DO YOU SPEAK PAS­SIVE-AG­GRES­SIVE?

Of course you do — from ‘ca­su­ally’ cc’ing the boss into emails to ‘for­get­ting’ to in­clude some­one in the tea round. It’s the rise of spite by stealth, says Han­nah Nel­ham Clark

Friday - - M & Co -

of of­fice life. So why has this an­noy­ing habit man­i­fested it­self, and do sugar-coated slan­ders and back­handed com­pli­ments ac­tu­ally achieve any­thing?

Ask a shrink and they will tell you that pas­sive-ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour is an in­di­rect ex­pres­sion of hos­til­ity by those who de­lib­er­ately ‘for­get’ specif­i­cally re­quested de­mands, pre­tend they can’t hear a ques­tion and, ba­si­cally, rarely say what they feel. Al­most no one is above some form of it. When Queen El­iz­a­beth claimed a cou­ple of months ago that she was ‘dis­ap­pointed’ at the pub­li­ca­tion of leaked archive footage of her per­form­ing a Nazi salute at the age of seven, she was re­ally spit­ting tacks.

This kind of dou­ble talk is a tricky busi­ness, yet the term pas­sive-ag­gres­sive has gained enough trac­tion to en­ter into com­mon par­lance. ‘It’s a con­cept that’s very mean­ing­ful to peo­ple,’ says Scott Wet­zler, pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of psy­chi­a­try at Al­bert Ein­stein Col­lege of Medicine in New York and the au­thor of Liv­ing with the Pas­sive Ag­gres­sive Man.

‘It’s an ac­cu­sa­tion, when some­body does some­thing that frus­trates you, or makes a sar­cas­tic com­ment, or tries to guilt-trip you. It beau­ti­fully cap­tures the con­fu­sion.’

That con­fu­sion is best summed up as men­tal stress: try as you might, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to prove the bit­ter sen­ti­ment that lies un­der the sunny sur­face be­hav­iour. And if you can’t prove ac­tive hos­til­ity, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. In re­la­tion­ships where it is not safe or ap­pro­pri­ate to ex­press ag­gres­sion in a more di­rect fash­ion (to­wards

Ask a SHRINK and they will TELL YOU that pas­sive-ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour is an in­di­rect ex­pres­sion of HOS­TIL­ITY by those who DE­LIB­ER­ATELY ‘for­get’ specif­i­cally re­quested DE­MANDS

your boss or as a head of state, for ex­am­ple), this is the ideal means of blow­ing off steam.

The term “pas­sive-ag­gres­sive” was dreamt up dur­ing the Sec­ond World War by an Amer­i­can army psy­chi­a­trist who had no­ticed that some sol­diers, though not openly de­fy­ing their su­pe­ri­ors, re­sisted or­ders or obeyed them to the let­ter, ig­nor­ing the spirit of the com­mand. Its sub­se­quent def­i­ni­tion as a per­son­al­ity dis­or­der in the first Di­ag­nos­tic and Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­ual of Men­tal

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