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Friday - - Behaviour -

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

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