Excel At Life logo
×



Contents

PsychArticles button PsychNotes button PsychApps button PsychAudios button PsychTests button About button
Support Excel At Life's Mission!
Follow
Help Translate
Spread the Word
Make Contribution
Become a fan on Facebook! Follow on twitter for site updates! Follow on Google+ for site updates!
Excel At Life--Dedicated to the Pursuit of Excellence in Life, Relationships, Sports and Career





CBT

Jealousy

Depression

Relationships

Conflict

Self-efficacy

Happiness

Goal-setting

Motivation

Wellness

Sport Psych



POPULAR ARTICLES

Crazy-Makers: Dealing with Passive-Aggressive People

Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

When You Have Been Betrayed

Struggling to Forgive: An Inability to Grieve

Happy Habits: 50 Suggestions

The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)

Excellence vs. Perfection

Depression is Not Sadness

Conflict in the Workplace

Motivation: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem

7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

Promoting Healthy Behavior Change

10 Common Errors in CBT

What to Do When Your Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Marriage

Rejection Sensitivity, Irrational Jealousy and Impact on Relationships

For Women Only: How to Have the Relationship of Your Dreams

What to Do When Your Partner's Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Relationship

Making Attributions for a Healthier Attitude

Happiness is An Attitude

Thinking Your Way to a Healthy Weight

Guide to How to Set Achieveable Goals

The Effectiveness of Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Co-Dependency: An Issue of Control

The Pillars of the Self-Concept: Self-Esteem and Self-Efficacy

Catastrophe? Or Inconvenience?

POPULAR AUDIOS

Panic Assistance

Motivational Audios

Mindfulness Training

Rational Thinking

Relaxation for Children

Change Yourself--Don't Wait for the World to Change

Loving Kindness Meditation

Self-Esteem Exercise

Meadow Relaxation

Rainy Autumn Morning

Energizing Audios

Quick Stress Relief

Thinking Your Way to a Healthy Weight

Lies You Were Told

Choosing Happiness

Lotus Flower Relaxation

Audio Version of Article: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People

Audio Version of Article: Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

Audio Version of Article: Happiness Is An Attitude

All Audio Articles





Kindle Books by Dr. Monica Frank





RECENT ARTICLES

Why You Get Anxious When You Don't Want To

Why People Feel Grief at the Loss of an Abusive Spouse or Parent

“Are You Depressed?”: Understanding Diagnosis and Treatment

15 Coping Statements for Panic and Anxiety

Beyond Tolerating Emotions: Becoming Comfortable with Discomfort

Emotion Training: What is it and How Does it Work?

How You Can Be More Resistant to Workplace Bullying

Are You Passive Aggressive and Want to Change?

When Your Loved One Refuses Help

The Porcupine Effect: Pushing Others Away When You Want to Connect

What if You Considered Other Peoples' Views?

5 Common Microaggressions Against Those With Mental Illness

What to Expect from Mindfulness-based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (MCBT) When You Have Depression and Anxiety

Does Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Lack Compassion? It Depends Upon the Therapist

When Needs Come Into Conflict

What to Do When Anger Hurts Those You Love

A Brief Primer On the Biology of Stress and How CBT Can Help

50 Tools for Panic and Anxiety

Coping With Change: Psychological Flexibility

Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Ending a Bad Relationship

I'm Depressed. I'm Overwhelmed. Where Do I Start?



NEW AUDIOS

Building Blocks Emotion Training

Hot Springs Relaxation

5 Methods to Managing Anger

Panic Assistance While Driving

Autogenic Relaxation Training

Rainbow Sandbox Mindfulness

Mindfulness Training

Riding a Horse Across the Plains

Cityscape Mindfulness

Change Yourself--Don't Wait for the World to Change

The Great Desert Mindfulness

Tropical Garden Mindfulness

Thinking Your Way to a Healthy Weight

Lies You Were Told

Probability and OCD

Choosing Happiness

Magic Bubbles for Children

Lotus Flower Relaxation

Cloud Castles for Children

Hot Air Balloon Motivation

All Audio Articles


PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE EXAMPLES


Index

Previous        Next

print
The following is an example from website readers of passive-aggressive encounters they have experienced. Keep in mind that the suggested responses are not personal advice as a full evaluation of the situation is not available. As such, the suggestions may not work in every situation but are to give you an idea of possible ways to respond. Read: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People

Why Does My Husband Want a "Reward" for Hurting Me?

Question: Best article on passive/aggressive. Wish I read this 27 years ago. Didn't know what I have been dealing with. Why does my husband want a "reward" of seeing me hurt, upset, put down? Is this sick behavior learned from watching his parents? Will he ever "want" to treat me nice? Or is he incapable? I just want a husband who loves me and acts like it. I have been telling him for years his behavior is emotionally abusive, but he cant seem to stop. Why? Why is his reward to see me unhappy?

