Coincidentally, after I wrote about bullying, I was bullied something fierce.
Which I did not enjoy. It was annoyingly adorable and cruel of fate.
My response to being bullied, in the moment, is just it was when I was ten. I turn into a statue like Mario does in Mario 3, and wait for the people to go away. Press “B” and down, and you are still as a statue, and safe. I wouldn’t still be doing it if it were not effective.
The downside of turning still and cold when you’re attacked is that the next attack is, “You don’t care!” or, closer to home, “You’re so passive-aggressive.” I’ve often been accused of both. Perhaps it’s threatening when a woman doesn’t have an emotional response to provocative comments. I don’t know.
I do know it’s a pretty common issue with introverts, though, that we don’t even know how we feel, and we’re not ready to express feelings, until we have some time alone to process things. From an introvert’s perspective, extroverts’ immediate displays of emotion can appear demanding and manipulative.
Let’s stop all this, though, to get back to the point, which is that I can definitely be passive-aggressive.
Let’s learn more about passive aggression from our friends at Wikipedia. Where else can we turn for wisdom in a troubled age?
“Passive–aggressive behavior is …characterised by an obstructionist or hostile manner that indicates aggression, or, in more general terms, expressing aggression in non-assertive, subtle (i.e. passive or indirect) ways…a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and passive, usually disavowed, resistance in interpersonal or occupational situations.”
Obstructionist? Yes. Expressing aggression in indirect ways? Sure. When one cannot express dissent in any other way, this seems like a decent option. But what about Gandhi? Poor Gandhi, symbol of everything good and peacefully amazing? Wikipedia knows.
“Passive aggressive behavior should not be confused with passive resistance (also called conscientious objection). …a rational response to demands that may simply be disagreed with.”
Passive resistance, perhaps, is when you tell someone why you are not doing something, and then you don’t do it. Sometimes explaining why I’m not doing something, or not getting involved, has seemed possible. That’s a tall order, coming out and telling people why you’re not doing something rather than just undermining their ridiculous requests. Often, the reason I’m quietly not doing something is because I’ve had repeated interactions with someone in which we could come to no common ground about what was happening or why.
“Passive aggressive behavior can manifest itself as learned helplessness, procrastination, hostility masquerading as jokes, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.”
Learned helplessness I hate. My grandmother used to say, “You don’t hate mustard. Hate is such a strong word.” I hate learned helplessness, though. That’s a huge part of what I fight every day in my classroom. Have I feigned ignorance to make a point with people who have power over me? Oh, heavens, yes.
Hostility masquerading as jokes? It’s a fine line. When you’re bullied, nothing feels better than making fun of what happened. Joking at someone is so different than joking with someone. Humor is one of the tools left to the powerless. Maybe the most potent. As long as I can laugh at people who bully me, I’m okay.
Stubbornness I’m a huge fan of. Everything great I’ve accomplished was due to my stubbornness. It’s helped me a lot more than it’s hurt me.
“Failure to accomplish tasks.” This seems to require that the requester has the right and power to force someone to accomplish something. Or that there is an even balance of power between the parties, and one has agreed to a request, and then fallen down on the job.
Are all kinds of aggression bad? How different are “aggression” and “resistance”? The point of both positions being “passive” is that there is a power discrepancy, so I’ll set aside the merits of being “aggressive aggressive,” which might be appropriate sometimes.
Maybe the key word here is “resentment.” If you resent something, it becomes a power struggle. True passive resistance isn’t a matter of a power struggle. It’s a drawing of boundaries that are fair, and a strong sticking to them. For example, when I was being bullied, I said that other people couldn’t talk about my motives or what I knew, since that was info only in my own pretty little head. Boundaries.
To sit and hate your bully is passive aggressive. To sit and not get defensive, to tell them when they are crossing lines, is passive resistance. Both passive aggression and passive resistance make your opponent mad as hell. The longer I sat with my bully, the angrier he got. It isn’t about how the opponent feels. It’s about how you feel.