Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Killing Passive Aggression

I remember taking a quiz in one of my college classes that was to determine if our personality types were more A, B, or C. The examples our professor gave to explain these types related to how they deal with conflict.

She gave the example of a friend or boyfriend/girlfriend making plans with you and showing up hours late.

When the late friend finally showed up to pick the type-A person up-this type would blow up and likely say some harsh words to the friend- and then be done with the conflict and not think about it again. I think of this as geyser-like coping. They explode-and then return to a normal state and move on with their lives.

In contrast-it was explained that type-B personality types would likely react differently. One of these individuals would have probably looked at their watch and turned on a movie until the person arrived. When their friend came they would just leave with them and not be angry- maybe they’d ask what held the person up, but they would also move on with their life. I think of this as highway drive-coping. You see something obstructing the road and you move a little so as not to hit it. You’re delayed by traffic and instead of losing your cool you crank up the music and roll down the windows.

---I recall listening to these explanations and seeing that while both personality types handled life issues differently, they seemed to have adapted and have some resolve in the conflict. I looked down at my quiz and noticed that I ranked as a C type personality.

I remember my professor saying something along the lines of, “And now the C type personality. You are all the ones most likely to die of a heart attack.”
Ouch. Really? That’s just great. I did a mental survey; I don’t like anger-I think yelling is highly unproductive. I saw myself as more non-confrontational, like the B personality type-not saying something harsh to a person who hurt me----but the professor went on.

It was described that this type is the one who when the late friend knocks on the door and apologizes for being late-this person will be cool and hard. If asked if everything is alright, they’d abruptly say, “Fine” and then not be as open and “normal” with their friend the whole rest of the night. This person, weeks down the road, would be in the midst of an argument with this friend and all of a sudden bring up “that time 2 weeks ago when you were hours late to pick me up” along with a myriad of other frustrations they had harbored. I think of this as somatic coping. The heart attack statistic made sense. I’ve been that person to file something away, think I was doing something right by not expressing frustration-but yet thinking about it and then bringing my concerns up at a much later date.

This- is passive aggression. This is when you’re around a person who has hurt you and you don't act "violently" against them-but are not as expressive or kind-not “normal” around them. This is when you see a person who hurt you and your heart actually pounds in your chest at seeing them. This is that thought that occurs in your mind as the person reaches out to you and you think over and over through previous hurts you’ve felt through interactions with them.

Unfortunately, I’ve lived it, felt it, and thought it. I finally have identified the behavior for what it is and I’m working to eliminate it from my life. Some issues with being passive aggressive:

1. It’s nasty.

You’ve probably experience someone being sickeningly “nice” to you. You couldn’t pin anything wrong about their behavior but you can sense there is something-whether it be hurt, anger-something behind the way they act towards you. Maybe it’s that it’s not genuine behavior that makes it so nasty. This behavior often prompts those close to us to attempt to “beg” out of us what is wrong.

I think one of the most frustrating things to experience in a relationship or interaction with someone else is fakeness and insincerity. It’s unattractive and unappealing behavior.

 2. It hurts others.

SO much of the way we act affects those around us and passive aggression can hurt deeply those we come in contact with.

That moment when harsh words are thrown out to someone super close to you-because inside your thoughts, your heart, and even your body are consumed with the burden of a situation.

That time when you drive unsafely and endanger yourself and others as you try to understand a situation in your mind.

Additionally, I hurt when I see my family and friends hurting. I feel like holding on to passive aggression takes some happiness away from those we love.

3. It hurts you.

Passive aggression can have somatic outcomes. For some the whole mind/body/soul connection seems very close. When your heart and mind are hurting, one’s literal heart can seem to react with pounding and irregular beating. It can actually be scary.
The Mayo Clinic Staff write about some of the benefits to letting go of such aggression,
Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for compassion, kindness and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:
    Healthier relationships
    Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
    Less anxiety, stress and hostility
    Lower blood pressure
    Fewer symptoms of depression
    Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse”

By allowing passive aggression to permeate our lives we are perhaps trying to find a remedy to a hurt, trying to control pain, and perhaps seeking restitution for the hurt we have experienced. By holding in this pain we might be trying to cause less destruction-we’re not screaming, yelling, or hitting-but the destruction caused by this behavior can hurt so deeply physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
4. It doesn’t accomplish anything. 
As described in the beginning example, the person who acts with passive aggression is often storing up hurt and pain. Eventually it seems to come out verbally, after the person has been cold and distant and caused more hurt to themselves and others for a period of time.

The geyser type-A personality can scare me. Eruptions of anger from others have caused much hurt and pain.
Additionally, the laissez-fair style of coping of the type B personality isn’t realistic for me. I feel, I sense, and love people in my life so much that I do want to resolve conflict and hurt.  

The good news?

There is freedom.

What completely changed my outlook on how I deal with others is the way I’ve been forgiven. The good news in this situation is the good news that has changed and is changing my life.

From Ephesians 1,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.”

God forgiving me, loving me, and lavishing His grace on me changes the way I see the hurt and pain I experience from what others do.

I am guilty of much and yet, God has shown me what true love is through Jesus Christ. I see what love really is based on what I have seen from Him; forgiveness from the sin in my life from a perfect God to a selfish, imperfect human.

 This love compels me to face passive aggression.

I love that the Bible gives practical advice about resolving conflict. From Matthew 18,
“15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
As one who tends to shy away from confrontation, I have seen great results from going to someone and talking with them about the way I feel about a situation. Using words like,
“ I don’t know what you meant, but I felt ______ when _____  happened or when you said ____” 
Sometimes miscommunication has occurred and I took something in a way it wasn’t meant to be communicated-and sometimes a person meant what they said and we have an opportunity to talk about it.
Sometimes by dealing with an issue, a change happens in the relationship; sometimes 2 people become closer and sometimes they become farther apart. This can be painful; however, as situations tend to come out eventually, I find that even if pain is to be experienced in a conflict it is better to face it-rather than creating destruction with passive aggression. 
For those of us who struggle with being passive aggressive, this change in dealing with life is not always easy. I often find myself proactively thinking about not acting passively aggressive and loving others.
Let us remember, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9

As for me, I’m working on loving and letting go.
photo credit: nehasingh7 via photopin cc

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