Extreme anger has many faces in abusive relationships.
Sometimes it appears as hostility and aggression and sometimes it appears at the other end of the spectrum as rejection and dismissive, this being passive – aggressive anger.
Passive-aggressive anger issues are common. It is a form of camouflaged anger — anger that is hidden and difficult to identify. Thus, it is difficult for the victim of passive-aggressive anger to protect themselves since it is an ‘invisible’ act of emotional aggression.
Behaving with passive-aggressive anger is one of the tactics a person with anger issues uses to hurt or punish the target of his or her displeasure. Like all extreme anger, passive-aggressive anger needs to be eliminated for the benefit of everyone. [If you would like more details on anger management you can download my free anger management tips consumer guide.]
Definition of passive-aggressive anger in abusive relationships
Passive-aggressive anger is an attack using withholding or rejecting behaviors. Anger that is passive-aggressive is expressed by ‘not doing.’For example, an angry mother turns her back on her daughter and pretends not to hear anything she says; or an angry husband won’t talk to his wife for a week, yet pretends nothing is wrong. These types of hidden anger are classic examples of passive-aggressive behavior in abusive relationships.
Passive-aggressive anger is difficult to resolve or defend oneself against since typically the perpetrator pretends that he or she is not angry at all. The invisibility of passive-aggressive anger is precisely why it is a powerful weapon often used to attack another person. Despite the attempted deception, passive-aggressive anger is real extreme anger that can be just as destructive as the more open, explosive, or aggressive varieties of extreme anger. Being ignored or dismissed is emotionally very painful and makes being around the ‘angry person’ very uncomfortable. As well, passive-aggressive anger can prompt return anger (the target of the initial anger responds with their own extreme anger attack) which can lead to major relationship injuries.
The most common place for passive-aggressive anger to occur is within the family and in particular within a marriage. This type of anger requires time and opportunity. Close and protracted relationships are the perfect breeding ground!
True story: Revenge anger unleashed
Vito was angry with his wife, Rosa. In his opinion, she did not keep the house clean and neat. He worked hard all day while she stayed home with the kids. He felt that she should at least keep the house clean and tidy and, in his opinion, she didn’t. Knowing that it would greatly upset his wife, he went to the bank and opened up a private savings account that only he had access to.
When Rosa found out, and he made sure she did, she was shocked and hurt. She wondered why he was hiding money from her. Vito claimed that he had no idea that Rosa would be, or should be, upset by his opening a ‘private bank account.’He merely dismissed her distress as another example of her ‘crazy behavior’. He insisted that she was making a big fuss about nothing. All the while, he was happy he had hurt her. Eventually, Rosa lost respect for Vito.
She chastised him and disrespected him. Vito felt attacked, humiliated, and unappreciated. A year later, Vito had an affair with an old classmate. When Rosa found out about the affair, she forced Vito out of the house. If Vito would have used Assertive Communication the outcome would have been very different.
The solution to passive-aggressive anger in abusive relationships is using our free anger management tips.
Like all anger issues, passive aggressive anger is very destructive as you can understand from the above story. What makes passive-aggressive anger unique is that it is hidden. The cure for passive aggressive anger is the same as it is for other types of anger. Passive-aggressive anger needs to be identified, acknowledged that it is wrong, and then effective solutions must be found that eliminate it. Regardless, this type of anger needs to be eliminated as do all other forms if a person is to be happy and have a happy life with other people.
About the author
Abe Kass, MA, RSW, RMFT, CCHT., is a Registered Social Worker, Registered Couple and Family Therapist, Certified Hypnotherapist, and award-winning Educator. He has a busy clinical practice in Toronto, Canada and throughout the world using the phone or Zoom.
After many years of clinical practice and research, Abe concluded that practical solutions requiring a focused effort of no more than a few minutes a day for very specific relationship problems were critically needed. GoSmartLife Publishing House has been created to fill this need.