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Excerpt from "Personality: How It Forms" by Henry Kellerman

Excerpt from "Personality: How It Forms" by Henry Kellerman

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Excerpt from "Personality: How It Forms" by Henry Kellerman. Copyright 2012 by Henry Kellerman. Reprinted here by permission of American Mental Health Foundation Books. All rights reserved.
Excerpt from "Personality: How It Forms" by Henry Kellerman. Copyright 2012 by Henry Kellerman. Reprinted here by permission of American Mental Health Foundation Books. All rights reserved.

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Te Passive-aggressive style

The Passive-aggressive Style of relating contains a basic
complement of three distinct variations: these are the Pas-
sive-Aggressive, Passive Style; the Passive-aggressive, Aggressive
Style; and, the Passive-aggressive, Dependent Style. Tis passive-
aggressive personality is one in which an emotion-attached man-
ner in such a person does in fact display an acting-out of repressed
anger in these three distinct ways. As a matter of fact, the entire
passive-aggressive style is designed both to acknowledge the person
on whom the dependency rests, and at the same time to express
dissatisfaction and anger toward this person. Tus, it could be said
that the motive of the passive-aggressive person is to engage in a
covert power struggle with the authority fgure while maintaining
both the need for dependency as well as simultaneously adopting
the pose of independence.
Tis pose of independence is basically only a pose because such
a person who is emotionally attached is also fundamentally depen-
dent on the authority fgure and needs the presence of that fgure
for feeling a reduction of tension. Yet, this emotionally attached,
passive-aggressive person is one who harbors resentment about
this very emotionally attached dependency.
In the acting-out of this resentment, the central motivation of
such a personality style is designed to frustrate authority while
avoiding punishment. It is a clever design and is organized this

Te Passive-aggressive Style | 143

way in order to salvage some sense of autonomy (independence)
by simultaneously sustaining a sense of defance. Tis is done with
a kind of perverse pleasure in maintaining afliation with the other
person while at the same time frustrating the other person. It is
a defance ingeniously masked by cooperation. Examples of such
perverse joining of objectives include: tardiness, procrastination,
forgetting, and not completing tasks. Tus in an inventive, yet
immature manner, a person that expresses the emotion-attached
style of the passive-aggressive personality can be sullen, argu-
mentative, and show protest behavior, while managing to salvage
the dependency position with the authority fgure (although of
course, with risk).

Case Examples

Te variations of this passive-aggressive style include:

Passive-aggressive Personality: Passive Style—Here the person
expresses anger through passivity. Tere is both an implicit and
explicit promise to cooperate, but anger is stimulated in the domi-
nant partner by the passive person’s behavior of procrastination,
incompleteness, withholding, and forgetting.

Case 1:Passive-aggressive Personality −Passive Style
A Symptom Sketch

A forty-eight-year-old homemaker was married to an engineer.
Tey had two daughters who were in their teen years. Teirs was
an adequate marriage except that the husband complained bitterly
that his wife would always forget to do something when she set the
table for dinner. He provided examples of this, which she acknowl-
edged was true. She admitted to never feeling she remembered
everything about setting the table, so for example, a napkin or
some utensil or salt or pepper or a side dish was invariably for-
gotten. Apparently, every evening this man heard the same sud-

144 | Personality

den surprise from her: “Oh my God, I forgot the asparagus!” Or,
he would sit down for dinner and everyone would have a napkin
except him. His typical feeling was that she was expressing hostility
to him in a very passive, so-called innocent way, and for all intents
and purposes, he was obviously right. Of course, her hostility may
not have been strictly about him as much as it might have been
about needing to stay home all day and do chores about which she
felt bored and angry. Whatever the reason, such behavior on her
part seemed typically passive-aggressive: passive type.

Passive-aggressive Personality: Aggressive Style—Here, the person
expresses anger more directly. Examples of such behavior include
overtalkativeness, quarrelsomeness, interruptiveness, argumenta-
tiveness, and even physical fghting. Yet, despite this bold and bel-
licose attitude, the wish for dependency on the authority fgure is
still a prominent feature in the needs of the personality.

Case 2: Passive-aggressive Personality − Aggressive Style
A Symptom Sketch

A fourteen-year-old boy had a history throughout his childhood of
hogging the spotlight from other family members as well as from
classmates in school, and generally talking a blue streak. Despite
his strong attachment to his father, who was employed as a hospi-
tal administrator, this boy needed to act as strong as his father and
display obvious bellicose behavior, and yet, was quite normally,
and in an overall way attached to his parents (and his father spe-
cifcally). After engaging in such annoying behavior, he would also
typically calm down and then become cooperative. It was an exam-
ple of a classic passive-aggressive style, aggressive type.

