Bordering on Passive-Aggressive

This topic is going to take us places. Passive-Aggression is a trait of everyone. Borderlines, the non-personality disordered, characteristic of many other PDs, and there’s even a Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder in PDNOS all its own. So let’s see where I go with this.
Passive Aggressive behavior is the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive, passive way (such as through procrastination and stubbornness). It’s a mechanism to express anger without openly admitting you are angry or confronting the source of your anger directly. It is common for a person to express passive-aggressive behavior when they are in a position of low influence or control over a person with whom they are angry. People who feel powerless, inferior or afraid of a person with whom they are angry will frequently resort to a passive-aggressive style.
From Out of the Fog:
Personality-Disordered Individuals or PDI’s often feel a great deal of pain over their own situation. Because of the way their emotions can overwhelm their rational thinking, they are prone to destructive behaviors, emotional outbursts, making poor choices and having feelings of self-loathing, powerlessness and discontent at the state of their own affairs. Faced with this, it is common for PDI’s to look for a person who is willing to share the burden, help clean up the mess and help them feel better about themselves. Family members, spouses, partners and friends are prime candidates for this role – a role which they sometimes accept willingly; hoping to make a positive difference in their loved-one’s life but may unwittingly create over-optimistic expectations for what they can accomplish. When they inevitably fail to solve all the problems and fill all the voids, it is common for the PDI to feel disappointment, disillusionment and even resentment towards them. Filled with anger towards those who have disappointed them, yet consumed by fear that they will be abandoned by those who have loved them the most, the PDI may develop a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior towards the Non-PD.
Some Examples of Passive-Aggressive Behavior:
Withdrawal – of material support, contribution to shared goals, Re prioritizing alternate activities and goals, “go-slow’s”, procrastination or targeted incompetence are all manifestations of passive-aggressive behavior.
Silent Treatment, inappropriate “one-word” answers, inattention, making yourself generally “unavailable”.
Off-line Criticism – propagating gossip or criticism to a third party in an attempt to negatively influence the third party’s opinion of a person.
Sarcasm, Critical and “Off-Color” Jokes – Humor which targets a specific individual is a form of passive-aggressive communication.
Indirect Violence or shows-of-strength such as destruction of property, slamming doors, cruelty to animals in the sight of another is passive-aggressive.
I definitely fall to some passive-aggressive behavior. Personally my preferences seem to be in withdrawal, “silent treatment”-ish, and sarcasm, critical and off-color jokes. I’m putting “silent treatment” in quotes because it’s practically impossible for me to give anyone the silent treatment. I want to. I often want to go days without speaking to someone to punish them or make them worry about me, but I can’t. I’ll withdraw my attention to a point, but I can’t discontinue it altogether. I don’t want to talk to them, don’t want them to know anything about me, but I can’t be out of contact either.  This and my tendency for rampant sarcasm are probably my biggest displays of passive-aggressiveness.
However this is not just a PD trait. I’ve known plenty of people that are passive-aggressive that are just you’re neuro-typical person. Then there are your non-personality disordered types that deal and live with those of us with PDs and they can have their own brand of passive-aggressiveness as well.
Non-Personality-Disordered Individuals or Non-PD’s are often confused about the erratic state of mind of the personality disordered individuals (PDI’s) in their lives. They may feel anger and hurt towards the PDI because of the way they have been treated by them, while at the same time they may be afraid of future outbursts. The Non-PD may be fatigued from taking the “high ground” over contentious issues while at the same time angry with the PDI whom they deem to be taking the “low road” or taking advantage of them. Non-PD’s may develop a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior towards PDI’s as a way of registering their disapproval while trying to maintain the “high ground” and trying not to provoke further aggressive behaviors from the PDI.
Passive-aggressiveness seems to be its own vicious cycle. Once it’s started, it’s almost contagious and starts reflecting back on itself from the person that it was originally aimed at.  Theodore Millon identified four subtypes of negativist (passive–aggressive). Any individual negativist may exhibit none or one of the following:
circuitous negativist – including dependent features
abrasive negativist – including sadistic features
discontented negativist – including depressive features
vacillating negativist – including borderline features
Personality Disorder Not otherwise Specified:  This is the incredibly vague and indistinct sub-classification of Personality Disorders that don’t otherwise fit into the Cluster A, B, or C types (odd, dramatic, anxious). PDNOS includes things like Depressive, Passive-Aggressive, Sadistic, and Self-Defeating.
I mention this because in my reading of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder I found a lot of similar traits to Borderline Personality Disorder. Now it is possible to have co-morbid personality disorders, but it’s more likely that there are just overlapping features associated with the lot of them. The way  a personality disorder is diagnosed is by evaluating which PD is most encompassing of all the signs and symptoms; not choosing all the PDs that share traits with the symptoms displayed.
Tomorrow I’ll get more into the overlapping features of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder and how these traits apply and comingle with Borderline Personality Disorder. 

