Passive-Aggressive Behaviour

NPD MIL has big anger issues. She is constantly simmering below the surface angry. My mother describes her as the most angry person she has ever met yet MIL has never raised her voice in my company. So how do I know she is angry?

You don’t have to shout to show anger. No fist needs to be banged on a table, no finger jabbed in your face, the teeth don’t have to show in a snarling mouth nor do insulting words need to be shot out with force. Anger can be a cold, crippling state of being that blackens your soul. My MIL’s soul is of the deepest black.

She hates her ex-husband, my lovely FIL. She hates him because he survives very well without her. She left him. He just wouldn’t rise to her bait and retreated into his work, slept downstairs in his office and became a non-person to her after their children grew and left home. She decided he was mentally defective and left him, as she tells it, for his own sake. This was after she tried to get a doctor to diagnose him with a rare form of early onset dementia.

So how does she show her vicious hatred? She redirects junk mail that occasionally gets sent to her (once their) house to his new partner with intimidating messages scrawled on the front. She found FIL’s partner’s address on the internet. Nice huh?

She now refuses to attend any event where her ex-husband may be present. Christenings, birthdays, graduations are all disrupted by her weeks of haggling over who will be there, when and with whom. If she is put on the defensive regarding her intractable demands about not meeting her ex she threatens to go to the police with a trumped up accusation of assault. I know it is trumped up as the actual story of the assault keeps changing, and more importantly it is supposed to have occurred in front of her children, in their late teens at the time, who noticed nothing at the time. Oh and it only ever gets brought out when she is backed up against a wall.

But what is interesting about her methods is their indirect nature. She never comes out and says “do this my way or I’ll go to the police”, that would be too obvious. She says things like “I can’t be in the same room as FIL. Maybe I should have been more insistent with the police, you know, with being assaulted. It still upsets me a lot…” the threat is left hanging, but the message is clear.

MIL is a master of passive-aggressive behaviour.

Responding to conflict

There is a range of interpersonal responses available to someone in a difficult situation. A completely passive response is like the dog rolling onto its back and showing its tummy.  You say nothing to express your own thoughts and meekly, willingly comply with the other person.

An aggressive response is picking a fight, getting your haunches up and snarling back.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is feeling one thing while displaying the other. Looking passive or at least not overtly confrontational but still having the rage of an aggressive person locked down inside. The anger doesn’t disappear. Anger never does, it’s a bit like there should be a conservation of anger law to match the conservation of energy law.

The anger comes out in indirect ways, that is what passive-aggression is about, indirect displays of anger. Here are some examples of  PA behaviours taken from this article

Non-Communication when there is clearly something problematic to discuss

Avoiding/Ignoring when you are so angry that you feel you cannot speak calmly

Evading problems and issues, burying an angry head in the sand

Procrastinating intentionally putting off important tasks for less important ones

Obstructing deliberately stalling or preventing an event or process of change

Fear of Competition Avoiding situations where one party will be seen as better at something

Ambiguity Being cryptic, unclear, not fully engaging in conversations

Sulking Being silent, morose, sullen and resentful in order to get attention or sympathy.

Chronic Lateness A way to put you in control over others and their expectations

Chronic Forgetting Shows a blatant disrespect and disregard for others to punish in some way

Fear of Intimacy Often there can be trust issues with passive aggressive people and guarding against becoming too intimately involved or attached will be a way for them to feel in control of the relationship

Making Excuses Always coming up with reasons for not doing things

Victimisation Unable to look at their own part in a situation will turn the tables to become the victim and will behave like one

Self-Pity the poor me scenario

Blaming others for situations rather than being able to take responsibility for your own actions or being able to take an objective view of the situation as a whole.

Withholding usual behaviours or roles for example sex, cooking and cleaning or making cups of tea, running a bath etc. all to reinforce an already unclear message to the other party

Learned Helplessness where a person continually acts like they can’t help themselves – deliberately doing a poor job of something for which they are often explicitly responsible.

My husband once broached the subject with his mother, suggesting in a very roundabout way that perhaps the family had a PA way of communicating. MIL said she had no idea what that meant and she actually found and referred to the article I linked above. MIL said perhaps only one example sounded remotely true to her. My husband and I have specific examples, numerous examples to back every single point except the one about chronic lateness (MIL is actually early on purpose to throw people off). It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.


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Filed under Communication problems in NPD, Describing narcissism, Examples of narcissistic behaviour, narcissistic mother, Understanding narcissism

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