Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association – psychology’s last word to you and me – was fraught with complications. Was it really a personality disorder, or more a defensive manoeuvre in situations where people have no power? Eventually the term was relegated to the appendix.
The problem is, it’s not a one-size-fitsall diagnosis. ‘Everybody makes excuses for things rather than directly confronting the situation,’ says Wetzler. ‘But the person who has a real problem with passive-aggressive personality disorder is someone who is doing it a lot of the time, in ways that are counterproductive and destructive to them and their relationships.’
It extends beyond a multilayered statement or subtweet. You can inconvenience, hassle or embarrass someone in other, barely perceptible ways that are, supposedly, rather satisfying. Perform a task poorly so you won’t be asked to do it again. Make everyone in the office a cup of tea bar the object of your discontent. No one wins here – there’s still work to be done, and you may have an irritable, dehydrated superior more likely to pile the work on and less likely to pen a glowing reference. s it always bad behaviour, though? If you’re on the wrong side of a power dynamic, the answer is perhaps no. Women are often barraged with claims that they are the more devious or calculating sex (more ‘sophisticated [and] interpersonally skilled’, Wetzler argues), but the power imbalance between the sexes is age-old.
Women are often at a physical disadvantage and punished or lambasted for showing more direct forms of aggression. So who can blame them for finding a means of subverting that dynamic? Ultimately, passive aggression is a potent tactic. Deeply petty, you may say, but it’s easy to see why it has become so widespread. Speaking PA delivers maximum effect for minimum retribution. The downside? We’re all increasingly paranoid, often reading a dubious tone into perfectly friendly communications, depending on misconceived ideas of what it all might mean.
It’s no surprise, then, that the term passive-aggressive is a favourite of marriage counsellors, given the minefield of power plays, denial and