Response: Great question! The concept of "reward" (as we psychologists use it) can be very confusing. It comes from the behavior modification literature referring to the idea that people increase behavior they are rewarded for and reduce behavior when they do not receive a reward (or are punished). The easiest way to think of this idea is to consider a child who is screaming and is being disruptive in a public place. The parent desperately wants to quiet the child so the parent gives the child a piece of candy. The child has just been "rewarded" for bad behavior. What does the child learn from this? The child learns that misbehaving has benefits. But that doesn't mean the child thinks through the process: "If I scream, I will get candy." Instead, it is what we call a learned behavior which is something that is done automatically. It's sort of like stopping at a red light--once you have learned to drive, you don't think "I need to stop" when you see a red light, you just automatically stop because your brain has learned to associate a red light with pressing the brake with your foot.

In the situation with your husband it doesn't mean that he is thinking "I will get a reward if I hurt you and cause you to be unhappy" but that he is engaging in an automatic behavior that probably has been rewarded in some way throughout his life. For example, let's say a spouse was raised in an emotionally abusive home and, as a result, tries to avoid uncomfortable emotions especially those that caused feelings of worthlessness and powerlessness as a child. One way of avoiding those emotions might be to deflect the blame on to another person. By doing so he is "rewarded" by not having to feel uncomfortable. However, this process is subconscious so he is not aware of what he is doing. In fact, in this example, it has to remain subconscious because to be aware of what he is doing he would have to feel the uncomfortable emotions he is avoiding.

This is why my article discusses trying to respond to passive-aggressive (PA) people by determining what the reward might be for their behavior and then not giving them the reward. Although some PA people may be aware of what they are doing, much of the time they are not which means you can't address the behavior directly. In fact, usually they are very well protected psychologically because the whole point is to not take responsibility for their behavior because that would cause them to feel bad about themselves (which is what they are avoiding).

However, to try to determine the reward for your husband means that instead of looking at it from your point of view you need to look at what he gets from the situation. His reward probably isn't seeing you unhappy, but when be behaves a certain way and you react, what is he able to avoid? Sometimes you may not be able to know the underlying cause of his behavior which is why one of the best ways to respond to PA people is to not react. You know your reaction is a reward in some way so by not reacting he doesn't get the reward. For instance, what if you don't get upset? What if you just smile, ignore his comment, and go about your day? He doesn't get the reward.

Does that mean his behavior will change? Probably not from just ignoring him because it has been ingrained over a lifetime. However, once you stop rewarding him for bad behavior, you could start rewarding him for good behavior (borrowing another concept from behavior modification). This works really well for someone who still has that scared child inside of him because of emotionally abusive parents (which you allude to in your comment about "watching his parents").

Let's go back to that example of the child getting a piece of candy for bad behavior. Most parents know that if you stop rewarding a child for throwing tantrums and try to ignore the behavior instead, the tantrums get worse initially. But after a time, the behavior might start to decrease. So, the idea then is to reward the good behavior. When the child doesn't throw a tantrum, you praise the child for being so well-behaved.

In a similar way, you could start watching for small signs of good behavior from your husband and reward those. Instead of pointing out his emotional abusiveness, you could comment about anything he says or does that you like. "You are so kind to make sure my oil is changed." "Give me a hug--your hugs make me feel good." "I know you're trying to give me helpful advice and I appreciate it." Like I said earlier, for people who are protecting themselves from feeling bad, rewarding good behavior can be a powerful motivator for change. However, just as the PA behavior is subconscious, the change is subconscious, too. Overtime, you may see increased good behavior because it feels good to be rewarded. But instead of being rewarded for bad behavior (through your reaction to his PA comments) he is rewarded for when he treats you better.

One last thing--you may have noticed I said to watch for "small signs" of good behavior. One reason for this is when a couple is in a PA pattern for a long time, there may not be many good behaviors to reward. So, in behavior modification we have a concept known as "successive approximations to the goal." What this means is that we start by rewarding any behavior that is even remotely in the direction that we want and then shape the behavior over time. For instance, if you want to teach a bird to peck a target, you can't wait for the bird to accidentally peck a target and then reward the bird because that will probably never happen. Instead, you have to shape its behavior. To do this, you could start rewarding the bird with a piece of food whenever it is in the side of the cage where the target is. Then, once it is spending more time on that side of the cage you could start rewarding it when it is the vicinity of the target. Then, once that occurs more frequently, you could reward it when it is touching the target. In this way you have shaped the bird to the point where it will touch the target more and eventually peck the target accidentally. When that occurs, you could begin only rewarding the bird whenever it pecks the target.

I know some people object to the idea that human behavior is so mechanistic. However, in a situation where a person is acting from subconscious learned behaviors, shaping their behavior can be quite an effective method.

Previous        Next Example



print

Questions and Comments

All comments and questions require approval so you may not see your submission immediately.

Provide Example of Passive-Aggressive Behavior.  Any comments or information you share may be used for future articles.  However, identifying information will not be used:


Message.  Provide an example of a passive-aggressive encounter you have had so suggestions can be provided on this site regarding how to handle such situations.
NO PERSONAL REPLIES WILL BE PROVIDED.

Enter email address (optional).
Your email address will not be shared or used in any way other than how you specify:



Become a fan on Facebook! Follow on twitter for site updates! Follow on Google+ for site updates!