Anger Expressed Covertly Is both Infuriating and Destructive to a Relationship

Some people just can’t admit that they’re angry. Anger is one of the basic emotions which touches all of our lives to one degree or another. Indeed, a person who is incapable of experiencing anger would certainly be at a disadvantage in trying to survive. Used constructively, anger helps us to protect ourselves. It motivates us to solve problems and to resolve conflicts with other people. Anger is an emotion that tells us there is something wrong out there and we want to make it better.

Anger can serve a positive function in our lives, but so many of us have heard just the opposite message. How many times have we heard: “Don’t be angry.” Or “good people don’t get angry.” Or “Love and anger are opposite emotions.” Then there is the classic line: “If you loved me, you wouldn’t be angry at me.” None of these statements is compatible with emotional health. The cue is to accept your anger and learn how to express it constructively.

Passive-aggression is certainly aggressive behavior, and it is laden with anger
. It is a form of hostility disguised as innocence and passivity. This type of hostility is found frequently in relationships, especially troubled relationships, because the passive-aggressive individual finds a convenient and available target for his or her anger in a partner, Even though passive-aggressive is expressed most frequently and virulently in a relationship, this form of aggression is also seen in interactions between friends or on the job.

The passive-aggressive person usually will claim not to have any anger at all. But when anger is finally brought to the surface, it is usually blamed on the partner (or a friend or a boss) who is accused of being controlling and demanding. Rather than acknowledging his or her behavior as angry, the passive-aggressive individual plays on the excuse of being the misunderstood victim. The other person is always the persecutor. Communication between partners in a passive-aggressive relationship is usually blocked off, distorted, and ultimately very destructive to both people individually and to the relationship itself.

The passive-aggressive individual will often show signs of being angry, but will never truthfully say why he or she is angry. This leaves it up to the partner to guess at the reason and this leaves the passive-aggressive party holding all the control. Sometimes the passive-aggressive partner will provoke the partner to an angry response, and then goes on to blame the partner for having a problem with anger.

For example, Janet has her parents over for dinner at 7:00 and John had promised that he will be there…but when he shows up two hours late, claiming that he had a last minute meeting with a business client, and Janet dares to show justifiable anger at his behavior, John blames her for failing to support his work ad for allowing her anger to be out of control. “Why can’t you just work with me when I have things to do? Who do I always have to put up with your anger? You’ve got a real problem. You always need to be the one making the demands. I’m tired of the way you blow up at me for nothing.” John, of course, presents himself as the innocent victim, and rather than looking into his own behavior will project the blame onto Janet and make her the problem.

Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT