Passive-Aggressive Postures vs. Cruciform Love

I’ve been exploring some of the dynamics associated with passive-aggressive postures.  For a variety of reasons, such ways of relating are common among American evangelical church cultures.

Such relational postures seem acceptable because they give one the illusion that one is being humble, even cruciform (being shaped by the cross).

As Jamie commented a few days ago, a person can be self-deceived into thinking and feeling that “I had suffered the greater wrong, and was showing a noble character by being ‘patient in suffering’.”

What makes being passive-aggressive a vice, however, is that while adopting this posture, a person grows angry inside, nursing perceived wounds, feeding resentment, and deriving hope and promise from the prospect that the other person will someday get what’s coming to him.

A passive-aggressive relational posture manifests a failure of love.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, genuine love “keeps no record of wrongs” (v. 5).  Genuine love forgives and refuses to harbor resentment.  It no longer camps on actual or perceived insults and injuries.

Further, genuine love “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (v. 6).  A passive-aggressive person grasps after power over another person by judging his motives, “naming” him as aggressor and injurer.

Love, however, seeks genuine understanding of the other person.  “Perhaps I’ve misunderstood your motives, your actions, or your words.  I know you want to love me and see me flourish, so please help me understand.”

Such postures of love manifest Christian hope.  Love “always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (v. 7).

Such a relational posture puts one in a vulnerable position, a seriously cruciform posture of weakness.  But this is the only relational dynamic that invites resurrection power, drawing upon the restoring and renewing power of God’s Spirit.

6 thoughts on “Passive-Aggressive Postures vs. Cruciform Love

  1. Michael Thomson

    “What makes being passive-aggressive a vice, however, is that while adopting this posture, a person grows angry inside, nursing perceived wounds, feeding resentment, and deriving hope and promise from the prospect that the other person will someday get what’s coming to him.”

    It is the height of corrosion relationally. It prevents a meeting of persons as it allows one to feel justified in puppet rages that, over time, have less and less to do with the reality of foolish sinners in need of each other as they need grace.

    This is a church thing, a marriage thing, not sure it isn’t a big cultural blind spot. Either way, thanks for this succinct pointer away from this ugly self-serving way of being.

    1. timgombis

      The relevance to marriage is huge, Michael, and I know it all too well! It’s the (self)destructive relational trajectory I’ve traveled far too often . . .

  2. Haddon Anderson

    I see this play out in churches and I also see this in marriage. I know I’ve carried a passive-aggressive posture when I’m frustrated and feel misunderstood, and I can convince myself inwardly that I’m being “humble” by not saying anything. In reality, I’m keeping a record of wrongs and harboring resentment. I’m seeking after leverage in the misunderstanding. And I’m certainly not pursuing love by seeking a genuine understanding of the other person.

    In the few times (hopefully this tally will increase) that I have sought genuine understanding, I’ve been refreshed at how this posture of weakness invites unity. What could have been another unnecessary argument and evening full of pouting turned into a night of love, joy, and peace.

    It sounds so simple, but I must continually practice fending off passive-aggression that is subtle and manipulative.

    Thanks for these posts. Good stuff.

    1. timgombis

      Well-put, Haddon. The deception is that going down these roads is hopeful, that the pain inflicted on the other will somehow bring about a good result. But it’s a destructive way that only breeds destruction.

      Like you say, truly seeking to understand the other is the way of humility and the way that opens up life-giving dynamics, inviting the other to participate in flourishing. Passive-aggressive postures ‘close down’ the potential for sharing in the superabundance of life-giving grace.

  3. lamehousewife

    Some of the best material I have read on this subject is “Speaking the Truth in Love: How to Be An Assertive Christian” by Ruth N. Koch and Kenneth C. Haugk and the Stephen Ministry manual Modules 6 and 7 on assertiveness in caregiving and maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships. Together these address the issues of dealing with anger: aggressive, passive, and assertive. For me it was important to read the boundaries part because I have tended to be manipulated by passive-aggressives because I almost always chose a passive stance. It wasn’t out of love. It was out of fear of being rejected or abandoned. Assertive Christianity is proactive about recognizing the faults of self and others but works towards forgiveness always. I didn’t know if it is something that you have read, so I thought I would share. God bless…

    1. timgombis

      That’s huge, and another thing I’ve been thinking about. Being assertive doesn’t have to mean dominating the other. It can mean taking the initiative to bring about grace-oriented dynamics into a relationship.

      Funny how surface relational dynamics can often mask inner corruptions . . .

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