Why Are You Getting So Upset? – Passive Aggressive Behaviour PART 2

You met Lisa and Yohan in part 1 of my article Why Are You Getting So Upset? They decided to face the challenge of shifting out of a problematic pattern She was being placed in the role of a controlling mother and he was responding passive-aggressively to the control he experienced. They had no productive disagreements at all. Today we will look at some of the work they did to shift out of the unsatisfying dynamics.

Disagreements and conflicts can only be resolved when both people are honest about their feelings, willing to take responsibility for past actions, and committed to making changes for the future. When one partner is stuck in a passive-aggressive stance, he or she is too busy pretending not to be angry and feeling wronged instead of being able to make amends and work through conflicts. To move out of this pattern, it is first of all necessary to believe and feel that it is okay to be angry.

Lisa had to examine if she was perhaps unintentionally discouraging Yohan from expressing his anger directly. She realized that she had a tendency to humour him out of his anger, especially when the kids were around. It still felt more comfortable to her when Yohan was moody and sulked than when he actually expressed his anger. As much as she had been saying to him, “I wish you would tell me honestly what you are feeling”, what she actually wanted was for Yohan to be less resentful and angry. However, supressing anger will only guarantee that it comes out in other more indirect and passive-aggressive ways.

Anger is an emotion like any other emotion. It is neither good nor bad. It is a protective emotion and serves a purpose. It gives us the feedback that we are perceiving something as unfair or unsatisfying, or that there are other emotions hidden behind the anger. Anger is only the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, there are usually more vulnerable feelings.

Therefore, Lisa’s first step was to understand that anger is not a “bad” emotion and to learn to be less judgemental about Yohan feeling resentful and angry to begin with. She had to get to know her own angry part inside, so she could love and accept first herself and then him with this emotion.

Yohan, was very afraid of his own anger and had to do some inner work to get to know this passive-aggressive part, as well as his angry part. He connected to himself at younger points in his life when he was angry and felt the only way to express his feelings was to be passive-aggressive.

Venting anger on its own is not useful unless we can get to the more vulnerable feelings underneath the anger. Yohan needed to find the perfect balance between expressing the anger and finding the courage to explore his unmet needs or what feelings were really hiding beneath the anger.

“Anger is an inherent component of all human relationships, especially romantic ones. The more dependent on someone and vulnerable you feel, the more likely they’ll be the object of your hostility as well as your affection”

(Scott Wetzler: Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man).

 

Relationship expert Dr John Gottman has proven in his scientific research that fighting is not the problem; rather, how couples fight is the issue. Conflicts are inevitable in relationships. Addressing the conflicts is healthy if we can avoid the four horsemen: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Healthy and strong relationships can and do handle anger, provided a couple sees it as a constructive force and fights smart and fairly, sticking to certain ground rules.

Both Yohan and Lisa needed to learn to have healthy fights in which it is okay to express anger, explore more vulnerable feelings and make requests of their partner. An important key element was to recognize when Yohan was triggered into feeling like a child. When Lisa became more controlling, she reminded him of his mother and he would instinctively revert to passive aggressive responses. His automatic assumption in many situations was that his needs were in conflict with Lisa’s and that there was no point in expressing those needs because they would not be met anyways. This corresponded to his experiences in childhood. He grew up feeling that nobody heard him and that he never got what he wanted. He was still stuck in that feeling, expecting that he would still never get enough of what he wanted as an adult.

Yohan had to learn to notice and acknowledge when Lisa was meeting one of his needs. He learned to say thank you and shift his perspective. She, on the other hand, had to learn not to interfere and do things for him he hadn’t asked her to do, especially not when he chose to be passive aggressive with other people in his life. A repeating example was when he was supposed to pay his child support to his ex-wife, but Lisa had to remind him to do it repeatedly before he put the cheque in the mail. Lisa felt this was antagonizing and unfair to his ex-wife and son and had put the cheque in the mail a few times herself. Yet, that caused Yohan to postpone the next cheque even longer and to feel resentful towards Lisa. When they examined this situation without judgement, but simply with curiosity, and began to understand their own parts in it, they were both able to shift out of it.

