Steps for breaking the passive-aggressive habit

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

 

Question: If, hypothetically, one were to recognize certain behaviors of one's own that might meet the definition of passive-aggressive, how would one go about correcting those behaviors? Unintentional behaviors, not intentional ones.

Answer: Do you have the courage to say no when you really want to, or do you grudgingly say yes under (perceived) pressure? That's the nub.

When you're afraid your preferred refusal will cost you something you value, an insincere yes can, indeed, be "unintentional." It gets the quotation-mark treatment because it's clearly a choice - but often it's a choice made without a full awareness of the following emotional equation:

I've been asked to do this + I don't want to + saying no will upset someone + I don't want to upset people because I'm afraid they won't like me anymore and/or will turn my life upside down by leaving me = I will say yes but then not do it.

Right? The decision is pushed along by unwitting defaults or assumptions vs. active contemplation.

So, if you want to get out of a habit of agreeing to things you're destined to procrastinate into oblivion, you have to admit to yourself what you really want and stare down your fear of the consequences of admitting what you want. Yes, someone might get upset, dislike you, break up with you, etc. - but passive aggression reaps all of these consequences, too. With more pain the longer you defer them.

Hypothetically.

Question: This might be hopeless, but . . . in this long election season, can I make a pitch for not posting political stuff on Facebook? No one has ever changed political opinions on anything based on a Facebook posting. The people who agree with you probably already know what you are posting, and those who don't are just annoyed by what you post.

Answer: I actually have had, well, maybe not a full mind-change from Facebook postings, but certainly some needle movement. So I don't agree that a change of political opinion is the new unicorn.

One suggestion for political posters, though: Ask yourself beforehand how you'd feel if you were on the other side of the issue. This might not deter you from posting but could inspire better-chosen words in your introduction, for example. What's more likely to provoke thought: "What do you think of this?" or "What idiot doesn't get this yet?" Ideally, it'll expand your willingness to see another side, just by accepting that not every intelligent person in your circle automatically agrees with you. That's progress, right?

Comment: Or don't post religious stuff. Or inspirational sayings, or product reviews, or rants about traffic. Or, for someone like me, anything that is positive about the UNC Tar Heels or New York Yankees.

In other words, saying "don't post political stuff" is another way of substituting your judgment about what is proper and important for someone else's. People should post whatever the heck they want, and then deal with it.

Reply: Agreed, thanks - "and then deal with it" being the operative phrase. For people who get upset when their political posts have unpleasant consequences, though, the "don't-post" advice makes sense.

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Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.