Growing up in a home where I seldom witnessed the expression of anger, I was taught by example and more directly that a person should not express negativity. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” was the household mantra. Seems to make sense to a fresh young mind that has not yet been filled with the countless choices for responding to the behavior of others not brought up under the same set of rules. I was taught that a person should use reason in arguments rather than emotion. Again, that seemed a sensible alternative to getting the living daylights beat out of me by the neighborhood bully. “Turn the other cheek” definitely did not work out too well for me!
As I grew older and more observant of what went on around me, I recognized that the anger in my home had simply been visibly suppressed for the most part. It was still there and there were occasions where I did witness angry verbal exchanges. Fortunately, there was no physical abuse in my home among any of the family members that I knew of. Sadly, many families with anger issues cannot make that claim. I learned by anecdote that my brother was subject to some corporal punishment. He was the first born and arrived at a time of severe economic stress to young parents probably ill fitted for marriage. (This is a conclusion I came to as an adult long after my parents ended their twenty-five plus years of marriage.)
So, here I am today, a person who almost without exception refuses to fight with others. In some cases that even means “I don’t want to talk about it.” This behavior is considered passive-aggressive. Those who DO like to fight because that is how they learned to get their anger out of their physical bodies have applied that label to me on occasion. I don’t like labels especially when they are used in a dismissive manner. To me that is no better than assumed passive-aggressive behavior. I literally wilt and become immobilized by hateful verbal attacks. When faced with such behavior, I find that I have not developed the proper tools to engage in successful resolution. I tend to withdraw and try to gather some more positive sense of myself. I have discovered this only make the other person even angrier! It is a “lose/lose” situation.
It isn’t that I have not attempted to learn how to “fight fairly” when confronted with verbal attacks, often directed at me as a person rather than at my perceived behavior. I have come to an “interim” conclusion that I cannot effectively communicate with someone playing by a different set of rules. If rage is what was learned, then rage tends to become the manner by which differences are confronted. To those of us brought up under rules of non-aggressive behavior, we will lose every time unless we learn how to engage others in some middle ground of agreement.
I wish I could tell you that my long years of experience in working with others who had many types of problems has taught me how to better handle my own. Of course, I have learned many positive ways of dealing with my issues, but I have not yet learned to effectively deal with the rage of others directed toward me. I can only say that I am glad such cases are very few and far between.
You may have noticed the absence of any mention of the part love plays in resolving issues between persons. That is partly due to the fact that it is a subject worthy of its own essay. That said, love is an all-important part of any process of resolution. Without love there can be no recognition of the intrinsic value of the other human being with whom there is some inharmony. It is through the eyes of love that we see through the discord to the real person who is currently feeling hurt or unloved. That is the starting point, I believe, for wanting to work things out, to want peace and good will. There may be things no two people will agree on, but that does not mean love has to be absent from the relationship.
Finally, as to the subject of passive-aggressive behavior, my research has shown that few people can escape this label at some point in their lives. So much for the “label.” Time to get on about developing patience, forgiveness, acceptance and love, all of which are necessary for harmony to exist.