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Passive aggressive people...


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In your experience, can this be fixed? Does it only ever get worse?

 

i just don’t understand playing the martyr, only to stew in bitterness. I’m more of a, “Speak up or quit ‘yer belly aching,” kind of a person. Martyrdom and snarky stewing have never been my thing, then again, some wold say I can be too abrupt. Still, I need to know, have you ever known anyone to choose to stop this behavior?

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depends upon the underlying cause.

the narcissistic martyr - wont' generally get better. 

people who want to grow, will be more willing to put forth the effort to try and change.   

eta: - and yes, I've been known to ask the perpetual victim - so what are you going to do about it?  

Edited by gardenmom5
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While I don't care to be around those who do this, as I read your post, I realized something about myself. There are times I have done this when I felt like it wouldn't do any good to "speak up" because I wouldn't be heard (or I would be blasted/ostracized). So during the in-between time from recognizing there was a problem to the figuring out how I was going to handle it, I have sometimes fallen into the passive/aggressive camp. Of course, that doesn't help with understanding those who choose to live there, but it might be helpful for those who are transitioning from feeling helpless to finding their courage (or to finding options).

Edited by Jaybee
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Well, my mom’s getting up there in years, and it’s only gotten worse. She’s typically leaned on the passive and avoided aggression for the most part, but the passiveness lets resentment build up and move into dangerous territory. And then it comes out with a bit less passiveness and a bunch of aggression.

I have my own tendencies, but really try to fix them. I often have to walk away from a subject (primarily with my kids and spouse) and then come back to it when I know exactly what it is I want to communicate.

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My husband's parents are passive-aggressive, so he had those tendencies. I come from a family where disagreements were open, and anger could flash quickly.  We both had some things to learn when we came together and started our own family. I have become much calmer; he has become more direct.  We both needed to change, and we are. 

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Live and learn... what I thought is passive agressive is actually a martyr complex.  I just don't know how to help the person understand they have the power to advocate for self and the behaviors they see as being selfless is actually not selfless if you get upset at people for not recognizing the selflessness.  This person is deeply unhappy... I can see it.  

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10 hours ago, Jean in Newcastle said:

We all have different sinful tendencies.  The sins of bitterness and anger included.  God can change those of His children who are open to change. 

My obviously Christian content opinion. 

Jean, I wholeheartedly believe this.  I think that the person has a colluded view.  The person is a *very* giving and generous person of both time and abilities.  But desperately unhappy that others around them do not reciprocate in the same way and it is resulting in some message that resonates in their head of, "If you cared about me, you would be as considerate as I am."  This is not a selfish person. This is not a person who seeks attention or applause.  This is a person who believes love is love in action, which is VERY true, but the smallest things upset them.... being interrupted, not noticing routines, someone not seeing something that needs to be done - these are all personal affronts that, to this person, illustrate a lack of respect.  It is causing real and true relationship problems.  And this person has grown closer to the Lord, but I'm not sure they are completely given over, kwim? There is a reserve that exists from past religious hurts.

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11 hours ago, BlsdMama said:

In your experience, can this be fixed? Does it only ever get worse?

We have twins.  The girl is aggressive-aggressive.  We think that is why her twin brother is passive-aggressive.  We think that was the only way he found that he could deal with her.

I don't know if it can be "fixed", but I haven't notices it getting any worse as he got older (he is 18 now).  It's a mild case, but it is definitely there.

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1 hour ago, BlsdMama said:

Jean, I wholeheartedly believe this.  I think that the person has a colluded view.  The person is a *very* giving and generous person of both time and abilities.  But desperately unhappy that others around them do not reciprocate in the same way and it is resulting in some message that resonates in their head of, "If you cared about me, you would be as considerate as I am."  This is not a selfish person. This is not a person who seeks attention or applause.  This is a person who believes love is love in action, which is VERY true, but the smallest things upset them.... being interrupted, not noticing routines, someone not seeing something that needs to be done - these are all personal affronts that, to this person, illustrate a lack of respect.  It is causing real and true relationship problems.  And this person has grown closer to the Lord, but I'm not sure they are completely given over, kwim? There is a reserve that exists from past religious hurts.

