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
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