Psychology

  • Issue 94 / July - August 2013



    Passive Aggression A Bleeding Wound in Our Spiritual Life

    Hasan Aydinli

    “What did she mean with that look? Was she upset with the mess I left behind home? Is she angry with me?” Passive-aggression is frustrating to most people because it is not as easily identifiable or unacceptable as punching someone in the face would be. It has its own ways of manifestation.

    According to psychoanalytic theories, aggression within the human body is reflected outside via various forms. From this standpoint, we can become harmful to the people around us and may have a negative impact on our environment without even knowing.

    We happen to witness either direct or indirect aggressive behaviors in our daily lives. One of the hardest sides of human nature to manage is aggressive attitudes and behaviors that stem from a well-laid foundation of anger. Thee feeling of anger, sometimes mixed with hatred and revenge, is found to lie at the source of aggression. Anger is in fact ingrained in our nature to motivate people to protect themselves from harmful and dangerous situations. In other words, anger should be employed for self-defense, when our property, life, and the values we uphold are under attack. Left untrained, it causes a portrayal of aggressive attitudes and behaviors which in turn negatively affects the entire life of a human being. The external display of this feeling via brute force and verbal abuse can be referred to as an active form of aggression.

    Inclination towards psychopathic and sociopathic states occurs in the next stages. Psychopathic inclination is used in psychiatry to describe personality disorders characterized with a lack of empathy and consciousness. This kind of aggression results in criminal behaviors such as murder, injury, and physical abuse, which are punished by law. Another type of aggression that is more common yet hard to notice is in the form of hidden behaviors which are displayed passively, thus “passive aggression.” Gossip, envy, jealousy, hatred, animosity, foul language, lack of trust, being unable to appreciate favors, rejection, mockery, and destructive criticism fall under this type of behavior. Beneath these types of behaviors lie the untrained aggressive feelings innate within every human being.

    Rehabilitation of aggressive behavior, in other words, controlling the feelings of hatred, revenge and anger, contributes positively to a person’s social life. Otherwise, if emotions of anger and hate trigger an uncontrolled outburst of aggression for no valid reason, it becomes an antisocial behavior. People who display their instinctive aggression through speech and action will fall into the swirl of gossip, envy, jealousy and destructive criticism without even realizing what they have done, and these behaviors in time will result in disruptions within the spiritual life of the person.

    Gossip may oftentimes start off with the intention of bringing to light certain issues and can later transform into the gossip of an individual and can hurt their feelings or cause damage. Twelfth century jurist and theologian Al-Ghazali listed the psychological reasons lying behind the act of gossip as; to satisfy the desire for revenge, to fit into a specific environment or peer group, bigotry, jealousy, to look down on others, to have fun, displaying others’ shortcomings to make people laugh, and to mock people. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi explains in his Twenty-second Letter, how gossip is a vile weapon used by envious people and how people with self-esteem will never stoop so low to employ such an unclean weapon: “Backbiting consists of saying that which would be a cause of dislike and vexation to the person in question if he or she were to be present and hear it. Even if what is said is true, it is still backbiting. If it is a lie, then it is both backbiting and slander, and a doubly loathsome sin.”

    To be aware of one’s own faults and contradictions
    We do not show the instinctive aggression within us only via brute force or violence. We also reflect the unwanted emotions within us through gossip and secretive talks. Obviously these are not pleasant manners. In order to distance ourselves from ill habits like envy, revenge, and gossip, there is great need for self-rehabilitation and prayers to help improve our spiritual life. We may observe from time-to-time that even religious people, who pray and carry out the basic principles of faith gossip as well. This is a major contradiction. There is no justification for gossiping after we acknowledge the fact that the Creator knows everything we do or keep inside.

    If behaviors like gossiping, envy, jealousy, and destructive criticism have become a regular habit, it should be alarming for that person. For it is these habits that will eventually make the person more aggressive and this passive aggression will generate more harmful results. These behaviors that have turned into habits will hold the person under its control and influence. Individuals who are suffering from these disorders won’t be able to notice that they have changed in time and have lost some of their qualities. Positive manners and attributes like mercy, forgiveness, loyalty, tolerance, empathy, and sensitivity of the conscience will start to disappear slowly.

    Are we aware that we are harming ourselves?
    People who act with emotions of passive aggression should not forget that they are first and foremost harming themselves. These harmful emotions in time lead them to loneliness for these emotions have an impact on the person’s behavior and overtime, their relationship with others is disrupted. If one person starts to harm others through aggressive behaviors, he or she will face negative criticisms. A person trying to harm somebody that he or she dislikes will notice what a harmful behavior this is when they themselves are one day rejected socially and kept distant by loved ones.

    Because aggressive emotions put a person in great stress, overtime biological imbalances appear. The urge to harm someone will cause tension, unhappiness and psychological chaos, eventually ruining one’s daily life. As a result of these, many psychosomatic symptoms from headache to hyper tension, digestive system anomalies to fatigue may emerge.

    These habits result in serious damages to social life, as they prevent proper communication and dialogue, cause conflicts in between individuals and generate hostility. Individuals with the aim of harming others via these behaviors lead to degradation of social order, love, and friendship. So it is wise for us to think again before displaying these behaviors that harm marital affairs, disrupt workplace order, distance people from one another, and cause lack of happiness and greater conflicts.

    Immediate recovery from aggression
    In cases where the conscience loses against the ego, more aggressive behaviors of individuals are observed. It is best to consider such behaviors as spiritual illnesses and take necessary action for rehabilitation. Aggressive disorders perish the heart, and cause injuries in one’s spiritual world. If these behaviors continue, love, tolerance, friendship and peace disappear. For personal and social peace, it is imperative to restrain passive aggressive behaviors. On the one hand due attention should be given not to make such acts legitimized in the public view, while on the other hand those who suffer from such failures should be treated without too much of exposure so that they are not offended. In one of his wisdom-filled words, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, states: "God will cover up on the Day of Resurrection the shortcomings and faults of the one who covers up the faults of the others in this world."

    In a nutshell, the main cause of passive aggression can be said to be a lack of profound awareness in one’s conscience. Aside from this, feelings of insufficiency, desire to be in a respected position, desire to attain greater benefits, wanting to rise to a higher status than the one already present, receiving gratification from the misery of others, lacking in empathy, and being selfish are among the many symptoms behind this disorder. The cure for the mentioned state of mind may be possible if and when one becomes more careful about spurring their spiritual nature. Praying for the people that are subject to jealousy, avoiding vain talk, staying away from gossip, keeping oneself busy with healthier habits, forgiving, being humble by seeing the shortcomings of ourselves first, noticing the positive sides of others, and being constructive and kind when we have to be critical are among the many precautions that can be taken. It is clear that curing the illness of aggression, whether it has been displayed voluntarily or involuntarily, lies on all of our shoulders.

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