August 25, 2011

Frustration with Passive Aggressive or Aggressive Behavior - Self-talk for Hard Times

Passive aggressive, and even directly aggressive, behavior is very difficult to deal with.

For me, the real challenge comes when it's someone who is ostensibly my friend or family.

I couldn't figure out why a stranger being a jerk only bothers me during the actual behavior, but a friend, family, or someone who I looked up to, being a jerk really pushes my buttons and the pain lasts for a long time.

1. People who say they are friends or family acting selfishly or in hurtful ways starts the downward emotional spiral. What really solidifies my angst is when I try to address the issue of how their behavior makes me feel, and they either deny they did anything, ignore me, blame me for their behavior, or bring up something else that pisses them off more. It's the not being able to address the issue that bothers me more than the actual behavior. When a stranger does this kind of thing, I just go "bah," whatever - I don't feel the need to address the issue. When a friend spits a hurtful remark at me, tells me to go away aggressively, or gives me an indirect insult, I feel trapped and aggravated. I need to address it, but I can't. Also, I invested caring and love into this relationship, and I have given a lot, and to find out that the relationship is really just about them feeling good, and doing whatever they want to me, and my feelings don't matter, it pushes me into grrr mode.

2. Once I commit to something, I fall easily into a full emotional commitment. Relationships, but also jobs, clubs, groups, etc. That also means I will forgive bad behavior for a long time until it reaches a boiling point, because I have an idyllic view of how the relationship is supposed to be and hold steadfast to that until my bubble is burst. I don't commit easily. So when I do, it must be great, right? I must have decided to commit because it's great, right? So when it goes sour, it tweaks the image I have of it, and I want so much for it to be what I thought I was getting into.

3. Because of my upbringing, I didn't learn how to deal with the pain of emotional neglect and rejection. I had to piece together a mishmash of coping mechanisms. When a stranger doesn't care about me, I'm OK with that because I know how to handle that. But when I feel that a friend or family member (or someone who I look up to) is rejecting me or neglecting me, it throws me back to the many times I had to deal with this kind of pain as a child without help or support. I know what my inner child is doing is not good for me. But she takes over and wants so much to learn how to deal with the pain and have someone who will listen and accept her. When the very person who she had assumed would be there, turns out, yet again, to be the person who brings pain instead of love, boom! back in time.

So, what do all of these have in common?

Attachment issues.

I am a nearly 40 year old woman who has attachment issues.

Sounds sad, huh? But as much as it might be sad, it's incredibly common. In fact, in Buddhism, attachment is the ultimate cause of our emotional suffering.

If any of us suffer emotionally, it's because we have attachment issues.

Reading this article today, help me put together the common denominator in all the places I feel hurt, sad, disappointed, embarrassed, afraid, and other painful feelings - needing to detach.

How do we deal with people who are passive-aggressive, aggressive, blaming, hurtful, crazy-making? Examine our attachments. Detach.

Detachment (or non-attachment) is not: pushing away, neglect, ignoring someone, not talking to them, blaming them, not caring about them, or denying love.

It is a way of relating to the world that allows the world to be what it is, and not being attached to wanting to make it reflect the ideal version we have in our head. Detachment (or non-attachment) is another dimension to acceptance.

I put this together for myself, to have something I can go to when my child doesn't know how to deal with intense emotions. When she wants to change something, fix something, or bend over backwards to keep someone from being upset, I can go to this and remember - oh ya. Perhaps it can help someone else, too. And together, we can heal our attachment issues.

Self talk and mindfulness for hard times:

  • How old am I right now? (eg. I feel like I'm 17.)
  • Is there an event in my past that is triggering this feeling?
  • What exactly am I feeling right now?
  • What does this feeling create in my body?
  • Wait to act on these feelings and spend this moment just feeling them and fully understanding and loving myself first.

Do I need to detach?

