John R Rifkin, Ph.D.
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Helpful Articles on Anger

Anger Styles: Ice Cold or Passive-Aggressive Anger

While all forms of anger are appropriate to use in some circumstances, the more extreme kinds can be problematic if they form a style, or a typical kind of response to injury. Mental health is about having a full range of options, knowing when particular type of response is likely to be most effective and being able to use your anger appropriately.

Passive-Aggressive anger is one of the more destructive interpersonal styles. It is a behavior characterized by the phrase, "You can't make me!" The statement is undeniably true. We can hurt people; we can threaten them, or lock them up. But we cannot make people perform. People only perform out of a willingness to do so. Since relationships are built on agreements, if someone makes an agreement and then doesn't follow through, this is angry behavior that is based on not doing something. That aspect of "not doing" is what makes this kind of behavior passive-aggressive.

As a style of anger use, passive-aggressive behavior is incredibly destructive to relationships. It destroys trust, and the people on the other side of this behavior experience it as crazy making. They hear the words of agreement spoken, and continue to hope that agreements will be kept, only to experience escalating levels of injury, frustration and anger.

In this way, passive-aggressive behavior draws anger towards the person behaving that way. The partner, often called the "Hostile-Dependent," makes more and more accusations, all true, about the passive-aggressive partner's betrayal of trust though breaking agreements.

One of the main difficulties for someone who has a passive-aggressive style is that they are frequently out of touch with their feelings. They don't know that what they're doing is angry. Frequently they are puzzled and resentful of their partner's constant anger and disapproval.

Another problem in changing passive-aggressive behavior is that it has some of the dynamics of addiction associated with it. Doing what you want instead of what you've agreed to do feels good every time in the short term, even if it's destroying your relationship.

If you've identified that you have a passive-aggressive style, and you want to begin to change it, you'll need to do several things. First, you'll need to work hard to get in touch with your emotions. Second, you'll need to realize that no one is really trying to "make you" do the things that you agree to. Your partner wants your participation to be voluntary. Third, since fear of rejection often plays a major role in making agreements that you really don't want to keep, you'll need to find your courage to say "no" when you don't agree. Finally, don't give up. It's difficult to change your anger style. Keep trying!

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