Friday, September 25, 2015

The Fury Within: Hidden Relational Hostility

There are times when I think relating to people in a bar would be easier than relating to people in a church. Angry people in a bar let you know their angry. Angry people in a church often hide their emotions. It doesn't mean church people don't get angry; it just means church people don't want you to know they're angry. 

The common term used to describe those with a hidden fury is passive-aggressiveness. This compound word wrongly conveys the idea of fluctuation between passiveness and aggressiveness. In reality, the passive-aggressive person is always aggressive. There's a fury inside that boils like an underground volcano waiting to erupt. Passivity is the fierce attempt to hide the fury, but the lava seeps out and destroys anyway. Passive-aggressiveness is a little like placing a lid on a boiling pot of water. Just because you can't see the hot water bubbling doesn't mean it isn't cooking the eggs. Churches are full of people with hidden hostility who slap a silly smile on their face to cover the fury within.

According to Psychology Today there are four ways to identify passive-aggressive behavior.  
(1). Hidden Verbal Hostility- Negative gossip. Overt and constant criticism. Sarcasm. Veiled hostile joking — often followed by “just kidding.” 
(2). Disguised Relational Hostility- The silent treatment. The invisible treatment. Social exclusion. Neglect. Backstabbing.
(3). Disguised Task Hostility- Procrastination. Stalling. Forgetting. Stonewalling. Withholding resources or information.
(4). Hostility Towards Others Through Self-Punishment. ("I’ll show YOU" attitude). Quitting. Deliberate failure. Exaggerated or imagined health issues. Victimhood. Dependency.
If you have ever been in relationship with someone who works hard to cover their anger, then you know that passive-aggressiveness is never easy to confront. I recently came across a few wonderful suggestions for dealing with a passive-aggressive person.

(1).  Absolutely refuse to engage in the game.

Passive aggressive adults are experts at getting others to act out their hidden anger. When you are easily able to recognize passive aggressive behavior, then you can make the choice not to become entangled in a no-win power struggle. One of the favorite tactics of a passive-aggressive person is to put the focus on the other person: "Why are YOU so...."  There will be no conversions from passive-aggressive relationships when people fall for the diversions of the passive-aggressor. Relationships only grow when people are more interested in the problems within their own hearts. When someone entices you to play the game of attack and defend, just simply talk yourself into non-engagement.

"He is being passive aggressive and I will not participate in this routine. I need no defense. If he desires something, he can ask outright. "
"I will not yell or become sarcastic because my behavior will only escalate this conflict. I can't control anyone else, but I sure can control myself."

(2). Gently point out the elephant in the room.

A passive-aggressive person spends his or her life avoiding direct emotional expression and guarding against any open acknowledgment of anger. One of the most helpful ways to confront passive aggressive behavior and to change the dynamics of any relationship for the long-term is to be willing to point out anger directly. The "calling out of the elephant" should be matter-of-fact, non-judgmental, and done for the good of the one you love. Saying something like, "It seems to me that you are angry at me for making this request." The impact of seemingly simple exposure can be quite profound. Once there's an admittance of the anger, the focus can then turn on "Why?" "Why am I angry?" "Why am I full of hostility?" Nobody ever finds healing until the "Whys?" are answered for themselves. Surprisingly, the "Whys" are never about another person. It's always about something missing within the person being passive-aggressive

(3). Expect a denial, and accept the denier. 

The goal of everyone who loves someone with a hidden fury within is to bring that anger to the surface. That which has been covert, stuffed inside, and kept secret for so long must be identified for the good of the sufferer. Expect that once the anger is called out, the passive aggressive person will deny the existence of anger.

When that happens, go ahead and accept the statement of denial (e.g. "Love believes all things"), and quietly back away from further discussion. A pregnant thought not fully birthed often causes the hearer some powerful moments of self-reflection. By simply sharing your awareness of a covert anger, you have sent a bold and powerful message that the passive aggressive behavior cannot continue and the relationship needs to change.


RB Kuter said...

Sorry to use this venue for this but I'm not sure how to email you regarding things not relative to your blog post.

I was looking for some publisher possibilities and several years ago you recommended Trestle Press. I noticed on the net that they apparently have had some unscrupulous dealings and apparently were ordered to pay some fines, etc. Do you continue to recommend them? Anyone else? Thanks.

carl4grace said...

I think I'm the elephant.
Great, concise post.

Wade Burleson said...


Hmmm. I did not know about Trestle. I haven't used them in a while. Interesting development though.

Janet said...

Hi Wade. I was giving serious thought to the topic of passive aggression this week and came to some conclusions. It was coincidental that I read this your post today, so I'll share them, even though I can tell already that you in part agree. In my experience as a high school teacher, I was frequently presented with people who, with varying degrees of passivity, were clearly antagonistic toward me. A thought became very clear to me as I pondered this. If a power differential exists in the relationship (doctor/patient, teacher/student, pastor/lay person, boss/employee), it is always incumbent on the person with the power to approach the other in an attitude of humility and respect. If you can manage to communicate, "Have I offended you in some way?" with kind and sincere concern, my guess is that the other will respond in kind. In my experience, 9 time out of 10 the relationship resolves and in 10 out of 10 it improves.

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