Oof. That's really hard. Maybe talk about Mary and Martha when Martha was doing all of the cooking, cleaning, etc., and Mary was just sitting and listening. That relationships with people doesn't always mean DOING things for people, but often it means just BEING with people. And maybe try to show her that insisting on others showing their love in one specific manner is in itself not loving.

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I'm with Jean - people can change all sorts of habits if we want to.

 

Therein the rub.

No one ELSE can make anybody WANT to change. 

 

So dealing with a passive-aggressive person amounts to the same dynamic as dealing with an aggressive person or a narcissistic person or a depressed person or a person with a substance abuse problem or any other hard dynamic. We can't MAKE the other person change; we can only change how we, ourselves, sally into interactions with the person.

 

With some people (particularly younger ones) and some relationships (close and more-or-less mutual ones), there can be some success in really encouraging more active, more complete communication.  Some people revert to "passive" because they are, for some reason, unable to express themselves "actively" and advocate effectively for what they want or need.  Children, for instance, may not speak clearly because they are afraid to speak clearly; or because they haven't yet developed the communication skills. In that case, making clear that they do have permission to express irritation/frustration/hurt/anger even to adults, and modeling and supporting effective communication across hard topics, can help.

Given how you describe this person...

48 minutes ago, BlsdMama said:

Jean, I wholeheartedly believe this.  I think that the person has a colluded view.  The person is a *very* giving and generous person of both time and abilities.  But desperately unhappy that others around them do not reciprocate in the same way and it is resulting in some message that resonates in their head of, "If you cared about me, you would be as considerate as I am."  This is not a selfish person. This is not a person who seeks attention or applause.  This is a person who believes love is love in action, which is VERY true, but the smallest things upset them.... being interrupted, not noticing routines, someone not seeing something that needs to be done - these are all personal affronts that, to this person, illustrate a lack of respect.  It is causing real and true relationship problems.  And this person has grown closer to the Lord, but I'm not sure they are completely given over, kwim? There is a reserve that exists from past religious hurts.

... it is possible that this dynamic -- inability or fear of expressing their needs/hopes/wishes clearly -- IS coming into play.  You can't fix it Big Picture, but there may be some scope within your own relationship to say, expressly, I can't read your mind. But just tell me what is on your mind, if something is on your mind.  That insight -- that people who "care" about us still can't *read our minds*, and what we perceive as inconsiderate is very often just them valuing/focusing/caring about different things (some folks are gift-givers, others value phone check-ins, it's not like one form of caring is "more considerate" than the other; folks are just different) -- is a really important Aha!! insight that has saved many a marriage. Don't expect people to read your mind: just.tell.them.

 

And I like Jaybee's insight about work-in-progress very much:

11 hours ago, Jaybee said:

While I don't care to be around those who do this, as I read your post, I realized something about myself. There are times I have done this when I felt like it wouldn't do any good to "speak up" because I wouldn't be heard (or I would be blasted/ostracized). So during the in-between time from recognizing there was a problem to the figuring out how I was going to handle it, I have sometimes fallen into the passive/aggressive camp. Of course, that doesn't help with understanding those who choose to live there, but it might be helpful for those who are transitioning from feeling helpless to finding their courage (or to finding options).

There *are* folks who "choose to live there" (LOVE that); but there are also those for whom it's a way station, who are in the throes of figuring out how to communicate clearly and who are lapsing into passive-aggressive as a sort of emergent, transitional stage, where the person is (badly, fumblingly) learning to kinda-sorta express hurt/frustration/anger... but hasn't yet found to tools to do so effectively.  If so, giving permission and modeling how to receive hard conversations without anger/defensiveness/flouncing/etc may help at least within your own relationship.

 

____

And then there are those who really have "chosen to live there."  Who have YUGE and disproportionate responses to very small things, who have a YUGE need to be recognized and thanked for everything they do, who count and feed and nurse every perceived grievance and lack the Theory of Mind to consider how others may think of them, or that others may be preoccupied with their own issues and baggage and are not, in fact, particularly thinking of anything.  Who may well be deeply "unhappy" but have not taken a decision to try to get out of their habits.

