Identifying And Changing Emotional Abuse Patterns
Passive Aggression is a learned behaviour and a tool that many of us pick up watching our parent's arguments unravelling, it is a defence mechanism we employ to keep us safe from other people’s judgement or opinion of us.
I’ll let you know I’m unhappy about the situation, but I’ll let you know is such a way that if you challenge me and I feel threatened then I can deny it and you will be left confused and I will feel less attacked.
Often when we think of emotional abuse our mind wanders to the narcissistic personality type, manipulating and playing mind games with you to win control over our mind and our emotions, the ultimate in emotional abuse.
I don’t deny it happens and way more regularly that we would like to admit and it’s on the increase. In this type of relationship dynamic, as social media feeds our need for a more superficial recognition we spend more time crafting the perfect outside image rather than strengthening our inner world.
Today, however, I would like to draw your attention to a more pervasive and way more widespread and destructive type of emotional abuse, one which is so much a part of the fibre of our society and openly used that we have mostly become blind to its existence.
One which you may be indulging in, in some or all of your relationships and one which is so ingrained in our unconscious behavioural patterns you may never have stopped to give it a name!
Passive aggressiveness may appear to be a pretty innocuous behaviour but it ruins relationships, creates mistrust, resentment and has been identified as a number one phenomenon which leads to divorce in long-term committed relationships.
It is prevalent from the boardroom to marital beds and everywhere in between and its function is to express displeasure, without overtly stating your standpoint, to transmit your sentiment without openly owning your feelings. It creates often irreparable breakdowns in communication and trust, although there are many reasons we would use this method of communication, (from feeling that we aren’t heard through to fear of being challenged on your viewpoint) it shouldn’t be underestimated in its ability to poison your relationships.
It is a purely protective method of communication, but is nevertheless, emotionally abusive.
It is the result of being unable to confront or openly share your feelings. An intimacy-and-trust killer and as a relationship expert, I can tell you these are two non-negotiables in intimate relationships - without which, survival of a relationship in a healthy, connected and loving state becomes almost impossible.
I come from a long line of passive-aggressive women and I took up the mantel with gusto, never stopping to question why my arguments all too often were left unresolved and worse still left me with a sense of disconnection, a lack of trust in my partner’s feelings for me and a huge crack in our intimate connection. Of course, that feeling of tiptoeing around on eggshells was all too familiar with me, every time I felt I needed to speak my truth, I’d pick up my communication toolbox, take out one of my favoured tools - may be a little squirt of people pleasing just to set the mood. Then bam with a few below-the-belt observations, then hit them with my killer “if you loved me then …...”
Can you imagine how that went down? Time and again I was left feeling frustrated, deeply sad and unloved. And my husband? Well, he was just frustrated, confused and yeah, walking on his own eggshells so as not to waken the wrath of me.
There is no doubt, people pleasing is a passive aggressive behaviour.
Passive Aggression is emotional abuse!!!!
We, who struggle to say no for fear of conflict are in fact creating mistrust in our intimate relationships.
It avoids conflict in the moment but leads inevitably to resentments building up.
Without a healthy outlet for such sentiments (which would have seen you say no in the first place), we can cause irreparable rifts in our relationships.
As a reformed people pleaser I remember the damage it causes, the frustration at not being understood and the feeling that I couldn’t, for fear of rejection, really say how I felt. Instead of resorting to sarcasm and a series of under the breath digs, eye-rolling or over critical response to perceived mistakes or oversights.
Having no alternative communication tools to my fingertips and living in the fear that I was not worthy of those things, I was clumsily trying to obtain what I desired from those around me (love, respect, being heard, validated). I felt that I just couldn’t command love from others and most likely didn’t deserve it and those thoughts made me spiky.
I was certainly the queen of ‘Passive Aggressive People Pleasing’ and utterly confused when my husband would tell me that I never told him what I wanted or what I was feeling, I assumed he was lying.
What the hell…...what did he not get from those three days of sulking?
