Getting Practical about Passive-Aggressive Postures

I’ve been discussing passive-aggressive relational postures on and off for the last few weeks.  It’s worth lifting up the hood on this basic relational orientation because it is so pervasive and so subtle.

Many Christians are self-deceived into imagining that passive-aggressive attitudes and behaviors are somehow closely related to cruciformity and humility.

But they most certainly are not.  They are power-plays and manifest hearts of bitterness and anger.

Drawing this discussion to something of a conclusion, let’s get practical.

How would you counsel people who tend toward passive-aggressive postures?  How do they need to change and what practical steps can they take to relate to others in life-giving ways?  I’d love to hear from others who have reflected at greater length on this than I, but here are some starters:

First, cultivate the habit of believing the best of others.  Passive-aggressive postures involve putting others in the role of injurer, imagining they are out to do harm.

Learn to hope in others.  After all, true love “hopes all things,” thinks well of them, is confident that they will do good when given the opportunity.

Second, learn to receive the love of others.  Passive-aggressive people can’t truly receive and enjoy the love of others.  A typical response upon the reception of a gift might be, “well, it’s about time.”  Similar back-handed compliments or snide remarks reveal a heart of deep resentment.  Such sentiments prevent a gift-giver from reveling in the joy of doing good.

Reveling in the love of another person puts to death deep anger and dissipates long-held resentments.

Third, learn the skills associated with frank speech.  Be honest and direct.  I’m not commending unkindness or hurting others with words.

Passive-aggressive people have a hard time being straightforward about what they want or their intentions.  When their unclear communication doesn’t connect, their suspicions of others’ evil motives are confirmed.

Frank speech can be used, however, to put others in a position of freedom to choose how they will act.  Direct speech brings clarity and keeps manipulation at bay.

Well, there are undoubtedly many redemptive practices that can help us love others and enjoy others’ love more fruitfully.

What are they?

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3 responses to “Getting Practical about Passive-Aggressive Postures

  • Terri McGarry

    You asked for comments from those who have reflected on this longer than you have. I’m not that person. But I’m so impressed with the biblical wisdom you bring to this topic, I’d love to know what sources have deepened your knowledge on the topic so that I can share, not only your blog post, but any other recommended reading with my clients.

    • timgombis

      Thanks, Terri. I’ve just reflected a lot on a previous environment which seemed dominated by passive-aggressive dynamics. I spent plenty of time trying to analyze the distortions of power and the rhetorical perversions and how the gospel might reorient everyone and everything.

      I’ve also spent plenty of time reflecting on my own impulses and proclivities and how I am tempted to relate to others. If you look back through some of the previous posts and comments, there are some good books that others have recommended.

  • Alex

    I second that. This has been a great series on what it really means to embody cruciformity if a very particular way. Thanks for your diligent thought on this.

    One area I hope you might elaborate on is some sort of response to the question: “If we believe our desires are misguided, and getting them won’t actually be that beneficial, what is the point of making clear our desires to others?” Again, thanks for the series!

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