And with them... well, in her memoir RBG reported that her MIL gave her wedding night counsel: "Sometimes it helps to be a little deaf." 

Indeed. Good counsel for life, generally.  Just because someone you know is dropping passive little hints about their dissatisfaction, or hurt, or affront... doesn't mean you have to pick it up.  Just because someone sighs deeply... doesn't mean you have to ask what's wrong. Just because someone has chosen to live there... does not mean you have to visit.

 

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It sounds as if this woman has set certain standards of behavior, service, etc., for herself and thinks everyone else should adhere to them as well. She needs to come to understanding that her gifts, talents, etc., are not universal and she does not set the standard. I don't mean that to be harsh - she likely doesn't recognize that in herself at all.  And it can be hard for people around someone like that to help them see that they are unreasonable. 

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1 hour ago, BlsdMama said:

Jean, I wholeheartedly believe this.  I think that the person has a colluded view.  The person is a *very* giving and generous person of both time and abilities.  But desperately unhappy that others around them do not reciprocate in the same way and it is resulting in some message that resonates in their head of, "If you cared about me, you would be as considerate as I am."  This is not a selfish person. This is not a person who seeks attention or applause.  This is a person who believes love is love in action, which is VERY true, but the smallest things upset them.... being interrupted, not noticing routines, someone not seeing something that needs to be done - these are all personal affronts that, to this person, illustrate a lack of respect.  It is causing real and true relationship problems.  And this person has grown closer to the Lord, but I'm not sure they are completely given over, kwim? There is a reserve that exists from past religious hurts.

This reminds me of a couple of friendships of mine that were harmed by this kind of thinking. On my part, I just didn't expect of my friendships the kinds of things that they expected. So I failed to recognize that I wasn't meeting their friendship "needs" until it was too late. One was very hurt because we didn't do something that I never would have expected of my friends (attending an occasion that was important to them, but distance, small children, heavy schedule, etc., were involved). I'm a very practical person, and it just wasn't on my radar. The other also had expectations that I/we didn't meet. I really hated to lose the friendships, because they were important to me. But it was also stressful to always feel like I was failing and had to be someone I wasn't/guess what they might be using as a guide for my faithful friendship. 

I have a relative who keeps count of "signs" that people don't care; "if it isn't important enough to you to remember what I want you to order at the fast food restaurant, etc." Oh boy, if I counted that as real concern, by dh would be forever in trouble, lol.

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1 hour ago, BlsdMama said:

Jean, I wholeheartedly believe this.  I think that the person has a colluded view.  The person is a *very* giving and generous person of both time and abilities.  But desperately unhappy that others around them do not reciprocate in the same way and it is resulting in some message that resonates in their head of, "If you cared about me, you would be as considerate as I am."  This is not a selfish person. This is not a person who seeks attention or applause.  This is a person who believes love is love in action, which is VERY true, but the smallest things upset them.... being interrupted, not noticing routines, someone not seeing something that needs to be done - these are all personal affronts that, to this person, illustrate a lack of respect.  It is causing real and true relationship problems.  And this person has grown closer to the Lord, but I'm not sure they are completely given over, kwim? There is a reserve that exists from past religious hurts.

 

15 minutes ago, lauraw4321 said:

Oof. That's really hard. Maybe talk about Mary and Martha when Martha was doing all of the cooking, cleaning, etc., and Mary was just sitting and listening. That relationships with people doesn't always mean DOING things for people, but often it means just BEING with people. And maybe try to show her that insisting on others showing their love in one specific manner is in itself not loving.

Maybe she needs to read about the 5 Love Languages. There are other love languages and until she knows that, she’ll think that Acts of Service is the only one. And it’s certainly not. In fact, too many Acts of Service annoy me. Seriously. I’m like, “Stop fluttering around me doing things!” Drives me nuts to have someone doing a bunch of stuff for me all the time.

I need both Quality Time and Words of Affirmation or I get tetchy.