Another important shift was for Yohan to retreat less. They learned that underneath Yohan’s distancing behaviour was a fear of rejection. He would push Lisa away to prove to her that he didn’t need her. He had to learn to make the distinction between feeling rejected or fearing rejection and actually being rejected. He had to learn how to recognize stuck emotions and release feelings of rejection and disappointment.

Today, Yohan’s and Lisa’s interactions have mostly changed. Some situations still cause them to fall into old patterns, but one of them usually recognizes the pattern, takes responsibility for his or her part in it and initiates an open and honest conversation. There is more intimacy and closeness in their relationship and they exhibit better teamwork taking care of the children. Sometimes Yohan needs space, but he is able to express that instead of just retreating. He is also able to allow more vulnerable feelings of dependency and love without a constant nagging fear that he will get hurt. They know that their intimate love relationship continues to confront them with challenges and opportunities for growth, and they are both committed to continuing to put the necessary time and attention into their marriage.

 

For individual sessions or couples sessions, please contact

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Check out my discount packages for couples.

If you are interested in ordering Scott Wetzler’s book ”Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man” I am grateful for you using my amazon associate link below.

Why Are You Getting So Upset? – Passive Aggressive Behaviour PART 1

Have you ever tried to clear the air with somebody by initiating an open conversation, putting your own needs on the table and asking the other person what they need, but they have been very vague and non-committal? Maybe you have even apologized or taken responsibility for your part in an interaction but the other person pretends that they cannot remember what you are talking about? You are given feedback along the lines of “No big deal, can’t even remember what you mean…” but then within the next days, the person drops some pointed remarks about how ridiculous your needs are or how difficult you are to deal with? Or have they ever given you the silent treatment and sulked? Or do they promise to be supportive in some way, tell you they will do something for you, but then conveniently keep forgetting their promises? And when they have led you down again and you are disappointed, they say with disbelief, “Why are you getting so upset?” All this could be passive-aggressive behaviour.

We are all forgetful at times and we have certainly also all been passive-aggressive in situations when we felt powerless, but that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about passive-aggressiveness as a strategy developed in childhood out of a feeling of powerlessness, and carried into adulthood and into our relationships as the automatic response when there is a conflict.

The passive aggressive person in your life could be a friend, a family member, your colleague or boss, or your spouse. The passive-aggressive person appears to be such a nice and peaceful human being, supposedly getting along with others, denying that they are doing anything at all while the people they are in relationships with feel the anger seething underneath. Their behaviour is not inadvertent, even though they hope you will think it is. They count on your politeness or need to get along. However, underneath the guise of innocence, generosity or passivity, is hidden hostility.

They test your boundaries all the time. How often can they ignore your needs or rattle you by doing what they know is infuriating to you? That could be forgetting to do what they said they would, doing what they know you hate, taking advantage of you in another way or playing little power games. When you call a passive aggressive person out, they deny their indirect and inappropriate way of interacting or play it down. This is confusing and utterly infuriating because it is impossible to honestly talk about hurt feelings, insecurities or needs.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is a learned behaviour. Passive aggressive people often had an overbearing or controlling caretaker as a child. Expressing their needs and wants was not welcomed. Let’s take a look at Yohan’s upbringing, for example.

Yohan remembers his childhood as a time of coldness, deprivation, control and conflicts. His parents both drank and his mother was an alcoholic. “A remarkably high rate of alcoholism exists among the parents of passive-aggressive men. Alcohol has a way of facilitating conflict” (Scott Wetzler: Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man). His mother humiliated his father and Yohan lacked a strong male role model. He wanted her approval while he also feared and resented his mother. He felt he was never good enough for her and he has projected that onto every female partner or boss he ever had.

The conflict became even more apparent when his two younger siblings were born. Some jealousy towards a younger sibling is normal, but his parents responded with harsh punishments and did not let him voice his feelings or his fear of being replaced.  Because he couldn’t express his anger and fear, he used other ways of communicating his hostility.

