Passive aggressive behavior is probably on most people’s list of annoying qualities in another person. Scratch that, passive aggressive behavior usually falls into the category of legit reasons to banish someone for your life. I have never been pro passive aggression; in fact, I get rather peeved when someone pulls the hot/cold routine on me. I think my thoughts on passive aggression and its unfailing ability to make any situation worse is probably shared by most of you. Over the past week or so I have posted on the complexities of friendship, especially girlfriendship, and many of you commented that the tendency for girls to engage in passive aggression was one of the number one reasons you did not pursue female friendships. I was totally on board with this popular sentiment until I realized that not only have I been acting all passive aggressive myself this week, but I was glad I had.
It’s challenging to truly define passive aggressive behavior. I am sure there is some official definition, but it manifests itself so differently in people that one woman’s form of passive aggression is another woman’s normal behavior. Though it’s hard to pinpoint what specific gestures, expressions, words, or silence qualifies as passive aggressive, the one constant characteristic is that you know the person is pissed at you. I tend to think of passive aggressive behavior as silent anger since the anger is being expressed, but in a roundabout way. Fighting is never pleasant, but passive aggression is particularly nagging as the person denies that they are angry, but you know they are. You want to shake them and force them to admit what was really on their mind. He or she clearly has something to say, so why won’t they? Indeed, passive aggression is like nails on a chalkboard to the person on the receiving end of the icy blast, but can it actually be a blessing in disguise?
I have been developing a theory, one which I am sure is going to get a good deal of negative reaction, but here it is: a little bit of passive aggressive behavior is a good thing.
Think about it, if you are being passive, you are not being aggressive. There is a time and a place for aggressive behavior. I truly believe it is necessary to confront a person when you have a problem with them and let them know you are angry. Keeping things inside either leads to an explosion when you reach your boiling point or slowly poisons a relationship. While it is very important to express your anger, I think many of you can agree that shouting the first thing that comes into your head is a bad idea. I can think some really mean thoughts, thoughts that if they were ever spoken aloud would end a relationship. If I shouted what was really on my mind, stream of consciousness style, I would probably have been exiled to Siberia years ago.
Anger muddles the brains and organizing your thoughts takes time. You are angry right away but need time to figure out why and how best to approach the person you are mad at. This is where I think passive aggression lives: the point between anger and resolution. You are enraged but unready to talk about it. If you are lucky you can simply avoid the person until you are calm and collected. If you have that kind of luck, well, I am jealous. Very often the people I am the most angry at are the people I can’t avoid and am forced to coexist with, even if I would much rather inflict serious bodily harm upon them. We have to converse in order to get through the day, but I am not about to be all warm and fuzzy to them. The result is the passive aggressive iciness.
An example to clarify my point. My boyfriend and I got into a silly tiff last night. I am not shy about sharing my personal relationship woes, but really, this one is too ridiculous and silly to bother going in to. I thought he was being ridiculously oversensitive and I am sure he thought I was being a massive bitch. I had a lot to say on the matter, but that really wouldn’t have helped things. In the heat of the moment I could have just flung out nasty words, words that I didn’t really mean. Instead of letting out a stream of expletives, I was cold and polite. This probably annoyed him even more and he likely fell asleep thinking not so lovely things about me. Hardly lovers paradise, but certainly better than duking it out right there and then.
I am not suggesting that passive aggression is a goal or destination, but rather a resting place where we can think and reflect. Two people can’t function in passive aggressive land for long, and I understand why people are annoyed with friends who continue to act this way. Still, before you completely write off a friendship you might ponder her reasons for acting this way to you. Try giving someone some space for a few days and see if they come to you. If a week or so passes and if there is still no explanation, maybe try gently asking her what is on her mind. She might not be ready to share her thoughts, but you might at least get a clearer idea of what is going on and where you two stand. If she persists in the subtle snarkiness, then maybe it is best to put that relationship on the back burner.
At the end of the day passive aggressive behavior is a problem, but I think it is often a problem masking a larger issue at hand. Working through the cold front is as irritating as anything, but in a good friendship/relationship it is worth the effort to work your way to the root cause.