Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Passive Aggressive

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 15, 2011

  Lola, forty, tells me how much she loves her husband, Harry, even though she knows that Harry is very frustrated with her and they live very separate lives.  Lola reports that this does not bother her because she knows Harry loves her too and she does not want to give that up. Lola does not understand why Harry never wants to spend time with her, even though Lola and Harry have been in couples therapy for the last ten years of their fifteen-year marriage. Lola does not believe that she has done anything in particular to irritate Harry. By Lola’s account she has been a very devoted wife, mother to their children and wage-earner.

   Lola comes to therapy without an agenda. She has “no idea” why she comes, other than that “Harry thought that it might be a good idea.” Lola does not know what she wants to talk about, but when she misses a few weeks, she reports that she misses talking to me. Yet, when she comes in, she says she has no complaints and that her life is “very good.” “How can I help you?” I ask, directly to see how she thinks of her treatment. “I don’t know,” she responds flatly. I find myself feeling irritated at Lola’s passivity and from that I guess that maybe Harry feels the same way. “Does Harry ever get mad at you for not being more engaged in the marriage?” I ask. “Oh, yes!” Lola perks up with a tone of surprise that I asked that. “Well, that makes sense to me, since your passivity can be irritating. Your lack of initiative could create irritation in the people close to you and in so doing, there is aggression in your passivity.” I say, explaining passive-aggressive behavior, which she understands but she did not see this in herself. “I have never thought of that before. If what you are saying is true, that is very interesting,” Lola says with authenticity and openness.  Her willingness to examine this passivity deepened our work. Hope ensues.

4 Responses to “Passive Aggressive”

  1. Shelly said

    Please explain (briefly): how is there aggression in passivity? Indeed, passivity is irritating in a marriage and I would also like to understand passive-behavior.

    • Shirah said

      There is not always aggression in passivity, but when it does occur, the passivity is, unconsciously, a way to make the other person angry and upset. The passive person puts no effort into the relationship thereby leaving the other person to feel lonely and isolated. Sometimes this is done because the passive person does not know how to engage, but other times this is done because the passive person is angry at the other person but they cannot face up to their anger so they express themselves through their passivity. In other words, Lola is angry with Harry, but she cannot be direct about it since she is very uncomfortable with feeling angry. Consequently, she “gets to” Harry by not making any effort to engage him in the relationship. Consciously she feels fine about Harry, but on a deeper level she is angry with him for many of his hurtful behaviors in the past. This anger comes out in the form of her utter passivity. You can feel Lola’s anger even though she tries to disavow it. I will try to write more about this in the future. Thanks.

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