When I felt attacked I’d retreat into stubborn silence for days beyond what could be considered normal and rational. Fuming inside at the ease with which my husband could ignore my behaviour.
It turns out he wasn’t, he just wasn’t good at reading passive aggression and had enough self-worth not to feel the need to meet me like-for-like.
Of course this behaviour wasn’t reserved only for my marriage, it was fairly widespread, often responding in a way that my words and my demeanour were out of kilter; “...yes I’d be super happy to babysit your three kids for 10 days whilst you swan off on holiday even though you have never-so-much as offered my kids lunch when I was clearly in need of help,” would be my thoughts. Whilst my words would be; “...of course, you so deserve a break, go, have a ball, don’t worry about a thing, I’m really happy to be able to help out.”
Confused, yes that is what happens when we are faced with people-pleasers with passive-aggressive tendencies.
Is there a solution?
There always is and it comes down to setting boundaries and giving yourself the permission to speak your mind and share your heart.
Boundaries help the people pleaser protect themselves from their subconscious patterns, by setting standards of behaviour which you will tolerate thus freeing up time previously spent over thinking and worrying about other people’s reactions.
Setting boundaries helps us instruct other people about our needs, our desires and our expectations in relationships and give other the people the opportunity to know us and our needs and react accordingly.
What if someone doesn’t accept my boundaries?
Setting boundaries is regaining your power - previous behaviours were based on getting something from other people, validation, acceptance, love etc.
With firm boundaries in place, you will now be in a position to decide how to deal with relationships where people are refusing to comply with your standards. Here is the rule-of-thumb I use:
If this person loves me they would have my best interests at heart, so, therefore, why would they resist something that I clearly believe is in my best interest?
Maybe they simply don’t understand the change in you and with some gentle reassurance, they will be happy to accept the changes. For others it may be they wanted a friend/employee/lover who offered one-way traffic and this change doesn’t serve them.
Your question then is; “Why would I want to be in a relationship with a person with these motivations?”
And you have the power and knowledge to make a decision accordingly. I understand this is where most people-pleasing starts, this lack of power. Don’t worry, with boundary setting comes the power.
Boundaries help you let down your guard, paradoxically with boundary setting you need not spend your life fire-fighting, you can relax and face life and people as they come. You don’t need to be on guard because you will repel those who are interested in only sucking you dry and that allows you to be more open and vulnerable with your circle.
Which is a great place to tackle your passive aggressive behaviours, now it is safe to let them go, you are safe. Now that you have created your very own ‘safe space’ you can now turn your attention to changing those behaviours.
Moving From Passive Aggressive To Connected Communication
Firstly, acknowledging them and accepting that this was you go to communication method when you felt under attack.
Accepting ‘what is’ is incredibly powerful, it allows you to change the behaviour when it no longer serves.
Actively working to understand what you would like the outcome of the discussion to be.
Often-times, passive-aggressive people-pleasers aren’t aware of what we are actually aiming for, as we are fighting this continuous battle with our lack of self-worth.
This lack of self-worth is the switch which controls our passive aggression and when we deal with the underlying issue we can simply replace our sarcasm with explanation; our eye-rolls and under breathe mutterings with hand-holding and looking into our partner's eyes whilst honestly explaining what we are feeling.
Of course, this isn’t about manipulation your change in behaviour will certainly change the state of your relationship – but this isn’t why you would embark on your journey of change.
That is very simply because having realised that your behaviour, your communication style is at best borderline emotionally abusive and at worst, well, let’s just say that not true love match can ever flourish when it is fuelled by emotionally abusive patterns.
In part two we will deal with; “Dealing with passive aggression” - what to do if you discover that your partner is displaying passive-aggressive tendencies. In the meantime if you would like to learn more about boundary-setting then please download a recent web class I ran on; ‘How Clear Boundaries Are A Win-Win For Everyone.
To download click here : How Clear Boundaries Are A Win-Win For Everyone