Proverbs says a lot about fools, but the uniting factor in all the different verses is the underlying assumption that you will deal with a lot of them. Some are easier to spot than others, usually because their mouth proclaims the news quite loudly. If this seems harsh, let me mitigate it by the admission that sometimes my own mouth has often robbed others of the illusion that I am among the wise.
As a former passive aggressive (mostly) person, I have developed an eye for these types. Most often I meet them at work where passive-aggressive behavior is often honed to a fine art. After all, the group cc is an exquisite example of undermining coupled with the clear benefit of making the person ratting you out to the whole office look diligent in their duties. So without further ado, let me introduce you to the graduating class of Passive Aggressive Characters.
The Underminer: This individual is always nice to your face, but behind your back, they are a menace. Another term for these
is garbage collectors. They woo everyone and charm them into impromptu confidences, then spread the dirt like compost in the garden of workplace gossip.
Their tell? They try to sell you the same slime about others that they spread about you. Sometimes this is done out of pure maliciousness, though more often it is a form of insecurity. Your only option if you can’t avoid interactions is to become a vault to which they cannot figure out the combination. Eventually, your refusal to play will send them elsewhere, but often, collateral damage occurs.
The Public Shamer: This is the Christian go-to in the passive-aggressive manual. What we Christians like to do is indirectly shame others by talking about what a terrible sin such and such behavior is in the presence of someone who is very likely guilty of that very indiscretion. In the South, the harshness of the indirect attack is softened by a ‘bless their heart’, but make no mistake, this is an attempt to shame the victim into feeling their unworthiness.
The most egregious example I have witnessed was the statement, “I just feel that if you have cancer, you must have some unconfessed sin in your life.” This was said in the vicinity, though not directly to the cancer victim. But any statements involving the phrase, “Real Christians wouldn’t….” render judgments better left to God.
Short of forcing the offender to memorize the book of Job (which is an option), I usually resort to what I consider one of my most powerful spiritual giftings, the speaking look. A delicately raised eyebrow and a prompt changing the subject really works for me, as does putting a strict time limit on my conversations with the shamers. After all, I don’t want to be next on their hit list.
The Flake: I humbly confess that I was indeed a flake well into my twenties. Flake is just another word for Over-Promiser. Another synonym is Under-Deliverer. The Flake can promise you the world, but unfortunately, when push comes to shove, the battery in the magic carpet is dead and they couldn’t get a tow, and they don’t have money for a new battery, plus they have a really bad cold, and did they mention there is a lot of drama in their life right now?
Your only real option is to become an Under-Rely-er. Many Flakes self-correct with maturity and the threat of diminishing career options, but until they do, do everyone a favor and only give them tasks that are so minimal that when they aren’t done, it isn’t a big deal. You can be merciful without being taken in.
The Pouter: The Pouter cannot express genuine displeasure because conflict is a big and scary monster. So they rely on body language, the silent treatment, and facial distortions to deliver the message. They don’t ever say anything so there is no evidence that can be used against them in a court of law. After all, no one has been convicted of giving the stink eye.
I have tried several different methods against the Pouter. I have five daughters so have had the opportunity to really hone my techniques. I used to become the Fisher of Women, trying to lure them into telling me what was wrong. This usually involves having to endure the repeated accusation, “You wouldn’t understand.” So I gave up my fishing license.
I also tried becoming Captain Over-Explainer. “You see, Geradine, when you cross your arms and roll your eyes at me, I feel very disrespected.” This doesn’t work because you have just admitted to the Pouter that their pouting does indeed have exactly the effect they were going for. On to the next strategy.
The carefully cultivated non-response is your best go-to. Coming to the place of safety in yourself where the indirect displeasure of others no longer torques your lug nuts is the only way to effectively defend yourself against the predations of the Pouter. Take away the reward and the behavior diminishes, albeit generally in favor of some other passive-aggressive strategy.
The Denier: “ I’m not mad. I just thought you knew how I would be affected. Why are you getting so upset? I was only joking. I know what a perfectionist you are. I didn’t know that you would get so mad. You are always so sensitive. I should have known what kind of person you were. People told me you were like this. Whatever. Do what you want. You always do.”
No need to be alarmed. This is only a test of the Emergency Denial Broadcast System. In case of a disastrous failure to take responsibility, back away from the Denier and take shelter among the sane as soon as possible. Do not continue these conversations. Evacuate immediately, taking only what you need to survive. Seriously. Do not engage. Therein lies madness.
Loving your neighbor does not mean giving them an all season pass to an emotionally intimate relationship. I think about Jesus. He had three besties and nine other good friends. Well, eight. Judas was the passive aggressive one that got away. I think he was a Public Shamer after his fuss about giving to the poor (so he could steal). He was definitely an Underminer. After all, he betrayed Jesus with a kiss. That makes him the king of the Passive Aggressive Characters.
You can’t change anyone. You can only lessen the possibility that they will hurt you by not engaging. Once you have identified one of the above amongst your friends, family, and coworkers, check your fences and dig those posts deep. After all, good boundaries don’t make the possibility of attack go away. They just make it harder for enemies to get in.
If you have a lot of drama in your life, you should read this. It is quick, easy, and helps you identify who is safe and who is not. This book cut fifty percent of the drama from my life. I have five daughters or it might have cut more. It is by the people who wrote Boundaries so you know it’s good.