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Crazy-Makers: Dealing With Passive-Aggressive People
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.



Denial. This type of passive-aggressive behavior occurs when the individual appears to be distressed, frustrated, bored, confused, or any number of emotions but when questioned refuses to admit to the feeling. They may outright deny or they may avoid by ignoring, working, or deflecting with humor. However, the behavior has the outcome of frustrating the recipient because they are unable to confront and resolve the problem. Thus, this individual is able to control the other by not engaging in conflict resolution when an obvious problem has occurred.

The wife who expects her husband to read her mind:

HUSBAND: Is everything okay?

WIFE: Of course everything is okay. Why wouldn't it be? (with sarcastic tone)

HUSBAND (who doesn't know how to interpret sarcastic tone): Okay, you just seemed quiet. Anyway like I said, I'm going out with the guys tonight.

WIFE (walks away in a huff)

In this example the husband can only interpret the wife's words. She's angry because he doesn't know that she is upset because he is spending the evening with friends. However, she said everything is "okay" and he doesn't pursue it further. The problem with the wife's behavior is that many men do not easily understand emotional content of a message especially when the verbal content is the opposite. This creates a cognitive dissonance (an internal emotional conflict) which is resolved by focusing on the verbal content and ignoring the opposing emotional content. This is not done deliberately but is the way the man's brain reacts to such conflict.

Unfortunately, many women are the opposite and focus on the emotional content and ignore the verbal content if the two are in conflict. These women also expect the men in their lives to do the same and often believe that he is deliberately ignoring their "obvious" emotional messages. This particular type of unintentional passive-aggressive behavior creates many problems in relationships.