Passive-aggressive Personality: Dependent Style—Here the person
expresses anger through behavior that can be considered cloying
(or sickening the other person with sweetness). Such a passive-

Te Passive-aggressive Style | 145

aggresssive-dependent person will volunteer to be ever at the beck
and call of the authority fgure, but to a sufocating extent.

Case 3: Passive-aggressive Personality −Dependent Style
A Symptom Sketch

A thirty-year-old man was extremely cloying with those he pro-
fessed to be helping. With his wife he almost jumped into her
computer, behaving in a way that was exceedingly sacrifcial. He
would type all of her graduate-school papers, run to the library to
pick up the books she needed, and do various and sundry things
that she had not even asked for. In his day job, he worked as an
assistant to a college professor (for a minimum wage), and did
the same kind of cloying sacrifcial behavior there as well. Tis
was all in the service of his dependency needs on both of these
people while at the same time he was expressing his hostility
unconsciously by driving them crazy with his so-called help. In
this respect, this man’s behavior is considered classically passive-
aggressive with a dependent style.

Case 4: Te Passive-aggressive Personality

All in all, in each of these passive-aggressive variations, the aim of
the person of this style, to whatever extent successful, is to frustrate
the authority fgure while trying to avoid punishment—and this
in the attempt to remain emotionally attached and dependent. It
is in this sort of attachment (less a cohesion with the authority
fgure and more an adhesion), that in the passive-aggressive style
is found a central motive to reduce anxiety by ultimately remain-
ing emotionally attached. Yet, at the same time there is a visible
and persistent pattern of actually also needing a hostile separation
from the authority fgure, basically in the absence of punishment
or retaliation from the authority fgure. Nevertheless, even though
the anger and aggression challenge the attached relationship, these
challenges do not usually undo such relationships and ultimately,
the gratifcation of the passivity, the aggression, or hostility, along

146 | Personality

with the dependency and along with the attachment-need is, at
least, partially satisfed.
A classic example of such overall behavior in a typical passive-
aggressive mode occurs frequently in restaurants when the waiter
takes the order and walks away to fll the order but the patron had
forgotten to add something, and then for the longest time tries to
attract the waiter’s attention, but the waiter does everything not
to look in the patron’s direction, walks all over the restaurant and
serves others, but pays no attention to the frustrated patron.
In such a case the waiter, who was extremely charming at frst,
is now confronted with the patron complaining about being
neglected. It is only then that the waiter will charmingly and seem-
ingly innocently begin to apologize profusely. Tus, the waiter
who is passive-aggressive can express his underlying anger by suc-
ceeding in making the other person angry, and then apologize so
that in all likelihood he will be forgiven. However, in such cases
the apology will be underscored with additional passive-aggressive
acts. For example the waiter might apologize with sufcient defer-
ence and supplication, and at the same time ofer his hand in a
handshake to indicate that all is okay. Te patron will most likely
begin to be mollifed by such deference and supplication, agree to
the handshake only to experience the waiter’s wet hand.
Tis passive-aggressive person thus aims to act out such under-
lying anger and aggression, and at the same time hopes to retain
the attachment—but beware!

Te More Normally Inclined Passive-aggressive Style

In the more normally inclined Passive-aggressive Style, power
struggles are kept at a lower voltage by only intermittently frus-
trating the other (and not doing it so consistently or expertly), by
eliminating cloying behavior (that would surely sicken the other),
and by not appearing to be so dependent (although latent depen-
dency needs still strongly exist). Similarly sacrifcial behavior is far

Te Passive-aggressive Style | 147

less (although still characteristic), and the frustration of the other
is not intense enough to worry the passive-aggressive person about
ostracism, actual punishment, or even abandonment.
Such a more normally inclined passive-aggressive person can
enjoy social interaction and can be a reasonably decent partner
in a relationship. Of course, forgetfulness usually will be quite
apparent, but the passive-aggressive person will most likely hope
that the partner will attribute such forgetfulness to an idiosyn-
cratic personality and therefore will be able to rationalize any
anger resulting from it.
Even though because of the nature of passive-aggressive
impulses the underlying motive of such a person is to frustrate
or anger the partner, nevertheless, in this more benign passive-
aggressive person, such impulses are quite unconsciously limited
or moderated, and may even be somewhat better consciously con-
trolled. Of course, the passive-aggressive trait cluster of behaviors
will still be noticeable.
In addition, the more normally inclined passive-aggressive per-
son usually assumes a position of righteousness and fairness in
dealing with the partner (whether actually fair or not) and will
characteristically behave righteously or indignantly should any
accusation be leveled that implies passive-aggressive motives.
It usually works.

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