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Re the use of the expression passive-aggressive

(78 Posts)

MNHQ have commented on this thread.

Vintagejazz Fri 22-Aug-14 16:27:24

Just seen it being used totally inappropriately on yet another thread. Is this just some kind of buzz wordy/catch all phrase on Mumsnet that is no longer expected to adhere to its original meaning?

PenelopeLane Sat 23-Aug-14 06:32:00

Just checking I'm using PA correctly: are these examples PA?

1 - The person that gets offended by something you've put on Facebook but you only hear about it through other people they've complained to
2 - The colleague that doesn't want to do a task they've been assigned so just doesn't do it
3 - The "friend" that doesn't want to be your friend anymore so stops returning calls or messages, or replies so late in the piece you start to wonder what's going on or if they even like you
4 - The person who leaves a snarky note in the work kitchen about keeping it clean but it's typed out so no-one knows who actually wrote it
5 - The person who doesn't like something you've done but just huffs puffs and sighs loudly rather than actually saying anything about it

I get especially stuck on #5 - I thought that was PA, but it doesn't meet the definition as the person I know who does this doesn't control the situation as the huffing, puffing and sighing is easy to deliberately ignore if they don't actually say anything grin

JapaneseMargaret Sat 23-Aug-14 06:53:54

No. 5 is definitely PA. And it's all the more satisfying because it's easy to ignore. Winds the passive aggressor right up, that does. grin

Passive aggression manifests itself in loads of different ways. There's no one set definition.

firesidechat Sat 23-Aug-14 11:29:56

I've heard it misused a lot on here when they actually mean just plain old aggressive. No passive about it.

TalcumPowder Sat 23-Aug-14 11:59:27

It is misused, but the use of the term 'toxic' as though it's some kind of objective, psychological diagnostic term is the one I see most often misused on Mn, where it seems to be used to mean 'someone I don't like'.

unrealhousewife Sat 23-Aug-14 13:15:31

I'm with you there talcum, labelling someone as toxic is a bit of an easy way out.

Looking at the info about p.a., it seems interchangeable with emotionally abusive, in a relationship context.

deakymom Sat 23-Aug-14 17:33:14

yes i see what a passive aggressive response starting a thread about a thread

does that cover the situation?

just read your other thread i agree the poster didn't even seem to read your post just threw it out there i was very hmm wtf did that come from!

EBearhug Sat 23-Aug-14 20:29:43

On a work course a few months back, one description was:

Aggressive - it's all your fault
Passive - it's all my fault
Passive Aggressive - I'm saying it's all my fault, but actually, I think it's all your fault
Assertive - doesn't really matter whose fault it is, we can work together to fix it.

It's not quite that simple, but I found it quite a useful shorthand.

Tikimon Sat 23-Aug-14 21:28:52

Yeah, the thing with passive aggressive, it's really hard to call someone on it. If you can point out exactly what they did as passive aggressive and they can't explain it away, it's probably not PA.

Example: Your DH doesn't want to go to a show. Doors close at a certain time, he deliberately drives slow and gets there late. You can't yell at him because "He tried".

Bottom line, PA makes it very hard to pin the blame on them for being a dick, and it's incredibly easy to turn it around to you over reacting, being sensitive, or being paranoid.

Vintagejazz Sat 23-Aug-14 22:48:01

deakyMum I was quite open in my OP that I was talking about something that had been said in another thread. How is that passive aggressive? As opposed to making a snarky comment and then crossing it out? Why did you not just leave it without the strikethroughs? Did you consider it a way of being confrontational while actually pretending you were not really saying what you were saying?

And Arya myself and Limited were having an ironic exchange, not being genuine.

PenelopeLane Sun 24-Aug-14 05:35:19

I like your definition tikimon!

When someone is being all passive- agressively moody and won't actually tell you that they don't want to go to a particular restaurant or movie or the like, just preferring to act PA, it's pretty hard to say "stop sighing loudly" without looking like an idiot yourself

daisychain01 Sun 24-Aug-14 06:19:06

It seems to be closely tied to 'surreptitious sabotage' and "getting their own back".

The PA person is concealing their resentment and pissed-offness, feels unable to take positive action (being assertive) so takes a course of action that gives them some inner satisfaction they've had the last laugh.

I think it tends to be used in the workplace context, because people are paid to do a job so may feel they can't argue back, so they give themselves the feeling they are back in control by sabotaging (being late, deliberately cocking something up, deliberately not giving someone that important phone message etc).

That said, it isn't unreasonable to extend it beyond the workplace to relationships in general but there is a subtle difference which is why it is often misapplied.

In penelope's post
1- more "two-faced" than PA
2 - PA
3- sounds like they dont want to hurt the person's feeling rather than
4- borderline.... person feels resentful and put-upon, but they arent trying to sabotage, they just dont want to be everyone's servant! But maybe its a bit PA not to put their name on the notice, but may not want to appear to be a "moaning minny" so it's a different dynamic IMO
5- PA

I wonder if the difference in PA and not PA is the intention of the action...

