Some times you have to give the devil his due! Such is the case with my brother Tom, an intelligent but very manipulative young man as we were growing up in Ohio. He and my Italian-American father were constantly conflicting with each other because Tom was..well, very stubborn and my father simply didn’t have the skills to cope with him.
One particular encounter sticks in my mind, even though it occurred many years ago. Tom was a young teenager who decided he was not going to eat all of his dinner one evening. This was a direct violation of our family rules, almost as serious as “sassing back,” having a smirk on your face,” or out of desperation, starting to eat a steaming plate of wonderful spaghetti before our grandmother finished her never-ending prayer thanking God for the meal.
But, I digress. Back to Tom. He told my dad he was NOT going to eat what was on the rest of his plate because he didn’t like it. Dad retaliated by declaring that he could not leave the table until he finished his meal.
Rather than arguing with him, my brilliant passive-aggressive brother said “OK.” So..he sat there. 7pm. He didn’t move a muscle. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t fight. 8pm. He was still sitting there while the rest of us went on with our evening. 9pm. We all went to bed. Not Tom. He stoically sat there, “obeying” his father to the letter!
Now it is 8AM. My father comes down to breakfast. Where is Tom? Still sitting there looking at his plate of food. My dad announces: “It is time for you to go to school.” Are you reading closely, because now comes the true art of the passive aggressive! Tom says calmly” I can’t go to school even though there is a test today, because you told me I couldn’t leave the table until I finished my dinner. You can plainly see that I haven’t done that.”
This of course rendered my Dad absolutely helpless and defeated. If he made Tom go to school, he clearly lost the eating issue battle. If he made Tom continue to sit there, Tom got out of taking a test at school he wanted to avoid anyhow.
My dad ultimately made him go to school, but there was no doubt that Tom had won the power struggle without raising his voice, arguing, or overtly resisting.
Passive Aggression is a way to express hostility toward someone else without appearing to be doing so, often rendering them helpless in dealing with you. Passive Aggressives often deny they are doing it while they are doing it. Instead they deny, excuse, rationalize or otherwise explain-away their obstructive behavior.
Passive-aggression is a destructive way to communicate because its goal is “I gotcha” instead of honest communication. You should protect yourself from such people. If you are the passive-aggressive, you should communicate more directly and honestly.
Watching someone like Tom can be entertaining, but it does not promote trust, closeness, or bonding with people in your life you care about or who care about you.