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Passive Aggression and Relationships

I grew up with Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder (PAPD) into my adult years, and had it affect my life and quite a few of my relationships over the years. I just never knew, and thought it was always other people with the problem, not me.

I only discovered in 2005 that I had it, at the age of 39. I took it seriously, because what I read about it completely explained a lot of my own behaviour and feelings. When I found out that most PAPD sufferers just don’t heal because they can’t accept responsibility for their actions, I knew that I had to accept responsibility for everything, even if I ‘knew’ I wasn’t responsible.

The results were spectacular. By accepting responsibility for my behaviour and my choices, I was able to ‘clean up’ my life, building a rewarding career and finding a woman that completely matched my values and helped me heal because she never ‘pushed my buttons’ that resulted in passive aggressive responses.

Based on my own experiences with PAPD and significantly healing myself from 30 years of negatively trained behaviour, I feel very strongly that I can help others with PAPD, or at least their partners. It’s not surprising to me that most of the people approaching me, after reading my articles on the subject, have been lonely and distraught partners who don’t know how to deal with their partner after years of passive aggressive behaviour.

It saddens me that so many men refuse to treat their partners with love and care, but I completely understand why they’re unable to. I can only hope that what I write will at least:

  1. allow some of these men to find it and reach their own realisations that lead to their healing, or
  2. help their partners find ways of dealing with it that can result in the healing of their passive aggressive husband, or
  3. give them the courage to move on.

What is Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder ?

PAPD is a result of being emotionally suppressed and punished as a child by their parents. I think that it’s more common for mothers (or parents) to suppress the emotions of boys and punish them for it, than it is girls to have their emotions suppressed and punished.

I think there’s been an expectation by parents (particularly of the generation around 30-50 years ago – that’s been my personal experience, of course) that boys shouldn’t be emotional, but girls should, so boys get punished when they’re emotional. However, I haven’t looked for any evidence to support that, it’s just my perception.

Passive agression is common amongst most people, but it becomes a personality disorder when it negatively and significantly affects most aspects of your life, and becomes your primary behaviour.

Growing into adulthood, the PAPD sufferer is unable to express themselves emotionally. They usually don’t feel safe to express themselves, because they’ve been taught as a child that any expression of emotions will be punished, so they hold onto this understanding as they grow into adults. This will be exacerbated by choosing women who ‘punish them’ (perceived by them as nagging, complaining, etc) for the expression of their feelings.

Ironically, they often find themselves attracted to women who have similar qualities to their own mother’s attitudes and behaviours. This is because it’s somehow familiar and attractive to them, but the resulting problem is that they also end up being resentful of their partner’s attitude and behaviour.

How does this affect their relationships?

They maintain a ‘rebellious teenager’ kind of attitude, where they’ll agree to doing something but then never get around to doing it, and then when confronted about it, they’ll find all manner of justifications as to why they didn’t do it, but also find blame for their partner’s nagging and controlling behaviour.

Since they’re afraid of being punished for expressing their feelings, they’ll often keep their feelings to themselves. Add this fear of expression to their anger about their past, and also about how they feel they’re being treated in the present by their partner, and passive aggression is a result.

This can include subdued and subtle expressions of anger (usually, but it can also become over expressions of anger and violence), as well as self-sabotage as well as relationship-sabogate, simply because they don’t know how to deal with their feelings. They ‘lash out’ in ways that they’ve learned over the years protects them from being punished, makes them feel justified in their actions, and that it’s never their fault.

Avoiding personal responsibility is a common theme with PAPD sufferers, because they feel they can’t be reasonably punished if they’re not responsible. Therefore any ‘punishment’ they receive is not reasonable, as far as they’re concerned.

How to heal

What I’ve learned from my own research into this is that most PAPD sufferers are unable to find healing, because ‘they’re not responsible’. How can they heal a problem if they think they’re not the ones with the problem?

Unless the PAPD sufferer is aware of his problem, acknowledges and actively tries to find a way to heal himself, then any attempt by his partner to change him or help him heal will only be met by resentment and continued passive aggressive behaviour from him.

He’ll resent her for trying to change him, want to be accepted for who he is, and will continue to believe that he doesn’t have a problem, and that it’s her and everyone else in his life that has a problem.

If he can’t work towards his own healing of his own free will, without her ‘forcing’ him to, then he will continue resenting her behaviour and attitude and will continue to think it’s her with the problem, not him.

If she really wants to help him heal, then she has to find the strength within herself to let go of her expectations about him. Completely cease trying to tell him what to do, and completely cease ‘punishing him’ with her own complaints about his behaviour.

She effectively has to let him go, to do his own thing, and to make herself emotionally vulnerable. If he thinks she’s in control, or that she wants to control him, he’ll be resentful of her. If he thinks that she’s letting him take control, and she ceases trying to control him, then he’ll find a sense of happiness and reward within himself.

Her emotional vulnerability will allow his own emotional strength to be asserted, in a manner that is safe and rewarding for him.

Subconsciously, what he’s tried to do in his life is find someone who is like his mother, but isn’t his mother. He wants to be in control, without being controlled. He wants safety to express himself, without being punished for it.

If he can’t get that, he’ll continue being PAPD.

If his partner can’t give him what he needs because she’s got too much anger in her, or she can’t get past her expectations of how he should behave as your partner, then she’s not going to be able to help him find healing.

Most PAPD sufferers leave a trail of broken relationships in their wake because they’re unable to accept responsibility for their behaviour. But it’s also because their partner is unwilling to be what they need in order to help them avoid resentment and anger, and provide them with safety to explore their feelings and find their own path to healing.

If giving up her expectations and letting him be in control (so that he can be in a different state of mind to where he currently is) is something that she’s just unable to do, the problem will remain, and the most likely result will be the ending of their relationship.

It takes both members of a realationship to create a conflict, but it also takes both of them to resolve the conflict.

Good luck.

What if it’s not working?

If you’re in this situation and you find that you’re doing everything you can to let him feel safe, allow him to express his feelings, to have a sense of control in the relationship, and you’re still unhappy with the result, then it might be worth considering that it’s time to move on.

You’ve given it your best shot, and if the relationship continues to be unworkable and unfulfilling, you have a responsibility to yourself to look after your own best interests. Find the courage to do what’s right for you.

If children are going to be involved, it might get messy, but if you approach this with care and love for everyone concerned, you can arrange an amicable separation. Don’t give him anything to react aggressively to, and he won’t.

Again, good luck.

Contact the author

Please don’t hesitate to email me if you have any specific questions, concerns or scenarios that you’d like my feedback with. I’d be happy to help out.

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