Snog Sun 24-Aug-14 07:46:48

I think i did something pa last week.
Dp was supposed to wash up after supper but didn't. And didn't when he got up either. At 10am the next day I wanted to make breakfast - no room in our tiny kitchen so I asked him to wash up.
He gets arsey about it and says he will wash up in a while.
I wash up myself and make my breakfast leaving him unable to wash up and put things right. He then feels bad and has to go to effort of compensating with other jobs later in the day. So was I pa?

Vintagejazz Sun 24-Aug-14 10:07:41

I don't really think so. You had asked him, he wouldn't do it, so you took the practical option of doing it yourself. You didn't have a hidden agenda and weren't trying to sabotage something while pretending to go along with it.

AryaOfHouseSnark Sun 24-Aug-14 10:16:17

Yes I got that smile I probably didn't explain myself very well, but if you were being genuine would that count as pa ? I also mean the rl less obvious thinly veiled insults that are disguised as faux concern or niceness, is that pa ?
I have had a look at the definitions and I'm a bit worried that I might be a bit passive aggressive now. I can be a bit of a sulker at times.
Is it a characteristic that everyone or most people do a little bit sometimes ?

Vintagejazz Sun 24-Aug-14 10:26:26

Yes I do think you see some stock PA stuff on threads here. The 'are you feeling quite alright <head tilt>' type stuff that's obviously meant to goad and enrage the other poster but really just looks silly and obvious now it's been so over used.

I can give people the silent treatment sometimes if they've upset me or pissed me off, so definitely I can be PA at times.

ForalltheSaints Sun 24-Aug-14 12:05:57

It has become a trendy expression. Used too often, along with 'big' and 'like'.

doyouwantfrieswiththat Sun 24-Aug-14 12:26:26

Ebearhug I liked your definitions.

Tikimon Sun 24-Aug-14 23:13:05

I wonder if the difference in PA and not PA is the intention of the action...

Of course it is. Problem is, you can't prove intentions.

You just sort of have to look at the person and their typical personality. I have adhd and get hyper absorbed into something so if someone says something I genuinely don't hear it. There's a good chance that if someone is talking to me and I don't respond, I didn't hear them instead of giving them the silent treatment.

But someone that is typically aware and answers all them time, the same behavior wouldn't be believable as them "not hearing you".

EBearhug Mon 25-Aug-14 12:46:33

I'm not sure if it's always conscious intention, though - I mean, I don't think most perpertrators of PA behaviour actually think, I'm going to be PA about this. A lot of the time it's learned behaviour, having seen parents and others behave that way..

Likewise with aggression - I've seen managers whose behaviour I'd describe as aggressive, but I'm fairly sure they would have said they were just being a strong manager. And passive people will point out you need to compromise to work with people. (Compromise yes, giving in and ignoring your own needs every time - no.)

NanaNina Mon 25-Aug-14 13:14:17

I think Cruickshank gave us the definition very clearly. I've always wondered what it meant. Same with "toxic" and yes agree with whoever said that it usually seems to mean "someone I don't like" the other MN expression I see is "narcissistic" and usually a description of mothers or MILs!

I know I'm digressing but I also hate the expression "tell him to grow a pair" when a woman is complaining about her DH or DP ..........maybe I should start a new thread in AIBU - or on second thoughts maybe not - it's a scary place!

TheHorseHasBolted Mon 25-Aug-14 16:20:16

I always thought the technical definition of passive aggressive was to express your aggression by not doing things, which has been touched on upthread.

I have a friend who has been very manipulative in the past in ways that are often commonly described as passive aggressive, and I've been pulled up (not by her) for calling it that, so now I tend to use terms like "mind games" and "guilt trip" for what she does.

AryaOfHouseSnark Mon 25-Aug-14 16:52:09

The more I read about it the more I have realised how passive aggressive fil is. If we don't do something his way he sulks and then throws a spanner in to the works to sabotage it, eg being late, going the wrong way, anything, then <fumes> then when it goes wrong he will say "Well this is why I wanted to do bla bla bla instead "

EBearhug Mon 25-Aug-14 18:51:00

"Well this is why I wanted to do bla bla bla instead "
Thereby making it all your fault, because if only you'd listened to him in the first place...

AryaOfHouseSnark Mon 25-Aug-14 19:26:18

YY, it's so frustrating.

unrealhousewife Wed 27-Aug-14 10:03:34

I don't think it's right to say that you can only be PA if you intended it, as pointed out earlier most PA's have no idea they are doing it.
Someone who did these things deliberately would be called something else, surely.

I would love to hear some suggestions of how to deal with a PA person.

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