Continuing with the discussion on anger, expression of passive-aggressive anger is probably the most difficult to harness and transform because it is the most elusive. Individuals who express their anger with this style have a difficult time getting in touch with their anger and releasing it in any overt way. Consequently, it is very challenging to help them. They are generally uncomfortable with conflict and will do whatever they can to avoid it. They feel intimidated and or dominated by others and don’t feel they have the power to stand up to them. Unable to express their true feelings, they channel them in a disguised and underhanded way. As mentioned in the Three Faces of Anger blog, they tend to be sarcastic with, isolate or withhold from the ones they are angry with. These defensive mechanisms end up reinforcing their sense of powerlessness while driving the people that interact with them crazy.
The most important way to help individuals with passive-aggressive anger is to help them get in touch with their feelings, which are usually feelings of threat. In order for that to occur they have to feel comfortable and safe with themselves. They need to appreciate that their defense mechanisms arose as a result of feeling helpless as children. One or both of their parents were either aggressive and overpowering with them, or were very passive themselves and either implicitly or explicitly forbade any expression of anger. These children learned that the only way to express anger is by channeling it indirectly. This has become such an automatic reaction within them that many times they are not even aware that they are angry. They do, however, find ways to get back at the people who made them angry.
If you are not sure whether you fall into this style, just ask anyone who is close to you what they think. If you do, they will let you know immediately, probably with great relief. You then can decide whether you want to release yourself and others around you from this destructive defense mechanism. You can start by realizing that you are no longer a helpless child but a grown up who is capable of stating what you think or want without worrying about the other person’s reaction – they CANNOT hurt you. You can begin by practicing on people in your life who are not as intimidating to you. You can set your mind to catch yourself exhibiting some of the tell tale signs mentioned in the earlier blog and go back over the situation in your mind, and ask yourself what is the worst that could happen if you asked for what you wanted or expressed a differing opinion. You need to see how your defensive behavior to avoid conflict is actually maintaining your powerlessness.
Additionally, as with aggressive anger, most reactions come from misunderstanding and/or distortions of what is really going on. Learn to identify your feelings of threat and seek clarification before reacting can eliminate much of what makes you angry. You have to begin by assuming that people don’t want to hurt or threaten you. If you operate from this premise, then when you hear something threatening coming at you, you may want to assume that you have misheard or misunderstood and ask for clarification. Almost always what we thought we heard is not what was said. This is not easy to do, but when you do this, you will be able to transform your threatened reactions to constructive dialog that brings clarity to the situation for all involved.
As you begin to express yourself more authentically and witness that no harm comes to you, you will become more in touch with all of your feelings. Over time you will not only feel more positively about yourself, but people around you will begin to respect and trust you more.