Passive-Aggressive Habit That’s Bad for Relationships

Sep 29, 2020

You have seen it happen, or maybe even had it directed at you. The digging or critical comment about someone, only to be followed up with, “bless her heart.” Or, a chuckle, or “ha ha” or “LOL.” I was recently asked why people do that, and why they feel it is OK to say something really negative about someone if they just add on a quick “bless his heart" at the end. There are several reasons for this, but one of the best terms for it is something called an “aggressive conflict." That's a fancy way to say that some people want to say something mean, angry or critical about someone, but are in some sort of internal conflict about feeling mean, or appearing mean, and try to make themselves look “nice” in the process. It always fails. “That's a beautiful dress … didn't they have it in your size?” Passive-aggressive never cleans up very well.

There is a reason it fails, and a lesson for all of us to learn in the process. It fails because love, and truth, should always be integrated. They should go together. In the "be-mean-and-then-nice-later" kind of utterance, it is usually clear that the motive in saying the truth to begin with is not a loving one. It usually is a critical motive, meant to gossip, criticize, tear down or make one feel better than someone else. Once that is out there, the blessing always falls short because of the original lack of love.

Truly helpful people speak the truth, even in uttering helpful criticism. That is why it is called “constructive criticism.” You can feel the intent. It is in the service of the person being discussed or spoken to. It is to help or offer empathy and care in some way. The truth is “integrated" with love. Not mean truth covered up with icing.

One answer to this is to get rid of the conflict inside yourself. There is nothing “mean” about saying the truth if the motive is caring in some way. Or has some good purpose, like solving a problem, or expressing and working through some feelings. That is not bad at all. So, when you are being honest, just check your motive and get in touch with your care for the person and your truth will be more loving, and probably helpful. But, if you have no good intent, maybe your grandmother's advice is good: if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. But if you have nice in your heart, you can say pretty much any truth you see, and there is no need to “bless” it in the end.