  • Am I addicted to wanting the person to like me?
  • Does it seem like the other person is emotionally unavailable to me?
  • Do they seem coercive, threatening, or intimidating to me?
  • Do they seem to be trying to punish or abuse me?
  • Do I feel I'm not making progress or feeling reinforced in our interactions?
  • Do I feel smothered?
  • Do I feel like the other person needs me to survive?
  • Do I feel like I need the other person to survive?
  • Does the other person's actions and what they say impact the feelings I have about myself?
  • Do I feel a chronic need to fix, rescue, or enable this person?
  • Do I feel obliged and loyal to the point of never being able to leave?
  • Does the other person seem chronically helpless, lost, or out of control?
  • Is the other person self-destructive or suicidal and I feel guilty my actions might make them hurt themselves?
  • Does the other person have an addiction that I feel I must fix?
  • Do I feel manipulated or conned?
  • Do I feel chronically guilty?
  • Do I fantasize that the other person will come around or change to be what I want?
  • Do I feel like our relationship is a competition for control?
  • Do past hurts get brought up again and again, and not forgiven even after having a heart to heart about it?
  • Do I feel ignored?

Letting go of painful attachment:

  • I am not responsible for other people's emotions.
  • I am not responsible for other people's actions.
  • I do not need to fix anyone.
  • I do not need to fix a relationship.
  • Only they can change how they react to me.
  • Show up, pay attention, be honest, then let them be who they are.
  • Create a safe space between myself and those who trigger pain in me.
  • I am free to feel my own feelings without having others approve or acknowledge them.
  • They will be OK without my emotional involvement.
  • I am not shunning or abandoning another by making space and allowing them to be who they are.
  • Their anger, frustration, and all other feelings are theirs to own.
  • I can empathize with one's pain without sharing it or being responsible for it.
  • It is OK to create space if I feel uncomfortable, scared, hurt, or otherwise out of sync with another, without having to announce that space, apologize, or tell the other person to back off.
  • If a person is in my face, and is relentless, I have the right to say "back off," but not to punish, only to create space for myself.
  • I am not responsible for another adult's emotional tantrum, even if it's a mini tantrum (Passive aggressive).
  • I am not responsible for taking care of someone who is chronically helpless, a victim, or incompetent.
  • Unless it's a true emergency (which is extremely rare), I do not have to react immediately, and can take my time to assess whether I want to become involved or not.
  • I am not responsible for another person's reaction to me saying, "No," including if they decide to have a tantrum or manipulate with fear, obligation, or guilt.
  • What beliefs do I have about why I can't let go of my image of the relationshp? How can I replace those beliefs with healthy, strong ones?
  • If I still feel guilt about detaching, why do I feel guilt? Who is speaking in my head making me feel guilty? Who am I trying to make happy by feeling guilty? Whose rules am I trying to abide by? Do I feel OK according to my own integrity?
  • If not, is there anything I can to do make amends without having to involve the other person?
  • If not, can I make amends to forgive myself, without the need to get forgiveness from someone else?
  • If I am OK with my own rules of integrity, can I make a new statement about what I did, how they acted/reacted, or how I feel that creates a healthy detachment?


Shionge said...

Hi Tammy,

I read you previous posts about passive aggressive, toxic and emotional blackmails which really helps me emotionally and mentally, thank you.

Yes, it has always been a struggle not knowing when the next 'eruption' will come.

Now, I take a step back and realize it is not me but him, my significant half :(

Allison said...

Hey Tammy!

This is an incredible post. I love what you put together and I'm going to try to use it. It's much clearer and to the point than the linked article on

The livestrong.ocm article is great too actually, until I got to the instruction to hand over that which I can't change to my higher power.

I'm also an atheist and I really struggle with the notion that my higher power will dissipate pain or whatever. I really love the serenity prayer that AA and related groups use, but I still can't get behind the use or idea that my higher power will make it okay.

I just wanted to plant an idea in your head for future posts!

Thanks for your writing!!!