She might need to express to others that she needs Acts of Service, and she need to understand that not everyone appreciates them the same way she does.  🙂

Edited by Garga
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2 minutes ago, Garga said:

 

Maybe she needs to read about the 5 Love Languages. There are other love languages and until she knows that, she’ll think that Acts of Service is the only one. And it’s certainly not. In fact, too many Acts of Service annoy me. Seriously. I’m like, “Stop fluttering around me doing things!” Drives me nuts to have someone doing a bunch of stuff for me all the time.

I need both Quality Time and Words of Affirmation or I get tetchy.

She might need to express to others that she needs Acts of Service, and she need to understand that not everyone appreciates them the same way she does.  🙂

This thread reminded me of that book as well. And it is so true that some things that others want or expect would drive me nuts. I have a friend who recently moved closer to us. She and her dh are great, but they interact with each other in very different ways than my dh and I do. When I told him some of her comments, he said, "I really don't want or need you to do that (act of service) for me." It would annoy us more than make us feel loved.

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1 hour ago, RegGuheert said:

We have twins.  The girl is aggressive-aggressive.  We think that is why her twin brother is passive-aggressive.  We think that was the only way he found that he could deal with her.

I don't know if it can be "fixed", but I haven't notices it getting any worse as he got older (he is 18 now).  It's a mild case, but it is definitely there.

This is interesting to me. I was the youngest in my family, and both my brother and I are quiet. I am afraid of confrontation, and I suspect he is as well. Then there's our older sister, who's never been one to bite her tongue. I tend toward passive-aggression because I am afraid to speak up. In fact, I recently tested the waters with my sister and when I came out and said what was bugging me, it blew up and became a huge fight. I don't have time for that sort of drama, and I've gone back into my protective shell when I deal with her. 

So I guess when you ask whether passive-aggression can be changed, it would depend on the motivations for the passivity and responses when new behaviors are attempted. In general I am learning to speak  up, or at least understand that I need to deal with it on my own if I don't speak up. 

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It was a big lightbulb moment for me to really get that I can only control myself and choose to be happy.  As someone raised in a house where the females were taught to give endlessly without complaint that was a real switch to learn that I could moderate and choose where my time and energies are best spent.  Luckily I figured it out fairly early in life.  You can't control other's actions or responses.  You can chose to live your life choosing where you will give and take and what is important in relationships for you.   If someone's actions seriously don't work for your values, you can walk away or you can moderate your time with acquaintances whose values don't align with your own.   Everyone gets to choose their own love language.  It really only serves to make yourself miserable by complaining and stewing non-stop. I also think for your important relationships (family), sometimes you need to spell out your own needs.  People don't read minds (Yes, I do want to do something special on my birthday).  Maybe she has underlying depression or anxiety that plays into it, that is actually very possible.  I think people who hyperfocus on other people's behavior often might have OCD or anxiety playing into that.  And I say that as someone who has been treated for depression and anxiety at one point. 

That said, you can't MAKE anyone else change their own mindset. However, is someone is annoying you with their droning on and complaining about things they take no actions on you can likely train them not to complain to you over time.  

 

 

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My ILs are passive aggressive.  They will not deal with conflict head on; they avoid issues, sweep things under the rug, and stew about it for months or years.  Sometimes an offense will come up 10 years later via a snide comment that you never knew was an issue 🙄

We went to counseling with MIL and the counselor basically told us (without MIL there) that this particular thing would not change. They are very deeply ingrained patterns of avoiding conflict.  They have no healthy strategies for conflict resolution.  It is what it is, and we have had to come up with the right boundaries for our family that keep us protected and sane. 

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37 minutes ago, marbel said:

It sounds as if this woman has set certain standards of behavior, service, etc., for herself and thinks everyone else should adhere to them as well. She needs to come to understanding that her gifts, talents, etc., are not universal and she does not set the standard. I don't mean that to be harsh - she likely doesn't recognize that in herself at all.  And it can be hard for people around someone like that to help them see that they are unreasonable. 

The bolded. And if she wants this sort of treatment in return, there are probably ways to demonstrate caring this way, but they will not be as natural coming from others as when she does things for others. But I think affirming her is a good place to start if this doesn't seem to be a serious personality disorder of some kind.