He responded to his parent’s expectations with moodiness, stubbornness and a lack of cooperation. He became destructive, whinny and sulky. He refused to speak and started to underperform academically, rebelling against yet another authority figure, the teacher in school. His mother especially wanted to know his every move. This is the emotional expectation of the women in his life, which he still holds onto today, as he has grown into an adult who is secretive and vague.

As a teenager, his inner conflict grew further. When he was kicked out of school for missing too many classes, he felt that was unfair, after all he was working a nighttime job. He did not see a connection with the fact that he was falling asleep at his desk, didn’t turn his homework in on time, and cut too many classes. Expecting special treatment, he felt victimized and still tells this story from that perspective as an adult.

He has a hate-love relationship not only with his mother but every women—like his superiors at work—who appears to be powerful. His wife became an unwitting player in the reconstruction of his past. In Lisa, he was attracted to a woman who was strong and controlling. Simultaneously being attracted to a strong woman who reminded him of his mother and subconsciously fearing dependency and control, he responds to her with retreat, sulking, stubbornness or by turning a cold shoulder.

Yohan is unaware that a mutual dependency is normal and healthy. As humans we all need other people: we are interdependent beings. In our romantic relationships, that means letting yourself be cared for by your partner and at the same time caring for your partner. Dependency makes him feel weak, incompetent and needy. Feeling needy creates a fear of abandonment.

Today, he sets up situations which create an experience of deprivation, rejection or abandonment for him, especially in his love relationships. The stuck emotion of feeling unimportant and the belief that others, especially women, are not giving, operates like a self-fulfilling prophecy in his life. Either he does not express his needs at all and expects his wife Lisa to be a mind reader, or he expresses them at inopportune moments when the kids need to be attended to or Lisa is distracted by work. Subconsciously, he expects for his needs not to be met and sets out to prove that this is true. Meanwhile, he believes other people have all these unreasonable expectations of him which he feels resentful about.

When faced with challenges, opportunities or conflicts, he responds with procrastination, lack of initiative and indecisiveness. He waits for others to solve his problems or for his luck to turn. When others suggest positive changes or new opportunities, his response is, “what’s the point?” His hopelessness wins out over taking action.

Lisa, his second spouse, has a strong manager personality trait and says she fell for Yohan’s potential. She came to his rescue by organizing his finances and resolving his problems with co-workers and family members. She is surprised that Yohan resents her for what he experiences as dependency on her. His inactivity has brought out her more controlling side. And her controlling side activates his passive-aggressive behaviour. The more she tries to fix and help, the more resistant and negative he becomes.

A similar thing occurred in his previous marriage. That marriage ended due to Yohan having an affair and carelessly leaving the signs for his indiscretion out in the open for his first wife to find them. According to Scott Wetzler, that again is typical for passive aggressive men. “No matter how troubled relationships get, the passive-aggressive man will not unilaterally leave them…If he wants out, he’ll engineer the situation so you are forced to break up with him. Leaving is too real, too actively self-assertive, requiring too much initiative. It would allow you to actually blame him, something he doesn’t like at all.” (Scott Wetzler: Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man)

Lisa loves Yohan and she wants to get out of the role of being the mother figure he fears and resents. At the same time, Yohan is recognizing his challenges due to his learned passive-aggressive behaviour and the underlying fears. What can Yohan and Lisa do so that their marriage does not end in the same way that his first one did?

Please read my next blog to find out. You can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification when I post part 2 of this article. Just enter your email address in the field in the left sidebar or in the pop-up window.

If you are interested in ordering Scott Wetzler’s book ”Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man” I am grateful for you using my amazon associate link.

 

For individual sessions or couples sessions, please contact

Angelika

905-286-9466

Check out my discount packages for couples.

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

A.R.E. you there for me?

