“You are the definition of passive-aggressive!”
Shaking I clicked off the cordless phone. Our argument had concluded with my pronouncement. I stepped into sunlight on the deck, and singed the soles of my bare feet. I had relocated outside to take the call suspecting my voice might rise. I wanted to spare my young niece the discomfort of my ire with the caller.
As I slid through the screen door Muffin looked up and asked what Greta had said that made me mad. She’d caught my truth-telling epithet.
“Greta is manipulative,” I explained, “and she’s finally gone too far.”
My niece is 10 and whip smart, beyond her years intellectually, but still 10 emotionally. She nodded and said, “Greta is a dope, isn’t she?”
“Some people are like that. I need to learn how better to deal with them.” I smiled. She returned to her book while I retreated upstairs to fold laundry and calm down.
I don’t like raising my voice in anger. I grow shaky and confused. I don’t believe the same is true for everyone. Some people thrive on drama and confrontation feeling vindicated when others become upset. Greta is one of those people.
“Come alone,” she’d whispered through the phone the day before, as if playing a part in an espionage movie. She wanted to show me how to properly dispense medication to her ailing cat while she was away.
“Muffin would like to come.” Muffin loves Greta’s 2 cats, and she’s far more sociable than I am.
“Oh, no, no, my house is a mess,” she stammered. Her tongue seemed mired in the dry, dusty crevice of her mouth. “Can’t you come alone? I don’t bring people over to your house.”
“Huh? She’s a kid. She doesn’t care if your house is messy. You should see her room.”
I may be merely an Aunt, and not a Mother, but I understood the implacable desire to protect a child from hurt, no matter how trifling. Muffin would not fully comprehend why she was not allowed to visit with Greta’s cats. She would only know what I told her, that Greta is a hopeless dope.
Passive aggressive people are desperate to control the situation. They whine, complain, and confront those around them in the belief that life has cheated them.
Recognizing this I’ve given Greta a wide berth. We care for each other’s animals when we travel. We are cordial in the driveway. She relates yet another story of how she felt belittled by our landlord, a grocery store cashier, a retailer, a friend, or her mother. I listen and nod, all the while inching backwards, imagining the gleeful moment when I close my front door on her voice and visage.
We all exhibit passive aggressive behavior at times. If we offer a cold shoulder to a spouse rather than reveal what’s on our mind. If we agree to take out the garbage, pick up the dry cleaning, write that memo, and then we don’t, and offer an excuse. If we are perpetually late.
Then there is Greta. She has sailed to the stratosphere of passive aggression. Sometimes she has a glimpse of insight. “I know I talk too much,” she told me once. Another time I even heard her proclaim, “That was my fault.” Mere words, forgotten the moment they were expressed.
Instead of exhibiting passive aggressive behavior myself by venting angrily to a friend always allowing for the disclaimer that Greta is who she is, and that I ought to show compassion and acceptance, I should have stated clearly and succinctly, to Greta, how uncomfortable I am with the tone of her bitterness. Liar, liar pants on fire. That’s what I should have said at the first hint of deceit.
Greta and I could have won handily the Dancing with the Stars’ Mirror Ball trophy with our routine of the last 6 years.
Have I learned my lesson? I hope so, but probably not. I’ve seen a few therapists through the years. Apparently I fail to practice what they preached.
Nevertheless, I offer thanks to the hard-working therapists, psychiatrists, and mental health practitioners who want nothing more than to teach us how better to communicate before an explosive anger rocks our stability.
If you’re wondering whether Greta reads my blog and will recognize herself, the answer is a resounding no. She knows about the blog. I’ve even said aloud the title, offered to send it in an email, all the while passive aggressively knowing that I would not. I knew she wasn’t listening. If she did read it she would have recognized herself here and here, and I would have heard the aggravated decibels of nasty epithets lobbed across the driveway.
Names have been changed to protect the hopeless dopes.