastating; to read my article about the phenomenon of the double bind, click here)
– CRITICISM PRESENTED AS ‘HELPFULNESS’ OR ‘CONCERN’ (e.g. ‘If you don’t mind my saying so, you’re putting on rather a lot of weight; I only mention it because I’m worried about your health, of course – the last thing I want to do is to offend you or make you feel self-conscious…)
– EXCLUSION – To take an example from my own experience: in the last several years of my (non-) relationship with my father/family/ step-family I was completely excluded from family occasions such as family meals; this is a typical example of passive-aggression and of hurting others through ACTS OF OMISSION) as opposed to by acts of commission.
I remember, on one occasion, my father phoning me up and saying :
‘Oh, we’re having your [my brother and stepbrother] over to celebrate [my step-mother’s/ my father’s second wife] 60th birthday. Of course, we’d invite you but you wouldn’t want to come, would you?’
This would almost be funny had I not been so acutely, psychiatrically ill at the time, having recently had ECT and had spent five days in a coma following a suicide attempt.
(To be fair to my father, however, it was my stepmother who manipulated him into such behaviour, threatening to leave him if he did not comply with her wishes regarding his relationship with him – a threat that she was, ultimately, to carry out. To what degree my father allowed himself to be manipulated because his wishes coincided with hers, I don’t know).
– ACTING WEAK AND POWERLESS to elicit sympathy
– PLAYING THE MARTYR
– USING MONEY TO CONTROL / INSTIL FEELINGS OF GUILT / INSTIL FEELINGS OF DEPENDENCY
– NEVER GIVING (OR WITHHOLDING) PRAISE
– NEVER GIVING (OR WITHHOLDING) AFFECTION
– PERPETUAL LATENESS for no obvious reason
– PERPETUAL PROCRASTINATION
– EXCESSIVE USE OF PETTY, TRIVIAL COMPLAINTS
– INDIRECT AND UNDERHAND EXPRESSIONS OF RESENTMENT AND BITTERNESS
– COMMUNICATING HOSTILITY THROUGH FACIAL EXPRESSION/TONE OF VOICE/BODY POSTURE RATHER THAN DIRECTLY THROUGH LANGUAGE
(the above list, of course, is not exhaustive – the subtle ways in which individuals can express their hostility are myriad)
EFFECTS OF PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE PARENTS ON THEIR CHILDREN :
– the child may is at risk of growing up with communication problems similar to those of his/her parents and may him/herself develop passive-aggressive ways of interacting with others and find it very difficult expressing anger directly
– the child may feel a profound sense of confusion in relation to the ‘mixed messages’ sent out from the passive-aggressive parent; this can lead to the child growing up not really knowing ‘where s/he stands’ with the passive-aggressive parent and not, therefore, being able to fully trust this parent. This can lead to the child growing up unable to trust other people in general.
– if the child does indeed develop communication problems similar to those of his/her passive-aggressive parents, s/he is also likely, as an adult, to find both forming, and maintaining, interpersonal relationships problematic
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).