Confessions of a passive-aggressive
- on becoming more authentic
I am pretty sure I have spent the whole of my relational life operating in some state of passive-aggressiveness. I say that with no self-recriminations or judgement, it was just how I learned to survive in the world.
I don’t have a 'clinical' definition or understanding of what passive-aggressive behaviour actually is, just my simple lived experience and observations. What it means and has meant to me is that, at times, I use silence to avoid or control situations I find confronting or emotionally challenging - most often as a response to little hurts and jealousies. I can see the use in this. It can actually give you space to process emotional responses.
I think that silence was how I communicated in a passive-aggressive way in my childhood (and probably when it was most useful). As I became 'smarter,' I learned to use the art of sarcasm with cutting ‘wit’ to expressive my passive-aggressive tendencies. When directed at others, I created a defensive response from them protecting me from sharing any really authentic emotions. The self-deprecating kind of passive-aggressive communication was a self-defence mechanism - to ‘get in first’. When someone offered me a compliment I would reject it. Ultimately this dishonoured those who sought to honour me.
Through a series of unfortunate events, (not quite Lemony Snicket’s style) and some very fortunate events, I learned about hosting myself. I learned, through my vulnerability and expressions of my truth (with no commitment to it being THE truth - just mine at that time), how to release this behaviour and become my more authentic self.
Passive-aggressive interactions can now feel violent to me. I recognise them in a heart-beat as I try to make friends with this part of myself. I am learning to respond to passive-aggressive behaviour in others by asking the person “What do you need from me right now,” rather than returning to my old habits. When confronted with the ‘silent version,’ I honour that person’s need for space from whatever reflections my presence brings. I now notice my tendencies toward this passive-aggressive style of communication. I work hard to be present with my own vulnerability, so I don't slip into this pattern and so I can be more authentic in the world.
1. Host myself: I do this best by being conscious of my internal dialogue. Without judgement, I just notice and reflect what my inner world is saying, and gently challenge myself to communicate from my truth with kindness. 2. Be hosted: This was never easy for me, as it required me to release control. Now, I accept generous offers of assistance and kindness. I also state clearly what I need when being hosted by others. In the Art of Hosting community, this is sometimes expressed as "ask for what you need, and offer what you can".
3. Host others: I attempt to hold the space of kindness, with a fundamental belief that we are all doing the best we can. Then I can host others in whatever state they are in, whether it's silence or defensive forms of passive-aggressive behaviour.
4. Be part of a community of practice: This is the one practice that I have paid least attention to. Through the practice of life, I have come to understand the art of releasing communities and people that no longer serve me, with gratitude and kindness. And to embrace those people and communities that do serve me. I hold a truth now for myself that my perceptions of other people's stories are simply that, and really don't mean too much. This fold is still my greatest learning edge.
So, I now know that, if silence is a powerful tool of passive-aggressiveness, then open-hearted vulnerability is a powerful tool for authenticity. I choose authenticity wherever I have the courage to hold it, and with those who will hold it with me.