Be passive OR aggressive. Not both. And I’m not talking about the passive-aggressive tendency to be nice to somebody’s face and nasty behind his back. Rather, I mean the kind of passive-aggressive behavior whereby the perp uses juuuust the right turn of phrase to make his point and get his desired response. Here’s a sample PA conversation, between two imaginary roommates:
Jane: Hey, what’s wrong?
Liz: Oh, nothing. We’re just out of eggs; I swear I bought some last week. I was going to make French toast after class tonight, and I went to the fridge and the eggs are all gone. It’s ok. I’ll make something else.
Jane: Oh no! I’m really sorry. I ate the last 2 yesterday and totally forgot to pick up more. I’ll go out and get another dozen right now.
Liz: No, that’s ok. I’ll just have some cereal. It doesn’t matter anyway.
Jane: No really — I feel bad because I didn’t replace the eggs. My brain is Jello. Let me run out and get them real quick. It’ll just take a minute.
Liz: Well, ok. If you want to.
Obviously, Liz’s martyrdom got her what she wanted: the eggs, and emotional control. It’s a head game that borders on abuse, and I try never to play it. But let’s face it: sometimes it gets you what you want. We’ve all likely pulled the trick from time to time. But chronic passive-aggressives are much more dangerous. I divide them into two categories:
1. The Guilter. This one hangs on the cross, but somehow still survives. Picture a mother (usually stereotyped in a certain ethnic light), telling her adult son, “No, don’t bother coming over today to mow my lawn. I will try to do it myself. I’ll just take lots of aspirin before I go outside, and hope that my legs hold up.” Of course, this achieves the desired effect. Son cancels his golf game and mows the lawn. Mom gets what she wants: the reassurance that her son will give up anything for her. It’s a total power play.
Sometimes, when my students are giving me a hard time, I’ll jokingly tell them, “Ok, if you need me, I’ll be outside, lying under my truck wheels.” We all get a laugh and it’s over. But there are those who take that shtick and play it to the nth degree. They are the Grand Manipulators, and you need to either a) confront them about it, or b) run away.
2. The Joker. And yes, I do mean the character from Batman. All laughs and funny ha-ha on the surface, but hiding a vicious secret. These people take pleasure in ambiguous humor, designed to make you doubt yourself. Have you ever endured somebody teasing you — or making general observations about something you’ve said or done — in what appears to be a playful manner, but you get a creepy feeling that the little jabs thrown out in jest are actually serious, veiled insults? If you have, you’ve been Jokered.
The Joker attempts to cover his own screaming insecurity and feelings of mediocrity by chipping away at the self-esteem of others. I urge you to call him on it.
And that’s all I have to say today. My mood matches this dreary weather. Ick.