Daniel is dating Kelsey. He is incredibly attracted to her beautiful body, he loves to touch and kiss her, and cannot wait to make love to her. She has told him that she is not quite ready yet to be physically intimate with him, but that she will let him know. She has shared with him that a year prior, another man took advantage of her when she was drunk. They are in her room, where they have been studying together for the next exam, and the young couple ends up in a passionate embrace. Daniel is excited and can feel that Kelsey is getting more comfortable with him as well. He could push on and coax her into moving into the next step. He decides to do what is so much harder, which is to honour her request and go for delayed gratification. He leaves. Without fully realizing it, he has laid the basis for a trusting relationship with her.

Christina is five months pregnant with their first child. The midwife has examined her and has recommended to go for an ultrasound. She is concerned that the baby might not be putting on enough weight, especially as Christina is of what is looked at as “advanced maternal age”, at 39 years old. Christina calls her husband, Daniel. He is stressed due to an important deadline at work, but he knows that Christina has experienced three miscarriages in her first marriage and wasn’t supported by her ex-husband. He can hear the fear in her voice. He always does his best to ensure that he is accessible by phone. Despite his work deadline, he agrees to come to the hospital with her because she needs him as her anchor. Doing this, he has reassured her that he will—unlike her ex-husband—put her first when she needs his emotional support, no matter how busy he is.

John just turned 75. He wakes up in the middle of the night from a nightmare, which leaves him not feeling well. He had a heart attack ten years ago and since then, he has been secretly worried about his health. He has trouble breathing. He wonders whether he should reach over and wake Betty. What if she is annoyed with him for being such a baby? He decides to take the chance. Betty responds with understanding and care. She holds him, talks to him and soothes him. They fall asleep again together, arm in arm. She was accessible, responsive and willing to engage with him, despite it being 2:30 a.m. She was willing to be his emotional anchor.

These examples are of three couples of different ages and at different points in their lives and their relationships. Yet, in each case, one of them is asking in one way or another, “Are you there for me? Do I matter? Do my feelings and needs matter to you? Will you honour my requests, fears and needs? Can you be my anchor when I am afraid?” And the other one responds by being mindful of the partner’s requests and needs, by being accessible, responsive and willing to be present and engaged.

We as humans crave nothing more than deep intimate connections with at least one other person, yet, we are at the same time deeply afraid of reaching out to that other person and entrusting them with our fears and needs. The longing to be truly seen for who we are is strong, yet often the fear of rejection is stronger.

In the age of speed-dating, Tinder, and many sites for sexual encounters, we more or less live in and experience a hook-up culture. It has never been so easy to find somebody for a one-night stand, for sexting or for other erotic experiences. Those interactions often leave us temporarily distracted from our inner pain, but ultimately feeling more alone and empty inside.

We receive our wounding in relationships and we also heal in relationships. Our partner becomes a substitute for our parents or caretakers and therefore, our partner triggers our childhood wounds. As painful as this is, there is also the beautiful opportunity to heal these wounds and shift those memories, experiences and beliefs from our childhood, within the “container” of our present-day partnership.

Our partner also heals the wounds we have experienced through previous partners. If a past partner has hurt, disappointed or betrayed the person you are with, you have the honour to be their healer. That is an incredible gift you are being given. It’s a call to show up with awareness, gentleness, understanding and most of all, integrity. Ask yourself what it means to be truly intimate, available, reliable and safe.

Or as Sue Johnson phrases it: “The key question in love is not, ‘How many orgasms can I have with you?’ It is, ‘A.R.E. you there for me?’, where A.R.E. stands for emotionally Accessible, Responsive and Engaged.”

Our deepest healing happens within the boundaries of a safe, exclusive, committed and intimate relationship. In order to heal, we need to acknowledge that we all have wounds, some might be due to bigger traumas, others due to smaller traumas. We need to be ready to let go of the past and expect the best now from our current partner. And as the partner, we need a compassionate attitude and the willingness to be patient; to affirm and re-affirm, to assure and reassure.

The more you A.R.E there for your partner and your partner for you, the deeper your connection will be and the more you will be rewarded in all areas of your relationship. Emotional intimacy translates into physical intimacy and vice versa.

