Anger plays a role in passive-aggressive behavior. That passive aggressive spouse that is driving you insane is angry and full of grief. The passive aggressive person deals with anger in one of two ways. Either they have no control over their anger or they have problems expressing it.
1. Anger Out Of Control
How we handle our anger comes from lessons learned during childhood through our family of origin. Below are examples of early childhood experiences that will produce an adult who expresses their anger passive aggressively.
- The little boy who is taught that boys play with guns and girls play with dolls. If that boy is reprimanded for playing with toys that society associates as a girl toy, he grows into a man who believes that being a man means being aggressive and developing a fear of that aggression.
- The little girl who grows up in a family with an alcoholic parent learns that the only way to get her needs met is to through a tantrum. Mom or Dad are too invested in their addiction to put the little girl's needs first. She grows into a woman who carries the belief that if she wants something out of a relationship the only way to get it is to act in an aggressive manner.
2. Unexpressed Anger
Some children learn through their family of origin to become so passive that they allow others to walk all over them. They bend over backward to please their spouse, keeping their own desires a secret and internalizing any anger they feel. Below are examples of early childhood experiences that produce adults who don’t know how to express anger.
- The little boy whose mother never shows love or affection. His mother is so emotionally closed off that not only does she not show love and affection, she doesn’t allow any expressions of anger. She avoids both the pleasant and unpleasant aspects of being a mother and raises a boy who becomes a man who is also emotionally closed off.
- The little girl whose father is too busy or too afraid to show her love and caring. Her father works long hours. When he is home, he sits in front of the computer or television. When the little girl seeks his attention, she is scolded and learns that asking for what she needs means being reprimanded. She learns that getting her father’s attention means being a good little girl. She grows into an adult who is angry over her needs not being met but too afraid to express that anger.
What It All Means
Adults who have no control over their anger and those who have no idea how to express their anger are grieving. They are grieving the loss of something that was rightfully theirs. Their right to entertain themselves regardless of society's or their parent’s beliefs of what was right or wrong. The right to be heard and cared for regardless of how addicted a parent was to alcohol or drugs. They are grieving the right to express love or negative feelings or a desire for parental attention without fear of punishment.
It is about loss, the loss of normal things any child should expect from a parent. Instead of grieving that loss in a normal way, they internalize it and compensate by being overly aggressive or overly passive. The grief shows itself in behaviors that are destructive to themselves and anyone who engages in a relationship with them.
A person who abuses their spouse is often motivated by feelings of loss and grief. Feelings that are expressed through rage. Women who emotionally manipulate their husband by withholding affection are motivated by the same feelings of loss and grief.
The aggression or passivity hides their fear of rejection and helplessness when it comes to getting what they need from their spouse. The spouse is left reeling and wondering what he/she did to deserve a slap across the face or the withholding of normal loving affection.
The spouse feels responsible in some way. That is the sneaky thing about living with a passive aggressive individual. They don’t know how to properly express anger but they are geniuses when it comes to shifting the blame and projecting their own bad behavior off onto their spouse.
Next time you are trying to make sense of some nonsensical behavior by your spouse remember you are dealing with a wounded, damaged child. Don’t make excuses for them. Don’t take responsibility for their inability to properly express their grief and anger. Understanding why someone acts the way they do does not mean excusing their hurtful actions.
Knowledge is power. Learning what is behind the actions of your spouse will enable you to make an informed decision about whether to continue in the marriage or leave and divorce your passive aggressive spouse.