8 comments on “Bordering on Passive-Aggressive

  1. I am definitely one to just shut down and have you come to me to get any answers as to why I am upset. I don't even realize I am doing it, until I'm fuming at the wall and refuses to speak. Never grew up with any good role models on how to deal with anger. Getting better, but still learning. Very good post! Thank you, I really needed to hear about that.

  2. My boyfriend is for sure passive aggressive but he denies it. It got to the point that I tell him he's being passive aggressive whenever it happens. I think he's finally starting to accept it.

  3. I withdraw…My husband however does a little bit of everything! I try to understand, but it is hard when he will not get help. According to him I am the one who needs help. I know I need help get help twice a week. Anyway, I am just still angry about some of the things he said over the LONG week-end…sorry, don't mean to be venting or then again…maybe I do!!! Take care!

  4. Haven, you hit the nail on the head with how non-PD's fall into behaving passive aggressively. Before I figured out that my friend was Borderline, my passive agressive response was exactly how you'd described. I was hurt, shocked by my friend's behavior, and felt that by continuing to play along that I was being taken advantage of. I felt that I had to play tough to survive, to not look like a fool. Only after I figured out he was Borderline and learned about the disorder, it became obvious why my little "games" made the whole situation and his mental (and mine) anguish worse. But yes, we are mad and hurt and embarrassed, so the passive aggressive behavior comes out. Em

  5. Passive-Aggressive describes exactly my husband's former wife's approach to making decisions about their kids. Whenever they have to make a decision about the kids, he and the kids ask for her input and she refuses to give it. Then, when they make their own decision, she complains about both the choice they made and the fact that she was not involved. She also yells at him and whichever kid helped make the choice. Not a healthy family dynamic.You mentioned in a prior post that you appreciate it when others maintain strong boundaries with you. But whenever we try to do that with the former wife, she responds very aggressively — yelling, blaming, accusing, telling lies (aka distorting facts). She does not seem to appreciate boundaries. Any suggestions about that?Her son (20) refuses to talk to her now. Her daughter (15) splits her time between both households and is beside herself at her mother's yelling at her and at her dad. She keeps telling her dad, "Mom says if you do/don't do X, then she won't be so angry and won't yell. Please do/don't do X." She hasn't yet realized that her mom yells for reasons unrelated to anything anyone does or doesn't do.Any suggestions (especially for the kids!) welcome. Thanks.

  6. Thank you everyone for your person insights! @Anon 9:06… I'm not very knowledgeable about kids and how to work with them, but I imagine sitting down with the daughter and explaining in a non-accusatory way that: Her mother acts like this for reasons beyond her control. Her mother can't control her responses because she is unaware of just how much of a problem her own actions are. This does not justify her behavior and it should be brought to her attention as much as possible, but gently. Statements like: I realize you're upset with how this turned out, how can we work together to make a better outcome in future situations – might help. Definitely talk to the daughter and reassure her that her mother's behavior is not her fault. That's important. I would hate to go through life feeling guilty because I thought the way someone was acting was my fault when it wasn't. As for boundaries, all I can say is Consistency is important. She seems very confrontational, and honestly, I would expect that. When you try to establish boundaries, the first thing we think to do is to push them. To test the fences. You need to be firm, but not cruel or confrontational in return. Maintain the boundaries that you need in your life and don't allow them to be pushed back and crossed. Someone that does not have boundaries may see them as a form of abandonment at first, "we're over here, you're over there, stay". But if you maintain a healthy distance yet remain present, in time this may ease. It's going to take time though.

  7. Haven, thanks. My husband and I were ignoring mom's behavior because there didn't seem to be any way to say something nice about it and we didn't want to say something not-nice. Only recently have we started to even acknowledge it. One time, I told her that I know from experience (MY mom) that it happened no matter what anyone says or does or doesn't say or do. I guess I need to repeat that message to reassure her and to make sure she "hears" it (she is a teenager). She is working wih her therapist on communicating with mom (so far, she has practiced telling mom, "I have something important to talk to you about. Can we sit down and talk quietly." She has practiced it once with her mom when her mom came to one of her therapy sessions with her. Also, SD's therapist tells us she has spoken to mom about the need to communicate differently wih her daughter. I guess I am not that optimistic because mom has done exactly as you say: she has fought back everytime we have held our ground (a five year experiment now). Her current campaign is to convince her daughter's therapist that the problem is that dad won't talk to mom by phone or in person (one of his boundaries is to communicate by writing only, which mom hates).This is probably way too much information. But I appreciate your advice.

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