2 hours ago, BlsdMama said:

Jean, I wholeheartedly believe this.  I think that the person has a colluded view.  The person is a *very* giving and generous person of both time and abilities.  But desperately unhappy that others around them do not reciprocate in the same way and it is resulting in some message that resonates in their head of, "If you cared about me, you would be as considerate as I am."  This is not a selfish person. This is not a person who seeks attention or applause.  This is a person who believes love is love in action, which is VERY true, but the smallest things upset them.... being interrupted, not noticing routines, someone not seeing something that needs to be done - these are all personal affronts that, to this person, illustrate a lack of respect.  It is causing real and true relationship problems.  And this person has grown closer to the Lord, but I'm not sure they are completely given over, kwim? There is a reserve that exists from past religious hurts.

I've always thought of this sort of behavior as being both generational and a result of being from a large family, but you have a large family and are frustrated by this...hmm. One whole generation of my family has these traits quite a bit, but they aren't really passive aggressive. Being with them is usually pleasant. They don't go the additional mile of demanding this from others, but they did train my generation to notice and pitch in as a sign of respect and consideration. "Don't wait to be asked" is a huge, huge thing from them. 

For some generations, this is defined as a lack of respect. It just is.

Also, just because I know this was popular in churches for a while, and you might be familiar with this--that whole love/respect thing where "Women need love, and men need respect." I vehemently disagree with it. Respect is far more important to me than love. Perhaps having an open conversation about why it feels disrespectful would help. One way in which I often feel disrespected is only sort of rational--when people "make" me correct them. Like, if they are trying to figure out what I want, and instead of asking, they just throw out a million ideas, half of which they should know (from the situation itself) would not be helpful at all. It's really only when people I know well (or have to work with a lot) do this that bugs me, but if what you really want to know is, "What do you need?" then don't ask me "Do you need ____?" x 13 guesses that don't even fit the context. It feels disrespectful to me. From certain people, it reeks of martyrdom (my MIL does this all the time--she basically tries to force a problem so that she can do this and then solve the problem that doesn't exist).

But, I can have a conversation about this while also trying to coach my family members to just ask people what they want and/or only make suggestions that fit the context. She might also be able to have a conversation if she feels like she'll be on equal footing for it.

But anyway, the fact that you're talking about "respect" seems to me to be either an ingrained thing from her childhood and/or she feels loved when she feels respected. Perhaps you can help her see ways that people are being respectful.

***ETA: Okay, I am going to go one step more, and you can answer or not because it might be personal--is she struggling to interact with your kids? Is that part of this? I am wondering because IIRC, you have some kids with ADHD-ish issues. If she's not used to that, things can not only feel really out of control, but some people with ADHD have a hard time using EF to notice and do things that others do automatically (depends on what ADHD traits the person has--one of my kids with ADHD is super proactive as long as he's on meds; he'd probably make this relative of yours feel like a queen, lol!). If it's a problem, maybe that's an angle that can be explored.

Edited by kbutton
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2 hours ago, BlsdMama said:

Jean, I wholeheartedly believe this.  I think that the person has a colluded view.  The person is a *very* giving and generous person of both time and abilities.  But desperately unhappy that others around them do not reciprocate in the same way and it is resulting in some message that resonates in their head of, "If you cared about me, you would be as considerate as I am."  This is not a selfish person. This is not a person who seeks attention or applause.  This is a person who believes love is love in action, which is VERY true, but the smallest things upset them.... being interrupted, not noticing routines, someone not seeing something that needs to be done - these are all personal affronts that, to this person, illustrate a lack of respect.  It is causing real and true relationship problems.  And this person has grown closer to the Lord, but I'm not sure they are completely given over, kwim? There is a reserve that exists from past religious hurts.

Look up Enneagram 2 personality type. I have these tendencies and I hate that part of my personality. Reading through Enneagram 2 has been helpful to me in that I was beating myself up for a moral failing when it was actually part of my personality. Because of Jesus it's gotten much easier for me to assume the best of people, and understand that not everyone is going to react as I do to situations, but I do struggle with this. It's something that the Lord is sanctifying me with. I wouldn't judge someone as being not "completely given over" (not sure what that means!) because it's a struggle of theirs. ☺️

ETA: I'm not at all passive aggressive and have been called blunt before, lol! I think this type of personality, though, can definitely fall trap to "martyrdom" and a PA tendency. 

