Passive aggression is in effect intermittent punishment. While intermittent reward has been proven to motivate individuals and reinforce behaviours, intermittent punishment has a very different and almost opposite effect. Although passive aggression does motivate and reinforce behaviours, it only increases the motivation to avoid and reinforces this through repetition. The victim of passive aggressive behaviour inevitably seeks to avoid the source of this toxic expression.
How it begins
Phase 1- Love bombing. Initially two people meet, and generally form some sort of relationship, often this is a friendship, intimate relationship or working relationship. In most cases the passive aggressive person will not express their passive aggressive behavior immediately, but will instead portray themselves to be a considerate, kind and reasonable person, someone the victim can trust and rely on. The main exception to this initial ‘love bombing’ phase is when the passive aggressive person already knows about their intended victim and is intimidated by them before they have even met. In this case the passive aggressive person will often commence the relationship by asserting their own value and importance whilst doing what they can to diminish the reputation of the newcomer. I digress. As previously mentioned, the first interaction is generally more civil and reasonable as the passive aggressive person seeks to demonstrate their value.
As the relationship of sorts progresses, the passive aggressive person earns the trust and possibly even admiration from their victim. The connection is made. At this stage the victim has in a sense committed to a belief in relation to the passive aggressive person, the belief that they are someone they can share and be open with.
Phase 2- As the trust builds the PA person starts to shift their behavior subtly to the negative. This shift represents the second phase of conditioning, the first phase being the love-bombing phase. The second phase is designed to assert and define boundaries for the victim. It is motivated by the need to put the victim in their place, but in a subtle and covert manner. The manipulator will make comments that have the purpose of whittling down the reputation and confidence of the victim. These comments are extremely difficult to pick up on. If the victims awareness is not at a high enough level, they will not recognize what is slowly happening to them. Slowly but surely the passive aggressive comments erode the identity and confidence of the victim.
Phase 3- At this stage one of 3 probable things occur.
1. The victim habituates to the passive aggressive behavior, coming under the control of the spell. This may happen if the victim, lacks confidence, desires guidance, seeks importance and lacks a sense of self. The passive aggressive person will work to manipulate this vulnerable individual, making them believe that they are special and different, which is precisely why the passive aggressive person has chosen them. But this is an illusion designed to mask the control they have gained over this person. The passive aggressive person pretends to be a mentor, but they seldom share any knowledge with this victim, instead they position themselves as the giver of all knowledge and wisdom. The victim is dis-empowered, becomeing a follower and minion, their individual identity is somewhat repressed and their insecurity is used against them.
2. The second probable outcome is avoidance on the part of the victim. At this point the victim has become uncomfortable with the presence of the passive aggressive person. They don’t know why exactly, but when they interact with the passive aggressive individual, they often feel uncomfortable. Initially the subtle but negative response to these interactions mostly goes unnoticed. The conscious mind is yet to reach the awareness required to understand what is happening. The passive aggressive interactions continue and as they do the mere idea of the passive aggressive person is enough to elicit feelings of anxiety. At this point the victim may have reached the necessary level of awareness and given a name to the manipulators behaviour, labeling it - passive aggressive. The victim starts to disengage from any unnecessary interactions. The intermittent punishment has built anxiety in the victim, they no longer wish to engage with the PA and now actively avoid them.
3. Phase 3- Avoidance, resentment and anger. The victim has now acquired the awareness necessary to understand the behaviour of the passive aggressive person. They feel anger, frustration and resentment, avoiding any possibility to engage with the PA unless it is deemed necessary. They know the chances of having a negative interaction are high, so they go quiet and avoid the PA. The passive aggressive person is unlikely to be aware of the toxic and negative effect they have on others, so they start to blame and lash out at the people who have disengaged. They will likely make unfair accusations as to why their victims have disengaged from communication or interaction, not realizing that they are the very cause of this avoidance behavior.
Phase 3.1- Disassociation. This phase is the alternative to avoidance behaviour. This usually occurs when the victim is to some extent a captive audience to the behaviour of the PA. In this case, the victim is trapped and locked into the same physical environment as the PA. This may be the same work environment or in the case of an intimate relationship, the same living environment. The only way the victim is able to avoid the PA is to quit their job or leave their intimate relationship. Of course these kind of decisions have consequences and are not easy decisions to make, so instead the victim remains stuck in the same cage as their oppressor. They do everything they can to avoid the PA person in this relationship, but avoidance is impossible and fleeting at best. Only a big change will provide an escape for the victim, but they often don’t leave. At this point they have too much to lose, they have invested too much, they have hope that things might change and have also been conditioned. The victim is attacked in a passive aggressive manner over and over again causing them constant emotional pain and anguish. Because they cannot avoid the constant triggering of their emotions in a toxic manner, their the brain adapts by doing one of the few things possible to avoid this onslaught, it switches the emotions of the victim off. The victims emotions have now become blunted to the point of apathy and a complete lack of care. They fall into a zombie like state, where they agree with the PA and show little to none of their true character. They have hidden themselves in a last ditch effort to preserve who they are. The victim still does all they can to avoid the PA, but if they cannot avoid this person, they simply go cold. At this stage it almost doesn’t matter as they have become dead emotionally anyway. Unfortunately the deadening of ones emotions are not always specific to the interactions with the PA, they can generalize into the public domain and the interactions with other people. Disassociation is a dehumanizing and cruel result of passive aggressive abuse. Yes, passive aggression beyond a certain extent is emotional abuse. If disassociation occurs, and the victim becomes aware of it they should seek professional help as soon as they are able to.
Passive aggression can be a highly destructive behaviour, sometimes resulting in avoidance and in more extreme cases, disassociation from ones emotions.