“This quality of emotional connectedness also seems to translate into the bedroom and erotic connection. Securely bonded lovers report more and better sex. They are more confident in bed and can deal with sexual disconnects and problems together. When you are safely connected, you can relax, let go, and give in to sensation. You can take risks and reach for erotic adventure. You can share and respond to each other’s deepest needs and desires.” (Sue Johnson)

What would it be like if, next time your partner reaches out to you, you would be Accessible, Responsive and Engaged? And what would it be like if you gathered all your courage to be vulnerable and reach out to your partner, trusting him or her to be Accessible, Responsive and Engaged?

Image by Skitterphoto on Pixabay

 

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Who should I talk to when my relationship is struggling?

Relationships sometimes bring out the best in us, other times they bring out the worst. They can trigger our insecurities and old inner wounds; they can bring up our fears and automatic protective responses. Such protective responses can be anger, judgment, the rational voice, or a part in us that pretends that we don’t care. All these power selves protect our inner vulnerable child.

When we are struggling in our primary love relationship, the temptation to confide in someone close is great. We all have those moments when we just want to hear from someone who loves us, “Poor you!” We have the tendency to find somebody who confirms we are right and that we have been treated so badly. It seems harmless to do that, doesn’t it?

It isn’t harmless at all. It is short-sighted. Confiding in somebody who has a relationship with both partners is often detrimental to the relationship, as it destroys trust. I see over and over again with my clients that a marriage or relationship which is already struggling is weakened even more by one—or both—partners complaining about the other one to a close family member or friend.

So if I feel misunderstood by my partner, should I complain to my mother or father about him or her? Not unless it is my intention to destroy the relationship between my mother or father and my spouse. Very few people are still able to truly respect another person once they have heard the dirty inside scoop that comes with every relationship. Especially for a parent, it is hard to remain neutral and not side with the poor daughter or poor son. Even if they have the awareness that every story is subjective and that there are always two—or more—sides to a situation, they hear “My daughter/son is not happy with this other person”. Most parents will have a hard time not giving advice or not meddling in the relationship if their child approaches them apparently being unhappy.

Senior Mother Interferring With Couple Having Argument At Home

The same thing applies to other family members or common friends of the couple. If my partner has been insensitive or uncaring, or if he or she has even done something worse like cheated on me, should I go crying to our common friends? Resist the temptation! A person my partner has a close relationship with as well is not the right confidant to talk to. No matter how much I want to be pitied or want to feel that somebody has compassion for me, I always have to keep in mind that I am most likely destroying the respect that person has for my partner. So, no matter what my partner has said or done, I am making it worse by retaliating with sharing something that most likely is embarrassing to him or her.

So, who should I talk to? If I need to talk a situation through, I need to find a person who has no relationship with my partner, preferably a professional who can listen to me. That professional can also help me to make the best decisions of what is to do in a situation looking at it from a neutral outside perspective. A professional coach or counsellor can teach me how to successfully speak to my partner, set boundaries and have my needs met.

Of course this sort of destructive dynamic does not only occur when a love relationship is in a crisis. I have come across several mothers in my life who complain to one child about the other child. Some mothers have this down to an art. They will call up one daughter to complain about the other daughter or the children of the other daughter. Usually, it is also part of this dynamic, to switch allies. Tomorrow, the mother might be dissatisfied with that daughter and complain to the other one instead. We can all see that this is not a healthy dynamic. It destroys the trust between the sisters and at the same time the trust between mother and daughters.

So, don’t complain about somebody behind their back! If you have an issue with your partner, or another family member, seek out a calm and non-violent communication with the appropriate person. If you need a professional to coach you, use that resource. Then sit down with that partner and work it out together, without pulling other people into the relationship who are bound to side with one or the other. Can you move beyond right and wrong? Instead of making it a question of blame or of who is right and who is wrong, you can both be honest with your feelings and needs and find creative solutions to your problems.

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