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"passive aggressive" vs "still processing, alone" vs "has taken an explicit decision to not-engage but rather move-on or move-away"

29 minutes ago, Indigo Blue said:

This thread is full of good information.

Im wondering if I’m correctly understanding the definition of passive aggressive. In my mind there is a difference between someone who is passive aggressive in the sense that it’s intentional and someone who has been hurt and just needs time and space (or they choose not to engage because they know it won’t make any difference, anyway). In the first sense, they are pouting, slamming things, and saying things that could almost be taken as not hostile, but underneath it is. In this sense, there is toxicity and damage can be done. In the second sense, the person isn’t hurting anyone. They are just in the corner licking their wounds until they feel better. In the first sense, I imagine that person to have more of a chronic problem. In the second sense, I imagine that person could perhaps learn different ways of handling their feelings. It could be hard for this type to speak up. I don’t think of this as true passive aggressiveness, but maybe I have it all wrong. 
 

That is what I understand the term "passive aggressive" as well. In lieu of actively addressing an issue, or explicitly choosing to not-engage with an issue... pouting, muttering, loud sighing, various other dramatic hints. 

To my mind, it's not passive aggressive to take time out to process (though for clarity, and so as not to be misunderstood, it's good to communicate that that's what I'm doing -- I need to step away and sort myself out, here. When my kids were little I called it "Mommy's putting herself in time out.") 

And it is definitely not passive aggressive to choose explicitly to withdraw from or reframe & limit a relationship that is unreciprocal or otherwise toxic.

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What is required is self reflection.  People can't change if they can't take an honest look at themselves.  I clearly remember someone telling me that I was a 'button pusher'.  This was someone that I was really angry with but she had no beef with me and so was able to calmly tell me that before she disengaged.  I then took stock of what I was saying to her and realized she was exactly right!  So I have tried very hard in thee last 25 years to not be a button pusher.  I have a lot of other bad tendencies that I do work on but I do remember that one as standing out so clearly.

I do not believe everyone is capable of self reflection. It is too scary for them.  

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22 minutes ago, Indigo Blue said:

People with NPD are very bad at self reflection.

Indeed. But I don't think everyone exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior is NPD. I think some people get there because an extreme aversion to conflict combines with genuine distress and they're unable to process the tumult; or they live within a power imbalance where they really *don't* have permission to articulate irritation/frustration/anger at the person, so those emotions sort of bubble up in passive-aggressive ways; or they simply have weak communication skills. 

That's the set for whom I agree with Jean: if they want to break the habit, they likely can.

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Ah, the dreaded martyr complex.

So, when I was growing up, the way you got close to someone in my family was to tell them about something private that was difficult or upsetting to you.  It was news to me, via observation, that there were other ways to get close to people, but once I learned that, the habit of feeling like someone had entrusted you with something very precious stayed with me a bit.  I'm not talking about truly major things like a bad illness or a horrendous financial reversal.  Rather, I'm talking about, "I hate to admit it, but you're so special that I'm willing to tell you how bad listening to my husband grinding his teeth at night makes me feel the next day.  But don't tell anyone!  But this means that you're really special!"  That level of stuff.

The angling in that, if it's major and continuous, is for sympathy, and for favors.  At the most fundamental level, you're supposed to feel Very Sorry about this, and do things for that person to make them feel better, only if they ever did actually feel better you would stop, so they don't let themselves.  This is a very common pattern with NPD or with depression (which casts a gray pall over everything).

Anyway, I got romantically involved with a guy who was like that in spades.  To the extent that it was predictable that if I was upset about anything at all, he would confide a deep problem to me to divert the conversation back to him, and if I said anything further about my own concern, he would point out explicitly that this was awful in light of the deep confidence that he had just shared with me.  It was then that I noticed the entire pattern, and stepped away from it.  I don't do it at all anymore, and I have relationships that involve give and take now.  But I had to unlearn a lot of habits of mind and habits of conversation to get there.

