Trying to describe and explain passive aggressive abuse is difficult, to say the least. I’ve compared it to carbon monoxide. You won’t see it, smell it, hear it, and you can’t touch it, so good luck explaining it. What you will definitely notice, and what an outsider will see, is the impact on you (see description under The Impact).
Dr. George K. Simon has a great blog at http://www.manipulative-people.com and draws a distinction between ” passive-aggressive and covert-aggressive behaviors and passive-aggressive (ambivalent, negativistic, and often self-defeating) personalities and their covert-aggressive (deceptive, conniving, and manipulative) counterparts.”
Like I said, this can get tricky and confusing, even if you live with it. Dr. Simon explains more of his distinction in his book In Sheep’s Clothing.
[My response to someone who once questioned the difference was this:] I will simply add that while some of the differences can seem hair splitting and brain spinning (particularly to the recipients), the end result is quite similar. While one may be more negativistic and resistance oriented, it is just as covert. Whether the user is employing covert aggression in the above definition or behaving in clinically passive aggressive ways, both will result in a teflon coated manipulation that avoids accountability. The terrible and interesting thing about passive aggressives is that by employing the passive dynamic, their aggression is extremely difficult to identify, and almost impossible to definitively associate with intent.
This is the carbon monoxide effect. My advice to anyone who is questioning whether or not they are with a passive aggressive is to just read about it and explore a support forum specifically for it. If you start reading the comments pouring in from dozens of readers responding to it and you start to think ‘Get out of my head!’, you are probably on the right track to identify it.
This is an excerpt from a good article by divorce coach, Cathy Meyer. She writes: “When someone hits you or yells at you, you know that you’ve been abused. It is obvious and easily identified. Covert abuse is subtle and veiled or disguised by actions that appear to be normal, at times loving and caring… A passive aggressive can drive people around him/her crazy and seem sincerely dismayed when confronted with their behavior. Due to their own lack of insight into their feelings the passive aggressive often feels that others misunderstand them or, are holding them to unreasonable standards if they are confronted about their behavior.” [Read more of her article here: http://divorcesupport.about.com/od/abusiverelationships/a/Pass_Agg.htm ]
In her article, Cathy Meyer lists the following as common behaviors of a passive aggressive:
Ambiguity: “rarely mean what they say or say what they mean”
Forgetfulness: selective memory to punish or obstruct
Blaming: “never responsible for their actions”
Lack of Anger: “being accommodating and then sticking it to you ”
Fear of Dependency: to feel need is to feel controlled
Fear of Intimacy: withholding sex to punish you
Obstructionism: “It is important to him that you don’t get your way.”
Victimization: “If you get upset… they take offense”
Procrastination: “They do things on their own time schedule”
Other great quotes from the Cathy Meyer article: “The passive aggressive needs to have a relationship with someone who can be the object of his or her hostility. They need someone whose expectations and demands he/she can resist… The sad thing is, you can be made to believe that you are loved and adored by a person who is completely unable to form an emotional connection with anyone… The passive aggressive ignores problems in the relationship, sees things through their own skewed sense of reality and if forced to deal with the problems will completely withdraw from the relationship and you. They will deny evidence of wrong doing, distort what you know to be real to fit their own agenda, minimize or lie so that their version of what is real seems more logical.”
Scott Wetzler, author of Living With the Passive Aggressive Man, wrote this: “Unsure of his autonomy and afraid of being alone, he fights his dependency needs, usually by trying to control you. He wants you to think he doesn’t depend on you, but he binds himself closer than he cares to admit. Relationships can become battle grounds, where he can only claim victory if he denies his need for your support.”
“Withholding sex is about your husband’s need to control you by ignoring and denying your needs!” Neil Warner
“Passive aggression is a purposeful and disguised way of expressing covert feelings of resistance and anger.” Nora Femenia
“This behavior can be very useful when you don’t want to say “NO” to a request, don’t want to be seen as uncooperative, or be seen as selfish because wanting to do your own thing. So, you “forget,” procrastinate, or show some intentional inefficiency, saying that you don’t know how to do something you usually do.” Nora Femenia
I think Cathy Meyers adapted Scott Wetzler’s list, so here are three more common behaviors found in Wetzler’s book:
“– Fostering chaos. The passive-aggressive man prefers to leave the puzzle incomplete, the job undone, taking on more and more responsibilities until his life is nothing but unfinished business. He sets up ongoing chaotic situations that are intolerable if your life is linked to his. But should you offer a useful suggestion to improve things, just watch his resentment grow.”
“– Making excuses and lying. The passive-aggressive man reaches as far as he can to fabricate excuses for not getting to a meeting on time, making love, meeting deadlines, fulfilling promises. As a way of withholding information, affirmation or love — to have power over you — the passive-aggressive man may choose to make up a convoluted story rather than give a straight answer. Not only is he a genius at ignoring reality when he so chooses, so he is a virtuoso at spinning tales to make reality look better.”
” — Sulking. Feeling put upon when he is unable to live up to his promises or obligations, the passive-aggressive man retreats from pressures around him and sulks, pouts and withdraws. Deep sighs are his preferred mode of communication, which makes reaching him all the more difficult.”
I’ve said that if I had to choose one word to describe a passive aggressive man, it would be Resentment. He resents unrelentingly , implacably, and incessantly. It seems you can never get to the bottom of that endless abyss of resentment. The next words I would choose would be self-pity and excuses. Last but not least, would be withholding. Don’t let the passive part trick you into not seeing the control issues.
If you have a partner that withholds affection and intimacy, resents you, is jealous of you experiencing success or happiness, sabotages and obstructs you, creates chaos and dependency, gaslights you, lies to you, excuses himself and blames you, hurts you in ways that appear innocent, throws accusations at you when you try to express that you’re hurt, and lies to you about even stupid stuff, — but all the while is also charming, funny, sweet, and viewed by the world as a nice guy and great husband– you might have a passive aggressive partner.
I hope you don’t. This kind of man will love you to death.
The Big Question is always: Can/Will he change?
Not unless HE REALLY WANTS TO. And most all passive aggressives don’t truly see the need to change, thus they lack the want to. When ultimately they see themselves as the victim, why should they want to change?
The challenging part becomes trying to decipher if he wants to change for himself, or if he’s giving the appearance of it to please you or achieve image management.
Disclaimer: This site is not intended to provide, and does not constitute, medical or legal advice. The content provided is designed to support, not replace, medical or psychiatric treatment. If you believe you may have a condition, please seek qualified professional care.