The other MC pattern is a description of deep sacrificial work that no one wanted you to do in the first place, repeated for appreciation, over and over.  For example I was in a moms' group that decided not to have individual birthday parties in the group, but to have a big celebration every year for all the kids.  When we had the first or second one, the mom in charge of party favors made drawstring satin bags for each of the 20+ children, each with their name machine embroidered on it, filled with a lot of little presents, none of which involved any sugar or chocolate.  She was up until 3AM doing this the night before the party, which I remember 20 years later because she talked about it For Ever and Repeatedly.  This was just one example of her great generosity in doing things that nobody wanted (these were toddlers) and that she killed herself for.  I know I sound sarcastic, but this pattern got pretty old after a while.

How I look at these kinds of examples is, there isn't anything wrong with it if there is give and take or if sympathy and appreciation can go both ways, or if it's not the be all and end all of the relationship.  You CAN get close to people without complaining all the time--it's nice to share joy and good news, too! You CAN enjoy someone's company without them sacrificing themselves for you and you appreciating that--it's nice to have fun together.  Those are the things that people who are habitually like this can learn if they are observant.  People do change, though they seldom do so.

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32 minutes ago, Rosie_0801 said:

Sometimes people's boundaries are so lacking they don't know they can be a good person without having poor boundaries.

This is so true. I had a parent who insisted that the people around him have no boundaries. I didnt realize how much I associated being nice/acceptable with being a doormat until I married dh and was afraid to speak up about anything. By the time I'd finally muster up the courage to say something about whatever it was, I'd be so nervous. Dh's reasonable and understanding responses taught 20-something me that it was fine and even necessary to tell people what you wanted and have a dialogue about it. Healthy people appreciate that and have boundaries of their own. I wonder if the person the OP has in mind (if there is a specific person) needs reassurance that they're safe and will be heard. That can make a huge difference. 

Edited by Hillcottagemom
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My mother has tendencies this way. It wasn't that bad but it would come out strongly at times. Then it started getting worse and worse. I just kept ignoring it and not taking the bait and I thought, ugh, is this what her aging is going to be - just her leaning into her worst qualities? But ignoring seemed to just feed it. Like, eventually it turned into actual aggression in a really horrible way. Anyway, once we had semi-healed that, I took a different approach. I just started blatantly calling her on it. I felt emboldened to do that because when it got bad, it got SO bad. She said some really nasty things to me. I just thought, well, it can't be worse than that.

Now, when she starts pulling it, I literally say, "Mom, stop being passive aggressive." The first couple of times she got in a massive, massive huff. But I made sure to do it with dh there. She thinks he hung the moon. But then the next couple of times she seemed to just get quiet about it and sort of move on pretty quickly and rejoin and stop. The last time I did it, she - get this - laughed at herself and apologized?!? And then she thanked me for it? Like, in a conversation about her difficulties with my brother (that's a whole other can of worms and he's not speaking to either of us right now thanks to some crazy Covid stuff) she like praised that approach? This has a question mark because I still can't believe it.

This was probably too good an outcome for most people to hope for. My mom can be difficult sometimes, but she can also be excellent and awesome and this was a lifelong tendency when feeling insecure or upset, not like a massive martyrdom lifestyle she'd been living. To be clear, me having to tell her that was over the course of a couple of years probably, the last time being at Thanksgiving. Still... I feel like the direct approach broke it, at least for her.

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On 2/17/2021 at 9:18 PM, BlsdMama said:

In your experience, can this be fixed? Does it only ever get worse?

 

i just don’t understand playing the martyr, only to stew in bitterness. I’m more of a, “Speak up or quit ‘yer belly aching,” kind of a person. Martyrdom and snarky stewing have never been my thing, then again, some wold say I can be too abrupt. Still, I need to know, have you ever known anyone to choose to stop this behavior?

nope. 

I could list a lot of examples, though admittedly all from the same handful of people (relatives; yay me). 

I *have* changed how *I* respond to these people though, which helps. Not in making them change how they are, but in my attitude, response, frustration level staying low. 

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